Archive | March, 2015

The Integrity of Commodities in Spiritual Businesses

[I had a debate/debacle about this post on Facebook the week of April 20, 2015. Because of that debate, I have made one edit to this post (noted in bold) and added some final thoughts at the end of the post. These edits are being made on April 24, 2015.]

[Your products need to both be and do good.]

There is an internet-famous person that I’ve been following for a while. She was not the first, but she is one of the biggest businesses to help women delve into their desires– and then make them come true. Her teachings on desire interest me, for sure.

She has a beautiful online presence and seems authentic about her work. In fact, I don’t think she could have gotten this far without being honest and authentic.

But, in the last 6 months or so, she has released some products that make me question just what she is selling.

You see, she (whether she likes it or  not, whether she claims it or not) is part of the spiritual and self development movement. The spiritual and self development movement is primarily about helping people heal from past trauma and/or become more authentic, more of who they really are. (I am part of this movement, as well.) But these products appear to be making a commodity out of authenticity.

Of course, this bothers me, because: authenticity is not something you can buy.
Neither is healing or spiritual development.

 

women-helping-each-other

Shadows in DesireMapLand

So, the two big products this woman sells are something called The Desire Map and also the Firestarter Sessions. These have to do with embracing your desires (in life and business) and using your desired feelings to make life better.

I also like her TruthBombs (raw, honest, short phrases with deep impact).

I think these products are great, actually. They help people discover more of themselves and take control of their lives.

But I’m starting to draw a line at some of her new things.

 

A few months back, this woman shared a post on FB about some prayer beads (called malas) that she was selling.

The language of the offer was interesting. She wrote that only 160,000 of the malas were available.

‘Only’ is an interesting word. It implies limitation, scarcity.
This is all we have; there will be no more.

Why is this a problem? Because (as my coach helped me understand) scarcity among women is patriarchy.

And patriarchy is not really interested in authenticity or personal development or women getting free (from their own or others) oppression.

Patriarchy is interested in selling scarcity so it can oppress.

And I do not think you can have it both ways – imply scarcity and help free women from what oppresses them.

 

Let us turn now to the fake Tattoo collection this woman is currently offering.

I get tattoos are a form of self-expression. And the fact that they are removable means you get to play with who and what you want to be or express today. There’s freedom in that.

But I think this product also sits on the razor’s edge of making authenticity and freedom and self-expression a commodity.

The message is, “If I buy this, and put it on, I will be more myself.”

Again, I am willing to admit that this may be the case.
This product may help with self development.

But it walks rather close to the line.
(Too close to “If I buy this, and put it on, I will be like her. I will have what she has.“)

 

The last item I’ll mention, the one that bugs me the most, is a line of aromatherapy products that will launch this Fall.

As far as I can see, aromatherapy has nothing to do with self and spiritual development.

It is nice? Well, sure.
Does it help me be more authentic?
Does it make me a better person?
Does it help me know myself better?
Does it put me in touch with something important about my life?

I would say, ‘no.’

[Edited To Add: after talking to my dear friend, Maia Toll, I must change my stance on this. Of course plants – and their oils – can be used for spiritual and personal development. Anything can. All That Is is in all that is. What I have trouble with, still, is how this will be handled. Will it be clearly stated: ‘these are the ways in which this may help enhance your spiritual development’? Maia does that in her herbalism work. I trust her to do it because she is trained, practiced, and wise in the use of herbs. Herbs are her focus. I am still not sure I trust the leader I mention here to do that. Of course, the outcome remains to be seen, as of this writing.]

Here is what a product like this (or the tattoos, or the malas) does: it makes you believe you can be like the person selling them if you own them.

And that is not supporting self development.
That is supporting ego.

If people are creating products that support ego, or oppress through scarcity, or disguise imitation as authenticity, we are not following the most fundamental spiritual teachings.

 

Why Does This Even Matter?

