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The Connection Continuum

3048731033_1f1fce7744_b You may think that the pleasure of sexual climax is miracle enough. But an orgasm is even more miraculous than that. It’s an essential element of the biological and spiritual mechanism that connects us to each other and to the universe.

Jerry M. Lewis, a clinical professor of psychiatry at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical School and author of “Reflections: On Relationships with Self and Others,” describes what he calls the Oneness Continuum. He says, “Starting with baseline reality, the continuum moves to aesthetic experiences (sunsets and symphonies) to romantic love. Next come numinous experiences (spiritual-religious), cosmic consciousness, and progressive trance states. The continuum ends with experiences of ‘absolute unity,’ which includes the obliteration of time and space.”

I like the idea of placing these experiences on a continuum, and I’d like to expand his idea to encompass even more. The experiences Dr. Lewis describes are states of connection with something outside ourselves. I call it the Connection Continuum, and I would include many more kinds of personal connection.

The Connection Continuum

In our culture, we place so much emphasis on romantic love that we forget about the myriad of other connections we make with each other. Even as we go about daily life, we can enjoy moments of connection with strangers, for example, when we exchange a smile with someone we’re passing in the street or say a kind word to the person who hands us our coffee.

Don’t ignore or dismiss these moments. Humans are social creatures who cannot thrive without contact with others. Each time we connect with someone else, it’s a gift of health and well-being, thanks to a chemical called oxytocin.

You may have heard of oxytocin’s role in mothering. It’s essential for giving birth and breastfeeding; and at the same time, it’s responsible for the love a mother feels for her baby. Or, you may have heard it be called the cuddle hormone. In fact, oxytocin seems to play an important role in every kind of positive human interaction.

At every place on the Connection Continuum, I believe, you’ll find oxytocin. Scientists have already identified its influence in money exchanges between strangers, at the lower end of the Connection Continuum.

The Real God Molecule?
It makes beautiful sense that our brains use the same chemistry for the connections at each end of the Connection Continuum, from the fleeting kindness of a stranger to the deep sense of dependence and love we may feel for our mothers. What’s more amazing is that we also use this chemistry for all the other kinds of connection—with lovers, friends, pets, people we do business with, even sports teams and actors. (Scientists haven’t confirmed that oxytocin is involved in these more abstract kinds of connection, but do these connections make as much sense to you as they do to me?)

At the Spirit or Oneness end of the Continuum, researchers have shown that people singing in a choir have elevated levels of oxytocin. Science probably won’t pursue oxytocin’s influence on religious experience, but I’m ready to nominate it as the true god molecule. I believe that oxytocin is the basis for the experience of merging not only with another person, but with Oneness, Spirit or God (as we know him or her).

There’s one real oxytocin hotspot on the Connection Continuum: orgasm. When our bodies go into orgasm, our brains release a flood of oxytocin into the bloodstream and into the brain. Oxytocin travels through the arteries to open the blood vessels, relax the smooth muscles, and create warmth and relaxation. At the same time, it sears the brain with recognition that this other person was the source of so much pleasure.

As humans evolved to be smarter and live longer, this sense of deep connection and bonding was essential for keeping a baby’s mother and father together so that they could keep their child safe and healthy. At the same time, the regular doses of oxytocin produced by the couple’s orgasms kept them healthier.

Orgasm and Connection
What if we reconsider orgasm itself? Instead of something that we need to get from someone else in order to feel good, what would change if we thought of orgasm as a miraculous method of connecting with another person—or even connecting with the universe?

I’d like to suggest that we enlarge our definition of orgasm to include any and every experience of oxytocin. Expanding this definition can expand our range of feeling, bringing more pleasure and fulfillment into everyday life. When we enhance our ability to connect this way—every day—we can live in union with each other and the universe.

This article originally appeared in Vision Magazine.

Photo by Mike Baird.

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