Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Why I Push the Boundaries of Social Convention

The Human Body Project is me and my naked body as sample human, sample body. To use academic terminology, I am studying myself, this sample human to whom I have excellent access, and, by exhibiting myself and my art and writing, I am sharing my research. This is a multi-disciplinary research project in the sense of an exploration or inquiry.

Life is a constant exploration. Every instant of life provides us with data (information); every instant of life provides us with the opportunity to interpret data; and every interpretation in our lives leads to ongoing inquiry (or not, in the case of suicide). I use myself and my life because what human subject could I know better?

I am also an artist who has always been guided by intuition. I started this project before I knew how wide-ranging it would be. It was not a rational decision. I started this project because in a deep, visceral sense I simply had to; I was “called” to do it.

My goal is peace on earth. I don’t care how naïve or simple-minded that sounds. When I became a mother I realized that I had to do all that I can do to move humanity forward. I feel an intense sense of urgency; most of my waking hours are spent thinking about how I can make a difference for my children and all children. I may not be clever, I may not make sense, I may seem overbearing, I may appear to be a crazy, power-hungry, narcissistic, arrogant, and shameful sinner who is bound for hell (see below), but I am doing my frickin best.

Like any of us, in every instant I can only start where I am. For example, before I was a mother, I could only experience the world with that as my reality. I dealt with my caring heart by being cynical and disengaged. Now, as a mother, my deep love for my children compels me to guard against cynicism and to stay awake and engaged. I take inspiration from: my children, the Buddha, Jesus Christ, Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr., John Lennon, and others.

Gandhi said, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.”

One place to start is the body. Every day, every instant, it’s exactly where I am and where all of us are. By choosing to use my body, I have chosen to “be” (in Gandhi’s sense) and represent that which we all share: physicality, fragility, vulnerability, and mortality. It may be mine you’re looking at, but it’s yours too. You too will die one day. You too are flawed and imperfect. You too feel and suffer. You too are vulnerable.

By using my naked body and not being posed, especially for the usual reasons (these being primarily: the delectation of men, the making-women-feel-like-shit-for-not-being-delectable-enough, and the commerce that exploits both of these concepts), I am reminding you that we are all in the same boat body-wise. In a visceral way, by witnessing me and my very human body, I am creating an experience of vulnerability for us to share and feel.

One thing I’ve noticed about myself and all of the humans I know (except small children) is that we don’t like to feel vulnerable and we have developed defenses to avoid that feeling. Believe it or not, you have a sensitive heart! Are you attuned to that part of yourself? In my observation, most people are not because, on many levels, we particularly learn how to protect this, our most tender and vulnerable place. Even when we want to or are willing to feel vulnerable, we don’t know how.

Our vulnerability muscles have atrophied. So I’m creating a practice for moving out of that mode of defense: I’m saying we (me included) don’t know how to do this (feel vulnerable); we need to learn; here’s an opportunity.

I have a theory: the fact that we do not allow our deepest selves, our hearts, to be vulnerable is the reason we are totally fucked up as a race. (Sorry. The gigantic problems in the world make me use strong language even though I do acknowledge that in some ways, that we should indeed celebrate, humanity has made progress. Obama!)

Closed off hearts = stunted compassion = cut off from connection to ourselves, to each other, to the earth = global crisis (economic and environmental collapse, poverty, misogyny, violence, etc). It is no longer possible not to live globally. My project is personal and my project is universal.

Nakedness was the most concise way I could think of to create a vulnerable, universal situation. I find it inconvenient, however, to use the nakedness as a day-to-day modality. The idea of a naked college instructor has not caught on and I can’t say I’m sorry. The bodily nakedness, while powerful, can be seen as a metaphor for the larger issue of openheartedness anyway.

This is why I also write about some of my life experiences on my blog and, more and more, on facebook (though I am still stymied in most actual conversation; more on this below). By making public and open what is usually private and closed, either through being naked or through exposing parts of my humanity for people to read about, I push the boundaries of social convention.

Since I started this project in 2006, while many have been moved by the project in the way I intend or hope, many others have not. I have been ridiculed and, to use the terminology that I am aware of, I am seen as a crazy, power-hungry, narcissistic, arrogant, and shameful sinner who is bound for hell. Close members of my family do not discuss my project; perhaps they too feel this way about me.

The other day I posted a note, “25 Random Things About Me,” on facebook (my posting is below). This invitation to share “25 things” has been going around my facebook friends in the last while. I try to keep my classes current so I thought it would be interesting to use the facebook “25 things” idea as the point of an online discussion forum in a communication class I’m now teaching. So I asked them to share “25 things” and I shared my facebook posting with them. My “25 things,” in conjunction with the knowledge that their teacher has an online art project in which she appears naked, provoked a pretty big reaction in some of my students. I’m partly writing this for them and partly because I’m always looking for ways to communicate my central idea: we need to open our hearts, allow ourselves to feel vulnerable and deal with the mess we’re all in.

Key word: feel.

I do have a purpose; it is as simple and huge as peace on earth; and I’m linking this new interpretation of private and public to that goal. “Be the change that you wish to see in the world.” How can I ask or hope for people to allow themselves to be vulnerable if I do not do it myself? How can I ask or hope for people to be more openhearted if I do not do it myself? If I am “being the change” I must be as mindful as possible in as many moments as possible of when I am shut down.

And, so what I frequently notice is that, for me, my social interactions are a rich source of data!