Who gives a shit, Joanna?
(Because, yes, I know I am probably the only one who cares about this.)
Sales is sales, mamajama. Too bad if it gets sold to people who don’t know better.
It’s dollas. Don’t matter where they come from.

Except that it does.

There are three things that any product from a spiritual business/person should do:

1. Point the buyer back to themselves. The greatest lessons of personal development are the ones that come from being curious about ourselves. What do I desire? Why do I hate my mother? Why can’t I accept compliments? Spiritual products help people by learning about their light and their shadow and giving adequate support (and resources) to do so.

2. Point them to a higher Truth. The truth that love is probably the most important thing. Compassion for others. Letting go of pain. Desire is okay. Meditation will change your life for the better. This is what people need guidance and support on. Sell anything that points people towards these truths and I got no issues.

3. Point them to your particular message or teaching. Beyond higher Truths, there are particular messages teachers sell that really do help people. In the case of this woman: using desire to live a great life. Awesome. I am down with that. Also, your intuition is a gift. Or, business can be heart-centered. Or, a million other things. But make your products match your message.

The biggest problem with the products I have mentioned is that, instead of doing one of these three things, they point back to the person. Not the lessons or the message, the person. And that is where we move from spirit to ego.

 

Compassion for the Big Business

Now, I can definitely have compassion for some of this.

Certainly her life and business are quite large; there’s a lot to handle, things slip through.
Maybe (probably) she doesn’t read all the sales copy that goes out the door.
Could be she just thought this stuff would be f-u-n (!!).
Maybe she forgot.
Perhaps she has lost her center a bit – too much to do, not enough meditation.

And, of course, mistakes happen. Nobody is perfect.

But here is the thing: that’s not good enough in the self and spiritual development realm.

We are not selling widgets that can simply be swapped out if someone gets hurt.

We are asking people to delve into the deepest (often difficult) parts of themselves.
We are asking people to use our wise guidance for their own lives.
And they are trusting us that we will not hurt or oppress them further.

That is not to be taken lightly.

Nor is it to be made into a less-than authentic commodity.

 

Does It Matter? I Think It Does.

As I write this, a friend is asking about this topic on FB. A reader commented that ‘every one is at their own level- they may need different things.’

And I agree, even knowing my agreement sort of makes this whole argument moot.

But I want to have this discussion. Because spiritual businesses have a deep impact on those they touch. And we need to be honored and humbled by the responsibility of that. Meaning that we need to give our best, point people towards truths, and help our clients and purchasers become more authentic (not attempt to buy it).

What do you think? Does this even matter?
Please, share your thoughts in the comments below.

 

Final Thoughts

I got called out about this post by someone on Facebook. It wasn’t particularly pleasant. The person who called me out was very much a fan of the woman I mention in this post. The post author thought this woman should not be questioned. And I learned a lot from that. Here is what I learned.

1. I own the clumsiness of this post. I intended this post to be a discussion-starter. I intended it to be an question that used examples. Is this okay in spiritual sales? Where is the line? When do we draw it? What causes harm and do we call attention to that (or just let people get harmed and learn the hard way)? I did not intend it to be an example of my own inviolate opinion. I am open to discussion and to changing my opinion (see edit, above). I could have done a better job of making this a question and opening the discussion. 

2. It is totally okay to question leaders, even spiritual ones. [Fuck. Yes.] Here’s why. If the leader is not doing anything wrong, this questioning will answer itself. If the leader is doing something wrong, they need to be questioned. This is true from preschool teachers on up to the president and leaders of the UN (myself included). Leaders have a responsibility and it is okay to question what leaders are doing and how they are doing it. If you don’t like having your leaders questioned, you need to think about why that bothers you. 

One of the women I talked with this week said that the TruthBombs discussed in this post are actually a subtle form of domination. They are meant to make the reader say, “oooohhh” (as if at a fireworks show) and then be silent. That is disempowering. I don’t know if that is the creators intention, but it is a perspective worth considering. I have another friend who worries about the masses who follow the Dalai Lama; many of them give over their power to him, and that’s not okay, either. (Do I think the Dalai Lama is a bad guy or would do bad things? No. But we must be aware of those who hand over their thinking to others so easily.)

