A Vale of Tears or a Gathering Place? How sex can tear us apart or bring us together

Seth Jordan and Sarah Hearn interview Lisa Romero in 2014. How has our relationship to sexuality changed over time?

Interviewer: There has been a lot in the news this past year about sex and sexual abuse – the scandals in England involving politicians and celebrities and, also, what’s happening in India around women’s rights and protections against sexual abuse. There’s also now this report from a Waldorf school community documenting sexual abuse that took place over the last decades. I read an article a few years ago, “The Sex Addiction Epidemic,” (Newsweek, 11/25/11) that exposed how intense and dark our relationship to sexuality can become. One of the theses in that article was that our relationship to sexuality has changed and intensified because of the easy and anonymous access to internet pornography, which can become an incredibly strong addiction. How has our relationship to sexuality changed over time?

Lisa: In response to the internet question, it’s not only about accessibility to the images, it’s actually more about what happens when we engage with only certain aspects of ourselves and, therefore, don’t have a balance. So, with the use of technology driving our nervous system the way it does, which alters our inner rhythm, we find that there’s also a correlating counter-force of imbalance in the metabolic system.

I see different examples of this in my practice that I hadn’t seen before, for instance, I see young men struggling to have ejaculations. These aren’t men for whom something specific has happened in their biography, but rather that some change has come and interfered with that healthy activity in them. For example, the continual use of the technology (and I don’t mean porn at all but just the intensive use of computers in general) is having such a strong effect how they live into their bodies, the over use of the nervous system is creating a correlating disconnect in the use of the metabolic system.

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“Mobile Lovers” by Banksy”Mobile Lovers” by Banksy

The hermetic saying begins “as above, so below.” Whatever you do to the conscious pole you’ll have a correlating effect on the unconscious pole – if you disturb the nerve-sense system you disturb the metabolic system, even though it’s an unseen disturbance.

So a young man like the one I mentioned, who can’t ejaculate because he is so bound in his head, has lost his connection to the inner streaming of feeling in his body. In this same way, the sex to which an individual is drawn becomes cruder, and the experience some have is that there is less joy even in the sensual aspect of sex and more of a need to gratify something biological in a hardened way. People learn only how they have the sex, what works for them, what is their way. They then try to impose their way on everyone they have sex with. It’s an extraordinary thing, the sexual relationship between one human being and another. Not only is it unique to that relationship, but it’s also a continual and growing path, and all the dimensions including the soul aspect and even spiritual aspect of the relationship, raise the relationship over time into something far beyond sensual love. You can really see that in relationships over

time. It’s one of the benefits in a long-term relationship, that one can perceive the growth not just of myself but also of what happens between us. One sees the potential in this living reality of deep transformation.

The poet Rilke talking of his own gender said that one shouldn’t have sex as a man, that we shouldn’t put our sex onto another in that way, but rather we should have sex as an individual being. This can also be a reflection of a disturbance in the metabolic system, when you have the need to gratify something biological that’s not the joyous experience of giving and receiving which is possible between two people. It’s more of an assault on the system of both bodies rather than an experience of sex as a potential gathering place for both individuals

It really is a multi-dimensional question and another important aspect relates to what Rudolf Steiner said would happen if we didn’t take up the work of transforming our astral body. In “The Work of the Angels in Man’s Astral Body,” Steiner indicates that if we don’t do this inner work by the turn of the twentieth century then certain forces that work in a healthy way in the astral body would then descend and work in an unhealthy way in our etheric body. This is what goes into effect through the blood, the metabolic system, and he predicted potential sexual debauchery because of this.

If humanity had continued to develop soul strength to the level necessary, then technology would not be able to have such a strong effect. It’s not useful to just say that what’s happening in the world of technology is wrong, but rather the question is: Are we ready to meet it? It’s our lack of readiness to meet whatever this world brings that can mean it becomes detrimental. The technology itself is not detrimental, but it’s detrimental in that we lack the capacity to use it instead of letting it use us. And to use it and not have it use us we need great strength of soul.!

