Natural Health Magazine
A Tantra workshop that teaches you love and compassion for even those you don’t fancy? Tania Ahsan discovers you can arouse feelings for anyone in your heart – with startling results
There are two reasons why a Tantra workshop should strike terror in my heart. First, I am Asian and we don’t believe in sex unless it is within the confines of a legally, religiously and socially acceptable marriage. Second, I am British and we don’t hug, stare at strangers, or talk about boobs and willies. We also tend to show the emotional range of a cucumber. And we don’t mention the rude shape of the aforementioned salad ingredient. So to say I’m out of my comfort zone at the Diamond Light Tantra workshop in North London is an understatement.
The participants are equally divided between men and women and there is a range of ages, shapes and sizes here. A couple of people look like supermodels but most of us are quite ordinary looking – though a few who are regulars on the workshops seem to have an inner glow that belies any outward appearance.
The workshop facilitator is Leora Lightwoman, a petite, charming woman with masses of experience in teaching Tantra. She regularly says what we’re thinking and slows down the freight train of weird thoughts that run through my head. We are expected, right from the start, to hold the gaze of strangers of the opposite sex; a deeply intimate experience that I could barely manage with former partners, let alone complete strangers. I find that after the initial discomfort, I can hold my partner’s gaze and the embarrassment subsides quite quickly.
The day runs through a number of exercises in which you regularly change partners and connect with new strangers. At one point a man I don’t fancy strokes my hand and I get a bit weak-kneed. This is very confusing as surely you’re only meant to respond with that boom-boom feeling to men you fancy? Leora explains that it is not unusual to feel a bit confused at this as we’re programmed to assume that sensual pleasure is connected with a romantic relationship, so often people assume they’re in love with their workshop partners when it may just be that they are meant to share a loving, safe experience with them and then move on. I definitely know I’m not in love with that particular partner but I am intrigued as to what mechanism can turn a very innocent touch into a sexual experience. Does this mean that suddenly I’ll be having erotic experiences handing over change at the supermarket? It’s all rather startling and I realise that not only have I left my comfort zone but it’s now way, way behind me, almost out of sight.
And then there’s nakedness and suddenly I realise I’m in a different time zone to my comfort zone. It happens so suddenly that my jaw barely has time to hit the floor. One of Leora’s helpers is demonstrating the next exercise, a sort of firm massage and then a light fingertip touch that is called a ‘tantra touch’. She gets butt naked. As naked as the day she was born. She has curves. She is very beautiful and is ridiculously confident while butt naked in a roomful of strangers. Leora picks up on what we’re thinking and assures us that we can get as naked or not as we like. I’m thinking ‘not’. She then reassures us that nakedness is natural and you can tell that she’s probably had to say that several hundred times over the years that she’s taught this course. ‘Grow up!’ I admonish my inner child who is still pointing and shocked at the fact that there’s a naked woman in the room.
As we begin the exercise ourselves, I have a surreal moment when I look around the room and there are several willies and boobies in evidence. Oh Lord. I am reassured by the fact that there are also prudes like me in the room who remain resolutely dressed. The space that Leora has created is, however, ‘sacred’ in a way that I have never experienced before. Sacred space is not just about lighting some incense and doing a little chant – it is about safety and comfort and protection. It is very rare to find a workshop where you feel you won’t be judged and in which you don’t judge others.
The last exercise of the day was the most profound for me and that’s saying something, given that I cried and hugged my way through most of the other exercises (where is that firm British resolve when you need it?). We were instructed to pair up with someone we hadn’t worked with that day and this gorgeous Hugh Laurie look-a-like gave me a huge beam from across the room. Hurrah!
