Episode 3: The Tantra of Radical Intimacy Part 2 with Mark Michaels and Patricia Johnson. Authors of "The Essence of Tantric Sexuality."
Mark Michaels and Patricia Johnson - Part 2
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Announcer 2: This is part two of a two-part podcast. If you'd like part one you'll find it at personalllifemedia.com.
Francesca Gentille: Welcome back to "Sex, Tantra, and Kama Sutra, with authors Mark Michaels and Patricia Johnson, authors of "The Essence of Tantric Sexuality" who were just speaking about how to bring tantric sexuality to the individual - to each of us alone in our own bedrooms when we don't have a lover around us and we still want to feel full and rich and connected to our sexuality and to life itself.
Mark and Patricia, could you give me a little picture of ... someone's coming home, it's been a hard day, maybe they've eaten and now they're going into the bedroom. What might they do that would help them into this tantric consciousness, if we want to call it that, and experience?
Mark Michaels: Well again, I mean, gazing with yourself in the mirror and bowing after three minutes of doing that. It's a very powerful thing.
We had someone recently at a class we taught come up to us and say: "I took your workshop five years ago, and this one practice changed my life." So, that alone is hugely powerful.
In terms of the more sexual side of things, or the more directly sexual side of things - if you're alone and you come home as you described, you can create your own lovemaking ritual for yourself.
You can light candles and incense and all of that stuff and treat self-pleasuring as something that's really a sacred ritual.
Patricia Johnson: Especially if you're into self-pleasuring there's a very interesting interplay between being giver and receiver, so changing your focus from giving your touch and experimenting with what it feels like to touch your body and then what it feels like to receive that touch.
All of this is very interesting to do with your consciousness.
Francesca Gentille: So...
Mark Michaels: Now one of the key things that we talk about in the book, we do have two chapters on self-pleasuring, really in the context of sex magic practices. One of the key things in tantric sexuality generally, and where, you know, sort of that staying seven hours of lovemaking evolved is that the key to the tantric sexual experience is prolonging the arousal phase.
What happens is if you prolong arousal for approximately 30 minutes or more your body starts producing all sorts of hormones, and neurotransmitting chemicals and all of these endorphins and so on.
Patricia Johnson: I like to think of them as nature's antidepressants. [laughs]
Mark Michaels: So you're creating an altered state of consciousness through prolonging the arousal phase and that's when the more mystical and profound sorts of orgasmic experiences can happen.
So, if you're pleasuring yourself do it for a prolonged period of time and you will have this, potentially at least have access to these mystical states. And that can be an incredibly satisfying experience, and you don't need anybody else to take you there.
Francesca Gentille: Now that self-pleasuring, that is different from masturbating. It feels like it's a richer concept, a broader concept. So, when I masturbate, when I think of someone masturbating (woo-hoo!), it's very genitally focused. Right down there, get in, get off, get out. What is self-pleasuring?
Patricia Johnson: Well, as we mentioned earlier, to be tantric in any sexual aspect is a matter of shifting your awareness. So, you can be tantric and have an anxiety-relieving wank, you know, as long as you bring your awareness.
So, what we're talking about can be genitally focused, but as long as it lasts longer. If that works for you and doesn't carry you over the edge or bring an end to it, as long as you're prolonging the arousal for 30 minutes you're going to reach these states.
Mark Michaels: But you do want to bring the whole body into play.
Patricia Johnson: It's helpful. [laughs]
Mark Michaels: And I think for men in particular, you know, that's something that men, generally speaking in this society, need to learn more. Because, we do tend to be genitally focused, and one of the things that we talk about in general terms about Tantra is that men, I mean we're all both male and female inside. Men, probably more than women, need to access their female aspects and learn to experience sexual pleasure and bodily sensation generally throughout the body and not just in the genitals.
Francesca Gentille: When you say: "men need to access their female side", they don't have to become gay, and wear pink and, you know, swish or something...
