Monday, January 17, 2005
Thursday, January 13, 2005
After years of Buddhist practice (not just meditation, but working through karma) I became less chained by conditions and conditioning, and opened up to the myriads of possibilities. I could more easily see the choice I have before I lock into conditioning because much of the conditioning had been swept away or transformed or at least revealed. Often we feel like we have no choice in our actions, but we do, always. This Buddhist practice gave me the skill and the understanding to see that. This is a lived expression of the Buddhist saying from Dogen:
To study the Way is to study the self.
To study the self is to forget the self.
To forget the self is to be enlightened by all things.
To be enlightened by all things is to remove the barriers between one's self and others.
When the myriad possibilities open up, it is the same point (I think) where one is enlightened by all things. When the conditioning no longer rules you, that is where you have forgotten the self. When you begin to act where you choose from the myriad possibilities, that is where you can truly connect with others. You can make choices based on the best possibilities, rather than the ego possibilities, the conditioned possibilities, the misguided self-preservation possibilities. As with anything that is a practice, this is not a linear process and I'm still always studying pieces of me.
OK, go from there to open loving. Societal expectations are karmic conditions. In polyamory, we dare to say that we can choose how our relationships look, we can choose the ways in which we love more than one, and we can do so with integrity. We recognize societal expectations of monogamy as conditions that we can choose or not choose. The wonderful thing is, when we choose not to limit our loving, we give ourselves many opportunities to learn and practice the letting go of self that brings us to that final part of that Buddhist formula, removing the barriers between ourselves and others. Because I had opened up to myriad possibilities, I think the possibility of polyamory came along for me, and now that I'm living it, I am learning and continuing to learn about more of those subtle barriers and how they can be dissolved. Many of those barriers have to do with debilitating judgments about others and our selves.
Finally, it is possible dissolve such judgments so much so that we can truly have love for anyone. In polyamory some call this Love of All, in Buddhism, loving-kindness. Since I have opened my heart even more in this polyamorous path, I have become more appreciative of the Buddhist practices of loving-kindness and tonglen, which are not Zen practices. I have also felt more of an aspiration to be a bodhisattva, felt myself to be a bodhisattva. A bodhisattva continually turns over her practice to the weal of the world, not for the sake of self but for the sake of enlightenment of all. One of my teachers once put it, "a bodhisattva is an enlightened codependent." I feel this especially in the practice of love. An unenlightened codependent puts others before herself as a way to establish control or because she doesn't feel she deserves anything. An enlightened codependent has no concern for self but is concerned instead for Love itself, concerned for the weal of all.
At first glance, many people think non-monogamy is not compatible with Buddhism. The second noble truth links our suffering in this life to desire, craving. While desires of the body are included in that, this noble truth really points to the attachments and aversions of an ego that seeks to keep certain formations solid. When this being, made up of heaps of body, emotions, perceptions, thoughts, and consciousness, wants to preserve those heaps, that is the desire referred to.
It is easy to comprehend the attachments we form to pleasures of the body. It's also easy to ban them, as these often were for monks and nuns. It's not so easy to understand that when Buddhist sects say this is the only way to liberation, these sects have also succumbed to the traps of attachment and aversion. This human body is naturally part of myself, intimately connected to and influencing my thoughts and habits. Like any drug, the neurochemistry of love can produce addictive behavior. The question is, will I be ruled by that, or can I let go when appropriate? I am not only this biochemical machine. The practice of living this life does not necessarily spurn this body's natural function, nor does it try to hang on to it. The ideal doesn't necessarily look like celibacy, or monogamy, or polyamory. The ideal meets each moment with letting go, choosing, letting go, choosing, letting go.
The Buddhist precepts are guidelines that help us to follow the 4th Noble Truth, the Eightfold Path. In some cases they are expressed more absolutely, in other cases with room for relativity. Some people might say that non-monogamy violates the precept, "Do not misuse sexuality." Most often it is interpreted in the ways in which society accepts sexuality, but that is not necessarily the natural response to sexuality. In my tradition, one has a relationship to the precepts, and my expression of them will not look the same as my friend's, or my teacher's. Even in this, it is possible to fall into a trap that says that enlightened expressions of the precepts will look the same because there is some absolute reality to enlightenment. In my case I strongly believe that I would misuse sexuality if I demanded sexual exclusivity of my lover. I do not own him or her. In fact, to me this would violate another precept, "Do not take the gift not given (do not steal)."
