A humorous expression assures us of only two certainties in life, death and taxes. I would amend this expression to make it more widely applicable: There are only two certainties for all advanced lifeforms, death and sex. Ironically, both are often forbidden topics of discussion because they can be so personally charged. However, if deeper meaning and purpose exist in life, then the only two certainties should be fair topics to try to understand and accept. In this essay we attempt to make peace with sex, and in the next we take on death. But remember the caution from essay #4: Any kind of teaching about something as personal as your sex life should be regarded with a healthy dose of skepticism and autonomy. Definitely apply that caution to this essay.
Religion has always had an uneasy relationship with sex, and the spiritual path of the 20th century didn’t help matters by promoting the teaching of celibacy from ancient Samkhya and Yoga philosophy. According to this teaching, in order to be truly spiritual we need to be celibate, or at the very least we need to be trying really hard to be celibate. In other words, sexuality is an obstacle to the pursuit of wisdom. The fallacy and potential harm of this viewpoint is graphically illustrated by the fact that most of the 20th century gurus who were teaching and supposedly exemplifying celibacy found themselves embroiled in sordid sex scandals.
A healthy relationship to sexuality is crucial in the 21st century pursuit of wisdom. We don’t often hear spiritual teachers still insisting on celibacy, thank goodness, but I recently witnessed one give this response to a follower’s sincere question of how sexuality relates to spirituality: “Sex has nothing to do with spirituality just as eating ice cream has nothing to do with spirituality. Don’t be attached to any sensory pleasure.” This view that there’s no more value in sexuality than the sensory pleasure involved is a pretty meager step up from the view that we need to avoid sex altogether. Also, this response conveyed a subtle but powerful message of disdain toward sexuality along with the outdated notion that nothing in our sensory physical world can be of spiritual value.
Understanding sexuality for the 21st century pursuit of wisdom has to begin with the sobering details mentioned in essay #8 that without sex none of us would be here to experience life and that without sex humanity would cease to exist. We also need to come to terms with the reality that sex is something given to us by the cosmic creative force as one of the defining qualities of being human. Along with the ultimate gift of life itself, we are given sexuality as an essential component of our humanity. It took the universe 10 billion years before life could evolve on planet Earth. Then it took more than two billion years longer for sexual reproduction to evolve. The genetic complexity made possible by sex enabled higher life forms to evolve their consciousness after another billion years to the point where humans can now explore deeper meaning and purpose in life, in other words, be spiritual. For so-called spiritual humans to now dismiss sex as an obstacle to spirituality, or as a worthless distraction of no more value than eating ice cream, is a real paradox.
Probably no modern human has lived without experiencing some issue, small or large, regarding sexuality. This is to be expected given that humans evolved their consciousness beyond merely following instincts, as most other animals do. If we look at our animal kin, we see how powerfully their lives tend to be defined by sexuality in terms of instinctual roles, rituals, and other behaviors. The human condition requires us to appropriately channel this powerful instinct by making peace with it and by understanding its rightful role in our life and in our pursuit of wisdom. Whenever anyone, spiritual teacher or not, dismisses sexuality as an obstacle or a worthless distraction, it simply means they have not fully understood or made peace with their own sexuality.
The first step in making peace with sexuality is to feel reverence for an act that has the awesome power to create life. Miracles are one of the more alluring topics in spirituality, and there is surely no greater miracle than the creation of life. If the universe is sacred and life is sacred and miracles are sacred, then sex is sacred. Reverence for sexuality means approaching it with respect, with wonder, with appreciation, and with responsibility.
The second step in making peace with sexuality is to realize that it’s about much more than creating new life. Sex is one of the most powerful ways that couples can grow closer together, strengthen their bond, and express love for one another. Sex is potentially a way to the deepest kind of intimacy where two people dissolve their separateness into a larger oneness. If spirituality includes the feeling of being connected to something greater than ourselves, then sexuality, far from being an obstacle or a worthless distraction, can be an integral part of spirituality.
The third step in making peace with sexuality is to cultivate integrity around it. Here’s where our simple ethical principle from essay #8 comes in handy: We are here to unfold our potential and to allow others to unfold their potential. Integrity in sexuality means having the responsibility and self-control to only express our sexuality when it’s beneficial in all ways, not just for the individuals directly involved but also for those who may be indirectly affected. Unfortunately, we live in the unrelenting presence of a popular entertainment industry that can easily glorify the absence of sexual integrity, as well as the absence of any other kind of integrity. The 21st century pursuit of wisdom requires us to withstand such unintegrous influences, as well as the disdainful influences of the old guru teachings, and to cultivate the true virtue of a positive relationship to sexuality.
By accepting sexuality as an integral part of our humanity, and by learning to relate to sexuality with reverence, with understanding of its spiritual potential, and with integrity, we increasingly find ourselves in harmony with the cosmic creative force that brought forth the universe, life, and sex itself. Then our approach to pursuing wisdom can become healthy and balanced.
© 2015 Gary Stogsdill