Tantra Blog

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Monogamy and Polyamory: Gifts and Shadows

Monogamy's gifts for women

Having one partner focus all his/her attention, love and devotion on a woman beckons her to accept that she is the full embodiment of the goddess for her partner. She becomes all faces of the beloved. By surrendering totally to her partner's devotion and love, she steps fully into her own power. This power is more than personal power. It is opening to the power of the universe that moves through us, that we are channels for. It is opening to the wisdom of existence, that we become muses for.

The masculine principle in the partner becomes one pointed focus. He directs all his energy/attention to her, the feminine principle, and she guides his arrow. She does this the way the yoni (vagina) guides the penis (lingam) through opening to fully receive him.

Saraha was a great sage and learned Brahmin who knew and understood all the holy scriptures. One day he went to the market and met there a simple woman who had no education. She was an arrowsmith woman. The arrowsmith woman looked him directly in the eye, pointed an arrow at him and said: "Your knowledge means nothing. To find the truth, you have to leave all your books behind, and follow me."

Saraha left everything behind and followed the arrowsmith woman. She taught him the ways of wisdom outside Varanasi, the city in India where bodies get cremated. Saraha and the arrowsmith women set up a tent here and became the greatest Tantric masters of India. People came from far and wide to be with them. The king got concerned about the ways of this learned Brahmin, and sent a servant to persuade Saraha to return to his path of learning. The servant entered the tent, and never returned. The king sent his son, the prince, on the same mission. The son never returned. Then the king sent his wife, the queen. She also did not come back. Eventually the king could not resist; he went himself. There in the tent he found his whole kingdom, dancing in the ecstasy of true union. The king himself became a disciple of Saraha and the arrowsmith woman.

The question for you, woman, is: Are you willing to be the arrowsmith woman? Are you willing to lead your partner to the truth beyond knowledge? Are you willing to embrace the power that moves through you, and be the full embodiment of that for him/her?

The shadow of monogamy for women

For all the gifts that monogamy has for women, it also has a huge shadow. Monogamy is a patriarchal institution. Marriage - the ritual that symbolizes monogamy - is an institution of religion/culture/state. Patriarchal society has turned monogamy into the norm because it makes people easier to manage and control. There is a fundamental suppression of feminine power inherent in the old patriarchal institution of marriage. Marriage vows until recently said that woman was created out of man's rib cage and should therefore cling to man and obey him in all things. Think also of the concept of husbandry. In feudal times, the patriarch would 'husband' the village; he would benevolently take care of them, and in return they would surrender all their power (including their possessions) to him. Most women in monogamous relationships find themselves having the same expectations of their husbands/partners: He should provide and take care of them, and they surrender their power, and their desire, to him.

This is a misunderstanding of the concept of surrender. Yes, the feminine principle surrenders, but she surrenders to the divine/essence/the tao - the power of the universe that moves through her. She does not surrender to the ego control of man. If she were to do so, she traps both herself and the man in the endless play of maya/illusion/ ego power play.


The gifts of polyamory for women


If you and/or your partner have more than one lover, this gives you an opportunity to do a lot of emotional processing quickly. This is why Osho encouraged his sanyassins to have many lovers - so they could get through the lessons of relationship quickly. Having more than one lover, or, more likely, seeing your partner with more than one lover, can evoke all your jealousy and envy. Underneath these states there are others - feeling unworthy, rejected, abandoned, betrayed, not chosen, not special.

The way of the Tantrika is to feel all feelings that arise, fully, while maintaining a witness. Maintaining a witness means remembering at all times that you are not your emotions, and you are not your story. The feelings that you are feeling, are old. They may be evoked by your current love affair, but their origin is much further in the past. Simply being born can feel like an abandonment. Before we leave the womb, we are floating in perfect unity, without any sense of separation. Imagine what it must be like to move from the womb into this world, being dragged out, turned upside down under bright neon lights. Imagine how painful that first breath of air can feel. When we were little, we could not cope with these intense feelings, and so we suppressed them, put them away for later. Now is later. Whatever feelings your relationship is evoking, they are yours to feel, all the way through. Most likely, your relationship/s is just a messenger for feelings that are much older than this moment.

In receiving more than one lover and/or in your partner having more than one lover, you can learn that your love is infinite - that the more you love, the more love you have to give. Love does not come from being loved by your partner. Love already is. You are swimming in an ocean of love. All you have to do is open to it. When your partner is free to love others, chances are you will feel his/her love coming back to you more freely, and more abundantly. Love multiplies as we set it free.

When you see your partner with other women, you have the chance to see that all women embody the goddess. As your partner worships the goddess in another woman, he is worshipping the goddess that also is in you. Honor the sisterhood of woman, and move beyond competition and comparison.

