It is Tantra Festival season again…that glorious time when many budding tantrics, and tantric wannabes, gather together in stunning locations to journey with a variety of teachers, teaching styles and workshops.
Not only are there many teachers to choose from, but there is also a phenomenon that I call “polypartnering”…at Tantra festivals you find yourself eye gazing with one person, massaging another in oil, and then sitting in yab-yum* with someone else…and all before lunch! (* yab-yum: a tantric posture with two people sitting in an embrace)
This is of course part of the excitement of a tantra festival; a phenomenon that tantric practitioners often call “exchanging energy” with different people. It nourishes that part of us that likes variety and that thrives from making many connections. We can feel stimulated, alive, connected…
However, it also triggers other parts of us, such as jealousy and confusion. Sometimes I think the biggest process that people seem to enter during a festival is not actually stimulated by the workshops or techniques, but by the stories and dramas that are created by polypartnering!
Just to note: it is not about having sex with many partners. In fact at many of these festivals there is not really the space for sexual intimacy! People are in dorms and shared rooms or small tents. Tantra reveals to us many, many layers of intimacy. Ways to tune in with another being, to dance together, to exchange energy, to breathe together. Most tantra workshops invite the participants to move around and meet many other people in such ways, and it is this that I call “polypartnering”.
In sharing circles (opportunities for the participants to group together and share their festival experiences), I so often hear variations of the same story, including from my own lips when I am a participant! How much time and energy we put into our festival partner-strategies! I could go with this person that just asked me, but I’d rather go with that other person. But they may already have a partner so maybe I should take this one that is definite…and possibly I could switch over if things change…
…Yes, here we are trying to be spiritual, and meanwhile we start to treat people as commodities that we can barter and trade! And anyone who has ever sat in an embrace with someone whilst they are looking over your shoulder to check out that person they really wanted to go with, will know just how bad that feels! Of course there is a whole iceberg of vulnerability beneath this tip. Who doesn’t have a tender spot regarding rejection and abandonment? These are the kinds of inner places that are triggered by polypartnering.
I remember at my first Tantra Festival getting totally excited initially by the sense of openness and freedom…flowing around connecting with different people in a wide open way that would never happen on the London Underground, nor even at most nightclubs. And I remember also the moment of running back to my campervan and slamming the door shut to hide myself away with a cup of tea and attempt to find some calm again from the overwhelm. I learned at that point that plenty of deep breathing and meditation is required to keep your centre in times of great stimulation!
Having now had five years’ experience in the tantra festival scene, and attended more than twenty festivals worldwide, I now know to expect this! As a facilitator at some of these events I am starting to question how we can support people through this phenomenon. Here are three keys that I have found can help us have a positive polypartnering experience:
- Understanding and Acceptance
It is easy to just jump into judgment and decide that everyone is lustful and wrong in some way to want to connect to more than one person. We are just so used to culture telling us that we will find one person who will fulfil every need we could ever have and we will never even want to look at another person ever again. So there can arise an inner battle, judging our own desires or judging the desires of other people.
However, if we surrender our judgement for a more open-minded approach, we may just find that desire to connect is actually a normal human aspect. It is simply arising to be expressed because for once there is space for it. Being open-minded does not mean you have to live everything out yourself, but it helps us accept others and allow them to make their own choices.
It is not that people are wrong somehow for wanting to experience intimate experiences with many people. It always reminds me of the pagan festival of Beltane…for one night per year all the married couples would put on animal masks and run wilds in the woods. People were entitled to make love with whomever they chose in this wild chase, and the whole community had their chance to exercise that part which opens up in such freedom. Then the next day everyone went home to their husband/wife/family and carried on normal life!
Perhaps we have a need for commitment and a need for variety; finding a way to harmonise and integrate both needs is our challenge.
- Treating Each Other with Respect
So having acknowledged that there may be a natural desire to explore polypartnering, this does not mean that we can trample all over someone else’s feelings in order to exercise our own freedom. Though we are certainly all responsible for our own feelings and actions, this does not justify adopting an uncaring attitude! How often I have heard blame upon someone who is feeling the pain of separation when their partner of yesterday is off with someone else today…the finger pointing and accusation of being jealous and being told to just deal with it. This is not exactly compassionate and kind.
Let us remember that opening up is a tender journey, and exposes deeper levels of vulnerability. The deeper you connect with someone, the deeper the level of exposure is likely to happen. It is worth taking responsibility for all of the connections you make, and being present and open to communication and holding space for one another. As I mentioned before, partnering up touches on areas such as rejection, need, desire, abandonment…the core issues of the human experience! Let us use the opportunity to bring more love and awareness to these parts of ourselves and others as they arise.
Often in places of great beauty in nature we hear the saying of “leave it in a better condition than when you found it.” I like to think we can apply that to every heart that we touch and every soul that we dance with.
- Staying Connected to your Centre.
As I mentioned earlier, I learned this one at my first ever Tantra festival. It is easy to get lost in the thrill of connection. I reckon we just don’t get enough real connection and intimacy in most daily life, and so when we suddenly have an abundance of it, we may be tempted to get completely lost in it! Imagine you have been living off dried bread and water for weeks, months, even years. Suddenly you find yourself at a banquet of the juiciest fruits and sweetest deserts, and it is tempted to eat until you fall over! However, to avoid sickness you’d be wise to stop and take a few deep breathes between mouthfuls.
And so it is with intimate connection. Take time after each meeting to return to yourself, to silence, to within. Whether that means closing your eyes and sitting in peace after a workshop, taking a few deep breaths after a powerful hug, or going for a walk alone in the breaks, perhaps returning to your tent and resting in savasana…Take the time to return to your centre. This helps to integrate each experience. Integration is the energetic version of digestion.
So these are some point to remember when we engage in polypartnering. You may also of course choose to commit! Sometimes you have a partner you want to go together to a festival with (make your boundaries clear together first, and stay in communication throughout the festival!). Or sometimes you find a partner in a workshop that there is so much shimmering love in the space between you that all of the other participants suddenly disappear from your view and you chose to spend every workshop together for the rest of the festival. If so, enjoy!
Which ever way your festival experience goes, just make sure that you keep communicating, stay open and honest, and above all else honour your own heart and the hearts of all others. Everything is a learning experience and Tantra never promised to be a gentle ride! But a little inner and outer awareness goes a long way to smooth the way.
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Related article: Polyamory versus Monogamy