In discovering the steps for a good relationship, at some point we come face to face with the question of union, not only with a partner, but with some sort of divinity as well. And in taking those steps for a good relationship, whether or not you consider yourself a spiritual seeker, there exists in all of us a part that longs – through the unique song of our human lives – for some aspect of divinity or enlightenment.
But that exalted term “enlightened” covers a wide range: a spiritual state of union with the divine; acting intentionally and mindfully; being insightful, aware, informed and סדנת מיניות לנשים ; or the capacity to live from gratitude, openness and joy, regardless of circumstance.
But steeped as we are in the influence of patriarchal religions, as we step our steps for a good relationship, is there room for “enlightenment” and “sex” in the same sentence? Can embracing your sexuality lead you to enlightenment? Can pleasure save lives?
With these grand questions in hand, I talked with some of New York City’s pioneers paving the way for enlightened sex in the city: Regena Thomashauer, creatrix and CEO of Mama Gena’s School of Womanly Arts, known reverently by many as Mama Gena, as well as Richard “Anton” Diaz, founder and CEO of Sexy Spirits and sex educator and co-founder of Cuddle Party, Marcia Baczynski. Although admittedly varied, each offer an approach to “enlightened sex” that is profound, life altering and lasting, with quick-acting results. Their approaches are built on integration and inclusion, on embracing humanity and sacred sexuality, rather than disconnecting from it. They remind us that enlightenment is our very nature, our birthright, more available than we’ve ever dreamed. We just need some good solid tools to point us in the right direction in order for our brilliance to shine through. In the section of my website, Sexuality AS Spirituality, I offer these very tools, as well as some at-home practices for you to try out in the laboratory of you own life.
And each of these pioneers, in their own way, offers such tools as well.
Let me introduce you first to Mama Gena, who has been guiding women through her School of Womanly Arts for over 15 years. On the subject of enlightened sex, she says, “It is our culture that divides sexuality and spirituality, but within a human being, sacredness and sensuality are one. One of the things that is unique and beautiful about the women who graduate from my program is that they feel totally integrated and in ownership of their womanhood in all of its dimensions, including sensuality and sexuality.”
In a culture that prizes suffering, survival and fear, we’ve been taught to consider the body and all things of the flesh to be an impediment to spirituality and enlightenment. But perhaps, we’ve begun to think and hear, it is the concept of sexuality AS spirituality that opens us up to experiencing our divinity.
This concept may seem like a new-comer, swinging its sacred hips into a more prominent cultural conversation; however, the ancient traditions of Taoism from China, Tantra from India, and Goddess worship from everywhere built their spiritual practices and philosophies around the inclusion of the body and sexuality, rather than exclusion. The Taoists said, let’s use the body to enhance enlightenment. The Tantrics said, there’s nothing to transcend; you already ARE the divine. The goddess worship traditions said, women create life and that’s about as divine as you can get.
Mama Gena currently offers her feisty, revolutionary work in the form of a 6-month intensive called the Womanly Arts Mastery Program, or “Mastery” for short. “I look at women and I see legends with their lids on. My desire is to lift the lid off, and to fan the flames of that woman’s desires and connect her to her life force, enthusiasm and joy.”
Mama refers to the women she works with as Sister Goddesses. “Sister” because Mama maintains that all women are sisters to one another, and “Goddess” since there is at least a drop – if not an ocean – of the divine in every woman. “I find that women respond extraordinarily well when you treat her as if she were your sister or a goddess.”
Mama Gena, AKA the Queen of Pleasure, focuses women on their pleasure and desires as their guiding stars. “Pleasure is the new frontier,” says Mama. “I used to think that you could only get to enlightenment through suffering. So I suffered a lot in my attempts, and I think a lot of the current religions encourage that. From what I have studied, the ancient goddess religions’ approach to enlightenment is very different – theirs was more about thanks and gratitude and dancing and celebrating the exquisite joy of life. It is very easy to overlook the importance of pleasure, but in fact it is the only thing that anyone is in actually control of.”
Take Sister Goddess Jane, who is 45 and happily single, a highly successful corporate events producer, in the middle of her second Mastery. In the six years prior to encountering Mama Gena, Jane cared for her sister and her six-year old niece until both died of brain cancer, and then Jane’s own mother died as well. Surrounded by death, she heard about the Mastery Program and thought, “OK, I have a choice, I can spend the rest of my life pounding on their graves asking why, or I can live an extraordinary life in their honor. On the third weekend of Mastery, the class altered my DNA, and I GOT what living your life for your pleasure really meant. I came alive! And almost immediately I got promoted, got a $75,000 raise, started working out, lost weight and starting feeling sexy again. I fired my bereavement therapist and took pole dancing instead. I am living with the life force of a 5 or 6 year old, with boobs, sex drive and checking account!
“I spent most of my life as a Catholic, believing a certain part of sex is wrong and dirty if not in the confines of marriage. But did God make a mistake? I mean women have an organ on our bodies with 8,000 nerve endings with no other purpose but pleasure. Religion complicates God, but it is simple: what do you want, what makes you happy? Do that.”
