The Cosmic Pulse - Nenah Sylver

Go to content

Main menu:

Psychology & Wilhelm Reich > Wilhelm Reich's Therapy



The Cosmic Pulse
of Wilhelm Reich:

Where Science, Sex and Spirit Meet

© 1994 by Nenah Sylver


The Cosmic Quest

A young woman named Diane recently sought my body-oriented psychotherapy services in order to "become more spiritual." During our first session she told me that she watched her diet, had been meditating for five years, and tried to embody the qualities she felt constituted an enlightened, loving being. Did she ever get angry? I finally asked. No, not if she could help it. It just didn’t "feel right." How about terrifically excited? I wanted to know. That was sort of okay, she answered cautiously, but in an effort to avoid "attachment," it was better not to.

Then came the big one. "What about sex?" I asked her.

Her eyes widened. "What do you mean?" she gasped.

"In other words, how do you feel about sex? Do you let go when you have an orgasm?"

Diane blushed and lowered her eyes. "That’s not...very spiritual. I try not to have ‘those feelings,’ and sometimes I can’t help it, but I do the best I can. If you’re a truly spiritual person, you don’t get into such lower octave energies."

I was disturbed. She wasn’t the first client who’d walked through my door expecting instant nirvana if I could only help them exorcise all those emotional demons—anger, sexual desire, even excitement and joy—from their system. Like many others treading a "spiritual" path, Diane thought that someone who is uplifted only feels uplifting feelings, and that the energy must only "lift up." It was a stunningly new concept to her that genuine spirituality encompasses all of who we are, not just those parts we’ve been taught are "nice."

Sexual desire is one impulse that hasn’t been on the "nice" list for quite a while. It is considered lewd, crass and intrusive, a beast to be tamed. When I hear designations like these an alarm rings in my brain, and I know that the person voicing them is really speaking of repression—their own.

"Repression" is a Western term. Someone following an Eastern tradition would probably use "transmuted" or "transformed," but the underlying principle is the same. Diane and others like her want to redirect their sexual energy so that it ceases to manifest sexually. But by doing this they don’t expand; rather, they become small. They limit who they are in an effort to become spiritually "acceptable." But acceptable to whom? And by what standards? Must our sexual urges be channeled elsewhere in order for us to become enlightened and happy? Or will doing this only make us miserable? Do we instead need to reexamine our attitudes toward sex, and perhaps embrace our sexuality even more?

A brief summary here of my own experiences with spiritual and sexual concerns might be helpful. Fifteen years ago, as my acceptance of transcendent realities grew, I found myself gliding into deep states of "altered" consciousness (to me they were quite normal) with increasing regularity. I would emerge from these meditations with an intensified perception of the energy fields that surround living things, and of the love that I sensed must underlie the creative force of the universe. I felt no need to call this bliss "God." What was meaningful to me were my feelings of expansion—in my head, chest, entire body. Reveling immensely in these ecstatic states, I promised myself that I’d overcome any fears of opening.

My experiences, I later discovered, were somewhat different from those that other people described. They focused solely on what was happening in the upper half of their body, which they called love. I, on the other hand, was acutely aware of—and welcomed—the charge in my pelvis as well. I knew how awful I felt when I didn’t pay attention to my excitement, vulnerability, anger, or pelvic stirrings. With the same pragmatism that had led me to biology and the natural sciences, I was determined to access all of myself, not just the parts that were presumably moral or nice. Finally, possessing a healthy sexual appetite made it impossible for me to adopt any teaching that said that sexuality was wrong or at best irrelevant, that once you evolved into a master you wouldn’t need to bother with such base sensations. I pondered why the universal intelligence would torture us with such sensitive sexual apparatus in a responsive physical body if we weren’t supposed to feel it or use it in enjoyable ways.

What some people categorize as "spiritual" (or the "divine"), and what these same people consider "sin" (the earthy or sexual), exist on a continuum. The current throughout this continuum is the universal intelligence or life force, called in various cultures chi, kundalini, prana, or the great spirit. This current, which pervades all living things, fuels the celebration of life and self inherent in both sexual vitality and authentic spiritual practices. Since ancient times, priestesses, healers, and shamans have perceived this current or flow as permeating and surrounding the human form, with vortices (called "chakras" in Hindu theory) at major glands. Seekers today, feeling incomplete or empty in their individual existence, are turning to esoteric teachings to help them reconnect to the life force, the infinite source of power. They recognize that to feel whole—whether they ascribe this connection prana or to the Goddess—they need not only the comfort, but the ecstacy, that this union provides.

