Tag Archives: wellness

Betrayed by Sacred Sex?

This post is a response to the article “My Tantric ‘Awakening’ Turned me Off Sex” by Janet Hardy. link here

Although this is a response to an article written over two years ago, I feel that it highlights some of the timeless misconceptions and pitfalls around what we term “sacred sex,” “sex magic,” or “sexual energy work.”

First, I want to thank Janet Hardy for writing this article and her book “The Ethical Slut.” It was very influential in expanding my perspective on relationships and sexuality.

I’d like to start with several quotes from Janet’s article to frame my response:

“In the spirit of research, we added tantra and other quasi-religious practices into the mix and took classes in those, too.”

“Of the little that has been written about kundalini-awakening-or-whatever, the vast majority has been written by people I frankly think are kind of weird.”

“Maybe it’s also because she does not share my aversion to the language of, well, woo-woo.”

“ . . . they frame their knowledge in a faux-Eastern haze of abstraction and mysticism that makes absolutely no sense to me and does not fit in with the way my world works.”

It’s with the benefit of 20/20 hindsight and 20 years of stumbling my way through various systems of sexual energy work that these quotes make me think, “uh, oh.” While I admire Janet’s pioneering spirit, it seems that she began her Tantric exploration with very conflicted feelings.

I, too, have a major problem trusting the language around spiritual practices and the mind-sets of a lot of people leading the charge. Just as, in my own work, I advise people to steer clear of health care practitioners whose models of health and language do not make sense to them, it is even more so the case with the models found in transformational work such as Tantric, Taoist, or Kundalini Yoga. Otherwise, there is little common ground for communication and frustration may arise when assistance is needed.

It’s easy to forget that practices that are intended to bring about personal transformation can result in, well, transformation, and that these effects cannot be predicted, as they are the result of opening up to forces over which we have no control. That’s supposed to be part of the fun, by the way.

It is one thing to study an esoteric discipline from the perspective of an uninvolved researcher, and quite another to engage in the practice and lay oneself bare emotionally, physically, and psychologically. I can only imagine that the contrast of being vulnerable in this way and trying to maintain the critical viewpoint of a sex researcher created a tension in which something had to give. And, if the vulnerability is deep enough, it is the mind’s conditioning around sexuality that crumbles.

Vulnerability has the potential to undermine the mind’s agenda and take us to a place that we could never have foreseen that is entirely based on feeling. If you don’t follow sensations and feelings to take you more deeply into the unknown, then all you’re left with is what you think you know about life, yourself, and sex.

Like a lot of people, I was drawn to sexual energy practices in search of more intense orgasms and a deeper level of intimacy. Without a doubt, the techniques found in these disciplines can have numerous profound, practical benefits such as increased sex drive, ejaculation control, deeper intimacy, and an expanded range for sensual pleasure, just to name a few.

Over time, though, it became obvious that I was courting a presence in my life that was digging its own channels and rewiring my fuse-box. Although it’s a phenomenon virtually unknown to the Western mind, the raw energy underlying sexual desire, romantic relationships, procreation, fantasy, and fetishes can be liberated from these customary contexts and experienced as an independent force.

In other words, the impulse underlying sexuality can be teased from the clutches of the conscious mind and allowed a broader expression in aspects of one’s life seemingly unrelated to sex. This untethered impulse has its own intelligence and does not give a hoot about whether we want to live a quiet life in the country or a rowdy city life as a dominatrix. This experience of sexuality as a non-contextual form of energy can provide a perspective on how sexuality has been mercilessly crammed into societal agendas, stunted by cultural and religious shame, and hemmed into a corner where it is beaten back into submission if it acts out too much.

Transformational work involves the real possibility of sacrificing everything we own, have worked for, and think we know about anything. When this really sinks in, then it’s like “Um, can I change my order, please?,” but by then it’s too late to stuff the genie back in the bottle. If you don’t want to risk the chance for something different and unexpected to barge in on your life, then it’s best not to take that first step toward dismantling yourself.

Whether Janet was conscious of it or not at the time, something beyond her researcher’s mind was asking for acknowledgement. If you keep knockin’ on that door, someone you’ve never met before may eventually answer it. And, if you don’t learn how to dance with that stranger, they can make your life hell.

This isn’t a topic that is discussed very often in sexual energy work, because it kind of takes the shine off the peak experience aspect and it’s difficult to describe why it’s desirable. However, if one is sincere about transforming one’s life through sexual expression, it can manifest an agent of sabotage not chosen by the rational mind to break us out of rigid ways of thinking, believing, and behaving. It can catalyze the surfacing of repressed character traits, strip away illusion, and retrieve a depth of feeling that is long lost to most adults. It can become the teacher that so many of us look for Out There.

We often forget that a sacrifice is required in order to acquire certain knowledge or experience. When it comes to sexual energy work, the heart will demand its sacrifice and unfortunately, when the sacrifice occurs on its own without our conscious participation, then it’s often viewed as a punishment or a source of regret that requires healing or repairing. In Janet’s case, she didn’t like the form of the knowledge or the sacrifice: the earth-shattering orgasm or the disappearance of her sexual desire.

If the sacrifice is a loss of desire for sex, then other areas need to be examined to see where your sexual energy has been funneled, and know that it will return one day, albeit fundamentally altered. What else is being intensely inspired within you? Where is there renewed momentum and passion? Is there a pursuit or activity for which you’ve previously had intractable resistance that now presents little or no inhibition? Although the scientist who proposed the law of conservation of energy probably wasn’t thinking about bangin’ the missus at the time, it nevertheless applies perfectly to sexual energy: It isn’t lost, it is simply transformed.

I also have gone through periods of disinterest in “normal” sexual activity as the result of cultivating and channeling sexual energy. As always, the first thoughts are of a worst-case scenario (“Omigod, it’s gone and it’s never coming back!”), because the mind hates anything that deviates from the standard script. During those periods, though, I’ve written two books and made numerous recordings of my own music, two things I’d never been able to accomplish before.

I had the benefit of years of watching sexual energy work create other dramatic changes in my life, so I eventually knew that a loss of desire was just another turn in the road. It was reassuring to me that I did not feel depleted on any levels and that this was solely a change in the outward expression of an impulse. It was critical for me to realize that this was something I’d asked for, whether I liked the presentation or not. And, it really helps to have an understanding partner, of course.

