In the interests of transparency, I think now might be a good time to introduce myself to you, to tell you about my background and credentials, and to let you know my motivation for why I do the work I do in the fields of yoga, tantra, and meditation through the lens of Kashmir Shaivism.
Spirituality is an interesting and unregulated field. There are many self-proclaimed yoga and meditation teachers, and this is because, in many instances, qualifications are not required. "Degree of Enlightenment," anyone? The ability of someone to teach meditation is supposedly often about esoteric transmission, how you feel in the teacher's presence, endorsement by their spiritual teacher or lineage etc. etc. In my view, this can present various problems, particularly in this day and age. There is too much scope for abuse of power, for continually asserting control, for monetary gain, for prestige, for more followers, more adoration, and more property. In short, unless the teacher is careful, it can become a massive ego trip! No matter how spiritually advanced a teacher or guru may be, they are still human. The danger lies when they are idealized and deified by their students. If the teacher buys into this, it is only a matter of time before their "Degree of Enlightenment" translates into degrees of damage.
Now, this doesn’t mean that there aren’t real teachers; in fact, I count myself lucky to have met one. What I am saying here is that spiritual teachers and Gurus, like anybody else, are human, are flawed. It can’t be any other way. Imperfection must be part of perfection; otherwise, that perfection is still limited. So, after 20 years of sustained meditation practice, a practice that is still ongoing, I have come to this understanding: the Guru is in You.
It took a while for me to understand this, many years of living in relative seclusion. For 13 years I lived full time in retreat sites dedicated to meditation and conscious living in Australia, the USA, and India. At the time, it was something deeply meaningful to me. In many ways, it was a traditionally monastic life. Of course, there were the struggles with loneliness, sexuality, etc., often things that meditation practitioners go through but don't discuss because these things aren't "Pure" and "Holy." There was also the first-hand witnessing of the power structures that exist in these organizations, sometimes helpful, but at times detrimental to the spiritual growth of those who lived in the communities. Spiritual one-upmanship was rampant, and the construction of a pious yogi personality was of the utmost importance. This never sat well with me, particularly when I saw how good I was getting at playing that game. It was not deception I wanted, but Truth. It seemed that the goals of the organization were at times diametrically opposed to personal truth in order to foster the “collective good.”
It is important to ask questions, to push boundaries. Even though I consider myself spiritual, I am a pragmatist at heart. I like to test things out, to inquire into their authenticity. So, to ensure what I was learning at these retreat sites was legitimate, I undertook a Master's Degree in Studies in Religion at the University of Sydney in Australia; I wanted to understand academically the process of transformation that was happening to me through my meditative practice.
For the Master's degree, I undertook a comparative study of the meditation traditions of major religions: Hinduism, Buddhism, Christianity, and Islam. My area of concentration was Kashmir #Shaivism, a Hindu tantric system of philosophy and spiritual discipline that dates around 850-900 CE. In my dissertation, I focused on the Kashmir Shaivite concept of jivanmukti, or embodied enlightenment. I examined the suitability of Kashmir Shaivism for Westerners and whether it could lead to embodied enlightenment, a concept that is unfamiliar territory in the major Western spiritual system of Christianity.
Later, living on retreat for many years, I worked in depth on material dealing with the practical, technical, and mystical aspects of yoga and tantra. Subjects included breath, diet, posture, mantra, the workings of the meditation energy in the physical and subtle bodies, the different states of meditation, and the different levels of consciousness, including Samadhi, or ecstatic absorption. The material I worked with primarily focused on how to live consciously, with awareness, and how to more deeply realize the Self while engaging with daily life.
Usually I would work 4 to 5 hours a day with this material, and I would supplement this with private study. I did not record the material verbatim. I would read it and then put it in my own words, and I would try it out in my life. I was very grateful for this opportunity to deepen my knowledge in this way, and was deeply inspired to see that what I was learning agreed with the formal academic study I had done at university. In fact, it often surpassed academic material because it came from a space of realization attained from deeply working with the practice of meditation rather than just studying it on a purely academic level.
And then of course, there was the practice of tantric meditation. Hours and hours of meditation. A precious opportunity to dive deeply within and understand more and more about myself and mySelf.
So, what has this life experience inspired in me? To write, speak, and teach about meditation, tantra, and Kashmir Shaivism in a way that is simple, immediate, and relevant to life here and now. To offer meditation in a way that is effective, doable, and enjoyable in a modern context, while at the same time respecting the wisdom of tradition.
Why do this? Times are changing. Increasing technology, increased population, multiculturalism, the age of Artificial Intelligence, and the associated challenges that come with these things are having a profound effect on us. And yet, one thing still remains the same. We want to be happy.
How can we be happy in this rapidly changing world? The answer is both timely and timeless: The answer is to truly know yourself. In my experience, one of the best ways to do this is through meditation. And, here's some good news, meditation is always available to us here and now. It is, it was, it will be.
Consciousness is a continuum. While it may be agreed that certain truths are eternal, it is equally true that we must innovate, learn new ways to engage spiritually. Cultural norms and rules have changed. I am grateful that I had a chance to go into seclusion, to live in both East and West in places dedicated to spiritual practice and study, to go on many personal retreats to remote places to practice and study meditation in the traditional sense. But after doing this, I realize that things have changed.
Life in 2021 for most of us is very different. We need to meditate in a way that is dynamic and engaged and right here. We need to have the courage to be unflinching in our honesty, to push boundaries, to explore and discuss topics that are considered taboo in the mainstream spiritual context: Guru systems, sex, money, drugs, radical enlightenment, tantric sexuality and more. Many times people who consider themselves to be spiritual shy away from honest discussion about these topics because they are frightened that this will make them look less spiritual, less holy. But why not explore these topics in a way that is authentic, that is real? That contributes to our spiritual growth rather than stifles it?
This is what excites me. And this is what my work in meditation, tantra, and Conscious Sexuality is about. I hope that these things interest you too, and I would be delighted to travel with you as we explore meditation, tantra, and Conscious Sexuality as pathways to radical Enlightenment.