Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Sex: a matter of evolution of consciousness

Over a year ago, Swami Kriyananda established a renunciate order for a new age. He calls it the Nayaswami Order. In it, married couples pledged to celibacy and dedicated to spiritual ideals through meditation, devotion, and service can become Swamis. This is an astounding statement and example in the context of social mores.

What makes this article difficult is the twin facts that our culture celibrates (take the 'r' out and you have celibate!) sexuality as the pinnacle of pleasure, and that sexuality is necessarily very personal (and complex because involving two, not just one, person).

Nothing can be said about sexuality that can stand alone as a truth for everyone. Therefore anything I might write here must be seen in the larger context of at least the article as a whole and not any single sentence or statement.

There are certain aspects of human sexuality that are sources for and hints at the deeper reality that this powerful urge represents. One of these is the instinct to privacy in sexual matters. Indeed, in the dark and under the covers is typical. Why is this? Is this the legacy of past social conditioning or is it deeper? Why the instinct to cover up private parts, what we call "nakedness?" This is true even outside the context of sexual arousal or activity.

We accept, in other words, a general norm of "decency" but we don't necessarily understand its source in human consciousness. A few revolt against this or flaunt it and, although relative (like hemlines going up or down), it seems to persist in one form or another. Some cultures enforce a total cover-up of women while others have certain implicit and accepted guidelines that are context sensitive (a bikini worn on a beach is accepted but at the office is not).

Without the creative impulse humankind would eventually die out. Without the creative impulse, inventions, great art, new ventures and social services would not exist. The question in human consciousness has always been how to deal responsibly with the creative urge. The extremes of condemnation or suppression vs. promiscuity aren't worth commenting upon in an article on general spiritual principles.

Another aspect of human sexuality that invites deeper understanding is the simple and undeniable fact that its biological function is the continuation of the human species. Equally obvious is its pleasurable aspects, but then, too, so is the reality of boredom, disease, crime, suffering, shame, abuse, violence, and perversion. Indeed, one wonders if the pleasure of sex is more or less equally balanced by the suffering and degradation it can engender: not in any single individual, so much, as in the human race as a whole. A specultative question, admitedly and one without a definitive answer but interesting, nonetheless.

[A footnote to the sordid side of sex is a curious remark by Yogananda--hardly original, however--commenting that sex, devoid of fantasy and pleasure, and seen strictly speaking from the animal or procreative function is, well, off-putting, to say the least. Not unlike how young children vew their parents caught in the act of kissing: "disgusting!" While no one would seriously offer this view of sex as the recommended one in the face of the human experience, it is not without some validity. Why were the organs of such intense pleasure made to double as organs of elimination?]

Another aspect inviting deeper contemplation is the dynamic tension between sexuality as an expression of human love, caring and tenderness, and sexuality as a means for individual self-gratification. These two aspects of human sexuality compete against each other, too often dragging human sexuality into a neutral zone such that a couple with a great sex life can still end up divorcing one another. It's as if there's no connection between enjoyment of sex and the respect, compatibility, and friendship that is the real basis of marriage.

Paramhansa Yogananda interpreted the Adam and Eve story as a teaching that the impulse to procreate sexually was the single compelling cause for the "fall" of the human race. For as is taught in the Bible and in other similar stories around the world, we were originally created pure and God-realized. Yogananda taught that we were even created with the power to procreate through divine power without resorting to sexual means. Whether this is literal or metaphorical is unclear, for he also suggested a personal one for everyone.

For example, in everyone's life when a human being reaches puberty, a new power and responsibility emerges through the human body and often produces challenges and suffering for the fact of its misuse early in adulthood. In any case, however interpreted, we cannot deny the power of the creative urge and then need to channel it lest harm and suffering result.

Imagine if marriage partners viewed sex as strictly for procreative purposes. Ok, that's NOT imaginable. I agree, it's not. Imagine if marriage partners entered marriage with no prospect of having sexual relations. Ok, again, UNimaginable. I would, however, counsel marriage partners to contemplate both of these and see if their desire for marriage stands on its own in terms of friendship.

Yet, a decline in sexual interest and activity is, in fact, the general trend as the years of marriage progress. (Of course, infidelity, whether mental or physical, can serve as an outlet for unfulfilled sexual or romantic urgings. However, neither fantasy nor fact can bring any lasting happiness as millions can and do testify.) It’s as if nature herself ignites the flame of sexual desire when our bodies are young but then we, in our ego and by indulgence, keep it alive almost despite ourselves.

