I recently embarked upon a conscious period of celibacy, the first time I had actively chosen to be celibate.
There had been times in my life when I wasn’t having sex, even sometimes quite long periods. However all those times, I was still masturbating, looking at pornography, thinking about sex and desiring sex. This time, things were different.
It was the first time in my life where I made an active choice to not relate to the world as a sexual being.
This meant more than just not having sex. This meant that I would not dwell in sexual desire or sexual thoughts, masturbate, or look at pornography during that time. When sexual thoughts did come, I did my best to sublimate them, or to elevate them.
For instance, when I saw a gorgeous woman walking down the street and felt aroused, instead of going into any sort of fantasy, I simply connected with the feeling of gratitude for beautiful beings like her and for the life-force energy that she radiates. It meant not engaging the world from the sacral chakra, Svadisthana chakra, and instead doing my best to relate to the world from the higher chakras—from the navel chakra, Manipura, heart chakra, Anahata and the 3rd eye, Ajna.
The conditions for this experiment were perfect: I was moving to a new city where I knew hardly anyone, and I wanted to focus on my work, writing and career. I made the decision that for the first month in my new city I would be celibate. When I met people in this context, instead of meeting them as potential sexual partners, I just met them as people. Celibacy simplified a lot of interactions in my life and freed up time and energy to focus on priorities like my career.
This proved to be no easy task.
It brought into clear awareness just how much sexual desire normally rules my life. In the first days and weeks I was constantly shocked by the thoughts and desires, by how much my being seemed to dwell on sex.
With the ally of yogic sublimation practices that give the ability to move energy from lower to higher chakras, I was able to, most of the time at least, elevate and refine my consciousness, my thoughts, my actions and my desires. If you are not already familiar with these techniques, this tutorial will explain one of the most powerful sublimation practices: Uddiyana bandha.
Sublimation really is the key to turning celibacy into an empowering experience.
So this was a difficult time, and yet was incredibly rewarding. I learned an important lesson:
I can truly be happy without sex.
This realization was quite powerful. As men, when we age, we face losing the ability to have sex. Yet our desire remains. If we have not made a conscious effort to work with our desire, we remain ruled by this insatiable beast.
For anyone on the spiritual path, it’s important to bring awareness into our desires. It was none other than the Buddha who noted that the basic cause of suffering is “the attachment to desire.” And among all desires, sexual desire is likely the strongest.
So much so that of the 10 yamas and niyamas, often understand as the “morals and ethics” of yoga, one of them is brahmacharya—which is usually translated as celibacy, or abstinence. Of the 10 rules for behavior laid down for those on the path of yoga, one of them is specifically referring to sexual energy, and for those in the more traditional yogic circles this means that:
One of the 10 rules for yogis is to be celibate.
This is expanded upon by one of the most influential yogis of the 20th century, Swami Shivananda, who wrote in The Practice of Brahmacharya,
“Sexual impulses can, with difficulty, be controlled. A rebellion of the sexual impulses takes place when you attempt to control them. Constant Japa and meditation for a long period are necessary to direct the sex energy into the spiritual channel. Complete sublimation of the sexual energy into Ojas Shakti is necessary.”
It’s not just the yogic tradition—most spiritual systems advocate celibacy. To completely disengage with sexual desire. To deny it. Basically to say, “this is too difficult an enemy to face, and I will certainly lose, so I will run away from it.” If we never engage this desire, we hope that eventually the seed will die. All sexual desire is turned into desire for union with God, into devotion and aspiration. This path is a valid option, and when carried out in the right context, with the right support and practices, it can be beautiful.
Of course, most of us are not ready to go live in a monastery, yet we are dedicated to our spiritual evolution—in the world.
From a Tantric perspective, we embrace sex and sexual desire as a beautiful part of the cosmic play and as incredibly powerful tools to help us lift, expand, and deepen our level of consciousness. In the Tantric view complete celibacy is not a requirement. I explain the Tantric view of brahmacharya here as control over our life force essence and control over our desires, about using this control to interact with reality from a conscious place, one of choice. Which means that one can still engage in sex, but to do so consciously and to control that energy. In the context of brahmacharya as control over desire, we may wish to step back and examine where we are ruled by desire.
In this process, some periods of celibacy can be incredibly important and helpful.
Although my experiment lasted only a month, and I did not choose to extend it, I learned enough to know that sex is not the most important aspect of my life. I can be fulfilled without it.
Since my period of celibacy, my interactions with both men and women have been even more infused with awareness than they were before.
Therefore this is an experience that I highly recommend. Take some time, whether you are in partnership or not, for a period of celibacy. Take a break from being a “gross sexual being” and become a “refined sexual being.”
Even if you decide to only be celibate for a day or a week, it can be an incredibly rewarding process, bringing a lot of self-awareness. And perhaps you will be inspired by a teacher of mine who undertook this for an entire year!
Please leave comments below when you undertake this, or with your experiences from the past.
Author: Amitayus Riha
Editor: Catherine Monkman
Photo: Alice Popkorn/Flickr