The Microcosmic Orbit
I am working with a method I learned (or, to be perfectly accurate and honest, was exposed to) many years ago at the Healing Tao Center in New York. It is called the microcosmic orbit, and is in fact related to another practice you may have heard of, kundalini yoga. I will also admit to having a specific purpose: I am adapting the microcosmic orbit practice to activate the energy that Freud called sublimation.
Psychological sublimation, properly considered, is a lot like chemical sublimation, which is the change of a solid to a gas with no intervening liquid state (think, for instance, of dry ice, which changes to carbon dioxide gas at room temperature). In the living body, sublimation is a spontaneous and rather dramatic change of state, in which one type of energy — sexual, for example — is transformed and redirected to serve another purpose. Not a higher or better purpose, just a different one.
Now this points to a distinct difference between what Freud meant by that term and what I mean by sublimation. Freud’s focus was on the transformation of libido and thanatos (sexual and destructive impulses or instincts) into socially acceptable behavior or occupations. My practice is also guided by transformation, but not under the assumption that either sex or physical force is in essence evil, threatening to society, or maladaptive — they are in Nature quite the contrary. Freud, of course, turned the stiff Victorian morals of his era into a quasi-empirical religion whose rank idiocy has only been exceeded among similar movements by Scientology. I have no system, no religion, no false science to offer you; I am simply interested in sublimation. Finally, I have zero interest or concern whether the activities or behaviors to which I channel my sexual energy are “socially acceptable” or not; it is probably better that they weren’t acceptable at all.
Thus, my focus in practicing the microcosmic orbit is about using the vast and beautiful energy of sex to draw upon its creative and healing potential. To anyone who has ever been in love, the healing properties of sex are well known from experience. I recall a time during undergraduate school when my girlfriend and I both had the flu. She came to my dorm room looking as miserable as I felt. We both took off our clothes and she said, with a note of wonder in her voice: “what if we tried to fuck it off, the virus, the sickness? Just have such wild sex that it all burns out of us?” And that’s exactly what we spent the weekend doing. We began on Friday night-Saturday morning; kept at it all day and night Saturday; and by Sunday morning both of us felt remarkably better. We slept that Sunday away and awoke Monday morning completely healed.
As for the creative potential of sexual energy, well that’s fairly obvious at one level, which is of course pro-creation. But that is just the manifest creative potential of sex. For since the time of the Kamasutra (and no doubt before), the sublimely creative force of the sex instinct has been celebrated by poets, visionaries, and lovers. The Kamasutra itself is not just the position manual that it has become known as in the West; it describes a way of approaching moksha, which is the liberation of the true individual and universal self. The Chinese term for the same thing is Hsieh, the title of the I Ching’s 40th hexagram, usually translated “Deliverance.” Moksha and Hsieh denote the deepest of creative experiences, the act of self-creation through discovery and personal revelation — the revealing of all the beauty and perfection that lie beneath the crust of ego and the shroud of appearance, or that which the Hindus call maya, or Illusion.
So how exactly is the microcosmic orbit to be practiced to further these healing and creative ends? The video below, by Mantak Chia himself (leader of the Healing Tao organization, in whose New York City center I studied the orbit) presents the outlines of it, and I’ll add some explanatory points that speak to the sex-specific theme I’m exploring here.
Breathing into the Orbit
To do the MO meditation, I start with a light stretching routine: I rely on a few Chi Kung stretches and a couple of standing yoga postures. Go with what works for you: the idea is to activate your body-consciousness — that is to say, your body as consciousness. The evidence for this experience is abundant — most recently in the “thinking fingertip” studies published in Nature Neuroscience. As long as your body is alive and aware, so is every one of its cells, which number in the quadrillions.
As for the meditation itself, I take a comfortable but reasonably alert sitting position, in which the feet touch and the legs are bent but also comfortably extended. My hands are usually positioned along the space between the belly button and the genitals. One additional physical note: I tend to prefer to meditate naked where possible. Some of you may have read my various discussions of the experience of psychological nudity: this is, to me personally, a fairly important focus of meditation. Thus, it seems appropriate to let my body mirror the state of my mind. After all, these two are not separate things.
But I’ve done a fair bit of experimenting before settling into any particular physical position; and I tend to remain open to experimenting. Your practice can and will be distinctly different from mine in these details. The activity from this point forward will be somewhat more common between us, though never an exact match. Remember, I’m learning a lot of this by calling on the spirit of my cat, Night. You may have an animal guide or other inner resource that leads you uniquely. One of the teachings of the moksha experience is that life endures beyond the body; and the orgasm is perhaps the most vibrant and primordial physical metaphor of creative continuance. One of the effects of the MO is the re-experiencing of the orgasm as a whole-body rather than a merely genital phenomenon.
