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The Importance
of Music
in Massage


One of the great pleasures I enjoy in this life is assisting Mahasatvaa Ma Ananda Sarita on her consistently ground-breaking tantra courses. Taking on the role of ‘temple fairy’ is a strange kind of modern-day, devotional worship, and I look on it as a wonderful way to continue my training as an Urban Tantrica. I make the distinction here between the kind of tantrica who can reside in a Himalayan cave, and one who has to deal with western practicalities such as speeding fines and washing machines that break down. Living in Hertfordshire, I fall into the latter category.

The job of temple fairy involves, for example, arranging cushions, burning incense and handing out bottles of massage oil. More importantly, it means being ready to support the participants, offer a helping hand or caring support if issues arise, or to jump in if someone finds themselves un-partnered for an exercise.

It may sound strange that a hard-working, single mother of two, who is a therapist in her own right, would organise her schedule around volunteering in unpaid service on someone else’s workshops. Well, some people march for the ending of war, some raise money for charity - I help on tantra courses. Look on it as my bit for world peace.

Not only does Sarita offer profoundly transformational, residential retreats, she is able to create, on the spur of the moment, warm and intimate tantra weekends with groups of total strangers in decidedly un-tantric spaces – usually in the middle of manic cities which appear to have no heart.

I find it difficult to talk about the magic of tantra – it’s an experiential thing, beyond words, rather like meditation. One can talk about meditation, but that is not meditation. No words can do justice to the experience, no matter how brilliant the writing. But I shall humbly attempt to describe a recent ‘taster’ weekend and see if I can convey the sculpting of a particularly beautiful journey into the world of tantra. I shall try to honour the event by describing, as sensitively as I can, random snapshots from the workshop.

When they first arrive in the hall the participants notice an altar against the far wall, with a painted canvas hanging above, depicting a yantra. This is a symbol representing the twelve pathways of tantra, each of which utilises many methods. A couple of examples might be silent meditation, or sexual union. One of the pathways uses the ‘senses’ as a doorway into expanded consciousness, and this is the path that the group is going to explore during this particular weekend. The participants settle nervously on the hundred chairs that are placed in a huge circle. There is some tension in the air as many people arriving know little or nothing about tantra and are, understandably somewhat anxious.

It doesn’t take long for the energy in the room to change. We go round the circle, each sharing one word to express what we’d like to get out of the weekend. Some of the qualities described are simple, some poetic, some esoteric. One man says “sex”.

There’s appreciative laughter from the group, glad of the comic irreverence, but there is also some uncomfortable fidgeting. After all, the world ‘out there’ associates tantra with sex. It’s a dumbed-down definition perpetuated by the media. This weekend isn’t about sex, although sensuality will be explored in a myriad of ways, but at this point the participants haven’t a clue as to what the workshop’s going to be about. The chairs are stacked away, and we partner-up to talk about what we want and need from an ideal ‘relationship’. This simple structure is designed to experiment with the sense of hearing, and we’re invited to listen with our whole bodies, eyes shut, to heighten our awareness of the sound. What’s extraordinary is how quickly the sharing reaches great depth and intimacy. People who have never met before are describing their most heartfelt desires to each other, there are tears and laughter and I notice with amusement that some participants are already hugging. This is not normal behaviour for a large group of virtual strangers in the centre of London! The atmosphere seems to be one that allows for honesty, and barriers come down with a sense of relief.

Sarita has a knack of getting the most stuffy cynic to let their hair down, and everyone in the room finds themselves ‘dancing the desire’ with wild abandon, to deliciously atmospheric music. One thing I notice at this point is how casually, and dare I say it, conventionally everyone is dressed. There is obviously no ‘dress code’ for tantra – no crushed velvet nor a Balinese sarong anywhere in sight. This is contrary to the general image of tantra, portrayed in books and documentaries. It’s quite a relief for most people when they discover that one can achieve tantric ecstasy in a pair of jeans. Looking around I imagine it’s possible that there are people dancing who have not moved their bodies like this for years, certainly in such a free and energetic way. At the very least this dynamic gyrating creates a healthy appetite for lunch!

