Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Emotional Authenticity and Softening Into Connection

Softening into honest and open vulnerability without losing yourself is the final frontier in sex and relationship.  Doing so makes you vulnerable to the power of life coursing through you and to the power of life that is the other, creating a life-connecting-to-life complexity that opens creativity, integrates, satisfies.

When I go to a wedding where the hearts of the couple open to each other in a way that even crotchety old uncle Bob can’t help but cry and even the over-excited children stop their fidgeting to look on wide-eyed, I come away happy.  Not because I then anticipate that this couple will live happily ever after (I am a couples therapist after all), but because the experience of open-hearted connection is enlivening no matter what happens afterwards.

Truth be told, I have come to believe that specific kinds of open hearted, connected experience are the keys to unlocking what we need personally, relationally and for our struggling world.

Of course, when we make ourselves vulnerable emotionally, we take a risk.  We can be hurt by abandonment, betrayal, criticism, disgust, accusation, etc.

Once we wake up to a relatively objective and integrated vision of ourselves, we can safely risk emotional vulnerability because we know that if an emotional injury should happen, we will be able to right ourselves.  We come to rely on the safety of having faced the truth of who we are, based in a vision of  how we have been sculpted by the evolutionary, physical and cultural forces that we were born into.  And have come to conceptualize ourselves in a meaningful way that we can be relatively comfortable with.  We have an identity that is organized, congruent, based in truth.

Before we come to terms with the truth of ourselves, we can be easily triggered into defensive strategies such as blaming, criticizing, denying, and being cold or dismissive.  Developed to protect ourselves when we were children and employed effortlessly, these defensive strategies protect us from emotional pain, but also prevent us from integrating others’ reflections and thus facing the truth of who we are.  We cling to our defended identities and do not develop the resilience necessary for emotional openness.  The more defensive we are, the more we need to be defensive.

Even if at times we operate in a relatively well-adapted persona designed to get along along and to get things done, we may be closed to the kind of emotional openness that facilitates depth change.

When we soften into a state of emotional openness that allows us to connect to others, it is powerfully satisfying.  We feel securely rooted in truth and it feels interesting and enlivened.  This state may be called “open hearted,” “core state,” “authentic self,” “Buddha Mind, or many other things.

In “Core State,” defenses are dropped, there is a sense of being connected to self, others, nature and life, as well as a kind of safety.  Here are the qualities that Diana Fosha, the originator of AEDP, a newer psychotherapy style, identifies with core state: “a state of calm, flow, ease, clarity, confidence, generosity, and true self being.”

Most people have entered into this kind of state at some time or other.  Sometimes at a wedding, sometimes in a situation involving birth or death, sometimes when falling in love, sometimes while making love, sometimes through meditation or ritual, sometimes in a psychotherapy relationship.

By practicing this core state with our significant other we generate a felt sense of emotional satisfaction and aliveness at the same time — a perfect state for creating and playing.  If we then turn toward sex — Wow!

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Who are you and what have you done with my husband (or wife)?

Who are you and what have you done with my husband (or wife)?

Sometimes the one who shows up is a heroic God-like figure, other times a surprisingly mean and pouty little kid.  Sometimes brilliantly intelligent, other times dull.  Sometimes strong and perseverant, other times lazy and hopeless.  Sometimes loving, sometimes hating.

Sometimes self-at-best, sometimes, not so much.

Psychologists have different ways to describe our facile natures — being caught in a complex, defensive structure, inner child, parental introject, internal roles, superego/ Id, self-at-best/ self-at-worst, etc.  No matter how you look at it there are many different characters on your bus, and you may act very differently depending on who is driving.

On some level we all understand that this differentiation into subjectivities is part of the nature of being human.  

But also, there is something in each of us that expects our self(s) to be unified, believes that ourself, and others, should act in a consistent stable manner.  It is as though there are several characters on the bus that sit in the driver’s seat and they share one thing in common, whoever is driving assumes they have always been the one driving.

