So, after saying that I had found no writing on sex from a Buddhist perspective, I continued on in After the Ecstasy, the Laundry, to find a chapter entitled, THIS VERY BODY.
I have been looking for this chapter. That’s why I was sounding off. I wanted to have some teachings to test against my experience.
The chapter is fantastic. In it Jack Kornfield quotes Jung:
The erotic instinct is something questionable and will always be so whatever laws have to say on the matter. It belongs, on the one hand, to the original nature of man, which will exist as long as man has an animal body. On the other hand, it is connected with the highest forms of the spirit. But it blooms only when spirit and instinct are in true harmony. If one or the other aspect is missing, then an injury occurs, there is a one-sided lack of balance which easily slips into the pathological. Too much of the animal disfigures the civilized human being, too much culture makes for a sick animal.
That’s it. I officially forgive Carl Jung for being part of the psychotherapeutic world. His theory of the collective unconscious is kind of Buddhist anyhow, plus the whole archetypal thing…I mean, I will even go so far as to admit I’ve always loved his work and don’t find it as anti-artistic as say, Freud.
The animal body. The spirit. Jack Kornfield also quotes Galway Kinnell, my favorite poet. …Sometimes it is necessary to reteach a thing its loveliness, to put a hand on the brow of the flower and retell it in words and in touch it is lovely….
My own body carries a lot of pain. My back hurts–twinges, stabs, aches. I am taking my back as my teacher right now, and I am experimenting not only with the alignment of Iyengar yoga, but with the full relaxation of restorative yoga (also developed by Iyengar). I lie with my legs on a chair, or up a wall, and I breathe. I feel the tension run out of my muscles like water, and I feel the animal that is my body fall into the earth, knowing the earth is what it wanted (that’s sort of a half bastardized quote by Mary Oliver). It is terrifying to find how much tension exists in my muscles on a day that isn’t particularly stressful (well, except for the existence of couples therapy in my life). I am giving my body what it wants, I am listening not only for the liminal, but for the right here, right now, life of the body. My body. This one. Aging and beautiful and full of stories I don’t seem to have heard yet.
I have found that when I do yoga, breathe, sing, dance–which I do whenever I have a lead in a play–that I feel sensual all the time. I feel like a cat. Movement, breathing, the sinuous play of muscle and bone and flesh…it’s not anything like being “hot” or “sexy.” It’s life, spilling out and over everything.
In Kornfield’s book, there’s a quote from one of Thomas Merton’s students, saying he was the sexiest man the student had ever known. I had a friend in grad school who said the same of Judy Dench. Basically, that Judy Dench was so alive, she was sexy at 60, 70, however old she was.
And I’ve seen it. At the topless beach in Nice, when I was twenty-four, I saw these French women wearing tiny bikini bottoms and nothing else. They had to be at least 60. They had round tanned bellies, big tanned breasts, cellulite; they laughed, throwing their heads back. The ease, the comfort, with which they walked the beach impressed me. American in ways I never wanted to admit, I was turned off by the extra flesh, all the while admiring their complete embodiment. When I walked across the beach, my complete self-consciousness made my posture sway-backed. I was tense, though I didn’t want to be.
I worry about the anti-body teachings of Catholicism, the church of my childhood. I wonder about walking across a beach with that comfort, and if it is something I can ever know. I worry about my tendency to be idealistic, and how saying that sex is spiritual can deny that it is also animal.
In this country, too animal. And, paradoxically, full of shame and objectification.
I have this moment, in which I am doing restorative yoga, in which I am breathing, in which I will meditate. I don’t have to answer the questions right now. I can just wait for the answers to come, not from these words, but from my bones falling out of the cage of tension into something else that I don’t yet know, but might be water, might be earth, might be air or fire or everything.
I am in love with Jack Kornfield. He’s doing a workshop at Kripalu in the winter, and I might just have to go. I mean, anyone who quotes Galway Kinnell (he also quoted Mary Oliver), can’t be all bad.
I will not go wanting him to re-teach me my own loveliness. I am doing that, right here, right now. It is painful, wonderful, difficult, amazing. It is the secret unveiled, the silent loving heart, the wish to hold everyone who has ever been hurt, the dream of flight.
Let me be teachable, in this one thing if in no other.