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To Shava

To: alt.magick.tantra,alt.magick.tyagi,alt.religion.tantra
From: catherine yronwode 
Subject: To Shava (re: challenge to the alt.magick.tantra faq)
Date: Thu, 29 Jul 1999 11:29:18 -0700

In article <379E005C.DE12C5A0@efn.org>,
  Shava Nerad  wrote:

> In section 2.3 of the [alt.magick.tantra] FAQ, 
> it reads:
> 
> > > Tantra yoga is a Hindu and Buddhist religious 
> > > practice. Even stripping away the Asian parts 
> > > of it will not remove its essential religious 
> > > nature. The loose use of the term tantra
> > > these days to signify any sex-positive, sex-
> > > mystical, sex- magical, or sex-religious 
> > > discipline is deplorable.
> 
> As a student of tantra for well over a decade 
> (25 years, by some counts) and a student of 
> comparative religion for far longer than that, 
> I really find this statement to be misleading. 
 
{snip long, logical argument about religions]

> Perhaps a better section would be:
>
> Tantra yoga is a Hindu and Buddhist religious 
> practice. Even stripping away the Asian parts 
> of it will not remove its essential religious 
> nature. The loose use of the term tantra
> signify any merely sex-positive, sex-
> mystical, sex-magical, or sex-religious 
> discipline is deplorable. Tantra
> includes and often transcends sexuality; 
> preparation for sexual tantra includes serious 
> work that is not sexual in nature, and
> tantra practices are diverse and conflicting 
> on this topic even in their native culture.

I love this addition! It makes great sense. The 
only change i would offer is to make the last word 
plural -- cultures instead of culture.  As one of 
the co-editors of the FAQ, i shall make the change 
right away, and add you to the list of 
contributors. 

> Hello, Josh & Tyagi (and anyone else of the 
> old alt.magick crew here)!

Hello, and i hope you stick around and post some 
more. Your messages have not made it to tyagi's 
and my news-server (sonic.net) -- i had to go 
fetch this one from deja.com after it was cited in 
someone's reply -- so please excuse my delay in 
making a response. Also thank you for your email. 
It's great to hear from you!

> In the most general sense, because I believe I am a 
> modern tantrika, I believe that tantra is a way of 
> learning to experience life which is *enhanced* by 
> these traditional tools, but is based in acquiring
> voluntary control of the parasympathetic nervous 
> system (probably primarily the vagus nerve [CNX]), 
> which seems to be a primary empirical physical end 
> of most of these schools of yoga, east and west, which 
> are clumped together as "sex magick."

My theory exactly! This is the heart of the 
web page i wrote in 1995 called "The Biological
Basis of Saced Sex." The vagus nerve information
you cite here is based on brand new research 
(and you also sent me a couple of very good
URL refs to it in email) and i have a strong
feeling you are right. I also have a strong feeling
about the role of oxytocin in sacred sex practices, 
namely, my growing belief that only people who are
high in oxytocin (or receptors for it, which amounts
to the same result) are interested in or "naturally"
capable of ahieving these altered states through
slow sex. 

For the folks interested in the vagus nerve research 
that Shava sent me in email, here are the URLs; the
material is technical but any person with a basic 
understanding of anatomy will be able to follow along;
the upshot of it is that the vagus nerve has been
newly discovered to act as a back-up system for 
the spinal chord in carrying sensory information 
to the brain that leads to orgasm. The proofs of 
this consist of elegant work with women who suffer
from spinal chord injuries.  

The URLS on the vagus nerve are: 
http://www.scientificamerican.com/1296issue/1296scicit5.html
http://www.thematrix.com/~chorn/ds9/ds9.9704/msg00028.html
        
Also there is a good page on oxytocin as it relates to
milk production and orgasm:
http://matweb.hcuge.ch/MatWeb/endo/Lectures_8th_PGC/oxytocin_in_reproductive_biology.htm
(a long URL; re-connect both lines to use it)

> I'm starting to believe that anyone studying sex 
> magicks in this day and age needs to learn a LOT 
> more about the central nervous system --
> neurobiology, neuroanatomy, neurochem, endocrinology
>  -- as an integral tool to their practice. And I'm 
> gradually convinced that the major parasympathetic 
> system that every one of these techs works on is
> the vagus nerve. It might not be the only thing, but 
> it seems to be the crux.

