Think about the last time you felt profoundly grateful. Try and remember how it felt in your body the last time you were fully aware of how good life can be and notice how engaged your were by your senses, whether it was in the extraordinary taste of favorite foods, the scent of seasons changing in the early morning, the way great music lingers and changes your physiology, or the way colors capture your imagination. Turning the practice of gratitude into a felt sense is as simple as bringing our full attention to our sensory capacity. Learning to recognize gratitude on the physical plane and conjure up these moments as a visceral response gives you access to more joy and pleasure in the every day.
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It is not surprising that submission and domination themes are among the most common personal fantasy content, or that a huge percentage of pornography depicts issues of power in relationships. This same dynamic is at play during illicit affairs- the thrill of being overcome by our sexual desire allows us to engage in sexual play that goes beyond our imagination. It feels natural to do the most outrageous sex acts when we give up our control. Ironically, this need to be out of control sexually in order to get lost in our own erotic passions prevents many couples from scheduling lovemaking time. The very idea that they could “plan” to lose control sexually is the obstacle that prevents them from discovering how easy it is to engage with submissive fantasies any time.
Really great sex happens outside of ordinary reality. It creates a non-ordinary reality beyond the language of everyday life and outside of the conceptual framework in which we order those days. Fitting our sexuality into our ordinary reality flattens its potential, relying on repetitive actions and a kind of cognitive dissonance that separates us from the moment we are in. I have been thinking about this for a long time, but it was just in these last couple of weeks since I began practicing Shamanic journeys that I recognized the language I have been missing.
It was the Celtic civilization that first celebrated the magical time of year that is Halloween. They considered this time, the Samhain, as the most significant turning point of the year, when things change most deeply, when connections to the dead open up… The souls that have gone through the ultimate turning from life to death. They believed that this was the time of year that the world of the living and the world of the dead were closest and that the spirits and ghosts of the dead travelled amongst the living. This conception of the closing gap between life and death in still widely celebrated in the Mexican Dia de los Muertos and even in the Christian All Saints Day. Taking this opportunity to celebrate the dead among us, to acknowledge the ghosts that remain behind and to befriend the demons that we embody are powerful and redemptive acts of love, both for the living and the dead, as what remains in hidden steals immense power from our living intentions.
We all have them; these silent judgments, which invisibly harden into prejudice and separate us from whoever it is that we deem the “other,” whether based on race, religion or sexual identity. It is the invisible and unacknowledged judgments that maintain the strongest holds on us, limiting our ability to wonder and to be curious about what we can’t see. What we often miss is that as our openness dwindles, so does our capacity to become intimate. The truth is that there is a part of ourselves that we close off when we reject vast swaths of people around us. Generally our most severe and ardent judgments reflect back on something in us that we can’t quite accept.
We hurt ourselves by trying to defend ourselves against our own truth. The pain we refuse to feel collects in us and is stored in the places we are most shielded, which for most of us, is our hearts. We are so fearful of the potential of a broken heart that we inadvertently refuse to open our hearts for their intended use. This practice of shielding our hearts and denying our feelings can become such a deep and prolonged habit that we walk around encased in a shield that we don’t even know we are wearing. This explains why it is so rare and beautiful a thing – the meeting of two open hearts. It’s no good, this refusal of our own heart experience. The act of becoming numb to ourselves actually requires a lot of effort and explains our collective fixation on the wide range of drug and alcohol induced self-medicating. The pain in our collective breasts begins with what remains unseen in our hearts.
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I have come to believe that so many relationships are so hurtful because we believe that is the love we deserve. For years after my parents’ divorce, I watched my mother have a 30- year affair with a man who would never really show up for her in the ways she needed. She would end it over and over again after holidays or her birthday when she was alone, and then after they would get back together, she would go on about how this is enough for her. This was all the love that she believed she deserved. My friendships during my adolescent years mostly, were like hers- and left me feeling wanting, not pretty enough, not good enough. Like many of us, I learned how to have relationships that belittled and hurt me. My earliest romantic relationships went from bad to worse, yet even through my tearful protestations that I deserved someone who would love me, I continuously attracted boys who didn’t see me or care about me. Basically I got the hurt that I believed I was worthy of.
Seeing a pro-football player knock out his girlfriend on an elevator video captures our collective attention. The league is held responsible for not taking the violence seriously, giving the offender a two game suspension, and then, after the public outcry, they expel him indefinitely. Intimate crimes persist, in part, because we don’t want to see them, and it isn’t just among our celebrities and sports heroes that we look beyond domestic violence. The numbers are mind-boggling. In a lifetime, one of four women are seriously physically abused by their intimate partners, which means that you probably know someone who has been or is being abused. Unbelievable but true- 15% of all violent crimes committed between 2003 and 2012 were by intimate partners. Although men are also sometimes victims, they are the perpetrators in 90% of the cases according to a 2002 report.
To my mind, the most powerful reckoning we make in this lifetime is with our sexual selves. Rarely are we privileged to bear witness to this process in others, even our most intimate others. So, when a NY Times columnist has the courage to disclose how an act of childhood sexual abuse slowly evolved into a complex, yet healing journey to sexual identity, I am in awe. In part, because childhood sexual abuse is so widespread, yet remains cloaked in a silencing shame. It is hard to know whether it is the original event itself that damages so many lives so thoroughly or the fact that so many harbor this secret shame alone. I know that what we refuse to look at, what remains hidden inside of us, and what is beyond our ability to speak of and process, grows more malignant with each passing year.
“Most people are mirrors, reflecting the moods and emotions of the times; few are windows, bringing light to bear on the dark corners where troubles fester. The whole purpose of education is to turn mirrors into windows.” -Sydney Harris
We come into our erotic consciousness in our early adolescence. The process is mostly subconscious as the maturing brain establishes unique patterns of pleasurable stimuli, often in response to painful events or relationships that it is working to resolve. Like our fingerprints, or the subtle distinctions in our sense of smell, our arousal mechanism evolves outside of our control and often, to our surprise. It is no wonder that the first and often long-standing issue most of us begin our sexual journey with is – am I normal? As we come to know what turns us on, even in its most subtle forms, our sexuality pushes our boundaries of normalcy. Our sexual selves are the unique, wild streak in us that won’t be easily contained and whose full pleasure potential is achieved the less we try to control it. Since the Biblical verses in the Garden of Eden, human sexuality has been considered dangerous, serpent-like.