8 Rules of Badass Club

I have conversations with women all day long. Big, bold, strong, tireless, giving, smart, beautiful women. Executives, entrepreneurs, wives, daughters, sisters, mothers. Women who are fiercely loyal, openly expressive, deeply introspective, heartfully generous. We talk about raising great kids, staying fit, performing well at work, maintaining a passionate marriage, cultivating financial security, and all the marks of what we have come to consider “success”. It’s good to have goals; even better to see results. But how to we get there?

I look at what powerful women have in common—what it takes to show up in the world at full-volume, to look for opportunities not just to survive but to thrive, to maximize the potential of experiences and relationships towards a more conscious community, to move through the world with grace and compassion, and to navigate conflict by repeatedly choosing love over fear—I find it can be distilled down to a number of core principles. If we want to be badass, we must adhere ruthlessly to these eight rules. No slack.

RULES OF BADASS CLUB:

  1. Your own wellbeing is a priority.

You don’t pretend that everyone else’s needs come first. You’ve renounced martyrdom. You might take care of others first, but you never go without eating or sleeping or making everyone wait for a few minutes while you put yourself in time-out.

  1. You have a strong statement of purpose and anything that isn’t in alignment with it has to go.

You have determined what it is you are up to here on planet earth and you use that vision as a guiding force in your life. You do not indulge anything that is out of integrity with who you are and you are ruthless in eliminating distraction. You are a living example of what you are bringing forth. You walk the talk. You are the change you want to see in the world. 

  1. You have cultivated a relationship with your feminine essence and do what it takes to tend the fire.

You recognize that we are navigating a culture that values our rational minds and celebrates linear, problem-solving, masculine energy. You know that as a woman, you have an innate, intuitive nature that is fluid, expansive, and grows wild. You have developed the tools to access this creative life force to fuel your existence and fulfill on your purpose. 

  1. You realize that saying no can be an essential expression of love.

You have a handle on your co-dependency quotient and feel secure in enforcing boundaries as a means of being able to sustain your loving presence in the world. You also know the importance of teaching people to fish for themselves, and that in doing so, they not only develop their own self-sustaining skills, but often discover and innovate in ways that serve others.

  1. You have developed a support system and you’re not afraid to use it.

You have let go of the idea that you have to do it all and fully embrace the vulnerability it takes to ask for help. You even enjoy creating opportunities for others to show their love for you through acts of service.

  1. At any given time, you can answer the question: What do you need?

No matter what the situation, you have developed a set of criteria by which you check-in with yourself—physically, emotionally, spiritually—to determine your needs, for which you take responsibility, and act accordingly.

  1. You are willing to be alone.

You acknowledge that we are born alone and we die alone. While you choose to be in the company of others, you never do so to avoid confronting your own self. And you don’t pretend to have the right to mandate others’ thoughts, feelings, or behavior. In fact, every morning you release the ones you love, graciously, to their path.

  1. You are willing to tolerate uncertainty.

You relish the state of “not knowing” because you know that’s where possibility lives. You have cultivated a practice by which you are able to disconnect from your controlling mind and embrace the natural flow of the universe.

Breathe Me. A Simple Tantra Ritual for Couples.

Tantra is a Sanskrit word that means “tool for stretching” or “instrument of expansion”. In the last couple of decades, the term Tantra has made its way into the pop culture lexicon. From Tantra Restaurant, an upscale restaurant and lounge in Miami’s South Beach, to Tantra Salon, a small hair salon in suburban Philadelphia, the allure of this mysterious practice is evident.

Tantra is not a religion; there is no dogma, no institution. It is a practice; a way of being.

Thanks, in part, to a provocative (and drunken) 1993 Q magazine interview with Sting and Bob Geldof (Sting talks about it in a recent interview with The Guardian), there’s been a fascination with tantric sex, also commonly referred to as “sacred sex”.

Despite the hype, sex is merely one facet of this complex and esoteric spiritual philosophy. Tantra encompasses the use of chakras (the energy centers of the body), mantra (Sanskrit chants), asana (yoga postures), pranayama (rhythmic breathing) and ritual ceremony to address concepts such as the weaving of light and shadow, paradox, and reverence for the body as a pathway to the Divine.

There have been many books written on the history, philosophy and practice of Tantra. Attempting to define or describe the various lineages, traditions, and rituals in this space would be a gross simplification and an injustice to a beautifully rich and nuanced tradition.

A lifetime could be spent studying and mastering Tantra. In a world in which there continues to be a pervasive disconnection between spirituality and sexuality, it serves to look to this ancient practice to explore where the two might meet.

