Picking up the thread from my last posting, I want to finish the conversation on how we maintain our spiritual safety while moving through the world in a state of erotic awareness. How do we acknowledge the inspiration of desire and yet not get lost in the process?
I draw on two somewhat (ahem!) contrasting texts.
First, I find guidance (in a surprisingly literal way) through a verse from Torah (Hebrew scripture) that is part of the customary liturgy. Numbers 15:39.
Do not stray after your heart or your eyes to whore after them.
I love this verse for its astringent clarity and the palpable physicality of the text. It's all about the life of the spirit, expressed in terms of the body.
Regarding that powerful verb “whore,” I don't read this text as sex-negative. Rather, I see it as sex-respecting and heart-protective. The text teaches us about the limits of our heart and eyes, what we can expect of them or ask of them, and why we need to be careful. In my reading, the text doesn't upbraid sex workers (because I emphatically do not), but it does critique the abusive ways in which they often are treated.
Our hearts and eyes have the power to lead us forward, they are organs of desire. They have a taste for delight that does not conveniently diminish at the right moment. They don't always know when to say enough and leave the table or quit the chase. Which means they can treat the rest of the self roughly, abusively – to use the Biblical word – like a whore, like a body we've hired but don't necessarily respect.
Consistent with my general pattern of thinking anyway, AND because I need to step back at least momentarily from that challenging verb, “whore,” I turn now to a second source of eternal wisdom, Warner Bros. cartoons.
Yup, this is how a contemporary spiritual life works. At least mine. Embrace the truth wherever we find it, Torah or television.
Maybe you have to be at TV-watcher of a certain age, but remember Pépé LePew, the perpetually romantic French skunk? In the Warner Bros. cartoons, Pépé never falls for another skunk; it's always some unfortunate feline whom he mistakes for his skunkly soulmate. (Usually she accidentally has had a white stripe painted down her back by some careless painter and consequently looks like a skunk. Poor thing.) When suddenly enamored, Pépé's eyes stretch forward out of their sockets, his heart beats visibly out of his chest.
That's us!! That's how our hearts and minds physically behave when they feel attraction or desire. They're vulnerable to what they like, what they appreciate, and even when tired (especially when tired!) they want and they wander. They lead us relentlessly forward but don't notice when the rest of us doesn't follow. Our hearts and eyes do not know when to stop. I find myself physically being dragged by my eyes, unable to locate my heart within my own chest.
It has become a meditative practice for me to bring my heart and eyes back, to reset them in their proper place within me, rather than allowing them to roam unchecked, dragging me behind them.
Try this the next time you have a sudden rush or an exhausting marathon of love, lust, desire, or craving for someone or something. Stop. Physically stop moving, wherever you are. Close your eyes. Breathe. As you breathe gently in and out, pull your eyes back inside your head. Set your heart high but enclosed within your ribcage. I mean those instructions literally. Pull them back inside with the internal musculature of your body in your head and chest. Bring them home. Then place one hand over your heart, another over your eyes. Breathe and feel grounded again.
We can love, look around, desire, and feel it safely. We can use the energy in our day, without being dragged disrespectfully by our hearts or eyes, without having all the self-control of a cartoon skunk (Charming zo he may be, chérie!). We maintain loving awareness of our hearts and eyes; we certainly couldn't go through life without them. But we know their capacity to run us ragged, and we lovingly say no to that. We breathe, and reassemble ourselves.
I don't know if the Biblical author meant the verse as technically as I read it, but I stand by my recommendation, because, mon dieu, it works! It's that simple. (I can't resist this...sorry!) Th-th-that's all, folks.