30 December 2018

Relationships and Tantra

Relationships and Tantra

Tantra Pose
In the East, one of the nicknames for a guru is “The Fire”. The meaning of this is that the guru burns away your assumptions, your attachments, your worldly and subtle possessions – everything that comprises your ego-mind. He burns away all that is non-essential – everything that is not your true essence.

Being burned in this way is scary and most seekers want the assurance that the fire is being applied by someone responsible and trustworthy. This is why gurus that want to teach the masses advertise themselves as “Fully Enlightened” and are careful not to make things too suddenly hot for their following.

Such teachers work with the “frog in a pot” principle. They create a separation between “worldly” and “spiritual” pursuits, applying the heat in the controlled, spiritual zone and encourage disassociation from the worldly. They confront the ego bit by bit, gently raising the heat as their students gain awareness. Seekers are included in “spiritual community”. They are given stories that comfort their minds, practices (chanting, permitted drugs, sacred movement, ecstatic dance, soothing meditations etc) which get them high. They encourage dependence on these things as a way of keeping the frog in the pot while they gradually turn the heat up.

Tantra, though, has no patience with this approach. The T-shirt is: “Enlightenment this lifetime or bust.” Tantrikas have no patience with “emperor’s new clothes” and do not want a safe-feeling and gradual warming. They do not appreciate putting their intelligence on hold or having it numbed. They want the truth – experiential, not intellectual – as soon as possible and with no sugar coating. For them, instant gratification is just not fast enough.

Tantrikas therefore involve their whole lives in the pursuit of awareness. They do not limit their acceptance of burning to Sundays, nor do they retreat into a spiritual community. They accept (and ideally welcome) the burning of their egos no matter the source of the heat. They seek fiery gurus who encourage them to accept the burning which comes from what they do to make a living, the judgement (and even intolerance) of their families, their conflicts with their enemies and the primal energies of their sexual relationships.

Tantra, Marriage, partnership and polyamory – the path of the householder.

For most people, a committed sexual relationship is a bubble of safety, a safe place of shared illusion in which they can recover from the harshness of the world, rebuilding and strengthening their egos. The commitment is a commitment to maintaining the illusion. They are supported in this by the culture in which, for example, genetic studies revealing the frequency of misattributed paternity (which can be as high as 30%) go unpublished.

Tantrikas use committed relationship as a crucible – as a container which enhances the heat. Breaking of the rules of relationship typically leads them to honest confession and the resultant ego-burning rather than the usual striving for plausible deniability and ego-protection. Keeping to the rules, especially when one is out of the beloved’s sight, is directly destructive (burning) of ego. Some discard the rules – experiencing their relating without the artificial and illusory safety net, willing to be challenged to their authenticity.

An additional intensity of ego-burning happens when a tantrika takes an attitude of devotion to the beloved. Devotion is the submission of one’s ego-desires to the will of the other, including their unreasonableness, fear-induced anger, abusiveness … or even their outright insanity. This can destroy ego every bit as effectively as the tantric path of bhakti – deep or absolute devotion to a guru.
Polyamory may seem to be an escape from constraint, but is really just a more sophisticated rule-set, extending the concept of ownership to include lend-lease agreements. The more complex rule set and restraint structure can evoke further areas of understanding and awareness.

Householding, which Zorba called “The full catastrophe” – marriage, children pets and property, presents excellent opportunities for awareness. As Betty White said: “Love is blind, but marriage is a real eye-opener.” The cyclical characteristic of the marriage archetype means that one is repeatedly challenged to face feelings and issues of the mind that one has avoided on previous occasions.
Child rearing makes repeated visitations of your own childhood available. When you extend a freedom to a child – a freedom that you were denied – you are released from whatever hard feelings you have about that particular parental intervention in your life.

Non-monogamy – the path of the celibate.

Once the lessons available through committed relating have been learned, some tantrikas choose non-monogamy as their preferred approach to love and sex. Celibacy in this context is non-marriage, non-ownership, It does not imply chastity.

This approach to the burning of the ego and its attachments has the advantage of unavoidable personal responsibility. It becomes very difficult to blame one’s relationship patterns and difficulties on your lovers if there is no agreement of monogamy in the pure or lend-lease formats. In this style of relating, you are more rapidly brought to the realization that the common factor in all your dysfunctional relationships is … you.

The downside, spiritually speaking, of non-monogamy is that it can be used to keep your relating shallow. It can become a device for avoiding the depths of emotional vulnerability.

The fires of relationship

There is no such thing as an ideal or best relationship format for tantrikas. Even the celibate approach of Opus Dei (a revival of hardcore old-school Catholicism) can be useful.

Every relationship type involves restraint. Restraint, though, does not of itself reduce opportunities for awareness. Restraint does not imply or automatically lead to repression.

