I haven’t up to this moment told the following to anybody – even my really good friend Tom, who would have made great sense to tell because it was with him that I so abruptly two weeks ago pulled out of plans to become roommates, along with his great 19-year-old son Ian.
I have truthfully been telling him and everybody that I shockingly and suddenly woke up at two in the morning last Wednesday – knowing I was getting an important life message, but not knowing what. And that, within moments, I realized that it had already been decided for me that I was not going to move in with Tom and Ian, but would be staying in the Battery Park Apartments subsidized, senior, beautiful historic hotel – which I have been saying for months that I hate.
For the last two weeks – since having this realization, in the middle of the night, that I’m not moving – I have been telling people a part of the truth: that, after scheduling our new Thursday “Gatherings”, one more weekly commitment downtown, I realized that most of my life is downtown and I would be crazy to move way out to Candler.
What I have not yet told anybody is that my very first thought on awakening was:
“You are about to undertake a sexual rebirth, for which you could possibly/maybe/who knows? have more than one partner.
“You are already really clear that you will never pursue or seduce or manipulate anybody into sex, but just let them come to you – which you feel really pretty confident that they will. These days you don’t pursue anybody for anything. You don’t ask women out for dates. You don’t do online dating. You aren’t ‘looking’.
“You may even give up your fabulously fun, most bold and over-the-top flirting, lest some watchers confuse that with seduction.” (That one is going to be tough. It is genuinely so much fun – and I, and I think usually the person I am teasing, both know that it is just for fun. We will have to wait and see the future of this practice.)
“You are entering a potentially fabulous, free new period in your sexual life. And now you are going to move from this sweet apartment, so-conveniently located right downtown – to a run-down old house with a very young and a kind of old roommate, with very little actual privacy (certainly not for loud passionate noises and running around the house giddy and naked) – way the hell out in the country. You are setting yourself up to be a monk, not a very old new-age stud!”
No, this has all been my own little secret that continually makes me giggle – until now sharing it with all y’all.
Yes, I am kind of totally starting over sexually – almost a virgin again.
I know, really solidly know, that I am going to be totally content if all that happens with any particular partner is to spend a lot of time looking deeply in their eyes, or lots of affection but no sexual action or even energy, or simply sensual or maybe sexual massages – or lots of practice building and holding a mutual intense sexual charge, without blowing that charge with an orgasm.
This tantric yoga practice is really just for the man. Women – you little stinkers – are blessed with the capacity to come as much as you want and still stay hot, whereas us guys, after coming, tend to lose all our charge and our capacity to resist the call of sleep.
I know that it will be crucially important to “surrender the outcome” – to be equally happy with whatever is meant to happen between me and any potential partner. And at the same time I am pretty sure that – unless I get hit by a bus in the very near future – I am about to have one helluva good time, and to rock some men’s and women’s worlds in the process.
Krista Tippett. hosts a weekly interview program on public radio called “On Being”, in which she hosts all kinds of spiritually or philosophically of psychologically “deep” people – people who the Asheville tribe who regularly listen to this show might describe as “very evolved souls”, or some shit like that. Ms. Tippett herself is obviously very “deep” or something like that – and has a very versatile, open mind, so that she is able to carry on intelligent, informed, interesting, provocative conversations with a very wide range of people.
If I were to host such an interview program today, I would definitely call it “On Being an Asshole” – and I would interview all kinds of just regular folks, who would share very interesting – maybe squeamishness-inducing – stories about times they behaved like a complete jerk, or worse yet, a schmuck. I would both identify and empathize with these people – and I would feel some relief and forgiveness for being a total asshole today. It’s really the first foray I have made into that territory since “waking up” five months ago.
The specifics of my assholiness today had to do with my dog Panchita aka Pancho. I totally adore her – I really love dogs, consider them a fabulous species, and have no doubt that she is the best dog in the whole world – except for your dog, of course. In fact, it seems to come with the territory of befriending your dog that you come to totally adore them. It really seems to me that if a person does not adore their dog – and vice-versa – that something is going very wrong, wrong with the person or the dog or their warped relationship.
But sometimes even a pretty good dog owner fucks up. I used to say of my parenting of my wonderful child Terry that I was really glad that no one could watch a videotape of every moment of my parenting – because there sure were some moments that I was not at all proud of.
I do pretty well with my little (20 pounds, way over her fighting weight) chihuahua Pancho – though she is mixed with something definitely bigger than a chihuahua. (It is a source of much speculation what that other dog breed might be – and I may someday break down and fork over the hundred bucks or whatever for a DNA test.)
I definitely do not do one of the ditziest things that the several really stupid dog owners in this building all seem to do: they walk their dogs right up to another dog, when the two dogs are already snarling and barking at each other. One of these women the other day – when I had just physically pushed her somewhat bigger dog away from my dog (she got outraged and said “Don’t you hit my dog!” – which I had obviously not done. I said to her, “I did not hit your dog – I pushed him rudely away from my dog, because you stupidly kept coming, even though I was yelling at you to keep your dog back.” To which she stupidly said, ‘Pancho and Arnold get along fine.” “Not today, they don’t!”
No, my jerkiness with my truly very sweet – but sometimes obstinate – dog today had to do with the even more classic example: she won’t come with you when you want her to, you lose your temper and drag the dog in the direction you want them to go. If little doggie brains and emotions are capable of feeling humiliated, I think this does that to them. It also definitely momentarily strains the bonds of trust and camaraderie that we develop so diligently over hours and days and weeks and months. Pancho is famous for her uber-deep eye contact – it was how she originally landed me, at the Rusty’s Rescue dog adoption day at the local Petsmart. But for the next half-hour (maybe a whole hour – it certainly felt that way), she did not make eye contact with me or me with her.
So what are the parameters of “waking up”? Is that one-time event supposed to suddenly make you perfect? It seems clear to me that it doesn’t prevent you from, in certain situations, behaving like an asshole. I guess someone might try to claim that this “bad behavior” rules out the possibility that you have become “enlightened”. (Are these two terms – “waking up” and “getting enlightened” – interchangeable? Do they point to the same thing? I don’t know the answer to this – I only know that “enlightened” feels lots more elegant and “high-consciousness” than I observe myself being. I like to say that I am walking the “low road to higher consciousness”.