As a psychologist in private practice, I see every day how confusion about sub-personalities causes problems.  For example, when a person sets an intention, or makes a promise, it is often one person on the bus (sub-personality) who is set in the stated direction.  If that personality part is not aware of what all parts are standing for, or that there may be other parts who are not willing to go along with the desired direction, confusion and betrayal can result. 

In order to live a satisfying life or have a good relationship with another, it is imperative that we come to understand our internal drivers.  We can help negotiate a direction with all of our parts going in the same direction if we understand the heart-felt desire of everyone on the bus.  Or at least can deal directly with aspects of our self that are working against the current goals of the whole.

When we feel good and strong and satisfied in our life, it is a sign that most all of our selves are lined up and motivated in the same direction.  The teenage boy does not have his head out the window of the bus whistling at girls when the husband is working for emotional connection to his wife, for example.

As we turn our attention inward to become acquainted with our internal structures, we become more psychologically aware and have more control over our lives.  We accept the truth of who we are and act in ways that support our self-at-best intentions.  

But for some of us, this kind of inquiry has perhaps an even more important purpose.  It inspires personal development in a manner that moves us toward spiritual development.  We come to recognize the face of an inner wise one or friend that can help step us through the confusing questions of what it means to be alive.

Of course “spiritual development” means different things to different people.  For me it means developing a way of seeing, based on mindfulness, that connects me to a larger vision of who I am — beyond my ego ideals.

We may begin by coming to grips with how we have an inner child character that can be triggered into fear or shame and who will steer us into protective strategies that do not necessarily support our overall goals.  (E.G., withdrawing or getting angry when I really need connection with a loved one.)  But eventually we see how everyone we sense ourselves to be is part of a great play that is not so personal.  We are all just trying to function and integrate the best we can.  Sometimes more consciously, sometimes not as much.

The faces on our bus, are the faces of our heritage.  In the heart and soul of these faces are the archetypal lines of life’s agenda for loving and creating consciousness together. 

When the faces that are on your bus know that you are fully on their side, they can collaborate, and thus allow your intention to align with the embodied expression of your destiny — an experience of harmony with the environment, wholeness. balance.  Everyone on the bus is excited to be going where ever it is that we are going and it seems we are going in just the right direction.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Vulnerability Fosters Kindness. Kindness is the Key to Vulnerability

Vulnerability Fosters Kindness.   Kindness is the Key to Vulnerability

Imagine a knight coming home from battle and without taking off his armor, trying to make love with his anxiously awaiting queen.  Possible maybe, but not very satisfying.

Taking off our armor and allowing ourselves to be vulnerable is required to develop personal relationships — necessary in friendship and for the preservation of passionate sex in long-term monogamous relationships.  In addition, vulnerability allows a connection to life that fosters personal and cultural development.

The capacity to be vulnerable is the next developmental edge.  It is a strength both men and women must develop in order to develop “Erotic Partnership.”  Yet many seem to feel that vulnerability is weakness. 

Psychological defenses such as vigilance, emotional numbing, rationalization and fixing blame provide armor for the spears and arrows of life.  And while it’s true that this armor chaffs, and some of us seek a more full-bodied connection,  it’s also true that modern psychological life is filled with real dangers.  We must have advanced skill to walk into the world open and exposed.

We strengthen this capacity for connection in the world through connection in our more intimate relationships.  And we develop intimacy with others as we become more intimate with ourselves.

In my own life and in the work that I do with couples who are striving to make the most of their relationships, it is clear: vulnerability fosters kindness and compassion.  Kindness and compassion fosters vulnerability — a reciprocal cycle of engagement, safety, aliveness and satisfaction.  Or conversely, defensiveness fosters fear, shame, withdrawal or attack, and leads to a vicious cycle of aloneness and dissatisfaction.  We need only look at our current political culture to see this in action.

Vulnerability requires a love for truth.  When we become vulnerable, we become vulnerable to the truth of who we are, to considering the ways that others see us that do not fit with how we want to be.  And when we become vulnerable, we become open to the truth of other’s experience, even when we would prefer that they feel differently than they do.  

What does vulnerability look like?  How can one foster it? One basic method is to relax your body, slow down your thoughts, soften into emotions and open to new possibilities.  When sinking into vulnerability, many feel some sadness or tears with or without awareness of what the sadness is about.  

