Category Archives: masculine & feminine

Women’s Joy Circle: Setting Boundaries

aura 2007 08 23

Last night’s circle was a bit of a departure; after all of the opening up and radiant joy and discussion of desires we’d been doing, it seemed time to talk about boundaries and safety.  “Setting boundaries” is such a slippery concept; it seems too abstract to be of much use.  So we talked in terms of our energetic fields.

I prefer the term ‘energetic field’ to ‘aura’  because fewer people  get all shifty-eyed and back away from me when I say it.  Come on, it makes sense that we have an energetic field.  The electromagnetic energy of the brain and heart are scientifically quantifiable.  This field is our first defense, both immunologically and psychologically. When we are aware of the boundaries of our field, when it is clean and clear, we can feel infringements upon it and deal with them.  When we are unaware of our boundaries, or our fields are low due to illness, unhappiness, or stress, we are easily affected by others’ germs, criticisms, and demands.

In my study of the martial arts,  and in the study of tracking and wilderness survival, I learned the importance of presence.  When you are alert to the world around you, engaged with your surroundings, you are difficult to victimize.  We practiced presence by pairing off and facing our partner, gazing into their eyes without speaking for five minutes.

Though this crowd is so freaking evolved that they hardly batted an eyelash, when I first encountered this exercise I found it a hellish experience.  It was really hard to be looked at.  My face felt funny.  I kept wanting to engage the interest of the other person,  to make looking at me a more interesting experience.  But slowly I learned to bring my focus away from myself and onto the other person, and to simply be present with them rather than trying to control their experience of me.

Observing another person with such focus is a pretty rare thing to do socially.  We spend a lot of time in our own heads, evaluating the impact we are having on the others around us, guessing at their judgments of us, obsessing over the same old thought patterns that tend to preoccupy us.  Rarely do we fully engage in observing.  Yet observation is critical not only to our survival, but to our happiness.  It is when we are fully engaged with the world, taking it all in, stretching all of our senses to savor what is spread before us, that we experience joy.  It is also, not coincidentally, when we are most alert to the intentions of others and whether or not they are beneficial to us.

Haystack Mountain in the evening haze

the sensory world is pretty nice, actually!

I have two exercises I practice regularly to hone my ability to observe.  One is the kundalini exercise known as “the woodchopper” (I’m sure it has a fancy sanskrit name but I don’t know it.)  I try to do this exercise every morning, setting an intention and then using it clear away any blocks. 

Stand with feet shoulder width apart, a slight bend in the knees.  Hold your arms out straight in front of you , palms facing inward.  Then turn your right palm outward so that the thumb points down.  Bring it under your left hand and across, bringing the palm of the right hand to the back of the left hand, clasping it with the thumb. Now, on the inhale, raise your interlocked arms straight overhead.  Exhale forcefully and bring them down to chest height, as though chopping wood.  Inhale and lift them again.  Do this, following your breath, for three minutes.   (I can actually feel the space around me come alive after this exercise, and I am far less likely to take any crap from anyone on the days that I do it!)

The second exercise is a mental one.  I have noticed that when I stop observing, it is often because my mind has slipped into a pattern of thought negative enough to distract me from the real sensory world all around me.  Generally, for me, these thoughts are about money, but in the past they’ve been about relationship, or self-image.  We all have certain default thought patterns our brains like to worry over.  Once you’ve identified yours, stop yourself the next time it plays.  Just stop.  Then make a conscious effort to interrupt it.  For example, if I am thinking “how will I pay the bills this month, I’m afraid to look at my balance” I can shift that to “Isn’t it amazing that I am never hungry? I am always surrounded by plenty of fresh, wonderful food.  And my business has been doing so well lately.  It grows every month.  And I was just awarded a fellowship that will pay half of my tuition. ”   (HOORAY! I still can’t quite believe it!)

This exercise does a couple of things: first, it trains us to be aware of our own thoughts so that we can snap out of them and be more engaged with the world around us; second, it gives us a line of defense against people who read our preoccupations and use them to manipulate us.  Criticism always hurts most when it is directed at something we don’t like about ourselves.  When someone can discern what it is we are struggling with, it can become a tremendous source of power for them. But if we are aware of our own vulnerabilities and are actively working with them, we no longer give over power to those who would use them to leverage us.

