Posted by .

On A Return to Eros

>>> Buy the Book on amazon Here <<<

In a recent dialogue, Swami Chetanananda (“Swamiji”), the abbot and spiritual director of the Movement Center, a teacher in the lineage of Bhagavan Nityananda of Ganeshpuri, who is a powerful presence and a source of great nourishment for those who come in contact with him and John Friend who has developed two major systems of yoga and is a master and transmitter of the yoga tradition in an embodied form, came together with CIW President Dr. Marc Gafni to discuss the recent book of the Think Tank A Return to Eros.

They discuss…

  • Why we so desperately need a new narrative of Universal Eros as it is layed out in the book
  • Why it is essential to overcome the fear of our own bodies and fear of our own sexuality that is so deeply engrained in our culture
  • Why sexual ethics needs to be grounded in a sexual Ethos
  • How this new narrative of Eros results in a new narrative of the sexual that is both deeply grounded in the old traditions and yet evolves way beyond it

Transcript of the Dialogue

Marc Gafni:

Welcome everyone. It’s a delight to be here. This is Marc Gafni. I am here together with Swami Chetanananda, who is the Abbot of the Movement Center right in Portland Oregon and who’s author of many books but I think one of the most exciting one, which, Sally Kempton originally recommended to me, The Dynamic Stillness, which Sally said was she thought was one of the most, or perhaps the most wonderful takes on unpacking of Kashmir Shaivism. And I am just delighted to be here as a scholar in residence at the movement center and to be working with Swamiji, and we’re here with John Friend, who he is in Swamiji’s phrase perhaps the greatest teacher of yoga in our generation, who’s developed, you know a major one system of yoga, now is developing a second system of yoga and is really a great, you know master and transmitter of the yoga tradition in a most embodied form.

And John is also a member of our Board at the Center for Integral Wisdom, and Swamiji’s also joined our Board as the think tank at the Center for Integral Wisdom, which is a think tank that’s committed to articulating a shared framework of meaning in this fragmented post-modern world.

And it’s so exciting to be here and to be talking about a book that I have the privilege together with Kristina Kristina of writing A Return to Eros and we’re gonna be here just for you know, 20, 25 minutes to talk together about the book. So, welcome Swamiji and welcome John Friend and it’s a delight to be with you both.

John Friend:

Thanks, you too.

Swami Chetanananda:

Thanks so much Marc and Kristina.

Marc Gafni:

Yeah, awesome, awesome and perhaps I’ll just start with one dimension, which is what is Eros and I’ll just maybe do a minute or two on that and then turn to you John, turn to you Swami then we’ll engage it and … for simple definitions it takes you a couple of decades. So this one took me a couple of decades, but it’s really a very elegant, simple understanding of Eros as the basic structure of the manifest world. Eros is the drive in reality towards contact and towards the creation of ever a larger whole. So, the move towards ever greater contact in ever larger wholes is the drive to Eros. And actually, what drives reality from a kind of evolutionary perspective, if you really get the leading edge of evolutionary science of chaos theory, of complexity theory, is Eros.

It’s Eros all the way up, and Eros all the way down; and actually without Eros, you can’t even begin to understand reality. Eros is the experience of radical aliveness moving towards ever greater contact and ever greater wholeness. We of course confuse sexuality and Eros, but actually sexing, or sexuality is but a disclosure of Eros. Eros exists for a billion years before sexuality. So you have a self organizing universe that doesn’t stop at Helium; and so, Eros is the attraction, or if you will the field of allurement. Like the field of connection grabs, which exist between quarks, electromagnetic attraction and it exists on the gravitational level and if we move into the interior sciences, if you will, the sciences of enlightenment, Eros is that force that lives between and creates connection.

