Tender and Wild
Empowerment: A Basket Full of Medicine
Sexual Energy and the Inner Shaman
’Originally and naturally, sexual pleasure was the good, the beautiful, the happy, that which united man with nature in general. When sexual feelings and religious feelings became separated from one another, that which is sexual was forced to become the bad, the internal, the diabolical.’
When I was young, I learned about sex from my father’s hidden porn collection. It was a terrible education. My expectations about who I was supposed to be, how I was supposed to perform and what I might expect from a partner were so unrealistic. It took me a long time to recognize that disembodied sexuality is just as damaging to our inner environment and relationships as our disembodied way of life is to our outer environment.
Our human story with sexuality is definitely evolving. But my goodness, we’ve had some very rigid and strange ideas to contend with along the way. We’ve tried the ’sex is a necessary but indecent mechanism for procreation’ method and it hasn’t turned out too well. Perhaps those interested in controlling the majority needed to invent the ’sex is bad’ story because they recognized that controlling our sexuality was the same as controlling our power. But even in traditions claiming to be about liberation, the ’sex isn’t spiritual’ story has been massively overdone. Worse than that, abuse has been rife for so long in so many areas of society that up until recently we’ve normalized it and collectively colluded in hiding it. And we’ve wrapped the most precious gift we’ve been given in shame. The massive success of pornography on the internet seems to me like a big ’Fuck you!’ to all that shame. But it’s not a good place to learn about intimacy, the art of vulnerability or the divinely wild and tender freedom of soulful sexuality. And it’s certainly not the place to find our power.
Sexual energy is one way of describing the very source of life. It’s how our physicality is created and it’s the essence of our own fertility. It’s enlivening, nourishing and empowering. In order to evolve, I passionately believe that we need to learn to work with it, in connection with our heart, and we need to release old stories that shame us, imprison us and disconnect us from our own source. This will lead to an increase in human consciousness that will be reflected in the way we are and the ways we act, and I believe that change will be for the better.
Maybe it’s because it’s where my own studies began, but throughout my shamanic journey, sexuality has been at the core. I have learned so much over the years and my shamanic practice with sexual energy has brought me to a place where I have healed my sexual shame and given sexual energy its rightful place in the temple and playground of my body, heart and mind.
To begin with, like many of us, I had all kinds of hang-ups and stories to contend with. So the revelation that sexual energy was the divine nature of life itself moving through me rather than some awkward fumbling towards a disappointing conclusion took some digesting.
I was taught two basic sacred laws and told that as long as I respected them, I wouldn’t go wrong:
1. The first law was that the innocence of our sexuality should always be protected. In other words, our sexuality is a natural, beautiful and divine part of our humanity.
2. The second was: ’No means no.’ Sounds basic, but if we were taught from an early age that our ’No’ would be heard, there would be far less suffering in our world.
The truth of those early teachings touched me to the core. Perhaps the most important thing I learned was that sexual energy was the most potent force we had access to and we could use it to heal the wounding that we all carry in this area. The Inner Shaman has it within them to work through whatever histories we have and allow the divine gift of our sexual energy to be the basis for health, happiness and creativity in all areas of our life. I have been privileged to witness so many people transforming their sexual histories and moving beyond the damage and limiting beliefs imposed on them at an early age. As we move forward, you will learn to do this too.
Over the years, the subtler ramifications of these simple laws have also brought Susannah and me to understand that feeling safe in our sexuality is the golden key to intimacy. And intimacy is the prerequisite for a sex life that improves year by year, so that now, after more than three decades, our sexual relationship is better than anything I’d ever imagined possible.
But sexual energy is not just about sex. It’s about being in our body and being connected to life. It’s about empowerment and it’s about creativity. Part of the shamanic training I did in the Amazon required that I was celibate for several months. I remember one night I was so full of energy that I found it impossible to sleep. In the early hours, I went out into the forest behind where I was living and found a quiet place to sit and meditate. I felt as if I had been connected to a power source and that power was surging through me in waves of genuine pleasure. I wasn’t thinking about sex; my body had just become a channel for this energy to move through. Meditating wasn’t working, so I stood up to move. I was barefoot and the soft earth beneath my feet felt full of life. As I moved, I felt the energy of the Earth begin to rise through my legs. For the first time in my life, I felt as if my body were being moved by a greater force.
The warmth soon spread into my heart. I was completely sober, but I felt such a rush that I was momentarily worried that my water had somehow been spiked. I felt the trees and the night birds and the wind all inviting me to let go. I felt so held that I began to cry. At the same time, I felt so strong. I felt tender and wild and free. Waves of pleasure were moving through me and my body felt both held and stretched between the Earth and the night sky. I was shaking, laughing and crying all at the same time.
