|‘Shadow Tantra’ is a term I use to describe the conscious exploration of the mysterious and beautiful places where Tantra, Conscious Kink and the erotic shadow overlap. What does this mean exactly? Let’s break it down…
Tantra is a word that is often overused, misused and misunderstood. Tantra has a long history consisting of many threads throughout continental Asia and contrary to popular belief, does not represent a single cohesive practice. Historically, it has never been about simply ‘bringing spirituality into sexuality’, which is how it’s often perceived and taught in the West. If anything, it’s been the other way around: Tantra has a history of being a spiritual practice which in some cases includes rituals of a sexual nature. More about Tantra on the wikipedia page.
With so many different understandings of the nature of Tantra, it is hard for anyone to use the term and be understood. As a rough guide, though, I am interested in ritual that deepens our collective self-knowledge and furthers our ability to see ourselves as divine beings. Conscious Sexual practices are a definite and active part of this.
Many of us had sex before we had good communication about sex. We have been brought up in an era where very few of us talk openly and honestly about our own sexuality. Such discussions are usually shunned, or at least filled with awkwardness or toilet humour. There may have been some sex education at school but that is usually about reproduction rather than pleasure. Some of us may have had sex-positive parents to some degree, but for the most part we have had to learn about sexuality all by ourselves.
I have seen client couples who have been married for many years but have still never had a proper conversation about their sexual desires or fantasies. We often hear about people who have spent their lives denying their own sexual impulses. This is necessary the short term in order to not be ostracised from our families, loved ones or community. For example, in some cases – such as in countries where homosexual practices are outlawed and gay people are hounded, beaten or arrested – this is a matter of life and death. We owe it to those who are suppressed by their cultures because of their sexuality to do all we can to make it known that we accept all folk, regardless of their sexual orientation.
The Conscious Sexuality movement is the practice of actively communicating with our lovers about our desires. It is knowing that other people have desires that don’t match us and this is acceptable to us. Everyone has a different experience of sexuality and we acknowledge this. With lovers, we communicate with words, with touch, with facial expressions and with our hearts. We assert our boundaries and we enthusiastically respect it when others assert their boundaries to us. Conscious Sexuality is being truly present in our bodies when we join together with our lovers, and doing all we can to break out of subconscious patterns by bringing these patterns into awareness.
The Erotic Shadow
The ‘Shadow’ is a term used by many people working in the field of mental and emotional health, most notably by Carl Jung but also to some degree by his predecessor Sigmund Freud. Depending on which text you read, the Shadow can refer to either the whole of the unconscious mind, or else those parts of ourselves that we have suppressed from our own consciousness. I am using the term in the latter sense, describing the ‘Shadow’ as all those parts of ourselves that we have suppressed and hidden from ourselves and those around us.
For some people, the Erotic Shadow is any sexual impulse at all; for others the shadow pertains to specific kinks and fetishes. Most of us on planet Earth have been brought up to hide at least a part of our sexual impulses. I know this hiding allows us to fit into society but we are denying a part of ourselves by doing so. There may be ‘negative’ emotions around our erotic shadows. Feelings such as shame, guilt or self-loathing can be very present when a part of the self has been suppressed. It takes an act of courageous self-love to decide to take a deep breath, look inward and examine what lies in the shadows within. Note that the emotions that we identify as negative can be highly charged, and this charge can be very useful. For an exploration of this theme I highly recommend Jack Morin’s book, The Erotic Mind: Unlocking the Inner Sources of Passion and Fulfillment.
Most commonly reasons for suppression of the shadow are to do with the people we’re attracted to, the types of sex acts we’d like to do or parts of our bodies we’d like to explore. The danger in suppressing our sexuality is that it doesn’t actually go away. It’s a part of us and it needs its outlets in order for us to be mentally and emotionally healthy. Finding safe and healthy ways to embrace with our shadow brings us to knowing ourselves better.
Combining the desire to explore Tantra (movement towards spiritual self-knowledge) and the understanding that we have suppressed large chunks of our selves into our Shadows, the goal then becomes to explore and ultimately integrate those suppressed parts of ourselves. By consciously and wilfully choosing to look at our Shadows, we are attempting to bring those suppressed parts into our own awareness. Exploring the Shadow is akin to lighting a candle, and exploring the myriad of caves within our unconscious minds.
