Episode 50: Johanina Wikoff, PhD: Tantra and the Yoga of Love and Transformation
What is “Tantra”? We see the word used to describe a wide variety of classes, trainings and practices. But what is it, really? Meet Dr. Johanina Wikoff, a lifelong student and teacher of traditional Tantra and the transformative power of love. Johanina is a master at interpreting, for the western mind, the esoteric Eastern texts and teachings known as Tantra. Her Tantra is about revealing essence, peeling away conditioning and revealing the jewel of our essential nature, sharing the exquisiteness of being, the play of pure energy. As Johanina explains it, Tantra is the subtle understanding, the consciousness of this. Tantra gives this a particular language and form. The various teachings of the different schools of spirituality give different flavors of this experience. Tantra is the yummy path in the school of consciousness. And don’t miss Johanina’s two tantric exercises for you to try at home.
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Chip August: Welcome to Sex, Love, and Intimacy. I'm your host Chip August and today, we have a friend on our show, Doctor Johanina Wikoff. Johanina was one of the first wave of Western tantra teachers, and today, we're going to be talking about tantra and what it is and the traditions it comes from and the yoga traditions and Kundalini energy and all kinds of things you may have heard about in workshops and what not and I think Johanina has a traditional, classical, very beautiful take on all this. She has been one of my teachers and is a good friend of mine. For more than twenty-three years, she's taken small groups and groups of over a hundred people and all kinds of groups. Experiential journeys [sp] into the transformative dimensions of being and loving through a unique blend of classical tantra body oriented and relational psychology. Introduced to tantric buddhism as a student of Chogyam Trungpa. Did I say that right?
Johanina Wikoff: Pretty close, Chogyam Trungpa.
Chip: Thank you. She later became a student of the Indian mystic Osho. Her early teachings reflected these influences. Johanina has founded two centers for the study of spirituality in relationship and has developed and trained teachers in the transformative dimensions of tantra and has authored the best-selling book, "The Complete Idiots Guide to the Kama Sutra," which is now in its second edition. Her approach reflects penetrating understanding of the philosophy and psychology of the lineage based tantras coupled with a mature and refined capacity of working with energy, psycho-spiritual inquiry, and group dynamics.
Johanina: I'm talking about the classical tantras, the lineage based non-dual teachings of both the Buddhist line, the Vajrayana tantras, and the Kashmiri non-dual tantras; and I'm also talking about what has evolved in the last thirty or so years in the West called neo-tantra. And it doesn't have to do with the kind of sexuality that we practice in the West. It has to do with sexuality as a vehicle for consciousness. For many people, people who don't meditate, people who aren't involved in the exploration of themselves as energetic beings, the way we like to do here on the West Coast a lot. [laugh] Sex is a very powerful way to have a taste of that. The kind of consciousness that the tantras speak of is a generous, loving, accepting, energetically alive consciousness.
Chip: Welcome to the show Johanina.
Johanina: Well, hi, Chip. It's good to be talking to you again.
Chip: Yes... A million years ago, Johanina and I led workshops ostensibly called tantra workshops, although I'm not a tantra teacher, I was doing a different part of it altogether, and I'm just really glad to be back in touch with you and to be able to ask you more about tantra.
Johanina: Lovely to be here.
Chip: No my experience is that there's a quality of tantra that sort of--you know, there's a famous Zen quote that, "Those who can say, don't know, and those who know, can't say." [laughter] And there's a quality of tantra that are experiences like that. You know if you ask ten teachers what tantra is, you get pieces of it. But it seems like those who know, can't say very well, and it seems like those who are definite, this is what it is, really don't know. So lets just start with your--what are you talking about, when we're talking about tantra?
