A crazy little thing called...
By Eric Francis
For Valentine's Day, I have a word for you: "Compersion." It's probably not a word you've ever heard.
Compersion begins the first time we are turned on by someone else's pleasure, or the idea of someone else's love for anyone besides us. You may think this is totally out-to-lunch. But for some people it's totally natural. There are those who are not the "jealous type," and then there are those who just love love, no matter who's it is. We all know it's possible. We may have an idea of how good it would feel to dissolve into the safety, freedom and unconditional acceptance of our lovers and all that they are, including the other people that they may love, and how great it would feel to let them experience all that we are, including the other people we may love.
This way of being is called compersion.
We've all found ourselves in a corresponding reality at one time or another: trapped by love. Loving someone, feeling open and real with them and sensing it could last forever, and then, mysteriously, another soul enters the scene of our lives, conversations develop, minds meet, sexual interests may grow...we know that there's not really a conflict, or that there should not be one...but there is, or seems to be...and we are left with a huge question of what to do, because our present partner will probably just freak out if we tell them about our experience. And the contradiction is that the experience of this new person is so good. It is so real. And yet it threatens to destabilize what we call love.
When informed that love is growing with someone outside of a primary relationship, most people are, at first, unlikely to respond with compersion. They may not quite be washed over with joy and tell you that your love for this other person is thoroughly beautiful. Usually, at first, people respond with fear -- usually, the fear of loss of control. And it's that control that we are called upon to give up when we embrace compersion.
If what I hear is true, then a lot of people reading this are already getting nervous. The idea of allowing our partner to be free may seem like a wild concept, the last thing we would ever do. Visions of this person, our very lover, in another person's arms, can burn through us like hot coals. But more to the point, the whole idea of really feeling our feelings without denial or resistance is a daring thing in itself. For so much of what we call love is really about resistance, and hiding who we are, and possessing the other and hence ignoring their reality, and judging ourselves for being imperfect because we are so controlling. Hardly what you could call the divine light of freedom. But many people feel that freedom is dangerous.
Now, relationships are complicated enough without adding other people to the equation. Yet these other people seem to somehow add themselves. We notice them in this insanely isolated, fragmented world we live in, especially so because the way we create our relationships is extremely isolating, in a time in history in which we so desperately need community. So when people we really like show up in our jobs and in our email boxes and move into apartments next door, when we pick up on their scent and want to include them in our lives, it's not something we typically want to resist or hide from the world. It's something to celebrate.
Having noticed reality, we may feel a need to keep going, to keep exploring. We need to allow ourselves to be free. And this will take work. We need to teach people to love us for who we are. We need to learn compersion for others -- to feel and express the love that loves them for who they are. This is not as hard as it sounds. And taking the journey is all the more appealing if we realize that all the fear and insecurity that emerged when a second love interest entered the picture were already there all along, a kind of festering toxin we were living with in a secret shadow world that always seemed to haunt the relationship. When the light is brought in, and the toxins are purged, and we are seen for who we are, we can really begin living.
So one thing you can count on, if you are in a situation where you need to teach another person compersion, is that they may relate to the fact that it's better to be alive than dead. And the only way they can love you is when they are alive. That means really free. Really understanding and aware and loving you, not an image they have of you. And you need to learn to love them, not an image you have of them. It is tricky. It is challenging. But it is possible.
Compersion is an idea that emerged from something called the "polyamorous" culture, a segment of society in which people openly choose to have more than one committed lover. In such arrangements, it obviously becomes necessary to work through jealousy, but in the early days of the polyamorous movement, something else was discovered: once jealousy was understood and hearts opened, great feelings of warmth, pleasure and appreciation became available at the idea of peoples' partners loving others. In other words, the bliss of love and sexual ecstasy would expand in a wave-like ripple. When people drop their guard and just feel, so much pleasure is possible -- more than we ever imagined.
Sure, other stuff comes up, but it was already there, and it's as though love is washing it out of us so that we can really be free. And that other stuff -- resentment, anger, fear of abandonment, and the rest -- all needs to come up in order to give the relationship a chance to have life. Swept under the rug, these things are far more damaging.
Growing through them is a process. It's relatively easy go get turned on witnessing another human being's ecstasy or erotic joy. It's a lot more challenging to live with the implications this experience seems to have in our relationships, and is part of the delicate walk of negotiating our sense of security in the universe. We don't want to lose this other person who is so dear to us, whether we lose them to another person, or because they can't deal with their fear of losing us.
