Archive | psychology

Patience and Pleasure

I have finally started to make some headway on a practice (tool?) that I’ve been wanting to get better at for years. It’s about finding pleasure as we have patience in Life, in requests, in wishes, and desires.

When I was first in the Sex Surge, I was directed to a teacher who talked about enjoying desire in, and of, itself. Primarily this was about not getting attached to a particular outcome. But to enjoy the desire, the wish, the request, the fantasy in, and of, itself. I will tell you: I sucked at this. I attached to outcomes like a mofo. Like most humans, I have a wish and I want that wish to come true. In the way I imagine it. Exactly the way I imagine it.

Of course, that rarely happens.

With time, I’ve learned to let go of some desires in a backwards way of letting go of attachments. But that’s not the same as letting go of the desired outcome completely and just enjoying the desire itself. But this week, I’ve started to get the hang of it. A bit.

I made a request of someone this week. And while I’m pretty sure of the outcome,* I am really enjoying just living inside the desire that was the ground from which I made the request.

::: ::: ::: :::

Before I made the request/wish/desire, I did some things that I know help. I opened up as much of myself and my energy as I could. I wanted flow, movement, options.

I opened as many portals between us as I could. I made offerings to my goddesses and meditated more deeply than usual.

I held open my heart and spirit as much as I could. This was hard to do, for a variety of reasons (and past lessons), but I let desire and courage lead me.

I also thought about what I most wanted from this request. (There are several things I really want, but I needed to decide what I most wanted and try for that.)

I sent good energy to the space between this person and I. (Not the person, but the interaction between us.)

I prayed for what I wanted.

And then I did something that I know helps greatly: I set my intention and purposefully rooted it in the understanding that nothing may come of it. That both outcomes (I get my wish/I don’t get my wish) are equally okay with me.

::: ::: ::: :::

I learned this practice of equanimity many years ago when I was a Christian. For whatever reason, I stumbled upon it and found it really worked. When I got what I wanted, I felt happy. When I didn’t, I wasn’t knocked for a complete loop; it was going to be okay. And it has been grounding in the truth that ‘this might not happen’ that has allowed me to find real pleasure in the desire of the request I made. Because I can imagine the request, imagine the desire that it came from, and just enjoy that – the feelings, the pictures in my head, the joy of taking a risk- without being attached to any particular outcome.

It feels weird, perhaps because we live in such a consumerist (gotta have it! now!) society, but it also feels good. And I’m finally finding pleasure in the waiting, in the wanting.

::: ::: ::: :::

You’re probably wondering what the request was, right? I can’t say, exactly. But it was the simplest desire I had (the other two were rather complicated) and the one I thought would be easiest to say ‘yes’ to. I wanted a simple conversation to see what doors might open. Because as long as we could have a conversation, everything was on the table: every option, every wish, every desire. Complete creation, complete destruction- depends on the desires feeding it all.

The outcome could have been cosmic in its awesomeness. I think it would have lead to fun, it would definitely be sensual (probably creative and sexy af), grounding in the best way (both the ‘grounding’ of making something imaginary real, but also the ‘grounding’ of letting the energy run through your body back into the Earth), and possibly healing. But it had to start with this request for a chat. [I didn’t make these things explicitly clear in my request, so that’s on me.  But seriously, did it need to be more explicit? How hard is it to have a conversation?]

And as I sit here, waiting for the answer (that has already come), I am enjoying feeling the desire of the request, of the possible outcomes, of the wishes and desires.

::: ::: ::: :::

One of the things I had to learn this past year, more so than other years, is that I can’t always have what I want. It’s such an obvious insight, but it’s also still hard for me to accept. I don’t ask for much in this life, so not getting things that seem like simple requests to me is tough. And I’ve had to learn that sometimes I can’t have what I want, even though I want it very much. The flip side of that is: I can’t have something, but that doesn’t stop me from wanting it. (“Can’t have” is different than “don’t want.”)

If you ever hear me saying, “I can’t” it’s only because Life (or someone) has told me ‘no’ and I’m listening. So, I can’t be attached/attracted/desirous of things, but that doesn’t mean I’m not still attached/attracted/desirous. It just means those things don’t get to be alive in the real world; they remain inside me.

I learned to play a strange game this year because of this. I call it “…Among Other Things.” When Life, the Universe, someone, or some situation tells me ‘no’ I do my grieving, but I also try to see why that ‘no’ might be useful or true for me. Instead of saying, “But whyyyyy???” I try to take the perspective of the Universe, the other person, or the situation, and see why the answer to my request was, ‘no.’ I list as many reasons as I can think of, and then I add “…among other things,” to the list, because Life has so many more ideas than I do.

