How would you describe your spiritual path? And can you share with us a little of your history; what brought you to this path? Have you always been passionate about sexuality?
When I was in my 20’s I had a sexual meltdown. I lost friends, disconnected with my family, and let my career go. It was just after I graduated with a master’s in film from California Institute of the Arts. I got hired as a set painter for ABC Studios and I was making more money than I knew what to do with. I was on the fast track for success and I was intoxicated with making a really great living as an artist in Hollywood.
Everything crashed when I found out I was pregnant. I chose not to have the child. I was in shock. It was clear that I had given no thought to this part of my being, and nothing in my education prepared me for the humiliation, suffering and sorrow I felt. I had no idea where to turn.
My roommate told me about this sex workshop called Quodoushka. It scared me to death, but I went anyway. I’d never even talked about sex with anyone, and I certainly had never been to a sex workshop. I liked sex well enough. But frankly, I didn’t think sex was all that important.
And when my sexual desire did come out, it came out like a wild roaring tiger. I had no idea how to express my sexuality with care and wisdom.
I made my most costly mistakes after long bouts of sexual denial. Now I call it sexual ignorance. And sexual ignorance does have consequences. Maybe that’s why I’m so passionate now about having erotic intelligence. I know the cost. What I shared in this story is only part of the price we pay for not using our sexuality wisely.
I’ve always been drawn to the path of wisdom, a path that’s imbued with the light of my own enlightenment. Fortunately, I am blessed to have found good teachers in this lifetime. They chide me and remind me to “start over”, and to be more humble.
I first started working with you in the spring of 2009. I remember one of the first things you instructed me to do was to wake up every morning and sit facing a wall in meditation. Can you explain to my readers why these were your first instructions?
Well Bella, you know a lot. You have a great deal of experience and a great many adventures. You know many teachings and practices. At times, you have to just let it go. You need to drop everything you know, or think you know, in order to let some more wisdom in. Sometimes all the things we know, even our own history, becomes a great barrier. In the shamanic world it’s called erasing personal history, this is not something you do once, or even once in a while. It’s something you must empty out often.
I liken it to sweeping the floor. When I was recently in a Tibetan monastery we got up at 3:30 am. I watched two caretakers get up even before the monks. And do you know what they did? They swept the floor of the courtyard in front of the temple. This touched me very deeply. Here we were getting ready to chant and bow for a few hours, and these people were preparing the temple for us.
They didn’t just do this for my sake, they do this every day, for anyone who comes to the temple. I suppose anyone who works at a factory every day or cleans houses is, in a way, doing the same thing. For me, this is the essence of practice. In some respect, it doesn’t matter which practice you do. What matters is that you practice with sincerity and a pure heart. The content, smiling faces of these early morning workers taught me everything. I carry this image with me when I practice.
So, the practice you mentioned is a very useful Daoist practice. Face an blank wall and empty your thoughts. This helps you to listen to your original nature.
I also taught you to chant the Great Compassion Mantra. This is a powerful practice that clears away karma, develops your compassion, and actually attracts compassion to you.
Finally, I said it doesn’t matter which practice you do. I am learning this: it matters who gave you the practice. Who are you following? I went through many years thinking, “I just want to be myself, and I don’t want to follow anyone.” Well, that’s not entirely correct. The greatest teachers I know follow great teachers, and their teachers followed great teachers. You know when you are in the presence of a master because you will be infused with peace and great joy. I’ve had to learn the hard way, by having a number of false teachers.
In your first book, Sexual Agreements, which is a gem, you state:
The hardest part of making an agreement is to get to the bottom of your true feelings.
Would you say this book helps people clarify their unspoken desires and teaches them how to clearly express their truth? Please elaborate.
The other night I had a session with two people using a talking stick. It helped them slow down and really hear what was being said.
Most people collapse in communication because they can’t speak clearly and they can’t listen to each other. On a good day, the communication is good. But when the pain triggers get flipped, like being lied to, or hearing that the other did exactly what they agreed not to do, or when one feels like they’re being covertly demanded upon to do something, that’s when it all breaks down.
The hurt and the pain cause confusion, and then the worst in us comes out. We start lashing out uncontrollably, and even if we know it sucks, even if we know our words will crush the other, we do it anyway. I’m talking about our worst moments. And typically, we know who gets to see us at our worst, when all our good intentions and all our nice agreements completely disappear. Who gets the brunt of our harshness, anger, and pain the most? Of course it’s the ones we say we love most.
I’m not saying sexual agreements can magically stop this. They don’t. But talking about what your needs are, and asking for what you want is a necessary step. It’s only a first step. In fact I’d say that even bringing up sexual urges and desires, talking about these things openly and honestly, is a huge step.
However, being more honest is not a guarantee that you’re going to get what you want. The more sexual agreements I see, the more I know that all agreements change. They’re really launching pads for what you want to explore.
