Let us consider bodily impulses such as desire, fear, pleasure, and pain. Each of is learning some lessons surrounding these impulses. For instance, for a long time I have had habits of eating sweet foods and smoking tobacco. In the case of sweets, I wanted to stop myself from eating them for quite a while; but I found myself unable to prevent this. Eventually my failure to stop led me to question whether or not I should be trying to stop at all.
Other lessons I am learning have to do with sexuality and romance: my attractions to women, my anxiety when I feel I have a chance with a woman, my attachment when I am with a woman, the pain and despair I feel when I lose a woman, etc.
For a long time I felt that it was appropriate to deny all of my bodily impulses: all desires, anxieties, pleasures, and pains. I now believe that this is not helpful.
Every one of our bodily impulses has something helpful to offer us. If we did not become afraid when standing at the edge of a cliff, for instance, it would be more difficult for us to stay alive and continue to learn the lessons which we incarnated in order to learn. If we did not desire sex intensely, then a similar problem would occur.
More profoundly, pleasurable experiences such as sex, eating, and smoking help us by shedding light on the joyous, sensual, and loving aspects of the Creator, greatly accelerating our ability to learn about these things.
Sex and everything connected with it — relationships, marriage, children, etc. — offer us one of the greatest opportunities which we have to learn the lessons of love.
Pain and suffering can speak volumes of poetry on the love and light of the Creator to one who is able to listen. The hardest, darkest experience can be transformed into the light of the brightest day, if it is worked with in the proper way.
Pain and suffering are challenges; they are an opportunity to learn very quickly and intensively, and accelerate our growth into more joyous regions of being. Without suffering it would be much harder to learn.
So every bodily impulse has something helpful to offer us. But we also know that they create numerous problems. Pain hurts, while pleasure results in attachment that tends to lead to pain further down the line, and operates as a distraction from the Creator. The problems created by bodily impulses reach the peak of their complexity in romantic relationships, where we weave elaborate webs of emotions in which we can get very lost and hurt.
My previous solution to these problems was to deny my bodily impulses. It is easy to find recommendations to do this in the spiritual literature. But I now believe that this is not the appropriate solution.
As I see it now, denying one’s bodily impulses illustrates wisdom without love; while indulging to excess in one’s bodily impulses illustrates love without wisdom. The trick is to accept one’s bodily impulses, and allow oneself to feel these things, while remaining detached.
Denying one’s impulses prevents one from learning anything from them; while indulging in them fully, without any attempt at balance, also prevents one from learning anything from them. One can use one’s bodily impulses as a tool for learning by attempting to approach them balanced between love and wisdom, facing each situation — among the manifold learning opportunities created by a given impulse — with an eye towards taking this next step in the dance in the most graceful manner possible.