Monday, December 31, 2012

Osho Post #4

Okay, I am getting lazy :-) I don't feel like I have the energy to describe why these quotes resonated with me, but I am betting most of you can figure out why :-)

Here is your regular dose of Osho! Enjoy the words. Meditate, baby!

"Attachment is the desire that the partner should never change...Love knows nothing of attachment because love knows no possibility of falling from dignity....I am not saying that partners cannot change, but that it does not matter...Once your own understanding of love blossoms there is no question of attachment at all. You can go on changing your partners, that does not mean you are deserting anybody. You may come back again to the same partner, there is no question of any prejudice" (p23)
 
"Be true to love, and don't bother about partners. Whether one partner or many partners is not the questions. The question is whether you are true to love" (p90)

"...if you can conceive love as your real being, and loving another person as a deep friendship, as a dance of two hearts together with such synchronicity that they become almost one, you don't need any other spirituality. You have found it" (p27)

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Food & Love

J and I had an amazing conversation last night, during which I connected some seemingly disparate things. It was really helpful in my continued self-growth.

We were talking about my family, and my mom's tendency (even now) to control her family's behaviors. Especially food-related behaviors. I was spared the brunt of these tendencies growing up, because I was hyper-conscious of my food intake, and stayed a reasonably healthy weight the whole time growing up. My dad and younger sister, though, have had to deal with a ton of negative messages, both direct and subtle. It seems like the more control that my mom has tried to instill around meals and food, the more both my dad and sister have resisted her, and it tends to create behaviors opposite from what she desires (aka they might eat more, or eat the "wrong" foods, etc). (This was one way that control as love was established within my family, and continues on. Clearly, my mom loves my dad and sister-and me- and wants what is best for everyone. She wants people to be healthy and to feel good about themselves. But she has projected her own needs onto others in a controlling way. That is how she has shown her concern and love. Thank you, counseling, for helping to connect all of these dots. Whew)

While I wasn't the receiver of the same messages, I witnessed them. I was a super hyper-conscious eater from the time I was 13 until I was in college. I put myself through a couple of very restrictive diets, and was obsessed with my food intake, my weight, and body image. It appeared that I had my weight "under control," but mentally, I was suffering for a long time. In our junior year of college, J and I met with a nutritional counselor (J, too, struggled with similar things growing up, and witnessed similar control patterns in his family around food). This woman was our saving grace. She gave us the book Intuitive Eating. We read it, and have re-read it several times. And I know for myself (and I think J would agree for himself) that it changed my life.

The book is all about how the diet mentality has sabotaged people's natural abilities to eat when they are hungry and stop when they are full, and people's natural tendencies to truly enjoy food, to gain pleasure from it. One thing I remember most from the book is the authors' idea that children know how to eat naturally; they eat until they are full and then they stop (given sufficient access to it), and that their food variety naturally balances our over time. As we get older, we are told how to eat by parents and society. The diet mentality hits full force, telling us that we don't know how to eat, that we shouldn't eat certain foods, that foods we might not enjoy we should eat anyway. Our internal compass gets totally and completely screwed up. Foods get imbued with emotional meaning, and we put them on a pedestal. We crave them more. It becomes a vicious cycle.

Instead, if you let yourself eat what you want, when you want, and strive to pay attention to your natural hunger signals and cycles, that you will naturally balance out to your natural weight. 

One of the biggest requirements in the book is that you have to give up the diet mentality. You just have to let it go. You have to let the fear go that you will pack on the pounds if you stop dieting. You have to believe that dieting really does not work long-term. You have to change your food paradigm. And that takes giving up an external structure, take back individual control, and relearning to pay attention to your individual needs.

Okay, so here is my connection to my own journey with our open relationship. I have been working on giving up control. Giving up the idea that I can control my partner(s). Giving up all of my underlying fears: that I will be lonely. that J will leave me for someone else. that J will find me less desirable in favor of someone else. blah blah blah. In fact, this article on jealousy from Franklin Veaux articluated this process perfectly. Here is the excerpt that I am talking about:


"The nice thing about doing this is that you can, if you have isolated the emotional response beneath the jealousy and identified positive ways to deal with it directly, end up in a position where you don't feel jealous any more. Even when your partner does the things that used to trigger the jealousy. You just don't feel jealous any more. You do not need to pass rules banning certain behavior and you do not need to veto someone, because you don't feel jealous any more.
The downside, though, is that your irrational fear will fight to protect itself; it won't go down easy. The thought process goes like this:
"If my partner does these things with someone of the same sex as me, then I might lose my partner, because someone else might give him the same things I give him. If I lose my fear of losing my partner, I will no longer have a reason to ask my partner not to do these things. If I don't have a reason to ask my partner not to do these things, then my partner will do them, because I know he wants to do them. If my partner does these things, I will lose my partner, because then someone else will give him the same things I give him. So I better not get over my fear, because if I get over my fear, then I won't have a reason to ask him not to do these things, and that means he'll do these things, and that means...I'll lose him!"
And 'round and 'round it goes. You don't want to lose the fear, because you're afraid something bad will happen, and you can't give up the fear of something bad happening because if you do...you're afraid something bad will happen."

