Today’s questions: What needs do I lay at her feet, that I am afraid to fill myself? What tenderness do I feel myself too frail to hold, demanding this of another? And what commitments do I make —and keep!— in return?
- Today's suggested practice: Day 27 of this month's practice, to practice to receive (see my "Short Practice to Receive,” below)
- My practice today: 4:15am: 60 minutes: Yogic postures, mantra, pranayama.
- My vulnerability practice: Challenged to duel or to dance or to somehow other engage, I step back and feel regret, relief, confusion
There are good reasons for the strong opinions that "marriage" generates when raised in conversation. Like so much of this culture, a form with a confusion of contents, with a long history of suffering. Why would anyone willingly submit to this form? And yet, we do.
I trained as a "wedding Celebrant." I trained to help people find their way through this transition from one passage of life to another. From being "single" to being "married."
I take this work seriously. I consider it a calling. But not just to facilitate the 15 minutes of glory at the altar, in front of a few friends or a church or temple or hall filled with community. My calling is to help make that happen, but only after I've helped the couple who would wed whether they are ready for the dark unknown that waits for them. I would like to unsettle them a little, at least. I would like to have them dig deep to know whether they are ready for the literal obliteration of self that crossing this threshold entails.
I believe most of us approach the wedding thing with some seriousness. Yes, there's a beautiful party to create and to share and to experience. And even for those of us who are witnessing, who often have tragic stories of weddings that have become nasty and painful separations and divorces, even for us there may be a glimmer of hope, that this time, perhaps, the magic works.
The historian Christopher Lasch titled one of his books, Family: Haven in a Heartless World. Maybe that is what I —maybe all of us?— seek in marriage: a place for my tenderness to be held safe against the world. That is a lot to ask. It's a lot to ask this apparently near-bankrupt form. It's a lot to ask of my bride, who is herself seeking refuge. It's a lot to ask of each other in a world that hammers relentlessly at these fragile havens built on expectations and need for comfort and protection. And yet, this is, I believe, what our vows essentially ask of us: to have faith, in the form, in each other, in ourselves, and —maybe, just maybe— in our community.
And so I am reluctant to wed those who haven't been tested. It is no small thing, to be married. It is a huge risk. The culture devalues the form, devalues the vows we make, with the fast-food-wisdom of "moving on." Of "no regrets." Of "nothing lasts forever." And of course, sex complicates everything.
Where do we stand in this swirling current of cultural flaccidity? How can we stand? There is nothing underfoot. It is all dissolving...
My colleague, Fabiola Perez, is leading workshops on what she calls "Inner Matrimony." She was challenged on her choice of words. She was told, "People here don't get married anymore."
We may not be getting married anymore (though the facts say otherwise this is a commonplace that makes marriage now seem unusual —and that may be a good thing). But we are quite ready to leap into provisional arrangements. May are reluctant to commit to a form that we see as offering little comfort or protection or reliability, but we'll move in together and say things like, "We'll see how it goes." We'll "try it out." As if living together and exchanging not only airspace and bodily fluids, but most importantly our precious energies, is like... like trying out a new car? Or a used car. Because soon enough, after a couple of these trial co-habitations, our hearts begin to have a "used" and tired feel.
Christine Emba makes her provocation at the end of Rethinking Sex: What if we paused?
In my own life the best and deepest happened when I paused. When I took time to breathe. When I didn't just "move in together" when the feeling was so strong, but waited. After a couple of "trial" arrangements, after a difficult marriage, after the confusion of desire and disappointment of sex without the "haven," I knew I had to do something different. I didn't entirely succeed. And I subsequently reverted to bad form. But I think those regrets have taught me something. It's something I want those I wed to consider. Pause. Breathe even deeper. Become conscious of this deep, lifelong darkness that waits on the other side of the threshold. This is the after-party to the wedding.
I was recently taken to task for speaking about the sexual content of what some (perhaps many, I now realize) believe to be a sexless or sexually neutral social activity. One person asserted that in that space they are their role and not their gender.
The stirring showed me some things I hadn't considered. One, that I was naïve, thinking that speaking about sexual energy would be construed as anything but the wishful thinking of, as one reader put it, "a lecherous old man." Another, that I may not be ready to weather the sword of Kali as She invites me to stand and endure the hurt and anger of those who've been stirred by my clumsy words.
It also showed me that what we achieve by not talking about what seems so obvious to me is not the pause the Emba suggests, but the denial that makes the pause almost impossible. How, if we can't speak of how our sexual energies are held, allowed, repressed, in the ubiquity of a hypersexualized culture, how can we consciously pause?
I like Emba's provocation. She offers it at the end of a not-too-long journey into the unhappiness our two generations of "sexual liberation" and more recent "sex positivity" have engendered. She offers it, I believe, as a way to appreciate how far we've come from a culture of sexual puritanism and hypocrisy, and to become more than (ironically) automatons of "consent is enough." Of "more sex is better sex."
