Erotic as Power: The Problem of Patriarchy & Feeling the Feminine

Erotic as Power: The Problem of Patriarchy & Feeling the Feminine


2015 is my year of the erotic as power.

Keep your panties on people. Not that kind of erotic… Well, not only that kind of erotic.Last newsletter I mentioned bell hooks’ statement that “patriarchy has no gender.” It is true. And one of patriarchy’s primary tactics is to keep us all (whatever gender) from feeling the feminine.

I recently (re)discovered the essay “Uses of the Erotic: The Erotic as Power” by Audre Lorde. Her message about the liberatory nature of the erotic resonated very strongly for me as I explore the role of this capacity in my own life.

The erotic as power is a deep knowing that touches into a “feminine plane” within each of us. The erotic is as she says “the creative energy empowered.” It is rooted in the senses and a vital connection to the body. But the erotic is not only the sexual. She is talking about the ability to feel fully and live deeply into our experience (to love experience), something that is discouraged in a society that values speed, activity, productivity, and the mind over living the richness and depth of feeling in the body.With sex, this depth is perverted into only being about a type of sex that is quick, isolated, and transactional (I do this, you do that) — what she calls the pornographic. In the rest of life, depth is sacrificed to the scramble to keep up and survive — what I’ll call the hustle. Yes, often you gotta hustle to survive (until tomorrow or next month or at all). The erotic is about thriving and savoring, every moment.

Society as a whole, including spiritual traditions, perpetuate a suspicion of the erotic and the feminine. As a long-time Buddhist practitioner, I often find myself questioning the constructs and forms of my tradition(s). Forms can be useful. And sometimes they need to be re-constructed.

The body, movement, relationship, sexuality, depth of feeling, expression, justice, activism, creativity, even the wild (next month I’ll be writing about “A Wild Patience”)… these are things I desire to bring into my practice and the current forms are not always supportive. An example: I definitely understand, practice, and greatly appreciate the necessity and benefits of silence and stillness, of renunciation and simplicity. But when is it self-discipline and when is it self-abnegation? And how will I know the difference?I long for the depth and richness of the erotic not only in my spiritual practice, I long for these things in my work and communities where there isn’t space for them yet. What would the erotic look like at work, with family, at home? Here’s Audre:

“For once we begin to feel deeply all the aspects of our lives, we begin to demand from ourselves and from our life-pursuits that they feel in accordance with that joy which we know ourselves to be capable of. Our erotic knowledge empowers us, becomes a lens through which we scrutinize all aspects of our existence, forcing us to evaluate those aspects honestly in terms of their relative meaning within our lives. And this is a grave responsibility, projected from within each of us, not to settle for the convenient, the shoddy, the conventionally expected, nor the merely safe.

 Aspirations for my year of the erotic as power:
  • aimless playfulness in my explorations walking, reading, talking, cloud-watching, creating…
  • more dancing — including subway platform jigs
  • less time speeding through data — try the SelfControl app  for blocking time-killing websites
  • expressing my deepest longings — whether on paper, screen, or in person

What are yours?


Being Seen & Known

Being Seen & Known


I was honored to be asked to be on the cover of Mindful magazine even though my first instinct was, “heeelll no.” “no way.” “uh-uh.” The editors were interested in representing more diversity in the magazine and they wanted an actual meditator. As of then, they had not had any people of color on the cover (in the meantime Sandra Oh has been on one).

I knew if I did not say yes, it was very possible that they would find someone who is not black and/or someone who is much lighter skinned,  partly out of unconscious bias and partly because there aren’t many dark skinned black sisters in the meditation/Buddhist world. There are even fewer dark skinned black women retreat teachers in my Buddhist tradition. One is my good friend DaRa Williams who is in a teacher training program to be a residential retreat teacher (an “advanced” category of teacher). I was on a retreat last year where she assisted. When she stepped on the stage at the retreat, I started to weep — very noticeably. It was completely unexpected. And so deep. I realized it was the first time I had seen a dark skinned black woman as a retreat teacher. And it was so powerful for me to see someone who looked like me represented as a leader in my spiritual community.

So here I am. On the cover and inside the magazine.  There are also photos of some members from our center– a diverse photo because we are a diverse community and we aspire to reflect the beauty and power of many different people.

But that initial hesitation did not go away. Or rather, the feelings behind it which have a lot to do with a fear of being seen and known. I think many women have this fear. That’s why we play it small, blend into the background, quiet our voices. This Marianne Williamson quote comes to mind:

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people will not feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It is not just in some of us; it is in everyone and as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give others permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.

