Monday 23 December 2013

Shiva/Shakti, Symmetry and Consciousness

     When people come across tantra and hear that it is to do with sex (which it is!) and that there are two principals Shiva and Shakti and they are connected to consciousness and energy, and that they can also be characterised as masculine and feminine; many are delighted. It is the answer to their deepest hopes; how to have a good relationship and great sex and be spiritual all wrapped in to one new package. They then make one massive mistake if they only takes Western neo-tantra as their guide. They project on to tantra a sort of symmetry and mutuality. It becomes about Mrs Shakti and Mr Shiva and how they can have this equal, mutual, satisfying partnership. It becomes couple therapy externally, or for their inner estranged couple. They may link it to the yin/yang symbol with its black and white fish eternally chasing each other in a circle. Perfectly complementary and equal. If they are women; and get that tantra deeply honours the feminine as the creator of life itself (which it does!) then it can add a bonus, that after all their suffering under the last few thousand years of patriarchal oppression they will be freed and compensated. If they go to tantra workshops and breathe, move, dance their socks off and get high on; the energy, the cosmic orgasms and the freedom then they are sold! They can both be honoured and worshipped and have everything and a beautiful equal relationship within and, hopefully also, without.

     There is one little problem with this. It simply doesn’t accord with the thousands of years of tantric practices and knowledge which exists as texts and as methods within the deep and sometimes complex world of tantra as it has evolved in many cultures and places. It is not just from India, but there it stayed in the culture so that texts were written and temples built. By about the 11th century it had reached a high point before the Mughal invasion. In England, Stonehenge had long been a ruin and we were busy with 1066 and all that.

     The problem is the symmetry bit. Energy and consciousness are not like Mr and Mrs! Even though in the body the two channels, ida and pingala have a symmetry in their winding journey from the coccyx to the brain, the two qualities are simply not in that sort of relationship.  We certainly can’t get entranced by the energy and phenomena side, and hope that consciousness will follow in time. That simply is addiction. It attracts the child, like sweets in a sweet shop. And tantra workshops can turn in to giant sweetshops and most of the participants become exited children. Great fun and for many a necessary relief. Hence lots of tantra festivals now. But it hooks what the Jungians called the puer and puella eternus, the eternal child, and the tantra world is full of such figures taking refuge from the challenges of being a grownup in a very difficult world. The idea of a regular practice seems ridiculous. As if I need to practice eating chocolate cake! 

     I think it is usually the women who notice first.  The men, often supported by the odd belief that polyamory is central to tantra, are simply not quite there! Presence and awareness are notoriously hard to teach compared to energy practices with breath, sound and movement as their simple and effective guidelines.  Women can also become so busy “skydancing” that they never quite get around to landing and having their feet firmly on the cool damp Earth of reality.

     The fact is that at one of the highest and most sublime times when tantra was flourishing in 11th Kashmir;  Abhinavagupta a great practitioner and scholar (for there was no separation then) wrote The first Shiva sutra, Chaitanyamatma, which can be translated as ‘The nature of reality is consciousness’, or, ‘Everything is consciousness’. It may not be immediately obvious that everything is Consciousness. Our culture is based on its opposite; everything is atoms and stuff. Kashmir Shaivism says that Consciousness underlies all creation. It was there in the beginning, it is there in the middle and it will be there in the end. It is the fundamental stuff of the universe. In Hindu tantra there is the wonderful image of Kali dancing on the prone
body of Shiva. Far from being the patriarchs’ nightmare of being killed and trampled underfoot, it shows that Shiva, as consciousness (he isn’t dead but in deep meditation), is the platform on which everything can be danced into existence. Consciousness, and its cousin, awareness; is the basis of tantra. 

     There is no easy symmetry between Shiva and Shakti. There has to be the deepest respect for consciousness first. So Indian tantra says that everyone is Shiva. Without that foundation, we are lost in maya; in illusion. At the Solstice, as we mark the return of the light; the return of the sun, it is good to worship the light of consciousness for it is from the light of consciousness that things arise; just as it is the return of the sun that will allow the seeds to grow and abundance to flower.

