This Yama, like Ahimsa, is often translated to an overly-distilled and myopic concept: celibacy. But Adele is quick to point out the error in oversimplifying this broad concept of non-excess: to overindulge in anything is generally unhealthy and guilt-inducing, keeping us separate from ‘god’ and from the sacredness of life. Brahmacharya literally means “walking with God”, and if we can see god in all things, especially the moment we’re in, we can have the respect for ourselves and everything in the world around us not to take more than we need or more than is prudent. Brahmacharya is a “call to leave greed and excess behind and walk in this world with wonder and awe, practicing non-excess and attending to each moment as holy”.
This concept make so much sense to me. I can’t stand ‘too much’ of anything. I am not the person who finds something she likes and then goes and buys 1 or 2 more of it. I hate having duplicates of objects or multiple versions of any one thing. I hate clutter. I’m generally a pretty moderate person in most areas of life, I think, (except for the occasional going-off-the-rails celebration with friends, that is), but as I think about it more, there are certainly areas in my life, mostly in regard to time, where I could be more respectful of it and less compelled to pack it with “things”—plans, chores, invented important tasks, etc.
The excessiveness of American culture drives me insane. Everyone’s obsessed with having stuff, acquiring more stuff, keeping stuff they don’t need or use, getting a newer version of something they own that’s still perfectly fine. We live in a materialistic, selfish, stuff-obsessed culture and it’s ugly. People live in huge houses they don’t need and often can’t afford. We run up debt to buy things to impress others or make themselves feel better. We have multiples of things we don’t use and when we run out of space to store it all, we rent storage lockers and garages to pack with more stuff. We even have an expensive chain store that only sells containers for our stuff! It’s sickening and overwhelming to me when I think about it.
I like free space and I am susceptible to overwhelm—both having to decide between too many options or just feeling too crowded by things—so I don’t personally have a lot of stuff and don’t struggle too much in this particular category. Plus, I’ve never really been able to afford to be excessive. BUT, my partner really does and it’s one of, if not our biggest, issue as a couple. He takes up a disproportionate amount of space in our apartment with all of his stuff, leaving no bare space. He’ll even start filling up my open spaces, like a bare dresser top, with his own crap because he’s run out of places to put it.
And this is only concerning overdoing stuff in the form of objects. What about the millions of Americans who are obese from over eating? Or fighting diseases brought on by stress from overworking? How about those who ruin their lives because they can’t control their overindulgence ind alcohol, drugs, or sex? Or veering so far to the left or right of politics or religion that they alienate themselves or harm others?
We even, as a culture, are in the habit of taking up too much personal space: on the subway, in overhead compartments on planes, on sidewalks with ridiculously huge golf umbrellas for a single, small person, with huge SUVs, extra cars and homes that sit unused...
It’s important to note that this concept of Brahmacharya is not about non-enjoyment, in fact it tells us that yes, we should enjoy pleasure available to us in many forms, but to be aware of the point at which we cross the line into over-indulgence. So many of the things we need to live or to be happy and comfortable can lead to harm when we cross that line: food, exercise, time with friends, work, money, etc.
Intentions and ideas for the month:
Continue purging stuff, sell stuff I’ve been hanging on to (mostly baby supplies), or just give away
Rebuild my meditation alter? Bring more holiness back into my life. Set aside sacred time and place to connect with the universe/divine
Go slow and try to identify the point of ‘enough’ or just right, and not go over it into excess when eating, drinking, exercising, planning, cleaning, talking, etc.
Take only what I need, nothing else.
* * * *
I am reading this chapter and taking notes on the Shinkansen (bullet train) from Tokyo to Kyoto. Sometime around 2001 I was in a Spanish class in Hawaii, gazing at a poster on the wall of Kyoto. I was absolutely captivated by it, though I can’t say I really remember the details. I’m pretty sure it was a misty, gray water scene, maybe with a simple path leading to a temple. I thought it must be the most beautiful, spiritual, peaceful place in the world. I had no interest in traveling to Japan, but I wanted to see Kyoto. I love traveling in southeast Asia, where people, places, and culture is exotic, less affected by westernization.
Japan is a very interesting place to be studying and attempting to practice non-excess. In some ways they exemplify it: spaces are small and crowded, so they limit their possessions. They value order and respect rules to keep it. People are not pushing to be first or to get something ahead of others. In most things, there is a distinct lack of excess: food portions are small, but just right. No one is overweight or gaudily dressed. No one is talking above a normal voice level. But then there is the excessive packaging of goods, the prevalence of luxury cars and expensive brands. There is obsession with American culture juxtaposed with a reverence of Japanese culture and ancestors. A very interesting dichotomy to observe.
We are here for a wedding, an event at which I always seem to overindulge and hate myself for the next day. The day we arrived I overdid it, going out till 3 or 4am and getting hammered. That coupled with the time change and lack of sleep has thrown my first few days of the trip totally off. I haven’t been able to fully enjoy anything because I’ve felt so tired and biologically off-balance. It’s also just been too much socializing and crowds of people for me. I’m totally ready to immerse myself in what my high expectations of Kyoto anticipate: a peaceful, spiritual existence among beauty, history, culture, and…just an aura of depth and specialness. I usually try to tamper any expectations that creep up too high and am good at not allowing them to really form in the first place, but I can’t with Kyoto. Plus I wasn’t all that impressed with Tokyo, so I’ve got a lot riding on it.
Week one: Since Brahmacharya is always so immediately equated with celibacy, Adele asks me In week one to examine my beliefs, values and practices surrounding sexuality and sexual activity. I am to examine what messages my culture, media, and family have imposed upon me regarding sex, and whether I act on these outside authorities or my own beliefs and practices.
When I first read this week’s assignment, I kind of dismissed it as not applying to me. There was only one very brief time in my life, long ago, in which I was being less than prudent about my sexual activity. Acting out sexually, being promiscuous or whatever, has never been an issue for me. I was raised in an environment (a private Christian school) that preached sexuality as something bad/wrong and I absorbed it well. I also developed (physically) very early and felt ashamed of my body and womanhood. At the same time, I was confident and valued myself when I was young, so didn’t cave easily into pressures to engage sexually if I didn’t want to. And I usually didn’t want to, whether out of fear or general disinterest.
Now that I’m a married mom to a small toddler, sex just isn’t a prevalent aspect of my life at this moment. So if anything, I should be paying more attention to the lack thereof and trying to rev things up. But cultural messages tell me that it’s perfectly normal to be in a sexual rut right now: I’ve been with my partner for 14 years, we have a 2-year-old, I’m just not expected to be an alluring sex kitten right now.
So I’m not.
Maybe what I am supposed to be doing this week is see sex as sacred, something that I’m lucky to be able to do and enjoy-- see it as a form of intersecting with divinity, rather than a chore to minimally engage in enough to keep my husband from going elsewhere, even though that alternative also sounds ok to me sometimes...
But I guess this is a great week to revere sex as divine, since I am on vacation without my kid for the first time ever. I wonder how you say “sex kitten” in Japanese?
セックス子猫 = Sekkusu koneko (sex kitten)