Sunday, May 2, 2021

Why I Love Shortbus


I can count on one hand the movies that I don’t just love but credit with changing the way I look at my life: 


Word Is Out, the 1977 documentary that assured me there were any number of ways to be gay in the world, most of them interesting, many of them desirable; 

Bergman’s Fanny and Alexander, which helped me find the courage to walk away from spiritual abuse at the hands of a dogmatic, life-denying religious hierarchy; 

Babette’s Feast, which goes on reminding me that the only way to find the deepest joy is to give joy lavishly away;

And Shortbus : John Cameron Mitchell’s sexy, sad, funny, compassionate vision of a queer utopia, set in and around a Brooklyn salon/sex club hosted by the outrageous and divine Mx. Justin Vivian Bond (then still pre-Mx. and pre-Vivian). 

When the movie came out in 2006, I was raw from a long, obsessive breakup with plenty of confusion, grief, anger, and blame to go around. Mitchell’s film showed me people trying hard, fucking up, struggling against shame, longing to connect, fleeing from connection, hurting those they loved, forgiving themselves and each other. I found myself in more or less every scene. 

Years later, talking about the movie with a group of other gay men--some of us newcomers to the film, some fanatic ongoing fans. At the end of the evening, one man observed that if we'd screened the end of the film as one of the clips to prompt discussion, he would likely have cried through it, as he had before. I expect I would have too.

In candlelight during a blackout, Mx. Bond sings "In the End," more or less summing up the vision of the film. Songwriter Scott Matthew's lyrics are anything but upbeat: "We all bear the scars," they begin. "We all feign a life." But it's the tenderness and affection that Bond brings to the song, and that Mitchell and his cinematographer bring to the shooting and editing of the scene, that convey what matters here: that the participants in this "salon for the gifted and challenged" have touched what Buddhist teacher Pema Chödrön would call "the genuine sadness at the heart of things": bodhichitta

This is the realization that our lives are infinitely precious because they're infinitely vulnerable. The end of the song erupts, with the incursion of a marching band--I'm not making this up--into a riot of musical and erotic carousal. In the end, the characters celebrate their humanity not despite, but in and through their flaws. They find community, but only because they accept the aloneness that we can't overcome.

Some less than appreciative responses to the film, including Bruce Diones' snyde notice for The New Yorker, objected to the utopianism of the final scene. But the inbreaking of what isn't expected and can't be foreseen, until we let go of our attachment to the illusion of perfection, is the whole point. "I never saw that one coming," Bond observes through a bullhorn in the last line of the film. "You never know what's gonna happen in this neighborhood."



Sunday, April 25, 2021

Sakura


In the midst of a lockdown, a promenade of Japanese cherry trees lines a walkway on the south side of the university library. Friday they were at what is traditionally considered the most beautiful and poignant moment of their cycle--in full bloom, but the petals just beginning to fall:  the glory of the perfect, present moment bound intrinsically to the impermanence of all things. 


It was my third pilgrimage in a week. They'd lasted longer for the cool, mostly dry weather, and they escaped damage a few nights earlier when the temperature dipped significantly below freezing and we woke to three inches of snow.


And beneath them, several dozen people wandering through the miracle, looking up in delight, taking photographs--of the trees, of one other standing beneath them. Almost all of them masked, all careful to stay distanced, strangers immersed together in a communal moment of deep joy, despite the anxieties of present circumstance. Themselves part of this transient and inexhaustible beauty, themselves subject to the precarity of all things, and all the more precious for it. 

Sunday, April 18, 2021

The Goal


The goal of an erotic spiritual practice isn't satisfaction.

The goal is to embrace desire as Life's unbounded and endless longing for Itself.

To take it as a teacher.

To see that what you have, you cannot possess.

To see that what you lack, you already have.

Sunday, April 4, 2021

 DEATH 

IS 

ABANDONED




Friday, April 2, 2021

The Night of the Arrest

 “A certain young man was following him, wearing nothing but a linen cloth. They caught hold of him, but he left the linen cloth and ran off naked.”

