Walk in love and beauty.
Trust the knowledge that comes through the body.
Speak the truth about conflict, pain, and suffering.
Take only what you need.
Think about the consequences of your actions for seven generations.
Approach the taking of life with great restraint.
Practice great generosity.
Repair the web
In Rebirth of the Goddess, I offered Nine Touchstones of Goddess Spirituality as an alternative to the Ten Commandments. The Nine Touchstones are intended to inform all our relationships, whether personal, communal, social, or political.
Though several of the touchstones are influenced by indigenous teachings, the third touchstone, “trust the knowledge that comes through the body,” is a response to the separation of mind and body common in western cultures. In the Symposium, Socrates taught that the journey of the soul begins in the appreciation of physical beauty, but ends in the contemplation of unchanging transcendental beauty. Christian ascetics believed that the body must be disciplined and subdued in order for the mind to commune with divinity. Up through the present day, Christians are taught that the pleasures of the body are a temptation because we are destined for something “higher.”
When I began gestalt bio-energetic therapy in my mid-twenties, my therapist noticed my disconnection from my body and asked me to breathe from my belly. She assumed this would be easy for me to do. In fact, I had not the slightest idea what she meant, and it was not until a year later that my body relaxed enough for me to take a deep breath. On another day, I came into therapy and said I was fine and had nothing specific to work on. My therapist took one look at me and said, “Have you noticed your hand, it is balled up into a fist. Who are you angry at?” With lots of hard work, I came to recognize the feelings encoded in my body. According to the philosopher Alfred North Whitehead, all thinking begins in feelings that are located in the body. If we are not in touch with the feelings of our bodies, we are cut off from the vital source of our thinking.
Though I came into greater touch with the feelings of my body in my twenties and thirties, it was not until I was in my early fifties that I learned to trust the feelings of my body as a source of knowledge about other people. This happened in a workshop focused on energy healing. Though I already knew that I had a talent for healing others with my hands, in this workshop I learned to sense and evaluate the energies coming to me from others. I am a naturally sensitive and trusting person. Insecure as a child, I wanted people to like me. I only rarely stopped to ask myself if I liked them. Thus, I was often hurt by people who were in fact not trustworthy.
One of the reasons this happened to me is that I was given a very misleading message by my mother. When my father got angry and hurt me, she always said, “He really loves you, he just doesn’t know how to show it.” My mother thought these words would comfort me, but in fact they taught me that the feelings of my body, including anger and fear, should be discounted. It may have taken years, but by the time I was an adult, I had learned not to listen to the feelings in my body that could and should have told me not to trust every individual who crossed my path.
One of the exercises in the workshop that helped me was called “brain balancing.” We were asked to place our hands on our temples and to imagine energy flowing between our hands in the shape of a figure eight. The purpose of this exercise was to connect the right and left brains. For most of us, this meant connecting the rational mind to the feeling and embodied mind. Another exercise involved expanding our own energies outside our bodily boundaries and then drawing them back in.
I am not sure exactly how it happened, but a veil that had clouded my vision of others for most of my life was lifted. Before the workshop I would have said that I did not know what it meant to trust my intuition. The times I thought I was following my intuition often ended in disappointment because I had not learned to separate intuition from fantasy and desire. After the workshop it was perfectly clear. Trusting intuition begins with trusting the feelings in the body that emerge in every interaction with another person, an other than human being, the wider world.
Suddenly, when talking with another person, instead of simply listening to, following, and trusting what they were saying, I had another source of information: the feelings of the body. I quickly sensed: this person is lying at this very moment; this person is speaking from the heart; this person is talking but not saying anything. I knew where to put my trust and where to hold it back.
The journey to recovering the feelings of the body was a long and arduous one for me, as it has been or will be for many others. But it is well worth it. When things go wrong or get sticky in personal relationships, as they often do, it is a great relief to be able to know “what is my stuff” and what is not. I am not perfect by any means, but often the other person is acting out of “their stuff” which in fact has very little to do with me. In relation to my father, I came to see that his anger toward me had very little to do with any specific behaviors on my part, but rather was caused by feelings evoked in him every time he realized that his daughter was not under his control. Being able to sort complicated feelings out is one of the keys to living well. When we are not in touch with the knowledge that comes through the body, we continue to get confused.
