Today I was listening to a podcast (link at the base of the page), when the hosts mentioned they'd be discussing '10 questions' they consider good to ask before you reach the point of having sex with someone. I have questions I ask, and my brain started to list them. Then I realised the podcast wasn't going in the same direction. So I paused it and wrote this blog of my own ideas, before jumping back online to hear their list.
Let's start with some 'intro' points:
i) This isn't a 'definitive list' of questions. The purpose of this blog is to assist others to consider their own questions, and to stress the value of asking any questions at all!
ii) Asking questions can feel very unfamiliar, even counter-intuitive. As an adolescent I was taught that being 'manly' involved automatically knowing what to do and say (and when to) without asking questions. What I have since found to be 'manly' (a word I use as a mere convenience, being well aware of stereotypes and generalisations) is the courage to ask important questions even when doing so feels difficult.
iii) Even if you are comfortable with the idea of conscious relating (discussing the important aspects of your intimacy), there's the consideration of timing. When you are (or may be) starting a new connection, how soon is too soon? Some of the questions I like to ask definitely feel 'too soon' sometimes. Yet, to leave them could easily be too late! I like to be straightforward at such times: "I'm not asking this with any expectation or pressure on you, but if feels like if I don't ask this now it could be too late..." (Refer also to Question 1.)
iv) I don't do one-night stands, so this list won't be entirely translatable into that context. One of my requirements before having sex is to get to know the person over a reasonable period of time (at least a few weeks). To set up a foundation of friendship, communication, and genuine understanding of each other as whole human beings. Before going the next step, which for me (whether a relationship is likely to be long-term or not) is a place of vulnerability and sacredness, no matter what flavor the connection is.
v) It's important to accept, and respect answers that may not be the ones you had hoped for. And to politely and clearly move on if it's obvious that any important aspect of compatibility isn't present.
vi) Asking sensible conscious questions isn't a guarantee of getting everything right, but they do hugely increase the chances of everyone feeling respected, appreciated and engaged with, and they support boundaries not being crossed inadvertently.
6 Questions to ask Yourself about the Other Person
Q1) Does this person appear to be someone who will appreciate that I am into conscious relating, and be happy to talk about at least a few basics before we go far into intimacy?
(If they aren't, then I'd be moving away at this point. Conscious communication is massively important to me.)
Q2) Does this person have both the opportunity and desire in their life for broadly the same kind of connection I feel I would want/need in order to engage with them?
(Personally I have zero interest in trying to convince someone of this if it's not a clear and desirable outcome for them! Nor of being a burden on someone's time.)
Q3) Are they a relatively intelligent, emotionally stable, independent and self-soverign individual?
(As opposed to someone who is likely to give up responsibility for their own core emotional needs if we begin an intimate relationship, or someone who needs to be drunk in order to relax into connection.)
Q4) As well as a sense of sexual compatibility, does this connection feel personally meaningful, or am I only attracted physically and/or energetically?
(Once upon a time the answer to this wouldn't have mattered so much, but these days I'm only interested in some degree of deeper substance - for everyone involved.)
Q5) Do we get along and communicate in grounded ways that support a healthy and relaxed appreciation of each other as real and sensitive human beings?
(Rather than overly-romantic, idealised, or perfectionist 'conditioned expectations'.)
Q6) How am I likely to feel immediately after, and in the days and weeks after, having sex with this person, and what sense do I have of how they are likely to feel?
(However long the connection lasts, does it feel like there are really good vibes between us, and some rich potential to explore?)
6 Questions to ask the Other Person
Q7) What kind of connection/s feel appropriate with me, if things keep evolving between us?
(Without trying to bury the spontaneity with expectations, are we broadly on the same page?)
Q8) Do you have any lovers currently? If 'Yes', how might they feel if you engage with me intimately?
(I'm a little polyamorous, though I prefer focus and commitment with the possibility of longer-term connection.)
Q9) Do you have any very recent ex's who might be strongly affected if I start connecting with you? Or is there anyone in your life who might believe they are currently cultivating a connection with you that might lead to an intmate relationship - even if you don't want that?
Q10) Are you OK to have a conversation about sexual health and using protection?
(One of those questions that may seem to be too soon, or break the mood, but can easily be left too late!)
Q11) Do you feel comfortable in a relationship where everyone is responsible for talking openly about any significant challenges that arise?
(Rather than engaging in soap-opera relating where people don't communicate about important things.)
Q12) If we engage in any committed way, how do you feel about creating conscious relationship agreements, so we can feel safe and supported by each other, yet still have opportunities to express ourselves in the world?
(This question feels worth asking just in passing in the early days. Formal relationship agreements usually aren't necessary when first 'dating', as long as basic clarity is present. At least not in monogomous connections.)
Arven (3rd Jan, 2017)
And here's the link to the podcast that inspired this blog.
Thanks to 'H' for her part in our wonderful conversation the other day that danced back and forth so beautifully around the perceptions of the nature of 'masculine' and 'feminine'. Inspiring me to revisit this fascinating topic.
Disclaimer: If you're looking for the definitive answer to what the 'authentic masculine' is, there isn't one. It's actually a journey of inquiry, not an end result. It's also broadly-speaking a 'subjective' definition.
In our 'patriarchy' it's easy to feel shame about being a man, even a conscious man. I believe we're actually being subjected to a 'puerarchy' - a culture unhealthily dominated by men with the emotional intelligence and weak morals of unbalanced needy boys. (A society led by authentic men would look very different from the one we have, so I see the title of 'patriarchy' as being very misleading when it comes to talking about the potential of men.)
Culturally, male identity has been shoe-horned into some very limiting and shallow expectations and cultural representations. Leaving many asking: “What does it mean to be a 'man'? And wondering how to begin seeking the answer. Well, presuming that the phrase 'authentic masculine' resonates with you at all, rather than trying to define it analytically, it can be useful to ask yourself: “What does the 'authentic masculine' mean to me?”
