Tue, Aug 2, 2016
Under the modern-age curse of the struggle to look good, anxiety and low self-esteem has eaten up the souls of African women who have continuously undervalued and hence altered their innate melanin-rich beauty.
Fascinated by the profound prowess of Michael Phelps (USA, Swimming Olympic Gold Medalist) to out-swim his colleagues and bag all the gold medals in that regard, I immediately developed an ego-encapsulated ambition to become a great swimmer like him. Instead of becoming a great swimmer, my ambition bred useful frustration, given that I couldn’t hold my breath under water, for long. This in turn led to learning a great lesson about the power of breath. Sometimes you look for something and then serendipitously find another. This attempt to learn swimming was one of those times in my life.
I take it with profound reverence and awe when the holy texts describe our bodies as the temples of the holy spirit. Consider this simple exercise that is not constrained by whatever beliefs you hold but only considers the fact that you are a person who can, and wants to breathe:
I request you to breathe in, and hold onto the continuous intake of air for five minutes. You probably gave up in the forty fifth second or less. Having given up, I now request you to breathe out, and prolong the air outflow for five minutes. You probably gave up in the fifteenth second or less.
The first breathing activity teaches us that when it’s time to let go of something in your life and you hold onto it, you will hurt yourself. That is why when it was time to let go of the breath you were holding onto, even with the instruction to maintain it for five minutes, you gave up for your life’s sake.
The second breathing activity teaches us that when it is time to allow something into your life and you don’t, you will hurt yourself. That is why when it was time to let in air as you continuously breathed out, you indeed allowed it in by giving up, despite the instruction to breathe out for five minutes non-stop.
These are some of those rare moments when giving up is extremely urgent and useful, defying the common self-help rhetoric of “NEVER GIVE UP”. Another lesson I could deduce from this defiance is that much as we could follow, we should never conform to socially driven self-help mantras but try to flexibly develop our own from our unique experiences.
The instructions in either activity could represent the parochial caveats and or limiting beliefs we impose on ourselves, often compelled by the need to fit in society and or among our peers.
It is important to note that, you cannot understand the power of social and peer pressures until you understand the legitimate need to belong we all share as humans. So, it is incumbent on you to satisfy this need to belong by letting go of limiting beliefs and allowing in liberating beliefs yet not imposing retarding caveats in, and on your life, just like we learnt from the breathing exercise.
Which beliefs are limiting and which ones are liberating are left to the reader to decide for themselves. We are too engrossed in creating a livelihood but we forget the source of our livelihood is actually our body. We all carry out breathing (as long as we are living) but have not taken time to understand the intricate wisdom in it.
This is a lesson I learned when I failed to learn how to swim. As part of my planning process to travel the whole world, I landed on some forgotten tribe of Africa, the Surma people, whose culture reminded me of how limitless, in capabilities, our bodies are.
“United we stand, divided we fall” is a global truism often referred to by politicians, the clergy and other leaders in their respective capacities. The truism seems to have been inductively coined from observations of how systems in nature seem to operate, right from your body through the birds to the terrestrial beings. A spirit of unity seems to be at the core life and all its intricate participants.
This lost and forgotten (at least according to me) tribe of Africa seems to understand the essence of unity too. In the southwestern parts of Ethiopia, is where it mainly dwells. They showcase a fierce culture characterized by their traditional rivalries with their neighbors, stick fighting for men so as to win over brides and most fierce and sui generis of all, they mutilate (what I decided to call “piecing down”) their bodies for beauty’s sake.
As other cultures, especially modern ones encourage women to put together their bodies for beauty, this tribe encourages its women to put their bodies apart for beauty. More surprisingly, modern women struggle to piece up their bodies to look good yet these alienated Surma women effortlessly and joyfully piece down their bodies to look good. They have their bottom teeth removed and their bottom lips pierced. Some go an extra mile by stretching and drilling holes in their lips so as to allow plates up to sixteen inches in diameter, all in the name of beauty!
This self-imposed piecing down of their bodies, a divergence from the conventional cultural practices of beauty, and their ability to harness the infinite power of the body, is what makes this tribe fierce. It is these extremely oriented and radicalized pursuits for beauty that got me shocked, hence remembering my perhaps extreme pursuit for Phelps’ swimming prowess.
The tyranny of the pursuit for beauty in this highly sickening modernity of ours (sickening if you don’t know how to live in it) has been proliferated by the continuous debasing of aged women and constant glorification of the young by cosmetic start-ups and companies. We are in a modern struggle to look good. Damn! Is modernity a curse, with regards to beauty, given that one has to struggle to fit in by looking good or is it a blessing?
Also, with the rapid emergence and infiltration of modernity into the area of the Surma people, some women are abandoning their long-held, outlandish methodologies of pursuing beauty and embracing the modern one too. Is modernity limiting our ability to harness the infinite bodily wisdom we are meant to live? One wonders!
Edrine Habasa is an autodidact bridge engineer, dialectician and knowledge enthusiast. He's also a debunker of falsehoods as he champions the truth.