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The panfaithful path is blessed every step of the way by the shining sun of love and delight. Dark nights of the soul still come, rains fall, and seasons change, yet the life-giving and sustaining furnace of love that warms both body and soul keeps burning faithfully behind it all, year after year.
English is a relatively poor language when it comes to talking about love. Because we have only one word to describe a wide range of feelings and experiences, we lack the precision that some other tongues and cultures have when discussing this heartfelt emotional space.
The Greek language is rich in words for love. There is storge, family love, or natural affection and tenderness; philia, the love of close friendships; eros, romantic and sexual love; epithymia, strong desire, or passionate love; philadelphia, brotherly and sisterly love; eunoia, dedicated devotion; charis, loving kindness; and agape, unconditional and self-giving love. The panfaithful way of life includes all these forms of love. Each relationship within Aluna has its own unique combination. We all love each other very deeply. But the nature of that love and the form of its expression differ from person to person, and may change over time.
Several years ago we discovered the aforementioned article, "The Possible Relationship", by the U.V. Family, a mobile team of people who have been living panfaithfully for over 25 years. In it, the U.V.'s described love as a space of openness and vulnerability; a room that we enter simply by letting go of our protective games.
"Each one of us had our own door to the room of love, one uniquely shaped in the image and likeness of our naked selves. We had to leave our masks and armor and baggage outside the room of love and could only retrieve them by leaving love. Judgment, taking offense, blame, and guilt are a few of the components of that baggage - they exist only outside the room of love.
"We found that when any one of us was in the space of love and when another person, through his or her relinquishing of ego, entered that room of love, then we were `in love with each other' - not as a reaction to that person's looks or personality (these things are outside the door), but simply by ending up in the space of love together. All people in love are in the same space. Some are so transient that one moment they're in and the next they're out. They have not established residence there. Others, commonly known as saints, live there full time. From this standpoint, to say, `I love you' means that there is nothing - no personal `stuff,' distortions, agendas, or needs - in the way of being with you totally.
"We found consistently that when we based our relationship in shared residency in the room of love, every aspect of the relationship, from the sexual to the intellectual, was easy to work out. But every time we'd run out to play with some of the baggage outside - be it sexual attraction, or anger, or a desire to rescue somebody - suddenly there would loom insurmountable problems. Solution: stay in love. Absurdly simple - and not always easy to live."
To Aluna, this way of understanding the dynamics of being in love not only rang true, it matched our own experience over time. When we have told our deep and minute truth to each other, and listened without judgment, we have found ourselves naturally "in love with each other." In that place, gender, age, personality, and looks don't really matter. The only thing that matters is our shared humanity and earthiness. Like the U.V. Family, we've learned that, while profound feelings often accompany it, love itself is more of a choice than it is a feeling. Love is a space. It can't be given or received, only entered. We don't even need another person to be "in love." We only need to Be. We fall in love with ourselves, with others, and with all of life simply by listening from the heart, telling our truth, and being who we really are. I believe that this kind of love is what the Apostle Paul was referring to when he wrote, "Love is patient and kind; it is not possessive or jealous. Love is neither anxious to impress nor does it cherish inflated ideas of its own importance. Love is never rude or selfish; it does not take offense, and is not resentful. Love knows no limit to its endurance, no end to its trust, no fading of its hope; it can outlast anything. Love never fails." (I Cor. 13:4-8a)
Whenever we reside in the space of love, we are free to enjoy the fullness of life and the process of time. We delight in existence itself. We stop playing judge and jury and allow the universe to take over these roles. Since time is a faithful judge, we don't have to be. We can remain open and curious. In the space of love we can accept ourselves and others in the moment, trusting that we each tend to do the best we can given the internal and external resources available to us at the time. When we respond to injustice, or work for peace, we do so nonviolently, with a heart of compassion. A prophetic witness grounded in love and compassion is far more effective in the long run than one based on anger and resentment; as Jesus, Dorothy Day, Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr., and many others have repeatedly shown.
