Entry 48

The shoulders we stand upon – Part 2

The treasure trove of the Oligoamorists is teeming with heroes and monsters, idols, mythical figures and chimeras.

But the best stories are written by reality itself – or rather: it is reality that finds its expression in stories, absorbs impulses from them and finally weaves them into an incredibly colourful carpet.
I would like to dedicate this four-part series of articles to the history of Oligoamory, especially its fascinating roots and its most important value, self-awareness.

Twilight of the God(des)s

The transformations at the transition from the 19th to the 20th century also affected the spiritual life of the people, after several centuries in which mainly the Christian churches had been almost exclusively responsible for the spiritual needs of the people of Europe as well as America. As a result of ever greater social enlightenment, improving educational opportunities and an increasing freedom of choice, a desire for religious models began to emerge that offered more active self-participation, opportunities for co-creation, and a recognition of a more individualised spiritual and mental experience.
In addition to an increased attention for Hindu and Buddhist teachings, this led to a newly awakened interest in pre-Christian religions of the Mediterranean antiquity as well as in ancient pagan traditions of north-western Europe.

However, the seemingly sudden fascination concerning pagan myths of ancient times did not come out of the blue at all: Archaeologists such as Heinrich Schliemann or Egyptologists such as Sir Arthur Evans, for example, had begun to discover with new techniques and by tangible archaeological findings that numerous legends and myths of the past probably contained sometimes a verifiable, true core. The sheer possibility that legends like those of Odysseus, Cleopatra, King Arthur, the Nibelungs and Attila, even Lugh of the Long Hand or the figures of the Edda might have really happened in some way inspired countless artists* in their paintings, literature, sculpture and music; however, it also inspired numerous nationalist movements as well, which now conjured up and exploited a “rediscovered heritage” of the Celts (e.g. Druidism), Anglo-Saxons, Germans, and Slavs, etc. for their obvious political reasons.

Nevertheless, the scientific approach at the turn of the century hardly possessed any critical discourse: Most of the “specialists” in their field were usually the very first people ever to deal with a certain subject, there was almost no possibility of comparison and interdisciplinary work was still in its infancy. As a result, the “dim and distant pre-Christian past” regularly turned into a dazzling canvas for liberal ideas, egalitarian ideals and cultural counter-concepts, which often corresponded more closely to the longing and dedication of the researchers themselves as to clearly provable historical evidence. “Gaps” were often initially filled with more poetry or convenient wishful thinking; and most of the time there was no critical scientific opposition yet.
In this way, the idea of a surprisingly emancipatory, sunken ancient “ideal pagan world” began to unfold itself, for which seemingly more and more historical-literary and archaeological “evidence” was being discovered all over Europe.
The main contributors regarding this assumption were the Swiss antiquarian and anthropologist Johann Jakob Bachofen (“Das Mutterrecht”; 1861), the ethnologist and philologist James George Frazer (The Golden Bough, 1890), and the American folklorist and philologist Charles Godfrey Leland (“Aradia – or the Gospel of the Witches; 1899), and last but not least – the anthropologist and Egyptologist Margaret Alice Murray. The latter finally drafted in her bookThe Witch Cult in Western Europe (1921) a comprehensive folkloristic study that proposed a complete theory about a pan-European, pre-Christian, paganistic religion.
This religion would have been based on a polar (=opposed in relatedness) concept of divinity, which consisted of a lunar, eternal “mother goddess” (e.g. Hecate, Cybele, Isis etc.) and her companion, a solar, versatile “vegetation god” (e.g. Tamuz, Pan, Apollo etc.) – and thus was tendentiously balanced towards matriarchy and the feminine. This deep-rooted kind of worship would have been terminated during the medieval persecution of witches, when the last people who still practised this religion in small groups (so-called “circles” orcoven) were scattered or put to death.
This scholarly treatment by Murray (and her contributors) sparked a further wave of romanticism and renewed artistic approaches; examples include e.g. Dion Fortune with her novel “The Sea Priestess” (1938) or Robert Graves and his White Goddess(1948).
The longing of several people for such a supposedly “unspoilt kind of original spirituality” was considerable – now only some kind of structure, a framework was needed to turn songs, myths and images of goddesses and goods into a practicable form of religion (again).