Right? It’s the allurement that moves and drives everything. And perhaps maybe the last pieces, we’re not talking about Eros in a small way. It’s not the small attraction between people, it’s understanding that the attraction between us, the allurement between human beings, ideas coming together, what Matt Ridley calls “idea sex”. Ideas are proximate, they come together, they form larger wholes. It’s always that moving from quarks to atoms, molecules, cells and then ultimately you get to plants and to animals and neural stem and you know, frontal cortex and then into the human world and you know, again, more and more attraction, more and more interconnection, more and more love. And we can begin to understand reality, as a great story. Reality’s not, again, from the manifest perspective, reality’s not a fact, it’s a story. Right, that’s what evolution tells us, reality’s moving somewhere. Underneath it all, consciousness, beyond, but within it all, that consciousness moves, reality’s not a fact, it’s a story. It’s not an ordinary story, it’s a love story. It’s not an ordinary love story, it’s an erotic love story. That is to say, it’s an outrageous love story, it’s the love that moves the sun and other stars.

And maybe I’ll just close this introduction with Tagore, who kind of captures the sense of Eros, right or outrageous love. I’m reading Eros and outrageous love as synonyms, when he says that you know “Love is not mere human sentiment, it’s the heart of existence itself”. And so when I begin to understand that, I begin to understand that I live in a cosmo-erotic universe, then I being to locate my place in the universe.

John, Swami, just as a beginning, an opening, an invitation to the conversation, I turn it to either of you. I think Swami you were about to … or John? John, please.

John Friend:

Okay great. No, I think it was a great summary of your work, which is I think tremendous, this Return to Eros, that you Marc and Kristina put together. It’s wonderful because, when you even hear the word Eros or erotic today, everyone falls right into either low level sexuality or just the passions of sexuality and to reframe it into the universal, I think, is critical and I’m more aligned with Swamiji’s metaphysics of the Indian tantra that clips down the will power of the universe in this energy that is everything you describe in the book, as yearning or the creative impetus, the allurement and the attraction between these parts of the whole, in a relationship that can be evolving. So, this consciousness that is filled with this will to know itself as ever evolving forms of love, to literally bathe in its own, the word is ananda, which can be translated as the highest joy, the bliss, the ecstasy and this is often what it’s of course, associating with sex in the highest, that this is the energy that is at the very essence of the movement, the dance of life.

So, I think you guys, just as a general opening, did a great job in putting together how it is a really universal energy and used a lot of different perspectives from your Kabbalah, to Eastern Tantras to even, I think you had some zen master quotes, which I thought was great in there. And I think it’s gonna be a great book for everybody to be able to re-categorize, redefine this energy and then connect it back into its highest form instead of, as you say, in the post-modern, so disconnected, where sexuality is oftentimes so low vibration today, so great job for you both.

Marc Gafni:

Thank you so much. That’s awesome John, thank you. Thank you. Swami?

Swami Chetanananda:

One of the most important parts of the book for me, rabbi and John, is that you bring up from a very refined perspective, one of the most significant issues, I think that we’re like swimming in every day and especially in the last few months, and that is that part of the history of America and the world, is that the few have constantly managed to figure out how to benefit from the labor of the many. And one of the main ways that the few benefit from … are able to sustain the system, is through fear. And, I think the most powerful fear that has ever been generated and laid out there upon people is, fear of our own bodies and fear of our own sexuality. And to make us afraid of our bodies and the natural, one of the most important, maybe the important natural physical function, which is our sexuality, is it causes us constantly to doubt ourselves. Constantly deny ourselves and constantly to flee from any introspection that we might fall into relative to these powerful, challenging experiences like sexuality and you know, that keeps people weak, it keeps them sick, it keeps them fearful, it keeps them controlled.

So, you know, for me consideration of this topic and then looking at how sexuality is a doorway to an experience of a joy, that elevates us beyond ordinariness, it actually transforms the ordinariness of our days into an experience that’s blissful, that’s magical, that is profoundly abundant and the basis of a creative expression that has the possibility to turn the whole world upside down over and over and over again, in the most beneficial way.

Marc Gafni:

Mm-hmm (affirmative). Now that’s gorgeous and if I can, you know maybe pick up from there Swami and John. Because I think that John you spoke beautifully about kind of the lower vibrations of sexuality, which is essentially sexuality without a narrative. And we’re at this moment where we had a kind of pre-modern view of sexuality, which we call pre-tragic. Everyone knew exactly what was supposed to be. What was permitted, what was forbidden and there was an entire set of laws and lots of people were left out and sin reigned on the day. So, that was pre-tragic.

