Episode 2: The Tantra of Radical Intimacy with Mark Michaels and Patricia Johnson. Authors of "The Essence of Tantric Sexuality."
Mark Michaels and Patricia Johnson
Announcer: This program, brought to you by personallifemedia.com, is suitable for mature audiences only and may contain explicit sexual information.
This is Part 1 of a two-part program.
Francesca Gentille: Welcome to Sex, Tantra and Kama Sutra. I’m your host Francesca Gentille. And with us today are Mark Michaels and Patricia Johnson, a devoted married couple that have been teaching Tantra and Kriya Yoga together since 1989.
Would you be willing to give us a little taste of your own bedroom?
Patricia Johnson: It can be a very simple thing like changing the time we make love or trying it with the lights out.
Francesca Gentille: Dude, I want to get into that feeling.
Their popular workshops have been featured in several publications including The Village Voice, Now Magazine and Breathe Magazine and they are the authors of a beautiful new book called ‘The Essence of Tantric Sexuality’.
Mark and Patricia come from a traditional lineage based approach and have some very fascinating names that I’m going to try to pronounce, but then I would love to hear how they are actually pronounced.
Mark is also known by Swami Umeshanand Saraswati and Patricia is known as Devi Veenanand. Now how close was that? [Laughs]
Mark Michaels: Very close.
Patricia Johnson: Very good. Very good.
Mark Michaels: Mine is Umeshanand.
Francesca Gentille: Umeshanand. And your lineage is from a gentleman known as Dr. Jonn Mumford or Swami Anandakapila Saraswati. What is lineage based Tantra versus non-lineage based Tantra and who is Jonn Mumford and why should we care?
Patricia Johnson: [Laughs] Very good question. This is a big question you just posed. We like the big ones.
Mark Michaels: All traditional Tantra in India is lineage based. What that means is that there is a transmission of teachings, mouth to ear from teacher to student that’s passed on over generations.
Jonn Mumford was one of the first Westerners to be initiated into the sexual aspects of Tantra and also to be initiated as a Swami by Satyananda Saraswati of Bihar School of Yoga. There were some Westerners who were initiated before Dr. Mumford but not a whole lot.
That’s a little bit of the background.
Patricia Johnson: One thing fascinating about Dr. Mumford is that he was possibly the first initiated Swami to bring the sexual Tantric teachings to America, to the West. Those were lectures that were given in 1976 at Gnosticon which was a festival sponsored by Llewellyn.
Mark Michaels: Those lectures were the basis for our book.
Patricia Johnson: The Essence of Tantric Sexuality.
Francesca Gentille: So your book goes back to this ancient Hindu tradition in Tantric sexuality. You emphasize the Tantric or the sexual aspects of Tantra. I’ve heard actually that Tantra is much broader than the sexual aspects that we so often focus on in the West. Is that true?
Mark Michaels: Oh absolutely.
Patricia Johnson: Very true. [Laughs]
Mark Michaels: And if you think about it realistically, even if you are incredibly active sexually, you’re really not going to be likely to be spending more than a few hours a week at sex. And there’s the whole rest of your life.
Patricia Johnson: Yeah, what do you do with the rest of it? Tantra really utilizes every aspect of life as a – it all has potentials for you to experience connection with the Divine. Actually whatever that means to you. We like to think of those states as being mystical states.
Francesca Gentille: So does someone need to be spiritual or religious or bow to Hindu Gods to be able to learn something about Tantra and have their life be richer and more sensual and their sexuality be expanded in some way?
Patricia Johnson: No, most definitely. We most recently gave a lecture and there was an atheist in the class and it was like, “Why do you speak of the Divine?” And I was like, “Wow, I didn’t even think Divine – I don’t know, it just is another way of describing these states or conscious expansion”.
You don’t have to believe in anything.
Mark Michaels: Yeah, Tantra is very pragmatic. Although most of what is taught in the West comes out of either the Hindu or Buddhist traditions, just as Yoga comes out of the Hindu tradition, you don’t have to embrace the whole package that goes along with that in order to benefit from it.
The practices are incredibly powerful regardless of what your belief system is. In fact, Tantra is non-dogmatic. It’s experiential. One of Dr. Mumford’s fellow Swamis from his generation says the Tantric practitioner is both experimenter and experiments.
We like to add to that –
Patricia Johnson: That you are the laboratory as well.
