For the first time in years, I’m in a state of accidental and yet intentional celibacy.
According to Wikipedia, celibacy refers to a state of being unmarried and, therefore, sexually abstinent. In the narrowest sense, the term is applied only to those for whom the unmarried state is the result of a sacred vow.
While I meet the criteria for being unmarried that is certainly not what is stopping me from having sex. If anything, being mostly single for the last seven years, my sexuality has blossomed and gone through myriad adventurous permutations, and even a few that I could have done without.
Yet at this time in my life, a time of potential sexual abundance, I am fresh out of a break up—and I am not looking for someone new.
My default way of approaching impending singledom would be to set up my next tryst before the old one officially ends: an innocently placed phone call here, a text message there, all designed to feel out the waters for potential playmates.
This time was different. As I said goodbye to my former companion, someone for whom I cared a great deal, I simply sat with it. I sat with the pain of the goodbye we both knew was coming from a planned move across the country on his part, which was already in place long before we began our relationship.
Over our final weeks together, we unwound ourselves in alternatingly tender and jagged exchanges.
Even as our ending drew near, I intentionally kept my heart open to him. I sought to let him go without pushing him away. I wanted to regret nothing when he left. I wanted to know that I loved him as fully as I could, just for the sake of loving him and I wanted to let go without clinging to something that had ended.
In the new absence of my companion, I have not filled the space in old predictable ways. I haven’t filled it with new lovers, flirtations or even woe-is-me intoxication. What once would have felt like an easy fix now feels out of place. I also haven’t filled the absence with tearful phone calls reaching out to him, not even in my saddest moments.
I haven’t put either of us in that awkward position of seeking one more I love you only to be reminded that even another I love you doesn’t change the fact that we are no longer a we.
What I have been doing instead surprises even me. I have started to pray. I’ve prayed sometimes tearful prayers for peace and acceptance to ease my sad heart and I’ve prayed prayers for him to have a great life in his new city. I’ve thanked God for bringing him into my life so that I could learn how to love and I’ve thanked God for his leaving my life so I could learn how to let go in order to make myself available to something even better.
With lots of post-break-up, newly-free time on my hands, I decided to pick up Ashtanga Vinyasa yoga after a 20-year hiatus. I wanted to extend my prayerful practice to a physical expression.
I wanted to connect with my body in a strong, sensual, spiritual way that didn’t involve being naked with another person.
“You have to learn to let go.” My yoga instructor tells the class.
As I lay in pigeon pose with hips opening wide, I let his words come into me and I release my breath into the asana. I scan my muscles for tightness and where I can let go. I breathe into those spaces and I feel myself fall more fully into the practice. I scan my face, my tongue, my throat for tension I am holding as I release into the position.
“You have to learn to let go completely,” he says, and my thoughts move from body sensations to letting go in those spaces in my heart in which I still hold on.
Don’t be ashamed to breathe my instructor tells the class. I open my mouth wide and stick out my tongue and exhale long into the mat. I exhale and release my muscles more deeply.
I exhale and imagine releasing myself into my new life path.
Don’t be ashamed, I tell myself, echoing my instructor, and my mind turns to sensual pleasure. I imagine the places I have been blocked in the past in my sexuality and in love: giving and receiving, taking the lead and allowing, power and surrender, letting go and commitment.
Don’t be afraid to let go. Don’t be ashamed to breathe. My mind shifts again and for the first time I can begin to see a new future, an untapped love and sexuality that is yet to be expressed—one based on reverence for myself, one in which my body is my own space of self-love, even divine love.
There are days when this practice feels like a struggle and I lose my balance and stumble over myself. I grit my teeth and I fight against the pose instead of energizing or releasing into it. Then there are days when the rhythm is easy and there is the open flow of connection, trust, and intimacy both with myself and with my body.
And that is my sacred vow. The vow isn’t to never have sex again. But rather it’s a promise to create love and to make love that honors myself, one deep, unashamed breath at time.
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Assistant Ed: Lori Lothian
Ed: Kate Bartolotta
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