Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Overcoming Sexual Amnesia

My colleague, and writer's muse, Steven Otero, sent me a very interesting piece reflecting on how children and pubescent teens deal with" youthful sexual feelings and desires" in a sex-negative culture. Sadly, because our culture is neither emotionally safe nor sensually safe, we learn to cut-off, separate from, numb out or never develop our sensual and sexual feelings. We learn to dissociate from our sensual, sexual, emotional and bodily experiences, and seek safe haven in the intellect.

The result is an emotional, sensual and sexual deadness or numbness. In the piece Steven sent me, this "resulting lack of feeling is called sensory-motor amnesia." When it is not safe to have feelings and sensations, we learn to numb our emotional and somatic experience. When kids are taught to feel shame about their bodies, their genitals and their sexuality, it is safer to numb out and disconnect from sensation than to feel shame and fear about these vulnerable and very human parts of ourselves.

When children are sexually abused, to numb out emotionally, sensually and sexually is a common survival mechanism. What is sad is that in most cases of "sexual amnesia," the numbing out or disconnecting process is unconscious and involuntary. If a person has little or no sensation in their genitals or surrounding tissue, they may not even realize something is missing. Their numb or dissociated state is familiar, and gets labelled as "normal."

It is very rare that people find themselves in emotionally, sensually and physically safe environments where they can learn, heal and grow experientially. If a young man or woman has never felt safe, nurturing touch, all the intellectualizing in the world will never communicate what it feels like. If a young man or woman has not been sensually touched with sacredness and respect, this too will be foreign and perhaps, even incomprehensible.

I greatly appreciate the work of the Human Awareness Institute and its workshops on Love, Intimacy and Sexuality, because these workshops provide one of the rare, yet essential environments for safe, respectful and boundaried sensual and sexual education. The workshops provide a permission, modeling and invitation to learn, heal and grow.

If as teens or young adults, we had the opportunity to have an introduction to sensuality and sacred sexuality, in a safe, respectful, boundaried experiential setting, our capacity to relate and express ourselves as whole sensual, sexual human beings would be greatly improved.

Mind-body techniques can be used in pain management. They can also be used for sensory awakening and sensory discovery. I wish these kinds of tools were as available as internet pornography. Perhaps, if both teens and adults of all ages had access to sex-positive tools and experiences, we could provide much healing to our sex-negative, relationally-challenged culture.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Emotional Fitness

Many years ago, I found myself coining the term "emotional embody building." I go to the gym all the time, and watch people trying to attain physical fitness. Yet, there are no gyms for us to work out in to develop our emotional fitness. Sometimes developing one's physique is actually part of an emotional defense structure, to keep others at a distance. We need to strengthen our hearts in other ways to be emotionally healthy, and to create a relationship between our emotional fitness and our physical fitness.

Emotional fitness includes developing a healthy sense of who we are. Narcissism seems epidemic, sadly, starting with school age kids. My son brings home countless tales of his 8th grade classmates who are so self-absorbed, they have no clue about the impact of their behavior on others. Without some healthy feedback, and relational coaching, these kids will grow into relationally insensitive, self-absorbed adults.

We hear so much of "entitled" twentysomethings, who have carried on their middle school narcissism, without the benefit of emotional contact and mentoring to help them grow into adults who are both self-defined and relationally conscious.

Emotional fitness also includes the ability to see many sides of any conflict or dilemma. If we take the time to ask what it is like to be in another's shoes, we may see that different experiences, different cultures, different values and different understandings inform why this other person acts as s/he does. When we too quickly move into a "blameframe," we are likely to find ourselves in an escalating conflict where hurt and anger build, and ultimately, nobody really wins.

To truly resolve and move through a conflict, we need to create the safety, the space and the compassion, to hear what it's like from both sides. This expands our frame of reference, and allows for workable solutions we might never have imagined. Mutually empowering conflict resolution requires the complete information that comes from supporting two people to articulate and define their deeper needs.

Emotional fitness includes an authentic humility. If we are truly introspective in life, open to honest and respectful feedback, and allow ourselves to learn from our relationships, a natural sense of humility will start to evolve over time. No one knows everything. We all have blindspots. Well-intentioned behavior may still need tuning to connect with another human being. We all make mistakes. Perhaps it is a paradox that the more we are open to constructive coaching, the more humble and relationally competent we become at the same time!

Emotional fitness cultivates a value for mutuality, collaboration and partnership. When we can truly team with another person, the possibilities of what we can create together expand exponentially. When mutuality and partnership are lacking, we too easily end up competing, polarized or in win-lose scenarios. Mutual, collaborative relationships are self-sustaining and energizing. Competitive and polarized relationships deplete life energy from one or both parties.

Emotional fitness is built on a foundation of respect. This includes respect for self, other, the larger context we share, the things within our grasp and the things beyond our control. Respect and humility go together. We do not take others for granted. We allow ourselves to be open and vulnerable to the moment. Yet, by being grounded in our sense of selves, this vulnerability creates an emotional vitality, a heart power, that expands to include others.

As we become more emotionally fit, we build the foundation to really LIVE in our bodies, and appreciate our innate capacities including intuition. A relationship between two emotionally fit individuals is likely to have clearer and cleaner communication, and feel more enlivening to our hearts and minds.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

When Life Becomes "Medicalized"

On March 22, I encountered a really interesting interview in the Boston Globe's G Magazine with Brandeis Sociology professor Peter Conrad, entitled, "What is a 'disease?'

G magazine staff member, Karen Weintraub writes:

"Are you over 50? You must need your cholesterol lowered. Is Johnny having trouble at school? Don't ask about the quality of teaching, put him on medication.....Peter Conrad first looked at this 'medicalization' and its implications for health and society in the 1970's and early 1980's, and saw doctors and groups like Alcoholics Anonymous redefining social problems such as alcoholism and normal events such as childbirth into medical problems. When he examined medicalization more recently, he realized that the drivers had shift to drug and insurance companies and to the patients themselves."