If this phenomenon is misinterpreted as sexual dysfunction and attempts are made to resolve it through medication or hormone supplementation, this will short-circuit the change that is trying to occur in that person’s chemistry and may create health problems where none previously existed.

When one’s attention is exclusively devoted to getting help for something that isn’t a problem in the first place, then it exhausts all the vitality that has been liberated and could have energized another area of one’s life. Identifying it as a problem only serves to separate oneself from the experience and massage the egos of the so-called experts who want to “help.” There is no intervention required here, because the intervention has already occurred in the form of the unknown. Janet literally changed her internal circuitry and that is where the power of vulnerability lies. What is it that Janet needs to recover from–an encounter with herself?

Honestly, most of us are not prepared to let go of the notion that we have control over our sexual impulses and expression until it becomes painfully evident that we are not in control. As long as the sexual impulse remains embedded in the habitual context of sexual activity then the mind can sustain the illusion of being in the driver’s seat. Our vain attempts over millennia to twist the irrepressible drive behind sexuality into something acceptable, predictable, and manageable is truly astounding, and a testament to its incredible potency.

This is one reason that, for centuries, only emperors and high priests were privy to sexual energy practices. We wouldn’t want Joe or Jane Six-Pack discovering a source of vitality that made him or her equal to the boss man, would we?

Yes, I can sit here alone at the computer and create what I call an “energy orgasm” out of nowhere: no sexual fantasies, pornography, or tactile stimulation. Nothing but a simple mental focus on my body that creates a powerful movement of energy. I could make it last for quite a while and even cause some involuntary shaking and flailing about. Most people would not remotely consider this a sexual experience, but that’s precisely the impulse that is being channeled.

And your response may be, “So what’s your point?” And you’d be right. There is no point. This is just how I prefer to live my life. I feel that unless I actively beckon forces into my life that may humble me when I least expect it, I will never know what it’s like to get off the hamster wheel.

Systems, models, and techniques are not ends in themselves, especially when it comes to transformational pursuits. They provide a context within which the mind just might trick itself into recognizing that it really knows nothing. The mind thinks it knows what S&M or Kundalini is and then it becomes an expert on the subject, and vulnerability goes out the window in order to preserve one’s status as an expert.

Aspiring to be a Tantric master, for example, is a delusional goal that misses the point. No one can master sexual energy. A person might, however, be able to get his mind out of the way sufficiently to experience sexual energy in its naked ferocity, and in the process recognize that she is being used by something and not the other way around.

James Rolwing, DC, is the author of the e-books “Multiple Orgasms for Men Made Simple” and “Activate Your Inner Physician.” Available at http://www.amazon.com.

How to Join a Cult, Get What You Need, and Move On

The term “cult” has been applied throughout history to groups that pose a threat to the existing establishment because they encourage independent thought and action, or a loyalty or commitment to someone or something other than the accepted authority. The word is utilized with precision by that same accepted authority and its supporters to stigmatize such groups, or by those who consider joining a cult as a pursuit to which only the gullible and weak-willed need apply. The lucky recipient of the term is almost exclusively a group or organization that promotes personal or spiritual growth.

Over the last 30 years I’ve been involved with no less than five groups or organizations that American culture would likely classify as cults, and I have not regretted my participation in any of them. My time in some was brief, while others lasted years, but all of it was valuable. So, in this post I’ll be using the word “cult” with great affection. I’ll also be using the abbreviation GMT (guru, master, teacher) to cover most of the bases in describing the person who calls the shots in a cult.

It is not my intention to trivialize the trauma that can result from unquestioned allegiance to a charismatic authority figure, but that could easily describe a considerable range of cultural icons and their relationship to their entourages, fans, students, and hangers-on: athletic coach, politician, CEO, rock star, motivational speaker, government bureau, Hollywood celebrity, talk show host.

My purpose, with hindsight, is to provide a few hard-won guidelines for evaluating one’s participation in a cult that I wish someone had given me a few decades ago. A lot of it will sound like common sense, but common sense can often go out the window when you have found your ideal cult.

With the psychological and emotional weight of apocalyptic scenarios that are presented to us daily—destruction of the environment, climate change, water and food shortages, global economic collapse, J-Lo’s wardrobe malfunctions, or an imminent World War III—we may see a surge in the popularity of cults. As we increasingly witness the corruption of previously trusted institutions and systems, people will naturally seek the perspective of a non-mainstream source to make sense of a frighteningly chaotic world.

Is it risky to join a cult? Of course! It’s also risky to get married, have a child, submit to a “routine” surgery, take out a loan, have unprotected sex, drive a car, quit your job, move to a new city, or simply haul your sorry ass out of bed in the morning. The common thread here is that we trust that the results will be worth the risk, and without risk we never learn anything new about ourselves or about life.

Arriving

A logical starting place is the question: Why do you find yourself considering joining a cult at this time in your life? Your motivations will consist of a mixture of conscious and unconscious drives, and these will shift and change over time. In fact, uncovering your true motivations for joining a cult should be a cornerstone in the foundation of the journey itself.

It is reasonable to assume that you are attracted to a cult in the first place because you feel your life is lacking something. However, the mind can spin a sense of lack in a thousand different ways. A good rule of thumb may be: If you are not there to experience something different about your life, then you are there to ensure that your life stays the same.

The personal/spiritual growth industry is one of the biggest perpetrators of lip service around, because the majority of us are not sincerely interested in infusing our lives with any tangible change. Rather, we want our lives to stay the same in a different sort of way. I do not feel this is a cynical observation, just a realistic one, and it can be corroborated by observing our own behavior, the behavior of others, and the general history of humanity.

The crux is we aren’t willing to pay the price required to willingly allow the unknown to enter our lives. That price may be letting go of a relationship, friends, a career, financial security, reputation, or all of these. The most difficult sacrifices, however, are the beliefs and identities that comprise the image we have of ourselves.

We are conditioned to cling to routine and habit as sources of comfort, stability, and sanity, even as we loathe the predominance of those same elements in our lives. Consequently, a significant percentage of the other cult members are there for reasons other than growing, maturing, or transforming and are pursuing an alternative agenda unbeknownst to themselves, and one of those people may be you.

