Quan is seemingly unaffected by the relentless barrage of sexual assaults regularly performed on the senses of Los Angeles’ population by corporate advertisers. American Apparel soft-core billboards are not resonating on the same frequency with the young Buddhist monk; short in stature, long in devotion, he lives in the same city as I do – but a universe away. He says it’s effortless. It’s the simplest thing to transcend the sexual impulse. His breath channels the energy right up his spine through the crystal palace and out into the ethers.
I am not Quan”¦yet. For me Los Angeles is filled with the possibility of sexual intrigue at every juncture; each aisle at Whole Foods a potential love connection. Yet I am called to seek a higher vibration, a transcendental sexual experience. I want sex to be sacred.
My neophytic vision of sacred sex is mercurial; Sex as a heart-opening consciousness expanding erotic spiritual healing. A union with the divine, to be devoutly expressed with meticulously vetted partners. It’s an ambitious goal for a product of the pre-AIDS, 1980s New York free-for-all where I developed my sexual ideal which consisted of serving one well-practiced mantra: more.
When someone told me it says in the Vedas that we are agreeing to marry in another life everyone we have sex with in this one, I was shocked into celibacy”¦for a month at least. Sex is the most compelling force in human life. Living in a place like LA, it’s not always easy to micromanage a high ideal.
“Where we are in this Kali Yuga”¦we're so low down the food chain of being able to perform austerities”¦if we can just have sex in marriage, it's considered saintly in this day and age,” Vedic scholar Nrsimhananda tells me, but I’m not looking to get married anytime soon.
Good thing a new sexual revolution is upon us. A spiritual one. The talk show illuminated age-of- enlightenment; the 80s let the cat out of the bag about the blow-back from reckless abandon of the ban-the-bra 70s. And though I don’t think anyone is looking to reenact the 1969 Summer of Love, or that the Bible Belt is going to strap on a tantric awakening anytime soon, there is a new sobering openness in the air. The current climate of hope and change is manifesting as a neo-sexual renaissance. These days even televangelists are stimulating the airwaves, inciting divinely-infused sex.
“If you’re first of all, rightly related to God vertically, then you’re going to be horizontally connected in the bedroom in a deeper way because of that vertical connection.” Rev. Ed Young recently told me. He issued a call for a week of “congregational copulation” to the married couples at Fellowship Church in Grapevine, Texas (an evangelical church with 20,000 members). The TV preacher’s words are apparently resonating with the converted; he has appeared on national talk shows and was featured in the New York Times. There’s been a shift, but not in the sense that the flock is straying too far from the Good Book.
“Marriage is the only relationship that the Bible says is analogous or symbolic of God’s relationship to his people. His relationship is sacrificial. It is loving. So in marriage I should have that commitment and love,” Young says.
Others have developed that idea more thoroughly; “We get to make our own sandcastles in God’s material playground, and sex is the ultimate re-enactment of the process of Creation,” Nrsimhananda offers an Eastern perspective on that theme through a Western lens. “We can pretend we are the controller in this world, but sex is a dim reflection of the spiritual reality of unconditional love. Anyone who loves their children can tell you the difference. If I want to realize that I am not this body, then I can’t indulge in the relentless pursuit of unlimited sense gratification and attain detachment. The laws of nature don’t work that way,” he says and I understand where he’s going.
We want to be God and we’re using sex to do it. It’s an infantile pursuit in light of reality of the transcendental. Still, knowing that I can’t indulge in the mindless pursuit of sex and get any otherworld traction gets lost in the fray as the imperious urge presents.
The Reverend gives practical advice for sacred sex, “I would invite couples to pray together,” and although I get his point, I’m still in the dark about how to shed the light on the sex I will surely be having. The sinful single gay variety. And although I’m grateful for the Reverend’s advice, I’m clearly going to need to find a higher authority to advise me.
Deborah Taj Anapol, PhD, is a clinical psychologist and leading-edge healer, writer and teacher who founded the Sacred Space Institute, a national organization dedicated to reintegrating sexuality into spirituality and health care and expanding the boundaries of the family. She’s an expert in sexual healing and sacred sex.
“Sacred sex is a lot more about undoing the learning or conditioning that says you need to repress your sexual energy and that says sex is shameful. To release the religious or parental conditioning that tells us that sex is sinful, evil or unimportant. Sexual energy is our life-force. It is sacred.”
She has lots of ways to help people do that: breathing techniques, bodywork, psychodrama and stuff like that. She’s been ruminating on sacred sex for decades and has a different perspective that gives me pause.
Dr. Anapol says: “A lot of people who think they’re practicing Tantra these days are feeding their sex addictions. If you’re going to let the sexual energy have you rather than be in pursuit of physical pleasure you need to bring a lot of awareness to sexual exchange. It’s a double-edged sword. Most people, even if they don’t hold the attention to get there, often do have a mystical experience thorough sex. Once they do, if they’re in addictive mode, they can get addicted to the mystical experience as well as sexual. Then you’re in pursuit of this experience and then you’ve lost the original motive to escape this wheel of life, this karmic expedition that gets you nowhere, unless you believe in reincarnation. It gets you back into another life to try it again. The intention of Tantra is to integrate your sexual energy in the service of enlightenment.”
I do believe in reincarnation and I most certainly don’t want to be back here again in the same way. Integration sounds great. That’s what I’m after, but shouldn’t I be praying or chanting or meditating at least? I mean it feels like all this pleasure-seeking that will lead me straight back to nowhere.
