Beyond Jealousy: A Spiritual Approach to Polyamory

Adapted from the chapter “Beyond Jealousy” from Opening Love: Intentional Relationships & the Evolution of Consciousness by Dr. Anya (Changemakers Books)

Dmitry Borshch, "Daughters of the Dust"Last night, I had a dream. In the dream, I was making love with a beautiful man. This man had told me that he had a polyamorous agreement with his wife; in other words, he told me that his wife had consented to his being with me.

While we were enjoying sex, his wife came into the bedroom followed by a jeering crowd. She began to shout at me, calling me “whore” and all sorts of terrible names. The crowd hissed and booed. Her husband tried to defend me, but she silenced him. After shouting at me for quite some time, she fell silent for a moment, panting. I finally found my voice. I began to talk gently about love, compassion, and forgiveness. A few men in the crowd—towering men with bulging muscles—began to rush towards me. Their faces were flushed with disgust, and they were pounding their fists into their hands, growling. They shouted: “You must pay for what you’ve done!” The crowd cheered in agreement. Realizing that my words of love were falling on deaf ears, I began to run. I ran past the outstretched arms of the crowd, out the back door of the house. As I passed a stranger on the street, I tried to scream for help, but my words were barely a whisper.

I awoke from the dream, heart pounding. I had to reflect for only a few moments, because the meaning of the dream was obvious: There was, and is, still fear in my heart. I fear for human beings. I still sometimes doubt whether humanity is ready to be reborn to a new paradigm of love and relationship. The muscled men in the dream represent all those people throughout history who have been openly hostile, and even violent, to ways of loving that defy what is normal. And, dear reader, I admit: On my worst days, I look to the sky in a state of confusion and despair. Why, I ask, do so many people still despise gays and lesbians? Why, I ask, do people feel such shame when they desire more than one lover or partner? Why, I ask, are people so afraid of their own hearts?

As I climbed out of bed that morning, I said some words of gratitude for the dream. In my journey thus far as a polyamory spokesperson, I sometimes, unfortunately, have been impatient with those who are interested in hearing and intellectually contemplating the lessons I have to teach but who are yet unwilling (for a multitude of reasons) to enact those lessons in their daily lives. My empathy is not there, sometimes. The dream reminded me of my own lingering fears and insecurities. Yet, through being faced with those fears again, through the dream, I felt a renewed sense of empathy. I was able to remember just how difficult it is to face—and then transform—the inadequacy, confusion, frustration, sadness, and jealousy that stem from the normative paradigm of viewing people/relationships as possessions.

In the dream, the husband saw the wife as an object he could manipulate: by keeping his relationship with me a secret, he was, in effect, releasing himself of the terror of having a potentially hard conversation with her. By avoiding that conversation, he was running from the possibility that, upon hearing of his love for me, she might become upset and perhaps even want to leave the relationship. By not telling her the truth in his heart, he was denying her humanity, thus reducing her to an object, to a thing. He gave her no choice, no input on the matter. He did not give her the opportunity to consent, which is the basic principle underlying all polyamorous and ethically non-monogamous relationships. His lie forced her (at least for a while) to believe the false truth that he wished to be sexually and romantically intimate with only her.

The wife in the dream saw her husband as a possession, too. She believed he belonged to her and only her. Accordingly, she did not direct her anger toward the possession: for, in her mind, her husband was not actually a full human being, but rather an object without the power to make choices. This was why her anger was directed at me, the perceived thief. I had taken her object; it was my fault.

To begin to view our friends, family, and even our lovers and partners as free beings can be difficult. If we saw them as free, perhaps they might fall in love with someone else, or perhaps they might leave? The fear of abandonment is strong within most human beings.

The metaphor of a garden helps us understand how to practice the values of freedom and non-possession. If we tend to a garden, we may purchase the seeds, plant the seeds, and tend to the plants. We water; we weed; we harvest. But even though we direct so much loving intention toward the garden, we do not truly control the garden. We may love it, yes; we may look after it—yet, in the end, we have no control. It is up to the seeds whether they will manifest into leaves, it is up to the sun whether it will shine, it is up to the animals whether they will eat the plants or leave them alone. Though we may love the garden and the whole Earth upon which the garden depends, all of these are out of our control. We do not possess the garden; we do not truly own it. The most we can do is feel grateful for the time we have to care for and enjoy the garden. Each morning we can wake up, look at the garden, and smile. Even when the time comes for change, we can feel grateful. For example, if we choose to move to another city, we may have to leave the garden behind. However, that does not mean we no longer love it. We can still feel love and gratitude for the garden, knowing that, despite the physical distance, the garden has touched our lives. We will always love the garden. In the same way we remember that the garden is not our possession, we can also remember that people are not our possession. We can feel grateful that we have been able to care for them and love them, yet we can also understand that they are free. They have always been free.

