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Inside

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

Maggie NazerAs I was growing up people were continuously telling me I thought too much. “Is it I who thinks too much or is it that others think too little?”- I frequently asked myself and chose to view it as a sign for supremacy. My ideas encapsulated me. My excitement to create and love made my thoughts spiral endlessly in the silence of the late night’s darkness. I burned in flames every night trying to put myself to sleep.  In times of pain I drowned in my mind’s ceaseless stream of chattering and the more I fought the voice inside of me, the stronger it grew. I lied in my bed sweating, excruciated by the dominance of my mind over me.

At the age of 18 I started practicing meditation. Or at least I got the intention to do so. A website miraculously found online aspired to teach me how to quiet my mind and offered me to travel to Thailand and partake in a meditation retreat with the same objective. Unsure of the possibility of taming my mind, I let my adventurous Self prevail over my doubtfulness and decided to give it a try.

Listening to the guided meditations offered by Thai Buddhist monks through the online platform, called Peace Revolution, I copied their posture, closed my eyes and waited for the miracle to happen.  And, indeed, as I purposefully closed my eyes, some quiet joy entered my body and made it soften. The first couple of minutes were always excitingly pleasing, but I could hardly go any further. Soon my mind would once again get flooded by thoughts: unexpected, unwanted guests who came with the promise to stay for a while, yet refused to leave… As if stabbed with knives, my back hurt because of the posture and I had to move…  The short, yet draining battle with my mind left me even more agitated and I inwardly counted the time left before the end of the meditation, unable to focus or relax.

But while meditation itself brought me on the verge of pain, my practice of mindfulness which I viewed as “meditation in action” was thriving. I had long ago held interest in exercising consciousness and learning to be present through various exercises. Leaving home for school in the mornings, for instance, I tried to stay away from daydreaming by picking up a color and counting how many people I would see wearing clothes in this color throughout the day.  Moreover, Peace Revolution posed daily questions challenging me to become more mindful of the ways many aspects of my day-to-day life such as clothing, eating habits, quality of social interactions benefit or harm myself and others. Slowly, my restlessness started peeling off as I learned to slow down and breathe.

Maggie Nazer with peace RevolutionA couple of months later I flew to Thailand for Peace revolution’s Peace fellowship/meditation retreat. The remote island Ko Yao Noi welcomed 20 of us, young people from around the world excited to follow the ancient “Know Thyself” and embark on a 2-week-journey in stillness. A journey within. Building on the premise that words are not the only way we can communicate and create connectedness, the first day started with a variety of games we played in groups to explore alternative ways of communication. The daily program of the retreat included five 1-hour-guided meditation sessions, conversations with the Buddhist monks, yoga and service. While rather symbolic, our service duties including sweeping of the floors in the meditation rooms let us observe how mindfulness transforms even the smallest “least meaningful” everyday actions into opportunities to enjoy being present and create peace and love through care. The jungle and the palms, forming a tunnel we walked into to reach the small hubs that accommodated us, and which palms I reasonably feared for they were the natural habitat of some of the many kinds of poisonous snakes living in Thailand, made mindfulness a matter of life and death.

In a couple of days I transformed into a sponge- observing and absorbing everything that was within and outside of me, I felt the abundance of live being revealed in everything around me. The need to talk gradually became less and less obvious; I felt my whole being was now illuminating love and light. Despite I strived in any other aspect, my meditations were just as difficult as when I was practicing back home. Reading about meditation and talking about it with people for months had given birth to many expectations and I was subconsciously putting lots of pressure on myself. Yet, I kept on trying.

It was yet another humid afternoon and the island had fallen into silence, exhausted by the heat. We had all gathered for our afternoon meditation and LP John was ready to start his guidance. It all started as it always did: letting go of all tension in the body, greeting the present moment and trying to stay with it, to be with it… I told myself I had nothing to lose, I had nothing to achieve or prove, or aim for. When thoughts arose and started pulling me towards one or another direction, I came back to my center which interestingly didn’t reside in the lower part of my stomach, but pulsated from between my eyes. With my thoughts settled, I stayed still, almost breathless and felt the expansion of the mind, its unfolding and attempting to embrace my whole being full of fears, insecurities, and judgment, and with it- even the whole world. On the bottom of it all rested love waiting to be awakened…

By the time the session finished I felt reluctant to open my eyes. Time had forgotten its existence and I was now floating in a state of bliss I hadn’t known before. As the monk was getting ready to start his presentation on certain aspects of Buddhism and the life of the Buddha, I slowly opened my eyes. Sitting in the lotus position without making a single adjustment, I listened to my teacher attentively, my mind being more awakened than ever.

