After all, what happens when you advocate the state-sanctioned rape of potentially every woman of child-bearing age in the entire Commonwealth of Virginia?
You’re offending quite a few women and our wombs. As maven of The Woman’s Belly Book, I need to look into this.
Here’s the thing: Former governor of Virginia Bob McDonnell has been convicted on eleven counts of public corruption. A jury of seven men and five women found him guilty of exchanging political favors for personal gain.
During the trial, a tawdry picture of the McDonnell family’s mischief emerged. Mischief that in no way matches the Christian family values that McDonnell has been so fond of trumpeting.
On January 6, 2015 McDonnell goes to federal court for sentencing. The maximum prison term for each of the eleven charges is 20 years.
That’s the upshot of the U.S. District Attorney’s probe into McDonnell’s behavior as governor. But there’s another probe winding through this story.
The transvaginal probe.
While he was governor, McDonnell championed a bill that would have required transvaginal probes into women seeking abortions.
McDonnell was all for imposing state-sanctioned medicalized rape … until his advisors pointed out some of the legal implications.
The legislature ended up changing the required ultrasound from internal transvaginal to external abdominal. Commenting on the change, McDonnell seemed to both endorse and regret it:
[W]hat I recommended to the General Assembly, and they adopted the other day, is let’s make the requirement for the abdominal ultrasound…. I also got legal advice from various people, including my Attorney General, that these kinds of mandatory invasive requirements might run afoul of Fourth Amendment law. …But I was certainly supportive of that concept.
The purpose of requiring these ultrasounds, proponents say, is to assure women are giving their informed consent to ending a pregnancy. Yet research reliably documents that seeing an ultrasound does not alter a woman’s choice for an abortion. Imposing the ultrasound only increases the price of the procedure.
Before becoming governor, McDonnell was Virginia’s Attorney General. How could an Attorney General be so vague about the Fourth Amendment, the Constitutional protection we citizens enjoy against government’s unreasonable search and seizure? Why did he need advising that these “mandatory invasive requirements” would be illegal?
After all, he’s a lawyer.
Really? Yes. He earned his law degree — listen to this — at Pat Robertson’s Christian Broadcasting Network University, rebranded in 1989 as Regent University.
The blatant irony within this series of events, this scandal, this hypocrisy is in no way satisfying. It’s heart-breaking, gut-wrenching.
Bob McDonnell is not the only politician who has been pushing the transvaginal probe. Across the nation, some politicos are so greedy for power that they’ll flatter their ambitions by poking up into women’s vaginas uninvited.
All I can say is: Watch out. That probe may wreak a revenge of its own.
Who is Mary Magdalene? We may never know, historically.
But I might have met her one day last spring in Nashville, Tennessee, at the Thistle Stop Café.
The energy in and around this breakfast-and-lunch spot was overpowering, literally. I felt as if an archangel hovered, as if some sky-high bird sheltered this place within its indestructible wings — guarding, protecting, sustaining.
What’s so special about this storefront café? It’s one of several enterprises run by an outfit called Thistle Farms. It fronts the slogan “Love Heals.”
I have to tell you: That’s the reality of the place. It’s not a cuddly kind of love. It’s love that is fierce moment-to-moment presence. Hard-earned, razor’s edge, breath-by-breath presence. What emerges when you’ve been knee-deep in death and choose to step through it into life.
Before I say anything more, here’s some background on MM:
Legends, blockbuster movies, and scraps of evidence about Mary Magdalene raise more questions than they answer. Was she a penitent whore whom Jesus forgave and graced with redemption? Was she his wife, mother of their child? Was she his most capable disciple, the apostle who most truly walked the talk of his teaching? Was she his consort, partner, collaborator in creating a compelling path of love? Did she teach him everything he went on to preach?
Certainly, she’s a mirror. How we hold her tells us something about who we are.
For the Bellyqueen
As bellyqueen, I’m about inspiring and guiding women to know our body’s center as sacred, not shameful. So I have to ask: What about Mary Magdalene’s middle?
In this light, the Holy Grail takes on new levels of meaning.
For some, the Holy Grail is the cup from which Jesus drank at the Last Supper. For others, it’s the cup into which Joseph of Arimathea collected Jesus’ blood as he died on the cross.
