Sunday, February 28, 2010

A Mythology of Estrangement

Amongst the multiplicity of myths that have played themselves out through the history of the so-called Western world, there is a single idea that seems a prerequisite for all of them. The ideological history we discussed in Pretty Suicide Machine is the legacy of this simple valuation: the priests, scientists, and even artists painted the natural order as something which must be overcome, restructured, and dominated for personal, economic, or even spiritual advancement to take place. This prefiguring idea amounts to an underlying assumption that structures the world that we know today. It is not an assumption that lies under all cultural heritages: the Native Americans, for instance, have no such concept in their mythic DNA. However, it would appear that cultures that do not maintain the necessity of mastery, control, and possession quickly become the possession of cultures that do, or they are simply driven into obscurity or even oblivion.
    This idea is explored at length by Horkheimer and Adorno in Dialectic of Enlightenment, "In thought, human beings distance themselves from nature in order to arrange it in such a way that it can be mastered." (pg. 31) Though this thesis is arrived at in part through only considering the negative function of myth, their point is valid nevertheless. Mastery of nature is far from the only valuation that shapes our heritage, but it is a ubiquitous one. The myth of ownership, the myths of social hierarchies, the myth of capital, individuality, freedom, and so on are all the true backbone of our culture, for better and worse, and all of them are informed by this valuation.
    As a result, our current corporate, mass-media culture owes itself, in part, to an ideology that poses itself against nature and the natural order. Though this valuation exists within these many seemingly disparate cultures, there is no singular source for this belief. You will find this ideology present in the religion of Zoroaster, Judaism, Manicheaism, Christianity, but that is not to say it is an instinct that exists only because these traditions gave them voice. No, it is more likely the other way around: these traditions happened to give voice to a tendency that human instinct already desired. As we explored in Immanence #1, the "civilized" world, the world that was likely birthed from the Tigris and Euphrates, was carved out of the body of God. We desired mastery, and it was made possible through our myths of conquest. We come ever closer to mastering the Earth, but we have not mastered ourselves. For this, the Earth suffers.
    While most people today are unaware of Zarathustra, all of us live in a world fashioned from these models. Though it is hard to say for sure, it seems reasonable that this core concept was transmitted throughout the ages via sordid history of conquests, inquisitions, and other forced and un-intentional cultural interminglings. In an evolutionary sense, this idea seems to have been all too successful in terms of replication and survival.
    A world where human civilization is held in tension against nature, where the purpose of humankind is to bringing light to the world in emulation of the warlike Father-god, changing a dark, wild chaos into a world of order through rational intention is also inevitably a world governed by the laws of rationality, with all of its blind spots. The history of the Church and of reason is a sordid one; at times the two were opposed, yet this conflict was integral to both. Despite our beliefs about the conflict of science and Christianity, the two are essentially brothers: science, the younger, more impetious and ambitious of the pair. Through this conflict, and the painful conquests and diasporas that surrounded it, the myths of capitalism and industry were born.
    This mastery of nature sculpted our so-called Western world-view. It gave us the best and the worst of what we have in our present day society. The American myth of the individual, the idea that an individual can change his destiny, are the results of these underlying presuppositions as much as the hubris, corruption and unwitting bigotry which follows from them. The myth of the individual, so central in our society, and so crucial for the development of the wonders that we have accomplished, is as flawed as any other. Like all myths, it distorts and deletes-- inventing further myths in its own image, deleting what doesn't match.