I just have to give up the fear. I just have to. It just needs to be gone. Gone, I say! 

(An aside: Something that my dad actually said to me the other day with regards to a totally unrelated issue was: "Don't make it a bigger deal than it is. It's fine." It has been an amazing mantra for me with regards to open stuff that causes me angst. I say to myself: "Don't make it a bigger deal than it is. It's fine." Similarly, this reminds me of J's brother when he talked to us about J's parents once. He remarked that they make life so much more difficult than it needs to be. "Life is as simple or difficult as you want it to be!" I have been mantra-ing that to myself as well: "Keep it simple!" These have been really helpful internal messages in feeling my fears truly dissipate.)

And actually, having these two processes now connected in my mind between my food and love behaviors was incredibly helpful. It feels a little dorky to write about it in this way, but it also makes a ton of sense to me. Both food and sex/love are basic human needs. Everyone needs food, and beyond that, everyone desires on some level to be pleasured and nourished emotionally by the food they eat. And everyone needs love and physical touch, which requires real human connection and intimacy. Also, knowing that I have been successful over the long-term with changing my food paradigm makes me even more confident in my abilities to rewire my neural network around love and sex.

And more about that. I was telling J the other night that I remember feeling much more poly when I was younger. (I would say, before I hit puberty. Once puberty hit, all of those societal messages around "one romantic love" hit me in full force). I grew up in a loving home, in a religious community that espouses individual search for truth and meaning and respect for everyone and interdpendence (and of course, there is, as I have now discovered, a UU poly community and organization). This realization has reminded me that I do have a deeper foundation for fundamentally understanding and operating within a poly framework

Food and love. Treat yourself well: love yourself and nourish your body, deeply. Keep it simple. Don't make it harder than it needs to be. Give up the fear. Truly. Let it go. Be responsible for yourself. That's all you can do.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Osho Post #3

Have you heard that old relationship advice? "Never expect your partner to change." That advice only resonates with me so far. The way I see it, you probably should be happy with your partner day-to-day, feel like your values are in congruence, and that the principles that you live by and strive to live by are similar. But people change. Relationships change. And, like the passage below describes, it can be quite true that people change day-to-day. The present is different than the past. Relate again, and discover each other always. I love the below passage.

"To think that you know your wife is very, very ungrateful. How can you know the woman? How can you know the man? They are processes, not things. The woman that you knew yesterday is not there today. So much water has gone down the Ganges; she is somebody else, totally different. Relate again, start again, don't take it for granted...
Relating means you are always starting, you are continuously trying to become acquainted. Again and again, you are introducing yourself to each other...You are trying to unravel a mystery that cannot be unraveled. That is the joy of love: the exploration of consciousness.
And if you relate, and don't reduce it to a relationship, then the other will become a mirror to you. Exploring him, unawares you will be exploring yourself, too. Getting deeper into the other, knowing his feelings, his thoughts, his deeper stirrings, your will be knowing your own deeper stirrings, too. Lovers become mirrors to each other, and the love becomes a meditation...
In relationship both persons become blind to each other...
Just your eyes become old, your assumptions become old, your mirror gathers dust and you become incapable of reflecting the other" (p56-7)

Here is another quote I loved as I read this Osho book. I am going to let it stand on its own. I have nothing to add right now :)

"...if love is there, your love the person more because you know. If is there, it survives. If it is not there it disappears. Both are good.
To an ordinary state of mind, what I call love is not possible. It happens only when you have a very integrated being. Love is a function of the integrated being. It is not romance, it has nothing to do with these foolish things. It goes directly to the person and looks into the soul. Love then is a sort of affinity with the innermost being of the other person--but then it is totally different...
But I am not saying that one has to cling. One has to be alert and aware. If your love consists of just these foolish things, it will disappear. It is not worth bothering about. But if it is real, then through turmoils it will survive. So just watch..." (p61)

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

More Osho: Intentionality, Actions, Relearning, Work

A little meditation for this Christmas day. I am a cultural Christmas celebrator, not a religious one, and I appreciate taking away the commercial and materialistic aspects and focusing on reflection, introspection, gratitude, and family.

