Sex, Money and Spirituality: Past and Present
Is “Sex a sin”? Were you told in subtle or not so subtle ways that “money is the root of all evil”? Can you be “sexual” and also “Spiritual”? Can you be wealthy and also Spiritual?
These messages, in various forms, have been a part of our culture for a long time. I have heard it suggested that these messages were intentional attempts by the Church to ensure that money would continue to come into the Churches. The concept of this argument is simple: convincing you that you are a “sinner” ensures that you will seek out the remedy which is the “church”, and attendance equals donations.
I tend to have a more optimistic view of these things. I do believe that the concept of needing to be saved from sin probably did improve church attendance. But, I also believe that the priests and religious leaders actually believed in the message and, for the most part, were simply serving the best they knew how. Sure, there has probably always been a little corruption here and there. But I think it may be more helpful to examine the concepts and understand why they came about to begin with.
It is easy to dismiss “sex is a sin” and “money is the root of all evil” as ridiculous statements. In their simplest essence, they are lies. And even as we know that, these concepts are so ingrained in our culture and our history, that they linger in the background of our collective subconscious minds creating inner conflicts.
And it can still be seen today, especially in Spiritual communities, that these types of debates continue. It doesn’t matter what religion, be it Christianity, Hinduism or any others. Even in spiritual communities connected to Yoga and Buddhism, you will find variations taught.
I know several yoga teachers and spiritual healers who are plagued by guilt, thinking that it is wrong to take money for what they see as a spiritual service. And I know plenty of Yoga teachers who will still tell you that the Yama of “Brahmacharya” declares that Yogis should be celibate.
These are modern examples of how these messages still interfere with our happiness and our pursuit of spiritual truth.
Rethinking the Past: A Shift in Perspective
If we are able to avoid the “knee-jerk reaction” of declaring these concepts “ridiculous” or accepting them at face value and look to what they are pointing to, then we can consider that the original intention of the advice was well meaning. That it actually points to principles of non-attachment. It reminds us that obsession with anything can send the mind into a downward spiral. We have all likely seen movies about the downfall of a greedy businessman, or the “bottoming out” of an alcoholic, or the destruction of marriage because of sex addiction.
And from the perspective of a Spiritual Path, becoming too obsessed or attached to wealth and pleasure will cause you to focus away from your Spiritual path. It’s kind of like a parent encouraging their child to focus on school studies and be responsible by asking them to be home by 10pm.
They were just warning us about these distractions from a deeper truth. They meant well. It’s just that over a period of time, people forgot WHY it was said, and began to take it as a “rule” that SHOULD be followed. The biggest problem is that these “rules” don’t match out own experiences of being human. Because most everyone will desire pleasure and enjoyment. Most everyone will have sexual desire. And we need money to provide for ourselves and our families.
And when we are being told that our very nature is wrong or that the thing that makes us happy is wrong, that creates a BIG problem. But I don’t think that is what was originally meant by these concepts. We SHOULD heed the warning of being aware of our attachments in general, but that doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy our lives, and our bodies and have some money too.
We really CAN have our cake, eat it too and wear a gold watch while eating it, and STILL be properly following a Spiritual Path. Its TRUE. I PROMISE! (Although, I don’t personally wear a watch.)
Clarity through The Four Goals of Life
Fortunately for us, there is a clear teaching around this in the Yogic Traditions. It is called the “4 Purusharthas”. This is a compound word combining “Purusha” and “Artha”. “Purusha” is a reference to the deeper Divine Spark which is your nature. Some would call it the “Soul”. And “Artha” is usually translated as “wealth”.
So the 4 Purusharthas are things that bring wealth and value to the Soul. In English, we commonly refer to this as “The Four Goals of Life”. They are the Four areas of life that are legitimate goals to pursue in order for the Individual Soul to find balance and happiness in life.