    This heritage carries more baggage with it: lurking beneath the sentiment of the superiority of our species and our culture is a myth of psychological estrangement and personal sin. This idea of estrangement is particularly worth highlighting. Again, Dialectic of Enlightenment echoes this sentiment: “Enlightenment is more than enlightenment: it is nature made audible in its estrangement.” (pg. 31) Though Christianity ostensibly did away with the need of a Priestly caste to act as an intermediary between man and God, this ideology was quickly brushed under the carpet as the Catholic church rose to power. Thus the early Judaic idea of estrangement or exile remained – along with this growing belief that the physical world itself was a sort of purgatory from the union with God. Obviously, this myth germinated in the cultural soil of a people who were constantly being kicked out of their chosen homeland(s). "The dispersal of the Jews began with Nebuchadnezzar's conquest of Jerusalem in 586 B.C.E. and the deportation of its inhabitants to Babylon. After Rome's destruction of Carthage in 146 B.C.E., its annexation of Egypt in 6 C.E. excluded Alexandria's large Jewish community from the privileges accorded to citizens, and Jews suffered two expulsions from Rome itself." (Kiernan, pg. 3, Blood and Soil).This belief most likely begins with one of the oldest monotheistic religions, Zoroastrianism, which originated somewhere between the 9th and 11th centuries BCE in or around what is modern day Afghanistan.
    In these early monotheistic traditions, God took the role of an absolute Other, which makes a genuine relationship impossible: communication depends on commonality. To the Zoroastrians he was Ahura Mazda, the source of wisdom pitted against the evil of the world. Mazda was possibly derived from the Assyrian God Ashur, patron God of Assur, who in the Assyrian version of the Enuma Elish slays Tiamat, rather than Marduk. This is of interest because, as we have already explored, the Enuma Elish details the slaying of chaotic nature to make way for the world of man, rather than being a myth pertaining to our place within nature. This is further driven home by the fact that, to an even greater extent than the Christian God or Judaic YHVH, Ahura Mazda is not immanent. He exists elsewhere and we know him through his intermediaries. YHVH or Jehovah was raised from the position of a somewhat secondary war or sky God to the position of supreme overlord who said "no Gods before me." Manichaeism, a slightly later development which at one time was the most widespread religion in the world, further emphasizes the contrast of light and dark. Though the realm of sole father God is not prominent, here we see the idea that the "light" is the soul, and the "darkness" is the body. In other words, evil is embodied in nature. All of these ideas should seem rather familiar to those who are at all aware of Christian cosmology.
    To the average individual, these myths re-enforce the social paradigm of patriarchy; God became a father-figure so elevated that we could only follow his commands, but never understand him. To attempt to relate to this absolute, estranged Father-God, one can only cry up to the heavens in hope of a response that cannot come but through an intermediary – half divine himself – thus sharing part of our essence and part of his. It is of course in response to this need for an intermediary that Jesus, historic figure that he may be, took on the mythic resonance of an age, simultaneously adopting many of the elements of the male agrarian regenerative Gods that the Israelites had discarded. As the Christian cult grew from its early days into an institution, (most notably after the Council of Nicea and subsequent Nicene Creed), their leadership developed many political tools out of their myths. An example of this is original Sin, and as a result of the historic and mythic resonance of this belief, we have this “revolt against nature” which has been with us for the duration of Western Civilization. This is not a linear progression but rather a series of feedback loops, which moves temporally in one direction, but with resonances that can cross cultural boundaries, even inexplicably occur simultaneously in geographically disparate locations.
    We are all often guilty of missing very obvious connections because we compartmentalize and label the world so thoroughly. For instance, it would be very easy to see this as a phenomenon relegated strictly to the religious sphere, as if such a "sphere" actually existed. The fact is that this valuation, like all of our sub and semi- conscious myths, color the way we view the world so profoundly that we're bound to miss it. By way of example, consider this idea of the "exile from nature" when you next visit a supermarket. Look at the "meat products," homogenized, packaged and ordered in neat rows. How divorced is this meat from the process of killing, or from the life of the animal that now provides it? What kind of effect has the ideology of industry had on the way that we prepare and consume food? The very structure through which such products are disemminated from further emphasize our consumer worldview, while downplaying the elements that are at odds with its underlying mythology. This is a point that we have returned to time and again, yet as it may at first seem hard to trace the line from ancient sky Gods to our dinner table, it is worth underlining. The natural world is all that is. As such, modern man is in many ways at war with his own nature.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Making myth a living practice