All of these pictures speak to the human being’s lack of soul strength. Their ability to encounter these forces wherever they come from and use them for the benefit of human evolution is the soul’s journey. It’s important to note that these forces can’t show us anything other than the weaknesses that still live in us. When somebody drinks alcohol and becomes aggressive, it’s because those forces already live in them, or the doorway to those forces lives in them – they’ve just gotten rid of their “Chief Executive Officer,” the one that usually holds those forces in check. Only then do you see what’s there and what is untransformed. And it’s very similar with the internet addict, we also get to see what’s there, the untransformed self. However, in someone who has transformed those forces, if they were to watch pornography it would have a very different effect. If you have transformed those forces you would not receive any food that you would want from pornography. In turn the consciousness behind pornography would not receive any food from you.

What Does Transformation Look Like?

So how does one begin to transform these forces? Of course there’s abstinence. One of the things described in that Newsweek article was that when people look at pornography it feeds an addiction and only becomes worse. One can try to stay away from those things but is that actually transforming it? What does transformation look like?

Well, there’s a quote from Rudolf Steiner on this question. It comes from a lecture called Popular Occultism:

“Sensual love gradually leads to the highest, purest spiritual love. The soul should transform all experience and then bear it up to the altar of spirituality, for nothing, absolutely nothing is lost. Sensuousness is the school without which the human being would never come to spirituality… The earth is no vale of tears, it is a gathering place… Spiritual pleasure grows out of physical enjoyment and transforms itself into spiritual pleasure. The pleasure of the senses is a necessary detour.”

It’s not about suppression. You can see that with some priests, where the forces are not actually transformed at all and so they come out distorted. But that’s not the way forward, and the difficult thing is that when we focus on something singular that has to be transformed – like our relationship to sexuality – we bypass the beginning steps. One great difficulty is that sexual energy is not the first thing that gets transformed on the path of development; there are other aspects of transformation that must come first. You can’t shortcut the steps and try to just grab hold of sexuality and only work on that. To begin with, it’s a question of how does one change one’s thinking and how to take hold of the sentient soul. And I think this is one of the great difficulties about this question around sexuality – if you try to transform or work on this aspect alone you’ll end up with some form of suppression or distortion. One really has to take up the whole path of the inner work and then this sexual force is redirected. It’s a very powerful force of procreation and without this sense-born love it is impossible to evolve our earthly sense world. So we can’t just look at sexuality exclusively, we have to ask the question: What do I need to transform before I can even get to that biological drive? What lives in the astral body and etheric body that needs working upon first?

Interviewer: So if one is working on oneself and knows that sexuality is a necessary detour, as the Steiner quote indicated, then what does it look like to actually redirect this force? You’ve said in the past that when people are working on themselves, that these forces can become more intensified and more difficult to transform…

Lisa: Yes, there are different stages to this work. At the beginning of our development, unknown to us, many of those forces are held in check by a higher spiritual activity that is bound unconsciously to them. As we step into development, those spiritual capacities detach themselves from those baser, instinctual human forces, which then begin to act more intensely, because they’re not governed in the same way. That’s one relevant aspect of the path of development that Steiner cautioned us on numerous times. The student on the path of spiritual development in some ways meets in a new way the state of adolescents wherein the sexual energy fueled by the astral desires can easily divert into eroticism or into power over others

Another aspect is that as you gain in soul capacity – the power that the spiritual world brings to those on the path – if you haven’t taken hold of your inner life correctly then that power can actually be utilized by the lower nature for its own gain and gratification. And so it has two common aspects – one is that, at a certain point, the unconscious supervision is removed, and the second is that the intensified powers gained from spiritual activity can also be diverted through our untransformed nature.

Many people on the path want to gain more and more by connecting themselves consciously with the spiritual world through meditation and the study of spiritual wisdom, but they don’t actually want to work to transform what lives in them. Rudolf Steiner brought the essential schooling picture of the need to take many steps in moral development for every step in spiritual development. There’s a danger in the depth of anthroposophy because there’s such wisdom poured out through Steiner’s lectures that we are able to gain in knowledge and sound so wise without taking up for ourselves the necessary transformation that allows each of us to access this wisdom. This is what we all must do in order to have a living relationship to the truths traced out in the spiritual world.

The Role of Community

People wrestle with sexual impulses on their own and also in partnership, but is there a role that the community can have? The pictures around gender and sexuality that you’ve brought in the past have been helpful for my circle of friends in terms of recognizing those things in ourselves and in our relationships with each other. They’ve helped us see each other better, to be more understanding, to not shame each other. So I wonder if there’s a way we can better hold these things in a community and also, what’s the role a community can have especially when it comes to aberrations, misconduct, and abuse? Are there social forms to help hold this?