What if the Holy Grail — San Graal in Old French — refers to Mary Magdalene herself? What if the Grail signifies her pregnant belly as she carried Jesus’ royal blood — Sang Raal — into a new generation?
Often pictured as a chalice, the Holy Grail represents life beyond death. Its sacred geometry incorporates the square root of 2, the principle of transformation, in the same proportions that locate the soul power centered within the human body — what the Japanese call hara.
In this sense, the Holy Grail is Mary Magdalene’s belly-centered power to promote creation through childbirth as well as in every dimension of being. This pro-creative power, kin to the Power of Being that sustains the world, dwells within each of us, linking our souls to eternal life.
As bellyqueen, I see Magdalene as inspiration for us each to honor the Source Energy concentrated within our body’s center, to embrace the sacredness of life and carry it forward.
For the Roman Catholic Church
Apparently the Roman Catholic Church saw Magdalene as a threat to its celibate monastic-style male priesthood and its institutional hierarchy.
Mixing and matching various New Testament texts, the Roman Catholic Church ignored Mary Magdalene’s role as Jesus’ closest disciple, first among the apostles. Pope Gregory officially cast her as a prostitute in the year 591; the Church continued calling her a whore until 1969. As Cynthia Bourgeault writes in The Meaning of Mary Magdalene: Discovering the Woman at the Heart of Christianity,
a new generation of Bible scholarship has corrected the glaring inaccuracy of her earlier portrayal as a prostitute and is steadily laying the groundwork by which we will sooner or later be able to fully reclaim her role as Jesus’s spiritual partner and lineage bearer…. (p. 179)
This new scholarship draws on both the familiar gospels and on ancient texts excluded from the New Testament’s approved table of contents. Mary Magdalene, says Bourgeault, comes forward as
“first among the apostles” not simply … because she was the first on the scene at the resurrection but in a more fundamental way: because she gets the message. Of all the disciples, she is the only one who fully understands what Jesus is teaching and can reproduce it in her own life. Her position of leadership is earned, and it is specifically validated by Jesus himself. (p. 41)
Just what is Jesus teaching? In Bourgeault’s words:
Ultimately, it is not about “clean living” and purity, but the total immolation of one’s heart. (p. 29)
Even though the Church rehabilitated Mary Magdalene’s reputation in 1969, it continued applying her name to its slave labor camps for “fallen” women — the Magdalene Laundries — for more than two decades. The last of the Magdalene Laundries in Ireland closed in 1996.
For Thistle Farms
In 1996, Magdalene’s name appeared in Nashville, in relation to a different sort of establishment for women.
This Magdalene is a residential program serving women coming off the streets and out of jail — women who’ve survived prostitution, trafficking, addiction, and homelessness. It’s radical, extravagant hospitality: Magdalene provides women longterm housing, food, medical and dental treatment, drug rehab, therapy, and education without charging residents a cent or receiving government funding.
Thistle Farms is Magdalene’s sister organization and social enterprise providing job training and paid employment. The business includes hand-crafted papermaking, herbal body careproduct manufacturing, and the remarkable Thistle Stop Café. Established in 2001, Thistle Farms’ annual sales now top $1 million, profits reinvested to support the residential program.
More than a thousand people from more than a hundred cities have visited Magdalene and Thistle Farms during the past two years, eager to see what makes the residential program and the social enterprise so successful.
On the Scene
One of about fifty visitors, I spent a day in Nashville last spring. Magdalene women toured us through one of the program’s houses, the manufacturing facilities, and the sewing and papermaking studios. We gathered in the Thistle Stop Café for a morning meditation with Thistle Farms employees, lunch, and afternoon discussions with Cary Rayson, Magdalene’s Executive Director, and Becca Stevens, Episcopal priest and Magdalene’s founder.
Among the many questions they addressed: What sets women up for prostitution? In Becca’s words:
If prostitution is the world’s oldest “profession,” then child sexual abuse is one generation older. The experience of unmitigated sexual abuse in childhood is the single most common event in the lives of women at Magdalene.
