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Faces of Palestine

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

This is an excerpt from a Middle East Eye article I published in the summer reflecting on the social documentary project my dear friend Asala Salhab and I carried out on the West Bank, Palestine in the summer of 2014 :) 

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Despite the war in Gaza and the intense military operations carried out recently by Israeli soldiers throughout Hebron; the biggest city on the West Bank celebrated the holy month of Ramadan with fasting – and praying for peace and for change.

In times of great danger and insecurity, people reveal both their most raw and most humane faces. Ramadan, however, is a month dedicated to cherishing the community, the self and its relation to God.

Can religious and cultural traditions work to bring people together, sooth the disadvantaged and inspire good acts and brotherly love, even in times of war, injustice and death?

These questions and more drove my enthusiasm to be among the people in Hebron, in the midst of the happening, instead of hiding, as I entered into the second month of my student internship in Hebron.

When I first went out on the streets of Hebron (or “Khalil” as the Arabic name of the city reads) with a notebook, camera and a local friend in hand, I had no idea that the photos and interviews I would take would spark and exciting new project- and a social movement.

Three days after the discovery of the bodies of the three kidnapped Israeli settlers in Halhul, just outside Hebron, sick of hearing about new clashes, dead and injured, my friend Asala Salhab and I went out after work to take some interviews.

Our task was to examine the pulse of the community, which was suffering through one of its most difficult times. In the beginning of both Ramadan and a new Israeli massacre in Gaza, was there any hope left? How were these contrasting events influencing each other?

Since the first afternoon we started to photograph and interview random passers-by at different locations around Hebron, including The Old City. People responded enthusiastically and we were able to capture the faces, stories and insights of Hebronites, which conveyed their hope, faith and integrity. The same evening, I started the “Khalil’s Faces of Ramadan” Facebook group to host the profiles of men and women, young and old. Every photo was accompanied by an English and Arabic translation, and in less than a week, the group received over 1,000 likes; the posts were shared and discussed both online and offline.

As we captured the faces of those who carry on their everyday lives, religious and spiritual practices, despite the dangers and insecurity that Hebron faces, media and community leaders shared their positive feedback about the project.

“This initiative is very important because it allows us to see the diversity of individuals and richness of points of view that we don’t often acknowledge otherwise,” Anas Sarabta, manager of the Hebron Youth Development Resource Center said.

Haya Abu Shkaidem, a student in Hebron sent a “thank you” message reading, “I really like this page. It reveals the pretty side of Hebron which people all around Palestine and all around the world should see. It is something I could share with my non-Hebronite friends to let them know more about Hebron.”

In the days to follow, the project gained momentum and was promoted by word of mouth: “I saw your page and I was hoping I could run into you.” Mustafa Abu Sbaih told us smilingly, calling us to visit his shoe stand from across the street.

As we walked through The Old City on a Friday afternoon after one of the major prayers, people were requesting that we take their photos and hear their stories. And, interestingly, they were not all about politics and war. Love, future plans and desire to make a change made some voices tremble with passion.

“We, Palestinians have always paid attention on the need to document our political struggle for freedom. There are many documents, articles and books written on that. But we have done almost nothing to document the social life, the individual, who may not be a martyr or a fighter, but who is still fighting in his own way- and that is not any less interesting.” Tareq Tamimi, founder of “Visit Hebron” told us in acknowledgement of the project’s impact on the community.

The project will continue beyond the month of Ramadan with the support of locals taking on the enjoyable task of unlocking secrets and capturing fellow Hebronites’ faces.

- See more at: http://www.middleeasteye.net/news/photo-essay-memorable-ramadan-hebron-1657019404#sthash.o7UKZZVy.dpuf


Gender in Bulgaria (summary)

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

Gender in Bulgaria at a glance- World Bank Report

Gender Pay GapI stumbled upon this super concise document produced by the World Bank in Bulgaria which takes a look at gender and the distribution of employment and education between the genders.

I’m not at all surprised with the findings that, indeed, there is gender balance in Bulgaria and while we have not yet had a woman President, women are somewhat well represented in Parliament (holding 25% of seats and making up for 19% of Ministers as of 2013).

Again, not surprisingly man and women’s occupation are distributed in a rather traditional manner, women holding above 50% of positions in Education and Health and men dominating the labor fields of engineering, manufacturing and construction.

