I spent this past weekend doing a Body Electric workshop called Celebrating the Body Erotic. I had been curious about their teachings since I read Reclaiming Eros: Sacred Whores and Healers a few years back, and at one point contemplated traveling to the bay area to study with them. A friend told me they were going to be doing some workshops in Austin, and I managed to get in. I wanted to go both to know myself better and also to add some skills to my repertoire for my own work. I was not disappointed on either count. I am still in the process of integrating the information I gained into both my mind and body, and have no doubt this will continue for a while. I don’t remember all of my dreams, but their direction seems to have changed a bit, and they feel like my subconscious mind is making adjustments based on my wishes and desires for how I want to be in the world.
I cannot say much about the actual things we did, or the life stories and courageousness of the other participants (many of whom had traveled a great distance to participate) but the one thing that resonated for me during many of the exercises was the concept of God as Thou. I have thought about this a lot over the past few years. It is something Ken Wilber talks about in his book Integral Spirituality. He said that we often discuss God in the first person (I am great and powerful!) and third person (that dude in the sky is great and powerful!) but we rarely look at God in the second person (the person who stands before me is great and powerful!). The word Namaste, on the lips of many in yoga classes around the country, touches on it (I bow to the God in you), but how often do we forget it when we walk out the door and are forced to encounter those who are doing their best to survive in this world and oftentimes not doing it gracefully? Do we offer the same level of respect to the mother of a screaming child, store clerk or homeless person as we do our peers? Sadly, the answer is often no.
I think this lack of respect falls harder women in our society, especially as they age. It used to be that elders were valued for their wisdom and knowledge, but these days, it’s all about youth and innocence (or youth and sluttiness, but that’s an entirely different story). It is true
that many women are worshipped (more or less) for their beauty, but that is only if they conform to acceptable beauty standards. On the shadow side, women’s bodies are scrutinized mercilessly, and I often see public conversations about the merit of their minds and talents deteriorate into a criticism of their appearance. There is no worse insult to a strong, powerful woman than calling her fat or old, especially when it’s done in the public media. If a woman isn’t in the tiny zone of homogenous beauty, it is much easier to discredit and ignore her, or attack her if her voice demands attention.
This emphasis on appearance weighs heavily on public figures, but it can be much greater for those who have never been considered beautiful. We are often our own worst critics, and it’s easy to internalize the message of unworthiness based on dissatisfaction with our looks. Many times we can and do accomplish amazing things with our families, our work, our art and our activism, but these talents can be underscored by a sense of unhappiness that surrounds our physical appearance. Hiaspicoctile . 20 years ago in her book “The Beauty Myth,” Naomi Wolf discusses how the backlash against feminism has been to imprison us in our own bodies, a prison from which we never escape. Said prison can become more desperate as we age, leaving us feeling trapped, bitter, ignored and dissatisfied.
Religions that are grounded in the intellect often talk about the need to transcend the body, and Christianity has made shame and guilt around having a body one of its central tenets, especially for women (see: the story of Adam and Eve). In days past, gurus, monks and hermits (usually men) would dedicate years of their lives to mastering their bodies, ignoring and denying bodily functions, and especially pleasure, as sinful or distracting from the goal of becoming more spiritually evolved. places of visit . These days, though, it’s nearly impossible to find a cave where you can go sit and get away from the world. And while some would say that the soul doesn’t exist, life on earth is experienced in the body. So how do we make our bodies feel safe, welcoming, inviting? How do we treat them as a temple instead of a prison?
This past weekend, this was accomplished by honoring others’ bodies, regardless of where they were on their journeys, what horrible things had been done to them in the past or what scars and wrinkles they had acquired. There is so much power in realizing that we are not alone; we are not the only ones who have felt ashamed, embarrassed, hurt by the way we’ve viewed our own bodies, or the way said bodies have been treated by others. It’s a huge switch in the dominant paradigm of isolation and guilt, and watching the change on women’s faces over the weekend as they were able to relax more into their bodies was amazing. The message was clear: you have a body and you live in said body. Your body is valid, beautiful and worthy of feeling pleasure. Enjoying your body is a right, not a privilege and it need not be reserved for those who look a particular way. Each and every one of you deserves pleasure.
What might the world look like if we approached self-love from a physical level first of all? What if women were taught from an early age that pleasure was their birthright, and that what’s important is how we feel, not how we look? What if we did away with the guilt, shame and fear around having a body, and learned to love and accept said bodies, whether we chose to share them with no one at all, one person, or many? What if those choices we made were truly honored, and our boundaries respected?
What if, indeed.