94: “You can’t create without breaking something.” (ft. Oceana Sawyer)


There is bracing. And there is breaking. In today’s episode, learn why the latter is so essential to healing, to liberation, and to creation. Featuring the amazing liminalist Oceana Sawyer, we take a journey into a conversation about what we gain when we “lose” (control, fear, conditioning…), and what we receive when we truly open.



Oceana Sawyer

Oceana Sawyer is a grief and liberation explorer in the liminal spaces of life and death. She is currently working in the realms of embodied grieving, deep ecology and liberatory praxis. Trained as a facilitator, sensuality educator, and in integral counseling, rooted in earth-based spirituality and an intensive study in the expressive arts, she brings a compassionate presence to her work with groups. You can follow her on her website, Patreon, and now on Substack.

Her first book, Life, Death, Grief and the Possibility of Pleasure is available at Kizzy’s Books and More and Amazon.

You can also join Oceana this June in Portugal for the annual gathering of the House of Beautiful Business where she will be guiding participants in an immersive death meditation to commune with with the cosmos and then return. No drugs involved, just your willingness to explore imaginatively.

Oceana: But if you want actual liberation, it's going to cost you. And it's not what you think it's going to cost you. It's going to cost you breaking and breaking and breaking.

laura: How to make love. Now, is that from recipe or from scratch?

Speaker 1: This is How To Make Love.

Speaker 3: Wow.

Speaker 2: Oh gosh.

Speaker 4: Ooh.

Speaker 5: Oh my God.

Speaker 6: A little to the left and faster.

Speaker 1: A show that test the edges of what love is.

Speaker 7: Worthiness.

Speaker 8: Empathy.

Speaker 9: Beauty.

Speaker 5: Sex positive.

Speaker 1: The borders it can cross.

Speaker 3: How we do integrity in all of our relationships.

Speaker 1: And its hidden costs and shadows.

Speaker 2: In a world where we other other people, where we build walls, we should tear down walls.

Speaker 1: Fuck finding it or falling into it. Our future depends on making it.

laura: Hey everybody, welcome back to a podcast about healing, about love, about liberation, and about how we build and hone the skills and the wills to do that work inside ourselves and out in the world. This season, we're going to be tackling a lot of conversations about healing, explicitly, about the learning involved and healing and the unlearning involved in healing.
In my experience, healing is such a nebulous thing. It can often feel elusive, and I want to invite you into a variety of provocative, varied conversations with extraordinary teachers where we can all sit at the feet of those people and listen really deeply. It's so rare that we just get to teleport into conversations with healers and learn about how to heal, so today we're going to do just that.
You're going to drop in the snippets of a conversation Oceana Sawyer and I had about, well, everything, really. This is a dialogue about learning to value everything we are conditioned to devalue when it comes to healing, learning to value breaking over togetherness, ease over effort, surrender over conquest, all for the purpose of healing, for the purpose of liberation, for the purpose of experiencing life, being awake and alive for the life that we are living.
Oceana is a trained death doula and a teacher. She's a time and cosmos traveler. She goes into the dark spaces that so many of us fear, and our conversation is really a lot like Oceana, herself. It travels the cosmos. We talk about everything from death to orgasm and how to go beneath the surface of life, how to swim in the deep end, which is to say, how to heal and break wide open.
Welcome to a conversation about making love, making healing, making creation by learning how to break. Oceana, for folks who have never met you, seen you, been introduced to you, who are you?

Oceana: Who I am today, right now, is I am kind of a dreamer. I'm a dreamer that is interested in the lofty places, the cosmos, and the lofty places on the ground. All of my inaudible networks and the whole matrix of all of the creation. And I like moving and dreaming into those places.
Is there such a way of being or calling yourself a liminalist? Is that a word? I think I can change my title. I'm liminalaist. Yes, that's what I am. I'm liminalaist. I like hanging out in those liminal places in between. That's me. I guess if I'm going to be practical about it, I just like holding space for those conversations.

laura: Thank you. Oceana, I want to start with you where I normally end with guests, which is how we define love. How do you define love?

