The spiritual teacher, Pema Chodron talks a lot about one of the Noble Truths of
Buddhism, that people experience suffering and dissatisfaction with what is.
This is a given in life, you will not be perfectly pleased at all times. In
fact, there will be times when you are suffering. But she goes on, “only in the
West is this articulated as something
wrong with me”.
This insidious bit of added cruelty seems based in that
seductive myth that if we do everything right, we will always be happy and our
lives will be perfect. Perhaps no other culture has been as in thrall to this
myth as our modern American culture. We cannot get away from it. Everywhere see
ads, TV shows, crafted celebrity personas, Facebook posts, telling us that
other people achieve this constant happiness and satisfaction. Most recently with
the twist implying that only “losers” find themselves struggling. And so we
feel the normal suffering or disappointments of life, but turn them into
When we struggle, we turn to self-recrimination hoping for
an answer to avoid future struggles. We craft deeply developed stories about
how we are lacking, different from other people, clearly not trying hard
enough. Because honestly it feels good to believe you can somehow avoid the
inevitable disappointments. But that belief turns on us and feels isolating and
damning when we can’t. What is wrong with
me? What did I do to deserve this
And this pattern can go deeper into more painful shaming. In
therapy I see the hurt self blame can cause as clients get pulled into the
impossible puzzle of figuring out what they did wrong that made them deserve to
be neglected, abused, not loved in the way they needed. The truth - that there
is no good reason, that they were not the cause - is relieving for a moment.
But it is also scary because it reminds us that much of life is out of our control.
That there is unfairness and suffering. Sometimes no matter what we do.
Of course our behavior matters. Of course we can do plenty
of things to make our lives better, to make ourselves better. We don’t need to
give up wanting or trying. But we simply cannot make it all ok all the time. We
will experience heartbreak, and loss, and many, many small and less small ways
in which our life falls short of what we thought it would be. And this doesn’t
make us bad or broken. It makes us human.
And the part that makes me sad is that if only we spent our
time loving ourselves through the inevitable rather than berating ourselves
through it, the pain would pass much quicker. And we would have more time for
enjoying the beauty of life and the gorgeous fascinating individual reflections
of human imperfection all around us. Remember, you are okay, just as you are, even when times are hard.
Taboos, depictions of extreme sensations, themes of losing
control, hidden urges and desires unleashed, body parts exposed, gasps and
Am I writing about sex? Not exactly. I am writing about the
blend of fear and horror with sexuality and why we might like it – or at least
fantastical performances of it. One of the famous places that this dynamic was
played out for eager crowds was the Grand Guignal Theatre in Paris. Known for
its naturalistic horror plays, the theatre ran from 1897 to 1962. Similar to
our more current slasher films, the Grand Guignal blended sexual titillation
with terror, and like our drive-ins, it had private booths for audience members
who might be overcome with excitement.
So why do sex and fear get mixed together for entertainment
throughout human history? All the way back to Oedipus we have enjoyed horrific
tales of passion and punishment. Let’s be clear, real situations of human
cruelty or violence are not entertaining to most of us who have empathy (however
much the news media currently packages it as entertainment). But the
fantastical and extreme offers something to our psyches that we humans seem to
yearn for – a way to face and engage with the Shadow safely.
Sexual impulses and violent impulses have both been seen as
outside our rational mind and been repressed by society, left to be explored in
the dark without much guidance. And yet they both continue to feature
prominently in human history. Both involve the body and witnessing the body in
ways that are outside of the normal day to day experience. Sensations and
reactions to pain and pleasure can be surprisingly close, both can sweep us
away, take us over. Excitement and mild fear can feel very similar in the body
too and make us feel deeply alive.
We are drawn to the Shadow, the risky edges of human
existence. We have things to learn there and by engaging safely with the
extremes of human experience we can bit more aware. Maybe for audience members,
at Oedipus or the Grand Guignal, it was simply a matter of breaking one taboo,
so we may as well break another. But maybe we all get something more out of
visiting our edges. At least we keep doing it…Time to see what horror movie is
In my twenties even the idea of patience irritated me. I’m just being honest. I liked things to move fast and be interesting to me, preferably at all times. I remember taking yoga classes, back in the day, and I hated rolling up my yoga mat. Yes, just this 30 second task annoyed me and seemed like something to be rushed through. I avoided classes that used props – too much time wasted setting up and adjusting. Wow, I was impatient.
At that time I imagined patience as learning how to put up with annoying things, a sort of mild martyrdom of smiling through gritted teeth. Not very appealing.
Thankfully over the years I have been taught a different version of patience, one that actually feels good. Now I have come to see patience as being able to find the value in whatever you are doing. Patience, for me, is linked to appreciation. If I see rolling up my yoga mat as a valuable ritual that closes my practice, if I can do it mindfully and not rush through, it is enjoyable – and, as a great side effect, I feel patient!
