Being at a tantra festival
written by Stefan Liström
I was inspired to write this text after attending the Stockholm Tantra festival in May 2022. Mostly as something to help me integrate what happened that spring weekend in Stockholm, but also thinking it might bring something to someone else that might be curious about tantra. I believe we are all one and we can see ourselves in the mirrors of others. What happens in you when you read this and look into the mirror that you think is me?
Before the festival
Have you been to a tantra festival or are you curious about visiting one? I can highly recommend going to one! You most likely will learn something new about yourself and hopefully that will be something that can help you live a happier life. But do you need to prepare for going to a tantra festival? Some say “the work” starts as soon as you decide to do something, so whatever is going to happen with you during a tantric event or a festival might very well start as soon as you decide to go (or even think about going). The work in this case I believe is facing ourselves, who are we and who do we want to be and also who are we in relation to others around us?
My experience is that tantra is still not widely understood and as such can be a challenging topic to approach. A “famous” quote here in Sweden from a politician fairly well sums up the divided view on what tantra is when he said “a bunch of anti-vaxxers fucking around” as he talked about the participants at the tantra festival in Molkom. There might have been someone there that were against vaccine and there might have been someone that did fuck that week, I wasn’t there though so I don’t know. But summarising it that way I believe completely misses the bigger picture of the tantra community, if you really take a step into it and experience it for yourself I am sure you will understand it is something completely different than that simplified statement. That is one reason why I write texts like this, to hopefully create a broader context for people to relate to.
When I volunteered for the Stockholm tantra festival the first time the organisers made us volunteers profile pictures to use on social media with the festival logo. At first I thought that it looked nice but nothing I would use because at that time I was not comfortable talking about my interest in tantra in public. However after thinking about it a few days I thought, “What the fuck, I might as well be public about it.” so I used the profile picture.
Last time I was volunteering at the entrance of the festival we gave the participants wristbands to indicate they had a valid ticket, on the wristbands it said “Stockholm Tantra Festival”. When I greeted one participant and gave them a wristband they exclaimed, “Oh no, what am I going to tell my kids! I told them I am going to a yoga festival.”
I believe the above examples show scenarios we might face when doing something new that we are unsure yet how to approach. One of the reasons I am interested in tantra is to be more in connection with myself and be authentic about who I am both to myself but also others. It felt really liberating not to censor myself when using that profile picture, but also scary to be transparent to the world. The funny thing with “coming out of the closet” is that many times you are the (only) one that really cares. In other words if you have good friends that already know who you are, putting labels on that hopefully does not change who they see when looking at you. I didn’t really get any special comment about that profile picture and as far as I know no-none thought anything special about it. Something that I later found even more interesting was that when I also started talking more openly about tantra I found that the majority of people didn’t really know what it was. Here I was afraid people would think I was some sex crazy person but in reality most people didn’t seem to have any strong opinions or knowledge about tantra at all. That said I have very accepting friends and coworkers, your situation might be different. So I am not saying you should shout from the rooftops that you are attending a tantra festival, however it might be useful to think about who you want to tell what. Being honest to yourself and those close to you can and will most likely be for your benefit and create more peace of mind to be able to attend e.g. a festival with a more relaxed state of mind.
Something else I usually do before going into any experience that might be transformative is feeling into my intention being there. This is not necessarily something that stays fixed over the whole event or festival and sometimes I realise afterwards that what I gained was something completely different than what I thought I wanted. Life seems to give us what we need rather than what we think we want. But having an intention usually helps me decide what to do in different situations, in other words I use it as a guiding light.
During the festival
There were a lot of people that attended the festival in May for the first time. At the welcoming ceremony the organisers asked a few questions where people could raise their hands and I would estimate that between one third up to half of all the people were there for their first time. So if you have not gone to a festival before and are thinking about it you will for sure not be the only one coming for the first time. I talked to a couple of people that attended the festival for the first time and they all said they thought it was a very friendly atmosphere and easy to connect with other people. For me the first time I attended the festival was as a couple, so I did not spend my first festival really looking for connecting and making new friends. Though the majority of people are not there as couples there are several that do attend with their partner and it can be a very deepening experience going there together with someone else. Deepening in this sense can be both challenging and wonderful as you most likely will get to understand more of your partner and your relationships’ different dynamics.
