Saturday, August 29, 2015

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Guest Post: The Lingam Puja, Dear Love Edition – July 2015

Continuing the focus of some of my recent posts on the practice of Lingam Puja as a meditative ritual honoring the sacred dimension of queer men's desire and sexuality, here is a reflection by Br. Bob on his experience of leading the Puja as a daily practice for a week this July just past. Br. Bob is a full-time minister who has explored the embodiment of spirituality for the last several years through various workshops that he's attended and at which he's assisted. What he shares below bears vivid witness that authentic ritual grows from the roots up out of the practice of a community that takes ownership of the form.

This summer I had the opportunity to assist at a week-long workshop at Easton Mountain in upstate New York: Dear Love of Comrades, which is the first-level intensive offered by the Body Electric School. Each morning, the men attending the workshop were required to choose among several meditative movement practices, which included a yoga class and a meditative hike. I had experienced the Lingam Puja meditation practice offered by David Townsend two summers ago at another Body Electric week-long intensive. I had found it then to be a good meditative practice to begin my day, so I wanted to offer it for this new group of men.
I contacted David and asked for the ritual format, which he graciously shared with me, and set about assembling the necessary supplies before I left for the workshop. It was interesting for me to learn where I could find camphor to use as incense for the ritual, as well as a few of the other items. I was excited I could bring into the ritual the singing bowl I’d acquired a few months ago and that is part of my daily personal morning practices.
Arriving the day before the workshop, I found the area around the large carved and charred wooden phallus overgrown with weeds and wild flowers. David had told me about his experience of walking on the weeds when he created the space two years ago, and how it had been a meditative process unto itself for him. So, that Sunday afternoon in the high heat and humidity, I started doing the same thing, walking clockwise in ever-growing circles to flatten out the vegetation so others would perceive it as a ritual space. In short order the meditation circle began to be as evident as my sweat-soaked clothing! Finally, I decided it was time for me to get relief and go cool off in the outdoor pool to relax.
The next day, I enlisted the help of another man who would be a participant in the workshop. We used collapsed cardboard boxes to flatten the circle better and make the space even more welcoming. Being someone whose vocation involves celebrating rituals and leading others in them, I still felt some apprehension about how participants would receive this new-to-them ritual, and how I would feel in leading it.
The next day, I awoke early before my alarm, showered,  and trekked out to the remote area where the Lingam Puja circle was located to set the remaining ritual pieces in place: a sarong to decorate the lingam; small citronella garden candles for the perimeter of the circle to provide a sense of the holy – but also to help ward off the insects. I lit the candle near the lingam; chimed my singing bowl; lit a few pieces of camphor to incense the area; and set up three small vases to receive the flower offerings of the brothers who would gather.

Then I went to greet the brothers who would participate, and in silence we walked out to the Lingam Puja circle as they gathered a wildflower or two to make their offering. I welcomed them formally one by one into the circle and made a bindi on their foreheads using ritual powder obtained from an Indian grocery store near my home, where I also found the camphor. Then after being welcomed, they placed their flowers in the vases on the stump altar next to the lingam and chimed the singing bowl.

Then after an opening prayer, we took turns stating our intention for the day and having that intention bound to us by tying a red thread on our wrist. Following that, we silently walked clockwise at our own pace around the lingam until it was time to close the ritual. As we walked in meditation, men would reverence or embrace the lingam, light more camphor incense, or perform some other action meaningful to them. Once I chimed the end of our meditation time by ringing the singing bowl, we gathered arm-in-arm around the lingam and chanted Om three times to formally close the meditation and then offered each other a morning embrace.
I found that the challenge of leading the ritual and keeping track of time initially distracted me. But as the week progressed, I became more at home with it. My apprehensions decreased, and I felt more in union with the rhythm of it. I also found-- surprisingly, for I am NOT a morning person--that I would awake every day without my alarm and look forward to my solitary personal time when I would re-set the ritual space for that morning’s practice. I loved the peacefulness and connection with nature that it afforded me before I had to “be on” in exercising my leadership of the group’s practice. And I was challenged the one day when rain threatened and a brisk breeze made keeping the altar candle lit almost impossible!
I was also moved each day by the group’s practice - how different men would experience emotional connections in themselves and with the earth and with spirit through this simple yet profound action. It reminded me so much how our capacity and commitment to be “present” – fully focused and intent on an action – allows us to be connected to and become conduits of spirit. This then allows us to connect with spirit in others and in creation itself. This basic truth is something that I learn and experience and witness over and over again. It reminds me that I am always a student and learning all the time. No matter how regularly I engage in spiritual rituals or practices, there is always something new for me to be open to experiencing. I simply need to surrender to the spirit’s invitation and trust it will reveal what I need to do, if anything.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

On a California Mountaintop

A Lingam Puja at Body's Electric's Erotic Temple retreat, Wildwood, Guerneville.
Photo by Arnie Katz

Monday, August 10, 2015

Mark Doty: Homo Will Not Inherit

Here is one of our finest and most gifted gay poets, as he describes flesh ablaze with Spirit...

