Shedding My Layers Part One: Polyamory

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You ask, “Why do you cry with such

sweetness all around?” I weep as I

make the honey, wearing the shirt

of a bee, and I refuse to share this

suffering. I play the sky’s harp. I

curl around my treasure like a snake.

You say, “What is this ‘I’ business?”

Friend, I’ve been a long time away

from my center. What you see here is

your own reflection. I am still raw,

and at the same time well-cooked, and

burnt to a crisp! No one can tell if

I’m weeping or laughing. I wonder myself.

How can I be separated, and yet in union?

-Rumi

“I curl around my treasure like a snake.” This line, in particular, has caught me from this gorgeous poem. It encompasses, to me, what I have so often done with my sense of ‘identity’. I have curled myself around pieces of information and used them to define me. It’s something we all do, to varying degrees. We identify as our roles: mother, husband, student. As our social standing: pillar of society, hermit, fuck-up. As our jobs. As our diagnoses. As our emotions. As our thoughts.

None of that really describes who we are, though.  This morning, I felt buoyant. That does not make me buoyant, but at one time I did feel this way. I have been a wife—that does not, in perpetuity, make me a wife. And so one. I’ve even changed names throughout my life, so that, too, is a wiggly definition. Yet, without these labels, I am left with…what?

Well, that’s what I’m starting to discover. What is under all these layers I’ve collected over the years? With each definition I shed, something new arises. A spaciousness comes to light.

I’ll give you an example, one that is really not fucking easy for me to own up to, because of the path that brought me to this point in my life.

blog 11.2When I was sixteen, I was given a book called The Ethical Slut. Many of you have probably heard of it, or read it. For those who haven’t, it’s an inspiring nonfiction work on the practice of ethical polyamory. I ate it up. I identified with the author’s views on love, and sex. This idea that we should be able to love freely and let relationships grow organically appealed to me immensely. That we shouldn’t be ‘tied down’ to one, monogamous relationship. That ‘sex is nice, and pleasure is good for you’. The information in that book took root, and from that point on I identified as polyamorous.

Fast forward a few years, to the point where I met my now ex-husband. We dated for a while, then broke up. Then got back together. Then, because of this identity—as well as another I won’t get into at this point—we broke up again. I wanted an open relationship, he didn’t. Then, we got back together, and I worked hard at pushing this identity under layers of repression. I didn’t address it. I didn’t explore it. I hid it. And six years later it exploded with the righteous fury of a really hungry zombie. The marriage ended, in part because I demanded an open relationship.

Moving forward, I tried to embrace this idea. The jealousy and discomfort that came up in the course of trying to model the kind of relationship and free-wheeling sexuality I decided I wanted did illuminate many things, but never quite became the tool of discovery I hoped for. Instead, I made myself miserable, and plenty of people I care about deeply were pretty miserable, too. Still, I pushed ahead, sure that I could just keep wading through until something started to shift and I could see the light. I kept hoping, believing, that there would come a time when me talking about polyamory to another person would feel natural, and not like I was dressing up in someone else’s clothes.

It never happened. But I wanted it to, so badly. Not in small part because I’d used polyamory as a cudgel to maim my marriage, and hurt a good man in the process. I had to be polyamorous. I had to be open, and sexy, and free-spirited because I’d built so much of my identity around this thing.

I curled around that treasure like a snake, and I was damned if I was going to let it go. It was me, after all.

Except…it wasn’t.

These last couple months—hell, these last few years—have been a thunderstorm interspersed with breaks in the cloud letting brilliant beams of sunshine in. Focusing now on the last couple months, I’ve found myself recognizing bits and pieces of clothing I’ve been wearing that don’t actually belong to me. Big bits.

Polyamory is one of them.blog 11.3

I’ve always liked to think of myself as counterculture. Too cool for school (literally). I have always kind of loved the shock factor that comes along with parts of my identity I collected, and polyamory is definitely good for a bit of taboo, a bit of titillation. But one thing I’ve come to realize is that adopting something with the hope that it will make people flinch, or lean in with a leer, is no different than adopting something with the hope that it will make them like you. It’s still acting based on what someone else will say.

Why polyamory, out of all the ‘shocking’ bits of identity I could have chosen?  Well, relationships are a sticky, tangled web. One that I have enjoyed losing myself in. One I have enjoyed escaping from myself into. For me, sex has been, at times, a weapon. An escape chute. A tool.

It has also been a joining of souls. A Divine experience. Transcendent.

At times when I’ve wanted to escape, I’ve used sex as a means to do it. I’ve used relationships as a means to do it. At times when I’ve wanted to be closer to God, I’ve used sex and relationships in an attempt to fill that uniquely God-shaped void. In the end, using sex and relationships at all has only ended in more suffering. They’re not tools to be used. They’re opportunities to celebrate, to practice gratitude and connection.

blog 11.4As I’ve grown stronger in my relationship with God, and as I’ve found a more personal relationship with Shiva in particular, this need I’ve felt to embrace polyamory has evaporated. It’s a strange feeling, but, like I said, there is a spaciousness left in its place.

