I think I saved this photo because I like walking at night.
During a mission to get a couple of books for holiday gifts (look out family, I have eliminated my filter on gifts related to self-help and patriarchy), I picked up a copy of Urban Tantra for myself. The author, Barbara Carrellas, seems like a fab and interesting person in the realm of Annie Sprinkle, Betty Dodson, Kate Bornstein, etc., so I decided to risk offending my atheist sensibilities.
So far, as long as I interpret all talk of Kundalini snakes and chakra colours metaphorically and keep an eye out for my personal standards of cultural appropriation, the ideas and practices in the book are useful and fun and kind of adorable. I laugh with delight at least twice per chapter. It helps that besides being “urban,” the book is super queer, feminist, safety-aware, BDSM-friendly and supportive of sex workers.
My top delighted giggle so far is this suggestion from the chapter called “How to Touch.” She’s talking about something she calls “the Resilient Edge of Resistance,” a balance between pressure and support, touch that isn’t too hard or too light but just at the edge where you can gradually go further. She suggests some exercises to practice finding this edge, including this one:
Practice by petting a cat or a dog. Pets give great feedback. If they stick around and beg for more, you’ve found their Resilient Edge of Resistance.
I don’t usually think of that as feedback, but of course it is! I’m happy to see somebody giving pets credit for being in touch with their bodies and uninhibited about communicating feedback. That seems genuinely body-positive, to not just acknowledge our animal natures but admire other animals’ skills.
“The most beautiful experience we can have is the mysterious. It is the fundamental emotion that stands at the cradle of true art and true science…
“I am satisfied with the mystery of life’s eternity and with a knowledge, a sense, of the marvelous structure of existence — as well as the humble attempt to understand even a tiny portion of the Reason that manifests itself in nature.”
Einstein relates the experience of mystery to religiosity, but for me it’s the cornerstone of atheism. Mysteries remain mysteries, and are satisfying without reaching for explanations.
(I realize Einstein is not an embarrassing figure; it’s just that he gets quoted in such flaky ways. The idea of anti-science new agers using Einstein to back up their desire to make science bow down to rainbow vibes is a bit of a cliche for me. There is a chiropractor at the corner where I cross to check my postbox who has several “Imagination is more important than knowledge” posters propped up in the window, and it makes me cringe. I don’t mind rainbow vibes, but I do mind bad science and dumb posters.)
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about being violent and hitting people, because of learning kung fu. The validity of using force in self-defense is so obvious to everyone in the world except me that I haven’t been able to have a discussion about this with anybody, really.
“I can’t see how I could justify hitting someone in the face.”
“Well, if they were going to hurt you otherwise, it just makes sense.”
After eating too many Penguin caffeinated mints yesterday, I finally figured out why I was so hung up on this. I’m happy about this for two reasons!
- Problem solved. I am suddenly really grounded about hitting people in the face. This feels much more stable and honest than my previous inner turmoil. (More below.)
- I think my caffeine-induced revelation counts as a junior Vision Quest, which I’ve been wanting to add to my problem solving repertoire for awhile.
Why I couldn’t just hit people, already
I think my hang up was that most rationalizations of self-defense would require me to either believe in the law of the jungle (eat or be eaten, man!), or some kind of means vs. end justification, both of which options run directly into the hardest part of my hard-ass ethical instincts (the part that says “TRY HARDER”).
At first I tried to go with the dog-eat-dog strategy, on the grounds that life is not fair. Man, do I love to get down with the unfairness of life. (It’s the core of atheism for me, and why I love it so much. I’m not the apple of god’s eye? Hot.)
But. Despite my addiction to Hard Truth, being allowed to punch somebody back seemed like a cop out. Does someone else’s violence really give an excuse to me, a separate person who believes in being peaceful?
Relationships are magic.
And there you go. An attacker, and a defender. Two separate people… who are having a relationship. It takes two to fight. If I’m being attacked, I’m already in the fight, and that relationship already has hitting in it.
For some reason, this relationship perspective makes a huge difference to me. I think I can defend without adding any violence. (Sure, I could escalate with really disproportionate defense, like explosions. But also I could do something appropriate.)
This really jives with one of the things I like about wing chun— it is focused on ending the fight, rather than having an extended battle or taking revenge. The point is just to bring the relationship back to a non-violent state. If either person can run away at any point, it’s done. I can live with that.
A separate hard truth that has been popping up lately is that I can’t get friendly with octopods, even though they are so interesting, because they are ruthless killers. I am intrigued by my potential to be a tough bitch. What would happen if I got to the point where I could take an octopus? (This is silly.)