We cannot know his legendary head
with eyes like ripening fruit. And yet his torso
is still suffused with brilliance from inside,
like a lamp, in which his gaze, now turned to low,
gleams in all its power. Otherwise
the curved breast could not dazzle you so, nor could
a smile run through the placid hips and thighs
to that dark center where procreation flared.
Otherwise this stone would seem defaced
beneath the translucent cascade of the shoulders
and would not glisten like a wild beast’s fur:
would not, from all the borders of itself,
burst like a star: for here there is no place
that does not see you. You must change your life.
– Rainer Maria Rilke
The last line of this poem has returned to me many times in recent days. Anyone who has committed to this lifestyle will surely understand.
You must change your life. I hear this in different ways depending on the context. I hear it as a mantra whispered in my ear when I’m reading the ingredient list on a food, shake my head, and put it back on a shelf. When people ask if it’s okay for my daughter to have a cracker. When people make jokes at my dietary expense. When I give in to eating something SAD because I don’t want to be the demanding or weird one. When I get painfully and disgustingly bloated after a restaurant meal. Anytime the world out there is overwhelming and making my choice to take control over my health and wellbeing seem crazy.
In this way, we’re literally changing our lives daily. Every day anew.
You must change your life. I hear it well up within me when I’m listening to the frequency of the world around me. When I hear someone dear to me woefully describe how they need to exercise more, or feel crappy but don’t know why, or say something else completely defeatist about their health or wellbeing. When I read about skyrocketing obesity rates. A child being put into foster care because they weigh 200 pounds in second grade. Another “study” that reinforces our already broken relationship with food. A new drug that will fix all of this for us.
One could argue that I’ve already made the biggest change possible. I remember how I felt in January of this year after reading Gary Taubes’s Why We Get Fat, that first step in this direction. A mixture of relief, catharsis, and dread. And yes, that was the biggie. But until the rest of the world catches up, there will be days when it feels like an immense undertaking. Or challenge. Or even burden. Because until this lifestyle becomes easier, cheaper, and more accepted as normal, we must change our lives daily. There is simply no other alternative.
We have to get comfortable in our contrarian role. We have to ignore the jokes, the derision, the hostility, the obstacles. It helps to ignore the advertising, the marketing, the places where the dominant food system is loudest. If you feel vulnerable against it, try turning off the TV or cancelling that magazine subscription. Switch grocery stores to something more conscious of healthy food and with fewer shiny, slick packages. Find communities, either online or in the flesh, that support your choices.
You must change your life. So on the one hand, this changing our lives business is scary and foreboding. But there is hope on the other, as a reinforcement for this life. Of course it’s sometimes hard and uncomfortable, but who said going against a dominant, entrenched, self-reinforcing paradigm was going to be easy? As I’ve said before, the bad news is it’s up to you, and the good news is? It’s all up to you! We get to drive the bus to Health-and-Happinessville.
Because just like the shattered torso of Apollo, we must accept what we are in order to fully understand ourselves. Form and function. We would not acknowledge the graceful curve of Apollo’s pecs if his gaze were watching our admiration. His virility is all the more powerful in its physical absence. This form, as “incomplete” as it is, is what Apollo was born for.
We are made of cells. Cells that have molded themselves over millions and millions of years. Cells that have relationships and motivations beyond our understanding. They have a job to do, and all we can do is get in the way. Even if you have faith-based reasons for not believing in evolution, I think we can agree that God never intended us to consume Kashi Go Lean! cereal. We have to align our lives in such a way as to allow our bodies—these complex universes of cells, processes, signals, systems—to fulfill their duties with as little interference as possible. There is no other way. No pill to take, no procedure to fix it, no one else to blame.
You must change your life.