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The Tantric Consort: Awakening Through Relationship

Friends, I wanted to let you know about a four-part online video course that we created with Reggie Ray which explores intimacy as one of the most radical vehicles of spiritual transformation. The Vajrayana, or tantric tradition of Buddhism, teaches ways of being in relationship that serve as unique gateways to spiritual awakening. These teachings on the consort represent some of the most advanced teachings in Buddhism, and have been guarded and kept secret for the most part over the last 1000 years. What Reggie has discovered is that contemporary practitioners are uniquely situated to undertake some of their deepest spiritual work in the context of intimate relationship, however lack the perspective and practices needed to do so.

Watch Reggie’s video introduction here:

Learn more and access The Tantric Consort online course here.

Who Is the Tantric Consort?

The tantric tradition asserts that spirituality in its fullest sense cannot be an isolated, solitary, purely self-involved enterprise. Rather, we make the deepest journey of transformation and ultimate fulfillment only in relationship—with our deepest nature, with our unique karmic situations, with the people in our lives, and with the living universe around us. Through being in connection with these others, we are inspired, we love, and we open. We learn at the deepest levels that we are never one alone but always two-by-two, always in connection, always in the love relationship with all that is; and therein lies our life and our realization.

The tantric consort is the ultimate other. In fact, in the tantric tradition, it is said that moment by moment, he or she represents to us the entire phenomenal world. In other words, in the consort, we most deeply and completely meet the sacred universe in its entirety—a perhaps outrageous claim, but one that experience proves. Through the practice of taking the consort as representing the sacred totality, we learn to love more deeply than we ever imagined possible: first the consort, then everything that is. We see where we habitually hold back and hide out; we practice ways to release our masks, blockages, and obstacles; and ultimately we find union, where releasing our narcissistic fixation on ourselves and discovering our profound and eternal oneness with the consort—and through him or her the world—are the same thing. Ultimately, our ability to journey on the path of the tantric consort comes down to our own willingness, bravery, and devotion in cultivating an open heart and in learning to love the beloved openly and without limit.

By sharing ancient Vajrayana teachings on the view of the consort relationship as well as guiding us through specific, powerful meditations, Reggie leads us to both an understanding and an experience of the tantric consort as the gateway to our own awakening. He emphasizes learning practices that can be carried forward into our lives, including several heart-based meditations to be practices on our own or with a partner.

Many believe that the goal of spiritual practice is enlightenment or liberation, but the human being actually longs for much, much more. Instinctually, we yearn for what we know is possible: fulfillment, joy and union with all creation. Opening to our longing to connect with the tantric consort is the gateway and learning to relate with him or her openheartedly is the path.

Here is a summary of the course’s four parts:

Session 1: Relating with the Other as Sacred

The Vajrayana View of Consort Practice

Why is relationality the essence of Vajrayana spirituality? What special role does the consort play within the Vajrayana? Where do these teachings come from and how can the ancient practices of working with a consort be applied to our modern lives? What differentiates the consort relationship from conventional relationships? How does the consort appear in our life?

The guided meditation we will learn in Session One is The Thousand-Petaled Lotus Practice: Beginning to Open the Heart. Just as we establish the view on a conceptual level in order to engage in consort practice, we must also establish the ground of an open heart on a visceral level. The Thousand-Petaled Lotus Practice will become a gateway to all further consort practice for us.

Session 2: Genuine Presence

The Practice of Being a Consort

In Session Two we will discuss the qualities of a consort relationship—as well as each partner’s individual practice—that create a powerful container for spiritual transformation. Themes will include: staying close to your inspiration, becoming vulnerable, the nature of commitment in the consort relationship, courageous honesty, and relaxing the judgmental mind.

The commitment of tantric consorts to work with one another’s fullness—the brilliant array of light and dark, wisdom and neurosis, empowerment and injury that we each possess—becomes an invitation for consorts to explore their own vastness and become who they truly are.

We will also learn a meditation called Dissolving Blockages and Uncovering the Heart’s Unconditional Openness. Through our persistent, gentle practice we begin to wear away the armor that surrounds our hearts, revealing a luminous love that naturally opens to and receives our partner.

Session 3: Obstacles and Antidotes

Practices and Techniques for When the Going Gets Rough

In the consort relationship we are bound to encounter even more emotional and psychological “triggers” than in a conventional relationship, because we have explicitly committed to spiritual awakening, which requires that we go to and through the uncomfortable places; that we surf the endless waves of our own growth edges.

When those unavoidable experiences arise, how can we learn to welcome them with open arms, rather than to cower and escape into habitual behavior patterns? Session Three’s discussion will be on cultivating our bravery as spiritual warriors so we can engage these encounters differently than we have in the past.

In this session Dr. Ray will lead us through a meditation that applies especially well to moments of upheaval in relationship: Learning to Behold Our Intimate Partner with Our Heart.