Nonetheless, combined with the genuinely transcendental qualities of some spiritual philosophies is the idea that sex is a problem. It’s true that Oriental, Persian, and Indian masters utilized techniques to commune with and direct their sexual energy—techniques which do, intentionally, increase sexual pleasure. Such a position is more enlightened than Freud’s, which maintained that the human sexual drive needs to be contained and redirected into outlets that, according to Freud’s value system, were more "civilized" (read: acceptable). But the ultimate goal of many people who follow these older traditions is to transcend the sex drive entirely, emphasizing that real growth lies in the development of the so-called higher self. Disciples, advised that lower chakras are not the best location for universal force to flow, diligently practice breathing exercises to move the energy out through the crown, or top of the head.

It’s obvious that for this spiritual heritage, "higher" and "lower" do not simply refer to the location of a person’s energy when standing upright. That the presumed centers of spirituality are seen as "higher," and the more earthy, sensual parts of ourselves are referred to as "lower," not only says a great deal about how we really regard sex, but also reflects our fragmentation. A marked lack of connection to ourselves and our body is demonstrated when we so quickly ascribe a hierarchical status to qualities within us that are actually part of the same flow.

Given my clients’ Western Judeo-Christian upbringing (repression), and their acquired Eastern spiritual practices (the tendency to abandon their sexual selves), it is not surprising that they had problems with their lower chakras. They would earnestly warn me about the baseness to which they most certainly would sink if they didn’t stay on a spiritual path. This would inevitably bring us to a discussion of their guilt, and we would tackle their notion, learned at a very early age, that sex equals sin.

I find it tragic that who we are as sexual beings has become so divorced from what many of us consider to be spiritual. It’s no accident that in astrology, the themes of flowing and spontaneous sexuality, acceptance of death as a part of life, the occult, and transformational dimensions of reality, are all located in the same house. The ancients knew what they were doing when they assigned sex and the other-worldly to be bunkmates.

The old European pagan religions (including their modern descendent called the Craft) were part of one Western spiritual tradition that has customarily placed more emphasis on the physical aspects of existence than on the so-called spiritual. In Europe’s Old Religion—which was by nature woman-positive—Goddesses and Gods were part of daily living, imbuing fertility into all of nature. Pleasure was one’s birthright, celebrated with life-affirming rituals in which people sometimes communed with the cosmos by having sex with each other. The attainment of religious ecstasy was considered an outgrowth of consummate connection on the physical plane. The afterlife was seen as a continuation of one’s consciousness after leaving the grosser physical plane, and people’s interest in it was generally confined to assisting their friends toward a peaceful passage. Adherents of the Craft did not think in terms of someday being freed from the tyranny of the body (which included pain and pleasure). Such an attitude missed the point of being alive, and perpetuated self-loathing under the guise of religious enlightenment. The edict "Do as ye will, but harm none," pretty well summed it up. Life was sex and sex was life; what more could anyone want?

Yet today, communal polytheistic celebrations in a natural setting are infrequent and involve only a fraction of the population. Many others are seeking guidelines to help them attain inner peace and connectedness in an increasingly alienating and plastic environment. But genuine spirituality must support our ability to tune in to ourselves, each other, and the cosmos, and this means feeling ourselves fully. If we fear and avoid pleasure, we’ll always be in pain. And if we defend ourselves against pain, we cut off our joy.

So the question arises: how do we access and optimally use sexual energy, which people commonly avoid? The ancient art of Tantra addresses this, but is frequently taught from an overtly "divine" or "spiritual" orientation. This means that students of Tantra who otherwise feel shame or guilt about sexual matters are able to rationalize their focus because now it’s for the "spiritual" purpose of attaining God-consciousness. Tantra’s attempt at integrating sex with spirituality is an improvement over other existing methods, but I wonder at its ultimate effectiveness if its devotees never need to deal with their underlying emotional antipathy toward sex.

Instead, why not reclaim ourselves by focusing on the physical plane? If our body is indeed a temple of the divine, then the growth of our spirituality will be an organic result of living fully, ecstatically, and pleasurably in that temple. This approach makes sense when we consider the role of the body in blocking or allowing the life force to flow, and how even those on a spiritual path harbor blocks.

