Friday, October 24, 2008

Libido Is In, Lust Is Out

Libido is a powerful creative energy that comes from being able to clear the mind enough to connect through our bodies. It can be a very positive influence for creativity, provide a wellspring for health, foster deep communication with another, and form a rich balancing system between the 4 aspects of Being: mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual. It can enable us to commune with the divine. On the other hand, it can be overdone if not kept in balance.

The Bhagavad Gita describes this: (found on yahoo answers)
While contemplating the objects of the senses a person develops attachment for them, from attachment comes lust and from lust comes anger. From anger comes bewilderment of memory. When memory is bewildered intelligence is lost and when intelligence is lost, one falls down into the material pool. -Bg 2.62-63
This domino effect is what happens when libido is twisted and distorted through attachment and desire. It is counterproductive and does not serve when it becomes lust, a visceral longing.

Controlling Lust

The domino effect described in the above quotation can be very painful to experience, especially when it comes between us and people for whom we care deeply. Lust does not serve, and as with all things that do not serve, it is wise to let it go. Letting it go can happen when one is able to:
  1. Stop the domino effect from happening in the first place.
  2. Recognize the domino effect when it is happening.
  3. Recover from the domino effect and set the dominoes back up.

All three of these are important to be able to reclaim control from all sides. Each is a separate skill that can be developed through training, just as with any muscle.

Stop the domino effect from happening in the first place
In the Art of Happiness, the Dalai Lama briefly writes about meditating on the body's circulatory system as a means to control sexual desires. While searching for more information on this, I came across the 32 parts of the body meditation. This meditation focuses in turn on each part of the body, recognizing it neutrally. Dhamma Viro tells us that "... by seeing clearly the repulsiveness inherent in objects (e.g.. skin, hair, flesh) that formerly were seen as desirable, the skillful yogin will develop an attitude of dispassion towards the body. Such an attitude is conducive to neither lust nor disgust, but fosters instead a balanced and mindful equanimity." This has helped many control lust by understanding the body as a system of forms, recognizing it for what it is. This meditation offers many other insights, so time and practice will tell what works.

Note: While some people might be interested in drugs, medications, herbal remedies, etc. These so called anaphrodisiacs do not help cultivate mindfulness, which is what this blog is about and what I am personally interested in. Lust is a condition of the mind and how it relates to the body. Chemicals address the physiochemistry of the mind-body connection, the indirect route. The meditative approach, rather, offers a way to gain control of the energy and be able to channel it into other outlets.

Recognize the domino effect when it is happening
Sometimes, the dominoes start falling before we can stop them. When caught up in an emotional deluge, it is often very difficult to recognize what is happening. This requires a clear, mindful look. This is developed through introspection, meditation, or prayer (which I see as all different names for the same thing). This is hard practice, difficult to master, and requires cultivation. But, this hard work promises much to the cultivator. It is often likened to learning to play an instrument. Because it is so hard, it is unreliable to expect that skill #1 will be enough. As such, begin to notice the dominoes falling. Anger and fear are key markers. Are you angry at a person, perhaps someone you love very deeply? Are you blaming them for not satisfying you when you realize it is not their fault? These are key sign-posts along the way.

Recover from the domino effect and set the dominoes back up
Once the bewilderment of memory and the loss of intelligence has happened, this step is particularly difficult. It requires having previously cultivated compassion and mindfulness, then consciously moving to a position of love rather than anger to crawl out. Then from the anger, there's the need to meditate to address the lust. It is setting the dominoes back up, one at a time. In truth, we are all loving beings who will snap out of this pit and see the truth for what it is. Our beings are looking to free our minds from suffering, and it is often through suffering, in being able to see it as a positive lens of change, that we awaken to the truth.

Libido for the Spiritual?
Due to the strong nature and prevalence of libido, it's empowering nature, and the negativity that it creates between people when it turns into lust, virtually every culture handles this in a different way. Around the world and through history, societies have many differing approaches to and opinions of the role and purpose of libido. Some spiritual paths encourage sexual expression, finding it divine, some are neutral, and some scorn it.