Patricia Johnson: [laughing]
Francesca Gentille: ...what do we mean when we say: "Accessing their female side."
Mark Michaels: [Laugh]. Well, the tantric philosophy is that, and biologically this is really true, I mean we all start out female in the earliest stages of development.
The idea in Tantra is that we all have aspects of both masculine and feminine within us. The more that we can access these aspects and balance them and unify them within ourselves the more whole we can be as people.
Francesca Gentille: What is the feminine aspect in sexuality? If I'm male or female and I'm carrying a stronger feminine aspect how would I make love or want to make love? How would that show up in my touch or in my awareness?
Mark Michaels: As a general rule, the way to think about it is that male sexual response works from the inside out, from the genitals and then moves out to the rest of the body. Whereas, the female sexual response tends to operate more from the outside in.
Women, and again these are sweeping generalities, it's not true of every individual, but the more feminine way would be to do a whole lot of other kinds of stimulation. It might include sound, taste, smell, engaging all of the other senses. And then physically with the body working from the extremities towards the genital.
The male would be more...
Patricia Johnson: ...begin with the genitals and spread the energy back out.
Francesca Gentille: It sounds like our culture is a more masculine-oriented culture in sexuality in general. The way that we have been acculturated or trained in sexuality is to go for the genitals, go for the breasts, the very obvious erogenous zones.
What I'm hearing is that in a tantric pleasuring, whether it's of ourselves or our partner there's more of a sense of including more of a feminine, traditionally feminine concept of all the senses, taste, smells, bringing in all aspects of the body. Would that be correct?
Mark Michaels: Yes. In fact in the book we devote several chapters to a system of working with tantric erogenous zone.
The idea really is that you work basically from the zones that are furthest physically from the genitals and then work towards the genitals so that the sexual energy, the arousal gets concentrated in the genitals. Then it's moved back out through the rest of the body.
Patricia Johnson: This would help prolong the arousal, because I know that for a percentage of the population for men, it can be challenging to prolong arousal. There's not the training or the skill set to start.
I think the average amount of time in intercourse is something like three to five minutes?
Mark Michaels: I think it's less.
Francesca Gentille: Less, yeah.
Patricia Johnson: Less? [Laughs]. So starting from the extremities would help slow that down.
Mark Michaels: I've heard that the average American.. what is it, eight times a year.
Francesca Gentille: Eight times a year the average American couple has sex. To me this is the real tragedy. There's something really overt from this and awry, if that's the case.
Mark Michaels: But that's a whole other story. I think that, to go back to your point about men and arousal. One of the things that's very important to bear in mind with this is that tantric lovemaking is not a competition, it's not an Olympic event. It's not about necessarily being able to have intercourse for hours.
Arousal doesn't necessarily mean intercourse. You can be aroused through any kind of stimulation. The point is that once you've reached that half hour or so mark then you've created an enormous realm of potential.
Patricia Johnson: Actually if you tried to achieve this through having intercourse for 30 minutes you might have an opposite effect, because you'd have to numb yourself out, think through your baseball stats and [laughs], fill out obscure words in your head so you're really detaching yourself from the experience.
So, what's wrong with having intercourse for a few seconds, or sitting still, and taking breaks, so you can explore this arc of increasing pleasure. That's the most important thing!
Francesca Gentille: And with that, experiencing greater pleasure, and having it spread throughout the body, and releasing the hormones. It all sounds like such great outcomes, in a sense, for the tantric sexual experience.
You also mention early on the sense of having this sensual experience or, in a sense, being in some states of appreciation or arousal all the time. Is that possible, to walk through life like that?
MM & Patricia Johnson: [both laugh]
Patricia Johnson: I try to! [laughs]
Mark Michaels: Yes. I mean that it doesn't mean that you don't have your problems to deal with in life. But, what it does for you, is it gives you a reservoir of energy, of happiness, of pleasure, that you can draw on when things are not going so well.
It really gives you the ability also, if you're training yourself to see the divine in your partner, in your relationship, to treat your relationship as something sacred, it gives you the opportunity then to go out into the world and experience everything as sacred.
