Sex and the Spiritual Man
This essay is dedicated to all the spiritual men in this world who are confused, ashamed, and conflicted about sex and to all the women who love them. I have written this mostly to speak to the dilemma within the spiritual man, and not so much about the journey of discovery between tantric partners, because I dont consider myself healed enough in that area to be writing about it yet. As for the issues that spiritual women face around sex, I think there are many elements in common. Id love to get some feedback from both men and women as to how this writing affects you.
Most of the spiritual men that I have known in the past have, like me, been plagued by the feeling that sex and/or masturbation is dirty, bad, downright evil, or at the very least antithetical to the process of spiritual awakening. I suspect that many thousands, even millions, of spiritual men today are inwardly torn (even secretly terrorized) in an extremely painful way around this issue. The problem is this: on one hand, to such men, all that really matters (or at least a big part of what matters) is enlightenment, awakening, liberation. On the other hand, they have received the message from family, society, and guru that sex is to be minimized or shunned if such an exalted state (or even just a respectable status) is to be realized. The urge to express ones sexuality is powerful, and, to most, not really any more repressible than the urge to eat when hungry. Yet, the urge to self-realization is equally strong and equally irrepressible. The coexistence of these equally powerful, yet apparently contradictory forces at the extreme poles of the spiritual mans existence sets up an inner tension that most women and most materially-oriented men cannot comprehend. This inner conflict can be so intense that, on many levels, it simply destroys the mans life. It can lead to sickness, depletion, even death or the desire for relief through deaths absolution.
How has this come about? Why do spiritual men tend to feel that sex and awakening are in conflict? Is there anything about these two forces that are actually opposed? And if so, how could one live with the reality of such powerful (apparently good vs. evil) internal opposites? Is there a practical solution to this dilemma that can actually relive spiritual men of this intense burden? First of all, let me say YES to that last question, just so youll know my orientation right from the start. But to answer these questions in detail, let me begin by telling my own story.
When I was youngmaybe 7 or 8I discovered masturbation and gleefully engaged in it whenever I could. Already feeling quite repressed, criticized, and misunderstood in my family and school life, I found masturbation to be quite a wonderful (if only temporary) relief from the ordinary hell I was living in. Due to my escapist motivations, however, it soon became an obsession, and my body began to give indications of being overstressed by it. Having 1-4 orgasms a day was making me feel weak, lethargic, and disinterested in life in general.
I soon began to notice that I was receiving very negative signals from my mother about sex. My newfound sexual life was pushing her "sex is dirty and men are bad" buttons, and she was readily transmitting that message to me in many subtle and not-so-subtle ways. This is where I first became aware of an inner conflict. After all, sex felt good. And I didnt understand why sex would make me a bad person. Having mom project that negative message on me felt bad and threatened any remaining shred of hope that I might reclaim my earlier bond of intimacy with her. So I was in conflict: go with my impulses, or try to conform to her fears and neurosis. Either way, I was doomed. And my sexual needs were so strong, that repressing them wasnt even an option. I began to feel like a bad person around sex, but being sexual was the only way I felt I could be.
In school, I began to notice that other boys were in a similar conflict. There seemed to be an unspoken problem that we shared in common. Only there, it felt more like a global social taboo. Sex as a topic in general was so repressed at school that it was, on some level, almost all that was happening, at least subconsciously. The inner questions and conflicts became quite amped.
My father, who was always very supportive of me, inadvertently fanned my growing neurosis around sex by signally his own discomforts in this area. In general, he never talked about sex, and clearly repressed his sexual affections for my mother when my sister and I were around. I remember the day he tried to do the perfunctory father/son birds-and-the-bees talk. He was obviously frozen there himself, at least in his ability to talk about it. Why? At the time, I couldnt say. But (at least to my recollection) the talk lasted about ten minutes and consisted mostly of vague generalities. I got the sense that he felt he had finally relieved himself of this important yet embarrassing fatherly duty, and could thus continue on with his life.
