Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Joe Omundson


I think people learn better when they are asked questions that make them think, rather than being told what to believe and do. This is obvious with children, but at some point we decide "you're old enough to know better" and instead of teaching gently we fight, argue, dominate, and see people as "other". I want to learn more about being tactful and finding productive ways to interact with people.
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Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Joe Omundson


I went to a 10 day Vipassana course in Oregon last Thanksgiving. It's a silent meditation retreat that gives participants a chance to dive deep into meditation in an intentional environment, providing food, lodging, and instruction on a donation-only basis.

Most of this blog post is based on an email I wrote to a friend & yoga mentor shortly after returning home. I'm grateful that I wrote about the experience then, because I would never be able to capture all the same thoughts if I were to start writing it now.

We meditated for 10 days, for about 10 hours each day: 4:30am-6:30, 8:00-11:00, 1:00-5:00, 6:00-7:00, and 8:30-9:00, with some short breaks in the longer blocks for going to the bathroom etc. The environment was set up intentionally to minimize distractions; we were forbidden from reading, writing, music, videos, talking, physical contact, exercise (other than walking in a field), intoxicants, and leaving the course boundaries. Basically I had no choice but to get really deep into my head and experience my psyche. All information after the orientation day was conveyed via signs rather than verbal announcements, so as not to disturb our mental space. Everything was efficient and logical -- for example, at mealtimes, they would simply ring a bell when the food was ready, and we'd all walk in to the empty room and serve ourselves buffet style and eat in silence. No drama with waiting for staff members to instruct us or anything like that. The food was actually great, it was very healthy and adequate. I was profoundly grateful for every meal. They didn't serve dinner, except for fruit and tea. I'd never eaten so much fruit before.

The meditation technique started with 3.5 days of Anapana meditation -- devoting complete attention to the awareness of breath, and to all subtle sensations in the nostril area alone. The purpose of this was to settle the mind, and to sharpen the brain's ability to detect sensations in a very small area. We were to notice anything from tickling, tingling, pain, heat, cool, expansion/contraction, pressure, pulsing, heaviness/lightness, basically just any sensation that existed in that area at all. Whenever we noticed a thought enter our heads, we were to dismiss it and return attention to the sensation around the nostrils. At first I could hardly go 5 seconds without thinking about something, and it would be a few minutes before I realized my mind was wandering. But gradually I got faster at gathering my wandering mind, and I was able to go 30 seconds, 2 minutes, 10 minutes just focusing on the sensation without my mind starting to chatter. By the end of the 10 days, it was no problem to sit with my mind at rest for a full hour.

After practicing our awareness using Anapana meditation for a few days, we started turning that same quality of attention that we had placed on the nostrils to all areas of our bodies, scanning from head to feet, feet to head, detecting sensation from part to part. This is Vipassana meditation. After all the practice with putting attention on one small area, roaming the whole body was like exploring a new world.

This is the philosophy in a nutshell: our minds are burdened with these things called "sankaras" which are basically the equivalent of a neural pathway which is heavily used; a habit pattern of mind and body. They are related to cravings and aversions. You might have a craving for something pleasant, and then the mind automatically goes down the path of the sankara to seek out the craving; or you experience an aversion to a situation, and automatically generate feelings of panic and anxiety or try to run away. As you sit and meditate and scan your body, these sankaras present themselves as sensations in your body; muscle tension, discomfort, pleasure, or it could be anything really.

The main goal of Vipassana then is to notice these sensations on all areas of the body, and *remain completely impartial* to them, experiencing them with complete detachment and equanimity, in a purely objective way. The idea is to train your mind not to react with attachment to these cravings and aversions, but rather to maintain full awareness that all sensations are temporary, because everything in life is in a constant state of flux; when we feel great cravings and satisfaction from pleasant sensations, and great pain and aversion to unpleasant sensations, our lives become miserable because then we are at the mercy of the random, impersonal phenomena that surround us and are beyond our control. We feel that our experience of life is determined by our circumstances, when really we are reacting blindly instead of taking control of our own minds. If we can learn to accept the pleasant and the unpleasant with equanimity, with the understanding that nothing lasts forever, we will experience greater peace and true happiness... and ultimately we will come to terms with the fact that life eventually ends, and it's OK.

