Avra Chayim 5782: ReMembering Ethics & Eros ✡️🕯
This piece is about my intentions for the upcoming year (per the start date of the Jewish calendar). I wrote it for my own clarity, and am sharing it so the words are heard by you, dear human in my orbit.
On New Year Day 2020 I published Andrew Dunn 2020: Weaving Bridges to Freedom to signal to the world who I wanted to be and what I wanted to do moving forward. I was going through a big life transition: winding my way out of a company (Siempo) of four years and a home (Bay Area) for six. It was helpful to synthesize thoughts and feelings about life and livelihood into one document to mark the moment entering what I sensed would be a dynamic year. This piece follows in that spirit, but is a little less focused on specific things I plan to do, and a little more about how I want to be. The first half is a musing on ethics and eros; second half a walk through my Wheel of Life.
re: Avra: My Hebrew Name is Avraham Chayim (Father Life). I enjoy word/name play, and Avra has felt fun and alive for me in some of the Jewish contexts I find myself in. Also — my legal middle name is Murray: anglicized Moshe or Moses. So I have Abraham and Moses in my name, but I shalt not let that go to my head!
I wrote this on land that has long been stewarded by the Lenape, Mohican, and Wampanoag peoples, who are still here, against all odds.
😌 I Just Want To Live Better
Nearly two years after publishing the 2020 intentions piece, I’m struck by how alive the meta-intention still is: to simply be present for life. Something so simple, and yet so unbelievable hard. lolz @ thinking I’d crack that one quickly. I feel humbled by how “slow” the “progress” has been here. Despite a year of serious slowing, down-regulating my “doing” life in order to be more present (I spent the first four months alone in a yurt in the woods, and have never “worked” less in my adult life), upon reflection I notice all the ways I am still living out of alignment with my intentions and values and words, failing to show up fully and cultivate right relationship with all my relations. Walk the talk.
So here I recommit. To creating the conditions to gradually live a more ethical and erotic life. Because the stakes are higher, it’s the most effective choice I can make, and I want to.
What is Ethics, actually? What’s Eros?
I’ve been researching ethics for a few months now, in exploring how to make a livelihood out of supporting entrepreneurs who want to create and live more ethically. The research has sparked more questions than answers. I find myself deferring to philosopher Forrest Landry, who describes ethics as the study of the principles of the most effective means of self-expression, in both words and actions (see pg. 6 of Aphorisms of Effective Choice). It’s about how to make one’s choices more effective and life enhancing for oneself and others. The most effective choices are those which are optimal in supporting creativity and experience, wholeness and integrity, self and world. Ethics is internal to oneself, whereas morality is an externally defined set of rules (‘right’ or ‘wrong’). How can we make ethics more coherent, central, and attractive to our lives?
Eros is newer to me. First introduced by Plato as that part of love constituting a passionate and intense desire for something, it has been since “exiled” to the sexual domain only. In its expanded form, educator Zak Stein considers eros a transpersonal universal force akin to gravity; the aliveness we find in smelling the richness of an aroma, kissing a tree, falling in love with an idea. The force that animates reality down to the dance of your protons and electrons. Eros is fully experiencing the moment. When I spent the Spring Equinox giving gifts to nature, I was following eros. Kababalists refer to eros as the Shechina, or the divine feminine energy that courses through us at every moment. To dance with eros is to live erotically in all the arenas of our lives, beyond the merely the sexual. This is what the sages and prophets have always pointed us to — holiness, presence, heaven, oneness, to be radically alive. Importantly, the sexual serves as the ultimate model for eros: full presence to an intimate act of both giving and receiving.