I certainly am fascinated by the new vagus nerve research.
It speaks to me of what i have always called "the two 
flavours of orgasm" that i have perceived in myself. 
I am willing to guess that one "flavour" is more
mediated by the spianl chord and the other by the 
vagus nerve. 

Now, as far as how today's sex magicians should study, 
as opposed to how old-timers did, i think that this 
has been the gradual tendency anyway. In crude terms, 
perhaps -- but definitely with a more modern medical 
understanding than ancient Hindu scriptures possess -- 
neurobiology forms the basis for some of the 19th-20th
century sex-mystical practices such as karezza. 

John William Lloyd, for instance, seemed well aware 
in 1931, of how the estrogen cycle affects a woman's 
desire to and *ability* to "help" her male partner 
achieve orgasmic control. His book "Karezza, the Art 
of Magnetation" contains many hints that can be read
quite clearly in light of current knowledge of the
biology of estrogen and oxytocin. (He also maked some 
howling biological errors about menstruation and the
timing of ovulation, but so it goes...)

> Although I am agnostic about the actual level 
> of reality of gods and boddhisattvas, I know that 
> appealing to them, or visualizing them, produces 
> changes in my neurochem which I can track and compare.  
> Whether the changes in neurochem are the goal or 
> a symptom of the changes produced by tantra and 
> sex magicks, they produce the best metric I know 
> of for the validation of any student's progress.  
> 
> These changes can be measured through the student's 
> increased sensitivity to prana/kundalini flow, or 
> orgone flow if you prefer -- I haven't built the 
> detection equipment, but I suspect it's the same
> systems -- which can be tested by having someone 
> accomplished run energy through the system by 
> touch therapy or sexual contact.

Well, here you deaprt from my understanding. I think 
i am less agnostic about gods and goddesses than i 
am about kundalini! 

I agree that SOMETHING is being perceived, and quite 
probably could be measured -- but i suspect it is hormonal 
or neurological. 

> Peak experiences can also be induced by touch therapy 
> or sexual contact, but the real constant work and 
> discipline requires a lot of work for the student. 
> In fact, the same sorts of peak experiences can be produced
> through most of the traditional ecstatic techniques -- 
> sex, drugs, dance, sleep deprivation, pain, whatever 

> shamanic technique you prefer (or a long run of Grateful 
> Dead shows, which can encompass most of these at once...
> a lost national resource...;). 

This is preceisely the point i have made in the aforementiones 
article on "The Biological Basis of Sacred Sex" -- and i also 
added then that it seems to me that differing (genetic?) 
capabilities lead people in differing directions in their 
searches for peak experiences. 

For instance, alcohol simply does not produce an ecstatic 
high for me the way it does for many of my Irish-American 
friends. It makes my heart beat too fast, i get dizzy, i 
feel as if i have been poisoned, and i fall sleep. (This is 
a fairly common reaction to alcohol among Jewish people, by 
the way.) 

For some people, sexual experiences produce nothing
approaching the wild highs they obtain through rhythmic dance. 
For others, dance is a poor, unsatisfying substitue for sexual 
excitement, and sexual excitement is their preferred induction 
to states beyond their everyday experience of reality. 

Some folks trip out on chanted mantras; others just get bored. 

Some folks find transcendence in athletic exertion; others
prefer to sit on a cushion and contemplate their navels.

I long ago gave up trying to "teach" sacred sex practices
to *all* who inquire. Those who are suited for it usually know 
that it is their path from a fairly early age in life, often
as early as puberty or even before. 

> But a lot of people have a tendency to mistake the peak 
> experience (particularly during sex) as the goal of tantra.  
> The peak experience is a signpost.  The goal is to be able 
> to maintain the level of -- perhaps erotic (esp in the 
> renaissance neoplatonic sense) but certainly energetic -- 
> experience when sitting in meditation, looking at a flower,
> driving your car, or engaging in a petty political debate 
> at your workplace.

Your mileage may vary!!! 

