Join me in Love

Being in the Moment with Sex

hartmans Sunday October 5, 2014
In a number of future posts I'll talk about ways I've found to appreciate myself as a sexual being, treat my body and sexuality as apositive part of the experience of sex and to appreciate and rejoice in the physical act of sex. I want to take a moment to talk about why these are things I value before I discuss how I've accomplished these goals. The last—appreciating and rejoicing in the physical act—probably requires the most exploration.
A number of years ago one of my lovers noted that I tended to focus a lot of the physical details of a sexual experience. When discussing it I might recall how a particular toy was used or what positions were used. She wondered why I focused on this rather than the emotional impact of the experience. I was confused at the time, because these aspects all seemed very related. I didn't understand myself enough to articulate an answer.
As I've studied ritual, I've gained the vocabulary and experience to explain this to myself. A big part of what we do with ritual is use shared, repeated symbols to help us into a particular emotional/spiritual space. Lighting candles alone does much less than lighting candles with the intent of connecting with the elements or the gods. Lighting candles with intent does more when the participants in a ritual share that intent and understanding or when the intent and understanding are shared in a community.
The physical aspects of a ritual aren't why I participate. Typically I value the deeper levels, the connection, the work that is done, the spiritual experience. However, I try to pay attention to the physical level too. It tends to be a set of symbols I share; the physical serves as cues for other levels. I can form associations with the smells of particular incenses or with a sequence. Together these can help guide me to a spiritual space.
Just so with sex. As with ritual, there's skill involved in constructing a sexual experience. As an example I've learned a lot from Christine's classes about anatomy and the interaction between mind and body. Paying attention to the physical details helps me understand how to create sensations in my body and that of my lovers. By paying attention it's easier to teach and be taught how to physically connect with a new body.
However, for me, there's more value in mindful awareness of the sensations and acts of sex than just learning to be a better lover. As with ritual, we attach feelings and spiritual connections to the details we notice. Just as I have formed a sense of anticipation and calm with three breaths I've learned to respond with anticipation and excitement when being touched in certain ways. These associations matter a lot to what space we will find ourselves in. We can influence these associations. Will I be embarrassed by the noises I make worried that the neighbors will know I'm having sex? Alternatively I can embrace the experience and over time my cries will be associated with the joy and wonder of connection and self acceptance both for myself and my lovers. When I smell my excitement do I hope that my lover is unaware, or do I point it out to them, showing them another signal they can use to understand what they are doing to me and showing them the amazing affect they are having on my body? When we share the details we notice we can create a space based on connection and openness where we're not hiding from the wonderful bodies we have but instead using them as tools to create emotions, connection and spiritual experience. I've found pleasure in being open to taste, smell, and sensation, working them into my awareness of the other wonderful levels of the experience. I've found joy in being able to use the physical symbols as part of sharing my experience of sexuality.

How Do Venus Revels Differ from Dionysus or Pan Revels?

