On Hawaii and The Senses

I was a pre-teen when we first started coming here. For awhile we came almost every summer. It’s not really one of my childhood places, it’s not where I grew up. But I have roots here. And they are specific in nature. 

My skin was covered in salt and sand and sun. I had spent a good portion of the morning swimming in the ocean with my daughter and by the time I came into the room to gather food for lunch my hair was large with frizzy curls and my cheeks were slightly pink. I glanced in the mirror and that’s when it hit me, like a wave knocking me over. 

I like what I see.” 

The thought felt so foreign to me that I paused to think about it longer. No it wasn’t a completely foreign thought, more like a visitor you only see on short rare occasions. And then I realized it was a visitor I was most familiar with in this place. I feel pretty in Hawaii. Attractive. Beautiful. Even sexy. 

Why? What is it about this place that makes me feel that way. Because I don’t normally feel that way. And honestly I could recognize the person in the mirror, she didn’t look all that different from the person I saw in the mirror at home. Sure her cheeks were sun kissed and her hair was wild and free and curlier than normal, but she still had the same flabby tummy and the same flat butt and the same blotchy pimply skin and the same wrinkles and the same slightly saggy breasts. All the things I normally focus on and obsess over, the things that make me feel anything but pretty or sexy or beautiful, they were all still there when I paused and looked again. But for a moment I could see those things and yet not see them, because what I felt was beautiful.

 

Something about this place makes me feel more alive, more beautiful, and more like a women than anywhere else I’ve ever been. 

Perhaps it is the timing this place holds in my life. It’s my coming of age place. 

My parents would come here on their own when I was a little girl and I wanted so much to join them, but I was always told I wasn’t “old enough.” 

And then one summer I was old enough. 

Coming here was almost akin to a rite of passage. My parents only let us come once we were old enough to make our own lunches and fend for ourselves. It was a place where everyone was responsible for themselves and got to determine for themselves how they moved through the day. I would run around all day on the beach, play in the waves, spent hours reading and sun bathing on the sand, and go for long walks by myself. While we were here I could determine my own days, I was the captain of my own ship.
This place makes me feel like an actual adult. Not in the way that buying a house or having a baby made me feel like an adult, but in the sense that this place communicates to me that I am old enough to make my own decisions and follow my own desires.

 

But Hawaii doesn’t just make me feel like any adult it makes me feel like a woman. And it makes me feel like it’s ok, even good to be a women in my own skin, in touch with the senses. 

Because everything here plays to the senses. 

For me Hawaii has always been a sensual experience, a place devoted to the senses and where sensuality was not something dangerous to be avoided, or something superficial to be pushed past, instead it was celebrated. 

My trips here were always about the sensations. The sound of the waves crashing, or the wind moving through the palm trees. The feel of the sand between my toes, the water enveloping my skin as I dove under a wave, the warmth of the sun on my shoulders. The way papaya seems almost to melt in my mouth, the sharp sweetness of pineapple, the flavor of perfectly cooked fish fresh off the grill. The view of a rainbow after a sudden shower, the vivid colors at sunset, the way the light plays on the water. This is a place made for the senses and somehow experiencing life sensually, fully engaging in the senses, leads me to a feeling of contentedness with my own being, with my own skin, with being a part of this world that is so full of color and sensation. 

The senses remind us that we are alive and that it is good to be alive. They tell us something all of our philosophy has struggled to understand and rarely gotten right. They tell us that we are physical body and it is good to be a physical body alive in a physical, beautiful, good world.

This practice of engaging in the senses somehow transforms the way I experience being in my own skin. It makes being in my own skin something good, not something to criticize or fix, avoid or overcome. 
Perhaps that sounds strange, but the truth is I have not always been in places where it feels ok and even good to be a physical being, and especially a woman. I am often still in places where I do not feel comfortable in my own skin or in touch with my senses, and I am surrounded by others who are uncomfortable in their own skin and with their own senses. 

We are not just spiritual beings who happen to have bodies. We are spiritual bodies. We are whole beings, not divided, and our bodies are not just part of us, they are us. The God who is One, created us as one. When I criticize and demean my body, I am criticizing and demeaning my heart, my soul, my very God-created self. When I criticize and demean my body I am criticizing and demeaning the image of God within me. 

Perhaps the first step towards moving away from the sort of body shaming and critiquing I am so good at is to recognize that I am one being not many. My physicality is not something to be avoided, feared, or ignored. Perhaps I need to start by celebrating the senses, engaging in them, fully experiencing them, letting them take me over and pull me into the present moment, because when I feel all the goodness and beauty of this world through my senses, when I experience the ways in which this physical body allows me to experience this amazing world, well, then it becomes a lot easier to see the good in my body than the bad. My own body gets to become part of the good, beautiful, amazing world I get to experience.

This world is clearly broken, and there is a lot that is heartbreaking and terrifying and gut-wrenchingly wrong, but it was also created good, by a good God who desires to give good gifts. And like this world my body is broken, it is not perfect, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t good. This physical body is still a good gift from a good Father, who values the physical so much that he refused to abandon it and instead chooses to redeem it. All of it. 
This body may not be exactly as I’d like. I may have more allergies than I wish, and according to my doctor, the asthmatic lungs of an 84 year old rather than a 34 year old. My stomach isn’t flat, it’s curved. My skin still breaks out almost as much as it did when I was 16. But this body of mine, it is good. It can taste and touch and see and hear so much that is good. 

This body is a grace, pure grace. 
 

So I pause and look in the mirror a little longer. Thanking my body for all it does to enable me to experience this one brilliant and beautiful life. 

And it feels good. 

And I like the beautiful girl that stares back at me. 

Grace and peace,

Bethany Stedman 

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