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Holistic Healing
"Honoring Our Bodies"
by Dr. Christiane Northup
From woman of power, Fall, 1990

Background on the context in which this essay was written.

Date Reading Was Discussed: March 1, 1993
Present: Colleen M., Catherine C., Coco G., Kalisa, Cynthia L., and Cathleen M.

The author of this month's essay, Dr. Christiane Northrup, is a rare soul in the medical world. A holistic gynecologist, she believes that PMS, hysterectomies, breast cancer, fibroids, etc. are "physical metaphors for the wounding of women." Several women at this month's discussion added a historical dimension by connecting women's wounds to 5,000 years of unmitigated misogyny.

One woman said the essay made her cry, explaining that it invoked in her own body the cumulative suffering of her grandmothers, her great grandmothers, and her great-great grandmothers. Some women felt that our bodies map an inner, subconscious pain that parallels the rape and battering of Mother Earth. As Northrup writes, "since the earth is often considered feminine in gender," women in particular are "culturally and biologically very sensitive" to the violence against nature.

Several women rejected this "essentialist" viewpoint that women are closer to nature (see Nature as Female), adding that both males and females are raised to disassociate emotions from physical illnesses.

Regardless of whether it's social or innate, other women argued that by and large in Western society women do respond more frequently on an emotional level than most men. Another woman countered that the issue has less to do with stereotyped gender roles (females express pain; males do not) than with Western culture's perverse severance of mind from body.

In seeking to understand why patients' feelings are devalued and often ridiculed, one woman insisted that we can't overlook the reality that healing is today a male-controlled industry. This woman once consulted with Dr. Northrup and was impressed by her patient intake form. Along with the de rigueur history of family ailments, Northrup asks over 65 questions relating to stress: Do you live in a dangerous neighborhood? Are you overwhelmed by work responsibilities? Do you spend too much time alone at home? To most of us it seemed absurdly irresponsible that mainstream doctors refuse to factor into their diagnoses the emotional content of our daily lives.

A few women, however, were concerned that a submersion into the realm of feelings and therapy may result in political action being put on the back burner. For example, one woman stated that thousands of people may "recover" through 12-Step programs or therapy, but do personal transformations really destabilize systems of oppression?

Although many "dysfunctional" individuals often become "functional," she declared, the global state of patriarchy remains unchallenged, primarily because therapeutic approaches are stubbornly apolitical. Most women vigorously disagreed. One woman responded that whenever deep feelings are examined, patriarchy is unquestionably undermined since taking care of oneself is an intensely political activity—especially for women.

As the late Audre Lorde wrote, "Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare." Another woman asserted that radical politics evolve because of one's feelings, evidenced by the deep compassion of so many grassroots activists. This calls to mind Che Guevara's words, "The true revolutionary is guided by strong feelings of love."

We all appreciated Northrup's non-dualistic emphasis on balancing the personal and the political. Several of us, though, felt overwhelmed by the constraints a balanced life seemingly demands. How does one find time for physical exercise, political activism, preparing nutritious meals, self-introspection, wage-earning work, time with nature, long reading lists, spiritual growth, housework, and quality leisure time with family and friends?

Having been taught "if you can't do something right, don't do it at all," one woman lamented she always feels like a failure. Several women immediately recognized that old bugaboo perfectionism, and counseled her to abandon the notion that one's full range of activities must always be faultlessly performed. Another woman maintained that perfection does not exist in nature.

Perfection is anti-nature, a manmade standard that runs counter to ecofeminism and leads to self-defeat. It seemed obvious to several women that the key to a balanced, healthy life is to act in moderation and lovingly accept wherever you are on the continuum of your goals.

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