what does consciousness offer?
“Consciousness practices offer richness, juiciness, depth, meaning, purpose, awe, wonder, joy, pain -- all of it.
The whole enchilada.”
Cassandra Vieten, Ph.D. is extraordinary – a licensed clinical psychologist, director of research at the Institute of Noetic Sciences, associate scientist at the Mind Body Medicine Research Group at California Pacific Medical Center Research Institute in San Francisco, CA, co-president of the Institute for Spirituality and Psychology, an author, avid soccer player, and a mom. Say that three times fast.
Cassi’s research on mindfulness-based approaches to dealing with addictions, mood disorders, and for stress reduction during pregnancy and early motherhood have been funded by the National Institutes of Health, the State of California, and several private foundations. We’re talking about the beauty, benefits and the hard problem of consciousness practices she faces every day with her clients.
Meaning, juiciness, awe... you’re describing our full, vivid potential as human beings. Why do so many people tune out instead and turn to external fixes, drugs and alcohol. Is there a catch?
“Everyone is in such a high state of agitation and stress. The way we live, the way we hurdle down the freeways in our little metal boxes, it makes sense that everybody is scaffolding their lives. Consciousness actually doesn’t offer the kind of numbness or contented pleasure that most people are seeking. Alcohol, cigarettes they work, they work really well. They work really fast, and they’re really cheap, really easy. The only reason everybody wouldn’t be using them is because they kill you. They cause a lot of suffering. It’s hard to find something that matches up against how easy it is for someone to feel terrible and then to smoke a cigarette and feel fine in 3 seconds. They feel fine, and that is powerful.
Unless you intentionally unplug and spend time in silence or in nature, there is rarely a moment where you’re not in all that chaos. Without awareness, people have got to build a scaffold -- here’s my caffeine, my TV, here’s all the things I have to do to keep this completely imbalanced, insane way of living -- moving forward.”
Right, and consciousness transformation develops over time. How, then, do you approach mindfulness in your practice?
“I had to get realistic. This isn’t about saying “Hey, I have something that can replace your cigarette. If you learn this mindfulness thing it’s going to kind of make you feel ___” -- it’s bullshit. It’s actually not ever going to make you feel the same way as does the ease and passivity of smoking a cigarette and to instantly, physiologically experience a feeling of all is well. Nothing is going to combat that.
You tell that to people and they are like “Great, I would rather watch TV.” It’s hard to find something that can break the spell.”
“When someone gets to his or her breaking point -- when they feel “this is actually not fun at all, I am not going to see my kids grow up. I’m coughing, I smell terrible, and this pain I feel outweighs the reward. I will do almost anything to find a new way,” they reach out for help.
But even then, I tell them the good news/bad news is we’re never going to be able to give you anything that feels as good as a cigarette after your craving. There is nothing wrong with you. You’re absolutely hardwired for this, that’s why they are so incredibly popular.”
I’ll bet you could hear a pin drop… what’s their reaction?
“What’s so amazing is they are actually relieved! I hear, “Thank you for saying that.” The truth takes away the shame.
And once they do get into new ways of cultivating their consciousness,
they are like “Wow, okay, this is peace, this is joy. This is beauty.”
Do you find it challenging to discuss consciousness and mindful awareness?
“Yeah, it’s really hard to talk to people about opening their consciousness. It’s a tough road just motivating others to sit on a cushion and watch their thoughts. Some have a powerful intention either through intense suffering or through undeniable, blow out glimpses of awareness. And the landmarks vary. If you’re lucky, you get a few, big lightening bulb moments that sustain you through your spiritual journey. Most people don’t even get that. They get some nice moments and it deepens gradually until they experience the “Oh my God, everything I have ever been looking for is right here in my awareness like you said, in this moment,” moment.
But that takes a while. So I wonder just how do we reach somebody who is not at that deep bottom of suffering or who’s had an a-ha moment to accelerate that inquiry process?”
Right, because so many people consider consciousness transformation as woo-woo, out of their reach or in the domain of Buddhists and spiritual seekers . You don’t have to forgo your body for a pillow, and leave your condo and your BMW behind in order to evolve.
