Saturday, February 28, 2009

The Erotic and the Thanatoic

**Note: I wrote this in October 2008, and it was the first essay I'd completed since college and I was quite proud of it at the time. I felt accomplished. I still like the essay, but my life has changed a bit such that this still applies, but not as neatly as it once did. In any case, I hope someone out there can make use of it.**

One of the foundational essays upon which I’ve built my personal life philosophy is Audre Lorde’s “Uses of the Erotic: The Erotic as Power.” I was a college sophomore when I first read this revolutionary piece, and admittedly somewhat dense and naïve. Lorde used this word “Erotic”—which I had previously associated primarily with Madonna and all that was risqué, forbidden, and abject—to describe a beautiful spiritual force deep within women that could guide each to her greatest sense of fulfillment and liberation. I found myself thoroughly seduced by Lorde’s conception of the Erotic and what it could do for women, though I was somewhat dismayed and jealous that, as I male, I was presumably excluded from its power.  

It was perhaps this idea that women had “something extra” within themselves, some access to mystical, non-rational truth that led me to explore gender and, for a period, identify wholly with all things feminine. In a peculiar reversal, I willingly relinquished my male privilege in the hope of finding this mysterious source of energy and knowledge. I centralized the feminine in every aspect of my being: my external persona, my aesthetic, my thoughts. I gravitated toward the great songstresses of the twentieth century, most notably Nina Simone. I would spend hours listening to ballads of love unrequited, lost, and abused and try to experience the artists’ pain as if it were my own. It was through this phase of my life, this identification with women and their emotional experiences that I came into my own as an emotional being. To this day, I find it incredibly unfortunate and counter-intuitive that my culture denied me this way of being by codifying me as a male, and that I had to suppress my masculine qualities in order to open my heart—but that’s a different narrative altogether. 

By allowing myself the space to explore traditionally “feminine” emotional experience, I opened my heart enough to be able to tap into the Spiritual and find the Erotic that was, surely enough, inside me the whole time. I know now that all humans have the ability to find this source of inner strength, and that Lorde’s characterization of the Erotic as feminine is accurate only to the point where emotions themselves are considered to be the exclusive domain of women. Indeed, I have found its clarity and its power to be a magnificent, even divine force within my life, and it is thus that I want to share it with as many people as I possibly can. With this piece, I hope to describe the Erotic and how one can activate it within her/his life. I’ll also explicate what I know of its “evil” twin, the Thanatoic.  

I’ll start with the feeling itself. Perhaps you’ve had points in your life where you felt completely at home. There is no fear, no doubt, no wondering. You are totally in the moment, well aware of your vitality and of the infinite value of the present. A deep warmth grows within you, and you can feel yourself relaxing and relinquishing all of your pain into the beauty that is the very substance of life. As a child, I would call this “the Christmas feeling,” because I’d experience it every Christmas at my grandmother’s house. This is what I would now refer to as an Erotic hot flash. They happen during the moments where we feel the greatest sense of Love. No matter what the impetus for the feeling—person, place, thing, or idea—the love remains the same and activates within us a powerful and comforting arousal. For me, it feels as if a warm hand from Heaven is hugging me, assuring me that everything is and will remain okay.  

I’m sure the biologists have their explanation for this phenomenon. It likely has to do with glands releasing chemicals that give us exactly what we need at that moment to ensure our greatest chance of reproducing. As a non-biologist and a non-reproducer, I can only account for what I feel when these moments occur, and give you my interpretation of where the feeling comes from and what it seems to be trying to accomplish. I believe in a God, and that there’s another side to this reality that we cannot perceive using only our designated “five senses.” I believe in destiny and synchronicity, and that, ultimately, We are all expressions of the same entity. At our core, we are perfect and beautiful. Each of us has an individual path, making us a perceptual cornucopia of diversity; but, ultimately, we all came from and are headed to the same place: eternal Light and Love. As created beings, we have the capacity to feel and interact with Creation—including those parts that we cannot see, smell, hear, touch, or taste. Those glands and their chemicals are the physical stuff that allows us to perceive energies that cannot come through any of the organs that receive the stimuli that we call our traditional senses.  

In other words, the feeling of Love does not simply generate itself within us; Love pours itself into us like water into a vase. When we inhabit a particular place in space and time, or do, think, or say something that brings us closer to everlasting Love, our Creator gives us an intense dosage, so that we remember the moment and the events surrounding it. These places, people, thoughts, and actions we love simply for their own sake are what we are designed for. We are creatures of Love, and with Love we wish to remain. If we simply follow our feelings, they will gravitate us toward Love every time. When we get these feelings of warmth, happiness, and divine protection, God is telling us that, as we delight, so does He delight with us. These are the moments that clearly guide us toward our destinies, letting us know that there is a Heaven, and that we can have it here on Earth if we only follow our hearts. Like moths to a flame, God guides us toward his warmth, and that is where we most want to be at the end of it all. We need only follow these moments to get to where we are going.  

