Rehabilitation of a Yogi: Metta While Sexy
June 28, 2011 § 1 Comment
The challenge this week: to practice metta (loving kindness meditation) while being catcalled on the streets of New York City.
“Good morning, ma.”
“Sexy.” “Sexy.” “Sexy.”
I swear I’m not even looking all that sizzling this morning. Ok, I’m wearing a short jean skirt and boots (“Legs!”), but paired with a loose blouse with puffy sleeves and ruffles, buttoned up and proper. Yeah, I know it doesn’t matter. It’s about the walk, the sun-glasses, the heat, the sun shining. And maybe these men (I’ve yet to experience being catcalled by a woman) are simply expressing their exuberance at being alive. There’s something about an attractive female going to work in the morning that reminds them of their surging life force.
It’s not like they’re hurling insults at me… Certainly in their minds they are showering me with compliments by the double take, the up-and-down review, and the hissing “ssssssexy” as I pass by. At the very least the ones who smile and say “good morning”, well, they don’t mean any harm. Perhaps they’re even seeking to inspire me, to lift me up, to make me smile.
“Smile, baby! Why you look so glum, sugar?”
I’ve noticed that the catcalls are localized. In Spanish Harlem I get ten comments walking the five blocks from my apartment to the subway. When I walk down 22nd Street from the subway to the office in Chelsea, I hear zero comments.
Maybe it’s the culture. In East Harlem it’s ebullient, friendly, relaxed, loud, family oriented. In Chelsea it’s straight-laced, focused, busy, uptight, and work oriented. El Barrio, Spanish Harlem, is a good fit for me, I’m friendly and family oriented. Not to say that I go looking for a husband on 116th street, despite all the tempting proposals. It’s almost a let-down to arrive in Chelsea and not get any attention. Has my outfit gotten less cute since boarding the 6 train twenty minutes ago? Did something happen to my sexy walk? Ok, I jest. It’s almost a let-down, mostly a relief, but a tangible contrast between uptown and midtown, immigrants and Americans, low income and upper middle class.
So here I am, walking down the street, or strutting down the street if one is to believe the gentlemen of El Barrio, and I am practicing keeping my heart open, sending all beings everywhere loving kindness and compassion (try it for yourself).
“Yeah, sexy!” And a lip smack.
This comment stirs up all kinds of emotions.
Pride. You’re damn right I’m sexy and thanks very much for pointing out the obvious, amigo. Vanity. I know I look good and you might want to take a trip to the dentist before you try talking to me, hon. Sadness. And what does the “sexyness” get me, besides uncomfortable stares on my walk to the train? Anger. Who the fuck do you think you are to objectify me with your stupid unoriginal comments, asshole?! Get a job! Guilt. Maybe he’s right and it’s wrong not to say thank you. Maybe I should smile, respond in some way. He is a human being and he’s reaching out to me.
May you have happiness, kind elderly gentleman sitting on the curb, and the root of happiness, but may I suggest you check elsewhere than between my legs for it. May you be free from suffering and the root of suffering, nice young man who was crawling in diapers when I was graduating from college, and may you understand that I’m not being a bitch when I don’t stop to chat.
“Come on, let me holla at you for a minute. Talk to me, shorty.”
I keep walking. I recite the classic phrases to myself and try to send positive vibes to my sidewalk guru, fading into the distance of the city block behind me. May you be safe. May you be healthy. May you feel happy. May you live with ease. May you love and accept yourself just as you are, Mr. Catcaller. Sometimes the sentiment feels fake and other times my heart glows with genuine compassion.
I notice the space between the action and the actor. The act of catcalling is not something to be condoned. Calling a stranger on the street “sexy” is inappropriate. But my wish is for the human being behind that action to be safe, healthy, happy and live with ease. We are not so different, him and I. He feels lonely, as I do. He longs for companionship, as I do. He places high importance on sex appeal, just as I do. He wants to be happy and to feel loved. I recognize our shared basic goodness as well as our shared delusion. We could both use less suffering and more happiness in our lives.
The points Lisa Bloom makes in her article How to Talk to Little Girls ring particularly true. Girls are so often judged and praised for our looks. It’s a habit in our culture to tell a little girl (and not-so-little girl) how cute she is. I heard it often growing up, not so much from my parents who were proud of my math abilities (holla!), reading skills, and babysitting, but a lot of other adults. “You look so pretty, sweetie!” And it made me feel happy, proud, and also a little guilty because I was getting praised for something I didn’t do. I don’t do pretty, cute or sexy – those are subjective opinions regarding the configuration of fat, muscle, cartilage, fluid and other tissues squeezed together inside the epidermal surface layer, the visible facet of this body.
Do I like hearing that I’m sexy? Yes. But honestly I want to hear it from one person in particular (who’s mostly staying mum on the subject). The comments from men on the street reinforce the idea that my worth as a human being is irrevocably linked to my looks. But I am so much more than a hot piece of ass! And I have the hard-earned wisdom to know it even if the random guy on the street does not.
“God bless you,” he says, soulful and sincere. That is one of my favorite lines.
Then I get to parry in easy reply, “God bless YOU, baby.” And keep on walking.
Summertime in New York City is a time to strut, to open my heart and my ears to the gurus on the corner. What secret knowledge will they grant me today? A cheeky confidence? A balm for my heart sore from longing? Heady reminders that we are all in it together.
And what part of my soft truth will I choose to share with them? A sly smile? A musky fragrance? “Good morning, sir!” My heart seeks to convey a genuine blessing, an earnest wish for you, for me, for all of us to be free from suffering, to enjoy happiness and the root of happiness, under the hot summer sun.
Contact me with questions. Thank you for your comments!