Another fragment from the long piece I'm working on about magical thinking and the power of symbols for the Immanence of Myth:

  This is how myth can serve an active function in our lives. Consider the Hindu goddess Kali. The quintessential image of Kali Ma shows her dancing on the slain body of her initiate (or Shiva, depending), wearing a belt of human skulls, and a long tongue known for licking the marrow out of bone.  She is the devouring side of the mother archetype, a symbol that appears in many forms but possibly nowhere so clearly as here. For example, the mythological image of Lilith bears resemblance to Kali in many ways: at least one side of Lilith and Lilith-related demons pertains to the “devouring mother,” the strangler, the devourer of children. These derive from a number of related yet distinct air and desert demon sources, from ancient Sumeria or even possibly earlier. 
  Yet, Lilith also has another side, that of the seductress, luring men away from their societal commitment to the “good mother,” a motif that developed most clearly when the Lilith symbol was adapted by the Jews. This is an element which Kali lacks. To some, this is just an odd image painted on canvas. But to others, those who wish to enter the psychological domain represented by the symbol, she is much more. Worshippers of Kali become that initiate, offer themselves up as a sacrifice in a mythological sense, so as to effect a psychological shift whereby they release attachment to the elements of life that might otherwise bar them from becoming truly human. This path of practice does not require the asceticism of monk-hood because the binding glue, you might say, of possession is undone. 
  All mythic characters can be analysed and experienced in this way: as elements of the complex that makes up the individual, the culture, the natural necessities of the universe. All gods, demons, heroes, and villains are constructed from symbols which can have real, psychological impact. But only if engaged with directly, rather than passively. This kind of engagement can be arrived at through mythic art, though the audience must meet the artist halfway, with this knowledge and a willingness to participate. This is a difficult task for the modern, mythic artist, because audiences almost have to be tricked into this kind of participation. Entertainment takes center stage. 

Friday, February 26, 2010

Magical Thinking

Magical thinking is a process which has not so much left us as left our conscious sphere. Though Frazier's work in many ways has been invalidated in the years since, his basic definition of sympathetic magic and magical thinking is still useful. As defined by Frazier, magic depends on two principles: the law of similarity (between effect and cause) and the law of contagion (things which effect each other continue to effect one another even when taken out of contact.) Throughout anthropological literature this definition is more or less the same: magical thinking is the assumption that events or items that are thematically or otherwise experientially linked with one another can therefor effect one another. Though there are more possibilities than the ones Frazier outlined, all of them come down to how we determine causality from the events of our lives, and interpreting the meaning that we attribute to this causal web. It is the latter aspect which we will be focusing on now.
    With a grasp of the ground we've already covered, it should be clear enough that any absolute certainty in regards to causality, or the nature of reality, is impossible. This is doubly true when such apparent truths are represented. Our lives are full of myths based on assumptions of causality based on spatial or temporal association, and essentially it boils down more regularly to our feelings about events than any thoroughgoing rational analysis of causal links. As Gilbert Lewis says, "habit is unthinking," and much of our thinking about reality is habitual.
    However, the magical thinking we arrive at need not be that of the schizophrenic or bushman who misappropriates cause. Instead, we can recognize our participation in the process of determining the meaning of everything we experience. Magical thinking as a general concept assumes that causality works "both ways," that is, if things are linked they can have an effect on one another. Though this often may not be the case in an external sense, it is generally the case in an internal one. So, though some may go so far as to call it a participation in the creation of reality, I have personally seen people turn into Humpty Dumpty just because of the slight difference between these two statements. (Participation in the process of attributing meaning vs. participation in the process of creating reality.)
    The following quotation cuts to the heart of this distinction,

