You may have had a taste of the experience. By the time you reach adulthood, you’ve presumably mastered the basic steps that get you around the bases. But sometimes—often accidentally you reach a higher realm where the physical act of sex expands into a mind/body, multi-sensory encounter. Viewed holistically, this experience offers much more than physical pleasure. In fact, those who have taken the time to study it say it can even form a bridge between the physical and spiritual worlds.
With its manifold approach, the practice of spiritual sex now helps couples channel energy through their bodies, cycle it sexually through each other, and then, ultimately, send it out into the world. The resulting sensations extend far beyond the physical plane. “Here’s the big secret,” says Tim Alan Gardner, director of the Marriage Institute in Westfield. Indiana, and author of Sacred Sex and The Naked Soul. “The ‘big 0' isn’t orgasm. It’s oneness.”
You can revisit this ecstatic state at will, says Lana Holstein, M.D., managing director of the Sexuality & Vitality Department at the Miraval Life in Balance resort and spa in Tucson, Arizona, by learning to connect with your partner on a multitude of levels simultaneously. Rather than just “having sex,” make a practice of it. Then you can reach new levels of connection, charge your day with new electricity, and maybe even experience a taste of the divine. Oh, and you’ll have a pretty good time in the process.
A Religious Experience
The words “sex” and “sacred” have not always been the unlikely bed-fellows they are in America today. In many religious and spiritual traditions, sex is evidence of, and a path to, the divine. The most famous convergence of sex and spirituality is the Eastern religious practice of tantra, in which sacred sex is the connection between two partners higher selves with the intention of soulful union. Although modern interpretations link tantra mainly to the sacred nature of (and myriad positions for) sex, this ancient Indian religious approach actually integrates spiritual awareness in all forms of human endeavor.
Some may find it surprising, but the idea of sex as sacred lies at the heart of Christian tradition as well. “We see this concept all through the Bible,” says Gardner. Many devout Christians have gotten beyond the idea of sex as being just for procreation. “Sex as a physical activity is never sustainable without a spiritual dimen-sion,” he adds. Spiritual sex is deeply rooted in the Jewish tradition, too. According to Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, a lecturer and the author of Kosher Sex, Jewish laws on sex advise that the act isn’t only sacred and holy—it’s the most sacred and holy of all human endeavors. “It’s the only act so potent that it can take two and make them one, the only activity that can call forth a spark of the divine.” He notes that at the heart of Kabbalah (mystical Judaism) lies the concept of masculine feminine duality. “Hencc, in Judaism,” he adds, “when a couple makes love, it represents the unification of masculine and feminine and proves there’s only one God.”
The word “sacred” incorporates relationships as well. People treat each other very differently when they see sex as divine, says Judy Kuriansky, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist and sex therapist. She integrated spiritual sex principles into her therapy practice 10 years ago. I don’t know how I did therapy before,” she says. “The idea that a relationship is sacred and not just sexual changed my whole approach as a therapist. Sacred relationship takes sex out of the realm of being a performance to being an intention and a state of mind. How you approach your partner and the whole experience is more important than the act of sex.”
Part of this approach involves taking male female propensities into account. If there’s one thing Holstein has learned in nearly 30 years of working with couples, it’s that men and women naturally approach sex in fundamentally different ways. ‘Men are usually happier with something than with nothing,” she explains, but many women would rather have nothing than something that isn’t special. When the sexual experience does hit that spiritual ecstatic level, she says, “men are struck by the energy of radiant feminine sexuality.” The bottom line, says Holstein. is that “men have a sex drive that leads them to love. Most women possess a love drive,’ which leads them to sex.”
Emotional openness is a key factor in turning your relationship into something transcendental. Rachel Carlton Ahrams M.D. coauthor of The Multi-Orgasmic Woman, believes we have to come to this kind of interaction with the Buddhist concept of a “child’s mind,” a place of non-judgment of self or partner. Only when we learn to set aside expectations and be in the present moment can the connection happen. Orgasm isn’t the real objective. The goal for couples is becoming more open,” Ahrams says . “Sexual energy and arousal combined with compassionate and loving intention is the nectar of the gods. It’s the most healing force we have.” So how can we achieve more spiritual sex? By reaching all its levels simultaneously , says Holstein. “You can think of sex as having seven dimensions. We usually focus on just the first three: biological, sensual, and desirous. These mating drive needs link us to other mammals. They’re important, but just the beginning.” In her workshops, Holstein helps couples consider the often-neglected other four levels: amorous and intimate, which involve love and trust, and esthetic and ecstatic, which touch the soul. “You really need all dimensions working for you in order to have a very complete soulful and sexual encounter,” she explains.
Any couple who can open their hearts and stay present in the moment has the great potential to access the divine through sex. It requires only a willingness to become vulnerable and bond with your partner on a deep emotional level, so that sex then becomes a gateway to spiritual bliss. The steps that follow offer a good starting point to sexual awakening. Youth and fitness aren’t requirements, nor is the ability to wriggle into gymnastic positions. You’ve got all the tools you need, says sacred~ sex expert David Deida, author of Dear Lover: A Woman Guide to Men, Sex, and Love’s Deepest Bliss. It’s like enlightenment: You’re already there; you just have to recognize it. “When peop1e are able to connect on an emotional, physical, psychological, and mental level, its an experience of God within themselves and the other,” agrees Sat-Kaur Khalsa, Ed.D., a psychotherapist and relationships expert in Los Angeles and Santa Fe. “It doesn’t get any better than that.”