Everything you read here can only be a personal perspective. Reflections on my own journey, which was a path of healing after physical and emotional abuse from my father, and from male peers in secondary school. Not to mention emerging from some of the debilitating crap that patriarchy serves us on a daily basis during our formative years. (And ever after, though it's the formative years where the primary psychological patterns of belief and identity are formed.)
These days there's a lot of debate on what even is gender? Is it physical embodiment, or psychological or social choice? Is it hormonal? Can people be born into the 'wrong body'? What's the relationship between gender and erotic attraction? How much is hard-wired, and how much is cultural expectation, or simply personal preference due to personality type?
So many questions. It's a minefield! Or is it? The simple answer is that the path is an individual one. If the word 'man' has no resonance for you, then this isn't a quest for you. Yet if it does feel meaningful, there's nothing wrong with embracing that. In which case, asking yourself what the 'authentic masculine' means to you becomes an opportunity to discover what calls from within. (Rather than taking on board other people's definitions wholesale.) There are a lot of 'truths', some of which overlap, and many of which do not. There is no ideal 'authentic masculine' to try to measure up to. The idea that there is, is a cultural imposition which diminishes the magnificent potential of our individuality.
For instance, identifying as heterosexual is one option amongst many valid ones. It's one I like and feels natural to me. Though I don't presume it must feel the same to every other male-bodied person. I consider myself as being 'conscious hetero' rather than 'default hetero'. (My gender identity is something I've considered, explored, and dug beneath, rather than just taken on because I was told to.)
The path for me has led to exploring things like 'Presence', 'Groundedness', 'Authenticity', 'Integrity', 'Self-Reliance', 'Courage', 'Erotic Potential', 'Accepting my Sensitivity', 'Finding my Passions', 'Holding Space', 'Accepting Differences'... A whole lot of classically 'masculine' stuff. Though not as a quest for perfection, but as a journey of ongoing discovery.
Relating authentically to other males can really help this quest, though that too depends on following the what works for you as a unique individual. Again, don't fall into the trap of assuming that others have found the 'one true path' that must be followed. (Or that if you don't relate to their path that it is you who is at fault.)
In 2008 I was looking around for menswork, and I couldn't find any in Melbourne that matched what I intuitively wanted. With some background in Shamanic studies and a lot of experience in Transpersonal Psychology I was seeking something far from any cultural stereotypes. Something apart from commonly accepted social definitions. A space where men could be in simple presence together. To explore, in practices and raw communication, the challenging edges of their lives and the deeper archetypes.
I didn't want to just talk about problems. I wasn't interested in anything involving 'egos' or 'leaders'. Nor in the idea of people roaring into each others' faces – an activity which can so easily slide into ego and distracting competition. The unhealthy element of masculine competition doesn't help anyone in the long run, and is a hidden trap. I have had enough of people who put themselves (or others) on pedestals, and just can't relate to that kind of psychology any more. Not even if it's meant well.
Luckily for me I had a strong intuition that men being conscious, real, open and accepting together would invite in something greater than the whole. It was a feeling that seemed to relate to my spiritual background as a Celt. The basic idea for the 'Evolving Man' evening courses and weekends arose from that intuition, with Jared Osborne soon becoming involved as co-developer, co-facilitator and embodiment specialist. Events that we ran regularly until 2014.
Throughout all of these (especially the evening groups based round a Medicine-Wheel) the presence of 'something more' became apparent. Something dropped in that was greater than any collection of individuals. Allowing us to be even more real, open and in the process of deep self-discovery. We had stumbled upon a rich formula - exploratory open-ended questions, simple grounding exercises, and sharing and witness practices. It truly felt as if 'spirit' (I named it as 'the Green Man') joined us.
I also took some online studies around increasing confidence and self-expression. Podcasts, blogs, video-training... Some were poor (in terms of integrity) – basically techniques in how to manipulate others. Typically based in (and reinforcing) an embedded scarcity consciousness (the hidden fear of never being good enough), including disrespectful competition with other men. Others were fantastic – focusing on strengthening self-acceptance, integrity, and acknowledging our human vulnerabilties and imperfections.
The biggest skill I learned from all of the online research was probably 'discernment'. How to separate the personally useful gold from the generalities and the scarcity-based thinking. Through tuning in to what felt healthy and right for me. One standout piece of wisdom around what the 'authentic masculine is, was that it's based in the combination of courageous self-inquiry and raw honest expression. The most profound practical advice was to spend more time connecting to my body and reawakening its wisdom in a world that massively over-prioritises the intellect.
So that's it. No definitive answers, but perhaps some pointers for the journey.
Arven (24th Nov, 2016)
Acknowledgement: The image on this page is the logo that Cam Wyers designed for the Evolving Man events. Thanks Cam.
I was at a great workshop last month, where a common concern around intentional erotic connection was voiced:
“If we talk about all the options and boundaries first, isn't there a risk of losing sexual spontaneity?”
It's an interesting, obvious, and logical question - if you're not yet experienced with intentional intimacy. Because, as fans of intentional intimacy will tell you, exactly the opposite is typically the case when you start to communicate richly about what you want and how you feel before connecting.
I remember as well, a wonderful chat about erotic archetypes and shadows a few weeks back. During it, a friend said she rarely met people who could understand how crucial communication and sensitivity are for her in intimacy. With the result that she rarely feels safe enough with someone to let go into her darker and deeper passions and desires.
Then recently I also read an online article about 'Erotic Polarity', which separated sexual and emotional attraction. (A potentially misleading distinction in the way it was handled.) For instance, it put 'closeness' in the emotional section, and claimed that closeness is not a key part of creating erotic polarity.