In a weird way this game has helped me accept what I can’t have (or what others don’t wish to give) and also changed my perspective. Sometimes I’ve been able to integrate these things into my story enough that I can believe them (sometimes). But it’s partly because of this practice that I can take pleasure in a desire, wish, or request- because if it doesn’t happen, I have a way to see that the other side is just as valid.

 

If wishes were candles…I’d have burned the house down by now.

Photo by Joanna Kosinska on Unsplash

 

I’ve spent the last few days enjoying the desire of my request, but also enjoying some wishes (fantasies?) about possible outcomes. I have found that I have to take a minute and calm myself down afterwards, and clearly remember, “This may not happen.” But it’s that simple action that has helped me enjoy this – to find pleasure alongside my patience.

But, I’ve also watched myself get a little attached at some points. I have stood in front of my altar, one hip popped out, my hand on the other, tapping my foot and looking at my goddesses: “Listen, you! I did not ask for much. I asked for the simplest thing I wanted! I don’t ever ask for more money or power or anything greedy. I simply asked for a chat. Couldn’t you just make that happen?”

The thing I know about magic and prayers is that they always work – they always tell me something about myself, my world, my inner work- but they may not tell me what I want to hear. It is quite possible (probable, even) that by opening up so much, Life will loudly slam things closed. I also know that we all have free will, and so the person I made the request of is quite free to say, ‘no.’ I’m much better at being okay with that now that I know how to play my game and also to gain resilience from pleasure.

::: ::: ::: :::

One other thing I’m enjoying is the feeling of taking a risk- of wanting, of asking. It has taken me a bit of time to understand, but I know that wishes without guts, wishes without actions, are nothing. They are air. Wishes can be quite alive, but they don’t actually become ‘real’ until we take action. I’m learning how and when to do that. I’m also learning that desire is a seed and risk is a kind of nurturing. Risk is a vulnerable tendril, reaching out and hoping. And there is a lot of beauty and joy in that.

[And if it makes you super sad to think about not having something or not taking the risk, it’s probably worth it to take the risk. Especially if it might bring you something you deeply want and the risk is low.]

::: ::: ::: :::

As a way of working with all this, I have also worked to take in as much pleasure as I possibly can. I think that extra pleasure helps feed our souls and increases our resiliency. Am I sad at the outcome of this? Of course. But I have a reservoir of pleasure to keep me buoyed up as I work through what is happening and what comes next.

Things I Have Been Enjoying For My Own Pleasure:

  • daydreaming (about many things, but mainly this request)
  • finished reading Good Omens (omg, fucking edit that book, ugh)
  • started The Little Paris Bookshop (which is wonderful on so many levels and beautifully translated)
  • decorated for Yule/Solstice
  • drank a lot of tea (a lot)
  • wrapped up in a blanket, warm from the dryer
  • watched holiday movies (Elf, The Family Stone, The Sound of Music)
  • long, hot showers
  • almond lotion afterwards
  • got my hair done (the salon: where I have no responsibilities)
  • laughed
  • hugged people I love
  • slurped my favorite soup
  • applied for our next rescue dog (send good juju!)
  • wore my cutest undies
  • cuddled into my warmest socks
  • curled up in my favorite chair with Christmas music playing and just smiled

I have also taken the time to notice what truly pleases me and then indulged myself as often as I can. It feels really good. And it helps me use pleasure skillfully.

::: ::: ::: :::

I’m not sure I’ve made a lot of sense in this post; I will probably edit it as time goes on. I hope you get the gist of it, though. That we can enjoy our desires, just as they are, with no need to make them ‘come true.’ (I mean, it’s awesome if they do, but it’s also okay if they don’t). And that if we can figure out how to enjoy our desires as they are (with little/no attachment) they are a lot more fun and life-giving than if we expect anything from them.

It remains to be seen what will happen in my situation (actually, it doesn’t), but I’m good, either way. I’m super glad I took the chance to do this- and learn and practice something I’ve really been trying to get better at.

And if this weird post has helped you at all, I’m glad.
Big love,
Joanna :: xoxo

 

*It’s not going to happen. That’s pretty clear at this point. Not because of anything other than inaction. If they wanted this, they would have acted. And they haven’t. Which, as part of this post, is totally okay. It’s part of not being attached to the outcome. I will probably have a tequila (which I haven’t had to do in years) and let it go. But the bigger point is that I’ve done so much better with just enjoying the desire than I ever have before. And that’s a huge win, even if I don’t get what I want.

