Recoupling Eros & Devotion
Sex and spirituality, why have so many of the world’s faith traditions kept them in separate boxes for so long? Why is brahmacharya (celibacy) one of the yamas (fundamental restraints) of the yogic path? How do I combine my yearning for the container of the structured, monastic devotional life with my soul’s knowing that uncontainable Eros, transgressive urges and all, is nature’s most powerful evolutionary tool? Why are we content with fully clothed, predictable practices, which are like draft horses plodding around a racetrack when there are lean and muscular thoroughbreds in the barn, waiting for their chance to gallop us into transcendent states? Maybe start with feeling into the barriers that keep these two things separated?
Let’s explore this on two levels. First, on a larger historical, cultural and societal level, the complexity of combining these two things seems prohibitively immense. Faith traditions function as the metaphysical influential center of many (most? all?) cultures. As we question and release some of the laws, rules and boundaries around how we express ourselves erotically, it feels deeply destabilizing. Those agreements are what we perceive have kept us safe. They have served our needs for predictability, order, safety, shared reality and connection. Those agreements, in some ways, are the pillars of the social constructs that organize our worlds. They give us norms and manners, rights and wrongs. Many would posit that our social conventions around sexuality have “kept families together”. Although we can then consider the pandemic of sex and intimacy starved marriages, and the frigidity this perpetuates. Rules around how we use our genitals, even if well intentioned, ancient, and protective, can’t help but result in armoring around our hearts. Our hearts and our genitals are designed to be partners in our personal evolution.
Whew, I can only fly around in those sweeping worldly concepts for so long before I need to ground myself in my own personal experiences. The way eroticism and spirituality have come together in my life is really about examining the many layers of culturally induced shame that have kept them separate. Even as I contemplate writing about my journey, I feel the presence of shame, putting up a bit of resistance; the vestiges of growing up Catholic. When I was 16, I remember sitting at a church youth group meeting. I was a few months into my first romantic relationship, and was stunned that this boy found me attractive. I woke up every day in a state of disbelief at how “lucky” I was that this “popular” cute, athletic boy liked me AND was willing to act on it. In socio-economic terms, we came from very different places as well; his family probably paid full tuition for him to attend our private school, while I was on a full scholarship. When we could find situations for physical intimacy (in our cars, in his room when his parents weren’t home, at the playground at night), we moved beyond kissing, taking off clothes, exploring oral sex, being naked together. I was loving every minute of it. That night at youth group, the man leading the gathering, I think his name was Bob, told us very explicitly where the Church drew the line in terms of sexual activity. I liked Bob, and his support encouraged me to step into leadership in our small circle of church youth. I volunteered to make announcements at mass, organize events, and found myself turning more and more towards earnest moments of prayer in my teen-aged life. So that night, when I heard Bob say that “petting”, before marriage, even though it wasn’t actual intercourse, was definitely a sin, my cheeks flushed red and hot. I spent the remainder of the meeting, and arguably the next thirty years, with a new tightness in my chest and lump in my throat, as I dealt with the churning sense that my whole body no longer felt trustworthy.
My conscious journey to unravel the riot of emotions at play that night started in the last years of my marriage, as I confronted the inconvenient phenomenon of an intense crush on another man. I remember standing in front of the bookcase in our house, looking for books by Wilhelm Reich, since I was hoping that his writings about “orgone energy” could help me redirect my sexual desires back into my marriage. I didn’t end up finding his writing to be useful (because what I wanted was a formula for overruling my body’s deepest wisdom), nor was I able to make my pussy and my heart conform to what would have preserved the neat story of our “successful” nuclear family unit. As my journey unfolded, I resisted acting on my extra-marital sexual urges, yet my marriage ended anyway, and my heart broke in the process. As I healed, I came to appreciate the wisdom that my pussy brought to our whole situation. On some level, she “knew” what needed to happen; she disrupted a relationship that desperately needed fresh life and transformation.
