I'm half-way through this book, and already brimming over with reactions to it:
I'm finding de Rougemont's work very useful for focusing my thoughts and the insights I've been given. He's an arrogant "sombitch," :) and never can bring himself to refer to the Cathars and their influence as anything but "heresy." Still, unlike his peers, he saw the parallels with Tantra and understood that the Cathars (and original troubadours) were not about sensual gratification, but about longing for Union, inflamed by chastity. (More on why their course was a wrong turn in a moment.)
First a slight digression: I believe that the Gnostic Gospels have some useful clues about the true mystery (assuming there is one, which I do). And, actually, the Gospel of Philip does speak of a "pure embrace" and "intercourse" between Jesus and Mary Maggie. [New translation by French scholar, Jean Leloup: "The embrace that incarnates the hidden union does not arise from impulse or desire; it is an act of will," but it does involve "flesh" and silence. "All who practice the sacred embrace will kindle the Light." "Union in the bridal chamber protects against temptation," and allows people to "rise above attraction and repulsion."]
I find it interesting that Jesus apparently traveled to India. There is a tradition of a saint there who fits his description, I've heard. However, I think the initial teachings then deteriorated (just as the primitive part of our brains is designed to insure that they do). 800 years later, tantra burst into flames over there and gained strength over the next 400 years, and de Rougemont believes that Tantra, traveling west through the Sufis (via the Moors) and the Manicheans (via the Cathars by way of Bulgaria), is the source of our western ills relating to seeking death (the anihilation of the self) through passionate romance (which he heartily condemns).
However, he acknowledges that the watered-down version of courtly love we can now track through the remaining literary artifacts, from which all these ills flow, had lost the "chaste" piece, and was therefore corrupt. And now (I'm half way through the book), he's desperately trying to distinguish the chaste Cathar mystics from the St. Teresas and other "true" Christian mystics who wrote with the same "passionate lingo" as the Cathar-inspired troubadours. It never occurs to him that the missing piece, some aspect of chastity, might hold an important clue.
Interestingly, the distinction he tries to draw is that the "true" (Christian) mysticism leads to "agape" while the heretics burn endlessly with "eros." (Half a million of them DID burn, in fact, thanks to the Church.)
By way of further distinction,there's also his theological bunkum about how true Christians accept the Incarnation of God into flesh, which by some weird twist allows them to have happy carnal marriages--even though they don't in actuality--and "properly" maintains the separation of God and Man. This he contrasts with the "heresy," which is concerned with denying that spirit ever incarnated in flesh and taught that the Lucifer gang "created" the slop we're looking at down here and entraps us with lust.
The "heretical" goal (which is noticeably aligned with what I've always gotten through my oracles) is transcendence and, as he says, "complete union with God." This is a BIG "no-no" in his eyes. In his view, good Christians sit around like contented mushrooms in the dark, procreating, and merely "mirroring" (his word) God's goodness as best they can...but always imperfectly. Why does that attitude inevitably make me feel like growling???
Now, I would agree with him on one important point, and it's a point that may be very critical to ultimately understanding the true mystery. Tantra and the troubadours DID get hung up on eros (I don't know about the actual Cathars. However, I have a big bone to pick with THEM for promoting the Jesus bloodline fabrication, which shows a complete misunderstanding of the importance of transcendence vs. physical procreation--which Jesus would NEVER have engaged in...at least if the Gnostic gospels are a true representation of his teaching). Here's the important point: a focus on eros IS an error...with or without chastity or non-orgasm.
THIS is what I've learned through the neuroscience Gary has been parsing. Any activity that sends our dopamine soaring (dopamine is the craving, addictive neurochemical..when at high levels) is a problem. It sets up an addictive cycle of highs and lows, and the yearning for death as the ultimate "buzz" may well be a natural part of that cycle. This is "Rougey's" (de Rougemont) big beef. He's right that something unhealthy is going on there. In short, the troubadours were singing about an unhealthy, flaming addiction, which is self-absorbed and narcissistic, and all too often self-destructive.
He contrasts that with the "true" saints' focus on "agape" and selfless service (which he claims, with some pretty shaky support, the "passionate" Christian mystics ultimately arrived at).
"Agape" equates neurochemically with high levels of a neurochemical called "oxytocin." Oxytocin is behind our ability to bond, it soothes addictions, counters stress neurochemicals, is an anti-depressant, yet increases sexual receptivity in contrast with sexual hunger (dopamine), and is linked with selfless service, nurturing, adoration, and physical touch. And we can produce it consciously by choosing related behaviors. So, for example, things that raise oxytocin levels are meditation, yoga, therapeutic massage or other selfless touch, caring for another, uplifting music (I would bet this, but haven't yet heard of a study on music, as I have on the other activities named in this list), pets, and close, trusted companionship. In short, what we think of as heart-opening activities are also oxytocin-producing activities.
This is the focus of my book. Even before I intersected with the science, I have always been led to putting the focus on givnig and mutual nurturing while staying away from the passion roller coaster. For reasons that were not clear to me at first, I have always been "told" not to rely on Tantra lore. Tantra, as it is being pandered in the West is very often all about fanning dopamine hotter. I think Tantra has strayed just as far off The Path in the East. Like Taoism, it degenerated from a mutual practice of enlightenment between the sexes (of which there are still faint echoes in both cases) into an exploitation of one's lover for one's own purposes--in China to increase longevity of the harem owner...in India and Tibet to have a spiritual experience and then dump the lover. The true path (that Jesus once taught in India?) was lost.
The ancient Taoist "valley orgasm," however, is probably a high-oxytocin event. It's not about passion, but it is about an experience of merging with another ego, and ultimately with all of creation. This is the experience that other lovers have sometimes stumbled upon...e.g., Karezza.
The reason this is so confusing for all of us is that a high dopamine experience (like cocaine or the build-up to orgasm) DOES feel like a transcendental experience. But it's more likely to create addiction than enlightenment, and it carefully preserves the separateness of the ego, indeed, as Rougey said, in a narcissistic way. Moreover, from a scientific point of view it inevitably sets off a hangover...which we don't then associate with the high we just had, at least at a subconscious level...so we keep pursuing another high to self-medicate. This is a downward spiral.
In case it wasn't obvious: when dopamine goes too high, it then drops way down...creating a fierce craving for another high...and an uneasiness about anything or anyone--like one's lover--onto whom the intervening low has been projected (KEY reason for rapid alienation between lovers). People can find several good articles about this at this site. For example, see "Your Brain on Sex.
So I would agree with Rougey that true spiritual mysticism is oxytocin-based, not dopamine/passion-based. The first leaves one wanting to extend help to the rest of humanity; the second consumes one in an addictive fire.
The problem is that it has been almost impossible for humanity to distinguish between these two trajectories, because in each case, BOTH neurochemicals are always operating...at least at first. For example, as oxytocin rises, so does dopamine to an extent. So it FEELS to us like love and passion go together. In a sense, this is a biological trick to get us to produce many and genetically-varied offspring...it's the Luciferian plot, if you will.
BUT we can REMAIN oxytocin-based if we keep our arousal at moderate levels and steer always for a stillness and communion with our partner, with a focus on mutual giving and selflessness. That's when the beneficial mystery can appear. I'm sure there's more to all of this, but I bet this distinction between agape and eros will turn out to be important. In recent memory, we've only been able to to tap agape consistently when celibate (and usually in retreat from the world, with lots of prayer/meditation). Apparently, the real power lies in synergistic agape WITH union.