Patricia is a lot better at this in some ways than I am. So that, I mean, when we're having a disagreement she likes to say that she sees the divine in me. [laughs]
Patricia Johnson: I think that's the most important time. Don't wait until your partner has a perfect hair day and anticipates your every need and then say: "Oh, well there's my divine partner!" I think you're missing something at that point.
It's when they're a little contrary and moody, to really take a step back and go: "This is a divine being" and really embrace that. That is where you can learn a lot and really connect deeply with each other.
Francesca Gentille: Mark, how does it feel when you're a little grumpy or moody or your hair is mussy and Patricia can say authentically, and I'm hearing that she's saying this authentically: "I see the divine in you."
How does that feel?
Mark Michaels: Well, it makes it a lot easier to tolerate those days. If she responded with: "You're being a jerk today and I don't want to talk to you." That would be likely to lead to a snowballing of my mood and a bigger disruption in the relationship.
But, because she's able to hold that, it doesn't mean necessarily that my mood's going to go away, but it does make it a lot less powerful and it makes more likely to evaporate more quickly.
Patricia Johnson: Yes. And the whole time while I'm in that, and focusing on that, I'm really striving to understand why he feels that way or really gain some deep solidarity with him in this state.
So, it's not just: "oh, I see you're divine and you're angry" and then I walk away. I'm with him through it all.
Francesca Gentille: You don't just say: [snarky] "Yeah, I see the divine in you!"
Francesca Gentille: So what helps you get to a place, Patricia, in your own mindset, your own attitude where you can see that? Because, I'm imagining that you're not a totally enlightened being.
Patricia Johnson: No! [laughs]
Francesca Gentille: And you do have your moments where you think: "Wow, he is being kind of a jerk!" So, how do you shift from that mental criticism we all get into to that perspective of Mark: "Oh, but he's so cute when he's grumpy, or..."
Patricia Johnson and Mark Michaels: [Laugh]
Francesca Gentille: "I understand why he's grumpy. I know that he just had this or that happen." What helps you make that shift?
Patricia Johnson: You know that's a very interesting question, one I hadn't thought of, but it would be where I'm at an impasse in my head. Where I really don't know what to do next, you know. I'm a little bit out at a loss. So that seems to be the best focus to shift to.
And, it really helps things move, it's really nice. If anything feels tight. I guess that if there's a sign that we're not really communicating well, or really on either on each other's team. Like we're on separate teams.
That feeling, it's a very distinct feeling of a little bit of a gap between us in our relationship. That's a big indication to shift into that: "Yeah, you may think he's being a butt, and he's really wrong for being mad at you, but look at the divine person right there."
Mark Michaels: I think the other things is that we really (and this is something we stress with all of our students and we try to embody it in our lives) is that we're really quite determined to be kind to one another. And I think that having that awareness in mind at all times is really, really important.
It's the foundation for revering your partner.
Francesca Gentille: I would love to talk a little bit more about that. That kindness and that reverence. It's also something very, very different than our culture normally walks through it's day - right after we come back from this break and words from our sponsors.
Francesca Gentille: Welcome back to "Sex, Tantra, and Kama Sutra" with our guests Mark Michaels and Patricia Johnson, a lovely married couple.
We are having so much fun interviewing them today about self-pleasuring the tantric way and expanding the tantric mindset into all of life.
We were just discussing reverence and kindness, and how really different that is for our culture. On a day-to-day basis most people do not walk through their life thinking: "I want to be reverent and kind to the person that cut me off on the freeway." Or "I want to be reverent and kind to my partner who said that they were going to be home for dinner and is now over a half an hour late."
Talk with me a little bit more about how important reverence and kindness is and how you get there.
Mark Michaels: Getting there is not easy! We see so many couples that..
Patricia Johnson: ...that insist: "Oh, I'm being kind to him. He has to know that he looks terrible in that outfit!" Or something.
