This magnet began with a mysterious but potent sense of sureness that “wisdom of space” was critical to the study. I knew taking up space physically was an issue, but it was more than that. At first I was only able to articulate the feeling of spaciousness in my body. When I held the magnet to the material I discovered that the pieces that attracted to my inner sense of space were about embodying the feminine - making space for oneself as a woman. The deeper I got into the material the more clear it became that this magnet was about making space for the sacred feminine qualities—rejected in our culture—that give rise to wisdom. It was also about making space for deep transformation, giving one’s Self room to grow. Woodman’s (1980,1985,1990,1993) prolific writing on the subject of embodying the feminine as a way of healing eating disorders and the culture includes her emphasis on the feminine qualities of process (versus product), paradox, presence, and active receptivity. These were also themes associated with this magnet; however, humor, which often includes paradox, was one of the most striking features of our group space, and therefore I’ve emphasized humor in this magnet instead of paradox.
I was inspired to read up on alchemy when I changed the term “lens” to “magnet.” In the process, I discovered the first use of “space” in the literature, and was astounded at the meaning. Referring to Plato’s use of the word “space,” Marie Louise Von Franz (1980) states, “Space is like a nurse to the whole cosmic order, thus space is regarded as a feminine container, a nourishing function of the mother” (p. 65). Finding this passage gave me chills of resonance - 1 had begun a quest to make sense of my bodily feeling of space, and I had wound up face to face with the deep feminine. Again.
The words and images that I held as I began the data analysis were: ample, open, invitation (please come), gentle, mystery, tender, room to grow, boundless container, gentle, spiral, and growing flower. The body feeling was open and roomy inside with energy—centered in my heart and rising to my throat—that occasionally emerged as tears of tenderness.
As I wrote up the findings for this magnet I became very frustrated - “Where's the order? ” The data kept circling back around, re-connecting, refusing to go in a straight line. After wasting time trying to force Wisdom of Space into shape, I began laughing at myself: “Of course it’s not going to align in a linear format, it’s the magnet about the sacred feminine!" Respecting the nature of the material and my urge for organization, I've presented the findings in the following order, within which there is no order: the process of embodying the feminine/spaciousness, qualities of the feminine/space, ways of creating space, and a closing comment on our process of holding space in our circle.
It also occurs to me that we all seem to be talking around the “thing” but never speaking of it directly. This is the nature of the presence I experience as space; it is hard to talk about because it is experiential. The closest the reader will come in this dissertation format to experiencing the space we shared is by reading the stories and the teaching sessions. It is my hope that the concentrated focus of this magnet on the essences of space may assist readers in recognizing the qualities of space elsewhere in this document and in their lives.
In the first passage on the process of embodying a sense of spaciousness, Katrina identifies her personal understanding of the feminine as the most important aspect of healing her relationship with her body. She describes the difference between the obvious fact of her femininity due to her female birth, and her new honoring and aligning with the feminine spirit of being a woman.
Katrina: The most important thing that I’ve learned is connecting with the feminine. I always thought that because I loved to be feminine and girly and loved the curly hair and the nails and dadadada, that I was so feminine. Like of course I’m feminine, what are you crazy? I never really got how incredibly masculine my personality was - my drive, my motivation, my rules, my lists, my daytimer, my goals. It was very geometric. One of the most delicious things about where I am today is how much I can embrace my feminine spirit, not just my feminine finger nails. I’m so loving everything that makes me a woman. Even my period.
The preceding statement reveals a significant transformation for Katrina, whose story included sneaking pads out of her sister's bathroom because she was ashamed to tell her mom she had started her period.
In the following excerpt, Wild Horse Woman speaks to shift toward making change with her body in a way that includes the space to heal black and white, meet- goals-at-the-expense-of-the-body thinking. She’s feeling into a process that allows her to be present to herself so she can hear the wisdom of her own timing.
Wild Horsewoman: Usually when I’ve dieted I was scared and had some shame in there. The whole thing was that I wasn’t ready yet. I wasn’t doing it from the inside out where I would feel safe doing it. I was doing from the addictive—this is going to make me feel better—kind of thing. Being so focused on the diet or the goal that it would keep me away from other stuff in my life that didn’t feel ready to change. What I see is a difference from doing that old cycle and what I’m trying to do now, is that I’m looking to feel embodied and to allow - having all the space where it’s not black and white. It just sort of takes it out of that whole linear thing. I need to be here so I’m present in it. So that it’s not shoving myself over a cliff before I’m ready. It’s having me go with it the whole step of the way.