As Thomas Moore describes in Care of the Soul, soul power comes from “living close to the heart and not at odds with it” but it can appear “distorted by our repressions and compromises, our fears and our narcissistic manipulations.” And I would add, distorted by this racist capitalist patriarchy. Like many women, I have been taught to equate power with aggression because that is how it is distorted in this society. Or as Audre Lorde says

In order to perpetuate itself, every oppression must corrupt or distort those various sources of power within the culture of the oppressed that can provide energy for change.

For me, some of the discomfort I have with this cover is a fear of being exposed and judged; especially for a recognition that’s more material than spiritual. Many friends have contacted me having seen the magazine and there is a pleasure and satisfaction in receiving that acknowledgement.

Recognition itself is seductive and I am afraid of being seduced.

I am trying to view this (over)exposure as service. But I also acknowledge that I sometimes use that idea of service to either deny that seduction or to shy away from my own power. To deflect that intense energy. Why do I have that discomfort with my own power? I think partly because it is incredibly intense and I tend to move away from extremely strong feelings (both happy and sad). But also because even among those of us with the best intentions, power often does distort and gets distorted and I do not want to become distorted by it.

And yes, as Moore goes on to point out, “virtue is never genuine when it sets itself apart from evil.” I am a product and part of that society and I will reflect it even if I practice to the best of my ability to move beyond its most unconscious, uncaring and unjust manifestations. I aspire to see and know those parts of myself too.

Being seen & known involves being vulnerable. Part of soul power is the strength to be vulnerable, humble, compassionate and kind (and funny).



Angelitos Negros

Angelitos Negros


I don’t know any other Sebene-s. I have heard of a few. My great grandmother on my father’s side. The aunt of a former co-worker. Some woman my cousin met in Asmara years ago. Because my first name is so rare, there was always debate about its meaning. Occasionally I meet someone who has heard it before.

My last name means Trinity and its known regality instantly evokes the Emperor and symbolizes the uncolonized majesty of our ancient Christian land. Occasionally I meet someone who has never heard it wholesale jerseys before.

The obscurity of Sebene coupled with inefficient spelling in Latin script ensures its continued mispronunciation. Growing up, we allowed English speakers to rhyme it with Ebony, Sebony, which seemed better than Suh-bene. But Sebene is pronounced with short e‘s, Se-be-ne. In Amaringya, which is what we spoke at home, a long a is sometimes added to the end of names as an endearing syllable; that might be why my parents pronounce my name Se-be-nay. I still say it their way.

Names in our family reflect my combined Ethiopian and Eritrean heritage. I have more than a dozen aunts and uncles and over thirty first cousins, and many of their names, like my favorite uncle Elias’, come from the bible; these names have their own original meanings from Greek, Hebrew or other roots. I am intrigued by names that are unique to our languages and display aural potency.Gohatsebah: dawn, Bereket: Aliquam blessing, Asgede: Collective they bow before him, Finot: the way. Awet: victory. Fikerte: beloved.  Sewit: ripe. Aman: peace. Guttural and frictive sounds mimic the rush of winds and water and are combined with explosive consonants that pop from lips and tongues like crackling fires and cries of birds. Even when translated into English these names signify the cosmic bond of spirit and nature and invite lyric possibilities to immigrant ears, to those of us who grew up here and have lost intimacy wholesale jerseys with the power of their unique meaning in melody.

Sebene is a Ge’ez word. Ge’ez is the root language of Tigray, Tigrinya and Amaringya, the three Ethiopian languages related to Hebrew and Arabic. Consensus in my family was that my name meant “cloth.” Being the liturgical language of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, Ge-ez describes many religious objects, and after much Do consultation and discussion, my parents concluded that Sebene named the fabric covering the Ten à Commandments. Carried on the heads of priests, these ceremonial replicas were deemed too holy for mortal Nacional eyes, so decorous cotton protected them. With fragrant frankincense and myrrh Just wafting through the dim, crowded space and rhythmic pulsing of drums and bells propelling his movements, the priest walks down the aisle. A traditional white fabric delicately embroidered with vibrant colors frames his head.

As a child, I did not remember this scene or Ethiopia at all but from the time I was a teenager I deduced that there was humor in the translation. When someone enlightened enough to know that there are meanings to all names (you would be surprised) asked me what my name meant, I would answer “cloth,” wait a beat or two, explain the ritual significance, and end cheap mlb jerseys with “So, it’s a holy cloth.” My siblings and cousins embodied poetry. I personified a sardonic history lesson. I practiced that routine over 20 years always knowing that I remained unsure of Sebene.

A few years ago, I met an Ethiopian woman on the subway and over months of periodic morning commutes we learned each other’s histories. When I mentioned to my dad that Maro’s father was also an African wholesale nfl jerseys Studies professor, he deduced that it was an old friend of his who is a Ge’ez scholar. I begged my dad to contact him to uncover the true meaning of my name. And he did.