            --Mark 14:51


You’ve seen him here late at night all week. He’s come up the rambles between the trees to this knoll at the top of the garden. You thought he was looking for sex when he first showed up on Sunday night, but he didn’t prowl like most of the men who linger until they’re sure it’s safe and then offer to buy you for the night, or for an hour, or for just a quick fuck behind the biggest, oldest olive tree. Or else keep on looking for another man as hungry for sex as they are. 
He just leaned against what’s left of the stone hut that belonged to the gardener in the old days. Aware of what was going on around him. Not horny and panicked at his own desire and the danger of the place, like most newcomers. At peace, saying yes to it all, but wanting none of it for himself. 
You wear just a linen sheet when you’re up here working the hill.
Tonight he’s back with two friends, who for hours started at the sound of every pebble that shifted underfoot as men cruised the paths. His own face showed more sadness than fright, until he finally went off alone to the side of the garden, kneeling as he wept. You waved a john away, wondering if you should go to him. Now his friends have drifted off to sleep.
Another john comes up, and you’ve got to make enough to eat tomorrow. But then the man turns, and your eyes lock. The john glares, shrugs, and walks off.
Without thinking, you get up and walk over to him. He’s still weeping as he reaches out to you, but by the time his arms are around you, you realize the comfort he’s offering is beyond anything you can give back. For the next five minutes, you exchange no words, only sobs, until the two of you fall into a slow, steady rhythm, rocking back and forth, your breath matched to one another. His hand burrows under your dreadlocks to stroke the back of your neck.
Down the hill you hear the scuffle of men scattering as they do when the police barrel through. You pull back in alarm. He smiles and says, “It’s O.K. Go, get out of here.”
As you pitch down the hill, a cop grabs for you, but you leave the sheet behind, clutched in his hand, as you run on to safety.

Friday, March 19, 2021

Revisiting Mark Epstein


Watercolour by Tantrika au Naturale

I’ve just gone back, for a third reading, to Mark Epstein’s Open to Desire: The Truth About What the Buddha Taught (Gotham Books, 2005). As intelligent as it is accessible, it holds up wonderfully fifteen years after its publication. A Jewish-Buddhist psychiatrist in private practice in New York, Epstein makes a clear and convincing argument for desire, and particularly for sexual desire, as a tool for spiritual growth—providing we see desire clearly for what it is. 

He’s at pains to tweak some unfortunately standard English translations of the basic principles of Buddhism, the Four Noble Truths. Epstein rephrases them more or less as follows: that all life is marked by pervasive dissatisfaction; that the cause of this dissatisfaction is our constant attempt to cling to the illusory promises of fulfillment; that to genuinely relinquish that clinging eliminates the cause of our dissatisfaction; and that we can overcome clinging by following Buddhism’s Eightfold Path of right living, action, and attitude.

He’s saying that, contrary to many assumptions about Buddhist teaching, it’s not desire that we need
to eliminate. Instead, we need to renounce attachment to a false image that turns the Beloved into an object, a vehicle for achieving what we want. If we don’t, the alternative is “chasing the dragon”: endlessly shopping for the ideal lover, the perfect experience, the mind-blowing orgasm, the hot scene to end all hot scenes. It’s not pretty when hunger and thirst feed only themselves: when, on the altar of an illusion, we sacrifice the reality of the life that unfolds before us and within us as a glorious, unpredictable, and fleeting gift.

If we instead experience desire mindfully, it becomes a great teacher: it leads us to recognize that what we yearn for always exceeds what we grasp. It reminds us that lack is fundamental to the reality of our lives, and that paradoxically we can only live fully when we embrace that fact instead of trying to escape it. Mindful desire invites us to accept that what we most truly long for is always Other than what we grasp after or strive to retain. We come to understand that the Beloved is not an object, but an unknowable Other with a life of his own that we can witness as a miracle and honor face to face but never possess—that our task (and our pleasure) is to go on desiring without clinging.