The mental illusion that a person “belongs” to us is simply that: an illusion. In truth, we have no power over another person. Sure, we can nag, persuade, or even manipulate a person to do something we want them to do. But, at core, all people are free. They have always been free and they will always be free. We cannot truly control another person. Even if a person agrees to do something after we attempt to persuade them, we have not actually caused that person to do it. Yes, our persuasive efforts may have been one aspect in that person’s overall thought processes—however, the do-er of the action was the one who made it happen, not the persuader. We did not “make” that person do anything. That person chose to do what they did. That is the responsibility of free will.

Therefore, just as we cannot control another, no one can control you. You are free. You have always been free, you just may not have known it. Moreover, no one can “give” you freedom. Freedom is already yours, forever. There is no one ever to thank or praise for freedom; freedom exists as an organic, unalterable aspect of simply being alive.

And, let me be clear: I am not teaching that it is okay for people to manipulate or treat others unkindly. I am not granting permission for people to act selfishly or unkind toward others; I am not letting anyone off the hook. What I am attempting to share is to draw your attention away from the all-too-common victim mentality that can be so easily donned in questions of choice. I am drawing your attention to your immense power.

Yes, there is ethical behavior and there is unethical behavior. We must discuss that facet when we engage in the question of free will. Let us return to my dream example. The husband misused his freedom and acted unethically: he lied to both his wife and myself. The husband was practicing non-consensual non-monogamy (probably the most common form of non-monogamy on our planet at this time), because he was using lies to pursue another lover without giving his wife any say in the matter.

By contrast, ethical non-monogamy would involve the husband being honest with his wife from the beginning. The husband, upon feeling the first twinges of desire, could have sat down with his wife, held her hand, and spoke from his heart.

Nonetheless, it is important to remember that the husband, by the simple fact that he was a human being, had the freedom to make a choice. As a human being, he had the power to choose his own path. This is a wonderful gift! His wife, after finding out the lie, had a choice, too. It was up to her whether or not to forgive her husband. Further, she had the choice of whether or not to request changes in the relationship or to leave it altogether. We all have choices—that is our power and our responsibility as human beings. No one can control us. Even if we believe we are “allowing” someone to control us (the government, the IRS, our employer, our family, etc.), we are really just fooling ourselves.

When enlightened teachers say they have gone beyond jealousy, what is it that they mean? Do they really mean that they never feel jealous? Does it mean they are repressed or defective, somehow blocking or lacking very basic human emotions? Hearing that someone is no longer stressed by the feeling of jealousy often creates in the mind of the hearer a combination of disbelief, as well as a flicker of hope. As jealousy is a painful emotional state, the idea that one can be rid of it—or at least partially rid of it—is an incredibly uplifting, but also strangely disorienting thought. Jealousy seems hard-wired, natural. How can a human being go beyond jealousy? Is it possible? To answer these questions and to begin to understand the phenomenon of going beyond jealousy, one must first realize what jealousy truly is.

When analyzing emotions, it is good to first make the distinction between jealousy and envy. These words are not the same. Jealousy is the fear of loss; envy is a desire to also possess what someone else possesses (or seems to possess). However, jealousy and envy both have the same root cause. Jealousy and envy are a result of temporarily forgetting the interconnectedness of all beings. The notion of the interconnectedness of all beings on this planet is no longer easily dismissed as simply a hippie-dippy, New Age concept; quantum physics now understands this to be true, and countless studies show how there is, literally, an invisible substance which links all beings together. There is no action in isolation; what each of us does affects everyone and everything else.

When we feel jealous or envious, we mistakenly believe that the joyful thing is happening for that “other person” or those “other people,” but it’s not happening for us. We feel we cannot tap into the joy. We feel separate. We feel lacking. We feel empty, or even worthless. We perceive that we are not participating in the joy, in the awesomeness of what is going on; we feel that we are not included.

A jealous feeling is, at root, a manifestation of fear.

When the wife in the dream called me a whore, she was reacting out of fear. She was afraid she was going to lose her husband. She felt fear that her husband loved me more than he loved her. She was so full of fear.

Compersion is a term that was coined by the polyamory movement in the 1990s. Compersion means the opposite of jealousy. Compersion is feeling joy because someone else is feeling joy, regardless of the particular source of that person’s joy. (In other words, that person’s joy might seem to have nothing at all to do with you.) By actively cultivating compersion, we are able to release ourselves from feeling like jealousy and envy is our nature state: We can evolve our consciousness.

Practicing compersion is not always easy, and it can be a long process to overcome and un-learn jealousy. You may not even be able to fully overcome jealousy in this lifetime. That’s okay. Be patient with yourself. To begin to practice compersion does not mean that you will automatically become immune to jealousy; it is, rather, that you will learn how to skillfully deal with jealousy when it manifests.

