Burn Babies Burn

This was my third time at burning man but my first time to stay all the way to the end and have a personal encounter with the ‘fire god’ at the burning of the temple on the last day. Read on for more.

Temple burn (photo by Liz Altmiller)

Temple burn (photo by Liz Altmiller)

Despite my cynicism and eversion from religion, already at my first burn it was obvious this was a place for me. Black rock city is one of the few places I don’t have to inhibit my “strangeness”, a place where I can push my boundaries and explore without scaring others or getting arrested.

upgraded mood badges, thanks Ashley Newton for the idea of adding an interactive dial.

upgraded mood badges, thanks Ashley Newton for the idea of adding an interactive dial.

This year I brought practice swords and challenged people to dual. I experimented with latex body parts asking people to explore their sense of touch. Played truth or dare with strangers using my modified mood badges. I even took my first totally naked bike ride (after padding the bike seat).
No other place has so many opportunities for learning new stuff and practicing problem solving. As I explained last year, no other place is so inducing of improvisation and play.

As part of the build crew in my camp I learnt to drill in wood, tie knots, build shade structures and more. Exploring the workshops in the city I increased my jumping distance in a parkour lesson,  practiced clenching each butt cheek separately in a twearking class, learnt some poi tricks, did some metal work, as well as gave a mini lecture on my psychedelic work, learnt about the possible future of genetic engineering from industry leaders and so much more.

metal

I made this.

Revisiting Past Vs. Present
Returning to the same place with some of the same people allowed me to get glimpses of my progress in some domains. Each year I have gone to the roller disco and stumbled around. This year was no different until my eye caught a women who knew what she was doing. The past year I have been learning a lot about the motor system and have been practicing letting my mirror system take over. I looked at this roller disco women and ‘became her’. Suddenly there was stability in my movement. What had changed? I noticed how my head had moved forward over my toes, allowing the toes and feet to connect to the ground and control the movement. My ankles were not strong enough to maintain this posture for more than a few minutes at a time but I was so greatful and amazed at my body’s ability to learn.

Hammock forest with climbable two stories of hammocks. Structurally sound with no knots!

Hammock forest with climbable two stories of hammocks. Structurally sound with no knots! (photo by Liz Altmiller)

Since this was my 3rd year with the couch burning camp which tends to have many virgin burners I could contribute much more to camp then previous years. We were a very small and hardworking group of builders that set up almost everything within two days. We were one of the first camps to have an open bar, music, chill space (and showers for members) even before official doors opened. The efficiency of the small crew was total bliss for me until the third day when we doubled our workforce which resulted in the productivity halving. A strange variant of the bystander effects seemed to be taking place.

On my first burn, the visit to the temple, a place that naturally emerged in burn culture to allow for morning and letting go of loved ones did nothing to me. I was too emotionally blocked to feel anything. Last year I collapsed. Thanks to my connection with Shlomo parts of my limbic emotional system had been reconnected but they had the maturity of an undeveloped baby and were overwhelmed by sensing  everyone’s pain and sadness. I collapsed to the ground shaking and crying like a little baby and could barely crawl out of there. This year I entered more prepared. If this brain can mirror physical states it can mirror emotional states too. I asked Shlomo to walk in the temple with me holding my hand and he agreed to be my emotional container. It wasn’t easy. Tears started streaming down and I could feel the shaking start to take over but I held on to his haמd tightly, sucking his calmness though my skin. I reminded myself that even when hurt this system isn’t a baby. It can walk, it can talk and it can breath deeply. Once breathing was stabilised things were easier. My grandmother had died this past year but I couldn’t bring myself to write her name in the temple. It was too much of a religious act, like writing a note in the wailing wall. Instead, when we left the temple I told shlomo about her. How she was the strongest female role model in my life and how it hurt me to see her stubbornness and belief in religion stand in her way of growth and happiness.
Despite the success of the temple visit later that night these baby networks awoke with wave after wave of perceived pain. I’m not sure I’ll ever know what is the reason for the pain these networks recorded because whatever the reason is, it is long gone but live echos of the original pain remain unchanged by the flow of time. I felt the temple burn might be my last chance to try to get these networks to update their model before I head home and I really didn’t want to head home with all this pain.

Burnt temple. (Photo by Liz Altmiller)

Burnt temple. (Photo by Liz Altmiller)

So there I was sitting in a mostly silent crowd of thousands of people waiting for the torch to be lit. Unlike the mayam of the man burn when all the art cars are blasting contradicting music and stinking the area with gasoline fumes, the temple burn is sober and calm. Suddenly the temple was lit up in massive flames, a wave of heat flowing over the crowd. I was in an almost hypnotic state staring at the largest fire I have ever come close to. Fire is the release of stored solar energy, as Feynman explains and this fire could release the painful stored information in my brain as well, this was the time to burn the babies.  ‘Death brings new life’ something deep in this brain was chanting. ‘We can be like fire, flowing, changing and powerful’. Another part of my brain was doing statistical calculation, understanding that the painful sample recorded early on was still just a sample, not the entire reality. Many babies might never feel this type of pain, and even if it ever had any adaptive survival value it doesn’t have that anymore.

Aftermath
Two weeks in such harsh dry conditions with constant lack of sleep and massive amounts of novelty and emotional upheaval leave some long lasting effects. I’m still tired, my pores overcompensating for dryness are now giving me pimples and swollen tingling finger tips, parts of my dusty hair might need to be chopped off. On the emotional side I’m carefully optimistic. These baby networks are still babies, they haven’t been fully integrated into the rest of the brain and babies are oversensitive and confused and cry sometimes but at least it seems that they aren’t automatically biased to predict and experience massive amounts of pain and now it’s up to my grownup parts together with the incredible support I have from my loved ones to help them grow up healthy.

Fusion

I just got back from my first big ‘non burning-man’ festival and have some thoughts and stories to share. From the first moment I kept trying not to compare this festival to ‘Burning man’ and just see it as a thing of itself. But brains, they love comparing.

Workshop area, slack line, and capoeira in the background

Workshop area, slack line and capoeira in the background

The Set Up
The entry line into the festival was split into 2, those with cars and those on foot. I came on the festival bus so was lucky to enter after less than an hour of waiting. A friend in a car waiting 6 hours. Despite being told Id’s would be checked to confirm the ticket ownership that didn’t happen.
Despite lots of “no border” signs and “refugees welcome” banners, the festival had three layers of gates and guards. There was one border for entering from the outside world into the camping area, then another for entering from the camping area to the main festival area and then another for entering the area for families that had many circus tents and performances. Every time you left the main area you got this green token you had to give back when you entered. Obviously at some point I lost it and had to go to the entrance with an ID to get another one.
The camping area is ‘first come first conquer’, no real order and just groups of people taking up as much space for their friends that will arrive later. It was overly crowded by the second day and snoring strangers could be heard all around me.
A strange moment was passing through one of these check points which had only black security guards. This under privileged minority getting some amount of power over the privileged seemed to result in them taking their job much more seriously than the rest of the guards I encountered. It was a very strange scene, while they were making sure to be ‘in charge’ they were still there ones working, supposedly for our enjoyment.

