Monday, December 31, 2012

Move To The Rhythm!

Recently, I read a book on trauma therapy. It said, among many other useful and intriguing things, that they endorse methods of meditation or therapy that are centered in the body: such as qi gong, yoga, etc.

Now what is the common factor of all those methods?

They get you to take deep slow breaths, they get you to move in a certain smooth way, they get you to focus on your breath, and they get you to synchronize your movements to your breath. (*)

So quite possibly, this simple trick - move to the rhythm of your breath - is therapeutic in and of itself. I can attest that it feels good, regardless of whether you do the prescribed motions of, say, qi gong, or whether you just move about in that way. I wonder, how about doing your daily chores in such a way?

Anyway, it's part of my daily routine now, and it feels great.

I say, hooray for reductionism!

And Happy New Year!





(*) To be fair, I can't remember whether I read that in said book, or whether this is my own huge revelation.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

"For Serious Tantrikas Only"

I'm currently experimenting with Diigo.com, an online bookmarking, sharing, highlighting and annotation service. So, this is a bit of an experiment... you can click on the following link to see the whole original article along with my annotations (just hover over the little speech bubble thingies). There you can view my annotations in the original context. Below that, I'll focus on the two or three most interesting remarks and add my personal views.

"For Serious Tantrikas Only": Good Tantra Article from Pinklotuss.com

multiply orgasms,  non-ejaculatory (non-depleeting) orgasms, full body orgasms, spiritual orgasms...simply all the capabilities that have been given to women by nature.
Well, that line about nature's gift to women is definitely a good sales pitch. And of course, it's probably more of a snarky remark than a serious description of reality. At any rate, I do not have the impression that it is true. Too many women going on about how they can't reach orgasm at all; too many women who don't have any connection with spirituality whatsoever.

I believe from my own experience that tantra can help you reconnect your sex with your "spiritual" side, however you like to define it. I believe that this is a very good thing. Would my (young, attractive, female) next door neighbour profit from it? I can well imagine that. (Especially if I were to teach her...) Would the journey be any easier for her than it is/was for me? Without really knowing her, I highly doubt it. Given she's a young citizen of a modern western society, she probably has all the misconceptions in her head that a slightly catholic modern upbringing will give you... she'd probably think she has better things to do, and if there are issues in the bedroom, she'd try all kinds of stuff  (including, of course, outright denial) before daring to venture into tantra... let alone serious daily practice. So, even if there may be some slight advantage for women here, because we grant them more emotionality, a lot of other factors will far outweigh that slight bias.

And of course, ultimately, it doesn't matter. You go on this journey because you feel that it might help you, and you stay on it if you feel that it actually does, and that's all that really matters.

It it's about taking the lust out of sex and transforming it into love.
I wouldn't call it "taking lust out...". It's more like adding a completely new quality to it. My approach here is very much like my approach to dieting: always add good stuff - the bad stuff will fall away all by itself anyway. Well and also, I don't see lust as a bad thing. But I do respect that it is virtually impossible to talk about those things without exposing any bias whatsoever, and I don't think that this sentence was intended quite the way it may sound.


Tantra is a path of enlightenment, differing from other spiritual paths by not trying to escape the reincarnation cycle, but bringing enlightenment into this body, into this world.
This definitely has a true ring to me. Putting aside the issue that enlightenment doesn't exist in any strict sense, as far as it goes it is definitely to be found in the body.

Or, putting it into more secular language: Paying more attention to what actually goes on in your body, without being judgmental about whatever happens to surface, seems to me like one of the healthiest things you can do (as long as you're not suffering from some severe mental condition or substance addiction that might warp the experience into some freakish nightmare).

we don't talk  much about the 'death of the ego' (this only sets the ego up for a fight), essentially that is what happens.
I often have the impression that tantra is something of a form of benevolent self-outmaneuvering.

The old ego is to be transformed into a devoted servant to the soul.
It is somewhat shocking, but I do know what she's aiming at, and in some way I even agree.


At some point it dawned on me that this path is not about 'happily ever after'. What I was presented instead was the process of developing ability tobecome comfortable with increasingly higher levels of discomfort.

I had never realized it, but "becoming comfortable with higher levels of discomfort" really nails it (harhar). In a way, orgasmic meditation seems to help me overcome my civilizational discontent. I never felt so free to assert myself as in those past few weeks, and at the same time, it was never easier to accept the sheer insanity that any sane family will always throw at every last one of us. It is distinctly odd when your father says something that always has you up in arms, and being almost completely unaffected.

The danger is, obviously, to delve into apathy and disaffection. Been there, done that, got the t-shirt. So I have some hope I'll manage not to go there again!

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Three Things

Three things will end any discussion with me right there on the spot:


  1. Hitler ate sugar, for obvious reasons.
  2. Using quantum physics to support anything outside of quantum physics, because a) that's not what it's supposed to do, and b) in all likelihood, you have no clue what you're talking about.
  3. Using evopsych to support your hypothesis, because at the current state of evopsych, you can use it to prove everything, including its opposite.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

A Few Highly Useful Tools For Productivity

These are just a few tools that I discovered only recently, and that have proved highly useful to me, in that they help me streamline my online reading and discovering process. They are specifically useful if you're an information junkie like me, and do a lot of reading:


  • Diigo (http://www.diigo.com/)
    An online highlighting, bookmarking and sharing tool. You download a browser plugin and highlight parts of a webpage, or add sticky notes to it. The highlights are public, which is okay for me, but definitely something to be aware of. Here's the link to my diigo library, if you're interested: http://www.diigo.com/user/betlamed. Be aware that highlights are limited in the free version.
  • Readability Redux
    A chrome browser plugin that strips off all design elements from a page, and formats the main text in a narrow column with a large font. Makes it much more readable. Sadly, it has some issues in combination with Diigo on some pages (most notably, Wikipedia).
  • Postpone Page
    Yet another chrome browser plugin. This one simply adds the current page to a list of postponed pages for later reading. I prefer this to the diigo "read-later" list because it's fully integrated in the browser and doesn't upen up a seperate page for the list of postponed pages. Well and also... I just like it better, for whatever reason.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Unconscious Satanism vs. Free Will

Only recently, I encountered, once more, one of the oddest doctrines of christianity; which, even more oddly, seems to be very widespread, at least among literalists and fundamentalists. I don't know whether other mainstream religions have the same doctrine. It is, however, extremely popular with destructive and fringe cults.

I became interested, and I did a few google searches to find out about the history of said doctrine. However, I don't know its official name or proper theological terms to describe it, so my search was rather unsuccessful.

I'm talking about what I might call the "doctrine of unconscious satanism". In it, every non-believer is not only evil, but is a follower of Satan without even knowing it.

I will only touch the fact that the idea of unconscious, unintentional evil is somewhat dubious; or that, in the bible, god himself hardens the heart of the pharao, only to then turn around and punish his whole people in a true gorefest for the pharao's next actions; or that, back when I was a christian, there was also the opposite idea - Gorbachev, it was speculated, was an unconscious servant of god, much like Kyros in the old testament. (Yep, I'm that old, and that was indeed so long ago!)

Instead, let me focus on two highly interesting aspects:

1. This doctrine is almost unavoidable.

If it is true that one can only be in the Jesus camp or in Satan's host, and if it is also true that some nonbelievers claim to have nothing to do with the devil - then those people must either lie or not even know that they've been had. It is interesting to see that christians were not generally willing to presuppose that us puny nonbelievers are straight-out liars every time we open our mouth. Since they're essentially claiming that we're servants of the ultimate evil anyway, what difference does it make? Besides being a wee bit more polite, I mean. (But only really just a wee bit, if you think of it.)

I think the reason is more of a psychological than a theological nature: Christians were always forced to do business with non-christians, some might even fall in love with 'dem godless basterds, and it is just incredibly rude and impolite to accuse your local grocer (in my case, a muslim) of lying about having a contract with Old Nick, blood signature and all. If you think of them as completely deceived, that... well... it feels better. A bit. You're still surrounded by hordes of demon-ridden zombies. But at least they're not intentionally clearing the co-driver's seat for My Boyfriend When I'm In Hell.

And of course, you can't avoid it anyway. Once a dualist, always a scapegoater, as the old saying goes.

2. This doctrine is at odds with the christian doctrine of free will.

Once the devil has me, it is completely impossible to escape to find Jesus. The devil has complete control over the world; it's like the matrix, only even more so. The devil will always make me use the fiendish tools of logic and reason to convince me that there is not enough evidence, that auto-suggestion is not an adequate tool of determining objective facts, or that there are several major logical flaws in christianity's internal structure. Therefore, if the doctrine of unconscious satanism is indeed true, I have no chance, as an atheist, to ever decide that I want to become a christian.

So, how can a nonbeliever ever become a christian? After all, it seems that there are people like that. Does the devil trip up at times? How does one reconcile unconscious satanism with free will?

Of course, the easiest explanation is that ultimately, only god has the power to convert people. But that doesn't solve the problem - again, how does one reconcile that with free will? In what way is my will truly free, if it is simply a question of god intervening, or the devil gnawing away at my soul?

