Q. I have become curious about desire and eros in my life. I am a person who feels strong energies in my body such as heat, pleasure and a kind of buzzing vitality. I especially feel these sensations when I am excited about something new, when I am listening to great music or when I am playing a sport I like. I feel a fair amount of sexual desire towards my partner and enjoy all kinds of touching and sex very much. I am also someone who aspires to grow spiritually and I study scriptures and meditate regularly. Do these feelings and my acting on them take me away from my spirituality? Is it all a distraction that leads to disappointment or can I somehow do both?
A. These are great questions to ask as I hear both sides of you—the desirous person and the spiritual aspirant. I think it’s great to be in touch with this pulsing and vibrant energy. We could say it emerges out of universal energy, prana or shakti. This energy can take many forms: impulse to survive, to feel pleasure, to be intimate, to merge with another person or nature and the drive to become conscious and enlightened. In both Greek and Indian mythology there are deities who represent pleasure, love and celebration. Eros originally was the god of love and valued the celebration of life. Shiva and Dionysus were the gods of ecstasy.
There are spiritual paths that are more “ascetic,” where renouncing the world—possessions, relationships, family, career pursuits are part of purely focusing on spiritual awakening. People become nuns and monks or lead a very simple life to pursue enlightenment. There are also paths that are more “ecstatic,” which emphasize engaging with sensory experience. The approach is to experience the divine essence within forms of the phenomenal world. Indian spirituality refers to this practice as tantra. Before we come to a point where we can appreciate the oneness behind all these forms, we need to have done practices or have insights that help us know ourselves as consciousness beyond our physicality. Usually this requires targeted practices that help us pierce through our constantly changing self to know ourselves as presence, energy or spirit. After this awareness is achieved, interacting with the world with this awareness means you are not leaving your “true nature” because you recognize that same consciousness in all of life. We can then live in a larger plane that doesn’t separate out all of these differences, but rather recognizes them as part of a divine drama—the lila.
Alzak Amlani, Ph.D., is a counseling psychologist of Indian descent in the Bay Area. 650-325-8393. Visit www.wholenesstherapy.com