Self-Pleasuring and Spiritual Growth: a Spiritual Aspirant’s Perspective

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I was raised in Iran, an old, traditional, conservative country. But when I came to U.S., I was rather surprised to see that modern medical media and health field strongly support the practice of masturbation. In medicine and therapy, as far as I’ve seen, it is advised as a healthy practice, when kept in moderation.

I imagine our modern society’s friendliness towards self-pleasure stems from a number of factors, including:

One — We live in an era of complete individuality—the rule of the individual. We reserve the right to live our lives as we wish. Most of us no longer are willing to accept some religious dogma or commonplace belief system to dictate for us how we should behave and what’s good or bad, right or wrong for us. It is common for children to go in exact opposite ways as their parents. We feel that we’re free to try something, and if it suits us, if it contributes towards our happiness, we adopt it. Self-pleasure is pleasurable, and so many of us do it.

In our current culture, we even have a sentiment that self-pleasuring can be self-empowering: “Learn to love yourself.” I recently saw an article on Elephant Journal, the popular online magazine, with a title of “Masturbation as a Form of Activism”. The main theme, as I understood it, was that we can empower ourselves by becoming more in touch with ourselves, our bodies, our feeling and enjoyment nature, before we can go and serve humanity. The solution offered was to masturbate.

The liberal minds among us see it as a form of activism to go against age-old dogmas and shaming that went along with expressing sexuality, whenever they surface again somewhere. We look for opportunities to affirm that we’re past those dark days of Hawthorn’s “Scarlet Letter”, when it was common practice to shame anyone who would dare to engage in sexuality outside the establishment of marriage, or look at the subject matter in a different light than one sanctioned through religious authorities for millennia. But we don’t have to go back that far. Even today, the conservatives among us are hesitant to support abortion rights and such. The topic continues to be a “hot button”.

Two — Medical and psychology fields have brought new favorable light on the benefits of self-pleasuring. Modern psychology asserts that when the sexual energy doesn’t get expressed out, it brings about repression. I imagine many medical experts would consider a lack of sexual activity as an imbalance and unhealthy. Society as a whole is also friendly towards self-pleasuring, perhaps because it considers it good for its members to release their blocked hormones and keep the sex drive in control, to have a more balanced, calmed, and healthy society. Realizing that sex may not be available for many at any given time, and given the STD dangers of intercourse, self-pleasure is given a thumbs up.

I closely relate to all these sentiments. Thanks to the individuals who have been willing to open their minds and expand their views, we could say that our society is now largely out of those days of closed-up mindsets and policies about sexuality. Factual, scientific support from modern medicine and psychology have helped this cause tremendously.

Yet, as a soul on the spiritual journey to Self-realization, I would like to share some thoughts on these points. My goal isn’t to reject our status quo, or to belittle our progress, which is incredible looking even only a few decades back. Rather, I wish to offer inspiration and encouragement to raise awareness to our cause, purify our intentions, and set our sights to even higher vistas. My aim for us, individually and as a whole, is to recognize that, as we advance forward, our “game plan” needs to evolve also; to look beyond what we have thought possible so far, for us as human beings.

Individual Freedom, Empowerment, and Activism

We are right to feel strongly about resisting the backward views and policies, including on sexuality. Understanding and exercising the power of our individual freedom has been seminal in shaping our modern free society. I cherish the fact that I’m born in times when is OK, encouraged even, to question the authority, to think and choose freely. (Although, I would say, even now, many of us have yet to realize the extent of our freedom, bound by subconscious perceptions and habits.)

What we have to be mindful of, however, is whether or not, at any given time, it is us—our conscious free self—who is choosing, or is it habit-patterns or ripple effects of past actions and tendencies, who are doing the choosing for us. If the latter case, we can no longer call it empowering.

For example, I may declare that I’m free to enjoy self-pleasuring at any time I want. So far as realizing my own freedom, my individual power to choose and act, taking the matters into my own hand, I have come in the right direction, towards empowerment. But, as we know, a strong habit can form from it. Once a habit, I can no longer say with honesty that I’m freely choosing. I’ve become a passive subject of a mental pattern or hormonal reaction, out of my own control and willpower. In other words, while an action may be free from external influences, it may nonetheless be stemming from an inner influence: an inner struggle, lack, or weakness. In either case it’s passivity and thus not empowering.