Maggie Nazer meditatingThere was no judgment, no doubt. Just deep, uninterrupted acceptance and resonance with the environment.

The feeling stayed with me for the rest of the night and then slowly departed me in my sleep.

The long trip I have embarked on brought me the furthest I had gone- home. Inside.


Love unlimited: or why Polyamory is good for you!

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

Maggie Nazer MouseI have been obsessing about Love ever since I was 12 and fell in love for the first time. My life over the next few years could easily be fit in one word: misery. There has been nothing I have ever wanted more than to love and be loved and thus throughout my teenage years I either pitied myself for not being with someone, suffered the consequences of my dysfunctional relationships, or grieved over my past romances. It was a vicious cycle I had fallen into and didn’t know how to break away from.

In 2012, I travelled to Thailand for a meditation retreat. The Thai monks who led the retreat promoted unconditional love and among the many different Buddhist values they introduced me to, the idea of non-attachment and non-possession in relationships were the ones I felt the most urging need to master. “Could I who was a slave of Love and always vanished into my relationships practice non-attachment and set myself free? How could it be?”- I asked myself doubtful. Yet, exhausted of the all-consuming quest for relationships and sick of searching for love outside of myself, I decided to give it a try.

It was a whole new world of perception I was entering. As I strived to learn more about the appealing practice of “love without attachment”, I wondered whether it was a mission possible for people other than ordained Buddhist monks who had anyway given up on most of worldly life’s temptations. Meanwhile, I was myself exploring Love in ways I hadn’t experienced it with a German guy, called Carsten, whom I had met on the retreat. Carsten and I spent hours talking and sharing; helping and disturbing each other’s meditations. Our relationship was unfolding easily, most naturally- without the gender games, inauthenticity and need to create conflicts to deepen the connection I had assumed to be integral components of relationships.

Magie Nazer hitchikingAs I discovered that relationships are a powerful way to learn and grow and started practicing letting go and non-possession, I opened myself for greater compassion, greater passion, and greater Love. And while Carsten and I had to part ways a couple of months later, due to the fact he was not ready to face the realities of “free love”, I knew there was no turning back for me. At about the same time I mysteriously stumbled upon the formal definition of what seemed to best incorporate the values and freedom I aspired to create and share with others- polyamory.

Polyamory or “the practice, desire, or acceptance of having more than one intimate relationship at a time with the knowledge and consent of everyone involved”[1] goes far beyond justifying multipartnering. To practice polyamory is to be willing to face the social stigma and unacceptance, in addition to one’s own deeply rooted fears and insecurities, in order to intensify personal development and improve one’s relationships with others.  Polyamory as a spiritual practice is not much different from yoga or meditation- it takes time and effort, and determination. Yet, learning to be mindful towards oneself and others, taking control over one’s own emotions and behavior, and creating relationships based on mutual respect, love and appreciation instead of neediness, desire to dominate or fit social expectations is crucial. It is crucial because it empowers people to be effective communicators and to support each other’s growth, resulting in the creation of happier, more aware and more emotionally mature individuals.

Polyamory “is not a sign of an attachment problem or other disorder”- Tamara Pincus, D.C.-based Clinical Social Worker/Therapist says: “it as a valid relationship choice”.[2] Polyamorous relationships exist in different forms and configurations, yet are built on the premise that “openness, goodwill, truthful communication, and ethical behavior should prevail among all the parties involved”[3]. As I started practicing polyamory and discussed it with potential partners and friends I always came across surprised faces and repeating questions. The most stubborn one of all: “How can you love more than one person?”

Maggie Nazer, Martin Rohani, Strahil VasilevIn fact, we all practice polyamory, only without realizing it. A person has a variety of relationships and is capable of (and most often than not “guilty” of!) loving more than one person at a time. And while, of course, the love we feel for our mothers, brothers and sisters, friends and relatives is different, isn’t it Love after all?  Polyamorous people, often referred to as “poly”, do not believe that love is a scarce resource. Love is not something that If I give to you, I cannot give to someone else. For, indeed, love is different! And every time we love someone, it is as if we love for the first time for we have never loved this very same, unique person!

