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THE WONDER explores perspectives, rituals, and observances of modern, naturalistic, Earth-revering Neopagan religious paths. Naturalistic Pagans embrace the world as understood by science (that is, without gods, magic, or the supernatural), and enhance our lives with myth, ritual and activism. Hosted by Mark Green (author of ATHEOPAGANISM: An Earth-Honoring Path Rooted in Science) and Yucca (formerly of The Pagan Perspective YouTube channel, now of the Magic and Mundane channel).

Named #4 in the top15 Pagan podcasts for 2022! https://blog.feedspot.com/pagan_podcasts/

The Body

August 2, 2021

Remember, we welcome comments, questions and suggested topics at thewonderpodcastQs@gmail.com




Yucca: Welcome back to the wonder science-based paganism. I'm one of your hosts Yucca. 

Mark: And I'm the other one, Mark.

Yucca: And today we are talking about the body, our bodies, what bodies are our relationship to them and how that ties into our. 

Mark: Right. One of the things that is often used as a, a distinction between paganism and many of the other larger religions is that we are an embodied religion. We are about the, the, the materiality of earth and ourselves and the, the biotic kingdom, all of which is physical. It's all, it's all made up of material stuff.

Yucca: Yep. And most of us aren't trying to ascend to a higher plane or any of that kind of stuff. 

Mark: Well, there are a lot of people in the pagan community who, for example believe in a soul or a spirit. And they, they believe that that may carry on through a reincarnation process or something like that as non theists, pagans, we, and science-based pagans. We don't really buy that. We don't see any evidence.

What we see evidence for is that there is no distinction between the body and the self or the mind we are thinking meat. And it's the meat that does the thinking. So our bodies are ourselves. And in order to, to fully live in the experience of being human in this world, we have to embrace the physicality of ourselves and not think of that as distinct or separate from the real self that the over culture tells us is like some ghost in the machine.

Yucca: Yeah.

and, and this can be tricky because we were just, before hitting the record, we were talking about how so much of our language is shaped by the cultures that we are around and the religions that influence the larger culture. And so we'll often end up using. Words and expressions that don't reflect what we really believe like, oh, well this is the body I'm in, Right,

That expression would implies that the eye is separate from this body. And that I'm just in it. Like you were saying, the ghost in the machine that of just driving this body around rather than seeing wait, this body is. Me, my mind is 

Mark: Yeah. 

Yucca: an expression it's created from it's it's emergent from this body 

Mark: Right, 

Yucca: and it's not a different thing.

It's part of it. 

Mark: right.

Right, There are, there are technical terms for those two different worldviews and they are dualism and monism and dualism was advanced as a model. I mean, it's been believed for many, many centuries. It philosophically, it was advanced as a model by Rene cart with his famous, I think therefore I am he was willing to extend that the fact that he was thinking meant that he had existence, but he wasn't willing to go quite so far as to say that his body was a part of that thinking process which we have since learned it is.

It is indeed to the degree that we now are able to identify particular little synopsis that encode particular meanings for us particular words. 

Yucca: Mm. 

Mark: It's not a precise process by any means, but there has been enough research to demonstrate that the thinking is, as you said, an emergent property of the brain and of the nervous system.

And what that means is that we are our bodies. The sum total of everything we are is our bodies. 

Yucca: Mm. 

Mark: That, that is a view called monism, which as opposed to dualism, which is the idea that the body and the mind, or spirit or soul or something are separate and that one could exist without the other. And as you say, we use so much language even to say my body.

Makes no sense because really what we should be saying is I, I do this, you know, I, I kicked my legs. I I don't respond well to a bell peppers. I need insulin whatever, whatever it is. It's not my body needs this. It's I need this because there's no difference between the self and the body. And this is important.

It's not just important from the philosophical standpoint of, you know, taking a good, hard look at the evidence and understanding that it's unlikely that there's something like a soul or a spirit it's important because in the traditional religions throughout the world, the idea has been that this, this ephemeral spark, this spirit or soul or whatever it is, is much more important.