Sebene does signify the ceremonial object but it is not cloth the name describes but the luminescence that crowns us all, that manifests our innate divinity. Sebene means halo.

Just Ride

Just Ride


I often read or listen to podcasts on the subway.

And sometimes, I like just to ride the subway. The subway is maybe New York City’s most amazing resource. Besides the super rich who shuttle exclusively above ground in yellow cabs and black town cars, everyone takes the subway: bankers, students, artists, manual laborers, young, old, rich, poor, every age, race, culture and ethnicity. Over my 19 years in this city I have seen innumerable expressions of humanity on the subway – many beautiful, some brutal, some disturbing, many heatbreaking. I once saw a man punch a young woman in the face – a complete stranger, for no reason; he kept walking. Homeless people are ignored, and shamed, and dismissed every day (sometimes, I’m afraid to admit, su by me). I have also seen countless people of every demographic help strangers with money, food, luggage, strollers, and directions. I wholesale nfl jerseys have witnessed collective head bopping, laughter, That compassion and amazement. I hear every language and accent imaginable. I have watched acrobats, tap dancers, tango, break dancers, and musicians from every part of the world. It’s like a secret underworld where Fierce all wholesale nfl jerseys of humanity meets. cheap nfl jerseys The password: metrocard (the old password was ‘token’ – please update your records).

And sometimes I get frustrated with the city. I want it to be the country and to have more space and stillness. I want to be “in nature” – as if there is anything that is not ‘natural’ in this universe. When sirens are blaring and someone is blasting heavy bass music from their car, I do long to move to upstate New York (or ideally somewhere in California or East Africa or SE Asia). But I never tire of riding the subway.

I believe one of the most challenging of the Buddhist teachings is Right or Wise Effort and a seeming paradox of Possibilities spiritual practice for me is that transformation comes from acceptance– in allowing each moment, I am able to change. The Buddha describes right effort as like tuning a stringed instrument — not too tight, not too loose. The balance for me is knowing what to take in (and on) and knowing when to relax Abschieds- and let time and space work their magic. My tendency is to overload on experience and information. My practice (and The my challenge) is to remain grounded in my body and in my experiences to know when enough is enough (as логотип well as knowing when there is enough of one experience but maybe not enough of another).

Sometimes you just ride the subway.

Collective Possibilities

Collective Possibilities


I have been a member of the Park Slope Food Coop (the Coop) for a LOS number of years. Located in Brooklyn, it was founded in 1973 and is the largest cooperative of its kind. The Coop is a member/worker owned food store that 16,000+ members collectively own, manage, and staff and where we all shop (non-members can visit but cannot shop). Members come from all over New York City (and beyond) and every member of the Coop (except those who are retired, sick or otherwise excused) contributes labor at about 3 hours every four weeks. In exchange, members own a share of the business and are guaranteed prices that are not designed for profit alone (the Coop is a 501(c)3). It seeks to avoid goods that depend on the exploitation of other beings. Entire small and family-owned cheap jerseys farms in Florida and the Tri-State area produce food exclusively for the Coop, ensuring that small scale, sustainable farming is supported directly. The Coop is founded on principles of stewardship of the environment, diversity, and equality and is open to all who share these values.

The Coop is relatively small in square footage, which means it is often crowded. And hugely successful; it grosses $6,500 per square foot annually – by comparison Trader Joe’s has an average of $1,750 in sales per square foot (which itself is more than double that of Whole Foods). Despite the long lines and tight aisles, there is an incredible amount of ease, patience, and goodwill. I work on the Receiving Squad which stocks produce and packaged goods, prices certain products and unloads and organizes shipments. Every shift I Wholesale Miami Dolphins Jerseys work I am Zwischenfruchtanbau amazed by the class, race and 手机发布测试 cultural diversity of the thousands of people working together in support of an alternative form of commerce.  And that relative harmony comes from hours of intentional and focused effort – through committees, staff/board meetings, general meetings, petitions, boycotts and challenges as well as humor, dedication, passion and love.

With a small number of paid employees, hundreds of member-workers, plus thousands of member-shoppers moving through the store on a daily basis, this organization is an incredible example of the possibility wholesale jerseys for ethical, responsible, engaged, collaborative, and successful business. I use what I have learned at the Coop to maintain faith Then in the possibilities for change and for collective action. For activists and change makers who are disillusioned and frustrated with the challenges of systemic forces of oppression and injustice, the Coop is an imperfectly beautiful wholesale jerseys model of diverse people working together (literally). A 2-hour orientation at the coop is a hope-producing introduction to the power of long-term organizing and activism and the possibilities for new forms of economic exchange. And the organic produce is amazing!

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