THE BODY ELECTRIC TRAINING
Reprinted with permission from Shared Vision magazine.
Exploring the body electric, healing sexual wounds
by David Scott
The rift between sexuality and spirituality, installed within Western culture as the doctrines of original sin, has been a source of much human pain. On the one hand, we are sexual beings, driven to satisfy a powerful urge and, on the other, we absorb cultural messages that steep our sexuality in guilt and shame. These undercurrents of sexual angst have their origins in the fathers of the Christian Church who were unable to reconcile their sex drives with their service to God. "Wherever sexual passion is at work, it feels ashamed of itself," wrote Saint Augustine, who went on to make original sin a central feature of Catholic doctrine. Christianity, of course, has been the dominant spiritual force in the Western world ever since; 16 centuries after Augustine, we still view our erotic selves with ambivalence.
Nevertheless, sexual repression foments its own kind of rebellion and the forces of libertines can be heard throughout Western history (William Blake, D.H. Lawrence and Wilhelm Reich, for example). The liberation of sex from guilt, shame and condemnation may be applauded for its own sake, but the trick has always been to find some way of forging a link with spirituality, not just to unfetter sex, but to sanctify it. In this way, sex is seen as something not merely natural, but sacred, a rhythm of life rooted in the cosmos.
Wilhelm Reich, one of the most famous and certainly the most controversial of Freud's pupils, was an important forger of the link for this experimental legacy. Reich believed that the antidote to human neurosis, which he believed was caused by emotional armoring, was sexual energy. His therapy aimed at dissolving energy blockages in the muscles with deep-breathing exercises and vigorous body massage. Once de-armored, the patient was ready to experience the big Reichian O, an orgasm to be sure, but transformed into a stream of erotic energy flowing through a clear channel.
Reich's legacy may be seen in rebirthing and various other new age therapies, but usually devoid of any sexual focus. Sex is still to hot to handle for most therapists. An exception is Joseph Kramer, who created the Body Electric workshops to make sex and spirit whole again.
Kramer is a professional masseur who spent 11 years studying to be a Jesuit priest. For a time in his life, he rebounded between teaching at a Catholic girls' school during the day and prowling New York's Gay scene at night. Eventually, his sexual orientation became too public for the Catholic hierarchy and he was dismissed. He moved to Berkeley, turned his interest to sex and spirituality and, inevitably, encountered the ideas of Wilhelm Reich. But, ironically, he credits the Catholic Church with helping him realize the link between sex and spirit. "Once I got rid of the guilt," Kramer is quoted as saying in the Village Voice, "I realized that the God space, the religious space in me, was intimately tied up with sex."
Primed with Reich, Taoism, tantra, massage therapy and his Catholic revelations, Kramer put together the first of his workshops in 1984. Now based in Oakland, with occasional visits to 19 cities all over North America, Body Electric offers courses in exploring 'the healing potential of erotic energy.' The original workshops were for men only, but one for women is now available in three cities including Seattle. Although Kramer envisioned his men's workshops for 'pioneering Gay, Bisexual, and non-Gay men,' only an extremely daring non-Gay man would be so bold as to enroll.
Participants attend in the nude and are encouraged to explore each other's bodies. The climax (if you will) of the program is an extended full-body massage given by several different participants.
Here's how one participant, writing in the Village Voice, described the Body Electric massage:
"For an alternative to ejaculation that would satisfy the Western urge for climax, Kramer borrows from contemporary Taoist master Mantak Chia on the exercise called the Big Draw. After an extended period of breathing and continuous genital massage, you take a deep breath, clench all your muscles from head to toe, hold the breath for half a minute, and then release it. The combined flooding of breath and erotic energies can trigger a full-body orgasm with profound effects. Some people hallucinate, weep or have physical contractions that look for all the world like grand mal seizures."
Collin Brown is the new director of Body Electric (Joseph Kramer has gone on to make videos and to spread his message to Europe). He says that many straight men do, in fact, attend the workshops and emerge renewed. "There are a lot of straight men who are beginning to feel that there is a lot more to sex than they have been led to believe," he says. "And, one some level, it means crossing over lots of taboo lines. It's not only the taboos about what it means to be with other men, it's the taboo about what it means to be really erotically alive. Most men come through the workshop saying they can't believe how little it was about sex and how much it was about spirituality. It opens a spiritual channel in many people's lives where they feel a connection to the divine through their bodies."
Getting to the experience of pure erotic energy means dissolving one's barriers and attachments. Carla Timmons, Body Electric's coordinator for the women's programs, spoke about the process: "The safety is essential so that the group can deal with each other. The exercises layer upon one another, and we start with building community and that trust and getting to know one another, face to face, eye to eye. As the group comfort builds, you go deeper and deeper; as the layers of armor go, so go the layers of clothing."
Graduates of the workshop are said to experience more ecstasy in their lives and to be much more preset about who they are in the world. Now more confident of their own erotic selves, they can approach their lovers not out of need, but with unconditional love.
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