Monday, February 23, 2015

Friends & Lovers

A few years ago, I took a friend as a lover. He wasn't a close friend, really more of an acquaintance, but the nature of our relationship certainly did shift. Sometimes there was far less clothing involved in our relating than before, and sometimes we did nauseatingly adorable things like sunny Sunday brunch followed by lazy neighborhood stroll hand holding and farmer's market perusing. In essence, though, we were still friends. I despise the term "friends with benefits" because it implies that being my friend is not already a benefit. Bitch, please! Do you have any idea how strong my friendship game is? Consider yourself massively blessed if I choose to bring you into the fold of my friend cult. Even if we go years without talking, I'll still be your ride-or-die hommie for life unless you do something really crazy. But I digress...

My friend and I were friends but we were also lovers, and that worked well for us. He's a wonderful human being but I knew he wasn't my ride-or-die romance hommie. From the start I intuited separate paths for us. We enjoyed a sweet season together which faded out naturally, and I'll always think of him fondly. This was my first foray into this sort of relationship dynamic and it was an enlightening examination of my own expectations about romantic relating.

Have you ever noticed how awful people can be to their partners? Some people are awful to everyone, but for the most part friends and family will be quick to call you out when you're out of line. They're good at keeping us on our better behavior. Something different happens when you start having sexy love feelings for someone, though. There's this raw vulnerability which surfaces, exposing and triggering unresolved emotional trauma and baggage. Yogi Bhajan called marriage the highest form of yoga because yoga shows you to yourself and so does your spouse. They act as a mirror, clearly revealing every part of you, even when you're made ugly by your own pettiness, anger, fear or greed. Vulnerability can be thrilling (that magical head rush of "falling in love") but it can also be terrifying (the special horror of someone else seeing the parts of yourself of which you are ashamed). And in our terror of being laid bare before this other person, sometimes we behave very unskillfully.

This whole scenario is different when you take a lover friend, though. You can still treat them
horrendously, but unlike the person you married or share a lease/cat/cactus garden with, the only thing binding them to you is a shared appreciation of spending time together. The natural boundaries and respect of a friendship are still in place. There is no "future building," no weighty expectations or obligations. You are together because you want to be in the moment. There is something so fresh and present about this, it puts me at ease to think about.

Of course, you can't build a life with someone this way. Or can you?

What if we could approach all our romantic relating with the same sort of warm appreciation, gentleness and ease that we do our friendships? What if the line wasn't so distinct, the expectations less demanding? You can make a lifetime commitment to someone that you take one day at a time, waking every morning and choosing to love that person again that day. Isn't that what we subconsciously do with our friends? I never think about friendships lasting a lifetime, but there are many incredible humans in my life whom I hope to have the privilege of growing old with. It is a different dynamic with a lover, but should we really treat these people so differently? When we are so vulnerable in the intimacy that we share, should we treat our lovers like anything but treasured friends?

Despite the lack of formal commitment, lover friends still have some obligations to one another, based out of the respect and admiration that they hold for each other. They have to communicate their needs, boundaries and desires. They have to be aware that the choices they make with their bodies could affect the other. They have to know themselves, and take ownership over their own feelings and behaviors. There is no room for bad communication, recklessness or projection among lover friends...not if you want to remain friends after you are no longer lovers.

This begs the question: Is there room in any sort of relationship for bad communication, recklessness or projection? No, there's really not. Not among lover friends, regular friends, coworkers, spouses, family members or subway patrons. Everyone has bad days, and we possess the grace to unsee them and love each other anyway. How many bad days are too many? What can we unsee and what is intolerable? That's for you to decide.

The only commitment we can realistically make is to show up to the present moment with our hearts in our ((trembling)) hands, offering each other our best, brightest love. We can choose to encourage rather than criticize when we falter. We can make choices which respect ourselves and those with whom we share care. We can boldly know and own every part of ourselves, and let ourselves be seen clearly and healed in this intimacy. We can get what we desire by asking for it. We can strive to be really excellent to one another in all our relating, and be grateful for each other's grace when we're not.

