Book Review: “Your Body has a Mind of it’s Own” by Sandra Blakeslee

Hello Friends, welcome to the Living Revolution ūüôā

I finished reading a very interesting book, and I’d like to share with you some of my thoughts about what I read. The premise of the book is an exploration of the interaction between the stimuli we receive from our environment and the system by which our physical bodies process those stimuli. The authors suggest there is a very real connection between your “mind” and your “body”, so much so they make the suggestion that we only exist in the sense that we can detect and process stimuli from the environment around us.

Isn’t that an interesting concept? That our consciousness is grounded in our ability (or inability) to process direct physical experience? Every moment you exist subconsciously filtered through the complex mechanisms of touch, sight, hearing, smell, and taste? The authors call these multiple layers of perception and reception “body maps“, and they believe these maps provide a network for understanding ourselves in a more complex and insightful way.

Hold on. I’m getting ahead of myself a bit. I need to tell you why I was reading this book in the first place.

To be better at what I do, understanding¬†how to help people tune in to their body is a great tool. Of course, there is no “right” way to teach or learn, so possessing a eclectic skill set will help me work effectively with people who fall anywhere on the continuum of health/fitness/wellness. Understanding the complex interplay between the psychological and physiological aspects of training puts me in a position to create effective and efficient training programs that are safe and sustainable. This makes me a better coach/trainer, which makes my clients better, which eventually makes the world a better place, and that is my ultimate goal!

As a coach, one of my highest priorities is to teach people how to move safely and efficiently. This job requires me to verbally explain a movement , physically demonstrate how a movement is performed, and then provide constructive feedback to my clients, ensuring they perform the movement correctly. Understanding how body maps are developed, and how each individual develops their personal¬†conglomerate of body maps will help me develop my coaching skills so I will be able to effectively work with ANYONE. I picked up this book because I need to “buff up” my coaching skill set, and the concepts in this book have some interesting applications in the personal training/group class environment. I work with clients all over the spectrum of “body awareness”, so let’s look at¬†a couple examples of clients with whom I work, and how their “body maps” effect training.

Occasionally,¬†I’ll come across someone who has¬†horrible problems learning new movements, someone who simply cannot figure out what I am trying to explain. Their body schema is negatively compromised in some way, and there is a significant disconnect between what want their body do, and what actually manifest in physical movement. Perhaps an old injury still bothers them. Perhaps they are morbidly obese. Perhaps they have never used their bodies for more than the most mundane tasks. These people need to be walked through new movements step by step. They require the most attention and the most work, but typically they end up being the most rewarding people to work with because they put so much effort in to doing good work. The skill set they develop is that much more valuable because of the focus and effort they put toward progressing. Their accomplishments are worth much more in contrast to their previous inactivity. These people help support the notion that body maps are fluid and can be reprogrammed, even if it does require lots of patience and hard work.

Most everyone else can¬†learn the basic mechanics of a movement by watching someone else perform that movement. In “Your Body…”, the authors discuss how mirror neurons fire when people watch an action and then imagine themselves performing the same action. This simple idea drastically improves a persons ability to learn new ways to use their body, but it requires a higher degree of body awareness and a more intact collection of body maps. I learned about how mirror neurons in the brain work efficiently to convert what a person¬†see to action in their own bodies. They will watch a coach demonstrate the movement a few times, and then immediately grasp the basic concept. These are people who typically have an athletic background or participate in some kind of active lifestyle outside the gym. They played sports as children, or maybe even in college, but then “real life” happened, and it has been 10 years since their last visit to the gym. I love working with these people because their basic understanding of physical movements allows us to spend more training time on refining technique, mastery and virtuosity. Years of physical activity have laid down body map patterns that provide more effective proprioception or “body awareness”. These people are your Master’s athletes. These are the retirees who refuse to retire. These are the “aging fit” who are working hard to figure out safe and effective ways to keep the fire inside them burning as long as possible. These athlete reinforce the concept that body maps are consistent and resilient, as long as they continue to be used. While conscious effort does play a role, the subconscious body maps¬†developed by lifelong athletes help them retain a higher level of brain plasticity and allow them to continue to learn and improve in to the later years of their lives.

These are only two examples of how the concepts of body maps and proprioception manifest in the “real world”. ¬†In “Your Body…”, the authors delve much deeper in to other examples including ¬†how body maps are effected by stroke, how dysfunctional body maps contribute to anorexia and bulimia, and the interesting problem of “phantom limbs” experienced by amputees. After reading “Your Body has a Mind of it’s Own”, it isn’t difficult to understand how the interaction between our psychological selves and our physical selves is much more complex than previously thought. Whether you are a coach like me trying to improve your skill set, or someone who just wants to gain a bit more understanding of the complexities of being human, I encourage you to check out “Your Body has a Mind of it’s Own”. Thank you all for reading my words, and for participating in the Living Revolution! Until next time…

Peace.Tobias.

 

 

Learning Gratitude

Welcome to the Living Revolution ūüôā

First, I want to say “Thank You”. Many of you have been reading my words and interacting with me for a few years now, and our on-again off-again relationship continues to give me reason to think hard about how I live my life. You hold me accountable, you provide a sounding board for my thoughts and rants, you give me feedback about how you live life, and through all that, we establish and maintain community. Many of you I see in real life, and we further strengthen our bonds with face-to-face interaction. For all of this, I am exceedingly grateful. So, again, “Thank You” :).

Which brings me to my point today. I don’t see enough gratitude in the world, and I am here to say we need more. I am here to say we need to think more grateful thoughts, we need to speak more grateful words, ¬†we need to start living more grateful lives and acting out gratitude on a person-to-person level. This is not rocket science, and everyone reading these words has the ability to change the world in a positive way by fostering gratitude, and living more grateful lives. Here’s why I think this is important…

In a quick search on the interwebs for definitions of “gratitude”, I also found an extensive list of antonyms of gratitude. For those who may not remember from middle school English class, antonym means “opposite”. A brief list of antonyms of gratitude include the following words: boorishness, callousness, censure, condemnation, disloyalty, ingratitude, rudeness, thanklessness, thoughtlessness.¬†Each of these words, in turn, has a list of synonyms (words with similar meaning), but I am sure you get the point. If ¬†you don’t know what these words mean, I encourage you to look them up, read the definition, and then feel how you react to those definitions.