The workshops 

My pyramid graffiti

My pyramid graffiti

This was probably the favorite part of the festival for me. The workshops were consolidated in two area’s so even without a schedule I could just pass by and was guaranteed something interesting was happening.
Dance, martial arts, sewing BDSM clothing, making jewelry, discussing utopias, graffiti were some of the things I attended. Some of the workshops did require extra money for the materials.
There were also many very high level circus, theater and dance performances.

The Art
I was impressed by the amount and quality of the art works. No it wasn’t burning man but it was damn good. Many of the art works had an interactive element which made them even more awesome. There were also random Telephone lines around the place which you could call and hopeful someone would answer. I tried communicating with some strangers this way but honestly I was never very good with phones.

The Germans

One of the strange things I wore... ended up taking it all off and dancing topless within 5 min.

One of the strange things I wore… ended up taking it all off and dancing topless within 5 min.

I was surprised at how German the festival was. Yes, it is in Germany but I was expecting a more international feeling. All the signs were in German and the vast majority of people were German and the largest drug consumption was by far alcohol. I was also disappointed at the almost total lack of nudity. I was the only one walking around topless and encountered only one nude guy. We talked briefly sharing our surprised at all these clothed people at a festival that is described as “clothing optional” especially since most of the time the weather was warm and sunny. The same goes for cool costumes. You could see them here and there but there idea of contributing to the festival with personal costumes hasn’t gotten hold. I was also surprised at the relative lack of queer/trans visibility.

The Food and Garbage Economy
Within the first day piles and piles of garbage were mounting everywhere. In order to combat this the festival provides everyone with a garbage bag and if you return a full bag with a part of your ticket you receive 10 euro’s. Many people were collecting bottles probably to recycle outside of the festival. I was walking around with my burner cup asking the food stales to use it. The food itself was vegetarian only and very cheap for around 3.5-5 euro’s you could get a great meal. I noticed that the fact that money was still involved in interactions with the food servers made us less friendly towards each other. Unlike burning man, this person was not volunteering their time for the community and thus attempting to connect to it, they were doing it so they could take the money they earned and go have fun somewhere else.

The music
The main area of the festival wasn’t so big and massive sound systems were bleeding into each other causing a massive amount of chaotic mess in most areas. I was impressed with myself when my ears actually recognized some funktion one speakers at one of the main electronic music stages. As I got closer my eyes recognized them too. As for music there was a very large variety, which were the idea of “fusion” is supposed to stem for. There were even robots playing music and classical piano concerts. One again I realized how little of my brain actually finds music (without dancing) recharging. Trying to just listen to music a little voice in my head went “This information is not relevant for survival”.

In Conclusion
I did have a great time, mostly because I learnt a lot and made a new friend in one of the workshops but for the future I’ll probably save my money for Burning Man.

Mayhem @Berghain

The Berghain started out as a gay club in Berlin in 2004. Today it’s incredibly famous for its subculture as well as techno music . Here is my take after a weekend adventure in Berlin.

Preparations, black pants and practicing a bored ennoyed look

Preparations, black pants and practicing a bored ennoyed look

The Berghain is not a club people come to have fun in, it is a place of worship with strict entry rules. The general idea is to maintain its unique environment by keeping mainstream tourists away. If you want to get in you have to look like someone who has already been there. Dressing in black and looking unhappy is a good start. I came with a friend, a regular known to the guards so there wasn’t any problems. We still came sunday morning to avoid the que. I got stamped and returned in the evening, when the ‘returners’ line was ‘just’ 20 min. She was there for over 22 hours straight. If you get through the door prepare to be searched and pat down, a sticker will be put on your cell phone camera. Put the money on the counter, do not attempt to hand it to the worker. Why? Don’t ask why, like any other religion this is about power, you are the low level worshiper they are the druids.
The club is situated in an industrial maze of a building spread over 3 floors. The top floor, called panorama is relatively mild if you take out the little cubicles were people sometimes have sex in. There actually isn’t that much sex going on, but it does happen.
The bottom most floor where you enter has some chill spaces including an out door space with a statue of a giant penis.
On the mid level, you will find the actual Berghain. The Berghain doesn’t play music, it plays techno war drums. People there do not dance, they put on their war face and go to battle, stomping and elbowing their fists beating the air. Hour after hour in a sweaty frenzy they will release their anger in a strange sublimation ceremony. Be it anger at patriarchy, frustration with social norms or just personal hardship, the clubbers will battle their way until monday morning. For those who last until the end I was told there is a type of catharsis, an addictive release. No matter how much I tried I couldn’t connect to this for more than a few minutes at a time. Due to my martial arts training I release anger in short sprouts against opponents or a punching bag. With out the feeling of impact my anger goes no where.

The Bathrooms
Like many other clubs the bathroom is also a type of kitchen were people go to consume. If your looking for nourishment I was told you should find the most Italian looking guy standing in or near the bathroom and ask.
For those of you that actually need to pee and can’t use the urinals there is a bathroom with out a door on the second floor that has almost no line. If you are shy bring a friend to stand in front of it or ask someone around otherwise you might have to wait for half an hour or longer.

German Efficiency
I lost the tiny wallet I brought with me that had 50 euros and this mettle numbered card to the gardiova, where my coat and cell phone were hanging. I was dreading trying to get them back but they had an amazing efficient procedure. Fill in forms, describe your stuff, be able to provide proof that it’s yours, for instance be able to unlock the phone. Then go through the lines of hanging coats one by one with a worker. Luckley my friend remembered the general vicinity the coat was taken to so after a few min of going through black leather jackets,(some one say needle in a hay stack?) I found it. Just as I did, someone returned my metal card saying they found it on the floor. The wallet with 50 euro wasn’t with it. This was still nice as it saved me paying 10 euro for the lost card.