Of course, psychological armor is often difficult to remove, even when we genuinely want to. When we open toward vulnerability, the painfulness of the life we have lived can trigger intense anxiety, shame, confusion, etc.  Even with the intention of taking off our armor, some part of us that lives in our body and emotions may not be convinced that it is safe to do so.  

For this reason, moving more deeply into vulnerability with another requires working internally to integrate our bodies, emotions and intentions.  In other words, the more we have faced the truth of ourselves and worked to accept others’ differences, the easier it is to be vulnerable in our relationships.  

Here is a quote from Dan Seigel which discusses vulnerability and integration:

The outcome of integration is harmony, whereas a system that is not integrated moves toward chaos, rigidity, or both. Beyond just being within us, integration can also be seen as being between us. Integrated relationships are filled with honoring of differences and the linkage of compassionate communication. In a fascinating way, integration interpersonally promotes the activation and growth of integration neurologically. Integration between cultivates integration within.
Kindness can be defined as how we honor and support one another's vulnerability. In this open, authentic state, our inner needs and fragility is realized. Compassion can be defined as the empathic feeling and understanding of another's internal state of suffering, and the wise and skillful means of imagining and enacting ways to help reduce that suffering. In this way, both kindness and compassion can be seen as acts of integration.

We are a web of interconnections sitting within a web of interconnections.  When we bring kindness and compassion into our relationships we strengthen that web.  Kindness and compassion are the result of a well exercised emotional system.  When we integrate our minds, emotions and bodies with others, we can find a sense of resilience through inner alignment and in our connection with the others.

Nature offers us pleasure if we follow her direction.  If we have not been conditioned otherwise, our bodies find pleasure in the closeness of another.  And when we align our emotional selves through internal and external vulnerability and kindness we discover deep pleasure.  Put them together and you have “Erotic Partnership.”  I believe that this kind of pleasure is an indication of being aligned with life’s purpose.

So there we have it.  When we are kind, we foster vulnerability.  When we are vulnerable we open to and foster the interconnectivity of life in ourselves and between ourselves and others. 

Practice kindness and vulnerability and you will find that you will have an embodied experience of gratitude.     

Kindness/Naomi Nye

Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand,
what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know
how desolate the landscape can be
between the regions of kindness.
How you ride and ride
thinking the bus will never stop,
the passengers eating maize and chicken
will stare out the window forever.

Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness,
you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho
lies dead by the side of the road.
You must see how this could be you,
how he too was someone
who journeyed through the night with plans
and the simple breath that kept him alive.

Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.

Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day
to mail letters and purchase bread,
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
It is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you everywhere

like a shadow or a friend.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Post Modern Relationship

Postmodern Relationship?

Have you wondered about why marriage and long-term partnerships are so difficult for so many?  Perhaps you, like many, are questioning whether marriage makes sense at all in this day and age.  I think it does, but, like many things in this complex culture, it takes some learning to implement the skill set.

Our culture sends mixed messages about how two people should behave in romantic partnership, what personal needs a good relationship should fulfill, or even if we should be seeking long-term monogamous relationships at all.  The scripts for gender roles and appropriate relationship behavior that our parents followed no longer seem relevant for us, but we have not developed a new model regarding how we should act now.

While psychology (and spirituality) are a long way from consensus regarding the direction for primary relationship, or what healthy relationship requires, it seems to me that there is a solidifying common understanding that revolves around personal development within relationship.  It is up to us to solidify the structures for relationship that will support individual fulfillment within our culture and will, at the same time, be a part of cultural maturing.

In this article, I offer an overview of Erotic Partnership including why the integration of sex and friendship is so important in relationship.  I outline a role for pair bonded relationship that fits modern culture, fosters increased psychological development and provides a balance between stability and experimentation that I believe is necessary for cultural health.  I will not address the issue of pair bonding for life, but will show how individuals in a committed couple can find satisfaction within a container of learning how to manage personal psychological stress.  

"Erotic Partnership" (how to be a friend, lover, companion and partner with one other; within a widening circle of community)  is an experimental model for modern couples that fosters personal satisfaction, as well as articulating what it means to be in relationship in today's culture.