Polyamory does not view people as interchangeable, which is often the case in modern monogamous relationships. When people act in certain ways or reduce their array of choices out of fear not to be replaced, they are deprived from their most basic, yet most important human right- freedom. The tendency of individuals to hold themselves back to remain loved is a common denominator in many relationships. When love is assigned conditions, fear of change is installed. If the bond in a relationship is based on shared interests, views or activities, partners often feel pressured to stay as they are, so that their relationship will not be harmed. Many times people “brake up” because they become accustomed to a certain way of being together (as when they are madly in love with each other), but as they lack tolerance, when the dynamics of the relationship change (and things settle down a bit, making space for new experiences and emotions), they fail to see the positives and think their relationship is over. Lack of acceptance of change on an individual level is shadowed by non-acceptance of transformations of the relationship, too. Just as every person undergoes different processes and metamorphosis, so does any relationship. Learning to accept and value the changing dynamics is crucial to creating healthy relationships and embracing unconditional love.

Maggie Nazer Carnival PrincessSince a little girl, I had attributed to Prince Charming a long list of qualities I examined thoroughly (even though not quite consciously!) every time I was about to start a relationship. Having expectations and trying to fit men into my idea for an ideal partner was never a success. As I explored polyamory and examined relationships as we know them, I realized there will never be a single person able to fulfill all my needs and more importantly- there shouldn’t be. Every person adds something new to our lives and we must see in every person a universe with its own secrets, with its own treasures, with its own sources of anguish, and with some measure of triumph”.[4] Objectifying people and trying to make them appear or be as we want them diminishes the chance of truly getting to know them and learning from them. The created resistance, pressure and pain cause emotional damage to everyone involved.

Another concern non-polyamorists often address is that polyamory overvalues sex. Such an argument seems to be easily proved in the context of the allowance of having multiple sexual partners in polyamory. Yet, polyamory emphasizes on building and sustaining relationships, be they sexual or not: “ Sex is not necessarily a primary focus in polyamorous relationships, which commonly consist of people seeking to build long-term relationships with more than one person on mutually agreeable grounds, with sex as only one aspect of their relationships.”[5] Monogamous relationships, on the other hand, clearly stress the importance of sexual exclusivity. While one’s partner is not (usually) forbidden to love other people, sharing sexual intimacy with others is an absolute taboo which implies that it is valued over everything else, “as if it is the one thing you must “own” to feel safe”- says Mystic Life, author of “Spiritual Polyamory”.

The reason why we only agree to open ourselves to one person at a time and expect the same is a matter of instruction. In “Sex 3.0- A sexual revolution manual” British author J.J. Roberts claims that monogamy was socially applied for economic reasons. The author presents a comparative analysis of the nature of sexual and social relationships starting with the Ancient nomadic societies. The nomad tribes had no notion of ownership, since they moved from place to place taking just as much as they could carry with them. Women and men contributed to the tribe equally and since the tribe was collectively taking care of all children born of the tribe, men and women were free to mate with each other according to their own free will. Ownership over land and consequently- women, was established with the agricultural revolution (“the transition from a pre-agricultural period characterized by a Paleolithic diet, into an agricultural period characterized by a diet of cultivated foods”[6]).

As men started to own and inherit the land they worked, they wanted to ensure that the children they will feed and give inheritance to will be theirs. “A system of control needed to be invented… to calm male paternity concern; a deal which allowed men to claim women as their sexual property”[7]- and thus marriage was created. But what is more- Roberts proposes- with the cultural transformation was introduced a second plane of human sexuality. The “natural” plane of sexuality is defined by nature and is observed throughout the mammal kingdom, while the plane defined by the word “normal” is prescribed by society. Consequently, many individuals who have the natural need to experience love and intimacy with more than one person feel pressured to compromise their values and carry the burden of what is considered “normal”.