Overall, I thought this philosophy was pretty sound, and the technique was good. I don't know that a "sankara" is a real thing that exists, but I thought it was at least a good metaphor for the human condition. A lot of the ideas about impermanence, constant change, habit patterns, and the connection between mind and body resonated with what I have come to believe personally through my own experiences. So I felt comfortable with the teaching.

Starting on day 2 or 3 I had some powerful personal revelations.

I gained insight into some of the ways that gender was handled in my childhood, by my family and by society. I realized that I connect more with the idea of feeling beautiful and graceful, than tough or manly. I noticed how uncomfortable certain people were with any feminine aspect I presented when I was growing up, and how I'd learned to repress those parts of me, trying to make myself masculine enough to meet with their approval. Along with this realization, I lost some of my inhibition about the idea of loving men. That was always portrayed as a woman's job, and therefore shameful for a man to do. But love is love, and what does it matter how your lover's body is made? After my time at Vipassana I felt like I was more receptive to the idea of intimate experiences with males. Being in the presence of so many peaceful, authentic, self-aware males was a healing experience.

During my limited free time, I thought much about two women who I loved. One of whom I had dated for about 9 months and had had somewhat of a rocky time with after our explosive start, and another who I had met while hiking the PCT and idolized as my ideal partner. It was interesting to notice how my feelings about them changed during the retreat. I had been telling myself I wasn't interested in dating the first girl anymore after getting to know the second one, but I realized my reality wasn't completely in line with my ideals. Despite whatever pain I felt from our interaction, I still felt a shared passion with the one I had dated, which I didn't feel was quite mutual with the other one. Indeed I later discovered that my PCT friend didn't have feelings for me. At Vipassana I realized how strong of an aversion I had to conflict and criticism, and how unhelpful that was in my life, and how that was really more my problem than anyone else's. This inspired me to give tenderness with my past love another chance.

While I was at the course, my step-mom was in hospice care, dying from cancer. Unable to distract myself from this reality, I spent much time weeping and experiencing intense grief. I thought very deeply about the end of her life and what it would mean. She was such a beautiful and inspiring person. She is probably the one most responsible for awakening in me an interest in bodily awareness, joyful movement, attention to breath, and loving acceptance of others. She was one of the biggest supporters I had throughout all stages of my development and she always advocated for my right to express my individuality. In a sense, this whole blog is dedicated to her because she encouraged my writing like no one else.

I gained a clear picture of just how much I was going to miss her, and resolved to spend as much time with her as I could when I got home. I had not asked anybody to call the retreat if her condition rapidly deteriorated, and by day 8 or so, I realized that this was a mistake. I didn't want to miss the end of her life just because I was meditating an hour away from home. I wanted to go be with her if the end was imminent. I expressed my concern to the staff, and they graciously found a solution, calling home for me to get an update, and her condition was still relatively stable, so I stayed for the remainder of the course. The instructor told me that finishing the Vipassana course would enable me to be more present, supportive, and attentive during the difficult period ahead. He was right about that.

My step-mom died less than a month after I returned from the course, and I got to spend the last week or so at her home, helping with her care, enabling her to experience death in the way she wanted. I didn't allow an aversion to pain to keep me from connecting with her. If I am most grateful for one thing about my Vipassana experience, it's the way it gave me tools for going through her death. Of course it was still very hard and traumatic, and I was depressed for a time afterward, but I have no regrets about the way we parted. We both knew how much we loved each other.

Certainly, I am glad I went. It was a lot of hard work and totally exhausting at times, I cried a lot, went through a lot of ups and downs, but I feel that I made real progress at removing some of my reactive habit patterns. The mental state I entered was really interesting. When I take psychedelic mushrooms, from about 4-8 hours after eating them, when the effects are wearing off, there is a period that just feels wonderful to me -- sanity and realistic perception are restored to the mind but there is a deep feeling of calm, peace, and ease that lingers for a while. During Vipassana I felt that way for days on end. My mind was not constantly wandering, I could sit down to meditate and immediately dive deep into exploration of my body with no distraction. That was really cool.

