An interview: Pamela Samuelson

I realised I wanted to start interviewing people over a year ago. At first I thought 'I'll start a podcast!' and then realized I didn't have enough bandwidth to commit to it fully. But the idea of interviews stuck in my head. There are people out there who are doing amazing things: healing, creating, living amazing lives that are their own; following their curiosity and their passion no matter where it leads them. They follow something intangible inside themselves, and it shows in their work and how they interact with the world. These interviews don't contain 'productivity tips',  nor do they serve as a road map for how to get 'there' (where is 'there' anyway?). Instead, I wanted to talk about something inspiring-- show that there are people out there who listen to themselves, follow their hearts, and more importantly, follow the magic :). 

I met Pamela years ago, through a mutual friend. We sorta just decided that we'd be friends. Some frienships work like that-- fall into place like jigsaws coming together. Over the years, I've seen her work develop, become something bigger, more impactful, and so so necessary for the world right now. She works with bodies, empowerment, and sexual education. I wanted to introduce you all to her work, but also get a dig around inside her mind because her work is such a beautiful combination of soft, gentle kindness and fierce, determined passion. 

You can find Pamela at her website www.embodywork.la.

13775635_10154472164238755_6724500396023469450_n.jpg

And if you want to read some of her incredible blog posts, start here (this one went viral) and here

And if you're in LA I cannot recommend working with her enough-- she's one of those people whose touch is utterly transformative. 

 

1. Some people and their work are indefinable, and yet people often want a label anyway. What is it that you do in the world? 

Hello :) 

I’m a bodyworker and somatic educator, a birthworker, a writer, an insatiable student, a hedonist, a mom, a feminist, and kind of a giant nerd. And plenty of other things. I’m attracted to the transformative edges and initiatory markers of human time, and tend to hang out there. My work right now mostly takes the form of one on one sessions that involves both talking and hands-on table work, teaching various versions of sex ed to people, and writing. 

The bodywork I do is grounded in a couple of decades of full-body structural and energetic work, and has come in recent years to include sexological bodywork, Holistic Pelvic Care, and Arvigo Maya abdominal therapy, because it makes no fucking sense to me at all to address the whole body except for the pelvis. Quite apart form the obvious structural centrality of the pelvis, I feel strongly that sex and sexuality are a cornerstone of human vitality and joy, and must therefore be included in considering what makes a human being healthy. And doing that and talking publicly about it has made me into an activist, because we live in a culture that cripples us with sexual shame, and I’ve had enough of that and so am doing something about it. 

I offer to be with people as honestly and directly as I can, to give a lot of permission, to facilitate change where & when I’m asked to, to talk about power, and to encourage agency, self-sovereignty and real-time, present embodiment for all people. and particularly for those to whom those experiences have been historically denied. Right now my focus is mainly on women and children, but I also work with men, and with people all along the wide spectrum of sex and gender. 

 

2. Do you feel pressure to be more productive, get more done, keep up with the ‘rat race’? If so, do you think this is a positive thing, or something standing between you and the world? If it affects you negatively, what do you do to get out of that mindset?

This has come up SO MANY TIMES over the last couple of days, this notion. I have zero time for the rat race mentality, personally, and am suspicious of the type of ambition that has a gnawing competitiveness at its core. That kind of thinking registers in me as an illness. Which isn’t to say that I don’t harbor an inner tyrant, or ever feel competitive, or that I’m not an asshole - I surely do and am. But to paraphrase one of my teachers, Martin Prechtel: at best, I don’t let the tyrant sit at the head of the table, and try to find constructive things for her to do. I feel strongly about collaboration, about credit where credit is due, and locating myself in a lineage of learning and creation, and about being a decent, courteous person. It’s about service, not aggrandizement. And it’s not so fucking serious. Who am I supposed to be? Who cares?

I do experience some anxiety about doing everything I want to do before I die, but I try to stay in proper communication with my ancestors to keep some perspective, and generally keep the meaning and value in my life centered in my own awesomely messy subjectivity, so that I don’t get carried away caring so much about what other people think, which is, in any case, beyond my control and none of my business. Falling over into fantasies of the future or obsessions with the past are unhelpful, so I try to avoid it. 

