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Practices for when You’re on Your Knees

Earlier this year, I found myself reflecting, personally and in my coaching practice, on the following question:

What are the practices we can access when we’re on our knees?

By which I mean, what acts of self-care are available to us when the shit is hitting the fan of our life, or we ourselves are hitting rock bottom?

In my client sessions, the question came up in the face of a sense of failure, arising out of not having managed to stick to particular spiritual or well-being daily practices. Whether because of personal pain, or winter weather, it didn’t matter; the sense of failure was the same. But it occurred to me that, like all the best things in life, our practices exist on a spectrum. And yes, one end of that spectrum may be occupied by perfectly executed sun-salutes (not for me, I hasten to add – even and in spite of the fact that Jessamyn Stanley offers online classes, and I think she’s So Awesome) – but the other end is occupied by those small acts of kindness we can access even on our toughest days.

Curious to get some more points of view on the subject – and unwilling to write an entire blogpost about the holistic benefits of drinking tea, which I would have been in danger of doing had I focused solely on my own answers to that question – I reached out to two of my favourite brains to get a second opinion. Luckily for me, said brains belong to two fantastic human beings, who generously agreed to share their thoughts: Mollena Lee Williams-Haas, and Barbara Carrellas. …

Self Love Spells for the Solstice

Dear Beloved*,

What a year we have both had. I hold you in my thoughts with much tenderness as the days grow shorter. During our last phone call, I heard you express a desire to access your inner witch, to find that wise and rooted inner voice and follow where it might lead you. As such, as we journey now into the perilous darkness, I would like to invite us both to find time to tend to our tender selves, and share with you some of my favourite possibilities for witchy self-love. I wrote at length in my last post about the medicine of the natural world – so for the purposes of this post, and with respect for the temperature outside, I will focus on activities that can be done indoors! …

Earth, Sex, Magic – an invitation into the Family of Things

Dear Beloved*,

At the end of September, I’ll be running a day workshop called Earth, Sex, Magic. As you can probably guess, it is an invitation into relationship with what our shared favourite poet Mary Oliver calls “the family of things”. I’ve been wondering how to articulate to my community why it feels vital to spend a day (and indeed a lifetime!) indulging in that relationship – so I thought I would write to you about it, because I know you understand, and see what unfolds.

Discernment and the path to Erotic Empowerment

Last year I promised to write a post about practising discernment. This is a subject that I frequently find myself delving into with clients – particularly when they are embarking on new chapters in their erotic lives. A vital part of personal erotic empowerment is the ability to sense – to discern – which of the Spectrum of Possibilities available in any given erotic scenario feel good to us, and to trust and value ourselves enough to base our choices on that discernment. Our ability to practice discernment is inextricably linked with our ability to be in self-consent – self-consent being a necessary base camp for any journey towards erotic self-actualisation.

So what does the practice of discernment look like? What are the mental, emotional, and physical steps that make up an act of discernment? …

Things I Can’t Explain

I can’t explain to you how sex will be if you do the work.

I can’t explain the way that, when you make breath a practice, a sensation that was once as though at a distance will consume your whole being.
I can’t explain how, by following the breath into the places in yourself that scare you, you will unlock pathways in your body that pleasure will travel along like wildfire. …

Permission to enter the Spectrum of Possibilities

As a psychosexual coach, I treasure those moments when I’m approached by clients who are standing on a threshold, and looking for someone to cheer them on as they step over it. While I’ve accompanied clients over thresholds ranging from career changes to bereavement, inevitably, the thresholds I’m often approached for are those that fall under the broad umbrella of GSRD – Gender, Sexuality, and Relationship Diversity. From first forays into non-monogamy, to that oft arising question, “Can I call myself queer?”, one of the joys of the job is undeniably supporting clients to find the permission to embody new identities and explore new lifestyles – and getting to see sides of them that were previously stifled start to flourish.

However, one of the things that I’ve noticed causes seekers to falter on those thresholds is the impression that many of the communities and narratives surrounding GSR diverse identities exude – that you’re either all in, or you’re out. …

Diversity Practices for Deepening Intimacy

A couple of weeks ago, I did something which, at the time, felt enormously risky. I lead an experiential session on diversity for the Interfaith Foundation that ordained me.

The reason doing so felt as acutely vulnerable as it did goes something like this: Diversity is an arena where, especially as a white person raised in western culture, failure is guaranteed. There are no two ways about it; fuck ups are inevitable from my particular privileged vantage point. Besides which, inclusion looks different to different people, so there’s no “getting it right” for everyone. And yet diversity is also an arena I believe we have to be willing to step up and into, in order to really have a shot at creating welcoming, inclusive, and safer spaces.

