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.

What makes sex sexy?

God-and-sexI have been toying with an idea that brings me delicious joy to contemplate.

To set the context right, I should point out that I am a sex-positive person. I think that sex — and by that I mean not only the physical engineering of our reproductive system but the whole enchilada of mind, heart, and spirit besides — is a remarkable, praise-worthy gift to humanity. I rejoice and am filled with gratitude for it.

I regret that this yummy gift is vastly under-appreciated and over-exploited. As we have done with so much in life, we humans have ripped sex from nature and turned it into a commercial enterprise. Once we segregated it from nature, wholesomeness, and God, we turned sex into a trivialized, often meaningless commodity. We lost that loving feeling.

Yet despite all that, sex is still wonderful and beautiful, especially for those who perceive and treat it as a precious gift from that which created us. Sex is highly creative, with or without procreation in the picture. Besides all the wonders it creates in consciousness, it can produce among the most delicious physical sensations available to humans.  A healthy, happy sex life provides a cornucopia of benefits to the body, mind, and soul.

THE GREAT IDEA

The idea that blows me away may require a few double-takes and mental replays from you before it can sink in. You may have to fiddle with it through your belief system, especially through your personal history with sex and religion. If you bristle at the term God or have a troubled relationship with sex, my great idea could fall flat (and you’ll probably quit reading anyway.)

It came to me one day as a flash from the blue, and from there the seed germinated and sprouted, particularly in the right hemisphere of my brain.

God makes sex sexy.

Granted that God is a multiplicity — some say God is everything — but here and now I am playing with the idea that the driving force behind our attraction for other people is the force of God in action. I am well aware that for many people, God is missing in action, especially in the bedroom, even among those who scream out, “Oh, God, oh, God!”

So let’s fiddle.

First of all, I am not talking about God as a personality, the omnipotent rulemeister, the left-brained super savant who notates every time you think or say the f-word. I am talking about God the force of nature. It’s the God you feel when interacting with nature, like how you respond to an awesome lightning strike, using the traditional meaning of awesome. True awe.

As for sex appeal, we are trained to think of it as person-based. She is hot. He is gorgeous. S/he is so sexy and picture perfect.

But as I age I have come to think of sexual attraction as the energy force that animates somebody. We may focus on our favorite jiggly or bulging body parts and attribute our passionate response to those things, using such advanced expression as “Look at the hooters on that one.” A popular social paradigm is that physicality is what’s sexy. We also have our personal list of behaviors we categorize as sexy, like how she twerks or how he struts.

But what if the juice, the current, the electricity of our attraction is actually God energy? What if God is the electricity that illuminates the light bulb of sex? What if it is God that makes those body parts we love so much come alive with sex appeal? What if sex appeal is God waving at me (or you) through someone else? “Hiya! How are ya?”

AND YOUR POINT IS?

The idea that God makes sex sexy does some amazing things, at least inside my psyche.

In the first place, so much religion pits God the personality against sex except under the condition of heterosexual matrimony. Even then, it’s more as if God allows those rule-followers to have sex, primarily for procreation, with maybe a slight nod to a little marital pleasure. In my youth, I was essentially offered the choice of going with God or going with sex — you must choose between them, religion seemed to say. In our sex-negative climate, very few voices proposed inviting God into the bedroom or taught that God is sexy.

And what is sexy? Feature films, porn, advertising, and books have all weighed in on this, usually trivializing the awe and wonder into tricks. But sexy to me means creative in the most profound sense. Sex makes babies, but it also symbolizes the best in a dance of co-creation between two lovers and the universe in which they dwell.

Then we have big ego. You can see this in action with celebrities, the Hollywood machine, and peeps in the porn industry. This is where “the beautiful people” are packaged as visual commodities. Big ego turns me off, especially when those who have it (along with a huge marketing support organization) project that their looks make them superior humans. Yet fast forward several generations. What if we were raised to perceive and symbolize sex appeal as God appeal? What if physical beauties owned the paradigm that they are channels for God? What if the media culture was onboard with the idea?

While some people crave the attention they get for being regarded as sexy-gorgeous, others hate attention like that, especially when focused on their body parts. It seems to me that a paradigm that merges God and beauty might serve to promote a more positive and respectful backdrop for how we embrace love and sex. It wouldn’t be so much me, me, me, I am so sexy. It would be more God is so sexy, and let’s enjoy.

Embracing God in lovemaking provides more of a celebration of life experience. It has shifted my perception. Now I see beauty less in physical terms and more in spiritual terms. Physical stunners lose appeal if they are not animated with non-physical delights such as wisdom, humor, sensitivity, creativity, and so on. I become more sexually attracted now to people I admire and respect who tune into the joy of sex, emphasis on joy. Personality is sexier to me than body beauty.

