“If one goes astray, that does not mean that he is not on the right path.”
(Hans Bemmann – The Stone and the Flute, 1983)
Oh, these Oligoamorists! An entire month of preliminary work and field studies. Selecting an ethnologically relevant group. Directional microphone, recording technique and finally a perfectly constructed, carefully camouflaged shelter near their regular “Hearthfire of stories”. All of this, just to achieve from the oligoamorous natives another of their fabulous legends, of which I know that they are full of symbols for the conduct of committed and sustainable multiple relationships.
And then THAT! Just this night (in the scientifically relevant night!) the selected spokesperson at the fireside tells the “Parable of the Prodigal Son“. Really! The thing from the Bible, Luke’s Gospel, chapter 15. That totally outdated homecoming story, concerning which I’m too embarrassed to recount it here another time. It can be found in the Bible or on the internet anyway – free for anyone to read.
My whole preparations down the drain, the field research ruined, gained insights: zero. The Oligoamorists are not even Christianised. Actually, I haven’t figured out yet what they believe in – religiously I mean. Probably some weird potpourri anyway, gathered by all those people who have made it to this remote island in the last few decades. That would be typical for the Oligoamorists anyway, since they are so keen about joined potential and all this stuff being “more than the sum of its parts”…
At any rate, sleep is unthinkable, I roll uneasily on my cot and still can hardly believe it. “Prodigal Son…, I beg your pardon…!”
The horizon is already reddish and announces the beginning of the new day, but I’m still awake. I’m squatting in front of my book collection, which I have brought with me to this island. But I was least prepared for Biblical matters, and I have little literature on the subject.
But there – to the left – there are a few works on religion and philosophical perspectives, and among them is a small volume that displays a lifebuoy on its cover. “The Silence of God – faith in case of emergency” by the pastor and professor Helmut Thielicke (published in 2000); I think indistinctly, that he wrote something about this parable. I pull out the thin paperback volume and indeed discover the section I had in mind:
“The young man probably went away to find himself.
Sometimes you have to go your own way in order to find yourself. At home, in the atmosphere of his parents’ house, he always had to do what the family wanted or what domestic custom required. There he felt dependent. He could not do what he wanted, but he could only do what was proper. And that is why he wasn’t his own property, but he belonged to the habits of his parents’ house. And since he was also only the younger brother, he certainly couldn’t develop in his own way at all.
That’s why he went away: to find himself. One could also say: He went away to get to experience freedom.
And this freedom, which attracted him and promised him that he could be »entirely himself«, seemed to him to be a freedom from all ties and tasks.”
I whistle through my teeth and immediately glance around caught in the act – I nearly woke my sleeping companion. Therefore I mutter softly what I said just 12 hours ago: “Oh these Oligoamorists!” That’s why they like this story so much… Because it concerns the tension between commitment and freedom, which I had already highlighted in Entry 7…! Becoming even more curious, I continue to read what the professor had written:
“Now the story tells something peculiar:
We are told that the prodigal son had squandered all his assets with untrue friends, dubious women and other evil riff-raff, had finally been reduced to beggary, had been abandoned by all, and in the end had to keep the pigs and eat out of the pig’s trough.
If there had been a certain idealistic impulse in his departure – and if he had been driven by something like the yearning for freedom, he soon failed miserably. He sought freedom and soon found himself oppressed by his impulses, by his ambitions, by his fear of loneliness – concerning which every obscure companionship was fine; he was enslaved to his money by which he indulged in his passions.
Thus, he was not free – but he was dependent and bound in a new way. But this new dependency was much more terrible than anything he had complained about at home before.
What had happened? Quite simply, that contrary to what he had set out to do, he did not find himself, but had lost himself.
When he set out to look after himself he might have thought that he would probably find himself once he would have developed all his talents and gifts. And of course he developed in that strange »free« country. But what developed, what »took shape«, what was »alive« in him?
Was it the so-called better self, were it his idealistic motives that came into play?
Maybe it was all there. But in any case, in his self-development also the dark sides of his being emerged: compulsion, ambition, fear, desire. As he unfolded himself, he was being enslaved to the dark forces that were present in him and which were emerging as well. As a result he finally sat in the most terrible misery of servitude and became the lowest servant himself.“
The sun rises over the
island of Oligoamory – but today I have no eyes for this natural
spectacle. I’m sitting there, book in hand, thunderstruck. What has
been revealed to me in these last lines has taken the last doubt,
why the Oligoamorists appreciate this story so much and why they have
integrated it into their own collection of legends.
What I initially thought was only a symbol of the well-known dichotomy between liability and freedom, turns out to be a significant parable regarding our motivation and inner orientation concerning (multiple) human relationships.