For me music and sounds are also a big part of the tantric experience, it connects me to my body, emotions and mind through the vibrations, music and the lyrics. At the festival this time the wonderful Alice Rose sang the song Hearth High at the welcoming ceremony, it really captures the essence of what this festival was about for me.
Looking at the schedule and workshops offered at the Stockholm Tantra Festival gives yet another perspective how broad topic tantra can be. If you want you can pretty much only go to theoretical workshops where you listen to others talk about tantra and stay wholly in your own space listening to music or meditating. Or you can fully dive into connecting with other people in workshops where you get to explore your own and others boundaries. Stockholm Tantra Festival is a clothes-on festival, so there is no nudity. Personally I really like this, it becomes a more safe space and decreases the risk of overstepping traumatic boundaries. Exploring boundaries in relation to nudity can be very important and fun too, but nothing I will be talking about in this piece. If you are interested you can read the text I wrote after attending a workshop on squirting.
My intention going to the festival this time was simply to meet friends I had not met in a long time, maybe make new friends and get lots of hugs and cuddles. I did not expect this intention to show me a deep conflict in myself and allow me to work through some really difficult feelings. The festival started on Friday evening with a welcome ceremony and a few workshops. For me it was a very pleasant evening landing with everyone else and moving on to a sound ceremony just relaxing into myself and finally some dancing towards midnight. I was happy having been able to say hello and hug most of my friends there and could go home feeling very content, but the seed that had been growing inside me for some time had started to come to life and would manifest for real the next day.
More specifically the conflict that I ended up working with during the second day of the festival was between my heart and my sexual energy. One part of me felt that now that I am at this place with so many wonderful people I should get to it and take advantage of all the possibilities of connecting with as many people as possible in all the different workshops. In more blunt words my sexual energy wanted to ravage the world. Which is where my critical thinking comes in and tells me that is something really bad and I should be ashamed that I even consider such a thing, not that my critical mind is even sure what it means but better be safe than sorry. The other part of me wanted to find inner peace and practice holding space for myself in a context where I am also part of something bigger with other people. In other words my heart just wanted to be present in a warm and cosy embrace full of love. So my challenge was to understand how I could combine these two seemingly opposite polarities.
I started in the physical world of scheduling feeling into the fact that I was drawn towards workshops where I did not interact much through touch with other people. So I allowed my heart to lead the way. This however also increased the frustration I was feeling that I was here with all these lovely people but I felt at the same time very alone. The day went by quickly and before dinner time we met in our sharing groups. Sharing groups are also something that in many cases are part of transformative journeys on festivals or courses where a lot of personal development might happen. Usually there is some kind of ceremony in the beginning of the event or course where you chose or are paired up with other people, with these people you then later during the event have a possibility to share the experiences you are going through. This can be extremely helpful, both to have people you can turn to with questions but also to have people that just listen to you without judgement (if it is a good sharing group) where you can feel safe and talk about what is going on inside of you. I was able to share and put words to my conflict with my sharing group, which helped me better understand what I was going through and where the frustration I felt came from. Sometimes I find just putting words on something that you are going through and sharing it with others is the biggest part of a transformation, when I hear myself say something it is easier to understand and also move past it if needed.
With the sharing and dinner done I was able to land in the most amazing moment for me during the festival. I went to a workshop that among other things were an inquiry into ourselves. We were seated in rows facing each other two and two. The workshop leader asked us questions or gave us statements to inquire into ourselves if we could find it true while gazing into the eyes of another person sitting facing us. It was statements like “Is it true that you have everything you need right now to experience this moment?”, “There is nothing you need to fix with the other person.”, “There is nothing you need from the other person.” and “You are perfect just the way you are.”