At that time, the interested consumers of the “new old myths”, who also had the leisure and the context to be able to follow those amazing developments in research and literature, often came from the educated bourgeois middle class. In this middle class it was not unusual since the mid 19th century to join “magical” or “occult” associations, such as the Freemasons or the Rosicrucians for social exchange, establishment of influence or for charitable purposes (like a kind of “private club”). These associations often still possessed a substantial continuance of ceremonies and customs, which were practised extensively, e.g. for the purpose of new admissions or on festive occasions.
Some of these ceremonies were actually quite old and were based e.g. on Neo-Platonist or hermetic rituals or they resembled traditional customs of medieval craft guilds. In this vein, charismatic persons such as Éliphas Lévi (Lodge “Rose of Perfect Silence”; 1861), Samuel Liddell MacGregor Mathers (Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn; 1888) and the notorious Aleister Crowley (Ordo Templi Orientis [OTO]”; 1912) thus became formative providers regarding an emerging magical-pagan neo-spirituality.
It only required a few more strokes of the pen to combine the various initiatives into a practicable whole…

This part was given to the Englishman Gerald Gardner, who in 1949 compiled a first Book of Shadows from the ideas and conceptions outlined above, by which he then dared to establish – more or less publicly – a first actually practising pagan circle of modern times as a spiritually functioning group.
Gardner called the resulting concept “Wicca” (after the Anglo-Saxon term “Wicce”, “witch”). He incorporated the aforementioned female matriarchal accentuation as well as the coven structure (circle/convent), so that always a “high priestess” took over the leading ritual function of such a small manageable group.
The second high priestess of Gardner’s own starting group, Doreen Valiente, finally revised significantly the original version of the “Book of Shadows”, which initially comprised various sections that were not yet completely coherent, creating a printable copy for a larger audience by 1954.
Thus, Gardner’s and Valiente’s conception of Wicca, as an approach for “practicable witchcraft and paganism”, met a considerable spiritual demand, which existed in parts of non-conformist, romanticizing and esoteric circles – exactly with regard to the above-mentioned need for active self-participation,opportunities for co-creation, and a recognition of a more individualised spiritual and mental experience. The cell-like and minimal-hierarchical “coven structure” (copied from Murray), concerning 13 participants at a max, additionally accommodated a potentially individualistic culture of creativity and experience.
By the time of Gardner’s death in 1964, this cell-like organisational structure – by the formation of “offshoots” of the mother coven – had given rise to about eight further circles in Great Britain; the “international breakthrough”, however, was to come via the USA, where “Wicca” and the pagan revival found most fertile conditions.

Already in 1960 a certain Monique Wilson had been introduced (“initiated”) into Wicca by Gardner’s fourth high priestess, Lois Bourne.
In 1961 Monique had already founded her own “Coven” (circle) in Perth (Scotland), where in 1963 she consecrated the couple Rosemary and Raymond Buckland as practitioners of witchcraft (who had lived in the USA since 1962 and were in regular correspondence with Gerald Gardner).
Rosemary and Raymond subsequently founded the first “official” Wicca coven in the USA in New York; however, independently of this development, several copies of Gardner’s “Book of Shadows” had already reached the States since 1954, whereby a variety of different non-Gardnerian “Wiccan traditions” had begun to establish themselves all along.
In the USA, “Wicca” (and the modern paganism) thus met in good time the bubbling mixture of civil rights movement, social upheaval, liberation campaigns (women / gay) and “spiritual New Age” of the Kennedy/Johnson era (keywords: space program, abolition of racial segregation, Hippie culture, Vietnam War, growing consumption, health improvement, increase in women’s employment) – important factors that were ultimately to have a decisive influence on the conception of ethical non-monogamy as a whole.
But before the word “Polyamory” was actually pronounced and written for the first time, two really remarkable personalities – a high priestess and a magician of course – had to meet. About their extraordinary synergy I will tell you in Part 3.

In my conclusion today I would like to completely agree with the religious anthropologist Michael Strmiska, who in his research has dealt intensively with the “Renaissance” of different neo-pagan and witchcraft movements:

“Modern Pagans are reviving, reconstructing, and reimagining religious traditions of the past that were suppressed for a very long time, even to the point of being almost totally obliterated… Thus, with only a few possible exceptions, today’s Pagans cannot claim to be continuing religious traditions handed down in an unbroken line from ancient times to the present. They are modern people with a great reverence for the spirituality of the past, making a new religion – a modern Paganism – from the remnants of the past, which they interpret, adapt, and modify according to modern ways of thinking.”