There are all the ways I am so clearly dramatically better than I have ever experienced in my life since this did happen. This guy who has always been a little anxious is now one calm, cool customer – the opposite of manic so much of the time. I walk into a room slow, calm, clear, quiet – so present. My presence is palpable. It radiates from me that I’m a force to be reckoned with. When I do speak, it has a calm authority.
I no longer pursue people. I don’t ask women out on dates. When I did sign up for the Facebook dating site last night, on a lark, I loaded a bunch of pictures and didn’t bother to fill out the profile. “If they can’t get who I am from all those pictures – at least enough to decide if they want to initiate to me, then I’m not interested in them.” I know for sure that I will not shop the site or write anybody else. People seem to be coming towards me a lot these days.
At Earth Fare, during my breaks – or when I’m shopping for myself – I don’t pursue any of the many friends I see there. If they don’t see me, I don’t go after them. I don’t call people for lunch. At church or in other big social situations, I no longer “work the room”. I don’t run around connecting with my various friends – even people I am happy to see across the room. I stand in one spot and let people come to me – and they do.
I am in no way isolating myself: I do have lots of people coming to me. And I just don’t need a lot of interaction as I used to. I am essentially impervious to disapproval. I was thinking that exact thought as I walked from my car into work the other day. I didn’t specifically think, “Life, hit me with your best shot – send me a test.” But that is exactly what Life did. A woman who I have traditionally put on a pedestal – but also had a very warm and loving relationship with – came through my line and told me she was “sad” that I had been unkind to someone online. I said, “Wow, I feel really great about what I wrote. I think it was kinder than that person deserved to be called.” I did reel, just a bit, that this particular person was upset with me: was this really evidence that I had actually been way out of line?”
But it didn’t take more than a few moments for me to get to: “You know, she said she was ‘sad’ – but she wasn’t sad, she was disapproving.” It never had occurred to me that this very sweet, very high-consciousness woman could even have a disapproving side to her – duh! Not only does she, but I just got the brunt of it. So the whole thing reshuffled for me in a moment, and I knew that her upsetness was way more about her than about anything I had written. Life had sent me the test and I had passed. I do, in fact, seem to be impervious to criticism and disapproval.
Learning to walk the walk and find your voice is a gradual process – the Lord isn’t through with me yet.
I do sometimes call a spade a bloody fucking shovel. I am clearly experimenting with the whole range of my power/assertiveness/even aggression. I think aggression gets a bad rap. When one of the senior students in my old aikido martial arts school was roughing up the newer students, the sensei or teacher would ask that offender out into the middle of the mat to “demonstrate a technique” – and then proceed to both humiliate them and to put a definite physical hurt on them. They probably would be sore for a week. I call that aggression – he intentionally beat them up – and, in a martial arts setting, it was responsible aggression that was a teaching experience for both the offender and really everyone who was there.
I still do have one Achilles heel that clearly isn’t all healed yet. I have taken a huge step towards throwing off the label of mentally ill. But after 30 years of deeply believing that story, I still am vulnerable to it. Some of the mental health people – not all, not my therapist – are scared about my changes, my high energy, the speed with which I am sorting things out, healing from things, and walking away from destructive situations. While I’m telling people to not give me the BS that one has to be kind all the time, much of the time I am quite kind, warm, supportive – loving, really. But some people who are steeped in the mental illness model believe that you can’t be this clear, this productive, this non-stop happy for five months if you are in a normal state of mind. I must be manic.
Three times in the last five months – each of those instances immediately after some mental health person had gone out of their way to tell me that I am not actually in a really great, productive place – but that actually I am biochemically toxified and what I am calling “unreasonable happiness” is actually an upsurge in pathology.
In each of those situations, in the immediate situation I put up an absolutely clear Brene Brown-style boundary
and the perpetrator did not touch me – and I thought I walked away completely intact. But each time, by the next morning I had been totally undermined. In each case, I slept longer than I usually do – which allows the pain body to take over even more – and makes it very difficult and painful to get out of bed, insert myself back in the body, and get going.
But having stared in the eye the possibility that I might shrink away from life, shrink back under the covers, and genuinely get depressed – maybe for days – I have in each of those cases found the heart to push into the pain of moving around, going back into that body where the pain resides, and get moving.
One day I was able to do it by going directly to the shower – which tends for me, in that very warm stream, to be a place of solace and even a little pleasure and amazingly often a place of surging inspiration. I tend to take very long showers – what often finally drives me out is a thought like “I gotta go get all of these great thoughts written down. I immediately list them all in bullet-form in a recurring daily entry in my calendar that I have titled “From the world of Spirit” – which had until recently been titled simply “From the shower”.
I have always had especially strong energy cycles – more, I think, than most people. It was my tremendous misfortune, 30 years ago, that the really very kindly and mostly helpful male psychologist psychotherapist I was seeing – convinced me that the presence of these big swings was a sign of a biochemical condition that could be treated by psychotropic drugs.
And so I was delivered into the hands of the psychiatric establishment. They taught me to view these two states as symptoms of psychopathology and to give them the names of “mania” and “depression” – which in our society definitely refer to psychiatric conditions. Years later, I tried valiantly to push back against this brainwashing by substituting the purely descriptive terms “expansion” and “contraction” – which have no psychiatric loading. In many ways, this effort failed – because I never really got myself out from under the other toxic labels. These days – when I am ferociously committed to resisting those depressing psychiatric words – the terms expanded and contracted are still very useful to me.
Don’t call me “mentally ill”. Just call me an asshole – that won’t fuck me up for days.
Thank you so much for giving me “Confidence” yesterday – when I really needed it! (Must Be the Moon album on Pandora)
Two messages ago, I told you how that wonderful song helped me fight back from being capsized by an attack by a highly esteemed “light-chaser” friend. Well, it just seems that the clearer and stronger I get, the more challenging are the tests that life is sending me. And, thanks to my new musical friend – who gives me power amulets like “Shine” and “Confidence” – I’m getting through them in flying colors. I don’t know what my morning would have been like yesterday without being armed with “Confidence” – but that song was definitely the light saber that I used to fight off two very difficult attacks.
Just a few minutes after arriving at work yesterday for my 8-4 shift, I was in the staff break room putting on my team apron. The same music plays overhead in that room as in the bigger store, but you can hear it a lot better in that smaller space. And, just before I left that room, I realized that the song that was playing was your “Exactly”! I had never heard it before seeing you do it live on Friday night, but then had heard it on Pandora several times over the weekend – and had been dancing wildly to it just about three hours earlier!