The Practice

One of the most common Tantra practices is called Yab Yum,  or “Father Mother”. Yab Yum leans on the energetic gender polarity of a man and woman as it manifests in sexual union (intercourse.) The man sits with his legs crossed (Easy Pose or “Criss-Cross Applesauce”) and the woman sits facing him on his lap with her legs wrapped around his torso and lower back. Together, they represent Shiva and Shakti, the complementary divine masculine and feminine energies.

If all of this is still sounding obscure and cryptic, well…it is. Part of the very essence of Tantra is that it works with that which cannot—and should not—be articulated. We live in a culture that worships the intellect. We process and rationalize emotions in an attempt to make our experience of life neat and tidy.

In relationships, we define our needs and negotiate their fulfillment.

This is all for good reason; most of us live fast-paced, hyper-stimulated, goal-oriented lives. We contain our emotional life so we can reason our way through our busy day. But the byproduct of this is separateness and alienation—from ourselves, from each other and ultimately from God (in whatever way you choose to describe it.)

The intellect is a beautiful servant but a terrible master. Intellect is the power tool of our separateness. The intuitive, compassionate heart is the doorway to our unity.” —Ram Dass

In this spirit, a Yab Yum practice provides an opportunity to flip the paradigm and allow our energetic and emotional selves, our “compassionate hearts,” to express themselves, thereby cultivating integration in ourselves, and a connection with each other.

To begin a Yab Yum practice, I recommend moving through these three phases to cultivate a safe space and to encourage energetic intimacy to build slowly. Each “sit” should be 20 minutes long. Set a timer so that you can surrender all thoughts of time and space and get lost in the practice. Move to the next phase when it is mutually agreeable.

Phase I:  Starting Knee-to-Knee

Both partners sit in Easy Pose facing each other with knees gently touching. Place your hands on each other’s knees, or forearms. Gaze into each other’s eyes without looking away. Spend a few minutes slowing and synchronizing your breath. Silently negotiate a rhythm that is comfortable for both of you. Pause at the top of each inhalation and at the bottom of each exhalation, creating a moment of mutual stillness. Notice what happens as you become more and more present to each other and to yourselves.

Phase II:  Scooching Closer

Both partners open up their legs and the woman sits as close as she can to her partner, draping her legs over his and around his lower back. Place your hands on each other’s shoulders, or waist. Another option is to place one hand on each other’s heart. Match breath in the same way as Phase I. Notice what happens as you move closer and deepen the practice.

Phase III:  Climbing Into His Lap

This is the classic Yab Yum position, and the first two phases primed the canvas for what happens now. The woman moves fully into her partner’s lap while he sits in Easy Pose. Begin face-to-face with foreheads touching and arms comfortably around each other. Eyes should be closed; the eye-gazing is replaced by increased physical touch, while you continue to focus on the breath as the main point of connection.

Notice the quality of the energy now. What does it feel like? Where in your body do you feel it? Let it move freely. Let your bodies embrace fully.

At this point, the woman’s feminine energy, her creative life force, her kundalini is rising. She is a vessel, a channel for the divine feminine in the form of sexual energy. The man’s role is to sit solidly in his masculinity and hold a container strong enough to support her as she allows it to overtake her, dissolving into bliss.

As you dance with this energy between you, you many notice that your egos, your ideas about who you are, your personalities, have vanished. You are united as complementary aspects in the union of divine masculine and feminine, a fractal embodiment of the universe.

Whether you are using Yab Yum as a prelude to sex, or as a practice in and of itself, it is important to allow the natural and organic rise of sexual energy. Our typical idea of masculinity as an aggressive force which pursues, controls and conquers doesn’t apply here. Kundalini energy (which is rooted in the sacrum, or base of the spine) can be shy. It cannot be coaxed by force. Imagine a snake curled up in a hole.

Gently wake it and charm it from the woman’s sacrum, up the spine. Begin by using the timer to contain and pace the energy. As you become more and more adept at surrendering to each other, yourselves and the mystical divine connection, lose the timer and let the spirit carry you away.

Sometimes the feelings which arise are not at all sexual in nature. This practice has a way of making us feel seen in a way that we rarely do in the course of our daily lives. The safety of this space often opens the floodgates of pent up emotions, like sadness or shame.

Allow whatever comes forth, without judgment. Welcome the opportunity to fall apart as someone holds a container for you. If your partner is moved by emotion, simply hold steady while they release their feelings. Resist the urge to comfort, which can encourage the containment or suppression of emotion.

Being a compassionate witness can affect a deep healing, as well as a loving bond.

Tips:

Eye Gazing.

It can be difficult to figure out where to fix your gaze. Try starting by focusing on the space between your partner’s eyes, or their “third eye”. As you relax into the practice, transfer your gaze to one of their eyes. Every so often switch to their other eye. You will relax into a rhythm that feels comfortable.

Sitting.

