When I was a child there were two classes that I used to dread: one was the PE class and the other one was Art.
Being bullied had become the norm for me at school. On those two classes I felt particularly exposed. I could not engage in sport and the changing room was the perfect stage for all my terrors: men into sport that would call me ‘sissy’. Every week I would be dreading that time. I became really good at forging my parent’s signature pretending to be sick so I did not have to participate in the class
The other class I hated was Art. I was one of those people who whenever I had to draw a human figure, I could not do anything beyond a stick man. I used to be so envious of anybody who could draw, but I knew that this was simply not me. The best I could do was forging somebody else’s work, but drawing something myself would make me freeze.
During school I became very academic. One of the ways to protect myself from the bullies was to become top of the class: I found refuge in studying. Getting good marks validated me. Both my older brother and sister were also good at school, so my parents expected nothing less from me. However I don’t remember anything more than a mere pass in both Art and PE throughout my whole studies.
Bullies and Sport
‘Bullies’ are an interesting bunch. They have somehow the ability to detect who is the one who doesn’t conform. I had no idea that I was ‘gay’ at the time, and I was dying to conform, however somewhere deep in me already knew that I was both gay and did not conform.
Years later, as an adult, I developed a great love for exercise. First it was aerobics in the 90s where unsurprisingly I found other men, like me, who responded to the same vibe of Lycra and cheesy music. Then I got into racket sports, body building, swimming and running.
When I moved to Manchester (UK) I also rediscovered group sport. There were queer groups who would exercise together. So many men and women had had similar experiences growing up finding sport intimidating. In those groups I learned to forge new friendships based on exercise. I also competed as an open gay man, often alongside straight men. Sport became a new source of fun, camaraderie and pride. It was a liberation to exorcise those times in the school changing room, those times in which I felt so small.
I realise that a lot of work in my adulthood has gone into tidying up those loose ends from my growing up. This is not an uncommon place for most gay men who at some point have to ‘come out’ finding our feet in a world that does not seem to ‘provide’ for us.
Tantra and Art
Tantra has been part of that process of tidying up loose ends. I arrived into tantra thinking it was going to provide me with tools for a better sex life. I discovered later that one can not change sex and intimacy without changing your general approach to life. Tantra offered me the empowerment that I didn’t even know I needed. So many new avenues opened: from polyamoury to an interest in spirituality. I started to understand some of the limitations of my ego and how my settled beliefs were often a constraint. I felt I was ready to allow myself to let go. Inviting surrender instead of control. I used to think that only ‘losers’ surrender. In my new understanding surrender creates opportunity, opening up opportunities for new growth to explore the unexplored. As part on my journey to surrender I decided to return to Art.
A few years ago I decided to start attending life drawing classes. Few things would scare me more than picking up a pencil and draw somebody. It was like returning to that feeling that I was a failure. There is nowhere to escape in a life drawing class, you have to be present and respond to the moment, just like tantra. You only can be yourself. If you have a strong judgemental self when you draw something it may never be ‘good enough’.
Getting over judgement
For the first couple of years attending classes I used to leave angry and frustrated. Angry with myself for not being good enough. Jealous with how easy it was for other people to produce great work. Mostly dissatisfied with my work, however I started identifying something. Even that I heavily judged whatever I did, I often could look at the drawing weeks later and have a sense of pride and even liking some of them.
I think somehow I started to change over time and took drawing more like a meditative practice. I used the focusing in observing and drawing as an opportunity to cultivate mindfulness and a non-judgemental self. Drawing became a tool for acceptance of myself. To be in the present moment.
I also started to discover that sometimes when I drew I entered a state of ‘flow’. I learned that the Zen Buddhist and even modern psychology describes this as somehow being ‘in the zone’. This is a focused estate of mind in which an activity can become effortless, enjoyable in which time vanishes.
I realised that tantra and drawing came to teach me the same thing: be accepting of myself, be playful, be in the moment, expect the unexpected, let go, experiment, there is no right or wrong. I hear that tantra is a path towards total freedom, I can see how drawing can be a tool to achieve the same.