By cultivating intention, focus, and connection, you can transport your sexual experience beyond the physical realm. Sex then moves from a singular event to an entire practice~one you can enjoy in bed and out.
Distraction reigns as one of the most common sex saboteurs. From completely random thoughts (“Are we out of bacon and eggs?”) to sounds (Whose dog is barking?”), distractions take you out of the moment and thus diminish the sexual experience. If you meditate, you know this challenge well; thoughts, worries, and ambi-ent noise can derail your practice over and over again if you let them. That’s why it helps to gain focus.
“Practice shifting your attention to where you want it to go,” advises Holstein. “As you get good at that, then during sex, you can choose not to pay attention to any distraction. You’ll bring yourself back to your partner’s heart and the feeling of him with you.” Try honing this ability with a breathing meditation. A few times a day, sit still and focus on your inhalation and exhalation. Your mind will likely try to resist, but keep bringing it back. Let thoughts and outside distractions pass across your mind like clouds. Don’t hold on to them; just watch them come and go while you continue to focus on your breath. With practice, you’ll strengthen your ability to stay attentive. Bring this quality to bed with you.
Awaken the Senses
Sex is a sensory experience---- one enhanced by heightened awareness. Start noting your feelings at different times of day. Do you feel hot? Cold? How does your shirt feel on your skin? Does your pear taste sweet? Slightly bitter? Practice now turning off your mind and letting your body tell the story.
Then, with your partner, embark on a sensory exploration. Holstein recommends dedicating one week to each sense, incorporating as many different experiential angles as you can conjure. For touch, pay attention to the feel of your clothes, the softness of your cat’s fur, the sun on your hair, the warmth of your partner’s body. For sound, focus on the rise and fall of your partner’s voice, the wind in the trees, the new music you buy to make love to. Meals present great opportunities for taste, says Holstein. “Eat with your fingers, feed each other, and enjoy the meal slowly. Start to appreciate the different flavors, textures, and feel of the food.” Get lost in the moment.
It’s uncanny how easy it is to connect with sustained eye contact. Yet some couples go months without doing this, note Pala Copeland and Al Link, a Canadian couple who’ve hosted sex seminars since 1997. It’s one of the deepest practices for sending and giving love outside a lovemaking context.
For one minute a day, sit still, hold hands, and look into each other’s eyes, sending love. Some call this “soul gazing,” and Holstein notes that it leads to entrainment, or the phenomenon in which the energy vibrations of two people synchronize with close contact. “If you hook a loving couple to EKG leads, you’ll find their heart rate variability is the same. Physiologically, they become synchronized, just like mothers and their newborn babies.” Cultivating this connection is not oniy powerful in the moment, its effects extend to the sexual aspects of the relationship as well
Some sex experts note that those who struggle with control issues often struggle with orgasm . Spiritual sex requires a measure of surrender of letting your agendas fall aside to make room for sensual possibility. When you surrender in sex, you make a space for interconnected energy, according to Deida. This relinquishing of control can only occur, however, in an atmosphere of trust.
Spend time outside the bedroom thinking and talking about the trust quotient in your relationship . Women, more than men, may need to he assured of their partner’s emotional strength before they’ll show their vulnerabilities to him. “Often the feminine half really wants to let go and be open,” Holstein explains. “But she won’t be able to release sexually unless she trusts her mate.” To engender trust, she then suggests that men approach sex nonverbally, with gentle. loving signs of affection. “Resist displays of neediness,” she adds. “A woman can sniff that out immediately. This will put her into mothering mode---- the opposite of surrender.”
Create a Sacred Place
It sounds very obvious, but we some times discount the influence that the bedroom atmosphere has on the quality of sex. After all, when you’re in the moment, who’s noticing the feng shui of the room? Ambiance matters, though, and it doesn’t take a lot of time or money to create a more sacred space for sex. Your personal .taste will dictate the basic guidelines on setting up your bedroom, and then make the space conducive to love by lighting a candle and putting on special music. Create an altar with fresh flowers and a picture of you on vacation together, along with a cherished souvenir . Add small gifts you’ve given each other over the course of your relationship. Set the stage, and you’ll more likely play the part of sacred lovers.
Make it a Practice
How do you keep things interesting? Approach sex as an ongoing practice. not a series of static events. Sex is like yoga in this respect or piano playing. You could work on the same five asanas or chords every day for a month, and each time the experience would be different. You keep changing. and your expertise deepens incrementally each time you approach the task.
This doesn’t mean that you won’t want for inspiration at times . “If you’re trying to enliven the bodily experience, you could certainly get books or videos that show new positions, says Holstein. But when you get into more soulful aspects, she says, your task is to access intimacy and self~awareness and that takes practice, both in bed and out. Each time you try again, you’ll have a different experience. “My belief is that there is no end to the soul. Even if you’re doing the same thing, who are you today? Who am I? It’s a practice we’re always talking about the practice of sex.”
-----SIJZANNE GERBER is a freelance writer
who lives in Brooklyn, New York.
BODY + SOUL Magazine
January 2006. Vol. 23, Issue 1. (Pgs. 87-93)
Body & Soul Omnimedia, Inc. 42 Pleasant St., Watertown, MA 02472.
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