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Sex, Ethics, and Injury: An Essay by Marc Gafni

Spiritually Incorrect: Sex, Ethics, and Injury

Note: This is an article that I wrote in 2007. It has been on my website for three years. I indicates my thinking on these issues clearly and I have lived in the integrity of that position. I have also written on these issues in formal integral forums, on my website and in numerous other places.

I submitted a different version of this paper for the ITC conference in 2010. I asked that version of the paper not to be published because it is still incomplete. However, I believe the paper as it stands now, even in its incomplete form, clarifies the core issues.

One of the reasons that I held my post conventional relationships in a private container is that I did not want to engage this issue as my primary teaching. I still do not want to do. I am much more interested in the issues on which I have taught in the last years: The Three Stations of Love, Unique Self, The Democratization of Enlightenment and the articulation of World Spirituality based on Integral principles. I am also passionately interested and committed to writing about Eros and Sexuality. But not specifically about sexuality’s post conventional expression. I would have preferred to live my private life privately and to stake intellectual ground in this very subtle and nuanced area. Certainly I do not want to make the possibility or impossibility of a teacher dating a student the core of my teaching. Moreover the issues of polyamory and monogamy while important also are not at the top of my list to engage. And I am even less wanting to about my own personal journey in this area simply because it should not be that interesting to anyone. Nonetheless it appears that I cannot avoid these topics altogether so I will publish a series of monographs on some of these topics over the coming months.

If the Integral community is going to engage in conversation that is truly integral in nature then we need to do some serious thinking and writing. We need more than dubiously motivated and grandstanding blog posts which engage in superficial slogans, deploying tired old categories, lacking rigor and depth. That is particularly true when such blog posts do not take into account in an serious way the AQAL framework which is the very core of Integral. “As they said in the army, Don’t fuck around the flagpole” is not going to cut it as integral discourse.

The dismissal of post conventional sexuality as addictive or narcissistic based on information from the blogosphere which allegedly established a pattern and then interprets that pattern, will do even less to encourage Integral conversation.

Pronouncements which do not take quadrants, levels or lines into account will not serve us. That is actually precisely the nature of first tier consciousness.

Now to be perfectly clear, post conventional sexual possibility DOES NOT = second tier. Of course not. There is first tier post conventional sexuality and second tier post conventional sexuality just like there is first tier conventional sexuality and second tier conventional sexuality. There is first tier monogamy and second tier monogamy and there is first tier polyamory and second tier polyamory. On these two forms of sexuality I will write in a later post.

In concluding my introduction, it needs to be said that from an AQAL perspective we need to take into account how all four quadrants are at play in every situation, including how the blogosphere creates scandal and then comments on it, the hidden motivations of all the parties in all four quadrants that create a “situation” and more. Integral Love and forgiveness will only emerge when everyone involved in a difficult situation sits around a table and says, “Wow, I really have a part in this. I fucked up. I could have done better; I regret that I did not do a better job. I will do my inner work and with the grace of god, be more skillful, graceful and loving in the future”.

All that by way of introduction:

At this point I offer the article below on Sex Ethics and Injury as an initial consideration of issues at hand.

Part Two:

Our topic is the question of whether it is possible for a student and a teacher to engage in sexual engagement in the New World of contemporary American Spirituality. While it is a story that is for me intensely personal, I will not address it in this article from that perspective. However I began contemplating this issue as direct result of a personal cataclysm in my life which produced virtually immeasurable pain and loss, and with it a paradoxical liberation from my personal story, a kind of surrender and some stunningly beautiful glimpses of what has been called by some Metanoia. It is from that place that I will one day return to the story. About, pain, personal responsibility, forgiveness and grace I will write, if at all, in a different context.
And yet a moment of personal reflection, as I pick up my pen might be required.
The solace of the work I do lies in this; only there in the silences of the writer can reality be re-ordered, reworked and made to show its significant side. It is only here that we can move from spectacle to depth, from grasping at understanding to coming to grips with reality, and here we can discern the deepest teaching that divine love offers us.

Our common actions in reality are simply the sackcloth covering which hides the cloth of Gold, the meaning of the pattern. Indeed Jung, was right when he reminded us that only “in the Shadow is the Gold”.

I have given up being a spiritual teacher in the old sense of the word. I tried to teach my uncertainty. I thought that love could hold the ambiguity of paradox. I also thought that the vessels of the sexual and its implicit commitment and integrity, were enough to overcome all else. But I learned that this is only so very particular times and places. Places where fear has not overwhelmed love, where petty truths are not hijacked to attempt great murders, and where the ulterior motive of piety does not occlude the forgiveness we need to hold each other’s greatness. And yet I remain madly in love with God and man, committed, as I have always been to share whatever gifts of aliveness I have been given. So I have become a spiritual and social artist. It frees me of certain obligations, projected shadows, and constraints that teachers are made to bear.

As a spiritual and social artist, I will paint my love of god and man on the canvas of my pain and joy. I have a path to show. That is my gift to give. For it I was born. For it I am alive. It is more intense and demanding that it has ever been. It is born of the agony and ecstasy of my sacred autobiography. This is the only art that I know. It is all that I have to share.