“The rise of modern Paganism is both a result and a measure of increased religious liberty and rising tolerance for religious diversity in modern societies, a liberty and tolerance made possible by the curbing of the sometimes oppressive power wielded by Christian authorities to compel obedience and participation in centuries past. To say it another way, modern Paganism is one of the happy stepchildren of modern multiculturalism and social pluralism.” [see also Part 4]

Raven Grimassi, „The Wiccan Mysteries: Ancient Origins and Teachings“, Llewellyn 1997

Ronald Hutton, „The Triumph of the Moon – A History of Modern Pagan Witchcraft“, Oxford-Press 1999

Philip Heselton, „Wiccan Roots: Gerald Gardner and the Modern Witchcraft Revival“, Capall Bann 2000

Michael F. Strmiska; “Modern Paganism in World Cultures: Comparative Perspectives”; Santa Barbara, Dencer, and Oxford (2005)

Thanks to Simon Hattinga Verschure on Unsplash for the photo of the Callanish Stones, Isle of Lewis (Outer Hebrides).

Entry 47

The shoulders we stand upon – Part 1

The treasure trove of the Oligoamorists is teeming with heroes and monsters, idols, mythical figures and chimeras.

But the best stories are written by reality itself – or rather: it is reality that finds its expression in stories, absorbs impulses from them and finally weaves them into an incredibly colourful carpet.
I would like to dedicate this four-part series of articles to the history of Oligoamory, especially its fascinating roots and its most important value, self-awareness.

Of Jungles and Moons

In 1865 Rudyard Kipling was born in Bombay as son of an Anglo-Indian family. “Anglo-Indian” families were actually wealthy British families, who – due to colonial rule – lived entirely in India and thus were also largely influenced by the local culture there. In his memoirs Kipling later wrote that in his early years he was mainly cared for by an Indian “Ayah” (nanny): “In the afternoon heats before we took our sleep, she or a Meeta (the Hindu bearer, or male attendant) would tell us stories and Indian nursery songs all unforgotten, and we were sent into the dining-room after we had been dressed, with the caution ‘Speak English now to Papa and Mama.’ So one spoke ‘English’, haltingly translated out of the vernacular idiom that one thought and dreamed in.” English, Kipling went on to write, would thus finally have seemed to him to be a somewhat foreign language.
But already in 1870 little Rudyard was expelled from this paradise: He was sent (together with his younger sister) to foster parents in England for further upbringing and education, as was customary at that time. The shock regarding language and culture was considerable, the different customs were strict – and there are bitter entries about this in his later memoirs.
It was not until twelve years later, in 1882, that Kipling was able to return to the places of his lost childhood, once again accompanied by a whirlwind of strong emotions; he wrote: “I found myself at Bombay where I was born, moving among sights and smells that made me deliver in the vernacular [Kipling is referring to Punjabi!] sentences whose meaning I knew not…“
However, Kipling, with the support of his family, and also thanks to his rich imagination and pronounced intellect, managed to emerge inspired from these conflicting experiences. Over the next twelve years he lived and worked as a journalist and writer in England, India and the USA, married and founded his own family.
In the winter of 1892, when his first daughter was born, Kipling began to pursue the idea of a children’s book, in which various motifs from his own childhood were incorporated: There were for example the ancient Indian legends he knew from his Ayah, fables from the “Panchatantra” (a collection of ancient Indian animal tales) as well as the “Jataka” (myths about the Buddha in his animal and human form). But probably also whispered servant stories about the “Jungle Children of Husanpur and Sultanpur” (reports about several “Feral Children” who, according to hearsay, were found surviving without human care in the wilderness between 1846 and 1848 in the Indian provinces of Agra and Oudh¹). And of course Kipling’s own life experience, as a “scion of two worlds” – the Indian and the European – and his own growing up under strongly contrasting views.
Especially these – in part quite personal – impressions prompted Kipling to tackle a question that was also of great concern to the just burgeoning science of psychology of his time: What are the circumstances and developments that make a person human and what are the decisive factors that influence the unfolding of an individual?
Rudyard Kipling answered this question for himself with the first part of his “Jungle Books”, published since 1894, with the story of the foundling Mowgli, who is raised in the jungle by wolves and finally “socialized” by them, as well as by a panther, a bear and a python.
Kipling designed a fascinating and exotic world in which a human child finds its way to survivability and ethics, solely guided by the mythical forces of its inner and the omnipresent outer (untamed) nature. His book became a world success, certainly also because at many points of his story the belief in an “immanent good” regarding mankind and concerning the whole creation can be felt – possibly a reflection of the optimistic confidence of the 19th century, but perhaps also the confidence of Rudyard Kipling himself, who had to find – and who did find – his way of life “between two worlds”.

