Check, dear mate!
Sometimes there is even internet on the remote island of Oligoamory. Via satellite link. On some days it doesn’t work – today it does. I quickly check news portals, browse through the colourful underbrushes of social media…
But then – Whäm! – All of a sudden a huge quote from Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh¹ pops up on my screen; adorned with some pretty imagery in the background:
“We are born alone, we die alone. Between these two realities we create a thousand and one illusions of being together – all kinds of relationships, friends and enemies, loves and hates, nations, races, religions. We create all kinds of hallucinations just to avoid one fact: that we are alone. But whatsoever we do, the truth cannot be changed. It is so, and rather than trying to escape from it, the best way is to rejoice in it.
Rejoicing in your own aloneness is what meditation is all about. The meditator is one who dives deep into one´s aloneness, knowing that we are born alone, we will be dying alone, and deep down we are living alone. So why not experience what this aloneness is? It is our very nature, our very being.”
(The Sound of One Hand Clapping, Talk #14)
Instantly, everything is churning in me: “Woah! That’s so anti-oligoamorous! And above all: Again, such a quote, which probably addresses most notably the young and healthy, especially as long as they have their own lives in their hand…! “
Of course, I try to calm myself a bit subsequently. For I know a few authorities on my side, who wouldn’t leave the issue at that, either. E.g. the paediatrician Dr. William Sears comes to mind straight-away, the attentive representative of “Attachment Parenting²“, who emphasises the naturalness and importance of being born into close human bonding from the first moment on. Likewise the Danish family therapist Jesper Juul, who has repeatedly confirmed concerning children and adolescents, how important it is for us humans to experience ourselves in community throughout our lives both as conjoined as well as free to develop social skills and self-efficacy. And last but not least, the great behavioural and primate researcher Jane Goodall, who has observed and proved even in our animal “next of kin” that even in these birth and death are processes of sophisticated group dynamics and sympathy of the community – and thus is anchored apparently very deep in our own sociology and biology.
However, a few days ago I met a Polyamorist on one of my excursions to their archipelago, who literally said to me regarding my last Entry about freedom and commitment:
“In my experience, love is non-personal. I can choose to share my love with whom or with how many people I want. But if I seem to miss someone, I rather miss my idea of him/her or I miss what he/she contributes to me. Once, when I was longing for people and were missing them, I wondered what I really missed: The other person or the feeling he/she generates in me? And then I asked myself why I missed that specific feeling. The answer was quite sobering …: Because I myself felt a lack of just these feelings: closeness, appreciation, love, self-confidence, attachment etc. in me. And I have learned from the answer that a lack of attachment (closeness, appreciation etc.) in respect of myself can not be compensated by any attachment to others.“
Especially when you apply teachings such as those of Rajneesh above on love concerning your “in-dependent self” this appears at first glance like thorough (self)cognition – and of course it sounds beautifuly and seems comprehensible too.
On the other
hand, our basic need for other people or rather human company is an
irrefutable fact as well…
What causes this contradiction – and is there even such a thing?
In the seventies and eighties of the last century, when Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh tried to introduce in his speeches to people of Western industrialised nations the devotion to “Emptiness” according to Hindu Sannyasa and Buddhist Zen, he directly confronted a lifestyle of noisy mass enterprise and the first great boom of popular entertainment culture. He notably counteracted the expression of “Togetherness” – which at that time was highly claimed by the hippie movement – with the concept of “Aloneness” and deliberately emphasised not to equate this with “loneliness”.
The manner of “togetherness” that Rajneesh observed with us Westerners then seemed to his point of view probably often superficial, exaggerated and like some sort of escapism. The term as well as the lifestyle of this kind of “togetherness” were criticised considerably by Rajneesh several times in his speeches3.
What we know today about the committed concept of Polyamory with its hallmarks of consent an honesty was literally still in its swaddling clothes. Morning Glory Zell-Ravenheart gave the baby its proper name just in the very year in which Rajneesh died as “Osho” (1990).
“Togetherness”, as it is understood today in Polyamory and especially in Oligoamory, actually means something very important; e.g. Collins English Dictonary defines it as:
“a feeling of closeness or affection from being united with other people” – and Webster’s New World College Dictionary even writes in its 4th edition:
“the spending of much time together, as in social and leisure-time activities by the members of a group, esp. when regarded as resulting in a more unified, stable relationship”
Thus, emotional and behavioural descriptions with which probably also Dr. Sears, Jesper Juul and Jane Goodall would have agreed.
How – in contrast – would it seem that Rajneesh in his teachings rather recommends an existence in splendid “solitude” or more precisely “Aloneness” nonetheless?
Modern solitaries who should strive not to put anything at the centre of their lives, to whom their pure self should suffice and to which the other people at best are a luxury4, a discretionary bonus.
Is it possible that “we Western people” have stumbled into the next trap by then?
