Thursday, December 18, 2014

As Solstice Approaches

...look for the light. Look for the magic.

(Photo by Drew)

Monday, November 17, 2014


What happens when you embrace a tree?

If "tree hugger" is too much a phrase of mockery for you ever to have done it, you should give it a try. Ideally, find one that's been alive longer than you have; one that wasn't planted by human hands.
You have to meet the tree. You have to get out of your head. You have to understand that the tree has its own life beyond your experience of it.
You have to visualize what lies beneath your feet. You have to remind yourself that the trunk your chest and cheek are pressed against are not its base, but its midsection. That the roots visible at your feet only hint at its hidden life, which reaches down and spreads out as far into the earth as the branches over your head. That half its being is an unseen tangle you can only vaguely begin to imagine, another world you cannot visit.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Balancing Act

I work in a building on one of the busiest commercial corners in mid-town Toronto. Starting in my block and heading east, luxury retailers have stacked up the last few years thick as cockroaches: Louis Vuitton next to Tiffany next to Coach, and so on down the block; Cartier is across the street. To the west there's a different mix: a sequence of public institutions and university buildings south of the street, on the north side toney new condos and a posh hotel, punctuated by relatively downmarket eateries left over from thirty years ago. Between the museum and the Royal Conservatory of Music lies a surviving ribbon of a greener Victorian Toronto: Philosopher's Walk, following the dale of a creek that now flows invisibly through a subterranean culvert. An Edwardian stone and wrought iron gate bows away from the sidewalk, creating a little eddy out of the main pedestrian flow, an invitation into the tranquillity of the the footpath leading south, away from the traffic and bling.

One afternoon about two weeks ago, a man knelt beside the gate, a random selection of stones at his side. Before him, more stones rose as he'd left them balanced, in columns of three or four. A field of focused energy radiated around him. At its centre lay only his union with the work of creating  equipoise and stillness.
There was no question of our pulling him out of his task. Instead, he drew us in. I misread him at first, emptying the spare change from my pocket into the satchel he'd set to one side, before it sank in that his practice had nothing to do with solliciting money, on a street where half a dozen people a day ask me for a handout. Or perhaps: that if it did, the heart of his enterprise lay securely beyond any expectation of the donations he might take in. It existed for itself. It was pure gift. As I dropped my few coins into his bag, he said while making eye contact only a moment, "I love you," and went back to the work of finding the still point hidden in the heart of the jagged, angular rock he was holding almost motionless over the one beneath it.
Later that day, he'd gone; the stones remained.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Total Immersion

(Provenance unknown; shared by Hoppergrass)

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Right of Return

Saturday afternoon: as the sun prepares to set on this Day of Atonement in the Jewish year 5775, those of us who attend the final service of Ne'ilah will meditate one last time on the New Year call to t'shuvah--"repentence," but more literally, "return": return to our original natures in their divinely ordained goodness. The repentance of the High Holidays doesn't grovel in self-loathing. Instead, it points toward the ways human nature is meant to do better and is capable of doing better. Which is why I go back, year after year, gentile in a Jewish congregation that I am. I find there an invitation (one I never answer fully) to be the best of myself. For me, that call often gets lost in my own Christian tradition, especially in the pieties of Lent, tinged with self-loathing as they still all too frequently remain.

The sober self-assessment this day invites us to exercise is grounded in the fundamental goodness of who we are at our core, of who we were made to be. That core includes the discovery, the rediscovery, and the living out of our authentic sexuality and gender identification. Our core embraces the force for good, in ourselves and in the world, that acting on the truth of our sexual being can be.
T'shuvah calls you to repair the self, not to deny the self or to turn it into some other self. T'shuvah calls you to show kindness and respect; to embrace your own capacity for desire and pleasure as miracles to which the proper response is gratitude and celebration, within yourself and in erotic communion with others. It calls you not to shame others; not to belittle them; not to evaluate and use them as objects.
It calls us to affirm the best of who we are and to resist everything, both inside and outside ourselves, that denies our right to return to the truth of our queer souls.
That scrutiny of who we are at our core surely also includes a close look at the complex, often painful heritage of our early religious upbringings. The impulse to walk away from traditions that served us badly is strong. Sometimes walking away from a spiritually abusive heritage is the healthiest thing queer men can possibly do.
But I know from my own experience that the alienated rage I felt for so long towards the Lutheran tradition of my childhood and youth screened a deep pain--the pain I felt at losing the riches it held along with the abuse it doled out. For me, t'shuvah--return--has meant finding a way back to embrace again what  fed my soul as a child and as a young man. My own queer t'shuvah eventually meant claiming my right to return to religious language and symbols that from my early childhood on were woven into the truth of my soul.