While polyamory as a relationship choice offers countless benefits among which personal freedom, appreciation, conscious sexuality and relating, deepened connectedness and intensified personal growth, people remain critical as to whether they would personally consider it, pointing at jealousy as an excuse not to challenge the norm. Jealousy is described as a “secondary emotion that generally refers to negative thoughts and feelings of fear, insecurity, and anxiety over an anticipated loss of something of value – particularly a human connection.”[8] Interestingly, jealousy is often viewed as a part of the human condition we lack control over. Being jealous has nothing to do with genetics, however. Improved control over our emotions is the result of understanding the underlying forces which trigger one’s outbursts of jealousy.

Maggie Nazer in SofiaAttending a workshop on emotion management, I learned that whenever a negative emotion arises, it is because of the lack of its positive counterpart. Whenever one feels jealous, for instance, it is an indicator that one’s need for love, or security is not met. Knowing what lies in the core of one’s emotions, significantly increases the chances of positively resolving the issue. Whether it is by receiving help or working alone on personal issues as low esteem or people attachment, or giving honest feedback that our needs are not met or that we feel threatened by certain situations are some of the options that create not only more self-knowledge and opportunities for growth, but ultimately- more love. Respecting your partner’s freedom to experience intimacy with others is a sign of spiritual maturity: “sharing the body of another human being is the greatest ego challenge we face in our desire to experience unconditional love”, “Spiritual Polyamory” insists. As jealousy and control are transcended, joy overtakes. For what can be greater than seeing your partner happy, even if it is not always you the one to bring this happiness.

“It’s funny how heterosexuals have lives and the rest of us have “lifestyles”- Sonia Johnson, American feminist activist and writer, adds. Undoubtedly, polyamory has a long way to go before it manages to overcome all deeply rooted cultural prejudices which inhibit our thinking. As polyamorists we have a long way to go to challenge the status-quo (“Nearly all of romance and sexuality has been portrayed in a monogamous context. People who are in love with someone and fall in love with someone else are usually demonized”)[9] and earn the humane respect that is our birth-right. The biggest challenge for all of us, no matter how we distribute our Love, is to stay engaged and strive to improve ourselves and bring the most out of the people we share our lives with and the relationships we build with them. Continuously. One at a time or simultaneously altogether, for those of us who like a good challenge.

Maggie Nazer happy


[1] See wikipedia
[2] Huffington Post, The Polyamorist On The Couch: Q&A With Tamara Pincus On What Therapists Should Know About Big Love, 12/12/2013
[3] Alan M. “Five speeches from Poly pride Weekend”, Polyamory in the News, Oct. 20, 2008
[4] Elie Wiesel, The Nazi Doctors and the Nuremberg Code
[5] Wikipedia; Polyamory
[6] Wikipedia; Agricultural Revolution
[7] http://sexthreepointzero.com/wiki/index.php?title=Sex_3.0
[8] http://www.bandbacktogether.com/jealousy-resources/
[9] Mystic Life, “Spiritual Polyamory”

Race in Sex

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

Maggie Nazer“Everything in the world is about sex except sex. Sex is about power.” Oscar Wilde has got it right. Sex is a complex social issue which embodies layers of hard-to-handle gender and social status controversy. Adding politics of race in the equation only serves to further on heat up the already problematic topic of sexuality. Exploring how racial matters influence sexual perceptions, stereotypes and misconceptions, however, is more than needed. It is an eye-opening process that gives insight on the ways devaluation of people is done in present days, dating back to the slave era. Evidently, Afro-Americans and individuals from other racial and ethnic groups present in the States have gone a long way since the abolition of slavery. Yet sexuality is everything but “race-blind” as seen in both the prevalence of endogamous marriages and the “white-supremacist” nature of many interracial marriages; the objectification of both women and men of color in interracial sex and porn; and the domination of widely spread sexual stereotypes discriminating the same groups.  

