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A Writer Shares About Sacred Loving by: Paul A


Jenny and I had spent very little time together when I was working on my doctorate, especially during the last year of writing.  When I didn’t have data to analyze, or chapters to write, I was grading papers and preparing lessons for my students at the local elementary school.  I wasn’t a total recluse, but our few precious moments together as a couple were consistently undermined by my ongoing anxieties and concerns about my graduate work.  She was patient though, and remarkably tolerant.  During my graduate studies, I was supported by Jenny with a steadfast love that I can only attribute to her uncanny knack for seeing the big picture and remaining positive in the face of challenges.  I finished the dissertation in June 2008, and graduated my last batch of 6th graders a week later.  It was summer now, and it seemed we would at last relax and find some ways to reconnect both as a couple, and as a family.  This was not to be however.  I stepped out of dissertation mode, and right into prepare-to-travel-abroad mode.  We had made our decision to live for an extended period in Europe well before the dissertation was over.  Indeed, it had long been a dream of ours to take our children to Greece and the trip was timed for the fall after finishing my doctorate.  Preparing for such a lengthy trip was more involved than we had expected.  It took us nearly the entire summer to pack up my classroom, clean out our house, find a suitable tenant, prepare the necessary travel documents, locate homes for the pets, and pack for the trip.  It was good work, cleansing work, but once again we were operating with deadlines and timetables, and the idea of spending time together as a couple was not at the top of our list. 

Towards the end of summer, Jenny began mentioning an unusual couples retreat, a four-day workshop close to our home that she wanted me to attend with her.  I’m pretty sure that I didn’t respond the first time she brought it up.  Maybe I was distracted by the details of our pending trip, or perhaps the subject matter made me a little squeamish.  I could tell from her insistent queries however, that attending the retreat would mean a lot to her, and so I agreed.  The workshop was entitled “Sacred Loving for Couples” and was run by a husband-and-wife team from Colorado.  The sessions were being hosted at a home in Chatsworth, about 30 minutes away.  We had learned about the workshop through an email sent by a New Age astrologer living in our community of Topanga.  The whole thing felt a bit contrived, much too hokey-pokey and touch-feely.  Still, I knew that having a few days with just Jenny would be a good way to reconnect after so many months of chaos.  I figured I could put up with some workshop sessions during the day, no big deal.  What I never expected was that the retreat would so completely revise my understanding of relationships and alter my view of love and intimacy.  It is no exaggeration to say that it was an earth-shaking weekend by any measure, and that it changed my life forever.  This, even though I went to the workshop with a good deal of skepticism. 

I am reluctant to attempt a description of my experiences during that weekend, because they were so unexpected, so profound actually, that writing can only serve to water them down.  What happened to all seven couples was well beyond the domain of words.  Describing mystery is never mystery itself.  Yet the learning has been so relevant to me, so central to how I frame my world, that I simply must take a stab at this narrative. 

The format of the workshop was simple.  During the day we engaged in group-process activities, received direct instruction, and participated in discussions.  Much of the daytime work was geared towards opening us up, making us honest and vulnerable.  We told stories, spoke our truths.  We also laughed and danced.  It was a bonding time between and across couples.  In the evenings, when we left the group to return to our respective homes or hotel rooms, we began our ‘homework.’  In this lovemaking, we carefully honored the guidelines presented to us during the daytime sessions. 

The techniques and training of the facilitators is in the art form known as Tantra.  It comes from the Hindu yogic schools and it is said to be part of a very old tradition.  However, any labels, whether ‘Sacred Loving’ or ‘Tantric Yoga’ seem to narrow and confine the experience to a technique or dogma.  What happened to me simply felt ‘human,’ whatever the packaging.  I was learning about who I am, what I am doing on this earth, be it my role as a man or as a lover.  It was like I discovered that I had wings which no one had ever showed me, or more accurately wings which I had always believed were not for flying.  I’m reminded of those obese chair-loungers in the science fiction movie Wall-E, people who never knew they could walk because neither their cultural frame nor their daily routines included the use of legs for walking.  More to the point, the workshop convinced me that sexual intimacy, as a unique human experience, is no more about ‘getting off’ than legs are about filling the bottom end of a lounge chair.  This doesn’t mean we can’t lounge around sometimes, and there should be no shame in ‘getting off.’  But male-female intimacy, well, there’s a lot more to be understood about that arena of living than I had ever been led to believe.  And I must say here, that I am not talking about ‘good sex,’ because I can fairly say that I knew what ‘good sex’ was.  I am talking about something much grander than this.  And I’m not talking about feelings or sensations, but about perspectives of one’s life purpose.  Intimacy is a window to a certain revelation.  The intimacy achieved through that workshop provoked in me a genuine and humble reverence for the divine as it incarnates in my partner.  And one doesn’t have to believe in a ‘God’ to know what I am talking about.  Mystery and miracle are not the exclusive property of religion.  Revelation and transformation are our natural inheritance as learning, living organisms.  All my ideas about sex were shattered in one weekend.  All my previous experiences of intimacy were turned on their heads.  I was introduced anew to my wife, not as my lover or partner or friend, but as a being of great importance, an object of adoration and deep reverence.  Whatever brilliance and exceptional qualities are to be found in life, they were pouring forth from my wife as we engaged the practices of Tantra.  She was all life, all divine principal, all existence.  This practice took me to mystery, to Godhead, to illumination as touch, sensation, emotion, myth, presence, breath, fire, truth, aspiration.  Words indeed fail me, but they dare hint at the time we shared. 

