On Thursday I missed my plane to Germany because I left my passport in my office – no, I literally completely unconsciously – unpacked it and left it behind, while multi-tasking. They say our brains can’t cope with doing too much at one, and they seem to be right.

The reason I most wanted to go was an event in Berlin titled The Holocaust – From Trauma To The Power of Responsibility. My spiritual teacher Andrew Cohen, as well as Austrian teacher Thomas Hübl were going to speak to a crowd of more than a thousand people. Staying behind I wanted to still be in touch with the event and so listened to an interview, the German edition of EnlightenNext magazine once did with a German psychologist, Ingo Jahrsetz. He has made it his work to reveal and respond to the many ways, in which the holocaust lives on, not just as a memory of an unimaginable historical event, but in the ways Germans, and Jews as well, experience their lives, think and relate to each other.

This topic is always on my mind – almost all my clients are Jewish, most of my girl-friends as well, and I am beginning to see in my own experience and also in my parents, who were born during the war, and others of their generation, the signs of what Jahrsetz calls the ‘culture of silence’. This culture is alive both in Jewish and German families and his thesis is, that unless we confront the effect of the holocaust and the war in the way it is part of our experience right now, we will keep passing it on to other generations to deal with.

One of its aspects for Germans is the sense that ‘everything is too much.’ My aunt, my father, many in our family say that and mean, that they need to withdraw, to be alone, to look after themselves. For a long time I thought it had to do with the narcissism of the budding Me-generation, the inability to be with people. But listening to Jahrsetz last night I was reminded. The holocaust was too much. It was more than is really graspable. And because after 1945 no one talked about it, no one dared look at what such an event meant – for us a Germans, for humanity as a whole – the sentiment ‘too much’ was pushed under the surface to be crossing the traverse to the next generation and the next. I often felt ashamed at the strange outbursts of helplessness and fury I experienced as a teenager, when someone was riding a noisy motorbike through the quiet of the forest, or trees were cut down to make room for a house. The out-of-proportion intensity of feelings reminded me of my fathers anger attacks and my mothers inexplicable tears –  I did not want to be like them. Now, these feelings still arise, but I am starting to understand them in this larger context, rather than just trying to cut them off.

Since knowing my spiritual teacher Andrew Cohen, I have learned that being human is something I need to learn, we, as a culture need to learn. To be able to bear insecurity, helplessness, intimacy, difficulty. I learn it from friends that are not German, and especially my Jewish friends. Over the years, a lot of trust has grown, to the point where we can now speak much more freely and openly about each of our ways of clinging to our cultural programming. The laughter, the ease and the trust we share carry with them an undeniable pain and great responsibility.


Caution, Feelings!

April 13, 2010

Women are often described as the ‚feeling’ sex. We seem to live closer to the source of tears, guilt, insecurity as well as care, compassion and sensitivity. Today, these latter qualities are increasingly recognized as badly lacking in our culture and as important for its development. Even in boardrooms and management circles so called ‘feminine’, more intuitive, less competitive and more sensitive intelligence is being called for more and more. It s a big step forward from Freud and his assessment of the female psyche.

 I think it is worth pulling this idea apart a little, simply because feelings are such tricky business, and often unreliable to say the least!

 For one, they are often triggered by things that have nothing to do with the reality at hand – see psychotherapy. We blow a fuse or pull back in distrust simply because some unsuspecting other is, often preconsciously – reminding us of our parents, our teacher or, if we want to go that far, an event or person in another lifetime altogether.

 Hormones are another source of – often very strong and convincing – feelings. I know it might be an extreme example, but for years I left my boyfriend almost on a monthly basis, simply because my perspective, and what I felt about him, seemed to turn on its head every time, my period rolled around. Even tough I started to become aware of that pattern and vowed to myself, not to blindly believe my feelings during those potent seven days prior to menstruating, J , when push came to shove I fell for it once again.