But even if we make every decision freely and with full awareness, how empowering a decision turns out to be depends on the choice that we make. You might decide, with a free mind and independently from outside persuasion, that from now on you’ll have three ice creams a day. Sooner or later, you are bound to discover your free choice of action is bringing you debilitation, rather than empowerment.

Since we are a product of our past choices, our choice of thoughts, habits, and actions are utterly important in our personal growth. But why am I picking on self-pleasuring, of all things, beautiful and horrible, that we do in this world? Let me get a bit technical to explain.

A soul’s journey, through many, perhaps millions of human lifetimes, is like stepping up a ladder—a ladder of realizing the true Self. This journey can be grossly summarized as follows. The beginning steps are about recognizing the self, as an individual, which is called “ego” (a separate identity from the rest of existence). The following steps have to do with an “outward” journey: building a healthy ego (self-esteem), recognizing the characters and capabilities of the self (the body, the feelings, the mind), getting acquainted with the wonderful color spectrum of sensations that life brings, and reaching out to other egos. During many places along these steps “suffering” occurs (because of ego’s illusion of separateness), and eventually “crashing” (a place where suffering becomes unbearable, but also presents an opportunity to start the next step). The final steps have to do with “waking” (release of ego and merging with the One consciousness behind all existence, the higher Self, that is also called God). From then on, the steps on the ladder represent an “inward” journey. As part of the process of waking, the individual realizes also the falsehood of another aspect of ego: material reality as all there is. The soul begins to understand that the world of senses, the material world, is just a mere shadow of a supreme, eternal reality.

Individual empowerment and activism, along with support from modern science, brought along a needed sexual revolution to humanity. It allowed individuals and generations to “unstuck” and expand their level of consciousness. It was like a mass electric shock, shaking the individual minds to their cores. The message was: “You don’t have to believe what you’ve been told, or passively accept what you’ve been forced into. Let yourself free of that and feel the expansion and freedom in your consciousness. Realize your higher potentials.” It has been a great leap to advance humanity forward.

In my view, perceiving the spiritual teachings about the soul’s journey is like that shock, yet more massive and comprehensive, one that demands the soul never to settle on any given state of consciousness. It’s always inviting us to reach higher and higher. Also, the understanding of our path to Self-realization makes it clear that we can never apply blanket statements and general advice to everyone, because each soul is at a different point on its ascend on the ladder of spiritual growth. It’s never black or white. Anything concerning this phenomenal world (Maya is the Sanskrit term for it, meaning the illusory material world) is of personal, relative, and directional nature. It all depends on where one’s consciousness level is. Many might be on their “self-discovery” steps, while some in the “outward” phase, and yet others may be stepping into the “inward” path. The needs and aspirations of each individual must then be relative and always-evolving.

What about the cause of sexual revolution, at this time? Many souls, in this day and age, are still stuck in those old ways of thinking, boxed in a set of dogmatic beliefs of dos and dont’s. And so, it is important for the struggle to continue. It’s important for science to continue to advocate the positive effects of sex. It’s import for messages such as the article in Elephant Journal to continue to reach to those who need to make the leap. Those of us, in this category, should learn that self-pleasuring, and feeling the body sensations in general, is useful to come back to our feeling nature. That is important if one has lost touch with the physical nature and feeling, consumed by the mind, or has the blinds of dogma covering his or her view.

However, I think that time has come when many of us, perhaps the majority of us reading articles on this site, have done this leap of consciousness a long time ago. My point is that, if we’re in this camp, it’s time to look beyond. If we have already been in touch with our bodies, feeling nature, and then stay there and don’t look any further, we might be missing exploring part our human potential.