About 25 years and one world war later, around 1920, another boy, this time in the USA, began to explore his way “between the worlds”.
Youth literature was by no means as rich as it is today, but for boys there existed beside classics like E. A. Poe (e.g. “The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket”) and J. Verne (e.g. “From the Earth to the Moon”) an increasing group of more recent authors like Jack London (e.g. “The Red One”), H. G. Wells (e.g. “The Time Machine”) or Rudyard Kipling (e.g. “Aerial Board Of Controls”) who experimented with a new genre of visionary fictions concerning technology, science and society. Such stories also began to appear on the market with a completely new conception, as weekly or monthly pulp-magazines in which stories by different authors were presented to the reading public for an affordable price.
This expanding colourful world was entered by young Robert A. Heinlein, first as a reader – but after he had to end his short career in the Navy for health reasons – finally as an extremely eager and talented writer.
Henceforth, Heinlein enthusiastically produced series such as the ambivalent “Starship Troopers” (until 1959). In its militarism and totalitarianism, this particular story cycle was strongly influenced by Heinlein’s own military experiences. However, Heinlein had noticed in the military just as much how “equalizing” – regarding differences in age, status and even gender – military structures were able to affect overall conduct. Still today, a hint of these surprisingly egalitarian ideas can be felt in his texts as well as in later film adaptations, when, against a martial background, women and men interact both entitled and body-conscious with a high degree of naturalness and self-evidence.
When Heinlein approached the zenith of his creative work towards the end of the 1950s (his audience began to count him in the science fiction genre alongside I. Asimov and A.C. Clarke among “The Big Three”), he picked up an idea that had been on his mind for the last ten years: to create a modern vision of R. Kipling’s “Jungle Books”. Heinlein, like Kipling at his time, was also regularly fascinated in his writing by the question of “what conditions would define a person human” – and which parameters determined ” humanity”. For his own literary projection of this theme, however, Heinlein wanted to go beyond Kipling’s “Mowgli”, whose “human foundling” had after all been raised by rather respectable acting animals to become a kind of “noble savage”. Heinlein considered a concept in which he now wanted to let a human child grow up completely different – and according to the social rules, spiritual customs and cultural ideas of a completely dissimilar species.
The product of this thought experiment became the novel “Stranger in a Strange Land” (1961) – in which the main human character, as the title already suggests, has to find his way between two completely different universes of values after his return to earth. But Heinlein also gives the literally “cosmo-politian” main character Mike partly messianic traits, who – equipped by his alien educators with partly supernatural abilities – in turn introduces human society to a “new way of thinking” in the sense of a spiritual legacy. The resulting “Church of All Worlds” ² is extremely non-conformist, egalitarian and organized in small cell-like groups (so-calles “Nests”), all of which strive for self-efficacy and emergence of (inter-)personal potential.
Although Heinlein succeeded in “Strangers in a Strange Land” by cleverly questioning “acquired” social structures such as family, religion, gender roles or even sexual morals, his work remained in some other parts rather reactionary (e.g. stereotypical view of women).
Heinlein, who thus recognised that as an author he too was always “part of a system” and thus also part of a “way of thinking”, thereupon strove with another book to liberate himself even further from such limitations in fictional literature.
In 1966 his novel “The Moon is a Harsh Mistress” was published. This time Heinlein used the science fiction background to design a challenging (lunar) environment that has tangible implications for resource distribution, shared use and optimisation of what is available to the human pioneers. For this purpose the author e.g. focused on the social structure of a colonist community that still has to cope with an surplus of male personnel even after several generations. Heinlein chose as a solution to this “social question” the formation of polyandry, group- and community marriages, as well as an unorthodox, highly integrative kind of society in which differences of ethnicities and attitudes no longer are able to prevail. When in the course of the book the moon inhabitants are confronted with an ecological catastrophe (which they can fend off by further social change), Heinlein leaves at the end of the book the question unanswered, to what extent the freedom of an individual may be restricted by democratic rules of a community.

In my view, the visionary power of both Kipling and Heinlein’s fictions is so literally “groundbreaking” because both authors dared to explore in a literary way the conditioned boundaries of “human conventions”.
Their own life experience prompted both writers to offer their readers a glimpse of the surprisingly large scope for individual and social creative leeway that began to present itself when the “pre-set given definitions” had to be transcended (whether out of necessity or pioneering spirit).
Kipling, and Heinlein in particular, wanted to show that, in view of the fundamentally adaptable nature of human beings, our mobilisable potential is probably far greater than our belief in predetermined, traditional patterns, which we regard as “established normality (and normativity! )“.
And they dared to suggest that possible change due to this potential would always be “only a thought away”, in other words: within our reach, accessible with courage – realisable and consequently liveable.

