Buying the Cow
If the sum of the parts equaled the whole, no one would buy the cow, or as Andy Rooney rephrased it, take the whole pig when all you’re hankering for is a bit of sausage. Humans—men and women, gay and straight, old and young, mainstream and extreme—crave love with our sex and sex with our love. As Pfizer discovered, biology and psychology need one another. Like the strings of Kahlil Gibran’s lute, though they exist as independent systems, love, lust and arousal quiver with the same music.
While our left brain jones for logic and method, the right hemisphere intuitively knows something is happening here—and not just a mass of neurons firing functional mandates to cellular robots. Highly creative and inclined to holistic ruminating, it bears mentioning that the right brain tends to express most freely in the feminine form. Flirting with presumption, perhaps the real reason exposing feminine desire demands multiple approaches and extra effort suggests we open the relationship to a third party—the sacred. Three’s company, and the ultimate ménage à trois marries body, mind and spirit, so why not dilate our probe and dip into the sublime.
Yes, taught abs and firm cheeks constitute nice incidentals, but what if sex and the holy trilogy of love, lust and arousal actually concealed an erotic passage to a higher state of mind and a stronger inner core. From Plato and the Kama Sutra to Buddha and the Virgin Mary, sufficient evidence suggests sex involves a lot more than breeding.
Though she numbers among the sexologists attempting to scientifically model desire, psychologist Meredith Chivers leads the discussion into tempting new territory when she raises the question why so many cultures, for so many millennia, found, and continue to find it necessary to govern and restrain female sexuality given its seemingly passive nature. What if history dampened female desire, and repression and shame explained today’s biological mystery? Traveling east of Eden for a different perspective, it’s worth noting that kundalini and tantric teachings personify mankind’s erotic energy as the divine feminine—a supreme cosmic force responsible for creation, and the agent of all change. Did Adam view Eve as a threat to his manhood?
Anthropologist Helen Fisher suggests that ten thousand, even a million years ago, women enjoyed equal status with men, and that the current rise of female sexual expression and the worldwide flow of women into the job market represents a return to the truth of our ancient potential—a potential that profits both genders. Genetically evolved to be distinct yet compatible, men and women, like two feet, claims Fisher, need one another to get ahead. Bearing that in mind, let us wade together into the carnal unconscious, a place where science submits to something bigger than itself and our right brain plays investigator.
Love Teases Longing
Shakespeare proclaimed: “Love is the most beautiful of dreams and the worst of nightmares.” Inspiring extremes from euphoria to despair, Fisher reminds us that people kill for love, they die for love and around the world and throughout history they create songs, poems, myths, novels, sculptures and paintings evoking love. The telltale signs of eros, according to Fisher, pervade every society ever discovered and studied by anthropologists.
In the context of the divine, Fisher’s chemical explanation of our most powerful brain system begets the question, why? A ubiquitous force to be reckoned with, to what end does passion propel us plunging toward? Most of us want intimacy and depth with our sexual relations, and yet, according to the startling statistics of sexless relationships, once our brain circuitry switches from shots of dopamine to the oxytocin with vasopressin blend, all bets called off, love ceases to be a guaranteed aphrodisiac or to fulfill on its promise of endless bliss.
Certainly, Keats knew when he immortalized, not love’s consummation, but its chase, in his Ode to a Grecian Urn. Plato claimed the God of Love lives in a state of need. And for the Buddha, our perpetual predicament of discontent reflects an ultimate truth: desire never consummates longing. What’s really going on here?
In his book Open to Desire, psychiatrist and psychotherapist Dr. Mark Epstein sheds light on the Buddha’s left-handed path—the path less taken—where desire exists, not as a weakness or vexing frustration, but as passage to a purer state of pleasure. Slipping into the gap between promise and anticlimax, we meet our own emotional and spiritual need to be whole—a transcendent longing to embrace our selves and our lovers as fully realized and independent subjects, not objects of ego clinging. When we find and embody our own internal truth, Epstein explains, our need for external validation dissolves, and we release the conditional expectations we impose on our relationships. Prompting us to probe our personal history of longing and nonfulfillment, desire guides the willing into fertile new territory.
By spotlighting narcissism as the erotic grail of what a woman wants, psychologist and sexologist Dr. Marta Meana in essence offers another way to approach what Epstein refers to as desire’s enlightening potential. In acknowledging our longing to be objectified and craved by another as proof of our inherent self worth and power, we recognize the true need to esteem and value ourselves.
Even Chivers’ insight into submission fantasies as a wish to traverse beyond will and conscious thought, hints at a primordial craving to surrender our egos through a transcendent state to something larger than ourselves.
