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Trials, (Tricks, Tramps,Tan-Tricks) and Transformations

"Dakinis and coyotes are people or situations that purposefully embody chaotic elements...throwing us off track...making us feel out of control or fooled...especially with our lovers, waking us up to the fact of something greater than ourselves at work." -Vicki Noble, Shakti Woman

"Lovers...they're the luckiest people in the world," croons Streisand; Heaven is their domain. But as the philosopher Nietzsche reminds us, as a relationship branches towards celestial heights, its roots must anchor in hellish depths; such is the nature of Duality.

For fifteen years I've walked the twin paths of shamanic and tantric "medicine," moving between the worlds of shadows (Yin) and light (Yang) in search of the Breath of Grace, the Beloved found at the heart of both domains, and in the dance of relationship between them. My struggles have taught me a priceless lesson: "true love" cannot be attained by avoiding what's unknown or painful about myself or another -as our culture believes. "Chasing the light" comes at a high price: injury to the wild hearted Lover within who must trust life totally in order to love unconditionally.

Tantric shamanism gives me two especially compelling teachers: "Coyote," the infamous Trickster of Native tribal traditions, and Dakini Woman, ancient Tibetan Tantrika, the embodiment of female sexual energy and its awesome powers of healing and transformation. Found in virtually every culture, they come in many guises. Their gifts are surprises of love and wisdom, slipping in through the backdoor. They only come to us in surrendered presence, in the play of the moment: pure Trickster/Dakini turf.

Due to their elusive nature,I don't always recognize either my dilemmas or good fortunes as Coyote or Dakini enterprises. Other times I know they're near, like now, as I endeavor to tell some of my story, share hard won lessons, and perhaps lay a couple of personal ghosts to rest in the process. While I have no idea what they may have up their sleeves, I'm learning to expect the unexpected.

My tale is a long, winding ( androgynous) Journey to redeem the wounded Lovers within me. It begins in August, 1945 on a sultry Kansas, bible belted morning. For my (natal) birthing day, Venus, goddess of love and the arts, rose to a moody Cancer midheaven. Chiron, the wounded shaman-healer, stood on my Libra ascendent beside mystical Neptune, casting a shadow over my house of Lovers.

My childhood was "normal," - steeped in repressive Judeo-Christian traditions, shameful hand-me-downs passed on from one generation to the next. Careful attention to appearances, distrusting emotions and intimacies, hiding insecurities and saving face at all costs were the norm. In our family home, naked bodies were embarrassing, while talking heads were in. Daddy was the often critical head of our house, Mommy self-effacing and placating. I followed my father's sarcastic suit, uncertain in my femininity, uneasy in my bid for a share of power. In my spare time I dreamed of rescues from fairy tale princes and being safely beautiful, while I ran tomboy races, took ballet and drawing classes and made straight A's with a fierce, competitive spirit.

I had matured early physically -to my chagrin. My first bra (age 10), my first menses (age 11), my first date (age 14) and first intercourse and attempts at lovemaking (just shy of 20 years) were humiliating. Worse, there were sexual violations - the first by a secret, guilty male visitor to my crib. I remembered nothing until age 45, after a particularly devastating relationship breakup which brought me to the Recovery movement, awareness of my "codependent," addictive love and sex patterns, and deep release bodywork. I now had a context to better understand my history of nightmares, suicidal depressions, rape hypervigilence, bulimia, exercise-oholism, workoholism, perfectionism, ongoing touch deprivation and failed relationships with men. I had a context for healing.

The late 80s and early 90s came, bringing continual changes. I embraced my body, the earth, goddess-based spiritual traditions, new age metaphysics, channeling and fetish art making. I faced anger work, firewalked and quit a fifteen year career as an international night club entertainer, reluctantly packing in the provocative costumes along with a bid for Hollywood stardom. I found a new calling doing massage and hypnotherapy and found a use for my master's in clinical social work from U.C. Berkeley. I discovered a penchant for inducing "altar"ed states and past lives, reliving scores of my own, alongside those of my clients. The Archetypal stories of EveryWoman and EveryMan became my own. Hindsight would show that I'd passed successfully through my first tantric-shamanic initiation, and "dark night of the soul." I was a survivor.

My "grief-relief" work had opened me simultaneously into the twin paths of sacred sexuality and earthy shamanism. Goddess had revealed Herself at last, promising resurrection for my wounded Aphrodite, and union with the God in me as well. I was a new tantrika: volts of shakti kundalini cascaded through my body in uneven rushes, bringing ecstacy, rapture and bliss in its wake, along with memories of sexual priestess roles in Roman and Grecian temples. Mystical visions, visits from power animals, angels and ancestors were frequent. I was imbued with a sense of destiny, even as I teeter-tottered between my usual high and low "ego" states, between inferiority and superiority.

Still I had my work cut out for me. Coyote and Dakini suggested I call this work, "Shadow Dancing Tantra." Although I had lived in between light and shadows from birth, consciousness of the fact of it, and its role in my joyfulfillment was just dawning on me. To prompt me along, my Mentors gave me a difficult gift from their bags of tricks: the enmeshment of my new healing practice and tantric awakening with my sexual wounding, distrust of males, and ongoing challenge to open wide my heart. To up the tricky ante, I got to do it in L.A. -the heart of the (high paid) sex industry, magical fantasies of transcendence, and maya.