"In Latin there is a dictum: agere sequitur esse-- to do follows to be; action follows being. It is tremendously beautiful. Don't try to change your action-- try to find out your being, and action will follow. The action is secondary; being is primary. Action is something that you do; being is something that you are. Action comes out of you, but action is just a fragment. Even if all of your actions are collected together they will not be equal to your being because all actions collected together will be your past. What about your future? Your being contains your past, your future, your present; your being contains your eternity. Your actions, even if all collected, will just be of the past. Past is limited, future is unlimited. That which has happened is limited; it can be defined, it has already happened. That which has not happened is unlimited, undefinable. Your being contains eternity, your actions contain only your past.
So it is possible that a man who has never been a sinner up to this moment can become a saint the next. Never judge a man by his actions, judge a man by his being. Sinners have become saints and saints have fallen and become sinners. Each saint has a past and each sinner has a future.
Never judge a man by his actions. But there is no other way, because you have not known even your own being--how can you see the being of others? Once you know your own being you will learn the language, you will know the clue of how to look into another's being. You can see into others only to the extent that you can see into yourself. If you have seen yourself through and through, you become capable of seeing into others through and through" (p220)

This passage resonated with me, because it is something that J and I frequently find disagreement over. He has a really difficult time finding stability in our relationship and trusting that it will continue to grow and change, that it is dynamic, when my past behavior has at times been contrary to the kind of relationship he wants to create. I have total faith in myself that I am a dynamic individual and that the person I will be in a year will be different than who I am now. I have confidence that the commitment I have to myself and to our relationship dictates my intentions and future behavior, even though I know at the same time I will never be perfect. It has been really challenging at times for me to demonstrate this idea to J, and I feel like this idea creates recurring strife. My hope is that we can both continue to have dynamic experiences that show that both of us have the capacity and ability to change, and a commitment to working together.

[Edit, 12/26: J read this post. He pointed out that there was much in this passage that did resonate with him, and that I glossed over those points. He was a bit hurt that I thought that he would be so against this passage. He really liked the following lines: "Don't try to change your action-- try to find out your being, and action will follow. The action is secondary; being is primary." and "Never judge a man by his actions. But there is no other way, because you have not known even your own being--how can you see the being of others?" Thank you J for having a positive conversation with me about this and being willing to engage on this topic with me!! xoxo)
 
"Many times I say learn the art of love, but what I really mean is: Learn the art of removing all that hinders love. It is a negative process. It is like digging a well: You go on removing many layers of earth, stones, rocks, and then suddenly there is water. The water was always there; it was an undercurrent. Now you have removed all the barriers, the water is available. So is love: Love is the undercurrent of your being. It is already flowing, but there are many rocks, many layers of earth to be removed. 
That's what I mean when I say learn the art of love. It is really not learning love but unlearning the ways of unlove" (p81)

I really like this one. Unlearning the ways of unlove. That phrase feels pretty accurate for me in describing the kind of work I am doing. It takes a lot of introspection and capacity to feel pain to break through to the more relaxed, peaceful, and contented feelings. But I feel like every day I glimpse more and more into the self I want to totally be, and that is lovely.

"...if you want to rise in consciousness, if you want to rise in the world of beauty, truth, bliss, then you are longing for the highest peaks possible and that certainly is difficult" (p106)

I like this quote a lot for its simplicity and truth. It is really difficult at times. Very worth it, but difficult.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Family Concerns

Going home for the holidays inevitably means that J and I will find similarity and difference with each of our families. But it seems even more happened this past week/weekend.

Last week, J and I visited with two of J's friends. One, a long-time friend (woman), and the other an ex-girlfriend-now-friend. J's mom seriously does not understand how this is okay with me. The truth is, I enjoy both of these people's company a ton, and love socializing with both. It so happened that the night that J and I saw his ex-girlfriend he and I later had a heated conversation about something totally unrelated and I ended up crying myself to sleep. We are assuming that J's mom heard me crying, and linked the two situations. She sent J an email early the next morning explaining in extremely vague terms that she was upset, and hadn't been excited about our wedding since we started planning it. She did not say why she was upset, did not say what she needed, etc. It was a prime example of communication lacking meta-communication and specifics. J told her that same day that she could come talk to both of us, but she never did. 

The email colored our whole time at home with J's family, because J and I talked a ton about the possibility of our conversation with her evolving into a "coming out" conversation. In thinking about coming out to J's parents, it became quite apparent that we would have to approach the topic as a more "closed" idea on our end; that is, that we would not be looking for input or advice. However, we would definitely have to approach in a more conversational way, and not like a confrontation (despite having some intuition that it would likely devolve into one). The topic would need to be gentle and compassionate. We would need to feel open to answering questions and providing explanation, but also recognize our capacity for hearing negative comments.

We are both so thankful for the relationship that we do have with J's brother and sister-in-law. They know about everything, and can talk to us in a very honest and real way about all of this. Thank goodness they were also home and were able to listen to us, relate to us, and provide feedback on the situation. It was a good reminder that it is very possible to have positive and deep relationships with family members.

