Pleasure White Crane Journal #52 Spring 2002
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How do you make important decisions in your life? How do you know if you have made good choices? How do you carry out the decisions you've made?
People have always looked for answers to these and similar questions. For guidance we have turned to the stars, to ouija boards, to the I Ching, and to the teachings of gurus and masters, but the oldest and most effective way of finding direction in life is erotic discernment. Erotic discernment is more than a simple decision making technique, however. It is a way of living, an erotic way of living, that will affect your entire life.
An erotic way of living is one that is based on relationships. The ancient Greeks recognized the force that brings about relationships and called it Eros. Usually we associate only sexual relationships with Eros, but sex is just one way that Eros brings us into relationship with each other, and all the different relationships we can have belong to two basic types. The first type is personal. From birth through old age we deepen our relationship with ourselves as we uncover our abilities, weaknesses, interests, and identities. The second type is communal. Eros brings people together to live as families, communities, and towns and inspires our relationships with other animals, plants, Earth, and the whole universe.
Eros uses our feelings, our thoughts, our bodies, and our relationships with each other and the rest of nature to guide us toward healthy personal and communal decisions. The six-step erotic discernment process is how we listen and respond to this guidance from Eros.
The Erotic Discernment Process
Step One: Intimacy
Begin discernment by cultivating intimacy: knowing who we are, knowing others as they are, and knowing the world around us. Intimacy is not just intellectual knowledge, however, it is also knowledge that involves the heart and that comes from direct experience. This kind of knowledge is a challenge, but here are suggestions to help you better know yourself, followed by more to help you become intimate with the people and places around you.
1. The body provides an incredible number of clues to what is happening in your life so get to know your physical self. There are several ways you can do this including the practice of yoga, tai chi, breath awareness, sacred sex, and even ballroom dancing. (See note at end)
2. Become aware of your emotions. There are several ways to do this like dream study and psychotherapy, or by asking yourself questions like: Am I generally a happy person? What excites me? What shames me? How am I feeling my anger or my joy? How do I feel pleasure? The goal is the same as with your physical self: to know yourself intimately.
3. Become conscious of how you think and your beliefs about life and the way the world works. One of the best ways to do this is to engage in lively conversation and discussion with a variety of people. You can also attend lectures, read books, or join organizations that will expose you to different ways of thinking about and understanding the world.
4. It is also important to become aware of your actions. How exactly do you spend your time? How much time do you spend in various activities? How do you treat yourself and other people? Becoming aware of how you drive a car, especially in heavy traffic, can teach you an amazing amount.
The flip-side of getting to know yourself is getting to know the world you live in. Below are exercises to teach you how to do this. If you follow these suggestions you will be developing an intimacy with your community that is a vital prerequisite for making good decisions.
1. Get to know your local community by spending quality time with family and friends, studying local history and culture, encouraging regional artists, participating in multi-cultural events, patronizing local businesses, or investing in community projects with either your money or your time. Ask of any undertaking, what will this do to our community, including the nonhuman community?
2. Think of yourself as a native of your local area. As part of this native mind-set, develop a reverence, respect, love, and awe for where you live.
3. Harvest some physical nourishment directly from nature. You can do this in several ways: plant and care for a fruit and vegetable garden, gather wild edibles (berries, mushrooms, herbs, roots, etc.), hunt or fish, or get drinking water from a safe fresh-water spring.
All of these suggestions are examples of ways to connect to the psyche of the land. David Abrams in The Spell of the Sensuous explains why this is important:
"All these things together make up a particular state of mind, a place-specific intelligence shared by all the humans that dwell therein, but also by the coyotes yapping in those valleys, by the bobcats and the ferns and the spiders, by all beings who live and make their way in that zone. Each place its own psyche."
When making important decisions about your life, consult the psyche of the place where you live. Some Native Americans go on vision quests to seek guidance from nature, and you are doing something similar.
Step Two: Reflection
Erotic discernment continues with reflection. Intimacy answers the questions, who am I, who are my neighbors, and what is happening? Reflection will tell you why something is happening and what it means. Seek answers to these kinds of questions. Why do I feel this way? Why am I anxious, or sad, or angry, or carefree? Why do I always rush from one activity to the next? What does it mean to me and my community that salmon no longer run in our rivers? Why do women in our city have a higher rate of breast cancer than the general population? What does it mean to our community that small businesses in our neighborhood are thriving? Considering these types of questions helps reveal the relationships within your own life and in the world around you.
