By Grief to Heal

At a Good Friday service, a minister once advised:

There are some sorrows too great for the body to bear, and for this reason we have rituals.

If this is true, then perhaps also the converse is true. To confront our deepest wounds, we strip away all semblance of ritual, and connect to our experience through the simplest practice.

For the final workshop of my Soul Play Fall Fest, I participated in Clarity Breathwork with Ashanna Solaris. The thirty attendees almost filled the space. After a brief explanation of the practice, Ashanna passed a crystal around the room, asking each of us to share our name and a few words that described the goal we hoped to achieve. Seated just to her right, I received the stone last. Held in my left hand, the crystal was infused with the energy cupped in my right as I slowly intoned:

Empowered feminine partnership.

But the Father asserted himself.

We were organized in two rows, heads toward the center with a footpath to allow Ashanna and her assistant to reach easily those overwhelmed by powerful emotion. I positioned myself next to the wall, actually a short space from the others.

The practice was simple: a slow rhythmic breathing, described by Ashanna as “feminine.” The inhale was heard as “ah” and the exhale as “oh.” No pauses between – we were to create a deep, steady cycling of energy.

Whether fighting food coma or afternoon lethargy, for the first twenty minutes I had trouble staying awake, much less maintaining the rhythm. Eyes closed, four times or five I heard a female voice in my ear encourage me to “Keep breathing.” Finally I got the knack of it, enjoying a steady cycle that built energy between my hips and solar plexus.

The voice was not satisfied. “Breathe into your heart. Let it rise into your chest.” Allowing my ribs to expand with the inhale, my back arced away from the carpet as my breastbone lifted upwards, falling with the exhale. The blocked energy washed upwards. Running from shoulder to shoulder, an intense band traced my head.

Sorrow awoke in my heart and built through five or so repetitions, and I was there again. My breath caught on the grief of the experience, losing its rhythm. The voice again ordered “Keep breathing.” I went deeper, and then crumbled in psychic agony. Wracked by sobs that broke into moans, the inhale became a brief gasp. I struggled for a minute, the blood-streaked visage filling my mind’s eye, until the voice commanded, “Breathe, breathe.” Slowly the inhale became longer, the exhale less explosive.

I was astonished by the serenity of the face above the broken body. My forearms just below the wrists began to glow with energy. He suffered, but when the animal reactions asserted themselves, he projected them away. That urge to scream, to struggle against the pins that held the limbs against the wood, to flee the pain of metal grinding against bone, these were suppressed and projected forward, finding their way through two thousand years to me.

I screamed, a long, impossibly slow articulation of agony that stretched out for twenty seconds. As the sound echoed in the room, my amazed intellect observed that the lungs were not deflating. Hands took my head and the voice, less assured, again commanded “Breathe!” I did, but the rhythm was marked by short, choked sobs.

I broke again, long waves rolling through me, hips and shoulders seeking freedom from the floor made intimate by the discipline of the practice. A last paroxysm brought my head against the carpet hard enough to thump against the concrete floor. Intellect stilled me with alarm.

And then the serenity transfixed me. I lost bodily awareness, floating in a space of sacred regard. The twelve elders stood guard around me, finding focus in the twelve apostles. My sacred lady turned her tender gaze upon me. Returning to earth, the glow in my forearms brightened and lengthened, and filled my feet. He thought “Father, I offer these wounds to you.” Pulled skywards, my arms and legs left the floor. Tears came, punctuating the impossible serenity and the compassion that sustained it.

The voices around me broke through, others sobbing in grief. I realized that I had triggered this. I came instantly to alertness, again in the room. Rising up on one side, I caught Ashanna’s eye as she ministered to a woman near me, and breathed the question, “Do you want me to help?”

“Whenever you are able.”

I gathered my legs under me, stretched my palms into the heavens, and washed the room with love.

The woman next to me was the most distressed. I won’t describe in detail. Ashanna’s assistant and I spent several minutes with her. Others needed attention, and left alone I advised. “Feel the love in the room. Breath it into your lungs. Now let it flow into your blood, and gather in your heart. Now let it flow from your heart to the rest of your body.” She steadied, and I offered simple praise. “Good job.”

She gasped “You too. Good job.” Then she turned away to her man. Gathered in his sturdy embrace, she immediately steadied.

Ten minutes later, as I delayed waiting for the others to depart so that I could check in with Ashanna, my coparticipant caught my attention. “Thank you. I never would have done it otherwise. You went for it, and I decided to do the same. You filled the room with this incredible energy, and I just went along.”

