With the Sexual Revolution, a la “Playboy”, now behind us, as well as the Victorian attitudes which it rejected, perhaps we are ready for a new conception of sexuality, one not dividing, but embracing, both body and spirit. With few exceptions, such as the Tantric tradition, for centuries both Eastern and Western religious leaders have warned of the dangers of the flesh, and exhorted abstinence and restraint in the furtherance of spiritual ideals.(1) Particularly in the West, the separation of the body and spirit, and matter and energy, permeates not only our theology, but Cartesian philosophy, medicine and science. It is only in recent decades that medicine has become more holistic, and physics has acknowledged the interchangeability of matter and energy.
A holistic attitude towards sex would incorporate the body and spirit, the physical and the divine. It so happens that both the path and the experience of mystical bliss parallel that of lovers’ sexual ecstasy. It is not surprising that many saints refer to their relationship with Jesus as if he were a lover. I’m suggesting that the spiritual experience is neither exclusive, nor preferable, to the sexual, but that it is merely an individual choice as to whether one finds the divine alone or shares the experience with another. In fact, each such experience only enhances the other.
Freud was revolutionary in proposing that healthy sexual expression is necessary for healthy psychological and emotional functioning. Wilhelm Reich realized the opposite was equally true; that if a person is emotionally healthy, he will be able to express himself openly and spontaneously, and this will generate a fulfilling, ecstatic orgasm. He postulates that surrender is the necessary prerequisite for total orgasm, as opposed to a mere release of muscular tension. “Orgiastic potency is the capacity for surrender to the flow of biological energy without any inhibition…”(2) In order to achieve this, in the late sixties sex therapists began recommending non-demand pleasuring, warning that too much focus on orgasm only leads to performance anxiety, and the loss of spontaneity. Starting with the premise that the sexual response cannot be willed, Masters & Johnson introduced the “sensate focus” method in treatment of sexual problems. This therapeutic technique of mutual touch was developed “…expressly without pressure to `make something happen’ sexually.”(3) In fact, they discovered that removal of a goal-oriented concept in any form is pivotal for recovery. Thus, this method teaches the participants to: “`think and feel’ sensuously and at leisure without intrusion upon the experience by the demand for end-point release (own or partner’s), …without the demand for personal reassurance, or without a sense of need to rush to `return the favor’.”(4)
It turns out that these are precisely the instructions for the proper attitude in meditation, and in ones relationship with God or a higher power. Buddhist teachers counsel that enlightenment will not come by the effort of ones will, that one should sit in meditation for its own sake, and although a certain amount of desire is necessary for a disciplined practice, desire itself can be an obstacle. Trying to control or make something happen may yield fleeting pleasurable experiences, but is self-defeating in the long run. Focusing on techniques and goal, whether orgasm or enlightenment, only takes us further from awareness of the present and the joy of the moment. The writings of Tarthang Tulku, a Tibetan Lama of the Nyingma Buddhist tradition, could as easily be contained in a lovers’ sex manual: “So, during meditation, do not have expectations. Do not try to get anywhere or achieve anything…too much attention only produces tension.”(5)
“…Although we must make some effort in the beginning, once meditation is entered, there is no need for further effort…There is no need of will in meditation. The common idea of willing is to make an effort. Most people find it hard not to make an effort, not to do something in meditation. But will does not help…As soon as we try to force the mind, our meditation is disturbed.”(6)
Not surprisingly, Masters & Johnson come to the same conclusion, in describing the dilemma of impotency and being caught in the role of spectator: “Apprehensive and distracted by his fears of performance, he usually forcefully initiates some form of physical sexual expression, and immediately takes a further step toward total sexual dysfunction by trying to will his sexual response, thereby removing sexual function from its natural context.”(7)
The sensate-focus method is the sensual prescription for abandoning self-consciousness to the present for what Thartang urges in meditation: “Letting go of all thoughts and images, letting them go wherever they will, reveals there is nothing behind…not even a `me’…only an immediate, genuine present. In other words, there is no flow of time, no past, present, or future. Everything is in the moment.”(8)
“In meditation we make our closest contact with our experiential side, where enlightenment, higher consciousness, is found. When we pass directly into any moment, when we dissolve the forms or `clouds’ of concepts and yield to pure experience, we discover our great resource, enlightened space…This understanding is true integration, a genuine connection of our whole being with the reality of experience, with the `now’ which is unlimited by time or space.”(9)
Thus, it is in the giving up of control, not trying, nor willing – the shedding of the ego’s desire, and its opposite, fear, that the boundaries of self and other fall away; one enters an I – Thou relationship, whether communing with God or with the soul of another. Whether love making or in meditation, it is a physical, emotional and mental surrender and opening to this emptiness, moment by moment, with no holding on to the moment experienced, nor anticipating the next. Through such spontaneous surrender, one enters a timeless emptiness that at once becomes full of joy and ecstasy. Tarthang continues:
“Open all your cells, even all the molecules that make up your body, unfolding them like petals. Hold nothing back: open more than your heart; open your entire body, every atom of it. Then a beautiful experience can arise that has a quality you can come back to again and again, a quality that will heal and sustain you.