Johanina: Good question. What am I talking about? Well, I'm talking about a couple of things. One I would say is that I'm talking about the classical tantras, the lineage based non-dual teachings of both the Buddhis line, Vajrayana tantras, and the Kashmiri non-dual tantras, and I'm also talking about what has evolved in the last thirty or so years in the West called neo-tantra. And those are very different teachings. The main difference is, I would say, lineage based teachings are a philosophy and a psychology, kind of a road map of the esoteric terrain of spirituality that the tantras provide, a road map to enlightenment, that is very particular, different then yoga. Yoga is a path that like much of Western philosophy has a dualistic base, there's right, there's wrong, there's good, there's evil. We try to be better people, we try to get there through postures and dietary considerations and how we speak and what we say and goodness in our relationships. Where as the tantras take a more non-dual perspective that I guess you could say the center piece is an embrace of everything we are, saying yes to all we are, and a kind of radical acceptance that we are perfect as we are, that we don't have to improve ourselves, we simply have to allow ourselves to be as we are.
Chip: Okay, now I notice that you use the term, the tantras, as if you were describing something. Is this a collection of writing?
Johanina: Yes, the tantras are a collection of writings and in the last period of time, several years, several more of the tantras from the Kashmiri lineage are being translated. So there's more of the teachings available to us than there were previously.
Chip: Who wrote these teachings?
Johanina: Various people. Going back, if we go all the way back to when the first writings appeared in the 8th century, and then the hay day of that period was around the 12th to the 13th century, but many of those writing have not been translated, they're in the process of being translated. So as Western tantra evolved, it took bits and pieces of what was available and created a new system that really was... The ancient teaches that I'm calling the tantras, have a minute, 2 to 5 percent with sexuality. And it doesn't have to do with the kind of sexuality that we practice in the West. It has to do with sexuality as a vehicle for consciousness, and how we take the consciousness of sexuality to continue our awakening, our enlightenment to our true nature, to our essential self. And the reason that that energy is used is that that energy is our life force. It's just translated into sexual energy. It's there all the time. Most of us don't tap into it, except through sexual energy. That's how we know that state of oneness. That's why we love sex, because we have this experience of being outside the boundaries of our thinking mind, our relational consideration, the limitations of relationships. We enter a boundless ecstatic state of being for a moment, so sex is very powerful in that way, and for many people, people who don't meditate, people who are not involved in the exploration of themselves as energetic beings, as we like to do on the West Coast here a lot, sex is a very powerful way to have a taste of that.
Chip: It seems to me... I'm trying to take all of what you said and put it into plain English, which is challenging to do. It seems one of the key aspects that happens in a profound sexual experience is this perceived mind body dualism. Like in that one moment of ecstatic body release, we are... There's lots of different ways to look at it. Some of us feel like we're just fully embodied. Our mind just goes away. We're not thinking thoughts. We're not making plans. We're just fully in our body. Others might just say, 'Actually you know what, it's more like our mind and our body, joined. They integrate. They find union, so that the thoughts we are having are feeding what's going on with our body, the feelings we're having with our body are feeding our thoughts, and we're just having this one united experience.' But I think that's what you're talking about that's that intimation to something bigger.
Johanina: Yes, absolutely. That sexuality, orgasm, is a doorway to a boundless state that most of us don't have access to otherwise, or it might be our introduction to those states, and we might want more, and that might lead us to meditation, spiritual study.
Chip: Do the tantras, the writings themselves, suggest that there are other paths besides sexuality?
Johanina: Absolutely, they primarily deal with other ways. Sexuality is maybe 5 percent of the content of the tantras. In the Yoga world, Western tantra is thought of as not very credible, because it focuses on the sexuality, where as in the scriptures, in the teachings, there is very little. Tantra is about consciousness, about awakening, and the sexuality that is included in some places is really addressing sexuality as a means to awaken, to enter that state.
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Chip: Welcome back. You're listening to Sex, Love, and Intimacy. I'm your host, Chip August, and I'm talking to a friend of mine, Doctor Johanina Wikoff. She's an expert on tantra. She's a tantra teacher and has been for more than twenty three years and has a perspective on tantra that I don't think we hear very much about here in the Western world. We were talking some about that before the break. We were talking about tantra as being so much more than just a series of sexual techniques. So I want to kind of follow this a little bit. In tantra, in every tantra class I've ever been in, and every tantra person I've ever talked to, they talk about this thing called Kundalini energy. What are they talking about?
