October 31, 2011
What is Grace? Many on the path of Spirituality are seeking it, but do we always recognize it?
Grace is always a positive thing for our Spiritual Growth. There are no exceptions to that rule. And because of that, many people are also assuming that Grace will come in a way that is pleasing to them. And sometimes it does, but we cannot put Divine Visions, moments of Bliss and deep meditation experience in a box of “Grace”, and assume things that are not pleasant are not grace. The more we open to the spiritual Path of Tantra, the more we are always flowing in Grace. The question is, can we see it, and can we accept it in all its forms? Not just the extraordinary, but even when it seems ordinary? Or painful?
Grace can happen as synchronistic moments that point to the next step to take, or that validate something for us. There are moments that are so statistically improbable that one who is consciously expanding his or her awareness can only explain it as Grace, or the intelligence of the Divine Revealing itself.
About 7 months ago, I was laying in bed, thinking about my study of Ayurveda and Vedic Astrology. Thinking about how much I would like to find a way to blend them into my Yogic teaching and my private healing sessions with clients. I began to feel a sense of excitement in the possibility of integrating these techniques together, and as I felt the excitement, the Blackberry on my nightstand vibrated indicating that I had a new message. I reached over to check, and the message was from the Ashram where I did my teacher training inviting me to attend the Yoga Therapy Training Course starting on October 7th, 2011. I smiled.
My initial reaction was this was confirmation and a Divine message to tell me the next step. I felt the “rightness” of it. I felt the same excitement that was present during my contemplation time. Everything pointed to this being the right step, but a small part of me struggled. Doubts began to creep in. Could I afford to take that much time off? What about my clients and students? I discussed it with my partner and a friend of ours. They both said, “Go.”
I began to mentally make my plans, while still struggling a touch. How long should I stay if I go? Should I fly into Mumbai or New Delhi? Is this really the right thing to do? Sometime later that day I received another email. It was from one of my travel email newsletters. The email subject simply said: “It’s time to book your flight to New Delhi.”
This time, I not only smiled, but I had to laugh out loud. I have been subscribed to this newsletter for several years. I had NEVER received an email with this subject line before. And, so that sealed it for me. The Divine intelligence was clearly telling me to go.
Grace can also happen in ways that ask us to look at our attachments and our expectation, or that challenge the status quo. In other words, sometimes we need to have things “Shaken up a bit” in order to grow. This is also grace.
About 5 days before I was supposed to leave for India, someone I had known for over 5 years had a massive heart attack right before my eyes. It happened so fast that there was no real chance to save him. I went through many stages as this unfolded. At first I thought he was being playful. Then I began to suspect something was really wrong. I could not get a response from him. I tried to check his heart beat and his breath, but by this time my own heart was beating so fast that I could not tell if it was me or him. Within a couple minutes of his collapse, I was on the phone with 911, following instructions for chest compressions. No response. The ambulance team finally arrived. Compared to my own state of panic, they seemed to have a rather casual approach to the whole thing. They took over chest compressions, introduced IV’s and asked me to help find a number for his family.
It was pretty clear to me that there was no sign of life. And perhaps they already knew that when they arrived, and thus the reason for their casual behavior. They worked with him for a while, got in touch with his daughter, and then took him out. And then I was left in an empty room, still in a bit of overwhelm.
Over the next several days I made conscious efforts to witness and process what was happening in me. There was sadness at the loss of a friend. There were remnants of panic. Doubts and wondering if I could have done something different that may have changed the outcome.
I also had to witness all of this from the lens of my Spiritual Path and growth. The impermanence of the body. Everyone will die eventually. It was his time. The True Self cannot die. His consciousness just left the body, and will live on. Perhaps being reborn. His suffering with the body and worldly life had ended, but he himself as consciousness was now free. From that perspective, there is no death, only transformation of form.
I thought about the state of my own health, the inevitable end of this body, the loss of loved ones as time moves on. Challenging my possible attachments to others, and my relationship with death itself. And as part of that, my relationship to life as well.
My Tantric path and experience is that nothing happens without cause. This was not a random event, but a Divinely orchestrated moment in my Spiritual Sadhana. I did not see it coming, which made it all the more potent. To experience first hand the transitioning from life to death. To feel the energetic essence moving out of a body, while the body became lifeless. To come face to face with the inevitable impermanence of this experience. To experience my human sadness, but also see through it to deepen my faith in the Grace of God. To realize, once again, that I am not in control. There is a force which is operating behind the scenes that I must surrender to, and my goal in my personal Tantric Sadhana is to lift the veil and reveal to myself directly that Divine Power which is operating the Universe. Or rather, let go of my false sense of control enough, so that the veil will dissolve.
This experience also made the reality of disease and illness forefront in my mind as a headed to India. It made me more interested in learning how to use Yoga as a Therapy to help with diseases. More present to the suffering and pain that is present globally, and more inspired to find some compassionate way to serve others who are wanting to end that pain. That is the result of the flow of Grace.
Grace also presents us with frustrations, and challenges to help us grow.
In 2007, my first time in India, I visited Satya Sai Baba in Puttaparti, India. On the third morning, which I planned to be my last Darshan with him, I went outside to find my sandals were stolen. I was quite shocked and disappointed. I couldn’t believe that in a town that revolves around the spiritual teachings of this man, someone would steal. I told a security guard what had happened and his only reply was “Well. Come back to the afternoon Darshan. Maybe they will be returned.” I doubted that, but I decided to stay anyway. And I am glad I did. My sandals were not returned, but it was the most spiritual inspiring Darshan that I attended with Satya Sai Baba. I felt more Divine Grace and energy in that session than any of the others. My sandals were gone, but I was blessed in the end.
This trip, I took a day to visit the Shirdi Sai Baba temple in Shirdi, India. For those who do not know, this is the first incarnation of Sai Baba (before Satya). Both of whom are considered in India to be incarnations of God, and Self-Realized Masters. I waited in line for over 2 hours to get into the temple. (This, by the way, is a normal to short time to wait. It is often much longer). As I got into the temple, I was instructed to sit on the floor as they were getting ready to start a special ceremony called an Aarti. What auspicious timing. That lasted 30 minutes, and then there was a stampede to get to the main alter to make an offering. I finally got up, made my offering, which was blessed and returned to me, and as I left, I felt and connected to his energy, and asked simply to be blessed in whatever way was most helpful for my spiritual awakening. Within 10 minutes, while I was bowing to another small shrine with his picture, my wallet was stolen by a pickpocket.
So, both visits to Sai Baba resulted in something material being taken away. It would be easy to be angry. To think horrible thoughts about whoever did it. But, for me, while I admit feeling a little surprised, I was quickly able to see it as Sai Baba’s Grace. It was Grace for me to have a chance to realize I am not in control. Grace for me to have a chance to see how strongly I may be attached. It was not sandals or wallet really being taken away, but my attachment to them being removed. In this case, I was much less attached the second time than the first. I surrendered to what happened, and could only wish that whoever got it was able to benefit from what they had taken from me. Tantra teaches that all things belong to God anyway, and God dwells within all Beings. So the Divine grace was simply redistributing wealth within its own Self.
While in India this time, I spent several weeks trying to get my Blackberry internet service activated. It kept telling me it could not process my request. I called customer service, spoke to the shop owner, went to this office, and that office, and was finally told it was a problem with my handset. Further conversation with “an expert” revealed that it was because my handset was registered with another provider, and thus it would just not work. I surrendered, gave up, and decided “well, I guess I am just not supposed to be distracted by this while I am in the ashram.” I let it go.
