Non-Sexual Touching

I was at the United States Association of Body Psychotherapy conference in Providence, RI, a couple of weeks ago and this year’s theme was “Sexuality, Spirituality, and the Body; The Art and Science of Somatic Psychotherapy.” I always enjoy going to conferences, getting reacquainted with classmates, professors, and peers and then meeting new people! Some of the offerings at conferences do not interest me, but most do; unfortunately, too often two or more sessions I want to attend are presented at the same time!

At this stage in my continuing education, I have found that what I learn at conferences and workshops tend to follow a normal distribution or bell curve. The left tail represents information I knew, but had forgotten; the left half of the curve, the information I remember, but rarely utilize, so it is nice to have a refresher. And then the right half of the curve is information I know and use, but presented in a new manner that opens up new possibilities, and finally, the right tail represents new information!

I was surprised to find so many breakout sessions at this conference that did not expound on the theme past what I learned in school. Probably the best was a pre-conference, half-day session entitled, “Is Our Access To ‘God’ Sourced In Our Loins? The spiritual call of sexuality and death.” What a mouthful! Had that session not been taught by a mentor and now friend, I might have gone to the other half-day just based on the title!

However, I anticipated that his way of teaching the session would make it fascinating, and I was not disappointed; the session was more tantric based, the spiritual and meditative branches of tantra, much of the time an excellent juxtaposition of dance movement and quiet meditation. There were several experiential exercises thrown in, most we did ourselves, but three of the exercises required a partner.

My friend asked us to find someone to work with early in the session without telling us what the exercises would be; the woman next to me and I agreed it was just easiest to choose someone close. My partner shared that she recently moved to the Denver area (where my dad lives) from Europe, was married, and starting a coaching business (another area of mutuality). As it turned out, the exercises we did were very intimate and sensual!

There were three practices towards the end of the day, the first in which we washed each other’s hands. We were in an unused area of the hotel, so whether the group was same-sex or co-ed, we just chose a restroom and shared a couple of sinks. Having someone else wash my hands, something most of us do several times a day, helped me to be much more mindful of the process. This exercise was an excellent example of awareness; how often do we engage in repetitive tasks throughout the day without staying present and bringing our full attention to what we are experiencing?

In the second exercise, we twice sat cross-legged with foreheads touching for five minutes; the first time, just feeling the other’s presence within our “personal space.” Starting again, we explored our thoughts, bodily feelings, and deeper emotions rather than just noticing having someone so close. As a body psychotherapist, I have done this type of intimate touching many times, but not foreheads; I remarked that I did not believe I had ever had my lips so close to another’s for that long and not ended up in a kiss!

For the last exercise, we gently stroked the other’s face for five minutes as we saw the Buddha in them, and then received the stroking; we were encouraged to have our eyes closed and drop into our feelings, but our eyes could be open if we were uncomfortable. If the first two exercises were intimate and sensual, this last one was on steroids! I received first, and while it was very pleasurable and relaxing, it was nothing compared to giving. For me, this was partly because my eyes were closed in the first when receiving, so I did not have any visual clues of what my partner was feeling, and partly because I am a giver, rather than a receiver, and so the second iteration was more significant to me.

When I was doing the stroking, I felt so blessed just to be with another and offering love without any thought of getting anything in return; pure, unconditional giving and love. It seemed profound to my partner as she cried throughout her receiving. I say “seemed” because, unfortunately, other than a general discussion about how powerful the exercises were, we did not delve into how they affected us. Then, for the rest of the conference, without being rude, she seemed very distant.

I am grateful that, with all my work, I have embraced a healthy internal locus of control (psychology-speak for holding myself responsible for my thoughts, feelings, and actions). I took the exercises for what they were and relished the experiences without taking any responsibility for any outcome; further, I never had the chance to ask if my perception of my partner being distant was true.

One of Don Miguel Ruiz’s four agreements is not to take anything personally. If indeed she was distancing herself from me, it was her choice and had nothing to do with me. All that being said, as a recovering co-dependent, my tendency is for my mind to take off exploring possible reasons despite trying to remain internally focused, despite knowing that my observation may not even be her truth!

Maybe she was afraid of that much intimacy with a stranger. She hinted at this by saying after the last touching that she almost felt she was “cheating.” Maybe she deemed that level of sensuality and intimacy to be an invitation to make a sexual advance. Maybe my earlier remark seemed to be flirting! Maybe, maybe, maybe said my mind; what an exercise in futility and a total waste of precious time.

As I teach, any reason I might have conger up is based solely on my frame of reference and past conditioning which is different from hers. There are a million other reasons I would never come up with, assuming she was distant! So I had a fourth exercise from this pre-conference session – how to recognize my tendency to make meaning from an experience and to drop back into my core, releasing my thoughts, taking nothing personally, and returning to calm, peacefulness, and the present moment. What strange creatures we are; when experiencing anything hints of sexuality, whether real or imagined, that strangeness is highlighted!

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Yoga Festival Thoughts

When evaluating my thoughts on a strange or different event I have witnessed or a subject I learned about from a client, I often wonder when an observation turns into judgment? This is especially true when the client is reporting something in them or happened that society seems “bad” or “wrong.” I try to keep in mind a Shakespeare quote from Hamlet, “There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.”

This observation/judgment issue has come up quite a bit in the media these days, what with the political talk on both sides and how the other is “bad!” It also came up for me personally several days ago when my wife and I spent a few days at Lake Tahoe celebrating our birthdays. While driving around the lake, we read in a local rag about a yoga event happening in Squaw Valley called Wanderlust 2016. It bills itself as “Our festivals are all-out celebrations of mindful living.”

Wanderlust offers education on yoga practice, classes, music, and food. We headed there on a Saturday and mainly walked around the booths, but also listened to a positive message rap band, interesting! The booths seemed to break down to about 50% clothing, 30% food, and 20% yoga equipment or art.

What had me thinking if I was judging was the materialism of the clothing, equipment, and art; everything was quite expensive. So, is this a judgment or an observation? These entrepreneurs had to pay a fee and need to put food on their table, but it seemed a bit counter to the “mindful living” pledge.

I have written before that I am an interesting mix of traditional and eclectic; well I am VERY traditional when it comes to yoga. Now, don’t get me wrong, I think all yoga is healthy and beneficial; however, I practice a style that is quite traditional and minimalistic, adhering to a strict interpretation of the Yoga Sutras. I show up in comfortable shorts and shirt with my sticky mat, a sweat mat, and a hand towel (even the latter is sometimes looked upon with askance!).

No music and very little socializing, just focus, breath, and movement. Again, I think I wrote about this also (too many blogs to remember!), but enough focus that I was a third of the way through my practice ten years ago before I noticed that Julia Roberts was across from me! These are some of what translates into mindfulness to me, not the newest yoga clothes or fad.

Judgment or observation, inquiring minds want to know? I was with a colleague last week that suggested a way to know was to ask myself, “What was my energy around these thoughts?” Maybe a little sad and dismayed, but there was also a bit of excitement and wonder at some of the innovations in mats and styles. I am guessing that, since I was not upset, I was not judging; at least I hope so!

Of course, eating great food, much of it free handouts, is sure to take the edge of anything!

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