I yearn to live both a more ethical and erotic life. It is eros that I have less experience with, having grown up in a disenchanted and secularized culture. Following what is most alive requires much greater sensitivity to what is happening in the symphony of life in each moment, which requires further slowness, attunement, presence, creativity, authenticity, playfulness. The Center for Integral Wisdom’s Marc Gafni in Return to Eros discusses that holiness lies at the integration of ethics and eros (or Tefira and Shechina, the holy groom and bride). Which is analogous to ideas of Shakti and Shiva, Yin and Yang, “masculine” and “feminine,” the two essential forces of the universe. Which totally lands for me, as somebody who has felt transgender, experienced an anima union, helped start a political party based on integrating diverse perspectives, serves as a bridge between worlds, and is infinitely curious about the mysteries of existence and all its paradoxes #MysteryWrestlers. Marc argues that in every arena of engagement, personal as well as public, success is largely dependent on the appropriate integration and balancing of these two forces. And that every ethical failure comes from the absence of eros, and is a violation of eros–either yours or someone else’s. Which makes me think about how far we have to go as a society, if most entrepreneurs and politicians aren’t even educated about ethics!
☯️ How can we make ethics erotic, & the erotic ethical?
I have much more to learn about ethics and eros. Which brings me to something I hesitate to say, at risk of coming off as self indulgent, but I believe my job right now is just to live my life. To become. To come alive. Do less, be more. Be the story of the change I want to see in the world, serving as a role model for my communities and the next generations wandering through the desert of climate resilience. I sense that how to live an ethical and erotic life is a long-term question to live into, that can hold my thirst for adventure, creativity, learning and growth. I acknowledge the stack of privileges that allow me to do this (as well as the ambitions for material wealth I’ve let go of), and the shame, anxiety and fear that prevents me from fully stepping into it. Yet I am a global 1% millennial with an exorbitant carbon debt (+ human suffering debt) and the affordances to take the risks to model a different way. I think it’s on those who can afford to do so, to just do it. I will do my part to set an example. To be a way finder.
“If not me, who? If not now, when?” — Hillel the Elder
It’s a radical act to become your true self in modern society, and a great challenge to do so in harmony with the natural world. My north start is to cultivate a way of being in the world and with the world, that nourishes the context of my life, within the context of our monumental times. A sort of Doughnut Economics for the self. Hone my craft of service to the world, without getting caught in cycles of wealth accumulation. Put down my sword to get rich and powerful, but not step away from working towards collective liberation. Build home in the cultural wilderness, but keep one foot inside institutions. Accepting Jamie Wheal’s proposal of “Ecstasis without the Crave (of addiction to peaks states), Catharsis without the Cringe (of self indulgent self help), Communitas without the cults (of unreliable leaders and followers).”
What better time to try deepening into this than in a Shmita year (aka the Sabbath or Sabbatical or literally “Release” year), in which we are traditionally invited to give the land and animals a rest, forgive debts and share our abundance with the wider community. It’s a time to try another way of being in the world, at all time cycles from breath to death. My preparation for Shmita has been a daily practice of “mornings are for me” and a weekly practice Shabbat practice of digital detox, solitude, nature, reflection and gathering with loved ones. Those Shabbats have been quite erotic.
“The world is changed by your example, not your opinion.” — Mother Teresa
☸️ Wheel of Life
Let’s take a quick look at what this intention means for me in the coming times. I appreciate the Wheel of Life as a reflection tool for getting a quick snapshot of the health of your life and feeling into next steps in each domain. For a much deeper, embodied, and culturally relevant version of this exercise, check out friend and teacher Sara Wolcott’s Circular Time exercise.
There are lots of wheels out there — varying by number and category types. Here I’ll focus on a handful of relevant categories and specific themes in each; by no means an exhaustive inventory of my life in this moment.
I’m celebrating how ever-more integrated life has become. The lines between work and life, work and learning, learning and life, etc are blurring such that most days I get to wake up without an alarm and tend to whatever is most alive (erotic). Hallelujah. How can I savor that way of being and extend it to more, within my communities and beyond?
• Avra Home — 2021 has been a big year of transitioning from founder/operator in service of getting rich/powerful/recognized, to coach/consultant/advisor in service of creating a sustainable livelihood with my true gifts. I’m positioning my business — named Avra Home — as a sandbox to integrate my writing, studying, and art (e.g. 36 Questions, Gifting Games) together in away that supports individuals and teams in living and working in a more ethical and erotic way. Which feels very Ikigai: I live, I learn, I integrate, I share, I help, I refine. The cycle continues. I see myself as an Ethics Director for hire, and am most excited to work with younger versions of myself (male, early stage founder, growth mindset) asking the big and increasingly obvious questions. Please keep me in mind for those in your network who might benefit from being in conversation with me, from high school students thinking about purpose to professionals considering a lifestyle transition.