All mammals (and birds) are born unable to survive on their own and so depend upon attachment between newborn and parent.  Each individual goes through a developmental process of becoming increasingly able to feed and care for themselves.  In human beings, psychological development (learning to speak, emotional development, adaptations to culture and the process of developing an individual identity) is part of the developmental process.  Bowen, Mahler, and many other psychological theorists, describe in detail how each individual human child moves from being completely dependent to relative independence.

As we move toward adulthood, we move away from the parental bond and toward the larger community.  As adults we maintain strong impulses toward the safety of attachment and look toward primary relationships to help balance those needs with our needs to explore and create.  We bring these conflicting needs into primary relationship in many ways including the tension of how to fulfill our desire for passion and the need for safety.  
Stephen Mitchell, and more recently, Ester Perel have shown (as well as have many others) that there is a built in tension between the passion of sex and the safety of attachment that can be difficult to integrate.  The more safe we feel, the more novelty is diminished.  Without conscious intervention, sameness and safety lead to lack of passion.  This has always been true, but in the past there were cultural roles and expectations regarding monogamy and fidelity, as well as gender roles, that helped bind the tension by providing scripts for how a partner was expected to be in relationship.  Modern relationships have transcended old scripts for how to behave, but have not yet developed clarity regarding what the next step is.

Erotic Partnership is an attempt to formulate post modern relationship skills based on understanding ourselves as individuals in relationship.  Personal development provides the necessary ability to bind the tension that Gilligan and Perel speak about.  Partners must strive to be conscious.  We must be able to sense and tell the difference between our sensations, emotions, and thoughts and come to know what underlying needs drive specific impulses or desires.  We must understand our authentic underlying needs and sort through our conditioning so that we can advocate for what will bring us fulfillment.  

Primary relationship in the 21st century relies on partners who understand and can articulate their experience, and stay interested and open, even when conflicting internal demands arise or, even more importantly, when conflicting internal demands are triggered by emotional pressure from others.  (e.g., when your partner says he or she wants you to go to an event that is important to them and you do not want to go.  You are torn between wanting to please your partner and wanting to do what you want to do.)   

Post modern relationship scripts require that each person in the relationship be self-responsible.  We must each assume responsibility for how well our life is working — as well as understanding that we are responsible to others.  

Having developed a strong sense of self, we can be much more open and loving with others.  Because we are securely attached, we are not afraid to face how our actions impact others and are able to genuinely collaborate.  We are able to make necessary changes to habitual ways of acting in order to support our partner or the relationship — without sacrificing our sense of self.

We must understand the truth of our dependency on others and be willing to balance our personal needs with those of others.  By understanding that we are choosing relationship, we can cultivate caring for others as opposed to trading favors for future advantage.

When we learn to identify and tolerate the tension of internal and external differences that can lead to abandonment or conflict, 
primitive impulses evolve into sensibilities that demonstrate compassion and loving kindness for others.  The sense of being on the same team, faithful to each other helps bind the tension so that new things can emerge.  This is what Jung referred to as the "transcendent function."
In terms of gender, post modern relationships honor and work with differences in masculine and feminine traits, regardless of the gender of the person who displays those traits.  Partners work for equality through collaboration and functional differentiation without sacrificing (sexual) polarity.  
On optimistic days I see our world attempting to make the shift from a commodified and consumeristic model for seeking happiness based on individualism, to a more sustainable full aliveness found in individuation that is in harmony with the evolutionary needs of the whole.
Currently, we have developed a culture that has maximized creativity and possibility in many ways.  But too often in ways that harm others.  We often feel entitled to our individuality in a way that fails to acknowledge how dependent we are on those around us.  We must come into harmony with the earth and with all of the life that we are part of, even as we develop our individual being.

Here is one small example that has to do with the erotic aspect of relationship.  Lets say you feel good and strong in your body, have some time on your hands, and want to spend the afternoon pleasuring and being pleasured by your partner.  But when you approach him or her they have a different idea and say no.