I found myself reflecting on the question of whether medicalization was good, bad or indifferent....and why so many basic human experiences--some problematic and some not--were being defined in medicalized terms.

For example, childbirth is a natural part of the cycle of life. I have watched my cats give birth to kittens both when I was a child and two years ago with our male and female Siamese cats. Prayer, our chocolate point Siamese, managed to make her way through a normal pregnancy without any doctor's appointments, medical tests or monitoring, and through the magic of nature, intuitively knew how to give birth to her kittens, care for them at the time of birth, and encourage them to nurse and stay close in their early hours, so they could begin to thrive.

One of her kittens was born with a birth defect, and started to fail to thrive. I called the vet to ask for help, and she informed me that there was no way to help a two day old kitten other than to try to get the kitten to latch on and nurse or place a drop of water on the kitten's mouth to see if it would take the water in. I tried both of these coaching tips, but the kitten failed to thrive and died. Perhaps this was nature's way of ending a life early when there was a deeper condition underlying the failure to thrive.

Had I not had a complication with this one kitten, Prayer and her young ones would not have needed medical consultation until it was time for the kitten's first shots many weeks later. Prayer's pregnancy and birth did not need to be "medicalized." They could be understood in the continuum of life as a natural, healthy and feline (though also human) experience.

The line between medical support and medicalization is an interesting one. Many human women do have more complications during conception (such as infertility issues), pregnancy and birth. And because both a mother's and baby's lives are at risk, medical monitoring is indeed a safety measure for both mother and child. However, many of the natural instincts that Prayer demonstrated are also available to humans, if only they trust their bodies and the wiring that has been part of them for millennia.

But because we have been raised in a culture of medicalization, we tend to place our trust and our power to the medical establishment and NOT to our internal and intuitive wisdom.

Sadly, many natural experiences--parts of the human continuum of life--have been turned into diseases, rather than seen as natural evolutionary processes. In the article, Conrad notes that menopause is one of them.

All women who live into their 50's (and on rare occasions, 60's), will experience menopause. It is part of the fabric of life, just is menarche. For some women, the perimenopausal passage (the 10 year window from the start of pre-menopause to the cessation of menstrual periods, which is technically, what menopause means) is uneventful and nothing really changes significantly emotionally, physically or relationally. For other women, this passage is difficult and medical issues can arise. However, menopause itself is NOT a disease, but a natural biological process.

Today, the pharmaceutical industry drives medicalization because it is profitable to do so. If you create a drug, you need a market. Peter Kramer wrote, Listening to Prozac, exploring whether people who were not depressed but just wanted to be more extroverted or outgoing, might electively choose to take Prozac, because one of the benefits people reported from using the drug was this kind of personality change. In a world that rewards extroversion and go-getting, and pulls away from introversion and those who are judged "too sensitive," if a little pill can give you a personality makeover, it may give a boost to your career!

Conrad notes that Viagra is another example of how the pharmaceutical industry has pushed medicalization to sell drugs. "Viagra was introduced in (1998) as a drug that could help people with prostate problems and diabetes and other physical problems." But in a culture where eternal virility is as desireable as a fountain of youth, other populations became lucrative targets for the drug. So, old people, and athletes became spokespeople, and suddenly Viagra ad became not only grandpa's little helper, but also "everyman's" magic pill, the star of professional football games' tv ads.

Sometimes people want their conditions medicalized, because they face challenges in their lives and need help coping with society's demands. Conrad notes adult ADHD is a consumer-driven medicalization phenomenon.

When people struggle, they turn to the medical industry for help, not one another. There is no social or community catchment net. Everyone is too busy to bother with their neighbor's struggles. And who feels qualify to understand, never mind help, the complex experiences we suffer from in daily life?

Once upon a time some of the traits of ADHD might have been considered "hunter and gatherer" traits. In a primitive society, the very traits that make it impossible to sit at a desk for 8 - 12 hours, allowed people to do what needed to be done to survive. Is this really a disease or a mirror of how hard it is to adapt our neurology and physiology to a world of rapid change, and customs far different from ones our biological ancestors lived with for centuries if not millennia?

In this sense, medicalization compromises or even loses sight of our basic humanity. And Conrad points out, what to me is perhaps the saddest application of medicalization, it's use as a form of social control. He gives the example of the increasingly common use of psychotropic drugs in nursing homes. Many patients receive these medications not because they are actually psychotic, but because the medications make them easier to "handle."

When "medicalizing" creates tools for care and empowerment, it can be a good thing. But sadly, when money, power and politics are driving forces, "medicalization" can become a form of "dehumanization."

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Weight and Eating: When Life Is Hard To Swallow

When looking at weight and eating, there's lots of information available about the importance of healthy food and exercise. What is less commonly voiced is the role emotional stress plays not only in eating behavior, but also, in weight gain.

Dr. Dean Ornish, a visionary physician who has spread the message that "heart disease can be reversed through comprehensive lifestyle change,"1 notes that to lose weight and maintain weight, we need to work more deeply than with just what we eat and how we behave.

In "Why A High Protein Diet May Make You Fatter" by Kathy Freeston (see 1 below), Ornish notes, "The real epidemic in our country is not only obesity, but also depression, isolation and loneliness. As one patient told me, 'When I feel lonely and depressed, I eat a lot of fat. It fills the void. Fat coats my nerves and numbs the pain.'"

In this sense, we can both overeat when life is hard to swallow. And we can choose unhealthy foods to offer emotional comfort and soothing, since it may not be readily available in other, non-food-based ways.