• Autopilot — My main consulting client in this new chapter has been Autopilot, a rad wellness startup dancing with big ideas and questions around time and voice. One of the founders was a happy Siempo user who appreciated the writing I published on humane technology and sensed the value of having my voice in the room at the early stage. So far I’ve facilitated a retreat for the team, helped them craft a Learning Journey, collaborated on internal and external ethics content, and supported recruiting efforts. Check out the app! I sense lots of potential for practitioners of all sorts.
📚 Education & Personal Growth
- Lifelong Learner — 2021 was the year I claimed the identity of writer, artist, and lifelong learner. Robbed of a good education growing up (designed instead of raised to actualize my human potential), I am endlessly curious and find learning to be joyful and synergistic with all other aspects of the wheel. Learning from both “the book and life.” I’m celebrating that much of the learning I do is for its own sake, and that it often integrates into the professional work I’m doing in the world, sometimes down to the very project I’m being paid for. I recall being on the cusp of this prioritization of learning back in India in 2013, but wouldn’t allow myself to dive in, because of intense guilt around needing to focus on my career. What’s in your Learning Journey? I’ve created an exercise to help you get clear on what you can learn in order to create and live in a more life-honoring way.
- Embodiment— I want to call out the importance of balancing how much effort I put into learning on the ethics side of the scale and the eros side, as the former is much easier for me. Further, reading books (knowing through the mind) is one thing, while my learning edge is certainly the embodiment piece (knowing through emotions and body). So bring on more opportunities to practice dancing, making art, bodywork, music and rest. I believe I’ve reached a limit on how much written word I can metabolize.
🕍 Religion & Spirituality
Forrest defines these often conflated terms as:
Spirituality relates to the integration of a world into oneself.
Religion relates to the integration of oneself into a world.
Spirituality is a perceptive and subjective process, whereas religion is an expressive and objective process.
Subjective experience is private, where objective expression is public.
(see more on pg. 26).
I sense a longer essay coming soon about my journey with Judaism (spoiler: I love Judaism!). In this moment I’m feeling elated by re-connecting with the tradition, grateful for its wisdom, encouraged by fellow travelers, and curious to learn and practice more. Judaism is nourishing both my spiritual and religious practice. I’m reminded of Vipassana teacher S.N. Goenka’s words about mixing traditions, and the difference between digging lots of 10 ft wells vs. digging one all the way down to reach water. After nearly a decade of digging far and wide, in this season of my life I’m digging the Judaism well of my ancestors, and already finding wetness in this deeply earth-based, shamanic, community of practice centered around how to live well in a mysterious reality.
My understanding is we are entering a Renaissance / Golden Age of Judaism as it adapts for the changing times, and sense I have some small role to play, even if it is just sharing my enthusiasm with my large network of assimilated American Jews who grew up without being told how awesome Judaism could be. Here’s a short list of experiences and communities, past present and future, that have been influential for me in the last couple of years: cultivating a regular Shabbat practice, observing and getting curious about the spiritual and political meaning of each holidays, facilitating experiences for friends and family, Wilderness Torah, Judaism Unbound, Here All Along, This Is Real And You Are Completely Unprepared, Seasons of Our Joy, Living Jewishly, Lab Schul, co-creating a Jewish men’s healing retreat, Unyeshiva (study with me this fall!), establishing my first chavruta (“friendship” study partner), and an ancestry + holy land trip percolating.
😽 Romance / Sex / Love
• Partnership —I’m neither calling in my beloved every night, nor in a deeper period of abstinence, but feel very open to meeting people and exploring what’s there. Zak Stein’s Love In a Time Between Worlds essay introduced me to the concept of whole mates who understand the evolutionary and world-historical context in which their relationship take place, looking with eyes to the horizon, knowing their shared love becomes the power to engage and heal a troubled world and participates in a universal evolutionary love. Ya. Meanwhile I have become increasingly clear on needs and preferences, leaning monogomish, gender playful, pansexual. Know anybody with a secure attachment style who might appreciate my energy?!
