Before I continue, I’d like to apologise for the disjointed nature of this blog. I have things I want to record, remember. My next book is constellating and the thoughts shared here will have a part to play in it.
The Greatest Love Of All
A couple of weeks ago, while walking through Manchester city centre, I was stopped dead in my tracks by the above advert emblazoned across a billboard. My mouth gaped open. Is that the ideal our society is now peddling as womanhood?
Now, images like this are nothing new in this day and age. What galled me about this particular advert, however, was its cringe-worthy attempt at depicting an alluring, mysterious form of women’s sexuality. No disrespect to the model but she looks like a pre-pubescent girl who’s just raided mummy’s make-up case and is now parading about in her nightie.
I was raised in a house where images of the naked female form adorned most every wall: images by Toulouse-Lautrec, Schiele, and Picasso to name but a few. No-one, in my not-so-humble opinion, got closer to capturing the dark alluring underworld of female sexuality quite like Toulouse-Lautrec’s late 19th century Parisian depictions — life splayed open in all its indecent and decadent glory.
Growing up, I was somewhat shielded from our culture’s parochial, myopic ideas of female beauty by my parents’ interests. From mum I inherit my studious love for words and books, and from my aunt I inherited my passion for the female form, art in all its guises, and interior design — beauty, beauty, beauty. My aunt also used to play George Benson’s song The Greatest Love Of All over and over — she later told me she played it for me in the hope it might sink into my unconscious. They never bought fashion glossies or gossip magazines into the house, preferring instead Ideal Homes, Private Eye, The Economist, and The Manchester Guardian newspaper (RIP).
Anyway, as some of you know, I recently attended a women’s only Tantra workshop. Life-changing stuff. A month on and I’m still reeling from it. Complementing perfectly my ongoing studies into archetypal psychology (which itself is derived from Jung’s Analytical Psychology), it balances head with body; the intellect with the experiential. So when I saw the above advert, it immediately called to mind the following excerpt from a book I recently read by Ginette Paris entitled Pagan Meditations:
Insisting on the beauty of Aphrodite, as one inevitably does, we risk forgetting that her mysteries are concerned with the whole body and not only with the eye. The woman who has the qualities of Aphrodite knows how to move, breathe, and vibrate, and is capable of generating as well as receiving high-intensity sexual energy.
Some beautiful women give the impression that they are inhabited by Aphrodite’s qualities. Their seductive appearance which promises of pleasure, however, leads to deception each time this promise is not kept by the body.
But when competence at bodily love prevails over good looks, certain women, even though unsightly, may exert upon their lovers an extraordinary attraction.
Several years ago, while travelling in Morocco, I went to see two performances of belly dancing in the same evening. The first took place in an American hotel, where I had gone to meet some friends. The publicity insisted upon the splendid figure of the dancer: she wore a light veil embroidered with pearls and was indeed beautiful. She moved little, but with grace. Her gestures were those of the belly-dance, but perhaps because of the air-conditioning, or her bleached blonde hair, the whole thing appeared to be insipid and deceptive [my italics].
Later in the evening, in the public square of the old town, I watched a young Berber woman dancing. She was certainly very poor and had no chance of penetrating show-business; her figure was too heavy, and her features hard and imperfect. Although dressed to the neck in a poor cotton dress, and without any artifice of scenery, she kept the public under the spell of her dance with the brusque movements of her hips, her rhythmic cries, her vigour, and her delighted eyes. All her muscles, all her gestures expressed what is most sexual within us. Each movement proceeded from her belly as if from the centre of herself. I have never since seen a more erotic dance.
The first dancer, although beautiful and graceful, seemed to imitate the movements of love, but she could not radiate with Aphrodite’s energy. It was only upon seeing the ‘real’ belly dancing that I knew the first was only a pastiche.
Insipid and deceptive. Bingo. And that’s exactly the perspective those of us on the Sapphic or Tantric path view posters such as the above. Thing is, it takes a hell of a lot of (conscious) physical and psychological work to break free from the myriad forms of body fascism that so insidiously grip our modern western culture, affecting the lives of both men and women.