I'm sure there are numerous large theological volumes that have been written about just this subject. Sadly, my attempts at finding those have hitherto been very unsuccessful. If you have any pointers, please let me know - specifically, I would be interested in the history of this doctrine, since I have the impression that it is prefigured in the bible itself (god blinding pharao, Judas, etc.), and must also have its place in rabbinic thought in some form. I also hypothesize that it goes back to older, more rudimentary beliefs about spirits influencing people and demonic possession. I would really like to read something a bit more scientific about the subject.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

"How To Change Your Beliefs And Your Identity" follow-up

Dear Stefan Pylarinos,


yes, blocking people who are skeptical about your claims and ask you to provide the proof you claim on your website, as well as removing their comments from your youtube videos, sure speaks to your professional attitude, success as a self-help guru and personal decency.

I guess we have settled that issue, haven't we?

To be fair, there has been one person claiming that she did get rid of her bipolar disorder by practicing emotion management. Her name is Tieu Nguye, and here is her comment at the youtube video. However, she doesn't claim that she used your method, and her claim is very vague and generalized.

I never doubted that emotion management has good effects; I'm doubting that your outrageous claims are true, that you actually have the proof you claim, that you ever cared to actually test your own claims, and that you can provide "hundreds of examples" of people who experienced fast, radical and lasting change by applying your method.


Sincerely

bet lamed

Searching for something to love in something you loathe...

Over at deliberatism.com, Eric Karjaluoto asks a very sensible question about all those failed attempts at self-improvement:

What if the missing part of the puzzle is not a lack of willpower, but instead a lack of love?
The runner discovers tranquility on the road, forgetting the pain. The writer gives in to the joy of playing with words, moving past the aggravation. The entrepreneur finds purpose in making something, and stops noticing the long days.

It has long been my impression that willpower is severely overrated. I prefer the word pleasure, because  of all the baggage the word love carries with it. But in principle, I agree with the premises of the article.

I don't quite agree with his conclusion, because I think that putting in the hours will often help you discover the pleasurable aspect of an activity that you used to loathe, and that our current focus on instant gratification leads nowhere. And also, there are chores that we simply have to put behind us whether we like them or not, like bringing out the trash or preparing for that exam. But I do agree that sheer willpower and little self-help tricks are not the solution.

The big question still is: How do you find something to love in what you loathe, and pleasure in pain?

It worked for me with my change of diet, it worked with physical exercise to some degree, and it doesn't work at all in some other areas.

So far, it's still poking around in the dark until I hit something useful. So the OTHER big question is, can the search for something positive be systematized, even in the face of strong negative emotions attached to the activity in question?

I don't think that "letting go of the goal" is the ultimate answer, though I suspect it to be one huge part of the solution. The same goes for affirmations, visualisations, meditation or more positive and motivating language patterns (see what I did there? *g*).

I do think that all of these, and certainly quite a few more, can be valuable parts of a practice of permanent personal development. Over time, you acquire your very own, very personal set of best practices that help you the most. In between, there are necessarily shots in the dark, total misses, complete disasters. And some big hits. The trick being, of course, to keep track of the real hits and stick with them no matter what, while getting rid of what did not work as soon as possible.

Do tantrikas provide a happy ending?

It seems that some people arrive here because they seek an answer to the question "Do tantrikas provide a happy ending?"

What seems like a straight and trivial question is really a bit tricky once you look into the details.

The short answer is: Yes, in my experience most professional tantrikas and masseuses will ask you whether you want a "happy ending". Sometimes they will charge a few extra bucks for it. (I have packed the naked factual information into the Tantra SSC FAQ for your convenience.)

However, the thing about tantra is that it is essentially about letting go of the goals and experiencing life from moment to moment. The idea is that our habitual focus on goals often gets in the way of just enjoying what is. When you're completely immersed in something and enjoying it with all your senses, you will rarely ever think about its "goal" or "purpose" or "finish". You're simply present in the here and now. And one effect of tantric practice is to help you be in that state more often. Essentially, you learn how to ride the wave of pleasure instead of asking where it will lead you.

So the question is actually a bit misleading, because it presupposes that the "happy ending" is the client's goal. That may or may not be true. Hazarding a guess, I'd say that first-time clients will always seek the "happy ending", while with more experience, at some point people discover the intricate and subtle pleasures of not having the pleasure end at all, and will stop asking for it.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Why rant against self-help gurus?

What reason do I have to rant against self-help gurus and personal development systems such as NLP, etc.? After all, live and let live, as the saying goes.

Because I believe in change. Because I believe in personal development. I have seen it, in my own life, in many regards. I have also seen myself struggle and be frustrated, time and time again. And in some important areas of my life, I am not ashamed to say, I have still not managed to succeed.

At first, the frustration came from the silly idea that I can never change, that I have to live with unacceptable and arbitrary limitations.

Later on, another form of frustration came from the idea that I bloody well can change, but I have no clue how. I learned all the concepts, and I had some promising initial results, but a lot of it didn't seem to stick. I repeatedly fell off the wagon, and the old habits came through again and again. At any given time, the system seemed flawless; or, well, at least that was what I was trying to believe. What I desperately needed to believe. The system was so logical, so obviously beneficial, and a lot of people swore by it.

If that sounds very religious to you, then I agree: It is indeed religious. It is what religions do, at their core. It is why I reject religion, among other things.

All those systems, be it NLP or the systemic approach, positive psychology, mindfulness-based therapy, nonviolent communication, buddhism, etc. etc. - they all have their merits. They all have some truth hidden within. But as a whole, the only thing they do is block your development.

You cannot have a one-size-fits-all system of personal development. Humans are just too disparate. Our genetics, our history, our personality vary so much that it is extremely hard to derive common general principles.

For example, almost every communication trainer will teach you that you should avoid the negative. The reasoning is that the brain cannot really process a no: "Don't think of a pink elephant." Yes we did think about a pink elephant...

Consider a support team in an IT business. They tell customers, among other things, "Please do not hesitate to call us when you encounter any additional problems." Every self-respecting communication trainer will bang their head against the next wall, and then replace this with "Please feel free to call us in the unlikely event of another challenge."

However, on the other hand, there is also the concept of an "away-from" motivation. The idea is that some people are motivated more by negatives than positives. Seems pretty obvious, given that humans are very, very good at anticipating danger and running away from it.

But... how can both ideas be true at the same time? If some people are motivated by "away-from", then it's pretty much possible that they are actually the majority, in which case it would be much better to keep the original phrasing. Assuming we actually want them to call, of course.

Now, if even this very basic cornerstone of communication is more like a guessing game than anything else, then what about the more intricate points? How on earth is a "six-step reframing" supposed to work for all clients? I can attest that it never worked for me. No, I did not do it wrong.

Why do I rant? Because I suspect that all those nifty methods and systems and strategies only create frustration in the majority of practitioners. And then they come back for more and lose more time and money to the guru. And then, at some point, they get frustrated or simply run out of money, and then they give up on their original dreams and goals. And that is such a big shame, such an awful and despicable loss of human potential and happiness.

Because, as I said above, I believe that change is indeed possible, if you set your mind to it. Not without putting in the hours, and your best creative effort, and probably some lengthy talks with people who did affect change in their own lives. Not to coach you. Not to run a few patterns on you. But to share their own personal experience, so that you can develop your very own coaching system.

But of course, this will rarely ever happen. The universal systems will thrive, and people will put their money there. Well, duh... it is all in the name of good intentions, religious freedom, and making money no matter what. So, all things considered, all is good, I guess.

Brussels sprouts!

One of the most fascinating aspects of my dietary change is my change in liking. This morning, I cooked some brussels sprouts (without any condiment), made me some homemade fries, made a green smoothy and started to eat. Hesitatingly, I must add. I never liked brussels sprouts. They're frakking bitter!

However, this time, I really liked them. Had I not been too lazy, I would have cooked a second serving. I really dig their bitterness. It's totally delicious!!

Monday, December 10, 2012

How do you know whether this belief is useful?

Saturday, December 8, 2012

"How To Change Your Beliefs And Identity"

Dear Stefan Pylarinos,




in our recent conversation on your youtube video about "How To Change Your Beliefs And Identity", you claimed that you can give me "hundreds of examples of people that have made amazing changes." From context, I infer that you are talking about people who have made changes following your own method which you detail in your videos and on your website.

Talking about your website, you claim there that you have a "7-Step Proven Method To Creating The Life Of Your Dreams" and that you know and can teach people "How To Change Any Negative Behaviour Or Emotion Instantly".

Regarding those claims, I have a challenge that I am sure you will enjoy to meet. After all, what's in it for you is nothing short of the best publicity you can ever hope to get: independently verified, irrefutable proof of your claims. You can find this challenge at the end of this blog posting, under the heading "The Challenge".

Before we start, I would like to make one thing abundantly clear: I do not doubt your sincerity. I am perfectly sure that you believe what you say, and that you are convinced that you're doing a tremendous amount of good for other people. The same goes for many other life coaches out there. To what degree that assessment is correct, of course, is an entirely different question.

