A Pornvasive Identity Crisis

Electronic technology will only bring us more information, more choices, more contacts, and more complexity. It will push us beyond all the old frontiers of identity—home, neighborhood, country, values, and the natural rhythms of nature. Our old touchstones for forming an identity will fail and we will have a pervasive identity crisis. -Yogi Bhajan, April 1995

The fundamental questions we must answer are: how is our identity being maimed by these so-called advancements and how do we reclaim our power so that we are not at the effects of our screens? Here’s one very personal (and to be honest, uncomfortable) admission…

12068474_10100780672233842_5515505154571984726_oI didn’t’ realize how much I had sunk into the sea of technology until I was nearly drowned by my own abuse of its excess. I was born in 1982, which makes me just barely a millennial. I was the last generation to be born before the internet and the first to feel its effects on my sexual development. I got dial-up when I was 16, which meant that like most horny teenagers I was consuming digital porn before I was dating. Unique to my age cohort is that for many of us, off-line and on-line sexualities were interchangeable. Looking at web-porn or sex-chatting with strangers was often a small piece of a larger sexual development that included plenty of real-time interactions with people you met “in real life” like good old-fashioned dinner and a movie or awkward blow jobs in the back seat of the car you borrowed from your parents. That wasn’t my experience, though; my sexuality was developed entirely online. How I have related to nearly every intimate or sexual experience was cradled wholly by web-browsers and imitated fully from porn-stars.

I was an awkward, shy, and overweight teenager with excruciating acne and crippling self-doubt. I came out as gay in 1998 while living in Gastonia, North Carolina. It had not gotten better yet. I was more afraid of rejection for being ugly than I was being homosexual, though. Coming out was rough, but coming into my own skin would prove to be even more vexing. There’s a stigma that only a certain kind of people look at porn—bad people! I see it as more morally neutral. It’s one of many distractions that can stunt our growth if we let it. Unknowingly, that’s what I did. Today I’m 36 years old and have yet to have a true relationship with another man who is attracted to me. I’ve had a string of odd non-sexual relationships with men, gay and straight, but any romantic or sexual feelings I harbored were not mutual. I’ve had plenty of sex, but never with anyone I was intimately connected to—at least at the time we were physical. There’s never been reciprocity in any of these encounters, a dynamic similar to the one-sided gratification of porn.

Pornography had its purpose, though. The first time I ever saw myself represented in another person was when I watched a gay porno online. It was the year before Ellen DeGeneres came out. Bob Dole was running for President and lots of people were doing the Macarena, but there weren’t many openly gay roles models. Ricky Martin was “Living La Vida Loca” in the closet. I was 14 and spending part of the summer at a friend’s house. One day, we found a hetero porn video in his older brother’s room. I was totally disinterested, except for the rare moments when the camera would pan onto the guy. That’s when I knew this lingering attracting I’d always had to boys was more than a phase. My friend had the internet on his computer downstairs; that night I typed “gay sex” into a search engine. Within minutes (well more like 20 minutes…this was the dial-up era after all!) I was seeing a tall, dark, svelte hunk of a man artfully penetrate the backside of a slender blonde lad. That was my introduction to what it meant to be gay: witnessing two anonymous and nameless men fucking for 5 minutes. I knew nothing about them; they knew nothing about me. Yet, with a powerful intensity, I ejaculated into a tissue with my eyes transfixed on their figures. I’d been masturbating for years, but somehow this was different. There was a rush of something that happened simultaneously, something more than just a sexual release; I felt this magnanimous energy flowing out of my body. It was magic and bliss all at once, laced with a lingering desire for something more, an aching to stay in this state of satisfaction for as long as possible, a yearning to transcend to a level of pure ecstasy. All of that from a shoddy video on a random Geocities website. This is how my sexual identity was born.