Easy Pose is often challenging for men. Especially for a length of time with weight on top of them. The most common complaint is irritation of the ankle bones against the floor. Sitting on soft blanket or pillow will help. For men with especially tight hips, placing pillows under the knees to raise them slightly and ease the stretch.

If it’s simply not possible for the man to sit, he can lie flat with the woman straddling him with their bodies perpendicular to each other. Bottom line: Use whatever pillows and props you need to make it work for you. Honor yourselves and each other by listening to and supporting your bodies in whatever way makes sense and feels good.

Set the Stage.

Dim the lights. Light some candles. Turn off the devices. Traditionally, Tantra rituals begin with ceremonial bathing. You might indulge in giving each other a loving sponge bath before you sit together.

Music.

Selected carefully, music can be a wonderful enhancement to a Yab Yum practice. Choose non-lyrical or purely instrumental, ambient music. Recognizable language will be counterproductive to the process of getting out of your heads and making a strong heart-based energetic connection. I often play music with Sanskrit chants or vocals in a language I don’t understand. My favorites include: Desert GodField of Worlds and Mirrors, and Aqua Vista, all by Vic Hennegan; and DownTemple Dub by Desert Dwellers.

Same-Sex Couples.

Although the mythology and symbolism of Yab Yum is gender-based, it’s an equally great practice for same-sex couples. Play with the masculine and feminine energies as they express themselves in the physical postures by alternating who sits on top. You may discover something new in the exploration of these dynamics in terms of how they show up between you and what they might offer in your partnership.

Open Your Jealous Heart

In a recent Circle-up, Sister! session, the topic of jealousy came up. It’s something we all have to deal with. Boy likes Girl. Girl notices Boy liking Girl. Boy and Girl fall in love. Boy likes another Girl. Girl #1 notices Boy liking Girl #2. Ouch.

Of course, this works both ways. Women are fully capable of indulging their wandering eyes, but there is a pervasive, culturally accepted elephant in the room that is men’s hunger for women and women’s dismay at having to hold a man’s attention in a world that provides so many opportunities for distraction.

There is something about the nature of masculine sexuality that is assertively…let’s say, observant. It’s been surmised that men have a heat-seeking sperm missile between their legs which is on a biological mission to propagate the species, and also that their arousal template tends to be visual in nature. Most of the men I know learned about sexuality through pornography (Playboy, videos, or internet, depending on their age). Symptom or cause, it speaks to how men view women’s bodies as objects of desire. When a man is attracted to a women at a bar, it’s not her soul is he is looking at, it’s her ass.

For women, it’s easy to feel that if our man is attracted to someone else, it means he is no longer attracted to us; that he has a limited amount of hunger, and if he is going to satiate it somewhere else, we will go hungry ourselves. And because for so many of us, sexuality and love are intertwined, what follows is the conclusion that attractive women are a threat to our source of love. And so the competition between women ensues. We begin to see our own worth as directly proportional to the ability of another women to attract a man; our man.

In the context of relationship, how do we shift from insecurity, fear, and a scarcity mindset around male sexuality to one of trust, empowerment, expansiveness, and abundance?

There are two parts to the answer:

TEND YOUR FEMININE FIRE

There is a fire that burns inside every woman. It’s the flame of passion, of desire. It’s the same energy that sparks life and sustains humanity. When a man is drawn to a woman, it is not just her ass that he is seeing. He is also sensing this powerful energy (check out my online course, The Big Libido: Find Your Feminine Fire, to learn more). We don’t own this energy; it is the universe moving through us. We are channels through which the sacred masculine and feminine do their dance. That’s not to say that we are merely puppets and our humanity doesn’t factor in. Of course it does, and it is part of our work as incarnate beings to navigate our humanity and negotiate the messiness of being human with divine purpose and growth. So in the context of sexuality and the sparkly and symbiotic relationship of masculine and feminine sexual energy, there is a larger story—that is not at all personal—that is playing out in tandem with our very specific story.

CHOOSE WISELY

In order to thrive we need to feel safe. Nothing demonstrates this to us more effectively than relationship. Choose a man who is willing to make you feel safe. We accept the love we think we deserve. Safety and security in relationship is a two-way street, and can be cultivated and nurtured if both partner are willing to make it a priority. If you do your personal work and choose a partner who is willing to roll up his sleeves and be present and collaborative in the terms and structures of your partnership, you will have a much easier time identifying where your work is around this to begin with.

On one level, when a man is captivated with a woman other than ourselves, it is her shakti, her feminine fire. That energy lives in each of us. If he has chosen us as a partner, he is captivated by the shakti he senses it in us too. Monogamy is a decision. It’s a choice we make every day we are in an exclusive relationship. It doesn’t mean we shut down our sensitivity to the creative life force in others. It simply means we agree not to act on it. The best thing we can do to hold our partner’s attention is to cultivate and nurture our connection with our own sexuality—tend our feminine fire—keep it readily accessible so that we are an overflowing vessel of this captivating energy with which our partner can dance. If we begin to walk that path in spite of our insecurity, our confidence and self-esteem with flourish and our insecurity and jealousy will eventually fall away. Again, making a good choice in a partner who can play with you on this level with open-hearted generosity and commitment, is key to making a sustainable shift.