Step Three: Evaluation and Commitment
Next, evaluate or review the relationships in your life to see if they are healthy or unhealthy. It isn't enough just to have relationships, they must be life giving. In doing your assessment I strongly recommend getting feedback from a community of different people. The possibility of self-deception, especially if you are new to erotic discernment, is much greater if you rely only on your own impressions.
To guide your assessment, keep in mind that there are two poles in the spectrum of well-being, two standards that set the limits by which most people live. One is the standard of unhealthiness. This is a way of living that hampers or thwarts the goals of Eros. It is a way of thinking, believing, and acting that does not promote your own well-being and that of others. In fact, it works against them. This standard is anti-erotic and anti-community. Unhealthiness promotes inauthentic living, and fosters the values that destroy individuals and communities or makes them impossible to thrive. These values are fear, intolerance, hate, jealousy, greed, envy, falsehood, discrimination, isolation, waste, alienation from the physical self, social injustice, and war. These are the values that promote disconnection from self and others, and make good decisions impossible.
At the other end of the spectrum is the standard of healthiness, a way of being in the world, a way of thinking, believing, and acting that moves with Eros. This standard embraces a set of values that fosters the erotic goals of personal and communal health and well-being. These values are personal authenticity, love, compassion, truth, tolerance, forgiveness, generosity, trust in our physical selves, respect for the land and other life forms, sharing, and communal relationships based on these and similar values. Healthy ways of living increase active concern for the environment, and encourage work for social justice. When you are moving with Eros you will see an increase of these values in your everyday life. Their presence is evidence that you are moving in ways that are healthy for yourself and for your community, that you have made good decisions, and that you are more likely to make them in the future. Their absence is a sign that something has gone wrong. Commit yourself to the standard of healthiness.
Step Four: The Decisions
Only after you have incorporated intimacy, reflection, and evaluation into your life, and made a commitment to live by the standard of healthiness, are you ready to enter the decision-making step of the discernment process. Decision-making includes the following: First, identity and clarify the goals you hope to accomplish by making this decision. Second, identify all the options open to you. Third, gather and carefully consider as much information as you can about each option, including advice from others. Fourth, consider each alternative in light of its related costs, risks, benefits, consequences, and healthiness. Imagine yourself following each course of action, paying special attention to how you feel emotionally and physically. Finally, make a decision based on what appears to be the healthiest course of action.
Step Five: Action
It is not enough just to know what you need to do; you must now do it to continue the discernment process. In many cases, knowing what you should do is enough to inspire you to act, but that isn't always so, especially if your decisions are life changing. One of the widely held fallacies of our society is that education will change people. There is more than enough evidence that knowledge by itself does not always empower people to act. Something more is needed. Here are some attitudes and activities to help you carry out in a healthy way the decisions you've made based on steps one through four.
1. Be sure you have completed the first four steps of the erotic discernment process. This will minimize the possibility that your action will be fruitless or misguided. If you find strong resistance to taking action, it may be that something has gone wrong in the first four steps of your discernment.
2. Use a process to get to your goal. You will not change your eating habits overnight, you will not change careers just by deciding to do so. Action involves a process, and you will be more successful if you lay out a step-by-step course of action.
3. Establish a support system. Your support can come from people who encourage you in your life in general, or from people doing exactly what you plan to do, or something close to it.
4. Spend a few minutes everyday imagining yourself carrying out your decision. Use as much detail as you can, including how you will feel emotionally. This is training of the imagination, and is critical to self-empowerment.
Step Six: Confirmation
Now that you have made a decision and taken some action, you can confirm the healthiness of what you have done by going through the first five steps again. How do you feel, emotionally and physically, doing what you have decided to do? Become aware of what is happening, reflect and evaluate again, and either continue on the course you have set for yourself, or make adjustments. This time as you go through the process you will be looking for confirmation that you have decided and acted correctly. One sign of a good discernment is a sense of satisfaction and peacefulness, while feelings of discomfort, unsettledness, or distraction can indicate a bad course of action. Remember also that a good decision leads to an increase of life-giving values and characteristics that foster healthy relationships with self and others.
