the wonder sessions

damiana

Damiana // turnera diffusa

damiana.jpg
 
 

Damiana // Turnera diffusa

Aromatic. Warming. 

Carminative. Nervine. Aphrodisiac. 

 

Courage is an interesting word. Derived from the Latin ‘coraticum’ which translates to ‘heart’, it is used in modern life to mean bravery, when in fact it is so much more. You see the word ‘corage’ refers to the heart as being our innermost feelings— our innermost, truest selves. And courage is the quality of mind that allows one to meet danger without fear. So really, courage is, in a way, the ability to meet the world with your innermost self. 

For so many, modern life is an overstimulating, threatening place. I don’t know a single person who hasn’t experienced trauma, often significant, and I don’t know a single person who isn’t driven to retreat deep inside themselves at some point or another, in response to the reminders that life throws at us. 

Damiana is courage medicine, drawing us out, into our bodies, into inhabiting ourselves, so that we can meet the world head-on. More fully. With our whole hearts.

It takes courage, in this day and age, to come out to the surface, to let our nerve endings touch the world and to be touched in return. It takes courage to express ourselves fully. And it takes courage to allow ourselves to feel pleasure, to deserve pleasure, especially if it’s trauma that has driven us away from the surface in the first place. 

Damiana’s energetics are warming and aromatic. It is stimulating to the circulation, but relaxing to the nervous system. But where damiana is the most well known is with regards to sensuality, and sexuality. 

 

Shattering the deep freeze and returning to embodiment. 

Sensuality and sexuality are often treated as if they’re the same thing, but this is a misconception. Sexuality is of course, the fundamental basis of why we’re all here: without sex, no creation happens, and nobody is born, and life grinds to a halt. Sensuality, on the other hand, is our ability to feel pleasure through our senses. It is so much bigger than sex (and sex is already big) because sensuality is the basis of our physicality. 

Andreas Weber, in his book “Matter and Desire” says: “The Eros of reality begins with touch. There is no life without contact. Without touch there is no desire, no fulfillment— and no mind. When a light wave changes the structure of my retina, when I stroke the skin of my beloved, or when a nerve cell sends out an electrical impulse by spilling calcium ions, this is always an act of physical seizure.”  

All of our senses are heightened by touch, and touch is the way we interpret the world. It is through FEELING that we become aware, our perception of the world various interpretations of our ability to touch and be touched. 

We are taught, for the most part in society, to restrain both our sensuality and our sexuality. Sexuality is seen as lewd, promiscuous, and dangerous (or a sign of one’s virility and celebrated); and sensuality is seen as a representation of our capacity for sexuality. Thus, if a person is naturally sensual they are often treated as though they are being overtly sexual, and have to deal with the judgements and advances that come along with that. 

So we tend to restrain our natural sensuality as much as we do sexuality. And while I don’t agree with either, and think we’d be a lot happier as a society if we didn’t have so much shame tied into sex, I think that restraining our natural ability to feel pleasure in our senses is very dangerous indeed, for two main reasons:

1. Our senses are how we interact with the world around us, so restricting our ability to use them is restricting our ability to interact with the world. 

2. Pleasure isn’t this wicked, immoral thing— feeling pleasure doesn’t mean that the world is going to shit and everyone is going to stop working and we’re two steps from devolving into apes who do nothing but sit around and eat and live in one giant orgy all day while the kids go hungry and society crumbles around us. 

Really the worst thing that happens when you feel pleasure is that you start to interact with your own body, and start to experience the world around you, and maybe start to feel good about yourself. Feeling pleasure connects you with your own sense of joy: because pleasure reverberates through the body, like one happy, wiggling cell passing on its joy to another. 

In order to feel pleasure, one has to *allow* pleasure. In the same way as we have more muscles in place to close our eyes than to open them, our energy has the same thing: we have more muscles in place to protect ourselves than we do to open ourselves up: it’s the ancient game of survival and we *need* these protections. But sometimes we learn these protections really young and they’re for no reason: sometimes its simply because to be a sensual child scares adults, because sensuality AND sexuality, especially in Western culture, are not freely expressed (see above about world falling apart). So maybe a small child starts playing with their own genitalia or maybe they just exhibit their natural sensual inclinations in other ways, and maybe they aren’t even told not to, but they feel something change in their parents, because so much of what we learn is through the most subtle cues: a tiny bit of tension, a small frown. Energy changes when we disapprove, and its through disapproval that we learn how not to act. Maybe what so many of us learn earlier than we can even think it through rationally, is that to be sensual means we won’t receive the love we need (or think that it is this part of ourselves that makes us receive unwanted attention). So we stop it. It’s self-protection. 

And then we carry on doing this, because everyone else in society is doing it too. 

Learning to allow pleasure is a rebellious act. 

Believing that you deserve pleasure is an act of self-love so great that it shatters barriers.