After the break, where everyone seems to be socialising amicably, we return to continue our journey into the senses, this time delving into visual. This is experienced through a subtle but nonetheless engaging, eye-gazing exercise. It involves the men and women sitting opposite each other in two long lines. The ‘shivas’ and ‘shaktis’ stare into each others’ eyes in silence, noticing their inner reactions, letting go, and gradually entering a state of ‘no mind’. In between the changing of partners the room is completely silent – you can hear a pin drop.

The sense of smell is explored through tissues, scented with a multitude of essential oils being wafted by half the group over a giant, human mandala created by the other half laying in a particular formation on the floor. The weekend is full of ingenious methods such as this one, designed to sensitise the body. The mind is generally driven to sabotage the experience of being truly in the ‘now’, but on this roller-coaster of sense overload, there is little time for the inner saboteur to do its dirty work. Mine has most definitely gone on vacation, and I’m not eager for it to return.

Before we know it, we’re dancing wildly, surrounded by the scent of sandalwood. There are one or two weary people sitting out, but they appear to be quite content to rest and observe.

We then pair up to indulge in a gentle meditation to investigate the sense of feeling. This ‘Caressing Meditation’ is performed in a respectful and sensitive way, using the face only, and I’m sure I’m not the only one there to find myself sinking into a deeply hypnotic and blissed-out state.

On the Sunday morning, there is time made for sharing in the whole group and although no one is ever put on the spot and pressured to speak, quite a few people seem eager to describe the shifts that have been occurring for them. Some speak of concerns they have, and others have challenging questions. Sarita answers each person with understanding and compassion. Her knowledge of tantra and male/female relationships is obvious, but what shines through in her speaking is genuine love. She seems to inspire, without giving ‘advice’.

We play some more with the visual sense, and then before we know it, it’s time for the tantric picnic which for me is the piece de resistance of the weekend. Well ok, I love food anyway, it’s true, but the Great Tantric Picnic takes my passion to another level. I’m in Chow Heaven. Through sheer cosmic coincidence I’ve also been partnered with a chef (my tantric angels at work) and my personal picnic is nothing less than gourmet. As well as laughter there are tears, as some people find unexpected emotions coming up. It’s quite clear that everyone present is respected, no matter what else is going on in the room. Nobody is ever forced to participate in a structure against their will, and if someone finds themselves in upset, they’re taken care of immediately, with sensitivity and tenderness. This ‘allowing’ seems to engender a deep sense of trust within the group.

It’s hard to believe that there’s more to enjoy. Lunch has left me feeling satiated in every way, but on we journey into an interesting story-telling exercise, where we utilise all senses, one after the other. We’re put into groups of four for this structure, and I find myself laughing uproariously with three of the most endearing raconteurs I’ve ever had the fortune to share anecdotes with. The descriptions become more and more Technicolor as we voyage together into our reminiscences. By the end of this magical hour I feel as if we’ve known each other for years,

Although it’s hard to imagine anything surpassing the tantric picnic, the finale is in fact, awe-inspiring. The whole group places itself in a rather complicated geometric pattern, creating a body mandala symbolising the yantra and we’re taught a ‘mantra’ which we will chant together. Someone cracks a joke about it being a Tantra Yantra Mantra. My inner comedienne begins to visualise a spoof New Age sit-com, a sort of Sex and the City for hippies. We start to sing, gradually settling into a unified harmony and rhythm, and my busy mind is finally silenced.

Suddenly it all makes sense. The chant is subtle and mesmerising. For fear of using a well-worn cliché, there’s a point, deep into the meditation where to me it feels as if we’ve ‘become one’. Well, I’ve become one, anyway. With what I’m not exactly sure, perhaps just with myself, but I, along with quite a large number of other people it seems, have reached nirvana.

I leave on the Sunday night with the feeling that tantra is without a doubt, the most fun you can have whilst living on planet earth. Meaningful fun that has a longer lasting effect than the kind one might indulge in during say, a night on the town – and joy of joys, there’s no hangover.

For courses see www.schoolofawakening.com