I saw her in the temple, the same space that would be intentionally reduced to ashes in just a few hours. She was as nude as the day she first drew breath. The people around us wore various attire, some quite revealing, some very plain, some festive. Perhaps more than a few folks had altered their states by taking substances. It approached one in the morning. The chill imposed, but not enough to interrupt this curly-haired beauty from meeting the space with her skin. Her girlfriend draped a shawl over her shoulder as she sat in the playa dust. I didn’t speak to her. The Temple of Grace invited silence amidst hundreds of pictures, many of people no longer living.
A few minutes passed and she stood, stretched out her arms, dressed, bowed with her hands together and disappeared. I wished for her all the joy of which she was capable. While I watched, a dear friend stood close to me, gazing into the eyes of his lover, a woman I was coming to know better. Her husband was somewhere outside, tentative about the affection his spouse showed my friend, her newest beloved. My mind drifted back to that young woman. It was not a strange thing for a man to notice such a beauty, but it was odd that she reminded me of myself. The sensual way in which she related to the space was familiar to me.
I recalled my days in a free loving ashram in Pune, India, where the people embraced silence, sex, art and work with a sense of discovery. Many differences and similarities existed between Burning Man and the Osho Commune. Both included the celebration of self discovery, meditation, and sensuality. Burning Man can boast more people, more art, more shooting fire but is not quite as focused on meditation. I, then, recalled my trips to hot springs, nude beaches, therapy gatherings, music encounter groups, various meditation temples and journeys to very beautiful places, such as Maui and its lovely volcano Haleakala. My contemplation of this sensual life arose while admiring the naked temple beauty. I reflected on the desire to meet life with the whole of my body and mind, with the senses as fully awake as possible. I also remember some of the people who did not fare well on this path.
There is a misunderstanding about sensuality, a deception guarded by a vigilant sentinel called prejudice. One of the worst mistakes on the sensual path is to think that feeling opposes our cognitive reasoning. In reality, sensuality needs the protection of the skeptical mind to reach its highest peak. I like the metaphor of a bird where emotion and intuition represent one wing, but, to fly, the bird must have a second wing called reason. When these wings are in harmony, they can fly in a vast sky called consciousness. If the wings can’t work together, then we either stay on the edge of the nest or plummet to the ground, an easy meal for a cunning cat.
All cognition, including reason, arises out of inner impulses. Without sensations, reason is not only blind, but undeveloped. Reason needs all those feelings and perceptions. If we understand that both feeling and reasoning involve sensation, than let’s remember that any ‘buzzing’ inside us occurs without a label. In other words, we experience an impulse and we name it yellow, sour, joy, fear, excitement, or whatever. Consider how two people on morphine can have very different experiences, my mother always hated the narcotic feeling and I know many who love it. Sometimes intense feelings arise from untruths, a la political discourse or the lie that seduces a lover. Whether you devote your life to experiencing deeper or more intense feelings or simply give sensuality an occasional weekend, let’s correct this dreadful mistake once and for all. Reasoning is an impulse, an extension of feeling.
Concepts can also induce feelings. The ability to interpret our world with varying degrees of truths and falsehoods is very important as a motivating force for any of our actions. The United States went to war thinking that Iraq was an eminent threat, inducing fear, this happened when facts suggested otherwise. The Ponzi schemer Bernie Madoff duped many people out of their money by using all kinds of symbols that suggested trustworthiness, including an opulent building, photos with famous people and a history of success that amounted to nothing more than multiplied deceptions. All of these impressions came to the people through their senses and the narrative touched their desires. The fact that it was ‘too good to be true’ escaped their notice. This mistake can occur in a life that seeks and welcomes sensuality, such a life has its dangers. We can lessen these risks with a return to reason.
Our distrust of reasoning faculties is understandable because of the fallibility of reason. But we also correct mistakes through criticism or trial and error and selecting the more truthful understanding. We might mistake deceitful pragmatism for reasoning. Thought in the service of power is often sophisticated, unreasonable and uninterested in truth. It begins with a desired conclusion constructs arguments that support that ending. If reporting the facts with integrity serves the purposes of the Machiavellian pragmatist, then truth is welcome; if not, then facts can be altered, hot can become cold and murder becomes peaceful. With and without good intentions, our desired ends can become more important than facts. Contrast this pragmatic deceit of self and others with the desire to have a better understanding of the truth and this desire is an impulse, a feeling, a passion!
Our reasoning need not be perfect to change our actions according to the environment when given real choices. To fulfill this function, we need facts, not distortions obedient to our preferences. Reason may be limited, but don’t accuse it of a crime it did not commit e.g. we may want to have unprotected sex, but reason protests. If we rationalize unsafe sex based on the chance of ‘what are the odds,’ then it looks like we are reasoning, but, really, we are being pragmatic in support of a desire. We emotionally relate to a fictional narrative in our mind and minimize or deny the facts. We rob ourselves of the protection that reason can offer because we want an outcome other than what reason suggests. When such a person contracts a disease or causes an unwanted pregnancy, regardless of the odds, they were 100% wrong. Such thinking is like pugnacious politicians who imagine victory and start a war that they will lose. We should notice that such tragedy is often preceded by emotional language, consider the language in the 21st century of Fox News during the build up to the Iraq war.
Passions and affections are like a hearth around which we can gather, but reason keeps us from burning the house down. Let us stoke the fire to a roar, as hot as we’d like it, but just don’t start it with gasoline. Let’s return to the wonderful, nude, embodied consciousness who began this piece. I want her sensual life to be a blessing, not a curse, and I want the same for myself and all of my human family.
Here’s a fun fact: any able-bodied woman can share her sexuality with any number of willing, consenting lovers. Now, my stating this fact does not make it true. It‘s true even if inferred by a 13-year-old girl discussing slut shaming and it’s just as true if no one said it. If sexuality can be rendered harmless, then there is no reason any person shouldn’t enjoy their bodies as often as they wish with as many or as few partners as their circumstances allow. Again, a careless spark can burn down a house, but many houses are warmed by hearths with roaring fires, enjoyed by any who wish to come near the the flames. Perhaps there is something to learn from the homes that do not burn down.
We have a wonderful chance to abandon beliefs not suited to the world. However, we can’t select the best of the choices if we are distorting the facts based on customs or our own bias, including counter-culture prejudices. This use of reason requires being more conscious and not simply referring our choices to habits or prejudices in service to our wishes. Let’s be aware that we live in a world that requires reason to respond to unforeseen change. Remember how humanity has advanced, new facts often show that our beliefs have a flaw or are entirely false. Our understanding and ability to respond also includes letting go of beliefs, including those we hold dearly, this also includes beliefs about ourselves and what we call our identity.
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Edit: 10/11/2014 Added ‘Passions and’