Oceana: These are handmade candles. Ciel, inaudible son, makes these candles out of cheese wax. He takes the red wax from the cheese and he presses them together with his little hands, and he makes these little candles, and you can feel the love in these candles. But his parents buy them and then they give them to their friends, and they're given with this care. And even though there's this sort of transaction around money, you can tell that it's not really about the money.
It's almost like he understands the exchange. You need to have a energetic exchange in order for the gift to be received. The lesson of him is, "I want to give you love. I want to give you so much love, but I know you cannot receive this love if I just pour it into you, so if you give me five cents, I will give you this candle and then you can receive this love I have poured into this candle."
When you asked me that question initially, the first thing I thought of was, when my mother died, so many people started saying, "Oh, my condolences. Oh, I'm so sorry." They sounded very performative, and they felt very performative. But it's what they had. It's the best they had. We have a culture that's very death phobic, and so we don't really know what to do about death and grief, so people do what they can.
And I remember my initial impulse was to think, "Oh my God, so performative. Why are you even talking to me? Don't bother." But then I felt my mother in all her grace and her dying, which was very, very graceful, and I just received it, because that's what I could do. I could receive it, and the receiving of their act of their offer was an act of love. It brought my mother's love into my body in a way that I did not expect.
And so whatever the offers were that came, I just said, "Thank you." And I just received them like they were giving me the biggest gem that they had in their pockets. And I think that people tend to think love is the thing that you... They're looking for love. They're outside of themselves, wandering around the world looking for love. Like, "If I'm just this thin or this hair or this much money, I will have love." It's so funny. And I wrote about this in my book, "Life, Death, Grief, the Possibility of Pleasure."
The experience of love is only what you can generate, only what you can give. You cannot go out and get love if you are not already somewhere in your world, in your body, having it, so those offers, performative as they may have been, it was because my mother's love had been poured into me, and I could go, "Oh yeah, I will receive that." And it wasn't even like I was receiving that person's love. I don't even know what they felt about me. It doesn't matter. The point is, I received it and I experienced love. It's what I wanted. I just wanted ease in grace.
I just took what they had. And like with Ciel's candles, I think that that sort of receptivity is the thing that starts to perpetuate love in the world. If you're just around pouring love and no one's receiving it, it's fine. You can have that experience. But the cyclotronic experience of giving love, having it be received, the joy of that, and then having that come back, it's just the height of deliciousness.
Love is simply receptivity to the love that is already here. Nothing more needs to be cultivated, explored, named. It is just already here, and all there is is to just turn, open, and have it, just have it.
I think this kind of thing takes stamina. I think you have to be really willing to fall down, scrape your little knee, and get back up. Surfing, following flow, it's not for the faint of heart, really, because it can get ouchy and crunchy, as it must. Literally, as it must, because you can't create without breaking something. Many things, probably. If you're going to be in the mode of generating, if you're going to be in the mode of oneness, you're going to have to get comfortable with breaking, it's just life.
And of course, when I say just life, I'm talking as a death doula, so when I say just life, I'm also talking about death. It's a cyclical and it's all one.

laura: How do you learn to break?

Oceana: That is a good question.

laura: Yes.

