Year To Live Project: Blindfolds & The Maserati Part 3 – Los Sensitivos
Welcome back to picturesque Ojai Valley for Part 3 (Part 1, Part 2) of my weekend adventure with Michaela Boehm and Steve James. We’ve got 18 men, blindfolds, movement patterns, and masculine intentions all mixed together in this two day workshop. The last day and half was spent crawling on our bellies, putting on mock Kung Fu battles in the yard, and getting quiet and still enough to hear the water flowing deep beneath the soil under our feet. The weekend has been designed by our co-teachers to maximize our understanding of how direct communication, balance points, and deep relaxation all play into the ability to pick up subtle cues from the world around us.
We’ve led each other around Micheala’s farm while blindfolded, recreated the movement patterns we believe our direct ancestors handed down to us, and created stillness within our bodies while experiencing pain and discomfort. The last part of the weekend is geared to enlightening us on the layers of physical sensitivity available at all times, as well as showing us the relational doors that open when we attune to these levels of sensitivity. Now back to my partner in crime – Maserati Mark.
Before this tall glass of Australian handsome and I crushed every winning performance of Dancing With the Stars, we had some solo assignments to work through. This chapter of the weekend was specifically about understanding sensitivity, building upon the foundational lesson of the day before – the more relaxed we were in our bodies, the more we would pick up from our partners. There is communication happening all the time and if we rely on our eyes, ears, and brains to hear and interpret it – it will be too late. That weekend, our bodies were giant sponges for communicative information with a partner, intimate or otherwise.
You Can Learn A Lot From A Tissue
After lunch, Steve and Michaela walked around the studio and piqued our interest in what was to come next by handing each of us a tissue. After the requisite masturbation jokes that inevitably surface with the combination of more than two males and a Kleenex, we were off to the races.
Our instructions were to lay the tissue flat in the palm of our hands and walk around the room. We were to move our hand back and forth in figure eights – palm always leading – in a fashion that kept the tissue stuck to it, without using any kind of grasping or pinching it between our fingers.The idea was to know the tissue was there without having to look at it. To feel it against our hands. All in all, this wasn’t that complex…
…until we took the tissue down from two-ply to one-ply. And then had to use the back of our hands to “hold” it as opposed to using our palms as we did at the start of the exercise. Then, of course, we had to do the entire exercise blindfolded. Moving around a room full of people, with no sight, and one minuscule width of tissue stuck to our hands only through the movement we were generating proved to be a concentration narrower of epic proportions. The moment our hand stopped moving the tissue would fall. The moment we collided with someone else, our focus was lost. Think poetry meets clusterfuck.
We had to not only move through the room, but to go from standing, to kneeling, to lying, to rising back up. All without dropping our hanky, or peeking. Hands moving all the while.
Let me be the first person to publicly state the massive difference in weight between a one-ply piece of tissue and a two-ply. Especially when that weight can only be felt by it pressing down against the back of my non-dominant hand, while I’m blindfolded.
There were times when I could swear the tissue had fallen, only to feel it magically reconnected to my hand moments later. Times when I had to rely on faith alone that it was there since the sensation of its presence was so faint.
The level of sensitivity needed to feel whether the tissue was still attached was immense. All focus had to be directed to the hand in use. All focus. Thinking stopped, conversation halted. No one laughed or took anything short of their deepest, slowest breaths. The room became silent. I could hear my heart beating in my ears and was devoid of anything but pure concentration. This was some straight up Shaolin Temple shit, I swear I could have caught arrows right out of the air. With my teeth.
To feel the sensitivity arise, and then to register that it was always there, obscured under the jackhammer of daily thoughts; of doubts, worries, insecurities, and all of the other noise that creates the layers under which it hides from our consciousness. It begged the question of what else was under there, buried beneath the onslaught of television, the internet, and the chirps, blurps and rings that place energetic miles between what we can sense and what’s available beneath the noise.
Do You Want To Dance? Or Do You Want To Dance..
We were partnered up again, and the instructions given were simple. Face each other and keep the piece of tissue pressed between each of our connected hands – palms pressed up against each other’s as if we were trying to see whose hands were larger (Mark’s were – I have the hands of a seven-year-old Asian girl, damn it) – and create movement.
Create beautiful movement, in fact. Don’t crush the tissue or crumble it. Don’t drop it, either. Hold it as lightly as you can, we were told, but keep the movement unstopping.
We had to move around a room filled with all of the other men, all paired up, all given the same assignment. The blindfolds added a layer of complexity to the challenge while at the same time forcing us to use senses we had been heightening all day. Don’t think, don’t speak, don’t see, just feel and move. Relax where your partner is tensing, press where he is giving. Keep in contact, stay connected. Feel how to move in concert with someone you can only communicate with through touch and emotion.
Our instructions included going from standing to kneeling, from kneeling to lying next to each other, and back to our feet. All the while keeping the pressure between our hands constant and working in harmony.
Mark and I rocked it. We moved like panthers. We ebbed and flowed like melted chocolate gracefully sliding off the plump lower lip of a lover on Valentine’s Day as she seductively bites into a love-dipped strawberry. Yep, just like that, but with stubble.
Gender aside, sexual preference irrelevant, we moved cohesively together. I’ve fought men publicly in a cage and expressed my physicality with women privately in the bedroom. Completely opposite ends of the emotional spectrum, completely different energies – but both extraordinarily intimate in their own right. Yet, this dance with Mark was a level of human connection that was new to me.
I didn’t give a shit we were both men, enough of that nonsense. What came to the surface was how much communication was possible without sight or sound, or even direct skin contact. Even though it was light, the tissue did create a barrier. How much of what we’re all trying to get across to each other is lost in the chatter, in the verbosity, and clumsiness of trying to translate a feeling we may not even be aware of into words?
Plant A Seed Today
Ojai helped write another small chapter in my overall story and the lessons learned there continue to build on the foundation this Year to Live Project has been instilling in me. Intimacy, connection, and communication have less to do with the words coming out of my mouth, the movement of my body, or the message I’m trying to get across – and everything to do with the feelings that are underneath.
The clarity of my communication is directly proportional to the level of my presence. The level of presence available is directly proportional to the vulnerability and trust allowed in the partnership – by both partners, not just me.
As the saying goes: The best time to plant a tree is twenty years ago. The second best time to is today. What I learned this past weekend, I wish desperately I had known years ago, before Ojai became one more of the painful places I love but don’t want to visit.
It also sucks, folks. It’s heartbreaking to have these “a-ha moments” throughout this journey and feel that each one would have been a lifejacket I could have thrown out to my drowning marriage. I can’t go back, I know that. I tell myself every morning to let go and move forward. To let go of the past. To stay focused on growing and becoming a better man – one only a fool would leave.
Here’s to tomorrow’s lessons, late maybe, but here nonetheless.
Much respect to Michaela and Steve for sharing their knowledge with us for the weekend, and to the other men who were brave enough to show up without egos and engage in a different way of living.