Saturday, April 20, 2013

The Great Big Universal Polarity Of Male And Female

Tantrikas, and esotericists in general, will often tell you that there is a polarity going on in the whole universe, on any level from galaxies down to subatomic particles - male and female energies abound, dance, seduce each other. Beautiful imagery.

I won't even go into why it makes no sense at all to assume that the physical universe conforms to human ideas of polarity. Somehow, if the universe is dualistic, and humans are dualistic too, that seems to "connect" one to the other in some fashion. Whatever... Let's just let that one slide for the moment.

Of course, male equals active, penetrating, aggressive - essentially, all the evil but desirable things that we crave for but don't admit to - while female equals passive, receptive, nurturing - all the good things nobody really wants to be.

They will then tell you that, of course, this is not a gender stereotype, since everybody has male and female qualities.

Well, duh - then why do you insist on calling it "male" and "female", "shiva" and "shakti" etc.? Why not simply call it positive and negative, or active and passive?

I think the answer is shockingly simple: It creates more emotion, makes for better imagery, it is easy to relate to, one can create wonderful stories about it and,  and, and... wait for it... well, yes, it IS a gender stereotype. Tadaaaaah.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

The Problem With Tantrikas

The main problem I see with tantrikas on the web is that they have something to sell.

Mostly, it's their bodies, in chunks of 60-90 minutes, in the form of a massage (sorry, I meant to say "sacred ritual"). Sometimes, it's a book or a workshop.

To some degree, the part about having something to sell goes for everyone. We all sell off our precious life time to be able to pay the rent. We all dish out a white lie now and then, keep our opinions to ourselves for peace and money. It's a globalized capitalist society, and it fosters hypocrisy, dressing up for the occasion, producing a blinding light of marketing for ourselves, seeing ourselves as the product.

More to the point, it definitely goes for me and this blog. While I don't sell you anything for money (I have a decent day job to pay my rent), I do try to get you to read my blog, and I want you to like it (and by extension, I want you to like me). Not for monetary reasons, but for that most basic reason every blogger has: self-expression and ego-stroking.

The degree to which I am trying to get you to do something determines my degree of dishonesty. I will, occasionally, post on someone else's blog to leave some more or less useful, more or less witty comment - and I do this, of course, in the hope that someone will click on the link and land here.

As some may admit, trying to get you to spend a few minutes perusing my blog is less problematic than trying to get you separated from noteworthy parts of your money.

Those trying to sell their tantra massage sessions, who have become dependent upon this source of income, will obviously go longer distances to achieve their goal. They will spill out article after article, tweet after blog posting after facebook status message, to get you to read their site and then, hopefully, book a session. Those articles won't all be glimmering with bright and intelligent revelations. They will just rehash "authentic", i.e. archaic and often oddly conservative "tantric" teachings that, strangely, always seem to burn down to the same three points: breathe deep, take your time, enjoy male/female polarity. Depending on the author, they will be more or less kinky, more or less religious, more or less this-or-that. And they will always be filled to the brim with cute, sweet, esoteric jargon.

There is good reason for that: On the most general level, which is the only one that will bring in the customers (sorry, I meant to say "acolytes"), there is not a lot more to say about tantra. It is really that simple. The levels at which it gets interesting are those of deep personal experience, where it is often hard to even express your meaning coherently, where it is a question of decency and safety not to reveal to much, and prohibitively hard to create soundbites for the market.

The irony is that tantra is about being present, mindful, in the moment, and spiritual guidance might imply strength of character and lack of ego on part of the giver (or "goddess", as they seem to customarily call themselves these days). You can't be present and in the moment while you're meditating how best to drive people to your site, and I fail to see a lot of egoless enlightenment in lying through your teeth to sell me some sex, or wrapping up sexual services in fluffy religious jargon.

While we're all hypocritical in principle, while we're all guilty and shouldn't judge each other, there are different degrees of ugliness to our actions. Maybe my biggest lie is to my boss, yours is to your husband - it's not about the person, but about the action.

