Make love, not war

In her final blog, Leora Lightwoman explains the relevance of Tantra, and takes us through her perso

For the main part, what is advertised as “Tantra” today is in fact “neo-Tantra”, modern syntheses of one or more traditional Tantric paths interwoven with more eclectic movement meditations, healing processes and personal sharing, dialogue and guidance.

The intention of these schools is to offer a practical, spiritual approach to relationships, meditation and life. So the goal is not purely “nirvana” or transcendence, but also to become a happier, more loving and fulfilled human being.

As body-oriented psychotherapy evolves, it has become ever clearer how our parents’ relationship – and this fundamentally involves their sexual relationship – shapes our own patterns in relationship and our sexual expression.

It is also apparent that dissatisfaction and immaturity in these areas leads to all manner of compensatory behaviours, from family break-up to sexual abuse to cultural, religious and international warfare. On the other hand, when one has a fulfilled, mature, spiritual sexual life, then a sense of completeness, overflowing love, connectedness and generosity is the natural consequence.

Tantra and neo-Tantra can offer both individuals and couples the skills and transformation required to truly “make love not war”.

My journey:

After completing a degree in Psychology, and feeling empty and unsatisfied with the information that I had learned, I trained as a yoga teacher. This gave meaning to my life. The method of yoga I was practising was from the Vajryana school of Buddhism, and it worked with the elements of earth, water, fire, air and ether (the substance within which all elements reside).

It was Tantric in the non-sexual sense. In exploring the elements as they related to the physical body, seeking balance and harmony, I reflected on these elements and this balance in the whole of life.

Meanwhile my intimate relationships were a mess. I was frequently attracted to men who were either unavailable or were not interested in committed partnership.

Motivated by feelings of frustration, isolation and longing for the truth, I travelled first to a Thai monastery to practice vipassana (insight) meditation, and then to Australia where I attended an international conference on the breath.

Here I discovered Tantra, or neo-Tantra, and it was absolutely a seminal moment in my life. Despite being a shy, rather awkward young woman, I realised that I could have a deep sense of connection with a whole room full of strangers, without wanting something from them or needing them to be any different.

I had a sense of wholeness and completeness in myself, for the first time in my adult life. It was truly as if my body were, to use a popular Tantric metaphor, a flute, and that my breath and energy could travel up and down it freely, and it was all integrated.

Meditation was a sexual experience. Sexual expression was mediation. Love was the gateway that connected them both. And it was both quite a raw personal experience of opening and feeling vulnerable in an unfamiliar way, and yet also very joyful and transcendent.

From that point I continued my Tantric studies with various teachers, and became a Tantra facilitator myself, starting my own school, Diamond Light Tantra, in 2000. Adults of all ages and backgrounds, and from different religions attend. Students report benefits such as reconnection with beauty and sacredness, recognition that true fulfilment lies within themselves, and renewed vitality and connection with life.

After many years of marriage devoid of deep intimacy, long-term partners have fallen in love with each other again. Women who connect more deeply with their bodies have been able to conceive, immediately, after years of unsuccessfully trying, and have healed trauma from early experiences including sexual abuse.

Men feel more in touch with their potency and identity as men, as well as with their capacity to give and receive love. Couples make love as a spiritual practice, as prayer, for their relationship, for their children and for the healing of the planet.

Leora Lightwoman read psychology at Oxford University, then trained as a yoga teacher and bodyworker. She has been a Tantra practitioner since 1993. In 2001 she formed her own school, Diamond Light Tantra. This is a pragmatic and eclectic approach to sexual, emotional and spiritual healing.
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"We repealed, then forgot": the long shadow of Section 28 homophobia

Why are deeply conservative views about the "promotion" of homosexuality still being reiterated to Scottish school pupils? 

Grim stories of LGBTI children being bullied in school are all too common. But one which emerged over the weekend garnered particular attention - because of the echoes of the infamous Section 28, nearly two decades after it was scrapped.