In one of the conversations J and I had, we talked a lot about how much of what we appreciate about our open relationship are "smaller" things, that perhaps some (or many) monogamous couples have as part of their relationship: having opposite sex friends, having emotional intimacy with friends, the ability to flirt as part of a natural expression of relating to others. It is quite clear from the email J received that having emotional intimacy with opposite-sex friends is not okay in J's parents monogamous relationship, let alone flirting. I am deeply grateful for these "smaller" aspects that we can enjoy; they are very important to both of us. And it actually provides me comfort, in knowing that those things were not okay when we were monogamous. It is just a slow process to become accustomed to things and unlearn old and re-learn new ways of relating.

J's mom's un-excitement about our wedding, we are fairly sure, is related to the fact that neither of us wants kids. It seems that J's mom sees this as meaning that J and I are not with the right people; i.e., if we were with the "right" person, we would want kids. So because we don't, we clearly aren't in the "right" relationship, and therefore, a wedding is stupid. How could she be excited for it if she sees our relationship as doomed?

I now have this to let go of. Letting go of having J's mom as a true source of emotional support for our relationship, even one that she perceives to be monogamous. Letting go of having a more authentic and deep relationship with J's parents. Letting go of having my true self seen by family members. Letting go, letting go, letting go. Make peace, make peace, make peace.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Osho's Love, Freedom, Aloneness: The Koan of Relationships

FYI:

ko·an  

/ˈkōˌän/
Noun
A paradoxical anecdote or riddle, used in Zen Buddhism to demonstrate the inadequacy of logical reasoning and to provoke enlightenment

I finally finished Osho's Love, Freedom, Aloneness: The Koan of Relationships. While there is a substantial amount that I mentally tossed aside (the heteronormativity, homophobia, the narrow focus on the negative impacts of religious institutions), there was also a substantial amount that resonated with me.

I had a ton of favorite passages. It took me a long time to type them all up. I decided I would take a few at a time and write some about why they resonated with me, and why they meshed with my open relationship experience. I might choose to do a few every week, to keep my meditation and reflection on the book going longer-term.

Let's do this:



"A relationship is a koan. And unless you have solved a more fundamental thing about yourself, you cannot solve it. The problem of love can be solved only when the problem of meditation has been solved, not before it. Because it is really two nonmeditative persons who are creating the problem. Two persons who are in confusion, who don't know who they are--naturally they multiply each other's confusion, they magnify it" (p70)

So many of his ideas feel obvious to me. Of course if one person does not truly know herself and then gets together with another who does not know him/herself either that those individual challenges multiply and manifest in even larger ways. When I consider how pretty much all of our challenges in our open relationship are related to our individual insecurities and not our actual relationship security or health, I am extremely motivated to continue my self-growth and exploration. J and I have recently been discussing the idea of a relationship as a vehicle for self-growth, and how neither of us had ever really thought of our relationship in this way. But it is actually a very useful framework for me, especially since I have a lot of self-growth that I am working on. This kind of framework helps bolster my appreciation for our open relationship structure and keeps me feeling positive about the work I do, even when it feels difficult.

"Love is denied so much--and love is the rarest thing in the world; it should not be denied. If a man can love five persons, he should love five. If a man can love fifty, he should love fifty. If a man can love five hundred, he should love five hundred. Love is so rare that the more you can spread it the better. But... you are forced into a narrow, very narrow, corner...the conditions are too much. It is as if there was a law that you can breathe only when you are with your wife, you can breathe only when you are with your husband. Then breathing will become impossible!" (p116)

"Love is breathing. Breathing is the life of the body and love is the life of the soul. It is far more important than breathing. Now when your husband goes out, you make it a point that he should not laugh with anybody else, at least not with any other women. He should not be loving to anybody else. So for twenty-three hours he is unloving, then for one hour when he is in bed with you, he pretends to love? You have killed his love, it is flowing no more. If for twenty-three hours he has to remain a yogi, holding his love, afraid, do you think he can relax suddenly for one hour? It is impossible" (p143)

These last two passages are a little bit painful for me, simply because I know this kind of dynamic described is very similar to what happens between J and I. When I "freak out" about J's closeness with another partner, he then feels like he cannot enjoy a closeness with another person, and then he also does not feel close to me. The metaphor of breathing pretty accurately describes the outcome for us when I have a hard time accepting his intimacy with another partner. I don't act on those feelings (ie, ask him not to have intimacy with another), but my feelings can have a similar effect on his behavior as though I had actually asked him to maintain more distance. These passages are painful, because they hit close to my experience of struggling to give up control, feeling badly for negatively impacting J's relationships and experiences, and feeling sad that the end result is that he and I are not as close. Thankfully, this is a process that we are changing. I do not act on my feelings, although it is still necessary for me to talk about them calmly with J and ask for lots of reassurance.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Letting Go

“We must be willing to let go of the life we have planned so as to accept the life that is waiting for us.”  ~Joseph Campbell

