Wednesday, April 18, 2018

The Empath Spectrum



I’m coming out of the closet.   I’m kind of queer, in the original sense of the word, meaning “peculiar, eccentric.”  I’m neuroqueer — on the spectrum of highly sensitive people with acutely attuned nervous systems.

I thought that I had coined the term "neuroqueer".  Then someone posted an excellent blog using this term!  It's in the collective mind now.  

I believe we used to play a respected role in society, but now, in the harsh glare of honky-tonk modernity, the extroverts’ world, we feel like aliens.  Bright floruescent lights, noisy traffic, strong smells, and large crowds are our kryptonite.  But in our element, by the honest light of the moon, we lunatics live and breathe magic.  

It’s a spectrum of sensitivity, which has to do with how many nerve endings you have.   Elaine Aron theorizes that 20% of people across all cultures — and even many animals — are highly sensitive.  We’ll be the ones to notice the cheetah while the others are chit-chatting by the watering hole.  It’s a superpower — supersonic sight and hearing — but in the modern world it’s become a curse.  I believe that in ancient times we were respected seers, inventors, scientists, healers, artists, storytellers, philosophers, engineers, priestesses, and shamans — probably the human computers that calculated the Mayan and other calendars.  We were whispering in the king's ear, not getting bullied.

Some may have lived slightly apart from the village and intervened for the people with the spirit world.  Even 150 years ago before electric lights and motorized traffic and chemicals, we may have thrived.  Now, we suffer from nervous disorders.  The more sensitive, the more gifted, but also the lower the threshold for stress and overstimulation, and the more challenging we find social norms.  It seems to be a zero-sum game between how gifted we are and how well we fit into a world of extroverts.

We are the canaries in the coal mine.  The more chemicals, pollution, and noise, the more that even normals suffer from autoimmune disorders.  

I see sensory stimulation like a cup.   Too much stimulation, even good stuff, and the cup will spill over into neuropathic stress.  Bright lights, loud noises, strong smells.  Heat, cold, wind.  Social interaction, especially small talk and eye contact.  Stress.  Hurry.  If my cup starts to get full, I’ll need to empty it before I experience symptoms like joint pain.  For some, it’s digestive disorders, asthma, or migraines.  Wherever in your body your nerve endings are most abundant is your Achilles heel.

When the cup of sensory overload gets full, I can act a little strange.  Out of it, spacey, forgetful, or irritable.  My social graces may be less graceful.    Like, if I realize that I’ve maxxed out on social exchanges, maybe I’ll have to ghost on the party.  Or I can be a bit blunt.  Sometimes I can be awkward with eye contact, especially if there are bright lights in my eyes.  I have a hard time having a conversation when there are too many people talking at once or loud music.  All these things are more true if I’m in an altered state of consciousness, as this amplifies my sensitivity, but makes music or nature even better. 

But when I’m not overstimulated, being an empath is a blessing, not a curse.  Joy, beauty, music, sex, nature, and mystical experiences are more intense too.  If you can put up with our honesty and quirks, we can be very loyal and helpful friends:  excellent listeners, funny, and interesting.  My disability makes it impossible for me to be cruel or to lie.  Although, if you’ve been cruel to me or to someone else, or gaslighted someone, you’ll cease to exist for me, unless you acknowledge you did it and promise never to do it again.  I wear my heart on my sleeve. I'm might cry if I see someone stub their toe, or a tied-up dog.  Which means I have to really summon my courage to speak unpopular truths.  The conflict takes years off my life, but, I'm compelled to call out injustice.

When I need to empty this cup of overstimulation, I can do it with deep sleep, time alone, or laying down in a quiet dark room.  I can also do it through accessing the trance state.  All people do this instinctivity, although, like most instincts, it has been repressed by a society that demonizes intuition.  We access the trance state through repetitive rhythmic movements and/or breathing, allowing us to silence the logical ego-mind and tap the deep subconscious and its infinite wisdom.  

There’s a spectrum of these kinds of trance movements, from the most universal to the ones seen as highly pathological.  The most universal are rocking (rocking a baby to calm it, or yourself in hammocks or rocking chairs);  sex (with orgasm being the ultimate in releasing neuropathic stress);  and running or dancing.  Rhythm is the key:  finding the rhythm that wants to come through you, and using it to drown out your thoughts.  Walking can be all you need, as long as it’s on flat terrain, and you concentrate on the rhythm of your steps instead of on your thoughts.  Kundalini yoga may be the most effective trance therapy ever invented, because the movements are in a 1-2 rhythm and synchronized with the breath.  

Next on the normalcy spectrum of stress-reducing techniques is what is referred to as “stimming” by autistic people.  People higher on the empath spectrum, those with high-empathy aspergers and full autism (autistics are extremes, and can be either extremely high in empathy, or extremely low), instinctively “stim” to reduce their neuropathic load when overwhelmed.  This can be on the normal end — drumming fingertips (a rhythm), or tapping a foot.  Some can be normal or weird depending on context and intensity:  like fidgeting, knuckle cracking, or humming.  The far end of the spectrum of socially unacceptable might be hand flapping, catatonic rocking, or head banging.

Empaths have contributed enormously to humankind.  People like Mozart, Steve Jobs, Van Gogh, Lewis Carroll, Robin Williams, and Michaelangelo.   But the stress can manifest as digestive issues, bipolar, depression, anxiety, fibromyalgia, arthritis, insomnia, and pain.

