The spiritual path will burn away all illusions, including the sexual kind. The good news is that something better is reborn in the ashes.
Mel was tall and lanky with short dark hair, good tattoos, and a black motorcycle. I wanted her bad. Lucky for me I was in an open relationship with my partner and he was all for it. It had been a long time since I had gone for a bad girl like Mel. I figured since it was just going to be a fling, it didn’t matter that a truck full of red flags were dropped on the first date, the biggest of which was the dopamine rush coming on hard and fast like a fat line of cocaine after a long time sober. I knew I was in trouble the first time I smelled her salty skin and felt her nicotine stained fingertips on my throat.
I wasn’t practicing polyamory, per se, and my partner was my top priority. I’ve always been fluid when it comes to monogamy, depending on the relationship I’m in and how I’m currently feeling. I’m sure my poly friends probably cringe and call me a swinger. I prefer to think of myself as a free spirit. Since I wasn’t looking for another serious relationship, I needed to keep my feelings in check for the sexy butch I was drooling over. This meant getting mindful about lust.
You know the way it goes. Constantly checking your phone, even on the freeway, thinking you see the object of your desire everywhere you go, dreaming about them, the extreme highs and lows that come with seeing or not seeing them. The throes of a new relationship make most of us temporary drug addicts looking for the next fix. I didn’t want to get carried away with this culturally acceptable insanity. Lucky for me, as a meditation practitioner, I had all the tools to observe this crazy ride without climbing on it.
So I let the affair run its course (trust me, it burnt out quick—I’m not a kid anymore), while I deconstructed and carefully explored the activity of my body and mind. At first I fell into the lust trap and caused some trouble with my partner. But soon I was able to ride the wave of new relationship energy like a pro. It was absolutely comical how the chemicals would flood my system and my mind would start to swirl when I got a text from her. Pretty soon the experience became something I could just watch without getting involved in. Those sensations and thoughts were just impermanent activity and they were certainly not me. How could they be if I was witnessing them?
This wasn’t the first time I’d had the insight that I am not my mind or my emotions. Each time that insight deepens, I experience a period of disillusionment. It had happened with my career, with habits, and so on. Basically I see the emptiness in the experience and I “lose” it. That’s to say I lose my attachment to it and my ability to get a fix from it. When I saw through the self who viewed herself as an actor, my acting career crumbled. Once I knew that my enjoyment of a film or a big piece of chocolate cake was simply a collection of thoughts and emotions, I lost my taste for them as well.
This can be a painful and scary part of spiritual development. It can feel like nothing is enjoyable or meaningful. I often have meditation students report that they feel depressed and apathetic during this stage. My first meditation teacher sat me down after few classes and told me, “Meditation is going to ruin your life.” He wasn’t joking. The cost of waking up is everything. With each awakening I’ve “lost’ a little more, but I wouldn’t want to give any of it back.
So here I was getting mindful about the off-the-hook sexual attraction I had for Mel. I didn’t really consider that I was in the process of screwing up my sex life, just like I had once screwed up my career, and my love of cake. The road to hell is paved with good intentions I suppose. By the time my bad girl fling had run out of steam, my sex drive was plummeting overall. Sex just didn’t seem that important anymore. Thanks to good old mindfulness, sexual disillusionment had kicked in.
Now, let me be clear, up until this point my sex drive couldn’t get any higher. I had never had a partner male or female who wanted as much sex as I did. I was insatiable. One might say that I used sex to get “high,” to ease stress, to encourage creativity, and to feel more connected to myself and others. I had been told that one day I’d have to let my attachment to sex go too, just like everything else. But let me tell you I was hanging on tight to this last frontier. Little did I know the romp with Mel was my last hurrah.
My partner and I had always had a phenomenal sex life. It was never less than great, even after three years together. But my merciless dissection of my obsession with Mel launched us into an awkward period. I just didn’t care about sex anymore. Plus we were going through some relationship growing pains (due mostly to my actions in the early days of Mel), and not being able to use sex as a way to connect created a huge sense of separation.
It was incredibly strange for me to feel sexually removed. My sexuality was something I felt so identified with. I was Jessica, the girl who loves to fuck. Meditation has the side effect of tearing your identities from you piece by piece, and this one was no exception. That part of me had vanished. I could no longer use sex as a salve for whatever ailed me. It didn’t work anymore.
As you can imagine, my partner was none too fond of this development and honestly neither was I. I trusted it would shift, but who knew how long that would take? My desire and drive to be an actor took years to come back. But I knew that when my sex drive returned sex would be better than ever. That’s what happened with my creative work. When I lost my attachment to being an actor I became a better actor and started to have a lot more fun doing it. I just hoped my new and improved sex life would materialize before my partner walked out the door.
We had sex every once in awhile, but it wasn’t great or even always good. We didn’t open up the “sex cabinet” next to our bed even once. It started to get a little dark at the homestead so my partner and I decided to keep the focus on having fun and enjoying each other’s company. It was kind of like a lovingkindness meditation for our relationship. I practiced something I call the “Just Be Nice Campaign.” It’s just what it sounds like. I was just nice. When I got annoyed, scared, frustrated, felt not heard, got triggered—I was just nice. Sometimes that meant leaving the room for a moment, but no matter what, I was just nice. I focused on being the best partner I could be and took any focus off of what I thought he was doing wrong. I kept my side of the street clean. I still spoke to someone and/or wrote about my feelings, but I didn’t take problems or negativity to my partner. I also got more clarity on what was actually a problem versus me simply being reactive.
I kept using my mindfulness practice to work with the thoughts and emotions that came up about my lack of interest in sex. People can get stuck in the meaningless trap that can arise along the spiritual path. In reality the self that thinks everything is meaningless is just another self that can be deconstructed. So, I just continued to peel back the layers, keeping my eyes and heart open as I woke up to new truths. Spiritual development is neverending. There is no graduation date. As I learned to be without my nympho identity I found new ways to ease tension and connect with others. I also found I didn’t need sex to be creative.
Not having sex to fall back on also gave my partner and I the opportunity to work through some issues that had been hiding under the surface up until then. A new kind of love and trust bloomed between us, and we started laughing a lot more. We spoke openly about the lack of sex and the challenges that it brought. We don’t lose hope. We figured it could only go on that way for so long. And then one day a few months later, as quickly as it had vanished, my sex drive reappeared. And the angels of carnal joy sang Hallelujah!
When I say it came back I don’t mean that it was recognizable. My relationship to sex had been transformed. It felt fresh, clean, and fluid. It no longer gave me a fix. Without the attachment sex became more fun, more connected, and way more pleasurable. I had been grasping at the pleasure, and now I just let it run through me, unimpeded by my mind. My partner and I dove into a whole new kind of connection during sex. I felt a deeper freedom to let loose. I was no longer limited to a fixed sense of self when it came to my sexuality. I let my sexual self die in the fire of awakening and it had remerged shining and alive.
So yes, mindfulness essentially screwed up my sex life. But then it was reconstructed into something I never imagined possible. The self that needed to have sex all the time hasn’t returned. Previously I would pass up a good night’s sleep or a social engagement for sex. Now my priorities are a little different. Life feels fuller now, less uneven. My sexuality will continue to evolve as I evolve, and I’m willing to lose it again if need be. I’m also fully willing to embrace a period of non-stop sex. Whatever it takes. Anything to keep waking up.
Jessica Graham is a meditation teacher, writer and actress who lives in LA. She is a contributing editor of the popular meditation blog Deconstructing Yourself and author of the upcoming book Good Sex: Getting Off Without Checking Out.