The Future of Love

March 19, 2013

The future of love

I have been a participant in the Evolutionary Collective for the past year. It’s an experimental gathering of people committed to bringing about A New Paradigm for a Higher Order of Human Relatedness. It is lead by Jeff Carreira and Patricia Albere, and since this blog is about love, I had to write about it here. The Evolutionary Collective is all about Love, with a capital L.

A paradigm is the proverbial box, we usually cannot think outside of, a set of glasses through which we look at absolutely everything. An example of a paradigm shift is Albert Einstein’s Theory of Relativity, a break with all common thought that busted the foundations of physics…

Yesterday I came back from our fourth weekend meeting and only when I woke up this morning and felt everyone still inside of me did I realize, how far out of the normal paradigm we had travelled together.

One of our practices was a tri-logue in which we closed our eyes and allowed ourselves to lean deeply into our own emerging vision of what a new paradigm for relationship would be. Together we described what we found there:

We immediately saw a world in which the fixed contours of our selves had dissolved and instead of thinking of ourselves as bodies, personalities or roles we experienced ourselves as fields of energy, more like mists or clouds of pixels that moved with and through each other in a ceaseless dance. Nothing is fixed in them or all too differentiated, though distinctions are crystal clear. In an unbroken creativity, new possibilities are born moment after moment. Together we saw and described how these fields can envelop and absorb any problem, resistance or doubt and integrate them into their energetic structure (“love them to death,” one of us said).  The kind of technologies this world will be using are very quiet, not distracting from the focus and the pleasure of total connectivity and the resulting fearless and boundless energy and creativity. Instead of viewing our relationships and other people as objects, we live as them, live in the recognition that they are who we are and that without them, we would not exist. We are utterly conscious of the power each of our decision has to influence the dance of the fields and the free flow of energy.

These dancing mists are still alive in me today and are suppressing the habit of re-habituating the usual consciousness of separation and limitation. Even if it sounds crazy, I have no doubt about our vision.

What do you think is the future of love?

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  • Peep_Show_by_David_ShankboneA friend and I had a great and heated argument not long ago about 50 Shades of Grey. (If you have not heard of this huge bestseller have a look on Amazon, you can read a few pages for free)

Finally there was a book that celebrated female desire, the female version of lust, she explained. Yes sure, it was pornography, and not exactly well written at that, but it had desire in it. Pornography, at long last, that appealed to women’s appetite and wasn’t it about time?

I really tried hard to listen. It might be fair enough that women have to culturally catch up and create their own version of pornography, including a seriously cliché prince charming and an infuriatingly self-deprecating heroine. We certainly have plenty to catch up with in all aspects of societal life. But hadn’t we dealt with this particular aspect in the Seventies?

But millions of women are reading this now, so obviously we did NOT go all the way, my friend argued. She also told me about studies that show that the large majority of women still do not experience orgasms when having sex with a man. Obviously something was amiss.

I could totally sympathize with the frustration. But the conclusion…

After quite a bit of noisy back and forth and literally being cornered into the kitchen counter, I found myself getting clearer about why I could not bring myself to praise this book as a break-through in women’s consciousness:

As far as I know it was men who invented pornography. Why should women want to follow that route? Is it really that worthwhile a track? Pornography is a mediated sterile substitute that will stimulate our minds, which can certainly effect our bodies. But it will never take us into our bodies directly, will never make us feel at home where, without mental imaging and linguistic stimulation, sexuality can find its real expression and release. Love is not really being made in the head.

Allowing ourselves to trust and relax, allowing our bodies to have sex rather than our minds, maybe we will come to a new relationship to sexuality that is much less charged, much less fraught with illusory ideals and dis-empowering longings. Maybe we will see that our bodies have their own rhythms and that sexuality does not have to be anything to fret over, read expensive magazines about or study in a book. Maybe it is one of the simplest things to untether from the mores of patriarchy. Maybe all we need is a trustworthy partner – and being trustworthy ourselves – and the courage to own up to being very normal, sexual beings.