Oceana: Okay, well, practice. Practice. There's a thing about breaking that I had to learn, which was staying with the impulse. The conditioned impulse when things are breaking is to move away and to immediately go to clean up, fix. That's the conditioned impulse, because that's what you would do in a context where things have to be stable. And so, "Oh, there's breakage. Oh, I need to clean that up, fix it, put it back together." That's the impulse.
But in a larger field, what there could be to do is to just stay with, so you have to fight against the conditioned response to move away and to fix. There's this practice of staying with, and that's the hardest thing. And I know it's so hard, but you just have to try, and this is me talking to me now, and this is what I say to myself. Just try, just a little bit longer. Just try, keep trying.
And it's funny, because when I start talking to myself like that, I can feel it's not just me. It's like my ancestors have come. Okay, keep breathing. Just try, and then try again. Keep trying. You're doing good. Keep going. You're doing fine. Keep going. This is me talking to me. And it's the staying with. And if you can stay with, this is the secret sauce of breaking, is the staying with, you eventually hit bottom and you can't hit bottom if you don't stay with.
If you just stay in the shallow part, it is just going to keep cracking. The ice just keeps cracking, and you're just like in a perpetual cracking. Just hell in my mind. But you just stay with, you drop below the surface, and you just keep going down and down and down. Eventually you touch bottom. And I know because I grew up with a pool, if you touch bottom, if you can get to the bottom, then you can push off something hard and get back up with the least amount of effort and the fastest.
It's the most efficient way to get back to the surface, is to touch bottom and push yourself back up. That is the fastest, most efficient way to get from the deep into the surface. If you turn around as you're swimming down the bottom, if you turn around before you get to the bottom, then you have to swim all the way back up with no effort but your own effort. But if you can use the momentum of the bottom to accelerate your ascension, then that's how you get there faster.
That's what I do. I just stay with the breaking. I just drop and drop. And it's a muscle you exercise. When you first try it, you don't go all the way to the bottom. You go as far as you can go, and then you swim back up and go, "Oh my God. Okay, well, I'm still alive, I'm still intact. Okay." Next time you go a little further, "Oh, I can hold my breath. No, I got to go back up." And you get back up.
But eventually, you try, you try and you try, and you get to the bottom, the rock bottom. In the breaking, you find gold. You find resource. You find something that actually you can use to propel you onto the next thing. I never saw that before. Oh, that's what's happening here. Oh, this is what this is.
Recently I had a real heartbreak with my friend Cliff, was facing his own mortality, and as people do when they're facing their own mortality, they pull away. They go on a journey that no one can go on but themselves, and I know this, but it was still hard. I felt like we were in a breakup, but I stayed with it. I stayed with that heartache, long enough to find my way forward.
And in one of those moments of just staying with the heartache, I saw the truth of what my perception of his harshness was. Not just him being cold, but he was trying to tell me how afraid he was, and I couldn't see that until I let myself break all the way, and then I could see it. I think what happens, it's that Leonard Cohen song, right? It's in the cracks.

laura: Yeah.

Oceana: Yeah, it's the cracks. Now, we're packed to inaudible right? The cracks, the breaking is where the juice is. All the things you knew and tried are on the surface and now you need something else, and you will not find it on the surface.

laura: How do you know when you are resisting breaking?

Oceana: Oh, that's an easy one. Everything gets dull. Your senses dull because you're bracing. If the energy is breaking, that's actually what's happening. You trying to keep it together, your resistance to the braking, that's antithetical to life, so now you have to contract. Now you're dulling things down. All of your senses, you're dulling everything down so you can keep it together.
Whereas if you went in the opposite direction, that's where the life is. That's what your senses open up, and you have more access to just life force energy. It's a dulling. When things get dull, stagnant, if you're thinking the same thoughts, you've always thought, yeah, that's resistance.

laura: What do you say to folks who are afraid that they'll try to touch bottom and they'll never come back up? I hear that a lot from clients, this fear when I'm pushing them to go a little deeper, go a little deeper, stay with something a little longer, a little longer. The most common thing I hear is like, "But what if I don't come back from that?" Usually it's in relationship to depression or to anxiety, and just being with the tough feelings, the scary embodied sensation, the pain.
What do you say to folks who are afraid that they just won't know how or won't be able to come back up?

Oceana: Yeah. What I say to people is, "Then only go as far as you can." Here's the thing. When someone says, "I'm afraid I won't come back," aligning with their fear is not always a bad thing. You have to feel it out, but sometimes just saying, "Okay, then go as far as you can." And then people go so much further than they think that they can. And I know you know this. You probably see this all the time. "Go as far as you can." "Really?" "Yeah, only go as far as you can. I'm still here. I'm still with you."
And they try that and they go, "Okay, this is okay. I guess I can go a little further. Sure, go a little further." I think that what happens when you tell people that, "Only go as far as you can go," I know when someone says that to me, my initial impulse is, "Wait a minute, I can go where I want to go. I'm going to go all the way down there. Watch me." I don't want to call it reverse psychology. I actually think it's more like safety.
I think it's right. I think people only should go where they want to go or when they can go. They don't have to go where they don't want to go, deeper than they want to go. They can stay on the surface. It's fine.

laura: What, if anything, does all of this, all that we've chatted about so far, have to do with liberation?

