Sacred Body, Sacred Earth

Victor Anderson, one of my beloved teachers, enjoined us to neither coddle nor punish weakness. That is a difficult proposition. We make social contracts with one another all the time in attempts to not upset the status quo, and to let ourselves off the hook. Sometimes we rebel against that and go the opposite direction, into blaming or shaming.

To work our will requires us dance to between these two, to treat ourselves and others with fierce compassion, to gently remind each other to walk our talk, and live as our best selves.

There is a lot of talk in Pagan circles right now about health. Some feel fingers have been pointed, others feel they are just acting out of concern. There is some real dialogue, some hurt feelings, some anger, and some derision. Bottom line is this: we all have ways in which we do not walk our talk. Bottom line is this: we cannot know what another’s life looks like on the inside, by observing it from the outside.

My clients and students work so hard. They work to know themselves and to come into a better relationship with their bodies, hearts, minds, and souls. They work through shame, fear, pain, and rage. When our study cycle brings us to Earth, we look at posture, food, and exercise, just as we have looked at energy generation and waste, or habits of speech, thought, or emotion. Those who choose to study with me long term all must commit to daily spiritual practice, community service, and exercise. My students have all different body types, states of health, and abilities. They all must find their own relationship with all three commitments. That is their work, not mine. We all go through our struggles as best we can. We also help to hold each other accountable.

Here’s the thing: as magic workers it is our responsibility to come into right relationship with ourselves, with each other, with the earth, with the cosmos, and with our Gods.

Here’s the other thing: we live in an over-culture that has conspired over the last fifty years to poison our food supply with chemicals and genetically modified corn by-products and destroy local agriculture. This is an over-culture that sells us things we don’t need by increasing our insecurity levels, and that tries to place the blame for environmental devastation and the gutting of our health and our communities solely on our backs.

There are two things I just said: we have responsibility and we live within a system that has stacked the deck against us and then blamed us for our problems. What do we do? We find ways to reclaim our power and internal authority. We find ways to honor our bodies and this earth. We find ways to make better choices on a daily basis. We talk to our friends if we see them consistently eating garbage, drinking soda, or not exercising, driving too much, or compulsively shopping, drinking alcohol to excess, or any number of other things that serve to disconnect us from ourselves and the earth. We don’t punish our friends, and we don’t punish ourselves, rather, we find ways to support one another toward greater health and integration. We support one another toward being priests and priestesses, mediating the sacred forces that dance between earth and sky.

Those of you who have read my writings for any length of time know that I write a lot about activism, exercise, and spiritual practice. You also know that I travel and teach a lot – though I have cut way back in an attempt to walk my talk by conserving both jet fuel and my own health. In my travels, I’ve been to festivals where people have not bothered to separate out their recycling even though a group had taken on the task of carting it off site. I have been to festivals where I was consistently offered rides in golf carts when my workshop was 20 yards away or where people have looked at me like I was crazy for exercising in the morning. I have been to festivals where the meals offered made me want to weep, because I barely recognized any of it as food.

I have also been to festivals and conferences where dozens to hundreds of people have shown up to happily do Devotional Dance after breakfast, or spar with me in the afternoon. I have been fed well, and joyously. I’ve shown up at the hotel gym in the morning only to find other Pagans there, sweating away.

We are children of this earth and we are varied. I don’t know if someone needs a ride to their workshop because they have fibromyalgia. I can look at someone and assess pretty well – fat or thin – how healthy they are overall, but I can’t really know without asking. I myself have struggled back from chronic pain and illness, even though at quick glance people would have thought I was in perfect health.

Yes, as people who largely believe that the sacred is with us wherever we are, not waiting in some distant place, it behooves us to become healthy and environmentally conscious and many other things. Many of us are trying. Some of us need to do a lot better, but some are doing our utmost best. That won’t look the same from person to person.

Taking Action

Here is an exercise from my book Evolutionary Witchcraft that links belief and will, helping us assess ourselves and how close we are living to our ideals. It is simple:

Take a piece of paper and divide it in two columns. On the top left side write “If I believe” _____ and on top right “then I will” ______. On the far left, write the numbers 1-10. Fill in ten things on the “I believe” side first. Once that is done, ask yourself, “how can I put my will behind this?” Then fill in the right side.

For example: “If I believe my body is sacred then I will take a thirty minute walk every day.”

Or “If I believe that the earth is sacred then I will organize a trash pickup at the local beach.”

If anything on the “belief” side doesn’t have an action we will commit to, we need to either reassess that belief, or look at changing our behavior.