Friday, July 24, 2015

"God Expects Just One Thing of You...

that you should come out of yourself insofar as you are a created being and let God be God in you."

--Meister Eckhart

Monday, July 13, 2015

The Goal

The goal of an erotic spiritual practice isn't satisfaction.

The goal is to embrace desire as Life's unbounded and endless longing for Itself.
To take it as a teacher.
To see that what you have, you cannot possess.
To see that what you lack, you already have.

Thursday, July 2, 2015


The cat leaps onto the altar.
Settles. Then up again, steps across, 
nuzzles the lily aside
to drink from the bowl where it floats.
Jumps down, curls against a thigh.
A wren in the tree goes berserk with anxious chatter,
the cat creeps off.
The meditator
(who would be me)
calls her back,
calls himself back to the mala, to his breath,
though none of it was departure.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

A Very Partial Truth

If you're a gay or bi man who's never put your arms around a two-foot phallus under the open sky, I suggest you give it a try. You might be surprised what it brings up. So to speak.

I'm not being coy in saying that I have no idea what it could call forth in you. But I'll go so far as to suggest it may prove powerful.
If you're doing it somewhere you might be seen by others--like the public park where I lead a (relatively discreet) Lingam Puja ritual about once a month--it may elicit a very understandable unease. ("Oh, my God," a friend told me, recounting how he'd felt the first time he attended, with a succession of dog walkers passing on the footpath near the oak under which we gather. "I'm going to fly apart now.")
It may be a way of saying no to shame.
You may be repulsed, if it represents for you yet another expression of commercialized gay male culture's obsession with cock size and impersonal sex for its own sake.
Or it may feel like you're embracing an energy that informs your whole life, and that somehow is far, far vaster and more substantial than your own sexual experience, an energy that flows though you and unites you with all of nature, with your male ancestors, with your brothers, friends and lovers, with your sons and your sons' sons, with the sons of the men you love, that offers healing and regeneration and reassurance of your place in the world.
You may feel that, paradoxically, to embrace this energy fully prepares you better to honor and admire and relate honestly and equally to the miracle of women's sexuality, their bodies and their experience.
I can't tell you how you'll react, but I can share how I reacted last week. This is a very partial truth, not the truth for women, not the truth for trans folk, not the truth for all men. Perhaps the truth for you, and perhaps not.
Bending down to embrace the Lingam set up in my garden, a realization blossomed that had long remained curled as a tight bud in my soul. My penis was my lifeline as an adolescent, at the very time when I felt nothing but shame over my flowering sexuality, when I thought of it as an affliction and fought endlessly to pretend it didn't exist. Without my cock, without the longings of my body and its capacity for pleasure, declaring itself in every erection, in every wet dream, in every ejaculation after hours of edging as I tried to hold back, my soul would have imploded to a withered singularity. I would have become nothing more than my superego, a shell of repression surrounding emptiness.
My cock saved me. And its energy and reality was and is an energy and reality that's pulsed through the whole length of human history, and back beyond that to the beginnings of sexual reproduction hundreds of millions of years ago. It's the miracle of my father's orgasm that initiated my existence. It's tied from earth to heaven, from the male human to the Divine, by its representation in the phallic gods of every tradition. Egyptian Min masturbating the cosmos into existence. Hindu Shiva endlessly ejaculating the Ganges. Roman Priapus watching over the garden with his comically outsized erection. The Sacred Cock of Jesus, sanctifying men's embodiment and drawing it up into Divinity--as God's Holy Wisdom, the Womb of Creation, divinizes as well women's experience in the Judeo-Christian tradition. Cernunnos of the Celts, horned god of the forest. Pan with the flute he plays and the flute that juts out between his furry legs. Quetzlcoatl, the Feathered Serpent of the Aztecs.
This energy is within me. I am the bearer of this energy. I want to move through the world as the bearer of this energy. I want to embrace it, embody it.  I want to sit straight in meditation, stand straight in walking, my spine an erection, my torso a pump and conduit to draw the Kundalini energy of the Goddess from the earth and pour it out for the healing of the world,  the crown of my head a meatus shooting metaphysical semen into the universe. I want my seed to fall as an offering to the earth. In the cycle of longing and release, I want to embrace change and the impermanence of all things.