To see how wide the variance is, you can look within the practitioners and followers of any path. As an example, consider Buddhism - chosen because the meditative practice above is a Buddhist one, and because part of this investigation was spawned by my reading Deepak Chopra's novel Buddha. In the book, the Gautama Buddha forsook his wife and sexuality altogether. The monk Gautama forsook his wife to seek the path, and then returned chaste to his wife after having awakened. So, he did not see a role for sexuality in an awakened existence. Additionally in Buddhism, one of the items on the Noble Eightfold Path is Right Action. The Pali Canon says:

And what, monks, is right action? Abstaining from taking life, abstaining from stealing, abstaining from unchastity: This, monks, is called right action.

Magga-vibhanga Sutta
On the other hand, I know of a Zen Buddhist master who purportedly has an active libido and sex life with his partner. So, even within Buddhism, there are differences. This continues throughout other religions.

In Christianity, there is similar variance, quoted here from's Oct 21, 2008 mailing referencing Susan Squire, I Don't, Bloomsbury, Copyright 2008 by Susan Squire, pp. 90-91, 200-207:
In the book of Genesis, humanity is commanded to "be fruitful and multiply." But this idea is overturned in the Christian New Testament when the Apostle Paul writes that "it is well for a man not to touch a woman," which eventually leads the Catholic church to require its priests to be celibate, a prohibition that is egregiously violated through the centuries. Then enters Martin Luther and his Reformation. ... As their would-be savior, Luther must convince this multitude to trade the 'villainy and wickedness' of celibacy for the God-given glory of marriage. ... His message does not fall on deaf ears. An escalating number of monks and nuns respond by ditching their communally celibate lives for marriage, sometimes to each other, and with little hesitation--as if they'd been waiting for their prince to come all along.

The chastity approach (or the procreation-only approach) seems extreme and unbalanced, and it feels that there is a way to strike a balance and energy the power of libido. Libido has a place to bring health, creativity, and connectedness into life. Though lust takes it too far and leads to suffering. There is value is being able to cultivate, maintain, control, and harness this energy for positive use and wisdom in dissolving lust. Bringing compassion, lovingkindness, and mindfulness into life seems to be the happy way.

Here are some interesting, miscellaneous things that I found during research.

  • For one, it is almost impossible to find any information on "decreasing libido". Society at large views libido as a very desirable thing and offers many suggestions on how to increase it, including meditations to increase it. There are meditations to both increase libido and decrease lust, this seeming paradox was the hole that I dove down for this post. It took me a while of searching before I realized that the word libido is used to describe a positive, healthy energy, indicative of a healthy body and often a stable mind. After a little reflection, I realized that the wording for the more wholesome approach is to "control lust". Lust, as one of the seven deadly sins, is often viewed as a negative feeling, something to be banished or managed. It can be defined as sexual desire.
  • Another interesting fact is that a large portion of marital therapy cases cite the problems as mismatched libido. The frustration of lust often becomes a large problem in relationships, and it is estimated the one third of couples have mismatched libido. Among heterosexual couples, it seems to be pretty evenly distributed whether it is the man or woman with the higher libido.
  • I found one case of a male student who wanted to reduce his lust specifically because he saw arousal as counterproductive to his studies. He wanted to focus single-mindedly on academics and saw the coeds as a distraction.
  • There's a condition called Persistant Sexual Arousal Syndrome which is "A Newly Discovered Pattern of Excessive Female Arousal That Can Continue Unremittingly for Hours, Days, or Weeks."
  • In general, it seems much more common that people are trying to increase their arousal rather than lower it. There is a whole wealth of information on how to do this, from therapy, to meditation, yoga, fitness, removing mental hindrances, decreasing stress, scheduling love-making in an appointment book, etc.

