Experience of the subtle realms: Contents page
Chapter 8. Intimacy in two worlds
The relation between sex and psi needs to be set in the wider context of intimacy. In its basic form, human intimacy is you meeting me meeting you, which also means, of course, that at the same time I am meeting you meeting me. It is full reciprocity; we encounter each other encountering each other. And there are only two ways, in this world, that this occurs: through mutual gazing and through reciprocal touching.
When we look into each other’s eyes, I project my gaze while receiving yours, you project yours while receiving mine, and these four events occur simultaneously. When we clasp each other’s hands, I give my touch as I feel yours. You do likewise – and it all happens at the same time and in the one shared deed. For us embodied human beings, there are just these two basic forms of encounter, of radical meeting – when each person gives and receives in the same act. Each person simultaneously receives what the other person gives, which is impossible in the alternating exchanges of conversation.
The bedrock of human encounter is thus two persons gazing into each other’s gaze at the same time as embracing each other. A classic celebration of such intimacy is found in John Donne’s poem ‘The Ecstasy’:
Our hands were firmly cemented
By a fast balm which thence did spring;
Our eye-beams twisted, and did thread
Our eyes upon one double string.
My belief is that human beings have at least three basic intimacy needs: soul needs, nurturance needs, and sexual needs. Needs of the soul are for the subtle interpenetration of soul energies, for a direct exchange of presence, for reciprocal sharing of the qualities of personhood. Mutual gazing, above all, though not exclusively, fulfils the consummation of such needs. They are also met by the enjoyment of common interests and values through dialogue and shared activity.
Nurturance needs are for the exchange of love and affection through physical contact, through holding, caressing, kissing and touching. There is no necessary connection between nurturance and sex. Naked embraces may consummate nurturance needs without any sexual arousal. Sexual needs are for erotic arousal and consummation centrally through genital communion and peripherally through pleasure for all the erogenous zones of the body.
There is a kind of healthy and normal progression in the meeting of these needs. The satisfaction of soul needs can lead over into the satisfaction of nurturance needs, which in turn provides the context for the satisfaction of sexual needs. And sexual pleasure always seems to reach true fulfilment when set in the wider, more ambient pastures of nurturance and soul. So new lovers go through the classic stages of gazing into each other’s eyes, then holding each other tenderly and caressing each other, then making love.
Intimacy itself is to do with a certain kind of loving: the kind that wants to give and receive in a relation of closeness with one other person, or a small number of persons. Such loving is a celebration of both identity and difference: rejoicing in feeling at one with the other, while at the same time delighting in the other’s difference, their uniqueness and distinctness of being. And the three sorts of intimacy I have mentioned all in their special ways partake of the complementary pleasures of identity and difference. They are also, in my experience, essentially mediated by subtle energy – at the subtle matrix and subtle body level – interfusing physical activity.
I have already discussed mutual gazing in sections 4 and 10 of Chapter 5. When two persons truly open themselves to the process of intimate gazing, without speech, and without anxiety or embarassment, then they are in the domain of mutual clairvoyance, tacit in their eye contact.
The other’s gaze is not the same thing as their eyes, is not inferred from their eyes, and is not seen by one’s own eyes – but by one’s gaze using one’s eyes. Gazing is subtle seeing focussed through physical eyes. When we look at physical things we tend to lose awareness of the subtle nature of the gaze as such: we identify with the physical content of visual experience at the expense of noticing properly the process of seeing. But when we look into someone else’s gaze, we are not peering at their eyes just as physical objects, we are gazing at the gaze-light shining through their eyes. Then we discover the doubly incarnate nature of everyday perception.
So if two people let this mutual gazing continue to deepen, let go of egocentric distress and perturbed emotion, then they can exchange immediacy of soul – in the way that the rest of Donne’s poem so elegantly describes. The clear-seeing of the gaze-light is truly intimate to soul, and beams forth the qualities of personhood – its modes of intelligence and feeling and choosing.