As a bonus to the mental and emotional benefits, it felt pretty amazing to develop a mind-body connection in such a direct and thorough way. I recognized some deep physical patterns that I had never realized before, and even as I sit here and type this, I can feel how they've been present all along -- bouncy legs, tendency to contract something deep in my left side-body, tension in my neck/collarbone/shoulder area. Doing yoga in the frame of mind provided by this meditation was profound. My body felt better than ever, and my mobility and range of motion were noticeably increased, which was certainly not an expected result from sitting still in the same posture for hours on end.

This supports my hypothesis that yoga, bodywork, dancing, massage, and other activities of that nature are all aimed at increasing a simple conscious awareness of the body. You can practice yoga poses for years but if you never learn to notice your own sensations and put awareness into other parts of your body than just your head, it does very little good. I think I will always love yoga and find personal benefit and meaning from it, but this practice has kind of ruined other kinds of bodywork for me; why pay upwards of $60/hour to have someone show you how to be aware of your body, when you can do a much more thorough job of it yourself, for free?

I really appreciated that the course was run on donations, and in my opinion it lends a lot of credibility to the practice if they are willing to house and feed dozens of people for 11 days for free, trusting that the students will benefit enough to want to give back in a big way. I love that model of doing business. I think it makes the experience richer for the students too, as it removes the expectation that they *have* to get something out of it because they paid good money for it. Receiving it as a gift makes it more of a pure thing.

There were parts that I didn't like, too. They keep males and females entirely separated except for in the meditation hall, which is not a problem for me personally since I am mostly straight and I did not go there to meet women, and for me it was easier not having to face that as a distraction. But I feel it was a very heteronormative way of dealing with things, and does nothing at all to ease the experience of homosexuals who are made to share a room with others that they may be attracted to. I actually have a friend who is a lesbian who went to Vipassana and was assigned a room with another lesbian, and it was a distraction for them. Separating male and female in this way also reinforces a gender binary that some people do not want to subscribe to. I'm not sure what solution would work better, perhaps making it completely co-ed, or maybe finding a way for each person to have their own room. I've heard of some retreats where each student gets their own room.

While I found the meditation technique itself to be completely secular/rational and removed from any kind of religious philosophy, imagery, dogma, or beliefs, the philosophy that was expounded in the evening discourses (75 minutes every day, as recorded by S.N. Goenka in 1991) was distinctly Buddhist. It was interesting to learn more about Buddhism, but I felt it was a bit heavy-handed at times. In the last couple days of the course, I actually became upset with the way it was being handled; though Goenka kept reiterating that the practice was rational, non-sectarian, etc., he often relied on references to specific Buddhist ideas such as karma and reincarnation to make his points. I didn't see how that was necessary for learning a simple meditation technique. I don't see those concepts as very rational or secular.

In Christianity, when someone leaves the faith because it doesn't work for them, it is commonly insisted that "since this person left Christianity, we can know that they were never a true Christian, because if they had experienced Jesus authentically, they never would have wanted to leave." I am here to tell you that that's the biggest load of bullshit ever. I could not possibly have been more sincere in my desire to connect with Jesus and I sought him constantly for years. Yet I never had any sense that any of it was real, that he was present or true, so when I left the faith it was with a very thorough understanding of what I was doing. To say that people like me were never true Christians is a completely invalidating and dismissive attempt to protect the legitimacy of the faith; if people give it a fair trial and reject it, the clear implication is that it *doesn't* work for everyone. But if they can't say that literally *everyone* needs Christ, then the foundation of their belief falls apart.

Goenka tries to avoid this kind of propaganda by saying "evaluate the technique for yourself, and if it provides tangible benefits in your life, for yourself and the people around you, only then should you accept it." This is fair, and yes the technique deserves a fair trial for evaluation. He could have left it at that. Or he could have followed it up with "and if it doesn't work out for you, try to find some other way to gain control of your reactions and free yourself from your suffering".