Safety
Early on I took off my shirt and was dancing topless. This was a non issue even though only a small minority of women were doing the same. Despite the overwhelming crowded environment people stayed civil and there were no aggressive pushers or potential sexual predators to be weary of. The only harassment came from a friend of a friend, who decided it was ok to slap my butt while dancing. He was quickly corrected by me going berserk on him, although as a friend of a friend I didn’t break his nose. It ended with lots of apologises on his side and gifted ice cream. I hope he will never do that again. There was also a strange scene in the bar in Panorama. There was a ridiculously hot women who I literally gave my place in line to so I could start a conversation with. The female bartender brought over some ice and told this women she would like to put some ice in her cleavage. We all laughed, then the male bartender just stuck a straw in the womans cleavage which was totally inappropriate. She got comped free chasers but was still irritated. Maybe she went down to the Berghain to stump her rage out at idiot men who have 0 ability to take other people’s perspective and act on their first impulse.

Psychedelic Science

I just came back from ICPR, The interdisciplinary conference on psychedelic research, where I presented my work, a theoretical model based on the predictive processing framework and current Neuroscience data that explains the psychedelic phenomenon. It was really well received and many people asked to have access to the slides and manuscript for the paper me and my supervisor are writing so here they are:

PowerPoint

Manuscript

I’m all for sharing data so use it as you wish but please give us credit for this work.

And here is an ameture vid taken of the lecture itself.

 

I’ll end with a few anthropological experiences and very interesting data I learned in other lectures so read on if you are interested:

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Lunch time

In the last conference I went to I was the only one that sat on the grass and ate lunch, getting stared at by all the other participants siting at the tables. This conference was a lot more laid back. Lots of us took our Lunch to sit on the edge of the canal. Many deep, personal and meaningful conversations were going on all around and I made some very interesting friendships I hope will last.

The biggest surprise to my was how much Ayahuasca research was going on and what a big part of the conference that was, most likely because in many countries it is still legal and used by many as a religious and healing ritual.

One of the most interesting finding it this research was that Harmine, a substance in Ayahuasca, seems to induce neurogenesis, creating more neurons in the brain. This can have massive implication for many degenerative diseases.

got gifted this beautiful coloring book by the artist!

got gifted this beautiful coloring book by the artist!

The down side of focusing on this research is the massive use of the word ‘spirituality’ which I am highly allergic to, due to my religious upbringing and very skeptical thought panels. The conference had two panels running at the same time, neuroscience vs spirituality. The spiritual panel got the bigger room and a much bigger audience. I seemed to be the only one concerned with this. When I asked about the scientists thought’s on this in the neuroscience panels I wasn’t taken seriously and got the answer “Well we are reductionists so we are ok with the small room”.

Partially to combat this ‘spiritual’ take over, and mostly because I found it amusing, I walked around with my rubber hand showing people how easy it is to trick their brain into thinking a rubber hand is a part of them. Explaining the brain is a predictive machine that just correlates sensory inputs and that these feeling of ‘oneness’ happen when you mess around with these predictive abilities and the brain stopes being able to differentiate between the self-organism and the environment. For me these explanations don’t reduce the ‘magic’ of psychedelics they increase them, but I always loved seeing behind the scenes of how magic tricks work.

This is not to say that we can’t learn from traditional rituals but we should sift through the data carefully. And just to show that I’m not totally closed minded here is a great story from the Ayahuasca tradition.  A person comes to a shaman asking for advice.
‘I have two wolves inside of me. One is kind and loving and the other is full of hate and anger. Which one will take control? ‘ He asked.
The  shaman think for a moment and answers, ‘The one that is fed more’.

I love this story because this really is the essence of what we are, feedback loops. And the best thing we can do is put our self in a loving and nourishing environment and practice the things we want to get better at.

Finally, in lectures regarding MDMA therapy I was pleased to hear that some of the methods I’ve been using to deal with my shit are being used in therapy. For instance, drawing brain maps and using objects and music to anchor good memories to, so they can be easily retrieved by looking, touching the object or listening to the music.

 

 

 

Floating in the void

For ages now I’ve been itching to try a sensory deprivation tanל. This Easter I finally got the chance and it was an experience very hard to put into word. That doesn’t mean I won’t try, read on for more.

Just before closing the tank and turning off the light.

Just before closing the tank and turning off the light.

Sensory deprivation tanks have been around since the 50’s, a body temperature salt water bath that is enclosed in a totally dark booth with sound isolation. Why would someone want to try such a thing? Well these tanks were first used in experimentation trying to test the hypothesis that if all senses were cut off the brain would go to sleep. Long story short, people do not fall asleep in isolation tanks but their brain does have stronger slow theta waves seen normally right before sleeping, in meditation states and in children.     People also reported many different altered states of consciousness, hallucinations and claim that after the tank their senses were hyper strong and clear.

 

My experience

Getting into a laying down position in the tank wasn’t as easy as I imagined, every little movement would cause me body to rotate and move. It felt like I was in space. When I found a good position and turned off the lights it felt like slowly falling into an endless abyss. Everywhere around me there was nothing.

After a few minutes I began ‘seeing’ some purple color and shapes but that too went away and I had to remind myself to blink because I forgot if my eyes were open or closed. The most phantom feeling was in my feet. Occasionally I ‘felt’ my feet were touching the ground and had to wiggle my toes to make sure that they weren’t. After a few more minutes I began hearing the hum of electric machinery and at some point I was wondering about a ruckus someone with high heels was making, stomping around, but then realised it was my own heart beat. Usually when I meditate a thousand thoughts will pop up, mostly worrying about the future, school, finances and relationships. This time there were almost no verbal thoughts. My brain was very much awake and mostly silent. When I sent a query looking for the usual ‘stream’ the only thing that came back was: “All is good now, the future will come when it does”

My whole life I’ve experienced some oversensitivity to sensory stimulus, mainly in the soma sensory (touch) system. I hated wearing socks as a kid, everything would constantly itch me and drive me crazy. In kindergarten I was obsessed with sifting the sand in the sand box so I could run my hands through it without feeling all of these annoying bits and pieces. Whenever I would try to meditate in my martial arts training my senses would start ‘screaming’ and become overly irritated. I was hoping that this deprivation tank will help answer which part of my brain is causing the trouble.

Sensory deprivation tanks do not cut off your sensory input but they ‘feed’ the sensory receptors with information that has very little variance. In general, variance and change is exactly what your brain models. For those of you who have been following my posts, you should know by now that the brain is a hierarchical system with each layer explaining away and turning off the information from lower layers. Only the information that hasn’t been predicted progresses up the brain hierarchy in the form of ‘prediction errors’. So, once a stimulus stops changing our predictive mechanism easily explains it away and there is no information to communicate to higher brain areas. This will happen even with eyesight. Your eyes constantly make tiny micro movements to change the inputs of information. Without these movements, if you keep your eyes still you will go blind after a few moments, you can try this yourself.