 

Disclaimer: The impetus for this post was a conversation between a group of heterosexual woman about they pain they feel around male sexuality. I am certain there are similar dynamics in LBGT+ relationships. We each embody a balance of masculine and feminine sexual energy, the distribution of which I imagine can be more fluid in same sex couples. Educate me in the comment section.

6 Ways to Have Radically Intimate Sex

We’ve seen it in the movies. We’ve read about it in books. We have lived it over and over in our fantasies. I’m talking about the kind of sex that bends time and expands space as you and your lover dive into each other, swimming through veins till you find the tender, pristine places no one has ever touched. Intimacy so pure and potent that physical form cannot sustain itself and you burst into effervescent molecules, disintegrating in sacred union with the primordial, ecstatic center of the universe. The kind of sex where you finally collapse, breathless, in a pile of limbs wrapped around each other, stunned by the power and purity you just experienced.

While we long for this kind of sex, few of us have found it. We crave connection, but fear vulnerability. In our 140-character, hyperconnected culture, we have lost our capacity for the kind of delayed gratification this kind of physical intimacy requires.

Here are 6 ways to have radically intimate sex:

SHHHH: NO TALKING

Often when we think of intimacy, we think about the sharing of secrets. There is something intimate about verbalizing our innermost thoughts and desires—especially when it comes to sex. However, as alluring as fantasy can be, by its very definition, it’s a way of escaping reality. And we tend to hide behind our words, using conversation as a means of avoiding vulnerability. We tell people who we are instead of showing them. True intimacy with a lover happens in the silent moments of presence and connectedness between words.

Practice #1Set a specific time to meet in the bedroom without speaking a single word. Spend an hour together, not talking, before any physical intimacy begins. Show up clean—physically and emotionally. This is an opportunity to let our stories fall away—as individuals and as a couple—making room for a deep, non-verbal, energetic connection.

MAKE IT ANTI-CLIMACTIC: NO ORGASM

When Emerson said, “Life is a journey, not a destination” he meant that when we focus on getting to a particular goal, we miss value in the moments along the way. And so it is with sex. There are reports that women can have 11 different kinds of orgasms. From the time men are boys, they are fascinated with ejaculating (it’s a built-in, biological preoccupation on which the survival of the species depends!). We have misunderstood the destination of sex to be orgasm, and by doing so, robbed ourselves of some potentially powerful opportunities for both pleasure and intimacy.

Practice #2: Agree upfront to forgo reaching orgasm. Take the possibility completely off the table, for both of you. By doing so, you provide space to be present and find appreciation of each moment for the pleasure and connection it brings, without distraction. Take turns bringing each other close and backing off. Notice the powerful bond created as you hold each other on the brink of ecstasy.

LIKE A LAVA LAMP: SLOW IT WAY DOWN

We live in a fast-paced, over-stimulating, 140-character-status-update kind of world. As a culture, we are usually focused on “doing” rather than “being.” Because we juggle so many responsibilities, sex tends to become just another thing on the “To Do List.” Rushing through the “doing of sex” does not encourage the “being” of intimacy.

Practice #3: Create a bubble of time and space to climb into together. Do whatever it takes to enable getting lost in your own world together. Make a conscious decision not to rush. Let energy flow between  you like a lava lamp. Moving verrrrry slowly, savor each moment of sensation and allow intimacy to rise.

SEALED WITH A KISS: UNDRESS EACH OTHER

Whether it’s your first time together, or you’ve been having sex for 30 years, giving your body to your lover is a gift. To receive your partner’s body is a privilege. Don’t let modesty or habit stop you from honoring this generous exchange.

Practice #4: This practice is most comfortable done with the lights dimmed or by candlelight. Undress each other by taking turns removing one article of clothing at a time. As each piece comes off, gently kiss the part of the body revealed in gratitude.

IN AND OUT: BREATHE LIFE INTO IT

It is a technique in meditation to turn the focus from thoughts to the breath. In Tantra, partners will “match breath” as a way of forming an energetic connection that is not based on the giving and receiving of physical pleasure.

Practice #5: Begin in a simple embrace. Spend a few minutes slowing and synchronizing your breath. Silently negotiate a rhythm that is comfortable for both of you. Pause at the top of each inhale and at the bottom of each exhale, creating a moment of mutual stillness. Breathing together is facilitated by cooperation and consideration for each other. Try to maintain this collaboration as sex unfolds.

