The third 'Tantra of Rope Bondage' workshop looks set to sell-out again. That's actually quite moving, since it's all about the deeply human and conscious approach to our erotic shadows that I feel is extremely important and very under-represented.
With anything that dares to explore the edges of the erotic, sometimes events or people can be labelled as 'weird', 'scary' or 'kinky' and other such concepts. Having all kinds of preconceptions applied to them that are contradictory to what they actually value or promote. I was fortunate to have a conversation recently with someone who had such judgements but was interested to find out more. In the end they attended a workshop and really loved it, and apologised afterwards for having made a bunch of assumptions with no basis in reality.
I'm not saying it's easy to entirely discard labels. Putting things in categories is a way we commonly make sense of the world. Labels can also be signposts to attract appropriate interest. I still use the word 'Tantra' for instance. The decision I made to continue to do so was difficult. In the end I decided that the benefits outweighed the drawbacks of potential misconceptions. Because a lot of principles that folk in countries like Australia think of as 'Tantric' do apply to my offerings. (Erotic polarity, energetic resonance, satisfaction from deep feeling, heart-connected primal energies, authentic communication, the power of the subtle, the crucial importance of personal boundaries and informed consent …)
Plus, people apply different meanings to labels, and fields can overlap significantly. For instance I sometimes attend workshops or trainings with the word 'kinky' in the title or subtitle, and have learned many useful skills at them. (I've also occasionally had the interesting and not always comfortable experience of being the most 'mainstream' person in the room at such events.)
Let's be super clear though. I've no fundamental problem with anyone identifying as 'Kinky'. It can be a very liberating and self-affirming stance/identification. Plus, I'm more likely to have things in common with someone who identifies as 'kinky' than someone who identifies as 'bank manager' or 'real estate agent'. (Not that these things are exclusive or definitive, I'm talking generally.) Yet any label of this sort can attract widespread assumptions about what's on offer, or the kind of person you must be.
My motivations for exploring Shadow Tantra are: authentic intimacy, personal empowerment, Transpersonal/Archetypal self-development, and sharing rich human experiences (beyond the shallow engagements our culture tries to convince us are all we can expect from life). My motivations are NOT: 'to get off', 'to be excited by pretending to be someone I'm not', 'to feel superficially better about myself through wielding power over someone else', 'to enjoy anonymous encounters', or 'to have sex with a lot of people'. (All things commonly associated with the word 'Kinky'.) I'd also like to be clear that I'm not suggesting such perspectives/desires are necessarily wrong. They're just not mine.
The approach I resonate with, and present, is one of exploring our Shadows (in the broadly Jungian frame) of the Psyche as part of reconnecting to the wider truths of who we truly vulnerably are. Looking for the empowered and expanded self – the self beyond the cultural conditioning that so profoundly limits the truth of each human being. For me, any tools, techniques, skills, and roles are available to be adapted as appropriate supports for this adventure, rather than being the goals themselves. People can investigate such explorations in a committed monogamous connection, with practice partners, or in some other form of relationship - depending on their own preferences for erotic intimacy. So long as the engagement is conscious and emotionally healthy. As I often say about 'Shadow Tantra': if you aren't feeling richly and happily connected to whoever you are interacting with, then something is wrong and you need to stop and work out what that is.
Practical benefits include: wider erotic repertoire and greater erotic confidence; resolving old emotional wounds that block us from satisfying intimacy; letting go of unconscious embodied fears, shame & restrictions around experiencing pleasure; and opening our voice to be more able to state/honour/feel our boundaries in life. Plus, generally improved confidence in expressing and 'being' who we truly are. The truth is that (despite the fact that we still live in a moral code historically imposed on us by puritans) we are embodied erotic beings. It's a natural and healthy part of our biology and of our psyche, and learning to know ourselves more fully in these realms is taking a step closer to living as a full human being.
Arven (20th Oct, 2016)
This piece on the quest for authentic self-expression was inspired by:
1) Kate Shela's truly wonderful 'Power' ecstatic dance workshop in Melbourne. In which we were assisted to explore both the raw strength and the fragile vulnerability of authentic power - in expressing who we truly are unapologetically and unashamedly to the world.
2) A conversation about Improv recently, with someone who said they were impressed that I run such events.
Both of these experiences caused me to reflect on my own difficult life-journey around confidence and expression. (A journey that still continues.)