Mark Michaels: And whatever you discover in the course of this exploration, that is your truth. That’s really what it’s about. It’s about probing yourself and discovering the truth for yourself.
Francesca Gentille: Let me go into that a little bit further. I love that concept of experimenter and experimentee and your own laboratory, your own laboratory of experience. What is something that the two of you have experienced or experimented with through Tantra that’s really shifted something for you?
Patricia Johnson: Wow. That’s an incredible question. We are always looking to expand the way we interact. We always expand the way we interact sexually too. We don’t generally follow any set pattern.
We are always looking to see how much we can awaken our connections by a few very simple things like changing the time we make love or trying it with the lights out.
Francesca Gentille: You’re laughing when you say the light is out so I’m guessing that most of the time the light’s on.
Patricia Johnson: Oh, yeah. [Laughs] Yeah, we like to have a lot of eye contact.
Mark Michaels: But you know I think what Patricia is bringing up is a very important point. I think that many people in the Western sexual Tantra world think that there is a way that you have to be and a kind of sexual activity that you have to have in order for it to be Tantric.
Patricia Johnson: So in other words, they equate Tantra as the Tantric technique, like they have to master a technique. Then once they do, they are having Tantric sexual encounters.
It’s really your attitude.
Mark Michaels: Yeah, you always have to have the lights on. You always have to light incense and candles and –
Patricia Johnson: Call each other Shiva Shakti. Which is great. That’s a lovely way to experiment, to connect deeper but it’s not necessary.
So quickies can be a wonderful way to experience Tantric sexuality.
Patricia Johnson: I want you to know that before I started our interview, I actually did light a candle and incense.
Mark Michaels: We have nothing against that, you know.
Francesca Gentille: I want to get into that mood. I want to get into that feeling. It did shift something. I felt like I was in a little bit different space than the typical interview.
You just mentioned something about attitude, that shifting the attitude rather than even a specific action. So what attitude are you saying that we normally have and what is the attitude that the listening audience might want to shift to before they enter into a Tantric experience?
Patricia Johnson: I think when people are in sexual situations commonly, the sensations, all of the vulnerability, the intensity of the connection with your partner can make you almost check out. I would anticipate that a lot of people use sexuality as a way to kind of check out and ease tensions and alleviate the bombardment that we can have in life.
Whereas with Tantra, we want to bring more awareness to what is going on. That’s one of the reasons why we often slow down. Slow down to the point where your awareness can focus.
Mark Michaels: It also goes back to that idea of being the experimenter and the experiment. If you bring an attitude of observing yourself and observing your experience into what you’re doing, it’s a very powerful way of intensifying the experience.
Another piece of it is that in a lot of Tantric practices, both in sexual and non-sexual Tantra, there is a process of exploring the interplay between, for example, being aware and being not aware.
There are meditations that involve working with sound where for a while you focus very much on the external sounds and then you shift your attention to trying to block them out, to just focusing inwardly.
You can do that in visual meditations as well where you might focus very intently on something external and then withdraw your consciousness inside.
Patricia Johnson: So in other words you become very skilled with your consciousness. You are able to direct it, externalize it, turn it on, become hyperaware of it, also have the ability to act habitually and turn it off.
Sexual context we advise bringing your awareness as far as –
Francesca Gentille: Mark and Patricia, I’m fascinated with this concept of bringing more skill into what we focus on in bed, in our bodies, and I’d love to talk about that a little bit more after our break and a word from our sponsors for Sex, Tantra and Kama Sutra.
Announcer: Listen to Sex, Love and Intimacy, a podcast providing weekly audio workshops for your pleasure and connection, on personallifemedia.com.
Francesca Gentille: Welcome back to Sex, Tantra and Kama Sutra. With me today are Mark Michaels and Patricia Johnson, authors of ‘The Essence of Tantric Sexuality’, who like to really make the Tantric teachings accessible.
We were just talking about really developing our skill set and our focus, our consciousness, our awareness, how we do that in bed and what it gives us. Would you be willing to give us a little taste of your own bedroom, your own encounter?
So you’re entering into the bedroom. You’ve got some time. What helps you shift out of your day-to-day life of – Mark you’re, are you still a lawyer and a playwright?
Mark Michaels: I haven’t written plays in many years. I keep my Bar admission, you know, my license active, but I’m not practicing anymore. We are mostly teaching and writing at this point.