Below, Tara weaves together pieces from the stories that spoke to her about connection with body as a nonlinear, organic process, like life:
Tara: Listening to your [Wild Horse Woman] story, I got this sudden understanding that embodiment doesn’t come like that linear diet line. Embodiment is moments, it’s moments. What Katrina was saying is that the moments are more strung together now. It goes along with what Becky was saying, it’s here and then over here, there and over here. It’s a life.
The following piece of Katrina’s story speak eloquently to reclaiming reverence for the experience of letting go into a container, presence, or reality greater than herself. Letting go had the effect of transforming her view of the relationship with body as a process over which she would never have total control.
Katrina: Joining OA was the first time that I had any kind of spiritual connection as it related to my relationship with body. In all my dieting, and all of my suffering, and all of my struggle with relationship with body, never did I ever ask God, higher power, or any kind of spirit for help. I thought that I had the power. It was very useful and healing to relinquish some of that control, to know that I didn't have to solve it all. My relationship with body issues was far bigger than anything that I could have fixed, created, or controlled. That was the beginning of the turning point on this journey. It completely shifted how I viewed this relationship with my body, and my eating disorder. I began realizing it is a journey and a process. I hadn't gotten that before.
Again from Katrina comes a piece about letting go. As I read the following piece I feel a remarkable quality of gentleness in my body. She describes being gentle and tenderly caring for herself at a time of great emotional pain. Katrina learned how important the love of her grandmother was in the process of grieving her grandmother's death. Grieving demands letting go and creates inner space in its wake. Katrina was changed by the grief process in many ways. Making space for a new perspective, she opened to understanding the usefulness of her relationship with food to help her cope with nearly intolerable grief. In the process, she experienced a temporary relief in her drive for perfectionism as she focused on not “being hard on herself’ regarding food and body size.
Katrina: The best part of that year was that I spent that year feeling and grieving and crying and being little and curling up with my blanket. For that whole year I didn't think about my food, I didn't think about my body. It just gave me a break; it gave me a very nice break. Necessary time for the grieving and the healing that I needed to do around it.
When I say I didn't think about my food, didn't think about my weight, I just ate whatever I wanted. I lost for that moment judgement around my behavior with food and that was a very nice experience, in that if I wanted to get up in the middle of the night and eat a box of graham crackers and that's what made me feel good and that's what made the pain go away I would let myself. I tried very hard not to be hard on myself. It was the one way that I knew that I could comfort myself. That's how I knew to take care of myself at that time. The following summer I went to a Breaking Free workshop of Geneen Roth's and she's got a very soothing gentle nurturing voice. I remember her saying something like, "Thank god you had the food, like good for you for using the food." That really stuck with me because it kept me alive, it kept me on this planet and on this journey. And so today still I think, “Thank god I had the food thank god I used the food,” because I might not be here if I hadn't.
Making space helps to break the spell of perfectionism. While I often speak to the feminine healing that comes from circles of women, it is certainly not a strictly feminine capacity. The following piece from Katrina reminded me to mark the fact that many of our stories include extensions of space and acceptance for our “imperfect selves "from men. Since many of us have been wounded by men who we feel drove or inspired us to perfection (fathers' daughters), there was something particularly precious to me about learning from the men in our lives that we don't have to be "perfect ”for them or anybody else.
Katrina: One night in May after Carole had left, I got up in the middle of the night and binged. I don't even think it was in the middle of the night, it was late, I had gone to bed. I laid in bed crying because like I had to clutch my pillow to keep from going and throwing up. I called Stan and I said, "You know I just need you to listen to me I don't have anyone else to call it's really late and this where I'm at. I'm sorry to call so late. He was just so gentle so sweet and so great. I cried and I told him what I'd just done and I wanted to throw up and really all he said is "You know’ what? You're not perfect, you don't have to be perfect and tomorrow's another day." It was just like the tone of his voice and like exactly what I needed to hear. It's okay that I'm not perfect and I don't have to do it perfectly every day. I don't even know what perfect is.