For artists, there awaits the joyous compromise through art with all that wounded or defeated us in daily life. In this way, we do not evade destiny, but fulfill it in its true potential. So I pray that the taste of this writing should have taken something from its living subjects- their breath, skin, voices, – weaving them into supple tissues of human memory; the memory which is the hope of the future. The memory which heals and transforms. I want us all to re-live it all again to the point where pain becomes art.

So, to our topic. My goal here will be to answer our question on the possibility or impossibility of such relationships. Some questions are better and wiser than their answers. Instead, I will try to suggest a framework which might free of us of orthodoxies that hide deeper realities of spirit. These frameworks might allow us to begin to imagine this question in a new way.

Three Levels of Consciousness:

The method of raising questions I will invoke is simply to introduce a new framework into this conversation. I refer to the three levels of consciousness, which elaborate a three-tiered lens which is remarkably helpful in elucidating reality.

I evoke these levels, translate and evolve them, from the Kabbalah of the Baal Shem Tov.3
The Baal Shem talks of three levels of spirit which I read as levels of consciousness. The first is Hachna’ah which is well translated as submission. The second Havdalah, literally meaning separation, which I translate as autonomy or individuation. The third is Hamtaka, literally translated as sweetness and often referred to in other spiritual literatures as the stage of surrender. The implications of the three levels are enormously important in understanding Kabbalistic thought in particular and reality in general. To understand these categories of spirit, it is helpful to point out the approximate analogy between them and the three levels of consciousness discussed by developmental thinkers. They are called by some contemporary theorists the pre-conventional, conventional and post conventional. These same general three levels are also often referred by other theorists to as pre- personal, personal and the transpersonal.

Before applying these levels to the relationship between teacher and student or staff, it may be useful to deploy these three levels in a couple of different contexts of ‘We space’, so we get a sense of the ground to which they really intend.

The first example is in the realm of Community and its relationship to the Individual.

Level One, termed ‘submission’ by the Baal Shem, might be a cult. A religious cult such as (Jim Jones and Jonestown) is pre-conventional and pre-personal. The personhood of the individual is effaced. No conventional law can override the internal law of the cult. The cult laws based not on principles of justice but on the will of the cult leader, and the leader’s will is not subject to verification by any external or internal standard.

The Personal, that is, the assertion of individuality and autonomy and the rejection of arbitrary authority, characterize the second level of consciousness. This is termed by the Baal Shem as ‘separation,’ which we have translated above as individuation. This is the level of the personal as well as the conventional. Impersonal Law, which protects the infinite adequacy and dignity of every individual’s unique personhood, is the order of the day. Any challenge to the personal, any encroachment on personal space is viewed as as pernicious, predatory and threatening.

The third level of consciousness, Hamataka, Sweetness, is often manifested by an authentic Sangha. Sangha is that wonderful Sanksrit term which I use to refer to a true spiritual community where love, interconnectivity and ecstasy are demarcating characteristics. Here, the individual might at times give up his own separateness to melt into the bliss of the larger whole, but this is never demanded. The post-conventional overrides the conventional. The law of the group might at times override the conventions of the dominant outside culture. The transpersonal invites one to transcend the personal.

Now here is a critical point. Viewed from the outside, levels One and Three might seem strikingly similar. Both are not personal. Both are not conventional. Yet in fact, they are not similar at all. As already noted by Hegel, the nature of ascending levels of consciousness is that the higher level always transcends and includes the emergent qualities of the previous level. This metaphysical principle deployed in our case would mean that the transpersonal, level three must transcend the previous level, the personal, but also include its main qualities. It can never be pre-personal. This would mean that the transpersonal must included the values of personal dignity, a human autonomy and individuality. It must also however transcend the personal. It must invite the person beyond the limitation of the lonely skin encapsulated ego, who, even as s/he constantly interfaces with others, lives alone in splendid isolation. It must enfold in bliss the quiet desperation of the never embraced lonely man and woman, holding them in divine rapture. The individual who transcends the personal to the transpersonal is raised by the ecstasy and love of a community committed to a common vision of spirit, compassion and joy to and experiences of sweetness which he never dreamed possible in his previous level of personal conventional consciousness. This third level, appropriately called Sweetness by the Baal Shem, is both the transpersonal and the post conventional possibility.

In the realm of Love and Relationship, the experience of falling in love is typically a Level One experience of submission, in which we enact a pre- conventional and pre-personal state. In falling in love, one gives up one’s own personhood and submits in joy or rapture to the love itself and to the other. One gives up one’s own boundaries of personhood in order to penetrate and be penetrated by the other. Convention falls by the wayside, and lovers at this level, like Romeo and Juliet, will defy any and all convention to be together and fulfill their love.

Level Two is individuation and separation: falling out of love, which is always the stage after falling in love. Personal boundaries snap back into place. The demands of convention so flagrantly flouted in level one, come back to demand their due. Each party moves to re-assert some level of boundaries and to reclaim some or all of the personal space, which they had previously ceded. Sometimes this is so painful that one of the pair jumps ship, jettisoning the relationship in order to seek a new Level One ecstasy experience. Some people remain on this level one – level two – level one merry go round for their entire lives of love.

On the other hand, one can decide to stay and do the work. And then one can move to transcend and include the individuation of level two, even as one reaches for the sweetness of Level Three.