 

 

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Going the Distance

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what it is that has made my marriage successful for the long run. In this modern age, in Western society, we ask a lot of our spouses (or partners, whatever level of commitment we’re at). We ask them to be best friend, lover, confidante, cheerleader, safety net, and also to split the chores. It’s a lot. And while my partner* and I aren’t all those things for each other, we play each of those roles at certain points in our relationship. Yes, he’s my best friend, but I also don’t have deep discussions about having a menstrual cycle and all the lessons that has taught me with him (that’s for my gal pals). He is sometimes my confidante, but not always; some things I hold inside myself for a while to process first. But we do well together, and I think there are some reasons why.

::: ::: ::: :::

We really want to stay together. There are a lot of skills that are necessary for a successful long-term partnership, but a lot of those can be learned if you don’t have them. What you have to have is the desire to stay together and the willingness to (be humble and) learn and do new things when needed. We have talked about getting divorced three times (over communication, values, and affairs), but when we came to the question, “Do I want you out of my life?” the answer was always “no” (and pretty clearly so). So we did whatever work was necessary to stay together.

I think the big thing to keep in mind here is that sometimes we feel like, “Jesus, this is hard work,” or “Fuck, I am so sick of you,” but that doesn’t mean we want to leave. And when someone does want to leave, I think we definitely owe it to the relationship to tell the absolute fucking truth about why it’s not working or what we want that we’re not getting to see if the other partner is willing to learn or change.

 

We do the work. I heard “When Doves Cry” by Prince today and the part where he sings:

Maybe I’m just too demanding/
Maybe I’m just like my father, too bold/
Maybe I’m just like my mother, she’s never satisfied/
Why do we scream at each other?

is so relatable for some of the work you have to do in long-term relationships. There were years when my husband would say something in a particular tone of voice and I would have this instant, visceral reaction and lash out at him. Turns out, his tone of voice was a direct emotional hit on something my mother used to do to me. I had to go to therapy to untangle that so our relationship could be easier. I had healing work to do from old wounds. The same is true for him. Long-term relationship is a path of development and healing. (If it isn’t, then LTR is a path of routine and numbness simply for the sake of safety. Some people dig that kind of routine, but I think it’s boring af. Who wants to be the same, do the same damn things for 40 years straight?) Sometimes that work is from places outside our relationship, and sometimes it is our individual stuff we have to work on. But, again, doing the work keeps what we have working as well as possible.

 

We support each other’s dreams and goals. My husband is a cyclist. Three years ago, he rode 10,000 miles on his bike in one year. The next year it was 11,000. And this past year (2017), he rode 12,000 miles on his bike. How did he do that? With our support. He wanted to reach those goals, so we helped him. (He also managed to destroy a pair of handlebars with his acidic sweat.) My husband has been 110% supportive of my work as a health educator for mid-life women. He sees opportunities to share my work in places I don’t even see them; and he’s proud to talk about my work. He supports my goals and dreams.

 

a set of bicycle handlebars that have been eaten through by acidic sweat

Will he do 13k miles this year? No. He’s learning to race.

 

We communicate until we understand each other. After twenty-two years together we have really grown in our ability to communicate well and also to understand each other. But we still have fights. The other day we were talking about something and I said, “We have always been different than other couples, and I need us to keep being different.”  And a few minutes later, he was telling me what heard me say, and it was, “We aren’t being different.” To which I was kind of stunned, because I was thinking, “that’s pretty much the opposite of what I said!!!!!” But we went back and talked until I knew that he understood what I was saying in the same way that I did. (To be fair, earlier in the same convo, I said to him, “Okay, what I think you are saying, is….” and he replied, “Yes, after two years, you get it.” We are both guilty of misunderstanding, but we both want desperately to be understood. And don’t we all want that in love?)

We also meta communicate, which means we talk about how we talk to each other. It’s not just “Let’s talk about why you hate doing the laundry so much,” it’s also “Let’s talk about why I don’t want you to call me a bitch when we talk about why you hate doing the laundry.” (He doesn’t do that. He would never.) Sometimes it’s what you say and sometimes it’s how you say it, and both are fair game for fixing issues.

