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EP 22 - Foraging For The Joy Of Being with Michelle Dowd










Growing up in a reglious cult, Michelle learned from an early age to deny her body, her needs and any pleasures along with a vital piece of her humanity. She found solace in the natural world. In her memoir 'Forager: Field Notes From Surviving A Family Cult' she channels her younger selves: their beliefs, feelings and yearnings and brings us her into the often uncomfortable and devestating world of self-disconnection. In this episode, we deep dive into: -Her family history and militant upbringing -The Vilification of Beauty -Pleasure as an act of Reclamation -"Mind Over Matter" and Systems of Control VS Interdependence and Connectivity -How Somatic Practices Were Integral to her healing process

And more! Michelle Dowd is a journalism professor and contributor to The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, The LA Book Review, TIME Magazine, The Alpinist, ORION, LA Parent Mag, Catapult, and other national publications. She was the 2022 Faculty Lecturer of the Year at Chaffey College, where she founded the award-winning literary journal and creative collective, The Chaffey Review, advises Student Media, and teaches poetry and critical thinking in the California Institutions for Men and Women in Chino. She has been recognized as a Longreads Top 5 for her article on the relationship between environmentalism and hope in The Alpinist, nominated twice for the Pushcart Prize, and profiled on. Her popular Modern Love column in The New York Times inspired a book contract.

Michelle was raised on a mountain in the Angeles National Forest where she learned to identify flora and fauna, navigate by the stars, forage for edible plants, and care for the earth. As an Experienced Registered Yoga Teacher, she has been teaching students and training teachers in southern California studios since 2008. Michelle’s memoir, Forager: Field Notes on Surviving a Family Cult, showcases her life growing up on an isolated mountain in California as part of an apocalyptic cult, and how she found her way out of poverty and illness by drawing on the gifts of the wilderness.


Connect with Michelle on her website at www.michelledowd.com


Read Along as You Listen!


Every day there is a forgetting and every moment there is the possibility of remembering. Remembering who you truly are, awakening to your body, to the inner world and experience of being alive. Here is where you find the beauty, the joy. Here is where you free your Soma. Hello everyone and welcome to Free Your Soma, Stories of Somatic Awakening and How to Live from the Inside Out. Today I have a friend and colleague here, Michelle Dowd. She is a professor of journalism at Chaffee College. She's a yoga teacher, which is how we know each other. She's a writer whose work has been featured in many national publications and she has a book that's come out this year that I just finished reading called Forager. Came out in March and we're going to talk about the book. We're going to talk about her healing journey and her path and about some of the kind of broader scope of her work. So thank you for being here with me today, Michelle.


Thank you, Amy. So lovely to see you again.


Yes. Yes, so we met some years ago at Claremont Yoga when I first was sort of like a student there, sort of, you know, pretending I wasn't a teacher. Just I wanted to be anonymous for a little bit, which felt good. And then eventually I just kind of discovered like, oh, I'm a teacher. And then I decided to do the teacher training there and you were part of that yoga training and supported me during my teacher training. And yeah, that's kind of our connection has been through yoga. But now we've been kind of connecting about semantics and connecting about healing work because you have done this really tremendous thing and you've published this book that is a memoir of the things that you went through as a little girl and growing up in a very unusual situation. Would you tell our listeners a little bit about your background?


Thank you, Amy. First of all, let me also thank you for creating this healing space for listeners. I am also a listener of yours. And so I appreciate the conversations that I have been privy to through you. Thank you. My background as a child was being raised in a cult that my grandfather started. And I called it a family cult because it literally was the cult of my family. Like it was family business. And my grandfather started it and he had five children, one of whom was my mother. And those five children stayed in the cult their whole lives and worked with and for him. And then they had kids of their own. So there were 15 biological grandchildren who were always collectively under the confines of this particular cult.


Gotcha.


Our family, my mother and her husband, who was also raised by my grandfather, although he wasn't related to him, he, my father and my mother, brought their four biological children up to a mountain that my grandfather had leased back in the 1940s as part of his cult organization and had not used to the extent that he thought he was going to use it in the 1940s. He thought he was going to make a school and just a place that how boys were. I don't know if he knew that it would be a boarding school or just basically a place to keep the boys away from their families. And so it was empty when we moved there and my mother was charged with her husband, my father and creating a space that my grandfather could eventually use.


Gotcha. So he, I mean, you say a cult, but like people who are in a cult don't often think they're in a cult. They think they're in something else. Was it organized as a church? Was he like a minister of some kind?


So my grandfather was a minister, but he was non-denominational. He did not have any training whatsoever in the ministry. He just was self-ordained and like self-professed, a prophet of God. I think that, yes, he ran a church, but I think it was more that he housed it under the auspices of a sports organization for boys. He did not call it a cult. To this day, they do not ever admit that it was a cult or that it still is. But when my grandfather started it, he started as an after school program for boys. He was a Boy Scout leader and he didn't find that he could do, he didn't have enough control as a Boy Scout leader. So he took the boys that he had from Boy Scouts and in 1931 created his own organization for boys. And in the 30s before he even met my grandfather, my grandmother. So before he got married, he was a very young man who was an orphan. He had come from Oklahoma to California to Hollywood. He may or may not have acted in silent films. He said he did. He also said he was educated, which he was not. And then he kind of created a lore about himself because he had no family and he just created, he used the boys to create a family for himself. And from his original truth in the early 1930s, two of the brothers and one of the other young men followed him through every single thing he did until they or he died, depending on who died first. And none of them died until at least the 80s. So all of those men followed him for at least 50 years. And when I said followed him, did not have jobs, didn't do anything else, but devote themselves to his service.


Wow. You know, this is not something that you talk about a whole lot in the book because the book is really about your experience and his first person, the way you write it. And I listened to the audiobook, which was super cool because it was your voice reading it. So I really felt like kind of the impact of like your words, the tone of your voice. I felt like you were very much in character when you were your younger versions of yourself. And it was really lovely to kind of hear the way your writing evolved as you evolved as a young person. You know, but what you're telling me now, like I'm feeling like, wow, there's like a whole nother side to this scenario, which is like what the men were going through and the kind of control that they were under, you know, which would be a completely different book, obviously, you know. But there's another side to the story that I'm sort of just glimpsing out right now.


Well, yes. And I think it was very influential to the way I was raised when I decided how to frame the book. I decided that it would be very complicated to tell the stories of people who A did not choose to have their stories told in that way. Two had lied their entire lives about everything. And so while I was unearthing many of the truths, it felt to me that it would be a separate book to tell that story. So the book that I'm working on now is a little bit more of a prequel to take us like into the space that my mother was born into. And in the book, my mom is definitely a central character and someone who I think people feel that I had a very complicated relationship, which I did. But I came to believe through doing the research for the book and in the process of writing it that my mother was also a victim of a cult. It wasn't the same cult in the sense that, you know, how any child born into a family, they're having a different experience, even if it's two years later. Well, I was a whole generation later. So of course, the way my mother was raised was very different. And it was entirely a voice organization when my mom was being raised. And so she was in an she was an all male cult and I was in a mostly male cult. And so for me to understand the way that men were treated was really the only experience that I had. And my father did try to treat all of us. He had four children, three of them were girls, all of us as boys, because that was his only experience with being a person. Like he only saw the world to very male eyes.