That claim is misleading. For many, the most primal and dark erotic explorations occur only with those they feel emotionally close to, therefore closeness is a primary creator of polarity. Personally, sure I've had really great intimate connections with women that I just 'liked a lot'. But the 'darkest' places, where my beast and shadow desires really flow, only happen with someone I feel emotionally close to.
The article also listed ways to 'amp up' erotic charge, but in doing so mentioned only activities. It ignored the importance of who/how we are as people, and the value of authentic communication. In fact it mentioned communication only in relation to 'winding down' erotic charge. Despite the fact that quality communication is for many by far the most effective way to create amazing erotic polarity.
All these incidents together inspired this blog.
Here are the points that right now stand out for me the most around this topic:
What is 'Intentional Intimacy'?
Basically, it's the idea that you can approach sex (and erotic/intimate connections that don't involve sex) by talking about and (to some extent) planning them first. More specifically, the idea that this approach actually makes such experiences even more exciting, deep, fulfilling, and spontaneous that if you don't talk about them first. Which is contrary to the popular culturally embedded idea that as much spontaneity as possible is 'critical' in order for sexual/erotic intimacy to be satisfying, exciting and worthwhile. So, now let's discuss a few angles on this....
What works Best depends on You
For some, anonymous or casual sex is the only way they can create satisfying erotic polarity. For others, trust, closeness and communication create the container necessary for them to feel safe to unleash their 'beast' or 'wild man/woman'. Culturally we learn that 'trust', 'closeness' and 'communication' are all about things like: 'being polite', 'not rocking the boat', 'not disappointing anyone', and 'not being passionately expressive'. Which is why a lot of people equate trust and closeness with lack of polarity. Luckily a lot of the cultural 'truths' we are taught are horse**it!
Real Closeness is NOT About being 'Nicey Nicey'
When it comes to erotic connection, we are culturally taught a lot of repressive crap. I'm NOT saying don't ever be nice to your lover. Of course you should treat them with respect. What I am saying is that ONLY behaving in 'nice' ways in the commonly understood sense (never rocking the boat, never saying something that might make someone uncomfortable, never admitting your erotic shadows...), means also suppressing your natural depth. Whereas the truth is that for many it's precisely this 'depth' that opens the doors for the most potent erotic charge to be created.
Polarity Does NOT Depend on Being an Erotic Superhero
For a year or so I hobbled along under the false belief that erotic polarity meant I had to be this 'David Deida-esque' perfect man. Part of me knew I was emotionally very sensitive, but I was trying to hide that. Then I started to hear disaster stories about Deida-esque relationships. Plus I met several men who were great at classic Deida behaviours, yet were also really good at manipulation, dishonesty, ego-based competitive behavior, and at hiding a major sense of insecurity and unworthiness. IE Being a good Deida student didn't equate with being a decent person.
Eventually I decided 'F** it'. I'm going to cultivate only the Deida perspectives that feel right for me (and there were a bunch), and I'm going to ignore those that feel like I would be fake. It must have been one of those threshold times in life. Almost immediately I discovered 'Intentional Intimacy', and my experiences of erotic polarity escalated in quality like never before.
Planning & Discussing Intimacy Before it Happens
What can it involve? Talking Openly about your Desires and 'What you Want' before you Engage. Being honest and open. Being prepared to encounter someone's edges that aren't compatible and aren't mutual interests. That's just life. It's the quality and feel of intimacy that's important anyway, not the specific activities. Disappointment often depends on having ungrounded expectations, and if you truly aren't compatible then it's good to learn that sooner rather than later anyway. Honesty and openness builds deep trust. Deep trust allows the body, psyche and emotional vulnerability to relax – which are the exact conditions many people require to open into their most expansive erotic selves.
The idea that Sexuality isn't Just about Having Sex.
We're culturally trained to focus only on the actual act, and to ignore the rest of the deliciousness available in erotic connection. Which is a shame, because the more you expand your erotic fluency (tenderness, communication, authenticity, subtlety... as well as passion and confidence) the better actual sex gets anyway. It's a balance where each supports the other. Enjoying all aspects of someone, and of engaging with them, means you can have your cake and eat it too (and the cake is better as well)!
Realising that Tenderness, Vulnerability, Sensitivity and Slowness support Erotic Polarity
These are all natural parts of the ebb and flow of erotic chemistry and of real Tantra. Sometimes people are horny 'right now' and sometimes they're not. My Tantra trainings and life experiences revealed that when vulnerability is respected, and expectations/pressure are genuinely dropped, then truly passionate sex actually becomes much more likely. As opposed to engaging in sex when (or how) you feel you're 'supposed to', which means you aren't going to be as enthusiastic and engaged. (And therefore there won't be anything like as much polarity.) Building a connection through things like eye-gazing, breath, subtle touch can feel profoundly erotically satisfying all on their own, as well as their building the foundations for deep and passionate intimacy.
Being Aware that Polarity isn't actually based on any Activities.
Erotic interaction and sexuality are about meeting another being deeply and powerfully. Remember the workshop question at the start of all this? Here's one reply that was given:
“If you discuss a lot of possibilities in detail, remember that you will probably only include a small proportion, and also how and when you include them will be a mystery in the moment. Whatever ends up being experienced can be allowed to arise spontaneously as part of the flow.”
That is wise, and generally true, yet still only part of the picture.
Here's my response:
“Intimacy isn't primarily about the activities or techniques. They're just tools to assist engaging with another amazing being. Humans are totally magnificent, mysterious, and magical. The whole point of erotic intimacy and sex is about exploring the unfathomable awesomeness of whomever you're with and the unique alchemy between you. If you take that approach then tools or techniques lose their pivotal focus, and so they should. The simplest activity can support the most amazing erotic connection, and can end up being part of a very different experience every time you explore it, despite being technically 'the same activity'.”