Empaths are bully magnets.  Bullies are usually insecure sociopaths who either feed off fear in others, or who want to prove dominance or keep themselves safe from bigger bullies.  Sometimes they are empaths who have been bullied themselves or are afraid they will be.  Bullies may also be envious that the empath has inner resources and intelligence that they themselves lack.  The bully feeds off the fear that happens when domination causes the dominated individual's stress hormones to spike.  This happens in the animal world, too.

I believe that there have been empath-friendly eras where cooperation was valued over domination, but in dominator cultures, alpha males dominate beta males who dominate females and animals.  The insensitive bully is valued over the sensitive empath.  Sensitivity is valued in females, but females are seen as subordinate because of it.


I think one reason empaths and neuroqueers are bullied is that we often don’t understand the language of dominance.  An empath may not realize that crossing his arms, sitting higher than the bully on the bleachers, or making long eye contact, can be seen as threatening. Tragically, getting bullied creates a vicious cycle of trauma, post-traumatic stress, shame, low self-esteem, and illness which attracts more bullying and ostracism.  The empath can turn to the dark side, like Kylo Ren, the emo empath from the new Star Wars movies.

Empaths tend to believe passionately in fairness and justice, and hate to see cruelty win.  Many of us are allergic to dominance hierarchies and unjust authority.  Therefore the empath on a strong day can tend towards the avenger, standing up against bullying and injustice.  It’s no accident many of us are into superhero stories.  I’ve had fantasies about poacher hunting.  I also hate roosters, mosquitos, and vicious bark-y dogs, because these are bullies.

Not all natural leaders (alphas) are bullies.  The secure ones lead for the good of all.  We neuroqueers tend to be not alphas or betas, but omegas:   lone wolves and quirky artists.  Unhealthy alphas are often threatened by us because we won’t bow to their authority, but healthy alphas may see our gifts and want to leverage them for the general good.  That happened to me in high school, when the most popular girl, a healthy alpha, decided it was cool that I was smart and took me under her wing and into the party crowd.  Before that, I wasn’t bullied, but seen as different, the smart kid.  When I started hanging out with the cool kids I got bullied by one mean girl, who seemed to think it wasn’t right for a smart kid to be in their midst, but she dropped it when I responded with humor and refused to get upset.

Me, I’m more in the range of normal high sensitive rather than Aspergers, so I can relate to both the normal world and the aspie world.  I’m not a seer;  I’m a philosopher and writer whose gift is to see patterns and analyze them.   I’m very frequently misunderstood, like many empaths.  Some resent me for questioning their dogmas (like about marriage or religion).   Some project on me.  Some interpret my shyness or my need to conserve energy for snobbery. Some think that I'm trying to call attention to myself or start fights when I dare to speak my truth.

 It used to be believed that only men are aspies, but now it’s known that women go undiagnosed because we're more social and focus our intelligence on imitating social norms, while Aspie males focus on their special interests, like, say, penguins.  Aspie females may feel invisible and rarely see themselves in represented in literature or on the screen.  At least there is Lisa Simpson from the Simpsons!   

Many empaths aren’t born naturally relating to social norms, but those of us on the normal end of the spectrum can pretend and blend in most of the time.  It can feel like wearing a mask.   One of the social norms I perform is the gender norm.  The reason there's enormous overlap between neuroqueer and genderqueer is that many of us naturally feel genderless.  I may find myself performing the stereotypical feminine, a pleasant, submissive, “oh yes” face.  But I don’t relate to gender norms at all, which is why I’m confused at being called “cis”.  I can seem feminine when I dance in a long skirt, or masculine when building things.  I don’t see why we need to choose.  But then, I fail to see why normals do so many things they do, like act cruel for no reason, adopt popular opinions that have no rational basis, or obsess over money and status.  Or enjoy having sex with someone who is only doing it for the money. Or, most mind-boggling of all, cut down ancient forests for the profits of a few.  I can't even.


Another social norm I perform is that I tone down my reactions to things.  Even positive emotions like enthusiasm are socially frowned upon.  I’ve learned to be more cool, internalized it even, until it’s automatic.   

Some of my impairments are:  following verbal directions (this is a common aspie trait, and drove my ex crazy), talking when loud music is playing, casual touch with strangers.  I have a truly awful memory (some empaths seem to forget everything, some can remember every single thing). I don’t think I’ve ever done anything really weird like had an outburst.

Sometimes I can climb higher on the spectrum, that is, when I’m either very overstimulated, like if I stay at a festival too long, or when I enhance the sensitivity by taking a journey.  I have a regular practice where I take an herbal medicine and then induce trance by quieting the rational mind with trance techniques.  I do this at least once a week, more if there’s been a lot of stress or stimulation, and it has kept me sane.  Preferably I do it in nature, in a place with a temperature between 55 and 75, as far from other humans as possible unless they're doing it with me, with minimal light and noise and manmade objects, and in comfortable natural clothes.  If these conditions aren’t available I do it inside using kundalini yoga, shaking, or toning.  This is why I live in the forest, and when I travel I stick to places where I can do this ritual.  If I have to talk or to handle money or to drive a car in the middle of it, it will derail the effects. I’ve actually done this trance therapy with clients, and find that it works on normals too, helping them to feel relaxed and meditative and in touch with their intuition.

