Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Transformation Through Intimacy

Sefirat Ha'omer, Part VI

By Shimona Tzukernik
Stereotypically, men are often described as physical beings detached from heart and soul. Maybe that's born of the fact that while they certainly have intense feelings and emotions, when it comes to intimacy, men seem to be able to separate their bodily desires from their minds and hearts. And yet, contrary to popular belief, men have an intense connection between body, brain and spirit. So intense, actually, that they cannot be separated.
To understand how this is so, we need to explore the two polarities of the body: head and sacrum, specifically examining what the brain and seminal fluid have in common.
They're not unique in that they have a connection. All organs of the body contain aspects of each other. That's where the art of healing known as iridology comes from. The same applies to phrenology, blood letting, reflexology and the like. The body is like a hologram in that each part contains aspects of the other. Whichever angle you come at it from, you see the whole.
The brain is unique though with regard to its manner of connection to the body. Contrast it with the heart for example.
The first difference is that the heart has an on-off mode in the way it links to the body. The pulse starts and stops. One moment the heart reaches out, engaging with the body, and the next it withdraws. The brain on the other hand is continuously linked to the body through the nervous system. Here there is no stop-start dynamic, only continuous influence.
A second difference between them has to do with not just blood or neuro-impulses but with the organs themselves. Blood from the heart does move through every organ and cell. But then it moves on. In other words, it's not the heart itself that is bound with the body. Furthermore, even the blood that makes the link keeps on moving. The brain on the other hand is at all times bound up with every cell in the body. That's not just because of the way the nervous system works but rather as a result of the fact that the brain actually contains the body within it. The left heel, the right eye, the liver, spleen and so on exist within the brain itself.
That's why people can feel a limb that's been amputated. The source of that very limb within the brain becomes stimulated by some other adjacent brain activity and the individual is left with the physical sensation of having felt the limb. In reality, he's feeling the limb-within-the-brain. Similarly, deep stimulation of the brain with electrodes can elicit memory, joy and laughter, or can slow down speech for example. In a sense, the totality of who we are – our hearts, memories, mouths, feet etcetera – is located within the brain.
No other organ in the body is like that. Except for semen that is. As the nucleus for procreation, it is encoded with all the bytes of info that allow for it to manifest as any part of the body from bone marrow to lashy brows.
So the top and bottom of the body are intimately connected. The brain atop the spine is the center of consciousness, of our ability to know G‑d and the seat of our spirituality. The base of the spine is the seat of the reproductive organs and human sexuality. Now whereas we might think that just as they are two opposite ends of the body so too are they diametrically opposed, we'd be wrong. They're not. The base of the spine is called the sacrum – from the word sacred. It is a reservoir of spirituality. And conversely, the most fundamental organ in the body is the brain because if you're shut down there, the rest of you will shut down too. That's why our sages say that a child is conceived from the brain. Sacrum and brain form one continuum.
What can we learn about how to live life from all this? How is our spiritual identity and life's mission reflected in our physiology? What can we learn about the inner workings of sexuality from the way we're made?
The sixth of the emotional powers of the soul is called Yesod in Hebrew. Literally it means "foundation" and is often translated as bonding. It's your ability to connect with others and the world. Just as the foundation of a building is an extension of the edifice plunging deep into the earth and enabling the building to stand, so too your faculty of bonding enables you to connect deeply with others. Sometimes you facilitate a connection by being like the metal underpinning going deep down into the ground. At others you're like the earth itself, making space for another. Either way, you're activating your soul's ability to connect.1
Each of us is born with the faculty of Bonding intact. Each of us then is driven by a need for connection. We deeply want to engage with others, allow them to become part of our lives, and enter into their world in a boundaried way that enriches us all.
Bonding in and of itself is a powerful drive. However of all the relationships we pursue, probably the most powerful drive for connection is manifest in male-female relationships and human sexuality. Its power leaves other longings in the dust. What drives the desire for finding a mate and physical connection? And how does that connect back to our discussion about the physical makeup of the human being as reflecting something of our spiritual quest and purpose?
One theory of what drives us to find a partner and enter a love relationship is that the need for marriage, love, romance is all a fa├žade. It goes something like this: Procreation lies at the heart of the survival of a species. That makes it a really powerful drive.
As humans became more sophisticated, they felt a little awkward being compelled by such strong urges. And so they invented romance, state the theoreticians! Humans came up with all the emotional connotations of "being in a relationship" – the flowers and dinners, walks in the park and gazing lovingly into one another's eyes to maintain a sense of dignity in the face of their desire. Saying, "My passion is an outgrowth of my love," feels more comfortable to our sophisticated notions of who we think we are. Much better than say, "My love is a by-product of lust!"
The sages would beg to differ. The compelling desire to find a partner, marry, love and be loved, bear children and build a life together, they say, is rooted in the yearning to rediscover our original Divine image. They explain that Adam and Eve were, in the primordial garden, one being with two faces back to back. They were then split into two. The split created a spiritual and psychic longing for wholeness. Ever since, male and female seek each other out physically, emotionally and spiritually in an attempt to re-attain their original unity.
Once we come together though, it is of an even higher order than the singular person with two faces that was the original Adam and Eve. Genesis gives us a hint as to the profound outcome of marriage in the verse, "Therefore a man must leave his father and mother, and cleave to his wife. They shall become one flesh." One opinion as to the meaning of the verse is that the "one flesh" refers to the child who derives from both parents.
A more mystical interpretation states that the "one flesh" is the couple united at the time of intimacy. It is precisely at that moment that we get to see what a human being looks like. Anything else, a man or woman talking over coffee at the breakfast table, say, is merely half a person.