Most would agree that women get the short end of the stick when it comes to most religions, sexual oppression and societal rights, but are women the keystone to enlightened sex? Mama Gena points out, “Women are the creatrixes of life, we give birth. Women love worship and are very generous with those who worship us.” Mama adds, “I am not interested in wiping out patriarchy, or installing matriarchy; I am interested in partnership and in having the voice and desires of woman, the cyclical nature of woman, to be honored culturally. My first approach is teaching a woman to honor herself because that instructs everyone around her to honor her, respect her and treasure her, and then everything works better – family, marriage, and career.”
But in response to any focus on pleasure or talk of worshipping the feminine, our culture erupts with mumbles of frivolity, excess and selfishness. To which Regena responds, “Selfish? I want women to be selfish! Women are by nature very generous, but you can’t give when the well is dry, and most women are accustomed to running on an empty tank. Take a mother in my class a few months ago, plagued by guilt at leaving her child at home while she came to class. Then her three-year old said to her, ‘Mommy, I am so happy you are in your goddess class. When you come home, you love me so much.'” It would seem that bringing women back to life breathes life into everyone.
Sister Goddess Athena, musician and spiritual teacher, married 11 years, had recently moved upstate, and decided to take Mastery because she felt isolated without support, had gained weight, was in a passionless marriage and wanted to get her juice back. Athena tells me she has already lost weight, is nicer to her kids, is enjoying life immensely, is treating herself better and is having great sex and the program’s not even half-way done. “I came in from an abuse background.” She says, “In the first class, I began breaking down taboos that I had inside of myself, the negative view of my own sexuality from being abused. In the second class, I felt for the first time in my life that my body was MY body; for the first time I felt beautiful. I felt like I was being re-wired right that second. I learned to connect with my husband from there, not from my head. Everything changed with us when I got brave and shared my body with him.”
A bit downtown from the Upper West Side offices of the School of Womanly Arts lies Sexy Spirits, a sex-positive education center specializing in the upraising of consciousness through Tantric and Taoist sexual cultivation practices. They provide theoretical as well as hands-on, experiential courses, which allow students to develop greater capacities for pleasure, health, and personal transformation. Their approach to enlightened sex is to take most of the sex out of sex and focus instead on sensual touch. This allows the distracting inner mind dialogue to ease up and allows us to experience more pleasure. As founder Anton says, “Pleasure is a wonderful path for being in enlightenment, right here and now, where you feel there is nothing greater than this moment.”
Anton sees men particularly as slaves of sex, which leads to a pervasive misunderstanding of women, and the resulting suffering leads to most of us to become “disabled emotional beings in our adulthood.” Anton maintains that what men are really after, however cloaked it is in the pursuit of material wealth or status, is feminine energy. “Women are the most high commodity and deserve to get everything they want from men. This is often a huge pill for women to swallow. Even with all my education and knowledge, I am always open for a woman to train and teach me how I can make her the happiest woman on the planet. I honestly have no clue, unless she teaches me.”
He goes on: “Most people know about sex, but not sexual energy. New York City is a hard city, so people need a reminder why they are living and working so hard. When they can activate and integrate their sexual energy, they can bring purpose and passion into their life, as a practice for evolving as a spiritual being. Then we have one of the most conscious, sexy, cultivated cities on the planet.”
Across town on the Upper East Side, Cuddle Party goes one step further than Sexy Spirits and takes ALL the sex out of sex. Part structured workshop, part playful party, Cuddle Party offers specific tools and exercises to examine assumptions about affection, boundaries, communication and intimacy, in a drug and alcohol free environment. Marcia, one of the founders says, “Otherwise well-adjusted people are missing any sort of touch in their world so the only way to experience to be close to others is through sex. But what people are really wanting from sex, they aren’t really getting, so they eat, shop, do drugs, etc. to get their needs met, but those all come with side effects. As one participant put it, ‘I thought I needed a hook up, but I just needed a hug.'”
Marcia maintains that with so much misunderstanding of sex, people are freaked out by intimacy. “In some ways New Yorkers are willing to risk it all,” she says, “but in others, we’re not willing to risk at all.” Intimacy requires vulnerability, and it can be hard to open ourselves up when we don’t have tools or the perspective to make it safe. Cuddle Party offers a safe space for increasing awareness, which means more choice and more freedom and it is a fun way to get enlightened about what is stopping us from experiencing enlightened sex!
Cuddle Party’s “laboratory” addresses the need for nurturing and non-sexualized touch and safe interactions. Marica notes, “If you have sustained welcomed contact for 20 seconds (like a hug, a cuddle or being held) your body releases oxytocin, which has calming effect and reduces stress.” Cuddlers take their new awareness back into their lives and report “a greater sense of wellbeing and playfulness; weight loss; repaired marriages; a deeper connection to the world, their partners, and themselves; more ease with intimacy and even better sex.”
“The only way this kind of reclamation is possible is within a community, because we give each other permission and we inspire each other,” says Mama Gena. Jane remarks that Mastery’s “classroom is constantly uplifting. The power of 150 women, up to the same game as you are up to, doesn’t exist anywhere else on the planet. In New York City, it’s easy to get caught in survival, but this keeps in reminds me to have pleasure everyday.” Jane had plans to donate to brain cancer research, “but instead, I gifted three other Sister Goddesses the Mastery Program. I decided to save some lives that way, as my life was saved.”