Ornish points out that emotional stress plays a big role in weight gain, even beyond eating or overeating foods that are high in fat, salt and sugar.

1. Ornish notes that "chronic emotional stress stimulates your brain to release hormones that cause you to gain weight, especially around your belly where it's most harmful and least attractive." Long-term stress (which is sadly, defined as stress lasting 15 minutes or more) causes the body to produce cortisol, which contributes to stress-related eating and weight gain.

2. "Chronic stress also causes stimulation of hormones such as cytokines that promote inflammation." He notes that obesity itself causes a low-grade inflammation, "which in turn, tends to promote more obesity in a vicious cycle."

3. Because chronic emotional stress causes you to gain weight, using stress management tools may be necessary to lose weight and keep it off. So often, we ignore our emotional and spiritual needs, including our need for connection with self, a higher power and others. And when we lack connection, we feel a void. Meditation, mind-body tools and reaching out to others can fill the void with emotional, physical and spiritual nutrients not available in food.

It is important we pay attention to our emotional, spiritual and relational diet when looking at health and weight management. As we nourishing ourselves emotionally, spiritually and relationally, our bodies will response by generating oxytocin, the love or bonding hormone, and we will experience a greater sense of peace and well-being at all levels.

There is a lot of truth that when life is hard to swallow, we might really need a hug, a shoulder to cry on or a hand to food--not a bag of chips!

1 = From "Why A High Protein Diet May Make You Fatter" by Kathy Freston, AlterNet, March 18, 2010

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Coherence and Incoherence and the Heart

This past Sunday, as I was leading a workshop on "Keeping A Vital Heart," I was showing the group a picture of the heart rhythms when a person is experiencing Frustration and when a person is experiencing Appreciation.

The difference in the images was very striking: while the amplitude between the high and low points in the "heart waves" was about the same, the patterns of the heart activity were very different. The heart pattern for frustration was very spikey, and irregular. The heart pattern for appreciation was much smoother and more regular.

Is it a surprise that we experience cortical inhibition and chaos when feeling frustrated, and cortical facilitation and coherence when feeling appreciative or appreciated?

The word "coherence" is very important in matters of the heart. Coherence means we experience life as purposeful, manageable and meaningful. The heart thrives on coherence and is stressed when our lives lack coherence.

I began to think about the word "incoherent," which is usually used in relationship to how someone speaks. Someone who is incoherent is hard to understand and may speak in a jarbled, chaotic and confusing style. We feel evoke more comfort in a listener when we speak coherently, and more discomfort when we speak incoherently. Interesting to see the parallel between our thoughts and words and the experience of the heart.

One of the workshop participants made a comment about an article she had read on how multi-tasking makes us stupid. As I reflected on this, it made a lot of sense. Multi-tasking can be chaotic, especially when taken to the extreme. The more chaotic, the more incoherent our thought patterns, actions, and most likely our feelings.

I would love to see the heart rhythm patterns of a person who is frantically multi-tasking as we so often feel pressured to do in our fast-paced world, and a person who is fully present and focusing deeply on one task.

Somehow, I suspect there would be parallels between the frustration and appreciation diagrams. Multi-tasking may make us "stupider" because we become incoherent, lose our grounding and no longer have a sense of what is most important. Multi-tasking surely is stressful, so our bodies generate cortisol, the long-term stress hormone. Focusing deeply on one thing is its own kind of meditation, and may release oxytocin, the love or bonding hormone that counteracts the effects of cortisol.

Perhaps we need to look for ways to be more coherent in all aspects of our life and reduce incoherence as well! This will bring us more focus, inner peace and healthier hearts!

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Information on How to Survive An Earthquake

This is information someone in my community sent to me tonight, and I wanted to pass it on, in case it could help you or anyone you know.

I did not write any of this material. I am just passing it on.


My name is Doug Copp. I am the Rescue Chief and Disaster Manager of the
American Rescue Team International (ARTI), the world's most experienced
rescue team. The information in this article will save lives in an

I have crawled inside 875 collapsed buildings, worked with rescue teams
from 60 countries, founded rescue teams in several countries, and I am a
member of many rescue teams from many countries.

I was the United Nations expert in Disaster Mitigation for two years. I
have worked at every major disaster in the world since 1985, except for
simultaneous disasters.

The first building I ever crawled inside of was a school in Mexico City
during the 1985 earthquake. Every child was under its desk. Every child was
crushed to the thickness of their bones. They could have survived by lying
down next to their desks in the aisles. It was obscene, unnecessary and I
wondered why the children were not in the aisles. I didn't at the time know
that the children were told to hide under something. I am amazed that even
today schools are still using the "Duck and Cover" instructions- telling
the children to squat under their desks with their heads bowed and covered
with their hands. This was the technique used in the Mexico City school.

Simply stated, when buildings collapse, the weight of the ceilings falling
upon the objects or furniture inside crushes these objects, leaving a space
or void next to them. This space is what I call the 'triangle of life'. The
larger the object, the stronger, the less it will compact. The less the
object compacts, the larger the void, the greater the probability that the
person who is using this void for safety will not be injured. The next time
you watch collapsed buildings, on television, count the 'triangles' you see
formed. They are everywhere. It is the most common shape, you will see, in
a collapsed building.


1) Almost everyone who simply 'ducks and covers' when buildings collapse
ARE CRUSHED TO DEATH. People who get under objects, like desks or cars, are

2) Cats, dogs and babies often naturally curl up in the fetal position. You
should too in an earthquake. It is a natural safety/survival instinct. That
position helps you survive in a smaller void. Get next to an object, next
to a sofa, next to a large bulky object that will compress slightly but
leave a void next to it.