I've been on a huge personal voyage around self-expression. Few people know I was agoraphobic until I was 24. Not to the extent of being too scared to leave my home, but close to it. Certainly I felt afraid all of the time and was unable to function normally, make friends, speak up for myself, ask a girl out... I'm not going to delve into the why's and wherefore's. Enough to say that my father was psychologically ill, to the extent of having electro-shock treatment and being physically violent to me. And that the secondary school I went to (ages 12-17) was an unbelievable nightmare of abuse (by teachers and pupils) and bullying (by small gangs who would collectively 'stomp' people). One thing I do know, is that all of this built in me a life-long quest for authentic self-expression, not to mention a healthily critical distrust of authority.
Eventually my spirit guided me to seek professional help. I saw a Jungian psychologist (when I was 17) and a Somatic Therapist (when I was 18-21). Plus (by divine chance) somehow entered a very healing relationship ages 20-22). All this assisted me to begin to climb out of the dark and clinging hole of my own fractured psyche. I continued to explore different forms of humanistic and (later) Tantra- and Transpersonal-based self-development, until something big finally shifted when I was 24. I was able to go to University as a sufficiently confident person to have an excellent time there, and began to explore many things I'd been unable to as a teenager.
Then, in 2005, the path of self-development had become so rewarding that I reached the point (apparently quite a natural one when you study anything with dedication for long enough) of wanting to share some of the benefits. Specifically I felt drawn to run workshops where people interacted authentically on verbal and feeling levels for the joy of self-development. I was also partly motivated by the fact that there was nothing of this sort happening in Melbourne that was cheap, regular and affordable. (Hard to believe that this was the case only a decade ago!)
Immediately, I discovered another layer of massively debilitating fear. The idea of standing and talking in front of a group felt as awful as annihilation. The terror in my body meant I could hardly speak when I tried to imagine being in such a situation, certainly could not 'project', and had nothing even approaching the basic level of embodied confidence required to put a group of participants at ease. So I looked around to find some way to practice expression in front of a group. I was already a dedicated explorer of ecstatic dance, but that wasn't close enough to what I needed.
I was lucky to find Al Wunder's 'Theater of the Ordinary' Improv training. Al himself claimed that it wasn't self-development, yet for me (and others) it was one of the most useful things I've ever done. I still recall the first time I stood in front of a group and spoke (a true story about something odd and amusing that had just happened in my life). It was one of those 'pivotal life moments'. Combined with my continued expressive dance journey, and some coaching from a friend who was already a confident and passionate public speaker, all this was enough to get started.
In 2006 I began running my own fun little Improv events in Brunswick, then studied Transpersonal/Tantric Breathwork and ran groups in that for a couple of years. Then I began designing and running Tantra, Authentic Relating and Menswork events. Many other trainings have also assisted me, including the potent Meisner Technique studies I discovered first with Jonathan Horan and more recently took to greater depth with Clare Dea of Meisner Melbourne.
I want to close by reminding people that confident self-expression isn't an “either you have it or you don't” deal. It can be more effectively approached in my opinion as an ongoing quest. One in which you expand and open in different areas at different rates. For instance, I still have a challenge around speaking in front of 'cold' groups that aren't my workshop participants. And I still can't always (or even usually) just dance with whoever I would like to at Five Rhythms. I also discovered that basically I'm a natural introvert. I like my own company, I'm not great with small talk and I find big loud groups difficult to relax into. Yet I now have good friends, the courage to attend workshops around being real and open, and design and run great little events with natural confidence. I can even sometimes be appropriately and courageously bold and expressive with someone I'm attracted to. All of which was once utterly alien to me.
Arven (17th Oct, 2016)
Authentic Relating is a vast field.
This blog is an overview in response to a few different questions I was asked recently.
Depending on the context, this experience could also be called 'Conscious Relating', 'Communicating in Integrity', 'Authentic Expression', or even a variant of 'Radical Honesty'. It's basically the life-practice of doing your best to express, and relate to, what's true in the moment. Appropriately and without looking to shame/blame. By moving beyond common culturally conditioned habits such as disconnection from feelings, suppressed self-awareness, fear of vulnerability, and habitual non-disclosure.
Why try to Relate Authentically?