We closed with a round of brags, gratitudes, and desires. It is much easier to notice infringements of your boundaries when you know what your boundaries are! Stating your desires is a very effective way to jumpstart this process.

Most people  see a radiant, fully alive woman, and are inspired to come more alive themselves. There are, unfortunately, others who see her and try to take what she has by force.  We don’t have to allow this, however subtle or overt it may be.  We can define what is allowed in our energetic field, notice when these boundaries are being breached, and take action to defend ourselves.  In fact we have a responsibility to do so.  In the words of Martin Luther King Jr’s spiritual advisor Howard Thurman, “what this world needs is people who have come alive.”


April 30, 2013 · 8:40 pm

Women’s Joy Circle: Divine Feminine, Sacred Masculine

Franz von Stuck Ringelreihen

As I write this I am listening to ancient Greek circle dance music.  After high school I spent a year WWOOFing, traveling from one organic farm to another, exchanging labor for room, board, and instruction in horticulture and permaculture. My travels began in North Carolina, led me to Oregon, Ireland and France, and eventually dropped me at the Springfield, MA bus station, looking out the window at the scruffiest pair of derelicts I’d ever laid eyes on.

Please, let it not be them,” I muttered under my breath as I exited the bus with my framepack and guitar, scanning the crowd hopefully for more wholesome-looking farmer-types.  But sure enough, it was that scruffy pair of derelicts who had come to escort me on the next stage of my journey.  I climbed into their rusted repurposed ambulance, and thus began two of the most soulful, most transformative friendships I have ever been privileged to build. Continue reading


April 23, 2013 · 3:16 pm

calling all men!

The god Heimdallr with the horn Gjallarhorn an...

To all my beloved male readers (if, indeed, there are any?)—will you please help me out?

Next week, our women’s joy circle is opening to men.  This is scary for me.

I have loved men, I have deeply bonded with men, I have birthed men, but the sacred masculine still remains mysterious and a bit forbidding to me.

I believe that at the holy core of masculine experience is a deep faith and desire to serve that is staggering in its strength and purity.  I believe this because I have seen it again and again, and it leaves me breathless.

So why is it that when women gather to talk about men, the traits that we most often complain about are the faithlessness, the egocentrism of our partners and lovers?

The work I have done with women—with myself—is to slowly regain the inner equilibrium of the divine feminine.  This equilibrium expresses itself as a beautiful self-sufficiency and joyful caretaking.  I cannot do this work with men, because I do not know what it is to be a man.

But I can open our circle to men, with love, and show them what we have done.  And we can share our self-sufficiency, our joyful caretaking, our carefully tended well of divine femininity, in hopes of inspiring an emergence of that soaring, sacred masculine that weakens the knees and staggers the breath.

Or maybe there will be a lot of awkward silences and giggling.  This is why I need your help.

In the comments below, will you do the human race a solid and answer the following questions? (And female readers, will you pass these on to the men in your lives?  I really, really, desire some answers before next Monday!)

1. What makes you feel comfortable and safe around women?

2. What do you most fear/dislike about women?

3. If you could ask a woman any question without fear of offending her, what would it be?

4. What is your deepest wish for the women in your life?

5. What do you most appreciate about women?

If you don’t want to answer these questions in the comments, you can also answer them anonymously by taking this survey:  PLEASE TAKE THIS SURVEY!

Thank you, so much, for your honesty and bravery!  Next week I’ll write how it all went, and spill some juicy secrets, and hopefully answer some of your questions.  In closing, the sexiest appreciation of men I’ve ever heard.


April 16, 2013 · 3:55 am

Women’s Joy Circle: the wanting

Flaming June.

I brought a lot away from the radical pleasure workshop I taught March 30th with the inimitable Briana Schuck and the incomparable Laura Alvarez. The ringing one-liner, though, the kernel around which last night’s joy circle crystallized, was something Briana said about the difference between a want and a desire.

When you want something, you are aware of a lack.  You are bemoaning what isn’t.    There is a gulf between you and what it is you want.

I wrote this song in the throes of want, languishing in an unhealthy relationship and confused about what I really wanted.  The misery of wanting is downright audible!

