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Tuesday, February 23, 2021
Brain / Mind ... Psychology ... Society ... Spirituality ...

OK, let’s get a bit risque and explore the links between human sexual experience and transcendent meditation states / mystical experience. That’s a topic that I don’t see discussed very much, but I believe that it is really important for a better understanding of both human sexuality and meditation states / mystical experience, and their ties to the neuro-structures and processes of the brain. And also in relating all of that back to the ongoing speculations regarding trans-scientific / metaphysical conceptions of “deep reality”.

[Well, actually there is a recent book that relates to this topic called “Transcendent Sex” by psychologist Jenny Wade. Also, an on-line PhD thesis says

That sexuality and spirituality are related has received extensive philosophical and theoretical attention from various disciplines (e.g., Aging and Development—Ammerman, 1990; Medicine-Anderson & Morgan, 1994; Christian Theology—Bilotta, 1981; Chavez-Garcia & Helminiak, 1985; Dychtwald, 1979; Feuerstein, 1989; Grenz, 1990; Moore, 1980; Nelson, 1981, 1983; Sex Therapy–Mayo, 1987; Schnarch, 1991; Psychology-Francoeur, 1992; May, 1982; Moore, 1994).

Well, I sure wasn’t aware of that!]

When we get into the arena of eroticism, we need to define some ground rules. And not only because of my desire to maintain decorum and avoid uncomfortable moments, not only from the fear of “getting too personal” and getting lost in taboo.

But first, the ground rules. I am going to keep it clinical. This is not going to be about quasi-humorous innuendo, this is not about jokes, this is not about confessing whatever we have done or thought or felt at any point in our lives within the sexual arena. There is no need to refer to the inspirations, specifics and mechanics of any human sexual experience that any of us has ever had or has imagined, for purposes of this discussion.

This is not easy, given that our culture so strongly focuses on and emphasizes exactly those things, when matters of sex and eroticism are considered (which shows how immature many of us are). And in doing so, our culture misses something incredibly important about why sexuality is such a big deal in human affairs. What I am thinking about here is NOT the background biological mission of reproduction, survival, and dynamic assertion of human DNA within the world. Admittedly, that IS very important, that IS a BIG DEAL. But that is not the big deal that I want to discuss.

What I am getting at is the deep grounding of “why we like sex”, why we make such a big deal out of it, why it takes up so much of our individual and cultural thought-time and action-energy. I would like to focus on the psychological and experiential, and not on the evolutionary and biological and physical / neuro-somatic explanations. Let’s take for granted that evolutionary biology has crafted within us (via our DNA) chemical and electrical processes meant to maximize our potential to reproduce. Let’s accept but not worry too much about serotonin or oxytocin or whatever else courses through our brains, nerves, muscles and organs when we react to certain perceptions and interpretations of sensory stimuli (whether truly from our senses of the external world, or from our imagination, or mostly some combination thereof).

Unfortunately, our culture seems to mostly ignore and perhaps even discourage any deep consideration of a simple question, “why do we like sex”. The question is seldom asked. It is just taken for granted that 99.9% of adults (now defined as anyone over 11) do like sex and desire it, in one way or another. When we happen to ask this, most of us seem satisfied that sexuality is a gift (or curse sometimes) from nature. We focus our prurient curiosities on what triggers this “like and desire” (L&D for short) in different people, and in the mechanics and details of how different people respond and react to this L&D under various circumstances.

On a more innocent but still perfunctory level, we imagine the L&D (and its satiation) as the grounding and primary/necessary inspiration for building deep and committed long-term caring relationships between pairings of two people. Our culture builds institutions (e.g. marriage) and writes laws and moral guidelines around this presumption. But it’s pretty clear that culture is taking as a give the L&D of sex, and does not consider what the deep factors behind L&D might be. And precious little consideration is given to the problems of when L&D fades slowly or suddenly ends.

OK, with all of that said, let me carefully refer to the nature of the “climatic” sexual experience, something that seems to happen during the process of “orgasm” (that is such an ugly and inadequate word, IMHO, and “climax” is not any better; they are both WAY too physical, they both totally ignore the fact that the true grounding of the erotic is in psychology and within the mystery of human conscious experience). My proposition is quite simple: at the time of “climax”, at the time of “orgasm” (terrible words), all of that which let up to the big moment quickly disappear from perception / experience. Including any thought or sense of what your own physical body is doing and whoever else was participating (or was imagined as participating) in this act. All of the sights, smells, “taste, touch, phenomenon” – they are completely absent. Whatever the perceived details of the surroundings, whoever else is involved in the physical act, whatever your body is doing, they all just disappear for a few fleeting moments.

Perhaps even YOU disappear during these moments. Perhaps this helps to explain the Buddha’s reference to “extinction” and “quenching” in describing the “nibbana” state. So is the Buddha offering a never-ending orgasmic state, if his advice is followed? Hmmm . . .

