Kathleen: Well, there seems to be a popular sentiment among a lot of people that the problem with contemporary sexuality is that, as they put it, we “forget our animal nature”. I've heard this argument from a lot of people and I find it ridiculous and an excuse for some very destructive and hurtful behavior but the attitude persists. Your comments about my attempts at writing erotica reminded me of the story about how Anais Nin came to write Delta of Venus and Little Birds. A patron offered to pay her per page to crank out titillating prose and he instructed her to “leave out the poetry” but she couldn't.
Toward the end of The Old Mermaid's Tale there is a scene between Clair, who is a senior in college and is struggling with her overwhelming desire for the man she loves and the need for both of them to move forward with their lives. She is talking to her advisor who has just returned from India and brought with her some small statues of apsaras, the beautiful little Hindu nymphs that represent “unrealized potential”. Clair's advisor tells her that the Hindus believe that not everything we imagine is meant to be and that the apsaras honor the erotic longings of the human heart. I found that deeply moving and highly instructive. I think we in the west have the attitude that we should be able to have everything we want but we don't always understand that sometimes those energies need to be channeled in other directions. For me personally, creativity, and especially writing is a form of divine communion – a form of sex, if you will. Maybe that's why I hate to see it profaned through careless sexuality that is all sensation with very little emotion.
I wrote a short story called My Last Romance in which a woman turning sixty suddenly encounters a reminder of a man she had an incredibly passionate affair with when she was young. The affair ended abruptly and she eventually went back to the man she was with before she met her wild, impetuous lover. Now, decades later, all those feelings come flooding back and she comes face-to-face with what really happened. I still find that story can make me weepy because I think a lot of us spend much of our lives longing for something that would have been a disaster if we had actually acquired it.
Skye: I’m intrigued by the concept of apsaras––which I’d never heard of before you discussed it––and the idea that they “honor the erotic longings of the human heart.” Sex magic would say that we can have anything we want, but we must be able to envision what we want, open ourselves to it without reservation, believe we’re worthy of it, and direct our creative (sexual) energy toward attracting our desires. That’s a fairly simplistic explanation, and admittedly it’s easier said than done. But to honor our longings…to me seems to show compassion toward ourselves (and others) when we fall short of accomplishing what we aim for––and that in itself might be an act of forgiveness, which as I understand it, has the power to bring peace, healing, and balance to the world.
But back to the idea of spirit as an essential component of sex, I want to relate an experience I had a few weeks ago. I spent a day with two people (one man, one woman) who by their own admission had each had sex with more than 1,000 partners. But by age 50, they were so bored and disillusioned that they’d basically given up on sex altogether. I felt incredibly sad for both of them. They’d spent decades searching for meaning and connection––the transcendent experience we’ve been talking about that exists in sacred sex––but erroneously sought it in new lovers, new sex toys, new kinks. Interestingly, both had been brought up in strict religious environments they’d rejected––he as a Catholic, she as a Mormon––and refused to see the connection between sex and spirit.
In my way of thinking, the so-called “sexual revolution” that began when you and I were young women was well-intended, but it destroyed the mystery. It took the bubbles out of the champagne. Giving yourself permission to have sex with anyone who piques your interest at the moment may be “liberated” but it’s not likely to lead to a genuine, fulfilling, meaningful, loving, and truly erotic experience. Passion, joy, and magic are inherent in sex––why else has sex fascinated us for millennia? Even our most enduring symbols, including the cross and the Star of David, depict the union of masculine and feminine forces (a topic too lengthy and involved to discuss here, but perhaps in the future).
You mentioned the idea that contemporary people “forget our animal nature” when it comes to sex. We’ve all seen those National Geographic animal programs on TV that show animals copulating, and frankly it’s pretty perfunctory––I doubt most of us would choose the wham-bam type of sex lions engage in. “Animal nature” may include sacred dimensions, if you accept that all life is sacred. But I can’t help recalling the line from one of my favorite movies, The African Queen, when Katherine Hepburn says “Nature is what we were put on earth to rise above.”
I believe that viewing sex as a sacred experience allows you to see yourself and your partner(s) as embodiments of the Divine. In so doing, you perceive the glorious truth of yourself. You aren’t separate, you’re one––with your partner and with All That Is.
