Thursday, May 14, 2015

My Relationship With Religion

When I was a child, my visualization of God was that of an old man with a long beard who resided in heaven.  He took on human emotions: He was generally kind and benevolent, but could become angry and punishing.  He pulled levers and turned knobs to control the weather.  He also looked down on mankind with a watchful eye to determine who would and would not make it through the pearly gates. 

By adolescence, my beliefs remained relatively unchanged, however my image of God matured and became more abstract.  He lost His human characteristics, no longer pulling levers and turning knobs, and became Spirit.  At the time, I had very little understanding of Spirit beyond what I was able to glean from church teachings: God as Spirit was all powerful, but mysterious.  Spirit, in fact, has been mysterious to me much of my adult life, as I have struggled to define and understand my concept of Divinity.  (The Catholic Church, and I assume most Protestant denominations, define Deity as the Holy Trinity, of which Spirit is one of Three Persons comprising one Being.  However, I did not learn this until much later in life.  Here, I am using Spirit to mean God.)   

I was raised in a North Dayton Jewish neighborhood and observed the rich traditions of the Jewish faith through my friendships.  I came to understand that Jews attend church services, weddings, funerals and the like, just as Protestants do.  More importantly, I came to realize that the Jewish faith served all of the same needs as my Christian religion, even absent a belief in the human manifestation of God.  Judaism helped me learn, even as a young boy, that no one religion is better or more right than any other.  Judaism also likely played a role in my decision to convert to Catholicism much later in life.  I admire the ritualistic practices of both religions and Catholic ritual played a significant role in my spiritual practices, especially during the nineties while living in Louisville.

College also played a role in the development of my beliefs.  As a curious sociology student, I learned about many cultures and cut through the superficial differences to discover that religion is present in virtually all societies and that the practices of each serve the same basic psychological and social human needs.  It was also in college that I came to appreciate the genesis of various religions and the passing of dogma down through the generations of believers.  Through my studies, I learned that religion is man-made, created to serve societal needs and desires.    

Catholics, of course, make the sign of the cross before and/or after prayer.  I remember studying the Trinity in my adult confirmation class years ago.  I thought then, and believe now, that it is great fodder for theological debate, but far too complex for my simple mind.  While I enjoy the idea of the Trinity and the practice of signing, I have never considered the doctrine to represent literal truth, meaning divinely inspired.  I do believe in the historical Jesus and in the historical accuracy of parts of the Gospels.  For example, I have read that most modern religious scholars consider the circumstances surrounding His baptism and crucifixion to be historical facts.  Much of the rest of the recorded life and ministry of Jesus is up for grabs, accepted or rejected based on faith.  This has never been a concern to me; I have never considered it important to accept religious teaching as being factually correct.

I am surrounded by vast numbers of people here in the South who believe the Bible represents absolute truth, the literal Word of God.  This literal interpretation can border on the insane, especially when it comes to educating our children.  There are many who favor teaching Creationism in lieu of actual science and who object to the teaching of critical thinking.  The controversy over critical thinking stumped me until I learned religious conservatives fear that the development of critical thinking skills in children will lead to a breakdown of parental authority.  Go figure.  These things, of course, represent only the dark side of religion.  I am well aware that the practice of religion has many virtues and is very important to a vast majority of folks here and almost everywhere. 

I do enjoy religious practice, probably for the same reasons as the religious faithful.  The difference, I think, is my ability to separate the spiritual from the dogmatic aspects of religion.  While I find the Catholic mass spiritually enlightening, Catholic doctrine dealing with such matters as birth control, abortion and homosexuality is abhorrent, and I believe, immoral.  Like other denominations, Catholicism is practiced more conservatively in the South than in the northern states.  In a former northern church my wife and I attended, there was much less emphasis given to negative Catholic values.  

