We all experience stress. Life is a constant barrage of external circumstances challenging our inner balanced state. From hunger, to emotional needs, to persistent threat of danger (real or imagined), navigating stress is simply part of life on planet Earth. This phenomenon is always inviting us to up our game, form strategies to survive and stay in harmony. Some stress is wonderful, provoking growth through action, empowering us to step into a larger version of ourselves in response. Some is overwhelming, leaving us defeated, scarred, wounded and defensive. For many, early cultural conditioning began this process. We learned to suppress much of our authenticity to gain approval or fit into childhood settings, hiding our vulnerable sensitive places from the world. Sadly, many of us never revisit those broken places within. We build entire lifestyles and philosophies designed to distract us and reinforce the beliefs that hold our wounds in place. We are hurt by life, and adopt a defensive stance. We repeat what outside authority figures told us, never questioning why. Then (if we’re paying attention) we wake up one day and wonder why we feel so broken, out of integrity. This is true for every modern society I’ve visited:(
In the tribe of like-minded people I meet worldwide, this situation is intolerable. I feel at home with those who long for open hearted living. This seems a key quality of the global tribe I’ve met absolutely everywhere. We feel the armor of experience suffocating our heart, so we challenge beliefs that feel constricting, strive for equality, diversity, generosity, and inclusive attitude, celebrating both what we have in common AND what unique elements each of us possess. We have all been robbed, and hurt, and lost faith in some way, but feel dead living behind walls of protection. We know that a true warrior is not one with big muscles and bank accounts (which often mask obvious insecurity), but one with courage to stand in vulnerability, risk exposing sensitivity and further pain… because life with a closed heart feels like no life at all. So on my journeys I find all sorts of brilliant creative misfits playing with experimental lifestyles, soul seekers looking for gurus and tools, changing their names, scouring the old world, pioneering the edge of the future, adjusting every knob on the controls of life in search of any path back. Back from cold certainty of conditioned mind to a whole hearted enjoyment of the mystery. Back into the garden after tasting the fruit from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Desperate to avoid the traps of apathy and arrogance so prevalent in the machine of culture, we seek fruit from the Tree of Life, a return to paradise. There’s no end to the weird and imaginative expression of this longing, for (thankfully) each of us finds joy in our own way, prays in our own language, sings a unique song.
In my years of exploring and working in holistic wellness environments, I was unconsciously guided by this motive. At the time, I was unaware I sought a path to my own healing. Driven by curiosity, I found myself living, studying, and working in all sorts of exotic places, exploring the diverse world of wellness practices. I was often invited to facilitate breakthroughs for others, and naturally learned much about myself in the process. I’ve worked with a lot of approaches on my walkabouts, mostly things that get me out of the head and into the senses, such as: bodywork, meditation, hypnosis, energetic techniques, counseling, food, tantra/sex techniques, time with like-minded tribe, time away from my own culture, time in natural setting and pace. I’ve tried everything that caught my curiosity, and seen positive benefits from every one of them. Deconstruction of mind and beliefs is common thread I find running through those therapies that helped me. It is only when I’ve challenged and unlearned what my culture taught me that I ever felt free and alive. Here’s a few that stand out:
-Compassion – Just tuning in to whoever is in front of me, listening and feeling whatever they express or suppress, acknowledging their struggle and our common ground. So many times, this has helped me break through judgment and feel close with others, caused a release of emotion, and awakening of power. eg. interacting with a homeless person, a dying person, an ‘other’ in my travels, children, just asking them something about their world, seeing/feeling them as an equal worthy of respect, validating them before giving them a dollar or running back to the safety of my opinions and critique. Just that simple gesture has helped me break through so much conditioning and feel into places in myself that culture often shies away from. This sounds a little vague, but it’s probably the most powerful and consistent way I’ve broken through ego to the heart at home and abroad. There are always tears and a sense of oneness. This is probably why I have such consistent wanderlust – every new shadow I explore awakens a deeper sense of acceptance and compassion in me. This is a kind of courage the warrior in me knows, but the culture around me never told me about… standing my ground in uncomfortable situations and fearlessly going into an experience of other with them.
-EFT – Emotional freedom technique. I learned and taught this at a healing center in Thailand. It’s basically tapping on acupuncture points while talking yourself back into a story, a feeling, a wound. The key is to get into details and specifics, memories and feelings that may have been trapped in the body. eg Maybe you have a phobia like spiders. I ask you to tell me where the feeling is, walk me through the scene of initial fear, rate its intensity 1-10. We do a round of tapping, and plug back in to evaluate any changes, adjusting the story to reflect new perceptions. As process goes, on, pent up emotion is released with the story. This is subtle and new agey, but has worked for me to break through some intense childhood trauma. I’ve also used it with clients to talk them through painful memories, and seen immediate benefits as tension is released in the process.