Gotcha. Yes. And that's really clear in the book as you're as you're kind of talking about the things that you're raised believing about your body and about being a woman. That it's from a very specific kind of male perspective that really is about detaching you from your nature and your body and more about control than anything else. More about being subservient and having your the control of you and who you are outside of you. That it's that's you're there and living there to serve others specifically men as being the kind of the construct in which you were raised in. And it's quite intense, especially since, you know, in modern times, as we're listening to this, it sounds, you know, kind of archaic and like, you know, whoa, hey, we've already, you know, had moved on from that. But you're kind of reminding all of us that it's really not that far in our past that this was the reality of how people were raised, you know. And of course, there's there's variation like this is kind of an extreme example. But in the grander scheme of things like it was not that long ago that women didn't have voting rights, that women couldn't own property, all of that. And so it's really interesting how you illustrate that through your living experience of it in the book. Yes.


And I think we all are living in a culture that has the residuals of a very strong patriarchy. We are still very patrimonial, not exclusively patrimonial, but primarily. And there are a lot of aspects of our culture and capitalism that are embedded in a very male way of constructing business. So I think it's worth I think it's worth examining not only my story, but the ways in which all of us have been influenced by a patriarchal mindset and the way as women that we have to impact that a little bit for ourselves in order to embrace our bodies and embrace the the parts of ourselves that we want to celebrate as intuitive. You know, I think a lot of that has not been celebrated in our culture and has not been respected.


Yeah, you know, and hearing you say that it I want to go back to mention you mentioned your mother earlier and the relationship that you had with her. And you know what I found so fascinating in the book is the way that she is so tuned into her environment, meaning she's so tuned into the natural world. But when it comes to actually tending to her children, there's like a disconnect like she's unable to really give you the nurture and the care that you need. And yet the way that she is like allowed to do that maybe is through training you to survive nature and to survive the world and that's almost like the form that her love takes because she doesn't have another way. It seems maybe there's some kind of disconnect in her body, even it doesn't allow her to do that kind of things that we expect from traditional mothers nurturing caring. And I felt it. I felt like I felt your need for that as a little girl in the book and there was a lot of sorrow that I experienced in feeling that that wasn't something you were receiving. And so there was a negotiation. You had to find that in nature. You had to find that in the natural world.


Definitely. When I look back at the child self, I spent a great deal of time trying to earn my mother's love or convince her or just get her attention. And I wonder now, even if she was perhaps autistic, that has occurred to me. I know she was not diagnosed with anything, but she also didn't go to doctors and she certainly never went to a psychologist her entire life. Nor did she respect that as a science, so she didn't read about it either. But I wonder if there was a very strong disconnect and I used to think it was just the denying of her body. She absolutely didn't identify Esfima with any of the feminine wiles she would call them. But the feminine attributes, you know, she didn't wear makeup and she didn't wear... She wore her hair very short, very short, like shorn like boys from the time she got married until she died. So she had the exact same haircut my entire life. And that's just an interesting detail. I don't know. I'm sure she's not the only woman who's done that, but I think that that is unusual. And that tends to be a more male trait. And so it feels to me that she really wanted to suppress the parts of her that other people could identify as female, not just the parts of her that she identified herself.


Yeah. So it kind of begs the question, you know, was this a result of being in this environment or was part of that her nature? Was part of that her, you know, her patterns that she came into this world with and that's part of what drew her to marry someone who, you know, was part... Well, was she related to your grandfather or was it your dad who was related to your grandfather?


He's the daughter of my grandfather.


Oh, okay. Well, then there you go. Like it is definitely something that she was conditioned into in part, right?


Absolutely. She had three older brothers and she was very much raised in a male culture at home. And then she married the like most toxic masculine man who was probably around. He was the tallest. He was the biggest. He was the most... The high light of the physical qualities that my grandfather most admired. Now, he didn't want my mother to marry my father at the beginning and they were well in their 20s. My mom was 24. My dad was almost 30 when they decided to get married and they weren't allowed to date. But my sister was just telling me a story that my father told her that my grandfather didn't think that he was good enough to be married into the family. And he's very clear about that. And my mother just said, you know, this is what God wants from me. And he said, no. And then her mother, his wife said, you know, she's going to be an old maid. She's, you know, because of that era in the 60s, 24 was pretty old for not having ever, you know, been with a boy in any way. And so it was my grandfather who listened to my grandmother and just said, all right, then she can go ahead and get married. So it was definitely something that was not... There was no, I don't know, softness about the marriage and there was no softness about the family. That was something that my father was always trying to prove himself to his father-in-law and he was always trying to prove himself to the organization that he was good enough to be married into it.


You know, it's interesting because you've used this proving yourself thing multiple times now. And I feel like that's a theme in the book. That's a really strong theme that you experienced that many other people are experiencing that we don't innately have this worth, that like there's some part of us that's perhaps innately broken as like the premise and that we need to prove ourselves, that we need to be saved, that we need to, you know, work hard so that we're valuable. And that comes up a lot with your mentality in the book. And I think that's like I said, a broad theme that goes on within this cult is that you have to earn respect, right? Which is a very different idea than say, other, you know, the religious philosophies out there that say simply by existing, you are innately valuable, right? Would you say a little bit about that?


Well, you've said it very well yourself, quite honestly. I think that it is very endemic in our Western culture to prove ourselves and prove our value through our production. So making money through contributing to the economic machine, not only of our families, but of our communities in our particular country. And I think that in our family, while we weren't as interested in actual money, we were very interested in being the light of the world and being the leaders of the world and being capable. And I think it is a form of productivity. And I definitely think that many people that I have met, and maybe I'm drawn to people who see the world this way, but it is something that I have worked with many people who are trying to overcome that part of themselves that feels unworthy, that feels broken, that feels that they have spent sometimes decades really just trying to prove to themselves that they're enough. Yes.


And isn't that a fascinating thing? Because what if this premise that we're not enough isn't true, right? And instead, maybe it's true that we all have innate value simply by existing. But if you're caught in the idea that you're not valuable, you're never going to achieve because it doesn't exist, actually. Do you know what I'm saying? Like it doesn't really exist, that thing that you're trying to prove because it's already there. So it's almost like moot, but it's exhaustive to keep trying to prove it over and over because you'll always have to if you think that you need to. You know what I'm saying? It's cyclical.


It's an illusion. I mean, it's really general. I mean, you are chasing something that you will never actually be able to contain. You will never capture it. Right. It's inside. It's already there. Yeah.


Yeah. And I mean, that must be part of what has been so healing for you in practicing yoga and in getting in touch with Eastern philosophies. You know, philosophies that I mean, in a lot of Buddhism, they even are like into animism where they believe even objects and like our material reality, they all have energy and they all have chi and they all have value. You know, so of course, why wouldn't like a living person or a dog or a plant, you know, that has like a life force flowing through them also be sacred, right? Absolutely.


And this question of pronouns, you know, but extending back to the animal kingdom to the fauna to, you know, to this idea that we could, we would have more respect for all living things if we didn't put ourselves at the center of the universe. Yeah. Yeah.


I said, I think you explore that quite a bit in the book with the way that you connect with plants. Yes.