Eventually I got my own computer, Bob Dole lost in landslide, Ellen became the world’s most famous lesbian, and high-speed internet made jacking off to porn a whole lot easier.  For the next 22 years, I spent on average at least 20 minutes a day looking at porn, sometimes much longer, often going hours on an endless chase for satisfaction. I kept thinking that eventually I would meet someone who I’d enjoy being around, someone I could exchange this sexual ecstasy and energy of desire with in the flesh. That never happened. There were plenty of guys and plenty of sex. Some of it I enjoyed, some I encounters I just suffered through. Nothing I experienced in the flesh compared to how I could satisfy myself online, though. Somehow my sexuality, this intrinsic part of what it means to be human, was trapped inside a screen, never to blossom outside the contours of a seedy virtual reality. It never made any sense. It drove me mad. I hated my body for not resembling those models I’d see in the videos. I dismissed as boring or substandard any man I’d sleep with who couldn’t hold my fascination. I developed fixations on men who would never be attracted to me; I resented them for this strange and unrequited relationship I developed in my mind.

What I didn’t know is that my individual machinations were part of a larger a crisis unfolding. The old hallmarks of how we previously related sexually were rapidly deteriorating. Sex was no longer something two people did with each other. It became a product one consumed.  Sex was also no longer confined to intercourse, with sexual release found through images and videos that we could pull out of our pocket on our phones any time of the day. Sexual partners were not people we met—sex chatting with a stranger’s screen name on Skype or in a chat room often replacing the need for person-to-person interaction.  How we negotiated sex in the past clearly had not served us, yet how we were navigating this pervasive identity crisis was not exactly a bridge to enlightenment.

Something interesting happens when you start to awaken to higher consciousness: you can’t get away with continuing to perpetuate patterns that no longer serve you. You can continue the action, but you’ll start to feel a very different effect. Overtime, the consequences amplify. It’s not that the action has some new adverse outcome; you were just anesthetized to how low you were taking yourself.  When you’re on the path of growth, though, it’s part of the contract not to be stuck. For me, I had to physically feel the effects before I considered the uncomfortable shift of expanding my sexuality beyond the purview of a screen.

Not long after I started practicing kundalini yoga, I started to notice some distinct physical changes when I would look at porn. I would get this aching sensation behind my eyes that would develop into a throbbing pain in my forehead. When I ejaculated, I felt this instant depletion of energy. I was left with a raw and empty exhaustion that slowed me down for the rest of the day. Overtime that slowdown turned into completely being worn out. There were times I would get flu-like sick for days (and eventually weeks) for no apparent reason. I knew this was my body urging me to shift. At a certain point I just couldn’t ignore the reality I was experiencing: I could feel porn’s arresting effect each time I gazed at a screen. Yet, I found myself unable to escape its grasp. It was as though some force was drawing me in and taking with it my free will. Somehow these machines had become a high-tech jailer.

Kicking a porn addiction was about more than changing a habit.  Pornography was the foundation of my sexuality. I fundamentally didn’t have the framework to experience organic satisfaction. Yogi Bhajan talked about technology brining on a pervasive identify crisis; well, I was having a pornvasive crisis! How exactly do you rewire one of your most personal underpinnings? How do you grow into something authentic after a lifetime of understanding sex to be a manufactured commodity? How do you get to the other side of a crisis when electronic technology itself has become the touchstone by which you experience sex?

You recode your brain, and in doing so you set yourself free! There’s a meditation for overcoming addiction that will literally change whatever programming you have around compulsive habits. My teacher Harijiwan gave this meditation on my first day of teacher’s training. He said that if we did this for 40 days, whatever patterns or addictions we have that are holding us back will fade. If we did this every morning for just 5 minutes we could conquer our darkest haunting forces.

It took a while, but I finally committed to doing it. He was right—the patterns were changing, though not in the instant and easy way I had hoped. Meditation isn’t magic; it’s work. Mediations aren’t pills; they’re pathways. I continued to look at porn after I started the meditation, but there were noticeable physical changes. Within a week of practicing it, I couldn’t get hard looking at porn. I’d see the images and feel the desire but what was happening in my brain wasn’t connecting with my body anymore. I could only ejaculate when my eyes were off it, which made the whole practice rather futile. As I notched on more days with the practice, I started to experience sharp pain in my groin any time I ejaculated after consuming porn (that did not happen with an organic fantasy). As I approached the 120th day, which in daily kundalini practice is the point at which a new habit of consciousness is confirmed, the potency pornography once had was largely extinguished. I assumed it would take years of therapy and addiction counseling to kick this habit, but it turns out all I needed to do was stick my thumbs in my forehead and gnaw my molars silently chanting Sa Ta Na Ma for 5 minutes a day! We don’t get to the light through an endless analysis of darkness. It’s fitting that a simple meditation would be the key to liberation.