Here (p. 108) is Epstein at his most precise and, to me, most compelling: “The therapist, by not gratifying, but not rejecting, the unfinished cravings … models a new approach to desire. By examining those cravings in the nonjudgmental space of the therapeutic encounter, the therapist encourages a renunciation, not of desire itself, but of the clinging that comes to obscure it.” Though he’s talking about the therapeutic relationship in particular, I find myself thinking that to behave like this toward my partner, toward my friends, toward those whose lives touch mine in small, daily encounters, is a high, challenging, and worthy aspiration.

Friday, March 5, 2021

Erotic Generosity

I've read a lot of queer theory in my day. I've read a fair amount of sex-positive liberal Christian theology. And have I ever read a lot of porn.

But in very little of it all have I found much that really voices what people who participate in alternative sexual communities are sometimes blessed to learn among themselves: when we find safety to accept our longings as a given, without shame, with the good will and acceptance of others--when we let down our defenses----our impulses toward generosity blossom. And we beget the further generosity of others in turn. 

The chance to create safe containers for such experiences is one of the reasons queer men need to find each other apart from even the most tolerant and inclusive of wider cultures--and why those containers are probably best left mostly shielded from outside scrutiny. There's not really a lot of point in wasting emotional energy on dealing with the discomfort the alternative erotic spaces and practices we create are likely to engender in the wider normative culture.

Queer theory explores the creative, liberative impulse in all this--but without much attention to the impact that pleasure and erotic encounter have on the soul. Liberal Christian moral theology focuses on how interpersonal sexual connection shapes and fulfills the soul--but largely remains embarrassed that pleasure and fantasy shape our sexual preferences and experience before deep interpersonal connection comes into it. And a lot of porn focuses unrealistically on fulfilled fantasy and impossibly perfect pleasure--while mostly ignoring that good sex also engages our minds and spirits.

Radical faeries know better. I get the impression from friends that leatherfolk often know better. Men who participate in networks for non-penetrative touch know better. The characters in John Cameron Mitchell's sweet, heartfelt, funny and incredibly hot film Shortbus know better. And the men who come to the monthly online Heart and Lingam Circle that it's my joy and honour to facilitate clearly know better.

To be fair to queer theorists, theologians, and pornographers alike: it's a tall order to write about a sexual experience in a way that's analytical and reverent and hot. 

There's no better word than generosity to describe what happens when a roomful of men drop down into the lively possibilities of our bodies, stop searching for the ideal partner, smile in welcome at each other, and open up to treating those we meet in the moment with respect and delight. Generosity accepts the interest and affection of men who'd never turn one's head in a bar. Generosity creates safety for us to stop judging ourselves against impossible standards of air-brushed beauty. Generosity gives us space to be a little goofy, and to stop masking our longing behind a defensive screen of attitude. Generosity is love directed not just to a circle of friends and lovers, but to a random sample of humanity. Generosity is patient. Generosity is kind. Generosity is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It is not irritable or resentful. Generosity is willling to experience all things, hopes all things. Generosity never ends.


Monday, February 22, 2021

If Not Now, When?

 “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? But if I am only for myself, what am I? And if not now, when?”—Hillel

“To begin with oneself, but not to end with oneself; to start from oneself, but not to aim at oneself; to comprehend the self, but not to be preoccupied with oneself. . .”—Martin Buber


I’ve been thinking again, lately, about how Power works. About who holds it; about the experience of being oppressed; about the experience of being an oppressor—because like most of us, I’m both at once.  

As a kid, I was mercilessly queer-bated; over the decades since, I’ve had my life threatened more than once on the streets of a large city by homophobic teenagers; been drummed out of a congregation of devout, upstanding Lutherans while its pastor stood impotently to the side; listened most of my life to right-wing bigots drape their incitement to discrimination and violence in the veil of religious freedom; had the full advantages of the legal recognition of my primary relationships denied me. 