Included in pre-tragic was also the sexual revolution, so the sexual revolution also knew, it was all fine. It was all good, it was all however you were doing it, wherever you were doing it, with whoever you were doing it, it’s all good it’s a completely positive.

So we’ve got this old narrative in the exoteric, in the revealed traditions, in the public traditions of religion, which is essentially sex negative, we’ve got this kind of sex positive narrative, but both of them are pre-tragic, both of them are very simple, everything’s clear.

Then we go to Kinsey, who goes sex neutral, kinda like having lunch but no one believes that, right it’s not quite like having lunch and then we have kind of the sex sacred narrative, which say it’s sacred because sex creates babies, except of course, 99 percent of the world’s sexuality is not around creating babies, certainly not in the Western world and we’re actually dealing with the problem of population explosion, and we’ve actually for the first time in history, disambiguated, separated sex from babies in the mid-sixties with birth control. So we actually don’t have either sex positive, sex negative, sex neutral, or sex is sacred because it creates babies. None of them are actually a sexual narrative that’s equal to our experience.

So, we don’t have a sexual story, narrative of meaning that equals our experience, which means that we’re in this moment of a complete fragmentation where the single most powerful force in the manifest realm has no discernments around it. It has no story of meaning. And so, what we try and do in the book, emergent from … you know, John as you say evolutionary science, chaos theory, complexity theory, but also all the interior sciences of the great tradition, is to weave a new world view, a new sexual narrative.

We call it sex erotic, but what we mean is that sex is an expression of the erotic force that drives all of reality and all of a sudden, when a person feels emergent in [inaudible 00:14:03] if we can use that word towards sexuality and arousal, but of course that arousal has to be expressed in contexts that are appropriate and sacred and non-violating and honoring all boundaries. So if that’s an absolute given, of course we need radical sexual ethics, but even deeper than sexual ethics is what causes the breakdown of sexual ethics, which is there is no sexual ethos. And without a sexual ethos, the whole thing breaks down.

And so all this that I realize, that’s stirring in me, but that’s not a thought of shame, that’s actually the Eros of reality. It’s the cosmo-erotic universe coming alive in me. And I actually have, for the first time had a vision of sexuality, which is beyond shame. And shame in the end, is ultimately, and I think Swami put your point into it, especially in the last few months, the explosion of just tragedy around sexuality. We have got a hook up culture, and a rape culture and sexual harassment and false claims, and utter confusion, because we have the greatest force in the manifest world, without any set of distinctions determined, without any narrative around it and we wonder why it runs amok.

And so, in that sense, you know, Kristina and I were trying to respond to the lack of a shared framework and world view in general and the lack of a shared narrative of sexuality, which we desperately need to live lives that are whole. I just think what you said Swami was so important, that when we can’t trust the essential goodness of our bodies, that doesn’t mean we don’t need discernment of course we do. When we can’t trust the essential goodness of our bodies, we’re lost.

John, turning to you. Any thoughts in that direction, in that complex terrain?

John Friend:

Well I think it’s critical that we have to have this … you’re calling it almost a new narrative, but the fact of the matter is, is that for millennia we’ve had the masters, we’ve had the teachings, we’ve had the wisdom on this subject. It’s just really more in the last century and especially in post-modern time that we’ve abandoned a lot of the classical teachings. You know, I mean in Kabbalah, there’s so much as you know as a Rabbi and you know, I find it super interesting because from my point of view and being in the body, we look at the physical geometry as a reflection of the universal.

So, we look for, for instance the center point of something, you know like the pupil of the center of the eye, or the ribcage as the center of the torso and the heart is in the center of that, and the temple of Solomon, or the holy of holys. To me that would be the most significant place in the temple in Judaism and if you go in there, then you see what is in the center of that, you have this forum, the arc that has these two cherubs or angels, male and female, masculine and feminine, that are actually in divine embrace right there and a lot of the teachings that you know more than all of us here, really go right to the heart that there is to create this … that each of us have this universal power of creativity that we can do it, not only with each other, but with the world itself. We can do it with every sense that we have in our bodies that we can tap, that we can create something really beautiful and extend goodness of the world through this relationship – a harmonious relationship – with others.

