Opening up to intimacy

Monique Roffey undertook an 18-month tantra course and found herself on a journey of personal discovery

Human personal growth is generally encouraged in most aspects of life: the mind, the psychology of the mind, our emotional lives, our body, our spirituality etc. In all these fields, it’s easy to learn, find teachers and classes in order to expand and improve ourselves. We are encouraged to go to university, the gym, to seek many kinds of counselling and therapy; we can travel, explore our creativity, be it as parents or artists.

Sex, however, is different. Sex is the only part of our lives where it is difficult to find instruction, where we are not actively encouraged to learn. Shame about our bodies, especially the genitals, means that our bodies become a part of ourselves that we do not get to know that well. Certainly, until my early-forties, my body, and how it functioned sexually, was a mystery to me.

In the aftermath of living in a long-term monogamous relationship, which was mostly celibate, I went in search of knowledge of my sexual self. I’d had boyfriends and partners in my 20s, but, looking back, I realised that I had never had a lover. I wasn’t a lover myself either, I didn’t know how to be a lover, to myself or to anyone else.

Being good at sexual loving takes some practice, some mastery of skill, some knowledge of intimacy, and this starts with self-love. In 2008 I went in search of all these things and started to work with tantric teachers across the UK, finally settling in 2010 with an 18-month training programme with Jan Day.

Contemporary Western neo-tantra has its roots in the teachings of an Indian guru called Osho Sri Rajneesh who established an ashram in Pune, India in the 70s and 80s and another in Oregon, US. His teachings on sexual intimacy were taken from more ancient texts, the Vedas, and translated into The Book of Secrets, a volume of meditations for life, including some on good sexual practice.

Osho was an extremely controversial speaker on the subject of sex at the time and yet thousands flocked to learn from him, mostly from the West. He died in a blaze of controversy in 1990 and many of his devotees are alive today, working as educators, coaches and teachers of tantra. Western neo-tantra is mostly a blend of Osho’s Eastern teachings and transpersonal beliefs and certain ideas and practices taken from Western psychotherapy.

The training I did with Jan Day consisted of four residential workshops, seminars, a series of voluntary one-to-one sessions and an online email support group. It was a small group, twelve people, men and women of all ages and both the seminars and workshops were made up mostly of a combination of structured sessions and open sharing or circle work.

In these workshops I faced my body, how it looked to myself and others, I discovered the chakra system which flows through the body and how it functioned. I explored touch; I explored different types of touch and even intimacy and touch with my own gender. I touched my boundaries, and learnt to state what they were. I learnt to ask for what I wanted, the difference between giving and receiving – and how to separate the two.

In short, I was able to slow the whole process of sexual intimacy down. I got to do this in the form of structures and games, safely, privately, in a small group of peers. In tantra, I discovered the notion of ritual space. This was a revelation – these new experiences were all conducted with reverence and respect. No giggling, nothing cheap or sordid; this was adult sex education as well as initiation into sexual sacred space.

For the first time in my adult life I was learning about sex and sexual intimacy and I was doing this within a supportive group. I was able to face fears, share worries, witness my shadow and make huge leaps. I encountered others and myself in a very wide range of sexually intimate experiences. Sessions during workshops can last hours. Between sessions there is time to share and reflect. Days pass and the work is integrated. Days and weeks after a big residential workshop is over, I was still buzzing with the newness of what I had experienced and learnt.

Jan Day’s training and series of workshops is well structured, leading participants on a journey back to self. The final workshop is about relating to the beloved; something that lies within each of us. This is tantra’s biggest lesson, that the divine lies within. We must discover this before we can begin to give to others. Most of us too frequently look outwards for the divine, we are looking for another; but we often miss the obvious.

The training was also very challenging. Eighteen months is a long time during which I made some mistakes, yet also witnessed change. At the end of it I had a better view of myself and my former patterns of intimate relationships with the opposite sex. It has been an invaluable training and it has set me up for the second half of my life. I’d recommend this kind of training highly to anyone who wishes to explore their sexual self.

As Osho said: “Love is a matter of inner nature, not relationship… love is a state of being. It is an inner component of one’s individuality.”

Jan Day’s next training programme starts in June, while a week-long workshop that is a pre-requisite for the training will take place 5-12 April in Somerset.