Monday 18 November 2013

India 2

         It’s often the quirky little things in a country that make it either delightful or infuriating. I’ve been nearly two weeks in India and done lots of very ordinary shopping with cash but have not yet handled a coin. When I came a few years ago there was still a one rupee note. Now I think the lowest denomination is five rupees; almost exactly 5p. Small change in shops is given in chewing gum or matches or biscuits. It’s delightful and I suppose means that you can’t deal with vending machines which would never read the dirty, worn banknotes of India, but with real people. More infuriating in Goa, a green fertile area is that green salad in a restaurant consists of thin slices of peeled cucumber (to remove all traces of green), and tomatoes, onions and carrots. I am beginning to think I must be crazy to want lettuce, spinach, watercress, rocket…I’ll gorge on that when I get home. Delightful, is India’s creative ways of spelling English words. Here is my favourite from an earlier trip;  If I was setting up a Secretarial Service I think I would check the spelling of the word before having the sign made!  Still, there are probably more native, mother-tongue English speakers in India than in England so perhaps we are wrong.  Mixed, is the constant power cuts. As I have a laptop; when the power goes I still have a couple of hours left to run and have never run out of juice yet. It’s just harder to see any paper documents and the novelty of candles on the table wears off after a while. Delightful is clich├ęd or old-fashioned English in the newspapers. A phrase like “the long arm of the law nabbed the ruffians in the wee hours.”  is not uncommon.  

Monday 11 November 2013


I arrived in India as it launched a rocket to Mars to look for methane. It's just what the half a billion poor here need; to answer the question of  whether any life form has farted on Mars in the last few million years (the answer was discovered twenty years ago – it’s no!). The Chinese Mars rocket failed, so this is a chance to get one up on the Chinese. Gandhi would be spinning in his grave if it were not for the fact that he was burnt not buried.

The country is as vibrant, crazy and alive as ever. It is impossible to tell by observation of most roads what side of the road people drive on or the function of constantly sounding the horn. If it is to warn the other road users - it seems to have no effect; but perhaps it is a friendly greeting. If so the country is the friendliest ever as the cacophony is overwhelming particularly at junctions. Where I am, in the beautiful green countryside of Goa there are motorbikes everywhere. Locals seem to be puzzled or offended by the sight of any Westerner walking and will turn their motorbike around to insist that it should be a taxi for you. It is the one thing I dislike most about this part of India; that with so many people trying to make a living from a relatively few tourists, any apparently friendly approach is somehow connected with trying to get you to buy something. I find it hard to steer a course between being pulled in to pointless and mutually frustrating interactions and ignoring almost everyone Indian.

The things I do want, like another pair of socks, are impossible to buy among the hundreds of stalls of bright cotton print dresses and throws and Bob Marley t-shirts and endless offers of “smoke?”.  However after half a week I have now found a green salad that contains something greener than a peeled cucumber.  The chaos seems to contain a great deal of good-natured tolerance within and among the many ethnic, national and religious groupings. For example the 150 million Muslims here do not produce many of the world’s terrorists or suicide bombers. 

Here in Goa, thanks to the Portuguese colonisation it is mostly Christian, with some houses having gruesome portraits of a crucified Christ on their walls. Still no worse than Kali with her necklace of severed heads. As I write this, the electricity has just cut out again leaving only the glow of my laptop screen.  Yesterday it was down when a tall coach caught some of the wires. It eventually proceeded with two men on the roof with bamboo poles pushing the live wires up as it drove. Suddenly the electricity is back and my exercise in pure touch typing is over.  It’s time for bed.

Sunday 3 November 2013

Awakening Sexual Aliveness

Here is the recording of a webinar that I have just done with my colleague Cassandra. It has lots of information, particularly directed at women at awakening your sexual aliveness. Do watch it or forward it to anyone.
Awakening Sexual Aliveness Webinar 

Wednesday 21 August 2013

The Paper & The Mirror

Nearly all therapy, personal development and self-help is based on the idea of learning, improving ourselves and having better habits or more skills.  We may improve our ability to meditate so we have less distracting thoughts. Or perhaps we will remove some past traumas and issues through therapy so we can be more effective in the present. Or even go to the gym and exercise more and improve our health and fitness. All of these are based on the idea of a journey to a better state and they have a long history. In America, self-improvement is virtually a national duty and even classically and mythologically, The Hero's Journey involves getting to some better place. Essentially it is seeing us as a thing to be improved. We are like a sheet of paper where past writing can be erased, new and better words written, and creases ironed out.