As spiritual development and ideas reach a critical mass in our society, I believe we must question the validity and authenticity of leaders. 

3. I believe (<– I am owning that; you don’t have to agree) that spiritual leaders have a greater burden of duty than other leaders. If you purport (and sell) to work with someone’s mind, heart, spirit/soul, and/or emotions, you have a greater responsibility than other practitioners. You are holding someone’s deepest sense of themselves and if you fuck that up, you can hurt them more than a broken bone. This is serious business. 

4. I believe in spiritual obligation. The woman who called me out on Facebook said that the salesperson I mention in this post didn’t have to do anything but sell. The Facebooker was upset with my idea that the woman I mention had a spiritual obligation to consider the authenticity of her products before she put them out. The Facebook poster did not believe in such obligation. I do.

I believe that if I invite you on a spiritual journey, to which I purportedly know the route, then I am obligated to support you through it – not just drop you off at the company store and hope you pick out the right tools. Spiritual development is unlike any other trip, and it must be treated as such.  

5. You get to have your truth, even if it is different from mine. I am glad the woman on Facebook felt so passionately about her leader. That is wonderful. It was painful to see her vehemently negate my opinion/clumsy questions. I want to have a safe place to ask questions out of my own ignorance, bias, and perspectives- even if those questions are painful to others. How will we grow if we can only ask ‘safe’ questions? How can we question if we know we will be shut down? No…here (in my space) we can ask questions. Even crazy ones. Even silly ones. Even ignorant or biased ones. Because that is how transformation begins.

What an interesting journey this week has been. I am glad I learned these things about myself. I am grateful to the woman who helped me develop this understanding. And I am glad to share these things with you. Please, hold them as questions if it helps. Ponder them in your own heart.

 

 

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An Idea Whose Time Has Come: Feminist Porn

See what I did there? <wink>

Pro Tip: if you don’t like porn, don’t read this. If you think porn is evil, don’t read this. If porn upsets you, don’t read this. I happen to like some kinds of porn and have found it helpful at several points in my life.

Could porn be better? Hell, yes.
And that is what this post is about.

woman-neck-shoulders-sensual

 

The first time I ever watched porn was in college. With three guy friends (one was a boyfriend), I sat in a dark dorm room and watched some poorly scripted, vintage 80s, sex vignettes.

I remember being curious on both a sociological and sexual level. What would this be like? Would it be gross? Would there be giant penises? What does sex look like? What would their bodies do?

My curiosity overcame my fear.

Turns out, it was fine.
Normal-ish sized penises.
All kinds of sex.
From every angle.
Laughable ‘plot development.’

But something happened I wouldn’t be able to put a finger on until years later: I was sexually excited by the porn, but it also made me sad and confused.

 

Fast forward 17 years and I’m going through the Sex Surge. My inhibitions are lowered, my fantasy life has revved up, and I’d like to see some of those fantasies played out on the big screen. I turn to porn (and erotica, but sometimes I just want to see human skin, instead of imagining it, you know? Human skin is a great delight to me, turns out).

What I see is not 80s vintage stuff.
Some of it is really horrible and degrading.
Some of it is not exactly horrible, or exactly degrading- but it’s not enjoyable, either.
Nearly all of it is inconsiderate to women.

As Amy Schumer says, they all end up the same way, with the guy coming on the girl’s face. And all you can think is “poor her.” (For 99% of women, that is just a total turn-off. More cleaning. Goopy, smelly cleaning. The idea is a total shut-down on arousal.)

I still feel sad and confused about the porn.
Yeah, it’s my feminist values…. (porn isn’t feminist or female-positive*).
But it’s also that the women don’t get to come in most of the porn I see.
They get super close, several times, but mostly they are left with blue box (the girl version of blue balls).