“Well, you know what’s really interesting about that work, although we interviewed all these people, I think sex was probably mentioned 3 or 4 times. Now, granted we did not ask the question.
One of the guys we interviewed was hilarious, he said, ”How can you ask these 20 questions and not ask about sex?”
Sex is most people’s portal to the time when they feel the most sacred, the most connected, the most holy. For the everyday individual sexual intimacy is probably the one place where they ever experience dissolution of self or a true kind of spiritual experience that is completely immaterial, unexplainable and distinctly embodied. And yeah, we didn’t even ask.”
What did you discover from not asking about sexuality?
It resonates for them with a sense of Wow. Okay, so there is something there.”
Why do you think sex is overlooked regarding consciousness?
“Sexuality for most of us, even people who are evolving spiritually, is a part that remains really separate; very un-integrated. Aside from Tantric practices, it’s taboo even in the deepest spirituality. How can that be… that one piece of who we’re being is somehow not allowed into the conversation? I actually feel we haven’t even begun to figure out how consciousness evolves in the context of sexuality. There are such exemplary extremes to follow... you either have the celibate master who decides this area is so fraught with danger and adopts a ‘forget the whole entire thing’ approach, or you have the charismatic master who is having sex with all the students.”
And when we dismiss the context of our sexuality, our energy gridlocks. It’s prohibitive to our well being; our ability to communicate effectively and transform.
“Yes, and imagine the training we’re not getting. We are just now starting to think about training kids in emotional intelligence - to actually teach kids how to talk to each other. Communication is challenging, as we all find out when we grow up and work and are married. What do we get in terms of our training around sexuality? We get the one movie or the ridiculous ‘birds and the bees’ talk. The most training we get about sexuality is through the media.”
“Cultivating awareness is a wonderful foundation for great parenting. Mindful awareness is a skill that can be learned, like playing the piano or learning a new language, and as such it takes practice. There are lots of opportunities now to learn mindfulness -- at a local meditation center, through taking a mindfulness-based stress reduction class, and increasingly mindful parenting classes are popping up everywhere.
The focus here is on being aware of your experiences as parents as they arise. Meeting them as they are, learning to center your attention in the present-moment -- on what actually is happening right now, rather than your stories about it, or what it means.
Riding the waves of life…
“Yes, mindfulness is about learning to approach all of your experiences, as much as possible with openness, curiosity, and compassion. It's about learning to ride the waves rather than resisting them and getting battered about in the process.”
She is the author of Mindful Motherhood: Practical Tools for Staying Sane During Pregnancy and Your Child's First Year (New Harbinger Publications/ Noetic Books, 2009). In addition, she is coauthor, along with Marilyn Schlitz and Tina Amorok, of Living Deeply: The Art and Science of Transformation in Everyday Life (New Harbinger Publications/ Noetic Books, 2008).
Her website is http://mindfulmotherhood.org.
If you could see your heart, you would see what fulfills your life. By Gil Hedley
Here’s a glimpse of What’s Inside You.
Illustration by Sam Weber / Republished by permission of GH
Originally published in May~June 2008 / Spirituality&Health.com
I can vividly recall my first encounter with the heart during my early laboratory explorations of the human form. As a budding anatomist, I had many assumptions and preconceptions, and when I finally came face to face with the inner space of the body that I was exploring, I was taken aback. Behind the chest wall I saw the two lungs on either side of a central mass covered in a fibrous membrane — a physical trinity, completely motionless. And in the very place where I felt myself to be most present and alive, in the cadaver I perceived nothing — an empty place.
The stunning miracle of life is often overlooked until the dead are witnessed. And if there’s one thing that separates the dead from the living, it is movement. The heart is at the very core of our life, and in our hearts we are always moving. Give yourself a few moments to feel the truth of that statement. Lying down or seated, breathing without effort, relax and allow yourself to notice the sensations generated from your heart. When you are thoroughly relaxed, you will find that your heart’s motion will actually be visible, gently rocking your whole body with its pleasurable pulsation. Literally 100,000 times a day, our hearts are leaping within us.