My theory was the if the over sensitivity in my brain was due to increases top down prediction versus bottom up information, putting me in an isolation tank wouldn’t help and these prediction would enforce themselves on my perception anyway, perhaps even more so. But if my over sensitivity was due to increased precision of bottom up prediction errors steaming from my lower sensory areas than an isolation tank will decrease my symptoms. My top down predictions in these lower brain areas would finally be able to catch up and predict the over simplified sensory stimulus.

After a marvelous peaceful hour in the tank I have very little doubt that the second theory is much more likely.  I would postulate that ‘normally’ these overly precise prediction errors drive sensory input to higher areas in my brain than most people leading to a bunch of interesting symptoms and compensatory mechanisms.

Back to the real world

The lights faded in slowly yet still caught me by surprise. I climbed out of the tank and gravity immediately hit me. I wobbled around trying to get my ‘land’ legs back. In the shower, rinsing off the salt, the stream felt like a thousand little needles hitting my skin and I jumped up startled. I took my time in the waiting room, drinking some tea and trying to prepare myself for the outside world. The ‘noise’ came back again once I hit the streets.There was a sense of ‘self pity’, but instead of giving in to that I tried to top down ‘instruct’ this brain: “Try to get to those previous quiet states now that you know they exist.  I don’t know how plastic this brain is but I do believe that exposing it to this quiet state might allow it learn how to reach this state even in noisier environments.

When people ask me why I do all the strange things that I do I usually answer “because I can’t just sit down and stare at the wall in peace”. This experience has taught me that maybe I can. The wall just has to be total darkness and I have to be floating in a bath of salt water.

Finally, this has made me realize the possible benefits both in research and in therapeutic mechanisms floating can have and I will definitely be back for more. Next time I just have to remember to take out all the salt out of my ears because that’s driving me crazy now.

 

 

 

Seeing Is Believing

A friend’s visit took me to a museum exhibition that allows you to experience blindness for an hour. You navigate different locations in total blackness with only the voice of your visually impaired guide calling out to you.  Read on for some thoughts and insights about our brain.

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Ever since reading the philosophy of David Hume this realization that “I” am my sensory input has stuck with me. A year into my neuro science masters I’ll tell you that “I” am also these top down predictions that have been learnt throughout the years, but these predictions have been created in order to deal with sensory input. So what are blind people’s predictions? How do they experience the world without such a strong sense?

First we were given a cane and a crash course how to walk with it, tapping on the floor directly in front of us. While everyone just took a cane I took some time checking different sizes wanted my ‘extra’ limb to feel good.

Different sense modalities provide us with information about different distances and sight allows us to extend out world model to include further away environments. That’s why I chose a longer cane hoping that would help compensate and provide me with information about further away surroundings.

For me it was a scary experience especially leaving my eyes open. When I closed my eyes and saw nothing the prediction error wasn’t as big. But staring into total nothingness the brain refused to let go that nothing was there. “Are you seeing these white shiny dots?” my friend asked midway. As fake top down hallucinations took over her perception.

In most people alpha waves increase when closing their eyes, even compared to total darkness. This is most likely an inhibitory mechanism to prevent these false inferences. Would this still occur with blind people? Would their alpha waves of blind people be different? I couldn’t find any information on that.

I asked our guide about anxiety levels when she goes out and she said she doesn’t feel frightened unless she is going somewhere totally knew. It felt so limiting. I kept trying to find the challenge within the limitation and also remain patient because everything just takes much longer. It was also very hard that we were a bunch of ‘new’ blind people constantly bumping into each other. It was so tiring for my brain and I kept sitting down whenever I managed to feel up a bench or a sofa.

The next realization I had was that the directionality of perception spread out. Without the visual input coming from the front there was a different sense of three dimensionality, my brain was modeling the back of the body and the sides with the same amount of resources. This resulted in a slight sense of floatation.

We were taken to a fake supermarket trying to feel our way through shelves packed with stuff. I asked about technological aid and was told that some apps exist where you can take a picture and get information about it. Now I see that there is also a site where you can lend your eyes to a blind person. http://www.bemyeyes.org/. Too bad it’s just on iphone

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about what happen when two sets of eyes meet and stare at each other.  It’s not just the knowledge that someone is watching you, it’s the knowledge that they are admitting to watching you. It’s like a ‘handshake’ protocol both sides saying “Yes, I see you”.   Supposedly blind people don’t have this, they don’t know when people are ‘looking’ at them and I was wandering if this gave them some extra freedom but my guide said she somehow did have a sense of when she was being looked at.

Finally we were led into the light and I felt how the power structure changed. In the dark we were dependent on our guide to call out to us so we would follow in the right direction and now suddenly we had access to much more information than her. I thanked her for the profound experience hoping that one day she would at least be able to have a taste of our world.

 

Seeing Is Believing

A friend’s visit took me to a museum exhibition that allows you to experience blindness for an hour. You navigate different locations in total blackness with only the voice of your visually impaired guide calling out to you.  Read on for some thoughts and a recommendation to try your-self.

Ever since reading the philosophy of David Hume this realization that “I” am my sensory input has stuck with me. A year into my neuro science masters I’ll tell you that “I” am also these top down predictions that have been learnt throughout the years, but these predictions have been created in order to deal with sensory input. So what are blind people’s predictions? How do they experience the world without such a strong sense?

First we were given a cane and a crash course how to walk with it, tapping on the floor directly in front of us. While everyone just took a cane I took some time checking different sizes wanted my ‘extra’ limb to feel good.

Different sense modalities provide us with information about different distances and sight allows us to extend out world model to include further away environments. That’s why I chose a longer cane hoping that would help compensate and provide me with information about further away surroundings.

For me it was a scary experience especially leaving my eyes open. When I closed my eyes and saw nothing the prediction error wasn’t as big. But staring into total nothingness the brain refused to let go that nothing was there. “Are you seeing these white shiny dots?” my friend asked midway. As fake top down hallucinations took over her perception.  

In most people alpha waves increase when closing their eyes, even compared to total darkness. This is most likely an inhibitory mechanism to prevent these false inferences. Would this still occur with blind people? Would their alpha waves of blind people be different? I couldn’t find any information on that.

I asked our guide about anxiety levels when she goes out and she said she doesn’t feel frightened unless she is going somewhere totally knew. It felt so limiting. I kept trying to find the challenge within the limitation and also remain patient because everything just takes much longer. It was also very hard that we were a bunch of ‘new’ blind people constantly bumping into each other. It was so tiring for my brain and I kept sitting down whenever I managed to feel up a bench or a sofa.  

The next realization I had was that the directionality of perception spread out. Without the visual input coming from the front there was a different sense of three dimensionality, my brain was modeling the back of the body and the sides with the same amount of resources. This resulted in a slight sense of floatation.