There is the story of the American in the train who saw another American carrying a basket of unusual shape. 
His curiosity mastered him, and he leaned across and said: “Say, stranger, what you got in that bag?” 
The other, lantern-jawed and taciturn, replied: “mongoose”. 
The first man was rather baffled, as he had never heard of a mongoose. After a pause he pursued, at the risk of a rebuff: “But say, what is a Mongoose?” 
“Mongoose eats snakes”, replied the other. 
This was another poser, but he pursued: “What in hell do you want a Mongoose for?” 
”Well, you see”, said the second man (in a confidential whisper) “my brother sees snakes”. 
The first man was more puzzled than ever; but after a long think, he continued rather pathetically: “But say, them ain’t real snakes”. 
”Sure”, said the man with the basket, “but this Mongoose ain’t real either”. (Aleister Crowley, Magick In Theory & Practice.)
Believing in the reality of those snakes will likely lead to a misappropriation of cause. You think the imaginary snakes are real. In common parlance, you've lost your fucking marbles. If you become too sure in your beliefs, whatever they may be, you will likely find yourself falling prey to the same sort of superstition which is easily identified in tribal and aboriginal cultures throughout the world. Many similar logical fallacies can be found in some New Age publications, and health stores. Feynman has talk that you can track down on the internet called Cargo Cult science that deals with many elements of psuedoscience and how some of what we might consider science can fall into this category as well.
    If a person spends days or even years working to bring about a certain end result, they will attribute a successful result with their prior efforts. It is altogether possible, if not even probable, that success had little or nothing to do with the operation, though the operation may have set them in motion. If the results are not what they were hoping for, the magical belief structure generally allows for "intrusions" of various kinds, such as another shaman operating at cross purposes, or some other more subtle force which waylaid the operation. (“It wasn't God's will,” “I sinned in some way,” “my magic wasn't strong enough,” etc.) The terminology would shift for a religious believer or psychologist, but the underlying premise remains the same.
    Consider this hypothetical: suppose that during the middle ages, a meteor falls to earth, which a young farm boy discovers. This meteorite is placed in a church, and considered a holy relic. The local despot, who is preparing for war, takes this as a sign from God, and leads his army to victory. The historians of the time attribute his victory to the meteorite, thus further increasing its "magical power."
    Now, there's nothing to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that the meteorite wasn't a sign from God that he should ride to battle and certain victory, but Occam's razor would certainly point to the confluence of other factors, from the skill and number of his troops and the weather on that particular day to the location that they fought, and so on. However, at the same time, such factors cannot account for the correlation of those events, (defined by Carl Jung as “synchronicity”), or the fact that the falling meteorite was the galvanizing cause, without which the success would not, and therefor could not, have occurred. So, in this sense it is true to say that the attributed meaning (“the meteorite is a sign from God that we will be victorious on this day”) was correct, if only because that meaning was attributed, and led them to a successful outcome.
    This distinction can be the difference between a creative human being and a raving lunatic, set adrift in a terrifying world of portent and symbol. Some of those wayfaring souls eventually come back to solid ground stronger for the experience, and others do not. This is not to actually imply that there's anything other than a cultural distinction between the two, in many cases. From the perspective of their own culture, surely countless artists are often channels or seers more than architects. Even those who lived more in the world of symbol more than the empirical world, like Antonin Artaud, can contribute something strangely worthwhile for the rest of us. The term "insane" is about as bigoted a blanket term as any racial epithet. Each "insanity" is unique, and some have unusual side effects, a specific capacity that is a natural part of their total state of being. The same is commonly observed in individuals otherwise labelled as "disabled."
    So let's give ourselves the license to be insane in this sense, hopefully without smearing the surrounding walls with shit. The meaning we give to experiences and sensations, even something as simple as a color, lies in our hands. This process is primarily automatic or subconscious, but also not entirely outside our influence. Meaning isn't attributed consciously. At some point, on some level, we have to choose what the pieces of our personal history mean. Something with a lot of emotional attached to it, like a divorce, can mean so many things. We write a lot of that story in our heads. Like it or not, as time goes on, our memories get overwritten with that internal story - that internal myth. Without being too academic for a moment, that's a part of what I mean when I talk about "living myth."  Whether we take it the next step and build literal creative myths out of our experiences and dreams is probably as much a matter of personal inclination as anything else. The root mythological impulse is in all of us, even if the capacity to render it in such a way that it is an effective tool or even entertaining past time for others is another matter entirely.