A Few Remarks About Skepticism And Beliefs


Let's talk a bit about your latest contribution to our youtube conversation, and let me clarify a few things. Here is your text:

I have some feedback, if you're open to it. You have a very disempowering way of looking at things. You very much have a pessimistic or skeptical view of life coaches in my opinion, which is all fear based - it's a fear of being disappointed, or that change can't happen that fast. As long as you believe this, how is it going to help your life? How does believing what you just said going to empower you in any way? I can give you hundreds of examples of people that have made amazing changes.

First off, please stop calling this feedback. It violates pretty much every rule of feedback I ever learned in all the communication courses I took: It generalizes my remarks about self-help and life coaches to my overall worldview, it personalizes matters, it attempts to turn the factual problem I raised into my own personal issue, and most amusingly, it is an attempt at reading my mind. You don't know anything about my personal fears or disappointments, because I never talked to you about that. If you've taken any NLP course at all, you know that mind-reading is one of the main ways of distorting your internal representation of the world. It is also a good way of unnecessarily escalating a conflict, and in the case of a life coach, it is entirely unprofessional and unacceptable.

In short, I guess I might have struck a nerve there, ain't I?

Fast Change


Let's talk about "fast change" first, since it is a repeated topic here on my blog. (Probably even ad nauseam, sometimes, I'm afraid...) Do I believe that change can't happen "that fast"? (How fast is "that fast", anyway? Well, you claim instantaneous radical change on your webpage, so let's go with that.)

Well, I wouldn't completely rule out the possibility of very fast changes.

What I can say is that I have never witnessed any such change. What I can also say is that I probably should have witnessed at least a few, given that I have a sheet of paper in my drawer that says "NLP practitioner" in nice golden letters, that I have another certificate identifying me as a mediator, and I've looked into various "transformative" practices ranging from christianity to kabbalah to buddhism over the years. In my NLP class, there were about 30 peple, and we spent a lot of time with each other over the course of about 18 months. And yet, none of those 30 people ever reported any significant, mind-blowing, instant changes, even though NLP claims to be the most effective method ever, and the institute is probably the largest and most renowned NLP institute in my country. Are we to surmise that they all had those drastic mind-boggling revelations, but somehow all of them just kept their mouth shut about it? Perhaps they talked with each other and somehow kept me out of the loop? Possible. But not very convincing, if you ask me.

As I said, I don't even claim that instant, radical change can never ever happen. I'm sure it does. In fact, it happened to me, and I blogged about it here and here. I do think, however, that probably no-one has ever devised a fool-proof, 100% method of achieving it. If that were not so, how do you explain thousands upon thousands of self-help books and methods, all claiming total effectiveness, often contradicting each other? Don't start with "not everything is for everyone". The moment you admit that, you have essentially admitted that your specific method is not proven, not 100%.

In short, if anyone has a "100% proven method for achieving instant, radical and lasting change", where the heck do they hide their Nobel Prize, and why do they hide it in the first place? Looking around, this is the most sought-after knowledge since the goddarn frakkin' dawn of humanity. If you claim that you have a method like that, be prepared to back that up with evidence. This is a very, very, VERY extraordinary claim, almost as extraordinary as the claim of being able to walk on water or raise the dead. Evidence for this should be MASSIVE if you want it to be believable.

Change is chaotic and unpredictable, in my experience. We can learn how to ride the avalanche, how to steer it to a degree, and that's about all we can do.

Skepticism


You write that I have a "pessimistic or skeptical view of life coaches". You are spot on: In fact, I do, and it is backed by my own experience. Looking at the name of my blog, what else do you expect?

I don't claim that they're all completely bogus, and I do think that a lot of them actually have something useful to say. But I also think that most of them overgeneralize their own experience, have read a few books here and there, and create some brilliant positive, good-sounding, overly optimistic ideology from that, and then sell this as absolute truth. I also think that this is a devastatingly destructive way of going about things that ultimately hurts the customers way more than it benefits them.

But all that is just my own very personal rambling, and skepticism is not about that. Skepticism is about requiring evidence. You made a claim, you show us the evidence, we examine it. Simple, really, isn't it?

The Usefulness Of Beliefs


You asked me (rhetorically, I guess), "How does believing what you just said going to empower you in any way?"

I take from that that you have a very utilitarian view of beliefs. In fact, it is the view taught in NLP and next to all self-help and life coaching. I bought into that view myself, for a while.

Here's the catch: It is not TRULY utilitarian. It consistently overlooks the fact that beliefs, ultimately, are tools for survival. And they can't well function as that if they are not in some way realistic. Yes, beliefs can be disempowering, and we can rephrase and reframe a good many of our beliefs in better ways so as to better empower ourselves and others. But I have also found that I can not make myself believe something that I know to be objectively false. Have you ever tried to make yourself believe that you ate ice cream for breakfast, when you really ate toast? Go on and do it, I challenge you. I predict that you will fail. Your brain will simply reject it as not consistent with your experience.

How will my belief about life coaches empower me? By avoiding to fall for bullshit claims that don't actually work in reality. By avoiding to invest time and money in methods that fail to deliver.

And yes, I did try that stunt with the ice-cream, thanks for asking.

The Challenge


Okay, here's your challenge. As an honest entrepeneur, a decent human being and a great life coach, I'm sure you'll be happy to meet the following criteria:

1. Hundreds of Examples


Regarding the hundreds of examples of people that have made amazing changes, I am looking forward to having all of those reply to this posting. Specifically, I require that the following criteria be met:

  1. Every entry has to come from a different person.
  2. Every single one of them has to be properly authenticated, so we can make sure that none of them are faked. I am flexible about the method of authentication; however, I'm sure our audience and your prospective customers will have a keen and skeptical eye on any method you come up with.
  3. In order to reflect permanent change, the radical instantaneous experience has to have taken place more than 6 months ago.
  4. The report has to be detailed and sufficiently void of vague language.
  5. The person has to attest that the change they achieved was actually the change that they planned to achieve before the experience.
  6. Your influence on and involvement with the change have to be obvious in the report.
  7. The challenge is met if there are at least 200 ("hundreds") such entries within the next month. For starters, I'll be happy to provisionally declare the challenge met if we have 50 entries within one week.

2. 7-Step Proven Method


Regarding your "7-Step Proven Method To Creating The Life Of Your Dreams", kindly answer the following questions:

  1. Without revealing any trade secrets, what is the main psychological method that you base your method on?
  2. What renowned institution performed the scientific tests necessary to devise the proof you claim?
  3. What methods of psychological and sociological measurement were employed?
  4. Were the tests double-blind?
  5. Were the tests quantitative or qualitative?
  6. How many subjects were tested?
  7. What measures were taken to avoid, or at least account for, confirmation and selection bias?

I am looking forward to literally hundreds of replies...



With kind regards,

Betlamed

Big Words

I am highly skeptical of Big Words. For example, the word "love".

"You only have to learn to love yourself". Well, duh, as if that were so easy!

Those Big Words are often so bloated with meaning, they cross the line twice and essentially become meaningless.

I say, if the Big Words fail you, how about toning it down. There is tremendous potential for mental blocks in focusing on the Big Words. It's just so demanding. It can end up putting more pressure on yourself, than it actually helps you. You don't manage to love thy insufferable sexist racist white trash neighbour, and next thing you know, you hit yourself with a large wooden stick for your own failure.

So, let's focus on ourselves first. Self-love. Sound excellent. The trouble is, you probably encounter the very same issue:  This time, you don't manage to love thy insufferable unsuccessful virginal shy not-the-life-of-the-party self, and then hit yourself for it.

Self-empathy, then? Self-appreciation? Boosting your self-esteem with mantras and affirmations?

Still too far-fetched. Still too complex. Too much technology, hype, marketing, NLP. Too little real results.

Don't get me wrong, I love me my affirmations and breathing techniques. I practice them almost daily. I just think that they're somewhat auxiliary. I think that there is no magic pill. I think that change takes time, and deep change takes a frakkin' lot of time. I have learned through many failures that being slow might actually be the fastest and most effective way to go.

Remember that one time when you DIDN'T hit yourself with a large wooden stick? When you just... forgot doing that?

There you have it. That is your first step. Learn how to repeat that. Instead of focusing on big steps and big changes, focus on the tiniest step possible. The quantum leap, in the real sense of the word. Focus on doing the smallest change that you can think of. Instead of talking at yourself in the mirror, "I'm so beautiful and successful and will make a million euros next month", just omit that one thought of how ugly you are. Nothing more. Every time you manage not to put yourself down, that is one big achievement. You can cherish that, and you should. Focus on that one achievement, and how to repeat it - and let all the empathy and esteem and love and sex and money develop naturally over time.

Since we're talking about starting the journey to Alpha Centauri with one tiny step... Only yesterday, I picked up some self-help book, opened a random page. The first sentence I read was this: "It makes sense to start with little steps and first set some realistic and achievable goals." Oh yeah! Excellent strategy: Let's focus on the impossible a little bit later!

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

How can we turn struggle into pleasure?

In the past view days and weeks, I've seen quite a few weight loss videos. Some of which are more inspiring than others.

I really dig how people share their weight loss experiences on youtube. This is how social networks are supposed to work, in my view: building up support networks and helping each other on journeys of self-improvement.