> The exercises leading up -- chakra clearing disciplines 
> such as sitting meditation or psychotherapy; physical 
> stimulation through kundalini, chanting or other yoga; 
> mental preparation through qabalistic, vipassana, ars 
> memoris, or mandalic discipline; emotional prep through
> devotions, bhakti yoga, devotion to the beloved; or 
> integrating disciplines like deity yoga and sexual 
> practice -- are ways of preparing the student's capacities 
> for experience, and capability of dwelling (dare I use 
> this...? ;) in The Zone, being "unconscious" in Michael
> Jordan's terms, about your own capacities.

To your useful list of mental, physical, and emotional exercises 
of preparation, let me add a few garnered from karezza writings: 
full body massage, writing devotional poetry to the beloved, 
daily breast stimulation (in the absense of genital stimulation), 
singing, gathering flowers, and practicing acts of social charity. 

> It's because sexual activity produces peak experiences 
> for most people, but serves to integrate teachings on 
> all of the levels, that it's less than perfectly useful 
> to people.  A student who is less well developed
> on *all* levels can become totally distracted and 
> self-satisfied with great sex that is produced by 
> being able to reproduce a peak experience (and vice 
> versa). A student can become actually messed up (kundalini
> sickness being a traditional pathology) by trying to 
> develop one area disproportionately.

I am not sure i understand this theory you propose, but 
insofar as i do understand it, i think i disagree. As i 
said above, i am agnostic about the very existence of 
kundalini energy. What some people call "kundalini
sickness" therefore seems to me to be a definite 
(albeit not-yet-fully-ientified) neurological or hormonal 
event -- possibly a neuro-chemical event that results 
from or leads to a disorder of perception. 

> So I think that an integrated approach toward training 
> capacities is the proper method. I don't give dark warnings, 
> like traditional texts. I just think that people who go 
> for peaks are cutting themselves off from some great stuff, 
> and maybe getting themselves in trouble -- just like
> someone who wants to be a quarterback who learns to run, 
> catch, whatever, but doesn't learn the rules and patterns 
> of the game so well he can "meta" them (or vice versa, in 
> the case of the armchair variety).

Again, i mildly disagree, at least insofar as folks "getting
themselves in trouble" by seeking peak experiences goes. It
seems to me that some people are biologically hard-wired for 
that form of experience (high dopamine?) and others are hard-
wired for a fuller, gentler array of peaks and valleys (high
oxytocin?). 
 
> This is my not so humble opinion, gleaned from a lot of 
> years of practice, and a few years of teaching now. It's 
> probably not The Answer, but it's an answer which works 
> empirically for the folks I teach, and works really well 
> for a lot of Americans who need to be reassured that they 
> are producing something that is systematic, not dependent 
> on the whim of some power or principality, and can show
> measurable progress over time.

You make a very good point there -- many people need to
feel that they are following a known system or course of
action. This both calms their fears of the unknown and
gives them strength to persist when progress is slow. As
i said before, i have chosen NOT to be a teacher of karezza 
(my tradition, as contrasted with tantra yoga, which i do
not profess). I prefer to be a writer -- and one reason for
my choice is that i, personally, am NOT inclined to seek
out teachers, so i feel an affinity for other who, like 
myself, prefer to be informed and engage in self-teaching. 

Now, i have some questions for you. As a teacher, would you
say that your lessons fall in the sphere of traditional
Indian tantra yoga or polycultural syncretic neo-tantra 
(ala The Muirs, Lori Grace, Margo Anand, Kenneth Stibbs, 
Andre van Lysbeth, et al)? 

If the latter, would you care to venture some opinions
about their books, courses, workshops, etc.? Many people
post to alt.magick.tantra in search of teachers, and if
you, as a teacher, are familiar with their methods, you
could contribute a great service to others by passing
on such information as might guide seekers. 

> Does that help?  Should I post this to the newsgroup?

I'm very glad you did! I hope that future posts of 
yours show up on my server -- but it was definitely 
worth making my wway to deja.com to retrieve this one! 

> Yours, 
> 
> Shava Nerad        shava@efn.org
> Integral Tantra    Eugene, OR  
> teaching, counseling, and therapy in the energetic arts

cat yronwode
sacred sex and karezza - http://www.luckymojo.com/sacredsex.html

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