In the poem “Otherwise,” Jane Kenyon, former Poet Laureate of New Hampshire, writes with simplicity and grace about her day and appreciating each moment. I particularly like the line in that poem:
At noon I lay down with my mate. It might have been otherwise.
Her way of describing making love with her husband feels dreamy and poetic to me and speaks of seizing the moment. Plus, because of the reference to sex at noon, it reminds me of that happy 70’s song by the Starland Vocal Band, “Afternoon Delight.”
I was caught by surprise when I read an article by her husband, U.S. Poet Laureate, Donald Hall, in a New Yorker article called Between Solitude and Loneliness. In the article, Hall describes the same ritual that his wife describes, but much more bluntly. He says:
Afterward, we took a twenty-minute nap, gathering energy for the rest of the day, and woke to our daily fuck.
In hearing these two wildly different descriptions of the same ritual (both by Poet Laureates), I caught myself initially thinking that Jane’s perspective seemed spiritual and poetic, while Donald’s seemed pornographic and crass.
But, deep down I knew better.
True, there was a time when I might have judged the word “fuck” as belonging in a non-spiritual bucket (where was the reverence after all?) but my own practice has shown me differently. Likewise, there might have been a time when I loathed the idea of just “laying down in the afternoon” (where is the juicy in that?)
But taken together, the words of Jane Kenyon and Donald Hall point to something essential but ineffable I have discovered in my own life, something both spiritual and crass, tender and juicy—a harmonizing of polar opposites that creates magic. This sexual magic transcends the bounds of ordinary sex bringing us to an intimacy that may be reverent, still, and otherworldly, but is (let’s face it) driven by the concrete act of fucking, in all its delightfully vulgar and achingly sweet forms.
This synthesis of the two perspectives described by these poets—the gentle “laying down in the afternoon” and more coarse “daily fuck”—is what I have come to appreciate as our own version of “Afternoon Delight”—a daily engagement born from a mutual spiritual desire to connect deeply, even ethereally, with one another, yet bound to the demands of the physical bodies that fuel it.
In fact, the most base and primal instincts of sex—i.e. the act of fucking: the kissing, licking, sucking, blow-by-blow exploration of each other’s bodies—are powerful tools for spiritual practice.
In traditional sitting meditation we are trained to bring our attention again and again to our object of concentration: our breath, our mantra, or our senses. This practice draws our attention away from the thinking mind, which lives in the past or future, and encourages us to be attentive to right now.
In sex, drawing back to the senses happens naturally, allowing thoughts to slip easily into the background. Sex is a riveting portal to the present, where intimacy with the moment and each other lives.
I have found our Afternoon Delight to be the most sublime meditation of all. During it, we serve as each other’s object of meditation, cultivating an undistracted mind, while playfully holding one another’s attention (the poetic) right along with each other’s genitals (the crass), thereby harnessing the power of the senses to bring us present.
The atmosphere of our “Afternoon Delight” sessions tends to be playful and light-hearted as the song of the same name implies, and the intent clear: we are there to love and be loved, to care for and be taken care of, to embrace and to be embraced with unconditional love. We accept each other exactly as we are: tender and caring as well as dirty and foul-mouthed. My yin and his yang meet.
The juxtaposition of both perspectives—the shadow versus light; the yielding versus penetrating, the master versus slave, the “at noon I lay down with my mate” versus “woke to our daily fuck”—help us see the yin/yang spiritual whole that happens when polar opposites are harmonized: one cannot exist without the other. And instead of bemoaning those differences, we take sanctuary in and delight with one another.
As we move through physical sensations while holding each other’s gaze, a merging happens. Naturally, we cultivate the desire to prolong the experience. (Love and Ecstasy aka “Tantra” training helps.)
We see that sex has so much more to offer than an avenue for quick release. As we let go of the desire to give in to a full orgasm and settle in to a prolonged and shared moment, we merge in an ecstatic expression that is like a rhapsody: irregular and intense, but unified and harmonious like an improvised song or dance with different cadences and moods. Our engagement is dreamy and poetic but also coarse and penetrating. It is both spiritual and pornographic.