Then the body and as pagans, we really reject that.

Yucca: Yeah. And on the one hand, I can understand the appeal of it. Right? There's something comforting. If. If I am not my body, if something happens to my body, well, that's Okay.

Then I still get this afterlife or you know, it's any of those things. But it, it also sets up an opportunity to excuse the conditions that the person is living in, in that moment. 

Mark: Yes.

Yucca: Right. So don't worry. You can be. You can not have enough food. You can be miserable now, but don't worry. Your soul will go on or your mind will go on. It's okay. We can hurt your body because that's not you. 

Mark: Right. As the as the Woody Guthrie song says, you'll have pie in the sky when you die. 

Yucca: Hmm. 

Mark: And that rationalization has been used to create a great deal of horror. Entire wars have been fought on the idea that slaughtering all these people is good for them because it frees their souls for God.

Horrible tortures have been inflicted because you know, we're saving their souls because you know, as long as they repent at the end, then God will give them a gold star and, you know, send them on into paradise. It's a, it's a pernicious view. And. The embracing of physicality of the body has tremendous implications, not only for, in those kinds of extreme cases, but just in how we live our lives.


Yucca: How we relate to our own selves. 

Mark: yes. Yes. And it's very hard to pry yourself away from a culture which has. Crazy relationships with food and with body image and body shapes and aging and all those kinds of things. There are just so many layers of opportunities for self-loathing and therefore for somebody to sell you a product in a, in the world that we live in today, and what we can offer as science-based pagans is a glimpse mate.

Of how to escape that 

Yucca: Hm. 

Mark: glimpse of a world in which we simply embrace ourselves as being these physical beings in a physical world. And we say that it's great. And I love me. Therefore, I love my body, whatever it's shaped, whatever its ability, whatever it's condition, and therefore I can move forward in the world with confidence.

Yucca: Yeah. From there, the relationship that we have with ourselves with that confidence, that then has an impact on how we are perceived and how others then treat us turn. 

Mark: Yes. Yes. You know, it's a, it's a funny thing. Confidence is this very ephemeral sort of quality. We know it when we see it. And when we can tell when it's real confidence versus sort of arrogance rooted in insecurity, we can really tell the difference. We can smell it. And confidence has a tremendous bearing on how other people view it.

There was this I have this story from when I lived in Spain, in Barcelona, and it's just, it's kind of a cute, funny story. I had been in the city for eight months or so, and had been. Struggling to learn the language and very lonely. Other than a couple of English speaking expatriates, I didn't really know anyone.

But I met this woman at a, an expatriates get together and we decided to go on a date. So I'm on this train. Two headed towards this date. And I'm filled with a sense of being attractive and being confident and being excited about the dates and all this kind of stuff. And this woman, and I mean, an empty train.

Woman gets on the train. Beautiful woman sits in the seat directly opposite me of all of the seats in the entire train. And does this sort of flirty eye contact thing with me for the entire time until I get off the train and then says good night to me on my way. And it was clear that she was very attracted to me.

And the only real difference between that day and yeah, the day before was that I was filled with brimming with all this confidence and feeling attractive and all that good kind of stuff. And I remember that there was this sort of anthropological part of myself that was really fascinated by this exchange.

I've always remembered the story. 

Yucca: Hmm. 

Mark: So that is a thing. If we feel good about ourselves and by selves, we mean the totality of ourselves, right. That, you know, the body and the thinking and feeling that the body creates it draws others to us. Uh it's it's that? 

Yucca: Okay. 

Mark: That ephemeral quality of charisma that nobody can quite define.

Yucca: Yeah. And I love that you pointed out is that it's authentic confidence not being cocky or, you know, arrogant or anything like that. But in your story, it sounds like you do, you really were feeling that about yourself. 

Mark: Yes, I really was. And I hadn't been for a long time and I think that's probably why the story sticks out in my mind because the contrast was so great from the sort of invisibility that I had been feeling and loneliness that I'd been feeling for a long time that evening, I, I wasn't invisible and I wasn't lonely.