Just last Saturday night, I inadvertently ended up doing a ritual which turned out to be quite profound. With my boyfriend out for the night, I turned our bathroom into a temple fit for a modern-day goddess. With dozens of fragrant candles dotted about the place, I scattered the entire bathroom floor with hot-pink rose petals, filled the bath with fragrant rose oil, and put some beautiful music on. I then spent the next few hours mindfully caring for and befriending my body. But it’s what happened at the end which most surprised me.
After drying off I slowly began to massage my favourite oil into my calves and thighs, while saying the following which is adapted from an exercise in Margot Anand’s brilliant book The Art of Everyday Ecstasy — The Seven Tantric Keys for Bringing Passion, Spirit, and Joy into Every Part of Your Life:
Thank you (legs) for carrying my weight in the world and supporting my life. Thank you (knees) for your unique mobility. Without you I could not walk, run, dance, do Pilates or Yin yoga, and a thousand other joys. Thank you (thighs) for your strength, for your willingness to be pillars of support to connect my pelvis to my legs. You are a great help to me. I’m sorry I’ve beat up on you every day with scorn and self-loathing because I didn’t believe you were sylph-like and slinky enough…
I then spent the next ten or fifteen minutes, quietly, tenderly massaging the oil into my thighs. As I massaged they began to feel sore and somewhat bruised — as though they were releasing long repressed pain and ancient hurt. If a body part could cry — and I believe they do — then my thighs did just that. And, as they did, I soothed and smoothed them lovingly as though holding a child or loved one who was in pain. For the first time in my life, I held and stroked them with love — unconditional love and absolute acceptance for how they were right now; not how they could be sometime in the future, but right now, in this moment. I told them it was okay, that they could now let go of the hurt they’d held on to for goodness knows how long. That I loved them.
Each night since, I’ve continued this practice — quietly, tenderly soothing my legs — and ever since my entire body has been aching, as though it’s detoxing. And to think that, up until this point, I only ever thought a detox consisted of eliminating certain ‘toxic’ food and drinks. I never considered detoxing might also entail the release of long-held toxic thoughts and feelings towards oneself which would result in a similar ‘healing crisis’ to what one might experience during the first few days of a dietary detox.
We spend a lot of time in our heads, particularly those on a spiritual path — abstracting, meditating, theorising, praying, analysing — but not so much time consciously connected to our bodies, reconnecting with our own flesh and bones. We ‘think’ we do — but therein lies the problem. And a mindless, rote-routine of a yoga class won’t cut it. Our bodies carry so much grief, so much unexpressed sadness and repressed hurt and anger, I’m not surprised people turn to alcohol, for example, night after night in order to numb themselves, anaesthetise the pain they’ve long buried; overeat in order to swallow their anxiety, self-loathing, and shame; seek cake-filled sugar-rushes in order to counter their unconscious feelings of not feeling ‘sweet’ enough. The list is endless.
Thing is, we’re of no help to the outer environment (Earth, Nature) if we don’t first consciously and compassionately reconnect with ourselves. Charity begins at home. Many a spiritual teacher has said, You must know and love yourself before you can truly love another.
One final thing: this morning, while lay in bed, somewhere between sleep and waking, I felt my partner reach over and softly stoke my forearm before taking it in his embrace, kissing it, and holding it by his face. He’s never done that before. I guess when you truly begin to love yourself, treat yourself with tenderness and compassion, others follow suit. Put another way, when you change, others around you change. The best bit is, he has no idea of half the Sapphic/Tantric rituals and exercises I practise — and this is only the beginning.
To buy a copy of Running into Myself, visit Amazon UK, Amazon US or, better still, order a limited edition signed copy direct from her publisher here (also ships worldwide). Also available to download on Kindle.
“Thea’s personal journey is utterly compelling. I couldn’t put her book down. Thea manages to make Greek mythology not only understandable, interesting, and relevant to our lives today, but shows how it can be utilised as a tool for self development. She introduces ideas and ways of thinking that broaden your mind, and lights the way for others to follow.”