For me, the word Tantra has always brought up images of sexual exotica and whatever else that implies. The subject recently was introduced to me again during a trip to India, when my Ayurvedic physician friend invited me to visit a Tantric master. I became further mystified about him at the mention of his being celibate, wondering how a Tantric master could remain so. Unfortunately, I was unable then to take time away from my work to visit him, but since then my curiosity and confusion about this subject has grown.
In January, at a South Florida Heart Expo, I stopped at the Butterfly Workshop booth where I met Laurie Handlers, a Tantric teacher with whom I felt an instant rapport. We exchanged business cards, fully intending to get to know one another better. Grappling with relationship issues at the time, Laurie phoned to graciously extend an invitation to join her at a Bliss Tantric workshop that weekend, something she intuitively felt would truly help me. Although I initially resisted taking her up on her invitation and was experiencing my initial fear of the unknown, I still managed to overcome these barriers at the last minute to drive the 2-1/2 hours to reach the workshop in Vero Beach.
As long as I can remember, I have always experienced a reservoir of longing, of being unfulfilled, that yearned to break free of the confines of a relationship. Although I knew I had to shift my focus from another, borne out of an addictive adrenalin rush, I didn’t feel emotionally able to make this shift. Tantra held the promise of teaching me how to harness the power of sexual energy in such a way that would strengthen and empower my spiritual practices and enhance my faltering self-esteem.
Tantra recognizes that the most powerful love is the union of self with the god or goddess within, balancing the male and female. Love without goals, Tantra does not require one to immerse and ultimately lose oneself within someone else. This was something new for the caregiver in me!
There was one exercise that truly opened me up, forcing me to breathe deeply and to emit emotions over past hurts that I had been reluctant to relinquish. This is essential if one is to love another and, more importantly, to love myself. And, for the first time in years, I was able to cry.
Laurie instructed us to dance to primitive, drum music, which helped to release our inhibitions. More and more, I felt myself freeing up.
Two people demonstrated the famous Tantric Yab Yum sexual position, one partner sitting in the lap of another. While in Yab Yum, the couple’s major energy centers are aligned as in the sex and heart centers and third eye. For mixed heterosexual couples, the male usually sits on the bottom. The person on the bottom places both hands at the base of their partner’s spine. Sitting in the lap of another, that person is able to place both hands on the shoulders of another. Sitting in this position, it is possible to free up the right hands to touch the hearts of each partner simultaneously. After witnessing this demonstration, we then practiced Cobra breathing, an ancient and powerful yogic technique (called Pranayama) done in unison with another, as one partner inhales while the other exhales.
Based on this, I learned that sex is merely a part of Tantra, but not the whole of it. Most of our primitive understanding of sex usually doesn’t extend beyond orgasm and ejaculation, the releasing of energy that depletes us. An important preliminary practice is to learn sustained arousal without culminating in orgasm. Tantra’s objective is not to overindulge in sex, but instead Tantric traditions emphasize direct experience and the phenomena of the senses to enhance spirituality. To my surprise, many of those who practice the spiritual tools of visualization, symbols and bodily energy work remain celibate.
My experience with Butterfly Workshop’s Bliss course proved to be one of the most positive of my life. What impressed me most was the emphasis on keeping our word with others and remaining true to our selves. Although it has been several months since I first met Laurie, I find I have been deeply affected by the quality of her work.
For those of you who’d like to learn more about Tantra without making the trip to India (although there’s a trip to India planned), I highly recommend this experience described as “woman and men dancing in eternal ecstasy on earth now”.