Wednesday, January 22, 2014

The Ethical Slut

Polyamory is not for me. This became apparent when I read The Ethical Slut a few years ago and marveled at the rigorous personal responsibility and communication necessary to support a healthy, respectful open relationship. There's nothing inherently wrong with a person having multiple romantic partners at once. The problem I see arising as more people take to this relational model is that good communication and personal responsibility are not naturally occurring in most relationships, polyamorous or otherwise. I won't pretend to be some kind of ascendant master. I have made irresponsible choices in my romantic relationships...which is why I feel like it's okay for me to let you know that polyamory probably isn't for you, either.

Like so many things, polyamory is something that's worth doing well. We should strive to be excellent to one another in all our relating, but this becomes especially important the more intimate the relating becomes.
If you are uncomfortable having an honest conversation about feelings or boundaries, polyamory is not for you.
If you will not take responsibility for your own physical health and how it could impact your partner, polyamory is not for you.
If you are not sensitive to how your behavior affects other people, polyamory is not for you.
If you are having sex with multiple partners, do they know? If not, why haven't you told them? If you think it's none of their business, polyamory is definitely definitely not for you.

Sex is important and should be respected. Setting aside the emotional component, there are very serious possible physical implications from the act. My mama always said that if you're not comfortable talking about it, you shouldn't be doing it. Again, I don't necessarily see anything wrong with someone having a multitude of lovers but it becomes problematic, unethical even, if this has not been established as permissible with all the interested parties. It's childish and selfish to pretend that your partners don't have a right to make informed decisions about what they do with their bodies, particularly if you're participating in unprotected sex. In not telling your partners about your habits, you're making the choice for them, and that's not okay.

Open relationships are for the unabashedly honest, the courageously open, the deeply confident, the impressively flexible.
Can you communicate your feelings and boundaries in a clear, timely fashion?
Do you take total responsibility for your body and behavior, and how they can affect others?
Do you respect your partners enough to give them the relevant information necessary to make their own, well-informed choices?
If you answered yes to all these questions, congratulations! Polyamory may be for you.
If you answered no to any of these questions, here are some things to consider...

Perhaps you should stop having sex for awhile. Take some time to reflect on the motivation and intention beneath your sexual choices. Are you lonely? Are you empty? Are you angry? Are you grieving? How do you feel about yourself and your worth? Is sex a tool of avoidance or a way to connect? Do you feel comfortable and confident communicating your needs and boundaries with your partner(s)? If not, why?

These are worthwhile questions for any sexually active person to ask themselves, regardless of the amount of partners they have.

Any common animal can live from the groin on instinct. Living a mindful, conscious life requires seeking out the truth of who we are, and it is this mindfulness that makes us human. Humans have a vastly rich, complex communication system. We speak roughly 6,500 languages nuanced by tone of voice, cadence, inflection, facial expression, body language, context and culture. Communicating well, to positively enhance relationships, should be taught at every stage of development but it's not. We're left to fumble through exchanges, hopefully learning to be clear, honest and kind. So much of how we communicate is modeled by our parents and the other adults in our early years. What did you learn then and how does it affect your behavior now?

Regardless of whether or not polyamory is for you, healthy communication and a strong sense of personal responsibility are for everyone. These are vital skills and traits worth cultivating that benefit all relationships, including our relationship with our self. And it is the inner relationship, the inner conversation, that sets the stage for all others.

If you can be quite excellent to yourself and those you're in relationship with, then perhaps you can be in a conscious, healthy polyamorous (or monogamous) sexual relationship.

If not, please consider taking a period of celibacy and asking yourself some tough, honest questions about your motivations and intentions. Are you a human being capable of advanced cognitive functioning? Or are you an animal living from the groin on instinct? Ask the tough questions. Live a mindful life.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Let The Right One In, or, The Art of Receiving

For a long time now, perhaps for my whole life, I have had trouble with Thank You. It's not that I don't feel gratitude, but the expression of it in certain situations has been uncomfortable to the point of suppressing it entirely. Indeed, I have not been experiencing a lack of gratitude, but a lack of worthiness. To say Thank You was to acknowledge what I had been given and take it in, and I did not feel that I deserved what was being gifted.

This is not an issue of receptivity. I am very receptive, but have simply been absorbing the wrong sorts of things. Rather than opening gracefully to praise, compliments and abundance of all kinds, I have made a home inside myself for fear and negativity. My unworthiness was like a shield deflecting positive attention, only to be cast aside to receive crumbs and criticism. I planted each slur and barb in my heart and nourished them with my continual agreement. I could not receive healthy, lovely things because I could not agree that I was worthy of them. Stephen Chbosky said it best in The Perks of Being a Wallflower: "We accept the love we think we deserve."

It's not just love, though. It's everything. Unworthiness reaches into each and every part of our experience of life. If it roots deep enough, we may come to believe that we are unworthy of even basic rights, like bodily autonomy and safety. You might even hear someone in an abusive relationship say that they "deserve" the abuse they receive. We form all kinds of automatic responses to stimuli, so that when we are presented with something, be it healthy or unhealthy, kind or unkind, there is no consideration as to its merit. We automatically accept the relationships, homes, financial situations, support, success, etc, that we think we deserve.

The unraveling of The Story of My Unworthiness came about in two ways:

First, I got to know myself very well. This had the opposite effect for awhile, as I rooted out a lot of trauma, anger, pain and character flaws the likes of which I was none too proud. Life got real strange and messy. After sifting through and getting over what one of my teachers calls "your issues which require tissues," I began to balance the intimate knowledge of my (still present) character flaws with a dawning knowledge of my utter and complete magnificence. I'm certainly not beyond reproach and in no position to throw stones, but none of that negates how very worthy I am of all manner of goodness.

Secondly came the process of ferreting out all the subtle, sneaky ways I've learned to refuse and deflect positive feedback, happiness and success. This is a fair bit of mental gymnastics because my own ego created all the shields and hid them in plain sight for so long that I came to accept them as a very natural part of me. The result is that every time I receive a compliment or an opportunity now, I examine my response to it with eagle eyes. It's honestly a bit exhausting, but is revealing all sorts of unsettling yet useful truths. Most important among them is that I haven't achieved and received the things I've longed and prayed for because I cannot contain them. I have vast, wondrous dreams as spacious as an ocean and merely a thimble inside to hold it all. I understand now that what I hope to achieve and receive overwhelms me. How can I ever contain an ocean when I have settled for so little for so long?

How do you eat an elephant?

One.
Bite.
At.
A.
Time.

It's a practice in practice. It's a practice in patience. It's a practice in exquisite observation and fearless honesty. We can only stretch so far, so fast. I stretch a bit every time I gracefully receive a compliment or gift, looking the person in the eye with a strong, sincere Thank You. I stretch a bit more when I silently acknowledge that I was worthy of that receiving. I go to yoga and dedicate every practice to stretching myself to be able to contain more of the right kinds of things.

The desires of your sacred heart thump against your rib cage. You are worthy of their fulfillment. In fact, to fulfill them is your purpose. The work is to come to know your worth and to remove everything you've used to shield yourself from greatness. We are capable of containing so much if we would only take the time to stretch open, to create the space to hold the fulfillment of our dreams. It is, above all else, a grateful, graceful allowing. A deep exhale. A Big Yes.

Let's let the right ones in.