Let me pause.  I can be more specific, perhaps more scientific.  Orgasm.  The inevitable discomfort of that word.  I let it stand alone here:  Orgasm.   Zoologist Desmond Morris talks about “the dark varnish of public moralizing;” those cultural frames that impede our efforts to discuss certain ideas.  Orgasm.  Whatever that word conjures up for different people, it surely represents a sensation, generally a very pleasant one.  But let’s ask for a moment what is happening in that moment, in those five to ten seconds.  We must be dealing with energy, whether from the firing of neurons in physical terms, or the engaging of ‘chakras’ in metaphysical terms.  Orgasm is a moment of a dramatic release of energy, the culmination of an energetic activity.  And so much of lovemaking, in action and intent, is directed to that moment of orgasm.  In human terms, physical intimacy is so much about a sensory destination.  In much of waking life, we live in anticipation of arrival.  For instance, I like my morning coffee so I drive to the coffee shop.  I get in line.  I order.  I sit.  I drink.  Ah, I’ve arrived!  Much of the time was spent in anticipation.  I was thinking ‘coffee’ long before I took a sip.  Much of our life is lived in anticipation of the next destination, the next destination.  Little attention is paid to the path that reaches the destination, or to the details of the journey.  In human intimacy it is the destination that drives so much of the lovemaking, however pleasant the journey to orgasm. 

In simplest terms, Tantra is about understanding the energy that culminates in orgasm.  This is subtle, because the emphasis is on the path, not the destination.  We are usually blinded during those last moments before orgasm, because we are like the skier racing off the giant ramp, the skydiver stepping out of the plane, or the thrill seeker plunging over the waterfall; the destination has become all and there’s no turning back.  For experienced practitioners of Tantra (I am not one), there is a meditative-like mindfulness of present-moment pleasure as the only destination.  From the first touch, there is presence, appreciation, grandeur.  Orgasm may or may not be a part of that picture. 

I must pause for a moment.  As I re-read my own writing I am struck not only by my reaction the seeing the word ‘orgasm’ in print, a word which I am embarrassed to utter much less write about, but also my reaction to the word ‘pleasure.’  I feel shame in condoning pleasure, as if it is the antithesis of morals, yet I will write about it anyway, because I am certain that my reactions to the word orgasm and to the idea of pleasure, are my response to culturally-generated filters that cloud a healthier and less tarnished worldview.  Western religious traditions associate pleasure with hedonism, and hedonism with immorality.  ‘Orgasm’ need not be a secretive word, and human pleasure is certainly not a sin.  But for me, a casualty of Western cultural biases, I must push myself to work through these reactions.  And I mention my process here, my unexpected reactions, because I am sure that many of my readers will also be uncomfortable with these words and ideas.  But I beckon you on with me, because I haven’t even gotten to the ‘good stuff.’  And I don’t mean don’t mean something more titillating or voyeuristic than the word ‘orgasm.’  Rather, I want to relate those aspects of the workshop that most changed my life.  There is some good stuff here. 