And then I knew this energy was divine. This energy was sacred. This energy was sexual energy and it was a force of healing. Old chains were slipping off me and I felt a wave of fury that I’d ever felt any shame about this divine gift. Emotions rolled through me like a storm and I was left delighted and amazed by what my body and heart had remembered.
It’s remarkable to me how fresh that memory remains, and I will forever be grateful to all the teachers and teachings that opened that door for me.
The journey between then and now has been a long one. There has been a lot of healing along the way, not all of it pretty! But suffice to say, I’ve never looked back. I now know, through my own experience and through working with many people who have suffered sexual abuse, that with time, safety, care and courage, healing is possible. And if your heart is still beating, I know it’s possible for you too.
In our practice at the end of this chapter, I’m going to invite you to take a step towards harnessing your sexual energy as the force of empowerment, creativity and healing it was designed to be. The Inner Shaman knows that we are here to create with life, not just to create new life. Sexual energy is body, heart and mind in unison with the force of creation itself. What could be more spiritual than that? And what could be more of an opening for the unfettered and unchained magnificence that we are capable of being and giving?
And yet we live in times when there is a pandemic of sexual abuse and wounding. This is such an indictment of our way of life, and I am in admiration of all those brave souls who have stood up and named abuse and wrongdoing. I asked one of our students who has worked with her sexuality over many years if I could share an extract with you from her graduation project about her own healing journey from sexual abuse. I hope that you find it as moving and inspiring as I do.
I have been raped twice in my life — once as a child, at five years old; once as a young woman, at 19 years old. In my Movement Medicine apprenticeship group, almost half of us had been abused, both men and women. This problem has appeared recently as a real social phenomenon. [We are] a society that has totally gone against its own integrity.
I want to honour the one within myself who has always held the torch, the one who has always danced in me, listening to the little flame in the hollow of my belly, continuously guiding me and inviting me to grow. I want to make visible the link that passes through the hollow of my belly and my wounds, this link that has risen in me through dance, between the Earth, me and the universe, a silent and immense bond that fills me and envelops me with love, passes through my sex, my heart and the peaceful lake of my mind. This bond that has guided me all my life has held within it an unspeakable secret. At the same time, I have known, despite no recognition of this in the world around me, that my sexuality is sacred, beyond the sanctity of any chapel. I have been so proud and so ashamed at the same time.
The only way I’ve found for my childhood injury to be welcomed and ’treated’ by the adult world is by dancing. In order to heal, I’ve had to integrate the taboo secrets of my past with the powerful, vital and sacred energy of the dance. This complexity has been a struggle. It has made me cross deserts of loneliness and sadness, but also given me a reason to live. And it has finally taught me that sexual energy is beautiful, legitimate and essential to life and the healing process. I have learned to be proud to have preserved it so well. It is a light that I have carried, and that I have even been able to transmit, thanks to my experience. The world really needs it. So many women have told me that they have dreamed of being initiated into this art of mastering their sexual energy. For me now, there is no difference between dance, the free and inhabited movement of the body and the art of sacred sexuality. Indeed, this is now the main core of my transmission here on Earth.
ANNE ENA BERNARD,
MOVEMENT MEDICINE AND LES NEUF SOUFFLES TEACHER
Thank you, Anne Ena. We’ve made progress and, thankfully, abuse is now being spoken about. But the wounding in our sexuality is deep and complex, and we have a long way to go to bring healing and understanding to its underlying causes. We still tend to have the idea that opposites are designed to fight rather than to co-operate and enhance each other, even though the unique blend of yin and yang that we are is anything but black and white. Creation is imagination without limitation, and therefore the diversity in our sexuality simply mirrors the diversity in nature.
Our collective sexual history needs both extraordinary patience and care and a damn good airing if we are to tell a new story. And since the imbalance of opposites in our culture is also inside us, there is internal work to be done. Your Inner Shaman is directly connected to the qualities of yin and yang, and I know that they can help you discover the infinite variety, dynamic balance and movement between them. This dance is your creative sexual energy and learning to work with it will be hugely helpful in bringing the Inner Shaman’s healing presence and resources into play in your life.
I am purposefully using the terms ’yin’ and ’yang’ rather than ’masculine’ and ’feminine’ because I don’t have space in this book to write about our confusion around gender and role. I’ll just say this: for the most part, what has been called ’masculine’ has done its best to dominate and possess what has been called ’feminine’, whilst simultaneously what has been called ’feminine’ has done its best to undermine and disempower what has been called ’masculine’. It’s been a long war and it has gone on inside us and between us. And there have been no victors, only casualties.