Monday, October 06, 2008

A Sweet Embrace -or- Form Correction with Grandmaster Chen Xiao Wang

Taiji Grandmaster Chen Xiao Wang recently taught a five-day workshop at Seattle's Embrace The Moon school where I practice. [I wrote a bit about a workshop with his nephew Master Chen Bing, referenced in Yang Within Yin, Yin Within Yang....] Grandmaster Chen is the 19th-generation lineage holder of Chen-family Taijiquan. He has spent his entire life developing mastery in taiji (videos: 1 2 3). While many people train and learn the principles of taiji, it is clear that he lives them. He is also a master calligrapher and performs his calligraphy is if it is taiji, and taiji as if it is calligrpahy. He is happy and easy-going. He faces the world with a balance of seriousness and humor, with strength and relaxation. Just watching him have a seat or drink a cup of tea is a lesson in grace. He flows.

I pampered myself by training for the whole workshop, to watch, train from, and interact with the Grandmaster. Taiji is an unfathomly subtle art. Even after a lifetime of training, a trained teacher will still make many possible corrections to the form. Form correction is a wonderful thing. The better one's postural form, the more that qi can flow through the body. For someone as new to it as I am, having the chance to be corrected by Chen Xiao Wang is a real treat.

Receiving form correction by the Grandmaster is a rare treat, though a lifetime of form correction is needed. I need to learn how to correct my own form, so I asked him "how do I know when my form is correct?" He answered (paraphrased): it's the same as knowing that a circle is a circle. At first, you don't know. Then you are trained what a circle is and you copy others. But by copying others, you don't realize that a circle can take slightly different shapes and can vary a little for each person who makes it. Over time, you begin to know the essence of a circle, you can feel it. Then he pulled me up in front of the room and pointed at my shirt which had the letters ODST on it. He asked me if the O was a circle, I nodded (a bit unsurely), then he asked me if the D was a circle, and he laughed a big, hearty laugh. Just as we recognize circles, we will one day all recognize what makes the right form and what does not. With that lesson learned, I continued my practice.

A lot of spiritual teachings tell us that the material world is a fiction of the mind, and to transcend the physical world is to abandon illusion and get closer to really. This was my first time in front of a Grandmaster, so I had the opportunity to ask him profound questions about the nature of qi. The seeming contradiction to me is, if the body is a fiction, why is the form of it so important for qi flow? I asked him about it, shouldn't qi be able to flow regardless of the body? He answered that the body is qi, qi is in the body. The body needs to be in the right position for qi to flow. When he asked me if I understood, I knew that understanding would be a life-long pursuit, and I said so.

My instructor Kim Ivy smiled to me and told me to get my form corrected as much as possible by the Grandmaster. Ever the glutton for form correction, I made it a point to do so and had several opportunities.

On the third day, while practicing the laojia (long form), Grandmaster came to me and corrected my form. As always, I had already felt that I had the posture "correct", and realized how mistaken I was--I always feel like a total goof in this moment. If you know the form, it's the posture right after the third Buddha's Warrior Attendant Pounds the Mortar fajin motion, the first part of White Crane Spreads Wings, feet are shoulder width apart, arms rise up to waist height on the sides, palms facing inward toward the dan tien (the hub of the body, a few inches below the navel). As the Grandmaster began correcting me, he first took me out of my deviations, then brought me back into the right positions. As he corrected my arms, they felt like antennas or solar chargers bringing energy into my body, I felt warmth flowing through my periphery. Then he corrected my dan tien to relax, and as it did, it felt like a battery collecting the energy that I brought inside. When he finished the correction, I felt that I was holding the sun inside of my arms, then the moon (I now understand the name of the dojo) and the stars--the universe. Although, I realize that every step of the form must feel this way to the Grandmaster who can do it all so well, I spent much of the rest of the workshop wanting to only practice that one position.

This experience helps me to recognize the truth in his first second answer. This quote that Kim cites nails it:

"Your body is precious.
It is your vehicle for awakening.
Treat it with care." Buddha (563-483 BC)
During the class, Grandmaster Chen Xiao Wang taught us "Natural is the first principle." Truly a profound statement, I found a whole new meaning to it while holding the entirety of nature within my body. It is euphoric. Reliving this experience in my mind, I am serene. These simple words entered my mind as I went to lunch that day:
The breeze is cool.
The sun is warm.
The qi is flowing.