Spiritual Paths, Solo Polyamory, and Primary Self-Relationships

“Honor your self,
Worship your Self,
Meditate on your Self,
God dwells within you as you.”
~ Swami Muktananada

325Muktananda was a controversial figure, who had a profound affect on many lives, my own included. My mother met him in the 1970s and became his student. He was an Indian Guru, a teacher of yoga philosophy and spirituality, who toured the world with an entourage of swamis and lay-teachers, establishing ashrams and meditation centers wherever they went. It was at one of these ashrams that my parents were married, and where I had many of my formative spiritual experiences as a youngster and teen. It was at another of these ashrams that I met my future ex-husband. Muktananda—  or Baba, as he was affectionately called—  and his teachings, have been a huge influence on my life.

When he talks about “God” he doesn’t mean some old guy in the sky. The God he talked about is Love, Bliss, Ultimate Freedom. The goal of the yoga path he taught was to become so open hearted one could greet everyone as a form of love, as a form of divinity, and in so doing, experience the bliss of freedom. Maybe this sounds a little woo. And that’s okay. I’m not trying to convert you here, I’m sharing with you how I came to be in a primary relationship with myself.

I never met Baba, though he gifted me a name in Sanskrit that I sometimes use. I became a student of his successor, a spirited and compassionate woman, Swami Chidvilasananda.  Their teachings have always been a guiding star for me to turn to whenever I have felt lost. Part of why I don’t talk about them openly is because they are a very private experience for me. It was these teachings I returned to when, in 2011, I separated from my then husband. When my mother started trying to guilt me into being monogamous and straight, I looked to the teachings that held more sway in my heart than my co-dependant desire to please her: I remembered Chivilasananda once saying that if we ever had to choose between tradition and love, to choose love, because Love is the highest spiritual path there is.

And so I chose to follow my heart. I embarked on a journey of polyamory. And when I started this blog it was with the general idea that I didn’t want a primary relationship like I’d had before- I didn’t want to be putting a partner before my own needs, or the needs of the relationship ahead of the needs of my heart and soul. I needed to follow Baba’s advice and honor my self first and foremost if I wanted to find freedom. I was going to be in a primary relationship with myself—  and have an orgy with the universe!

I haven’t written much directly about my spirituality on this blog before, but today it felt important to do so, in order to honor the roots of a philosophy that is so very dear to me, and thru the presence of this blog and my voice in the polyamorous community, a philosophy that has come to be closely associated with Solo Polyamory.

To be in a primary relationship with one’s self is not the exclusive purview of Solo Polyamory any more than it is exclusive to the spiritual teachings I grew up with. I’ve heard arguments that if people in primary, nesting, or cohabiting relationships are using this phrase that they are appropriating a value that is reserved for Solo Polyamory only.

Well, that’s nonsense.

What my spiritual path has taught me is that relationships where we see the divine in the other but not in ourselves—  that is to say that we forget our own sovereignty and surrender it to our partner—  we loose our freedom, we create a codependant dynamic, and we become trapped by the toxic stories within partnership. I’ve also learned that this is one of those ‘universal truths’, a nugget of wisdom that pops up in many traditions, religions, spiritual paths, and philosophies around the world.

In the past 6 years my experience has been that when I have returned to treating myself as primary, and honoring, caring, and fawning to meet my own needs as if I were two (incredibly sexy, intelligent) people madly in love and romancing and supporting eachother like a loving elderly couple might, then I am saner, happier, healthier, and am better resourced to be present in all my other relationships.

full cupAs a relationship coach, so often I see people caught in dynamics where they feel trapped or limited as a result of surrendering their self relationship over to the partnership in their lives. A lot of the work I do is centered around supporting my clients to reconnect with their own needs, wants, and desires, and empowering them to find the blissful freedom that is possible when they can prioritise themselves as an act of self love, so that when they go to care for others, they do so with a full cup.

“My primary relationship is with my Self. All others are but mirrors of it.”

~ Shakti Gawain

The idea of a primary self relationship is by no means exclusive to spiritual teachings either. Modern psychology and wellness has caught on to what monks, nuns, swamis, and other renunciates have known for centuries: that renouncing the ideas of being completely beholden, subservient,or entwined with a partner is one of the healthiest things you can do for your mental, physical, and emotional wellbeing.

Sex educators, therapists, and feminist punks alike have been recognising the benefits of getting out of co-dependancy and dominance culture by nourishing a primary relationship with one’s self.

I have met many people in marriages and common law partnerships who tell me they resonate a lot with Solo Polyamory, and ask if they can be solo polyamorous while married. Well, technically I would have to say no, you can’t. The defining factor of Solo Polyamory is the eschewing of coupledom that entails— things like living together, sharing expenses, and so forth. However very few people in this world have the privilege to be able to afford to live alone. Many of us have experienced moving in with a partner, or with friends, and merging resources with others as a means for economic and social survival. So I don’t think those choices made out of a need for survival should remove us from the solo polyamory description. Practical intimacy is only one dimension of intimacy, and sharing a home with someone does not necessarily lead to ‘couple’ dynamics in emotional, social, and sexual aspects of relating. In relationship anarchy, we work to dismantle the socially endowed privileges that coupledom receives, and as such, couples who are embracing an RA philosophy may find that being their own primaries is useful to that end. In fact, many couples have found that by enacting more of an autonomous, solo philosophy in their relationships, their relationships have grown healthier.

