Self Intimacy, Sex-Positivity, Shame, and the Resilient Edge of Resistence

“Boundaries are an essential part of life. They delineate and maintain needed borders and separations, making differentiation possible at every level. Boundaries both contain and preserve the integrity of what they are safeguarding, be that physical, psychological, emotional, social, or spiritual. Without them there is no relationship and therefore no development, no evolution. But despite this clear truth, we often fall into the trap of believing that boundaries hold us back, preventing us from being free…”
~ Robert Augustus Masters, Boundaries Make Freedom Possible

skin

I heard a great metaphor for boundaries recently, from my friend and mentor Marcia. Boundaries are like skin. Skin protects us from bacteria, contaminants- it keeps the bad things out. It also holds our bodies together and keeps the good things in. It has elasticity and can stretch and squish for short periods of time (this is called the Resilient Edge of Resistance, think of it as a plus/minus margin around your boundaries). Push that edge too far, and we reach our limits- the skin breaks. It is semi permeable, so we can let good things in (like sunlight and moisture) and sweat the bad things out. And without skin around us, things get messy.

Similarly, without boundaries, life gets messy.

In polyamory we are constantly being challenged to redefine our boundaries, to explore some of the difficult stuff in that resilient edge of resistance- sometimes we reach our limits. We also traverse an emotional field where we invite more vulnerability into our lives, because we are allowing more people to connect with that core part of ourselves that the boundaries are there to protect. The more partners we have, the more we are asked to live in that space of vulnerability. Doing so feels radical, revolutionary, and many people experience a sexual and emotional liberation when they begin exploring this.

In a traditional coupled relationship, boundaries are created to protect and preserve the primary relationship. They are there, like a warm blanket, keeping the relationship safe and in a place of comfort, where the individuals in it can relax and grow and flourish. This is true of monogamous and honestly non-monogamous couples.

However, when it comes to flying Solo, it is not quite so straightforward.

Evening clouds above

There is no primary partner, there is no obvious other to create shared boundaries with- though we absolutely can, many people perceive boundaries as limitations, and equate them with primary like relationships. Ultimately, we all have to develop our own clear boundaries around what we want to nurture in our lives, and what we want to keep out- and this is far more apparent when exploring Solo Polyamory. The nature of Solo Poly relationships is so often fluid and changing, that one can sometimes feel there is no safe-house to come home to unless you create one for yourself. But, it can be easy to forget this, and when you are unattatched to a primary partner, there are plenty more opportunities to explore that Resilient Edge of Resistence.

I pushed and stretched and redefined my personal Resilient Edge of Resistence for two years. After a lifetime of frustration with the limitation of my creative expression and sexual shaming, I dove heart first into a dynamic and powerful exploration of living life without restrictions. I began to embrace my sensual expression, I grew to honor my shadow self, I found alchemy in letting my spirit blossom and fly free. I looked to the free spirits around me and followed their examples. I was going to sex parties, being guest listed for kink nights, throwing my own kinky raves with my friends, being invited to participate in the sex-positive community both locally, and internationally. I felt comfortable having sex around strangers, and engaging in BDSM play to the side of the dance floor. It was so incredibly liberating! I had come so far from the shy, ashamed, repressed young woman who flinched at the idea of talking about sex.

shattered glassAnd then, I became intoxicated with the freedom. I became addicted to my shadow self. I pushed myself too far.My resiliency broke. I lost my boundaries. I lost my skin. My guts went spilling all over the place, and toxic, unhealthy influences entered into my life.

Months later I still wake in the middle of the night from nightmares filled with flashbacks of trauma, and my heart remains heavy with heartache, regret, and deep sorrow.

After reaching a breaking point with exploring my resilient edge, I attempted to build a wall around my heart, and my Self, reinforcing my boundaries into an impenetrable fortress. While this made me feel more safe, it also made it impossible to reach out to the ones I loved- because I couldn’t connect to my heart without connecting to the pain too. They felt pushed away.

While all this was happening, I was diving into studies of the nature of intimacy, boundaries, and self-actualisation. I learned about something called Self-Intimacy, the conscious awareness of one’s own emotions, desires and thoughts. Without healthy self-intimacy, we struggle to engage in healthy conflict, and displays of affection can become shallow and disconnected. When we lack healthy self-intimacy, our negative emotions can build up, and without expression or support for resolution, they can drive us to disregard our limits, and live in a state where our resilient edges are being constantly pushed to breaking point.

