Graduate School – Transpersonal Psychology

The idea of going back to school has been floating around in my mind for quite some time. I enjoy learning and I find the school environment works pretty well for me, particularly in smaller classes where I can be mentored by a challenging professor. I was lucky enough to have that in undergrad and I think I can find that in grad school as well.

What hasn’t been completely clear is what I want to study in grad school and why I want to study it. Generally, we treat formal education as fulfilling two purposes: research/discover an area of interest or passion and gain the skills necessary for a career. The former can generally be done without school in the modern era. School is often unnecessary for the latter as well, except when there is certification necessary to practice and finding a mentor outside of the academy is difficult. Either way, going to grad school appeals to me, even if it is just an experience that I decide wasn’t right for me, at least I had the experience.

So, what do I want to study? As much as I love Economics I don’t have any interest to pursue it professionally or in any advanced way (sorry Dr. Calcagno!). The only field that has really appealed to me consistently since high school is psychology and the older I get the more that passion grows. I have a couple of interests within the field. If I decide to work on the clinical side I’d like to help individuals who are LGBT, polyamorous and/or in sexually open relationships, and I’d like to use some “non-traditional” methods. If I decide to work on the research side (which would probably involve more schooling but my economic background could provide some assistance) then I want to study sexual diversity within a society, particularly with regard to kinks and paraphilias.

What do I mean by “non-traditional” methods? I mean using things like meditation, psychedelic drugs (including MDMA), spiritual practices, and other altered states of consciousness. This seems to broadly fall under the field of Transpersonal Psychology, which is basically spiritual psychology. I know that my hippy, Burner side is showing with this, but I don’t think spiritual necessarily means pseudoscientific. I tend to take a similar view of spirituality as Sam Harris and think that spiritual practices and altered states can be beneficial to people without resorting to supernatural explanations.

It will be 5 years before I am really ready to enroll in grad school due to my bike ride, prereqs, and this shitty $65,000 student loan Sword of Damocles hanging over my head. That time is probably good though, it will give me time to research transpersonal psychology more and see if it really fits for me. If things do fit I hope to enroll in Naropa University’s fall 2021 MA Clinical Mental Health Counseling Program. They several interesting specializations. At this point Mindfulness Based Transpersonal Counseling is my first choice because of the explicit focus on human sexuality, yoga, and Jungian Dreamwork. I also like the Transpersonal Wilderness Therapy due to the focus on the outdoors and the natural world, as well as the Somatic: Body Psychotherapy because of the focus on touch and connecting the mind, spirit, and body.

I have my work cut out for me. Between the three programs that interest me there are 62 books that are recommended reading, as well as 6 undergrad courses that I will need to get credits for. I can knock out many of the readings on the bike ride, though I’m not sure how many are actually necessary. To be honest, I feel like I will be competing with much younger people out of my league and I need to be really on top of my game to be accepted at my age (though, I’ve heard that some grad programs would look at 20ish years of travel and life experience as a good thing). While on the ride I can also take free online courses to become familiar with the material before enrolling in a course for credit at a community college. There are also tons of YouTube videos by professors and authors on this subject that I can watch. I will also need some real world experience by working or volunteering in a “helping” profession and working directly with clients. Ideally, I will also find a transpersonal therapist to see for my own mental health needs once we stop the bike ride. I’ve got a Excel checklist ready to go.

All in all, I’m excited. It has been a long time since I’ve had any sort of focus. I tend to hop around from subject to subject trying to learn on my own, which is fun but it isn’t necessarily the most efficient way. Now, I feel like I have a path to explore something that I’m interested in and can maybe lead to passion and inspiration.

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Labor Day Libertine

Over Labor Day weekend my partner and I had a wonderful time at an event in Indiana, Labor Day Libertine. This is actually the first weekend we have had to relax since leaving Missoula in May. Sure, we have days where we aren’t cycling, but we are always working or planning or making repairs. I think a lot of people assume that just because we are biking around the country that means we are relaxing or vacationing. We definitely see some awesome things and I wouldn’t change my life for anything, but it isn’t easy spending every day wondering where you will sleep at night, how you will find WiFi, what you will do when it storms on you, etc etc etc. It was so nice to spend an entire weekend with our phones turned off and just enjoying ourselves.

Labor Day Libertine is a festival put on in Indiana to celebrate polyamory, BDSM, and spiritual hedonism. While my partner and I don’t really fit strictly into any of those categories I knew we would have a good time because of the community involved. This is a group of people whom I met years ago on my bike ride across the US and they are, by far, the most loving and accepting people I’ve ever met. They truly support any lifestyle as long as you aren’t hurting anyone else. To be honest, it is probably more accepting than Burning Man.