A common theme between all these words is the idea of separation or dis-integration. When you condemn someone you pass judgment on them, and place yourself above them in a hierarchy, separating yourself from them. When you are disloyal to someone, you betray their trust, you break the bond of faith, and separate yourself from them. When your behavior is callous, rude, or thankless you show people you are insensitive, unsympathetic, lack manners, and you separate yourself from them.

I know I have experienced something like these negative feelings in my life, and I assume, many of you have as well. I know that I treated people unpleasantly as a result of my own selfishness and narcissism. I know I missed opportunities for genuine connection with other people because, I made the choice to react callously or thoughtlessly. I know I experienced a less-fulfilling life in those moments when I am not paying attention to how truly blessed I am.

This is unacceptable. ¬†In those moments, I haven’t set a good example for others to follow. In those moments, I’ve missed an opportunity to make another human being feel good. In those moments, I allowed my ego to cloud my thoughts, to disrupt my flow, to set me at odds against the rest of humanity. When I selfishly put myself in my little box that is all my own, when I choose to withhold gratitude, I separate myself from potential connection, from relationship, from community. ¬†I FAIL.

Human beings are social creatures, by nature. Even the most introverted soul requires some measure of positive, real-life, face-to-face interaction with other human beings to live a healthy, happy, fulfilled life. When we consciously choose not to express gratitude, we suppress that urge for connection. When we choose to not be thankful, we numb ourselves against the vulnerability and openness that giving thanks requires. When we choose to be grateful for this thing over here, but not that thing over there, we allow those minuscule fissures of separation to take hold, and it only gets worse from there. So, let’s not do that, okay?

I need to be clear here, and be very specific about how we are all going to start practicing gratitude. I need to be specific because some people may take my words and put them in tiny, separate boxes, and may decide they only want to express gratitude “when it seems appropriate”, or “when it makes sense”. But, that simply won’t work. We need to start being grateful for EVERYTHING.

Start with the easy parts. Be grateful for your home, food, income, family and friends. If you don’t have these, or if you have reasons you aren’t grateful for these things, you may have a larger issue that needs to be addressed!! Next, extend your circle of gratitude beyond “survival-mode”. Be grateful for your smartphone, the internet, the beautiful sunrise, and your favorite pants. These things are all helpful and useful, and it doesn’t take too much effort to be grateful for them. From here on, things start to get difficult…

Extend your gratitude outward to the annoying acquaintance who won’t stop talking to you while you are in line at the coffee shop. Extend your gratitude toward the telemarketer who calls to sell you life insurance,¬†just as you sit down to dinner. Be grateful to the cyclist who brazenly chooses to ride in the middle of the lane instead of merging to the side so you can pass. Now, you are on the right track, but there is more still…

 Choose two or three small challenges or problems in your life, and consciously express gratitude for lessons the Universe is teaching about yourself  as you navigate these challenges.This part may take some practice and a little time to get used to. You will need to be more mindful of how you interact with other people. You will need to practice holding your tongue, and filtering your thoughts, and formulating conscious response to situations and people, instead of simply reacting to situations and people. You know, THINK. Use the fore-brain that supposedly put us at the top of the evolutionary ladder, and take charge of how you perceive the world around you, and how you interact with the other agents of the Universe who exist here with you.

Finally, you need to bring your awareness to the people and situations that are actively bringing “negativity” to your life. I use quotation marks, because defining something as negative is simply a matter of perspective, and you can always change your perspective. Did someone you love just die? Be grateful. Did the ceiling of your bedroom fill with rainwater, then burst and disintegrate above you in the middle of the night? Be grateful. Did a fake African prince hack your bank account and steal thousands of your hard-earned dollars? Be grateful.

This will not be easy. This will expose nerves you never knew you had. But this work is necessary. This work is worth it.

However, most of us will never get to that last part. Because it’s hard. It requires effort. It requires practice. It is a pattern of thought that goes against the “me, me, me” selfishness and insecurity so common in modern society. I can’t say much to convince you of this truth. But I can say this: if you never make the decision to express gratitude to the negative stimuli in your life, you never open yourself up to potential gifts, graciousness and healing that result from coming out the other side of those challenges. Missing out on all that potential awesomeness is truly a tragedy.

Wow. Okay. That rant turned in to a novel. I hope you all get my point. I’d love to hear your tales of gratitude, and maybe even some lessons you learned from choosing to make yourself vulnerable, and choosing to invest the time and effort ¬†to say “Thank You”. ¬†As always, thank you for reading my words, and for actively choosing to participate in The Living Revolution. Until next time…

Peace.Tobias.

On Redefining Masculinity

Welcome to the Living Revolution ūüôā

Well, friends, I survived October.¬† The last couple weeks have been an incredible trip, fraught with emotional perils like I’ve never encountered. Much of my internal universe has shifted significantly and continues to bend, flex, contract and expand as I process these new feelings and all the excellent information I received from the friends and family with whom I sought counsel. I am looking at the world through a very different lens as I write this now, and I want to share with you some of what is going on in my head :).

Two stories in the popular media grabbed my attention this month. First, a¬†communal act of bravery and unselfishness demonstrated by a team of middle school football players. The second, a bullying scandal from another¬†football team, the Miami Dolphins. The actors in this story are, by most conventional definitions, considered adults. The actors in the first story are boys, just delving into puberty, young men, at best. Both stories are emotionally charged, but they inspire feelings on opposite ends of the spectrum of human behavior. The Dolphins story pisses me off and makes we wonder how some human beings are infected with so much negative energy and darkness they forget how to treat¬†the people around them¬†with dignity and respect.¬†The first story inspires me and reminds me there are good things happening all around us, and changing the world in a positive way still takes place on a person-to-person level. It makes me ecstatically happy to see compassion, camaraderie, courage, and love acted out by children who probably don’t yet understand the gravity and influence of their actions.

In light of challenges I’ve been working through recently in my personal life, I am looking at these stories and asking questions about what it means to be a “man” in both these situations. What impact does gender have on stories like these? What are the cultural implications for men when we recognize these kind of stories on a national level? What kind of precedent is the current generation setting for acceptable male behavior in modern society? What changes must be made now for men who wish to live healthier, happier, more fulfilled lives? What lessons must we teach our sons to ensure they won’t suffer¬†or create suffering as a result of their emotional immaturity and ignorance?

