This Integral Post from Robert Augustus Masters is an excerpt from his recently updated and re-issued book, Transformation through Intimacy, Revised Edition: The Journey toward Awakened Monogamy. It is one of the three most important relationship books I have read (the other two being David Schnarch's Passionate Marriage: Keeping Love and Intimacy Alive in Committed Relationships and John Welwood's Perfect Love, Imperfect Relationships: Healing the Wound of the Heart).
The message of enlightened monogamy and relationship as a spiritual path is one too often missing in the integral world, especially when it's "leaders" espouse their "right" as "second tier" and "post-conventional" to have sex with anyone and any number of people they deem suitable - and we should not dare to question their obviously egocentric sex drives (addictions?) because they are so much "more enlightened" than the rest of us. After all, they are the "leaders" in the integral community. [Please note that the quotation marks are meant to impart cynicism.]
Masters' work calls bullshit on all of that, which is why his entry into the integral world (which coincidentally coincided with Gafni's leaving) is such an important step forward.
July 2nd, 2012
Sex is arguably still in the closet.
Yes, it’s wearing a lot less and showing a lot more than was the case forty or fifty years ago, but it’s still not truly out in the open, except in mostly superficial ways. Its ubiquitous exposure, highlighting, and pornification simply camouflage it. However brazenly explicit sex now is, it nonetheless remains largely hidden, its depths mostly untouched, its heartland still largely unknown, obscured by the tasks to which we commonly assign it, especially that of making us feel better.
Just as getting openly and passionately angry does not necessarily bring us any closer to truly knowing our anger, being frequently expressive of and/or pervaded by things sexual does not necessarily bring us any closer to truly knowing—or being intimate with—our sexuality.
How-to books and courses on sex abound, pointing out various ways to get turned on or more turned on in a relationship, with little or no attention given to actually exploring the very turned-off-ness that seemingly necessitates finding out how to get turned on. Judging from the sheer volume of such books and courses, plus an immense amount of personal testimony from all quarters (for example, the great number of American women who admit that they don’t enjoy sex with their husband), it appears that there’s an abundance of sexual dysfunction and dissatisfaction within relationships.
There is plenty of focus on this, accompanied by all kinds of remedies, but not nearly so much focus on how dysfunction and dissatisfaction in the nonsexual areas of relationship might be affecting one’s sexuality.
We are usually quite reluctant to cast (or even to permit the casting of) a clear light on what is actually happening during our sexual times with our partner—other than biologically—but without this, we are simply left in the dark, pinning too much on what we hope sex will do for us.
And there is so much that we expect sex to do for us! More often than we might like to admit, we assign it to stress release, security enhancement, spousal pacification, egoic gratification, pleasure production, and other such tasks. We may use it as a super sleeping pill, a rapid-action pick-me-up, an agent of consolation, a haven or hideout, a control tactic, a proof that we’re not that old or cold. We may also employ it as a psychological garbage disposal, a handy somatic terminal for discharging the energies of various unwanted states, like loneliness or rage or desperation. Mostly, though, we just tend to want sex to make us feel better, and we use it accordingly, whether in mundane, dark, or spiritual contexts.
Not only do we hear more and more about “sexual addiction,” our culture itself is so ubiquitously sexualized that it could be described as sex-addicted. But sexual addiction is not primarily about sex but about that for which sex is a “solution.” It is so easy to think that our sexual charge with a particular person or situation is no more than an expression of our natural sexuality, when in fact it may actually be an eroticizing of our conditioning or of some need we have. (For example, arousal in a certain pornographic fantasy may be secondarily sexual, its primary impetus being rooted in one’s longing to be unconditionally seen, loved, and wanted.)
There won’t, however, be any real freedom here until we release sex (and everything else!) from the obligation to make us feel better. So long as we keep assigning sex to such labor—slave labor—we will remain trapped in the very circumstances for which sexual release is an apparent “solution.” Increased stress means an increased desire to get rid of stress, and if we attempt to do so through sexual means (which does not really get rid of stress, except in the most superficial sense), we simply reinforce the roots of that stress. In addicting or over-attaching ourselves to erotically pleasing release, we also frequently addict ourselves to the very tension that seemingly necessitates and sometimes even legitimizes such release.