The shadow of polyamory for women

The temptation of polyamory for women is that we start searching for validation, approval and recognition from many men if we can't find it with one. This feeds into what the Buddhists call the Hungry Ghost syndrome - there is never enough, and it never feels quite real. Avoiding the challenges of one relationship by having many is never going to feel fulfilling.

Another dynamic that women get into with multiple partners is sexual aggressiveness and a disconnect between heart and sex. Successful women in the patriarchal world have become as good as men, if not better, at much of male behavior, including being sexual predators. Like the pray mantis, we can find a male to mate with and then demolish him after the sex. While this lifestyle can provide a lot of sexual kicks, it creates a disconnect between sex and heart, and a consequent dulling or hardening of the heart.

Careful also of compromise. If you agree to polyamorist relating because your partner insists on it and not because that is what you want, you are treading on thin ice. Look at your motivation. If your agreement was based on a fear - such as the fear that you may lose the man if you don't submit to his demands - then you are still operating in the patriarchal model of male control and female submission. In stead of being in the archetype of the monogamous wife, you place yourself in the role of one of the wives in the harem.

Monogamy's gifts for men

The arrowsmith woman teaches Saraha how to be an arrow with impeccable, one-pointed focus. This is the gift of having only one lover. By focusing all your attention on one partner, you learn to concentrate your energies and drop into deep stillness and presence.

The great Tantra teacher Barry Long said that the challenge for man is to learn how to love woman, deeply, fully and completely. The practice that he taught was for man to put all his attention and love into his linage (penis) so that when he penetrates woman, this is a deep and intense act of love.

The element of the masculine is the rock. The rock is unmoving. It stays present, no matter what. If a man decides to be with one partner only, keeping to this decision can build his capacity to focus his attention, no matter what temptations or distractions come along. This quality of centered attention is what Shiva, the great male God of hindu tantra, embodies, as he sits in deep meditation on Mount Khailash. A man wants to be able to bring that same focused attention into lovemaking.

As seekers, we have to develop our commitment to the truth. If we have not developed a capacity to commit to one focus, then we will never have what it takes to wake up. Being with just one partner is an excellent opportunity to strengthen our commitment muscles.

The shadow of monogamy for men

For men, monogamy also comes with the burden of patriarchal belief structures. Loving one woman becomes an obligation rather than a choice. Monogamy can invite a false perception of what it means to be masculine. That is why so many men believe they should show muscle and not display any feeling. Men are raised to believe that they are the stronger sex and that women are somehow weak and to be taken care of. The concept "husbandry" reflects that. The owner of the sheep or the lord of the village in feudal times took control of the lives of his sheep or his villagers. He did this in a benevolent way, keeping their best interests at heart, but in the process also taking their power and choice away. In today's world, this model looks like the husband/male partner financially taking care of the woman, having the ultimate say over decisions and generally being seen as the one who knows best. He becomes God's representative on earth. This is a heavy burden for man to carry, especially since the patriarchal model of man discourages intuitive wisdom.

This model can also result in sexual entitlement and frustration for men. Men are led to believe that they can and should expect sex from their partners or wives and that is it women's obligation to meet man's sexual needs. Many women just 'service' their men for this reason, and this can leave men feeling empty and unsatisfied. Eventually, women may withdraw from sex completely, which can result in even greater sexual frustration for men.

Monogamy can also be very habit forming. Partners work out how to do things in the easiest, most comfortable way, and they fall into a pattern of doing it this way. Comfortable habits can take away our aliveness, responsiveness and awareness, and it can be challenging to change these habits. Men and women are prone to habit forming, but it is particularly the masculine in us that likes to get into a pattern of doing things the same way over and over again.

In monogamous relating, having more than one partner is not an option, and so any such relating that occurs, happens in secret. We all know just how common affairs are in monogamous relationship. By affair I mean intimate, and most often sexual, relating with another or others than one's official partner. In fact, in many cultures it is almost expected that men in monogamous relationship have undisclosed affairs. The dishonesty of secret affairs weakens our spiritual power.

Polyamory's gifts for men

Having more than one lover can force a man to feel. Women tend to be more expressive of their emotions, and thus having more than one women in his life is likely to as such confront man more with his emotional life. On top of this, as we have seen, open relationship is likely to raise all our most vulnerable emotions. If we don't have a safely closed container for relating, then the sharing of love, sex and intimacy can expose us to feeling abandonment, rejection, betrayal and many other states that we have tried our whole life long not to feel. The opportunity to finally be so overwhelmed by these states that man can no longer avoid feeling them can be one of the greatest gifts for him.