9 days after my last attempt, and having been told it wouldn’t work, my Blackberry internet service activated without notice. I received a text message saying it has been activated for one month of service. There were only 5 days left at the ashram when it happened. It came just in time to allow me to use it to research my final paper on the internet using my phone. What I could not accomplish with the assistance of multiple people, and hours of my time spread out over three weeks, happened unexpectedly in a flash, without any “doing” on my part 9 days after I gave up. I also checked my prepaid balance. I was not even charged for the service. To me there is only one explanation.
While many may explain these things away as “coincidence”, or “bad luck”, or “good luck”, or even “blame it on India”, to me these are all examples of Divine Grace. Grace offers us the experiences we need to grow Spiritually, and most of us need to let go, surrender and see new perspectives on the nature of Reality a lot more than we need a blissful vision of God. We must learn to trust that we will get the exact experiences we are needing, and not necessarily the experiences we are desiring.
What we begin to realize when we grow spiritually is that Grace is always happening. The real change that happens is learning to surrender to “what is”, and ending the struggle against what life brings us. When we can do this, then everything that happens is for our growth and for our good, even if it doesn’t initially feel that way. We learn to flow with Divine Grace.
As I was feeling inspired to write this blog this morning at breakfast the following quote was written on the board in the Dining hall of ashram:
“Through the practice of yoga you can learn to smile at circumstances, you can learn to see every stressful situation as a challenge, or an opportunity to learn, give, serve and love.” – Swami Niranjanananda
To me, another moment revealing Divine Grace.
(Written October 20th, 2011)
Yesterday, for the first time in my life (that I am at least consciously aware of) I spent an entire day from waking to bedtime, without uttering a single word. This was part of a day of silence in the Ashram, so almost everyone participated. Although, most people began speaking again after dinner, I continued with the practice.
The practice of silence has been part of yogic traditions for probably as long as there has been yoga. I will admit, even in my daily life, I prefer as much silence around me as possible. I would rather sit in a silent room than watch TV on most occasions. I would rather not speak at all than to force a conversation of pleasantries. And I have even become pretty sensitive to the types of music I listen to on a regular basis. (Spending hours a day with massage and new age music played at low volumes will probably do that to most people.)
So, I welcomed the practice. I went to bed the previous evening, having already turned my “silence” practice on, and when I awoke, I was already in the mode. The first thing I noticed, was that it was very comfortable for me. During the morning meditation, having already turned my awareness away from speech, I became aware of the inner realm of thought very easily, and it was also easy on this particular morning to direct my awareness into the silence within as well.
I also noticed I become more sensitive to other sounds. The sounds of birds chirping, or any little bit of racket that may have been in the outside environment. I was present to new things. Within the meditation, there were times when something in my mind let go just enough, that it felt like the outer world merged into my mind, and the sounds of birds and the wind blowing were like thoughts arising within my own mind.
After morning asana practice, I spent some time outside connecting with nature. I discussed this in a previous post called “My Tantric Nature.” And then the flow of the day began. People going about walking from place to place, without speaking. And I began to notice something very odd. People, having adopted a practice of silence, seemed to enter their own private world. People were looking at the sidewalk instead of saying hello. It seemed that without words, most people didn’t know how to connect, or perhaps thought it was inappropriate to do so. No eye contact. No smiles. No winks of joy shared. Just blank faces, looking any where but an another person.
In Tantra, there is a practice called Eye Gazing, or Soul Gazing. It is sitting in silence, sending your awareness deep into the Soul Essence of another person, and allowing yourself to feel, to connect, to experience another Being without words, as they also connect into your deepest Self. This practice, at least in the beginning, is often met with discomfort. It is normal for people to laugh or giggle, or to close their eyes. It is normal for obvious discomfort to come across their face and body, and to see them squirming. I explain over an over to new groups of people, that these reactions are a part of our conditioning. It is rare in our culture for us to be so intimate with another. Even with the ones that we love such as friends, family and significant others.
Most of us say we want love, to feel it, to know it, to give it. But when given the chance to sit, and honor the Essence of the other people with love and reverence, something stirs within us that pulls us out of it, that causes us discomfort. The reality, is that for most of us, this fear of deeper connection is always there, just below the surface, but we don’t feel it because we distract ourselves with thoughts, with TV, with activity, and of course, with words. We don’t allow there to be enough silence, enough stillness to acknowledge it.
The same is true for many people with regards to their own thoughts and feelings. We find ways to distract ourselves, and never get still enough to feel or connect consciously to our own inner world. The moment silence is imminent, most people will jump up, turn on the TV, grab a book, begin to talk about anything that comes to mind: anything to not have to feel what is happening in our deeper experience.
As I watched the blank faces parading through the ashram, and the gazes away from each other, I couldn’t help but feel a bit of sadness. Sadness for not having an opportunity to connect, and sadness to see so many unable to make the connection without words. Without words, they seemed to have nothing to share. It never occurred to share their silent Essence. That same silence which pulses beneath Creation lives within our own Beings, ready to be tasted, touched and felt. That silence contains the Love we are seeking. It is not the words that convey love, but the Essence of a Pure Heart.
As I continued my day, I enjoyed the silence. I watched for moments when I might ordinarily speak, and then questioned whether speaking was necessary. In most cases I found the answer to be no. When a desire to speak would arise, I would watch as I reminded myself there was no talking today. And I witnessed the desire for whatever pass through, unspoken, and not responded to. And after the moment passed, I realized I was no worse off. I was still content, even joyful in my silence, and the thing I thought I wanted to communicate, or thought I wanted to ask made me no less joyful for not being shared. I was content to experience what was around me, without commenting, or feeling a need to inquire deeper into it with words. I was content without feeling the need to request something else to make it more or less “satisfying”.
What are these words we speak? And why do we speak them at all? How much of what is said is really useful to our deeper happiness, and how much is just habit and social convention and expectation?
The Tantric traditions describe three primary stages of speech. There is the gross speech of our everyday lives. This is the speech we use to share ideas from person to person, and vibrates at the most dense level. We then have a more subtle form of speech that we call thought. This is the speech that continues the dialogue in our own inner world. And beyond that is the most subtle form of speech, which exists as the arising impulse of vibration, that eventually becomes the thought, which then becomes the words spoken.
The normal world conditions us to focus on Gross speech. And over time, we come to identify with and give great importance to the Reality of this outer form of speech. Most of us also give, even without realizing it, great importance to our thoughts.
When one takes up the practice of silence, the outer speech is given up. This initially leaves us with our thoughts, and the opportunity to contemplate our relationship with gross speech. It gives us the opportunity to experience life without outer words, so that we might see how we have come to identify with them in a way that keeps us looking into the outer world. It gives us a chance to see how the words themselves are associated with our desires, attachments and aversions, and the way that words reinforce the same as “reality”.
When the inner thoughts become the primary world, and outer speech is stopped, then the next step is to get beyond even the thoughts themselves, and into the arising vibrations which are pre-thought. A realm of feelings, and intuitions, and knowledge that really has no “word” as we call it, just vibrations. And dissolving even those vibrations, we are taken into the realm of the practice of silence: inner silence itself. This Silence is the Holy Grail of meditation, but it is not just emptiness and nothingness, but is great peace, joy and love.
This is the basic general idea of meditation, and practicing silence gives you an opportunity to explore these levels of meditation in your daily living. To discover this peace and silence within the world around you is a goal of Tantra. We practice meditation so that we can transfer the depth of experience into our daily lives, not just to escape for a few minutes of peace.
Throughout the whole day, my voice only made one sound: the sound of laughter. After dinner, there were a few people speaking around me, and a story someone told made me laugh. So even Gross speech has its place. It caused me to laugh.
