by Judith Shepherd-Pemell
Judy Pemell explores the relevance and importance of differentiation, intimacy and celibacy in our relationship with God
As we acclimatise ourselves to the new millennium, with world population tipping the scales over 6 billion and science able to fly men way out into the solar system, why is it so difficult for two people to live under the same roof in a relationship of peace and harmony?
Within all relationships, two counterbalancing life forces are always present—individuality and togetherness. Individuality propels a human being to follow her own directives, to be independent, and a distinct entity, whereas togetherness propels her to follow the directives of others, to be dependent, connected and an indistinct entity. The bringing of these two forces into balance therefore shapes the nature of our relationships. Differentiation is a term frequently employed to describe the process by which a person manages individuality and togetherness in a relationship. On a basic level this is revealed in an individual’s ability, across life, to keep thinking and emotions separate, and to choose between behaviour which is governed by emotional reactivity, or thinking; and to set a life course based on carefully thought out principles and goals. A high level of differentiation allows a person to be emotionally involved with others, without losing touch with his own sense of individuality—both of which can be done simultaneously, and with profound depth. No matter what intensity of emotional and external pressure may be applied to coerce such a person to operate in a non self-determined way, he will be able to retain his autonomy.
However people with low levels of differentiation lack beliefs and convictions of their own, and adapt quickly and uncritically to the prevailing ideology. Even if the beliefs conflict with the facts—conviction is so fused with feeling that it becomes a cause. An individual with unresolved issues of differentiation may pursue intimacy to achieve the feeling of being fused or merged with another. This of course, is not possible, and ultimately leads to frustration, disillusionment and alienation.
Closely related to the notion of differentiation are the concepts of true self and false self. In the usual kind of relationship between two people, there will mostly be an exchange between the false self of both. This kind of exchange is called games, manipulation, control, and patterns of interaction. We often refer to it as “the fit” between the two individuals in a couple. As people try to reshape each other and react to one another’s values, beliefs, etc, one may get the upper hand and become dominant in a certain part of the relationship, where other parts are either traded off or fought over. The false self is vulnerable to being moulded by others, and is most vulnerable in emotionally intense relationships. This is where most people have difficulty—allowing their partner to just be who he or she is. They complain of a lack of intimacy and sexual intensity, but intimacy is about the last thing they can tolerate.
Such an individual is expressing an almost non-existent awareness of essential self, and is functioning totally at the level of personality.
What is the difference between the soul and the personality?
The soul is the spiritual essence or being that is I. When we are born into this life, the soul is emerged and pure. Babies are natural, innocent, defenceless, pure and loving little creatures.
Children and adults alike find these qualities very attractive. As we grow, we begin to develop personality or ego defences, as a way of resisting the pain experienced from little hurts or rejections and, in many cases, to resist the pain of trauma, abuse and neglect. Personality forms around the soul, in a sense, and builds up as layers and layers of defence mechanisms. This construction of personality is completely false, since it is based solely on resistance to the environment. Our emotional reactivity comes from the personality, not from the soul. The more layered with defences we become, the more we are distanced from our essence, until the soul is completely forgotten. This state of spiritual lostness results in the conviction that I am my personality. The experience of the soul is anchored in the essential states of being: strength, love, will, value, bliss, power, peace, etc. These states are experienced with our spiritual senses, our mind, and our feelings. In other words, they come from our innate being, and are not based on a reaction to an external person, place or situation. It is in meditation that we bypass personality and connect directly with the soul, and experience these super-sensuous states of being. A realised self is central to our capacity for intimacy, for intense experiences of self are at the very core of intimate exchange. It is this self which is disclosed during intimacy, and it is this self which allows one’s partner, or ‘other’, to be whom he or she is. Relinquishing expectations of reciprocity and tolerating existential separateness determines an individual’s upper limit for intense intimacy.
It is also worth noting that intimacy is apparently experienced most rarely in marriage, and most commonly in friendship.
During the 16 years that I have been developing my ongoing practice of Raja Yoga, this relationship that I experience with God has been a crucible for my spiritual growth.