Two different myths of the artist

...And a snippet from today's writing. (Thanks to William Clark for helping to grease the wheels) :
Wherever we have a prevailing myth of "the artist," rather than a tradition of artisans and skilled tradesman that attempt to do nothing beyond furthering and perfecting traditional methods, the real breakthroughs occur in the hands of rare individuals who change the playing field in varying degrees. Through figures such as Charlie Parker, John Coltrane, Thelonius Monk, or Ornette Coleman, blues and jazz were transformed into bebop and free jazz. They all had varying experience in the traditions that came before, but all of their contributions are measured in the uniqueness of their own voice, and how the addition of that voice forever changed the tune afterwards. This is something valued in Western culture, even if it is also feared by the conservative elements of the culture. 
    We value this because the myth of "the artist" is an offshoot of the myth of the individual. You simply don't find the same thing, at least as the rule, in traditional tribal cultures of South America, or in Asian cultures before Western values began to take hold. These are two very different, equally valid perceptions of the nature of art. One emphasizes upholding and refining a particular tradition. The other emphasizes a revolution of forms by the individual, and as such is oftentimes as much about the artist as the art. We know of Dali's persona almost as much as his work; imagine the same thing from the Ndebele of South Africa. We know the style, but rarely the creator. The art is more of a cultural and community practice. The work remains, the creator remain nameless outside of the community. 
The work of Piet Mondrian, which carries a somewhat similar aesthetic as the Ndebele, the same boldness and simplicity, is distinguished in part because of the artist, even in the case of a less flamboyant artist such as he. There is an element to the individualistic, progress-centric concept of art that is always autobiographical, whether it is implicit or explicit. Even in art focused on form or concept, the very value of the art comes through the creator, rather than the piece itself. 
    Imagine that living at the same time as Picasso, there was another artist with a similar style and equal skill. This fictional shadow never attained any amount of noteoriety as an artist, however, eeking out an existence as an accountant. In the present day, which artists work is more valuable? The fact that this question is rhetorical only proves the power of this myth in the Western world. These works only become valuable if someone manages to bolster the myth of this shadow artist; if he attains sainthood within the art world, then perhaps the work will command high prices by virtue of the name. 
    Breakthroughs at the hands of these individuals are literally just that, changing the playing field altogether, rather than being a part of an unbroken, linear progression from antiquity to modernity. This may seem confusing, since the myth of progress itself is linear. It is only in retrospect that we identify, or even invent, the ideological connections between one movement and sub-culture and the next, in essence drawing a line in a field of dots. 
Many of these breakthroughs come as a result of critically analyzing, even challenging, the mythic axioms held by the surrounding culture, as we see in the history of Christianity with Eckhart, with Bruno, and so on. Whether artist, inventor, or philosopher becomes less relevant within this context. Each took new gambit, however subtle or gross, based on the risks taken by those that came before. The challenge is not just in regard to an invented "art world," but towards the culture as a whole. If successful, these gambits can reform the culture itself. Art is a medium of cultural revolution. It is even a constant revolution, in the Marxist sense -- a continual process of self-criticism -- though certainly not necessarily towards Marxist ends. The Western myth of art is in fact the myth of the revolutionary individual. This mythic current could even be called Luciferian, though only to the extent that Lucifer is conceived of as a symbol divorced of Christian morality. He is the light-bearer, not all that unlike Prometheus; a figure that disobeys the laws of the land. But this transgression is not without purpose. It is done in the name of progress. Thus the Western myth of art, in the form of the revolutionary artist, is inexorably tied into the myth of progress.  

