Anyone familiar with tantric sex has heard that, ideally, it calls for a dance between Shiva and Shakti. Some think of this as a synergistic exchange between lovers.

In fact, the advanced Tantras reveal that these forces are not “male” and “female”, but rather energy impulses underlying all of creation. Their magnetic interaction (reaction?) fuels creative manifestation, including material manifestation.

So, how to work with them? How to merge them to increase their effectiveness in human development? The first step to understand the essence of what we know as “Shiva” and “Shakti” based on a deep analysis of the ancient Tantras.

The Shakti force

Shakti constitutes the force and creative momentum of the universe. Again, it is not “feminine” as such.

Within ourselves we experience Shakti as desire, momentum, strength, creative power, libido, urge, movement, impulse, kundalini, and so on. In its uppermost octave we feel Shakti as boundless enthusiasm for the paramount good. That is, as bodhicitta, the desire for self-realization with the aim of helping humanity awaken.

The Shiva force

Shiva is the universal, static consciousness at the heart of everything. Within ourselves it shows up as the luminous, centred state of mindfulness, alertness, and attention. It is the witnessing Self that always sees beyond the limitations of mere thoughts. Shiva is not “masculine” per se, anymore than Shakti is “feminine”.

Practices for Shakti

The practices related to Shakti call for seeking a balance (“equipoise”) between allowing Shakti (desire, momentum) to manifest while also keeping it in check. If we grant Shakti free rein it escalates, intensifying its captivating effect on humans.

Ultimately it enslaves us to desire, triggering an irresistible craving to extinguish this force/tension/pressure. Think of someone bingeing in an attempt to exhaust their sexual desire.

The concept of hormesis may prove illustrative here. Hormesis refers to the process by which the strategic application of mild stress produces desired gains. For example, scientists have measured the beneficial effects of mild stress on aging and longevity for many years. Runners and gym rats also use beneficial stress to increase endurance and strength. Of course, too much stress ceases to be beneficial.

Consider the case of raging libido mentioned above. Suppose the binge-er had instead, from an early age, mastered the milder stress of employing a sexual self-discipline exercise when aroused. Not only would his (or her) willpower increase, but he would actually increase the capacity to enjoy more of Shakti’s enlivening force without tipping into destructive cravings. He could tap Shakti’s power for other objectives, including spiritual goals.

Of course, sexual self-discipline that suppresses the flow of Shakti entirely is not beneficial. The goal, again, is equipoise, a dynamic balance. Flowing, enlivening life force energy channelled for the goals we choose. Think of a superbly trained horse collaborating with a skilled rider.

The goal is a centred use of Shakti that preserves it for beneficial goals.

To achieve this, we apply “Shiva”, the consciousness (insight) at the centre of the universe, to Shakti.

Practices for Shiva

One might assume that the practices related to Shiva would be the opposite. Indeed, unlike Shakti, consciousness (Shiva) is not a poison if allowed to increase without restriction. Shiva does not generate enslavement but advances liberation.

That said, Shiva alone, can go only so far. For example, lifetimes of celibate spiritual practice can increase spiritual insight, safe from the risk of escalating excess. Ultimately, however, Shiva with insufficient Shakti manifests as a degree of stagnation.

This phenomenon hints at why tantric sex has such potential. A celibate yogi can sit on a mountain top and bask in the beauty and wonder of spiritual insight indefinitely. This high-vibration state is a gift to all of us, and attracts good karma for the yogi. Yet, by working with a partner to tap the synergy between these forces with self-mastery, the duo increases their effectiveness in the world.

One could talk about “applying Shakti (which is the desire that always wants to increase) to Shiva”.

Controlled blending

When we apply the primary nature of Shiva to Shakti and the primary nature of Shakti to Shiva it allows us to safely, effectively extract potential from each. This is how we supercharge human development. What would the outcome look like? A controlled reaction of unlimited potential not unlike the sun.

The ancient Tantras teach that meditation practices are the Shiva aspect, while desire transmutation is the Shakti aspect. The two practices mutually support each other, creating a powerful synergy. (Think tantric sex.)

Presumably humans still have a long way to go to master the formidable and magnificent force that is desire. It is Shakti in all its potential. Most humans have only learned to exhaust and extinguish it, unable to sustain it, nurture it, and use it for what it truly is: the strongest fuel for human fulfilment.