In The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching, Vietnamese poet and monk Thict Nhat Hahn teaches the concept of mindfulness by describing the attentiveness of a lover who is being fully present with his beloved. I found the intimacy of his example so touching I was inspired to share it with you for Valentine’s Day. Perhaps you can put it to good use this weekend, or at some point in the future, and with that in mind, I’ll also share an ingenious lovability practice that I picked up from a “tantric sex” teacher named Jwala, then I’ll sprinkle it all with some erotic wisdom from David Bowie. Interested?
To introduce mindfulness, Hahn asks his reader to consider that we’re always “giving our attention” to someone or something. In Buddhist psychology, however, only attention that is given to the present moment is mindful or “appropriate” attention, while attention given to anything else is considered “inappropriate.” This criteria makes mindfulness an very elusive goal, as I’m sure you’ve discovered if you’ve ever tried to meditate. Human attention is just so easily pulled into different directions by our thoughts, emotions, and “habit energies,” that mindfulness has to be a continuous practice, as in over and over, of “remembering to come back to the present moment.”
If you apply this practice to your intimate relationship, (or relationships if you’re part of the sex positive community,) you might notice that instead of fully meeting your beloved’s kiss, you’re mentally checking off your to-do list. Or you might notice that while trying to listen to the person you’ve chosen to be the most intimate with, your wounded child has become triggered and emotionally transported you decades into the past. When we mindfully pay attention to our relationship, we notice when we’ve wandered off in some way or another. This awareness gives us the opportunity to cultivate Right Mindfulness – “the energy that brings us back to the present moment.”
Hahn teaches that to cultivate Right Mindfulness is to cultivate the Buddha within. As such, this practice is “the heart of the Buddha’s teaching.” To cultivate right mindfulness with your lover, then, Hahn suggests this deep inquiry:
When was the last time you looked into the eyes of your beloved and asked, “Who are you, my darling?” Don’t be satisfied by a superficial answer. Ask again, “Who are you who has taking my suffering as your suffering, my happiness is your happiness, my life and death as your life and death? My love, why aren’t you a dewdrop, a butterfly, a bird?” Ask with your whole being. If you do not give right attention to the one you love, it is a kind of killing. When you are in the car together, if you are lost in your thoughts, assuming you know everything about her, she will slowly die. But with mindfulness, your attention will water the wilting flower. “I know you were here beside me and it makes me very happy.” With attention, you would be able to discover many new and wonderful things – her joys, her hidden talents, her deepest aspirations. If you do not practice appropriate attention, how can you say you love her?
Hahn describes a romantic relationship without mindfulness as dreamlike or unconscious. What happens, then, if we practice turning our attention fully to our beloved, (and not just in the magical beginning, but well after the “honeymoon is over?”) Hahn tells us that seven miracles occur with the committed practice of Right Mindfulness, and when applied to your romance they sound like this:
1. You will be able to be present with your beloved.
2. Your presence will touch your beloved deeply and make him or her present also.
3. Your presence will nourish your beloved.
4. Your very presence will relieve your beloved’s suffering.
5. You will see deeply into both yourself and your beloved.
6. You will come to a greater understanding of yourself and your beloved, and as “understanding is the very foundation of love,” you will not be able to “help but love him or her.”
And last but clearly not least…
7. You will “touch the healing and refreshing elements of life and begin to transform” your own suffering and the suffering of the world.”
Well, that certainly sounds like a worthwhile endeavor and some good advice for Valentine’s Day, but there might be times when it’s too difficult to practice Right Mindfulness with your beloved, because the person you’re the most familial with will be the person most likely to trigger any wounded identities that you’re still carrying from your family of origin, and these wounded identities can be very defensive. Your beloved will also very likely to be the one to trigger any outdated gender specific world views that you internalized, and outdated world views certainly take us out of the present moment. With that in mind, let’s consider connecting deeply with your beloved from two slightly different perspectives, that of a “tantric sex” teacher and a nascent rock god.
Jwala’s Lovability Practice
First let me briefly explain why I keep putting quotation marks around “tantric sex.” It’s because I recently studied Hindu Tantrism at CIIS and learned of the huge difference between the 11th century South Asian tradition centered around the use of sexual fluids as power substances and the Western appropriation that many of us are at least familiar with. To quote David Gordon White, professor of religious studies at UC Santa Barbara, “New Age Tantra is to medieval Tantra what finger painting is to fine art.” So, if the “hard core” origin of tantra interests you, I highly recommend White’s mind-blowing book, Kiss of the Yogini, but don’t say I didn’t warn you. That being said, let’s move on.
During my perpetually transformative and often New Age San Francisco Bay Area experience of the 90s, I had the pleasure of visiting the Marin County home of a “tantric sex” teacher named Jwala. The grand tour of her home included some memorable time spent laying on her bed to admire the rich inside of the canopy where deep purple and wine colored velvet were fashioned into the shape of an elegant yoni. Jwala gave me a copy of her book, Sacred Sex: Ecstatic Techniques for Empowering Relationships, and it contained one particular jewel that I still tout as a pinnacle of New Age inspiration.