 

We share about our growth as individuals. I think a lot of couples get worried when one partner grows and the other doesn’t. And this is a reasonable fear. So, one person shuts down because they are afraid the other partner is growing away from them and the other pretends not to notice until it’s too late and they either don’t like each other any more or they become ‘roommates’ or ‘players on a team’ together. My husband has had tremendous professional growth over the last 17 years and I have had tremendous personal growth in that same time. We’ve also had two kids and weathered some scary shit. It makes us see the world differently, but as long as we keep talking about how we’re changing, we have a much better chance of staying together.

 

We have fun and make great memories. We both love to go to concerts. We go together and we go alone. We love to travel and get the fuck out of small-minded Rhode Island. We travel to Quebec, England, and this year, France. We love to go out for quick dates (our kids are older). We love super quick make-out sessions in the laundry room and on walks around the neighborhood. One of my beloved’s favorite pictures of me is when we went blackberry picking years ago. We watch TV shows together and we laugh about crude jokes we would never tell other people. We make these memories and we relive them when times are tough- or just when we’re laying on the bed together, chillin’. (Which we also love to do.)

 

We try our best not to do the bad stuff. We don’t manipulate each other. We don’t gaslight each other. We don’t yell unless we’re expressing the intensity of our feelings. We don’t hold each other hostage emotionally (which is coercing by saying one partner must prove their love by doing xyz). We don’t lie. A few girlfriends before me (in college), my husband dated a manipulative woman. “If you don’t do all the housework, I can’t finish school, and I’m working hard for us.” She engaged in gaslighting– which is when your partner says things like, “no, that didn’t happen,” or “no, it happened like this…” (which is blatantly untrue), when they deny your experience or perception, or invalidate your feelings, among other things. These are hurtful, immature, and psychologically damaging tactics and they aren’t  part of successful long-term relationships. We keep away from them.

::: ::: ::: :::

I’m sure these aren’t all the things that have helped us stay together long-term but they are a good list to start with. Check back, I’m sure the list will get updated, knowing how my brain works. But these are the things that came to mind first, and they are the things that I go back to when I look at why and how we were successful. Now, that doesn’t mean these will be successful for everyone, but I think it’s important to at least talk about whether these measures are important in your own relationships.

Okay, my brain hurts. I love you all and hope you’re well. New moon soon!
Big love,
Joanna :: xoxo

 

* I find that I’m much more secure in sharing about my husband and our relationship now. In years past, I was deeply afraid that my desires would hurt him, would hurt or kill our partnership. But now that he knows everything, everything, I’m not as worried. I think I’m starting to spitball about relationships here so that I can look back, see what insights I have, see if they are applicable to others, see if they’re ready for my other website and work there. (It only took me three years to share this post over there…) You’ll probably be seeing more of this here because he’s the person I’ve learned all the good and bad stuff with.

 

 

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The sensuality of safety

Do you know where you feel most safe?

Try remembering a time or place where you’ve felt safe.

What was it like?
What were the circumstances?
What were the smells, sights, sounds, textures that helped you feel safe?
What was happening around you?

Think about it. Sink yourself into it.
Notice what happens when you feel safe.
How does your body feel?
How does your mind feel?
How does your spirit feel?

Safety is an important part of our psychological and physical health.

::: ::: ::: :::

Everyone knows that people who engage in sexual bondage, discipline, sadism, and masochism have something called a ‘safe word,’ right? We all know this from porn and Fifty Shades of Gray? Okay, good.

And the reason folks into BDSM use safe words is because why?

It’s because that word allows them to have the power to stop when they feel unsafe.
Because feeling safe allows a person to relax and dive deep (or fly high) into what they most desire.

Safety allows desire to rise and speak its wishes.
Safety is a handmaiden of fulfilling our desire.

::: ::: ::: :::

There are three places I feel most safe in the world.

By myself. Just me, doing whatever, alone. Near people, far away from people, either way. As long as I’m alone and simply responsible for myself, I feel quite safe. (Mostly. I still carry my keys like Wolverine in dark places at night.) If I’m at a bookstore or library, I am especially at ease.

At the cabin. I haven’t been there in years, and it is almost done falling into the sea, but it is a place I felt safe for years. If I need to remember what complete safety and relaxation feel like, I remember the cabin. The 1960s purple polyester couch, the wooden stairs, the musty smell, the old books. In a moment I can remember these things and feel safe.