The insitution of marriage is cross-cultural and global. Ancient. With many rhymes and reasons. It is one of the range of rituals and ceremonies we use to mark the transitions of this life. Coming of age. Birth. Death. Embarking on the journey that deepens us as adults in service to our community, our family, each other. We lean on these rituals because we want to trust something to hold us in the vulnerability we feel as we cross the threshold into the unknown. Our vows, sometimes (as in a wedding) spoken formally, sometimes unspoken or only muttered informally (a funeral) give structure and foundation in the face of life's always changing nature. It's viccisitudes.
The question isn't, Are you married? The question is, Are you conscious of your energetic engagement? Are you conscious of the structure and form you are creating —or dissolving— and is this shared? Is it consciously held between you and whomever you are engaging?
I believe this is especially important in any activity where we exchange sexual energy. And, ironically, especially in those spaces where we think we're not moved by sexual energies. Here is where the greatest dangers lie, where the capacity for the sacred and the holy to hold us is most needed.
In their response to my own (unconsciously) provocative words, one reader asserted, strongly, that she was in no need of "protection" in that space so rife with bad actors. Nevertheless, and perhaps especially so, when I feel that protective energy in a woman (or man), I choose to be careful. Full of care for them, and for myself. They are signalling their vulnerability with their own protective shield. Conscious of this, I deepen my breath and my capacity for compassion. I allow their Kali swords to rain down on me. To figuratively dismember me, knowing that here is a test that I (because of daily, sustained practice) have the capacity to go through. And this is nothing compared to what marriage invites.
The question isn't, Are you married? But, Are you ready for the tests that will ask you to prove yourself after you've been dissolved as a man or a woman? What forms, what pauses, hold you?
What is my commitment to this path? How do I inhabit and move this energy this is within me in this life, that persists even as my self and my ego are dissolved? That will be tested in every moment where I commit, consciously or unconsciously, to holding another's vulnerability, their tenderness, whether in a conversation, a dance, a marriage, a family, a community?
Always, Who am I now, in this moment? And what do I serve?
Fabiola, in a recent workshop, invited the couples participating to consider death. She quoted from Heidi Priebke's "1000 Funerals," referencing the many, many changes we experience in a committed relationship, asking us to consider how to live with this always-dying (and always-being-born)?
The answer, always, Who am I now, in this moment? And what do I serve? Is it love as She presents Herself in this moment? Or is some notion of my past self, the past self of this marriage?
🌀 In sexuality, as in birth, we actually lose control, if real alchemy and presence is happening. What a relief. (Kimberly Ann Johnson)
🌀 Sex becomes sacred when our desires are sacrificed on the altar of love.
We do not cling to our desires. But place them into the crucible to be consumed by the flames of passion.
Who we are is not what we desire.
Desires come and go. We do not.
Through sacred sex, desires are consumed like fuel in a flame. And we rise from the ashes, freer than we were before.
Desires, once dark, that appear as something less than love are alchemized and return to their original state—as love itself. (Justin Patrick Pierce)
🌀...we have become accustomed to treating our desires as something to be satisfied as immediately as possible—eat the cake, buy the shoes, have the sex— otherwise we risk the charge of not being true to ourselves. We describe sex in particular as a need, hearkening back to our Freudian (and liberal-capitalist) understandings of deprivation as a fate worse than death. Sexual desire is an uncontrollable force, stronger than any norms, customs, responsibilities, or relationships that might stand in its way, and it's often too much to ask for us to control ourselves in the face of it.
But it's possible that we are actually overselling sex, and underselling our own free will. (Christine Emba)
🌀I want to be seen. I want to be accepted as I am. And loved for that. (My beloved, my Oracle & Siren)
TODAY'S SUGGESTED PRACTICE
Day 27 of this month's practice, to receive:
Please read through first, then ...
- Today, set two alarms, one for the early part of your day, one for mid-late afternoon when you may be feeling low energy.
- When the alarm sounds, wherever and however you are, take three, five, 11, or 30 minutes to do this short practice:
- When you’re done, sit or stand for another minute or two, breathing gently, slowly filling and emptying your belly. Here, as you breathe into your fullness, ask yourself, What needs do I lay at her feet, that I am afraid to fill myself? What tenderness do I feel myself too frail to hold, demanding this of another? And what commitments do I make —and keep!— in return?
- Notice if your body-mind feels somehow changed. And whether you notice a change or not, be content with yourself, exactly as you are in this moment.
- Continue with your day until the next alarm sounds, and repeat.
- If you want to talk about your experience, or your resistance, or about anything, please set up a short (15-minute) chat for Zoom: sacredbodies.ca/chat.
- It may not be enough, but it'll be a start. And that's always a good thing.
★ MEN & DIVORCE & HEALING: the October Apprenticeship to Love virtual workshop, with men's coach Max Trombly. If you are ready to part of the sacred space I hold for Apprenticeship to Love Premium and Premium Plus, please register at https://bit.ly/3EHas9w
If you're ready to sign up for Premium or Premium+ benefits (discounts on programs, retreats, free monthly virtual workshops) please see https://apprenticeship-to-love.ghost.io/#/portal for details...