Wild animals, for example, are certainly in touch with their bodies, and express their sex instinct quite naturally. They’re also fully present in the moment, an ideal which most of us humans struggle with. Yet I doubt many of us aspire to become an animal. We do not speak of transcendence or achieving enlightenment for them. They reach their full potential naturally. But as human beings, can any one us ever claim to have reached our highest of potential? I don’t think so, because within us, as humans, lies infinite potentiality.

Our highest empowerment is in that which moves us towards our highest potential. Thoughts, decisions, and actions that take us towards our higher potentials are empowering, while those which moves us away from them are contractive and harmful.

What is our highest potential as a human being?

True everlasting unshaken fulfillment, of course. As a student and practitioner of yoga and spirituality, I think about my highest potential as a spirit, and not a body. True fulfillment, once the soul has advanced far enough, must come from something more than body and sense enjoyment. We come across those among us who live in sense fulfillment freely and without reservation. On the outside they may even look like the happiest, most beautiful, free-spirit souls you’ve ever met. But when we look closely, we often see a soul stuck in an endless cycle of enjoyment and suffering. Our highest of potential, then, must be to transcend all that, to rise above the cycle of gain and loss, happiness and suffering. It is to know an ever-present joy, unlike the transient, excitement kind of joy, that most of us know only.

Spiritual scriptures give us the incredible tidings that it is the destiny of every single soul in human form to eventually realize its true nature in God’s Self. The great ones have told us, however, that this is an inward journey, one which is taken by withdrawing from the world of senses. Once we are afoot on that inward journey, an action that solidifies and deliberately pulls our consciousness in the opposite direction, that is seeking fulfillment from feeling the senses, is like stepping down the ladder of Self-realization, potentially undoing many past upward efforts. That’s why, as an aspirant to that level of transcendence, I see self-pleasuring, at some point in the upward journey of spiritual evolution, no longer an empowerment, but rather a potential setback.

We have to get out of the dogmatic, religious views of why indulging in sensual pleasures can be a risky affair. The reason isn’t that “God forbade sex.” It’s not about “sacrificing” something really pleasurable, to be “good” in the eyes of God, in hopes of receiving a future reward in heaven. Rather, if the time has come when our soul is ready to take on the inward path, our body’s outward indulging might become a hindrance. It might cause us to fall short of moving towards our highest of potentials and fulfillment, of knowing our truest nature. True spiritual teachings warn about sense indulgence, simply to tell us that there comes a point when we’ll know something far more fulfilling.

What is that true nature which we all are?

Self-realized masters have told us that our deepest nature is eternal ever-new divine bliss.

Bliss is a word not often used in our daily vocabulary, unless maybe as an ice cream brand, because not quite understood, much less experienced. Paramhansa Yogananda, the great yogi who brought yoga to the West, talked about the pleasure of meditation-given bliss as a sweet “nectar”, in contrast with the “stale cheese” of sense pleasures.

if I like stale cheese, it’s nobody’s business. I can have it; and God doesn’t judge me for that. But isn’t it useful information for me, if all I’ve known in my life is the taste of stale cheese, to learn that there is something with a better taste? Wouldn’t it be harmful if someone comes along and preaches that the solution is to eat more stale cheese?

A reader might exclaim: “You poor soul! You must’ve never had sex in your life! You’re comparing sex with stale cheese?!” My response would be: “I know, sex feels pretty darn awesome! But, you know, why not open our minds to the possibility of an experience, awaiting us, so vastly greater in feeling, really making sex look like stale cheese in comparison?”

Great masters and saints of all ages speak, from experience, of a blissful state (called Samadhi in yoga, or Wajd in sufism) attained when our consciousness and energies are perfectly withdrawn from the external sensory realities, completely focused inward in the stillness of meditation. They teach that every human soul has the potential to attain divine bliss. The way to that exalted state is only inward, behind closed eyes, simply because that kind of joy does not belong in the three-dimensional physical sphere of the senses.