Marital intimacy then brings us together in a manner that is even deeper than the primordial Adam and Eve. No longer one being with two heads back-to-back, nor two lonely people, at the moment of marital union we are two distinct beings come together as one. This is how Genesis takes the theorists to task. It lays out the underpinnings of romance, marriage, love beckoning us to embrace the spiritual and psychic implications of intimacy.
Our sages teach us that our desire to attain wholeness with a partner is part of a much larger desire to become one with our Creator and to re-attain our original Divine image. That's why it's so strong. Forget the creation of "relationship" as a means to uphold our dignity in the face of uncontrollable urges! This yearning we're taught lies at the heart of existence. We're here to bring male and female back together again – at every level of creation, from one man and one woman to our connection between us and our Creator, which is also seen as a masculine and feminine dynamic.
With this in mind, we can understand why people are so lonely in love. We can grasp why the world is so out of balance when it comes to sexuality. What we're all really looking for is intimacy. We want bonding in the deepest way and a discovery of our truest self through unity with another. What we're giving and getting are physical hookups, slick motions, quick fixes but nothing close to the psychological and spiritual underpinnings of our desires.
Contemporary culture is hooked on sexuality but knows almost nothing of intimacy. The former has to do with the body, the act alone. The latter is personal and also spiritual. Of course it's physical and passionate too but the passion and pleasure are even more gratifying because they fit within the broader, deeper dimension of soul. The latter kind of love bears testimony to why we're here at all. It speaks of our yearning for bonding, intimacy and a revelation of the true nature of things.
When two people are truly intimate, the rest of their relationship reflects that. And vice versa. If the act is just physical, focused on bodily gratification, the pleasure is short-lived. It doesn't penetrate where we want to be touched. Furthermore, if there is alienation of spirit at night, it will be present in the morning. Conversely, a deep and loving connection feeds the soul. It also resonates throughout the following day, generating a different and deep intimacy with it.
This idea that what happens in the bedroom is reflected in the remainder of our daily life is to be found in the teachings of our sages.
The most intimate space in the Temple was the Holy of Holies. It housed an ark that in turn housed the tablets given to Moses on Mount Sinai. Atop the ark were golden cherubs in the shape of two angels with large wings. One was male, the other female.
The relationship between these two cherubs precisely reflected what was happening between G‑d and the Jewish people at any given moment. When things were good between us, they faced each other reaching out to one another in a winged embrace. If things weren't so hunky-dory then the two would be back-to-back. What we see is that whatever was happening on the Temple Mount, in the backstreets of Jerusalem, in a field of Jericho, a courtroom in Akko, a Jew's heart or anywhere in between, was reflected in the innermost sanctum of the Temple. If a Jew lied under oath, another cheated on her friend, a husband and wife argued over dinner, a teen felt hurt and misunderstood – whatever the circumstance of back-to-back relating was – then our connection with G‑d was compromised. In turn, the angels over the ark turned away from each other.
Conversely, when there was love and connection, bonding and intimacy, the angels turned to each other in face-to-face embrace. Loving intimacy, acts of charity, doing a favor to another – all these generated unity amongst individuals, within groups, and ultimately between us and G‑d.
To come back to our topic at hand, this same dynamic is reflected in our personal temple, the home. What happens during the day will affect the way husband and wife connect at night. And the way they bond at night will have a bearing on what's going on, or more importantly how it's going on, the next day. When there is merely a sexual act and the other's soul and heart are not met, the morning-after will reflect that. Where there is true intimacy, real bonding will happen by day. And when that kind of holy, healthy interaction is routine by day, intimacy is possible by night.
Counter-intuitively, intimacy is not merely "tolerated" in Jewish thought. Quite the contrary, it's mandated and encouraged. That's because intimacy according to Torah is never an end in itself. It must always be part of a larger whole. That bigger picture is about people becoming whole. It's about G‑d's unity becoming manifest. Our sexuality is bound up with the deepest underpinnings of existence. It's connected with our yearning for G‑d and G‑d's desire for unity.
We see this reflected in our physiological makeup. Although brain and sacrum seem so far apart, spirituality and sexuality are deeply intertwined. I think that's why there's so much sexual abuse in cults. There spirituality is present but it's not holy. It's out of control. That affects everything and the sexual abuse follows as a natural consequence. It also explains why the ill of pornography abounds. Today, people are out of touch with healthy spirituality. It's not like a cult situation where the soul dimension of life is misdirected and impure; rather, here's a situation where there's no attention to soul at all! The consequence is a cutting off of the natural healthy flow between soul and sex, brain and sacrum.
The fact that both the brain and serum contain every organ in the body, and the fact that they are the only two aspects of the body to do so, bears testimony to the profound connection between our highest and lowest dimensions. We serve G‑d with all of who we are. Both our brains – our consciousness and Torah learning, and our intimate lives – our passion and bonding, must bring out into the world the awareness that G‑d is the only True Existence. Everything we are and are about is encapsulated in those two arenas of our lives. Just as they contain within themselves the rest of the body, so too do the mind and sacrum encapsulate the why's and what's and how's of the rest of our lives. They point out that our purpose is to rise above the limits of creation and reveal the oneness of G‑d in all the world.
1. Bonding is on the same line of the mystical Tree of Life as Knowledge and Harmony. We said in an earlier article that in the sphere of Knowledge we become one with an idea. In Harmony, we're doing in the heart what Knowledge does in the mind. Now with Bonding, we duplicate that dynamic of connecting but this time in the interpersonal arena.
In these connections, we're looking for intimacy of some sort. As we have discussed in previous articles in this series, that requires vulnerability, a putting aside of the ego: To know something intimately means to let go of your own way of knowing the world and look at it from every angle. You want to understand the thing as it is – not as you will it to be. To love intimately means the same thing. If you don't get your ego out of the way, someone else is not going to risk opening their heart to you. They don't trust you because the ego makes playthings of other's most intimate lives. Similarly with Bonding, in order to be really intimate you can have no agenda. A vision for something? Yes. Agenda? No!
This article was originally posted on


