Reflections on Esther Perel at CIIS

As I counted the days to ‘A Workshop on Modern Relationships’ with Esther Perel I had flashbacks to my introduction to the world famous psychologist. I remember I was house-sitting and therefore had access to a television where I would binge watch anything striking my fancy. On came The Colbert Report with Perel as the guest focusing on her first book, Mating in Captivity, and yes, I was captivated. I have struggled with my balance between partnership and exploring my sexual freedom most of my adult life and this book, and the author, were speaking right to my heart. I quickly ordered the book and remember leaving Santa Cruz’s only wifi-free cafe ‘Hidden Peak Teahouse’ one day with the book nearly completed in one sitting. This book gave the possibility of hope that I could maintain a long term partnership because I now knew there are clues as to why so many of us wallow in dysfunction or preemptively self sabotage our partnerships. This new information was a spark that contributed, years later, to my continuing education through The Somatica® Institute.

Hosted by California Institute of Integral Studies in San Fransisco, this one day event was not only a privilege for me to attend but to attend with my life partner, my Somatica®  teachers, peers and colleagues was something I wouldn’t have even imagined watching that t.v.  screen a few years prior. If you haven’t gathered this yet I’m a bit of a fan. The elegant way Esther flows from the broad and quickly changing dynamics of our societal structures and expectations around gender to specifics within a single relationship really is impressive and her charisma is contagious. Her sweeping consolidation of history summarizes the general trend of the collectivist cultures becoming more rare and the impact it has on our reliance of capitalism and networking to get our needs met. As a result, at least in the United States, many of us are becoming entrenched deeper and deeper into ambiguous loneliness. We rely on our life partner to meet all of our intimacy needs and capitalism for miscellaneous needs when we’ve evolved with a village of support. After spending the better part of my twenties in a commune in the mountains of Santa Cruz I became privy to this awareness and how we really are co-dependent on unsustainable societal structures. I was also raised to be very independent, for autonomy as opposed to loyalty as Perel puts it, and this has also contributed to my committed non-monogamy organization style. I do not proselytize polyamory or non-monogamy; the emphasis is that our culture does run on monogamy as a modus operandi and this reality has contributed to many hardships in intimacy due to our affinity toward assumptions and lack of options. I do agree so deeply with Perel that if there’s one thing the monogamous community can learn from the other side is that we need to be in relationships that are chockfull of choice. This doesn’t necessarily mean being open to sharing physical intimacy with a third person rather, what is shared is shared because it is a consensual agreement. Far too often do we find ourselves involved for years after the waves of lust hormones have long worn off wondering what we’re doing in this relationship or submerged in a vestigial assumptive mindset that was inherited from generations past. Fortunately there are many resources now that can help individuals, partners and communities gain greater capacity and clarity around options, generational trauma and self awareness. 

My reflections on the event do include disappointment and an unexpected feeling of detachment. I had no idea what to expect, especially since in the registration email reply there was no description on what this gathering, labeled as a ‘workshop’, would entail. There were some interactive moments where we were prompted to share a bit about ourselves with our neighbor. There was also a heart warming display of attachment styles exampled by a variety of volunteer pairs, going on stage two by two, standing on either end of the stage and then one person silently requesting the other to come over to them. Seeing the myriad of responses, amplified by stage and crowd jitters, was profound, touching and a genuine example of raw, human vulnerability. My disappointment came from the lack of embodiment and connection I was hoping to feel during this eventful day. I am so cultured at this point by the Somatica®  method to be having embodied, felt, experiences that to be lectured at by someone I’ve idealized was almost shocking. Just one more lesson for me on the idea of idealizing and my own expectations on the unknown. I have no regret whatsoever for having been there and the experience is engrained as an overall positive transformation. I am grateful for the experience and also to have the variety of empowered female teachers supporting this culture of love we are embracing. 

I intend to continue learning from this purveyor of relational intelligence and I’m already ready to read a third book by this living legend. Her messages, influence and empowering energy are sorely needed in this time of great cultural shift and with the layered environmental change happening right now we are sorely needing influencers like her. I highly recommend reading her books, listening to the audiobooks and, if you’re able, attending a live event. May we all find meaningful relations, deepen our creativity within them, and build resilience along the way. 

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