Have you noticed that all religions, spiritual practices, and traditions around the world have something to say about our intimacy?
Most established religions strive to regulate, if not banish, intimate relationships from the life of a spiritual seeker. Is that necessary? Or can spirituality and religion co-exist with intimate relationships, and perhaps even endorse them?
Throughout human history, there have been two main answers to the pressing issue of sexuality and relationships and spirituality: the “ascetic” approach, and the “relationships-friendly” approach.
According to the ascetic approach, whoever embarks on a spiritual journey needs to leave sexuality and relationships behind. This is the view that most organized religions uphold. In these religions, even though the householder is allowed a limited amount of relationships and sexual life, the true spiritual practitioner (think a Catholic priest, or a Jewish orthodox Rabbi) is supposed to completely abstain from carnal love.
The “relationships-friendly” approach, in its various forms, maintains instead that sexuality and relationships can be part of the spiritual path. This is the standpoint of Tantra and Taoism, among others. These traditions don’t necessarily posit that sexuality is a special, privileged experience within the spiritual life. These paths just include sexuality in the big cauldron of what can be spiritual practice.
The ascetic schools have taught for centuries how to evolve spiritually by breaking contact with the material world. As part of this process, the spiritual aspirant naturally had to take distance from relationships. Whatever we may think of the ascetic approaches, there is undoubtedly some deep wisdom in them. Isn’t it true that relationships and sexuality can entangle us and somehow replace all other interests?
We all know the story: a young man or woman with lots of aspiration dedicates time and energy to yoga, prayer, meditation, or whatever spiritual practice you can imagine. But as time passes, our friend gets older, finds a partner, gets married, and has a couple of children. Priorities shift, and now safety, a certain degree of comfort, and stability become really important. Having a nice house, a car, bringing the kids to school, paying the bills—all of these activities become more relevant than any “spiritual practice.”