“I have ceased to question stars and books; I have begun to listen to the teaching my blood whispers to me.” ~ Herman Hesse
Two years ago, I posted an article here about what it was like for me to see myself in photographs and on canvas, nude, pondering all that goes with that kind of naked exposure in our world.
Last weekend I joined with three other women, all of whom had also been photographed by the artist who rendered me in that painting, in a pilot workshop to write about our thoughts, our feelings, our perceptions of our bodies and the photos that portray our nude forms.
What arose for me in our writing exercises was how much had shifted in the perceptions I once held of this form I inhabit. Those many months ago in my photo session I felt shame and embarrassment, old fears and new ones loosen and I stepped from their grasp into a gentle sense of lightness that was beyond any border of my previous sureness of this corporeal landscape. When I first glimpsed the photos and paintings of my body captured in light and colour I saw beauty that I had never equated to my sense of self. I recognized that this being called “me” is not this body, is not pixels and paint, but a mere dwelling for my time on this plain.
Over these past two years I’ve come to a place of knowing more keenly how senses, feelings, perceptions, thoughts and consciousness play in an end game to cajole and seduce me into delusions of all shapes and sizes. I can feel at times the heavy obstruction of my body dangling from my cogent and clever mind. I smile at the wrinkles that come and go on my face and the forgiveness of worn etched scars and fading wounds. On some days I marvel at my aging body with its crepe paper skin and gravity’s designs on all my appendages, and on other days I curse my swollen belly and the ache of joints resisting my movement in the world.
Those cursing days show up sometimes when you least expect them.
On the last day of our workshop we were asked to write about a part of our body that we disliked. As the words began to seep from my pen, I found myself dredging up forgotten bits of anger, anger I thought had been exhumed many years before. It was startling to witness the pangs of resentment and vehement repulsion arising in me for a parcel of skin congeal into rage on a piece of paper. With grace and a fair share of courage we transcended that hatred, writing love letters to those alienated pieces of our bodies. I felt a wave of appreciation descend onto the page. From my past as child and adolescent, adult and elder, the current of my life healed itself through my written words and with it all the aversion I had felt toward that innocent scapegoat of mere flesh and blood.
Writing about my body and my feelings towards it allowed me to observe my perceptions and those of others in a new way. I saw not only the curve of hips and the soft flush of breasts, but also the bones and sinews that lay beneath and the inevitable dance towards death that awaits us all. Each day I am grateful I can walk, I can see, I can sit without pain and watch my breath in the timeless space of meditation. This body, merely elements of earth, air, fire and water, is our vehicle towards enlightenment and the eventual release of all that is carnal, all that is impermanent.
To you, no body. Thank you.
Where there is no sense of the world
English version by Krishnaditya
Where there is no sense of the world,
What can one preach of true and false?
Whose birth, act, form, or name is there?
What boundary, where there is no town?
Akha, where there is no body to begin with,
The indivisible remains, as is.
From Wings of the Soul: Poems of Akha: The Spiritual Poet of India, Translated by Krishnaditya
Nude Back Study by Frank Duveneck via Wikimedia Commons