Hakim Bey says it most graciously in Temporary Autonomous Zone: “All ideal pasts, all futures which have not yet come to pass, simply obstruct our consciousness of total vivid presence.”

16831148_10155189518238755_8508643413859941749_n.jpg

3. Your life and your approach is kinda magical. It seems to me as though, at some point, you left convention and expectation behind you and just decided to walk your own path. Did you always feel like that was your path, or did you stumble upon it, or did something happen to make you realise that this was the way you wanted to go? Did you have to work hard to learn to listen to yourself in this way or did it come naturally? What advice do you have for people who are trying to find this in themselves?

It has caused pain, of course, but I’ve never been inclined or really even able to do the thing that feels like straightforward obedience. I’m just not made to be easy in that way. I’m really fucking stubborn, and somehow by the grace of the gods became an efficiently self-resourcing person early on, I think just from having such a lot of solitude throughout my life and such a strong relationship with text, both as a reader and as a writer. I read like an addict from childhood onward, and I truly think that beginning to write in a journal at 13 saved my sanity and probably my life. 

Having a meditation practice, even a spotty one, has also been essential. I started trying to figure it out at 14, and then went to India for nearly a year at 20 on a year abroad, knowing no one, and received some real instruction from heavyweight teachers who I was absolutely blessed to meet there, and hammered through the first layers of uncertainty and resistance that everyone runs into, and just got to work it until it worked in the most amazing community of fellow investigators. I think there isn’t a more necessary act for a human being than to sit down and shut up and stop fussing long enough to recognize that it’s all a play of light and shadow. It does tremendous good for one’s sense of priorities.

And: I’ve had wondrously lucky relationships with other freaks and geeks since high school. I unceremoniously abandoned sports and leapt into the performing arts, where the freaks and geeks obviously live, and found incredible love and permission there. 

So, if I have any advice, it’s probably this:

Nobody can tell you how to do you. Only you know that. 

And if you can’t hear yourself clearly because you’re too full of other people’s opinions and feelings, I recommend spending lots of time alone, writing exhaustively in the private sanctuary of a journal, finding a great human being who will teach you how to meditate and keep you on task, even if that person is in the form of a book, and having high standards for the people you allow to be close to you. Like that they have to be wonderful, and they have to love you for who you are rather than who they prefer you to be. 

Do those things and you will orient your compass properly, and then the magic will come and grab you by the hair and whisper funny things to you at inconvenient moments, and your heart will be in the right place when you do the inexplicable things you must do.

 

4. What made you want to start working with sexuality and reproductive health? 

Sex is the central fascination, no? Certainly is for me, and once I burned through the terrible shameful reluctance that kept me from fully exploring it as a personal and professional interest, it was incredibly obvious. I feel as though I was circling closer and closer to what I do now for years.

On one hand, this work is an expression of a compelling desire to freely share my excitement about the profound, life-giving joy and power that I find is possible in contact with my full, connected sexual presence. And on the other it’s borne of the feminism that has become formidable in me in response to simply recognizing the shitty behaviors that are institutionalized all around us, and tracing them to their origins. Once I started pulling the thread of it, terrible behavior toward women is apparent everywhere: advertising, street harassment, rape on campuses, the legal system, in education, in the institution of marriage, in the culture of parenthood, in every facet of the economy, and, most poignantly for me, in medicine. 

Everything from the etymology of anatomical language to the politics of birth control, to the practices around birth, the way women are treated in menopause, how female reproductive illnesses are routinely dealt with, how women are treated as though they’re crazy or lying when they have a legitimate health concern. It’s an endless rabbit hole.

A good deal of what I’m doing in practice now is helping women deal with the consequences of medical decisions. I do scar tissue remediation with women who have birth and other surgical injuries caused, a lot of the time, by unnecessary procedures and poor decisions made by their caregivers. I help women get themselves off hormonal birth control when it’s played hell with their emotional lives for years, and help them get pregnant when they’re ready to. I attend the births of my Ioved ones as their doula, and grieve with the ones who have had abortions and other birth losses that no other caregiver has taken any time for. 