Polyamory can bring change and unpredictability. Having multiple partners makes it so much more difficult to fall into comfortable habits of relating. The feminine principle in her essence is like wind and water - constantly bringing change and surprise. So having more than one woman in his life will bring more of this quality into a man's life. This is excellent for shaking up his awareness.

Polyamory can encourage a man to become impeccable. One of the reasons why men fear having more than one lover is because they are scared of the reactions they will get from one lover if they have been with another lover. Men are terrified of women's rage. On the one hand, this rage can be based on women's own unresolved emotional life. But on the other hand, when a woman has developed deep integrity in her own emotional life, she becomes very good at calling a man out when he is not being impeccable. Some years back, I let the wrath of the goddess descend on a lover of mine for this reason. I made it very clear to him that I celebrated the lovemaking that he had shared with another woman. What I didn't appreciate, was the sense of entitlement that I picked up in him. I saw him approach this woman with the air that all women are his for the picking, and this outraged me. He heard me and thanked me deeply for my seeing and for calling him to impeccability.


Polyamory's shadow for men

When men don't have the constraints of monogamy, they can become like kids in a candy store, wanting everyone. Here is another variation of the hungry ghost syndrome. The more women a man has, the more he wants. Note the language of possession and objectification that creeps in. It is possible for men to transfer the same possessive, objectifying attitude they felt towards one woman on to many women. In this way, polyamory can contribute to the continuing dishonoring of women by men by giving men a new justifying framework for avoiding deeply loving women.

This in turn results in relating with women becoming very shallow and only focused on pleasure and sexual gratification. As soon as the relating gets challenging, the man can be off somewhere else.

Having more than one woman in his life can result in men becoming unfocused and not practicing their capacity for commitment and seeing things through. This results in an essential weakening of the masculine.


Is polyamory the answer to monogamy's malcontents (or vice versa)?

It is tempting to think that we can resolve the shadow of one system (be it monogamy or polyamory) by switching to the opposite system. But doing this is just shifting focus from one side of a polarity to the other side of it, or focusing on one side of a coin to the other side of the coin. A coin is still a coin. The answer does not lie in your choice of relationship paradigm. The answer is in the awareness you bring to your relating.

Relationship versus relating. Osho distinguished between relationships - which implies that there is a 'you' and a 'me', that we are separate and can only be together through the ties of relationship - and relating, which is a movement of energy in space, with no fixed patterns forming. I like this distinction. The trouble with relationship forms - all relationship forms - is that they support the concept of separation, of the 'I' and the 'other' being separate and that our path to wholeness or oneness is through the temporary experience of uniting.

In monogamy, we try to make this uniting with one other a continuous, eternal experience. Some people succeed in having one partner for life. While this is a beautiful thing it can also keep people from the deeper truth, that they could be one with everything, not just the one beloved. Yes, (s)he represents that unity with existence as the beloved, but we can easily confuse the representation for the real thing, especially if it works. In polyamory, the temptation is to create this sense of unity by making sure that there is always someone to unite with without being restricted in our choice.

Follow your desire. It is essential in our relating, especially for women (because we are so used to not doing this) to follow our deepest desire. As you enter into this desire, you may find that there is a deeper desire hidden inside this one. And you may also encounter your greatest fears. Your desire will direct the shape of your relating, and that shape may change as you go deeper. So for instance, a man presented to me his desire to love me with total devotion. As I said yes to him, he found his devotion wanting to extend to other women. I felt into this and my desire was strongly supportive of him doing so.

And here comes the next lesson. Entering fully into our desires confronts us with our greatest fears. As this man opened his devotion to other women, strong fears came up that he would be demolished by women for letting his love flow to more than one of us. In facing me, he found this fear to be unfounded, and so he dropped deeper into the quality of the fear. This took him all the way to the ego's greatest fear - the fear that it will lose its separate identity. The more he feels what comes up when this fear arises, the more he moves through, and the more awake he becomes - in his being, and in his loving.


Back to yourself. The first principle to understand in relating is that our first and primary relationship is with ourselves. Everything that happens to us - every person we meet, every circumstance - is an opportunity to meet ourselves, feel everything we have denied, suppressed or judged in ourselves, and to return back home.

The gift of celibacy. I think it is healthy to adopt, to at least some degree, the attitude of celibacy. By dropping any attempt at fulfilling our desire for relationship outside, we are brought back to ourselves. If celibacy is a free choice and not a rule or a hard discipline we put onto ourselves, then it can help us come home. In my own life as a Tantrika, I have had significant periods without a lover, and these have served me well. Even as lovers enter my life, I find that the attitude of celibacy still pervades in me - not at all as a rejection of desire or of the other, but as a contentment and a gratitude for the fulfillment which I am already feeling in myself.