My path of return is all the more queer because it wanders on its course through rich traditions not my own--and guided, this day and this evening, by the sound of the shofar in the wilderness.
(Photo by the late Oscar Wolfman.)

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

This Time for Durga

When Mahishasura, the demon water buffalo, threatened to destroy the world, the gods combined their individuals powers in order to effect the creation of a Goddess who could defeat him, as they could not.
Thus was Durga born. She rides a lion. In her ten hands she holds the weapons contributed to her power, her Shakti, by the gods who brought her into being. She is the restorer of cosmic order. Supremely beautiful, she is also powerful in battle beyond all withstanding, destroying the forces that threaten to overwhelm Creation.
Now, if ever, the Earth needs her.
The ice caps melt. Lake Erie chokes on toxic algae nourished by the runoff of chemical fertilizers from factory farms. Countless millions of animals live lives of uninterrupted misery to maximize the profits of corporations and to satsify our desire for cheap meat, eggs, and dairy. The rain forests of the Amazon are clearcut. The boreal forests of northern Alberta are destroyed and the groundwater contaminated to produce the dirtiest oil in the world. Cancer rates rise as our bodies absorb more and more poisons. We choke on the fumes of the cars we insist on driving, the planes we keep on boarding.
These are the forces of chaos over which no one of us can triumph. In dwelling on our sense of individual powerlessness lies despair.
On Sunday, September 21, thousands will gather in New York City, at the beginning of  a climate summit at the UN, to stand for the Earth against the forces of shortsightedness, greed, and indifference, and to demand action in the face of the mounting effects of global warming. Demonstrators will gather along Central Park West and the march will begin at 11.30 from Columbus Circle.
Patriarchy, in its delusional attempt to subdue and control Nature, has fucked over the Earth. The desire to dominate the planet, the desire to dominate women, the desire to eradicate queer desire among men--these are the poisonous fruits of a lust for domination, of the denial that men, in our mortal bodies, are the sons of Nature, not Her masters.
It is time for Durga to appear. It is time for us to contribute our powers to her manifestation. It is time for us to become the lion on which she rides into battle. It is time for us to become the weapons of cosmic righteousness that she holds in her hands.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Holy and Perishable

For over six years, my altar's been falling apart.

It was a ruin when I first adopted it--a 60's-style backyard brick hearth, long disused, cracks already opening in the mortar. I swept it clean and filled it with votive candles and incense the night of Summer Solstice. My neighbours have year after year remained quietly tolerant that every morning I ring a bell and kneel in front of an eyesore fifteen feet from their kitchen window.
Every summer, I've removed objects and added others, as I do to the indoor altar that becomes the focus of my practice September through May. This year, I've included no Christian symbolism, though every day I begin by crossing myself and reciting the formulas traditional to the monastic morning prayer of Lauds. Red, white, yellow, and black stones for the four directions surround a small Shiva Lingam. Behind that sits a small, corroded bronze Indonesian Buddha, missing an arm and part of its chest--a reminder of the transience of all things, including our understanding of the Friend who makes our lives possible and gives them meaning.
Tibetan Buddhist monks proclaim this lesson of transience by spending weeks constructing mandalas of coloured sand--which they then sweep back into chaos and pour into moving water.
The collapse of my repurposed shrine continues. Yesterday morning as I knelt,  a cluster of bricks had skewed loose from the wall, wobbling under my touch. They're going nowhere for the moment, but the frosts and thaws of the coming winter will take their toll. The floor of the main chamber is already one course shorter than when I first consecrated it. The lower chamber, once the firepit, holds a compost of undisturbed garden detritus dedicated to the Goddess's endless cycle of generation, decay, and rebirth. Eventually, everything above that I've prayed over and venerated will collapse into it.
When it does, I will take it as an invitation to give thanks for the lesson and to look for the Sacred in another corner of the garden.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Jonathan's Circle