To close:

As I’ve written elsewhereWe need to come into right relationship with our bodies, to not pretend they are not there, to not constantly be in battle with them, to learn to treat them with respect for all they give us, and to learn to treat them well.

We can exercise because we love our bodies, not because we hate them. We are sacred. Exercise is sacred activity.

We also need to come into right relationship with our beloved, the earth. To remember that we are Nature, and part of the sacred unfolding.

We can campaign for recycling in our area, or compost food scraps, or drive less, or buy less, not because we have been shamed into it, but because the earth is holy and we wish to treat it with love.

And next time we see someone who causes us concern, we can call up some compassion, remember we don’t know the whole story, and ask them about their lives. We can try to not make a lot of assumptions. We can learn to better support one another. We can learn to become as strong as we can. And as kind.

 

With you in love – Thorn

 

 

  • Peter Dybing

    Well said!

  • river

    Thank You, Thorn. A few years ago I was attending one of your workshops and you mentioned how when people begin working with a lot of energy, they tend to gain weight. It captured my attention and when I tried to do some research on it, I found almost nothing.  I have had the opportunity to discuss the health of our community with some of the people who have been commenting on the recent blogs and it does seem to be a rotating cycle of the unwillingness to breach the topic and the lack of sensitive solutions. 

    • http://profiles.google.com/thorncoyle T Thorn Coyle

      River, my comment was anecdotal, coming only from my own experiences. It is something I have often seen, as so many of us are trained to run energy through our physical bodies all the time rather than using the energy fields around the physical to run energy. Our bodies have to compensate somehow. For some of us, we put on some extra weight to cope. Others of us end up getting sick. This is a whole other larger discussion! 

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  • E.A.

    Lovely article, Thorn.  I would like to ask for clarification around your comment that “I can look at someone and assess pretty well – fat or thin – how healthy
    they are overall, but I can’t really know without asking.”  At first glance this seems rather steeped in cultural fatphobia and the idea that fat inherently equals unhealthy, and that asking would support that knowledge. I’m surprised to read this type of sentiment here and am hoping that it is more of a struggle of sentence structure than sentiment .  

    • http://profiles.google.com/thorncoyle T Thorn Coyle

      Thanks for asking for clarification! The confusion must be around both sentence structure and our tendency in this culture to equate fat with unhealthy. That is not what I was saying at all. 

      I said “fat or thin” and I meant that. I didn’t say a fat (or thin) person would necessarily look unhealthy. I have fat and thin friends and students who look glowing with health, who exercise and eat well and take care of their bodies. I also have known fat and thin people who do not look vital and vibrant, whose energy fields are pulled in, whose skin lacks luster, and who don’t carry themselves well. These people usually turn out to have a problematic relationship with food, or exercise, or have medical problems that impede their ability to connect well with their bodies. Conversely, I know others with severe medical conditions who still find ways to tap into vital energy. 

  • Nicole Youngman

    Thanks Thorn. I’d like to see all of us talking more about trying to balance individual responsibility with the recognition that we’re all embedded in a culture and social structure that makes it tremendously hard to “do the right thing” in many cases. I hear a lot of Pagans talking about “taking personal responsibility for yourself” etc., and I am indeed a big fan of that, but all of us making improvements in our own lives to whatever extent we’re able isn’t going to shift the system by itself.

    Annie Leonard has a new video out on the topic, if anyone’s interested: http://www.storyofstuff.com/movies-all/story-of-change/

    • http://profiles.google.com/thorncoyle T Thorn Coyle

      Thank you.

  • http://profiles.google.com/thorncoyle T Thorn Coyle

    Hello all! Thank you so much for reading this article. It felt important to chime in on the discussion, and I hope you continue to share thoughts here. 

    I, however, leave town today and will be on a social media fast starting tomorrow – I am teaching one day and then entering a writing retreat in order to finish my new book. Therefore, I won’t be able to leave comments here after this afternoon. It doesn’t mean I don’t care. I’m just going into radio silence.

    Blessings.

  • http://twitter.com/ouranophobe Áine

    Thank you for this post, Thorn.  As ever, compassionate and challenging.  Thank you for teaching.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/paganswithdisabilities/ Tara “Masery” Miller

    Thank you Thorn for your gentle, wise and empowering words. 

  • Adam

    Thanks Thorn. Very insightful and helpful. blessings. I agree that spiritual practice, service and exercise is the key to all our lives. 

  • Ocean of Love

    I would rather think I didn’t need to work on some of the weaknesses you mentioned in your article.  How can I better walk my talk?  There’s always room for improvement.  The exercise from your book is just what I needed!  