One of the best youtube channels in this respect is Jumoke (http://www.youtube.com/feed/UCf2gJTH7ItjH0BUWmevtkIg). Huuuuge dude, with a good heart and a great sense of humor, who lost 50 lbs in 6 months and is still going strong.

Now, with my recent revelation about healthy and delicious food, I can't help but notice with some sadness one fact about many, many of those videos: They're often telling the story of a struggle. A fight. For example, there's these two fine ladies.

I sincerely wish the best for them. That they reach their goals and move on to live happier lives.

But, judging from my own experiences, it's not going to happen. I don't know how to put this in a way that is not disavowing or dismissive, which is one reason why I didn't put it in a youtube comment. They will last for a month or maybe two, and then they'll bounce back. It is my conviction that you will not succeed on a journey like this as long as you think of it as a fight. I mean, maybe other people are just wired differently, but I cannot imagine how to go on, day to day, with a practice you secretly loathe.

Once you discover the pleasures of whatever it is you're doing, it gets easy. Almost a bit too easy in a way. It's hard to believe, some days, that, yes, I found the way to sustain a healthy diet. After I spent at least 5 or 6 years trying ever so hard to find that way, without making any progress whatsoever.

Tantra, to me, is (among other things) a way to turn meditation into pleasure. Of course I will practice my breathing, if it is one way to get pleasure, whenever I want it, wherever I want it, completely for free!

So, the big question is: How can you turn the challenges you're facing into pleasure? How can you find pleasurable aspects in your chores - taking out the trash, doing the dishes, working at your job, etc.

I have not, as of yet, found a way to generalize my experience with tantra and food to other areas. I'm fairly certain that there is one, and I'm almost sure it has to do with self-empathy, self-love and mindfulness.

One lesson I took from these past few weeks is that it is not always a linear process. Years and years of struggle, and then one youtube video changed it all. So I guess that the struggle is one necessary part of the trip. Maybe it's life's way of "softening us up" so we're prepared for the one sudden revelation. Okay, that's metaphysical b.s., admittedly. But maybe something is actually happening on the psychological level while we're going through all that struggle. The big question is: what is it? What can we learn about it? Can we speed up the process? Or maybe it is all about not doing that, about just giving in to whatever happens?

One big guessing game.

I will keep you posted as I find out more.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

I am not a vegan. I sincerely hope I never will be.

I eat lots of vegan food. Sometimes I eat meat. But regardless of how this develops in the foreseeable future, I will not be "a vegan". I don't want to identify with my food habits. I have enough labels as it is, thanks a lot.

Michael Pollan's Rules

Michael Pollan, in his book "In Defense Of Food", lays out a few rules of thumb for what to eat. They are not only enormously helpful, but also rather amusing. I don't remember all of them (there are about 20 or so). Here are the ones that I found most helpful:


  • Only ever eat food that your great-grandmother would have recognized as edible. I.e., no green-colored sausage from a tube.
  • Prefer stuff from the outer rim of the supermarket. That's where they hide the fruits and vegetables. In Austria, this is actually more like "prefer stuff from near the entrance".
  • If something proudly proclaims that it's "healthy" on the package, avoid it like hell. Apples and broccoli don't need to tell you how healthy they are - you already know that anyway.
  • Prefer non-packaged food. The less plastic-wrap, the less industrial processing it has probably gone through.
  • Remember that you are eating food, not nutrients. What makes a carrot so healthy is not the vitamins and beta-carotin, but the combination of it all. That's why naturally vitamin-rich greens are way more healthy than vitamin pills.

Here are a few from my own recent experiences:

  • It is amazing what you can do with tofu. You just have to learn how to use the stuff, and many folks do get it wrong. My initiation was a vegan bolognese that tasted way better than the "original".
  • Yeast flakes (if that's the correct english translation for "Hefeflocken"?) plus ground almonds and salt make a perfect Parmesan replacement.
  • Once you get off the addiction, healthy food actually tastes way better than empty calories. If it doesn't, that means you have not found what works for you yet. Keep looking for good recipes. There are lots and lots of information on vegetarian internet forums or in cook books.
  • Buy a smoothie maker and start the day with a smoothie! Green smoothies are even better, but even "normal" smoothies will help you stay away from the packaged chocolate bars and candies.
  • Cook your own meals. It's fun, it doesn't actually take much time, and it tastes much better anyway. One of the traps of pre-packaged or delivered meals is that they come in large portions, and people tend to eat what's on the plate, so you will eat more than you actually want. If you cook your own meals, you can make your portion exactly the size you really need.
  • Always add good stuff, instead of avoiding bad stuff. After a good and healthy lunch, I find I have absolutely no need for a Big Mac or Döner Kebap.

Oh and one last thing: definitely try to replace milk with soy milk for a week. You might be lactose intolerant without even knowing (a huge percentage of the populace is, for evolutionary reasons). I found that it helped me a lot.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Falling in love with a tantrika

I think that most people who decide to receive a professional tantric massage might end up being rather surprised by some of its effects.

The thing has a tendency to stir up strong emotions.

I mean, really REALLY big feelings. As in, while I'm laying there, there's always a point where I'm completely overwhelmed with love. Where I want to tell her how much I'm in love with her, how beautiful she is, and so on.

Of course, I know that the feeling goes away after the session, and I know that it is not "real", in the sense that I'm not really in love with my tantrika. We respect each other, I rather like her (though I often disagree and have a hard time not rolling my eyes when she starts about energetic esoteric teachings), and we have lots of fun, before and after and during the session. (Though that last one's a totally different kind of fun.)

Anyway.

I can totally see how this may overwhelm and even overtrain some clients. Especially if they're lonely. Especially if they're somewhat socially awkward. Even more so if they really have no idea what tantra is all about. So I guess... quite a lot of the clients of such an establishment, actually.

So I guess that the practitioners often receive all kinds of fantastic offers. Some of which may be tempting. (Quoth my tantrika: "You never start a relationship with a client. It can't work out." Intelligent woman, she is!)

Basically, there's a guy who receives heaven from your touch, and who is probably prepared to give a lot for having this all for himself... in terms of money, but also of affection, devotion, time... I imagine that it must be extremely tempting to go on a power trip on one of those offers.

So I've started to write a story where that's exactly what happens. Where a woman is given the opportunity to work as a tantric masseuse, and that woman is way too young and naive (and, at that point, disappointed by men) to resist this sort of temptation, so she does go on this power trip, and it does not end well.

I think that this is highly realistic, and I'm pretty certain it has happened before. Not even necessarily with tantrikas...

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

"Grave Encounters"

I have a morbid fascination with horror movies. It used to be a lot worse, actually. But I'm still quite interested in a very simple fact that seems to me to disclose a lot about how humans work: The fact that horror movies may be completely trivial, chop full with clichés, ripe with sexism and racism and stupidity (if you're a character in a horror film, don't ever have sex - especially not if you're a girl...). Scream and Scary Movie thrive on this formalism of horror. Horror, possibly along with porn, must be the most conservative genre there is.

And they still work. I mean, from a purely, umm, functional perspective - you don't have to have complex characters or backstories or interactions... all you need is a motivation for the group to stay in the haunted house, some tensions among the group itself, a few jump scares, and then let them die one by one without any explanation whatsoever. And voilà, there you have it: a perfectly effective horror movie. [REC] works that way. Blair Witch Project works that way. A lot of others do the same.

Of course, some people require some more quality. But I feel assured in my belief that even for those folks, the requirements for horror films are below those to which they would hold movies in other genres. It's got to have something to do with fear being such a primitive, old, deeply rooted emotion.

Ironically, in a way, bad equipment (or rather, the simulation of "bad equipment" in a movie) can help a horror movie. Dark shadows and places you can't see and weird camera angles help a lot. But how to get those if you have perfect lighting and equipment? "Found footage" to the rescue! Once the camera light is off, there's nothing left but darkness.

Anyway, "Grave Encounters" is a good example of what I'm talking about. The thing is not sophisticated. It's a group of people locked in a house at night, with malicious spirits around.







=== SPOILER WARNING ===

There are major spoilers ahead. If you plan on watching the movie, don't read any further. You have been warned.

=== SPOILER WARNING ===








I didn't even watch the whole movie. I only watched maybe half an hour of it, jumping through the DVD. And still I had a hard time turning off the light afterwards. Call me a wussy.

One strong point of the movie is the sheer brutality and malicousness of the spirits. There is no way to communicate with them, no arguing, no pleading, nothing. Those folks are playthings the moment they enter the house, and the film makes this very clear as things progress. I mean, the scene where the one guy tries to find his way out through total darkness, helplessly screaming the names of his fellows, only to then... argh. I would die from a heart attack, long before they.... Argh, again. If you know the film, you know which scene I'm talking about. If not, you'd better not know.

The second one is the "found footage" style. I'm a sucker for that. I loved Blair Witch Project, the natural limitation of light and focus that this style brings makes me imagine all sorts of evil in the dark. It's just delicious. It keeps me on the edge of the seat all the time.

Interestingly, the two parts that totally sold the deal to me were none of the jump scares or the gruesome deaths. One was when they discover that it's 3pm, the following day, and the night just won't end. The other one was when they break through the main entrance, and instead of the outside world, all they find there is just another corridor.

