Where (only) pleasant feelings abide…
Once upon a time there lived a king who had set his mind on choosing only the most beautiful of all women as his bride. Merely to find this “most beautiful woman”, he spared no expenses and no efforts – and the selection process for a suitable choice was already the most elaborate and demanding thing the world had ever witnessed until then.
In the end, however, it was indeed possible to finally select the fairest one of them all who met the king’s expectations: nothing less than the most perfect woman on earth.
The wedding was of course also celebrated with appropriate splendour – but the king was not yet fully satisfied in his quest for perfection. After all, it had to be ensured that the woman at his side would remain the most beautiful of all beauties; yes, it seemed absolutely necessary to the king to increase the gracefullness of his wife even further.
For this purpose he summoned the best physicians, who, with countless feats of art and even daring operations increasingly enhanced the queen’s aesthetics to its highest bloom. As a result the queen’s physical grandeur became so indescribable that no other woman on earth was even remotely like her in perfection.
The king was satisfied and so he lived happily and contentedly for a while with this astonishing miracle at his side. But after a while, it seemed to him that there was still a kind of shadow, some barely tangible flaw, which nevertheless seemed to disturb the absolute harmony of his wife’s appearance. Therefore, he once again called together his most excellent scientists and doctors to eliminate this very last fault.
The scholars decided on one last risky procedure, which the queen would have to endure – as she had done so many times before. The treatment required hours –
and ultimately the most unique, perfect and flawless corpse the world had ever seen was stretched out on the operating table.
That strange shadow, that irritating “last flaw” had been life itself…
Dear readers, I have told you this somewhat gruesome fairy tale of ancient times yet once again, because I have been observing a phenomenon in our world of ethical multiple relationships (such as Polyamory) for some time now, which regularly and worryingly reminds me of the aforementioned story.
For in recent years, it seems that doctrines from the self-help- and self-optimization-scene have increasingly permeated our lifestyle, which for example claim that only “good” feelings set people free, make them peaceful and ensure (self-)evolvement – while “bad” feelings are always toxic, imprisoning and prevent development.
As a result, many people who struggle through the jungle of multi-relationships end up like the tragic king in the tale: The obviously “bad”, the disharmonious, this flaw anyway, has to be removed so it finally feels “right”. Sometimes at all costs.
This price is then paid – corresponding to the queen in the story – first and foremost by those people and loved ones who are close to us. Because it’s usually in our encounters with them that we are actually confronted with “bad feelings” from time to time: Basic emotions such as anger, sadness and fear – but also more complex feelings such as envy, jealousy, mistrust, disappointment, remorse or gloom. This in turn feels ” burdening ” for us, inhibiting and immature. Of course, “This” means “They” : our fellow humans with their unresolved, sticky emotions and feelings, which in contact with them and those drag us inevitably down…
But we ourselves – like the king – want to experience harmony in our evolved relationship without such imperfections. After all, we have already risen above the petty limitations and resentments of monogamy, so such narrow-minded restrictions by our potential partners should not worm their way through the back door into our new, better and happy world of multiple relationships. Consequently, all that is needed is a determined treatment – and such “irritating flaws ” are eradicated: We just have to surround ourselves constantly with people, with whom we experience invariably “pleasant feelings”, where everything is easy, everyone is free and evolved at all times. We let go of the bad feelings – and of the people who might spread them in our lives; that way we even gain more space for the good and beautiful…
Whoever has read the fairy tale with me at the beginning, however, knows what the ultimate result of such an approach will be: In the end, we’ll end up sharing our lives with a bunch of corpses. Masterful and admirable corpses. But corpses nevertheless.
First of all: By way of analogy, climate change e.g. is currently teaching us, when it comes to weather, that arbitrary classifications into categories such as “good” or “bad” are no longer necessarily meaningful. During the 1960s, “always sunshine” was still a promise for the Beach Boys or the Mamas & the Papas, but today even for an average farmer in Central Europe it already poses a threat to existence.
Concerning feelings it’s quite similar to that effect. Thus, “always sunshine” would mean to follow the path of the fairy tale king and forcefully prune away all other feelings. And since feelings cannot really be “removed”, we could at least – according to countless self-help and advice pages – “let them go”.
However, maybe these good advisors are merely misunderstood in our fast-moving age, because most people who seek advice simply turn “letting go” into “not admitting” – since that is something we humans are very well and routinely capable of doing. But from then on we have to get along with our eternal “sunshine”. And along this path we are threatened with one-sidedness, drought and finally a “beautiful corpse”.