This post, I realize, is very similar to the one I wrote about a week ago (It Will Be)... But I have been continually working on this concept: letting go of attachment and fear and control. It's just a little hard. It's usually really helpful for me to read what others say about a subject. So this post is dedicated to other writers who can write about letting go more knowledgeably and artfully than I can :)

I really love this article on letting go. It's really fantastic. Here are some different excerpts I really like:
"Accept the moment for what it is. Don’t try to turn it into yesterday; that moment’s gone. Don’t plot about how you can make the moment last forever. Just seep into the moment and enjoy it because it will eventually pass. Nothing is permanent. Fighting that reality will only cause you pain.
Hold lightly. This one isn’t just about releasing attachments—it’s also about maintaining healthy relationships. Contrary to romantic notions, you are not someone’s other half. You’re separate and whole. You can still hold someone to close to your heart; just remember, if you squeeze too tightly, you’ll both be suffocated.
Love instead of fearing. When you hold onto the past, it often has to do with fear: fear you messed up your chance at happiness, or fear you’ll never know such happiness again. Focus on what you love and you’ll create happiness instead of worrying about it.    
Release the need to know. Life entails uncertainty, no matter how strong your intention. Obsessing about tomorrow wastes your life because there will always be a tomorrow on the horizon. There are no guarantees about how it will play out. Just know it hinges on how well you live today.
Understand that pain is unavoidable. No matter how well you do everything on this list, or on your own short list for peace, you will lose things that matter and feel some level of pain. But it doesn’t have to be as bad as you think. As the saying goes, pain is inevitable, suffering is optional.
Yield to peace. The ultimate desire is to feel happy and peaceful. Even if you think you want to stay angry, what you really want is to be at peace with what happened or will happen. It takes a conscious choice. Make it."

I also really enjoy this brief post on non-clinging/non-attachment. Here is the one piece that really resonated with me:
"We take anger as me, as my anger, rather than simply a feeling that will pass, that I can let go of. We take the desire for more as my desire, to be acted upon, rather than as simply a thought or feeling that will pass. We take all our thoughts and feeling reactions far too seriously, as if we were just thoughts and reactions. When we cling to a thought, we become that thought."

Also, this post on seven ways to let go has some useful tidbits packed pretty succinctly :) I really liked it. 

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Scarcity v. Plenty Mindset

I have been thinking about this more and more, from experiencing our open/poly relationship, reading my Osho book, and from (strangely enough) dancing.

I don't know a whole lot of the psychology behind these mindsets/frameworks/ways of approaching life. But I know my own personal experience with putting myself into each mindset.

I grew up hearing from my mom that I should never worry about money, because there would always be enough. (This wasn't the greatest message, on a practical level. The plenty mindset was great, but the lack of financial skills she and my dad taught to me was not). I have had to say a message like this to myself since I started dancing, because the money is so up-and-down; it's kind of like gambling (will I make a ton of money today? will it be a really shitty day, money wise? I am elated when I rake it in, and have slight feelings of depression and anxiety over feeling financially insecure when I don't). And really, the money has totally evened out over the long-term, and I have provided well for myself since I started. Having this frame of reference to apply to other places in my life is also pretty awesome.

When I am feeling emotionally whole, safe, and healthy it is pretty darn easy for me to remember and believe and truly have faith in the idea that love in unconditional and that there will always be enough love. I know that I hold this idea deeply within myself; during a Reiki session a while ago, that is precisely the message I heard from my spirit animals: I will always be loved. When I am feeling fearful or insecure, it can be so much more difficult to stay within the plenty mindset. Instead, my freaked-out little right brain screams at me: There's not enough!! Get all that you can! Compete, compete, compete! 

The consequences of the scarcity mindset for me, especially related to the idea of love, is that I end up clamping down on my primary relationship with J. I get scared he won't have enough love for me, and that I will be found to be not valuable enough to deserve love. (Yes, this is related to earlier conditioning I received that love is conditional.) The consequences of my clamping down and shutting down to other relationships are that J ends up feeling less loving toward me because he has a more difficult time getting what he needs. It takes a lot of work on his end to provide me the reassurance I need when I am in a scared space, and everyone has a capacity for doing that kind of emotional work. Most of the time, he does a wonderful job. I become like a turtle when I am scared, completely retreated into my shell. When he can provide me with reassurance, compassion, and gentle reminders, I feel myself slowly coming back out and slowly moving back into the plenty mindset. It's an art, and one that we are becoming better and better at practicing.