The Four Goal are as follows:
1. Dharma (Purpose, Truth)
2. Artha (Wealth, Material Possessions)
3. Kama (Pleasure, Enjoyment)
4. Moksha (Knowledge of Self, Spiritual Liberation)
You will notice that “Wealth” and “Pleasure” (including sex) are included within them. So, there is a clear Yogic teaching that says “It’s all good man…” But, don’t run off to the wild orgy on a money covered floor just yet! We still need to understand that context!
So how is it that there is this clear teaching telling us that wealth and pleasure of legitimate goals for the individual to pursuit, and yet what we have heard most is “Sex is a sin” and “money” is evil and opposed to authentic spirituality?
Well, as I said earlier. The warning was to find balance. And we must understand these Four Goals in balance also. So let’s examine each one separately.
Dharma is usually thought of in connection to “career” in this context. But at its deepest level, it means that the work and the actions that we take in life should be aligned with a deeper sense of purpose and meaning. The individual will feel greater peace and happiness if what he or she does in the world feels like it is benefiting others or humanity, or is at least serving some purpose beyond “getting up, going to work, and then going to bed”.
Please note, that “dharma” doesn’t tell us WHAT we should be doing. There is no insistence that we all become monks, or that we all operate a charity, or anything like that. Because these rules understand that the diversity of Karma will create a wide variety of different “dharmas” for different people. It is perfectly fine if your dharma is to be an artist, run a business, serve the elderly, become a chef or anything else in the world. So long as what you are doing feels satisfying and provides YOU with a sense of purpose that truly feels good to you, then you are golden, no matter what anyone else thinks about it.
Having the Material resources that we need to feel safe, comfortable and happy is a worthwhile goal for the individual. But again, because of Karma, we can’t assume this means that everyone is supposed to be Millionaires. What it means instead, is that it is ok to have more than enough. For some that will be a small house, food and clothing. For others it will be a large house, a nice car and the latest iPhone. And for others, it will be millions or billions of dollars and a truly opulent lifestyle.
The larger point is that it is fine to have money and material resources so that your needs are met. It acknowledges that the individual soul will feel more at peace if it feels materially and financially supported.
This Goal of life declares that the individual Soul will find greater peace if it is allowed to enjoy the pleasures of life. That enjoying the pleasures of the body, food, entertainment, time with friends and other experiences will actually bring greater happiness to the individual. And because of this, it is worth pursuing.
Again, it doesn’t define what the pleasure should be. There is no rule that says “in order to be happy, one must eat at least one dessert per day, and engage in sexual activity a minimum of 3 times per week”. It doesn’t state these rules, because again, it knows that the Karma of each individual is different. Instead it says “It’s ok to enjoy life and find pleasure in the world around you”. How each individual experiences that will be unique.
Now we come to the Goal that is most commonly associated with Traditional Yoga. Moksha is the pursuit of Spiritual Liberation. The most valued form of this would be “Enlightenment”. But we could also say that Moksha is the seeking of greater knowledge and wisdom. And that seeking will eventually evolve into the search for Enlightenment.
But at the very least, the individual Soul thrives when it is evolving. When it is learning more about its nature and its relationship to life so that it can refine the choices that it makes and develop a more enlightened perspective on the whole experience.
While the final stage of Spiritual Enlightenment is fairly well defined, the goal of Moksha is still understood to be a different path for each individual because each Soul has different Karma, and therefore needs different lessons and experiences to evolve.
Are All 4 Goals of Life Equal?
According to the teachings on the Four Goals of life, it is made clear that the highest and most important goal is Moksha. And because of this, some people have dismissed the other goals and focused only on Moksha. That approach may work for an individual who is already very evolved. But it isn’t likely to help most people.
But the teaching still emphasizes that Moksha is the most important of these goals in the end, and encourages us to pursuit the first Three Goals with the intention of supporting the Soul’s pursuit of Moksha. This is a very Tantric approach to Spiritual evolution, in that we learn to embrace and enjoy life in the world and use it as a part of our spiritual practice.