The confirmation step is important because one thing you will learn in the first five steps is that it is impossible to know all you need to know. Life is too complicated and we are involved in more relationships than we as individuals can ever realize. Knowing this, we should be moved to a level of humility that will keep us from thinking and feeling that we can ever be totally in control. This step is also important to make sure that what starts as a healthy decision doesn't go astray in carrying it out.
To help you with the discernment process, especially with this last step of confirmation, it is important to beware of the following dead ends and pitfall:
1. The Pleasure-Pain Dynamic: This is an easy trap to get caught in for at least two reasons. First is our society's attitude toward pain and pleasure. The common beliefs are that personal pain and discomfort are to be eliminated, that they are not something to be listened to and learned from, and that "if it feels good, do it." The seeking of pleasure and the avoidance of pain are deeply embedded in our society, and many people see them as ultimate values. Second, the pleasure-pain dynamic seems to be based on the principles of erotic discernment. When making an erotic discernment, it is important to be sensitive to what you are feeling physically and emotionally. In general, good feelings are indicative of a direction you would want to move towards, and pain indicates a situation to avoid. But pleasure and pain are only part of the total picture, and you must see the whole picture before you can make a good decision. For guidance in life, you must look beyond your initial feelings and examine your situation from a more wholistic perspective. Feelings provide critical information, but not all we need for good judgment. You must follow the entire six-step erotic discernment process as outlined above&emdash;intimacy, reflection, evaluation and commitment, action, and confirmation.
2. Altered States of Consciousness: Altered states of consciousness have been used for a variety of purposes since humanity first existed. These states can be induced in a number of ways including meditation, drugs, physical stimulation, or the lack of it. Remember that the altered state of consciousness, though at times intense and powerful, is only an altered state of consciousness. This can be confusing because altered states of consciousness are often pleasurable. Evaluate your use of altered states of consciousness by examining how they are increasing both intimacy and your ability to be compassionate and loving. If the altered state of consciousness itself becomes your goal, you will quickly lose your way.
3. Anti-body Dualism: Be alert to any teachings that claim the body or all matter is evil or illusory, and all that is not matter is good and everlasting. We are physical beings, and it is important to have a positive view of the physical as part of a healthy self-image. It is also dangerous to believe that physical sickness is the result of some unhealthy way of living. Yes, it can be so, but not necessarily. Part of being a physical being is to have sicknesses and eventually to die. The body provides us with important information in the discernment process, but, as with the emotions, not all we need for good judgment.
4. Psychic Powers: Many people can develop psychic powers. Perhaps we all possess them, latent, waiting to be activated. The presence of these powers is not necessarily an indication that a person is healthy. Psychic powers are only tools to use along the way. If you persist in learning and using erotic discernment, you may experience some of these powers, but you must not let them be your goal.
Many say the internet is providing the planet with a unifying cosmic consciousness and moving us on to the next stage of human evolution. The same was said of the telegraph, the telephone, the radio, and the television. Though these inventions provide us with a great deal of information, no cosmic consciousness developed or will develop from them because they are not enough. Something far more than the internet is likely to bring healthy change to the world community: the erotic way of living. Erotic living transforms the way you perceive yourself and the world around you. Foods may taste richer, colors may appear more brilliant, and orgasms feel more intense. Your sense of community will broaden, maybe leading you to work for social justice or to protect the environment, and you will be empowered to act in ways that are life-giving for yourself and your community. Use the suggestions presented here to help you live an erotic life so you will make and carry out healthy decisions for yourself and your communities.
Robert Barzan, creator and first editor of White Crane Journal, now lives in Modesto, CA.
Note: Sex that builds healthy community, that contributes to the wholeness of the individuals involves, or that links them to the rest of nature is sacred. See Sacred Sex: How to Live an Erotic Life by Robert Barzan, White Crane Press, 1998.
This article is a short excerpt from the booklet Erotic Discernment: The Art of Making Good Decisions, available for $3.95 from White Crane Press, 404 Patrick Lane, Modesto, CA 95350
Price includes postage and taxes.
Contact Robert Barzan at firstname.lastname@example.org
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Link to Toby Johnson's GAY SPIRITUALITY: The Role of Gay Identity in the Transformation of Human Consciousness Last update March 21, 2002