WHAT IS TANTRA… AND HOW DO I START?

 

         Image by Chris Herzfeld, Camlight Productions

In this week’s blog, professional dancer/choreographer and Temple Dance Facilitator for Eliyah, Erin Fowler, shares her recent experiences at the Spain Living Tantra Retreat where she and 24 other souls met for a magical week of self-discovery, expression and connection. You can see more of Erin’s work at www.erinfowlerprojects.com.

Just over a week ago, myself and a group of 24 phenomenally inspiring humans met nervously, and very excitedly, at the stunning Hidden Paradise Resort in the beautiful mountains of southern Spain to begin a journey inwards to the self. In those 7 days we made strong heartfelt connections and went deep into learn about ourselves.

I have been learning from and working with the Eliyah Tantra School for a little over 3 years now and it has been a deep, challenging and ultimately life changing journey. I am a very different person from where I was three years ago, and Tantra is responsible for a lot of that.

Most people in my hometown of Adelaide know me as an artist – a dancer and musician – and a business woman who co-founded a successful arts organisation and studio called The Mill for 7 years.

My “spiritual” journey has always been a lot more private and something that I have struggled to confidently articulate for fear of being seen as too “hippy dippy” or a bit weird. But now, at 31, I am ready to combine my two worlds – that of self-development and spiritual practice and that of the arts world. It feels important to me that they merge, as both are equally important to me and together, represent the work I am passionate to bring into the world.

When I mention Tantra or people ask me what it means I realise that the first thing to address is the perception that Tantra is just about crazy long sex sessions, or the Karma Sutra. These certainly can be parts of Tantra but are not the whole picture. Tantra is about coming into the body to listen closely to what it has to say, and about living and embracing a full life.

The Living Tantra Retreat is structured around the 7 chakras or energy centres of the body, moving from the base or Root Chakra, all the way up to the Crown at the top of the head. So, as I share my experiences, day by day, of the Spain Living Tantra Retreat, I will also share in this blog what Tantra means to me and how it might relate to your life. There are also links at the bottom of the page to the next Eliyah Tantra Retreat in Bali in March of next year.

 

DAY ONE: The Root Chakra // Safety & Surrender

Tantra helps us to embrace all parts of life. It encourages us to look inwards to all that we ignore, repress, avoid or distract ourselves from. To live Tantra is to live all colours of life – the pleasure and the pain, the joy and the sadness.

 

On day one, we explored the root chakra, the source of safety and security in the body. It is also where a lot of our more challenging, dense emotions such as anger, rage, grief and fear lie. As children, we are often told to supress these emotions in place of the more acceptable ones like happiness and contentment. But the more we suppress these emotions over time and into adulthood, the more they persist until, like a pressure cooker, we find ourselves lashing out in anger, falling into deep depression or, in my case, having regular panic attacks as our body tries to communicate to us that something isn’t right. Expressing the stored emotions in my body is still a challenge for me, but witnessing 25 humans courageously face their grief, anger and fear during the Living Tantra Retreat, inspires and supports me in my own healing journey. If you find your emotions often get the better of you, if you don’t understand your extreme emotional reactions, or if, like me, you find you “just don’t get angry” then Tantra can be an amazing way to get in touch with these emotions so they no longer control you. Through this first day, I discovered how much I seek and rely on external validation to feel valid and okay in this world, and that my need to please others often drives me to act in ways and do things that I don’t actually want to do.  

 

DAY TWO: The Sacral Chakra // Healthy Sexuality & Embracing Pleasure

Tantra is the only philosophical and spiritual practice that includes, rather supresses sexuality. It provides a much-needed education on all parts of sexuality.