In my teenage years, I began to discover spirituality. It was there, in my readings of spiritual books by spiritual men, that I found the first clearly-stated justifications for repression of the male sexual urge. Simply stated, the message was that movement toward higher states of consciousness consists of cultivating energies in an upward direction toward a goal of total, one-pointed union to be achieved in and through the higher chakras. And sex had the opposite effect: it drains the spiritual energy from the body, depriving the aspirant of the genuine urge to God-realization. It was even suggested by some that sex and death are directly connected. Male orgasm was referred to as le petite mort (little death) by some teachers. I began to notice in my readings that many of the most respected philosophers, scientists, and leaders also had a big problem with sex. In a Shakespeare play, I heard one man say to another something like "what urge could possibly induce a man to project his soul into the gut of a lamb?," clearly a cloaked reference to coming in a lambskin condom. I began to hear such veiled references everywhere. In an old Crosby, Stills & Nash song, the lyrics go "I embrace the multicolored beast. I grow weary of the torment, can there be no peace? And I find myself just wishing that my life would simply cease." Naturally, the global unconscious message that God is Good and sex is bad crept in here. The overwhelming conclusion was obvious: Sex was bad. I was bad. The only solution: Stop having sex.
Believe me, I tried, though quite unsuccessfully. At this point in my life, I was deeply enrolled in Maharishis process of becoming a teacher of Transcendental Meditation. There, in those rooms, and in his teachings, I received a constant stream of mostly nonverbal confirmations of the anti-sex notions I had picked up from books. At the serious courses in Europe, men and women were put in separate hotels (usually with miles between them) with the explanation that we men were to be "one-pointed" in our spiritual work. Here, I found myself in the company of the most sexually tortured souls I could imagine. The unspoken game was this: who could repress themselves the most, while looking the most relaxed and evolved about it? I played this game very well, as I was quite accustomed to presenting a false, happy and calm image to the world. Maharishi never talked about such things; he was clearly above all that in his assumed exalted enlightenment. When asked about sex on television or in magazine interviews, he always said that he was a simple monk and knew nothing of such things. When asked during courses, he would refer the questions to Charlie, the only man in the whole movement who Maharishi seemed to approve as an awakened student. But Maharishi would make sure that we were given Hindu scriptures to read that contained clear references to the evils of sex. So the overall message (delivered mostly sideways or by omission) confirmed our collective worst fears.
I recall encountering a man at one of the advanced courses for TM teachers who, at some point in conversation with myself and another man, during a moment of male spiritual camaraderie, confessed that he wished he could be enlightened, but he just couldnt "give up the beast" (clearly signaling the belief that its one way or the other). The feeling of being helplessly caught in the devils grip (or some such thing) pervaded his confession. This position was contrasted with those who tended to live on the other side of the equationthose who either pretended no need for sex, or had so deeply repressed the need, that they had in fact lost touch with it (and quite proudly so). In both stances, there was clearly a tremendous amount of energy tied up in knots.
Until now, I have been speaking mostly of the experiences and messages that I received from my environment. But increasingly, and just as distressing, were the messages I was feeling and generating from within. After all, it was in fact my experience that masturbation, while quite ecstatic in the moment, did drop my energies to near zero after the orgasm. Sometimes I would be flying high in one moment, then crashed into a deep crater the next, with flat brainwaves. Consciousness itself seemed to dim, and I felt more separate and confused than ever. This was usually followed with intense feelings of failure, Self (or God-) betrayal, and sheer badness, along with terribly self-judgmental thoughts that were clearly supported by the spiritual authorities of which I was aware. The result was always at least two or three days of secret depression, while my sexual fluids reconstituted themselves, during which time I was alternately denouncing myself and secretly looking forward to the next sinful, solitary orgy.
I did my best to find some way to survive this madness. I discovered that if I restricted my sexual explorations to nighttime, I could at least have the nights sleep to recover a shred of self-dignity and well-being. I found that one night of sleep and three meditations later (one of which was to be applied as a remedy immediately after orgasm), I was reinstated to a feeling of grace, where I could momentarily rest from my hell of inner conflict. Only to be tortured once again by my struggle with the inner beast. I desperately wanted God, Heaven, Bliss but that just didnt seem possible.
