Off Road Tantra


An exploration of the gossamer realms of tantric gazing, and a tender portrait of departed love.

sociable interaction. Their conversation is lively, interesting, but for all its warmth, is never sentimental and seldom addresses emotions. It is not a “lover-like” exchange. Unlike other lovers, these two never indulge in mutual reminiscences designed to renew emotional closeness after a separation. Almost everything that has happened between them, good or bad, is never mentioned between them again. To the woman, this feels strange.

After tea, the woman and her lover begin to move toward the bedroom. She pulls a dark chocolate bar from her purse, a new kind, one they’d never tried before. As they take their place on the bed, a small table and a lit candle between them, she carefully opens the wrapper and hands it to the man. He begins to inspect the wrapper, noting the ingredients, percentage of cacao content, references to cacao sources, and so on. The two of them critique the graphics and presentation, quality of the inner foil, designs on the bar itself, enjoying the ritual as a key element of their customary interaction. And when they taste the chocolate, the man makes notes on the wrapper in small, crabbed writing: “Fruity.” “Lush.” “Too sweet.” It’s a ritual which delights them both, bringing “conscious sharp focus” (as he says) to material elements of their time together, as a prelude to their exploration of gossamer realms. The chocolate wrappers are carefully saved, to add to a compilation and inventory of the dozens of brands already consumed. 

After the chocolate ritual, the pair begin a tantric gazing practice which lasts for at least an hour, if not longer, before they have physical contact. The gazing practice is actually the most intimate part of their evening, fostering a deeply felt emotional and spiritual connection. Both would probably agree that their gazing practice forms the basis of their relationship. 

Michael was a stickler for something resembling the scientific method, and so our encounters were an odd mix of great fondness and objective scrutiny. Though we stopped short of taking notes after each encounter (now I wish we had) he insisted on intellectual clarity, specific language. In some ways I felt we strayed into realm of the ancient charnel grounds, bypassing the perfumed gardens of love preferred by Western practitioners. At other times, a sort of grim glee swept through us, echoes of the cosmic joke told by enlightened beggars and tricksters. 

Personally, I had some struggles with the way things were going. I really yearned for a dollop of fuzzy affection now and then. Instead I found myself climbing the stairs to a scholar’s lonely chamber, interrupting the hermit at work (or on EBay) with a kind of girlish hope in the transformational power of what I was feeling. I persisted in calling what we did “a relationship” and I’m pretty sure he was more comfortable with the term “exploration.” I believe he described it as such to his friends, partially to cover his tracks should something get back to the other women in his life.

Terminology aside, we were both tremendously excited by the discoveries we were making. We would gaze for twenty minutes, half an hour at a stretch, come up for air, share notes, have a little more tea and chocolate, and then dive in again. As the self-styled “tantrika” of the pair, I still took it upon myself to do cobra breaths, and summon kundalini, and all that stuff, before I showed up on his doorstep. At least, I did that some of the time. Eventually, I just went in with “intention” (as they say). 

This gazing practice evolved over time. For the first few months, there was a lot of “face beyond the face beyond the face” stuff. Archetypes. Wise king, handsome woodcutter, solitary scholar, fool. Death mask, goddess, loving or wrathful dakini. I would have flashes of insight, other narratives, other times. The person before me could be old or young, benign or menacing, trustworthy or treacherous. Sometimes images would just dissolve around the edges, receding beyond the glow of the candlelight. But always I (we!) felt the energy dance. 

Eventually we got to the point where we could detect each other’s deliberate subtle body movements. Without giving a sign through any corresponding physical movement, I would send the energy streaming as a gentle rain, the brush of leaves, something heavy, light, swirling around the shoulders or going straight to the heart. These were sometimes mere micro-movements of intention. The man before me would gasp, shudder, widen his eyes, and so I knew I’d hit my mark. 

It was pleasurable in the extreme. It was lovely, entrancing. Gleeful and fascinating. It encompassed merging and separation. It was profoundly sexual. I wouldn’t say it was exactly orgasmic though, because it never peaked in a shudder or moan. 

Just as we were on the verge of becoming really accomplished in this practice, disaster struck. Michael was diagnosed with a rare form of leukemia, and in the turbulence of hospitalizations, chemotherapy, blood transfusions, stem cell transfusions, and family matters, the gossamer realm that had been ours crumbled under the weight of deep grief and panic stricken concern for his survival. 

From the beginning I had struggled with the very strange, frustrating and unsatisfactory features of this relationship - features which were seemingly so much at odds with the closeness we’d achieved in the subtle realm. It took a few months before the “what if it’s Asperger Syndrome” lightbulb lit up, and once it did, Michael was both amused by my great efforts to understand him and understandably resistant to attempts to label him. As time went on, however, I believe he came to understand certain aspects of his life and relationships as a story that included neurological difference (over and above a glancing embrace of ADD). He as much as said it, near the end.

I still treasure my tea-stained draft of my Asperger’s Syndrome and sexuality study, a student project. Michael had made many small notes in the margins, shredding my statistics and adding comments, while hooked up to his daily ration of blood and platelet transfusions. Such a task made him very happy indeed and I wish I had been able to bring even more studies and material to absorb him and divert him from the monotony of medical procedure. He liked my nimbleness of mind, probably even more than he liked my body (in spite of his manifold eccentricities, bodies had always been available to him), and I believe he cherished a certain pride in having provided me with such rich, raw material. (If he were still alive, he would be getting a tremendous kick out of my media encounters and investigations into Objectum Sexuality.) 

As death approached, Michael was more willing to speak emotionally to many people in his life, including me. The women who shared his affections were forced into temporary and uneasy proximity and truths emerged which were not always pleasant. Even so, he died in an atmosphere of tremendous family and community love and respect. I do not know for certain, but I believe he had people in his arms when he passed. My own requested look at the vacated, yellowed shell of “meat” (again, his term) was all too brief, and not at all private as I would have liked. The gossamer essence had flown, and we will never see his like in the world again. 

Michael once envisioned “a new wave of researchers, of mind, thrusts at the understanding of the world that we have so far managed, seeking to stretch or open it to embrace these phenomena, in a disciplined fertility of imagination.” 

I find this a rather archetypically masculine way of describing the processes we would eventually share, yet it’s also very tantric (“thrust, stretch, open, embrace, fertility”) and I agree with it in essence. Rather than going “belly up” in the strangeness of our experiences, wallowing in curious, surprising sensations and disregarding our common sense, we did each bring a “disciplined fertility” to our encounters. We did our best to live up to and into its meaning and especially into our romping joy of discovery. As a result of our spiritual explorations I believe Michael approached death with a certain orientation that at times provided some comfort. (Yes, he said as much.) As for me, I have a certain confidence, unshakable, and a better understanding now of a saying which used to annoy me: ‘kiss it as it flies.” 

“Samaya tishtha.” The bond is strong.


(A version of this column was originally published on Carnal Nation. Michael’s quotes are from New Age Blues and Michael’s speech given at the Free Speech Movement 40th Anniversary, Oct. 8, 2004 (I transcribed this speech from a DVD). “Samaya tishta” is a phrase I found in Skydancer, The Secret Life and Songs of Lady Yeshe Tsogyel, by Keith Dowman. The third person narrative portions of this column were adapted from a work in progress concerning Asperger Syndrome relationships.)

This article was originally published at . Reprinted with permission from the author.