Friday, September 10, 2021; Palm Desert, California
I walk into the room quietly.
Justin is already there seated in silence. I slowly sit down in front of him. Before we do anything, we face each other, left eye to left eye, our bodies open and unguarded, breathing together.
This is what we do every morning. If we don’t, and we skip over presence, the practice will feel lacking, thin, not quite right.
So Justin and I don’t do that. We don’t assume presence is there. Even though we have been doing this practice for more than a decade, we start at the beginning every time.
Most days, words do not need to be spoken for presence to become palpable. The simple practice of matching breath and eye contact does it nonverbally, and we can each feel ourselves and the other as, “I’m here.”
But today isn’t like most days. I am having a hard time showing up to the moment.
Last night, we were out at dinner at a new Japanese restaurant. Justin and I were sitting across from each other. Our daughter was sitting in my lap cuddling. We were having a lovely time when the waitress commented on our family.
“Nice smile,” she said to Justin. “Like mother, like son.”
I nearly choked on the bite of food in my mouth. Her words punched me in the gut.
Taking in the scene, she’d concluded that Justin was my son and Ava was my granddaughter. Granted, it’s not typical to see a 50-year-old woman with a 30-something man and a two-year-old daughter. It defies logic and traditional cultural norms. But to us, it makes perfect sense.
The waitress was being sweet by pointing out the great time we were all having, but it stung. Bad. I felt a 100-foot wave pound me under the water at that moment. I couldn’t find my breath. The voices in my head immediately attacked me saying, Oh God, she thinks you’re Justin’s mom and Ava’s grandmother. Maybe you’re older and uglier than you realize.
The voices went on, See?! It doesn’t work to be with a man 14 years younger. You’re too old for him.
I wrestled with those voices. I tried to remember that if I let those thoughts take me down, I begin living into them and creating them to be true. I give up on myself, go drab, stop putting on makeup, stop wearing cute clothes. I start thinking my radiance is something that can expire. And then I become less radiant.
I know that inside of the timeless realm of sacred intimacy, age is irrelevant. My radiance has nothing to do with my exterior—it has to do with shining my light. That’s available to me at any age. Period.
But when our server made that comment, it was such a fucking earthquake for me. It pulled the veil back on those shadows:
Oh yeah, I am 14 years older. Oh yeah, I am 50 years old. Oh yeah, I am aging, and I have new wrinkles.
I don’t feel any of this most of the time, but her comment was like an arrow in the heart, the tip poisoned with the cultural idea that 50 is a specific something. Normally, I’m not living inside those surface constraints, those defined roles.
But I surely tried them on. My thought was, I’m not a maiden. What am I thinking? I’m a crone.
It made me step into the box for a second and feel like I didn’t fit.
Now, it’s the next morning, and I am in a lot of pain from the experience and its aftermath. I sit down for practice and am taken by the demon of self-doubt. My body is here, but my heart is clenched, my mind is hijacked by shame, and I can barely look Justin in the eye.
I feel ugly, old, and unloveable. My mind is loud and mean. My body is frozen, buried underneath a flurry of self-judgment. And the bitch about self-judgment is that it leaves little to offer to your lover. We may think it’s humble and sweet. It’s not. It’s wildly self-centered. I know that. I can feel it.
I am bringing nothing to practice right now. I’m like a black hole of powerlessness. But I can’t shake it. Last night stole my confidence, and I can’t get it back.
So I stop trying. And I feel the pain in my heart beyond the stories of my mind. I lift my face up to show Justin my heart through my tears.
He says, “I’m here, my love. I’m here.”
His words are a salve. I can hear him saying without speaking: I’m here for your aging process.
Bigger tears come. A release of a fear I didn’t even know was in there.
This man is showing up for me. This man is here. I do not want to let him down by believing my mental poisons and wallowing in them.
So I lift my heart along with my head and breathe in his next breath. I keep my eyes connected to his as a way to “see” the support, witness it, let it tell my survival self that it’s all a narrative. Nothing actually bad is happening right now. Justin is right here. And he’s not going anywhere.
I say, “I want you to call me into presence with a command.” I invite him to guide me because I know he can see me better than I can see myself at this moment. He will help me find my way back to the right-now moment, the moment where age is meaningless. After years of doing this together, I know I can count on Justin to lead me better than I can lead myself.
Justin says, “I would need you to soften your eyes.”
It feels almost impossible to find this. My eyes carry the frozen look of a mind on overdrive. My nervous system thinks it’s under attack; it’s anxiously scanning for any kind of threat that could pop out from behind the next tree. I’m on high alert for impending abandonment. It’s all in there, in that wide-eyed stare.
But Justin’s calling me away from that. He’s asking me to soften my gaze. That means softening the vigilance. That means not listening to the fear of being abandoned and instead trusting that I’m okay in the moment.
ARGHHHH, this shit is SO hard, I think. Okay, I’m doing it. For Justin, for our daughter, for the Divine. I’m doing it.
I blink a few times and shake my neck a bit as if to loosen my brain at the same time. I exhale. And then I take my hands and gently caress my eyes to help them soften as I connect with Justin. As I feel him watching me, I let the caress be beautiful and not utilitarian. I’m finding my way back to connection with him.
Already, with this one single command into presence, I’m more aware of myself in the relational field and of my impact on Justin with every move I make. I’m getting out of the “self” prison. It feels like a massive relief. It feels like I’m not alone.
We connect for a few minutes in breath. There’s nowhere to be. We aren’t rushing into polarity to prove anything. We are landing in presence and taking our sweet time.
Then, Justin gives me another command to help me sink another layer deeper. Now that my mind has calmed and my face has softened, he senses that my next step is to unclench my heart. It is his depth of presence that allows him to intuit this truth. I cannot feel this on my own. He can see me better than I can see myself in this moment of inner contraction.
He says to me, “I would need you to soften the back of your heart and sink into the back line of your body.”
His words feel amazing to hear. He says them powerfully, like he’s whispering right into my ear. And his words are so true, they melt my heart with the sheer brilliance of their wisdom.
I take a big exhale, surrender another layer of tension from my heart, and do exactly as he commands. I am Omega.
Sinking back into my spine feels like a return home into my body, into love. I allow myself to break our gaze, close my eyes, and bask in pleasure for a long and luscious timeless moment. I’m still aware of Justin. I’m inviting him into this, ironically, by closing my eyes and diving into my inner experience. I become the feeler.
My whole spine unwinds. It becomes like seaweed in the ocean, supple and responsive. My pelvis unlocks and begins to rock with wave-like movements. In simply allowing my body to respond to Justin’s command, I say yes to the healing power of our fire—and it moves me.
I open my eyes again and see Justin right there with me, needing nothing about the moment to change for him to be all in.
This moment of presence is the very thing that makes our age gap inconsequential to us. It may be odd to society, but it makes perfect sense to us inside of the throes of timelessness and total connection—the place that exists beyond human conditions.
Our practice places me in a paradigm of agelessness, for radiance is located well beyond age. Radiance is my ability to shine my light and share my love—beyond circumstances, beyond conditions. No age, no person, no tragedy can take that away from me. And Justin’s practice lands him in a place where he doesn’t need anything from me. He has no expectations.
Because of this, I remember I’m enough just as I am, fully here, heart forward, and body undefended. Mind now quiet.
—excerpt from Playing With Fire: The Spiritual Path of Intimate Relationship by Justin Patrick Pierce and Londin Angel Winters