Sex itself takes on a more mystical, spiritual meaning then. It’s less about the paint-by-numbers mechanics of getting off. It’s more about savoring intimacy through interacting with each other. It becomes co-creating a delicious experience. That, in turn, adds more emotional joy to the tapestry, which then leads to a more powerful physical experience. Funny how that works!

GODS OF RELIGION

The notion that God makes sex sexy requires an overhaul in thinking about what God is and what sex is. I am not a religious scholar by any stretch, which means that my head has not been clogged with gobs of dogma. In my case, my love of lovemaking — and the moments of ecstasy it provided — inspired my spiritual curiosity. My logic was whatever created this bliss is worth my attention.

This is especially ironic considering that many religious organizations cast sex as the devil’s work and abstinence as the route to spiritual growth.

In my own view, much of religion has turned God into an ugly omnipotent torturer. And sex has been morphed into a friend of self-absorption and exploitation. But I don’t have to follow those paradigms. I can create my own new ones.

Putting God and sex in the same loving sanctuary gives both of them an opportunity to make beautiful music together. When I feel the intense lusciousness of sex beheld as sacred, I smile inwardly at the face of God.

SACRED MOO

This idea to attribute sexiness to Godliness plays wonderfully inside my head, but I realize that playing with sacred cows has the potential to offend people. I am not telling anyone what to believe. I am merely expressing an idea that brings me great joy.

Relationship currency

love-trustRelationships are all about energy exchange. It is a partnership, and as relationships form, we bank on certain things happening or not happening as part of the deal. To understand relationships that you’re in or want to create, it helps to think of the currency used and received in this energy exchange.

Currency is like money, but it comes in different forms or categories. For example, one form might be the currency of trust. Sex and affection might be another. Beauty, wealth, status, loyalty, brilliance, sensitivity, astrology, etc. could be others.

TRUST

Let’s first look at the currency of trust. When you enter into a relationship, you consciously or unconsciously consider the value of trust you can place in your partner. This consideration continues throughout the relationship.

How much do you trust this person? Would they take advantage of you if they could? Would you trust them in an emergency when you were incapacitated and they were managing your care? Do you believe the sickness promise of “in sickness and in health?” Do you trust this person with your possessions, your finances, your food, your love? Do you trust this person with your feelings, your personal history, your desires and aspirations? How many of your secrets would you trust this person to keep confidential? Do you trust his or her advice?

Trust is pretty fundamental to life and relationships. You want to be able to trust a mate. At times it could mean survival itself. Great trust in someone would mean having a high-valued currency. If that person is not so trustworthy, it would mean pennies on the dollar in worth in the trust department.

PHYSICAL ATTRACTIVENESS

Especially high in our youth and beauty culture is the currency for physical attractiveness for both genders. Those who have it know the power (and the burdens) that it brings. While much of it comes naturally via genes, much of it also means keeping up with current styles, flaunting it in certain conforming ways, and putting up with the unwanted attention it attracts.

As with any currency, the value of yours is based on what the other person thinks. Some people value physical attractiveness very highly, others not so much. In relationships I had with exotic beauties, I experienced the time, energy, money, and angst that went into maintaining that beauty. It became less valuable to me. I especially disliked it when women would seem to blame me — as in all men are created equal — for all the pressure they felt to keep up with their beauty regimen and male expectations. I became much more focused on mental and emotional beauty, with high marks for humor and sensitivity.

So currency reflects not only what you feel about it, how much you value it, but what other people thinks it’s worth. Physical beauty, for example, is a moving target. Maybe you look great in July, but by November it’s old hat for the beholder. The reverse could happen, too. You become more attractive over time.

SEX AND AFFECTION

Another popular form of currency, especially in new relationships, is affection. This usually embraces sex. Nature designed this one, but society plays a huge role as it sells conformity to stereotypes. Often the decision to spend the rest of your life with someone contains a sexual component — an implicit agreement that lovebirds will always do what lovebirds do.

The value of your sex and affection currency depends highly on what the other person wants from it. Are you on the same page and wanting something similar, or is there a huge difference in how each person views and values them? It often requires good communication skills to pin the tail on this donkey.

Sex in a relationships sometimes peters out creating a sexless marriage or platonic, roommates-like relationship. It could be because other currencies have been negatively affected. Maybe the trust currency took a huge dive after an affair or some other crisis or blow-up, and not tonight honey became more frequent. Then came separate bedrooms.