Our first day into the festival (for lack of a better word) was pretty relaxed. We set up our tent, went to one of the classes, and then hung out around the bonfire while people danced played drums. We were our normal introverted selves and just kind of sat their and enjoyed the environment. Most of the participants seemed to know each other a little bit and spent the evening catching up, we were a little bit on the outside but it didn’t feel bad. We went to bed around 11pm to recover from the fairly tough bike ride of the day that involved hills, humidity, and heat.

Saturday, after a long night’s sleep, we got up and went to the BDSM 101 class. We aren’t particularly kinky but we do enjoy some unconventional sex from time to time and have an interest in BDSM. The class was good and showed us a wide variety of toys and implements that can be used for pleasure. The rest of the day was kind of relaxed, we chatted with some people, took naps, and recovered from life. That night we were much more social around the fire (thanks Molly) and had our first threesome.

The threesome was an incredible experience. Of course, we have discussed our kinks, fantasies, and interests before Libertine. Communication in the area of sex is absolutely necessary for exploration and satisfaction. Bringing another person into our sex life was something we had a logical interest in but recognized that there could be some jealousy or negative feelings. So, we moved slowly and communicated a lot when this opportunity presented itself. We ended up not having any jealousy or discomfort, it was actually a really good experience where everyone had a good time and looked after each other’s feelings. I think it was a great step for my partner and I, it was a physical example of the words we have often shared… that we love each other, that each other’s comfort comes first, and that neither of us would do something if it could hurt the other. While we aren’t going to actively look for more experiences like this we are open to other multi-partner experiences, a foursome is particularly appealing to even out the numbers. Maybe some day some coupled friends of ours or random strangers will have a mutual interest in exploring.

After the threesome my partner and I felt stronger than ever and we went into the woods to have some more amazing sex under the stars. It was a truly magical night and we feel stronger than ever. The next day, Sunday, we slept in and lounged around a lot. It was quite hot and the Molly hangover had us feeling lazy. At lunch we chatted with a guy who makes his own BDSM toys and he gifted us a flogger. It was incredibly nice of him, though the reason he was in Indiana at all is kind of ridiculous. He was arrested for marijuana possession and sentenced to 2-years probation where he can’t leave the state (he is from California). The police took his care and all of his personal items and sold them, so now he is stuck in Indiana without the means to work and all his family and friends are on the coast. Pretty damn stupid.

Sunday evening we did end up going to a Orgasm Control demo, which was pretty fascinating. We accidentally went to bed after that, we had planned on just taking a nap to rally before another night of partying but we didn’t set an alarm and just slept. Monday morning was mostly just packing and cleaning up. I wish we would have had the energy to go to more demos and workshops, and to party more, but our bodies and mind were beat from months of travel and stress. We will definitely be back though, either to a future Libertine or one of the other festivals put on by this wonderful community. I miss them already.

The Ride Begins Again…

Tomorrow morning I start on a 35,000 miles, 18-month bicycle ride around the United States and Canada with my partner (Anna), our friend (also named Anna), and our dog (Higgs-Bosom – The Dog Particle). I started this blog just over two years ago to track my (mostly) solo bicycle ride from Washington DC to Los Angeles. It is funny how things come full circle.

Anyway, because of the upcoming ride I will have some new writing responsibilities and this blog is going to change a bit. I will still write as often as possible in an uncensored way about the subjects I love (Burning Man, sex, spirituality, BDSM, LGBT, science, transhumanism, polyamory, open relationships, drug legalization, social issues, MDMA, anarchy, libertarianism, veganism, etc) but I really don’t know how much time I will have to spend writing. My Facebook page will probably also lack it’s normal traffic but if you want to add me there to see the articles and stuff I find interesting please do. If you are interested in following my other writing I will be blogging at two other sites:

  • Barely Functional Adults: This is going to be an uncensored blog about our bike ride. Because we are all adults and enjoy adult things (drugs, sex, being naked, swearing, sinning, etc) this blog will cover those things. Some highlights we are looking forward to include visiting nude beaches, going to festivals, the World Naked Bike Ride, Burning Man, and banging in every state. We will be updating 2-3 times per week. (www.BarelyFunctionalAdults.wordpress.com).
  • 10 Legs, Will Travel: This blog will be censored, updated daily, and basically rated “PG”. We all subscribe to the Dan Savage view of dealing with parents/family… basically, there are things parents have a right not to know about their adult children’s lives and they have a responsibility not to snoop. This blog will provide our families with a place to hear about our journey, look at pictures, and keep track of us without hearing about hanging out in the Orgy Dome or seeing our nipples, butts, pubic mounds, etc. (www.10LegsWillTravel.wordpress.com).
  • There are also other social networks:
    • Instagram: 10LegsWillTravel (we will probably take tons of pictures… the Anna’s are both great photographers)
    • SnapChat: pneiger (in case you want to send us pics of your junk)
    • Twitter: pneiger (though this is just my Facebook and blog linked, I don’t actually use it)
    • FourSquare: Peter Neiger