When we stare into each other’s eyes, Leora had asked us to see ourselves in the other person. The idea is that you’re not concentrating on the external ‘do I fancy this man/woman?’ but that the person is mirroring you and you can see your own essence in them. The Hugh Laurie dude was ideally suited to mirroring me as we both clearly deflect uncomfortable feelings through humour. The exercise was about saying our feelings out loud; a prospect even more daunting than the boobies and willies. We were laughing and kidding around like naughty school kids but when we stilled enough to do the exercise, I could see his – and my – pain that is always behind an armour of layers and layers of mockery, satire and humour. Suddenly I wasn’t laughing and he wasn’t laughing and for a split second we were present. I saw him. He saw me. The truth of us both, not strangers at a workshop or a man and a woman but just two sides of one coin being flipped over and over and over in a cosmic toss that was both playful and meaningful. Then the sensation was gone and we were silly kids having a laugh again. And that was perfect too.
Quite frankly, the workshop changed me. I ceased thinking of relationships as a combat sport and I also stopped thinking about love as a possession. Being a bit old fashioned I had always thought of partners in a possessive sense; MY boyfriend, MY fiancé and eventually MY husband. I no longer need to possess the people I have a connection with. For example I didn’t immediately start stalking Hugh Laurie man just because we shared a special experience (something quite unheard of for me). When you glimpse a man, any man, as representing all men, as representing essential ‘maleness’, then you no longer place the same pressure on one man to be your everything. You hold each other in a lighter way and you bring back simple ‘fun’ into the relationship. And I’m all for more fun.
Diamond Light Tantra are having an introductory evening on the 18th of September in London at a cost of £25. These evenings are a taster of what happens at the workshops. For more information visit www.diamondlighttantra.com or call 0845 388 2231.
What is Tantra?
Leora Lightwoman explains Tantra thus: Tantra is the marriage of Energy (Shakti, the feminine) and Consciousness (Shiva, the masculine principle). Tantra is also the union of opposites (e.g. Passion and Presence – some people would see these as opposed), the union of energy and consciousness, feminine and masculine etc. It is the place beyond duality where it is directly experienced that one (apparent opposite) is the other, and the other is the one.
Julie and I have been married for 23 years and, as all couples who manage 23 years, you have your ups and downs. There we were, Julie and me looking at each other, getting into bed together every night and over the period of those decades, perhaps you stop seeing each other in the way we had. I suggested [the Tantra workshop] and Julie, perhaps she was looking or rather not looking at me in that way, and must have thought, “yeah, go on then, why not?”
The workshop was an opportunity for us to listen to other people’s frank openness and honesty in a way that was really refreshing and freeing – the environment gave us a great opportunity to see that we were not alone in our desire to understand ourselves and each other and to find a channel back to our physical love of each other, that can be over-layered with years of familiarity which seemed to have resulted in us not necessarily feeling that quite so strongly. Familiar love is very comfortable and I think it can get in the way of physical love sometimes, to both partners’ detriment.
We were both blown away by the effect of the experience and it is just not possible to explain in a “few words” how sex with someone you have been making love to for over 20 years can feel so new and exciting, because it really did – and still does!
Try this at home: EYE GAZING AND GENTLE CARESSING
You can do this either on your own in front of a mirror, or with a partner. If you are with a partner, sit comfortably opposite each other. If you are in front of a mirror, sit comfortably facing yourself.
Close your eyes and breathe into your belly, allowing your body to relax. Become aware of the sensations inside you. When you are relaxed and in touch with your body, open your eyes and receive your own or your partner’s gaze. Let 60-70% of your attention be with yourself and your inner experience, rather than looking outwards.
This is called receptive gaze. Breathe naturally and fully and notice the feelings and sensations that arise. As best you can keep welcoming all feelings and sensations, and look beyond the physical appearance of yourself or your partner towards their essence, their heart, their deep humanity.
Gently, tenderly and very finely, stroke your partner’s or your own face, with the intention of stroking away the pain and rigidity, the ‘mask’ that you or they have adopted, to, through love, liberate more of their true essential beauty.
Receive this caress as you receive your or your partner’s gaze, and be open to the possibility of allowing yourself to soften, to melt, to let go. If you feel sad or loving or whatever, just let it happen, and you can let your feelings show without words. After 3-4 minutes, if you are with a partner, swap round. After you have finished, just sit in silence in eye contact for another minute.
Written by Tania Ahsan, Natural Health Magazine, August 2009