Shockwaves reverberated through the new-age world as we heard that the West’s #1 most famous and most successful tantra teacher took her own life.
I wrote an article about that which has become one of the most viewed pieces on my page.
And the whole story…as well as the larger contributing situation won’t leave me alone. I believe we all deserve to go deeper into both her story and take a look at the world of tantra for our own benefit and safety.
My desire is that those who are now beginning to venture onto a path of self-discovery may be forewarned and forearmed.
For which reason, I have written this article with a none-too-subtle title.
Can Tantra Really Kill You?
Let’s talk about it.
What is tantra?
And that is the first issue. I have a saying:
“A tantra workshop is where you pay $500 to learn techniques that have been handed down in reverence from guru to student for 5000 years after years of dedicated practice in a weekend from a guy who read a book about it two weeks ago.”
Harsh? Unfortunately, it might be a generous description.
I had no idea what tantra was when I “found” tantra.
I came to tantra with a fuzzy thought that it might a path to ‘better sex’.
I knew nothing about it, other than it seemed kind of mystical and maybe had something to do with India. I didn’t know how to pick a teacher. I didn’t know what to read or study.
Zip. Zilch. Nada.
I found “better sex” alright–but saying that is like saying I was looking for a little excitement and instead found myself suddenly falling from the sky in a wingsuit.
In addition, I found:
- sensations I had never known
- feelings I had never experienced
- capabilities I thought were impossible
- a community that was about as sick as they come (unlock the Jedi powers of emotionally unstable people and, well…)
- a quick way to make lifelong friends and deep enemies
- an entire spiritual system that destabilized my world
- a reason to quit my job and follow a guru for several years
- a great source of “easy” income
… and that was just the beginning.
I had a husband threaten to beat the crap out of me for touching his wife during a workshop. I fell in love with a woman who neglected to tell me she was married until weeks into our ‘courtship’. I found a sugar mama. And, I appeared nude and gyrating in a documentary film that was in movie theaters. Ah, the memories!
I also learned how both to make love for hours and trigger orgasms in my partners for the same length of time–without even touching–as I became more adept.
I tried an ‘experimental marriage’, got threatened by the Mafia, and was painfully rejected by my guru.
I met and experienced more amazing women in six months than I had in my entire life up to that point.
I mastered seduction.
I sobbed loudly in a group of 30 people for 6 hours.
I triggered my own childhood traumas and shook violently during a light spanking experience.
I was told I had ‘magic’ and ‘golden’ hands and experienced healing powers that defied everything I had ever seen.
I was invited to special rituals that most people believe are in the realm of fiction, if they have heard of them at all.
And lots more.
I was on this search full-time for the better part of a decade.
I made huge mistakes in the process.
It was quite the rollercoaster.
Now, you are probably wondering why I am not simply wholeheartedly endorsing this path for anyone else who wants to learn what I did.
The path was great–as far as it went.
What it didn’t teach me opened me for massive pain and suffering for years. I didn’t know which questions to ask–or I was too afraid to ask them–and so, like one of the X-Men just discovering their powers, I left chaos and destruction in my wake (and created it in my path!) with no idea how I was doing it or how to fix it.
I had to go to other teachers, mentors, and guides and rekindle my spirituality in order to find some grounding stability for all the “flying” I was doing.
It’s taken me as much time to recover and stabilize and recover from my tantric journey as it did for me to learn all of the magic in the first place.
Now, on to the story of Psalm Isadora.
I want to approach this with the sensitivity and compassion it is due. And the only reason I want to talk more about Psalm’s story is that it is indicative of the dangers that are waiting on this path.
I never met her personally. What I know is gathered from conversations and researches. She lived quite proud and out-loud.
Psalm was born into a stifling religious community. She and I had this in common. In fact, quite a few of those who I see on a ‘tantric path’ have this background. There, sexuality was shamed even as it’s dark underbelly manifested in sexual abuse, which she suffered.
Perhaps needing to get away from it all, she went to India. She found mystical, powerful teachings there. Teachings that would enhance her already powerful magnetism and sexual abilities as well as promise her power against things in her life which damaged her.
Another word for this is “salvation”. And we’re all looking for it.
I understand why one would reject the religion of one’s youth if violent abuse happened there–doubly if there was a blind eye turned to it or, even worse, she was blamed for the abuse (for “tempting” the poor abuser).
I understand why one would go far away. I left for Europe at 19 and didn’t come back until I was 35.
But here is the first question: once you leave the context you are familiar with to find answers, how do you apply these answers in their original context?
I ran from my spiritual roots and my challenging family as a young man. But I carried them with me everywhere I went until I truly confronted and was able to process the emotional pain and unworthiness I felt inside.
When Psalm returned and began teaching, she rapidly rose in prominence. This is double-edged.
When you find ‘real magic’, you suddenly become a god for those around you. If you can catalyze unimaginable pleasure for someone simply and easily, it’s very easy for them to associate the magic with you. And so you start bathing in adoration, attention, and sometimes money.