On the other end of the spectrum are the sociopaths, people with antisocial personality disorder, who experience little to no anxiety. They lack the neurological ability (nerve endings) to respond to criticism or to empathize with others.  

Most people believe that aspergers and autistic people lack empathy. Perhaps some do, as it is neurotypical people who are all similar, while aspies vary widely.  Some are highly sexed while others asexual;  some are dyslexic while others hyperlexic (super-readers), for example.  It may be the same with empathy.   Or some may feel others' emotions but not be able to show it.  Often,  we feel peoples' emotions so much that we are overwhelmed and forced to shut down. 

I truly believe that if society becomes more accepting and we create spaces safe from overstimulation, empaths will suffer far less and contribute even more to society.  It’s the lack of understanding and acceptance that leads to the suffering, not our biology.   I don’t fully understand why so many normals hate empaths so much.  If I indulge my empath tendency toward fantasy, I might imagine that in a world long ago when magic was more powerful, empaths were the ones that wielded it and normals felt inferior and insensitive. Another of my weirder ideas is that empaths haven’t incarnated many times during the recent years of war and hierarchy, so, we are especially clueless about, and angry at, the injustices that go along with that.  I also hatched a theory that empath traits were strong in Neantherthals (like the gelflings in the film The Dark Crystal), and so those of us with more of their DNA have more empath traits.  Then I stumbled across a whole bunch of people taking about this theorized Neanderthal-Aspergers link!

Right now, talking about autism and aspergers seems to be a trend. I keep coming across it.  The recent film Temple Grandin, about an autistic woman who invented humane ways of managing cattle, was popular.  Perhaps the public is sensing that empaths have something to offer.  Normals and empaths have much to learn from each other.  Empaths aren't really that weird, once you understand us;  we just speak a slightly different language.  I think we've been ostracized and shamed only because it’s a barbaric age in which people have been taught to fear and shun what’s different. 

Therefore, we empaths learn to be ashamed and to hide our differences instead of talking about them, which perpetuates the cycle of misunderstanding.  For example, I caught myself standing with some friends and noticed a bad smell in the area which others didn’t seem to notice, but which I couldn’t handle.  I muttered an excuse to wander away instead of explaining.  Yet I think that people really wouldn’t think it was a big deal. 

 So let’s raise awareness about the challenges we face as empaths. I’ve long accepted that as a minority, I don’t ask people to not smoke while I’m eating, to stop talking loudly and incessantly in a quiet place, or to not wear perfumes which make me nauseous.  I just move.  And I’m not suggesting that the rest of the world tone down their bright lights and noise for our sakes.  But a little understanding of how it affects us would be great.

Can we call it “neurotypical privelege” then?  Us empaths have to fit our round pegs into normals’ square holes.  There is no talk of meeting us half way, even though the empaths’ native ways, our long attention spans and passion for our special interests, is more conducive to learning and getting things done in the world.  Is the persecution of empaths because the culture fears that if empaths had power and influence, we would never stand for being ruled by a hierarchy of bullies?

The statistics on suicidal thoughts for Aspergers people is around two-thirds.  This is on par with that for transgender people, seen as the world’s most marginalized minority.  With more awareness and education about this, we could make the world a safer place for empaths.  (In addition, since many transgender people are on the spectrum, we can treat them first for this before going to much more dangerous and permanent methods).  Also, we can recognize the signs early and help empaths understand themselves and minimize the negatives.   If I had understood this early in life I would have saved decades of suffering.  


Some people talk about a cure for autism.  But others think that eliminating autism is akin to eugenics.  We need autistic minds.  We should put them on the problem of saving the planet, instead of bullying them behind the bleachers.

If you suspect you may be the spectrum, contact me for ideas on how to hack your system to maximize the joys and minimize the downsides.  I’ve finally figured it out for myself and my life is awesome.  I wouldn’t trade my empathic nature for anything.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

What is spirituality anyway

I’ve been thinking a lot about spirituality, what is it?  

It seems as if there are a few very distinct paths that are fall under this heading.

1.  The shamanic path:  quieting the mind to reach a state of trance, where we feel connected with our higher self and its insights.  Shamanism and sufism are examples.  Cultivated or spontaneous states of grace where we feel awe and reverence, whether for nature or for the divine, would fall into this category.  It can feel like a technology, techniques for reaching trance states:  medicine work, sexual union,  rhythmic movements, and breath work.

2.  A more sober path, involving lucid awareness and focus to quiet the mind.  Buddhism (post-Bon) is mostly in this category — meditation from a place of discipline to access the absolute self.  Spiritual study and contemplation fall under this heading.

3.  The path of devotion to the divine, bhakti.  Prayer, offerings, gratitude, praise, puja.

4.  Finally, moral rectitude.  Being a good person.  Service to Others. Helping the poor, avoiding bad deeds, etc.  Christianity is mostly about this, although sadly, in its extreme patriarchy it often becomes a toxic mimic of the real thing, avoiding “sin” and therefore shaming sex and the body.

