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Rocks, moss and lake, Harrison, Maine. Photo by Eric Francis.

You might ask how this is possible. Sometimes I wonder, but at the time it’s obvious; it’s an experience of embracing reality; and an experience of love. Compersion is not about sex or sexual pleasure, or at least that is not what makes it possible; it’s about love that embraces every feeling, and every aspect of relationship.

For me this experience would not have been what it was, were I not deeply in love with her, as deep as in any monogamous relationship. I am adventurous and flirtatious and there are many people I love and share erotic energy with on some level. Yet the part of me that loves, what I call the devotional ray, loves completely. I was going to correct that to ‘aspires to love’ but the experience I have is of the feeling moving through me rather than me doing something.

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Vesta. Photo by Eric Francis.

We were standing in the doorway of her room when the shift had us feeling one another differently. We took a leap above contention and reached a place where we admitted how badly and for how long guilt had stalked us. Through our lives, that is. It felt so good to hear that acknowledged by one I consider sane and loving. I finally had affirmation that my own struggle was not evidence of my being a bad person.

We stood together in the most fragile humility. We understood something new about ourselves and one another, a bond wrought of the deeply private nature of the subject: self condemnation.

“And the fear,” I said. “There is always so much that can go wrong. I could be scared all the time.”

She glanced at me, nodded slowly and said yes.

It felt so good to be with someone who in that moment understood. The fear. I felt then and there that I might go beyond it for the first time; that I could see a way.

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On the eve of Virgo

Dina. Photograph by Eric Francis.

Nowhere in the feminist literature that I’ve read have I encountered the idea that women deserve to be released from the requirement of monogamy, as a basic facet of holding full personhood.

One reason why this concept may not have surfaced in the past is because actual discussion of monogamy or any form of fidelity is unusual. We usually talk about it when someone violates the unwritten, often unspoken code that we are supposed to be one another’s property.

Rare is it for there to be a conscious, tangible agreement between two (or more) people.

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Holding the mirror

Photo by Eric Francis.

Sister P,

OK I get the picture.

Yes, polyamorous situations call for us to have a high level of integrity, mutual awareness, generosity and this elusive thing called compersion. I am familiar with the hemisphere effect: being of “two minds,” and the love/approach vs. guilt/avoid. The self-hate is guilt, if you ask me, we just don’t usually call it that because guilt implies something is actually wrong when it usually is not. We come up against all this shadow stuff fast and can feel really weird when it happens because we are so accustomed to self-reproach when we feel it.

A selflove-in is a group masturbation experience. Now, the one I’m planning for the Loving More conference in a few weeks will likely have about 25 present (since it’s a conference and you have a large captive audience, of curious people). I prefer five to seven people present so we can all track one another. This might be a good time to sculpt the whole thing with some craftsmanship. Maybe take it as far as admission by interview. Truly see if there is some common ground.

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Holding Space for Love as Freedom

Photo by Eric Francis.

Guilt is something we discovered we have in common: a long legacy of guilt. I learned that in the few days before our Thursday night adventure, she had been wracked with guilt about the potential for having to choose one of us; for having to hurt one of us. And some guilt for being able to have both of us – the strange guilt you feel when you love someone and then feel something for another person. That emotion needs a name, so we can identify it when we feel it.

This is the same guilt that makes it difficult to make a simple decision; the guilt we feel for enjoying life; for doing something for ourselves; though here, when we reach the branch of the road where we may choose to love, to actually love who we will, I think we’re pretty close to the core source of this emotion. Here, we are looking at one of the deepest divisions against ourselves.

Like any philosophy, guilt has a history: we can find its origins in the innovation of Judeo-Christian religion. I don’t believe that guilt as we experience it today existed prior to strict religious patriarchy. We see evidence today that this is one source of the problem, but we don’t generally identify it as the root of the problem.

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Trust and Compersion

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.

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Interview with Serena Anderlini by Camilia Raznovich (Tatami Rai Tre)

Tatami RaiTre

February 15th, 2009

Script of the Interview with Serena Anderlini-D’Onofrio, Minutes: 20-30

Participants: Hostess Camilla Raznovich; Guests: Serena Anderlini, Michela Marzano, Ricky Tognazzi

Camilla Raznovich: Good evening, Serena Anderlini, theorist and practitioner of polyamory, a topic about which she has written many books. So, I’d like to understand how you figured out that you had a tendency to love more than one partner at the same time.

Serena Anderlini: I figured it out because I loved the people with whom my partners fell in love. If they fell in love with them, I fell in love with them too, and so I wanted to transform the negative energies of hatred, envy, jealousy, into a positive energy in which I was able to share this love. It was a rather long path because one cannot easily transform a negative sentiment into a positive one, one has to go though a whole process of inner transformation, a spiritual process that makes one capable of embracing a type of love that is not possessive. For me this is comparable to a father, or a mother, who have twelve children. Will the twelve children be less loved? No. At times in these big families people love each other a lot, so why can’t this multiplicity also happen also in the area of partners, why? Why is love for our children supposed to be altruistic and love for one’s partners egotistic? Why?

CR: And at this time, how many partners do you have?

SA: I didn’t come here to tell you that. It’s none of your business. (Applause.)

CR: But you have more than one at the same time?

SA: Sometimes I do and sometimes I don’t.

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What is Polyamory? Interview with Serena Anderlini-D'Onofrio

This interview was conducted via email between Aldo Cicolella and Serena Anderlini-D'Onofrio in preparation for her invitation to Tatami, a talk show about new cultural trends hosted by Camila Raznovich on Italian public TV RaiTre, February 15, 2009.

1. How would you define Polyamory in a few words?

Polyamory is the style of love that involves responsible forms of non-monogamy.  Polyamorists believe that one can genuinely love more than one person at a time, and choose to do so honestly and with full disclosure among partners.  Polyamorists replace jealousy with a different emotion.  It’s called compersion and it corresponds to the love, empathy, and compassion we feel for our lovers’ lovers and for the joy they bring to them regardless of us.  Transforming jealousy into compersion is a demanding spiritual exercise which is very salutary for the soul once you get the knack of it.  Polyamorists do not discriminate based on gender, with women just as entitled to multiple partners as men.  Polyamorists emphasize relationships, and have ways to categorize various levels of involvement, including what they call primary, secondary, and tertiary relationships.  Many individuals in poly communities define themselves as bisexuals and most have, at one time or another, experienced some form of bi attraction or erotic play.  However, the two orientations are independent of each other.

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