There is a quote that is attributed to Buddha that states “You cannot teach a starving man to meditate.” The implication is that if the basic needs of life are not met, that the mind will be so restless and focused on meeting those needs, that it will be unable to find the focus and peace needed to attain a meditative state. In essence, it points to the need to create balance in our outer life first, before we can pursue Spirituality in a more balanced way.
The First Three Goals point to the remedy for this. By embracing that a sense of purpose, material resources and pleasure are needs of the Soul, we can remove the restlessness from the individual by ensuring that these needs are met. If you are doing something purposeful, that is aligned with the Soul’s desires, then you feel more content and happy with your pursuits in the world. You feel fulfilled with what you are doing, creating and/or contributing to your business or to the world.
From that deeper sense of fulfillment in your work, you are then invited to receive the financial rewards. This money, if respected and managed properly, will allow you to have a safe, comfortable place to live, to provide food and clothing for yourself and your family, and also to have enough money in savings so that when the unexpected happens you are able to handle that without worrying about where the money will come from.
With contentment of purpose, and adequate financial resources, you are then free to enjoy life. You are free to buy things that are enjoyable, and also give yourself pleasure through various activities.
When these three goals are embraced and brought into the experience of the Individual soul, then it is able to relax. Its needs are met. It isn’t worrying about where its next meal will come from, or how it is going to pay the bills. Instead, it is happy, peaceful, safe and supported. This removes much restlessness from the mind and from life, and allows a supportive and safe environment for the Individual to be able to pursuit a Spiritual Path.
So, in this way, the pursuit of Purpose (Dharma), Wealth (Artha) and Pleasure (Kama) are understood to be secondary goals which actually support the pursuit of the Primary Goal of Spiritual Liberation (Moksha).
And the original “warnings” that have continued in our culture out of context serve to remind us to not become attached to Status, Money or Pleasure as a primary goal. They serve our evolution, but they are not the most important goals. And therefore they should be approached with a balanced perspective, keeping the Final Goal of Moksha in mind.
Tantra teaches us that everything in life can be used as a Spiritual Practice when properly understood. And we start by embracing the abundance and pleasures that life has to offer as we seek to align with our Soul’s purpose in the world. And from that place of joy, we can bridge our awareness into the deeper Joy of our Liberated Self.
Let me know your thoughts and questions below!
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Tantra is steeped in deep mystery. The things that are known or heard about it in day to day life are often spoken of out of context, with little understanding of what the practice or philosophy is really designed to do.
Over hundreds and likely even thousands of years, Tantra has become associated with Black magic, sexual deviance, group sex, sensual indulgence, ecstasy, orgasmic bliss among other things. People speak of Kundalini, magical powers, chakras, spells being cast, and many other concepts and acts as being part of Tantra.
There are debates as to whether it is about sexuality or spirituality along with talk of White Tantra, Red Tantra, Pink Tantra, Left-handed Tantra, and Right-Handed Tantra. And the unfortunate modern confusion where some people think it is only for better orgasms, which creates further confusion for people who imagine that they “must have a sexual partner” to learn and benefit from Tantra. (Not true.)
Why Is Tantra So Controversial?
Tantra is one of the most controversial of Yogic practices, and much of that controversy comes purely from lack of understanding. The controversy and confusion is fueled by false imaginings, anecdotal stories and modern packaging designed to entice the “sex sells” culture that we live in. Additionally, there are modern Tantric teachers using sexually indulgent teachings for their own desires, celebrities talking about 7 hour “tantric” orgasms and even students of Tantra misunderstanding the process and speaking about it out of context.
Certainly, Tantric practitioners or those associated with Tantra have been involved in a variety of activities. Everything listed above has, I am sure, been experienced or practiced in the name of “Tantra”. And I am sure there has been a wide range of motivations for how to use Tantra. But for a moment let’s step outside of these “behaviors” and “reported experiences”, and take a broader perspective of what the Tantric Practitioner is really learning in order for these other things to happen.