Instead, he followed the Christian route -- "the technique has been proven to work for many thousands of people around the world, so there can be no question that the technique works; if you try it and it doesn't work for you, you aren't practicing properly, and you need to talk to an instructor to determine what you're doing wrong." Well, maybe, maybe not.

He insists on practicing 1 hour in the morning, and 1 hour in the evening, in order to become established in the technique; otherwise you will never be free of your suffering and your life will be "meaningless". Basically my problem is that he seems to insist that Vipassana is "the way" to "full enlightenment" (whatever that is). As with the gender separation, this is not a personal hindrance for me; I can see right through this kind of petty manipulation and I'm smart enough to know that meditation is nothing more than a tool I can use at my discretion. No big deal if it doesn't work for me, I have other tools like yoga, and backpacking, and marijuana, and maybe I only need to use this technique every once in a while to maintain equilibrium. I'm not about to suffer from the delusion that I *need* to practice this one kind of meditation to have a fulfilling life.

But from the conversations of people around me on the last day, I could tell that many people were getting sucked into the same kind of salvationist mindset that Christianity pushes. That they need to make a big effort to maintain this practice, even if it doesn't work for them, when the truth is that you'll practice it willingly if it works for you. I don't have to force myself to go to yoga, I go joyfully because I love it and it improves my quality of life. They're making it about effort and work just like legalistic Christians. So, I was upset by the fact that Goenka would set people up to get attached to the practice in that kind of way... if the whole goal is to free people of suffering and attachment, why invite them to feel attached to having a consistent practice, feeling like a failure if it doesn't work out?

I do recognize that a lot of people have a much more conventional approach to life than I do, so they are coming to the course (as one guy I talked to) never having taken time off from work in 3 years... and maybe these people like practices that involve discipline and scheduling. Maybe the idea is to encourage them not to return completely to the numbing influences of society, but to keep a persistent practice as a source of liberation and insight, and I suppose I can get behind that. Personally I tend to be less regimented. I think that in my life, I've already removed myself from a lot of the suffering that people experience in terms of desiring nice possessions, trying to hold on tightly to certain circumstances, getting really upset about loss and injury, striving for "success", and those kinds of things. So for me it feels less important that I develop a strong meditation practice as a source of liberation -- I already feel quite free and happy in many ways. Not that I don't have a lot of room to grow in that area. And it did show me some new ways to be free and happy. I definitely see ongoing value, I'm just not super attached to maintaining a schedule. [Now that I am going back through this text, I'm starting to wonder if I was really as happy and liberated as I thought, or if I was just rationalizing a way that I wouldn't have to go against my aversion to discipline and create a regular schedule. Perhaps I would actually benefit from that.]

So I think overall I would definitely recommend a 10-day Vipassana course to nearly anyone. Even if you don't continue the practice afterward, you can still get some good realizations out of the 10 day experience. I would just caution people not to worry too much about how well they maintain the practice, and rather encourage people to keep seeking some kind of meaningful spiritual psychosomatic experience that helps them see themselves more objectively, if this one doesn't work out.
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Saturday, June 18, 2016

Joe Omundson


How much of ourselves do we really know? Each person more familiar with their own mind than anyone else in the world can possibly be, but how much of what we believe about ourselves is deception? Do we truly understand our motivations? Are our choices consciously chosen, or are they complex reactions to external events that have the illusion of choice? To what extent can we gain awareness of these processes?

Are the most enlightened among us still wrapped up in a false reality? How much of our surroundings are we misunderstanding because we are tied to the human form, limited by our sense faculties to perceive narrow windows of all the available stimuli? How would our perception of reality change if a normal "lifetime" was not 80 years, but 80 minutes or 80,000 years? And what things do our senses take in that we never realize we are able to perceive?

In light of the smallness of our perception and our vast unknowing of most of what is real, how do we find the capacity to be arrogant, smug, and dismissive? Why do we think we can make life and death choices for other lifeforms on this planet and know that this is good?