In Level three, after all of the pain and complexity of Level Two have been worked with and integrated, both people give themselves over to love once again. In Level three the couple are once again touching ecstasy. But this is not puppy ecstasy. It is a rich, textured, mature Eros, which gives birth to a kind of rapture and depth unimaginable at level one. Of course, as is always the case when viewed from outside, level one, the Pre-personal and pre-conventional and level three, the transpersonal and post conventional, seem strikingly similar. But in their Interiority there are of an entirely different quality and joy. Or said more succinctly level one is the pseudo-satisfaction and surface ecstasy of submission. Level three is the infinite bliss of surrender. Submission and Surrender.

Now let’s apply these general levels of consciousness to our discussion on the possibility of mutually agreed upon dual roles which might include a romantic and or sexual dimension, between teacher and student or teacher or teacher and employee. At the first level of consciousness, submission or pre- conventional and pre-personal, the individual submits to his instincts, primal desires and needs. This is the stage before the individuation of the unique personae whose separate integrity and boundaries need to be affirmed and honored.

It is both a stage in history of humanity and a stage in the development of every human being. Ontogeny is mirrored in phylogeny and the reverse. At this level for example, the warlord or the priest might well make use of the virgins of the tribe either to serve his own sexual needs and desires or the economic and spiritual needs of the tribe, or both. The personal is not yet valued. It has not yet emerged as a level of consciousness.

An example of pre-personal consciousness in contemporary reality might be all forms of sexual misconduct between people in genuinely asymmetrical position of power. This might include the classical forms of sexual harassment or what Lin Farely has called the sexual shakedown. In this classic scenario, the boss – usually male, says to his subordinate, usually female, implicitly or explicitly; “hey if you want to be promoted, you better provide me with sexual favors”. Or in different version a teacher might say to his student, implicitly or explicitly, “hey do you want to go to heaven, or achieve liberation, then sleep with me and I will bring you close to the Dharma.” This is a kind of emotional rape. Of course the more prosaic and terrible forms of rape, incest, child molestation, which all grossly violate personhood, would all fall into this category as well. All of this sexual conduct is pre-personal.

At the second level of consciousness, that of the conventional, the personal, individuation or havdalah in the Baal Shem’s terms, the sacred integrity of the individual must be honored. The personal reigns supreme and must never be violated or sacrificed. It is at this stage in human history that individual rights are introduced and the distinct and dignified individual emerges. This process begins in the biblical period, attains fuller form in the renaissance and achieved crystallization in the enlightenment. At this level the warlord, priest, teacher or medicine man are all proscribed from engaging a woman sexually with whom they are working, if that engagement is based on the exercise of their power. Since they have more formal power, the assumption is that the woman’s consent is somehow incomplete and therefore the relationship is in some sense inappropriate and possibly even abusive. This is the standard read given to all relationships between people, in what seem to be asymmetrical positions of power.

Sex in the Forbidden Zone:

In the teaching of my master, Mordechai Lainer of Izbica the model for conventional ethics of Havdalah is the biblical figure of Joseph. The Joseph archetype in Lainer’s thought is defined by rule ethics. There are hard and fast rules, which attempt to codify reality into law. They brook no exceptions. The Joseph archetype is all about law and is by nature obvious, clear and dogmatic. The Joseph archetype is positively phobic about any exceptions to the rules. The Joseph archetype distinguishes clearly between the permitted and forbidden zones of life. When reads the writings of people like psychologist Glen Gabbard and his school, popularized by Peter Rutter in his book, Sex in the Forbidden Zone one encounters the absolutist language of the Joseph archetype. Sentences whose most important clause is “absolutely never”, “Never at all”, “There are no exceptions whatsoever” dot and define their work.
I will severely critique and dialogue with these writings in another context. For now suffice it to say that their work, which deals almost exclusively with what they consider male power figures sexually exploiting female subordinates of various kinds, is almost suffocated by their fundamentalist dogma. It is dogma because it presented as a kind of divine truth even though it is backed up by flimsy and questionable psychology. Like all dogma there is a core insight and truth to their work. However, as in all fundamentalist writing, that insight is stretched way beyond its capacity to provide wisdom or understanding.

The core insight of profound truth in their work is related directly to the case of the analyst and patient. The contract between analyst and patient is that the client brings her psychological sickness replete with symptoms to the analysts couch. In the theory of transference and counter transference, which is central to the explicit contract of the analytic encounter, the therapist re-enacts the role of the parent or primary caretaker, and client the role of the child. It in this very re-enactment that healing becomes a possibility.
If the analyst uses the vulnerability of this encounter to satisfy his own sexual needs or to heal his own woundedness then according to Gabbard and Rutter, he has violated the forbidden zone and committed a symbolic act of incest. For this reason sexual contact between client and analyst must be proscribed irrespective of whether it is initiated by client or therapist. At the same time it worth noting that both Gabbard and Rutter believe that even an analyst – like Jung for example- who crossed into forbidden zone can be rehabilitated after a one or two year period of therapy and inner work.

I agree with this core position. However, even it should not be taken as Dogma. For example no less a figure then Scott Peck in his authoritative best seller, The Road Less Traveled, suggests a very different view. In Peck’s perspective there are situations in which sexual engagement between the client and analyst might be both loving and healing. Peck rejects the ultimacy of the symbolic incest model and suggest implicitly a very different vision for client analyst interaction. While I agree with Gabbard and with the Joseph model in this context, I mention Peck only to point out that even this position should not be elevated to absolute dogmatic truth.