I think another component of all this for me is the fact that moving into a plenty mindset simultaneously feels freeing and extremely vulnerable for me. It means leaving my heart open to both pain and pleasure, keeping my guard down to allow other love in my life but also keeping my guard down to feeling rejection, dishonesty, and other crummy relationship experiences. The painful experiences have a tendency to make me retreat, and I feel love is again scarce. The pleasurable and loving experiences make me reach out and I feel love is again plenty. The trick I am learning, is keeping myself within the plenty mindset as much as possible so that the emotional consequences of the scarcity mindset do not enter my psyche or our relationship as often.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Communication Skills

Communication is tough cookies sometimes. All it takes is going through a communication shit-storm to be reminded of how when it doesn't work, it really doesn't work. And then when it does, you realize how much work it takes.

I felt like it was necessary for myself to review some key communication tools that I knowingly use in my own relationships- at least when I can remember to, and have the where-with-all even when I'm upset. :)

Meta-communication: I love this. J and I first learned about it when reading Kathy Labriola's Love in Abundance. The idea is to communicate to the listener what you are seeking by communicating with them. So if I am upset about something, my conversation with J might go something like this:
Me: I am upset about X. I would really like some emotional support right now.
J: Okay.
Me: *Venting ensues*
J: *provides me emotional support, which includes validation of my feelings and empathy*
Or, the conversation might go something like:
Me: I am upset about X. I need some advice on what to do.
J: Okay.
Me: *Discussion ensues*
J: *actively and reflectively listens, asks questions, provides feedback and advice*
I think sometimes the hardest thing about communication is knowing what you need from your own communication with someone else. Figuring out what you need can be really difficult. Do I need physical reassurance (a hug, kiss, massage, sex, etc)? Do I need emotional reassurance (hearing that you love me, appreciate me, respect me, enjoy being with me, etc)? Do I need advice or feedback on a situation or relationship? Do I need a behavior change? Do I need a boundary change? Also, it can be really helpful, and equally difficult, to figure out and articulate (to yourself and your partner) why it is that you need what you do. But I think if you can practice meta communication more often than not, it improves the quality and satisfaction from engaging in more intense communication. I remember feeling at one point in our relationship: "I wish J just knew what to give me. I don't want to have to ask for what I need. He should just give me a hug, dammit, or tell me that he loves me. It's so obvious that's what I need!" But, obviously, the only person who truly knows what I need is me, and in order to receive the support I need from someone who cares about me, I need to be able to recognize what it is I need and ask for it.

Reflective listening is something that I realize I am not that great at. It is an art and a skill. I realize I make a lot of assumptions when I am listening to people. Sometimes I am right, and sometimes I am pretty far off from what they actually meant. So, reflective listening entails paraphrasing what you have heard, to make sure that you are hearing the message that the communicator intends to communicate. This can prevent hurt feelings from developing or from assumptions taking on a life of their own.

Paraphrasing: simply repeating what you have heard the speaker say, so that they know that you heard them.
K: I felt really upset today when you said you would call me and you didn't.
J: I hear you saying that you are upset because I didn't call you when I said I would.
 
Validation: validating feelings doesn't mean that you agree with them or think that they are rational, logical, or make sense to you. What it does mean, is providing empathy and letting the speaker know that their feelings matter because they are real regardless of where they are coming from or whether they make "sense."
K: I am having a hard time because...
J: That sounds really difficult to be going through that and feeling that. I feel bad that you are hurting so much.


Lastly, I think it is extremely important to note that listening and communicating takes even more work when my own interests, desires, needs, etc have to take a back seat in the communication process. Sometimes providing support to someone else means letting my own needs become secondary, but only until I know that the other person is in a space to hear my needs effectively. I have realized that communication, especially around sticky and sensitive topics, can really go down the toilet when both people (or more if there are more people involved) have been touched deeply by the issue at hand. Someone has to be willing to table their own reactions and feelings to provide the other person with support. I think a kind of compassionate "stair-step" approach can be helpful in building and re-building trust and providing each person with the space they need in order to communicate whatever it is that they must share.

(Caveat: this is something that I have been working on intensely in my own counseling sessions. My natural inclinations are to always put others' needs above my own. That's not particularly healthy, for me or ultimately anyone else. But I have become much better at voicing my feelings and needs to myself and others, and I still recognize the communication dance at play when emotions run high on both/all sides of the table.)

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Love & Control

I had a pretty spectacular a-ha moment in my most recent counseling session.

It went something like this:

I read Spiritual Polyamory by Mystic Life in one sitting. Some of the book was useful, and some was not. His concept of "Loa" (love of all) feels foundational to me, and his conception of relationships as friendships that may include sex if that feels right for the people involved is a really useful way for me to think about our other partners and relationships. His discussion of how the monogamy paradigm has created this expectation that a sexual or romantic relationship automatically also includes control, exclusivity, and ownership is also very clear and helpful in rethinking basic relationship assumptions. The most useful lines from the entire 70-something pages, though, were these:

"When we are young it is rare to feel fully accepted. Parents and other authority figures are seen as all-powerful, and often correct our behavior so that we remain safe from harm...
This parent-child control-based dynamic often continues into our relationships as adults. Many people feel that they can't be fully accepted, that love is conditional, and that being controlled is part of being loved." (my emphasis added)

