[This interview was originally published on December the 1st 2013]
Sex educator, author, theatre artist, and fire-eating extraordinaire.
The irreverent inspiration for much of my own work and writing in sacred sexuality – and the all round gateway drug into a bunch of my favourite things about life.
What better way to begin blogging at greater length about the intersection between sex and spirit than an interview with this incredible pioneer of love, loins and liminality.
Luckily for me, I got in some quality time with her during her recent trip to the UK, and took the opportunity to ask her a bunch of entirely biased questions.
Rowan: I seem to be spending increasing amounts of my time facilitating and talking people into what I term God. As someone who has had the immense pleasure of watching you get a room full of people off on their own breath, I’m wondering – does God, or some approximation thereof, play a role in that for you?
Barbara: The divine presence definitely plays a role – in the most undefined way. What I try to do is awaken people to infinite possibility, or as Louise Hay would say, the totality of possibilities. I think that web of infinite possibility is in fact what many people refer to as God.
R: So I’d say it’s been a rough year for me, but yours could definitely give mine a run for its money. When the shit hits the fan, how does this work we do fit in? When you’re sat in waiting rooms and so forth, how do the intersections between breath, energy, god etc support you?
B: I think that’s when the tools we’ve learned kick in unnoticed. The curtain we’re watching, the cubicle we find ourselves in, can feel very solid and real in its limitations, but the way we move through that is so informed by the practices that have become a bedrock, that we don’t have to do the practices. The practices do us.
I notice that, given that the year I – and you – have been through could have been an absolute unrelenting living hell, instead there were only brief moments that reached the level of hellish despair. That kind of despair used to be common many years ago during similar times.
The fact that I can now go through as much as I think I can go through with relative – and I mean relative – ease, elegance, and efficiency is because of that bedrock of techniques that kick in without me even knowing it.
R: And of course it was unrelentingly hellish years that originally brought you to this work wasn’t it?
B: Exactly. So although I’ve had moments of “Oh my god this is a new flavour of hell”, those moments have been brief – and the logical mind tells me that, difficult as those moments were, they should have been harder.
But I am very tired!
R: Did you see that excellent graduation speech by Tim Minchin that was making the rounds? In it he talks about the relationship between art and science, and in particular says “the arts and sciences need to work together to improve how knowledge is communicated”. If I were to replace the word art with magic, any thoughts on how that relationship is evolving?
B: Magic and science are starting to work together, and I like that. Some of my greatest delight in the past year or two comes from the fact that artists/musicians and scientists are having a much better time together. For them to develop a language that will truly marry the two for the general public will take longer, but they’re making such wonderful attempts!
I had a conversation with a theatre director playing with the notion of how quantum physics explains the energy exchange between performer and audience – squeee! I didn’t think I’d live long enough for science and art to begin to have those conversations on a level that could transform, yet again, the ancient process of theatre.
And what is theatre? Ritual magic!
I don’t think this is the first time science and ritual and magic have come together – they have collided many times over the course of human history. We have just been devoid of that connection recently. So to watch the quantum field meet the infinite possibilities of magic and art is a very exciting time – just as watching the FMRI machine meet the orgasm was. It just fills me with such jump-up-and-down excitement that I can’t read fast enough to get it all in!
I’m also loving that I’m reading more and more people who are explaining science in humorous, delightful, can’t-put-the-book down ways – like Pam Grout in her book E-squared, which gives you experiments to perform that demonstrate the field of infinite possibilities.
It seems to me humour is the grease in the wheels. All the writers I’m enjoying who do this use humour to bridge those gaps. Kate Sukel, who has a great book out at the moment on orgasm in the brain, does so too.
So the intersection of magic, art, and science – is comedy!
R: I often think of your work as being in essence a big ol’ radical permission slip to each and every participant. How do you think permission can contribute to the proverbial better future for humanity?
B: That’s a good one – especially because I think many people, particularly in America, would say “permissiveness is the root of all sin and evil!” Permission has become equated with permissiveness, which has been given a really bad rep by the moral majority in fundamentalist cultures.
Permission is actually different from permissiveness. Permission is really an inner thing. Everybody in the world, our best friend, our parents, our ministers and schools, they can all give us permission to do something, but until we give it to ourselves, nothing happens – nothing changes.
Permission is the part of ourselves allowing us to do our best. Permission is that higher part of ourselves that says yes, you may fuck up, but you’ll never truly fail.
Permission is the safety and freedom to take a risk and fall on our face, and know that we’re going to get back up again, hopefully smiling or laughing – there’s that laughter again.
I think the greatest gift you can give somebody is the permission to do something, in the hopes that you’ll ignite their permission flame. We give people a taste of what self-permission is. Sometimes people need to get that permission from the outside, see that it’s safe, and then they can go off and give themselves that same permission.
So I guess that’s what we do.
R: In the Urban Tantra Professional Training Program, you talk about our biases as practitioners, and the way those biases can enrich our work. One of mine is committed relationship as a conscious spiritual practice. How would you say this work can support long term relationships – and, for that matter, how has it supported your own? You and Kate have been together for how long now?
B: 16 years.
Sometimes I think Kate and I are brilliant at relationships – and sometimes I think we just stumble our way through and time passes! And the tools we pick up from our interests and what we do for a living become how we stumble through. I don’t think we have any great secret other people are lacking.
For me being in conscious relationship is like being a recovering addict – it’s one day at a time! I go back to my answer of how does this work help you get through a tough year; these are tools you forget you’ve put in your magic tool box, but when the faucet breaks, there they are! Of course, you don’t want to be “working” on your relationship all the time – it gets boring!
I was recently asked to read and endorse a new book that I’m really excited about, that addresses passion, love, and sex in long-term relationships better than any other book I’ve come across on the subject. It’s Partners in Passion by Mark Michaels and Patricia Johnson. I love the intelligence they bring to the subject of erotic partnership. I was so excited to read something that challenged me, delighted me, was workable and informative on a subject matter that has been done to death. Go read that!
R: Tell me about something that you love.
B: Well, I love my partner, I love my friends, I love the people I work with, I love you!
But I get a particular kind of can’t-live-without-it love from my animals. Animals are a go-to for just about everything for me. Horses are my go-to in times of deep confusion or exhaustion. When things are really challenging, I get me to a horse!
And the animals I live with – six of them – keep me sane. I know if I’m feeling stressed and put upon by the amount of care they need, it’s time to do a priority check on my life. They are what is important, everything else is an add-on!
R: Anything you’d like to add?
B: I think a good deal of my life is spent learning to ask for help and support, and then allowing myself to receive it when I get it. I’m truly grateful to and overwhelmed by the number of people who have stood up this year and said: “Can I help?”
And I’ve been really proud of myself for saying: “Yes, you can!”
And I am amazed at how small the globe has become for me. The other day I was in Sweden, watching a storm come over, wondering if I could get to London where the storm was headed. I never thought I’d be discussing the European weather like it was New Jersey, Maryland, and New York! I’m enormously grateful for the chance to have such good friends, indeed, family now, in so many places around the world. And I delight in moving them from place to place with me so they all get to know each other.
And thank you for joining me in so many of those places around the world!
You can find out more about Barbara, her life-changing books, and her fabulous workshops at http://barbaracarrellas.com/
 A large part of Barbara’s work is teaching breath and energy orgasms; you can find out more about these here: http://barbaracarrellas.com/video/thinking-off-learning-channel-strange-sex/
 Barbara originally began exploring sacred sexuality in light of seeing hundreds of her friends and colleagues die during the AIDS crisis in the US, and wanting to find a way for them to have sexual experiences that would be simultaneously safe and ecstatic.