CLASSICAL CURRENCY

Years ago the classic currency between husband and wife was that husband was the income provider and wife kept the home and raised the children. The value of the currency was based on how skilled they were in the designated roles and responsibilities.

Ward Cleaver provided income for the family doing God knows what and June Cleaver kept the house running smoothly. Dr. Alex Stone was a pediatrician and his TV wife Donna Reed kept the house and family running smoothly.

Those roles have changed to the point where we often share them now. We look at our partner, whichever gender, and ask if he or she is a good income provider or if he or she handy is around the house.

ON THE SAME CURRENCY PAGE?

We have have many forms of currency to offer, but we usually don’t want the same things, especially in the long-term. When relationships form without studying this, shocks often occur. Assumptions prove to be inaccurate. Deficiencies in the fair exchange reveal themselves.

Yes she may be great in bed, but can she make a decent blueberry pancake? Yes, he is a hot lover, but is he responsible with the family checkbook?

Relationships often form where Person A eagerly seeks one form of currency, like everlasting sexual bliss, yet is blasé about other forms of currency Person B offers. Person B might be upset that Person A never appreciates those other skills and gifts. Person A is simply not in the market for that skill. It holds little value.

For example, I like good food and appreciate skilled cooking, but even so I am nowhere near gourmet in my appreciation. If my mate was a Martha Stewart clone, she might be upset that I enjoy simple meals or don’t go all ecstatic with her extra efforts. Maybe her zeal for cooking meant she expected me to have the same sensitive tongue and appreciation for nuanced cuisine. Maybe she was perpetually too busy cooking to share other fun activities.

Another example: Some people are very stylish. They want their environment just so. They get picky, even disoriented if their environment is disorganized. I pay vastly more attention to my inner world. I crave intriguing mind food. My currency on the external is not as high as for the internal.

Some people base their relationship choices on one or two major priorities on their currency desires list. They may not consider the rest of the picture, often until it is too late.

THEN THERE’S CHANGE

To complicate matters, life is a moving target. We change our needs and desires over time and as circumstances dictate. We go through cycles in life with differing needs and desires.

In younger years and relationships, travel and adventure may be more important than who takes out the garbage. A person’s televiewing and music listening habits may be of little concern. A spiritual connection may not be as important as the accumulation of wealth or the pursuit of sensual pleasures.

Often, unforeseen circumstances rupture smooth sailing, and change happens. An illness, job loss, pregnancy, natural disaster, extended family challenge, or other event throws everything off kilter. The new circumstances shift our priorities, and our currencies change dramatically.

YOUR CURRENCY

What currency do you value? What are your priorities? There can be many different kinds.

A good way to determine it is to think about somebody who either is or was intimate with you (does not have to be romantic intimacy.) As you think about that person, make a list of the things that you like about that person. Also make a list of the things you dislike about that person.

Doing this will lead you to identifying your currency. Currency is both what you offer and want to receive. Some things you offer to someone are things you hold high in value. The same is true for things you like to receive. Sometimes you and your intimate will have similar currency values. Sometimes you won’t.

There is no right or wrong attached to currency. It is just an indication of what you value. Thinking about currency creates a great method of working through the relationship issues that inevitably come up.

What happens in the minds of lovers?

Minds-of-loversThe word itself has never much excited me, but I have always been raptly interested in consciousness for lovers. Yep, consciousness.

Whether I have written love stories or erotic stories, or just lived my life, the juiciest part of lovemaking for me is what happens within people’s minds. What motivates them to do what they do? What thrills them? What do they want? What thoughts do they have? What do they say to each other during one of nature’s most creative experiences?

Sharing consciousness is the stuff of intimacy.

INTIMACY — NO YAWNING

When I look at so many media portrayals of romance or erotica, the picture that emerges is that sex is what we do to someone or what someone does to us. It’s usually not depicted as a co-creation, as two people joining equally in a duet. The seducer seduces or the chaser takes charge and does something — usually a physical act. Mouths and other body parts crash into each other in hurricanes of passion.

Yet intimacy is not what we do to someone. It’s what we do with someone! Intimacy is equality in action. It’s a duet.

Intimacy is vastly underrated. It often sounds lame, especially to people trained to be intrepid, hot men or women of action. Intimacy often sounds as exciting as contemplating one’s navel. It’s usually portrayed in G-rated bunnies and duckies terms. Men are frequently taught to put up with intimacy as a step to “get to the good stuff.” Little do they know.

I think intimacy is top-drawer, the best. It makes the rest juicier, more meaningful. It’s where connection happens, friendship expands, love boils, lightning strikes. True intimacy is like a closely guarded secret, an out-of-bounds topic. Out of sight, out of mind.

