My Tender, Holy Celibacy. ~ Cristin Whiting

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Brad Richardson via MIRAGE via Pinterest
Brad Richardson via MIRAGE via Pinterest

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.

Catherine via Sarah Schneider Koning via Pinterest
Catherine via Sarah Schneider Koning via Pinterest

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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About Cristin Whiting

Cristin is a writer, professor, clinical psychologist, and Catholic-Buddhist-Hindu-Ashtangi. When she is not creating evolution on the planet, you can find her making homemade lemonade and camping out in a tent in her back yard with her two children and their dog, Molly. You can follow Cristin on Facebook, Twitter and Linkedin.


25 Responses to “My Tender, Holy Celibacy. ~ Cristin Whiting”

  1. The times in my life where I have opted out of any relationship following a break up have been rare too. Yet those interludes had a spaciousness and tranquility to them that looking back, was a tender holy time. Thanks for sharing this lovely serenade to celibacy!

    • Cristin Whiting says:

      Thank you yourself! It is so satisfying not know that this article speaks to an experience many of us share. This is indeed a tender, holy time.

  2. Absolutely love this…it resonates so deeply, as in almost every recent breakup I have done the exact same thing of running from one to the next. And, with the last one I did as you–sat with it, felt the pain and tried to be open to what it's really like to be alone. Not lonely, but alone…

  3. Diya says:

    I really needed this today. this is the story of my life! exactly the same way!! i just could NOT believe someone put it into words for me.

    • Cristin Whiting says:

      I am so glad that I could put your story in words, Diya. Thank you for reading and for letting me know that my journey rings true with your own.



  4. Dusty Ranft says:

    Love this piece. Thank you!

  5. Bonnie says:

    Thankyou…I am here right now in that place….and for the first time after a breakup I feel alive…..scared….excited…but this meant sitting with the pain and all those emotions I had covered up with relationships… this article x

  6. Sandy Phocas says:

    Beautiful, Cristin!

  7. Meredith says:

    What you write resonates on a deep level with so many. I love your honesty and the way you share a deep part of yourself that so many of us hide. I am the same way but it intimidates some people. Thank you for sharing!! I LOVE reading the beautiful way you speak from your heart!

    • Cristin Whiting says:

      Thank you yourself! I so very much apprecaite your supporting my writing and your taking the time to let me know the article touches you.


  8. Lynn Felder says:

    I love this column. I love the pleasures of the flesh … ah … but, as you are finding, the pleasures of the flesh have more forms than skin to skin. The best gift I ever gave myself was a year of intentional celibacy after a break-up – though one not nearly so graceful as yours – and it radically changed the way I relate to men. I could feel a shift as the year progressed. I enjoyed it so much that it turned into two years, and then … MUCH improved relationships and a much deeper relationship with myself.
    Clearly, you have a good Yoga teacher, and I would add, responding to – "There are days when this practice feels like a struggle and I lose my balance and stumble over myself" – with: Don't be afraid of your struggles. Just struggle softly.
    So honored to know you. Look forward to reading more.

    • Cristin Whiting says:


      Thank you for sharing your experience. This experience of celibacy is a profound one, especially when paired with a yoga practice. Thank you for what you offer our community at The Yoga Gallery in Winston Salem. Yes, Elliot is a great teacher and I am very fortunate to have found my way to that sacred spot on Trade Street.

      Very Best,


  9. Lynn Felder says:

    I love this column. I love the pleasures of the flesh … ah … but, as you are finding, the pleasures of the flesh have more forms than skin to skin. The best gift I ever gave myself was a year of intentional celibacy after a break-up – though one not nearly so graceful as yours – and it radically changed the way I relate to men. I could feel a shift as the year progressed. I enjoyed it so much that it turned into two years, and then … MUCH improved relationships and a much deeper relationship with myself.

  10. Michelle NIcolle says:

    Your story hits home. I am currently in a relationship where the letting go is part of the being with…and your sentence about letting go without pushing away (an old and persistent habit of mine!) resonated with me. Being present without the hindrance of craving and desire (in the Buddhist sense of the word) is my practice these days.

    • Cristin Whiting says:

      Michelle–That is a delicate balance to strike, isn't it. And it certainly takes practice over and over. The urge to push away and protect is so great and yet there is so much to learn from being open. Thanks for reading and for sharing your own experience here.



  11. Peter Lodemore says:

    Cristin, your way is so deeply beautiful. I'm touched by your sadness, your letting go, your respect for yourself and your love lost. Subversive and soulful. That's so attractive. and inspiring. awesome. Thank you. x

    • Cristin Whiting says:


      Thank you for those kind words. Very touching. I really appreciate your reading the article and pausing to express yourself here. It makes a difference.



  12. Patti Sommer says:

    Great article and kudos to you. I went thru something similar at the end of 2012, and decided to take my time to process and heal. The holidays were difficult and spurred my article on Jan. 2 – advice to others, but also to myself – about creating the love you desire and deserve in your life. I woke up on Jan. 2nd suddenly feeling very free, and realized that the 'closure' I was seeking was not with the other person, but with myself. Relationships do not have to end by blowing them up. They can end in love and peace. And the practice of self-love will indeed make one ready for a future relationship that will be much more fulfilling than just trying to fill up the empty space.

    • Cristin Whiting says:

      Patti–Yes! I get what you say about the closure that you were seeking was with yourself and that when we practice self-love, relationships don't have to end in a blow up. That doesn't mean it is easy but we can maintain our self respect in the process. Thank you for all of your own writings on love, relationships and sexuality.



  13. Thomas says:

    Given that I, too, recently and for the first time went through just what you describe so perfectly, I am suspecting that by your articulation you are leading us to become aware of a shift in our collective evolution. This is deeply good.
    Lead on. I will follow.
    – Thomas

  14. Cristin Whiting says:

    Thomas–Wouldn't that be beautiful to have a shift in our collective evolution? Cheri Huber has a quote that says something to the extent that we can end suffering for all when we end our own suffering. That is a lead I would be willing to follow as well.


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