The above piece also speaks to me of compassion. Stan's compassion for Katrina invited her to have a measure of compassion for herself. In my frame of reference compassion for redemption of the body is rooted in the feminine, in space.
In the following excerpt Christy responds to a retreat preparation question about her personal process of change.
Christy: In response to Becky’s question, How does change happen for you? I noticed that I do as much inner work as I possibly can: prayers, affirmations, books, imagination, visualizations, journal. I work and I work and I work and the truth is I don’t see any obvious results. Then I just let it sit and somewhere down the line suddenly there’s a whooosh and it all shifts. It has its own gestation period and it gets birthed in its own time. I think that’s also the balance of masculine and feminine. The part of me that’s masculine that needs to work to get the nitty gritty part of it and the feminine allows and just receives. That’s what I’m doing with my food and my body weight issues now. I’m just allowing and I’m recognizing all the cultural voices I still have inside.
You can’t plant a bulb and say, “Well, goddamn you grow!” And suddenly get poof, it’s a flower. You’ve got to tend it, nurture it, and let it grow in its own time. That’s what the divine feminine is about for me.
In the preceding piece, Christy elegantly describes a healthy balance between the masculine aspects of herself striving toward change, and the inner feminine actively holding the space for transformation. Again this piece speaks to making space for one's own timing. The notion of “time ” was expressed in a variety of ways throughout the retreat, usually marking a shift away from the co-researcher's emphasis on schedules and goal attainment regarding their bodies.
Rose also describes the value of slowing down and how it is part of embodying the feminine for her:
Rose: I’ve been working also on slowing down. I carried “stay busy and everything will be fine” from my childhood and I kind of hit a wall around that a few months ago. I’ve very slowly started to slow down. At those times when I start thinking of the million directions I could go my mantra is “sit still.” This is part of the process of connecting with the feminine for me.
The following piece from Katrina speaks of her shift in focus to being in her body in the present moment. The process Katrina is in—that of healing her relationship with body through awareness of her body in the present moment—reminds me of meditation and other mindfulness practices. In both, one is focusing on the present moment in order to make space between the Self and one’s usual chatter and habits of mind, in order to know one’s essence.
Katrina: Like the great thing about this journey and especially the year I spent with you [Becky] is that it taught me to really embrace this body in this moment.
Below, in commenting on Wild Horse Woman’s story, I relate to the gift of weight in learning the value of slowing down:
Becky: You talked about how the weight was about slowing down. You said, “the quietude of the shape” and I loved that. I relate to it too. Because a big part of my own process was that the weight forced me to slow down. I couldn’t move as fast., I couldn’t do anything as fast. Dieting was that call to speed things up, get a move on, get there, go there, dadada. This body forced me to slow down and in that “quietude,” as you said so well, “I could find myself.”
Wild Horse Woman: I do feel like the weight has been a tremendous teacher. It’s been a teacher of that edge of, what is my rhythm? Regarding losing weight and getting in better shape, I have a real sense that not doing it before its time is a crucial lesson for me.
One of the phrases that arose for me regarding the space magnet was “room to grow. ” I experience this as one of the salient qualities of space 1 observed with the co-researchers. The following excerpt from Rose spoke to her willingness to give herself room to grow, physically and emotionally. She’s commenting on Becky’s story, which included a piece about gaining 100 pounds consciously.
Rose: One resonance I have from your story is you talked about gaining all your weight consciously and I feel I did the same thing. I really feel that I put on all this weight in a conscious process. I can’t say I’ve been conscious every minute of it by any means, but it still has been a conscious process around healing my relationship with my body.
Another quality that emerges out of my sense of space is mystery. Many of the women talk about moving away from control, planning, and the compulsion to have all the answers when they make a connection with the sacred feminine. The following dialogue between Katrina and Christy reveals the relationship between the divine feminine and the process of letting oneself be guided by mystery.
Katrina [to Christy]: You said something about the story being bigger than you and the spirituality of that just really struck me. Like my story has everything to do with me and nothing to do with me. And especially this year I felt like it wasn’t me that was doing anything, but I like the image that I have these two big hands beneath me, like holding me through this and guiding me where I was supposed to go. Like way bigger than me. Because I would fuck it up. Marianne Williamson says something like that like, “I can’t even make a souffle, how am I supposed to make this?”