Anyway, I hope you will follow our other travels and still check out this blog from time to time. I will do my best to keep up with everything but it is likely I will only have internet access a couple of times a day… and I’m also working on college courses, Khan Academy, and some other writing so my downtime will be limited. Below is our basic route but if you have any advice on places to check out or know people with open lawn/floor space for us to sleep please shoot an email to 10LegsWillTravel@gmail.com . Much peace and love to you all.

Map Update (1)

Sex Nerds

I had a great article from Vice brought to my attention yesterday. The article, which hit home for me in a lot of ways, is about sex nerds. Not nerds having sex, that is a different (but can be overlapping) category. Sex nerds are people who enjoy being nerdy about the subject of sex. We like to read about it, write about it, and ponder it from every angle. It isn’t about having a high sex drive or pursuing personal orgasms (truth be told, my sex drive is probably about average), no, it is about analyzing, questioning, and discussing the different aspects of sex.

Like most nerds (a positive term in my mind), sex nerds like to throw out social norms and see what is left. They aren’t content to just view the world or do things that are popular unless they hold up to greater scrutiny. “That’s the way it has always been done” is blasphemy. Instead, things like gender, relationships, kinks, and fetishes are all open to analysis, experimentation, and confirmation. And what nerds are finding about sex is fascinating.

Sex nerds tend to be open to multi-partner relationships in some form. Whether it is polyamory, monogamish, or a variety of “open” relationships we have found that jealousy and “traditional” relationships are not the only way to happily organize intimacy. Jealousy may be more of a social construct than a natural reaction. We are told that we should be jealous when our partners are flirted with, make out with someone, fantasize about another person, or have hook up… but why? Can’t jealousy, like many other negative emotions be controlled, subdued, and shown for what it is… an unnecessary display of anger towards something that may not happen and is often beyond our control. Jealousy is about possessing another person’s body and mind, it is about controlling them, treating them as an object. It may be “normal” but that doesn’t make it good.

Nerds also tend to be much more fluid with their gender and sexuality. Why should we view 1/2 of the population as off-limits to intimacy and love simply because of the way they were born? Certainly, we all have a certain level of sexual orientation. We find some things more attractive than others and are turned off by certain attributes, but is that purely biology or has there been immense pressure by churches, governments, and society as a whole to subdue sexuality. Men receive constant pressure to have no attraction to other men while women are often told they must be “pure” for their future spouse. Gender, like sex in general, has been a way to control the actions of others. And nerds, as is often the case, don’t give a fuck about social norms and are going to surround themselves with more accepting people.

Technology and the internet has really created revolutionary opportunities for nerds (and anyone who has interests that aren’t “normal”). There is an ability to connect and discuss things that would normally be off-limits. No matter how strange you are the internet allows you to find similar people… which of course complicates things. As nerds figure out that sex isn’t always just vanilla, that relationships can thrive with multiple people, and as gender is recognized as being non-binary new terms are needed. Polyamory, pansexuality, and all the different types of kink start to be defined and enter mainstream. And I hope it does continue to enter the mainstream.

Being a sex nerd is more nerd than it is sex. It isn’t about putting on a Tidus outfit and finding a cute Yuna to bend over a hotel room bed at a conference. It is about diving deeper into one of our most carnal drives to find a way to do it better, more intimately, and boldly try things that have never been tried before. And isn’t that what we all really want? To be able to explore a vital part of human existence safely, with consenting partners, and without fear of unfair judgement from others?

The Future

Making plans for the long-term is a funny thing. It is almost always out of our control and the universe has a way of throwing us unexpected curveballs, but we humans insist on making plans and pursuing them. This doesn’t seem to be a bad idea as long as you don’t continue down a failed or impossible path because you refuse to reevaluate your plans. I am no different than anyone else in this respect. I make plans… no specifics or expectations but I do try to align myself along a certain path and make preparations for where I think my life is going. This last week was an eye-opener in that respect and I have begun to make more plans for life after the 2-year bicycle ride.

