But one fact that hit me between the eyes turned out to be a gendered distinction about how connected we are in general to our bodies. The speaker pulled out of the book several studies that indicate that men generally connect sexual arousal with positive desire but that women can be physiologically aroused and psychologically either unaware of their arousal or frightened or repulsed or feeling any number of other emotions instead of desire. I don't know if this is truly a gendered characteristic or not. It's certainly conceivable that men, or some men, can be physically aroused and not experience psychological desire. And I'm relatively certain that many women are quite tuned into their bodies and experience congruence between their physical and psychological states.
However, the information presented launched me into pondering the implications of this data far beyond the realm of desire. I am disconnected from my body, in general. And I know I am not the only woman (or person) who experiences this disconnect. My Jungian bent toward psychological types, popularized by the Myers-Briggs Personality Type Indicator, suggests that anyone who relies significantly on intuition as a way to interact with the world will struggle to develop a connection with the physical body and the sensory input from the world at large. When the connection with the physical does happen, it carries with it a mysterious and sacred sort of quality, at least in the best moments. Unfortunately the flip-side (there is always a flip side) means that often there can be a tremendous amount of unease and shame around the physical, sensory driven states of being.
I am discovering lately just how deeply disconnected I am from my body. I had some professional photographs done earlier this year, and during the shoot, the photographer reminded me over and over to relax and drop my shoulders. Every time he did, I was stunned. I wear my shoulders around my ears without even registering the tension I carry in my neck and back. I skip meals on a far too frequent basis, not recognizing the subtle signals of hunger and thirst my body sends me, instead waiting until my body screams at me before I notice. And when I do eat, it's often quickly and on the run, without ever even tasting my food, anxious to get on with the next item on my to do list. I often ignore stress and pain and fatigue until I'm at a point where I find myself snapping at my kids or my husband without even really knowing why. I hold my breath. A lot. And I'm not even aware that I'm not breathing until I bring a mindful focus to my breath and realize how irregular it has been. And, as the information from the book indicates, I am often disconnected from what brings me physical pleasure in intimate sexual encounters. I know, from the many conversations I have with others on a regular basis, I am not the only one.
It's hard for me to bring attention and focus to my body. The tape in my head says that spending time focused on the physical is unimportant or a waste of time. I know I need to take time to move, to breathe, to stop and smell the roses, to get my hands dirty in the garden or the kitchen, to laugh from my belly, to dance, to sing, to touch. But there are always so many other things that need to be done. I am uneasy with my own body. I am shamed by the need to take time to just breathe. Sensory experience gets denigrated and ignored in the mental and emotional gymnastics of my daily routine.
But when I can let go into a sensory, physical, body-based experience it can be sublime. I spent four hours recently with someone who practices various forms of energy and body work. It was an amazing evening. Through some simple breathing, movement and touch she brought me to an awareness of my physical being that I've rarely experienced. I feel the most connected to God through my senses - being in nature, listening to and creating music that stirs my soul, moving my body, creating with my hands, connecting with another through touch. So why then do I resist and ignore this physical experience on such a regular basis?
I think some of the answer to that question lies within me. But I think some of the answer is bigger than just me. I think the culture and society and religious community I have been formed by play a part. Women's bodies endure tremendous scrutiny and denigration. Women's sexuality is feared and blamed and exploited. Women's needs are subsumed by their roles of wife, mother, teacher, friend, caretaker, worker, slave to a thousand other demands. So we learn to exist in our minds and our intuition instead of occupying our bodies. We ignore sensory cues and pay the price in those bodies through illness, stress, disease, fatigue. And MY culture has it easy compared to what women around the world endure daily. My mind wants an answer. I want to know why. And I want someone to tell me how to change it.
Julie Daley over at unabashedly female suggests that it's not about finding the answer to those questions, but simply about loving this body I inhabit. And then my question becomes - how?