Here is the link to the blog article that got me thinking about all this:

http://www.grantland.com/story/_/id/9939308/richie-incognito-jonathan-martin-miami-dolphins-bullying-scandal

Here is a link to the story about the middle school football team:

http://elitedaily.com/news/world/can-learn-lot-middle-school-football-team-video/

I believe we are all familiar with how our culture and American society views and expresses masculinity, and how this culture defines being a “Man”. Boys are taught to be tough, to go for the kill, to compete, engage and destroy. Men are reminded to never show weakness, to suppress emotion, to grow beards and build muscles,¬† to overcome, pillage and conquer. These notions and ideas are antiquated leftovers, the dregs of a mentality that has little practical applicability to modern culture. However, these ideals persist, and we find the negative consequences from this kind of thinking in aspects of culture ranging from professional sports to politics to business. Problems arise when our men and boys don’t see these attributes and behaviors as metaphors, but rather as tangible characteristics they should develop and express. Problems arise when we forget to teach our boys and men¬†how to temper aggression¬†with¬†empathy, sympathy and compassion, and how to turn off the “killer instinct” when it is inappropriate. ¬†In the sport-specific examples above,¬†we forget these men and boys are playing a game,¬†not fighting a war, and we forget the “ripple effect” these stories have as they reverberate through our collective consciousness.

For¬† my part, I will tell you where my focus has shifted. While I value my “masculinity’ and what it feels like to “be a man”, ¬†I am also learning how to subvert this way of thinking and open myself up to expressing my manliness in ways that have nothing to do with aggression or violence. For example, I am learning new ways to express¬† humility toward my partner and my children through the¬†domestic endeavors of daily housework. I am learning compassion and patience from my kids, as I attempt to understand life from their perspective, and frame our interactions knowing they are still figuring out¬†how this crazy world works. ¬†I am learning more about trust and love as I work to make myself emotionally vulnerable to my partner and my intimate friends. I am stretching my boundaries and learning about courage by pursuing my desires without attachment to an outcome, but rather enjoying the process and the journey of what my life is right now.

None of this is easy work, and I am confronted by challenges on a daily basis that make me sit down and think hard. But, I’ve recognized the value of this work, and I continue to see positive changes in my own behavior, and I continue to recognize how my positive energy impacts the people with whom I interact. So, I am writing this post for a few reasons. If you are male-gendered and reading this, I encourage you to check the links I posted and feel how you react to these stories. I want you to turn a critical eye inward to determine where you find yourself on the spectrum of human behavior. Do you embody and express empathy, compassion, and sympathy in your everyday life? Why or why not? What example are you setting for other men,¬†OR if you are a father, what example are you setting¬†for your children?¬†If you are female-gendered and reading this, I want you to check the links, and think about how you interact with men in your life. Do you continue to accept and allow aggressive, offensive, hurtful behavior in your daily life? To what standard do you hold the men in your life? How can you take action to teach men this nastiness is unacceptable and it is time for a BIG CHANGE?

Ultimately, this isn’t a gender issue, but a HUMAN issue, and I understand that we all need to be working to prevent behaviors like bullying, racism, aggression and interpersonal violence. We all need to be working harder to proliferate behaviors of kindness, compassion, empathy and sympathy, because life is already hard enough, without any added interpersonal bullshit.¬†This post is part of my commitment to change, both in my personal life, and in the world around me. Won’t you join me? Thanks so much for reading this, and for participating in the Living Revolution :). Until next time…

Peace.Tobias.

Follow Your Bliss, (Think for Yourself (for Grownups!))

Hello Friends,

I’ve been talking about my blog this week. At the gym during class; with my lovely partner as we chat before bed; with friends during a night out on the town. In each situation, I’ve been asked to clarify what I am trying to do with my writing, and specifically how I am going to use this blog to bring about the changes I want to experience. I’ve been asked to define WHY I am putting my energy in to this project. My response has been the same in each situation; I intend to use this blog and my creative energy to subvert the dominant paradigm in as many ways as possible.

Each of the people I spoke with had a hard time understanding what I meant. I am going to try to be more clear here.

“Subvert the dominant paradigm” sounds like something you might read on a¬†clever bumper sticker, right? Defining each word individually gives you an inclination of the ideas, ideals and philosophy we are working toward, but it doesn’t really tell you what I mean. ¬†It might be helpful to inform you this phrase has been used as a battle cry by the Anarchist movement for years, and remains a strong tenet of the belief system used by those who label themselves “Anarchist”. ¬†I think the Hippies said it best a long time ago: Go Against the Flow. Think for yourself. Be the Change. Catchphrases are a dime a dozen, but WHAT DOES IT MEAN!?!

As a headstrong teenager, fresh out of my parent’s nurturing embrace, I thought subverting the dominant paradigm meant getting a facial piercing and wearing clothes that didn’t really fit me. I raged against conformity and compromise, grew my hair long, and got a tattoo. I wanted so badly to be different. Or at least, I wanted to present myself as being different. Then, all the cool kids I hung out with ended up looking just like me. We all wanted so badly to be unique; to be novel; to be the “other”. We rode skateboards, tagged dumpsters, worked shitty jobs and slept on couches. We knew exactly what we DIDN’T want to be, but we had no idea what we wanted to be instead.

Now, we all have kids, and car payments. We went back to school and earned degrees, and accrued debt. We bathe regularly, eat grass-fed beef, and go to bed at a “reasonable” hour. Some of us still dye our hair crazy colors, lots of us are still saving for our next tattoo, and after living through a whole host of life experience, most of us finally have a good idea of what it REALLY means to subvert the dominant paradigm.¬†We chase our dreams!

We consciously make choices in our lives that constitute a paradigm shift. We spend time and effort creating the lives and relationships we want, and our successes and failures are determined by the effort we are willing to put forth. Though our lives are constrained by many parameters of “mainstream” culture, we use creativity and curiosity to find ways to bend the rules of the dominant culture, or bypass them altogether and create our own set of rules. We are¬†entrepreneurs¬†and independent artists. We are blended families of all variations, and our tribal network extends beyond any tangible boundaries. We are constantly researching, exchanging information, learning new tricks, and working hard to make sure we are better people today than we were yesterday. This last part is what really separates us from the teeming masses:¬†our desire to achieve our needs, wants, and desires through deliberate effort. ¬†We follow our bliss. We determine our own path. We refuse to take ANYTHING at face value. We refuse to do anything simply because we are told to, or because that is the way everyone else does it. We have the tools, the resources, and the intention to live the lives that we want to live.