-Tantra (red/left path neotantra) – for men, the most powerful technique is retention + sublimation of sexual energies. Anyone who has studied eastern esoteric perspective on sexuality is familiar with this concept in some way. A common belief to systems from India and the Far East is that men’s vitality and creative power is contained in their seed. Allowing the seed to be released during sex is wonderful if you want to produce a child, but wasteful if reproduction is not your goal. Depletion of male vitality is certain if a man doesn’t learn some way to preserve this limited resource. Tao and Tantra have well-developed practices to cultivate men’s creative power, and some of them involve sexual practices. Building up pressure in the lower chakras, specifically Swadisthana, the sex chakra, develops power we can direct to develop ourselves. In practice, this means to engage in sex, and allow pleasure to build, feeling expansion in the area below the navel, yet resisting the urge to release it through ejaculation. Once critical pressure is reached, we contract muscles in the pelvic floor to stop flow, move away from our partner if necessary, then work with this energy in different ways. In Tao/qigong, circular breathing is emphasized to circulate the energies from the sex chakra to other centers higher up, visualizing a path to take the surplus energy in the lower belly to other areas along the spine. This is often called the microcosmic orbit in Chinese systems. The yogi/tantrics I’ve studied with use this type of breathing, but also a technique called Uddiyana Bandha. Uddiyana is the belly area. Bandha means lock. When doing this technique, you take a full breath in, exhale fully and completely. With the lungs empty, you pull the belly back strongly while holding the breath out. During the breath hold, called a void retention, you visualize the energy from sex chakra rising up/sublimating into finer energies of higher chakras. You can direct it where you need it. Eg want more compassion, send it to the heart chakra and visualize yourself embodying a character that represents qualities of the heart. Want to remember god within? Send it to the crown. If done right, this retention looks pretty weird. The lower ribs are fully visible as the belly is totally retracted, sucked up into the ribcage. You can only hold the breath out for a few seconds, so the whole process is quick. It is meant to be repeated in rounds. In the bedroom, it’s mechanical at first while learning – you may have to move away from partner to do the exercises, then go back to them. In time, it all becomes automatic, practiced continuously. I remember when learning this, shuddering with released emotion as my partner held me. It was deeply therapeutic, helping cut through all sorts of repressed stuff, shame regarding sex learned from the church, self-criticism, perfectionism, filling me with floods of early childhood memory. Powerful and highly recommended. Approaching sexuality sincerely from this school of thought can totally transform your perspective on life, allowing you to heal your wounds, see beauty everywhere, awaken the goddess in your partner, and contact the warrior in yourself.
-Practicing energy healing on others. I have studied and taught a variety of techniques, and I believe it doesn’t matter what you call it, or what approach you use. The simple act of sitting, tuning in to other, with intention to listen, feel, help develops awareness, sensitivity, and breaks through the thin shell that separates us from other. I don’t think you really need training. It helps, but we have innate ability. The most important qualities we need are curiosity and practice. I find this releases me from tendency to intellectualize everything, a common trap for men, and move into a place of sensitivity. The real benefit of this practice for me has been developing trust in my senses. There will always be a voice in me that tells me I’m imagining things, this energy healing stuff isn’t real. But, I have had so many encounters that my logical left brain cannot explain, that I simply have to expand my model of what is possible to accommodate the new experience. So many times, I have just placed my hands near someone, allowed intuition to guide me, and seen story, stress, and injury simply unravel in the process.
-Yoga asana, especially when postures are held for longer periods, are the ideal way to open our tight places, recover our natural harmony. The most sensual and valuable practices for me are when I just sit in a posture, working with the breath, feeling into resistance… for minutes. I listen to the body, and let it tell me where to go next. I know a posture is finished when a laugh or a deep yawn comes out, accompanied by a release of tension.
-Meditation. Sitting for long periods without moving, like an hour or more. Its easier with social pressure of a retreat like Vipassana. Inevitably, the body wants to move, but we are training our awareness to fight this temptation for self indulgence, actively engaged in the art of discipline. When you starve yourself of distraction, and sit with the discomfort, the awareness starts to scan deeper and deeper. I always find hidden knots of tension, pockets where old energetic habits go. There is a whole untying process going on inside me once I get into a deep meditation. On the outside, I look still, but the inner work is vast, revealing forgotten stories from my past, old injuries, bad habits that have led to postural imbalance, emotional patterns that keep me contracted and closed to the world. It is somehow both intense and subtle. It always adjusts me to interact with the world in a more open hearted, groovy way. Life just flows easier when I stay disciplined in my meditation practice. What more could I ask for?
Alright, that’s a lot. There is so much out there to explore, so many techniques as far as the imagination can see. If you are compelled to tear off your armor, live your true identity in this world, I encourage you to jump in, test your beliefs, wander around beyond the fence of what you were taught. I guarantee you will find hidden treasure out there. Every person I’ve ever met ‘out there’ has found some hidden aspect of themselves when they stepped away from the limited mirror of their own culture, some flash of brilliance to add light to their life.
I’ll close with a quote and a clip from the film The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (often wrongly attributed to F. Scott Fitzgerald):
“For what it’s worth: it’s never too late or, in my case, too early to be whoever you want to be. There’s no time limit, stop whenever you want. You can change or stay the same, there are no rules to this thing. We can make the best or the worst of it. I hope you make the best of it. And I hope you see things that startle you. I hope you feel things you never felt before. I hope you meet people with a different point of view. I hope you live a life you’re proud of. If you find that you’re not, I hope you have the courage to start all over again.”