I mean, really, there's really few models. Especially in our culture, there's sitcom after sitcom of couples treating each other really badly and then they're presented as having a solid relationship.
You can have a solid relationship and treat each other kindly!
But, recognizing kindness I think might be challenging for a few people.
Mark Michaels: And, you know, I think that in some respects the idea that is quite popular these days about the need to speak your truth.
It's important to be able to speak your truth, but I think that it's gotten kind of mixed up in a lot of people's minds with just venting. Or even with being kind of brutally honest.
There's a way to tell someone that something upsets you without beating them over the head with it. I think that if you proceed from the assumption that: "This is a person that I really care about and I'm not going to brutalize her with my stuff" and you really keep that in your consciousness, that alone will be huge step and create a shift.
Patricia Johnson: A huge step.
Francesca Gentille: What about kindness to oneself? What I notice in myself and a lot of other people is that in my own mind I'm constantly criticizing myself: "I'm such a jerk. I'm so stupid. I can't believe I said that. I can't believe I did that!"
Chances are if I'm doing that internally it's going to be very easy for me to do that externally. "If I do it to me, I'm going to do it to you."
Mark Michaels: Yes, that's very true.
Francesca Gentille: So how important is it to shift what might be called the internal dialogue, and how does one do that internally?
Mark Michaels: Well, I think that going back to our eyegazing with yourself, bowing and cultivating this reverence for yourself is a very strong starting place.
The verbal, the mental chatter, all of that is something that you want to get beyond.
What will happen if you gaze is that you kind of go into a meditative state where that chatter starts to settle down.
It's when you get into that kind of a realm that you can then begin to see yourself with a greater sense of reverence.
The idea here is to begin by revering yourself. That doesn't mean inflating your ego but it means genuinely appreciating and caring for yourself.
From there you can move out and bring that reverence to your partner...
Patricia Johnson: ... to your partner which then moves out and affects how you interact with everything in life.
Mark Michaels: And it's very badly needed in the world today. I mean, I think we look around and we see the consequences of a lack of reverence pretty much everywhere we turn.
Francesca Gentille: What would be the consequence of a lack of reverence? Give me one.
Mark Michaels: Well, environmental destruction. I'm not going to go off on my soapbox, but the global warming situation is incredibly dire and it doesn't seem that anybody's paying attention.
They're starting to, but that's the most vivid symbol. War as well, but we're not revering the thing that gives us life. And... I don't know.
Patricia Johnson: Can't fight that!
Francesca Gentille: I hear what you're saying. When I might look at the mirror, and I'm guessing when other people might look at the mirror, when our listening audience looks at the mirror, we're really trained to look at the mirror and say: "Oh, God! Isn't that another wrinkle?" Or "I don't like my eye color." Or "My nose is too big." To really look for the flaws.
Mark Michaels: Exactly.
Francesca Gentille: Or to, as you were speaking earlier checking in/ checking out, is to in a sense even really not look. So I might look at the mirror just enough to see if my shirt collar is straight, or, if I'm a woman, if I put on my mascara straight.
But, other than that I'm not really going to look because I'm really frightened that if I look closer what I'm going to see is all of the imperfections.
So, you're now asking me to eyegaze into my own face. What do I do with all of those imperfections that are really going to be the first thing that I am going to see?
Patricia Johnson: You just have to race through them and let them pass. Just let them pass, let them go.
Mark Michaels: Keep the focus on the eyes.
Patricia Johnson: And keep the focus on the eyes and really relax into nonthought. It's the best way. I mean, it's OK to have critical thoughts. Just let them voice themselves and let them go.
Mark Michaels: Don't attach any importance to them.
Patricia Johnson: No.
Francesca Gentille: And as I keep staying with my eyes, or the listening audience is staying with their eyes, or a couple is staying with the eyes, is that reverence and that kindness something that will just show up after a while?
Mark Michaels: I believe that it will, yeah.
Patricia Johnson: Yeah.