We have all heard the cliche that you should do what you are passionate about. Your career, your life, your happiness can (should?) all be aligned. To be honest, until recently this never really rang true in my life, at least not in a long-term sense. I’ve had jobs in many places but nothing that really kept me passionate or in one place/career for long. I think that may be changing though. I have found what I am passionate about…. sex. Not just having an orgasm (that is awesome too) but about helping people and relationships deal with unhealthy views of sex. Particularly people who don’t fall into traditional orientations. I want to help individuals and couples dealing with the issues that are somewhat unique to LGBT, polyamorous, and sexually open relationships. People who would normally not be able to go to a therapist for fear of being judged, over analyzed, or told they should stop their non-traditional life to find happiness.

Luckily, I have a friend who is interested in going along a similar path. After literally dozens of hours talking we have a little plan… a plan that may shift, alter, and change but it is at least a guideline. While on my bike ride I am going research programs to get into Marriage and Family Therapy with a specialization in sex, I need to study and take the GRE’s, read all the literature we can get our hands on, and also work on getting any necessary prereq’s out of the way via free online programs or community college online courses. I am confident this can be done while on the trail.

After getting into and finishing a program my friend and I would like to set up a practice together. As a male/female team who has overlapping but different interests I think our practice could be incredibly successful. The end goal isn’t simply a practice in a city though. We would also like to round out our education with yoga and massage therapy, and then put together retreats to peaceful locations that people can sign up for. These retreats could have a variety of uses… single people dealing with sex or body issues, couples looking to bring together more intimacy and exploration, or some other random awesomeness we haven’t solidified. In addition, we may also jointly do some research or write a book or three together. 

All in all, I am excited. It has been a long time since I was really passionate or interested in a particular career or skill set. Hopefully following this path will continue to lead me to a happy life. If people have any recommendations, resources, or whatever I am always open to advice. 

Relationship Types

I have always found one-word relationship definitions to be very restricting and unrealistic. I know that labels serve some purpose in simplifying things in life but with complex interactions like intimate relationships I find the simplicity to be harmful. As the below chart highlights, there are a shit-ton of ways to be intimate. I’m not sure of the source of this image but it appears to leave out by-the-books monogamy where two people are only intimate, have sex, and are in love with each other with no cheating by either partner. I guess that would be a bubble outside the graph but in reality many cheat and many have monogamish relationships where certain levels of intimacy and sexual exploration exist.

What I really find unfortunate about the quick definitions we put on relationships is it prevents (and even makes taboo) discussions that get deeper into the details of relationships. It is inappropriate for me to talk to one of my couple crushes (of which I have several) and ask them if they are more open sexually, if they swing or are into BDSM. If I ask these things it is assumed I am hitting on them or looking for a play partner when in reality I may just be interested in the relationship dynamics between two (or more) complex people. I find people and sex fascinating, I would love to know how my friends and acquaintances approach these issues and relationships.

Anyway, I found the image interesting even if it isn’t complete (can anything like this be complete without reducing it down to each individual relationship in the world?).

The Lifestyle: A Review

Yesterday I finally finished “The Lifestyle: A Look at the Erotic Rights of Swingers” and I really enjoyed the analysis of what was going on with Swingers in the mid-late 90’s. The book is a bit dated but many of the lessons stand true today and books like this help destroy the unfair discrimination and naive views some people have towards those who don’t fit neatly into the “traditional marriage” paradigm. In fact, I found it surprising how many people were actually involved in The Lifestyle, the odds are someone in every neighborhood across western civilization there are play-couples who don’t see a problem with introducing third party eroticism into their relationships.

There are several different types of swingers discussed throughout the book but each type shared some common themes. It is very woman-centric, the ladies tend to control the action and explicit consent is absolutely mandatory. It mentioned many times throughout the book that come down to men tend to initiate the idea of entering the lifestyle but it is the women that really dominate. Due to the potential for coercion the official lifestyle clubs work very hard to self-regulate. Some clubs require interviews, psychological evaluations, and an application process to make sure both members of the couple are healthy and interested. Swinging cannot save a couple with a bad or weak relationship, but it can strengthen a strong and healthy one. Swingers don’t consider their actions cheating because everyone consents, especially their partner. The relationship comes first at all times, which is more than I can say for the people who cheat on their partners. The lifestyle at this time (and possibly now) does have a male homophobia though, men showing intimacy for other men is more than just frowned upon. That may have changed over the last 15 years as pansexuality and bisexuality become more normalized though.

