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by The Alchemist's Kitchen
February 11, 2019
We asked an herbalist, a tantric practioner, and a somatic sex educator about self-love, sex magic, and using herbalism in your love life to help us welcome love into our lives.
For me, self-love and self-care are prioritizing things that are healthy for my body, mind and spirit, with my thoughts, actions, and in my life. Sometimes this means eliminating certain things and sometimes this means stacking healthier habits. All of it is something I have to practice consistently, and with forgiveness, gentleness, and gratitude.
I didn’t used to feel empowered. I was someone working in wellness but I often felt stuck in the muck. I had patterns of thoughts and behaviors that were based on programming I had inadvertently received about my own self-worth and it was low. A lot of it was related to the way my very human family held space and communicated with one another. But this low self-esteem translated into my adult life and relationships.
A couple of years ago I really started to realize I wasn’t having my needs met, and I didn’t have great boundaries with people. I often felt the compulsion to oblige other people’s needs even when it went against prioritizing my own, romantically and otherwise. This habit can still happen. I want copacetic and happy relationships more than anything. But it finally occurred to me that this includes my relationship with myself and has to start from within.
To cultivate my self-love I had to wade through the muck. The biggest blessing was to find support and community with women, people who were herbalists or loved plants and plant-based wellness. These humans championed me to process through my shadows and to feel empowered and proud of who I know myself to really be.
Starting a journal also really helped. I called it “Conversations with my Higher Self.” I would write as though I was my own therapist teasing out my current feelings in the moment, and I tried to input a lot of reminders to be gentle and compassionate as though I was talking with someone else. This helped me to notice how my emotions felt in my body while remaining an observer. I would also write out lists in my journal of my intentions for practices of self-care and self-love, and of manifestations that I wanted to bring about in my life.
I found that discipline became really important. I had to become an observer of my emotions and I had to not judge them but instead understand their roots and soothe myself anyway. I also had to learn to say no. I even considered using a whole week to selfishly say no to every single thing that came my way based on principle alone. But what proved even harder sometimes was to say no to my own indulgences that were ultimately of a lower vibration. I kept coming back to my journaling though, and slowly but surely I would start to recognize my personal breakthroughs and what I had to be grateful for.
Simultaneously I stripped away a lot of physical clutter in my space. I decided to put down alcohol and other recreational substances, and I set the goal to hydrate more. I drink tea everyday and throughout the day, sometimes even replacing regular water with tea. I’ve come to know a lot of herbs that I think of as allies on my healing journey. I use these herbs in baths and steams and with skin care as well. I love skin care and facial gua sha, and any kind of practice to relieve physical tension in the body. My body and my mood really respond to these practices. I’ve adopted a more plant-based diet and enjoy movement with yoga and HIIT resistance training. These are a lot of physical things but to me self-love is befriending my body and returning my presence to my body as often as possible.
Finally I’ll share that I try to set times in my calendar to follow my whims, read a book, create art, have a treat, be a tourist in my town, or take a trip. These things are like rewards for cultivating my disciplined practice, but they are also the spice of life!
I’m not sure if it’s inherent or if I’ve cultivated this, but I’ve come to see the world with a sense of animism. We may question what’s sentient but I have no doubt that energy is real. I think as an herbalist I feel sensitive to the energies of plants, and their abilities to aid us in healing and wellness. I see plants as allies and friends and sometimes based on what they do and how they look, with personality as well. Practicing herbalism is love because these plants are really only our allies because they love us! I’m so grateful. How wonderful that the human has been designed to interact and heal with plants over millennia! It feels like a gift.
There are so many herbs that soothe and nourish the nervous system, relieve pain and tend to common ailments, and are the basis of all modern medicine. I think this is really beautiful. As humans we aren’t as alone on earth as we may sometimes feel.
I also think that herbalism can be accessible to anyone who wants to draw on it. Having a cup of herbal tea is creating a moment for quiet and ritual, for connection to your body and inner self, and for mindfulness.
I think that a lot of people are like me and have to work to reprogram their internal narratives from earlier times in which messages are sent that create inherent shame and feelings of not being enough. It seems really common that people are their own worst critics. I’m guilty of this too.
I’ve found that our low-vibration patterns repeat themselves often because they are familiar. It can take a lot to get to the point where you just say to yourself, “hey, I am worthy of love, romantic love, or whatever it is that I desire. I love myself, and I’m human. I’m doing my best and I’m good with that, it doesn’t matter what other people think.” For me, before I could even believe a statement like that I had to just see it and be reminded. I wrote out a lot of positive affirmations on post-it notes and would stick them on my mirror, next to my light switches and all over my room.
I also truly believe that if we can become aware of and refine our desires in whatever it is we are trying to manifest, romantic love or otherwise than the less we naturally settle for the things that fall short of this. It may sound corny but try to visualize being ahead and already having exactly what you want and what that feels like.
