Sexual Harmony - Part Two: Fantasy

Swami Muktananda Saraswati

All creation arises from fantasy. The whole universe is a vivid reality spun from the fanciful interplay of energy and consciousness, the loving lila (play) of Shiva and Shakti. Just as this amorous energy is the force behind the cosmos, so the sexual impulse is the motive force of all human emotion and activity. Man's primal power is kundalini shakti, which has its highest expression in spiritual enlightenment, but finds its basic and immediate manifestation in sexual energy. Sexual energy is the explosive power in man; all that we call personal magnetism, charisma.

Consciously or unconsciously, we exploit this primal energy in many aspects of daily living, and we are constantly manipulating or reacting to more or less subtle appeals to our sexuality. It is taken for granted that every man or woman wants to look his best, to present an attractive appearance to the world. After all, we are not barbarians who know nothing of cleanliness, neatness and good grooming. Yet we must admit that matters go far beyond these essentials. We dress to enhance our sexual personalities, often with scant regard to practicality. The dance of fashion is as much a courting display as the gorgeous mating dance of the peacock.

This is carried to bizarre extremes in the sophisticated, 'cosmopolitan' cities of the world where clothes reveal more than they conceal, but it is just as true of the more modest and discreet costumes customary in traditional cultures. Most women in India wear saris, but the variations on this basic style are as numerous and varied as the personalities of their wearers. The rationale for the way we dress is so obvious that it is overlooked, but just the same it is an important aspect of the way we act and react in the play of social interactions.

Similarly, a heavy barrage of advertising constantly assaults us through every sense. The suave, handsome man who smokes such a cigarette, or who buys his insurance from such a company, is always accompanied by a beautiful, attentive woman. The glamorous housewife who feasts her family on the current fad foodstuff is inevitably rewarded by a blinding smile from an equally attractive husband. Advertisers highlight the allure of their product by insinuating that its possession will not only make us more attractive, but will also bring the same gratification as the satisfaction of sensual desire.

The sexual motif seems omnipresent in our modern culture. The passionate song and dance of love lost or won leaps from fantastic posters for equally fantastic films, from magazine and book covers; it is broadcast from radio and television; served with breakfast in the daily papers. We are deluged with sexually provocative stimuli that becomes increasingly blatant to overcome our increasing conscious disregard.

Although apparently oblivious, on some level we do register and respond to this constant titillation. Yet society is structured in such a way that gratification of this artificially stimulated desire is made impossible or, at best, must be delayed. This leads to an increase of sexual tension that is often unrecognized as such, and a generalized feeling of restlessness. Much of our discontent is a spill over from this sexual friction, which gathers behind it the force of all our dissatisfactions. Since we cannot give desire immediate and concrete expression, we substitute imagination for action and slip into fantasy.

Everyone has sexual fantasies, although the imagery may be disguised. The fairy story of the princess who is transported to a crystal castle by her dashing prince is the same old story, although wrapped in symbols that are universally acceptable. Children express their sexuality with varying degrees of awareness, but the erotic undercurrent is nonetheless present. There is an age when boys and girls, previously the best of friends, segregate themselves. Girls form exclusive clubs 'for girls only' and boys gang together boasting that there are 'no girls allowed'. Yet both are still very much aware of each other. This is also the age of intimate friendships between youngsters of the same sex, the age of blood brothers, hero worship and innocent infatuations with teachers or film stars. Unfortunately school does not provide enough scope for the energies of most children, who find it boring to the extreme. There inevitably comes the point where the thread of concentration snaps and they seek refuge in daydreams, wishfully staring out of the window or mooning over their copybooks.

Adolescents are even more affected, becoming prey to a restlessness that seems to have no logical source. Childhood animosities evaporate, and teenage boys and girls permit themselves more open expression of a rapidly intensifying awareness of the opposite sex that is matched only by an equally absorbing self-consciousness. They become at once coy, curious, preoccupied and often fascinated. Fantasy proceeds apace, picking up on every sexual nuance, spinning a web of significance from the merest incidents.

This is not always explicit, and adolescents can be both precocious and surprisingly' naive. A girl used to flirting and joking with her older brother's friends might be quite confused when she is told that she is growing up now and should be more sedate and reserved. A teenage boy might begin to want more privacy, and wonder why he suddenly feels awkward and clumsy in the presence of girls, even his sisters. Despite this lack of awareness, however, the whole manner and behaviour of these young people betray the focus of their attention. Even where children are very strictly brought up and there is a complete lack of knowledge, the seed of desire is still present, for sexual energy is inherent in our humanity.

Unacknowledged sexuality increases the emotional turbulence characteristic of adolescence and can lead to violent discontent or a sensation that the personality is being suffocated. In this respect novels and films serve a good purpose, not despite, but because of, their thinly veiled erotic content. It is necessary that we become aware of our sexuality so that we may accommodate its manifestations within social boundaries. Failure to develop discretion and intelligent expression of the sexual personality can only lead to exploitation and pain. Although not the most sublime models, films and novels do facilitate recognition of, and a certain relief from, disturbing sexual impulses. They enable the nameless to be named, the overwhelming to be tamed.