I’ve been there before, triggered by the passing of the elements or the words of a song. Eyes filled with awe, people huddled together in groups, glancing over shoulders turned against me.

So this was the greatest gift of the weekend: to be told that in that suffering the seeds of healing could be found. That is why it was done. That was its purpose. It is the only way to make meaning of it.

Woman, What Art Thou?

Not having had a woman in my bed in the seventeen years since my separation, I was tempted by the Sacred Cuddle event at Soul Play on Saturday night. “Cuddle” sounded safe enough – like a pile of puppies. It seemed possible that the participants would be counseled to avoid sexually explicit behavior, and I was beckoned by memories of the sweet pressure of a woman’s torso resting against my chest.

I realize now that I was reaching further back for motherly or platonic sensuality predating sexual fascination. Probably not the goal of the average adult.

The event started out tamely with regulated exercises, but after “free play” started, I stood up from my second chaste encounter and glanced around the room to discover that the energy was tipping inexorably into the sexual. Slipping discretely through the corner panel of the enclosure, I danced playfully through the last hour of the DJ set in the Ecstatic Ballroom, and held on until after 1AM to appreciate the romantic lyrics and tender acoustic guitar of the live closing act that I know only as “Colin.”

Despite the solace of Colin’s artistry, my expectation on Sunday morning was that I would leave Soul Play with only the gift that Parmatma Cris had delivered to me.

I could not have been more wrong.

My knees were aching from three nights of dancing, so on Sunday I decided to focus on workshops. The first was the Group Energy Mandala offered by Matt Sturm and Leslie Grace. I arrived early, but didn’t poke my head in the door because I found a free power cord lying at the corner of the building. Waiting for my cell phone to charge, I absorbed the warmth of the early sun and eavesdropped as the two worried whether anyone was going to show up at 8 AM.

Not wanting them to get too panicked, I retrieved my phone and introduced myself. After settling, we wondered about attendance until I asked them to explain their method. People began trickling in, until with the fifth participant they announced that they had enough to start.

In Tibetan Buddhism, a mandala is a visualization of sacred relationships. Some are purely abstract; others visualize deities. For the tantric practitioner, the body itself is a mandala. Tantric sex is an intimate paired mandala in which each lover surrenders to the inspection of their partner. Matt and Leslie hoped to guide is into a larger sharing.

The session evolved much as it did in Movement Alchemy. First grounding, then activation of the third chakra to chop away impediments. That was the actual physical metaphor: we did belly crunches while chopping the air with clasped hands. Just as when Parmatma described Kali tiger claws, in going through the motions I called forth the presence of my supervisor at work.

The process continued with exercises designed to build intimacy among the participants, culminating with a compassion mandala in which each of us took turns at the center while those outside grounded our immediate experience of love to source and the earth.

As this reached its conclusion, a final participant joined us, sitting to my left. She had Persian features, serenely youthful, her hair tied in a bandana from which a long helix escaped to fall along her right cheek.

Matt and Leslie organized the four men first, two sitting back-to-back and two resting against their shoulders. The women were posted outside, face-to-face with the men. I found myself paired with the young beauty. We introduced ourselves, and I was confronted with a tender femininity almost confounding in its receptivity. Incongruously, a female voice whispered in my ear, “This is our gift to you.”

The organizers asked the women to scoot in until our knees touched, and the meditation began. It was a simple journey through the chakras, and as stages of our experience were triggered by the description of chakras, it seems easiest to describe it in that framework:

The root chakra: grounding in the self. I as a man and she as a woman, but with a gentle intimacy where her knees rested on the inside of my calves. The tender tickle traveled upwards, so we rerouted it into the bones, establishing between us that whatever occurred would be managed consciously and consensually.

The second chakra: seat of passion. Awakening that energy, both of us were aware of the potency of sexuality, but I redirected my response into admiration for the freshness of her flowering. Gently she offered her passion to mine, and the energy built slowly, resonating back and forth until arousal became inevitable, and then we redirected again: she the flower, I the sun shining down to reveal her glory. Gazing into that light, she saw herself also in the trees and the sponges and corals of the ocean shallows. In each species the male emitted the seed, the female receiving and bringing forth new life.