How can someone “cast a spell” (for good or evil?), for instance. Or create high states of orgasmic bliss? Or awaken magical powers? Because quite frankly, these are not “ordinary” parts of most people’s lives. And many might even dismiss them as being superstition or fantasy… How would these things even be possible?
The Goal of Tantra and the Tantric Approach
First, let’s understand something clearly: The system of Tantra in it’s deepest understanding is a path towards Wholeness and a return to Divinity that teaches that the experience of Life is Sacred and SO ARE YOU. We could call the culmination of sustained Tantric Wholeness as “Enlightenment”, “Self-Realization”, or “Moksha”. THIS is what the FINAL goal of Tantra really is. (See The Tantric Path: A Simple Perspective that Every Tantric Student and Practitioner Needs to Know for more information)
And Tantra also knows that we must start right here in the world, right where we are with the life we are currently living. To support our life in the world, Tantra teaches us a spiritual path that allows us to use our daily life and responsiblities in the world as PART of the path itself. Thus, Tantric practices can cover any and every part of our experience, including sex, money, career, body, mind, spirit, health, etc. In Tantra, every moment is an opportunity to find greater peace and open to the Love that is all around us, and most especially, the Love that IS our True Nature.
But how do they do it? Forget casting spells, orgasmic bliss, and magical powers, etc for a moment. That is not ultimately what a sincere Tantric Practitioner is really learning, even though any of those abilities or experiences are possible and might well be a part of the Tantric path. Much like the “Feed a man vs. teaching him how to fish” concept, the real learning isn’t in just being able to cast a “spell” for healing, or to have the orgasmic bliss. No. The real lesson is in understanding how it would be possible to do this at all.
What the Tantric Practitioner is REALLY learning
So what is the common THREAD among all these things? What is the ONE THING being learned that allows all of these things to be experienced and created? What a Tantric practitioner is REALLY learning is how to connect with, harness and direct the Life Force energy and the forces of Creation that exist within his or her own body and Consciousness, as well as the external world.
If you learn how to cast a spell, well, you can cast a spell. But if you learn how to harness the Forces of Creation and the Life Force Energy, and to bridge that through your own body and consciousness… Well, now you have a whole toolbox to work with. You can do many things, including completely Transforming your entire experience of Self and Life towards greater joy, vibrancy and peace in order to reach Enlightenment.
But, for the wise Tantric Practitioner, each new ability or practice learned is an “Experiment” which creates an experience that leads towards a deeper understanding of what is possible and what the True Nature of Self really is. Learning how to master this Life Force Energy leads to understanding how it is possible to begin with. Which leads to “Who I AM” to be able to “Master it” at all.
Do Not Confuse Authentic Tantric Practice with Outer Appearances
Most of the stories that have popularize Tantra come about from experiences or practices of Practitioners who are “on the path” towards their goal. They are describing a place in their practice BEFORE reaching the Final Goal. Or perhaps they have lost sight of the most meaningful goal, and fallen into using the powers for selfish ends. Either way, when we take their behavior and their experiences and mistake them for “Tantra”, then we just wind up confused.
It would be a bit like hearing that doctors in training dissect human cadavers and drawing the conclusion that “Doctors cut up dead people” without any context for that statement. And then the rumor spreads “Oh no! Did you hear about the people called doctors? They CUT UP DEAD BODIES, MAN! That’s so wrong! (or so cool. I want to be a doctor too!!)”. Doctors in training dissect bodies to learn how the body functions so that can understand how to work with it for healing the sick. But the final goal of medicine is not just to “cut up dead bodies”. (Or live ones either)
In the same way, in Tantra the outer appearance of various practices do not really convey the Deeper motivation or lesson of the practice itself. To say that a Tantric practitioner practices magic, or engages in sex, or sits on dead bodies in the burial ground does NOT convey the purpose of their behavior. And without that understanding, society will place its own judgments upon it and fail to see what is really being learned or accomplished.
Tantric practitioners engage the Forces of Creation and the Life Force energy within Consciousness through a variety of “experiments” that we call “practices” so they can learn how these energies function. And this “training” is just a step along the way to ultimately bring about the greatest possible healing of Self through what is learned by direct experience: The Return to Wholeness.