A couple of weeks ago I attended a retreat on Evolutionary Enlightenment with Andrew Cohen. A woman raised the topic of women’s liberation. She described, how many of us women are still concerned, first and foremost, with finding a – or the right kind of – man.

Andrew was impressed with her honesty and asked her, why that would be the case. “Do men make you that happy?” he asked. Every woman in the room burst into laughter, proof for how deeply we know that this is not the case.

Why do we live in such a contradiction?

The longing for and the desire for a man emerges from parts of ourselves buried deep within our biology and the history of our gender.

For one, and this is nothing new, the survival of our species depended on us being drawn to men, and them to us. In fact, this is, dare I say it, the prime reason we are drawn to each other, whether we intend to produce babies or not.

And related to that is the fact that for thousands of years, men acted as guarantors for the physical survival and security for women –even if they enslaved, abused or traded them, their power meant they were the source of any protection and safety.

It is sobering –to put it mildly – but also clarifying to look at these roots of our longing and ask the question anew: why are we still spending so much time and energy attracting Mr. Right, while knowing perfectly well, that our needs have changed and that we will not find lasting, profound happiness in any sexual relationship or romance?  (That does not mean that they cannot be beautiful or significant, but the fundamental approach to them would be different.) The current conclusion is that men should adapt to our changing needs – but does that make sense? Is that fair? And even possible?

I think it is a lot more exciting to look at exactly what it is at this point in our history and development that truly gives us fulfillment. In my experience this has to do with a higher creativity, self-realization in the biggest sense and deeper spiritual development – none of which men have the power to bestow upon us in the context of a sexual relationship. What is possible though is that our independence in these matters enables us to meet and come together in new, more satisfying and deeper ways.

Then our lives do no longer run contrary to our intelligence.

This article was written for the anthroposophic German magazine info3 and (roughly) translated for you! As always, comments are very welcome!

What does it mean to be a woman today?

We as women who write and read articles like these are
self-determined, free and independent. It took humanity a long evolutionary journey
to make this possible. From being nothing more than slaves in much of early
history, women evolved into the clearly defined  roles of traditional societies and on, into
the good woman of the industrial age
– the keeper of home and morality. Only the suffragettes and then the women of
the 1960s began to search for their place and vision in society, in large
numbers and single-pointedly. Women today are the product of this long journey.
We have gotten used to surviving and providing for ourselves without needing a
man or a clan. Our bodies are our own, we are more highly educated, wealthier
and have more experience in the world than ever. We are living our own lives and are taking more and
more responsibility in all parts of society.

All this is what it means to be a woman today. But looking a
little further and deeper, at the question of what it will or could mean, at our
possible next steps, the picture becomes a lot more complex and layered. While
we were catching up with everything patriarchy had denied us, the path ahead
was very clear. But is there more for us to do, who have grown up with all the
advantages and privileges of women’s hard won freedom. What can or will it mean to be a woman now and in the future? The following
thoughts are based on the perspective, that spiritual teacher Andrew Cohen
developed in his work and investigation with the women at his organization
EnlightenNext*.

Many say that the ‘third wave’ of feminism, after the
suffrage and the sixties has the task to bring the rights of women to those
parts of the world, in which they are still being grossly and painfully
ignored. This is very important work – it is now a widely accepted fact that a
society evolves radically as soon as the living conditions of its women
improve.

But what does that mean for us, here, in privileged Europe
and the US?  And is there an answer to
this question that takes more than survival and material values into account?

For years people have been calling for honoring the ‘divine
feminine’, fostering the feminine in public life, supporting ‘female’ qualities
in the boardrooms of international corporations and in politics. Often these
qualities are described as empathy, willingness to cooperate, compassion, care,
receptivity and intuition. And though all of these can only be positive, they
are in many ways the exact attributes by which women have traditionally been
defined and in which we felt caught. Is this step really anything new, then? Or
are we simply expanding old stereotypes into new territory?