The spiritual teachings point out to us that if we repeatedly engage in sense pleasures, we tie our consciousness down, attaching to external senses. As habit forms, our mind, the most essential tool we have to achieve personal growth and ultimately transcendence, starts to believe in the affirmation of our lack, our need for sense stimulation. Thus the door of our perception to higher realms of joy and bliss is closed. It makes our high aim of releasing from sense-consciousness and going inward all the more difficult. It makes the realization of our true nature and highest potential, that is bliss of oneness with God, all the more difficult. A quote from Bhagavad Gita—the yogic scripture—comes to mind:

“Brooding on sense objects causes attachment to them. Attachment breeds craving; craving breeds anger. Anger breeds delusion; delusion breeds loss of memory (of the Self). Loss of right memory causes decay of the discriminating faculty. From decay of discrimination, annihilation (of spiritual life) follows.”
— The Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 2, Verses 62-63

Having sex with another person is obviously also sense-consciousness-affirming, but in some ways, depending on where one’s awareness level resides, can be consciousness-expanding. For one, it is a way of getting out of the ego-self, by uniting with another soul, physically and energetically. It can be done with a consciousness of embracing and loving someone, rather than for pure ego-satisfaction. Physical intercourse may bring an experience of feeling oneness with one’s beloved. It can, at least, be a mere symbol of our true destiny, merging with the eternal Beloved.

As for the results of self-pleasuring, I can only share from my own experience. It did not raise my awareness of oneness with all there is. I was more likely affirming, mentally, a dependence on external sense stimulation. I did not find it empowering, during the period I tried it. I felt it was damaging to my self-esteem. Whenever I engaged in self-pleasuring passively, triggered by giving in to a hormonal reaction, I felt a strengthen tendency of self-pity and feeling of lack. My willpower and self-control were weakened, I felt, which are the basic tools for personal growth and spiritual advancement. This was my own experience, however, maybe to lead me to take on a different coarse, based on where I was on my path. I imagine many readers might have had wholly different or empowering experiences with it. (And I’d be happy to hear about them.)

Psychological and Medical Benefits

In our modern society, we generally think of having regular sex as part of a health regimen. Most of us might have an impression that if we haven’t had an orgasm for some time, somehow we’re in danger of contracting some disease or on the onset of having a psychological meltdown! (An image of Ross from the TV show Friends comes to my mind when he would be confiding to his friends about his serious health concerns of not getting laid for four months.) Until a while ago, I shared this sentiment.

In my recent experience, though, I’ve learned that this is simply not true! I’ve seen that the body beautifully adjusts, and in fact “gets our message” than we’re not focusing on that part of the body. It cooperates with us to send the vital energy in a different direction: rather than down and out, inwards and upwards in the subtle spine (an invisible, energetic counterpart of the physical spine, where the chakras live and where transcendence occurs). The result isn’t stagnation, repression, or disease, I’ve noticed.

Our understanding, due to modern psychology, is that when the sexual energy doesn’t get expressed out, it becomes repressed. What’s less known is that the occurrence of this phenomenon depends on the consciousness and mental energy of the person. While everyone has that sexual creative energy, repression occurs in individuals whose consciousness is stuck on it, such that even when they’re outwardly refraining from engaging in sensual pleasures, mentally they are fixed there. They are unable to free up that energy, so it can flow “upwards” (through higher chakras) in their subtle spine.

Masters of spirituality and yoga teach that, through our willpower and upward focus on the inner-light—the spiritual eye, behind the forehead—the energy can be “transmuted” and made available for higher aspirations. When we internalize higher aspirations, that energy doesn’t get wasted or stagnated somewhere down there, but flows freely upward. The result is no stagnation, but in fact fresh and increased vitality, and creativity, and persistent joy. It’s perhaps too soon for medical research to prove this phenomenon experimentally (maybe not), but I can share this from my own experience.

I had been sexually active during only a short, about a year, period of my life, when I was with my girl-friend at the time, some five years ago. To tell you the truth, sex for me has never been that good of a thing that people and society make it to be. Of course, I highly cherished it with my girlfriend, because I loved the idea of being closest and most intimate with her. But even from the start, I noticed that sex didn’t give me fresh energy or vitality. It sapped my energy. And every time there was a kind of melancholic feeling that invariably came over me afterwards, lasting much longer than the enjoyment of sex would. It was as if an instant confirmation, whispering inside of me: “Nope! That wasn’t what you’ve been seeking.”