“When David had finished speaking to Saul, the soul of Jonathan was bound to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul.  Then Jonathan made a covenant with David, because he loved him as his own soul.  Jonathan stripped himself of the robe that he was wearing, and gave it to David, and his armor, and even his sword and his bow and his belt.”   — I Samuel 18: 1, 3-4  NRSV

The story of David and Jonathan is one of the slim list of relationships in the Bible that give queer people a chance to see themselves reflected in the sacred scriptures of the West.  (Nehirim, the lgbtq Jewish spirituality group, has printed "Jonathan+David" and "Ruth+Naomi" bumper stickers!) But you don't have to go as far as reading erotic love into the story of David and Jonathan's iconic bond to register the undefended tenderness that passes between them. Amidst the militaristic retinue of Jonathan's father King Saul, who's already shown the first signs of paranoid tyranny, Jonathan takes the risk of handing over to David, the beautiful young shepherd who has won the king's favor, not only the garment that marks him as the king's heir but even his means of defense: he takes off his armor and hands it over.
The moment when Jonathan strips off his protection, and meets another man face to face and heart to heart, is the inspiration for a new initiative to bring men together at the place where their sexuality and their spirituality converge--a place where most of us feel, or have felt, apprehension, shame, misunderstanding, danger, and confusion, in a dominant culture that puts a Berlin Wall between sex and spirit, without genuinely respecting or honoring either. Frank Dunn, an Episcopal priest and counsellor in Washington, DC, has announced the formation of an innovative take on men's consciousness-raising groups like those that blossomed a generation ago out of a Men's Movement that never completely fulfilled its potential.
 Dunn's proposal is for something more focused and more fundamental than many of those groups of the 1980's and early 90's ever achieved. He's encouraging an open, undefended sharing of the links between participants' individual sexual practices and their spiritual journeys.
Imagine digging deeper into your pride and your insecurities about life in your amazing and not-so-perfect male body. Imagine digging deeper into what moves and excites you sexually in order to understand how those longings and pleasures are connected to your relationship to the Sacred. Imagine feeling safe to do that out loud, in a circle of men whose experiences might be similar to yours--but also may well turn out to be radically different .  Imagine being surprised by what you hear. Imagine being open to expanded perspectives. Imagine looking at your own view of the world from outside of yourself, as it's reflected back to you by other participants, with wisdom and compassion. Imagine doing all this not just in heady conversation, but dropping down into your body, by group consensus through yoga, meditation, movement, massage, structured erotic exchange, breathwork, chant, co-created ritual, any or all of the above.
That's a brief sketch of what Jonthan's Circle offers. You can learn more by visiting the group's new website:

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

On Behalf of Our Fathers

I know that some queer men have never experienced anything less than love and unconditional acceptance from their fathers. I rejoice for them. And at the same time, I'm somewhere between incredulous, wistful, and envious as hell.