I have a curiosity about the Unitarian Universalist Church (UU).  Unitarian Universalism is a liberal religion with little dogma.  The Church has no one doctrine of belief; instead, members share seven common ethical values.  The Church advocates for social justice and human rights, and welcomes everyone, including those who retain a strong connection with another tradition.  There are those who self-identify as Jew UU, Pagan UU, Buddhist UU and Humanist UU, among others.  Many of my Pagan friends in Florida attend the UU Church.  I have not as yet received this calling, but if this comes to pass, I will become a Pagan UU.    

Atheism is definitely not for me; my true nature is spiritual and it would be impossible for me to reject theistic belief.  Nonetheless, my association with polyamory has given me some insight into atheism.  Most polyamorists are either Pagans or atheists, with the latter representing the majority.  I have attended workshops and heard talks about skepticism and atheism.  I lack an in-depth understanding of these subjects, but agree with some of the objectives of the atheist movement.  Most especially, I would welcome a secular society free of religious-based politics.  It is my belief that religion needs to be completely divorced from politics.  For example, the Georgia legislature recently passed long overdue legislation legalizing the use of medical marijuana, providing the only available relief to children suffering from severe seizure disorders.  Regardless of the known efficacy of medical marijuana and the resultant humane treatment of children, a great deal of misguided opposition, much of it religious based, had to be overcome.  And, of course, the same could be said about marriage equality.

My connection with the Universe is at the core of my spirituality today.  I believe in a holistic view of the Universe, the Universe as Source and the energy connecting us to the Universe and to each other.  We are all energy and we all One.  I am most spiritual at the Pagan festivals I attend semi-annually in Florida, especially during sacred sexuality rituals.
  (Imagine how much better the world would be if mainstream religions enjoyed such a healthy relationship with sex?)  These beautiful rituals raise energy levels and send intentions out to a receptive Universe.  They are a time for love and peace, a time when people love people, a time for joyful reverence and a time for sexual pleasure.  It is my time, a time when I am one with the Universe, one with those I share the experience, and most importantly, one with myself.     

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Guidelines for the Poly Man

The body of work on polyamory is now large enough that the same core material can be found in many different works.  Thus, the ideas and concepts presented here are by no means original.  I have read about them often from many different authors.  Far less common is gender-specific writings.  Knowing much more about the male than the female psyche, I decided to fill this void by writing to heterosexual men, hopefully in terms men understand.  I have some credentials for doing this: Firstly, I am a man, and secondly, I come from the school of hard knocks and have learned many what-not-to-dos from personal experience.  Of course, with the exception of some obvious guy stuff, much of what is written here can apply equally to any relationship consisting of any persons of any sex, gender or orientation.

I.  Polyamory transcends common perception and is often misunderstood.  Polyamory is defined as having or desiring multiple simultaneous romantic relationships, with the knowledge and consent of all concerned.  While accurate, this definition fails to convey a complete understanding.  Polyamory is heart-driven and about allowing love to flow freely in whatever direction or form and to whomever the heart desires.  It is about loving radically.  In her book, Redefining Our Relationships, Wendy-O Matik says it this way: “Radical love is the freedom to love whom you want, how you want, and as many as you want, so long as personal integrity, respect, honesty, and consent are at the core of any and all relationships.”

The point here is that polyamory is not about goal setting.  Do not predetermine the number of partners or poly configuration you might want and then try to make it happened.  And for god’s sake, ditch the elusive unicorn fantasy.  Bringing a young, single, hot, bi woman into your existing relationship, providing a convenient plaything for you and your partner/s is not likely to happen.  (Demand far exceeds supply.)  Instead, love radically.  Allow your heart to lead the way and you will find the place where you are supposed to be.

II.  Women are complex, at times confusing, and always amazingly awesome!  She will likely find fault with you more frequently than you would like, justly or unjustly, so don’t overthink the situation.  Don’t sweat the small stuff and accept constructive criticism gracefully.  Own your shit and fix yourself as needed.  Offer her well-deserved compliments whenever possible.  When you are physically together, be sure you are emotionally present.  Always act with integrity – always.  Love with reckless abandon and fuck her to smithereens, then love her even more.  She is well worth it or she wouldn’t be your partner.  And if you are fortunate enough to have more than one partner, treat each fairly and love each with reckless abandon.  Your partners are precious and you are damn lucky to have them.