And there was this lovely woman who wanted me to come and go on a date with her. So I was feeling great. 

Yucca: Hmm. So one thing to mention as well in all of this is when we talk about the, having confidence in our bodies and all of that. We're not saying to not acknowledge places where there is hurt, where we are unhealthy. But 

Mark: Yeah.

Yucca: to try not to hate those are bloated. Parts like, recognizing that that's part of just who we are and where we're at Right. now,

Mark: Right. And there is a big difference between having a body shape that isn't the, the socially sanctioned, stereotypical body type 

Yucca: which by the way, doesn't actually exist. 

Mark: no. 

Yucca: Like 

Mark: It really doesn't exist. But there's a difference between feeling like you're supposed to lose 30 pounds in order to try to approach that model and. Deciding that you want to lose some weight for health purposes, because it's been recommended to you by your physician, that it could probably benefit you.

If you lost a little weight, there's a big difference between the two. One of them happens out of love for yourself. And the other happens out of a distaste for how your current body is and all bodies change. That's part of the deal with aging bodies change and. At some level, it helps us a great deal to be able to simply to accept the fact that our bodies do change over time.

And that that's, that's just part of the ride.

Yucca: and that there really are. Different body types, not just body compositions, right? Like, but literal body types of really, how wide are your shoulders? Where, where is the weight going to be carried on your body or not? What is the shape of your face? It, how, you know, how long are your legs are? Not, those are just things that are, that, that there are differences between people and.

Sure you could dress a certain way to make maybe your shoulders see wider or not, but that's just the way your body is. 

Mark: Yes. Yes. And so if we get away from the idea of trying to fit ourselves to some conventional standard of attractiveness and instead dress the way that makes us feel good. We probably get a lot further in terms of others finding us interesting to look at and attractive and so forth. Maybe not everyone, but some people are shallow.

Let's face it. You know, some people are simply, you know, they're looking for that ideal and they're just going to some people up based on how their body parts look and, you know, you probably have better things to do with your time and to deal with those folks.

Yucca: Yeah,

Well, certainly when you're in the realm of dating that's you probably don't want to. 

Mark: Yeah.

Yucca: That's probably not a great person for you to be with. Anyways, it starts to get more complicated when you get into the world of trying to have a job or, you know, what your landlord's impression about you is or things like that.

And the unfair double standards of our world. When it comes to different genders and different ages and different races. And there's, there's so much to all of that, but I think that there really is value in coming back to setting all of that aside, which some of that is external stuff that, you know, I'm never going to be able to control what my neighbor thinks about a woman or not, but I do control.

Or at least strongly influence what I think about me. 

Mark: Yes. Yes. And at the core of much of what sort of, for want of a better term magical practition is magical practice. Is, is about self-possession it's about owning yourself and really knowing yourself and and drawing on the wellsprings of Knowledge and a will and energy and power. And I mean energy in a literal sense, like, you know, the energy that powers our body in order to focus our minds and change our consciousness.

And you can't really do that terribly well, if you don't own yourself, which is your body. Even if you think that you live up in your head all the time, the rest of your body is functioning, it's doing stuff. It might be good to check in with that.

Yucca: Yeah. And rewarding too, 

Mark: Absolutely.

Yucca: Not just on a, on a should. It should be, it'll be better for you, but on a, just coming back to, you know, what does it feel like to be alive? What's it feel like to be you 

Mark: right.

Yucca: and when we're coming at it from the perspective of, Hey, this is, I am my boss. There does come the realization with that, that, well, this body is not going to be around for very long, like Yeah.

Longer than the crickets, but really you know, the century, if you're real, real lucky, actually isn't that long. Right. And so here I am. And I'd like to make the best of it and enjoy it as much as I can and be as, as aware and present as possible. 

