Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Begging for Validation

I recently read a post on reddit's polyamory board about a woman who was upset that her long time boyfriend couldn't or wouldn't say "I love you". This bothered me though I couldn't pin down the reason right away. There's quite a bit to play with here, though I think the main rub is the way relationships are often used as self-validation.

Validation means to authenticate or prove. And self-validation is anything that authenticates the self or personal identity. There are any number of routes to self-validation. The usual line-up consisting of money, power, status, relationships, material possessions.

The dangerous side of using some "thing" for self-validation is the risk of losing the "thing" equates to losing the "self". This is how the ending of a job or a relationship can lead some individuals to total mental breakdown. It explains why others will remain in a crumbling or even abusive relationship long past the expiration date.

Since opening my life and relationships to polyamory, I have notice a drastic change in the way I relate to everyone, but especially my intimate partners. In the past, including when I got married ten years ago, I used my relationships as a means of proving to the world and to myself that I was worthwhile. Maybe even something special. (Fighting off the middle school demons who told me I was too weird, tomboyish, and ugly to have a boyfriend.)

I don't credit polyamory entirely for my change in perspective. Zen meditation and the practice of non-attachment were a big part of it as well. Attachment is the Buddhist principle of binding oneself to objects or concepts. Non-attachment is the release of that binding, including the attachment to one's own identity or ego.

Without the need for validation, I approach my intimate relationships without actually needing anything from them. I can appreciate my partners and what they offer without wanting more (or less). Each partner's unique form of love is beautiful in it's own way. And it's more than I could ask for. It makes no difference at all if our relationship or their method of loving matches some outside measuring stick of relationships, including when to say those three little words. 

Religion too is a form of validation. (I do not think of Zen as a religion, but a philosophy.) Being raised (and entrenched) in Christianity, it felt as though I was always looking outward at events and people for confirmation, or "signs". God was the source of my identity. This is why it can be so impossible for religious people to break away even when faced with solid evidence. The loss of religion is a loss of self. 

Religion, relationships and everything else will always prove inadequate as self-validators. It is my own "self" that I must confront and accept ... and validate. Not in a superior way, but in a compassionate way that doesn't hide or ignore what others might shun. 
And that is all that matters- your life, yourself, your pettiness, your shallowness, your brutality, your violence, your greed, your ambition, your daily agony and endless sorrow- that is what you have to understand and nobody on earth or in heaven is going to save you from it but yourself. -J. Krishnamurti

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

The Source of Unhappiness

‘I am unhappy and I must be happy.’ In that very demand that I must be happy is unhappiness … When you demand an experience of truth or reality, that very demand is born out of your discontent with what is and therefore the demand creates the opposite. -J. Krishnamurti

Today as I felt incredibly unhappy, but instead of distracting myself with television or games, I sat quietly. My children ran around the place screaming, beating each other with weapons born out of miscellaneous household items, a pillow, a cardboard tube, Nerf guns.

What I notice is my incessant uneasiness at being unhappy. I do nothing about this. Why must I be happy?

My mind wants me to solve this problem. My natural inclination is to (1) identify the source of my unhappiness, and then (2) change my circumstances. I have finally reached a place in my self-journey where I can recognize these inclinations leading me down a dangerous road.

The source of my unhappiness

The truth is, unhappiness does not always have a source. Emotions float through our consciousness as they please. Sometimes they are triggered by a situation, but even these “terrible” events are often not as bad as they seem. Other times unhappiness comes to us like an unexpected guest.

Happiness comes to us the same way, but we don’t consciously notice it. We think we have a right to always feel this good. It’s not true. When happiness comes, we let it in. When it goes, we should let it go.

In the past, I had a tendency to blame my unhappiness on my partner. “I’m feeling bad because I’m lonely; you don’t pay enough attention to me.” “The messy house is putting me in a bad mood. Why don’t you clean up after yourself?” (If I had no partner at the time, I would blame my lack of a partner. “If I only had Prince Charming to make me feel better.”)

Changing my circumstances

Nagging my partner to change, shockingly, never made me feel better. At least not long term. Ultimately, the false change only caused discord in the relationship as my partner felt he needed to act counter intuitively.

When loving actions are given the space to flow on their own, I feel them deeper. I know they come from a place motivated by my partner’s feelings and reflective of my partner’s individuality. (Their unique brand love is why I want to be with my partners in the first place. No one can love me the way they do.) Every person must feel free to act in the loving matter most natural to them. Expectations outside of what feels right, only creates rifts between partners.

Recognizing that my bad mood has no source makes it illogical to change my circumstances in order to feel better. I have what I need. Even better, I have people who love me, and opportunities to expand and grow.

As Krishnamurti said, my unhappiness is born out of the false idea that I should or need to feel happy all the time. And I don’t. Truth is, I can just be. And appreciate the wonderful people around me.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Inventing Concepts: God, Love, and Poly Labels

Why is the idea of God so popular, so hard for societies to shake off despite the evidence? Like all ideas, “God” is an invention of human consciousness. Developed over thousands of decades by great and weak minds alike. “God” has taken on a life of its own (literally). But again, there was a time when our caveman ancestors weren't aware of the concept of “God.”