Anonymous said...

Thank you for this interesting article. Your article began with " . . . while they certainly have intense feelings and emotions, when it comes to intimacy, men seem to be able to separate their bodily desires from their minds and hearts. And yet, contrary to popular belief, men have an intense connection between body, brain and spirit." Your article went on to substantiate this last sentence. As I read through your article I was hoping to also find some practical suggestions how a male can actually tap into this connection to the extent that he experiences them as one integrated whole. To a female this comes naturally, but not to a male. Therefore, the paragraph discussing, "What happens during the day will affect the way husband and wife connect at night. And the way they bond at night will have a bearing on what's going on, or more importantly how it's going on, the next day" may be abundantly clear to women, but to men it is not specific enough.

Anonymous said...

Powerful, truthful, full of wisdom.
Thanks again for sharing your insights.

technobubby said...

The transformation through intimacy is such a deep profound comment on sexuality. I gleaned from it something which i speak about in my workshops - what happens in the bedroom affects what happens in the kitchen - which i learned from a 75 year old woman who came to the workshop. So my comment is that we are responsible for achieving all the higher intimacy in that intimate act that we can. Aware that the world pulls us through the negative media, etc. we have a greater challenge - then again we are in Golus. My suggestion if i may to Anonymous is to be the guide for her husband to express his intimacy without judging him. thank you Shimona for all your encouragement. if permitted i will post my email for anyone who might have any specific questions on what i wrote.
Chana E.

Irene Diamond said...

Beautifully written. A topic near and dear to my heart and calling. Thank you, SHIMONA ~