by Dr. Marc Gafni & Dr. Kristina Kincaid
It was the sensual Persian poet Hafiz who understood the full power of erotic surrender in every arena of life. The ecstatic poem “Tripping Over Joy” transmits something about the power of surrender:
Between your experience of Existence
And that of a saint?
The saint knows
That the spiritual path
Is a sublime chess game with God
And that the Beloved
Has just made such a Fantastic Move
That the saint is now continually
Tripping over Joy
And bursting out in Laughter
And saying, “I Surrender!”
Whereas, my dear,
I am afraid you still think
You have a thousand serious moves.
Loosening the Reins
The one master who saw it as his role to reclaim the erotic at the core of life was the Baal Shem Tov, Master of the Good Name. We have already met this master of Eros in this book, and we will encounter him many more times along the way. The Baal Shem Tov was an eighteenth-century magician, mystic, and healer who founded the movement of spiritual renewal, Hasidic Judaism, that swept Eastern Europe in the 1700s. The story is told of a fateful meeting between Jacob Joseph of Polnoye, a well-known religious master of the time, and the Baal Shem.
The master from Polnoye had apparently heard of the Baal Shem before but had refused to join his ecstatic movement. Then Jacob Joseph heard that there was a lone individual in the marketplace telling stories. His stories were preventing people from coming to the prayer house for morning prayers. He had his attendant summon the renegade storyteller with the intention of severely reprimanding him. The Baal Shem came to him, smoking his pipe.
Before Master Jacob could begin his scolding, the Baal Shem managed to say, “Allow me to tell you a story.” Jacob’s voice caught in his throat. Against his will, he was silenced.
The Baal Shem began. “There was a man who had a fine carriage. It was pulled by four great stallions. Unfortunately, all of the stallions were stuck in the mud. Try as he might, yanking at the reins with all his human strength, he could not get them to move. A farmer passed him traveling in the opposite direction. The farmer called out to him, ‘Loosen the reins, loosen the reins!’ Do you understand, Jacob Joseph?” asked the Baal Shem.
“Yes,” said Jacob Joseph, beginning to cry. He cried and cried. He finally understood.
This is a story about Eros. Jacob Joseph was a religious leader who viewed his job as enforcing the rules. He was angry when people stopped to hear a storyteller in the market and missed morning prayer. He was often angry, and his carriage was going nowhere because his horses were stuck in the mud.
In Plato, in biblical writings, and in much of mythology, horses are symbols of vitality, both erotic and sexual. Our horses are stuck in the mud. To get them out, we need to listen to the farmer, who is a man of simple but elegant wisdom. “Loosen the reins,” he tells us, “and let the horses lead the way.”
The sexual, as we see throughout this book, is the model for becoming a great lover in all of life. In the sexual, we all know that we need to loosen the reins (yet not let go of them) and let the horses lead.
Now we are ready to unfold the next layer in the mystery of love. To be an erotic lover, we need to know not only how to give but also how to give up. Most specifically, we need to loosen the reins, to give up control. It was to this sense of holy surrender as the mark of the enlightened one that William Blake referred to when he wrote his poem “Losing and Loosening Control”:
He who binds to himself a joy
Does the winged life destroy
But he who kisses the joy as it flies
Lives in eternity’s sunrise