I was so excited about this that I ran out to tell a cashier friend, Suzie, before the song finished.
“Suzie, Suzie, listen to this song! This is Amy Steinberg – our new minister who I saw at the Isis Friday night!”
Suzie: “I can’t hear anything.“
And it really was very hard to hear the music from where we were standing by the cash registers. I was able to follow it, because it was so in my head – and because I was just hearing it clearly back in the break room.
“Yeah, it’s Amy – this is her biggest song, ‘Exactly’. I knew that this song had made it big – but here it is, right here at work, when her music has totally dominated my weekend!”
Suddenly Suzie went from not hearing the music at all to being totally positive that what she was hearing was totally different from what I was hearing. “That’s Michael McDonald.”
“No! No! It’s Amy Steinberg – ‘Exactly’. I was dancing to that song three hours ago.”
Suzie, with more forcefulness: “No, that’s Michael McDonald.”
“No – it’s the same music out here as back in the break room, right? It’s hard to hear it clearly out here.” I ran 10 yards to stand directly under the speaker. “Yeah, yeah – it’s definitely Amy. I know this song really well.”
“There is no question that that is definitely Michael McDonald.”
“What?! Is there another speaker out here somewhere? The speaker I was just standing under is playing Amy Steinberg.”
It was so shocking and disturbing: it was the classic case of looking at the same white object and having the person next to you claim that it is black. And it was kind of horrifying that my friend, who had so little real information (a moment before she “couldn’t hear anything“) could become so arrogant and defensive and unwilling to consider any other way to perceive things. “What is making her do that?”
So not only had she very directly challenged and invalidated my reality – but she had taken my “miracle moment”, my thrill at hearing my beloved Amy on our Earth Fare stereo – right after coming back to work from a weekend that was so dominated by your music – and said that I was not having a miracle at all, that I wasn’t even hearing your song.
I gave up trying to reach her and quickly walked to the cafe to get coffee (free for staff). I was really supposed to be at my cash register by then, but there was no action yet at the Front End – and I needed to walk this off. And half-way to the cafe, I heard you singing, “People will try to tear you down…”
The miracle state that I had lived in all weekend – and which had followed me to work – was very directly challenged and even kind of attacked. Your song helped me to find my strength – and, yes, confidence.
Confidence by Amy Steinberg (from the album Must Be the Moon)
(To Amy Steinberg, our new Jubilee minister, 11/26)
I am going to make it. I have been dancing to your “Get up” and “Infinite Soul Superhero” for about a half-hour – crying intensely on and off. I’m stronger, looser – the pain no longer has me in its vice grip. I could dance much longer and I know it would help, but now I am being called to write. And the most powerful thing I can write is this: My “Gift” for the Jubilee Sunday services on 12/15
4 minutes – two minutes of talking (I have timed it) and two minutes of all of us dancing to “Get up” (not the whole song).
A Gift of Story: “Get up” by Majo (song by Amy Steinberg)
This last year has been very emotionally difficult for me – I was hospitalized on psych wards twice last Spring for coming very close to killing myself.
At 3 a.m. on Monday June 26, I “woke up”. I committed to living 100% from a place of integrity, telling all the truth and letting nobody mess with me.
The story of that Monday is here. The whole story is all through this blog. I have completely rejected the mental illness label and know that all along I was having a spiritual crisis – that the true self was trying to push through the conditioned social persona, the ego. I have reclaimed with a vengeance my personal power and the power of my sexuality – including thatI recently came out as bisexual.
I have been non-stop happy for six months and am totally impervious to disapproval from others. I am more loving than ever and simultaneously a total badass.
But the pull of the old psychiatric story that I have “bipolar disorder” – which I’ve been told will last forever and means I will have to take heavy-duty drugs forever – is still very strong. Four times in the last six months, some mental health professional has said to me some version of: “This happiness is really all mania, because we have been letting you reduce your meds. Any day now, you are going to get very depressed – and you will realize that all this ‘waking up’ stuff has been an illusion and you will be very humiliated. You need to increase your medication again immediately.”
In each case of being told this horrible shit – in the name of “helping” me – I have had the presence of mind to say some version of “You have absolutely no idea what you are talking about. I’m great. Everybody else knows I’m fine – my psychotherapist, my best friends, the counselor in my seniors building, my minister. You are trying to keep me believing a story that I very unfortunately fell into believing – because I was so desperate for relief from my pain – for 30 years. I have woken up from that story now. Reducing my meds has not made me manic – it has allowed me to be a full human being again. I’m going to continue to reduce them whether you help me with it or not.”
Pretty great – huh? Very exciting stuff. But in each of these four cases, their destructive hypnotic suggestions actually worked. Overnight the 30-year destructive story came out of my unconscious and took over again. I have been unable in the morning to push through the undiagnosed chronic pain that I have learned I can push past and get on with my day. Instead, I have retreated into the bed and said, “Come take me, depression. I knew you would come back for me. I’m yours.” I always eventually pushed through the pain, got going – and had a great day.
This last time was the hardest to get up. Finally I heard in my head Amy’s song “Get up”, to which I have been dancing non-stop lately. I yelled and grunted and cried my way into the living room and I danced – and I was back!
Today, I want to ask you all to dance this song with me. Hear the words of fighting back against the voices that say, “Who the hell are you? You can’t do that.” Look at each other and say, “I know you can do it.” or “I know I can do it”.
This is my big shot – this is what I need from my Jubilee peeps. Let’s dance.
Steve (I don’t know the real name of this asshole and have no interest in knowing it) manages the parking lot for the “Basilica of St.Lawrence” Catholic Church behind our seniors apartment building. The Basilica is a genuine landmark and a very beautiful structure.
Steve is a true asshole. He totally fits the definition of “asshole”:
Online Dictionary: ass·hole
VULGAR SLANG•NORTH AMERICAN
a person’s anus.
a stupid, irritating, or contemptible person.
Majo. An asshole:
Thinks they are a much bigger shit than they actually are.
Loves to throw their weight around.
Identifies themself with a great and/or powerful organization, which they think has knighted them with great power and dignity – when actually they are a little peon who has a very limited purview.
