the strength of selflessness
seeking self-knowledge to find out what intimacy means
photot by swami radhananda
Since no human activity is isolated, developing quality and cultivating the senses is essential in a sexual relationship. Each partner is affected on all levels – from the physical to the more subtle interplay of forces between two minds. The essential energy is neutral and has the possibility of our true potential. Sex is one of life’s most powerful energies and remains the basic way new life is created.
Sex is a bonding and creative function that has become a big business with an emphasis on selfish pleasure. Our society is saturated with highly charged sexual images, the media exploits and dehumanizes sex, the medical industry has all kinds of pills for women not to be fertile and for men to be fertile longer. There are societal pressures on everything from how much sex you need to be happy, to what sexual preferences are culturally acceptable.
There is often a disconnect between the reality of the creative power of sex and the abuse of this power. Many people experience sex and sexuality as something traumatic. There are reports that one out of four women are sexually abused. Many women, and men, are abused when they are young and powerless – usually by someone close to them, either a relative or a friend. Often the incident and feelings are hidden even from themselves because it is so degrading and painful. It is easy to be confused about the meaning of safety and intimacy.
Habitually, the senses grab for pleasure and satisfaction without any thought of the other person or the consequences. When someone is concerned with fulfilling his or her own needs and doesn’t consider the other person, this affects us on a deep level because of our expectations of love. We have to understand what sex is and that it cannot fulfill all of the desires and expectations that are imagined. When there are so many mixed messages, we become disconnected from who we are and want to be.
People come to yoga to find the answers within themselves. Yoga is about bringing balance to body, mind and spirit. You start out as who you think you are and slowly begin to find out who you really are. Self-discovery is important because it lets you access your own source of energy and inspiration that is not dependent on someone else.
We can all start to clarify for ourselves: Who am I? Personal insights promote strength and clarity. By being strong within yourself, you don’t need to bend to the pressures of societal pressures of sex, sexual identity or body image. You can determine where you find pleasure, what you can do, what you can give and how you want to deeply connect with others.
Selfless service is at the core of yoga; it is a practice of giving back and putting your ideals into action. When you know yourself, you have the ability and responsibility to utilize that knowledge to bring quality to all of your activities. In selfless service, you think of what needs to be done so that others benefit. It lifts you out of emotional neediness and brings feelings of connectedness and joy. All actions are motivated by desires so it is helpful to desire to do your best and dedicate what you do to the most high in yourself. You see in small increments the freedom that arises when you are not in the grip of desires. Your heart feelings are more expansive.
In recent experiments, neurologists have been studying what goes on in the brain when test subjects placed the interests of others before their own. An area in the primitive part of the brain that usually responds to food or sex lights up on the scans. It could be that thinking of others is a basic necessity, an old survival method that can be revived in our relationships, our families and our communities.
Yoga is not practised alone. We do yoga in classrooms, with our families, and in our communities. The spiritual practices have a profound intimacy that goes to the core of being human. By exploring the meaning of life experiences, the difficulties, challenges and victories, people of all ages and relationships can acknowledge their inner wisdom and learn from each other.
When we practise selfless service, we can become more open to real intimacy. We can learn to listen, to respect and to recognize the preciousness of each life. We can see for ourselves that intimacy is not always through the lens of sex or the body. By shifting the focus away from societal sexual demands or pain, we can give ourselves time to renew and to heal. Life is not easy and it is great to have companions on the path. We need this creative energy for a life of quality, and to have Light and a safe haven in a spinning world.
Investigate the power of image and self-knowledge. Check your habitual way of looking at yourself. Looking into the mirror, what do you see? Listening to your name, what do you hear? Can you change your perceptions? All these investigations give the opportunity to realize that “knowing myself will make me free.” You become knowledgeable as you lay a foundation, becoming aware of your illusions, desires and emotions so you can make wise choices. You are not the body. You are not the mind. You are Light Eternal.
1. Look into a mirror and ask: Who am I? 10–15 minutes
2. Repeat your name for 5–10 minutes.
3. Do an act of selfless kindness.
4. Thank someone who helped, taught or mentored you.
5. Find and do an activity (selflessly) that needs doing in your family or community.
Reflect and write on your experience.
Swami Radhananda is president and spiritual director of Yasodhara Ashram in British Columbia, Canada.