Part 2
deals with a highly remarkable development that further encouraged unconformist thinking towards ethical non-monogamy.
Part 3 and Part 4 are about those brave people who took up the torch and actually got involved in this adventure.

¹ Lucien Malson, “Feral Children”, Suhrkamp publishing house 1964

² The “Church of all Worlds” with the abbreviation COW; becomes important again in the third part of this article series.

Thanks to Marcus Dall Col on Unsplash for the photo.

Entry 46

Know thyself*

Recently, in a conversation between two older women at the weekly market, I overheard the sentence: “Now, if the two love each other, that’s a good start in my opinion…”
“Well”, I thought to myself, “concerning love it’s almost like the dilemma of the chicken and the egg: sometimes it’s difficult to determine what is the start, the middle or perhaps even the end – and what’s the cause and what’s the effect of the other…”
But since I prefer to philosophize on my blog rather than at the weekly market, it is you, dear readers, who I will take with me to my world of thoughts in that regard.

At the end of Entry 14, I quoted the following four sentences¹:
Thus, intimacy is a cardinal process, defined as feeling understood, validated and cared for by partners who are aware of facts and feelings central to one’s self-conception.
Contributing to this perception is trust (the expectation that partners can be counted on to respect and fulfil important needs) and acceptance (the belief that partners accept one for who one is).
Empathy is also relevant because it signals awareness of an appreciation for a partners core-self.
Attachment also contributes to perceived partner responsiveness, notwithstanding its link to interdependence and sentiment, because of the fundamental role of perceiving that one is worthy of and can expect to receive love and care from significant others

I would like to take a closer oligoamorous look at these statements, because in my view they contain the very essence which configures the basis for a stable loving relationship.

On that score I find the wording “one’s self-conception” and “core-self” particularly remarkable. Because these terms suggest that sustained intimacy and closeness are not possible without basic self-awareness and a predominant acceptance of oneself.
The conclusion seems trivial: Elementary, my dear Watson – how would I be able to trust others if I don’t trust myself?

“Absolutely!” I agree as your tour guide on the remote island of the Oligoamory. Exactly that is the reason why on so many occasions I emphasize the »desire for self-exploration«, without which the foundation for any relationship that we are trying to build on it will keep a rather rickety ground work. Or rather a “rickety basement”, which is literally a symbol of our unconscious mind with its hidden chests containing our fears and defence mechanisms (see also Entry 35).
“Fears and defense mechanisms” are the key words in terms of our ability to relate, because our loved ones could show us as much validation, consideration, empathy and affection as they wanted – none of this would have any sustainable value for us if we were not able to accept such feelings in the first place.
If we are not sufficiently clear about our own motives (e.g. because we have so far avoided realising them in detail) or if we try to maintain more or less conscious dishonesties as part of our relationship management, reasons of self-protection alone will prevent excessive depth of engagement in any relationship. Because if we do not have narcissistic personality traits right away (which often goe hand in hand with a pathological inability to empathize), there would always be a part in us that would nourish our deepest social fear because of our incoherent behaviour: That we are not worth it (after all).

If we believe in this way somewhere within ourselves that we are not worth it, a problem arises, quote: “because of the fundamental role of perceiving that one is worthy of and can expect to receive love and care from significant others.” Because as a result, our expectation and (non-)experience influences our “perception”. And if our perception has deficiencies due to a deficient self-esteem, then – regarding “love and affection” – we will only perceive insecurity and deprivation instead of security and abundance from our loved ones, despite their best intentions.
And uncertainty is exactly the reason for the a semi-alert state of careful vigilance I mentioned in Entry 42, causing ongoing mental stress.

Even the vernacular says: “One should always have the ability to accept a compliment with grace.” In our loving relationships, this “ability to accept” goes far beyond mere compliments. Since that ability is the basic requirement for integration and inclusive behaviour (see e.g. Entry 33). Especially towards our closest loved ones – and in further consequence towards all the significant others of our loved ones as well.
However, if our ability to accept and integrate as well as our self-esteem is already weakened, we live very close to the reflex of immediately pointing away from us as soon as potential difficulties might occur. Thereby allocating guilt and blame (which, in essence, is mere “causality”!) to somebody else…

[At this point it is important to me to briefly point out the socio-political dimension of good relationship management. Because currently the vast majority of economical units (states, communities, families, etc.) still work largely on the principle of “guilt-allocation”.
In that regard self-reflection and mindfulness towards oneself with the aim of self-awareness is surely a contribution to a more peaceful world.
Are folks in ethical non-monogamy, like Poly- or Oligoamory, therefore more “developed” than people in monogamous relationships? No, I don’t think so, precisely because the measure for “relationship-skill”, as I outline here, is at its root not a question of the chosen relationship model but of the individual’s ability (and will) to reflect.
Since monogamy is admittedly the recognized main mode of relationships in our current system (with its mentality of “guilt-allocation”), it might be a little bit “easier” in such a standard-mode to ignore personal or inter-personal deficiencies by projecting them “onto someone else”.]

