Tantra for the West
by Marc Allen
This article first appeared in Watkins Mind Body Spirit, issue 43.
We live in a fascinating, challenging time — a period of great global change. Most of us (not all, sadly) live in societies that have finally come to believe that every one of us — every individual on earth — has basic human rights, including a right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. What does this really mean? It means that we all have a right to be free, free to fully be ourselves, in all our unique, passionate, funny, goofy, brilliant glory.
Those who are at the forefront of these great global changes have been called cultural creatives. In this new age, the old social pressures that have formerly controlled people have been obliterated. We’re free to invent new ways of living, and reinvent old ways of living. We’re free to live the lifestyle we desire, deep in our hearts — the life of our dreams.
Way back in 1981, I wrote a book called Tantra for the West. The subtitle was A Guide to Personal Freedom. A decade later we changed the subtitle to Everyday Miracles and Other Steps for Transformation. Both of those subtitles have their merits, but I kept looking for something more precise, and have come up with this subtitle for the new edition: A Direct Path to Living the Life of Your Dreams.
That seems clearer (at least to me). There are teachings that can directly affect our lives, immediately. There are practices we can do that help us take a quantum leap into a far more expansive and fulfilling life. That is the focus and the promise of Tantra for the West.
Years ago, during a radio interview I had when the first edition of the book came out, the interviewer said (in these exact words), “Why do you have to use the word tantra? Why not use an American word, like Chevrolet or fork?” At the time, I said I used foreign words only when there was no English equivalent, and that the concept of tantra was unique, because it’s a spiritual practice that involves every moment of our lives.
Now, years later, I have a much better answer: You don’t have to call it tantra. You can call it whatever you want. You can call it creative visualization, or modern magic, or effective therapy, or the practice of everyday life. It doesn’t matter what you call it; use whatever words you want to describe it and apply in your own life. I happen to like the word tantra; I also like looking at these principles and practices as modern magic (and that’s why my last book is called The Magical Path).
The new edition of Tantra for the West starts with these words:
The older I get, the simpler I see it, and the clearer it all becomes. Here’s one way to sum up the path of tantra, the yoga of every moment:
Any activity whatsoever,
if gone into deeply enough,
leads to ultimate understanding,
freedom, and peace.
Art can take you immediately into that understanding, but so can every other activity, including meditation and exercising and working and relaxing in nature and cleaning toilets and stepping in dog doo. Every moment, when gone into deeply enough, brings us to the great understanding of the miracle of what is.
Music can easily and effortlessly take you there. When playing music, when listening to music, you’re in the moment, and the music is telling you that within this moment is the magic, the wonder and joy, of life itself….
Whatever path you choose, it is your path to spiritual discovery, wandering wherever it may take you. It is the path that includes every moment of your everyday life — cleaning up messes, doing the dirty work, watching TV, playing with your electronic devices, eating pizza, and whatever else you are doing at the moment.
Every moment is our path, and any activity whatsoever, if gone into deeply enough, leads to ultimate understanding. You can call this the path of tantra….
It’s fascinating that when the word tantra is used in the West, it’s almost always thought of as sex, with some kind of mysticism thrown in. But if you look at how tantra has been taught and studied in the East for the past several thousand years — particularly in India and Tibet — you get a much broader sense of its meaning.
Tantra is not just “the yoga of sex,” it is the yoga of everything — of every moment. Yoga means “union,” so a good way to define tantra is “union with everything” or “the practice of every moment.” We’ve already seen another good definition:
Tantra is the awareness that every moment
is a direct path to love, freedom,
fulfillment, and enlightenment.
I summarize in the book every teaching I encountered in 15 years of searching that had a direct effect on my life. Now that I look back on it, I see that I had to find methods that embraced my lifestyle as a typical young Westerner, rejecting nothing. I tried denying my sexuality; it didn’t work. (I got kicked out of a zen center for sleeping with another student.) I tried for three-and-a-half years to fully embrace Tibetan Buddhism; it didn’t work, because it didn’t allow me to embrace the whole of my being, including my American upbringing, my Christian roots, my individuality, my inherent laziness, and my desire for a life of ease and joy.
The practices I managed to retain from my years of study of eastern and western traditions were simple and direct, so I could easily apply them in my daily life, and they involved very little discipline, because I’m basically undisciplined. I tried all kinds of things; I tried meditating and doing yoga every day, but didn’t have the discipline. Any practice that required daily repetition taking more than five or ten minutes just didn’t work for me.
Through trial and error, I found what finally worked for me: realizing that every moment is my practice; everything — rejecting nothing — is part of my spiritual path. Once I understood this, I was able to make quantum leaps forward on my path. Tantra for the West is filled with the simple principles and practices that dramatically changed my life and the lives of many others as well.
The simplest practices have definitely been the most effective ones for me. One of my favorites (probably because it appeals to my lazy side) is just to lie down, flat on my back, arms near my side with the palms up (it’s called the Corpse posture in yoga). Then I relax from head to toe with a few deep breaths, and then just imagine a shimmering light at the top of my head that slowly moves down through me, healing every part of my body and filling it with light.
That’s all there is to it: Just relax in a field of radiant light. If you do this for even just a few minutes, you’ll feel wonderful results. Do it often enough, and it will lighten your life.
That’s one of the few practices I do regularly. Here’s another — so simple to do, and so powerful in its effect:
Sit comfortably. Take a breath and relax your body from head to toe as you exhale….
Take another deep breath and, as you exhale, relax your mind and let all thought go….
Take a deep, slow breath and, as you exhale, let everything go….
Sit in silence for a moment….
Feel your presence within….
Bask in the radiant light energy that fills your body, mind, and spirit….
Feel the wonder of your being, always with you, now and forever more….
That’s it. When you let all thought go, you let all your problems go. When you sit in silence for even a short time, you become aware of the vibrant life energy within you. If you have any particular health problems, you can focus on that area of your body, and feel it filled with radiant healing light. Just relax, and let your phenomenal mind, body, and spirit heal you.
I’ll leave you with one more short exercise. This is a prayer I used to say with my son when he was a little boy as he drifted off to sleep:
I close my eyes and see a field of light….
And I feel that light, and life, in every cell of my body,
nurturing and healing every cell….
And I know that light, and life, and love,
is who and what I am, now and forever.
The truth can be expressed very simply, and it can have a great impact in our lives. Know that you are filled with light, life, and love; in fact, in your essence. You are light, life, and love.
Let your light, life, and love guide you, every moment, in everything you do. And there is nothing more to do, nothing else to be, nothing else to have. Just be yourself: a being of pure light. It is who and what you are now and forever.
About the author: Marc Allen is the author of several books including Tantra for the West, The Magical Path, The Greatest Secret of All, Visionary Business, and others. He is an internationally renowned seminar leader, entrepreneur, author, and composer. He co-founded New World Library (with Shakti Gawain) and has guided the company, as president and publisher, from a small start-up to its current position as a major player in the independent publishing world. He leads seminars in northern California and gives teleseminars that reach people all over the world. www.MarcAllen.com or www.NewWorldLibrary.com
Tantra for the West: A Direct Path to Living the Life of Your Dreams
£11.99, available from Watkins Books
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issue 43, tantra, Tantra for the West