Sexy knots of desire
When I was 10, I used to watch The Dick Van Dyke Show and marvel that the star slept in a bed separate from his TV wife, played by Mary Tyler Moore. Even at that young age I recognized the ludicrousness of that spin. Although husbands and wives everywhere shared beds and had sex---even in the 60s--- somehow it was too much for studio execs to air on TV. By thirteen I knew that many people’s perception of sex was wrapped in fear, guilt and judgment.
A Zen teacher once said that if you had a speaker on your shoulder broadcasting your thoughts, 90 per cent of what people would hear would be insults and judgments directed at others and ourselves: “What an awful shirt”; “Why don’t you lose some weight?”; “What a deviant.”
"Deviant" was a word I heard a lot after I wrote my first book, Endless Knot. The book is an exploration of thought and desire, and discusses how desire is a thread in the endless knot that keeps us bound and tied: thought-action-memory-desire-thought-action…an endless knot. It was meant to illustrate that people are not the manufacturer of thought, nor do they construct the feelings and emotions that color them. Thoughts are the radio program, we are the radio. The illusion that we create them, though, is very real.
In 1990, my formal Zen practice was being derailed by unfulfilled fantasies related to my sexual urges: my foot fetish and my need to be controlled by a domineering woman. In the writings, I explain that these desires surfaced due to an experience in kindergarten at age four, though they were likely present even before that. The desires were latent, those inherent within an innocent child. They became a problem, however, due to repression and guilt instilled by a Catholic upbringing.
For centuries, Zen teachers instructed that if you would simply focus on the meditation practice, all problems would dissipate. But this was in the days before psychology, before Zen teachers realized the depths of thoughts, desires, fantasies and pathologies. Zen practice proved woefully inadequate in dealing with this aspect of introspection, I discovered.
Talking about it seemed pointless because the community surrounding me seemed pious and judgmental. My solution was to leave formal practice for a time, to see if my fantasies met reality. When Endless Knot came out years later, Zen students, new ageists and some people close to me felt I’d abandoned spiritual practice for sexual gratification. Nothing could have been further from the truth.
The thoughts and fantasies I had were too powerful to ignore, and I knew that. Long story short, five years of attending, pioneering, and running fetish parties in Toronto in the mid nineties allowed me to grasp the cauldron of desire, hold it, get burned, and let go. The experiences allowed me to carefully assess the fantasies, to discard the harmful, shelve the old, and prioritize the rest into a new life.
Once I’d made this transformation, I was able to renew my practice. Because of the lack of response formal Zen had provided my quandary, I decided to leave it behind, take what I had learned, and apply it to practice in the surf and sand at Long Beach, on Vancouver Island.
Endless Knot was intended to share my experience with others, so they could see the ever-changing nature of thought and desire. Equally as important, it was to help them realize that we aren’t our thoughts, feelings and desires, nor are we our jobs, clothes or material possessions.
We all have thoughts and desires, but they are fluid phenomena that pass us like a pinwheel of life. Watching this flux is in fact an aspect of advanced meditation. And when meeting people I grew up with---who still thought I was the awkward teenager who’d had trouble asking for a date---I had to conclude that I’m not anyone else’s thoughts or opinions either.
I have been a baby, school student, hockey player, Bay Street worker, Zen student, martial artist, fetishist, surfer, and writer. Now I have a chronic pain syndrome, a published novel, and a fabulous relationship. One day I’ll be dead. What I really am, though, and what everything is, had no beginning, will never end, passes by ceaselessly and so, most importantly, is beyond all judgment.
I’m certain that if my book had chronicled a spiritual odyssey through drug and alcolhol addiction I would have gotten less flack: there’s something about sex and sexuality that brings out the deepest-seeded fear and judgment in people, and that's dangerous. When you bury thought and fantasy, it can bubble up in unhealthy ways.
We all have thought, we all have desire, and no one out there who claims to own their thoughts has any more control over them than I do. Some cultures have ceremonies where frightening thoughts are shared, to open them and render them less powerful, and to see that we all have them. It's a practice all modern societies could benefit from.
“Let him who is without sin cast the first stone." - Gospel of John. Too bad more of us don't live with this as our credo, but doing so requires a long, hard look in the mirror.