The electromagnetic effluence of the heart radiates off our bodies, perfusing the space around us with the signature impressions of our person. The mix of our own and others’ waveforms constitutes the patterns and matrices of our relationships. The particular qualities of those relationships are directly shaped by that which flows from our hearts.
Our Heart’s PatternsThe quality of our heart’s movement deeply reflects our emotional and spiritual patterns. Wherever I am, there too is my heart, perfectly mirroring in its movement my habits, dispositions, and choices. Research has shown that the variability of the heart rate meaningfully reflects heart health.
The person whose heart demonstrates the more variable movement, as opposed to extreme regularity, is the healthier one. A heart in a “movement rut,” repeating a pattern of limited dynamism over and over again, is more prone to physically fail. With enough rigid patterning and repetitive conditioning, our hearts will incrementally lose their range of motion.
“Phase space” is a term borrowed from physics, which we use to reference all the space the heart might occupy when moving freely over a period of time.
How much phase space do we allow our hearts?
Is our phase space shrinking?
Have you ever found yourself holding your breath as if bracing against your life?
I know I do this at times. I have also experienced the deep pleasure of my heart. I am regularly bringing forward to my conscious awareness the ways in which I confine the movement of my heart. If we examine our lives, seeking to know the places where we refuse to move, or where we deny our deepest longings, we will know the ways in which we limit the phase space of our hearts.
The Rivers WithinPour water from a bottle or watch it come out of the tap at the kitchen sink. You will see that the normal tendency is for water to braid itself. Watch a stream. You can witness the same spiraling, vortical movements in the freely flowing water, especially at the cold core of the current. The propensity for water to twist and writhe and fold upon itself, to dissolve or flow with ease past every apparent obstruction, is both the sheer joy of its movement and the bane of canal-building engineers. On our spinning planet, which is itself spiraling rapidly through the galaxy, every attempt to confine and channel the movement of water generates resistance. Water is nature’s child! You must eventually repair the walls of a canal, as the water eventually grinds up and scours away those artificial limits. Maintaining water’s confinement is a constant effort against its essential tendency to flow freely.
Our blood is a streaming fluid that shares water’s essential nature. The supple, fractally branching path of the blood vessels — our vasculature — is the arms and legs and head and gut of our whole heart — the ocean and the rivers are one. Anatomical divisions are mental constructs. Like rivers, our blood vessels are flexible streambeds, allowing our blood to spin freely from the center to the periphery and back over 60,000 miles of tributaries. The heart’s shape both facilitates and reflects the movement of our blood. Through a great spiral of muscle fibers and the braiding branches of the aorta and pulmonary trunk, the blood is wrung, revitalizing its movement. The moving center of our heart is like a “crazy straw” for our blood, whose dynamism as well as nutritional chemistry wanes by the end of its long journey. But then it zips back through the heart, braiding and spinning itself once more.
When The Heart Is TenseWith the movement of water still in mind, hypertension is the bodily equivalent of “canalizing” the bloodstream. Stiffening tension in the heart and its branches, a direct result of emotional and behavioral patterns, is like a straitjacket for the blood. What is normally a slightly alkaline internal environment turns more acidic. And just as water attempts to break itself free from the constraints of a canal with its relentless vortical movement, so too does the blood rail against those stiffened vessel walls. Its irrepressible movement and altered chemistry wear away the self-imposed “canals” which would limit its unrestricted flow.
Under these altered conditions, we reduce the status of the heart to a mere pump and its once supple and yielding tributaries become mere pipes. We go through the motions of life while pushing through the resistance we ourselves are generating.
Our bodies are astoundingly resilient and respond adroitly to the demands we place upon them. When resistance to our heart’s free movement generates excess friction for the blood, and an acidic internal milieu injures our delicate vasculature, we grow plaques and calcifications, which can better endure the insult. They are our fingers in the dike! Our livers will produce more cholesterol, a mild antioxidant, to address the altered blood chemistry. These symptoms are not the problem. They are an intelligent and automatic response to their circumstances, for which we can be grateful. They indicate underlying issues, which are well within our immediate power to improve.