Kathleen: Yes, I definitely see “honoring our longings” as an act of forgiveness and also an act of compassion for self. Especially as I'm getting older I'm seeing that there are things I always thought I wanted that I now know are just not going to happen – for me it has become about priorities. There aren't enough hours in the day, or days in the year, for some of the things I once longed for but I still want to honor the part of myself that once loved longing for those things.
I totally agree with you about how our sexual liberation contributed to destroying the mystery, mostly because people didn't understand the connection between body and spirit. I vividly remember guys who took advantage of that by telling young women they were attempting to seduce that they were “up-tight” or “hung-up” if they didn't want to have sex. I think a lot of people of both sexes went along with swinging and multiple partners because they didn't know how to say “no.” We lost so much of our spirit by letting ourselves be bullied into sexual acts we thought we were supposed to want but didn't really. It's still going on for a lot of young people who have been seduced by the “hooking up” mentality. I'm still hoping that people will start honoring their spirit and reclaim their sexuality. When I was creating the priest Father Black for Each Angel Burns I read a lot of writing by some of the great Catholic mystics and I became quite enthralled by their concept of “erotic celibacy.” Much as we all know how wonderful sex can be, there is a lot to be said for reclaiming your sexuality, and channeling that energy into creativity and communion with the Divine. Personally, I cannot ever imagine being in a sexual relationship with someone who was only interested in the sensation of sex but who ignored the spirit. If that means being celibate, I'm fine with that.
By the way, Skye, yesterday I bought your book Angels Among Us. It's a beautiful book and I enjoyed what I read last night. I understand you have a book on mermaids coming soon. We should have another conversation about the angels and mermaids since we have both written about them.
Skye: Thanks for buying my book, Kathleen. Yes, I’m quite pleased with the production quality. I’m glad you liked it, too. Did you notice that I included an inspiring story of yours and an amazing photo in it? I felt so touched by that and by the stories and angel photos other people contributed to the book.
I love your priest Peter Black in Each Angel Burns. I especially like the way you cast him as a handsome stud, before he took his vows. People often think of priests as either nerds, mama’s boys, or pedophiles. Father Black’s pre-priest experience gives him greater depth and takes him out of the realm of stereotype. Ecstasy and eroticism can certainly be experienced in sex (and hopefully will be), but that’s not the only venue, as you discovered while reading the writings of mystics. And, as you and I have both lamented, ecstasy and eroticism are too often absent from our sexual experiences.
Margo Anand, in her book The Art of Sexual Ecstasy, writes, “When the sacredness of sexual union is felt, it is possible to experience your connection to the life force itself, the source of creation. This connection lifts your consciousness beyond the physical plane into a field of power and energy much greater than your own.” As a sex magician, I’d say that from this place of power anything and everything is possible.
That’s not to devalue the sensory pleasure of sex––quite the opposite. As we’ve been discussing, physical delights are heightened by the infusion of spirit. When I was doing research for Sex Magic for Beginners, I was intrigued by the writings of an eighteenth-century Hasidic master named Reb Hayim Haikel. He proposed a different way of viewing sex and spirit, and suggested, “Creation was for the purpose of lovemaking. As long as there was only one-ness, there was no delight.” In other words, we emerged out of the realm of spirit into our physical bodies precisely so we could enjoy sex. An interesting thought …
Kathleen, this has been a most enjoyable and inspiring conversation––thanks so much for proposing it. I hope other people who read this will share their thoughts about the ideas we’ve posed. And we will definitely have a conversation about angels in the near future––and one about mermaids after my new mermaid book comes out in the spring (don’t know the final title or pub date yet). If other writers are interested in participating in these conversations, perhaps we can make this an ongoing forum.
Kathleen: Your Haikel quote reminded me of the Rumi quote I used at the beginning of Each Angel Burns, “At night we fall into each other with such grace. When it’s light, you throw me back like you do your hair. Your eyes now drunk with God, mine with looking at you, one drunkard takes care of another.” I think that about sums it up – finding God or Spirit or Universal Oneness by taking care of one another. This has been great, Skye. I look forward to our next discussion and I, too, would like to invite other writers to join us.
Skye Alexander is the author of more than two dozen fiction and nonfiction books, which have been translated into ten languages, and is best known for her work in the body-mind-spirit field. Her web site is SkyeAlexander.com. Kathleen Valentine is the author of three novels, many novelettes and short stories, as well as books on knitting lace and a cookbook/memoir of growing up Pennsylvania Dutch. Her web site is KathleenValentine.com.