And I do think that, speaking of yoga, I mean, for me coming to yoga, I did not practice yoga when I was young. I came to yoga my 30s, and I was, I believed I was very broken, but I, my body did feel very broken. I was in pain. My back was in pain. I had given birth to children in my 20s, a lot of children, and I just hadn't taken care of myself since then. And I was just busy taking care of everyone else. I was at, I've been teaching college for years at that point. I had been raising the children and I had also been really trying to maintain the physical aspect of the home, you know, just like doing the work of maintaining community. And, and dishes and, you know, cleaning and all of those things. So when I came to yoga, it was really just a physical practice to heal my back. And I think many people come to the practice from that mindset, and then they find other parts of themselves start opening up. So I have, I've told this story in writing, but the short version is I could not stay in Shavasana for literally years when I started practicing yoga, I started practicing an alex, fitness. I just practice at a gym once a week and a yoga teacher who now teaches with me at the yoga studio, she would start Shavasana and I would just tell her that I had to leave early I think I told her the first time and then just never mentioned again I just roll my hat and leave before anybody went to Shavasana. And I just couldn't imagine lying still I really didn't think I had the time in my life to do that. And I think Shavasana at the gym. It was a one hour class was probably three minutes, but I couldn't be bothered to slow down for three minutes. And the very first time I did it. And I really stayed for that Shavasana. It was so much worse than I thought I just started crying, which a car was crying couldn't drive. It was so emotional for me to sit in silence for three minutes. And I just never done it. You know, I hadn't done it since I've been like abandoned in the hospital. And I did call my mom and I wanted to talk to her about some things about our childhood and she didn't want to talk about it. But it just was the opening of me saying okay there there's something here that does need to be healed. It may not be broken, but it needs to be addressed. And it led me much deeper into the yoga practice and I had a personal tragedy not too much later than that and it prompted me to do to me to think I should take my over practice more seriously. And I committed for a couple years and then joined a teacher training program while in my 30s. That would give me the opportunity to dive deeper into the practice, not because I wanted to teach it, but because I wanted to understand it. And then in the process of doing that, of course, as you said about yourself, you know, you go somewhere, you're just, you don't want to be a teacher, but you are a teacher. Like I was already a teacher in other places of my life. So our leader instructor had him start teaching before I even finished the program. And I just said, he just said, you need to do this. I need you to do this. And so of course, we often teach best what we most need to learn. And for me, teaching yoga has been a way to really commit to understanding a practice and to meditating to Eastern philosophy. And it's, it's really difficult to teach something that you don't understand. So I just continue to go deeper and understand that there's always more to know. And it's not that we need to know it in order to practice, but the more that we learn, I think the more that we understand about ourselves and the more we accept ourselves fully and the people who come to us.


Yeah, well, I think that for me, teaching yoga became an extension of my own practice of yoga, because you start to see yourself in your students, you know, in the ones that are struggling or having a hard time, it reminds you of those moments where you cried on your mat, or when you were not able to stay in Savasana and feel so much compassion for them. And it's opening up more compassion towards yourself, ultimately, for the times when you're not having a good day on the mat or a good day in general, you know, it's such a compassionate thing to be helping others, especially with their bodies, which is a very intimate realm. And so it definitely feels like it was a natural progression for you in your healing process to get to a space where you were sharing, sharing with others, and in that way, and opening that door to having some level of authority in this practice, like inviting yourself into a position of authority, like curiosity, it sounds like you were, you didn't wait to be ready, you just stepped in and started doing it. And it's quite interesting what you said before, because you're in motion a lot in the book, you don't, you're going, going, going, I think in the hospital, or really, you know, those times when you're in the hospital in the book, one of the only times that you're not in motion, you're not moving.


Yes, and I think because those were such painful times, I did not associate rest with peace. I associated rest with suffering. There was a lot of physical pain at the time, but there was also a lot of emotional pain in terms of alienation. But I left what you said about compassion. It does flow both ways. As you give it, you also receive it, not necessarily from someone, but toward yourself, because yes, we are all connected. So in giving compassion, you are just widening that space inside yourself. And I think that when I was in the hospital, I did not understand compassion. I didn't know how to offer that to myself as someone who needed healing. I thought of myself as someone I was ashamed because that's how my family felt about me, and my family, meaning my whole extended family from the cult, that it was a way of God punishing me, being sick and punishing the community I came from for somebody doing something wrong, whether that was me or someone else, depending on who's interpretation. But when you think about illness as a form of punishment, instead of possibly an indication that there's something that needs to be healed or addressed inside of your body, and when you don't have the awareness that the bind body connection is not that there is no separation, that they are fully integrated, it's really difficult if you believe they're separate to not suppress whatever it is that your body is trying to tell you.


Yes, I was thinking about this earlier, you know, this concept of mind over matter, and we've heard that so many times that I've started going like, what about matter over mind? Does that make sense? And I'm like, no, not quite. It's like, they're the same. Like it's like they're integrated. Mind is matter. Matter is mind. You know, so there's not a hierarchy there. You know, but when we think that we can control our bodies, for example, with our minds, then that opens the door to like other people being able to control our bodies, or that God can control our bodies versus, you know, a, I guess, a more integrated view would say that our bodies are part of God. Our bodies, our bodies are part of the control that we experience or don't experience, and that they're not, they're not separate from each other. Right? So we open kind of a whole box of, I guess, trouble when we think that they're separate, because then now there's this space for other people to come in and decide what happens in your body for you. Yeah. Yeah.


And one way, there's so many different ways to visualize this, but to think that the spiritual matter, whatever, whatever spiritual entity, the chief, the, the own, the life force, that the Prana and all of us, that our, our body is just a vehicle through which we are experiencing that. And it is during our lifetimes, this vehicle that we are moving through space, but it is whatever it is that ignites and ignites us all, flows through all of us at all times. And we share it through our breath through the inhale and the exhale, and the air that we literally share not only with other human beings, but with all the plants that literally provide the oxygen as we provide the CO2, and that we are in relationship. And that there is no, there is truly an interdependency on this planet that we like to think. And when I say we, I mean, as a species, we behave as if we are dominant without understanding sometimes that we are interdependent.


Absolutely. Even all the cool gadgets and stuff we've created have come from minerals in the earth. They have come from this planet. And we, yes, have been clever and, you know, built them in some way. But why have we been clever? Because we've been nourished by food that also comes from the earth, whether it's, you know, animals eating grass and we're eating the animals or whatever, you know what I mean? It's all then, you know, given to us in so many ways. And then we've created and given back in whatever way we have, whether it's been a positive or a negative giving back, right? And then it moves through again. So you're absolutely right. I can see that so clearly. And also in the way that in your book, you are experiencing the disconnection and I feel like in listening to you talking about and not just talking about but like evoking the disconnection with stating these really strong like value statements about yourself, about your body, about how the world works, like this just your reality. It does something to the listener to hear those statements because I hear it and I go, no, I hear it and I go, oh, I hear it and I have some response to it that basically invites me into challenging that like belief that you were holding because I feel that's not true. You know, so I thought it was a really interesting technique because there's many ways to write a memoir, obviously, and not everybody chooses to channel their former selves. Sometimes people are writing with this higher higher perspective of like who they are now looking back on that and, you know, taking it apart, but you really take us there. You take us there and it's still very effective in showing you, you know, the opposite of what you're saying. It's showing us like there's a different way and you do it through showing us the thing that doesn't work.


That's a wonderful way to put it. And yes, it was very intentional to take the reader or the listener on an experience with me because at the time I could only see the aspects that were told or shown to me and I did not have all the pieces. I certainly didn't have outside knowledge, but I also didn't have knowledge of myself and I think most of us have gone through periods of time where we are working with very fragmented aspects of reality. You know, they might be true, but they're only one piece of something much larger and I would imagine that we are still working with only pieces of a much larger picture that we are unable to fully envision but knowing that can help us understand the place that we are right now as being on a journey. You know, a little bit of cliche here, but you know that it's not that it's the journey, not the destination, right? That is our experience and that we are just on this part of the path and that it will open up and just as we may be more enlightened than we were 10 years ago, hopefully, we can look back and cringe a little at our former selves that there will be a time that we are more enlightened than we are now and yeah, so just appreciating where we are in an in a given moment and then also reminding ourselves that we don't have all the answers and I loved being back and that girl was difficult to be back inside of her, but also knowing that that she was looking for answers that she didn't yet have and I think that it is okay to sit in the questions now as well. I don't know all the answers now. I feel that I know more than I did then, but I'm still, you know, a product of a human on this planet that is influenced by all sorts of factors and many of which are unformed and unavailable to me at present.


