Tantra has many meanings. It can mean a book, a scripture, a practice, or a weaver’s loom. It’s about weaving back together the dispersed parts of ourselves into an integrated meaningful matrix of relationship. It’s all about how to accept and embrace the full spectrum of our being, both shadow and light. “Tan” in Tantra means to extend or expand. “Tra” means to move across or traverse (the various parts of ourselves). “Tra” also refers to the technology of consciousness that Tantra offers through the practices. Tantra then is an oxymoron – it means itself and the opposite simultaneously. It means to loom, or contract, and expand, all at once. It’s a paradox.
And it’s the perfect description of the universe we live in. Have you ever heard the term Embryonic Division? We expand by contracting. Think of conception. Two separate cells, a sperm and an egg, find each other and merge to become one cell. Then the one cell divides and multiplies. It keeps making more of itself until it forms a human being. The original two cells contract in order to expand.
Much of my spiritual work began with accepting the parts of myself that I pushed out of my heart. Growing up with a sense of lack and unworthiness, I had to learn how to embrace myself, to value myself, my gifts, and my talents, and to affirm who I am. Through drawing into my worth, I’ve been able to expand out and share my gifts. To grow myself, I’ve had to weave myself back together.
When we make a connection or bond with someone, we expand ourselves. The universe is doing the very same thing. The unbounded infinite sky chose to limit itself to become us just so that it could get a glimpse of its true nature. Your eyes have never seen your face. You only see the reflection of yourself. We need relationship in order to get a reflection of ourselves. In this way the universe contracts itself into these limited bio bodysuits in order to see itself, in order to get a reflection of itself.
Why does the universe do this?
For the joy of it. The universe becomes us simply for the play of it, known as Lila, the cosmic play of consciousness. All traditions have their creation story. What’s yours? I like the Tantric version because there’s no shame or negativity in it. We’re not here because we messed up in a previous life. We’re not here to get it right, to cross some finish line of enlightenment. We’re not here to transcend and escape to somewhere better. And we’re definitely not here because we’re sinners! (I don’t mean to insult your tradition and if you sincerely believe that you’re here to be good, I honor that.) In Tantra, we’re here out of the pure joy of being. The universe has manifested in us, as us because it could, and it did.
There’s a magnetic energy that pulls people together, that attracts us to each other. It’s very much like the gravitational fields in outer space that hold the planets in orbit around the sun. This is the macrocosmic meaning of the term Kula: community of the heart. Kula says that everything in the universe is in relationship and it never stops being in relationship.
Have you ever been ghosted by someone? I have. It doesn’t feel good. It hurts. For me, it’s not so much that this person needed distance from me. It’s that there was no communication which leaves me in a kind of limbo of guessing. One positive outcome of my being ghosted is I’m learning that when I really hug into myself, I don’t feel as much hurt. Rather, I have compassion, compassion for them, as well as for myself. I can be whole even when someone chooses not to communicate. I recognize this as their pain. Instead of taking on their pain as my own, I silently say to myself, “Well, that’s their loss!”
I always laugh to myself when someone says that they ended their relationship. Yes, maybe they shifted the nature of their relationship. But ended it? There’s never a way to not be in relationship.
We need to understand that when someone ghosts us, they just exit, cut out, put up a wall, and escape. I could never do that because my heart is way too sensitive. The point is that we’re always in relationship. It’s just that some relationships are closed down, distant, or disharmonious. But still, you can never not be in relationship with someone. I believe that acknowledging this as fact makes us stronger and more respectful of the pain felt on both sides. This level of understanding, in a subtle way, brings a kind of closeness in relationship and soothes the pain of separation.
To be sure, a relationship can be so painful for someone that they can’t stand to be close to it. They distance themselves and push the other person away to escape what feels like unbearable pain. Sometimes we do need to distance ourselves. This I honor. But never are we not in relationship.
So now that we’ve established that our connection with others is the source of our very existence, and that we are never not in relationship, let’s take a look at how to get good at being in relationship and how to manage our relationships in ways that reduce hurt, increase love, and expand our previously held boundaries.
Just as in conception, where we contract in order to expand, I see relationship working the same way – we come closer to another person, or a community, in order grow ourselves, gain a new reflection, expand, and have a revelation of our true nature.
As I said earlier, Kula means community of the heart. It also means body. Our body is a type of community – there’s a community of cells, organs, and systems, that work together to create health and vitality.
The highest expression of Kula is the awakening of the universal within the individual. When you keep the company of the universal in the individual, your heart cracks open and a light turns on. You recognize that you are connected to a bigger energy. This is a mini enlightenment and it’s so blissful. In Ashaya Yoga, community is a priority for all of the reasons above. When there’s authentic heart sharing, when a community can become vulnerable, and it’s safe to be yourself, there’s incredible healing.
When any one of us stays connected to our heart, we support the whole.
There’s a story told by Thich Nhat Hahn, the Vietnamese Buddhist monk, who served the refugees during the Vietnam war by loading them into lifeboats to cross the China Sea.
No one survived the arduous journey unless one person on the boat stayed connected to their heart. When one person stayed strong and maintained a positive attitude, all of the passengers in the boat made it. Without anyone holding the light, staying in faith, they all perished.
You see, you never take a step into the light just for yourself. Every transformation you have is transmitted into the web of life. In fact, every thought you have infects the “quantum field” of consciousness and changes it. We are vibrational beings and we influence each other.
There is a powerful teaching about how to be in a Kula which can be applied to any relationship. This teaching comes from the Buddhist tradition of the 4 Brahma Viharas, Celestial Abodes, and was reiterated centuries later by Patanjali in his Yoga Sutras 1.33.
1. Maitri, which means friendship or loving-kindness. To those who are friendly, offer loving kindness. You recognize that each person is part of you. They are not separate from you.
2. Karuna, which means compassion. To those who are suffering, offer compassion. When your heartstrings are connected and you care about others, you will feel their suffering. The tighter your heartstrings, the more you’ll feel their pain. We want to be connected to others so we can feel their pain and offer compassion. You can’t offer compassion for another’s darkness until you’re able to sit in your own darkness.
3. Mudita, which means joy and sympathetic joy. To those who are successful and happy, offer joy. Sympathetic joy is being happy for another’s success, celebrating the accomplishments of others rather than being jealous or envious.
4. Upeksha, which means equanimity. To those who are difficult or negative, give them space. Be equanimous and patient with those who disagree with you, who’ve hurt you in some way, or who are difficult to be around.
Ashaya Yoga is the practice of conscious relationship. We seek to integrate body, mind, and heart, in such a way that builds strong and healthy mutually supportive and respectful relationships that bind us together in order to expand us.
May our heartstrings grow tighter together in yoga so that we may feel more deeply connected. And may this connection give birth to the expansion of greatness and joy beyond our wildest dreams!
Namaste, Todd and the Ashaya Yoga Team