Taken out of context this might sound strange and these kinds of exercises can feel very intimate and a little scary for some people, for me it was very relaxing and pleasurable. Usually after one inquiry or short talk with the other person we were asked to close our eyes and one person in the pair got up, moved down the line and sat down facing someone else. Once everybody was seated we could open our eyes again and gaze into a new pair of eyes. At one point in the workshop I was super relaxed and feeling very comfortable and when I opened my eyes to a new person I saw the most beautiful being I had ever witnessed sitting across from me. I instantly fell in love with this person. It was like my whole body warmed up and my consciousness expanded towards this person while we gazed into each other’s eyes. I have never experienced love at first sight before but it was an incredible and amazing feeling that I am very happy to have had the pleasure of experiencing now. The song Alice Rose sang at the welcome ceremony summarises my feelings at that moment very well.
If you do attend a tantra event or session of some kind it is likely that you at some point will fall in love. Many tantric environments including workshops or other meetings are often very intimate in different ways. An intimacy I find many people are longing for but not often have available in their lives. Once experienced it can however be easy to mix up connection with attachment. I find that we are so focused on finding “the one” in our society that when we meet people that we connect with on a deeper level it is easy to believe that person is the one. On the one hand it might very well be the one that you have just met on the other hand it might be that you simply came into connection with your own love.
Tantra can help people come into connection with their own love, but because we have been told that we should love someone else it is easy to start believing that you feel this love thanks to the person you are with. This can then lead to projecting your love onto someone and start thinking that you need this person to feel love, from there it can be a slippery road towards an attachment that might not be beneficial to you. Can you instead go into a tantric workshop and fall in love and feel the wonderful connection you have with the other person without feeling that you need an attachment to this person? Can you let them go and still feel in love?
Now, don’t take me the wrong way. Being in love is awesome and spending time with someone else that is also in love might be an even better experience. If you find yourself in this situation and you want to spend time together outside the meeting you have just had that can be amazing too, just make sure you are doing it for the right reasons and that you are both on board with that decision. This is where another great tool used within the tantra community can be very useful, which is The wheel of consent. It can help you understand what it is you want, what the person you are together with wants and help both of you talk the same language to figure out how to best achieve what you both want. I recommend going through Betty Martin’s videos on the subject. I believe that if everyone was taught this at school we would live in a much happier world.
The last day of the festival was pure magic even though I was super tired at the end. I had remembered that both sides of polarity are part of one. North and south might be pointing in different directions but it is still part of the same magnet. Holding my inner conflict and accepting that both were part of me rather than having to decide on which was right, I could more easily rest in the fact that I sometimes go north and sometimes go south. In this state I managed to fully participate in a very sensual workshop about sexual blueprints with another wonderful person. It is so powerful when we are able to feel what it is that we really want, communicate it and within consent share this experience with other people.
Sexual blueprints are yet another great tool to understand that we are different. It is so easy to get stuck in the idea that others love what we love and others desire the same pleasure that we desire. Instead of asking what makes others feel loved or what makes others feel pleasure we often seem to project our own stories onto them and assume they like the same things we do. Many of the tools used within the tantric community can help us go past our assumptions and help us with ways to communicate our wants and desires more clearly. I think that is such a great gift to the world.
After the festival
Just as I experience that the work usually starts way before an event happens it doesn’t end just because the event is over either. That is when the integration usually starts. If you participate in events where you do deep inquiries into who you are and spend time being open, authentic and in connection with other people it is very likely that you start questioning some of the stories that you have earlier taken for granted. Shifting or letting go of stories that have been part of you for a long time can be very intensive. It doesn’t have to happen, but I find that it is useful to keep in mind that it might. How you best integrate your experiences only you know. For me it is thinking and talking about what happened and writing about it like I do in this text. I very much invite you to take care of yourself and be kind to yourself in this situation. Changing your stories might also change how you see the world and this can be challenging, especially if the people around you are not open to your new stories.
I find the best way of dealing with this is forgiveness and acceptance. Maybe life is super easy after the event and nothing has changed, then that is alright. Maybe life was completely turned upside down, then that is alright too. Could it be that you are perfect the way you are right now in this moment?
I think the final goodbye song Alice sang at the closing ceremony of the festival will be a good ending for this text as well.
Read more articles from Stefan Liström at medium.com