We were taken to a fake supermarket trying to feel our way through shelves packed with stuff. I asked about technological aid and was told that some apps exist where you can take a picture and get information about it. Now I see that there is also a site where you can lend your eyes to a blind person. http://www.bemyeyes.org/. Too bad it’s just on iphone

 

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about what happen when two sets of eyes meet and stare at each other.  It’s not just the knowledge that someone is watching you, it’s the knowledge that they are admitting to watching you. It’s like a ‘handshake’ protocol both sides saying “Yes, I see you”.   Supposedly blind people don’t have this, they don’t know when people are ‘looking’ at them and I was wandering if this gave them some extra freedom but my guide said she somehow did have a sense of when she was being looked at.

Finally we were led into the light and I felt how the power structure changed. In the dark we were dependent on our guide to call out to us so we would follow in the right direction and now suddenly we had access to much more information than her.

 

30 Day Posture Challenge

A video with posture exercises crossed my path last month via my facebook feed. After trying the exercising and finding them extremely difficult I decided to finally listen to all my martial arts instructors and to try to get my head in the right place, literally!

The first thing I did was find a few friends to take on a monthly challenge with me, read on for our experiences including a “miracle” exercise that is helping my lower back pain immensely. P.S I am not a DR. or medical practitioner so don’t take any of this as professional advice just my own experiences. P.P.S In some of the photos in this post you will see my nipples, if you have a problem with that, don’t look.

Week 1

The first few days were filled with a lot of research, learning about posture types trying to figure out what is a good posture to begin with and trying out different exercises (see summary at the end)

I realized that correct alignment should come from the feet, where you should have 3 point support structure, toe, little finger and heel all holding the weight equally. With me the small toe doesn’t push the ground at all and that changes the whole center of gravity and moves it forward.

I also learnt about correct alignment of skeleton, having a neutral pelvic not tilting up or down, 2 cm deep curve in lower back when leaning on wall, 4 cm difference in neck, ears should be in line with shoulders and also how dangerous forward head posture could be because as we get older it will effect blood flow to our brain. Here are some video’s I liked.

Diagnostic vids

Types of postures
Correct alignment
Test posture
Dangers of forward head posture

 

On the second day I noticed how much your posture affects your visual input. Sitting in a better posture forced me to change the angle of my eyes too if I wanted to get the same visual input I’m used to falling on my Fovea. I also realized how always being short and looking up using my neck has had an effect on my posture. I’m guessing tall people have the same effect just in reverse.

 

Week 2

All three of us participating in this challenge began to feel the original exercises were getting easier. Ashley was reported decrees in her usual neck pain. On day 13 I was brushing my teeth and thinking how big my boobs look! Then I realized I was standing in a really good posture. In my regular hunched posture my boobs disappeared. I think a lot of this posture comes from when I was growing up and hated having boobs. We weren’t the most diligent bunch, and sometimes exchanged the exercises with a massage or yoga but updating each other via a joint Hackpad, reminded kept us going.

Week 3

I combed through a long Reddit post about good posture, and a few posts recommended foundation training. I was very skeptical when watching the charismatic chiropractor give this Ted talk claiming that all our problems were from sitting and that he has one exercise to fix it all. I did try the exercise though and lo and behold it has been a miracle exercise for me. It lengthens and strengthens the entire back and the next day I didn’t wake up with my chronic lower back. It actually helped me realize what the other exercises were about and do them better. Since then whenever I feel my back start to ‘twinge’ I’ll do this exercise (including morning and night) and it has an amazing affect, activating the strong back muscles that support the spine reducing the pain immediately. This has made me think that perhaps some of the stretches I have been doing weren’t good, even though they provided some immediate relief, I might have been weakening my muscles instead of strengthening them. This is always the big debate about stretches.

I also got a picture of me taken while slacklining and really didn’t like the posture I saw. I looked terrified and frozen which actually was the case. So much of our posture is based on emotional wellbeing.

 

Eran 30 day summary:

I think I am more aware of my posture, in the sense that I think about it more times during the day and try to adjust it.
Sitting in incorrect posture in bed is more painful than it was before the exercises
I think I am standing more straight.
Complete speculation and possibly unrelated – but I feel like I had more positive (more interactions and they were more positive) social interactions with strangers in the last month.

 

Ashley – 30 day summary

I think I should have focused on my lower back posture more. Especially given the focus on posture from the past month, I noticed recently how inflexible my lower back is versus my neck/shoulders. I pretty much exclusively did the #2 exercise for upper back/neck. I found that exercise was quite helpful to my upper back/shoulder posture and felt good, but also found it quite burdensome to do regularly, especially twice a day.

It helped to have the group tracking going on, and i regularly wished we were tracking other things besides the posture stuff, as it helped me keep going. that said i seemed to mostly fall off the band wagon after when i stopped doing the exercises/lost my routine. After that break in the pattern, I seemed to mostly only be able to keep up the prior routine i have in place with yoga, that I rationalized as being equivalent/inclusive of doing “posture exercises”… definitely a rationalization as my neck feels much less good than it was feeling around day 7.  I think in order to really start to improve my posture I’m gonna need to figure out a better way to integrate it into my day rather than just these annoying repetitive exercises I have to do twice a day.

My 30 day summary and before/after pics:

Hopefully I don't have to tell you what's before and what's after

Hopefully I don’t have to tell you what’s before and what’s after

The main outer difference is probably opening of my upper chest, I think my neck and shoulders still need a lot of work.

The inner difference is much less lower back pain, more awareness about posture and the deep realisation (once again) that these changes in habit must come from enjoyment and not just repetitive exercises. I now have a few different variations of exercises (see below) that I play with and include dancing/ kundalini shaking and focus on the “feel good” of the movement. Also doing this thing with friends was awesome and highly recommended. Thanks!

Summary of exercises

Foundation training basic exercise. Helps me more than I could imagine.
use foam roller slowly to open back and relax and some sitting exersizes
The basic exercise we were doing, I was also doing it laying down and sitting instead of standing sometimes
Warming up neck and chin tucks that can be done when sitting http://www.posturecisecrashcourse.com/forward-head-posture?mc_cid=b49d8e1a38&mc_eid=a24c4430d9
Finding movement and alignment in your spine
Hannan somatic stretches I’ve been doing for years on and off
Kundalini shaking
Back mobility exercises I learnt from dancers

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Coalitions

Lack of sleep and too much small talk influenced me to exit a Saturday brunch party and sit on the sidewalk in San-Francisco, hiding away from the rain that has been drenching the city for a few days.  Barley a minute passed before a homeless woman who looked around my age stood before me. She was holding a piece of cardboard in one hand and a fast-food soda drink in the other.  