Current statistics reveal that one in ten children in the United States are sexually abused by the time they are eighteen. Can you relate? I can. As Becca noted, the fifty of us who’d come to check out Thistle Farms that day were there for a reason, a resonance.
There in the Thistle Stop Café, speaking with and listening to the Magdalene women, the seasoned program staff, the dedicated community volunteers — that’s when and where I felt an energy so strong it nearly knocked me off my feet.
Well, no wonder. Written into its mission, emblazoned wherever the words will fit, the truth that Magdalene enacts is: Love is the most powerful force in the world for change. Powerful enough, certainly, to change my position from the vertical.
Magdalene makes her presence known in this place through this force-of-nature love. And through the transformation, the resurrection of women’s lives. The wisdom and creativity that shape home and work settings into venues for community healing. The letting go and letting be that open into compassion and generosity, abundant grace.
At one point in her presentation, Becca answered a question about whether and how her vision had changed since starting Magdalene. She replied:
I’ve learned that our job is not to change the world. Our job is to change ourselves so that we may more fully love the world as it is.
Her words cleared a deep silence in the room. After several moments of stillness, a woman asked Becca to say those words again, and many notebooks opened to a new page. No wonder: That’s as fine a teaching on “letting be” as I’ve ever heard.
Magdalene and Thistle Farms serve as a model, inspiring similar projects already established or on their way in the United States and abroad. Cities including New Orleans, St. Louis, and Sylva, North Carolina are now home to Magdalene-style programs.
The Magdalene women are also convening a global coalition of social enterprises that employ marginalized women and move them out of poverty. Called Shared Trade, this coalition is designed to promote business development on a cooperative basis.
Shared Trade will launch at “Roots: Digging Deep & Growing Hope,” the national conference Thistle Farms is hosting October 12-14.
Magdalene and friends appear to be alive and well in Nashville and in points around the world. She may be coming soon to a neighborhood near you.
I learned about The Moon and You: A Woman’s Guide to an Easier Monthly Cycle when the author, Barbara Hanneloré, told me she’d selected words from The Woman’s Belly Book for her own book’s page one. I’m honored Barbara chose my invitation — that we women consider our bellies as sheltering “the creative energy kin to the majestic Power of Being informing the universe” — to set the direction for her book.
In a warm and personal voice, Barbara offers practical ways to address, reduce, and perhaps eliminate pre-menstrual and menstrual distress, both emotional and physical. She does so by reframing the monthly cycle as an ally, not an enemy, provoking us to balance our lives in every dimension. She offers us the possibility of understanding and experiencing the menstrual cycle that we embody as kin to the cycle of moon phases and the circling of seasons in nature at large.
Organized in five sections, and illustrated with delightful line drawings, the book guides us to:
- explore our connection with these cycles of nature;
- validate and nurture our inner lives with self-awareness and self-care in a variety of expressions;
- nourish our bodies with balancing foods, herbs, and physical practices of many kinds;
- understand the impact of cultural beliefs and values regarding menstruation on our personal experience;
- remember and then re-imagine our first menstruation — menarche — as welcoming us into womanhood in the way we’ve always wanted.
Each section provides references enabling the reader to investigate topics in greater depth. And each section concludes with an activity that helps the reader to integrate ideas and practices into the details of daily life.
One: For decades, my passion has been to inspire and guide women to honor and energize our bellies as sacred, not shameful. Releasing our shame, we can deepen our awareness into our bellies and tap into the Source Energy concentrated within our body’s center. We can then direct the Source Energy we embody according to our intention, generating healing within any dimension we choose.
As I’ve focused on women’s common experience of shame with respect to our bellies, I’ve neglected our common experience of pre-menstrual distress and painful periods. Who wants to deepen their awareness into their bellies when their primary experience of their body’s center is menstrual pain? The path Barbara is offering, relieving pre-menstrual and menstrual pain in the context of cultural awareness, may be the most accessible and direct route for women coming to honor the pro-creative power our bellies shelter.
Barbara relays Sobonfu Somé’s revelation when she understood the healing energies that women carry within our body’s center, this respect for women evident in the West African village of the Dagara tribe in which she grew up. “Something infinite” opened up in her, says Sobonfu. May that “something infinite” open up in each of us as well.
