Agh. My ears ring with a screeching, nonstop, “Mama?! Mama!!!” My nose curls with poop and burned popcorn. My eyes bleed with each tiny piece of pink plastic in sight. My hands lay limp from being in constant physical contact with a small, snuggly toddler. My taste buds don’t know anything but coffee and pizza.
Everyone wants a piece of my body. They want my eyes to respond to, “Hey mama watch this!” They want my ears to listen to reenactments of Star Wars and Daniel Tiger. There’s nothing to taste and no time to eat except half eaten cold pizza and mac and cheese. My nose smells nothing but a bathroom with permanent eau de pee. My body is equal parts toddler playground, WWF sparring partner and a milk-making soda fountain.
Too much demand. Too little pleasure.
A few years ago, I shutdown instead of having to feel all those sensations. A numb life seemed like it should be vanilla and bland and a safe place to take a breather. Yet it was dark and filled with anxiety; so big and full of tragedy and despair. I held my breath while suffocating in a black hole for years.
Our culture is in a high-pitched fervor of the senses. Goldfish crackers are on “Flavor Blasted Xtra” steroids (their description–not mine), concerts leave our ears ringing, movies in 3D spin our eyes into glowing surrealdom, and there are pumpkin spiced air fresheners for god’s sake. We’ve numbed ourselves so thoroughly that it takes something grotesque to get our attention.
Sensuality. Say that word out loud. Sensuality. Feels good doesn’t it and also a little bit bad? Maybe because it makes you think about sex? What if it’s actually the answer to living “mindfully,” or “being present” or “the happiness quotient” or whatever word Oprah and Deepak are using today for that feeling of being alive and okay that most of us seem to be seeking?
One day I woke up vibrating with a vivid dream of my past sensual self and a deep desire to feel again. To feel the deepness and vitality of the truth of everything. The pain and the joy. To live. To feel bodily pleasure. Terrified of what it meant, but in one of those life moments where your heart knows the only way is forward toward the unknown, I chose sensuality. The journey has been long and has turned my world upside down, through a divorce and dating and love and daily awe and refinding my soul sisters and doing work that I love and enough gratitude to fill a bath bombed tub each day.
It plays out slowly like a flower blossoming towards the sun, soft petal by soft petal. I sat under the eaves of my deck on a summer night and my heart exploded with the pleasure of warm rain dripping onto my shin and then curving around and hugging my calf before letting go to fall onto the deck. In yoga class, the room went still as I felt a single drop of sweat drip down from my collar bone wrapping around the curve of my breast before crawling down my stomach into my belly button.
I leave work and the smell of the bakery down the street stops me mid-stride to lift my nose and inhale deeply as my mind follows the scent back to my childhood kitchen.
I crave sensuality. I crave beauty. Yet it still seems too much to ask for, more than I deserve. Even as I unfurl and turn my face to the sun, it still sometimes seems too awesome. My mind kept wanting to make sensuality be sexuality, but my body took over and and made my mind a student of the senses. I googled sensuality and the definition sounds kind of chaste, “the condition of being pleasing or fulfilling to the senses.” So yes, there is certainly sensuality in sexuality, but sensuality really is about feeling our five sense.
I let the moments keep coming. The sun would come through the bedroom window resting on sweet, rosy, baby cheeks and I’d be pulled to gently kiss them. After they would nurse, I’d pick them up and smell the sweet sugaryness of their breath. A song would come on that would get us up and dancing; our bodies vibrating with the joy of moving through space. Conversely, out of nowhere, a song would take me to my knees in tears of sweet loss and bittersweet sadness. A dinner with girlfriends nourished my heart and body with shared stories over delicious food (gratefully eaten without having to clean up spilled milk, mushy cheerios or my lap being a toddler trampoline). In the past, I’d always be in such a rush or so shutdown that I wouldn’t have even noticed these small moments.
Sensuality to me is our inner femininity. Our inner light. Our glow. Our love of the world and those around us. Love embodied is sensuality. I believe Love is God and Love is experienced here on Earth through our sensuality. When I own and accept my senses and their desires, I light up.
When did you last slowly and deliberately kiss someone? Or tenderly put love into your fingertips and stroke someone’s hair? Or close your eyes and listen to each note of music as it turned the cells of your body into its own echo of the notes? Or feel the tiny feet of a lady bug crawl across your fingertips?
It’s those sensations that wise women tell us is what we’ll miss so much once our bodies start their last decline or as our children grow up. The feeling of warm babies sleeping on our chest, toddlers crawling into our laps, of sweet tiny voices recounting tv shows, midnight snuggles of fevery brows, the smell of their sweaty little bodies fresh from being outside, and rollicking carefree giggles from the tiniest silliness.
I want more of that and of all of it. For them and for me. I want us to have dirt under our fingernails and giggles in our stomachs and sparkles in our eyes and giant bear hugs.
So I’ll continue rediscovering and welcoming in sensuality, even if it is the smell of toasty Christmas tree needles (with underpinnings of scorched dog hair) blowing warmly from the vacuum cleaner as I suck up yet another broken glass. I’ll be keeping my eyes open to find a glint of sunlit rainbow reflected in the shards of glass. And I will try and tenderly listen and respond to each “Hey Mama?!” (or maybe I’ll just get really good at a heartfelt “uh huh”…)
Katie Roach Dudley is a first generation Southerner and a mediocre aficionado of beer, bbq, cornhole, bad parenting, yoga and greenish living. She dreams of starting a commune with interiors by Darryl Carter, activities planned by Club Med and food by Momofuku. Until then, she’ll be doing public relations for the school she loves, reading self help books, and competitively eating chocolate chip cookies while squeezing her two beloved kids in a giant bear hug.
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