I want to be clear that I am not looking down on polyamory for anyone else. I do believe that for some people it can be a holy, ethical, aware practice, and besides, that’s none of my business. I’m also not saying that I am totally closed to the possibility that at some point in the future I may find myself in a situation where having an intimate relationship with more than one person is truly my Path. But, I can guarantee, it won’t look anything like anything I’ve done in the past.

I am done using my sexuality as a place to hide, a place to escape, or a weapon to hurt. And that feels pretty fucking good.

Thank you, polyamory, for all you have taught me. I am sorry to all of those who have been hurt in the process. I ask for Divine guidance in the next steps of this journey.

Namaste.

How To Go Back Without Going Backwards

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Me. 18. Mere minutes after getting my lower lip pierced.

I write this sitting in the bed I slept in when I was 16. Sitting in the room I lived in when I was 16. Staring out the window at the same view I saw when I was 16. I’m 31, now, but coming back to my parent’s house has forced me to look at many, many aspects of myself that I’d just as soon forget.

 

I just finished watching the first season of “No Tomorrow” (which I highly recommend, cheesy romance bits and all), and there’s a scene where the main female lead breaks things off with the main male lead because he won’t talk to his father. “I can’t be with someone who isn’t their whole self.” That struck a chord with me. I can’t BE someone who isn’t their whole self. I’m not willing to live a life unexamined, just because some of the really painful bits I’ve glossed over happened ten, fifteen, twenty years ago.

When I was considering coming here, instead of going to Seattle or South Carolina or wherever the hell else, I experienced a lot of anxiety. Was I admitting defeat? Was I returning to comfort for the sake of comfort? Would I fall back into those dark, angry patterns I grew so familiar with when I was a teenager?

Upon arrival, and for a couple weeks following, these thoughts plagued me. This room is even organized more or less the same way, with the dresser next to the window, the desk on the far wall. There are different things in the closet, different art on the walls. But the most important difference has nothing to do with the window dressing.

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Dug up from my ancient DeviantArt account

It’s me.

 

Yesterday, in search of collage material, I went through some files of old paperwork, school assignments, etc., that my mom had kept over the years. I found some startling things. A missing poster, that my mother made the second time I ran away from home. A letter, begging my parents to let me quit high school, written the day after my best friend came to me in the hallway and said, “You’ll never believe how many people don’t like you!” A scrapbook I made, half finished, with the last bit of paraphernalia a postcard that said I HATE EVERYONE.

Memories of my formative years, marked by pain. Feeling ostracized. Feeling unworthy. Feelings that have followed me, even as I’ve worked so hard to gloss over those years, put them in the past, let sleeping dogs lie. All that bullshit.

Because those sleeping dogs wake up. And sometimes they bite.

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Standing in my room. The flowers on the dresser are still on the dresser.

 

I also found, in those scraps of writing, a girl I recognize wholeheartedly. A biting wit that takes shit from no one. A strong sense of moral ground. A desire to be better, do better, share with the world. She wanted the same things I do, now, in many ways. “Inside you,” she (I) wrote, “is all the talent and ability you will ever need.” Which comes down to saying, “I am enough.

And I am. So are you.

And you.

And you.

I came back to my parent’s home for many reasons. To help my mom with the house. To gain wisdom, guidance, and companionship from my parents, my brothers, a few old friends. But mostly, I came back to put myself back together. To reunite with the girl I, too, set out in the cold.

I’m not going to lie, it’s hard as hell. But going back is the only way I’ve found that will allow me to move forward.

Here’s to you Caiti. Sara. Zandila. Eliza. Spiro. The girl with too many names.

You have a home here.

Ayahuasca Tourism a la Pisac y Community

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The Sunday market, jam-packed with handwoven scarves, alpaca figurines, crystals, and-if you know where to look-huachuma and willkayopo powders

Pisac is an interesting little town, nestled deep in the Sacred Valley of the Incas. It’s about an hour collective ride from Cusco, and a major destination point for the alternative crowd seeking mind-expansion, healing therapies, and communing with like-minded people.

In fact, sacred plant tourism is so popular here that you can find advertisements for ceremonies posted in bathrooms, outside the tiny grocery store, even incorporated into the plastic covering of a few of the moto-taxis that navigate the narrow, cobblestone streets. Everywhere you turn you can see evidence of shamans from varying backgrounds, experience levels, and intentions vying for the tourist’s dollars.

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The view from the upper level of Ulrike’s, a westerner hotspot, with good wifi, papas fritas, and the best carrot cake I’ve ever tasted.