We each have our story. Our fathers abandoned us for a life elsewhere. Or were explosive, abusive drunks. Or were quiet, emotionally crippled drunks. Or told us to stop acting like goddam pansies. Or were themselves so shamed by their own bodies and desires they couldn't reassure us about our own.  Or furtively imposed their own same-sex attractions on us. Or told us we were going straight to hell if we went on experimenting with the boy next door. Or...
My own story isn't representative of anyone but me. My father was an obsessive-compulsive binge drinker, a hollowed-out emotional wreck who destroyed himself before he'd made it to 64. It's been fifty years since he died (on Mother's Day, for God's sake) when I was 8. I've spent my whole adult life piecing together a fragmentary, indirect, conflicted relationship with him.
So it was a huge grace when the week before last I experienced a flood of compassion for him unlike anything that's ever come alive in me before.  During a journalling exercise at a weeklong intensive program, I revisited the usual litany of ways he failed me. And then: thanks to a constellation of circumstances I won't rehearse here, I suddenly thought, my poor father, and spent the next fifteen minutes quietly sobbing. And knew what I had to do. I needed to say Kaddish. Non-Jew that I am.
If you're not Jewish or familiar with Jewish practice, Kaddish is the prayer you say in memory of one you mourn, and especially in memory of parents.  The most observant say it every day for a year, and then annually on the Yahrzeit--the anniversary of the death. The odd thing is, the Mourner's Kaddish never mentions the deceased. It glorifies God, prays for the speedy arrival of God's kingdom, and voices hope that peace from above will descend on us and on all. This peculiar disconnect between the content of the prayer and the emotionally charged intention with which it's spoken is a source of discomfort to many who fulfill their responsibility to recite it: they feel denied the chance to remember one they loved in all his or her individuality.
But oddly, in keeping the deceased out of it, the prayer can become a container big enough for the conflicted feelings you may have toward the dead. You don't have to wax warm and fuzzy toward the person you're mourning. You're not obliged to feel any one thing as opposed to something else. Instead, you speak this on behalf of the dead in the presence of the Holy. The deceased is representative of humanity. You're saying it for him. You're saying it for yourself. You're saying it for all humankind. If what's really going through your head as you pray is that the deceased was an empty emotional shell, or an abusive creep who made your life hell when your were five, there's room for that, and you don't have to fake the saccharine greeting-card sentiments that characterize (for instance, in my own experience) so many Midwestern Protestant funerals.
That unexpected space to feel whatever you're feeling can become fertile ground for the post-mortem healing of relationships. If you say Kaddish repeatedly, you'll experience it differently every time you do so. Your feelings will change over time, from one day to the next, from one month to the next, from one year to the next.
All this to unpack my intuitive flash, in the moment that I softened towards a man I can most of the time feel very little towards at all, who died just over half a century ago. This last week, I've continued to chew on why  a nice Lutheran boy from the Midwest would with unhesitating instinct borrow a Jewish prayer to mourn his father. Saying it linked me to my partner in his Judaism, as well as to the leader of the workshop--a man who over the last several years has given me more of what one would hope to get from a father than probably anyone else in my life.
And then there's the very fact that in borrowing somebody else's tradition, we can set aside toxic associations that our own spiritual heritage has often accrued for us as queer men. We take what we need, in ways that might not always win the approval of the keepers of the tradition(s) we pilfer. But it's not that I can imagine my appropriation of the prayer offending some simply because I don't have a right to it by heritage.
It's that I recited it  in front of a five-foot Phallus in a flowering meadow. Standing before this sign of linkage between my spiritual and erotic life as a gay man, laying hands and forehead on it at the end of the prayer, I contemplated my father's woundedness as a share in the wounds all men sustain. In the midst of a circle that represented the infinitely fertile womb of the Mother Goddess, I meditated on the sexuality that links my father to me in a continuum with the embodied, desirous experience of all men--a message I desperately needed to absorb from him as a boy but never could. And then found myself giving thanks for the miracle of his orgasm that made my life possible.
I expect to go on doing the work of repairing my relationship to my father for the rest of my life. Praying a very queer Kaddish for my father,  and on behalf of my father, changes nothing of that, and changes everything.



Friday, July 18, 2014

Shared Sexual Energy in Mid-Life and Elderhood: A Guest Post by Ken Stofft

Why is the shared experience of erotic, sexual energy an important resource for queer men in their passages through mid-life and into elderhood?

Because unless we tap into that reservoir, we miss out on some of life's vast riches.  If we don't experience our full sexual energy, which is more than the sex act, we become limited in our relationship to ourselves and to others and don't enter as fully as we can into the profound mystery of life itself. 

Entering my 40's,  I was in my mid-life crisis. I felt isolated and driven by fear. I read William Bridge's Transitions, which I found greatly helpful.  That book started me off onto the right path of self-awareness. Although I was still drinking like a fish,  a major self-assessment told me that something had to change. The start was full of tears, anxiety, confusion, anger, disorientation. It took me another decade to take my first step, which was to get sober.  Then the 'work'  had just begun.  I entered unchartered territory and needed empathetic ears to hear my story, and to receive witnessing from someone outside of myself as I stumbled and worked my way up from what seemed like a bottomless pit.  I felt revitalized and on my way to new beginnings.   

In my early 60s, I entered into elderhood.  I went through another major transition and am still working my way through this time, which I consider the apex of my life.  I am clearly facing my mortality and have entered into this new dialogue with curiosity and a sense of playfulness. 

