Sex and spirituality: the new predicament

Andrew Cohen

What a predicament - sex and spirituality! This is a tough nut to crack, and I wonder if anybody has really cracked it satisfactorily, even after thousands of years. Of course, if we want to be free, it's not sex itself that is the problem, but our relationship to it.

The perennial question is: If we have sincere spiritual aspirations, then what is the best position to take in relationship to one of our most basic instincts? Well, and this is the fun part, it all depends who you ask! But the truth is, for most of us on the spiritual path, esoteric questions like these, as intriguing as they are, are really superfluous.

Why? Because the greatest challenge for most of us, in relationship to sexuality at least, is just not to make a mess of it, or as they say in the East, create more karma. But that sounds like a tall order if even most of the big gurus can't walk the straight and narrow. And if they are apparently confused about the right relationship to sexuality, what are the rest of us mere mortals supposed to do? Forget about the whole thing?

Impossible. Face it directly and try to come to terms with it? Sounds good, but who has the courage and heroic spirit necessary to really look into the eye of the tiger of sexual desire without their whole world falling apart? You see, so many of us open-minded, free-thinking characters really are squares when it comes to this particular mega life issue. What does that mean? It means that we don't want to look at the whole question too closely or too personally because for most of us, sex is more important than God.

The sexual/romantic experience is one of the most confusing areas of human life and seems to be the hardest to get clear about. It is not a free ride, unfortunately. And, therefore, unless we get our priorities clear, it's almost inevitable that that attachment will quickly become more important to us than our own potential liberation in this life.
I hear so many people say, "We want to pursue freedom together,'' but what that almost always means is that holding on to the intensely personal experience of sentimental attachment is their first priority, not the experience of profound inner freedom.

The question is: If enlightened freedom is freedom from attachment, then what are we all going to do about the relentless nature of sexual attraction?

There have been widely differing answers to this perennial question that have been offered to men and women throughout the ages. On one extreme, we have been encouraged to use the sexual experience itself as a vehicle for self-transcendence and, on the other, we have been told that if we want to be liberated men and women, we have to renounce the sexual experience altogether. I believe that if we want to be free, we must think very deeply about these matters for ourselves.

In the end, if you want to be free, then all you need to know is that 'free' means free from attachment. That simple fact transcends the relative matter of whether you're engaging in a sexual relationship or not engaging in a sexual relationship. If you face that spiritual truth unflinchingly, then you will be looking into the heart of the matter for yourself. And that takes a lot more courage than blindly accepting someone else's conclusions.

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