He treats (at least some) other people like shit. He’s an insecure, tiny little man who struts around his kingdom like he is, in fact, a king. He uses his cane like a sword, never using it to steady his walking, but swinging it around like a weapon – his sword or something else fucked up like that.He loves to give the “little people” orders – as if he has been knighted and empowered to shout orders like this. He has a very clear demarcation as to who is in and who is out: members of his parish – who are welcome in his domain: intruders – especially the detestable old people in the “home” across the street – are definitely “outsiders”, savages to be repelled. I doubt that any of this is in his job description.
Although he would certainly deny this, he is constantly begging for some genuinely bad motherfucker to come along and remind him of the limits of his power, put him in his place – and, even if he never develops any real insight into or regrets for the nasty error of his ways – to cause him to maybe feel a little stress, a little constriction when he starts to behave like an asshole. The psychologists call this “aversive conditioning”. If the rat gets a little shock when he approaches cheese, he loses his interest in cheese.
One potentially positive function of this kind of asshole is to act as a practice field for a bad motherfucker in training – for said motherfucker to practice on the little prick, to hone his aggressive skills, which then will be available for righting wrongs, protecting the weak, etc. By unintentionally surrendering himself to some turning of the tables, by receiving rather than dispensing abuse, he may be blessed with some lightening of his miserable karma – so that if he by chance never learns his lesson in this life, he may come back as a nicer person next time.
I am that developing bad motherfucker who is using this miserable bastard to help me develop my aggression skills – how to more cleverly and elegantly slice the perpetrator apart, to inflict no unnecessary long-term damage, and to have fun in the process and create merriment for onlookers, especially if they are members of the outgroup that the little dictator likes to oppress.
My brother and sister seniors in our building – at least those who have also vented to me about the humiliations they have experienced at Steve’s hands – will get real fun out of my stories of taking him down, will relax and let go of some stress, will vicariously (as if they had been there) feel pride in themselves and may walk a little taller.
Diana – who similarly hates Steve for how badly he has treated her when she dares to walk through his domain – will laugh very heartily at my stories of totally dominating Steve, of eating him for lunch, and even feel a little happy. She will remember the stories, especially when she has to be near Steve or even dares to once again walk through his kingdom.
Story 1. Our building parking lot is out beyond Steve’s domain.
It is a long ways around either side as we walk to our cars and most of us do dare to cross through Steve’s domain. When he is there – usually because there is a Mass or some other function at the church – we can see him out strutting around and we tighten up a little just at the sight of him. We know that he will never give us the warm greetings he gives to his parishioners, will never treat us well – will only give us eye contact when he grabs hold of any context to give us shit – like if we cross too close to the driveway.
When we pull up to the back of our building to drop off groceries or something, it is usually pretty hairy to back out – what with cars and pedestrians walking by. There is a ramp down from our alley to Steve’s lot, but we are definitely not allowed to pull forward into that lot – and the ramp is usually blocked with a rope tied across the top of it. But this particular day the rope was down and I was really happy to not have to back out, but to just be able to drive out through Steve’s lot.
Steve stopped me when I came by his stupid little house.
“What are you doing here?”
“Driving through your lot to the street.” (Notice the specific and intentional and very disciplined leaving out of “you stupid motherfucker”.)
“Don’t ever drive through here again.”
I did not swear, and actually spoke in a clear, calm, even understated tone that belied how totally I was dissing him. “You know, I’m not aware of any inclination to do what you say.”
Uttering that line was a beautiful moment, a pure joy. I had totally flummoxed him. He obviously was shocked at my understated lack of respect and he shut the fuck up – which was my clear purpose in saying what I said. “I’m learning the art of the least necessary violence. I didn’t need to say ‘What are you going to do about it, motherfucker?’ which I actually had said a couple of weeks earlier to some country asshole who thought he could push me around because my car door tapped his pickup truck. That was the most clearly I have ever threatened another man, but felt really risk-free because I was absolutely sure with the most threatening tone of voice I could totally back this asshole down. He fled to the cab of his truck, saying.
“I’m going to call the cops.”
“Because I said a bad word? I don’t think they come out for that.”
It had all been great fun: a wonderful learning experience – just to know that I actually have it in me to menace another man and back him down, when the situation really calls for that – and I may at some point be confronted by a situation that is much more serious than this one, and I am what stands between the perpetrator and the people he wants to harm.
Story 2. This afternoon my dog Panchita and I were walking from our parking spot across the street, back to our building.
I was hauling probably too many bags of heavy groceries, because I have come to really detest the little ritual of driving around the back of the building to the back entrance, dropping your groceries in a buggy inside the building – then backing out of the alley to the street (some anxious part of me really believes that someday I will flatten a pedestrian). Managing the sometimes very stubborn, sometimes errant dog is especially difficult when my hands are so full. So I definitely wanted to take the most direct path from my car to the building. The most direct path goes directly up Steve’s driveway. I was too tired and was carrying too much shit to veer to either side. And I don’t give a shit about Steve: if I have to tell him to go fuck himself, I will enjoy doing so.
“Don’t ever walk up this driveway.”
I think Panchita recognized Steve’s hostile tone and – surprise! – doesn’t have much use for him in general. She barked at him right on cue.
I never turned to look at Steve, just continued to walk straight ahead and warned him, in a fairly neutral tone,
“She’ll bite you.”
“I might bite you.”
I may have waited until I was out of earshot to start laughing – but maybe I actually didn’t wait that long. I felt totally happy and content.
Who the hell am I to write about or talk about or claim to practice this? I haven’t had a sexual partner in several years – haven’t had intercourse in maybe 20.
Spirit was a little extra-rough on my sleep cycle just now. She totally roused me out of bed – really gave me no choice about whether to get up. Yesterday I had gotten up very early – after going to bed quite early. I think I got going yesterday at about 12:30 in the morning. About 8 p.m last night., when I got home from leading the Your Fearless Body regular weekly gathering (which had gone great and was very satisfying, even exciting), I was suddenly so overwhelmed with exhaustion that I didn’t fight it and went right to bed.
I knew, as I moved around in the dark this morning, that I had not slept a real long time – but I did basically expect, when I checked the clock, to see something like midnight. Four hours sleep has become my usual drill – and, when the day starts this early, I always allow myself the option that sometime before the world starts to really get busy I will give myself a little “nap”, even if that is only comprised of laying quietly in the bed for an hour, decompressing from the intensity of being used by the Muse for several hours.