The jewel is an exercise in which two lovers position themselves facing each other – I call it the Lovability Practice. The lovers can be in lotus (pictured left,) sitting in chairs, standing, or positioned any way that spirit moves them as long as they’re looking each other directly in the eyes. From here, and giving each other their full attention, they take turns meaningfully saying, “You love me.” The point of this proclamation is to create the time and space for the speaker to own the words – because the statement isn’t the usual, “I love YOU.” It’s “YOU – love – ME.”
From my perspective, that of esoteric psychology, this practice is a jewel because it will undoubtably evoke any issues around lovability that might be lurking in the proclaimer’s unconscious realms. The beauty, however, is that this exercise triggers those blocks in an intentional setting. In other words, if your unconscious is housing an identity that believes you’re not lovable or believes that you don’t deserve love for any reason, the act of proclaiming, “You love me,” before the presence of your beloved will allow that identity to leap into consciousness when you’re expecting it and when you can, therefore, better acknowledge and understand it. (By the way, if you’re better at giving than receiving, then you’re a perfect candidate for this exercise.)
Yes, opening to receive love can evoke the inner child who at some point in the past decided, “Mommy is unhappy because I’m not lovable,” or “Daddy left because I’m so bad, therefore I don’t deserve to be loved,” or something along these lines. It’s the kind of logic that is perfectly understandable coming from a confused, scared, dependent child, but when unresolved and superimposed onto an adult relationship, it can reek unconscious havoc – and not just in a romantic partnership but in any relationship that requires trust. (Quick reminder: unconscious havoc is my area of expertise, so if you need further assistance in this area, please feel free to call me.) Okay, let’s wrap it up with the rock god.
“Moonage Daydream” was written by David Bowie in 1971 as part of the emergence of his wholly committed persona Ziggy Stardust who made this fabulous promise to the world, “I’ll be a rock and roll bitch for you.” WOW! What else did Ziggy assert in his moment of bursting forth?
He said, “I’m an alligator, I’ll be a mama/papa coming for you – ooh – ohh.” Wait. WHAT?!! Does this poetry not speak of full attention? I think it does because what I hear is Ziggy saying, “I’ll give you everything I’ve got. I’ll be present with you with my whole being – my reptilian brain as well as my higher male and female aspects.” Am I reading too much into this? I think not, people. That sounds like an offering of whole being presence to me.
But what I love most about this song for lovers, (and the verse that makes me dance the wildest,) is Ziggy’s urgent plea for realness and his reminder that sex is sacred.
Don’t fake it baby, lay the real thing on me
The church of man, love
Is such a holy place to be
Make me baby, make me know you really care…
This verse is dense, so let’s start with, “Don’t fake it, baby,” which can be applied to any self expression but which also clearly brings to mind the historical suppression of the female orgasm, an incredible loss of human potential that can at least be traced back to the double-standard gender idealizations of the Victorian Age, and from there to the early days of the Roman Catholic Church when fathers Tertullian, Ambrose, and Jerome separated sexuality from spirituality, thereby demonizing sex and glorifying chastity. Though Ziggy dared his Western listener to let go of their inhibitions during the sexual revolution of the 60s and 70s, I think it’s fair to say that his challenge is still crucial today, because outdated, socially-constructed world views still lurk deep inside many an unconscious realm, causing delusions of moral superiority and inferiority that thwart intimacy and mindfulness. So, if you feel inhibitions or judgments creeping into your love life, I encourage you to take a moment to sit with them, non-judgmentally, and consider where they’re coming from, because the contextualization of behaviors and opinions can be very liberating. It helps us to remember that “the church of man is such a holy place to be.”
Yes, Ziggy reminds us that sex is ultimately sacred – when trust is strong and reverence allows our divinity to merge with the divine in our beloved. “Make me know you really care,” Ziggy serenaded the world, encouraging humanity to love him back passionately. Yes, of course he wanted people to love his music, but these words also remind us to express our romantic love in meaningful, creative ways so that our beloved is romantically secure and inspired,… so that romance stays juicy!
And there you have it, dear ones. Bring your attention back to the present moment. Practice letting love in. Be fearless and reverent. Express your love meaningfully and creatively. And listen to “Moonage Daydream” at your earliest convenience, preferably on a great sound system, and belt it out!
Keep your ‘lectric eye on me babe
Put your ray gun to my head
Press your space face close to mine, love
Freak out in a moonage daydream, oh yeah!
Happy Valentine’s Day! Love, Kim
Lovers from the Visconti tarot deck, Bonifacio Bembo, Wikimedia Commons.
“The Sign for Wake Up Groups” by Order of Interbeing, Wikimedia Commons.
Details of three yoginis, by Soumendra Barik, Wikimedia Commons.
David Bowie from Aladdin Sane cover art, Flicker.
“Vintage Valentine Beauty” (Victorian) by the Graphics Fairy.
Tango dance, Beunos Aires, Argentina by carlos luque, Wikimedia Commons.
Hahn, Thich Nhat. The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching: Transforming Suffering into Peace, Joy and Liberation. New York: Broadway Books, 1998.
Jwala, with Rob Smith. Sacred Sex: Ecstatic Techniques for Empowering Relationships. San Rafael, Ca: Mandala Publishing, 1994.
White, David Gordon. Kiss of the Yogini: “Tantric Sex” in it’s South Asian Contests. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2003.