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.

I’ve Gotta Work On My Timing

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Flying over Colorado, looking at the snowdrifts on the empty plain.

I’m making myself a promise, here and now: the next time I return to the United States from a trip, I will not do it in January.

I repeat: I will not come back in January.

You’d think I might have learned the first time around, returning to the gray, wet winter of the Pacific Northwest after five months in India, the last month of which was spent on the steamy beaches of Goa. But, no, some lessons bear repeating.

I am back on United States soil, in Colorado, for the snowiest time of the year. Not the coldest, thank goodness, but when you’re comparing -6 Fahrenheit to 16 Fahrenheit, cold becomes varying degrees of oh-my-god-my-face-hurts.

There seems to be a purpose to the timing, though. I’ve been running away from home for years, as my mother pointed out to me recently. It started as a kid, 11, 12 years old, I think, when I first packed my bags and wandered into the wild blue yonder. I embarked on that expedition with three other girls my age whom, as I look back, I realize were integral in my development. We all had our troubles, which at that age we thought we could fix by completely avoiding. Something I think we all fall prey to, sometimes more often than not.

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Sunsets. The one way in which Colorado has never disappointed me is the sunsets.

Needless to say, that foray ended quickly, and I was back home before the end of the day. I have this vision of me being let out of the cop car (sorry mom; sorry, papa) and crying as I ran to my parents. It wasn’t a comfortable, relieved kind of cry. More a panicked, what-the-fuck-have-I-done kind of cry. Regardless, I was home, and that was that for a few years.

Then came my turn to run away with the older boy. Also integral to my development, in different ways. Not nearly as short lived, and a whole lot more interesting.

You know, I sit here thinking about all the times I really have run away from home, and it makes me not want to think about it anymore. Or, at least not admit all those times to you. To myself. I kept leaving, over and over, trying to escape…what? Colorado, certainly. The dry air, the cold winters, the restrictive politics. The memories. The connections. The complications.

One can only run for so long, before they find themselves exhausted and, often, lost.

A lot has happened since I left Colorado for what I swore would be the last time. Marriage. Polyamory. Divorce. Mushrooms. God. Love. India. Love. Peru. Love. It’s a lot to process.

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The one way in which Colorado never fails to disappoint me in is diving in the winter. Or, more accurately, not being able to drive in the winter.

So, I return to Colorado. To the house, and the room, and the family I have spent so much time away from. Now, in the middle of winter, that time of inwardness and reflection. I have practical reasons for being here, but they aren’t the reason I’m here.

Maybe it’s time for me to figure out how to leave, without running away.

And until then, I’ll just figure out how to stay warm.

Lovelovelove, lovelies.

The Shape Of Fear

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A pair of lovebirds in Pisac

What is the difference from the fear our mind creates to stop us from pursuing what is good (albeit challenging), and the intuition our hearts give us to avoid something that truly won’t serve us?

It’s a question I’ve been looking at a lot over the last few weeks. Living in this community has given me the opportunity to make myself vulnerable in a lot of ways, including entering into ceremony with ayahuasca and huachuma. I have persistently avoided many of these opportunities. Sitting out on meetings of the members of this community where they talk about whats going on in their lives, traveling to the hot springs for a ‘vacation’ instead of going into ceremony, isolating myself in a dozen different ways so I can keep myself protected.

In many of these cases I’ve made the choices I have out of a lack of trust, and faith. In the case of just talking, it’s a lack of trust that my thoughts and feelings will be valued, or even heard. Or, very closely associated with that, a lack of trust in myself that I will have the courage to say what I mean, and articulate it well. If I do go into these situations, manage to summon up my courage, then manage to say what I mean in the way I mean it, having those thoughts overlooked or scorned would be (it feels) more heartbreaking than keeping them inside.

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Lares, the hot springs I went to instead of entering ceremony

With the case of the ceremonies I sat out of, it was a lack of faith in the medicine, as well as the community. Going into the space of ceremony is a huge step towards vulnerability. It means opening myself up to powers beyond my control, way beyond my scope of understanding, in an effort to connect with them and learn from then. The thing with learning, though, is realizing that what I already know may be false. Sometimes very, life-changingly false.