Two: In the section titled “Caring for Your Inner Life,” Barbara suggests observing the moon’s phases as a way to immerse yourself in the relationship between your menstrual cycle and the moon’s cycle. She continues: “The moon’s cycle is a natural calendar. It was the first calendar….”
The notion that the moon’s cycle was the first calendar has rich implications. As I wrote a few years ago in A New Cosmology: Women’s Bodies Encode What Humankind Needs To Know,
Astronomical evidence indicates that women’s bodies code the way the world works. Our volumes and curves, our rhythms and cycles, replicate the structure and function of the universe. Beginning with the correspondence between menstrual and lunar cycles, continuing to planetary orbits and beyond, we embody the mathematical relationships implicit in universal principles of time and space.
How’s that for an idea that might change the basis for women’s body image — or, better said, our body confidence?
Those words encapsulate what I’d learned from reading articles written by and interviewing meterologist Bart Jordan. (A “meterologist” is one who studies measure.)
Bart’s research informs much of The Curse: A Cultural History of Menstruation, written by Janice Delaney, Mary Jane Lupton, and Emily Toth (University of Illinois Press; revised edition, 1988). In particular, they reference “Early Calendrical Art Recreated: A Partial Catalogue,” New England Antiquities Research Association Journal (NEARA) 19, nos. 1, 2 (Summer/Fall 1984): 1-13 and “Deciphering the Distant Past,” Publick Occurrences, May 17, 1974, pp. 12-13.
In the conclusion to The Curse, the authors write that Bart’s work demonstrates:
At least thirty thousand years ago, and perhaps 300 thousand years ago, human beings on this planet were measuring the movement of the stars and planets with a sophisticated system that emanated from, and mathematically depended upon, the human menstrual cycle.
[Bart Jordan has arrived] at diagrams and symbols based on the 364-day year of 13 moon cycles, the 280-day human gestation period, and the 584-day transit of the planet Venus around the sun…to find, time and again, that the diagrams already existed on the carved tusks, stone earth goddesses (such as the Venus of Lespuges), and other manifestations of what had been believed to be the artistic expressions of a primitive and preliterate people.
We have seen his drawings and examined the evidence of the archeological finds, only to agree with the staggering fact he is trying to introduce into current scientific thinking.
What is this staggering fact?
The Ice Age “art” that is commonly displayed, and the even earlier “art” known to paleontologists and other specialists, is really Ice Age “science.” The ancients, the Cro-Magnon ancestors of our human race, were not scratching pretty designs onto their reindeer tusks or fashioning grotesque models of the female form to give vent to their need to make art. They were, in fact, recording their scientific observations on the way the moon and planets and their own earth went through the phases of the year and using the menstrual clock of the women of the society as the observable data from which to draw.
Crucial to Jordan’s calculations is the difference between the lunar and menstrual calendars. The real lunar calendar, he says, counting the nights when the moon is “dark,” is 29.5 days. But the calculations evident in the carved tusks and obese goddesses reflect a calendrical notation of 28 days, and its multiple, 280, the human gestation period. Menstrual averaging was not unknown to our Cro-Magnon ancestors, Jordan believes, and it was this sophistication that enabled them to create symbols in their art (such as the early Greek meander) that were actually representations of the movement of time as measured by the female body clock and its numerical connection to the travels of Venus around the sun.
The writers also remark:
While Bart Jordan’s work is entirely original, additional evidence that menstrual calendars were the basis of time measurement in the early Chinese, Mayan, Gaelic, Roman, Aryan, Babylonian, Chaldean, Greek, Egyptian, and pre-Christian European societies is presented in Barbara Walker’s The Woman’s Encyclopedia of Myths and Spirits (New York, Harper & Row, 1983), pp. 645-49. Walker even notes that the Romans’ word for calculation of time is mensuration, or knowledge of the menses, and that the Gaelic words for menstruation and calendar are the same.
Barbara Hanneloré has given The Moon and You a tag line, indicating the benefit that she and her book are promising: Discover your own Inner Rhythms and Take Loving Care of Yourself.