None the less, Gabbard’s analysis is insightful and compelling in this regard even if it is also incomplete and limited. The Joseph archetype, expressed by Gabbard, reflecting the conventional level of consciousness, focus virtually exclusively on masculine shadow, masculine power and masculine violation of the feminine. All of these are, of course, real. All of them possess a long and dishonorable history in human affairs.

However times changes, dynamics of power unfold, and the relationship between the masculine and the feminine shifts. Every era ushers in new and complex emotional, psychological spiritual dynamics in the dance of love and power between the masculine and the feminine.

Moreover within every era there are many containers that that this relation occurs within, and analyst and therapist is but one of them. Every relationship is governed by a different covenant. Some allow dual relations and others do not. Furthermore every particular manifestation of every single type of masculine feminine relation is different and needs to be governed by the unique will of God as it reveals itself in the specificity of the situation. Writes Lainer, “The God of yesterday becomes the idolatry of today”.

It is the nature of dogma to be unable to make distinctions. It is extremist in its nature and brooks no subtly nuance or alternative paradigms. It is for this reason the Zen masters taught; if you meet the Buddha on the road, kill Him. For yesterday’s Buddha all too easily becomes today’s victim feminist or Sexual fascist righteously fomenting the new Sexual McCarthyism.

Sexual harassment activism began as a sacred initiative manifested by feminist activism, seeking to express its newfound voice and wield its new power in favor of the powerless. There are those would say that it has been degraded by the abuse of power, the abuse of sexual intimacy through the filing of false and distorted complaints. In these complaints the feminine hides behind a false cloak of powerlessness from which she derives her power to inflict pain and suffering. No distinctions are drawn by Gabbard or the victim feminist school which formed him, between different forms of power. There is no acknowledgement of the complex way in which different forms of power are distributed. What began, as an honoring of the Goddess, has become her disgrace.

To give but one example Gabbard and Rutter claim there is absolutely no essential distinction between a married fifty year old psychoanalyst and his married 18 year old patient and an unmarried 45 year old university professor and an unmarried thirty year old graduate student over whom he has no formal structural power.

As we will see below the spiritual/psychological covenant between these two pairs is fundamentally different. To equate them is absurd.

The distribution of power in the second instance may well be equal. Each of them possess different forms of power, including to name but a few of the forms, the power of the student in a post-feminist world to file a complaint and have it be taken very seriously, the students power of feminine radiance, the teachers power of wisdom and age, the power of the professors status and the students power of youth and vitality.

It is however is the nature of dogma to be unable to hold the complexity and uncertainty inherent in distinctions. In both cases according Gabbard and Rutter all of the power is with male. The female to borrow Rutters phrase, is completely “powerless”. The male is a predator and the female is a victim. This position dishonors both the masculine and the feminine and is simply not true. It is not difficult to see why this conventional version of ethics violates reality. To violate reality by defacing it with dogma is to degrade the divine.

Like all dogma, the source of Gabbard’s brittle intransigence, is ignorance and fear; its result is injustice. Gabbard extends well validity of his original insight. In Gabbard and Rutters view of the world there is no subtlety, no uncertainty, no questions marks and no understanding of what the Talmud terms “the wisdom of distinctions.” James Hillman observations apply well to Gabbard and Rutter’s world view; “there is no chaos and therefore there can be no Eros”.

It is for this reason that Mordechai Lainer, in a number of esoteric passages equates the Joseph archetype with idolatry. Lainer’s analogy to idolatry is not without force. Idol worship is the greatest anathema of Hebrew spirit. According to this Hassidic master it appears in modernity in the form of the Joseph Archetype. The result of idolatry in Hebrew wisdom is always To-evah, literally abomination. The Joseph archetype today in the form of Gabbard and Rutter, despite its ostensibly noble intention, often produces abominations of spirit and truth.

That is not however to say that the Joseph archetype has no place. Indeed it does and an honored place at that. However it must, according to Lainer remain in perpetual tension and conflict with a second archetype, one beloved of Lainer, what he calls in so many words, the Judah Archetype. The Judah archetype is for Lainer the incarnation of eros. Eros is the full aliveness to the invitation of whatever is present. It is the experience of interiority, fullness of presence, participation in the yearning of being and the experience of wholeness through the realization of the ultimate interconnectivity of the all with the all. This might be termed, based on a careful read of Lanier and his Zoharic and Lurianic sources, Shekinah Consciousness.

The Judah archetype is, in my understanding, is Lainer’s unfolding of the third level of consciousness found in his lineage master, the Baal Shem Tov, that of Hamtaka, Sweetness.

This third level, remember, roughly approximates what we term in developmental thought, the post conventional or the transpersonal. While the very basic and proper goal of the conventional is to simplify, the very basic and proper imperative of the post conventional is to complexify. In the conventional, peace and harmony overwhelm truth and Eros. In the post-conventional the search for a deeper truth and Eros might at times overwhelm superficial stability as well as conventional wisdom and norms.

The post conventional possibility unpacks a far more complex reality. In this understanding Sexual or Romantic encounters between teacher and student are not always forbidden zone material. Indeed they can be potentially beautiful, profound, and life transforming whether or not they lead to any form of permanent stable relationship.

It is only when the consciousness of the individual expands to what Lainer refers to as an “enlightened” or “expanded” stage, writes Lainer that the Judah and Joseph archetype can be integrated.

