Thursday, October 25, 2012

The Freedom of Interdependence

I've been contemplating for weeks what I could write a blog about relevant to my workshop this weekend, Living Oneness in a Divided World. The inspiration for this workshop is the spirituality of Nonviolent Communication, but for me, NVC is so inherently 'spiritual' it's difficult to even explain how so.

What I love about NVC is how the people who are drawn to it seem to either already have or eventually develop an appreciation for our interdependence as humans, and more broadly as living beings. I had heard the word interdependence used in other contexts before I came across NVC, I think, but it isn't necesarily a commonly used word.

Two much more common terms are independence and co-dependence, the false dilemma of our times. I remember being told at fourteen years old, when I was sad about something a friend had said to me, that I was being co-dependent. I didn't even know what that meant, except that it obviously implied something was wrong with me. The meaning I made of this short interaction was that it wasn't OK for me to have any feelings about what someone else did, because then people wouldn't accept or respect me. Instead I should "not take things personally," be emotionally independent, or self-sufficient.

I took this so seriously that even after a major break-up two years later, I could hardly bring myself to confide in a close friend about my heartbreak, because I felt so guilty for having any emotions related to another person's actions at all. I was afraid of being once again labeled as co-dependent.

It has been incredibly liberating to me to learn the consciousness of Nonviolent Communication, which honors our feelings and our heart's desires, without making other people responsible for them. I have learned that acknowledging how others' actions have impacted me is not the same as blaming them or 'taking it personally' (thinking I am the cause of their actions).

This makes a lot of sense to me in terms of interdependence, or the more religious phrases oneness or unity. To try to live as though I am impervious to the world around me, unmoved in the face of any and all stimuli, is to reinforce the illusion of a separate, distinct self--the very definition of ego.

Instead, I like to think that when we have a response to the people in our lives, it is the same as my heart speeding up because my legs are running, or a tree's leaves drying out because there aren't enough water around its roots-- or a mudslide occurring because an area was clearcut.

There is definitely a balancing act in seeing this interconnectedness while also releasing blame of others. I certainly have not mastered it, and believe I will work on it for the rest of my life. However I find it highly preferable to trying to pretend that I can somehow ignore my feelings about what others are doing and all that is going on in my life if I simply chastise myself to stop being co-dependent. In fact, the irony is that the more I attune with the energy of interdependence, the more inner resources I have to be independent at times.

If you would like to explore this growing edge of being a human with me, I invite you to come to my workshop this Sunday, at the Living Light Studio, 2155 Park Ave, Chico, CA, from 2-4:30pm. Whether you attend or not, I invite you to comment below on what this article did for you or how you relate to the concepts of interdependence and oneness.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Harry and Ron Reconcile Early!

This is a double-posting from my new blog at, a forum for Harry Potter nerds enthusiasts like myself. This will make a lot more sense if you have read the HP books, at least through book 4. If you have not, be warned that this contains spoilers!

I have contemplated the meeting point of the Harry Potter series and Nonviolent Communication for many years. I have been reading HP since I was 10 and studying NVC since I was 16. When I re-read the books after learning NVC, I noticed this deep pain in my heart at how difficult a time the characters had connecting through conflict. I so wanted them to hear each other and make up! One of the applications NVC has is mediation, and how I wished I could mediate them through their disputes. This is really my personal motivation for applying NVC in this way, to sort of pretend like I can do that, although it is probably a good way to study NVC as well. (For more info on NVC, look up Bay NVC and The Center for Nonviolent Communication).

So today I will start with one of the biggest and most painful fights in the whole series - when Harry, mysteriously chosen by the Goblet of Fire to be the fourth Hogwarts champion in the Triwizard Tournament, is then seemingly abandoned by Ron, who has apparently lost all trust in Harry's claims to ignorance about the matter.

What does Hermione have to say about this? Here is the exchange the she and Harry have the day after he is chosen.:

Quote, Ch. 18, Goblet of Fire:
"Oh Harry, isn't it obvious?" Hermione said despairingly. "He's jealous!"

"Jealous?" Harry said incredulously. "Jealous of what? He wants to make a prat of himself in front of the whole school, does he?"