    I will write this exercise out in my Ramadan journal for my evening prayer.  Patheos brings wisdom from all the traditions.  I have owned your books for a long time.  I often follow the Feri Tradition with one of the Names for Deity – God Herself.  

    Thank you.  And blessed be.

  • Ocean of Love

    Do you have any of Devotional Dance DVD on video online?  I have a bad back and problems with dizziness.  Will that effect my ability to get the most out of these dances?  

    • Thorn

      It will soon be available for download via my website. Check back in about one month. The movements are simple and can be altered for whatever your body’s needs are. I have had chair bound people doing these!

  • Crystal Blanton

    Thanks Thorn. Some of the conversations on this topic have been very bothersome and I feel have been full of assumptions and projections. It is nice to see someone take it to spiritual concepts. I am working on a piece myself and I hope to be as graceful as you with your words. I think people really need to check their assumptions at the door and then we can focus on the things that are unheathly with one another, starting with the self first.

    Thanks again for a nice perspective and non-judgemental words.

  • Silverfay

    I love you

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  • Vicki Wright

    ll

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1087803686 Vic Wright

    I am re-posting my response to Peter’s blog here on request.

     I have received a lot of phone calls and e-mails from people regarding this blog and many of the comments.

    How
    do you tell someone “I love and care about you and am concerned for
    your well-being” yet be very clear that you love them as they are. It
    sounds like double-talk and more often than not, it is.

    I have
    been overweight my entire life. To this day, I walk into a doctor’s
    office and they immediately assume I have heart problems, high blood
    pressure, diabetes, thyroid problems and anything else they can
    attribute to being overweight. Fact is, I have 3 health concerns total:
    Asthma, bad knees and I am overweight. I had weight-loss surgery 2
    years ago and lost enough weight to have both my knees replaced, then
    due to complications with one of the knee replacements, it became even
    more difficult for me to walk.

    I understand how losing someone
    we care about can cause all of us to do an internal audit about how we
    address and approach people we care for on sensitive topics. Even when
    it is done in love, people tend to get defensive when they feel singled
    out because of a physical attribute or label.

    As I read this blog
    and its responses and followed links to other blogs and responses, I
    was reminded of PSG at Camp Zoe when Thorn did a part of her Iron
    Pentacle workshop. I told Thorn I would attend the workshop in spite of
    the fact that it was about movement and energy. Being in a power chair
    or as most call it “my personal golf cart”, walking and moving is a
    challenge for me. Thorn was very clear that anyone who needed to remain
    sitting could still do the exercise. Now I might have a “small” (LOL)
    stubborn streak, so I decided to get up and do the exercises on my
    feet. I got a lot out of it and many of the people around me were
    floored that I could move as well as I did. I cannot walk well most of
    the time, nor can I run without causing myself a great deal of pain and
    risking a fall. So why did I challenge myself to do the exercises
    knowing my body would be extremely vocal about its objections later?
    Simple answer, I chose to do what I could to the best of my ability
    because it was important. I feel that the workshop Thorn did was
    brilliant and not one individual who attended was sorry they went.

    I chose to respond to this blog for the following reasons:

    1)
    Labels, even when well-intentioned, place limitations on individuals
    and usually bring up feelings accordingly. Obese, alcoholic, addict,
    anorexic, good, bad, pretty, ugly, etc., are the perception of the
    individual making the comment or judgement. People who are thus
    “labeled” can become hurt, angry, frustrated or elated depending on the
    issue.

    2) Thorn’s approach to being healthier is one of the most
    positive I have encountered. There were no labels or judgements simply
    a focus on doing what you can to create the reality you want. I
    strongly encourage everyone to pick up her books as they are
    intelligently written and are packed with insights which promote
    personal empowerment.

    3) When people are so moved over a
    profound loss that they decide to address a topic that matters to them,
    try to read the intent and not get so stuck on the verbiage. Words are
    very powerful tools with the capacity to build and destroy. I have
    found that for me, intent can take out some of the sting when someone
    says something that hurts me.

    4) The more time we spend getting
    ourselves healthier and stronger mentally, emotionally and spiritually,
    the easier it is to work on physical challenges.

    If you want or need to talk, feel free to email me. Be kind to each other and remember to love yourselves.

    Brightest Blessings,

    Mama Vic

    • http://profiles.google.com/thorncoyle T Thorn Coyle

      Vic, I was on my social media fast when you wrote this comment – sorry for my late reply. I want to thank you for your perspective, wisdom, and compassion.

      I do believe that people can be healthy or unhealthy regardless of size or physical ability. Your commitment to your health is inspiring. 


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