Valuing Compatibility above Techniques
A great Tantra teacher once told a training group I was in about something a lot of teachers don't clarify: “As long as you're evolving yourself and approaching your edge as best you can, then having a great Tantric connection with a lover doesn't depend on more and more skill at techniques. Once you both know the Tantric basics, the most significant factor is your natural compatibility and the authentic connection you have. That alchemy creates Tantra spontaneously, without having to learn anything else specifically, except exactly what you feel naturally and easily drawn to explore. So, one powerful approach to Tantra is to focus much more on authenticity and openness rather than on skills and practices.”
I'll end this little taster on 'Intentional Intimacy' by expanding on the value of the pre-planning element, as that is so alien to our cultural training. Many others aspects and distinctions are also important, but I hope this piece has whetted your appetite.
Planning and Discussion actually make things Sexier and Darker.
How does that work? How they heck can talking (maybe for a significant time), about what you might do, make the act itself deeper and darker? Surely, really 'getting it on' with someone has to be hard, fast, and now? With zero or absolutely minimal talking??? Well, ...
Arven (16th Nov, 2016)
The third 'Tantra of Rope Bondage' workshop looks set to sell-out again. That's actually quite moving, since it's all about the deeply human and conscious approach to our erotic shadows that I feel is extremely important and very under-represented.
With anything that dares to explore the edges of the erotic, sometimes events or people can be labelled as 'weird', 'scary' or 'kinky' and other such concepts. Having all kinds of preconceptions applied to them that are contradictory to what they actually value or promote. I was fortunate to have a conversation recently with someone who had such judgements but was interested to find out more. In the end they attended a workshop and really loved it, and apologised afterwards for having made a bunch of assumptions with no basis in reality.
I'm not saying it's easy to entirely discard labels. Putting things in categories is a way we commonly make sense of the world. Labels can also be signposts to attract appropriate interest. I still use the word 'Tantra' for instance. The decision I made to continue to do so was difficult. In the end I decided that the benefits outweighed the drawbacks of potential misconceptions. Because a lot of principles that folk in countries like Australia think of as 'Tantric' do apply to my offerings. (Erotic polarity, energetic resonance, satisfaction from deep feeling, heart-connected primal energies, authentic communication, the power of the subtle, the crucial importance of personal boundaries and informed consent …)
Plus, people apply different meanings to labels, and fields can overlap significantly. For instance I sometimes attend workshops or trainings with the word 'kinky' in the title or subtitle, and have learned many useful skills at them. (I've also occasionally had the interesting and not always comfortable experience of being the most 'mainstream' person in the room at such events.)
Let's be super clear though. I've no fundamental problem with anyone identifying as 'Kinky'. It can be a very liberating and self-affirming stance/identification. Plus, I'm more likely to have things in common with someone who identifies as 'kinky' than someone who identifies as 'bank manager' or 'real estate agent'. (Not that these things are exclusive or definitive, I'm talking generally.) Yet any label of this sort can attract widespread assumptions about what's on offer, or the kind of person you must be.
My motivations for exploring Shadow Tantra are: authentic intimacy, personal empowerment, Transpersonal/Archetypal self-development, and sharing rich human experiences (beyond the shallow engagements our culture tries to convince us are all we can expect from life). My motivations are NOT: 'to get off', 'to be excited by pretending to be someone I'm not', 'to feel superficially better about myself through wielding power over someone else', 'to enjoy anonymous encounters', or 'to have sex with a lot of people'. (All things commonly associated with the word 'Kinky'.) I'd also like to be clear that I'm not suggesting such perspectives/desires are necessarily wrong. They're just not mine.
The approach I resonate with, and present, is one of exploring our Shadows (in the broadly Jungian frame) of the Psyche as part of reconnecting to the wider truths of who we truly vulnerably are. Looking for the empowered and expanded self – the self beyond the cultural conditioning that so profoundly limits the truth of each human being. For me, any tools, techniques, skills, and roles are available to be adapted as appropriate supports for this adventure, rather than being the goals themselves. People can investigate such explorations in a committed monogamous connection, with practice partners, or in some other form of relationship - depending on their own preferences for erotic intimacy. So long as the engagement is conscious and emotionally healthy. As I often say about 'Shadow Tantra': if you aren't feeling richly and happily connected to whoever you are interacting with, then something is wrong and you need to stop and work out what that is.
Practical benefits include: wider erotic repertoire and greater erotic confidence; resolving old emotional wounds that block us from satisfying intimacy; letting go of unconscious embodied fears, shame & restrictions around experiencing pleasure; and opening our voice to be more able to state/honour/feel our boundaries in life. Plus, generally improved confidence in expressing and 'being' who we truly are. The truth is that (despite the fact that we still live in a moral code historically imposed on us by puritans) we are embodied erotic beings. It's a natural and healthy part of our biology and of our psyche, and learning to know ourselves more fully in these realms is taking a step closer to living as a full human being.
Arven (20th Oct, 2016)
This piece on the quest for authentic self-expression was inspired by:
1) Kate Shela's truly wonderful 'Power' ecstatic dance workshop in Melbourne. In which we were assisted to explore both the raw strength and the fragile vulnerability of authentic power - in expressing who we truly are unapologetically and unashamedly to the world.
2) A conversation about Improv recently, with someone who said they were impressed that I run such events.
Both of these experiences caused me to reflect on my own difficult life-journey around confidence and expression. (A journey that still continues.)