Does being a woman mean anything outside of these pre-defined qualities? At the time of integral
theory, developmental psychology, an evolutionary world-view , evolutionary
spirituality and unprecedented self-determination could being a woman also be a
creative act? What would radical
change, comparable to the one in the sixties look like today, at this stage in
our journey? A deep re-orientation, that completely redefines the meaning of
the word woman, in the way our
sisters dared to push for in the past?

A universal force that
makes its way through me

For a possible answer to this question let’s switch – from the
historical wide-angle-lens to a zoom:

Let’s take this act of writing for instance. Something wants
to be expressed, something that does not care, whether I happen to be inspired,
tired, insecure or very clear in my head. Something keeps me at the computer,
something for which I am struggling for clarity and precision. An inner
pressure, not clearly defined, but unmistakable as well. Does this creative
force have a gender? Does it have anything to do with me being a woman? I don’t
think so. It is a universal force that is entering the world through me, a woman. It does not have a
face. Certainly, my expression is
colored by the fact that I am a woman, but the force itself does not have a
gender, and maybe that is one of the reasons, why we feel so free when we are creatively engaged.

Another example: Outside my window the sun is sinking into
the spring-green tops of maples. When I watch it, is my perception, the
attention itself, female? Or does only the interpretation
of what I am seeing have a possible feminine flavor? Isn’t pure experience,
seeing itself, free from gender?

And let’s take sex. Dose the sexual impulse have a gender? Or
is it the urge to ensure the continuation of the human race, experienced in
female and male form and utterly impersonal, just perceived differently in a
female or male form? The urge itself is just that, an urge, a force – un-gendered.

And then there is the experience of meditation, the experience
of consciousness. This too has no gender. It is utterly free of all attributes, pure, clear awareness,
an indivisible One that is neither male nor female.

A spiritual freedom that is independent of outer circumstances

The deeper we go into ourselves the clearer we can perceive
that we are truly free. This is a spiritual
freedom independent of outer, relative circumstances. Before I am a woman,
I am a human being. Before I am a human being, I am consciousness. And in all
of it I am part of an immeasurably vast creative process called evolution. The
fact that – maybe even just in this particular lifetime – I happen to be born
as a woman then has a very different weight and significance. It is this
insight that for me points to the next step towards a next step, a  new consciousness for women.

Back to the wide angle lens  –

Women still have a lot less influence than men in the big
decisions of the world. Due to their roles as wives and mothers throughout the
millenia we had a lot less opportunities to gather experience in what it means
to shape culture and history.  In spite
of many exceptional and outstanding individual women, their numbers among those
who catalyzed deep, broad and lasting change is relatively small. And though we
are catching up fast, we have far fewer leading examples in politics, science
and religion than men do and no real, living understanding of our own history.  This is a crucial part of our self-knowledge –
It took me more than a decade to even begin to understand how important it is
to look at one’s own experience in a historical and cultural context.

Our time seems to demand a deep change from women and  from
men – gender roles are being rewritten everywhere and the question is from what
perspective we want to shape these new roles, which values we want to take
along and which we want to leave behind.

The thought-patterns and attitudes that have shaped us over
thousands of years have not just been extinguished by the change of the past 50
or 100 years. This shows in many ways: When we feel torn at work between using
the tried-and proven tactic of manipulation versus the clear, yet very uncomfortable
and often unappreciated direct instructions; when we enjoy wearing high heels
but are quietly worried about betraying our feminist principles in that (as
well as ruin our backs), when we long for a child yet are afraid to lose our
independence – all these are the often contradictory values arising from the
layers of biology, history and culture that form our selves, pulling at us.

Never before in history have women had so much choice. Never
were we, in such numbers and to such measure aware of so much – from our history
to our emotional and psychological structures to the unlimited depth of
ourselves and the fact that we too are directly tied into a creative process of
development.