“Once you touch your inner nature in this way, every thing becomes silent. Your body and mind merge in pure energy; you become truly integrated. Tremendous benefits flow from that unity, including great joy and sensitivity. The energy flowing from this heals and nourishes the senses. They fill with sensation opening like flowers.”(10)
In the Christian tradition, when speaking of infused prayer, St. Teresa could be depicting sexual union, as she describes the faculties rejoicing without knowing how they rejoice – the intellect ceases to reflect and instead rests in the presence of God (or ones lover).(11) She also writes that we can do nothing to procure this experience, but that man must open his whole soul to God; total submission of the will is necessary for perfect union.(12) As in surrendering to a lover, she urges fully trusting and disposing of oneself to God, with an attitude of “I am Yours, I do not belong to myself any longer.” This represents the longing of the soul “to love, to be loved, to make love loved.”(13) In this state of immense depth and openness, God then unites man to Himself and in this intimate union expands and transforms him,(14) as lovers are transformed by their sexual union, when they have fully surrendered, as Reich advocates.
Her account of surrender is as sensual and arousing as is D.H. Lawrence’s:
“He took her in his arms again and drew her to him. It was gone, the resistance was gone, and she began to melt in a marvelous peace…and she felt herself melting in the flame (of desire)…and she let herself go to him. She yielded with a quiver that was like death, she went all open to him…she was all open to him and helpless! “…her breast dared to be gone in peace, she held nothing. She dared to let go everything, all herself, and be gone in the flood.”…heavier the billows of her rolled away to some shore, uncovering her, and closer and closer plunged the palpable unknown, and further and further rolled the waves of herself away from herself, leaving her…and she was gone. She was gone, she was not, and she was born: A woman.”(15)
His allusion to death and rebirth echoes The Prayer of St. Francis: “…And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.”
When lovers are fully present with each other, by putting aside their expectations and their fears, and are able to open their minds, hearts and bodies to the unknown of the moment, there is a surrender of the ego that occurs akin to death. In this empty and timeless space, absent of “self,” the energy flow from both souls merge in a union of love, described by St. Teresa and Tarthang, that is both expansive and euphoric. Such experience is restorative and transforming, whether occurring alone in meditation or prayer, or shared with another soul. Reich attempted to explain this commonality as an outgrowth of a functional point of view, as distinguished from a mechanistic one. From the latter, mechanistic and mystical thinking, and religion and sexuality, are incompatible. On the other hand, in functionalism the contradiction is resolved:
“…the common principle of sexuality and religion is the sensation of nature in one’s own organism…In natural religion, religion and sexuality were ONE:orgonotic plasma excitation…Functionalism breaks through the boundaries of the rigid splitting contradiction through the discovery of the common factors in emotion, origin, and essence of sexuality and religion.”(16)
Sex as a mystical experience is far from a casual encounter. It demands a new morality, one borne neither of rigidity nor indulgence, but of strength and vulnerability. It requires a strong sense of self to be vulnerable enough to abandon the ego. Additionally, in order to promote integration of body and soul, sex should be approached with integrity and compassion. If instead it emanates from selfish motives, solely to satisfy physical needs, or to possess or control another, it only strengthens the ego, and is destructive to the soul, which, as a result, retreats even further from reality. Valuable guidance is found in Buddhist sexual ethics. Here the emphasis is not on the sexual act itself; in fact, some schools even recognize passion as a means to enlightenment. In any case, ones motives must always be ethical; so that a Bodhisattva will take care to never harm or deceive another, thereby not harming him or herself in the process.(17)
Copyright, Darlene Lancer, JD, MFT
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1. Stevens, John, Lust for Enlightenment, Buddhism & Sex, p.23, Shambala Publications, Inc., Boston, 1990. (Gotama Buddha is reported to have said: “Brother, there is no real delight in passion; real delight is to be free of passion.”)
2. Reich, Wilhelm, Discovery of the Orgone, p. 79, Ambassador Books, Ltd., Toronto, 1967. (He goes so far as to posit that men who equate surrender and femininity will be orgiastically disturbed. Id., p. 82)
3. Masters & Johnson, Human Sexual Inadequacy, p.74, Little, Brown & Company, Boston, 1970.
4. Id., p. 73
5. Tarthang Tulku, Openness Mind, p. 114, Dharma Publishing, Berkeley, CA, 1978
6. Id., pp. 34-35
7. Masters & Johnson, p. 65
8. Tarthang Tulku, p. 122
9. Id., pp. 128-29
10. Id., p. 47
11. Father Gabriel of St. Mary Magdalen, O.C.D., The Way of Prayer, A Commentary on St. Teresa’s “Way of Perfection”, p. 83, Spiritual Life Press, Milwaukee, 1965
12. Id., p. 112
13. Id., pp. 114-115
14. Id., p. 99
15. Lawrence, David, Lady Chatterley’s Lover, pp. 178-179. Nelson Doubleday, Inc., Garden City, New York (l928)
16. Reich, Wilhelm, An Introduction to Orgonomy, p. 301, Ambassador Books, Ltd., Toronto, 1961
17. Stevens, p. 140