I've been on a huge personal voyage around self-expression. Few people know I was agoraphobic until I was 24. Not to the extent of being too scared to leave my home, but close to it. Certainly I felt afraid all of the time and was unable to function normally, make friends, speak up for myself, ask a girl out... I'm not going to delve into the why's and wherefore's. Enough to say that my father was psychologically ill, to the extent of having electro-shock treatment and being physically violent to me. And that the secondary school I went to (ages 12-17) was an unbelievable nightmare of abuse (by teachers and pupils) and bullying (by small gangs who would collectively 'stomp' people). One thing I do know, is that all of this built in me a life-long quest for authentic self-expression, not to mention a healthily critical distrust of authority.
Eventually my spirit guided me to seek professional help. I saw a Jungian psychologist (when I was 17) and a Somatic Therapist (when I was 18-21). Plus (by divine chance) somehow entered a very healing relationship ages 20-22). All this assisted me to begin to climb out of the dark and clinging hole of my own fractured psyche. I continued to explore different forms of humanistic and (later) Tantra- and Transpersonal-based self-development, until something big finally shifted when I was 24. I was able to go to University as a sufficiently confident person to have an excellent time there, and began to explore many things I'd been unable to as a teenager.
Then, in 2005, the path of self-development had become so rewarding that I reached the point (apparently quite a natural one when you study anything with dedication for long enough) of wanting to share some of the benefits. Specifically I felt drawn to run workshops where people interacted authentically on verbal and feeling levels for the joy of self-development. I was also partly motivated by the fact that there was nothing of this sort happening in Melbourne that was cheap, regular and affordable. (Hard to believe that this was the case only a decade ago!)
Immediately, I discovered another layer of massively debilitating fear. The idea of standing and talking in front of a group felt as awful as annihilation. The terror in my body meant I could hardly speak when I tried to imagine being in such a situation, certainly could not 'project', and had nothing even approaching the basic level of embodied confidence required to put a group of participants at ease. So I looked around to find some way to practice expression in front of a group. I was already a dedicated explorer of ecstatic dance, but that wasn't close enough to what I needed.
I was lucky to find Al Wunder's 'Theater of the Ordinary' Improv training. Al himself claimed that it wasn't self-development, yet for me (and others) it was one of the most useful things I've ever done. I still recall the first time I stood in front of a group and spoke (a true story about something odd and amusing that had just happened in my life). It was one of those 'pivotal life moments'. Combined with my continued expressive dance journey, and some coaching from a friend who was already a confident and passionate public speaker, all this was enough to get started.
In 2006 I began running my own fun little Improv events in Brunswick, then studied Transpersonal/Tantric Breathwork and ran groups in that for a couple of years. Then I began designing and running Tantra, Authentic Relating and Menswork events. Many other trainings have also assisted me, including the potent Meisner Technique studies I discovered first with Jonathan Horan and more recently took to greater depth with Clare Dea of Meisner Melbourne.
I want to close by reminding people that confident self-expression isn't an “either you have it or you don't” deal. It can be more effectively approached in my opinion as an ongoing quest. One in which you expand and open in different areas at different rates. For instance, I still have a challenge around speaking in front of 'cold' groups that aren't my workshop participants. And I still can't always (or even usually) just dance with whoever I would like to at Five Rhythms. I also discovered that basically I'm a natural introvert. I like my own company, I'm not great with small talk and I find big loud groups difficult to relax into. Yet I now have good friends, the courage to attend workshops around being real and open, and design and run great little events with natural confidence. I can even sometimes be appropriately and courageously bold and expressive with someone I'm attracted to. All of which was once utterly alien to me.
Arven (17th Oct, 2016)
Authentic Relating is a vast field.
This blog is an overview in response to a few different questions I was asked recently.
Depending on the context, this experience could also be called 'Conscious Relating', 'Communicating in Integrity', 'Authentic Expression', or even a variant of 'Radical Honesty'. It's basically the life-practice of doing your best to express, and relate to, what's true in the moment. Appropriately and without looking to shame/blame. By moving beyond common culturally conditioned habits such as disconnection from feelings, suppressed self-awareness, fear of vulnerability, and habitual non-disclosure.
Why try to Relate Authentically?
In my experience, and what I've heard from many others, interacting this way creates deeper and more 'satisfyingly real' relational experiences. The more you connect to, and express the essence of, who you truly are (as much as one ever can), the more deeply you can be felt and related to. The more you live your truth the more you connect to authentic personal power. For many, the greatest rewards in life, that a lot of us hunger to find, can be broadly defined as 'more fulfilling human engagements'. Intimate connections, friendships, working with clients... Basically, the more authentic you are, the more powerful, satisfying, substantial and rewarding all relational experiences will be.
Some people have a huge fear around being more honest, vulnerable and visible. That terror is another massive topic that can't be addressed fully here. Very basically, as long as you're doing your best (in a realistic non-perfectionist way) to be authentic this fear largely proves unfounded. There's nothing wrong with being a mystery to some extent – we are complex individuals after all. Just bring consciousness, empathy and integrity to the decisions you make around what to share and what to keep to yourself.
Verbal & Non-Verbal Communication
Most conscious human communication is verbal. Authentic Relating addresses the 'whole-being experience'. We communicate a heck of a lot more through what's generally termed 'body language' than we ever can in words. (In ways that are a lot more diverse than most realise: Posture, subtle emotional changes, eye-movement, pupil size, body heat, minute physiological tensions/movements, voice tone, breathing patterns...) It's very common to be saying one thing at the same time as communicating something very different - or at least a lot more complex than you realise. (How well other people pick-up on the other layers of communication is another question that depends on many factors.)
One sadly common example of inauthentic (contradictory) communication is when one 'monogamous' partner asks another: 'Have you had sex with someone else?' and the 'accused' partner says 'No' when in fact they have. Both people know unconsciously that this is a lie, and so the dishonest person is being (even if unintentionally) abusive - contributing to potentially damaging psychological/emotional dissonance in their partner. I believe there's a website based in the USA that specifically assists people to organise affairs. If so, it is effectively promoting emotional/psychological abuse. (To be clear, it's not polyamory I have a problem with by definition, but the hypocrisy and lies inherent in many people's lived definitions of monogamy.)