What I'm saying is, take it for what it is - a fun little roleplay for spicing up the action. Don't expect that a "tantra goddess" can give you any insight, healing, or spiritual guidance. Decide whether the relaxation and fun that can be gathered through a good "tantric massage" is worth your money. In my experience, it will probably be better than your run-off-the-mill pay-by-the-hour sex, even if it's not exactly a religious revelation.

In short, don't believe the hype.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Coaching (noun)

The act of believing in an ideology and selling it off as Truth(tm).

The only difference to a religion is that a religion sells itself off while pretending it is for free, while coaching is, at least, honest enough to tell you that it costs money.

In short, religion gets you hooked by your guilty conscience balls; coaching wants to get you by your envy balls.

I'm not quite sure which one to prefer.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Tantra Goddessses, Sacred Rituals, And USPs

Once you delve into twitter and friends, when searching for tantra-related information on the web, you're about to dive into a world of hyperbole, self-proclaimed experts and sex-work sold off as healing.

Lots and lots of "goddesses" abound in that world. So many of them, I keep worrying they might step onto each other's soil and spoil it. After all, they all wanna make a buck out of their worshippers' needs, don't they? Well, I guess there are enough needy clients out there, so probably there is no scarcity here.

Their massages are "sacred rituals", their services are "ceremonies", and they themselves are "goddesses" or "healers".

Are you trying to pull my leg?

Don't get me wrong. I'm not opposed to sexual services. Nor do I have an issue with some fancy role-playing. And also, just to make it abundantly clear, am I not an advocate of "authentic tantra". I think it's just another way to oppress people.

None of that... What I am opposed to is dishonesty and misrepresentation. And that's what's going on here, in my very humble opinion.

For example, someone out there keeps advertising "verified healers & certified tantrikas". (I'm not singling them out as the bad guys - there are a gazillion sites like that out there, this is just one example that I happened to happen upon.) Their website looks suspiciously like the ads placed by brothels, what with skantily clad goddesses and all...

But who knows... so I searched that site for information on their verification & certification process. Needless to say, I didn't find any. To my surprise, I did actually get an answer on twitter. The site administrator claimed that they know some Tantra teachers, and they check the advertisers' credentials with them. - I was also informed that they needed to have extensive background in sacred sexual healing. But then again, it was important to point out that this doesn't have anything to do with being a "valid tantra practitioner"...

Now, this gives me all kinds of headaches from all the scratching. On the one hand, this is more than I anticipated. On the other hand, it just leads to more questions: What is those reputable teachers' process of certification? How can being certified have nothing to do with being valid in one's line of work? How does one check that extensive background?

In other words, how can we even devise criteria for who is an actual, certified, valid tantra practitioner, and who is not? From my own personal biases, I reject the concept of chakras, I cringe at the mention of lingams and yonis - and still, I feel that I do have some experience with tantric breathing techniques, and that I have thought and felt and experienced my way around full-body orgasms through several years, to a degree that I think many "professional tantrikas" lack. Then again, I don't have a lot of formal training. So, would I get through the certification process, or not? (Okay, I'm a guy, and they probably don't take those anyway, but you get the point.)

It strikes me as very odd that a tantric massage is a "ceremony", sexual services are "sacred", the practitioners are "goddesses" - and yet they are "certified and verified". How on earth does one verify a goddess?

I mean... yeah, I get it. We surround sexual services with a nice clean layer of "spirituality" to make it all a bit more reputable. That's how capitalism works. In most western countries, practitioners cannot openly offer sexual services, so they made the best of it, and created a USP out of the psychological, spiritual, non-sexual parts. It's extremely clever... and extremely dishonest.

By doing so, those people play into the common sexual inhibition, prudishness and bigotry, instead of working against them. They cash in on people's incompetence at expressing their sexual urges, instead of working to shake it. They alleviate the pain, but they avoid addressing the underlying issue. All while posing to do "healing", meditation, "energy work", etc.

