Why Sex and Spirit Need a Divorce (For Now)
There’s two parallel paths for a person who desires to become fully self-realized.
One is psychological work: personal growth. It leads us to finding our individual voice, independence, self expression and knowing who we are as human beings in a modern society. It is about individuation and finding our uniqueness and separatedness from others. It helps us to see and accept how we humans are different.
Another is spiritual work: transpersonal expansion. It helps us to access universal connectedness, unconditional love and feeling of unity with all sentient beings. It helps us to see how all humans are deep down the same and equal.
These paths do intertwine and merge, but they do essentially touch different areas of our psyche.
Psychological work, personal is aimed at bringing unconcious (shadow) material to the conscious awareness so we can integrate our wounded parts or unwanted qualities to our adult self. Integration helps us to become whole as sexual and intellectual beings, imperfect and human. This part of our path could be called as self-actualization or developing healthy ego. On this level, we learn about personal love and accepting our everyday challenges. Most therapy works on this area of life.
Spiritual work, transpersonal is aimed at going beyond personal experience, to transcend human identity, ego and body. With spiritual work we can access our core experience of universal love. Universal love is beyond our sexuality or personal desire — it has timeless, infinite quality. With spiritual practises we can reach the space beyond physique, personal attributes and identities, like gender.
Spirituality builds up impersonal and collective aspect of our life. However, if we only concentrate on spiritual development, the result can sooner or later become a spiritual bypass: neglecting our body, avoiding certain feelings, fleeing from earthy activities like work, seeing money as “bad”, entertaining obsessive positive thinking and judging everything as spiritual (good) or not spiritual (bad).
Mere psychological work doesn’t serve us well either: ignoring our spiritual self can create a limited, materialistic and rigid existence. If we go into either area leaving the other, hiccups of life will sooner or later appear.
Integrating these two aspects of humanity allow us balance.
There’s also plethrora of experiences that seem to be somewhere between personal and transpersonal: art, poetry, being in the nature and all the experiences that allow us to reach the state of flow: that’s the space when we are so immersed in something we love that the notion of time and space diminishes and we momentarily access consciousness beyond our body.
Sex and Spirit Meet in the West
There is a rising phenomenon of bridging the gap between spirituality and western sexuality: conscious sexuality, or western tantra. The variety of practises and teachings is wide, but many are based on old Eastern philosophies.
Western tantra apparently tries to approach both aspects of humanity; personal and transpersonal — but there’s a lot of vagueness around this and some teachers downright refuse to address any personal material.
Tantra — Spirituality or Sexual Skills?
What western tantra or conscious sexuality seems to be offering is personal development or even therapy. I perceive this as a well meaning idea where we think of working on two levels of growth on one go: “Let’s work on personal and spiritual levels at the same time in a group setting. Let’s make it through sexuality so we can have some (fun and) deep stuff coming up!”
Eastern spirituality was not originally developed to teach us about our personal sex life. Tantra surely wasn’t designed to serve our human needs, but to offer a path towards enlightenment. Somewhere on the way, travelling from India, tantra got married with western way of thinking and the result seems to be a pretty wild child!
The result of throwing together esoteric Eastern philosophies and wanting a bit of more personal power and skills in the bed, may result in us swiftly moving from night clubs to tantric events to do exactly same we did before. Now we’re however sober and equipped with elegant spiritual lingo and avoidant behaviours that can be embellished with deep, mystical meanings.
Our personal sex life is about our psychological work and mixing it with spirituality can become very messy, unless we are clear what we’re after. Most often we just want “something better/a nice experience, oh and there’s these beautiful rituals and some handsome man teaching this, that’s fun!”.
Do we need a spiritual system to have better sex?
We Need a Healthy Ego
We rarely come into a workshop or retreat environment if we do feel balanced and happy in our lives. The whole concept of western self-help is based on our epidemic feeling of not being good enough. Yes, we need a healthy ego to thrive, to work, be great partners, parents and friends.
However, if we don’t feel like being enough, any spiritual practise is unlikely to change any of that. Spirituality in the first place is not concerned with our ego, and this is why spiritual practises can’t give us better self-esteem. We may temporarily adopt a spiritual ego (by changing looks, the way we talk, and behave — like we think a spiritual person does) to feel better about ourselves, which basically means missing the whole point of spiritual practise.
