Existential Kink is an amazing, rapid shadow-integration process that I developed, which I use to help people get astounding results in my courses, including INFLUENCE, MONEY, and FORCE OF NATURE.

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I have a whole book on the subject, titled Existential Kink, naturally - coming out from Red Wheel / Weiser in Fall 2019.

It’s a bit of a complex topic, so here’s a little Q&A to help explain it:

Q. Existential Kink is a provocative title - what exactly does the term mean?

I use the term “Existential Kink” to mean both a specific meditative practice that I teach and also a general attitude towards life that’s all about dissolving negative patterns by being willing to uncover and celebrate previously-unconscious pleasure that we actually - paradoxically - take in those very same “yucky” patterns.

And to be clear - by negative patterns I mean common troubles like:

  • Not being able to make above a certain small-ish amount of money each month no matter how hard you try

  • Perpetually dating people who end up bearing an uncanny resemblance one of your abusive parents

  • Feeling stuck with certain health or weight conditions; having intuitive or creative blocks.  

Those kinds of things that tend to afflict all of us at some point, if we’re honest.  And if we’re extra, super-honest - on a level below our usual awareness, we all take a freaky, kinky, sado-masochistic delight in our afflictions, which is why we end up with them again and again.

Q.  That’s very interesting - where did you come up with this notion?

Well, the Existential Kink attitude is by no means entirely new.  I earned a doctorate in Critical and Cultural Studies at the University of Pittsburgh, and along the way I read a lot of psychology.

I learned that the fact that we human beings have a major habit of taking unconscious pleasure in “bad stuff” in our lives was well-known to founding giants of psychology like Freud, Jung, and Lacan.  Freud called it “psychic masochism,” Jung recognized it as “the Shadow,” and Lacan called it jouissance.

All of these psychologists recognized that a major component of helping people involves getting them to acknowledge and “own” this kind of weird underlying desire for and pleasure in stuff that they ostensibly hate and feel very frustrated by.  

It’s strange, but it’s true.  I learned first-hand by applying the insight to my own life and thereby rapidly dissolving patterns of poverty, bad relationships, health and creativity problems that had plagued me for over a decade.

However, this major insight has been barely discussed in pop psychology and self-help books, and most modern therapists tend to ignore it.

Q. Why do you think it’s ignored?

Very simply, because it’s an insight that’s very, very offensive to our egos - the idea that on some level we could want or enjoy “awful” things in our lives is so scary and so troubling to most people.

We tend to think we only want or enjoy “good” things, or that we should only want “good” things.

But it doesn’t have to be a troubling recognition, it’s just a normal part of human nature, we all do it, and there doesn’t need to be any shame or blame in it at all.

 In fact, setting aside shame and blame is what allows us to make the enjoyment conscious, and thereby lets us remove its power to sneakily control us.

So scary or not, I’m making the argument that it’s a very important insight to integrate into how we live our lives.   In fact, through my online courses, I’ve helped thousands of people dramatically turn their lives around by teaching them how to do this, so it’s a subject dear to my heart.

Q.Why is it so important to acknowledge and own that we take unconscious pleasure in bad stuff?

As Jung famously said, “Until you make the unconscious, conscious, it will rule your life and you will call it Fate.”

He was absolutely right about that.

In other words, as long as we have unconscious (repressed, denied, disowned) enjoyment in some “bad” thing in our lives, we will keep seeking that very same “bad” thing out, we’ll perpetuate it without even realizing what we’re doing.

But the very good news is, the minute that we’re willing to make that previously-unconscious pleasure, conscious - the minute we’re willing to deliberately celebrate it and savor it - we create a massive pattern interrupt.

We allow ourselves to finally receive the “dark secret joy” we’ve been (unbeknownst to ourselves!) seeking.

We let the desire that motivated the negative pattern be fully known and satisfied, and then we’re free to move beyond it and create something new.

That’s what my book, Existential Kink, is all about.

Q. Fascinating. Can you give an example?

Certainly.  I’ll tell a story about myself, but I want to emphasize that I’m not unique.  The Existential Kink meditation and attitude has done wonders for thousands of people, and you can find testimonials and stories to this effect in the book.

For me, I started by doing Existential Kink with my poverty pattern.

I earned less than poverty-level wages for the first decade of my adult life, as a University teacher and free-lance writer.  

At an unconscious level, I really savored the whole game of scrambling to try to pay the rent each month and “proving” again and again that I was worthy, I could do it, I could figure it out. I also loved the whole drama of feeling so, so humiliated and less-than my friends who had more money.