The third chakra: seat of will. We fell back through time to an era of barren earth. The sun beat down, willing life forward. Lichen and moss spread, to be burned and digested by bacteria, becoming nutrients for new forms of life. Rain fell, capturing nutrients that enriched the fresh waters. Breathing deeply, the muscles of my abdomen forced my will out with my exhale: glaciers ground the stone into powder, merging with the dead residue to create soil. Again forcing myself into her, she saw herself with child, blocked only by the fear of birth. Inhaling I promised her relief, and exhaling she dilated effortlessly. The vision was broken by the sudden thrusting through the soil of the giant conifers amidst which we sat. Life presented itself to us: full, replete, joyful and proud.

The fourth chakra: seat of compassion. Our hearts opened to each other. A simple awe seized us: the rightness of our complementarity. We saw that reflected in the world and its contradictory dualities, and concern for its suffering filled us. Not compassion, in the sense that we felt also other’s pain, but as a unending resource for the wise to draw upon in attaining well-being.

The fifth chakra: seat of universal awareness. Seeing life as a system for healing, we sprung upwards and outwards, that purpose being revealed to us in the Earth as a whole: in the relationships between ocean, ground and atmosphere. Not ending there, it embraced the moon and tides; the sun and the space surrounding it.

The sixth chakra: seat of understanding. We regarded ourselves again, not as man and woman, but as masculine and feminine. Light emanated from jewels in the center of our foreheads, not merging but reflecting as sprays that formed two half-planes in reality. The two domains gathered themselves in preparation.

The seventh chakra: seat of enlightenment. From the planes threads arose into the heavens, guided by points of light. The lights sought each other, and as they danced the threads wove into helixes, the helixes merging into fibers, the fibers into stalks that merged into a great trunk. Braced by the trunk, the lights diverged to explore infinite possibilities. Pathways of inspiration drew others to become branches that branched again until individual expression was restored.

The Tree of Life.

I had opened my eyes several times on this journey, wondering whether she was with me, only to be confounded by her serene feminine receptivity. With the meditation at a conclusion, I gazed gently at her face, awaiting her return. She finally relented, smiling softly out of the side of her mouth.

We gazed into each other’s eyes, ignoring the suggestion that we describe our experience. I finally offered: “That was beautiful. Thank-you for the journey.”

She stirred and smiled more broadly. “Thank you.”

Self Reclamation

The centerpiece of my vacation was attending the Soul Play Fall Fest. Soul Play is a conscious living, dance and spiritual awakening experience held in the Sierras between Yosemite and Lake Tahoe.

I have been re-reading Louis Cozolino’s The Neuroscience of Human Relationships. Early in the book, he explains brain laterality. The right side of the brain integrates our individual experience to identify threats and opportunities. It is emotional, intuitive, non-verbal and non-linear in its reactions. The left side of the brain abstracts experience to seek patterns and commonality.

With this re-iteration, I was shocked by the realization that I have spent most of my life in the left side of my brain – to the extent, in fact, that I have difficulty thinking of myself as an individual.

For the last two weeks, I’ve been seeking to reclaim the right side of my mind. The most immediate side-effect has been a hardening of my boundaries against women (many of them sympathetic to my plight) that have been seeking to manage that part of my mind.

My first hope was that Soul Play would stretch and shake up my personality, facilitating the reclamation of the individuality rooted in the right side of my brain. As that progressed, I hoped also to find a safe container in which to begin restructuring my experience of women.

I was conscious of the risks. Among the gypsies of the conscious living movement, sexual experience often tends to what Christian moralists would consider “licentious.” Within the movement itself, sex is viewed as a joyous celebration of the sublime gifts of our materiality. Spiritually it is seen both as a reward for virtue and a method for its propagation. That sounds pleasant, but I have yet to find a community for whom it is that simple. People – no matter how enlightened – will compete for love.

So I wasn’t certain what to expect. That expectation was fulfilled, for the outcome was, well, unexpected.

Naturally, my engagement with women began on the dance floor, and progressed rapidly into healing. On the first night, I found myself sitting on the floor, a woman laid out over the inside of my right thigh as I probed for the source of pain in her hip. This continued into the first full day of sessions, dominated by contact improv and movement lessons.

But I want to focus on the breakthrough experiences, and the first of those occurred on Saturday morning. Parmatma Cris is a Brazilian yogini and tantrika (female practitioner of Tibetan tantra). Her offering, Movement Alchemy, was physically the most challenging of the courses I took. The exercises emphasized circular movement of the feet, hips, shoulders and arms that had to be carefully coordinated to conserve balance. This was described by Parmatma as generaion of “spirals” with our bodies.