This fact itself calls for further action in terms of diversifying the gender make up of these fields in order to cope with stereotypes coming from traditional thinking that create false beliefs and disallow young men and women to pursue any career interest.

It’s worth mentioning that the wage gap in Bulgaria (the difference between the salaries received by men and women) is lower than the average for the European Union member states and equals only 13%.

belgiq-integrira-romi-imigrantiThe document presents an interesting statistical comparison between Roma and non-Roma population in Bulgaria and points out at the perceivable gender imbalance  between men and women from the first group. Presumably due to culture differences in marriage, childbirth and other customs, in addition to societal expectations and/or discrimination Roma women are drastically less employed (26%) than non-Roma women (56%). Moreover, it is safe to assume that the occupations Roma women hold differ significantly in terms of specialization, quality of working conditions and wages provided.

The chart on the Roma population points at the significantly lower number of years of school attendance for Roma children and youth (7.1 for Roma men, 6.2 for Roma women, compared with 11.1/11.3 for the Non-Roma population). Interestingly, research on the attitudes of this group shows stronger patriarchal and heteronormative attitudes in the Roma community where 52% of men and 38% of women approve of instances of domestic violence towards women.

non-heteronormative martenitsi by Maria Vassileva FlicrThis document while useful with its conciseness leaves out underrepresented groups which don’t identify with their assigned gender (transgender) or have a different understanding on gender (whether genderqueer, genderfluid, etc.) and takes a look at Bulgarian society from the persistent and pervasive heteronormative perspective which creates gender outcasts and disallows the socially inclusive study of society that could really foster dialogue about gender.

It is important as we read and review documents on topics as gender which, indeed, have the potential to acquire mass public interest to introduce the modern language and concepts associated with the topic. Such un-intrusive informal education calls for respect and acknowledgement of the differences between people and creates opportunities for both individuals and society as a whole to self-actualize.

 

Please, share your thoughts by using the comment form below :) Thanks for reading!


My Freshman Hell

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

As I walked, biked and pushed myself over my limits for about 350 kilometres from Leon to Santiago de Compostella as I did Camino de Santiago, I learned what God truly meant to me.

I had always known that God was part of me and I was part of God. Pushing over the Spanish hills and mountains, sick, sweaty, challenged beyond my strength, I learned that God was at all time present in my life- I learned to see God in the eyes and faces of my fellow piligrims who offered me their water bottles, their words of motivation, their food or money. God for me, you know, is Love.

In 4 days I hitchhiked alone from Spain to Bulgaria.  I was alone and profoundly vulnerable, yet I felt no fear. I had unshakable trust in human beings. I knew my Love was my strength, my “weapon”; my tool for change, for advocacy, for exchange. And I was in a process of constant exchange of love, ideas, warmth and kindness which I knew transformed not only me.

There were some rear occasions when people tried to take advantage of my energy in ways I could not appreciate, yet I learned to accept and view them as simply instances of deprivation of what is so important for us, human beings- love and human connection. Nothing could hurt me. I was powerful in my vulnerability.

*

I came to college trusting that I had nothing to hide, trusting in the community I was being introduced to as I trusted the strangers I met on the highways across Europe, who often went out of their way to help me be safe, hitchiking.

I came to college in the United States of America to learn that women are, indeed, marginalized.

I learned that as a female writer tackling sexuality and polyamory I was inherently making myself a subject of discrimination and sexualization.

What’s worst I found out that people think it’s fair. If I can choose not to write about sexuality, yet I pick the alternative, than I must be searching for it…

There was this point in my second semester… I had even stopped writing my “Love and sexuality” column, which I otherwise saw as an opportunity to share my views and contribute for the diversity of alternatives, of ideas, of philosophies, and even educate, in a way.

My guy friends. My girlfriends. My gay friends. They just all wanted to explore their boundaries. With me. It was sickening.

The idea that people reduced me to just one array of my knowledge and experience was sickening.

It was sickening  to see how IT WASN’T ABOUT ME.

It was sickening to realize that in this environment I had to watch out for myself.

When instant gratification is the ultimate aim of a certain body of people, everything translates into sex. Kundalini becomes sex. Love distorts into sex. Intimacy, connection, all of that is lost for the sake of sex.

And yes, I am sex positive, but in my mind, in my life and in my writing sex is only one of many paths to human connection.