Ouch.  Our biology is primed and ready to go.  Our love is being rejected.  It might trigger childhood trauma or a cultural belief that if our partner truly cared for us he/she would want what we want.  Perhaps it throws the whole relationship into question because there is a belief that we should be able to find someone who matches us in such a way that this won't happen. It hurts be "all dressed up" with nowhere to go.

Our inclination might be to say "fine" and walk away, to manipulate or cajole to get what we want, or some other variation of acting out our hurt.

This is where consciousness and self-responsibility need to come in.  Whatever our reaction is, it is understandable.  It may not be helpful though.  Immediate reactions are often based in past conditioning, unreasonable fears, or immediate concerns without regard for our overall goals.  We must be able to note our reactions and sort through these considerations to decide the best way to communicate.

In this way, the relationship can provide an arena to help work through reactivity that was conditioned in childhood.

Research shows that for the long-term health of a relationship, the ability to stay connected, communicative and collaborative in a situation like this is essential.  In order to do that, we need the psychological skills to stay conscious in emotionally difficult situations as well as to communicate effectively.  The "rejecting" party will strive to be clear that it is the offer they are refusing, not the relationship.  And the party being rejected will demonstrate resilience and playfulness.  (For a good overview of research on "lust and love" check this out:) 

Ultimately, our biology, psychology and spiritual values must align.  We need to have a sense-of-self that is strong enough that we can genuinely consider the other even while we stay connected to our desire and needs.  This requires some understanding about development in general, practice differentiating personal experience (thoughts, feelings, sensations) and communicating with others about that, as well as an integrated sense of what makes it worth it to do.  We need to have embodied knowledge about how our relationships are us.  In order to do that we must have a community that supports our ongoing transformation into being relational. 
While I would like to say that if you do this work you will always feel happy and fulfilled, the truth is that it is magnificently difficult at times.  But I can also say that it is so worth it.  I can say for myself, personally, that I never imagined life could be so fulfilling.  Part of it is that I get much of what I want.  But more importantly I am helping to create a healthier world.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

aspects of relationship

Aspects of Relationship

Every adult, at a deep biological level, wants both a connection to community and a primary partnership where we are seen, understood, loved and cared for, and where we can contribute to the welfare of others.

 An ideal adult Primary Relationship can be seen within the context of four basic intimate functions:  Partnership, Companionship, Friendship, and Lovers.

Partnership is the business of living a life together — house, kids, work, etc. (Good partners are dependable, honest, collaborative, hardworking.)  

Companionship is doing things together, hanging out, feeling at ease and open, touching and holding each other physically, sleeping together.  (Requires comfort with self and others, loyalty.)

Friendship refers to sharing experience with one another verbally.  Think of how you relate to a friend that you have not seen for awhile — sharing the details of you life while they listen interestedly.  (Ability to articulate experience and witness another.) 

Lovers demonstrate their physical appreciation of each other each other in practices of pleasuring one another, stimulating, kissing, touching areas of the body that are generally reserved for one other only such as breasts and genitals, and having sexual intercourse.  (This requires the ability to both give and receive pleasure.)

Of course these are not exclusive categories, they weave into one another.

Due to lack of knowledge and/or having incorporated dysfunctional survival strategies, couples are often good in some functional categories, or aspects of some categories, not in others.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Following Pleasure: Recommitting to Love

Following Pleasure: Recommitting to Love

The other night I had the pleasure of seeing Michael Meade who told the story about the guy who was looking for his keys under the street light, not because he lost them there, but because that is where there was enough light to search by.  Sychronistic because just that day I was on the elliptical trainer at the gym, spending some time noticing my internal flux and flow, some time watching people and occasionally getting drawn into the row of T.V.s above, and everywhere I looked I saw people trying to develop and feel their personal power.  Work out for a stronger body, do yoga for a sexier body, eat better food, drive a sweeter car, be good at attracting more lovers, make more money, communicate, cut off fat, take drugs for more dependable erections, identify with a winning team... endless possibilities.  But all searching for the keys in the light rather than where they were lost.

Why do we search in the light of cultural acceptance when the keys are waiting to be found in psychospiritual development?

