Year To Live Project: Blindfolds & The Maserati
Blindfolds and Maserati,
January 25, 2016 – Ojai California
Yesterday, I danced blindfolded with a gorgeous gay man. His name was Mark and together we created unchoreographed magic. Mark is over six feet tall and drives a black Maserati. Yum. Mark also has a slight Australian accent. Double yum. In my mind, he will forever be “Maserati Mark,” pronounced, “Mah-za-rah-tee Mahhhk.”
The Maserati engine playfully vibrates your nether regions with every touch of the accelerator. This is why he chose it over the Tesla – practical and dreamy, Dios mio! More on Maserati Mark and our connection later.
Ojai holds a unique place in my heart, so returning here for a weekend seminar on Masculine Integrity in Movement with Michaela Boehm and Steve James seemed apt before heading out on the Year to Live Project. Apt to be learning about intimacy in a place where I once thought I was celebrating it. Apt to be driving through at the tail end of the “Life Review Month” per the book I’m following “A Year to Live” by Stephan Levine.
I got married here in Ojai. This was also our get-away spot. My ex-wife and I would escape to the Chantico Inn a few times a year to forget about life for a while. I had only been back here once since things fell apart, so entering the town again on my fortieth birthday presented a miasma of conflicting feelings. Part excitement for the upcoming experience, and part “I wish I could just puke already and get it over with” nausea prompted by driving into my own history.
For twenty plus years Micheala has been teaching men, women, and couples how to deepen their understanding and expression of intimacy; sexual polarity, tantra, and more. This weekend was going to be a mix of movement exercises, lessons on masculine and feminine energetic differences, and relationship. I walked away from it with a huge shift in understanding articulated through three big take-a-ways, the first of which is detailed below. The morning session was about to illustrate the power of relaxation in regards to our perceptual awareness.
The Body Is Faster Than The Eyes
At 10:00am on Saturday morning, eighteen men lined up in three rows of six in Michaela’s rustic home studio, myself included. Ages varied from mid-twenties to late-fifties. We each had a yoga mat and meditation cushion underfoot, and the desire to know more swimming through our heads. To know more about how our bodies move, how we use them to silently communicate with other people, and what physical movement could teach us about relationships. This was day one.
We were run through some basic movement drills: arm swings, crawls, twists, and physical puzzles. Get on all fours and move left but only with your right hand and left leg. Now do so in reverse. All these drills used somatic experience to show us that sometimes we may be certain our bodies are doing one thing when they are actually doing another. I guess with a room full of men you have to spend an entire morning of movement games to get us to accept the possibility that “from time to time you may be wrong.” Noted. (I never was, just for the record)
The next lesson was a philosophical home run knocked out of the park through two pain management exercises. The subject was relaxation. Relaxation versus contraction. Contraction, it was explained, is often used as an anesthetic – thus the more relaxed we are, the more we can feel. This was not a new concept for me but a new way of having it expressed. We’ve all clenched our jaws in the face of physical pain. It’s taught to fighters as a way to absorb a strike. And it’s common for athletes to flex into pain, to literally contract so tightly that the pain gets washed out in the process.
Our teacher, Steve, explained that we can not only contract in our physical bodies, but also in our outside lives. We can create contraction through overwork and distraction filled schedules that don’t allow for contemplation or even the occasional deep breath. I was guilty of this in my past life, of creating a life that needed constant contraction to bear. But with contraction, we can’t feel. Anesthesia numbs everything, as does contraction.
Steve then asked us to do a specific exercise. We put ourselves into a deep horse stance – an ass-parallel-to-the-floor squat – and were told to hold this position.
And we held. Without moving. For how long we would not know. We just had to hold. And relax. And relax more. And more. We had to let go of every ounce of tension that wasn’t necessary to hold the position. Not one micro unit of tension extra was allowed. Relax our breathing, our jaws, our arms, our eyes, and our thoughts. To keep relaxing even when it caused more pain. To relax against the desire to make the discomfort go away. To relax against the desire to know exactly how much more we had to endure. To relax more deeply when the shaking started in our legs. To relax again when the shaking took on a seizure-like mind of its own.
When time was finally up, we were allowed to slowly stand and shake out for a second. We thought we were done. We were not. The instructions immediately following were to stand straight and fully extend our arms out to our sides. And keep them there – straight out. And relax. And relax deeper. And deeper. And deeper some more. To relax against all of the same challenges we faced in the squat.
After using so much energy and attention in the squat stance, the arm-out position was infinitely harder. My tolerance units for pain and discomfort had been depleted. I started getting angry. What’s the point of doing this? Why was Steve telling us physical strength had nothing to do with the amount of time we can hold the position? What on earth does physical strength not have a part in? I’m relaxed as fuck, let’s move on to something else.
Then the real lesson of what we were doing was driven home by Steve with his next statement:
“You don’t have to survive to the end of the time I’ve chosen for this hold. You don’t have to think about when your arms can go down. You don’t have to think about what they felt like before we started. All you have to do is survive right now. And now. And now. And now. All you have to do is survive the present moment – so relax. Let everything else go. Let go of every possible way to create unnecessary tension and let be what will be right now.”
What a prick. What an extraordinarily wise prick.
His wisdom was further solidified by the question he asked next. The question that changes the lens through which all pain, all suffering, and all of life’s challenges can be viewed:
“What if this painful feeling you’re experiencing was your permanent condition?”
How would my relationship to what I’m experiencing change if I knew this was forever? Would I be more present if there was no end to fantasize about and get lost in? If the constant churning of not knowing where I was going to live, what I was going to do, nor what tomorrow will bring was my new unchanging reality?
I had asked myself on the drive to Ojai that morning if how I’d been feeling lately would be just that – my permanent reality. What would my life be like if each day forward was the daily blend of newly expressed beautiful heartfelt conversations and connections followed by private panic attacks and proverbial punches to the stomach?
Could I survive that? How long could I go on like this? Deep in that squat, I figured out that I can always survive the present. I’d survived waking up that first morning after my wife left and realized she really was gone. My prayer that it had all been a dream replaced with the nightmare of the first solo breath taken that next morning. I’d survived waking up with that feeling almost every morning since.
When taken one moment at a time, anything was survivable. With that realization, just a few minutes later I exhaled fully for the first time in over a year as my arms came back down to my side and my stomach relaxed.
Relax Into All Of Your Experience
Understanding the role that holding unnecessary tension plays in our body’s ability to feel the outside world was monumental. Seeing how we create that tension with our decisions, choices, and perceptions drilled it even deeper. TMI maybe, but I had to go to a Urologist for what I thought was urethral polyp a few years back. Long story short, he ended up looking up into my bladder with a camera and finding a whole lot of nothing. However, in the consultation afterwards he told me I held more tension in my body than any patient he’d ever seen. Relaxed as fuck I was not. Maybe if Maserati Mark’s soothing drawl had been present in my life then… Maybe.
Ask yourself, how you can relax more deeply with each breath you take today? Then ask it again. Then as an exercise, see how much of your day you can accomplish while simultaneously letting go of all unnecessary tension in your body. Play with it.
What new information is allowed to enter into your awareness the more relaxed you get? Do you pick up feelings in conversations with co-workers, friends or significant others? Give this a try and let me know what you feel in the comments below.
Next week we pick up right where the morning session left off – when the the blindfolds came out…
Check in next Monday for part two of this three-part series.