After the frustrating warm-up exercises, she had us sit on the floor and led us through breathing exercises. The first was simple: inhaling while arcing the chest up and back, and exhaling into a deep forward curve. This advanced with circular motion of the sacrum, shoulders and arms.

The breakthrough came at the end. Abandoning the complex spirals, we were asked to swing our heads around in a circle, allowing our abdomen to follow its motion, inhaling on the upward stroke and exhaling as we fell forward.

This may sound uncomfortable, and indeed I paused after a couple of minutes, feeling dizzy and nauseated. Parmatma interrupted her instructions to order “If you feel dizzy or like throwing up, keep on going. It’s only your habit patterns trying to preserve their control. Most people don’t throw up, but if you do, that’s fine.”

So I went back to it, picking up the pace at her suggestion, and finally felt a shift in the right side of my brain, as though fluid was moving into it.

In that part of my personality, I saw a cluster of woman that had taken possession of my core personality two thousand years ago, in an act of violence that I have been hiding from others for most of my life. Confronting the methods and effects of that spiritual rape, I began sobbing and weeping uncontrollably, until one of the other students bent toward me to offer support.

“No. I’ll be fine.”

Parmatma paused for us to cool down, then pulled over mattresses so that we could all lie together with our heads pointed toward the warmth of the fireplace. I tried to relax, but the memories leaked back in, and I began sobbing. Her right index finger touched the middle of my forehead, cool and soothing, and then the rest of her hand draped itself over the right side of my head.

Namaste, sweet tantrika, sweet dakini. Blessings be upon you in your journey of peace and compassion.

What’s Your Medium?

Facebook, created by Mark Zuckerberg and other lonely undergrads as a distributed system to rate and stalk girls, is anti-social media. That may seem harsh, but while some use it to organize charitable events, that must be set against Facebook’s unregulated distribution of propaganda (such as Russia used to help Trump gain the White House) and monetization of every site and post through targeted advertising.

The Holy Spirit, the original world-wide-web, joins people in bonds of love. That is social media.

Allocate your time accordingly.

Working for God

Before I went on vacation, the company owner told me that I was responsible for my own anxiety.

I thought about that while I was on the road on Wednesday. I have several reasons to feel anxiety at work, but late that night, as I struggled to find the peace of sleep, I realized that they were all attempts by others to poison public perception of my conduct.

Putting those anxieties aside, then, what I was left with was this: standing in the door of my colleague’s office, telling him that I despite three books, a web site and three blogs, I have failed to build any interest in the truths that have been entrusted to me. That, and the images of the destruction wrought be hurricanes Harvey and Irma, with the fear that many would believe that God had forgotten them.

And I saw myself going to the camps of the displaced with boxloads of my Love Returns t-shirts for the children. The message was simple: the waters of death and destruction had risen against you to drown your faith, but the waters that Jesus offers are the waters of life. You are not forgotten – you are beloved.

The sermon on the boat in Galilee also came to mind: not from the perspective of Peter, but from the perspective of the fishes that hid from the nets all night until Jesus commanded Peter to let them down again. The vision was of children hiding under blankets in the corner when their parents came to look for them. When the children don’t show, the teacher sends the parents outside. The children remain under the blankets until the teacher goes to the door to tell their parents to “Try again.” Then the little class rushes forward to happily embrace their parents.

With these visions, all the negative thoughts vanished.

But I woke at 5 AM. Entering the town that the retreat I was attending was located at, I drove up Interstate 80 for ninety minutes, past Rocklin and almost to Truckee. Following the directions, I found myself at the supposed destination in the middle of an empty stretch of road. Checking my e-mail notices from the retreat, I learned that it was actually outside Sonora, almost four hours away.

Having left early, I was still going to make the first Thursday session, but I felt foolish and ashamed. I pushed that aside and focused on my good fortune: I was still going to be there early. As I approached Rocklin, I began wondering whether there wasn’t a reason this happened. As I entered Rocklin, I decided to search for some Christian music on the radio, and found AirOne. After a few songs played, a notice came on: AirOne was looking for two big data analysts to work in Rocklin.

Those that have been following this blog will remember that I had been taking courses in this field through eDx last year before I started the video series at Love Returns.

No prize to those that predict that I’ll apply. It’s the only way to clear up my deepest anxieties.

Poverty Loves

Just down-wind from the sewage treatment plant in Port Hueneme, the last fence on the road marks a demolished factory. The concrete pads still roll back from the entrance, and a long brick wall runs perhaps a tenth of a mile, as though trying to hold back the dunes and the sea.