What will our future hold? How are we impacting the course of life and consciousness? What will be the next steps in our evolution?
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Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Joe Omundson

structures of awareness

It is commonly perceived that each human being is one distinct, complete, intelligent creature. I believe we are much more, and much less, than that.

Have you seen ants at work? A colony of ants is like a singular entity, a swarm intelligence, more so than it is a collection of individuals. The ants perform a range of tasks in perfect harmony to achieve one unified goal. They communicate chemically to maintain their unity and act efficiently. An ant is not capable of very much on its own, yet the interaction of all of them creates a unified system of interacting with the world around them. It is hard for us to believe that an ant colony could literally have singular, centralized perception, an ego, because we see each ant moving separately, as though it were an individual -- making choices, moving on its own power.

Yet how different is an ant colony from each of our own bodies? We are all composed of many trillions of cells. These cells have specialized functions and they live and die individually. They operate on their own without our direct control, yet produce a unified action that constitutes "our action" in the world. Like with ants, the whole entity does not necessarily suffer when individual units die, yet we seek to preserve some core essence of the entity.

If alien life forms visited earth, is it not possible that they would perceive each human being as trillions of united cellular organisms, rather than singular individuals? Like ant colonies that produce a cohesive action through the cooperation of simple units?

So how does our central sense of intelligence arise? Why do we perceive ourselves as "one person" rather than trillions of individuals? How does this collection of connected, signaling, consuming, excreting, birthing, dying, individual cells create our experience of a singular consciousness?

In general, intelligence seems to be made up of complex interactions between smaller units of limited capacity. We might have "one brain", but that brain is simply a conglomeration of many billions of brain cells which are connected to each other with synapses, signalling chemically and electrically (this is my rough understanding, at least). It's the complexity of the connections between those simple substructures that leads to our ability to think, reason, perceive, and intuit.

An ant can only accomplish so much, but coordinated action between many ants changes the world. Bacteria and fungus are simple cellular organisms, yet they interact in huge numbers to find solutions to complex situations, to the point that their adaptive intelligence rivals our ability to keep up with them with our best science. A tree is slow-moving and seemingly inert, yet forests have adapted and survived for millions of years to all kinds of adverse conditions, and they have their own methods of communication. Flocks of birds, schools of fish, hives of bees, are all examples of individual organisms combining into decision-making entities that are greater than the sum of their parts.

I think we are limiting ourselves if we believe that thought can only happen via a network of neurons inside a brain. A neuron is a simple biological machine which receives inputs and gives outputs to other neurons around it. The "thought", the "awareness" that results, is an abstract, intangible concept. Ideas are invisible and mass-less, and they have no location. There's no reason that a collection of independent organisms, connected with sound, light, scent, electricity, or another means of physical communication, cannot also generate this abstract concept of awareness. They are a brain, in another form.

Intelligence and awareness are all around us, even though we do not perceive them as such. All life forms have evolved into what they are now for millions of years, adapting through all kinds of adverse conditions. Just because they do not think and interact using brain cells to process loads of information from moment to moment like we do, does not mean that they do not have their own kind of wisdom, awareness, and intelligence.

Furthermore, how do we know that we as humans are not merely components of a "human brain" that conceives of itself as one individual? Each human is like a very complicated neuron inside a bigger system. When we form communities and work together we are able to accomplish unimaginable feats. We are finding ways to harness that kind of inter-human brainpower, using the internet for example. Perhaps the internet is already self-aware and is the most powerful brain on the planet.

What if all life units on Earth are connected in a way that is incomprehensible to us, yet truly there is a global consciousness which has been growing itself for billions of years, adapting, changing, evolving, setting up new systems within itself, increasing in complexity? A pan-biological brain that first became aware billions of years ago, and has been refining itself in many different ways up to the present day.