Living WholeheartedlyOur bodies are gifts to be used, and ultimately to be used up. There is neither fault nor harm in winding down the party and heading home! There’s only a problem if we show up at the party but refuse to dance; if that’s the case, we may want to reevaluate our choices, stretch our hearts, and take life for a spin. We can take our cue from the whirling dervishes. Stretching their arms and arching their backs, they intentionally open, turning and letting go of themselves in a manner that accelerates the spinning potency of their hearts: as above, so below. Or as the old Shaker song has it, “By turning, turning, we come down right!”
Remember the story of King David, who danced, naked and joyful, in the procession leading the Ark of the Covenant, the sacred container holding the Ten Commandments, up to the newly built temple. Within the Ark lay the direct communication between the people and their Source. The Ark would come to rest within the inner sanctum of the completed temple, the Holy of Holies. The ecstatic dance and the resting point in this story are complementary aspects of the same divine movement.
Stripped of all encumbrances, like King David, we are overcome with joyful movement.
Gil Hedley, Ph.D., offers intensive dissection courses internationally, and is the producer of The Integral Anatomy Series on DVD, which documents his distinctive approach to the human form in the laboratory. He is the author of Reconceiving My Body, and continues to work on other writing projects exploring themes of spirituality and the body. Visit him at gilhedley.com.
How honest is your relationship with yourself?
With your lover? Is there a sense in you that there may be something more?
“What did you answer? Because if there is no desire for anything more, why would anyone read the next sentence? There has to be a motivating factor within your own soul that’s calling you to unfold, or to awaken more fully. What are you looking for? What do you want more of really -- if anything? More pleasure?”
“Is it okay to ask for that, yeah that’s a big one.”
Do you deserve it?
“Exactly, and I feel that’s really the most important thing -- that we know we not only have the right -- but we have the need to ask the next question.”
Within just a few moments of our interview with Caroline Muir we had plunged head first into our vulnerability, fear, power struggles, needs, and our desire.
This fiercely elegant creature had us at hello. The smoky voiced sexual pioneer, co-author of the acclaimed book, Tantra: The Art of Conscious Loving (now in its umpteenth reprint), author of Tantra Goddess: A Memoir of Sexual Awakening and founder of the Divine Feminine/Awakened Masculine Institute has been quoted in nearly every corner of our earth over the past two decades.
Natalie: You unabashedly teach women and men to align the power of consciousness and sexual energies and how to expand their orgasmic potential. What possibly could have motivated you to explore and become an educator in this realm?
“We need education and healing. We need to align our energy with our consciousness. I was a darling blue-eyed Scorpio with tons of sexual energy and grew up in the Midwest in the ‘50’s where nice girls don’t do it and good girls saved themselves until they were married. And I was very misaligned from growing up in a home where my father was inappropriate with me, with my mother and with our girlfriends. Long story short, I went on to have 3 marriages and a handful of affairs, all driven by my sexual energy.
Well, at a Yoga Retreat I heard about this thing called Tantra Yoga and I thought, “Come on, there is no Yoga that talks about sex.” There was. The more I heard about the study of this kind of Yoga - this union with one’s self and with another, the more curious I got about it. I thought I was right on target with lingerie and seductive ways, and believed, “It’s all about good sex, isn't it?”
Natalie: What turned the tides for you?
“In Yoga class I began to integrate my sexual energy with the rest of my being. I discovered my sexuality really was a part of me that I was sitting on or using indiscriminately and it ended up in a lot of unhappiness. That was the turning point for me. I knew I was off the mark. It could come to someone else in a different way. But I was on this whole spiritual path and I didn’t know where my sexuality possibly could be included there.”
At the very least, many organized religions deter us from our source, our natural healthy desire for love, pleasure and sexual unity. Ancient cultures of India, Nepal and Tibet understood this ecstatic state as well as the joyous feelings of union – it was one of their paths to God. This sacred sexual path known as Tantra is just beginning to flourish in the West, and it takes a lot of flack here. Just ask Sting, "People get very silly about the whole idea of what Tantra is. It's using your normal life as a devotional practice. Breathing, walking, eating, making love. . . it's all the same. Practice consciously.” It emerged as a rebellion against organized religion, which rejected sexuality to reach enlightenment. The word Tantra means "to manifest, to expand, to show and to weave." In this context, sex is thought to expand consciousness and to weave together the polarities of male (represented by the Hindu god, Shiva), and female (embodied by the Hindu goddess, Shakti), into a harmonious whole.
