You think this is just another day in your life? It’s not just another day. It’s the one day that is given to you…today. It’s given to you. It’s a gift. It’s the only gift you have right now and the only appropriate response is gratefulness.
~ Brother David Steindl-Rast, from Louis Schwartzberg’s TEDxSF talk “Gratitude”
I’ve recently started attending a weekly Native American tobacco ceremony. From the outside the ritual seems simple: everyone sits in a circle, says a brief prayer for the things for which they need help and smokes the sacred pipe.
However, within the basic framework lies an experience full of connection, humbleness and vulnerability. Through witnessing another in communion with his or her Creator, you realize that each person’s prayer is actually your prayer. To have someone speaking your heart’s deepest yearnings is a swift reminder that we are separated only by the most trivial of differences.
Which makes sense.
To walk around as a boundaryless, open heart all day, feeling the pain, hope and wonder of each person that breathes near us would render us perpetually incapacitated. After all, we have cubicles to inhabit, student loans to pay off and episodes of Weeds to download.
Hence this weekly sacrament of public surrender is like ambrosia for the emaciated soul. We walk around with our poker faces on, pretending like life is just “fine” and that we have everything “under control.” So simply saying the words “I need help” is enough to sucker punch us in the arrogant gut of our social deception. Yet it is through these cracks in the armor that life’s blessings can fill our cups of longing.
The thing is that most of us carry thimbles where we have room for chalices; so even when can let in a little bit of the good, we fill up quickly and look for ways to manage the excess. One common way is to expel the energy through complaint. It’s a lazy way to avoid doing the work to discover what we truly want, as well as shirks the responsibility for your happiness to someone or something else. It’s easy to be angry at your friends if you throw a party and no one attends—but if you don’t give us explicit directions on how to get to your house, you are setting yourself (and the rest of us) up for failure.
We look for what’s wrong with life.
We hold onto the idea that life happens “to” us, as if we’re some sad little puppet, rather than becoming active participants in the experience. We have a thousand ways to talk about what’s shitty in our lives and virtually no language for what’s good.
Nowhere do I see more of this than in the arena of sex. It’s an area loaded with confusion, shame and resentment smothered by a lacquer of bravado, victimhood or just plain avoidance. It’s also the place where we are most desperate to be touched and where a mountain of excuses resides to keep us small and safe:
I’m not getting enough
I’m too old/fat/inexperienced
No one knows how to touch me
I can’t last long enough
My partner is blocked
I’m fine, but they have a problem
All the good ones are taken
It’ll never happen for me
The art of receiving what you want is something we are rarely taught and yet it’s the foundation of sexual maturity (and is required for vibrant and nourishing sex lives). First, we must have the courage to admit that we’re hungry and that it’s no one else’s responsibility but our own to feed us.
Once we decide to follow our desires, rather than live in the world of complaint, we must then undergo the task of expanding our thimbles into chalices. If we want more, we need to grow big enough to hold more.
Again, I take my inspiration from the pipe ceremony. There, the way we’re taught to pray is that before you ask for what you want, you must first express gratitude for what you have in your life right now. It changes the perspective, so that your desires come from a place of abundance and attraction, rather than lack and rejection of what is. You mentally and energetically set yourself up to receive.
Think of it this way: each time you say “thank you,” you find your location on the map of desire and widen the net for the universe to bring you more. Conversely, each complaint is energy wasted that could have been used to express yourself and surrender deeper into pleasure.
Recently, I was making love and towards the end, I found myself in a state of overwhelm—the energy was high, I was feeling physically exhausted and my mind was flipping out on whether or not he was happy. We’d lost the connection and I started crying and blaming myself for “fucking it all up.”
“Do you want to check in with me?” he asked.
“Ok,” I simpered.
“Well, the first three-quarters of that was some of the most amazing sex we’ve ever had together.”
Oh. Well that changes things.
Because I was approaching our sex from fear-based, life-or-death-stakes mindset, all I could see was the negative: any perceived “fuck up” was going to lessen my value as a human and I would end up dead and unloved in a crappy studio apartment in the Tenderloin (fear-based mind also tends to bring out the drama queen).
Had I been in my abundance and gratitude, I would have stood up on the bed, ripped off my chain & turtleneck sweater and sang “I Just Had Sex!”
Which brings me to my second point: the importance of cultivating humor in sex.
We’re all human. Being able to laugh at ourselves in the face of our sheer incompetence is what makes being alive bearable. Humor takes the life-or-death-stakes view on sex and infuses it with space and permission. As one of the clumsiest people on the planet, I’ve had my fair share of teeth-banging kisses, cum & snot-nosed BJs and mid-coital pussy farts. You just gotta laugh at that shit because we’ve all been there.
You’re allowed to make mistakes. You’re allowed not to have the answer. You’re allowed to curiously fumble into the unknown. In fact, that’s where the best sex happens. When your rational mind throws its hands in the air and says “Fuck it! I’m just gonna let it all hang out and have fun,” you go from being a warrior on the battlefield to a child in a sandbox—totally unaware of people’s eyes on you and unattached to what is created.
Play for the sake of play.
And really, why have sex for any other reason other than for fun? Of course there’s also procreation and shared intimacy—but if you’ve lost the spirit of play in the process, then I suggest slowing down, re-evaluating your desires and re-connecting to your own pleasure.
Because ultimately sex is fun—and silly and weird and confronting and undeniably human. We should celebrate that: the slips, trips, bumps and falls as well as the bliss, joy, ecstasy and intimacy.
So no matter how your sex expresses itself these days—whether you humped three people this morning or haven’t kissed anyone in ten years—take the time to be thankful for your sexuality. You are alive, right now, a sexual being on this planet, and you have the unique opportunity to go on a rich and hilarious journey into the heart of your own desire.
Just don’t forget to pack the Gratitude…
Editor: Lynn Hasselberger