My social interactions are full of feelings that I do not voice. Sometimes it’s about standing up for myself (e.g. I don’t say anything because I want to avoid conflict). Sometimes it’s about how much I care for a person (e.g. I find someone delightful but don’t want them to get the “wrong idea”). Sometimes it’s about something going on with me when there’s another agenda (e.g. I have stage fright but I need to teach a class).

I also get bogged down in the issue of depth (I’ve also been told I’m “too deep”). I have deep thoughts and feelings and goals, but my social interactions are rarely deep.

So I use my blog and the new fascinating social experiment and experience that is facebook to practice being this Tasha who has feelings and depths that are not expressed elsewhere. I’m linking social awkwardness and the idea of what is kept private in “polite company” to the idea of vulnerability. I feel awkward or keep my mouth shut about who I am as a heartful person because I feel too vulnerable.

It’s important to note that my heartfulness is the source of my discomfort—I’m not holding back about shit like Nazi tendencies or animal torturing or some other brutal predilection, I’m holding back my sensitivity. What is wrong with this picture?

In my conversational, person-to-person life, when I practice sharing deep thoughts or intense feelings, I often don’t get a response or get an unwanted response. I also put people on the spot. They are placed in a situation that is outside their understanding of how social convention works. My blog and facebook are distant enough that I don’t particularly expect any kind of response. (My blog entries feel like messages in a bottle and facebook feels like a giant sharing circle). In these new spaces, people are not forced to give a response, as they might feel obliged to in a live conversation. I feel safer doing it from a distance. And it feels less intrusive.

Like most adults, I have no idea how to go about my day with my heart undefended. I feel safe with my dog and my kids, sometimes with my husband. I do not feel completely safe anywhere else. I do not know how to be openhearted in my day-to-day life. My bits of closed-offness affect how I connect with my fellow humans and myself. Closed off = stunted compassion and connection. My goal is peace on earth. I need to be the change I want to see in the world. One day I will be strong enough to walk this world with an open heart. I am working on it.

These are the 25 Random Things About Me that I posted on facebook and on my class’s discussion forum:

1. I am a very intense, emotional, sensitive, and transparent (no poker face) person. This makes me feel awkward and vulnerable a lot of the time. When I was younger, I blushed constantly.

2. As an artist (painter), I lived for about ten years on the edge—of poverty, of acceptability, of stability. I was totally convinced that I would “make it.” I was very naïve.

3. The edge is a common theme in my life. I feel like I live with one foot in stability-land and one foot in insane-land. I think I have a better understanding of “mental illness” than most people. I use quotations because I dispute the medical model.

4. I think I feel insane a lot because I really took on my upbringing and culture. I am a creative, feminine being in a competitive, masculine world. I value above all compassion and creativity, not money, status or power.

5. From age 12-40, I struggled with depression and felt completely lost in the world. Becoming a mother (at 40) has really helped me feel like I belong here.

6. I started finding my way in my 30s when I began doing yoga and exploring “alternative” therapies. I cried through the whole decade of my 30s.

7. We live in a culture that separates head from heart. Who I am (who any of us are) in a heartful sense is not valued and I was not taught to value this about myself. I am still damaged by this.

8. I am passionate about not inflicting the same fragmentation on any more children. I feel a huge responsibility to prevent this from happening and to share my wisdom.

9. I have very little idea how to do this (#8). Sometimes I offend or confuse people. Often I do nothing because it seems futile. Frustrating.

10. I see myself as a visionary who is ahead of my time. This has been very lonely. Also, it’s not like you get extra pay.

11. My Human Body Project (humanbodyproject.com) is one way I have committed to acting on my purpose and passion.

12. I need help with the Human Body Project.

13. I’m not good at asking for help. Feeling overly responsible is one of my big issues.

14. I want more influence in the world and am very tired of being an isolated weirdo/nobody.

15. I don’t understand people who are satisfied with the status quo. I feel an intense sense of urgency to move things forward.

16. I am not a relaxed or patient person. I admire people who are.

17. I love teaching even though I often have quite intense “stage fright.”

18. I cannot believe that I, Tasha Diamant, have two beautiful children and a loving, supportive husband. My family is a miracle!

19. Recently I have had a big realization that if I am more physical with my daughter Claire (hugging, physical play, affectionate touch), she is happier and so am I.

20. I’ve always wished I had bigger boobs. But 47 years old, small boobs and all, I have miraculous, revelatory sex with my husband. I’m embarrassed to write that but, to me, it’s important to show that sexuality isn’t as limited and limiting as our cultural messages would have us believe.

21. I believe that we are in a time of shifting energies. I believe some of us do healing work on behalf of the larger population. I have had very fragile health since the early 90s (useless medical diagnosis: chronic fatigue syndrome). Sometimes I wonder if my illness is about larger work on behalf of the whole. Again, no extra pay is involved.

22. I am very sensitive to chemicals (useless medical diagnosis: environmental illness), especially fragrance chemicals, which can make me incredibly ill. In this case, I really believe that I am doing larger work in the sense of being a human Geiger counter.

23. In the last year I have felt a lot healthier than I have for about 15 years. I feel very grateful.

24. I have a strong need to be seen for who I am. I didn’t think I wanted to write this list but my typing fingers did it anyway. It has been therapeutic.

25. I am extremely self-critical. I think learning to love myself will be a lifelong project for me.

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