A year or so later, I experienced a transcendent love-making experience with a person I had known since childhood. It was mid-morning, the sun coming through the window on our bodies, juicy and intertwined on an old couch with tired springs, and as one orgasm ebbed and the next one began, in a seemingly endless procession of gifted moments, I crossed a new threshold of belief. Bliss is our natural state of being. It is why God has put us here; pain and suffering are simply conditioned choices we make to provide contrast to our divine birthright.
That experience, along with a conversation with a deeply inquisitive soul sister, led me to begin to seek out spiritual training and experiences that explicitly combined the energy of Eros, or eroticism, with devotion. After hearing the work of the Body Electric School mentioned in an interview with a somatic practitioner named Robyn Thoren Smith, I felt a soul mandate to attend a workshop myself. It took months to summon the courage to actually sign up, but in December of 2015, I found myself in a circle of sacred sisters, celebrating our erotic bodies, as the workshop is so aptly named. During this workshop, I experienced transcendent states that transformed my life and opened me up to world after world of new experiences. On the last day of the workshop, as we were dividing up into groups of three for an exercise, I was blindfolded and another woman was coming over to join our trio, and I was astonished to notice that I already knew who this woman was, just by sensing her presence, without having to remove my blindfold. This level of knowing happened again later that afternoon, and two more times when I repeated the workshop four months later. This was just one concrete example of the new level of awareness to presence and energy that blossomed for me after the workshop.
Through my Body Electric “re-birth”, I was led into the world of professional cuddling, and becoming a Cuddle Party Facilitator, as a way to explore my needs for touch and platonic intimacy, and to support others in this learning and healing. For me, this radical work was about decoupling sex and touch. Holding a container for touch that explicitly kept Eros (and the wounding I had around it) OUT of the experience gave me the safety to nurture my sensuality in the deepest ways. My soul then called me to travel to India for the first time to attend a Women’s Temple retreat with Chameli Ardaugh, non-erotic yet deeply embodied healing work that really invited me to connect with the deepest layers of my devotional self.
Then in 2018, Eros himself called me again (doesn’t he take orders from the Goddess?) back into the fold, when an invitation came from the Body Electric School to assist in leading the reorganization of the School as a non-profit. And once again, Eros stands at the front of the classroom of my life. This safe container of “just cuddling” is not where my learning edge is to be found. I am again finding myself interested in the capacity to maintain agency in high states of arousal. I am ready to light the candles at the shrine of the Goddess, to ask her to teach and guide me. And so, where, exactly, are her temples? Where do I go to bare the most honest yearnings of my cells? Workshop experiences, online classes, friends on a similar journey and books have all been resources for me. And yet, experiencing Eros in a controlled “learning” environment is quite different from Eros “in the wild”, or in personal relationships, which surely is the realm for Pop Up Temples of Eros.
This year I committed to surrendering to experiencing Eros in the wild, and letting my heart and my pussy courageously lead me to whatever lessons could most open me up. We’re two months in, and so far I have mostly experienced what I don’t want, (rejection, loneliness, lack of depth, auto-pilot sexual experiences) which is also useful for sensing more clearly what I do want. This question of why the recoupling of Devotion and Eros is so fraught, taboo and transgressive seems related to the question of where and how we construct the temples. What makes for sacred sexual space? What makes the sensual into a transpersonal, transcendent experience? How do we prevent ourselves from confusing the adoration of human lovers with devotion to the divine? The fact that, here I am, however many decades into my spiritual journey, reasonably intelligent, veteran workshop participant, initiated priestess, trained facilitator, devoted yogini, committed person of prayer, world traveler, college graduate, etc etc, and I STILL don’t know the answer to this question… this speaks to the complexity of the dilemma. The temples of Sacred Eros are so personal, soulful and unique, that at this point it seems to me that the most appropriate response is to shed the tattered clothes of our limiting beliefs, and lay the flowers of presence, vulnerability and love on the altars of our wildly beating erotic hearts.