My own initial motives involved a curiosity about the limits of human consciousness, a craving for mental and physical self-discipline, and a desire for practical tools that would serve those aspirations. I was in search of peak experiences and believed that an accumulation of them would culminate in some sort of consistent wakened state. Essentially, I wanted to make my life one long drug trip without having to rely on drugs.

After several years of involvement, though, I realized I was using the language of spirituality to delude myself into thinking I was growing or waking up, and that having a well-defined spiritual path was a way for me to feel superior to others. I believed that because I could drive a shit-load of energy up my spine, assume various hatha yoga poses, and talk the esoteric talk that I had become someone other than the self-absorbed prick I’d always been. At that point I had to decide whether to continue with the sham, give up entirely, or begin deconstructing myself for real.

Certainly, you want to find an environment and a GMT that make you feel welcome. However, if you’re there for no other reason than it makes you feel good, then you’re already on thin ice and better off at home on the couch with a pint of Haagen-Daz. At best you’ll be quickly disillusioned and leave, and at worst you’ll be road-kill somewhere down the line, because we all know that feeling good is an ephemeral state and not a reliable long-term indicator of a situation’s integrity.

My first suggestion, then, is to have a motivation other than—or in addition to—the sensation of being high on life that accompanies being in the GMT’s presence or hanging with the other cult members. Even if your initial reason turns out to have been a total delusion, at least you judged your experience against something concrete. You can also take solace in knowing that you exposed your own delusion, which is significant in itself and may compel you to periodically rediscover the purpose of your involvement. This keeps the experience fresh and interesting.

A common misconception about cults and GMT’s is that they operate in a rarefied realm where our family dynamics and past traumas will not pollute the atmosphere. If you don’t come down to earth from that fantasy on your own, someone else will be happy to assist you in that free-fall, solicited or not.

To that end, it is a good idea to have a friend or two among the members who have been around the block and have moved beyond the initial honeymoon, star-struck phase of involvement. They may provide you with a sober point of view on what is actually happening around you and be honest enough to inform you when your focus is misguided.

A familiar motivation is to find community or the family you never had. If pursued too blindly and persistently, this agenda will likely get you into a lot of trouble from projecting your desire for siblings or parental figures onto the other cult members and the GMT. Without exception, we all do this in any group setting. The extent to which we recognize that we’re doing it, however, will dictate how creatively we can use our time in a cult.

If you’re using the GMT to gain the approval you never received from your parents, it is likely to be expressed through the persona of the good student, which serves as a replacement for the good son or good daughter identities we are so fond of repeating on unsuspecting victims throughout our lives. Striving to be the good student was my way of sustaining my self-image as someone who didn’t make waves, avoided confrontation, and preferred to think the best of people and myself because that just makes the world a hell of a lot simpler.

This is not to say that a cult cannot be a valuable source of supportive relationships implicit in family and community, and foster a sense of belonging and being appreciated simply for who you are. That source of emotional and psychological stability should, however, also contribute to the development of an independent spirit and not just blind loyalty to the pack.

The GMT is there to challenge your illusions about everything, and your willingness to accept that challenge will give you an idea of the basis for your involvement. If you’re there primarily for community and stability you may hold all the more strongly to those illusions and find yourself judging the GMT as a disruptive influence to your connection to the other members.

Ideally, a cult is somewhere you can feel safe, but cannot hide, either. It should be place where you can make yourself vulnerable without fear of humiliation or reprimand. At the same time, it is an environment that may cause you to realize that any situation is only as safe as you know your own mind.

If you do not learn some extremely unflattering truths about yourself through your participation, then you are not paying attention. Over time, I got a good look at some of my less admirable qualities: cowardly, passive-aggressive, elitist, emotionally abusive, willing to look the other way regarding questionable behavior as long as my needs are met, just to name a few.

Looking back, you will inevitably be embarrassed by some of your behavior and naiveté, but that can form the basis for a newfound humility and empathy. The challenge is to face these perceived failings without falling into chronic self-loathing, which is just another mental strategy to avoid emotional maturity. Learning to accept yourself as you are involves embracing a lot of orphaned attributes that you kicked to the curb early in life in order to fit in and feel accepted.

Danger, Will Robinson!

The following are some cautions and pitfalls when considering a cult that can spare you a lot of grief if you recognize them in time. Some will be obvious upon your initial exposure, and others only become evident after some degree of involvement.

If you are required to refrain from certain activities and habits in order to become a member, this should give you pause. While you may not care, for instance, if you have to give up red meat or alcohol in order to join, you may still consider whether there is a worthwhile reason for the restrictions, and not just to make you a powerless child who cannot make her own lifestyle choices.

Is it tithing or highway robbery? If you are asked to surrender your life savings as a demonstration of your commitment to a non-material focus, it will likely pad your cult’s wallet instead.

If you are required to cut off communication with your family and friends, or if there is any indication that you cannot leave whenever you want, that should send you running for the exit.

If you’re required to perform any type of demeaning ritual acts that will prove you’re worthy of membership, then you are better off pledging a college fraternity because at least free beer may be forthcoming.

If the cult does not provide a means for moving beyond the cult and the GMT in the form of tools for self-growth, that is a red flag in my book. I’m referring to techniques for increasing awareness of energy flow, releasing repressed emotions, improving mental focus, developing intuition, getting and staying grounded, and fostering a connection between mind and body. Without such tools, to flog a well-worn cliché, how will the student ever become the teacher? If the lack of these aids doesn’t seem to faze you, then you may be on the path of the “eternal seeker,” which is analogous to someone who collects advanced degrees and never pursues their practical application.

However, those same tools for self-growth can be used to reinforce your current situation rather than to find a way out of it. For example, meditation can easily serve to suppress feelings and emotions. So, the way you use the tools is as important as their availability.

If you do not have the self-discipline to eventually use the tools in a moment-to-moment context to have an embodied experience of the principles underlying them, then your mind will only associate spiritual or personal growth with the setting of retreats, workshops, or classes.