In this way, “self-awareness” is also an essential part of “self-confidence”. Essential – to reverse the sentence from above again – because if I don’t trust myself, then I can’t trust the others.
The German philosopher and sociologist Georg Simmel once called “trust” the “middle state between knowledge and ignorance”, regarding a “hypothesis of future behaviour/conduct”. This hypothesis had to be reliable enough to “justify practical action on it.” ²
As far as our (loving) relationships are concerned, I think that this provides an excellent description. We humans “trust” in everyday life, surprisingly often, countless circumstances that we consider “reliable enough”: We drive vehicles that are capable of speeds far beyond 100 kph, or we sit back on chairs that we can’t even see at that very moment (!) – rock-solid convinced that they will be exactly there nevertheless, the moment our buttocks are going to meet the level of the imagined seat…
So, basically, certain types of “trust” seem to belong to our “second nature”, types of trust without which extensive everyday processes would be impossible or at least very inconvenient.

However, the mutual trust that we need for reliable loving relationships is actually somewhat more complex than that which we need to sit on a chair or to drive a car. These two examples are more likely to be assigned to a situation-based or quality-based trust: We have e.g. learned that chairs normally do not move stealthily when not being observed (Caution, exception: sitting balls!) and we know that cars can be kept on track and are sturdy even at high speeds – provided they are regularly serviced.
But among fellow human beings we rather need “identification-based trust”, which – according to the American philosopher David Kelley – consists of the components openness/communication, empathy, community and sympathy ³.

If, however, I have to “identify” (which literally means “to equal / to equate” [Latin]!) myself with the other participants in community through communication, empathy and sympathy to establish mutual trust, this means that I have to be very friendly regarding myself in the fist place.
Because – to stick with our example of the “invisible” chair – I can only “let go” without execising control if I am convinced that the others are as friendly and reliable as I am.

And that’s why we won’t get around the author Saint-Exupéry and his “Little Prince” in this entry too: When the psychologists Cohen, Underwood and Gottlieb write in their opening quote that we need a feeling of understanding, validation and care to experience intimacy and closeness, the factor “time” inevitably comes into play. Time for what “Saint-Exupéry called “taming”, to “establish ties” (Chapter XXI).
In my opinion, the novella “The Little Prince” is so strangely touching and at the same time so disturbingly complicated because this “taming” always includes two components:
On one hand, the obvious, slow convergence and the getting-to-know-each-other of the main participants in the potentially emerging relationship.
But on the other hand, there is also the “Hero’s journey”, which each person has to do accomplish alone in order to explore own strengths and weaknesses (see also Entry 18).

Here the circle closes, as we encounter the importance of our “own self-conception” and the “awareness and appreciation for the core self” once again.
True trust has (only) been established when I perceive that others value me as the person, as the identity, as whom I also respect myself.
And at this moment we would have restored the beneficial coherence (context / consistency) of inner and outer experience as well, which our mind considers as the most desirable state of being (see also Entry 21).
In any case, coherence, which in turn can serve as a compass for all of our other relationship skills, which enables us to better contribute to a common balance of mutual well-being and personal happiness.

Is that (already) love? I’ll leave that up to you to decide.
In any case, in my opinion it is much more than just a good start.

* Wikipedia: Self-awareness; Know Thyself

¹ S. Cohen, L.G. Underwood and B.H. Gottlieb in “Social support measurement and intervention“ – A guide for health and social scientists“, Oxford University Press, 2000

² Georg Simmel, Soziologie(1908); Complete Edition, edt. by O. Rammstedt, Vol. 11, 1992

³ David Kelley, Unrugged Individualism: The Selfish Basis of Benevolence, The Objectivist Center, 2002

Thanks to Kristopher Roller on Unsplash for the photo.

Entry 45

The Wonderful Ordinariness of Being¹

In my January-entries, I dealt extensively with the issue of trust and entrustment in our relationships – basic requirements so that a true, authentic and intimate togetherness may become possible and can be experienced by all participants.
Several components that are important regarding successful Oligoamory reappear there, which, like a recurrent theme, are repeatedly addressed in my bLog:
Accountability (primarily for yourself and then – in an extended dimension – also for others), commitment (especially with regard to the choices you have made yourself) and last but not least, love that approaches the whole person.