The abuse of sex, particularly through the expectations with which we commonly burden it, is so culturally pervasive and deeply ingrained as to go largely unnoticed, except in its more lurid, obviously dysfunctional, or perverse extremes. Even more removed from any telling awareness is our aversion to truly exploring and illuminating the whole matter of human sexuality, not clinically nor in any other kind of isolation, but rather in the context of our entire being, our totality, our inherent wholeness.
That is, sex does not need to be—and in fact cannot be—crystallized out and set apart from the rest of our experience (as those overly focused on the mechanics of sexuality often try to do). Rather, it needs to be seen, felt, known, and lived in open-eyed resonance—and relationship—with everything that we do and are, so that it is, as much as possible, not just an act of specialized function nor an act bound to the chore of making us feel better or more secure, but rather an unfettered, full-blooded expression of already present, already loving, already unstressed wholeness.
To embody such wholeness requires a thorough investigation of the labor to which we have assigned—or sentenced—our sexuality.
That labor and its underpinnings are eloquently revealed through the stark slang of sex. Many of the words and phrases regarding our sexual functioning bluntly illustrate the frequently confused, disrespectful, and exploitive attitude commonly brought to one’s own sexuality and sexuality in general. Consider, for example, the notorious and enormously popular “f” word, for which there is an incredible number of non-copulatory meanings, a fucking incredible number, all pointedly and colorfully describing what we may actually be up to when we are busy being sexual or erotically engaged.
Here’s a partial list, the majority of which overlap in meaning: ignorance (“Fucked if I know”); indifference (“I don’t give a fuck”); degradation (“You stupid fuck”); aggression (“Don’t fuck with me!”); disappointment (“This is really fucked”); rejection (“Get the fuck out of here!” or “Fuck off!”); manipulation (“You’re fucking with my head”); disgust (“Go fuck yourself”); vexation (“What the fuck are you doing?”); exaggeration (“It was so fucking good!”); rage (“Fuck you!”); and, perhaps most pithily revealing of all, exploitation (“I got fucked”).
Throw together the various meanings of “fuck,” plus the “higher” or more socially acceptable terms for sexual intercourse—including the vague “having a relationship” and the unwittingly precise “sleeping together”—and mix in some insight, and what emerges is a collage composed of (1) the dysfunctional labor to which we have sentenced our sexual capacity; and (2) the expectations (like “Make me feel wanted” or “Make me feel better”) with which we have saddled and burdened it.
When we primarily assign our sexuality to stress release, security reinforcement, egoic reassurance, the fueling of romantic delusion, and other such chores—thereby burdening it with the obligation to make us feel better—we are doing little more than screwing ourselves, dissipating much of the very energy that we need for facing and healing our woundedness, the woundedness that, ironically, we seek escape or relief from through the pleasuring and various sedating options provided by our sexuality.
This is not to say that we should never use our sexuality for purposes such as stress release, for there are times when doing so may be entirely appropriate, but such usage needs to be more the exception than the rule.
We are living in a pervasively sexualized culture—“sexy” as an adjective has infiltrated just about every dimension of life. There’s much more openness regarding sex than there was fifty or sixty years ago, but much of that openness has more to do with breadth than depth. We have more permission to experiment with sex and to talk graphically about it, but we nevertheless don’t talk about it in real depth very often—exploring, for example, the nonsexual or presexual dynamics that may be in play during sex—for to do so would put us in a position of real vulnerability and transparency, not so able to hang on to a semblance of “having it together.” Seeing what we are actually doing in nonsexual contexts while we’re busy being sexual may not be very high on our list of priorities!