Patricia Johnson: And writing, yeah.
Francesca Gentille: Mostly teaching and writing. Patricia, you’re still singing though.
Patricia Johnson: Yes, yeah.
Francesca Gentille: You’re a wonderful opera-diva touring every country in the world. Given that you have these many things that are probably on your mind, on your plate, how do you use this consciousness. Give us a window into the pace of that.
Mark Michaels: Well the first thing you have to do is create a feeling of harmony and decompress and shutting out the stresses of the day whatever they may be. That can be just bathing together.
Patricia Johnson: That’s one of our favorites.
Mark Michaels: Yeah. Lighting candles and burning incense of course, that’s a way of alerting your consciousness to –
Patricia Johnson: Something special is about to happen.
Mark Michaels: Something special is about to happen. Yeah. We’ll often eye gaze together. That’s a powerful practice that we recommend for every couple.
Patricia Johnson: You should do it every day.
Mark Michaels: Yeah.
Francesca Gentille: What is eye gazing? Do you just stare?
Patricia Johnson: It’s really powerful. Yeah. It’s not a staring contest, yeah. It is so simple that it can be easy to neglect.
When you think about when you first fall in love with your beloved, you can spend hours just gazing into each other’s eyes without saying a word. The mistake that a lot of people think is that, oh we spent hours gazing because we were falling in love.
I think that you fall in love because you spend hours gazing into each other’s eyes.
So couples can consciously recreate these feelings, literally awaken the chills, all of that by practicing, choosing to actively say I’m going to do a practice that recreates those feelings of falling in love.
Mark Michaels: And we’re doing it right now.
Francesca Gentille: Are you talking to me and gazing into each other’s eyes?
Mark Michaels: It’s not a staring contest – sorry?
Francesca Gentille: Are you talking to me and gazing into each other’s eyes?
Patricia Johnson: Yeah.
Mark Michaels: Yes, we are. It’s a wonderful wonderful tool for bringing yourselves into harmony, for short circuiting conflict. When we first started dating we did this on a daily basis for three to five minutes every time we saw each other. Now it’s just second nature to us. So it’s something that we do.
Patricia Johnson: It’s really knitted into the fabric of our relationship. So it’s a habitual thing, periodically –
Francesca Gentille: Three to five minutes for many people is a very long time. We don’t have a country where people spend a lot of time looking into one another’s eyes.
Are you saying that you did this unconsciously in the beginning of your and then developed it consciously? Or was this something that the two of you chose as a practice when you first started dating and then continued it?
Mark Michaels: We chose it as a practice when we first started dating. I had already been to a Tantra teacher’s training. Patricia was very interested in Tantra. So we really started out as a couple deciding that we would practice Tantra together and we incorporated this from the very beginning.
Patricia Johnson: Which is very interesting because we didn’t fall in love until later. [Laugh]
Francesca Gentille: OK, how much later? Now we’ve got to go there. How did you meet? I’m curious; I’m guessing that my listening audience is also curious that you are spending minutes eye-gazing and you fall in love later.
So how did you meet and what is this progression?
Mark Michaels: Well, we met at the first class that I taught. It was an introductory lecture in Manhattan and there were about, I don’t know, 40 or 50 people there. A friend of mine sat next to her.
So this friend of mine brought her over and introduced her to me after the class and I said –
Patricia Johnson: [Laughs] You look familiar. Do I know you? [Laughs]
If you knew Mark - it’s impossible for him to lie. He cannot lie. He genuinely wanted to know. We had not met before. We started e-mailing back and forth.
Mark Michaels: We had been on a Sacred Sexuality newsgroup together and so I recognized her e-mail address but we hadn’t ever met.
Patricia Johnson: No. And it was so refreshing to find someone to discuss Tantric experience with. So we were going back and forth. I suggested we continue this over coffee, which turned into sushi. Then I asked Mark if he was going to be my teacher which I was kind of grappling with.
What does it mean to hire someone to be your Tantra teacher? And he said, “I can’t teach you anything”. [Laughs]
Francesca Gentille: He said he couldn’t teach you anything?
Patricia Johnson: He said, “From everything you’ve told me, you already kind of know about Tantra so –.”
Mark Michaels: So I said, “But how about if we explore this on a sexual level?”
