So there I am. 14,000 feet high. Standing in front of a cave whose energy is pulsing with the slow throb of a heartbeat. Each pulsation seemingly delving deeper inside me.
Around me, giant curved cliffs. Sheets of ice waiting to melt in the coming months' sun.
In my hands, a small stone. Through my mouth, a mantra pours.
The science of Tantra. In the flesh.
Three years ago I was sitting around a table with a friend of mine. A long time yoga teacher and trusted companion on the spiritual path.
The topic: the practices on the spiritual path that create a truly sustained change in one's being.
We both had many years of practice in various forms of meditation, energy work, and consciousness exploration.
He began to tell me about a guru he had been with in India. A true tantric guru. A Tantric scientist.
For those who truly have delved into tantra, we know tantra does not mean sex, despite many in the west believing this to be the case.
He told me that there was an opportunity to join in on a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Now I've heard countless people talk about energy, astral this, kundalini that, and whatever other spiritual common terms you can think of. I find so many who talk about this stuff don't really know what they are talking about.
They have wonderful imaginations, and a clever set of words, along with a dash of experience. But this felt different. Completely different.
And the hook: we would be working in a step-by-step manner, for a sustained awakening of kundalini.
No more volatile practices that gave quick results, intense high experiences, but then left you right back where you started.
The name of the process?
We would be doing a series of five tantric sadhanas (spiritual practices), each one to cleanse a particular element:
This process would take five years in total. One element each year.
Fast forward to the third year. The Air element.
The site of much political turmoil over the past couple decades. Hindus and Muslims living together in a strained setting. Various reports of random attacks.
From my home base in Thailand, I hop on an Indigo Airlines flight to Delhi, wait a couple hours in the airport and then fly to Srinagar, in the heart of Kashmir.
I arrive, bags full of clothes ready for intense sun, and icy cold.
Why Kashmir you might ask?
For the cleansing of each element, we travel to specific locations in India to do specific processes. Then we head back to our guru's house to complete our sadhana and the process.
For the air element, we must trek into the Himalayas to a very special cave.
In the yogic lore, this was the cave where Shiva, the lord of the universe, expounded the mysteries of existence to his wife, Parvati.
In tantra, certain forces of the universe are personified, so we can relate to them. It helps them become more accessible. It would be like calling the force of gravity Fred, and then describing gravity in a personified way, through the character of Fred.
Think of Shiva and Parvati as the two poles of the universe. Positive and negative. Yin Yang.
It was even rumored that Jesus made his way to this cave during his time in India (there are many differing opinions about whether this is true).
This cave is supposed to resonate with the energy of the heart. Love. Purity. Openness. Acceptance. Forgiveness.
My spiritual family of about 50 other people arrive together, and set off early the next morning at 3am via a commandeered bus.
This trek is done by over 600,000 Indians each year. It's a very sacred pilgrimage for them.
Because of the troubles of terrorist attacks and bombings in the region, the Indian military has intense security around the pilgrimage.
We end up getting stopped along the way and have to say that we're going to Lek (a different place a couple hours away). No one's supposed to be allowed into the base camp after a certain time in the morning, but with this alibi we manage to sneak in.
For the three hour bus ride to the base camp, I go on an endless run of pun creativity with two other friends, while the other 47 people sleep deeply. Punny stuff.
Arriving at the base camp, I immediately feel the strong military presence. Soldiers with machine guns everywhere. And super nice fellows.
On either side of us the mountains jut directly upwards, looking down on us with their ancient wisdom.
After passing through 1,342 security checks, we gather and start the madness of finding ponies for 50 people to trek up the mountain.
I didn't mention we were going on ponies?
After a lot of shouting, chaos, and general fun we manage to corral ponies for each person and I hop up on mine.
A beautiful brown girl, sweet eyes and a beautiful mane.
Before I know it we're off and trotting up the hill, me with my giant backpack on my back.
Bumping along, the biggest smile comes over my face as I look out into the stunning environment.
Crystal clear blue sky gives way to the puff of white clouds, threatening to spill its water upon us.
To my right, a sheer kilometer dropoff down into glacier water. Cliffs towering above as we move through the valley.
I simply cannot keep the giant grin off my face. I feel completely alive. The fresh air floods my lungs, even as the oxygen in that air thins as we ascend.
It's truly the most beautiful place in India I've ever seen. Pure.
I become amazed at the skill of these ponies, as we ascend and then descend steep slopes. I also become amazed at my own trust in these beasts as I look down at the sheer drop of death that is one... mere... stumble... away.
After a few close calls and slight buckles by my pony, life becomes very real as I recognize its fragility.
Two chai stops and many hours later we're nearing the camp closest to the cave. I happen to look down in the ravine and see the carcass of a dead pony lying at the bottom. It's insides having been picked out by the sparse wildlife around. Any sense of invincibility I had left... destroyed.
Arriving at a camp of military-style tents, we dismount from our trusted steeds, pay our guides and make the short trek to a second camp right by the cave itself.
After leaving our stuff in one of the tents, we all make our way up to the cave, lungs struggling in the thin mountain air.
Step by step I go, stone in hand until reaching the entrance. Shoes are taken off as bare feet touch the cold stone floor, connecting with the earth.
Now I find myself in the cave itself. The energy throbbing as I chant a particular sound meant to stir up a particular energy.
The power of mantra combines with the throb of the caves own energy and in the middle, am I. Blessed to be here. Truly blessed.
As I make my way down back to the sleeping area, I look out across the horizon. Pink clouds, reflecting the light of the setting sun, drape themselves over the distant mountains.
The rocks on my left curve in ways I never knew possible. In a completely surreal environment I find myself... simply there. Real.
Back in the sleeping area we have two hours of sadhana to do, using a specific mantra.
The use of mantra is fundamental to the science of tantra. Mantra is the science of using certain sounds for achieving certain effects.
For me, this sadhana feels especially tough. The intensity of the environment, the 14,000-foot altitude, the surreal experience of the cave, and a general sense of expansiveness makes the concentration for two hours difficult.
When I do come out of the practice, I'm floating on a cloud. My energy feels as though it's expanded to its limit. I feel full. An intense lightness.
I step out of the tent, looking out at the mountains and sky. I begin to feel a bit worried.
We're meant to stay for two more days. But I feel complete already. I feel I got what I came here for. And two more days here of six hours of mantra per day?
I start thinking I'll simply dissolve away. There won't be anything left of me. Though as I'm writing this, that sounds like a beautiful thing. At the time, it was very real.
There's nothing to do but surrender to the situation, and rest in trust. So I do.
A night of tossing and turning follows, and we're awoken to take one more trip to the cave for a special process called Arthi. An honoring of the space and way of tapping into its energy.
Surreality is the reality again as our group descends back to the sleeping area. Lying back down to rest our weary bodies, suddenly our guru comes and says:
“We all have to be out of here in thirty minutes. Let's go. Now.”
Stay tuned for part 2 of this series, as we explore deeper into the esoteric practice of true tantric science that is rarely seen.
About The Guest Author
Sean Kelly has been lucid dreaming for over 20 years, and now teaches students how to consistently lucid dream through his website, Lucid Academy. He spends his time between Thailand and India where he studies meditation, yoga, and lucid dreaming directly with some of the world's greatest masters. He's distilled all his knowledge and practice into a unique animated video course that teaches you how to lucid dream.
Rebecca Turner is a science writer, illustrator, explorer of consciousness - and founder of World of Lucid Dreaming. She is currently studying for a biology degree in Auckland and blogging at her site Science Me.
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