Authentic spiritual awareness - in what can be described as the experience of God - entails a certain balance as between both cognitive and affective modes
Indeed from a dynamic experiential perspective, these modes operate in a fully complementary manner as conscious to unconscious respectively.
Thus when both conscious and unconscious aspects of experience are equally developed, the conscious (analytic) expression of one aspect e.g. cognitive, promotes the complementary unconscious (holistic) expression of the other aspect i.e. affective. Equally, the conscious expression of the affective aspect likewise promotes the complementary unconscious expression of the cognitive.
In this way both conscious and unconscious expressions of cognitive and affective can - though the volitional or conative aspect that serves to operate in a balancing manner - interact smoothly and creatively with each other.
So far however with respect to "higher" spiritual development, the (conscious) cognitive aspect has been in the ascendancy. Therefore in promoting the complementary affective aspect, it initially does so in an involuntary unconscious fashion.
Thus the unconscious thereby expresses itself through emotional projections, with their holistic nature initially hidden from understanding. Thus an important part of this "lower" psychological development is to slowly unravel the nature of such projections, so that their true message can be learnt.
Just as the pursuit of knowledge is directly associated with the cognitive, the corresponding pursuit of beauty is directly associated with the affective aspect. Finally the pursuit of being (as essential meaning) is directly associated with the volitional aspect of will.
In an important sense this volitional aspect is primary, and when properly used serves to harmonise both the cognitive (in the pursuit of knowledge) and the affective aspect (in the pursuit of beauty) respectively.
However we are here dealing directly with the affective aspect with respect to its "lower" unconscious expression through imaginary projections and fantasies.
Now from a spiritual perspective, we can for convenience identify two types of beauty.
The first type directly corresponds with the transcendent aspect.
I have mentioned before how in the Roman Catholic tradition, the Virgin Mary has come to assume an important role serving as an acceptable feminine archetype. However it is very much a disembodied archetype where the spiritual (i.e. transcendent) is clearly separated from its complementary physical (i.e. immanent) aspect.
Thus though recognised as the Mother of God, it has always seemed important in the tradition to emphasise her status as a virgin, with the divine birth thereby explained as a miraculous event without sexual intercourse being involved.
So the beauty consistent with the transcendent aspect is the kind of admiration, awe and respect that is inspired by one who is clearly set apart. So the awe that is inspired by this beautiful "other", corresponds with a sense of unworthiness with respect to the admiring self (that is greatly accentuated in the presence of such beauty).
Thus the very point of such an affective experience is to inspire the spiritual disciple to go ultimately beyond all limitations of form (e.g. self image) in the clear realisation of an archetypal notion of beauty.
Thus in the most accurate sense of the word, such a notion of transcendent beauty is platonic in nature.
As stated in the last blog entry, my fantasy life that greatly accelerated in intensity at this time was largely related to images of women who basically inspired this transcendent notion of beauty.
So the initial attraction of a more sexual nature naturally give way to a more platonic notion of beauty, which indeed seemed compatible with my spiritual orientation at the time (largely influenced by St. John of the Cross' "Spiritual Canticle").
However this was to gradually give way to a more primitive form of erotic fantasy for which my previous spiritual training had left me initially unprepared.
In fact this led me to deeply question my own spiritual tradition, which I felt has never honestly faced - certainly in the writings of the mystics - this key aspect of psycho-sexual development.
So not alone must aspiring mystics confront their sexual natures (with all the primitive desires that thereby inevitably arise) but they must do so in a much more intimate fashion than would be customary in normal circumstances!
However, as I have said I have never come across an account in my tradition that openly deals with this vital issue.
At best what we get are but indirect and value loaded references that ultimately are greatly lacking in proper balance.
So rather than talking directly about sexual fantasy, generally the contemplative writers will refer to such matters in a negative fashion as "temptation", "promptings of the devil", "sense disturbances" "lustful desires", "fallen nature", "weakness of the flesh" etc.
This represents again very much the transcendent approach. So, though it may well be conceded that the onset of "temptation" is inevitable in the spiritual life, the disciple is clearly expected to resist it (through disciplined reason) when it arises. In this way the disciple hopes to overcome the "lower" senses and thereby become more firmly established in the "higher" life of the spirit.
However, though there is certainly a validity to such advice with respect to the transcendent aspect of spirituality, it is quite inadequate with respect to the complementary immanent direction (which is of equal importance).
So what inevitably happens through the repeated attempt to censor sexual fantasy is that a significant repression of instinctive desire thereby takes place. Then when the demands of one's physical instincts are continually denied (in serving one's "higher" self) a debilitating form of depression can set in (that mocks all one's previous attempts at spiritual progress).
Indeed I would consider that the problem of depression accompanying an extended "dark night of the soul" may often have its origins in an undue repression of primitive sexual desire.
Now this immanent aspect of the feminine archetype had indeed been emphasised in the previous pagan religions with the reference to an "Earth Goddess". However due to the strong transcendent emphasis of The Jewish - and later Christian and Muslim traditions - it was all but eliminated.
So a disembodied version of the feminine archetype has been promoted (where physical sexuality plays little role).. This in turn has led to an unbalanced suspicion of woman as "the temptress" that must be subjugated so that "good" men are not led astray.
This has in turn been associated with the mass exclusion of women from responsible leadership in their churches and an unhealthy obsession with sexual activity as a potential form of "sin".
Ultimately it culminated in a dreadful litany of sexual abuse of children by priests (which the authorities continually attempted to deny rather than address).
So let it be said clearly that the deep exploration of one's sexual instincts when appropriate does not represent "sin" or deviance. Rather it represents a vitally important type of wisdom (requiring considerable insight and discernment) that is ultimately necessary for the successful grounding of spirit in the world of nature.
Therefore when the spiritual aspirant, who may already long followed a transcendent path, reaches a stage where intimate sexual fantasy naturally emerges into consciousness, it is a sure sign that this issue now needs to be sensitively addressed (rather than repressed).
This requires the opposite of what is appropriate with respect to the transcendent direction. So rather than trying to resist such desire, one is required to gradually loosen super-ego control so as to listen in carefully and discern what such desires are telling us about our sexual nature.
Indeed it is this very process of acceptance, through loosening of excessive rational control, that gradually eliminates the involuntary nature of such instincts (though this may indeed take a long time).
So it is only when the involuntary nature of such projections ceases that the spirit can be properly integrated with one's physical nature (and by extension the natural world).
This represents the immanent culmination of spiritual development where "bottom-up" integration can be successfully combined with corresponding "top-down" integration of the psyche.