"Because sex sells,... most (western) tantric teachers accent this portion of the tantric lifestyle..." -Swami Nostradmus Virato

"The original whore was a priestess, the conduit to the divine." -Deena Metzger

An historical perspective helped me re-context my growth trials. Women offering sexual favors to men in exchange for love, money, food or shelter, protection from bodily harm, work, position and power, comforts, trinkets and other pleasures is an ancient, cross cultural, worldwide phenomenon. Through it, men seek love, potency, vitality, nurture and "release" from all manner of ills. In its bare essence, "prostitution" is barter, but in patriarchal societies like our own that still devalue women, cycles of abuse and disempowerment are fueled. Where the norm is John Bradshaw-ian "shame-based" feminine and masculine identities, L.A. tantrikas are not immune. To successfully bridge the gaps between secular and sacred, conscious and unconscious lover relations, it's imperative to disentangle "tantra" from sexual and sensual baggage, and healing practices from subtle shame and guilt patterns. Could I free myself to value being who I am, 'imperfections' and all, in order to transform myself -and represent that path honestly to my clients? In a society that demands "magic" and instant results? With my sexual and relationships history?

An article by Deena Metzger in 1985 was helpful: our ancient spiritual heritage revealed that exchanges of sexual congress for reunion with Deity were once sanctioned. Servants of the Goddess, veiled temple priestesses received into their embrace male warriors ravaged by combat, in need of restoration. A sacred prostitute or Quedishtu ("the undefiled one") offered her body as ritual prayer; pleasures were secondary. When later male dominated religious factions interceded, prayer was pronounced sacrilege assuring the body-mind splits, denigration of the body, alienation of the core Feminine and harm to our Earthly home prevalent today.

L.A.'s formal tantric family was birthed from both traditions. Before us lay the promise of ecstatic enlightenment tangled up with countless injuries to the Feminine and Masculine psyches, and untellable heartaches: our own and those of our clients. Erectile dysfunctions, frigidity, touch hunger, intuitive and instinctual disconnection, fear of intimacy and commitment, poor body image, fear of aging, eating disorders, unnecessary breast and penile enlargements, cancers and other physical ills, performance anxiety, shyness, isolation, sex/love addictions, shot gun marriages, serial divorce, S&M, rape, "flashing" and other forms of sexual and/or power abuse reflect deep wounding to gender based identity.

My new massage and hypnotherapy healing practice was challenging. Most of my clients were men, most became aroused during my touch therapy -to my dismay. It frightened, angered, confused and haunted me: I was a good girl, - not a tramp. But I felt uneasy a lot, bad about myself. What were the criteria for being a real healer?

Debates between my inner Tramp and Prude sent me into therapy, determined to embrace all the shadowy parts of me until I was clear. Contradictions raged: to feel safely distant via power over men, yet feel desired, close; to effect sexual healings, yet be invisible (safe) sexually; to be free of repressive limitations, yet maintain healthy boundaries; to be rewarded financially for the difficult, exacting work I did, without usery; to be emotionally honest and non placating in face of great fear over angering men....

In answer to my prayer for help, an offer arose to take a private course on sexual surrogacy. In a subtle abuse of his power, the instructor, a well known sex therapist, sexually violated me during my "final exam." Too ashamed and confused to report him, I stuffed my rage.

Stumped for reliable mentoring, bursting at the seams, I proposed an exploratory article to Massage Magazine. "Sexual Turn-ons During Massage" (May 1990) created a national scandal by suggesting that massage therapists might play a role in healing sexual problems, that it can be appropriate to touch the genitals or breasts of clients, with their permission, IF the therapist is skilled in emotional release work. Over the next six months of heavy readership debate, the AMTA (American Massage Therapy Association) yanked their full page ad in protest, and I wound up mentioned in Esquire Magazine. A Wall Street Journal feature in 1998 reported that tantra has become big business. No where is this more obvious than in Los Angeles: in the Hollywood sex trade, "anything goes"- for a price. Hundreds of beautiful women clamor for a share of the market: phone sex babes, bondage partners, escort models -tantric masseuses.

Now in 2001, I find myself arguing from a conservative POV -very coyote. Haven't massage and tantra practitioners have become too liberal in distributing sexual releases of all kinds, handing out promises of god and goddesshood like candy? Are we getting confused? "ESCORTS-STRIPPERS-TANTRA" reads a banner ad in a local weekly. Ads in new thought publications promise model types that in just one month, they can be dakinis, healers. Featured on the internet, naked "goddesses" and "priestesses" compete with porn sites for male attention and financing.

Ten years ago there was a decided separation between secular inquiries for sexy massage favors and those for tantric inductions; now there is not.. Where practicing sacred sexual relations automatically meant discipline and respect for the transformational process -for its requisite shadow journeys to liberate our hearts, increasingly the focus is primarily sensate and power driven.

Yet every dark cloud has a silver lining. We are growing. Life's thrust is for Love and Play, the realm of Coyote and Dakini Woman. Let's trust that as we continue to throw off repressive, puritanical legacies and embrace bodily pleasures and sexual congress as "spiritual" or "healing," we will be less afraid of the emotional dark. And more trusting of all that life brings so that we may be the gifts that God/dess make us to be.