A 16-year-old pupil of a West Lothian school, who does not wish to be named, told Pink News that staff asked him to remove his small rainbow pride badge because, though they had "no problem" with his sexuality, it was not appropriate to "promote it" in school. It's a blast from the past - the rules against "promoting" homosexuality were repealed in 2000 in Scotland, but the long legacy of Section 28 seems hard to shake off. 

The local authority responsible said in a statement that non-school related badges are not permitted on uniforms, and says it is "committed to equal rights for LGBT people". 

The small badge depicted a rainbow-striped heart, which the pupil said he had brought back from the Edinburgh Pride march the previous weekend. He reportedly "no longer feels comfortable going to school", and said homophobia from staff members felt "much more scar[y] than when I encountered the same from other pupils". 

At a time when four Scottish party leaders are gay, and the new Westminster parliament included a record number of LGBTQ MPs, the political world is making progress in promoting equality. But education, it seems, has not kept up. According to research from LGBT rights campaigners Stonewall, 40 per cent of LGBT pupils across the UK reported being taught nothing about LGBT issues at school. Among trans students, 44 per cent said school staff didn’t know what "trans" even means.

The need for teacher training and curriculum reform is at the top of campaigners' agendas. "We're disappointed but not surprised by this example," says Jordan Daly, the co-founder of Time for Inclusive Education [TIE]. His grassroots campaign focuses on making politicians and wider society aware of the reality LGBTI school students in Scotland face. "We're in schools on a monthly basis, so we know this is by no means an isolated incident." 

Studies have repeatedly shown a startling level of self-harm and mental illness reported by LGBTI school students. Trans students are particularly at risk. In 2015, Daly and colleagues began a tour of schools. Shocking stories included one in which a teacher singled out a trans pupils for ridicule in front of the class. More commonly, though, staff told them the same story: we just don't know what we're allowed to say about gay relationships. 

This is the point, according to Daly - retraining, or rather the lack of it. For some of those teachers trained during the 1980s and 1990s, when Section 28 prevented local authorities from "promoting homosexuality", confusion still reigns about what they can and cannot teach - or even mention in front of their pupils. 

The infamous clause was specific in its homophobia: the "acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship" could not be mentioned in schools. But it's been 17 years since the clause was repealed in Scotland - indeed, it was one of the very first acts of the new Scottish Parliament (the rest of the UK followed suit three years later). Why are we still hearing this archaic language? 

"We repealed, we clapped and cheered, and then we just forgot," Daly says. After the bitter campaign in Scotland, in which an alliance of churches led by millionaire businessman Brian Souter poured money into "Keeping the Clause", the government was pleased with its victory, which seemed to establish Holyrood as a progressive political space early on in the life of the parliament. But without updating the curriculum or retraining teaching staff, Daly argues, it left a "massive vacuum" of uncertainty. 

The Stonewall research suggests a similar confusion is likely across the UK. Daly doesn't believe the situation in Scotland is notably worse than in England, and disputes the oft-cited allegation that the issue is somehow worse in Scotland's denominational schools. Homophobia may be "wrapped up in the language of religious belief" in certain schools, he says, but it's "just as much of a problem elsewhere. The TIE campaign doesn't have different strategies for different schools." 

After initial disappointments - their thousands-strong petition to change the curriculum was thrown out by parliament in 2016 - the campaign has won the support of leaders such as Nicola Sturgeon and Kezia Dugdale, and recently, the backing of a majority of MSPs. The Scottish government has set up a working group, and promised a national strategy. 

But for Daly, who himself struggled at a young age with his sexuality and society's failure to accept it, the matter remains an urgent one.  At just 21, he can reel off countless painful stories of young LGBTI students - some of which end in tragedy. One of the saddest elements of the story from St Kentigern's is that the pupil claimed his school was the safest place he had to express his identity, because he was not out at home. Perhaps for a gay pupil in ten years time, that will be a guarantee. 

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