NOW: I LOVE MY BODY AND MY MIND

Paula Moderson-Becker

I really do love my body.  There is a lot more of it than there used to be, but what is here is strong, and muscular, and sensuous, and good.

This blogpost is my contribution to NOW’s “Love Your Body Day” Blog Carnival

In our masculinist culture men and women, boys and girls, learn three fundamental untruths:

  • that masculine beings are superior to feminine beings;
  • that the mind is separate from the body; and
  • that feminine beings are more like things than beings and that they can in fact be reduced to their bodies because their minds do not really count.

A masculinist culture is one in which the first falsehood–that male beings are superior to feminine beings–is a dominant and central principle of religious, educational, political and family life.

When girls develop in such a culture, they learn to regard their bodies as things that are either

a) polluted,
b) dangerous,
c) tools with which to manipulate men; or
d) all of the above. 

This makes most women insane and depressed.  From an early age we learn to regard our bodies as filthy yet seductive things that we can use to our advantage in relations with men. This is insane, as in the following definition from Webster’s Dictionary:

insane, adj. in a state of mind that prevents normal perception, behavior, or social interaction.

Men also learn from an early age that it is okay to use women’s bodies as things and then to throw them away when they are finished using them.  This makes men insane and sometimes also slightly ashamed of themselves.  Sometimes men feel soiled after using a woman’s body as a tool for their own gratification.  Some religions teach men that they touch of a woman who is menstruating pollutes them spiritually as well as biologically. This is, of course, insane, a state of mind that prevents normal perception, behavior, and social interaction.

We women learn to hold our bodies in certain ways, to suck in our stomachs, to teeter on high heels, to elevate our necks, to sway when we walk, to slide our legs deliciously together and apart. We are praised for being “feminine” when we do these things, and condemned and insulted if we can’t manage them.

Unfortunately, even those of us who are pretty good going along with the feminization project also get condemned and insulted. Generally this happens after we have  been treated as things by men who are only too happy to blame us for having asked for it. To be embodied as a woman is considered a curse, a disability.  Aristotle, who has exerted an enormous influence over western philosophy for the last thousand years, said that women were deformed beings, freaks of nature.  Orthodox Jews thank Yahweh in their morning prayers for not having made them female.

Whether we position and drape our bodies in ways that our culture tells us are “feminine” and “attractive” or not, we are still told that our bodies are dirty.  We are still called whores, bitches, sluts by people who refuse to believe that we are more than simply body-things.

But the truth is that we are not simply bodies, not simply things to be used, but rather whole, conscious beings whose minds are intricately connected to our bodies in ways that we still don’t fully understand.  Emotions register as bodily sensations and bodily sensations–hormonal fluctuations, for example–register as emotions.  Emotions trigger thoughts and thoughts trigger emotions.  Bodily sensations trigger thoughts and thoughts trigger bodily sensations–adrenaline, the flight or fight response of our sympathetic nervous system.  It is impossible to decide where the body begins and the mind ends.

Of course, this is what the masculinists have been telling us for thousands of years–that we as women don’t have transcendent minds, as they do, that we are governed by our emotions, that we either do not have any brains at all or that our brains are vastly inferior to those of men.  This, of course, is nonsense, the sort of thing that we should recognize as the product of insanity, not wisdom.  Men are no less affected by their hormones, their emotions, their impulses.

We women are embodied and our bodies are utterly mixed up with our minds. Therefore it is very important for us as women to keep track of what we are thinking and feeling about ourselves, and to understand how certain thoughts that we accept as real might only be responses to certain bodily sensations.  At the same time, it is important to remember that certain bodily sensations and emotions might only be habitual response to certain thoughts that we have accepted as truths.

Paula Moderson-Becker

How do you feel when you tell yourself that you love your body?  How do you feel about your body, and about yourself, when you accept the mass media representation of an ideal woman’s body?

Learn to re-wire your thoughts and emotional responses.  Practice telling yourself that you love your body and remember how you feel when you say this.  Practice recognizing how often you dismiss your body, or deride your body, or feel disgusted by your body.  When do these thoughts arise?  What brings them into your mind? When they come, catch yourself and say, “Nonsense! I love my body because I love myself!  I am my body and my body is me, and I am a good woman.”

Take care of your body.  Don’t eat so much that you feel sick; don’t drink so much that you can’t walk.  Get exercise.  Drink moderately.  Stretch.  Stay clean.  Put lotion on your body and move your hands sensuously up and down and around your curves.  Get enough sleep.  Move languidly in your bed and feel how lovely it is to be embodied. Breathe consciously and notice how alive you are in your body; how wonderful it is to be alive, to be embodied, to feel, to see, to hear, to move, to touch, to taste, to speak–if you are lucky enough to be able to do all of these things.  If you are not so lucky, then acknowledge what you do have, for you are still embodied, and your body is the not just the temple, but also the very structure, of your consciousness and spirit.  You are your body and your body is you, and you are beautiful.  You are a good woman.