Since in 1967 the US Supreme Court deemed anti-miscegenation laws (laws prohibiting individuals from different races to marry) unconstitutional, the public approval of interracial marriages has risen with eighty percent- a figure worth our admiration, yet failing to tell the whole truth about the persistent racial and racist issues affecting deeply the way people connect and build relationships within and outside their race. The 8,9% number of interracial marriages can be considered rather low for a country as multiethnic and diverse in population as the USA. While the popular modern trend of “cohabitation” should undoubtedly be considered, it is also an easy solution to the problem of dealing with the reaction of the society which respects the abstract idea of an “interracial marriage”, but is still immature as to how to react when faced with it.  Another example of racism in action in the context of intermarriages is the legal union between rich white men and poor women from developing countries or different racial backgrounds in general. Popular among American and European men this practice reinforces superiority claims from whites, while encouraging poor women to consider voluntary prostitution and arranged interracial marriages as tempting options to secure a living. “Bride-hunts” conducted by wealthy white men in countries like Thailand, for instance, or their respective parallels in one’s own country reinforce the racist stereotypes which often qualify women of color as the negative  “submissive, easy, pleasing” or even the positive “motherly, perfect- house-wives”, in addition to creating the contrasting image of white women depicted as “feminists and unsuitable for family life workaholics”. The case of “marriage squeeze” offers yet another opportunity to look at racial and sexual issues within out-marrying. “Marriage squeeze” stands for the trend executed by “well-educated”, “wealthy”, “desirable” Afro-Americans to marry white women rather than women from their own race because of the higher societal status white women inherit. Leaving more than 50% of Black women between 30-35 unmarried, this practice also contributes to the reinforcement of the racist perceptual superiority of white women.

The above examples illustrate not only the prevailing racist issues surrounding the practice of marrying outside of one’s race, but also the constantly occurring objectification of men and women of color within the context of interracial sex. Objectification is a philosophical term that stands for the treatment of people as things. It is exercised through the assumed ownership of humans, the denial of their autonomy and their treatment as interchangeable tools. The wide-spread modern myths of black men’s sexual prowess and black women’s submissiveness and sexual appetite are easy to name examples of racial and sexual objectification that are historical offspring of the slavery period in the US. Slave breeding practices and statutory rape laws both enhanced sexual debasement and cruelty against African-Americans who were considered moveable property across the United States. These inhumane practices led slaves to either confront their masters, and thus be beaten and tortured, or accept the savagery and use it as a way to secure protection. The English regulations executed in the colonies stated that “Indians and Blacks, as well as their children, were prohibited by law from defending themselves against abuse, sexual and otherwise, at the hands of Whites” (Gloria J. Browne-Marshall, Failing Our Black Children: Statutory Rape Laws, Moral Reform and the Hypocrisy of Denial (2002)). Additionally, after the termination of the Atlantic slave trade slaveholders forced coerced sexual relations and reproduction between male and female slaves and favored Black female slaves who produced a lot of children. Since the laws declared that every child born by a slave mother became a slave, masters attempted to increase their profits by becoming “slave breeders” and reducing their costs on purchasing human labor. Exploited by their mistresses and used as walking “sperm banks”, male Afro-American slaves held a similar disadvantageous position: they did not own their bodies. Even worse: they were perceived as if they were only bodies.

Sadly, objectification of people is still prevailing. And despite no one is protected, marginalized racial groups are even more vulnerable to sexual stereotyping and dehumanization. While it is already hard to be a woman and not be perceived as powerless and submissive, imagine being an Asian, Latino, African-American or even an Eastern-European woman. It is important to note that stereotypes play a crucial role in sexuality and result in serious psychological and social repercussions which endanger the well-being of individuals within the society, create misunderstanding and disturb the natural processes of creating connectedness between humans. Stereotypes kill intimacy and establishes sex as a mere physical process in which people are reduced to their body parts and are limited to exhibit only certain sexual attitudes. When people are put in categories, rather than seen holistically, the relationships they create are castrated. Robbed of genuine appreciation for the uniqueness of the other person, they can only reach mediocre levels of substance, depth and, thus, satisfaction. Unfortunately, men and women from different racial and ethnic backgrounds not only suffer from sexual prejudices, but also reinforce them. Black men, for instance, are commonly described as very athletic, muscular and promiscuous, and often try to maintain these stereotypes through stylizing their bodies and adopting behaviors perpetuating the very same attitudes which are destructive and limiting to them.

In a world obsessed with sex, race is a factor which cannot be underestimated. Exploring race within the framework of sexuality reveals layers of unsettled social polemics and points at various challenges which are yet to be overcome on our way to becoming indiscriminate. Nevertheless, it serves as motivation to be more aware and mindful of the ways we objectify both ourselves, and others; more committed to being truly authentic and more sensitive to the factors which prevent us from creating valuable human connections.