Believing that you deserve pleasure, and allowing yourself to feel it, teaches other people that they are worthy of it too. 

Tied up in this are all the societal implications, the things that are wrong with how we approach sexuality and the human body and our senses. There are all kinds of religions where a healthy approach to sensuality is seen as morally corrupt. There are spiritual communities in which sensuality is accepted if it fits within the confines of what’s seen as ‘pure’ but outside that is still seen as ‘wrong’. 

I don’t know why all of this got so messed up, but I do have theories: I think it ties in with the way we treat the earth, and the way we treat ourselves. I think that self-punishment as a form of trying to be ‘good’ is so rampant in the Western world, and that we beat ourselves up in so many different, insidious ways. And its socially acceptable to beat ourselves up, because everyone is doing it. It is not as normal to forgive ourselves, forgive others, and move on. 

I am going to make a bold statement: I think self-hatred is at the core of so many of the ills in our society, and that it is destroying us as a species, and the planet as the result of our actions. 

I’m going to make another bold statement: I believe that we all deserve love, and pleasure, and that it’s not something we need to wait for permission for, or to be told by others that it’s ok. 

What does any of this have to do with damiana? Because when we block ourselves from allowing kindness, love, and pleasure, we do that with a resistance that is quite firm, and it’s something that can only be softened from the inside. And damiana helps, so gently, and so beautifully, with that softening. 

 

Damiana and sex

Damiana is often toted as an aphrodisiac, which leads to thousands of pounds of it being wasted as people try to pump more of it into themselves (or their partners) to ‘get in the mood’. But, I’m sorry to say, damiana, and any herbal aphrodisiac, will not make somebody horny, make them want sex, make them into someone they’re not into. 

But, say you do have a partner, and it’s someone you have enjoyed being intimate with in the past, and for some reason right now you feel as though there’s a layer between you and then. Maybe it’s sadness, maybe you’re just not into it, but you don’t want to be touched. Want to be left alone. Want to retreat deep inside and maybe stare into space for a bit, or escape in a book. 

This is where damiana comes in: It warms the path back to the surface, enlivens it, makes it ok to feel again. 

But also, damiana stimulates blood flow to the pelvis, and brings with it that awakened awareness and sensuality. Which is anther way of saying that damiana can actually help dramatically with sexuality, and the ability to feel and engage and experience pleasure during sex. That drawing of energy towards the pelvis also helps a person ‘get out of their head’, if they have a tendency to start overthinking during sex (even if enjoying it). The overall pattern here is that damiana is helpful if the lack of desire for sex is borne of a sort of depression: a disinterest due to existential malaise, lack of interest, lack of energy or inclination to meet the world at large head-on, and an inability to get engaged or excited enough to feel. 

 

Damiana and trauma

Another reason for a lack of interest, or inability to meet the world with all of ourselves is the result of trauma. 

When we experience something that scares us, our bodies will go into ‘fight or flight’ which is an activation of the sympathetic nervous system, which gets us ready to, well, fight, or run, or deal with the stressor in whatever way we know best. But when the stressor is too overwhelming, far too scary, or, maybe we cannot fight or flee, then our sympathetic response is overridden by an older, more primitive response: we freeze. At the same time as we freeze, we often leave our bodies a bit, hovering somewhere nearby, become outside observers into our own trauma. It’s an amazing mechanism that protects us from psychologically breaking. And it has a name: disassociation. 

Disassociation is an amazing survival skill, but what often happens is that once we’ve started to disassociate, it’s very hard to get back to our bodies. It’s difficult because we don’t want to feel the trauma in the first place, but also because we want to avoid any possible pain in future. Because the trauma happened in and [usually] to our bodies, we start to see our bodies themselves as an unsafe place to be. 

Damiana starts to warm us from the inside out, effectively dismantling, sometimes even shattering that deep freeze. In coaxing us back into our bodies, back into our nerve endings, and back into feeling, damiana reminds us of how beautiful it all is: life, colours, touch, connection, other people, intimacy, even the painful parts of it all. In a way, it reminds us that to *feel* is what we are here for, and it helps us feel safe to do so. 

Now, a disclaimer here, and one that’s very important: 

There’s a time and a place for this. This isn’t always what a person *wants* after trauma— one of the reasons we withdraw from ourselves is so that we cannot feel: with feeling comes pain, often deep, searing, soul-level pain. Alongside that often comes pleasure. Sometimes experiencing pleasure can be worse than experiencing pain. It’s not anyone else’s place to say whether a person needs this or not, so please never force this on someone. It is not our jobs to tell anyone else when or how to process their lives. Some of us want to, others don’t. 

 

Damiana and digestion

Lets go back to that deep freeze, the inability to feel sensual pleasure again. Because, food is immensely pleasurable (or it can be). One of the ways that we punish ourselves is to deny ourselves pleasure and nourishment. 

