In the medieval European philosophy, woman’s body was seen as a vessel filled with sins, while man was regarded as a more spiritual being. This is one of the reasons why the concept of body is reassessed in feminist studies and why body is elevated in neo-paganism and Goddess spirituality. My fear is that nowadays body can be treated as an instrument for social advancement.
We still live in a society that is deeply hostile to women’s bodies. Alla Demidova, an actress I respect for her talent and her critical mind, did a programme of Christmas-related poetry. I could not listen to more than five minutes of it.
The poems have been all written by men. I am not saying that men do not have the right to write about birth. I am saying that our prevalent image of Christmas should not be based on male view alone. In this sense I much better like the Carol from “The Vicar of Dibley” (one of my favourite British comedy series, about a female Vicar), which describes the movement of baby Jesus through Mary’s birth canal.
I have no intention of attacking the view of Christmas that might be dear to believers. I am pointing out that if people’s view of Christmas does not include the blood, the sweat, the shaking and the yelling, than from here it can only go to a world without women’s bodies, without women’s struggles, victories and joys.
The US, which celebrates Christmas like there’s no tomorrow, is one of the only two countries on earth without a paid Maternity Leave. What the US does to its Mothers and babies is basically leaving them to their own devices – giving them less than a warm place next to oxen and donkeys.
While in some spiritual traditions, the conflict is often constructed around body vs. spirit, in Buddhism the dichotomy is rather between mind and heart. You can also say that it is between the societal conventions that you incorporate into your personality uncritically, and that which is real: the deathless, nirvana, freedom.
I feel that we still hold on to many outdated concepts of body, which lead to harmful social practices. We often do not realise what strong hold old habits have on us. Examples include patriarchal elements in same-sex or feminist weddings, with someone “giving” one partner away to another. Another one is distinguishing between meat and fish when talking about vegetarianism. From the “suchness” point of view, there is no difference between the flesh of land animals and that of sea animals. It is the remnant of the Catholic and Orthodox practice of fasting, when on some days fish was allowed, but not meat.
One of these old habits is fashioning our bodies in accordance with the latest social preferences. This obsession with subjugating our body is in my view part of our drive to turn nature into culture, to cultivate it. And so we find body paint, tattooing, piercing and scarring as some of the most ancient social practices, both in anthropological and archaeological materials.
This “civilising” the body, fitting it into human world predates patriarchy. These practices had to do with marking identity and status. Today, when patriarchy coupled with capitalism rule, the subjugation of bodies is related to exploiting nature and oppression of women. Body can be seen as a product for literal or metaphorical sale.
I have been watching the BBC series “Young, Welsh and Pretty Skint“, in which people treat their bodies as they would a fashion accessory. This year toned thighs are in fashion, the next year curves are preferable.
I am not degrading fitness. (See this feminist blog about fitness). I am advocating for deep respect and humility toward your body.
There is this joke in Russian. A cowboy rides across a mountainous area. He sees a ravine, and he says: “I’m a cowboy, I can make it”. So he jumps over the ravine and carries on. He sees another wider ravine, but he says: “I’m a cowboy, I can make it”. Then he sees a very wide ravine, yet he still says: “I’m a cowboy, I can make it.” At this point his horse throws him off her back and says to him: “You’re the cowboy, you make it.”
This is what I would do if I were a body of many, many modern humans. You do it, if you think you know better.
Body does so much for us. Do we really think that with our “mind” or brain we could run our heart muscle, or the muscles in our intestines? Could we perform millions of functions that our body does for us every second?
And yet, we have the audacity to misuse our body. We do not think twice about poisoning it, overeating, starving ourselves, not sleeping enough. We think we have the right to artificially make our bodies work “better” by taking caffeine and other stimulants.
You know how we say” body of knowledge”, or “body of water”. Our body is body of nature. Our body is body of humanity.
Body is not a fashion accessory. It is not a tool for helping us go up in society. Body is not for anything, in fact. Body is the only way for us to experience life. Body is life. In the same way as we cannot create life out of chemical elements in laboratories, we cannot control body.
Life is flowing. And our mind’s activity is but a tiny part of it. And yet by some slight of hand we turn the whole picture upside down and call a few excerpts from the constant mental chatter “I”, and the rest of our whole existence – “my body”. Which I am allowed to use, abuse and misuse in whichever way I like. ‘Cos “I” am a mental king of this castle. Well, “mental” is the right word.
Oxana Poberejnaia is a content writer at http://content4you.org. She was an Officer of the University of Manchester Buddhist Society while studying for a PhD in Government, and has been involved in organising the Manchester Buddhist Convention, now in its 10th year. Oxana is now exploring the Sacred Feminine through marking seasonal festivals, working with her menstrual cycle, frame drumming and shamanic journeying, while keeping the practice of Buddhist meditation. Oxana is an artist and an author. Her works can be found on her blog. http://poeticoxana.wordpress.com