It is also intimate to that subtle, inner space that is the form and expression of consciousness in the other world, the first world of human incarnation. Hence two people can space out on the shared consciousness of mutual gazing. They can expand their awareness into akashic domains through the shared mediation of the gaze-light (section 4, Chapter 5). Try it and see.
Mutual gazing is ruled by the triple fork of Neptune. The basic staff is a celebration of soul, of the mutuality of personhood, as in Donne’s poem. This can branch into shared nurturance, into shared eroticism, and into a shared journey through the domains of inner space. Celebration of soul is the central stem from which the other three spring. But all four experiences are not mutually exclusive, and can interpenerate and enhance each other.
You can touch the skin of another person and you can touch their touch – which is not the same as their skin, or their flesh, or the warmth of their body. Their touch is a subtle energy full of their intent of soul. It is mediated by their skin, flesh and muscle, but cannot be identified with these bodily components. Again, you do not infer the quality of another person’s touch. You encounter it directly in and through your own touch. There is a subtle body to subtle body contact that goes along with the purely physical sensations. The tactile sense mediates a subtle energy – and a psi sense that is responsive not only to physical textures of skin and flesh but also to the subtle energy of the other.
And not only hands and fingers can manifest this ‘balm’; any part of the body can be moved by, and express, the subtle energy of touch. The intent of this energy, at its own level, is to touch a person, never just a body.
So in mutual touching, the physical bodies of two persons are in contact, but also and primarily their subtle bodies, their subtle energies and subtle sensitivities. A naked embrace is a poignant intimacy between doubly incarnate beings, and is especially, therefore, the home of shared tenderness, care and loving affection: it is touching in the other sense.
From this central ground of shared affection, touching, too, can move in one of two directions. It can mediate transcendence, affiliation with inner space, an attunement to subtle dimensions of being: two persons are in physical and subtle contact and their shared awareness goes a long way back into the other world.
Or it can mediate sexual arousal and sexual activity. And sometimes it can mediate both these together, so that sexual experience is combined with an expansion of consciousness in subtle space. At other times sexual experience may lead over into transcendence: then the post-orgasmic state is one of great openness to the other world. I develop these themes in the next two sections.
The skin with its supporting flesh is a window on the other world, like a great eye of vision spread out over the surface of the body. More literally, it is a boundary zone, an edge, the horizon of the body, and like the horizon of the planet has tangent planes that access inner space.
You can think of your skin, in the ordinary way, as the outer edge of the animated matter that fills up the physical space of your body. Or you can expand your awareness into matrix space and think of manifold interacting tangent planes that encompass the skin from without, forming it from the other world. You then feel your body suspended in the matrix universe, shaped by its subtle planar forces. With the eye of inner vision you see your physical form as materialising out of far reaching spaces and powers.
When two skins mingle, as when two people are in a naked embrace or are caressing, then there is a double charge on tangent planes; and each partner can lead the other out into inner space. This can occur in a deeply relaxed and meditative way in nurturant, non-sexual skin contact. The partners expand awareness together on tangent planes, being both very near in physical space and subtle space and also very far away in subtle space all at once.
When there is a sexual charge on tangent planes the spacing out effect can sometimes be very dramatic. You may have the experience of falling way back into inner space, of being de-egoised in a spatial nirvana that is deeply within and beyond and behind the physical space of the body. Or the experience of orgasm may throw you out climactically along a tangent plane, as if shooting into an ecstatic orbit in the other world.
These effects are important, enjoyable, valuable – and illuminating. They inaugurate the yoga of intimacy, sexuality and togetherness. And they undermine once and for all the conspiracy theory of the skin and its flesh: the theory that the skin conspires to seduce you away from the light. On the contrary, the skin is, to inner vision, a luminous membrane between the worlds. Live in the tangential reality that shapes it – and at the immediate limit of your physicality you have instant access to the other universe. The skin is a veil and a trap only if you insist on remaining exclusively inside it.