The city council members bitch about the need to force the vagrants out of town, but the owner of the property pays for a chemical toilet and allows the homeless to stay. The leaders of my Monday Bible study group have been coming there for nine months now. With my video blog at Love Returns completed, I’ve joined them the last two Saturday mornings. Camp residents can receive Christian teaching and encouragement, lunch, and as much clothing and food as they can carry.

My role is pretty passive – standing watch to ensure no arguments break out. I’ve not seen evidence of such behavior, but yesterday even less so: Pastor Sammie’s church brought out a service team, and we outnumbered the camp attendees by at least two-to-one. My concern was actually that the wall of men standing at the edge of the pad would be a barrier to the less assertive.

I do my work quietly, offering to the beaten-down couple “Have some food and take some strength of heart as well.” Offering to guard a bicycle and new bedding while the owner was occupied.

But the real heart of the camp was revealed to me at the end of the service. An older woman was carrying an eight-pack of muffins away with her, and I asked if she didn’t need anything else. She said that she was cooking that night, and sure might. She had started with six, and two more heard and asked to come, and then they invited friends and she was expecting as many as sixteen.

“God bless you for your service.”

That struck her. She said that she was good with God, but he was challenging her. There were times, when the guns and violence got out of hand, that she spoke to him with words that weren’t so respectful. She didn’t know if that was allowed.

“That’s just fine. He needs to know what you need.”

She was one of the original camp members, having brought almost her entire neighborhood there. Her fiancé had been a boxer back on the East Coast, and then got mixed up doing work for a couple of crime families. She had seen him change his heart, taking pride in cooking and caring for others. But the doctors had loaded him up on psych meds. That morning, it was almost like he was on heroin, he was so dopey. She was going to call his lawyer and the doctors, because she had been in the industry for forty years, and knew what the proper doses and combinations were, and what they were giving him made no sense. They said that he was a violent man, and needed to be kept sedated, but she knew differently.

Sammie called the prayer circle, and we stood just outside the edge. I rubbed her back gently, asking her heart to soften. With the closing complete, I asked if I could pray for her.

I took her hands and invoked the Father. When clarity had filled the air between us, I prayed that the doctors would have the courage to see her man as she did, and allow him to continue to shine his redeemed light into the camp. I prayed that others would honor her charity and wisdom, and work together to solve their common problems, rather than taking for themselves.

When I finished, she held on, and exclaimed that her angels had been working overtime, and God had sent her me. There was no doubt that I had seen into her life, or that those that troubled her mind would be confronted with her hope. She had faith that the Father had spoken through me.

And as she left, I looked up and realized that the rest of the gathering had been frozen by the power of the love that we had honored between us.

Circumstantial Racism, Universal Exploitation

Ta Nehisi Coates rails against White racism in his analysis of Donald Trump’s ascendancy to the Oval Office. That racism is characterized as a universal Caucasian affliction, evident even in the policies of the Clinton White House. Coates cites welfare reform and mandatory sentencing as reasons that Hillary Clinton did not command black loyalty as did President Obama. That these policies are color-conscious only in the pattern of their enforcement reveals Coates’ own racism.

In his analysis of the root causes of white supremacist logic, Coates hits closer to the truth. In the face of economic exploitation (whether as white indentured servants or black slaves, whether living in company towns or struggling to survive as share croppers), the pride of the impoverished whites was preserved by their social superiority to blacks, Hispanics and Asians. Any policies intended to even those disparities opened a yawning pit of debasement under the feet of the white electorate.

It is this fact that Republicans have used to solidify their control of that constituency. The stark evidence is seen in the exclusivity of the staff in Speaker Paul Ryan’s office. Not a colored face among them.

So Coates takes a step backwards, and argues that the true root of racism is capitalism. This is an error, as the seat of slavery in America was in the agrarian South. With this fact, we should recognize ‘capitalism’ as a stand-in for ‘exploitation.’

Exploitation is a universal phenomenon that manifests as deforestation, water pollution and global warming. It is consumption of resources without consideration of costs to our neighbors or descendants. It is a phenomenon seen in every hierarchical culture on earth, not excluding any race, ethnicity, religion, or economic framework – and in fact driving internecine conflict that belies any attribution to those causes.

Given that universality, Coates’ calls for retribution against those that celebrate those causes (such as those co-ethnic to slave-holders in America) are counter-productive until we can demonstrate a political and economic framework that mitigates against exploitation. Without it, we are simply adherents to the ancient policy characterized satirically by:

The beatings will continue until morale improves.