5. Study to reach an understanding of the nature of consciousness and the universe.  

Islam tends to focus on 3 and 4, aside from the Sufis who are into #1.  Judaism includes elements of all 5.  Hinduism, mother of all of them, includes all of the above too, though #4 doesn’t seem to come up as much, especially around helping the poor, due to their belief in karma.  New Age is a grab bag of all of it.  Shamanism and animism — nature worship, Goddess worship — are of course the most ancient human religions, and are all about #1.

Bentinho Massaro, the 28-year-old spiritual teacher who is unusual in that he wears black, says “fuck” and is smokin’ hot — is very dismissive of bliss and awe (#1) because they distract us from his chosen path of using focus and discipline to deconstruct the ego mind and connect with the absolute.   Ecstatic vs. ascetic ..  have we come here to transcend, or to learn and enjoy?


Kashmiri shaivism, an ancient and intact path of Hinduism especialy Tantra, recognizes two distinct paths, that of the mind and that of the heart.  In theory it is possible to be a fully enlightened spiritual master and be a total asshole, if one follows the path of the mind.  But in my opinion, what use is spirituality without basic human kindness and service to others?

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Fashion and Morality


The book The Moral Animal has been rocking my world lately.  It sheds light on unpleasant aspects of human nature, in a way that is depressing, but it’s important information if we want to understand ourselves.  We have the ability to transcend our selfish genes and make truly moral choices, but only if we make a huge effort to be conscious.  Otherwise our genes drive us to make unconscious choices to enhance our genetic potential at the expense of the greater good.  

It is clear from the examples in the book that a population of individuals is acting as a collective.  We unwittingly make choices of our strategies based on the relative proportion of those strategies in the population.  The good news is that this proves that we are all connected, that we are tuned into each other and behaving as a collective.  For example, whether a woman chooses the “madonna” or “whore” strategy may change as the population changes.  (The book refuses to acknowledge that the whole madonna / whore split only exists under patriarchy, which is only one way human societies can be organized.)

I have been thinking lately about how different standards of modesty apply in different settings.  If a woman ignores these standards, even by a little, they are tapping into the “whore” strategy, and some men thinks it gives them permission to stare or be creepy.  So on a European beach, where toplessness is normal, men don’t feel like they can stare at breasts, unlike on an American beach.  A man can’t stare at a woman in a bikini on an American beach, but he can on Main Street.  In India, for example, bare shoulders will earn you stares, but baring the midriff is totally fine.  If in one season necklines plunge but skirts are longer, a short skirt will get attention.

I’ve noticed that there are different standards of modesty even at different festivals.  Burning Man festival, of course, has created its own culture of dress which has trickled down to the whole festival culture.  Toplessness is totally accepted at burn festivals, and even full nudity, although full nudity isn’t all that hip in many circles there.  The ubiquitous booty short is far more accepted, and even sexier in a way.  Playa wear has created its own fashion style.  Or rather, many styles, from the feather / leather sub-culture that dances to glitch hop to the Sparkle Pony crew that dances to playa tech (a subgenre that evolved to sound good on art cars —4/4 beats sound best while dancing on a vibrating vehicle hurdling through space!).

Commercial festivals have inherited playa fashion, but each has its own subtle variation on modesty and dress codes and sexual vibe.  For example, I noticed that Symbiosis festival tends to be not all that sexual — you don’t see much public affection there.  Somehow, we all unconsciously pick up on the vibe of a particular population, or the fashion sense, and tune into it.  

Friday, November 4, 2016

The New Myth in the Media: Star Wars, Game of Thrones, Vikings, and Ghostbusters

I have spent a good deal of my life studying patriarchy.  So it’s not surprising that I see it wherever I look.  But if you read this, I bet you will agree that the creators of these popular movies and series were thinking about patriarchy, too ..  and predicting its fall.  Star Wars and Game of Thrones, in particular, are hugely influential in the culture .. creating myth for a new age.

If you are already familiar with patriarchy, you can skip the next few paragraphs, straight to Game of Thrones. 

Patriarchy, also called the dominator paradigm, is a system where some groups of people rule over and oppress others.  It is known as “patriarchy” because the rulers are called patriarchs, who are almost always men.  Women too, of course, abuse their power in patriarchy.  We see male dominance over women, class hierarchies, and rape.  We see the repression of sexuality, femininity, and the body.  Inheritance is through the male line, so in order for men to pass property to their sons they need to control women and their sexuality to insure their sons are really their sons.  Populations who are sexually repressed are easy to control.

Patriarchy has been in place for about 5000 years, having evolved in the harsh regions of the Sahara desert and the Russian steppes and spread around the world with barbarian invaders.  It overthrew the peaceful, egalitarian culture that had been stable for tens of thousands of years.

Patriarchy is perpetuated by women and men who stand to benefit from it, or who are conditioned to support it.  It is the water we swim in, it is everywhere.  There have always been men and women who resist it, also.

Some people would like to tell you that patriarchy is natural, just the way of the world.  But the archaeological record tells a different story, as do the myths of nearly all cultures who tell of a takeover that took thousands of years.  The repression has erased our memories, and convinced us that this is the only way to live.  It is killing the planet.

The dominant myth of patriarchy is that of the hero:  a strong man who undertakes a journey of self-discovery ..  and slays the Bad Guy or the dragon.  Now, as patriarchy shifts to the new age, we see new myths in the media.

