Photos courtesy of Emily Sandifer
Thanks for tuning in to another episode of the Wise Not Withered Podcast. This episode will be Part 1 of the last episode of Season 1. Next time we’ll hear from Zoë Kors again, as she was yet another person whom I interviewed twice, realizing there was a lot more that I wanted to ask her about. Stay tuned!
(interview from November 2018)
“My relationship with my mother was extremely close when I was a kid. She was extremely loving, and very devoted. And that pretty much stayed. We’ve had ups and downs as I’ve individuated from her, which was really difficult and delayed I think probably for both of us. But we’ve really remained close and done a lot of work individually and together on our relationship. … It’s funny, I’ve spent the last number of decades really embracing the parts of me that are different from her. We’re both extremely passionate about politics, society, we champion the underdog, everybody matters… I think we both care very much that the people who are around us feel seen and heard, and appreciated.
It took me a long time to figure this out, but I think it’s very high on my mother’s priority list that people like her. I think she is somebody who doesn’t like to make waves, and doesn’t like to upset people. And for me, it took me a long time to understand that I am a disrupter. Not that I like people not to like me, but I do like to make an impact, a beneficial impact, and that often causes discomfort in people. That’s something that I think makes my mother uncomfortable, that I am perfectly fine making other people uncomfortable to a good end—I’m a truth-teller.”
“I do several different things. I am first and foremost a sex coach, and a thought leader on women’s sexuality. I also am a writer and an editor, and that folds into… At my best, I write about those topics, but I also write about yoga, meditation, all things consciousness. And then I do a lot of blogging, covering topics of wellness, and also popular culture.
It just felt like I could speak to my client’s sexuality in a way that nobody had spoken to them about before. I’ve always been comfortable with my own sexuality, I was getting involved in my own spiritual path in Tantra—an Eastern Indian and Tibetan philosophy and spiritual path, that involves the intersection of sexuality and spirituality. So I was able to bring that to my coaching, and it got so powerful. It was undeniable that I was becoming a sex coach.”
“In terms of relationships, I lost my virginity when I was 15 to a really wonderful… Well, he was a boy at the time. Very loving, but we were in summer camp. We were in the love, it was the first time I was in love. I made this executive decision as the CEO of my life that I wanted that experience to be combined with losing my virginity, even though I knew that the chances of this long-distance relationship lasting were slim. So that was that. Interestingly enough, he remains one of my closest friends. We lost touch for a while, but thanks to social media we reunited about a decade ago. He has a fabulous wife who I love at least as much as I love him. They’ve got a great daughter who happens to be my daughter’s age. So that’s a very special relationship.
I had a smattering of boyfriends and relationships, and spent some time flying solo in my teenaged years. Got married when I was 25. Was married for ten years. I met him when I was 22, we had a daughter. I was single for a year, then spent ten years with someone else, had a son together. Spent ten years totally, very intentionally solo after that—raising kids, pursuing my career, spiritual path, just loving being with myself.”
“My first husband… I married my mother, essentially. I repeated the dynamic in my relationship with my mother with my partner. And it wasn’t healthy. It was co-dependent, it was enmeshed, and I realized when I had my daughter. I joke that she flipped the light-switch on, on her way out. I could see how incredibly unsupported I felt. I felt like I had another child in my marriage, in my husband. We also remain good friends, we’re like brother and sister—and that’s a lot of why we’re not married anymore. I needed to walk away from that and be on my own and raise my daughter.
And then my son’s father… I think in many ways he might have been my rebound. He was everything that was the opposite of my experience. I think I hadn’t really given enough time to myself to settle in and find myself, and what I wanted. He was different from anything I’d ever been with, we had a lot of fun together. But in terms of my own emotional maturity, I wasn’t really there yet, to be able to make a choice for myself that was nourishing and healthy.
It’s hard to describe [my current relationship] without sounding like I’m just spewing superlatives. But really, I’ve found my match. I spent ten years really learning about myself, learning about the universe, learning about relationship. And this guy showed up. He’s just fabulous. He gives me the space that I need. It’s all about love, nurturing, respect. He spent ten years with a zen master, so he is very rooted in equanimity and spaciousness, and accepting what is. There’s a simplicity to him and what he brings to the relationship that is really a beautiful counterbalance to my expressive, New York, Jew sort of ethos.”
“If it’s possible to have a beautiful death, [my father] had one. He lived close by, and I was able to spend many, many months in the last several years of his life. We had many conversations about death and dying, and what he needed to complete before he passed. Five weeks in hospice in a wonderful facility. I spent a lot of time with him, every day, having long conversations. It was lovely. I was there when he took his last breath. … Really, for the most part, I became my father’s confidant. He could speak to me about the emotional, spiritual aspects of death in a way that he wasn’t able to speak to… My mother, for instance. They had a different relationship: extremely loving, but it wasn’t so much philosophical.
I read to him. I spent a lot of time with him. It was lovely. … A lot of wisdom poured out of him at the end, and I felt like I was really witnessing him letting go of just about everything. All of his attachments. As he lay there, it all sort of just fell away. It was really great. One of the things he said when I showed up one day was… He’d been lying there and thinking about all of the clichés about life and death, death and dying, loss and grieving. And he said what he’s realized that it’s not at all about loss and grieving. It’s actually about gaining: gaining the love that was always there, even though you didn’t even realize it.
Shortly after we moved him into hospice, he said ‘I realized that it doesn’t really matter where I am physically. What matters is where I am spiritually.’ There were a lot of deep moments. (laughs)”
About one of her biggest challenges in life: “I would say what immediately comes to mind is the specific situation of being diagnosed with cancer when I was twenty, in college. In the beginning of my junior year, I was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma. … It generally does not spread to other parts of the body, but it will kill you if it goes untreated. They caught it fairly early, but it definitely changed my life. A lot of people say it’s the best thing that ever happened to me—I certainly don’t know that I would make that statement at this point in my life.