Indulging Your Mind for Pleasure
In his cross-cultural atlas mapping the interconnectedness of body, mind, and spirit, Paul Hougham draws a continuum between those civilizations and traditions that view sexuality as a base, but necessary, condition of humanity, and their opposite in number and attitude, that normalize sexuality as essential to physical and psychological health, celebrating it as a path to self awareness and awakening. Dr. Caroline Myss, in her book Anatomy of the Spirit, defines erotic pleasure as a vital mystical force that both liberates and bonds. Orgasm delivers us—body, mind and spirit—fully into the present moment; the much sought and equally elusive eternal now, a time zone beyond the borders of our ego intrigues. Our system momentarily flooded with high voltage energy, we experience profound release physically and emotionally, and, given the right conditions, meld into a current of ecstatic union with our lover, and even the rapture of divinity.
Neuroanatomist Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor travels the country on behalf of Harvard’s Brain Bank recounting the exceptional experience of studying her own stroke. Only 37 years old, Taylor suffered a severe hemorrhage in the left hemisphere of her brain. On the morning of her stroke, Taylor’s conscious awareness switched back and forth between her left hemisphere’s calculating intelligence and alarm, and her right hemisphere’s total immersion in the bliss of the present moment—the orgasmic state on freeze frame. Taylor explains that while our left brain categorizes and organizes our present into relationship with the past and future, the right brain dissolves all boundaries between a sense of separateness and what Taylor encountered as the life force power of the universe. In what she refers to as her stroke of insight, Taylor discovered that by consciously choosing to step to the right of our left hemisphere we possess the ability in any moment to connect with a universal presence of nirvana—a choice she urges us to make.
Educated as a biochemist, Buddhist monk Matthieu Ricard, known as the “happiest man in the world,” brings Taylor’s message home when he advises us to take seriously the importance of training our minds. According to the theory of neuroplasticity, redirecting our thoughts and altering our actions stimulate the brain’s lifelong ability to both structurally and functionally reorganize neural pathways, which in turn affect our experience. Concerned with well-being—an internal condition he describes as a deep sense of serenity and fulfillment unaffected by temporal sensations or destabilizing emotions—Ricard believes that achieving happiness demands the same focused effort and commitment as any serious pursuit.
Given that our mind ultimately determines the quality of our reality—not to mention, directs, stars in and produces our erotic adventures—keeping it fit seems an obvious imperative. Ricard may be addressing general happiness, but as Epstein points out, the spiritual and the sexual entwine in the pursuit of the same end. A robust erotic life nourishes our well-being, while well-being fuels and shapes our erotic vitality.
Pain and Desire: The Way of Wanting
Winding our way back to the path of desire, we stumble upon yet another paradox. Desire beckons us to pursue the orgasm: to dissolve our physical and emotional boundaries in a spiritual union with the perfect present. It coaxes us to embrace our selves and our lovers as one; two souls fused in an uncensored euphoria. But while tantalizing us with its promise of nirvana, desire plays the dominatrix, forcing us to accept pain with our pleasure.
Desire, as the Buddha implied with his famous lotus sermon, should be held lightly. When we release longing as a destination, an objectified craving, and open to its instruction, we discover that the love relentlessly summoning us is a love for ourselves. Surrendering to our own current of constant craving, we flow along an individualized trajectory of continual transformation, journeying deep into the heart of our own darkness, an inner space fertile with opportunity to emancipate our minds and bodies from the calcifying fears of our ego insecurities.
Playwright and activist Eve Ensler wrote the global theater phenomenon The Vagina Monologues after interviewing more than 200 women on the subject of their bodies. The production’s astounding success lead her to found V-Day, a worldwide movement to end violence against women and girls. In Ensler’s vision of the future we share the goal to become connected and healed through our vulnerability. She argues that striving for security makes us insecure. When we cling, with Taylor’s left hemisphere to what Ensler calls, hard matter identity, we close our minds to new ideas, new experiences, new people and ways of being. For Ensler, happiness exists in action, in sharing our truth and in giving away what we want most.
Love and erotic fulfillment? From Dr. Pam Spurr’s advice that we continue to experiment and explore our erotic needs, to the collective counsel of Epstein, Taylor and Ricard that we earnestly apply ourselves to the ongoing endeavor of training our brains—all paths point to Shangri-La. Lucky for us, the very term “training” implies imperfection and a need to practice. Even Napoleon Hill, in his famous study of success, noted a strong correlation between achievement and the highly sexed. Like anything worth wanting, wanting is worth working for.