Tantra as Self-Mastery of Life Force Energy and the Forces of Creation
There are Tantric practioners who have practiced black magic, I am sure. But Tantra is not about black magic. There are Tantric Practitioners who have investigated or even obsessed about the sexual energy in some pretty “outlandish” ways. But Tantra is not about sex. There are Tantric practitioners who have awakened magical ability and psychic powers. But Tantra is not about magical abilities and psychic powers.
At the core, Tantra is about learning to interface with the Powers of The Universe as a function of Pure Consciousness in order to Understand the Nature of Reality and Self. And in this process, we cultivate the Qualities of the True Self, which are Ecstatic Love, Joy, and Peace. To make it even simpler, Tantra is a path to re-discover who and what you really are.
Through Tantric practices, you harmonize and balance your life as a necessary part of the path. This can mean more loving relationships, greater self-acceptance, and freedom from shame. It can mean increased clarity around your soul’s purpose and greater passion operating in the world. It can mean greater connection to your own Intuition, inner Wisdom, and even perhaps psychic powers. And, yes, it can even mean more satisfaction and meaning in your sex life.
Perhaps you will even become motivated to use what you learn to assist in the healing of others, and not only yourself. All of these things are possible and most are likely. They are “gifts” along the path for doing the work towards wholeness. They are manifestations of the awakening Wholeness itself. And they are still not the “goal” of Tantra, but they are an interesting and enjoyable part of the journey. They are experiences that deepen your understanding of life force and Creation, and what is possible, and your relationship to The Universe. And it is all made possible by harnessing and directing the Forces of Creation and the Life Force energy within the practitioner.
How to Properly Learn Tantra Yoga
So what needs to happen to walk this Tantric Path? How can YOU begin to explore this for yourself and engage these fascinating practices? That’s where a Tantric Teacher comes in.
In addition to learning HOW to harness and direct the Forces of Creation and the Life Force energies within the body and consciousness, there needs to be guidance from a Tantric Teacher. There needs to be ethical training for how to use this wisdom and Power for your own maximum benefit while avoiding trouble for Self and others. There needs to be someone who can help you create the practices and experiences that will reveal what is possible and what the Nature of Reality really is.
There needs to be someone to help you navigate the challenges, frustrations and confusions that will arise on the path. Someone to assist you in destroying any obstacles that have limited your Wholeness in the past or that are causing resistance now. And there needs to be someone to remind you of the Truth and the Final Goal when you may get lost. These are just some of the ways that the Tantric Teacher offers support and enables you to accelerate your growth and practice. In the end, the Teacher’s primary role is to empower you to connect to your own Inner Wisdom and discover the Truth and Power of your own Self.
After over 25 years on my own Path, I have integrated all of my studies and practices along with the needed guidance and support into a comprehensive approach to Tantric Practice that I call Ecstatic Union®. It brings everything needed together in one system and one path. And it addresses every stage of practice from beginner to advanced.
But like all journeys, it begins with the First Step: Look for Ecstatic Union® Foundational Training announcements beginning in January 2015!
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Tantra removes the limitations and conditioning that prevent us from seeing our True Self. We learn to activate Sexual, Life Force and Creational energy in Tantra as a means to evolve the Awareness into higher states of Consciousness and Higher Connection to Self.
In the process, we expanding awareness to dissolve the layers of illusion and Discover the Joy of your True Self beyond the limitations of body and mind.
Where can you find permanent joy? In Tantra you start by learning to surrender through activation of the movement of energy and vibration.
This is Part 6 of a 6 part video series on Tantra as a Spiritual Path
The definition of “Yoga” is “Union”. In a traditional sense, it is the seeking of the “re-unification of the individual self with the One Universal Supreme Self”. Yoga is a path of Self-Discovery and self-improvement. There are a wide variety of practices that can benefit us in most any area of our lives when we know what they are and how to apply them.
