View from Table Mountain, Cape Town, South Africa
In some ways this post is a follow-up to Where’s My Parachute: Lessons in Love and Loss, my mini-autobiography.
In college, a female mentor introduced me to Sark and her classic book Succulent Wild Woman. If you’ve never had the pleasure, Sark’s work is like a playful, engaging little kick-in-the-ass that feels like a soft pillow enticing you into a lazy, afternoon nap. Sark inspires you to envision a more expansive life and take the risks to get there.
Some of my favorite gems that I go back to again and again from SWW:
-“Traveling Alone for Women.” Sark inspired many trips small and large for me, including a month-long, cross-country road trip by myself where I struck up conversations with strangers of all kinds.
-“Marrying Yourself.” This is brilliant stuff, folks. Everyone should marry themselves, everyone. Go out there and “become the person you want to find!”
– “Investigating the Dark Places with a Flashlight.” Sark is all about facing our demons head on, with plenty of naps and treats in between, of course.
-“Importance of Being Crabby.” Duh.
-“Radical Self-Acceptance.” In college, I actually put little post-it notes all over my dorm room that said “permission” in keeping with Sark’s advice to “fly permission flags.”
-“Importance of Vibrators.” I will never forget how Sark describes getting her first vibrator as a teen on Easter morning. She bounds downstairs exclaiming joyfully, “Happy, Happy Easter!” after using it for the first time. I often think Happy, Happy Easter to myself after a particularly satisfying time…
It’s incredible how life sends you something, and then brings you back to it again and again offering a fresh perspective each time. When I first read Sark, I was doing very hard emotional work. Sark helped me take myself less seriously, give myself breaks, and accept myself where I was. Part of that was accepting I was really far from being emotionally ready for serious intimacy, including sexual intimacy.
At the time, Sark’s advice about learning to be alone, taking emotional risks, and facing dark feelings felt so on target, but other things were very foreign back then. Sark talks about “living juicy,” “succulence,” and “sexual blossoming.” She has another book entitled, “Eat Mangoes Naked.” Looking back, what Sark was getting at was eroticism – taking hold of erotic energy and utilizing it to live a richer, more vibrant life. I was so far from “eating mangoes naked,” the best I could hope for at the time was protecting myself from further emotional harm.
In 2005, I traveled around southern Africa with a close friend of mine. It was one of the three most important experiences of my life. I had met Seth only two months prior. I was allowing myself to take risks with intimacy that I hadn’t before. The friend I was travelling with kept looking at me like I was someone different she’d never seen, as I spoke about Seth and my feelings for him. Looking back, it was a time of succulence for me, one of the first I had ever allowed myself.
I spent a lot of time on my own during that trip; reflecting on my mother’s death just a few months prior, grieving, but also exploring my feelings for Seth, realizing I was in love with him, and considering what that meant for me. I remember walking across Table Mountain in Capetown, looking out over the stunning coast and shimmering ocean. That was my ocean, the one I’d learned to walk next to, but at the opposite end of the world. At that moment, the sun felt like it was shining on parts of me I hadn’t even known existed. While my mother’s cancer kept me closed off and hidden, her death left me raw, exposed, with a lot of open spaces ready to be filled.
This week I found myself eating mangoes naked with a lovely, witty, sexy woman from Cape Town. I had a little chuckle to myself, for Sark, for how far I’ve come, and for the way we grow in circles, revisiting the places we’ve been so we can see the view from where we are back to where we were. That day, I again found myself somewhere I never could have imagined I could get. “Living Juicy,” as Sark would say.
By this point I really know what “Eat Mangoes Naked” is all about. The woman I was on my Africa trip was no longer terrified of love and loss, but the woman I am today is more than that, she is a real Succulent, Wild Woman. The risks I am taking now feel easy and playful instead of like walking through a title wave. I let all the big questions of identity and relationship negotiation melt away this week into the simplicity of brushing up against a stranger on a rooftop, an instant connection, and a lingering sense that this was what supposed to happen, for both of us.
My new friend is back in Cape Town now. Saying goodbye is hard, but it also teaches us to embrace the present. So I am left with the feeling of being amazed by life, and truly, almost painfully grateful. Grateful above all else for the simplicity. After the soul-searching, the over-thinking, the wading through other people’s fears and projections, this experience has been beautifully ordinary. Not ordinary in a bad way. Ordinary in a way that tells you in your gut that you knew who you were all along, and that new experiences don’t have to change the old ones, just deepen them.
As I sit here alone, picturing her in her apartment on the slope of Table Mountain, overlooking that same sparkling ocean I once did, I think about the incredible journeys life takes us on if we let it. If we drown out all the noise, turn off the tv, ignore the naysayers, don’t let other people’s fear turn us off to our own internal compass… If we don’t play by other people’s rules but allow ourselves to make our own, the ones we really need, life will take us exactly where we need to go.
I know there are many of you out there who feel like you can’t live your fullest, most succulent life right now for a variety of reasons. The path may be long, can be slow, and I assure you there will be pain along the way. But don’t let anyone tell you you can’t. Don’t let anyone tell you you have to stop, that you are getting too old, too wild, too outside the lines. Keep expanding, keep growing. Eat mangoes naked. Find people who will do so with you and let you go when you need to do so alone. Why do we do anything other than let the ones we love live fully and succulently? If someone loves you, ask them to set you free. But you have to set yourself free as well!
Seth and I talked a lot this week about feeling like we should feel bad. Feeling bad about not feeling bad. We have real fears, of course, but the ones that came from outside of us, we are letting go. From here on out we steer our own ship. We are accountable only to each other. Never could I have imagined this depth of connection when I first marveled at having an intimate partner. There is little more powerful in terms of an act of love than setting someone free, and little more exalting than having that person stay anyway, though the door is open and the whole world is spread out before him. There is great power in watching your partner grow and live fully, putting your fears aside, and being happy for him. The “poly” folks call this compersion. I think Sark would call it succulence.
Yours in grateful exploration,
P.S. – Breasts seriously rock.
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