The book delivers on its promise. What’s more, it just might lead us to knowing, in our bones and in our blood, that our woman-body and our woman-being are as sacred as the universe is infinite.
She was standing in line at the deli counter when it happened. Out of nowhere, for no reason at all, she felt something take over her breathing. Moments before — well, for days, weeks, decades on end — her mind had been chattering non-stop, yammering thoughts (judgments, really) through circles within never-ending cycles of not-good-enough. Such had been her life, so-called, whatever you would call absenting yourself from actual contact with the world’s flavors, textures, and other trinkets of sensation. Certainly her world — although some might call it sterile — was neat, tidy, clean.
She wasn’t discontent with her circumstances. Any time she had peeked out of her circumscribed la-la-land, however arid — and, to her credit, she had attempted several sorties — she’d encountered bits of barbed wire in her milk, darts flying through the air at her, and broken glass strewn along the sidewalk. In her, yes, limited experience, the world was not a friendly place. If her existence within her self-imposed isolation was a bit lonely, actually loveless, at least she was safe. Trips to the grocery store and library were adventures enough.
As far as she was concerned, the intricacies of the mundane world were either exhausting, boring, or painful. The world of her own making, however recursive the cursing, was, if aggravating, at least interesting.
But then, waiting on line — behind two matronly ladies, a tattooed punkster with orange hair, and a fraying teenager with a toddler in tow — to place her order for barbecued spare ribs and a pound of mac and cheese, it happened.
Suddenly, she felt as if her belly contained a triangular pillow, ruby red, one rounded point reaching down to her perineum, the other two points above her hip bones at the level of her navel. No embroidered initials on the pillow, but its fabric was plush, velvety, deep, richly hued.
When she inhaled, her inhalation made the pillow plumper. When she exhaled, it returned to size. Breath in, breath out: this luxe pillow — call it crimson, call it scarlet — filled, emptied, reached out, receded.
The sensation, pleasant enough. In fact, a sly grin twitched her lips as she enjoyed this private pleasure.
The adventure continued: As the pillow expanded and contracted — a gentle bellows, a petalled pulsing — it sent a rosy smoke, a pink mist, up through the column of her body and into her brain. The mist magnetized her thoughts — the jagged ones, the bitter ones, the tattered ones, the ragged ones. It gathered them together, ushered them down the column of her body into the plush pillow in her belly.
Breath out, breath in. Pink mist herds her nasty thoughts down into the plump pillow; they deconstruct, dissolve. Pink mist rises into her brain and soothes it, shushes it, smooths it, lets it rest.
A smile breaks across her face. Her shoulders drop away from her ears. She discovers flooring beneath her feet and, for the first time in a long, long, time, suspects the ground will remain in place.
Peeling some but not all of her attention away from the pink-mist-emitting ruby red pillow in her middle, she notices the scalloped edges of the platters in the deli’s display case, the confetti shapes and colors of the variegated salads they hold, the scent of lavender wafting from the woman passing behind her. She notices the curl of hair at the nape of the neck of the young woman ahead of her in line, hears her best attempt at patience as she warns her child away from climbing on the counter. She notices the blue rubber band circling the left wrist of the man behind the counter as he hands the punkster a container of egg salad.
[with a nod to Denis Chagnon]
Years ago, in desperation, I made a sacred doll to represent what I felt to be the “wounded masculine” part of myself — a creature jaggedly cut off from his core; his heart barren, cold, barricaded; his perception limited to logic and analysis, rejecting what’s fluid and intuitive.
Creating this three-dimensional image helped me externalize — literally objectify — his way of being, placing me in a position to observe him and his schemes.
I’ve known this character as he’s inhabited my inner world, and my outer world as well. I’ve judged him harshly, treated him with resentment and disrespect. I’ve operated with a large, weighty and ultimately dysfunctional chip on my shoulder regarding all I’ve tagged as “patriarchal.”
Mercifully, life is giving me opportunities to release these judgments, invoke compassion and forgiveness in both inner and outer realms. What a relief!
I recently created a ritual to signal this release and invoke healing all around. The ritual involved placing the icon in the neighborhood of joy, inviting him to sit in the lap of the Sacred Feminine and finally burying him near a Native American ceremonial mound in a nest of moss, holly berries, seashells and feathers.