Those two items, in combination with the way they died, told me that there was no hope. They were doomed, period. They would die in there. And die they did. And how.

And again, this is so... simple. Limit the audience's perception, make it final and hopeless, make it dark and gruesome. Simple recipe. But oh how effective!

An important distinction


When you want to find out how things really are, you need to apply logic, reason, evidence, and counter-evidence.


When you want to find out how to live your life, it may pay out to develop compassion and empathy, and follow your heart.


However, it is probably not very useful to try and solve questions about objective reality by looking into your intuition; and it might prove a little difficult to base your life's dreams, who to fall in love with, what job is best suited for you, only on hard evidence.

Hard evidence certainly plays a part in that, but it's not the whole deal. Interestingly, this does not work the other way around: Your feelings can never tell you the speed of light, the date of your mother's birthday, or whether god exists.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Homemade fries + ketchup

Fries:


  • Slice potatoes as small as you want them
  • Put baking paper on tray and potatoes on paper
  • Add salt, pepper, rosemary or whatever spice floats your boat
  • Bake in oven for maybe 10 minutes (check up on them, I totally suck with precise numbers, 10 mins just worked for me that's all)

Ketchup:

  • Put peeled and sliced tomatoes in a dish (the pre-packaged kind you can get in boxes that are already cooked, I'm not sure about their proper english name actually)
  • Add salt, fresh lemon juice and agave sirup (or sugar) to your taste
  • Add whatever spice floats your boat - I often use pepper and chili

And that's it. Total effort: 5 minutes. Total waiting time: 10 minutes. If I'd known this before, I'd never have bought the packaged stuff. Much more room for creativity this way, basically no fat, and it just tastes delicious.

Healthy food

After a month or so of eating almost only vegetarian, and mostly vegan food, here are my first few insights:


  1. Yes it does make me feel better indeed.
  2. I will never go "100%". My aim is to live better, not to be a fanatic. And besides, I don't want to miss out on my mother's extremely delicious dinners.
  3. Weight loss might be a welcome side-effect, but it shouldn't be the primary goal.
  4. Learn to cook for yourself. There are utterly delicious recipes out there, and you'll never get anything even close to that in a restaurant. The video that finally convinced me of this and made me start this thing, was one for vegan bolognese. I swear I have never eaten a pasta bolognese this tasty ever before! (If you want to look it up, the guy's name is Attila Hildmann, but it's in german, so I won't link it here.)
  5. It doesn't have to be salad.
  6. I had always thought that healthy cooking takes a lot of time. Turns out, the opposite is the case. It's a matter of 10-20 minutes for most things I try.
  7. Healthy food is largely a matter of organisation. There are companies that deliver weekly boxes with greens and fruits. Just have to place an order.
  8. Tofu has no taste. Instead, it takes on any taste you add.
  9. The craving for meat, fat and sugar does indeed vanish after a while.
  10. There's a vegan burger recipe (involving tofu, onions, mustard, tomatoes, chillies, agave sirup, avocados, cashews, ...) that I desperately need to try next week.
  11. Popped Amaranth + Yoghurt + Syrup!
  12. Popped Amaranth + Yoghurt + Syrup!
  13. Popped Amaranth + Yoghurt + Syrup!!!!!!!

Monday, November 19, 2012

The Tantra SSC FAQ

As a tantrika and a person with some experience in bdsm, I'm shocked by the fact that, among tantrikas, there seems to be virtually no public debate about safety, how to decide whether a specific course or seminar is good for you, whether a tantric teacher is worth their money, etc. People attend tantric massage with astounding naiveté. (Yes, I know, "it has little to with real tantra", yadda yadda, but that doesn't make it less risky, regardless of whether it's true or not.)

I think that there should be some guidelines as to what constitutes a good tantra institute, what is or is not to be expected in a tantric massage, etc.

On a more generic level, I think that we should take the highly bdsm-specific idea of SSC, adapt it for tantra - and for sexuality in general - and advocate that amongst the general "vanilla" public.

I have since decided to move the FAQ to seperate location where other related documents might reside in the future.

The document you're reading right now might become outdated at some point. I only update the version which you can reach at the following location: http://ssc-faq.blogspot.com/2012/11/the-tantra-ssc-faq.html. Sorry for the inconvenience.

That said, without further ado, here's the first draft:

The Tantra SSC FAQ

Please be aware that I, betlamed, the original author if this FAQ, am in no way a medical or legal expert. Any proposition about legal and medical facts is purely my personal opinion based on my limited knowledge of the legal code and practice in my own country (NOT the U.S.!), and whatever life experience I have. Before you act on the information given, please make sure to take counsel from a trained professional in the respective area!

Also, this FAQ is written purely from a customer's / client's perspective. I'm sure that there are lots of issues that the providers / tantrikas / instructors should be aware of, too. This is not about bashing tantra or tantrikas in general, nor any specific school, tradition, institute, or religion - this is about ensuring the best, healthiest and most beneficial experience for all of us. I wholeheartedly believe that tantra can enrich your life, that everyone can benefit from it, and that almost all practitioners adhere to the highest moral and professional standards. I want to encourage this positive state and contribute to its continuing existence.

Most of what you read below is really just common-sense. The reason it is still useful to spell them out is that in the heat of excitement of receiving your first tantric initiation, it is surprisingly easy to forget the most basic precautions.

1. Tantra in General


1.1. Who is fit for tantric massage?


  • Every person who participates in tantric practices needs to be adult and physically as well as mentally fit. Every participant needs to agree to the practices out of their own free will and without any coercion or pressure. Children, people with mental disabilities, and - to some degree - people with deep emotional issues should not take part in tantric practices.
  • Animals have no place in human sexuality.
  • If you point out a perceived issue with the above, and the practitioner or instructor brushes the issue aside or refuses to acknowledge that there might be a problem, this is a huge red flag that you should never ignore. Alarm the authorities; at the very least remove yourself from the place as fast as possible.

2. Massages


2.1. What is or is not a legitimate part of a tantric massage?


  • In a professional tantric massage (meaning, one that costs money), there is no sexual intercourse, kissing, oral sex, or other sexual act besides the following:
    • A manual whole-body massage
    • Manual genital massage
    • Genital massage to the point of orgasm
      • For males: to the point of ejaculation
      • For males: Manual prostate massage
    • (I'm not sure about manual vaginal penetration - I will look it up)
  • All of the elements above HAVE to be explicitly negotiated before the act
  • In a non-professional/private context, it is of course up to the participants whether hey want penetrative sex or not, but if you plan on doing so, do yourself a favour and negotiate it beforehand. Everything else might be seen as a breach of trust, and there is nothing less erotic than that.
  • Before the start of the first massage with a new client, there HAS to be a comprehensive introductory talk that explicitly covers and clarifies all of the above.

2.2. What are the customary organizational conditions of a tantric encounter?


  • It is customary for the client to take a shower before the massage. Facilities should be provided on the premise, and the client should take up the offer. It is rude and gross to present a dirty body to a person whose job it is to treat you like a god for one and a half hours.
  • A preparatory or introductory talk is not part of the massage and can not be counted in the massage time. Usual offers are for 90-120 minutes. That is the time of the actual massage itself, not the introductory talk, the shower, etc.
  • In a tantric massage, the focus lies solely and completely on the receiver. The giver may or may not be aroused, their arousal is simply not the point, and it is their responsibility to deal with that. If a male practitioner is visibly aroused by the massage, that does not imply any obligation on part of the receiver to "take care of that".
  • Be aware that a masseur/masseuse will sometimes urge you not to produce too much noise. This is contrary to what tantra is really about, but it is a sad reality that in today's western culture, tantrikas can get in trouble if the neighbours find out what they do for a living. So please indulge them.
  • Do not try and explore/reveal the true identity of the giver. They treated you with respect and gave you a form of love, or at the very least provided their part of a fair business transaction amongst adults - you should not actively try to get them into trouble.
  • Do not try to fondle or touch the giver. Your role in a massage is to be passive. There is usually nothing to be said against some light touching in a socially acceptable manner, and it's probably a good idea to talk about its limits beforehand. A skilled professional will know how to deal with an unwanted touch gently but firmly if you try, but it is better to avoid the issue in the first place.

2.3. What emotional issues may arise?


  • The very basis of a tantric massage is trust. If you don't think that the giver is absolutely and completely trustworthy, move out there immediately!
  • The above goes for men as much as for women. Contrary to popular misconceptions, men can be raped, abused and otherwise mistreated. I'm not aware of any cases like that, but what can happen does happen, so it figures that they do exist.
  • During the session, unexpectedly intense feelings may arise. Those feelings may or may not constitute a form of love, but rest assured that they will subside shortly after the session. Don't confuse lust for everlasting love.
  • Okay, this is strictly my personal subjective opinion, but I know at least one professional masseuse who strongly agrees with me, and I just think it bears mention: You never ever EVER try and start a romantic relationship with your tantrika. Chances are that you're just overwhelmed with your hormones, and the risk of ending up in some abusive entanglement of power are extremely high - that goes for both parties! If your tantrika is prepared to engage in romantic encounters with you, s/he will probably do the same for the next client - is that something you'd want?