And this is the era of informed consent, centered by the myth—yes, myth—of consenting adults. In sexual circumstances, many of us may not be clearly considering what is really going on and what is at stake, instead making choices from a desire (largely rooted in childhood) to get approval, affection, connection, love, or security, or to be distracted from our suffering. At such times, we are operating not so much as consenting adults as adult-erated children (and/or adolescents) whose “consent”—however “informed”—is largely an eroticized expression of unresolved woundedness or unmet nonsexual needs.
The deepest sex, sex requiring no fantasies (inner or outer) or turn-on strategies or rituals of arousal, but rather only the love, openness, and safety of awakened intimacy, cannot be significantly accessed without a corresponding depth in the rest of our relationship with our partner. Without such mutual maturity, it doesn’t matter how hot or juicy or innovative our sexual life may be, even if we have many orgasms, big orgasms, together.
In fact, when we make coming together a goal, we simply come apart, separating and losing ourselves in our quest for maximally pleasurable sensations. “Sensational” sex is precisely that: sex that is centered and defined by an abundance of erotically engorged sensations. The romanticized presence of these sensations is often misrepresented as actual intimacy, at least until the rude pricks of reality do their vastly underappreciated job.
Most couples we see are not really all that happy with their sex life. Some of them have gone flat sexually, having had little or no sex for a long time. (Not surprisingly, the rest of their relationship is also usually flat, emotionally depressed, low in passion, unnaturally peaceful.) Other couples are more openly frustrated, wanting more than they are getting (such a quantitative focus being mostly a male complaint), or wanting more connection before sex (such a qualitative focus being mostly a female complaint). And others initially act as if they are doing fine sexually, being reluctant to reveal their discomfort with the direction that their sex life may be taking (like tolerating a partner who prefers porn to them). And so on.
The good news is that such dissatisfaction, if allowed to surface in its fullness, will often goad a couple into doing work that they would otherwise avoid or postpone.
As a couple explores their sexuality, and explores it deeply, they will discover that what’s not working in their relationship usually shows up in their sexuality, often in exaggerated form. And conversely, as they ripen into more mature ways of relating, they will find that this revitalizes and deepens their sexuality. No sex manuals or tantric rituals are needed, nor any fantasies or other turn-on tactics—their increased intimacy and trust in each other are more than sufficient, creating an atmosphere within which love-centered, awareness-infused sexual desire can naturally arise and flow, carrying the lovers along into the sweet dynamite and ever-fresh wonder and ecstasy of what sex can be when it has deep intimacy’s green light.
DON'T MISS: Monogamy as a Path to AwakeningRobert Augustus Masters, Diane Bardwell Masters, and Ken Wilber
In this extraordinary discussion, Robert and Diane talk to Ken about the next evolution of intimate relationships: monogamy as a spiritual path, a crucible for awakening, and a vessel for enlightenment in the 21st century.
About TRANSFORMATION THROUGH INTIMACY: THE JOURNEY TOWARD MATURE MONOGAMYIntimate relationship has long been viewed and lived as a lesser alternative to spiritual life. More recently, the need to integrate our spiritual and intimate lives, rather than maintaining separate spheres and relationships on autopilot, has become increasingly apparent. Given the high rates of infidelity and divorce, it would seem that the possibilities of freedom through intimacy have not been explored in much depth. Too often we pull away when relationships become difficult, missing out on the rewards of connecting more profoundly.
The passage from immature to mature monogamy is not only a journey of ripening intimacy with a partner, but also a journey into and through zones of ourselves that may be very difficult to accept and integrate with the rest of our being. Transformation through Intimacy explores intimate relationships through a four-stage lens: me-centered, we-centered codependent, we-centered coindependent, and being-centered. Bringing his many years of experience as a psychotherapist and spiritual practitioner to the subject, Masters shows readers not only how to navigate the thickets of reactivity, conflict, shame, anger, fear, and doubt, but how to understand them in a new light so that a deeper level of relating to oneself and one's partner becomes possible, opening new levels of trust, commitment, and love.
"This is an important and tremendously useful book, packed with wisdom and insight. Highly recommended!" –Ken Wilber, author of Integral Spirituality