WINDOW OF THE SOUL: EYE GAZING

Eye contact is a distinct point of connection. Yet, it is common to keep one’s eyes closed during sex. Extended eye contact reveals vulnerability, and so it can be a powerful facilitator of intimacy.

Practice #6: Sit on the floor facing each other and gaze into each other’s eyes without looking away for 20 minutes. Shifting from eye to eye helps sustain the gaze. Maintain eye contact as much as possible as sex unfolds. Play with looking into each other’s eyes all the way through orgasm. It is nearly impossible to climax with open eyes (like sneezing). Gazing into your lover’s eyes at the moment of release just might be the very definition of intimacy.

 

This article was originally published on Elephant Journal where it currently has 2.3 million views and over 200,000 Facebook shares.

The Big Libido Manifesto

As women, we play many roles: partners, wives, daughters, mothers, bosses, employees. We deliver, nurture, manage, and please. We are accomplished jugglers, master manifestors; we make things happen. We are badass, and we know it.

The byproduct of navigating our hyper-connected, multi-tasking lives with poise and grace is the suppression of raw emotion. To perform these many roles effectively, we contain, conform, and control our feelings, our words, our behavior. As a matter of survival we adapt to a culture that values our rational minds. In the process we become alienated from our innate, intuitive nature, often feeling unseen, unappreciated, and misunderstood.

When we lose our sense of self in this way, we suffer in our relationships. We get angry; and we shut down. Our confidence takes a hit, along with our self-esteem, self-care, and our precious sex lives—the very thing that should be our source of power.

There is a fire that burns inside each one of us. It is the flame of passion, of desire, the creative energy that sparks life and sustains humanity. It glows, it roars, it’s wild in nature. It is our birthright, and it is our responsibility to tend this fire, for our own wellbeing, for our community, and for the energetic recalibration of the world.

The Cost of Being a Badass

I am exhausted. Flat-out, bone-weary knackered. Drained, depleted, beat, wasted, spent. You get the idea.

I have been on a bender for the last several months, giving birth to a batch of new programs and reinventing the way I do business. This is a good thing. I am fulfilling on my purpose. I am aligned with my passion. I am showing up in the world, climbing into the arena, playing big. I’ve been manifesting like a mad woman. BAM!

As a single mother, writer, coach, speaker, editor, entrepreneur, I play many roles. My hat rack is jammed full, and I wear all of those lids enthusiastically. I often say I am the most competent woman I know. I even changed a tire in my flip-flops one morning on the way to drop my son at school. I got this. I’m a badass, and I know it. And yet somehow I find myself in the familiar place of dragging my badass around wondering why this often feels so hard.

I’m not alone in this. I know a ridiculous number of equally badass women with whom I have this conversation on a regular basis. We are simultaneously inspired and tired. My most desperate moments of energetic decimation have brought me to this realization: there are two varieties of exhaustion.

 

PHYSICAL EXHAUSTION—The kind of fatigue that shows up when we haven’t fed, watered, moved, or rested our bodies in the way that sustains our wellbeing.
Symptoms: sleepiness, brain fog, headache, muscle weakness, short-term memory loss, difficulty regulating mood.

EXISTENTIAL EXHAUSTION—A syndrome that occurs at a certain point in the downward spiral of compounded physical exhaustion when there is no clear path out of the current paradigm.
Symptoms: overwhelm, depression, lack of motivation, loss of purpose, disorientation, hopelessness.

 

The question that characterizes the state of Physical Exhaustion is, “Can I really do it all?” Once Existential Exhaustion sets in, we find ourselves asking, “Can I really HAVE it all?”

The answers to these questions are largely determined by how we define “all,” but one thing is certain, if the answer is yes, it cannot be at the expense of our wellbeing. The cost of being a badass cannot, by definition, be our badass-ness.

Pondering all this, I climbed into a hot bath, submerged my tired body in lavender-scented water, and came up with this. It’s a work in progress (both the list and myself), but it seems like embracing these 8 rules would go a long way in the avoidance of the kind of exhaustion where our entire existence is called into question.

 

RULES OF BADASS CLUB:

  1. Your own wellbeing is a priority.

You don’t pretend that everyone else’s needs come first. You’ve renounced martyrdom. You might take care of others first, but you never go without eating or sleeping or making everyone wait for a few minutes while you put yourself in time-out.

  1. You have a strong statement of purpose and anything that isn’t in alignment with it has to go.

You have determined what it is you are up to here on planet earth and you use that vision as a guiding force in your life. You do not indulge anything that is out of integrity with who you are and you are ruthless in eliminating distraction. You are a living example of what you are bringing forth. You walk the talk. You are the change you want to see in the world. 