You can attend workshops and classes till the day you die, all the while convincing yourself that each one is moving you further along a track of progress, and it is really just the mind whispering the lie that waking up is about acquiring more knowledge. The mind will make a habit out of anything in order to preserve its primacy and avert its un-doing, and your precious spiritual path is what’s for dinner. It, too, can easily become just another rote exercise consisting of an obsessive focus on regular attendance at workshops and classes.

If the GMT espouses only love and light and characterizes certain emotions and feelings as bad and others as good, this indicates a lack of wholeness and maturity. Unfortunately, the New Age movement has been riddled for decades with so-called teachers who peddle a Pollyanna, rose-colored version of the human condition. In reality, the splendor of humanity is more than matched by the horror of humanity and a GMT worth his or her salt will encourage you to find both equally within yourself.

If you are honestly looking for a visceral experience of the truism, “the entire universe resides within you,” you do not get to cherry-pick which universal aspects to embrace based on your preferences.

Beware of the cult that tries to sell you “enlightenment”—a word whose regular abuse has consigned it to a status of utter irrelevance. The notion of enlightenment now occupies the same level of credibility as the 72 virgins promised to suicide bombers after their glorious demise, or the hackneyed version of heaven with harp-toting angels. It is yet another Eastern concept of substance—similar to hatha yoga—that has been watered down during its transoceanic voyage to the West.

The Western portrayal of enlightenment resembles yet another pain-free state of reward for being good and virtuous, and a refuge from the baser aspects of being human. Our humanity is presented as something to transcend rather than fully experience, when we’re not remotely aware in the first place how it feels to be fully human. How can you transcend what you haven’t experienced yet?

If you are like me, you will repeatedly run into the assumption that a reward awaits you contingent on “right” behavior and thinking. It’s one example of how our enormous sense of entitlement as Americans insinuates itself into a context ostensibly concerned with selflessness. If the only reward turns out to be that you feel more alive than you ever have, would that be enough?

My last GMT asked, “Do you want to have a life before you die?” and that was good enough for me to hop on board for seven thrilling years.

GMTs

Why are we conditioned to be so disconnected from ourselves that we need permission from another to simply be who we were born to be? Instead of pondering this unanswerable question, it’s more fruitful to consider the purpose GMTs serve: We view them as someone who has found the thing in his/her life that is missing in ours. They provide us with a model for a life based on something other than fear, and encountering that impels us to look inward for that same experience. Bearing in mind this function of a GMT as a force that catalyzes self-examination is very important, because our unfortunate inclination is to use them as an object of worship to corroborate our feelings of inadequacy.

A skilled GMT can demonstrate the power of surrender, vulnerability, and witnessing one’s mind, elements for living a fulfilling life that are extremely rare in any mainstream context. By making yourself vulnerable to a GMT you open the door to glimpsing the forces that truly determine your life’s expression, as opposed to the delusions of control and free will under which we hazily operate. If you cannot make yourself vulnerable to the GMT, ask yourself whether that is because you don’t trust him or her, or because that’s where you draw the line as far as wanting to know yourself.

GMT’s are often intimidating presences, but are as deserving of your compassion as they are of your respect, because they willingly set themselves up to be targets of criticism, blame, comparison, and suspicion and that is not an easy mantle to assume.

The roles of a GMT are varied and complex: parent, psychotherapist, authority figure, friend, confidant. Being a GMT requires the self-discipline and awareness to be non-reactive, ruthless, neutral, detached, humble, vulnerable, and have the discernment to sense when each quality is needed. You will probably find your GMT everything from confounding to adorable in the span of a couple of minutes, because they act as a model for the paradoxical in human nature. It is no wonder that so many of them go off the rails.

If you’re on your fourth GMT in two years because the previous three did not pass muster, you’re probably looking for someone who does not exist and even if they did would teach you nothing. What are they going to do if you find them, show you how to be a perfect human being, which is the antithesis of a whole human being? Checklists are useful when shopping for a used car, but not a GMT.

A GMT is, above all, a human being with all the accompanying faults and desires. If she/he claims to be anything other than a human being—e.g. a saint, the reincarnation of a past teacher, an ascended master—I recommend politely excusing yourself. If too much energy is wrapped up in celebrating how awesome the GMT is, then you are involved in a personality cult. A GMT can only do so much to deflect such unwanted adoration, so it’s up to you to determine if he or she appears to bask in and encourage such behavior.

If you are exclusively attracted to GMT’s who are no longer alive, but have a large following, you may be avoiding the confrontation with a live GMT that could shake you to your core and initiate the unraveling of your life. It practically ensures a difficult route to finding the teacher inside you because you can never measure up to a beloved GMT whose memory is preserved, protected, and exaggerated by a legion of devotees. It can be a convenient device to stay small and convince yourself that you’re growing at the same time.

There is no one GMT who will be all that you need, nor will he try to fill every void in your life. And that’s a blessing, because if she did it would make it that much easier to fall asleep in a dependent relationship.

If you find yourself wanting to be your GMT’s buddy, it may be an indication that you are a bit power-hungry yourself and believe that close proximity to the big cheese may rub off on you. This makes it harder on the GMT because they have to deal with that projection as well as others you may have. It is their job to destroy your illusions about yourself and we usually don’t acquire friends based on their willingness to call us on our shit.

This is further complicated if you enter into a sexual relationship with the GMT. If the cult practices the conscious cultivation and channeling of sexual energy, it may ensure a mutually agreed-upon, grounded focus for the experience. In that case, a sexual relationship with a GMT is not inconceivable.

Otherwise, pursuing an emotional and sexual relationship with a GMT is likely a big, fat neon sign that your cult involvement is motivated by something other than a desire to grow up. We Americans are generally not capable of staying emotionally detached in a sexual relationship (I know I’m not), and emotional detachment is likely what the GMT will bring to it. If you bring attachment rather than detachment to such a coupling, there is likely to be pain, misunderstanding, and feelings of betrayal. Indeed, this has precipitated the downfall of many a GMT, and caused disillusionment for countless cult members.

If you feel you have been betrayed by the GMT, you have to ask yourself whether they acted the way they always have, but that this time you took it personally, or whether they truly behaved like an insensitive asshole. It is critical to recognize your own contribution, because no one is innocent in such a scenario. After all, you chose to make yourself vulnerable to an individual you believed could help you discover who you really are, when in fact that information can be known by you alone.

