Words by Erin Rivera Merriman, photographed by Jamie Street
“There is almost a sensual longing for communion with others who have a large vision. The immense fulfillment of the friendship between those engaged in furthering the evolution of consciousness has a quality impossible to describe.”
Although I completely agree with the above statement with my whole body, mind, and heart, I can’t help but also see it as part of our culture’s larger tendency to make needless distinctions between our emotions, creativity, and sexuality that leave us compartmentalized and confused. For many decades, the idea of acknowledging that in friendship, there is sexuality, was something for the radical thinkers and revolutionary philosophers to attempt to articulate. For everyone else, our collective creativity seemed focused on creating ways to deny this fact. Even the distinction between sensual energy as something separate from sexual energy seems designed to help us to accept the obvious bodily pleasure of a bowel movement, of a baby at the breast, of a painter lost in a landscape of color, stroking the canvas with exquisite awareness of pressure and texture, without having to fully acknowledge the pulse of life, the throb of desire, the raw elemental, sexual energy flowing through every living thing in every moment.
We have even managed to use the idea of Kundalini energy as just another context for our sexual energy as something other than sexual. I hear many practitioners describing it as more of a mechanical process that can be unleashed through a series of prescribed actions that make up the practice of Kundalini Yoga. It is no wonder that for many of us, the topic of our own personal sexuality becomes difficult to locate, let alone explore.
Shamanism, Tantra and Buddhism each have their own ways of piercing through this culturally created veil of illusion surrounding how interwoven sexual energy is into every aspect of life. A Dine medicine woman once defined Shamanism to the group as seeing the world we live in as an inherently sexual universe. Tantra has been defined as a means of realizing the philosophy that by the union of opposites we reach the source of all opposites. How literally you choose to take the idea of “union of opposites” determines whether we are talking about White Tantra, or Red Tantra. Some sects of Buddhism describe enlightenment as “an intimacy with all things”. I have explored in the realms of all of these traditions for my entire adult life, and it took me awhile to realize that they were not making metaphors. They were being quite literal about how to make contact with the non dual nature of reality- the most effective means of coming to know our own divinity. In the words of contemporary Tantra teacher Lawrence Lanoff, “All roads lead to sex.”
As a child, I first heard the term “Lesbian” while walking hand in hand with my mother in the mall after church. From her vicious reaction and the snickering of the teenaged boys who had flung the word at us, I deduced that it was most certainly a terrible insult. I then spent a year secretly, shamefully believing that I was a lesbian because another 5th grader had touched my breasts at a slumber party. Fed a steady diet of Cosmopolitan and Glamour magazine from the time I was 12 years old, I never really had a chance to feel into my own sexuality before being taught that there were in fact only a few ways to express that energy, and they seemed to focus on learning tricks that would satisfy “my man”. I had no overwhelming desire to kiss a girl, and boys scared me in such a way that there were associated bodily sensations. What is the difference between butterflies in your stomach and the third chakra contracting in fear of ego annihilation, anyway? So I concluded that I was heterosexual, and never really thought about it again, despite many years of unfulfilling emotional relationships with men, with equally unsatisfying sexual components. It seems it is easier in our society to accept that life is somehow inherently unfulfilling and that we are incapable of sexual pleasure than to entertain the idea that your true desires may lay waaaaaayyy outside of the range you were taught to think of as normal. Then going about actually exploring how to get those desires met in healthy, conscious, life affirming ways, well, that means embarking on a “radical lifestyle” journey, and despite popular belief, I never actually desired to be radical. I just wanted to be authentic, to feel fulfilled and expressed, and actually would get pretty sad every time I was just being, just doing what felt good to me, and someone told me how “radical” and “out there” I was.
The above paragraph may make it sound as if I have finally discovered that I am in fact lesbian, but that’s not quite it either. I have had a wonderful relationship with my primary partner (who’s a man) for 9 years, but have always experienced incredibly deep emotional and spiritual bonds with women. As I relaxed my being and opened my heart, practiced mindfulness in the present moment and the vulnerability of asking for what I want and need, I found myself quite unexpectedly falling in love with an old friend, seeing her with new eyes and feeling that our bond had slipped through some doorway into a new dimension, where we were still buddies but always now with the invitation to relax the walls and escape into the “something more.” Big deal, blood-flow-to-the genitals-style sexual arousal is not really there, but rather the crackle of magic and deeply present feeling you get after a massage, or an energy healing session. It feels like an important realization, so empowering to know that we can do that for each other as women- invoke and hold space for the full expression of each others Shakti, imbibe of each others sweetness and softness as a form of nourishment, as a form of self care. What I am saying is that being sexual with women doesn’t have any inherent meaning other than what you and the other person decide to assign to it. The first time I allowed myself to be seduced by a woman, I lost 7 pounds overnight. From this I conclude that my sexual identity weighed exactly 7 pounds. That it revealed itself to be irrelevant in the life I have created and I mercifully unburdened myself of it, and have not looked back. If you like to think of yourself as heterosexual, I like to point out that comparing sex with men to sex with women is like comparing carob to chocolate. If you are going to compare, you may find carob lacking, or even gross, but if you can approach it on its own merits, it is a delicious superfood with its own distinct flavor and benefits.
So really though, what does it all mean? I’m not sure, but the world feels bigger and gentler and I like it. Messier? Sure. When you dispense with the template model of doing relationship, you need to replace it with a new set of communication tools that may take a minute to get the hang of. But they are out there and they work! (Direct Communication, Nonviolent Communication, and The Safer Sex Elevator Speech are just a few that have been invaluable on my journey) Is my life more complicated? Sometimes. I prefer the word complex. As the creators of the architectural marvel that is Arco Santi point out, nature does not simplify to solve problems, it complexifies and miniaturizes. That’s me. Tiny and complex, looking to help create new solutions to contemporary challenges such as loneliness, isolation, and lives lacking in the all important physical touch. All is full of love, but we have created a million and one ways to deny ourselves access to this abundant natural resource. If you are wanting to explore your second chakra energy but not sure where to begin, you can keep it simple and just be really mindful in the present moment about what feels good, and then allow yourself to have it (in a way that honors honesty and consent, of course!) Maybe you will let yourself be deliriously, orgasmically present with the apple you are eating. Maybe you will rub said apple all over your face. Why not? Maybe you are afraid you will look like an idiot? (Either for sitting there rubbing apple on your face, or asking for something out of the ordinary in bed) I was. But seeming cool to people who care about being cool is definitely the most reliable recipe for feeling terrible that I have yet to encounter in this world. Lets all just agree to be deliriously happy, liberated, orgasmic idiots together, ok? It will be fun! We can support each other on the journey, help one another open our inner prismatic multiverses and access all the facets of our own unique expression, sexual and otherwise. This opening of the prism can occur through questioning our sexuality or any any other aspect of reality as we know it. We find ourselves experiencing the universe as a vast, spacious domain filled with possibility, where we are so engaged in the entertaining of wonderful opportunities to explore ourselves in relation to reality, that there is simply no time leftover for being sad about people who think we are weird or figuring out what labels to stick on our container, and furthermore no container to stick them on.
Connect with author and photographer through Instagram- @activeculturefamily @jamiestreetphoto