All we have to do is practice what we preach. Follow your Bliss. Do the extra work to fulfill your needs, wants and desires. Set the example for people who are stuck in apathy and indifference. Go Against the Flow. Change the Rules. Forge your own path. Do your best to resist the urge to buy clever bumper stickers, and instead live a life that authentically displays your core values and ethics to the world, leaving no question whether or not you think for yourself. I think it really is that simple :).

Tell me what “Follow Your Bliss” means to you. What dreams are you chasing right now? What excuses are holding you back? If we are going to change the world, we need to do it RIGHT NOW.

Until next time…

Peace.Tobias.

The Importance of a Natural Connection

Hello Friends,

The rain has returned to Portland again, and the seasons have changed, officially. Our relationship with the elements shifts. Where once we welcomed sunlight with open arms, we now greet the cold and damp from beneath layers of raincoat, windbreaker, sweater, turtleneck. ¬†Multitude shades of grey lay like a heavy blanket on top of everyday life in the Great Northwest. It feels like the bright and hopeful days of spring are SO FAR AWAY! And, perhaps I have a penchant for hyperbole and the over-dramatic, don’t I?

At times like these, I work hard to remind myself ¬†how important it is to maintain a healthy relationship with our natural surroundings. We attribute values of “good” or “bad” to weather and other natural occurrences, often without considering 0ur current position in the natural cycle that makes this planet a hospitable place for human beings, (and many other lifeforms), to exist. The truth is, we need the rain. We need down-time. We need the quiet, and the cold. We need to feel the natural pattern that helps keep life ebbing and flowing along, year after year. But, if we don’t have an intimate connection with the natural world around us, what does that mean for how we interact with each other, and the world around us? Let me unpack some of that, and see what we come up with…

Modern humans spend most of their time in a fabricated ¬†un-reality. We surround ourselves with concrete and pavement and glass and steel. We literally put ourselves in boxes, ‚Äúprotecting‚ÄĚ ourselves from the harsh elements and violence of the ‚Äúuncivilized‚ÄĚ world around us. We learn to believe that our water comes from a faucet, our milk comes from a cardboard carton, our meat comes wrapped neatly in styrofoam and cellophane. There is no reason for us to get our hands dirty, but if by chance we do, we have our handy bottle of sanitizer to keep the germs at bay. This way of living has produced documented physical and ¬†psychological pathologies including morbid obesity, depression, and bipolar disorder. Living in this kind of environment is actually causing a devolution, rapidly working against natural selection to produce humans who cannot functionally survive outside an urban area. If we don‚Äôt stop this, we are doomed.

There are so many reasons why a relationship with your natural surroundings is important. For example:

1.Witnessing firsthand the natural processes of creation and destruction that shape the world around us, we learn to respect the natural processes of life and death.

2. Learning where our food comes from inspires us to think creatively about the meaning of the word ‚Äúsustainable‚ÄĚ, and gives us a personal perspective on realistic sustainability.

3. Engaging the opportunity to climb a mountain, or run through a forest, or swim in a river; to feel dirt and rocks with bare feet, or watch a sunset on a horizon unencumbered by power lines and high-rise office buildings; to be enveloped by the thrill of exploring a place you have never been, and trying something new just because you can; all these helps us learn self-confidence. They teach us how to test our boundaries, as well as the value of exploring outside our comfort zone.

4.Each time we step onto a secluded beach, each time we enter a forest under the boughs of 1000 year old trees; each time we feel the icy sting of snow melt and feel smooth river rocks beneath our feet, we are presented with the opportunity to let go of our desire to control and for a moment, simply get in where we fit in.

5.If we are lucky, our experiences allow us to feel the rhythm and fathom the power we are surrounded by, and perhaps, for a moment we recognize how insignificant we are in the grand scheme of life on Earth. Hopefully, we are grateful for the opportunity to see and hear and feel things that are REAL.

6. Being in nature helps ground us in reality. We are reminded of the natural order of being, and we are reminded that life on this planet is made up of an intricate web of relationships. We remember how simple life can be, and how fulfilling simplicity can be.

I encourage you to take some time this weekend, and re-establish your own connection with the natural world around you. Take time to get away from the madness of civilized life and get your mind right. Drop me a note and let me know what your natural connection feels like. Until next time…

Peace.Tobias

In case you were wondering….

Hello Friends ūüôā

Today’s topic is going to raise a little hell. That’s my assumption anyway :). I’ve flirted with this subject before, and perhaps haven’t been as clear and articulate as I could have been. However, other people have written on this subject, and NAILED IT! So, I’m cutting and pasting today, from a website called http://www.xeromag.com and giving you some resources that I believe are essential to understanding POLYAMORY!! Read the whole thing, take notes, check the links, and GET INFORMED. Then, the next time you see me walking down the street, or sitting at a bar with someone who isn’t my beautiful primary partner, I don’t have to try and recite this whole thing from memory. This is real life shit, so treat it as such :). Until next time…

Peace.Tobias.

All right, so what is “polyamory”?

The word “polyamory” is based on the Greek and Latin for “many loves” (literally,¬†poly¬†many +¬†amore¬†love). A polyamorous relationship is a romantic relationship that involves more than two people.

You mean, like swinging?

Not exactly. Swinging has a different focus. Swingers focus on recreational sex, though friendships and deeper bonds may develop. With polyamory, deep relationships are the focus, though the sex is often fun.

Oh, I gotcha. So, like, you have a girlfriend on the side.

No. That is something different as well. The technical term for that is “cheating.”

Six of one, half a dozen of the other.

No. The thing that defines a polyamorous relationship is that¬†everyone involved knows about, and agrees to, everyone else’s involvement.

If you are married, and you have a girlfriend that your wife doesn’t know about, or that your wife suspects but isn’t sure about, or that your wife knows about but isn’t happy with, you’re not poly, you’re cheating. Similarly, if you’re banging the milkman while your husband is out of town, you’re not poly, you’re cheating.

Polyamory is defined by¬†informed consent of all the participants.Without it, it ain’t poly. If you can’t¬†invite¬†your lover over to Thanksgiving dinner with the rest of your family because you don’t want anyone to know what you’re doing, it probably ain’t poly.

