Rather than the commonly ascribed archetypes of male and female, tantra can be alternatively expressed and experienced though those of warrior and lover.
If you think of tantra as a plant, the roots are in your heart, the stems and branches are the ordinary everyday experiences of relationships, while intimacy and sex are the flowers and fruit. Most people focus on the flowers and fruit, and forget the whole plant and the environment that nourishes it.
Tantra is famous for its embrace of sex and marriage as a sacred rite. This is marriage as an identity emerging from the relationship between people, such that you’ve started to say ‘we’. It accepts all your senses as windows to the soul. Tantra has lots of useful practices and advice, not just regarding sex, but also for experiencing the ecstasies possible in everyday life. It can be a spiritual practice for the lay person – those of us living in society, rather than a monastery, forest, or ashram.
Tantra starts with a core duality
There are many in tantric traditions who have unwittingly conservative views of gender. They use it as a metaphor to which they attach properties of femininity and masculinity. These would be very comfortable in the 1950s, or in societies that have heard little, or nothing, of feminism. However, the duality in tantra is more profound than the archetypes of gender, gods, spirits, or other symbols. It is the nature of the relationship between them that is important.
Warriors and lovers
All the iconography of traditional tantra in both India and Tibet contains references to both warriors and lovers; warriors like Kali and Shiva, and lovers like Parvati, Shiva’s wife, and Ganesh, Shiva’s son. You can assign these roles to fit your particular situation. Sometimes you need to be a warrior. At other times a lover. And sometimes you need to be a mixture of both.
Tantra recognises that marriages and intimate relationships are not without conflict. Yet warriors are at their most potent when they are fighting for love. They draw boundaries around it. This is not a gender role. Mothers are the greatest warriors when protecting their young, for example. And if you feel you have to depend on your lover to be your protector, it can be very disempowering. Intimacy is false if it is based on ‘need’, as need implies the absence of choice. It is most potent and beautiful when you are in your power. When it is based on what you want, you are responsible for your choice to participate.
The marriage of identity
Martial art can be seen as tantric, because it teaches the ‘warrior aspect’ honour. This gives the practice purpose, turning it into a lover’s art. It’s designed to help us protect the first and most crucial marriage, that of identity. You are a marriage: one of physical, mental, and spiritual, of culture and environment, of different voices and attitudes. There are times when you have internal conflicts. You have probably noticed that, when you focus on the external from the warrior aspect, these internal conflicts slip into the background. Mindfulness, which focuses your attention on the sensory experience of the moment, works because it has this external orientation.
Relationships are on a spectrum – with war at one end and marriage on the other. War is when conflict has literally run riot – when the warrior aspect has lost its primary purpose as a servant of love. The warrior gets lost in enemy mentality: ‘you are either with us or against us’. Marriage, at the other end, is when intimacy is total, when the fruit and flowers of the relationship are the complete focus.
Everyday life is a mix. The roots. The stem. Branches, and leaves. All are strengthened by the marriage of the warrior and the lover, of the internal and external, conflict and harmony. Tantra starts with your inner marriage between your warrior and lover. Between the parts of you that you resist, dislike – even hate – and the parts of you that you embrace and love.
Feel the process of your body sitting, your ears hearing, nose smelling, your breathing, your body moving. Feel your emotional and thoughtful response to life around you. The internal conflict, which you become aware of may at first become more intense. Persistence with this practice will see this change.
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