Tantra and Sexuality
Sex… the final frontier.
Oh yeah, you say… right. There’s no mystery to sex these days. It permeates the media, from Britney Spears cooing on the radio to blasé reality show hot tub hookups, to flamboyant latex toys being hawked on the late-night cable shopping networks. It’s all out there; no mystery.
Which is precisely the point. The hard-won victories of the sexual revolution and the development of effective birth control have made intercourse remarkably accessible; yet they have demystified it. Sex has been given the fast food treatment: easily available and momentarily gratifying, but lacking in real nutritional value. We find ourselves walking away from the banquet table feeling oddly unsatisfied, despite the fact that we have been starved for centuries by the limitations of societal and religious dictums.
The truth is that, whether stifled by ecclesiastic and civil constraints or desensitized by over-exposure, sex for many of us is still riddled with taboo, shame, and anxiety: a manipulation; an obligation; an ego trip; a mechanical function. It is often surreptitious, awkward, and burdened with internal struggle; an aspect of ourselves found lurking in the shadows or blinded by the blaze of neon lights. In the process of trying to feed our appetites, we have made sex too important—and not important enough.
So where do we find a clear, safe space to engage ourselves and our partners with honesty, trust and joy? Is there a practice that embraces the human urge to merge—and takes it to a higher level? You bet. It’s one of the most misunderstood buzzwords to emerge in recent memory: Tantra.
The word evokes images of sexual gymnastics: pretzel contortions, marathon lovemaking sessions, and multifaceted orgasms. Well, yes…perhaps…eventually. But Tantra (which means, “to weave together”) is as much about process as results. In an achievement-oriented society, that can be a pretty radical concept.
“Westerners went to India and to Asia and discovered Tantric practice and focused on the sexual techniques,” explains Ocean~Peace, founder of the Asheville Tantra Temple School. “We tend to refer to that incarnation as Western Tantra or NeoTantra. The slant is that it makes you a great lover and you can achieve multiple orgasms and make love for hours, but that wasn’t the original intention of the practice.
“Tantra is a form of yoga. Its disciplines bring us closer to our own divinity through unification of body, mind, soul, and spirit. Yoga is a tree with many branches and the branch of sensual pleasure is Tantra.”
By that definition, overemphasizing physical performance is counter-intuitive. “We’re working with the sensual body, but we’re rooted in a practice that strives towards becoming a unified being. There’s no way to do that without recognizing the energy body. Energy is a fundamental of all yoga. It’s unfortunate when people engage in yoga simply as a physical exercise,” she observes. “All yoga is intended to raise the Kundalini—the essential life force. I just happen to think that Tantra is the most fun option.”
Ocean had been a yogini—a student and teacher of yoga— for many years before she began exploring the Tantric path, which is based on the 112 Sutras (meditations) of the Vigyan Bhairav Tantra. These texts address the interplay between Shiva, the masculine embodiment of pure consciousness, and his consort, Shakti, the feminine embodiment of pure energy. According to this tradition, the world itself is created and manifest by the union of these two primary forces in the act of erotic love.
For Ocean, the teachings of Tantra were a re-awakening of her intuitive understanding that deep spiritual interaction with another being holds tremendous power. Through focused study and discipline—involving breath work, movement, meditation, and visualization, as well as the development of physical skills—Ocean found her calling as a Tantrika (or Dakini, in some traditions). This is an adept who, as a guide and teacher, is an incarnation of the divine feminine. She and her sister Tantrikas work with individuals and couples to impart gentle instruction in the development of the skills that lead to the recognition of the male and female energies in themselves, in their partner, and in the physical world around them.
“Tantra is a two-energy system,” Ocean says. “When you can see the manifestation of consciousness into matter in an individual, you can also see it through the reflection of intimacy between men and women. And once you begin to see it, you can see it everywhere… and you can start to work with that.”
“I think that recognition comes first with your partner,” agrees Leianna, a Tantrika and teacher with the Asheville Tantra Temple School. “We use what is in our private universe to determine how we want to be in the rest of the world—it’s a small point of light—and then we move outward from there. Taking it out into the world as an expansive viewpoint is a much higher consciousness.”
The process begins with the individual getting back into the body and out of the mind—into a place of being, not doing. The goal is to be present in the moment. This requires, on an essential level, a sense of safety and sacredness.
“One of the first things we teach in Tantra is that the feminine body is a temple and a place of worship,” says Lady Lark, a Dakini and yoga teacher who is also on faculty at the School. “There’s a sense of ritual and reverence in the sacred union… or in any kind of physical interaction…so when a partner comes in contact with a woman in Tantra, they ask permission. Many women aren’t used to that—to being a place of worship, to being a goddess. It’s so empowering.”
