June 16th, 2011

red panda eating bamboo

Ported from Usenet: comments on a Zen guy's take on polyamory

Edited version of something I posted on alt.polyamory.

[personal profile] serene pointed me at this:
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/james-rotondi/brad-warner-zen-_b_873882.html
(Interview with Brad Warner, the author of Sex, Sin & Zen: A Buddhist Exploration of Sex from Celibacy to Polyamory and Everything in Between)

Quote from the article:
my feelings about polyamory are not entirely negative by any means -- I've met some people who seem to be able to make it work. But I first heard of polyamory because people had written to me in some distress asking, essentially, "How can I find calmness and centeredness in my polyamorous lifestyle?" My response to them was that perhaps the lifestyle itself was contributing to their mental distress. Now, I'm not even saying that they need to give up polyamory, but at least acknowledge that they've chosen a lifestyle that is going to be inherently stressful for certain kinds of people. Okay, it doesn't seem to be inherently stressful for everyone who practices it, but it causes a great many people a great deal of stress trying to juggle multiple lovers, which is not easy even if everyone, in theory, agrees to it.
I think all of that is absolutely right. First, that some people make it work. Second, that some people are very stressed about it.

What he doesn't quite come out and say is that stress around polyamory is an example of a larger phenomenon.

I know a lot of people who are stressed because they are trying to do too much. I think that's partly because, in my corner of Western culture, there's a belief that success in life means having as many different positive experiences as you possibly can, or reaching for as many things as possible that you perceive as good.

[Note, I also know a lot of people who are stressed because it's hard to survive. People who are stressed just because they are trying to grab all the good stuff have a lot of privilege.]

Another quote:
you can't expect to simply override your cultural programming. That's one thing Zen has shown me, on so many levels. It's not something that works on an intellectual level; yes, you can work on your cultural programming, and eventually even successfully overcome it, but it's very deeply ingrained, and you don't simply override it just by deciding that you will.
I think all of this is absolutely right too. I had a lot of difficulties with polyamory at first, and I didn't overcome them by just deciding that I would.

If you try to overcome programming by doing more complex and sustained work, not leaving it all to the intellect and expecting to be able to snap your fingers and have it change, you sometimes can. Anyway, it worked for me around polyamory and some other kinds of cultural programming.

But for me it took a lot of work, and I would never expect someone else to spend their energy on that particular thing.

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