I’ve also enjoyed most of the privileges of being a white cisgendered male, sometimes without thinking much about it. I’ve caught myself—or been called on—making thoughtlessly sexist remarks. I’ve worn clothes made in sweatshops by people whose lives I’ve barely given any thought to at all. I’ve contributed to the needless suffering of countless animals by buying industrially produced meat. I’ve paid my taxes to governments that subsidize ecological rape and pillage and the continuing disenfranchisement of indigenous nations. And on and on.

I struggle to understand how these sides of who I am fit together. I struggle harder in a season when my own religious tradition calls for a process of self-examination—a season that causes me continued discomfort because of the baggage it carries with it. Far too much of Christian practice in Lent ends up being about punitive navel-gazing, about idealizing a purer version of the isolated self. That model of penitence has for centuries done vast damage to members of sexual minorities. I react to it at gut-level by defending my own innocence and pointing instead to what’s wrong with the world.

Francis Spufford suggests that instead of talking about original sin, we pay attention to "the human propensity to fuck things up." Now that I’m thinking about Power, I find myself thinking about how, often even without being aware,  I can thoughtlessly collude in its structures—the very structures that oppress me, and that I claim to oppose because they oppress others. 

And I start to understand differently how to look critically at my own life. The shift is like turning a kaleidoscope. The pieces are still all there. But I can see more easily that what’s wrong within me isn’t  so separate from what’s wrong in the world. If I long for a better world, helping to create it is tied up with building a better version of myself. Learning to say a louder “no” to the abuse of Power in the world means taking stock of the ways I say yes to it within myself.

Saturday, February 13, 2021

I'll Meet You There

Have you ever tried your hand at writing erotic fiction or poetry?

What did it feel like, seeing your imagination come to sexy life on the page? Have you shared the results with friends? Have you gone as far as joining an erotic writers' group? If you have, maybe you agree with me that there couldn't be a better description of the experience than some famous words of the Persian poet Rumi. 


Rumi wrote (according to one popular translation), "There is a field beyond all notions of right and wrong. I will meet you there."


Maybe we'll discover that your fantasy life and mine look more alike than we'd expected. Maybe we'll both be surprised at the number of people in the room who like to imagine getting tied up. OK, the mysterious stranger does it to you, and my daddy does it to me, and the woman in the UPS uniform does it to somebody else. But still.


Or maybe somebody in our circle has uses for ripe avocados that wouldn't occur to either of us in a million years. Maybe my fetish for men in cassocks is, like, the biggest turn-off imaginable for you. And the donkey suits--well, let's save the donkey suits for later.


But we came into this with a promise to hold safe, non-judgmental space for each other. A promise not to "yuck anybody else's yum." We'll write, we'll read to each other, we'll listen, we'll witness and be witnessed. We'll cross the bridge to the world of the other, carrying only our passports in a clear plastic bag--as couples therapist Hedy Schleiffer would say.


We'll learn things about ourselves that we haven't fully known. Or that didn't seem completely real, because we've never before shared them with a roomful of trusted companions. Now I see them, and you see them too. Because everybody in our circle sees them, I see them differently. And seeing them differently may be like seeing them for the first time.


Maybe we'll even begin to see, at least a little, through each other's eyes. Maybe what our friend wants to do with ripe avocados, and the way they describe it, pushes out the envelope of our own erotic worlds and enriches them. Maybe my fantasy of getting tied up will help you feel your way into how that could be adventurous and exciting, or reassuring and safe, in a way you've never been able to understand before. Not part of your world, but an interesting, perhaps even rewarding place to visit in mine.


We've got a whole banquet of possibilities before us. A fantasy you've never shared before. A real-life memory I can't stop rehearsing. A piece of fan fiction: Seven of Nine and Captain Janeway getting it on in the shutltlecraft, or Harry Potter learning a new spell with his wand. A sci-fi tale of what happens when people have sex in zero gravity. Historical fiction. A recently defeated President of the United States arriving in hell, assigned to blowing a former mayor of New York for all eternity.