Stop supporting the Murderous Yemeni Government

What the government of Yemen is doing to its own citizens

It is absolutely outrageous. Yemeni government snipers murdered 12 peaceful protestors in Sana’a.  President Saleh’s plainclothes thugs hurled rocks at protesters and beat those who tried to escape with steel batons.  Other sources suggest that many more were killed–at least 26 people died and 500 were wounded when Yemeni forces turned on its own citizens.  And our government supports this brutal dictatorship. Here is what our department of state has to say about it:

Defense relations between Yemen and the United States are improving rapidly, with the resumption of International Military Education and Training assistance and the transfer of military equipment and spare parts. In FY 2010 approximate funding for U.S. Foreign Military Financing (FMF) for Yemen was $12.5 million, International Military Education and Training (IMET) was $1 million, and Non-Proliferation, Anti-Terrorism, Demining and Related Programs (NADR) was $5 million. In FY 2010 Yemen also received approximately $5 million in Economic Support Funds (ESF), $35 million in development assistance, and $155 million in Section 1206 funding.

This is wrong.  We should not be sending money to a country that murders its own people.  We should instead be funding Tawakul Karman, who recently received the Nobel Peace Price for her ongoing peaceful protests against this corrupt government.

Another victim of Saleh’s brutal regime

Other posts on this topic:

Kalidas’s House

As soon as I moved into Kalidas’s unhappy house, I realized that I had had it with Nepal.  I like Kalidas, in spite of his domineering ways.  He looks me straight in the eyes, which Sugandha rarely did.   And he shows the pain of their terrible loss.  Not five months ago, they lost their 19 year-old daughter to cancer.  He told me directly that the reason he wanted me to live with them was to keep his wife company and to teach her English.  I feel sorry for them, but I also think they expect too much from me.

I needed a place where I could relax and recover from the long, hot days.  Communal dinners with the other volunteers living at Sugandha’s house provided a wonderful respite.  There was much laughter, usually because Brendan was entertaining everyone with silly impersonations of redneck, gun-toting Americans trying to speak Nepali or interacting with foreigners of any kind.  He has a gift for jokes—they just tumble out of his mouth.  The Brits found him hilarious and insisted that he should be on TV.   At Kalidas’s house, I was the entertainment and the teacher at once.  Dinner was an exhausting ordeal of answering personal questions or dodging obvious traps such as the following:

Kalidas: We Nepalis have such a relaxed way of life, whereas you westerners are rushing around all the time.

Me: Yes, we live to work, while you work to live.

Kalidas: Who has the better life, Nepalis or Westerners?

Me:  Um, well, it depends on which Nepalis and which Westerners you’re talking about.  Do you mean Kathmandu street children?  Do you mean wealthy businessmen such as yourself?

Kalidas, ignoring my efforts to complicate the question entirely: Which lifestyle is healthier?  Who has the better life?

Me:  I really couldn’t say. I’m sorry, I just can’t seem to decide.

Kalidas: We Nepalis have the better life….

And here would commence another long lecture about the superiority of Nepal.  After two days in his house, Kalidas had convinced himself that I would soon see the light, marry a proper Nepali man, and settle here, in Pepsi-Cola.

It was awkward.  I had to get out of there, and did.  After a week at this house I rode my bike to Boudha.  The ride home that night was hilarious and harrowing. I will write about it in a separate post

Why We Blame the Patriarchy

And if you’re wondering why we continually blame the patriarchy, read this:

12 year old Yemeni girl drugged, raped by 50 year old husband

Filed under: ChildrenCivil RightsHodeidahWomen’s Issues — by Jane Novak at 10:30 am on Sunday, August 7, 2011

Seeks a savior

Hodiedah: In an interview with Marib Press, 12 year old “Hanadi” said she was forced into marriage by her impoverished father to pay a debt. Her husband tried repeatedly to rape her, her tears were no deterrent, and he threatened to beat her. After three days, he drugged by her with sleeping pills in her juice. She woke up bruised, confused and bleeding. The child ran away and is currently in the Hodiedah CID, appealing to Human Rights Organizations to save her. A medical exam proves the child was violently raped. The father and husband were interviewed by police. The father asserts the husband promised not to engage in intercourse until she was older. The husband says he didn’t touch her.

“12 year old Hanadi launched a distress call to the Ministry of Human Rights and human rights organizations demanding urgent intervention and to direct the security agencies to arrest the looter of her childhood and to investigate him and refer him to the judiciary.”

The issue is where is she going to go live. And its questionable if either the father or husband will be charged with a crime. There is no law in Yemen designating a minimum marriage age. Without publicity, she might have to go back. If she does not return to her husband, the father’s debt is still in force because she was basically sold like a slave. Children are frequently used as chattel. At least half of all marriages in Yemen occur before 16. Unsurprisingly, Yemen’s youthful female revolutionaries are quite determined to overthrow the system.

Boudha

2 July 2011

For my birthday I walked to Bouda, where there is an enormous stupa sacred to Buddhist everywhere.