Brene Brown is a social researcher who has focused her research on shame, guilt, and vulnerability. You’ve probably heard of her, and if you haven’t I highly recommend checking out her TedX talks on YouTube. She emphasizes the importance of vulnerability, and its ability to connect us with ourselves, our loved ones, and the world at large.

“Through my research I’ve found that vulnerability is the glue that holds relationships together. It’s the magic sauce.”

I agree with her, in many, many ways. Yet, I find it increasingly difficult to live by this belief, to practice it consistently, when the act of being vulnerable opens me up to so much potential pain. It is difficult to feel invisible. It is far worse to try to be seen, try hard, and feel like I’ve failed.

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A bit desolate, the external mirroring the internal

So, in many cases, I stop trying. There are a few exceptions, a few relationships in which I consistently feel seen. I treasure those, and do what I can to nurture them. And the rest? Well…oftentimes I don’t even give them a chance.

I finally entered into ceremony a few days ago, with ayahuasca, and lived through one of these experiences of trying to put myself out there and getting knocked back. Through the whole ceremony I felt ignored by the medicine, ignored by the sacred fire, and apart from the group. It seems, to me, that it was a clear sign telling me what I’ve felt from the day I arrived: That I don’t belong here. I shouldn’t be here. I have other things I need to do, people I need to meet, places I need to see.

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A tarot reading Steven and I did, not long after we arrived. The question was: What is each of our resistance, and how do we move through it? The answer to moving through? Accepting Divine medicine. I have yet to take the reading much to heart, but…

Is it fear talking? Fear that if I try, again, to put myself in that place of vulnerability that I will once again be knocked down? Or is it my heart, my gut, my instinct, and the Universe telling me something? The two voices sound eerily similar sometimes.

For the time being, I know the choice I need to make: I listen to the voice telling me to leave. Perhaps it comes from a place of fear, perhaps a place of instinct. I low it is colored by the need to establish my own, deeply personal reasons for being or not being here, not just because Steven is here, or Pumpkin is here. I have to know I have made the choice for myself.

If I return, I want to do so coming from a place where I am willing to be vulnerable. What point would there be to come from anywhere else?

Jumping Into The Fire Without Clothes On

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Afternoon moonlight

An interesting thing has been happening in the community I’m staying at. For the last couple months everyone has been working very hard to prepare for a group of visitors who arrived a couple days after we did. Since their arrival, the focus of the community has been, for the most part, keeping this group happy. Often, this goal has come with the consequence that a large portion of those not directly involved with these visitors have been left somewhat to the wayside. Resentments have emerged. Stress has worn people thin. Conflicts in personalities and approaches have resulted in confrontations and the occasional low-level exile.

I came at a strange time. I know this, because everyone keeps telling me. Steven, who spent several months here last year, has something to compare the current state of things against. I, on the other hand, do not.

Maybe that’s a good thing, if I can be patient enough to ride it out.

Coming into a community like this can be difficult, even in the best of times. There are a lot of unwritten rules, expectations, and procedures that you have to learn in order to really get into the flow of life. Coming along with all those things will inevitably be questions, at least for me. Why does this work this way? And without answers to those important questions, the rules can feel very arbitrary and, many times, contrary to my own set of beliefs.

Every day, often many times a day, I come to this point where I hate it here and want to run as fast as my feet can take me in any direction that points away. I don’t know these people, except for a few who I have very little interaction with at this point. I don’t have an investment in this community. The strongest tie—and really, the thing that has probably kept me here to this point—is the cats. Second to that is Steven. He comes second, because I can actually sit down and explain to him why I’d be leaving, whereas it’d just be abandoning the cats.

Why, then, could this possibly be a good time to come?

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For the parties, of course 😉

When I was a kid, I used to approach my dinner plate with the motto: eat the worst, first. Get it over with. Deal with the thing Mom is going to make me eat anyway so I can enjoy the rest of it without that thing hanging over my head. That’s kind of the approach I’m trying to take here. I get to see this community worn thin, when the nasty attributes that manifest in the face of stress and sleep deprivation come to the surface. I’m not saying that after this it’ll all be sunshine and rainbows, but at least I’ve gotten a dose of the worst, first.

This approach does not wholly convince me. I’ve told myself, and plenty others, that I am giving the community a solid month, after the crazy-making event is over. At the end of that month I will look back over everything, and decide if this is where I want to be.