The yoga of intimacy also affirms the spatial value of pleasure: sensory pleasure, sensual pleasure and sexual pleasure. These satisfactions between two people are the very caress of inner space, shared tangential delights.
Of course, if humans are made to feel bad about the pleasures of the skin, then their guilt contracts their awareness inside the body so they become prisoners of it. Their longing to expand into that matrix space that shapes the contours of the skin from without is frustrated and denied. This subtle frustration is then displaced into compulsive lust – which drives them into the very behaviour that seems to explain their guilt. And so the whole vicious circle is locked upon its irrational course.
The antidote to all this improper guilt is spatially expansive pleasure.
Another effect of the sexual charge on tangent planes is the release of inner vision. The post-orgasmic person may be suffused with symbolic images, clairvoyance of other worlds, of presences and powers. I remember such a vision in which I had a vivid picture of being one of a large party of persons being conducted by a civic dignitary among the collapsed walls of Jericho, a city famous for its palms and gardens of balsam.
Human intimacy, I believe, is primarily about attunement of soul and nurturant affection. Sexual activity is the celebration of this prior intimacy. But it can add something else: adoration at the frontier between flesh and spirit, worship at that place where the person emerges into physical form.
There is an ecstasy in the dance of creation, where the manifest physical universe appears out of its subtle matrix. I found that interface of blissful coming into being on the slopes of Agung-agung in Bali, as I described in the last chapter. And that same exhilarating verge is found between the physical body and its generative subtle matrix. Sex in the subtle energy mode is a shared dance of delight in this exuberant zone of the emergence of the flesh.
Sexual energy, mediated by the whole body as well as genitally, is a pure subtle energy which can communicate intimately with the person of the other in that ineffable, inner space where their flesh first appears in form. And in that space in the other, each partner finds the mirror of the joyful generation of their own flesh from its subtle matrix.
Each thus worships the other in a sacred zone between body and soul – subtle matrix space. They celebrate person-to-person intimacy, Janus-faced at the congress plane of flesh and spirit, whose mysterious unity they enjoy with such ecstatic bafflement. And each adores the profound context of the other. For the physical dance and energy dance of sexual activity joins the cosmic dance forever afoot within their bodies. Sexual excitement becomes at one with the subtle surge of more universal pleasure and delight. It participates in the wider reaches of continuous creation, the one seamless whole coming into being. And sometimes, of course, it may have procreative power.
This is each person making love with two bodies at once, the physical body and the subtle body. And it is making love in two spaces at once, physical space and inner space. But it is the subtle activity, subtle awareness and subtle joy that deeply mediates and consummates the intimacy.
The practitioners of Tantra, of course, have known all about the fusion of sexual congress with the cosmic congress of spirit and matter, of inner and outer universes. And they have known that sexual activity conducted with subtle awareness gives very direct and immediate access to the ecstasy of continuous creation (Mookerjee, 1982). But they have also fallen foul of the problems of transcendental sexual alienation.
Actually, the Tantrikas made a virtue of it. Such alienation occurs when the purpose of sexual union is not to celebrate person-to-person intimacy – attunement of soul and nurturant affection – but simply to participate in the bliss of cosmic creativity. Hence the Tantrikas were not concerned with any kind of personal relationship with their partners, but deliberately chose a succession of relative strangers, who however were equally proficient in the sexual disciplines and meditative rituals of the cult.
It could, of course, be argued that there is a reverse kind of alienation: when two people make love to celebrate their person-to-person intimacy always to the exclusion of any more extensive sacramental ecstasy. Because of a permanent closure in their awareness they never include divinity in the congress.