Let’s look at each of these three levels of consciousness.

In level one, the pre-personal or pre-conventional, we classically find a teacher or employers engaged romantically or sexually with students and employees. These engagements are typically based on an unequal power dynamic, in which the teacher or employer uses their power to seduce or compel the student or employee. At this level the relationship, with the teacher {or God} is basically on the level of a protection racket. You obey me or you will lose out. These engagements are properly seen as inappropriate. The Baal Shem calls this level of consciousness “submission”, This might be the submission of the teacher to the power to psychological need or desire, resulting in the inappropriate sexual submission of the student to the teacher. There is a violation when the teacher inappropriately deploys his power either with threats or promises to bring his student to the dharma. These relationships are by their very definition in violation of the personhood of the student.

In Level Two, that of the personal or the conventional, teacher and student {as well as human being and God} are seen as completely and ineradicably separated by their roles. This is the level of individuation, termed by the Baal Shem as Separation. Teachers and students, Employers and employees inhabit different universes and there is no permission for the universes to interface on the romantic, erotic or sexual plane. Teachers and students in the conventional universe of separation, are sexually and romantically forbidden to each other. There are no exceptions.

At level three, that wall of separation becomes again more permeable. This is the level of post conventional possibility appropriately termed by the Baal Shem, the rung of sweetness. At this level teacher and student or employer and employee are no longer necessarily phobic to each other. There may be in particular circumstances the possibility of both romantic or sexual interaction or both. Dual roles are no longer always anathema. Sometimes they can foster delight, depth and growth. Moreover it is precisely the allowing for dual roles that might foster authenticity, beauty and sacred Eros of un- imagined possibility in the world of separation. The possibility of dual roles allowing not only for linear transmission but also for erotic interface between teacher and student {as well as man and God} comes paradoxically from the glimmering realization of non-duality.

Level One Level Three Confusion:

Now, the natural danger is that there will occur, what I called many years ago {in a different but not unrelated discussion of levels of consciousness,} a level one/level three confusion. Submission and Sweetness, which is also called surrender, might be confused. Ken Wilber has called this same phenomenon, noticed by many schools of spiritual thought, the pre-trans fallacy. The pre-conventional becomes confused with the post conventional; the pre-personal becomes mixed up with the transpersonal.

Freud falls into this trap consistently, confusing genuine transpersonal experience with the pre-personal oceanic consciousness of the infant. A reductionist mistake. The transpersonal is reduced and mistaken for the pre-personal. It is for that reason that he fails to take spirit seriously thus severely limiting the therapeutic effectiveness of many of his proposed interventions. By contrast Jung and his predecessors, the romantic philosophers, make an elevationist mistake. Anything that is not personal is elevated to transpersonal. Thus pre-personal mythic consciousness is often given an inflated status in Jung’s system which is significantly out of balance with the requirement of personal ethics.

The question in every student/staff and teacher relationship is always- is it pre-conventional and pre-personal or post conventional and transpersonal? Or is some appropriate or inappropriate combination of the two?

We have to be very conscious of both the reductionist and elevationist mistakes that we might make in Level One/Level Three confusion. One mistake would be to elevate level one to level three and the second mistake would be to reduce level three to level one.

The first mistake – to elevate natural pre-conventional lust with the grandeur of post conventional desire became a major motif in the writings of my teacher Mordechai Lainer. In response to this confusion, he introduced a spiritual practice, which he called Berur Teshuka, the clarification of desire. Its sole purpose was to provide tools FOR distinguishing between what in his system was the pre-conventional and conventional norms on the one hand and the post conventional possibility of the Judah archetype on the other.

Because of the difficulty in identifying from the outside whether one is looking at a pre or post conventional situation there is great potential vulnerability for both teacher and student. For the teacher the failure to discern or to identify partners who can discern, between pre and post mistake might be deadly.

The student because she may want a post conventional engagement with her teacher, might be seduced by his elevationist claim. He may make an elevationist claim, claiming a post conventional engagement when in truth he is merely using her to gratify his pre-conventional sexual desire or psychological need. This would be a form of sexual misconduct.

Or, the teacher may have a genuine set of post conventional relationships with students or staff over a number of years. This might be in one of two contexts. It might be in the context of companionship or sexual engagement, which is mutually pleasurable and desired by both sides. This may well create a depth of relationship, which might not otherwise have been available. Having had this engagement might well nurture years of friendship between the two, long after the sexual component of the engagement is not actual. Or in a second context, the teacher might be looking for a life partner. Over several years he may naturally develop dating relationships of different kinds with some of the people in his close circle including people who may be students or staff.

Sometimes this second context ends by mutual agreement and it settles into some form of the first context. As in any relationship, it is up to the parties involved to make the rules. The partners may require exclusivity with each other or one or both of the sides may decline to agree to exclusivity. In any event the sides need always to relate to each other in gentleness, love and forgiveness, as is always the requirement in every meeting of the masculine and the feminine.

Herein, however, lies the huge vulnerability of the teacher.

Feelings change, and with them, our perspective on our relationships. A romance that began out of a shared feeling of intimacy in one moment, may devolve later into mutual misunderstanding, hurt feelings, and unmet expectations. When this happens, either party may begin to view the relationship through a very different emotional lens. The encounter that appeared loving and free, now is reduced from an experience of post conventional mutuality and beauty to a status of pre-conventional ugliness and abuse.

