A Look at Bodily Relating - Sensuality
This week, we begin a discussion of sensuality, another "flavour" along the affection to sex continuum. I suppose I probably don't need to say that the distinctions I'm making are quite arbitrary. There are overlaps all over the place. For example, having a cuddle might feel relaxing and affirming of the affection I feel for someone. At another time or with another person, it might feel chargy or erotic. Sensual activities also run the "feeling range" -- from affectionate contacts to sexual charge. Everything is totally dependent on you, your mood and your intent. Believe it or not, it has nothing to do with the mood or intent of your partner.
I define sensuality as "being fully in contact with the pleasures of your senses." I'm reminded of the semi-classic movie, "The Scent of a Woman." The protagonist, deprived of sight, elevated smell to new heights. Having experienced "Two Spirits," an erotic massage workshop, a couple of years ago, that movie title took on new meaning for me, which I'll address next week.
In one of the books I'm writing, I propose the following exercise:
Sit comfortably. Begin looking around the space you are in. As you look at a door, internally say, “door.” Immediately move your head, focus on something, and name it. Do this for a minute or two. How long was the list? Now, what were you focused on prior to doing this? This book, for one thing. What else were you aware of seeing? The truth is, you mind was aware of virtually everything in your visual field, but chose to exclude, or “filter out” the “irrelevant” data.
How did it decide what was irrelevant? Past experience. You’ve been reading for most of your life. You learned rules. How to sit. How to light the book. What to pay attention to. Your brain, doing you a favour, excludes what you’ve predetermined isn’t important.
We’re not done. Now, listen for a minute or two. What do you hear? How much had you heard prior to paying attention? Again, the filters were in place. Your ears were hearing all of those things (you don’t think sound waves aren’t there if you’re not paying attention to them, do you?), but filtering them out. So you could read.
More. Use your skin now. How’s the temperature? How’s your butt? Numb? Can you feel the chair? Check out your clothes from the inside. Can you feel the elastic or belt around your waist? (Oh! How nice! You’re reading my book in the nude! What do you FEEL with your skin?)
And more. What do you smell? How’s your mouth taste? (Where’s that coffee cup?) How do you feel, emotionally, today?
The point is, modern life is so "busy" signal wise that we've had to shut down our senses to survive. We have become dulled and jaded by the sheer volume of stimuli, to our detriment. The nice part about it, like you just discovered if you did the exercise, is that turning things back on simply takes an effort of will.
There's a Zen principle that might be thought of as "simply noticing." What you'll "notice," if you watch yourself and you're 'normal,' is that you're pretty shut down – in your head, in a tunnel, in a fog. You might think of it as "walking cocooning." Simply noticing is an exercise in sensory awareness. You direct yourself to pay attention. You keep bringing yourself back to attention as your mind wanders. Meditators do this by focusing on one thing, like the breath. This stills the mind chatter, which is our main way of blocking sensory input. If I am thinking and living within my imaginary world, (I call this mental masturbation) I am precluding myself from being a part of the 'real" world. Again, as the preceding exercise demonstrated.
Simply noticing is about being alert, aware and conscious. It's the skill martial artists learn -- to pay attention to their surroundings. It's "zoning," yet zoning in on one or more of the senses. In order to effectively do this, I have to challenge my preconceived notions, and also give myself permission to feel and recognise (pay attention to) what I am sensing. In doing so, I am pressing some or all of my "repression buttons."
We've been conditioned to feel only in certain situations, following specific rules around "approved sensations." I just had a fascinating conversation with a long-time client. More and more, our work is turning toward her sensual and sexual experiences, or lack thereof. Today, she said, "I think I must be missing the sex gene." She explained that she didn't feel much in her body, and wasn't particularly interested in pleasurable bodily sensations.
Then, she described a situation with her husband and another couple. They'd all had a couple of drinks and a few tokes, and the next thing you know, there was some nudity and waist up touching going on. She commented that it felt excellent, like nothing she'd ever felt before, and that the feeling lasted for a week. She and her husband had a discussion about the experience and came up with an "acceptable / not acceptable sex list." I suggested that perhaps they could discuss the pleasure that touching for touching's sake could bring. Like I said last week, just because something feels good does not mean that it has to be a prelude to sex.
Oh. And she's not missing the sex gene.
Touch: The first and most obvious way to work on sensual contact is through physical contact. On our web site, in the Bodywork section, there are a couple of exercises -- chest and pelvic release segments you might practice with another.
