Polyamory as Spiritual Practice

When I first started meditation practice as a 23 year old, it was very difficult to sit for long periods of time in one posture due to all the emotional and physical discomfort that arose. I oscillated between being bored out of my mind to breaking down in tears in the vortex of intense memories and emotions. I also had periods of calm where I was simply sitting, observing my breath and body, and feeling the serenity that comes with resting in the present moment. Over time, I was able to maintain the serenity even during the onslaught of internal strife and feel the deep reserve of strength and resilience within me. I learned that there are only two rules for enlightenment: detachment and devotion.

Detachment means equanimity in the face of all that arises. In life, we are often presented with challenges and disappointments. For example, recently I was unsuccessful in uniting with my lover in Canada because border agents denied my entry into the country as a visitor. I was in total shock. I had to stay in Detroit alone, with only one suitcase for possessions, no source of income, and no way to get back to Canada. The shock of having my previous plans blow up in my face jolted me into the present. Suddenly I had no future and no plan. I could only live in the present and take the steps that were immediately in front of me without knowing where they led. Instead of panicking, this predicament actually brought a deep sense of calm. I was able to sense, despite the unfortunate turn of events, that nothing fundamental about me had changed. I could go with the flow and accept change rather than resist it or be overcome by it. By cultivating detachment, an event that could be devastating doesn’t have to be debilitating. It could even be an opportunity for enlightenment. We can tap into our limitless peace in the face of stress, turbulence, loss, and even death. Our lives fall into harmony when we accept change and experience pain with compassion.

In polyamory we are often called upon to exercise detachment when it comes to relationships. When we accept our partner’s natural tendency to be attracted to others and love them regardless of who else they love, we let go of expectations that our partner will be there for us at all times and that they will love us only. We realize that it’s not our partner’s responsibility to make us feel happy or secure, rather it’s our responsibility to feel secure so that our partner can have the freedom to pursue their happiness. When feelings of insecurity and inadequacy arise, meditation, exercise, and other self-soothing practices help us connect to our essence. We begin to see that our fears are unfounded or surmountable and we don’t need our partner’s constant reassurance to feel loved. When we know that the fundamentals of our relationship are strong, and that we are fundamentally lovable, then other people’s claims on our partner’s affection do not threaten us.

As a secondary partner to someone who has a primary, I’m often uncertain about when I will see him and what the future of our relationship will be. Our interactions are often restricted to certain times of the day or certain days of the week. Like someone who has two full time jobs, he does not have the luxury of being available to me even during after hours. When feelings of loneliness, insecurity, or envy arise, I have to deal with them on my own. I enjoy very much the time we spend together, but outside of those hours, I have to be a good partner to myself so when we come together again, I have something to offer to him. I learn to find in myself, my work, or other relationships companionship, pleasure and sense of purpose, which is much more sustainable than relying on one person for those things.

The second practice in our journey to enlightenment is devotion. Devotion means commitment to a certain practice in order to gain expertise in a set of skills. Whereas detachment requires acceptance of what cannot be changed, devotion means striving towards goals that we set for ourselves. In spiritual practice this could mean praying each morning and night, sitting through meditation even when it’s uncomfortable, and reading inspirational texts every day. As we engage consistently with these practices, our relationship with the divine grows. Devotion can also be practiced through love, for example kissing our partner each morning and night, reading to our children, or setting aside time once a week to do something special. These rituals of love help bring us closer to each other and improve our quality of life.

Polyamory is incredibly growth inducing because it exercises our devotion. When we are devoted to a partner, it means we are committed to the relationship even if it’s not always convenient or pleasurable. Relationships are a lot of work. It is not always easy to communicate regularly, and even harder to do so skillfully. Learning how to communicate well requires practice, trial and error, and lots of reflection. But like practicing any skill, it becomes more pleasure the better we get at it. We may even take pleasure in solving problems and becoming more accomplished. As we become more skilled at communicating and loving each other, our relationships grow and we also grow spiritually with it.

Having multiple romantic relationships requires advanced levels of communication, planning, negotiation, and other relationship skills. While couples sometimes get into a rut, a new partner can challenge each of them to find fresh ways of relating to each other. Polyamory can make us more aware of how we relate to our partners and force us to take a more active approach to maintaining our relationships. Rather than assuming commitment and availability from each other, these things must be negotiated. When difficult feelings arise we must learn to navigate them with empathy and compassion. Polyamory brings a level of complexity to relationships that doesn’t exist in monogamy, but as we become more skilled at solving relationship problems, the rewards are great as well.  

The two spiritual practices of detachment and devotion are found not only in Buddhism but in other spiritual traditions. In Christianity, detachment is taught as having trust in God. “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding. In all ways acknowledge him and he will direct your paths” (Proverbs 3:5-6). In these words Solomon admonishes us to not have too much attachment to desired outcomes. If we let go of our ego and our own understanding, then we will be guided towards the best outcome. Christianity also teaches devotion through Christ’s admonition to “love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your strength, and all your mind” (Luke 10:27). Furthermore, we should feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and care for the sick, because “when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me” (Matthew 25:40). Through detachment, we gain equanimity through life’s ups and downs, and through devotion, we practice love and commitment to others. Polyamory, by helping us do both, helps us grow spiritually and become more enlightened human beings.

Photo credit: https://sathyasaibaba.wordpress.com/category/buddha-wallpapers/



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