Why would we ignore one of the most important parts of the human experience in our spiritual practice? Tantra isn’t just about sex, but sexuality and owning one’s shame, one’s desires and boundaries and learning how to effectively communicate these to a lover is important work in developing a healthy relationship to sexuality. For me, this was certainly the reason I was initially drawn to Tantra. The way the mainstream world approaches sexuality never sat right with me. Like many others, I felt pressure to be sexual way before I was ready and have worked through a lot of shame that was planted by school teachers and society from an early age. I also felt frustrated that I couldn’t find examples of sexual interaction in mainstream media that gave sex the reverence I felt it deserved. Not in a Christian “no sex before marriage” or prudish way (not that there’s anything wrong with that, if you choose that either), but in an acknowledgement of the energy exchange that exists when two beings merge bodies. I believe this reverence can be present in both a one-night stand and a long-term relationship, but the reverence for the act of creation was something that was missing in my sexual education, that Tantra was able to provide.

On day two of the Living Tantra Retreat we learned how to own our sexual energy, how to develop a relationship with our own sexual energy before engaging with another, and how to create a sense of sacredness around it, using pleasure and sexuality to connect with something deeper than ourselves.

For me, the releasing of sexual shame is one of the most significant healings that Tantra has provided. To think that I can now get up in front of a room full of people and talk about sexuality is something I never would have dreamed would be possible. And yet, liberating people from the constrictive and harmful sexual ideas our culture currently promotes is something I am incredibly passionate about. For me, there is no question that our society’s suppression of healthy conversation and education about sexuality, pleasure, consent and communication is one of the reasons we still have so much sexual abuse and harm in our society. At these retreats, you can feel the human yearning we all have for connection and safety, and Tantra is one of the most profound ways you can learn to do this.

 

DAY 3: The Solar Plexus // Ignite your Power

Tantra teaches us to be completely responsible for our emotions rather than projecting them onto others. It offers a process that forces us to stop reacting from our inner child, to face our subconscious shadows and wounds, and to become responsible, self-accountable humans.

Day 3 of the Living Tantra retreat saw us going even deeper into our subconscious wounding and emotional triggers. There are undeniable virtues of the spiritual practices of tolerance, compassion, patience and forgiveness, but, in my experience, until you can truly understand and release your subconscious beliefs, desires and fears, then you will continue to react with charge anytime someone behaves in a way that triggers you. Most people either react to triggers with anger and irritation – resulting in guilt and shame afterwards, or go into victim or self-pity mode, resulting in feeling sorry for yourself, inaction and the belief that the world is against you. I certainly do both of these things at times.

Facing your shadows is uncomfortable but transformative work. For me, I had to understand that my extreme jealousy of other’s success, while sometimes motivating, was a result of me not allowing myself to truly step into the fullness of my being and do what makes me most happy. By gradually shifting my life towards my dreams, my jealousy is a lot less strong. I also learned that my family members (who are usually our greatest triggers) were usually just reflecting back parts of me that I didn’t want to look at, such as my impatience with others, my discomfort in speaking up or my sharp tongue. When I react at their behaviour, I now look at what part of me also behaves that way.

Holding each other in our shadows was a powerful experience. Facing our extreme fears and desires, together, created safety and profound shifts in all of our beings.

 

Day 4: The Heart Chakra // Relationship Tantra

Tantra teaches us the importance of cultivating a healthy relationship within ourselves (Inner Union) before we create romantic relationship with another (Sacred Union). It reminds us that our longest relationship is with ourselves, and that in order to love another fully we must first love ourselves, in all our beauty and in all our pain.

Relationship Tantra is one of the other areas that people are most drawn to with Tantra. Most human beings yearn for harmony and passion in their romantic relationships and yet, after the honeymoon period, all of the traits we’ve tried to hide from our new lover, slowly rise to the surface, as do theirs and we can find it incredibly painful to suddenly be in conflict with the person we fell in love with. As someone who struggled to even enter a committed romantic relationship until my late 20s, I learned a lot about myself in relationships through Tantra.