Johanina: They're talking about Kundalini Shakti energy. In the tantric teachings, we hear about Shakti and Shiva, consorts in creating the world in the Hindu mythology. Shakti is the divine pulsation. She is the feminine. She is the creatress, the seductress, the dancing playful calling into form of Shiva from the formless and absolute, where he resides as pure consciousness. And it is the dance of these two energies, her seductive coaxing him into form that creates the world.
Johanina: And that world is a world of pulsation, the world as seen in the tantric teaching, has a consciousness, has a quality of pulsation. We in the West know that as life force. It is that experience that we have, sometimes through orgasm, where we feel our bodies, not only this solid mass, but this tingling, streaming, vibrating, pleasurable source of experience. We bring that into... We call that orgasmic energy. That's one experience of this expansive life force that can be called Kundalini and one of its dance, one of the ways that it plays out. In the study of Kundalini in the east, that energy, that pulsation, that life force is cultivated through the body, through the chakras, and as it awakens, the image of it is seen as a sleeping coil serpent at the base of the spine. And through spiritual study, another way of awakening Kundalini, that energy begins to open up and move through the chakra system, the seven or eight centers in the body, where energy is strongly collected. As it moves through those centers, it releases more and more consciousness. So people become more awake, more aware, more sensitive, more energetically alive... juicier.
Chip: And is the--is there a--I was going to ask you, 'Is the goal of...?' And then I realized I'm not even sure if there is a goal. But, is it the hope that as you study the tantras, as you learn to uncoil the snake of Kundalini, that the goal here is consciousness. The goal is to awaken out of the illusory nature of life into a higher reality. Am I understanding that correctly?
Johanina: Yes, you are understanding that correctly. Consciousness is the prize.
Chip: And in a way, it's sort of... I always, when I read about consciousness in Eastern tract, I liken it to the direct experience of God that many in the Judeo-Christian mythics aspire to. That it's that similar sort of--you are now at the divine.
Johanina: Yes. The divine--the kind of consciousness that the tantra is trying to speak of is a generous, loving, accepting, energetically alive consciousness. You know, I often say that the tantric doorway to consciousness is the yummy path. I think that's part of the reason that Western tantra has been interpreted as through sexuality is because it is such a sensual--the senses are so important. To be embodied and be in touch with your senses are really one of the primary vehicles for non-dual tantras, how you know what is real, what is real in the tantras is a non-conceptual reality. Since there isn't right or wrong, since there isn't duality, and there isn't morality, and there really isn't a philosophy, the sense become really an important way of knowing what's so.
Chip: Got it, because our mind is used to... A friend of mine used to say, "There's two types of people in the world. People who think there's two types of people, and people who don't." [laughter] Our minds are used to creating duality. This is what we do. If we see night, we immediately deduce or induce that there will be day, that pain is related to pleasure, that we live in a sort of dualistic fantasy, and so, there isn't really language to talk about the thing you're talking about, because when we lose that dualism, we lose points of reference.
Johanina: Yeah, and this is particularly true in the West. It's not so true in the East.
Johanina: In India, you know, you go in the orient and you ask questions, or you ask directions, or you ask questions that have a yes or no answer and you'll never get no.
Johanina: Because they don't like to say no, so they say yes. [laughter] This not wanting to live in duality is much more prevalent in the East. So, the way we think about spirituality in the West is very different, and a different kind of frame of reference has to be cultivated in order to embrace these teachings, but what I like to say to people is, 'What's really important, and what you can really learn from the tantras, is how to focus on what's real--'
Johanina: '--not on what you believe, or you think, or you've been conditioned.
Chip: So you're trying to see to a deeper reality than our programming lets us see most of the time.
Johanina: Yeah, we want to find out what's so in the moment.
Johanina: These teachings ultimately take us to the here and now, o what is true in the moment.
