Courtship & Seduction; Beauty & Sadness

A note from Carl:

Erin recently introduced me to Stephen Jenkinson’s book, Die Wise: A Manifesto for Sanity and Soul. This book will join the cherished collection of books in my world that I would call the life-changers. There have been many, many through the years, all held with immense gratitude. The “me” that entered this book is certainly not the same one that is leaving on the other end. Having sat with so many inspiring, uncomfortable, unanswerable questions around what it is to live, and what it is to die, I was deeply impacted by this book.
One passage that stood out for me is a distinction Jenkinson makes between what he calls courtship and seduction:

“It takes some real living to learn the difference between courtship and seduction. This culture swims in one, struggling in its undertow towards the mirage of the other. Seduction is finding the 10,000 ways of stealing something for yourself, without them knowing that you’ve done so. Seduction needs coercion, sleight of hand, distraction, and a really keen nose for weakness.  Courtship is finding the 10,000 ways of giving something to someone that they need for their lives without recourse to asking them what it is they might need. Courtship needs slowness, elegance, discernment – some cunning in the name of life, and a well-cooked heart. Both are skills of a sort, but one leaves a rupture and vacancy as evidence, and the other gives with a deep respect for the need or the struggle of the recipient.” Stephen Jenkinson, Die Wise.

We have so much seduction that runs through the fabric of this culture. It is like a wallpaper we have grown so accustomed to that it is now invisible. Politics, the decimation of natural resources, climate change, marketing, self -improvement… This tone of “what can I get from you?” can pervade so many facets of life.

We often carry this dynamic into how we are with our body, how we are with our inner-life, how we are with each other, how we are with life itself. In a recent talk, Francis Weller said:

Our approach is more economical than reverential. We have colonized our inner-life. We ask, “What can I get from it?” What if we asked instead, “What is this wanting from me?”

So much in life depends on the quality of approach we bring.

On this day, where so much inside is raw and angry and grieving over yet another school shooting, I am drawn to deepening the quality of approach I bring to life. I want an approach that is more reverential than economical. That brings the slow, elegant discernment of courtship, instead of the coercive distraction of seduction.

Though we have shared this one before, I have to offer Mark Nepo’s Adrift again today, as its words point to just the paradox I am living today.


Mark Nepo

Everything is beautiful and I am so sad.
This is how the heart makes a duet of
wonder and grief. The light spraying
through the lace of the fern is as delicate
as the fibers of memory forming their web
around the knot in my throat. The breeze
makes the birds move from branch to branch
as this ache makes me look for those I’ve lost
in the next room, in the next song, in the laugh
of the next stranger. In the very center, under
it all, what we have that no one can take
away and all that we’ve lost face each other.
It is there that I’m adrift, feeling punctured
by a holiness that exists inside everything.
I am so sad and everything is beautiful.

Wishing you well, and wishing you courtship.

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By training and profession, I am a somatic educator. Over the past 25+ years I have trained in and taught modern dance, tai chi, Indian and Tibetan yoga, yoga therapy (specializing in back pain). I completed a 4-year professional Feldenkrais training in 2007 and a 3-year Embodied Life training in 2014. I also study and work with somatic meditation and the profound practice of embodied inner listening known as Focusing.