Erotic Intelligence… Reflections on Sex and Spiritual Practice

April 12, 2014

IMG_20130702_230751When I first arrived to the city of Los Angeles in 2007, after 7 years as a celibate Zen monk in a silent monastery, I did not foresee myself leading retreats and workshops about the dharma and sexuality. I suspect I was subtly under the spell of some of the same illusions that pervade our society, the notion that sexuality is somehow separate from other aspects of spiritual practice or human endeavor. This could not be further from the truth, yet it is my experience that many meditation and mindfulness circles do not address this topic fully.

The point of spiritual practice is to illuminate every corner and aspect of our lives with compassionate awareness… to acknowledge that there is no aspect of ourselves that is meant to be left out of the circle of wholeness and authenticity; yet in so many circles, and certainly Buddhist circles, there is a sex-spirit divide… a belief that sexuality is somehow so highly charged, dangerous, complex, and dramatic that it is possibly an impediment to real practice. As a result of this subtle message in so many of our spiritual traditions, sexuality and spirituality are often left separated.

When I arrived home from the monastery, with my heart full of the power of awareness practice, and re-entered the realm of dating, I felt like an anthropologist exploring a foreign new land. The gift was that I had a fresh “beginner’s mind,” a commitment to the spirit of mindful curiosity and to freeing myself from delusion, and no interest in meeting conditioned stories or standards… of which there are many about sexuality. The challenge was that I saw layers upon layers of human conditioning in this realm (externally and internally) and my heart felt very tender with the awareness of how much we collectively seemed to be selling ourselves short.

As a society, I wondered, HOW on earth are we pretending to navigate this realm of life without meditation and mindfulness as our guide? Without a commitment to cutting through the delusions as they arise? This aspect of life – so full of possibility for greater intimacy, love, pleasure, and reverence for life, seemed so full of conditioned messages, limiting beliefs, concerted effort, and ways that the mind of separation had infiltrated, so-to-speak, into this realm of basic natural human activity.

I also noticed books and marketing that essentially promoted the message that we could learn the “secret” to sexuality and ecstasy or become successful in relationships not by something within ourselves, but by looking somewhere outside of ourselves. There is no secret. The secret is in embracing our ordinary and extraordinary selves and learning to meet life with fierce wholeness, whether we are on the meditation cushion, at work, in traffic, chopping carrots, on the dance floor, or in bed with our lover.

My love for the dharma comes from the simplicity of stripping away that which is not true self so that we can remember our authenticity. Awareness practice has so much guidance to offer us in the realm of relationship and sexuality. The questions I find vital at this time are:

  • What is possible when we bring the stillness and spaciousness of our meditation practice to the dynamisms of sexuality?
  • What is possible when we are willing to trust and follow our erotic curiosity over any conditioned beliefs, especially those we don’t know we have?
  • What is available to us when we are willing to say no to the mind of separation in this realm and choose interconnection?
  • What is possible when we are willing to embody transparency and vulnerability over fear?
  • What collective distortions, confusion, or shame around sexuality have we subtly (or not subtly) taken on?
  • What is possible when we choose to meet life and practice with the innocence of erotic curiosity as our guide?
  • And what is possible when we invite our animal bodies back home, to the place of acceptance and authenticity, in every realm of life?

Every relationship we have is an extension of our relationship with our self. How much intimacy, devotion, courage, exploration, commitment, and wholeness are we willing to offer ourselves? This is it. This is our lives. Awareness practice invites us to embody freedom in our lives not someday in the future when we are “healed,” but now, today, when we shift our lens and acknowledge the authenticity that is who we are beneath all that we have been conditioned to believe about ourselves.

I feel a tremendous honor to be of the generation of dharma teachers who are beginning to address the sexuality/spirituality split in our culture. I feel tremendously grateful, as a woman, to be ever-deepening my own capacity to show up beyond my conditioning (the outer choppy waters) and meeting this aspect too of life from the deep nourishing spaciousness of present-moment curiosity… the field of all possibility. And to offer this to my beloved… and to offer this to our world. 

This work invites us beyond duality and beyond roles, and into authenticity…

  • beyond the duality of repression/explosion…
  • beyond the duality of predator/prey…
  • beyond the duality of madonna/whore…
  • beyond the duality of you/me…
  • beyond the duality of right/wrong…

And beyond all the other dualities we bring to this ordinary and sacred realm of life.

This work has the capacity to free us from distortion and invites us to celebrate and affirm our erotic intelligence. In a world of complexity, the medicine of the dharma is its simplicity and compassion. My interest and the gift of daily practice is in learning how to live from our curiosity, which is the place of awakening, emotional maturity, spiritual freedom, and sexual wholeness. On a deeper level, how we relate to eros is how we relate to vitality, to life force, to the natural world, and to the nature that is who we are. May we all bring wholeness to this realm and learn to embrace our ordinary extraordinary selves. May we let go of our desire to be “experts” in this realm and bring beginner’s mind to asking the questions that can liberate us through our sexuality.

For more information about the June sexuality retreat or upcoming workshops on this topic, please click here. All are welcome… both experienced meditators and those who are new to practice… people of every sexual orientation, gender, or relationship status.

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