And who is to say that intelligence is limited to living systems? These simple biological machines that create the building blocks of life, awareness, and intelligence, are limited to following the laws of physics. At the core of our brain's functionality is chemical potentials, electrical voltages, physical phenomena which are measurable and react in predictable ways. Yet somehow these laws of physics are causing structures to act in such a way that they do not dissipate into chaos as predicted by the famous 2nd law of thermodynamics; they tend toward increasing complexity. There are non-biological systems that do this too. A galaxy uses the laws of gravity to maintain a patterned structure. An atom uses the strong nuclear force and electrical force to maintain its integrity instead of dissipating into a cloud of quarks. Could these systems not also have some form of intelligence arising from the interactions of basic physical machines?

Indeed we are seeing rapid increases in non-biological awareness through our work with computers and artificial intelligence. A transistor is a simple physical machine, but take a few billion of them, arrange them to interact in flexible ways, and... you get the idea.

This is what I mean by the Self Observing Universe. Like everything that surrounds us, our bodies and minds are made of nothing more than protons, neutrons, and electrons. Everything follows the same laws of physics. We are made of universe. We are the universe. And by evolving into the form of our bodies, the universe has found a way to perceive, measure, test, and experience itself. The universe is self-aware, because we are aware, and it is becoming increasingly complex and intelligent.
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Friday, June 10, 2016

Joe Omundson

my circumcision

Warning -- this post is about my penis. If that makes you uncomfortable, you might not want to read it.

I've always thought I had a fairly loose circumcision, because when I'm flaccid, I have folds of skin that rest against my corona, and it seems like there's lots of slack. Great! I'm lucky to have so much skin left! I thought. But I realized that the only reason I have so much slack when flaccid is because my penis is a grower and not a shower; my penis is half as long while flaccid as it is erect. (For some guys, their length is about the same whether flaccid or erect.) No surprise, when my penis is several inches shorter than its erect length, there's obviously plenty of skin.

Recently I had the idea to trim my pubic hair, which I have only done maybe once or twice before. I took a pair of scissors and cut my hair to about 1cm long. With my long hairs out of the way, I was able to notice that I have hair growing up the base of the penis itself, like 1" of the way up the shaft when erect. What I realized is that I actually have very little loose skin on my penis; that hairy skin should be down by my scrotum rather than on the shaft, but has had to be pulled up onto the shaft because the skin from the glans down is completely tensioned due to my lack of a foreskin. Uncircumcised men (and many who are loosely circumcised) can do a "glide" motion, while erect, where they grab the skin of the shaft and pull it up over the head, which is apparently so pleasurable for them that they can actually orgasm from masturbating that way. For me, the only way that movement can happen (in a very limited fashion) is if the hairy skin at the base of my shaft stretches up when I pull on it; and it doesn't feel very good at all.

I think they actually cut off a lot of skin with my circumcision and because there is no free play around the corona/glans of my penis, and because the head is keratinized and callous from constant exposure rather than the shiny and wet tissue it is supposed to be (like the clitoris protected by its hood), my sensation during sexual activity is nowhere near as sensitive as it could be. In general, sensation in my glans is very vague and half numb. I always have to rely on lubrication when I masturbate because the skin on my shaft doesn't move enough for the glide method. My erect penis is like a rod, with no moving parts, and because my sensitivity is low I have to masturbate with a pretty firm grip, often for longer than I would like to. This is not a very gentle way to experience sexual pleasure. It relies on friction rather than pleasurable sensation.

When I was an adolescent and masturbated more often, it wasn't uncommon for me to develop chafing, or painful cracks that even bled sometimes, from the friction I required in order to feel something. Yet the urge to orgasm was so strong that I would not always give myself adequate time to heal. I would think "oh, it's probably healed enough by now", then halfway through masturbating I would realize it was still painful, but I would somehow trick myself into thinking I could do it gently enough for it not to be a problem (really, I was just horny and didn't want to stop), and then of course the injury would perpetuate. I always blamed myself for this, but I don't think I would have encountered these problems at all with an intact foreskin. It's pretty normal for guys at that age to feel horny a couple times a day.