One way to begin is with the turbine-image that Chia recommends in the video: feeling that spinning movement behind the belly button and reaching down toward the genitals. Its energy is upward, into the higher digestive organs. Whatever becomes kinetic in your pelvic floor (see below) will be drawn upward by that turbine. Remember that the cellular structures of your body are not merely mechanical but dynamic systems. Biologists teach us that the membrane of a cell is not a wall but a web of selective receptivity. It remains open to what is nourishing while chemically repelling what is toxic.
Once the turbine is running, I focus on breathing into the tailbone of the spine. As the back and trunk muscles expand on the in-breath, I feel the breath entering the lower spine and activating the tip of a conical cylinder along my pelvic floor, which is the end of the tailbone extending to the base of the genitals. With practice you will feel the active energy of the moving breath catalyzing the more dormant energy of the genitals (see below for a more dynamic variation on this). As the sexual energy is thus stirred up, the abdominal turbine picks it up and lifts it, raising it into the upper abdomen and chest. From there, it may rise spontaneously into your throat, face, and head. But there is no need to make this (or anything for that matter) happen. Just watch with all the sensation there is inside you; watch as if it’s a fascinating game or sports event, and you don’t have any rooting interest in one player or team or outcome over another. Keep it up for as long as it remains interesting — that is, for as long as you’re feeling something new and fresh. As you repeat it, you’ll most likely feel the desire to spend more time with it in each new session.
An Erotic Variation
What follows is probably best done privately at the start; but you’ll learn to practice it in public as well. Begin by getting yourself aroused by the usual means: mental, visual, physical — as if you were about to enjoy a nice, slow, languorous masturbation session. Now begin the MO meditation as above. What you will notice is that the sex-energy of your genitals isn’t as quiet as it was in a non-aroused setting. So as you draw the breath from the tailbone through the kinetic cylinder of your pelvic floor, you will feel something like a micro-explosive energy — as if your breath were a Mento candy being dropped into a cylinder of Pepsi. I know, it’s kind of a gross image, but go with the feeling of it: you’re going to experience what feels like a forceful chemical reaction.
If you do this often enough, you’re likely to have a range of experience. Obviously, what commonly happens is that you arouse yourself so much that you wind up “taking advantage of yourself” as Tom Waits once said about masturbation. Another thing that can happen is even more interesting than that: you remain aroused and feel the cum coming, but you stay with the breath and the orbit instead; and this can lead to the “body orgasm” that you may have heard about. Even if you doubt that such a thing can happen or that you’re capable of the natural discipline that this practice both nurtures and calls upon; it’s worth trying out. Your body is a nearly inexhaustible playground.
Sublimation is Not a Mechanism
Before finishing, I’d like to make one point very clear: sublimation is not a renunciation of sex. But as long as I don’t have a woman in my life, it makes sense to try these experiments in transforming my sexual energy into other channels of my life. Once again, the approach we need is not moralistic but practical. Make the proverbial chicken salad out of chicken shit.
The microcosmic orbit, however, is more than a way of transferring sexual energy into creative, healing, and spiritual realms of being. It is about learning to have a conversation with, and within, your body — a conversation that both includes and transcends words. With all due respect to Neale Donald Walsch, this to me is the first and most significant of all conversations with god.
In our increasingly insular and solipsistic society, with its bizarrely feudalistic socio-economic disparities and its handheld devices of brutish isolation; communication is arguably the one human ability in the most precipitous functional decline. I would like to submit that this failure begins within: we will never be able to communicate truthfully and productively among one another if we cannot first carry on an intelligent conversation within ourselves.
When we enhance our natural creativity; when we can make a fresh kind of love with and within ourselves and thereby reveal potential we might have never before known — this is not merely a psychological coping strategy; it is a fulfillment of Nature. Therefore, I completely reject the notion that sublimation is a defense mechanism, for it is neither defensive nor mechanical. It is, in fact, a pure and lucid form of communication among your body’s energies, systems, organs, and functions. When you can become proficient at that kind of communication, then penetrating the walls of ego and fear to truly connect with the people around you becomes rather simple.
This leads me to a point that I’ve made before but bears repeating: the life guided by meditation is not one of retreat from life but of a different and deeper encounter with it. To form a new and vibrant relationship with our own sexuality would seem to be a creative element of such an encounter; and a way of attracting far more nourishing interpersonal relationships. I will let you know what discoveries might await me there.