In the space of love and trust, we delight in each other as individuals and appreciate the fact that every one of us has a unique blend of strengths and weaknesses. Most of us are beautiful, compassionate, sensitive, and creative. We are also resentful, selfish, insensitive, and rigid. We are all these and more - a delightful mix of sinner and saint. The more time we spend in the space of love, the more understanding and forgiving we are regarding the faults and transgressions of others, and the less our own shadow hinders mutual respect and friendship. But it takes time and continued practice to develop the habit of staying in that openhearted place. Our family is not there yet, by any means.
Whenever people live together or relate like family there is bound to be conflict. This is both normal and healthy. Our family struggles with the very same issues that other families with children do. Our kids fight and complain about meals. There are power struggles between children and adults, and sometimes between adults. Schedules conflict, communication breaks down, tempers flare, misunderstandings arise, feelings get hurt. Given all this, we have found it necessary to develop a process for resolving conflict during regularly scheduled family meetings. I will say more about this process in the section on "Respectful Communication."
Whatever else can be said about Aluna, it is obvious to those who know us that we delight in each other's love, freedom, and truth. Some days we celebrate our differences. Other days we fight and make up. Both are meaningful, but I especially enjoy making up!
Every human being craves touch and tenderness. Without touch a baby dies, the human heart aches, and the soul withers. Touch is not only a biological need, it is a profoundly elegant and essential form of communication. Touch is a language that can communicate more love in five seconds than five minutes of carefully chosen words.
In the previous section, I concluded with a humorous comment about the joys of making up with a loved one after an argument. One of the things that feels so good about making up, of course, is the reconciling touch - the embrace, kiss, caress, or passionate lovemaking that communicates "I love you and I'm glad to be one with you again." Whenever tenderness and intimacy reign, we feel great.
Touch and tenderness are far more important for personal, family, and community health than most people realize. Research over time and across cultures has consistently shown that we live longer, happier, and more peacefully when we are affectionately touched on a regular basis. There seems to be no substitute for a heartfelt hug, a loving massage, or a timely kiss. Such communication quenches our soul's thirst like mountain spring water on a scorching day.
The need for touch begins at birth, and continues until we die. Infants need to be touched, cradled, and rocked consistently in order for their nervous systems to develop properly, and for their healthy emotional and psychological development. This is true for other animals as well. As Phyllis Davis notes in her book, The Power of Touch, "All mammal young demonstrate the necessity of touch to healthy physical and behavioral development. Even baby rats prosper from being handled and petted. When they are touched and handled, they outweigh, out learn, and outlive other rats.... Children from homes with loving, touching parents look and act differently than those who are rarely touched. Touched children feel better about themselves and are less hostile, more outgoing. Well-touched children almost seem to glow." If we do not receive adequate touching as children, the effects can be serious. Touch deprivation can cause mental and physical retardation, and even death.
A panfaithful family or community will ensure that its infants are carried, cradled, rocked, stroked, tickled, massaged, and otherwise touched as often as possible. Such a community will also provide emotional and economic support for mothers or wet nurses to breast feed infants for an extended period of time. This is crucial. Reporting on studies done over the last forty years, Phyllis Davis notes, "Breast fed babies have fewer respiratory ailments, diarrhea, eczema, asthma, and other ailments than bottle-fed babies. Additionally, breast fed children tend to be physically and mentally superior in their development, and the longer they are breast fed, the more striking the advances. Evidence indicates that breast feeding ought to continue for at least a year or longer, until the baby demonstrates a readiness for weaning." In some cultures, the young nurse for as long as three to five years, depending on the needs of both mother and child.
Children and adolescents regularly need reassuring touches and hugs. But beyond the need for physical affection, children also need to be spoken to tenderly and respectfully. A child's spirit is easily bruised by harsh, angry, and judgmental words, especially coming from a parent or other beloved adult. In such cases it is important for the adult to sincerely apologize to the child, when the child can receive it. Forgiveness and reconciliation bind wounded spirits.