Nrsimhananda gets specific in a 60s flashback; “In 1966, Prabhupada was in New York with maybe ten followers total. He came out with a list one day of the four regulated principles: No meat eating, intoxication, gambling, illicit sex, chant sixteen rounds a day (lowered from sixty-four). The followers said, we can do everything except sex. Of all four items, illicit sex is the most difficult. He said, “Here’s what you do, do the best you can. The main thing is don’t eat the cow. Don’t take drugs. Don’t speculate the meaning of Absolute Truth. Learn it from sadhu (saintly people), people who see the truth. If you can get the first three handled, the fourth will come into line. If you can take care of these other things”¦Krishna will gradually give you the detachment.”
A gradual detachment sounds doable. I don’t eat the cow, take drugs or speculate on the meaning of God, so I feel a little better about seeking a sacred sexual experience outside of a committed relationship. After all, what am I? A saint? The Reverend gave me a tip along these lines in the form of an automotive analogy to help me on my journey.
“Sex is like a Ferrari. If someone gave me a brand-new Ferrari I wouldn’t take it off-roading. It would trash the car. I would only drive it where it’s supposed to be driven”¦Sex is a God-given gift. What’s happened to sex, like this Ferrari, is we’ve taken it off-road. Many people have taken this God-given gift and used it in a God-forbidden way. It’s going to be great for a while but I don’t think its going to have ultimate spiritual result until we do it the way God intended it. One woman, one man in a marriage,” he said.
I’m not sure where to ride that but I might be looking for a more fuel-efficient metaphor. Deborah Taj Anapol told me to breathe deeply while having sex; that seems useful. Someone else told me that Prabhupada left some unofficial off-the-record advice about sex hovering around on the planet; He said, if you’re gay, find one boy and stay with him. Now there’s some advice I can use.
My goal is to ground myself in a way that will allow me to embrace an elevated sexual ideal while diving deeper into detachment.
“The aspiring yogi is always seeking to be detached from senses,” Nrsimhananda says, “Like the turtle withdraws itself into his shell, a yogi goes to a cave – even thousands of years ago – to withdraw from presumably a simple world. There the yogi could meditate without distraction. In the Bhagavad-Gita, Krishna says by the contact of the senses with the object of pleasure attachment develops, and from attachment comes frustration. From frustration comes anger, from anger one falls deep into the material pool.”
In a place like Los Angeles, it’s easy to set myself adrift in the endless sea of beautiful bodies and drown. But I don’t want to find myself rolling around in the mud at the deep end of material pool without a rope. I’ve already been very muddy. It looks like the only road to emancipation is open-hearted restraint.
Metsa Niwue aka François Demange (pictured) is an Amazonian medicine practitioner in Peru working in the traditions of the Shipibo and Quechua Lamista. He emphasizes the importance of sexual restriction in working with the medicine. “The main concept of the restriction of sex in vegetalismo; traditional Amazonian medicine is around the idea that master plants have spirits and the teaching and knowledge around the medicine comes from the spirits. Building a specific relationship with the plant and the spirit, you need to be totally cleared of all type of interaction with another person, so not to interfere with this communication, the sexual energy needs to be guarded. It can’t be shared. The old shamans have told me that the spirit world don’t like the smell of the sex”¦so it creates shock into the spirit world. If a human being on [diet] restriction is having sexual intercourse the spirits will go away. Most of the energy that comes from the teaching sits in the sexual energy of the practitioner. If he is having ejaculation, he is going to give away part of the strength he is receiving.
The sexual restrictions are very important. Especially in the beginning when you start to train under vegetalismo you are building that relationship with the plant spirit. Then, after ten, fifteen, twenty-five years you know how to deal with those energies”¦you can sometimes practice tantra or having certain kinds of sexual intercourse because you know how to organize those energies.”
Control, as espoused by the shaman, is part of the practice in many traditions. “All yogis will be preaching a methodology of controlling the senses,” Nrsimhananda says. “In Raja Yoga there is a technique for this. In JnÃ¢na Yoga, there is a thorough analysis of the nature of the material energy”¦in Hatha Yoga, physical mythology”¦Siddha Yoga and Kundalini are all heavy disciplines that require controlling the senses and restricting the sex life. And then oddly enough, [there is] Bhakti, the Yoga of love. Bhakti, of course, is not about ascending or even going anywhere. It is all about unconditional love for God and all His/Her parts and parcels. Liberation is not the goal; it is a byproduct of love,” according to Nrsimhananda. “Whether I am in heaven or hell, I only want to be in your loving, devotional service lifetime after lifetime’ – that is the heartsong of a bhakta, a devoted soul. The other ascending processes: by this or that austerity I will lift myself up through the chakras to enlightenment, they are like granules of sand compared to the pearl of devotional service. Bhakti is a descending process; by my acts and devotion, God may, if He/She so chooses give me the kripa, the mercy of spiritual enlightenment”¦ He’ll grant and bestow. It’s a receiving”¦it’s a very different from the others.”
Which of course makes me want God as my only lover”¦but I’m not Quan”¦yet.
Sam Slovick is an award winning journalist, photographer and filmmaker; he is a regular contributor to LA YOGA and many other publications. samslovick.blogspot.com, twitter.com/samslovick