As Lorde says, “The erotic is a measure between our sense of self and the chaos of our strongest feelings. It is an internal sense of satisfaction to which, once we have experienced it, we know we can aspire. For having experienced the fullness of this depth of feeling and recognizing its power, in honor and self-respect we can require no less of ourselves.” Indeed, when it becomes obvious to us the reason we were blessed such an infusion of bliss, we can no longer deny the Truth within our bodies and still claim that we love ourselves. Striving for more of these moments, and for more of this feeling in our every moment, is the task that befalls us, for it is in this pursuit that we become most fully ourselves.  

Self-actualization is the place where our every decision, every movement is consistent with the core of our being. It is perfection—not in the traditional, homogenizing sense—but in a deeply personal and spiritual sense that defines connection to the Divine. Outside forces such as culture and the economy give us a laundry list of attributes to which we should aspire. To the extent that such intentions do not produce an erotic impulse within us—or, worse, produce an opposite effect—they constitute sin against the Self. By denying the person on the inside, we deny the Divine within us. We delay the process of self-actualization and bear false witness to the reality of our being. We should instead obey our core, and cultivate its vitality within us. In other words, we should seek with all of our energy in every moment to find Erotic quality in our existence. We should always move toward that which will most intrinsically please us. We must strive to be ourselves, and be happy. 

Sometimes, we slip so far into darkness, so far away from being our True Selves, that we cannot even fathom an erotic moment. Indeed, Iniquity is so powerful at this historical juncture that there are those among us who have never experienced such a feeling. Most of us—at least those of us who were fortunate to have an innocent and happy childhood—have known intrinsic pleasure, but have long forgotten it in the abyss that is modern living. In times when we are so far from the light that it cannot even touch us—let alone inspire, arouse, and overcome us---the Erotic’s twin brother steps in to guide us along our path. I have decided to refer to this as the Thanatoic, or the feeling of Death.  

Essentially, the Thanatoic is the same thing as the Erotic, but pointed in the opposite direction. It is what Freud might call our death drive, or our physical attraction to our own destruction. Its pull is every bit as powerful as the Erotic, but one instead feels the terror of heading toward his demise. When it hits me, it is the most fearful experience I’ve ever had. At its strongest, I feel nearly devoured by fear, holding on to life by a thread. More commonly, though, I experience an awareness of death, and my environment manifests a reflection of this awareness. Conversations, for instance, may turn toward the topics of dying or of those who have died recently. Whenever I get this feeling, I understand that my present situation is not ideal for me, and is ultimately serving to my demise. In order to avoid this sensation again, I must alter my situation and the pattern of behavior that created it.  

This moment, though horrendous in many respects, is in fact a gift from God. He has allowed me the clarity of understanding that my actions and decisions are leading me astray, and that the path to everlasting Life and Love is in fact straight and narrow. I must forfeit the falsities within my being and return to my true and most Self. The intensity of the feeling lets me know how serious my deviance has become. As I stray further and further, more death-consciousness enters my being, and eventually I get an overwhelming dosage of Fear that is jaunting enough to force me back onto the path. At that moment—in the state of emergency—clarity returns, and I remember that I am not owed a second chance (let alone a fourth or fifth). I come to value Life more, and the true Self within me, and I know beyond knowing that adhering to its principles and directives is my only real option. Moral ambiguity falls far to the wayside when one looks upon the face of Death.

Given my experiences with these two self-same, magnificent forces, I’ve come to develop a mental image that I feel precisely captures the human condition, as viewed through this lens. All of us exist in the space between infinite Fear and infinite Love. Each side is pulling us toward itself in a ceaseless metaphysical tug-of-war. Ultimately, both sides take us to the same place. We are always headed toward our next state of existence, which—within the sensory paradigm that restricts our thinking in this life—appears to be nonexistence. What we feel the moment we enter that next state of existence will completely define its nature as we will experience it. Everyone chooses which force he wants to submit to and effectively “die” into. Though all roads lead to the same place ultimately, I find that my experience of the Erotic is much more pleasing and comforting than my experience of the Thanatoic. Given the choice—which I am—I would prefer to die into Love and experience an entire lifetime of its energy than align myself with Fear and carry its weight for an eternity. Thus, I will obey the Self within, and persistently move toward the life-giving force of the Erotic as a lab rat moves toward cheese and as flowers grow faithfully toward the Sun. I know that, as long as I keep pursuing the Truth that is inscribed into the center of my being, the Almighty will bless me with His Love and Grace, and will one day take me into His everlasting embrace.

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