Being a lot more than
what we are used to call ‘woman’

Based on this consciousness and the wealth of our experience
we have the unprecedented possibility to define the feminine (as well as the masculine)
anew. And with that a new kind of partnership that transcends the usual gender
limitations because it takes as its basis the genderless aspects of the self. This is a radical vision, a real
utopia, that I am only beginning to sense and to understand, but which is all
the more compelling and fascinating .

In this scenario, women can deeply trust in life. We can let
go and meet in a kind of intimacy, that is fundamentally based on what is most
real and true rather than on –often fleeting –personal sympathy. They can
independently and creatively work together towards their own destiny and leave
behind the age-old patterns of competition, manipulation and distrust in the
discovery of being more, a lot more, than what we are used to calling a
‘woman’.

This sense of self is anchored in a part of the self that
breaks the boundaries of being a woman: the growing conviction and decision to
trust more in the deepest part of the self that is already free, rather than the
more superficial layers of our experience – anything that is relative, passing,
circumstantial. This new identification allows unlimited spirit to enter and
work in the world directly. This may be the most revolutionary and biggest gift
we can give to women of future generations.

Last week, a client told me, that she had mentioned to her husband how much the endless winter up here in Massachusetts was getting to her and how wonderful it would be to spend a few days in the sun somewhere. He did not immediately respond and as a result, she said laughingly, she did not talk to him for a couple of days. Then he finally got it, she reported, got on the phone and organized some tickets to Florida. They ended up having a fantastic four days in the sun together. “He always gets it eventually,” she laughed and I happen to know that the two, being close to 70 years old and having raised 4 kids together, really appreciate being together.

Then she told me another story – she invited all their kids from around the country to surprise him for his birthday. She was wondering how on earth she’d be able to secretly do all the necessary cooking and cleaning in preparation, but realized there was no need to worry. She could have six pots on the stove, and he would walk through the kitchen and not even notice, utterly on his own planet.

Now, such a situation used to go against every idea I had about what a healthy relationship should be. From my postmodern, psychological view point, people should agree (close to) all the time, should always be perfectly straight with each other, everything should be on the table at all times, always voiced, etc etc. Full transparency.

These days, I think differently – recognizing that the other is indeed the other and that that will never change is actually liberating. It eliminates much of the interpersonal glue and neediness that comes with trying to create absolute unity where it does not need to be – in a relative sense.

I don’t think my client has thought through her attitudes – for her and her generation, this kind of acceptance of the guy being the guy and the woman being a woman comes unquestioned and naturally. It does seem though that for those fifty and younger, a whole list of requirements started to accumulate about what our partners should be able to provide – in many ways, these can be summed up to mean: be more like me! I won’t go into the details of the implications of this, but just want to say here that having gone through the futile effort of being equals in the wrong ways, I am much more excited now by what opens up if I do not primarily focus on difference or specialness of being a woman (or him a man) and secondly not expect him to be a woman, my mirror image, in a male body. Learning to trust and focus on the deeper, fundamental non-difference, in an absolute way – makes room for those differences to remain unproblematic.

Mad Men and Waking Woman

August 2, 2010

Mad Men, the television series, just started its fourth season. I am still finishing up season 3 and keep being struck by how incredibly well these TV writers managed to capture the subtle and also radical changes in the way, people, and especially women at that time, saw the world and themselves.

It was almost a shock to recognize the lack of any sense of self in women 50 years ago- the doll-like quality in which most of them moved through life, utterly captivated with the superficial appearances of things, including themselves, and not having the faintest sense of responsibility for any of it.

(As an aside – this movie explained both my mother’s passivity and my fathers relentless infidelity more clearly than any of my psychological musings about their past. They were, just like all of us, more than anything products of their time, a time in which men had no sense of restraint or doubt about following their sexual instincts from one bed into the next. Remorse wasn’t even part of the picture, as the person they were betraying was barely a person at all.)

