firecat: red panda looking happy (Default)
[personal profile] firecat
Edited version of something I posted on alt.polyamory.

[personal profile] serene pointed me at this:
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/james-rotondi/brad-warner-zen-_b_873882.html
(Interview with Brad Warner, the author of Sex, Sin & Zen: A Buddhist Exploration of Sex from Celibacy to Polyamory and Everything in Between)

Quote from the article:
my feelings about polyamory are not entirely negative by any means -- I've met some people who seem to be able to make it work. But I first heard of polyamory because people had written to me in some distress asking, essentially, "How can I find calmness and centeredness in my polyamorous lifestyle?" My response to them was that perhaps the lifestyle itself was contributing to their mental distress. Now, I'm not even saying that they need to give up polyamory, but at least acknowledge that they've chosen a lifestyle that is going to be inherently stressful for certain kinds of people. Okay, it doesn't seem to be inherently stressful for everyone who practices it, but it causes a great many people a great deal of stress trying to juggle multiple lovers, which is not easy even if everyone, in theory, agrees to it.
I think all of that is absolutely right. First, that some people make it work. Second, that some people are very stressed about it.

What he doesn't quite come out and say is that stress around polyamory is an example of a larger phenomenon.

I know a lot of people who are stressed because they are trying to do too much. I think that's partly because, in my corner of Western culture, there's a belief that success in life means having as many different positive experiences as you possibly can, or reaching for as many things as possible that you perceive as good.

[Note, I also know a lot of people who are stressed because it's hard to survive. People who are stressed just because they are trying to grab all the good stuff have a lot of privilege.]

Another quote:
you can't expect to simply override your cultural programming. That's one thing Zen has shown me, on so many levels. It's not something that works on an intellectual level; yes, you can work on your cultural programming, and eventually even successfully overcome it, but it's very deeply ingrained, and you don't simply override it just by deciding that you will.
I think all of this is absolutely right too. I had a lot of difficulties with polyamory at first, and I didn't overcome them by just deciding that I would.

If you try to overcome programming by doing more complex and sustained work, not leaving it all to the intellect and expecting to be able to snap your fingers and have it change, you sometimes can. Anyway, it worked for me around polyamory and some other kinds of cultural programming.

But for me it took a lot of work, and I would never expect someone else to spend their energy on that particular thing.

Date: 16 Jun 2011 09:07 pm (UTC)
mithriltabby: Dragon and Buddha boogying (Boogie)
From: [personal profile] mithriltabby
I quite like Brad Warner’s “hardcore Zen” approach.

Date: 17 Jun 2011 02:56 pm (UTC)
nancylebov: (green leaves)
From: [personal profile] nancylebov
All good stuff (and especially the idea that success equals As Many Good Experiences as as other people say they're having Possible), but I'll also note that a lot of people don't find it easy to get calmness and centeredness in a monogamous lifestyle, either.

Date: 17 Jun 2011 08:02 pm (UTC)
From: [personal profile] flarenut
As quoted, at least, that first passage sounds sorta weird (not you, him). We've just been through three bleeping weeks of 24/7 national news coverage about a guy who was apparently unable to find calmness and centeredness in serial monogamy, and he wasn't exactly the first. It's hard to find calmness and centeredness period, but especially in a broader culture that pretty much stakes its continued political and economic existence on making people feel off-center, uncertain of themselves, and constantly lacking or in the wrong.

But about what you said, yeah. Nothing ever happens simply by knowing or deciding something. It takes work and practice and more work and more practice. (Which is one of the reasons that insight-based therapy had such a mixed record for me -- I could come to the same set of insights again and again, but without the practice it didn't really change anything.) The closest I can think of to a clear statement of this is of all places in Fred Brooks's Mythical Man-Month where he writes about the expectation that software should be easy to create and change because, after all, it's made of "pure mind-stuff".

Date: 17 Jun 2011 01:46 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] stardustnprison.livejournal.com
This is a very interesting subject and you articulate it so well. I think a lot of people have so many preconceived notions of this and immediately assign it as inherently bad for one reason or another but you put it in a very practical light and I can even see it as being a very beautiful thing given the right circumstances.

Done yesterday (20110616 Th)

Date: 17 Jun 2011 03:42 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] pingback-bot.livejournal.com
User [livejournal.com profile] mdlbear referenced to your post from Done yesterday (20110616 Th) (http://mdlbear.livejournal.com/1351052.html) saying: [...] mark a transition. Yay! @ firecat - Ported from Usenet: comments on a Zen guy's take on polyamory [...]

Date: 24 Jun 2011 09:12 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] gmdreia.livejournal.com
I know a lot of people who are stressed because they are trying to do too much. I think that's partly because, in my corner of Western culture, there's a belief that success in life means having as many different positive experiences as you possibly can, or reaching for as many things as possible that you perceive as good.

I think we're also fixated on peak experiences and on triggering the reward systems of our brain, as a culture, to the point that there's almost something "wrong" with you if your life is predictable or merely content... while contentedness is the ideal baseline in plenty of other cultures.

Something I've seen among poly and mono people alike is an addiction to peak experience. Mono people deal with it by cheating, creating drama or practicing serial monogamy; poly people deal with it by adding a new person into the mix.

Date: 24 Jun 2011 09:26 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] gmdreia.livejournal.com
It seems that Buddhism tends to aim for contentedness as the baseline. What's interesting is that when I practiced, though, plenty of the Westerners I knew were after the peak experience highs (wanted to have mystical experiences). Including myself, for a long time.

Constant poinging sounds like a horrid way to live, for me. I've acclimated to "contentedness" as my baseline and am pretty happy if nothing's breaking that day. I just don't see it as healthy to tweak with my brain drugs that much - hard on the brain, hard on the body. I wonder if it leads to adrenal fatigue.

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