Safety, boundaries and ethics: the conference polemic
The first annual African Conference of Sacred Sexuality Educators in Johannesburg has just been completed. It was a powerful and momentous event, the beginning of I hope an increasingly rich networking amongst South Africans and the international world on the teaching and practice of sacred sexuality. Congratulations and gratitude to BabaDez from sedonatemple.com for taking the initiative to make this event happen. Next year this event will be in Cape Town and I will be coordinating the happening.
A central polemic of the conference was the theme of ethics, boundaries and safety. I listened to the debate with interest, and would now like to take my time to write about the subtleties that this delivery ignored.
An image that became stereotyped during the conference is that the Dakini throws rocks at whoever approaches. How this got read is that the Dakini a) doesn't care, b) is intent on harming however comes to her, c) isn't available and d) wants people to stay away.
The original image of the Dakini throwing rocks comes from the ancient tradition of the Dakini, as so beautifully depicted in Daniel Odier's Tantric Quest: An encounter with absolute love. As the seeker approaches the Dakini who lives on her own in a cave in the Himalayas, the Dakini sees him and starts throwing rocks at him. The lesson in the old story is that the Dakini puts out tests to see which seekers are sincere enough. She tests them to see how strong their willingness and determination is to learn from her. Throughout the story of Tantric Quest, the seeker gets presented with one test after the other. As he passes though the fire of her tests, the old layers of his ego drop off, and he comes to stand in front of her, naked, vulnerable and deeply available. The more naked the seeker becomes, the more available the Dakini makes herself to him. The final fire he experiences is the intense and endless sweetness of her embodied love. The test is: How much bliss can you stand?
We Dakini's no longer live in caves in the Himalayas. By choice we live in big cities - Johannesburg and Cape Town. We are remarkably easy to find. Any internet search will bring you directly to our door. Do we still throw rocks? Yes and no. No we don't , in the sense that we are available, and our desire is to be of use to as many seekers as are ready for the journey we are catalysts on. Yes we do, in the sense that we still carefully select our clients.
I will explain to you how this works for you. If a man phones me and does one of the following things, I am going to politely send him away or at least question him more:
• If he does not say his name or clearly has to think about what his name is
• if he expects me to be available immediately for a session
• if he wants me to fix a sexual problem but is not interested in inner change
• if he is looking for a 'tantric massage' (which in the South African context usually means he is looking for someone to fulfill a sexual need - not the job of a Dakini)
I will make it clear to any person who calls that as a Dakini I am a catalyst for your awakening. The nature of my work involves deep transformation. My work is appropriate for people whose desire for awakening is stronger than their interest in having a comfortable life. I have learnt through hard experience to come to accept that this is who I am. This does not mean that I do not have deep appreciation for people who have come to this planet to work with those who are beginning a journey of awareness and those whose mission it is to change the world and bring about a revolution of sacred sexuality. These causes are beautiful and profound, and I support them. However the work of the Dakini, the way I understand her, has a different emphasis. Unless we completely discard the historical reference of what Dakini means, we have to acknowledge that the Dakini's task has always been to work with those who are close enough to their awakening, and have enough personal power, that the catalyzing of the Dakini will serve them.
I see it as my responsibility to make this clear to the person who inquires. I find it unethical not to be absolutely clear with people about the potency of this work so that they can choose whether this is what they are wanting and can feel into their nervous system whether they are ready for this.
As you can already sense from my writing, I do not agree that the Dakini has no concern for safety, boundaries and ethics. I do however have a very precise understanding of these terms, and this is what I would like to write more about here.
I agree, the practice of Tantra is not safe for the ego. In fact, part of the design of Tantra is a deep confrontation with your existing sense of yourself, and quite likely one or more deaths of your existing ego structure. What emerges after an ego death is a more expanded understanding of who you really are. With every expansion, we come closer to realizing that we are one with everything. With this comes an expansion of the power available for you in your living and expression. Paradoxically, you tend to become less and less attached to this power as being "yours."
How come then I repeatedly get told by clients and students that they find themselves going through depths they never thought they were capable of because they feel so safe in working with me? Here is where our specific approach to safety becomes important.
• My main method for engagement is a deep listening into the being of the person I am with. I listen to what they are saying, but also to every other subtle layer of their being. I listen to their emotional bodies. I can feel them. I feel into the movement of energy through their subtle bodies. I literally smell how their body-minds respond to every moment. My task is to follow them, and guide them deeper into their own knowing.
• I never push a student into anything. I suggest and offer opportunities to take them to the edge of their existing ego structure. If they take the opportunity, I go along with them as a guide.
• Conversely, I mostly do not ask students what they want to experience in a session. I do ask them at length though about the desire that brought them to me. It is my responsibility to guide them as to the most appropriate way to deepen their consciousness in the area they have asked for. I choose the method. My assumption is that the client comes to me because s/he needs my guidance. It would be unfair, and possibly dangerous, to be guided by what the client would like to 'do' in a session. Many men would, given a smorasbord, of course like to choose intercourse with me. However, they have no idea what the impact of making love to me would be on an unprepared nervous system.