Heavily exploited by porn but also distorted in mainstream depictions, sex has often become increasingly like stupid pet tricks. It’s about doing more outrageous activities, pushing the envelope on quirky-kinky. Be wild, be daring, be fearless. Show off better than the last person. It turns sex into a circus show like Buffalo Bill’s Wild West — thrills & spills and rootin-tootin fun. That’s exciting, but it’s not connecting.

Sex also often becomes much ado about playing roles. You are sub and I am dom. Or you are slut and I am lucky bastard. Or you are whatever and I am whatever. Roles can be very steamy to play for those with creative imaginations, but usually it’s much more mundane. This is especially true when playing roles does not create emotional connection to another human being.

GETTING REAL

Truly adventurous sex would be entering another’s mental and emotional world unarmed. That’s a place where all our memories dwell and all the emotional firing pins are hidden yet cocked.

Have you ever made love soul naked? Have you ever been able to shed all the cloaks and disguises of your real self and share love from that mental space? Yes, it can be exceedingly scary to be so open, but with the right partner, it can be incredibly profound and satisfying.

Nothing draws me closer to someone than sensing their realness. When I feel they’re meeting me with their true and uncensored self, I become most present. I listen respectfully as they share their fears or sadness or rants or (yes!) their joys and aspirations, too. And with all this input, we make love with more depth and caring. It changes everything.

Lovers as objects are supposed to play the right roles, say the right things, follow the expected scripts. Real lovers are not objects, they’re people, and real sex is about real feelings. Only lovers willing and able to be intimate with each other can feel the difference.

Lovers as objects have to look right in every way possible. Wear the right shoes, the right naughty fashions, the right do. There’s also a long list of skin and body conditions to avoid — to be cosmetically perfect is the ideal. I have read some blogs and have had some personal correspondence with women who feel more like hunks of furniture for their mate’s pleasure than they feel included in any co-creation of beautiful experiences.

Loving people see beauty in so many different ways. Many of those ways are nonphysical — intelligence, creativity, sensitivity, enthusiasm, passion, compassion, humor, spice, oh, so nice. Intimacy is an exploration of whole people co-creating. Yet where in our culture does anyone learn co-creation? I think long and hard to come up with examples.

HIGH ADVENTURE

It’s worth it to reflect for awhile on what mating really is (or could be.) We enter into love relationships as hunks of history, programmed with agonies and ecstasies. We could provide a healing sanctuary for one another, neutralizing emotional wounds from the past from our mutual love.

The minds of lovers are really dealing with more than the mechanics of sex, even if much is not conscious. Most of us yearn to be loved and accepted. We yearn to have someone care about us. Sex is a way people measure how they’re doing in life. A truly fulfilling sex life boosts happiness, especially when it generates loving feelings, self-esteem, and relationship health. When sex is unhappy, it’s often because it lacks intimacy.

For the sake of intimacy, I like to deliberately make love mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.

Making love mentally is sharing ideas without censorship. That means much more than talking dirty. Sex can provide a bonding experience rich with thought. Permission to shelve inhibitions often lets more good stuff surface. Unfortunately, many people feel too intimidated (for lots of reasons) to speak their truth even to their mate — sometimes especially to their mate. Most everybody has learned the hard way that sharing without editing can have dire consequences. It can also create peak experiences.

Making love emotionally is sharing feelings. Thoughts and feelings are different. Feelings often don’t have explanations or rationale. They may not be logical. They may be dreamlike. Sharing feelings freely and openly is relatively rare in a society that encourages secrecy, shame, guilt, and mistrust. One example is saying “I love you” spontaneously without running it by the analyst in your brain.

Making love spiritually is recognizing that people are much more than their bodies — that they are spirits inhabiting bodies. Spiritual awareness can have a surprisingly powerful affect on lovemaking including energy play, harmony with God/nature, a deeper appreciation for spiritual love, and transcendent sexual experiences (I’ll write about that sometime!) Spiritual lovemaking takes a great deal of emphasis off superficial beauty and re-focuses it onto cosmic beauty.

JUST THE BEGINNING

Becoming aware of how you might make love mentally, emotionally, and spiritually can be very enlightening. It can shift your focus in fascinating ways just to consider how you might do that.

Seed planted. Let me know what blooms!

Sexual respect

respectSomething I don’t see much in our culture and would like to change: respect for sexuality. Besides being the gift of creativity itself, no small feat, sex is a natural and free source of pleasure that, oh by the way, keeps us healthy, fit, and glowing.

So much about sex is awesome and wonderful, and yet our culture as a whole has trivialized it, demonized it, ridiculed it, dogmatized it, pornified it, and uglified it.