The appearance of sex in your relationship is no time to toughen.
Kindness is always the answer.
Let your love lead the way.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Denial and Permission.

Four Lents ago, fours-years-ago Kirsten wrote a blog about using Lent as a time to do something to thoughtfully and significantly impact your health and well being. As we enter Lent this year, the 40* days leading up to Easter, I am echoing that call, with some new suggestions. First, let's talk about self-denial...

Catholics, the Lent proponents who governed my spiritual childhood, love the word "no." They love to deny themselves pleasure of all kinds, so the default Lenten sacrifice tends to be giving up something you like for the season. This can be a very good thing, but only if the thing you're giving up is a real sacrifice for you, and giving it up will challenge you to grow and improve your quality of life. Here are some examples:

-Say you spend a large portion of your income on alcohol. Not only are you drinking a lot, but you're also funneling your money away from things like fun vacations and healthy groceries. A worthwhile Lenten sacrifice would be to stop drinking for the season, contributing to the health of both your body and your finances. You could take the money you would've spent on alcohol and donate it to a cause that moves you, or put it in savings for something fun. This same example could cover any addictive substance, whether it's illicit or prescription drugs, or food drugs like processed sugar and caffeine. Exploring our relationship to the things that alter our brain chemistry is a powerful practice that can help us get to the root of addiction and be that much more free. Speaking of which...

-Emotional Fasting FROM: Do you ever feel like a slave to an emotion? Bound by fear or anxiety? Blinded by anger? Soured by disgust? Crippled by sadness? All feelings are valid, but if we experience too much of one, we lose emotional balance. This is where Rasa Sadhana comes in, a Tantric-based practice in choosing not to get involved with the Rasas (emotions) of Fear, Anger, Disgust or Sadness. If you find that you're experiencing too much of one emotion and it's affecting the quality of your life, you may choose to use this time to fast from that feeling. This is not accomplished by suppressing it- that never works. Whatever we resist, persists. Instead, you would undertake a practice in mindfulness; take a deep breath, note when the feeling surfaces, what triggered it and how it feels in your body. It's pure observation and zero judgement. This exercise helps you to become the master of your mind and emotions, giving you a moment of pause to choose what comes next. Will I give in to this emotion, allowing it to take me over? Or, will I greet it warmly, learn why it's there and let it pass through? Will you stew in it or will you let it flow?

Since I'm a big proponent of pleasure and the cultivation of good, I like to take the Lenten season to commit to a daily habit that will change my life for the better. Denial can grow you, but so can permission and devoting care to yourself and your elevation. Here are some examples:

- Emotional Fasting ON: The other side of the Rasa Sadhana coin encourages us to experience more of the Rasas of Love, Joy, Wonder, Peace and Courage, particularly if we feel deficient in any of these areas. Emotional fasting FROM and ON can easily go hand in hand. Personally, there are times I find myself overcome by fear that limits my life in important ways. I'm committing this Lent to gently confronting my fears by feeling them but going ahead and doing it anyway, thereby activating my courage, and experiencing the joy of accomplishment and the peace of having one less fear. If you've been feeling beleaguered lately, like everything is hard and nothing is working, try taking this time to bring more joy into your life. Ask yourself what would give you pleasure and do it. If you are having a hard time feeling love for someone (especially if it's yourself!), you could undertake a practice of loving kindness meditation. If you're feeling particularly jaded, take some time to slow down and experience the wonder of life from a child-like perspective. There are lots of options, lots of things to try on and refresh your outlook.