Thursday, February 25, 2010

contradiction in creativity

A snippet from today's writing. 
This idea of contention, opposition, and temporary synthesis is key in analyzing the procession of creative work. Creativity thrives in an environment of nurturing conflict, and a motivating factor for many artists, as well as scientists, is the need to express themselves in contrast or conflict with the prevailing ideologies of the culture(s) around them. Though this may seem at first an oxymoronic statement, it is clear that the life-blood of artistic and philosophical advancement lies in struggle: each new “great” school of art or philosophy comes about as a reaction to the previous, now ossified system.
Calling it a "system" at all is a demonstration of this. Nature is systematized. Contained, controlled, mastered. This is one of the conceits of progress.
When something has become a system it has entered the adult stage. Along with this comes stasis, and ultimately, degeneration or replacement by a young upstart. The Golden Bough's monomyth finds some purchase in this territory, as does the Graal myth of the wounded king and Percival: what we now establish must be overthrown. The myth of progress depends on this. According to it, each generation must exceed the past. And perhaps in some sense it often does, but this linear, teleological myth implies a singular goal. It contradicts those traditions that attempt to mirror rather than master nature, which reveals itself as the circle or spiral, never a line. 

Saturday, February 13, 2010

American Heroes and Myths of Hollywood

Myths and legends die hard in America. We love them for the extra dimension they provide, the illusion of near-infinite possibility to erase the narrow confines of most men's reality. Weird heroes and mold-breaking champions exist as living proof to those who need it that the tyranny of "the rat race" is not yet final.

-- HUNTER S. THOMPSON, 1937-2005
For many Americans, movie stars and the like have become our pantheon, and the mirage of Hollywood our Olympus. We have, perhaps, lost touch with the function of art because so many have lost touch with the function of myth. However, it is impossible to ignore the way that mythology overruns the life of popular artists and musicians. Hunter S. Thompson was reported to have said that he found it difficult being "just Hunter," because everyone expected him to be Dr. Gonzo. Numerous, often bizarre theories abound about the deaths of such characters, as if to say that as their myth lives on, so must they. Perhaps Elvis Presley, Jimmi Hendrix, Kurt Cobain, Jim Morrison, and Michael Jackson all grew tired of their mythologies and attempted to escape it through some brilliant faked death, jamming out together on a tropical island somewhere. More likely, the price of living their myth overran them in various ways, and they all paid the price that often comes along with being burned into the cultural consciousness.  

(An excerpt from one of the essays I'm working on for Immanence of Myth.) 

Thursday, February 11, 2010

polyamory time enough for love

UPDATE: Postmodernogamy

Yet again it seems I'm going off the intended purpose of this blog. Fuck it, right? I was recently asked to give my perspective on polyamory, in a kind of general way. Several weeks prior, I was interviewed by a woman doing a dissertation on the subject. So I kind of free associated, and this is what came of it. I hope that it is interesting to you, and maybe spawns some discussion that avoids hate mongering. (Unless if it's funny hate mongering.) 

So, with some embellishment after the fact, here is my undirected take on that subject. 

The first rule is there are no rules. The second rule, if this is your first time, you have to fuck. Sorry, going with the Fight Club thing. No, that's definitely not the second rule. Ahem.

Anyway, now that I've fucked my flow up for a bad joke... I'll give you my thoughts on polyamory.

I think one of the biggest issues of social life is that we have this conceit about permanence. The words we use to represent things don't change. We pretend that the categories that we invent and use to represent things actually exist, like eternal Platonic forms. And we get really pissed off whenever that isn't proven true. Who knows how
many people we say "I love you" to, and really mean it. We want the process of time to stop there- it's hard to imagine that many times, if you speed up the clock 10 years, that person who was so central to your life at that point won't even be on your map.

If we say that those people, times, and places had no meaning, then we've done them a disservice. We've done ourselves a disservice. All relationships that get beneath your surface leave you forever changed. That's the beauty of them. That's a big part of why we have them. It is a closer taste of immortality than reproduction-- crazy as it may be to say out loud, I have dead friends living in my head. And they will be there until I also die. 