In our Dharma School, we sing a song about the Buddha's life, that time when he first visited the outside world and saw sickness, old age, death, and a holy man. A line in the refrain goes, "And he found liberation, which neither comes nor goes." Buddhism is about finding that liberation, but Buddhism would not say the path to that liberation must look a certain way. Liberation is possible in any kind of life, some more difficult than others, but still possible. Because of societal biases towards monogamy and celibacy as a spiritual ideal, from the outside it looks like polyamory could be one of those more difficult paths. Now that I'm a few years into it, I find rather that it fosters spiritual connections. Practice in intimacy breeds more meaningful intimacy. When approached with mindful honesty and integrity, "many loves" becomes love of many, no conditions attached.
Friday, January 07, 2005
In May this last year, I interviewed with a writer for Just Out, Portland's GLBT newspaper. Pat planned to write an article on Buddhists who are not heterosexual, and after making queries she interviewed four people in my sangha. She wished to convey that Buddhism as it is practiced here is inclusive of people of alternative sexual persuasions. Before I interviewed, I was feeling some anxiety about being more out. As someone involved in ecumenical Buddhist activities, writing for NW Dharma News and acting as contact for the Portland BPF, I know that some of the people I encounter would be disturbed by my polyamorous activities.
I'm sure anybody who's done an interview can relate:
I felt really good about it. We talked at least an hour, and she asked me probing questions that encouraged me to dig for insight into myself. I especially liked that she asked me what I thought polyamory and Buddhism shared, and I realized that I love and appreciate these two paths because they are affirming, are inclusive, operate from an ethical understanding, and are liberating. It took awhile for the article to go to print, as other more timely issues were claiming priority.
When it did go to press in October, my hour long interview yielded a few quotes, and at least one mistake. (My husband is not Buddhist, in fact I explicitly stated he leans towards atheism.) She asked us all about a quote by the Dalai Lama because that had given her editor the idea that Buddhism is a homophobic religion, so our quotes included these almost irrelevant responses to something he said. We are all Zen folks, living in the USA, how relevant would HH the Dalai Lama's views on sexuality be to us? There was nothing about that transformative moment when I listed those qualities that polyamory and Buddhism shared.
I was happy with the process though. Since then my awareness of polyamory as a spiritual path in itself has blossomed. It was right around the time of the interview that I joined the Spiritual Polyamory yahoo group. Doing the interview made me more comfortable with being more out, and I looked forward to finding my name in the local gay rag. After all, the readership would be the accepting sort. I've come to feel an increasing certainty that it is important to recognize that non-monogamy and spirituality are not mutually exclusive. It is important to recognize that polyamory provides a fertile ground for loving action, openness, and connectedness: vital forces for a strong spiritual focus. The dialogs in this yahoo group have made me realize that for some people polyamory arises out of their natural spiritual impulses. Having lived in a society that views non-monogamy only through the spectrum of adultery, which includes lying and deception, our natural spiritual and sexual impulses toward this connection and unity have been tainted with shame and guilt. This view cannot imagine that love could deepen and trust could expand through polyamory.
Yet so many people who dare to love more than one person find their love does indeed deepen. I have fallen in love with two people since I met my husband and main squeeze, and each time my love for him has reached new depths. He accepted and supported me while I rocked through the rollercoaster of strong new emotions; he held my heart gently when those loves didn't work out. My gratitude knows no bounds. I have learned incredible things about myself and human nature through those loves, something that might never have happened if I were in a monogamous relationship. How liberating love is, even when painful.
In the next part, I will explore how I've found my Buddhist path and my poly path have informed each other.
Tuesday, January 04, 2005
Who needs yet another bulk daily email? This one's worth it, A Word a Day. I have a pretty decent vocabulary. Close friends sometimes tease me for using less-than-normal words. More often than not, I don't know the word of the day.
Everybody loves an educational tool like this. Educators use it to liven up their classrooms. The Wall Street Journal likes it for keeping "boredom at bay." The WSJ mentions about a half a million people in more than two hundred countries subscribe to AWAD, that each week has a theme, but doesn't mention the author's delightfully devious use of the daily word to spread messages of peace.
This week features words borrowed from other languages than English, and not the usual ones like Spanish or French. Anu Garg, originally from India, informs us today that 2005 has been designated The Year of Languages in the US. This sly pacifist says the most crucial reason to learn another language is that "once we speak the language of a people, it's much harder to hate them. And once they are no longer alien to us, it's much more difficult to drop bombs on them."
Every day also features a quote which often carries a message of peace.