With the Stanford University rape case in the headlines this past week, I feel the need to share a bit of a contemplative perspective on the topic.
Apparently, statistics say that 1 in 6 women experience sexual assault over the course of their lifetime. However, my guess - based on the spiritual direction I've done - is that the number is actually much higher. Like many of us, I cringe every time I hear about another reported rape because I know that it hurts all of us. EVERYONE - whether male or female - becomes more wary, mistrusting and cautious as a result.
A contemplative perspective always values desire as an end in itself. In our love affair with the Divine, we understand that our desire never ends in some experience or possession of an object that fulfills or extinguishes it. Rather, we come to realize that our desire for Divine Union is actually ITS OWN ANSWER. From a theistic perspective, we realize that our desire for the divine Beloved is actually a participation in the Beloved's desire for us! And this isn't just theory, for we see that when we desire union, we are GRIPPED by this desire, which indicates that there is some ONE - a mysterious Beloved - on the "other side" who is also desiring us. The upshot is that we learn to value desire as an end in itself, without the need for some sort of object of experience to end it.
This understanding has far-reaching implications for human interactions. Here, when we feel desire for someone, we can learn to value the desire as an end in itself, enlivening our day and putting a spring in our step. For our own desire already contains the Beloved within it! This experience is of course heightened if the other person offers us a smile or a compliment in return. The resulting "sizzle" - which is actually a participation in a divine energy that goes beyond both persons - can be passed on to every other encounter of the day - whether human or more-than-human - enlivening it with a divine energy that is utterly transformative.
Here there is no need to "get somewhere" with the other person, but instead a simple savoring of the interaction as a wonderful end in itself - as a participation in a divine Love that moves endlessly between all things. It is for this reason that I often dream of a culture that values simple, wholesome flirtation - perhaps similar to what occurs in Italy, France or Latin American culture - without the need to try to "get" something from another person. In the absence of such simple and innocent interaction, is it any wonder that our culture becomes obsessed with and addicted to pornography as a substitute for real and fulfilling interactions?
Imagine how wonderful life would be if people could interact like this on a daily basis! My own experience with our current culture is that people are often hesitant to flirt or interact innocently with one another because they are afraid the other person will think they are "coming on" to them. What if we all began to value the interactions as ENDS IN THEMSELVES instead?
In heterosexual interaction, given the current climate, it does seem to me that if a situation is meant to move beyond innocent flirtation, it must be the WOMAN who gives the indication that something more is desired beyond the simple savoring of magnetic energy. I know that this puts women in the same position of potential rejection that males have experienced and endured for years, but - given the current climate of persistent tension between the sexes - I really see no other option. Agreed?
Photo: Heart-leaved Arnica at Vedauwoo, WY, June 2, 2016
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Stephen Hatch, M.A. is a spiritual teacher and photographer from Fort Collins, Colorado. His approach is contemplative, inter-spiritual, and Earth-based.