Let’s start with this picture: I agree with the quote, but why (why?!?) do all Tantra dudes look like this? Cut your hair and stop taking yourself so seriously.
It’s the latest in a long road of practices I’ve either wanted to investigate and experiment with or things I was…um…directed to do by the Divine. (God is a funny lady, okay? She’s got a terrible sense of humor and lots of guidance!)
I started exploring the overlapping areas between spirituality and sexuality when I was going through a super-huge hormonal upswing (libido through the roof) and didn’t know what to make of it. Tantra immediately sprung to mind since Sting gave it all that press for the hours-long orgasms.
I’ve done some reading on Tantra (love Urban Tantra by Barbara Carellas) and have practiced some of the techniques in the books I’ve read. Mostly I love the Tantric concepts that the body is a temple and its orgasmic energy can aid the development of the soul and that we can make love with all of Life.
Really, the concept that we can make love with all of Life is what made me want to explore more. When I think about that concept, when I pull it into my heart, everything inside me opens up and gets all squishy and tingly and wild.
If a spiritual concept can do that to me, why wouldn’t I try it?
Don’t forget, they used to build temples dedicated to this stuff.
Okay, so, I’ve read the books, tried some stuff, and experimented with Taking Life as my Lover (more posts on that in the future). In the last few months I’ve really been considering taking a class, though. I wanted to get some guidance and wisdom from someone who’s already been on the path awhile.
So I signed up for a week-long class where the focus was ‘Sex, Magic, and Manifestation.’ The core of the class is just to practice basic Tantric principles: building orgasmic energy, not climaxing before it’s time to, breathing techniques, and sending that lovely orgasmic energy to something we care about (or wanted to manifest).
Sounds good, yes?
It has been, but not in the way I expected.
First night out, I did as directed. I made a sacred space, kept it warm, and set my intention (what I wanted to manifest).
I did a little ‘pre-practice’ work with my love muscles (which is not a term I dig). The love muscles are the pubo-coxygeal muscles- they control your ability to stop yourself urinating – squeeze them and you stop pottying. Squeeze them at other times and you get an automatic orgasmic jump. (Try it, you’ll see!)
Then I started in with the practice. I began to ‘pleasure myself’ – which, if you’re over the age of 14 and not all religiously hung-up, you know exactly how to do.
And then I started adding in the breathing technique we were supposed to use. As I breathed in, I imagined energy coming up from the Earth, into the base of my spine and travelling up to my heart. As I exhaled, I was to imagine the energy going back down from my heart to the Earth.
If I felt like it, the instructor said I could add the tense/release practice with the ‘love muscles’ as well. So I added that to the mix.
And I held on to all three of those things for about 37 seconds before I broke into full-belly laughter. My mind could not take it.
Inside my brain during my first Tantra practice.
And it didn’t feel spiritual or soulful. It felt like my brain was on fire, trying to manage all the different processes happening.
This was not working like I thought it would.
So I had a good laugh at my own expense.
And in the laughing and the crumbling of the practice and feeling a little frustrated and overwhelmed I realized: when I start out with a new practice, I need to keep it simple. There are Buddhist initiation rites that call for extensive preparation, symbolic decorating, and even testing of the initiate. But I sure as shootin’ wasn’t at that stage.
I am at the training wheels stage of Tantra.
I think this is the advanced practitioner.
If I practiced self-pleasuring and the breathing at the same time, that would have to be enough. I could be a beginner and not a perfectionist. The point, after all, was to connect with my soul – not to help my mind stay in control.
The other thing I noticed was the fact that I fell into a fit of laughter when the practice fell apart. That I was kind of blown-away by.
Any spiritual practice that makes you laugh when you’re feeling overloaded is a keeper.
I think the fact that I did laugh at that exact moment of feeling so mentally stretched shows the core principle and value of Tantra: experiencing the luscious juiciness that lives in your body. And how that body-fullness can provide a funny, voluptuous, and soft way of living in the world.
I didn’t want to ask forgiveness or sit still or flail myself to ‘correct’ what had happened. I just wanted to laugh it off and try again. I think this is the first time I’ve really had a practice that accepted and encouraged such a thing.
Yes, Tantra, we like you- but not in the way I thought we would.
And I definitely want to hang out with you some more.
For the past few months I have been practicing 5 Rhythms- a type of ecstatic dance that connects mind, body, and soul (and heals them). This list comprises what I have learned through sweating my prayers.
Not unlike a lot of people, I left my childhood faith when I went to college. I spent four years in high school devoted to Protestant Christianity – Presbyterian-style. I loved almost everything about my church, my youth group, my faith community. I felt connected and cared for by those groups.
Because of my church, I had great resources to turn to when I needed help- resources that were not my parents, which I was grateful for as a teenager. And I got to have fun and explore my inner world at an important phase of my life – I learned early to listen to my heart and connect with my soul.
But when I got to college, the god they had shown me –a god I accepted and deeply loved- was too small. This may sound funny because I come from a metropolitan city. (Or at least the suburbs of a metropolitan city.) You’d think I would be exposed to lots of things. But not really. And certainly not through my church.
My church (as I think most churches do) drew a very small circle around “Us” and “Things that Are Okay For Us.” As I learned when I got to college, a lot of life was outside that circle. The god inside that circle was pretty small, too. (Both by necessity and design, I think.) The god they offered could not describe or categorize all the things I saw when I went to college.
