Hunger & the Art of Descent
Like many people assigned female at birth and brought up as a girl, I was raised to believe that hunger was dangerous.
Whether it was for food, for sex, or for comfort, hunger was something I was taught to keep in control. I heard my family talk about weight as if there were a direct relationship between size and ability for self-control. I got mixed messages from the media about my sexuality: I was supposed to be desirable to others, but not really desire sex myself. And my parents made it perfectly clear that I needed to be strong, capable and independent, not needing or relying on anyone else to take care of me.
During my teens and twenties, I struggled with anxiety and depression about the craving I felt in my body. I tried to control my weight with disordered eating, skipping meals and then binge-eating out of starvation. I underplayed my sexuality by waiting until I was 18 to have my first kiss, and then later making-do with lovers that had very different (ie: low) sex drives than me, and convincing myself that I was satisfied. And I hid my need for help and comfort behind a fierce independence and a debilitating perfectionism that told the world: I can do it by myself.
All of this out of the fear of seeming insatiable. What would they say if I got even fatter than I already was? What would people think if I said I wanted more and better sex? How could I say I was lonely and needed help when my life seemed, from the outside, to be so "put together"?
I was absolutely sure that if I gave my hunger a voice (or even worse, let it out to seek fulfilment), I would lose control and it would consume everything that it touched: my body, my family, my relationships. (I was already fighting depression and anxiety).
So the easiest option seemed to be to downplay my desires or outright ignore them, in hopes that I could mimic some sense of normalcy and contentment. But the result was that I felt alienated from my body, unbelievably lonely, and so damn hungry all. the. time.
I will forever be grateful to my first pole dance teacher, who helped me to unlock and unleash the craving I felt underneath my skin. In that sacred dance studio - candlelit and without mirrors - I learned to drop down into my body, into the quiet corners of sensation, to the place where my hunger and desire lived.
I learned the art of moving meditation, how to bring attention to every small motion of my body, every contraction of muscle. I felt every hair that brushed my forehead, every breath that tickled my upper lip. When I was dancing, I learned to be present in the moment and bring attention to the sensations in my body without judgment. Whether I felt tired, strong, sore, weak or flexible, I was meeting my body where it was.
I also learned to freestyle by harnessing the power of music and allowing my emotions to guide my movements. Closing my eyes and freeing myself from rules about what was "appropriate," I let my body speak without my conscious mind shutting it down out of shame or "self-control."
Over time, I became more aware of the sensations in my body outside of class, too. I learned to identify when I was truly hungry or full, when I wanted to be touched or left alone, when I needed to rest or to move. I could more clearly identify the way I felt in certain situations: the way my stomach turned when I talked to a certain coworker or the way my heart fluttered with excitement when I got a call from my best friend. I was taking the lessons I learned during moving meditation to my daily life.
The Body Speaks
My body was saying things, relaying messages about my desires and fears. I just needed to listen. And the more I danced, the better I could hear my body outside of class. My intuition sharpened. My courage grew. My understanding of the person I was (instead of who I thought I should be) became clearer and clearer.
THE ART OF DESCENT
This is a process, always unfolding. I finally have a taste of what feels like to be full (something that had always seemed impossible). And it was the practice of descent - of dropping down into the dark, quiet space of my body - that gave me the tools to look my hunger in the eye and decide that it was time to feed it.