25 Jul Roots of Love
The American co-founder of Path of Love retreats talks to Belinda Bamber about how his own experiences of love and sex have informed both his teaching and his current monogamous relationship
Rafia Morgan is one of those rare men that people register when he walks into a room because even in his sixties he inhabits his body with a panther-like ease. As co-founder in 1995 of the personal development course Path of Love, he’s used to having groups of men and women hang on his every word, but his authority is quiet, not look-at-me showy. People turn to him as a teacher and therapist because he’s lived it all: the excitement of the 1960’s counter-culture revolution as a student at Berkeley, and then the liberation of living in a commune in India run by Osho, popularly dubbed ‘ The Sex Guru’. What Rafia teaches at Path of Love isn’t original – to awaken our potential and rediscover joy by embracing our human connectedness – but people listen because he’s lived a lot, learned a lot, is still learning, and is wise, funny, self-deprecating and yes, sexy. The few men and women that don’t have a secret crush on him just want to have that same ease in their skin.
I first met him when I went on a week-long residential Path of Love retreat in Wales to come to terms with a relationship breakdown that had led me isolated and grief-stricken. It was Rafia who came over to my small group, where I was howling in rage and pain, and said gently: ‘You’ll never get the a information you seek.’ He hadn’t heard the details of my story (no doubt he’d heard the bones of it a thousand times before) but recognised I was clinging to a floating iceberg of the past, immolated in the narrative of my former life, afraid to let go, dive in and make a new one.
A new way of living was what Rafia sought when he joined Osho’s community in 1978.‘We were young, beautiful, becoming-liberated people from the 1950s era of repression and I explored my sexuality tremendously,’ he smiles. But it wasn’t just about free love and sex (there were no drugs), it was about making a different philosophy of living.
Osho’s surprisingly droll take on the foolish things we all do for love informs the challenging-but-nurturing approach of Path Retreats, where soul-searching is leavened by an almost childlike rediscovery of fun. Sexual contact in any form is strictly banned and, while trauma can emerge as part of the deep digging, rediscovering a healthy attitude to sex is just one part of the dynamic, what Osho described as ‘the roots to the healthy plant’.
The recent explosion of interest in tantra work is positive, says Rafia, but has led to confusion about sex and isn’t always well regulated. ‘It’s often forgotten that tantra is a meditation practice, a pathway to enlightenment, for which students practise for decades,’ he observes ‘the connection between sex, love and prayer is about the life force of sex – the roots of our humanity – blooming into love, into our hearts.’
Of course, romance sometimes sparks at retreats, not necessarily from all the hugging – this happens especially amongst members of your small group, who can get to know you better than your friends or family – but because there’s something compelling about people being intensely honest about their shortcomings (and equally an erotic charge to being truly ‘seen’). Staff and participants are asked not to act on mutual attractions until well after the course, besides which students are focused on a much harder amorous concept, almost unsayable for British people: loving yourself. But those brave enough to jump into the course with an open mind (usually everyone who gets through the door) emerge with shining eyes and glowing skin, as though they’ve swallowed a light bulb.
As a Jungian, Rafia enjoys seeing the light bulb illumination in British men of a certain age and class whom he perceives as ‘castrated’ by old-style public school. ‘They’re emotionally held back and afraid, they often have brilliant minds but aren’t exuding sexual energy or passionate life force, they desperately want love but can’t give or receive because they’ve been so prohibited,’ he says. Rafia believes women’s sense of unworthiness is to do with their femininity being disparaged by that same castrated patriarchy.
People don’t have a healthy relationship to their sexuality because ‘parents don’t know how to guide them into their manhood and womanhood in a healthy, loving way’, he observes. ‘Sex is our life energy so if we cut it off or it’s repressed or devalued that makes us essentially unfulfilled and unhappy.’
‘The connection between sex, love and prayer is about the life force of sex – the roots of our humanity – blooming into our heart’
Rafia faced his own castration complex in his late twenties. ‘I was trying to perform in front of women to get their attention but it wasn’t working because I avoided the ones I was really attracted to,’ he laughs. Everything changed when he started taking risks. ‘At first I got a “no”. But simply taking the risk freed something in me and I started to feel more confident. Fear had been controlling my life and energy but after I dared to be rejected I was more present, more grounded and more successful in love.’
Now ‘very happily monogamous,’ Rafia says he learned a lot from a previous eleven-year open relationship. ‘That was one of the greatest experiments for me.’ It was about ‘energy, consciousness, beauty, intelligent connection’, he says, but also taught him about his powerful feelings of jealousy. ‘Even though we each had many other partners we were absolutely committed and used our open relationship to go very deep in love. We challenged our fears around possessiveness and when we separated we became even closer’.
How to rediscover erotic connection if you’re just co-existing as a couple? ‘I hate co-existing! ’he exclaims. ‘A big discovery was realising that when I was moody and withdrawn it was because I’d failed to express my feelings to my partner. Now I have a choice: to notice my feelings and honestly share them. Otherwise I stay in my head and punish the other person for what I’m afraid to feel is part of me.’
Rafia and his partner formally set aside time to hear each other. ‘It always opens up a space and brings a level of contact that can lead to playfulness, understanding, intimacy and sex. ‘We can all use sex as away of regaining contact, but it’s deeper the other way around, he says. ‘For me true contact is about being wide open in myself and available to my partner in a deep spiritual connection. There’s no mind involved. No-one is “doing” anyone else. There’s unfolding, appreciation, humour. Feeling so at home you can play your edge, whether that’s kinky, wild or experimental: wherever it takes you so long as it’s consensual.’
It’s rare to have relaxed conversation about sex and love with a man, at least a straight one. The last time I enjoyed something similarly candid, funny, flirty and profound was with a fellow-graduate from the retreat. So how can we enjoy this relaxed confidence in our masculinity and femininity, this good skin that Rafia inhabits? It’s about making communities like Path of Love, he replies. The key lesson he learned at Berkeley was that he couldn’t change the world until he’d changed himself. Now, with Path Retreats, he’s trying.
Path of Love retreats take place in 14 different countries.