The relevance of your relationships to tantra is that they burn you. The challenges to ego in relationship, especially sexual relationship are huge. Monogamy does not necessarily present less of a challenge, less of an opportunity for ego-burning than poly, the BDSM lifestyle or celibacy. Whatever the structure of your relationship(s), strong gains in awareness can be had.

The key to unlocking the spiritual lessons of relationship is an attitude of totality. The ego-burning possibilities of, for example, polyamory, are not intrinsically greater than those of monogamy, non-monogamy or even of chastity. What matters is not so much the style of your relationship as the intensity and willingness you bring to your living of it.

Probably the best way to pick your style of relating is to let your choice be guided by your eroticism – by what feels hottest to you. In this way, the ego-burning fires of relationship can be aligned with your eroticism, and the sexual healing which conscious erotic exploration evokes.

For more from me on relationships and tantra, see Chapter 3 of The Rocky Horror Tantra Book.

First published in Mindchaotica, 2013

Tantra Retreats and Workshops

Originally written for Mindchaotica (the sexual rebels of the internet) in 2014 
First, a reminder of the disclaimer that applies to all my writing at Mindchaotica: My perspective, as a teacher and the founder of a school is unavoidably individual and is not necessarily in tune with the majority of teachings and practices called “tantra”.
I write about my teaching because I don’t find it duplicated. I can’t just send people to read a generic tantra book or website and expect them to develop even a vaguely correct idea of what my teaching (or in my opinion, what tantra) looks like. This means that if you are in the habit of taking the majority opinion as the likely truth, you are likely to judge mine as likely wrong.
Some opinions/advice about beginner-groups and workshops: In general, the best are those run by Osho’s therapists. One part of Osho’s gift to the world was his development of teachers who, between them, cover a huge range of spiritual work. His tantra therapists were awesome, and nowadays, the group-work of the apprentices of their apprentices is still awesome. I confess to bias on account of Osho’s way having been most of, and the final steps of my own path.
In the wider world of tantra teachings, almost all beginner group work seems pretty good or at least, somewhat useful. Students of tantra typically get around a lot and sample many teachers, so there is a kind of informal peer-review in play. If you are trying to discern what’s useful to you, the guideline I recommend is: “Listen to the women.”
There are some silly and some unnecessary teachings which are often presented in a retreat context. Some tantra retreats structure what should probably be the after-party as part of the ‘everyone do this’ content. Some retreat teachers give some of their participants rather ambitious and overblown ideas about their sexual capacity. I have heard of a retreat that ‘qualifies’ a man as a “Tantra Master” when he can do … well, I’m not detailing the details. Let’s just say … nothing very impressive.
Others give out certified practitioner qualifications for attendance of a week-long retreat. Rushing too quickly into teaching / touch work practice is a bad idea for both the novice teacher and (to a lesser extent) her students. 
Even though almost all retreat work I have ever even just heard of is useful at least in the general sense of helping people coming to know more about themselves, some fairly common practices and attitudes can be counter-productive for some students. 
Techniques designed or used to manage feelings, perhaps surprisingly, can be a serious problem. This category of technique aims (or is misused) to release only the peak intensity of an emotional response, thereby enabling more comfortable suppression of deeper feelings in the short term – coping strategies. These can lead to cyclic patterns – whirl pooling around an issue interminably instead of passing through the centre of it.
Another thing that is often misused is motivation. My favourite teacher in that area, a human potential/coaching pioneer, said “If you want to see who someone isn’t … motivate him.” Motivating someone is the action of giving someone your (honest or synthesised, or honestly synthesised) urge – passing it on to them. When encouragement into participation is over-used by a therapist/trainer/facilitator, it can result in participants exceeding their true willingness – their actual emotional capacity. When this happens, the participant undergoes snap-back. They may revert to an even harder and more defended ego-structure than they had before the exercise. Paradoxically, in the short-term, they can feel stronger, even more capable, but it is a brittle strength and a pressured capacity.
So – advice: If a group starts with the strongly emphasised and ritualised – locking of doors, confidentiality promises between participants, sanctification of the place in the sense of it being separate from regular worldly experience – and so on, just take your own quiet pinch of salt. Look to be authentic, not motivated. Suspend disbelief and participate strongly, by all means, but don’t override your intelligence.
If a technique you have learned seems to be necessary on a regular basis, this is great as long as it continues to reveal new areas and new depths to you, and by new, I mean previously unknown. If it merely regurgitates the already-known, if it repeatedly brings you to a dropping of emotional pressure which keeps arising around the same focus … drop that method and consider looking for other ways.
You don’t have to remember this advice if you are taking a retreat with me. I will remind you – repeatedly, if it looks like you need to hear it repeatedly.
Usually, we have two or more teachers on a retreat and often we are helped by advanced students of the school. We prefer students who have taken an introductory retreat, or who have had some individual sessions work. We sometimes bill a workshop or retreat as introductoryinitiatory or beginner-friendly. This means that we are addressing the region between regular understanding and the understandings of awakening. Awakening means the point at which the path begins in earnest. When it changes from a dalliance or interest into a deep personal engagement or primary obsession.
When we bill a workshop or retreat as being NSFB (Not Safe For Beginners) we mean exactly that. Not really that it is not safe, in the normal sense of the word, just that some exercises or practices depend on capacities and capabilities one has to have already developed. We have, quite safely and successfully allowed literal tantra beginners on such workshops and retreats, but in all cases, notably brave beginners of good self-awareness.
Sometimes, we use the phrase practitioner level. What we mean by this is that we regard this work as mainly suitable for those already doing some form of body-work (in or out of our school) who are looking to gather and integrate our techniques into their practice. It means that, as well as being encouraged toward your own capacities, there will sometimes be the opportunity to support your fellow students with what you are learning. It means: Be here for yourself and be willing to help others where you can. We don’t insist that people taking such work be in dedicated practice or that they intend to work towards that – just, in some exercises, they may find themselves sometimes being more helpful than helped.