Christy: I think Marion Woodman talks about it as being seated on the lap of the goddess that you’re actually enfolded and upheld.
Katrina: That’s definitely what it feels like for me.
Perhaps it is true with humor that ‘‘you have to be there " to appreciate it, but I was compelled to include a piece of this quality of space here because it was so powerful during our time together. I see humor making space between a habit of thinking and new thought. Often, as in the case below, it reveals a subconscious truth by cutting to the core of an issue.
Tara, our resident goddess of sharp wit, introduced the phrase "Now she’s dead" to the group in reference to a teaching session discussion about a woman not mattering because she’s become fat. This became a phrase that made us laugh again every time one of us said it (always with sarcasm), because it both shocks and speaks to the real pain of fat discrimination and female body shame. Below is one example of our healing humor. On Quatrain's reviewed copy of the teaching sessions a small yellow post-it note next to the following passage read, “This totally makes me laugh!"
Katrina: Yeah, I always have to friggin eat.
Becky: Right, it’s not an addiction that you can totally drop from your life.
Katrina: I can’t go cold turkey. I don’t have a Nicotrol patch for my food you know.
Becky: Although they do make some lovely drugs that you could take with some kind of nasty side affects.
Katrina: Heart murmur side affects.
Becky: Too bad, she’s dead.
Katrina: Finally killed her.
The notion of invitation from the divine kept appearing as I was defining this magnet. For myself and other women in our group, there is an implied and sometimes explicit sense of invitation in our descriptions of connecting with the divine feminine. In the following example from Tara, she relates the call of the Goddess with her relationship with her own inner wise woman.
Tara: I have a sense that the Goddess is calling to me. The eating disorder has been protecting me and now she wants me to be brought back into the fold. I’ve experienced my inner wise woman in the past, particularly as she’s taught me about having healthier relationships. I’ve been able to trust her with that. But as far as my food stuff, I feel like I don’t even know her. I think what’s happening now is she’s rising in me in a different way. Something’s happening, she’s emerging in me.
The remaining findings in this magnet seem to me to be ways of making or experiencing the qualities of space, including its power to create transformation in one's life.
Music, especially singing, had an incredibly strong presence in our group. Not much of a singer myself, this was a complete and delightful surprise to me. I was very moved by the power of singing and music to hold space and offer healing. In many cases, I had the experience of feeling in the presence of the sacred through song. It was also meaningful to Tara, who describes how music and creativity were ways for her to connect with the divine feminine:
Tara: First of all, the songs, all the singing. It opened up a place of creativity in me. I think that’s why I’m drawing these pictures of women, because of the music.
Describing her sense of calling to teach about what she knows psychically, but feeling ill-equipped for the job due to her communication style, Tara speaks again to the importance of music for her sense of embodiment in the following conversation:
Rose: The only way whatever it is that you do have to teach can be received is through the body. People can’t hear it when it’s not coming through the body.
Tara: That’s why the music was so important to me. I just realized that one of my bridges between my personal self and my divine self is the music.
Ritual was a familiar and important part of our time together. As described in the retreat procedure section of Chapter 3: Method, we created our opening and closing retreat rituals together as a group. Our rituals set an intentionality of sacredness and invited the presence of the divine in both its masculine and feminine expressions. Ritual was also discussed in the stories as a way to honor, to heal, and to make space for change. In a dialogue about the strong presence of ritual in Christy’s story, Rose offers her own example of a body/soul healing ritual related to her history of childhood sexual abuse:
Rose: Yeah, I wanted to comment on the ritual in your [Christy’s] story as part of the embodiment process. I’ve done some of that too. One of the things I did that I haven’t talked about is when I had my incest memories I took all my teddy bears and I put Band-Aids on their bottoms. It was in a really acute time like in the first few days, the first few weeks, I just had to do that.