Drawing on our erotic imaginations as a creative resource in community, we get to play with the boundaries between our most private, defended selves and a world that's undeniably different from us, but ready to witness, ready to welcome us with respect, curiosity, and celebration. We can name our fantasies as just fantasies, things to play with rather than something that threatens to take us over. Along the way, we learn to take responsibility for our own reactions to what others have written as our reactions and nothing more.


A Midsummer Night's Dream is one of Shakespeare's best-known and most-loved comedies. It's about lovers eloping into the forest and getting enchanted. And it's often thought of as a cute play for kids in middle school to put on. But it's richer and darker and funnier and scarier and way, way edgier than those sixth-grade productions ever get at. It's about nice young people from respectable, repressive families getting lost and confused under the full moon, and faeries mixing it up with donkeys--yes, with donkeys--and everybody wanting to have sex with the wrong people. Who finally turn out to be the right people.


Out beyond all notions of yuck and yum, there is a moonlit forest. I will meet you there.

Sunday, January 31, 2021

The Morning After the Long Nightmare

The day of the Inauguration in Washington, I felt like we'd all just awakened from a four-year nightmare. On that bright morning, Amanda Gorman--along with the others who spoke and performed--embodied the promise of an America where inclusion and equity might prevail, after all.




The ten days since then have made it clear that the flames of hatred and division fanned by a vindictive, unqualified narcissist throughout his shameful time in office are far from extinguished.

Just as in November 2016, this is no time to retreat into a shell of private serenity and personal tranquillity. Neither is it a time to lash out in retaliation. 

It remains a time to recognize that the only way to heal the soul is to repair the world, and the only way to repair the world is to heal the soul. The most authentic foundation for action is contemplation, as Franciscan Richard Rohr continues to remind us. And the litmus test that our spiritual practice isn’t mere self-delusion is conversely that it bears fruit in the world.

It remains a time to deepen our awareness through spiritual practice that our lives aren't restricted to our small, isolated selves alone. They're nourished by the web of connections through which our life flows in and out of us, in and out of each other, in and out of all creatures. It remains a time to go on building and sustaining the web of connections that have kept hope alive through dark years that we’ve already faced.

It remains a time to donate to organizations that fight for the dignity of the marginalized. Till we can’t afford to give more.

It remains a time to volunteer.

It remains a time to help settle refugees and to protect them from xenophobia.

It remains a time to stand in solidarity with the victims of hate crimes.

It remains a time to work for progressive causes at more local levels, as Congress promises to continue in much the same dysfunction that it's wallowed in for years. 

It remains a time for queer men of spirit to recognize that what’s done to our Muslim brothers and sisters, our Hispanic brothers and sisters, our black brothers and sisters, our impoverished brothers and sisters, our trans brothers and sisters, our indigenous brothers and sisters, is done to us, and to act accordingly. It remains a time to remember that we are the guardians of the Earth who is our Mother and of whom we remain a part, and to act accordingly.

It remains a time to remember that whenever we make love, we win.

Friday, January 15, 2021

Taking the First Step


 



"Faith is taking the first step even when you don't see the whole staircase."

--Martin Luther King Jr.

Thursday, December 31, 2020

Hope and the Flesh



Every four or five weeks since the summer, a group has gathered online for a Heart and Lingam Circle. In the midst of the pandemic, we've gone on buidling erotic community with the creative energy, imagination, and playfulness that queer men have manifested through times of oppression, health crises, anxiety, and isolation since--well, since queer men have been queer. (I send the invitation out a couple of weeks in advance. If you'd like to be on the blind copies list, let me know by e-mail.)

We've taken as a touchstone the words of James Broughton: "The penis is the exposed tip of the heart, the wand of the soul." What happens when (instead of just getting off online) we use our erotic energy to expand our consciousness, and to speak and listen more fully from the heart? What happens when we bring our heart energy to our erotic expression?


Can masturbating together, while we share the traditional structure of a heart circle in virtual space, make us more open-hearted, more compassionate and generous toward one another and toward ourselves?


We've found out that it can, and does. Without being able to reach out through the screen to touch one another physically, we've reached through the screen, and across continents and time zones, to touch each other's hearts. It's been sweet and rich. And sexy. Did I mention sexy?