The Cosmic Superimposition of Wilhelm Reich

In order to approach consciousness from an overtly physical perspective, let us travel back to the early twentieth century laboratory of Wilhelm Reich, psychoanalyst and natural scientist who introduced the term "body armor." Reich separated from Sigmund Freud and the stodgy analytic establishment when he saw how existing therapeutic methods, which allowed patients to intellectualize their emotions without feeling them, were not eliminating people’s dysfunctions. Utilizing his knowledge of biology, botany, chemistry, anthropology, history, politics, and quantum physics, Reich gave us insights and techniques for reuniting the mind with the body that preceded the numerous body-oriented therapies popular today. He discerned the life force (which he called "orgone") in a healthy person as free-flowing vertical streamings, confirming both the existence and direction of what the Hindus had perceived as kundalini.

Reich pointed out that when people do not express their emotions, their life force decreases and their ability to feel pleasure is correspondingly inhibited. Not only is the orgone flow blocked, but so are sexual impulses. Similarly, when pleasure is repressed and denied, the person’s emotional well-being suffers, because

"emotion" means "moving out."...[T]ake the word "emotion" literally in speaking of sensations and movements. Microscopic observation of amebae [sic] subjected to slight electric stimuli renders the naming of the term "emotion" in an unmistakable manner. Basically, emotion is an expressive plasmatic motion. Pleasurable stimuli cause an "emotion" of the protoplasm from the center towards the periphery. Conversely, unpleasurable stimuli cause an "emotion"— or rather, "remotion"—from the periphery to the center of the organism. These two basic directions of biophysical plasma current correspond to the two basic affects of the psychic apparatus, pleasure and anxiety.1

This understanding of the essential function of life energy provided Reich with his framework for the science he called "sex-economics." Because the normal state of the living is to nourish itself in its own interests and to utilize energy in the most economic way possible, Reich reasoned that it was a natural law for humans to experience pleasure. Anything less meant an inefficient and anxiety-producing damming up of the organism’s energy. Unlike Freud, Reich did not believe in taming the libido, an act against nature that necessitated instinctual repression.

Reich demonstrated how flowing sexual charge accompanies love. Loving energy (the tendency to expand, inherent in all human beings) radiates outward from the heart through the arms and hands. Affectionate hugging relieves us of the buildup of bioelectrical charge, which we simultaneously experience as the emotion of love. When the joy and excitement of being with someone peaks, we feel the energy genitally and eventually need to express our passion through orgasmic release. The orgasm, Reich wrote,

is a fundamental biological the form of an involuntary contraction and expansion of the total plasma system....Biophysically speaking, it is impossible to distinguish the total contraction of an ameba from the orgastic contraction of a multicellular organism....[and] which, psychologically, we call "gratification"...The discharge of the surplus energy in the organism by way of fusion with another organism makes itself felt at more or less regular intervals....They usually become shorter in the spring [which] points to a close connection between the function of the orgasm and an energy function of a cosmic nature.2

Reich, from his Western scientific orientation, stated what members of the Craft knew intuitively when they held their sexual celebrations on the vernal equinox.

As Reich developed his practice, he noticed that patients who were too inhibited to "reach out" with a free and complete range of motion were unable to fully express love. They also displayed body armor: constriction in the chest, arms and hands, a lack of mobility in the diaphragm causing obstructed breathing, and invariably, a tightness in the pelvis. After Reich kept noticing that each characterological disturbance corresponded to particular body armoring—and that the psychic and physical armoring did not dissolve through talking alone—he broke all the rules of psychoanalysis by touching his patients. To help them open, he insisted that they keep breathing, and that they breathe fully. He pressed on tight muscles until his patients emitted the corresponding repressed emotions, and he forced them to confront their obstructed pelvic energy. As Reich gained experience in working on the chest, he realized the inseparable relationship between the heart and sexual regions. An opening in one area without an opening in the other was incomplete. The "higher octave" of love engaged both the heart and the pelvis when the passion that streamed forth was spontaneous and unimpeded. Reich came to understand that people who are connected to their energy—including sexuality and passion—are in tune with the divine, for expressing the inherently loving side of human nature is the core of unfeigned spirituality. Thus, for Reich, an atheist who staunchly opposed organized religion and authority figures, a supreme deity was irrelevant. But humanity’s place in the cosmos concerned him his entire life. He recognized that the love we seek in the clouds exists on the earth, and must be accessed through the physical body as long as we are corporeal beings.