Session 4: Meditation in Action

Healing Core Traumas with the Consort

It is said in the tradition that the consort “unbinds the fetters of the heart,” meaning that he or she frees us at the deepest levels of our being to love and to open that love to the world. Through consort practices, over time, the most hidden, unconscious blockages are called into consciousness so that we can see them, work with them, and resolve them. Often the emotional twists and distortions that underlie our current conscious ego prison go back to preverbal levels. Yet, as modern psychology shows us, these unconscious patterns control and limit what we can feel and see and experience, and ultimately block our ability to love fully.

This session will discuss the path of consort practice in its ability to heal and resolve our deepest wounds. Facing these traumas with the support of our tantric consort is a slow but liberating process that opens up our own capacity to experience life’s joy and fulfillment.

This session’s final guided meditation is a powerful one that can be practiced on one’s own or with a partner: A Consort Meditation for Dissolving Core Traumas and Obscurations. Dr. Ray will lead us through this meditation technique that can be applied again and again, either when core traumas arise naturally, or when we sit down with the intention of specifically engaging certain aspects of ourselves or our partner that we know need healing.

 

You are not broken or in need of fixing

When your emotional world is on fire,
when you become lost in the story of the suffering one,
touch your heart, feel the aliveness in your body,
practice kindness, and ignite a revolution.

As a little one it was wildly creative
to turn from your embodied reality,
to protect yourself from overwhelming experience.
But love is calling you home now:
Come closer.

Will you see how much intelligence is here,
even in your confusion and in your pain?
Your sadness is a doorway into the infinite,
if you will hold it near.
Your despair is a gateway into wholeness,
if you will offer it sanctuary.
Even your anxiety is a portal into love’s world
if you will stay close.

Everything here is path, friends,
nothing is out of place.
You are not broken
and are not in need of fixing.

Stop. Just one sacred pause;
touch the ground. Look up into the sky.
Give yourself the gift of your own presence,
for this is no ordinary moment.

As you sink into the core of what you are,
notice that you can breathe in and out of your heart.
It is not air which moves in and out, though.
It is love.

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Can you medicate meditation?

Tara Brach is right. The use of psychiatric medication by those committed to spiritual practice is one of those topics that can get real heated, real fast. This is a complex issue and one that many of our authors and listeners have grappled with over the years. Is it possible for medication and meditation to work together, as allies on the path of healing and awakening? We hope you enjoy this short article by Tara and would love to hear your thoughts as always.

Can you medicate meditation? by Tara Brach

The use of anti-depressants by those involved in meditation practice is a very hot topic. Students often ask me things like, “If I take Prozac, isn’t that as good as giving up? Aren’t I admitting that meditation doesn’t work?”

Those who’ve been advised by a doctor to consider medication tell me they are afraid of becoming dependent on it, afraid they’ll never function again without it. Some wonder if taking medication doesn’t directly undercut the process of spiritual awakening.

They ask, “Don’t medications numb the very experiences we are trying to unconditionally accept? Wouldn’t liberation be impossible if we were on medication?” One student even quipped, “It’s hard to imagine the Buddha reaching for Prozac while under the Bodhi Tree.”

It’s true that some of the most widely used anti-depressants can create a sense of distance from acute fear, and a degree of emotional numbing. It’s also possible to become at least psychologically dependant on any substance that provides relief.

Yet, for some people, no matter how hard they try something else is needed to engender safety and bring anxiety to a manageable level. Whether the cause is life trauma or genetic predisposition, the brain chemistry and nervous system of some people lead to intolerably high levels of fear. For them prescribed medication for depression and anxiety may provide additional—and possibly critical—aid in finding the safety that enables them to trust others and to pursue spiritual practices.

At least for a period of time, in these cases medical intervention may be the most compassionate response.

I’ve seen students who were utterly incapacitated by anxiety and fear finally able to face it with mindfulness and lovingkindness once they started on medications. As a psychiatrist friend says, medications make it possible for some people to “stop anxiously doing, and just sit there.”

Medication and meditation can work together. As medications shift the biological experience of fear, mindfulness practice can help undo the complex of reactive thoughts and feelings that sustain it.

One of my meditation students, Seth, a composer and pianist, took anti-depressants after struggling unsuccessfully for years with debilitating anxiety, shame and depression. Seth dreaded performances and the expectation of perfection that surrounded them. He told me, “Knowing how to write and play music is my life. When I feel like I’m blowing it, I lose it completely. I feel totally worthless.”

When Seth began taking anti-depressants his fear level dropped significantly. The familiar stories and self-judgments would still arise, but because the fear was less intense, he was able to see that his thoughts were just thoughts, not the truth about how things were. Gradually, as Seth deepened his meditation practice, he became familiar with a new and different sense of himself. Rather than rejecting himself as sick and broken, he began wanting to care for and comfort himself.

After two years, Seth decided to stop taking anti-depressants. While his fear had decreased, he had also lost a certain degree of his natural sensitivity and empathy, and his libido was diminished. Within a few months of discontinuing the medication, Seth began to experience once again waves of acute fear and, at times, oppressive depression. But now when the old stories made their appearance, he could note them mindfully rather than getting lost in them.