3) Wooden buildings are the safest type of construction to be in during an
earthquake. Wood is flexible and moves with the force of the earthquake. If
the wooden building does collapse, large survival voids are created. Also,
the wooden building has less concentrated, crushing weight. Brick buildings
will break into individual bricks. Bricks will cause many injuries but less
squashed bodies than concrete slabs. Concrete slab buildings are the most
dangerous during an earthquake.

4) If you are in bed during the night and an earthquake occurs, simply roll
off the bed. A safe void will exist around the bed. Hotels can achieve a
much greater survival rate in earthquakes, simply by posting a sign on the
back of the door of every room telling occupants to lie down on the floor,
next to the bottom of the bed during an earthquake.

5) If an earthquake happens and you cannot easily escape by getting out
the door or window, then lie down and curl up in the fetal position next to
a sofa, or large chair.

6) Almost everyone who gets under a doorway when buildings collapse is
killed. How? If you stand under a doorway and the doorjamb falls forward or
backward you will be crushed by the ceiling above. If the door jam falls
sideways you will be cut in half by the doorway. In either case, you will
be killed!

7) Never go to the stairs. The stairs have a different 'moment of frequency
(they swing separately from the main part of the building). The stairs and
remainder of the building continuously bump into each other until
structural failure of the stairs takes place. The people who get on stairs
before they fail are chopped up by the stair treads ? horribly mutilated.
Even if the building doesn't collapse, stay away from the stairs. The
stairs are a likely part of the building to be damaged. Even if the stairs
are not collapsed by the earthquake, they may collapse later when
overloaded by fleeing people. They should always be checked for safety,
even when the rest of the building is not damaged.

8) Get Near the Outer Walls Of Buildings Or Outside Of Them If Possible -
It is much better to be near the outside of the building rather than the
interior. The farther inside you are from the outside perimeter of the
building the greater the probability that your escape route will be

9) People inside of their vehicles are crushed when the road above falls in
an earthquake and crushes their vehicles; which is exactly what happened
with the slabs between the decks of the Nimitz Freeway. The victims of the
San Francisco earthquake all stayed inside of their vehicles. They were all
killed. They could have easily survived by getting out and lying in the
fetal position next to their vehicles. Everyone killed would have survived
if they had been able to get out of their cars and sit or lie next to them.
All the crushed cars had voids 3 feet high next to them, except for the
cars that had columns fall directly across them.

10) I discovered, while crawling inside of collapsed newspaper offices and
other offices with a lot of paper, that paper does not compact. Large voids
are found surrounding stacks of paper.

In 1996 we made a film, which proved my survival methodology to be correct.
The Turkish Federal Government, City of Istanbul , University of Istanbul
Case Productions and ARTI cooperated to film this practical, scientific
test. We collapsed a school and a home with 20 mannequins inside. Ten
mannequins did 'duck and cover,' and ten mannequins I used in my 'triangle
of life' survival method. After the simulated earthquake collapse we
crawled through the rubble and entered the building to film and document
the results.

The film, in which I practiced my survival techniques under directly
observable, scientific conditions, relevant to building collapse, showed
there would have been zero percent survival for those doing duck and cover.

There would likely have been 100 percent survivability for people using my
method of the 'triangle of life.' This film has been seen by millions of
viewers on television in Turkey and the rest of Europe, and it was seen in
the USA , Canada and Latin America on the TV program Real TV.

Spread the word and save someone's life... The entire world is experiencing
natural calamities so be prepared!

Thursday, March 11, 2010


It just seems counterintuitive that by bullying people and focusing on one's own self-interest at the expense of others, one can achieve long-term success, and even be part of a sustainable society.
Today, sadly, there are too many examples of abuses of power, and societal structures where the bully emerges victorious and dominant. To make matters worse, many "common people," feel powerless to change or improve their circumstances, because those "in power" have made it virtually impossible to organize and do so.

So, it was very inspiring to read an article on Alternet today, written by University of California, Berkeley writer Yasmin Anwar, entitled, "Do Kinder People Have An Evolutionary Advantage." According to research conducted at the University of California, Berkeley, there is "a growing body of evidence to show we are evolving to become more compassionate and collaborative in our quest to survive and thrive."

This just plain makes sense. The people I define as most successful, and in decades prior to our current ones, were even successful in business, were those who displayed nurturing, compassionate and altruistic traits as well as good skills, pragmatism and a timely vision.

I worked at Digital Equipment Corporation from 1978 - 1985, a company whose motto was "do the right thing." That was what attracted me to work for Digital, and until market forces and too many MBA's diluted the entrepreneurial culture of founder Ken Olsen, this was truly practiced, not just preached at all levels: with customers, employees, stockholders, the community and other stakeholders.

My last organizational development project at Digital involved bringing 5 business units housed in the same complex in Merrimack, NH back to life. And by building a collaborative team, we succeeded in doing so in 9 months time. When I left, I gave my team members t-shirts that said "empowered and loving it." Not quite the way most people feel today when they come home from their corporate jobs.

The 1980's just seemed to be a more functional time in our society than the first decade of this century. And perhaps it was because people were more in touch with the empathy in our genes than they are now. Dacher Keltner at UC Berkeley and colleague Sarina Rodrigues of Oregon State University have found that "people with a particular variation of the oxytocin gene receptor are more adept at reading the emotional state of others, and get less stressed out under tense circumstances."

Oxytocin, which is the love or bonding hormone, is secreted by lactating mothers to help bond with their babies, but also can be generated by snuggling, hugging, heartfelt communication, doing yoga or petting your dog. It makes me wonder if we focus more on emotional literacy and try to raise our own EQ's if we will raise the level of "social oxytocin, so to speak, and change the qualities of interactions in our world.

People who take care of others and focus on the greater good, do receive sincere appreciation from those they help. Today's world of self-interest might call the sincere public servant a "chump," but to me, that reflects a cultural heart wound and a generally low EQ.