“Can I sit?” She asked

“Sure,” I said, making space for her to lay down her cardboard and sit down.

She looked at me intensely for a moment.

“You’re cute that’s why you’re defensive,” she said.

I looked back at her and smiled. “They always want things from the cute ones don’t they?”

She nodded.

“They only want money from me. I inherited 8 million dollars and they took it all from me…” She began falling into her barley cohesive psychotic loop.

I wished her well, excused myself and went back into the building

A Bayesian account of ‘hysteria’ http://brain.oxfordjournals.org/content/brain/135/11/3495.full.pdf

A Bayesian account of ‘hysteria’
http://brain.oxfordjournals.org/content/brain/135/11/3495.full.pdf


Human’s are strange creatures, our brains do their best to model incoming sensory information and predict the future. Repeated patterns bind together and turn into priors, into expectations, into ‘meme’s trying to spread their recorded pattern and influence perception with their prediction. Sometimes these memes become too strong and force themselves onto any incoming signal. This can lead to depression, OCD, ‘hysteria’ and even psychosis.  This past year I have been researching this subject with a very practical goal in mind. ‘How can we get opposing memes to get along with each other? How can we create a coalition in the brain that can overcome past traumatic events that lead to over active priors?”  This very intense first weekend in SF has triggered many of these memes and some of them want to be released from this brain and out into the world.

Superheroes

On Friday I went to a unique superhero themed house party.  It began with short science lectures. Then there talks about consent and responsible usage of substances as well as the organizers offering support and suggesting a ‘safe word’ to any who might need it. This was an amazing attempt to create a safe environment. The party was spread across a three story house with many surprises throughout: a sauna,  a hidden tiny room under the stairs with images of eyes stuck on to the walls, some LED art, cuddle spaces and a VR experience, were some of the things I encountered.

Most people were conversing, cuddling, slowly migrating from one room to another to see what recharges they could find.

A messy combination of gene environment interaction shaped the brain that I belong to into something that doesn’t enjoy many of the default things most humans seem to enjoy.  Socializing is boring and tedious, cuddling is too passive. This brain needs massive amounts of novelty and activity to keep these memes busy processing information, otherwise they begin to over process the same signal and the ‘meme’s begin to fight amongst themselves. “We know this,” they will scream with burning sensations beginning to take over.

 

What will recharge you?

That’s the first question I learnt to ask. Allow your brain to create a ‘positive’ prediction of something that enough memes can participate in.

For my brain one of the defaults is movement. A massive part of your brain is devoted to predict and create movement. As long as there is enough space to allow these memes to do what they do, move the body, feel the body, expand their learnt patterns, there is enough of a ‘positive’ coalition.


At this party for instance, almost no one was dancing so the whole dance floor was free for me to start rolling/ crawling/ dancing.

Then a strange thing happened, one person sat down and began watching me, and then another and another.

Another strange quirk of fate probably due to growing up in a religious environment that was perceived as a danger, mostly allows my brain to shut down the weak incoming social signals. There are very few ‘memes’ that model what others think of me and even fewer that care.

“Do I need something from them?”

“Can they hurt me in anyway?”

“Do they want to take away my autonomy and agency, enslave me to their needs and inforce their memes into me?”

My brain does not look for social approval, love, or attention from outside sources, only for physical safety and freedom. ‘Will they let me do what I want to do?’

sketch

Some sketches drawn at the party when I got bored.

If this safety is judged not to exist my brain will enter ‘self- preservation mode’. Many memes have been specialized for just this occasion, Retreat if possible. If not, ‘maintain’ high borders, expect nothing good from anyone, show no vulnerability, activate language center to provide loads of information to overstimulate opponents, maintain physical distance if needed. If this does not result in actual physical altercation which many of these memes actually enjoy. If there is just this constant stress of an unsafe environment this will quickly wake up what I have come to call ‘the opposition’,  memes that early on in life came up with what might have been a brilliant survival tactic back then to help the brain lower anxiety. “Destruction“ as a means to maintain some level of structural integrity.  “We want to destroy everything and die” they will scream.

Interestingly I’ve noticed that when deciding if this is a safe space or not my brain seems to model not only my safety but the safety of others. I don’t think this comes from altruistic reasons just practical ones. “If others don’t feel safe, they might know something that I don’t”.

If on the other hand the environment is judged as safe then the meme “Can we play together?” will appear. And this is what happened at the party. I began playing and improvising with the small crowd until another person joined the dance. He was not a professional dancer but we explored possibilities together and at least for part of the dance entered a shared state, a mutual growth function were we both wanted the same thing. Then my brain began picking up signals, was he trying to impress me? Was he trying to lead the dance to a more sexual place? This might have been my over sensitive priors but what came out was a little improvised “Macho” dancing, my body movement becoming extremely dominate and ‘male’ like. The crowd burst out laughing and clapping and that ended the dance.

I’ve wrote a more about safe space, expectation and improvisation in the post about burning man called  “adventure mode”.  The basic idea is to create an environment of plenty and that has to start with ‘radicle self-reliance’. It is this coalition’s opinion that only when you (mostly) do not need others for your happiness, only when there is a coalition that is able to look inwards and self-recharge can there begin to be a group coalition that looks out for each other without creating co-dependent situations.

The last few months I've been creating a gratitude wall. a little art piece or something I collected that reflect something I'm grateful for

The last few months I’ve been creating a gratitude wall. a little art piece or something I collected that reflect something I’m grateful for

The last few days I’ve been asking people here what recharges them? I was surprised that most answers were about outside goals: a lot of ‘making the world a better place’ in different forms. From my perspective that has to do with spreading your memes ‘outwards’ instead of developing them inwards and this is likely to lead to even bigger conflict and neediness from the outside world to accept your contribution.

So how about being egotistical for a second (or a lifetime), filling your cup before you fill others?

Here is a partial list of the recharges I have come up with throughout my lifetime that require no other human and are legal J (in no specific order):

Dancing, sketching, making strange art, looking at the mirror, hot showers, learning new things about the brain I belong to, Climbing, punching my punching bag, creating and participating in my own behavioral experiment (even if they don’t teach me anything), reading, writing, reading what I write. masturbating, eating novel (tasty) food, watching bad superhero tv shows and imagining my own scripts that would make them way better, staring and noisy patterns and allowing my brain to impose shapes and figures on them, eating chocolate, being topless, creating my gratitude wall, searching for more self-recharges 😉

“It wasn’t a “battle” it was just life”, A dying atheist wrote in her last message to her loved ones. The brain I belong to has managed to build a coalition strong enough to try to imprint this meme. Life might have many battles in it, both internal and external, much of my life has been spent fighting them. Now, it would seem, it’s time to start building coalitions. Both within my own brain and among others I wish to share my life with.