"Look, " said Hermione patiently, "it's always you who gets all the attention, you know it is. I know it's not your fault, " she added quickly, seeing Harry open his mouth furiously. "I know you don't ask for it... But--well--you know, Ron's got all those brothers to compete against at home, and you're his best friend, and you're really famous--he's always shunted to one side whenever people see you, and he puts up with it, and he never mentions it, but I suppose this is just one time too many..."

"Great, " said Harry bitterly. "Really great. Tell him from me I'll swap any time he wants. Tell him from me he's welcome to it... People gawping at my forehead everywhere I go... "

"I'm not teiling him anything, " Hermione said shortly. "Tell him yourself. It's the only way to sort this out."

"I'm not running around after him trying to make him grow up!" Harry said, so loudly that severa lowls in a nearby tree took flight in alarm. "Maybe he'll believe I'm not enjoying myself once I've got my neck broken or--"

"That's not funny, " said Hermione quietly. "That's not funny at all. "

So we do have a pretty clear understanding of the situation, via Hermione. Now to put this into NVC terms, I will pretend that one of the two DO actually approach their best friend to attempt to make ends meet, and, let's say with NVC skills. Let's say it's Harry. What might he say? I will do this to immerse you, my blog reader, in NVC language, with only minimal notes on how its all put together.

(That scene where Harry comes into the dorm and Ron is either asleep or pretending to be. Instead of flopping down himself, he wakes Ron up.)
Harry: Ron, I really can't stand us fighting right now, will you talk to me for a moment? Come on, you're not really sleeping are you?
Ron: Why should I talk to you? You went behind my back and entered the Tournament without me!
Harry: (reflection/empathy) So you're suspicious about how my name got in there, and wishing for a friend you can trust?
Ron: (long pause) Well, I did think you would have told me how you did it! I mean, I can't even understand why you wouldn't tell me.
Harry: (reveals himself transparently) It's so hard to hear you say that Ron. I am having such a hard time right now. I really miss our friendship, especially right now with all the negative attention I'm getting. I wish you could trust me that I'm telling the truth.
Ron: (struck by this, but now having other, deeper stuff coming up to the surface) Even if you didn't put your name in, do you really mind all this 'negative' attention? You're probably going to win anyway. Then you'll get all the glory, as usual.
Harry: I think I understand what's going on, Ron. It's hard to be my friend, when I get so much attention all the time, even when we do things together, and you would like to be appreciated and respected for your own accomplishments?
Ron: Yeah, it's not easy being ignored all the time, shoved to the side as just another Weasley, or Harry Potter's sidekick.
Harry: (mourning) I'm really sorry that that's how things are for you Ron. I'm sorry that you thought I'd lied to you, or went behind your back, or tried to exclude you. I'm sad that there isn't more trust between us. You're my best mate and I want you to trust me. I appreciate Hermione, you know, but it's not the same without you.
Ron: (shifting, magically gaining NVC skills) I'm sorry Harry. I believe you. I really didn't think you put your name in, except for a bit at first. It just brought up all this stuff for me about being invisible. It's not your fault though. This must be hard for you too. Especially with me not talking to you.
Harry: (now revealing more, trusting Ron will hear him) Yeah, you know, I'm jealous of you too Ron. I know you don't believe me, but fame isn't all that great. No privacy, no room for failure because people have such high expectations of me.
Ron: (reflecting) It is hard for me to relate to not wanting to be recognized, but I think I can understand. With everyone always watching you, you probably just want a chance to relax.
Harry: Hah! Wouldn't that be nice! You're lucky to have some privacy, not to mention your family.
Ron: (empathizing) That's pretty painful, huh? That you're famous for something that happened because your parents died?
Harry: Believe me it is.
Ron: Thanks for waking me up Harry. I wasn't really sleeping, you know.
Harry: I didn't think so. Thanks for answering. It's nice to have you talking to me again.
Ron: Same here.
(And then, Ron reaches over and gently caresses Harry's face, tucking a lock of hair behind his ear as he leans forward....)

Oops. Just kidding. No, this is not one of *those* stories. But as you can see, a certain kind of intimacy is created by this sort of conversation, although it definitely does not have to be a romantic intimacy. Anyway, did you see how this kind of listening and expression could lead to quicker resolution of conflict, while still maintaining honesty? Or did you find it to be unrealistic? I actually do too, but I have been at the computer for hours and want to go stretch in the sunshine, so I did the quickie version. In real life (no pun intended) both of them might have spent a lot more time listening and reflecting what the other person is saying.