-Health! Do you never eat vegetables? Maybe you use this time to figure out how to get them into your daily life AND enjoy them! Do you never workout? Maybe you use this time to get a gym membership (and use it...) or start some other kind of exercise routine. Are you a Type A stress case with an ulcer? Maybe you use this time to begin a practice in meditation and yoga. Do you stay up way too late writing all the time? Maybe you use this time to put yourself to bed at a reasonable hour every night like an adult (ahem). There are things you can give up that greatly increase your health, but it's not enough. This must be partnered with gifts you give yourself to take the space of what's been given up. Junk food is replaced by clean food. Excessive TV is replaced by reading a good book. Getting wasted to numb difficult feelings is replaced by going to professional therapy. Give yourself MORE, not less!

-Attitude of Gratitude: This is sort of an emotional fasting on, but I think it's worthwhile to single out because of its potency. I don't know about you, but daily recognition of all the ways that I'm blessed fills me with such a deep feeling of happiness and contentment. If you feel your life is lacking, perhaps your Lenten devotion could be to record at least three things a day for which you are grateful. Write them down for later review! Nothing helps me feel full more than clearly seeing how much is already there. If you're able to read this, I guarantee you have a lot for which to be, sight, electricity, a smartphone or computer, an internet connection, a bit of leisure time, etc etc etc.

-Devotion of Time, Talent and Treasure: Perhaps what you give up can be for the benefit of another. Maybe you give up time to volunteer with a non-profit whose work speaks to your heart. If you don't have time, but have excess money, maybe you donate to that non-profit which you'd like to support.

-The Creation of Beautiful Things: Do you have a neglected passion? Do you love to make music or paint or sew? Write or quilt or woodwork? Maybe you can spend the Lenten season rededicating yourself to your creative life and putting more beauty into the world. You can also tie this in to volunteerism by giving your time to teach your talent to someone else, or donating the proceeds from the sale of what you make.

Of course, I ain't yo mama, and you can do or not do whatever you want. I understand that the somberness of Lent is meant to honor Jesus' suffering and sacrifice on the cross. However, if we're getting Biblical, Galatians teaches us that it was for freedom that Christ set us free...not for self-denial, UNLESS it serves to grant us more freedom and well being. The ever loving spiritual teacher that I believe in would be honored to have this time dedicated to our upliftment and that of others. Let's make the sacrifices of Lent weighty, giving them the power to truly transform. Or not!

What comes next is up to you.

*during Lent, Sundays don't count, so technically it's 46 days. Sunday is a spiritual cheat day. Jesus coined the term "Sunday Funday." Get hammered and eat all the doughnuts you want, you heathens.

"He gave the cup to his disciples and said, 'Take this, all of you, and play beer pong with it. It's Sunday Funday. Let's get weird. Do this in memory of me.'"

Monday, February 9, 2015

Oh, No! Absolutely not...or, Radical Consent.

This guy tried to take my pants off tonight....repeatedly.

Everything was fine and consensual until he yanked at the waistband of my "everything must be soft because I'm in my 30s" stretchy pants and I yanked back up, and he yanked again and I had to say, "Hey, I need to slow it down." This was respected for awhile until it wasn't and I found myself repeating the request from before which he didn't believe or hear correctly because it happened a third time and then I left. But! Not before explaining that although I do like him, I am serious when I say I need to move slowly. I am not DTF, so knock it the fuck off.

The thing was, before he got pushy there was a point where I did waffle a bit. I went into the evening with no intention of sleeping with him, but he's cute and smart and smells good, and has a firm, present quality of touch that left me feeling safe and cherished while we cuddled and watched "Exit Through the Gift Shop." I was turned on and feeling it, reaching a point where I was grateful I'd bothered to shave my legs recently. I began to desire a more intimate exchange but I've become a bit skittish about intimacy and knew I needed to wade in thoughtfully...and fully clothed. Then my feelings changed in response to his shift in behavior.

