Michael Picucci, PhD, MAC
The article below contains extractions from The Journey Toward Complete Recovery: Reclaiming Your Emotional, Spiritual & Sexual Wholeness. It has appeared in more condensed and more expanded versions in various spiritual, recovery and personal growth publications and websites.
Most people in the "recovery" or "therapy" process yearn for sexual healing. By this I mean the shame-free revisiting of complex sexual histories, limitations and perceptions combined with new awareness, understanding, and compassion. In the process of this rejuvenation, we learn how to merge our spiritual and sexual energies.
The "sexual-spiritual split" is a culturally induced, deep psychic schism that haunts relationships and precludes emotional fulfillment. Resolving this powerful inner conflict is necessary for true body, mind and spirit connectedness. Here are six guidelines that can be used to foster feelings of greater aliveness, sensual pleasure and contentment.
1. Body Awareness:
Some of us have depleted energy levels and a diminished sense of aliveness in their pelvic area and a fullness of energy in the heart region. Others feel their heart energy constricted while an having intense pelvic charge. This is particularly evident in early intimacy and bonding. Because of the fragmented energy disbursement in the body, sexual motivation usually has more to do with feelings like neediness, escape, and proving one's self-worth, than with pure pleasure and the normal desire for interconnectedness. For many people in recovery, pleasure can be realized only in highly charged scenarios - or is avoided because of associations with dangerous and/or self-destructive behaviors. Some of us are fearfully frozen; others become frustrated at a perceived inability to negotiate these complexities. Many repeat unfulfilling patterns again and again. Conscious, deep breathing exercises focused on the groin can help energy and awaken sexual aliveness. Begin by breathing all the way down to the perineum, that lowermost part of the crotch between the vagina or the scrotum and the rectum. This exercise can be done while brushing your teeth, riding in a car, or for a few minutes before or after sleeping. Deeper breathing of this sort can help lead to spiritual-genital integration.
Pelvic breathing can be combined with the "rotation exercise." Stand up straight, put your feet shoulder-length apart, relax your knees, and rotate your hips in a circular motion, stretching out in all directions as far as is comfortable. Imagine that you are standing in the center of a mostly empty peanut butter jar and you want to use your hip and pelvis, in a circular motion, to clean the peanut butter off the sides of the jar. Keep rotating, first in one direction, then the other. Lower and raise yourself to completely clean the inside of that jar. Just go with the flow for a few moments. Subtly at first you will begin feeling a renewed aliveness in this region that is sensual, sexual, and centering-all at the same time. These exercises are also excellent "warm-ups" for more pleasurable sexual experiences, alone or shared with a partner.
2. Sexual History:
With "safe" people, begin a process of uncovering and sharing sexual secrets from your past. It is important to do this with those who are sensitive, understanding and compassionate listeners. These "secrets" are rightfully too sensitive to be exposed to individuals who will not afford them suitable respect. Along with these secrets there is a need to bring awareness to religious and other spiritually infused influences on your early sexual development. I suggest writing a narrative history, or outline beginning with your first remembered "exposure" to sex, sexual energy, or sexual material. Then, as best you can recall subsequent incidents. This exercise will help put your current sexual expression in an understandable and historic context. Sharing this history with a safe person in a shame-free setting can provide a grounding and framework for your present experience while simultaneously creating a platform for new possibilities.
3. Dialogue in relationship:
Encourage yourself to cultivate meaningful dialogue around sexual issues in dating situations and with significant partners. The deepest interpersonal healing takes place in relationship. Finding and cultivating a safe partner(s) is, of course, pivotal. One can do a great deal of healing with therapists and within the therapeutic community. However, that healing will be limited by the appropriate professional and cultural boundaries. It is fine to move slowly. But to ultimately heal the sexual-spiritual split, we must explore relating to another human being while attempting to bring both polarized aspects of the split to this relationship without shame.
4. Fusion Exercises:
Consciously combining meditative, spiritual, or contemplative experiences with your own sexuality can lead to a new and deeper connection with both pleasure and release, in which experiences often grow from being concentrated on the genitals to becoming a powerful, full-body, kinesthetic event. Suggesting a combination of sexual and spiritual experimentation often brings laughter and confusion. People always ask, "How are we supposed to do that?" They often break out in further embarrassed laughter when I suggest, "Try masturbating and praying at the same time!" Notice how foreign this suggestion sounds, emphasizing the reality of an internal dichotomy! Then, think about this in relation to merging your core sexuality with a spiritual, loving union or relationship with yourself or another. To help foster spirituality and sexuality, create rituals with candlelight, mirrors and incense for sessions of self-loving and self-pleasuring. Alone or with a companion, make a "special time and place" to exalt in your body and your sexuality as an ecstatic all-encompassing manifestation of your humanity. Use your intuition and creativity to create additional practices to merge sexual and spiritual energies.
5. Rediscover Adolescent Awkwardness:
Become willing to enter a period of discovery which I call "adolescent awkwardness." In dating or in a significant long-term relationship - a time comes when the healing of this internalized sexual-spiritual schism must be addressed for the relationship to grow. We must surrender preconceived concepts regarding sexuality and intimacy and join another person in authentic adolescent discovery. Many of us missed a healthy adolescence, and therefore cannot go further into intimacy without visiting this important building block. It is important to give yourself permission to feel adolescent and awkward with yourself and another. It is rich, fertile ground in which to plant seeds of new awareness.
6. Appreciate Resistance:
All of the above exercises will initially bring resistance to the fore. This is good: we want to bring resistance up out of the unconscious, where it has ominous rule, and expose it to a "process of resolution." By connecting with the resistance, and moving through it, we have the opportunity to discern and untangle the diverse feelings and incidents that have formed themselves into walls of shame. In this process, there is, in fact, great value in shame. As suggested by the author Max Scheler, in his book, Shame and Pride, "It is from in and under the shame that our shimmering magic emerges."
It is important to believe that when two human beings share love's energy combined with erotic energies, a transcendent experience occurs, one that is often profoundly healing and enriching. Reaching this goal is the result of a conscious give and take, a negotiation of the open-hearted experience of interconnectedness. Accepting that this is awkward, we need to learn to communicate our needs, desires and fantasies in order to help dissolve shame, insecurities, and aid in the acceptance of contradictions and complexities. Contrary to what some believe about sexuality, we need to learn that healthy loving expression includes the expression of our more shadowy desires as well as tenderness. The delicate opening up of our repressed sexual histories, variations, deviations, and fantasies is enriching as well as healing. True and spiritual lovemaking is a holistic experience, interweaving our higher and our shadow selves-how beautiful, and so very intimate to do so with open hearts.
To evaluate your progress in healing the sexual-spiritual split, I encourage you to simply ask yourself: What motives do I bring to sexuality? What do I want from the sexual aspect of my nature? You will know that the healing is progressing when the answers to these questions emphasize spiritual fulfillment, integrating aggression and passivity, power and surrender, femininity and masculinity, and the desire for personal and shared experiences of fulfillment, pleasure and higher consciousness.
Michael Picucci is a psychotherapist in New York. He is the author of The Journey Toward Complete Recovery: Reclaiming Your Emotional, Spiritual and Sexual Wholeness (North Atlantic Books 1998) and is cofounder of The Institute for Staged Recovery.
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