Mark: Yes. And we come back to those principles again and again, being, paying attention, being aware, being present, being kind being. You know, living in accordance with those principles that we talked about in a few episodes a while back because not because you should but because it's actually a path towards a way of living that we can be really proud of and really happy.

And that's kind of the point of the game, isn't it? When you're when you're lying on your death bed, what do you want to feel? You want to feel that you have at a wonderful time and that you're proud of your work? Right? 

Yucca: Yeah. 

Mark: I mean, that's, that's about all of us can, can take with us in our last moments, so, oh, go ahead.

Yucca: for. Many of us have loved ones who we want to be able to be there for and to take care of those people. And you know, it's a little cliche to say, but it's so true that you can't take care of someone else without first taking care of yourself. 

Mark: Yes.

Yucca: I think about on the airplanes, right? 

Mark: Mm.

Yucca: They always tell you to put when the oxygen masks popped down, which I've never been on a flight that's happened on thankfully.

But if it does, you're supposed to always secure your own mask first so that you can then help someone else out because you're not going to be any help. If you pass out. 

Mark: Right. Yeah, exactly. So, the, the magic that we do in the world, if we're going to speak in those terms, the. The effect that we have in the world starts with the self. And that's not to say that we should be, you know, narcissistic and self obsessed and all that kind of stuff, but we should have a healthy respect for ourselves and, and a real love for who and what we are and who, and what we are is our physical bodies.

It's a meat machine and the meat does the thinking. So love the meat, because if you love yourself, if you love your mind and your philosophies and your way of being, and I certainly hope you do because self-love is so important for happiness and for effectiveness in the world. Then, you know, the meat is an integral part of the package.

You don't, you don't get, it's not a cafeteria. You don't get to pick and choose what parts of yourself you love. It's gotta be the whole deal.

Yucca: Yeah. 

Mark: So, we had talked about the possibility of what are some things that people who feel like they're not very well connected with their bodies can do. 

Yucca: Or even those who are, but once. Continue to, to cultivate that and nourish that because like so many things, this is practice. It's not, it's not, you don't flip a switch and a high, you got it now, Right. There's, it's a continual choice day after day, week after week, year after year. 

Mark: And the one thing that comes to mind to me immediately is swimming. 

Yucca: Hm. 

Mark: And the reason for that is that. When you're in water, you have a constant stimulation happening all over your body. Your physicality is becoming much more visible to the rest of your brain because it's constantly getting these reports of, Hey, there's this substance touching us all over.

Yucca: Hm. 

Mark: And you can also, because gravity is your, your buoyancy reduces the, the effect of gravity. You can, you can move around and moving around in water is a whole body experience. At least for most people, it is, it's a whole, a whole body activity. So I think getting in water and I mean, I know if you're, if you don't have much upholstery like me it can be cold.

So, I like to, I like to go swimming in places that are really warm. But I, I think that's a, it's a good opportunity. I mean, one of the things that I remember very fondly about Snorkeling in Hawaii in the warm water is not only the amazing fish and coral and turtles and just miracle world down there, but also just the feeling of really being connected with my physicality and using that to motor around the world.

Whereas I don't notice that so much when I'm walking, because I'm so accustomed to it.

Yucca: And all that. You might not try, want to try this smell snorkeling, but you know, when you're in a pool or don't have the snorkel, you can do flips and turns and things that, that most of us stopped doing when we're. Nine on ground. right.

Because then my bones aren't so bendy anymore. It starts to hurt when I fall.

But in the water, there's that, that freedom that you have. 

Mark: Yeah. Yes, very central experience and, and, and just a lovely one. I'm it doesn't surprise me that swimming pools are kind of a ubiquitous thing that we have them all over the place and people want to go in water.

Yucca: Hm. Mm, well, building on that idea, there may be things that work in different people's lives, where it helps to achieve some of that same idea that you're talking about, the, the, getting all of that, that stimulus everywhere on your body. And it might be other physical activities. Maybe a bath, right.