Please share any comments or questions below. And if you have a certain conflict from HP you'd like to see translated into NVC, let me know!

Friday, August 17, 2012

Invisible Violence

When I was a kid, I was around a lot of animals. We had dogs, cats, rabbits, a turtle....And these animals were often my first source of information about all things related to sex. For example, I learned about genetics by watching two sister cats give birth to kittens that looked not like the mothers, but like their aunts.

I learned about penises when I noticed our dog, Swift, had something pink poking out from around his belly as he sat down for a rest after an invigorating walk. I thought this was really cool: some hidden body part! What was going on here? When I asked my mom, she said it was his 'thing', and that it meant he was excited, or horny. I knew what horny meant because of puppies I had encountered who liked to hump people's legs.

At this time, I had not seen many naked boys. Probably only my young cousins, escaping my aunt between diapers or a change of clothes. But I had seen enough to wonder, why do boys 'things' hang out all the time? Why don't they stay hidden inside unless they are excited? It seemed humans were the exception to the rule in nature, for I knew that cats' 'things' only came out occasionally too. Maybe it had something to do with our lack of fur? But no, it seemed the cats and dogs actually had an extra compartment that humans did not.

As I grew up, I forgot about this question for many years. The third person I ever had sex with commented on being 'uncircumcised', and it was then that I realized my previous partner had been as well. The first had not. I still didn't know exactly what that meant, as I was too shy to really examine or question the distinction.

Over the next few years, my awareness about foreskin slowly grew. I learned about female genital mutilation and its opponents, and eventually heard of the western version of this, called 'intactivism' - activism to promote keeping baby boys' genitalia intact. My mom told me that my uncle had been intact, and he had told her that he was grateful because he thought sex was better for it.

I do not know exactly when I first really considered the cutting of a baby's penis skin at birth, although it disturbs me greatly now. But I have always trusted in nature, and if the penis is supposed to grow a certain way, that seemed obviously the best way to leave it. So I decided that being intact was a positive quality in any potential partner.

Meanwhile, though, I was dealing with a unique and isolating problem - pain during intercourse. For year the doctors could not tell me why it was happening, and looking back I am pretty pissed about it. Because finally, when I met my current partner and told him the issue, and we set out to heal me together, I found information on the internet about vaginismus, an extreme form of dyspareunia, which is pain during intercourse. That my gynaecologists did not know and inform me about this confounds me.

Vaginismus is a condition in which the vagina contracts tightly and involuntarily any time that intercourse is attempted, making it virtually impossible to have pleasurable or even neutral feeling sex. It can have physical or psychological causes. I dealt with this for years, through multiple other relationships, and for over the first year of my current one. We tried EFT tapping, we tried Tantric healing rituals, we tried role plays where I stood up to the boys who'd pressured me into sexual activities as a teenager instead of letting them touch me.

What helped the most was just being encouraged to find my voice, to speak up during sex if it was uncomfortable. I had learned to be silent when a previous partner told me, after an exam at the doctor's where they told me nothing was wrong with me, that "It shouldn't hurt if nothing is wrong." I think he actually said that out of general frustration, probably more with the doctors than me, but I internalized it as shame of my condition. I developed a habit of suffering through painful sex. Now my current partner supported me in unwinding this habit, with a lot of patience and willingness to explore other avenues of sexual expression than intercourse.

So what does all this have to do with circumcision? Well as it turns out, my preference for the natural form of male genitalia was not an arbitrary value judgement, but sound science! There are many, many reasons why foreskin makes sex better for men and women (among other valuable purposes it serves) - and just as foreskin can make sex better, the lack of it can make it worse. Dyspareunia occurs in only 3% of women with intact partners, but 12% of women with circumcised partners. This means that if your partner is circumcised, you are FOUR times as likely to experience pain during an act that is supposed to be about pure pleasure. (Frisch M, Lindholm M, Grønbæk M. (2011). "Male circumcision and sexual function in men and women: a survey-based, cross-sectional study in Denmark". Int J Epidemiol.)

I know there were multiple factors that created vagisnismus in me - but I wonder how much the fact that my first ever sexual partner was circumcised contributed. I remember sex being uncomfortable with him, not just the first time but much of the time after that. Other circumcised partners I recall were often too rough or had a lack of communication about sex. My current - intact - partner has supported me in really healing - now I experience sex more as I had always thought it was meant to be, and mourn for the time I spent feeling so left out of one of life's beautiful offerings.