I mentioned orgasm as a physical experience of intense pleasure.  In Tantra, we are asked to pay attention to the trajectory of sensory feeling that leads to orgasm.  If you were to graph the intensity of one’s physical sensations during love-making, from the first touch all the way to the height of orgasm, the chart might show a gradual incline, followed by a very sudden climb in the minutes or moments preceding the orgasm, ending in a near vertical cliff at climax, perhaps going ‘off the charts.’  I might liken these to preparation, approach, and take-off.  Speaking only for myself, I was always willing to minimize the preparation phase, or to only engage in it sufficiently to ensure approach and take-off.  I could also say that once in the approach phase, take-off would be imminent.  In this behavior set, the destination becomes the motivation, and all else is like a distraction.  Yet what if we turned this idea on its head?  What if orgasm was no longer a destination?  In fact, what if orgasm were not the point at all, but merely an indicator that things had ended, like the period at the end of a sentence?  And this is not to minimize orgasm as a wonderful, beautiful feeling.  But what if the path to orgasm became the destination?  What if the sensations of pleasure and the source of those sensations became the focus of attention?  In Tantra, and again I use this term reluctantly, because human lovemaking is not defined or confined by ‘artforms’ or prescriptions.  But for the sake of discussion, I will frame my experiences within the concepts of the artform of Tantra, because they successfully embody the goals and ideas of intimacy that I want to describe.  So, in Tantra, we are asked first to become aware of the sensation of pleasure as a goal in itself. 

I spoke of graphing a trajectory of intensity for one’s physical sensations during lovemaking, describing the preparation phase as a gradual slope, the approach phase as a sudden and sharp incline, and the orgasm phase as a near vertical cliff.  My experience during the workshop homework sessions with Jenny, was that if I paid attention to the preparation phase of our lovemaking, really allowing myself to experience the pleasure in being lovingly touched, that I could become more conscious of the trajectory and intensity of sensations.  By developing this more mindful awareness of how each moment felt I let go of the destinations and achieved something very significant; I was able to feel the energy.  This was an energy that –in normal circumstances- would lead inevitably to orgasm.  My experience before the workshop was that I would be swept away, literally, by those feelings.  Like a surfer who sees the wave coming, turns his board towards the shore and starts paddling.  He feels the wave catch him and pulls himself to standing.  Once the wave catches the paddling surfer, he’s going surfing; there’s no turning back.  Prior to the workshop, whenever I had entered the approach phase, the steep incline, I would be riding the wave to orgasm, with no need or desire (or ability really) to turn back.  The destination was inevitable!  In Tantra, I learned to pay attention to the preparation, and to be aware of the approaching wave such that I could literally ‘become the wave.’  Rather than being swept up and away, I would be enveloped by the wave, by the energy.  I could ‘feel’ the energy, and it was like no pleasure I had ever known. I literally became the wave, it was a part of me, not some mysterious force that picked me up and pushed me to inevitable climax.  There is something unexpected that happens when we focus on the energy; our attention both intensifies the energy and frees it up to be more consciously directed throughout the body.  Instead of an orgasm being an energy that rushes immediately and uncontrollably to the loins, it can become an ecstatic and powerful energy that fills the body completely, not even needing to culminate in orgasm.  But for this to happen however, some very important conditions must be met. These conditions, these circumstances concern the emotional relationship between the partners.  Indeed, nothing I have described so far gets to the real heart of the matter.  The key to my having this experience was not about mindfulness, or slowing down, or paying attention, or ‘becoming the wave,’ though these are critical skills.  The key to this experience for me was love.  And here is what I mean.  None of this would have happened without love, reverence and a connection between Jenny and me.  This was the key that allowed us to settle into the truth of the present moment, the gift of human life, the energy of our lovemaking.  It was love, reverence, and connection.  And this didn’t just happen; we received specific guidance and instructions.  Here I must describe some of the details of the experience, even at the risk that these details cannot be adequately presented out of context.  Still, I will attempt to frame this experience with more specifics.  We were told that the give and take of lovemaking would be separated into two very separate roles of giver and receiver, so much so that on the first night one of us would be the ‘receiver.’  This meant we would completely receive love from our partner; receive their affection, their touch, their pleasuring of us.  We would be under no expectation to give back anything except our attention to the experience and perhaps our honest communication about our desires or needs with respect to being pleasured.  We would completely receive our partner as the giver, surrender to being cared for, loved, touched, adored, and revered.  In preparation to being so fully cared for, the giver might run us a warm bath, light candles for us, give us a massage.  They would inevitably look us in the eye, speak to us in the kindest words only, and be sensitive to our every wish and need.  This would be their role; they would anticipate our desires and would also tell us of their joy in giving us pleasure.  These were the circumstances of our being a receiver, and these were the conditions that allowed us to develop a present-mindedness with respect to our sensations and feelings.  We were only receiving, only focusing on sensation and pleasure, in eye contact with our beloved.