It’s worth saying that I don’t, on the whole, think medical caregivers are terrible people, at all. But I do think the training they receive is frequently archaic and stupid and destructive when it comes to women’s sexual and reproductive health, and they are hemmed in by debt and the insurance industry and the pharmaceuticals industry. It’s hard to be a hero in that world. 

But I don’t care, frankly. It’s time for things to change. 

And of course it’s not all about the doctors. Doctors are just an expression of the culture.

Pussy is ground zero in precisely the same way that the earth itself is ground zero. The most remarkable thing about these times, to me, is that it’s like we’re living in fucking Lord of the Rings. Everything is black and white. The fight is a very clear fight. Nothing is ambiguous. And nowhere are the choices more clear than in the culture’s responses to the body, in general, and the female body in particular. At the core of all that, as far as I can tell, is a desire to enslave women as sexual beings, to keep us from experiencing the full extent of our pleasure and power. 

The body is the primary holy ground. We are made of earth. There’s no real separation. There is no “out’ to cast to, and postponing the inevitable is a waste of time. Everything we need to come into contact with ourselves and each other, claim our authority over our own experience, change as we see fit, is all already in our hands. We just have to be brave and show up to do the work together. 

14137997_10154599220353755_6732053933300177273_o.jpg

5. Are there common themes you come up against over and over again with the people you work with? 

There are mini-themes every day. There are frequently days when everyone who comes in will be dealing with something similar, like a cardiac condition, or the recent loss of a relationship, or vaginismus. I’ve done several ritual cord-cuttings in the last month with women who have ended relationships with closet misogynists, men who talk wonderfully but actually want to own and control their girlfriends. 

But on the whole, the only theme is an overwhelming desire for change, usually. A few people come in just wanting to explore and learn, and that’s delightful. But most folks come because they are experiencing a serious problem and are ready to dive into it and wrestle with it and see what else might be possible. 

 

6. How have some of the trials that you’ve been through in life contributed to who you are and the work you do in the world?  

I think my parents, like everyone’s parents, have contributed much toward the positive and negative aspects of my circumstances and how I meet them. My mom is a ferocious, independent, clever, loudmouthed bookworm, super gutsy, no-bullshit to a sometimes horrifying extreme, deeply feminist without necessarily calling it that, and is the person who has shown me what genuine unconditional love is, for which I am eternally grateful. My dad is an intellectual powerhouse, a gentle man, a committed do-gooder of considerable heft, an astounding public speaker and storyteller, and is, in my life, the inventor of the trick of saying yes and then staying slightly ahead of the curve - not a bullshit artist, but certainly a bold and daring creator of reality. They’re both very honest, both artists of various kinds, both really introverts at the end of the day, and both a little nuts. 

Being in incredibly effective therapy as a young adult was a huge turning point for me, and put me into direct communication with the shitty, unlivable parts of the way I’d grown up - I won’t go into details here - and made it possible to be in real relationship, not just with my parents, but with anyone.

Going to India for a long stretch of time at a young age was the most extreme expression of an urge I always have, which is to find out what’s left of me when I take away everything I know. It was insanely difficult in many moments, and very lonely at times, but that ability to strip things down to their most essential components is of great value to me. I feel similarly about psychedelics, that they have the potential to sort of grab you and dunk you headfirst into the unfiltered Real, and I love them for that reason. I wander off into the dark wilderness when I can for that same kind of contact.

These are self-created trials, in response to the fact that we all live these very soft lives, us privileged moderns. Everything is arranged around convenience and safety. And there has always been, and I hope always will be, something that feels stupefying about that, something I find fundamentally wrong. It lends itself toward a sleepiness and a laziness and a kind of dopey lack of awareness. I had no idea until I was fully adult where the water that came out of my tap was coming from, or where it went when I flushed the toilet, for example, or how that all came about. Studying urban permaculture with a local genius named Larry Santoyo started to repair a lot of that kind of half-assed engagement with the world around me - just beginning to connect the dots and ask vital questions about how it is that we’re all surviving here. 