The new myth of Star Wars is so epic that it deserves its own blog:

Game of Thrones

Our modern Western society is a mild, gentler form of patriarchy.  Women have far more rights than before:  we can own property, choose who we marry and divorce, have rights to our children, and walk the streets alone.  We can almost tell ourselves that patriarchy is a thing of the past.  Game of Thrones shows us a society where patriarchy is so blatant, so up front, that we can understand the psychology of it.

GOT is similar to medieval Europe:  strong men fight each other to rule territory.  Men cannot trust their male relatives, as they are potential threats to their power.  Women are pawns, traded as property in marriage to cement alliances.  

Circe Lannister is a classic example of a woman who perpetuates patriarchy for the sake of her own power.  She favors her sons.  She hands over her daughter to her enemies in marriage.

Sansa Stark, on the other hand, was, at first, a classic example of a patriarchal princess:  pretty and frivolous, thinking only of what noble boy she will marry.  But through hardship she evolves into a strong woman, a brilliant strategist and politician.

Arya Stark, her sister, is a tomboy who trains as a warrior.  The scene where she kills Walder Frey is a profound moment in the overthrow of patriarchy.  Frey is the classic evil patriarch: a disgusting man who fathers hundreds of children on many women, and treats women like property.   He was responsible for the horrible deaths of many of Arya’s family members.  Arya disguises herself as a pretty servant girl to serve him.  When Frey grabs her ass, she slays him.  This act of revenge feels like karmic retribution for thousands of years of misogyny and sexual harassment.

Yara Grayjoy is another archetype of the strong woman in patriarchy:  a stronger person and fiercer warrior than her brother, she unites the men of the north despite being a woman.   Lyanna Mormont is another female hero:  a saucy 10-year-old girl who rules her house with strength, intelligence, and fairness.  And, of course, there’s Brianne, the badass female knight.

Finally, the ultimate new archetype for the post-patriarchal age:  Daenerys Stormborn, the Dragon Queen.  Daenerys survives a fire and wins over three mighty dragons.  She is not merely beautiful, but fearless, composed, shrewd, and majestic. In her rise to ultimate power, she rules justly, freeing slaves.  

But the ultimate scene that documents the shift from patriarchy is when the Dragon Queen meets with Yara Grayjoy.  They discuss how they are the first women to rule in their kingdoms.  For the first time in Westeros, two women leaders shake hands.  Daenerys tells Yara:  No more rape.  Yara protests:  but that is our way of life!  Daenerys repeats:  No more.  And with this agreement, they put an end to the patriarchal tradition of womens’ bodies as spoils of mens’ wars.  A historic moment.

We see what can happen when we have at least two women in power.  In patriarchy, there have been a small handful of women who have risen to power, but they have always been cutthroat perpetuators of patriarchy.  With at least two women in power, they can actually make a difference.

In the core myth of patriarchy, the hero slays the dragon.  The dragon or serpent represents the culture of mother-right.   Now, in the final scene of Game of Thrones, we see a woman riding the dragon to victory!  Chills.

Vikings

Vikings is a history channel show.  As such, I expected the usual history class dogma:  our culture is the height of evolution, and barbarians are worthless monsters.  I was pleasantly surprised.  Rather than painting the Christian Saxons in England as superior to the pagan Vikings, they show a more nuanced picture.  The Saxons have very “uncivilized” forms of torture;  as in real life, civilized people can be more brutal than barbarians.  And...  the series makes a point to show that women lost many rights under Christianity.

The star of the show, Ragnar, is the archetype of the true hero.  He is a fierce fighter and fears nothing, but he would never rape a woman, and he is fair and just.  He is a loving and playful father.  He fights for peace and dreams of being a farmer. 

The Viking women are strong and smart.  Some of them are “shield maidens” — women warriors. (They are finding evidence now that a great many women Vikings did actually fight). Thank you to the history channel for giving us fierce female heroines!

Ghostbusters

The remake of Ghostbusters features an all-female cast!  This is huge.  HUGE ..    since women have forever been forced to settle for seeing themselves onscreen as sex objects or sidekicks, never as protagonists or heroes.  Never as funny, and rarely as ass-kicking!  

This is likely why all the fanboys HATED the movie!   Some men can’t bear the idea of not being the stars of the show.

I also love that the movie makes fun of scientific materialists.  Bill Murray plays the armchair skeptic who disdainfully maintains that ghosts can’t possibly exist.. even as they are flying through the city!


**********

May the next age be filled with fabulous females swooping in on dragons to save the day!


Friday, August 12, 2016

New Age Cults



I grew up with a grab-bag of religion.   My dad is of Jewish descent, but is a card-carrying, fundamentalist atheist.   He sent us to a few weeks of Hebrew school to please his mom, but that fizzled out.   My mom decided we needed some Christian flavor, so we did a few months of Episcopal church and sunday school, before that fizzled out.  My aunt was a practicing Buddhist so she took us to some meetings where we chanted “Nam Myoho Renge Kyo” for a few weeks.  That didn’t last long either.   As a child, I occasionally I felt the presence of the divine, and had a sense there was some profound meaning to reality.   I wanted answers.  But my smorgasbord of religions didn’t offer any.

