Kissing strangers

Kissing strangersA Facebook friend posted this video where filmmaker Tatia Pilivea recorded twenty strangers in ten pairings sharing a first kiss. People who had never met were paired up and asked to kiss. It included two presumably gay pairings, one male and one female.

I noticed on YouTube that the video has amassed over 66 million views!

The black-and-white video was quietly inspirational in its tenderness and affection. It is a wonder to watch shyness and awkwardness melt into a genuine, if fleeting, connection.

MEMORIES

Watching the film brought back memories of intimacy workshops I attended way back in the early 1980s. Hugging and kissing strangers happened back then. Often.

My heart happily soars over stuff like this. I love climbing out of the box in a safe, protected way to experience something that is normally not even considered doable because it’s far too different from the standards mass culture conforms to. We’ve probably all had fantasies of kissing attractive strangers, but actually doing it and having the pairing arranged for us makes it even more interesting.

Reading through some of the viewer comments, it becomes apparent that many people see the subject of this video as “making out.” Like make out with a stranger. A zipless kiss. A recreational pursuit. A thrill ride. My guess is that these commentators have never kissed strangers themselves, or if they have, they maintained a superficial perspective on its implication, like party game.

In the context of intimacy workshops, kissing total strangers was (for me at least) more of a unique spiritual experience. The physical ritual had a huge ripple effect in the deep pool of my consciousness. Granted that it was transient and instant intimacy, which freaks some people out to no end. Yet for me, kissing a stranger expressed and spread love in a surreal way, as if adding another dimension to love thy neighbor.

It is nearly ineffable to express how it felt — like in the womb of another universe showing (and receiving) non-possessive love for someone I did not know and probably would never see again. The experience stoked my fantasies about the world I would love to live in where people were much friendlier to one another than in the troubled world we have collectively created.

HOW IT HAPPENED

During intimacy workshops, sharing at a very uncommon depth occurred. Much of it was verbal. People would share their feelings about things. Often they would share their living nightmares, their painful memories or current struggles. The range of this sharing, much of it among strangers, was far more self-revealing than under normal social circumstances.

They told stories of being molested, raped, rejected, tormented, humiliated, excluded — things often considered too scary to mention or confess among friends. They bared their secrets in this safe place. They bared their souls.

People shared, and they were supported. They often got useful feedback. They got love.

Amid all this open-hearted sharing, often tearfully cathartic, people often hugged. Sometimes they kissed. Sometimes it occurred within the context of a facilitated exercise. Sometimes it was a spontaneous expression of affection during recess from workshop activities.

THIRTY YEARS LATER

When I attended these workshops in the early 80s, I firmly believed that the joy that was happening there would gain momentum. It would grow and prosper. People would see that love was the answer. How could anything as wonderful as this not take root and grow into new social institutions?

Life had other plans. Even though those workshops (and others like them) are still alive and well today, it seems that the global village has gotten more violent and mean. We’re more guarded and suspicious.

I used to think while participating in these workshops that the so-called battle of the sexes would become a thing of the past. Healing was happening. Gender equality would reign supreme. Spiritual intimacy would save the day.

Ahem. So much for youthful idealism.

KISSING STRANGERS

Even back then, even amid all my cosmic fantasizing, it still felt strange to kiss strangers. I kissed women; I kissed men. Often it was more like kissing whoever appeared there in front of you in an exercise. I kissed people I was attracted to and I kissed people I was not attracted to.

This was not kissing out of romantic feelings or sexual attraction. It was kissing in an entirely different mind set, more on a soul level. It was not always sensually pleasing. A few times it was borderline creepy, but I was still overcome with idealism that this was social progress, part of what then was called the human potential movement.

The idea of kissing just anybody causes teeth to gnash for many. I viewed it more like foreign travel and respecting other cultures. It’s a tendency of mine to try and fit in wherever I go, often at the price of surrendering my ego for awhile. Strange as some of it was, I never regretted having participated.

And while it did not feel oh, so courageous to me at the time, or even that bold, based on what life delivered later,  it was amazing in retrospect.

WAR STORIES

This may sound like something completely different, but I see a connection. I sometimes hear war stories about enemy soldiers who accidentally encounter one another. Through some quirky circumstance, they seem to step outside of the war for a few minutes. Though programmed to see each other as sworn enemies, sometimes they discovered people very much like themselves. Men who have feelings. Men who have families. Men who have hopes and dreams. Men who have struggles. Men who may not be convinced that war is justified but who feel coerced by their respective countries into participating as soldiers.