Lastly: I do not consider myself a traumatized person. Which is not to say that awful things haven’t happened, because they have. But the awful things haven’t wired into my nervous system as a trauma. I don’t react to the world with stress and fear in that way. And as such, I feel that I am a massively privileged person, and have a responsibility as someone with space and time and peace and leisure to devote myself to being helpful and a proper ally to people who don’t have that kind of luxury. I feel very deeply called to be useful in the ways that are available to me. And it’s a constant task to not make assumptions, to educate myself and pay attention to the very different needs of people who are coming from a different background and different set of experiences than I am. I’m in more or less constant study.

 

7. Do you ever get bored with what you’re doing? If so, how do you get out of that mindset? 

I’m never bored. Every session is singularly amazing. Even when it’s terrible, it’s extraordinary.

And I don’t get bored in general. There isn’t nearly enough time in the day for everything I want to do. Especially now that I have a tiny daughter. She has exponentially increased my desire to do all the things. 

 

8. Working with people can be really tough, sometimes. Do you ever feel like you go home with other peoples’ crap on you, or have clients you have trouble separating yourself from? How do you deal with that and come back to yourself?

I don’t take anything home with me except my own thoughts about the day. I’ve worked hard to have fantastically clear boundaries and beautiful agency in enforcing them, and the centerpiece of my practice, from my end, is lighting up the self-sovereignty of the client. Despite my relatively toppy nature, I’m not at all inclined to dominate anyone in that context or take any responsibility for them. 

I took the bodhisattva vow twice, once at 20 and once at 30. It’s a tricky text to get with as a person raised in the west, with the all-pervading noise of the Judeo-Xtian death cult in my ear, because we’re so oriented to suffering and martyrdom and sacrifice as our indicators of ethical behavior. To take a vow, in this environment, that says “Though sentient beings are numberless, I vow to save them all,” seems like an act of insanity. But it’s a clever and amazing threshold, that vow, in that it requires you to clean up your act so completely, to become so absolutely committed to life and self-responsibility. It orients you toward love andservice so totally that it has sort of swept away whatever attachments I had to ill health or misery or crappy relationships or half-truths. You have to just land in your life, no matter what that means. And having explored that and found it functional, I can advocate for that. So I’m very clear that I’m not available to do other people’s work for them. I’m there to be an indomitable friend in the process, and a helpful, skillful teacher when I can be. I do cross paths with the occasional genuinely deranged person, and have to be extra firm with them. But that’s very rare, I think because I’m just not available for it. I used to be, and had lots of crazy around me, and I exhausted that habit quite thoroughly.

Should I need to shake something off at the end of a day, I’ll generally do a salt bath or lie somewhere on the ground. If I can get my legs around a tree, so much the better. 

 

9. If you could teach humanity one thing, no matter how hard, what would it be? 

That we aren’t separate from each other or from our environment or from anything else. If I could safely provide a direct catalytic experience of the complete continuity of consciousness through all of life to every person on Earth, I would certainly do it. 

21371172_10155855450528755_5521252784166662303_n.jpg

10. What five books do you think would change peoples’ lives to read?

God, that’s a hard question. That’s actually impossible. So here’s a small paragraph instead:

Martin Prechtel’s first book, The Secret of the Talking Jaguar, is irresistible, as are all of his books. Jodorowsky’s Psychomagic is fantastic. Bernie Glassman’s book Bearing Witness is a total gamechanger. Carol Queen, Esther Perel, and Kate Bornstein have all, in the memorable past, changed my life with their exquisite writing - people should look them up and read everything they’ve ever published. 

 

11. If you had to give one piece of health advice to people out there, what would it be?

Find every way you can to love your body exactly the way it is. You are totally fucking worth it.

 

12. Nutshell life advice to people currently looking at you and your magic life and your magic practice and unleashing yourself on the world like wonder woman :). 

PLEASE GIVE YOUR GIFTS TO THE WORLD. No one else on earth can.

 

Bonus: Pick the 4 people you want on your team in the zombie apocalypse (assuming your family is already taken care of— we don’t need to do any Sophie’s Choice stuff here). Why them?

I cannot possibly pick 4. There’s a whole Noah’s Ark happening in my mind. You are on it, Rebecca McTrouble :)

 

 

Visit Pamela here