Few, if any, couples will sustain the high level of sexual activity as the years go by. “As absence doth make the heart grow fonder,” it doesn’t take a sage to experiment and realize that a balanced level of sexual activity is more sustainable than extremes; and, that extremes of passion engender a self-balancing degree of bickering, disrespect, moodiness and the need for separateness. Intense sexual activity cannot be sustained without encroaching upon the longer term success of a marriage partnership which requires calmness, dignity, respect, and mutual friendship. [Again: a general statement, only.]

Thus it is, generally, that the importance of sex to a couple’s relationship will tend to decline as other aspects of their friendship emerge and are strengthened. Indeed, if this doesn’t happen, it’s not unlike a person who only dates but never marries: at a certain point, he or she may seem stunted in their emotional maturity.

Yogis teach (and other traditional cultures) that celibacy or at least sexual self-control and moderation supports mental and physical health and vitality. Moodiness, loss of memory, inability to concentrate, and premature aging are considered the consequences of sustained over-indulgence in sex. Hmmm, don’t these symptoms sound like issues which exist and are widespread in our culture?

Maybe the instinct for privacy derives from the witnessing and transcendent wisdom of our higher nature while the impulse to experience sex itself derives from the past memory of incarnations of sexual procreation as we advanced through the lower life forms towards the human form. (Is it no coincidence that passionate embrace means self-forgetfulness? Is not the tendency to hide this activity perhaps not unlike Adam and Eve hiding from God, their conscience, after the deed was done?) While saints and masters who were married and had children demonstrate that one can be in the married state and still achieve liberation from all desires and attachments, it’s far more true that saints (aspiring to freedom) and masters (having achieved it) live or recommend the unmarried, celibate life, or at a minimum, a self-controlled moderate one.

Perhaps we should contemplate that a person of high ideals and spirituality might aspire to indulge less and less, and eventually not at all, in his or her sexual desires. I admit, yet another culturally unacceptable statement.

Western culture has contributed to the world at large the proof positive that fulfillment of sexual desires and fantasies are incapable of giving us lasting happiness. With traditional cultures we imagined that suppression and repression were the cause of unhappiness, but we, as a human race, must now admit, that neither does sexual indulgence. [This isn’t really news to the human race, but in past civilizations discovery of this truth was limited to a very small number of privileged people.]

It’s time, therefore, for the culture to take a step or two forward, towards a more balanced view of human sexuality. Paramhansa Yogananda made the bold statement that sex enjoyed for its own sake, as an end in itself, not merely a means (at least to human love, if not only procreation) is de facto adultery (even between married persons).

Accepting that almost no one would agree with such a statement today, the purpose of this article is to offer points of view that could expand our view of human sexuality such that in time, in our personal lives, and, culturally, in time, we might edge towards a more balanced form of human sexuality.

A form of “meditation” for married couples would be to re-direct sexual urges, fantasies and feelings, away from personal pleasure and towards the image of procreation as its purpose. (Nothing like images of diapers and howling babies to wilt sexual desire!)

In yoga there are techniques for drawing sexual energy up the spine towards the brain; for keeping busy in exercise, creative arts, serviceful activities, and devotion to high ideals and love for God, as natural means to transmuting procreative energy from its physical manifestation to a higher one.

The simple point of this exercise is to suggest that we face boldly the reality that sexuality cannot bring us happiness, and, conversely, that sexual transmutation and moderation can bring us greater happiness. This could engender a greater personal effort to consciously avoid the bombardment of images on television, in the movies, and internet that suggest the pleasure and happiness of sexual attractiveness and indulgence. It offers suggestions as to how to behave with members of the opposite sex, which in our culture, we accept that we mix freely but we do not have to "mix freely" in familiarity. Dignity, respect, and centeredness in our relations can elevate even the workplace to higher level of creativity, productivity and human satisfaction for a job well done through cooperation and teamwork.

The interaction of men and women from a higher level offers great hope and promise in humanity's tackling the challenges of this new age. As people struggle for freedom from racial prejudice, and from discrimination in the treatment of women generally, we have yet to consciously work towards outgrowing sexual stereotypes, attitudes, and behaviors that we might be more liberated towards our higher (genderless) nature. On this higher level, the differences between men and women can be elevated to a new level of co-creation. When working together as partners in the workplace or at home, and doing so with mutual respect, great things can be accomplished and greater happiness and satisfaction achieved.

At least, I offer this as a possibility and one that most people can experiement upon for themselves.

Blessings, Nayaswami Hriman