You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves…
When the Strength card appears in a reading, the quote above, from Wild Geese by Mary Oliver, comes forward to be heard and almost always elicits tears. Tears of re-membering, of re-aligning with the body, with that which has been misaligned and much maligned. It is accompanied by a return to nature, to innocence, to vulnerability, to love.
The Strength card, in the Sun Moon Tarot shows a woman sitting on the back of a howling wolf beneath/before a huge full moon, with a single butterfly (or is it a Luna moth?) flying above. The woman is holding a flower in one hand and a snake is wrapped around her lower leg.
There is so much here about getting in touch with, in right relationship with, the natural instinctive world, as well as with the dark feminine aspects of life. The full moon is the bright side, the culmination, of the dark feminine and it elicits the instinctual powerful howl from the wolf. The woman is relaxed, comfortable sitting on the wolf’s back, she doesn’t even need to hold on, they are interconnected, in body to body contact and communication. The snake is the powerful relationship to the earth and the earthly. This card speaks to all things earthly, connected to the body and to nature, it reminds us that we are spiritual beings having a HUMAN experience and that it is so important to honor this body.
In the Rider Waite tarot, and in most other decks, the Strength card pictures a woman holding the mouth of a Lion. I can imagine that a Lion would only put his face in the hands of a person who is in touch with, not only the animal aspect of the world around her, but also the animal nature and instinct in herself. From this place she and the lion are vulnerable with each other, they are in holy communion and it is strength through vulnerability that is elicited.
In our modern culture we have done much to convince ourselves that we are so different and so much “higher”, more evolved, than the animals. Many religions ask us to abstain from sex, to avoid rich food, and other sense-ual pleasures of the body, and to what point? To find our way to another world, a more heavenly, nirvana-ish one than this one?
I learned through my body and soul that it was necessary to sin, that I needed lust, that I had to strive for property and experience nausea and the depths of despair in order to learn not to resist them, in order to learn to love the world, and no longer compare it with some kind of desired imaginary vision of perfection, but to leave it as it is, to love it and be glad to belong to it.
Why have we been taught and encouraged to hate and revile what is close to, in healthy relationship to, nature? Why have we spent so much time and energy bulldozing, chopping down and paving over to enforce something we call “civilization”? How is this related to what we feel for our own bodies?
The body, that connection to the natural animal world has so long been vilified. And yet the human body is the result of millions of years of evolution and perfectly suited to house the individual aspect of the holy spirit that each of us is. Often what we cannot control we tend to fear, remember the margarine commercial “It’s not nice to fool Mother Nature”? There seems to have always been a part of us that tries to intellectualize, organize, control, and contain that which can be none of those things. This strange need to “civilize”. And it may be to our peril that we have done so much of that with what we can actually control, rather than working in co-creation, symbiotic relationship with our environment. We have forgotten our place within the web of life.
Our individuality is all, all, that we have. There are those who barter it for security, those who repress it for what they believe is the betterment of the whole society, but blessed in the twinkle of the morning star is the one who nurtures it and rides it in, in grace and love and wit, from peculiar station to peculiar station along life’s bittersweet route.
― Tom Robbins,
The snake, the animal closest to the earth was the one who tempted Eve to eat of the apple. What is it to eat from the tree of the Knowledge of good and evil. With that one bite we were thrust into the world of duality. Dark and Light, good and evil, day and night, sun and moon. And the animal instincts, desire for sex, food, and the fight for survival (as well as interdependence and reliance on a wholly supportive and nurturing mother nature, a healthy relationship with our earth) have all been seen as animalistic. I remember reading in my history books in high school, way back in the 1980’s, about how the “savage” Native American Indians had to be “tamed” or destroyed. What was savage about them? That they, as human beings, lived in harmony with their surroundings and believed the animals to be their brothers and sisters and the elements to be their parents and grandparents?
Is this crazier than attempting to dam and drill and mine and plunder and pillage that same earth in order for a few people to profit? Is it saner to bulldoze trees for cattle grazing, or to pave over all the green earth for cars and metropolises? Is it crazier to work all day in little boxes, and sleep in different boxes at night, always separated from the earth, tapping on electronic devices, earning money to pay for shelter, food & water that the earth has always freely given? When Was The last time you put your bare feet on the sacred earth? Hmmmmm…what is more “civilized”?
Forget not that the earth delights to feel your bare feet and the winds long to play with your hair.
When I look and see what we have done to our earth, I see echoes of how I have treated my own body as well. Trying to force her into appearing a certain way that the media deemed attractive, so I could be lovable, sellable. But my body never obeyed. She fought back for her right to be how she is, you can call it metabolic syndrome if you want, but it seems as if my body is on strike and does not want to be forced or pushed or coerced into submission any more. She wants to be, demands to be, in right relationship with me and with the world. As I was never allowed to have a “perfect” body, now I have embraced the idea that she is and always has been perfect just as we are, in all our glorious imperfection.
My body is my instructor,
Teaching me to find,
The balance in giving to the world,
And taking personal time.