Still, it's not the physical touch of another's hand. It's not skin on skin--the contact that all primates thrive on, and which we alone of all higher primate species live in want of, even in ordinary times, for the sake of civilization and its discontents.  It's what we can have, for now. Paradoxically, it's brought the gift of connection despite distances that would keep us ever from being able to do this face to face. We aren't just settling for second best. Like everyone whose lives have moved onto the Web since March, we've discovered new modes of community.


It's what's been possible in 2020--a year that nearly all of us will be glad to see the end of. It's a sign of hope, like the final words of the Passover Seder, "Next year in Jerusalem." Like the words of the Passover Seder, not an expression of a desire to move back to what we've known, but forward into something yet to come. A hope lived out with, through, and in our queer flesh.

Sunday, December 20, 2020

At the Return of the Light

The darkness of 2020 has been all-encompassing. 

But the Sun always returns.




























A Cernunnos Litany for the Return of the Light

I sit before this altar

in praise of the Horned One.

I light candle flame

in praise of the Horned One.

Before this altar I slip deeper into trance

in praise of the Horned One

become one with my cock

in praise of the Horned One

gaze down into the eye of my cock

in praise of the Horned One

as it points upward toward heaven

in praise of the Horned One

as though gazing into a candle flame

in praise of the Horned One

eye gazing down into eye gazing up an endless circuit

in praise of the Horned One

beholding it from above as the God beholds it from above

in praise of the Horned One

wind the mala around the base of my cock

in praise of the Horned One

touch my chest, awaken my body

in praise of the Horned One

hold the Lingam to my heart

in praise of the Horned One

begin to pass beyond the veil of speech

in praise of the Horned One

lose the power of speech, possessed of breath and animal sound alone

in praise of the Horned One

vow that my seed will be an offering

in praise of the Horned One

after long lingering at ecstasy's edge

in praise of the Horned One

not my seed but seed of the God present in men's flesh

in praise of the Horned One

not my seed but sacrament of the God's presence in my flesh

in praise of the Horned One

to be lovingly, slowly, patiently milked from my body

in praise of the Horned One

to be collected in reverence

in praise of the Horned One

to be poured over the Lingam

in praise of the Horned One

to be drunk

in praise of the Horned One

to be shared with my brothers

in praise of the Horned One

to mark our foreheads and hearts

in praise of the Horned One

to be worn on our skin

in praise of the Horned One

affirming our animal mortality

in praise of the Horned One

celebrating the power of cockpleasure to open the heart

in praise of the Horned One

teaching us humility before the power of Nature

in praise of the Horned One

recalling that beside the Great God abides the Great Goddess--

all praise to them both, together and apart--

Womb of Creation, Cock of Life Longing for Itself--

all praise to them both, together and apart--

Cock whose seed falls into the earth and dies

in praise of the Horned One

Cock whose seed brings forth new life

in praise of the Horned One

Cock whose seed unites all men in one great brotherhood

in praise of the Horned One

Cock whose seed flows through the three worlds

in praise of the Horned One

the realm of this world, of ourselves and our brothers

in praise of the Horned One

the realm of our fathers now departed

in praise of the Horned One

the realm of our sons and  of the heavens and of galaxies not yet born

in praise of the Horned One

Milky Way and great Ganges of cum

in praise of the Horned One


OM NAMA SHIVAYA CERNUNNOS PAN SACRED COCK OF JESUS PRIAPUS LORD OF THE DANCE NAMA OM




Friday, December 4, 2020

Rinzai and Sōtō


One of my all-time favorite New Yorker cartoons is a drawing of two Buddhist monks sitting next to one another, one young, smooth, and puzzled of face, the other wrinkled and clearly cranky, snapping at his junior, “Nothing happens next. This is it.” 

