The following excerpts were not included in the chapter Spiritual Intimacy, Sexual Intimacy in the book. They are taken from my interviews with holistic physician, psychiatrist, ecological and spiritual leader Gabriel Cousens and with philosopher, cultural activist and publisher of the German integral magazine evolve Thomas Steininger:
Gabriel: To me, the teacher-student relationship is a spiritual marriage. Certainly, some spiritual teachers get confused and turn it into sexual, which is a big mistake for a variety of reasons. To me that differentiation has to be made. We’re one, but let’s understand there are boundaries. There has to be an appropriate line in the spiritual teacher-student relationship. You have a spiritual marriage but it’s not sexual.
Amir: It’s a point of confusion for many students and teachers. How do you decide where to draw the line?
Gabriel: To me it’s not confusing at all. You draw the line between the erotic-spiritual tension – as both man and woman are still there – and acting it out physically. Because a whole other thing happens when you act it out physically, the dynamics change and I think it actually damages the relationship. I mean, it’s fine to hug or kiss somebody, but that’s it. The key is not to play out the erotic tension but to hold it, in a dynamic way, because it’s part of the unique energy of spiritual marriage. That’s a healthy, Tantric relationship. Not sexual but Tantric, which means that you hold the tension and you don’t play it out.
Every marriage has a contract. Here the contract is the spiritual teacher’s commitment to do everything in their power to help the student wake up, without violating the sexual boundary. I see so much mess where that boundary is crossed and people get hurt and confused. It requires responsibility of the spiritual teacher, since they are in charge and more responsible to hold that line.
Amir: It seems to me that the teacher-student relationship brings you very close to that line, more than in any other non-sexual relationship.
Gabriel: Yes, there has to be love, and some erotic overtone, in that relationship. Even romance is a part of that. I really see the relationship of the teacher and student has that romantic, erotic quality to it, that just lights up the field. We don’t want to pretend that doesn’t exist, because that dulls the energy.
But if you look at sexual relationships between teachers and students everywhere, it usually creates damage to the student, so that violates the contract. The contract is: I commit to do everything I can to uplift you spiritually. People create all kinds of justifications, but the fact is you don’t need an explicit sexual relationship to uplift somebody spiritually. That’s an illusion and the result is usually a spiritual disaster. People get turned off, they shut off their spiritual path; there is very little good, but much blocking to the spiritual path. So that’s off limits.
But spiritual marriage, which is what the teacher-student relationship is, is based on a real contract. When people come to me saying “I want you to be my spiritual teacher,” I say “OK, but understand that it’s a big commitment on my part and on your part, and it can’t be broken.” What the student’s side of the contract? They commit to be in the relationship no matter what, no matter how much the ego wants to run away. Because there’s always resistance to spirituality. It’s inherent. And for the spiritual teacher it is to support the student in going beyond resistance, because ultimately you need to merge into the divine, into God, and for that the spiritual marriage has to be a safe space, with clear boundaries. That’s the key for the teacher: to hold the boundaries of a proper relationship with the student, in an unboundaried situation of liberation.
Amir: I’d like to explore with you the question of intimacy and boundaries: considering that love and intimacy recognize no limits and boundaries, where and why would teacher and student draw boundaries for their involvement with each other?
Thomas: I actually disagree with the idea that love and intimacy recognize no limits and boundaries. I think there’s an informed form of love and intimacy that needs boundaries and limits in order to grow. Let’s focus, for example, on the area of true friendship. I would say that the cultivation of true friendship accepts boundaries. There are contradictory forces operating in the field, but in order for the friendship to flower there must also be boundaries, or it will collapse. The boundaries come from the same desire for the friendship to grow. So although contradictory, both intimacy and the boundaries come from the same source and hold each other.
Amir: Many of the teachers I interviewed see the benefits of keeping some distance and a level of formality with their students, and I assume that the experience of intimacy and closeness they have with the students makes that quite complex.
Thomas: That’s right. One way to look at it is that there is a battle going on between student and teacher on the ground of intimacy, because the student wants a different form of intimacy than the teacher does. The student wants to pull the teacher into their smaller, personal context and the teacher has to resist that, because he or she wants to pull the students into a different, more expansive form of intimacy. This is an ongoing battle and that’s what the formality in the relationship is for, at least the good reason for it.
Amir: That explains why it can take many years for “higher” intimacy to develop – the student has to mature in order to meet the teacher on their turf.
Thomas: Yes, and the teacher has to refuse to meet the student on their turf. At the same time, the teacher wants to extends to the student an ongoing warm and open invitation. Then the student’s frustration can even be a productive motivating force.
Amir: How would you characterize the intimacy that the teacher is interested in?
Thomas: It’s intimacy based on identification with something beyond the small self sense. Which is what the spiritual journey is all about anyway.