This happens to just about everyone I know who works in an erotic capacity. It’s even more challenging with tantric teachers, because of the additional skills they learn. It’s like being a rock-star. (In fact, one prominent tantra master called himself ‘The Erotic Rock Star’ for several years).
This can turn into a trap for both the teacher and the student.
I know that I received inner guidance not to demonstrate some of the techniques I learned.
I assume that it was to prevent me from falling into a similar trap.
When you can impress people, the temptation is to do your “biggest trick” immediately and often.
If your psyche is damaged from abuse and you are starving for attention, validation, and acceptance, this temptation can be irresistible. But the repercussions for egoic use of powerful energies and magic are sizable.
Isadora wanted to do good. She helped many people. But, not even we ourselves often know the complete motivations for our actions.
Power, fame, and wealth are certainly tests for anyone who achieves them.
Psalm was at her peak of all of these with all indicators on “Go”. She had just launched a new program in cooperation with MindValley and was beginning to ‘mainstream’ tantra–or at least her particular brand of it. From that perspective, it was an unimaginable shock that now she would take her life.
Tantra takes you out of your depth quickly and powerfully. For the average Westerner who starts studying as an adult, it’s kind of like giving the controls to a fighter plane to a 5-year-old. If they don’t learn to handle the controls to the power quickly, tragedy is likely to strike.
I watched Isadora’s videos through the years. The videos she posted were very open–and transparency is wonderful. Yes, some of what I saw unsettled me. I saw her drinking and talking about drinking alcohol. I found out later that she was on psychotropic medications as well. In some of them I imagined seeing shadows of the demons that she was carrying.
Being in the limelight is challenging enough. Standing up as a guru is filled with pitfalls. To do it while at the same time needing deep psychological support and care as well as fighting one’s own emotional instability…there are few people who could handle that.
How do we support ‘gurus’? They are the ones supporting us.
I understand wanting to share and serve.
I remember after getting all of the compliments at workshops and being able to master my teacher’s magic ‘tricks’ that I wanted to teach.
I wanted to sit up front.
I wanted people to see how smart I was.
I wanted to use the magic to help people.
He said instead that I could apprentice with him for another 5-7 years and then, perhaps, slowly begin ‘taking over’ for him.
That felt way too slow for me (andmy ego).
Ironically, it’s taken me about that length of time to learn what I am sharing now and hopefully avoid some of the pitfalls we are discussing here.
Such is the ego and the importance of excellent guides, teachers, mentors, and friends on these perilous paths.
I’ll share a few more stories, just to illustrate some other dangers of tantra.
A friend of mine came back from an ‘energy orgasm’ workshop. She had received a powerful transmission from a relatively famous teacher, whom she had also slept with after the workshop.
But now, there were side effects.
Any man who had attended this workshop (and some apparently went just to find a new way to seduce women) could now trigger “energetic orgasms” in her at any time, and she could not stop them.
“Energetic rape” is not yet a term many of us have heard, but it fits to what I saw happening. The experience was not pleasurable. It was being used manipulatively. She wanted it to stop, but she didn’t know how.
The teacher was long gone and no one in her environment knew what to do.
I was blessed to somehow use what I had learned to help her close the energetic channels which had been left open, and prevent further abuse.
I have several friends who have reported other side-effects from these workshops. “Kriyas” or unpleasant spasms are one reported side-effect. “Kundalini syndrome” is another–which can result in anything from headaches up into full-on delirious episodes or schizophrenic and psychotic breaks.
My point is: people, this is serious shit!
The worst thing about all of this is that so many of the teachers are fly-by-night. You go to a weekend or week-long workshop and get “cracked open” energetically and emotionally. But there is seldom any after-care or community support.
The teacher has to go to the next workshop to make their next buck. Usually it’s in another state or even another country.
The teacher may, themselves, be quite new to what they are presenting. There are no credentials or guarantees about what you are getting. It’s akin to receiving firearms training from someone who just bought their first 9mm at Walmart two weeks ago.
Add to that that, in America, (much more than in Europe where I studied) we respond strongly to charisma and charm. If someone has a flashy web site, nice videos, a polished presentation, and an attractive presence, we trust them. Like actors!
Often, by the time we find what is behind the polish, it’s too late.
I have heard of individuals who were offering private healing sessions who ‘did a Bill Cosby’ to their clients–roofies or other drugs were given and they were raped or sexually assaulted.
Even well-known teachers and healers have been accused of using their tongues or their penises without permission–more sexual assault. The victims are often ashamed of and seldom talk about what happened, much less go to the authorities. And so the stories travel only as whispers through the community.
And these stories are not rare, unfortunately.
Can you hurry a spiritual, energetic, or emotional path? Is it possible to go too fast?
I just watched Isadora’s the Yes Method, where she promises the benefits of 20 minutes of meditation in just one minute. The actual method, a Tony-Robbinsesque “pump yourself up” repeated shouting of “Yes!” may feel nice and even be useful, but does it really heal the emotional wounds of years in just a minute?
What kind of support do we need to heal our trauma and emotional scars?
