Sunday, February 21, 2010


Alabama sunset

On the continued theme of gender politics, I wanted to post a link to a fantastic song by Dar Williams, my favorite modern folk singer. She’s a little too folk-y for some, but I can’t recommend her songwriting highly enough, especially the album Mortal City. The title track alone is makes her worth a listen. I was lucky enough to see her live in Chicago, a night that blew away my preconceptions about solo female music acts.

Often I find, after struggling to wrestle my ideas down in type, that other artists have managed to pin down my precise thought elegantly and effortlessly. So it is with this song. Even though I wasn’t a tomboy, I too was a girl who daydreamed about growing up to be president and refused to wear pink. There’s more than one way to be a boy.

The greatest thing about the song, though, is that it doesn’t neglect the male experience. As much as I get on my feminist high horse, I realize that men in our culture are systematically stripped of their ability to express their feelings. We've ended up with emotionally stunted men and women who are forced to carry double their emotional weight. I remember when a friend broke that news to me, after another of my diatribes. “It’s just as hard for men, Melissa,” he said. “Watch any action movie. That’s our model--silent, stoic, explosive. You try living up to that.”

I’m not sure I believe that it’s just as hard, but I acknowledge that it’s harder for men than I’m able to understand. Which returns me to that verse: “in Christ, there is neither male nor female...” The gender knife cuts both ways.

In my yoga book, I’ve been studying nadis, or the ayurvedic energy channels that flow through the pranic sheath. The three most important are the sushumna, the pingala, and the ida. The pingala and ida are the masculine and feminine energy channels that spiral upward from the base of the spine. They intersect each other and the sushumna, which flows upward along the spinal cord, at seven points: the chakras. Interesting that the locations of the chakras correspond closely to the lymph nodes.

Whatever you believe about science and medicine, it’s hard for me to discount entirely a system that’s been effective for thousands of years. So I choose to take what I can from ayurveda, and from qi gong, which I’ve also been studying. One of things I take is that all of us have channels of both masculine and feminine energy. In certain meditative poses, women and men are taught to sit differently in order to cultivate the opposing energy.

Maybe that’s an obvious truth, already explained by science. Men have estrogen, women have testosterone. What’s useful is to think about reaching towards that other side of yourself, to find strength from it. I am not just one thing, but many things. As another, even greater poet said, far better than I could: “I contradict myself, I am large, I contain multitudes.”

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