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Metamorphosis: Emerging into Ecstasy
By Natalie Vekony

It was my 29th summer, the year after my mother died, and I was camping in Alaska.  Listening to the rain softly hitting my tent one morning, I grew eager for the day's hike.  As I started to get out of my sleeping bag, I found I could not put weight on my feet.  Explosive pain, similar in sensation to that of a badly sprained ankle, surged into my feet each time I placed them on the ground.

I struggled with repeated, awkward attempts to rise, feeling more annoyed at the prospect of possibly having to postpone my hike than alarmed about my sudden and bizarre situation.  Finally, I managed to stand up. As I hobbled across the campground, I unwittingly took my first steps into the underworld of chronic illness and disability, never again to return to life as I had known it.

 I have inhabited the world of rheumatoid arthritis now for 14 years.  Much of that time I've felt like an observer standing at the edge of a mass grave, watching in numb horror the parts of myself being methodically dismembered and thrown away.  First my graceful arms disappeared, then my strong hiker's legs, next my enthusiasm for the sight of a sunrise over the mountains, then my energy, my passion, my sexual vitality.

 One afternoon several years ago, as I lay plastered to my bed, exhausted from pain, weary from years of physical, emotional, and spiritual healing efforts that failed to halt the continued erosion of my joints and overall health, and grieving the loss of my former very active self and all the things she used to be able to do, I challenged the Universe to either take me or tell me what I could do with my debilitated body.  My dare prompted an immediate reply from an impish voice inside me: "You could have sex."  It was a preposterous proposition.

I looked in the mirror at my sickly yellow face, my atrophied arms and bloated knees, and the stiff, awkward way I moved my limbs.  Graphic x-ray images of severely damaged joints, coupled with my doctor's disparaging observation that I had no elbows left, roiled around in my mind.  It was a painful picture, physically and emotionally, and I had long ago ceased feeling sexy or sexual.  Then the mocking chorus of self-doubting and self-hating voices arrived: "You're too ugly to be sexual," "You'll just disappoint yourself," and "Who'd want you anyway?"

 Despite these voices, and despite lack of understanding and support from the people closest to me, I inexplicably and urgently sensed I was being called to reclaim my life.  I knew I had to rise to the task.  From that moment, I began the awesome adventure of sexual healing, and I have been graced with amazing people and situations to teach, support, and guide me along the way.

 Although I did much to recover my passion by doing research, attending numerous workshops, working with an extraordinary counselor, and receiving a wonderful lover into my life, it is my involvement with women's sacred erotic and Tantric circles that has most greatly accelerated my growth work and opened me to levels of healing that would have otherwise been difficult to achieve.  (Tantra is a spiritual practice that honors the body and views sexual ecstasy as a pathway to the Divine.  Part of its practice involves breathing and energy-raising techniques that increase the body's ability to reach heightened ecstatic states.)

 Erotic circles give women the opportunity to learn from and validate each other's experiences, to break through the isolation and shame that many of us have come to feel around our desires, and to receive help and loving support for working through obstacles and painful emotions that invariably arise when we begin to explore the vulnerable territory of our sexuality.  A sacred erotic circle is a safe, protected space -- a womb that nurtures each woman's self-exploration and rebirth.  It is also a cauldron in which the intentions and energy of each woman join to create subtle but profound changes within the circle, changes that can begin to transform our relationships to ourselves and to others.

 When we participate in a women's sacred circle, we open to greater self-awareness and self-compassion as we recognize a part of ourselves in each woman who courageously reveals her pain or long-hidden shadows.  And, when we find that the circle will hold the range and intensity of all our expressions -- fear, grief, joy, rage, numbness, or unbridled ecstasy -- and honor them equally as different faces of the Goddess, we can also experience a deep sense of self-acceptance, and an enhanced connection with the Divine essence in ourselves and each other.

 Through both witnessing other women and sharing myself in sacred erotic spaces, I have begun to shed crippling beliefs about my sexuality and myself -- beliefs that I am not enough, or that I am too much, or that I am wrong in some way.  I am coming to a deeper acceptance of my body just as it is and the fascinating, changing panorama of my own erotic expression.

 Because of my participation in sacred erotic and Tantric circles and the support and inspiration they give me in my individual practice of Tantra, I no longer experience my body solely as a source of pain or an obstacle to overcome.  Even with physical limitations, I sense the ways in which my body is limitless -- a gateway to high levels of ecstatic pleasure and connection to the Divine.  It is capable of incredible joy, sensuality, and passion for life.  I can resoundingly vouch for the truth of what my lover once suggestively remarked to me early on in our relationship: "You want to climb Mt. Everest, and your body won't let you.  But, you know -- there are other ways to get to the top of Everest... "

 So many women have lost the connection to themselves and to their passionate aliveness through illness, sexual or other abuse, or the self-hatred taught by a society that dishonors women, and fears and abhors the authentic expression of sexuality.  I feel a great deal of respect for myself and other women, wherever they are on their sexual journeys, who are willing to be hopeful and actively engaged in healing their sexuality.  And I feel a special excitement about undertaking this journey together, not only because of the depth of personal transformation that is possible, but also because I believe that as we assist each other in reconnecting with and making sacred again this fundamental source of our creativity and power, we are doing important work in beginning to heal our collective wounds and reclaiming our power as women.

The following people and resources are those I have found most helpful on my own healing journey:
 Evalena Rose, who teaches Tantra through LoveJourney: The Healing Path of Tantra for Women.  For info, call 707 824-1118 or see tantraforwomen.com.
 Jalaja Bonheim, author of  Aphrodites Daughters: Womens Sexual Stories and the Journey of the Soul and Hunger for Ecstasy: Fulfilling the Souls Need for Passion and Intimacy.  Jalaja periodically offers local workshops.  For info call 607 530-1105 or see meetingsinsacredspace.com.
 The Body Electric School.  For info or a brochure of course offerings, call 510 869-4383, or see bodyelectric.org

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Opening to Sacred Relationship
Tantra for Women Who Love Women
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Tantra: The Art of Sexual Healing
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Reclaiming Lost Sexuality
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Reclaiming the Matriarch
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Two Hearts Entwine
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Relationship and the Practice of Tantra
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The Goddess Returns
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Goddess Emerging
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