Coming back to the water idea. And that one is a really a lovely one that comes up time and time again, when we start thinking about things like self care and, and, you know, there's the classic image of the bubble bath with the glass of wine and the rose pedals And all of that, but the candles.


But for just that, that tuning in with yourself and at the same time, Creating a space that's separate from everything else that's going on. Right. Bringing that the sense into yourself. Just starting to, to maybe just do a check-in with you starting wherever you want, maybe from your toes, moving up through your body and just kind of feel an oh Yeah.

Okay. I've got muscles there, you know? Oh, that's me. Right. 

Mark: Yeah. And, and I think those kinds of experiences can go a long way towards building a sense of wholeness between the, the think for thinking self and the, the. More muscular moving self. 

Yucca: Hmm. 

Mark: And as as a result of that, we didn't have improvements to our sense of body image by building that sense of common cause with our physicality.

I mean, everybody in the over culture. Everybody, certainly in the societies that I'm familiar with is subject to this onslaught of imagery about what they're supposed to look like and how their body is supposed to work. And it's, it's very harmful because not only does it undermine people's sense of joy in being who they are.

But. There's a point at which people cross a line where they're far enough out of compliance with that, that projected image of what they're supposed to look like, that they kind of give up on themselves to some degree, I think. And that is, that's just a terrible waste for people to go through an experience like that.

There's, there's no reason for it. I mean, There are magnificent, incredible people who or fat. There are magnificent, incredible people who are in wheelchairs. There are magnificent, incredible people who have all different kinds of conditions and shapes and appearances, and the, the idea that we should be measuring ourselves.

By this visual bit is just, as I said, it's really pernicious. I just, 

Yucca: Yeah. 

Mark: if I could wave a magic wand of which I have several, but it doesn't really

Yucca: Oh yeah.

Mark: like that.

Yucca: One of the other places that I think we have. A lot of, of influencer opportunity is in our self-talk. So being mindful that our self-talk is, is it can go either way. We can really drag ourselves through the mud and degrade ourselves, and we believe ourselves. That's the thing. We really believe what we tell ourselves on, on some very, very deep level.

And so when our messages, when we see ourselves in the mirror, oh, you know, my eyes are so asymmetrical or I've got blackheads or, you know, I'm not in my thirties. Why do I still have acne or whatever it is. 

That is what we hear. And that's what we start to believe about ourselves, but pointing out the positive things to ourselves, using kind words.

When we speak to ourselves, you know, all of those things really change the whole feel of our day change, what we hear and what we believe. 

Mark: Yeah. Yes, because that internal dialogue is a reflection of what we believe. And if we change the dialogue, we'll change our beliefs. Really encourage people to go back into the archives, to listen to the piece on the critic, voice. That we did for some kind of details on, on this. The critic voice of course undermines our power and it makes it harder for us to achieve what we want to or need to in the world.

And one of the, one of the primary ways that the critic voice will get at you is by criticizing the body. It's it's. Dumb. When you think about it, that of all the things that it's going to criticize you about, that's what it's really going to zap you with. But the table has been set by the over culture.

You know, we've, we've all been primed to be afraid that there's something wrong with the body. And so it takes, it takes advantage wherever it can.

Yucca: Yeah. So what are some other things that people can do? And we've been talking about just experiencing the body, getting in tune with it, minding our internal dialogue, maybe some of our external dialogue. Right. W when at the beginning we talked about how the, the way that we speak often in forces, that idea of separation between mind and body and body and self and soul and all of that. 

Mark: Yes.

Yucca: Anything else that, that comes to mind for you, Mark? 

Mark: And particularly for people who feel very disconnected from their physicality, I think massage is a great thing because it's all about self care. It's all about, you know, providing something pleasurable and supportive to your physical self. At one time or another, pretty much all parts of your body will be handled.

So there'll be that physical feedback back to your brain that, yeah. The those things that you see out there that you'd get a visual report from once in a while, those are your feet and they really exist. They're there. They're actually there. And I, I mean, I joke about this, but it's kind of true, you know, especially as we get older and creakier, and it gets harder and harder to reach our feet Because we're just stiffer than we used to be.