It is not that gross speech is “wrong” or bad. It is not that it should be given up entirely forever by everyone, but practicing silence should hopefully help us put it in perspective, so we don’t make it the “great reality”, and so that we see its limitations. So that we see the ways it can distract us, and become mindful so we don’t use words in this way. To become mindful of the ways words can harm, so we don’t use speech for negative purposes. So we learn to harness what, when and why we speak into conscious choices which enrich our lives, rather than just allowing mindless chatter to fill the silent space around us. So that we connect the words “I love you” with the deep love that arises within the Heart of our deepest Essence upon recognizing the Sacredness of the Being in front of us. And so we can learn to connect with others is this heart felt way even without words. So that silence gives us more presence to connect with others through smiles, honoring and love.
As I flowed through my day of silence, many moments of deeper love, gratitude and joy arose, as I touched into spaces of deeper silence within my own Being. This brought me to one other point of sadness: I will never be able to convey the experience of that Love and Joy with words.
(Written October 17th, 2011)
In an Ashram setting, certain rules and regulations are expected. In Part 1, we talked about the ways this experience can show you your attachments, your expectations and your habits.
Following the Ashram lifestyle will likely follow in a few different paths. You may find yourself getting into the routine, and allowing the new lifestyle to simply become your “norm”, adapting your expectations to the meet what will happen. A level of adaptability is a good quality, and shows flexibility and a less attached mind.
You might also adapt in a way where you “try to fit in”, and thus are really more forcing a match, perhaps even becoming attached to it, or using the lifestyle as a way to shift your awareness away from dealing with the life you have or had outside of it.
You may also adopt this new lifestyle, and have a genuine epiphany of the value that it brings to your life, your happiness and your spiritual growth, in which case you may stay in it or continue to return because it feeds you so deeply.
You may also rebel against the structure of it, and revolt or simply get out of it as quickly as possible. This could be a way of avoiding developing a deeper awareness of yourself, or perhaps it just feels too restrictive.
Any number of situations could happen, but a common theme in a conscious experience will be that is takes you out of your normal experience, and it churns your heart and mind. Like the churning of butter, the Ashram experience has the potential to separate out that which is important to your from that which is not, and taking what was into an entirely new form. To allow your deeper longings, desires and values to float to the top to be savored for their richness.
A traditional Ashram is designed to remove temptations from sensuality in all forms. Simple food, conservative dress to prevent body parts being exposed, and many activities focused on daily living and spiritual practices. Reduce temptation and occupy your mind so it won’t wander. This approach comes from the notion in Yoga that we need to reduce our desires and cravings, because they are distractions from our spiritual life.
The basic idea of them being distractions to our Spiritual Nature is fair enough, but Tantra also says that we should not repress our desires. We must acknowledge them and make peace with them in some way or another. In the Ashram, this may mean witnessing and contemplating our desires without being able to act on them. Allowing ourselves to witness what happens within our bodies, minds, awareness and our energy when we are not able to directly touch into the object of our desire, be that a big juicy steak, a beer, the smell of our favorite perfume, or an erotic encounter. It gives us a chance to explore the nature of desire itself as an energy that arises within us, and to make peace with it. To see it for what it is. To see that even the most urgent of cravings can be witnessed and moved through. We will not die if we don’t get what we are desiring.
But something else can also happen in this isolation and simple life. We may also have a longing arise which is new to us. We may connect with a new way to appreciate the ways we naturally wish to enjoy life. We may realize the value of having private time alone. We may come to appreciate a simple moment to be naked without having to quickly change so as not to offend roommates. We may learn to appreciate the freedom to speak to a loved one on the phone without having to keep our voice quiet, or feeling we have to censor our conversations.
We may also, in the restricted living, have a deep longing arise which connects us to a deeper sense of purpose. Some part of us that finally is ready to scream to be heard, that wants to live with greater purpose, joy and fulfillment than before. To live in a way that the Ashram life itself will not allow, because it has to express itself in the world. But it could not find its voice in the noise of worldly living. It needed the silent, contemplative space of the Ashram to direct your awareness in deeply enough to see it.
No matter what you come away with, a conscious Ashram experience should reveal deeper layers of yourself as both a human being and a spiritual being. It should churn up your values, showing you what is most important to you. It should help you better understand what you need to feel fulfilled and joyful. And perhaps, it will reveal ways you can more deeply align with a a joyful sense of purpose in your life.
Our desires are not wrong. Some are distractions, and can truly lead us away from the fulfillment that Tantra yoga promises. Many sensual desires run this risk, which is why they are discouraged in Traditional Yoga. But other desires are meant to be savored and joyfully unleashed, especially when it means expressing the core of our Being in a non-attached way. Especially when it leads us into purposeful, fulfilling living.
Most of us are full of desires that do not serve our greater happiness. But often, we also have suppressed longings and desires that reveal our greatness, our talents, our gifts and our abilities. These are the desires that fuel our life with passion and purpose. These are the desires that make us wake up in the morning excited to be alive.
Tantra teaches us to suppress nothing. Acknowledge all desires, from the darkest to the most bright. The secret is to make friends with them all. To see that they do not define the deeper Truth of who you are, and then with non-attached discrimination choose to fulfill the desires that will best serve your deepest fulfillment, and your spiritual growth.
When entering an Ashram, or consciously walking on a Tantric path, we must make room or the unexpected to arise. A lifestyle which intentionally reduces desires may actually awaken you to your deepest desires of purpose and fulfillment. It may even awaken you to the secret desire everyone has: To know your True Self and to live joyfully from that Knowledge of Self.
(Written October 11th, 2011)
All around us, life continues to move. For most of us, there are obligations that pull our awareness. Tasks that need to be performed. And when we become tired, we have certain ways that we use to de-stress. If we are honest with ourselves, most of us have created a series of “habits” which allow us to engage in life. Certain conditionings are there for almost all of us, and they keep us within particular realm of experience that we find “comfortable”
For instance, if we are a person who is not comfortable with confrontation, we will tend to go out of our way to avoid conflict, even if that means ignoring our own values or needs. We may have certain patterns of relaxing such as going to a particular restaurant, or drinking alcohol. We likely keep our social structure within particular limits as well, such as hanging our with particular friends, and doing particular activities.
I am not suggesting there is anything wrong with this. They are, in fact, in most cases things that you simply enjoy. But it is also easy for us to allow familiarity and routine to become so ingrained that the possibility of deviations becomes uncomfortable, or even terrifying. We can become attached to our routines, needing them to feel safe and happy.
The Yogic teachings tell us that we should learn to become “detached”. We should not expect certain results or outcomes in life. They tell us that most of our pain and suffering come from expectations not being met, or attachments being lost unexpectedly.
The simple reality is that it is challenging to change our habits while living in the environment that has helped to create them. Just as they say that an alcoholic should stop hanging out with friends who drink as part of the recovery, for some changes, we often need to get out of our “social” world in order to allow new possibilities to arise.
This can involve consciously choosing a new habit or giving up an old one. It can also be starting a new yoga class, or taking a workshop that will offer you a new perspective on life. These are ways that we can help cultivate growth, healing and change while we are living our daily lives. But sometimes, either out of personal desire for growth or because we realize we can’t do it in our current environment, something more radical is needed.
For the alcoholic who can’t find sobriety in his or her daily living, they seek “rehab”. For someone on the Spiritual Path of Yoga, we head to a retreat, or to the Ashram.
The Ashram is a place which offers a culture based upon Yogic lifestyle. When “everybody’s doing it”, it is easier to fit in and allow “healthier” choices to be part of your experience. Many Ashrams offer the possibility of regular yoga practice, regular chanting and regular meditations. Most will be based upon a particular tradition and will offer those teachings and practices that are a part of that tradition.
