I woke up this morning with thoughts of former studies of ancient Greece, its philosopher’s, politics, culture, and thought. As I lay in bed at daybreak, I found myself musing on the Socratic idea of the body as a prison for the soul. As the thinking goes, our souls are eternal, “coming to earth” to join the body, and then returning to a collective “soul” or God when we die, before returning again later. A cycle. Birth, Life, Death, Spirit.
Some people still believe this, and indeed, since faith takes many forms, and certainly the flaws of organised religions are not hard to see, there is no reason to doubt the veracity of this thinking any more than any other form of faith. What matters, is that the concept carries parallels regardless of what religious persuasion you might be, or even if you are an atheist. This is the idea that our life force, be it soul, or something else, is held in place by our physical body. In the Socratic tradition, our life force is literally held by the body.
“Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.”In 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 (ESV)
Indeed, loving our bodies sits at the foundation of religion–but find me an atheist that feels different…after all, the physical is all they’ve got.And it struck me, as I mused before getting up, that sometimes the relationship between the body and the life force is an easy one, and at others, it is not. And this concept of relative ease, is one that might vary within a person over time but is also likely to be quite pronounced from one individual to another.
In my own life, I have mused about this extensively [what it means to be non-binary and have a body that doesn’t fit with how I feel]—and yes, a great deal of the energy of trans people is reconciling this apparent conflict. Being born “in the wrong body” is one of the common threads of a trans person’s life. But this uneasy existence between body and soul can be lived in other ways. For example, exercise in my own life has been a way to help to reconcile the tension between my life force and my physical body [the calming influence of exercise blogged about here]. Applying Socratic thinking, through the practice of exercise, I am able to push my body closer to a place where I can be comfortable with it. In other words, my soul can accept its prison because the prison more closely resembles my own underlying identity (and after all what is identity but soul?), but also in the sense of mindfulness, which, as a practice, helps us find comfort in ourselves. And the important idea here for me is that through the way we live our lives, it is possible to reconcile the soul with its prison. Acceptance of self. Finding ease. Relaxing into life.
A Dominatrix friend of Mistress, Mistress Wild Iris @MXWildIris, has mused on Twitter recently about what might happen in your life if you were to recognise your entire body as an erogenous zone. It’s a great question. She asked, “how would you approach eating food, giving touch, listening to music, taking in visual sensory input?“ (You can see her post below).
She went on to make the link between this feeling and self-worth, love, and honouring her own needs and desires—“treating my body as a temple, it tends to respond to me as such.” Her question is a great question, and in my chaotic mind, I wonder if her post planted the seed last night for the philosophical musings of today. Her question is similar to some of the ways that Mistress challenges me when she pushes me to grow. It is actually a rather profound way of thinking.
What are these teachings?
Be intentional. Feel. Allow the erotic to add a sense of play to our perceptions and experiences of the world. Be mentally, physically, and spiritually present, sensuously so, and your life will be a far richer experience. Mistress has recently posted on her own Twitter feed that living life in this way produces a “dilation” of time—a sense where time slows down, and much more is lived even if time itself is a constant…and I have to say that being with her never fails to produce this sensation of time slowing down. Attention to detail. When you pay attention to detail, every detail, and don’t just “be”, living mechanically, but truly feeling everything around you, time slows down.
What are the threads that bind all of this?
When we treat our bodies as temples, quite literally they become the place of worship for our own life force. We take our “prison” and turn it into the place or mechanism through which we honour ourselves and our spirit energy. To disregard this basic tenet is to live without respect. It is very popular to say that “if you don’t love yourself, how can you ever learn to love someone else?” This is true, and the words always worked for me, but I didn’t really understand them. Now that I am starting to, I realise how much work is left to do. But this question of body as temple is a precursor, it is even more fundamental. To not treat our bodies as temples is to show contempt to the self. We can only be as good as we make ourselves.
What does treating the body like a temple actually mean? Well, there seem to be many ways.
What we eat
There is of course nutrition, and without extolling the virtues of various diets and fads, put simply, eating healthy, natural food, grown with respect for the earth, is better than eating industrially processed junk. Few people would argue the point, and yet, most people don’t eat this way. It is bad for the body on the one hand, but is also bad for society, the planet, for all of us on the other.
What we drink
We all know we should be drinking plenty of water…but how many of us don’t? How many of us drink water from single-use plastic bottles? How many of us drink poisons of one kind or another—alcohol, pop, alcopop? Here too, most people choose to consume in ways that are not good for them, not good for the planet, not good for society.