It’s easy for me to see that porn has become even more male-centered.
Or, more precisely, entirely male-centered.

I stumbled upon Erica Lust’s TED talk a few weeks later (the link is NSFW). In it she talks about having a similar experience with porn in college. And she says, “my sexual self was very excited and turned on, but my feminine self was deflated.”

Exactly.

The feminine was missing from the porn.
More specifically, female pleasure.

So, Erica Lust did something about it.

She made feminist porn.

What’s feminist porn?

It’s very simple: everybody gets off.
Everybody gives and receives pleasure.

Everybody.

So, I watched some of it.
(I truly love that I get to write this off as a business expense.)

And it is very beautiful.
And damn hot.

And I finally feel like this porn is something that has to do with me.
Because women climax.
Because we see partners interested in pleasuring her.
And that her pleasure turns them on.
Because I can imagine being part of the interactions- all the way through.

This feminist porn is gorgeous and I finally feel like I can fully enjoy it.
Feminist porn is awesome.

 

Now, having said all this I want to point out some things:

*Porn is not woman-positive for the most part. (This may be a giant, “duh!” for some of you, but for others, it’s new.)

Porn has also seen the advent of more surgery to ‘fix’ and ‘improve’ lady parts than any other genre. Fixing boobs, bellies, legs, labia, and vaginas to name a few. Also, hair removal (which I am not a fan of). This is wrong and unfair; I don’t see dudes going out to improve their pecs so they can be ‘porn quality,’ you know? ‘Regular’ porn feeds negative messages about women and also feeds insecurities they may have.

Darker species of porn also hurt many different groups of people.
And that’s not okay.
I don’t care if you get off on it.
Pain without consent is not okay.

We could demand that porn go be made illegal for these reasons.

But, you know what? Porn will never go away.
People will always want to see other people naked.
Naked and having sex is a bonus.

(By the way, wanting to see other naked people is a totally normal, human desire. There is nothing wrong with this.)

It’s never going away.
And forcing porn underground just means we have less say about what it looks like and who it involves.

The only thing we can do is demand better porn.
Porn that is woman-positive.
Porn that is pleasure positive.
Porn that is body positive (some of Erica Lust’s stuff is not- and it needs to be).
Porn that is beautiful and aware.
Porn that is consent-positive.

I’m sure that some of this stuff is already out there.
But we need more of it.
And we need it to be the norm.

Just like anything, porn can be used for good (or evil).
It can be used to excite, to communicate, to explore, and express.
It can be used to climax, for goodness sake – and that is some serious good.

I believe that only in encouraging feminist porn will we see a reduction in the harm it can create.

Now- pardon me, I have some research to do.

 

Resources for suburban mothers and wives who might like porn
(or be curious):

Liberator  Videos
These videos are made in tandem with a sex toy shop (I cannot recommend their Wedge highly enough. GET ONE.) that also has instructional videos related to the Kama Sutra. So, if you’ve ever wondered how to actually do the ‘Congress of the Cow’- they will tell you. It’s also tame as porn goes- a naked couple simulating positioning (no visible penetration), and obviously enjoying it, but no actual sex.

Erica Lust Films
Great stuff, as discussed in this post. The videos are lovely, but so are the trailers. I like the library tryst in XConfessions 2 (not so much with the foot fetish- that’s not my thing!). All my nerd-girl fantasies were fulfilled!

Hysterical Literature
Want to see what it looks like when normal looking (non-porn) women climax? In these short films, women are filmed in black and white, fully clothed, reading a piece of literature as they are pleasured to climax. It is funny, but it is also really beautiful.

 

 

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Music Magic :: Naughty Winter Playlist

My friend, Sarah, thinks I have magic tastes when it comes to music.

Truth be told, I do not.

There are other, much bolder, much wider-listening folks than me.

I think she just happens to like what I like.

She has asked me for my playlists.
So I’m sharing one today.

It is my ‘Naughty Winter’ playlist.