I have often wondered what the world would look and feel like if we truly respected sexuality. What if we beheld it as sacred from the get-go? What if we looked at sex as many of us look at a moonrise or sunrise or sunset or moonset? What if we looked at it with the reverence we hold for the natural world around us — the magnificent ocean vistas, the towering waterfalls, the beauteous alpine meadows? What if we honored sex as a spiritual interlude with our loved ones … and the divine?

I strongly believe that we should go back to the drawing board on this one and give it a re-think.

THE MEDIA CULTURE

When it comes to disrespecting sex, pornography is just a start, but a huge start. Supposedly porn shows us state-of-the-art sex — what we should aspire to. Yet it’s as if they never heard of or even imagined intimacy. Porn sex is usually not fun, loving, friendly, intelligent. It is grueling, mechanical, and often hard-hearted. It’s beyond what most people look like and what they are capable of doing. The platter of antics that porn serves up is not respectful of the natural magnificence of real-life sex. It’s a cheap imitation pandered as the sizzling best.

Porn, meanwhile, mirrors in a sexually graphic way what the other media suggest or allude to. Sex in mainstream Hollywood movies is usually depicted as a recreational conquest that often leads to problems or tragedies. It’s just for kicks or to prove someone’s coolness factor. Often someone seduces and then humiliates and abandons the victim. We see a bumper crop of horndog creeps in movies and plenty of acts of humanity against humanity. Rarely in movies do we see a depiction of sex as awesome, beautiful, empowering, and happily life-changing.

TV shows being even less explicit than movies often use dialogue to cheapen sex, to show it has no respect for sexual attraction. Sometimes the less explicit that sex is, the more harm it can do. Popular entertainment often reinforces stereotypes that keep many of us feeling ugly, ashamed, and unworthy. Look at all the people who become the butt of jokes about their various forms of “ugliness.” In drama sex is often tossed into the gutter, slime for crime. So-called factual TV has a field day with sexual deviancy and malice without presenting counterpoints of healthy sex. Think Jerry Springer’s ilk. When do you ever see sweet programs about the wonders of orgasm? Just sayin’.

Media turn sex into a cheap knock-off of what I came to know as its potential. Media turn sex into formulated physical interludes that have little mental, emotional, or spiritual impact — unless it’s painful or tragic. This usually translates into the message that the sex urge creates bullies and victims. Great message. Thanks, guys,

SOCIAL INSTITUTIONS

Most religions do not encourage us to respect and adore sexuality. We’re taught more to fear the devils who tempt our lustful desires. Outside of attempting to control behavior with fear, religions from what I can tell don’t do much Lord-praising and God-thanking for this wonderful gift. They portray sex as about flesh and weakness, not about holy merging and love.

In a similar vein, marriage is usually presented to the world as sanctifying a relationship after which sex is permitted, yet this institution does not portray sex itself as being sacred. Sex becomes a benefit of marriage; now it is legal and even God blesses it. Yet sex is not often held in reverence as a special bonding ritual. It devolves into “Not tonight Honey” and auto-pilot calisthenics.

As a condition of a committed relationship, monogamy means avoiding temptation from all others. Yet relationships often practice sex as an activity, not as a deep, special bond. It does not seem to occur to people that despite appearances. a sexual relationship is 24/7. Even when you’re not acting sexual, intimacy-building (or its opposite) happens with every interaction. The communicating, the shows of affection, the support in both sickness and in health, even the arguing and dealing with problems and disappointments affect all future interludes.

Non-monogamous lifestyles might appear to hold sex in higher regard — or maybe it’s just pretend. When people trash a lover’s feelings and avoid deep intimacy to feast on multiple partners, that isn’t respecting sex. I’ve seen it work ethically and happily, but it’s rare.

R-E-S-P-E-C-T

What does sexual respect look like?

Sex itself is sometimes goofy, wild, gritty, wicked, intense, slobbery, ooey-gooey — anything but dignified. The fun of it is relishing the whirling, swirling mess. Offering each other a sacred space within which to be wild and free is a fabulous gift. It is like saying, “This is recess. Play all you want.” Protecting that playground with all your honor shows respect for it.

We seem to have made a cultural imperative to diminish the value of sex. To respect sex would be to participate in it with gratitude. It would mean honoring your partner who chose to share this experience with you. The play might get dirty and edgy. It may seem anything but sacred. Yet having had the thrill ride brings us back to the thankfulness for such play.

Respecting sex is also understanding that you make love to more than bodies. You make love to souls, to personalities with feeling, to people with emotional histories. When sex is about making love to souls, the intimacy goes deeper. The feelings penetrate farther. Even the pleasure is more intense.