Taking care of the body also requires us to keep it supple and strong. This takes work. But what % of the populace in the developed world actually exercise? In the US, the figures are horrifically low. Only 20% of adults exercise regularly. Read that again, only one in five people. But few people dispute long-term health outcomes when comparing those who exercise regularly and those who do not. How can we know, and not act on the knowledge?
Our minds need stimulation. Without it, we become boring, not just to others, but to ourselves. When we become boring, we seek stimulation from the outside. We watch TV or play video games or find other ways to tune out. Actively learning—a new topic, a language, reading, engaging…this is the recipe for a supple mind…and supple minds are happy minds. And the mind needs it, needs the plasticity. My dear old Dad decided at the age of 70 to take up a language to fight off dementia (it runs in the family). Which one? Korean! Why? Because, as he said, “its the hardest language in the world. Tones, characters, precision.” His argument was that getting Korean right was the hardest challenge he could give his mind–and that’s the exercise it needed to stay supple. It worked.
There are few things in life that are more important than laughter. A good joke, humour, is always stress-relieving. More important still, is an ability to laugh at oneself—to not take oneself too seriously. One of the most important aspects of friendship is that these are people we have let inside the protective perimeter, people who see us as ourselves, warts and all, and who engage and laugh with us just the same.
It will not surprise readers of this blog that mental health is important to me. I regard a willingness to develop and grow a prerequisite for happiness. My SO thinks that therapy is a form of narcissism. The truth likely lies somewhere in between. We’ve been having much more open and free conversations lately…and that has been great. It is so easy to just ignore issues or sweep them under the carpet, and I don’t advocate nit-picking self and others, but I do believe that if you don’t constantly work to improve yourself and grow, you will never escape any generational toxicity, and you are doomed to never achieve your potential as a person—and the work never stops. Whether you do this on your own or whether you seek assistance doesn’t matter as long as you proceed. Sharing, however, brings things out into the open, and makes it harder to backtrack.
Orgasms are good for you. They help you live longer, and release stress. This is a bit rich coming from someone who lives in a near-constant state of edging—mainly because I don’t like masturbating [discussed here], and well, I haven’t had sex with my partner in a rather long time [the story behind that is written here], and I don’t believe in extra-marital sex. Being faithful is a core value for me…and on the topic of this post, treating the body as a temple means staying true to yourself—and breaches of moral faith are first on my list of self-sins.
Floss and brush your teeth
I read an article years ago on the practices that lead to longer, healthier lives. Things like having orgasms appeared. So too did eating well, and exercise. But nothing extended average lifespan more than good oral hygiene—daily flossing and regular brushing of teeth extended life by an average of 6 years! Why? Because our mouths are a prime location of low-grade bacterial infection…and if you don’t really take care of your mouth, you are putting your body into a constant state of stress…and it is stress that kills you.
This is not Rocket Science
There is really nothing in the above which is controversial. Pretty much everyone knows these things are true. And yet, so few of us actually practice in a manner consistent with this. Why? Are we a society of self-haters? Or are we such victims that we no longer have the desire to get up? Are we supine in the face of temptation, willing to be brutalised by society’s relentless push for us to make more of ourselves—to be richer, better looking, more whatever? And that most of us feel that we can’t and feel like failures and so have given up?
Is there any other explanation? If we all know these things to be true, then ignorance is not an excuse. We have instead made the choice to disrespect ourselves. And do not doubt that this is going on—rising suicide, rising chronic disease, rising depression, rising auto-immune disorders, rising narcissism, rising violence. It is not a pretty picture.
So many feel that the world is not going in the right direction
We get this concept whenever there is an election cycle anywhere. People want change. They are not happy with the current state of affairs. This is the backdrop in France that is beginning to enter its election cycle. People are unhappy, feelings of discontent are at an all-time high, and yet France, economically, is doing better than most of Europe, and better than they have done in decades. Why are the French so unhappy?
The US is experiencing the same. The Biden administration is increasingly unpopular, but US economic growth is among the fastest in the world. And still, people are not happy. Perhaps everyone feels like a victim or simply that they cannot do anything about social ills and feel like they no longer have any control—and this feeling extends to themselves. When you do not feel that you have control, it is easier to believe your efforts don’t matter, to lose hope. And now we wonder why only 20% of US adults exercise when 100% know they should.
It won’t be a surprise to you that Mistress and I talk about dominance and submission a fair bit. A bit ironic to hear this coming from me, someone who is actively seeking out what it means to become a slave. I neither know whether I will be capable of it, but I can taste a level of freedom already in my attempts that pull me forward–George Orwell had it completely right in 1984: “Freedom is Slavery”–and that is what society has delivered…I did not set out for liberation when I began to explore this world, but that is what I am finding.