The third is in the arms of my beloved. If I need a place to immediately let down, cry, relax, or feel protected from the world, I will ask him to hold me. This is something that happened fairly quickly after we met, but it has also developed over 22 years together. It is the weight of him against me. The size of him and that I feel protected. It is his emotional and physical strength, something I can feel running through his entire being. (I also return the favor, although it’s slightly awkward because he’s 6’4″ and I’m 5’4″ and it’s hard to spoon a man that large; but we do, because men need to feel safe and protected, too.)

What happens in all of these places is that I feel safe. I am not worried. I am not fixing something for myself or other people. I may have responsibilities, but they don’t weigh on me. My whole body feels calmer- the slight electrical current that seems to live atop my skin goes away. That is the feeling of safety to me.

::: ::: ::: :::

This is a tattoo of my children’s birthdates. [Yes, it’s cryptic. It’s meant to be. If you can figure it out, I’ll buy you a beer.]

I placed the tattoo on this spot on my arm because that is where they rested their tiny heads when they were babies and I would hold them to sleep or feed. This is the first place my children were safe.

True internal safety is created when children are very small. Zero to five years old is the developmental time when ‘normal’ is established deep in the psyche of humans. If there is a lack of food or clothing or safety, this will register as part of ‘normal’ for that child. If there is lack of attachment or kindness or care, this will also register as ‘normal’ for the child. (It also creates failure to thrive in children who are severely deprived of touch and care.) If there is fear, cruelty, or abuse, this can also register as ‘normal’ for the child. Because this ‘normal’ is developed at a time when the child can barely speak, it is often very hard to change these patterns and establish a healthier sense of ‘normal.’ (It can be done. It is hard work. It takes years of therapy and personal warriorship. But it is worth it, and it is often deeply healing.) The result of children who do not feel safe is often adults who have attachment and bonding difficulties with other adults (which is why you see the rise in people talking about attachment styles and relationships lately).

A felt sense of ‘safety’ is incredibly important in the psychological life of children.

And when we take children from their parents- whether as a form of punishment for legal immigration activities or due to unfair and racist prison sentencing- we are hurting the formation of their psyches. And this is wrong.

::: ::: ::: :::

“Us and Them is the opposite of God.”
– Gregory Boyle.

In Tantra, one of the goals of sex is union- the yin and yang combining and making a whole. And that is achieved through safety and trust.

In BDSM, the ‘safe word’ allows for trust because it establishes safety for the most vulnerable person in the interaction.

In spiritual development, safety allows our hearts to be held in forgiveness and grace. When we rest in the safety of the Divine, we are united with the souls of our fellow humans.

Safety is a necessary ingredient in all of these activities. Safety is necessary to healthy human development. And every human deserves to have some place they feel safe. Most especially children. Keeping families together, keeping children safe, is some of the most sensual and spiritual work we can do.

Creating a world where children are safe is also how we make a better world. We have to be better to be safe. And children who have a deeply-instilled sense of safety and security are healthier all around, across their entire lifespan (read the research). Safety is necessary; all humans have a right to it. And, when it comes down to it, creating safety is one of the most life affirming, sacred (and sexy) things we can create for each other.

 

 

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All These Paths, Leading To The Same Place

You thinkers, prisoners of what will work:
a dog ran by me in the street one night,
its path met by its feet in quick unthought,
and I stopped in a sudden Christmas, purposeless,
a miracle without a proof, soon lost.

But I still call, ‘Here, Other, Other,’ in the dark.

William Stafford, “An Epiphany”

::: ::: ::: :::

[That is one of my favorite poems by William Stafford. He was an unsung word genius.]

I read something a few weeks ago and had an epiphany. One of those moments when everything – years of practice, a fragment of metaphor, and a spark – comes together and you realize something important. I was reading a quote by Pema Chodron, a famous Buddhist nun and meditation teacher. She wrote, “Meditation practice isn’t about trying to throw ourselves away and become something better. It’s about befriending who we are already.”

And in the moment I read that, I suddenly understood something about my various spiritual practices over the years: they have all been about me trying to accept myself.

::: ::: ::: :::

I grew up Protestant (American Baptist, Presbyterian, United Church of Christ) and in that tradition, humans are sinful. They are full of sin because of the choice Adam and Eve made to eat from fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. What that looks like in modern terms is being regularly told that I was bad everywhere but in my soul. That I was inherently ‘not good’ and ‘less than’ and ‘blackened by sin’ (and a whole bunch of other Bible verses I’ve forgotten twenty years later…). With only one exception*, I don’t believe much good comes from the Judeo-Christian spiritual path; we certainly have plenty of evidence that it causes war and hatred and I believe it stems from this basic understanding of our selves as inherently bad.

