On working with guilt

RepentI think our preoccupation with guilt is one of our greatest social handicaps. We assign it to others, and we twist and turn over our own supposed guilt. Our prisons are full to the brim, and even those who appear free to move around as they choose usually stay busy reprimanding themselves.

We cannot, for example, decide how to react to the sight of flesh. Mostly we grimace and turn away, perhaps after scolding the person who wears the flesh. Only recently was public nudity made legal in some of the United States.

I have been spending a fair amount of time on Tumblr browsing the galleries that feature naked women. Some of them feature mature women, and I find those particularly appealing, probably due to being the age I am. I always feel guilty for browsing. My conditioning has sunk deeply into me.

Thomas Moore provides some good advice. He wrote, in Care of the Soul:

When we relate to our bodies as having soul, we attend to their beauty, their poetry and expressiveness. Our very habit of treating our body as a machine, whose muscles are like pulleys and its organs engines, forces its poetry underground, so that we experience the body as an instrument and see its poetics only in illness.

Mostly we see the body as an affront, a violation of our right to propriety. We are quick to scold anyone who violates the right we claim. We are not looking for poetry. Lust maybe. Offensiveness for sure, but not poetry of any kind. Facebook reminds us that human flesh is an affront to propriety. They suspend the accounts of people who have a different point of view.

The larger issue, in my opinion, is that we have no mechanism for working with guilt. We can go to church and “repent”, but I found that less than helpful when I was young. I don’t find it helpful now.

repent: to turn from sin and dedicate oneself to the amendment of one’s life

To amend is defined as changing for the better. We have not defined better in a meaningful way, in my opinion. Churches often emphasize the notion of sin as a cause for remorse. I searched for the meaning of sin. It seems to involve offending God. That concept too is open to interpretation. We go in circles. Is rejoicing in the body a greater sin that condemning it? I leave the choice to you.

Our institutions are designed around notions of guilt and blame. Schools, with their systems of grades, lead the pack, in my opinion. They are followed by churches. Our home owner association sends out letters to people who have a weed in their yard more than six inches tall. Someone measures my weeds, and stands ready to scold me.

I don’t know of any forum in which our concepts of guilt are discussed. If you do, please send me a message. Thanks.

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