Pauline McCluskey – What tantra means to me.

I’m of the generation that first heard the word tantra from the publicity around Sting and his apparently amazing tantric sex life. Not necessarily the best starting point! Around then I began reading, felt drawn in. It’s interesting looking back, it wasn’t the sex part that landed in me, it was something about confidence, about being in the body in a different way that I connected with. What really captured my attention was the clarity around making choices and agreements, around it being really good to ask for what you want, and understanding when to say yes, when to say no, when to notice uncertainty, when asked by someone else.

As a young woman I was painfully shy and ill at ease, to the point of freeze. So the idea of being completely confident in my skin, of being unselfconscious and open, of actually making conscious choices for myself, in all aspects of my life, was something I was powerfully drawn to. I made my way in the world, I was successful in my career, in my connections with others, but deep down I knew there could be so much more.

I came to a huge crossroad, a point of timeless now – ‘This isn’t the life I’m supposed to lead’ during a deeply traumatic period in my working life. There really was a moment. I can remember what I was wearing, who I was with, where I was, that bright October morning. Like it was yesterday. I knew I was meant to be more. And I leapt into the unknown, and began to be different.

A while on, some big changes had happened, some powerful landmark events, and I was ready. Good to go. I googled, I looked at several tantra websites. I made phone calls. Shakti Tantra was the place that felt right. I liked the down-to-earth openheartedness, it fitted.

I was still completely clueless about what the content of the workshops would be, when I tipped up that first time, to Women’s Invitation. But I knew I was supposed to be there, without a shadow of a doubt. I felt welcome, I felt at home, despite moments of challenge and being out of my comfort zone. One particular exercise we did, one of many astonishing moments, stays with me. We were in groups of three, each woman taking a turn to speak, the other two acting as loving witnesses, supporters. My attention was with my little group, but for a moment I cast my eyes around the room. I saw so much beauty, in women supporting women. One particular group of three, on the other side of the room. A very young woman, with her two supporters smiling, encouraging. It seemed like I was looking at something timeless. It felt so right. By the end of the weekend I reflected that I’d spent too much of my life wishing that someone would say ‘you’ve passed, you’ve done enough, now you get to join the human race and stop feeling like a bystander’. I knew I didn’t feel like that any longer.

I did every workshop I could, women’s and mixed. I joked about being a ‘tantraholic’. That’s not to say I didn’t have times when I felt like getting in my car and never, not ever, coming back, but really? That was never actually going to happen. So I learned to listen from within myself, with my body rather than from my head. And I connected with something bigger than I had thought possible. I’m still blown away by new understandings every day. There are still things I disagree with, that I argue about, and that’s a good thing. This isn’t a check your intelligence, your sense of self, in at the door endeavour. It’s about bringing your whole self. And with that understanding of it, I’ve had so many amazing life-changing experiences. I’ve almost lost track. I’ve had moments that have literally been punctuation marks in my life. The first time I danced with complete ease in front of others. The first time I was totally unselfconscious and playful, a discovering of childlike innocence. The first time I sang with complete abandon, my voice and heart connected, free. The first time I played with aspects of myself so raw and unconditional, so natural and powerful, I can still feel the ripples years on. So many first times.

There’s something else I want to talk about. In our society the word tantra is still perceived as some sort of code for sex. That’s to miss the essence, the truth of this. It’s really about using our connection to our sexuality as a powerful insight into who we are, who we want to be, what we are capable of. If we are truly free in any part of our lives, freedom comes in all aspects, in our entirety. And the unique challenges we each face around our sexuality somehow illuminates everything. Every hang-up, every place of joy and empowerment, every deeply personal opportunity for growth and evolution.

So, why do I teach? Coming later in life to to this, in some respects, I ponder. I’m surrounded by others who have a longevity in this that I admire deeply. I am grateful to be part of a team that has such wisdom and experience. And, I’ve been a teacher in my life ‘before tantra’ for practically as long as I can remember. The clarity in me is no different now than it has ever been. The essentials are the same, they’ve always been a part of me.

So, what I’ve always known is for me it’s the other way around – why would I not? Why on earth would I want to hold on to this opportunity for transformation? Why would I not want to share? I always come back to the expression ‘knowledge is power’. The power is in sharing the knowledge. Sharing the understanding that we can all realise that potential that is in our wildest imagination. So I do. It’s that simple, and that subtle. It’s who I am, so I do.

I came to tantra from a career as a nurse, teacher and facilitator, familiar and comfortable with supporting people during major life changes, all sorts of challenges. As a practitioner I work with people who want to explore new and different ways to feel, experience and express their sexuality.

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