I wish I could tell myself that I had permission to receive exactly what I wanted with love and sex and to not settle for less, let alone relationships in which I was only offered breadcrumbs of what I wanted or in which there were so many apparent red flags. We carry the energies of the people we have sex with long after the fact, and I believe that if the energies aren’t right or aligned, and if they are actually toxic, then we feel the effects of this too. These energies can keep us weighed down or stuck and I know that’s happened to me in the past. Perhaps if I had been even more selective with partners or candidates for romantic relationships, I would have saved myself a lot of time and heartache.
I also wish I could tell myself not to take everything so personally. Having something happen like contracting an STD or and STI, or having to break-up with someone who isn’t right for you, or being rejected by someone else, is very common and normal. These are lessons and tests to help us grow and bring us closer to what is meant for us. They aren’t reasons to feel ashamed or less-worthy. Things just happen. Try to let what wants to come, come. Let what wants to go, go, and know that what is meant for you will stay.
I’ll be drinking tea, watering my plants, and snuggling my kitty. I’ve really been loving the herb red clover, which is a grounding herb. In the Herbiary, Maia Toll says Red Clover wants to get you moving in body and spirit, and will happily bolster your courage so you show up fully. I’m also taking a vacation to escape the winter, and sit on the beach with some loved ones. It will feel good reset and rejuvenate and return home feeling revived.
I see being internally oriented towards self-love and self-care as a living practice. I often express it with the image of setting my internal compass to “maximum high-level comfort (pleasure/joy/etc) factor.”
Conscious Breathwork is probably the practice I do most frequently. I do it all day long, literally hundreds of times a day. I’ll notice my breath, make it big and luscious, and remind myself to give thanks for the miracle of each breath.
I do my best to be kind to myself, to be forgiving of my mistakes. To me this is a fundamental form of self-care/self-love. Tantra reminds us to be receptive to the fullness of our humanity. In times of challenge, I find it empowering to remember that free will gives us the ability to choose what state of consciousness we animate. This helps me choose love when I slide out of "love-as-default-setting.” Love setting can be turned back on, even if it takes a little effort sometimes.
In Tao Tantra there are practices we call “Inner Alchemy”. We transform negative emotions into vitality. So when I notice I am in an unpleasant or uncomfortable state of consciousness, I’ll do the 6 Healing Sounds to transmute my frequency. It’s not about suppressing emotions, it’s about accepting and acknowledging them, and then allowing energy to do what it does naturally: transform. This is one if the most powerful self-care tools I know. #joyisachoice
The Taoist Inner Smile Meditation is another of my primary daily practices. I love this one! With the Inner Smile, we are loving up on all the organs and cells of the body. It’s so so yummy!
Also, music, singing and dancing. Big time. Dance is my first language, and one of the most potent “happy-life recipe” medicines.
Tantra is about celebrating life. The Tantric lifestyle is a path of opening your heart to all that is. The love that we cultivate through Tantra is multi-dimensional. Love on the vertical axis of earth to spirit infuses love that we experience interpersonally. A full form-to-formless spectrum of love framework supports and sustains horizontal axis love expressed on the physical realm (wink wink).
Tantra offers troves of treasure maps for heart-opening processes. Through Tantra we learn to hold space for vulnerability, and experience deeper intimacy with self and others. This inevitably overflows, expanding outwards in our capacity to feel, to give and to receive love.
Tantra teaches us to meet life as it is, while staying grounded in Love. I’m talking not only about romantic love, but a Greater Love, Source Love, Unconditional Love. The heart is the bridge that refines raw life force energy into spiritual energy: compassion, universal love, oneness consciousness. Personally, Tantra gives me a feeling of being completely smitten, wildly in love with life! It’s a very juicy feeling. . . I call it having a major existential Heart-On.
In some Tantric practices, we attune to the physical organ of the heart, as well as the energetic heart center. Many practices help us to connect the heart center with the sexual center. In these practices, the sexual center, rather than being seen as profane, is revered. Hallelujah! This aspect of self-love, the perception of the sexual center as sacred as the heart center can be quite transformative. We can harmonize these centers so that our creative life force energy empowers our love. Since creative sexual energy is what reproduces life, when we channel it to the heart, we multiply love!
Oh yeah. Shame is major presence in most of our experiences of life and love! It robs us of access to our divine truth, and from fully exploring our capacity for divine pleasure. As Osho says, “Pleasure is your birthright.”
Tantric and Taoist philosophies that attune us to the flow of nature have definitely helped me navigate and release myself from the tyranny of shame. There is a scripture from Tantric Yoga, where Shiva says to Shakti, “Everything in the universe is made up of the same basic elements, Earth, Water, Fire Air and Akasha (Ether).” Aligning myself to the flow of nature, in all of her ever-changing forms, has helped me overcome what I believe is a very pervasive feeling of “something is fundamentally wrong with me”. This is an underlying belief that many people carry. Relentlessly reinforced in the media, this belief is used as a tool of capitalism and oppression. Releasing shame is a radical, subversive act! Loving up on yourself is an empowering practice that brings us spiritual sovereignty. And when we really truly love ourselves, we have a healthy foundation to build loving relationships with others.
