It's time to get dirty; not between the sheets, but in the ledgers of the spiritual gains one can achieve when ardently practicing brahmacharya. Techniques for self-restraint, preservation and control of one's own potent powers (ojas) are documented in memoriam across virtually all religious systems. We find it as well in the practice of the science of yoga. Yes, this science recommends going for the gusto; brahmacharya means going after Brahman, or highest spirit. Often treated like the pariah of the eight limbs, the bane of Western feel good yogic culture, the dreaded yama of brahmacharya is less about saying "no", and more about saying "yes".
Well, at least to the right things. Allow me to explain. First, the concept of brahmacharya is introduced in earnest in the early phases of a pupil's life when one is under the tutelage of the guru. The seeds are sown in the spirit of discipleship, mentoring and gaining a sense of self-respect and self-control, practically applicable tools for a (then) young man going out into the world with an eye kept on the Spiritual path. Now think about a highly imaginary scenario whereby celibacy was not only encouraged, but mandated under the rules of a fraternity house, replacing those late dawdling hours at night to the cushion, a dim lit candle and prayer. Imagine conversations swirling around university commons not being about dismantling campus rape culture and drunken debauchery but rather fellowship, camaraderie and compassion. Well, there is a time and place for that in Western culture, and it's called seminary.
In my mind, the right things are focusing your intention on the understanding of who you are, the depth of knowing your dharma and developing critical thinking.
Later in life, after being a householder tending to the material and fidelity to your spouse and obligations to family, the soft stem of the seedlings earlier sown grows into the vine of moksha, liberation. In my past life, I must have been housed in a nunnery, because I don't find anything particularly challenging about the practice of brahmacharya in its definition of celibacy. Forty years into the willing practice of celibacy, I have really learned what the siddhis are all about, because by design this lifestyle choice is really centered around connection with God; but I also have learned, respectfully and humbly, that brahmacharya - to be effective in the practice - revolves around attitude as much as action (or no action as an occasionally lonely Friday night might remind me). That's not to say there wasn't a season where I wanted to apply some optics to a non-brahmacharya centered life. I loved the celibacy bandwagon, but I am also wrought of flesh and bone and have felt that subtle trembling when my then boyfriend made his way across the college campus in my direction. I have had a season in the strong arms of the sweet undergrad, the affable corporate bloke and the dastardly artistic rogue; relationships maybe seeming like delicate drops of rain falling in an otherwise vast and arid land. God, it's fun and fulfilling, but the pursuit of God can be fun and fulfilling, too.
How so? It's been in taking the road less-traveled that you are confronted with society's biases and willful desire to have one confirm. It's been a useful tool for examining my life and opening my eyes to a very focused way of being, to transform my heart in an exploration of divine love that isn't found through an aching heart. There is no coldness in the practice, just a pause and a touch of restraint in assessing if there is something better out there of higher significance than my immediate needs distillated with any one of my seven veils of maya. In a frankly pragmatic way, I have saved enormous amounts of time and energy that has been harnassed within, ojas currency in the bank of yoga.
Want to experience some bona fide siddhis, manipulate your body's own chemistry, at time possibly witness freaky stuff? Don't sign up for the weekend workshop or some commercialized corporate wear white love fest; do the work of being comfortable with yourself and not outside adornments. The magic happens through singular focus (the stuff also of high performance athletes and artists) plus some sincere divine yearning that one finds authentic success. It also lies in understanding and valuing yourself as a sacred soul-dwelling vessel, a holy temple. This means now, to me, fundamentally respecting all channels of impetus and energy to external influence, and not just keeping one's legs primly crossed. I am not brahmacharic in other ways that probably have been more deleterious than being in a wonderful and committed relationship with a lovely and inspiring partner. My cracks come from seasons lacking self care in sleep, diet, and work schedules. I have chipped the base of my vase taking on more than is good for me, enabling others when I think that I am empowering and, lastly, not setting healthy boundaries and being confident in communicating my expectations or feelings. If I want to Namaste the shit out of the practitioner next to me, I must truly embody that effulgent light. It's hard to do that working 100 hour weeks and traveling incessantly around the world working as a yoga teacher.
A practical analogy gleaned from one of my teachers addresses the accumulation of ojas in this way. Your kundalini energy is designed to rise. Your efforts and focus accumulate merit or karma by the choice of your actions. This is like drops of water being placed into a vase. it takes long periods of time, and many right actions along these lines to fill the vase with enough water where something meaningful can grow. To grow the kanda into a flower of higher consciousness, the water must be clean, pure and constantly in supply for the sustained nourishment and growing and flowering of the kundalini through udana and vyana vayu. Every action that is inert, dead or expelled, ala apana vayu, is analogous to a tap against the glass of the vase and a small chip. This small crack at the bottom of the vase, along with accumulated "chipping" action creates leaks, and the vital energy of ojas is lost, or at least slowly and oftentimes subconsciously dissipated. It's like saying I live like a non-yogi twenty-three hours a day but I am enlightened because I do a hot power class on Sunday mornings. The scales not only will never come into balance (definition of yoga, yo!) but they also won't shift into the priority of the yogic life.
The container or vase itself can represent your lower state of consciousness: if there are too many chinks, too many distractions, singular focus on the path is lost. This is a misappropriation of your precious energy, and for now in hindsight maybe even a huge waste of your time. Of course, for most of us, we need to grow up and mature into our forties and fifties before these lights go on. This is how the lights went on for me. I needed to understand on a visceral level, what did ojas or prana feel like inside my body? What situations made me feel fantastic and powerful, full of love and wisdom? What aspects of my life zapped my energy away? Once I could differentiate what cues my personal self set off as signals, I could be more discerning (viveka) in my actions and choices. What thoughts and feelings did I have that were governed by ego, and how could I begin through practice to sublimate those tendencies and redirect them in a more effective and meaningful way? Where is my consciousness treading in notions of linear time vs. kairos, or cosmic time? I found my ego loved male attention; my heart and soul yearned for something else. This is not to say that I would eschew another committed relationship with a like-minded man as something ersatz, but it has taken me several decades of svadyaya to be able to see what that type of man would be. If he stumbles upon my path, great, but until then, I am happy working on my karma, and progressing forward in my dharma solo.
As yogis, or seekers thirsty for Spirit, we need to preserve, dare I say with reverence, our own ojas and take time to maintain their integrity and continued cultivation, whereby the single stem in the vase can blossom into a gorgeous and boundless garden. What that means, by definition, varies by path, purpose and person.