There is a further layer of gratitude for me. It is to the deity that created this magnificent system — God, nature, the universe. Making love lets me love a mate and my deity at the same time. The more I love my mate with an open and free heart, the more pleasure flows through me from the design that the great infinite provided.

This is sex beyond ego. We’re taught to adore a person, conditioned to think someone is hot, sexy, and responsible for arousing our hunger. What we don’t often consider is that the very sex appeal we are driven by is an expression of God! The very energy of attraction that makes someone hot to you — and you hot to that person — is the force of nature or the force of God.

Respecting sex is like respecting the force that shaped Yosemite Valley or the Grand Canyon or that makes the mighty oceans. It’s the same force that makes flowers and trees bloom in the spring and dance magically during the harvest days of autumn. It’s the force that takes our breath away in all the ways it does.

LOST AND FOUND

As many people will attest, we don’t often appreciate what we have until we lose it. To make matters worse, often when we have something, we soon want more or we want different. If something may be lacking in our vision of perfection, we tend to forget the blessings of what we have. In my opinion, big mistake.

These days I memorialize gifts given to me long ago from people who have gone on. I lament how I took some gifts for granted, the times I didn’t try harder, the times I didn’t see farther than my immediate desires or limited perspective. In my current life, I have no partner, a situation which inspires much thought and perspective about the meaning and worth of happy sex.

If it were held as more sacred, perhaps we would not treat sex as an after-thought, a recreational diversion for when we get bored. Perhaps our lives would have more meaning if we conceived of sex in a more creative light.

The love letter mirror

Love-LettersAll the world is a mirror for me. Whatever I see and react to mirrors something in my internal universe.

When I respond positively to something, I am seeing something that stimulates my internal universe in a positive way.

When I respond negatively to something, I am seeing something that does not fit into how I think the universe should be.

Despite the fact that I can make split-second decisions on what I like or dislike, it’s actually an amazingly complex procedure to describe.

For example, what do you think of Miley Cyrus? Rush Limbaugh? Barack Obama? Sarah Palin? No matter where you go in your thoughts with any of these people, you’re making all your judgments based on your internal universe and the data you have fed into it. Unless you know these people personally and intimately, you are getting all your data through filtered, mostly opinionated sources. You may make snap judgments on them without even thinking. It doesn’t matter whether they are heroic or demonic to you.

THEN THERE ARE LOVERS

In a more subtle way, my relationships with lovers over the years works similarly. What I see and experience in the external world is a reflection of my internal world.

Every time I interact with someone, I see mirror images of myself through that other person. This also includes all the people real or imagined who stimulate thoughts about love and sex. It could be the stranger across the room who doesn’t even see me or know me. It could be a fictional character in a novel or movie. All of the stimulation, good or bad, is really occurring inside my brain because that’s where everything gets interpreted.

So let’s say that I am gawking at somebody I find uber attractive. Really gawking. Thoroughly entranced with that person’s presence.

We are conditioned to think that it’s that other person who is so fabulously gorgeous (or whatever other quality you want to assign.) We are conditioned to think that the other person, by being so gorgeous, has power over us, as when we are bewitched, bothered, and bewildered. Many of us are conditioned to seek the approval of the people we see as gorgeous (or similarly attractive quality.) Our ultimate prize is to have them think we’re great.

THE BIG MIRROR

But here’s the thing: it’s not really that person! That person is holding up a psychological mirror for me. It’s me! It’s my brain chemistry. It’s my mental filtering system. It’s all subjective, and in that sense, it’s all imaginary.

Of course, our romantic traditions don’t conceive or portray it that way. Most depictions of romance show men and women swooning over someone. “You drive me crazy,” we’re conditioned to think. “You are so gorgeous!” “You make me feel so good.” Yadda, yadda, yadda.

This phenomenon has become more intriguing to me as I age and can reflect on my life experience. I see more and more of my existence as symbolic interaction. Visions I pick up outside of me, whether a photo, movie, or something else my eyes see, stimulates an inner part of my psyche. Much of the time it has nothing to do with the actual person and everything to do with my internal life.

LOVE LETTERS TO MYSELF

The act of writing a love letter is usually thought of as an attempt to woo, persuade, enchant or in some other way influence another person. Many people write love letters out of the hope that they will get something back, be it adoration, a sensual reward, praise, or “winning” someone’s heart.

Yet apart from all that is the reality that in writing a love letter, the writer is primarily playing with his or her own inner universe. The writer is playing with symbolic interaction and conditioning. It’s often an ego thing. We sing the praises of someone outside of ourselves, having decided that winning that person’s heart or gaining that person’s approval would boost our life, our esteem, even our status.