Let’s say you make an agreement to have sex with somebody new. Then you do this for a while. Now it’s no longer new. Other feelings come up, and new desires emerge, new things happen. Now the considerations and feelings of everyone involved have also shifted. So the original agreement has to be revisited. That’s why I say sexual agreements are living entities.
The only thing you can do is be honest. When feelings change you have to express them. I think we basically resist change. We’d like those happy feelings to stay. What I’ve learned about being in a relationship for 12 years, is that in the long run, honesty heals. That doesn’t mean I have to blurt out my latest thought.
The kind of honesty that comes out in the middle of an argument, the kind that comes blasting out when you’re hurt is covering some kind of pain. So you spit out an insult. That’s not the kind of honesty I’m talking about. Most of the time when we do this, we regret it. We should learn to forgive these blasts of anger.
I am talking about feelings that sit for a long time, and that you know are true, and maybe you don’t want to say anything because you think it will hurt. These feelings, even if they hurt in the short term, need to come out. The best, most long lasting agreements happen when two people practice expressing true feelings often. And when feelings change, new agreements are in order. Being honest is really a life long practice.
To answer your question, “getting to the bottom of your true feelings” is just this. You have to take the time to listen to your self, really listen. Which things are you telling yourself are just repeat complaints and which are true desires? The thing is getting to the bottom line of your true feelings usually gets clear because something happens, and you realize, “well, I certainly don’t want that anymore….what I really need is this…” Getting to your bottom line isn’t a one-time thing where you say, ah, this is it, and now I’m done. It’s a constant discovery.
One of my bottom line agreements, one of the things I realized that I must have in a relationship is freedom. Freedom to explore, freedom of time, freedom to express my attractions, and freedom to act on my attractions spontaneously. These freedoms are very important to me. But I only realized just how important these types of freedoms are after having several relationships where I didn’t feel free to explore in the way I like to, and in the way I need to.
Many years ago, before I understood my need for freedom, I often came against my worst fear, and I’d feel trapped inside a relationship. The way I went about making sure I had enough freedom was to create what I’d now call a half-assed agreement. That is, an agreement I didn’t really have to show up for, and I could leave anytime I felt like being free. But it was really an escape route.
After a while, (a long while) of trying out these agreements and a string of relationships, it all started to feel too shallow, and I needed more. More intimacy, more commitment, more of a place to dream, to create roots, and to really live. So I realized that if I wanted more freedom in my relationships, I had to give more. I had to give so much love, so much security to my partner, such that instead of demanding freedom, I had to be willing to commit myself to stay no matter what. I had to quit running if I wanted freedom.
I’ll just say that after 12 years, it’s working quite well. I feel totally free to explore, and to sit here writing for hours if I want too.. (although my partner is probably mad at me for being late). What I learned is that giving security, staying no matter what, this is what creates trust. Trust creates the space for freedom. And you have to earn that trust by being trustable. I’m quite happy I discovered this before leaving the planet.
Would you say Sexual Agreements helps people clarify their unspoken desires and teaches them how to clearly express their truth? Please elaborate.
I think the book is a good start. There’s a lot of people who don’t know where to start making sexual agreements to create a happy intimate relationship. It takes careful consideration, lots of good listening, and lots of honesty.
It’s really simple. You just have to take the time to think, to ask yourself first what you really want right now. The idea is to do this first before you get into making agreements. And the other thing is to make this fun, make it a ceremony, a celebration about going to a new level in your intimacy. The biggest mistake people make is to try and make agreements when they’re upset. That’s the worst time to talk about these things. Making sexual agreements should be a joyful, giving experience. You should feel like “wow, I didn’t know that’s what you really want…” I give plenty of simple guidelines on how to do this in my book.
I’ve been listening to a lot of people’s experiences as they try to open their relationships, and I am discovering an amazing range of different types of arrangements people are exploring. I want to know how these are working, how did they get there, what are the pitfalls, and what are the pleasures?
Plus, there’s a lot of things about sexual agreements that I know now that I did not know then. So I’m planning to expand the ideas in the second edition.
However, because I’ve had so many comments, especially from men, that my book’s “practical, down to earth, no bullshit approach” is what they find most useful, I’m not going to touch certain things in Sexual Agreements. It’s perfect and it works. There’s just more I have to say on the subject.
Thank you, Amara. Stay tuned for part II coming next week.
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Amara Charles began her apprenticeship with Thunder Strikes within the Sweet Medicine Sundance Path of Turtle Island in 1987 and has taught Quodoushka sexuality workshops since 1990. She is the founder of Nourishing Arts, a training center providing courses and mentorship in shamanic and Daoist sexual arts. The author of Sexual Agreements, Aching to Open, and Erotic Touch for Two, she lives in Phoenix, Arizona.[/symple_column]