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February Newsletter: Tantra, Yoga & The Nature of Desire

Greetings friends,

Well how about that? February is already here and the lunar New Year is upon us! I hope you've had a positive beginning to your solar 2021 and are seeking out ways to learn & celebrate Black History this Month! Celestially we are shifting into the very beginning of Kapha season, which is a time to dedicate yourself to growth & expansion! My month of January was an unexpected start for my solar new year/ end to my lunar new and I experienced significant up's and down's, but overall there was a lot reason to celebrate.

I'm really excited to share with you--and all of my community--that I'm starting grad school this fall at the Maryland University of Integrative Health to pursue a Master's in Yoga Therapy. I'm so grateful for the support & guidance I've received throughout the years as I've journeyed deeper into yoga as a practice, way of life and state of being. To honor my transition to a full time academic student I'm also taking a weekend trip to Costa Rica to enjoy the beauty of the tropics & meet other liked-minded Women of Color at the Brown Girl Yoga Tribe Sanctuary.

Why is it that I can't stop wanting to learn & study?! I know I have a passion for knowledge, and that passion drives me to chase the next new thing. It reminds me how several years back while listening to a sangha with the yogi mystic Sadhguru, something he said stuck into my brainfolds like a little seed wedged into a crack in the sidewalk.

The nature of Desire is infinitely expanding

While the bulk of Sadhguru's sangha slipped out of my awareness as time moved on, this scintillating string of words continued to reflect its shimmering essence in my mind, and I suppose I started to get a little obsessed with desire. What is the nature of desire? If it is infinitely expanding, what is it expanding into & why?

This talk of desire comes up a lot in yoga. In Patanjali's Yoga Sutras, raaga--often translated as "desire" or "passion"--is one of the five kleshas rooted in avidya, or ignorance. If you're unfamiliar with the kleshas, please read my April 21 newsletter for a deeper dive into these life obstacles, or read my November 2020 newsletter for a personal lesson on overcoming my own challenges of unhealthy desire in the form of hot yoga.

When operating from only this limited understanding of desire as a klesha, you can easily take a stance that the whole experience of desire is some excessive behavior that needs to be pacified. And while it's true that excessive, impulsive desire can corrupt the mind-body to react with ignorant, fearful & misguided passion, the practice of yoga can also teach us how to refine & elevate desire into a spiritual energy for deep connection with Self, with the Divine Consciousness & with all living beings.

Shunning desire or avoiding elevated conversation around the topic is a popular, commonly held attitude in contemporary Western yoga. Desire doesn't fit neatly into Puritan dominant cultural narrative; it has been even used as a tool to promote racialized troupes & sexual violence against BIPOC populations. Furthermore a number of basic 200-hr YTTs train new teachers from a foundation typically limited to the philosophical and allegorical teaching of only two texts, Patanjali's Yoga Sutras and the Bhagavad Gita. However, these two texts don't really expand much on the power & practice of desire primarily because they are focused on other paths of yoga & spiritual life.

Within vast volumes of ancient texts--primarily of the Kashmiri Shaivism & Shaktism lineages--the rishis, sages & saints expand on the nature of desire as a primordial energy that pulses, tremors & vibrates from the source of Divine Consciousness itself. Desire is infinitely expanding because in its purest expression it is spanda--the cosmic throb that forms movement from stillness, sound from silence and all we experience from nothingness. Desire is the union of Shiva & Shakti--the supporter & creator of the universe--and we are the result of that cosmic desire to experience its own splendor.

Desire can be thought of as the Will of the Universe to move into Action, and it will always pulse & throb within us all. In my experience, this knowledge has empowered me to learn how to use this pulsing energy of Will & Action with discerning Intelligence. I've been rediscovering how to to inhabit my mind-body in a manner that is healing & empowering for my who being.

Anyone who dabbles in holistic healing or New Age spirituality has probably heard of Tantra or Tantrik Yoga, and probably carries some popular assumption of what it is--yogic sex magic or some sort of spiritual kinkiness. To quickly address this, yes, Tantra can certainly involve sexual union practices with a trusted partner to explore deep experience of Divine Bliss together as One undifferentiated from the other--the Tantrikas define yoga as "union" after all.

However, Tantra as a yogic path & practice is for the individual person as well and isn't all about sex. Tantra is a path & practice of returning to body, breath & 5 senses to fully experience the blissful play of divine Consciousness as it experiences its own undifferentiated nature within & throughout your being. To be a tantrik practitioner means to embrace, savor & love your full, whole Self plus the full, whole expression of life as an extension of Self. Tantrik practices serve to exalt the sacred experience of Divine Consciousness--Shiva--through the sacred celebration of Divine Form--Shakti.

According to French scholar & Tantric initiate Daniel Odier, Tantra is a path whereby a individual Consciousness evolves through what he calls "sensorality"; a heightened sensitivity to the oneness of all creation that is born from passion & desire. In his book Desire: The Tantric Path to Awakening, Odier defines sensorality:

In order to arrive at this profound consciousness, it is indispensable that our instrument, the body, be perfectly in tune, and this is where the whole issue of our sensorality comes in. What would be the worth of a body whose marvelous functionings were not operating?...The first step is therefor to restore these functions, to regain our taste for life, our capacity to perceive the world with the continual wonder of a child.

The Kashmiri Shaivite master Swami Lakshmanjoo expands this concept of sensorality in his commentary on Vasugupta's Shiva Sutra Vimarshini:

Because his physical body is existing, even when he becomes like Shiva, that action (karma) that has brought his body into existence is ended by enjoying that action, not by casting it aside...So for the remainder of his life, he must continue to exist with this physical frame. He must welcome whatever comes to him, whether it be good or bad...It is not worthwhile to cast his body aside. For such a yogi, this body is to be maintained until the time of death.

So how does one start to reawaken & refine sensorality, passion & desire with elevated understanding & emotional intelligence? One easy way is to start cultivating a passion & desire for all of life's wonders is by cultivating passion & desire for the sensory experience of the body & the breath with an attitude of joyful wonderment.

Start exploring what it's like to crave & savor the breath, as though it were an intimate lover.

What if you were to inhale & exhale as though the Breath desires to breathe your being just as much as you desire to breathe the Breath? Follow the experience of the breath throughout the whole body, not just the major movement of the torso. Invite your 5 senses to experience the intimate sensations of the breath, too--the sense of touch is a great starting point to deeply experience the breath. When you feel comfortable, play with visualizing the flow of breath, tasting the essential quality of breath, smelling the subtle aroma of breath or hearing the wonderous sound of breath. Just doing this for 5 minutes every day can start to shift your understanding & experience of desire's expansive & transformative nature.

The experience of joy which rises at the moment you are united with and are absolutely embracing your life partner is actually the joy of Brahman. This joy can only be known by a trick. If, however, you do not know this trick, then it is just the union of two beasts.

~Vijñāna Bhairava Tantra (śloka 69)

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