In another sense, Yoga is really an exploration of our relationship to Self, to others, and to the world. We can come to see our limitations and strengths. We can use it to experience the fruits and rewards of self-discipline. We can observe and celebrate our own progress and growth.
The concept of “Union” also implies that something is being joined together, or “re-joined”. While the ultimate “Union” of Yoga is thought to be the final “union of the individual self with the Supreme Self”, the process of Yoga proceeds along a path of many smaller “union” points along the way.
In Tantra we talk about the re-unification of “Shiva” and “Shakti”. The Masculine and Feminine aspects of the unfolding universe. They are said to live within our own Self also. This isn’t really about gender, so much as it is about a set of principles. Like “yin and yang” from the Chinese philosophy, it points to a set of principles that can seem in opposition to eachother that must be understood, reconciled and re-integrated into an experience of wholeness.
While the final philosophical intention relates to the workings of the Self as “Consciousness”, this principle of Shiva and Shakti, or apparent opposites shows up everywhere in our life. We can understand it to be a metaphor for the Dualistic nature of life with all of its many sets of opposites: hot/cold, light/dark, good/bad, etc.
There is also a set of opposites that becomes quite important in our search. That is the notion of “self and other”. According to Yoga, all of our conflicts, challenges and suffering arise out of this dualistic experience, and especially that of “self and other”. It is our relationships with other aspects of life and other people that create the greatest sources of frustration, heart ache and conflict for most people. Yoga is an invitation to resolve those conflicts within our own Self.
From a young age, our interactions with others begin to teach us by conditioning and habit from our own experience what is “safe” within relationship to others. We may learn that discussing certain topics within our family or community is not acceptable, and thus we learn to avoid those topics, even if they are dear to our hearts. We may learn that it is not safe to express our emotions. We may try to tell someone about our hopes and dreams only to have them mocked, and so we decide they are not worthy of pursuing.
Over time, without even realizing it, we create an internal “monitoring system” that hides parts of us away from being seen by others. Hidden because past experience has shown these parts could be rejected, mocked, or misunderstood. And along with this “locking away” often comes an unconscious feeling that these parts of ourselves are not “good enough” or worthy of being honored. If they were rejected by others, then they must be “bad”.
Clearly everyone’s story is different, but life experience will show that even the most successful and confident people in the world will usually, at least at some point in their lives have some inner places that have been rejected based upon how they imagine others will react.
Because of these common life experiences, many people guard themselves in relationships. Sometimes we become so guarded that even in our closest relationships we can feel that sharing our feelings, hopes, dreams, desires, fantasies, etc is not safe in some or many areas of our inner world. For instance, we may tell others what we think they want to hear instead of being honest about our own thoughts and feelings. We may fail to share some dream we have because we assume it won’t be supported.
Certainly, the guarding makes sense. It was learned at a time when it was truly not safe. It was a proper defense mechanism then. And certainly there are still situations today that it would not be wise to share certain aspects of ourselves with specific people or groups or in specific situations. But sometimes we still feel that we can’t safely be ourselves in any situation. The result is that we aren’t even able to be truly comfortable with our own Self.
Because of this, some people never really know what a truly intimate supportive friendship or relationship can feel like. We become so used to living with things “unsaid”, that we can’t imagine what the freedom of a different type of relationship could offer. When we can find a safe, supportive friend or community, and we can begin to slowly and consciously share our hopes, dreams, fears, self-judgment, past experiences, etc with others and have them be seen, heard, supported and embraced as a part of who we are, a dramatic healing can take place. A renewed sense of self acceptance, confidence and joy can arise.
There is a notion in Yoga called “Sangha”. It originally was a term in Buddhism that referred to a community of Monks or spiritual seekers. A more modern interpretation, however, is a community of people who share any common vision and goal. That goal may simply be “to allow each person to discover and express their deepest Self, and to support and honor each person’s individual desires and needs for happiness and wholeness.”
