Two weekends ago, my good friend asked me to accompany her to a workshop about “sacred sensuality.” Essentially, the workshop was led by a woman who calls herself The Goddess Oceana. She has a vision of teaching Tantric principles to people—in Worcester, Mass., no less. I had no idea what “sacred sensuality” was, but I figured, you only live once. So I decided to go to the workshop.
The workshop took place at a yoga center in Worcester. I entered the center and paid my suggested donation. A man walked up to my friend and me, introduced himself and said, “Would you like a hug?” If you know me, you know I’m not a hugger. I prefer to only hug people I know and genuinely like. However, I didn’t think “Go away” was the appropriate thing to say, so I gingerly hugged this very strange man.
In the studio, Oceana sat on a cushion meditating. She was a beautiful woman with long, flowing white hair who managed to look like she’d been to Olympus a time or two. Spread before her was a circular piece of gold lame fabric covered with crystals. At the top of the circle sat a smaller oval-shaped pillow that had concentric layers of fabric in different shades of red. Take a moment to sit with the visualization. Hopefully, the symbolism is obvious.
Oceana spoke for a while and then asked us to pair with a partner to form a “Tantric bubble.” Now, although what happens in Worcester stays in Worcester, I thought it might be awkward to form a Tantric bubble with my female friend. So I was paired with Creepy Hug Guy. He was wearing shorts and a tank top, and his bare feet were capped with yellow toenails that were badly in need of a trim. We sat “crisscross applesauce” with knees touching and did an eye-gazing exercise in which I looked at his left eye for a solid minute. We also had to do a “Namaste” ritual in which we touched third eyes (aka foreheads). It was slightly awkward but nothing horrid. He commented on how open I seemed to be, and I ignored him.
Mid-workshop, we headed to a miniature kitchen for a quick snack. I headed away from the bags of Lindt truffles and toward a plate of strawberries. I ate one strawberry and was about to reach for another when Creepy Hug Guy approached me, holding a strawberry of his own. “Maybe I should just feed it to you,” he suggested, his words accompanied by the best come hither stare he could muster. I said “no” and walked away. I admit it, I sort of hugged the guy. I touched his third eye (that sounds really icky if you don’t know what I’m talking about). But I had no intention of being fed strawberries by a socially awkward stranger.
The second half of the workshop was less eventful. We did some shaking exercises to wake up our kundalini, which are apparently coiled snakes that live at the base of one’s spine. We did some non-sexual dancing, and then we sat down to meditate. I’d always wanted to make meditation a practice, but I’d never had the time or the discipline. When I was younger and attending a Baptist church, meditating was considered an “occult” practice that invited demonic influence. In other words, bad juju. So I buried my curiosity.
About a week after the workshop…
I discovered an app for iPhone called “Headspace.” Headspace contains 10 guided meditation sessions, each lasting 10 minutes. You watch a few short introductory videos, and then you start Day One. If you choose to continue meditating after the free sessions, then you subscribe to the service.
I’m on Day Four, and I have to say that it’s one of the best experiences I’ve ever had. The laidback British man who leads the meditations has an easygoing, approachable style. I’d always thought of meditation as emptying the mind of thoughts, but it’s really about learning to be fully present in every moment. First, you concentrate on your breathing. Second, you feel the pressure of the floor or the chair beneath you. Third, you listen to the sounds in the room. The goal is to be fully present in those sensations throughout the session.
When a thought or emotion enters your mind during meditation, you notice it, acknowledge it and watch it go away. Laidback British Man compares it to sitting on a bench while watching traffic. You don’t squash your thoughts; you honor them. And then you let them go.
Outside of my sessions, I’m able to slow down and actually look at thoughts and feelings when they go by. I’ve stopped telling myself, “You shouldn’t think that.” Instead, I acknowledge it and take a moment to consider why the thought entered my mind. When I feel a spike of anger toward my kids, I acknowledge it to myself. I give myself a moment to feel the anger and to understand why I’m angry. And then I let it go.
I spent many years being Baptist, and it became habit to crush any thought or feeling that might be considered “bad.” The Bible says to “take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ.” When you try to think only perfect thoughts, however, you start playing a game of cosmic Whack-a-Mole. Instead of taking three seconds to be angry and then let it float away, your anger bubbles beneath the surface until it explodes, often in the direction of the people you love the most. By opening myself to my thoughts and feelings and honoring them instead of trying to suppress them, I’m gaining true self-control, not for the obedience of Christ but for the betterment of myself.
Meditating isn’t necessarily about spirituality or religion, although you can certainly incorporate the practice into your faith. For me, three days of learning to slow down and watch my mental traffic has been nothing short of life-changing. I think I’ve learned more in those three sessions than I have in six years of therapy. I’m glad I went to the Tantric workshop in spite of Creepy Hug Guy.
The lesson: Be open to life’s random experiences. You never know where they will take you.