What if I promised you the secret to having the best relationship of your life?
The secret to a harmonious, loving relationship, transcendent sex, and happiness ever after?
Sounds good, right?
My rose-tinted, Tantric version of “The Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, Universe and Everything” (*) is actually not a joke. I’m not talking about the stuff of fairytales, or quirky science fiction: I’m definitely thinking real-life experience — albeit with a distinctive, Tantric flavour.
So, what’s “The Secret”?
Definitely not 42!
The point is, numbers and quick fixes are something of a trend in our culture. In much of the spiritual and self-help literature, there’s a formula that goes something like “The 3/5/7…Secrets/Keys/Steps… to Abundance/Perfect Health/Slimming/Massive Orgasms…”. Marketers hook our attention with numbers and the alluring promise of instant success in just about everything that matters to us.
I’m not saying that achieving or manifesting something has to be difficult or long-winded. Sometimes things manifest very quickly — instantly, even — but, more often than not, success takes time and effort; it requires our conscious and consistent application over a period of time. In other words, it requires practice.
“Progress comes to those who train and train; reliance on secret techniques will get you nowhere,” writes Morihei Ueshiba in “The Art of Peace”.
Information has great value and it is definitely useful to know what to do, but it is generally unlikely that we will achieve great competence or great results at anything, unless we exercise our focussed attention in applying what we know, or are learning, over a period of time.
Practice is how we learn the very basics in life, like walking and talking, and it is how we learn increasingly sophisticated behaviours and expressions, acquire skills and enhance our competence.
Trained as a classical musician, the imperative of practice was self-evident to me. Even with this background, however, understanding the notion of practice in other areas, for example, in spirituality and in relating, and adopting practices that work for me took time and required commitment and effort — they still do!
Yoga requires practice. Tantra requires practice. Manifesting a soulmate requires practice.
In manifesting, for example, one would, at the very least, need to practice being open to receive. One might additionally practice releasing limiting beliefs, aligning with his/her deeper calling, clarifying intentions, charging desired outcomes with positive energy, adopting an optimistic outlook, whilst letting go of expectations and cultivating feelings of trust and gratitude.
Each of the steps above would be a “secret”, i.e. knowledge of what to do, but without practice, i.e. consistent application, “secrets” are of little use.
Just think, for a moment: which areas of your life could use some practice?
Ever thought of love, sex, living and relating in this way?
Surely, we don’t need to practice love, you might think. That just happens naturally!
I agree: it does!
Love is our essence and we are naturally loveable and loving. The problem is, most of us do not behave in very natural ways most of the time.
We spend most of our lives becoming conditioned to behaviours that close us off and shut us down. We suppress our emotions and lie to ourselves, we live in unnatural conditions and strive for acceptance at all costs. Our loving is often stunted and we feel ever so vulnerable inside.
The practice, then, is about un-learning lovelessness, and re-learning how to be more open, communicative, spontaneous and authentic, and to reclaim our natural state of being and expressing love in an innocent and childlike (but not childish!) manner, wise through self-reflection and “a deep experience of a life lived fully” — to quote from the commentary for “Innocence” from Osho’s Zen Tarot Cards.
In his book “Love”, Leo Buscaglia makes the point very simply: “If he desired to know about automobiles, he would, without question, study diligently about automobiles. If his wife desired to be a gourmet cook, she’d certainly study the art of cooking, perhaps even attending a cooking class. Yet, it never seems as obvious to him that if he wants to live in love, he must spend at least as much time as the auto mechanic or the gourmet in studying love.”
Buscaglia continues: “I would not want to form a partnership with an architect who has only a little knowledge of building or a broker who has a limited knowledge of the stock market. Still, we form what we hope to be permanent relationships in love with people who have hardly any knowledge of what love is.”
“It’s never too late to learn anything for which you have a potential. If you want to learn to love, then you must start the process of finding out what it is, what qualities make up a loving person and see how these are developed. Each person has the potential for love. But potential is never realised without work. This does not mean pain. Love, especially, is learned best in wonder, in joy, in peace, in living.”
So what about just living, you might argue? Can’t we just live and accept things as they are? Isn’t that what Tantra is about? Accepting everything as it is? Why do we have to practice?
Well, we don’t! From a metaphysical perspective, we are perfect and complete in every moment, just as we are.
