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Like many people these days, I used to be obsessed with being thin. I put an enormous amount of energy into the endeavour.  So much so, that I was willing to suffer greatly to achieve my objective. At times, it even felt like my life’s work. Clearly, it was hugely important to me. In fact, it’s hard to overstate its significance. 

But all this begs the question: why? Why on earth would I devote so much time and energy to something that, in hindsight, strikes me as utterly meaningless? What drives a person to make something so arbitrary the central theme of their life? 

The answer is simple. I associated being thin with gloriously beautiful feelings. Allow me to explain… 

Being thin for me was like dancing on air – waltzing in a shimmering ballgown in a fairy-tale kingdom. It was floating on a fluffy cloud in a rose-tinted sky, giddy and carefree. It meant diving into pleasure, bidding farewell to worry and uncertainty. Insecurity was suspended, and pain, vanquished. Time stood still. There was nowhere to get to – the destination had been reached, the hard work completed, and I could now enjoy the fruits of my labour. I was free to play in the Garden of Eden. It was longing fulfilled. 

Given its seductive promise, it’s no wonder I was obsessed with being thin. And who can blame me? Is there anyone who doesn’t want to feel like that?! 

But, of course, I had got confused and lost my way. The fundamental mistake I had made all those years was tying the beautiful feelings I described above to the circumstance of being thin. My mind, influenced by the views of people around me, and the media I came into contact with, had created very strong, sticky associations between being thin and feeling good. The two were glued together. I believed that being thin was the prerequisite for lovely feelings. It was my ticket into heaven.  However, the reality was that making my happiness conditional upon thinness turned it into a barrier to entry. I didn’t need the ticket of thinness to get into heaven. 

Heaven became my experience of life on earth when the hellish thoughts I’d previously believed no longer looked true. This may sound like a grandiose claim, but it is my everyday experience.  My life today is full of rapture. Of course, I experienced moments of rapture in the past too, but now there are fewer interruptions and objections coming from painful beliefs. 

I struggle to put this experience of ecstasy into words, so I’ll defer to Saint Teresa of Avila who conjured it up so eloquently in a description of one of her visions in which she wrote: 

“In his (an angel’s) hands I saw a great golden spear, and at the iron tip there appeared to be a point of fire. This he plunged into my heart several times so that it penetrated to my entrails. When he pulled it out, I felt that he took them with it, and left me utterly consumed by the great love of God. The pain was so severe that it made me utter several moans. The sweetness caused by this intense pain is so extreme that one cannot possibly wish it to cease, nor is one's soul then content with anything but God. This is not a physical, but a spiritual pain, though the body has some share in it - even a considerable share. So gentle is this wooing which takes place between God and the soul that if anyone thinks I am lying, I pray God in his goodness, to grant him some experience of it.”

I am not religious, and I don’t engage in any formal spiritual practices. I don’t have any visions!  I’m an ordinary person. And yet I strongly relate to St Teresa’s description of an embodied knowing of love.  I experience this ecstasy, to varying degrees, every day.  That is simply what happens when painful, limiting beliefs fall away, and we become more intimate with the loving core of our being. 

I don’t talk about this much for a few reasons. If someone is struggling and feeling distressed, I don’t want to be insensitive to what they are going through. I’m also aware that it might sound a bit weird – we’ve become so accustomed to living life in a superficial realm in which the only way to joy is through activities in the outer world. We overlook and undervalue the profound fulfilment our inner lives have to offer. 

I also don’t want to give the false impression that I’m always living in a state of rapture. That’s not true. I experience fear, stress, tension and overwhelm in the course of most days, sometimes multiple times a day, and occasionally, even nearly all day! I believe that suffering is an inevitable part of what it means to be human, and part of what makes the beautiful feelings all the sweeter. That said, the depth and duration of our suffering can be vastly reduced through greater clarity about how our experience of life works, and who we are beyond that. 

And the suffering I regularly endure in no way detracts from the fact that I am head over heels in love with life, and feelings of bliss are never far away. 

I wanted to write honestly about the ecstasy of being alive because so often people feel that giving up the goal of being thin means resigning themselves to a mediocre existence where beautiful feelings are not available to them. I want everyone to know that nothing could be further from the truth. It is through surrendering our preconditions for joy that we allow ourselves to be fully overtaken by it.

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