by Vyana Bergen
I can’t begin a conversation about Tantra with anyone who is new to the topic, without at least acknowledging the connection between tantra and sex. Tantra is definitely in part about pleasure – as one friend said recently, “out with the yuck and in with the yum.” Thus, one central principle that I practice in tantra is the healing power of pleasure.
Although sourced in ancient Eastern truths and traditions, the need to clearly articulate this principle has emerged out of the importation of Tantra to North America in the last forty years. As Indian gurus and Western practitioners have endeavored to share these teachings, the West has revealed both a fascination and repulsion to the idea of using pleasure, let alone SEX, as an arena for legitimate spiritual exploration. On the one hand, the cultural revolution of the 1960’s welcomed Tantra’s invitation to expand beyond our usual constrictions on sexuality. On the other hand our Judeo-Christian moralists have sought to diminish it at best, and totally reject or outlaw it at worst.
The push-pull around pleasure in general and sex in particular, make it vitally important to articulate the idea of the healing power of pleasure. First, what do I mean by pleasure? Generally, we define pleasure as an experience of gratification or happiness brought on by external events or people in one’s world: “It was a pleasure to see her again.” In addition, every modern dictionary I checked included the words, “sensual gratification”, which is a very broad category referencing the five senses. Sensual pleasure might include the taste of chocolate, the feeling of fur on the skin, the smell of lavender, the sight of a sunset, or the sound of water lapping on a shore.
The word pleasure also includes the realm of the sexual, in fact for many sensual and sexual are synonymous. There is nothing wrong with sexual pleasure. From a tantric perspective, everything is an experiment and sexuality is definitely one place to experiment. But pleasure is far too essential and pervasive in life to confine it to only one vein of human awareness. So, if sexual pleasure is only one dimension of physical pleasure and physical pleasure is only one dimension of a far wider and deeper experience, then what are the other dimensions? Marc Gafni suggests there are five levels of pleasure:
- the physical pleasures of the five senses,
- the pleasure of intimate emotional connection with others,
- the pleasure of working for causes we believe in,
- the pleasure of satisfying the longing to connect with a divine presence through expanded realms of consciousness (like meditation or prayer),
- the pleasure of knowing our unique path in the world and living it fully.
The beauty of Gafni’s model is that each level opens us outward into wider and deeper realms. For instance, receiving deep touch opens us to experiences beyond the merely physical and into connection with others, the world and the divine.
Multidimensional pleasure embraces both depth of feeling and breadth of awareness for all that supports life in the world. Pleasure reminds us why we want to be alive. On the one hand, pleasure is part of our primitive survival system: our biological instinct leads toward pleasure and away from pain. On the other hand, expanded pleasure is about far more than pain avoidance and simple survival. As pleasure opens doors beyond our habitual pathways, we have the opportunity to enjoy our bodies with our minds awake with clarity, and even beyond that, to take in the glory of the world. Here the lines between where I end and you begin start to blur. We are in a tantric expansion of our ordinary frames of thinking.
If you are interested in expanding your frameworks from a tantric perspective, Shalom Mountain has two retreat opportunities in the coming year. Vyana will be assisting her teacher, Rudy Ballentine at the Training in Tantric Principles Retreat, November 17-20. “Training in Tantric Principles” will be focused on the principles of tantra as outlined in Rudy’s new book, “Kali Rising: Foundational Principles of Tantra for a Transforming Planet.”
The second opportunity is the Wisdom School: Falling in Love with the Divine Devotion and Tantra of the Heart with Marc Gafni, assisted by Vyana Bergen, March 8-11, 2012.
For more information or to register for either retreat, call or e-mail Shalom Mountain: 845-482-5421 or firstname.lastname@example.org.