The most impressive aspect of the show for me is the way, the series portrays the emergence of women as people, as self-determined creatures with an opinion, a sense of dignity and self-respect. Betty for example, one of the main characters, moves from being sent to psychoanalysis by her womanizing husband, who then checks in with her therapist about her neurosis, to a women who kicks her husband out of the house. It is almost inconceivable to imagine, what it would be like to live without this sense of being a self-determined person – it seems so very natural today. And at the same time, it is just as striking  how much us women today still ARE like those in Mad Men. How much of Betty and Joan and Peggy lives on in me.

Some women friends and I had an amazing conversation about this last night. We recognized that we, in spite of several decades of women’s liberation  for example still leave the lead to the man sexually and how compulsively we identify with our bodies. How we use our attractiveness and seductiveness, our sexual power, in order to not just get affirmation, but also avoid conflict and manipulate those around us to get what we want.

We recognized that for thousands of years, our bodies and our sexuality  have been the prime currency to survive, as wives, concubines, prostitutes etc. and that unless we find something else, better, higher, that gives us strength and support, we won’t let go of this quite primitive way of being. Speaking about this it became clear to us that our very discussion, with all its objectivity and vulnerability was born out of the movement to become conscious of these things, the desire to go beyond them, and  was the expression of a kind of relationship, that can be a new safe place for women. It was thrilling beyond words, and a far cry from the competitiveness and distrust we experience as long as we identify ourselves with our sexual power.

It’s not because of lack of material that I haven’t written in such a long time – it’s rather too much of it and not enough time to digest it all here. Life has a way of coming up with powerful, beautiful and subtle as well as frightening and overwhelming things in a way that makes the mind and our understanding look like snail-mail.

So to make up and gain a bit more breathing room – I still need to urgently finish the German version of the book! –  I am going to post a piece my friend Elisa has written about her experience of celibacy – something rather unusual these days. Here she is. Thanks Elisa!

A Liberated Relationship To Sexuality

By Elisa Mishory

As a student of Andrew Cohen’s I spent six years in a formal celibacy practice that transformed me into a sane human being. Having grown up in Los Angeles in the 1970’s, I had had a very “liberal” education on sex. Though I didn’t feel at home as a “valley girl”, in many respects that is indeed what I was. Sex, drugs and rock and roll were driving forces in LA culture, and in my peer group it was anathema to reach your Sweet Sixteen still, well, ‘sweet and innocent’. This sexually charged environment was reinforced by my experience as an only child of a single mother with nearly no male family members, which left me feeling starved for male attention. And then there was my first high school job working as a cashier in a large men’s clothiers, and needless to say, my Sweet Sixteen was right on schedule!

Following high school and months of solo travel, I attended a very progressive California University. In those days at the University of California Santa Cruz, the co-eds studied naked in a big meadow next to our co-ed apartments, and women strutted around campus unselfconsciously topless. Though this was the end of the 70’s, in Santa Cruz the free love era of the 60’s lived on. I had relationships, but they tended to be brief, dramatic, or a combination of both. Though I wouldn’t have admitted it to myself at the time, the whole arena of sexual relationships was empty and traumatic.

At the age of 31 I met Andrew Cohen while traveling in India. Though I was pursuing spiritual teachings, I wasn’t looking for a spiritual teacher… but when I heard Andrew speak I knew that he was the embodied answer to the authenticity and integrity I had longed for since childhood. He immediately clued in to my excessively sensual relationship to life and suggested celibacy to me early on. It was a shocking notion to me, and not something I was readily willing to consider. As unsatisfying as my sexual relationships ultimately tended to be, my identity as a woman was completely tied up with my sense of sexual power.  I still believed that someday I’d find “the one” who would make me happy, despite the rather clocklike recurrence of bad endings. It just seemed so “unnatural” to give up sex.

