Privacy

I was talking to one of my sisters on the phone the other day and we started discussing our religious beads (she has rosaries & I mala) and how some are just too nice to use, how olive wood feels so right in your hand, &c. And she asked me what I say when I meditate. This was not a subject I wished to discuss. It was too personal, too close to me. Moments later, we were sharing tips regarding our periods, so apparently this is much more taboo to me than that.

C. L. Hanson linked me to a discussion of topless beaches in Europe which got me thinking about the amount of time I spent around the naked flesh of Europeans. I was telling my husband that I found it entertaining that Europeans still designated certain beaches as “nude” or “topless” since basically, anyone could do either at any with few complaints. This may be an exaggeration, but my personal experience was that, whenever I happened to be at a pool, I would have to travel through the women’s changing section. This had a few stalls for toilets but most everything else was open-air in the sense that there were no walls. I would be surrounded by naked women of all sizes and ages. And after a few such trips, I was naked, too. Shamelessly, one might say. But in the sense that I felt there was no shame in being naked while changing my clothes and neither did anyone around me. As CLH points out, it’s a matter of comfort level. And my level of comfort with my own nakedness (possibly thanks to time in Europe, possibly thanks to having 5 sisters & two bathrooms growing up) is very high. My response to people who might see me walking around naked in my house is if they’re looking into my house, they don’t get to be offended by what they see: whether it’s naked me or cats eating off our plates.

So you’d think I’m not a very private person. And yet. Here I am, with a nom de internet and a catch in my throat when my sister (who has most definitely seen me naked…probably even changed my diapers) asks me about my meditation practices. Maybe it’s because I’m afraid of what she’ll think of me (shame) but I really feel that this is one of the most private parts of me. I rarely speak of it to my husband (though if he asked, I’d tell him); nor do I ask him what he says when he meditates.

Many prayers are public in the sense that, if I want the complete text of the Our Father or an explanation of what it means, all I need is Google and 0.17 seconds. But what it really means to the person who is saying the words is not something that you can get from the internet. It’s not even something you can really get from talking to them. It’s between that person and their god(s).

And at the end of the day, that’s how I feel about religion in general: it’s between you and your god(s). You don’t need to tell me, you don’t need to put it on your car, you don’t need to even have a god or five. If it gets you through the hard times, if it gets you through the easy times, then I’m truly happy for you and those around you. But when we start to share our private neurosis and validate them, I think we wander into dangerous territory.

10 Comments

  1. John

    xJane, I love how you’ve woven together these manifestations of private and public. I could relate to many of these–I grew up going to public, sometimes mixed-gender baths in Japan and blog under my real name, but I don’t like getting photographed.

    This especially spoke to me:

    it’s between you and your god(s)…If it gets you through the hard times, if it gets you through the easy times, then I’m truly happy for you and those around you. But when we start to share our private neurosis and validate them, I think we wander into dangerous territory.

    Thank you.

  2. Rich

    Very well stated. It really all comes down to mutual respect and tolerance, no?

    My cats always knew that they had better respect my plate as long as I was in the kitchen. As soon as I was gone however I was willing to tolerate their help cleaning up…
    :o)

  3. It’s strange. I am a very private person…despite the fact that my views on nudity are very much like yours, xJane. Yet, despite my penchant for privacy, in the past few years I’ve found myself posting my opinions all over the internet for the whole world to see (if they want).

    In some places I do this under my own name; in others, I use a pseudonym. But I always assume that if someone wants to find out badly enough who I really am, they probably can.

    This makes me think twice or three times, sometimes, before I go ahead and post something. But it doesn’t stop me very often, truth be told. And that surprises me once in awhile.

  4. Oh, this is by far my favorite mind on fire post in sometime. I had gotten behind and started trying to catch up on 50-some-odd posts here last weekend, and didn’t get very far. I found myself thinking about the original mind on fire I encountered over a year ago, a place for religious-believers and non-religious-believers to come together in understanding and appreciation for each other, and I found myself wondering if the current mind on fire still had that on it’s plate. The paragraph that John quotes in his response is in deed beautiful – if we could all have that kind of respectful tolerance for one anothers’ beliefs, it would be such a better world to live in. From both the perspective of the person viewing another’s belief/religion (being happy for another’s belief if it helps them) and the perspective of the person embracing the belief/religion (not going around broadcasting it as if it is something public and less-than-intimate), that paragraph is a powerful reminder of how we could live peacefully and with a lot more harmony in our day-to-day interactions.