But there is another perspective which is deeper and very different. It is the perspective that we are not like a sheet of paper but like a perfect mirror reflecting whatever is there equally and holding on to nothing. The mirror is forever pure, unsullied infinitely open and clear.  This could be called our Natural Presence; recognising this enlightened state as our true nature and present now. It does not have to be achieved through effort. The analogies to this are, traditionally in Tibetan teachings in particular, being like the open blue sky; vast and not reduced by the flight of birds or passage of clouds (ie. thoughts, sensations or dramas). We are then not experiencing ourselves as a thing to be changed but as without essential substance, a space through which thoughts, feelings and sensations pass from within us and impressions from around us.

The first approach is useful and can work for many provided they have enough of a sense of ego available to be improved (unfortunately for some, they do not and then self-help books are cruel in promising what they cannot deliver). However, it is essential to realise that the very success in striving with the ego for whatever we are trying to achieve - including more compassion or wisdom; has the likely effect of binding us to that ego. That identification is then an obstacle.  Becoming "Empty, Loose and Natural" and using practises which can give a direct experience of our innate spaciousness beyond duality is then the only remedy. Energy work cannot do this as energy work is building something such as improved flow of energy in the body or more balanced chakras. In Dzogchen the experience of their basic open-eyed meditation method, of relaxing in to infinite openness and allowing everything to arise offering it hospitality as each thought, feeling or sensation is self-liberating and will dissolve into space on its own.  The Self-Enquiry method of Ramana Maharshi with the question of who is the experiencer is part of this pathless path. In tantra there is also the possibility of using ritual and intention and some energy practices to dissolve into the Divine becoming the vast spaciousness as Shiva.

Paper and Mirror both have dangers. For Paper it is the endless nature of self-improvement and the possible risks of pride and attachment ("look at how hard I am trying, or how much insight I have", or its inversion "look how messed up I am!"). For the Mirror each way has dangers; sleepiness or dissociation or being stuck in the Mind with the question "Who am I?". Tantra is the most dangerous of all; addiction to intensity, and grandiose inflation are the two most common ("Wow, that was amazing!" and "I am a Goddess")

In some ways the first approach; as paper is more like Shakti, about creating things and the second more like Shiva, the open ground of consciousness itself.  In tantra; Shiva is the ground on which Shakti, the creative power of life can dance the world into being.  Chaitanyamatma can be translated as "Everything is Consciousness"  and is the first Shiva sutra, in Kashmir Shavism. In my view the highest teachings of tantra.

So; work at improving the Paper but open to some opportunities which may give the direct experience of  the Mirror as Space itself. In tantra workshops and in individual sessions this may arise but can never be engineered. Don't become too busy with self-improvement; there is no self - its a trap!

Sunday 21 April 2013

Symbols of Fear, Hate and Adoration

 Humans are funny creatures; we respond more to symbols than to reality and can therefore be so easily manipulated. So much more has been publicised about the bombs at the Boston marathon that killed three than the explosion in Texas two days later than killed 15 people. The Boston bombs come under the heading and therefore the hysteria of terrorism rather than the senseless madness of a couple of very disturbed people. The Texas fertiliser factory explosion is just part of the lax health and safety of the agrichemical industry which is routinely destroying our food and our earth. It is big business and therefore not a threat to us!

            Here in UK, there is so much fuss about an old lady dying in her sleep in a £3,200 a night suite at the Ritz Hotel. Mrs. Thatcher as a political force died twenty years ago when her Cabinet threw her out. She was a symbol rather than a person. I can't celebrate her death (but it does sound like quite a nice way to go...) but she represent a personification of the forces that have removed ethics, morality and compassion from the business and political world and we are today reaping the results of this as globalised casino capitalism dominates the planet.

Tuesday 9 April 2013

Iron Lady Rusts

Mrs Thatcher broke the mold of boring elderly men as politicians who looked and as acted like everyone's dad or granddad. In that way she may have supported the aspirations of women. However she did this by being "the only man in the Cabinet" and being more confrontational, intransigent and bullying than most men would ever dare to be.  Her most destructive achievement was to completely remove all traces of ethics or  morality from politics. Before her the twentieth century had given us some inroads of ethics and morality into public life; Gandhi, socialism, communism, civil rights, trade unions - though all imperfect, and some like communism very distorted.  She replaced it with her ideology of the individual and the market and paved the way for "casino capitalism" which has got the world into the mess it is in today. She also gave us soft ice-cream from her work as a food chemist on the emulsification of fats and, I believe that same research, gave us Baileys Irish Cream; great with ice when in the hot tub! May she rust in peace.

