passion's red thread is infinite
like the earth always under me
-- Zen master Ikkyu
tr. Stephen Berg
When I was young, I dreamed of meeting a woman in a small secluded room that was cut off from the rest of the world and where my acts had no consequences. I didn't necessarily know the woman who entered that room with me. Our lives didn't touch. She had a certain look--auburn hair, perhaps, that just touched her shoulders, and deep brown eyes, small firm breasts with perfect pink nipples--and she performed particular acts that I had always dreamed of, sliding down my torso to take me in her mouth as she eyed me coyly, slinging her legs over my shoulders as I entered her. She loved whatever I wanted, and was deeply satisfied by what we did, satisfied as she had never been. She thought I was the greatest lover in the world.
As the years passed, I began to suspect that this room didn't exist. There is no such thing as an act without consequences, and the room where a woman makes love--at least the women I know--is at the heart of the vast mansion that is her life--and where all the rooms connect.
Yet men are persistent, and their dreams are precious. I continued to build that room. Sex was an act there, an act that took place. It was primarily, though not solely, genital: If the genitals weren't involved, it didn't happen, so that at some level, one that wasn't often mentioned, everything in the room existed to give me an erection, and if the erection didn't happen, the party was over. Sex in that room was a drama, a performance, and could be measured against past performances, or imagined future ones. The erection should be this hard; it should last this long; the act itself should last this long; the orgasm should be this strong.
As I got older, those things began to change. This is not a subject that often gets raised down at the pool hall, but one hears whispers in sex manuals and magazine articles about lost erections (I'm sure it's around here somewhere), diminished erections, longer periods between erections, orgasms that diminish in force. The already small room began to shrink. It took on the appearance of a mausoleum. It could sometimes be revitalized by a new partner, but then that partner had to be replaced, and that partner.
In psychological terms, this is the room of the ego. Buddhists call it the place of monkey mind. Its walls, apparently constructed of reinforced concrete, are actually made of tissue paper. A man can step through them any time. If he just looks at them hard enough they disappear. When they do, he finds himself in a vast empty space. It is frightening, but also liberating. A younger man is not likely to have the courage to open to that space. But an older man, who finds his already small room shrinking even more, just might.
The best way to step into that space, I found, was the way women had been urging me all along, through my emotions. The realm of feeling was a vast and varied landscape that I had barely explored. When I was young, my libido, my dream of the small room, my strictly sexual energy, were strong enough to overcome any emotion; I used sex to avoid emotion, or repress emotion (though now and then I was so angry or sad that I couldn't do it, and was crushed), but as I got older my moods interfered more and more with my erections. That could seem a sad thing--my body was failing me--but it was also an opportunity to explore a rich world that I had been neglecting. My energy was tied up in my emotions, and my energy was my sexuality. I needed to focus on my emotions to contact it. That didn't mean I had to have some tender feeling in order to make love, but that I had to know what I was feeling, and act out of that. The diminishment of sexual feeling was not a shrinking room. It was an invitation to step out of that room into a much larger place, the vast empty spaces of the heart.
In these vast spaces, sex is not an act that takes place. It is a power, a force, that is with us all the time. It is not strictly genital, but involves the whole body, mind and heart and spirit. It does not have much to do with how a woman looks, and does not involve specific (what I used to think of as sexual) acts. It involves a much more subtle connection, which does seem to be physical, but beneath the level of words. It might involve physical contact, and a certain mingling of energies, but is not necessarily harmonious. Male and female energies often meet with a loud crack. It might emerge during deep conversations, even arguments, when the couple is passionately involved in what they are saying. It is present when they take a walk together, or watch the clouds in the winter sky, or listen to music, or have a drink in the evening.
It also--lest it sound too tame--takes the form of hard hugs and playful ones, long embraces where bare bodies luxuriate in touch, the caresses of fingertips on skin, of palms that press harder and hands that knead the flesh; it involves mild affectionate kisses and wet fierce ones, and can proceed from there into a whole host of delightful and inventive maneuvers, including the well-known act of sexual intercourse. It can be tender or violent, with assorted scratches, slaps, and bites. It often, in contrast to a well-known saying, involves uproarious laughter. It might lead to orgasm on the part of one or both partners, or might not. It might be accomplished in a matter of moments or go on for hours. Most profoundly, it is an act of opening up to one another. It is a sharing of energies. It doesn't ask you to be a certain way. It shows you how you are.
It is through sitting on a cushion for hours at a time that I have come to see that all wishes are alike. The wish to make love to the woman of your dreams is the same as the wish to get off this cushion and go have some fun is the same as the wish to write a great novel and become rich and famous is the same as the wish to scratch your nose. Any of those wishes can become a deep painful yearning. Sometimes you think that if you can't scratch your nose, you'll die. Yet if you satisfy one of those wishes (go ahead, scratch your nose), another appears in its place (your ear itches).
As you sit on the cushion and stare at your Yearning, you have put yourself in a position where there is nothing you can do to satisfy it. You realize that, in a deeper sense, there never is. You begin to experience the Yearning itself. You feel its energy, the very energy that powers the universe. You feel it as pleasurable. Energy is--as William Blake said in a great statement--eternal delight.
Once you have learned to enjoy it for itself, you can share it with someone--that's what sex really is, sharing that energy--but you won't have to. You won't need that person. Most of us have only touched that energy in sexual connection, so we think that's the only place it's available, but it isn't. It is endlessly available, wherever you are. You don't have to seek it out. You don't need another person. You have everything you need. You have everything you ever wanted.