When an event is perceived as a betrayal, it is usually an indication that it was not a good fit in the first place or that one or both parties stayed too long in a situation that was clearly over, but neither had the courage to end it.

This is where you are on a knife’s edge in a cult: It is no easy task to balance surrender, vulnerability, critical thinking, and monitoring your feelings, but it is possible. Staying receptive to a variety of different sources of information will give you a fighting chance to maintain a grounded perspective.

When your GMT honestly tells you or demonstrates who they are, you need to pay attention! If they behave in ways you find difficult to accept, you may only hear and see what reinforces your idealized image of him/her. You are there to find the GMT within yourself and not to clean up the one in front of you. If you find yourself wishing the GMT would change or grow in certain respects, then it may be time for you to leave the cult.

Leaving

Any GMT will tell you that your path is ultimately a solitary one and only you can navigate its crooked turns and cul de sacs. This may sound mercenary, but you are using the GMT to get to yourself and at the point you trust yourself as much as you trust him or her, then it is time to leave. This does not preclude feeling immense gratitude for whatever valuable experiences you have had there.

It is important to frequently reflect on why you are participating and how you have benefited thus far. It requires a balance of critical thinking and honest evaluation of your inner state. Simply put: “Am I happy here? Do I feel fulfilled here? Is there something I’m not getting from the GMT that is important to me?”

The external expression of your life will also tell the tale: Have you still not found the courage to leave a loveless marriage, reconnect with your estranged family, refrain from self-destructive behaviors, find a career that is worthy of you? A consistent sense of numbing familiarity is a sign that either you are not using the cult to honestly examine how you’ve created your life, or that this particular cult is not for you. This is not an easy separation, but the longer you stay for the wrong reasons the harder it is to leave.

You will need to trust your own answers to these questions, because ultimately you have to rely on how you feel to guide you and not what the community or GMT may tell you, because it is naive to assume that they always have your best interests in mind. Every last one of us is functioning with a stunningly incomplete knowledge of who and what we really are, so it is easy to allow others to make such decisions for us.

It goes without saying that a cult is one hell of a place to observe the power of collective agreements and beliefs, and you will witness your own tendency to either take them on or challenge them. At times, the group-think will make it difficult for you to form your own impression of what is right and meaningful. And, if you’re lucky, you’ll experience the uncomfortable recognition of our mental default mechanisms that have ultimately led us to the brink of our own extinction.

One of the most useful pieces of wisdom ever given to me by a GMT was, “the purpose of a spiritual path is to exhaust the student,” but I never fully got it until I reached that exhaustion. At that point, the notion of spirituality collapsed and blended with every other category of human experience intended to make one person feel more special than another. It was actually a source of enormous relief and gratitude.

I realized what I had invested so much time and energy in was the slim opportunity to find a departure point, and not a security blanket of spirituality in which to wrap myself. And, if you do experience the dissolution of your spiritual path, it means that you’re free to create instead of seek.

Abandoning the search for meaning can release a tremendous amount of bound-up energy and invigorate your life in unexpected ways. It can result in some deep despair as well, of course, but if your practice has not prepared you for this, then it was never really intended to put you in touch with the full range of your humanity.

Although we tend to idealize the search for meaning as a noble pursuit, actually pursuing it can expose it as a major cause of human suffering. It’s not meaning itself that is the problem, it’s what we do with meaning once we’ve found it. We can’t be content with it on our own; we need a consensus to agree that this one is better than any other meanings. It becomes another source of separation instead of unity, another identity to protect, and a basis on which to dismiss others in comparison.

Because of our vastly overblown opinion of the human species, it cannot be enough that we exist simply to fully express who we were meant to be as individuals. No, good heavens, there must be some overarching meaning to all this that reflects our inherent majesty.

After your cult experience, if you trust your own definitions of “spiritual” or “sacred,” and know that it’s okay if those definitions are continuously evolving and self-contradictory, then you have a way of being that is rooted in feeling and personal experience instead of dogma, ideology, or a tired narrative that was recorded millennia ago.

Joining a cult can be an attempt to drop out of mainstream society, but what you learn is that you can never escape your own mind, and that it is a reflection of the collective mind in all its messy glory. You can, however, become intimately familiar with the workings of your mind, and therein lies your chance to rediscover what a cult and GMT can only point you toward.

Why Is It So Hard to Find Urgency? Part 2

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This is an excerpt from my upcoming book, “The Art of Getting Out of the Way.”

3. Until we’re willing to experience the nature and extent of the pain we’re in, we have a limited perspective on our situation and how to find a way out of it. Urgency springs from a transfer of energy that occurs when we allow ourselves to be vulnerable to the pain underlying an habitual behavior or emotional state. The energy that was applied to suppressing the pain becomes available when we stop the suppression. It is a shift from a mental effort—suppression—to an effortless act—being vulnerable to our feelings.

That available energy is what we draw from to stay grounded and make a conscious decision to change an undesirable situation. Without that available energy, having a choice in the situation is in name only, because we will reflexively choose our conditioned, default behavior time and time again.

By the time we’re young adults, we’ve portioned out all almost all of our life force toward propping up a persona that we can live with and display to the public. Unfortunately, the script written for that persona is based on childhood adaptive strategies, traumas (real and perceived), borrowed beliefs, misinterpretations, fantasies, and false information. Besides making it very difficult to have a direct experience of what is right in front of us, it is our unwillingness to disassemble this web of misperceptions that stands between us and urgency.

In addition, episodes of illness and injury are woven into the story of our life and become associated with repressed emotions, such that a complete healing of the physical ailment requires revisiting the unresolved emotional component. We often fear what may lie on the other side of healing, because it will likely include the exposure of our hidden agendas around maintaining a certain degree of pain in our lives, and those agendas have to be sacrificed in order to achieve real healing.

In my 15 years in health care, I’ve watched clients (and myself) repeatedly choose chronic pain and illness—even death– over honest self-examination. We permit a depth of healing that corresponds to, but does not exceed, the degree of self-exposure that our ego can comfortably handle. In other words, the depth of our healing is directly proportional to how badly we want to know who we are and what motivates our behavior.