Wednesday 20 March 2013


Today is the Autumn Equinox, the mid-point of day and night. The sun is overhead at the equator at midday travelling further South to give us a winter.

Celebrating this; links us to nature's cycles and a deeper connection to our own cycles, the balancing of darkness and light, the power of letting go, and the acknowledgement that everything changes. 

Tantra as a spiritual practice is always ultimately about Oneness and the skilful use of polarities like Shiva and Shakti  - or consciousness and energy. It is tempting to put the two together and think in terms of a harmonious balance of Shiva and Shakti. This can be misleading. Putting together two different types of qualities can  cause more problems than doing so may solve. The familiar yin yang symbol of a black and white sector whirling together has limitations but it is better than mixing black and white together and getting grey! 

This is true even with the Equinox as a balance of light and darkness. They are not exact opposites - one candle will dispel the darkness, but one bit of darkness doesn't remove all light.... On a planetary level from the perspective of space there isn't day and night just a beautiful blue-green planet spinning in space. 

Whatever the equinox means to you, may you be blessed, may you be loved, and may you be held gently in this golden autumn light.

Sunday 10 March 2013

Tonight is Maha ShivaRatri

It's probably not very often that Mother's Day in the UK falls on the same day as the start of the great puja to Shiva in India. Maha Shivaratri, the spiritual night of Lord Shiva, is considered to be the most sacred night of the year. There is fasting during the day and the puja goes on all night with mantras to Shiva whilst anointing the shivalingam with water, milk, honey, and flowers.

It happens the night before the new moon and is a chance to honour Shiva and the masculine principle of consciousness and awareness. For everything is consciousness and it is on this foundation principle that the world is danced into being through the awesome creative power of Shakti.  

There has probably never been a time in history when the principle of the Divine Masculine needs to be honoured and affirmed as it does now, for it is precisely the qualities of the Divine Masculine that can create the space and the safety for good mothers and mothering to happen. Far too often, in many cultures across the world women are trying to hold both poles of masculine and feminine at the same time and be mother and father to their own inner child and to their "outer children". Men are physically absent for many reasons or emotionally absent from their own lack of connection to the Divine Masculine and their historic lack of good enough mothering. They then end up as wounded, disconnected and dangerous; perpetual teenagers fuelling the cycles violence that are destroying life.  So today, honour mothers and tonight, honour the masculine principle; though you might want to ask before pouring milk and honey on his lingam!

Friday 15 February 2013

Teaching Tantra

          If I were to suggest to you that tantra has little to do with intimacy and even less to do with sex you would probably think I was crazy; looking at most books and workshops around. Agehananda Bharati the great Indian scholar of tantra estimated that seven percent of tantric texts were to do with sex and sixty percent were to do with mantras. In the Vigyan Bhairav Tantra a 1,700 year old text of 112 methods of meditation only 3 are to do with sex. Mantras and yantras are intrinsic to tantra. But "What of the Kama Sutra!" you may cry. It has nothing to do with tantra; it is a bedroom manual for rich Indian men to try and teach them something about women and sex. Mostly it is OK (but bear in mind we have an edited version) but tantra is a spiritual practice and you won't find anything much about spirituality or consciousness in the Kama Sutra.

            So what is tantra about? It is about not intimacy with a person but about the identity or resonance between you and the whole universe and about subtle ways of  "seducing the powers of nature" as one modern Indian tantric text has as its subtitle. The intimacy in tantra is intimacy with the whole. Some of the practices of tantra; the more popular ones, can help with intimacy with a partner or help to heal personal issues; but these are a side-effect and can be a diversion. If you strengthen the small ego, the self then you can create more barriers. You are strengthening the spiritual ego; what Chogyam Trungpa called spiritual materialism. This is certainly true if you think that the essence of tantra is challenging restrictions and behaving outrageously. If you can dance naked on the table; you may be drunk or crazy, but you are not necessarily tantric! This was a way in tantra of challenging the Vedantic orthodoxy several hundred years ago but nowadays anything goes anyway. If you realise your essence as the divine you may be enlightened but you may also be caught in a grandiose and narcissistic delusion; "I am a Goddess so everything I say is right!"