Masculine-feminine merging. The relationship practice that is central to my work and that of the Advait Tantraschool is deepening the relationship between your inner masculine and feminine. This principle applies no matter what your relationship or sexual orientation. In our essence, we are both masculine and feminine. Because we come into the world in male or female bodies, we tend to identify ourselves as male or female. Our opposite other we experience through the men in our lives (for women) or the women in our lives (for men). They hold for us the mirror of the other, and our task is to pull back the projection of the other that we have on them and clearly see the other as an aspect of ourselves. By developing the dialogue between our inner masculine and feminine, we can deepen the inner relationship. The ultimate goal is the merging of masculine and feminine in us, but that cannot happen until both our masculine and feminine, and the relationship between them, is strongly developed.

Back to the Self. When the masculine and feminine merge in us, we return to the one Self. We no longer identify ourselves as separate beings. And existence as such becomes the Beloved. We find the beloved everywhere. This is the state that Rumi talks about. It is one thing talking about this state, and it is another to fully embody the reality of it, the way Rumi did. Our relationships are reminder or the big love affair that there is to be had with Existence as such. When we give ourselves fully to this love, then the separate I disappear, and love is all that remains - without needing any definitions, structures or frameworks.

15 Comments:

  • At August 3, 2011 at 6:59 PM , Blogger Cathy Elaine said...

    Awesome article! Very resonant.

    Is that an incomplete sentence at the very bottom? I hung on every word, but then I was dropped. ;-)

     
  • At August 4, 2011 at 11:11 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

    What a wonderfully insightful account. Amazing how you can analyze one of (wo)mankind's most difficult issues afresh with the analytical sharpness that comes from your original yet perfectly consistent viewpoint.
    And so lovely to read your other travel blogs ... we (back at home:) are grateful for the time you took to share your reflections and insights...
    Travel well!
    JP

     
  • At August 5, 2011 at 5:14 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

    Has anyone mentioned the existence of this woman to the Dalai Lama?

    After all, he has been predicting the appearance of such women.

     
  • At August 7, 2011 at 5:47 AM , Blogger Angels in Making said...

    Wonderful Shakti... thank you for this.

     
  • At November 27, 2012 at 2:02 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

    Interesting article though i have some comments... In the beginning was matriarchy and the woman was the center of the tribe group. The bible is not applying to all nations so to blend Hindu/Buddhist tradition with Christianity it's a nice try to find a way to make it work. And at last but not at least,in theory might work but in reality, it's an Utopia to believe that men which have many lovers are truly in love with each one of them... many times things get very shallow in does relationships... In fact i could not find any relationship that worked in fully harmony in that way... Sorry to disappoint u but i really didn't found any such relationship that worked int that way. Beside this when one have many partners it's difficult to go deep in all the depths with all the partners... probably that's way the relationship is getting so superficial...And the same is valid also for women...

     
  • At November 27, 2012 at 2:03 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

    Interesting article though i have some comments... In the beginning was matriarchy and the woman was the center of the tribe group. The bible is not applying to all nations so to blend Hindu/Buddhist tradition with Christianity it's a nice try to find a way to make it work. And at last but not at least,in theory might work but in reality, it's an Utopia to believe that men which have many lovers are truly in love with each one of them... many times things get very shallow in does relationships... In fact i could not find any relationship that worked in fully harmony in that way... Sorry to disappoint u but i really didn't found any such relationship that worked int that way. Beside this when one have many partners it's difficult to go deep in all the depths with all the partners... probably that's way the relationship is getting so superficial...And the same is valid also for women...

     
  • At December 26, 2012 at 2:57 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

    loved the article. very insightful but i agree to the comment before this that having too many sexual partners can keep things superficial. love remains unidentified in this kind of relationships. applies to both men and women. in fact i have come across guys who dont want to acknowledge the emotion called love in a man woman relationship. all they want is sex with as many women as they can. and women are not too far behind either.

     
  • At September 7, 2014 at 8:08 PM , Anonymous PolyCouple said...

    My partner and I have been married for 5 years and poly for life. While we have been polyamorous together things have been a bit difficult, running into issues here and there. After we changed our 'rules' to be simply just open communication and honesty things got a lot easier. Thanks for your posting, we love reading about other people in similar relationships and how to navigate the emotions behind everything.

     
  • At October 12, 2014 at 7:25 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

    Thank you. A deep bow to you beloved. This article has opened me to many possibilities.

     
  • At December 5, 2015 at 1:56 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

    Please have you a translation in French of this article?
    thank you very much

     
  • At June 14, 2016 at 11:18 AM , Blogger Sanawar said...

    good post. site

     
  • At August 5, 2016 at 1:07 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

    Shakti, As you wrote this article 5 years ago, I am wondering whether you still stand by it, or have your views changed at all?

     
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