Yes, and I think that even in the way that you kind of close and you know, because then you know, towards the end of the book, I won't spoil it for anybody, but you're you're in grown-up, you're an adult and you kind of give us like a little bit of like a what's it called at the end, like the last part where there's the epilogue, yes, where you kind of give us like this window into like what happened next, right? And even then you don't really do any of the cliche things where you're like summing it up, where you're like saying is like grand finale kinds of things. Like it you just kind of allow what happened to be and for the reader to feel into it. You're not like, you're not necessarily nudging us, but you're not like pointing us in the full direction of like a thesis, for example. Do you know what I mean? And I actually really appreciated that because it felt like an opening to a dialogue. It felt like now I was ready to have like a conversation about what I heard. It wasn't all spelled out for me. It wasn't all like, you know, tied up and with a little bow at the end. And I yeah, I like that. It felt like you could write another book and there would be like a lot of space to play with.


Absolutely, there's a lot of space left to play with. But you know, when I think of being at my highest self at any point right now, like in any moment that I'm feeling that I'm most in sync with myself, it is in a space of openness and questions and conversation. A conversation with myself or conversation with spirit, a conversation with another person, especially a person who disagrees, who has a different perspective. I think one of the greatest gifts we can give anyone is to expand their minds. And in so doing, we expand our own minds as to be able to listen to anyone who is has a different perspective always expands us if we allow it to. And so if someone has a very different experience than I have, but I reach space for a conversation, then they don't need to defend themselves. And they don't need to prove me wrong. They can just open themselves to the possibility that I know I'm wrong or that, you know, that I don't have all the answers and that they might not either. And that we have all been led to believe things that might not be true.


And this seems like probably a blossom of the flower or the seed of your experience of growing up with a closed construct and then breaking out of that and in a continuous process of scenes of discovery, you know, discovering and learning. And as you said, like in conversation with people and with your environment and with spirit. And so that sense of openness and your kind of willingness to go there and to have like the slightly confrontational conversations or maybe majorly confrontational conversations, it sounds like. That's like a that's like a huge gift that came from growing up with such a limited viewpoint at your disposal, I think, you know, would you say a little bit about some of like, you've gotten some really positive responses from this book, and then you've also gotten naysayers or people that are not really comfortable with what you've been writing about. Would you talk a little bit about that dynamic?


Well, one of the most unexpected gifts that I've received since the book has come out is a lot of communication in various forms from people that I either knew very briefly when I was super young, like some of them I have memories of, but I was maybe three or four or five. There's people who were around my grandfather before I was born, knew my mom was pregnant with me. Women who had been young, they were girls at the time that you care of me as a baby because my mother did not. And they have come out of the woodworks. And I've even taken the time to show up and meet them for coffee. And I hadn't seen them since I was a child. Beautiful opportunities to talk about their experience in a different place in the cult than I was. And that has been also very healing, not only because I can also hold space for their stories, but because it through their pain, I'm also giving, at least apparently have given them a little bit of language to understand some of their own journey that they have very frequently repressed, that they experienced a great deal of pain when they were excommunicated, and then put it on a shelf somewhere and hadn't really come back to process. So that has been wonderfully healing. Then there has been the people, I would say that I have not received any negative reaction from anyone who used to be in the cults, but the people who are still there who have devoted their lives, including my sister, my older sister, who is, I call this, but in the book, she is running a school there and she basically serves the same position that our mother did. And she is calling me a liar and she says that I have ill will. And my father thinks that by calling a cult that I have committed heresy and I have destroyed the integrity of our family. So my father's not speaking to me and my sister's not speaking to me. But my younger siblings are very much not only supporting the story, but grateful that we're having this conversation. And they left within a few years of me leaving. My sister, a couple years later, my brother probably only three years after I left. So they have had a journey on their own, but because we were raised in such a strict environment and we were pitted against each other, we did not go on the same journey after we left. All four of us went in different directions. And there has not been much of a family to come back to. And so it has opened up new conversations and old conversations with my younger siblings. And she's been beautiful. And then there are people on the outside who perhaps are very religious or exist in what I would call high control groups or very close communities, maybe both, who don't like that I'm questioning systems and hierarchies that they believe are useful for young people. Also people who said things that I now find interesting was a little painful at the very beginning where they say, well, that's not possible of CPS, you know, child protective services would have been called or this would have been happened. Nobody's allowed to stay alone at the hospital. You're lying about that. And I just talked to a woman who was in a book club recently and she said I was in the hospital in the 80s and my mom had other children and of course she wasn't in the hospital. I was left for long periods of time. Which by the way, I did not think was that uncommon. Maybe the degree to which I was left was a little uncommon, but it was not uncommon for families to not be able to just hang out in a hospital. You know, there wasn't my mom had other children. She had a job. We lived very, very far from the hospital. I think that many people believed in the 80s and that in the early 80s, I mean, there was a lot of latchkey kids to begin with, but they believed that you were safe in a hospital and that your parents were doing the right things leaving you there. And it was really a matter of finances, which ours was covered by Ronald McDonald House, but there was no crime in being poor. And I don't think that anybody at a hospital would have asked the kinds of questions that we might ask now, which is what is happening at home because I wasn't at home. They weren't doing household visits, you know, so it wasn't like they were looking at the community. And I don't think they asked children questions about what it was like at home. They asked you how you felt that day and did you, you know, you checked your vitals and they took a lot of blood. I had blood tests taken maybe 10 times a day. I was just constantly at the mercy of their experiments on me. There was a lot of doctors and residents, you know, student doctors coming in learning because they didn't understand my condition. And I just still think that I think that it's really easy now to think that with the different style of parenting that it is abuse to neglect your child in a hospital. And while I do think it probably is emotionally abusive, I do not think it was considered emotionally abusive at the time by most people. And certainly the medical professionals did not know what was going on prior to me ending up in the hospital or after I left. And again, why would they know that? And they're very busy trying to save lives, you know, like they're not their job is not to psychoanalyze the patients. That just wasn't what took place in the hospital. So there definitely have been people who've challenged that part of the story or challenged just the fact that I perhaps betrayed my family that is not kind, kind of like people say about Prince Harry, which I know is a different story, but the degree to which you do or don't have the right to call out your family on things that you find unacceptable.


Right. Well, and I mean, that's why I think that it's really brave what you've done and really powerful actually, because to be able to stand up and tell the truth, even though you're going to get a little some backlash, you know, or people question your story, like that, that is a powerful thing to do because it opens, it opens up space inside you. And it looks like it's opened up space inside, you know, some, all of your family, even the ones that didn't want that space opened up. You know, they, they had some space opened up where, you know, they may be upset about it, but they're perhaps starting to question things. Who knows, maybe one day they'll read the book, who knows, just to find out what you said, you know, and the, the piece about the hospital, and, you know, it's not like you were three, I think, especially in like the 80s, the kind of there was this attitude of like, once your kid is like seven or eight, like they're pretty much fine. And I mean, even in the 90s, I grew up in the 90s, like, I, you know, remember being like, home alone at like eight with my brother, and he was like six, like, while my mom ran to the store, like that was normal, you know, and when I wanted to like, walk down to, you know, the park or something at eight, my mother was fine with that, you know. So I think it's a different world. And I didn't even question that I growing up in the 90s, for me, I didn't even question that I thought that that, you know, it seems sad to me, seems sad, but it didn't seem unbelievable at all. So I'm surprised to hear that, that there's, there's people who are thinking that that's a dramatization or something.