It isn’t just a matter of getting off to a good start. Honoring the divine in this way frequently helps to dissolve the deadlocks that can occur between longtime partners. “Men will often say ‘My wife hasn’t let me touch her in years’,” observes Ocean. “My response is to ask ‘How do you touch her? Do you approach her with the imperative of sticking something in her? Not good. Touch her and stroke her without expecting it to lead to anything more’. They are often surprised at how well their partner responds to this. They start to get back into the flow.”
Removing the blockages that impede that flow of energy between male and female is one of the primary challenges to progressing on the path to bliss. This involves owning not only our gender’s immediate energy, but also the complementary energy within each of us: the masculine in the female, the feminine in the male.
“With the work that we do, it’s about what people are feeling, not what they’re thinking,” says Leianna. “That’s the contrary point of healing from the ancient perspective versus the Western approach, which is all about analyzing. This is about what’s happening in the heart and soul—being present with that felt sense.”
“A lot of people are not used to the idea of having an intimate experience that’s therapeutic,” Ocean adds. “When a Tantrika works with someone in a healing capacity we are holding space for them. We may dance with them, but we are very aware of where the boundaries are. The basic teaching of Tantra is that the two energies—the masculine and feminine—dance in balance. Many women are taught simply how to please someone else. Tantra encourages us to hold space for ourselves because we are divine. That, in itself, is incredibly healing.”
“It’s true… there is fear of our sexuality in the feminine culture,” Leianna notes “Many women are harmed from a very early age by inappropriate touch or looks. After a point, they shut down—they’re afraid to tap into their sexuality as a place of power. They come to it with the baggage of a belief system that tells them to feel shameful and guilty. They need to learn to ask for what they want.”
“Men, too have been suppressing their sexual energy,” Lady Lark points out, “and some unconscious anger may arise because of it. When children are punished for masturbating they are shamed, so they are taught to be furtive about their sexuality. But sacred sexuality is your life force energy. It is through our life force energy that we create. It is through the feminine that we ascend… that we manifest. When men come to an awakening of their divine feminine nature, they are not going to waste this precious energy on bimbos on porn sites. They are going to harness and channel this energy into creating a more fulfilling life.”
“Men are often challenged because their sexuality has always been defined by a more “horny”, driven imperative,” says Ocean. “There’s a social pressure for men to behave in an aggressive way—to push forward. Energy builds up in the root and tends to just burst out. But it can also spiral up. That’s what we teach in Tantra—how to direct the energy to ascend, so they can control it and use it as they choose instead of just blowing it out.”
Once a foundation of internal integrity has been achieved, the individual is better prepared to engage in a meaningful exchange with a partner. “Sex is the icing on the cake of Tantra,” Leianna says with a smile. “It’s very advanced. Individual work is very important. You don’t want to lose yourself in your partner—that’s enmeshment and it’s very funky. You want each partner to be as full-on in their Selfhood as possible. The Tantric element is what really assists a couple in going deeper into their intimacy, into really seeing the essence of the other because we’re fully aroused and wide open. The energetic armor has faded away and we find ourselves in beautiful authenticity. We can look deeply into each other. Even in orgasm, we’re habituated to closing our eyes because the power is so big. Engaging it open-eyed, being fully embodied, is truly liberating.”
“Yes!” agrees Ocean. “You are creating a sacred space where each person feels comfortable in expressing their needs and desires. It’s free of expectation… there is nothing that is required. One of the myths of our culture is that we have to be doing something, rather than just letting the loving experience unfold. We get caught up in performance anxiety. The energy between two people is already there… we just have to tap into it, surrender, and be present. The point is to peel away the layers so that your essential self can emerge. When that happens, and you are witnessed in a loving, divine embrace… Wow!”
The Tantrikas smile and nod knowingly. “There is a wonderful quote from Osho that I believe sums it up,” offers Lady Lark…
“If you remain aware, you will come to know that Sex is not just sex. Sex is the outermost layer; deep inside is the Love and even deeper is Prayer. And deepest is God himself. Sex can become a cosmic experience. Then it is Tantra.”
In that spirit, Ocean has created the Asheville Tantra Temple and School, located in West Asheville. “Originally, it was our intention to train Tantrikas,” she says, “but as we opened the umbrella, it became apparent that there was so much more to offer and so many other people who wanted to learn.
“Sexual imagery and activity are everywhere,” she continues, “but Holistic Sexuality—the concept that sex is a healthy, wholesome, natural part of life—is really not embraced by our culture. We still compartmentalize it. There are so many ways to apply Tantra to your life. It’s a spiritual practice that has many yummy applications. We want to bring the public together with gifted teachers in an accessible center where everyone can be nourished.”
Asheville Tantra Temple and School will begin offering classes in late summer. For more information, visit www.ashevilletantra.com. Our three gracious Tantrikas can be reached via their websites: Ocean~Peace at www.oceantantrayoga.com; Lady Lark at www.bodybylark.com; Leianna at www.atasteoftantra.com.
Kate O’Connor is a writer, editor, artist, and mischief-maker loving life in the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains. She has contributed to WNC Woman in the past under her former name, Kate Reynolds.