Christy: For me ritual has always been important. I had the memorial service for my kidney and I invited people from the dialysis center and the transplant center and friends from the church. One of the things I love about ritual is that while I was doing this specifically as a healing thing to get ready for a surgery that I was scared about going to, it turned out to be an opportunity for everybody to realize you have to let go of something old in order to bring in something new. It’s a larger theme than just me. That’s why I love ritual. Even if you’re going to a memorial service for your kidneys, for somebody else’s kidneys, not even your own. It’s like everybody went away from that service with something about themselves even if it didn’t have anything to do with letting go of their kidneys. It’s large and deeper and connects in with all of us in some form or another even if the details aren’t the same.
Working with dreams and creative expression makes space by placing one's awareness into images. This can encourage a little vacation time for the left side of the brain—the center of rational, linear, logical thought—which for some of us has been over-trained and over-exercised into an overly-developed body control muscle.
In the following passage, Tara describes the compassionate reminders that the image of her body cast reveal to her. Body casting is a process of using plaster casting materials to create a realistic and accurate representation of one’s body in a creative form. Many women find a beauty in their body cast that they are less able to see in the mirror. I believe there is something about the impersonal viewing of the beauty of the female body in its ample, goddess shape that invites women to see their physical form with greater compassion and appreciation.
Tara: There’s something about this body cast; it’s wordless with me. When I put her up in the comer my first day here, I just began loving her all over again. It’s so helpful to me when I’m moving and having trouble getting up to remember how I love the way she looks. It helps me not to trip myself up with self-negation. I would like to hold this process of being both the large me and the smaller me as a way of having compassion for myself.
An excerpt from Becky's story speaks to the ability of psychotherapy to make space for healing the feminine.
Becky: My mom’s concern for my mental state after the fast prompted her to offer to pay for program I wanted to attend on healing the inner child, if I went to a psychotherapist first. I didn’t want to go to therapy because I’d been sent to shrinks when I was a “dysfunctional” teenager and had gotten nothing out of it at all. Had it not been for the bribe, I don’t know where I’d be now. Sometimes the best things come in strange packages.
Psychotherapy was a godsend, meeting my therapist, Lisa, was the real blessing. We didn’t focus on my weight. We focused on me taking care of me. During that time I got my first massage and I learned how to slow down and listen. I started to hear what kind of food felt best in my body and I regained enough energy to exercise more regularly. I was slowly breaking free from the rule-bound place of calorie balancing I had been taught in the university weight loss program. Lisa helped me to find myself again, and in many ways, find myself for the first time. I began to be able to maintain my weight and even lose a little bit of weight by eating foods that I really enjoyed and felt great in my body.
The final way of creating space I’ll be discussing here is women's circles - our circle in particular. As previously mentioned, the best way to understand space is to participate in it, because one’s knowing of it is experiential. The closest the reader can come to accessing our sacred space in this dissertation will be to read the transcripts of the stories and the teaching sessions (Appendices K and L), which I strongly recommend.
However, I feel a responsibility to communicate how critical this aspect of healing was in our circle; the following description and reflection on one of the many processes in our experience together appears here as an offering to that end.
Tara's process during her story session and teaching session at our retreat spoke poignantly to the power of space in circles of women:
Tara: One of the gifts of working with women in the same position is less shame, less pain. Less of that dark voice all by myself saying, “You don’t even belong. You shouldn’t be here.”
This short statement from Tara says a lot about her process of expressing herself and feeling connected with others in our circle. Tara spent hours preparing her altar for her story. It took up a whole comer of the room. Her body was dwarfed by comparison. As Katrina observed, it encouraged us all to sit further away from her during her story so we could take it all in. While the images of her altar were powerful and moving, I felt there was also something compensatory about its size in relation to the room. I didn’t have words for my felt sense it until the end of her teaching session, when I realized I experienced the whole subtext of her story as being about the issue of taking up space.
Tara acknowledges that she reacts counterphobically when she's anxious. Not comfortable with having all the attention on herself in such an intimate setting, she was anxious, scared, and tearful as she began telling her story. The facade of her big "I can handle everything and everyone” energy was betrayed by her body’s obvious nervousness and her leaking vulnerability.
She said right up front she wasn't scared of us and I believe her. I actually think it was the fact that she felt comfortable in our presence that she allowed herself to be so vulnerable in an unknown process of change with us. I felt gifted by her trust in our circle.
Tara’s Tahoe story included pieces about using her big "taking up space” energy to keep herself safe in some very threatening situation as a child. On the surface she was tough and in control because she had to be. Inside she was terrified and terribly aware that no one else was there to protect her.