But on a conscious level, I was in total denial about this.  I thought I hated having so little in my bank account, hated having to count pennies and sometimes wait in line at the Food Bank to eat.

I thought I was ashamed and miserable about it.

Still, I had learned all this stuff about the foundations of psychology - so one day it occurred to me to ask myself: “I wonder if on some level, some part of me enjoys all this terrible poverty stuff?”

And I pursued that inquiry, doggedly, for months - I paid very close attention to myself - until one day, I just saw it so clearly.  

I had thought that I hated my lack of money, but I actually adored it.

I adored all the intense sensations that went with it.

So I practiced just consciously, deliberately allowing myself to feel those intense sensations, which previously I had labeled as “anxiety, humiliation” - they came with flushed cheeks and faster heart beat.

 “Fear is excitement without the breath,” as Fritz Perls said. Well, often sensations that we experience as terrible or painful are just pleasure without approval.

I realized my poverty gave me arousal.  On a physical level, if I felt that arousal without judging it, it gave me pleasure.

As Milton said, “The mind is its own place, and in itself can make a Heaven of Hell, a Hell of Heaven.”

Well, I decided to make a Heaven of my Hell.

Q.  And did your life become a Heaven?

Actually, yes, my life today is about as close to Heaven as earthly existence gets. I let myself feel that kinky pleasure in my poverty, and very shortly after, all kinds of ideas flowed to me that let me build a very successful business.

In just the first three months after letting myself feel my experience as pleasure, I tripled my income and moved to Bali for a year.

So that was rather heavenly, and as I’ve continued to do more Existential Kink work on more of my hang-ups, the heavenliness has just multiplied.

Here’s another example: for years I was only drawn to abusive, controlling men.  Now I’m happily married and raising a family with a wonderful, kind, open-hearted man.  Every day I’m stunned by the miracle of my life’s transformation, and I badly want that miracle to happen for everyone.

I should mention: those ideas that let me build my business were actually rather simple and always there for the taking - and the dear man I’m now married to had been my friend for 7 years before we started dating…

… I had just blinded myself to those opportunities previously because I was way too busy pursuing my unconscious pleasure in poverty and abuse.  

Q. Are you saying that everyone who experiences some hardship in their life, like poverty, on an unconscious level desires it and enjoys it?

What I’m saying is that there’s unconscious factors at work in generating all situations, including all hardships, and that those unconscious factors can be discovered and worked with to spark change.

Every difficult thing in life - whether it’s poverty, racism, sexism — or relationship, health, or creativity issues due to childhood wounds - all of these obviously are not solely individual inventions, they also include a vast involvement from the collective unconscious, the collective Shadow (to again use Jungian terms) which tends to repeat very scary patterns over and over again, like war and slavery.

In other words, none of us individually invented these “dark secret desires” for painful things in our lives, and none of us is individually solely responsible for the fact that they exist, or that we experience them.

But the thing is, as physicists like David Bohm have shown, reality is holographic.

This means, we’re all part of the whole and we each contain the whole of reality within us, including the very dark stuff.

So yes, painful problems with that are indisputably collective creations, like wealth inequality and poverty, also involve a personal unconscious element that can be discovered and healed, because each of us is part of the collective.

In fact, I’m inclined to think that the healing of these mass collective shadow issues can only begin with individuals involved in them.  Historically speaking, positive evolutions in collective consciousness, like the humanism of the European Renaissance, tend to start with just a handful of people.

And I’m also saying there’s absolutely nothing shameful, blameworthy, or wrong about the unconscious desire and enjoyment of something that, for the conscious mind, is quite painful, dark, and frustrating.

In fact, believing that it’s shameful, blameworthy, or wrong to desire or enjoy some “dark and terrible” pattern in one’s life is exactly what keeps that enjoyment unconscious (repressed, denied, disowned), and thereby lets it keep shaping our Fate, driving our decisions in painful ways, and ultimately molding our whole collective history into something rather shockingly brutal.

I don’t offer this insight as a tool to taunt others with. It’s quite pointless and mean to use it that way.   I offer it as something to take to look within at your own patterns, if you are interested in change.

One last bit: it’s not necessary for someone to accept a whole metaphysical theory in order to work with Existential Kink and have it help them - but personally, it seems to me that as souls, we would have no reason to incarnate here on Earth, this place of extreme dualities, unless at some level we wanted to learn from the whole rollercoaster ride of duality — terror and joy, suffering and grace.