There’s a story doing the rounds that is doing a lot of damage. It says that the problem is ’toxic masculinity’ and the answer is to give the ’healthy feminine’ a chance to lead us to the Promised Land. It’s my experience that it’s the relationship between them that’s toxic, rather than one side being responsible for the whole war. And it’s the dynamic relationship between opposites that transforms the confrontational stance of polarity into the creative process of alchemy that we need now. Blaming and shaming is an inevitable and painful part of the process as long-suppressed secrets are exposed to the light of day. But it is not the answer, and until we are able to own the hurt and emotion that drive it, healing will not happen.
In our modern world, doing is valued above being, fast is better than slow and more is given more status than less. It’s this basic imbalance between yin and yang that is at the heart of so many of our modern-day problems. I think the Taoists have got this one down. They say that out of the original Tao (the Great Mystery), came the one (the Creator). From that came the two (yin and yang). And from the juice of that original rendezvous came everything else. In the Taoist story, yin and yang are co-arising and equal in importance, strength and value. They get it on and everything else follows.
Between the Taoist Creation story and the Judeo-Christian one that has dominated large parts of the world for a long time, there is a telling difference. In The Garden of Eden: Fall from Grace tale, Adam, who’d already had to donate one of his ribs to create Eve, was led off the righteous path by her, after she’d been seduced to reach for forbidden knowledge by a devious snake. Poor old Adam, poor old Eve, and big, bad snake. Not the best of starts. Roll the clock forwards a few thousand years, and it doesn’t look good. Either/or and us and them dominate much of the human landscape.
The yin—yang symbol gives us a big clue: in the black, a little circle of white; in the white, a little circle of black. Take those away and you’ve got the black and white blame game of ’us against them’ that is at the root of conflict. Add them back in and you’ve got the possibility of the genuine alchemy of opposites that is the root of movement and evolution. So that’s exactly what we’re going to ask your Inner Shaman for help with in our next ritual. I’m going to invite you to take a step towards knowing the sanctity and power of your own sexual energy. We’re going to do that through an embodied exploration of the yin and the yang inside you and the dance between them. In this way, the Inner Shaman can help you to change the balance of power inside you. And from that place of owning your sovereign right to change the story that you have inherited and followed, you can acknowledge what is and move towards healing and empowerment.
PRACTICE: SEXUAL ENERGY AND THE INNER SHAMAN
The intention of this ritual is to explore the dance of yin and yang and to light the Fire of the creative sexual energy that arises when they are both fully present in the power and creativity of their expression.
You will need a minimum of an hour for this, but feel free to take longer. I suggest doing it at night just before you go to bed so that you can allow the echo of your work to deepen as you rest and dream.
· Prepare your space with as much care and attention as you can. Time preparing for a ritual like this is time well spent. Bringing beauty and elements of nature into your space matters to the Inner Shaman. Anything that honours and celebrates the power, tenderness and life-enhancing medicine of your creative sexual energy is a good thing, while honouring the yin and the yang in your space states your clear intention to honour them within yourself.
· If you have a drum or a rattle, have it ready to hand, as using it will allow you to follow the waves of energy as they rise and fall. If not, I would suggest finding three pieces of music without distracting verbal content to provide the soundscape. The first should evoke the receptive, tender power of yin; the second, the active, dynamic power of yang; and the third, the meeting of the two. For the third piece, I would find a track that rises and falls in tempo and energy. Contrary to the clichéd, mechanical, one-track drive towards an ultimately disappointing peak, healthy sexual energy naturally moves between yin and yang, and you want music that supports you in shifting seamlessly between the activation, excitement and rawness of the peaks and the relaxing warmth and sensual safety of the valleys. It may be that you find a safe place to do this ritual outside in nature, in which case the soundscape of where you are will more than suffice. But if you know that your history in this area is challenging, feeling safe is of paramount importance.
· I suggest you begin by calling the Inner Shaman to be present through Awakening the Dancer before turning to the four directions and invoking the elements and all your guides and allies. Ritual is an amplifier of energy, so it’s important to get into the practice of calling for support well before you actually need it. And, as always, your invocation is a chance to name and communicate the intention of your ritual.
· Once your body is warm and your joints are mobile, take a little time to acknowledge your condition. How do you feel now, at the beginning of this enquiry into how your Inner Shaman can work with your sexual energy?
