Change. I’m used to being surrounded by folks who want it in one form or another – from my coaching clients, to my close people who are creatives, activists, and/or magicians. But in this last year, that clarion call for change seems to have become universal, even as the changes each of us desire can appear vastly diverse. From global movements calling for long overdue shifts in how we treat our planet and each other, to the folks who just really want a hug Right Now, it seems so many of us want to be living through different stories, personally and collectively – and we’re struggling to know how to begin to tell them.
I’ll be honest: in the midst of all these “urgencies” (as Donna Haraway names them) it feels like a strange time to be talking about sex magic. In her introduction to my book, Igniting Intimacy: Sex Magic Rituals for Radical Living and Loving, Barbara Carrellas wrote: “[Sex] Magic is the art of transformation. It’s the ability to imagine an alternative existence and then create and sustain that existence.” But what does that mean at a time like this? How can we draw on sex magical practices in ways that feel like they have meaning in the face of personal and collective exhaustion, frustration, and grief – not to mention the sheer size and volume of change that is calling to be brought forth?
I’m sitting with these questions as I get ready to offer a second Sex Magic for our Times series, a virtual crash course in sex magic, staying with the trouble (another Haraway-ism), and resourcing from the erotic, which I ran for the first time in spring of last year. A sex magic ritual, as I teach it on courses like this one, has seven components; for the purpose of this blog I am going to select three of them, ponder some of the ways that each of them might contribute to our capacity to create personal and planetary change, and hopefully seed some inspiration in doing so.
If you’re reading this, and something in what follows chimes, I want to dissuade you from receiving this blog like a “top tips” piece. Instead, I invite you to experiment with choosing just one of the “components” that follow, and journeying with that for a specific amount of time – a week, a month – inviting it into your awareness, your practice, your living, and seeing what it has to offer you.
Like all the best rituals, let’s start with…
Intention forms both the seed and the compass for ritual. The seed in that it encapsulates the desire for which the ritual is taking place – the desire the ritual is designed to feed, if you will; and the compass in that the nature of the intention inspires the content and the direction the ritual will take. An intention might be a desire, a vision for change, or a quality you want to invite into yourself, your life, or the wider world. What I notice is that, in or out of ritual, intention is the great transformer; it is what transforms a series of seemingly meaningless or even silly actions into a magical act, and it can also transform a challenging subject into a meaningful conversation, or a simple, seemingly mundane activity into a spiritual experience. And it is mysterious; with or without magical back-up, I notice that, once stated, intentions can have a life of their own.
In time like these, when most of us are facing extended uncertainty, or perhaps when more of us are awake to the intrinsic uncertainty of life, it can feel futile to try and set intentions; what good will it do to have desires or visions when you don’t even know when you’ll next get to hug the people you care about. However, an intention is not an expectation to be dashed or disappointed; an expectation is a closed door, where an intention is an open one. Just as it does in magical ritual, a set and/or stated intention can clarify, crystallize, and carry our desire for us – and, just as it does in magical ritual, it can provide us with a compass, especially when we’re faced with the unknown. Even if you feel yourself to be standing at a dark crossroads, where only the first few steps of each available path are visible to you, knowing your intention can help you choose a route – the road that feels most aligned with your intention.
This applies when it comes to personal change-making, but it also applies to movements for wider change. Having a clear intention, a clear vision for the world we wish to bring about, a clear sense of the qualities that world will have and the values that will inspire it – all of this gives us purpose and the energy that arises from purpose; gives us direction in terms of how to move forward in alignments with our vision; and gives us a touchpoint, an anchor to come back to when we feel we are at a cross-roads, or have lost our sense of flow. From small, personal choices, to important relational moments, to bigger creative or change-making opportunities, make time to ask yourself and each other: What’s my/our/the intention for this? – and watch the great transformer work its magic.
This part of a ritual is fairly self-explanatory: It’s the time we spend building the energy to feed our desire with. In sex magic, this is the part where we engage in practices or activities that allow us to tap into the erotic, and build that energy in our embodied selves, for the purpose of fuelling our intention when it’s released. Another way of putting this is that we use pleasure to power the change we wish to see/be, in ourselves, our lives, or the wider world.