          Cynically, you could say modern tantra is sexual because sex sells anything including enlightenment; however sex and desire can provide a motivation for practice and can help the skillful development of relationship. Ecstatic states give a taste of enlightenment. There are many traps in all this.  For example; there is absolutely no connection that I can see between tantra and polyamory or polyfuckery. Both of which are OK lifestyle choices but very little to do with tantra and again easily subject to much delusion. Relationships just becoming another acquisitive commodity, If there is any sexual lifestyle implied by tantra itself it is probably celibacy and there is only one tantra book I have ever come across that uses the word celibacy with any prominence (it is the excellent Eros, Consciousness and Kundalini by a therapist Stuart Sovatsky for the record).

     The real difficulty in teaching tantra is very easy to state. It is much easier to teach about energy than it is about consciousness. Energy is sexy (literally!). It's usually fun and fits with our need for more and more intense experiences. Breath, sound and movement the three keys in tantra are all about increasing energy flow. Consciousnesses by contrast is boring!!! It is still, steady, spacious but empty.  However, traditional tantra is clear in Abhinavagupta's first Shiva Sutra; Chaitanyamatma. ‘Everything is Chiti, everything is Consciousness’. How to teach about consciousness and awareness the platform on which Shakti creates the whole universe? How to get people to value the floor and  pole which allow the pole dancer to perform? To do this requires loosening our addiction to phenomena and experiences. There are many more methods than the traditional one of sitting on your meditation cushion observing the mind or the breath; though they are still excellent. Osho has given us some methods that combine movement with observation and stillness. Ramana Maharshi has given us Self Enquiry; continually looking for the questioner not for the answer to the question. Of course Ramana was not very sexy - he never got away from his mother; she came after him; and Osho is more cuddly than sexy.

Saturday 2 February 2013

Imbolc - Life re-awakens within

 Today is the first day of Spring; it is Imbolc  derived from the Celtic words for “in the belly,” or “the quickening.” in recognition of the fact that the subtle energies and the life forces of this side Earth are becoming more alive and vibrant. Snowdrops are out. It is half way between the winter solstice and feminine the  spring equinox.

Imbolc is associated in the Celtic tradition with Brigid, the virginal first form of The Triple Goddess -
Encountering this energy form is exciting and inspirational. She is called The Bride because Imbolc sees the first ‘marriage’ of the two energy polarities - the returning male energy and the ever-present female energy combining to create a vibrant and creative impulse which brings forth life.

So celebrate life every day; but particularly today. Celebrate the life of the body, and Shakti as the creative force of life itself which again is beginning to stir in the earth and in the body.  Do it symbolically and find your inner feminine or find a woman and celebrate her.

Friday 25 January 2013

Don't Grow up!

I am at a centre where this sign is on the noticeboard. Don't grow up - its a trap. I imagine many of us can smile, recognise that our adult life hasn't been all we hoped for and that work, duty, mortgages etc have restricted us. Many will have felt trapped at some point. However, for people with bad childhoods, growing up was the escape. Perhaps it ended in moving out of the frying pan in to the fire! There are quite a lot of people I meet who are trapped in a child-like way of seeing the world. They can be quite happy there but are often frustrating for those who are around them. They can also be rather powerless; unless using charm. Jung talked of the puer (or puella) aeternus the eternal child. Such people can have a lot of spontaneity and simple joy and that is worth a lot in a world that is often short on this and has become dull and grey.

However, spontaneity and being like a child do not allow for some of the important processes of life which can require delayed gratification. It isn't always a lot of fun being a parent and children need parents who are adults; even though it is important that they can also play and let go .We cannot abandon our inner child (or children) but they cannot run the person. The person requires personal growth and development.. This is the Soul's journey of individuation.  Being trapped in the nursery stops all of that.

When my son had major surgery, I was very thankful that the surgeon in charge, had certainly spent many thousands of hours studying and practicing to get to the top of his profession. When I fly I really don't want too much of a party happening on the flight deck!