• Sexuality — Yes, that amazing domain of life that is oh so taboo to talk about publicly. I’m starting to claim that it matters a great deal to me. I have some deep and unique experience, insights and ideas to share, especially for those assigned male at birth. At last there are communities in my orbit holding high-integrity conversations and experiences that are critical to the healing of “the masculine.” I’m particularly interested in Hebrew Tantra and sexological bodywork. It’s all so connected to all my other interests and collective challenges. Alright I’m just going to come out and say it:
I ♥️ sex, drugs, and God! It’s all one…
Okay that was a little crude. What I mean is I am endlessly fascinated by the inter-connectivity of sexuality, plant medicine, and the transcendent.
🏘 Community and Home
- Winter — I’m feeling nourished by several seasons in the New York area, and starting to look ahead to winter and beyond. Two of the big questions on my heart lately have been “where is home?” and “who are my people?” Being a bridge is confusing and lonely at times. Being a wanderer has its pros and cons. None of the dreams in this essay are possible if I’m not living in community designed around shared values and intentions. I’m calling in community homes and land to ground into for weeks to months at a time. Some of the communities I’m drawn to include psychedelic earth-based Jews, ethical technologists, mystical and radical queers, new paradigm visionaries, permaculture communitarians, metamodern monks. Places where I can commune with nature regularly. Express myself freely. Speak my heart. Have a balance of solitude and social connection. Be inspired. Play! Cuddle. Feel. Practice living ethically and erotically. My astrocartographer recommends: Hudson Valley and Berkshires; Vancouver, btwn Portland and Seattle, btwn LA and Santa Barbara, Baja; Lisbon, Australia and New Zealand.
- Friendships — I yearn for deep connection with loved ones. Groups tend to be more challenging for me, with greater likelihood of idle chatter and missed opportunities. If you and I have been through life together, nothing would bring me more joy then a good ole catch up. 1:1 real and vulnerable connection is my nectar. I want to learn, reminisce, clear, and celebrate in ways that are mutually supportive. Please forgive me if I have been slow to communicate or challenging to connect with in recent years. I’ve been on one.
• Anxiety — Oy yoiy yoiy. Essay on anxiety coming soon. I’ve become more sensitive to what’s happening in my body — from involuntary twitching to flutteryness in my chest — and am keen on coming into a healthier relationship with it. While I’ve championed therapy for years, I’ve never actually seen one! Recs? I’m also making small changes throughout my daily life to better support my nervous system health. I live under the tyranny of my mind and the future, constantly planning and mulling over potentials (surrendered to the lifetime/season/month/week, still in the shackles of the day/moment). I worry in my dreams and upon waking. It’s a gift, curse, and teacher. And it ends with me — I will not pass this on to my family. Time to start meditating again..
• Skin — A couple of years ago I learned that I had basal cell carcinoma — a very common and mostly benign form of skin cancer — but one that needs to be taken seriously through surgery and prevention. It runs in my family, yet I’m puzzled to have first had it in my 20’s, considering the places I’ve lived and amount of sunscreen I’ve used. Though I believe it has much to do with environmental factors (toxins in food, water, air) and psychosomatic beliefs (“the world is scary,” “I have to do more to make up for who I am”), I am also seriously considering where is best for me to live based on this condition. Any insights? Skin care recommendations?
Here’s to a more ethical and erotic year!
That’s [a small slice of] my story, and I’m sticking to it. Lightly 😹
There was a period of confusion this summer when I was feeling stagnant and wondering if I needed to make some major changes, again. But the message I’ve been getting is to stay the course. Refinement > Revolution. I know how I need to be. I know what to say ‘No’ to. Life is fairly wide open, and I am excited for what the next chapters write.
Please feel free to approach me if anything in here resonates with your experience or curiosities!
Avra / Andrew / Ava / Avraham / Andy / AD / Bibble / Dunn