And should we do that before we dive into the deep end of an incredibly challenging spiritual paradigm?
That is American society. Instant everything, including enlightenment, healing, and riches. To have to work or expend effort over weeks, months, or years just isn’t satisfactory. We want it now.
Of course, just like someone who goes into the gym and wants instant results, your likely outcome is probably injury or stagnation and not growth and expansion, if you are unwilling to put in the time and patience.
Ever heard of the 10,000 hour rule?
I told a healer recently, “I’ve been working on myself quite intensely the past few years.” She said, “That’s too bad. All of my tools provide instant change and you can get results immediately.”
In some ways, whatever tantra originally was has been too adulterated with American pop societal ideas to be useful. Instead, it has even become quite dangerous (and it was never billed as the ‘safe’ method, even in its original forms).
When your guru kills someone, especially if it’s themselves, it calls everything into question. I feel sad for the many people who had begun to trust her guidance and now don’t know–why? Was it somehow connected to her teachings? What can we trust? Who can I trust?
I was surprised to learn that MindValley is still selling Psalm’s materials. I seriously question the wisdom of this. How can you safely study such a dangerous path with a teacher who is no longer living and even perhaps carried the energy that killed them into their communications and teachings? It wasn’t like the program was released and then 20 years later this happened. It was mere months afterward.
It may be a great way make money. I doubt that it is of service to those who might keep purchasing those products.
I hope this has been enough about tantra as you are likely to encounter it to provide some caution about engaging without proper safeguards.
The DEATH OF THE EGO
Now, let me talk about the other side.
An actual physical death is perhaps one outcome, but whether it is or not (and study Agorhi tantriks to see how they view death–not how we do…they sleep in graveyards naked and drink out of skulls for starters)…the whole purpose of tantra anciently was to destroy the ego, in service of enlightenment.
In other words: it was created to help you question, and eventually abandon who you think you are, and completely reformulate what your purpose is in the world, and your relationship to and relationships within it.
Most spiritual traditions include death rituals. Christian baptism is a symbol of dying and rebirth to a new life in Christ. The Lakota Sun Dance and sweat lodge ceremonies represent a confrontation with death as a passageway to more life.
If you engage in these practices supported by communities that take them seriously and support you, wonderful.
If you, however, step out of our society…(which basically conditions us all into lack of responsibility and eternal childhood), and then receive imprints from another society, you become an experiment.
These rituals and ideas and concepts were never created for our Western, domination-based minds.
For this reason, numerous warning signs should be put up around experiences of the left-hand, transgressive path, such as tantra.
But that’s not good marketing.
Marketing insists we have to make tantra “accessible”. If something is difficult, or challenging, or requires discipline–perhaps over years, we just *snip*, chop that part out and stick with the fun stuff–the stuff that fills workshops and brings clients.
Can you see why that might not be such a good idea?
In India, by tradition, tantric teachings are almost always transmitted 1:1. The story (read Tantric Quest by Daniel Odier for more on this) is that the acolyte who desires to be initiated into tantra must travel and ask the villagers until they talk about a frightening man or woman who lives all alone high up on the mountain.
Then, the seeker climbs and announces his or her desire to study the sacred teachings at the feet of the master.
What happens at that point is that the seeker is ignored by the master…sometimes for days. If they seeker approaches too closely, the master will throw stones to keep them away.
If the seeker persists, despite hunger, heat, cold, fatigue, and rejection, then, perhaps, the master will accept the student.
And once the training begins, it isn’t as if “Lesson One” is presented today and tomorrow is lesson two.
The teaching, or rather, transmission takes place through relationship. Usually, a sexual or at least deeply intimate relationship. The boundaries between teacher and student are dissolved and the connection and transmission takes place within the container of the relationship.
The student may spend many years with the teacher, in surrender to the path.
The master may only have two or three students in a lifetime.
The seeker only leaves once the master declares them ready.
How does this sound compared to our current systems of education and training?
Pretty fucking intense, right?
And there were reasons that these techniques and using these energies were taught in this manner.
But, it was billed as the fastest, if most challenging, path to progress.
So, this path, even when done ‘right’ was also intended to kill you. Not in a physical sense.
But kill your ego. Kill your illusions and sense of control. Kill the things, ultimately, that prevent you from seeing and experiencing true reality.
Those who start baby-steps toward tantra, of whatever kind, need to know that.
We need to have a healthy respect for the explosive power we are dealing with.
We need great teachers, mentors, healers, and guides.
We need emotional balance and sovereignty. To know our ‘yes’ from our ‘no’.
We need a spiritual foundation of security.
And then, maybe we can consciously decide to tread onto one of the fastest, most powerful traditions of spiritual and emotional change that exist. With informed consent.
Otherwise, we are incurring great, unnecessary risk no matter our level of development along this path.
What should we know?
Don’t fuck with tantra unless you are ready and willing to die. At least egoically.
This path is fraught with pitfalls.
Here be dragons.
Mindvalley made a video about their decisions and why…you can watch it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gl-Y5D1mbeM