For most of my life I hated my body, every woman I knew also hated theirs, this was normal. I had what is currently called Body Dysmorphic Dysfunction, although I did not hear those words until I was into my late 20s. When I looked in the mirror I saw a huge, unattractive and (what I considered) grotesque morbidly obese person rather than the 185 pound person I was (at 5’10”) for most of my young adult life. I mistakenly equated fat with being unloveable and all I saw was fat, and was therefore unlovable.
When I exercised it was more akin to an exorcism, invested with so much hatred for my body and the need to whip it into shape. Exercise classes, whether the teacher intended it or not, turned into an opportunity for self flagellation filled with disgust and the attempt to beat my unlovable & unruly body into submission. I was at war with my body and I never once won a battle. Even when I got down to 165 pounds, a beautiful tall young woman of 19, I still only looked for my flaws, and never saw anything good. I remember the last class I took from a teacher who hated her body, it was a kickboxing class when I was in my mid to late 30’s, and the woman, a beautiful tall gorgeous and powerful woman, was beating herself up, berating her butt and thighs while working out in a frenzy and encouraging the class to do the same. I just could not do it anymore and I started to look for ways to love my body.
In her books, Marion Woodman, an amazing Jungian Analyst, addresses not only eating disorders and feminine self hatred, but also recognizing her own body as a neglected and overworked work-horse and the transformation of that relationship through her journey with cancer. Having come into a healthy relationship with her body, and working with her dreams (engaging her unconscious) to heal herself and helping others, she was the first therapist to consciously integrate the body, the somatic into the therapy model.
One of the most powerful defining journeys of my life, this continual journey to self love, is symbolized by the courageous and vulnerable journey to love my body, just as it is, and especially as it continues to change as I age, and to actually speak about it.
I decided long ago to practice loving my body rather than hating it, saying nice things in the mirror rather than looking for what is wrong. Even if it doesn’t change my weight, or my inner thighs, at least I’m feeling better about being in a body I love. Who wants to be anywhere they hate? In fact, because I shared so openly about looking for beauty and cultivating love and appreciation for my body, I had a friend tell me point blank that I must really love myself & my body and obviously have no issues with it. Wow, I was amazed that I had been perceived that way, and so convincingly. It seems to be in the journey, the day to day small doings that big things happen.
And I still struggle sometimes to remember to look for the beauty; to allow the soft animal of my body to love what it loves, to ask her what she loves. To actually come into right relationship with my own body in order to come into right relationship to life. In his youtube talk, Awakening the Cosmic Heart, Matt Kahn speaks to the importance of shifting/raising the vibration of what is in front of us, so that the change we desire can become possible. To become a “Vibration Ally”. It is this I am doing to support myself and my body and actually to find a way to help the world around me when I feel overwhelmed with all of the difficult thing happening
I try to look for something beautiful in every human being I come into contact with, especially those I feel an almost immediate dislike for. I am learning to live a life of intentional service (not self-sacrifice), especially when I’m feeling like I need to be served. When I’m feeling like something is being withheld from me I have realized that that is the exact thing I am here to give. It’s my goal to raise the vibration wherever I am and in whatever I do. As an empath, I often feel in my body what’s happening in the world around me and as I recognize this, I shift the vibration by sending blessings and love to whatever and whoever is suffering (including myself). I bless and send love to those bodies that I can feel resonating the same self-hatred I sometimes feel, what I used to feel all the time.
It seems to me, Govinda, that love is the most important thing in the world. It may be important to great thinkers to examine the world, to explain and despise it. But I think it is only important to love the world, not to despise it, not for us to hate each other, but to be able to regard the world and ourselves and all beings with love, admiration and respect.
Oh how wondrous is this human body, this product of millions (billions?) of years of earthly evolution that houses its specific drop of eternal spirit! In our hands are the same bones (in differing proportions) as the wing of the bird and the fin of the whale…were our ears perfected through the great ears of the elephant? Was our heart perfected in the chest of the majestic and courageous lion? How much gratitude can we have for the world around us that has nurtured and made possible all of our capacities? How can we ever pay forward that gift?
A human being is a part of the whole, called by us Universe, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings as something separated from the rest–a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole nature in its beauty.
Recently I had a dream about my Sweetheart’s dog, Rocket was actually a little human baby, lying between us on the bed, rolling around and reminding us how to love and be playful, how to let the soft animals of our bodies just love what they love. It was a wonderful dream that brought me to re-member my place in the family of things. To remember to love myself and to offer loving kindness and essential support to those I love, to give that which I want to receive.
A mystic sees beyond the illusion of separateness into the intricate web of life in which all things are expressions of a single Whole. You can call this web “God, the Tao, the Great Spirit, the Infinite Mystery, Mother or Father,” but it can be known only as love.
It is from this place that we can truly re-member ourselves and our place in the world. And this takes a strength we can’t possibly imagine or possess all alone, we are a part of the web, we did not weave it. It’s a strength that is increased in holy communion with our sacred earth and the deep feminine of the natural world. When we re-member ourselves here, in right relationship with our own bodies and the body of the earth herself, we start to love the world back to life. For this reminder of the incredible strength that accompanies utter vulnerability, I am so grateful to the Strength card.
Please come by on the 4th Friday, September 23, (or to the Fall Reader Fest on Sunday September 25) so we can see what’s in your cards and engage your unconscious into revealing your next opportunity to love, yourself and the world more.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting —
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.