Yeah, I assume that they might either be of a different age or for whatever reason, their family didn't treat them that way, because there certainly were at any of these ages, women who were home full time, and those women might have been hyper vigilant. And if you had had an only child and you were a mom home, and my family women were always working. So like my dad's mom, who was working in a factory and basically allowed her son to go to a cult. She was a single mom of an only child and she was supporting herself and him on an eighth grade education. She didn't have any education. My other grandmother was working to support her at the time, fairly crazy, cold husband who wasn't bringing any money when he was starting the cult and she did all the work financially to support. So there's also, depending on how your family legacy has gone, if you've seen women who didn't work, you might think a woman's job was to protect her child during those times. But I don't think, even if I wasn't in a cult, that any of the women in my family were ever home taking care of their kids during any of those ages that I was. That just wasn't something that our family that was the experience, simply because nobody had the time to be there. It just wasn't, we did not have stay-at-home parents for generations. As far back as on either side of my family that anyone has ever recorded, there hasn't been those sorts of nuclear family dynamics. That's so fascinating. And there's a lot of families like that.


But... Yeah, yeah. Well, I mean, it's fascinating because there's a lot of different kinds of like religious, extremely religious cults out there and some of them have very defined roles for women that involve high levels of what we could call nurture, right? And they expect the women to have long hair and they expect the women to dress a certain way or be a certain way. And it's fascinating that in your environment, there was such a complete denial of femininity, like in an absolute kind of way, like not just the not just like the nurture part or like having the women be home with the kids and masculinized women, the short hair of your mother and the level of work that was expected of them, but also like in the way that there's a denial of your body and your body being anything more than like a vehicle for babies. I think at one point you put it like that in the book, you know, or that your body being a tool to be used for labor, but definitely not something to be like beautified, right? Like there's something, there's a a belief in the evil of beauty actually in the book that you touch on, which is super different than some of other religious communities where they want women to be feminine and long hair and beautiful and all that stuff.


My mother directly vilified beauty. She was absolutely certain that to be good looking meant that you were of the devil and that it was her job to make sure that we were not attractive. And that was something that was being very young is to not be attractive. And yeah, and so I think that was a different manifestation. My grandfather also I was talking to a woman who her brother had been there and it's interesting because I did not join. So there was never a time I wasn't there, but the people who were attracted to it, she would think how her brother was taught by my grandfather over and over that sex is only for procreation. Never engage in sex unless you want to have a child. So you obviously have to be married, but you also have to be of the childbearing ages and you have to be intended to produce children. And so I'm not saying that everybody observed that because that was not spoken of, but it was definitely all sex for pleasure, any pleasure really. There was no pleasure in food. There was no pleasure in touch. There was no pleasure in beauty or comfort or music. I mean, anything, I mean, there might be music to praise God, but there was no entertainment. There just was no physical pleasures. And sure, we often associate that more with femininity, but I don't think the men were allowed pleasures either. There was no alcohol, there was no smoking, there was no, but you couldn't or you couldn't urinate your body, you couldn't ornament in any way. You couldn't, you know, obviously do tattoos, but you couldn't pierce your ears, you couldn't, you couldn't do things that would accentuate the temple that I think our bodies are. And men were taught to deny themselves too, and they were tied to, they were taught masturbation with sin. So there was no and actively taught. I think the girls were not actively taught that because nobody thought that a woman would ever think about that. I just don't think they thought about women receiving pleasure. But I think that for sure, the men and the, I married a man who was there and he was, you know, he joined at seven and he was adamantly taught that you should never masturbate your whole life. I think it was something very much shunned. And so you think about teenage boys who had to be kept so busy and they had to be so exhausted, they'd be so tired all the time and they were put in group environments and never allowed to touch themselves. We were all given one minute to shower, was never given more than 60 seconds to spend in the shower. You weren't allowed to look at your own naked body. You weren't allowed to feel that you had to take cold showers. You wouldn't, you weren't allowed to do anything that could bring you pleasure.


That's so fascinating. That's such a disturbing form of control because it really keeps you separate from a huge part of your humanity. And it, I think it makes a person very vulnerable because they are not able to feel a sense of belongingness even to their own body. Right? Like enjoying. Yeah, sorry to say that again. Very effective. Yeah.


And so then the only source of belonging you can then have is from the group and you're completely reliant upon the group's protections of you because you're so vulnerable. And then if you question anything, you are excommunicated and no one's allowed to ever speak to you again. You're completely outside of everyone you know. That becomes then a very big threat. It's not like, oh, I'm going to lose my friends. You're losing everyone and everything that you belong to. And you don't belong to yourself. You have nothing.


Yeah. Wow. It's quite, quite scary, quite insidious. And the fact that these boys were joining at such a young age, like seven, that's really young, you know, or even if it's as teenagers, we're so impressionable, you know, and we're not experienced in the world. It's not like you had a whole lot of like older people joining. You mostly seem like the younger people were joining.


No one was allowed to join as an adult. That wasn't possible. So it was a sports organization for children. Most people who stayed joined by age five. So you and your parents didn't join, just the kids joined. And then you would be groomed up into the place where at 14, you could not any longer, you weren't at the beginning, you could go to school. Like you might be a normal kid who was just brought for an afterschool program and then you'd spend the weekends there. And then as you get older, you have to commit more and more time. And then by the time you're 14, you are not allowed to go to school anymore. You have to be completely there. And then when you're 18, you sign commitment for life. But you can't get to the point of being an 18 year old who signs a commitment for life form if you hadn't been groomed all throughout. I honestly don't know anyone who stayed there, who became a leader there, who wasn't there by age of six or seven. You know, the boy that I talk about in the book whose name is Luke, he joined the organization at six years old. The man in Mary joined at seven. These boys and these men were there from just, yeah, and they had single moms or they had, you know, just in situations where they needed somewhere to be. And then they were groomed up in this very specific way. The boys were trained to be brutal, brutal to each other and to girls. And if you weren't willing to do that or couldn't do that, your family didn't like what you were becoming, either the family pulled you out or you pulled yourself out at very young ages. So maybe you wouldn't have been very hurt by the organization. It's only the people who bought into the system who continue to be there and continue to get the indoctrination, the mind control, which is really insidious. So there were families who pulled out their kids at ages 11 or 12 because they were like, this is too much. You know, like whatever, this is like, there's something wrong with this place. And while the organization didn't ever tell the truth about it, what it was, you weren't allowed to talk to your parents, there were parents, of course, there's about 1500 kids and only like 150 at the end interpart. So, you know, nine out of 10 boys were pulled out before the ages of 10 or 11, 90%. So it was really the only, like the whole program was like a pyramid to get to the point where you have the boys who weren't pulled out, kind of in some ways, like the Catholic Church, like who the altar boys are like, it's only those boys were vulnerable, who were the victims of the priest. It's not like every boy who was part of the Catholic Church ended up being hurt by priests, but the boys who were already so vulnerable. And that's pretty much how this organization worked as well.


Wow, that's pretty intense. I mean, the not belonging to oneself and like, you know, the harrowing journey of trying to come out of that, right, you would probably just want to stay in the moment because how to come back from all of this conditioning that says that your body is evil, that pleasure is wrong, right, and that you have basically guilt and shame every time you enjoy yourself or you enjoy your body, like it would be impossible to live in the regular world.


