I've been struggling to write this entry for several weeks now. I am trying to find the words to capture something that shook me to the core. I came closer than I'd like to making mistakes I'd really regret. I still don't know how to avoid similar mistakes in the future, although at least I'm more aware of how dangerous the waters are.
This is also harder to write about because the important bits aren't mine to share. It's hard to capture the affect that someone else's story can have on you when you cannot tell that story.
For me, one of the defining characteristics of the Fires of Venus environment was that it was permissive. We trusted people to know their own desires and to know what they were ready for. We didn't second guess people, or judge what training they needed before taking a particular risk. We created a space that helped people find a yes within themselves when approaching things they wanted to experience. I speak of this in the original Sacred Lover post as one of the things I most value in the community. For me, a space in which I was encouraged to embrace risk and to challenge myself to open to opportunities changed my life.
Last year, I faced the potential harm of this sort of permissive environment. Intellectually, I've long been aware that people can feel pressured into saying yes when they would rather not. I understand that abuse can create or amplify that. Last year, though, I slammed hard into the emotional reality.
Multiple times, I ran into cases where people I viewed as strong—people who helped me learn to accept risk and face my own yes—were not easily able to say no. I ran into cases where offering willingness to work with someone became pressure to do that work. I ran into cases where being honest about my desires came close to a situation where something happened that shouldn’t.
Facing this continues to be hard. I care a lot about consent. For me a huge part of what makes my work sacred is that everyone involved willingly accepts the work. Yes, I might be open to exploring something. I might even desire something. An essential part of that desire is to desire in a context where the desire is shared.
I am frightened and disgusted considering how close I came to situations where someone might be too afraid to say no. I never want someone to do something with me because they are afraid of getting hurt or of sharing their feelings. My feelings are strong here for several reasons. I did listen as people eventually did open up about feeling pressured and afraid. Also, I do recall at least one time where I let fear speak and did something because I was too afraid of saying no. I was worried that if I didn't participate, I would lose my entire network of friends. Instead, I found myself afraid and emotionally detached, involved in something far before I was ready as connection turned to ash in my mouth.
My own experience was a strong enough memory. And yet I didn't face anyone hurting me, teaching me that saying no was a recipe for future pain. I am furious thinking about those who have hurt those I care about, for previous abuse is often a factor here.
I regret that it took so long to appreciate how difficult it can be to say no. I regret people I cared about faced challenges defending their boundaries. I’m filled with relief that I learned this before something more serious happened.
I’m still figuring out how to adjust my Sacred Lover work. I already knew there was training I needed in this area, but the priority of seeking that has increased significantly. Until then, I am being cautious about what I do as a Sacred Lover. I’m not putting my life on hold, but most of the things we talked about doing in the Lover’s Grove context now appear predicated on making progress on balancing two things. First, One of the core ideas of meeting in the Strength of Love is being able to trust people to know their own limits and to be honest about their desires. I don’t think it is as explicitly stated, but I think the same core principle was present at Fires of Venus and is present in the work at Beltane and other events.
However, we need a balance because not everyone is ready for that. I think we’ve all faced difficulties saying no. We might face rejection; someone we care about might be sad or hurt. I now better understand that some face a much worse struggle when they face no. As a Sacred Lover, I need better techniques and approaches for respecting and working with those challenges. A big part of it may simply be understanding what situations to avoid, and who I can safely work with as a sacred lover.
I think there are huge benefits to spaces and work that focus on being permissive, that allow people to say yes when that is hard. For myself, having the confidence to say yes and to embrace opportunities has changed my life and brought great happiness. I think this is an important aspect of love work to preserve. The trick is to do that without people feeling pressured to say yes or even pressuring themselves into saying yes.