My own view is that the primary pleasure of making love is the celebration of person-to-person intimacy, and that one way of doing this can be shared worship at the conjoint internal shrine of continuous creation. But it is only one way. For the charm of human life is that it can properly affirm its autonomy, its relative independence of the subtle worlds: sexual union can be a celebration of human passion and affection, of delight in personhood, of the elegance and ease of the human animal, of physical beauty, of dance and movement, of sheer desire, of the comic and the absurd – and this without any conscious reference to a transcendental context. Living awarely in two worlds means sometimes living in one, sometimes in the other, and sometimes in both.
For a woman, orgasm is independent of the working of the gonads, the ovaries. Her sexual climax is, as such, nothing to do with reproduction. The cycle of ovulation and menstruation is geared to a monthly rhythm, and the physiological mechanisms of orgasm are quite separate from it. Levels of sexual arousal may vary with the monthly rhythm, but the climax of arousal does not involve the gonads. Orgasms can be multiple without the need for a refractory period.
In man, sexual climax is everything to do with reproduction at the physiological level. Every orgasm involves an emptying of the gonads, the testes, of their accumulated sperm. Excess of sperm can precipitate spontaneous orgasm as in nocturnal emission. Orgasms are single and need a refractory period.
These simple physical differences spell out certain psychological and spiritual differences in sexual attitudes. Female orgasm is more celebratory, abundant, joyful,to do with pleasure for pleasure’s sake: free from direct pressure from the gonads, it has more space to well up from attunement of soul, from the satisfactions of affection and togetherness.
Male orgasm is more performance and production oriented, more to do with control and measure and pacing of the release of the gonads. And if it is not this, then it becomes tense, urgent and evacuatory or precipitate. Attitudes get caught up in the hydraulics – of straight pipes and pressure on valves.
Furthermore, emptying the gonads can be followed by temporary depression. In a woman, pre-menstrual (i.e. post-ovulation) tension is not a product of sexual intimacy. But in a man, post-coital depression can occur in the immediate context of such intimacy and wreak havoc with its emotionality.
Women can ejaculate fluids copiously, have great sexual potency for orgasm, and have procreative power in their wombs. Men cannot ejaculate semen as copiously, have less sexual potency for orgasm, have no procreative power in their bodies to make babies, although of course great power to make semen.
The lower physiological status of men – in terms of sexual and procreative potency – has been, in my view, a deep source of anxiety to them. And this anxiety is usually repressed, denied and then displaced into a whole range of distorted and compensatory behaviours, often involving the oppression of women.
One way, among many, for men to relate to the greater orgasmic abundance of women is to cultivate the energy orgasm. As the tide of his excitement rises toward ejaculation, the man transfers the energy of that excitement into sound. The result is uninhibited and sustained vocal ejaculation, the experience of a subtle and potent energy orgasm, and no seminal ejaculation. The energy orgasm is found just below the peak that would otherwise lead over into physical discharge. As he hovers below the peak, the man effects the subtle transmutation through vocal power used with subtle intent.
The use of a crescendo of sound (not words) can shift the man’s sexual charge from physical release into a subtle suffusion of pleasure at the subtle matrix level. The sound itself may enhance the arousal and orgasm of the woman, which is already more at the subtle level because of its functional separation from the release of the gonads.
In this way a man can have repeated and multiple energy orgasms, to fuse and harmonise with the coming of his partner, while retaining a high level of continuous physical excitation. For it is only the final ejaculatory charge that is transfered by the power of erotic sound to the subtle level.
Ordinary language, of course, hints at this possibility. The word ‘ejaculate’ means not only ‘to eject semen from the body’, but also ‘to utter suddenly words especially of prayer or other emotion’ (Concise Oxford Dictionary). Now the vocal ejaculation of which I am writing does not use words, but pure sound only. And this sound, while powerfully erotic, does have something of the quality of both prayer and praise.
The prayer is a prayer to effect the shift – from physical to subtle orgasm. And the praise is praise for the joy of sexual union with the surge of continuous creation: a woman and a man lifted up to that exalted frontier where flesh and spirit tumble into each other with unmitigated delight.