One morning, a couple of years after returning home from TM teacher training, I found myself violating my nighttime-only rule, and masturbated to orgasm. It felt good as usual, and left me in my usual dark, self-castrating funk. As I was driving to the TM center, a man dashed out in front of my car and I instantly slammed on the brakes. But I hit him, and he lay sprawled on the pavement, semi-conscious. The police came and interrogated me, the ambulance took him away it was a big scene. This event shook me to the core, for, as you may already have guessed, it was clear to me that I was being punished by God for my horrific sin. For at least twenty years, I told no one. I was far too ashamed and far too unable to reveal to the world that, beneath my whole act of happy and pure teacher of enlightenment, I was actually an unforgivable wretch.
Perhaps, after hearing that last story, you are beginning to feel the depth of despair and conflict I was living in. But it is not enough to stop there. I feel the need to say more; to break it down into an even more detailed description of the hell I was living in. I am doing this especially for you, the spiritual man. I am doing this to help liberate you. It may be uncomfortable, but I hope you can stay with reading it.
Here is how sexespecially masturbationhas been for me for most of the past thirty years. My body would feel alive and arousedready for sexual pleasure. As soon as that fact was in conscious recognition, my mind would object, bringing up the eternal list of fears and dire warnings of consequences. Thats bad. Unspiritual. Something bad will happensomething unnamable. Car accident, perhaps. Dont think that! Invoke protection! Nothing bad will happen! SexyumI cant wait! Lets do it now. No! If you must do it, wait until youre in bed at night. Touch yourselfit feels good. No! You might go out of control! You cant trust yourself. I cant trust myself. Consciousness will dim. Enlightenment will be postponed. Youll lose yourself again. Overshadowed. But I dont careI want to! To hell with all the objections. I will do the evil deed. Later, when no one is watching. God is always watching. I cant help myself. I will do it anyway. At least I can sleep and forget my misery. Sleep and forget; the ancient formula. When will I ever get off this horrible wheel of birth and death? The ancient sages say never, until you stop sex. When will you face this? When will I be ready? Later. In the future. You always say that! What if you die first? Shut up. Later. Angel versus devil. Split. Decide. Nosee what happens. I know what will happen. Sleep and forget.
Night comes. Sex is on my mind. I try to hide that fact from myself until I am lying in bed, alone. Is this battle erotic? Not really. But the urge for sex carries through. Go aheadget it over with. Dont push me I feel sick. Its not too late! You can still stop! I touch myself. Limp, undecided. Caught in the middle. Yes/no, stop/go, heaven/hell. Imagine girls, masturbating. Thats exciting. I start to get hard. Ooooothat feels good. Yes. Deeply good. Not so fast! Dont go out of control! It feels so good, so dirty, so taboo. I must do this. Girls having sex. Exciting. Waste my precious seed? Will God condemn me? Who cares. Oh, God forgive me! It feels so good! The conflict rages. The periods between reluctant permission to indulge and intensifying self-condemnation grow shorter, faster with each stroke of excitement. Frequently, this battle exhausts me long before orgasm. My body wants to stop, to recover, to be natural. My mind is now in override. Get it over with! You started, so finish. Girls having orgasms. Exciting. Go ahead! End the torture. Come all over yourself. Im afraid. Its too late. NoI can stop! Its never too late. My mind is now controlling my hand. My hand is now the perpetrator, my body the victim. Mind over matter. Get it done. You need your sleep. If you stay like this, youll never decide, youll lose sleep. Itll feel good. You need it. Its OK once in awhile. My mind is now playing the justifications. Im excited, but its not erotic. This is a very familiar feeling. Pushing myself over the top. Im coming! Im coming! What if Im punished? What if I die? Forget thatcome! My genitals are hard, angry, frozen. I dont feel myself the way I used to when I was very young. I yearn for the joyful, unconflicted release of early sex. But I start to come. Oh, oh, oh, oh, oooooooh, oh, God oh, God, oh, God, oh What have I done? Im falling falling from grace. Falling into darkness. Oh, God. I shall have to wait for days until I can come back up to feeling OK again. Was it worth it? How can I live with myself?
There. I have done it. I revealed my inner thoughts and feelings. Was there something familiar in it for you? Are you living in some form of conflict like that? If so, please read on. I want you to know that I have found a way to heal this type of disease.