Perhaps, if parents start modeling altruism, care and service to their children, we can build the foundation for a higher capacity for empathy in the next generation. Without this capacity, those invested in the "dog eat dog" model might destroy our ability to survive.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

More Than "Wiggle, Wiggle, Pop": The Inner and Outer Limits of Sexuality

One of my mentors, Stan Dale, the founder of the Human Awareness Institute (HAI), had a wonderful way of saying that "sex is more than 'wiggle, wiggle, pop.'" He'd focus on how the skin is the largest organ in the body, and sensuality is a whole body experience.

For whatever reason, our culture tends to place sex in a box--a heterosexual, penis-vagina penetrative, "success equals orgasm" box. Yet, sexuality is so much more than that. I always noticed the the letters "s," "e" and "x" in combination seemed like an abbreviation for something more, like "soul energy eXchange" or "spiritual energy eXchange." In sexuality there is the possibility for connection and expression at many levels: emotional, physical, spiritual, soulful and energetic, to name a few.

Our culture often forgets (or never thinks) to link the sexual with the spiritual, and "hard core pornography" with all its raw and graphic detail, makes no reference to the sacred, the intimate or the spiritual. It focuses on arousal, titillation, and "getting people off."

Mind you, the energy release of orgasm is pleasureable, wonderful and even transformational. When shared with a loving partner, it can be deeply bonding. In one's own personal sexual practice it can be a kind of sacred meditation. However, when orgasm, rather than being part of a whole landscape of sexual expression is the "sole goal," we can easily forget all the other dimensions of the sexual, sensual, spiritual landscape.

Touch, both emotionally-rooted and sensual, can be extremely relaxing and nourishing to the body and soul. It can be boxed as "foreplay" or celebrated as a "main course." Hugging, kissing, massaging, spooning, cuddling, placing a still, healing hand on a place of tension or pain, can all enrich the experience of connecting and expressing love and care.

Today, I was reading several blog posts and the Planned Parenthood definition of "outercourse," a term which has been coined in contrast to "intercourse," referring to "non-penetrative sexual contact." The Planned Parenthood website notes that "outercourse means different things to different people." To some, it means sex-play without vaginal intercourse. To others, it means sex-play without ANY penetration: oral, anal or vaginal.

There is a focus, with this term, on birth control, or as one blogger wrote, "abstinence without the sex-negative message." And it is harder to get pregnant without penis-vagina penetration (although if sperm cells are around, one must be careful where they travel). Some STD's are less likely to be transmitted if sexuality is limited to "outercourse."

While these concepts are all useful and interesting. And it's good to see a more sex-positive twist on a very old conversation, "intercourse" and "outercourse" still seem to focus on the box of "wiggle, wiggle, pop."

What if we could expand our language with words like "innerverse" and "outerverse," where when you go deep emotionally, physically, spiritually and sexually, you explore the "innerverse," which can be connected with loving, nurturing, sensual touch involving any or all of the body's "outerverse?" Space-like terms almost conjure the mystical and the spiritual.

Somehow, I think we can continue to be creative in evolving a language that is more encompassing all the things that sex is and can be. And in doing so, perhaps we will grow and evolve in our ability to connect and express deeply.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

When Anger Becomes A Weapon

This past Sunday, my son Alex and I were getting out of our car in the driveway. It was mid-day, and the beautiful sunny day was suddenly interrupted by the skidding of tires and the eruption of a man with a loud voice at the intersection near our house.

The man was screaming at the driver in front of him, as they were stopped at a red light. Periodically, people display road rage in the most inappropriate places (is there ever an appropriate place for road rage?), and this was one of those moments. The poor man in the white car in front of this screaming man was trapped between a road rager and a red light. He had nowhere to go until the light changed.

The angry man got out of his car, slammed his door shut and taunted the man in front of him, "I dare you. Put it up. Put it up." The entrapped driver did his best to ignore the raging, fist wielding man behind him, and thanks to good luck, the light changed and he drove away.

Unsatisfied by his first encounter, our road raging protaganist pulled his car over, blocking the car in back of him, and went at him. I could not hear his initial screamings, but could feel the venom and contempt in whatever he uttered. The man in back of him, driving a green truck, yelled back, telling him to "shut up."

This only further inflamed the road rager, and he got out of his car, once again, and said, "I dare you. If you were a REAL man, you'd fight me." He said many other things, which I refrain from printing in this blog, including racist and sexist comments, a fine selection of swears and put downs, and about everything he could drag in to taunt the man behind him to engage in a fist fight. He then got back in his car.

The man in the green truck refused to take the bait, commenting that he would be put back in jail if he gave this man what he was asking for. The road rager chose to take this as fuel to his fire and then started verbally assaulting the man behind him about why he might have been in jail before and how worthless he must be to have ever been in jail. He got out of the car a second time, this time approaching the driver's window with his fists, and I am very impressed at the self-control the green truck's driver exercised in the face of this very direct threat.

Finally, the light turned green again, and the man in the green truck was spared further psychological abuse. The road rager decided he'd had his fill of raging at other drivers, got in his car, turned around awkwardly, and started driving down the street our driveway is on. I walked closer to the edge of the driveway to get a look at this man who felt such a need to verbally assault and taunt other drivers--just because they were there. I was a bit afraid myself, that if he saw I was watching, he might come after me with a vengeance. I tried to be inconspicous, hiding in the shrubs a bit, and he drove by.

All I could say was, "wow!"

Anger is a primal human emotion, and being able to feel and express appropriate anger is very important for defining our boundaries, defending our position when under attack, and having a sense of entitlement to take up space, have a voice or be treated with respect. Rage is different than anger, and most often appears when someone's boundaries have been violated and there is the need to "redraw the line" back, further away from the intruded upon or wounded party.