Poly, schmolly. It’s just a polite way of saying your partner lets you cheat.

No. Cheating is breaking the rules. If you aren’t breaking the rules of your relationship, you are not cheating,¬†by definition.

The rules need not be explicit; even breaking the tacit rules of a relationship is cheating. If you do anything you cannot feel comfortable telling your mate about, or if you do anything which you know would make your mate unhappy if he or she knew about it, you are quite likely cheating, plain and simple.

Polyamory is a completely different way to define your relationship. Polyamory is an acknowledgment of the simple fact that relationships do not come in “one size fits all.” In a poly relationship–

Okay, okay, I understand. Poly is for people who can’t commit!

No, no, no. Just the opposite, in fact; people who can’t commit to¬†oneperson sure as hell can’t make a lasting commitment to¬†two!

It’s been my experience that many monogamous people actually practice “serial monogamy”–jumping from lover to lover to lover, while claiming to be “monogamous” with each one. While no reasonable person expects every relationship to last, it seems that many “serial monogamists” see their partners as expendable, or more often, stay with one partner only until someone “better” comes along. Polyamory is more ethical than serial monogamy as it is sometimes practiced; polyamorists do not discard their lovers when the next interesting person walks down the road. This flavor of serial monogamy is, I think, the essence of people who can’t commit!

But if you love someone, you shouldn’t want anyone else.

That’s a common idea, but it doesn’t really hold up in practice.

Many people believe that a person who has multiple loves can’t give their “whole heart” to any person. The belief goes that if you love one person, you can express your love wholeheartedly, but if you love multiple people, your love is divided up and is therefore not as deep. This is based on the “starvation model” of love–that is, you only have a limited amount of love, and if you give your love to one person, there is none left to give to anyone else–so if you fall in love with another person, you have to “pay” for it by withdrawing your love from the first person.

Love is not the same thing as money. With money, you have only a limited amount to spend, and when you give it to one person you have less left to give to another. But love behaves in wonderful and unpredictable and counterintuitive ways. When you love more than one person, you soon realize that the more love you give away, the more love you have to give. Yes, you CAN give your whole heart to more than one person, and when you do, you realize it’s the most beautiful feeling in all the world.

Don’t think of the contents of your heart the way you think of the contents of your wallet; it doesn’t work like that.

Some people also seem to feel that it is not possible to love more than one person at a time, so if you’re in a position where you’re in a relationship with one person and you happen to fall for someone else, this “proves” you don’t really love the person you’re with, right? After all, the feeling goes, we are put here on this earth to love only one other person, our one true soulmate in a world of six billion people…the single person who is right for us, and who by some quite astounding coincidence happens to go to the same school, or work at the same place.

This is the “scarcity model” of love–the notion that love is rare, that we can only have one true love, and that once we meet tht one true love, the part of our brains which take notice of other people suddenly and mysteriously shut off.

Anyway, as I was saying, in a poly relationship, it is vital–perhaps even more vital than in a monogamous relationship–for everyone involved to know and understand the rules of the relationship, and abide by them. A successful poly relationship absolutely requires trust and security from everyone involved. If you cannot abide by the relationship’s rules, you cannot expect to make a polyamorous relationship work.

Rules? What rules? You want to sleep with someone else, you do, right?

It doesn’t work that way.

There are, of course, as many different varieties of polyamory as there are people; there’s no one right way to create a polyamorous relationship, though ethical polyamorous relationships do involve honesty, respect, and compassion. But being polyamorous does not give you license to make like a bunny in heat.

A polyamorous relationship isn’t about sex; it’s about building a¬†romantic relationship¬†with more than one person at a time.

And yes, there are rules.

Yeah? Like what kind of rules?

Depends on the relationship.

Some poly relationships, called “polyfidelity” relationships, have rules not much different from a traditional monogamous relationship, only there are more than two people involved. A polyfidelitous triad, for example, may have three people involved, with one person sexually active with the other two, or even with all three people sexually involved with one another. However, nobody in the relationship may take an “outside” lover, just as neither partner in a monogamous relationship is allowed to have an outside lover; if you do, it’s cheating. Cheating, if anything, is amore¬†serious offense in a polyfidelity relationship than in a monogamous relationship–because if you cheat, you are betraying more than one person’s trust.

Other polyamorous relationships may permit the people involved to have “outside” lovers under certain circumstances–often, for example, only if the outside lover is approved beforehand by everyone involved, and only if the outside lover knows the nature of the relationship.

The individual relationships within a polyamorous group may be very complex, as well. In many cases, there may be one “primary” couple–a husband and wife, for example. Either or both of those people may have outside lovers, but those relationships are “secondary” in the sense that they involve less involvement in the partners’ day-to-day lives than, say, a marriage does.

Note: This does not mean that these relationships are of secondary importance, or that the people involved in such “secondary” relationships contribute less or are less valued! It simply means that these relationships have different goals or parameters than the “primary” relationship.

Or, the polyamorous relationship may be such that each individual relationship is as important as all the others, and no single couple is “primary.”

Uh-huh. Says who? Who makes these rules, anyway?

Everyone involved.

Polyamory is not about “I want to go shag that person over there, and if you don’t like it, tough.”

It’s reasonable for everyone involved to expect to have some kind of input on the relationships that go on. It’s reasonable to want to set limits, and it’s necessary and reasonable to want to establish a framework that protects both your feelings and the feelings of everyone else involved in the relationships, directly or indirectly.

You do this by negotiating a clear, explicit, and unambiguous set of conditions that guides the manner in which your relationships form, and establishes that framework that helps to make sure everyone’s needs are being met and nobody’s feelings are disregarded.

It is also important to understand that any breach of these terms is a very, very serious matter–just as serious as cheating in a conventional monogamous relationships! This framework, and the willingness of everyone involved to abide by the terms you set together, are what creates the foundation of trust that a polyamorous relationship requires. Without that trust, it’s reasonable to expect that you or someone you care about will end up miserable.

Didn’t this whole “free love” thing die out in the sixties?

It never really existed, even back then.

But that’s irrelevant.¬†Polyamory isn’t free love.¬†All these different flavors of polyamory have their own dynamic, but ultimately, they are all about building relationships, not about sex.

Okay, so they are about sex as well. After all, if no sex is involved, then what you have is a monogamous relationship where the couple has other friends. It is, in a sense, the fact that sex is involved that defines polyamory as distinct from monogamy. But the point is, it isn’t¬†just¬†the sex.