And it’s the energy between, the highest energy between us is effectively this Eros. So looking back at the narrative going to Kabbalah or going into the tantric tradition like Shiva-Shakti, you know, and Swamiji can tell us all about that of course, but these are ancient teachings and the great thing about Tantras … and now it’s more neo-tantra but there can be ways of even addressing the sexuality that you’re literally training. You’re training not just your body, not just your emotion, you’re training your mind, but the soul itself, the highest part of the mind. Whatever we wanna call that, it’s connected to a world view that sees intrinsically the universe as beautiful, good and pulsing and flowing with this divine bliss and this creative force, but it does this through polarity, so we do it through our gender, the different genders of the world and in relationships. So, it does go beyond sex, but we can look at these narratives that I think are classic and we don’t have to make something up in today.

Marc Gafni:

Yeah. Thank you John, thank you so much. Swamiji … Take it to the next step.

Swami Chetanananda:

One of the … the thing about Return to Eros for me is that, that it is a return to wholeness … and classically in South Asia, yoga is the methodology by which, a person returns to wholeness on a personal level, on an interpersonal level and on a cosmic level. John probably, you know I mentioned it earlier, but I have such a big amount of admiration for John because first of all, he created the most insightful system of yogic practice that I’ve encountered so far. I just love what he did. The Five Principals of Alignment from Anusara are just brilliant. And then he went on to establish that yogic practice, that individual healing, that individual reunification in a social contact of a system of communities that I also thought were just extremely beautiful. You’re awesome. So …

John Friend:

Thank you.

Swami Chetanananda:

What I really appreciate in this discussion is that we are attempting to place our own humanity, with all of its awkwardnesses and all of its teeterings on the verge of imbalance in a place where we can continually come back to finding unity in ourselves and finding unity among ourselves for the purpose of transcending our individuality and appreciating the complete unity of all of life. Well, for me I think by now the tantric system that I’ve studied my whole life, is a system, which suggests that the individual is an expression of the universal. It’s a kind of demonstration of certain universal principles, but that in the end, the individual actually doesn’t exist. There is only the infinite self-knowing, the infinite living self-knowing and its respiratory process, which is demonstrated on every single scale …

Marc Gafni:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Swami Chetanananda:

Throughout the whole. So, it is that respiratory process that gives rise to differentiation and it is respiratory process that is, for me, the very essence of the term Eros which, you know I would describe from a yogic perspective … I would define it as contact, alignment and flow. And then the gender poles actually from a cosmic perspective are not masculine and feminine, but inhalation and exhalation and it is that inhalation and exhalation that come to a stillness that is pregnant with abundance that is, you know the goal, the place that Eros wants to return us to.

Marc Gafni:

Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yeah.

Swami Chetanananda:

I’ll meet you there.

Marc Gafni:

Yeah, I’ll meet you there. Yeah, I know I mean beautiful. Thank you John and thank you Swami. We can just feel into it, kind of a larger context. We live in this world in which we’re all able to talk to each other. Now the nervous system of the planet as it were has come alive with the internet, and yet the internet itself is driven by often degraded forms of Eros. Kind of degraded forms of expression and we have no shared story. For the first time in history, we’re all talking to each other, but there’s no shared framework of meaning.  [crosstalk 00:24:32]. I mean Eros … Yeah please.

Swami Chetanananda:

I wonder Rabbi, if the biblical story of the tower of babel, or babble I don’t know how you pronounce it.

Marc Gafni:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Swami Chetanananda:

We catholic barely studied the bible.

Marc Gafni:

But this catholic from Kentucky who became a Swami. God knows we have scripture on that.

Swami Chetanananda:

But it reminds me I think, that the story of the internet is the story of the tower of babel. You know.

Marc Gafni:

Yeah.

Swami Chetanananda:

Even though there is this structure that everybody was operating within, nobody understood a damn thing anybody else said.

Marc Gafni:

Right, I mean …

Swami Chetanananda:

[crosstalk 00:25:14] the tower fell down.