III.  Relationships are like water - they naturally seek their own level.  Any healthy, happy and fun relationship with a woman is better than no relationship.  Relish the relationship for what it is and don’t worry about what it is not.  You can very successfully be friends, lovers or partners, so long as you honor her and act with integrity by allowing growth to happen (or not) naturally.  If a relationship fails to meet all of your needs (and it can’t be expected to do so), find additional complementary relationships to fill the void.  In the monogamous world, the grass is always greener and a mostly satisfactory relationship can be trashed in the hope of finding a better one, and this unseemly cycle often repeats.  Never lose sight of the fact you are privileged to be polyamorous. 

IV.  Our cultural conditioning must be reevaluated.  Our churches, schools and parents pile on us large mounds of shit that run counter to nature and become the source of enormous pain to many later in life.*  Mature, thoughtful adults have a responsibility to rise above the stench and reject the fairy tale ingrained since birth about soulmates, sexual exclusivity and living happily ever after.  Monogamy, as the sole societal norm for relating romantically and sexually, has a long and tragic track record of failure.  Nonetheless, monogamy, consciously chosen, as opposed to a cultural default, is a valid love-style.**

So, love and cherish your monogamous friends, even if their love-style doesn’t work for you.  There’s a better than even chance yours won’t work for them.  Further, there’s a better than even chance they are really only socially, not sexually, monogamous – it’s called cheating.  Cheating is so pervasive that in the majority of committed dyadic relationships (married or shacked up), one or both partners cheat.  Unfortunately, cheating is not limited to the socially monogamous couple, and cheating can and does occur in poly relationships as well.  Always honor all agreements with your partners.  Always be ethical – always.   

*Sex at Dawn by Christopher Ryan and Cacilda Jethá makes a very strong case that humans, like almost the entire animal kingdom, are non-monogamous by nature.  Mother Nature wants us to fuck many and often; monogamy, both the good and the bad, is culturally programmed.

**Deborah Anapol, author of Polyamory in the 21st Century, makes the point that even a monogamous relationship is poly if this is the direction love is allowed to flow freely, bearing in mind that culturally imposed monogamy is forced, involuntary and certainly not poly. 

V.  Your partners are goddesses.  All forms of ethical non-monogamy, whether it be polyamory, swinging, friends-with-benefits and so forth, are always about the women in our lives.  In our society, they have far more cultural bullshit to rise above than we do; and, because they have a higher mountain to climb, they are deserving of our awe, reverence and admiration for allowing us into their romantic and sexual lives.  Never take for granted the privilege of vaginal access, without which, we would be doomed to a life of solitary dick stroking.  Your partners have faults, just as we do, but at their core, they are goddesses and amazingly awesome.

VI.  A successful relationship is founded on trust, integrity, honesty and consent.  If you fail to build trust, you will likely live in fear, which is the most common core emotion underlying jealousy.  If you fail to own your shit and instead project it on her, you lack integrity.  If you are dishonest, she cannot give informed consent and uninformed consent is not consent.  And always be mindful of fairness; these things apply equally to all of your partners.  Only an unmitigated jerk would try to preserve one relationship by trashing another.  Even if your configuration is hierarchical, the partner you are with at the moment is always your primary partner.  If you are unable to behave accordingly, you do not deserve her and the relationship must end; but, end it honestly, honorably and with integrity.

Polyamory is complicated at best.  This complexity explodes exponentially as partners are added to a poly grouping.  In a dyad, there is only one relationship to manage, a triad requires four (3 dyads, 1 triad), and a quad eleven (6 dyads, 4 triads, 1 quad).  Love is infinite, but our time and energy are finite. The only way to successfully traverse the highs and lows inherent in the human experience is with trust, integrity, honesty and consent. 