And so, and it took me a very, very long time to live in the regular world. And my sister who's lived there her whole life, she can't wrap her head around that this could possibly have been my experience. I don't know how much of the book she read, but the part I know she read some, and I know my father, he said out loud to me, when I tried to help prepare him months before the book came out, you know, dad, I'm working on this book, it's going to be uncomfortable, we can talk about it, you know, I tried to have all those conversations with him. And once he didn't, he just thought maybe nobody would read it. But once it was getting a little closer and said, dad, it's possible that people will read this. So we should talk about it. And he said, well, I'm not going to read it. I'm going to have, and he mentioned the head of the organization, he'll read it and he'll tell me what to think. At the end of the day, he didn't read it either. And they, he just told my dad to not talk about it, not think about it. It doesn't matter. It's not true. It's a lie. And I didn't name the organization directly, although anyone who's ever been a part knows. And if you do a little bit of Google and you can figure it out. But they don't want to draw attention to it because they don't want people to think that it's them. But my sister really truly, I think believes that those things couldn't have happened to me because they didn't happen to her. And I feel that her story is different than mine, because she never got it communicated. So she didn't experience those kinds of like, that kind of annihilation of having, you know, she, she still believes everything we were taught. And she still carries all of that she hasn't ever impacted. So of course she thinks I must be at least exaggerating, at the very least, because she thinks, well, nothing bad ever happened to me. How could these bad things happen to you? For example, she said, well, our dad didn't hit me, she said, and I said, I don't know if that's true. That does not seem true to me. When I sat down and met with her, our younger brother read the book in one night, he hasn't read a book since he was a teenager, never went to college, didn't do any of that. And he got the book from Amazon, he read it, he showed up from my house, he said, did you know, dad used to come into my room and punch me in the face. And he started telling me this, he said, I never told you that I didn't know what was happening to you. I didn't know what happened to our sister. I didn't, you know, and it was just things we didn't talk about because we were isolated from each other. So of course we didn't talk about it. We were ashamed. We thought we were the bad one. You know, I thought I was the bad one. My brother thought he was the bad one. My younger sister thought she was the bad one. But our older sister was always treated like the good one. So I don't think these things did happen to her. And I can allow for her having a completely different experience. Now it would be surprised me if our father never hit her, but it's possible. It's possible that maybe she was sort of the example of what it means to be a good child. And she was upheld as do this or else. You know, it's me to say, but it's not, her story is not my detail. You know, right, right.


And just because she wasn't hit and you were doesn't, it doesn't change that much really. It doesn't change that much about the book or about the truth. You know, it doesn't make, to me, it doesn't make your story any less believable that she had different experience.


So and I did ask her when I sat down with her before the book came out, I said, you do remember hitting me, right? Like you hit me a lot. And she said, Oh yeah, but kids do that. So where do you think you learned that? And then she didn't even know how to answer that question. I was like, I mean, maybe you weren't, but you must have witnessed that because you were very physically violent. And she said, Well, you deserved it. I said, Okay, maybe. I mean, I'm sure I was annoying. That's not the point. The point is, do you ever remember me hitting you back? And she said, No, she could actually articulate that. I said, So where did you learn that it was okay to hit your younger sister on a regular basis? Like, where did you learn that? So I don't know, you know, I feel like most parents would tell you not to do that as an older sister, right? Right.


Well, and if you internalized that when I hit, it's because I deserve it. It might, it almost like makes the hitting invisible. Yeah. Oh, I deserve that. That's, you know, like I accept it. And it's only when you feel like it's unjust, there's a little part of us that's like, I didn't deserve that. Why did that happen to me? I'm hurt. I'm upset about it, that it becomes this bigger deal. It becomes like this thing that when you remember versus like just part of the landscape of like what I got because, you know, X, Y and Z, it's like, you have this very linear, like I did this, I got hit, and I deserved it. It almost like becomes invisible. What is it for?


And that happened to me in my adult life when I was victims of domestic violence. And I just truly just didn't really question it. And it wasn't how I got beat up pretty bad with broken bones that I went to a therapist and really started to have to ask myself, why is this happening to me? I mean, I didn't believe I deserved it, but I was like, this isn't happening to other women that I know, you know, who are professionals who are, you know, like, I don't know why this is happening to me. And I had to, to then really do the work to realize that I wasn't intentionally putting myself in a position. But I just didn't, I just didn't think that I was perhaps worthy of respect, even as a fully grown adult after I had children. And you know, I just didn't, I was just used to it. And I just hadn't really unpacked all that yet. Yes.


And it's, you know, it's fascinating this idea of continuation in our system, because I think of that when you're speaking of this, like, we get used to what we're used to. And then when we're around someone and somebody else who doesn't have our same like trauma and history, we'll be like, oh, red flag, red flag, red flag. But we're like, habituating those things. That's, that's normal. That kind of behavior is like, it's, it's like, whatever, it's just how it, how life is, it's just how men are, it's just how people are, you know. And then the things happen and we're, we're thrown, we're blindsided, we didn't see it coming. Because we were unconsciously like attracting that. It's not even much like attracting that, we're just used to it. Like you said before, we're just like our nervous system has become aligned with that. And so we don't notice and move our bodies out of the way of the danger in the time that, you know, we should, or our timing with it is off. We probably figured that out, you know, after it's already happened or even a month or a year or two years after it already happened, you know, as we shift into a different perception, right?


Y'all know how to move ourselves out of the way. I love how you said that. Like not only of unkind words or of maybe even being asked or required to do work that is, is not just, and we might just not question it and we might just continue to work ourselves past the point of not only comfort, but our own, we might put our own health and jeopardy because we don't move ourselves away from the expectations that our bodies do not belong to us.


Yes, yes. Getting kind of deeper into that concept that is so much part of your experience as a child and in this book, the vilification of beauty, the way that you are not connected to your body, your body is not your friend, it's your foe in very many ways and you're really fighting your own physical development as you grow into womanhood and then kind of flashing forward to like the woman that you are now and, you know, where you've arrived, tell us a little bit about what it's been like to slowly come back into your body and through yoga, but what other things have also helped you, obviously, therapy.