I remember one of my true teachers in life, saying “you can have a great insight while in line at the post office, if you are awake to it. You can think just as deeply there and be just as aware there as anywhere else”. This blew me away. The idea that I could stop separating my life into categories of meaningful time and non-meaningful time, valuable time and wasted time. Time waiting, for someone or something, or transitioning from here to there, is still your time. There is still a world swirling around outside you and some incredibly interesting worlds moving around inside you, sensation, breath, thoughts, daydreams.
So here’s a challenge : Don’t spend your life waiting to get to the good parts. Find ways to create more good parts in previously unappreciated moments. Expand what is exciting to you. Don’t just rely on the tried and true entertainments and distractions available out there. Pull back from always searching and let something find you. (And, oh yeah, this relates to sexuality too.)
Your body wants to move. Movement is so important to life that it helps to shape our brain and perceive our world. Movement is linked to expression of emotions and releasing energy. It is key to optimal health.
To give our body full range of its abilities, it is good to think about varying types of movement we do. Movement in modern life can become quite prescribed; I move when I workout, I move to get from here to there. Different types of movement stimulate and bring out different things in us. Here are some types to try and incorporate in to your active life:
Free Flowing Spontaneous – Movement that is inspired simply by what your body wants to do or express in the moment, no plan, no performance, starting from a feeling that emerges into action
Slow & Mindful – Yoga can be like this, or Tai Chi. The movements may be prescribed but you do them in a quiet, peaceful way that allows for listening to your body and tuning in to sensation
Repetitive Trance-Inducing – For some people running can take them to a trance like state, where the body hits a groove that doesn’t require thinking or direction. Other familiar repeated motions can bring this on as well
Challenging New Patterns – Learning something new that takes you out of a normal self-induced way of moving. Think dance classes or sports training which offer us this style of movement, where you consciously mirror and embody new patterns
Shared & Responsive – This is movement done with another person or persons, contact or partner dance, partner yoga or stretching, sex, this invites you to move in relation to another, seeking and sending feedback, leading and following
Micro Stillness Moving – Tuning in to the movements that happen within us all the time, feeling your breath, shifts in posture and tiny releases in tension, holding patterns, fluid cellular shifts, engaging all that is involved in sitting still
Want other kinds of movement have you experienced? Which of these feels least familiar or comfortable for you? How could you try each kind?
Excerpted from The Conscious Sexual Self Workbook:
I want you to fuck me. I want you to inspire me. I want you to tease me. I want you to notice me. I want you to love me. I want you to be with me even if you shouldn’t. I want you to punish me. I want you to be a reflection of me. I want you to initiate me. I want you to plunder me. I want you to slowly unwrap me. I want you to let me. I want you to deny yourself for me. I want you to scare me. I want you to nourish me. I want you to treat me like a child. I want you to dissolve into me. I want you to impregnate me. I want you to reduce me to instinct. I want you to cry out for me. I want you to dream of me. I want you to taste every part of me. I want you to be naughty with me. I want you to do something you have never done before with me. I want you…
The depth of what we want from our sexual relationships is wondrous. We open ourselves to our own hungers in relation to other people, other people who could give us something we are, in their presence, discovering that we want. Oh, and that wanting is intense. Sometimes we hardly know how to contain it. Partners become muses for us. And what we get back from our sexual interactions is often more and different from we initially thought we wanted.
Our relationships incite growth in us. It is true they open new worlds to us and require us to get creative in very good ways. Keeping a relationship alive and growing is a practice that asks us to stay dedicated and keep working at it. Periods of inertia often are leading us to periods of significant transformation. Relationships help us discover our limits and sometimes to stretch them. They break our hearts and heal us, sometimes, vexingly, at the same time. The person you are now was developed in part in relationships with other people, and I invite you to be fascinated by this.
As distracting as your partners may be, it is worthwhile to stay interested in who you are while you are with them. In the hustle to find or keep a partner, have you asked yourself what kind of partner you are? It is disturbingly easy to give responsibility away to a partner. But you are shaping your relationships as much as anyone else. And you are shaping yourself. What kind of sexual moments are you inviting? What levels of satisfaction are you willing to reach for? How much intimacy do you want?
Do you want more? Buy The Conscious Sexual Self Workbookavailable now on Amazon.
What would it mean to really claim your own body? To experience it as truly yours?
Our bodies are our public representation, the first vehicle we have for people to see us. Body image pulls on deep concerns about being seen and accepted in the world. Because of the huge amount of images and commentary about bodies in our culture, (we all know at any given time which actress has gained weight, which actor is buffing up for an action film, and whose vacation was marred by cellulite whether we actively seek out this information or not) it makes sense that we all feel our own bodies are open to criticism and constant evaluation. Fear of criticism, questions about how our body shape relates to our personal value, plague many of us and can cause us to feel like our bodies are not really our own. Judging our body or constantly focusing on trying to change it can cause us to stop feeling our body is a friend. Claiming our body can take the form of deeply feeling into and enjoying our body now – not waiting to engage with our fantasy version of our body that may or may not ever arrive. It means being embodied, using our senses, strength, breath, movement, mass, to interact with the world and other people without shame.
