A couple of years ago, I presented a paper on mindfulness in China, touring some of that country's major cities. I was reminded of being a young girl growing up in New Jersey, digging a hole in my backyard with a kitchen spoon all the way through the earth to China. That was how I imagined getting there. Though traveling on an airplane instead of by spoon, I finally did find my way there.
Interestingly, among the local people I met and spoke with, what was most discussed -- without me asking -- was the same theme I hear repeated in this country, a bemoaned lack of sex education available to young couples, who say they want to start their lives together in a more fully engaged way, built upon a strong, sustaining relationship throughout their lives. But in China, as in most countries around the world, what is reportedly missing from people's education and life skills training are the very tools that would be most helpful in figuring out how to live a more successful, meaningful and happy life.
While silence on the subject of sex was born of an earlier Victorian era, in our contemporary, post Madonna culture, sexuality is nothing to keep mum about. It should be discussed openly, and forthrightly, and not hidden away as a taboo topic. How can we hope to live contented lives if we neglect our own sensuality and sexual energy? This vital life force fuels existence, for without it, the human species would not survive. It is worth an investment of time, interest, and self-understanding to unlock the personal treasures that authentic expression, sexual and otherwise, can reveal.
Sexuality is important, after all, because it is the song of the relationship, its melody. The way we touch one another underwrites the tune and the cadence of every moment that a couple spends together, and apart. Sensuality, on the other hand, is the language of love. It defines the undertones of communication between two people, the special connection that makes our heart skip a beat at the sight of the other. Sensuality provides instant and continuous feedback of our own desirableness, our own power to allure.
Seeing our reflection in the face of our lover, reminds us, with great relief, of our own primordial splendor -- through a natural tendency to self-denigrate, our own glory is often clouded over and hard to see. But experiencing such a positive, almost thirsty reflection leaves us feeling wanted, a sense of belonging, and safety in the arms of someone who is saying, "I want to protect you. You can rest now. I am here." This is what human beings long for: someone to hold us -- for a while -- so we can release control, forgo our survival needs, lay down our defenses and, for a moment at least, let go of our stranglehold on every last detail of some all-important, self-identified "have to." Sharing in this way provides a profound opportunity to be mindfully present with another.
Dr. Christine Northrup, known for her landmark work on women's health issues, encourages everyone, especially women, to embrace their sexuality. On her website, Dr. Northrup has emphasized that: "Sexuality is an organic, normal, physical, and emotional function of human life. And women are capable of sexual function and pleasure throughout their entire lives. It's realistic and entirely possible to create the sex life of your dreams," she says, "one that includes nurturing, intimacy, love, passion, and a spiritual connection... "
That sounds good. So, what stops us from reaching such lofty aspirations?
In order to know what to overcome, it is helpful to look at what stands in our way. In discussing sexuality, the primary obstacle is shame. In our experience, in some way self-consciousness and shame have become associated with feeling like a sexual being. We learned to experience shame at the very root of our sensuality. So the first step in healing this kind of wound is to confront the shame, and choose, instead, to live a mindful and fully authentic life. Courage and fearlessness help define the energy necessary to choose such authenticity. Sooner or later everything that is repeated enough times can become a habit, and that is certainly true of authenticity, too. Personal truth, or living in a more "disclosed" way, allows for a freedom of spirit that is not only very easily habit-forming, but contagious as well. Everyone wants to feel free. The following steps can help to kick-start one's sexual identity:
● Commit yourself to living more honestly and freely
● Generate courage and fearlessness by quieting unproductive mental chatter through meditation, prayer, or contemplation
● Practice being in the here-and-now of the present moment
● Remember that life is precious, and smile
● Give yourself permission to be happy
● If you feel uncomfortable with your sexuality, seek support from a psychotherapist
Being mindfully in touch with your sexuality is nothing more than giving yourself permission to have fun in the moment: to lighten up and stop taking everything so seriously -- to be in the present and connect, and to be honestly who you are. No matter on what continent you find yourself, whether in New Jersey, Beijing, Lagos or London, wanting to be happy seems to be an international obsession. Thus wanting to find love and stay in love is another coveted life-goal, made possible only if both people are willing to develop "sensual selves" who are embraced and cultivated and brought lovingly to the fore. It takes guts to awaken our unique sexuality. It takes fortitude to continue to develop as sensual beings. But think how much we'd be missing without it.
A version of this blog was originally published in Ambassador Magazine.