When puberty hit, I became a rebel without a cause:  I couldn’t see myself living any of the lifestyles available in my suburban American reality.  In my early 20s, my rebellion found its cause:  feminism.    The work of Gloria Steinem awakened me to the injustices that women endured.  Riane Eisler’s book The Chalice and The Blade changed my life by convincing me, after more research, that male domination, class domination, and war were recent developments in human society, and that a peaceful, egalitarian culture existed before and therefore could exist again.  My rebellion now had a focus:  Patriarchy, cause of most of the suffering in the world.  I hated the authority figures I saw around me:  petty tyrants, pompous men, brainwashed women.

My spirituality was profoundly awakened by psychedelics, which gave me a taste of a luminous, transcendent world.  I knew deep in my bones that reality was a miraculous and mysterious thing, far beyond what was dreamt of by my atheist father or the materialist people around me or the authority figures of the mainstream religions.   Yet my emerging 22-year-old self intuitively felt that I needed some sort of guidance, some sort of discipline.  Where were my elders?   I found yoga and meditation.  I set about striving to reach that transcendent state I had found with psychedelics, but with disciplined spiritual practices, and dream work.

So I started feasting on the New Age smorgasbord.  Like most New Agers, I dabbled in Buddhism, Taoism, Zen, Hinduism, shamanism, chanting.  I learned a lot.  I even had a kundalini rising experience.  I attended a 10 day Vipassana meditation course, where I was forced to confront my rebellious nature.   Why can’t I sunbathe?  Why must I sit on this side of the pond and not the other?  In the 10 hours a day of meditation, I had plenty of time to ponder which of my rebellions were healthy and which ones immature.  Vipassana tells you that you must choose one path — their path, of course — and that mixing it with other meditations, or plant medicines, or trance, can be dangerous.  That you must go deep with one path if you hope to spiritually progress.   That picking and choosing what you like and don’t like from different traditions will never yield results.

Even though I felt incredible after the grueling retreat, I knew Vipassana wasn’t my one path, because by this time I had already started finding my own way into the state of trance, and benefitting profoundly from the insights that came out of it.  If Vipassana outlawed trance, it wasn’t my path.  Maybe the smorgasbord of spiritual traditions was just fine for me.  Maybe Vipassana only preached choosing one path to fill their retreats.

Yet I longed for a spiritual community.  I wanted communion with others who shared the same cosmology and practices.  A common language.  

Years later, I found Tantra.  Tantra is a web of spiritual technologies with a very ancient lineage, most likely dating to before patriarchy.  Unlike the major patriarchal religions, it does not reject sexuality, but harnesses the power.  I resonated with the idea that spirituality and sexuality can be unified.  I went deep into the global Tantra scene.  I spent 6 months at a large, international Tantra school.

At first I was elated.  Here was a tradition I could actually embrace.  Sexuality was exalted and the divine feminine was given lip-service.  The people were spiritual but not afraid to use the word “fuck” once in a while.  Through the practices I attained some profound states of consciousness, and I honed my body and mind.  I felt amazing.  I was elated to find a large spiritual community who shared a common language.

A yoni massage — using the fingers inside the vagina to release blocks caused by past traumas —  awakened profound new forms of orgasm. However,  the yoni massage I received from one of the school teachers did not work for me;  the “endure the pain for the sake of becoming more feminine” approach did not resonate.  Then came the workshop where the teacher (the second in command at the school) told us “Since women are more materialistic and less spiritual than men, women should do mens’ laundry.”  I couldn’t believe my ears.  Surely smoke was coming out of them.  People were staring.  I looked around at all the fresh-faced young seekers, taking this in, wide eyed.  I spoke up against this and became untouchable.  No one wanted to associate with me.  One teacher told me that the reason none of the men there were attracted to me is that I wasn’t feminine enough. I was too independent, too smart.

Then there was the head guru of the school.  He struck me as creepy.  An intelligent and intuitive female friend said that during one of the graduations where he was giving his blessing, she found herself hiding behind a post to avoid his gaze.  (Instinctively, I had been avoiding the graduations altogether.)  I didn’t mind that he had sex with lots of the young female seekers, since from what I had heard it was consensual (this is not a no-no in Tantra schools), but I didn’t want to get near him.  That being said, I found his lectures fascinating, as he had a brilliant mind and could synthesize esoteric traditions and make them both interesting and accessible to the Western mind.

There were plenty of good teachers there doing good things, and plenty of excellent information and practices.  It worked.   We became more healthy, expanded and enlightened — but only to a point.  Only within the box.  The women could be empowered but only as long as they were “feminine” in the way the school defined.  Questioning was not tolerated.  Questioners, like me, were subtly shunned.  Grow, but only in the ways that we sanction.

But, nothing against them.  They are the best of the lot.  It is the same in every cult.  The shared common language becomes a dogma.  The ones who obey the dogmas rise high in the hierarchy.  The egos of those on the upper rungs of the ladder become so invested in the cult/ure that they will do anything to protect and perpetuate it.  Power abuses abound.  

I finally had to drop out of the Tantra cult (Theme song: “Tantra school dropout”, sung to the tune of the Grease song “Beauty school dropout”) after an incident where one of the higher-ups was accused of sexual abuse.  He was a sexual healer, a practitioner of yoni massage.  A woman came forward to claim that this leader and healer had been giving her a yoni massage when she lost consciousness and awoke to find him penetrating her with his penis.   She was not the only one with stories like this about him.  Tragically, abuse of trust in the sexual-healing arena reinforces wounding. 