hartmans Friday October 3, 2014
A while ago I had an opportunity to interact with Dionysus. He asked me "When the maenads come calling, will you join." I interpreted this roughly as if offered an opportunity to join his revel would I or would I resist. I answered roughly "I would join up to my limit." He responded, "That wouldn't be joining at all, now would it?"
Not wanting to provoke a scene with a god I left it at that. Later in the evening a group of us were discussing the worship of Pan and how those who work with Pan find their limits pushed and find themselves challenged to let go and live in the moment.
I've never been at a Dionysus revel, although I have been at a relatively tame Pan revel. I've certainly been at a number of Venus revels.
Dionysus's question started me thinking. "I'll join up to my limit," is very much the kind of answer I'd give Venus when talking about all sorts of surrender, and it's the kind of answer she seems to expect. There does seem to be a difference in how I approach a revel in my Venus work and the sorts of things Dionysus and Pan seem to be looking for. All three gods seem to value living in the moment, embracing your feelings, relaxing your limits, connecting with your primal self.
However there seem to be some differences, and I think it would be interesting to explore them. I find that my Venus work is focused on transformation of myself. I work on getting comfortable with fewer limits. I do spend a lot more time living in the moment in my daily life. I'm less self-conscious. However as part of letting go, I carefully consider my safety and that of those around me. The limits are very situational and I am generally very aware of what the limits are.
When I enter a Venus revel, I know where my limits are as much as I would entering a BDSM scene. Typically by this point, I'm comfortable enough that I can go through an entire revel without coming close to feeling unsafe. I know where the limits are, but they are in the back of my mind, out of the way, not interacting with me in the moment. Sometimes as I interact with someone else, I'll focus on their safety and for a few moments understanding the new situation and its limits will come to the foreground.
being very aware of the limits has helped me have much more relaxed limits and be much more open than I was in the past. I know that there are a lot of risks I'm comfortable with because I've thought about them. I can live in the moment without worrying about whether I'll second-guess myself later.
This works well for me. However I'm getting the impression thinking about Dionysus and Pan that there's another mechanism for surrender out there. Something more about finding a time and space and letting go in that space. I suspect it gets somewhere similar in the end, but the path is very different.
I've found it useful to consciously think about how much of the Venus work seems to be about explicitly understanding your limits, exploring them and how to adjust them for a situation. I had an intuitive feel for how this fit into Venus work, but now this is something I can actually try to explore and write about. I don't think I will personally explore either the path of Pan or Dionysus, but I'm very interested in thoughts on how these paths compare and contrast with Venus's exploration of limits.

Join me in the Strength of Love

hartmans Thursday September 18, 2014
My work with Venus and her exploration of love has focused on approaching her and approaching love from a position of strength and self knowledge. With this approach, we start by understanding what we want—what we need—accepting this, and drawing strength from our needs. I managed to capture this while writing to a girlfriend about a year ago; I'll share an excerpt from that essay :
I hope you will meet me in the strength of your feelings, sharing them even when it is hard. I hope you will meet me in the strength of your needs, acknowledging them and meeting your own needs even when that is hard. I hope you will meet me in the strength of your love for your self, strong in the conviction that you are worthy of love, that you embody love itself. I value you, the you that is true to yourself.

I wrote these words to her. However, every time I read them, I also hear the lover speaking to the beloved, the goddess speaking to all those who would work with her.

This is a message about coming to love with agency, with an understanding that we always have choice. I do not have to do what Venus asks; I can and have spoken to her where what she asks conflicts with my needs. I can work with someone in a relationship, but it is not a judgment of either of us if we need different things. Sometimes, often actually, we can find common ground. Venus's path has helped me develop the skills to do that. When we cannot find that common ground, sometimes the choices are very difficult. However, even when we leave a relationship, we can leave respecting the others' needs and feelings, honoring them as the embodiment of love sacred but on a path different from our own.

It's a message of trust. When I hope that someone will meet their own needs, even when that is hard, I trust them to do that. When they say that we've found common ground, when we find a compromise, I trust them to accept that only if it is right for them. If I have lingering doubt, I discuss that doubt as my own feeling rather than pretending to know them better than they know themselves. More importantly, I trust them to stand up for themselves and not to settle for less than they need. I support honest compromise, but I hope people will stand firm rather than denying their own value.

However, this idea of coming to love from a position of strength extends further back than that essay, running through the core of my entire Venus work. Looking back at my notes on the first Venus ritual I attended, I find the entire invocation of Venus into the space was based on this principal. The priest asking as consort told us that we needed to take responsibility for what we made of the opportunity offered. We were asked to commit to doing that; Venus was brought in on the energy of that commitment, we and she bound willingly by that sacred vow. The strength of Venus and my resolve to respecting our needs was surely tested over that first ritual as I struggled finding a balance that was right for me to open to her while respecting my existing commitments and some long-held needs.

