Like so many other things I’ve sought out in life, sexual tantra was supposed to save me. It was supposed to heal me. I had great visions of perpetual orgasm and bliss emanating off me like auric waves infusing everyone in my vicinity with ecstasy. I expected my pussy to be the endless source of juice and lingam-healing life. I anticipated every bit of illness, negativity and self doubt to be eradicated from my being once I knew how to fuck like a Buddha.
I do have to say that it has helped me, quite a bit – and it is still healing me, but obviously not as I expected.
My journey on the path of tantra started in a used bookstore in Arcata, CA, at the tender age of 18, while studying botany at Humboldt State University. My boyfriend at the time had discovered in the far away upstairs stacks, a particularly arousing but peculiar book called Sexual Secrets by a yogic long haired hippie and a fabulously butch looking woman. Well, there were drawings of them all throughout the book, anyway, so I assumed they were the writers Nik Douglas and Penny Slinger. That combination of hippy, butch, naked, and sex with these amazing images of eye gazing, yoga, mudras and energy fields not only had me enthralled – but deeply aroused. Right there in the bookstore. An initiation.
Being the shy kids we were, of course, it took us 3 more visits to get the courage to actually buy the book.
But from that point, though it would be a stop and go path for the next 20 years, I was certain it was the way – it was my way.
So what is tantra? It’s become such a household word, and as is the case with paths adopted and adapted from other cultures it has been rather simplified to meet the inclinations of the western mind.
The word tantra is Sanskrit. "Tan" means "to stretch" and "tra", "instrument" – so literally it is an instrument for stretching, or a loom, to be exact. To get more metaphorical, it means "to weave".
Thus tantra means to weave everything into the path of awakening, not just sex as one might conclude from the neo tantric or sexual tantric movement; although the earmark of early tantra was to go against the abstaining Brahmanic strictures forbidding meat, alcohol and sex. Early practitioners seemed to be aware that all phenomena came from the same source, therefore found it useful and imperative to learn how to embrace and “weave” all of the gifts of the Universe into their path to enlightenment.
It’s almost easier to say what tantra is not. Tantra is not just in the bedroom or on the meditation cushion. Tantra is not just about better or more orgasms. Tantra is not about a persona put on to impress others and get super psychic-sacred laid or prove how spiritual one can be. Tantra is not about a goal of being a super glowy groovy lover. Many of these things can and do come out of the practice, and that’s great, but it is not the point of it.
Tantra is about letting life stretch one so that the colorful fibers of each moment brings knowledge of one’s interconnection with everything. It inspires awakened movement in life, and compassion for oneself, that extends to the whole world, no matter what is taking place in each moment.
An important aspect of my relationship to the path of tantra, is that I have had a journey with failing health over the course of my whole life, that first became extra apparent in those early years of finding Sexual Secrets.
Within a month of being sexually active with my boyfriend, I became plagued with regular yeast infections that eventually became a constant presence in my life. Having come from a born again Christian background, then choosing to drop all it and flounder about in search of a spiritual path to fill my longing, while letting myself engage my hedonistic side, I thought for sure God was punishing me. I hadn’t saved myself for marriage! I was exploring and enjoying sex! Gasp! Horrors! I know, how cute, right? But I was certain in that shame, and it became embedded in my mind and was taking itself out on my body. I saw sexual tantra as a way to be purified in my sexuality if only I could make sex more spiritual. *Sigh* – still not quite getting the point yet.
So I read more books, borrowed videos, entered the Buddhist path in both the Zen and Vajrayana schools (tantric Buddhism), but was unable to get this sexual bliss rockin’ in my world. Lovers were uninterested (even the Buddhist monk ex husband) – they just couldn’t be bothered to learn something new, or take their sex deeper – they were content with just getting off. That was enough for them. They didn’t have this internal stigma around their sexuality – if it ain’t broke why fix it?
When I look back, I can see my own lack of ability to communicate what I wanted because of a lack of feeling like I deserved to just enjoy sex. The inability to get comfortable with my body prevented me from taking it deeper. It was a painful body – why would I want to inhabit it? I needed a partner to do this with me, to save me! To make me feel beautiful, wanted as more than a mere sex object. I needed my partner to see the Goddess in me! That was all good and well, but there was so much more…
Tantra is Presence. It’s witnessing breath, body, mind, surroundings – without attachment, noticing attachment, letting go of attachment, seeing it all arise again and again. Letting it go. It’s about being with another – not for what I can get, but for how we can be. Tantra is coming home. Coming home again and again to just this, no more. Just this.