I think one of the reasons making change can be such a tough prospect is because we associate it with hard work – and there’s no denying we’re complicit in a culture where creating change, especially if that change goes against the grain of what our culture values or endorses, does look a lot like hard work, or work on top of work as the case may be. When we’re speaking about creating change on a wider, global scale, the language used often reflects this; we talk about fighting the good fight, about the battles that have still to be won, about standing up and being counted, taking action, responding to emergency… This is language that implies hard work, and when so much work is undeniably needed, it can seem frivolous to bring up pleasure. But magic teaches us that pleasure can fuel change. And I’m inspired by adrienne maree brown – who reminds us that, if pleasure is a feature of the world we are trying to build, surely the building of that world must also be pleasurable – to say that pleasure must fuel change for change to be not only sustainable, but also desirable.
So how can you fuel your creativity with pleasure, and how can you invite pleasure into your change-making? Yes, this could be pleasure in the sense of the sensual and sexual – and it doesn’t have to be. It also doesn’t have to look like a complex sex magical ritual – although pleasure can be a wonderful motivator for getting more creative with ritual practices, and building a big beautiful sensual spell for the change you’re calling in can feel empowering, energising, and spark real-world connections you were not expecting (like I said, intention works in mysterious ways). However, you could also, for example, include a few minutes of self-pleasure in your morning practices, and consciously take that energy into your day/your creative pursuits. At the end of the day you might choose to release the day’s efforts and your intentions for them through self-pleasure into orgasm (if orgasms are your thing, of course).
If you’re involved in collective change-making efforts, how can you include pleasure, and the body that experiences and generates pleasure, in your efforts? Can you invite folks to take a breath at the start of a meeting, or when discussions are getting fraught? Can you instigate more check-in rounds so that everyone’s emotional bodies are included in the space alongside their thinking minds or working hands? In non-pandemic times, try instigating a massage circle, where everyone (consensually) gives 1 minute’s attention to the shoulders of the person on their left, and then the shoulders of the person on their right. And in the times we live in… Some folks like a Zoom dance break; personally, I loved what the magic group I’m part of took to doing in the most recent lock-down: each weekend a different person made cookies for the group, and then delivered them to doorsteps.
Think about the kind of pleasure you would like to share, and then get creative with inviting that into the spaces between you and your fellow change-makers.
Finally, we come to…
In the context of ritual, surrender is the moment when we acknowledge our work here is done, we can do no more, our desire is in the hands of something bigger than us now. Doing makes way for being; we open to receive; we bask in the moment.
In Igniting Intimacy I wrote this about surrender: “Surrender is the antidote to the anxious malaise of pleasing, perfecting, and performing. It is the being to our culture’s incessant doing. It sits on the other side of the scales from creativity to create a sustainable and satisfying existence. Practising surrender in our erotic pursuits expands our capacity for receiving, for pleasure, for ecstasy. And it also serves as a signpost toward self-acceptance, open-hearted relating, and a life well-lived.”
I want to pick up on those themes of acceptance and “a life well lived”, and think about surrender in the sense of Radical Acceptance, and Releasing into Aliveness, at a time when so many of us feel stuck in frustration or fear.
Radical Acceptance being the acknowledgement that everything you can do, everything that is yours to do, you have done, and it’s time to exhale, hand it over, and accept what is. I encourage you to allow more moments, more exhalations like this into your day-to-day – ideally more of them than you believe you deserve!
Releasing into Aliveness being the way that surrender offers you a way to change your experience moment to moment – by inviting you out of an uncertain future, and into the living present, where you are still here, still alive, and where, to paraphrase poet Mary Oliver, the world is offering itself to your imagination.
Right now, one of my favourite forms of surrender happens under a tree I’m especially fond of, and looks like this: I open myself to the moment and the place by paying attention, one by one, to the four elements as they are present there. The air on my face and in the birdsong above. The Fire in my heart and in the sun falling through the leaves onto my skin. The Water in the dew, or in the rain, or in the faint smell of the ocean on the breeze, and the blood pumping through my veins after an uphill walk. And the Earth, supportive and steadfast beneath my feet, reminding me of what is real, what matters, and that I’m held, that I’m part of the family of things.
Try it. You can tune into your senses one by one instead of the elements if you prefer. You can do this outside as in the example above, but indoors works just as well. Weave it into a meditation practice, or do it in those moments between tasks, or lean into your senses to bring you back when you find yourself dwelling on unhelpful thoughts – or start/end your Zoom meetings with it, and invite others to do the same!
Thank you for indulging my musings. If you would like to explore more of the ways in which sex magic can resource, inspire, and empower us towards creating change in changing times, there are just a handful of spaces still available on Sex Magic for our Times, the 2021 edition! Find out more here, and fill in an application here.