Later, I was considering whether to accept dedication to Venus. I was evaluating it as a very serious question because it seemed like there would be no turning back from that decision once made. Venus had other ideas; she told me that if I ever needed to leave, there was a way and she showed me a ritual for respectfully leaving the community. On one level, i felt safer, more certain that she was a goddess who respected my agency, my needs. On another level she was asking me to commit more fully to meeting her in the strength of love. Every time her path requires surrender, I surrender willingly. There is a safe word; I can walk away. The surrender is deeper because it comes from a stronger position of power, trust and knowledge. The commitment to Venus and love is ongoing, renewed each time I live in the moment with my needs and feelings, embrace them, and actively choose how her path interacts with my needs.

This strength is also echoed in the Three Truths. I come to love knowing that I am loved. I am strong in my capacity to love; this is true and nothing can take it away from me. No matter what my needs, no matter how painful the consequences of my choices, these things are true to me and they lend me strength. I also hold the truth that I am love. I come to the table where we build connection as a peer; like everyone else around the table I have sacred value.

I hope you will join me in the strength of love, exploring and discussing your path and mine, finding common ground. In that spirit I welcome you to my blog and offer what I have learned in openness and strength.

These are the People Who Share my Life

hartmans Friday September 12, 2014
Recently, I realized that many of the people in my life now are going to be the people who support me and who I support through the rest of my life. I watched as I helped friends grow and face challenges. I sat beside my girlfriend in the emergency room. I asked the people closest in my life to pitch in and help me out. and later, thinking about the challenges that some people in my life are facing, I realize that I'll be there through the rest of their story.
Ten years ago, having names to put to my circle of love would have been such a relief. Ten years ago, my greatest fear was that of being alone. I imagined growing old without a primary partner, somehow drifting apart from my friends, and eventually finding myself declining through life with no one. I wanted to find someone, find relationships so that I wouldn't have to face that darkness.
I've come to see things differently. First, love is dynamic; it's about risks and growth. The certainty I find today relates to my confidence that I can continue to grow, continue to connect with others. I watch my parents, others older than I, and I see that throughout a life it is possible to build, establish and strengthen connection. So, I can approach the rest of my life with confidence that I will be able to find love and connection. I'm no longer worried about whether the connections I have today are strong enough to last the rest of my life, but instead, I draw strength from my skill at maintaining these connections and building new ones.
As such, I can face the inherent vulnerability of love, drawing strength and joy from it rather than approaching my fear. Sometimes I'll be taking joy from my ability to support someone else, being there so they are not alone. Because I have strength in where I am, I can connect with them and their needs.
I've even found growth in how I approach accepting support from others. I come from a position of strength. Even though I may be vulnerable today, there is no shame or fear in expressing that vulnerability. I have offered something in the past, I will have something to offer in the future. I can rejoice in accepting the help of my friends in connecting through being cared for. I can do this without fear of taking too much and ending up alone clouding my connection.
Most of all, I can live in the moment of love with the people in my life. I can feel that I am loved, that I love. Yes, death and other forms of distance will change the future. I've chosen to believe in my future self and those around me; I don't need to solve all the future's problems now. I have the rest of my life to work to not be alone but instead to be love.

End of a Season

hartmans Tuesday September 2, 2014
Last night was my final fire of the season. After skipping saturday's Primal Arts ritual, I attended the final ritual of the festival, which will be my final fire of the season.
I'm told the plan had been an impressive grounding ritual. However, the gods made their will known in the form of rain. Yes, there was a fire, but it ended up being a different fire than intended, and apparently other elements were disrupted. So, we had a community fire where we all worked together to create our experience. The themes of the ritual were supposed to be connection with the earth, and each other and ancestors. If you are a bit expansive in the last part and speak of connection with what came before, we accomplished all those in style.
The first dance was one of the most amazing experiences I've had around a fire. I might have been the only dancer at the beginning, perhaps one of the fire tenders was also dancing. However, I really let go, offered thanks and my service to my goddesses. I opened, connected with the drummers and the fire. It was delightful and wonderful; the drummers and dancers built together to this amazing climax to get the evening started.
Then it took off: a beautiful combination of fire, drumming, music, dance, sexuality and performance!
A wonderful end to a wonderful season.