The songs are not in any great order.
Usually I am a much better DJ than this; my playlists tend to run smoothly.
But this one…I just let Apple Genius figure it out.

If anything, it is both the prayer and the embodiment of dark, sensual, indoor desire of all kinds.
(Links to the playlist, so you can purchase, are in 8Tracks. Go here.)

Shut Up and Dance | Walk the Moon
It’s my song to guide my year.

Pocketful of Sunshine | Natasha Bedingfield
A little song about self-pleasuring. Mmmmmm….

Ghost | Ella Henderson
A song about how women pray to let go. We ask the river to carry us, to carry it, away. As many times as we need to.

Under Pressure | Queen & David Bowie
“Love dares you to care for the people on the edge of the night.”

Partition | Beyonce
Be sexy. This is how.

Where the Boys At? | Chelsea Jane
Two reasons: “I’m five-four and I stand tall!” and “Pretty good for a girl? ha ha! I’m pretty good world class!”

Desire | Meg Myers
The best valentine ever.

Beggin’ for Thread | Banks
The sexiest voice on the most interesting metaphor for lost love.

Get Ur Freak On | Missy Elliot
Because: This Girl Can.

Again, you can listen to the playlist over on 8tracks.com.

 

The ‘Spring Expansion’ Mix will be coming up soon.
I am in the refinement process.
It is shaping up to be quite different.

 

 

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What if…

looking though a stone window into a sun-filled courtyard, as if in a dream

 

I don’t even really know where to start this story. I just know it is important.

Yesterday while I was working with my coach, she noticed, “You do things very incrementally.”

“Yes,” I replied. “I do.”

As we talked, I realized that I do things incrementally because I don’t want to ruin my health. My belief and experience have been that if I push too much, I will become sick.

This ties back to an incident in 2010, when after almost two years of grad school, I got so sick with a lung infection they weren’t sure I was going to make it.

[I will never forget the look on every doctor’s face (6 of them) at a table when I said, “Am I going to die?” and they all looked down, shook their heads and said, “No! No, of course not.” Their words did not match their body language. It frightened me, deeply.]

And now I have this belief that I can’t risk my energy, my health, to get to the big things I want.

So, yesterday, my coach kindly pushed me, “What if you blew the doors off, Joanna? What if you let go of everything – all the restrictions, all the limitations, all the fears?”

“And what if…what if that meant that you didn’t have to waste energy holding back anymore?”

“And what if you didn’t have to put out energy, or get depleted? What if by living wide you got all the energy you needed?

Well. Damn.

I made a scrunchy face and she laughed.
I had never thought of it that way.

I sat with that for about 6 hours.

And then I started to imagine, what if…

What if I was real enough to admit that I am a health intuitive. Not just a health educator.

What if I was real enough to say that I can hear your soul and feel your body when we work together. And that is magic. ??

What if I know that, when it’s a right fit in working together, you will find healing and retrieve pieces of your soul?

What if I was real enough to admit that this skill has taken me a lifetime to develop. And it’s worth charging for?

What if I was authentic enough to say that blasphemy is as important as reverence in getting to know God?

What if I said I wanted to find the best book deal for the Sex Surge because I know it will answer a lot of questions, and change a lot of lives, and I want the biggest amount of service to women I can get?

What if I was as fierce at encouraging myself as I am at encouraging my clients?

What if I said I wished that I could write like other people (especially those women at Rebelle Society)? But that I’m starting to understand how I write is just fine. People read this, after all. ??

What if…

These questions are my truths.
They are not ‘what ifs.’

These questions are the best of me, standing at the door, ready to burst through into my life and make it as beautiful as my dreams.

And as I wrote them yesterday, and write them again today, I feel something different.

All that I have worked on up until now has solidified in some way.
All that I have worked on- all that I have become- is the truth and experience upon which I stand.

These questions have brought me deeper into my own fierceness.
They have brought me close to my own fire, and given it air to breathe and grow.