I’m reminded of my first couple weeks in India. I spent a large portion of that time in my room, on my bed, crying and sleeping. I felt out of place, alone, lonely. I was disenchanted with the contradictions I saw between the holy city of Rishikesh and the way the people treated the animals. Culture shock is a real and heavy thing. Even five weeks into my trip I was still seriously considering leaving.

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The author, communing with the local frutas

There is a question that comes to my mind sometimes, that I haven’t really found the answer to: When is it time to cut my losses from what is truly a bad situation for me, and when is it time to invest a little bit more hope, a little bit more energy, so I can come out the other side stronger? It’s a delicate balancing act that requires listening to the heart and the gut. Practices that require, well, practice. The still, small voice of truth inside all of us can be hard to discern from the whirlwind of fear and opinions that usually rages within. The more we listen, however, the louder it gets.

The Inevitable Election Post

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Prettier than a picture of Trump

The 2016 US presidential election has been a source of intense division in the United States, and in the Western world at large. I went to sleep before any of the electoral votes were announced, and woke up to what everyone in my home country already knew: Donald Trump is our new presidential elect.

Part of me was shocked by the results. I really didn’t think it could happen. That so many people (not the majority of people, mind you, as Clinton won the popular vote) could choose to back a man who has attacked religious freedom, women’s rights, the LGBTQ community, minorities, veterans…a man who has cheated his employees and contract workers countless times…a man who has solid support coming from several white supremacy groups. It all seems so unbelievable. And yet, here we are.

In the wake of the election there have been mounting reports of assault, battery, theft, threats, and intimidation lobbied against people in those groups Trump has demonized. There has also been violent protests on behalf of anti-Trump movements, and attacks against Trump supporters.

Everyone is scared.

Those who target minorities with violence are coming from a place of fear. We’ve been told our very way of life is in jeopardy due to XYZ. Muslims who will attack our country because they hate us. Homosexuals who will undermine the fabric of our society. Women who will emasculate men by demanding equal rights and treatment.

Those who are targeted are finding fear bubbling up inside them. A very real possibility of harm exists, and it seems to have been given the green light in many people’s eyes with this election. We (sort of) elected a man who is okay with sexual assault, rampant discrimination, and cruelty in many forms. Is it any wonder that those who ardently support these kinds of beliefs are coming out of the woodwork? Not to me. No, Trump himself isn’t directly responsible for the violence. But his rhetoric has given people courage where before there was, I think, some shame. It is his responsibility to condemn the actions of his followers.

I’m angry. Some of the people condoning these actions, even applauding them, are members of my family, and that reality just boggles me, leaves me shaking and my heart thumping a beat that sounds like what-the-fuck-what-the-fuck-what-the-fuck. I can’t shake my head hard enough to dislodge my disbelief.

I cried that first day. I cried again the day after, while scrolling through Facebook and looking—for the first time—at @ShaunKing’s Twitter feed. (For those who haven’t seen it, King is collecting reports of assault, battery, etc., perpetrated against others in the name of Trump.)

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Looking down into Taray

It’s a strange thing, being where I am while all this is happening. There are several US citizens living at the community where I’m staying. Several of them told me they didn’t vote because it didn’t matter, or because politics are beside the point. (The point being that we’re spiritual beings, and our focus should be on expanding consciousness while social and political movements are mere distractions. [At least that’s how I understand it.])

There are some here who felt the election very keenly, myself included. And yet, it’s all very far removed from my day-to-day life. I can’t join a protest. I can’t offer to walk my friends home if they feel unsafe. I won’t see, in front of me, a single attack. I chose to leave the country before the election for this very reason, but now I find myself regretting it on some levels. I want to be there, so I can help in any way I can. I want to be there, so I can have the opportunity to stand up, say something. To use the privilege I have as a white, middle class US citizen. Because it is a privilege. Not something I earned, but something I have nonetheless, and I believe I have some duty to use that privilege, when and where I can.

blog-1-3It feels a bit selfish to be in the Andes, away from these things. There’s this very understandable urge to want to flee the US, which I invested in to some point when I booked my plane ticket. I’m torn, really. I feel like my home is in India. Not the US, certainly not Peru (we’ll get into that in a later post). But again, where is my duty? Where does my responsibility lie?

Where is yours?

There are no easy answers, I think, and each of us must look inside ourselves to find the answer to these questions. I haven’t found mine, yet.