Mark Michaels: I mean, what happens when you do it with a partner in particular but also with yourself is that everything just sort of goes away and you melt into the gaze.
Patricia Johnson: You realize that you're just so much more and so much beyond just your physical self. It's just a little container. There's some vast soul that you get to hang out with, it's a really wonderful state.
Francesca Gentille: And that links it back to that reverence and kindness for the world. In a sense that eyegazing is a way to check in with ourselves or with our partners. Really training our mind, our consciousness to be "checked in."
It sounds like that "checking out" that our culture really promotes: to not look at one another, to not look at ourselves, to not look at the world, is..
Mark Michaels: And to not appreciate.
Francesca Gentille: MM-hmm. To not appreciate...
Mark Michaels: Yeah, I think that's a very important part of it.
Francesca Gentille: Is to not only look at but appreciate, is that what you're saying?
Mark Michaels: Yeah, I mean bowing is a sign of appreciation. That's why the bowing is a central part of it. It sort of puts the cap on it. It's a physical display of reverence and the more that you can remind yourself to be reverent the more effective that's going to be in all of your life.
Francesca Gentille: And is this a big bow, you know, where you're bowing all the way down to the ground? Or bowing way down? Is it a bow where you're still looking at your partner or looking at yourself, so kind of a slight bow? What kind of a bow are we talking about?
Mark Michaels: You put your hands together at your heart, in prayer position and you just lower your head a little bit. And yes, maintain the gaze with yourself or with your partner.
Patricia Johnson: And it's that tradition of bowing, which has been throughout the world for thousands and some thousands of years, like you said it sets something in our body. It anchors something in our body that we are in a different experience, a unique experience, a different experience. That we're in that, as we say, a sacred experience.
Mark Michaels: Mm-hmmm. Yeah, it's very central. You know it is something that we've pretty much lost in the West. It's not just some exotic eastern practice. It's incredibly simple. But it creates a huge change because it's a reminder that this is something important.
As I said before, we're not trying to appreciate, we're not trying to think that things are important. Everything is disposable, everything is just something to be bought until we buy the next thing. That's how we're conditioned.
By bowing and starting to show appreciation we're kind of unwinding at least some of that consumer training that we've had for our entire lives.
Francesca Gentille: So Mark and Patricia, I want to thank you so much for joining us and bringing these concepts of reverence and appreciation and slowing down the sexual experience.
Having at least 30 minutes of arousal that gets all those delicious chemicals and hormones pumping in our bodies, really.
Taking the time to change our attitudes and our thoughts that ultimately not only bring us into a kinder, more joyful relationship with ourselves but with our partners and ultimately with our world. Giving us an opportunity to hopefully save our world and have a world to enjoy in the future.
I'm sure that our listening audience really wants to stay in touch with you and these concepts of Tantra and sacred sexuality. What is your website? How would they get a hold of you?
Mark Michaels: Our website is www.tantrapm.com.
Patricia Johnson: That is www.tantrapm.com.
Francesca Gentille: You also will have information about you and pictures at that website and also on our website www.personallifemedia.com.
You mentioned sacred sexuality lists or groups. People would just Google something like that, that's how you met?
Mark Michaels: I don't know if that list is still active. That was quite a while ago.
Patricia Johnson: But we do have a newsletter that we put out so that you can keep track of our whereabouts. But we also have articles that come out.
Mark Michaels: A couple of paragraphs on some aspect of tantric philosophy or practice.
Francesca Gentille: And I've read your newsletter, it's actually how I originally was introduced to you and really was intrigued to want to have you on the show. It's a wonderful, wonderful newsletter.
So thank you so much Mark and Patricia, for joining us.
Mark Michaels: Thank you for having us on.
Patricia Johnson: Yeah, thanks.
Francesca Gentille: ... on "Sex, Tantra, and Kama Sutra." We've been delighted to have them, the authors of "The Essence of Tantric Sexuality" here with us today.
Announcer: Find more shows like this on personallifemedia.com.