After years of being a good ‘Bible-thumper’ I left the church because the world it spoke of as inherently wrong, bad, and sinful was not the world I experienced. The world I knew was full of amazing things and people and choices. I had girlfriends who had successfully weathered abortions, read re-interpretations of Bible stories, and enjoyed a drink with a couple of gay people and those things made it awfully hard to believe what was in the Bible, and what was being preached about it, anymore. Like a lot of people, I left and headed East.

For many years I studied the Tao te Ching, having been introduced to it in a college class about Eastern literature. I found it delightfully simple and also satisfyingly deep as I spent time with the verses and ideas. There was precious little dogma, interpretation, and certainly no mention of ‘sin.’ It felt like a good place to settle. And for a few years, it was.

I travelled other paths: Paganism, Unitarianism, Shambhala Buddhism, Tantra, Witchcraft. I’ve changed paths often. I became an ordained ‘interfaith’ minister (which I’m not sure is even a thing, but I’ll talk about that at another time). I have travelled around to various paths, texts, and rituals because they served my spiritual needs at various places along my path. And also because I love to fall in love and this was a way to connect with different ‘partners’ at the table of religion and spiritual development. (Today I see that there are appropriation problems with that kind of spiritual path, but that’s for the another post, as well.)

All of these spiritual paths were most definitely about me finding pieces of myself inside those traditions, texts, ideas, theologies, and metaphors. But my epiphany is that my most important paths have been about self-acceptance.

 

Photo by Jens Lelie on Unsplash

 

I’ve meditated for close to 20 years. I’ve used various forms, but mostly breath meditation (although I have used more sensual sub-genres of breath meditation at different times). For many years, I used the RAIN method, where you Recognize, Accept, Investigate, Non-Identify with whatever thoughts or feelings you have during meditation. But it was in reading Pema Chodron’s words about befriending ourselves in meditation that I really came to understand its purpose was far more soft than I had been experiencing it. It was about accepting myself, the totality of myself. To be who we are, in compassionate acceptance of ourself- whatever that self may be experiencing. Meditation was about completely accepting myself internally.

I’ve mentioned before that I am a practicing witch (the intensity depends on the day and the person, though- heh). And magic has been something I have been playing with for a long time, as well. My magic mostly involves words: rituals, prayers, handmade soliloquies spoken into the void. Only recently have I taken instruction in the more modern facets of witchery. And the one thing I learned there is that good magic involves self-acceptance. Magic that does what you want it to do involves acknowledging the totality of all that you are in the world: sinner and saint, angel and demon, mother and whore. I can be good, very, very good. And I can also be wicked. If I pretend to only be light and love, my magic sputters and doesn’t get very far. But if I acknowledge and accept all that I am, my magic is far more powerful. Magic, of course, is about how we are in the world and how the world reacts to us and our desires, to our energy and our vibe. And so magic has been about accepting myself as a human in the world, moving from internal to external.

Tantra has been something I’ve only picked up in the last five years or so, and it was most definitely about accepting myself and my sexual needs and desires. In some ways, this website has been partially about spiritually bypassing my sexual desires and needs – and Tantra is one way to both accept and bypass sexual darkness. I can’t say this blog has been entirely about bypassing, because I have certainly shared my pain and frustration and growth here, as well. But Tantra has been about self-acceptance inside of relationship, especially intimate relationship. Tantra is about the balance and alchemy of masculine and feminine (not the same as ‘male’ and ‘female,’ please remember). And my path inside of Tantra has been about accepting and balancing not just the masculine and feminine within myself, but also the dark and the light. I can be the most fun, delightful, loving sexual partner, and I can also want to live out dark fantasies (starting with having an affair, which I used to want desperately. Also remember that what is ‘dark’ is different for each person; my personal ‘dark’ might bore the fuck out of someone else). Tantra has been about accepting myself inside of intimate relationship.

Beyond each of these paths – to accept myself internally, to accept myself as part of the world, and to accept myself inside of partnership – there is something else I find incredibly valuable: Western psychology. (I am most familiar with Western psychology, but other modalities of healing the psyche are equally useful and valid. I have used food, prayer, movement, and many other tools to heal myself and others; I am for ‘whatever works’ to heal people.) Most of us wrestle with some piece of ourselves that feels ‘broken.’ And perhaps we do have ‘broken’ pieces inside us. When we do, psychological tools are often useful in helping people heal (again, I am a firm believer in using what works, even if that isn’t in the professional literature). Our brokenness is often not our fault (trauma is rarely something we do to ourselves), but we are responsible for healing our brokenness once we know about it.