4. The mind leverages small discomforts to exert maximum control over our access to urgency. There is a whole universe of sensations and feelings that informs us about our emotional, psychological, and physical state at any given moment, but our mind dutifully chooses which ones to recognize and which ones to ignore and suppress based on the version of reality we’ve painstakingly assembled.

On cue, our mind-body produces mild, context-specific discomforts that signal the very tip of the pain we will have to confront in order to create change in our lives. However, these physical annoyances are not consciously acknowledged as heralding fear, rage, shame or whatever taboo emotion threatens us so profoundly. The more undefined the danger, the more the mind can keep us under its thumb. These discomforts and annoyances surface in that slippery interface between our everyday awareness and the unconscious, and may take many forms: jaw clenching, chest tightness, holding one’s breath, drowsiness, sour stomach, dizziness, and neck pain, to name just a few.

The discomfort’s message is a subtle, but powerful implication that whatever repressed emotions are uncovered will result in a worst-case scenario: death, destruction, public humiliation, or total loss of control. Until the repressed emotion is actually allowed expression, it is only indicated by this sensation-based signature of the repressed emotion.

Here’s an example. A man desperately wants to tell his father he loves him, but every time the thought occurs to him it is accompanied by a tightening of his throat. This has occurred so many times over the years that he no longer notices the discomfort, although without fail it has the effect of squelching the simple words, “Dad, I love you.” The throat tightening delivers the message that if he were to tell his father this simple fact, something bad will happen. It also masks the real reason he cannot say these words: a deep resentment for something that happened in childhood for which he’s never forgiven his father.

Not telling his father he loves him is the son’s way of withholding love in payment for that episode that happened so long ago. The underlying statement is, “I won’t tell you I love you until you admit that you were wrong.” The throat constriction is tied to the son’s inability to relinquish being right about the incident, and the trade-off is the loss of emotional connection to his father.

Since the son will not consciously admit to himself that he cannot let go of a petty grudge against the person who raised him, all that remains is the throat tightening to control his behavior. The end result is the son’s rationalization, “It just wasn’t the right time. I’ll tell him the next time I see him.” And urgency is successfully sidestepped yet again.

This is one of the mind’s primary methods of keeping us in our prison, both at the individual and collective levels. In this way, our past is always informing our present experience, and spontaneity, hence urgency, is kept at bay.

5. The mind may create a constant crisis state to avoid real urgency. This is a very successful strategy as evidenced by people who use rehab like a vacation home, make a hobby of attending multiple support groups, use permanent disability as a gravy train, or spend all their time putting out other people’s fires. If a person’s baseline state is to be in a crisis situation, how will he possibly be able to discern when he actually is in a crisis?

Hitting bottom for these people will be elusive, since bottom has become the norm. This phenomenon also attests to the extremely subjective nature of pain. Someone may, for instance, be willing to subject himself to the physical pain of heroin withdrawal, but not have the courage to confront the shame that fuels the addiction.

For someone to escape from this horrible trap, they have to recover a baseline experience of well-being, or at least neutrality. For someone who has lived her entire life in a crisis mode, this can be extremely threatening because feeling good has become such an alien experience and is not easily trusted.

If healing completely is too much of a threat to a victim identity, then the mind knows precisely where to draw the line to feel just well enough to keep the identity operational.

Why is It So Hard to Find Urgency? Part I

This is an excerpt from my upcoming book, “The Art of Getting Out of the Way.”

Have you ever found yourself envying someone who has received a terminal diagnosis or had a near-death experience, because he claimed that it dramatically enhanced his appreciation for life? Did it lead you to ask yourself, “Am I capable of creating that urgency within myself without needing to look death in the eye?”

Or, we all know a friend or family member whose inability to hit bottom has caused us to shake our heads and say, “Jesus, what’s it gonna take?!” And, in unguarded moments, we may ask that of ourselves as well.

Where does urgency come from and why is it so hard to find? The question becomes even more formidable considering the range of possible reactions to the aforementioned terminal diagnosis. For every person who finds a new immediacy in her life, there are many more that simply give up, hand their fate over to the health care system, or sink into depression or rage because of perceived powerlessness.

Beyond the typical dictionary definition, I would describe urgency as a force that compels us to overcome our habitual behaviors and beliefs to seek a more fulfilling life, and align our actions with our deepest aspirations.

Urgency is required to change many types of situations: quitting a self-destructive habit, ending an unhappy relationship, healing from a chronic health problem, and leaving a soul-sucking job are just a few.

This chapter will not attempt to address our collective inability to find urgency as a nation in rapid decline or as a species that is rapidly destroying itself and its environment. I feel that our individual barriers to urgency are an accurate microcosm of these broader contexts.

The factors that derail urgency are so insidious and varied that it makes sense to identify a just a few of the primary culprits:

1. We don’t give ourselves permission to desire what we actually want. If all we know is that we want a shitty situation to change, but we don’t identify why it has persisted and what we want in its place, it causes us to look for urgency where it does not reside in the situation.

For example, a person may say she wants a partner who is a good provider, but what she really yearns for is someone with whom she can express anger and not be rejected for it. However, she has never given herself permission to feel anger without feeling guilty about it.

In order to have a fulfilling relationship, she would have to find the courage to tamper with her carefully constructed identity of being a person who is above feeling anger. The real reason for her unhappiness in the relationship remains hidden because of her inability to honestly name what she wants due to its personal taboo nature. Until she is able to acknowledge that need she may not even be able to imagine herself in a different situation, and will likely continue in relationships with a partner that does not allow her to express anger.

We’re generally not taught to want something substantive from ourselves like learning to put our own needs first, how to be self-sufficient, how to recover our ability to cry, or be less inhibited. We often look to a therapist or teacher to give us permission to desire these things.

Instead, from an early age we’re handed ready-made constructs to chase such as financial and material success, romantic fantasies, fame, family obligation, patriotism, career, and advanced degrees. So, when our deeper desires gnaw at us they’re often not recognizable as real aspirations but rather as empty, vain pursuits, when compared to the prescribed goals of our culture. In other words, recovering our individual humanity often takes a back seat to being a productive citizen, a cooperative team player, or a good little consumer.