Natalie: What was the threshold you crossed?
“Eventually, I realized I needed healing because of fear. Huge amounts of fear around men and penises and the size of them and the needs of them. When I finally entered into sexual healing work I recovered memories in my childhood of my father’s erection; it’s inappropriateness with me. For 6 or 7 years I didn’t want to believe it. Then there’s a moment of truth - the ‘Oh, I’d better believe it, it really did happen and I know it did.’ I realized why I was so uncomfortable all that time with my dad, and began putting together the puzzle of unclaimed, disowned memories of my childhood. I started becoming a whole person.
“Before these realizations, I thought if I had a clitoral orgasm I was in heaven. I had no idea a Sacred Spot ever existed in me or in women at all. I just didn’t know. There is so much more pleasure within us and our connection is our consciousness.”
Natalie: Help us to understand the difference of “regular clitoral orgasm” and “Sacred Spot” awakening? The former of which, as you said, everyone would be happy to have -- what else is there and how is that connected to our consciousness?
Natalie: ... or rubbed vigorously, even aggressively as if he were trying to jerk himself off, or to get you hot so he can jump on board. And as women we’re not taught how to touch ourselves, books can be so clinical or mechanical.
“And it really does need to be tenderly touched and massaged with feeling in order for it to fully awaken. And when I say awaken that means letting go of old memories: times when you did shut down from fear or shame, the divorce that really left you in lot of pain.
Our body contains and maintains those memories and the imprints of the emotion. For example, many of my students and clients who’ve been in psychotherapy for 20 years were unable to uncover the real core of their problems until they received this physical massage.
Let’s say you have a pain in your shoulder, you can talk about that pain in your shoulder from now until kingdom come but when a masseuse, a really good massage therapist with a loving touch and an intention for healing gets in there and starts working with that shoulder, they can start to really get into the heart of what the problem is. And when you’re touched in this way you may suddenly glimpse a memory of when you were a kid and fell out of a swing on to that shoulder or something.”
Natalie: Oh, you’re talking about a back door, as I call it in hypnotherapy. We access blocks with the mind, or through a back door through body movement. No matter what goes on in your body – it’s connected with your brain and your mind. All roads lead to Rome – so you are using the body to affect the mind and emotions.
“Yes - it’s the same way in the Sacred Spot work, when this place is actually massaged and touched, memories can come up and pain can actually be released that cannot be released simply by talking about it. This can be done with a clothes-on approach, and getting off is not the focus, orgasm is not the goal here. Everyone has their pace and comfort level, we always respect the needs of our students and clients. Love making and orgasm are explored in private.”
“Good question. We are so out of alignment. Our sexual energy is so out of alignment as a culture, that there is no connection to spirit, there is no connection to consciousness and there certainly is no connection to love. There is this great big split. It's as if human beings planetarily are split right in half -- right around the waistline. Yet we are always looking for love outside ourselves - when we sit at the computer, put on a video or stare out the car window.”
Natalie: As the constitution says to our demise, we have the right to the pursuit of happiness, when we can reach within and realize it’s all right here.
“Right, our intention with this education of the Divine Feminine/Awakened Masculine is to bring our human spirit into alignment. There is something more to sex than this new underwear or this new gal on the block or the new guy in the office or that cute ass in the gym.”
“Your daughter is absolutely right, sex is not love. Any animal can have sex. Most do all the time and are not loving each other. We are animals by nature, but we are all evolving conscious animals. Sexual love was an art form once upon a time -- there’s little in our modern culture demonstrating this in healthy ways.”
In the West, we usually view sex as a source of recreation rather than a means of transformation. To reach orgasm rather than to pleasure our lover or
to connect with him or her more fully.