I went over the hill, asking directions along the way, and ended up on a muddy road that took me to the Bagwati river, which flows through Pashupatinath to the Ganges. I got lost temporarily, but found my way, through mud, to the bridge and into the outskirts of Kathmandu on streets that grew steadily less muddy and more congested, until I was on a busy four=laned street jammed with pedestrians, three-wheelers, buses, taxis, and motorcycles.  Soon I was threading my way through lanes packed with monasteries, butter lamps, drums, singing bowls, prayer beads, and tourist souvenirs.

The stupa was much more crowded than the time I had been there before—see the photos below—and that made it easier to join in the stream of pilgrims and faithful ones walking around.  There were only one or two other Westerners.  I intended to go three times.

There was a heavy bell tolling, somewhat irregularly.  I saw where it was coming from when I rounded the stupa.  There was a string of people waiting in line to make an offering and ring the bell, whose vibration registers the collective Buddhist hope that everyone will soon become enlightened and all war will cease forever.  I was the only westerner in line, and worried that they’d throw me out of it, as usually happens at Hindu temples.  Buddhists are far more welcoming, however, and I was allowed to approach and pull the rope.  From watching others in front of me I learned to touch my hands and forehead to the vibrating bell, bow, sign Namaste, and send my sound into the universe.  It was an intensely beautiful and emotional experience.

The walk to and from was arduous because of the mud, the filth along the way, and the blisters on my feet.

Later that night I went to an Internations expats-living-in-Kathmandu party, but found it pretty dull.

Canada Day

July 1, 2011

Anura, Bipin, Gorima, Nirmala and Krishala sang Happy Birthday to me.  I had brought everyone presents—blue and white ribbons for the big girls, who have long hair, purple barrets for the younger two, and a ping-pong paddle set for Bipin.  We walked to school the way we always do.  We pass the pile of bricks growing steadily smaller next to the house being built, cross the busy intersection, and then go down the road to school, where there live two roosters, an uncertain number of hens and chicks, and a homeless red puppy with a wound on his neck.  I want to rescue the puppy every day.

Shova was upset that no one had come to breakfast today.  She had, after all, gotten up early to cook it.  Even though I had already eaten at the orphanage, I sat down and ate to please her.  I had 3 helpings because it was sooo good: large flat white beans and potatoes in a curry of onion, garlic, ginger, and masala.  I want to cook with her and take lots of notes.

Brendan is still sick and I am worrying about him.  I love fussing over him and mock-threatening to punish him if he doesn’t drink up all his water and take his medicine.

I love love love love love love having him here with me.

I am very happy today.

……

Just back from teaching. Very touched. Darina has been coaching the women to sing happy birthday to me all week long.  They serenaded me right after the Nepali anthem.  Total surprise!  They also brought me flowers and a lovely (well, hideous) plaque that says “Sweet Love/ Best Wishes”.

Exhausted in Nepal

30 June, 2011

Eve of my 51st birthday.  I am tucked into my hard but comfortable bed under a lavender mosquito net in Nepal.    I have views of the mountains from my corner room. The frogs in the fields around the house are making a high-pitched whirring sound that comforts me.  I am here with Brendan who is having yet another attack of the Nepali disease.  He hasn’t eaten all day and can hardly stand, but he did go to work this morning, which impressed me. It’s good for him to be here, psychologically if not physically.

I am utterly exhausted by the business of taking care of people who don’t know or won’t learn how to take care of themselves.  I am also weary from the strain of getting along across cultural and linguistic barriers.

Sughanda and Rupa and Tej are much more generous=hearted than I am.  I see a person who tries to scam other people in to taking care of him or her.  They see the same kind of person, but remain committed to helping and sacrificing.  Modernization has not yet fractured family ties, which are feudal and kin-based here.  I’m conscious of my hypocrisy.  I see how I make judgments about others and their attitudes and behaviors without really understanding what I’m condemning.

Falling asleep.

Missing love.

Meditating with Nepali Women

This afternoon I concluded my two-hour English lesson for the women’s group with an 10 minute meditation session.  All twelve women very agreeably got down onto the floor with me.  I kept trying to tell them that, for once they were the teachers and I was the student, but they simply copied everything that I did.  If I sat cross-legged, they sat cross-legged.  When I sat up on my knees, so did they.  Only Susshila refused, thankfully.  She is fairly old and portly by Nepali standards and wanted to lean against the wall.   This gave everyone the option to sit as they pleased.

Deelu showed me how to hold my hands for chanting Om–arms outstretched on my knees, thumb and forefinger touching–and we got started.  We actually ended up chanting Om a few times, sustaining the sound for much longer than I had expected.  Then we theoretically lapsed into silence.  We were not quiet for 20 seconds, when Susshila and Sova started to chatter in the back of the room.  Rayvati began to smile, and I cracked up.  This got the rest of the room laughing.  And that was my experience meditating with Nepali women.