And then there is falling in love – one of the strongest feelings of all, perhaps, that always turns out to have questionable relevance to reality.

 Some spiritual circles I lived in for a long time elevated feelings over reason – as deeper, wiser, more important – being ‘heady’ wasn’t a compliment!

 So after thirty years of giving undisputed reign to feelings I am increasingly interested in looking more closely at the connection of feelings to reality, to discover, how compulsive and automatic our relationship to them usually is. A romantic relationship, but really all relationships, are fertile ground for that! Is something true just because I feel it? We often live as though it is, unquestioned, and even though we might think we know better. Can feelings be objectified and can we find accesss to a deeper plain of reality in that? There are signs for that.

 To be continued in the next blog, where I’ll explore this more in relationship to depression, something a lot of women seem to be struggling with these days.

A friend sent me this article from the Guardian, describing how Iceland, the only nation with an openly lesbian head of state, has now put a ban on all strip clubs. It’s quite moving. We have gotten so used to the idea, that one way or another sex will always be for sale. I could feel the kind of hardness that goes with this idea and that I usually donlt even notice. The article quotes the politician who first proposed the ban as saying:  “It is not acceptable that women or people in general are a product to be sold.”  Right?

One aspect of the discussion about making sex-work illegal has always been that women want that kind of work and that making it illegal would harm them more than it helps by pushing the trade underground. But after I read this and thought about it for a while, I can’t agree.  It’s a bit like saying we should keep slavery because it provides jobs – I think. The fact that women might not be concerned about or in touch with the larger context of objectification that this kind of service perpetuates, does not make it less urgent to change it. Without a stand like this, a new standard, even if it takes decades or even centuries to become the norm, can not be born.

I am very curious what you think about this!

The Goal Is Peace

March 28, 2010

I had a great conversation with a friend last night.  Both of us are students of  A. Cohen, and according to him, one of the highest achievements in sexual relationships is peace – being together without creating karma, which can be defined as creating pain and suffering for others out of ignorance or lack of care. When I first heard this, it seemed like a pretty modest goal – after all, I was used and conditioned to expect a lot from my partners: from ultimate fulfillment and ecstasy to merging with another and even enlightenment, the transcendence of personal self. So simply not creating karma seemed, to put it mildly, kind of lukewarm. But the longer I am living with and contemplating this goal, the bigger I realize it is. So often, simply because we spend a lot of time with someone, we begin to feel entitled to share the less palatable aspects of ourselves. We almost begin to make the other part of ourselves, our mind and all the garbage in it and stop holding ourselves to the standard, we set out with. In the beginning, the very best intentions are put into action almost naturally – you realize, how precious and delicate it actually is to have a man and a woman be together in peace, in respect, without clinging and dependence and in trust. Over time, old mind-patterns just come back and your perspective changes – unless there is a very strong commitment to stay awake. I read that there have been studies that people, when they are in love, temporarily can live at a higher level of contentment and happiness than they are used to on their own, but they always slide back to their regular ways. How familiar is that??? So in terms of the goal of creating a peaceful and karma-free space between you, it’s good to know that there is a part in each of us that is perfectly willing, at any moment, to destroy and attack and then to keep that part under wraps with all my might. To me, one of the real meanings of love in this context means to do that more and more.

Simply Sex? Part 1

March 22, 2010

For the first while of being newly back  in relationship, our bodies could not get enough of making love. R had been abstinent for eight years, and me for thirteen, so there was a lot to catch up on and we were literally on a non-stop high from the experience for several months. I later read that this is what does indeed happen, that there is some kind on internally introduced drugged-out-like state. Of course, it feels great, and it passes and that can be a pretty insecure time and also a fertile one for looking closely at how intricately sexuality is linked to our sense of self-worth, our need for affirmation, our sense of being alive and a whole lot more. It’s no suprise then, that everyone is concerned with extending their sexual activities way past the point at which it has any procreative relevance. We want to keep it up and I am actually beginning to wonder why.