I admit that – concerning the very detailed considerations on these topics- I may sometimes put my readers’ stamina to the test, especially in those moments when I seem to be working my way through the “theoretical underpinning” in great detail.
Nevertheless, accountability, commitment and integrative love are – if we start bravely to give these ideas more space in our relationships – in the end decisive trump cards for the everyday feasibility and viability of ethical (oligoamorous) multiple relationships.
Because in these relationships we always deal with living, breathing people, concerning whom we hope that we can count them among our “loved ones” – and accordingly we are usually confronted by most practical, everyday questions.
And these are usually quite tangible questions like e.g. are how much we should put up with our loved ones (and they with us), how much autonomous privacy a person should keep to itself – or what to do if people are already parents in the (upcoming/potential) network of relationships.

The essence of my personal answer to these questions can be found on closer inspection in my somewhat humorous Entry 34, which deals with our self-chosen “companions”.
Because all people, who have ever dealt with multiple relationships,sooner or later came to the point where they had to realise that at the end of all talks, agreements, regulations, consents and liberties, still one cake simply couldn’t be portioned indefinitely – and that is time.
Strictly speaking: our personal lifetime. Which we as an individual can divide, distribute, maybe even allocate; but which itself still remains relentlessly and unimpressedly finite.

The entire non-monogamy revolves around this dilemma and sometimes performs quite bizarre dances around this invisible but nonetheless irrefutable “elephant in the room”.
Which leads to such awkward approaches like sorting loved ones in a pokémon-like manner according to their “ability to meet needs” (see Entry 2) or to arrange affair-like flings with them on spatiotemporally limited “islands of happiness” (Entry 43).

But why do we remain unsatisfied in the medium term, somehow unfulfilled and needy, though?
Well, the theoretical oligoamorous answer to this question would be: Because such a relationship management is not sustainable at all (see also Entry 42) by violating all sustainability criteria, which are called consistent (stable), efficient (satisfactory) and sufficient (suitable).

And the philosophical-psychological answer would be: Because such strategies are hallmarks of a “reality of separation and compartmentalisation” (see Entry 26).

The latter, however, is not just a problem of non-monogamy, but an omnipresent contemporary phenomenon.
We can easily observe that when people talk about their work/life balance – and their attitude towards their jobs and their leisure time: There are certainly exceptions to this, but when you listen to most people in this regard, it sounds like they are talking about two completely separate areas of their life. Thereby, “work” often seems to belong to a sphere of quasi-divine punishment², “real life”, on the other hand, only takes place in leisure time – and if you can believe some people, it actually only happens during vacation: on a literal, remote, “island of happiness”.
In such descriptions, the “grey areas of everyday life”, that is, the transition moments, also often come off badly: Shopping, childcare, profane family interaction, everyday functional agreements (“Did you collect the car? / Did you call the plumber?”), etc., appear as annoyances which one wants to get rid of as quickly as possible – and accordingly they are often performed half-heartedly and harried. This reinforces the impression that these activities definitely belong more to the realm of “biblical plagues” than to our enjoyable true life.

Such a continuously maintained “reality of separation” will then confront us with a rather sad balance in old age – or at the latest in our last hour: Our existence had been predominantly “toil and labour”, and “true life” was experienced rather infrequently. When I look at this record, I become terrified and I am not surprised that Parkinson’s tremors, the forgetfulness of dementia or the despondencies of depression are among the “diseases of civilization” today…

“Well, but Oligotropos, it is actually hardly possible to accommodate more than one loving relationship (if any) in life. If we humans experience so little love, it’s small wonder that we are feeling bad and becoming ill…!”

“Aaaargh – no!” I want to call out. Trapped again.
Do you know the saying “One should not necessarily give life more days, but rather more life to the days” ?
Because the huge opportunity of ethical non-monogamy is to make multiple relationships practicable and liveable every day. This is one reason why in many of my entries I cite Scott Peck, who dealt intensively with the challenges of community building.
If we agree that the “cake most difficult to divide” is our limited and at some point finite individual lifetime – then we have to “bridle the horse” exactly from that side: Concentrating on the factor which in doubt is the scarcest resource in our sustainability mix!
And instead of trying to get around this fact with circumvention-tactics, by using as much energy as possible on how we could somehow still stretch the “cake” as thinly as possible, how we might chop it in pieces or finely grind it as a mere “spice”, we should instead“ embrace the principle ”and use it as potential in our favour.