Tuesday 1 January 2013

American Beauty

There are very few films I would want to see more than once; I’m not a film buff, but I always wanted to see Sam Mendes film American Beauty again. I remember from the first time about ten years ago, the stark beauty of the photography and the dark message about what was underneath the plastic superficiality of the American Dream. On the second viewing I was able to see clearly that the film is about the power of sex, passion and love and how it enabled the central character Lester, played by Kevin Spacey, to reach some sort of state of peace and even enlightenment. It is a film about the male path to enlightenment.

From the opening, the film is about life and death as Lester the narrator, who is 42 says that he will be dead within the year. There is a film of a plastic bag swirling and dancing in the wind as if alive and of a girl, his daughter casually wanting him to be killed.  In a way he is dead already stuck in a job in advertising and with a family where they are all so separate and isolated.  His only child, Jane is a lifeless cynical teenager and his wife, Carolyn, enthralled by the America dream, takes the job of making money seriously to fuel the perfect lifestyle she has with a large lifeless house and big car.  She is more masculine than Lester, living through will and ambition to sell houses. “I will sell this house today” and in pursuit of career advancement, has passionate sex with a successful rival in real estate. He is the King and introduces her to the thrill and power of shooting.  For Carolyn sex moves her from the second to the third chakra from sex and passion to power and she comes to the house near the end of the film with a gun , “I will not be a victim!”

The only simple heartful household are a gay male couple who welcome with flowers the new family to the neighbourhood. They are an even more dysfunctional family, again with an only child. The husband, Col. Frank Fitts comes near to a parody of the discipline obsessed ex-Marine; strongly homophobic and reactionary. He almost destroyed his son Ricky and had him committed to a psychiatric hospital for a while. Ricky has learnt to live with his controlling father by leading a double life, pretending to be even more reactionary than his father whilst drug dealing on the side. His mother has been turned into a shadow, looking like a walking corpse in her loveless and sexless married life.  Ricky, a strange figure keeps a connection to life in his voyeuristic filming of people and of death. He sees the beauty in death and it is his film of a swirling plastic bag that is at the beginning of the film. He lives through his movie camera giving a detached but perceptive awareness of life around him. His defeat of numbed out life in the army and the psychiatric hospital and his awareness and his love of death and beauty symbolised by the video camera lay the foundation for his confronting his father and going for a chance of love with Jane, leaving his hopeless family behind.

Ricky’s household is almost colourless, but next door with Lester, Carolyn and Jane there is some colour. in the film red symbolises life and passion and Lester’s house has red roses and a red door.  Red roses appear in many of the shots in the house, and in the garden are tended by his wife symbolising the feminine principle as the guardians of passion. The passion and lust they symbolise pour from the heart of Angela, (the Angel!) a friend of his daughter in the first hallucinatory scene where he imagines she is dancing for him alone. She is also ambitious to be a model and a star and plays the sexually sophisticated teenager determined to climb the ladder of success with her beauty and sexual allure. Lester’s obsessive thinking and lusting after her give him the impetus to leave his job and embark on self-improvement through working out to get his body into a better shape in the garage of his house; the back to basics of the base chakra and becoming embodied.  In his imagination kissing Angela; red rose petals come from her mouth; another transmission of love. Passion is the key.

When Lester makes his sexual approach to her she tells him that she is a virgin and this shocks him out of his lust and he sees this beautiful young woman as his daughter and as the feminine in need of love and attention and above all protection; not as a sex object but as Shakti,  the Feminine principle which he truly loves unconditionally. This moment is his awakening, his enlightenment and the opening of his heart. He had been at his third chakra in his body-building and his assertively standing up to his wife and now he moves to the level of the heart. At the end of the film having rejected everything not in alignment with his Soul he feels wonderful for the first time in years. “I’m great, really great” when asked how he is.  In that moment he becomes enlightened. Even when his neighbour shoots him for exposing his repressed homosexual desires, he says “I suppose I should feel really pissed off by the end of my stupid little life”, but then he sees all the beauty and love of his life in flashbacks. He was able to avoid being stuck in half-dead survival mode and mired in the shallow consumerism of his plastic house; he moved through the willpower needed to leave, be assertive and develop his body without becoming attached or aggressive. His heart began to open in finding compassion for his deeply troubled neighbour Col. Frank Fitt and he was finally transformed by love for Angela and through her the Divine itself.  At the end of the film the Beatles music supports this theme of love” Because the world is round it turns me on.” How can even death spoil that Vision of Love…