I've been mad about my circumcision before, but I am just stunned that this is my reality, as opposed to having the body part that nature gave me which would have lubricated and protected my most sensitive bits. Every day when I'm walking around I feel my glans chafing against my shorts and it is uncomfortable. It actually makes me so sad. My parents instructed a doctor to do this to me? Aren't parents and doctors the people we are supposed to trust with our health, especially as children? Yet this happened to me when I was at my most vulnerable?

People say "oh if you're unhappy with your circumcision you must have something wrong, because studies show that there is no difference in sexual experience." As though cutting off 5-10 square inches of my most erogenous tissue has no effect, as though the drying out of my glans does not affect sensitivity, as though the natural movement of the foreskin over the head of the penis is just an evolutionary artifact that medicine and tradition can write off as unnecessary. As though a study which takes the average of some sample of men is guaranteed to apply to my own experience.

They say, "your odds of contracting STDs are 60% lower, you should be grateful!" As though I am too stupid to manage my own STD risk without having my genitals mutilated at birth against my will. They should have removed my toenails too -- don't need 'em, and they might get ugly fungus infections anyway. Tonsils, appendix, gallbladder, these are just problematic body parts so we ought to perform painful surgeries on newborns to reduce hassle later in life. They aren't able to complain about the pain, they'll just forget anyway so no big deal right? Hell, 12% of breasts will get breast cancer, we should remove all breast tissue at adolescence too right? (My understanding is that the lowered risk of STDs is a myth in the first place, or at least quite controversial.)

They say, "you can last longer in bed though since you're less sensitive! Isn't that great?" Yeah, because I really want to have to work extra hard to feel something when I'm having sex. Because I wouldn't have been capable of learning how to gain endurance without an irreversible surgery performed on my infant body. Because my partner likes getting worn out by my thrusting attempts to orgasm, which often fail, leaving me embarrassed and ashamed.

Circumcision is viewed as the accepted medical approach in the USA, to the point that people get angry at the idea of not mutilating the penises of newborn boys. Most men in the world are intact. We hardly ever talk about this. These are real people, these are parts of our bodies, sensitive nerve endings we can never get back.

It wasn't until at least my mid-twenties that it dawned on me: the distinct change in color halfway up my penis is a scar from a surgery I had when I was days old, on my most intimate body part, that I never asked to be done to me. I feel so violated. How dare they modify boys' genitals at birth? It is absolutely not OK. We have no trouble grasping the fact that female genital mutilation is an abomination, even if it were to somehow reduce STDs or make things more hygienic. The same applies to males. Would you let a doctor cut off your newborn daughter's clitoral hood so that she grows up with her clitoris constantly exposed to the outside world, tough and dry, insensitive?

A lot of this stuff is not news to me. I've felt this way about circumcision for a long time. But I hadn't quite realized how much skin I was missing, how tight it is when I'm erect, and how different it is from a natural experience. Many of my sexual difficulties make more sense now that I have this understanding. I had to look up a lot of information online to make this realization; it's completely absent from our education system, and society doesn't talk about it. It makes me sad that I am just now understanding this aspect of myself, at 28 years old.

But, there is good news too. I decided I definitely want to start restoring my foreskin! With daily effort, applying gentle tension, the skin can be prompted to create new cells, permanently growing and lengthening into some semblance of a functional foreskin. My glans can be protected again, and the tough surface can slough off to reveal the shiny, smooth, sensitive membrane that nature intended. I seem to have a lot of inner foreskin left, above my scar, and that's good news because it should help with moisturizing the glans once it's long enough to cover it. It takes a lot of commitment, is slow progress, and can take years to achieve something like a full restoration. But I think it would be amazingly healing, both physically and emotionally, for me to spend the time on myself in that way, and make the most of my body's capacity to change for the better.