“There has been no education about sexual love, about what you do with your emotions and what happens when the bonding hormones get so big that the woman is in love with the man and he is not thinking love at all. We are not educated about this energy. We need to learn this and we need to heal. We are also walking around with a lot of wounding, a lot of fear, a lot of having watched our parents in terribly dysfunctional relationships, having seen nothing but abuse in films or even in the media where the woman is always objectified sexually for the man’s pleasure. A lot of women grow up with not thinking that there is anything to sex but that. Thankfully we are awakening. We are not whispering so much.”
”A little caring goes a long way. Offer some of your precious nurturing energy you spend on everyone else for yourself. It’s simple. And you’ll actually put your sexual energy and caring, compassionate energy into more alignment. Try a simple meditation, if you will, by placing your hand on your own heart and the other on your own genitals and transmit love. This brings you in alignment with the divine. Without the pressure of achieving orgasm, just 3 or 5 minutes with your own healing hands. It’s OK if you don’t feel the energy right away. But you probably will. You’re not necessarily doing anything about the disparity of not having a guy in your life, or time, interest or energy, but at least you know for 5, maybe 10 minutes in the morning and the next, because you will do it again, there will be an alignment that you have created within yourself between your genitals, your heart, mind and spirit.”
Natalie: So not that we need a man in our life, but even if we don’t have someone, can we actually be reverent with ourselves and that’s going to create some sort of awakening?
We have to create our experience of love and awakening, we have to want such a thing.”
Through this simple ritual we stimulate our energy reserves and rouse passion -- these seemingly small incremental conscious connections extend beyond us, into our relationships across the board. Actually attracting more love by sharing it with yourself.
Natalie: Here’s another letter: As a woman, I know I need sexual healing work, but it's too scary for me to even think about having someone touch me "down there." Is there any other way for me to receive the healing I know I need?
“First you need to know you are always in charge of your Yoni, your "down there," your vagina and genitals. This is truly your sacred space. Before you even think about having someone else touch you, we suggest you work with yourself by placing your own hands over your Yoni (dressed or undressed) and simply transmit love and healing. As you consciously begin touching yourself in a loving and kind way, your Yoni (your vagina) will start to relax and trust you. Someday you may feel safe enough with a particular person, or in a healing ceremony, to open to touch that has no agenda other than to bring healing energy to you. Before that time, know that you can do a great deal of healing by yourself and with yourself.”
Natalie: Too many women shut off the connection to their power. They disconnect. Feel afraid when aroused. We can have these mechanical - f*cking for fun, friction & getting off - experiences but then we’re not even an inch closer to feeling close with someone.
“Yes, I definitely agree. We do learn to be good at shutting off connection because it's too scary. Women have had to learn to protect themselves from being used, hurt or abused by shutting down our sexual response to the best of our ability. A pretty powerful energy with a domino effect in the emotional realm or in a woman’s physical health if she shuts it down completely. If she’s just having sex for the pleasure of it or the fun of it, or to have sex without any connection, she can do that.
What’s the Next Step? Even a flicker of light that leads you to recognize and hear your needs is enough to get you started. If you and your mate are sleeping in separate beds, if you don’t know how to orgasm or why you don’t, if you’re getting off but still feeling disconnected, if you’re feeling ordinary, undeserving and alone, if you’ve spent your wad on your kids and your spouse and your job and your house and you’re wondering why you feel empty -- just begin by asking the next question. Whatever it is.
“I knew Theodore Sturgeon who was a great science fiction writer and he wore a little medallion around his neck that had a Q with an arrow going through it. What it meant was: ask the next question, because every time we ask the next question with real sincerity in our heart and a real desire to know what it is and with a willingness to find out, always we are directed towards the answer to that question.
Please ask the next question, keep asking questions, allow the desire in your heart and in your whole being to come forth. That desire is going to be what pulls you forward. Unfold the magnificent gift of your consciousness -- connected to each and every one of your energy centers... which will carry you beyond your wildest dreams.
In part Two of our exclusive interview, Co-director of Divine Feminine/Awakened Masculine Institute and Relatiionship Counselor, Joan Heartfield, Ph.D. joins our Roundtable discussion where we’ll discuss whole body orgasm, how to connect your energy and power channels with your partner, and How to Stop Living from the Waist Up.
Divine Feminine Workshop Student...