3. Courses and Seminars


3.1. How can I decide whether a given course is for me?



  • Ask lots of questions beforehand! A good instructor will be very open about what they do, with the possible exception of a few elements of surprise where it would take away from the experience if you knew them beforehand.
  • As far as I'm aware, there is a spectrum of tantric courses ranging from the therapeutic to the purely physical group sex. To further complicate matters, many of those offers deal in religious or esoteric language and ritual to varying degrees. All have their place, all are legitimate if that's what you're looking for. A legitimate instructor will be open and honest about what they're offering. If there is any hesitation on their part to explain exactly what they have in store, that is a very bad sign.
  • Do they think that chakras, chi, energy fields, devas, "higher beings", angels etc. are real, or just useful metaphors? Make sure that the instructors' ideas resonate with your personal worldview, and that they are reasonably tolerant of opposing views.
  • There are courses only for men, only for women, or for both. Also, some courses are only for singles, only for couples, or both. Be sure to ask the instructor beforehand.
  • Money is an issue of course. As a rule of thumb, a weekend course may cost just about what other kinds of self-awareness courses might cost.

3.2. What are some criteria to separate the wheat from the chaff?


  • Do you recognize any signs of guru worship? While guru worship is an intrinsic part of hindu religion and has its firm place in hindu culture, it is not normally part of the more western forms of neo-tantra. It is up to you whether you want to participate in religious practices like that.
  • More often than not, guru worship can be a sign of a cult. If you have any suspicion that you might have gotten into a cult, run as fast and far as you can.
  • If the instructors claim any therapeutic knowledge, are they prepared to show their credentials?
  • Can they explain their therapeutic method to you in terms that you actually understand?
  • Does their method resonate with you? Do the ideological foundations on said method sit well with you?
  • Tantra is never a replacement for actual psychotherapy. Nor does it heal cancer or bestow you with supernatural powers. A legitimate instructor will be aware of the fact and make sure that all participants understand this, too - they will not simply let you sign off some disclaimer just to cover their backs, but actively call the participants' attention to that fact.
  • Good instructors will refuse to accept participants who seem to have mental or emotional issues. Of course, depending on the therapeutic knowledge and experience of the instructor, there is some leeway here.
  • In a good mixed-gender course, there are at least two instructors, one male and one female. Some institutes even employ assistants for the organizational tasks, but also for any issues that the students might have.

3.2. Will I be expected to be nude?


  • Absolutely and positively NO. There might be some practices in advanced courses where it makes sense that people strip off their clothes, and an instructor might then suggest so, or it will just naturally happen this way. In a beginners' course, it most definitely will not happen. Despite what many people think, nudity is neither the point of nor a prerequisite of tantra.
  • The general basic rule which applies under any and all circumstances is that nobody is ever to be forced into any one particular practice. No means no, and it is to be respected. You have to decide what is good for you, or where your limits are.
  • Having boundaries is not a sign of weakness, or that someone is "not advanced enough", or anything of the sort. Every human being has boundaries and limits, and is perfectly entitled to enforce them under any and all circumstances. This is an integral and immutable part of any legitimate tantric activity.
  • You never have to stand by your "no" against opposition. This is not an assessment center or a management coaching, this is a recreational activity that should serve your fun and help you be more self-accepting, and you have to feel absolutely comfortable at any time.
  • If you witness or are the victim of any coercion into nudity or any other practices that you feel are inappropriate, then it is time to get out of there, and probably inform the authorities. Your own safety should be your top concern. Any attempt at breaking or bypassing your personal judgment is amoral at least and criminal at worst.

3.3. What about this odd non-disclosure agreement they want me to sign?


  • The instructors will often have the participants approve some kind of non-disclosure agreement. The laudable intention is to ensure confidentiality for all participants. However, sometimes a malignant instructor will use this legitimate practice to keep people from talking about illegitimate or outright criminal activities.
    • In some countries, such a non-disclosure agreement is implicit in participation anyway. If the instructor possesses a therapist's certificate, they may well declare the course a form of group therapy, in which case the participants implicitly become co-therapists and are thus bound by doctor-patient confidentiality. It is a good idea to remind people of the fact that they are supposed to be discreet about what and whom they hear and see, but it is not strictly necessary.
    • Such a non-disclosure agreement is limited by customer protection laws. Of course the customers have a right to compare notes on different offers, as long as they do not commit slander or libel.
    • A non-disclosure agreement of any sorts can never cover any criminal activities. If a client becomes a witness to psychological or physical abuse or coercion, they have every right to report this to the authorities. Discussing this in public chats or forums, or otherwise talking or writing about it in public, may constitute slander or libel, but this is not related to the non-disclosure agreement.

3.4. What's with the weird "left-hand/right hand path" stuff?


  • Both terms stem from the western occultist tradition, and are sadly ill-defined (as probably is to be expected in this context). Both may or may not refer specifically to sexual magic, or to magic in general. The left-hand path mostly refers to black, i.e. malicious magic, the right-hand path to white, i.e. benevolent magic. At any rate, both terms have absolutely no place in western secular therapeutic tantra.

3.5. Is tantra a form of therapy?


  • The simple answer: No, in and of itself, tantra is not a therapeutic method. If an instructor claims that it is, then they are either misinformed to a degree that renders them unfit for their job, or something is distinctly fishy.
  • Some instructors claim therapeutic knowledge. This may or may not be legitimate. In any case, it implies that they are bound by the laws regarding psychotherapy in your country, and they can be held responsible to those standards.
  • As soon as they are trained therapists claiming to perform therapy, the instructors are bound by doctor-patient confidentiality.
  • If they claim to perform therapy, but are not trained therapists, that is a criminal offense which should be reported.

3.6. Miscellaneous


  • Please be aware that peer pressure is an astoundingly strong force. It is scientifically proven that everyone of us tends to underestimate its influence. At the first sign of peer pressure, leave the place immediately, or at the very least take a long walk all on your own to clear your mind.
  • If the course takes place in some remote rural part, make sure to take provisions that allow you to leave the place at any time you choose to do so. Nothing is worse than being stuck with an abusive religious guru and their faithful followers for a whole week, just because you didn't come with your own car.
  • If you attend a course as a couple, do not assume that the course will magically heal your relationship issues. Chances are, if your relationship is somewhat broken already, the course will accelerate the process of breaking up.
  • If you attend a course as a couple, talk with your partner about what you can imagine them doing with other people, and what you would rather not see them do.
  • If you can't stand someone looking at your partner with obvious sexual arousal and intentions, do not attend a tantra course, period. The same goes the other way, too. Your partner will be aroused, and you will not always be the direct cause of that arousal.
  • If you attend a course as a single, do not assume that you will find a partner, or will effortlessly get tremendous amounts of sex. The basic rules of attraction that hold in everyday life will also hold on a tantra course.

This FAQ is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. Feel free to share and modify, as long as you grant the same freedom to others and mention the original source.

Feedback is, of course, welcome.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Job, interpretations, and jobs


Seth Andrews posted the following image on his facebook page today:



Christians will love to inform you that this is not the point of the story.

The point of the story is that god will reward you for keeping your obedience and faith in face of severe obstacles.

Personally, I think that one point of the story is that being good is not a ticket to a good life, and that life is simply unfair - I can well imagine that the reconciliation part was added later on. (Most theologians agree that the wager part was a later addition - there seems to have been some uneasiness about the whole oeuvre even in biblical times.) Or that it was not even meant to have a message, and was just an attempt at reflecting the relationship between the law, god, and human freedom.

After all, Job seems to have been written around the same time as such ominous books as Kohelet, Ruth, and Song of Songs. Those books don't seem to quite fit in with the rest of the Old Testament - to me, they always seemed to portray a somewhat deviant, reflective, almost rebellious attitude toward the law, the society of Israel, and all too self-assured righteousness.

But stories like that simply do not have one, and only one, correct interpretation. You do not write a story to make a point, and when someone then points out that there are other points to it that you didn't intend, you steadfastly deny it. I'm sorry, but that's just not how storytelling works.

Homer probably didn't intend us to read Odysseus as an opportunistic prick who had his fun outside of marriage for a while and was not all too unhappy about all the obstacles the gods threw at him (he did actively choose to listen to the Sirens, remember?). But heck, that interpretation is valid, and how!

Much the same way, the prodigal son can be read as a failed coming-of-age story. This one has always bugged me - it seems the superhuman grace of god can only ever be expressed in terms of unfinished or thwarted emancipation. Superdaddy will never let you go. He won't let you fly but he might let you sing. It doesn't sit right with me, sorry. It reeks of old wives' tales designed to instill fear and beat children back into obedience.

That multitude of meanings is there in every story. Of course, that's what makes a good story fascinating and captivating - but there is a price to pay: The author doesn't get to deny one interpretation just because it doesn't fit her original intention. Sorry, you should have written a different story then, or just plain told us what you wanted to say instead. Can't have your cake and eat it, too.