I amaze myself over how few people have experienced Bodywork or massage. Often, clients mention that someone has given them a "spa package" and that they're all concerned about what to wear or not to wear. I think that doing some form of Bodywork on a regular basis is key to getting over body shyness. And, I think it's essential to stay in your body during the process.
All too often, people receiving Bodywork escape to their heads and either go elsewhere, or analyze the feelings as opposed to simply feeling them. By doing the 'head trip,' we deprive ourselves of the sense-uality of the experience. Even though traditional massage is designed specifically to not be about pleasurable feelings, if we are honest, any skin-to-skin contact creates an "Aah!" sound in most people. It's just how the body reacts to touch. Not good, not bad, but that thinking makes it so.
The best book about sensual massage is a reprint of a 60s classic. It's called The New Sensual Massage, by Gordon Inkeles. The book was initially a classic because it showed nude people massaging nude people. It's still a classic because of its lucid text and illustrations. (And the newly photographed nude people still look great! J ) There's a back lift - stretch shown there that is to die for, pgs. 96-97
I think it essential for our physical and mental well being that we have multiple channels of hands-on body contact, both through working with a professional Bodyworker and with friends. Establish working boundaries, then settle in and let yourself enjoy the feeling.
Similarly, breathing exercises can be quite sensual. We've described breathing posture on our website, and I'll simply say that men and women (in truth, mostly women) have reported quite amazing sensations "simply breathing." Giving yourself permission to feel the flow of breath and the flow of energy in the body leads to some remarkable places.
Sight -- really looking can be a fascinating exercise. We often limit ourselves to ooh-ing and ah-ing over natural splendours. There's nothing stopping us, though, from setting up excursions to fill our eyes. In Ontario, there's the Lilac Festival in Hamilton. Dar and I are at a Matisse – Gauguin exhibit this weekend. Sense-ual to the nth degree.
Another favourite exercise is looking at people. I suggest that everyone do this regularly, and that couples do it together, or separately and report back. The task is to sit and look at people and notice what you find attractive. Comment on the part of bodies you find stimulating. Occasionally, you'll see someone stunning, and you'll have an "I'd do him/her right here, right now" reaction. We tend to push this stuff back and deny it's existence, but if you let down the blocks and filters, you'll see that you "see," and seeing is a good thing. And, why would we be threatened by what we (or our partner) judge as sensual?
Sound -- same idea. Go to the symphony, then to a rock concert. Listen to music and see which music makes you vibrate. (I still give top marks to Alannah Myles' "Black Velvet.") Get someone to whisper "sweet nothings" or interesting suggestions in your ear. Then, try the whispering in public, so you have to contain your shivers of delight. Place your lips against a partner's neck, and "just hum."
Smell -- surround yourself with smells. Buy flowers. Go to a greenhouse and smell the peaty – flowery smell. A greenhouse full of Easter Lilies is overwhelming, yet good for a minute or two. Smell the air at the beach. Smell a friend's skin while lying on a hot beach. There is definitely something about the warm skin smell. Go to ethnic restaurants and use your nose. A lot. Smell the air, smell the food. Breathe in. Use fragrant oils and aromatherapy blends when you do Bodywork. An aromatherapist friend introduced me to this. We spend half a year exchanging Bodywork and she convinced me (easily, I might add J ) to use oil with some of the Bodywork I do. Especially if people are working on energy – chi – prana flow, I immediately head for scented oil blends.
Taste -- My aromatherapist friend once wrote fondly (perhaps more than fondly) about her love of Rolo candies. She wanted to explore her growing edges and push her limits, so the next time she showed up, I handed her a blindfold, and then sat with her and fed her Rolos, Mandarin Orange slices, kiwi, papaya and other tasty stuff. Goodness, she had a big smile on her face… I suspect the rest of her liked the experience too.
When Dar and I have this experience, we increase the variety as well as the intensity of the experience by adding things to rub on, and feathers and silk for bodily sensations. Hot and cold things, too. The blindfold eliminates most people's dominant sense, and adds the element of surprise. One's mouth soon explodes. For hints, check out the kitchen scene in '91/2 Weeks' with Mickey Rourke and Kim Basinger. Amazing what a turn on milk can be.
So, there are some sensual exercise for you to try out. Let me know how it goes, eh? Next week, we enter the erotic realm.