The image of having a neighbor throw their trash across the fence into your yard, and your politely, yet firmly, taking the trash and returning it to the source, is a healthy expression of anger. Anger need not be violent. Anger need not be cruel. Anger need not involve verbally hurtful statements. Anger can be clean, grounded and contained and deliver its message elegantly and even respectfully.

When anger becomes a weapon, as it was for the road rager at the intersection near my house, the person doing the raging is often taking a deep hurt from past experience and projecting it forth into the present. Sitting on a raging volcano, the slightest provocation unleashes the emotional lava which simmers just under the surface much if not all of the time. The rager does not think about the implications of his/her behavior on his/her target. The rager does not think about the consequences of his/her action. The rager just spews his emotional lava with great intensity, as though purging himself of a hot potato, without making the connection between the source of this anger and the incident in the here and now.

While the road raging man could greatly benefit from therapy, introspection and some anger management tools, I am afraid he is unlikely to encounter them unless he ends up in jail after "going off" on another innocent person at the wrong time. Would the road rager have behaved the same way in front of a police officer? Or is he smart enough to know that then he would likely be held accountable for his conduct and stopped?

Uncontained anger, sadly, is a weapon that is passed on from "victim" to "victim" in an unconscious chain of actions. Pain brings more pain. Victim becomes victimizer. Until one's wounds are held, honored and explored safely in a healing setting, it is very hard to put the "weapon" down.

I hope the road rager one day finds a healing place. But until then, I wouldn't want to be in front of him or in back of him at a traffic light!

Sunday, March 7, 2010

The Power of the Heart and Neural Buddhism

Today, I chaperoned my 14 year old son, Alex's, Coming of Age class on a field trip to the Shambhala Meditation Center in Brookline, MA. In the Coming of Age program, the kids spend a year doing community service, learning about different faiths and belief systems, take a class about relationships, love, intimacy and sexuality, work with a same gender mentor, and write a statement of their own beliefs and values (a credo) for the graduation ceremony at the end of the year. Today's field trip was a journey into Buddhist practice.

In an interesting confluence of events (or what we can call synchronicity), my friend Steven Otero asked me if I had heard of "neurobuddhism." My response was initially, "no," but within a matter of moments, I had googled the term and quickly started getting up to speed about this interesting thread that might be injecting some spirituality into the hard core materialism of brain science.

I was fortunate enough to come across a wonderful essay by NY Times Op-Ed columnist, David Brooks, dated May 13 2008 and entitled, "The Neural Buddhists." One section of the article grabbed my attention. Having been a vocal advocate and educator for the literal power of the heart, since the heart generates the strongest electromagnetic field in the body, and heart waves can entrain brain waves, some of the sentiments of neurobuddhism, as Brooks explained it, seem to speak of properties I associate with "the power of the heart."

Brooks writes, "First, the self is not a fixed entity but a dynamic process of relationships."
In a workshop, a support group or even a business meeting, our heart fields reflect a dance of "the dynamic process of relationships," even without our conscious knowledge that this is actually taking place. In spite of the many way we feel isolated in today's compartmentalized world, when we are to face with others, our hearts are wired to participate in a dynamic relational dance. Even if intellectually, we may feel alone, when gathered in a real-time group, our hearts know we are interconnected and not alone.

"Second," continues Brooks, "underneath the patina of different religions, people around the world have common moral intuitions." Qualities of heart transcend culture, geography and religion. What the heart knows to be true is very basic and human. Loving one another, respecting the natural world and caring for our children are core to our cardiac fiber and our emotional DNA. While religions can get us into political battles, heart-deep values can bridge most any divide.

"Third, people are equipped to experience the sacred, to have moments of elevated experience when the transcend boundaries and overflow with love," adds Brooks. This is the very experience I create in heart-based workshops, be they "healing the traumatized heart," "healing and nurturing the heart," "keeping the vital heart" or even "integrating sexuality and spirituality.
When our heartfields interact, we create a profound, deep and powerful container, where healing is exponential to what we could do just 1-on-1.

When we learn to slow down and focus through the heart (which is its own form of meditation, and perhaps a variation of the Buddhist practice we were guided through today), we are present to ourselves and others, and the moment's experiences and sensations flow through us with ease.
We lose the limitations of our often-busy and ever-thinking mind. We feel the energy of those gathered around us. There is a spiritual richness in the air that we can both breathe in and often touch.

If we proceed to Brooks' fourth point, "God can best be conceived as the nature one experiences at those moments, the unknowable total of all there is," we could say that journeying deep into the heart allows us a sacred, God-full experience, and a sense of interconnection with all that is.
The nature of the heart is pure, spiritual and sacred. The energy of love is universal energy generated and received by the heart.

Often, people have asked me if my work as a heart-centered body psychotherapist wears me out. I have always answered, "No!" Working from a heart space is actually nourishing, enlivening and inspiring. Call it a kind of living meditation-- a relational meditation in the moment and over time. Even when someone's heart space is blocked or inaccessible due to trauma and the anger or wall that often protect the traumatized heart, the act of creating the emotional safety to let the person open and heal, is itself a sacred act.

I would be willing to bet that is a research scientist studied the brain wave patterns that took place between therapist and client doing heart work, they would find some very interesting data that helped bridge the gap between science and spirituality.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Food and Sex Addiction: When "Abstinence" Isn't Really A Healthy Option

The term "addiction," according to an article a colleague sent me from Alternet, "was originally and properly defined as a physiological dependence on a substance to which the body had grown accustomed, such as alcohol, nicotine, heroin and various other drugs. The cure was to end the dependency and abstain from further use of the substance in order to avoid a recurrence of the physiological dependency."