Of course this is only one way of celebrating the interesting differences in physiological and energy status between women and men. There are many others, and I just pick this one out since it bears on the two worlds theme of this book. When it is being used, there is still the question for the man of the ratio between energy orgasms and physical orgasms: how many of the former in relation to the latter. In China, the ancient Taoist sex manuals recommended that the younger the man the greater the frequency of physical release; while the older man would make love many times, celebrating subtle intimacy, with only the occasional physical orgasm. However, I doubt whether any formula has relevance in such matters. It is a matter of art and preference.
When two human beings lie naked together in bed, there are many kinds of intimacy they can share, as described in this chapter so far.
Attunement of soul. They enjoy each other’s presence, which may not involve any physical contact at all, only the exchange of subtle energy through mutual gazing or simply lying side by side.
Shared nurturance. They enjoy tenderness and affection through embracing, caressing, kissing.
Spacing out. They enjoy a deeply relaxed, non-sexual, going out into subtle space: mediated either by mutual gazing, or by tangent planes at points and lines of mutual touch, or by both these at the same time.
Erotic celebration of soul. They enjoy sexual intimacy to delight in attunement of soul and nurturant affection.
Erotic celebration of body. They enjoy sexual intimacy to delight in physical form, desire and movement.
Erotic celebration of spacing out. They enjoy sexual intimacy to delight in spacing out on tangent planes, falling into inner space.
Erotic celebration of continuous creation. They enjoy transcendental sexual intimacy in the ecstatic context of continuous creation.
And there are all the various possible combinations of these. Our culture does not alert us to this enjoyable range of possibilities, does not prepare us for them, nor help us with mismatches of need and state that can obviously occur. So intimate partners need to grasp the repertoire, to learn the cues in themselves and in each other that indicate which sort of choice is on top, and to communicate and negotiate openly when any kind of mismatch is afoot.
Men in our culture may confuse sexual arousal with non-sexual spacing out, entirely within their own being. This is because there are two qualitatively different kinds of erection: one mediates sexual excitation, the other expresses deep relaxation and readiness to space out. If a man doesn’t have these two concepts, he may drive every erection along the sexual highway, and thus frustrate the dual propensity of his nervous system, and his subtle needs. Sometimes, of course, both kinds of experience may combine.
I once knew an Australian psychiatrist who came to England to explore both the Christian and Judaic roots of his culture. For some months he was celibate and resident in a strict orthodox Jewish community in Golders Green in London. One summer evening he lay naked on his back on the top of his bed, engaging in sustained high prayer. This transcendental activity drew out of him a powerful erection and an intense ejaculation. He was still astonished when he told me the story.
The word ‘shekinah’ comes from the Hebrew verb ‘sakan’ which means ‘to rest, to dwell’. In Judaism, the shekinah was the visible glory of God, specially thought to dwell over the mercy-seat of the ark in the temple at Jerusalem; or seen in other natural or supernatural phenomena. Its form of a cloud of light was suggested by Exodus 40:34.
Where the original Hebrew text of the Old Testament talks of God dwelling in a place, the later Aramaic translation or paraphrase talks of God causing His shekinah to dwell there: the shekinah being some kind of luminous intermediary between God and man. But let me take this notion of the shekinah and set it in the context of a change of theological gender.
For when there is talk of the divine dwelling in the world, resting within phenomena and everyday human experience, then in my universe such immanent divinity is of feminine gender, the Goddess – the great womb, the cornucopia of being out of whom matter, time, life and soul emerge. And the shekinah is the subtle light, scintillating and effulgent, that attests to this inward residence of the Goddess.
When making love with intensity and love, and with a continuity of passion lifted up beyond itself into things holy and sacramental, yet empowered by that very encounter to plunge into new depths of imaginative desire, lovers may find the shekinah, the power of iridescence that bears witness to the indwelling presence of the divine. They may see with their flesh the coruscating, glittering lights, like a treasure trove of jewels, that are the very spirit of the very body of their union.
Experience of the subtle realms: