Foundation, Boundaries & Community – The Art of Great Facilitation – a note to Sacred Sexuality Educators and Tantric Therapists
We are on a learning curve with our boundaries in the Tantra, Sacred Sexuality, Sensual Enlightenment Community. If you’re feet have been on this path even a little bit, inevitably you’ve landed at a Tantra workshop or puja – a mixed gendered event that takes you through a series of exercises or explorations that are focused on opening you to divine love, embracing the God/Goddess within, awakening the divine sensual you. Inevitably after these events, people feel wide open and available. They are more full of love, more themselves, more an embodiment of the divine we all as humans seek. However, in this wide-open space there also arises a lack of boundaries, sensual self-containment and discernment. After most every event, I’ve been hugged a little too long, asked for my phone number, asked for a do-date, asked if I felt the same amazing connection the person across from me felt and told we should explore our connection further with a ‘do-date’, massage trade, drinks later, etc. I have also after a puja considered leaving my partner, becoming polyamorous or questioned if I was secretly a lesbian. These wonderful boundary dissolving gatherings open us up to the vast potential of human love but also leave us in a lurch without proper grounding and good boundaries.
It’s the Earth week in my Sensual Shaman Immersion Series. We begin our journey through the medicine wheel in the Immersion by beginning in the North with the element of Earth in an effort to ground, even though in conventional circles it is customary to open in the East with the direction of new beginnings. We begin with Earth because as a whole, our western population tends towards body disconnection. In Earth week we come to rest fully in our own body, the vessel and container of our soul. The actual skin of our body is the largest organ and is the physical manifestation of our boundaries. We also acknowledge our foundation, that which our healing and wholeness is built upon. The element of Earth in the north is also our ancestry, our lineage of sexual awakening and embodiment and what we learned about sex and relationships from our parents and from our culture. We begin here as a historical self-reflection and to also offer the maximum amount of potential to align, reprogram and transform.
I am ever cautious about who attends the Immersion as it is a long and intensive six-week journey that demands the right constellation for group growth and transformation. I find that discernment in workshop settings about who attends is rare. I have always held a mildly discernable all-inclusive policy in naked yoga classes and Holy Body Worship, but the Immersion is something else. It requires a constellation of people who have a strong foundation, so to speak. I need to know people can go deep and that they also have a support system around them when they leave the space. The work is deep and process oriented and each person in the room is a wisdom holder.
We currently live in the age of information. We can have instant manifestation. I can be initiated into Reiki across the world without having anyone actually lay hands on me or teach me the art of laying on of hands. On any day of the week, I could visit a naked yoga class, a sexuality workshop, a Tantra training, an Ayuascha ceremony. I could in a months time with no yoga experience become a certified yoga teacher or within three sessions become a ‘Reiki Master,’ or even be initiated as a priestess.
There is a training for everything however flimsy it might be. In the ancient lineages of Tantra and even in some sexual shamanic traditions, one was not initiated before their time and having a proper foundation for the teachings to rest on was everything. It took years of study on the absolute basics with daily sadhanas and practices to lay a foundation for the spiritual path before one would dare be taught the most advanced practices around sexuality and spiritual mystery as a form of empowerment and transformation. One was asked to chop wood and to carry water for years before one was initiated in the more esoteric teachings.
I too perhaps learned several very deep and profound teachings before my time by request because I had an insatiable thirst for the cup of enlightenment. I wanted to drink really deep without doing the work that was required to lay a proper foundation. This age of information goes hand in hand with our western need for immediate gratification.
While beginning my path in my early twenties, what I did not have was a foundation of where to root everything or boundaries that were authentic to who I was at the time. There was definitely a lust I felt for attaining certifications or initiations without doing the real work or the hours of practice. This path caught up and humbled me to my knees several times in my life as superficial structures or foundations of spiritual growth caved in around me because I had not gone deep enough into my own work and process to reprogram them.