The primatologist Franz de Waal says that empathy learned in the mother-child relationship of all mammals is one of the building blocks of ethics. Empathy is a feeling in the body that is transferred to the mind. When we are whole in ourselves, empathy, feeling the feelings of others, will be the first principle of all our personal and social interactions, and the first principle of politics. The second building block of ethics, according to de Waal is reciprocity, a sense of fairness, or justice, also inherited from our primate ancestors. I will be discussing reciprocity and fairness in relation to the remaining touchstones.
Also see: Ethics of Goddess Religion: Healing the World , Nurture Life: Ethics of Goddess Spirituality, and Walk in Love and Beauty: A Touchstone for Healing
Lenore Hecht was my therapist. Jeanine Sande taught the energy workshop.
Carol P. Christ is an internationally known feminist writer, activist, and educator currently living in Lasithi Prefecture, Crete. Carol’s recent book written with Judith Plaskow, Goddess and God in the World: Conversations in Embodied Theology, is on Amazon. A Serpentine Path: Mysteries of the Goddess is on sale for $10.98 on Amazon. Carol has been leading Goddess Pilgrimage to Crete for over twenty years: join her in Crete. Carol’s photo by Michael Honegger.
10 thoughts on “Trust the Knowledge that Comes through the Body: Heal Yourself, Heal the World by Carol P. Christ”
This post is one of the most informative and eloquent that it has ever been my pleasure to read – thank you Carol.
Just out of curiosity I tried to imagine the figure of 8 between my temples and, after a while, I felt a sense of calm and ‘togetherness’ so bless you – this was something I really needed to read today :O)
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“consequences of your actions for seven generations ” we really need to think about it. People nowadays act like there is no tomorrow.
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Thank you for this post, Carol. In our society the disconnection between mind and body is not being discussed enough. Women are taught to disregard their intuition, even though following it might save their lives. I plan to do the exercise you talked about, as I haven’t embraced the mind-body connection fully in my own life. Write on, sister!
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Thank you for sharing the story of your own journey to your body’s wisdom. Inspiring and helpful!
Excellent post Carol on a critical subject – this mind body split leaves us at the mercy of those who would harm us. Like you I grew up with those crazymaking messages from my mother and my beloved grandfather…. “your (fill in the blank) really loves you S/he just can’t show it.” What garbage – what we learn is how to totally discount our feelings. I have struggled to re-connect my body -mind all my life and ANY time I make a mistake I can trace it back to NOT trusting what I know. My body DOES know…
I came to begin trusting my body through dreaming and being a journal keeper… it was impossible to ignore dream messages after seeing how often they were LITERALLY warning me. Because precognition is a reality in my life, I also have to take into consideration that my dreams might be referring to something in the immediate/ distant future (the immediate may be due to telepathy). For example, a year before my mother died I had a dream that told me “she has about a year left” and although there was nothing wrong with her she died 14 months later… I can literally give you hundreds of experiences like this. How our body reads the future is a source of continuous amazement to me, and is also a source of fright. This is a gift that no one wants. In my case, I was so split from my body that dreaming, which is the language of the body, seemed to be a desperate attempt to help me see how screwed up my thinking really was. I am sorry to say, that I still get trapped – ugh.
Very interesting! I can still remember going into therapy in graduate school because it was so overwhelming. I started my Ph.D. coursework a day or two after my son turned three, so I was split between mind and body, and I mostly chose to live in my head because intellect felt safer than just about anything else. And it was “talking therapy.” That actually helped a lot, but now I’m wishing I’d had your nine touchstones to teach me how to really live. Well, maybe it’s not too late?
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Barbara, I had the same experience – acquiring degrees kept me out of my body – it was just too dangerous to live there… My hope is that young women today are reading this blog – especially if they are on an academic track because academia is not a safe place for body to be.
Spot on, Sara! Armoring, hardening, and building walls in the body are extremely unhealthy responses to the onslaught of outright and very subtle hostilities of the phallocratic institution called academia, but so many women–and people–do this to survive working on American campuses that are built on domination and supremacy. Being soft and fluid as a mountain lion while in the midst of enemy territory is critical as we do our life-affirming, life-changing work with the rising generations. Thanks for the teaching, Carol!
Thanks for this important post, Carol. I think many of us have been taught to ignore our gut instincts. Women especially are taught to be nice and to ignore or downplay the pain others cause us. I had one therapist ask me why I ignored red flags. That was a huge wake up call for me! Ignoring out gut feelings can and does cause us grief, but it can also be extremely dangerous. An excellent book on this issue is “The Gift of Fear and Other Survival Signals that Protect Us from Violence,” by Gavin DeBecker.
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