VII.  Jealousy has the power to turn you into a possessive, controlling, flaccid prick.  She owns her mind, body and emotions.  You have no access or rights to these things, except as gifted by her.  And her gift is by no means permanent or unconditional.  Do not try to change her to meet your needs or to sooth the pain associated with a fear of abandonment or any other fear.  You are destined to fail, and in the process, greatly stress your relationship.  Own your feelings, learn from them and grow up.  Develop sound jealousy management skills; by doing so, you will grow in ways you never thought attainable and the best version of yourself will proudly emerge from jealousy hell.  Don’t be a prick.

VIII.  When she is jealous, be gentle and understanding.  Don’t be stupid and say dumb shit: “Why do you feel this way?”  “What are you afraid of?”  “There’s no reason to be jealous of so and so!”  Feelings are always real, only behavior can be controlled.  Validate her feelings with empathy and compassion.  Let her know how sorry you are that she feels so awful.  Provide lots of reassurance.  Tell her how much you love her and that you look forward to having her back in your arms upon your return.  But never reinforce bad behavior by agreeing to change your plans.  With your kindness, compassion and reassurances, the best version of your partner will likely emerge unscathed from jealousy hell.               

IX.  Learn and practice tantric sex.  Unlike other branches of human relating falling under the ethical non-monogamy umbrella, polyamory does not emphasize sex; in fact, a relationship does not have to be sexual at all to be poly.  Having said this, there are poly configurations and circumstances that may require you to fuck often.  This can be true if your partners lack other partners or their partners are long distant, or if your configuration consists of more hetero women than men, or for any number of other reasons.  While this may sound exciting to a mono man accustomed to an average frequency at home, this can become exhausting to a poly man in high demand.  The solution is tantric, employing techniques such as partner focus, ejaculatory control and redefining of orgasm.  These things are beyond the scope of this writing, but the reading of tantric works and engaging a tantric teacher can go a long way in maintaining an appropriate state of emotional and physical readiness.  I highly recommend a tantric approach to sexual fulfillment under any circumstances, but it is especially important if stamina is critical to the wellbeing of your relationships.

X.  Women are amazingly awesome!  Women want, hope and need, just as we do.  In this regard, we are all one.  Women lust, love, caress, fuck, nurture and wish for goodness, grace and good health for themselves and for those they love.  They are incredibly insightful and serve as our life mirrors, helping us grow and be better people.  They do view the world through a slightly different lens, but this is not a bad thing.  This challenges us to learn, grow and better understand those we love.  As sexual polar opposites, energy flows freely and is exchanged between us with joyful abundance.  And for those fortunate enough to be polyamorous, there is always the potential to realize all of the sex and loving energy we could possibly want or need.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

More Than Two - Final Thought

I mentioned in a previous post that the book, More Than Two, has made me think - and it has.  Its reading resurrected thoughts about my many past mistakes and failures: about the early jealous years when I lived in fear of loss, about my possessiveness when I tried to change my partner's behavior to meet my needs, about how futile and ugly this strategy played out, and looking back in amazement, about how I behaved at times like an insensitive jerk.  In short, I failed to own my shit until many hard lessons were learned.  

Is it possible to avoid, or at least mitigate, these mistakes through a thorough reading of the book?  Can a poly newbie absorb so much of the valuable information conveyed to overcome a lifetime of cultural conditioning and successfully navigate the sometimes treacherous waters of multiple relationships?  In my case, I would have to say "no" to both questions.  In large part, the book is meaningful to me because I can relate to the issues raised through personal experience.  If I had read it as a newbie, I would likely have failed to completely grasp its truth, considering it more applicable to other people, because - well, you know - I am too smart to mismanage all of that relationship shit

I think someone new to poly or considering poly for the first time should build a strong knowledge base about the basics of polyamory, then tackle the subtleties often only thoroughly understood through personal experience.  My advice to newbies would be to read Opening Up by Tristan Taormino, Redefining Our Relationships: Guidelines for Responsible Open Relationships by Wendy-O Matik and More Than Two, by Franklin Veaux and Eve Rickert in that order.  

However, the best advice of all is found in the close of More Than Two: "Love more and be awesome."