As if this wasn’t enough, the subject is one that feels profoundly personal. Certainly, diversity is something I care deeply about as a practitioner; I’ve had the pleasure of collaborating on a diversity guide for professionals in my field over the last few months, and the topic of how to create more inclusive spaces within the limits of my resources is one I wrestle with on a regular basis. But more than that, having grown up outside the UK, and received my fair share of “go back to where you came from” messages; and having more recent experience of being a gender non-conforming person navigating heteronormative culture; diversity matters to me in a way that runs deep.

So there I was, sharing something I cared passionately about, but could not possibly claim to be an expert in, and which has the potential to cut me to the quick, raise old scars, and leave me feeling exposed and vulnerable.

Not entirely unlike opening up to intimacy, in other words. …

Ritualising Intimacy – or, What Does Magic Have to do with Sex Anyway?

Twice this year I have had the exquisite pleasure of training a group of sexuality practitioners in the art of Ritual Fireplay. After the most recent course in Stockholm, a day immersed in ritual, bathed in firelight, and interspersed with sweet sounds of sensation and release, I’ve been thinking a lot about magic.

Specifically, why magic and ritual are woven around and through so much of what I offer in the work that is Making Love with God. …

On Letting Go

Disclaimer dear reader: letting go is neither my favourite thing, nor my forte. But lately I’ve been hearing whispers that letting go might be just the thing for me right now in a few areas of my life. And when I go out walking, I cannot help but catch my breath at just how beautiful the trees make it look.

So it is that, in the last few weeks, I’ve noticed three things about letting go: …

The G-Word Revisited

The evening is well underway when myself and a friend sit ourselves down for a catch up in the Earth quarter. It’s a Koinonia event, based as usual on the four elements. Next door, the Water space is a quiet haven of cuddling couples and massage swaps; upstairs, the sound of the base in Air – the dance floor – mingles with more suggestive sounds from the designated play space that is Fire, and drifts down to us where we sit, next to the bar spread with home-cooked treats. My Terrific Team are on duty, and my work for the moment is done – so I’m at liberty to indulge in a good long chat about semantics.

You see, my friend is confiding in me his reservations about attending one of the Making Love with God weekend intensives. Whilst he’s quick to affirm how much he enjoys Koinonia evenings, and how much he trusts me, he admits he is still put off by the “God word”. Could I do a little re-branding he wonders, acknowledging in the same breath that he’s aware how much of his wariness around that term is his “stuff”. He’s a dear friend, and we’re both always up for grappling with problems of a metaphysical and morphological nature, so an excellent conversation ensues – but it got me thinking it might be time to revisit the G-word issue again, and see if I could put any more minds to rest around why I use it. …

An Ode to Perseverance

Perseverance.

This is the subject of my love letter to you this month dear hearts.

Specifically, perseverance in relationship.

What follows is an ode to those of you pushing through the undergrowth of resentment and the quick sands of fear, in dogged determination to get back to the heartland of connection. A serenade to those sitting up together till 3am, wrestling the built up habits of a lifetime into submission in order to allow trust to blossom. A celebration of those striving to get present enough with the all-too-familiar to make it new*. And an attempt to offer some possibilities to those of you asking yourselves a variation of the following:

How can I nurture our togetherness, and take action on behalf of our love, in order to make this relationship even more sustainable, intimate, and juicy? …

Why Relate: Some Thoughts on the Vital Necessity of Cultivating our Capacity to Connect

Reconnection is one of the strongest driving forces behind the work that is Making Love with God. That innate and undeniable longing to reconnect – to ourselves, to each other, and perhaps to something more than us. The call, in other words, to relationship.

Relationship being a very particular thing to dedicate one’s life to, I do a fair amount of reflecting on the driving force behind what I do. With this year’s Initiation Training beginning in under two weeks, a training with reconnection beating at its very heart, I wanted to share three reasons* why I believe that creatively cultivating our capacity to connect is so very, vitally, relevant – now, and always. …

The Side Effects of Conscious Sex

In last month’s post, I attempted to create a working definition for Conscious Sexuality. This is how far I got:

To engage in Conscious Sex is to engage and commit your whole self to the erotic experience – to endeavour to become as fully present as you can to what is moving in you in each moment, and to what is moving in anyone else engaging in the experience with you. It is to be present enough to what is moving in the erotic body, or the space between erotic bodies, to allow an infinite number of possibilities to unfold there – including what might be described as miracles.