Many women, uneducated about foreskin anatomy and steeped in a culture of body-hate, are uncomfortable with the natural penis. To these women, I say, you do not know what you are missing! This website contains detailed information about the benefits foreskin has for you:
Although it may be presented in clinical terms, in the bedroom it is a whole other story!

To parents to be, I say, please do your research before irrevocably amputating your child's body parts. The benefits of circumcision are extremely overblown compared to the damage it does - it is really a matter of the hospitals making money off of an outdated tradition at this point. Check out

To men who have been circumcised, I say two things: one, if you are young enough, you can sue the doctor who circumcised you! Your parents consent form is probably not enough to protect them. Cases have already been won. A good place to start is Attorneys for the Rights of the Child - Secondly, you can non-surgically restore your foreskin, making sex more pleasurable for you and your partner. See the National Organization of Restoring Men for more information:

To close, let's do a little math. According to an article by Michael Castlemen on Psychology Today, 20% of American women experience painful sex. (NOTE: This section was previously calculated wrong, and it is now fixed. Surprisingly, the numbers are very similar to what I came up with when I did the math incorrectly!) According to the study mentioned above, for every 1 women who experiences painful sex with an intact partner, there are 4 women who experience it with a circumcised partner. That means that roughly 4% of American women who are hurting during sex are with intact men, and 16% are with circumcised. If the second group of women were with intact partners, only a fourth of them (see above) would have pain - 4%. Add that to the original 4, and you get 8%. In other words, if we stop circumcising in America, the rate of painful sex for women would be more than cut in half. 

In terms of real human beings, that's a drop from over 62 million women hurting during intercourse to about 25 million. I sincerely hope we can untangle this thread in the tapestry of violence done to our bodies - not just for 'boys and the men they become', as one flyer says, but for millions of women like me.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

The Circle of Life

A few days ago I returned from a family camp where I was a teacher to the teenagers. We were in the redwoods, with many beautiful ferns, a small creek running through the camp, and lots and lots of banana slugs.

Banana slugs are interesting creatures. Yellow with brown spots (hence their name), if you touch them, you are liable to get covered in a sticky substance that won't come off for hours or days. Although they often inch around the forest at low speed, they can and do cruise along the pine needle-covered dirt much faster than you would expect.

The third or fourth day of the camp, I was watching a banana slug move along the log benches where the teens gathered every day. He or she meandered around my shoe which was obstructing the path, even climbing vertically for a while. I decided to practice 'animal tarot', asking myself, What can I learn from this creature? What message of wisdom does this creature bring?

After watching this slug for about 20 minutes or so, he had completed a large oval path, winding up at the place he had started when I first began watching him. Ah, I thought, I get it! Nature goes in circles. And it's OK to go in circles, totally functional - the banana slugs are thriving after all. We don't always have all the information available to know directly where the sweet spot is (where the yummy mushrooms grow to nibble on). We can't always make a 'beeline'. Not that bees fly in straight lines either. Sometimes we travel circular paths in life, and we still get all our needs met.

This is applicable to me in many ways. I hadn't connected with the community that puts on this camp for two years, and felt very 'out of the loop', he he. The banana slug reassured me that that was alright. Another way in which I am going in circles right now is that I am moving back into a house I moved out of about a year ago. I feel confident that not only is it a good thing I'm moving back in there, it was good that I left. It wasn't a waste of energy. I was doing the loop of life, gaining familiarity with the terrain.

What about you? Where in your life are you going in circles, but it may be actually benefiting you? Perhaps you ought to take a second look if you think you are stuck in some area. There is a difference between being stuck and simply revisiting something. The banana slug knows!

Monday, January 30, 2012

What if Pagans Proselytized?

Walking into downtown Chico today, I noticed a small card sitting on the corner trash can. It was a solicitation from some enthusiastic Christian, inviting people to join him in loving and serving Jesus Christ as the Savior and Son of God.

At one point in my life, I might have tossed it into the trash. However, I want respect for my spirituality, so I choose not to throw away these little ads (which sometimes manifest as flyers or pamphlets instead of note cards). Sometimes I add to them instead, writing notes about where and why I disagree. I got this idea from someone writing about conversation instead of censorship. Anytime you disagree it is an opportunity for conversation.

