Monday, March 31, 2014

Did I Just Have a Date?

I may have actually had a possible blind date. But, I'm not sure.
I'm serious.

I don't know if it was or not.

I belong to a social organization called MeetUp.

Through MeetUp, people can organize smaller groups based on interests as varied or specific as they want. If someone wants to organize a group for Jane Austen lovers or Gay Left-Handed Aquarian Pomeranian owners, they can. Then the leader of the group schedules events around the focus of the group. And those who can attend, meet up and socialize. 

Anyway, I belong to a couple of MeetUp groups, some with an LGBT focus, some not. 

I received an email from a guy with a question about an event I had suggested for the Gay Photographers' group I belong to. 

He also sent a second email about an event a separate LGBT-oriented social club that he belonged to was hosting and he thought it would be another great opportunity to take some great photos; whale watching.

I replied and thanked him for sharing it with me, and said I'd check it out.

And then I did what any normal hot-blooded gay male would do; I checked out his profiles on MeetUp and the other club.  Between his two profiles, I gathered that he was young, I would say, about 25. He was Asian, and a classical musician.  He was looking for friends and networking.  Not a lot to go on.

He replied and asked me to seriously consider going as he was and it would be nice to know someone on the boat.

But, wait. We hadn't met, yet. Red flags, bells, sirens and whistles all started going off in my head......

Yet, what did I have to lose? At the very least, I'd be out of the house, probably see some whales, and have a nice afternoon. So, I applied to join this new club, was approved and then bought my ticket. I emailed him, said I was going and got a one word reply, "Yay!" All this took place the week before the trip. As the day approached, the organizer announced there might be 40 people attending, then it grew to 50. 

I hadn't been around so many gay men at once in a long time, especially without an escape hatch. I'd be trapped in my anxiety on a boat with a young Asian man seemingly interested in me solely based on my profile photo. 

Where's my Xanax?

I went ahead and went, even though I was in the second day of a headache, a possible low grade migraine, brought on by anxiety and other stressors.

So, I'm sitting on the boat, trying to find this guy which, statistically, shouldn't be hard to do, but I wanted to be sure as there were a few Asian men on the boat. None of them seemed to match the photo I was looking at on my phone, though I suspected I had spotted him behind the over-sized sunglasses. I checked my email and there was one from him with his phone number.

I dialed. The man I was looking at answered. 

"Hi, I'm here on the boat and I think I've spotted you," I said.

We hung up, I walked over and we exchanged pleasantries. 

"How could you not know it was me? I'm the only Asian on the boat." 

"No, there are a couple of others, and I wanted to be sure I introduced myself to the right guy." 

"Okay," he said, laughing a bit too dramatically. 

It went screechingly downhill from there. He was older than I was expecting. I'd now put him in is mid- to late 30s as he had a few gray hairs and heavy crows' feet. He had a heavy accent so what I could hear between the wind and the conversations going on around us was difficult to understand.  The conversation became somewhat forced as he sometimes didn't always return the question; he'd answer mine but not ask any of his own. I felt I was serving aces in a tennis match, nothing was being returned.  And we still had two hours left on this two-and-a-half-hour excursion.  How many trips to the head could I make?
Two young women, not attending with our group, were seated near him, okay, near us, and we seemed to become a foursome. One of them wanted a group picture and "Quick, Jeff! Get in here!" and suddenly I was pulled into this group shot with Asian Guy and these two young women. 

After a few more moments of alternating stony silence and stilted conversation, I just went to the lower deck to the bow. I promptly got splashed as we were heading into the wind and crested a wave. As there was more sun on the lower deck, I chose to remain below to dry off. (And check out the other men while there.)
I remained below until the ship docked some fifteen minutes later, and it wasn't until I was off the deck and in my car I saw a text message of the picture of the four of us, and a message wondering where I'd gone, as "we can't find you." We? He'd enlisted the two women in a search party? 
And one last message, "Did I say something to offended (sic) you?" 

So, was that a date? No one ever said the 'd' word? Maybe it was. After all, he asked me to consider an event, so we could meet, kind of like an online meeting. But, neither organization was designed for online dating. So, does it count as a date?

Well, anyway, it was an adventure and we saw five baby gray whales, and one even breached! 
Damn, my camera wasn't ready!

To explore MeetUp in your area, click here.