Here is an illustration of compersion. Susan, a professor at a university, gets her article published in a prestigious journal. Susan is so happy! So, of course, she tells her dear friend and colleague, Jonathan. When Jonathan hears the news, he recalls that he himself has been trying to get published in that same journal, but to no avail. Jonathan now has a choice. He can become overwhelmed by jealous feelings, or he can choose to cultivate compersive feelings for his dear colleague. To choose the former choice is to erect a barrier between himself and Susan, a situation of suffering. To choose the latter choice is to choose compersion, a practice that draws both friends together in a sense of camaraderie, a sense of collaboration, a sense of excitement about the possibilities of life. Thus, compersion is a kind of sharing: everyone benefits.

Many people find the concept of compersion incredibly difficult to swallow, though. This is especially the case when they think about it within the context of their romantic and sexual relationships. It’s one thing, people say, to be compersive about a colleague’s success, but it’s quite another to feel happy about your partner being intimate with someone other than you. Yet, it is possible to cultivate compersion in any social situation, even the most difficult. The book Spiritual Polyamory explains how compersion in a romantic/sexual context can be understood through the analogy of friendship:

If … you think in terms of having multiple friendships, you may be able to better understand the philosophy of a spiritual approach to polyamory. For example, you can most likely appreciate that if you have a friend who makes a new friend, that doesn’t have to pose a threat to the relationship you have with your friend. You want that person to be happy. You can therefore practice compersion, the opposite of jealousy, which states that you gain happiness when those you care about are happier. This involves non-attachment to your ego’s goals of having everyone to yourself. Once you are able to see how sexual possession has became an “accepted attachment” in our society, you can then introduce sexuality into the above “multiple friendship” scenario, and see how your responsibility to yourself is to release your attachments as opposed to struggling to preserve them.[1]

To be in touch with your true nature is to be in touch with the simple, yet mind-blowing fact that you, me, we, each of us, all of us, are not separate from anyone. There is no “other.” We are all interrelated—and not just in a metaphoric sense, but actually and really. Having grasped this understanding, jealousy no longer makes sense. The emotion becomes obsolete. Such a shift in perspective is a shift in the direction of sharing over competition, of love and compassion over war and greed. Such a shift is absolutely necessary if this human race of ours is going to survive. Whether you adopt the label of polyamorous is not the point. What matters is: Can you inquire, deeply, within yourself? Can you peer through the veil of our “normal” society and unravel its teachings about jealousy, sex, and relationships? Can you dare to question, can you dare to live in freedom and allow others to do the same? That is, in my opinion, the deeper meaning of polyamory. Moving beyond jealousy. Moving to a life of love.

 

[1] Mystic Life, Spiritual Polyamory (Lincoln, NE: iUniverse, Inc., 2004), p. 3

 

Dr. Anya

Anya Trahan (“Dr. Anya”) is a Reiki Master, spiritual teacher, relationship coach, and writer. She holds a PhD in English and is the author of the book Opening Love: Intentional Relationships & the Evolution of Consciousness, as well as the memblog Being Lovers. Anya founded Polyamory Bowling Green, a support and discussion group serving polyamorous people in Ohio. Anya’s teachings center on the cultivation of deep, meaningful connection between beings, through the gradual dissolution of the perceived boundary between “self” and “other.” This sense of connection is achieved through various practices of silence, touch, and dialogue. Courage, too, is a necessary component for sensing connection—so Anya teaches practical ways to embrace the inherent fear that usually accompanies such practices. In Sanskrit, Anya means “inexhaustibility.” The name serves as a linguistic symbol of her life’s intention: to serve as an inexhaustible comfort for all beings, as they heal and evolve. Anya travels in the United States and internationally. She teaches workshops, meets privately with seekers, and is also available via phone/Skype for spiritual guidance, relationship coaching, and Reiki training. Please visit Purple Mornings Reiki to learn more. You can also connect with her on Facebook or by email at anyatrahan@gmail.com

About Dr. Anya 1 Article
Anya Trahan (“Dr. Anya”) is a Reiki Master, spiritual teacher, relationship coach, and writer. She holds a PhD in English and is the author of the book Opening Love: Intentional Relationships & the Evolution of Consciousness, as well as the memblog Being Lovers. Anya founded Polyamory Bowling Green, a support and discussion group serving polyamorous people in Ohio. Anya’s teachings center on the cultivation of deep, meaningful connection between beings, through the gradual dissolution of the perceived boundary between “self” and “other.” This sense of connection is achieved through various practices of silence, touch, and dialogue. Courage, too, is a necessary component for sensing connection—so Anya teaches practical ways to embrace the inherent fear that usually accompanies such practices. In Sanskrit, Anya means “inexhaustibility.” The name serves as a linguistic symbol of her life’s intention: to serve as an inexhaustible comfort for all beings, as they heal and evolve. Anya travels in the United States and internationally. She teaches workshops, meets privately with seekers, and is also available via phone/Skype for spiritual guidance, relationship coaching, and Reiki training. Please visit Purple Mornings Reiki to learn more. You can also connect with her on Facebook or by email at anyatrahan@gmail.com

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