Love, as we often define it, is usually considered to be an exclusive rather than inclusive game. Someone loves you and therefore doesn't love anyone else. But when you add it up, this usually comes out to a loss, because in our short visits to the planet, in a healthy state of mind, we might want to love everyone who is righteous and true, and to return the love of everyone who touches our hearts, and call that safety and nothing else. For living in the constant fear of loss and betrayal is hardly safety; it is hardly the security we say we seek; it is a setup for total paranoia, but strangely, sadly, it's called love.
And as for sex -- it's no big secret that we're turned on by many people. But it's only been the "moral high ground" of certain, let's say, social movements, that has instigated the idea anything but strict heterosexual monogamy and sex for reproduction only is permissible. In this world, do we need to live by these ancient codes? Well, not if we are honest.
It is true that if one's lover has sex with another person, or even gets close to another person, they may choose to be with that person and not you. And this is a possibility we have to face no matter what. Living the way of compersion brings this to the surface where we can see it and work with it.
Yet remember that more often, jealousy has nothing to do with one's partner actually having sex or sharing love outside the relationship. It is about the imagined fear of loss. We can become jealous at the mere idea or suspicion of this, or at our partner's fantasies, and even at the love shared with him or herself. In plenty of relationships people stop masturbating (and creating art or music or writing or taking long walks in the woods) because it's perceived as a threat by their partner. And that is not life.
Compersion takes us to the next realm beyond. It is about being with and appreciating our partners for their desires, dreams, wishes and their personal journey to selflove. It's about being real, and having relationships as real people.
And how do we get there?
Start by telling the truth. This is what we need anyway. Sharing this truth we possess in our hearts, the essence of our being, is supposedly why we got involved with this other person in the first place. It's important to tell the truth gently, clearly and without the fear or the intention of hurting the other person, but not holding back, either. Then, because we are claiming the birthright of love, we must love them through their reactions and responses. This is a commitment it's best to go into the situation with. And we must love ourselves through their reactions, which is to say, not feeling guilty about who we are. So listen carefully, and let your partner own his or her feelings.
We must be ready to put love -- real love, which I am calling compersion -- above any given relationship. So we must, on one level, be ready to let go of those relationships in which we cannot be free, if what we seek is the freedom to be who we are. This does not hold just for sex and affection; it holds for those walks in the woods and those paintings that never get painted and the short stories that never get written. It has to do with not living where we want and not following all our other dreams. It is all part of the same thing, and it never ceases to amaze me to what extent sexual freedom parallels all these other freedoms. And freedom means that change is possible; freedom by definition implies change.
In the context of a close relationship where these matters arise, it's important to stay focused on selflove. Selflove is the basis of all love anyway. If the process of your relationship is moving toward compersion, what you may notice is that sex with your primary partner was never hotter. Aware of the potential for change, we tend to appreciate what we have ever more. So enjoy these enhanced experiences, and don't expect them to end as long as you're really being honest, because honesty leads to intimacy and intimacy is a good doorway to erotic passion.
But selflove is an extraordinarily powerful tool in this process. I suggest you masturbate together, one at a time, without touching. This will assist greatly when both partners are willing to work through a jealous crisis because it creates a very clear picture that the other is sexually independent of us. And it is a fairly easy vision of sexual independence to see the beauty in. Let your erotic energy and that of your partner wash away the fear, the discord, the pain and the insecurity of what you once called love.
Feel, if you can, how how erotic a jealous experience can be. When you are feeling jealous, swim into the core of the experience. Encourage your partner to do the same. Help them if you can. Right inside the jealous episode is a fiery core of erotic passion. It may surprise you how good it feels, and if you get there, you can be sure you're stepping right into compersion.
Last -- or actually first -- ask for help. Talk to understanding friends who you know will not encourage you to lie about your feelings, or judge you for being honest. But if you are on a spiritual path, ask your inner teacher for help. Whether you call this teacher the Goddess, God, the Holy Spirit, angels or by any other name, the only way spiritual agency responds is if we open the door. The movement from jealousy to compersion is one of the most direct spiritual paths there is, because we are learning so much of what spiritual programs attempt to teach: unconditional love, surrender, forgiveness, freedom, safety, and, most important, loving the way Spirit loves us: equally with everyone else. Loving this way may be the only spiritual lesson there is.
We know we live in a harshly moralistic society which serves to deny creativity, love and pleasure at every turn. The very fact of being willing and daring to explore another person's sexual responses, ideas, desires, feelings and realities is a challenge to this morality and control. To do so outside the bounds of a one-on-one relationship is even more daring, but, it seems, for many people, to be an inevitability.++
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