by Brendan Miller: What actually happens at a Tantra workshop? Level 1 Immersion Be Fully Alive.
On a recent weekend, I found myself sitting a room with 12 women and one other man exploring sexual liberation. No, this was not some kind of orgy. It was a Tantric workshop hosted by Dawn Cartwright, a leading teacher in the Los Angeles area. When most people hear about Tantra, they generally think about sexual techniques to prolong intercourse, but Tantra is fundamentally a practice of consciousness. As I began to experience through the exercises in the workshop, Tantra is simply about becoming conscious of one’s energy and that of others in a way that allows those energies to play and weave together in a harmonious way. In fact, the meaning of the word Tantra is “weave.” You can think of the goal of Tantra as experience of “Flow,” being present moment by moment. Easier said than done, of course.
Our teacher has studied Tantra widely, including with Margo Anand, author of the popular book The Art of Sexual Ecstasy. The workshop followed the first nine chapters from that book fairly closely. The workshop is appropriate for both singles and couples. As one of only two men in the class, I was thankful that the teacher created space both for the masculine and the feminine and I never felt marginalized. While everyone in the group identified as heterosexual, I suspect that a homosexual participant would have gotten value out of it as well.
Practically speaking, the exercises involved consciously breathing and moving individually, in pairs, and occasionally in groups. If you have taken yoga or other body-based classes, have an open mind and are comfortable sharing with strangers it would probably not feel too unfamiliar to you. However, if the concept of “energy” does not mean much to you, don’t fret. The exercises are designed to work with you wherever you are. We were fully clothed at all times, and all touching of others was optional and maturely handled.
It was a pleasantly surreal experience at times, and intense and challenging at others. For example, our lunch assignment the first day was to go down to the hotel restaurant and discuss our sexual histories in two groups. I found myself as the only guy in my group relating the highs and lows of my sex life around the table with seven beautiful women I barely knew. I took a deep breath and just tried to remain present to whatever they said and was honest when it was my turn. The opportunity to stretch in ways like this was one of the great things about the weekend.
As we moved through the exercises in the workshop and sought to awaken and become more conscious of our sexual energies and integrate them across our entire bodies, a huge amount of positive and challenging emotion was brought to the surface. Everyone in the room had had unpleasant sexual encounters of one type or another in the past, and some participants were brought to tears of grief and release related to past experiences of sexual abuse. It is a credit to the teacher, that an atmosphere of loving acceptance and healing was maintained.
Our “homework” assignment on Saturday night was to self-pleasure without the goal of orgasm and practice the techniques we learned. I will discuss that, and more about day two of the workshop in part two of this article.
Day 2 of the workshop started with a debrief of our self-pleasuring assignment from the previous night. We were asked to self-pleasure without the goal of orgasm, and try to use the techniques we learned on the first day to experience our sexual energy expanding throughout our bodies for as long as we could.
Tantra does not have a problem with orgasm, but simply tries to expand the levels of pleasure we can absorb. The other participants had a range of experiences from new physical sensations, to new energetic awakenings to greater connection in their sex with their lovers afterward. My experience engaged more parts of my body and made me realize that full body orgasm is a possibility for men and not just women. I’ll have to keep working on that.
Tantriks believe the unitary consciousness of the universe split into two, Shiva and Shakti, so that it could know itself. Shiva, as the masculine half, has a static quality of unmanifest consciousness. He has the power to be, but not the power to become or change. Tantriks believe that through uniting spiritually and sexually with Shiva, Shakti gave form to his spirit and created the universe.
Each of us has both of these aspects in us in a unique combination. In Tantric practice, the ultimate state of bliss is the transcendence of all dualities: self-other, masculine and feminine, body-mind, energy and consciousness, Shakti and Shiva. And like their union that created the universe, merging them within ourselves can unlock a new creative potential.
Personally, I felt the exercises of the weekend were opening new worlds to me, within myself and in my relationships, in ways that were subtle yet very meaningful. We practiced breathing energy from our pelvis up into our torsos and heads. We rocked our pelvises, shook our bodies, butterflied our legs and tried to deepen our control of our pubococcygeus muscle. We danced together, gazed into each other’s eyes and did some exercises with an observer/partner. These exercises were intermixed with debriefs and discussions.
Many of the exercises were very simple but also profound. For example, gazing into a stranger’s eyes and trying to stay comfortable and connected is a real growing experience. Likewise, full-body non-sexual hugs awakened my emotions and sensation in surprising ways. In the shaking exercise, we were asked to close our eyes and shake our bodies to deepen our sensation and connection to our embodied selves. Afterward, I felt energized and opened in a way that allowed me to go deeper the rest of the day.
The weekend ended with a beautiful ritual of sensual indulgence for the participants provided by the teacher and her assistants who left us all wanting more. While we did the gentle breathing and movement exercises, we were taught they caressed us with feathers, fed us chocolate, massaged our scalps and gazed into our eyes. This was an unusual experience for me as man, but I found that I could really enjoy it.
While it was an emotionally challenging weekend, I left feeling energized and hopeful, not just about sex, but about new, more connected and embodied ways of relating in general.
For more information & to register for the Be Fully Alive workshop: http://dawncartwright.com/calendar.php