I wasn’t aware of what I really wanted from my life until I was 49, and since then I’ve held on for dear life because my own mind and the pressures of the world are constantly trying to convince me that I’m insane, irresponsible, and self-indulgent for desiring it.

2. We believe that we’re never going to die and that we’re entitled to a pain-free life. If asked, any sane person would deny holding these beliefs, but they are nevertheless clearly demonstrated through our individual and collective behaviors and are reinforced moment-to-moment by the health care system, mass media, our government, the entertainment industry, our educational system, and various other institutions.

Of course, we need only examine our own lives or anyone around us to know that death and pain are hallmarks of being in human form. So, how do we reconcile this massive contradiction in our minds and sustain beliefs that are disproven at every turn? Presto, the magic of suppression and repression enables us to occupy unlimited contradictory positions and avert pain or a spontaneous recognition of our mortality.

We can either choose the pain of staying the same or the pain of growing up, and that can seem like a bleak outlook unless we develop a relationship to pain and discomfort other than our ingrained default response of aversion and suppression. Unfortunately, we most often choose the pain of staying the same because familiar pain is our twisted security blanket, and the latter is an uncomfortable leap into the unknown. It is ironic that we often chastise teenagers for taking unnecessary risks with their lives as though they were immortal, while as adults we express this same belief in immortality through a profound lack of risk taking.

We are rarely encouraged to move toward pain and discomfort as a doorway to healing and change, and in fact, we’re likely to be labeled masochistic and mentally unstable if we do. If we voluntarily chose the discomfort of vulnerability and self-exposure more often, there would be little need for a self-help industry, spiritual gurus, or motivational speakers.

So, we look for urgency in a package that is anything but painful or threatening. However, urgency does not hang out in a warm and fuzzy place, and when we do not find it there the mind serves up a generous buffet of justifications and rationalizations prepared for just this occasion. We pat our ego on the back for at least making an effort to find urgency, but alas, it just didn’t answer when we called.

Wellness Briefs–“Medication Toxicity”

All of the conditions described in these posts are effectively treated with Pattern Release Energetics (PRE).

http://www.patternreleaseenergetics.com

Do you ever wonder why pharmaceuticals have endless lists of possible serious side effects? One reason is because after our bodies have made maximum use of the medication and excreted as much of the excess as possible, whatever traces of it remain can get stored in a variety of tissues, including muscle, nerve, brain, and organ tissues. Residual medication can settle in these tissues indefinitely and create a toxic environment that can persist long after the medication has been discontinued. This toxicity can produce symptoms such as chronic muscle and joint pain, nerve pain (neuropathy), organ system dysfunction, allergies, headaches, and insomnia.

Chemotherapy meds, antibiotics, antidepressants, interferon, blood pressure medication, and blood thinners are just a few of the medications I’ve encountered stored in clients’ tissues and causing the previously mentioned symptoms. The mere fact that a person must be weaned off a medication already suggests that his or her system has become unnaturally accustomed to having the substance in its tissues, since it is considered risky to simply stop altogether. As with infections, stimulation of the lymph system with PRE encourages the body to release medication toxicity in a safe and efficient manner.

Unfortunately, medication is often used as a long-term treatment strategy which makes the body dependent, lazy, and unresponsive. Over time, this can result in the medication causing the very same symptoms that it was intended to eradicate. If you have symptoms whose origins no one has been able to trace, and you’ve been on a prolonged course of a medication at some point in your life, then medication toxicity should be considered as a possible source.

Wellness Briefs–“Infection Medley”

All of the conditions described in these posts are effectively treated with Pattern Release Energetics (PRE).

http://www.patternreleaseenergetics.com

For both people and pets, multiple types of infections often occur concurrently. For example, an infection constellation composed of bacterial, viral, yeast, and fungal sources, or any combination of these, is common. If only the bacterial component is diagnosed and treated with antibiotics, it can obscure, and perpetuate, the other infectious elements. In fact, antibiotics can actually create the environment for these other infections to enter the scene in the first place.

The non-bacterial infections may mimic the symptoms of a bacterial infection, so it’s essential to know what exactly is present from the start, before the picture is muddied with any external stimuli. The dangers of indiscriminate use of antibiotics have been known for decades now, but it is still surprisingly rampant.

A grouping of different infections needs to be released layer by layer, in a specific sequence dictated by your mind-body. Otherwise, the healing is incomplete and encourages what is referred to as a “chronic, low-grade infection” or some such wording. Very often, there are emotional patterns that are being repressed in association with a particular infection layer, and these also need to be identified along with the infection type. Infections of any kind can be quickly cleared through activation of the lymph system with PRE, and people can easily be taught how to do this for themselves, as well.

The Intervention Fallacy: Part III, Freeing Yourself from the Cycle

This is the final installment of a three-part series.

http://www.patternreleaseenergetics.com

[The approach to self-healing that I use in my Pattern Release Energetics work is described in detail in my e-book, “Activate Your Inner Physician,” available through amazon.com, but this post is intended to summarize the principles behind it.]

Breaking the habit of intervention and re-learning how to heal oneself is–pardon the cliché—simple, but not easy. The first step, of course, is to stop intervening or allowing others to intervene whenever you have an uncomfortable, disturbing, or unfamiliar sensation, pain, emotional reaction, or obsessive thought. This at least gives you a chance to discover what experience is being short-circuited with intervention. Most often it’s an encounter with hidden beliefs, repressed memories, and unexpressed emotions.

Since we’ve taught ourselves to fear this encounter, we need a strategy to replace our default response of suppression, and develop a different relationship to pain and discomfort. We start by restoring the lines of communication between our bodies, thoughts, feelings, and emotions. These lines of communication are silenced over time as we’re socially conditioned to regard a human being as a compartmentalized phenomenon.

I teach people breathing and grounding to create a foundation for reestablishing this communication and encouraging the mechanism of expressive healing. These two tools provide a means to stay anchored while focusing on the symptom you’ve chosen to explore. Then you rotate your attention between all the physical sensations and emotional components that accompany the symptom, which might be described as a voluntary embracing of chaos.