After separating at that time, I’ve refrained from sexual acts. With each passing year, I’ve felt healthier, more energetic. My body is thriving; so is my happiness.

Medical field is perhaps right to advise moderate sex for best health. The surgeon general may also advise eight hours of sleep, about 1.5-2K calories of daily food consumption, and so on. But let us not forget the personal journey on the ladder of Self-realization: it all depends on where one is on the path. These recommendations are meant for the average person in the average situation in the average times. But perhaps following it will help us move towards our highest potential with “average” results. If we have come along to a place of higher aspirations, we need to actively reconsider and evolve our choices as we move forward.

I also wonder about those Tibetan monks who look like the picture of health and always have the biggest smile on their faces like there’s no tomorrow, who seem to live the longest of lives? Are they inflicted with disease inside, without their knowing, from years of repression and lack of fulfillment? Are they, perhaps, just of a different species than anyone else? Is the subject not worthy of further scientific research?

Epilogue

We might think: “Those transcendence, awakening, enlightenment stuff is just not for me. Life is here for us to enjoy to its fullest.” And that’s totally valid. There is no limit to joy and no reason to not want it all. We’re born to choose freely, and each soul, depending on where it is along its journey’s path, longs for a different next experience, some outward and some inward.

But if we’re fully honest with ourselves, we don’t have to dig too deep or look too far to find examples of souls who have aspired to and reached higher peaks, those who seem to be in a place of permanent contentment and fulfillment, regardless of the changes happening around them. We’ll do well, for ourselves and others’ sake, to aspire to those states and talk about them among ourselves.

I believe in a rising humanity’s consciousness. I believe we are about to enter an age when the states of consciousness, previously only attained by a few yogis and saints in mountain caves and monasteries, can be made available for normal individuals to aspire to and attain.

It is time to talk about higher possibilities, aspirations. I feel we’re shifting to a time when, for the majority, it is no longer appropriate to advise indulging more in sense pleasures. (Most of us have been there done that.) It is time to talk about meditation. It is time to learn about how to withdraw from the senses, not attach to them. We have come so far I believe, where, for most of us, the advice “know yourself better by touching your body to feel more” is outdated and a backwards step, rather than a way forward. I don’t know; maybe my view of humanity is too optimistic. But I’m not the only one…

In this day and age, many of us identify with a liberal, open-minded perspective on all things. And thank God for that. But we need to avoid dogmatism and self-deception, even in our open-mindedness and liberalism. It’s all well to take on the cause of fighting backwardness, but let’s stay away from muddling that up with personal preferences and agendas. Let us be careful about the ways of the ego, which is perfectly willing to sneak in there and insert its own likes and dislikes, what’s convenient rather than right, muddling things up in complex reasoning just to have its way.

My supplication is this: let us exercise utter self-honesty in the execution of our liberal views on matters of life, in our search for our higher potentials and fulfillment.

Here is my invitation. Next time we find ourselves about to engage in self-pleasure, let’s bring ourselves to a place of conscious awareness. Ask with full honesty: “With what consciousness am I going into it?” “Am I doing this as a conscious act to elevate my perception, or am I caving in to some hormonal reaction?” “Is it because I’d like to know myself more and help others, or is it that I’ve had a rough day and I would like it to ‘end happily’?” Asking this question, and answering it with honesty before the act, whether or not it changes our course of action, means victory in elevating our consciousness.

“We need ideals to aspire towards in all aspects of our lives, not just for our relationships, but also for our work, our mental attitudes, our physical health, our values, and our search for God. Without ideals, showing the highest way forward, we can fall far short of our own potential.” —Nayaswami Devi

The great masters and saints, never impose their ways on us. They simply show us where their soul’s journey has led them to, and what is possible for us. The choice is always ours. Let no one decide for you. But decide from your own unattached, uncluttered, meditated, calm and freed mind and heart.

Let us all serve the truth and seek it, and most importantly the truth about our own highest potential, always.

 

 

Cover Image by Peter Paul Rubens – http://www.geheugenvannederland.nl : Home : Info : Pic, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=8769226

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