After years of wishing for some way out of my dilemma, I discovered the work of Mantak Chia. His book "Cultivating Male Sexual Energy", though poorly written and overly complex, gave me some much-needed techniques for controlling myself. I began to practice stopping the urge to orgasm and drawing my sexual energies upward and through the energy orbit as he prescribed. It was wonderful! After months of diligent practice, I found myself able to stop an orgasm that had begun, and even to have intercourse without ejaculating. I felt like superman! I considered myself an accomplished sexual yogi, with extraordinary powers.
Little did I realize then that I was simply masking the underlying problem and, on a still deeper level, actually perpetuating it. I was still split there, and deeply. It felt like Id found a resolution, but in hindsight, it was simply a period when my mind had figured out how to get more control over my body. Mind and body were not in union; the battle was simply raging further underground. All this became clear to me sometime after I met Hillary and then Saniel.
Hillary. What to say about this most amazing Goddess incarnate? In 1991, she awoke as the Infinite Self, with the help of a little-known teacher in the lineage of H.W.L. Poonja. But after an initial period of extreme grace, she found herself inundated with psychic materialher mind had returned to haunt her. For many reasons, she spent the next four years alone, witnessing and partially absorbed in transcendent bliss, but physically sick and emotionally withering away. Sex and relationship, along with the rest of life, was left far behind. By the end of that period, she began to recognize her need for relationship once again.
Our mutual exploration around sex and the process of conscious embodiment has been painful. For each of us, and for different reasons, sex has been one of the most challenging areas of our Waking Down process together. And because we both have found ways of avoiding sex and making that OK, its been easy for us to forget about that area of relationship, especially when things get difficult or even simply unpleasant. But over the past three years together, gradually by degrees as mutual trust has blossomed, we have continued to investigate our sexual fears and shame. Through all of that, I have discovered an undeniable increase in my fundamental wellness around sex. Today, I can have sex or masturbate without feeling anywhere near as plagued or conflicted as I used to. Its not all healed. But I feel at least basically liberated in this area. What had made the difference?
First of all, Saniel has shown me how to permit the totality of my human animal nature. Through his words and actions, he has provided a remarkable template for embodied existence as a divinely human man. He pointed out to me how techniques such as those I was practicing actually reinforce the inner conflicts at a deeper level. I began to notice what he was pointing to. I began to see that I was actually in a very deep, but not entirely conscious form of pain that was caused by my chronic attempts to control myself and become more "evolved" according to some spiritual ideal. I began to notice that whatever discomforts I experienced during and after sex were actual preferable to the ones I caused myself by trying to rise above it all. It seemed counterintuitive, yet I was finding it to be true. By permitting myself to drop down into the spontaneous ecstasy and muck of sex, I was finding a whole new kind of freedom than any I ever expected. Saniel spoke of liberation into the bodymind and the world, not out of it. And here was a direct personal example. By allowing myself to be just human, I was awakening as the Divine! This was a most remarkable (almost unbelievable) revelation!
During my awakening process with Saniels help, I began to risk permitting myself to simply have sex with little ado. Just go for itlet it rip. I was almost afraid of not going into conflict mode, because then it seemed like I was just giving into the dark side. Right, said Saniel. You are your dark side! Let yourself have all of it. Find out who you really are. Radical teaching. Can I trust myself? Can I trust Saniel? At that point, I had exhausted all other options. I began to trust. And, lo and behold, I began to change in ways I had never felt before. I began to feel that allowing sex was somehow OK. I began to come alive there, even awake. I began to notice that consciousness never dimmed because of sexit was my MIND that dimmed! And that was only because my energies were more in my body. I had been so identified with my mind, the once supreme ruler of my life, that it seemed that everything at my core was dimmed. But not so. Increasingly, I found myself witnessing the dimmed mind. Witnessing the conflict. Witnessing the joy and pain.
And then one day, quite unexpectedly and without warning, I became the witness. My whole Being gave up its timeless effort, and I went literally out of my mind. Lucky me Hillary was there to catch me, to hold me, to be with me in my helplessly out-of-control screaming wailing death/rebirth. On the other side, I was something totally new, yet impossibly ancient. I had arrived.
