ENGAGING THE OBJECT OF OUR AVERSION
by Kevin Smith
In Exploring the Energy of Infatuation, I write about ways of working with attraction. We generally don’t need much encouragement to engage attraction, because we naturally seem to move towards things we like. Now I want to write about the possibilities that open up when we take a conscious step towards the things we don’t like, things that are unattractive to us, even things that repulse us.
The root of the word aversion means “to turn away from.” I have had many experiences in Touch Practice where people asked me not to touch parts of the body they had difficulty accepting. In one case, a young man was intrigued by the concept of naked practice but asked if he could keep his t-shirt on. As we discussed it, I learned that because his back is very hairy, he is constantly fearful of rejection by others because he feels that “smooth” is a more popular way to be.
In the course of the work I was able to convince him that those two conditions, hairy vs. smooth, were neutral to me, and that I did not have any emotional response or preference towards either condition. Ultimately he chose to take his shirt off and be held in his skin, which was powerful and healing for him. It allowed him to feel both hairy and lovable, which was a combo platter he hadn’t ordered very often. Because I don’t have any natural aversion to body hair, we were able to create and hold a space together where he could engage that and take a step towards a part of himself.
Bellies are prime candidates for aversion, and there are marketers all too willing to skim millions of dollars from American men who are desperately seeking lifetime washboard abs, despite the starvation diets, compulsive workouts and utterly unnatural living required to maintain such a state. While obesity is not a desirable condition, a small, soft, slightly rounded belly is our natural and normal state. You see it in lean people all the time if they are relaxed, rather than artificially postured. You see it in male children before they learn to “hold themselves” defensively.
Often when someone has relaxed to the point where I can put my hand on his soft, round belly, he will begin to laugh, not from being tickled, but from a sense of relief and utter ridiculousness about the state of tension in which we hold ourselves regarding our bellies. We usually laugh together, because even though I know better, I do it too.
I often receive someone in Touch Practice after surgery, or an accident, or in the course of treatment for a serious disease such as cancer, where the body has been disfigured and is in the process of healing. People are often, understandably, averse to scars, incisions, and bruises. They turn away–but in this case, they are turning away from parts of themselves, physical parts of their own bodies. The instinct, consistently, is to “cover up”–to keep these areas clothed, or to make touch off limits there. Whenever we are able to slowly and carefully build trust to the point where all parts of the body can be accepted, in whatever condition they may be, more often than not, touch partners will allow me to hold or touch these parts of their bodies.
Taking a step towards, rather than turning away from, the things that repel us can be powerful, magical, and profoundly educational. It is a way of engaging edge, that “stretch” which invites us to go deeper, to learn about ourselves, to see more clearly. There’s a reason for the “chemistry” of aversion, because while we tend to think it is external conditions or objects which are unattractive, annoying, or repulsive, it is actually we ourselves who create those conditions, our own psyches which construct the energy of aversion.
If we can remember and recognize that we construct aversion (often as a defense) we can gently, carefully, with great love for ourselves, engage the object of our aversion, and get curious about it. Over time we can even come to see the appearance of aversion as a friend, a guide, a teacher. There are so many examples of this. One of my favorites: “The thing that you find most annoying about your spouse is the reason why you married them and the thing you most need from them; it is the thing you lack.” Those of you who are married or partnered: play around with that; be curious about it; investigate it. See if on some level it might be true. Another favorite: “the thing you most hate in a neighbor is a rejected piece of yourself.” Play with it, be curious about it, investigate and see whether this might be true.
I sometimes talk with men who are wishing for an intimate relationship with another man, but simultaneously doing a terrific job of defending themselves against one, because the aversion criteria they’ve constructed for themselves are encyclopedic. This often manifests as having a “list,” like this: “Well, I’m looking for a tall (must be over six feet) blond, blue-eyed man with a swimmer’s build who has an advanced degree (master’s minimum, Ph.D. preferred) non-smoker who is social, likes the arts, is not allergic to dogs, wants children, is similar to me in age, socio-economic status and religious beliefs.” It can also manifest as a “look,” as in “I’m not attracted to anyone who has a beard.”
Really? Before the first date? That’s going to rule out an awful lot of really great guys, and all because the mind has decided, really without any proof or even evidence, that it’s not going to be possible to develop attraction towards someone lacking one of those attributes. And that, my friends, is just not true. We construct aversion and attraction, and within some limits, we can be as open or as closed as we want to be. Whether we feel attracted to or repelled by (or simply open to, without judgment) is more within our power than we generally imagine it is.
What are the parts of your body that you really don’t like, the places and ways in which you turn away from yourself? Could you take a gentle, curious, loving step towards one of those places? And how about the parts of other people’s bodies, or personalities–where do you turn away, what is it that you find unacceptable? I invite you to curiosity and to gentle, loving engagement with yourself and with others. If you can make a place to sit with yourself–or someone else–in an area seen as unattractive, damaged or challenging–you can literally make the world a bigger and better place, both for yourself and for others. Just engage it, and aversion will soften all by itself; just observe it, breathe, and wait. You don’t need to do anything more than make space for it and sit there with it. Make the world a safer, more loving, more accepting place for you, and for the man next to you.