The further you burrow down into the joke, the further its petals will open out to embrace you. I keep coming back to it because I feel in myself, all the time, the urge to find out What Happens Next. Somewhere deep down inside, I’m after the next big splash, the next peak experience, the next shattering revelation. When things just move along as usual, I easily take on the puzzled, naive expression of the younger monk–and in doing so, run the risk of missing that what’s needful is right under my nose. (In fact, probably is my nose.)

In the midst of the Covid winter of our discontent, we're all learning that nothing happens next...

 “This Is It” is a fair approximation of the oversimplified understanding of Zen teaching that’s insinuated itself into North American pop culture over the last couple of generations. But ironically, along with the stress on what’s right in front of us, the discourse of spiritual self-improvement tends to emphasize the big, cathartic, singular experience that will get us there: we’ll fully embrace the ordinary, just as soon as we get our money’s worth out of our Instagram-documented trip to the mountaintop. We want a dramatic opening, a flash of intuition that bowls us over and makes everything different. Then we’ll settle down to accepting that everything’s just the same as it was before–except perfect. 

The paradox of wanting it both ways is like being the young monk and the old monk at the same time. It’s also in a sense the paradox of the relation between the two main schools of Zen Buddhism, Rinzai and Sōtō. It’s Rinzai that long held sway in the American imagination, thanks to the formative influence of D.T. Suzuki. Rinzai is the Zen of long, rigorous training and radical breaks in consciousness, of going nuts over an insoluble riddle and getting hit by your teacher with a stick when you get it wrong, over and over and over again; of the kenshō, the opening, that cuts through illusion and reveals the inherent Buddha-nature of all things as they are. 

Sōtō is the Zen of quiet contemplation, of just sitting by a lake, or in front of a flower, or over a cup of tea. The distinction in Japan is a class-linked distinction: Rinzai was long characterized as the Zen of the samurai; Sōtō was the Zen of ordinary people, of farmers and shopkeepers. 

The Rinzai impulse as it plays out in New Age workshop culture can turn into the macho pyrotechnics of extreme spiritual sports, up to and including incompetently conducted sweat lodges that participants leave feet first. The capitalist appropriation of the Sōtō impulse is people at high-end spas passing around tacky polished stones with words like TRANQUILLITY carved into them. 

Holding space for others as a teacher and a sacred intimate, I work to balance my expectations in one direction or the other. To facilitate a place of calm where people can respond to the still, small voice. But also to make room for the altered consciousness that can come with intense interaction, the jolt of surprise that something profound and exceptional is opening up. The fact is, in striving for either, I’m also playing out the disparate desires I have for my own life.

Monday, November 30, 2020

A Prayer Before Meeting

God be in my ears and in my listening.

God be in my heart and in my loving.

God be in my cock and in my desiring.

God be in my mind and in my understanding.

God be in my lips and in my speaking.

In the name of Creator, Enlivener, and Sustainer.

In the name of Shiva, Shakti, and their endless Embrace.

In the name of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

In the name of Adonai, Shekinah, and Chesed.

In the name of Mystery, Wisdom, and Compassion.

Friday, November 20, 2020

A Moment of Grace

When I was two and a half years old, my mother found me on the kitchen floor, the refrigerator door open behind me, the cottage cheese carton at my side, and its contents slathered all over my face. Smiling up at her, I announced, "I shave."

Her reaction was one of the many reasons I have for deep gratitude toward her, one of the things I wish now, nearly twenty years after her death, that I could thank her for. She responded with utter delight, and then went for the Kodak Brownie camera that documented much of my childhood. (The sense of being on display is decidedly not one of the things for which I'm grateful.)


It could have gone south so easily. If my Aunt Esther had found me instead, there would have been hell to pay.


My mother gifted me that day with a moment of originary grace. With a moment of assurance that it was alright to play, to experiment, to make a mark in the world.


I'm pretty sure that most of us live our lives in a tension between internalized trust in the delight of those around us and internalized fear of their reprisal. The birthright of our own creativity, nestled within the curious, experimental, playful child who still lives inside us, no matter what our age, poised tenuously between loving acceptance and brutal repression.