I had spent so long pushing myself to explore my edges, I had forgotten how to relax, and just be with my self. My inner perfect poly person had grown adept at suppressing my shadow emotions in relationships, and my mind was at conflict with my heart. Even though I had intellectually consented to almost all of my experiences, my heart’s consent had not been present. I had been ignoring the messages from my body, ignoring the crushing pain of approaching my limits- until they had been reached, with heart-breaking consequences.

jumpingLiberating ourselves of the shame around sex and embracing sex positivity shouldn’t have to mean going to orgies or BDSM play parties. It doesn’t have to be a process of pushing our resilient edges of resistance to breaking point- either physically, emotionally, mentally, or spiritually. It might mean those things for some people- and that has certainly been part of my own journey- but I don’t think that it has to include those things. I think sex positivity is hi-fiving ourselves and our friends and partners for good sex, sex positivity is exploring healthy connections and physically empowering chemistry. It’s about not flinching when someone else talks about sex. It’s embracing your own nature as a sexual being. It’s accepting the diversity of experiences people have had, and the complex relationships each person can have to the act of sex- and respecting that most people do not need to live in the adrenalin addiction of having their edges challenged in relationships constantly.

I’m valuing the existential crisis inherent in all of this. In my personal quest for identity, relationship, and meaning, I have too often become trapped in doing mode, a state entangled in mental pathways, removed from the experience of simply being. Rather than following my head into new situations, I’m slowing down and listening to my heart, and my whole body. In finding solitude and quietude again, I’m reconnecting with the courage to just be, and finding freedom in that. The clearer I become on what I’m living for- my deepest desires- the more my natural boundaries become apparent. The margins of my being may not be what I once thought they were- or perhaps, they have changed- and I am giving myself permission to change, and nurture my resiliency.

I don’t need to live life on the edge all the time- and neither do you, if you do not want to. You have permission to be loving to yourself, to honor your physical, spiritual, mental and emotional body and boundaries, to embrace your shadow self, and your light. Life doesn’t have to be lived on the cutting edge, doing all-the-things. Life can also be lived with warmth and nurturing; life can be lived by simply being. You can love your boundaries. You can grow roots, live a life that doesn’t push your resilient edge of resistance to breaking point, and still be radical and sex-positive.

self-empowerment
“We are not here to shed or abandon our boundaries, but to breathe integrity and strength into them, to fully illuminate them, and to make sure that they take a form that serves not only our highest good but also the highest good of all. We are not here to override or devalue our boundaries but to use them as wisely as possible… discovering the freedom in fully engaging our experience. Our boundaries stand as guardians on this path, with an authority that supports our growth and awakening.”
~ Robert Augustus Masters, Boundaries Make Freedom Possible

(with gratitude to Orion and Chelsie for editorial feedback)

Exercising Emotional Equilibrium

“Intimate Relationship is perhaps the ashram of the 21st Century- a place especially ripe with transformational possibility, a combination crucible and sanctuary for the deepest sort of healing and awakening, through which the full integration of our physical, mental, emotionally, psychological, and spiritual dimensions is more than possible.”
~ Robert Augustus Masters.

As part of my continuing effort to improve my health, I signed up for hot yoga recently. It’s been a year since I was doing yoga classes regularly, and being back on the mat with a teacher and classmates has been good for me. I’ve grown up with a yoga practice, but I take it for granted all too often. I get back in to the routine of stretching- and then I start to realize that my body is craving other movement too. Craving a good core workout, a few sessions on the elliptical at the gym, and more. But, I tend to stick with what feels comfortable and familiar, rather than look to what is new and challenging.

I’m somewhat “lazy” when it comes to my body. I want it to be healthy, I want it to be mobile and flexible and pain free. But I’m lazy as fuck about doing all-the-things. I do one at a time, and work to consistently improve my body little by little, without over pushing it to where it isn’t ready to go. Right now, I’m doing a month of hot yoga- but already, I’m craving some sessions at the gym on the elliptical, and the satisfying ache in my legs of a long forest hike.