One of the main concepts of Relationship Tantra is that of polarity. That all of us have a masculine and feminine side and that this can be dominantly expressed by one or the other in a partnership. Women tend to be polarised in their feminine energy and men tend to be polarised in their masculine energy. Women tend to lean into love seeking closeness, heart connection and relationship whereas men tend to lean into freedom with their purpose and direction leading the way. Obviously both sexes can exist in both energies, and in non-binary individuals, these can be more closely balanced – but being able to understand these two energies within yourself can be incredibly useful in understanding your relationship dynamic.

Through Tantra I began to better understand my tendencies towards Love Avoidance. Like many modern business women, I spent most of my time in my masculine energies, and this meant I was often attracted to men who had more prominent feminine energies and who leaned more into ‘Love Addiction.’ But not only did this Love Avoidance mean I ran away from love regularly (and very well), it also meant that I stayed in my masculine energies and this almost killed me. That may sound overly dramatic, but I was in extreme burn out for two years, with anxiety and panic attacks riddling my body on a daily basis. I did everything I could do ignore it, but eventually my body forced me to listen and this year has been a journey of forming a stronger relationship with my feminine – allowing her to lead and tell me when she is tired, nourishing my body and trying to quieten my masculine which always wants to forge ahead with the next project. It has also been a lesson in opening my heart, communicating my boundaries and being brave in love.

 

Day 5: The Throat Chakra // Mastery & Purpose

Tantra helps us to discover our true purpose in life and to have the courage and vision to put our dreams into action. It takes us from the patriarchal, masculine ways of viewing work and success and encourages us to deeply listen to our feminine intuition, creativity and divine inspiration. To follow her into a place that allows work to be nourishing, invigorating, authentic and deeply trusting in the universe.

On Day 5 we were given passionate and powerful teachings from Chantelle and Aaron about finding your true purpose in life. This requires deep listening to the deeper parts of your being, and a rejection of the current masculine ideas of success such as “you have to be busy to succeed”, “you must work incredibly hard to make money” or “success takes big sacrifice.”

For me, this day was one of the most powerful of the retreat. As a type-A achiever most of my life, I still find it incredibly hard to trust that slowing down, going within and listening to my body is as important as getting through the to-do list, starting new projects and replying instantly to every message, email and call.

Even though I am coming out of one of my life’s biggest lessons – extreme burn out – the conditioned voices in my head that I have to be working incredibly hard every day in order to be successful is still very much wired into my being. Some days I am successful in quietening that voice, and other days it consumes me and before I know it, I am doing 5 things at once, rushing around and writing emails with a tight chest. I know intellectually that this doesn’t lead to good and efficient work, but damn it’s hard.

However, I know deep in my being, that shifting from a masculine driven work style to a feminine one is the most important thing I can do for myself at this stage in my life. For me, it is a choice between living the life that is expected of you and choosing something more for yourself. It’s about choosing to speak your truth, even when it’s scary, choosing to commit to your passion, even if the path is unknown and jumping off the metaphorical cliff, even when you don’t know where you will land.

For the past 6 years I have used social media, Netflix, and overworking, saying yes to every opportunity, to disconnect from my tired body and numb out. I used these things to avoid listening to my body that was trying to tell me I was on the wrong path. But I don’t want to do that anymore.

You know that feeling when you are doing something that lights you up, that feels so good that even working gives you energy? I want more of that! I want to feel alive, even when I am working. This takes discipline to say no to the things that aren’t in alignment and letting go of the need for validation from the external world. It’s about working smartly and taking regular breaks out in nature or moving your body – doing things that increase your feel-good hormones. It’s about defining your own values rather than living by those set by your parents or society and knowing that you have your own back. It’s about stepping into your purpose with mastery, allowing the feminine to dance through you while your masculine leads you forwards with clarity and discipline.

 

Day 6: The Third Eye Chakra // Mystical Awakening

Tantra allows us to slow down and come into a place of deep listening to the universe. To access the mystical parts of human existence – and to find a way to integrate a spiritual practice into the everyday experience of being a human in the modern world. It pays homage to ancient traditions and allows you to find a practice that works for you. It’s about remembering your true essence and oneness with the universe, allowing you to access greater depths of reverence, gratitude and vision.