When you desire something, however…ahhh.  You feel it in your body.  You come alive with the tingling sensation of desiring this beautiful thing.  You luxuriate in the knowledge that it is already in you.  And you celebrate every time you see what you desire, because the fact that it exists at all just lights you up.

Last night’s joy circle was a celebration of desire.  We ate the lavender-infused truffles I keep going on and on about (because they are THAT GOOD) and sipped kombucha and rose petal tea.  We did a lot of yoga.  We turned off the lights, lit candles, and had a sweaty no-holds-barred dance party with the delicious help of Modest Mouse, Florence + The Machine, MC Yogi, and Garmarna.  And then we settled in with our notebooks and wrote down our desires.

When you write down a desire, it should feel really, really good.  Your whole body should come alive.  Here’s an example:

“I desire an exquisite, handbuilt earthen cottage set into acres of gardens, overflowing with light and scent and flowers.  I desire built-in windowseats with bookshelves for curling into on a rainy morning, and an airy kitchen with space for all of my drying herbs.  I desire a little bathroom with large, light-filled windows and a clawfoot bathtub surrounded by blooming scented geraniums and dozens of varieties of lavender.  I desire gardens that contain cherry, raspberry, peach, plum, sea buckthorn, goji, jojoba, hawthorn.  I desire winding paths through my acres of medicine herbs and food forests that end at a year-round creek that supplies my little home with abundant microhydro energy, a cool place to submerge and swim in summer, a quiet place to meditate in winter.

I desire to share this beautiful space by hosting earth-centered events, exuberant parties circling on the wheel of the year, counseling circles,  healing herbal gatherings and permaculture courses.”

Wow.  That feels so good, just writing it again.  So different from wanting it...desiring it, feeling it, sensing it already there.  It’s a joy to desire something.  It’s agony to want it.

Knowing what you desire is an immense boon to those around you. Taking the time to write down your desires, in great detail and specificity, gives all of your tumbling tumultuous creative energy a locus point.  And in time, you become so comfortable with what it is that you really, truly want that you recognize it when it comes.  You make the choices that lead you to it.  You tell everyone you meet about the fulness of your desires and they voluntarily enlist in helping you achieve them.

Because our deepest, truest desires are for the things that lead us home.  And when we are home, creating what we were made to create, living the life that lights us up, we are doing the best good we are capable of.


April 10, 2013 · 3:14 am

our darkness is divine

English: Persephone kidnapped by Hades.

English: Persephone kidnapped by Hades. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A few years ago I heard herbalist Deborah Frances use sacred stories to describe the rhythms of living in a female body. She spoke about the underworld journey of Persephone, and the plants whose medicine specifically strengthens women who go on that journey. I have been pondering this ever since.

Continue reading


March 29, 2013 · 4:45 pm

a letter to my dearest friend

English: Love Letter

Recently I received an acrimonious letter from a person who has been a great teacher (read: tremendous pain in the a**) in my life.  As I was composing my reply, carefully choosing each word, deleting many entire drafts, it struck me how much time I have spent communicating with this individual.  Hours upon hours: deliberating over how, and whether, and with which medium I should communicate.  Days: reading his poison-pen diatribes over and over, taking each painful word deep within.

And I thought about how I dash off letters to my friends–fragments of sentences, sometimes omitting both my name and theirs, when I remember to write at all.  I suddenly recalled a handwritten love note sent to me years ago, still tucked carefully away in the secret drawer of my desk.  When had I last read it? Continue reading


March 22, 2013 · 12:48 am

Women’s Joy Circle: Arousal

It starts with her beauty in my eyes, it moves...

Ooh, arousal.  It has such a sexual connotation, doesn’t it? And yet it’s important to specify just what type of arousal we’re talking here.  Arousal of the nervous system–the fight-or-flight response–is the opposite of sexy.  When the nervous system is aroused, stress hormones get dumped into the bloodstream, halting digestion, cutting off blood supply to the extremities, and eventually suppressing the immune system.  Great when you need to wrestle a mountain lion off your back, but not so hot on the lion-skin rug, if you know what I’m saying. Continue reading


March 20, 2013 · 3:09 am