The habit has been kicked, but I can’t say I have exactly solved this particular identify crisis. I still have no idea what real intimacy is nor do I even really know how to go on a simple date. I suppose that’s the next step: determining how to grow in a new direction that involves actual connection!  It’s time for some new touchstones.

Whatever happens to me is ultimately unimportant. What is important, though, is that everyone figures out how to overcome any limiting pattern or behavior that’s holding them back. We all have the power to heal ourselves. Just with this simple meditation you can overcome so much! I share this post because I know I’m not the only man to experience this particular addiction. I hope that in offering these words, I can offer a tool to help at least one person find some light!

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Aquarian Woke

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There’s a lot of serious shi(f)t happening. It’s not all yoga at the beach.

 

We expend a lot of energy not growing. We create ridiculous obstacles so that we can’t focus. We eat the best food, imbibe the finest wine, and seek out the trendiest eateries in a quest to feel alive. We binge on digital content as an excuse to find creative inspiration, sacrificing “doing” for “watching just one more”; we never quite get around to voicing our own thoughts. We form friendships so that we can involve ourselves in the stories of others while never living out our own narrative. We swipe to find random people to chat with about sex so that we have some outlet for that persisting libido, the release that comes from the fantasy of an online hookup overruling any intention of a real-time connection. We read self-help books, attend meditation classes, and spend enormous sums of money on consciousness-raising workshops that are supposed to elevate us to our highest potential and yet somehow, we remain permanently grounded in our mediocrity. We go to elaborate lengths to evade our destiny.

If the purpose of any given lifetime is to progress, a tempting cocktail of ego insanity and cultural capitulation, mixed with a splash of technology over-load and garnished with our own self-doubt will do its best to make alcoholics out of all of us. The soul cannot develop when the mind is drunk on its own absurdity. Yet most of us spend lifetimes in a drunken stupor, even if we never ingest an ounce of liquor. At no point in the history of human development has it been more critical to advance, and yet at no point have so many roadblocks been erected. The most dangerous obstructions are those we believe augment our existing, yet in reality are holding us back.

These are gilded times, more urgent than the shifts in American life at the dawning of the 20th Century, but somehow far less assuming. Everyone knows something is not right; yet, it’s less clear as to what exactly is wrong. So, we numb ourselves with whatever distraction that fancies us, hoping everything will just be OK again. If there is an ethos to the opening quarter of the 21st Century it’s that distractions create reality.

We are not alive in the Golden Age. Tej, my kundalini yoga teacher, says shit is about the hit the fan. Big time. She tells us this at least once a week. It’s a byproduct of the shift out of the Piscean Age and into the Age of Aquarius. Things will get better in 2025, and the Golden Age will dawn in 2034. Chaos will rule until then. Everything around us will change, she says. I really hope that doesn’t mean there will be a second term of Donald Trump as President. We have 16 more years. We have to survive.

Tej says that we can’t get distracted. We have to grow if we want to get to the Golden Age of Aquarius. The way we grow is through our practice of yoga and meditation. Every morning at 9:00 a.m. we gather at her class inside a Kung-Fu studio that faces the Hollywood Hills. It’s the one thing that keeps us from going insane. There’s at least 50 of us every day, often as many as 100. There are tens of thousands of people in the city who practice Kundalini yoga. It’s different from other types of yoga. Movement and exercise aren’t the focus; it’s the calming of the mind that matters foremost. We do yogic postures, but it’s the meditations that are the crux of the practice. We use songs called mantras to open channels for receiving relief and healing. Energy moves up the base of our spine and to the crown of our head along 7 chakras to activate and open up certain parts of our body. Through Kundalini yoga, we can overcome stress, anxiety, depression, and addiction. We can heal ourselves physically as well as emotionally. We can attract prosperity (yes, money!) and open up our hearts to receive love (yes, a lover!). Most importantly, we can grow in the way our soul needs to and advance on the spiritual path with the assistance of this technology.