For the conscious Yoga practitioner, the Ashram should not just be a place to “escape”, however. It is not a place to avoid worldly responsibility, although it has been used by some in that way. The deeper purpose of the Ashram is to challenge your conditioning and your habitual ways of living, to deepen your personal spiritual practice, to accelerate your spiritual growth, and to learn alternative ways of creating greater harmony of body, mind and spirit.
While there are some Ashrams in the modern age that are more like resorts, a traditional Ashram offers a simplified way of life. It offers you what you “need”, not what you want. It invites you to explore the question “what is it that I really need to live and to be happy?” For those who undertake this experience, many come to realize we need a lot less that we think we do. Food, shelter, clothing are the basics. A supportive community is also helpful.
While we have grown used to, and even conditioned to expect certain things in life, such as nice cars, the latest iPhone, hot and cold running showers, air conditioning and central heat, regular meals at nice restaurants, and two weeks of paid vacation every year, the reality is we do not “need” any of these things.
For our sense of individual self, or what yoga calls the Ego (Ahamkara), what happens when we are faced with conditions in life that we are not accustomed to? What happens when a person used to living alone in a two bedroom house is suddenly faced with sharing a single room and one bathroom with three strangers? What happens when our usual diet may be modified into a purely vegetarian diet, which is served at strict times, and our coffee and alcohol are taken away? What happens when we are asked to get up at 5am, and be ready to meditate with the group at 5:45am?
For most of us, the short answer is there will be some reaction. Even if we gracefully accept the changes, some part of us is witnessing and aware of what is different than our “norm”. And some people may react quite strongly against this. Without realizing it, the ego may revolt. But what this type of experience does for us, the gift of Yogic Ashram life, is it gives us a chance to see the places we are attached.
Yes, I prefer air conditioning, but when it is taken away, I can adapt. I like my private space, but there are some nice experiences that come with getting to know three other people and sharing space with them.
With each change, there is a choice to “surrender” and look honestly at our selves as to how we feel about it. Or, we can not look, and just complain or find a quick way out. Yoga is an invitation to increase awareness, and any place within our own mind that we are attached, conditioned or resistant needs to be examined.
It is not that it is “wrong” to have air conditioning, nice cars and iPods, but Yoga teaches us that these things should not be the source of our happiness. In the Ashram, many of our external attachments are stripped away, forcing us to see ourselves without our worldly distractions. When there is no Tivo to watch for hours at night and we have to engage our own thoughts and feelings or have an actual conversation with someone else, can we still enjoy life?
From another perspective, the Ashram experience can also heighten our awareness of the patterns that are so strong that we actually import them into the Ashram with us. If we pay attention, perhaps some different personality traits will be magnified. We may feel more strongly the need for approval, our natural inclination towards competition, or maybe feelings of inadequacy. We may see whether we are a leader or a follower. We may notice our selfish tendency to take the largest piece of fruit, to not want to share, or ways we justify not following simple rules and requests. Many other traits and behaviors may make themselves known if we are paying attention.
Within an Ashram, we also have a chance to meet other people, often from all over the world. We have a chance to see other perspectives on life, and to have our own judgements revealed and mirrored to us through other people’s actions and our reactions to them.
We are additionally given the opportunity to allow our deeper spiritual inclinations to be expressed and seen, out in the open, in a supportive environment. We have the opportunity to share our musings on life and to be among spiritually like minded community, which can strengthen our deeper spiritual values, and teach us more about how to live them fully.
The Ashram experience is also a chance to simply see and acknowledge the simplicity that life can be and still contain joy and meaning within it. So much of what our Western culture calls “normal standard of living” is really luxury. We can learn ways to enjoy life more simply, and we can also learn to be more grateful for what we have, and not take it for granted.
Many Yogic practices encourage these types of self reflection and awareness. For those that cannot find the time or resources to stay in an Ashram, then go to a retreat or a weekend workshop. If you can’t find the time or resources for that, then take classes, or make conscious efforts to observe your own habits of mind. Make conscious decisions to try new things, and see how you react. Make conscious efforts to do or try something that you know you are nervous about. Push past your limitations, dissolve your attachments and invite a world of infinite possibilities.
Like most things in life, the Ashram experience is what you make of it. If you import all your old habits, and refuse to be self aware, it may simply be a vacation. For some, an Ashram may be a training ground to learn skills of self awareness and self observation. For others, it may take on even deeper implications. For many, this experience, if they are open to it, can change their perspective on life. Even if the external life doesn’t change much, the inner experience of life can be radically altered.
Tantric Yoga doesn’t ask you to give up worldly things. It seeks a balance between both material and spiritual pursuits. Tantra teaches you can and should continue to enjoy that which you enjoy, but learn to be detached from it. Enjoy it, but know that it is not the source of your true happiness. That way, even when the object of enjoyment inevitably is lost (and it will be), your deeper sense of joy which arises from deep within your own Self will still remain, and nothing will truly be lost.
With enough practice and awareness, the world becomes our Ashram, because we carry the Ashram perspective within our own minds and hearts. Tantra teaches that we don’t need to escape from life to find spirituality. Instead we want to awaken our awareness of the spiritual within our daily life and the world around us.
What have been your experiences of Retreat, Ashram or integrating a more Tantric awareness into daily life?
The first time I came to India, back in the Summer of 2007, I came with great expectations of India being a land of great spirituality. A place where everyone would be connected to their spiritual history and a deeper path of spirituality through yoga.
This, of course, was naive. What I quickly discovered, initially a shock and disappointment, was that the majority of the Indian people were connected to their cultural norm of religion, but, much like in the US, their true connection and devotion varied. Just like the many Christians who show up to churches only for Christmas and Easter, there are Indians who only observe major festivals. And their connection to the deeper meanings varies as well.
I was excited to go to the Temples and share in the spiritual connection that has become so important to my own personal path of Yoga. But instead of hundreds of contemplative people, savoring the bliss of the Divine, it was more like a cattle call of hundreds of people, quickly rushing through to offer something to the temple Priest, see the temple Idol, and then rush back to life.
While I can not say that it does not have meaning to them, I feel certain the level of connection it offers varies from person to person. Some doing the “cultural” norm, and others getting a greater connection from it. Just as in our own country we can meet people who have varying levels of faith, from “obligated” to go to church all the way to those who truly feel “spiritually fed” by their church.
It has since amazed me that many Indians I have meet in the US, born and raised in India, have no true knowledge of Yoga, Tantra or Ayurveda. It has been a surprise, but another place where my expectations have been revealed as false.
It has all been a process of acknowledging the reality of the diversity of our world, and also seeing the commonalities among people. Just growing up in India doesn’t automatically make you a great seeker of Self-Realization, although their culture does arguably have at least different, if not more, notions of magical and spiritual possibilities.
During this current trip to India, I have had the pleasure of meeting with a Tantric and Kashmiri Shaivism Scholar who has lived and worked in Varanasi for over 40 years. He has authored many well respected books on Kashmiri Shaivism, and translated many texts from Sanskrit into English. While his professional work is scholarly, he himself is also a devotee to a Kashmiri Shaivite Guru, and considers his personal spiritual path to be most important to him. I do not know without knowing the meaning, how many times I was asked direkt in Sweden on a travel trip.
In speaking with him, he helps reveal many of the other false thinkings we may have in the west about different Tantric and Yogic practices.