Desire is a living, breathing creature constantly evolving to meet the changing needs of the individual. What I desire now is not what I desired even six months ago. What I desire can change instantly. I went to the taqueria for tacos the other night after thinking about them for days, and I ended up with nachos. They were delicious and satisfying and I regret nothing. If it were my job to satisfy my date's desires, I would've let him remove my many winter layers, but as it were, my only job is to satisfy myself.

Living a life of service is a beautiful thing. However, many years as a professional caretaker has taught me that if self-care is not a priority, if you do not put yourself first enough of the time, you cannot be effective. You will burn out and begin to resent those you care for (I used to get so mad at my clients when I was delivering particularly good massages). If you allow your desires to guide you from moment to moment, you will live in a continuous state of self-respect. We are taught, particularly as women, that desire is wrong and leads to our ruination, but it is when we don't allow our desires to lead the way that we get lost. We honor ourselves and keep ourselves safe by paying attention to what feels good...or not. We should absolutely never do anything that we don't truly want to do.

A few years ago I was sexually assaulted because I suppressed the expression of my desires. I didn't listen when she told me not to go out that night. I didn't listen when I decided that what mattered was appealing to some idiot guy. I didn't listen when she told me all she wanted to do was cuddle and kiss. HE didn't listen when I quietly, passively refused him. That is HIS fault. However, had I listened to my desires from the start, I never would've ended up there in the first place. Had the fulfillment of my desires been my priority, I would have honored what she asked for and let her keep me from terrible compromise. That is a end result of suppressing your desires: compromise that may be too expensive to afford.

In order to ensure that everyone is within the realm of what they desire, we have to be able to first identify what our desires are, and then be able to communicate them. There is an essential necessity, as well, to understand that desires change, sometimes rapidly. It doesn't mean that you check in with your friends or lovers every minute to make sure they're still into playing bocce ball or being slapped, but you have to be open to sudden course corrections. If your lover clearly tells you to slow things down, you better stop trying to literally get into their pants...or they'll leave and go home to write about you on the internet.

Slow down means slow down. No means no. When your desire involves another person and you are refused, you cannot continue pursuit. Stop immediately and check in. It may be fine to carry on if you respectfully receive your lover's current desire and modify your behavior accordingly. But you MUST COMMUNICATE. Asking permission puts us in a vulnerable place. Rejection almost always feels awful. However, that whole "It's easier to ask for forgiveness than for permission" thing doesn't apply within the context of human intimacy. If your marriage isn't open and you sleep with someone who's not your spouse, it's not cool. If you really want to try anal, but feel embarrassed about asking, you better NOT slip it in "accidentally." SO FUCKING NOT COOL, BRO.

This is why it's so essential to decriminalize desire. If it is okay to ask, then people will be more inclined to ask. This would be helped by learning to hear desires without feeling the pressure to go against our own by agreeing to something that we don't really want. We must stand for ourselves and respect the truth of our hearts, balancing this with the ability to hear another's truth. We can hear and not agree. We can speak our truth and be refused. This may sting but we will not die. We're just gaining practice asking for what matters most to us, and this is a good and right thing. It only makes us better communicators and helps us remember that no one is obligated to serve up our desires on a silver platter.

There is no entitlement. There are no obligations.

The only things worth having are those that are offered freely and joyfully, from a place of authentic desire.

Know and respect your desires, and those of others...and don't you ever do anything that you don't really want to do.

Life's too short for such expensive compromises. You're worthy of far more than that.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Decriminalizing Desire

What is it you desire?

Tacos smothered in guacamole? (You see where my mind automatically goes?) A really good lay? A beautiful home? A fulfilling job? A relaxing trip to someplace warm and quiet? Approval? A manipedi?

Stop right now. Go make a list of everything you can think of from the micro (a pair of soft socks) to the macro (a private jet), from the logical (more money) to the fantastical (the ability to teleport). Anything that turns you on, lights your fire and resonates deeply belongs on your list. Write it all out. I'll wait.