And the idea of polyamory predates the sixties, anyway. In fact, it’s at least as old as human history. Examples of non-monogamous relationships can be found in many places at any time throughout history.

Isn’t this all some sexist, misogynistic, male-dominated Fundamentalist Mormon thing, like on that HBO show “Big Love”?

No. The image that many people have in their heads, of one man with many women as in the HBO series, is technically “polygyny.” Polygyny (from the Greek¬†poly¬†many +¬†gynos¬†woman) is the form of polygamy where a man can have more than one female partner, but women are not allowed to have more than one male partner.

In societies where polygyny is practiced, women are usually seen as little more than property. Since people have this mistaken notion of polyamory, it’s easy to understand why they think “polyamory” means “disrespect of women.”

But polyamory is not polygyny. Polyamory applies equally to everybody. In an ethical polyamorous relationship, the same opportunities are afforded to everyone, regardless of their sex. Polyamory is not about collecting a bunch of women for your harem. Polyamory is about sharing some part of your life and sharing your love with more than one other person–and your lovers sharing some part of THEIR lives and some part of THEIR love with more than one other person. Polyamory is not about “owning” your lovers and hiring an army of eunuchs to make sure they don’t stray.

Let’s get back to this sex thing. How do you decide who sleeps with whom?

Depends on the nature of the relationship. If there is a primary couple and secondary relationships, typically the primary couple will determine a set of ground rules for who is boinking whom, and when. In a polyfidelity group, the people work out their interpersonal dynamics themselves. And, of course, if you have a king-sized bed, who knows? Maybe you’ll find that you like an extra pair of feet in your bed!

But the “who is sleeping with whom” question isn’t necessarily the most interesting thing about a poly relationship. Remember, with polyamory, we’re talking about more than one¬†romantic relationship,¬†not just more than one sex partner. The social dynamic can be very complex, and goes way beyond who’s having sex with whom.

I’ll bet. Like, how do you keep from being jealous?

Ah, now that is a real question! In fact, that question has its own page.

But if someone feels jealous, isn’t that their problem?

No, it’s everyone’s problem, and successful resolution of the problem requires you to find out¬†why¬†they feel jealous.

If you treat your lovers as though they are interchangeable, they’ll be jealous. If you don’t take care to make your lovers feel wanted or needed, they’ll be jealous. If you aren’t careful to make it clear to all of your partners that you value them, you won’t keep any of them for long.

Sometimes, it’s easy, especially when you take a new partner, to forget your existing partner in the rush and excitement of exploring a new lover. In fact, some people even have a name for that giddy, infatuated stage of a new relationship; they call it “New Relationship Energy,” or “NRE.”

That’s when everyone involved is particularly prone to jealousy. There aren’t any cure-alls to ensure that your partners never feel jealous, of course, but it helps to make a point to pay attention to everyone, to include everyone in the majority of your activities–you know, to be considerate.

If you were raised with the idea that if your partner is looking at someone else, it’s because you aren’t enough, then you probably won’t be happy in a polyamorous relationship until and unless you can unlearn that idea and understand why it isn’t true.

People do have the capacity to love more than one other person; there isn’t a magical switch inside our brains that says once you love one person, the switch has been flipped and you can’t love somebody else. Any parent who has more than one child¬†knows¬†that it is possible to love more than one person.

But that doesn’t mean that those people are expendable or interchangeable. People with more than one child also know that their love for each child is unique and irreplaceable. Similarly, people in a healthy polyamorous relationship know that their love for each person in that relationship is unique and irreplaceable–and knowing that drives away jealousy.

Riiiight. Just like that, huh? But why would my lover want to shag someone else if I was adequate, hmm, smart boy?

It’s not about adequacy.

Many people are brought up to believe that if you’re interested in sleeping with someone else, it’s because your partner isn’t enough for you. It’s a myth that’s as common and enduring–and as false–as the idea of Santa Claus. Human beings don’t work that way. When we fall in love, the part of our brain that makes us attracted to other people does not magically shut off.

Someone once asked me “How can you stand knowing your lover is with someone else? Don’t you feel like maybe they’re better in bed than you are?”

The long answer to that question is very complex. The short answer is simple: It doesn’t matter. It’s not a contest.

There are a lot of people in this world. If you look far enough, you will find someone who is better than you are at¬†everything.¬†You’ll find people who are better at cooking, better at sex, better at reading and writing and driving and every other thing you can think of. You can’t be the best person in the world at everything. Deal with it.

You know what? It doesn’t matter.

If you really believe that your lover is going to dump you as soon as they find someone better in the sack than you are, well, perhaps youshouldn’t¬†try non-monogamy–but then again, perhaps you’ll want to re-think your romantic relationship while you’re at it.

It doesn’t matter for the same reason that it doesn’t matter if your lover finds a person who is a better cook than you are.

If your lover goes out to a restaurant, do you think “My God, what if the restaurant food is better than mine?” Do you agonize over whether your cooking may seem substandard by comparison? Not if you’re psychologically healthy, you don’t.

With sex, it’s the same deal.

Sex is a learned skill. Who knows…perhaps if your lover discovers something that you didn’t think of, then they might bring that new discovery into your relationship, and hey! You’re better in bed for it!

But it’s not a contest. It’s not like you have to spend your life trying to rank your skills in the bedroom against everyone else’s. That way madness lies. It isn’t really about sex at all–it’s about opening yourself to the possibility of more than one romantic relationship.

And maybe it’s YOUR new lover who will teach you a thing or two!

So, why? What do you get out of this? Besides shagging a bunch of people, I mean.

For starters,¬†being polyamorous doesn’t mean you’re shagging a bunch of people.¬†It may mean that you only have one other partner.

But that’s beside the point.

The answer to this question actually addresses who we are as human beings. Why do people get involved in interpersonal relationships at all? Why become romantically attached to anyone? The answer, of course, will vary from person to person, but at the end of the day we’re all social animals. People are happier when they’re romantically involved with someone than when they’re not. Intimacy adds to the quality of your life.

Fine. But why isn’t one person enough?

What would you say if you had a child, and you decided you wanted a second child, and your first child said “But why am I not enough?”

The question itself doesn’t really make sense, once you understand that it isn’t about what’s “enough.”