Knowing about our brokenness is key to self-acceptance, I believe. But we must also know that sometimes our dark, our ‘bad,’ our ‘shadow’ isn’t brokenness- it is just a part of us that needs awareness and acceptance. The same awareness and acceptance we give to the parts of us we are pleased with or that are accepted in public.

Having this epiphany about self-acceptance and realizing I’ve been on quite the search for it has brought me a lot of excitement and calm in the last couple of weeks. If what I have been looking for is self-acceptance, there is no need for a spiritual path. Learning to accept and love myself is the path. So, all this time, I was just looking for pathways and guidance to leave behind the belief that I was bad and sinful and dirty and begin to trust in the whole of myself. Yes, there are broken bits that need fixing and healing, but there are also parts that are simply waiting for me to accept them, because they aren’t broken, they’re just judged.

And, of course, the great joke from Life is that this is the gift I most easily give other people: acceptance. Whatever darkness you feel or fear, I will listen to it and love it and accept it, without judgement. It’s so easy to give others the medicine we most need. (And so I am also a giant cliche. But, I think we already knew that.)

I will definitely continue with meditation, magic, and Tantra, but now I know what they are in service to, and where to place my energy. I suppose self-acceptance is my path now. I am grateful for the strange and varied path that got me to this place, and I feel a deep sense of grace in knowing I’m not ‘sinful’ anymore. Jung was so right about acknowledging our darkness rather than hiding from it, there is both power and grace in that acknowledgement.

I love you, beautiful people. And I want you to know you’re good, even when you’re bad.
Big love,
Joanna :: xoxo

 

*I believe that spiritual paths are suitable to different levels of psychological and spiritual development. And Christianity, as it is practiced in the West today can be useful to people who need a benevolent (hopefully loving) and also parental-style experience of god. For instance, people who are in recovery. Having a god that both loves you, wants you to do well, and will punish you if you don’t can keep people with addiction issues on the straight-and-narrow. But that’s about the only place I’ve seen it be as useful as it can be; many other places Judeo-Christian concepts and interpretations have caused a lot of fear, shame, and depravity. There are folks who are stripping off the parental piece of Christianity and evolving it into something more accepting and, honestly, Christ-like. People like John Pavolvitz and Nadia Bolz-Weber. But this article on Satanists also gives me hope.

 

 

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Broken. And Bright.

The Japanese have this very deep and beautiful type of art known as kintsugi. Kintsugi is the art and practice of taking something that was broken (china, pottery, etc.) and putting it back together using gold or silver to fill in the broken spaces. It’s beautiful when well done and I am fascinated by it.

 

Kintsugi (not the album by Death Cab for Cutie.)
[Photographer unknown. Please contact me if you do know so I can properly attribute.]

 

I believe all humans are kintsugi.

We all have our broken spots. And we can all work to heal them, or at least make them not leak so much. It is in the healing that we find our gold, and our beauty, I believe.

Yes, the world will break you. Your own heart will break you sometimes. But that brokenness does not have to leave us destroyed. We can heal, even if that healing is saying, “I accept that this brokenness exists” and nothing more. There is beauty and value in the relationship we have with what has been lost, as well.

We are all broken. And bright.

::: ::: ::: :::

When I was in my early twenties, a dear friend was trying to get divorced from her husband and had to get their two cars across town to her new apartment or job (I can’t remember which). So she would drive one car a quarter mile ahead of the other, park it on the side of the road, and then walk back and get the other car, drive that one up a quarter mile, park it and go back for the last one, and repeat the cycle over and over again. [She was 20 or 21 at the time, so don’t laugh. She was doing her best with no friends or family in a far-away city.] It took a lot of energy and a long ass time, but she did it.

I was remembering her story because three years ago I wrote a post titled, “I am Healed Enough Now.” [Read it here.] And in that post I talked about the process, the dance, of moving back and forth between wanting to grow and finding that I had things to heal first so that the growth could take place. I had to ‘bring up the rear’ to keep moving forward. It was as if my friend’s cars were tied together with flimsy rope, and she could only drive so far ahead before the second car had to be brought up, too. My psychological and spiritual growth happened like that- one was always chained to the other and I always had to go back to go forward.

I continued to dance this spiritual dance for another three years. I wasn’t wrong in that post- I was healed enough- but I needed three more years of taking tiny steps in that direction until I really felt it. I learned a lot in those three years, and I still did have plenty of healing to do, but I was ready to dance a new dance three years ago, I just didn’t start doing it.