Our Nine Treasures community is one of many Kundalini hubs in Los Angeles. It’s an eclectic mix of industry power-professionals, self-employed new age hipsters, retired baby-boomer seekers, B-list celebrities, and wannabe Hollywood success seekers. Sometimes people come who are nearly homeless; sometimes Courtney Love shows up. The room is large with big blue mats laid out over the floor. The smell of sweat mixes with embers of sage. An altar of large crystals and giant amethysts blend with cartoons of a karate-kicking Goku. Gurmukhi Mantras of “Wahe Guru” and “Ek Ong Kar Sat Nam” find harmony with the chaotic chorus of rush-hour traffic that can be heard from outside. We dress in white, the color of all colors so that the energy of the teachings can be fully experienced. We unfold our yoga mats and crawl onto sheepskin fabrics. We sit in odd postures, twist ourselves into crazy-looking movements, and chant strange words. We calm our thoughts and empty our minds. When it’s over, we lay out still and flat as a corpse for “shavasana.” A gong is played, the sounds washing over us. You can feel anxieties dissolve and the stress we create wash away. I want to live in that sound current. For 90 minutes during class nothing makes sense and everything is clear all at once. Then we roll up our mats and are released back into the real world: the one where beautiful distractions mask ratcheting tensions.

Anxious uncertainty and an awkward ambling into the known: this is what it means to be alive as one age ends and another begins. But to be aware when most have been scared into tuning out, ostritching their heads in a quicksand of infinite content via Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, etc.? That’s what it means to be truly woke, Aquarian woke!

How do we find our way in these daunting and uncertain times? There are no big or easy answers. Instead there are thousands of small actions we must take every day. The sum of those actions is how to survive an Aquarian Shift.

Total Eclipse of the Smart

Version 2We live in the age of information, with finger-ready access to data and facts on any subject. Most of us carry a portal to the world in our pockets, our cell phones the entry point to knowledge once housed in grand facilities and available only to those privileged with admittance.  Smart phones have somewhat democratized information access, yet they’ve also dumbed us down.  Overloaded with text messages, e-mails, breaking news updates, Insta-pics, and Facebook feeds, we simultaneously see everything while knowing nothing. It’s an accomplishment just to clear out our in-boxes and read through our feeds, and those digital demands can siphon energy away from more natural pursuits. In the information age, we’ve traded action for access, reflexively severing the most dynamic parts of ourselves onto an onyx screen.

Yet even in the most diluted of circumstances, each of us knows who we really are. There’s a deep knowing and understand that cuts through the distractions of any age to connect us to our higher, most authentic self. The time is upon us to remember who we really are and start acting on our own instincts!

I’m sitting outside right now at the La Brea Tar Pits writing this column as the solar eclipse is happening. I forgot the buy the glasses, and yes, I have peaked up a few times for a brief second at the sun; hopefully I won’t go blind! While I’m not privy to the solar views the dozens of excited people around me are seeing, I am very much connected to the energy of this moment. I’m in the sunlight soaking up the deepest possible meaning of what is happening right now on our planet, and in particular in our country. This total eclipse is all about examining what we’ve been hiding, uncovering the brightest parts of ourselves we’ve allowed to be eclipsed by the demands of the day and of this age. It’s a moment of collective and individual accountability.

Collectively, there’s no doubt that the United States is in the midst of a dark chapter as a country. We’ve seen an ideology of racism, sexism, and xenophobia emerge from shadows many of us thought were banished decades ago.  We’ve seen greed as a guiding force in nearly every institution. Corruption is now a primary characteristic of many of our leaders. Our new President is a narcissist, uninterested in facts, insecure about his own abilities, and powered only by the accolades of others. It’s easy to be upset at Donald Trump, and while we have every right to be outraged, this moment demands that we ask ourselves how we got here.

We’ve spent the past decade staring at ourselves, our eyes transfixed by an electronic screen that ultimately reflects back to us whatever we want to see. When the Narcissus of Greek mythology looked at his reflection in the water, he became so enthralled by what he saw that he couldn’t pull himself away, surrendering his will to live to an image that eventually killed him because he couldn’t pry himself up from his own beauty. Our smart phones are a 21st century pool, and the world we’ve created inside them has every bit as much power over us as Narcissus’ reflection! Energy knows no ideology; all stripes of thought have been part of what lead us to this moment. While Trump appeals to only a segment of the population, and while the majority of us voted to have a different leader, collectively we’ve been unconsciously culling a dark, self-motivated energy that merely manifested physically in the form of President Trump.

