The Importance of Gay Spirituality
Monasteries have always been a refuge for anyone who for whatever reason, did not want to get married, work a regular job and have kids. There are lots of reasons I can think of for a person, man or woman, to want to go off to a mountain retreat, or some isolated place, to heal and rejuvenate for a few years or a lifetime.
Among the reasons for not wanting to get married to a person of the opposite sex would be that you are not attracted at all to the opposite sex. It is wounding to grow up with a different sexual orientation than 90 to 95% of those around you. Monasteries and nunneries provide a safety valve for entire societies as well as for individuals needing refuge, because of their sexual orientation, or for any other reason. I do not know the percentage of men and women that are naturally gay. There are statistic wars about the number –– 3% or 5% or 8%, with the gays themselves wanting the higher number (more like 10%) to be the official statistic, because it makes them a more legitimate minority group with significant political power. Whatever this number is, multiply it by two or three and you have the proportion of gays monks, nuns, meditation teachers, priests and shamans.
It is important to keep in mind, though, that the idea of homosexuality is a modern invention, perhaps only a hundred years old. The word "homosexual" came into English in 1892, according to this article. The term, "gay" is even more recent. The Online Etymological Dictionary has an interesting discussion.
In the past, class was extremely important, as was caste, power and wealth. What you DID was important -- you were a farmer, a slave, a soldier, a merchant, a priest, or royalty. Sexual orientation was not the focus of identification that it is today. Here in 2006, it is almost impossible to imagine what sexual politics were like in any time previous to the 19th century, anywhere. There is just such a vast gulf. We are really living on another planet, in terms of sex, and by that I do not mean we are more evolved, just different. When I am reading the ancient manuscripts, sometimes I sense that people in the past just had sex, everywhere, all the time, with animals, children, slaves, statues, whoever was next door, solo, and once in awhile, their spouses. But they did not identify themselves by what type of sex they had.
Whatever the percentage, gay men and women have made incredible contributions to the spiritual traditions over the millennia. I am sure that over the last 2500 years, many of the great thinkers and meditators have been gay and have given us an extra-special blessing because of that, by turning their sensitivity toward the preservation of knowledge. Monks and nuns usually don't have children, but that does not mean they do not love; on the contrary, when the vows of renunciation work, they free the individual to adopt the whole human race as their family. The spiritual tradition itself absorbs their love and devotion.
In my experience, probably about 15% of my teachers over the decades have been gay, and quite a few of the most sensitive people I have ever met have been gay males. I'm not kidding when I talk about Queer Eye for the Inner World. My rolfer from Esalen in 1969, Ed Maupin, is gay, and his amazing bodywork helped me to endure and thrive during the intense year of my meditation teacher training in 1970.
Gay males often are willing to truly inhabit their sensitivity - meaning, all their senses – in a way that straight men are terrified to do. (I am not very familiar with the psychic structures that go with lesbianism, so I won't talk about them in this regard.) So if I want to talk about subtle experience, I often wind up talking with a gay male, because they have gone there in themselves.
There aren't very many people who would spend a perfectly good afternoon chanting a mantra, for example hridayam, and just noticing what colors and shapes that sound evokes. Although I find it interesting – a kind of physics and biology - if I really want to explore these sorts of perceptions, I have to talk to a woman or a gay male. Who else would care? When the senses open up in meditation, suddenly we are in the realm of art and interior decoration – of the inner world, our inner landscape.
Photograph of the vowel A vibrating a plate with sand on it.
Link to a site about vibrations and the shapes they make in matter.
The above photographs are from a study called Cymatics, which looks at the wave forms resulting from vibration. There is a book by that name, Cymatics, availble by special order in bookstores, and online.
In meditation, any sense can be used: hearing, vision, touch, smell, taste, balance, motion, temperature. It's like sex: the more senses you use in the more combinations, the merrier. You have heard of mantras, I am sure – mantras are the sounds that are handy to use in meditation, when you want to slip into something more comfortable. Sensing your inner world in meditation is a bit like sensing the outer world, but much more delicate. A hint of a thought, a tiny change in your breathing, and you are in a different realm of the soul.
Meditation techniques can involve mantras, inner sounds; yantras, visualizations of geometric shapes; mudras, subtle gestures and motions, and also smells and tastes. Getting an appropriate meditation for an individual does have a quality of interior decorating – a fineness of design that truly suits that specific person. Finding your style in meditation is a bit like what they guys do on Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, where they help the hapless dude to find his style.
With internal practices, people don't just use the wrong colors and sounds, they use the wrong fashion mystique and the wrong sizes. Then they complain because they feel uncomfortable. Being sensitive enough to detect what people are doing inside themselves in meditation is itself a hazard and a challenge. But many gays are already there, and that is why they would make good meditation teachers.
There are always some pompous blowhards who, as part of pretending to be religious, launch attacks on gay people. God bless America, that it is harder here to get away with the Nazi-flavored demonization of gays.
So I for one, welcome all the gays who are being bashed or made to feel unwelcome by various religious traditions. Come on over and make meditation your own. Come and flourish and help others to flourish. The latest report from the CDC, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, finds that about 7% of the American population meditates – and they need good instructors for advanced training.
In meditation, it is really important to allow yourself to see and hear and feel your own essence, your own unique individuality. Perhaps because gays have had to go through a whole process of sensing their own individuality, they can make better meditation teachers, meaning they are better able to help others discover their unique internal pathways and sensory gateways.