On a crisp, cool afternoon, I am sitting on top of a small mountain in the Northeast looking out over the entire valley below. The air is clear, and we can see more than a hundred miles across the lake. The larger mountains are visible in the vast expanse, looming as blue-gray goddesses. The fall colors are vibrant: reds, oranges and yellows paint the land. The scurrying of leaves in the breeze, and small creatures foraging in the dry, fallen debris creates a gentle whisper of sound.
Spirit and Flesh: Our Sexual Selves Are Spiritual Too
What, you may well wonder, does this have to do with sex? Answer: plenty. The experience I shared with my partner after a rigorous climb up the steeper of several trails was a sharing of time and energy together, something we both enjoy doing. It's part of how we are growing together, finding ways to connect and expand and explore our mutual lives. One of the first things we explored together around sex was the nature of giving and receiving, understanding that the mutual dance of pleasure and the sharing of physical intimacy was much more than "getting off;" it represented a deeper manifestation of our true inner selves. That we also began with a conversation about the nature of the sacred, in the form of Urban Tantra, was a signal moment for us: We deliberately placed our transcendental side at the forefront of our relationship. While things don't always start this way, the experience has illuminated the deeper nature of what "spiritual" really means.
What "Spiritual" Isn't
For a long time, I was one who automatically conflated spirituality and religion, and presumed that anything to do with "spiritual" meant formal, structured, organized, codified and controlled. To be "spiritual" meant that I had to somehow conform to a set of definitions someone else had formulated: Do THIS, in THIS way, and then you'll be spiritual. Over time, I came to understand that one could be spiritual without any particular trappings or teachings. But I still never melded together the body and the mind. To me, the spiritual center was in the mind, something abstract, and the body was something else.
It wasn't until I encountered teachings such as Urban Tantra that I began to understand it differently, that I grasped the idea that our bodies really are sacred, something to cherish and honor. Even then, it was a solo act: eat right, sleep right, sex right - all was well with the world. But as I let go of the old way of being, especially around sex (which, not coincidentally, coincided with my immersion into BDSM) I began to recognize that this aspect of being spiritual was much more than a solo gig. I began to find in others the connection not just to my own metaphysical side, but a glimmer of my own spiritual character. Sometimes it was a powerful release in the form of a particular kink activity, a catharsis. At other points, I was surprised by the depth of a connection I never even saw. (My very first erotic awakening massage not only left me weeping uncontrollably, but more powerfully, I connected, somehow, to the other person I did not even know who, on the following day, underwent the exact same experience!)
Spirit and Sex
It was at this point I really began to understand that my spiritual and sexual selves were simply different manifestations of the same thing, that what I sought with others was not a simple hedonic response, but something much deeper. It was a kind of unity that I had never really understood. Early on, one partner, whose connection to her own spiritual side was far deeper than my own, gently opened other doors for me, and I learned to let myself go into that shared space and just be. I later discovered that stillness was as powerful as vigorous fucking could ever be. I learned how a full exhale and a PC squeeze could bring me close to ecstasy.
Let's be clear about something: none of this is about "better than" or "special rarefied knowledge". Everything I've shared here is readily accessible to anyone motivated to seek it out. It won't cost you your life savings, and you don't have to join a special club (with automatic monthly payments deducted from your credit card). I'd even suggest that you run the other way if you find money at the center of a teaching or experience. It does take patience and, to a certain degree, some self-discipline, a willingness to set aside time and preconceptions to explore your own inner self. And it might be a lot easier with someone to share it all with, although that is not required. Where do you start? You can begin with a simple reflection that helps you decide what is spiritual for you.
So What Is Spiritual?
What is the spiritual? I think it is that inner core of us, that non-corporeal aspect we cannot touch or see or taste or hear. It blows through us all the time, and yet when we turn to look at it, it's not there. It's what we strive to revere (not worship) but defies us with an almost teen-like rebellion when we try to pin it down. It finds us in tea or leaves or water. We sense it when we sit in front of an open fire, staring into the flames as they dance before us. It is how we honor ourselves. At the same time, it evades us if we turn against our own bodies with self-numbing and denial, resurfacing only when the turmoil has abated, the waters again calmed. We honor it with the rituals we create, the intentions we state, and, perhaps most powerfully, the many ways we find to share our love with others. This sharing is, I think, the heart of any spiritual practice (if one chooses to even call it a practice). It matters little whether we share our home, a meal, a simple gift, a walk in the cool air of autumn, or the deep and powerful force of our sexuality. It is the process of sharing that leads us to our own spiritual home. We need only awaken to its presence.
Taking a Sexual Journey
For each of us, defining, seeing, feeling and understanding what is spiritual is a highly individual process. This, to my mind, is the primary reason why there is so much strife in religion, and why so many who ascribe to one belief or another find themselves digging in on ideological lines, more often without any real awareness of their own stubborn dogmatism. I am not referring only to a set of organized practices here, but, really, anything that claims a "this is the only way" approach. The promise and problem of the spiritual is at once that it is so multifaceted, so varietal, so expansive as to be nearly impossible to confine to any single set of beliefs or practices.
So what does this mean for those desiring a deeper journey in their sexual lives? Quite simply, it means "try it." My parents were fond of saying "anything in moderation." This idea took root in me early on, and despite my long continuance of fear and self-loathing, I continue to believe it. This approach opens the door to anything that fits within the larger framework of our own moral and ethical house, and makes it possible to explore that tremendous variety of experiences that can open our own inner doors. Some of these may not be obviously spiritual. How would I have ever discovered, for example, that the power of combining conscious breath and body clenching and release would open a doorway into a kind of orgasm that was then totally unknown to me? How might I have discovered that my own love of sharing could lead to acting as a facilitator for a room full of others whose own body shame left them anxious and fearful of themselves? Would I ever have understood the idea of give and receive as deeply as I now do had I not spent three days, frequently in a meltdown, guided to a place where these practices forced me to open long sealed doorways? Would I have guessed that lying on a table in front of an audience while being beaten with whips by someone I did not even know, who, while himself in a trance state, uttered only animal syllables as my catharsis unfolded, might afford a glimpse into the spiritual?
Worship this is not! I ventured into places and ideas that I had never experienced before, observing, listening, and then, when I felt ready, opening myself up to the opportunity these experiences offered. Some, very few, in retrospect, were not ones I chose to keep as part of my own journey. Others became magnets, sometimes in ways I did not even vaguely understand. Still others are now touchstones, centers of who I am, how I share and how I love. I've learned to couple these intangibles with the energy of my own body, to blend and carry the sexual energy with what I now must believe is my spiritual core.
Bringing your spirituality into your sex life is a process of self-discovery. You can read books, attend seminars, go to workshops and events, and all of those can help you open doors, but they can't answer the fundamental question: what is spiritual for you? This is a crucial part of how you choose to explore this part of your sexual life. Only you can decide what resonates. But here's the thing: you'll know when something resonates. Trust me. You. Will. Know. It may sneak up on you or emerge quietly over a period of time, but if you're open to new experiences, willing to spend some time thinking it and feeling it and sharing it, you'll find something that feels right. That's the moment to step into this new place, the moment when you can recognize the best way forward.