Over the past decade, I’ve seasoned as a seeker and filled in many gaping holes in my path and practice and become more authentic in my seeking. What has not gone away is the thirst for the divine – that I understand now is a life(times)long path. The thirst is quieter now or perhaps I should say, I am quieter when I receive it. I no longer feel the need to make ambitious pilgrimages to India, or launch into long trainings with gurus. The thirst and hunger for divine connection and the quiet raptures of fulfillment emerges in my morning walks in nature with my beloved beagle as we witness the change of the seasons. That divine connection is present as I cook food for my family or even as I clean the house with a devotion of love. The connection is present among a handful of what I would call true friends who I have shared sacred ceremony with over the years. It comes in moments of listening to the herbs speak to me and tell me how to mix them and what to give to whom. It is in the simple tasks of chopping wood and carrying water that the ecstasy of simple connections and daily sadhanas (practices) that bring me closer to source.
What I see now, and hindsight is a crystal 20/20, are many interested in becoming initiated and even teaching the deeper practices of sexuality and consciousness who have not done the work on themselves yet who want the high, the quick fix, the band-aid approach, the immediate gratification, the false prestige that the age of information allows without laying a healthy spiritual foundation for oneself first not to mention a healthy blueprint for being in relationship.
I had a man after a yoga class come up to me hearing that I worked as a sacred sexuality teacher and told me he was a Daka and had just finished his certification training. He then proceeded to encircle me in a hug and begin Tantric breathing with me without my consent. This man was also what one would consider creepy! Not only did he pretzel his body around mine when I had only just met him, he also held a used car salesman vibe, like he was in the work as a blanket permission slip to feel women up because he was certified. When we do not have a container for sensual spiritual experiences from doing the inner work, energies, emotions and experiences become projected, messy and uncontained.
Our template for sexuality and spirituality starts with seeing how our parents model sexuality and relationship for us, then how our culture and how our friends do. If the models are fractured or broken, this brokenness enters our system. When we are not given a healthy foundation for teachings, transmissions and information to support ourselves, esoteric teachings especially around sexuality have the potential to become misappropriated, misinterpreted and mis-used. If our inner model is broken, the teachings will seep into the shadow of the brokenness. The same happens with spirituality and especially when spiritual and sexual teachings blend together, read: celibate gurus turning their students into lovers and priests molesting children. Even in the Tantric community, one that seemingly thrives on being transparent with their boundaries or sometimes claiming to have none, at least we’re talking about sex, but it doesn’t make the hastily exploring and healing from overstepping boundaries any easier.
I’m so appreciative at workshops and sensually inclusive gatherings where instructors model and demand healthy boundaries in the space. There are three instructor’s trainings that I find particularly admirable in this regard. Reid Mihalko’s & Marcia Baczynski’s Cuddle Party where each participant practices saying ‘no’ to another person and works on clear communication throughout the event. Two hi-lights I have always loved from Reid’s teaching is if you are a ‘maybe’ say ‘no’ and always honor the agreements you have already made with others in your life while you are at the Cuddle Party i.e. don’t call your partner up and renegotiate your terms half way through a cuddle party.
Another boundary and sensual self-containment supportive environment is Betty Martin’s Like a Pro Training that dissolves the concepts of ‘doing’ and ‘being done to’ and reworks simple requests like conscious giving and receiving that are based on the present moment and not what we think giving pleasure to our partner or receiving pleasure should look like.
The third is Teeni Dakini’s energy essentials class. Teeni’s essentials class identifies the basics of energetically being in a body and how to maintain healthy boundaries and abundant energetic resources from a place of self-containment.
A good question that was raised for me was what boundaries are useful to keep and what are useful to let go? Not to be confused, boundaries are not barriers and do not keep intimacy at bay, rather they create a structure where intimacy can flow. Sometimes we are given boundaries by others and through self-discovery we get to find out if those boundaries are useful or if we need to restructure those.