Oceana: Everything. Most everyone could be in the game of liberation, but liberation, again, is not for the faint heart. You can be uncomfortable. You could get your seat at the table, and that might be sufficient. But if you want actual liberation, it's going to cost you, and it's not what you think it's going to cost you. People think, "Oh my God, it's going to go how much? Tell me the dollar amount."
The money is not even the point. If I was going to attach a dollar amount to liberation, it would be priceless. There's no amount of money you could pay to get yourself liberation. It costs you your ass, basically. It's going to cost you breaking and breaking and breaking. But then the light comes in. I know that says nothing in an audible context, but it looks like crash, and then, "Ah." How would you get to the light if you didn't break?
And in the context of liberation is that oneness. In fact, the road to liberation is the road of oneness. You have to be willing to understand yourself as a part of a whole. And while you yourself might think of yourself as a hot mess and all manner of broken, that's part of the whole. If you can see that as part of the whole, then you are on the road to liberation, I think, my humble opinion.
Because I think true liberation is when you are so broken open that there is nothing that the puny little systems can serve up to you that's going to touch that, even. To me, that's liberation, when you have your sovereignty so well lived that there's just nothing that is going to touch that, shake that, and all of the energy that comes towards you for that just becomes juice for how are you going to live even bigger, juicier, more connected, wider? Because it will. That's going to happen.
And yes, it's going to hurt and it's going to be hard, but in the space of liberation, you know that's part of it. I think, "Ah, here we go again. Let's go. Something more to metabolize for more fuel on the way."

laura: What do you think some of the thoughts, beliefs, ways of being are that we have to be willing to break on purpose or give up or let go of in order to be in deeper relationship with liberation?

Oceana: I've heard you talk about this. What do you think?

laura: For me, what comes up as I've been listening to you talk is there's some re-relating to fear that has to happen. And it's very, very hard. It's funny that you gave that surfing metaphor. I was thinking when I lived in Los Angeles, I was like, "You know what? I'm going to learn how to surf." I don't know why. I don't know. That's just maybe what happens when you move to Los Angeles, but I was never a very good surfer.
And the reason I was never a very good surfer is because I was a bracer, not a breaker. And there's a moment that comes where you have to fall forward when you're surfing, and it's a falling. It's not a calculated, "Okay, I'm going to lean at the right..." You give yourself over to the wave, and one of a few things can happen. You can be pummeled and turned upside down and spun around and hit on the head or cut open, or you might meet the wave where it's meeting you, and then you're riding a wave and it's this extraordinary out of body experience.
Well, what happened to me more often than not was I got pummeled, and a part of the reason was I felt my fear and I hesitated. At the moment, the wave asks you to fall forward, I would say, "But I'm afraid." And then I would wait just a second too long, or I would pull back, or I would do all the things that we're conditioned to do when we meet fear, and I think that that was a pretty powerful metaphor for my relationship with liberation for most of my life until fairly, fairly recently.
I'm aware for me personally, and I can't speak for anybody else, that shifting my relationship to failure, shifting my relationship to breaking, shifting my relationship to letting go, which is all to say shifting my relationship with fear and control, has been tantamount to my being in a more intimate, authentic, alive relationship with liberation. I am historically a person who's been really afraid of fear and really afraid of pain, and it's taken a lot to nudge myself to go closer to those things, and to allow the breaking, and to allow the falling, and to unlearn my mechanism for control, my desire for control.

Oceana: Thank you for that, because you're just like so many people, myself included. I had a teacher who said, "We don't surrender to the things that have power over us because that would be conquest. We surrender to the things and the people that we are equal to or more powerful than our perception of that is." And that's an inside job. Your perception of who you are is just an inside job. You have to figure out who you are, and then you can surrender. I don't think you can surrender until you know who you are.
And of course, in your metaphor, you're talking about the forces of nature, and I think it still applies. You have to know who you are going to be in the breaking, and that you test and you come back, you test and you come back, you test and you come back.

laura: Who are you in the breaking?