There is true power in shared experience within a supportive Community, whether it is sharing the practices on the Yoga Mat, sharing discussions of how yoga benefits your life, or sharing of the deepest parts of our once hidden Self. For a practical purpose, it is also the ability to share with other like-minded people a set of philosophies, practices and goals that other circles of friends and relationships may not fully understand. However it shows up, “Sangha” is the sharing of a journey together within community which both honors and celebrates each individual’s unique expressions and personal goals, while also supporting a greater vision of consciously seeking and supporting the growth and wholeness of the community itself, however that may look for each person.
The “Sangha” by definition is usually a Conscious community where the rules and experience within it often run counter to common culture. It supports the undoing of our fears and allows each person to bring themselves into the light of self-accepting awareness. It allows a supportive environment to practice and explore the principles of more conscious living, healing and personal growth. It allows each person to have others who can celebrate their successes and growth with them. It allows a safe place to have our inner thoughts, feelings, hopes and dreams heard and honored. It allows a conscious community support of learning how to be in healthy, supportive intimate relationships. It gives us the safe space to work through the fears of revealing ourselves more fully. We learn about true intimacy with Self and others, and how to set safe boundaries both within the acceptance of the Community and in the world outside that community.
We learn that our voice does matter. And that there are safe places to be ourselves. That when we share what is going on in us, that others are given a chance to respond in a way that can support us or bring clarification for our confusion. Without your voice being heard others don’t have the information to know what you need or simply to celebrate it with you. We learn that our opinion can matter. We learn that others often can relate to the experiences, thoughts and feelings that we are most afraid to share. We learn we are not alone. We learn that while there are unique things about us, that in many ways we are more similar to others than we realized. And when that happens, everyone can set aside the old game, and just celebrate the unfolding journey together.
Tantra is really much more about creating loving, honoring relationships with Self, others and the world than about “sex”. When we learn to experience the freedom of self-love, and self-acceptance, and have that reflected back to us my a lover, a friend or a community, then the protected places hidden within are given the freedom to come to the surface. When they are finally seen and acknowledged, the fear and the self-judgment can melt away, giving this part of ourselves freedom to open, to move and to express itself. This new movement is then reflected within the energy that we are seeking to cultivate and understand through the Tantric Kundalini practices.
I know for myself, finally having the chance to explore this kind of Conscious community support, where I could literally share anything I was thinking, feeling or had done, where I could safely ask any question that I thought would help me know myself better, and where many of the “superficial” ways of interacting could be set aside allowing for a deeper knowing of others, was an incredibly powerful part of my own healing journey. I learned that more often that not, what I was afraid to share, or the question I was afraid to ask was really about my own self-judgement. To reveal it and see that it was accepted, to feel that I was still honored gave me a reflected experience of the Love I deserved and should be giving my own Self. It was cleansing. And now that I understand the power of Conscious Community, my life is richer for it.
Like much of Yoga, the introduction to being in Conscious community can feel at first like a “practice”. We have to learn by doing it how to open into and navigate within it. But the more we practice, the more natural it becomes. The more it simply becomes reflected as an inner support of Self-Love and Self-acceptance that goes with you everywhere. You know that you are worthy of love, and that who you are is beautiful and should be seen by the world.
It is true that when we first begin to share in this way, that in can feel unsafe. But within a Conscious Community, there is an invitation to begin to push past the fear and, however slowly you need to go, intentionally share your “unedited” Self within the community. It is a healing experience for all involved.
Sometimes when we don’t have a reference for something by our own experience it can be hard to see or understand the value of the benefits, or the “risk to reward” ratio. Instead we just think “I don’t need that”, or “it doesn’t feel safe” or “it’s not for me.” I speak from direct experience to say “It is worth it.”
