Our Body, Our Home

“We need to better inhabit our bodies in order to fully inhabit our souls.”

I heard Krista Tippet say this in conversation with Joy Harjo during her On Being interview of May 13, 2021. It reminded me of something John O’Donohue wrote in Eternal Echoes:

“The body is your only home in the universe. It is your house of belonging here in the world.”

I’ve always struggled with inhabiting my body. People often don’t believe that. I look like someone who is comfortable. I walk and talk and dance like someone comfortable. But truly, it’s been a long journey.

I come from a family where the intellect was praised over the physical. We lived in the inner city where playing outside was not optimal nor encouraged. We were not athletic. We didn’t play sports, heck, we didn’t even watch sports. We read books. We played musical instruments. We went to church.

I was almost forty years old before I met women who loved to regularly hike, bike, ski, and ride. Women who did yoga and Pilates because it felt good and they felt good doing it. I had spent too many years in California where women mostly did these things simply to look good.

Honestly, so many of the women I know struggle with being in their bodies. With enjoying their body. With being physical. Being naked, loving sex.

Seems a bit odd, don’t you think? I mean, women are supposed to be all about the physical, nothing but physical. In the male-female dichotomy, women are reduced to the body and men are elevated to the mind. We bleed every month. We carry life in our bellies and then push eight-pound babies through a quarter-size hole. We feed from our breasts. According to religion, laws, and myth, women are the sensual seductress. We only need to show a little skin, purse our lips, and flip our hair for men to lose all reasoning, become unable to control their actions and not liable for their physical response.

Even if their response is violent. And it often is.  

Words and looks and assumptions can be just as violent as physical harm. The violence adds up. The violence doesn’t stop.

Maybe this is why so many women are not at home in their bodies. Because our bodies are not our own. They don’t belong to us. Our families, our religions, our laws tell us that our bodies are for the service of others. We are denied sovereignty of our skin, our hair, our mouths, and our vaginas. A lack of authority can be humiliating and debilitating. Especially when the authority we lack is over our own physiological homes.

Women’s bodies are not a safe place in which to reside.

To be at home, to feel at home, we must feel safe, we must feel like we belong. How can we feel at home in our bodies if they are not our own and if we do not feel protected?

A woman’s house is always under attack. Always at risk of being broken into, vandalized, and burgled. Every unwanted touch steals something. Every lecherous look is casing the joint.

Of course, this happens to men too. To transgender and non-binary. And, disproportionately, this happens to women.

For many years, I was a nationally certified, full-time massage therapist. I completed my training after years of working in HIV/AIDS, so I expected my clients to be mostly people with chronic or terminal illness. Instead, my practice was largely women recovering from trauma and abuse.

We attract what we are.

Little did I know when I started my practice (but I quickly discovered), I had been violated more than I remembered. My trauma was buried deep. I was in need of healing.

Trauma gets buried in order for us to cope and survive. Often it is so deeply buried that we don’t even remember it until something happens to trigger a response. It takes patience and a whole lot of time to surface. And even more time to heal.

My healing came in stages. It began in earnest in 1995 and it still continues today. Daily, I continue to fight back self-sabotaging behaviors. Massage, yoga, diet, therapy, and a spiritual practice all help. So does having a dog. But decades of theological indoctrination and cultural intoxication coupled with physical and emotional violations are challenging to overcome.

I’m not alone in this predicament. Even with the advent of the #MeToo movement, most of us struggle in silence. We don’t talk about the pain, our experiences, our scars. We try to relegate it to the past, even when it continues to happen.

We heal one layer at a time. Peel back one layer and there is always another.

This pain, this struggle, is a daily reality. We live in a society that body shames all people. That celebrates unhealthy behaviors. That excuses harassment. That sexualizes pubescence. That glorifies dominance and submission. That supports a puritanical double standard that elevates the intellect and reduces the physical to the profane.

We separate ourselves from our bodies as we separate ourselves from nature. We believe we can control it, subdue it, restrain it, and bend it to our will. Physical symptoms are treated as pathologies, instead of treating the cause. Medical care is a privilege, not a human right. Sickness is rewarded instead of health.

We are all hurting.

Our bellies are bloated, our backs are broken, our lungs are congested, our feet ache. Our heads hurt.

And we ignore it. Or we reach for a pill, a cocktail, a gummy, a treat, a toke, a hamburger and fries. Anything to numb our awareness. We are frogs in a pot of boiling water.

But our bodies are our homes. They are our homes in the world that we take with us wherever we go.

“We need to better inhabit our bodies in order to fully inhabit our souls.”

Indeed. May we all be a bit more conscious of our physical habitation. May we celebrate and support the sovereignty of our bodies: our own, and others.

As Rumi wrote, “Keep knocking, and the joy inside will eventually open a window and look out to see who’s there.” And then, my friends, we will be home.

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