10 July 2009

Trust and Compersion

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Macro image of moss on the west side of the waterfall, on the Grandmother Land in New York. Photo by Eric Francis.

The land tells stories, and at the moment with my lover, I did not like the story that I was hearing. This, in spite of my love of her sexual freedom. I felt like someone had spilled dye into the pool of my emotions. My body and senses felt flush and like I was losing control. The feeling was sorrow. I was not sure where it was coming from but I was not in a position to question it.

Gradually as the day progressed I got a sense of my inner landscape. We talked about it there, at the waterfall, and then later at home. I am not sure I can reconstruct the conversation here. Nearly a week has gone by and I know more today than I did then.

The prior day, on the way out the door to visit me for the first time, she called up her other lover, invited him over and made love to him. Then, leaving two hours later than she planned, she got in the car and came to see me.

As I have explained, this kind of choice for her is in our relationship agreement. By mutual understanding we are free to express our sexuality and our affections as we choose. I specifically ask not to be ‘asked permission’, as I consider this parochial. Yet there is something else working for me, which is that I am attracted to people who consider themselves free individuals, and who live that way. I know many people. They are rare to find. Freedom is the freedom to love; I consider this the first and most important of them.

Compersion is the emotional and erotic process of embracing this freedom in the people we love. It’s about extending space within ourselves to love in a way that is noncompetitive. It’s often thought of as the opposite of jealousy, but I am growing into thinking of it more as a remedy for guilt. Jealousy and guilt are more closely related than psychology and spiritual theory have noted; both involve attempts to control the feelings and conduct of others; equally often we use them against ourselves, though the forms are sometimes disguised.

Think of compersion as compassion specifically directed at the passion of others, particularly the people you care about – but anyone, when necessary. I have observed that in moments when I can get out of my own way, I can extend it to the world. I can embrace the world as my lover, through a gesture of expanding my awareness.

She explained that she had made this particular choice because it was the first sunny day in nearly a month; and she was ovulating, she was horny – and because she could. That’s the best reason to create sex: you want it. And, since we so rarely get it right when we want it, it’s all the better then. My lover has struggled for years with the feeling that she has never had a fulfilling erotic life. Now she has the opportunity to explore precisely that, and after years of monogamy, with men who are understanding and open minded enough to embrace one another’s presence in her life.

But that dye was coloring all of my feelings, and it was getting darker. I could understand her choice but I was also feeling like there was something about it that didn’t honor her relationship with me. I know that when most people think of open relationship it seems like it would be total anarchy. Most of us have such deep unmet sexual and emotional needs that being extended any freedom would be the equivalent of a starving person turned loose in a supermarket.

Yet because of this, and due to the past injuries that so many people seem to bear, something much more careful is called for. The consideration factor has to increase in an open situation. The honesty factor has to increase. Any other partners must be considerate of the whole situation; the environment of each relationship has to respect the environment of any other that is in proximity. It’s always a delicate ecology to maintain, but the rewards can be so beautiful.

Slowly as the day went on, I began to sort out the message that I had received. I began to understand why I was feeling the way that I was. On the day she planned to visit me for the first time, she could not dedicate that day to me. I am not asking for exclusivity, only to feel that I matter to her in a cohesive way; in a way that a child could understand.

While she said that her choice was purely about her sex drive, and about some unresolved sexual tension with her lover from the night before, it felt like something more. Encrypted in her gesture seemed to be a statement of loyalty to him; and it seemed to put me on notice that – even when she was making a statement that I was special and worth her while, worth the trip – there had to be someone else involved.

Actions speak louder than words. Her words were saying one thing; she made sense and technically she was in the boundaries of our agreement. From her choices I was feeling something else. I was feeling like an afterthought.

That feeling in particular involved a breach of trust. Compersion, like the love that gives rise to it, is based on trust. It’s an extraordinary extension of faith and intuitively it’s summoning anyone who is its recipient to handle that faith delicately.

The beginnings of relationships are the time that the patterns of the whole relationship are set. I believe we are still at the beginning. Few people recognize or honor this fact, that the end is written in the beginning. No matter how much I enjoy the idea and the reality that she is a free woman, this particular expression of freedom did not feel sensitive. It did not feel like someone returning the gesture of trust. Indeed it felt like having that trust flaunted; like having my compassion stretched too far, and I am very flexible.

By the end of the day I had reasoned my way out of this feeling. My understanding of female sexual freedom is more than about me, or any one woman, or any one relationship. It is about my core understanding that the most egregious damage done to women under patriarchy has involved violating their freedom of choice, and in particular, their freedom to express sexual choices.

I understand the life story of my lover. I understand something about why she has the needs she has, and why taking possession of this kind of freedom is critical to her personhood, to her creative process and to her ability to grow into the person she is becoming. Honoring the sanctity of her life, I reached deep into my spiritual well and brought out more of the water of compersion and did my best to drink from it, and offer it to her again.

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