In the case of substances that we can easily live without, and truly do not "need," abstinence makes a whole lot of sense. Over time, however, the scope of the term "addiction," expanded to include more than drugs and alcohol, to include other substances and processes (including food, sex, money, computer games and internet use), some of which ARE essential for our existence and well-being.

Food, for example, is on the basic level of Maslow's hierarchy of needs, along with shelter and clothing. We need to eat to live. And if we don't eat a reasonably healthy, balanced diet, we become ill, and can even die.

Sex, is a basic human need, and a source of connection and expression, as well as reproduction. Without sex, we would become extinct. Without the connection of sexual intimacy, love relationships would lose a major contributor to bonding, mutuality and long-term staying power.

Yet, when our relationships with food or sex become imbalanced, when food or sex become compensations for trauma, emotional wounding or unmet needs at other levels, we can develop behaviors which today are called "eating addictions" or "sex addiction."

Clearly, an unhealthy relationship with food or sex can jeopardize our health and at worst, our lives. However, the "simple" abstinence approach to "beating"the addictive behavior is not really an option. Somehow, we need to connect with, face and heal our wounded places while still relating to the nourishing and healthy parts of food or sex.

In some cases, we've either lost touch with or never developed a healthy relationship with food or sex. For example, do you really know the signs when you are hungry? Do you pay attention to what you eat, when and why? Do you understand sex to be a sacred connection with a loved one? Do you practice safe and conscious, consensual sex? For some people, when they feel a bad feeling, they eat for comfort or to stuff the uncomfortable feeling down. If a person turns to sex because they are angry, bored, feel trapped or have no other outlet for emotional discomfort, they are "using" sex to fill a void rather than connecting with the healthy and more complete experience of sexuality.

In today's world, junk food, fast food and lots of food are easy to come by. Likewise, junk sex, fast sex and lots of sexual imagery are easy to come by. Often, it is just a few key strokes away.
Helping heal from an unhealthy relationship with food or sex does require stopping the unhealthy behavior. But it also requires noticing the uncomfortable feelings the behavior is "self-medicating," and learning to uncover what we really need and how to get it.

There are some parallels, in this sense, with healing from a drug or alcohol addiction. Until we stop engaging with the substance, we don't have the space--either biochemical or emotional--to discover the pain, trauma or difficulty feelings we are "running away from." However, in the case of food or sex, we need to somehow re-establish and new and healthy relationship with these life fundamentals, rather than living a life without food or sex.

In all cases of trying to heal from or overcome an addiction problem, we cannot do it all alone. There is an emotional component. There is a spiritual component. There is a behavioral component. It takes at least one other human being to tell your full truth to--a safe, compassionate human being who will listen deeply and who really understands. And it really does take a village, whether that village is a 12-step program, a support group or some combination of resources that hold you accountable, let you know you are not alone, and give you emotional, practical and spiritual support in a constant, regular way.

It is too bad that we so easily reduce human struggles into one or two-dimensions, when in actuality, they exist in more dimensions. And I find it most sad that so many human beings end up so isolated with their pain, that they turn to a substance or process, rather than another human being for consolation.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Money Management That Supports a Relationship

When two people decide to become "one," be it living together as "domestic partners" or "marriage partners," a huge issue that needs to be addressed is "how are we going to manage money?"

While the 1950's image of the perfect couple suggests pooling all resources into one common account, in today's world, that image may not be the best infrastructure to support an evolving relationship, unless the two partners have clearly thought through what it means and if it will actually work.

Here are some key questions two people need to address as they build their money management infrastructure together:

1. Does each person have debt and/or assets they bring with them into the partnership?

If the answer is yes, how will pre-existing debt or assets be managed? Very often it is best to begin the relationship's financial tabs at the time of "joining," be it moving in together or getting married. Letting each person be responsible for pre-existing debt, so that their partner does not carry the weight of something they were not part of, creates a better context for goodwill, than letting old debt be heavy baggage for ones partner.

If one person brings in more assets than another, it may feel unfair for these to instantly become "collective property." This is especially true when people join together later in life, having had many years to build a personal foundation. Making a list of each person's resources at the point of joining will allow resources acquired or developed during the tenure of the relationship to be clear.

2. What belongs in a joint account and what might belong in individual accounts?

What if one partner loves to go on shopping sprees and the other considers this frivolous? Or, one partner might love to ski, while the other would rather go to musical events. A healthy relationship allows each partner to continue to pursue personal passions that they have enjoyed prior to the relationship, even if the other partner may not share these passions. The funds to pay for an individual's passions may best come from the money they have earned on their own, not from a collective pooled account.

On the other hand, paying for rent or a mortgage, food and other basic living expenses or even a jointly planned vacation may be a joint endeavor. These kinds of expenses could easily be drawn from a joint account. If there is a difference in income, both partners should closely explore what should be shared 50-50, and what might be shared in a way that takes into consideration the different resources each partner brings.

3. Are spending and saving habits similar or different?

If people have very different styles of spending and saving money, the differences can become points of conflict in a partnership. It is very important for two people to be able to articulate their own styles, and reach a mutual agreement on how saving and spending joint funds will be handled. If this is not defined explicitly, places of difference can become hotbeds for animosity, both in the short-term and long-term.

4. What does each partner need to feel safe, financially?

Feeling safe financially is important for a smooth financial relationship. Do one or both people want to be sure they have a nest egg set aside in case of emergency? If yes, can each person agree how much that is? If not, can the person who needs the nest egg set it aside with the blessing of the person who feels differently?

Do people want some assets in their own name, just to be sure they have something of their own? Or if assets are in both names, would it feel safer to have an agreement outlining how they would be divided in the event that were necessary?

While some of these questions may be hard, better to sort them out upfront than to have to address them in a crisis.