It definitely shifted my perspective of life, and it gave me one of those moments. Up until that point, I was twenty years old—it’s the epitome of that self-centeredness, and I recognize that now. I had been worried about the fact that I was failing French: should I drop it, or should I try to pull my grade up… A number of different things. An issue with a neighbor in my dorm. And when you hear you have cancer, we don’t know how bad it is yet, and you may die, and you may suffer greatly along the way. All of a sudden, for a twenty-year-old, that was an amazing lesson in non-attachment and perspective. That stayed with me, and I’m happy to say that I’ve been cancer-free since 1985, since I was almost twenty-one.”
About her children: “Oh boy. I could write books and books. My daughter is an amazing human being. She is nothing like me—I shouldn’t say that. There’s a lot of her, especially as she gets older, that I feel a real kinship with. She’s a total badass, and she’s also a truth-teller. She moves through the world differently, and she processes things differently.
There was a point at which a wise advisor of mine said to me, when she was about eight: ‘Listen, here’s the thing. You don’t have to teach her everything you know. You don’t have to teach her how to be you in the world. She has her own way in the world, and your job is to hold space for her unfolding, for her coming into herself and finding her own coping mechanisms and her own perspective of the world. You’re off the hook.’ And I felt that way, I felt like I’m off the hook for teaching her how to be me, when she’s so different from me. That was a real enlightening moment. I definitely learned how to hold space for someone who is extremely different from me, temperamentally.
And my son is a trip all his own. I’m learning all about boys. And that means I’m learning all about men. I don’t have any brothers, I didn’t grow up around boys. I don’t know a whole lot about boys, really. And it’s been a total adventure, and I absolutely love it.”
About one of her greatest accomplishments in life: “My personal accomplishment… I would say is learning how to be with myself, and learning how to master my own self-regulation. I always say that there’s a micro and macro—as Buddhists say, absolute reality and relative reality. And to sort of walk through life holding both of those perspectives that allows me feel complete and whole in myself is you know, I think that’s what we all strive for on some level or another. I feel like I’m at a point at 54 where I’m pretty in love with myself and my life. And that feels like an accomplishment.”
About the impact she’s had in the world: “We live in a society where there’s a lot of competition, there’s a lot of judgement, there’s a lot of messaging that women in particular, we’re not enough: we’re not thin enough, we’re not pretty enough, we’re not sexy enough, we’re not smart enough. We’re not enough. We’re too much: we’re too emotional. We don’t smell right, we don’t look right, we don’t sound right, we don’t feel right… And just to sort of be a voice in the world that champions women, for how they really, really are. I hear the feedback that that’s had a really positive effect.”
A piece of advice: “I think first and foremost, what I would want to say is that if you’re still enough, and quiet enough, you can hear the universe singing you a love song. It’s much easier than you think to connect to that voice inside of yourself. It seems elusive, and it seems mysterious, and it seems like you might need some sort of psychic or a medium or a tarot card reader or somebody to help translate, but really truly, if you just sit still and be quiet, and focus on your breathing, it will bring you right in alignment and in earshot of your intuition, your higher self, and a very, very wise part of yourself that you can trust.”
(interview from January 2019)
About making waves and allowing people to be uncomfortable: “I give people permission to have their feelings, and have their experiences, and not be judgmental. A big part of that, is that we so often try to spare people discomfort—and we do it to their detriment, because in the discomfort is where the growth happens. … When we try to spare people their discomfort, the subtext to that is ‘You shouldn’t be feeling what you’re feeling.’ Just sort of being with someone and allowing the discomfort… Listening and being present for whatever anyone is going through is generally what allows me to sort of naturally be curious and probe in the way that I do.”
Her thoughts about shame around menopause: “I think because of the way that we hold older women in this society. I think in this culture, older women… Instead of being wise, we hold them as withered. What we perceive to happen in menopause is that we dry up, our tissues dry up, we have trouble lubricating more during sex, we get hot flashes, we usually put on weight… There’s just a whole slew of physical symptoms that we are taught to expect, like ‘your life as a sensual woman is over.’
… It has to do with the perception of desirability. We’re obsessed with youth. I could get on my soapbox about the patriarchy, but I don’t know how helpful it is. The biggest thing that I find with women who are around the age of menopause, is to really just get in touch with their feminine fire, their own innate sensuality. If they haven’t before, it’s actually the perfect time to learn about your body, learn how energy is generated and channeled in-body. That goes a long way to mitigating some of the physical symptoms of menopause.”
About the creative life force that runs through women: “Life force is life force. Shakti is Shakti. When we can’t create a life… There are many women who are pre-menopause who have not been able to conceive a baby. That doesn’t make them not sexual either. So yes, I find that my sex drive is as high as ever, I enjoy sex as much as ever, I have orgasms as much as I ever did, I squirt as much as I ever did—it’s all working. I think it’s something that’s easy to let go of. … I have a methodology by which I work with women to cultivate a very deep connection with their bodies, and the energy that their bodies can generate and channel and circulate.
… And with the crappy sex education that we have in this country, and in many parts of the globe, we’re not even really taught… Many of us are not even having high-quality sex, even in our youth. It’s a practice. I wouldn’t have so much work if people were happy in their sex lives and in their bodies.”
When she feels most powerful and alive: “When I’m having sex. (laughs) I would say when I’m having sex, parenting, or when I am facilitating a workshop for women. … It’s my biggest joy and biggest privilege to lead women back home to themselves.”