**

I learned that no one goes on dates in college and that if you are “lucky” to go out with someone, then the person will simply assume they have the right to your body by the end of the night as a prize for the extra effort to even take you out…

I learned that relationships are conditional. Relationships work as long as it’s fun, as long as you don’t have to work at it.

I remember being at New York, couchsurfing during Feb break, and just realizing how fearful I’ve become of truly expressing myself and expressing what I am and I’m not comfortable with out of pure fear not to lose any more people…

I learned that I’m “too much”.

And that the ideal relationship in college consist of no more than 3 things: partying, watching Netflix together and having sex.

I learned that both romantic partners and friends alike will not acknowledge my existence once the relationship transforms/ends. That it does not matter how much laughter, tears and secrets we’ve given to each other, people can treat you as an absolute stranger without a blink of the eye.

Do people forget THAT FAST?

HOW?

How do you sleep next to someone night after night and then treat them as shit?

How do you see your “best friend” you have pushed away and not at least tell them you appreciate them and your past even if you need something else at the moment?

How do you forget that there is another human being in front of you and that the Other is not an inanimate object, but a living being with emotions and feelings just like you?

In my freshman year at college I learned that no matter how present I am, I may still be invisible. That I can hold a “friend”‘s hand as she cries and tells me she’s all alone and I may still not exist.

I learned what it feels like to feel used. I genuinely care about people. I try my best to be available for people. I believe in the power of sharing. I believe human connection can heal even very deep wounds. But as I was listening to people and experiencing their pain with them, I found out people stopped asking: “How are you?”.

I told myself it was me. I must be presenting myself as “strong”, as not needing support. I probably just don’t give people an entry to myself, no matter how open and approachable I see myself, it probably just isn’t enough… But when after a terrible night I went to the counselling center feeling worse than I’ve ever felt (with all my past) and shared that with some people I believed I was connected to, there was nothing… NOTHING.

And we just kept on the conversation…

***

I have learned a lot in and out of the classroom this year, at college, in the United States of America.

And while I receive full financial aid and don’t really pay anything monetarily, my education is already overpriced.

I have lost so much over this year. It’s been a very high price.

I have not stopped trying to stay true to myself and Be love and Give love, no matter if there’s any return.

It’s been SO hurting. So difficult to see how nothing is working.

For me this is crucial. I learn through my relationships with people. I grow and transform through my putting my love into everything that is important to me.

I can not put aside my heart to educate my brain.

And If I waste my time writing this it is because, apart from helping me stay sane, I still hope there are people out there and on this campus who might share a similar vision with me for an education and a world that does not require you to be either happy or successful and that we can stay grounded in our humanity and make the extra effort to connect and build reationships based on honesty and love and consideration for the other.

 

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10 Tantric insights to transform the sexual experience

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

“In your body, there exists a subtle current of electricity, very subtle. But the subtler it is, the deeper it goes. It is not very visible. Scientists say that all the electricity that is in your body, if put together, can be used to light a five-candle bulb. It is not much. Quantitatively it is not much, quantitatively the atom is not much, but qualitatively… If it explodes, it has tremendous energy in it.” Osho, Philosophia Perennis, Vol. 1, Talk #8

armand-sagredo-tantra-yoga-nidra-Tantra is the practice of consciously creating conectedness. It is an ancient technique that comes to remind us that our bodies and what we do with them is sacred. Through sexuality we grow spiritually and get closer to not only our partners, but ourselves, and God. Tantra helps us heal and empower our relationships through expanding our consciousness and our ability to be present, open up and share.
Tantra is an ancient practice dating back to the fifth century, and as a meditation practice it has influenced Hindu, Sikh, Bön, Buddhist, and Jain traditions. It spread with Buddhism to East and Southeast Asia, and contains enormous cultural significance in central Asia.

Even when they are not practiced within a greater spiritual context, tantric values and tools may influence a great change in the way we go about sex, leading to greater pleasure and satisfaction for both men and women.

Frustrated by how little we know about each other’s bodies and how much we assume about and project over sexuality, I decided to share some Tantric insights and suggestions that can completely transform the sexual experience.