One of my standby arguments for why proselytizing Christians are exactly what we should stay away from in terms of religion is that they try to convert others. How insecure does someone have to be in their spirituality to have to push it on others to feel good about it? As you can see this attitude comes from a strong value of respect for people's personal freedom. However, I can understand being so excited about some new perspective that you want to share it, believing that this perspective will benefit anyone who embraces it.

This, along with irreverent sarcasm, is why I have often imagined going door to door with some other pagans, handing out pamphlets about the benefits of worshiping the Sun and Mother Earth. I've worried that it would only be taken mockingly though, perceived as an insult by Jehovah's Witnesses or Mormons. I don't want to turn people away from Earthly spirituality, so, following the Golden Rule, I don't proselytize them about it.

Considering the state of the world though, I wonder if it wouldn't be worth a try to set up a little Witches' table on my campus free speech area, with information about the social and psychological benefits of an animistic world-view. What would my quarter-sheets read?

     "You may have been taught that Witchcraft, or any form of Paganism, is idolatry and devil-worship. Or, you may have been taught that it is superstition, old-fashioned cultist beliefs coming from a time pre-dating the modern scientific era. In actuality, Paganism and Witchcraft are life-affirming spiritual paths, sharing many values that religious traditions worldwide profess, and offering many insights into the world that science has not yet and may never give us, due to its limitation of only reporting on that which is quantifiable.

      In a time when our planet's ecological integrity is jeopardized, and our lives are dominated by the unnatural schedules of school semesters and work shifts, Paganism can be a welcome relief from the hustle and bustle of modern life. Most Pagans learn to attune themselves with the cycles of the cosmos, honoring the phases of the Moon and Sun, by setting intentions, working in their gardens, or gathering in parks for rites to connect with the spirits of nature. Many also choose to become active socially for the health of our shared biosphere - something participants of all religions benefit from, since we all depend on this Earth for our existence and survival, however She came to be here.

     Although some Pagan traditions, such as Wicca or Druidism, often have elaborate dedications involved with them - a plus for those who enjoy structure in their spiritual communion - Paganism in general is quite compatible with other world-views and traditions. We acknowledge the basic archetypes of God and Goddess, which can include deities or figures from many cultures. Mother Mary, for example, is often seen as a Goddess figure. If you are interested in finding deeper connection with yourself, the Earth, and a community of grounded individuals, we invite you to explore Paganism further by...."

And it would list some websites or meeting times. So, what do you think, if you passed by a table with this kind of propaganda, would you dismiss it as a joke? Appreciate it as a balance to the conversion attempts of other religious communities? Or something else? Please share your response and any suggestions for my Pagan table below.



Sunday, January 29, 2012

Why Not Review A Book?

I can't think of any good reason. My art history teacher this semester has a blog devoted entirely to book reviews. And the book I just finished gave me enough to write about.

It's called The Brave Cowboy and its by Edward Abbey, most famous for his rebellious novel The Monkey-Wrench Gang (which my mom ceremoniously presented me with at age 13). This book is quite different from that how-to guide on tripping up the system, although it does involve a jail break and subsequent manhunt.

Cowboy starts in the desert, with protagonist Jack Burns cooking a simple dinner over an open fire. The first chapter struck me with its attention to describing the environment, more than action or dialogue. Abbey knows his wildlife, plants and animals and geology alike. It's like reading a field guide converted to free-verse poetry.

Once Burns rides into town (on his easily-spooked horse, a young mare named Whisky), I could tell that tragedy was on its way. His old college pal, Paul Bondi, is in jail for draft evasion. Jack's mission: bust him out. However, this is not the Old West, as one might imagine from the horse. It seems to take place in roughly the '50's, or at least the book is copyrighted in '56.

I don't want to spoil too much, so I won't give any more details here. I will say this though: if you decide to read this book (and if I know you I'll be happy to give it to you with your agreement to pass it on), you may want to seriously consider skipping the last chapter. I know, not many people have the will power to do such a thing, but if you are a sensitive soul (like me), and you don't need any more reminders of how f*ed up the world can be, just stop at the second to last chapter, and be happy. Really. I was seriously disturbed until I just started pretending the last chapter didn't exist. I contemplated taking my feelings to EFT circle. However, if you think civilization is just peachy keen, maybe the last chapter would be a good wake-up call for you. I imagine that was Abbey's intention in writing it.