It is saddening at the very least, and quickly turns to sickening and revolting after a while. If this is shakti at work, then I don't want to be your shiva. I do not dance with you, sorry. Your dance is too macabre for me.

If tantra is in any way a "spiritual" endeavor (I have my problems with that word, but I hope it is sufficiently clear what I'm aiming at here), then it should lead to more clarity, more openness, more honesty. And then the "teachers", "healers" and "goddesses" who make an earthly appearance to guide us to the light should themselves be the pinnacles of honesty.

But then they cannot sell off a sexual massage as a "sacred healing ceremony".

Sunday, April 7, 2013

What are you looking for?

In a video that was mainly just the usual dribble and diatribe about "spiritual materialism" and "mystical dangers" etc., there was one line that actually did hit home with me: The question, what are you really looking for in your meditation, yoga, tantra, etc.? Are you looking for awareness? Are you looking for entertainment? For power?

Of course, to this teacher, it was clear that, out of these, awareness is the only valid option; and I don's see things like that at all. If it is power you seek, that's your call, it's just never been one of my own primary goals.

However, I do endorse knowing what you're doing, and I think that it is a good idea to answer this very question, not once or twice, but every once in a while, with regard to your favourite "spiritual" practice.

Kundalini Danger - The REAL Dangers Of Tantra

I knew a woman, and we got intimate, and at some point I suggested that she try out a little tantric breathing.

It took her about 30 seconds to break off the experiment in alarm.

What was going wrong?

Well, you should probably know that this woman had suffered through some severe trauma. And while, in theory, I knew that tantra might wake up buried emotions, at that point I just didn't think about that, or didn't quite realize the connection with the situation at hand, and suggested it anyway. Luckily for the both of us, this woman has put lots of time and energy into her therapy, and - partly as a result of that, partly because this is just how awesome she is - she is reflected and mature enough to know what is good for her, and what is not.

So, this stirring of arbitrary emotions without any controlling instance, without a carefully set-up safe environment, definitely counts as a danger to me. What if this hadn't happened with a woman in her mid-30s, but with an insecure twen suffering from bipolar disorder? What if it hadn't happened at home, but in a tantra course, with some "instructor" pushing people into the exercises? Stuff like that falls under the category of a psychotherapeutic intervention, and stuff like that is definitely not to be fooled around with.

In short, tantric breathing can trigger re-traumatization in victims of childhood abuse, people who suffer from PTSD, torture victims, etc. If this is your history, you'd better consult with a trained professional before venturing into tantra.

The other real danger I see is that a so-called "kundalini awakening" seems to sometimes trigger a state similar to perpetual arousal syndrome. From what I know, this is quite rare, so it won't keep me from venturing further on this path. One thing I shall say is that there were a few moments when I was a bit afraid of what might happen if the state of arousal wouldn't wane off by itself. If having a few orgasms doesn't get you off your arousal, then what are you supposed to do? That doesn't sound like a healthy thing to me at all. But as I said, I figure the chances of that are actually extremely slim, so I see no real issue.

Interestingly, some of the symptoms seem to be consistent with what some fundamentalist christians describe as the result of the demonic influence that they see behind said "kundalini awakenings".

If you'd like to learn more, the following article relates a personal experience with that issue - it completely turned the lady in question off sex for several years:

Instant Gratification, Guilt, Shame, And Romantic Love

Not only among catholic priests, but also in the whole "spiritual community", whatever that may be, the impact of our culture of instant gratification is often lamented. And when it is, it often has to take the blame for our fragile, serial-monogomous relationships.

Now, I don't think that this is entirely wrong (and I don't think that monogamy is the only valid relationship concept, either).

One obvious issue with this argument is that the ideal of romantic love predates consumerism, capitalism, self-help and all the other nice features of modern globalisation by about 2 centuries. Sure, things might have taken their time to catch up, but is that really convincing?