And Sometimes there is just Questions

hartmans Sunday August 31, 2014
Much of what I write here is about conclusions I've reached or things I've learned. Sometimes, however, exploring love is not that simple and you're left only with questions.
I attended Dark Odyssey Summerfest, a BDSM/spirituality event. Saturday evening was the biggest Primal Arts ritual of the year: defeating the enemy of love. Why didn't I go? More than that, why didn't I even want to go? Part of the answer may be that I'm not really aware of things I need to cast out that are holding me back from my exploration of love. So, I didn't need to do that work myself. Why didn't the idea of going to hold space for others and to support those going through the ritual even occur to me until I went to bed after the ritual had concluded? I've totally held space at fires at this site, even explicitly been there to hold space at Primal Arts rituals. When it did occur to me, why did I feel that that was not my place? Interestingly, I did ask someone if they wanted me to support them in the ritual. Had they said yes, I would have tried to rearrange my schedule. So, supporting a specific person is more important to me than whatever my concern was.
In a broader scope, what's the answer to the closing ritual at Fires of Venus 2012? What is the next step after you've empowered the community to keep the temple of love? Part of that step is things like Primal Arts: people find ways to help others connect with themselves and love. However, what does the community of keepers do to grow, to share? Once you're started on the path, how do you build up and continue? Why does this question naturally follow from those in the last paragraph? I at least have some hint to the last.
Unrelated to the ritual, I found myself exploring my connection with BDSM events. I see people meeting each other for the first time, making connections and exploring play and sexuality together. Why do I seem unapproachable in that way? I used to wonder whether I was undesirable or unattractive; I don't think that's the answer though. Why do I want to be approached that way? Why do I think I want to explore that sort of promiscuity? do I actually? Am I distancing myself in some way? If so, why and how? Interestingly, I have no questions about what I'd do if approached; I know my limits and how I'd approach the negotiations.
Why am i not approaching others? Well, in one instance over this event, I did, but why not more frequently? I do approach people on online sites, but not so much in person. What can I learn about the previous paragraph thinking about how I approach others? Am I afraid? Of what? Do I need something in order to know that I want to approach someone I find hard to obtain in initial personal interactions?
I'm not asking these questions here in hopes that someone else can answer them; I'm writing to give a window into another common aspect of spiritual growth. Yeah, sometimes growing is just filled with lots of questions to ponder and explore.

Small things Count

hartmans Monday August 25, 2014
I've been attending Debconf, the anual conference of The Debian Project. I've also been working on being mindful of the role of love in all aspects of my life.
Sometimes, I'm disappointed because it feels like the work I do is very small. I want to make a difference, and I'm worried because it doesn't feel like that's the case.
I've been reminded again and again at this conference of how things ripple together and how the small differences build up over time. Many small things. Someone came up to me and talked about how work I had done in 2000 had helped them out. A developer I respected talked about how a blog post I'd written helped him evaluate new technology several years ago. Others have made it clear that I am valued and worth listening to
The validation is really appreciated.. One lesson here is that if others have similar needs and feelings, small gestures letting people know when they are valued really matter. However I've also found it valuable to understand where people went with the things I've done. The work back in 2000 helped someone solve their current problem but also helped them get interested in a series of technology and connect with people they find valuable. The blog post helped someone improve their work flow and allow them to help others. Things join together and the ripples from our contributions build into something bigger than we are.
that is as true in approaching love as it is in technology. I've been talking to people about the value of empathy and have already seen some people take interest and start to consider how that could help us. I've also had a couple of opportunities to help people connect and understand each others' needs. I was pleased to witness one conversation where tension was starting to rise. However as needs were understood, both parties left considering each others' positions.
I'm pleased to be able to step past my worry and disappointment and be open enough to hear the value I'm bringing. I'm pleased to be able to offer the others and to have more confidence that it really does help people to show them how they are valued. It's also pleasing to be able to apply techniques I've developed in my love related work to my whole life and see them succeed.