Marc Gafni:

No I mean, Amen and you know some of my colleagues and our colleagues at the Center – and I love them madly – are what I call techno-optimists. That is to say, the fact that we’re all connected is per se redemptive, but of course that’s not true. They’re technically; Teilhard de Chardin envisioned the nervous system of the planet coming alive and so people see the fulfillment of that as the internet, but the internet is but an exterior form.

For the first time in history, post-modernity came along and deconstructed, wiped out all the systems of meaning of modernity and all the traditional systems, but forgot to integrate the best of each of those and offer some new shared vision and advance. And there John, you know in the way that we do, I would just gently do a slight reframe on one thing, which I think was your intention, which is, we’re drawing from ancient wisdom, in deep bow, in deep reverence, in deep, a word that you and Swami used, a deep pranam, not just a namaste, a pranam. At the same time, we are just like the scholars of old days and the yogis of old days, and the rabbis of old days, who were taking into account the best of new disclosured wisdom.

So, we know new things, we know about chaos theory, we know about electro-magnetic attraction, we know about complexity theory, we know about the leading edges of evolutionary theory. So, our vision of Eros, all of a sudden, we’re in this oh that’s what’s driving the evolutionary process and we bring together the ancient, to get there with the leading edges and we begin to have, what you were describing John, and Swami, what you described, a short story that we can live in, in which our bodies and our impulses are not rejected. We actually can experience ourselves as good children of the universe.

And without that, it breaks down, coz all in her last sense and maybe we’ll turn to you John and to you Swami before our closing thought and we’ll invite people to the journey in the book of Return to Eros. Maybe just one and by the way she has a sore throat so she’s sitting here with us, but the most important person, my co-author Kristina, will join us for the next dialogue, but just to finish with one, she just wrote me a note to say this last thought. So, here’s the last thought, which is critical.

Which is all failures of ethics – and one of the principles of the book that we try and show throughout the book – all failures of ethics, are rooted in the breakdown of Eros, or Swami what you would call a breakdown of wholeness or a breakdown of the respiratory process or John, a breakdown in alignment, in contact. We try and make ethical rules, but when ethical rules aren’t rooted in a larger vision that we can locate ourselves in, they’re bound to collapse.

So, if we don’t return to Eros or return to participate in that great respiratory process, or return to alignment or return to wholeness, we can’t actually revision and re-soul and re-whole the world because we will naturally and inevitably, go towards fragmentation and without a shared story, with the existential threats that face us today in the world, we just don’t have an ability to incarnate a new world. So, Return to Eros is actually what our survival depends on. It’s that essential and it’s that basic. John, give us …

John Friend:

Yeah.

Marc Gafni:

A last blessing, thought, vision, anything.

John Friend:

Well while you’re pausing it’s just more of a reiteration because I agree with both of you, that it is this wholeness of the parts of ourself, which goes from the body and the want to have contact and be safe and be protected and our emotional self that seeks bonding and delights in pleasure and the mind that wants to know itself individually in its own personal power. And then there’s the heart, you might think it was the soul, that’s really desiring the highest freedom and the highest connection of all of these parts of ourself. So, seeking the whole I think is the key, because it’s just taking Eros as the erotica down at the body and the emotional level for the pleasure. If it’s only for the ego’s power positioning in relationships, yeah we’re continuing in society to spiral down and so this work that you’re presenting, presenting it from more of a universal perspective is critical at this time.

Marc Gafni:

Thank you John, Amen. Amen Hallelujah. Swami?

Swami Chetanananda:

I’m happy to be with you guys. I’m delighted in the contact and the alignment and the flow that I am experiencing with two great [inaudible 00:30:36].

Marc Gafni:

Amen, amen. Well what a delight. Thank you everyone and we invite everyone to flip on your connected nervous system of the planet to A Return to Eros on Amazon. Pick it up and be in touch with us and let’s together, let’s create a better tomorrow. Thank you everyone. Thank you John, thank you Swami.

John Friend:

Yeah.

Swami Chetanananda:

Thank you.

>>> Buy A Return to Eros Here <<<

marc gafni, dr. marc gafni, gafni, eros, a return to eros, kristina kincaid

Leave a Reply

  • (will not be published)

Time limit is exhausted. Please reload the CAPTCHA.