The beautiful thing about travel is that it inevitably pushes your comfort zones in all sorts of ways.
My buddy Eli has been a marvelous adventure companion the past week since our paths converged. He and I have known each other on and off for 8 years, and despite being very different, I have always enjoyed and respected his ways.
We’ve gotten to drop in a lot deeper on this journey and spend more time in conversation, so we’ve had the opportunity to do a lot of sharing, a brother sister type of dynamic, where we have blunt, open discussions, sometimes about our different perspectives on things.
One such example – we are pretty much polar opposite in the way we approach the subject of touch and intimacy. He likes to share affection and sensuous touch with lots of people.
And I … don’t. I like to hold touch sacred as something to share with a partner.
After a day spent careening all over Ubud in the rain (with me crouched blindly on the back of his motorscooter under his rain poncho), we stopped for lunch and had a thorough conversation on the subject.
He has known me from a distance for years, and has seen how I hold my space solidly within a bubble of friendly isolation… holding my intimacy sacred for my king / my unmet mate / the partnership I seek, that i feel is seeking me.
I see my body as a temple, and I feel passionately devoted to holding a strong container to house and attract that which I am calling forth from the depths of my bones.
Eli knows this. He respects this about me. I understand his ways also, and I respect his freedom, openness and willingness to give loving touch to whoever he sees needs it. I used to be the exact same way.
We discuss these things. As such, he has been good humoredly nudging at my strong boundaries, encouraging me to explore what it would be like to soften them a bit. Today he was inquiring if perhaps i might wish to explore what life would be like if I allowed myself to temporarily act more like i did back in my early 20’s – when i was super affectionate and touchy-feely all the time.
Retrospectively, I judge that phase of my life as being full of unconscious leaky energy. I have worked hard to cultivate my self-containment, refining my energy – and I like it that way. It is intentional.
However, I am always curious about the impact of stretching the bars of my self-imposed cages, even while I maintain the principles and value systems I hold dear.
His argument was that you don’t know if you’ll enjoy it until you try it… and that my strong boundaries are based partially on theoretical loyalty to a hypothetical idealized soulmate who may never show up, or even exist.
Hey, what is life if not an opportunity to assert, examine, test, and then reassert boundaries and preferences… on a daily, updating basis?
After a lengthy debate, I decided to go to Ubud’s contact improv dance class. … just check out the scene … maybe see how it felt to melt with a stranger.
As a sensitive human who prefers touch only by invitation, (with people i resonate with on many levels), I have always been resistant to the concept of sweaty strangers in a room, rubbing all over each other, essentially making love with clothing on.
I love to dance alone, and to make love with rhythm within my own little bubble of solidarity, melting into the music with my eyes closed, going into a deep prayerful trance of ecstasy. I don’t usually let anyone dance with me. But when I watch people doing contact improv, i admit it does look like fun. It looks beautiful, like swans dancing neck to neck.
Little did I know i was walking into a highly sensualized, PG-13 rated, clothing optional, very very sweaty contact improv class … a perfect recipe for a very uncomfortable MaeMae.
(Where to begin … where to begin…)
I walked into the Paradiso, the venue where the dance was held. Just as I was paying my fee, Eli walked through the door with one of his lovers. We all walked up the stairs together, stepping over little cards on each stair step that said “shhh”
We were greeted at the top of the steps by a woman in sheer lacy white pants, who burned Palo Santo, and smudged each of us.
I entered the ballroom to find a man giving a detailed introduction of the practice, informing people about boundaries (ie: “do not press your cock against anyone… unless they want you to”)
Then he said something that i really resonated with …. “I want you to examine tonight if your boundaries protect you or if they limit your experience. “
I was totally available to explore this inquiry. Do my boundaries define my value systems and sculpt a container for my desired life experience, or do they prevent me from fully exploring the depths of life’s potential spontaneous dynamics? I’m willing to examine this.
In my early 20’s I was so wide open, a playful wild faerie … I was a compulsive massage giver. My heart was always bursting with love for people, and I couldn’t talk to anyone without picking up their arm and massaging it. I couldn’t hug someone without launching into a full body standing massage in the middle of where ever we happened to be.
I was totally quirky. I probably violated a lot of people’s boundaries without meaning to. I had the best of intentions. Fortunately i was a cute 20 something girl, so i got away with it. But part of growing up was learning that this was not who i wanted to be.
I saw how the men I admired, was attracted to, and wanted to be with , were chi gong master types who didn’t leak sexual energy, but rather, directed it like a laser beam towards their beloved. I wanted to attract men like that. I wanted to be a woman like that. So I cultivated my boundaries.
So here i am, years later. Boundaries strong. Sexual energy harnessed and directed. Laser beam focused. Feeling perhaps a little too isolated. Attempting to find the middle ground.
I showed up to this dance ready to drop my walls and be receptive to a singular experience of intentional boundary pushing.
For the first few minutes, the teacher asked us to walk around the room, lightly pushing people when we walked past them, and allowing our trajectory to shift in the direction of the push.
This was fun. This felt like a playful kindergarten game. Then he asked us to start lightly brushing up against the arms of the people we passed. I felt my red flags start to rise up at the thought of random people’s sweat rubbing on me.
“This is just the beginning of the dance,” I thought, “no one is sweaty yet. I can handle this. Just stick it out for a second and push your edge.”
Next came “feel free to remove your shirts, men and women, this is a clothing optional dance.”
Red flag at half mast.