 

Decompress

The Dutch decompression was a great reminder of the recharges burning man offers, adventures, improvisation, beyond random encounters and gifts, learning new skills, deepening connections and insights into my brain and society. Read on.

By now I’ve learnt enough about burning man to have some ideas how to maximise opportunities in this community by coming prepared. I had the beautiful LED boa Shlomo made me, some parts of my Halloween costume, some left-over mood badges and some chocolate, all of which came into play at some point in the long night.

Play Time

Choose: my makeshift costume and impro game.

Choose: my makeshift costume and impro game.

Waiting on line I began using my mood badges to entertain people (mostly myself). After entering, I was inspired by some of the art, and upgraded myself into an interactive installation/impro game. I wrote CHOOSE on my stomach and attached 2 different mood badges to my scarf. “Flirt with me” and “Teach me stuff”. I then either positioned myself as a sculpture in various corners or danced around, luring people into my game. The sad part was that every male that chose “flirt with me” (not all of them did) proceeded to try to ‘take control’, touch me and be overly aggressive. Without meaning for it I found myself giving some feminist education. The only good “flirt” was from a beautiful older woman, who proceeded to dance with me. She patiently played with the distance between us and made lots of sexy eye contact, and simply enjoyed the dancing. I contemplated whether I was being a “tease”?  I realised many men are so starved for affection/sex/intimacy/touch, that they aren’t able to enjoy what there is to enjoy without being frustrated and wanting the whole package. I too got to practice this skill myself as I was there with a woman I’ve had a crush on for a while. I had every intention of making sure she doesn’t feel uncomfortable so while dancing and ‘flirting’ I just asked her about her borders. She admitted that she really likes flirting, dancing and even cuddling with me but didn’t want anything to get sexual. Agreeing upon borders made everything more simple and I could just let go of ‘wanting more’ and enjoy whatever she enjoyed too. This brought me to my realisation that “the person who wants more out of a relationship, sexual or other, should let the person who wants less to take the lead.”

Circles

Patrick playing with fire (from his FB page)

First I met a fire poi master Patrick van Baarle, whom I met once before at a house party, which made me feel like I know local Dutch people. At the end of the night I got an amazing lesson from him which made me believe I might be able to acquire this skill with a little (a lot) of practice. I had to stop after hitting my knee and limping around.

Then I met Mephy. Mephy was the first intro I had to burning man culture, she was my ride to the New Zealand burn. I hovered around her cool LED dome until she appeared. It was amazing to realize how much we have both changed and grown since then.

I also saw this guy I recognized, from the European leadership burn party. Back then he and this women I saw him with reminded of what Shlomo and I might be 10 years from now and I had managed to conjure a whole imagined story about them. This time I actually had the guts to speak with him. Turns out even back then she was his Ex, someone who things didn’t work out with. He now had a new girlfriend and they didn’t seem to be poly. I was slightly disappointed but consoled myself with the thought that my reality is better that anything I could imagine.

Then towards the end of the party this woman passed me by. I did a double take to look at her again because I couldn’t believe what my brain was telling me. She was there with a guy I recognised too, he was wearing glasses and they were both dressed but I was pretty sure they were the couple I played with at burning man in the orgy dome. So I went up to them and said, “This might sound crazy but I think I had sex with you guys in the orgy dome?” The woman looked at me and said, “That’s an interesting conversational starter instead of talking about the weather.” She paused for a second before continuing “But yes, we had sex!” all three of us burst out laughing and group hugged. It was great to feel slutty again even though I had only platonic interactions at the party!

The best MOOP ever

A rubber hand!

A rubber hand!

I was sitting on the couch when I found a rubber hand which made me jump up in excitement. This might come as a surprise unless you’ve heard me go on about the rubber hand experiment. This is one of the basic experiments in neuro science that shows how easy it is to trick your brain into wrong predictions based on correlating information. You put a rubber hand on the table and your hand is under the table. The rubber hand is stimulated in the same places and frequency as your hand and after a few moments your brain will model the rubber hand as ‘your hand’. I have been itching to conduct this experiment on myself and others and finally I had a chance! It was a very cool sensation as if your hand has been teleported to a few centimetres from where it actually is.

The sad ending

At the bus, me and my friends were discussing whether this party was a safe environment for women when another woman joined the conversation and told us of unwanted touches she had to deal with on the dance floor. The party was a disappointment in that respect, yes I could go topless without anyone calling the police, but this male hunger was in the air – something I personally never felt at the burn itself and think arises from non-burners coming to this party too. I keep thinking what the burning man community should do to provide a safer environment for women in these type of parties? Suggestions?

We Are Whatever This Is

This is a story of reality surpassing a dream. This is a story of four unique individuals coming together for a weekend to create their little rational hippy heaven, a place of fluidity, of abundance, of caring and sharing. This is a story about the magic of being poly. This is also a story which involves my boobs getting in trouble with the police yet again. Read on

Very rarely will I write about something so private, yet something in this experience deserves to be exposed to the world.  I am not writing this ‘to make the world a better place’, I have no doubt most people will probably think this story is perverted.  I’m writing this for the sake of the story itself. I hope I do it justice.

The Characters

Kat, Van, me and Shlomo, in no particular order

Around an hour after I met Kat for the first time we were in the middle of an amazing threesome with a guy I had a special relationship with. He noticed her on OKC and thought we would be a good match. We were. Kat has this intimacy super power, she makes even slightly autistic people like me feel safe and cared for. She’s usually quiet but has an exquisite sense of humor. She’s extremely bright and we have lots of shared intellectual interests, and yes, she’s beyond amazing in bed. I can get lost in her smile and her eyes for hours at a time.

A few weeks later Kat introduced me to Van, her poly partner who she lives with. Van’s brain has one of the largest data sets I’ve ever encountered. He always has some neat fact or almost unbelievable story to make reality a little less mundane. He seems free from any hints of possessiveness towards Kat. He’s a psychonaut like me and also makes really creative and interesting visual art work. He also loves cooking. Yes, we had a threesome too but both of them also offered me so much more than sex. I got a ton of support when my grandmother died last month. They also introduced me to their poly friends in a Halloween party and for the first time in my life I felt like I could almost belong to a community.