Saturday, June 6, 2015

A Prayer on Awakening

Modeh ani l'fanecha ru'ach chai v'kayam.

Thankful I am before you, the Abiding Spirit.

When I say modah (thankful), I connect with my sense of gratitude. Then ani (I) with my sense of self. I'm the one that's saying this prayer. Then l'fanecha (before You), and suddenly it's not about me. It's about You, God, the One is whose Presence I am. And so on. I'll go through each prayer like that and that's how my heart is able to connect. It's coming from inside me. It's not intellectual. I embody the prayer. I allow myself to say, then really experience, gratitude.

Rabbi Zari M. Weiss.
Photograph by the late Oscar Wolfman.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Like Rome

I don't remember where it is that Freud says that the mind is like Rome. Or maybe that's not exactly the way he puts it. Maybe my memory is playing a trick: building something new on top of what's buried further down. (OK, Google settled this almost instantly: it's from Civilization and Its Discontents--but as far as I'm concerned, that's not only cheating, it short-circuits the fertile pleasures of not knowing for sure.)

Beneath the streets we travel, beneath the gardens we plant, beneath the houses we build: a past that may disappear beneath the surface but doesn't go away. The underground stream that rises up into a basement. The sinkhole that opens when the roof of a buried chamber collapses. The thud of stone against the shovel in the garden. The three columns that remain of an ancient temple, beside a six-lane thoroughfare. The amphitheater capped by apartments and TV antennae. The expressway that follows the route of a 2000-year-old road. That's what the complexity of our minds is like, Freud says.
Except that the state of our mind isn't just like Rome in the present moment: every period of its history is alive and vibrating in the here and now. As though the Rome of six-lane avenues and electric lines were also, simultaneously, the Rome of Caesar and Cicero, of the Empire in decline, of the Renaissance Popes, of the Risorgimento, of Mussolini, of Fellini. You can buy holographic postcards in Rome of the principal ancient monuments and watch them oscillate back and forth, as you tilt them up and down, between a photograph of the ruins and a reconstruction of the buildings' original state.
That's a little more like our minds, in the complex indeterminacy of the relation between our conscious awareness and the unconscious or forgotten layers that complicate and enrich our experience. Except that our minds contain strata upon strata, not just two. Think of the times you've gone back to your family of origin and found that suddenly, once again, you're fifteen years old. Or six. Or ten. Or (perhaps happily, perhaps hellishly) all of the above.
St. Augustine likened our memory to an inexhaustible storehouse. Julian of Norwich called our souls a noble city in the midst of which God's throne is set. Buddhist masters like Thich Nhat Hanh and Pema Chödrön talk about befriending our feelings and learning to care for them, rather than brushing them aside and neglecting them, or else projecting them outwards as though those around us bore responsibility for them. Among contemporary queer authors who get this, graphic novelist Allison Bechdel stands out at the moment for her two memoirs of her relationships with her father and mother, respectively: Fun Home and Are You My Mother?
Coming to know our own minds better, to wander around and descend through the complexity of those layers, is one of life's great adventures. The best practices of psychotherapy are driven by lively excitement to know ourselves, rather than by the misery that may have brought us to our shrink in the first place--by the desire to make friends with our unconscious, rather than trying to hunt it down and kill it. The best practices of mindful erotic self-awareness are also about lively curiosity and acceptance of who we are, and how we came to be who we are, as something wondrous and worthy of curiosity and respect, as well as celebration. Impatience, shame, and judgment are the adversaries of genuine insight and growth.

In the apocryphal Gospel of Thomas, Jesus says, "If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you. If you do not bring forth what is within you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you." It's the water that flows underground that sustains our gardens.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Beltane on the Boulevard

The plane trees
pruned so brutally six weeks ago
wake up late, these first days of May,
laugh, and shout,
"I win!"

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Slow Learner

It's only taken me
the better part of twenty years
to learn I have to let watercolour dry
before I add an overglaze.