The room was dark, and hazy from the bowl of dried sage that smoked in the center of the carpet.
I tossed my bag, my notebook, and my yoga mat to the side, and sat down cross-legged on the floor next to a boy with soft features, and unshaven cheeks.
We smiled at each other—both slightly uncomfortable and eager to get started. I wondered who he was, and where he was from, and if he had a beloved waiting for him back home as I did.
I had gone to the festival alone and signed up for the workshop alone, hoping that I would learn a sexy, subtle thing or two to bring back to Texas and show my husband.
“Welcome,” a woman’s voice rang through the air, “to the Tantra Cave. Tantra is a mysterious and sacred practice that allows us to fully experience the pleasure of being a human. It’s a lovers embrace. The divine union—the creation of the universe. Now, we have to leave everything at the door.
And once inside, we are free. We are one. Yoga and meditation are often thought of as ways to connect with the spirit. To your higher self. But today, we’re going to be celebrating the very essence of our humanness. We want to feel as alive as possible. Savor in every sensation and really admire our bodies for the pleasure they can give us, and one another. Are you ready?”
She raised an eyebrow and inhaled deeply and loudly into her chest. She was a goddess—Dawn Cartwright—the Queen of Tantra. We all closed into a tight circle on the floor, and took hands, with Dawn in the center. “Close your eyes,” she instructed, “and find your breath. We’re going to take a moment to awaken the fire within.”
Dawn passed around pink roses and allowed us to all pull off a petal. She explained that our petals were offerings to the divine, and as I tried to choke down a giggle, we tucked them inside of our pants, up against our pubic bones.
I could feel mine there, and I traced its ruffled outline in my mind. A little piece of love, cool and soft against my bare skin. “Now… as we breathe together, allow your breath to travel all the way from your lips, to the flower petal. Feel it’s presence as you settle into yourself.
You might want to add a bit of free movement here—some raising of the breasts, curving of the spine. Do whatever feels natural. Whatever feels good. Allow yourself to become hot, and ready.” I squeezed one eye shut and opened the other for a peek at the room. There were thirty yogis, maybe more, breathing in and out together, making all sorts of oohs, and aahs, and sighs as they rolled and curved and danced in their skin.
There was an energy building—I could feel it grow far, far down within me, near my flower petal.
“Now, without thinking,” began Dawn, “open your eyes, and find a partner in the room. It can be a man, or a woman. It can be your lover, if you brought them along, or a stranger. Find someone, and take their hand.” My heart stopped beating. Partnering up? What would we do? What about my husband, miles and miles away under a scorching Texas sun?
Oh, he thinks I’m just over here doing asana, and singing with Krishna Das, and learning peace and love and harmony, I thought as the crowded room around me quickly separated into pairs. But here I am, in a room that smells like a used up bed sheet, searching for someone to fuck with my eyes.
Five warm fingers found mine in my half-dizzy stupor. I looked up, and saw Brian, the bearded boy from before the workshop. He was smiling, and I smiled back, and two options bubbled up into my heart. I wanted to say no—to make the proper choice and stand quietly, and walk out of the cave and never turn back. But before I could open my lips, we were sitting face to face, legs crossed, with our fingers tightly interlaced.
Dawn sat down again in the middle of the room and cleared her throat. “In the art of lovemaking, the first step is the invitation. We all have something to give, do we not? We can all offer an invitation. I want the shortest one of each pair to turn around, and extend your legs. Get comfy. You can lean into your partner, if you’d like. And tallest person, extend your legs as well.” We made silent offerings to each other. Turned around with my back to his belly, I folded my hands and offered the lotus—an open heart. And he pressed his hands to his ribs and offered a diamond—all of his attention. To be here, now.
“So often when we make love, we’re somewhere else. It’s an ‘I wonder what we’ll eat for dinner’ kind of situation. But when you offer the precious diamond, you’re vowing to be here, now. To be completely present in the beautiful act.”
As we sat and traded offerings, I felt my body heating up. I leaned back a bit to relieve the strain in my belly, and found that Brian’s broad chest was there, expanding hot energy out, ready to catch me as I fell. There was contact. I thought of my husband KC—and then I released and allowed him to support my weight.
He sighed, pulling in the scent of my hair and exhaling softly on my neck. I felt him adjust his seating to accompany me more completely. It was warm, and slow. I unfolded my hands, and pressed them to my ribs. It was my turn to offer the diamond. He rubbed my back, firm palms pressing hard into my shoulders, fingertips brushing the soft spot behind my neck and all the way around, under my ear, to my cheek.
I wondered again about Brian—was he like me? Expecting nothing more from the workshop than some information to bring back home? I doubted it more with each second. His touch was tender, and passionate, and he was here, now, in this moment. And no matter what, he deserved the same. We all deserve loving attention.
Alright, I thought, I’ll play. And so, I drew in a breath of sage smoke, and placed my hands on his legs. The dance had begun. The couples in the room were instructed to turn and face one another. Brian’s eyes were dark, and deep, and I squinted a bit as I hopped into one, and then the other, trying to see a wink of his Spirit.
We sat like this for a year—maybe longer—staring into each other’s eyes (a stranger’s eyes, can you imagine!) With each passing second, a lifetime rolled past in my mind. It was uncomfortable at first, as it tends to be—such intimacy with someone you’ve only just met. But then, I thought back to something a teacher had told me just earlier that day: when you open your heart, you begin to live differently.
Instead of seeing everyone as separate, you begin to see them as mirrors of yourself. And that’s the beauty of oneness—of this spiritual, human experience. Seeing everyone as yourself, every part of yourself—the bad, the hidden, and the good—and loving them immediately. The room shifted colors as a storm cloud tumbled over the sun outside. Dawn’s footsteps faded into the thump, thump, thump of my heart. Brian’s face began to change. Subtle, flashing things, but changes nonetheless. His eyes! Wrinkled in the corners, and thickly lashed. They looked so similar to Travis’—the man that I had once loved so deeply in the hazy city of San Francisco. It never ended, you see—it simply faded into the harbor without a proper finale, and had tugged on my heart since.
But now, Brian’s eyes… And his mouth! Whisker hidden and half open. Ben! My post high school love. I didn’t want to end it with him—but it had happened, just like that, and I suddenly felt him in the room, dancing somewhere with his guitar.
I squinted hard at Brian—didn’t he feel his face changing? Hair growing, forehead shrinking, cheeks tanning, eyes widening? Travis, Ben, Marshall, Christian—all of my past loves, there! And there! Falling from his skin like beads of sweat. I closed my eyes tightly and shook my head. I felt Brian squeeze my arm, and when I looked up at him, he was concerned. “Are you okay?” he asked, stroking the skin on my forearm with his finger. He was himself again. Just Brian. Plain faced and handsome. “I am,” I said. And I was.
They were gone. And at once, I realized that I had let them go. Loves from my past that were still holding on. Keeping a piece of my heart with them in their breast pocket.
I was light. Full of warm air. I smiled, and reached out for Brian’s cheek. “Thank you,” I said, and I kissed him on the mouth, without thinking. He blushed, and smiled back. The workshop ended, and Brian and I had the unfortunately awkward talk about my marital status. But he understood. “The Tantra isn’t about that,” he explained. “It’s about the moment. It’s about letting go, and letting love in. Bring some of it back to your husband, okay?” And I did.
No longer weighted down by the long lost loves, I brought all of myself back to Texas.
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Assistant Ed: Bruce Casteel/Ed: Bryonie Wise