It seems that in recent years, non-Eastern cultures have been keen on incorporating the long-standing traditions of meditation and mindfulness into everyday life. Although this has created a massive market in Western countries, where they seek to profit on the accoutrements of a mindful lifestyle (yoga apparel, overpriced studio fees, trendy jewellery, etc.), it has nonetheless helped to cultivate our understanding of what it means to be mindful.
As with many things in life, I usually turn to the Persian poet Rumi when I need an answer. He provides us with a powerful illustration of what is it to be mindful in this line: “Lose your eyes. Fall in love. Stay there”. At first read, this does not seem to give us much. However, if we look beyond the recondite nature of the statement we can begin to understand its force.
I think Rumi is pointing to the force that comes with being still, aware and permanently bewildered with our surroundings. What this really means is that we are paying attention: we not distracted by the shelf of textbooks we have yet to read, the quickly approaching deadlines or how disgruntled our hair may look. Mindfulness is actively teaching our minds to avoid falling prey to yesterday’s mistakes or tomorrow’s imminent unknown. In taking on this approach in our activities, projects, relationships and everyday pursuits, we begin to gain depth and purpose in all we do— and this is no small feat. Something as simple as putting our phones away and storing our quarrels aside for just a moment can completely transform our lives.
Knowing this, it seems appropriate then to ask how far we can extend mindfulness to all facets of our lives. In other words, in what ways can we transform our existing daily habits, which often are rendered repetitive and monotonous, into mindful, meditative experiences? Which areas in our lives must we probe and unpack in order to deepen their impact? There are endless answers to this question but I am currently only interested in one: masturbation—yes, masturbation.
I am interested in this fiery, stigmatized, secretive and delicious act many of us partake in. It piques my interest partly because masturbation is rarely discussed amongst us and when it is, it is strung with many negative connotations and problematic narratives.
Moreover, the stigma seems emphasized for women, who have historically been depicted as passive and asensual beings, painted under heteronormative ideas as being unable to stimulate themselves without the help of a phallus. The truth is, masturbation is an incredibly complex expression of our sexual psyche and as we deepen our experiences of it, we can bring incredible understanding of our deepest desires, our libido, our pain and our erotic selves.
As I see it, the problem is that we are not masturbating right. In my opinion, we are engaging with ourselves in a tragic and mindless manner, limiting our self-stimulation to pragmatism and boredom. It seems that it is either part of our everyday routine, like a drab cigarette or a cup of tea, or as a way to feel a quick pulse of pleasure, even a stress release in some cases.
Rarely do we stop and think of the power and benefits of applying mindfulness to this area of our lives. Interestingly enough, an age-old branch of Indian science known as Ayurveda tells us that masturbation can either further our suffering and shame or can be a source of great healing. If we choose to masturbate in a positive way, it has the capacity to heal our anguish, worry, shame, addiction, monotony, frustration and depression.
In fact, a cornerstone tenet of this is that we avoid “robotic” masturbation and should not masturbate if we are not in a “positively charged” mindset. The implications of this in this day in age is that we must close our internet tabs and turn inward. We can no longer rely on pornography, fanciful imagery, far-fetched fantasies, habit or repetition to masturbate. Instead, we must approach it with joviality, desire, joy and awareness. Although the outcome is still the same ecstatic release, the process will be much different. If we practice mindful masturbation, we inevitably intensify our desires, the scope of our own pleasure and our connection with our bodies, as well as with those we are intimate with.
This is particularly pertinent for those who have experienced any kind of sexual trauma or pain. Ayurvedic thought also teaches us that through healthy masturbation, we are able to bravely face our pain and heal any sexual shame that may linger within us. Mindful masturbation’s benefits are two-fold: it can further a mindful lifestyle and can also provide us with a self-sustainable tool that can heal us in profound ways.
It must also be said that attentive masturbation can liberate you from any confining sexual categories. Someone recently pointed me to the book Ethical Slut written by Dossie Easton and Janet W. Hardy, which explores “polyamory, open relationships and other adventures”. In short, this book pioneers new and exciting ways to look at sexuality. It argues among many other things that that any erotic pathway can be a “positive, creative force in the lives of individuals and their communities”. I think this properly echoes the idea that changing the way we engage with ourselves inevitably changes the way we engage with others. For Easton and Hardy, we live in a society that worships self-denial and believes that investing in our desires of any sort—food, sex, meditation, etc.—as sinful and immature. The authors also claim that we are taught to shoulder shame and fear when it comes to our sexual selves.
The answer to this is “happy connective sex”; a rediscovering of the art of making love—first with ourselves, then with others. Easton and Hardy write that changing the way we view and engage in sex can ultimately change the world. I think this is a powerful idea and echoes the need for a new approach in the ways we masturbate. It seems that by paying attention to our bodies and our wide-ranging visceral desires, we can access a part of ourselves that can invoke healing, change, emancipation and liberation.
All this to say, it is up to you to say if my attempts to reconcile mindfulness with masturbation have been successful. Either way, the next time you are about to treat yourself it may be worth trying to quiet the chatter of your mind. Try lighting a candle, playing a soft tune, giving yourself a massage or using your hands to explore the landscapes of your body. At the end of the day, you are really just giving yourself the attention you deserve.