WHY IS THIS IMPORTANT?

Have you ever been in love and lost? Have you ever felt that your life was ruined because someone you adore doesn’t feel the same way about you? Have you ever felt really lousy because you feel empty and alone? Have you ever spent your life in what seems like an endless quest to win someone’s approval?

I’ve been through all these situations. They and many more could be soothed quite dramatically if I just stepped back from the drama and realized that most of it was coming from my own head. It’s coming from my own programming and conditioning. The best way to get my power back when I am feeling way out of balance is to remember how much of my reality I am creating.

Emotions charge like speeding locomotives. It’s like a trance. So when I feel myself swept away in a strong surge of negative emotion, I intervene with my intellect. I’ll say to myself something like, “OK, what’s going on here? Why am I so creeped out/pissed off/dejected and lonely?” When I slow down enough from the emotional flood to think clearly, I will recognize it as a story I am telling myself.

It is said that the outside world mirrors our inside world. If we tell ourselves stories, the external world will attempt to conform to that story. We see what we expect to see. That’s why if we expect to be hurt or betrayed, our external world will bend to help make that happen. Then we can say, “I knew I’d be hurt.”

SYMBOLIC INTERACTION?

If we expect to be hurt, for example, everything we see will appear to be evidence supporting the premise. Everything external will have a symbolic meaning inside.

Jealous lovers often look to their partner’s words, deeds, and activities to see signs of wrong-doing. They’ll look for the slightest reason to blame their lover for being flirtatious or inattentive. The last thing they will do is blame themselves for creating the reality they fear and acknowledge that their suspicious nature colors their every thought.

No, this does not mean that if someone cheats on you, you caused it. But it is to say that we have more control over our reality than we are led to believe. People seem to be much happier when they look to what’s good and right in their lives. Feeling grateful for what you like is the best way to invite more of the same.

LOVE LETTERS TO PHOTOS

I like to play with my internal world. Sometimes I will see a photo of someone and I will become such an emotional softy from it that I want to write that person a mushy love letter. I may know the person but these days usually not. The love letter I want to write is based on the feelings and fantasies the photo brings up for me. The process of writing is my way of playing with those feelings. I am not attempting to make anything happen in real life outside of basking in the creative joy of letter writing.

It is also wonderful to know that when I do write love letters to people in photos, I am writing to an internal part of me that is reflected in the vision. It’s no different than if I were to write a love letter to a photo of a beautiful cloudscape or water scene. Hey, that’s a pretty good idea.

Dear Beautiful Cloud …

Sexual dry spells

Dry-spellWhen I wrote a blog post about uninvited celibacy, it became freshly pressed and opened the floodgates on comments from men and women in similar situations.

A great time to think about the meaning of sex turns out to be when you aren’t distracted by having any! Whether celibacy is by choice or is a situational dry spell like the one I’m in, being sexually dormant offers an unusual window into what it means to be sexually engaged.

At least that’s what I tell myself. My dry spell is two years-old. After the death of my mother in 2011, I joined my elderly father 650 miles away from my house. My love life (and the rest of my life) has been in limbo ever since. I have intimate friendships but nothing physical. I suspect it’s like being an athlete sidelined by an injury. You want to get back into the game, but your situation is that you’re required to rest, so you spend hours thinking about your sport.

I’ve made some observations about sex during my dry spell:

MALE SEXUALITY’S GUTTER IMAGE

Male sexuality has taken a huge drubbing in our culture over the last few decades. It’s slumped in the gutter. Men are often depicted as jerks and losers whose primary interest is getting off. Sex is often portrayed as a mechanical romp without feeling or intimacy. It’s all about — and just about — bodies. Yawn.

There’s a serious shortage of truly interesting male lovers depicted in the media. Seriously. I can think of few examples of men who impress me as fabulously inspired lovers. Not just a hunky babe magnet, but someone who brings heightened consciousness to bed. A true love god. Men in porn are like bottom feeders. I cannot remember seeing one and thinking, “Wow, he’d make a great friend.”

As a man, I carry the legacy of my gender brothers. Being loverless ironically reminds me how lame the social blueprint of sex is. Our sexual standards are very low. Sex gets seriously dumbed down. We get just  a comic book version of its potential. I have heard women say something like, “When it comes to sex, men are like dogs.” When I look at how sex is portrayed in the media, I have to agree. Woof. That’s not the kind of sex I want.

Men have little sexual self-respect because it’s not something taught or nurtured in the culture. Men end up with very little pride in their contribution to making sexual magic. If men are perpetually depicted as using women for sex, that’s what men aspire to be unless through some personal miracle they learn a different way. Lacking positive male role models for sex, young men become robots. Dog robots.