Both periods of time demanded my attention, and I knew then, as I know now, that self-awareness comes gradually and is a never-ending adventure.  So, I live today with a great deal of curiosity about myself and others, and with that overwhelming mystery we call life.   

Since those early days of mid-life, I've discovered the importance of my sexual energy--my life force. It is what flows or is inhibited in me, my source of creativity and vitality. It includes sex but is far more than simply enjoying sex. It is almost impossible for me to define what it is, but I know it is what I share with all others who are nurtured and sustained by the earth. It is the way of nature.  Birth, death, re-birth, death, the endless cycle.  It is the way of nature.  Birth, death, re-birth, death, the endless cycle.  My sexual energy is the source of my creativity and my power to simply be me. 
I've also discovered that I need other kindred embodied spirits to join me, and me to join them, in this journey of deeper, clearer self-awareness.  I discovered my need for a 'community', people that I want to surround myself with and  want to bond with.  It is this energy that feeds and nourishes its members when such a community exists.  And when there is a sense of safety, a freedom from judgment, shame, and guilt, I can let down my guard and reveal who I am.  It has taken me decades to feel comfortable and safe in my body, and it is due  not only to my own courage to be me, sexually alive, but to the people I've met on the way, and who surround me today. 

Since mid-life, and now as an elder, I have found certain elements  need to be nurtured.  I breathe into my belly.  I sit in meditation.  I reach out to others and listen to them when I am in need.  I touch and am touched physically by myself and with/by others.  I dance, and I have playful sex. I have found that breathing into my feelings is far, far more helpful than suppressing them; living in my body with excitement and joy is paramount.  The importance of shared sexual energy in these major transitions in life is primarily about “letting go” of the armor I have accrued over a life time, giving  myself permission to be seen, heard, touched, and to witness the same with others, becoming ever more deeply self-aware, and having the courage not only to own who I am, but to revel in who I am. More often than not, it is not a matter of having a one explosion of insight, but transitions are mini-events that accumulate, sometimes subtly, sometimes surprisingly, but always opportunities to be re-born.

I've learned that sharing my sexual energy, not only in sex, but in the way I live my life with passion and as much authenticity as I can muster, sharing my emotions, sharing my touch, sharing my beliefs, sharing my emotional vulnerabiltiy, is the only way for me to live.   

I have delved deeply into my sexual energy to create my own form of yin/yang, male/female, my own masculine identity that I believe is the most authentic for me.  I lived my life in fantasy and vicariously through books. Now I live it in my body passionately.   

I believe it's my sexual energy that also afforded me the ability to create my own spirituality rather than living in a traditional religious context, which I had found suffocating and unhealthy in its denial of  bodily pleasures its negativity about sex.  When I became sober and began to open to the fact that I was indeed a sexual creature, I faced a multitude of options that could have taken me in a different direction.  If I had allowed fear to rule my life, I never would have learned more about who I am and what I need in my life to simply be me.  I'm very grateful for having discovered a liberating, self-loving path for myself. 

What do I recommend?  Each man's path is his own.  What I have found most helpful I have listed above: breathing into the belly, sitting in self-assessment, moving/dancing, bonding physically and emotionally with others, finding others who are empathic, and always bringing curiosity as a gift of wonderment.

In what ways do you express your sexual energy? What do your sexual fantasies tell you about yourself?  When you are aroused, is ejaculation important and necessary?  How are you a passionate and sexually alive man when you're not having sex?   Is there a spirituality that nourishes and feeds your sexuality? If so, what is it?  What does your sexual energy say about the kind of man you are, and want to become, as you move through mid-life and into the status of elder?
Ken Stofft coaches men in exploring issues related to their sexuality:

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Miracles of Solstice

Photos courtesy of StarDancer



six men
six ribbons
one image of their unity
six prayers
six brothers
each voicing his prayer
each bound by his brother
each bound to his prayer
six tricksters weaving a dance
six still but drawing together
now bound as one
silly and sexy
goofy and glorious
pious and prurient
spiraling inward
weaving a tangle of color
becoming a tangle of color
becoming one
on this morning of the sun's consummation