Following a traditional path of awakening didn’t lead me to freedom, it made me feel...dead. Here’s why.
This week at the weekly meditation class I often attend, the male teacher discussed desire, amongst other topics. What is the relationship between desire and awakening he asked? According to classical teachings, desire is seen as a poison to the mind and awakening. He went on further to say desire creates craving and craving creates suffering. This of course, is why desire is considered the root of suffering. While listening, my body started responding. I started to feel like I wanted to crawl out of my skin, so I got curious, tuned inside, and then I heard a voice speak up from my womb space sassy, confident, and steady “Hmmmm...it’s not like that for me.” I smiled, warding off a loud chuckle I felt inside, and an exhale released the tension in my body.
At some point on my spiritual path a lightbulb went off that something was missing.
Sitting in the subway many years ago looking at the people in the train car around me I had a profound sense that we were all God dressed up and pretending to be humans, yet we didn't know it. It was a deep sense of Knowing as I watched people anxiously move about during their morning commute wondering if they would be late. It’s hard to explain, but in a moment I suddenly was able to see, feel, and know that every person was the Divine dressed up in costumes.
What surprised me most about this moment was the uneventful feeling I had in such a huge spark of insight. This opening was a realization in my felt experience, that I had been seeking and studying for years. And yet, it was as if someone was taking the trash out. Ordinary, uneventful, and dry. As I tuned into my own system I noticed that despite feeling peaceful and happy I really felt...dead. The feeling surprised me and snapped at me like someone slapping a book in a silent room.
The ironic feeling made me curious. Staring up at the ceiling of the train as if I could pierce it with my eyes to look up into the heavens I wondered...is this it? Is this ALL that I’ve been seeking? Then I heard “there is more.” The more it turns out put pleasure and desire front and center.
At this point I had years into a path of awakening. In many ways I was seeking this holy grail moment. Through hours of meditation, 3 am wake ups, silent retreats, breathing practices, fasting, spiritual scripture, prayer, and deep dives with spiritual teachers. My question to the sky that day on the subway started a mysterious turning point because deep down inside I instinctively knew an awakened life would never feel lifeless.
When I look back, it’s clear that the Divine Feminine heard my internal heart cry and answered the Call. All of my teachers and mentors turned from men to women. This was not an intentional pivot on my part, but did become intentional later after I picked up what the Universe was dropping. This shift introduced me to new practices, lineages, and experiences.
Desire, pleasure, seeking joy, being in my body, and feeling good dramatically moved to the forefront of my practice after years of doing completely the opposite. This. Changed. Everything.
A lot of my time shifted to focus on discovering my desires, giving them permission to breathe, be seen, and then honoring them. I allowed myself to experience pleasure, sensual, sexual, ordinary, and extraordinary. This felt revolutionary to say the least. As a woman because of my social conditioning AND my spiritual training, I honestly hadn’t given my very own desires or pleasure much thought other than seeing it as something to overcome.
I started feeling alive again.
My yoga students, friends, and family kept telling me I was glowing and looked different....in a good way. Men started asking me out, noticing me in public, and sparking interesting conversations (something that never happened before). Life felt fresh, playful, full of joy, and magical. I found joy in the big and the small moments in life. A simple cup of tea some days felt like ecstasy.
All of the practices, traditions, and paths that I mastered for years are transmitted through a masculine-centered experience. Remember meditation class? Masculine-led or we could say dominant traditions, teach that desire is one of the poisons on an awakened path, inevitably leads to clinging, and is the root of suffering. The body is temporary and therefore, less worthy of our attention, the mind reigns supreme, and we’re meant to be unattached to our experience.
This conditioning is deep. In spiritual traditions, in society, in everyday conversations. Women are guided away from their own desire and pleasure over and over again.
I know myself well. I’m responsible. Super responsible. I got great grades in school. I did my best to follow the rules and be a good kid. I’ve prided myself on being the “good girl” and as an adult a great employee. I am unafraid of taking responsibility for my mistakes and diving into my own shadow. I don’t spiritually bypass, pretending I feel ok when when I don’t, or being fearful to look at my own darkness. In many ways, I’m a darkness queen. This means that sometimes I am ironically “too responsible.” When I fall into being “too responsible” in other words I unexpectedly constrict my joy.
“Too responsible” women need pleasure to create balance on an awakened path.
When we don’t allow our desires, our pleasures, this can lead to cutting ourselves off entirely from our joy and drain our aliveness like I felt. Or this leads to binging in pleasure that leaves us feeling guilty, self-judging, and off center just to cut out desire and pleasure again until we can’t handle it again and either feel numb, depressed, angry, and/or binge. This is deep. I can’t emphasize how much I personally keep learning this again and again in my own life and witness it with the women I work with.
There is a different model to awakening from the perspective of the feminine and it puts pleasure and desire, front and center.
I mean let’s be real, women have an organ on them that’s entire purpose is exclusively pleasure: the clitoris. It’s only job is to bring ecstasy. With everything so intentionally designed in our bodies and in nature, why would this be a design flaw that needs to be overcome?
For this week’s Joy Tip I want to invite you to get familiar with your relationship with your desires and pleasure. Consider:
If we were relaxed on my couch with a cup of tea, would you be able to tell me your deepest desires and most of all, what in life brings you a sense of pleasure? Why or why not?
How often do you allow yourself to experience pleasure?
What does pleasure mean to you?
If pleasure were a person, how would you describe your relationship?
Are you finding yourself uncomfortable, disagreeing completely, or confused by this post? Great! Get curious about what REALLY is underneath your feelings. I promise there are some gems there.