Take a week to experience your body as a guide. Rather than focusing on what it looks like and how clothing looks draped on it, feel with your body from the inside out. Notice what it is telling you about the world around you, the world within you. Be aware that each emotion you feel is coming through your body, through the language of sensation, tension, heat, energy. We only get to engage with the world through our bodies. There is no time to wait for your body to be different, life is going on now. Claim your body, claim your life.
The body’s life is the life of sensations and emotions. The body feels real hunger, real thirst, real joy in the sun or snow, real pleasure in the smell of roses or the look of a lilac bush, real anger, real sorrow, real tenderness, real warmth, real passion, real hate, real grief. All the emotions belong to the body and are only recognized by the mind – DH Lawrence
Stay tuned for information on a upcoming group for women - Your Body is a Sacred Playground
Have a relationship with yourself in which you explore sensation.
Summer time and the living is easy. The perfect time for this challenge. Go and get yourself a juicy piece of fruit, whatever you like. Mangos, nectarines, plums, watermelon – all good choices. Set aside a bit of private time, preferably outside in the sunshine. Get naked – this is key. Then eat that fruit in the messiest, stickiest, juice running everywhere way. Bite into it slowly, really taste the fruit. Lick the juice off of your arms and hands and….wherever. Enjoy yourself, no one is watching. Be succulent. Be a part of the summer harvest. Appreciate that you can enjoy this, today, at this moment.
Fifteen minutes later, what is the worst that can happen? You will be sticky and take a shower feeling kind of silly. But on the other hand, you could feel alive, sexy, and a part of a yummy ripe world. Take the chance.
“To like myself means to be, literally, shameless, to be wanton in the pleasures of being inside a body…the way I’d felt as a child, before the world had interfered.” – Sallie Tisdale
Oh how we use shame in our culture. So much so that even the word shameless may make some of you uncomfortable with its implications of immorality, humiliation, even chaos. It is a word that has been turned against us as an insult. But really, what a wonderful state it would be to really be shameless, even for a few moments.
Think about how often in a day you have doubted yourself, rejected your body’s desires or criticized your own appetites. Think about how many times you have stopped a luxurious stretch that your body craved before it even happened. Or how often you turned away from the impulse to kiss someone, touch the curls in their hair, or lean into the solidness of a another human body. Do you even notice the moments anymore when something tastes so good you want to moan or exclaim about it? Do you notice when you body wants to rock, beating out its own rhythm? Have you shut out messages from your body that tell you “you are hungry for something”, whether that is food, touch, sex, rest, movement or any of the other options out there that could feed you? Notice how many times in a day you say No to yourself.
Now I am not suggesting that we could be healthier or happier if we always say Yes to our every desire or urge. But we could be happier if we didn’t feel shame for having urges at all. Shame may not serve us as well as we have been led to believe. We can still make choices about how we respond, what actions we take, what our long term priorities are, without needing shame to motivate us. It is more empowering to say to our self, “I know I want that, but I am going to choose to not have it right now so that I can ______fill in the benefit___” Rather than saying, “I am horrible for even wanting that, I am going to pretend I never has that urge and tuck it away somewhere to remind me of how bad I am”. And as we become more at home with our shameless nature, we may find that many of those desires and urges can be fulfilled after all. There are a lot of small and large pleasures out there waiting for you, if you are shameless enough to let yourself have them. Aren’t you curious to find out what they are?
Do you feel changed by another person’s sexual energy or by interactions with past partners? Sometimes I hear people use language about their sexual experiences like, “I gave it up” or “I feel dirty from having sex with him/her”. What would this mean to you? What are you giving the other person when you are sexual with them? What part of yourself are you sharing? Do you believe something changes in you or about you after being sexual with someone? What about when you are sexual with yourself, masturbating and/or fantasizing?
How can you find your own baseline or ground after being sexual with someone else? If people are attracted to you or have sexual thoughts about you, can you stand your ground and feel confident in your own ability to choose to engage or not? Or do you feel swayed by others sexual desire to a point where it is hard to keep track of yourself? If someone else wants you, do you feel obligated or infringed upon? On the other hand, do you feel that you are only desirable when you are being desired by someone else? Is your sexuality based on reacting or responding to your partners? Truly claiming your body and your sexuality can mean separating what is your energy and desire from what is someone else’s. It can be filling yourself with your own vibrant energy so that you can actively meet someone else’s energy without being overwhelmed by it. It is knowing what you want. Think of a time when your sexuality felt truly self motivated; what was that like for you?
I invite you to journal about these questions. There is no right or wrong answer to come to, but it is valuable to see clearly how you feel about these things. These are great topics to explore in therapy too. If you are a Northern Californian local, you can come see me in my private practice in Capitola, CA. If you are in another area, you can reach out to me for referrals.