A moment of Love

hartmans Tuesday August 12, 2014
I find it helpful to look at my day and find moments of love in my daily life. Sometimes though the moments are so sharp that they jump out and grab you, filling you with joy and wonder. Reading through old email, I found one of these. I'd like to share it, because it reminds me that love is so much more than romantic love, or even the relationships and friendships between people. It's many things; sometimes it is watching those you care about grow and challenge themselves. I was at my five-year-old daughter's birthday, sitting in the kitchen, talking to friends.
I got her a rhythm band set (symbols,
triangle, other small instruments). I had so much fun with stuff like that as a kid. In the middle of the party, she sweeps through the kitchen at the head of a pack of kids all playing away at
full volume. There was screaming, instruments of all kinds, complete uncontrolled noise. I had managed to accomplish exactly what I hoped. My daughter was in the moment. She was love, spreading and embodying the
joy and wonder of the world. She was exploring the dynamics of
relationships as she tried to lead the pack of friends, exploring how
humans work together, trying to find a way to convince her friends to do what she wanted, learning as they asserted their own needs. She shared that with me. I just sat back and
silently gave thanks.
It was also interesting to watch reactions from other adults. Some like me were able to appreciate the kids playing. Others seemed concerned about whether this was disturbing the party; they seemed to want to let go and appreciate the kids but were concerned about how other adults would take it. Others seemed to want to protest: our conversation had been completely overwhelmed. At least for a few moments no one was quite able to tell the kids that they couldn't make fun and have joyous noise at a five-year-old's birthday party. Then the moment broke.

Capturing Child-like Joy

hartmans Wednesday January 22, 2014
Kids have an advantage. They are at the center of their universe, and when they feel wonder and joy, their entire universe fills with wonder and joy. That joy becomes the most important thing in the universe, filling all that surrounds them. You can feel this in their smile, their laughter, and their entire approach and absorption in the moment.
As an adult, I've sometimes felt a bit sad watching this because my world is more complex and I'd appreciate the simple connection with the moment. It's too easy to see the consequences, the interactions, how you are not the center, how it's all more complex than this moment.
On venus's path I've been approaching being able to live in the moment. This weekend, I finally recaptured that perfect child-like joy! I was at Arisia, a science -fiction convention in the boston area with some friends. We shared a deep love, and all of us had been working on opening up and rejoicing in the connections in our life. There was song, dance, play, and tenderness. I found that it had all dropped away; there really was nothing left in the moment other than happiness and love. We were the center of the universe; we were living in the best of all possible worlds. I captured the joy of being a child, open and delighted, exploring the world and open to wonder.
I've never felt a more intense need to offer thanks to the gods. It stemmed from one part wonder and one part fear of the cost if this moment were not properly balanced.

Meeting the Flame

hartmans Wednesday January 30, 2013
Today, I realized how little I truly understood fire and flame. Fire and its transformational power is very important in Fires of Venus. We speak both of the element of fire, but also the spiritual mirror of the eternal flame. Because I'm blind, there are limitations on how I usually approach fire. People will point out that I probably focus more on feeling it and hearing it; that may be true. Regardless, there is definitely a difference.
I got to meet fire in a new way today; I don't recommend it and don't plan to repeat the experience. but I learned a lot. I lit a candle and then realized that lighting a candle with a several-inch wick was not actually what I wanted. Without considering the consequences, I decided to pull the wick apart--it ought to be weak where it was burning. I managed to grab at the wrong spot (although there weren't really any right spots) and held the flame between my fingers. I only held it for a moment or two. It was constantly changing, never still, different each instant. It felt powerful.
Yes, rationally I've known all that is true. However, touching the fire really helped me appreciate it as a dynamic system. Fire is not the flame; it is the medium that creates the flame and makes the flame possible. I really gained an appreciation for the difference between the spiritual power of flame and its difference from fire. Of course I also gained an appreciation that will be useful for understanding other mysteries in the future.
The price wasn't even particularly high. I didn't blister; I've had worse cooking accidents.

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