What is Brahmacharya? | Mark Whitwell on Sex-Positive Spirituality
Mark Whitwell | Heart of Yoga
The word Brahmacharya has been mistranslated as celibacy, as giving up Sex, when actually the opposite is true.
Brahmacharya is the study of right-relatedness: How to relate to your life? What is your dharma? What is your way? What is your position in life? What is your place? What is your career? And that includes sexuality, of course.
The Brahmacharya period in the traditional life is between the ages of 21 to 28 where you study right-relatedness and sexuality — presumably under the guidance of a trusted teacher, an elder who is helping you get to be where you need to in life.
You go through a few, maybe four or five, serious relationship potentials and discover what you like: personality, character, and chemistries. You are not glumming onto the first person you come across and saying “hey you’re my life partner.”
We are all free to test out and qualify our intimate potential with each other. You get to know somebody really well, you bring the relationship to a kindly friendship, and you have a sexual intimacy, because you’ve got to do that to see if it is going to work or not.
When the Brahamacharya period ends at the age of twenty-eight, or thereabouts, then you choose somebody and you enter into intimate, monogamous union. Then you go, okay! Based on your own experience you make a choice.
The Delusion of Celibacy
The whole weight of patriarchal spirituality has been this obsession with ascent and trying to get out of embodiment and to get away from women and sexuality as if it grosser and less. Celibacy is the peak insanity of this unnatural logic.
In reality, the union of Heaven and Earth is known here, in this natural state, in our bodies and all our relationships. We need to give up the spiritual ideals forced upon us by culture and the ridiculous goals that leave us feeling bereft. Complete surrender to our ordinary lives will reveal the infinite. They are not different, and there is nothing to be done.
You can relate to a human being, including personal intimacy, with great clarity and great power. In relationship there is a great movement of prana, the power of life itself. And the regenerative nurturing power of life is this prana that has sexual form. It is motherhood and fatherhood itself. Not that you need to have babies. But it is the same creative power, with or without babies.
In sexual intimacy, Brahmacharya is to keep the life energy, “God’s energy,” moving within our life. It is about not spilling energy from the system, but keeping the prana in brahmarandra (another name of the central channel sushumna). It is our daily practice of asana and pranayama that deprograms the nervous system so that it is able to hold the power that arises between intimates within the spine, rather than the conventional stress relief orgasm in which energy is spilled down and out.
While you’re alive and kicking and that prana is working within you and making certain demands for connection, which it is, more than any power in this universe, then move to it and get it sorted. In our dysfunctional, sex-negative society that’s quite hard to do.
Talk With Your Teacher
My advice is to recruit every kind of help you can find in order to find yourself appropriate partnership. Talk with your trusted friends, family, your Yoga teacher. And put yourself out there.
Know that the odds may be against us given the sheer weight of patriarchal culture that has denied relationship in the name of a higher power for thousands of years. We all carry this legacy of life-denial in our bodies. We have been turned away from one another.
Be proactive and take deliberate action to carve out a life of intimacy for yourself. It is within our power to do so because relationship is natural and we can participate in the natural no matter what is going down in society.
Love Reveals Unlove
Once you experience a loving relationship that is expressed with the whole body, you will begin to see all the loveless patterns that have been programmed into you by society. Then you may experience difficulties in your relationship.
The tradition of Yoga offers a tried-and-true means of handling these difficulties when they arise in any intimate relationship. That is, you do your sadhana, and you and your partner continue your bodily loving as frequently as you both decide is right for you. Only bodily loving removes the negative life patterns that we have inherited from previous generations. You have a means to practice your loving: body, breath, and relationship, in that order.
Once you discover that the exhalation loves the inhalation as strength that is receiving, the male-female quality of life, you will immediately feel an uncommon pleasure in relationships. You will love your partner with an utter connectedness, like the body loves its own breath. Sex is no longer limited to the stress release activity of the conventional orgasm. You become more interested in fulfilling your partner by receiving his or her strength and movement. You become sensitive to each other in a sublime way.
It was 10th Century Ramanujacharya who insisted there must be Yoga realize God. Our spiritual growth depends on our resolving this real need for connection and intimacy. We are alive, and there is no need to prove ourselves otherwise. Once our attention is focused on what we truly desire, it will move us naturally in the direction of our choice. To ensure that this comes about, make the promise to practice both to yourself and your intimate partner.
If partnership does not arise, be unconcerned. The dysfunction of society has gone deep making it difficult to find appropriate yogic partnering. Also, as life goes by the body diminishes and dies; so that single life arises naturally for most people.
Without requiring an actual other, you can still participate in the male-female sexual polarity that constitutes your own embodiment. Sex is a function of the hridaya heart, which arises from the original primordial perfect parenting union and now blooms as the whole body in intrinsic and impeccable harmony with the rest of the cosmos.
Your daily practice of asana and pranayama is your whole body embrace of life that reveals the hridaya heart, the sexual source of life. My teacher U.G. called Yoga, “making love with life, literally.”
So if single life arises, the peace of yogic solitude with no constant reference point to another, is given. In fact, if singleness arises naturally for you it can be considered an advantage because you do not have to deal with the yogic task of healing or purifying the inevitable karmas or dysfunctions put in you and your partner by society. It is just you and the cosmos arising as one harmonious reality. Ignore the endless pressure from society that suggests that you are less if you do not have a partner.
If partnership does arise however, you now have the yogic tools to purify sex as the heart’s activity.
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