In this month’s post, I’m going to talk about some of the side effects I see unfolding as a result of practicing Conscious Sex. These are drawn from experiences reported by my clients, workshop participants, and colleagues, as well as my own. The side effects I’ll be exploring here are:

Integration – Intimacy – Ecstasy – An Expanded Definition of Sex

A Definition of Conscious Sex

Recently, I found myself sitting in on a conversation about sex and spirituality, noticing I was feeling increasingly uncomfortable. As it was the end of a long day, I didn’t pin down what was making me so restless until much later, when I was back in my own space. It was then I realised what I felt had been missing from the discussion:

The term “sex” was being used as though everyone knew what it meant – and, despite the fact that it was being discussed within a spiritual context, no distinction had been made between the physical act of intercourse, and what I might term Conscious Sexuality. …

Air, Water, Fire, Earth

When we first began, it seemed appropriate that an event based on the four elements should begin with their invocation. Or at least, it did to me, with my pagan witchy roots, and the same could be said of the core members of the team who were helping me make this new vision manifest.
Two years on, the circle has to be two people deep in order to fit into the venue, but still we turn together to the East, West, South, and North, and invite the elements of each quarter into the space. The participants are encouraged to notice each element as it manifests outside of them, and also as it manifests within. Later, they will find their way to the spaces inspired by and infused with each element; they’ll dip strawberries in the chocolate melting in Earth, join a cuddle puddle in Water, boogie down into their bodies on the dance floor in Air, and frolic and make love in Fire.
And this is just one of the rituals I hold of which the four elements form a core ingredient. In the last few years, I’ve found myself blessing and binding couples with them in handfastings; calling upon them to cleanse the recipient of a rite of passage as they stepped through a ritual portal into their new identity; and, as my second and final year of Interfaith Ministry training gets underway, I find them making a seemingly inevitable appearance in my every ceremony assignment.
But what I’m reflecting on today are the ways in which I’ve noticed Air, Water, Fire, Earth entering into my personal practice again; how they support and sustain me, the gifts they offer when I seek to be cleansed, healed, and nourished. And so I wanted to close this loose triptych of posts about finding spiritual and sexual healing in the face of this mad year with something of an ode to those elements, and a reminder to lean back, to breathe, drink, surrender, and ground yourselves in them. …

Making Love with Grief

“If I could only teach one thing for the rest of my life, this would be it.”

These were Barbara Carrellas’s words about her favourite ecstatic breathing technique when I was assisting her in New York earlier this year. Not surprisingly, they got me wondering what the one thing I would choose to teach might be, were I only permitted to make one offering for the rest of my days. What sprang to mind was what I think of as “sitting with the difficult stuff” – which is to say, feeling, integrating, and making friends with those feelings or facets of ourselves that we’d rather cut out with the psychic equivalent of a scalpel than have to face and feel.

Perhaps this seems surprising, coming from someone who teaches intensives on the art of sex magic, supports clients in rekindling their relationship with pleasure, and takes great delight in facilitating large ritual orgies. …

Sex in a Time of Grief

Yesterday, my beloved and I had some long-overdue quality time together. In the late afternoon, as we made headway with two delightfully obscene slices of cake in the Rainbow’s End, I found myself apologising for how low I have been over the last couple of days, and the impact that has had on our togetherness. With infinite gentleness and understanding, my beloved reminded that I have been in the dumps since the Referendum.

It’s true. And without going into why that is, I will confess that recent political events – be they the fallout from Brexit, the shootings in Orlando and those of Alton Sterling and Philado Castille, or the closing of the UK’s Department for Climate Change – have had an impact on my mood. And on our sex life. If anyone is surprised at the concept of a sex therapist facing challenges in the bedroom, let’s just say the phrase “my mess is my message” is funny because it’s true.

We were home and happily snuggled up when the news from Nice came in, swiftly followed by that from Turkey. I went to my altar, lit a candle and prayed, and felt the mixture of shock, sorrow, and powerlessness that is becoming all too familiar of late sink into my belly. When I lay down with my beloved, I suggested we take it in turns to express our thankfulness for the blessings of safety, shelter, and sheer aliveness.

And so today the only thing that feels appropriate to write about is:

How the hell do we have pleasure after grief – whether that grief be personal, political, or both?

Safe Sex, Sacred Sex

A few weeks ago, I stood in a well-fitted dungeon, catching my breath in wonder as the fourth chapter of Koinonia took off before my eyes, like champagne from a well-shaken bottle. The crowd was the largest we’ve had the pleasure of welcoming, and the mischievous force of springtime was evidently strong in this one; the boudoir space rose, crested, and fell in an ocean of soft-lit silken skin.

For my Terrific Team ™, this meant an evening spent running from corner to corner, attempting to distribute gloves, condoms, and hand-sanitizer at the right moments – because the fact is, like so many of the habits that make sex conscious and creative, rigorous safer sex protocol takes practice. …

Being Seen

It was my first day of seminary. The group moved around the room, weaving betwixt and between itself. When two of us made eye contact, we would pause, stand before one another, and one of us would say:
“I am here to be seen.”