So, yesterday I looked up some tugging techniques, and took some photos to document myself, and I am going to figure this thing out and do everything that's in my power to help my body function well. In general in my life these days I am trying to find productive, happy solutions to the things that have kept me feeling powerless and angry. I have deeply held trauma regarding my penis from a lot of different angles: the hostility surrounding sex in Christianity, the cultural shame of having a shorter-than-average penis in our society, my own dissatisfaction with the way it feels when I'm masturbating or having sex, my difficult history with intimacy. It feels like my enemy sometimes. I tend to resent this part of me which feels broken and doesn't work well for me, which lets me down when I want to feel intimate, and also prevents my loved ones from sharing a full experience with me, physically and emotionally. By showing my body some love and helping it to have what it needs, I can start to reverse this painful reality.

I can never get my foreskin back, but I can grow something that will be similar and improve my experience of my body. I can speak out about this tragedy that is still happening to thousands of people every day in our country, and hopefully save some innocent boys from the pain I've gone through. I can learn to be vulnerable, work within my reality, be open about it, and encourage other men to accept their reality, too, with all the anger and bitterness it often entails, opening up a path to restoration and healing.

This is the most vulnerable thing I have ever written and I appreciate your kind understanding. If you want to share your thoughts or your story, you're welcome to do so in the comments below, or write me an email.
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Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Joe Omundson

marijuana part 2

I went 15 days without any cannabis after leaving Portland, and it was a refreshing time. I had more vivid dreams, I never worried about getting caught or people noticing I was high, I spent less money, and actually the constant sobriety was a good reminder of what my baseline personality is like.

But eventually I started to feel like I wanted some again. It wasn't really a physical craving, or a sense that I "needed" it... it was more like I had some emotions coming up that were hard for me to connect with, and I felt like being stoned would knock down the barriers that kept me from experiencing and understanding my feelings, helping me get "unstuck".

I actually considered driving to the nearest town in Colorado that sells pot legally, which probably would have been close to a 4 hour ordeal. In the end I decided to try the rock climbers close to town; I'd walked by them once before and saw/smelled a couple people smoking joints.

I approached a few different groups and asked if they had $20 worth of weed they could sell me. None of them said they had any. One gal seemed very receptive to me and said I should come back if I found some. I drove to a nearby campground and walked through it. At the far end was a group of 4 guys in their 20s, and while they didn't overtly look like stoners, they didn't seem like they'd be offended if I asked, either. They were able to sell me $10 worth from their small stash. Success! It seemed like about a gram or maybe a little less.

Like I was talking about in my last post on this topic, it's interesting how legalization changes your perception of marijuana. Even though I had no idea what strain this was, how potent it was, or where it came from, I was stoked just to have any at all. I drove past the climbers again on my way back to town, but decided not to stop and share with the friendly girl and her group. I didn't want to smoke it then and be social and then have to drive back stoned. I wanted to save it for a place and time when I could unwind and have some space to process.

I used all of it over the next 4 nights as I camped out at various places, and I thoroughly enjoyed each time. It was great to feel the effect as a significant alteration again, and not to have to smoke very much to feel it. In Portland I might have rolled all that weed into one joint and it would have been gone in 10 minutes. But I got 4 full highs out of the deal. That's good because I'm on a tight budget.

Now I've run out again and that's OK. I'm not in a rush to get more. I had the experience I wanted and I feel somewhat better adjusted for it. Coincidentally I also had the most social 3 days I've had since I got here, as a guy I know happened to be in Moab with his family and I camped with them and was introduced to a couple other friends they've made recently. So, it is a little hard to say if I feel better because of my experiences while I was high, or if it's because I had social interaction again -- probably mostly the latter. But I think both helped.

I think this is a sustainable pattern for the future: when I feel like it would be really great to have some ganja, I will have to be social and interact with people in order to obtain it. And what little I get, I will cherish, and use intentionally, until it is gone, and then I won't have a stash in my car at all times that I need to worry about if I get pulled over. At this point it's actually better for me than being able to drop by a dispensary and buy whatever I want, because I desire the stability of sobriety. I need to not feel any more anxious about social interaction every day than I already do. I don't want to constantly choose to be isolated so that I can feel OK getting high. Yet I have it as a tool in my belt for the times when I know it will be really useful or fun. I found a similar balance with alcohol long ago, so it is nice to feel like I'm finding it with cannabis too.
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