REAL MEN HAVE REAL SEX

Real sex is so much more than, well, sex. It ‘s more than pornographic body play. It is a mixture of great treats for the mind and heart with sensual arousal. Great lovers know this instinctively. They know that it is all about connection, and they make love with ideas as much as they make love with kisses and caresses. They make mental and emotional connection with their mate. They are mindful more than habitual.

We’re taught in society to treat each other more as toys than as co-creators of a fabulous journey. This tendency we have to treat each other as roles and objects goes far beyond sex, of course, but in my world, lovemaking is one route out of being superficial. It is a gateway into the deep pool of intimacy. Sex puts me in touch with deep feelings, which makes it spiritually profound. A statement such as that sometimes brings up chuckles or a sarcastic retort, which I translate as another sign that we have trashed sex with our demeaning representations of it.

Many of us are taught to think that “I want you” really means “I want access to your flesh.” Many of us are not taught that it could mean, “I want to embrace your soul as you embrace mine.”

ENERGIZE

You don’t often hear it expressed this way, but I think that making love is about energy exchange. Thoughts and intentions you have express themselves in whatever you do physically. They flavor it like ingredients used in cooking. If you’re upset, stressed, resentful, or something like that, your lovemaking will feel much different than if you are happy, loving, giving, and truly excited.

You won’t truly understand “energy” until you are sensitized to feeling it for yourself. The only place I recall seeing this presented in any mainstream movie was in the 1997 film Bliss. The movie showed a maverick sex therapist who taught the bliss value of energy exchange over the habitual physical orgasm production that most of us are taught.

I have been fortunate enough to experience energy flow first hand. An overall feel-good sensation fills me. Moods swing up with heightened energy. Satisfaction pervades the spirit. With heightened energy, sensuous touch feels hotter and better leading to that swept-away feeling.

Grasping energy exchange changes everything. Even cuddling by itself can be surprisingly exquisite. The body feels incredible and the mind fills with juicy deliciousness. Sometimes I’ve experienced the energy pop being so intensely blissful that traditional sex paled by contrast. How is this so? Energy! Consciousness! I’ve never seen this described or depicted anywhere outside of my own life.

LETTING GO

Under the right conditions, sex provides the perfect climate for letting go emotionally like a wild wind storm. The freedom is incredible. When I am sexually free and spiritually naked, my mind fills with wonders — visions, memories, feelings, fantasies, the energy buzz. I can man up or boy down. I can make rational sense or with permission zone out into a creative wilderness.

Since I know how important this space is for me, I do everything I can to make sure my partner has the emotional freedom to let go, too. That could entail encouragement. It also includes not judging or criticizing, especially her fantasy life and turn-ons.

Giving good head is more than oral sex. Giving safe mind play is precious. More damage is done when the opposite happens, yet we’re taught in thousands of ways to keep people locked in boxes of controlled conformity, especially when it comes to sexual behavior.

THE GIFT OF GIVING

Having no lover reminds me how much I treasure giving intimate pleasure to someone special. Pleasure is a two-way street. I receive so much energy and joy from giving energy and joy. It is a palpable, primal connection when it happens naturally. Perhaps it is simply that I was raised to be a pleaser and support person, but I feel less fulfilled as a human when I cannot pursue this craving. I feel like a honey bee transported from a lush garden to a vast desert with no blooms in sight for miles.

My romanticizing is not about materialism — wining and dining, buying affection with gifts, artificially pumping up egos, seducing and deceiving. It is much more about spiritual romance, the God-rendered magic of mate attraction, natural (no drugs needed) ecstasy, and the compelling drive to know and be known.

So here I am stuck again in the paradox of today’s sexual consciousness. I yearn to deeply please a partner body, mind, heart, and soul … in a world where sex has become so devalued it is beheld with grave suspicion. “Men are dirty dogs. Of course they want sex. Woof.”

When I am without a lover, I find myself especially empathic to women who suffer from sexual neglect. They often feel hopeless and damaged. Loneliness is painful. Of course they mirror for me my limbo life. I project upon them my cravings for harmony and intimacy. I fantasize that I could touch them in a way beyond what they know. Not me doing them, not me having all the answers, but us opening to each other in a journey of mutually-supported exploration.

DRY SPELLS

We tell ourselves stories to make sense of our worlds. With the dry spell I tell myself stories about why I don’t pursue love, what my family obligations are, why past relationships dissolved and what I could have done differently. I wonder if at age 64 I am too old for new love, too old to sexually attract anyone, or too young to be thinking insipid thoughts like that.