Within the spiritual context of Raja Yoga, we are called upon, ultimately, to experience all relationships with God, to relinquish all our falseness (personality) and relinquish attachment in physical relationships. Instead, we are incited to have spiritual relationships with our fellow souls. This doesn’t mean giving up relationships, but it does mean an exchange which takes place between real selves.
The aware soul is not one to coerce or control another, or be controlled. Games of the false personality have no place within the spiritual encounter. When the soul engages in yoga or union with God, the intensity of this connection will be governed by the intimacy tolerance of the person who is meditating. God, I believe, doesn’t have problems with intimacy or differentiation, we do. Thus, God comes completely into the union which occurs with us. Because the experience is subtle, if the false self is in the way, the experience of contact will be contaminated by waste thoughts and projections of the personality. We often speak about the fire of yoga, meaning intense yoga or connection, in which the impurity and falseness (of the personality) that the soul carries, is incinerated. There is no other explanation for the magic of what happens. This is the transforming alchemy. Intimacy with God means intense fire, melting down to one’s very essence. It is reassuring to realise, especially at times when old pieces of identity seem to have flown far away, that it is only possible to lose what is false. At first the true me is not obvious either, but emerges as a rather quiet, flowing and gentle beingness, relative to the louder experience of ego identity. For all of these reasons, committing to a partnership with God involves the practice of Brahmacharya, meaning physical and mental purity. Brahmacharya is not a path of celibacy through repression, since the mind will not be free, even though the sexual urge may be rigidly (albeit temporarily) restrained. Sexual relationships won’t support the task of differentiating in the way that brings us into the company and intimacy of God either, even in a spiritually oriented relationship. Truly spiritual relationships with other human beings are, by their very nature, loving, non-attached, giving and pure. Part of the differentiation process is understanding, in a deep way, that I cannot have my cake and eat it too. Sacrifice is part and parcel of any mature relationship, and the integrity, which develops as a result, carries high dividends. Thus the paths of spirituality and sexuality must, of necessity, diverge, for it is not possible to attain the Parnassus Heights while pulled, even subtly, by body image and attachment. Yet this is a choice we must make for ourselves. God cannot make the choice for us, let alone any organisation or religion. Such a decision remains with the self, alone. Hence the decision must be self-validated, not other-validated or organisation-validated. This is what differentiation is all about, self-validation and self-reference. The decision to practice Brahmacharya is not likely, in the west at least, to be valued and respected by society. It means not conforming, and stepping outside accepted practice. Nor is celibacy a spiritual refuge for undealt with sexual and emotional problems. Sooner or later they will fester, obstructing growth and demanding to be dealt with. This is the nature of the spiritual path. Whatever remains dark and unfinished within me will be exposed. Maintaining the game of repression in the guise of elevated attainment is spiritual suicide. I realise it is almost inconceivable for many to entertain the idea of such a relationship with the Supreme Soul. Sixteen years ago, it was inconceivable to the atheist in me, too. Finding myself in a profound spiritual attraction was, first of all, way beyond the boundaries of my life experience. Later on, the hook, if you like, was that celibacy seemed such a radical thing, it actually appealed to me as much as atheism. I saw it as a brilliant act of rebellion against the beliefs and practices of a society which quite frankly, had let me down.
Three months after I decided to give celibacy a go, to my great surprise a new perspective awakened in me. Overnight, it seemed, I was liberated from the entrenched beliefs, projections and covert web of games between men and women. I was free, realising a new level of respect for the opposite sex, for my own gender, and of course for myself. I realised that the messages, values and double standards of my society had caused me intolerable confusion and pain. Remarkably, at the age of thirty-six, my programming was disabled, the blinkers were off, and I was flying. My worldview was changing fast, as I found myself released into a very different consciousness. When I bravely shared this with one of my friends (who happened to be a sex therapist), she was utterly shocked. Pulling herself up to her full height, “I would never recommend celibacy to any of my clients”, she retorted, reeling with horror. Perhaps it is only through direct encounter with God that this practice of purity is possible. I don’t know, but I suspect it is. In conclusion, I would like to say just one thing. If God taps you on the shoulder and invites you for the next dance, I wish you the best of luck in refusing.
Judith Shepherd-Pemell, NCAC, is a psychotherapist, couples therapist and educator in personal development based in Sydney, Australia.