Learning Authentic Relating
First of all, beware of the 'perfectionist myth'. Just continuing to do your best is the real goal to aim for. It's very easy to use the 'It's All Too Difficult' excuse and not even bother to step onto the path. I've been exploring this for years so I'm reasonably fluent in some aspects (simply due to hard work and practice), yet I still struggle in others. That's the human journey. Start from where you are, hold strong intents to improve and to move out of your comfort zone. Then explore bravely from there.
A good first reference is Brad Blanton's pioneering book 'Radical Honesty'. I'm not 100% behind everything he recommends. His approach stresses full and complete disclosure in every moment. In my opinion in some instances taking that approach will only lead to pain - with no benefit to anyone whatsoever. (Blowing out people's capacity to process emotionally, and destroying any chance of resolution.) Mind you, deciding 'it would only hurt someone' is also one of the most common ways of 'chickening out' from being honest. Through covering up straightforward selfishness and fear of abandonment in cases where the pain and challenge would be short term, and the gains substantial and long-term. In the end you have to work this out in every unique context.
It can be difficult to learn something new without actual experience. Fortunately various workshops and trainings in Melbourne provide lived opportunities to learn new habits, often in fun and interesting social environments. For instance, Spiral Events offers 'Conscious Speed Dating'. One 'positive hidden agenda' of CSD is to teach participants how to access more bodily wisdom and a greater repertoire of non-verbal expression. Plus how to engage with others doing the same. The 'speed dates' are fun and interesting non-verbal exercises, closing with talking together about your experiences in the exercise. Talking about the experience (rather than just random chatter) opens up communication at a more expansive level. (There are no formal opportunities to just chat randomly until the end of the event.)
More specific Authentic Relating practices and games are available in 'Masks & Mirrors'. This event is designed as a fascinating and entertaining exploration with others, rather than being some kind of hideous 'Integrity Bootcamp'. Nobody 'has' to say anything that they would prefer to keep confidential. Nonetheless it's specifically about self-development. Then there's also Meisner Melbourne's 'Foundations' course, where participants learn a deep grounding in the incredible Repetitions/Reflections Dyads.
(Behaviors to gently watch out for on the path of learning Authentic Relating).
Arven (5th Oct, 2016) [www.SpiralEvents.weebly.com]
I found myself today commenting/reflecting on a (FB) posted article quite extensively, so I decided to put that comment here as a blog. The article was called "How Morality Changes in a Foreign Language: Fascinating ethical shifts come with thinking in a different language." You can find it linked at the base of this blog. What the piece inspired in me was recollecting on various behavioural principles I noticed when I first went travelling in Europe in my mid-teens. Particularly how I noticed that not just morality, but also how we view the world and our social permissions seem to be dictated by concepts inherent in the culture/language. More specifically that even in countries that appear similar (my case studies: England, Holland, France, & Germany) social reality can be quite different. Anyway, here's what I wrote:
I remember when I first noticed that people process/think/judge differently from culture to culture. Coming from a repressed English environment, and then the first foreign country I lived in and learned the language being France. It was quite a difference. It felt like my brain had new wiring put in place by the new language. I observed that certain concepts in English didn't even seem to exist in other languages! (And vice versa.)
Varying social permissions seemed to be somehow present in the way people put together concepts and perceptions in different languages. The next country I spent time in and learned the language was Germany. That was a huge eye-opener about how the language structure appeared to restrict and channel thought processes and perceptions, not to mention social permissions. Then later I added some Dutch (Netherlands) and Spanish (Ecuador) to complete the research package.
Morals (right & wrong) became apparent as being to some extent arbitrary. Rather than being these things I'd been told were set in stone actually depended on the language you were using. They varied in different countries. It was very interesting to notice the freedom in that. (I'm talking about self-expression and social interactions, not criminal activities!) It felt that the differences were embedded in cultural values, and those values were embedded in the language structure itself - which framed concepts differently from other languages.
It felt to me as if language structures reflected psychological and emotional beliefs. It was a bit of a 'chicken and egg' conundrum. I was asking myself questions such as: “Do people think a certain way because their language structure encourages them to think that way? Or did the language structure evolve to reflect the way people thought originally, and if so how come people in diverse countries thought differently from one another in the first place?”
My main conclusion (at the time) to myself was that whatever the origins of concepts/judgments etc (language or original ways of thinking) when one is born into a culture, the structure of that culture's language moulds and restricts how one sees the world, interacts with the world, perceives the options of self-expression and judges what is right and wrong. It was a very expansive experience to learn some new languages and in so doing to liberate more of my options for being an alive and expressed human being. (Beyond those structures taught to me through being English.)
Later on (mainly in Melbourne) I was very fortunate to study NLP with a few different organisations, but most prominently with James Tsakalos. This gave me more of an understanding of what was happening in the human 'mind' when it came to 'processing the world'. How variation in language structure even in the same language could have an enormous difference on one's experience of life and relationships. I still to this day, for instance, gain huge beneficial mileage from entertaining the concept: “One's quality of life entirely depends on the quality of the questions you ask yourself.” But that's another huge topic, and I digress from the original focus.
Arven (29 Sep 2016)
Click here if you would like to check out the original article mentioned at the start of this piece.
Thanks to CR for encouraging me to turn our conversation into a blog.
The word 'Jealousy' is a nominalization. (That's the act of naming a dynamic multi-faceted experience, and by doing so oversimplifying and overgeneralising it.) 'Jealousy' is not one thing, does not have one cause, and does not have one simple way of getting a handle on it.