On a Facebook forum where this was discussed, one woman, an alpha-female Tantra leader, came forward to offer to get to the bottom of this.  She came back later to say that the allegedly-raped woman had retracted her charge and admitted that the sex was consensual.  I found out later from a friend of this woman that she had said no such thing.  I can’t say for sure what really happened, but my sense was that the powerful woman leader had buried the story because she was so deeply invested in the school and the status it afforded her (and the steep workshop fees she charged to “activate shakti”).

I lost my faith.  I looked around and saw how ridiculous some of the rituals were.  I saw that the emperor wore no clothes.  Now this doesn’t take away from all the well-intentioned people teaching and learning there, or the useful systems of knowledge we gained.  Or from the powerful, transformative rituals I had experienced.  We can throw away the bathwater while keeping the baby.  Sometimes it is a fine and subtle line.   I still practice Tantra.  Maybe I will even do another retreat at the school with one of the teachers I really respect.  But .. I certainly never wonder if I don’t connect with a lot of the people there because there is something “wrong” with me.  (A friend of mine checked out the vibe of the school and told me “Of course you don’t connect with those people!  You are far too free for them!”)    I understand that free-thinkers are subconsciously avoided by those who are desperate to buy what a cult is offering.  And most people are desperate.  Coming from a fragmented culture that offers no coherent meaning for our lives aside from consumption and children, we long for someone to follow.  And the cults are offering enough universal truths — ego surrender, humility, spiritual transcendence, spiritual virtue, authentic wisdom pills —  to be worth the sacrifices of self required, for many people.

Not only do we long for a higher purpose and truth …  we long to surrender the ego.  We instinctively understand that our separate egos, and their desires, are the cause of our suffering.  Now what we truly want is to surrender the ego to the Higher Mind, to our more ancient, wiser Higher Self.  But we don’t remember how.  Thus,  we are tempted to do the “toxic mimic” (in the words of pundit Caroline Casey) of surrender — submission.   We will submit to anything available, and people who like power trips are happy to step into that void.  I believe that sexual abuse and guru abuse — both power abuses — are not isolated incidents by rare perverts and douches, but a core part of the whole thing.   Power over others is at the heart of patriarchal religion.

There is a sea change happening now as these incidents are tumbling out of the closet.  Just as the Stanford rape case unleashed a flood of rape stories, the internet is also awash with tales of guru-abuse and cult brainwashing.   The ones who speak out are shamed by the followers who drink the snake oil.  Drink this snake oil, and you will be fixed / enlightened / saved.  Take this workshop, and you will be feminine enough to catch an awakened man.  Obey us, and you will fit in / get laid / have power over others.

Truth is, after my disillusionment with the Tantra scene, I was the most depressed and lost I have been since I lost faith in modern science, which had been my career path.  (A few years as a brain research assistant convinced me that materialist science was a dead end, and championed by asshole men who only cared about getting tenured and would falsify their data in order achieve it). 

So, what do we do?  Take Prozac and shop at Walmart and breed, in the hopes that our kids will somehow succeed in finding the meaning of life that we missed?

My take:  we stay awake.  We watch our thoughts, every moment.  Watch our selves play out this divine comedy.  Dance in the rain.  Be amazed that sounds come out of our mouths that other beings appear to understand.  Write the story of our lives exactly as we want it.  Live according to our natures.  Avoid any situation that makes us the least bit non-ecstatic, even if lots of other people seem to like it.  Do as we please, as long as we do no harm.    Find our passion, whether it’s the heroic quest to grow our own food and be sustainable, or a drive to teach/learn.  Find our voices, our musical instruments.  Let us find the bliss in our bodies — emulate our cats.  

I say, care not for the opinion of the masses. The freedom is dizzying.  After all… when I’m lying dying, will I wish I had held myself back from doing something I loved because of a judgment from someone that is long forgotten? The only ones whose opinions matter are our loved ones, the ones who understand us and whose values we admire.  Let us be kind, be bold, be limitless.  Let us hone our instincts so that we trust ourselves implicitly.  When we love and trust ourselves, no one can throw us off our paths.  We become unfuckwithable.  

We can take those New Age workshops, but not take them too seriously.  We can do the workshops not out of a need for anything to be different, to fix our broken selves, but out of scientific curiosity, from a desire for new wisdom and skills.   We critically examine what resonates and what does not.  Have fun, check out the cult, but don’t drink the Kool-Aid.   Learn their universal truths.  Even go on to become a teacher if you resonate deeply, but please, if you do step into the role of a leader, do it in service rather than a desire for power.  Let’s heal our wounds… because desire for power comes out of a sense of lack:  lack of self-love.

Let’s stalk ourselves and identify the tendencies that hold us back from making beauty and praising the divine.  If a spiritual practice or group ritual feels false or strange,  we can excuse ourselves politely.  Let’s know ourselves.  Question ourselves.  Question everything, and in so doing feel deeply and surely what our infinitely wise higher selves know — that we are one with everything, indistinguishable from source, creator gods that are manifesting every moment.  

Let’s put aside these silly dominance-submission games and claim our birthright to know what is true for us.  Let’s be kind to each other, but take no shit. Let’s love each other as much as possible.  Go deep, listen within, discover what we are here to do.   