In our circle I felt her striving for authenticity by admitting her vulnerability and doing her "tough” number at the same time, as though somehow holding them together in our space would bring them in closer proximity to each other. She felt disconnected from the group throughout her story and the group felt disconnected from her by the nervousness that manifested as a disjointed speaking style.
A significant shift happened at the very end of her story session. When asked how we might be able to help her feel more connected to us, she asked for us to hold her with music. Surrounding her with gentle hands, gentle songs, and strong female voices, we held her in our hearts with our songs. We made a connection with her and her with us that could not be made in heavily verbal activity of our circle. The power of the experience was wordless and is impossible for me to describe except by its effects. Tara visibly looked different the next day and seemed to have more insight on the dynamics of herself in this context. The process was a step toward healing for her.
It was also a huge gift to our group. Tara had held the energy of "you're too big, you’re too emotional, you talk too much, you're too sensitive, there’s no room for you here” - in essence, "You take up too much space.” This was a theme we all related to and one that is extremely relevant to our discussion of a woman’s body size and womens' power.
Tara carried the shame of “being too big” for each of us in the circle. By consciously naming her pain, she gave us the opportunity to hold the pain with her and take one small step toward healing the long tradition of silencing women's power. Her healing was also our healing of our inner urges to make ourselves small, silent, and invisible - as Wild Horse Woman said, "part of the wallpaper.” We all knew the pain of attracting negative attention, of being seen as “the one with the problem” and/or of not being seen at all. To cast out Tara as the one of us who didn't fit, who was hard to listen to, who couldn't be one of the group, would have meant casting out that reality in ourselves as well.
All the women in our circle contributed to holding an open, trusting, tender presence as we waited with Tara in the mystery of what gift this uncomfortable situation might bring to bear. Though subtle and nearly unspoken, a shift happened for Tara, and I believe, for all of us the day she told her story. The following day, Tara appeared lighter, brighter, more relaxed, and more at home in our circle. The energy of our whole group shifted as well, to that of a creative, engaged team of women expressing the power of our voices and the wisdom of our deepest knowing.
This is but one example of the way of making space in women’s circles as I experience it.
It is a bit daunting to write a discussion on something as wordless as space. In their discussion of conscious femininity, Woodman and Mellick (1998) address this lack of language for the phenomenon I describe as space; when they asked a group of women to define it, they say, “There was silence!” (p. 144). Even after hours of focus on the topic, they had shared stories and rich descriptions but no definition. Both their experience and mine confirm the relationship of the feminine with the notion of space and the wordlessness of the phenomenon as a whole.
A complementary concept of space comes from a Japanese characteristic of art, called ma. Ma “means space, room, an interval, or a pregnant pause. Ma is that moment unbridled by contradictions, it is the moment that allows one to be aware of and part of his surroundings” (Matsumoto, 1988, p. 50). Matsumoto goes on to say that ma suggests things unspoken, something to be experienced rather than analyzed. Mellick (1996) defines the concept of ma as a “mystery that should be present, a potential realizing itself, an eternal moment unfolding, a deep power present in silence.... It is an empowering mystery, whose silence, empty time, and space is infused with the eternal present” (p. 122). These definitions of ma relate to many aspects of space as revealed by these findings, particularly wordlessness and the reverence for mystery.
Wilmer (2000) suggests the concept of ma “approximates the Buddhist image of the self, composed of endless points or centers with a circumference everywhere” (p.135). This description resonates with my phrase “boundless container.” The notion of containment without bounds is itself a paradox, described as a quality of the feminine according to Woodman and Mellick (1998).
Woodman (1993) has spent many years investigating this difficult-to-define notion of space as it relates to conscious femininity. Her work specifically addresses the transformation of eating disorders through “embodied consciousness,” based on her experience of coming to God by going through the body to meet the Goddess. According to Woodman, “The feminine side of God is consciousness in matter” (p. 144). She sees addiction and disordered eating as a longing for presence. The addict is addicted to perfection - perfect body, perfect woman, pure spirit. Transformation occurs for the woman with disordered eating by making space for and connection with a deep and authentic quality of presence—the divine feminine—that heals the drive for perfection as it makes space for the crucial fact of our human limitations.
