Many traditions treat desire of all kinds, but sexual desire in particular, as negative, as something that must be suppressed. Desire is certainly complex. It can overwhelm us and interfere with our better judgment. In this society, we are conditioned to be ruled by our desires: desires that are replaced by new ones just as soon as they are fulfilled. And yet desire is a powerful force, a force that can motivate and inspire us. Suppressing desire entails suppressing our fundamental humanity, and most people pay a heavy price for doing this.

So how can one develop a balanced and healthy relationship to desire? The Tantric approach to erotic desire, which recognizes it as sacred, provides an answer that has implications beyond the realm of sexuality.

It is Tantric to experience desire as a sacred state. Bhagavan Das taught us that when you feel an erotic charge, you can gaze upon the person who awakens it and view that person with reverence and awe while mentally repeating a mantra of gratitude and praise, such as Praise God (Om Namah Shivayah) or Praise Goddess (Jai Ma).

The erotic spark arises as a reminder that everyone is divine, and when you recognize this and can say, ˝Oh yes, praise the divine;˝ people feel it; they light up, and they give right back, energetically. The benefits come back to you; you will feel more open to others, more confident and sexy, and less constricted by mental boundaries of gender and physical appearance.

Modern, Western culture in general, and American culture in particular, are permeated by an extraordinary ambivalence about pleasure and desire. Desire drives marketing and consumerism with the idea that pleasure can be found in the next purchase. Of course the pleasure is fleeting and as it recedes, it is replaced by desire for another item in a never-ending cycle. Sexuality is one of the main lubricants that keeps this wheel in motion. We will be healthier, happier, more beautiful; we will get that gorgeous man or woman in the ad if we just make the right purchases. Of course, this observation is not a new one, but it is worth repeating and bearing in mind because the consumerist system is so pervasive and commonplace that it is easy to overlook.

At the same time, Western culture, largely but not exclusively due to the influence of Christianity, tends to view the body and its pleasures as at best suspect and at worst evil. The marketing of sex notwithstanding, America is a sex-negative, anhedonic culture that values work above all else. While many European societies are freer and more accepting of pleasure, the legacy of 2000 years of messages that negate or seek to control sexuality and enjoyment is difficult to escape.

Where is the possibility of freedom? We are all caught between the conflicting messages of hedonism as a marketing tool and the omnipresent cultural theme that tells us enjoyment leads to damnation. Some may overreact and convince themselves that self-indulgence is a form of resistance, but they often remain caught in the cycle. Others may capitulate and snuff out their desires in any one of a myriad of ways.

Tantra provides a pathway out of this, by bringing awareness and reverence to the experience of pleasure, by making a study of what truly empowers us to feel the vibration of life within us and around us, and by following that pathway, even if we're a little frightened, we can create conditions for functioning with more autonomy. We may never totally free ourselves from the cultural constructs that help make us who we are, but if we bring awareness to our actions, recognize those constructs as nothing more than constructs and commit ourselves to pleasure, deliberately and consciously, we can begin to find ways to get off the wheel.

©2006, 2008 Mark A. Michaels (Swami Umeshanand Saraswati) and Patricia Johnson (Devi Veenanand)

Mark A. Michaels and Patricia Johnson are a devoted married couple and have been teaching Tantra together since 1999. Their first book The Essence of Tantric Sexuality was a National Best Books 2007 Awards Award-Winner in the Health: Sexuality category and an Award-Winning Finalist in the Religion: Eastern Religions category. They have written and appeared in two instructional DVDs: Tantric Sexual Massage for Lovers and Advanced Tantric Sex Techniques (Alexander Institute, 2007), and have contributed articles to various online and print publications, including Chronogram and Debonair. Their new book, Tantra For Erotic Empowerment is available at all booksellers.

Michaels and Johnson have taught throughout the United States, as well as in Canada, Europe and Australia. They have been featured on television and radio and in numerous publications, including The Village Voice, Metro, Latina, Jane, Rockstar, Breathe, Redbook, The Complete Idiot's Guide to Tantric Sex and The Complete Idiot's Guide to Enhancing Sexual Desire. Their teaching combines a traditional lineage-based Tantric approach with the best contemporary methods so that students can bring heightened awareness and an an expanded capacity for pleasure into all aspects of everyday life.

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