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Lions Roar : May 2018
mother short-circuited my internal cues for hunger and sati- ation, causing me to grow more and more estranged from my own body. The basic rule was “Eat, but don’t you dare throw up,” so I ate everything on my plate, terrified of allowing it to come back up. Sometimes, though, it happened anyway. There are only so many Devil Dogs one child can eat before heaving them back up all over the kitchen table. The constant pressure to eat but remain thin is a common struggle among Asian American women. I was far from alone in being force-fed. Most Asian American women I know grew up bombarded by the same constant, contradictory refrains, “Eat! Don’t leave food on your plate. It’s rude! Why are you so fat? How will you get a husband?” The warnings were passed down from grandmothers, aunts, and mothers to daughters who are always critiqued for being too fat, but pressured into eating whatever is given in gratitude for those who feed us. This is the Confucian way. Here at the retreat, Jake offers a very different admonition. “Don’t eat yourself into numbness. Allow yourself to culti- vate awareness and mindfulness about your mind-body process so that you can see how you feel while you eat.” In the dining hall of this silent retreat, I’m working to intro- duce myself to the feeling of being satisfied. I’m learning to say yes to more food without anxiety or shame, and to say no with- out fear of disappointing someone else. We are encouraged not to make direct eye contact with other practitioners as we eat in silence so we can focus on our own experiences. That privacy also makes me feel safe from the gaze of others on my plate. As a young girl, silence sometimes pro- tected me from my mother’s rage, but it was detrimental to my ability to feel and express my body’s needs. Here in the medita- tion hall, though, silence has given me the space I need to check in with my body and begin to ask it what it wants. “Are you hungry? Do you have physical hunger or emotional hunger? Do you feel full? Have you had enough?” It’s a challenging practice, yet one the merit of which I am slowly beginning to see. If I can remember during the retreat to eat for pleasure and sustenance, to taste each bite of food, perhaps I can do it at home too. “Our bodies often carry the stress, trauma, and burdens that filter in when we are not aware,” reminds Dee Dee. “We all suffer and carry somatic stress and trauma.” My Korean American body melds into the larger hall, a space filled with more diversity than I have ever encountered in a meditation center. This retreat full of people of color engaged in silent medita- tion has become a true sangha in which I am no longer a racial minority. People of color such as myself are simultaneously invisible or hyper-visible in the public eye; learning how to take up space and be seen in our full humanity is a radical, mind- altering, heart-opening experience. Throughout the daily dharma talks, our guides, all of whom are people of color them- selves, teach us that deep looking, settling into our bodies, and taking up space, both in the meditation hall and beyond, lead to the ability to more clearly see the constructs of race, gender, and sexuality imposed on us. These practices offer us the freedom and ability to relate differently to our experience. While this body may have been the object of violence and hatred in the past, through the breath I can return to the pres- ent. I can experience self-love and compassion in this very body, and I can be seen and heard in it and through it. I try to acknowledge, feel, and shed the light of awareness on my mem- ories and painful experiences, just as a lighthouse illuminates a path to shore for vessels at sea. Finally, I can begin to accept this body after years of trying to make it conform to something it was not. While there may still be rocky passages in these waters, at least a light has been turned on. ♦ SHARON SUH is a professor of theology and religious studies at Seattle University and the author of Silver Screen Buddha: Buddhism in Asian and Western Film. (Above) Not all of Sharon Suh’s childhood eating experiences were bad. Here she’s looking forward to cake. (Right) Suh, age three, with her brother at Halloween. LION’S ROAR | MAY 2018 63