A is for awe.
So I know I’m getting better because, over the last few weeks, my desire for both sex and horror films has gloriously and gore-fully returned! Not both at the same time, to be clear, though whatever rocks your boat. It takes a lot to shock this Aquarian lady!
And yet, shock has been a visitor recently. A shock that caused my system to dissociate, shutdown, and go out of alignment. One that caused insomnia, attacks of panic and terror, and the feeling that I had disappeared, lost the locus of who I am. And not in a good and awakened godly way.
Dear God. It was a living hell!
In this state of trauma, of a nervous system seemingly frozen in flight and fright, my internal compass was fluctuating wildly. The centre of gravity was gone, leaving me to experience the free-floating horror of an endlessly grasping black hole void.
Needless to say, I had no ability to desire in this place of sheer daily survival. Desire cannot exist here. Neither can play, pleasure, nor passion.
Nada. Zilch. Zero. Bah!
However, with deep gratitude and a newly-arrived fierce tenderness, something has shifted; I am slowly returning to a blessed state of stability, steadiness, and peace. As a result, an enlivening is happening. And desire, in all its purring pleasure, is returning.
Sex and horror films.
Due to my current single status, alongside COVID-19 life and Noah’s-Ark-esque floods and storms, the first of these shall only be satiated by my own dexterity and marvellous imagination for now. But what I lack in human sticky-sweaty interaction, I am making up for in devouring horror movies (gleefully—most evenings) like a woman possessed.
(Though I’m not. Just to be clear!)
It may seem rather strange, to an outside eye, as to why one would desire to put oneself through the torture and adrenaline spike of watching scary movies. To be honest, I don’t really know the answer. I’ve always loved horror, as has my sister and some dear friends. It looks like my 13-year-old niece has inherited this charming penchant for viewing said visual stories too. Bless her.
Last year I read an awful lot about trauma. I only learned recently that the word itself means “wound.” Another thing I read stayed with me: the experiences of awe, ecstasy, and presence have a deep psychophysiological and phenomenological connection and resonance to the states of horror, terror, and trauma.
According to Peter Levine, “Trauma is the rich portal of death.” (Which already sounds like a great 80s horror film title, if you ask me.)
Alongside enjoying said movies, I also have a desire for a deeper inner life—a soulful life. One that is about reflection and meditation, and spiritual enquiry to truly become the mostest that I can be.
(Damn, autocorrect. That wanted to say moistest. I’ll leave both words in the same paragraph for now!)
Yet, soul polishing work is ego death. Death is death, no two ways about it. Do we go willingly, in grace, humbled, and surrendered? Or do we fight so hard to resist that our nails cling like talons to the sheer cliff that we are terrified to free fall from?
Suffering becomes a doorway to awakening.
So, is it necessary to suffer in order to reach enlightenment? Face our shadows. Have painful realisations. Break the illusion that we have created. And land on the age-old battlefield of fighting the good and evil, life and death forces, within us.
Who wins? You decide.
There is a fine line between pleasure and pain and the ecstasy that creates. That of shaking and trembling. Both in horror and in spiritual practices. When we have faced danger. The physical visceral aftermath of shock. And the releasing of cortisol and adrenaline that enables the instinctual animal nature of us to know whether to fight, freeze or flee.
The Quakers knew about shaking medicine, and that old mischief-maker Osho features shaking as part of his active meditations. Hell, we tremble in fear, and I’ve often thought life would be a lot easier and kinder if we didn’t resist so hard our own visible shakiness when scared.
I mean, is this not also the rattling of excitement? The charge of electricity of life force moving through us? I don’t know about you, but there’s something incredibly raw and deliciously vulnerable when we shake and quake and tremble with an orgasm!
What do we do with these heightened sensations? When our senses are juiced up to the max? Can we bear our own charge? Or does overwhelm overwhelm us?
“The crack is where the light gets in,” said that wise Zen poet, mister Leonard Cohen.
It is said that it is not the horror that creates trauma in us. It is not what happened but our ability to respond to it that can cause the crack to split us in ways that create destruction. We are changed. Forever changed.
I am reminded of one of my favourite horror movies, the glorious “Hellraiser,” and the iconic pinhead asking, “What’s your pleasure?”
In “Martyrs”—and I must emphasise I’m speaking of the original French version, possibly the most horrible (therefore fantastic) of all the horror movies I have watched over the years—a young woman is tortured by a sadistic and, let’s be honest here, pretty f*cked-up group of people.
These people were seeking the mystery of martyrdom—of being taken beyond the extreme edge of pain. They desired to know what answers are to be found there, what state of grace and peace may be experienced. Whether God meets them on the other side.
They say that reverence is the antidote to judgement.
As Christina Grof states, “There is the double-edged experience of spiritual emergence, which can veer between madness and bliss, terror and divine presence.”
Jesus died for our suffering. (Well, not mine, to be fair.)
In an interview with the extraordinary director Guillermo del Toro, who made “Pan’s Labyrinth” amongst other gorgeously visual and sumptuous films, he cited growing up surrounded by the unavoidable and perverse iconography of Catholic imagery, especially extreme in Spanish/Latin countries, to have had such an impact of terror and fascination on his young and vivid mind, that it was not possible for these to not feature heavily in his body of work.
What about eroticism?
That tightrope between pleasure and pain? Of course, there abounds an awful lot of torture-porn movies, such as “Hostel,” that were popular for a time. Finding creative ways to hurt another being. I am reminded of a dark clown workshop I attended many years ago and the facilitator, theatre-maker Peta Lily’s, lifelong fascination with that edge of humour and darkness.
It certainly was edgy! We were made to exaggerate torturing another, and there was the uncomfortably obvious placing of many scenes in war-like situations, captured prisoners, and the demand to entertain captors. Sadism again. It reminds me of “Salo,” a product of fascist Italy and the disgusting treatment and degradation of human beings.
I know I’m not alone in this place of both repulsion and fascination, am I?
One of my dear ones, who happens to be a tantric practitioner and sexological bodyworker, once talked to me about our erotic blueprint. This is formed from our early life experiences, is usually unconscious imprinting, and will play out in the ways that we find ourselves charged.
Meaning: what turns us on, as random as it may seem—as strange, maybe even troubling at times—is based on factors from childhood. She expressed that hers was informed by the keystone of guilt.
Mine? Definitely by shame.
When we shed light upon these blueprints, without judgement or the need to vanilla filter our own incredible and creative sexuality, we can bring to consciousness choices in how we allow ourselves our pleasure. We can consent to that pleasure-pain threshold, if that’s our thing, from a place of power. I mean, the BDSM scene is rather popular, and these days, you can probably find a home for your preferred sexual niche if you want to.
Sex and horror. Terror and pleasure. Trauma and awe.
Did you know that awe reduces inflammation in the body? As one of the main factors in depression, this is quite interesting, I feel.
We are mind-blowing human creatures, aren’t we? To be able to touch these extremes of experience and have a taste of something holy, godly, devilish, and more. To reach out our fingertips and crucify ourselves between the poles of life and death.
To know that to fully inhabit every moment, squeeze the zest, and dance upon the pulp, requires us to face that crackle of lightning that made Frankenstein’s monster come to life.
Maybe it sends up straight to the heavenly orgasmic pleasure realms of the gods. Or maybe it breaks us so that we kneel in the horror of hell.
Who can tell? Who can tell?
Roll the die and take your chance.
What’s your pleasure?