On an individual level, each of us knows how we’ve been playing it small. For myself, I know that I’ve spent WAY too much time obsessing over the latest “breaking news” and listening to echoes of political commentary and not enough time taking action on issue I care about. I’ve wasted hours reading mindless political articles and not enough time writing about higher truths and deeper concepts. For all the time I’ve spent as a political spectator over the past year, I could have written a book and been a novelist by now! I’ve played it small socially, too. I’ve mindlessly surfed my Facebook feed instead of connecting with actual people and deepening friendships. I’ve chatted up strangers on Grindr I never had any intension of actually meeting instead of attempting to connect with guys in a real and authentic way. In short, I’ve allowed technology to dim my own light as much as this eclipse has darkened part of our world today. I have a feeling I’m not alone.

I’m determined to make this moment count, though, and for this eclipse to be the end of the shade I throw on my own light!

This morning I was doing a kundalini meditation to align with my creative flow. It’s a specific kriya for breaking free from that which holds you back so that you can take positive steps forward to live out what you instinctively know is your mission in life. It’s the perfect action for the moment! With eyes closed and arms stretched out at the heart center, right hand placed flat over left, I recited the mantra Hari Nam Sat Nam Hari Nam Hari Hari Nam Sat Nam Sat Nam Hari. According to the teacher Gurucharan Singh Khalsa, “The first part of this mantra aligns the powerful creative flow of life (Hari Nam) with your personal identity and destiny.  The second line aligns your intuitions with your intention so the unseen hand of spirit supports your fulfillment.”

It’s a simple mantra really, but over the course of 11 minutes my mind started to wander. Every time I would think about what I was having for lunch, how much my arms hurt, what I needed to do later in the day, etc. I would lose focus and mess up the chanting, getting frustrated and feeling like a failure. As soon as I would calm my mind and focus on the words, though, I could seamlessly recite the mantra and feel a powerful energy envelop me. In this moments, I felt unstoppable. I went in and out of this dance of alignment and misalignment for several minutes before having a realization: when we focus on the work we know we’re here to do, we ARE unstoppable. When we get distracted by our own thoughts—the Narcissus within us— we lose sight of our true power and purpose and it can often feel as though we’re drowning in our own frustration. I understood in that moment that our truth lies in taking action on what we intuitively know we’re here to do, and that in doing so happiness and harmony flows naturally to us.

ig_20987021_1920377438236866_6799378810950123520_n-1503327834_600It’s a lot easier to just dive into our smart phones than it is to use our talents to serve the highest good. Too many of us have dimmed our light at a time when we’re being called on to shine bright. We can see where that’s gotten us. This total eclipse moment is an opportunity for all of us to examine our lives and decide what shifts we’re going to take.  We need to all take a moment to get very clear about what our mission is—what do we need to be doing in this moment to best serve the world? What talents do we have, what skills do we possess that we need to hone? What seeds are we going to plant and what work are we going to do over the next several months?

The time is upon us to stop staring at our smart phones and start doing something more dynamic with our lives! With each of us committing to small, right actions daily, we can emerge from this collective dark shadow just as the sun emerged after the brief moment of darkness today!

PS) I highly recommend trying the meditation I mentioned above! Click here for details and instructions.

Ego-Friendly Wines

14125689_10101021973399372_6531290440239798060_oTwo things happened when I moved to California that I wasn’t expecting: I started meditating every day and red wine became my favorite drink.  For the last few years, I’ve navigated this odd dance between two diabolical forces: one a practice of calming the mind to go deep in order to mine intuitive knowledge, and the other a tasty indulgence that numbs the mind.  There have been days when I have had extremely powerful kundalini yoga classes where I could literally feel knots being untied in my stomach and heavy burdens lifted; then I’d come home blissed out and celebrate this liberation with a glass coastal Pinot Noir or mountainous Argentinian Malbec.

Somewhere in the mix of the pallet, bliss would morph into fog. What started as a spiritually-induced high turned into a chemically-inflicted (though extremely delicious!) haze that would usually see me passed out asleep early, and up in the morning with a mild to semi-splitting headache. Nothing that a bold cup of coffee couldn’t cure, and not what I would consider to be an addiction, but it was a pattern that began to have a rather unhealthy grip over me.

