Moving Towards The Yes
During lunch at the sex and magic weekend workshop, over potluck vegetarian, we (the older ones) make small talk, reminisce about the negatively-named substitute meat products of the early 2000s – I mean, whatever happened to them? The not-dogs, the not-bacon, the no-egg and that cat-food-like canned nutmeat. Someone believes Sanitarium still makes them. Someone else – actually, it’s me – says she knows a guy from yoga who works there as a welder and that he told her, because it’s owned by Seventh-day Adventists, all employees get a rostered reflection break to consider what the hell they are doing with their lives every day.
I think that sounds very good, very sane, but the person sitting beside me, a large-hearted, bear-like presence, whose absence will be felt when they arrive late the next day, wants to know something more personal from me. Since I am the only participant of nine (plus the two witch facilitators) who is not already known to the group or to this private residence. How did I come to be here?
There is, of course, a long and a short answer.
I give the short.
My mother, when I was growing up, had a metaphysical bookstore. That’s shorthand for: I have some literacy with happenings such as these, at least the magic part (though I am a bit rusty). Then, I explain, more recently I have become friends with a woman who is a witch in this very same neopagan Goddess tradition, and it was through her that I heard about this workshop. So, here I am.
The longer, which I don’t offer up, is this:
At the beginning of the year, I had made an intention to make room for more pleasure in my life – pleasure in the very broadest sense of the word, including but not limited to sexual expression. It wasn’t going very well. The last six years I had spent studying, working, striving to achieve goals, meeting self-imposed deadlines, seizing every professional opportunity available, and yet I was becoming more and more of a stranger to myself. It was hard to stop this habit of neglect of the body, beyond simple maintenance of diet and exercise. I felt I’d misplaced its more communicative capacity: the spark of connection, the non-verbal, laughter, feeling, being, desire. In other words, an erotic life. And I needed – I need – a way to find my way, not back, but forward.
I need help.
Meanwhile, the conversation has moved along and, prompted in this new and interested company, I find myself remembering the bomb threats. I haven’t in decades – that footnote in the history of my mother’s first year of opening her bookshop in the early ‘90s. They happened weekly, the promises of violence if she continued to do ‘the devil’s work’ – which, as far I can see now, was merely offering alternate approaches to the sacred to, mainly, women but also others who couldn’t find a meaningful or empowered way to belong to a religious institution. (Of course, the new business – like the New Age movement – colluded in its way with capitalism, but somehow I don’t think that’s what the bomb threat maker/s were upset about.) At the time I know I felt afraid, terrified the haters would follow through, but my mother only smiled and said it would be alright. It was, though the almost-events left their mark.
But in response to my story, a guy sitting across from me, a tall, softly-spoken musician assumes: Christians. It was Christians who sent the threats. Yes, I tell him, though I’m not sure which denomination. The musician goes on, wondering why ‘they’ are always so certain their beliefs are correct and why ‘they’ try to impose them on everyone else.
To be honest, this point-of-view, though it may be true in my instance and some others, seems worn, unhelpful, predictable – the Us and the Them – because I’m sure even some witches can be narrow-minded. But before I can speak, before I can offend everyone, a woman sitting on the bench to my left articulates everything I would like to, and more, perfectly.
She tells us that when she was growing up, her father was a minister in the Baptist church and both her parents were missionaries. The entire family lived in remote parts of South-East Asia. And, definitely, the woman says, her father was charismatic and credible when he was in the pulpit, but at other times he was open and transparent about his own doubts about his faith – even with the people he was supposedly trying to proselytise. Which is why he was so well-liked, she relates, and why they, as a family, were often invited to traditional rituals and ceremonies where other worldviews and truths were sustained. Finally, however, the woman’s parents decided to leave, not just South-East Asia but the church when she was about ten. Because they were not able to find a way to live with their uncertainties and were, I suppose, wanting to move towards a more integrated ‘yes’.
For me, this woman’s story was and is the highlight, the real ‘explosive’ moment of the entire sex and magic workshop.
Without thinking, I immediately jump up to sit next to her, to gesticulate and speak in an animated rush about how incredible, how courageous, I think it is that her parents, that anyone, can give up or change their beliefs. Because, ultimately, beliefs are so tied to identity, and, in her parents’ case I imagine, status and position, but more importantly identity, identity. I say this again and again without fully realising I am talking about myself.
After the sex and magic workshop, however, when people, when friends, ask me what happened, it is not this woman’s story or my response that I recount.
Instead, to begin with, I focus on the more pragmatic. I describe processes and protocol – I assume these are the kinds of things people want to know. Like how one of our basic agreements and standards of conduct was that there would be no penetration. That sets a tone.
If, even after that, they are still curious, I tell them there was a culture of communication and explicit consent, and a feeling that the facilitators had absolutely no intention to heal what was ‘broken’ in any one of us, but rather were inviting us, as guides rather than authorities, through a series of open-ended, playful explorations. I never felt pressure to ‘perform’ according to any script, I say. There was always the choice to participate or not, and an encouragement to respect one’s own limits.
Then, if anyone is still interested, I tell them we collectively cast a circle. Matter-of-fact.
Briskly, I move them through the five elements, and their qualities, in relation to our field of enquiry, in the order the group followed:
AIR: Feathers: Asking For, Receiving & Giving;
WATER: Oil: Receptivity, Trust;
FIRE: Candle Wax: Thresholds, Power, Shared;
EARTH: The Literal & Its Fruit;
And, lastly, ETHER/SPACE/SPIRIT: Psychic Examination, A Standing Back, A Review.
I am hoping to get to the real end, or the beginning. If my listener will let me go on.
Firstly, I want to tell them that after we opened the circle up again, I, usually coherent, could barely speak. So much emotion moving through me, it had all knotted in my throat. And, though I knew exactly what I wanted to express, when the opportunity arose the words that came out of my mouth were scrambled, a stream of disjointed, disordered staccato consonant and vowel sounds making no logical sense.
It didn’t matter. Not at all. Because in that moment of my linguistic coming apart – and this is the most important part – I got a glimpse, a brief reprieve from the ways I habitually hold myself together in an identity of opposition, of protest against the patriarchal world in which I live. I don’t even want to linger on the hows and whys or whos, except to say the bomb threat maker/s, they’re the least of it. But what I do want to recall, vividly, is the sense of possibility that was present.
I have never felt it so clearly: the field of independent, potential affirmatives, the ‘yes’, the ‘yeses’ to all of the pleasure and power, freedom, purpose and desire that is mine to choose and discover. And I will. Though I must act quickly. I must nurture, build, grow it, this knowing, before it and its memory fades.
This is what I tell myself when everyone else has gone.
Tamara Lazaroff is a Brisbane-based writer of short fiction and narrative non-fiction. Her work has appeared widely in international and Australian magazines and journals, including Transnational Literature, Meanjin, Southerly and Feminartsy among others. She has a particular interest in hidden histories, queer and feminist themes, and alternative forms of embodied spirituality. Her micro-collection, In My Father’s Village & Other Freedom Stories is currently available as a free-access e-book through Pollitecon Publication (Sydney).