The Traditional approach to Tantra Yoga, which is deeply connected to Kashmiri Shaivism, is about developing the spiritual Self. It is about discovering the deep peace of the Self as Consciousness beyond the impermanent experience of the body and life, while at the same time honoring the Sacredness of the experience of Life.
It is a tradition which emphasizes the development of awareness and consciousness to discover the non-dual reality, the inner silence out of which all life experience arises.
In discussing Tantras history of Sexual practices, he said it is really hard to know how prevalent these practices really were. That they were done is most probable, but how many practitioners, we can’t say. Even the famous erotic temples, he says, have to be questioned as to whether the culture they were created in was simply a highly sexually permissive society, or whether there was a deeper spiritual intention behind it. There is much we do not know.
When I asked him how prevalent the erotic practices are in modern India, his response was “almost non-existent”, and then went on to say, “but most people don’t usually talk about their sex lives.” From other things I have read, I suspect that there are still some who practice, but they are more rare than not, and it is rather secretive.
He did, however convey one story of a friend of his who uses some of the Tantric erotic rituals. This friend had a female consort for ten years, and his sole reason for keeping her was to obtain a single drop of menstrual blood once a month for a Tantric ritual. Interestingly, she finally left him because she was unfulfilled in the relationship, thinking the he only wanted her for her menstrual blood.
The topic of the Kama Sutra also came up. This is often pointed to by many Western Tantric practitioners as a Tantric text, showing the value and power of the sexual practices historically. He says that the Kama Sutra was really just an ancient sex manual, that was primarily used by courtesans to become more refined. It was used to become a more pleasing partner, and to better fit into higher class society, which was their targeted clientele. Because of this, he says, many of the courtesans of that time were actually quite talented artists, musicians and the like, well educated in many aspects of life.
Despite many of the modern western teachings around Tantra as erotic practice, the history of Tantra uses/used the erotic practices in a highly ritualized context for very specific purposes. These purposes were/are to expand Consciousness and connect with the Divine.
To his way of seeing things, the Modern western Tantra has become a type of “sex therapy”. While he does not dismiss the possible benefits of this type of work, he does say that you will not find the current western practices described in the Tantric texts.
We also discussed the fascinating evolution of Yoga and Tantra, which is that all of these types of practices have evolved over time to meet the needs of the people. Places, such as the west, have taken pieces such as Asana (yoga postures), and called it “yoga”. The emphasis is on physical fitness rather than the original spiritual development that Traditional Yoga speaks of, but it meets the needs of the people.
The same has happened with Tantra in the West, with many variations from “spiritually veneered” sex to deeply healing and transformative practices. There are also, of course, other teachers and practitioners of Tantra in the West that focus more on the Traditional Tantric approaches of Kundalini Yoga, Meditation, etc.
He says these types of Hybrid modern yogas are also showing up in India, because of the popularity in the west. Many more indians are learning of Yoga as a physical fitness system along with basic Ayurveda for a healthy lifestyle.
It is interesting to note that while in the West, most people associate Tantra with eroticism and sex, in India Tantra is thought of as “magic”. It is based upon their cultural history with the subject, which traditionally emphasized understanding the workings of the energies of Creation in order to control or gain power over or through them. This led to practices of Mantras and various other remedies to heal illnesses, and to help fulfill worldly desires.
This type of thinking is still present in India today, and the cultural relationship with the Deities also reflects this. Most average Indian Hindus relate to various aspects of the Divine to help them get the things in life they want for worldly fulfillment. Examples would be Ganesha to help remove obstacles when starting a business, or Laxshmi to bring wealth and abundance. This is similar to the way many other cultures might relate to God through prayer as a request for desires to be fulfilled.
It is the lesser of the population that truly engages these forces for a more spiritually growth oriented purpose. Even the term “good Karma” has been used towards me on several occasions by self appointed guides and rickshaw drivers as a way of trying to get a larger tip or payments for their services. The implication, of course, being that the more I pay them, the more I will be blessed with good Karma. An interesting way to use this, from my perspective.
It is not my intention to diminish the importance of these things culturally in India. No matter the relationship to religion, be it “cultural obligation”, “superstition”, or “deeply spiritual”, I would imagine most people here would feel very strongly about their beliefs in whatever way they are engaging them. My intention is more to reveal the diversity of the Indian religious landscape and culture, in contrast with my preconceived notions, and perhaps similar notions by other non-Indian people, as well as the common desire for most people to seek their own version of happiness.
No matter how it is engaged, the culture of India has generated a primarily peaceful, friendly, and curious people, most of whom will go out of their way to help you, sometimes for a tip and often just because it is their nature. They generally value family, and treat their neighbors with respect. Their religious culture gives them a different perspective on death than in the west. And, most are happy with a more simple lifestyle than what the average westerner may be accustomed to. They celebrate life, and even the crowded, noisy and seemingly chaotic streets are like the lifeblood of their culture, reflecting their passion and their embracing of life.
While there are some cultural changes happening based upon Western influence, there is still a richness here that is wonderful to savor. In Varanasi, where I am now, one can experience the surprisingly gentle noise and madness of the city, and yet just a few kilometers away, on the banks of the Ganges, I am in a guest house which is so peaceful and relaxed. Even in the “rush” of the city, many people are just peacefully going about their day.
What fascinates me most about this, and the conversation with my new Tantra Scholar friend, is the confirmation of what I have also come to recognize, which is that the teachings of Yoga and Tantra, while rooted in scripture, have evolved over time to meet the needs of the people. Even the history of Yoginis evolving into Goddesses shares this flavor. Thousands of years ago, each village had their own Yogini that they honored and worshipped. As the news of a powerful Yogini would spread to neighboring villages, they too would come to worship her. If they had a powerful experience, they would tell another village. Over a course of hundreds and thousands of years, what started at literally hundreds of thousands of yoginis where narrowed down to a collection Goddesses which became commonly known throughout the country and the region. Today, we have Paravati, Kali, Durga, Laxshmi, Saraswati and several others which have become national and even internationally known, but it was not always this way.
This same type of thing has happened with Various Yoga and Tantric practices. Different practices would arise to meet a certain need. When the cultural needs changed, or when something more beneficial came along, things would fall away and something new would arise in its place. Systems were formed from various perspectives, all because they meet the needs of certain groups, or because a certain teacher saw it in that way. And the evolution of the Yogas and Tantras continues into Modern times. It arises to meet certain needs. And the core, deeper spiritual truths are there as a living, breathing reminder of where these practices came from historically and where they can take us if the Heart longs for a deeper spiritual experience.
Despite my previous great expectations, the larger reality is that all along this historical time line, there were probably only a relatively small group of people truly interested in “enlightenment”. The majority of people, much like today, were more interested in worldly happiness, success, family and good health.
In fact, the Vedic and Yogic teachings address these aspects of “Purpose” (Dharma), “Material Wealth” (Artha), and “Pleasure” (Kama) as being legitimate goals of life. So they should be celebrated and honored as the foundation of happiness. To this, the great Yogis also offered “Moksha” (Self-knowledge or Liberation), as the most important Goal in life. But they also acknowledged that for most, the foundations of happiness through the previous three goals would be needed to tread the path of Liberation.
As a living practice, I feel it is important for us to honor the past traditions, and take from them the deeper principles to help us attain the goals we want in life. I also think it is important to allow their deeper intentions to drive the practices, allowing them to evolve to meet the needs of modern day practitioners. The Practice of Yoga and Tantra is a flowing process of using the practices needed to achieve the growth needed at a particular stage of development. It was not designed, necessarily, to be rigid. Disciplined, yes, but not rigid.