This exercise was offered over the past weekend at the deliciously indulgent conference of the pussy cult that is Mama Gena's Womanly Arts Experience. For two days we were encouraged to vigilantly check in with our desires moment to moment and only do what would bring us authentic pleasure. This meant not only becoming acutely aware of what it is that you desire, but also getting comfortable making those desires known by taking the vulnerable leap of making The Ask.

The problem I see with "manifestation" as it's often thought of is that it doesn't coach us to do the one thing that will make it far more likely for us to have our desires met. We must ask. It's not enough to make a list in your journal at the new moon. As my friend Gary once said, "A closed mouth doesn't get fed, honey." If you're looking for a new place to live, you cannot sit around hoping that someone somehow just magically knows and offers it to you. You can cruise Craigslist, that's more proactive, but it helps to let your community know what you need. Connecting to the right resources is so often all about who you know. So let your people know how they can help you!

The tricky thing about this, though, is that desire has been criminalized, especially within the realm of romantic and sexual relating. We have been programmed to only desire what has been deemed appropriate within the social construct, which basically states that relationships must be monogamous and marriage minded. As the right to marry is slowly extended to same sex couples, this standard continues to be reinforced. We don't even care if your partner has the same genitals as you anymore, but by god, you better be monogamous and you better get married!

The greatest source of anxiety among grown people is the primal fear of abandonment by the group. We fear that something depraved will come crawling out of us leading to our separation from the herd which is our protection, and so we suppress anything that arises which might lead to our expulsion. My personal theory on the astronomical rate of marriage failure? People getting married who don't understand that not all relationships need to lead to marriage. Some people should absolutely NOT get married, but they don't know what else to do because marriage is the only socially acceptable end game for love. Sometimes it's just nice to have fun with someone for awhile and not have to ever interact with the daily reality of dirty laundry and runny noses. And sometimes the daily reality of partnership is beautiful, supportive and life giving. I'm not knocking all marriage, but it shouldn't be the only option.

Men, who are arguably far more masterful at and empowered in being big ol' sluts, have a pretty good handle on relating sexually and/or romantically outside of commitment. Generally speaking, men are empowered not only in being slutty but also in feeling desire. A man wants to talk to a woman on the street and so he does. Desire, impulse, fulfillment...with little to no thought about it. On the other hand, women aren't supposed to desire anything at all beyond pleasing a man. I distinctly remember the quizzes and articles in Seventeen and YM magazines when I was developing my relational awareness to men, and they all centered on "How to Tell If He Likes You" or "How to Get Him to Like You." I don't recall ever being asked, "What Do You Want?" or "What Do You Like?" Nothing in the broader culture begs this question to women.

This isn't about gender politics, though. There are many ways in which men are subject to oppressive cultural standards and stereotypes. "The norm" (whatever the hell that even means) isn't normal and it isn't genuinely serving anyone. We all need to be liberated from the standard structure and freed to discern for ourselves what it is that we really, truly desire. So I ask you again...

What is it you desire?

Do you want to have a baby? Or never have a baby? Do you want to work in an office? Or from home? Or from a cabana on the beach? Do you want to be married? Or would you prefer to remain single and take lovers? Or be celibate? Do you want your tacos smothered in guacamole? (Oh yes please!!)

And whatever it is that you desire, are you willing and able to ask for it?

We must create a culture which permits individuals to honor their unique desires by making it okay to ask. Whatever it is that you need, whatever will best support you or give you the most pleasure, you must ask. Equally important, we must get comfortable receiving the requests of others and saying no, and also accepting when our requests are not met. Asking does not guarantee a "yes!" but we have to ask anyway.

You have desires.
They are valid.
It's necessary to clarify what they are,
And ask for their fulfillment.
If they are met, great!
If not, and it is a very important desire, keep asking around.
Denying, ignoring and suppressing our desires doesn't work.
If you have a particularly socially aberrant desire, maybe talk to a professional about it.
If you just want tacos smothered in guacamole, get it.
Got it?