Monday, March 24, 2014

My Magnificent Seven

I have said seven is a powerful cosmic number. For me anyway. We hear of the seven deadly sins, the seven wonders of the Ancient World. I could go on but this post would be seven pages long.

I have always loved animals. As a young boy I would read about them, study them, want all kinds of them as pets, from orcas to tigers. We usually ended up with dogs, cats, plus the occasional aquarium or parakeet. Nothing exotic.

In third grade in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, I first studied the Native American cultures, focusing on the Great Plains, the Southwest, and the Pacific Northwest. I was intrigued by their life, their culture, and their Spirituality.

About twenty years ago, I had a vision where a bear and a ferret appeared to me. Upon further investigation/meditation I felt this was a pull towards Shamanism, the indigenous art of tuning in to Nature to heal oneself and others. As I began my investigation into Shamanism, I believed it was the right path for me, as I felt I had outgrown religion, it was no longer serving me any purpose. I consulted a Native American elder who gave me instructions on how to begin to open up to the Ancent Ways. He confirmed that Bear and Ferret were indeed here to help guide me on my path. Each had a lesson for me: Bear teaches me to find the answers to my questions within myself. I have the answers, I must hibernate, go within myself to find them; Ferret teaches me to be observant to the world and situations around me. Ferrets are cunning and have acute senses reminding me to be open to all of mine, including intuition to better understand myself and the world around me.

Life, marriage and divorce got in the way and I didn't keep to my studies. 

Lately, I have become more and more convinced that Shamanism is exactly the path for me.

According to some Native American traditions, you may have seven Spirit Guides, or totems, walking with you: one for each of the four directions -North, East, South, West; and one each for Above, Below, and Within. 

Some traditions say you may have nine, the seven I mentioned above and one on the left side, the other on the right.
In a counseling session using guided meditation, I noticed a male sparrow flitting back and forth between Bear, walking on my left, and Ferret, scampering around on my right. Sparrow became my third totem (Within) and teaches me to sing my song, to be myself, to honor my self-worth and that I am a survivor.  

In a workshop I took on Shamanic journeys, I shared my vision with the leader who said he saw a swan around me. I was open to the idea and later had an experience where I connected with Swan. Swan teaches me to honor the grace and inner beauty of all around me including my own, and to honor and accept the healing, evolution and transformation going on in my life. Swan also is a totem to honor one's own self-esteem. (Does the story of the Ugly Ducking sound familiar?) And on an interesting side note, Swans mate for life.

Following the workshop, I enrolled in a class on the foundations of Shamanism the leader was teaching and one session would be where we would get a Spirit Guide. Since I now had four, I wasn't sure what to expect: would I continue to bond with the four I had, or strengthen my bond with Swan, my newest? Or, knowing I could possibly have seven, would I meet another? 

I was not expecting what happened.

After a brief discussion on Spirit Guides, the teacher began the ceremony for the calling of the Guides. First, he secured the room, cleansing it of negative energy, while getting us into a relaxed meditative state. I went to the meadow where I first met Bear and Ferret in my original vision. They were there off in the distance, Sparrow flitting between them. A stag was walking around the meadow. I had met a stag in another guided meditation, but as he didn't appear with Bear and Ferret, I took it as a one time lesson, rather than another Guide: be gentle with myself, because I am learning as I walk along my path, I am bound to make a mistake or two. No big deal. Stop punishing myself. And being that it is a stag, I am to honor my masculine energies; as Deer, in general, teaches us to be gentle and compassionate toward others, it does not lessen me as a man to be gentle and compassionate. 

In the second part of the ceremony, the calling of the protection and Guardians, I suddenly felt warm and protected and had the sensation of being wrapped in wings made of white feathers. I looked up and saw Swan taking her place Above.  A small sensation in my back told me Stag had taken up his position Behind me. 

The teacher started the actual calling of the Guides, so more could still happen.

As I focused on a closed door in my mind, I felt peaceful. It opened and a male lion walked through. He walked toward me and began nuzzling me as a cat would. He turned around and took up a position in Front of me. As the teacher began to close the ceremony, my feet began to tingle and I looked down to see an anaconda Below me.
 Lion teaches me to trust my feminine energies of creativity, intuition and imagination. As lions spend time relaxing, and work when they need to, I need to take more time to relax and work when necessary. In ancient Egypt, a lion cub represented the rising sun, the dawn of a new day or era: the rising of a new me, my true self is rising to the surface. Lions can also represent courage, perhaps I need courage to be myself? My true self? And as lions are the only cat that has lives in social groups, perhaps that is part of Lion's message; I need to socialize more.