Be careful of patterns—they have a way of surreptitiously arresting your advancement! It wasn’t until recently that I understood the connection between spiritual development and alcohol craving: the unabashed ability of the ego to quickly trick us into thinking we’re making progress on our journey when, really, we’re just running in place!  When we start to grow, our ego (our limited, separated self that’s body-identified) gets scared. As a natural defense, the ego finds a way to contain our progress.  It finds distractions, often pleasant and harmless in their benign form, that keep us from making real transformation. You can change your activity, but until you’re ready to fully embrace an entire new way of seeing yourself and your place in the world, you’re not really making any huge personal shift. I don’t see the ego as being the conscious-minded answer to “the devil”, but rather the very natural defenses all of us put up when we’re confronted with uncomfortability. Change is hard. When you’re in a practice of meditation, mindfulness, or any personal growth, you will learn things about yourself that are often difficult to own up to. For me, that’s when the cork-screw would come out.

This isn’t a post about alcoholism; I’ve never considered myself an alcoholic. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with responsible drinking. I think you can be a conscious, spiritual person who is growing and evolving and also reasonably enjoy wine and other libations. There’s a line, though, when enjoyment crosses over into escape. While I don’t hold any particular judgments about the fact that for about 2 years I was drinking 2-4 glasses of wine almost every night at home after what were often rough and stressful days, I do now see how that action was limiting my growth and getting in the way of fully embodying my purpose.

My biggest fear has always been that I won’t do anything significant with me life. So gripped by this anxiety that I’ll never make a meaningful contribution, I fell into the clutches of inaction without even knowing I was being held. I have certainly done a good amount of meaningful work over the past few years, but it’s my writing that suffered each time I’d pop open a bottle. When I drink, I tire easily, and I lose the ability to access any higher form of articulation. Since moving to LA, I have learned so much in all of my kundalini classes, and even more in the “off-the-mat meditation” that was my job as executive director of a spiritual center. Often, I’ve had bursts of thoughts that I felt would be useful to share. I’d intend to write a blog post based on what I was seeing and learning, but when I got home, and after I’d do my nightly meditation, I’d hit the wine instead of the keyboard. My ego convinced me that I needed to reward myself, but looking back I see four years of missed opportunities to share in a meaningful way and also significantly develop my portfolio as a writer. That was selfish.

When you’ve been given the privilege of knowing something useful, you have an energetic obligation to share so that others can also benefit. And that’s exactly what I am going to start doing with this post.

Last night during my evening kriya, I was chanting a mantra for self-healing: Guru Guru Wahe Guru Guru Ram Das Guru, a repetition that projects the mind to the infinite and brings in finite guidance. Somewhere in the intonation of those 11 minutes, I saw exactly how I’d been playing it small.

I have a gift and I haven’t been using it. Instead, I have used red wine to relax away the tensions I’ve been experiencing, indulging out the larger lessons the universe has been trying to teach me. Instead of drinking away my stress, I need to transmute what I perceive as strain by writing about it.

I then saw beyond myself and into a collective conscious that I am a small part of within the broader LGBT community. As a collective, we’ve also been playing it small! Those of us who incarnated as LGBT beings did so for very specific reasons: we are ushering in new paradigms around love, sex, and gender, forging new understandings that are expanding what is possible or everyone. Many have stepped up to meet this moment, but many others in the community are dimming their lights with addictions to drugs, alcohol, sex, and other substances. At a time when people are literally dying in the streets because of hate, it’s never been more important for all of us to wake up to our missions in life!

This fall I’m taking the kundalini yoga and meditation teacher’s training. I decided to do this because I’m ready to step up and share what I’m learning in hopes it can help others heal and transform. I won’t be the perfect yogi. I have limited flexibility, abysmal mind/body coordination, I drink coffee, and turbans really aren’t my thing.  I’m not going to stop drinking red wine just yet, but I am going to drink much less and be much more mindful of my actions. When I feel I have something that needs to be shared, I’m going to write that out before I uncork that really delicious red blend from Paso Robles!

The ego isn’t our enemy: it’s a stubborn barometer of our stasis. We’re here to learn, grow, and share. That’s how we keep the ego in check and our true selves powering forward.

So, cheers to less wine and more written words!