The majority of swingers I would call “soft swingers” and they make up roughly 3/4 of people in the lifestyle. Soft swingers don’t necessarily have sex with other people, instead the enjoy the carefree and sensual atmosphere of being around adults where everything is out in the open. Because people are so open there are much fewer cases of unwanted touching, grinding, sexual assault, or harassment… everyone knows the boundaries, there are no games, it is all in the open. This is much like the Orgy Dome that my partner and I went to at Burning Man, it is a sexual place where trusting couples can be surrounded by sensuality without a worry of anyone being hurt. When some sort of sex outside of the primary relationship happens it is usually with another couple they know, trust, and it is a beautifully intimate affair.

Within the lifestyle there are also “hard swingers” who are more orgiastic. These are the vast minority though. Not that there is anything wrong with indulging in group sex with strangers, but it is relatively uncommon. Of course this is the type of swingers that comes to mind thanks to the media, you say swinger and people imagine “key parties” or groups of writhing oiled up bodies, when the reality is most swingers don’t engage in group sex behavior at all.

One chapter of the book was also dedicated to polyamorous people, though whether they are part of the lifestyle is up for debate. Where “swingers” brings up the idea first of sex (and many swingers would agree with that), the polys discussed in the book view things very differently. In their view they are very explicitly trying to remake society along the boundaries of love. Their relationships tend to be sexually closed and intimacy is shared within multi-person families and marriages. They wanted to bring Robert Heinlein’s views from “Stranger in a Strange Land” to life and even adopted the terminology of “grok” and “sharing water” in common conversations. To be honest, this chapter of the book kind of surprised me because that has not been my experience with polyamorous people. My experience, which I admit is minimal, seems to be closer to a middle ground between these polys and swingers. This may be due to the 15+ years separating now and this book or it may be that my experience is not the norm.

One of the most common criticisms of any lifestyle that is not monogamous is that it isn’t “natural”. The standard model of human sexuality pushed for monogamy, but that is being challenged pretty heavily by sperm competition. Under sperm competition a male will have more powerful and pleasurable orgasms if they think (or know) that their partner has had sex with another person. It is a pretty common fantasy for a man to want to see his partner be with another and sperm competition leads some credibility to that. This theory also shows why women can have multiple orgasms, take longer to orgasm, and become very vocal during sex… because they were built for many partners to help guarantee they get the strongest genes. More info on this can be found in “What Do Women Want?” and “Sex At Dawn

The media in the past has seen people in the lifestyle as perverse and open to all sorts of unfair criticism. They reinforced a form of classism where when rich and beautiful people embrace their sexuality it is to be celebrated but the common folk must do no such thing. Articles were written focused on how unattractive swingers were compared to their hollywood counterparts and how disgusting it was that they would wear scantily clothes, show intimacy in public, or openly flirt. I can’t help but be disgusted with the idea that sexual fulfillment and relationship experimentation is only a good thing if people fit into a certain physical mold. If all humans are equal we should all be free to pursue happiness with other consenting adults.

As disgusting as the media’s actions were for a time their tune eventually changed when the government decided to enforce morality. The major turning point was when the California ABC (which is responsible for giving out liquor licenses) started targetting venues who allowed swinging conventions and using nude art as their justification. Once there was a clear attack on free speech the media got in line and started at least supporting the swingers rights to practice what they wish. The ABC, as a bureaucracy, has virtually no check on their power. They are charged with defending public morality in any place where alcohol is served and used this power with virtually no oversight. They couldn’t be sued and any complaints went internally to ABC. They even claimed the authority to revoke the liquor license of any hotel that allowed nudity or sexual activity behind the closed doors of a hotel room. They used their power to primarily go after those who couldn’t fight back but the swingers had resources, they are primarily middle and upper-middle class suburbanites who weren’t going to go down without a fight. After the attempted censorship of nude art a judge finally reigned in ABC by putting a restraining order on them. To this day the ABC is charged with protecting the safety, welfare, health, peace, and morals (emphasis mine) of the people of California. As the author says, “When a government – any government – feels itself standing as a righteous bulwark against sexual immorality, the public becomes the enemy”

All in all this was a fascinating book that I really enjoyed. It did a great job of showing how “normal” most swingers are. They are mostly married, have good jobs, raise kids, and are many times religious. They just reject the current view of sexual morality, as the author said “Morals are without exception dictated by the dominant figures in a group, who ruthlessly attempt to constrain the sexual expression of others.” Swingers are telling the establishment to fuck off, they are living life their way. I would love to attend the national convention in 2014 but it is unlikely I will be able to due to my bike ride. Hopefully my partner and I can at least check out one of the local clubs or something though. There is a wide world of sexual and relationship acceptance out there for those that will open their minds and think for themselves.