My bottom line here: if everyone in the world could be in a primary relationship with themselves, and we could all learn to honor the primary relationships of everyone, we might have a much better world to live in. And who am I to deny permission for others to try this path out, whatever kind of relationship they happen to be in right now.

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If you want to read more of Baba Muktananda and Swami Chidvilasananda’s writings, please visit the Siddha Yoga website. You may also find resonance with the work of Christopher Hareesh Wallis, whose Recognition Sutras course I highly recommend.

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A Letter to the Magpies

European folklore holds that Magpies like to steal shiny things for their nests. Although this has now been debunked by scientists and bird experts, it’s a phenomenon I’ve seen over and over again within the polyamorous world: someone new enters the community and has no pre-existing ties to anyone. They carry ‘no baggage’. Maybe they are just out of a divorce (as I was) or they are new to the area. They are overwhelmed with attention, and begin to date multiple people, many of whom may be far more experienced in polyamory. The new shiny is alluring, and receives a lot of attention—  especially if they are solo and female.

Magpie-Lark_male_kobble_aug06Tarnished by many Magpies, I can bite my tongue no longer. This is a letter for the corvid creatures who swoop in on the polyamory novices. I hear you justify yourself magnanimously with stories of consensuality, and sit on your pedestals of knowledge preening- but you do not see the harm you do. Meanwhile, as a coach, I see it again and again. And I want you to understand. Because I have been on both sides of this story. And no one deserves to be tarnished by ignorance to what’s happening beneath the surface.

I will be blunt: This new shiny person is not here for you to objectify. She is not here to be your Disney-land escape from your failing marriage. She is not a fuck toy that you can groom into a BDSM princess in order to feel better about your own sexuality.

Do you see her as a person? Do you recognize the social conditioning that may have led her to be unaware of her boundaries, unconscious of her own needs and desires, a scripting that tells her to capitulate and be whatever and whoever it is she needs to be to please you?

Magpie_swooping_signYou think you’re doing her a favor, introducing her to the flirtatious fabulousness that is your life, but you are oblivious to the trauma lying under the surface. You see only the face she wants you to see, and you remain ignorant to the fear underneath that mask.

Did you know that one of the responses to trauma is ‘fawning’- where someone looks to please a person who seems to be more influential than they are? Did you know that women are taught to find self worth through their partnerships? Have you stopped to think what is going on for someone when, fresh out of long term monogamy, they want to date people in positions of power, knowledge, and influence?

You may not see yourself as the ‘cool kid’, but if you seem like you have your shit together with polyamory, and talk about it with confidence, then she may be seeing you as the cool kid. She may be looking to you to create a blanket of security for herself- and by so doing, unconsciously bypassing the deeper issues she needs to address.

Have you ever heard her No? Not just the “I don’t want to go out tonight” No, but her “I can’t be around that person” No. The “I have a hard line No to this kind of behavior” kind of No. The “I’m not interested in what you’re asking me to do” kind of a No. Do you know what her No looks like in her body, feels like in her breath, or sounds like in her voice?

We who are raised as women are told that boundaries are bad, limiting, and ruin the fun. We’re told that to be liked and loved we need to be good, giving and game. And a lifetime of good, giving and game leads us to tolerate a lot of bullshit from a lot of people until we grow numb to the bullshit and begin to tolerate the death of personal joy instead.

When you’ve lived a life repressed in relationship, the candy store of polyamory can seem so golden and desirable… but medicating with flirtatiousness can only go so far. The wounds underneath remain.

Do you see her glowing radiantly and hanging on your every word? And underneath that do you see the fear and insecurity that she’s been told is an inconvenience to her sexual availability, and has told herself to ignore?

Here’s what it boils down to, dear Magpies: if you can’t hold a boundary for yourself until she knows her own boundaries, then you’re taking advantage of the poly-novice.

And yes, that’s a lot of emotional labor to do for someone! It can take a lot of patience. It can be painstaking and challenging and you may not even end up being her partner. But is it worth it? In the longer term, it is always worth it to gently push back on people to empower them in their own agency, and support them to understand what it means to be ‘at choice’ in all things.

I get that you don’t think you’re doing anything wrong. I understand you think you’re good to go because she’s given you an affirmative yes. This is about more than that.

This is about understanding the ways in which society has programmed us all to exist in systems of dominance. Good intentions are not enough to prevent hurt. To engage in your relationships with kindness, develop more mindfulness. If you want to love her, slow down. Breathe. Take a step back. Let other people be her guides, lend her your books and connect her to the communities. Help her find diverse voices, so she is not just guided by yours. Empower her to find her authentic truth, to embody her boundaries, to connect to her core values— and support her to be freely expressed in them.