Since level three and level one look very similar from the outside, this shift in perspective on the part of the partner can place the teacher in a highly exposed situation. For example, an agreement to hold the relationship private may be reframed as an imposed secrecy. If one of the women learns that she was not the “only one’, feminine shadow may be evoked – even if there was never any claim or commitment to exclusivity. The women may then cluster in rage, plug into a victim feminist hermeneutic about male abusers, and retroactively reduce what were at the time post-conventional relationships characterized by mutuality and autonomy into sinister abusive relationships. Often this kind of dynamic is subtly encouraged the masculine shadow players manipulating the feminine to their advantage even as they claim to be “protecting the women”.

This is often intensified when the women talk to outside parties who were not party to the interiority of the relationships. These outside parties will inevitably look at the relationships through the perspective of their own level of consciousness, and personal history. Their view of what occurred may be skewed by their own histories, needs, and professional agendas, many of them hidden from the women, the public and often from themselves.

Everyone knows that when a man or clusters of men are hurt or outraged and those emotions are filtered through an un-evolved masculine consciousness things sometimes go bad. This is no less true from a woman. When a woman is hurt or when a mutually re-enforcing group of hurt women gather, a fierce angry energy can gather. If this energy is refracted through the prism of un-evolved feminine consciousness it becomes all too easy for the group to dehumanize the teacher. The teacher can then become the target of vengeful acts, which are then regarded as justifiable retaliation.

War is often the result of masculine shadow. This does not make war less of a form of murderous abuse. The spiritual attempt to destroy a teacher’s reputation or career may sometimes be the result of feminine shadow or masculine shadow manipulating the feminine. This does not make it less of an act of murderous abuse.

These then are the great dangers of the level three – level one confusion. As with all post conventional erotic realities, a great deal of integrity, depth and courage is required by the parties themselves and by third party interlocutors in order to behave in a way that is holy and ethical. This is especially so if there are parties who experience themselves as hurt.

Between Level One and Level Three; The Conventional and the Post Conventional:

In order to enquire as to whether a relationship or set of relationships were pre or post conventional, a number of variables, need to be examined. Such examination can only happen through in depth interviews of all sides. The rendering of judgment and infliction of damage on one part without carefully speaking with all parties, without honoring the basic human dignity of all parties, although usually justified by noble rationalizations, is virtually always driven by fear, egoic self protection, cowardice or even malevolence.

The first consideration to examine might include the nature of the power relationship between the parties. The conventional view holds a very narrow view of power, which assumes the teacher always has the power and that the student is powerless. The post conventional view distinguishes between different forms of power. The post conventional view interrogates power in a more evolved fashion and reveals that power is distributed in far more complex and egalitarian ways then we might have expected.

Feminist writer and professor Bell Hooks writes, “One of the newest areas where the assertion of female agency {power} is under attack is in the debate over whether erotic relationships between teachers and students are ever possible”. Hooks believes that they are. Feminist Professor and thinker Laura Kipnis, supporting Hooks position writes simply “Power comes in more than one guise”. Even if however there is a power differential, the post conventional view is that this does not mean that the relationship is necessarily exploitative.

Says Bell Hooks,” Feminine agency is undermined when we obscure recognition of the way desire can be acknowledged in relationships between individuals where there is unequal power without being abusive.”
According to Hooks and many other “power feminist” writers, “countless female students have chosen to have liaisons with their teachers. {Herself included, both as a student and teacher}. Many of these teachers have had relationships with many of their students over a period of years. It is wrong writes Hooks to assume “that exploitation and abuse are the natural outcomes of such encounters”. “There are many more male professors involved with students that are not exploitative then those that are”.

The post conventional view also asserts that women are desiring subjects who act and not merely desired objects who are acted upon.

Kipnis writes a scathing critique of one particularly well known victim feminist accusation of sexual abuse: An accusation leveled against Prof. Harold Bloom of Yale University by a former student of Blooms. Bloom was known, I am told to have had complex dual relations with many students over the years. One of these students, twenty years later attacks Bloom in a New York Magazine article.
Kipnis responds in an assertion of what has been termed power feminism versus victim feminism. She writes, “If anything has made recent feminism ..irrelevant and ridiculous, it this reductiveness about desire and the embrace of victimology”.

Adds feminist Prof. Chrisina Hoff Sommers, “If you take away from women students the idea that they are moral agents responsible for their own behavior you diminish them as human beings. It’s edgy. It’s demanding”. It is “nothing less than a third stage of feminism”.

It might also be more then worth mentioning that in a post-feminist world where complaints of sexual harassment or abuse by themselves have the power to destroy careers, all without any due process or fair enquiry, the female student by definition has infinitely more formal structural power then the male teacher. A teacher who gets involved with a student today is in effect giving over his power to the student. This was clear to me when I got involved with people in my inner circle, and had multiple explicit conversations with them in this regard. I was promised in beautiful language, safety and integrity. I decided I would choose love and intimacy over fear. I chose to trust. We are only betrayed by people we believe could never betray us. This is the very definition of betrayal. While I regret my choice I am not spiritually embarrassed by it.

A second radical post-conventional consideration might be the authenticity of spirit in dual relationships themselves. There might be a particular wisdom in sexuality itself as a delightful means to undermine the power hierarchy between teacher and student. It is the very job of the teacher to undermine hierarchy even as it is maintained. Dual relationships may be the most accurate reflection of that dialectical relationship in a postmodern post conventional reality.