Third Eye Chakra day saw us begin with the practice of Kirtan – the Indian practice of singing repetitive mantras or sacred sayings as a way to demonstrate your gratitude to the divine. For me, accessing these spaces of reverence and devotion allows me to step outside of myself and whatever day to day things are consuming my mind, and come into a place of remembering. It’s like when you avoid going to sleep early at night, but as soon as you finally surrender and allow your eyes to close, there is an overwhelming sense of peace and relief. Using voice, meditation, ritual, movement or anything that allows you to come out of the mind and into the body is a great way to access the third eye.

For me, sharing this blog with my wider community is one way to commit to and own the importance of a spiritual practice in my life. As a performer and artist, the theatre has always been one of the most sacred places for me. When people gather in dark theatres to share in the human experience through artistic expression, that, to me, is divine. It is a ritual with set behaviours and expectations, as well as the mystery and surrender to the unknown. For me, a spiritual life consists of honouring the things we might otherwise ignore. Taking time to express thanks for all the good things in our life and asking for the courage and strength to face the challenges with integrity.

 

Day 7: The Crown Chakra // Awake in the Dream

 

On the final morning of the retreat we came together to celebrate the journey we had shared together. We acknowledged and celebrated the revelations, shifts and self-reflection within ourselves as well as that of our new brothers and sisters. To do this journey alone is incredibly difficult, and I am so grateful for the beings that came to share this week, knowing that we now share a deep bond and are there for each other as we disperse into the world again.

For me, I am always surprised at how little it takes to feel deep connections with other humans. As someone who is always a little shy and cautious meeting new people, I am reminded of how much being open, vulnerable, honest and loving can fast track building strong relationships. I am also reminded that however alone or unique I feel when going through challenges, that actually, we all share the yearning for deep connection, to be seen for who we truly are to have the freedom to express that in the world.

The week was filled with nourishing food, beautiful nature, magical ceremonies that allowed us to deeply experience the teachings of the day and plenty of laughter. I am incredibly grateful to the Eliyah Tantra School for sharing this work and to each of the beings that joined us in Spain.

In summary, Tantra provides a map for navigating the human experience. Whilst it can be confronting and challenging at times, Tantra is a spiritual and life practice that helps you to feel more pleasure, to communicate your fears and desires with clarity, to own your wounds, and to develop stronger relationships where you can show up in true authenticity with another. It allows you to share your unique essence in the world powerfully, to develop a spiritual practice that works for you and be alive in the world in the fullest possible way. Who wouldn’t want that?

I am looking forward to sharing Living Tantra with my community back in Adelaide when I return home from my travels at the end of this year. If you are interested in coming along to some info sessions, attending a work shop or having a private 1:1 session, please email me, hello@erinfowlerprojects.com where you can also sign up to my mailing list. You can also follow me on Instagram and Facebook.

Love, Erin

X

Eliyah Temple Dance Facilitator

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If you are interested in joining us for the next Eliyah Living Tantra Retreat in Bali in March 2020, then check out the link here.

Much more than a spiritual vacation, Living Tantra is an opportunity for rapid transformation in your relationship with Yourself, your Beloved and with Spirit.  Designed to move you closer to the most authentic Self you can be, this retreat helps you integrate Tantra into all aspects of the human experience, with each day dedicated to working with one of the 7 chakras.

Whilst spiritual traditions have generally aimed to achieve God-realization through transcending the physical world, Living Tantra is based on the understanding that every experience we have in this human life is an invitation to meet, realize and embrace our own Divinity. You will be shown the path to INNER Union; the realisation that all you are seeking – love, safety, connection, happiness, desire and confidence – is within you, so that OUTER Union with a beloved is all the richer. 

For any questions, please contact: Tara Meegan (Eliyah Event Manager) // Email: info@eliyah.com.au