It’s too bad enemy troops cannot have pre-war sensitivity sessions. It’s hard to imagine war being a popular pastime if that happened.

Kissing strangers brings on a similar shift in perception. It removes normal social barriers people habitually erect between themselves and others. For a few precious seconds, all you need is love. More often than not, people leave intimacy workshops feeling better about the human race than before. For a little while, at least, they have more hope.

Looking back over the joys and heartbreaks of life, looking back to a few weekend workshops in my young thirties, I am still inspired by the experiences. I like to imagine how society would be if somehow in the tapestry of possibility, we created different rules for experiencing more love and cooperation. I like to imagine people feeling safer, supported, and more included.

Oh, I know all about the logistical nightmares and the legal, political, and health implications. I fast forward beyond all that just to feel how wonderful it would be if we really were free to pursue this happiness. I would so much rather take the risks to expand love consciousness than take the well-worn path to fear and exclusion.

As weird as kissing strangers can be, the memory of the experience warms me more than I can say.

You only live once, eh?

You only live onceThe phrase and paradigm “you only live once” is slipped into the global conversation often enough. It frequently comes packaged with a message that, as they said in the beer commercial years ago, “you only go around once in this life, so you’ve got to grab for all the gusto you can.”

You only get one chance at life. You’ve gotta buy the right beer.

In this popular expression, living more than one life is not on the table. Reincarnation is not a topic open for discussion. Just buy the right beer.

People often meet my interest in near-death experiences and afterlife speculation with the retort that focusing on an afterlife means I won’t be paying appropriate attention to the precious now. Living for a great beyond is a waste of this life. (They also say this about devout Christians who live for their heavenly reward and as a result do not get engaged in life here and now.)

ENGAGING MORE

I maintain — at least for myself — that a belief in reincarnation and afterlife inspires me to engage more in life, not less.

I think about times I feel blue. In periods of sadness and emptiness, I think that yeah, I could be done with life on this planet. If I were struck down by lightning and vaporized, I could accept it. The previews of coming attractions for me don’t look too interesting.

At that point I’m living for potential that some wonderful event not currently on my radar will show up on the next page of my life’s script. Just you wait. Don’t give up!

If I really, truly thought that I only get one shot at life, I would probably be thinking during those shadowy periods that the ride was pretty much over. The roller coaster has arrived back in the station, and new thrill-seekers are eager to climb aboard.

The facts are in: I missed my opportunity to win an Oscar. I’m not going to die as a rich bastard with the enviable mansion. I am not even going to have a fulfilling career I can brag about. I may never fall in love again. I have no children to care about what their father thought.

Seriously, my world sometimes looks pretty sad and lonely when compared to the travel brochures of my imagination.

No, I am not suicidal, but when I am in a funk, my safety net is my belief that there’s more to life than you only live once. I think you only live once is more of a marketing strategy to motivate us to buy things, buy things, buy things. And buy them NOW before it’s too late, mate! It’s as if we’re prepped from childhood to live in scarcity consciousness. The gusto is elusive. Blink and it’s gone.

We’re taught that science says we only live once. Dead people won’t wake up anywhere. We don’t get a heaven. In a bizarre way, science seems to encourage suicide with its depressing insistence that this is all we get, followed by an existence as ashes and dust. You can’t take your Rolex and Ferrari with you, sorry. Spend your money now so some entrepreneur can put on a great dinner party with the profits.

For me, because I think science is lazy about investigating death, prematurely ending this existence could have a very ugly ripple effect on my cosmic future. That’s something they don’t talk about much in mainstream living.

ACCOUNTABILITY

Many near-death experiencers, psychic mediums, and even some religions insist that we have a life review in store (albeit exactly how those are described as conducted varies widely.) The prospect of answering for my life in some afterlife realm of existence keeps me in the game. Enough anecdotal reports say that I am accountable for my life.

Reincarnation supposes that we live our lives for a purpose. Each incarnation in Earth School adds to the body of knowledge and experience for the soul. Over the course of our multiple lives we incarnate in a wide variety of situations including different races, different ethnic/religious upbringings, different genders and sexual preferences, and so on.

All this raw data of multiple-life experience is sent to our soul. Every life is important to that soul. (Keep in mind that this is my fantasy of the cosmos; I don’t expect you to buy it.)