5. Does the couple have any funds that both people contribute to on a regular basis?

Does the couple want to set up a vacation fund? A down-payment on a house fund? A mutual retirement fund? A "children's expenses" (current or future) fund? If the answer is yes to any of these funds or other joint funds, how much money will each person contribute to the fund each month or quarter or year? And will the money come from individual or joint accounts?

Setting up "investment" funds with regular contributions helps work towards long-term goals. And a couple will need to discuss and define their long-term goals in order to know what funds they might want to establish and grow.

6. Does the couple need a "what if it doesn't work" money plan, so that both people feel safe and protected in the relationship?

Much as none of us want what are intended as long-term relationships to end, many relationships do in today's world. Is having a "what if it doesn't work" money plan a way to help increase the likelihood that things will work? Sometimes, that is so. If both people can articulate what they need to feel safe and protected in the event the relationship can't continue, they may feel more able to fully try to make things work.

Too, if the couple does decide to separate down the road, better to have thought about the financial issues before the difficult separate time.

Overall, the more we clarify for ourselves what we need to feel financially safe and the better able we are to communicate with a partner about our needs, the more likely money management will support rather than hinder a healthy relationship.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Orthorexia: When Healthy Eating Goes Over the Edge

The adage, "everything is moderation" maintains its wisdom these days, even when looking at supposedly "healthy" behavior. While healthy eating is important, if not essential, for cardiac health, vitality and overall well-being, when one becomes obsessively focused on only eating a narrow band of initially "healthy foods," one suffers from a new member of the eating disorder family, "orthorexia."

"Orthorexia," a term coined in 1997 by Colorado physician Steven Bratman, has its origins in two Greek words, orthos, meaning "correct or right" and orexis, meaning "appetite." An orthorexia sufferer may initially have "health-minded" goals in their eating plans, but take these goals to an extreme, to the point their diets are so restricted or severe, malnutrition can result.

I remember, in college, one of my classmates was obsessed with eating carrots and carrot juice. While a healthy food, when eating in mass quantity, carrots turn your skin orange, and can make you sick. My classmate became more and more orange, and started to feel ill. It was an earth-shattering breakthrough for her to discover that you CAN get too much of a "good thing."

Raw food eating can become a breeding ground for orthorexia as well. When taken to the extreme, it can become a kind of anorexia, where the individual becomes emaciated and denies themselves the nutrition they body truly needs in pursuit of a rigid principle.

Likewise, avoiding food preservatives and additives is important in healthy eating, however when one's definition of products that are "pure and healthy" (in contrast to industrial products and processed foods, which can be considered artificial and unhealthy) becomes too extreme, one's health can start to decline.

While the anorexic wants to be thin, and compulsively works to lose weight beyond what is tolerable for one's well-being, the orthorexic wants to feel pure and natural to the point one loses sight with what is actually healthy.

Sadly, eating issues in one generation may translate into eating issues for another generation. A woman I know whose thoughts and habits are at least borderline orthorexic, is the mother of a young teenage daughter who has become anorexic. In some ways, the teenage daughter is in a power struggle for perfection with her mother. Since her mother is so focused on being healthy and pure, the daughter needed to find a trump card. Anorexia became her point of power.

Finding a way to a healthy middle ground is an emotional, spiritual and educational journey in a culture that too easily swings between extremes.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Toxic Bust: Health Risks of Living In Today's Environment

In November 2008, I was fortunate enough to attend Teresa Heinz Kerry's annual conference on Women, Health and the Environment. This amazing gathering of scientists, journalists, public health officials, therapists, community activists and more was an information haven for how we have been toxifying our planet with the laboratory concoctions that are now standards fare in our food, laundry detergent, body care products, diapers, packaging materials and medications.

According to a synopsis of the film, "Toxic Bust: Chemicals and Breast Cancer," a documentary by Megan Siler, 85,000 chemicals are in use today, of which, 90% have never been tested for their effects on human health. Up to 200 chemicals can be found in the breast milk of nursing mothers.
And a similar number of chemicals can be found in the umbilical cord of a newborn baby.

Many of the chemicals that have been proven to be harmful to human health have been banned in Europe, but are still included in the magical formulas of products manufactured in the US.
As the chemicals we ingest and dispose of find their way into the water system, the earth, and therefore, all of our bodies, we are all basting in an unconscious chemical cocktail, the results of which are creating increasing health problems over time.

The "Toxic Bust" synopsis notes, "Despite advances in breast cancer detection and treatment, breast cancer rates continue to rise. The rate has nearly tripled since 1940. Now, 1 in 7 American women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in their lifetime. Over 50% of these breast cancer cases cannot be explained by personal risk factors or hereditary causes, and are 'unknown.'"

The extremely toxic chemicals used in high tech industry, such as the chip manufacturing process conducted in Silicon Valley, are associated with an alarmingly high rate of breast cancer and other cancers. It seems like a cruel paradox, that computer manufacturing is called a "clean industry."

Some question whether the radiation a woman receives in her annual mammogram is more likely to help contribute to cancer than detect it. The underwire bras that predominate the women's lingerie marketplace are not good for breast health. Neither are all the chemicals added to women's personal care products--be they skin care, soap or perfume.

There is so much important information to share with people about environmental toxins in our homes, in our workplace and in our community. Yet, this information is largely NOT communicated, because it would be bad for business. More accurately, it would be bad or a large majority of businesses that underpin the American economy.

Sadly, there was no Conference for Women, Health and the Environment in the fall of 2009. Perhaps ironically, or even through the cruelty of fate, Teresa Heinz Kerry had been diagnosed and was being treated for breast cancer in both breasts!

I am in dialogue with the publisher of Spirit of Change magazine about doing an in-depth feature on breast health and breast care from many different angles!