Before turning on a light or looking at the clock I spent a few minutes sitting on the can. Among my earliest thoughts every morning, probably the most salient is “What am I going to write first this morning?” It is my experience that – first thing out of the chute, when my brain has not gotten cluttered with lots of little details, when the creative unconscious is still more accessible – I am meant to tackle some beefy piece of writing, something that later I might find too intimidating to even approach. Not to finish something I have half-done and already know where the rest of it is going. No, something for which I basically have only the title and a few whispy free-associations in behind the few words of that title. Something that will really challenge me to fully show up – and then leave me totally exhausted, used-up, when the excitement is all over.
I remembered that – right before tumbling into the bed at 8 p.m. – almost crippled with the chronic physical pain that especially descends on me when I don’t have great distraction…especially first thing in the morning when I haven’t gotten into anything, and last thing at night when I have let go of all pre-occupations – I had written just the title of a possible blog post in the middle of the top page of a mid-sized yellow legal pad. I sometimes do this and then the next day have no idea of what those few words refer to – can remember nothing of the supporting text that would need to go in behind that title, no rough outline, no stories, nothing. I wondered if that would be the case with this title – of which I so far had no memory.
Still before looking at the clock, I turned on a little light on my desk, wandered over to my standing desk (dresser), where the legal pad lay on top of my closed laptop. Yesterday, before going to the Gathering, I had gotten so overwhelmed and exhausted trying to outline plans for my future (I had quit my “wonderful” job cashiering at Earth Fare that day – sheesh! what a day!) that I could not stay conscious working on the love seat with my dog next to me – so had moved to the standing desk, where I almost always can stay conscious at least for a while. I had, as was usual, moved my resistant, sleepy little dog from the sofa in the living room to the bed in the bedroom – where I knew she would right away be more happy and content – because she loves the bed and because I was there.
The clock said ten p.m. – I had had exactly two hours sleep.
I feel so amazingly, unprecedentedly un-shy about writing – and then sharing openly – all the sexual stuff that I now (30 minutes later) have ended up sharing in this blog post. I’m going totally public about sex! (And I promise that if you get with me I will absolutely take your identity to my grave :).)
I picked up the legal pad and couldn’t believe my eyes, which immediately got really big. The tired scrawl on the little pad still was shockingly legible. It read “Secrets of Great Sex #1”.
“Oh, Madden, you can’t write about this! What the hell are you doing to yourself?!
Before you dare try to coach people about how to have great sex, you know you are going to have to do full disclosure about the fact that over the last many years you have mostly become a kind of nun. Then what kind of authority on sex are you going to be?
“You have, without even acknowledging this to yourself – but now you know it – been kind of hoping that you could somehow tiptoe around this information and never come clean.” “Spirit told me to write and teach and do research on sex – to reclaim it as a wonderful and rich and innocent part of our lives.'”
That’s enough, right? I don’t need to say any more than that – certainly not to acknowledge that for the last 20 years I have been celibate, aside from a pretty amazing part-time girlfriend in a far-away city, who I have been with only for three short visits in ten years – so disconnected from my normal life that I often forget to include her when I say that “I haven’t had sex in 20 years”. When I catch myself in this slip, I always think and sometimes say out loud, “Oh, she would kill me.”
I have, actually, been asking myself lately how it could possibly be that Life seems to have assigned me this turf – along with power/aggression, an area about which I know even less. I haven’t ever been a real Lothario – haven’t had hundreds of partners like that one famous basketball player (though my 30’s and 40’s had been pretty sexually active, containing probably 30 of the 45 or so partners I had once written down on paper – including a few memorable one-night stands).
I mostly have never been super-athletic in bed, haven’t been able to go all night. I actually had gotten pretty good at making my love-making last a long time, by slowing down or stopping altogether or even briefly pulling out when I feel myself close to coming – not by thinking about baseball, which guys have always been coached to do. With a few very-memorable exceptions, I had never been especially creative or kinky in bed. (I have always cherished those few memories.)
Louise (all sexual partner names changed) – who was still getting over a very painful end of a ten-year marriage – and I had many totally amazing experiences fucking and simultaneously looking deep in each other’s eyes, tenderly and passionately calling each other by name – calling the other person’s soul to come join the party.
(There was a long period when it seemed like my special mission was to women just coming off a marriage or other long-term relationship that had at least a disastrous ending – to help them find their way back to their natural emotional and sexual health. It was really gratifying to see how many women, like Louise, with whom I had “medium-term” relationships, immediately then went on to a really big relationship.)
Louise also provided her and me with great fun living out two of her long-standing sexual fantasies:
Doing it in the back seat of a car. This was a first for me, too. We were in the huge backseat of a ’59 Dodge that I had recently bought in 1990. We were at a YMCA family camp in northern Wisconsin. It’s Louise’s birthday, here on vacation – and playing out this fantasy is her one wish for her birthday. The car is parked on a slight hill, the nose towards the very old cabin in which her son Ian, age 5, and my son Terry, age 10, are sleeping.In the heat of passion, when Louise has already been calling out all kinds of wonderful things, she calls out “John, this car is moving!”
“I’m just rockin’ your world, baby.”
“No – the car is moving!!”
I pop up and look out the front window – and we are, sure enough, rolling down the hill towards the cabin. I immediately dive over the front seat, naked butt in the air, to mash on the brake pedal with my hand – stopping the car a few feet from the fragile, poorly constructed, very old cabin.
Killing my young son in the cabin this way would have been so hard to explain to his mother.
Louise’s wish #2) Doing it on top, while playing “I’m so excited” by the Pointer Sisters. I don’t think this was a birthday wish – more kind of just a favor, since we had broken up a couple of months before. It was a lot of fun for me – and a big kick for my roommate Debbie, who was listening to the whole thing through our very thin walls.
There had been the one amazing girlfriend who had us act out that I was the psychotherapist and she the new therapy client.
And then there was one of the best sexual affirmations, by the woman whose fairly generic personals ad I had responded to – only to have her confide to me, 20 minutes after I first arrived at her house, that she had spent the last ten years totally immersed in the BSDM dominance-and-submission “scene” and then gotten a little jaded with it – and wanted to see if “I could go back and start over where I left off ten years ago”.