Even marriage is no guarantee against the seduction of erotic fantasy. Marriage is not a license for sexual anarchy, and married people find there are still occasions when an excess of energy or tension clamours for relief in fantasy. Although married, it is natural that we are still attracted to members of the opposite sex other than our spouse. The mind craves novelty, a new partner, new experiences with our old partner - anything for a change. If the marriage is in difficulty, a fantasy ideal is even more appealing. Most people do not actually indulge their extramarital inclinations, but they feel them and dramatize them just short of overt involvement. There is no way to control this mental promiscuity. It raises its head even in orthodox marriages where sexual relations are strictly regulated by religious injunction. However, in these cases guilt is likely to be at a maximum and conscious fantasy entirely suppressed. Tension is then manifested in any number of mental or physical ills. The western habit of casual affairs is no remedy either. Quantity isn't quality and facile divorces threaten security and cheapen commitment.

Married or not, at times we all seek the diversions of fantasy, but for many people this is a problem because it creates so much guilt. Yet guilt is so useless, creating unnecessary conflict. Although sexuality is originally instinctive, reproductive, human beings are capable of higher, intelligent and conscious enjoyment of their sexuality. It is this capacity that makes erotic daydreaming possible and pleasurable. All people have sexual feelings and fantasies and no matter how bizarre, they are nothing to be ashamed of. Fancy, fantasy, daydreaming, are an emotional safety valve, and yoga has always accepted them as natural reaction of the mind. In his Yoga Sutras Patanjali lists the five basic kinds of mental activity, and fantasy is among them:

"The fivefold modifications of mind are right knowledge, wrong knowledge, fancy, sleep and memory. Following upon knowledge through words but empty of an object is fancy."
1:6 & 9

Since fantasy is one of the characteristic manifestations of mental energy, it is misunderstanding and misplaced emotion to feel guilt about this kind of activity. Of course, it is usually the sexual content that arouses guilt, but it is equally misguided to feel guilty about sexuality, for it is one of the characteristic manifestations of our vital energy. Fancy and longing are just that - and many of the more unruly or irrational elements of subconscious desire are adequately fulfilled by being given conscious recognition in this form. We need not always act out these emotional impulses, but that doesn't mean we have to deny them.

To refuse to act on our feelings is often a form of competence, just as acting in accordance with our feelings, in the right situation, is also a form of control and competence. However, to deny that we have certain feelings, to suppress fantasy, is an act of self-delusion, and ultimately of self-destruction.

When tension accumulates to a critical peak, or when we are tired and concentration lapses, the mind automatically rebounds to some point of pleasure. Freud explained this tendency in terms of 'wish fulfilment'. He pointed out that pleasure and un-pleasure are initially the outcome of some actual event. However, these experiences leave behind a residue or trace in the form of a new mental state. The trace left by pleasure is a 'wish' or wishful state in which we are strongly attracted to an object or have a strong desire to repeat an action in order to re-experience satisfaction. (This is very close to the yogic concept of samskaras, which are seeds of desire and future action sprouted from the traces of past action and emotion.) Fantasy is the vivid visualization of desire satisfied. The erotic 'wish' is fulfilled through mental re-enactment.

Daydreaming, wishing, fancy - all provide a momentary release through contemplation of a distraction, a fascination sufficiently powerful to absorb one's thoughts totally. We become one with the spontaneous thought, and this brings us release of tension, some kind of tranquillity. Yet this calm is a negative, static kind. It breaks the circle of tension, but drains energy. We obtain relief, but relief through emptiness. We are emptied of the motivating force of desire, not by consuming but by throwing off life energy. Instead of dissipating our resources in this way, we need to find some positive means of redirecting our desires, of putting our fantasy power to use in shaping the real world.

Fantasy cannot be successfully suppressed or repressed. This leads only to depression, neurosis, psychosis; cancer, hypertension, or a host of other psychosomatic diseases. It can not be eradicated through fulfilment, for satisfaction is time bound, temporary. The very nature of pleasurable experience is to create a wish for more of the same. Sexual energy will not just cease to be, for it is the life force itself. Find some way of absolutely cutting off this energy at its source and you will be dead. It is impossible.

Tantra is the path to freedom. Tantra removes this dilemma and resolves the conflict. It sets our minds free by not attempting to make the impossible possible. Instead, it provides positive alternatives for re-channelling energy through bhakti yoga and karma yoga.

Bhakti yoga, the path of devotion to the divine, takes the indomitable force of sexuality and turns it from a worldly object to a higher ideal. The urge for sexual union is a reflection of the universal impulse towards union with the infinite, and this is the concern of bhakti yoga. You love your body, you love your lover, you love the things of the world so much that you feel you cannot live without them. This same emotional force turned downside up is bhakti; human love transformed becomes divine love. It is the same imperious energy only channelled towards a higher object.

Bhakti yoga turns our energies away from the world, but karma yoga, total creative involvement in work, acts directly on and in the world. Pleasure leaves the seed desire to repeat the pleasurable experience, and when we take pleasure in our work, the experience we are craving is more work. Thus our desires are doubly satisfied - mindful, creative activity provides an outlet for all our tensions and talents, while actually consuming the energy that powers our desires. There's no need to build fantasy castles in the air when we are building a new reality through our work in the world. Our desires lose their impetus, for the energy that impels them has all been used up. We become quieted to the depths of our being.

Work for pleasure is play, and through karma yoga all of life becomes conscious enjoyment. There is no longer exclusive or fixed attention on sexual activity, real or imagined, as our only source of pleasure. When our attention is spontaneously absorbed in bhakti or karma yoga there is no compulsive fixation on eroticism as release from tension. Sexuality evens out, becoming natural and enjoyable without any guilty self consciousness. Our sexuality itself becomes a yoga, for we learn to conduct our life force positively and with awareness, so that ultimately we flow with it as one.