I think all the somatics, all the somatic experiences have been far more important to my healing process than cognitive therapy. I did do cognitive therapy, but if I had not been supplementing it with kinesthetic and somatic practices, I don't know that my body would have shifted. It's nervous system and it's awareness. So, and I have many reasons to believe that, but when I first went to college, I had an eating disorder. I was the lemak. I was anorexic prior, but I was the lemak. I didn't have the language for that and I went, I saw a poster that talked about if you are throwing up, if you're doing, you know, and it was, it was really early on in the 80s where it was becoming just barely part of, I think, contemporary dialogue, like public dialogue. And I saw the spire and I thought, ooh, I do that. I didn't even know that it was a problem that I did it. And so I went to the workshop and I remember one of the things that scared me is that all the vomiting could be corrupting my teeth. And I hadn't had dental care and I had pretty nice teeth without having dental care and I kind of felt very grateful for that. I thought, oh, I'm destroying my teeth and I don't have the money to fix them. That could be a problem. So I was just like listening to things. I thought, oh, maybe this isn't healthy. And I didn't get, I didn't go to group therapy or go to a therapist, but I did listen to all the suggestions and then I wrote them down and I put myself on a regimen and I stopped eating everything except for one food and then I would add a second food. So I started on plain yogurt, plain nonfat yogurt, and that's the only thing I would allow myself to eat because I wouldn't throw it up. It was just something that settled well in my body. And then I added just a little bit of sunflower seeds. And so I would eat plain yogurt and sunflower seeds and it would just like just so that I would never overeat. I couldn't, and I would just bring myself back into the awareness of what food was for nutrition. And I started thinking about quite trying to find, and I was eating out of the cafeteria at school at the dining hall at the time. So I had access to whatever foods they had there and I didn't have to go buy it. I'd never been to a grocery store. I didn't, wasn't raised going to grocery stores. We were just eating off the land or we had government surplus things that were dropped off. So I just didn't have the experience of knowing how to really ever make choices about what to feed myself. And that has been something that I think I struggle with honestly to this day to some extent. But it was a very good practice for me to start finding out ways to, and I stopped. And I did not have an active eating disorder after that. My daughter has mentioned to me, she's a marriage and family therapist who's done a lot of work. She specializes in disordered eating and working with body image. And she would say to me as an adult, when she's an adult, that she thought perhaps I still had disordered eating, even though I did not think I had eating disorders. I certainly wasn't throwing up and I wasn't starving myself. But she would point out to me often when you had a great deal of stress, you would all of a sudden get really thin and I never dieted. And I thought like I'm making good choices for myself, but I would sometimes just lose a lot of weight because I wasn't eating because I was so stressed. And then she said, and also you would over exercise when you got stressed. And so she was noticing that she didn't think I demonstrated healthy behavior towards food. And I think that she's right, but I don't think I understood that at the time. So I think this process of recognizing that it is a journey and that I thought I was better, I mean, I was better than I used to be, but I thought I was healed in that area of my life. And now I understand that also not receiving pleasure out of food was also a problem that I wasn't. Yeah. And I didn't, I didn't know how to balance those things inside my body. And that has been a journey that I have been more committed to in the last five years. And I think that through my yoga practice, I learned to see exercise as not something that was just to punish my body or to dominate it, you know, to work off calories or to make myself strong. I think yoga can help you be strong, but it also helps you be flexible and also helps you to listen to your body. And that's not, I was exercising in ways that helped me override my body, like to run past the point of pain. And then what you learn from that is pain, you can override pain, you don't need to listen to your body when it gives you pain, which is something they legitimately teach. Like if you're running a marathon, that you work past the pain, right? Like you, you sound like you stop when your body's in pain, you learn to override that pain. And so yoga helped me understand that that was, and for a great deal of time, I stopped exercising except for yoga, so that I could listen to my body. And that has been very healing. And then I also think that, that making better choices for myself in terms of all my relationships, not just romantic relationships, but relationships with people who are also on healing journeys, people who are willing to be mutual in the relationship, to not just dump all of their problems on me, for example, or to expect me to be available on their schedule and or it's available because they need something that was very normal for me. I think I spent most of my adult life, probably also as a teacher, as a mother, my friendships were just based on other people's need of me. And I think I really convinced myself that I was a good person because I was meeting people's needs. And that made me a good friend. And I prided myself in that. And it took me a very long time to recognize that how authentic is a friendship if I'm doing things I don't want all the time, you know, and that I'm not actually being authentic with these people who are engaging with me by even having needs or expressing them or asking for what I want or even setting the boundary of saying no. And that is, I think, a direct consequence of being the race the way I was. That is taking a very long time to recognize that there that I had the right to also create boundaries on my time and with my emotions. Yes.


And boundaries aren't just, you know, the communication that we have and the, you know, letting people know, oh, I'm actually not available right now. Oh, you know, I don't need this from me, but creating that boundary, like we think of it kind of as an energetic thing. But what you touched on just a moment ago is that our boundaries are also very physical, you know, in that this is the limit for my body right now today in this moment, right. And I'm not going to push past that and override my own boundary that I'm sensing and experiencing in my body, which, you know, many years ago, I asked my one of my semantic mentors about, you know, why is it that people do this? Like, why is it that I did this? Why is it that we push beyond where we're comfortable and we do it intensely and we do it over and over, like an exercise or in fitness or, you know, like you said, run a marathon or whatnot. Why do we override our body if it creates this disconnection to our body? And she said, well, it's incredibly useful if you're going to war. And I was like, oh, I see, like, if you are going to be putting yourself in a war zone, and you're going to be killing other people and having people, you know, stabbing you or whatever, like, of course, you don't want to be connected to your body because your body is going to say, get the fuck out of there. You know what I mean? Like, yeah, so there's like an armoring. There's like a process of building up these barriers. But it's funny because we think of an armor as a boundary. But what it ends up doing is that we don't know where our boundaries are. We don't know where our actual boundaries are in our body because they're just everything's just walled off. Right? So yeah, growing up, it's as you grew up being prepared for war of some kind.


Oh, we were taught we were in the army of God and it was very much war language, we were singing war hymns. And, and yes, the boundary of not knowing, I didn't know where my body was, I only knew all the barriers that we were putting up between ourselves and the enemy, which was everyone in the outside world. And it's, it's that you put that beautifully. So bringing this around to the healing of that, I think that there are many of us, maybe not in quite as extreme situations as I was in, but who, who don't feel that we have the right or even the knowledge of how to listen to what our body actually needs to want. Like, it's just a language we can't hear. It's like, it's, you know, we don't understand it. And so I do, I believe that you have as one of the somatic practices and there are more, I can now sit in meditation and something I teach, especially with my teacher trainers, and I've gone a little bit deeper even in teaching that last couple years since COVID, because so many, so many people have had to be with themselves. And so the practice of meditation is a way of finding pleasure in that instead of maybe that is my intent in teaching it and is for everyone who practices with me to find pleasure in the act and to modify it as many times as necessary so that they can find the place where they're, they're nourishing themselves through the act of meditation, but they're not doing it to prove something to somebody or to override anything, but that they're doing it as a way to not only listen to themselves, but to fully be present in the luxury of the beauty of themselves. And that is one practice, a somatic practice as well. But even things like walking, you know, and being present in nature and walking with the intent to be present with the environment, to walk sometimes without headphones, to walk, you know, and also to share community with other people and to decide who you want that community to be that I think can also be a somatic practice, like who energetically do you allow into your space, into your headspace, into your, you know, physical proximity. And there are so many practices that I have come to that have helped me recognize that this interdependence of community can be itself feeling. Yes.


And, you know, somatic practice can be anything if you're experiencing yourself and your body, and you're allowing the feedback to land and arrive in your body. When you're, when you're connected, living is a somatic experience. I mean, I, I personally feel that that's the true nature of our experience is this, this broadness is all of the scope, you know, that's why this podcast can really cover like all these different subjects because being soma, being a somatic being is being human. And it's when we start to get chopped up and compartmentalized and we start blocking off these parts of ourselves, that we're not living somatically. We're living in denial of pleasure. We're living in denial of a whole part of our human experience, which is the sensation of being alive, which is the sunlight on our skin and the joy of that and the joy of eating when you're hungry and sleeping when you're tired and, you know, enjoying being being.


Enjoying being. Yes. Enjoying being. That is not something that I couldn't even imagine a couple of decades ago. And now to be in my body is to enjoy being. Yeah.


It's such an amazing book that you've written. I highly recommend to our listeners to get the audio book if you want to hear Michelle speak in, which is really powerful. You can also find the book on Amazon. Is there something more that you want to say? Like the last piece I'd like to add here is a little bit we touched on this, I think through text messages, how many young women have reached out to you because they have felt that the purity culture stuff that you dealt with, like they can relate to it, like they, they were impacted by it, whether it's growing up in a religious family or some other kind of situation. Would you speak a little bit about the women who've reached out to you and that conversation?