Snakes shed their skin to slough off the old to start anew. I am shedding old habits and behavior patterns to start my new life. Snakes are often misunderstood today. In ancient cultures, they were often revered. Isn't a snake or two on the Caduceus, the ancient symbol for medicine and healing? As an anaconda is a type of constrictor, I am being constricted by something and need to uncover what it is. Perhaps I am constricting myself by not being as open and honest with my emotions, and what I truly want in life. Or, my internalized homophobia is constricting me from truly accepting, enjoying and appreciating my authentic gay self.

Every one of these messages has so deeply resonated with me, I am more convinced I need to further my practice and studies.

And to honor and strengthen my bond with my Guides.

My very own Magnificent Seven.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Demons, Karma and Sex

A recent conversation left me feeling all out of sorts. 

Really out of sorts.

I can suffer from General Anxiety Disorder, and insomnia, both of which can then trigger my angina and vertigo, and then also feed each other. Coupled with a couple of very stressful weeks at work, the timing and topic of this conversation sent me into an emotional tailspin and then the vertigo and insomnia reared their ugly heads, which kept me up at night feeding the anxiety because of the fatigue. Toss in some angina and I was a real mess.

It was suggested to me I wasn't being completely honest with myself about being in a particular place for the reason I stated, that I may have actually had secondary motives.

And that's what did it. 

In certain circumstances, I can understand people having subconscious secondary motives for choices they make. Recently, I went out to a gay bar to simply "get out of the house." It was also suggested I went there to find a boyfriend, or at least a possible hookup. That may be partly true. Well, the boyfriend part, anyway. I have admitted to wanting to meet men and perhaps begin dating. Yet, I have written ad nauseum about the possibility of finding the quality of man I'm looking for in a bar; it's like shopping for Tiffany's at a K-Mart. It ain't likely to happen. Possible, yes; probable, no. Having twice settled for less that what I deserve, and being utterly miserable later on in the relationships, I'm much more gun shy, especially in bars where the idea of just a hookup is on most peoples' agendas. 

Not necessarily on mine.

However, in the situation I'd mentioned above, I went to a wildlife reserve, a place I'd been before to walk and take some photographs.  This time, I went in order to meditate and to spiritually connect with nature. Yet this place is also known for attracting lewd behavior. Signs are posted warning that the area is patrolled by plainclothes policemen. Because I knew the signs were there, because of my prior visits, it was suggested I went there this time to possibly hookup. And not being honest with myself about that. I was using my spirituality as a cover up.

After the initial anger over having my motives questioned subsided, I reflected on the idea. Had I gone there knowing what I knew in the hopes of a quickie in the bushes or at my home up the street? My gut reaction was a knee jerking "BullFuckingShit, no!" 

And then I began to ask myself what will it take for me to take that particular step? To just hookup.

The answer came to me in a flash: karma. 

Many gay men and women have some form of internalized homophobia from growing up in today's world. They may not admit it, or even be aware of it. Our churches tell us we're evil and sinful, our families might reject us, we live in fear of maybe losing our jobs, our relationships aren't treated equally. And therefore, many of us lessen our self-esteem and self-worth because of it. Times are indeed changing and maybe the next generation of LGBTQ people won't suffer as many others have and still do.

I know I suffer from some form of it.

Everyone, gay or straight, suffers from some battle of some sort. We do not know what battle scars others have. Having been down the road of cheap, meaningless sex for the sake trying to find a boyfriend, and acceptance from others, and often with men I wasn't even attracted to, I ended up feeling empty, hollow, and hating myself.

I've come too far to risk backsliding into that demon-filled abyss once again. I'm afraid I wouldn't make it back out.

So, where does karma fit in?

I may not be one for quick, anonymous sex with a total stranger in park bushes. Or five minutes after just meeting in a bar or some other location. I need time to develop some connection with him, even if the encounter may be for a night. 

I may not understand someone else's life choices, they are who they are, just as I am who I am. If they are comfortable with their choices and where they may be, that's their life; but having been down that road of self-hatred due to cheap, meaningless sex, I cannot add to someone else's own possible negative self-image by using them for my own cheap thrills. I realize we all make our own choices, and possibly adding to someone's possible negative self-image is not one I choose to make. Even if he wants me to.

After all, it's my karma.