Within another 20 minutes of sharing our sexual histories, we had gotten immersed in a really totally fabulous round of love-making – wild, passionate, even kind of (for two people who really absolutely did not know each other) genuinely affectionate and even loving. When the dust had settled, she very genuinely said, “You do have amazing sexual energy” (words I have absolutely cherished and never forgotten). But just as I was starting to get a big head – and some immediate stirrings of a shockingly-soon big cock – she followed this line-of-a-lifetime with, “but I just can’t go back to vanilla sex”.
But – even though I have been acknowledging to myself that my sexual resume isn’t all that impressive, I can marshall some evidence from the here and now that it was not just a clerical error that Spirit was sending me into this particular game:
I seem to be suddenly clear of all self-consciousness about my body. Six months ago, I was very shy about my 73-year-old physique and avoided going to the beach – hating those last pictures of me in a bathing suit. Now I apparently am totally loving my body. When I, a couple of weeks ago, went to Susan Campbell’s Tuesday morning ecstatic dance, she had invited us to celebrate the week of Halloween by coming in a costume. I pretty lamely had worn an argyle sweater and announced that I was “a college kid in the pre-hippie early 60’s” – which I actually had been, before enthusiastically jumping into the hippie revolution, which came a little late to my midwestern Catholic commuter college.I had actually proposed to Susan in a text the night before that I wanted to show up “wearing my birthday suit.” I knew even before saying this that it would not go over great with some of my friends at the dance – including the mostly not-hippie group of middle-aged folks. But I also knew that I really, really was liking this idea and knew that I was totally capable of doing it. I even did not totally rule out the possibility that I would, at the last minute, totally strip and “make their day.”
I did not end up fully stripping, but within just a few minutes of the dance beginning, I sure enough could not stop myself from enthusiastically ripping off my sweater, long-sleeved shirt and finally my short-sleeved shirt – all of which I dramatically launched to different corners of the dance floor. I proceeded to have one of my most favorite dances in a long time – very excited to be so comfortably wearing and even showing off my simultaneously skinny (in the shoulders and chest – where you want some bulk) and flabby (in the belly, which you obviously would prefer flat) old man’s body.
There were even some big, full-length mirrors in one part of the room – and I visited them several times, to think thoughts like,
“It’s a fine body, a perfect body – no great shakes and maybe not really esthetic or photogenic or a work of art. It’s just another body – they’re pretty much all different. How many of them are really great? really beautiful? I mostly like it and am proud of it. I’ll happily take it into anybody’s bed.”
I have been having all kinds of fabulous, thrilling, creative and kinky sexual fantasies. I have been having self-induced orgasms that I surrender to so fully that I’m sure I am waking the neighbors – and think that being in my arms for such earth-shaking explosions would probably be a memory that any sexual partner would never forget.
I am these days sexually attracted to all manner of young and old people of various body types. After really months of feeling very awkward about mounting a sexual campaign – or campaigning for sexual mounting – with only sexual partners of one gender , I have now thrown everything up in the air by saying, after 30 years of avoidance (never suppression), that I am bisexual, that everybody is now fair game for me.
And, last night again, I ran over in my mind the images of several more women from my past who I knew that – even before this recent upswelling of very free personal sexuality – I had forever changed their sexual lives. Not because of my “sexual prowess”, but because of my even-back-then genuinely powerful capacity to wed physical and emotional intimacy.
I had just attended a weekend men’s workshop where the facilitator advocated that, before beginning any new sexual relationship, we should basically interview our potential new partner about her sexual history – so we would know where the bodies were buried, where she had been wounded, and how we would be called on to support her sexual healing.The first potential new sexual partner with whom I implemented this advice was Joanne – and boy did she make me regret having done this! Joanne spoke so easily and confidently, for about an hour – not really pausing or even lowering her voice when the waitress would come by to check on the progress of our drinks – of her extraordinary and over-achieving sexual past, that I was so intimidated by her that our first night together I had trouble getting hard.
When we broke up several months later, she was saying that she had “never before me known how to be genuinely intimate in bed, how to drop performance and really get safe.“
Donna, who at first was really intense and very speedy in bed, slowed down and got super-sensual.
Sally told me I had taught her how to breathe in bed – and, sexually experienced as she was, asked me if I was just exceptionally big…which I really wasn’t but apparently in bed had sold her that I was.
On November 3rd, Amy Steinberg – our wonderful-dynamic-exciting-musically-rocking new Jubilee minister, who we all knew before we interviewed her was a prominent lesbian leader back in California – was speaking from the pulpit on a Sunday. I do think it was in a moment of happy, enthused spontaneity rather than from a prepared script, that she said “When I saw Richard Gere and Debra Winger in ‘An Officer and Gentleman’ – that was the moment that I knew I was bisexual.”
Three very exciting things happened for me at that moment:
I got very excited that such a breathtakingly open and honest and vulnerable thing had just gotten said from the Jubilee pulpit: “Wow! Pretty much anything could be fair game now.”
Jubilee is such a relatively open, welcoming and even celebrating place for gayness. But I knew that Amy’s naming of bisexuality would open even larger our freedom and maybe even conversation about sexual identity.
I thought, “I’m bisexual, too!”
I had actually known this for a long time. Back in my early 40’s – for the first time I could remember in my young life at that time – I had started having sexual thoughts about men. Usually real men I knew well and liked and admired a lot – mostly straight (as far as I knew), many of them married and (as far as I knew) monogamous with their wives.
I always felt completely accepting – and sometimes very hot – with these fantasies. I never, that I could ever remember – felt guilty or ashamed or like I was doing something that was in any way “wrong” by having these thoughts and feelings and fantasies. I think that my sexual education as an adult – and lots of liberation work for all manner of oppressed groups, including gays, had freed me a lot.
And my huge, 25-year commitment to Reevaluation Counseling peer co-counseling – a movement with a huge and consistent commitment to wedding your own personal liberation to the liberation of all oppressed people – had cleared me of a lot of my internal oppressive thought and feelings. Being in a five-year co-counseling men’s group in which three of the eight guys were gay had helped a lot. And taking Bill Firebaugh, such a sweet guy and so beloved in that group, up on his challenge to us straight guys to spend a night in his bed, cuddling but not being sexual. I was glad I had done it, even though I never got real comfortable with it – much as I really did love Bill.
