Darnell Lamont Walker leading Rituals Writing Workshop
INSIGHTS: Celebrating Our Relationships with Rev. Erika Allison

How do you define a relationship beyond the labels, expectations, and the boxes established long ago? It’s a struggle we all face at times, but one that many in the LGBTQ+ community tackle head-on, daily. How do we grow consciousness around definitions that define ourselves and each other? 

“Our true empowerment is grounded in our authenticity,” said Reverend Erika Allison, a queer interfaith minister, speaker, and author of the award-winning book Gay the Pray Away: Healing Your Life, Love, and Relationships from the Harms of LGBT Conversion Therapy. “And, while we still have boxes to dismantle, many people are paving the way with their brave visibility and unapologetic self-expression.”

Rev. Allison created and facilitates the RAINBOW Path program for healing from identity harm and religious wounding. In advance of the upcoming workshop she will lead with Toni Bergins, Rev. Allison shared some of her insights as a guide in the LGBTQ+ community - about moving from tolerance to feeling safe, new pathways, and embracing our own journeys.

Christine Chen: What is the difference between tolerance, acceptance, and celebration? 

Rev. Erika Allison: There is a massive difference, and you can actually feel it in your body and emotions if you’ve ever been on the receiving end of any of these sentiments. Tolerance doesn't feel good - it feels like judged, barely seen, and certainly not valued. It’s like saying “we don’t really want you here, but we’re gritting our teeth and bearing it.” On the other hand, celebration says “we see you, we value you for who you are, we love that you are here! We are all better off because you are with us!” Acceptance is somewhere between. It feels much better than tolerance…but wouldn’t it be amazing to have a world based on celebration?!

CC: What’s needed for all types of love to feel safe? 

EA: The first level of safety always has to come from within, which encompasses your relationship with yourself as well as with your spiritual source or higher self, however you experience that. From there, the next level is a conscious environment where all types of love are seen, validated, valued and celebrated. Next up is having visible representation in the colleague pool so you aren’t the “only one,” and the top level is having visible representation among those in power, influence, and leadership. 

CC: What’s the most difficult thing about being seen? 

EA: If someone has a past experience where being seen wasn’t safe - where they were hurt or rejected or humiliated when they were seen - it can be so challenging to overcome that imprint and feel that it’s safe to be seen now. It’s vulnerable and opens us up to possible negative reactions, which can be painful. Fear can kick in and our protective mechanisms can take over.

CC: What’s the most difficult thing about feeling represented?

EA: It can be challenging to be an individual carrying the projection of representing an entire demographic or community. It can feel lonely and isolating if there isn’t any additional representation, or worse, if you have nothing in common with the “other one” but everyone expects you to bond because you are “the same.”

CC: When you create a new pathway or perspective on love, what happens? 

EA: I personally believe our highest objective as humans is to learn how to love and how to expand our capacity to love. That means, constantly stretching our perspective to include more love, and transmuting those places within us that create judgments and blocks to love. This happens inwardly towards ourselves, with our intimate partners and with the world around us. To me, this is spiritual evolution as we get closer and closer to God consciousness, which is pure unconditional love.

CC: What does it mean to embody your identity as an LGBTQ human in order to love others?  

EA: One of the consequences of not feeling safe, represented or celebrated is a protective tendency to live slightly disembodied. It can feel too overwhelming or painful to be fully here and deeply present. 

An important way to heal is to come back home to yourself, in compassionate presence, embodying all of your identities from a place of self-love and self-acceptance. From the security of this embodied identity, we are safe and empowered to express the fullness and intimacy of our love without holding back.

CC: How do we honor these self-journeys, and why is it important for the overall well-being of our society?   

EA: These self-journeys must be witnessed and celebrated by supportive others, validating our courage and reminding each other we aren’t alone. Each step we take to heal and free our love brings us closer to a more joyful, liberated, and loving humanity.

“Remembering to be as self compassionate as I can and praying to the divine that we're all a part of.” 

“Prayer, reading, meditation, walking.”
“Erratically — which is an ongoing stream of practice to find peace.”
“Try on a daily basis to be kind to myself and to realize that making mistakes is a part of the human condition. Learning from our mistakes is a journey. But it starts with compassion and caring. First for oneself.”

“Physically: aerobic exercise, volleyball, ice hockey, cycling, sailing. Emotionally: unfortunately I have to work to ‘not care’ about people or situations which may end painfully. Along the lines of ‘attachment is the source of suffering’, so best to avoid it or limit its scope. Sad though because it could also be the source of great joy. Is it worth the risk?“

“It's time for my heart to be nurtured on one level yet contained on another. To go easy on me and to allow my feelings to be validated, not judged harshly. On the other hand, to let the heart rule with equanimity and not lead the mind and body around like a master.”

“I spend time thinking of everything I am grateful for, and I try to develop my ability to express compassion for myself and others without reservation. I take time to do the things I need to do to keep myself healthy and happy. This includes taking experiential workshops, fostering relationships, and participating within groups which have a similar interest to become a more compassionate and fulfilled being.“

“Self-forgiveness for my own judgments. And oh yeah, coming to Esalen.”
–David B.

“Hmm, this is a tough one! I guess I take care of my heart through fostering relationships with people I feel connected to. Spending quality time with them (whether we're on the phone, through messages/letters, on Zoom, or in-person). Being there for them, listening to them, sharing what's going on with me, my struggles and my successes... like we do in the Esalen weekly Friends of Esalen Zoom sessions!”

“I remind myself in many ways of the fact that " Love is all there is!" LOVE is the prize and this one precious life is the stage we get to learn our lessons. I get out into nature, hike, camp, river kayak, fly fish, garden, I create, I dance (not enough!), and I remain grateful for each day, each breath, each moment. Being in the moment, awake, and remembering the gift of life and my feeling of gratitude for all of creation.”
“My physical heart by limiting stress and eating a heart-healthy diet. My emotional heart by staying in love with the world and by knowing that all disappointment and loss will pass.“
–David Z.

Today, September 29, is World Heart Day. Strike up a conversation with your own heart and as you feel comfortable, encourage others to do the same. As part of our own transformations and self-care, we sometimes ask for others to illuminate and enliven our hearts or speak our love language.

What if we could do this for ourselves too, even if just for today… or to start a heart practice, forever?

Allison’s workshop with Toni Bergins, Embodying LGBTQ + Love: Celebrating Our Relationships, is February 18-20, 2022. 

Note: The workshop is for ​folks identifying as LGBTQ+ only, please. In this workshop, we define LGBTQ+ couples as any two people in an intimate relationship.  Please bring a partner (romantic or friend!) for this program; it is important that we have an even number of attendees.

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Christine Chen

Christine Chen is the host of Esalen Live! and Chief Editor of The Journal. She is a two-time Emmy winning journalist, best-selling author, California native, and senior teacher of yoga and Ayurveda on Esalen Faculty.