And asking these ‘what ifs’ is a way of blowing the doors off.
They are a way of asking what more I am ready step into.
Of being more me than I already am.
Of beginning to dream even bigger, even wider.

 

There are other ‘what ifs’ within me right now.

But I really wonder, what are the ‘what ifs’ within you?

What if your art business really took off?
What if your heart was stitched back together?
What if you quit that (shit) job?
What if you told your mother not to come for your birthday?
What if you said what you think about that project?
What if your marriage got juicy?
What if you started running again?

What if…
What if…
What if…

‘What if’ is the way of dreams.
And dreams are the way of soul.

 

 

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The Refinement of Desire

At first, you will think it is only because of him, this fire.

His beauty.
His exoticness.
His differences from all that seems mundane to you.

But that will only last for a split second.
Because you know, after all the years of work:

What we want in another has nothing to do with them.

What I want in another is only about what I feel I am missing in myself.

And so, you will begin to refine your desire.

It is not the wide, gorgeous sexual, physical fantasies you have.
No, desire is made of other things.
Other things you want. Other things you need.

It is being seen.
You wanted to be seen.
You wanted him to see you.

And so you begin to let yourself be seen.

By the grocery clerk; a little ‘hello’ with your eyes.
By the librarian; an honest smile.
By your dearest friends; your full laughter.
By your partner; this body, this way.

And finally, finally, you feel seen.
You feel welcome in your own eyes.
That space is full.

But then, desire.

You refine again.
This time for freedom.

Freedom to do what you want, when you want.
Freedom to call the shots in bed. Or the freedom not to.
Freedom to dance.
Freedom to choose.

And the place that needed freedom is free.
Full with freedom.

You will refine desire again and again.
For joy.
For touch. (Yes, especially for touch.)
For sexiness.
For connection.
For beauty.

And life gets better. Full. Different.

But then, desire.

And this time you know better.
You will not take the composite pieces; you want it all.

You will seek Life as your Lover.
This is a fulfillment that no human could ever compete with.
It’s so much better than him.

And you begin this dance with Life.
It does love you.
It presses you up against a wall and makes you tremble with pleasure.
It caresses you gently and whispers beautiful dreams and experiences in your ear.
It angers you. Passion.
You learn how to open to Life. To be touched by Life.
And Life touches you every where. Everywhere.

 

woman on a bed contemplating desire

 

You take up the Sacred Call of sensuality.
An ancient sisterhood only few have been called to in this era.
And it is the most alive you have ever felt.
Sexy. Sensual. Gorgeous. Real.

You know your desire is this.

Until, after visiting the watches, he wanders into your shop.
(Why did he visit? You’ll never know; never be able to ask. Boredom? Curiosity?
That lonely place deep inside?)

And there it is. Again.
Desire.

He sees it, written all over the wall.
All over you.
And he is disgusted. Angered.

And so are you.

Bewildered.
Because the truth is painfully clear: refinement does not work.
Refinement will not kill desire.
Refinement will not kill desire.

That’s what you had been hoping for all this time.

Now you know: desire cannot be killed.

It is the first emotion we feel.
Desire is that deep in our blood and bones.
The first cry is for skin.
A hearbeat.
Connection.

And desire is the last thing we feel.
Just one more breath.
Just one more life.

Desire cannot be killed.

It can only be satisfied.
It can only be left to live.

You are frightened.
And angered.
And so upset that the Sacred Call is this.
You are humbled.
So humbled you do what you should have done long ago.
You know this is the only way out, much as you did not want it.

You give in to desire.

You lay yourself on its altar.
Naked.
Trembling with hope.
Trembling with desire.
Unsure of the future.
And strikingly sure of what you want. Now.

Your mind opens all the gifts you so desperately wanted.
And they are beautiful.
And time shifts around you, filling in something from long, long ago.
You know the puzzle piece is finally fitting into place.
The perfect desire, just as it was, unrefined.

And finally, desire is satisfied.
She curls at your feet.
Fulfilled.

She has not asked for anything since.

 

 

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