Monday, May 17, 2021

Sexual Temptation and Levitation



People for various reasons choose to be celibate. Some do so for the sake of spiritual aims and values, to be free from the constraints of family life.  Some traditions, Tibetan Buddhist and Taoist, for example, seek to channel sex energies toward altering consciousness.


Other traditions see the intrusion of sexual desires as something evil and repulsive.   Repression of sexual instincts is pursued with a vengeance, as we know from many aspirants of high spiritual life.  The results are often strange. Sexual repression sometimes causes extraordinary phenomena that transcend nature.  As a matter of strange fact, it seems that deliberate or accidental  traumas of mind and body sometimes unleash unexpected experiences of beauty and transcendence.  People who fast for long periods of time, deny themselves sleep and human company, sometimes report having the most glorious experience of their lives


The example of Joseph of Copertino comes to mind, a mystic famous for his levitations and frank about the difficulties he had trying to cope with his sexual temptations.  The friar was so abusive of his own body that his superiors ordered him to go easy on himself, and he obeyed, in the spirit of holy obedience.  Here is a striking passage from Joseph’s bio, Wings of Ecstasy, (available on Amazon).


“The friar, a holy celebrity, was exposed to the enthusiasm of his female admirers: “Padre Giuseppe felt acute pain when confronted with women of ill-repute or with their writings to him, or with the advice they offered or to the propositions they made him. They were demonic incubi made concrete in a human form, come to break him and disturb his sleep with the most obscene dreams,” writes Bernini.

Clearly, Joseph spent a good deal of his spiritual capital resist­ing sexual desire and demonizing the creatures of his own erotic imagination.

“Oh my God,” the poor man once exclaimed, “I know I won’t yield to temptation, but I wish I didn’t have to fight it so hard!”

                  It is clear how powerful the conflict was, from which he never­theless found an unusual form of relief through levitation. Clearly, a giant leap beyond masturbation.

In the shadow of sexual peril, Joseph would repeat out loud, “Uno e Una!”, his formula for -- ‘One God! One soul!’ A cry, in short, for the unity of the forces within, for perfect spiritual balance, for molding the unruly force of his ani­mal instincts. Levitation was for Joseph a physical acting out of the unbearable energies of his ecstasies. Domenico Bernini, ahead of his time, wrote of the psychodynamics of eroticism and ecstasy, which he described as a divine game of temptation and repression.”


The idea that God may be playing spiritual games with us is intriguing.  A God without a sense of humor is a very depressing idea.


Anonymous said...

If only we could learn how repressed sexual energy can be rerouted from triggering neuroses and other more serious psychopathology (re Freud, Wilhelm Reich) to transcending states of consciousness. Perhaps it's all a matter of the cultural-spiritual context in which one is operating. Raised in a strong, all-encompassing spiritual context such as that found in a Buddhist monastery in, say, Bhutan, repression of sexual energy can lead to these wonderful consciousness-expanding, revelatory, spiritual states. Raised in a certain other religious context in a Western, technologically-inclined culture such, as in the state of Georgia in the US, repression of sexual energy is perhaps more likely to lead the person to go on a shooting spree of sex workers! :(

Michael Grosso said...

Thank you for this highly intelligent comment. For the good use of these natural energies we should probably use the term 'sublimation'rather than repression.The same distinction could be applied to anger, which we should be able to use creatively and constructively.

Unknown said...

People did ask Joseph of Cupertino’s for an explanation of his levitation during his lifetime. Nowadays his explanation is always dismissed by commentators who don’t share his world view as superstitious nonsense that can’t be proven by science. Yet this explanation —equally unproven by science — is accepted as much more plausible and rational.

If suppressed sexual urges were capable of being expressed as levitation, every incel raging on the interwebs would be floating above his gaming chair and every parish and monastery would be spared the cost of a car for the priests and nuns.

Michael Grosso said...

The sexual explanation is partial. Your remark misses the point. It's where the controlled energy is directed, toward the business of biological replication or toward the transformation of yourself in the bosom of the divine. Plato understood this dialectic of transformation, and so did the great Tibetan Buddhists like Milarepa. And so do artists of various stripes.

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