There seems to be a part within all of us that longs to open up more. Whether we desire a more open and flexible body, or to feel more courageous and do new things. Possibly you wish you took more risks to reach out and make connections. Or maybe you yearn to express yourself in public. Tantra is a life path that gives many methods to help people overcome fears and resistances and find ways to open up more. This is not just in modern neo-Tantra. In ancient days we hear of wild “dakinis’ and “aghoris”: These were tantriks who walked around naked and lived in graveyards, made love in public and generally flaunted all cultural taboos. OK, so these are perhaps not forms of being open that you find yourself longing for, but they show that this history of Tantra was to find ways to embody freedom within this human life.
So even today Tantra attracts people who long for openness. They may want to feel happy with their own naked body, or feel able to express themselves in front of others, they may want to explore their sexual potential, or desire to know deeper levels of love…basically to let more life force energy run through themselves. Thus Tantra can make you feel alive, open and energized.
However, just because you want to be open does not mean that the rest of the world is going to be comfortable with it.
I was in a café the other day with a womens’ group. We had spent a month practicing Tao Tantric Arts together and all the women were feeling alive and radiant. Upon sharing some intimate stories amongst ourselves we all began to laugh at something, tipping our heads back and laughing with our whole bodies (yes, there is a link between laughter and orgasm!). The waiter hurried over and asked us please to restrain ourselves in order that we not disturb the other diners.
Of course we stifled our raucous laughter into more restrained lady-like giggles. But it also opened a conversation about being open in public: why does it offend others? And is there a way to get them to laugh along with us?
Nudity, nipples, loud deep sighs, laughter…even taking too much obvious pleasure whilst eating a desert, or shamelessly sucking into a plump fruit and letting the juices trickle down your skin…why is it that being open to life’s experiences can be so upsetting or triggering to other people in your company?
Are we wrong for being so unrestrained?
Are they wrong for being so uptight?
Shall we have an argument about it?
But when you look a bit deeper it seems that there is no point to go down the right/wrong debate. Everyone is right to be just as they are in each moment. Yet there is something amiss in such situations. There is some separation that we all can feel intuitively as not-love.
The way I see it, it is not helpful to try to find who is wrong. It is more interesting to look within and find those pieces inside of us and how they interact.
So, as I said there is a part of us that longs to open up. Take a moment to close your eyes and see what longs to feel more open in you. What are your desires and longings? Where in life to you yearn to be more free, more alive or more expressive?
There is also another part. The part that arises to protect and preserve. This is a natural response within us that arises whenever we feel unsafe. We may not actually be unsafe…but our system often feels unsafe simply in new surroundings. In such cases it puts up a protective mechanism until we feel safe again or move to another situation. Think about which situations might make you feel a little more protective or cautious than usual.
These two aspects are an inner yin and yang. They are a dance between opening and closing like the petals of a flower that automatically close when it rains and open up in the sunshine.
But as humans we tend to make others wrong for being in the opposite state to the one we are in, or make ourselves wrong for being different from everyone else. If everyone suddenly gets naked and jumps in a lake, but you feel shy to take your clothes off, you might start to feel annoyed at your own restrictions or to judge the others for being too outrageous. But all that has happened is that your petals closed whilst theirs opened up in that moment. What was sunshine to them was rain to you.
As an English woman I discovered this when I first went to Sweden where is it quite normal to get naked and jump in a lake. In England it is generally seen as a personal horror to remove your clothes in public, and even worse in broad daylight! Most Swedes learn to open in response to public nudity, whilst many Brits learn to close up. Our flowers are programmed differently unless we reprogram them (years of visiting nudist beaches and spas finally helped me to reprogram that one!)
So rather than developing judgement or looking for right and wrong, perhaps we can bring more compassionate understanding to these situations, no matter which side of the fence we find ourselves on. It is too easy to form into a them-and-us mentality. Either we cluster with the other open flowers and we judge the closed ones as being too uptight, rigid and cowardly. Or we cluster together with the other closed flowers and judge the open ones for being raucous, unruly and outrageous. Yet we are all just flowers with the potential to be opened or closed in any moment.
What if instead of seeking right or wrong, we seek connection? How do I as an open flower in this moment, make connection to you whilst your delicate petals are closed? Or how do I, as you feel myself shrinking back, still find a way to find connection to others who are open and free around me? For connection heals separation… it sounds obvious, but we don’t always think to seek it out.
Here are some ways to bridge the gap:
- Compassionate understanding. If you are feeling more open in a situation, then seek compassionate understanding towards those who are feeing afraid, protective or closed. Watch out for the tendency to judge the closure as being who they are “That person is so closed”, and instead have some respect and understanding for the self-protection mechanisms in all of us.
- Non- Judgement. Judgement is the big divider. It is the habit of the mind that creates separation rather than love. Observe the tendency to the judge the “other” and choose otherwise.
- Non-colluding. Out of a core desire to feel accepted we tend to stick together with those in the same place as us and thus create a them-and-us attitude. Try not to take side, but to be open-minded enough to embrace and include all responses to a situation.
- Put yourself in the other shoes. This is sometimes called aspecting– finding both aspects within yourself. It is worth thinking of one situation in which you feel easily opened and another in which your protection mechanisms come up. In other words, find BOTH aspects within yourself. For example: “I feel open in situations of nudity such as a sauna, but I close up when it comes to socializing with strangers”. Remembering both within ourselves helps us to feel more connected with one another in all situations.
- Find the point of connection. It is tempting when we feel open to show off how open we are. However, this will only drive a bigger gap between them-and-us. Rather than basking in your own wide-open glory, why not seek out the meeting point with others? As you connect to another person or group of people, look for the common ground. It is like finding a space between you. There is much love in that space. From that meeting point you can all open up together in the situation, without any them-and-us.
- Seek out the places and situations that support each type of openness. For example, it is better to open to nudity is a nudist sauna than to try being the only naked person at a shopping mall! It sounds obvious, but actually safe space or spaces that carry permission to open up are tremendously important. It could be the difference between opening up and getting yourself arrested!
In Tantra there is an idea known as transmission. This is when a more open person can transmit their courage to another less open one, thus supporting the other to move through fear. It can be seen in many everyday situations…for example a rock-climbing teacher transmits courage to their students, a dance teacher transmits grace. However, it can only work when there is connection. If you judge a more open person, you will not be able to receive their transmission…this judgement will be the very thing that holds you back.
So to return to the original question: can you be too open? We can see now this is a relative question. You can be too open for some people to be able to process and thus run the risk of triggering them. But you can also seek to connect to those people. From connection you will either feel genuine compassionate understanding towards their protection, or, if they desire it on some level, then you will be able to take them by the hand and lead them to their own opening.