NVC, (Non-Violent Communication) has also helped me cultivate a loving relationship with myself, and high-quality loving relationships with others. I highly recommend Marshall Rosenbergs book, “A Language of Life”, and Miki Kashtan’s blog, www.thefearlessheart.org. Miki has been a major inspiration in my life, She teaches about truth, and power, and expressing love fearlessly. While NVC doesn’t claim itself to be “Tantric” per se, from a Tantric perspective, everything in life is Tantric!
NVC and Tantric philosophies share values of being life-affirming and life-serving. So much of our self-talk is neither. Much of it is highly self-critical, regurgitated shame-based conditioning stuck on old ass program-repeat loops. Learning to recognize where we carry conditioning is the first step. Then there is an ongoing process of upgrading how we talk to ourselves and how we see ourselves. Giving ourselves permission to be who we are is a skill that can be learned. Like playing a musical instrument, if we practice loving acceptance of who and how we are, eventually we get good at it! With time, we create new patterns. Shame gets replaced with celebration for all aspects of our humanity. To me, the fact that you, or I, or any one of us is here, is physical evidence that Life wants us!
Oh wow. I so often say, “If I had only learned about Tantra in my teens, my teens and 20’s would have been soooooo so different!”
I would tell myself to honor and listen to my body, not to press the mute button and disassociate. I would say “If it doesn’t feel awesome, speak up right away! Don’t tolerate anything uncomfortable! It’s ok to ask for what you want, and to say what you don’t want. It’s way better for both of you if you share what you need and desire!” I’d gift myself permission to do so, with freedom from all that pesky shame that kept me from speaking up when I was younger. I would teach myself the skills for asking and checking in with others, and how to create healthy boundaries. I would explain how to set up intentional sacred space, and to cultivate more conscious intimacy. I would transmit honor and celebratory reverence for my body, for every body, and for the sacredness of sexuality as the source of all life. I would give myself way more freedom to express pleasure and joy, without fear of offending someone who might not be feeling as joyful, or being fearful of scaring someone away with my supernova love.
I’ll be infusing my cells and the space around me with the frequency of Love. I believe the greatest gift we can possibly give one another as humans is the gift of loving presence.
Lately I've been giving a lot of mental real estate to “exquisite noticing”. This helps me recognize so much more of the beauty that is all around, all the time. The more subtly I am able to notice, the more I can appreciate and celebrate the truth of that beauty.
That’s what I’m bringing in to focus on my internal compass settings this season.
I am also excited to be sharing several workshops for cultivating love and conscious intimacy. I celebrate by inviting more people to maximize joy and pleasure in daily life! "Hey everybody! While we're here, alive in these miraculous sensory temples we call bodies, how about we swim in bliss together?! Ok great!"
And speaking of swimming, I am planning a few Spaquarious Maximus Aqua Flow Retreat days this season. Aquatic Arts: aquatic bodywork, water blessings, and sacred bathing rituals are some of my greatest pleasures.
Then I’m going to spend a few days on a quiet Caribbean beach to watch the sea and the sky making love. Drink coconuts. Eat mangos and bananas. Oh yes!
Some days self-love is doing the really hard thing: doing difficult emotional work in relationships, setting boundaries that are uncomfortable but necessary, releasing old attachment patterns. I find it’s easy to put off care and growth of the self under the guise of being too “busy” – I often feel a lot of resistance because it can be hard work! I’m also a big believer in the idea that “self-love can mean consciously choosing to learn about struggles that are not your own,” (from community organization The Body is Not An Apology). Some days self-love might be working to undo the oppressors within myself (for example, doing Layla F. Saad’s amazing “Me and White Supremacy Workbook”) because we live in a pretty oppressive society steeped in racism, misogyny, homophobia, transphobia, ableism, fatphobia, and capitalist exploitation, so we all take in those messages in subtle and not-so-subtle ways. Other days it might be having a really long luxurious wank! Self-pleasure, dance, and tarot, coming back into my intuitive body, are really important self-care for me.
More than anything for me sex magic is a way to reconnect to my embodied knowings, to the wisdom that emerges from a body made up of billions of cells, each with innate intelligence. All life instinctively moves towards pleasure, so there is an intelligence to that drive. So when we bring consciousness and love to our bodies, our pleasures, our kinks, our darkness, our shame, our fleeting sexual connections, we gain access to a lot of magical information.
Social norms ensure most of us carry shame in one way or another. I find shame is often invisible and hard to grab hold of – even as it permeates our relationships to our sexuality, our bodies and each other. So locating where shame exists is a big first step. Then becoming more aware of shame’s dysfunctional social and political roots can really help diffuse its power. For example, recognizing the need for reproductive control under patriarchy (and therefore the taboo against female promiscuity) or the pleasure-negative dogma of the capitalist/protestant work ethic (and therefore shame around the pursuit of pleasure).
I wish I could tell her that her body is beautiful and that pleasure is her right. That the sexiest thing in the world is being relaxed and confident in your body during sex, that the biggest turn on is feeling somebody else abandon themselves to pleasure. I spent far too long performing sexuality for my partners’ gaze, as we are too often taught in this culture.
I’ll be celebrating this season of love by gathering a small circle of friends for a communal “witchy wank”, celebrating self love and self pleasure in a ritual act of shame exorcism and embodiment. ☺
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