What I saw in the world included:
Oh, the bogeymen of adolescent religious guidelines.
The god I was given in high school couldn’t hold these things in his creation. The boundaries of his creation was too small for what I saw, heard, and felt in my freshman year of college.
I needed a bigger god, but I didn’t know how to find or make one.
So I quit god.
I grew up with a Jesus that looked like this.
Basically, he looked like my Dad and all the guys on the church softball team when I was six.
That creamy, smooth Caucasian skin.
The nicely trimmed moustache.
The blondy-brown hair, cut long (‘cause that was the style in Judea, right?!?).
Basically, Jesus looked like someone from 1970s Nebraska. Or a member of ABBA. He obviously got his eyebrows waxed on a regular basis.
I remember feeling somewhat betrayed, but also calmed, when I saw a more historically and culturally accurate picture of what Jesus looked like.
A man of Middle-Eastern descent.
A working, heavy, muscular body.
By the time I saw this image, I was old enough to realize that it was truer to the historical, actual human, Jesus than the Nebraska Jesus picture. I felt calmed because this was the Truth about the human Jesus. I also felt betrayed because the ‘real’ picture told me (again) that my religion didn’t really care about the truth.
They preferred to worship what was comfortable.
That which was recognizable.
That which was ‘like us.’
Now, I can’t really blame them- the designers of religion. We all do this. It’s so much easier to connect to things that are familiar and similar to what we already know. I get that. I sure as hell wish my path was familiar and easy and similar to something I already knew.
I guess what upsets me is, by using that picture, my childhood religion made god small. And instead of offering me a picture of Truth, they offered me a picture of Easy. And god is not easy. Nor small.
When I quit god it was – at least partly – because they hadn’t taught me that god was flexible and large. I had to learn that on my own. I don’t suppose the culture of any religion is really concerned with the largeness or flexibility of god. They just want the parts of god that work for them.
But that’s just not good enough for me anymore. Because it’s not the truth. Nebraska Jesus is nice (easy on the eyes, actually), but he’s not the truth. I prefer the difficulty of a Jesus who doesn’t look like me and a complex god, because I believe that is the Truth. And I am concerned with Truth.
If we don’t have Truth as a requirement or tool on our path, we have very little to work with.
They mystical path is more difficult, but also more prized (IMHO), because we ask “what is the Truth?” we ask “Who am I?” and “What is God?” and “What is the Truth of Life?” And we don’t have any pat answers to trot out and make life easy.
These are tough questions. Complex, large, and frightening to many. What if the answers are different, bigger, or include more people, ideas, or technologies than we had imagined?
Ah, well, then we get a chance to glimpse the real God, don’t we?
God is bigger than all of it.
Even bigger than what I believe is Truth. (Which is painful to admit. I would also like My Way to be The Way.)
But that is the point, I believe.
To discover, over and over again, just how big, how utterly unknown God is to us.
I have no tidy way to tie these ideas together. Just to notice, and remind myself, God is complex. God is big. Vast. And there is no way around that. It is both frightening and comforting.
And it is the Truth (whether we like it or not).
Today is Good Friday. I’m mindful of it because I grew up in the Christian/Proestant/Presbyterian lineage. I am not much of a Christian (so to speak) anymore. But that’s another story…
Holidays – holy-days – in any religion are event markers. In the case of Good Friday, we mark the death of Christ. But holy days are also symbolic- they are days of intense focus on an important issue, idea, or practice. Yom Kippur, for instance, is a day of reflection and repentance. It is also a day to take stock of where one has been, spiritually and relationally, over the past year and make course corrections for the future.
Because holy days are symbolic they hold the potential for many things. All symbols are faceted- point them in this direction, they reflect light this way. Point them in that direction, the light reflects differently.
The symbolism of Good Friday is to let go. To let die what needs to die.
It is a day of surrender.
Even more than that, it is a day to surrender our suffering.
(This is a Buddhist-y perspective of Good Friday.)
The idea and practice of surrendering our suffering is pretty fucking important.
There is something we all suffer with. A psycho-spiritual thing that we grapple with.
It is also known as The Pain in My Heart or The Pain in My Head.
The fuzzy, tangled, bit we can’t seem to figure out that hangs around our necks and does not leave our mind at peace.
On Good Friday, it’s time to let go of that suffering, if only for three days.
Today, Friday, we take that suffering down from our internal cross and we let it rest.
We put the suffering in a safe, dry, sacred, dark space.
And we let it alone.
One of three things is going to happen when you let your suffering off the hook of your attention.
1- It is going to turn into something else after three days.
(Maybe it will suddenly float away or become an opportunity or the suffering will learn to sit quietly.)
2- We will see it differently.
(It may become a direction finder or we may be able to laugh at it or the suffering will turn a different color.)
3- We will have rest.
(At the very least, if you take down your suffering for three days, you get three days to rest. And three days of rest might lead to any number of amazing things. Or, just rest- which is amazing enough, yes?)
Today, my Good Friday practice is to let go of the suffering from not knowing the answer. This one problem, I can never decide- do I go this way, or that? And because I can’t decide, I suffer. I get stuck. I feel guilty and stupid. I’m going to let this one ride for a few days.
Good Friday is a time to take three days off from your troubles. Not to figure them out. Not to forget them completely. But to let them be still for a while.
Sunday, you can peek in on them again.
But- I’m willing to bet!- you’ll find something different when you go to take them back.