Taking medication had driven a wedge into the trance of fear, and it no longer was so engulfing. While Seth’s emotions were still intense, his fear wasn’t fueled by overwhelming self-judgment and shame. He no longer identified himself as a broken person. Perhaps from time to time he might seek relief again from medications, but Seth now had a strength to his spiritual practice and a faith in himself that gave him a genuine sense of inner freedom.

There are no absolute recipes for working with this issue of taking medications. In making choices on our path, it’s important to ask ourselves whether or not they will serve awakening and freedom. Our best answers are found by honestly looking into our intentions.

For instance: What is our intention in doing therapy, in taking medication or doing a particular style of meditation? Are we using meditation as a way of escaping from painful relationships or unwanted responsibilities? Do we truly intend to face and accept fear? Are our choices helping us relax and become more kind?

As we honestly explore these questions, we can experiment through our practice to discover which of our choices are the most compassionate, and will best bring an end to our suffering.

Adapted from Radical Acceptance (2003) via Tara’s blog.

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Preparing you for what is next

Look close and see what it is that you do not want to feel, that you will do anything to avoid, that no matter what you… will… not… go… there. Your dependency. Your aloneness. Your hatred. Your utter despair. Your conviction that you are not actually lovable as you are.

Take pause. Things are not what they seem. For love is alive, and is all. Touch the earth. Look up into the sky. Call out for help. Crumble to the ground. Fall apart and give up the fantasy that you will ever, ever, ever be put back together again. Breathe this abandoned feeling into your heart. Hold it. Touch it. Let it unravel its secrets. Let it dance within you. Let it unlock each and every strategy, defense, and piece of armor protecting you. It will not destroy you. It has come as fierce grace to reveal how infinite you really are.

What you are is pristine, luminous consciousness itself. Even the greatest despair, the most terrifying fear, the most profound grief – these rise and fall in you, liberating in your awareness, in your care, and in your kindness. Your body and your heart are a sanctuary for love’s movement. Your body is a factory of grace.

See that there is nothing here working against you. Everything in this world is comprised of the same particles of love, which take shape as the galaxies, the oceans, and as the cells of your heart. They illuminate the strands of your DNA and the synapses in your brain. Love is everywhere.

Watch carefully how love appears as light and appears as dark, as wisdom and confusion, as joy and as sadness, and as human and divine, come only to prepare you for what is next. And what is next after that.

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Transitions, Anyone?

I’m going through what’s called a “major life transition.” (Are there “minor” life transitions?) Perhaps the hardest part is my impatience with the natural progression of said transition and my desire to get the next chapter going already. I tell myself things like “the only way out is through” and “the present moment is not a means to an end.” These adages serve as a kind of inner compass that keeps pointing me to my experience right now. “Drop in” is another one I keep telling myself; that is, feel what’s alive within me fully and notice my mind as it races away from the moments it doesn’t like and yearns for some future when it will be “all good.” Without judgment—that’s the tricky part I guess.

Another tactic of mine is simply to observe people I know that have experienced a similar transition. Their sheer existence is evidence that survival is possible. Those that appear to be thriving after the big change are particularly inspirational and hope-giving. (I try to ignore the people whose lives seem worse for the wear…) This isn’t an exercise in comparison; it’s more about assuring myself that life goes on even if it’s rarely if ever as we think it is supposed to go.

Last but certainly not least, I turn toward the teachers I make a living writing about. If they don’t work for me, they’re kinda hard to pitch to all of you smart folks out there. Two of my favorites when I’m finding myself in resistance to what is: Jack Kornfield’s A Lamp in the Darkness and Bodhipaksa’s Living As a River. Jack’s teachings always help me shift my perspective to one of deeper compassion and understanding. Bodhipaksa’s book offers a wonderful opportunity to practice embracing change aka impermanence. If we don’t we tend to make ourselves and those around us pretty miserable. If we do, we align with the flow of life and open the doorway to freedom. At least that’s how the teachings go…I’ll continue to test them in the days and weeks ahead…and I’ll let you all know how it goes!

If you’re also in the midst of transition, or on either end of one, and care to share you insights, I’m listening!

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The Psychology of the Awakened Heart – an online...

Friends, we’re happy to let you know of a new online video training with our dear friend Jack Kornfield, on The Psychology of the Awakened Heart: A Training in the Four Essentials of a Healthy and Joyful Life. The course will be made available starting October 1st, however you can sign up and join at anytime, working through the material at your own pace, from the comfort of your own home.

The meditation practices passed down from the Buddha are beautiful, time-tested ways to awaken a compassionate, joyful, and loving heart. Buddhist psychology and research from modern neuroscience both show enormous benefits from using these methods as a regular practice or in conjunction with conventional therapy. With The Psychology of the Awakened Heart, master teacher Jack Kornfield invites mental health professionals and meditators alike to an eight-session online video course on the Buddhist psychology of well-being. Each session, Jack will present life-changing practices, wisdom teachings, and healing stories—offering a rich mix of practical and scientific information and experiential exercises based on the timeless principles of Buddhist psychology.

Learn more about this special online training opportunity, watch a video sample, and register here.

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