What I offer here are inter-related perspectives that significantly changed my life for the better, and I've been told were useful to clients I've worked with. Maybe you (the reader) will also find some or all of them helpful, or maybe you won't. This piece, like every other, is a collection of my thoughts, reflections and experiences. Not every individual's 'Truth'.
A Self-Generated Experience
Some years back I attended an ecstatic dance class with a woman I really liked, a new friend I was getting to know. I had a strong intuition we had powerful potential in terms of an intimate relationship (which turned out later to be true, but at that point we'd only just started hanging out). I noticed her dancing with someone, and was struck with powerful unhappy feelings that I labelled as 'jealousy'.
I've always been quite pragmatic, and rather than getting lost in that unpleasant experience or dwelling on it (which to me would have felt like a waste of time and energy) I decided to 'dance it out'. Coincidentally within 10 or 20 seconds a song came on that was a big personal favourite, and I went off on a trip with that. After less than a minute (let's say another 30 seconds) I noticed that I wasn't feeling jealous any more. In fact every last hint of jealousy had vanished from my body.
A pivotal moment of learning happened. As soon as I noticed the jealousy had gone it came flooding back. Literally reinventing itself. But it was too late. I'd seen it for the false thing it was. Rather than being something I couldn't avoid – something that 'just happened' – I'd experienced the truth of it. Jealousy was something I'd generated in my body. I did it to myself! It wasn't something my friend or the person she was dancing with had done to me. I was the one responsible for it. The song that came on was one that I loved dancing to so much that my body literally forgot I was supposed to be 'jealousing' myself!
This was a turning point that massively reduced and contextualised any similar experiences from then on. I have never experienced jealousy again in the same ways I used to before that moment. This revelation didn't make me immune from jealousy. Again as a pragmatic person I continued to use other tools too. In dance I used to go to a different part of the room if I was being triggered, so that I could process without distraction. I would also ask myself the very useful question: "Am I jealous because this is something I would like to be doing? And if so, can I do anything in the short or longer term to make that more likely?" (With the extra bonus question: If this exact thing isn't possible for me, what is sitting deeper behind that experience that I'd like to achieve?)
A Warning about Emotional Over-Investment
Now I'd had that reference, and had clearly experienced myself as the one who created the jealousy in my own emotional body, I decided to investigate what exactly my unconscious was doing. I wanted to uncover and identify the processes. Luckily I'd already had some excellent NLP (Neuro-Linguistic Programming) training, so I had good basic ideas of the unconscious patterns we run, and how we run them.
(As the merest super-simplified hint towards NLP 101 and to neuro-psychology... We unconsciously create patterns all the time. EG: 'Life Experience A' happens. Then our unconscious imposes 'Conclusion B' onto that experience. Followed by creating default 'Emotional Experience C'. Bang, bang, bang. One switch tripping the next. Except that most people don't know that this is a learned pattern rather than an inevitability. With the biggest challenge being that it 'feels' like an inevitability.)
So I did some research and found some smart commentary in different places. One was an article or podcast or possibly a book on Polyamory. Or it may have been a Menswork perspective on relating. Sadly I can't recall. Whatever the source was, it explained that a lot of jealousy stems from our emptiness when it comes to deep intimacy. Most people don't receive healthy fulfilment around close relating when they are growing up. Our culture teaches us very poor lessons in that regard. So we unconsciously look for someone else to fill those developmentally significant spaces.
That all means it can be very easy to want too much too soon from a relationship. It's a culturally accepted dysfunction, and the source of many soap opera plots. I talked about this in another recent blog, so won't say much more. I'll only clarify that in this context some people unconsciously (sometimes consciously) invent a future with someone before actually knowing someone well enough for this to have any grounding in reality. As opposed to getting to know that person and waiting to see if a healthy and appropriate relationship emerges as a possibility. The energetics that accompany such an invented future are what I call 'emotional over-investment'.
Over-investment can happen at different stages of getting to know someone too. You might be immune from doing it when you first meet a person. You might be quite happy for all manner of things to go on between them and their friends. Then once you're actually 'going out' - 'oh oh' the challenges start. Activities that you were completely fine about before are suddenly no longer so fine.
A Sign-Post that Relationship Agreements are Inauthentic, Inadequate or Unconscious
Jealousy at low and relatively low levels to do with someone you are already relating intimately with can sometimes be (and in my opinion I feel very often is) purely and simply an indication that something hasn't been discussed/clarified. Something that needs to be discussed/clarified in order to have the deepest and most authentic relational journey together.
I'm pretty sure the general source of one piece of information was a book on conscious polyamory. The information went something like this: 'You might not like the idea of creating relationship agreements. Maybe it seems too formal. However, whether you are poly or monogamous, the unconscious assumptions you already have around relating and about your partner's beliefs/values towards relating are EXACTLY the same as relational agreements. So the actual choice is not whether you want to have such agreements or not. It is whether you want to make them conscious or whether you want them to control your life without your input.'
Another intelligent source made a similar point: 'People want and expect different things from intimate relating. There is a crazy assumption that we all want the same thing, or even broadly the same thing. In some areas many people may be close as regards what they want, but never underestimate human diversity. In many areas even small variations can be 'make or break' differences, especially if they are not brought to consciousness and discussed.'
Another pervasive myth is that there is a binary distinction between one clearly definable relational structure named 'monogomy', and another clearly definable relational structure named 'polyamory'. Bullshit! Polyamory is a vast collection of different relational structures. To place them all under one heading and try to discuss that heading as if it's a discrete single concept is a deluded act. (EG: Someone with 12 lovers is polyamorous. Someone with 2 lovers is polyamorous. Do those two situations carry the same challenges, structures, rewards, and dynamics? Absolutely not.)