Traditionally, a Yoga teacher would give a student only the practices he or she needed to get to the next stage of spiritual development. Once it served its purpose, a new practice would be introduced. Keeping that in mind, we can also allow our modern practices to evolve with our changing needs as we grow. And when we are ready for the next step, there is a rich history of practices to help us on our path. Whether it is for better health, aligning with life purpose, experience more joy and pleasure in life, or even spiritual growth, the challenge is choosing the right practice and approach for your personal needs, and this is where a Teacher can become indispensable.
I am excited to be part of this modern evolution of Yoga, and to continue to watch as it changes and grows over the remainder of my life. In order to allow it room to grow, we cannot be attached to the past, but I do strongly feel a firm foundation in the intentions of practice is important. If the intentions are understood, then most anything can become Yoga or Tantric Practice, and the personal practice can grow in any number of ways. Without understanding the intentions, you are not really able to direct your practice to a particular goal.
There is no need to re-invent the Yogic or Tantric wheel, so to speak. There are so many beneficial practices already laid out for us. At the same time, modern practitioners need to understand it is not a cookbook approach either. Each person is individual, and will have different experiences from the same practices, and different practices which are needed to progress.
If the birth place of Tantra and Yoga has evolved through many stages and different relationships with this great wisdom, then we can only expect our contact with this wisdom will evolve as well. As yoga and Tantra become more popular in the west, I hope more people will seek to understand the deeper traditions they come from. But we must remember as we explore them, that the scriptures, while full of wisdom, were created by those living the results of their practice. The great wisdom of yoga and Tantra in not locked in the past, but intended to be lived in the here and now. We must awaken the teachings now, through proper practice.
What are you thoughts on spiritual expectations of India, or on Modern day practices of Yoga and Tantra?
I suspect today’s blog post may be controversial, but perhaps the collective consciousness will welcome it. It has all the great qualities of any good drama. We have the antagonist of Patriarchy, and the protagonist of the Feminine Essence. We have battles of power, suppression, and the counter attack. We also have some metaphysical twists thrown in, such as Karma, reincarnation, and the power of Spirit to create miraculous healing, bringing a bright hope for the future.
In my own personal healing journey as a man, I somehow found myself in spiritual and healing groups of women. In most cases, I was the only man in the group. And sometimes, maybe one of two. In many of those groups, there were discussions of the re-emergence of the Feminine Essence. Historical recounts of witch burnings and the uprising of a male dominated religion, with “The Church” casting out women, silencing them, even killing them to ensure that their deep Wisdom and connection to spirit would never be heard. In this way “The Church” could dominate the culture, indoctrinate its message into the masses, and separate the masses from their true Spiritual Essence.
What did the Feminine essence have that frightened “The Church” so much? The Feminine knew that it could connect directly to God by turning within and that it could experience the Divine through Nature and every pulsating atom within Creation. The Church was perhaps frightened by this awareness and power, not understanding it, and assuming it to be some sort of demonic possession. Perhaps they were threatened because they simply realized that the Feminine’s experience was much more powerful than what they could offer, and thus they wanted to “silence the competition”. It just wasn’t good for business, if you will. If people learn they can connect directly to the Divine within their own Being, then there would be no need for the Church and its priests as go betweens to bring the masses to God. The Church needed you one step away from God in order for you to need their “services”. And if they were not “in demand”, then they could not get your financial offerings. So they silenced the woman, and created a teaching that required their services in order to get into “Heaven”, otherwise, eternal damnation would be your punishment. (Now, that’s pretty scary stuff! People these days are willing to pay to avoid allergies and headaches, so you know avoiding eternal damnation was a good marketing tool! Especially when you are the only game in town offering a solution.)
Now, I will leave it to you to decide if the above version of the story is fair or not, but I can report that these types of ideas were commonly offered within the spiritual woman’s groups I found myself in. And there are historical threads that can and do support these types of activities, even if the motivations may be a little different (or not).
Being often the only male in the room in many ways gave me a “fly on the wall” type experience. I learned about these theories, and was quite honestly a little shocked at first. Once these things were pointed out to me, quite frankly it seemed hard to ignore that there is likely at least some, if not a lot of truth to it.
Within these groups, I also was invited to explore a spirituality that encouraged me to open to “Feminine wisdom.” To find my spiritual connection within, to experience it through nature, to awaken and own the Power that dwelled within me and could be experienced all around me. In this way, I learned to become my own bridge to Spirit, or a “Priest” in my own rite. Worlds cannot convey what a powerful impact these experiences had on my healing journey and spiritual transformation. It forever changed how I looked at the healing process, the world, my own Self, and God. And, also the Power of the Feminine Essence.
One of the things I did begin to notice among many of the woman, was that their “re-claiming the Feminine essence” sometimes came with anger and outrage at the Masculine Patriarchy who has suppressed them and in some ways is even doing so in the modern age. But I did realize that the pain that it caused was legitimate, and they were honoring their healing path to allow the pain, the anger and the rage to come up to be cleared and healed. The energetic “imprints” or the Karma that surrounded it needed to be released in order to step beyond the previous limitations.
At the same time, this stage of healing can also lead us into a place of feeling like a “victim”. A feeling that another had “done something to you”, and that you have no power in the situation. An often unconscious assumption that you are somehow completely innocent. The healing journey requires us to move past this as well. To acknowledge the pain, remove the source of the pain, accept any responsibility that may be yours and reclaim your own wholeness and power in the situation. Remaining a victim keeps you in a position of weakness and allows the power over the situation to remain in the hands of the other party.
If we look at the way Karma works, there are really “no victims”. Karma is 100% fair. It simply brings back the energy that you created from a past action. So, as a general analogy, we could say that a woman who is heavily suppressed in this lifetime may have been a male suppressor in a past life, and the Karmic energy is just being recycled to experience the energy that was created. (Although it may often be more complex than this.)
It is said that we are all interconnected, and all One, and that literally what we do to another, we are doing to own own Self. This is where to Golden Rule comes in. The actions that you take will energetically affect you in some way. Part of the Tantric healing cycle is to understand this energetic potential, and find ways to resolve the Karma so you are freed from its effects.
So we have “no victims”. But I can remember in all of this, that the stories focused on the suppression of the Feminine. And while it was important to bring the energy up to be cleared, there was a subtle, and sometimes not so subtle, anger towards the “masculine” or the “patriarchy”. While I cannot speak for the woman of the group, the repeated hearing of the story began to make me think of the woman as “victims”. “Oh how awful it must be to be treated in that way, powerless, defenseless. Why, we the men are the most awful of human beings!”
I began to feel that I owed all women everywhere a huge apology. That I needed to grovel at their feet and beg for forgiveness for all that I had done to wrong them…
(Who is the victim now?)
There was an energetic reason for the Masculine to acknowledge and apologize for the pain it had caused, but there are always multiple sides to every story, and there are a few angles we are leaving out.
What would someone do who was being suppressed or controlled? Especially if they were afraid to reveal their true essence for fear of being killed? Might they resent the oppressor? Darn skippy! And don’t you think they might, in their feeling of powerlessness seek some way to have power, or to get revenge? Well, of course, and it wouldn’t be a good drama story without it!
As my exploration of this dynamic continued, it came to light that the response that “the Feminine” had to this situation was really not any more respectful than the original suppression by the Masculine. While many may have suffered a disconnect from their Feminine power, it karmically set up retaliation. And in many cases, this came in the form of subtle manipulation, resentment, passive aggressive behavior, etc. In other cases, it has been more blatant and long lasting: entraping men by getting pregnant, manipulating the court system for greater financial gain during divorce, etc.
