“On Celibacy” or “Holding the Pose”

“Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.” – Rumi

Elizabeth Gilbert addressed the topic of sex in relation to her “Eat, Pray, Love” adventure, so I will too. That excerpt (below), in fact, is one of my favorite quotes of the entire book. I read it right after a devastating breakup in 2012. Liz’s words resonated so strongly with me that I also committed to never again use anyone as a scratching post for my own unfulfilled yearnings. (We’re several years into that commitment, and so far so good. I’ve remained single for the most part, but have been much more conscious in the few relationships that I have pursued.)

“When I get lonely these days, I think: So BE lonely, Liz. Learn your way around loneliness. Make a map of it. Sit with it, for once in your life. Welcome to the human experience. But never again use another person’s body or emotions as a scratching post for your own unfulfilled yearnings.”

We had a big assignment due our last week of the yoga teacher training in Rishikesh. We were to put together a binder full of upwards of a hundred different poses, list each of their names in both English and Sanskrit, write out the instructions for how to get students into each pose and additional verbal cueing we would use once they were maintaining the pose, list the health benefits and contraindications of each posture, etc.

In order to aid us in this project, the school had lent us a number of books, the primary of which was the classic version of the Bihar tradition (it was orange, which made my soul happy). One night, as I was thumbing through the different postures, I came across “Celibate’s Pose”. I immediately had to Instagam it with hashtags such as #MyLife and #India2015. Friends appreciated the joke, but it’s really true.

Celibate's Pose

There’s this concept–this duality–that we find in yoga. The style I practice is called “hatha” yoga (“ha” meaning sun and “tha” meaning moon). Hatha is the merging of two opposites (yin/yang anyone?), which is why the very word “yoga” translates to “union”. A classic example of this concept is that yoga teaches you to actively hold a posture while simultaneously relaxing into it. And that’s (metaphorically) what I’m doing nowadays with Celibate’s Pose. Actively maintaining proper technique and alignment, yet relaxing into it. There is effort, but there is ease. I’m holding on, but I’m also letting go. I’m daily finding my edge (the place where I can’t go any deeper or stretch myself any farther) and I’m breathing into that space. Day by day, breath by breath, I can get a little deeper into the posture, absorbing more and more of its countless benefits.

At this point in my life, most of my friends are coupled/married/starting families of their own. Yet I also know monks, nuns, sadhus, and priests who have dedicated their entire lives to singleness and celibacy. “Yoga begins when you want to leave the pose,” is a popular saying in the yoga community. Of course the commitment to celibacy has had its challenging moments (heyyyyy 6’5″ med student from Amsterdam, how you doin’?!), but for the first time in a long time, I am deeply at peace being single. I don’t feel the slightest need to “find the one”, “attract the right mate”, or “manifest my soulmate”. That’s not what this trip is about. This is a time of learning, inner exploration, growth, personal development, travel, and self-care. Anything beyond these things would ultimately be a distraction.

The lie of my life has been that I’m all alone. While this has been true in a fundamental way through many dark nights of the soul, holding onto this belief has caused me to deeply struggle with loneliness for long periods of time that have often culminated in contemplating suicide. Since loneliness has been such an issue in the past, I was concerned that it would plague me pretty heavily on this trip. I’m so grateful to report that it really hasn’t been an issue.

More than anything, I wouldn’t mind being held nowadays (as a massage therapist, it’s not too much of a stretch to imagine that touch is my love language). And that’s something that’s built in to male life here in India. Since most men are celibate until their (often arranged) marriage, the men are very physically affectionate with each other. Though the country is quite homophobic, the men cuddle, teenagers hold hands, and boys walk with their arms around each other’s necks. These are normal occurrences. No one judges these guys to be gay, which is what would vehemently happen if these same acts took place publicly in the States.

I think we mistake a lot of our desire/need for sex simply as a desire/need for touch. India has gotten it right in this way. We need to create a culture where it’s okay to have our needs met. It shouldn’t be weird for two guys to hold hands down the street. I see it happen all day long in India. Women can hold hands in the U.S. and not be judged as lesbians, but two men is a total different story.

In this same line of thinking, it’s been an interesting experience to be gay in India. People are obviously very, very closeted here. Since that’s the case, and because same-sex affection is socially acceptable, I don’t get judged here like I do back home. Not at all. In Tulsa, I have literally walked down my own downtown street and had someone driving by roll down their window and scream, “FAG!” and race away (note: I was wearing a polo with khakis and dress shoes, just like every other man that was working downtown). These types of incidents have ceased to get under my skin, but they’re still unacceptable ways of behavior. Not only have I not found any degree of this level of judgment in India, but it’s been the total opposite. People are just…accepting. For the first time in my life, I’ve been a “bro”.

In the beginning of this post, I mentioned the color orange in passing. As many of you know, this is my favorite color. Interestingly enough, this particular color actually holds some significance in this conversation. Orange is the color of our second (or sacral) chakra. This chakra relates to sexuality and creativity. You see, sexuality = creativity (through sexual union, we create life). So this chakra can get out of whack when we’re overly sexual or suppressing ourselves sexually, but it can also become unbalanced as a result of us not expressing ourselves creatively. On an energetic level, we have a lot of extra juju when we aren’t having sex. I’ve been channeling a lot of this qi into creative efforts centered around my writing, life, and business. By expressing myself fearlessly and creatively, I am keeping myself balanced without a need for ejaculation.

Singleness and celibacy is not a disorder that needs to be cured. Not only am I okay with being single, but beyond that I am finally okay with the thought of there not being anyone out there. Ever. Not saying that that will be the case, but I don’t need there to be. And that’s a big step for me. Allan Lokos said, “Suffering usually relates to wanting things to be different from the way they are.” That makes a lot of sense, doesn’t it? Perhaps that’s why Buddha said, “Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional.” We can choose to accept the present moment in all of its beauty and imperfection and ugliness and perfection. Or not. But life sure is easier when we go with the flow.

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