Let’s start with the fact that the majority of people are¬†not¬†intimate with one person. They’re intimate with one person¬†at a time…at least in theory. And with statistics from the General Social Survey suggesting that as many as 34% of men between the ages of 50 to 64 will admit to having cheated at least once, evidence suggests that even the theory isn’t too widely practiced.

But that’s different. That’s cheating.

Precisely.¬†If you want more than one lover–which most people do, in spite of the romantic myth you’ve probably been brought up to believe–then integrity and decency demands that you be honest and up-front about it.

I’ve been approached and propositioned by women who have asked me, point-blank, “So, would you ever cheat?” When I say “I am open to having other lovers, but I would never cheat–we can become lovers as long as my partner approves,” they usually freak out. “Oh, that’s just too weird!”

So apparently there are a lot of people who are perfectly fine with lying and deception, who won’t hesitate to betray their spouse and think nothing of it–but who can’t accept the idea of integrity and honesty.

Those people aren’t my lovers. Anyone who can betray their spouse can betray me as well, and I don’t want people like that in my life.

So you’re saying that everyone is either poly or cheating?

No. Some people seem wired for monogamy. They can stay in a monogamous relationship, and be happy, and never even look at another person. That’s cool. But not everybody is like that; in fact, evidence suggests that most people are not.

Even that isn’t what matters, though. In the end, it’s not about what is “enough.” Some poly people could be monogamous, if they really wanted to; in fact, people who can sustain successful polyamorous relationships tend to be¬†better¬†at obeying the rules of a relationship, and not cheating, than average people. But poly people don’t¬†want¬†monogamous relationships.

What’s wrong with monogamy?

Nothing.

So why don’t you want it?

For those whose relationship inclinations lean toward polyamory, a poly relationship offers more. When you have more than two people involved in your relationship, it offers you resources and perspectives that you don’t have in a monogamous relationship. If one person is feeling down, or has a problem, that person has two, or more, people to turn to for support. With more eyes on a relationship problem or a problem at work or whatever, sometimes the solution is easier to find.

And it’s great for your sex life.

I’m creative in bed. On my better days, I like to think I’m¬†verycreative in bed. But the fact is, no human being has seen or done it all; in fact, no human being can even begin to scratch the surface of Cool Things To Do In Bed. We have six billion people on the planet right now, and thirty thousand years of recorded human history behind us. Someone, somewhere, has thought of something that you would absolutely love, but you’ll never think of yourself.

I’ve learned a lot of things from each of my lovers, both in and out of the bedroom, that I have been able to take with me into my other relationships. Not even just new techniques, but sometimes new ways of looking at things. These things have enriched all my relationships, and my life.

It may not even be what you’re thinking. Not all poly people are into group sex. There are polyamorous individuals who’ve never had a threesome.¬†Being poly doesn’t necessarily make you kinky. Nor does it mean that you’re into orgies, or that you’re promiscuous, or that you want to boink everyone you meet.¬†For polyfidelitous people, being poly really isn’t that much different from being monogamous. Polyamory also doesn’t make you bisexual; in a polyamorous relationship, all the people involved are not necessarily sleeping with everyone else involved. (The idea of being a guy in the middle of hot girl-on-girl action is a cliche as old as time, but don’t think polyamory is automatically going to get you there.)

Okay, so what’s the down side?

The down side is that you have more than two people involved in your relationship.

That is both a blessing and a source of stress. Romantic relationships come with a certain amount of tension built in; I’ve never known anybody, anywhere, who’s never had even a single argument with their lover.

Add another person to the mix, and your potential for disagreements and arguments and tension goes up. A lot. Add two more people to the mix, it goes up even further. The more people you have involved in a romantic relationship, the greater the potential for problems.

It’s not necessarily all bad. Sometimes, having people who you can turn to when you have problems is a big blessing. On the whole, however, managing more than one romantic relationship is, not to put too fine a point on it, harder than managing only one.

It is incumbent on any people in a polyamorous relationship to take care that they follow the rules, and make sure everyone’s needs are met. Without that, the relationship will fail–just as a monogamous relationship will.

The other downside is that being poly is emotionally riskier. The more people you open your heart to, the more likely it is that you’ll have your heart broken.

The people down the street from me tried an “open relationship,” and it all fell apart. This kind of thing never lasts.

The people down the street from me tried a monogamous relationship, but they just ended up getting a divorce. Does that prove that monogamy never lasts?

Some relationships work out; some don’t. Nature of the beast. Some polyamorous relationships work; some don’t. Some monogamous relationships work; some don’t. Yet because monogamy is the accepted social norm, when a marriage fails, people do not blame the¬†instution¬†of marriage…but when a poly relationship fails, people blame polyamory.

A relationship succeeds or fails because of the people involved.

One could argue that most relationships in general don’t last; how many people actually spend their entire lives with the very first person they were ever romantically involved with? A few, but not many.

There are many reason why a relationship might not last, and most of those reasons have nothing to do with the relationship model. It’s tempting to look at a non-traditional relationship and assume that every problem the people in that relationship have is due to the form of the relationship, but it doesn’t actually work that way.

And not all relationships that don’t last are “failures.” It’s common to believe they are, but it isn’t necessarily so; any relationship that teaches you more about yourself or those around you is in some measure a success.

What about disease? If you have several lovers, don’t you worry about STDs?

One of the great advantages of practicing open, honest non-monogamy with partners you are not lying to is that it makes communication about STD boundaries and STD status so much easier.

The folks I know in the poly community tend to be very conscientious¬†about issues like STD risk–more so, in fact, than most of the monogamous folks I know. Many monogamous people do not talk to their lovers about their sexual history, often for fear of causing jealousy; and likewise, many monogamous people don’t insist on things like STD testing before they have sexual contact.

Now, I’m certainly not saying this is true of all people in traditional monogamous relationships. Don’t get me wrong, there are many folks engaged in monogamous relationships who are very careful and conscientious¬†about sexual health! Nor am I saying that all poly folks are automatically safe.

But in my experience, this is not the norm. I do not often see the same level of awareness and care about sexual health among those in traditional relationships as I do among people in polyamorous relationships. This is particularly true amng folks who practice serial monogamy, and even more true still among folks who are nominally “monogamous” but who cheat. A person who is having an affair may expose his or her partner non-consensually to STD risks that the partner isn’t even aware of, and that kind of behavior is almost universally condemned in the poly community.