In her work on the interstices, or spaces between, in the disciplines of Aikido and fencing, Newton (1996) also addresses the transformative aspects of space: “Exploring the interstices allows access to the experience of the spaciousness and potential which is inherent with this ground/space of becoming, which may well be transformative” (p. 338). In Jungian terms, it may provide space for the exercise of “the transcendent function, the unifying activity between consciousness and unconsciousness” (p. 338).
Newton (1996) also suggests that looking at spaces between forms has the capacity to expand one’s contextual understanding, making possible a paradigm shift: “Interconnectedness of the specifics are given a larger context by space” (p. 338). This describes the essential shift in consciousness made by the co-researchers when embodying spaciousness, a shift that continues to offer degrees of healing in their efforts to break free of dieting, body control, and perfectionism. In addition, the opportunity for connectedness through space described by Newton is illustrated by the women’s shift to a felt sense of connection with a presence beyond themselves.
The perfectionist drive behind dieting behavior leads to the experience of lack of connection and little inner space. According to research by Casper (1994), participants described feeling restricted and confined in both time and thought while dieting. Rather than focusing on calorie or nutrient counting, weighing and measuring foods, eating schedules and weight goals, women became free to “experience new aspects of their identities” (p. 154). Upon giving up dieting the participants experienced a greater sense of inner freedom, which relates both to the notion of spaciousness and the relief the co- researchers expressed upon letting go of controlling their food and bodies. The results of the Casper study are confirmed by these findings.
Slowly, the Wisdom of Space appears to be emerging in popular culture. It is not surprising to find a seedling in media focused on women’s size acceptance. An article by Fraser (1999) in Mode Magazine calls for breaking the “rules” of exercise and focusing on the process. The author describes her own process of embodied experimentation; she explores movements and activities “because I loved how it made me feel.... I couldn’t care less about the goal, what I like is the process” (p. 78). Like the women in this study, this shift from focusing on the products of food and body efforts to the process appears to be a key aspect of healing their relationship with body.
Roese (1996) addresses the issues of fat prejudice and taking up space in her research on the shift to non-dieting for obese women. She calls for a stop to size prejudice and suggests that “every human body by definition is worthwhile, and that in our world of plentitude a woman with a plentiful body deserves plenty of nourishment, space, and respect” (p. 312).
Women make space for each other in women’s circles where the feminine, right brain “preconquest” qualities of authenticity, feelings, wholism, empathy, rapport, and trust contribute to healing and allow for the revelation of wisdom (De Quincey, 2000; Shlain, 1998). Shlain (1998) also suggests it is the capacity of the right brain that allows us to get the punchline of a joke. This may speak to my intuitive association of humor with the feminine rich qualities of the Wisdom of Space.
The practice of making space can expand the pre-reflective moment, making room for what is unknown - that is, insight. The process of making space, holding space, or creating space as described here means holding oneself with an embodied understanding of the greatest love and deepest compassion there is .
It appears to me that the co-researchers became more open to feedback from their body and environment when they experienced more space within themselves. Their embodied learning, knowing, experimentation, and research happen within space. Especially since each of these women has known what it is like to be extremely hard on herself in her perfectionism, mind-over-matter, and closed black-and-white thinking, the gentleness and tenderness of space is a healing container for the critical work of honing and sharpening her discernment and self-trust.
Only if change in body size is an appropriate part of one’s growth toward wholeness will the psychic energy necessary to make the change and hold the tensions be accessible for use and for life. Appropriate timing can be determined only by the women themselves, through listening for and honoring one’s own timing and body rhythms.
As I complete this discussion, again I am struck with the circularity of the concept, as though the investigation into the meaning of space leads me on an endless journey without conclusion, keeping me in the midst of space itself without exit. I understand the Wisdom of Space to be a boundless container which, through issues with body and weight, invites a woman to embody the healing process of letting go, trusting her natural rhythm and own timing, embracing mystery, and celebrating humor. The co-researchers described the most useful ways of making space in their lives as music, ritual, creative expression, psychotherapy, and women’s circles. The findings of this magnet offer new understanding regarding the potential for transformation through space, including the change these women experienced by granting themselves space regarding their relationships with body, food, and weight.
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