On the following night, the roles would be reversed.  As the giver, we would be totally in the service of our beloved.  We would be focused entirely on their pleasure and their experience of being cared for.  We would not be concerned with getting ourselves off, and in fact we let go of expectations that we would be pleasured.  We would practice the joy of giving fully to the other.  We did everything within our creative and physical power to create comfort and pleasure for our partner.  It was their night.  I mentioned the role of ‘love’ in this process.  It deserves some elaboration.  In the giver’s ‘loving’ of the receiver, it is not so much about feeling love for one’s partner, or being ‘in-love’ with them.  Rather, by loving our partner, we seek to come to them from a place of non-judgment, with generosity, compassion, patience, hard work, persistence, tenderness, and gentleness.  This kind of love is about doing the very best we can to ‘be loving.’  In the role of giver, we ask absolutely nothing in return from the receiver.  As we approach our partner in this way, they experience our pleasuring as an act of genuine and generous loving.  Our actions as giver, our soft and sensitive words, our tender and experienced hands, and also our eye contact, communicate our sincerity.  It is much less about being in love, than about practicing lovingness.  Eye contact, maintained as consistently as possible without being unnatural or awkward, serves several functions; it keeps both participants in the present moment and away from fantasy, it communicates and amplifies the genuineness of the giver and ecstasy of the receiver, and it allows both receiver and giver the behold a surprisingly natural radiance which fills the sacred space between lovers. 

As both giver and receiver, we had techniques and guidelines described and modeled to us during the workshop, sometimes while all together, and other times in gender-specific groups.  Everything was framed in terms of sacred reverence for one’s partner, and nothing ever bordered on crude.  It was a very spiritual experience to be advised in matters of such seriousness. 

The perspective within which the role of giver and receiver are framed, were that each of us is the Godhead, the source of all light and love in this world.  We spent much of the retreat working through these ideas with gentle, yet challenging exercises.  Giver and receiver were described and modeled.  While being the receiver is immensely pleasurable in a physical sense, and the role of giver is deeply pleasurable on a spiritual level, these differences blur and blend.  Giving becomes highly erotic and pleasurable, and receiving in this way is profoundly spiritual.  As giver, we went to our beloved with a sense of awe at their divine presence, we offered willingly and joyfully all manner service and pleasure, gifts for which we have ample, intuitive knowledge.  We were motivated as giver, because we saw the ultimate miracle of our beloved’s existence, coming humbly and reverentially to them much as one comes before the Source of All Life.  The giver’s actions, based in deep reverence for one’s beloved, touching and pleasuring from a place of a genuine love and respect, transforms the receiver.  They see with fresh eyes how they are worthy of this love and respect, a kind of love that validates the miracle of who they are.  This is a rare and timeless gift.  It is unconditional love framed in wonder and pleasure.  As receivers, we understand that we are being revered and adored with no expectation of anything in return.  We sense that our beloved is pleasuring us in this loving way because they truly see something remarkable in us.  In this strong emotional context, we even feel that they are witnessing the divine in us.  They are loving us spiritually and we are thus compelled to see the divine in ourselves. 

This was the gift of the workshop; I saw the divine in my beloved, and I felt unquestionably worthy of being so deeply loved.  I also learned that our immense human capacity for loving, our unique ability to experience intimate, sensual pleasure, is about finding our spirit, our God.  Pleasure is not a sin, it is an invitation to know one’s beloved for what they truly are.  As a man, even on this patriarchal detour into a dominator social structure, I was able to see the Goddess.  I have never seen such beauty as I saw in my beloved, never looked into eyes that spoke of such power and depth.  The experience of rapture when our eyes were locked, was not about physical pleasure so much as it was about the epiphany of witnessing all life, all goodness, all divinity, all heaven and hope on this earth.  I saw the Goddess, and she is all beautiful and all powerful and all loving.  I saw her in my beloved.  I saw her and she is alive and well.  This was the gift of the workshop.  And for days after the workshop, my beloved carried a new power, a new strength.  She was tall, and powerful, and clear and certain.  The workshop, the practice then, was not only a gift to my true masculinity, a maleness not draped in dominator armor, but it was also a gift to the timeless feminine power of my beloved.  She became the Goddess and it radiated from her for days. 

Sacred loving is only possible through complete trust and surrender as receiver, and complete non-abusive empowerment as giver.  This kind of intimate loving is the model for an equitable world.  I firmly believe that if all men had the privilege of going to the Godhead in this way, of seeing the Goddess firsthand through sacred loving of their partner, these men would put down their weapons of destruction and understand who they are.  We are the protectors of the tribe.  We are the fearless warriors who let no harm befall our tribe.  And in this 21st Century Present World, our Tribe is All World.  We must understand that protecting All World, all people in this world, is our first task.  We never raise a hand to harm our beloved, and we are not qualified to rule without Her consent.  The Goddess is all powerful, all knowing.  We must pass the leadership back to her, we must awaken to who we are as men in this Global Tribe.