It is important to be really clear that, given how hard as it is to grow up and develop in a healthy way, we have to be completely protective of children. So if you look at the essence of Waldorf education, it almost reads more like the Hippocratic Oath in a certain way – to ‘do no harm’ – and to completely respect the soul and the spirit of each incarnating being. One role of the teacher is to make sure no harm is brought towards the instrument, the different outer sheaths, that the soul-spirit is incarnating into.

So, yes, most human beings struggle consciously or unconsciously with these sexual biological forces, we must therefore have compassion towards this human struggle and at the same time we have to be absolutely clear that we stand for the right of the child not be interrupted or impinged upon in their incarnating process. What lives in the inner life of the community also develops part of the vehicle for the child’s incarnating soul. The community as a whole has the duty to ‘do no harm’ to the vehicle of the incarnating soul because the soul has to use its vehicle to live out its destiny, to mold it according to its own destiny needs. The community has a major part to play in how the individual is able to take up its destiny.

In situations, though, where sexual abuse is not the issue – but just knowing that these sexual impulses are so strong within people – are there ways that we can work with this as a community? Are there ways to take it up before it manifests as aberration? A friend told me that after the recent report on sexual abuse at one school, the school where he’s teaching would probably put more rules in place. This is kind of a bureaucratic response. I think it’s necessary, especially if we can’t find other ways to deal with it more directly, I’m just wondering if there are other ways, more human ways, to hold this intense sexual force and help direct it so it finds a healthy expression?

Yes, you have to have rules in place, because we need laws that hold the community’s truth because individuals sometimes can’t hold that morality themselves. This can also lead to more and more distortion. It’s the same with crime – criminals find other ways around the laws, they just get more calculating. We have to work with these things more openly. You can’t do what some religious institutions have done at times and pretend it doesn’t happen, or just move people on. We need to have open conversations, we need to have education that meets our times, and Rudolf Steiner actually indicated that it would be now in our present times that we would face this. We need conversation, education, we need to be able to talk about something that 100 years ago, in Steiner’s time, wasn’t talked about and wasn’t needed in this same way.

We can get blocked within anthroposophy when we try to do something that Steiner didn’t do. We go over and over what he brought instead of asking what we have to meet and work with today, or even how would this be met if he were alive today. I’ve been to a lot of schools and at one school a teacher said to me that children shouldn’t be conscious of the questions of sexuality because Steiner said they don’t need any education in this way. But the reality is that today they’re already dealing with it. They’re already getting their sex education through pornography and the like, so we should be giving them something that can help them understand the questions of sex and gender from a healthy point of view. And if it’s not being worked through by the adults in the community then it’s not going to be met in the younger people, and they won’t even recognize the imbalance that is so prevalent. So it’s absolutely essential to give them other pictures of what is taking place, from puberty onwards. This allows them to recognize what is healthy and what is unhealthy in what they are seeing in the world

And in a community where these kinds of distortions and misdeeds have happened and come to light, how can we work with this? What good can come out of such circumstances?

Ultimately, any distortion that breaks through into the physical requires us to ask ourselves: How are we meeting this and how can we make this better? If it’s not addressed and nothing changes then we haven’t done the right service to what has taken place. It has to be addressed. And it’s not just about putting more procedures in place – though there is that, because procedures support those that do not have their own strength – but it’s about looking at how we’re not educated and why we wouldn’t want to be educated about these things. I think, ultimately, if an event happens and we are able to open up a new realm of discussion -new ways of looking and working – if it opens up into those things, then we’ve begun the process of healthy community.

If people want to keep it quiet, and say it never happened, then there will be no change. This exists now in the context of the anthroposophical and Waldorf community and that means we have to ask: what are we not doing consciously in relationship to this question of sexuality? Because if this question were being worked harmoniously in the soul life then it would not manifest itself as disharmony in the physical life. It has manifested and it must be met.

Related Events with Lisa Romero in the United States 2014-2015:

Lust, Lucifer, Abuse: a Challenge for the Spirit in our Time December 21, 2014, at the Anthroposophical Society in NYC Visit www.asnyc.org for details.

Sexuality & Self-Development

Building Community of Life in a World of Power and Eroticism

January 2-4, 2014, in Spring Valley, NY.

Sponsored by Think OutWord and Threefold Educational Center.