"God is an immoral monster" is part of the message of Job, regardless of whether the author wanted to say that or not. (And that message of obedience is, at the very least, morally dubious.) On a deeper level, of course, that's just what you get when you're an omnipotent being who created the world. It's unavoidable that bad shit happens, and god's outrageous and arrogant speech is nothing but the classic denial of a person in power who refuses to take up the responsibility for the mess they've made. Job shows us precisely what happens when people in power act like that: The subordinates suffer. We see that happening in offices and workplaces around the globe on a daily basis, and Job does a terribly good job (npi) of presenting god as the ultimate uncaring, antisocial villain.

And who knows - maybe that WAS the original intention, after all?

Sunday, November 11, 2012

A Rape Fantasy Gone Horribly Wrong

Please do not read any further if you're offended by discussions of rape, or if they trigger extreme negative memories.

Yesterday, I happened upon this article by way of the following youtube video.



Summing it up: Girl discloses her rape fantasies to her loving boyfriend; boyfriend goes through with it; she says it was real rape.

Now, I will not participate in the blaming process, which I feel to be rather unproductive, especially since the article was posted over 3 years ago and enough people have done an excellent job of it already (though I admit that it is very tempting). Instead, I would like to point out that virtually all the comments to that article are about assigning 100% of the blame to one side. Mostly, they blame the girl. Regardless of whether the commenter be male or female - almost everyone seems to agree that she is to blame. I don't know what to make of that, it just strikes me as odd.

The more important question is, how can healing occur after an incident like this? Putting aside, just for a moment, the blame issue and the obvious legal implications - what needs to be done for both parties to be healed?

One problem with talking about rape is that it almost seems a crime of metaphysical proportions. So the moment you suggest that the victim should do something (apart from informing the authorities), there is an almost instinctual gut-reaction to call victim-blaming!, and stop listening.

How terribly hard it is to phrase things unambiguously here. It's like a fight against language itself. Isn't this idiotic? Talking about who is to blame, and who is guilty, and who has to be punished, is so much easier than trying to actually be productive and have a positive influence. It seems next to impossible not to come off as a self-righteous prick when talking to/about a rape victim. Sure, I have not suffered through a rape. But on the other hand, we were all victims at some points in our lives, I've known several rape victims, believe-you-me I've had my own share of suffering, and on that level I hope that we can empathize and share our experiences.

So, here are my conclusions from my own experiences with being a victim of whatever life threw at me:

I think that there is a distinct difference between being the victim of a wrongful deed on the one hand, and letting that experience dominate the rest of your life on the other. The first you can't influence - the latter you can. I believe that "taking responsibility" has nothing to do with "taking the blame". In fact, I believe that one is almost the opposite of the other. Or rather, the two are distinctly different and unrelated issues. No, you can not take responsibility for the deed that was done to you; nor is it useful or necessary to blame yourself. But you can take responsibility for how you deal with it, now, and for the rest of your life.

You can take responsibility for making sure that this will never, ever, happen again to you. You can take responsibility for helping others who were in the same situation, or for helping them avoid being victimized in the same way. You can take responsibility for turning this into something positive - like a lotus

And most importantly, you can take responsibility for developing self-empathy. At some level, I guess, we all feel that we're to blame for everything that happened to us. And putting the blame on the actual offender - as much as this may be necessary - doesn't seem to really help much. It may sound counterintuitive, but I believe that it makes sense to forgive yourself for letting yourself be victimized. In overcoming my own victimhood, regardless of the actual circumstance, there always comes a certain point at which I am able to say, yes, I let this bad thing happen to me, yes, I let this person wrong me, and I can understand how I could have let that happen because I'm not perfect and neither do I have to be, I don't have to be strong all the time.

Sometimes, this was an issue of a few days. Sometimes, it took me years. And with some issues, I have been working on that for basically all of my life.

So, this is definitely not an easy thing to do. It might be a lengthy process, it might take years, it might never be completely finished. It has to be done step by step, day by day. If you're just a wee little bit better tomorrow than you are today, that is a big achievement.

Sound like not-so-much-fun? Well, yeah. I agree. I simply do not know any other way that actually works.

I also believe that the same steps are necessary for both the victim and the offender. The offender has to go through exactly the same process of self-forgiveness, self-empathy and, perhaps, finding some way to turn this into something positive.

The other thing is that, from a male perspective, there is a very simple lesson to be taken here: Never ever EVER engage in simulated rape play, unless you are fully prepared to go to jail and be labeled a rapist for the rest of your life. Not even if there was a safeword set, not even if you think you are 100% sure that she really wants it. The fun is not worth the risk, and you can not predict whether she will change her mind afterwards - and I'm not saying this in a "you can't trust a girl" way. I guess one part of the problem is that, while they're indulging in their fantasies and getting hot and steamy, people can seriously misjudge the impact the real deal has on their emotions and their mental health. Not to mention the physical impact that rape has.

In other words, she might be completely and honestly convinced that non-consensual rape is absolutely what she wants, but when it actually happens, things might turn out to be completely different. Or to phrase it even more succinctly: Rape can never be consensual. You are essentially committing a crime on your girlfriend, even if it seems that she consented to it beforehand.

I don't ever want to be in a position where I have to own up to the fact that I raped someone, regardless of not being aware of it at the time. I can't start to imagine what impact that might have on me, even if it doesn't end up in court.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Obama's re-election will bring on Armageddon!

So, a christian guy posted a link to the following gem on facebook  (yeah I know people like that!):

http://chantrynotes.wordpress.com/2012/11/07/how-i-absorbed-three-punches-and-stood-up-anyway/

To spare you the necessity of reading this... fine piece of poetry, here's the executive summary: A fundamentalist christian complains about Obama's re-election, because to this guy (I suppose; could be a girl of course), Obama stands for infanticide and perversion and, well, everything evil and anti-christian on the planet.

Amazingly, this is not an isolated case. There seems to be a whole pot of christian anti-Obama soup boiling over right now. Obama got re-elected, therefore the end-times are near.

Yeah sure.

I won't even go into the tiny detail that the other guy, what-was-his-name-again, probably wouldn't have lived up to the high hopes that some christians seem to have placed on him. Not in a world that is only ruled by politicians to a small degree, and mostly governed by business interests. (Shouldn't we actually be TOGETHER in despising this? Us liberal-minded folks and the christians, I mean?) I won't bitch about how ridiculous it is to see gay marriage as the epitome of "perversion". (Hey, I used to be into bdsm, remember? I can teach you a lesson or two about anal, if you like.)

Instead, let me focus on only one interesting fact: People like that seem to think that it is the function of a state, and by extension its representatives, to cater to the morals of one specific group. I contend that those folks simply haven't understood the role of the state.

See, the role of the state is not to decide, for example, whom I am allowed to love, or what we do with each other in the bedroom. That is a moral problem that different groups can and will and should solve according to their specific beliefs. The state's role is to provide the bare minimum of boundaries for our social behaviour. And the guideline for those boundaries cannot be taken from the morals of one specific group - even if that group be the large majority - but only from the plain and simple question of how to keep people from hurting each other.

If the state rules that abortions can be performed until the n'th week of pregnancy, then this is not a statement to the effect that abortion is a-ok or morally justified. All it means is that the governing body is of the opinion that this is the best way to reduce suffering as much as possible.

This is, of course, debatable. And we should indeed debate it, again and again. And the debate will never be over. But the basis for the debate is not christian mores; nor buddhist mores or "tantric mores" (whatever that might entail), or satanist or hindu or ancient greek or communist mores... but simply the reduction of suffering.

That is because, as far as I can see, the reduction of suffering is the one formula that all religions, and every worldview that is at least somewhat sane, can agree on. So it is guaranteed to be valid for practically all citizens of any given state.

Anything else would really just be favoritism.

Oh, and, since we're at it, Romans 13:1 clearly states that "everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God." Folks, your own bible tells you that Obama's re-election was god's will. So what's the fuss about?

Thursday, September 27, 2012

A Nagging Doubt

I do not believe in deities. I do not believe in spiritual energies like qi or mana, meridians, acupuncture. Neither do I believe in astrology, tarot, or the kabbalah (the one esoteric system I still hold dear, if simply for its incessant overflow of symbols and associations). Homeopathy? Duh. Don't get me started.

One can not believe what one does not believe. I don't think it's true, and it makes no sense to try and convince myself of it.

But, sometimes, there is this idea in my head that all the "energy exercises" that I perform almost daily - and which proved extremely worthwhile to me - might do a lot more for me if I just gave in to the belief that those "spiritual energies" actually exist.

I must admit that this is a very seductive possibility.

I can well imagine that there is indeed a very real foundation for that in the human brain. After all, religion didn't come from nothing. Feeling connected to the earth, the air, the universe as a whole - not only in a symbolic, psychological way, but as an actual reality - surely must be a tremendous experience.

It is quite ironic: I have the tools, now, to basically create those feelings "at will". Six, maybe seven years ago, I would most probably have attributed reality to them and gone on a wild, enthusiastic spiritual ride. But alas, then I didn't know how. Now that I have learned a few things, I could, but I won't do it.

It would be nice to have a little belief switch: Switch it on, believe in whatever wacky spiritual idea you like. Perform your exercises and have the most intense transcendental experiences. And then just switch it off again and go back to thinking critically.