It took time to adjust to my new condition. It felt like this must have been what Saniel meant by the second birth. But within a few weeks, I began to get that it wasnt. I was merely enlightened, not fully realized. In fact, this awakening was actually a recognition of the most supreme split possible: I was consciousness, and everything else was clearly separate from me. It was as if I was sitting happily in a movie theater, and everything else was on the screen. Total split, yet clearly awake. (I should mention here that many in our Waking Down process dont go through this type of disembodied witness realization; they simple realize consciousness as increasingly integrated with the bodymind.)
At this stage of my investigation around sex, there was a great boost in the sense of relief. Not only a relief from the inner conflict before, during and after sex, but essentially from everything. I was relieved of feeling implicated in any phenomena whatsoever. On the level of consciousness, in the place where I felt my essential sense of Self, I was forever absolved and immune. I was above and beyond all karma, all consequences. I was the eternal, immortal Self nature of all Being. In fact I felt so removed from enmeshment in ordinary life, that I feared I might become a real cosmic asshole in relation to other humans. Meanwhile, although I felt relieved of identification with my sexual issues, the issues themselves didnt go away.
Through this whole process, as irksome as it felt to me, Hillary was there to urge me continually toward my body, toward Earth, toward full integration. She would frequently look at me with a terribly irritated expression on her face and say "Ted . come down!" It took me my whole life and the following three months to finally get my first glimpse of what she meant by that.
During the winter of 96-97, I did my investigation around this most fundamental split in by Being. And finally, in mid-February of 1997, on one remarkable night with my friends in this work, it all landed on me at once. Light, dark, and Consciousnessits all one event. I am all one event. There is no separation. In that moment, I was released of identification as Consciousness and established in identification with All of Being. On one level, the recognition of Onlyness was rather simple and uneventful. On another, it was the most momentous thing that had ever happened to me. The split at the core of my Being was healed. I had entered my body. I was One, Whole. I realized that I am the Divine Person, crucified in this world as Ted, with all his tendencies, issues, and conditionings. This was simultaneously the ultimate glory and the heaviest realization of my responsibility to myself and all others.
Since then, I have continued exploring conflict in sex. Only now, I was no longer examining parts of myself from a distance, as if through a telescope. I was inescapably being the issues and patterns I was investigating. This forced me to encounter my stuff, whether I wanted to or not. After all, it was all me. I couldnt exactly pretend to separate parts of myself from other parts or from the whole of myself. I couldnt separate my mind from my body. I couldnt pretend to deny what I was thinking and feeling in the hope that I could sleep off the disturbing parts. I was just THERE. And more and more, it began to dawn on me Who and What this realized I was.
I remember walking into Saniels living room one day and saying, "Saniel .. IIm GOD!" His reply was something like "Uh-huh." Totally matter-of-fact. No big deal. Clearly, he was so used to this fact, that it was no big deal to him. But to me, this was the universe! Me God. And Ted. Same thing. Impossible. But here I am! I cant deny it. Both. One. Only. Wow.
So this was the start of my real sexual healing. The split between me and God was over. I could no longer relate in fear to an Almighty God who must always be judging me as good or bad and delivering just reward or punishment. I am God. Therefore, if I want to masturbate or have sex with a woman, who says I cant? Or shouldnt? This realization has permitted me to notice something very interesting. Once the internal conflict was fundamentally removed, the dimming effect of sex and masturbation decreased at least 80%. In other words, most of the negative effects I had felt in the past were not due to any inherent negative effect from sex; they were due to the negative conditioning I had picked up, and the internal conflict that resulted. I soon began to understand that the remaining 20% (a mild drop in physical energy) was due to the bodys natural need to replenish its sexual resources. It felt somewhat analogous to how women feel when they get their period. They simply need a little more rest while the body goes through a natural cycle.
This whole process of investigation, recognition, and awakening has fundamentally released me from the nightmare I had been living in. Its not that my healing is complete; far from it. Sometimes, I still find myself wondering if God will punish me. And I still find myself going through difficulties in lovemaking with Hillary. But we are both more and more able to stay there with the discomfort and hold each other.
So you have heard my experience. I hope it helps you. May all spiritual men on Earth realize their Divinely human non-separate Onlyness. May sex be experienced in spontaneous joy. May lovers engage in sacred union without fear. And may All beings live as the realized Gods and Goddesses they truly are.
© 1999 Ted Nathan Strauss