  1. present-4First and foremost advice to make a priority and a habit: Be present! Presence is tricky and there are just so many ways we distract ourselves from being here and now. Whether it’s alcohol, or drugs, or distracting thoughts, let’s not be somewhere far away while being quite literally in someone else! What presence takes is some confidence that the person in your bed indeed wants to be there and that what is created right then and there- between this person and you, with the lights on or off, has the potential to be sexy, amazing and fun without the need of any super skills! And it most certainly is!
  2. images (1)Most of these will sound like common sense, but we can only wish they were: Be with ME! I’m not your ex-girlfriend, nor any other girl you’ve had sex with. You don’t have to seem or pretend to know what I, or any other woman or all of us together (God, if it was even possible!) want. It’s enough to just be curious about finding out. What does my body react to? Which parts are more sensitive than others (apart from the obvious!)? The fact that something has worked with someone somewhere is just so random that it can never be taken for granted. Sexual experience is about knowing alternatives and being comfortable with experimenting! Learning about someone’s preferences, differences, weird little things that make them shiver is magical, it’s like learning a new language without having a manual…
  3. images (2)What’s even more beautiful about it is it cannot be recreated! The energy that two human beings, two bodies create together is unique… It would create so much more respect if we were accept it and move past comparing and rating each other! There are no better or worst experiences, but only different ones. What makes us compare and rate them is to what extent they align with our own preferences. Yet, in sex and in life everything is dynamic- what once gives us pleasure, we will not react the same way to another time. Sexual experience is situational and for the most part making the most of it requires you to be flexible, open-minded and free of expectations!
  4. No scripts- Take it easy. Go slow. Build the energy. Flow with it. It’s sad that because of the easily accessible pornography and bad literature on sex, people view sex as a show they choose to perform in, yet having to abide to a certain agenda. There is no agenda. No script. The longer, the better (for many of us). Some of the best experiences I have had in life, in general, are the ones that have evolved and transformed on the go, naturally… The intimate moments I remember the most clearly are the ones who have been an almost-never-ending journey through pleasure, excitement and exploration. When we kiss and talk, talk and kiss and… I wish we would never let ourselves give each other only the mechanics, only the bare bones of sex!
  5. tantra coupleStay there! Tantra claims that as individuals and as lovers we are at all times immersed in the energy of love, life and sex, in kundalini. To follow the energy means to be sensitive to the processes that are taking place and the changes that occur for one reason or another. As I have already mentioned, it is about being in the here and now, with your partner, accepting everything that comes along without pertaining to traditional or popular scripts about sex and intimacy. Everything is okey when the partners are all respectful, loving. A guy may lose his erection, starting to jerk of hastily to bring it back. The attitude with which this is done may disturb the energy a lot more than having the penis soft for a while, if it magnifies the idea that there are certain ways in which things should be to be “right”, as if it is all about the physical component of it. Instead, when this occurs, the lovers can go back to caressing each other, reconnecting with the flow of energy, building to higher and higher states of ecstasy.
  6. awakening kundalini reikiDon’t make it all about the achievement- whenever I have refused to go further with someone, it has been because I have felt that the other person’s focus has been oriented towards a certain goal, making me feel as a mean to its realization. Sex should not be orgasm oriented. Orgasm in tantra is associated with the release and, thus, loss of the vital kundalini energy (life energy). This is why after orgasm, people feel tired and need to sleep. Tantric sex is meditative. It runs on no schedule. It can take hours, if certain techniques to raise the energy to higher chakras and work with certain body parts are acquired.The greatest about it is that compared to “standard” sex, there is no game over. The problem with sex being orgasm-oriented is, one, people are objectified, two, pressure is involved which makes it all about achievement. When I give tantric massage on special occasions, I make sure to explain that it has no goal and no time frame. And because it is so free of pressure, both I and the receiving partner are at ease. A loving atmosphere is created and, indeed, the whole process feels a lot less “sexual” and a lot more loving. It’s all about the energy passing through the skin, giving pleasure to someone else, while yourself enjoying the process. This is when you don’t get tired, you don’t get bored or anxious.
  7. The principles of tantric love-making are that every time you stop just before the point of no return and continue shortly after, you don’t lose the energy (as if you, simply let it happen), but continue from a higher level of sexual arousal building up to more and more intense levels of ecstasy.  The benefits are for both men and women as it allows women to relax and receive the attention and treatment they need.
  8. largeTouch lightly unless otherwise specified- the lighter the touch, the more intense is the reaction. Pain is not cool (except in some circles). Whenever pain is brought in the equation, this takes away from the energy. Pain is there for a reason- it’s a signal to be aware and be ready to fight or run. When my brother was 15, he used to squeeze the breath out of me in rear moments of sudden exposure of love. But it’s amazing to find out that there are grown up men out there who have no idea how much strength they’ve got in their hands (quite literally!). Bruises, hickies, blue spots are NOT sexy! Mindfulness how you place your body weight over another human being does not take too much! Always check with your partner and follow his/her reactions to see whether more pressure is acceptable and appreciated. Certain spots, of course, are more sensitive compared to others. It’s hard to believe there are still people out there not knowing this, yet pay attention: the clitoris is the most sensitive part in the human body. “The clitoral head alone contains 8,000 nerve endings—4x as many as exist on the larger head of the penis. As if 8,000 weren’t enough, the clitoris interacts with over 15,000 other nerve endings in the pelvis.”[1]