We were instructed to stop in front of the next person we touched. I stopped in front of a tiny 4 foot tall Asian girl. We were invited to make eye contact. I love eye gazing. I watched as her flickering lowered eyelids melted away into a sweet presence of shy trusting warmth.
Then we were guided to hold our hands up in front of each other, and feel the radiant heat coming off of each other’s hands. I love stuff like this. Energy games. Chi balls. I can handle this.
We walked around the room some more, and were told to stop in front of a new partner. This time i stopped in front of a young girl. We were instructed to take turns lightly touching our partner’s skin with the backs of our hands.
I wasn’t entirely comfortable with this, as it kind of felt like the teacher was not taking into consideration whether these two random people actually wanted to be sensuously stimulated by each other. But I went with it.
As a woman who identifies as being straight, I have never really touched another woman sensuously. I felt uncomfortable, but participated in the exercise, really mindful of keeping my energy clean, moving from a space of healing energy, not allowing any sensuous or sexual energy to move through my channels.
Then it was her turn to touch me lightly while I stood with my eyes closed. I did so, and it was interesting, observing the sensory stimulation and my body’s pleasure response, despite my lack of attraction or desire for the giver of the experience. I generally reserve my intimate sensuous space for partners i also share heart space with.
I often have had full body orgasms just from from sensuous, subtly inclined partners who had spent hours touching my back (and only my back) lightly. So to be brought into that tingling space of electricity from a stranger … and woman … was bizarre and curious . The line between sensual and sexual is such a fine one… and for me, a lot of my sexuality is expressed through my sensuousness …
Hmm. Boundary number one, pushed. And I’m still feeling safe. Mission accomplished.
As a musician, I’m super sensitive to energy transmitted through the voice. As we shifted partners again, I suddenly noticed the temperature in the room shift and get charged with a sense of lecherous testosterone, through the transmissions coming from the microphone.
The more the teacher talked, the more his voice seemed to drip with provocative innuendo. He seemed to be encouraging sexuality, not just dance or communion. He also seemed to be encouraging people to push each other’s boundaries without necessarily checking in. Hmmm….
We were instructed to move onto our third partner of the evening and that’s when shit started getting funky for me. I got chosen by a tall lanky guy with curly hair. We were told to place our hands on each other’s shoulders and start massaging each other. He started digging in awkwardly and aggressively. I really didn’t enjoy how he was touching me, but for some reason I kept pushing myself to just surrender to it. Just as I was about to call it quits, the teacher told us to switch partners again. I was relieved.
I looked over at Eli, trying to get his attention and have him do a brotherly intervention for me, and help me have some kind of a positive non-creeper experience, but he was blissfully immersed in a connection with a lovely young lady. I am super independent and capable of handling my own shit, so I decided to just call it quits before things got up in my personal space any deeper.
I was right on the cusp of walking out, but as I walked to pick up my things I was approached by a bald, shirtless, profusely sweating man, who quite frankly was giving off a pungent body odor that was an assault to my nasal passages. I got roped into his vortex and decided I’d stay for just a minute longer.
We were instructed to go to the next level of contact, and begin draping our bodies over each other (well that accelerated quickly!) My partner tried, but i kept blocking him and dodging his attempts to press his body on me. (Creepy! Creepy alert!)
I wouldn’t let him touch more than my hand, trying to avoid the pools of sweat that were dripping off of him, but somehow he managed to angle himself against me and rub his glistening sweat on my exposed skin.
Red alert! Red Alert! SO much nothankyouverymuch happening there! So much no!
I found myself in a familiar old predicament that i remember well from the days when i didn’t have good boundaries. Not wanting to be touched by someone, but not wanting to hurt their feelings or make them feel rejected. Thus, remaining in an uncomfortable circumstance trying to people please.
I kept moving backwards across the room, creating distance between our bodies, and he kept pursuing. I kept dodging his sweat. He kept trying to rub it on me. It was an awkward ballet.
I kept waiting for the facilitator to tell us to switch partners but he didn’t. He just left me there, teamed up with the most foul smelling sweaty man I have ever touched. As the music swelled and crescendoed, my partner managed to wrap himself across my entire back, leaving a snail trail of stench all over me.
Just then I smelled a burst of male testosterone, a pure, pheromonal, nauseating puff of fragrance. When my lovers emanate phermones, it turns me on and activates me. When random sweaty dude sprays me, I lose it.
That was it. Red flags waving wildly in the wind. Annnnd I’m out.
I bowed to him with hands together. Then walked away, grabbed my bag, and slipped out the door as quickly as I could.
Looking back at the room on my way out, it appeared to be the scene of a mass orgy, humans writhing all over each other in various states of clothed lovemaking.
It was so not my scene. More power to them, but no thank you.
I would love to participate in all of those exercises, at home, in private, with a beloved with whom I have cultivated intimacy. But with a group of random sweaty strangers? Nope. Not happening.
I went home and immediately showered and scrubbed my skin fiercely.
Even with all the various ways I have challenged myself and pushed my boundaries on this journey, this was the first time i got a clear “oh HELLLL NO” from my nervous system.
In answer to the teacher’s inquiry — yes, sometimes boundaries do separate you from the world … but sometimes you just really WANT to be separated from certain experiences. And sometimes boundaries are there for a very good reason.
I treasure my precious body temple, and strive to protect it and keep it clean and clear and sacred.
I’m glad i tested myself just to confirm that – yes – I love my boundaries. And I especially love not having random pheromones and sweat rubbed all over me, thankyouverymuch.