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I will never forget the watershed moment that personally brought home the power of presence and eventually led me to draw the distinction of energetic intimacy.
It was in the months after a breakup with a man who was “just not that into me.” I was devastated and trying to understand what I knew was a disproportionate degree of heartbreak for the circumstances. I happened upon an advertisement for a four-week tantra immersion with the controversial (and now deceased) teacher, Psalm Isadora.
I signed up immediately with the intention of exploring the nature of intimacy and finding ways to balance what I thought of as the wholeness of the self with the merging of another. In other words, why was it so easy to lose myself in someone else? What I had no way of knowing was that this month-long program would open the door to a world previously unknown to me and radically transform my own experience of myself in every sense. I ended up studying with Psalm for several years and was eventually initiated into the Sri Vidya lineage of tantra, which continues to inform much of my work today.
In this initial immersion, we met three times a week for four consecutive weeks. Thirteen of us spent a total of 24 hours together in the studio built out over the detached garage of the house in which Psalm lived, in Venice, California. Bathed in candlelight, we would start with meditation and breath work, followed by discussion. We rounded out each evening with a practice called Yab Yum. We paired off and sat face-to-face on the floor with legs wrapped around each other. Gazing into our partner’s eyes, we breathed together and allowed creative life-force energy (essentially sexual energy) to build and circulate between us while Psalm chanted and sang mantras in the ancient language of Sanskrit. We switched partners twice, for a total of three 20-minute “sits.”
The pairing-up process was random, self-managed, and messy. It was always a little nerve-racking to determine who would end up with whom. We each secretly had our favorite people to sit with. Some combinations felt more or less awkward than others. It was all part of the learning—comfort and discomfort were equally valuable experiences.
In the first three weeks, I managed to successfully avoid partnering with one of the participants I found utterly repugnant. There wasn’t anything about Thomas I found redeeming. He was a self-centered, unattractive, know-it-all. That last week, in the penultimate gathering, as we paired up in our usual disorganized fashion for our final partner exercise, the moment I dreaded became a reality: Thomas was my partner.
Although by then I knew to recognize this as an opportunity, there was no way to know the impact of what was about to unfold. Like every other Yab Yum in the past several weeks, we sat facing each other, me on Thomas’s lap with our legs wrapped around one another. Everything inside my chest and belly contracted like the face of a small child being forced to swallow a spoonful of medicine that tasted putrid. To say I was resistant is an understatement. I tried my best to simply focus on the physical sensation of my breath and to allow the breath to unclench the soft, tender center of body. As we sat there gazing into each other’s eyes, little by little, with every breath, my ideas about Thomas dissolved: his costume of identity fell away. I saw the tenderness of his being, vulnerable and pure. It felt as if we were gazing into each other’s souls. We were meeting in that field Rumi talks about, “Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing,” and it was life changing.
I fell in love with Thomas that night. I mean, I was overcome with love, and it was undeniably mutual. The life-force energy we cultivated together in that 20 minutes was so abundant and strong we could easily have ripped each other’s clothes off and made love right there on the studio floor. As the exercise came to a close, I was stunned. I couldn’t believe this was the same man I detested. Nothing about what had just happened made sense. It had been easy enough to share this kind of experience with someone I liked and was predisposed to feel love and appreciation for, but to fall so deeply in love with someone whom I actively loathed was astonishing. This experience caused a monumental paradigm shift in the way I thought about human nature, love, energy, and intimacy. I had to ask myself: if it was possible to love this invidious man, what else was possible?
Thomas and I never knew each other more than we did that night. Our experience didn’t translate to life outside the studio. He and I came from two different worlds. It would have defeated the whole point to attach some sort of story line or outcome to our experience, nor was I even tempted to. A couple of years later, we ran into each other on the street. He looked the same as he ever did, but when I laid eyes on him, I silently chuckled to myself how his affect had once offended me so. In that present moment, my heart swelled with love. To this day, I remain deeply grateful for his willingness to meet that night in a place where nothing existed except the wonder of another soul.
After my experience in Psalm’s tantra immersion, I began to understand what he meant when Ram Dass said, “Treat everyone you meet like God in drag.”
I started assuming that anyone acting poorly is a worthy soul who is suffering in some way and lacks the skill to deal with it effectively. That guy driving next to me who gave me the finger was letting his own pain spill over onto me in the form of aggressive gestures. It really had nothing to do with me. I don’t condone road rage, or aggression in general, but my new appreciation for people’s souls—beyond the roles they play—opened a new way of being in the world.
To this day, whenever someone flips me off, without one ounce of irony, I blow them a kiss and mouth the words, “I love you.” This is significant for a woman who learned how to drive in New York!
The above is an excerpt from Zoë Kors’s book, Radical Intimacy: Cultivate the Deeply Connected Relationships You Desire and Deserve.