The truth of life according to Heraclitus is everything is flux. He's some dead Greek guy, fuck him- but he was right. And the Taoists get on to the same simple, profound realization. Now it's like fortune cookie wisdom, but it's the truth. It's fortune cookie because it's true, and because we're afraid of it. We trivialize truths like this. 

Nowhere is that more potentially painful than in relationships, but short of controlling another person - making them property of some sort - they aren't going to obey your needs and timetables in all circumstances. Nor is that an ideal I'd really aspire to. (Except you know. For short periods. With few clothes.)

My introduction to polyamory was pretty much all wrong. Painful, messy, and ill-conceived-- most people would use it as an example of why the "whole thing" doesn't work. I could level the same empty accusation at monogamy. It was the final compromise, a way to try to keep a sinking ship from gaining water quite so quickly. But it made me realize that the way I had been "doing" relationships prior was unbalanced. It helped me realize why I'm wired the way I am, and that we can choose to run from it, or adapt and embrace it. 

I was primarily raised by my Mother. My Father was out of the picture by age four, and my mother identifies primarily as Lesbian. (Sexuality is more fluid than most would have us believe.) So, growing up, my experience was of my Mother, and her girlfriends. It's hard for me to deny, years later, that it is at least a little interesting that my preference is towards one partner, and other women, who serve the dual role of friend and lover.

There's a balancing act that occurs when you really connect with someone. I'm talking about what happens after the initial firework period has passed. If you love them, and you aren't an awful sub-human, the well being of that person is very high on your list of priorities. But on the other hand, if you're concerned with your own growth, and don't want to accept that the goal is to find someone you can tolerate, lock the door, and grow fat with them as one of you pops out babies, you're going to need to be open to one extent or another to meeting and connecting with new people. And the same goes for your partner(s) as well! 

As I mentioned at the beginning, the alchemy that occurs between people leaves them changed. Sexuality ties into this some pretty mysterious ways, especially in terms of what we often call "chemistry." All of us are wired differently, and have a different relationship with intimacy. But almost all of us are taught to believe there is a categorical difference between sexual partners and non-sexual partners, that they are independent categories and the boundaries between them cannot be trespassed. (And I don't just mean in terms of sexuality itself, but in terms of our borders of intimacy, emotional connection, need, desire, ...)

How we tread this path really depends on how we're wired. Some people aren't very sexual, and so there's no reason that these relationships need to involve anything sexual. But for those of us who are... Well, you can engage in serial monogamy, or cheating -- neither of those are for me, and they invariably lead to an excess of pain for one if not all involved parties.

There's something I learned in yoga that really seems to apply. You learn to identify the 'beneficial sensation' (pro tip: 'sensation' is yoga code for 'pain'), and the kind that can cause you damage or imbalance. The same is true in our relationships. And like with yoga, sometimes there will be a gradual increase of our flexibility, though there are also likely things that will always cause the harmful kind of pain or jealousy. Know your boundaries. They will be easily pointed out to you by life, when you experience the kind of pain that you can't process. That's a limit for now. It can't be someone else's fault if you convince them that A, B, or C is fine and then quietly go through emotional hell. It doesn't make anyone "less poly" to actually have emotional boundaries and be vocal about them. People who say otherwise are either looking for a philosophy to support being a slut -- which, really, why bother? just be a slut, it's ok to be so long as you're honest about it. Who is anyone else to judge?

Since everyone is different, and we are all changing all the time -- the only way to work with this is to communicate. Tell your partners where you are at. Don't be afraid to express your fears and needs- and if they are good people let alone good lovers, they'll put those things in mind. If on a rare occasion, Jaz is telling me that she's feeling really hormonal and insecure, that might not be the night for me to go on a bender with a bunch of beautiful women. (Not that I get the opportunity to do that nearly as often these days...) At least, I wouldn't do it without explicit reassurance from her- even then I'd listen to my gut and my heart first. Sometimes -- often -- it means compromise. Compromise, communication, and boobies. That's pretty much it. (It also helps if your partners get along.)

Does that answer your questions?


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