Chip: And how you're going find your way there is, some of it is by studying--if I understand this correctly--some of it is by studying sacred texts, some of it is going to be about really practicing the practice of just being present in the moment, some of it will be with breath, some of it will be with movement, that you'll use all of the tools at your disposal to try to step out of this, what we think is reality, into a higher reality.
Chip: Great, okay.
Johanina: How do we move out of this either or kind of thinking that keeps us kind of boxed in and how do we create--how do we find a middle way through the paradoxes and the conflicts that we face. And what the tantras give us is a roadmap for that. Be present in the senses. Allow paradox to be, just as it is. Embrace a kind of radical acceptance of all sides of an issue.
Chip: This all sounds like not only good advice for living a life, but this is exactly the coaching that I give to couples when they come to me.
Johanina: Right, absolutely. So you can see then how you can take these teachings or this understanding of the teachings and then apply it to your relationships, to how you live in the world, to how you conduct your life. It's a very simple and elegant way of being to present to what's real in life.
Johanina: And to enjoying the simple pleasures of every moment.
Johanina: You know, we, in the West, have kind of an attitude that we have to work hard and then we get to play hard. People work for forty, fifty, sixty hours a week, and then on the weekends, they drink and take drugs in order to switch their consciousness into something more pleasurable and restful. And what the tantras teach us a way to, in every moment, just be present in the sweetness and the suchness of that moment.
Johanina: No matter what's happening. Even if it's struggle, even if it's fighting with my lover about something we've fought about a hundred times and there doesn't seem to be any resolution, but in that moment, seeing the paradox of our situation.
Johanina: And just going, 'Oh yeah, here we are, two flawed human beings, trying to live perfect love.'
Chip: That sounds like a perfect note for us to take another break. I am really enjoying this conversation. Listeners, I hope you are enjoying it also. We're talking to Johanina Wikoff. She is a tantra teacher and actually, really, a tantra expert. You're listening to Sex, Love, and Intimacy. As we go to break, I really want to invite you to listen to what we're offering here, because there's a lot of really good deals. Also, want to say, if you like what you're hearing, please send links of this show to your friends and people you know. I'd really like to reach a lot more people, and you're my vehicle for doing that. So, if you like what you hear, please, let other people know about it. We'll be right back.
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Chip: Welcome back to Sex, Love, and Intimacy. I'm your host, Chip August. We're talking to Johanina Wikoff. Johanina, before we took the break, you were talking a little bit about this journey, an amazing spiritual journey, away from dualism, away from sort of the surface and into the center, into the depths of reality. And one of the things I was struck with was, so, you've been on this journey for twenty three years. You ever going to get there?
Johanina: [laughter] No. Prob--I hope not. [laughter] You know, one of the things about spiritual work, spiritual practice, is that you kind of get that there is no there there, that it really... You know, in the West, we are always trying to work on ourselves, we're trying to perfect ourselves, we're not thin enough, we're not young enough, we're always trying to better ourselves in some way, thinking that some how, you know, if we buy the big house, we get the accolades in our career, and that some how, we'll feel fulfilled. And you know the kind of joke at the other end of that is that yeah, it feels great, for the moment you win the award or publish the book, but the next day you wake up, and you're the same person again. And when are we going to get ourselves off the wheel of trying to get somewhere, and these teachings show us how being present to what is, and how we live in the moment with the paradox, with the imperfect relationship and the aging body, how there is something else besides there, and that is this jewel of consciousness that we get to experience.
Chip: It's a beautiful vision, it's a beautiful vision. If people wanted to know more about your teaching, or wanted to work with you, or wanted to find you, how would they do that?
Johanina: They can find me through my website, www.johaninawikoff.com, and they will find there information about the work I'm doing, the sessions I offer to couples and individuals, and the classes that I offer.
Chip: Would you actually spell that out letter by letter, in case people are wanting to write that down?
Johanina: Sure. It's www.johaninawikoff.com.
Chip: Thank you.
Johanina: And you can also pick up a copy of my book, "The Complete Idiot's Guide to the Kama Sutra." It's in most local bookstores, and the chains, and you can get it online. And if your local bookstore isn't carrying it for you, you can request it, and they will get it for you.