· Okay, good. Let’s turn our attention to the yin aspect of being. As a dancer, explore the qualities of receptivity, listening and relaxation. Receive the breath, the sensations in your body, your emotional and mental condition and, through the element of Earth, remind yourself that your body, feelings and thoughts are being held by the gift of gravity right now. Give your weight to the Earth through whatever part of your body is in contact with the ground. I suggest you do this through the Mesa Practice so that you see how it is to receive yourself in the micro and medio, and your environment through the macro.
· Stay with your interoception, inviting the sensations in your body to lead your exploration as you move. At any time, feel free to explore the yin quality with any of the elemental powers. For instance, explore the yin quality of Fire that calls people to sit together and share stories from the heart.
· Now let’s explore yang. In movement, explore the active, outgoing, expressive nature of the apparent opposite of yin. Again, work with the Mesa Practice, and again, stay with your interoception and let the dancer lead. Actively explore the elements in this yang dance. The more creative you allow the dancer to be, the more you will learn.
· Now take a deep breath and let the Inner Shaman welcome your creative sexual energy into the space between the yin and the yang. Many of us are used to eliciting sexual energy through fantasy, and this is absolutely fine. But I want you to know that there are other ways too, the most basic of which is to recognize that your whole body is a potential erogenous zone. Feeling safe in your body and recognizing it as beautiful, powerful and as wild and tender as nature itself will help.
· So go ahead now, whatever your emotional or physical state, and warmly welcome the divine gift of your sexual energy into your dance. It may be very quiet and still, and that’s perfectly fine. However it is to begin with, invite it to circulate through your body and strengthen your internal presence and the luminous sphere around you. Healthy energy naturally moves in waves, and your energy will move, but please be patient (yin). Less haste may result in a deeper experience. At the same time, feel free to express yourself (yang). You are looking for the life that is catalysed by the space between yin and yang, so follow the waves of excitation and relaxation through your body as you expand and contract. Feeling pleasure in your body is a good thing, but as usual, and maybe especially here, there’s no need to push and no need to hold back. Enjoy the wildness when it’s there, enjoy the tenderness, and enjoy everything in between. It’s quite possible that you may become emotional as you work with your body and heart in this way. That’s fine. Simply acknowledge what you feel and put it all into the dance. For the Inner Shaman, emotion = energy in motion.
· At some points in the dance, I suggest you repeat your own version of these words a few times out loud:
Here I am, as I am. I affirm that my sexual energy is a gift from the intelligent source of life. I affirm that this energy is powerful, healing and a natural, innocent and divine aspect of who I am. My sexual energy is the energy of creation.
· Spend around 15 minutes on this exploration. And then, staying in movement, bring the attention of the Inner Shaman to the roots of the Tree of Life. Ask them to show you the roots of your relationship with your sexual energy that are held safely in the quiet darkness of the unconscious and the Lower World. This is a fact-finding journey rather than a ’clearing the past’ journey, so just be interested in what you sense, hear and see. I have been blessed to work with people who are healing their own and their ancestral sexual histories and I can tell you that patience and kindness are the yin keys to this journey. At the same time, though, knowing your yang dance will give you the courage to stay present and strong as you witness what is there.
· Well done. Really well done. This is brave work. And it is vital work for your physical, emotional and spiritual health. So, follow the rhythm of the drum or the music now up into the branches of the Tree of Life and the Upper World and spend some time getting an overview of your timeline with sexual energy. Witness your history and the history of your ancestors. Utilize the unbroken health and strength that is present to balance any wounding that you see.
· Looking forward, what do you dare to dream for the healing of your sexual energy within you, in your relationships and in your creativity as a whole? The future is partly based on the choices we make in the present. It is not set in stone. Over time, your Inner Shaman will show you how to use the power of your sexual energy for healing and creativity of all kinds. For now, spend some time on this overview, and when you are ready, come back down into your heart and the Middle World.
· Focusing on your backbone and pelvis, bring what you have learned into your body (yin) and let the dancer express what you have learned in movement (yang). Move between these two until you find a still point right in the centre of your heart.
· Find a prayer in movement and words that acknowledges where you are now and your intention to move forward with this exploration over the days, weeks and months ahead. Find a way to give thanks for the divine essence of life that is your own unique and ever-changing blend of yin and yang and is the power of creation present within you as sexual energy. I suggest you adapt the phrases you spoke earlier to reflect your experience as it is now and ground what you have learned.
· Thank and release each element.
· Make a few notes about your experience.
· Finally, think of one simple action you can take in the days to come that will help you to know that you are integrating this ritual.
Congratulations again. You have opened a doorway to energy that is second to none in terms of healing and transformational power. Working shamanically with this energy may well bring things from the past to the surface. So it’s a good time for your Inner Shaman to show you what they know about the shaman’s heart…