The fourth person to add to this unique mix is Shlomo who came to visit me from SF. I could probably write a book about the past year I’ve had with him and what he means to me. He’s the first partner I’ve had that not only accepts me the way I am, but actually enjoys all of my strangeness. He was poly before I met him and he’s the one who patiently taught me what intimacy is. His ‘rational hippy’ outlook along with his super plastic brain has made me reevaluate and change some of the basic axioms in my life.

None of us like these primary/secondary definition that can be found in the poly world instead I’ve begun to use the term, lifelong connection.

 

The Intro

Shlomo and Kat connecting, in reality they were way more beautiful but you try drawing moving people.

Shlomo and Kat connecting, in reality they were way more beautiful but you try drawing moving people.

The shared weekend started with some amount of awkwardness. We had dinner in a restaurant and chatted. Kat and Shlomo’s shyness was floating around in the air while the two men had an almost immediate connection. They were sharing stories, knowledge, hobbies and also past heartache. They were becoming friends and bonding. I realized how lacking male friendship is in the world, how competing for sex and love keeps them isolated from each other. One of the most amazing moments of the whole weekend was the two men exchanging recipes and talking about making sauerkraut while me and Kat were making out on the couch. “What car do you have?” Kat asked me trying to reverse the gender roles even further.

Freedom

I’m not very good with chit chat and a lot of words, I mostly have to be doing stuff, moving around and being very physically active. But instead of getting swallowed by this group I realized I had the freedom to do anything I wanted. This was a safe space; I could detach from the rest and go into my own world, dance, draw or just head out and separate, go to my own adventures. Upon returning I was happily accepted and stories were shared.  When you are only two people you can either be together or apart, in this group the options grew to 7 different social configurations I could find myself in. This resulted in a type of extra stability, a lot more freedom and less stress when making decisions about daily activities. I knew I could go to a movement class without Shlomo feeling left out or bored. He found it easy to decline my offer to join the class and instead do what he knew would be more recharging for him probably also because Van and Kat didn’t view us as a couple that had to be stuck together. Whatever each of us could give to the social structures was happily accepted and whenever anyone needed time alone they just took it. Van later told me that he didn’t have to put up any sort of façade, which is what we all felt. It definitely helped that Van’s alone recharging time is cooking! He provided us with delicious meals throughout the weekend.

Healing

The past year all of us have been through ‘polyagony’ as Kat calls it, this special case of relationship pain that can only happen in poly situations. Both Van and Shlomo’s other relationships were difficult and ended in breakups. Both me and Kat shared this feeling of seeing a loved one hurt and not being able to do much to help him. Both me and Kat felt hurt and angry at the ‘other women’ who we only wanted the best for, someone we considered a friend who hadn’t seen us in the same way. These new connections forming between all of us, these honest and open communications, were a breath of fresh air for all of us.
The most healing moment for me was when I was trying to sketch one of the most beautiful scenes I have ever witnesses. Shlomo and Kat were standing, gently touching and kissing, looking into each other’s eyes. I felt so privileged to be able to witness their connection forming. Suddenly a twinge of past fear popped into my brain. I had seen Shlomo like this before and I had seen how he was hurt by this other woman he fell in love with. Then this overwhelming sense of relief rushed through me. Kat would not hurt Shlomo, she would not want him to be something that he isn’t. His heart was in good hands and so was mine. It was even a bigger privilege to be able to share this thought with them as it appeared and to communicate it with Van later on.

Sex

I’m guessing this is the reason most of you are reading this blog.  Well this is more or less what happened. On the second night together I was making out with Kat and feeling all this tension from the guys not knowing what to do. So I just broke it by flat out asking “so what are the rules?” Kat communicated her safe sex rule, I told everyone I’m the only one who takes off my underwear and finally things could get interesting.
After trying to make out all four of us on the couch we decided to move to the bedroom where the best porn movie I have ever seen took place and you aren’t going to get the details. All I’m going to say is that all of us were maximizing group pleasure, being there for each other in the most intimate ways.  At one point we were all tired out, on the verge of falling asleep when I had to open my big mouth and ask “Wait, nobody actually had an orgasm right?” A bunch of no’s followed and then a rekindling of activity until each of us exploded.
Since I don’t really regard my privacy I don’t mind telling you about my orgasm. Three sets of hands, mouths and beautiful bodies focused for a while just on me. In any other situation I can imagine that would have freaked me out, but here there was no pressure for me to come or to perform. I could just let go and see what happens. Then, somewhere deep in my brain a key turned and a draw opened, it was called release. I was told it ended with my eyes rolling back in their sockets looking like a scene from the exorcist.
“You know what they say, it takes a village,” Shlomo said when I had quieted down, cracking everybody up. For me his joke holds more than a grain of truth as I’m pretty sure that speaking from an evolutionary point of view, group sex was a big part of our ancestors life, just like bonobo monkeys. I’m also pretty sure that what I experienced is just the tip of the iceberg.

Police

So on our last night Van was showing us some of his bondage skills, tying up Kat. Then I tried to improvise with the rest of the rope, tying myself to Kat, then tying Shlomo to Kat. We were all having a good laugh with some sexy moments when suddenly the police came knocking. Van and Kat had just moved in to their apartment and there were no curtains in the living room and one of the neighbors must have been spying on us from the building across the court yard and called the police. I was about to blow a valve.  Here I was in the ‘liberal’ Netherlands, in a private apartment being told to put my clothing on because some religious freaks didn’t like what they saw. I’ll admit I don’t know it was religious freaks but statistics is on my side as the neighborhood is a very Muslim one. I introduced myself as an ex police women from Israel and wanted to know what law we were breaking. The policeman seemed amused by the whole situation and admitted we weren’t breaking any law and mumbled something about the neighbors complaining and kids being able to watch. “Then how about you tell those neighbors to put curtains on and take care of their kids?” I growled. My militant attitude wasn’t really helping the rest of the group who were just trying to get this situation over with and not pick a fight. The policewoman was on an especially annoying power trip, fully immersed in the role the patriarchic heteronormative organization had made for her. Shlomo was the only one without a Dutch ID so she was grilling him. “Is he your boyfriend?” she asked me. “Well,” I shrugged and rolled my eyes at her, “We are whatever this is.”
When these criminals posing as police left (they did not ask permission to enter the house and had no probable cause to do so), we all cuddled each other and told enough jokes until everyone was feeling better again. But the truth is it hurts to know that something so beautiful and innocent and healthy is regarded by mainstream society as warped, deviant, dangerous or sick.

Just the beginning

For me this weekend was a glimpse into what I have always dreamed of but never actually got a taste of. A tribe of unique individuals, staying away from co-dependency but coming together to explore together and learn from each other, to provide a safety net from the harsh outside world. Yes, the taste was delicious and nourishing and left all of us hoping for more.