(For the record, what I just shared is not my projection, but actually the uncovered “truth” from some of these woman during their own healing process. A realization by some of them, that they actually owed the Masculine an apology too. If you are brave, and willing to explore this deeper, please click on and read the Manifesto for the Conscious Woman, which was the inspiration for sharing this part of my own healing journey through this blog post. I am not suggesting I agree with everything written in it. There is a lot that, to me, is quite harsh and distorted, or at least “not true” more often than true, but I offer it more as a “makes you think” piece. It will likely enlighten you about some things, offend you and perhaps piss you off. But that is often true of things which bring to awareness that which we have not wanted to see or that we find unfathomable. Save it for the end, or at least make sure you come back and finish this post.)
During one of the Healing circles I was a part of, this issue came up. I felt moved to apologize to the Feminine in a Sacred healing space, which was deeply moving for not only myself, but many of the Women in the room. And to my great surprise, one of the women felt the need to stand up, and apologize for the ways the Feminine had hurt, manipulated and dishonored the Masculine. Some deep part of my soul so needed to hear that, and intense emotion, self-forgiveness and relief flooded through every part of my Being. A weight was lifted. “It was NOT just me! I am (Men are) not the only one’s in the wrong!” It has been a mutual dance. And forgiveness can happen.
I have heard some people speaking about the “suppression of the Feminine”, in such a way where one can almost imagine or get the impression that there was this time in the past when women were pure, and enlightened, deeply connected to Spirit, loving nature and dancing in the forest with a radiance of inner light around them (and I imagine this was actually true for at least a few of them), and then suddenly, with no known cause or reason, the Patriarchy rose up like an unexpected black cloud and lightening came from the sky silencing them and forcing them to disown their greatest Secrets and Divine Powers… If you have been paying attention, you will immediately recognize this version of the story as coming from a place of “victim”.
The greater reality is that there has been conflict between people, and between genders probably since the dawn of time. And while there could easily be Truth in the Patriarchy and the Church simply making a “power move”, that does not discount that the woman from that time and before may have likely been seeking power in their own way. No matter what the truth is of the unfolding story, there is a Karmic thread that started long before the suppression of Feminine energy. The Patriarchy and “The church” did not arise out of a vacuum, but instead it was a result of Karma from previous times. No victims.
There is also another layer to this story that needs to be brought into the light. According to Tantra and many other wisdom traditions, each individual, whether male or female, is a unique balance of both Masculine and Feminine essences. By suppressing the Feminine Essence, the males also suppressed the Feminine Essence within their own Selves. They literally forced a part of their own Being and awareness into submission. They lost the chance to find their own wholeness, because they could not honor the Feminine. So, a deeper layer of truth, at least from the perspective of Wholeness and Spiritual evolution, is that the men also suffered under their own regime, although likely without realizing the harm they had done.
There was an increase in the polarization of opposites. We can still see this today through our cultural notions of gender roles: Men don’t cry (express feminine quality of emotions). An aggressive male in business is “good at his job” and a woman who runs the same level of aggression is usually given a more derogatory label. A friend of mine recently told me of a couple from Little Rock, AK who are in the antique business. They were traveling in Atlanta, looking to purchase things they could take back and sell in Little Rock. My friend showed them several stone bookends, all of which they liked except for one. When he asked what was wrong with that one, the woman replied: “It would never sell because it’s pink. We don’t even use the word pink in Little Rock. If something is pink, we have to call it ‘beige’.” The local sense of “manliness” will not allow for the feminine quality of pink.
So even today, this struggle between masculine and feminine carries on. The reality is that we don’t know when or how all this started. To isolate a point in history as “its cause” is to ignore the Karmic thread from which it sprung and potentially cry “victim”. And while the stories of the Patriarchy can be helpful to help us understand what has happened and how it may be effecting us now so we can heal the Karma, there is a point where it is no longer beneficial to reference the past. We must learn to look at our current situation. We are creating power struggles right now, not in the past. What can we do NOW that will change this and restore balance?
If two countries are at war, our common assumption is that one country must “win” and that the battle will continue until someone is declared the winner. There is, however, another option that is almost never taken. It is so easy that no one seems to acknowledge it, but no one ever uses it because they believe it is important to “win”. The simplest way to end a war is simply for both sides to set down their weapons, say “Sorry about that” and honor both their commonalities and their uniquenesses.
This is the same for the conflict between “Masculine and Feminine”, lovers of any gender, family members, friends, co-workers, etc. We must set down the weapons, and call a truce. When we push to be a winner in these situations, no one can ever win. History has already shown us that. Attempting to “win” and fighting the fight is ultimately a rejection of a part of our own Self. We all need both the Feminine and the Masculine to be out of conflict and in perfect balance in order to find true peace.
Continuing to “battle” is simply the Karma recycling itself over and over again. Left as is, it will go on and on, like a perpetual motion machine. Stopping the battle ends the cycles of Karma. The explanation is simple: “just stop”. The reality is more complex, because the Karma keeps driving us. But Tantric Healing and the Tantric Path encourages us to find ways to end these Karmically conditioned cycles of harming our own Self and others. To honor all parts of our own Self, both Masculine and Feminine. To honor both aspects of others as well. We will likely need to “stop the battle” one area at a time, but eventually we can become free.
My own healing journey to explore the Feminine Essence was a part of my preparation for Tantra, which I did not encounter formally until a few years after beginning my work with a more Feminine Essence based spiritual approach. Through my progression of the Tantric Path, each piece that I learned through that initial exploration has been re-affirmed, and woven even deeper into a tapestry of spiritual awakening and understanding.
Tantra is sometimes referred to as “The Cult of the Feminine” or “Goddess Worship”. This is because it works with the Feminine Essence of the Divine. In most Tantric paths, the Feminine aspect of the Divine is approached and worked with and is thought to be the “Power” of the Divine. There are many practices that involve honoring the Feminine’s Sacredness, including a practice which involves worship of the genitals (the yoni) of a human female consort. I have occasionally heard someone make a comment that seems to imply that their understanding is that the Feminine is actually superior to the Masculine. And from that, that women are superior to men.
There is a beauty and power in restoring the balance to honoring the Feminine through ritual. There is a beauty to giving woman the respect that they are due. But honoring the Feminine does not need to be done at the expense of less honor for the Masculine. We must remember that Tantric practices teach us to restore the balance between Masculine and Feminine within our own Self, not to assume Feminine superiority. It teaches us to learn to honor all aspects of creation, and discover the Sacredness within our own Being. It teach us that we can also experience our own deeper Self though conscious connection to another and how we can balance our relationship with others and end conflict. It gives us tools to clear out Karma, and end the cycles of pain and suffering. It teaches us to release the past, and live in the here and now.
The final goal is to re-unify the Masculine and the Feminine. In fact, it says they were never separated, but our own mistaken polarization and Karmic war has prevented us from seeing the deeper Truth. Once the Masculine and Feminine put down their weapons, end the war and begin to peacefully relate to each other, they will recognize their own essence within the other and merge into the non-dual state of Consciousness.
In the mean time, whether you practice Tantra or not, what can you do to put your weapons down? (One at a time is fine.) How can you begin to consciously end the current power struggles which exist. even if they are very subtle? Where might you do best to simply say “I am sorry.”? Where might you find that you can substitute a more honoring and supportive action or kind word? The war may not end all at once, but one by one we can learn to recall the “inner troupes” and restore peace and balance. We are not victims. We must discover how we contribute to this cycle, and consciously choose a different way.
At different stages of healing, we have different persectives. My intention in sharing this story was to share MY VERSION of my own healing experience and spiritual path, and the way it has woven into Tantric Wisdom for me, with the hopes that it will provide some source of healing or insight for you. I have also learned that everyone’s path to wholeness is unique, and must also be honored.