  1. You have cultivated a relationship with your feminine essence and do what it takes to tend the fire.

You recognize that we are navigating a culture that values our rational minds and celebrates linear, problem-solving, masculine energy. You know that as a woman, you have an innate, intuitive nature that is fluid, expansive, and grows wild. You have developed the tools to access this creative life force to fuel your existence and fulfill on your purpose. 

  1. You realize that saying no can be an essential expression of love.

You have a handle on your co-dependency quotient and feel secure in enforcing boundaries as a means of being able to sustain your loving presence in the world. You also know the importance of teaching people to fish for themselves, and that in doing so, they not only develop their own self-sustaining skills, but often discover and innovate in ways that serve others.

  1. You have developed a support system and you’re not afraid to use it.

You have let go of the idea that you have to do it all and fully embrace the vulnerability it takes to ask for help. You even enjoy creating opportunities for others to show their love for you through acts of service.

  1. At any given time, you can answer the question: What do you need?

No matter what the situation, you have developed a set of criteria by which you check-in with yourself—physically, emotionally, spiritually—to determine your needs, for which you take responsibility, and act accordingly.

  1. You are willing to be alone.

You acknowledge that we are born alone and we die alone. While you choose to be in the company of others, you never do so to avoid confronting your own self. And you don’t pretend to have the right to mandate others’ thoughts, feelings, or behavior. In fact, every morning you release the ones you love, graciously, to their path.

  1. You are willing to tolerate uncertainty.

You relish the state of “not knowing” because you know that’s where possibility lives. You have cultivated a practice by which you are able to disconnect from your controlling mind and embrace the natural flow of the universe.

The Magic of Hugs

As the daughter of a Jewish mother and a Norwegian father, there were two distinct kinds of hugs when I was a kid.

There was the bone crushing embrace of my Bubbe, which was accompanied by a series of kisses literally smacked onto my cheek, forehead, and (if aimed poorly) eyelid, with lips pursed over clenched teeth just dying to go ahead and sneak a bite of me, as if I were an irresistible piece of chocolate babka.

Visits to the other side of the family concluded in a much different display of affection. Standing by the door as we left, Grandma Dagny would stiffen her body like a wooden board and lean slightly in my direction, arms by her side. She would awkwardly turn her cheek out to field any potential kisses, lest she should make lip contact with me. She was not a cold woman, quite the opposite, but her warmth was expressed through coffee and conversation, not through physical contact. Uff da. Very Scandinavian.

One of the most epically defining experiences of my childhood involved a hug. When I was six or seven years old, my family had a green and yellow pet parakeet. Barney liked to walk around on the kitchen floor like a dog, catching crumbs and hitching an occasional ride on a passing foot.

One day after school, my father and I were rushing around making a snack on the way out to my ballet class. I was in my black leotard and brown leather sandals—the ones we got on vacation in Cape Cod from a real leathersmith, with big flat waffle-patterned rubber soles. I cannot report the detailed logistics of how it happened. It was sudden, and it was shocking. I stepped on Barney. I felt him crunch under my foot.

What I saw and heard is permanently seared in my memory. In fact tears roll down my cheeks as I write this now, so many years later. Barney was immobilized on the floor with his back broken. His head and tail were intact, but he was flattened in the middle where my foot had been. The worst is that he wasn’t dead. Hardly. He was frantically squawking in pain he tried to get up. Recognizing there was no way to help him, my father knelt down and took me in his arms. Safe in the sheltered world of my father’s embrace, I buried my face in his shoulder and sobbed just a few feet from our suffering pet while we waited for him to finally die.

I didn’t go to ballet that day. My father made me change my shoes. In fact, he had me permanently retire them. Seeing the blood and feathers adhered to the waffle-patterned rubber, was enough to warrant their permanent disposal. He made sure I knew it wasn’t my fault and took me for an ice cream to soothe my aching heart.iStock_000022165068_Small

In the libidinous teenage years, and followed by early adulthood, I didn’t think much about hugging. The need for physical affection was eclipsed by—or perhaps entangled with—sexual expression. In search of the perfect French kiss, I could make out for hours. Exploring the feeling of a man inside me was like a space expedition. How could I think of a simple road trip like hugging when NASA was launching a rocket to the moon?

It wasn’t until my daughter was born in my early 30’s that I became reacquainted with the importance of hugging. Any woman who has had a baby is familiar with the bizarrely wondrous feeling of having a human being growing inside her body. And by the time it’s time to give birth, the transition from inside to outside brings a mix of relief and loss. It’s curious what the experience is like for the baby. A 40-week human pregnancy is broken into three trimesters of roughly three months each. I have heard the first three months of an infant’s life referred to as the fourth trimester.

In the earliest days after birth, we replace the warm, tight containment of the womb with the swaddling of a blanket. In fact, the basic ways we soothe our babies are rooted in mimicking the conditions in utero. We cradle them in our arms, holding them tightly to our chest, where they can hear our hearts beating and feel surrounded…contained…held. In the land of the living, our first language is hugging.