As many of our Shadows are of a sexual nature, and sexuality is a powerful force to be reckoned with, it requires a high degree of alertness and awareness to explore the Shadow recesses of our mind.
As the wonderful Ruby May has put it: “Our shadows don’t just stay comfortably hidden and out of the way. Life has a funny knack for ensuring we can’t sustainably reject parts of the Self. They have a tendency to demand our attention by taking on volatile, addictive and ‘icky’ qualities.Often we project our shadows on to others, judging qualities in them that unconsciously we actually reject in ourself. Focusing on our dislike of others may feel good initially as we don’t have to focus on our own demons, however being caught up in a web of illusions and judgements does not feel good for long! Ultimately it just reinforces our own self-judgement and shame.”
In one sense, Shadow Tantra overlaps a lot of esoteric mystery traditions. One common goal of many of these traditions is for each explorer to fully remember that we are all divine beings and the goal of the work is to bring our divine nature into full consciousness. In other words: one purpose in exploring Shadow Tantra is to help us see through all of the illusions and mental programming and to remember who we really are and to help others also remember. There is a ‘coming home’ feeling once we remove the shackles of illusion put upon us by the modern world.
In a practical sense, Shadow Tantra is about creating safe and conscious ritual spaces where we can take time to look within, explore what we find there, integrate those things we find and come out more whole and more empowered. As so much of our Shadow is tied up with our sexuality, a Shadow Tantra session or workshop involves using the tools of Conscious Sexuality and Conscious Kink in order to forge a path within ourselves.
Conscious Kink is important to our exploration of the Shadow as it allows us to explore any fetishes we might have in an empowering and nurturing way. We may explore what it’s like to engage in impact play (e.g. flogging or spanking) or we may create scenes where we find out what it’s like to give our power away to another person for a while. Conscious Kink also allows for our darker erotic fantasies to be explored, and for this reason a large part of workshops is geared towards learning common tools for asserting boundaries and ensuring healthy methods for gaining authentic consent from those involved in our scene. Consent is everything.
When we explore a kink, fetish or fantasy for the first time, especially if we’ve been aware of it for a long time, several things can happen. Firstly we can get what we call a “shame hangover” and this is evident when you ask yourself, “What the fuck did I just do?” To some degree this is to be expected as you’ve just explored something that you felt was shameful just a few days earlier. It is now time for self love and self-nurturing. You’ve done a big thing and you’ve brought a light to your own shadow. You survived the challenge your inner world called you to embark upon. In shamanic language, you may like to think of this as retrieving a piece of yourself that you had earlier cut off. I recommend lots of self-nurturing things like feel-good movies, snuggles and chocolate though each person needs to integrate in their own way. I often like to create art after a Shadow Tantra ritual. The unconscious mind might need to express itself. Allow emotions to flow. Be held. It won’t be long before the integration starts to feel good, you’ve realised what you’ve explored is actually beautiful and you’re even possibly wanting to start exploring again.
Thanks for reading!
Your Shadow Tantra Session
If there’s a kink or a fetish you have not explored but you know it’s in you, then a Shadow Tantra session is a great way to explore this and make peace with it. It could be some fantasy you’re ashamed of; some part of your body unexplored or some name you want to be called. You may want to give your power away to someone and feel what that’s like. A Shadow Tantra session is a beautiful way to explore your kinks, fetishes and fantasies. Sessions normally last 3-4 hours and everything we explore remains completely confidential. Get in touch when you’re ready to explore!
An earlier article of mine, Conscious Kink Saves The World, attempts to address this issue from the personal to the global scale, and I hope that by providing spaces for conscious exploration of our own and collective Shadows we can go some way towards knowing ourselves better – thus making the world a better place for all.
There are many books on these and related subjects. Here are some that have influenced my thinking:
* Barbara Carrellas, Urban Tantra: Sacred Sex for the Twenty-first Century
* Robert A. Johnson, Owning Your Own Shadow: Understanding the Dark Side of the Psyche
* Raven Kaldera, Dark Moon Rising: Pagan BDSM and the Ordeal Path