After so many years of working on myself and helping other people work on themselves, I really do believe that healing our past is necessary work. We have to find out what makes us tick and why. We have to deal with the things that stick in our heart, mind, and soul. I am speaking of trauma, but also of the flippant comments a parent or teacher can make that scar us for many years. The ways we tell white lies to ourselves. The old stories from high school that keep us small or frightened. We have to wonder why we react a certain way or hate something or can’t deal with something when other people have no problem with it. Where did that come from? In the famous words of P!nk, “Why do I do that?”

The work of my twenties was to figure out who I was, figure out which societal boxes I wanted to check (job, car, house, kids), and kind of get my life together. The work of my thirties was looking at my shit, my problems, my unhealthy proclivities, and finding their root cause. And then working with the root cause to really heal. The work of my forties is loving who I am and not giving a fuck about what society says (because I am old and outside its reach anyhow).

My twenties were about being conventionally good and successful, ambitious and acquiring. To be accepted inside whatever group I chose to be a part of and define myself by (even if that group was ‘rebellious’- rebels want the rebels to accept them). This time was to form myself.

My thirties were to be broken and explore that space as fully as possible. And in that way, to begin to really know myself. And own myself.

My forties are to pull it together in this weird, artistic way. To fill the holes with healing and authenticity. To know what true beauty is: it is broken. And bright.

::: ::: ::: :::

This past Fall someone told me I was beautiful. And I don’t remember the last time someone told me that. I have always been ‘cute’ and ‘pretty’ to other people. But this guy called me ‘beautiful’ and it made a huge difference to me. I’m sure it’s because in this patriarchal society women depend on the good opinion of men for status- certainly that’s some of it. But I think it’s also that someone simply reflected back to me what I had hoped about myself for a long time. That I wasn’t just a ‘cute’ girl with dimples, but a beautiful woman. I had grown into something deeper and more mature and real. I sort of knew that already, but having it reflected back to me was an important moment. [Isn’t it funny how one small moment can push you in a whole new direction?]

One of the things I realized, pondering and feeling my way through that awareness of my beauty and strength and wisdom, was that I had gotten into the habit of always looking backwards in order to move forwards. I still danced the old dance. And maybe I was ready to dance a new dance. Maybe I was ready to look forward with intention rather than backward out of habit. Maybe I was ready to move forward through strength and wisdom rather than through fixing old stuff [which isn’t bad, it’s just another way to work things].

Now, this doesn’t mean there isn’t still growth to do. This doesn’t mean there won’t be difficulties or stumbling blocks or fuck ups. [I utterly refuse to be one of those ‘positive vibes only’ people; it’s such horse shit.] I had a little fit of early 20s energy at the beginning of the year that needed to get itself worked out [and it was kind of ugly and not my best moment]. And I still hold bits of an old story that I’m ‘too much’ for most people in this world [fact is, that’s true. I am too much for most people. But it weeds out who’s worth trusting pretty quickly, which is handy]. I’ve begun to learn that there are some people I will tone myself down for, but if people don’t dig me or can’t handle being around me, that is Totally Fine. We all gotta be who we are.

The cool part of this is that I’m really ready to step forward into the fullness of who I am. I really am healed enough now- if I did no more healing work (which I will do, but even if I didn’t) I would still be a decent human being who wouldn’t hurt too many people unintentionally. But I’m really ready to accept and know and feel that I’m beautiful, wise, smart, funny, healed enough, and maybe even ready to lead. And I’m also ready to live into my strengths rather than look back at my failures and holes.

To be honest, living into this truth – about my strength and beauty – is going to be a practice just like any other. It will take effort to point forwards rather than running backwards. [Sounds weird, but it’s totally true.] I will need to be patient with myself and practice and fail and learn. It is a daily decision I have to make because it isn’t habit yet. But I am so ready for this. I want it so much. And that is what will pull me forward, the desire.

I’m ready to be new and strong and live that way down to my bones.
I am my own kintsugi.
I am broken. And I am bright.

And here is where I start from.

 

Joanna Meriwether in color, beautiful and strong

 

Thanks for reading, fellow travelers. You don’t know how much it means that you all are here with me. I wish you strength and joy and knowledge of the truth of who you are (which is always good stuff; your truth is always good stuff, I promise).

BIG LOVE, big, big love,
Joanna :: xoxo

 

 

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