“God”—as constructed by the human mind—is the embodiment of superhuman qualities. Some noble, others not so much. However, like all concepts, if you ask 50 people what “God” is like, you will get 53 answers.
When you say you love God what does it mean? It means that you love a projection of your own imagination, a projection of yourself clothed in certain forms of respectability according to what you think is noble and holy; so to say, 'I love God', is absolute nonsense. When you worship God you are worshiping yourself - and that is not love."   J. Krishnamurti
For each individual, then, “God” is a projection of our best self. The person we would be if we weren't so … well, human. To that I say: What’s so wrong with being human?

Likewise, “love” is another attempt to label a human experience. We've all used the word “love” and we assume others know what we mean. To some extent, every individual has experienced love, or at least it’s opposite. But again 50 questions, 53 answers.

Even philosophers going back to the Greeks couldn't agree on the meaning of “love.” Plato said that love is beauty, and this is just as true today. And just as useful?!

So, then what does it mean, practically, for my life tonight when I’m making love or praying to my self-burlesqued deity? Like “love,” “God” is just a concept, constructed around a human experience. There is no reality of either to discover, no proverbial curtain to pull back and suddenly understand.

I have no problem with belief in “God” if that helps you. The same way I use the word “love” with my children and partners. But when I do, I’m aware that the “love” I feel for them is a pitiful attempt to label a human experience that can’t really be defined, contained or explained.

Understanding concepts in this way helps me to view labels as impermanent and inexact. It fills me with compassion for others, especially for people or ideas society labels as “evil.” Again, just a concept invented by humans.

It works the same with the labels we attach to relationships. I read a lot of static on poly boards about relationship labels: “primary,” “secondary,” “boyfriend/girlfriend,” “FWB,” etc. A lot of whining too about not attaining the desired label with a partner, or using the wrong label. Are “secondary” partners really secondary? And similar shit.

What’s important is that you know what your relationship is, where it’s at, where it’s going (or not going), what your partner thinks about you. If you need a label (or feel uncomfortable about an assigned label), it’s time to blow the insecurity whistle. Labels for people outside the relationship, who don’t know the intimate details. Labels carry no meaning of their own. It’s only the meaning we bring to them. Being upgraded from “girlfriend” to “ fiance” doesn't change your relationship one iota.

My recommendation: only use relationship labels when necessary, with the understanding that they do a shitty job of classifying your relationship. Otherwise, decide they don’t exist, end the conversation and start enjoying the human being next to you.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Marriage Manifesto, Part III: Where Do We Go From Here?

How does marriage function practically in the real world? A definition free of cultural stigmas and religious doctrine (which has no Biblical foundation) is paramount to the redefining of marriage. I am referring to “marriage” in the legal, not the spiritual, sense as discussed in the previous post. For clarity’s sake, I will hereto refer to said legal union as a “pledge.”

What a pledge is:

  1. A pledge is a commitment. What is commitment? Well, that could be whole other post, but to keep it within Reader’s Digest range: a commitment is a formal intention or agreement to remain partnered with someone regardless of changes in yourself, your partner, or life events. As opposed to, say, a “dating” relationship where you “try each other out” like trying on clothes at JC Penny. A committed relationship means you’re past the try-out phase and you and your partner agree that you will stay together regardless.
  2. A pledge is a public acknowledgement of parental rights/involvement. This one is tricky, as parents or step-parents have different comfort levels of involvement. Currently humans have elected to raise children in a “family” type structure. By default, any pledged partners will automatically be viewed by society as having some sort of authority over these children, regardless of their actual level of involvement. 
  3. A pledge binds financially. This is where the government is needed to stick it’s dirty nose in. Pledged individuals want to provide for each other, to protect each other financially. The government is expected to enforce their wishes in this regard on their behalf should they become unable to. 
  4. A pledge is recognized by the law as a person’s closest kin. Hospital visits, health insurance, probate … All the fun stuff we look forward to dealing with when we partner up with someone. 

What a pledge isn’t:

  1. A pledge does not necessitate sex or reproduction. News flash: It’s optional! 
  2. A pledge does not require that partners are different genders. It’s no one’s business but mine whom I choose my next-of-kin to be. Especially not the government’s. 
  3. A pledge does not necessitate monogamy. Is it the government’s business whom sleeps with whom? Can a single individual pledge to multiple individuals? Why not? We don’t limit the number of children people can have, or the number of reproductive partners, or the number of extended family members. “Sorry, but you've got too many aunts. You’re gonna have to cut that number back. The law doesn't allow for so many aunts.” 
  4. A pledge does not necessitate partners living together. The point of pledging is not to form a Cleaver family. The purpose is to have the government recognize your important relationships the way that you do. 
  5. A pledge does not grant or imply ownership. Ugh. See Part I if you haven’t had enough of this already. 
  6. A pledge does not need to be approved of or recognized by a religion or by “god.” Let the religious bigots have the term “marriage.” Let them define it any way they want. They do anyway. They don’t even defer to the Bible in this regard. Let them have their illusion of meeting their soul mate, and bringing up 2.5 kids. But don’t let them impose it on the rest of us via the government. The government needs to break away from this religious definition and adopt a concept more closely representing how people actually live. 

Author’s note: I in no way claim to be a linguist. My background is in religion, philosophy and psychology. I used the word “pledge” here instead of “marriage” merely to make a point. However, I do believe that a simple change in terminology can make changes in the way people think. True, lasting change.

I'd like to hear what other terms people like for this concept. Post in the Comments: What do you think would be an effective term for a legal "marriage" stripped of it's religious dressings?