These lines summarized my work in counseling pretty much perfectly. My revelation was this: I was heavily controlled as a kid, all the way until I moved away from my family with J (so, even through my time in college my parents attempted to exert control over my life). My parents showed care and concern and love through controlling my behaviors and actions. The idea of how to give and receive love are wrapped up in my brain with the idea of control. This makes so much sense to me with how I experience anxiety and fear in our open relationship. If J wants to do something with another partner, and I have zero say in what they do and/or how, I feel extremely anxious. I can't exert control, and so I don't feel like I can give love, or that the people I want to show love can receive it. In addition, I always feel sad when I attempt to let J exert control (is it okay if I do this?, I will check in with you at..., Tell me if I should do this differently) and he responds with "I don't care. Do what you want." I feel on a deep, subconscious level: You don't love me.

A-ha!! My counselor wrote on a sticky note for me: 

Love = control
Freedom (given to others, given to you) equal Love

And on the back of the note, she wrote:
Assumptions
Reframe meaning

It is completely liberating to be able to name this underlying, subconscious dynamic of my own psychology. Because now I have something tangible to work with, instead of this weird, vague, terrifying fear and insecurity.

This recognition also had the effect of making J feel a lot better. He has felt controlled for a long time in our relationship, even before we were open. And he rarely (perhaps never) felt validated in feeling controlled. Which I am truly sorry for. My unwillingness to validate that feeling before was coming from a place of knowing that my "controlling" behavior was never intended to be mean or like I was trying to own him; it was coming from a place of love, twisted as it may be.

So now my (long-term) work is to: reframe love for myself as something related to independence and freedom. That in giving freedom, I give love and that in receiving freedom, I receive love. It also means, that I need to start allowing myself to experience freedom so I experience love in this new way. I need to stop holding myself back from relationships and experiences I want. This heavy self-imposed control has been my subconscious way of showing myself love and it's not working. I don't think I have flipped a magical switch, but I do think I have an uber increased level of self awareness which is the first step in moving forward.

I have also been reading Osho's Love, Freedom, Aloneness: The Koan of Relationships. While Osho is pretty monoga-normative and very homophobic, the Buddhist underpinnings to his message about what love is truly fantastic. It is both painful and liberating for me to read. I am not yet done, because I am trying to just take in a little at a time so that I am not completely overwhelmed. I am eager to finish it and process it fully. One of the basic ideas that has stuck with me far is that love is love. It simply is. One cannot make love "better" and one cannot compare "one love" with another. If you feel love for someone, be grateful that you do. It cannot be diminished or taken away simply because you or the other person love others. The love you experience with another is simply love. Love is love. He also discusses how the introduction of control and over-connectedness into relationships kills freedom, which kills love. (Ha! What do you know?? Love = freedom). Also, he takes issue with the idea of "relationships." He instead thinks we should all "relate" to each other, but the very idea of a "relationship" instills ideas of control and imprisonment. Perhaps this last idea will make more sense to me after I finish the book, but right now it does not resonate with me.

I feel like I express gratitude fairly frequently on this blog, and I really enjoy doing that: I feel so grateful for having this life, for having the opportunity to reflect on my experiences and values and thoughts and behaviors, and for having the ability to grow. I feel so grateful to J for being so patient and loving, and working on himself, too, so that we are both growing as individuals and so that our relationship continues to strengthen and grow. And I am grateful to our friends (sexy and vanilla) and family and other partners who love us and want to see us happy, too. 


Wednesday, December 12, 2012

It Will Be

Something that I have become increasingly aware of in the past six months, and become increasingly better at recognizing and changing, has been my tendency to focus on a relationship role and attempt to have someone fill it, rather than letting my relationship with that person do its own thing.

This really started happening last January when I decided I really wanted to date women. I really wanted a girlfriend. I don't think there is anything wrong with this desire (I still have it as part of my "ideal" relationship configuration). But where I went sort of wrong was my focus on the very specific image of what I wanted that to look like, and focusing on all of my energy in trying to make whoever was "available" to me fill that role, despite knowledge, signs, or communication that that person was not interested in or unable to fill that role. This tendency of mine really took a crashing nosedive during the summer, when I was so focused on the creating a specific relationship that I did not pay attention to the fact that I wasn't really feeling that relationship with the person I was so desperately trying to create it with. The chemistry, communication, trust, and honesty were all lacking, but I tried so hard to make it work anyway, because dammit I wanted a girlfriend. Recipe for disaster? Yes.

There can also be a tendency for me to focus on end goals: I want to feel that way, I want it to look that way. I compare myself to others. I stop paying attention to what feels good for me and I stop living in the moment. I start listening to what other people want, thinking I need to want that for myself. Ironically, if I focused on my present moment and what sounds satisfying and healthy for me in that moment, I would probably also experience those other things eventually. But in not relaxing, I completely shut down, unable to move anywhere with my feelings.