Every muscle in our body requires attention. Not just mental attention. You can’t just think about a muscle to give it strength. Building strength requires the tension of movement, the relief of stretching, the healing of relaxation, and the space created by the equilibrium between all of these. We can move through locomotion and exercise, we can have our bodies stretched out through bodywork (fascial stretching, Thai massage etc), we can take a class in yoga or other stretch-based routines, and we can unwind with relaxation massage, meditation, and rest. But none of that reaches the most important muscle of all- the heart.

With my heart, I take an approach opposite to the rest of my body: I challenge it. My heart is swinging from the monkey bars in the playground, it’s dripping in sweat at a hot yoga class, it’s finding core strength and testing its endurance under the drill sergeant’s instructions as it leaps through the obstacle course that is my intimate life. It stretches out, challenging itself to push a little further beyond the edges, to peer beyond the zones of comfort, and then it springs back to the familiar, soft, relaxed savasana. My heart stretches every time I long for a lover who isn’t near, who isn’t in my arms. My mind wants to find a way to wrap my body around multiple bodies, all at the same time.

Just like with any exercise routine, sometimes my heart feels tired. That satisfactory aching after a thorough work out: falling ‘in love’, the pitter-patterings of NRE. And then there’s the post workout stretch of remembering, grokking, and constantly reminding myself that every lover has other lovers, and that selfishness with love is like only ever doing forward curls with weights at the gym, only ever working your biceps- and forgetting about the triceps completely.

My heart does somersaults and aerial acrobatics, and I feel like a novice trapeze artist sometimes swinging from platform to platform, trusting my own arms to stay strong, trusting my partners to catch me, to hold me, trusting that nothing will break, yet terrified at every breath that I might be let go, that they might not grab my hand when I reach out to them. Sometimes we miss. I miss. And I come crashing down to the ground, carrying that sore full body bruise for days.

When people I have been in relationship with have begun new relationships with others, I sometimes notice a feeling of being nervous and uncomfortable. It’s the sudden shock of realizing there’s a muscle in your body that you haven’t been working out, yet your body seems to function strongly without it.

When new relationships form it’s easy to get lost in the glow of NRE. Just like we can get so engrossed in cardio we forget about core strengthening, or get so focused on building muscle that we ignore the need to stretch with something like yoga. If we don’t complete the workout in our body with the right counter exercises and stretches, our body will begin to hurt in a way that does not feel good.

The fact is you don’t just build a strong body through lifting weights alone. You need to stretch.

What’s important to understand is that simply lifting weights will not give you true strength. Without even needing to lift weights, we can increase muscle mass through stretching alone. The truest strength comes from expanding and contracting our muscles through their full range of motion while putting them under ‘stress’, or rather, using tension during movement. It is this balance between expansion and contraction of the muscles that creates a powerful harmony through the cooperation of all our muscle groups working together in synergy.

The same is true with matters of the heart. When new relationships start, you cannot forget about your other relationships. If anything, you need to invest MORE in to them. And that’s challenging. It asks of us to develop mastery in time management and communication, to surpass everything we were doing before, and to explore the outer edges of our heart’s abilities. We need to stretch ourselves, and the capacity of where our heart can reach. We have to find that same synergy between all the aspects of movement our heart can have. To do otherwise runs the risk of treating relationships as taken for granted. They can become atrophied, and feel disposable- and that isn’t fair to our human dignity. So, I remind myself to lift forward in to the new relationship, and I stretch back to reconnect in with my other relationships. And I keep going, in search of that harmony.

yogaforbeginnersstrengthWe are each of us so vulnerable. We have all experienced being broken, feeling shattered and hurt. So often, we seek relationship for the security alone, rather than seeking relationships to make us stronger. It can be terrifying to look at relationships as things we have to work at, that we cannot be complacent about, not even for one minute. Committing to going to a yoga class two times a week can seem immense. Committing to yoga, and to the gym, and to a marathon run, all at the same time- that takes guts. Some athletes damage themselves if they try to do everything without taking the time to look after themselves in between, or to keep their training regiment balanced.

Emotional relationships are exercises for the heart. Yes, there’s many ways to grow your love body strong- we choose the workout plan according to what we want the result to be. For me, it’s that yearning to fall so completely in love, in a love that is not selfish, but that can be shared with multiple people, in multiple ways, without ever making me feel depleted. That’s my goal. And to get there, I need my entire body to be strengthened- most of all, my emotional body. The path of ethical non monogamy, for me, is like weight training, cardio, and yoga in one; it is the most all encompassing exercise for the heart.