The Energy of Tantra

Besides the personal power a guru exercises over a student, another kind of power can manifest in the practitioner of spritual practices. Felt as a physical energy, it produces an experience of transcendence. The ancient sexual discipline of Tantra, a prime example, has become popular in modern adaptaions without traditional Tantra’s exacting requirements.

In Radical Ecstasy, Easton and Hardy relate their experience of transcendence with S/M. They describe their practice of S/M as a method of “following a path in the body to transform what is going on in the mind.[1]” With the goal of an experience “more than orgasm,” they have explored several spiritual practices rooted in the body — including yoga, prana, ritual dance, drumming — and tantra. The book is full of descriptions of S/M sessions using techniques from these paths, especially tantra.[2]

“We live in a culture that does not value pleasure or ecstasy,” Easton and Hardy observe. Not to speak of the judgment levied by mainstream religion. But I got the feeling these two regard ecstasy as a basic human need. This delighted me, because I have had a couple of experiences of transcendence, and they blessed my life. Indeed as I read the book, the authors’ attitudes struck me as constructive and refreshing — even inspiring. The practice of S/M still didn’t draw me, but I was more than a little in love with these two women.

One story from the book, however, came back to haunt me. At a tantra workshop, Hardy had a more intense experience than ever before. The description in the book was dramatic but not alarming, since Hardy concluded it with a mild reaffirmation of “the path to ecstasy.” The book was published in 2004. In 2013, Hardy published a scarier description, on the website Salon:

I began to scream, and I kept screaming. I tipped over backward, arched up off the floor, borne only by the crown of my head and the soles of my feet (with Dossie, caught, straddling me in midair). I was utterly out of control, my body wracked with wave after wave of energy.

It was like grabbing a live wire — slower, deeper, more systematic, but with the same inescapability and the same terror. And it was the deepest ecstasy I’ve ever felt, like orgasm times a hundred, from the tips of my hair to the ends of my toenails.

I couldn’t remember how to stop. I thought I might die.[3]

After the workshop, Hardy learned that she had experienced a “kundalini awakening.” But the terms for what happened were all from a culture she couldn’t relate to. To her it was “a faux-Eastern haze of abstraction and mysticism that makes absolutely no sense to me and does not fit in with the way my world works.”[4]

For years after, the scary energy threatened to overload her whenever she let her attention stray out of intellectual functions and into body feelings — “for example, when I put my attention into my fingertips or my thighs or my belly.”[5] She lost interest in sex, and lived a very quiet life.[6]

How likely is this energy overload in S/M practice? Hardy’s co-author Dossie Easton went through the same workshop without misadventure. Perhaps, Hardy speculates, because Easton was more experienced with the traditional Eastern practices. In Radical Ecstasy, Easton and Hardy give directions for tantra-based exercises. And it’s easy to find workshops incorporating such tantric adaptations along with S/M. How well does this Western tantra training prepare kinksters to handle this kind of energy?

[1] Easton and Hardy 2004, 69.
[2] In using the word “tantra” I will capitalize it when I’m referring to the original Eastern form or its accredited descendants, and not capitalize when it’s the new, Western adaptations.
[3] Hardy 2013.
[4] Ibid.
[5] Ibid.
[6] Finally in 2015 Hardy wrote she was beginning to recover, and beginning to find a way to understand what had happened, in her own terms. See Hardy’s reply to James Rowling’s post: Rowling,”Betrayed by Sacred Sex?”. (Her comment is brief, but she says she says she’ll publish more on the subject in an upcoming memoir.)

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