A retreat I taught with Dakini Wendy will, I hear, be at least partly documented in the sequel to No Mud, No Lotus by Maya Yonika , who’s snap-back from the flavor of teaching featured in the movie she starred in – Sex Magic – Manifesting Maya – is a legend of modern tantra. As it is likely that all sorts of traditionally secret things will be revealed in that book, I have decided to go with the flow and expose some of our previously secret sexy ways …
On an intensive retreat, we like to give our students, as far as they are able to receive it, worthwhile experiences covering a good range of our teaching. I like to start with a strong experience of touch-work. Typically, this means a roomful of naked people, some on plinths (massage tables) and some touching them. Touch-work is about evoking and exploring high intensities. States of arousal well beyond the intensities which people usually discharge in orgasm are common. Supervision improves constantly, but sometimes things can get a little out of hand. Mentioning no names, 3 students did manage to all get onto a plinth while teachers were busy, and buckle its legs, which dumped them nice and firmly on the floor, looking for all the world like a ball of snakes.
Next, the dark and difficult but so alluring region of eroticisms gets explored. The major exercises in this area aim for the central features of modern eroticism – that is which is most common, which is also that around which we are the most reactive and unconscious. I’ll describe two, which explore the eros of money and power respectively.
In the eros of money exercise, also known as the Red Light District exercise and as sell-a-bit tantra (just to tease the celibate schools) it is, of course, all about selling and buying. We establish a simple (but financially meaningless) economy, explore what people want to buy, what people want to sell and give everyone an opportunity to pitch their wares. After that, it is, like real life, a matter of willing seller, willing buyer. The teachers are available for advice, emotional support, adjudication of disagreements and so on, if that proves necessary. After facilitating several of these, nothing emerges as statistically typical. The range of exploration is as broad as the eroticisms of the participants.
On offer have been sensual food experiences, sensual foot experiences, golden showers, sensual bathing, anything-negotiables, venus butterflies, visual extravaganzas … on one workshop, two Dakas (male practitioners) got no time to buy anything at all for themselves on account of the queue for their combined offering, which they advertised as the Double-Daka-Delight, along with such wonders as Apocalypse Now (which was 10 minutes with one of them and no safe-word).
Exploring the eros of power is more tricky. When developing the idea of it, I discussed the main themes with Dakini Wendy. She raised some serious issues with my intended approach, which was to lean against the cultural tendency of keeping the aspects of power unconscious, and against the cultural tendency to put that power in male hands when it is conscious. The basic problem she raised was that, if one says to a group of women “Here are some men for you to dominate”, the women will say “OK, guys, how do you want us to dominate you?” So … when we explore power on the group, some (very careful) motivation is used at the beginning.
For most of the time for the exercise, the women have, as Charlie Manson said to Timmy Leary, “all the power”. What they do with it? … well, I generally get out of the place at that point, partly so that I do not have to witness the suffering of my brothers, and technically, so that I can be available for the support and recovery of anyone who safewords out. So far, I am glad to report, no one has, though, apparently, it has, here and there, been a close thing. I hear things though, afterwards, and sometimes (like when going to make myself a cup of tea) I have seen things. All sorts of things. Trust me, no modern erotic literature, no movie and no philosophy has ever shown even a hint of what women exploring their power really looks like. Nor has any even purely theoretical literature managed to even hint at the truth of how men respond to feminine power. Awesome, indescribable, and in the several of these that have happened, nothing can be called typical. The power of woman does not have an average. My favourite comment from a man after such work was “They did nothing that I thought I would have wanted, maybe nothing at all that I wanted … but It was strangely liberating.”
The intent of this work is not entertainment, though it is beyond entertaining. Neither is the intent healing, though the ending of dysfunctional obsessions and addictive sexualities does happen. The intent is to trigger/evoke all feelings around the eroticism and allow them to be felt in fullness with good support. In this way, that which is typically suppressed becomes conscious, the illusions it holds are destroyed and the student gets one large leap closer to the spiritual ideal of living in the moment. Living in the moment means responding to existence as it is, proportionately, as opposed to responding to existence on the basis of past hurts, unresolved dramas and habitual constraints.
Here follows a cautionary note for sexual educators, tantra teachers and conscious-sexuality facilitators. Normal people can skip the next three (indented) paragraphs:
At the risk of looking like I am on an ego-trip about my teaching, I would like to point out that, a few times now, I have written an article about an aspect of tantric work and have, within a few months, seen adaptations of it offered. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mind. In fact, I am deliciously flattered and delighted to see the work of this school getting out there. Just, it would be surpassingly unwise to take the few hints I have given here and get a bunch of participants together to give it a try. It is not likely to go well.
It is not really workable for the facilitator/teacher to participate. This is not a way for a teacher to create or indulge in his or her fantasies. For that, dear tantra teacher, just talk to some friends and arrange to mutually explore whatever eroticism of yours may have been triggered by reading this article. To facilitate such work, you have to be completely finished with your own journey through the area of eros being explored. If you are not, you will either participate inappropriately, which will get you in trouble with your students, or you will suffer the extreme frustration of your own eros being triggered in a situation in which you have to be very conscious and abstemious.
With many techniques, practices and processes of teaching, particularly those derived from those developed by Osho’s therapists, beautiful things can result even from misusing them, misunderstanding them and presenting them badly – such is the power of the truth within them. These processes, by comparison are extremely delicate. Energies are extreme and have to be directed with knife-edge precision. I taught for years, and then took more years with advanced students wiling to play guinea-pig to develop these and related works. Seriously, if you want to work with these things, please consider coming here and learning, experiencing it yourself, before you attempt to try it out on your students.
After exploring touch – learning to feel sensation as it is, as opposed to being overwhelmed by what it evokes, and after addressing the sexuality of the brain, emptying it of erotic visions, enabling it to follow sexual energies consciously – sexuality can become meditation.
True tantra starts when reactivity and eroticism are finished. Over a week or two, if these areas are well addressed, there is enough space, sufficient release of mental/psychological pressure to enable a taste, and possibly more, of what sexuality becomes when it matures into meditation.