From a more personal perspective, however, we make choices and take action. Practice is not just about learning or improving something and it does not have to mean that we reject or devalue what is in every moment. Practice also means being conscious and focussed in whatever we engage in, staying present and striving to realise more of our potential: we become ourselves more fully.
“Consistency of practice is the mark of the master,” writes George Leonard in his book entirely devoted to “Mastery,” and adds: “How do you best move toward mastery? To put it simply, you practice diligently, but you practice primarily for the sake of the practice itself.”
In Tantric style, a practice keeps us focussed in the present moment and we remain unattached to any outcome. What eventually arises out of this conscious, committed presence in the process of becoming is mastery and self-realisation.
Ready for mastery?
Allow me to talk “magic numbers” again: 21.
Let me explain: it’s understood that repetition is crucial to integrating new information and establishing new habits, and a period of 21 days is commonly recommended for any daily practice— including Tantric practice. Having positive motivation always helps, so best to choose some practices that you will enjoy performing long enough to reap the benefits.
What kinds of practices might you try?
I find it doesn’t need to be complicated. Here are some examples:
Thinking of intimacy and relationship, one of my personal favourites is simply to sit opposite my partner, as we gaze into each other’s eyes and synchronise our breathing. Tensions dissolve and wordless communication helps us to overcome our vulnerability and feel more and more love for ourselves and each other.
I also love being close to my partner and practising “whole-body listening”: staying quiet and “listening” with my heart, my belly and all my senses. It helps me to relax into my being, alert, present and receptive, and it enhances a feeling of connectedness within me and with my partner, as well as my capacity for empathic communication.
When it comes to sex, my favourite is practising sex for 21 consecutive days — no matter what! Not waiting “to be in the mood” and making the time to connect and express through sex — even if there’s a million things you still haven’t done on your “to do” list, even if there’s been a disagreement or other tension on any one day — can do a world of good to your relationship. The practice of daily sex can also re-introduce intimacy where it’s been missing and bring more pleasure into daily living.
It could just be that you enjoy this practice so much, you end up keeping it up well beyond the 21 days! You might go for sex on consecutive days for 101 or 365 days — or some years, even — following the example of couples who did just that and wrote about it too. (There are many books and articles on this: I’ll just mention Jon Henley’s interview of Douglas Brown and Charla Muller in “Sex: ‘Whatever you’re doing, double it’”, published by The Guardian, Sat. 10th November 2012.)
When it comes to general well-being, I’ve discovered that all good things start with self-esteem and self-love, and one great practice is to spend five minutes every day, looking at yourself in the mirror and voicing all the things you absolutely love about yourself!
If you have a partner, take turns in telling each other what you love about each other for five minutes. Observe your responses through this practice and invite feelings of more self-love to enter your being: it can be challenging sometimes.
When I first tried this practice with my partner, we diligently set a timer and he started. More than once, I noticed discomfort, thoughts of negation and disbelief, and I was not fully receptive to his offer of love, as he talked about all the things he loved about me. When the timer went and he stopped, I thought five minutes had been a long time…
Then, it was my turn: the timer started again and I began to talk about all the things I love about him. I happily carried on and on, delighting in love and appreciation… When the timer went, my joyous narrative was still in full flow and I exclaimed: “That’s too soon! I haven’t finished yet!” Luckily, there would be (at least!) another 20 days to continue my enthusiastic exposition — and get more comfortable with being loved and appreciated.
“The first step to take is to become aware that love is an art, just as living is an art”, writes Erich Fromm in “The Art of Loving”. “What steps are necessary steps in learning any art? The process of learning an art can be divided conveniently into two parts: one, the mastery of the theory; the other, the mastery of the practice.”
Now that we’ve covered the theory, let’s get on with the practice: which practices and daily rituals will you take on to bring more love and pleasure into your life?
Whether you’re an experienced practitioner or a novice, I’d love to hear about your practice and for us all to share, inspire and motivate each other, so I’ve created a Facebook forum specifically for this purpose: it’s called “Love Practice! For Artful Loving, Living and Pleasure” and it’s open to all, so please do join and practise with me — “in wonder, in joy, in peace, in living.”
(*) Reference to “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” by Douglas Adams.
[Original article published in Tantra Without Borders.]
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