I turned up to the Tantric Blossoming Being Man retreat with a sense of excitement about experiencing more of this “Tantra” thing that I'd heard about in my interview with Tantric Practitioner David Anderson. It was clear to me that Tantra had to be experienced rather than merely talked or read about, and I felt ready to dive in. From what I knew about David and his co-leader Martina Hughes, I figured there would be some great experiences in store.
At the same time, I also felt tremendously relieved just to be able to take some time out from my not-so-normal life. The panic attacks that I had experienced only a couple of weeks before were still very fresh in my memory; they had seriously undermined my confidence and the lingering fear of their possible return weighed heavily on my mind. Being overwhelmed by fear and anxiety seemed the antithesis of where I was trying to head in my life, and I wasn't happy about it. Confident Man, my ass; the previous few weeks had felt more like panicky, fearful little boy to me.
By comparison with the panic attacks, my usual thoughts on meeting a new group of people faded into insignificance: “Would I fit in?”, “Would I get on with them?”, “Would they like me?” barely even crossed my mind... which is unusual for me, especially with a group of men. My all-boys high school experience left me with a long-lasting lack of trust and even a fear of other men that often comes out at times like this. But this time, I was just glad to be there without feeling overwhelmed by fear.
From what I'd learned so far, Tantra is all about connection. Initially connection to my own heart: my emotions, my longings, my desires and my truth; and then through this, deep connection to other people. In a group primarily of men this felt a little odd given that Tantra is also about sex, and for me sex happens with women, not men. There were women there to serve us in various ways on the weekend, but I was pretty sure I wouldn't be having sex with them; I didn't think that was quite the idea of this retreat. Not that I would have said no if it was, given the intensity of my sex drive and it's recent lack of fulfillment. These were some of the issues I was here to address.
Learning to trust other people and let go of control is a big part of my journey, and turning up to this retreat without knowing exactly what was in store is part of that. David and Martina seemed like decent people, but would they and their support team really be there for me when the going got tough? I guess I would just have to trust that they would until proven otherwise, and I'm glad to say they did. I felt supported and heard, and that was big for me. I wouldn't want to tell you everything that we did on the retreat partly because it would ruin the sense of surprise and the trust element for you; but also there was just so many experiences that I can't even pretend to remember it all. They sure packed a lot into just a few days, and every single activity hit home with me as being really valuable. At times I felt exhausted and just wanted to go to bed, or even to go home; but I'm tremendously glad I stayed.
Over the course of the 3 ½ day retreat came countless opportunities to connect with my masculine life force and sexual energy. I haven't been a big fan of all this “energy” talk that I hear a lot about nowadays, given my engineering background: it seems so intangible and difficult to quantify. Part of the process for me is letting go of my head judgments so that I can shift my attention from the thoughts in my head that dominate my life, to simply being present so that I can experience life and interact with other people on a deeper level. This is a common theme in all the personal work I've been doing lately, and Tantra seems a logical next step to lose some of the shame around my masculine and sexual energy. I can't think of a better word than “energy” to describe what Tantra teaches about these basic drives and the emotions involved that I've spent much of my life suppressing and am now eager to unlock.
There were plenty of challenges to face along the way. The emotions that came up felt intense at times, but dealing with powerful feelings in a safe environment is the fast track to self-confidence. I took every opportunity I could to reveal what was really going on for me and drop the bullshit story I often use to protect myself from feeling emotionally vulnerable around other people. At one point during a discussion about approaching women, I confessed to feeling despondent about the whole idea of approaching attractive women because the fear I often felt around women I was really attracted to seemed overwhelming and I was still struggling with this issue despite years of hard personal work on building my self-confidence.
It turned out other guys were struggling with the very same thing, some even more than me. Panic and anxiety were ruling our lives, and the only antidote was to let the overwhelming feelings out and acknowledge how we felt, rather than bottling them up inside and pretending that we weren't shit-scared in situations like these. One of the most profound moments for me was right near the end of the retreat when I sat and eye-gazed with one of the other guys who was still struggling with inner anxiety from his experience in the Vietnam war many years before; I saw the fear in his eyes lessen and his breathing relax and we gazed into each other's souls and breathed out our anxiety without the need to even speak.
In another exercise I felt the full force of the rage and anger I was still carrying towards my mother, and had the chance to let it fly. For once I actually felt heard in my anger and didn't hold back. On the one hand it was the culmination of many years hard work at un-repressing this toxic load of rage from my psyche, but it was only possible because of the safe space created at the retreat to allow me to go there without being judged. Instead, I got congratulated and other guys said they wished they'd been able to verbalize their anger as effectively.
Every time I drop the bullshit and share what's really been going on for me, I find it resonates with other people. I spend a lot of my time working on The Confident Man Project of my own life, trying to construct an authentic feeling of confidence in the world; yet it's when I'm most vulnerable that other people get to see the real me. The feedback I got from the women on the retreat was difficult to hear at first, but towards the end as I got more in touch with my masculine energy, I started to hear that my energy wasn't collapsing when I was feeling unpleasant emotions; and this was really big for me. I tend to go into wounded-child mode a lot when overwhelming feelings hit me, and it was great to see me being more able to be present regardless of how I'm feeling. It felt like I was starting to walk my talk more, and really get in touch with the confident man that has often been hiding behind my boyish hurts and failures.
It's all very well to go away on retreat and have some amazing experience, but for me the proof is in the pudding of how it affects me when I return back to the real world. My first day back didn't go so well; I felt overwhelmed with exhaustion and got quite depressed. I reminded myself that it was probably just the normal post-retreat blues; but rather than suffer in silence, I rang a female friend of mine and shared how I felt with her. I reached out; something I'm often reluctant to do. She appreciated my honesty and we connected on a deeper level than we had before. The next day, I felt much more positive again.
Since returning from Being Man, several people have commented that I seem more grounded, more present, and that they felt more connected to me. Women are smiling at me in the streets. When they don't, I don't care so much. I'm going to call that cute girl who turned up to participate in the exercises on the final day, to get together with her and do some more eye gazing. I feel more focused and determined not to give up on myself. While I know there's more work to be done in my Tantric journey, I sense that it'll be fun rather than hard work and overwhelming.
I avoided studying Tantra for a long time because of the shame I feel around sex and open sexual expression. Maybe that was a mistake, or perhaps I just wasn't ready to dive in without being overwhelmed. Either way, I'm excited about learning and experiencing more of this deep connection to my inner strength, and through it to other people. I'm especially keen to try some mixed-gender Tantric events and see what happens with women there. I really had a great experience at Being Man, and if you get the chance to attend, I highly recommend it. Tantric Blossoming also run other events in Australia which are worth a look, and David and Martina do Skype sessions if you want some one-on-one Tantric experiences without having to wait for the next retreat. If you'd like to find out more, contact them via their website at www.tantricblossoming.com.