I must at least have considered, back then, the idea of acting on these thoughts/feelings /fantasies about men out in the world – though I have no memory of this thought process. I do remember, however, deciding something like: “No, not in this lifetime. The world is still too hard a place for gay people. And I, who am kind of constantly just barely afloat with all my feelings and childhood trauma and intense ups and downs and life chaos, don’t need one more challenging and confusing thing in my life. I will love and bless my gay friends, continue to work for social and sexual justice – but not go quite to the front lines on this issue, this time around.’
I think that it must be a better time in the world now for coming out than it was when many of you found the courage and integrity to do it – however many years ago. When, in my early 20’s, I heard Holly Near – in a live concert in Rochester, NY – sing “Imagine My Surprise”, about her process of discovering that she was in love with a woman, I cried copious tears for the beauty and dignity and liberation of her story. But it never once occurred to me, back then, that any of that story might someday have any personal relevance for my life.
I guess you, my gay friends, will have to tell me to what extent this post-Obama, highly toxic Trump America (or maybe even wider-world) is still feeling like a safer place for being gay than it used to be. Certainly my little Asheville-Jubilee bubble feels to me like a place where my newly-claimed gayness will be mostly welcomed. Again, I’m sure you know more than I about the overt, subtle or even unconscious homophobia that remains in Asheville and certainly in Buncombe County. Maybe I will start to freak out the next time I notice (or imagine) that someone is avoiding me, not making eye contact with me, not touching me as freely, etc.
I don’t know to what extent, identifying myself as bisexual, people will also apply the concept and term of “gay” to me. It certainly feels to me that I am “coming out” as “gay”. I am openly acknowledging that I do now have – and have had for a long time – sexual fantasies about both gay and “straight” men. I am publicly announcing that I am open to sexual contact with men. (Don’t all line up at once, guys.) This part of actually potentially acting on these thoughts/feelings/fantasies is going to be brand new to me.
I have never in my life – that I consciously remember, there’s a lot in my college years that I don’t remember – had any overtly sexual contact with men. The really pretty funny guys in my fraternity – while also some of them were still overtly racist and homophobic – used to have fun singing, to the tune of Sinatra’s “Strangers in the Night”, “Fraters in the nude, exchanging glances – fraters in the nude, taking chances, we’d be sharing love before the night is through.” It was all in play, there was not an “out” gay guy in our fraternity, and probably one would never have been accepted, even to start pledging. But still, in its own way, singing that song did feel like a softening of the overall homophobic attitudes of our society in the 60’s – not the knee jerk anger at the idea of even thinking about that world.
I so far feel mostly enthused and excited about this new identity (“thank you, Amy”). I am aware of no guilt or shame. I no longer carry – at age 73 and so far removed from my childhood Catholic roots – any notion that this could be in any way “sinful”.
My 44-year-old son Terry may go through some changes about my new – and public – identity. I don’t know if he has any gay friends. He is really solid in his own straight identity, has a fabulous relationship with his wife and gorgeous young kids he dotes on. He has, over many years, gotten progressively more relaxed with all the ways his dad is eccentric and even odd.
When he was in his late teens, I arrived at his house in Louisville, KY from my then-home in Cincinnati Ohio – only 100 miles from him, rather than the 300 from Chicago. Although I did find a “good” job in my field of organization development before moving to Cincinnati from Chicago (it didn’t turn out to be such a great job), giving Terry more access to me in his crucial teen years was the real reason for the move.
I had come to Louisville the night before, directly from a Halloween costume contra dance – for which my really good friend Shirley had had a blast “dressing me” in one of her really cute sundresses. I arrived at Terry’s house looking normal, but for some reason felt inspired to show him my costume. When I came out of the bathroom in my dress, he did say, “I don’t really need to see this” – though he never actually seemed upset by it.
I wore that dress a few more times for special occasions, including when I was performing – at Alecia’s 40th birthday party – a skit I had written about two of the couples at the party, in which the two husbands played themselves and I played both wives, switching back and forth between a blonde and a brunette wig.
That was an absolute gas – and I always felt free and happy wearing that low-cut (with two rolled-up sweat socks pinned inside the chest) and short-skirt dress (I never did shave my legs to wear it). Somehow that dress got lost somewhere and I have not yet gotten around to wearing the slinky little black number that I bought on consignment at Plato’s Closet and is still hanging in my closet. I do know exactly where it is.
At that original Halloween costume contra dance that unleashed all this energy, three other “straight” guys came dressed in drag, but each had left on himself prominent facial hair and danced the man’s role in the dances all night. I shaved off my mustache and danced the women’s role all night. It was big fun to be spun into the arms of my next male partner, looking them flirtatiously in the eye and saying “Hey, big boy.” (Their reactions to being presented with this package were often pretty funny – and all over the waterfront.)
A very sweet guy at one point took me aside and taught me how to really release myself into being spun, which was very thrilling. A really nice young woman said to me early in the evening, “Honey, you need some lipstick” – and promptly took me into the lady’s room to apply it. That made me feel more complete and like I had really arrived. Over the next several days, I told several male and female friends that dressing and dancing like a woman had released me from some of my stuck “competent” and “strong” male conditioning – and that I had felt really free and had a lot of fun. I haven’t ever that I can remember – in the here and now – allowed myself to have immediate sexual feelings for a man. It’s all been afterwards, in fantasy.
So, by posting this I may have just in some ways complicated my life. Even in 2019 – but in the crazy, angry, oppressive Trump America – I may have opened myself up to some disapproval and prejudice, I guess maybe even some danger. But my life – over so much of it, but especially the last five months (see my exciting and very risky new blog “Waking up”) – has been strongly characterized by more and more self-love and freedom. I less and less give a shit about what anybody else thinks of me. But, even with all that liberation and truth-telling over the course of my adult life, I have just taken a huge step towards my own integrity and freedom. I feel happy. I imagine that some (or many) of you – maybe including my son – are just shaking your heads and thinking, “Finally! I knew this about him a long time ago.” Yes, I obviously have been a fucking slow learner. But oh, well – even at 73, better even very late than never.
And, friends – after all is said and done – please remember that now nobody is safe!
Today Cathryn Davis, amazing and charismatic long-distance Jubilee Minister of Movement, gave a fabulous guest sermon and told us how, at their social justice actions in Charleston, they all have kazoos – and when they are being heckled from the side with someone who is preaching against abortion or of the elegant beauty of MAGAmind – or some shit like that – they just surround the “person” (I will pace my profanity) with kazoos and drown them right out with a happy noise.