  5. heh. Full disclosure: I didn’t think too much about this. I was just something that I needed to get out. I guess that’s where it’s at 🙂

    At work, they want us to share contact info & “something about ourselves” and I find myself shying away from telling ppl about xJane…

    Elise: This is the core of what I believe, if you ask me, and I read it in a book long ago: “do not mock the name by which another calls god”. Do I act it every day? No. Do I use this blog as a place to get things that enrage me out of my system? Yes. And I say this to Brian, too, who I feel I may have offended beyond recognition, but I’m not perfect in my practice of this simple religion an I apologize to any and all who might be offended by it.

  6. John

    Elise, I’d like to respond to your comment:

    I found myself thinking about the original mind on fire I encountered over a year ago, a place for religious-believers and non-religious-believers to come together in understanding and appreciation for each other, and I found myself wondering if the current mind on fire still had that on it’s plate.

    After months of meandering, I put Mind on Fire through a major editorial shift in mid-November, restarting on 11/19. The following two posts sum up my new vision for MoF:

    Mind on Fire’s New Editorial Vision.
    Speaking of Faith.

    I hope you’ll read and comment these two in particular, since I value your judgment in particular. I’m curious to see how well the posts (as a whole, not in their parts) hold to that vision, which is partly to show the complexity of religious life (and unbelief) but fight against the abuses of dogmatism.

    Where xJane and I may differ is on this statement:

    do not mock the name by which another calls god

    I’m now trying to respect the private beliefs of others, which is why I liked the part I quoted in my earlier comment; but believers often hide behind this protection while trying to impose their ideas and values on others. As soon as they enter the realm of debate, especially in the area of public policy, the most sacred beliefs should then fully open to criticism and even, in some cases, mockery.

    Young earth creationism, for example, should *not* to be taken any more than seriously than the concept of a flat earth when it tries to invade the lab, the classroom and the government. The fact that people cherish this belief shouldn’t make it off limits to counterattack.

  7. I think that part & parcel of respect for others is respect in return. And I find it difficult to respect those who don’t respect me. And sure, if they want to believe that the earth is 12 years old, that’s fine. But if they want to spread that belief, I think they may rightly be shot.

  8. xJane: LOL. 🙂

    John, thanks for your response and thoughtful email. I agree with what you said about sacred beliefs being open to criticism publicly, although I would put a caveat on the mockery portion and say that I think that mockery of sacred beliefs is only appropriate in very specific circumstances. I interpret criticism to be logically founded argument with the motive of uncovering truth and challenging thoughts that are deserving of being challenged….while mockery in the presence of those who hold those beliefs sacred seems driven by the motive to offend and so ends up feeling a bit cruel.

    I may have spoken a bit too soon with my opinion that Mind on Fire has not been as focused on creating common ground between believers and non-believers. After I read your response, I re-visited some of the more recent posts – including the two you specifically linked to – and I do think the themes have been quite true to your vision to show the complexity of religious life (and unbelief) but fight against the abuses of dogmatism.

    I realize what has really happened is that I became quite accustomed to your angry feminist diatribes and confrontations of Mormon doctrines and social interactions. And, I related so deeply to them that I felt very connected to you and your experiences. The new format – which strikes me as a bit more informational and a bit less personal – is not what I have grown to expect when I visit Mind on Fire.

    That said, I think it is fair to say that Mind on Fire is growing up and maturing. 🙂 And maybe it is actually quite good and enlightening for your readers, including me, to grow up a little as well by moving on to a less emotional approach to the religious world (and a more intellecutal one).

    I still find Mind on Fire fascinating. In fact, the fire it lit in the past was more often in my heart (emotional) and the new format will probably light a lot more fires in my mind. 🙂

  9. John

    Elise, thank you so much for your feedback and affirmation. I love that our journeys in particular have crossed. And xJane will still try to aim for both the head and heart. 🙂

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