Feminist Professor and thinker, Jane Gallop writes about her seduction of her teachers.

“Our cliché included two teachers both in their thirties …these two turned me on to the latest ideas in the field I was studying, this was the cutting edge. These guys were brilliant. I wanted to do work that would impress them. I was fortunate to have both of them on my dissertation committee. I pursued and developed personal relationships with each of them….”

“I wanted so badly to sleep with these guys. And I did my utmost to seduce them. Both of them turned me down more than once. But over time I did what I could to sway them. Trying not to be to obnoxious I watched for opportunities that might present themselves prepared to take advantage and press my suit. During my last year of graduate school … I finally managed to have sex with them {each separately to be sure, but oddly coincidentally in the same week}…”

“Casual Sex. Even thought my relationship with each of them was anything but casual. Their opinion of me mattered profoundly; their teaching had forever changed the way I understood the world. To be honest I think I wanted to get them in bed in order to make them more human, more vulnerable. {They} had enormous power over me. I don’t mean their institutional position but their intellectual force. I was bowled over by their brilliance, so superior. I wanted to see them naked; to see them like other men. Not to stop taking them seriously as intellects; I never did, but … to feel my own power in relation to them… They let me see them as men.”

A third issue to explore might be the intended nature of the relationship. Before words like abuse are thrown around they need to be understood. Abuse derives from the Latin and means to violate proper or intended use. For example in the analyst client relationship the intended use, the covenant of relationship is such, that it precludes romantic or sexual interaction. However in the post conventional view, one might consciously negotiate a very different covenant with a teacher. Or the covenant might be consciously changed even after the relationship has been initiated.

Of course the conventional view would say that no such negotiation could take place, even if it happens before any relationship begins, viewing all teacher student interactions as situations in which the student is powerless. This is however a classic example of dogma becoming corrupted. Even if the conventional position originally arose to express an important truth, when held dogmatically it risks losing it’s alignment with reality and thus desecrating the name of God.

It is at this point, while talking about the power dynamic, that it may be worth pointing out the implicit weakness and condescension inherent in the incest model of Gabbard and Rutter as applied to teacher student or teacher employee relationships.

Feminist writer Bell Hooks explicitly rejects the thinking of Gabbard and Rutter in this regard,
“Most individuals who oppose consensual romantic bonding between teacher and students act as though any surfacing of sexual desire between teachers and students ….within an institutional hierarchy where one has greater {surface} status and power then the other is necessarily a context of victimization.” This position covers itself with a psychological fig leaf by “representing students as children and professors as parents. They see any erotic bonding between the two as symbolic incest.. “

To which Hooks responds, “Not surprisingly it is students who are among the groups that oppose such thinking. They understand whose interests are serves when students are infantilized” Clearly it is the interests of patriarchy. “Professors most wedded to the conventional hierarchy seem most wedded to the parent child analogy.”

The formal psychoanalytic relation in particular schools is unique because it an intentional, formal re-visiting of the parental relationships, e.g. transference and counter transferences. It is for that reason that in these contexts there must be a sexual forbidden zone. It is here that Gabbard, Rutter and company has made an important contribution. However this is the case in a host of other relational frames where there are complex and asymmetrical distributions of power.

That is not to say that the symbolic incest dynamic is not at play. It is always at play. We know very well today that romantic partners often if not almost always choose a mate, which will allow them to recapitulate successfully the unfinished business of parental bonds. That does not mean that we should not get married or have sex because; among a thousand other hermeneutics there is also a symbolic incest hermeneutic.

A fourth issue to explore might be, what is the nature of the teacher? Who is the teacher? Huston Smith wrote an important essay distinguishing between different types of teachers. Distinctions need to be drawn between an Indian Guru or Zen Master who teaches radical submission to the to the teacher as the central practice of egolessness, and a spiritual teacher who specifically teaches, encourages and even demands personal autonomy and healthy ego strength in his students. In my teaching the assumption of personal autonomy on the part of the student was an absolute axiom to which I returned time and again. In the case of the former I believe liaisons with students of any nature are unworkable. In regard to the latter the issue is much more nuanced and complex, and ultimately there may well be a genuine possibility of appropriate engagements between this kind of teacher and his students or staff.

A fifth issue to consider might be around issues of privacy. Is privacy a genuine possibility for a spiritual teacher or must all relationships be transparent? Can the request for privacy as a condition of engagement, a request received and honored at the time, be later legitimately construed as having been “sworn to absolute and eternal silence”. This kind of retroactive reconstruction is especially troubling if the student or staff person was a full co-creator of the relationship, had every opportunity not to agree to confidentiality and not engage in the relationship, or perhaps even requested confidentiality themselves. Perhaps this kind of retroactive reconstruction of reality not itself a form of abuse? It is my belief today {Sept. 2011} that a teacher cannot legitimately entertain relationships that are not transparent. Not necessarily however for intrinsic ethical reasons, but simply because it is far too dangerous to him, his students, past present and future, and all those who have invested in him and his vision. *The container makes the teacher, their family and vision vulnerable in a way that is simply unacceptable.