Accordingly, when I talk about accountability, commitment and inclusiveness in so many entries, it serves as a kind of preparation regarding the question how we can experience as many wholesome human relationships as possible in our everyday life. An “everyday life”, which is then also experienced as a “full-featured, wholesome life” because we recognize in it: (all of) THIS is our true life, here and now.
That is quite comprehensible: We humans simply do not have the infinite luxury of projecting potential benefits into a possible “tomorrow / then / soon / when…”.
In the end, it could catch up with us quickly, as in Hans Christian Andersen‘s terrible story about the little Fir-Tree: “Now I’m going to live again!” he cheered and spread his branches wide: but alas, they were all dried up and yellow” ³.

“Let me have a look, maybe I have another weekend off in March…”
“I have annual leave in June, perhaps it’s possible then…”
“When the children have left home…”

I see – by then we will be changed people. Because by then our “true life” may start eventually. Because then we can finally be much more authentic, more truthful, more honest than now, while our ordinary everyday life prevents all that…
Our ordinary everyday life prevents us from being authentic, truthful and honest? And because we know that we are therefore insincere, inauthentic and unreliable most of our time, we do prefer not to let anyone into this ordinary everyday life?

Here we are getting caught by a very strange snake that seems to bite its own tail…:

Because we wish to be on our best behaviour regarding our loved ones – and, of course, we want them to be on their best behaviour in respect of us.
In this way, however, the obstacles that we build up for ourselves and for others become ever higher and more absurd.

So we have to get out of this vicious circle completely.
On my homepage I write:
“Finiteness – and the dawn of the 21st century makes it quite obvious in so many ways – immediately suggests a more attentive and sustainable husbandry regarding our available treasures of substantial as well as ideational nature.
Our awareness in respect of the ubiquitous finiteness has always evoked in human groups the fascinating aptitude of distribution, shared use, and optimisation of the available.”

This means that we have to stop perceiving our everyday life as an “inferior form of our existence”.
Or rather: That we may confidently leave that to our loved ones, whether they perceive it that way. Maybe they would happily collect the car from the workshop with us – because then they could talk to us 1:1 in the car undisturbed for 20 minutes. Or maybe they would pick up the car on their own because they know that this would provide us in return with the benefit of a relaxing bath. Perhaps they’ll listen to a scientific podcast with us while we have to sew this darn curtain – but at least we’ll have something to discuss afterwards. Or they go out with the kids – and we can finally finish this valance without annoying interruptions…
Maybe, loved ones like that would endure our burnt-up scrambled eggs in the morning because we left them out of our sight for 3 minutes too long while we were blow-drying our hair in the bathroom. Or perhaps we will endure their flabby scrambled eggs because they removed the pan to early from the stove to fetch the stupid newspaper…
Of course, a haphazardly prepared scrambled egg in the early morning could cause a lot of negative stress for everyone involved. But maybe also compassion and the (self)realization that it would have been ruined in any case, because everyone gropes around like a zombie in the apartment almost every morning.
At least today you didn’t wake up alone. And in the afternoon you realise that someone hasn’t left the blackened pan on the stove… Several voices are also practising Spanish vocabulary in the living room. And somebody let the cat out, even though you explicitly told everyone…

If we have recognized in such a manner that the real “treasure” of our life consists of the many things of “(ordinary) every day”, then we are well on the way to understand how we can enjoy this treasure together appropriately: accountable, committed and integrative.
Big words that simply mean human, fallible and tolerant most of the time.
Because if we would not dare to put up with our loved ones in our everyday life – and if we could only bear their ordinariness with difficulty – then we would transform the majority of our common treasure like in a fairy tale into mere muck: “worthless” lifetime, that we somehow have to pass.
[“No, Oligotropos. Precious life time that I do not always want to share with my loved ones…” Oh yeah? Then I would advise to change either the loved ones or the attitude towards them…]

The “Wonderful Ordinariness of Being”, which requires us to occasionally “endure” one thing or the other, which makes us cope with unexplained emotions, sensations (and smells) that are not always immediately attributable to the cause, represents in my view the same source that also provides acceptance and respect, thereby enabling true intimacy, familiarity and trust.
And with it a true loving togetherness, today, tomorrow and every day.

¹ Intended appeal to Milan Kundera‘s Unbearable Lightness of Being, which deals with the consequences of compartmentalized relationship management, flings and love affairs.

² Genesis, Chapter 3, Verses 17-19: “Cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life; thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth to thee; and thou shalt eat the herb of the field!”

³ Hans Christian Andersen, „The Fir Tree“, 1862

Thanks to Jisu Han on Unsplash for the photo.