Reich’s involvement with cosmic/divine energy deepened when he reached an impasse in his ability to interpret body armor.

In the upper segments, we had no great difficulty in discerning the emotional expression. The inhibition of the eye muscles, for example, expresses "empty" or "sad" eyes; a rigid chin may express "suppressed anger"; the "knot in the chest" will dissolve into crying or yelling. Here, in the upper four segments, we understand the emotional expressions immediately, and the body language is easily translated into word language. With the diaphragmatic segment, things are more difficult. When this segment is loosened, we are no longer able to translate the expressive language into word language.3

Reich’s difficulty in deciphering the body’s communications extended to what he had termed the orgasm reflex. "The most striking phenomenon in the orgasm reflex is the striving of...the mouth and the genital to [meet each] other...[T]he highly excited organism tries to draw its two body ends close to one another, as if it tended to unite them."4 It was clear to Reich that the head falling back expresses giving and surrender. But the convulsive bending forward of the torso puzzled him. "I was again and again on the point of giving up the attempt to understand the orgasm reflex," he wrote, "because it seemed so senseless to try to make this basic biological reflex comprehensible. But I stuck to it because I could not admit that, while the living has an immediately understandable expressive language in all other realms, it should express ‘Nothing’ in the orgasm reflex."5 Finally, he had a breakthrough: "Since the living derives from the non-living, and since non-living matter derives from cosmic energy, we must conclude that there are cosmic energy functions in the living....In the orgasm, the living is [merely] a bit of pulsating nature."6

That "pulsating nature" encompassed the entire cosmos. It was evident in the identical elements that comprised both the gaseous atmospheres of planets and human bodies. The pulse of the cosmic current was visible to the naked eye as a spinning wave of blue-tinged vesicles in the atmosphere. And the energetic base of all life was these spiraling curves which, when solidified, comprised nature from the egg (the most pure manifestation of this spiral form) to snail shells, beans, kidneys and embryos. Orgone’s trajectory was the spiraling of a yogi’s kundalini up the spine, the spiral of DNA, and the movement of earthworms whose simple structure made the orgonotic pulse easily identifiable.

From direct observation and using laboratory instruments, Reich reached the same conclusion that the ancients had come to centuries ago and written in their holy books: thought (the mass-free energy of orgone or kundalini) preceded form, and once the cosmic current solidified into matter, distinct natural laws governed the new substance.

Even with the varied manifestations of these natural laws on the grosser plane, humanity never lost the "memory" of its origin. The pulsations of current we feel in our body, the direction of the movement, and the need to flow, are all part of the cosmic pulse that created life. "Reduced and abstracted in its purest form, [having sexual] superimposition in the biological realm [is] the...attraction and full bio-energetic contact of two orgonotic STREAMS."7 In other words, because of our relationship to the cosmos, making love—which Reich called Cosmic Superimposition—is humankind’s attempt to return to the original, unimpeded flow of cosmic energy.

Beating with the Cosmic Pulse

I can imagine that someone who harbors sexual guilt might use the information presented here in a manner similar to the Tantra students described earlier. But sexually letting go is beyond words. If we truly embrace our sexuality, we forget about psychology, spirituality and God. We simply are. "Mechanism and mysticism supplement one another to form a sharply split-up picture of life, with a body consisting of chemical substances here and a spirit or a soul, remarkable and uninvestigable, unattainable as only God him[sic]self, there. On the other hand, the unarmored organism experiences itself above all as unitary motility."8

Reich defined mysticism as the feeling that there is a greater force external to us of which we are not a part. This impression will always exist, regardless of the stated teaching, if people feel alienated from their own body. In a normally loving state, we openly meet the world. But cutting off from the pelvis decreases our energy and power and thus our ability to be in the world. Lacking a totality that includes sexuality, we will meet the world only part way, in pieces or fragments.

This is the kind of fragmentation that Diane brought with her when she came to me, a fragmentation that I tried to help her eliminate through the integration of her mostly "lower" chakra feelings. In the sessions I facilitate, people beat pillows, striking out at those who hurt them. Or they might reach out, which then often elicits spontaneous sobbing. I press my clients’ tense muscles so they can feel where, and what emotions, they are holding. People cry, yell, scream, laugh, and often feel frightened by all that energy. A connected person feels, thinks, communes, and desires. There’s life on earth below the heart chakra.

