Monday, December 08, 2003

After fear, adventures in polyamory

Nearly every Sunday my zen center friends and I go out to lunch after our morning services. These relationships are a rich and important part of my life. This Sunday I overheard two at the other end of the table discussing the one-with-everything zen joke. There is an addendum to that joke. The (secret zen master) hot dog vendor prepares the one hot dog with everything for the zen monk, and the monk hands her a twenty dollar bill. The vendor doesn't give the monk any change, and when the monk asks for it, she says, "Change comes from within."

Zen is full of pithy stories about change coming from within, about one's whole connection to a person or thing changing because of one's own perception or attitude. Take for example the rowboat story. Briefly, someone in a boat is about to get hit by another boat. He yells and screams for the other boat to change course, and gets quite angry. Finally when it is close enough, he sees the boat is adrift, no one is on board. Now he laughs. Nothing about the boat changed but his perception and his own attitude. In its barest essence, zen is about paying attention to those changes within.

Right now I'm working on laying the foundation of what 'adventures in multiplicity' means to me. Before I started, I'd laugh to myself over my adventures in polyamory, which led to the broader concept. It's hard to summarize my multitudinous world view without hauling out the photo albums of my internal life, paging through, pointing out how I got here, how I got there. It's also hard because some part of this is a way to explain myself to my Buddhist friends who'd like to understand, but don't, why I choose polyamory.

My choice of polyamory is a natural outcome of my Buddhist practice. Some will think that rather shocking, as we have a Buddhist precept that says "Do not misuse sexuality," and it is often interpreted rather conservatively. I have been taught that rather than commandments, the precepts are guidelines through which we measure ourselves, and find our own internal truth that fulfills them. I don't recall ever feeling possessive of my significant other, or jealous, or wishing him to be faithful to me. I have likewise experienced a reluctance to look toward a future of committed monogamy. I did choose monogamy: my first marriage lasted nearly seven years, and we'd been together around eleven years. Throughout those years, I did not demand monogamy. He wanted me to be his everything, and was jealous not only of male friends, but of anything that took my time away from him, even my Buddhist practice. Ultimately, thanks to my Buddhist practice, my unconscious fear of being alone became conscious and that fear no longer held me in its thrall.

I awakened to a deeper possibility of love thanks to that lifting of fear. My direction shifted from a constant internal focus to one of connection to others. When I met someone who felt as I did about non-monogamy, we gradually incorporated it into our lives. I found that as we became more comfortable with it, and shed that societal conditioning that says monogamy has all the integrity, my connections to others opened up. I experienced a deeper appreciation for all my relationships, and I began to see all relationships as sharing in that same deep loving connection that I share with my primary significant other. I find myself reluctant to use those labels. Husband. Best friend. Secondary partner. Housemate. Some aspects of my life I share with my husband. Some aspects I share with other close friends and not with my husband. I would be as devastated to lose my Buddhist teacher as I would to lose my husband. What necessarily places one over the other? Why is there a hierarchy in the first place, why not just differences?

I enjoy learning. Getting involved with new people means learning new feelings, new facts, new intimacies, new ways of being a friend. When I identify as polyamorous, what I mean is that I'm open to the possibilities. It's possible we could be casual friends, deeply intimate friends, could be all business, could have sex, could not have sex, could never see each other again, could flirt outrageously, or flirt chastely, could fall in love.... Whatever happened, it wouldn't mean that I must turn away from all the other loves in my life. Whatever kind of connection I have now and might form in the future, honesty and respect would form the foundation, along with that love that connects us all. When we can share intimacy, we share in being one with everything. The way we share that intimacy is as varied as each rich moment shared with each individual. What an adventure!

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