How to Be Free and to Fight Back?
I am not proposing that any one person can or should attempt to change the course of society. Instead, I would ask of you, as I ask of myself, are you changing the course of yourself? Are you at least showing respect for your body, for the self, for the home that your soul has taken up while here on earth? Could you honestly say at the moment of death, as you look back over your life, that you honestly and diligently did everything you could to make your soul happy while it was stuck here on this earth in your body? I know that for much of my life, I have failed to do this. In so many ways, right now, this is a massive part of my life purpose—to make my spirit come into my body and to be happy there.
If all of us did that, I would well believe that social change would follow, and do so on a massive scale. It would be nothing short of revolutionary. Just say, I’m not going to eat junk anymore. I want to eat good, healthy food, produced with the respect for the land and for the people who made it. I will eat local and stop buying foods that have been flown around the world, except perhaps as a treat. Small steps, earth-shattering impacts.
What about exercise? What impact would it have on our healthcare system over time if everyone became fit? Our hospitals are clogged with people who suffer from lifestyle diseases. 61% of all deaths today are attributed to “lifestyle diseases”. Originally thought of as diseases of affluence, or Western diseases (and you ask are we exporting something positive?!), these diseases are now global. And the expectation on current trends is that 70% of all deaths will be attributed to lifestyle diseases by 2050. Taking four simple steps reduces your chances of dying from one of these diseases by 80%: don’t smoke, don’t weigh too much, exercise, and eat healthy food. [These are all UN estimates].
In the US alone, according to a scholarly review published in the Lancet, one of the world’s leading medical-scientific journals, if everyone were to adopt these behaviours, the annual savings alone would be $750 billion. That would be like giving each American $2,500 of extra cash every year. That’s a lot of money. Jeffrey Sachs of Columbia University, a recognised scholar on poverty issues, and author of End of Poverty, has estimated that to end global poverty, it would take an annual investment of $175 billion over 20 years (that’s just a quarter of the “lost savings” we forego by not living in health). Chump change in comparison. It is also less than 1% of the income of the 10 richest countries in the world, and about a quarter of the annual US military budget (an estimated $690 billion). And imagine what it would feel like–how much more pleasure could be had in life.
And those are just the stats from the US. Given that the global average cost of healthcare is 10% of world GDP, taking these steps has the potential to increase social welfare everywhere. So the next time you bite into a fast food burger or munch on a bag of chips that were sold in a foil bag, recognise that the choice you have made is indirectly responsible for death, and that it is a choice. As recently as 2005, 70% of the world’s population lived below the poverty line—that is defined as less than $10 per day. The choices we all make are the choices that make the world the way it is.
Put on your running shoes and go for a run. Don’t overeat. Choose foods wisely. Take care of your health. Can you imagine? That’s a great place to start when you think about doing good in the world.
BDSM as a spiritual practice
I am blessed to have found my place at the feet of an enlightened Mistress. She encourages my growth in these and other ways. Right now, we spend a lot of time on intention. Being deliberate and conscious about the things we do, not just going through the motions. With every breath, every step, every touch, we make choices. Let us not sleep through those choices, but make them actively, and enjoy them. This is a difficult shift for me, as it may be for anyone. But it is incredibly powerful. When I am able to do this, I feel the world around me in ways that I have never felt it before. Time seems to slow. And I feel a level of energy and power coursing through me that feels positively orgasmic…and I don’t toss that word around lightly.
BDSM helps in other ways too. While “play” may seem just like play, in reality it has at its core two relevant concepts: discipline and respect. Of the self and for others. When I contemplate life’s challenges, and in particular the ones laid out here, I thank my stars that someone has taken an interest in these topics along with me—and in a sense is “holding my hand in a spiritual way” as I discover this. And just as we don’t want to let friends down, our spouses down, colleagues down, nor too should we let ourselves down—and the most powerful ally I have in that regard is a Dominatrix. I know I don’t need to say it, but what is healthier than that?
Discipline and respect sit at the heart of many noble endeavours. Think of the martial arts. The essence of study in martial arts is rooted in these two principles, and indeed, life in the Dojo is entirely informed by these principles. The life of a monk or other ascetic figure is also informed by this way of thinking. I am not saying that we need to all live like ascetics, but these threads are found at the heart of all successful endeavours.
There are few things in life that are worth doing that don’t take effort and work. In my mind, showing basic respect for the self is the precondition for a happy life. And given the tenor of society today, and just how sick we all are, it may be the quintessential revolutionary act. Go on, shout it, “I own me.” You’ll feel better for it. Now do something about it.