Posts by the teachers of the Advait Tantra school.
30 December 2018
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 introductory, initiatory 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.