Since we don’t have an intact culture with a coherent cosmology, we have to forge our own authentic relationship with the divine. Make beautiful things with our hands and offer them up to nature.  Make authentic connections with other beings.  Make love with all our hearts, and let go. Be there for each other.  Dance.  Sing.   Dare to feel the grief and anger. Get in touch with the body and its feelings, and trust them.   Forgive people easily, but be very discerning with our trust.  We all know when we are on the right path.






Thursday, July 21, 2016

Ghostbusters: The Era of the Woman is here!

I have a habit of blogging about popular movies and TV shows that have something to say about society.  This is about the new Ghostbusters.

For many of us who remember the 80s, Ghostbusters was a pivotal moment.  So the new reboot was eagerly awaited.  And .. I loved it.  It was funny.  They touched on some big stuff about lay lines, and they are making fun of the so-called scientific skeptics!   Bill Murray playing the armchair skeptic, complete with cane and silly hat, gives me hope that the tide is turning:  the evidence for the paranormal mounts, and the paranormal-deniers are becoming more and more ridiculous.


But the biggest deal is this:  The main characters are women!  I blogged about the new Star Wars and how the girl is the hero.  This may seem like a small thing, but if you were raised in a culture where people like you are never the main story, never the plot, but only a love interest… this is HUGE. The fanboys are up in arms about this.  Let men feel what it feels like to not be the center of attention for a change.  The era of the woman is here!

Saturday, June 25, 2016

How do you define "creepy"?


How would you define "creepy"?

I define it as feeding off the energy of another person without their consent .. sneakily.

The Stanford rapist case turned out to catalyze a much-needed outpouring of people sharing stories of rape and stalking and creepiness in general.   This has been very healing for the collective, I believe.   And let's face it -- women can be creepy, but overwhelmingly, creepers are men feeding off of women.

The great news is: California has just started a program of mandatory consent training in high schools!!!

Recently a young Dutch male friend told me that feminism was no longer needed (and in fact sexist) because sexism against women was dead.   Now, maybe this is the case in Holland.  That tiny country, perhaps the most enlightened in the world, consists of the most well-adjusted people on earth, more bicycles than people,  equal wages for women, very little crime, legal drug and prostitution without any problems (aside from tourists), and an incredibly well-integrated immigrant population.   Go, Holland.  The rest of us aren't so lucky.

As women have been sharing their experiences online I have witnessed the light go on in several male minds.  Like "Oh!  It never occurred to me before why a woman would cross to the other side of the street when passing a man alone at night. I get it now."  They are starting to open their eyes to the everyday dangers and annoyances of walking while a woman.

I could share my date rape story.  It's incredibly common.  My girlfriend and I, high school juniors, feel so special to get invited to a party with college boys home for Christmas.  Hot wrestler dude pins me down and there is no way I can get away.  My girlfriend poo-poos me.  Takes weeks to shower his sweaty smell off me.   I was so lucky, I think I figured out how to move the trauma out of my body, I don't think I carried much PTSD as so many have dealt with.  Or maybe I repressed it.  I didn't have my first orgasm (as an adult) until I was 23 and I actually didn't even know it was possible to strive for it, I had been so conditioned to serve male pleasure.

But I'm more interested in the more subtle, everyday stories.  This is about last night.  I was at a show, dancing.  I started getting that "creepy feeling" and having repeated urges to change my spot or to kick something behind me.  I noticed that one guy was always directly behind me and very close.  When I turned around to look at him, he had his eyes closed.  I certainly could not prove he was doing anything.  It was a crowded venue, though there was enough space for him to have given me another inch or two.  I said to myself, nah, he's just clueless about his personal space.  But after a few minutes I was feeling cornered and uncomfortable again.  I didn't want to move because I was enjoying the spot and the friend next to me, so I moved a short distance away.  A few minutes later, he was directly behind me again.  I started to remember having the same experience with the same guy at a different show.  Not the sort you would picture being creepy  -- seemed hip and cool, dreads, cute even.

Here's the thing -- it's so subtle, you can never be sure.   But your intuition really does know.    There was a scientific study about the ability to feel someone looking at you without seeing them.  It's a real thing.  They found that women would often unconsciously adjust their clothing after feeling someone staring at their breasts, for example.    The energy is palpable, it's real, and it slimes and drains us.


Finally you just have to move away from your friends or from the cute guy that you want to flirt with.  A healthy guy who gives you subtle energy, mirroring your dance movements and smiling directly at you, not sneakily ....  but not too much energy, and if you pull away leaves you alone -- this is how creepers need to be taught.   So I lose track of the cute guy.   Cockblock successful.

It happens ALL the time.  I have to keep moving on the dance floor to shake off the slimy tentacles that have glommed onto me.  And resist the urge to start elbows flying.  Because you can't prove it, you can't confront.  And maybe you're wrong, maybe he's just drunk and clumsy.  Easier just to move away.

It really made me wonder, what makes a creeper?  I mean, many of them are attractive, normal-looking guys.  How did they get this way?  Are they totally clueless?  Does someone just need to teach them how to behave?

What do you think? Has this happened to you?  Is it all in my head?  Is there a fine line between appreciating a woman's beauty or trying to connect with her and creeping, or is it really obvious?  Please share if you dare.