In Diane, who did not want to acknowledge her "lower octave" chakras, her body reflected our society’s negative conditioning. Her musculature was tense, her breathing shallow, she habitually averted her eyes, and she was too eager to break into a ready smile. Emotionally, this spelled anxiety; physically, it meant that a tremendous amount of energy was dammed up; and spiritually, it showed a severing of her connection to her own energy and therefore to the cosmic current. Beneath her compliance was enormous rage at having to be a "nice girl" who had to say no to sexual pleasure. Not surprisingly, when Diane was able to reconnect to her sexual desire through physical expression of her blocked emotions, she was also able to access more of her love. And it wasn’t the kind of saintly, storybook love she had initially thought that she wanted to attain. Instead, it was love with a genuine compassion for others, because she had learned to be more genuinely compassionate to herself.

Most of the time, when people say that they have transcended any emotion that isn’t love, I become suspicious. Have they really come through to the other side, or have they "transcended" by somehow bypassing the feelings they’ve learned to be ashamed of?

A major reason that people inhibit their authenticity (love, anger, sexual desire) is that they’re terrified of losing control. Relinquishing control of our emotions (and by extension, our bodily functions) is profoundly upsetting because it dissolves our self-image. It denotes the loss of ego, that well-developed monitoring device that prevents us from being spontaneous, and from surrendering to a full orgasm (a little death). When I asked Diane if she let go orgasmically, it elicited images that weren’t "nice," including the feeling of intensely pleasurable sensations and the making of animal-like sounds and writhing movements that her parents and culture had taught her weren’t "ladylike." Learning a structured form of meditation only allowed her to impose additional negative judgments of "unevolved" and "unspiritual" on top of her initial embarrassment and guilt about sexual matters.

Those on a spiritual path need to appreciate that there is a profoundly spiritual aspect to "letting go" on the physical plane. The orgasm reflex is more than a simple biological response, for the biological, emotional, cosmic and spiritual cannot be separated. After over ten years of counseling others, I still believe that anyone who embarks on an overtly spiritual path needs to examine his or her fears of letting go.

To reclaim our connection to the Cosmic Pulse, we must pay attention to our body. If you are antsy and restless, and believe consciously or unconsciously that sex is dirty, shameful, or even simply irrelevant, then there is dammed up sexual energy within you that needs to be freed. Is your body numb? Numbness is a guard against feeling tense. Can you experience the tension? Tension is the physical counterpart of anxiety. Anxiety results from feelings we repress due to our upbringing and cultural constraints, feelings which, needing release, turn us into pressure cookers. The body is a rich storehouse for emotions; rely on it for feedback, and learn the messages it’s trying to tell you.

I believe that intimacy involves both the genitals and the heart, acting in concert. If you are unable to have sex with an intimate someone, it may be because you have a problem with intimacy, as well as sex. The same holds true if you are able to have sex with people with whom you don’t feel particularly intimate.

Not coincidentally, when we embrace our sexuality, we can then heal other areas of our lives. Embracing our sexuality means owning our desire, including the desire to experience aliveness, and thus change. If we feel shame at having desire, then the spiritual healing we seek will not reach through our blocks deeply enough because of the energy we are still holding back. The bottom line is that people who are able to be fully alive, present and sexually vibrant automatically incorporate spirituality into their lives. As Reich said,

When the sexual expressions of nature in the human animal were repressed by the development of patriarchy, a sharp, unbridgeable antithesis arose of sexuality as "sin" and religion as "absolution from sin." In patriarchy, orgonity becomes on the one hand "sin," and on the other, "God." In natural religion, religion and sexuality were ONE: orgonotic plasma excitation."9

Sex is meant to be enjoyed, although a willingness to embrace pleasure can feel risky at times. Being fully alive (by nature, pleasurable) can hurt, if it reminds us of the love, tenderness and support we never got when we were growing up. Pleasure is the joy of the ecstatically intense orgasms experienced when we let go, forget that we have an ego, and truly Merge with Other.

If all this sounds forbiddingly scary, I ask you: Why, then, are we in a physical body?

* * *


1. Wilhelm Reich, Selected Writings (New York: The Noonday Press/ Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1961), p. 146

2. Ibid., p. 189-190

3. Ibid., p. 174

4. Ibid., pp. 333-334

5. Ibid., p. 175

6. Ibid., p. 182

7. Ibid., pp. 315-316

8. Ibid., p. 310

9. Ibid., p. 301

Back to content | Back to main menu