Why? Because we are confused and afraid.

More and more, fear is being whipped up in a way that is leading to negative self-fulfilling prophesy.  The dangers are being cataloged and dire predictions abound, merchandisers scream that without their product we will not compete, news media pushes what is frightening and scientists prove over and over that we are speeding up our collective demise.   The dark forces are pouring the cake batter of fear into the pans of our hearts and it is getting hotter in here. 

The problem is that fear triggers survival behavior.  And survival behavior does not consider the big picture.  It’s about fight or flight or freeze.

When we are afraid of being abandoned we might withdraw our attempts to reach for love, and therefore end up getting what we are afraid of — being dropped.  When we seek superficial “powerfulness” we create a false sense of security and tragically lose the thread to our inner core where our destiny, and thus fulfillment awaits.     

What we need to focus on is how we can thrive.  How we can tease the thread of our soul out of the darkness of our bodies, and ball it into the heartfulness of satisfied living.  It requires awareness, embodiment, imaginal perspective and relational skills.  It is more about truth than comfort and it results in the tempering of the personality.  Not coincidentally, this is what we will focus on in our week in Mexico.  (Though I have to admit there will be plenty of comfort that week.  ...Because awareness, embodiment, imaginal development and relational skills all blossom when we are relaxed.)

 Psyche and Eros

While in Mexico we will work all four of the keys mentioned above — awareness, embodiment, imaginal development and relational skills.  Imaginal development will be supported through the telling of the story of Psyche and Eros.

This myth holds the structures of transformation and initiation that are involved in the path of relationship.

Psyche was a human girl who was so beautiful that she made the reigning queen goddess, Aphrodite, jealous.  This led to many trials and tribulations for Psyche.  But in the end of that story, Psyche has tempered herself and is allowed to marry the god of love and desire, Eros.  She is then a goddess, or at least a demigoddess.  An initiatory process has happened; her consciousness has been raised.

It is generally agreed that in the beginning of the story, Psyche represents the human mind.  As she cultivates desire and marries Love, she transforms such that she is “soul,” the human organ for connecting with the larger forces of unfolding life.

Since we will be exploring how to raise consciousness in loving, sexual relationships, the myth of Psyche and Eros can support our exploration with deep transpersonal roots.  By immersing in the story we can find archetypal patterns for soul development — with and through our lovers.

In the story, Psyche and Eros have a daughter Voluptuous, or, “Pleasure.”  By combining mindfulness, embodiment practice, relationship skills and immersion into this myth, we, like Psyche and Eros, will bear the fruit of pleasure.  We will follow our pleasure into a celebration of all that we can be in relationship and will use the energy to recommit to our love practices.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Owning Sexual Desire

It is nearly time for Felicia’s Uncovering Desire workshop.  As an introduction to the great work that she does in this workshop I thought I would discuss some of my current thinking about working with sexual desire. 

Here is the basic insight:  By the time we old enough to really feel sexual desire we have been overwhelmed with a decade of sexual propaganda of various sorts and will have adopted a relational style that reflects what we grew up with.  This creates a lens through which we view our budding sexuality.  And so we can’t really know our authentic desire until we do the work of uncovering it.  

How do we know the difference between sexual desire and sexual expectation, wanting to look good, wanting to be bad, wanting to be powerful, wanting to avoid conflict, wanting to be cared for, seen, appreciated, etc.  How can I let go of all of the sexual programs developed when I was growing up and for decades thereafter?

This article discusses how reconnecting with and developing the basic pleasure seeking impulse can be used to establish a differentiated felt sense of what is trustworthy in our inner experience.  Ultimately the distinctions embodied help contain and transmute sexual energy.  

The first thing to understand in working with sexual desire is that it evolves, but the core of it always remains the same.  In its most primitive bodily form, sexual desire is a body’s reaction to the biological urge to procreate.  We see behavior based on the purely biological urge in other animals.  A certain set of circumstances presents itself, chemical and physical reactions happen and animals are drawn into sexual intercourse.  We call this instinct.

In its primitive form sexual desire is not in the least caring about other.  In fact, as can be observed in many other animals (as well as humans), there is a great deal of biting, clawing and general aggressiveness.  