This view keeps me motivated. I like to think that my experience here is worth something to the collective. Even the shitty parts. My loneliness could mean something. My disgust with world politics could mean something. My relative lack of financial/career success could mean something. My heartbreak and disillusionment could mean something.

I could have been the brave essence that volunteered to be the me that I became, with all the good stuff and the bad stuff included as part of the package. The mistakes that I made could be part of the equation allowing another part of me in another time and space zone to make a different and ostensibly better choice.

I could be doing the grunt work so that another expression of my soul can live happily ever after (a future blog post: what does living happily ever after mean?) Hopefully, the consciousness that is me now will be able to viscerally experience what that paradise on earth feels like. Maybe there’s a great library in soul space.

The you in you only live once, I believe, is the brain, the ego, the life circumstance. So in that sense, I only live once. Anyone else that my soul incarnated as or will incarnate as had/gets a clean slate, a brand new brain, a whole new outlook on life from the experiences gained in that life.

DISCLAIMER

I don’t want to leave you with the impression that I hate my life or that I feel as victimized as my prose might lead you to think. When I am in a funk, reincarnation is the thought ploy that I use to alter my mood. I tell myself to do the best that I can in the circumstances that engulf me. Maybe there is a point to it all.

There is also a point, I believe, to rally the inner troops and fight for the life that I want to lead. I am not taking a fatalistic view that karma or whatever runs my whole show. I still go after what I want. I still dream big. I am still grateful for what I have. I don’t suffer needlessly. When the fog of gloom lifts from whatever is bothering me, I take great joy basking in the bright skies of optimism, which is my usual hang-out.

For those more motivated by one life to live, remember this: You only go around once in this life, so you have to grab for all the gusto you can get.

Working through loneliness

Curing LonelinessSomeone wrote this in a public post:

I am more alone than anybody can possibly understand, unless they have been as alone as me. And I don’t know anybody else like this. I reach out — people don’t reply. I help people — they turn my acts against me. I volunteer — I’m expected to do triple what I volunteered for, and kicked out when I don’t. I love — I am ignored. I love — and people start expecting things from me.  I help people — I am alone. I love — I am alone. I reach out in friendship — I am alone. I’ve run out of things to do. I am alone.

I felt this person’s pain. I’ve had days like that.

When I feel lonely to the point of serious pain, I naturally want to end that feeling. I want it to stop. I want to replace the ugliness with something more inspiring.

I take out my toolbox of tips and techniques that I have used over the years, and I see what I can do.

One place I often look to for help is from the mass media. I look for a movie, TV show, book, or recordings that will help me shift my mood. If I don’t shift my mood from feeling unloved, abandoned, betrayed, and any of those things, it could mean many hours or even days on end of being stuck in the overwhelm of feeling inconsequential to the rest of humanity.

I have discovered that it is not always easy to find something emotionally healthy for massaging my mind set. I have to undertake a deliberate and focused search to find mentally and emotionally helpful material.

MOVIES ABOUT LONELINESS

Over the holidays I had a particularly tough time of it. I am currently taking care of my elderly father 650 miles away from my house and friends. On one day I ended up watching two movies about loneliness. Both were foreign films.

One was To Hell with the Ugly, a Spanish romantic comedy about the trials of a proverbial loser in love, a likeable but goofy character often the butt of jokes in the village where he lived. Of course this was the movies, so after an hour of so of watching our comic hero embarrass himself with awkward behavior and suffer the pain of rejection, a delightful love interest enters his world.

Feeling lonely when watching others win love, often despite insurmountable odds, does not always make me feel light and cheery. It sometimes cranks up my feelings of envy. I want that good fortune to happen to me.

The second film was Gloria, also Spanish, a drama about a middle-aged divorced mother of two hunting for a relationship that would bring her happiness and self-worth.  This film played heavily on the torment of loneliness. The man who stole her heart and gave her hope for a tremendous life turn-around turned out to be the proverbial high-risk tortured soul who would not leave his family despite already being divorced.

While the movie made a positive statement in the end about self-reliance, the journey was still filled with reminders that life sucks, particularly in the form of toxic middle-aged men. As a middle0-aged man, I did not find this comforting.