I begin my private sessions with asking my clients if they have any injuries or special conditions in the body they would like me to know about. Injuries are a good way to start forming boundaries. From there I ask about touch, if any part of the body doesn’t desire touch and if there are any special qualifications around touch that would like to be present or excluded, for example a client might say he/she would like to remain clothed, or to have the lights on or off or to not have their eyes cover because s/he is afraid of the dark. Having these simple requests creates a structure where intimacy can flow and where the body can relax. These requests are boundaries. Boundaries create safety.
When one’s boundaries are crossed or violated, most often the crosser or violator did not mean to cross a boundary and is often oblivious and had no idea there was a boundary there because it was left uncommunicated. However, when it is crossed the receiver of the boundary violation is often left confused, frozen, disconnected or feels violated or victimized. At times in the moment, our boundaries can change. In my work, I check in with individuals throughout our session work letting them know it’s okay to change their mind around a boundary and establish a new boundary. I had a couple come see me and the woman was clear she did not want my hands anywhere on her husband. Got it! But she did want to receive touch from me. Got it! On the way home in the car after their session, she expressed to her husband that she wished I had touched him and realized that boundary wasn’t authentic to who she was and what she wanted for their relationship.
If she wanted to readjusted that boundary in the session I would have most likely said no because we had entered into an altered state of consciousness our boundaries become fuzzy, a bad time to renegotiate. I would however be available to renegotiate that in a future session with this couple. In the renegotiating we move forward together slowly, for example, where is it okay to touch your husband and where is it not okay to touch your husband. I will also interject my own boundaries such as, I’m not comfortable touching your husband in these ways, etc.
What I would love to see from more facilitators offering this work is the power of holding a strong container with established boundary check-ins for participants as well as a modeling of what healthy boundaries look like. Often we have to see someone say ‘no’ or to recreate a situation for themselves when a structure or boundary doesn’t feel authentic to them. A wonderful example of this I experienced recently was a lovely young woman who attended my Awakening the Sexual Shamanic Priestess Retreat. In our second night of the retreat the women sat around and shared their sexual stories with each other. As I modeled mine, this young woman raised her hand and asked the group if it would be okay if she disrobed and received the story telling while she was naked and told her story in the nude as well. The group consented and the young woman disrobed which inspired several others to follow suit. It was a remarkable moment having this young woman ask for what she needed in the space that was not being modeled for her. From that model other women chose to participate based on their individual level of comfort.
I also invite workshop instructors to ask individuals to leave if there is someone who is not appropriate for the workshop participating. I attended a Tantric Workshop for sound and vibration where a man consistently made inappropriate remarks. While the instructor filtered these comments well, it left the group jarred. At the end of the evening the man went up to another participant and placed his hand on her buttocks. She corrected him – good for her. However, before this point the instructor could have made a decision to ask this individual to leave. I have asked a handful of individual to leave naked yoga after sensing when they came in the door that this practice wasn’t right for them. I have also as an instructor asked a student to not return to class on behalf of another instructor. I have also tortuously sat through and not acted on an impulse to ask someone to leave because I was worried about hurting a students feelings rather focusing on the good of the group – my learning curve.
Great facilitation is an art. It comes out of consistent inner work, deep presence and community. In the Immersion, I never work without support from another teacher, sometimes two teachers who attend the Immersion as guests. After each Immersion we decompress afterwards asking what did they see, what worked, what needs improvement, what is going in group dynamics that I might have missed? If I am the only one holding space and facilitating, there is a greater capacity for blind spots and holes in the work, but in community there is the opportunity for co-creation and stronger space holding. I also host a Facebook group for New York based Sacred Sexuality therapists so they can network and share success stories and their bad client lists. In community there is safety, support, accountability and transparency. As a facilitator, a network of support is essential. Who do you call after a tough session, or a problematic class? Who do you refer a tough client to who may not be right for you? Are you in process yourself and in your own inner work? Who are your allies, resources and co-creative partners? Write-in. I’d love to hear from you and share how we can make our community stronger and support each other in the work.