August 21, 2017

Making Room for Food & Sex on the Spiritual Path.

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Food and sex mean the same thing to me.

Both are sources of deep pleasure that I am fortunate enough to be able to enjoy on a regular basis. I greatly appreciate both in equal measure. I am wasteful of neither.

I fully embrace both food and sex in the present when I come in contact with them. Although I receive much pleasure from them—those moments of joy that pull us into the present moment—I also maintain awareness that each time I eat lovingly prepared, fresh meals, and that each time I have an enthralling sexual encounter, it may be the last time.

They are, after all, transitory in nature, as are all stimuli of pleasure. Each time I experience the sensations from different foods on my tongue, I observe them intently. I pay careful attention to the experience in the body as the food nourishes me.

Each time I kiss my sexual partner, I do it intensely. Each touch on the naked body is made and felt with concentration and firmness, as though it is the last time—as it most certainly could be, and as life constantly teaches us, and as we, despite the evidence, so relentlessly choose to ignore.

Thus, I am confident in my assertion that I am both a great cook and a great lover. Or far beyond average, anyway.

And I am a yoga teacher.

With the exception of Tantric and Taoist practices, there are few spiritual traditions that incorporate the “pleasures of the flesh” into the practices of liberating oneself from the unsatisfactoriness (dukkha in Sanskrit) generated from the mind’s struggle to grapple with its transient identity.

Please do not misunderstand me. I actively promote the sattvic diet—an ethical and conscious diet—in my teaching. I also actively promote love in sex, even if the sexual encounter is with someone little-known, and if it is intended to be casual.

What I fail to accept—on all accounts—is the notion that these two popular culprits of carnal and worldly pleasures do not have a place in the spiritual life.

Indeed, I would argue the exact opposite.

There seem to be two lines of reasoning when it comes to food, sex, and the spiritual path of a yogi.

The first—the “good cop,” let’s say—maintains that while one proceeds on their spiritual journey, they are unlikely to persist in possessing a strong desire, or craving (trishna in Sanskrit), for those carnal pleasures that we discover we truly do not need—i.e., food and sex. This is because, as the path reveals to us through our practice, we are already complete.

It is true that, in general, cravings and addictions subside as one continues with their living yogic practice. Desire, however, does not—nor could it.

One must have desire and a spirit of inquiry buzzing through their bodies to even begin their pursuit of a spiritual path. Otherwise, a sustained yogic practice wouldn’t be possible at all. However, my concern regarding this reasoning lies in the fact that there is a way to find the balance between desire and presence for these two “carnal” pleasures, yet the idea is that the more advanced one is on their path, the more evolved past them they are.

Perhaps those who follow this line of reasoning simply don’t know another option? I mean perhaps they don’t know, through practice and experience, an alternative to letting the carnal pleasures drop off slowly with progression of a sustained yogic practice?

Perhaps they are unaware of the alternative of loving what is in the present moment while remaining unattached to it.

The second line of reasoning— the “bad cop,” let’s say—is altogether more aggressive and contrary to the idea of cultivating a balanced and equanimous mind. It involves the rejection and aversion (dvesha in Sanskrit) to the carnal pleasures of food and sex. Notions of chastity and austerity are clear indicators of a rejection, and that is likely to induce guilt when one has a desire or craving for either food or sex, and perhaps induce more guilt if one acts upon it. So there is no food, no sex, you must dress modestly, and the men and women must be separated (something I’ve always found rather interesting, as despite the evidence, homosexuality seems not to be considered—same sexes are seldom separated).

So I call all yogis to entertain the idea of an alternative means of addressing these two features of daily life without demeaning their value and beauty, and without shaming and enforcing eradication of them for the higher spiritual path.

I have the alternative and practice it daily:

I love both food and sex intensely.

I can live without both food and sex (in a metaphorical sense, at least—I’d still need some food).

If I find that the desire drops off more and more as I continue my yogic life, then so be it, I am not attached to either. Rather, I simply revel in their beauty and nature as I do of most things in constant flux.

When I notice my mind is slightly off-balance from time to time—perhaps because I have indulged too much or appreciated too little—I take the adult and autonomous step and check in with myself to address where this lack of equanimity comes from and how I can address it, internally. This is done without imposing the limiting mental defilements of shame or guilt or fear, but through the silent inner work of contemplation, reflection, and introspection. As a yogi does.

At no point in my life do I plan to eventually liberate myself from the deep pleasures that I am so grateful to receive.

From neither food nor sex do I require liberation.

This is not despite being a yogi, but precisely because I am a yogi.


Author: Gabriella Buttarazzi 
Image: Max Berman
Editor: Emily Bartran
Copy Editor: Nicole Cameron

Social Editor: Leah Sugerman

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