Because actually, the Hindu Sannyasa and the Buddhist Zen want to express above all the following gist:
“Let go of the idea of your ‘I’. Then you truly can be ‘I’.”
This wish, this goal, is really wise: For in everyday life, above all, the ideas about ourselves as well as our ideas that we have about the others, are what makes life difficult for us.
Marshall B. Rosenberg, the “creator of non-violent communication,” called these ideas and assumptions accurately “diagnoses and judgements“.
Like Hindu Sannyasin or Buddhist Zen-masters, Rosenberg explains that these diagnoses and judgements are almost always irrational, because they arise, above all, from our own appropriated beliefs, how something/somebody should have to be – and are rarely founded in (sensory) perception of the Here & Now.
And that’s why the process of good relationship- and community-building is so difficult.
The US psychiatrist and psychotherapist Scott Peck, arguably the most involved in community-building practice, once identified the four stages of such a process as “pseudo-community,” “chaos,” “emptiness,” and “community.” For my purpose I will call them “superficial sympathy”, “crisis”, “clarity” and “real relationship”. And without elaborating these different stages too exhaustively, I want to try to explain what these stages have to do with what has been said so far.
I was confused for some time regarding Scott Peck and his community-building-processes when he wrote about groups of 60 or more people. I thought him hardly believable and assumed that small groups would have to be much easier to unite, because especially regarding the “chaos-stage” I applied the following equasion: more participants = greater confusion.
But my own close-knit- and multiple relationships proved to me almost the opposite: Fewer people can actually have a much harder time because of their much higher nearness-factor and indeed because of the few contributors.
Into the chaos/crisis stage we bring in exactly the aforementioned ideas, assumptions, diagnoses and judgements about ourselves and the others – and start taking it out on each other there.
With only a few “players” (two or three, for example), this can literally lead to a kind of “Relationship-Chess” or “Spite and Malice” (and even as “Relationship-Bridge” or “-Poker” it does not get much better with four to six participants). For in doing so, literally manoeuvres are planned and trumps played out against each other. And all in the endeavour to decide the “game” in the end for oneself. Which means: To show the other parties that only the own way is the most advantageous and therefore the right one (and of course to prove that the others are not successful and for that reason definitely in the wrong).
Scott Peck now describes that this competitive as well as chaotic stage ends not until all parties reveal exactly their strategy for themselves as nonsensical and not expedient.
And right there I am afraid that the “few” may have much more difficulties with each other until they can dismiss themselves from mutual clutches, attempts of humiliation or allocation of guilt and blame. Because regarding few participants it is all too easy to persuade oneself for a long time that there is always a chance or a hitherto unknown master-stroke to the alleged “victory” – or to cling to the hope that the others may just surrender eventually.
With 40, 60 or more participants, even the most stubborn player would rather sooner than later recognise the ultimate futility or folly of such a Sisyphean task…
Only when we reach this point in our loving relationships, then all the philosophies described here really merge and the supposedly persistent contradictions dissolve.
That’s why Scott Peck did not immediately call the subsequent third phase “community”, but “Emptiness”: Because this realisation, this letting go of one’s own bias and one’s sense of mission, is nothing else but the Zen of the Buddhists, the Sannyasa of the Hindus, and the freedom of judgment in “Nonviolent Communication”.
This “Emptiness” is the moment that e.g. athletes, craftsmen or artisans know as “Flow”, which consists of a unity of pure perception as well as doing and being all in one and at the same time – the moment from which many insights and achievements can emerge.
This is another reason why the “community” or the “real relationship”-stage does not follow immediately after the “crisis”, because this “emptiness” is also a “moment of great clarity”, which gives us back our freedom of choice and freedom of action in order to make open-minded decisions.
In a relationship this moment of great clarity can only fully unfold when all participants reach it together.
Which also means that this is also a state of great self-admitted and self-chosen vulnerability. Even and especially concerning oneself, if one has just gotten rid of beloved and often long-term meaningful beliefs..
No matter what happens
then: Space has been created for something new and genuine.
Maybe it will be a true relationship; maybe it will be true togetherness.
But without the previous and serious crisis, without the subsequent confrontation, without the friction among each other, it would be quite possible to consider ourselves still as the sole centre of the universe for a very long time.
Because for that, too, we need other loving people close to us, from birth to death:
Not just to experience that it doesn’t matter at all if we are at that centre.
But to have the opportunity to experience that in our loving relationships and in true togetherness, the potential of our diversity becomes still infinitely greater than the potential of our uniqueness alone.
1 In the last year of his life Rajneesh rebranded all his writings and products under his just then adopted identification „Osho“. Since I knew his work by his proper name for the most part of my own life, I’m going to use that original name continually.
2 Dr. Sears view was directly influenced by the findings of the author and anthropologist Jean Liedloff (The Continuum Process)
3 „The Fallacy of Togetherness, 1968”
4 „The Power of Love, Chapter 2: He said / She said; Love in a Relationship“