Episode 3: In Defense of the Unnatural
Did you see what she did to her body? It's just so unnatural...How often do you use the word "unnatural" to describe someone - whether it's their plastic surgery, their personal style, or the food they eat? Or maybe you've had the word slung at you - describing your sexuality or your gender identity. But what does the word "unnatural" mean? Is it even possible for us to be or do anything "unnatural"? In this episode, I suggest we seriously rethink our use of the word.
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You’re listening to the Ekstasy Vine Podcast, Episode 3.
Hello and welcome, my name is Ekstasy and this is where we explore the sensual landscapes of nature and the body.
And today I wanted to take an episode to talk a little bit about the concept of something being unnatural.
I think this is a word that we hear a lot in political and religious and social circles — people from all sides of the spectrum — so you’ve got really conservative people, really liberal people. Everyone is basically walking around with their own opinions about the laws of nature — and we’re sort of slinging this word around at each other about particular behaviours or desires or perspectives. And I think it's really linked with shaming each other and judging each other.
So here are a couple examples that I hear:
Did you see what that guy just bought at the grocery store? I can’t believe he eats that stuff, it’s so unnatural.
Have you seen Sarah’s boob job? I mean, it's totally unnatural - I can’t believe she’d do that to her body.
I am so outraged that two men are allowed to get married in this country. It is so unnatural to raise a child with two fathers.
So this concept of unnatural is constantly being used as a political, religious, or social tool to back up a particular ideology or a perspective about how we should be living our lives, or how we should be dressing our bodies, feeding our bodies, altering our bodies, using our bodies, or loving other bodies.
But what exactly does the word “unnatural” even mean?
To say something is unnatural is to imply that what we are doing is somehow going against the laws of nature — that we’ve somehow stepped outside of what’s normal and expected behavior for us as humans.
The problem with that is that it’s totally subjective, based on a particular worldview or set of beliefs. What’s considered normal or expected has changed so dramatically over time and also over geographical location. So historically and socially, humans have used, modified, and adorned their bodies in endless ways over the centuries.
And another definition of unnatural would be artificial or human-made — not created by an organic process of nature.
But I think the idea that human-made products or technology are “unnatural” — that very idea that we’re even capable of doing something “unnatural” — is based on a predominantly European and North American idea that humans are somehow separate from nature, that we’re different from nature, that we’re outside of nature, and therefore we have the unique task of trying to control our behavior and stay in-line with what nature is — with what is natural.
This idea that humans are somehow outside of nature — that it’s us versus nature - I don’t think that that’s true — it doesn’t make any sense based on the way we interact with the landscapes around us — the way that we are affected by and the way we effect the landscapes we live in.
And by landscapes - I mean everything around us, both human-built and non-human built landscapes.
I do recognize that there is a difference between a human-built landscape (like a city or a garden) and a non-human built landscape (like a forest or the ocean). But all of these landscapes are still natural — we’re constantly interacting with landscapes and with all of the other species, plants, animals, forces of energy, whatever that are existing in those landscapes. There’s a co-creative process going on all the time.
So we are natural — everything that we do and everything that we make is natural.
Now I can hear all of my earth-centered friends saying, “Wait! What about things like Genetically Modified Foods or things that are synthetically created in a lab? How can those things be natural?”
Well, in my opinion, if they’re still being made from the building blocks of nature, there’s nothing unnatural about them. At all.
The thing that bothers me about synthetic chemicals or GMO foods or pharmaceutical medicines or nuclear energy or some other types of the human-built technologies and products that we’re creating — the issue that I have with those is that we’re messing with things — with forces — that we don’t completely understand yet. So we’re messing with forces of energy and sources of life — like DNA and atoms — and we’re creating a chain of reaction without really understanding or knowing what the consequences are going to be in the long term. And that makes me really cautious. That makes me want to step back from things like GMOs and synthetic chemicals and say, wait a second. These are really new technologies that we don’t and can’t completely grasp the whole picture of what’s going on here, yet.
And I also feel extra skeptical whenever a new technology or product is released that is really clearly financially benefiting a particular company or group of people — rather than focusing on the health or sustainability — the long-term vision — of our planet and our bodies.
But to say that those things are unnatural…that’s not the argument that I take. I just don’t think that is true. Because we are nature — so everything we create — build — do — feel — think — desire — everything that we are as a human being is totally natural.
So I called this episode in defense of the unnatural because I want to basically open our arms really wide to all of these different things that we have considered unnatural — either ourselves or things that people consider unnatural. And to absorb them in as another part of this human experience of what it’s like to be a body and to live on this earth and to be in community with each other.
So in terms of your own body and your own relationship with this word “unnatural,” I just want to offer up a couple questions. So I’m wondering, do you use the word “unnatural” as a way to punish yourself for certain feelings or desires or thoughts that you might be having? How has that concept of the “unnatural” in your own life been keeping you from experimenting or exploring with different identities or different ways of using your body or adorning your body?
Some of my friends who live more of an earth-centered lifestyle, the whole idea that wearing makeup or having plastic surgery is somehow unnatural. I just wonder, what about getting tattoos? Or piercing your ears? Or shaving your beard? Or even wearing clothes! Any kind of body modification or adornment — where is the line between what’s natural and what’s unnatural? I think these are just cultural tools of expression — ways of communicating different things about ourselves. And depending on where you’re standing in time and place, those things will either be acceptable or unacceptable. But it’s still all just part of the way we are as humans relating to each other and expressing ourselves.
And so, similarly, I wonder how this concept of “unnatural” might actually be keeping you at arm’s length from other people? So not only maybe are you using that word against yourself about some of the things you’re thinking or feeling or wanting to experiment with, how are you also judging other people based on the things that they’re doing with or to their body? Are you judging them based on your own ideas of what you think is natural?
And I’m not saying that we absolutely have to agree with each other. I think that the choices that you’re going to be making about what you do with — to — and for your body are going to be very different from the choices that I make.
But using the concept of natural or unnatural is actually really unhelpful. More than anything, it just feeds into this very long history of political, religious and social shaming that is keeping us from being able to sit down at the table together and have really real conversations about who we are as human beings. I see the word “unnatural” as causing so much pain and isolation on both an individual and a social level.
So I’d love to encourage you to look a little more closely at the things that you take for granted as true — those cultural beliefs that you have, or the social ideas that you’ve internalized, and maybe start to see that they might be some lessons that you’ve learned about what is natural and unnatural, and not actually something that’s intrinsically true about reality and our experience as humans.
So when I talk about getting in touch with our wildness — or if I use the word nature or natural - I’m not personally excluding any particular behavior or way of being a body. I don’t think it’s possible for us to do something that’s unnatural because we are nature at our very core.
Even shame itself is a very natural feeling.
What I’m interested in is exploring this whole discussion about what we are as human beings — in all of our diversity and contradictions. And so being wild is really just a process of being willing to experience this life — this body that we are — more deeply.
So next week, I want to explore what happens when our bodies are not how we want them to be. When there’s a conflict between what is physically manifesting and what our consciousness is thinking about what we want to have happen. So how do we balance accepting our bodies and accepting ourselves just as we are with also wanting to change things about ourselves?
So in the meantime, until next week, if you have any questions or comments or suggestions for upcoming episodes, I would absolutely love to hear from you! You can head over to EkstasyVine.com where you can send me a message, download a transcript of this episode, and also subscribe to the monthly newsletter so you’re always in the know any changes or updates going on at EkstasyVine.com.
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Until next week, I hope you have a wonderful week — and I hope you’ll join me next time.