All the aromatics have some action to stimulate digestion, and damiana is no different. When we withdraw from ourselves, we also withdraw from our bellies, and bellies love full, active consciousness. They love to be inhabited and received. They love to talk to us, and tell us their feelings, and are usually among our most sensitive (both emotionally and energetically) parts of us. 

And yet, in our society we have so many issues around food and eating. And eating for pleasure, when it’s not accompanied with ideas of excess and the things we despise about excess, isn’t done very often. And those who bear the signs of pleasure on their bodies (ie. People who have a lot of adipose tissue, regardless of whether they do actually over-eat or not) tend to be the people who are treated to the most disdain publicly, which is horrible. But it also leads to a very puritanical approach to pleasure: often we feel as though we don’t actually *deserve* pleasure or nourishment, but get a sense of self-satisfaction about this at the same time. As if to say ‘aren’t I good, I’m beating myself up before anyone else can get to it!’. As a result of this, we withdraw from ourselves and that includes our ability to receive pleasure and nourishment. Which means that food isn’t going to be digested very well or easily. 

If you think about our interaction with the world around us as things touching other things, exchanging energy with other things, and being changed by them. Have you ever hugged someone who didn’t want to be hugged? Or been hugged when you didn’t want to be hugged? You know how it feels when someone doesn’t meet your energy with theirs, right? Where there’s a layer in between that’s held back. We don’t just do that with other people. 

To fully inhabit ourselves is to invite intimacy with the world around us. With other people, with the earth, with plants, but also with the things we ingest: our food, our water, the air we breathe. To touch and be touched is a gift. And when we withdraw, we refuse that gift. As a result, things become a lot harder to digest.

Eating with gusto involves saying yes on every level. Not ‘ok but I shouldn’t be doing this’ or ‘no but I should eat so I’ll force myself’. It starts with our other senses, and saying yes to those. And it continues as we chew, and swallow, and let our bodies receive food in our bellies, and let our bellies receive the nourishment from that food. Gratefully. 

Damiana softens that layer of resistance in our bellies, inviting in the pleasure, and on its heels the nourishment. Its warming, aromatic and carminative, which means it soothes digestion for those who are bloated and gassy, and it helps digest (and assimilate) foods when they’re sitting heavy. 

 

Damiana and stress: 

When we aren’t fully inhabiting ourselves, we don’t listen to our own body’s messages, because we don’t feel them. 

It can help us become more aware of the effects of our stress levels over time: tuning into our bodies and what we actually feel is really important. So many of us block our own body sensations out just to make it through the day and get stuff done. Damiana is a gentle guide back into embodiment, which allows us to check in more often, which allows us to head-off panic before it gets too dramatic, by taking steps earlier to look after ourselves. 

It is also deeply calming, having a deeply relaxing effect, because it switches our awareness into a more expansive place. Where we feel the wholeness of ourselves and the world around us, instead of where our focus is narrowed to. 

 

Damiana and menstruation: 

Because of its ability to stimulate circulation, and bring blood flow to the pelvis, damiana can really help with menstrual issues that have to do with cold (dull aching cramps, a lack of flow), or delayed menses. 

 

Combinations:

Damiana and rose

For softening the tension that keeps the world (and stimulation) at bay. To allow in some more sensory input and for it to not be too overwhelming. 

 

Damiana and orange peel

For warming and stimulating digestion. 

 

Damiana and shatavari

For relaxing and welcoming softness, juiciness and receptivity. 

 

Damiana and kava kava

For tension and stress impeding the ability to enjoy sensuality. 

 

Damiana and pedicularis

For muscular tension, hyper-focus on stressors. 

 

Damiana and motherwort

For delayed menstruation or cramping that comes with a lack of blood flow. 

 

Conclusion:  

Brene Brown defines ‘ordinary courage’ as the ability to speak one’s heart, and I’d go further than that as to say that courage is the ability to fully inhabit yourself in a world that’s determined to make us feel small, helpless, and victimized. 

So many of us hide our true natures from the world around us, for fear of it being hurt. So many of us hide our true natures from ourSELVES because we are afraid of what’s actually there. Our deepest selves are wild and sensual and raw. They don’t have plans of action or know the answers or even really care about politics. They feel. They sense. They touch. They connect. They do what they want to, and move on to the next thing. 

It’s time for us to start inhabiting our whole selves once again. To feel our skin, the pleasure of touch, the pleasure of sensuality, the pleasure of existence. To feel it, and receive it and accept it. 

 

Cautions/ contraindications

Because of its ability to move energy and blood in the pelvis, damiana is best avoided during pregnancy. 

 

Sources: 

Sophia Rose: Garden Party 

Sean Donahue: damiana and the cauldron of warming

Stephen Porges: Polyvagal theory

jim mcdonald’s aphrodesiacs class

Andreas Weber: Matter and Desire: An Erotic Ecology