I came to Pisac with a different angle than perhaps many of the people I’ve seen roaming about town. The community I stayed in approached the sacred plants in a very different way than how I gathered many of the advertising practitioners do. I saw fliers touting ayahuasca weekends, or wee long packages, where attendees would have three or four ceremonies, sometimes back-to-back, with very little time for processing or integration in between. I heard stories of people being given ayahuasca, then left in a little room while music plays on a stereo. Still others who give the medicine, then fumigate people with noxious smoke in order to induce as much vomiting and physical unease as possible. I think, there, the idea is that it isn’t real medicine if you don’t puke your guts out.

The community I lived at has, from all I’ve gathered, a pretty unique approach. One that I’m not going to pretend and say I agree with completely, or even understand completely, but unique nonetheless.

To begin with, there is a heavy emphasis on service. How can I be of service to the community, to Life, to the medicine? It’s a question that raises a whole host of other questions. Like, what does it mean to serve?

There has been a lot of research done on happiness and belonging, and one thing that nearly every study comes up with is this idea that service is an absolute necessity for true happiness. Feeling like you are giving back, being useful in some way or another, is an underpinning of human health and well-being. We want to feel needed. We want to feel wanted. We want to feel like we are a integrated part of the human web.

So, members of the community engage in service, from everything to cooking to keeping track of bedsheets to creating medicinal plant tinctures.

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Boiling stock for dinner

Another big feature is the emphasis in the collective, and circle consciousness. This is one point that really threw me, which I still don’t really understand or know how to practice. The idea, from what I do get, is this: we are all part of a broader collective, at its largest level being the Universe. On a smaller scale, our collectives expand around us, starting with the couple, then your immediate family, on outwards to encompass your neighborhoods, schools, social groups, cities, states, countries, etc. So, being part of a collective is unavoidable. It’s just built into to existence. (Feeling like you’re part of the collective is a different story altogether.)

Circle consciousness is accepting and embracing the idea of the collective, and then moving your consciousness from the ‘I’ focused out to the ‘us’ focused. An example of this, in practice, is the approach they take to issues like depression, or illness, in the community. An individual who presents with a bout of depression is not depressed in and of themselves, but is rather manifesting a sickness/issue that is present within and arising from the community as a whole (and, by extension, humanity as a whole). As such, there are a lot of heavy discussions within the community, exploring situations up, down, and sideways. This, I think, is not something you will find in many ayahuasca retreat centers, where the emphasis is on the ceremony as opposed to the intentions going into the ceremony, and integrating what came after the ceremony.

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A view of the square from the Blue Llama Cafe

Despite the difficulties I had living in and integrating with the community, this approach strikes me as a far saner method than the majority of the alternatives. Of course, I’m speaking from a pretty limited perspective on the matter, having not explored any of the many, many alternatives available. One thing I’ve learned from my time on this planet is that there are energies among us that deserve respect, and reverence. The sacred plants—ayahuasca, huachuma, marijuana, tobaccos, amanitas, the list goes on—are among those that should be approach with humility and openness. The latter of which I readily admit I lacked during my time at the community.

Getting Lost All Over Again

 

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One year ago, today, I was in Rishikesh, Uttarakhand, India. I had finished my 200 hour yoga teacher training and was in the thralls of trying to decide whether I would come back to the United States pretty much immediately, or change my plane ticket for the second time and stretch out my trip.

I chose the latter.

At the time, I had people calling me back to Washington state. I felt the urge to return quite keenly. Going back to a place I knew, to people I knew, to a culture I understood and roads I wouldn’t get lost on was so appealing. There’s comfort in the known, in the expected.

There is also stagnation. Murk. An ever receding line marks the edges of that comfort zone. The longer we stay inside that line, the closer it gets to exactly where we stand.

So, I did what I’ve done a dozen times before: I threw a bomb, right into the middle of what was calling me back.

Then I changed my plane ticket.

Like any bombing, there were casualties. The people involved are still nursing wounds, to one degree or another. But, that’s life. Sometimes people get hurt. When we put expectations on one another, we’re only asking to be let down. So, I got let down. I let other people down. And I continued my journey.

 

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Today, I’m back in Washington, but not for much longer. I stand on the precipice of a new adventure, much like I did in Rishikesh one year (or was it a million years?) ago. In a little over two weeks, I leave for Peru, along with my partner and two cats. This time, I was wise enough not to book a return flight, because who knows what’s going to happen when I get there?

I felt a lot of fear before I went to India. I felt a lot of fear before I decided to stay in India. What I feel now has elements of that same kind of fear, but it’s different. Or, maybe, I’m different.

My faith in a supportive universe has grown exponentially in the last year. My fucks given about what other people think of me and think they need from me has dropped dramatically. The combination of those factors puts me in a pretty solid place, I think. Ready to break away from the comfortable, lift my arms, and dive into the next chapter.

I’m ready to get lost again.