This causes a type of tension to surface caused by the mind raising its resistance to examining the deeper sources of the symptom. Allowing this tension to build while staying grounded erodes the false compartments between body, thought, emotion, and sensations, and enables a freer flow of information between the conscious mind, the hidden self, and the physical body. By simply choosing not to suppress this experience, you are harnessing the healing forces inside you and encouraging them to interact until a resolution occurs.

This may feel very foreign at first, because in American culture we’re generally encouraged to resolve tension as quickly as possible, regardless of the context. The creative possibilities that non-resolution of tension engenders are unimaginable to the conscious mind, whose agenda is to choose either black or white and then rigidly defend whatever it’s chosen. In expressive healing, black and white are allowed to occupy the same space until they work it out and a third possibility reveals itself: healing. Tension and chaos are essential elements in expressive healing, and they are precisely what are trampled on with a suppressive approach. This is not a logic that can be reproduced by the intellect.

Another way of describing this approach is that it’s a way to make yourself vulnerable to yourself. Until you can do that, making yourself vulnerable to anyone else is extremely difficult, if not impossible. Vulnerability–the willingness to feel–is necessary to access whatever is trying to get our attention through disease, illness, pain, or dysfunction.

We like to think of ourselves as feeling beings, but until we’re actually asked to feel we don’t realize how profoundly intellectualized our experience of life has become. We say all the time that we want to feel more alive, but are we willing to experience what that really feels like after a lifetime of being programmed into a narrow band of feeling and self-expression? It’s not a stretch to imagine, for example, that your personal experience of feeling more alive might get you a diagnosis of bipolar disorder from certain mental health professionals.

Becoming a more feeling person doesn’t mean having one’s emotions spill all over the place at the drop of a hat. It involves being able to sense and honestly evaluate one’s internal state at any given time. Am I angry? Am I jealous? Is alcohol destroying my liver? Do I get a headache every time I visit my sister? Have I fallen out of love with my husband? Do I hold my breath when I talk to my boss?

Recovering one’s self-healing abilities is a solitary pursuit, because you’re not going to find much support for it out there. There is an unceasing exposure to elements that reinforce the intervention model, and the degree to which society attempts to keep a lid on our fundamental ability to heal ourselves is daunting, to say the least. If you do pursue it with some commitment, you’ll realize more and more how our culture’s approach to living one’s life is about suppression in practically every context you can imagine.

The point of all this is not to skate through life in some pain-free state or “tidy things up” emotionally. That’s a big part of the problem to begin with since tidying up suggests that certain emotions are unacceptable. It’s to observe, feel, acknowledge, and express. It’s a way to become more aware of why we do what we do, think what we think, and how that makes us feel on both a physical and emotional level. We can take the initiative to begin unwinding ourselves right now, or go with the flow and wait until life beats the crap out of us yet again, or we wait for the wake-up call of an emergency level of crisis.

 

I Don’t Need Help, But I Could Sure Use a Witness

This is an excerpt from the e-book, “Activate Your Inner Physician,” available on amazon.com.

Have you ever been fortunate enough to be in distress in the company of someone who did nothing except be with you? They didn’t try to help, console, or advise you. They didn’t hug you and say, “Everything’s going to be OK.” They simply stayed with you and what you were feeling. Do you recall how rare and liberating that felt? Just experiencing that objective presence can be a healing experience.

In essence, all the person did was stand in for you and give you permission to feel. When you combine witnessing with not interfering with expression, you get humanity. It’s a demonstration of the seeming contradiction that compassion is best expressed from a neutral place.

After all, when we try to console someone, we often do so out of selfishness. Either we don’t want to be in the presence of someone who’s having a rough time because it makes us uncomfortable, or we want to be the hero who makes him or her feel better. In either case, it’s more about us than them. We’re also passively denying their feelings by telling them it’s all going to be okay. In that moment, everything is not okay with that person and they need to acknowledge it.

We are constantly involved in short-circuiting each other’s feelings with the rationalization, “that’s just what friends do for each other.” Um, . . no. Friends allow each other to vent whatever nasty-ass feelings are surfacing while doing their best not to take it personally. If you have even one person in your life with whom you can do this, you know what a treasure you have there. Of course, a friend is also someone who’ll tell you when you’re being manipulative around your emotions.

Thankfully, we don’t need another person to experience the power of witnessing. We can simply sit our asses down and witness whatever surfaces as a result being vulnerable to hearing what our mind is telling us and what we’re truly feeling. This also includes witnessing physical sensations without immediately attending to their suppression. This may sound simple, but for many of us our whole lives are designed to avoid anything but a very superficial examination of our internal state.

Witnessing is a state of suspension whose qualities can range from exquisite calm to utter terror, depending on the mind’s judgment of what’s being witnessed. The more you’re able to witness the conscious mind, the more you realize that it’s constantly judging. And herein lies a sobering recognition: as long as we’re alive we will have judgments.

Throughout this book I use the term “neutral” instead of “non-judgmental,” for a very good reason. American culture promotes a naive innocence by encouraging us to be non-judgmental, because we’re programmed to believe that it’s a quality of a “good person.” This results in widespread shame and guilt around our non-stop habit of judging (“I feel guilty about thinking that homeless people are just lazy.”) If a person doesn’t feel that it’s possible to do the right thing in the face of his prejudices, then he has no choice but to suppress his judgments (“That’s not really me. I know that it’s not right to judge homeless people.”). Now he thinks he’s being non-judgmental and he’s wreaking more havoc than before. Any act of kindness toward a homeless person is now borne of guilt and a denial of his prejudice.

By “neutral,” I’m referring to straddling the line where you can hear your judgments but not judge yourself for having them, which allows for something amazing to occur. You can smile and give that same homeless person a dollar even as your mind is saying, “Take a bath, you worthless piece of crap.” Because guess what? The compassionate person and the elitist snob are equally part of who you are. It’s neutral witnessing that allows both of these to exist in the same moment without either one being “right.” The conscious mind abhors sitting in this contradiction because it needs to be right. That’s why learning how to maintain a neutral witness state with one’s own judgments is invaluable, because it siphons off some of the energy that goes into maintaining a rigid, polarized position.

I’ve never met anyone who was not judgmental to some extent, and I’ve known some extraordinary people. I have known people, however, who knew that their judgments were nonsense even as they were voicing them.