Those parts of the body can sort of fade in significance in, in how we relate to them. That's certainly been my experience. And so I worked pretty hard to flex my feet all the time and pay attention to them. And You know, for some reason, the farther you get from my head, the less real my body seems to me.

So I have to work to make sure that that my full physicality is embraced by my understanding of myself.

Yucca: yeah, that makes a lot of sense. 

Mark: And, you know, it's because most of our sensory organs. On the front of our head, right. Or on the sides of our head. And we're very visual animals to begin with. So, yes, that's, the feet are a long way away unless I try to bring them closer, which is a painful process, but I can do it if it's really important to me.

Yucca: well, and, and our culture has become more and more sedentary. 

Mark: Yes. That's true too.

Yucca: And then specifically with the feet, we, we put them, we essentially bind them for most of our lives and separate them from that, that tactile experience where our hands were touching things with our hands all the time, but our feet are bound up and put inside of these cushiony things that, you know, we really don't feel very much with them. 

Mark: Exactly. Yeah. It's, I, I don't mention it because it's very difficult for me for two reasons. One of which is that I have foot issues. Make going barefoot, very painful for me, unless it's on a really soft surface, like sand or grass, but I'm also allergic to cut grass. And so my skin breaks out. So going barefoot on grass, 

Yucca: heard of that, 

Mark: for me.

Yucca: that particular allergy before. 

Mark: Yeah. I used to think that I was allergic to chlorophyll, but that's not it it's it's something in cut grass. And I ever since I was a little kid, if I lie on, you know, cut grass without a shirt on or something, I will get these welts. So in any case, I don't think about it so much, but walking barefoot is really good for it.

Yucca: Yeah. 

Mark: It really is good for you. There are tons of nerve endings in your feet, and there's just, there's a way of sort of, it's sort of gripping the earth with your toes that, that walking barefoot provides. And just remembering to do that once in a while is a way of. Reconnecting feeling more integrated.

And I, I guess, see, this is where our language breaks down again, because integration implies, you've got two things that need to come together. And it's just one thing it's more about needing to understand that it's just one thing, instead of having this artificial divide within ourselves.

Yucca: Yeah, I think a topic that we should come back to related to bodies coming back again to the body are. Body 

Mark: Okay.

Yucca: images, right? What is our body? And that ties back and we did an episode a few months back on relationship with food, but but coming back to our worth, you know, tying in our self-worth and tying in all kinds of things into that I think as is worse returning to for today, though, we've gone through a lot. 

Mark: Yeah. 

Yucca: good introduction. 

Mark: I agree. I think it's a good start for the conversation. The, the whole idea of the sacralization of the physical is a very central topic to modern paganism and it's. It's one of those things that is so far out of step with the cultures that surround us, that it's a little bit hard to grasp. You just, you sorta reach for it.

And sometimes it's there and sometimes it's not. So I, I do think that it would be good for us to address specifically body image stuff, because you know, people. People who want to be happy, have to be, have to be lined up on their own side, rather, rather than filled with internal conflict. And that's what we want for you listeners.

We want you to be happy and effective and to be able to do the things in the world that are important to you. So that's why we talk about this stuff. Now what we haven't talked about this time at all, and I'll just touch on it really briefly is using ritual to to address, you know, feeling of discord or of separation between the self and the body.

And I'm just going to kind of put a pin and in that rather than go into suggestions of how you can do that I'm sure you can come up with your own ideas of how to do that. And you know, the, the wonderful bubble bath is certainly an example. But when we do the, the body image episode, we'll talk more about ritual approaches to that kind of integration.

Yucca: Exactly. Yeah. We'll, we'll just give some specific examples and ways to build those rituals. 

Mark: Yeah. Yeah, for sure. Well, thank you Yucca. Thanks for another great conversation.

Yucca: All right. See you next week. 

Mark: Okay. Take care.