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.
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.