In my experience, and what I've heard from many others, interacting this way creates deeper and more 'satisfyingly real' relational experiences. The more you connect to, and express the essence of, who you truly are (as much as one ever can), the more deeply you can be felt and related to. The more you live your truth the more you connect to authentic personal power. For many, the greatest rewards in life, that a lot of us hunger to find, can be broadly defined as 'more fulfilling human engagements'. Intimate connections, friendships, working with clients... Basically, the more authentic you are, the more powerful, satisfying, substantial and rewarding all relational experiences will be.
Some people have a huge fear around being more honest, vulnerable and visible. That terror is another massive topic that can't be addressed fully here. Very basically, as long as you're doing your best (in a realistic non-perfectionist way) to be authentic this fear largely proves unfounded. There's nothing wrong with being a mystery to some extent – we are complex individuals after all. Just bring consciousness, empathy and integrity to the decisions you make around what to share and what to keep to yourself.
Verbal & Non-Verbal Communication
Most conscious human communication is verbal. Authentic Relating addresses the 'whole-being experience'. We communicate a heck of a lot more through what's generally termed 'body language' than we ever can in words. (In ways that are a lot more diverse than most realise: Posture, subtle emotional changes, eye-movement, pupil size, body heat, minute physiological tensions/movements, voice tone, breathing patterns...) It's very common to be saying one thing at the same time as communicating something very different - or at least a lot more complex than you realise. (How well other people pick-up on the other layers of communication is another question that depends on many factors.)
One sadly common example of inauthentic (contradictory) communication is when one 'monogamous' partner asks another: 'Have you had sex with someone else?' and the 'accused' partner says 'No' when in fact they have. Both people know unconsciously that this is a lie, and so the dishonest person is being (even if unintentionally) abusive - contributing to potentially damaging psychological/emotional dissonance in their partner. I believe there's a website based in the USA that specifically assists people to organise affairs. If so, it is effectively promoting emotional/psychological abuse. (To be clear, it's not polyamory I have a problem with by definition, but the hypocrisy and lies inherent in many people's lived definitions of monogamy.)
Learning Authentic Relating
First of all, beware of the 'perfectionist myth'. Just continuing to do your best is the real goal to aim for. It's very easy to use the 'It's All Too Difficult' excuse and not even bother to step onto the path. I've been exploring this for years so I'm reasonably fluent in some aspects (simply due to hard work and practice), yet I still struggle in others. That's the human journey. Start from where you are, hold strong intents to improve and to move out of your comfort zone. Then explore bravely from there.
A good first reference is Brad Blanton's pioneering book 'Radical Honesty'. I'm not 100% behind everything he recommends. His approach stresses full and complete disclosure in every moment. In my opinion in some instances taking that approach will only lead to pain - with no benefit to anyone whatsoever. (Blowing out people's capacity to process emotionally, and destroying any chance of resolution.) Mind you, deciding 'it would only hurt someone' is also one of the most common ways of 'chickening out' from being honest. Through covering up straightforward selfishness and fear of abandonment in cases where the pain and challenge would be short term, and the gains substantial and long-term. In the end you have to work this out in every unique context.
It can be difficult to learn something new without actual experience. Fortunately various workshops and trainings in Melbourne provide lived opportunities to learn new habits, often in fun and interesting social environments. For instance, Spiral Events offers 'Conscious Speed Dating'. One 'positive hidden agenda' of CSD is to teach participants how to access more bodily wisdom and a greater repertoire of non-verbal expression. Plus how to engage with others doing the same. The 'speed dates' are fun and interesting non-verbal exercises, closing with talking together about your experiences in the exercise. Talking about the experience (rather than just random chatter) opens up communication at a more expansive level. (There are no formal opportunities to just chat randomly until the end of the event.)
More specific Authentic Relating practices and games are available in 'Masks & Mirrors'. This event is designed as a fascinating and entertaining exploration with others, rather than being some kind of hideous 'Integrity Bootcamp'. Nobody 'has' to say anything that they would prefer to keep confidential. Nonetheless it's specifically about self-development. Then there's also Meisner Melbourne's 'Foundations' course, where participants learn a deep grounding in the incredible Repetitions/Reflections Dyads.
(Behaviors to gently watch out for on the path of learning Authentic Relating).
Arven (5th Oct, 2016) [www.SpiralEvents.weebly.com]
Arven Alexander is a self-development enthusiast, currently residing in Melbourne, Australia.