I love hugs. I give good hug. In fact, I consider hugging a practice, a healing modality, a form of meditation. As a blissfully single woman who just recently turned 50, I rarely am at a loss for a lover. But what I truly crave more often than sex, is a long, quality hug—the kind you sink into so long you forget that you are actually two people.

I asked my 972 Facebook friends, recently, what they love about hugs. The responses were plentiful, and all about safety, warmth, comfort, security, heartbeats, connection to each other, and connection through each other to Source or Oneness. To me that sounds a lot like the bonding that happens at the dawn of our consciousness.

Our love of a proper hug is not superficial or silly. It speaks to our need for the kind of existential homeostasis programmed in early infancy, or reaching even further back in the tight embrace of our mother’s womb, when two bodies were actually one.

As my colleague, Bryan Reeves, so eloquently states in his article, The Eightfold Path to a Truly Great Hug, “A truly great hug is a rich experience that has you pull another human body deliciously tight into yours as a way of saying, “I so deeply value your presence that I’m taking this exact moment to feel you, smell you, breathe with you—essentially stamp your being into my cellular memory so that even though we may be soon part, you will in fact always be with me in the living fabric of my existence.”

Consider this article an invitation to join me in bringing deep healing to someone by giving them a truly great hug. Reset their nervous system. Allow them to dissolve into pure existence, where no thought exists and our only requirement is to surrender to a loving embrace as a pathway to connection to a source even greater than our mother. Let’s make this our practice. You know—saving the world one hug at a time.

Waking Up to Sex

I had dinner with an ex-lover last weekend. He waited until we ordered and then looked directly at me across the table and said, “I read your article, 6 Ways to Have Radically Intimate Sex, and you forgot the biggest one.”

I looked back at him trying to detect if he was serious or just playfully sparring. He was serious.

“Yes? Which one did I miss?” I said with tentative curiosity. Without hesitation, he said, “Morning Sex.” It came out of his mouth like the moderator at a spelling bee, each syllable deliberately and matter-of-factly articulated.

MOR. NING. SEX.

I felt my chest and throat tighten. My resistance tells me I am at my edge. He’s right. Morning sex is radically intimate.

“Oh right, I forgot that about you,” I replied.

I love middle-of-the-night sex—the kind when it’s pitch black and you’re half asleep, when a good naked spoon slowly becomes a fork—but when the sun streams through the windows, I usually want to sneak out undetected. As a boyfriend of mine once said upon waking, “You look like you’ve been dragged through a hedge backwards.” Even his charming London accent didn’t soften the blow. I am not a morning person by nature. Having post-coital company exacerbates this condition.

In the days after our dinner, the conversation stayed with me. I asked my ex-lover to tell me what he loves about morning sex. This is what he said:

“I love watching the woman I have been intimate with stirring in the morning light. It’s like that Leonard Cohen lyric, “I loved you in the morning, our kisses deep and warm, your hair upon the pillow like a sleepy golden storm…”’

Morning is

A time of true heartfelt exchange

And then…without the liquid intoxication

It’s like first steps again

Freshness of the skin sensations

Eye to eye acknowledgement and smiles

A playful scene

Kissing past the bad breath and leftover scents

A reconvening

I love the force of sobriety

If you can fuck in the morning, you can win the world

Maybe it’s like blowing off the ash of the fire burned the night before and then feeding it again.

His words moved me. This is a man who is not afraid to feel. I know well the benefits of radical intimacy; the deep connection that is made through mutual vulnerability—the healing that comes from being seen and from the witnessing of another. I want to feel about morning sex the way he does.

“What would have to happen for that to happen?” I asked myself. It’s not easy—but it’s simple.

I would embrace my imperfections. I would be naked in broad daylight. I would love my scars that grace my body after 17 surgeries. I would see my pale lips and bare cheeks as an expression of natural beauty. I would rock my bed head like it was the mane of the goddess mother herself.

The great researcher and author, Brené Brown, says that people who live “wholeheartedly” believe that what makes them vulnerable makes them beautiful. I imagine a space where physical imperfections actually make me more beautiful—because I embrace them with courage and the kind of self-love and compassion that it takes to dance naked in the sunlight with a lover, without shame. I want to live there.

And as far as the morning breath goes, I have found that a single sip of bubbly water from a bottle—strategically place on the nightstand the night before—has a way of freshening a morning mouth.