• Possibly the main safety feature of our work is the fullness of love we bring to it. Students often describe this experience as being met by a profound lack of judgment. I would say the main training of a Dakini is integrating the polarities in our own ego structures. I get put into the fire of rejection, abandonment, betrayal, shame and any other shadow state with such intensity that it burns through. As a result, my nervous system very seldom responds in fear or judgment to the process of a student.
I have already said a bit about ethics. A first ethical principle in my work is to be clear with potential students about the impact of this work.
• Ethics in my work is not a code of behavior agreed on externally as general principles. My ethical response is a moment to moment feeling into right action, into the way I can best serve your awareness with what you present to me right now.
• Ethics for me does not mean keeping you from feeling what you are going to feel. I have occasionally ended sessions with clients because I felt that the greatest gift I could give them was to feel the fear of abandonment they were avoiding all their lives. My ethical behavior is guided by being as impeccable as I can in guiding you towards the goal you are here for: Your awakening and the opening of your heart into unconditional love. I also carefully sense what your nervous system is ready for.
• I expect the same of myself. To process my own experiences rather than live them out in sessions or project them on students is beyond the domain of ethics for me. It is a continuous and core part of my spiritual practice. It is an essential way of living for me. I am constantly stalking myself.
• It is ethical for me to accept and work with the reality that students and clients will project their unconscious on to me. If I took everything students and clients said to me personally, I would become madly ineffective as a Dakini. My job is to see the truth of the situation as clearly as I can and to respond with right action. Often right action is simply to be available for you to live your projections to their disillusionment.
Isaak Shapiro has a wonderful way of talking about boundaries. Boundaries come up, he says, as defenses against what we perceive as danger. Danger is that which we perceive as a possible cause of hurt. The paradox of boundaries is that we usually set them up outside ourselves. We try to protect ourselves from certain experiences, people and situations because we perceive them as the cause of hurt. The reality is that the hurt is happening inside of us because of the way we are interpreting the situation. Our interpretation usually draws on past experience and is mostly not a good guide to the presence.
I have recently watched a young man hold a woman tightly, desperately trying to protect her against the abuser he encountered in his youth. The gift of the situation for him was to be confronted with the memory, and to feel it to its depth. When this was felt, I had to make him aware of the fact that the woman he was holding was in fact a powerful, strong and very well person. He was projecting the abused sister on her, and had seen this old, unresolved archetypes in most women he got close to. The pain he was feeling was living in himself. It did not apply to the external reality of the moment. As he came to see the reality of her wellness, another level of healing could start to occur in him.
When old unresolved pain sits in us, we cover ourselves in what Wilhelm Reich calls body armoring. We literally defend our emotional bodies. This unfortunately makes us less sensitive to feeling the real of the situation. The work of the Dakini is to get you closer to the real, to help you release old memories and associations that keep you from being able to feel the real of the situation. We help you discard the boundaries, barriers and armoring that no longer serves you. Ultimately, you meet your oceanic, unbounded self.
Having said this, it is absolutely not true to say that the Dakini does not have boundaries or does not respect boundaries. The boundaries are very clear.
I will not stretch you beyond your willingness and desire. I listen carefully for the edge, the boundary, that you present. And I feel into my own. I will not go beyond my own desire and willingness. Having said that, there is nothing - no action or experience - that is expressly excluded from the session, within the boundaries of your and my willingness.
Much of my work takes the form helping people find their edges - locate where a touch or a memory evokes that old, repressed pain. As soon as the pain gets touched, I stop, and guide the person through a deep feeling and release of what has been held so deeply inside.
It makes no sense to me to take a client further in a session than their nervous system can cope with at that particular moment. My acute sensitivity and deep listening makes it possible for me to feel how far we can go today. This is often a surprise. Sometimes the client goes way beyond what they thought they were capable of. Sometimes I do not even nearly approach what the client had requested. For instance, if a client has not done the work required to clear the main layers of unconscious eroticism in his/her psyche, I cannot introduce them to the power of sexual meditation in Tantra, even if this is their expressed desire. In time, maybe. But we work with where the body-mind is at in this moment.
Perhaps my training as a social anthropologist and ethnographer helps here. I have learnt that what people say is not necessarily what they mean. People are always interpreting a situation on many different levels and choosing from many different options what reality they will present to you. My task as Dakini is to sense keenly into the reality they are choosing to present at the time of the session, and to select the most appropriate response.
Although the work that we do in Tantra is deeply transformative and in that sense radical, this transformation often happens through the subtlest of touches. It is not in our aesthetic to push people beyond where they choose to go. In this our method differs significantly from many other transformation processes. It has an extreme refinement that is guided, from moment to moment, by the truth that is ready to get revealed in your being.
Don't come to a Dakini if you are looking for safety or escape from your own life experience. However, if safety for you means a deeper homecoming to yourself, then there probably are few better places to go. I think you understand by now that the journey home can be challenging. Boundaries will apply to help direct you there, not to help you hide. And all along you will become more attuned to your own internal ethics, as I do with mine. The further you walk along this road, the greater your responsibility - your ability to respond - to the dharma, the truth of what is.