In a way, this all seems rather strange. Humans and their culture (western culture, anyway) put so much attention and emphasis on the mechanics of sexuality. But paradoxically, when these mechanics work correctly, they are simply forgotten; they don’t seem to exist during the key moments. It is those “key moments” that best answer the question of “why do we like sex”. And yet, all of the machinations leading up to that moment entirely disappear within the moment. As if to imply that “why we like sex” is not really about sexual behavior and whatever causes it.

Hmmm, most peculiar. It’s as if we have bombs set off by fuses, and we spend all of our attention and energy on the fuse, and totally ignore the bomb. Why does this bomb go off? What is in that bomb? Almost no one seems to consider that. (And to the neuro-biologists, I would say that the nerve circuitry and serotonin and dopamine involved are not inside the bomb, but are just final components of its fuse).

I would like to examine that “moment”. Given that it has so little to do with all that leads up to it, we don’t need to feel any discomfort or taboo. I would propose that the moment behind the L&D (let’s then call it the “L&D moment”) is related to other human transcendent experience, including high-level meditative states and psychotropic drug experiences, e.g. LSD and masculine trips.

Let’s start with possible commonalities with an LSD trip. In both instances, we have neurochemical processes acting in the lead-up, acting as part of the “bomb fuse”. LSD trips usually go on much longer than the “L&D moment”, but both seem to have something to do with transcendent awareness. In the matter of sexuality, for most people there has to be a second party involved in the “fuse process” (of course, human psychology is extremely complicated and there are known examples of all sorts of sexual experience, some not involving another person(s); although I wonder if even when another human is not perceived, is there still a symbol or reference to a relationship with another human being – relationship perhaps being the key to the “fuse process”?). And according to Michael Pollan in his book How to Change Your Mind, “good trips” from LSD or mescalin require the presence of another caring person near the “tripper” for the experience to be “good”. Can we thus assume that another human who has an implied positive relationship with the tripper is usually necessary for the LSD experience to take on the nature of the “transcendent”?

Next, let’s see if there are any bridges with the transcendent / mystical experience process that some people report happening from deep meditative states. I myself am not very familiar with reports on these, other than the experiences of Christian mystics. But I think that we can find something within that sub-set of mystical experience, especially within the sub-branch of female mystics who spoke and wrote of their God-experiences in terms that are somewhat erotic. Obviously under the culture of the Christian Middle Ages, female mystics could get away with erotic innuendo and “bride of Christ” references, whereas males could not. Might we propose that for some mystics, a strong belief in God and a focus and discipline in meditative techniques allows them the “glimpse of transcendence” that reminds them of the “L&D moment” of sexuality? And further, this allowed them to “reverse engineer” their perceived relationship with God in semi-erotic terms?

This might imply that it is possible (although rarely attainable) for a very focused meditator to attain a transcendent experience of similar intensity to the “L&D moment” (more slowly than via sexuality or an LSD trip, but perhaps for a longer period) . . . but only if some sort of human-like relational presence is also part of the “lead-up” or “fuse”?

Just to be clear – I am not proposing that the body “arousal” processes involved in erotic experience would be triggered in such a meditational experience, just they are not involved in an LSD trip. I am proposing that the LSD trip, the transcendent meditational experience, and the sexual “L&D” moment are all different and independent pathways up the same mountain, a mountain of “higher consciousness”. But one commonality that I would like to examine is the necessity for some human relationship perception during the “climb”, during the fuse process (to mix up my metaphors). Perhaps human relationship is the necessary catalyst needed with all of the other neurochemical / electrical whiz-bang going on during deeply focused meditation, an LSD trip, or a sexual experience, for that experience to become transcendent.

So, as to Relationship – it is forgotten in the peak moment, but it is key to the climb to that peak. We reach the peak and experience extinction, nibbana. Or get a little taste of it, anyway. But at that peak, even relationship is gone. Hmmm, is that what we really want on a permanent basis? The Buddha proposed the state of nibbana as the end of the karma cycle, the quenching of the flame of life, the extinction of death and rebirth. After that – just the “L&D moment”, nothing more.

I’m not sure that I would take that deal. Yes, the Buddha is right that the cycle of life, where relationships live, involves pain and suffering. And yet, being un-related in a state of nibbana forever doesn’t sound right either. In our realm, the transcendent moments, no matter how attained, are just moments. They are finite in nature. To imagine them as infinite may be a cosmic mistake. Nibbana – nice place to visit, but you wouldn’t want to live there. Pain and relationship live here in the world of death and rebirth. Pain gives us the taste of death, relationship gives us the taste of nibbana – transcendence. The true secret, the true wisdom is to seek relationship, as the way to live with and transcend the reality of pain.

◊   posted by Jim G @ 10:08 pm      

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