Here’s a selection of photos sharing the ritual of release and healing with you. Click on each thumbnail to see the full-size image.
- What if your belly — whatever its shape and size — wasn’t shameful?
- What if your belly were home to profound wisdom, power, and guidance?
- What if your body’s center were in fact sacred space?
This possibility is difficult for many women to imagine, and embody. My continuing question: How can I inspire women to discover and claim the treasure waiting for us within our body’s core?
What are your ideas and feelings? I’d love to know.
Perhaps myth, story, and image hold the key. For example…
• • •
She was standing in line at the deli counter when it happened. Out of nowhere, for no reason at all, she felt something take over her breathing.
Later, she might wonder whether she’d been looking at one too many Venus figurines for her online archeology course.
But now her mind, as it had for days, weeks, decades on end, was chattering non-stop, yammering thoughts (judgments, really) through circles within never-ending cycles of not-good-enough. Such had been her life, so-called, whatever you would call absenting yourself from actual contact with the world’s flavors, textures, and other trinkets of sensation. Certainly her world — although some might call it sterile — was neat, tidy, clean.
She wasn’t discontent with her circumstances. Any time she had peeked out of her circumscribed la-la-land, however arid — and, to her credit, she had attempted several sorties — she’d encountered bits of barbed wire in her milk, darts flying through the air, cutlery strewn across the sidewalk. In her, yes, limited experience, the world was not a friendly place. If her existence within her self-imposed isolation was a bit lonely, actually loveless, at least she was safe. Trips to the grocery store and library were adventures enough.
As far as she was concerned, the intricacies of the mundane world were either exhausting, boring, or painful. The world of her own making was, however recursive the cursing, if aggravating, at least interesting.
But then, on line behind two matronly ladies, a tattooed punkster with orange hair, and a fraying teenager with a toddler in tow, waiting to place her order for barbecued spare ribs and a pound of mac and cheese, it happened. Suddenly, she felt as if her belly contained a triangular pillow, ruby red, one rounded point reaching down to her perineum, the other two points above her hip bones at the level of her navel. Embroidered initials on the pillow? No, but its fabric was plush, velvety, deep, richly hued.
When she inhaled, her inhalation made the pillow plumper. When she exhaled, it returned to size. Breath in, breath out: this luxe pillow — call it crimson, call it scarlet — filled, emptied, reached out, receded.
The sensation was pleasant enough. In fact, a sly grin twitched her lips as she enjoyed the private pleasure.
As the pillow expanded and contracted — a gentle bellows, a petalled pulsing — it sent a rosy smoke, a pink mist, up through the column of her body and into her brain. The mist magnetized her thoughts — the jagged ones, the bitter ones, the tattered ones, the ragged ones. It gathered them together, ushered them down the column of her body into the plush pillow of her belly.
Breath in, breath out. Pink mist herds her nasty thoughts downward; within the luscious pillow they deconstruct, dissolve. Pink mist rises into her brain and soothes it, shushes it, smooths it, lets it rest.
Belly out, belly in. Now, as the pink mist rises up to her brain, a blue mist descends lazily through her legs.
A smile breaks across her face. Her shoulders drop away from her ears. She discovers flooring beneath her feet and, for the first time in a long time, suspects the ground will remain in place.
Peeling some but not all of her attention away from the pink-and-blue-mist-emitting ruby red pillow in her middle, she notices the scalloped edges of the platters in the deli’s display case, the confetti-colored salads they hold, the scent of lavender wafting from the woman passing behind her. She notices the curl of hair at the nape of the neck of the young woman ahead of her in line, hears her strained patience as she warns her child away from climbing on the counter. She notices the blue rubber band circling the left wrist of the man behind the counter as he hands the punkster a container of egg salad.
- – – – – – -
Erich Neumann, The Great Mother, Pantheon/Bollingen (1955); Princeton University Press, reprint edition (1972); plate 14.
My next project could be…a manhunt.
I’d be on the lookout for men who live beyond the confines of conventionally defined masculinity.
Men who, as I’ve written elsewhere, embrace their capacities for emotion, tenderness, and intuitive knowing — even as the culture dismisses these human capacities as appropriate only for women and girls.
Men who, borrowing a term from author Philip Shepherd, are content to be ordinary heroes.
Through the example of their lives, they’d show us a glimpse of post-patriarchal culture. A culture that moves beyond violence, hierarchy, and fear toward reverence, community, respect. A life-affirming culture that places doing in service to being.
Here’s the start of a list of candidates, with links to their stellar qualities of creativity, courage, and compassion:
|Coleman Barks||Paulus Berensohn|
|Barry Lopez||Doug Orr|
|Patrick Stewart||Paul Winter|
Doing And Being
In Kurt Vonnegut‘s Deadeye Dick, Rudy Waltz encounters the tussle between doing and being in an airport men’s room (p. 253):
For a few moments there, I was happier than happy, healthier than healthy,
and I saw these words scrawled on the tiles over a wash basin:
“To be is to do” — Socrates.
“To do is to be” — Jean-Paul Sartre.
“Do be do be do” — Frank Sinatra.
In Asheville, North Carolina, Steven Jones invites men to a weekly Men’s Dance. He writes:
Being and Doing, are they the same thing? Do we know the difference? Usually, when asked who we are, we answer with a description of what we do — engineer, data analyst, social worker.
We pursue our relationships with others in our same task-oriented fashion: We gain, we take, we control, we feel powerful, but this process offers diminishing returns. We may feel needed, but for what we have and give, not who we are.
What would be truly fulfilling? What can we truly offer to others from the pure core of our being?
The answers are found in our bodies. We dance and move to wake up, to shake up. We look for who we are in relation to the wonders of incarnation and accept the freedom to be insignificant and yet vitally alive — how that seeming contradiction is capable of connecting us with everyone and everything.
July 1, 2013
As we dance and as we live through the “core of our being” — our center of being as it dwells within our body’s center — we are in the process of integrating polarities, however we express them: energy and matter, yang and yin, heaven and earth, spirit and flesh, male and female, doing and being.
What About Men?
Hara is the Japanese term for the belly as the body’s sacred center, our core connection with All-That-Is, the place where polarities meet and merge. Since 1988, I’ve developed and shared the hara-charging Honoring Your Belly program in workshops open only to women — our bellies are such tender subjects for us.
But what about men? Do men have hara?
Twenty years ago, Yoga Journal featured my article on Honoring the Belly. Within days of the issue’s publication, I received a letter with return address marked Tom Thompson, Hara Foundation. Thrilled to meet Tom, I asked him what he observed among the men in his yoga and meditation classes as they learned to live more and more through the body’s center.
His answer was concise. They became less narcissistic, less self-absorbed. He recently elaborated:
Living from the hara as the center of the infinite ocean of life energy makes one aware of the energetic flow within and around oneself and others. Being in this flow makes it increasingly difficult to fixate on propping up a self-image. (Look at me! I’m great! — trip, splat!)
August 4, 2013
Men as artists, dancers, poets, gardeners, educators, horse whisperers: Sure, some may have found a way to integrate masculinity into the generosity of being human. But what about race car drivers? What about do-be-do-be-do in a sport as macho as racing?
Tracking The Oval
[Update May 12, 2014: I'm deleting what was a piece on an electrical engineer turned race car driver and photographer. He no longer qualifies for this list.]
Hero Or Tyrant?
In New Self, New World: Recovering Our Senses in the Twenty-First Century, Philip Shepherd writes that the male (yang) doing aspect of human consciousness operates — in both men and women — either as hero or tyrant. The tyrant, striving for independence, guarding his isolation, attempts to rule the world from his high-in-the-sky, heady perspective. As mythologist Joseph Campbell characterizes him, the tyrant is a “monster avid for the greedy rights of ‘my and mine.'” He struggles to dominate and exploit the female power of being, the Sacred Feminine.
In contrast, the hero devotes himself to serving the female (yin) power of being. Rather than standing apart or above, the hero immerses himself in the nothing-special particulars of the world, the experience of what simply is. Down-to-earth, as ordinary as this very moment, the hero surrenders himself to the Sacred Feminine.
As Shepherd describes the process, the integration of male and female dimensions of human consciousness takes place within the body’s center, the hara, the pelvic bowl. Such integration leads us into authenticity, wholeness, presence:
Who you really are is the part of you that can center itself in the energy of the present. To open to [the unknowable present] and allow your spiritual center of gravity to live there is to join the mythic hero. It is also to side with life.
The Hero’s Descent
Shepherd asserts that the hero’s journey is “a descent into the perplexing depths of the body to reunite with the center of intelligence that enables us to ‘be.'” He offers an experience of the ordinary hero’s path: picking up a pencil from the floor:
What could be simpler? But try it, and pay attention, questioningly. Are you deciding to pick it up and then executing the order? If you don’t will yourself to pick it up, then how can you? Is it possible to pick it up as an act of self-achieved submission? And if so, how does that happen? If you submit, where does the impulse to pick it up come from? As you bend down or rise, is there a sense of effort? Does that effort open you to the world or focus you on the self? Are the processes of your thinking and Being happening in separate realms? Can you allow the energies of your thinking to course down and merge with your being? Can you release the awareness of the self as a whole into the heart and let it greet the mindful present?
Here’s one way to borrow a pencil from gravity:
I sink down to the floor, stretch out alongside the pencil, run an index finger along its surface in appreciation of its lineage: Wind, water, sun, and soil nourishing its original tree; insects, birds, and squirrels living among its legacy leaves. Women and men harvesting, transporting, shredding, blending the bit of tree with eraser and graphite into pencil form. Women and men distributing, wholesaling, storing, retailing, stocking, and ringing this pencil up for me, placing it in a bag and giving me the receipt. This one pencil, emissary of much activity and many agencies. Does she miss her arboreal origins? As I consider pencil’s genesis, relationship blossoms. It becomes thou.
How to pick this pencil up when we’re both on the ground? With her permission, I roll pencil toward me, tuck her into the pocket of my pants, roll myself over, press up onto hands and knees, shift my weight further into my feet, press feet into ground, am lifted upright.
Here’s another way:
Standing just behind the pencil, I bend my knees and squat, yield my perineum — that lowest, deepest earth-point of my pelvic floor — to the ground, exhale an invitation. My hands, in prayer position, pivot at the wrist, descend to meet and greet the pencil. Responding to contact, pencil opens a space between my palms and enters.
I tuck pencil into the back of my waistband, rise into standing, lifted by the perineum’s pull.
Shepherd reveals the do-be-do-be-do lurking in this experiment:
When the present comes to rest in our core — then we can feel the pencil as a whole within the whole to which we ourselves belong. That kinship reveals it to be no longer a dead thing on the nondescript floor, but a living revelation of the self. From that starting point of mutual awareness, we undertake a journey in which we surrender to what we might discover in picking up the pencil; and so we are carried out of our agenda of doing and into the experience of being.
(As it happened, I rediscovered pencil later that day, during a business meeting, as she migrated from the back of my waistband through the spacious realm of my trousers. Such are the perils of practicing ordinary heroism.)
Ordinary Hero, Mythic Mother
I’m adding Philip Shepherd to my list of men defining and demonstrating masculinity in a life-affirming light.
Philip compares the ordinary hero, committed to serving the power of being, with the all-embracing mythic mother and finds them in alignment:
The hero’s quest elevates him into motherhood. In fact, the whole journey of the soul is an evolution into cosmic motherhood — a state of grounded sensitivity that looks to the world with love, listens to its need and its calling with compassion, and acts, often heroically, always selflessly, on its behalf. Whether our own evolution shapes of us a heroic mother or a mothering hero is a matter of indifference. As a mother gives of herself to her child, wanting it to grow into its own strength and clarity, so too the reborn hero upholds with compassion the world around him and those with whom he shares it. Through his actions and inactions he births a deeper harmony.
We know the tyrant, within ourselves and within our culture, all too well. We know the abuse that follows from attempts to control, to dominate, to have one’s way above all else.
We crave the homecoming — the nourishment, the peace — that is the hero’s quest for wholeness.
We demonstrate heroic courage as we’re gutsy enough to be ordinary and, at the same time, entirely alive.