Later I saw Don Jon, the movie Joseph Gordon-Levitt wrote, directed, and starred in. Don was a youthful womanizer who hosted a steady stream of hotties in his bedroom, yet still found digital porn more satisfying. He was even unsatisfied by the hottest of the hotties. He is saved by an unconventional older woman who introduces intimacy to him in ways he never knew. She shows him that real life is better than porn.

While I applauded the messages behind the film, my perspective as a lonely man was that happiness for Don still depended on the luck of his finding the right friend or lover. If I were to play Follow the Leader to bliss, I would still need to find that special someone.

FLAVORS

Loneliness comes in different flavors. The most commonly depicted flavor in our couples-oriented world is romantic-erotic loneliness — living without a loving partner, especially when there are no prospects. Another flavor is dwelling within a relationship that has devolved into something far less than satisfying.

Another flavor is living in a world of thought that few others get, leaving you feeling alone like a pioneer in a vast wilderness, a stranger in a strange land. Another flavor is feeling abandoned or betrayed by someone (sometimes more than one) who seems entirely uninterested in your welfare. Another flavor is when something really bad happens and you find that you’re facing the bulk of it alone.

When I am in the thick of it, finding relief from loneliness seems especially challenging. It’s as if loneliness sucks up all my energy, and I have little strength left to put on that happy face. I generally accept the premise that my outer world is a reflection of my inner world, and that the best way to tackle problems is to start with me. What am I thinking? What am I creating?

THINGS I DO

Here are some techniques I use to deal with loneliness.

What is the lesson: When I feel stuck in painful loneliness, I often ask myself this: if I am a student in Earth School, what is this situation teaching me? What am I supposed to be learning? I follow that train of thought in my journal. I often think of my journal as praying in writing. I get some good answers as I describe my woes. I can often re-cast problems in a different light, and I can make headway in shifting my mood.

What do I want: Sometimes I have to acknowledge that feelings of loneliness are like smoke signals from my soul saying it’s not good to hang around waiting to be magically saved. I need to act. There’s a difference between let go and let God and God helps those who help themselves. So I focus on deciding what I want or what would soothe the ache. I was taught as a child to be happy with what I had and not to ask for things, so writing out what I want is still challenging.

Take it outside: I can feel loneliest cooped up inside a house (even when that house is connected to the world via the Internet.) To shift my mood, I take walks. Often I take my voice recorder along. Walking, and particularly walking in nature, is a great way for me to shift the mood that is hanging heavy like a fog on my outlook. (No it doesn’t always work, but it often helps.) Meanwhile, getting exercise is good for my health.

Through the lens: My own special secret weapon against loneliness is beauty. I take my camera out and look for beauty. Making beauty a deliberate quest fills my brain with something positive, and the photographic exercise often gets me back on track. There is so much beauty to be found when discovering it is my objective.

Uplifting media collection: Knowing that loneliness comes every now and then, I plan for its eventual arrival. I make sure to have handy uplifting media around. It could be audio or video programs, a positive book, or upbeat music, but not just escape media. I try to keep material around that will inspire me, teach me, or motivate me to get off my butt. I purposely exclude commercial TV, anything with ads, anything dreary.

Leaving the comfort zone: Sometimes climbing out of the rut or overcoming a challenge means climbing out of my comfort zone. I may have to push myself to go somewhere, to meet some people, to find something entirely new. If there is a spiritual or support group or class that fits the bill, I might check that out.

Change a paradigm: Sometimes the message brought by painful circumstances is that it’s time for me to change my thinking, my everyday habits. For instance, if loneliness is the result of me isolating myself in a cocoon, I need to break out of my self-imposed prison when and where it makes sense. I look for my guiding paradigms and make mid-course corrections to them.

Embracing loneliness: Treating loneliness as a growth opportunity is much different than thinking of it as a curse or punishment. Many of my favorite pursuits — writing, computer art, photography, reading — are solitary endeavors. When I am lonely, I remind myself of that. I can nudge myself from feeling rejected and dejected to feeling happy to make some art.

Nurturing friendships: I treasure my friendships and make it a priority to nurture those that are clearly mutual in value. An authentic friend who can be present with you in your pain as well as pleasure is one of life’s best blessings. If I ever take them for granted, I can hear the glug-glug-glug of my sinking joy.

I generally believe that loneliness in all its forms and consequences is a social problem — and one of the most underrated, unaddressed crises of our modern times. However, I also believe that its solutions start at home within each individual. We have to do our part to save our sanity.

Here is a previous article I wrote on loneliness. And this.