Making time to find and connect with that deep underlying desire for the total experience of incarnation beneath our ego’s surface-level attractions and aversions is in my experience, an imminently freeing and delightful spiritual pursuit.

Q.  What about grief or anger as part of the healing process?

I’m very glad you brought that up -  just because there’s unconscious desire and enjoyment present in relation to any given issue does not mean there’s also not plenty of grief or anger present in relation to it.

And of course grief and anger around any given issue also need to be fully acknowledged, felt, worked-with.  

This is common knowledge, and I don’t dispute it.

I’m not advocating any sort of denial or by-passing, I’m saying that in order to truly heal and grow we need to be willing to experience the full spectrum of our emotion and sensations in relation to our lives - not just the socially-acceptable, politically-correct half of the spectrum.

The trouble is, in our culture we know plenty well how to hand-wring, mourn, rage, cry over our struggles and those of others…

… but we have near-zero experience celebrating, savoring, and resolving those struggles.

We’re all very good at righteous misery, not so great at naughty healing.

I want to alter that, forever.

I’m interested in seeing real resolution, real healing, real change. And that resolution doesn’t come just from grief and anger.  

It comes from making conscious and feeling, at a visceral, bodily, erotic level - the full-spectrum of our experience, which includes scandalous delight and pleasure.

Here’s a quick example: folks started publicly expressing their grief and anger over sexism and racism in the 1960s and 1970s.

Since then we’ve had much progress with those matters, but they’re hardly what anyone would call “resolved.”

I’m suggesting that the missing puzzle piece towards total resolution and healing of major societal issues like these and also personal issues involves acknowledging and shamelessly feeling our fucked-up, weird, sado-masochistic pleasure in them, not just our grief and anger about them.

If grief and anger were enough to really heal, then the total healing would have happened long ago, right?

But it hasn’t, has it? So perhaps there’s more to discover.

Q. A lot of people would call that view you’re espousing “victim-blaming.”

Indeed they would - and yet what I’m saying is in truth quite the opposite - it’s actually a radical invitation to all of us who feel victimized to liberate ourselves from blame, shame, and wrongness - and instead to reclaim our fundamental agency and power.

I have zero interest in making anyone feel blamed for any challenge or pain they’ve experienced in their life.

I feel immense empathy and compassion for everyone who suffers in any way.  

So much so that years ago I took a formal bodhisattva vow, which is a vow to liberate all beings from suffering, and this vow shapes my life every day.

It’s a tough matter of the limitations of language, though, that in order to be absolutely clear about my message, which I know does greatly help to liberate others from suffering - I have to risk sounding very offensive to the same suffering people for whom I have so, so much empathy and compassion.

This I regret much, but I’ve yet to find a neat way around it.

Again, I emphasize that none of us individually invented these “dark secret desires” and none of us is individually solely responsible for the fact that they exist, or that we experience them.

Q.  Would you say more about that issue of the collective unconscious playing a role in our Fate?

Yes. For example, the poverty that I experienced for years wasn’t my single-handed creation.  It had to do with systemic, collective issues of sexism and corporatism, no doubt.

But the thing is, me wailing about sexism and corporatism (which I loved to do, I loved to go to protests like Occupy and post righteously on Facebook about all the injustices affecting me) never did a damn thing to alter the bare fact of my lack of funds, or my suffering.

Nor did it really alter the situation for anyone else, as far as I could tell.

The only thing that changed my life was me becoming willing to look at my previously-unconscious part in what I experienced, and this looking also let me become much more creative, happy, and healthy, and to help others to do the same.

I believe that the same is true for anyone who’s willing to do this work - you might be up against some very big, very painful societal or familial set-backs, and yet when you become willing to really excavate your previously-unconscious role in your difficult situation, you gain exactly the freedom, courage, and creativity that you need to overcome those set-backs and lift up other people.

It’s like they say in 12-step programs, “You’re not responsible for your disease; but you are responsible for your recovery.”

To me, this means that none of us are “responsible” for the painful experiences in our lives in the sense of being “to blame” for them because they’re always also collective - societal, familial - creations - but we all individually carry the collective within us, and we are responsible for acknowledging our role in unconsciously perpetuating those painful conditions for ourselves.

We’re responsible because we’re the only ones capable of doing it.  

No one else can grow or heal or have a realization of your own paradoxical, wonderful kinkiness for you.  

Only you can do it for yourself.