Let’s assume I buy all this. How do I make it work?

It’s easier to answer the question “How can you make polyamory NOT work?” Which is, in fact, a question I’ve addressed¬†here. And in a handy how-to guide in PDF format¬†here.

As with any relationship, making it succeed is more complicated than making it fail. One of the surest ways to make it fail is to lie. If you can’t be honest with your partner, and I mean about¬†everything,¬†then polyamory isn’t for you. If you can’t abide by the rules of a monogamous relationship, then poly isn’t for you. If you cheat, then poly isn’t for you.

Another good way not to make a poly relationship work is to browbeat your partner, or coerce your partner into accepting it. Poly relationships don’t work if one of the people involved only grudgingly accepts it; it has to be for the benefit of¬†everyone.

I’m with you so far. No lying, no bullying; check. Now what?

Depends on you, and on the person you’re involved with. When in doubt, if you’re considering trying a polyamorous relationship, it’s best to go slowly. Make sure you and your partner feel secure in what you’re doing. Make sure you don’t get so carried away that you forget about your partner’s needs. This is a very easy mistake to make, even if you’re watching out for it!

Also, if you are already in a relationship, it is vitally important to make sure that relationship is solid and stable before you go experimenting with non-monogamy. A relationship that is not healthy to begin with will further erode if you try to change the foundation on which it is built.

So: No lying, no bullying. Remember to consider the feelings of your partners–ALL of them. Don’t forget that everyone has to be happy, or you can bet that nobody will be! Pay attention to your lovers. Don’t get distracted.

Get over the idea that polyamory gives you license to be promiscuous.¬†It doesn’t.¬†Being poly does not mean you sleep with anyone you want. It doesn’t mean that your life is an endless vista of wild orgies. Put aside those ideas before you even start; that is not what it’s about.

A poly relationship works only if everyone involved is happy.¬†While you can’t expect someone to be everything for you, all the time (even in a monogamous relationship), there is absolutely no dishonor in telling your lover point-blank “Look, I don’t think you’re spending enough time with me. You need to pay more attention to me.”

And, of course, some common-sense rules are always good. If you have more than one lover, then for God’s sake, play safe. You already know the whole safe-sex spiel. Well, do it.

But how do I know if I’m even poly at all? How can I tell if this will work for me?

That’s something you have to find out yourself.

If you can imagine sharing your lover, and be happy with that, then that at least suggests that you can be happy in a poly relationship. No guarantee, of course, but at least it’s possible.

Generally speaking, polyamory is not something I recommend people just dive into. You need to be secure in your relationship before you think about opening it up to other people!

I’ve always been poly, my whole life; I even took two dates to my senior prom back in high school. I have had an eighteen-year relationship with a partner who had a very conservative Catholic background. The subject of polyamory didn’t even come up for the first two years of our relationship, because I thought it was more important to establish a good foundation with her first. Even when it did come up, it was over a year before anything happened–and it was her, not me, who took an outside lover first. This was important, because it let her see firsthand that she could have another lover, and it would not hurt our relationship.

One thing that does help enormously, if you are in a relationship and youre considering polyamory, is to get your ducks in a row before you start. Don’t go into polyamory thinking that it can fix whatever is wrong with your existing relationship; the “relationship broken, add more people” approach doesn’t work very well, but it does put someone else in the middle of whatever problems you may have, and that’s not cool. Building healthy polyamorous relationships starts with making sure your existing relationship is healthy.

How do you get started in a polyamorous relationship?

If you’re approaching polyamory for the first time, remember that you have to be willing to work at it. You must listen to your partner, without pressuring that person. You must be willing to concentrate on what’s important, and on making sure your foundation with that person is stable and secure.

Of course, some people find themselves in a poly relationship without really considering it first. It’s easy if that happens to feel overwhelmed, insecure, jealous, angry… Take a step back. Look at the situation rationally, with a cool head. What’s happening? Is your partner rejecting you? Is your partner losing interest in you? If the answer is “no,” then you should think very carefully before you allow yourself to become angry or jealous. What’s really going on? How much of an investment in your relationship are you prepared to make? What assumptions are you making about the way your relationship “should” be, and are those assumptions valid?

Yeah, I know, it’s tough.

Assuming you are willing to give it a go, though, here are some things I’d recommend:

  • Make sure, and I mean¬†sure, everyone on the same page. What are you all looking for? Under what circumstances is it OK for you or your partners to take another lover? Do you have a say in your partner’s partners? If so, what kind of say?
  • Be compassionate–both to your partners AND to your partner’s partners. This is especially important if you’re already in a relationship. Often, a couple looking to explore polyamory will be so concerned about preserving that core couple that they will forget the other people involved are human beings, too. An ethical framework should treat everyone involved with respect and compassion.
  • If you can, I highly recommend finding a local poly group. When I first started non-monogamous relationships, nearly twenty-five years ago, I didn’t have the benefit of such a group, and I rather wish I had. It’s really, really helpful to have access to the collective wisdom and experience of people who have made all the mistakes already.
  • Don’t rush. Take your time. There’s no reason to rush in to the first poly relationship that comes your way.
  • Develop good communication and conflict-resolution skills. As sure as night follows day, there will be a time when you need them. (Of course, this is true of a traditional, monogamous relationship as well…)

So where would I even find poly people, anyway?

Where do you find anyone? The world is full of people. It’s hard to walk out your door without running into them.

That isn’t intended to be flippant. My point is, you can’t just go to a certain place and expect to meet people who are poly, or look for a certain sign to tell you when people are poly. It’s like anything else. Where do you meet people in general? I’ve met poly people at conventions, at work, at clubs–you know, the same places you meet anyone else.

And just because someone doesn’t advertise that he or she is poly doesn’t necessarily mean that person is closed to the idea. Many people are open to new ways of looking at relationships; it’s quite often that people will surprise you.

One helpful technique when you’re looking for a partner is not to try to make a grocery list–“I want a redhaired, bisexual woman who listens to Elvis and reads Kurt Vonnegut”–and leave yourself open to the possibilities around you.

So the rest is kind of up to you. I can’t give you a magical Guide to Making It Work, and I can’t tell you where to go to find people who are polyamorous. But I can tell you that, difficulties aside, it can be an incredibly rewarding and fulfilling way to extend and expand your romantic life.