The bLogger Elias Fischer has written a long article on the subject on his site, which describes in great detail the effects of what happens when we try to “not allow” certain feelings full article: Here – but only German version available). In my opinion, the most impressive consequences he points out are the inability to describe all of one’s own feelings (because some of them have been sorted out as “bad” and are no longer sufficiently dealt with) – and the concomitant loss of the full breadth and depth of feelings and emotions as a whole (Quote: “If we refuse to feel anger, shame, fear or sadness, then as a result at some point there is no real vital joy left as well. No joy that fills us intensely and ecstatically.” ). Or rather none that really feels alive and intense any more, I would like to add.
In my Entry 43 on the subject of commitment, I have already briefly sketched out why we contemporary humans are so quickly inclined, like the fairy-tale king, to pick up a scalpel and prefer to separate rather than preserve what actually belongs together as a whole.
Because otherwise we would have to be able to handle all our feelings.
Oh yes, I know: First of all these unresolved, sticky feelings of other people…
But especially with the allegedly “negative/bad” feelings it becomes clear very quickly each time that e.g. the sadness, anger or fear of other people (which we do not want to endure) are sadness, anger or fear for ourselves – which we cannot endure. And this is something that most of us have not learned properly, since entire generations ahead of us have already willingly taken up the scalpel, dissected our freedom – and created thereby a reality of separation (see Entry 26).
Interestingly, however, a certain group of people in the field of multiple relationships, who see themselves as particularly “liberal” – and who derive from this virtue that certain characteristics or behaviour must not be evaluated under any circumstances – seems very quickly prepared to assess feelings, especially those of their counterparts, according to whether they are “good (promotive)” or “bad (obstructing)”. And thereby sorting it out – saying what you want and getting the life you deserve¹ – that’s how free I am…!
But our closest people and loved ones aren’t jammed coffee can or a skirt that comes back from the cleaners with a stain. For deep and binding relationships this attitude is simply no applicable.
And anyway – that freedom in whose name lightness and easiness is repeatedly claimed – and one knows masterminds like Erich Fromm², Eckhart Tolle or even the whole of Buddhism on one’s own side where it is said: “Free yourself from suffering!”. Here in the western world we really want to get a grip on this “suffering” with the ultimate intention of an ideal performance at all times.
Yet the Buddhist “suffering” precisely wants to explain that we humans are not (or at least: quite rarely) in equilibrium. That we – like the overzealous king – fear our own flawedness and even our own mortality, only to conjure them up all the more by our extreme ambitions.
On the contrary, “equilibrium”as for example Buddhism teaches, contains all facets, has to contain all facets in order to be true and complete.
Accordingly, as the blogger Elias Fischer has already indicated in his essay, by dividing feelings into “good” or “bad”, “liberating” or “imprisoning”, “developed” or “immature”, we are denying ourselves an important part of our own full and sincere self-expression.
In Entry 45 I wrote about the “Wonderful Ordinariness of Being” in which we may experience ourselves as human, fallible and tolerant.
If we want to be immersed in our relationships intensively and deeply – rather than to believe ourselves to be superficially free of suffering – , then it is very important for us to realize what really allows us to be free in such relationships.
What is truly permissive in a committed environment?
It is the permission of the self-effective and empowering statement to be allowed to express and acknowledge all our feelings: “YES, right now I am [please enter the appropriate feeling here (choose from this list if in doubt)]!“
If we allow ourselves and those close to us to do so, then the confrontation with the feelings of others doesn’t always have to be so threatening for us. Because, as a bonus, a permissive person is surprisingly almost always also an empathic one. He*She*It can show its counterpart credibly: Here’s an address for you. I’m listening to you. Without suggestions for improvement, without appeasement, without a story of my own to counter yours.
Such a “somebody” can allow itself to be energetically touched as well – whereby the afflicted person experiences the most important thing of all: You are not alone in this.
If “love” is the strongest form of mutual affection and the greatest possible expression of joy that the other living being exists in my world (I write “mutual” because otherwise it might remain “infatuation”), then it is right and important to strive for interconnectedness and commitment.
Thus, the degree of true freedom in those relationships that may possibly develop from there grows with the degree to which we give ourselves permission to be whole (rather than perfect) in there.
¹ Alexandra Reinwarth, “The Good Girl’s Guide to Being a D*ck: The Art of Saying What You Want and Getting the Life You Deserve”, Grand Central Publishing 2019 – Self-help book around the central decision-making questions “Does it annoy me?” and “Does it affect me personally?”
² Erich Fromm, “The Art of Loving”, 1956
Thanks to Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash for the picture!