Chip: And by the way listeners, I consider myself something other than a 'complete idiot' and still found it a really valuable book. So, don't let the title put you off, if you're smarter than an idiot. Also, if you want to, you can find Johanina by going to www.personallifemedia.com, and going to my episode pages, Sex, Love, and Intimacy, and when you click the link to Johanina and I's interview, you'll also find there, a list of links, which include a link to Johanina's site. While you're there, you might also notice we transcribe every episode of Sex, Love, and Intimacy, so if you want to print and maybe, read later, or cut out a section of this interview that you want to send to somebody in print, or you just want to have for your own reference, why, it's right there for you. Also, if you want to give me advice or suggest guests for future shows, I am always looking for comments and feedback and ideas for new shows. So, just send me an e-mail at email@example.com, all one word, personallifemedia.com, and I do read every piece of e-mail I get, and I've gotten some great ideas for shows from you. If you would prefer to call, I do have a voice-mail number, (206) 350 - 5333. When you leave a message there, please leave your name, mention my show name, and your question or your comment. Please add your phone number and or an e-mail, and just know that when you leave a message on the voice-mail system, you're implying that if there is some way we can use it for promotional material, we have your permission. Johanina, we're kind of coming to the end of the show. I really loved talking to you. I always ask my guests is there something that you teach, or some idea that you have, they could take into their lives that would improve their own sex, love, and intimacy.
Johanina: I think there is. I'd like to give you two.
Johanina: And the first one is a very simple practice. I like these very little, I call them micro-practices, because we can do them all day long. So, when you wake up in the morning, and you open your eyes, remember, remind yourself before you go to sleep that when you open your eyes, you're going to open your eyes and look as though you haven't seen anything before, so you're going to see everything new. So, for just a moment, you can then go back to your ordinary way of seeing. Throughout the day when you lift a glass of water and you take the first sip, be completely present in that first sip of water. Feel it as it goes over your lips and refreshes your mouth and goes down your throat, and then just go about drinking, just for that first few seconds. When you're making love, the same thing, from moment to moment, you might be lost in the reverie of bliss, bring yourself back to the touch, to the feel. Be completely present in what's happening in that moment of lovemaking, and then, let your consciousness go wherever it will go. So, throughout your day, these little micro-practices kind of weave through, they bring you right into the moment. They focus you, they heighten your experience of being present in the here and now, and then you just let them go. That's the first practice.
Chip: I love it. It just sounds such a refreshing way to start your day.
Johanina: Yeah, and through the day. And just kind of reminding yourself to be really present and in your senses, and in the moment, and with what is.
Chip: And then you had a second idea?
Johanina: I have a second idea. And, you know when people are making love, they often hold their breath, and when we hold the breath, we also cut off our capacity to feel pleasure and to be present with what's happening. So, I would like people to remind themselves, when they're making love, or touching each other, or kissing, to be with their own breath, to be with what's happening, but also to be with your own breath.
Chip: A thing that's helped my partner and I is that sometimes we will deliberately try to match our breathing. So I'm trying to breathe in when she's trying to breathe, I'm trying to breathe out when she's trying to breathe out. And what I'm noticing is that it's not so much that there's any magic to matching her breathing, it's that we're both paying attention to breathing.
Chip: You know, that the thought of matching just has you remember to breathe and to keep breathing.
Johanina: Yes, and I think there's also a harmonic that happens when two people are breathing in the same rhythm. You bring yourself a kind of subtler level of resonance with one another.
Chip: And to keep breathing. [laughter]
Johanina: And to keep breathing. [laughter]
Chip: I really appreciate you taking this time Johanina. You've been a great guest. Thank you for being on the show.
Johanina: My pleasure.
Chip: And thank you listeners for listening. I appreciate all of your support, and all of the notes you have been sending me, and all of the appreciations I have been getting from you. I want to thank you all for tuning in. You have been listening to Sex, Love, and Intimacy. I'm your host, Chip August, and I do hope you'll listen in again.
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