And of course, in a way, drifting into the nondualistic, non-discursive depths of "Self", is a bit like that, only without any words that could describe those beliefs.

But ultimately, I think one just has to live with it. You can't get the placebo's full effect while knowing that it doesn't contain any active ingredients. Once you've pulled back the curtain and paid attention to the wee man there, there's no way to close the curtain. You can never unsee.

And of course, the upsides outweigh the disadvantages by far.

Why Do People Make Sex A Spiritual Endeavour?

This is a great, very thoughtful and thought-provoking 2009 article about why so many sex-positive "progressive" people like to associate sex with "spirituality". It's written from a skeptical perspective, so it instantly jibed well with me.

One thought from that article is that "spirituality" is pumped up with positive associations because it's a close neighbor to religion, and religion is, in our minds, still stereotypically "good". So if you move out of the "sex is sin" paradigm, and into a "sex is goooooood" state, then calling your sex spiritual makes the transition a lot easier. It alleviates your guilt, simple as that.

Personally, I would like to add that "sacred sex" or even just plain VERY VERY GOOD SEX has a lot to do with introspection, and "spiritual" practices are, of course, deeply introspective most of the time. So I guess it makes sense for many people to combine the two in order to achieve even better results, or simply because there is a huge shared area.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

A (Very) Short Critique of Modern Spirituality

If we assume that "ego vs self" ("left-hemisphere vs right-hemisphere"; "duality vs nonduality"; etc.) is an apt description of "inner states", then I do not think that one of those two states should be preferred, is more mature, more developed, closer to enlightenment than the other. Both are part of my "true being", both are necessary.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Ego and Self

One metaphysical approach to psychology that I particularly enjoy is the following:

There is ego, and there is self.

None is better or worse than the other, both just are. Ego is about setting boundaries, affirming yourself, being your own (wo)man, independent and strong. Self is about being connected, in tune with everything, at one with others and the universe as a whole, interdependent and without any need for boundaries, endless, loving, unconditional.

Most metaphysical "spiritual" systems seem to have some bias for self over ego. Modern western psychology, on the other hand, mostly doesn't.

(The problem is, I suspect, ultimately unavoidable: The sentence above - "both just are" - is itself an expression of self, not of ego. It's an expression of nonjudgment over judgment. Perfect balance seems impossible. So, the best we can do is be aware of the issue and not, as my usual motto goes, fall for our own b.s.)

Basically, what I think is that you just naturally go from one state to the other, and back again, several times every day or even every minute. It's fun to realize in what state you are, right now, and there are visualisations that can help invoke one state when you need it.

In fact, those visualisations are so obvious and unexciting that I hasten to name them. Strong roots that connect me to all the world? My crown chakra completely open to the whole of the universe? A strong, white, glowing like that surrounds me like a vigorous armor and protects me from outside influences? The knightly warrior, ready to strike?

I'm sure you catch my drift and can come up with your own images for the two states, if you so decide. It's a fun little exercise to evoke those states, perfect for a rainy day, and probably of some use in more serious contexts, too.

The most important bit here, though, is the realization that you do change your state over time. When you're completely disconnected from everything, wrapped up in anger and rage, you're in a state of ego. Now is probably not the time to go bargain for that raise. But you know that you will be in a different stage, a few minutes or maybe hours later. So you just have to wait, or if you're impatient, practice changing states.

Note that this is precisely the opposite of an "esoteric typology": These are not character types, but rather states or functions of the mind. This has nothing to do with being a "left-brainer" vs. a "right-brainer" (oh how I abhor that nonsense!), analytical brainiac vs creative artist. Even your most hard-headed businessman depends on his empathy, if only for acquiring new customers. I find those typologies extremely limiting, because they tend to see a human being as static, fixed, unable to change. When you feel that you're too analytical for your own good, or that you need to set up more and stronger boundaries, well, change it, focus on the aspect that you want more in your life! Just... don't forget that the other part is equally important and necessary for your wellbeing.

Well and of course, please, never forget that this is not "true". I guess we can show different states of mind with MRIs or CATs or something like that. But I highly doubt that "ego" and "self" can be shown in the brain. It's just a rough approximation of personal experiences that seems to work for many people.

I find this to be tremendously relieving.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Thoughts

Just a few thoughts that have been going through my head these days:


  • Is being introverted necessarily a contradiction to being extraverted, or can one switch from one to the other? If so, how?
  • Does the "hook-up culture" actually exists, as certain conservative folks, for example one Robert Barron, seem to propose? Why do I never get to witness a "hook-up" in real life?
  • If the hook-up culture is so terribly bad for you and makes teenagers end up in psychiatry after a few years, then how come the '68s were suspiciously unaffected?
  • I've read quite a few times now that there is a huge conservative backlash and sexual faithfulness is actually "in" these days. So what is true now?
  • If Jesus had chosen not to opt for monogamy (very much a possibility, since the concept was under heavy debate at the time) - would christians now argue in favour of polygamy? What might their arguments be? (Excellent topic for a speculative fiction story.)
  • Being able to deal with ambiguities as an indicator of maturity.
  • How is it that the BDSM folk know that you should know your tools and that misapplications can be dangerous - while many practitioners of yoga, meditation, NLP, christianity etc. seem to be utterly oblivious to the possibility of unwanted side-effects?
  • Metaphysical systems can always be translated into each other's language, and if you do so, the result is a third and possibly new system. (Christian NLP, NLP zen, Freudian NLP, Freudian tantra, zen scientology?)

Monday, September 17, 2012

It Happened So Fast... (A Word of Warning for Aspiring Meditationists)

When I got into buddhist meditation, I was in a major depression. Regular meditation practice helped me with that - it made me a lot calmer. And for quite a while, it was good. Very good, actually.

Now, most buddhist writers (and speakers) place a lot of emphasis on being here and now, not blindly following the fantasies, slowly disidentifying from the "monkey mind", the "mindless mind chatter".

So, ever so slowly, while becoming calmer, I also got more disengaged from some of my old thought patterns, some of my old feelings. That was good, because it was bad feelings and destructive thoughts that got me depressed in the first place.

But at some point, I realized that I had gotten more than I had bargained for. I had lost some of my desires. But did I actually WANT to lose them? Among those desires was my desire to write good literature (in my mother language, of course, don't you worry!). But I didn't realize that there might be a connection; I just assumed that it was one of those naturally occurring periods in which I didn't fancy writing so much. And writing had often been connected with intense suffering, so actually, that felt pretty good, too. So I had no motivation to change that, I assumed that it would just come back at some point (as it always had), and anyway since I didn't know what was going on, I had no way of changing it either.

A while later, I got into tantra. I learned how to create ecstatic feelings at will. And for quite a while, it was good. Very good, actually.

Now, tantra places a lot of emphasis on being here and now, not blindly following the fantasies, instead focusing on deep breaths and utterly slow motions.

That was good, because it made me feel happy, and there's rarely a guy out there who couldn't use some slowness and endurance in their sex.

But at some point, I felt my sexual desire floating away. Not that it felt bad - it was just weird, and slightly astounding. (Maybe I should tell you that I'm basically horniness incarnate. I cannot remember any time before that - after hitting puberty of course - when I didn't want sex. Not. One. Day. Seriously.) I thought it might just have to do with getting older and thus, less flooded with hormones. So there wasn't really a lot I could do about it, and as I said, it did feel really good in a way, so I let it go.

But a week ago, I got back into my old habit of keeping a dream diary, and then a few days later, I started reading a book on daydreams. Basically, it's about how they're a good thing, how they are necessary for any creative effort, for planning, for building a life.

Then it suddenly hit me: I have basically made a habit out of treating my daydreams with disrespect. I was always a rather introverted kind of guy, I enjoy having a conversation with myself in my own mind, I like building inner-world universes. If I don't treat my fantasies right, of course I don't get what I want! Of course I lose my creative spark.

So I'm rebuilding my daydreams now. I'm keeping a daydream diary along with the night-dream diary, and I consciously build up those sexual fantasies again.

So...

Not that I'm blaming anyone, or whining around. I took this upon myself, and now I found another detail, and that is excellent. It's just one more part of my journey.

I just feel that those experiences need to be shared, so that, if you plan to delve into some form of meditative practice, you know that something like that can happen to you. It's not necessarily bad, either - just something to watch out for. If you feel that your fantasies are overwhelming, and they're giving you a hard time, then that's exactly what you want: some distance. If you're low on energy and in a constant mellow state.. probably not so much.

I think the bottom line is that meditation, tantra, etc. are all tools. Excellent tools. But they're not perfect,  they're not ends in themselves, and as with any tool, using them has a downside that one should be aware of.

And never never never never EVER let anyone tell you that your daydreams are a bad thing, filthy, sinful, or something to be avoided. (Of course, there is something to the buddhist perspective that you shouldn't identify with your thoughts, and of course, this is yet another tool that has other downsides that I'm not seeing yet... but... it's complicated. I'll say more about it once I actually know what I'm talking about.) I say honor your daydreams, treat them with respect, hone them, nurse them, water them like beautiful flowers. They deserve your best, and they will pay you back what you give them, interest and all.