She gave us all kazoos and encouraged to right-away affix them to our keychains, so we are ready.
I wrote this that afternoon and immediately put it on the Jubilee Facebook page. (Yes, I did.) The first paragraph above captures some of what Cathryn was telling us. The following paragraph is pure Majo. I really wish that some of my kindness-Nazi light-chaser friends would see it, if only to really pull their chain.
“I’ve got my kazoo firmly attached to my keyring and am totally ready now for that asshole in the Meat Department at work. I was proud of myself yesterday for not just totally losing my shit on him – which I wanted to do so badly I could taste it – and just going toe-to-toe with him, looking him in the eye and saying “I’m not going to say anything to you!” But next time I will totally hit him with the kazoo. That will bamboozle the motherfucker.”
A couple of months ago, earlier in my process of getting used to being a mystic, I took some real satisfaction from trying to reassure people that I wasn’t manic by telling them how I was employing an ancient Tibetan meditation technique – which in Tibet they call “Grounding like a motherfucker.”
I would proceed to describe how often I consciously plant and feel my feet on the ground, how when a customer going through my grocery line seems to not get my sense of humor or to not be in any way charmed by my little verbal patter – instead of getting my feelings hurt or irritated or judgmental with them, I instead thank them inside. In much the same way that the great Vietnamese Buddhist Zen monk Thich Nhat Hanh encourages people to thank a red traffic light for grounding us, for stopping our forward momentum and giving us a chance to breathe and drop back into oneness, beingness – in a similar way this customer is giving me a chance to slow down, breathe and not do anything but swipe groceries. Chop Wood, Carry Wateris a classic American Buddhist book. Do one thing at a time. Carry your tea with both hands, so you don’t try to do something else with the other hand. “Thank you, Ms. Customer, for ignoring me – you just really helped me to, for a moment, stop ‘performing’ and come back to myself.”
My one real problem with GLMF (“Grounding like a motherfucker”) these days is not the “bad language”.No my real problem with GLMF is that it makes it sound like I am doing it. And, in fact, reassuring my friends, psychotherapist, psychiatrist, etc. that I was “working hard on staying grounded” was exactly what – at that stage in my evolution as a beginning mystic – I thought I needed to do.
These days I am much more likely to say something that perhaps does not reassure my psychiatric listener. But I really do think that – except for my real good friend Tom Kilby, who I think found the GLMF formula mostly entertaining – that phrase was just a little too jocular to really reassure most people that I was appropriately serious about all this.
At the end of last week, I was talking to the supervisor of the home health worker they assigned to me when I was discharged from the hospital over my foot infection – which still was not completely under control. This supervisor was expressing her concern that, since I was reducing my bipolar medication (specifically, right now, Lithium – the “king of the mood stabilizers”), the “unreasonable happiness” (Michael Singer’s definition of enlightenment) I had been experiencing for several months was really mania.
I told her that I was reducing the meds only in consultation with my psychiatrist who knows me very well – and was doing it very gradually. “My ‘waking up’ experience actually happened two months before I started to reduce my meds. I have now been at that process of reducing the meds for three months – and am now off of two of my three drugs. And, at the pace my shrink and I have set, I won’t be off of that last med, Lamictal, for another four months.”
Ellen told me she was very reassured that I was being “careful” about all this. Out of integrity – which, with truth-telling, is so big for me these days – I told her, “Well, let me make you a little less comfortable. Even a couple of weeks ago, I thought the issue for me was to strike a balance between ‘let ‘er rip’ at one end of the continuum and ‘leave it out’ – grounding – at the other end of the continuum.
I said to her, “But I have reevaluated all of that. The thing I want to do more than anything else (and have actually been doing like a motherfucker) is to surrender to Spirit. The nature of surrender is that you either do it or you don’t. You don’t surrender to Spirit 90% and then save the other 10% for reassuring people you aren’t out of control. You – your ego – really are out of control! That’s the beauty of all of this. So my job is to let go, “let ‘er rip”, surrender. Then, when I do that, Spirit – in addition to big-time supporting my new freedom and release and integrity-expressing improvisational interactions – automatically sends me cues to gear down when that is actually the more useful thing to do.”
My experience is that, if I do my work of surrendering to Spirit, Spirit then very naturally grounds me when I need to be more grounded. This often happens because of my deeply developed faculty of empathy. As soon as I see a friend worried, scared, hurting or even especially serious, my inner pilot says “Something serious is maybe going on here. We are going to drop the hilarity, the high energy, get serious and grounded – and see what is going on.”
When I walk through the store during my relatively short breaks, if I see a friend in the store (which happens many, many times a day) – no matter how much I like/love them and may wish to engage with them – if they don’t see me I ‘leave it out’ and keep going. I again feel my feet on the floor, take a breath and think something like “You are so overstimulated from being constantly ‘on’ at the cash register. If you don’t need to engage with this person, leave it out. Keep going, get quiet, come back to Spirit.”
It is just plain impossible to miss the linguistic expressiveness and versatility and value of the word “motherfucker” if you are at all in touch with the street language of black America. The tragedy is that most of us white people really have become that separated from our black brothers and sisters – really do not know popular black culture, except for what we (might, if we choose) get from movies or rap music.
My apologies to my two beautiful white sisters who recently expressed their discomfort with me saying “I’m writing like a motherfucker” in my draft of a promotional piece for my blog. I genuinely wanted to honor your worth as people and value to me a friend and gladly took that sentence out of my promo. I thought the use of that expression would help to “weed out” the people who really will just not take to this blog, but maybe that promo piece is really more useful without it – I dunno.
(I did, ironically, substitute for that rougher sentence the more vanilla sentence “I am writing like crazy” – which I realized today is maybe not what I want to say when I am attempting to throw off the oppression of “mentally ill” labeling. A couple of mental health folks are still maintaining that my current extraordinary creative output is probably a sign of “mania”, that I certainly could not have had a genuine “waking up” experience – which maybe is by definition psychotic – and that actually my bipolar disorder is probably really stronger than ever.)
With all due respect to any of my friends who hate it when I (so often these days) use the word motherfucker, being so uptight about that objectively wonderful word is really just so fucking white.