Tantra — the path of the heart — provides a spiritual and energetic exploration of emotions post election
The recent US election opened me to the path of the heart. Let me explain.
I’ve been a spiritual seeker for several decades, having delved in yoga, Advaita Vedanta, and other non-dual paths. Only in the last few years have I come to the path of the heart: tantra. Unlike other paths, tantra is unique in that it doesn’t involve replacing one experience with a better one. It is about using whatever is arising in our experience to delve deep into our true being of bliss and limitlessness.
One thing that happens to many of us who’ve been long-term spiritual practitioners is that most of our reactions become conditioned by the teaching to which we subscribe. It’s easy to fall into the trap of pushing away uncomfortable feelings by remembering or recalling a more acceptable teaching. It’s almost a relief to not feel what we are feeling and to switch to the prescription of what we are supposed to feel. This approach is very helpful at times when the emotion or the experience feels overwhelming to safely hold in our awareness.
Along the way, however, this approach no longer works because the issues we push away become the biggest obstacles to opening to our true nature. They simmer just under the surface, becoming the unwanted children that we’d rather not acknowledge. They become the shadows that always seem to linger just outside the perimeter of light created by our practice. When these kids eventually rebel and come out to play, we are forced to own them.
The path of the heart forces us to reconcile our shadows and light — to unify them into a seamless whole.
Not one iota of duality will survive on this path. Tantra teaches us that there is no good without evil, no black without white, no pleasure without pain — and that who we are lies beyond all dualities. This path is not about transcending pain, but rather to find the unifying force that makes both pain and pleasure possible.
On this path, our primary job is to keep the heart open, resisting the urge to transform our experience in any way. This practice allows things to be as they are, feeling every emotion, perception, sensation and thought. Every experience then becomes a gateway to bliss.
The election brought up a lot of stuff for me, like it did for most of the world: shock, disbelief, sadness, righteousness and indignant anger were the most obvious. There was not only an irresistible urge to express it, but also the conundrum of how to express it in a spiritually appropriate way. How does righteousness ‘look’ spiritually? How is one ‘supposed’ to act in this situation? Sure, there are plenty of formulas for how to act in difficult situations, but they invariably clash with the reality of what is.
The truth or ‘what is’ of the situation is that there is the energy of sadness or anger.
On the path of the heart, there is no prescription for how you are supposed to feel.
When it comes to action, the prescription in tantra is simple — don’t react externally and instead use the energy of the emotion to go deeper within.
Once I became aware of these energies, my path became clear. I stopped talking about the election, but kept reading various points of view to allow the underlying emotions to arise. When they did (quite often!), the practice was to drop into the body. No longer concerned with thoughts about the emotion, I noticed it with loving curiosity. Where is it? What does it feel like? Does it go anywhere else? How’s my breathing? Can I feel my heartbeat? Is there a change in its rhythm?
Over the next few days and weeks, a curious thing began to take place. I became deeply familiar with the sensations of emotion. Merely allowing them to be ‘as is’ without trying to modify them opened the way to brand new insights.
An energy-sensation complex feels like a bodily contraction, but when we welcome it into our heart, it dissolves into a shimmering lightness. Waiting to be discovered just underneath the contraction is the subtle vibration of sweetness. Every emotion arises from awareness as a particular vibration, stays a while, and subsides back into its sweetness. If we simply notice each energy-sensation complex as it arises and subsides, we will see that all experiences are temporary arisings in awareness. They all come and go, but who we are — awareness — is always here.
These energy-sensation complexes are temporary; they are always based in the past or the future, neither of which is true in the now.
My anger about the election, for instance, lies in thoughts about the dead past (who said what and when) or the imaginary future (what might happen as a result).
When we look closely enough, however, we see that neither of these situations exists in the now. Thoughts about these situations arise as memory or anticipation in awareness, which is always here and now.
These insights cause a sudden release of the contraction of the emotion, opening us to the truth of our nature. Every contraction becomes an exquisite path of opening to this truth. As we become adept in keeping our hearts open, a miraculous flow takes over our lives and psyches. We no longer run from discomfort. We are open to it — what will this show? Where will it lead? Our triggers become joyful explorations of ourselves. None of this happens overnight, of course. We will still be reactive for a long time. But eventually this becomes a lesson in humility and softening. The power of the illusion of duality in ourselves becomes the ground for how we view others.
For me, it was revelatory to see that despite my years of meditation, self-inquiry and study, the post-election reactions that came up were so powerful. Suddenly, I saw ‘the other side’ very differently. I now have a deep understanding and respect for their stories, their justifications, and their viewpoints. And there is an opening to sweetness and love for all of it.
Along with this, there has been a sense of deep gratitude for the election and its results. How else would I come to grok the path of the heart? It’s quite fitting that this path would choose me. I am a cardiologist after all.