That tension plays out in our erotic lives. It plays out in our creative lives. We live in hope of the welcoming delight we deserve. We live in fear of the condemnation that could come from stepping out of line. When we gift ourselves with as much compassion as we'd gift a child in front of us; when we give permission to the child within, we soften into spontaneity and joy. And softening into spontaneity and joy, we soften into offering others as well the acceptance and encouragement they need, just as profoundly as we need it ourselves.

Tuesday, November 10, 2020

On a Wall in New York City

 ...by way of my friend and fellow traveller Fluffy.




Saturday, October 31, 2020

Friday, October 30, 2020

Day of the Dead


No, not the George Romero movie. 

As I walk around my neighbourhood during one of my favourite times the of the year--when every day the street looks new because of the leaves that have turned colour overnight, or fallen--front yards are sprouting creepshow-style Hallowe'en decorations. Reinforcements of our culture's pervasive belief that life and death are absolute, mutually exclusive opposites. That life and death, or at least death in its daily guise as change, don't continuously permeate one another. Death is hideous, repellent, to be feared and avoided at all costs, those bloody, severed plastic hands hanging from the bush by the sidewalk tell us. On the morning of November 1, when the pumpkins go out with the garbage, we can all go back to the safety of being on this side of the divide. 


What a contrast with the traditions of the Día de Muertos--the Day of All Souls. The veil grows thin, becomes permeable. The dead visit the living, the living visit the dead. Connections are renewed. The dead live on in the ways they've touched our lives. Their life flows through us, even as we live, and will live on when we cross over, in the lives of those we've touched. The dead aren't scary. They're beloved. And we're reminded that we're on our way to join them, as mortal as they are, not to terrify us, but to bring us together.


To be whole ourselves, we need to pass through the veil. We need to remember. We need not to suppress grief for those we've lost, however we've lost them. For some of us, above all and most traumatically to AIDS. Or to violence. They're with us, they're within us.


Friday, October 16, 2020

Welcome to Bhutan

Photos courtesy of the well-travelled Hoppergrass. 












Tuesday, September 29, 2020

A Sutra: The Fivefold Path




When our erotic energy becomes a means of dropping down into heart space, we begin to dissolve the divisions that trick us into believing we're isolated beings. We start to intuit more vividly that our life flows into us from outside, flows through us, flows out again to others. Thanks to the wisdom of our bodies, we start to understand more deeply the infinite web of interconnectedness that gives our life its deep meaning. We dwell in that web, in that web we live and move and have our being. Some of us might choose to call that web God. Others not.



For some, the cultivation of erotic energy becomes itself a spiritual path. For some men--for some, though not for all--it's more specifically a Phallic Path of mindful self-pleasure. Those who have ears, let them hear.


And this Phallic Path then opens into a Fivefold Path.


A path of awareness that time can fold over on itself, space can fold over on itself. That we can be united in love with those far distant, with those we may not have seen face to face in years. This is a shamanic path of consciousness altered by eros, leading from fantasy into Real Presence.





A path of union with those who have gone before us, and with those of generations yet to come. A vision that we are united with them in a universal stream, from which we emerge and into which our lives pour themselves. This is the flow of a Great River through all time and space.




Painting by Philip Gladstone


A path of compassion for all in need of comfort and fulfillment. This is the path of intercessory prayer, of dedicating the merit of our practice to the happiness and healing of others. 





A path of union with the natural world, affirming in joy and humility that we ourselves are part of it. That we arise and flourish and pass on like flowers in the field, like trees sending our roots into the earth, like shoals of fish, like flocks of birds and swarms of dragonflies. We blossom and flourish like leaves on the tree. 





A path of non-duality: I am my penis. I am my hand. I am the conscious attention that brings them together in mindfulness. My penis is not my hand. My hand is not my conscious intention, and yet all three are me, and I am all three. I give, and I receive. I am the dance among these three, each flowing into the others. This is an image within me of the universal web that I might choose to call God.





OM NAMA SHIVAYA PRIAPUS PAN LORD OF THE DANCE JESUS ATUM CERNUNNOS NAMA OM