For events announcements, see the School Group on Facebook.

No Mud, No Lotus – Maya Yonika

Beloveds, I would like, if I may, to introduce you to Maya – Maya Papaya on Facebook, Maya Yonika on Twitter.
Maya is something of a celebrity in the little world of Tantra, the somewhat larger world of polyamory, and is perhaps threatened with greater exposure to the world at large – there are persistent rumors of a TV series in the making.
Maya stars in a controversial documentary style moviewhich features one of the temples of American tantra before it was assaulted – one of the targets in the “Operation Goddess Temple” defilements.
She has written a memoir of her journey through wild and scary areas of life, gathering the experiences and lessons that brought her to her spiritual path.
It is a great read on many levels: For Tantrikas, it is an archetypal tale of the tantric path to awakening. For explorers of sexuality, it provides comradeship and the sharing of bad decisions made, which, let’s face it, are most of the fun. For people seeking to live in picket-fence marital harmony, it is a thrilling cautionary tale. Even the prurient get to enjoy it because it gives them  some great scenarios involving sex, betrayal and non-standard relating to fuel their fevered dreams.
Throughout, Maya’s self-awareness brings a lightness and humour to even the darker aspects of her story. She provokes good inquiry into the dynamics of relating, cheating, sharing, owning and personal responsibility without getting at all lectury.
One strong theme that has provoked much discussion and controversy is her becoming a sexual healer, her questioning her guidance in awakening to her path. Some of this can be seen in that aforementioned movie. In the book though, her narrative explores themes which the movie barely hints at.
The archetype of the tantric path is significantly different from a seeker with an objective of self-improvement. Tantrikas are not content with slow and gentle improvement. They take risks in their living that others could not face. They learn at least as much from their participation in the worldly areas of life as much as they do in their formal practices and meditations. Their lives bring questions to areas of life that others leave unexplored. Harsh, for the one living the life … but stories of such lives are great to read.
Read it: No Mud, No Lotusa memoir of sex, betrayal and spiritual awakening
… and meet Maya – Maya Papaya on Facebook,  Maya Yonika on Twitter.

Originally published in Mindchaotica, Dec 2013.