Speaking about this with a friend the other day, we both felt that there is something in sex, the pure pleasure and single-pointed focus on sensations, that is a big relief from the complexity and often futile rumifications of our restless minds. It’s a mini-holiday all right. Everything becomes simple. And so it was no surprise to read, that the part of the brain that is most active before an orgasm is the one, that  is also called the ‘reptilian’ brain, a part that developed in much earlier stages of evolution than, say, reason. Surprise! But the implications are pretty big and I don’t think we, as very sophisticated and developed humans have really begun to grapple with them. I am including myself entirely – the reason for this blog in the first place.

Sex and Letting Go

March 17, 2010

When I first started having sex again, after thirteen years of both formal and informal celibacy, I was very struck by how challenging it is to actually really be in the body. I noticed how I was constantly thinking, evaluating, worrying and controlling what was going on during sex, rather than feel. I thought a lot about it and had some very powerful conversations with girl-friends, who recognized the same thing. We felt it had to do with the layers of self-image and also violation and distrust that has formed in our psyches and seemingly even in our bodies around this subject. We tend to be self-protected to a degree and depth I have to say I was not aware of.

Maybe this is why letting go in sex, letting a man in and trusting him almost feels like a spiritual experience – the relief is so great to not have to hold on to self-protection. I don’t think it is truly spiritual – even though, as one friend said, there are different ways to define that word – but psychic or psychological in a way that seems to go beyond individual history. It seems to be embedded in the make-up of our gender, maybe even in our genes or hormones, to stay in control, always and forever.

Because I am with a man who has the same philosophical and spiritual leaning, and there is a deep trust in each others willingness to question ourselves and grow, I am given the opportunity to go beyond that and am constantly surprised and moved by how deeply connected and alive I can be – and not just with him – when I let go of controlling constantly. It’s a challenging practice, with a lot of subtlety, and one there is a lot further to go with – definitely not just in bed. I would never have done it, were it not for the larger context we share.

Maybe it is because sexuality is so much at the root of our relations and way of looking at the world, that it can be a window into the ways we work on many more levels.

Here is another section of the article I mentioned below, in the piece on Barry Long – this one is about my experience with the late spiritual teacher Osho Rajneesh, the (in)famous so-called ‘sex-guru’ of the 70s and 80s, whose ashram in Poona India is still a buzzing center for personal growth. I would love to hear your thoughts, as always!

With Rajneesh, we very seriously tried to use sex as a means of spiritual development. Half of the western world was on a free sex rock’n roll or in the process of trying to digest its consequences. For us sannyasins (here; follower of Rajneesh) though, I was sure of it, the wild life carried a deeper significance. There were two approaches to it: The first one meant to have as much sex as possible as quickly as possible in order to satisfy the urge once and for all and make room for higher things like meditation, or maybe even enlightenment. In the second approach sex was used to learn to transcend all the accompanying attachments and conditionings. This meant sleeping around like there was no tomorrow and then practicing to transcend the inevitably ensuing chaos of jealousy, broken trust and loneliness. It was, in a sense, part of our spiritual training to ride the emotional roller-coaster without throwing up. But after five years of diligent practice I only kept whirling around in the same pool of aimless confusion. Not even a trace of transcendence. My friends too did not show any signs of success. For years we would tell ourselves that all the insecurities and alienation were simply growing pains on our radical and revolutionary path. Old fashioned ideas like faithfulness, commitment and self-sacrifice made us yawn. I met my boyfriend when the leader of our mediation center decided to freshen up the stagnating energy by having all couples sleep with someone else every night for a week. That’s how D ended up in my bed instead of that of his seven-year-girl friend, who soon left the center feeling bitter and hurt.

Cynicism and distrust often resulted from these experiments. They disregarded simple, but throughout human history hard fought for values like respect, self-control and a more conscious and humble way to deal with the unpredictable and thoroughly unconscious fire of sexual energy.