My main contention, though, is that I feel that this is only one part of the whole picture.

I think that, yes sure it is about us not getting the pleasure we think we deserve, and always hunting for the next emotional kick - but I think it is also about us judging our own feelings as not good enough, not strong enough... not enough.

I think we measure ourselves against a romantic ideal that reality just can't keep up with... or that can't keep up with reality. We expect our feelings to guide us in our relationships, and we expect ourselves to "love" our spouse in one very specific way, with one very specific set of emotions being the sign that "everything is okay". And when those emotions wane, not only do we feel sad and lonely, but also guilty.

As if we had an awful lot of control over our emotions!

It's a double-bind of sorts. We are trained to expect love as an overwhelming force, and then when that same uncontrollable force decides not to overwhelm us any more,  suddenly wer are supposed to be able to change that. We can't, so we get frustrated. And then we kill off a perfectly healthy, reliable, wholesome relationship just to get off of a bad trip.

It's so crazy it's decidedly funny, as long as you're not stuck right in the middle of it.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Amiable Amy, Creepy Blogger - A Challenge

When you watch those two videos, don't you feel that one gives you warm, fuzzy feelings of positivity and empowerment, while the other is just... creepy? One makes you want to hug the person, while the other just makes you want to call the cops.

Actually, one is by Amy Walker, the other is by yours truly, and mine is a reaction to hers.

This blog is not about those videos per se, but about the reactions to those videos - and more precisely, what our reactions can teach us about ourselves.

Of course, one cannot contest the fact that Amy Walker is way more attractive than me. She is also a well-known actress. And, of course, she is a woman.

When I did my video, my intention was simply to spread the positive message she gave, a message about acceptance and empowerment. I thought that this was a good idea, and wouldn't it be nice if the thing went viral and lots of people started sharing their own version of that positivity.

Of course, this is not how things went down. The comments to my video were largely negative. At first, I was a bit angry - not as in, gotta go and kill a coder - just a bit frustrated. After the anger subsided, I became fascinated with the question why people would reject a message of positivity and empowerment, in an environment like youtube where no harm whatsoever can be done, at least not directly.

So here are my hypotheses:

One is about the halo-effect - the well-known psychological effect where tend to ascribe positive ethical attributes to people who we find physically attractive. It's why protagonists in a romantic drama will never be ugly, fat people with pimples and a dry-speaking challenge. People like that can, of course, be the most loving, caring and gentle of all. We just don't like to see them in our movies, and if we do, we can't have them be the good guys. It's why Legolas is blond and beautiful, while Uruk-Hai are black, ugly, and covered in mud (yes, that's also a racist stereotype, right there). Noble immortality and ugliness do not mix.

Another is about a gender stereotype. A woman being generally supportive to humanity is believable, but if a guy does the same, then he must be after something. Men are not supposed to behave that way.

The third is, of course, simply a lack of acting skills on my part. When Amy Walker wants to do "supportive", then she does, while I can only try to be honest. We have to work with what we've got. I could improve those skills, but frankly, the thing doesn't matter enough to me. (And, of course, I have the very same prejudices and biases in my head as everyone does, which might also help explain why it does come out a bit weird when I try it.)

And last but not least, there is the issue of general cautiousness. A stranger on the street telling me, out of the blue, that I am a good person who deserves to reach his goals - something fishy must be going on! I'd fully expect them to ask for money in the next sentence. Even if it's the internet, even if the guy cannot actually hurt me, still my gut reaction is to run away fast and far.

So, here's your challenge:

  • Re-watch those two videos
  • Be absolutely positive about the fact that you really know nothing about Amy or me
  • Be aware of your emotional reactions
  • Instead of projecting those feelings on me or Amy Walker, look into your soul and try to find out what they tell you about yourself
  • Post your insights somewhere on the internet