Tantra is a bite of food, the smell, the color, the texture. The awareness of the suffering that brought it to my plate, to my mouth, to my hunger, and acknowledging my own death even as I eat to live. Then eating in a state of gratitude, enjoyment and immersion with each bite.
Tantra is feeling the edges of emotions and thoughts, positive and negative, that come and go, and letting them do so without getting hooked into the train of reasoning, wondering, planning, arguing, and then recognizing when I do, and coming back to just this. One more breath in, one more breath out.
Tantra is remembering in the busyness of the day, to be – be aware of breath, of the wind in the trees, or the silence of the early morning, the coffee cup in hand. Of pain in a limb, the sound of dogs barking, of children playing down the street. Of cars. Of annoyances. Then stopping the labels, the expectations, the reactions. Being here.
Although I have taken classes and workshops, and learned techniques, the fruition of all that I have studied has really only begun to mature these last two years. Sexual tantra is commonly thought of as something that happens within a couple, but the most important takeaway I have had, is that the relationship to oneself is key. When two come together, there can be incredible magic and melting, but what each person is bringing to the table, to the relationship, to the lovemaking can make all the difference in the world.
The SkyDancer technique of sexual tantra taught by Margo Anand, which can be learned through her workshops, but also in her books Art of Sexual Ecstasy and the Art of Sexual Magic, teaches about tapping into the Inner Lover – an internal source that can be the opposite gender, or not as it works for each person. The Inner Lover is precisely that – a way of looking from within that sees with a romantic vision the magic, beauty, strength and desirability of oneself without judgment, enamored of the Beloved. There is an innate acceptance from the Inner Lover, that requires practice in order to access. Just like an outer lover, the Inner Lover wants to spend time, to feel and to be felt. The Inner Lover wants to caress with excitement, sing praises to beauty, be enthralled. Spending time with the Inner Lover is like tapping into a well of self appreciation, acceptance and celebration.
When I have looked to the outside for these things, I have been hurt – over and over – as I have sought so hard to literally be saved from my self hatred by someone on the outside. I only found self hatred reflected and magnified.
Due to health, the last two years have seen me very much alone, and coming face to face with that pain. The practice of accessing the Inner Lover has healed me of the self hatred I was forced to confront during the loneliness of that time. If I was to find any happiness, and real physical healing, I knew I had to seek that validation from within.
And from that place of internal loving, I have been able to better bring a sexy confidence to my connections, leaving self doubt about my looks and my performance and my health behind in order to be present in the moment and enjoy the loving – and my lover.
Tantra is not just sex!! But when I come home to myself – then I can touch into the bliss that is my birthright. I can find myself making love with everything. My breath, the chair underneath me, the feeling of my ribcage as I sit and type, the slickery click of the black keys of the laptop under my fingers, the whir and hum of the refrigerator across the room. I can begin to not just relate to the world with my five senses, but to find the place where these things do not end, and I do not begin.
And then, when I am fucking my partner, that heightened sense of merging brings me the perfect opportunity to remember Union. That is why it is so common to see images in tantric Buddhism of deities in sexual union – or “yab yum” – it is a representation of the polarities finding home, merging, melding remembering that there are no opposites, no conflict in Source. Only this.
“Out beyond ideas of right doing and wrong doing, there is a field.
Meet me there.
When the soul lies down in that grass, the world is too full to talk about.
Ideas, language, even the phrase “each other” doesn’t make any sense” – Rumi
Dropping thought, being breath, touching, tasting, surrendering. It is a time to drop goals, and the achievement of orgasm, or of performance. It’s letting every wave of arousal, joy, even fear and boredom that arise in the act of sex to be an integral part of lovemaking.
Then I can carry that back out into the world, into each moment. Each interaction an opportunity to know this same merging.
So I can honestly say that tantra has
saved me – from my ideas about myself and the world and sex and relationship and loneliness and aloneness – and connection. It’s easier now to realize that I am never alone, or as the fun play of that word demonstrates, I am “all-one”.
After years of seeking Union with a partner, the time practicing meditation and Taoist exercises (more on that next time!) during my loneliest periods, has come to fruition. In lovemaking with my best friend and occasional lover, sex is deeper, sweeter, wilder, and quieter than I had ever imagined it could be – and really oh so very ordinary in all that. We keep taking it deeper – in our separate practice, and in our time together, and as I enjoy each moment, I also look forward to how that connection keeps teaching us, keeps healing us.
So, at this point, do I fully embody tantra every moment? Do I consider myself having mastered the practice? Absolutely not.
But, fortunately, that is why it is called practice.