Yeah. So that has been very interesting. We were not, my publisher did not specifically think that young readers were the audience. I actually thought, I might have killed the young readers, but they are like, no, it's going to be people who've already really had time to process their own lives. We're going to be interested in thinking about how they became who they are. And in my experience so far, as far as people who are writing to me who are strangers, it has been predominantly young women and women between the ages of 18 and 25. And they are expressing various parts of saying that they have disordered eating or eating disorders that they were taught to hate their bodies, that they were taught that their bodies belonged to their future husbands. And for example, one young woman was in a particular community, a religious community, where she was asked to read these letters that the boys in her community had written. And the boys had all written letters to anonymous girls, to the girls as a group or whatever, but dear future wife, thank you for keeping yourself pure for me. Thank you for understanding that I don't want used goods. Thank you for respecting your body, et cetera, et cetera. But in their whole language of like how I thank you for respecting me by keeping your body pure. And then she said, they were required to write letters to their future husband to say, I am saving my body for you. And how she thought about how it was inculcated into her, that her body was not for her own pleasure. Her body was for the service of a future husband, not for someone she knew, but for someone she may someday know. And that she was not protecting her body for her own growth, her own emotional respect for her. It wasn't that. And so she said she really identified with how you don't see your body as yourself, you know, that you're taught to separate yourself, this that your mind and body, but basically that your spirit or your soul is separate from your body, but that your body, this purity thing, you must maintain purity, which really means that you can't defile it by letting anyone touch you. And that the whole cult of virginity to this idea that then when you give yourself to your husband, which by the way, many of these girls had horrible experiences in the process of doing that, because they didn't ever, they were never in touch with their bodies. And so then at 22 or 23 or 24, whatever responsible age their church thinks that they can get married, they are given a wedding night where they are supposed to hand their body over to some man who they might have, they might love, they might have chosen, it depends on who the woman was, but then she is supposed to give her body to this man. And of course, she's not experiencing pleasure in this act because she doesn't know what she's doing and he doesn't know what he's doing. And then after that one, like what happens next? Now he owns her body, that she takes his name, she becomes then the product of that new family, but she's not creating the family she's becoming his family. And so they wrote about how this is a source of deep pain to them that they can't experience an orgasm, they don't know how to find pleasure in their body, and they'll ask me, how did you find pleasure? But what did you do? How did you change? Where did you find this? And we know that the internet has these kind of answers theoretically, right? Because we're all so connected. But you know, a lot of boys who might really have access to the


Internet might be watching porn on the internet, but that doesn't mean that they're getting real knowledge about pleasure and connection. And girls are probably, what I mean, I don't want to say probably, I want to say the ones who wrote to me, were saying that they did not know what to do other than to perform.


Right. And I think that's what you see if you go on the internet and you see pornography is you see women performing. You don't see what it's like to experience.


And it's not filmed from a female perspective. No, it's not. It's not meant to bring us pleasure, that that particular entertainment form, right? So I'm not anti-porn, but I do think that when girls are taught that their bodies exist for the pleasure of men or for the purpose of bringing children into the world, that's very complicated in, especially in a society where a woman may choose not to ever have a child or may choose to have one or two children. It's not like her body is going to be in the service of motherhood for very much of her life, even if she chooses to be a mother. And there are many women who of course are choosing not to be mothers, which is also a very valid choice. And so then what is her body for? You know, if that is what you've been taught, then what does that body exist for? And so it's not owned by her for her. It is always in service of something else. It has been a really interesting dialogue I was talking, I was writing to, I don't want to say talking because we were not speaking. We were writing via email, a woman who found my email address, or she got away to contact me through my website, and she lives in South Africa and she was raised as a missionary in a cult. And she's a little bit older. I think she said she's 30. And she is now dating an atheist and she's not married yet, but she has separated herself from the community of origin that was part of purity culture. And she's trying to figure out how to experience pleasure in her body or how to prepare herself for being a partner and what it would mean to be in a marriage of choice. You know, she's not, she's considering getting married and she wants to know what, what do I need to know before I make that choice for myself? How, how much do I need to know about myself? And I just think these questions, again, it's questions. And I don't have, I don't have answers I have. I said, well, here's some practices. In fact, she used the word practices that particular woman did. And she said, can you tell me some of the practices you use or used to use that have helped you be in your own body? And I thought that was really beautiful. I said, yes, I can share those. I don't know which will work for you, but these are things that have helped me. And it felt like a really healthy way to have a conversation without, you know, coming from a position of, oh, I'll tell you what to do. I know everybody else told you what to do before, but now you should listen to me. Of course, I was encouraging her to listen to herself, but I could offer at least some ways that I learned to listen to myself. And I, hopefully, that's what we can do for each other, right? It's give opportunities to explore and to find what works for us.


That's beautiful. Yes, because then we allow the other person to discover and find what's true for them, right? If someone tells you what to do, and this is like, seems like it's the way to do it, then, you know, if you want the result, you feel like, well, I guess I better do what they say. But if somebody just gives you a list of ideas and says, try some of these things, right, then you're going to select what feels resonant to you, or maybe you're going to try a few and they're not going to work out or they're going to try something and it works wonderfully. It's going to be more of the experience of experimentation and learning rather than just following the recipe, right? Yes, we can share our recipes. Yes, make your own recipe because everybody has an individual body, an individual nervous system, and it's changing all the time. It doesn't, it's not static. It's not still, right? So that's beautiful. I love to hear about the way that you're stepping into some mentorship around this stuff, you know, just circumstantially, because pleasure really is an act of reclaiming your body. And especially when you've been through trauma, when you've been through the kind of life that you were born into, it's huge to come back in and be able to experience the joy of being in your body, the joy of living, because then you're going to want to live if it feels good, right? If living is painful and terrible, like you're going to start to wonder what's the point. Absolutely.


And pleasure I think can be a real act of resistance for one, for man too, I think, I probably shouldn't have gendered that. But in my experience as a woman, I'm talking to other women, I certainly think that it can be for a human being who happens to, for me, express herself as female. Right.


Yeah. And I mean, like we mentioned at the beginning of this podcast, there's a whole nother story here that could be told about men who are indoctrinated into, you know, whether you want to call it toxic masculinity or patriarchal societies, where they are entrenched in these, these minds, what is the word you used earlier? Mind control. Right. They're entrenched in this mind control that actually has them deny, like a full half of their humanity, their feminine side, right, or the other half of like their masculinity, that's not about overpowering, right? And they come out of that. How does that process work for them? How is it similar or different than a process that we've been talking about today, that's female, right? There's a whole other side to this story that maybe.


In common, I think the overriding of the body. So that's what we share is that it is, no matter if you're a transgender, if you're being taught to overwrite your body and to not listen to your body and to not be aware of what is that you need to be a full self, that is not gendered. That is, you know, just a human experience of not being in your body. And then the way you choose to express it may be gendered, but we're both genders are being taught the same thing, which is that you cannot trust yourself.


Right, exactly. And then that, like we said before, disempowers you and makes you easier to control. This has been an absolutely amazing conversation. I'm sure we can keep going, but we're gonna stop here. I, maybe we'll have another interview later. I would love that if you're open. And I would love to invite our readers to connect with you on your website, which will be in the show notes. And we'd forager because it's really a fascinating journey into, yeah, into what it's like to grow up and be disconnected from your body. And there's so many reasons that we disconnect from ourselves and disconnect from our bodies. And for me, stepping back into that through your writing, it made me discover how far along I have come from where I was when I was a teenager, you know, and had very similar thoughts and feelings to the child, you know, Michelle that I was listening to.


Well, thank you for recognizing that, Amy. And listeners, you can also write me. I have an email on my website. So if you reach out, I'll do my best to engage in conversation with you. So thank you for having me, Amy. Thank you for this enlightening conversation. I always learn something when I spend time with you.


Oh, wonderful. Thank you. I feel the same way. We'll touch again soon. Okay. Thank you all. Bye. Bye.


You've been listening to the Free Your Soma podcast. To find out more information about today's guest, check the show notes. And to find out more information about me, Amy Takaya and the Radiance program, visit www.freeyoursoma .com.


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