We let go of this primitive aggressive core to our own sexual peril.  When we surrender to it, the intensity of primitive desire offers an experience of electrical aliveness.    

While it is instructive to remember that human sexuality contains that kind of aggressive  procreating energy, it is clear that we humans take sex to other levels.  Sexual desire is not only about procreating, it is also about relationship.

As we mature, and other (emotional and mental) forces blend with our sexual feelings, sexual feelings themselves transmute.  This can take a negative bent if the emotional paradigm within which one is operating is about surviving as an individual (as opposed to embodied interdependence).  But if the emotional paradigm (read “attachment style”) is interdependence, sex can evolve into all of the things that bodily pleasure can lead to — bonding, play, comfort, relaxation, expression of love, spiritual experience, etc.

Sexual desire, and in an analogous way all of our emotions, are developed by being contained.  Awareness, practices of working with the body, principles, and values come into relationship with sexual desire and while desire retains its core connection to creativity and aggression, it integrates and matures into love and spiritual connection.  Some spiritual philosophies articulate this as the belief that sexual desire is actually, at its core, the urge to reconnect with God, and we mistakenly attach it to other people. 

So to be where we want to be with sexual desire we develop (or redevelop) it with practices that begin with the core energy and contain it using awareness, breath, emotional connection to an other, and principled action. 

An important part of working with this concept is coming into relationship with our body at the most core level possible.  In this practice, as we become aware of our “felt-sense”  and give precedence in our awareness to pleasure.  We don’t tune out the unpleasant, but turn toward the pleasant.

One of my first lessons in sex came from a dime store novel that I once found on my mothers bed side table.  “Mandingo,” if I remember the name correctly, was a black slave who seemed to find himself in a variety of sexual situations.  What I remember from the book is that the author called the sex that the slaves had with one another “pleasuring.”  I don’t know if the book had any other redeeming characteristics, but for me this was an important concept.  Having sex is pleasuring each other.

Pleasure, as its related to a desire for a deep connection to life, moves in the body.  By grounding in and following it we can surrender the programs developed in less-than-optimal conditions that for many of us currently guide our desire.

Following distinctions found in Pema Chodron’s book “The Wisdom of No Escape,” we are “precise” with our awareness, giving attention to each element of the movement intrinsic in the desire for pleasure.  We bring “gentleness” and a kind of “surrender” to the movement as well.  

Go slow, beginning with an awareness of the silent core that lies under all awareness.  Lying on the floor if possible, allow yourself to imagine what would be pleasurable to you in that moment.  Not a fantasy of how another could take care of you and not the “pleasure” of being comfortable or moving toward sleep.  

Toward total relaxation, yes, and how your body is interested in moving into pleasure in the moment.  Notice how there might be a desire to stretch and allow your body to open into a blissful moment of release.  

Use your voice to connect your awareness inside your body to the movement of your breath and the pleasure of your body.  Release into that movement letting it ever so slowly have its way with you.   

When you feel you can locate and follow this pleasurable impulse in your body with precision, gentleness and surrender, begin coming into relationship with an other who is in the same practice.  Bring awareness to how this relationship both increases your body pleasure and also tends to invoke many habitual patterns.  Just stay with following the pleasure — into and out of relationship as it is, with no preconceived notion of how it will move.

With experience, we may come to see that our body feels pleasure when it is in right relationship.  We also see how our minds and conditioned tendencies take us out of this wisdom and into calculating possibilities.  We find that we do not have to abandon ourselves to connect with another, but we do need to know what in our feelings is trustworthy.   

In my experience, a diligent practice of following this energy takes one toward an ecstatic core of sexual desire.  The situation that sexual desire arises within may be somewhat different, but the distinctions are the same. 

To find a relatively constant source of generosity, appreciation and creative potential takes practice.  The good news is that practicing is so satisfying.  Won’t you try and let me know how it goes for you?

Perhaps the best place to practice these kinds of distinctions is at a Soul Motion class.    Contact Zuza Engler here (http://www.transformativedance.com) to explore the possibilities.