What have your experiences been around healing Masculine and Feminine balance? Or around reclaiming your own Feminine Power or Masculine Power?
And in conclusion, this topic reminds me of a poem I love:
From “The Subject Tonight Is Love” by Hafiz:
It Happens All The Time In Heaven
It happens all the time in heaven,
And some day
It will begin to happen
Again on earth-
That men and women who are married,
And men and men who are
And women and women
Who give each other
Often will get down on their knees
And while so tenderly
Holding their lover’s hand,
With tears in their eyes,
Will sincerely speak, saying,
How can I be more loving to you;
How can I be more
It is so easy for beginning yoga students to be hard on them selves, or focus on non-beneficial things. I know I did. Even advanced practitioners sometimes can over-emphasis a particular posture or philisophical point.
I have injured myself trying to do postures my body was not ready to do. I have compared my ability to do or maintain a posture or a pranayam to others in a class to the point where I became distracted from my true practice: to embrace the present experience with compassion and self-love. I have even become so focused on a philisophical aspect of Yoga, that I got lost and forgot to simply practice and open to the experience it brings.
I have also watched my students be too hard on themselves. I have suggested someone try yoga, only to have them respond back “I am not very flexible, so I can’t do it.”
Amidst the many postures, practices and techniques, the simple act of being mindfully present and opening the breath and awareness into your experience will do more good for you than any specific “ability” ever will.
I ran across this blog post about the “10 things every beginning yoga student should know”, and felt inspired to share its simple, practical and light-hearted wisdom.
Let me know what your thoughts are after you click the link below and read it.
Each Spiritual teacher, has been molded by an unfolding life experience and their unique walk on the spiritual path. Each Teacher has had the experiences needed to be a better teacher, or at least to be the right teacher for the students he or she will have. It is the struggles of the teacher that have been experienced and overcome that provides the wisdom to assist others through similar challenges. It is practices, techniques and experiences in the personal spiritual practice or sadhana which gives the teacher the ability to choose the right tools for the students and understand the results that will be achieved and help the students to get the maximum benefit from the practices. It is the direct experience of the deeper Spiritual Nature that grants the teacher the ability to direct your awareness towards the same with your own Self.
And within all of that practice, experience and wisdom, there walks the outer presentation of a human being. And with humanness there exists apparent imperfections. Even within a Self-Realized Guru, the outer personality and human form is often quite unassuming. The behavior can seem simple or even a bit surprising. Their human expression can seem just as imperfect as any other person you may encounter. They may follow what appears to be a rather unhealthy diet, even being quite overweight. They may do or say things which seem a little harsh or stubborn or inconsiderate. They may at times appear to be angry or appear to share human struggles of financial concerns and medical problems. In short, they appear to be completely human.
I know when I began a spiritual journey, and sought to learn from various teachers, I held many of them as being near perfect. I expected that because I was being taught about Spirituality and Wholeness on a healing journey, that those leading me would be perfect and their behavior would 100% embody and reflect what they were teaching. With that expectation, all of them eventually failed the test and left me in a position of disappointment, shock or sometimes even betrayal.
In the moment, I could not see the simple truth that I had just expected too much from them. Instead, I became angry, hurt, or felt abandoned. I could not understand how a teacher who had supported my growth for so long could suddenly become an opponent to all the things she had encouraged me to do. I felt baffled and confused when I began to see hypocrisy or would complete a set of teachings and realize it did not take me to the spiritual place I had expected it to.
But years later, I can see it was simply their humanness combined with my expectations that set me up to be disappointed and hurt. They were each offering me the best of what they knew with varying degrees of sincerity, and behaving in the best way they knew how, even if it appeared as misguided, selfish or greedy to me. In short, they were each limited by their own humanness. And, what they had to offer me was also limited, and thus it was also appropriate for me to move on when I had gotten what I needed from my work with them.
When I finally met my Guru, he was nothing like I would have imagined an advanced Yogi to be. He is a simple man, appearing very human. At the time I met him he was a smoker. He eats meat, has many medical problems including severe chronic pain, is a good bit overweight, and walks with a cane. I must admit that I tested and kept watching for signs that he had something to offer me. As I opened to practice and explore what he was teaching me, my life began to change. This became the proof and allowed me to dissolve my doubts and expectations.
I finally came to understand that my idea of the “perfect” teacher had been based around idealized notions from scriptures which I had mistakenly projected onto the human form and personality. I expected a Spiritual teacher to be “god-like”, but from a limited understanding. After all, the yoga and Tantric scriptures often proclaim the “Perfection” of the Guru.
I finally have come to understand that a Realized teacher’s perfection comes from his Knowledge of the True Self, which is Perfect and Unconditionally Loving. It is not the outer human form which is perfect from an idealized perspective (never getting angry and always kind, never smoking or drinking, and always eating a vegetarian diet), but instead it is his INNER knowledge and Being which is Perfect, radiant and unconditionally loving. This will often be expressed outside at various times, but there are always moments of “humanness” as well.
It is the INNER consciousness of the Teacher which is the True and Perfect Teacher, not the human form. A Spiritual teacher cannot be judged by his or her outer appearance or behavior. The true measure of a Spiritual teacher is his or her ability to help you transform your life, and most importantly, help you discover and awaken to your own True Self. Should the Teacher be kind and supportive? In almost all cases, yes they will be, but not always in the way you expect. What you think you need is not always what is best for you. The way you expect the Teacher to help you, is often not the way the most transformational teachings will occur.
The more clearly I am able to experience and grasp the “imperfection” of the human teacher for my Self in relationship to my Guru, the more I also see how I have projected those same expectations onto my own human expression. I have expected “perfection” from my body, mind and speech, and been harsh with myself when I fail to achieve it. But this human expression will never be “perfect”. It is my awakening Consciousness along with Knowledge gained from my experiences which carries the real value of anything I can teach, not the shape or state of my body or the ebbs and flows of my emotions and mind. It is my experiences of transformation on the spiritual path that allow me to assist others in travelling across the same terrain. The imperfect humanness simply comes with the package, and I am learning to accept and embrace it in whatever state of imperfection it appears, knowing that from a deeper perspective of Truth, it truly is perfect exactly the way it is, even in its apparent imperfect state.
For you, the Spiritual Seeker, this also means you can set aside any judgments you have as to your own “shortcomings”. The moments of anger, frustration and sadness, while they may change over time on the path, are part of your humanness. You do not need to “perfect” all the yoga postures to achieve a high level of spirituality. You do not need to appear or behave “perfect” by some idealized standard of the yogic way of living and being. These practices will benefit you in specific ways if you feel drawn to do them, but you should be gentle with yourself if you are working with them.
No matter what practices you follow, it is the determination to know the Truth of your own Self, beyond the imperfect human condition that will elevate you into the experience of Spiritual Knowledge. It is allowing the Teacher to guide you to uncover your True Self, and your own determination to awaken to that Knowledge that are the most important aspects of your practice. And the movements of your human imperfections are to be embraced with self-acceptance. It is not the human form which is transformed into a “Divine Being”, but rather it is the Divine Being as Consciousness which awakens to experience through the imperfect human condition.
When dealing with your own Self, and when dealing with a Teacher, remember where the Perfected Truth lies. Not in human form, but in the Spiritual Consciousness which permeates all things. If you are working with a truly Advanced Spiritual Teacher, then focus your practices on discovering that you are the same, identical Consciousness as your Teacher. When that truth begins to awaken within you, you will also see that the human expressions, both yours and the Teacher’s, are exactly as they should be, and your True Self is beyond both.