What stands in the way of accepting ourselves?
Practising spirituality in the hope for a healthy ego is likely to be a frustrating and disappointing journey. Spiritualising a personal issue is like trying to pour stardust on a broken leg in the hope of healing. Nope, it was not your past life but this one that hurt you.
Spiritual practises do not make us automatically more mature as a human beings, nor do they help with communication, problem solving or creating better intimacy in our life.
The confusion between personal and transpersonal work is natural, as these are not two distinct pathways. Nothing in a human being devops in a linear, clear, organised manner. Life is indeed messy and confusing.
Sugar Coating Sex with Spirituality?
So why exactly sexuality needs to be merged with spiritual growth? I can’t think of any real reason. On some fundamental level we are already a unity, any given moment a living entity of mind, body and spirit, and we do everything, also make love our spiritual side wide awake.
To me it’s a terrible idea if we capture our wild, fun, innocent, playful sexuality in the service of patriarchal Eastern teachings.
Hasn’t our sexuality been supressed enough by Christianity already?
Sure, tantra seems liberal at first, but if you really listen to the teachings, it is obvious that they were not aimed at sexual liberation of a western person.
I have found my divine self through sitting on a meditation cushion, not through sexuality. Sure, I’ve had strong transcendental experiences through tantra, but they are just that, experiences. It didn’t make me happier or more conscious. My real spiritual work has been thriving in the spaces between — in those silences, in aloneness when I have allowed my humanity, emotions and embraced my loneliness and boredom.
Why all the talk about gods and goddesses? Are we running away from real, natural, individual sexuality with all this flowery talk?
With spiritual framework we can perhaps make sex a bit less dirty in our culturally conditioned minds. We may find “a respectful” reason to want and have sex : “Oh, I’m only doing this for my spiritual growth and expansion”?
Roots of Shame
If we truly want to understand what spiritual sexuality is made of, what about looking at the root of our shame and guilt about our mortal humanity and core needs?
Do we need spirituality to cover-up our shame ridden and pleasure hidden culture? Perhaps we try to deny our core needs? Spiritual sex may be a great way to avoid our real challenges around sexuality and intimacy.
Universal love is be beyond personal sexual desires, as it comes from transcendental place of no ego. What does sex have to do with the space that has no identity, gender, desire or needs, that of pure cosmic love?
I see f**kfests that are marketed with pseudo-spiritual outcomes. Why not to advertise these events as sober, fun, friendly places to cuddle, have sex and play naked?
Body-Mind-Spirit is a Unity
And here’s why tantra also is confusing: the teachings are originally aimed for transcendence and enlightenment, to connect with the greater self or universal love. However, when we incorporate our bodies, our experiences are always being registered on a visceral and psycho-emotional level too.
We can’t have sex on an impersonal level, unless we cut some part of our mind-body-spirit connection. And if we detach from anything in our being, then we’re ultimately dealing with avoidant behaviours, ways to escape a situation that is too much for our system.
Our body is always present, it does register what we do, and no matter how spiritual we are, it still contains all our experiences from the past and present.
If we have a difficulty accepting our human body and sexuality as a natural thing, self-acceptance is the work we need to do, not transcending the body.
My Wish is New Sexuality
My dream is that we keep working on healing shame and promoting natural, accepting attitudes to all aspects of sexuality and equal human rights regardless of gender identity or sexual orientation.
Spiritual teachings are an important part of human inheritance and part of understanding our life, but I would rather see sex and spirit clearly parallel, separate paths, until we truly know the difference.
As long as we have so much collective trauma around sexuality, it is better not to cover up any of our human needs, desires or wants in a spiritual veil.
I would welcome gladly more practitioners who offered practises that are not connected to spiritual systems but integration of sexual shadows and embracing our all round humanity, including spirituality.
This is hopefully the direction modern sexuality is going, that we acknowledge all areas of human experience and see human as an entity of mind, body and spirit.
Eventually, through awareness, we will naturally incorporate sex and spirit, not by worshipping any gods or goddesses outside ourselves, but by heartily bringing our whole humanity to our beloved’s arms.
That’s when sex and spirit get married within.
Till death do us part — from our body.