Sexuality As Nourishment
Healthy and loving sexual relationships can be one component of a Taoist lifestyle. Like good food and ample exercise, physical intimacy and touch provide nourishment and support for our bodymind. It's natural to desire and enjoy sexual connections, at this level.
Sexual Energy In Formal Taoist Practice
The role that sexual energy plays in formal Taoist practice is, however, quite unique, and perhaps very different from how you're used to thinking about and relating to sexual energy. It has little or nothing to do with sexuality – our feelings and preferences in relation to being sexually attractive or attracted to (specific) others – as part of our personal or social identity. Rather, sexual energy is understood simply to be a form of energy – a creative potency whose flowing intelligence can support our practice in all kinds of wonderful ways.
The Three Treasures
In what are known as the Three Treasures we find Taoism's most general description of the energy manifesting as a human bodymind. What are these Three Treasures? They are: (1) Jing = reproductive energy; (2) Qi = life-force energy; and (3) Shen = spiritual energy. Sexual energy, in relation to this model, belongs to the category of Jing – reproductive or creative energy. Though Jing is rooted in the reproductive organs, its home is in the lower Dantian – a subtle-body “space” located in the lower abdomen.
Joining Heaven And Earth
In the context of various Qigong and Inner Alchemy practices (e.g. Kan & Li practice) we generate, circulate and store Jing/sexual-energy. Most generally, we are working to transform Jing (reproductive energy) into Qi (life-force energy); and then to transform Qi (life-force energy) into Shen (spiritual energy). This process marks an ascension along a vibratory spectrum – from the more densely-vibrating Jing to the higher-vibratory Shen. But this is only half of the story: having transformed the dense Jing into a more rarified Shen, we then allow Shen (spiritual energy) to once again “descend” – infusing the Qi and the Jing with its essence. Eventually, the three distinct energetic “substances” – along with the three subtle “spaces” known as the Three Dantians -- are allowed to flow as one continuous circuit – a joining described metaphorically as the “merging of Heaven and Earth” within and as the human bodymind. Within such continuity, the identification of sexual energy with any one physical location (e.g. the lower dantian) also dissolves, as sensation spreads out to cover the entire bodymind.
The Alchemical Marriage
What's important to remember is that – in the vast majority of Inner Alchemy practices – all this happens within the body of an individual practitioner. The sexual energy drawn upon for the practice is circulated internally, rather than being projected outward, in the direction of a hoped-for or actual romantic partner. In this way, the fruits of the practice – the power and joy and happiness generated – are not dependent upon another person. This isn't to say that we won't then choose to share these benefits with others – friends, colleagues, lovers – just that our sense of satisfaction and fulfillment will not be dependent upon an external source.
Becoming adept in this way at working internally, on our own, is considered a prerequisite for any kind of “dual cultivation” practices – in which we exchange energy with another person, and jointly create a “merging of Heaven and Earth” circuit. To engage in such practices -- in which sexual energy is being exchanged in a way that has nothing at all to do with conventional dualistic notions of sexuality or romantic involvement – requires great maturity and clarity; and much of what claims to be this kind of practice, isn't.
Dual cultivation practices of this kind, while in a sense "impersonal," can also be profoundly intimate -- representing, perhaps, the purest form of love -- precisely because they operate within a sphere defined by nondual assumptions. When you and your partner are realized already to be not-two, dynamics based in objectification, ownership, conquest, etc. simply do not arise. Instead, you're able to support and enjoy each other as manifestations of a common source.
As we're working in this way with our physical and energetic bodies, we also work at the level of mind or awareness, cultivating the capacity to “witness” the arising and dissolving of various bodymind sensations. We learn to be skillful in facilitating the arising of specific sensations, without mentally “grasping” these sensations. In this way, our happiness doesn't become dependent upon attaining or maintaining any one particular sensation; but rather is rooted in the awareness (the Mind of Tao) within which all sensation arises and dissolves.
Cavemen With Cell Phones?
All this is, of course, easier said than done. To create a conscious relationship with our sexual energy requires, for one, consciously entering the territory of the Snow Mountain and Lower Dantian areas – or what in Hindu traditions are known as the first and second chakras. This is the root of our nervous system – related to the so-called “reptilian brain” – and home to some very primal survival-based instincts. A meditation teacher once described the uncultivated functioning of this aspect of our being very aptly, in terms of a kind of “caveman mentality” which relates to every living thing in terms of three questions: (1) can I eat it?; (2) can I mate with it?; and (3) is it going to eat me?
In other words, the part of the nervous system associated with the root of the spine has to do, for one, with sympathetic nervous system “fight or flight or freeze” responses to perceived danger. It's what kicks into play when we're being chased by a tiger, or are hot on the tracks of the antelope that will be our dinner; or feeling the evolutionary imperative to increase the presence of our gene pool on the planet. And for these sorts of situations, it's quite useful.