There is however a second reason that has become clearer to me that was not as obvious to me two months ago. A private container necessarily involves obfuscation and lying. While lying is clearly not always wrong, the ability to discern between what one might call acceptable and even appropriate and non- appropriate lying is very rare. And for everyone -myself included it is slippery slope. It has also been pointed out to me recently that the experience of holding a container may be hurtful. I hear that and I believe that when one makes a commitment to privacy then to unilaterally break that commitment is not okay. And at the same time I hear the pain in holding a container and the lying it may necessitate and as a result have changed my position on this issue. I know feel that in virtually all cases a container is not possible or desirable. I have written more on  the issues of privacy and transparency in a recent blog post.*

A sixth issue to consider might revolve around the basic posture towards sexuality that imbues a spiritual scene. Might there not be is a hidden anti sexual bias? Or at least a bias against the kind of sexuality which not leads to committed, monogamous relationship? Might not this hidden anti sexual bias, all too easily provide the ground for overlaying legitimate sexual engagements with a retroactive hermeneutic of abuse. Is the erotic basically the context for exploitation or might the erotic be also being a context for growth, even when relationships do not remain stable and permanent?

A seventh issue to consider might be a thoughtful re-examination of the conventional view that males are fundamentally predators and women essentially victims. Do we need to accept or challenge what Katie Rophie has called the “feminist consciousness of victimization”. Do we need to accept or reject the denial of feminine agency paradoxically shared by the far right and contemporary victim feminism?
An eighth issue to explore might be to ask if there is a standard beyond consensuality and even emotional mutuality which every relationship of this nature might be required to meet? Is there, what we might want to frame as a categorical imperative of Eros. One such imperative that I have worked to formulate in this past year might be, ‘ Is this relationship for the highest good of both sides’? This is a very different standard then consensuality and mutuality. A relationship might be both consensual, mutual and co-creative and still not meet this standard. Is it the teachers’ obligation to make that determination for both himself and his student? That is to say even if the student claims it is for their highest good the teacher is still responsible to determine that this is not the case in order to protect the student. That would certainly the position of the conventional. Patriarchal as it may sound that well may be the case. Or as the post conventional might assert, do we not have an obligation to undermine patriarchy here, free the student from victim consciousness, and respect her feminine agency and power.

However there are other considerations the post conventional might have to take into account. Can we trust the first person evaluation of either the teacher or the student. Is not every person somewhat of a genius when it comes to self-deception?

And we might also have to expand our consideration of the third person as well. In determining whether the relationship is in the highest good of both parties the teacher would have to consider first, second and third person perspectives. First person would address the interiority of the teacher and student, second person would address the dynamics of their relationship and third person would address the cultural, legal and social realities. The teacher might also have to include in this third person the impact of the relationships on all of his past students as well as all of his future students through the generations.
All of these questions and many more would need to be raised if there were to be a serious post conventional conversation about the possibility of romantic sexual relations between teacher and student.
Such are the demands and work required to engage post-conventional possibility.

More often than not it is safer and more ethical to remain in the conventional. The Joseph archetype according to my teacher, Mordechai Lainer, applies to most of life. However the Judah archetype, the complexity of dual relations, the gorgeousness of full Eros, in particular situations, between teacher and student, may well reflect the higher messianic consciousness for which some of desperately yearn.
It is however crucial to remind ourselves that, levels of ascending consciousness always – in Hegel’s language need to “negate and preserve”. Or in Ken Wilber’s positive reformulation of Hegel, each ascending level of consciousness must transcend and include the previous levels. What this means in our discourse is that any transpersonal or post conventional possibility must taken into account the core truths of the previous level of consciousness, the conventional and the personal. Practically that means three things. There must be a genuine awareness of the autonomy of the student as the cornerstone of his or her personal dignity. Second it means that there must be a genuine and open dialogue between them about what they seek in the nature of their relationship. Third there must be an authentic and sophisticated conversation between them about the complex power dynamics, which define there every particular and specific relationship. All my relationships in my spiritual community fulfilled these requirements.

Finally we must always remember that a hermeneutics of devastation is a choice and not a necessity. Even however if people are hurt, that in no way justifies the explosion of feminine shadow that turns hurt into malevolence. it is also important to bear in mind that is often masculine shadow hijacking the feminine which drives the tragic and unjust destruction that often result in these situations.

It is in this regard that I choose to this short reflection with Rabia, the great Indian mystic. She herself was according to one historical account, a true victim of sexual abuse. I address Rabia’s words however not only to the student that has been genuinely hurt by a teacher but to the teacher who has been genuinely abused by a student. I address Rabia’s words to the teacher who has been betrayed by lovers and whose character and person have suffered the pain of distortion and falsehood. I address Rabia to the teacher who feels in one moment held by graces in the palm of liberation and in the next moment devastatingly alienated from source which is God. I cite Rabia to myself. In her words is Metanoia.
May her words be my guide.

My Body is covered with wounds
this world made

But I still long to kiss her,
even when God said

Could you also kiss the hand
that caused
each scar
for you
will not find me
you do


i. I mix my words freely with those of Robert Durell in his great work Justine.

ii. Even here however their work goes to far and prohibits relationships forever. The termination of therapy is irrelevant for Gabbard, He makes the fundamentalist assertion that relationships initiated in a particular form cannot shift and re-configure themselves. Many leading analysts whom I have interviewed disagree and the reality falsifies Gabbards Dogma.


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