Patricia Johnson: Now you’ve got to understand, for me this was the most fantastic way to start out a sexual relationship because I get so tired of the game and the whole antics of calling, do not call, withholding, negotiations, all of this stuff.
For us it was fantastic because we are right up front about who we are as sexual beings and what we wanted as sexual beings. I really think that’s a good key to successful dating. I wish people could have the courage to do that.
Mark Michaels: And I think we both were at a point at that stage in our lives where we had sort of decided that we were pretty happy being by ourselves. I just kind of thought that I would have various kinds of casual relationships but that I would be single and I had reached a point of being very happy with that.
I think she was in pretty much the same kind of mental state at that point.
Patricia Johnson: So rather than go for the popular Jerry Maguire, ‘you complete me’ paradigm, we were both in a place where we were really enjoying our own completeness and our own life scenes only with ourselves.
We weren’t looking for anything to fill any holes or anything and weren’t looking for a relationship really.
Francesca Gentille: How important do you think that sense of personal wholeness is to a really great love life and a really great sex life?
Patricia Johnson: Monumentally.
Mark Michaels: Yeah. It’s huge.
Patricia Johnson: Huge.
Francesca Gentille: Now you’ve just shaken up the whole paradigm of our culture, every song, every movie, every book –
Patricia Johnson: Yeah.
Francesca Gentille: - practically is that, “Will you complete me? I’m half a person if I’m not with you. I can’t live without you.”
And what you’re saying is that that is BS.
Mark Michaels: It’s a very very dangerous idea. I think that it only leads people to disappointment and heartbreak. As long as you are looking for something outside for something to fill you up, it’s never going to be enough.
Patricia Johnson: In a way, you’re using the relationship for only self-serving purposes if you’re using your partner to try to fill you in some way. I consider it abuse. [Laughs]
Mark Michaels: Now that’s not to say, I mean, we come together and it’s synergistic. I think that we each bring out better aspects in the other and our next book; it’s really –
Patricia Johnson: The product of our –
Mark Michaels: The product of –
Patricia Johnson: Collaboration.
Mark Michaels: Yeah.
Patricia Johnson: And parity, yeah.
Mark Michaels: But that’s a very different thing. You know, that’s synergy; it’s not filling emptiness.
Francesca Gentille: So you do collaborate. You create something even greater together. Yet at the same time you were whole and complete. You felt pretty happy just with yourself.
Is there a way that Tantra can be practiced to help people get there? It’s my sense also as a life coach that people are suffering relationship coach. There is that sense of just loneliness and, “Why can’t I get a good relationship? Why can’t I find love?”
It goes from having needs, like I need love, I need touch, and I need sex to being ‘needy’, to feeling very depleted and empty. So is there a way that Tantra can be practiced even by someone alone in their own bedroom to help fill up that well in their own soul?
Mark Michaels: Absolutely yeah.
Patricia Johnson: As a matter of fact the majority of Tantric practices are solo practices really. Our next book, “Erotic Empowerment”, is really a workbook that works well for single people to really cultivate some of these Tantric states.
Mark Michaels: One thing that we recommend for single people – and we haven’t talked about bowing and saying Namaste, which is something that we do essentially every time we make love. Also if we’re doing a formal eye gazing practice we’ll do that also.
A lot of people think bowing; they’ll either think it’s simple and ‘New Agey’ or they’ll think it’s a submissive gesture. But it’s really a gesture of honor and respect and appreciation. So we’ll always conclude our lovemaking with that. Sometimes that’s all the ritual that you need. It’s just a reminder that you’ve done something really sacred and important.
Patricia Johnson: So if you take this bow in solo practice, we have our student’s gaze in the mirror with themselves everyday. So rather than gazing with a partner, you’re gazing with yourself.
Do this even when you’re in a partnership. Look at yourself in the manner you would somebody you really appreciate, somebody you revere and gaze for two or three minutes. Then bow. Bow to yourself.
Francesca Gentille: I want to talk a little bit more and get even more of a picture of what someone could do alone, by themselves; what that might look like, in just a moment after our break and after we hear a few words from our sponsors of Sex, Tantra and Kama Sutra.
We’ll be right back with Mark Michaels and Patricia Johnson, authors of ‘The Essence of Tantric Sexuality’.
Announcer: This concludes Part one. The interview will be continued in the next episode of this show.
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