I went on a date with a woman last week; it was the first one in three months. Great conversation, really fun personality. No chemistry. What do I do? Finally take a deep breath, remind myself chemistry is rarer than we are led to believe, and am honest with myself and her. Platonic dates sound great, romantic ones not so much.

This all takes a great deal of honesty, and it's work to be that honest with myself and with others. But extremely worth it and I feel grateful to have the capacity to take this kind of personal work on.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Poly Math

I had this article recommended to me, and I found it really useful: http://www.serolynne.com/poly_complex.htm 

Thinking about how the health of each "mini relationship" affects larger group configurations makes so much sense to me. 

I don't have much else to say about it; mostly I wanted to post the article link as food for thought :) I'd love to hear from folks with poly configurations about how mini relationship health has affected your larger group of partners! 



 

Monday, December 3, 2012

Love & Fear

I have been thinking a lot lately about something that a good sexy friend was talking to me about. (Thanks for the inspiration B!)

From what I remember, he described that all decisions in life are made out of fear or love. And that we choose what basic motivation will drive our decision-making.

I think this is a really thought-provoking framework. I think that it adds a lot to my understanding of myself, and can provide some interesting ways of approaching my relationship with J and other partners. I think perhaps there is a gray area, though, that isn't accounted for. What happens when my love for myself dictates that I behave in a way that seems fear-based to others? How do I balance my need to be honest with any fear-based feelings with the need to express behaviors that demonstrate my love for others? I think it is interesting to note that both feelings, love and fear, can be extremely vulnerable and both can produce highly vulnerable states of mind.

I think it is intriguing to think about how rules and boundaries are negotiated in a relationship, and what basic motivation (love and fear in this case) is driving them. What about negotiations and compromises? To me, communication and negotiating can be approached similarly- with fear or love. A fear-based conversation is wrought with reactionary language and drama. A love-based conversation is filled with active listening, validation, compassion, and kindness. This of course doesn't mean that a love-based conversation can't include directness, honesty, and communicating about needs. And it doesn't mean that one person has to "give up" what they want in order to appease another. 

Overall, J doesn't find this framework especially helpful for him. It feels a little too "new-agey" or "woo woo" for him :-) I think it is helpful for me in trying to approach some of my common triggers differently, and experimenting with a different frame to see if I can achieve some different results. 

I really like this from a website I found (my added comments are in red):

1.  Love and accept yourself.  Only with true love and acceptance can you let go of the part of you that is overtaken by fear.
Accept yourself with all of your imperfection. Accept your worries, doubts. Accept the fact that you were making those fear based decisions.
Accept even the fact that you might continue making them no matter how hard you try to stop. This last point sounds counterintuitive, but, trust me, what you resist, persists. Instead of fighting, try accepting and facing. I really, really like this first point. I need to accept myself for who I am, completely, before anything can change. I also feel like I need to be accepted by the people in my life for who I am already, before I can feel supported in changing and growing. If I feel like I am expected to change before I can be loved, I am extremely limited in my confidence and motivation to do the work to change. Also, I think making love-based decisions for myself first, before others, is extremely important.
2.  Make unconscious conscious. It is proven that up to 95% of our daily activity is based on the subconscious programming we have downloaded from the past. Most of the decisions we make on a daily basis, we don’t even question. We make them based on that programming. 
The result? Lots of fear without us even realizing we have it.
How do you stop living on autopilot? Learn self awareness. Learn being fully present in every moment. Then you’ll be able to consciously make a choice and notice yourself making fear based decision right away.
3Find your “Whys”. Why do you want to stop making decision based on fear? Even if they are small ones. Even if you hardly notice doing it. Why do you want to stop? What are your “whys”?
Most likely one of your “whys” is a desire to live a more authentic life. Or maybe a desire to spread the vibe of love and acceptance? Or maybe your “why” is your desire to have that inner knowing that you are being true to yourself?
 What are your “whys”?
4.  Find your True Self, find your purpose and passions. Too often we live our lives based on the limitations and standards others imposed on us. 
What do You truly want in life? What is your purpose? What are your passions? Amazingly, once we discover our purpose and what we truly are passionate about, making love based decisions and letting go of those that are based on fear becomes so much easier. This is J's favorite out of the list. We have talked a lot about fear-based decision making around employment and pay, and how breaking out of the paradigm that you have to stay really busy and make a lot of money is really difficult to do.
5.  Jump, the net will appear. It takes courage to leave a job that is paying your bills and commit to doing  what you love. It sometimes takes courage to leave relationships that no longer make you happy.
It takes courage and lots of faith to commit to making only love based decisions. Take that courage.  

I also really like this post and this one.