Oceana: I'm fighting tooth and nail. And then I let go. And honestly, I'm letting go because at some point, it occurs to me that I am creating more damage in the fighting than if I just let go.

laura: Yeah.

Oceana: It's a similar thing with orgasm. You cannot make orgasm. You cannot make yourself orgasm. You cannot clench enough, strain enough, push enough, breathe hard enough, to get to actual orgasm. You can get to semblances of it, but actual orgasm, the kind that keeps spiraling into greater and greater levels of intensity, is a place you go to when you have let go, and you're just following the sensation.
That is a surrender to all of your conditioning around how you make orgasm, how you get there. You just let all that drop away, and then you're just surfing the sensation. And you might fall off, but all it takes to get back on is to put your attention on the sensation, and you can go back to surfing up and up and up and up and up and up into higher levels of intensity. And that's counterintuitive. Exactly the opposite.
Training myself to experience orgasm at greater and greater intensities was a lifelong goal, and it's training that I embarked on for the purpose of owning my body at a level that I previously did not know and is probably unprecedented. But I wanted that, and the reason I wanted that was to have that level of ownership and agency over something so utterly primal, that I could know that no matter where I was or what was happening, I could always choose myself, meaning I could always choose life. Or I could choose death. Nothing is better than the other. But if my goal is always more life, more pleasure, then that is my compass.
Maybe that's what it is. Maybe it's the knowing of your compass. What is your actual goal in any given moment? You are resisting breaking. What is this getting you? Are you getting the goal? It could be that you are, and that's fine. But if your goal is something else, more life, wisdom, energy, power, information, ownership, sovereignty, then you might try a different direction, go where the energy's going.
The central training was if you're just following the actual energy, not that energy you're trying to create, make happen, which we do in all kinds of circumstances, "I'm going to make this happen," you just find the actual energy, and it might be small. It's okay. Start where you are, follow that, and then that will lead you to something else, and then it'll lead you to the next thing, and then next thing. Really, we're back to surfing. That's all I'm doing, is looking for the next wave, looking for where is the energy, the life force coming from, going to? I'm just on that.

laura: Oceana, who you are to me, and I found you through death doula work, but who you are to me is a surfer of huge waves. I don't know if you've ever seen some of the videos online about watching people go surf these 100 foot waves.

Oceana: Stories high, right?

laura: They're massive. And there's a lot of training that goes into someone being able to do that. There's a lot of openness to life, a lot of openness to death, a lot of skills, but also just this fundamental identity of like, "No, that's who I am. That's what I do." And to me, that's who you are, and I appreciate learning from that so much. You're like, "Where are the big waves? That's what I'm going to be on."
And it's profound and it's healing, and it gives so many of us permission to, even if we don't know how to surf, be like, "This can be done, and there are people doing it, and they'll guide us and they'll teach us."

Oceana: Yeah, I feel like I want to put my hands on the shoulders of these beloved people. You can do this. And that's what I keep thinking. You can do this. Just breathe, relax. You can do it. Yeah.

laura: Thank you.

Oceana: Oh, that was fun. Wow. To me, I know a conversation's gotten really good when I started talking about orgasm.

laura: Yes. Amen.

Oceana: Because it's so essential to me.

laura: Yeah.

Oceana: It's such a fundamental way that I think and I move, and if we are at that level, to me, that is the secret of all of the stuff. That's underneath everything.

laura: I appreciate you so much. I appreciate how profoundly generous you are with your wisdom, with your sovereignty, with your passion, with your energy. Thank you so much.

Oceana: Thank you for making such a soft place for that conversation.

laura: All right, y'all, that's it for today. Thanks for being here. Thank you to Oceana Sawyer for gifting us with so much wisdom and vision. Until next time, my friends may you break instead of brace. I'll see you here, soon. Bye for now.

Oceana: Wow, I'm so excited. I'm going to go read.

laura: I love it.



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