I consider myself a “poly” guy, which means I’m someone for whom a polyamorous lifestyle resonates with.
I don’t consider myself a Tantra guy, yet I choose to spend a lot of time around people who really dig it. I just spent a month in Hawaii clearing chakras and talking sex magic with some of the most beloved teachers in the Tantra community.
Thanks to my experience, I’ve begun to notice trends in the kinds of people who are attracted to polyamory, versus the kinds of people who are attracted to Tantra, and it explains why these two worlds often seem to be at odds with each other.
“It’s all about depth” say the Tantra people.
“It’s about self-expression” say the poly people.
“You have to let go and surrender to what love wants” say the Tantra people.
“You need to recognize when you’re drunk on love” say the poly people.
“Namaste” say the Tantra people.
“Nah-Imma-Go” say the poly people.
The reason these two groups often disagree is they represent two different sets of values. The values that help someone be great at Tantra are the same values that would have them suck at polyamory. Conversely, the values that would have someone be successful at polyamory are the same values that would hurt them in the Tantra world.
So what’s a sex-positive, new age hippie to do?
Thankfully there’s hope, but only if we can first understand what makes these two paths so different. I’m not saying someone who is predisposed to love Tantra shouldn’t be in multiple relationships, or that poly people shouldn’t practice Tantra, but we should all be aware of how our values may or may not line up with these approaches to intimate relating.
The Pragmatist and the Romantic
Pragmatism is an essential ingredient for a successful polyamorous lifestyle. Some people hear the word “pragmatic” as it relates to love and think to themselves “boy that sounds boring”. Hey, I get it. It’s not for everyone.
Chances are if you’re a pragmatist you’re not a fan of unnecessary drama, you have a strong ethical framework and you do your best to avoid making impulsive decisions based on your emotions.
Pragmatists tend to get along really well in a polyamorous environment, because multiple relationships can wreak havoc on your emotional body. People in polyamorous relationships quickly realize that if they rely exclusively on their feelings to guide them, they will end up leaving a trail of bodies in their wake. Yes, I know those people too.
Pragmatism on the other hand, is not always a great quality to have when entering a Tantra environment. It’s not that pragmatists can’t do Tantra, it’s just that they have to jump through a lot of hoops to enter the magical, I-can’t-explain-this-just-believe-it space that helps tantric people thrive.
I should know.
I’m a skeptic and a pragmatist (they often go together), and for me to get on board with something I have to fully understand it inside and out. That approach hasn’t worked so well with things like the chakra system, “energy” and channeling my inner divine goddess.
Now before we move on here I really need to acknowledge my bias. I tend to resonate more with pragmatism, and although I’m going to do my best to give romanticism a fair shake (even the word “romantic” probably isn’t the best label, maybe “passionate” would be better?), I’m biased, and some of the things romantic people do make absolutely no sense to me. Even after years of being partnered with one I still don’t fully understand that perspective, and Lord Shiva knows I’ve tried!
Anyway, one of the qualities I’m attributing to romanticism is the ability to surrender. Surrender is an absolutely essential piece to practicing Tantra. In fact, one could say that the whole practice of Tantra is an ever-unfolding dance of surrender. Breath by breath… and moment by moment.
(I know… pretty poetic for a pragmatist, right?)
Romanticism also brings with it an ability to believe in magic. When you hear people describe themselves as a “hopeless romantic” that’s often what they mean. They believe in things for no good reason. Now, while that may sound like a silly idea to some people, it’s actually a useful quality to have. The power of our mind is extraordinary, and when we believe something to be true, it can literally change our reality.
Take crystals for example. One of my ultra-pragmatist friends did an experiment where he brought in a bunch of energy healers to see if they could tell the difference between a crystal and a lego in a double blind experiment. They couldn’t. However, does that mean that people don’t experience real healing when they are in the presence of crystals? No, it doesn’t.
The healing power is in the placebo effect, which is more easily accessed by romantic people, hence they can better heal themselves with their mind. Pretty cool, huh? Romantic people can make their mind do incredibly powerful things, all thanks to the power of intention.
This is why a romantic approach helps people get good at Tantra. Tantra asks its followers to leap first, to not need to understand everything with the “mind” and to follow your emotional body without constantly questioning it.
Now take that same approach with polyamory. You’re completely fucked. Studies have shown that when we’re in love our brain reacts the same way it does when we’re high on cocaine.1
Two approaches, good for completely different reasons.
The Good News (You Can Do Both)
My point in distinguishing these two approaches isn’t to divide people into groups, but to help us use the right tools for the job.
Just like it would be silly to use a hammer to cut wood and a saw to drive in a nail, it would be wise to recognize that Tantra and polyamory give us different tools for relating, and we need both.
When combined, the pragmatist and the romantic actually work well together, whether it’s two energies within the same person, or two people in a couple. Tantra is great for depth, poly skills are great for creating structure. Tantra helps us access the divine, polyamory helps us stay on the earth.
When we get too caught up in one path being “the way”, we miss out because we’re only seeing one perspective.
I’m guilty of this as well, which is one of the reasons I’ve spent the last couple days in the San Francisco Bay area with a tantric friend I met in Hawaii. I’ve done rituals, lit palo santo and offered things to the light of God. Does all of it totally “make sense” to me? No, but it’s good for me to light some candles every once in a while and stop thinking I have the whole universe figured out.
The people I’ve met that have the most successful love lives are the ones who can be both grounded and spiritual. They are people who can see the value in many perspectives, and to do that we often need to do things we’re not used to, which can be awkward or uncomfortable.
Anyway, I’m off to help my tantra friend build a structure to contain her “miracle” water filtration system which uses lasers to change the hydrogen bond angle of the water molecules, cause you know — we’re metaphorical like that.