Because concerning (multiple) relationships we often talk of “emergence” (for example into Polyamory). And frequently we are experiencing such an “emergence”, full of yearning for new freedom and full of starry-eyed idealism.
Until – well, until we sometimes painfully notice that we always take ourselves along. And that we – like the “Prodigal Son” – probably will unfold our potential in new patterns of relationship and community – but literally our ENTIRE potential: Both what is in the light (what is conscious) – and our shadowed parts (which in psychology is called the “unconscious,” which contains traits that we do not really want to perceive ourselves).
And this, I know it myself, can get oneself into a pickle regarding multiple relationships – just when you are suddenly shaken by personal insecurities, old fears, poorly learned communication, overconfidence or lurking neediness – though you actually thought that you were “only” in search of freedom and loving connections…
The dichotomy between our desire for freedom and commitment – all right, that’s the point. But not, as I initially believed, outwardly – but deep in ourselves.
There is not much text left in the chapter, so I quickly read what the professor deduces from the parabel:
“Now the second peculiarity happens:
As he sits in the misery of servitude, he longs for the freedom he had enjoyed as a child in his parents’ home. Now he suddenly realises that what he had experienced there was true freedom. Yes, he knows even more: He suddenly realises that freedom is not boundlessness (which has just exposed itself as servitude), but that true freedom is only a special form of attachment.
I only experience true freedom if I live in harmony with my original identity, that is, if I am at peace.
So – when he decides to return home, that is not a moral decision that would make him renounce the former temptations – with all that moral hangover that usually accompanies such decisions – but it is a turning point that is filled with happiness. […]
The reason is that human beings aren’t by nature preshaped forms, which only need to be developed and who carry everything necessary in them, but that we are beings that only attain self-actualisation if we grow into our responsibility – a goal we will miss if we try to seek it as an isolated ego or as a solitary concerning the art of life.“
I’m sitting in silence, somewhat shaken.
I comprehend that to the Oligoamorists “The Prodigal Son” is nothing less than an ancient, mankind-embracing issue. Which is told in myths and legends by different people all over the world to remember. It’s the same challenge the protagonists have to go through, whether in the Sumerian Epic of Gilgamesh (ca. 2600 BC), whether in the Greek Odissey (ca. 800 BC), whether in the fairy tales “Mother Holle” or “The Water of Life” (put into writing by the Grimm Brothers beginning in 1815), whether in the “Star Wars-Saga” (since 1977) or whether in the “Harry Potter-Stories” (since 1997).
It is the theme of the “Night Sea Journey“, in which the heroine or the hero embark on an adventurous trip (not always voluntary), but which, strictly speaking, develops into a journey into the psyche’s innermost core – where the heroes have to confront their own dark aspects in the form of passion, compulsion and neediness.
And all these old and new myths also tell us that no hero remains unaffected by this dark journey, some even succumb to their challenges, in any case they all experience profound transitions.
Thus, if we sally forth into the waters surrounding the strange continent of open relationships, tack between the islands of Polyamory’s versatile archipelago and perhaps catch a glimpse of the remote island of Oligoamory, then maybe we too headed out looking for freedom, adventure and possibly satisfaction and amusement. But there we surely will also conjure up all the unredeemed nightmares and monstrosities that we will bring along with us.
That way, our search for successful relationships, our personal quest to find our loved ones, our soultribe, is at the same time a journey that will confront us with the acceptance of responsibility for ourselves. With self-knowledge anyway – actually I’d rather call it “self-acknowledgment” – because the “emergence into multiple relationships” is certainly one of the most fundamental ways to confront your own strengths and weaknesses.
But the Oligoamorists wouldn’t love these legends if they wouldn’t appreciate the potential award, despite all possible difficulties. As the professor did put it somewhat old-fashioned at the end: The growing into one’s own responsibility – and the experience of true freedom in attachment.
Instead of saying “Amen” I’d rather like to share two quotes with you which have accompanied myself for a long time and which express the topic to me in a most touching manner:
The first one originally stems from the French magnetizer Louis Alphonse Cahagnet (1805-1885) and became famous in the Wicca religion by the High Priestess Doreen Valiente (1922-1999) as part of the “Charge of the Goddess”:
“That if that which you seekest, thou findest not within thee, thou wilt never find it without thee.”
Even better – and more comforting – the German writer and philosopher Georg Philipp Friedrich von Hardenberg [aka Novalis] (1772-1801) put it in his novel fragment “Heinrich von Ofterdingen”:
“Whither are we bound? [Where are we really going?] Always home. Always home.”