There is a quote I ran across that I think is true to my experience as well. “Anything I’ve ever done that ultimately was worthwhile… initially scared me to death.” – Betty Bender
I found that quote while trying to remember another quote that came to my mind, but I couldn’t remember the exact phrasing. I will leave you with the original quote that came to mind:
“And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.” – Anais Nin
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 19th, 2011)
I took some time to sit in nature this morning, which conveniently is the grounds of the Ashram itself. Today is also a day of silence, where only a few people running the Ashram are speaking. In my own silence, I witnessed Nature all around me, expanding my awareness into it, smiling into it, and welcoming it.
Birds chirping and flying about. A small field where yellow butterflies dance across blades of grass. Various trees, standing strong, silent and still. The sun in the sky and a light mist of fog still blanketing the mountains which are not too far away.
Again, I am reminded of the power of nature, even in its peaceful play. I reflect on the stillness and the silence which lays beneath Creation, supporting it like the ground where seeds are planted, only this stillness is the ground of Consciousness itself, and the seeds are the Divine thoughts which have arisen within it to bring about the current experience.
I feel into the pulsations of Creation, and am again reminded that nothing in nature is rushing. Nothing in nature is forcing or pushing. The grass is not trying to grow any faster or slower, it just grows. The sun is not racing to get through its day.
Nothing in nature is wanting to be anything other than what it is. The tree is not wishing it was a bush, or a flower. The birds do not aspire to be anything other than birds.
Nature is the ultimate example of WYSIWYG (“What you see is what you get”). Even the creatures which camouflage themselves are simply expressing as their nature, exactly as they are. The challenge is to be still long enough to see it.
Everything in nature is peaceful, accepting of its nature, and spontaneously expressing that nature, without any hesitancy or desire to change.
Nature can teach us a lot about our own selves. We are a part of nature, yet our minds pull us out of sync and cause us to rush, to force, to resist, to chase after and to hesitate. When we become still as Tantra Yoga teaches us to do, and connect into the Nature of all Creation, and seek to discover that same Nature within our own being, then we too learn to accept life as it is. We too learn to acknowledge our own nature, and express it without apology. We too learn that there is no need to force. There is no where else to be other than where you are right now.
We learn to separate our Authentic Expression from the conditioned mind which pulls us away from it, rejects it, or puts a spin of expectation and attachment into it. And then we gracefully embrace our Authentic Nature, allowing it to express, and accepting it. If we are a squirrel, we will store nuts for the winter. If we are a bird, we will fly and eat seeds and insects. If we are a musician, then the very core of us drives us to play, to write music, to sing and to feel the music as life itself. If we are a dancer, then we must allow our bodies to move and express what words cannot say. If we are a linguist, then we must explore the nature of language and communication through words. If we are a mother or a father, then we must be the fullest expression of love and nurturing to a child. The list goes on and on.
Everyone has a Nature which should be uncovered, refined and expressed. If we can look past the mind stuff which distracts us and carries us away from it. If we can look past the mind stuff which judges our innate expressions and pushes it into submission. If we can look past the mind stuff which tries to twist and control our Authentic Nature for its own purposes and agenda. Then can we fall into the rhythm of Nature and Creation. Then can we just be, and not resist or be attached.
And when we surrender into that level of freedom, the ground on which Creation rests becomes more obvious, more apparent. And then, we discover the stillness, the silence and the peace that has always been supporting life, and we discover that this peace and stillness and the freedom, joy and bliss which arise within it are our very Nature. Always shining and pulsing beneath the surface of experience. Ever present, even when the external world fades away. It is the ground of all experience. It is Consciousness Itself. God. The Divine Essence. This is the real “Nature”. Not the birds, oceans and trees, but the cause of all of life, which is Consciousness Itself.
Like waves arising on the ocean, various forms and experiences arise within Consciousness. And then they return to Consciousness, like the waves which crash and return to the sea. No matter how big or small the wave, the nature of the ocean itself does not change. Just so, the nature of Consciousness, from which all experience arises, never changes.
Authentic, spontaneous expressions arising and dissolving over and over again within this Ground of Consciousness create the flow and rhythm of life. This is the experience of Tantric Nature. Awakening yourself to this experience and aligning yourself with this Reality is the work of Tantra Yoga.
(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?