I remember a very significant conversation I had with Andrew, about six months after I’d moved into one of the group houses in Marin County, where Andrew lived and taught. I had just returned from a cross-country sales trip for my fledgling business, and was frustrated with myself for having succumbed to a meaningless one-night stand. I went to speak with Andrew and ask to become celibate, as by this point I felt the only way I was going to gain control over myself would be to more or less lock myself away in this formal practice. (In those days, celibate practitioners in Andrew’s community shaved their heads to reinforce the renunciation and to take time out from the “image” game, and I felt that this would effectively curtail my ability to play the field.) Andrew’s response to me was completely thoughtful and caring. He told me that renunciation was not something one could impose on oneself, that I would never succeed that way, but that I should just start to pay attention to what was driving me—what was motivating my choices. This advice was a watershed for me. I started to get in touch with a variety of psychological motivations that actually had nothing to do with sex. No wonder I wasn’t getting what I really wanted – I hadn’t even been straight with myself about what I was really after! And then I started to see how conditioned and unfree I truly was. When sexual impulses arose, I had such a limited range of responses. I acted like a robot—quite predictable—a pawn of biological forces. The longing to have the freedom to respond as a whole human being and not just as a woman with an out of control libido, led me to a genuine desire to take time out from the whole arena of sexuality.

What makes Andrew one of the most powerful teachers and guides for this practice is his own deep inquiry and exploration into the topic of sexuality, as well as his profound integrity.  I seriously doubt that there are many communities (if any) – spiritual or otherwise, that have had more sexual integrity than EnlightenNext. In more than 20 years there has been almost no sexual corruption among Andrew’s students whatsoever, and that is only due to Andrew’s lead. He has spoken often about the overwhelming power of the sexual impulse, about how much humility one must have in the face of it, and of the tremendous benefit of taking time out to gain perspective. One need only look to the number of enlightened teachers in the 20th Century who were brought to their knees by indulging in inappropriate sexual relations with their students. And the Catholic Church is the latest example. There is simply so much cynicism in the world today because people have not seriously looked into the whole arena of sexuality for themselves.

I never dreamed I’d spend a full six years as a formal celibate, and honestly, most of the time it was extremely challenging. We discovered, surprisingly, that women struggle much more in the practice than men do. Men may believe that if they don’t have sex they’ll die, but once they committed to the practice, they had more integrity than the women. Andrew was often stunned that the women would continue to dress immodestly, or that our conversations in celibacy meetings would be anything but “cool” in relationship to this hot topic, or that we would blatantly break the practice by satisfying ourselves.  He wouldn’t hesitate to berate us quite sharply… always with a view to the fact that this practice, when taken absolutely seriously, could have the power to enlighten. And there was no sense in doing the practice if one wasn’t making every effort to act with integrity.

In my time as a celibate we never really embraced the true renunciate life as Andrew envisioned it, free from wanting and gender identity. Nonetheless, the practice of renunciation (because it definitely required practice) strengthened me more than any other spiritual practice I’ve done before or since. It gave me a core of self-respect where there had been none, and has truly afforded me a liberated response to the sexual impulse rather than the robotic and conditioned response I described before. It gave me backbone and humility. Now I can’t imagine a life where I had’t had the opportunity to experience the liberating power of renunciation.

There is so much to be said about the freedom that comes from ceasing to identify with sexual power, and how much confidence is gained by learning to sit still through the fires of desire and rest in coolness. Andrew always said that celibacy and relationship should ultimately be one and the same practice, and after three years in a wonderful relationship, I now understand what Andrew was always pointing to. Gone is the attraction to drama and destructive passion, and in its place are trust, care, and the freedom from needing another person to “complete” me.

While I ultimately decided to leave Andrew’s formal community a couple of years ago, this practice lives in me, and it often occurs to me that if I had not met Andrew and learned the beauty of celibacy, I would most likely have been destined to repeat the mistakes of my mother, grandmother, aunts and friends, victimized by the ferocity of the sexual impulse, instead of living a liberated relationship to it.