Grace by Bandwidth

“I spent a lot of years trying to outrun or outsmart vulnerability by making things certain and definite, black and white, good and bad. My inability to lean into the discomfort of vulnerability limited the fullness of those important experiences that are wrought with uncertainty: Love, belonging, trust, joy, and creativity to name a few.” —Brené Brown

There are a few things that I am certain of: we are born alone, we die alone, and I could eat rice pudding until I explode. Other than that, it’s all a crap shoot. The remarkable breadth of possibility in the world is met by an equally broad range of uncertainty. And so, in order to embrace a life filled with expansion and growth, we must also be able to sit with uncertainty and the discomfort of vulnerability it brings with it.

Here are 3 ways to increase your tolerance for discomfort:

1. Play with Your Edges

I had a boyfriend once who insisted, one night, that we sleep upside down in our bed—with our feet at the top, heads at the bottom. His point was that we would never forget that night. Many years and lovers later, I can confirm that he was right. But something else happened that night. We woke up.

By definition, habits are unconscious thoughts and actions. When we begin to dismantle habitual patterns, we awaken to our experiences with a heightened state of awareness. We usually embody this wakefulness across the board, bringing new perspective to many areas of our lives—a state of enlightenment.

Rather than wait to be passively woken up out of our sleepy habits by an accident, trauma, or other existential bump in the road, practice stretching the edges of your comfort zone when life is calm and peaceful. Actively creating insignificant changes for the purpose of sitting in discomfort, will help to develop the muscles you need when life takes you on a roller coaster unexpectedly.

Some suggestions:
Brush your teeth with your non-dominant hand.
Forgo one of your go-to comfort foods for a month.
Drive a different route home from work for a week.
Read before bed instead of watching television.

2. Self-Soothe

Those of us who are parents know how important it is to teach our infants to self-soothe. It is an area in which many of us are still underdeveloped, even as adults. When we are emotionally uncomfortable, it is easy to act out in ways that ultimately will contribute to an increased state of discomfort and distress.

Some suggestions:
Choose a cup of hot tea, instead of a pint of ice cream.
Take a warm, candle lit bath, instead of opening a bottle of wine.
Read a book to escape perseverating over a situation, instead of calling a friend to vent about it into the night.

3. Delay Action

As a culture, we are conditioned to focus on Doing, and not so much on Being. When faced with challenging circumstances, we usually will find ourselves saying, “I don’t know what to do about this.” Very often, the doing is something that could—or even should—come later. A better statement of inquiry would be, “I don’t know how to be with this.” By resisting the urge to take action, we afford ourselves the room to sit with our thoughts and feelings. Give yourself permission to have your thoughts and feelings, but at the same time, realize that your thoughts and feelings do not define you. One of my favorite Pema Chödrön quotes is: “You are the sky. Everything else—it’s just the weather.”

Some suggestions:
Name your pain. Unpack it, spread it on the table, inventory it, write it down.
Sit with it and get to know it.
Draw distinctions between what you think and what you feel.
Breathe into the part of yourself that transcends “the weather”.

Poison Control

“Holding onto anger is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.” —Anonymous (often attributed to Gautama Buddha)

All yogis aspire to being peaceful, loving, compassionate people, and yet, anger and resentment are part of the human condition. Contrary to all the quotes and idioms about it, anger is not necessarily a bad thing. How we handle it makes all the difference in neutralizing its potential toxicity, and making it an agent of transformation and enlightenment.

Here are five steps to soften your anger:

1. Sit With It

The combination of egoic attachment and impulse control often has us assign false urgency to situations which raise our anger. Taking a moment of stillness with our strong emotions allows us the opportunity to get more comfortable with the discomfort of anger. It can also halt the escalation of conflict that tends to result from emotional reaction rather than intentional action.

2. Unpack It

My mantra for anger is, “I am not upset about what I think I am upset about.” In other words, there is more to your anger that meets the eye. Whatever the plot of our particular story is, there is an additional subtext that deserves our attention. To dig deeper, ask yourself these questions, “Why is this situation painful? What am I fearful of? Which of my values are being violated?”

3. Use it Wisely

Anger is our inner voice letting us know that our boundaries are being pushed. Diving deep into self-inquiry at these times affords us the opportunity to do some core spiritual detective work. What we discover about who we really are—and what we will or won’t accept in our lives—can be used to make significant and sustainable changes.

4. Disconnect from It

Being a witness to our own drama allows us the room to step back and disconnect from the emotional experience of the human condition. We are more than our feelings. Give yourself permission to feel angry, as well as, fear, pain, or anything else that lays below the anger. And then redirect your attention to the part of you that lives beyond emotion. Go for a hike, take a yoga class, feed your soul the best way you know how.

5. Hold it Gently

The expression and experiencing of strong emotions like anger can upset our status quo for quite a while. What we unearth in the intentional management of anger can shake us to the core. The stronger the anger, the bigger the change that is asking to be made, whether internal or external. Finding compassion for all parties involved cannot be rushed, but is essential to peaceful resolution. In the aftermath of inner and/or outer conflict, allow the awareness to grow, and hold it gently.