“Where we had thought to be alone we shall be with all the world” ~ Joseph Campbell
When I set out on path of yoga many years ago I was totally unsuspecting of how it would turn my worldview on its head and open my heart in ways I didn’t yet comprehend. I had thought that yoga and meditation was about transcending the human experience in favour of some higher realm of freedom and bliss; whereas in fact my practices have guided me to a deeper and fuller appreciation of the earthly realm of experience in all its shades of light and dark.
Yoga invites you to live your experiences with great presence and celebration, to intricately explore the nature of your mind and to get to know your feelings and body deeply. The wisdom of Tantra offers a road map through which to engage in all of life whilst treading the path with courage, vulnerability and love.
Tantra asks us to engage in and say ‘yes’ to life and to see each moment as an opportunity to grow. The root ‘tan’, meaning to stretch or expand and ‘tra’, meaning a device or instrument.
Tantra ~ a vehicle through which to expand, to stretch and grow oneself.
YOGA & TANTRA
Yoga, as a set of practices intended to harmonise the body, mind and spirit, dates back to the time of the Buddha. Around 1000 years later Tantra enriched the system with layers of ritual worship, wisdom teachings, daily discipline and numerous complex techniques involving breathing practices (pranayama), visualisation practices, recitation (mantra), yoga postures (asana), hand gestures (mudra) and energy work (nadis & chakras). The intention was to truly step into life, to embody, feel and know all parts of ourselves and our experiences with the least resistance, and realise oneSelf as a perfect expression of the one Light of Consciousness. Ultimately you cannot be a human being without being connected to the source of Light. All of our cells, every single one, is replaced within 2.5 years, so if we are not our physical body, what are we but a unique expression of energy, vibrating in tune with the pulse (spanda) of the universe.
The Tantric tradition originated from northern India, peaking around 9th -12th centuries, and refers to a very detailed body of spiritual practices aimed at helping the Tantrika (Tantric practitioner) to experience Divinity in all things. Tantra teaches that two aspects create the Divine, Shiva and Shakti; Shiva is the divine masculine (God) and Shakti the divine feminine (Goddess). Shiva is auspicious, pure Consciousness, the Light of Awareness that is the still ground beneath everything that exists. Shakti is the living power that expresses Shiva, She is movement and energy. They are One, in constant play of expression towards one or the other aspect at any one time. A perfect balance of Shiva and Shakti is true spiritual liberation.
Tantra doesn’t like to use the word union, as it gives the idea we are going to unite with something we are not already. This ancient spiritual path, is a life-affirming non-dual (advaita) way of thinking which teaches that the wholeness which we seek is not in the future, but right here within the now. The vast detail of our experience, moment by moment, thoughts, smells, touch, sounds, feelings, make up an ever-present completeness, yet somehow we are always seeking it elsewhere. The Tantric philosophy teaches us to see all parts of ourselves and the universe around us a unique expression of pure Consciousness. Everything we see and know is a reflection of ourselves. A good metaphor is the rolling wave in the ocean that sees itself as separate and is searching for the ocean, yet it is and always was the ocean. We are what we seek!
Much of the intricacy of the work has been lost over the centuries, however what we now know as hatha yoga, the foundation of all modern schools of yoga can be traced back to the ancient roots of Saiva Tantra. If this ignites your curiosity please follow the sources listed at the bottom and allow the work of our modern day philosophers and scholars to take you deeper into this extraordinary mystical world.
For now I would like to draw out some of the teachings, ideas and misconceptions around Tantra and present them in a way that may inspire how we choose to attend to our lives, away from our mat, day to day.
The modern understanding of Tantra is very limited, often referring to new age sexual practices with little or no connection to the original teachings. These of course may be helpful to some, but they are not Tantra. Tantra teaches us to recognise and identify when energies arise within us, be it sexual or any other strong emotion, and to dissociate with the trigger or story behind it. With the breath as your ally and guide you harness the energy, however sweet or sharp, breathe into your heart and withdraw from the narrative pressing on the mind. In the midst of the experience of intense focused energy there may be a transmutation of this feeling state to heightened connection with source awareness. Additionally the practice of bearing witness to this flow helps to bring more space between thought or emotion and reaction and to accept the flow as a divine part of our human experience.
A key teaching of Tantra is that no experience, pleasurable or painful is more divine than any other, or as Christopher Wallis states so simply, ‘Shiva is the substance of every experience whatsoever‘ and ‘whatever is happening right now is as God as it gets’. This understanding is at the essence of freedom, accepting every piece of the journey, all the flavours and degrees of intensity. Freedom comes from showing up fully, moment by moment, rather than waiting for a situation to change. It teachesus not to separate from any part of life, but to know it deeply as an experience of divinity. This of course takes practice and discipline of the mind and body so that we learn to respond through acceptance and with compassion.
Here lies the primary difference between these teachings and those of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, which teach a dual path. Patanjali is guiding the aspirants towards the light of awareness within, yet with the intention to retreat in this dwelling away from the outside world. A wonderful space to be in but then what happens when you are faced with everyday life and interactions? If you are still stuck in and acting through old conditioned patterns (samskaras) there is no liberation or service to the greater whole even if you have touched that magical space inside.
Tantra asks you to show up fully and to say yes to life. It is life affirming and calls for embodiment. This doesn’t make it easy as it requires us to not only breathe in love and pleasure but to face our fears and experience our pain, knowing the sweetness and the sharpness of it all equally. Remembering to look for the divinity in everything can help us to accept the circumstances and the rawness of life around us; every moment an opportunity for growth, an initiation into a fuller more profound experience of life. This journey began for me on my yoga mat but the teachings of Tantra planted a tiny seed that has rooted deep into my heart, bringing clarity to my path and inviting me to engage in all that life brings. It has given me an anchor from which to view the universe and to understand and accept myself, slowly piecing together all of my fragmented parts. It is a liberating force piercing through the stickiness and confusion, a knowing guide that takes me compassionately into all the dark spaces within. The depth of yoga is not the complexity of a posture, it’s being at one with the pulse, the spanda, the contraction and expansion that we exist as an intricate and constant part of. It is treading this path on earth with awareness and grace and working with sincerity and joy to realise a life that is not conditioned by the state of life conditions. Life doesn’t stop moving, we can’t control it but we can learn to ride it, to flow and drink in all that it brings.
We can say yes to life.
I invite you to explore this magical mystery with me, for upcoming workshops, events and retreats please visit www.mischavarmuza.com/workshops-retreats/
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Sources & Inspiration for this post:
Sianna Sherman http://www.siannasherman.com
Saivayoga.com, Christopher Tompkins
Tantra Illuminated, Christopher Wallis
What is non-duality, Jeff Foster
Countering World-Negation: The World Affirming and Integrative Dimension of Classical Yoga