Likewise with monogamy. It's less diverse, but is still very much not just one definable experience. For instance, in Monogamous Relationship Example Number 1 (MRE1) partners can dance intimately at Five Rhythms (or wherever) with attractive people, and hug their attractive friends. This is fine in the context of MRE1. Nobody blinks an eye about it. Whereas in MRE2 even hugging another person more then momentarily is an unthinkable act. One that's absolutely forbidden in one partner's unconscious relational agreements. Dancing with any degree of intimacy with another person than your partner in MRE2 might in fact be considered the very definition of infidelity, even though it's never been discussed. And don't even get me started on the hypocrisy inherent in the massive proportion of monogamous relationships where one or both partners have secret affairs.
Final myth of the piece: That having any relational agreements mean an automatic loss of spontaneity, excitement and fulfilment. They can do if you're with an unsuitable partner. If you're with a suitable partner then they are tools to assist everyone involved to go even deeper, and explore even more adventurously, than would otherwise be possible.
Another blog in the not too distant future will contain further commentary on the value and creation of relational agreements. For now I'll just close by clarifying the relationship between jealousy and relational agreements. The act of co-creating a few key agreements and doing some future-pacing risk management on potentially tricky situations opens up a wonderful dialogue. Discussion around what all the participants are OK with. This allows people (a) to make sure they're all roughly on the same page about what they want and expect from intimate relating, and (b) creates the opportunity to manage situations that are likely to trigger jealousy before they even happen.
For some people jealousy is a great trigger for self-awareness leading to potent evolution. Wide-open polyamory might suit them well. For others, jealousy is an overwhelming and trauma-related experience that blocks any possibility of evolution. In fact, leading to retraumatisation. For them a more committed and clearly defined conscious relationship may well offer the most potent pathway for expansion and fulfilment. Nonetheless, as mentioned earlier, people are very different. For instance I've met more than one person for whom a committed 3-person relationship provided the most satisfying dynamism and the most opportunities for growth. As opposed to a monogamous relationship which proved to be an invitation for unhealthy co-dependency. It's a diverse world.
LETTING RELATIONSHIPS REVEAL THEMSELVES TO YOU
(Rather than trying to fit them to stereotypical expectations.)
I was privileged to explore an intimate connection with an unusually authentic and pioneeringly courageous Tantra teacher way back in my early days of Tantra studies. As best I can remember her take, here are some concepts she shared that made a huge positive impact on my life:
"People tend to set out about relating backwards. By projecting all manner of pre-packaged ideas about what a 'relationship' is supposed to look like. Rather than exploring the mystery of intimacy to see what is trying to reveal itself."
Real 'Relationship' (she said, and I have found is the case in my life experience) is about engaging curiously with a person to see what is organically wanting to emerge, and how long different aspects naturally need in order to become known. Instead, we have been conditioned at a deep unconscious level to apply a whole pile of expectations right off the bat. Even with ideas that might be reasonable, we tend to throw them into the mix too much and too soon.
The sad thing is that doing this is so commonplace that most people don't even realise that what they are doing isn't natural. They think it's perfectly reasonable to crush the organic expression of the other person, or at least to conspire with them in crushing it themselves.
Clarifying what a relationship is, and where it is going, needs to happen AS the unique connection starts to reveal itself over time. In fact, in response to (and in partnership with) what is revealing itself. The same with any relationship agreements. Don't stifle a new connection by throwing them in the mix too soon. Wait to see which ones are useful, helpful and empowering.
The biggest mistake people make is in not even realising that they are crushing the magical essence of their connection by imposing bland cultural stereotypes on top of it. Many types of relationship can be perfectly fine, healthy, magical and dynamic, including monogamy. But give them the chance to come fully alive on their own terms - rather than pre-packaging and suffocating them as they try to birth themselves.
[Arven: Aug 2016]
I was having a chat with a female friend the other day about personal empowerment, and one particular social misbelief 'elephant in the room' came to light again. (Some people can identify with masculine/feminine in relation to gender, and some people cannot. Neither is right or wrong. It's all about personal preference and choice.)
There's a bit of a hidden fallacy floating around, that the masculinity represented in our culture is an authentic model of what it means to be male. The many wonderful movements towards female empowerment that have been arising for the last decade or so can sometimes seem to be measuring themselves against the patriarchal 'power-over' competitive model, as if these two things were somehow potentially related in some way.
I see that comparison as something of a red-herring. Basically looking at the authentic feminine and the inauthentic masculine. The authentic masculine was buried long ago. Some say it happened when the Romans and other straight-line cultures introduced or enhanced concepts such as land ownership, slavery, and the 'single judgemental god' model as a way of making sure ordinary people lived in fear of their own power and toed the line of conformity.
I really enjoyed being a key member of the Evolving Man (www.facebook.com/evolvingmen) crew when that was active for a few years a while back. It introduced a transpersonal/shamanic element to the menswork model that I haven't seen replicated since. This approach was one that matched in my experience the new female empowerment movements, since it was about men finding their centre and acknowledging their shadows (both the empowering fun ones and the hideous ones).
In short I often remain saddened by the deep cultural stereotypes around masculinity that people of all genders, and both those interested in deep personal empowerment and those who are not, still unconsciously perceive as being what masculinity is all about.
Finding the authentic masculine is not a classic model of any kind. Men can be soft, gentle, strong, wild, centered, artistic, lovers, warriors... in many combinations and styles - none of which is the definitive 'right way' to be 'a man'. The diverse and magical nature of the authentic masculine has sadly been as lost as the Green Man archetype that represents it so well.
Learning more and more about this has been an extremely valuable journey for me, and although Evolving Man is no longer active I still incorporate all of the powerful perspectives I learned at that time into every event I am part of as well as into my shared Tantric practice (both the more accepted and the shadow aspects).
Arven (19 Feb 2016)
Arven Alexander is a self-development enthusiast, currently residing in Melbourne, Australia.