Monday, June 20, 2011

Embracing the Shadow: Bringing Sexuality Back Into the Light

It's time for another sex chat. It's fun. It's a charged issue for everyone, so let's get cracking.

Shadow Self: The Trunk of Avoided Issues
I've already talked about the shadow in an earlier blog, but for a brief re-cap, it's essentially all those repressed feelings and issues that you don't feel you're allowed to have or to express in society. Sexuality is a big one. I've spent quite a bit of time blogging about it, and I'm sure that I'll spend more with it still. I just feel like it's so important to drive home the value of sexuality as part of our overall lives. It's much more than what most people let it be, and that confining box of ideas about when, where, how, and with whom is very problematic. It causes all kinds of problems on both ends of the spectrum from causing others to feel pain/receiving pain in sexuality to total self-denial of one's sexuality.

And it's probably why they're some of my most popular topics. I guess it's just too rare for someone to talk rationally about sexuality and in the spiritual context. Keep in mind, that this is also just one context to hold sexuality in. For me spirituality is ultimately in everything, but for a lot of people out there, there are a set of definitions of "this is spiritual" and "this is not spiritual." In creating that paradigm, you re-create the shadow because most certainly things are going to fall outside of the lines of your definitions. They already do anyway.

Looking Over Your Shoulder
Shadow work starts with looking over your shoulder. This is unusual for a lot of people. A lot of people are too afraid to even look at their shadow, and hence, they play out the same cycles in their lives. In terms of sexuality, they have the same issues that recur again and again. A man may continue to have erectile dysfunction disorder. A woman may not be able to even get excited about sex or is so scared of it that her body just won't function properly. On the other side is the promiscuity part of the equation that can lead to sex-aholism and other issues around combining pain and pleasure. I think in many respects the spiritual process is essentially about pulling apart pain and pleasure to really understand what's going on.

Shame is one of the big things that is often going on. It keeps us from looking over our shoulders to figure out what's following us. Shame holds things down. It's like the thousand pound weight that we can't move in our bodies. It's pretty horrible. Subsequently, we may seek out different sexual practices that already include a shaming of the body. The sadism and masochism practices really aren't about love, but if a person already feels a great deal of shame, this can blend in a kind of reprimanding for having sexual feelings like lust and desire. It becomes an outlet to vent some of the pent of sexual frustration.

Pain and Pleasure: Too Close for Comfort
It is interesting though that in shadow work, you can access some of this deep-seated shame very directly. I've heard of some dominatrices that actually can use their work as a way for someone to more directly confront big issues like shame. It's a really tricky thing though because you can end up simply fueling the cycle more instead of breaking it. It's not how I teach these things, but I honor that everyone needs different doorways and gateways to breaking through. Personally, I try to keep pain and pleasure as separate from each other as possible. I'm not a "No pain, No gain" person even though I warn everybody that this will hurt at times as we break through old layers of issues in ourselves.

But still, there's a lot of ways to engage with the shadow. The most important part is to know that that's what you're doing. Going into it intentionally is key. You can't go into it thinking that you're just going to use the same old things to get the same old feelings again and some how break free. That's why whoever really wants to take you down into sexual pain through the path of the shadow has to be really adept and clear about how this is going to work and the overall parameters of the practice.

Journaling and Sexual Practice
I think the cleanest way that I can offer you to get into your sexual shadow is through journaling and building your own sexual practice. Building your sexual practice is more than just masturbation, but I've written about this before as well. I encourage you to check out my other posts about sexuality as well as learning about Taoist and Western Tantra practices.

As for the journaling part, I encourage you to freewrite your nastiest, dirtiest, kinkiest sexual fantasies. Seriously. Go to town. As I always say with the journal, this is your space to be completely honest with yourself. Don't worry about being a good story teller, accurate, or realistic. If it's in your head, put it down on your pen and pad (or your computer--whatever works). This can be the first time when you really engage with your shadow. In some ways, it may feel really, really good just to have it out of your system.

Once you've written it out, read it to yourself. Take a look. See what's there, and then probably after that, you'll need to journal through your 19 different reactions, which will probably range something like the following:
  • "I can't believe I wrote that."
  • "That's horrible. I'm a terrible person."
  • "I'm such a slut."
  • "I gotta try that one some time."
  • "I hope no one ever finds this journal."
There will be a lot there for you to pick through, and then it's time for your personal sexual practice.


Expanding Your Body Awareness
For those of you currently in awakening, you'll be very aware of just about everything going on in your body. It can be a rough time depending on how much pain you're carrying in this lifetime. For you, you'll want to be gentle with these practices and allow yourself a lot space to grieve at points in your sexual practice. It sounds very strange to a lot of people who haven't grieved out issues from the systems, but sexual energy is a profound space to move in. In awakening, there's even more energy flowing for you, and I encourage you to not stop if you do start grieving during your practice. Continue through and allow the energy in your system to move things and heal you; that's one of the amazing things that sexual energy can do.

For others who are already a little stunned by the frankness of this topic, you just need to learn how to bring some mindfulness to your practice. Start to pay attention to how you feel, and work on letting go of having a goal (ejaculation/orgasm). Along with this, use your journal entries as fodder for your practice and pay attention to where and how you feel stimulation in your body. What kinds of feelings move through you as you visualize this story you created? Where are you tense? Where are you relaxed? You may be surprised where you hold tension around your sexuality--it may not be the usual places that you expect.

Kindness, Love, and Self-Compassion
Above all else, shadow work requires a lot of love--much like any work on the spiritual path. You are actively bringing your attention to things that you've avoided your whole life. They've been following you around, messing up relationships and other aspects of your life. So you really haven't been able to get away from them. It can bring up a lot of anger to have all this stuff in your way to real intimacy. Just be patient. Give yourself space to learn and grow in a new way. Because in so doing, your sexuality can start to transform you. It is powerful energy to work in; that's why it takes so much energy and shame and fear to repress it. Taking the lid off can be one Hell of a ride. But if you give yourself plenty of compassion and self-love, you'll be just fine.
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