“I see you”, came the response.

I was hooked. …

Going Deeper – Reflections on Rekindling Intimacy

I spent the weekend before last at seminary for my Interfaith Ministry training. There was a lot to love about the two days (as well as plenty to feel challenged by!), including one particular structure we did on the subject of intimacy. The facilitator, inspired by Gestalt, was talking about intimacy as a cycle; as any of my clients who have listened to me bang on about how sexual arousal is a cycle (not a straight line!) over the years might anticipate, this made a lot of sense to me. …

Handing it Over – the Art of Surrender

During a recent weekend intensive, I was talking a group of particularly intrepid explorers through the fundamental elements of magical ritual. On the morning in question, I was focusing on the final piece of the puzzle, the aspect of surrender, and emphasising the importance of closing a ritual by handing the desire or intention for which that ritual has been done over to the divine. “It’s not your job anymore; you’ve done your working in the present, your work is done. Now is the time to entrust it to the Universe; the future is her job, not yours.”

On the other side of the room, a face lit up, and said “I’d never considered that before, that it could be someone else’s job, that it’s not all just down to me.” …

Sex, Magic, and the Importance of Being Funny – an interview with Barbara Carrellas

Photo by Barbara Nitke
Photo by Barbara Nitke

[This interview was originally published on December the 1st 2013]

Barbara Carrellas.

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.

Enjoy.

A Dream Coming True

I spent the better part of my childhood clambering over the rocky, gorse-kissed landscape of a tiny Greek island called Kythera. Like so many of those islands, it had succumbed to mass migration early in the 20th century; the population when I was a child stood at around 3000 souls, and only half of that was actually Greek. Studded all over this wind-ravaged outcrop were little white churches, the majority of them an abandoned testament to a once larger and more fervent population. I encountered them on my travels through the landscape; unlike my contemporaries, I was discouraged from the trappings of modern life – which is to say, I wasn’t glued to the television – and so, when I wasn’t glued to a book instead, I set myself to becoming an intrepid explorer and conqueror of my environment. As I grew, and the first seeds of spirituality began to take root, I dreamed of owning, or, better yet, building from scratch, a little white church such as the ones on whose doorsteps I would rest and reflect. I imagined adorning the walls with the angelic beings I had begun to commune with, and creating a haven where people of all faiths would be welcome, and those of no faith might be inspired – or at the very least, comforted. …

Tantra for Geeks

A couple of weeks ago, I found myself enthusing with a regular client over a new analogy we had come up with for self care – one that utilised mathematical parabola to demonstrate the necessity of rest and reflection for expansion and well-being.

This got me thinking again on a topic that has been floating around in the old cerebrum for some time. I recalled what my teacher often says about how our “biases” – our personal and particular bugbears, passions, and rants – influence and shape our work.

For me, some biases have been there since I first started out in my field, and have grown increasingly stronger with time – such as a need to work towards inclusivity for all genders, bodies, and orientations. Some I have discovered and nurtured along the way – like a talent for supporting clients in sitting with what I call the “difficult questions”, and making peace with extremes of emotion.

And some… Some have just sort of appeared out of the corner of my eye, and come along for the ride whether I planned it or not.

One of these, which I have become more aware of in the last year, is the fact that I, apparently, teach tantra for geeks. …

Self Pleasure, Self Heal – Reclaiming the Magic of Masturbation

Conscious self-pleasuring is something I find myself recommending to clients and participants on a regular basis. With this post, I hope to create a resource on the subject, exploring why I believe it’s a vital part of the individual sexual journey, what gifts it holds for intimacy, and how one might go about it. So grab your lube of choice, and lets get started. …

Energy and Eros: A crash course in tantric breathing, cosmic sex, and genital shapeshifting

I was recently scouring the web in search of resources on the subject of energetic genitals for a client, and was rather disappointed to find good ol’ Google drawing a blank. In this post, I intend to take that blank, and run with it as the perfect excuse to lavish some wordy attention on one of my favourite kinks: Energy fucking. …

Unconditional Positive Regard

I have a client I haven’t seen in a while today. The space is prepped, the kettle is on, and I’m chatting to God.

“Anything I need to know? What do they need from me today?”

I ask the question, and then simply listen.

“Be the oasis. Be warm, be loving. Remember – Unconditional Positive Regard. That’s what they most need today.” …

The G-word

God.

I know that, for many of you, that single syllable inevitably evokes an intense and complex emotional response, likely including feelings such as shame, doubt, resistance, and even anger and fear. There you were, happily googling away in search of opportunities for liberated and sensual self-expression and exploration, and then up pops that damn word again, and all those old voices come right back to haunt you. …

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