    Men kind of know that, and go there straight away, which is another no-go. Play around it, never suck it hard (or at all) and if you’ll touch- touch lightly[2].

  9. SONY DSCCreate your own language- another tool you can lend from Tantra, is creating a body language to use in the heat of the moment. Sometimes talking out loud takes away from the passion, but small gestures used over time can help you keep the communication alive while not letting it disturb you. For, instance during tantric massage the person who receives the massage may apply slight pressure to a certain easily accessible part of the body of the massage giver to ask him/her to slow down. A squeeze may be translated as “I’m almost losing it. Stop right where you  are!” This type of “language” may help introduce more comfort and clarity for both sides.
  10. Expand comfort zones, but Respect boundaries- besides a source for great pleasure and intimacy, sex can help us move beyond certain fears, taboos or traumas. Through sexuality and love-making we can heal ourselves and expand our comfort zones. For this to happen, trust and comfort should be present. One should never test someone else’s boundaries or reactions going all the way. When boundaries are to be challenged, it must happen with a) consent, b) patience- sometimes people need time to figure out how they feel about stuff, c) with care and not for the sake of  building a sexual repertoire.

Share your feedback or suggestions using the form bellow. Thanks for reading! <3


[1] http://www.valleyadvocate.com/article.cfm?aid=15092

[2] Well, what I mean here, of course, is that touching directly the clitoris is usually very painful because of the too intense direct stimulation of nerve endings. Of course, women have different preferences. But it’s safer and often more enjoyable for both parties to experiment with pressure and intensity over time.


Happy St Valentine’s Day!

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

Happy St Valentine's Day!

“I’m never gonna wait that extra twenty minutes to text you back, and I’m never gonna play hard to get when I know your life has been hard enough already. When we all know everyone’s life has been hard enough already. It’s hard to watch the game we make of love, like everyone’s playing checkers with their scars, saying checkmate whenever they get out without a broken heart. Just to be clear, I don’t want to get out without a broken heart. I intend to leave this life so shattered there better be a thousand separate heavens for all of my separate parts.” – Andrea Gibson


10 realistic rules for good non-monogamous relationships

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

Maggie Nazer:

Some great insight into making polyamorous relationship work and clarifying one own’s needs and preferences within the context of relationships and beyond it.

Originally posted on Sex Geek:

- Raven Kaldera, “The Polyamory Contract”  

***

So I spent the bulk of this weekend in Ottawa, and one of the things I did there was teach a polyamory / non-monogamy workshop at Venus Envy. It was cool! Great turnout (22, woo-hoo!), thoughtful people, and a wide range of experiences – from total non-monog newbie to lifetime poly folk. Very interesting.

Normally when I teach, I really like to make things really interactive. But I’ve noticed that sometimes that’s not satisfying to people. For a lot of folks, when they show up to a workshop, they really want to come out of it with concrete, practical tools that will help them incorporate a new philosophy or practice into their lives. Now, telling people how to live their lives is kinda obnoxious, in my humble opinion, so I’m usually loath to approach a topic as though I have the monopoly on know-how. Especially when…

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Join: Alternative Sexuality and Relating Online Network

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

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Dear beautiful souls, plese, please, enter into my community, If you like the idea and invite friends to help me win 250$ and get the network going : ) Thank you!
http://www.kumbuya.com/alternative-sexuality-and-relating/

This is a community meant to discuss and explore different alternative practices related to both sexuality and relationship making. Practices discussed will include, yet not be limited to Polyamory, Tantra, etc.