We touch each other with our words and actions, as well as with our hands. How we touch each other affects the health of our bodies, our families, and our communities.
In our culture, the craving for touch, or "skin hunger," as behavioral scientists refer to it, is often confused with sexual desire. This is a major reason why touching is initially threatening to many people. For millions, the only time they experience affectionate touch is when it is connected in some way with sexual activity. This is tragic, and I believe, a root cause of much of the violence in the world. Because we fear that intimate touching might lead to sex, we avoid touching. When we don't touch, we fail to meet a basic human need, as important as the need for love, and we do unconscious violence to others and our world because of our repressed anger.
Within the Aluna clan, members regularly hug, kiss, and otherwise affectionately touch each other without it necessarily leading to anything else. As humans, loving touch is what we crave; the experience of communion, our deepest need. Because most of us have a lot of unconscious cultural, family, and personal baggage around sex, it can often get in the way of the touch we really desire. I know of no greater joy, and nothing more spiritual, than to snuggle or sleep with a close friend, or exchange a full body massage, without fear of the intimacy becoming sexual.
Of course, romantic/erotic tenderness is also beautiful, and can be celebrated as a sacred act of mutual adoration: different images of God worshiping each other. For sexual touch to be faithful to all, however, it must be within the context of a loving relationship of equal power, honesty, and respect. The eightfold path of panfidelity must be followed as a whole. For example, where there is a contract or mutual understanding to be sexually monogamous, or non-sexual, then that contract or understanding should be honored. If it cannot be honored, then, like any agreement, it should be renegotiated. Romantic and erotic energies can be tremendously life-giving when they are in the service of love and spirituality. But if the relationship is not faithful to all, then those very same energies can become addictive or otherwise harmful, and may cause great suffering. That is why I discussed integrity and love before dealing with touch and tenderness.
The last thing I'd like to mention in this section is the power of touch for healing. Because touching tenderly communicates love and care, consciously or unconsciously, it triggers metabolic and chemical changes in the body that help in healing. Touching also stimulates the production of endorphins - natural body hormones that control pain and nurture our sense of well-being. In addition to communicating love, tender touch also communicates safety, security, and support. This is why the sick and elderly should be massaged, held, caressed, or otherwise touched as often as they like, or at least as often as possible. A loving, touching community is usually a happy, healthy one.
Our beliefs make a difference. A community that celebrates the sacredness of the body and its life energy is more likely to encourage loving touch than one that believes that the spirit and the flesh are constantly at war with each other. The panfaithful model honors nature - the entire universe - as the physical body of the divine Spirit. A panfaithful community celebrates the life energy of the body as divine energy.
For a loving relationship of any size to work over time, each person must take responsibility for the quality of the relationship. Each person must also be deeply committed, both to the relationship and to the sometimes hard work of processing all the emotional "stuff" - the hurt feelings, disappointments, frustration, anger, sadness, and pain - that inevitably arises whenever human beings live together or relate in a family-like way.
In a panfaithful model, to take responsibility means refusing to play the blame game. This is not always easy, of course. After they had been living panfaithfully for fifteen years, the U. V. Family had this to say about responsibility:
"Personal responsibility extended to every aspect of our relationships: to perceiving, initiating, and
completing jobs; to communication; to sexuality (when, where, and even how good); to decisions
about our future focus. In essence, each of us took a vow to be 100% responsible for the quality of
the relationship (not 50-50, not 100% for our part only, but for all of it) and for the positive outcome
of it. We gave up the right to blame each other. A short sentence, but profoundly transforming.
Miraculous breakthroughs can happen when the energy normally focused on assigning blame ('If only
he would...', `He made me...', `If she weren't so...then I wouldn't...') is instead dedicated to creative
re-perception of the `problem' so that a solution can become evident.
* What am I not seeing that makes this look like a problem?
* From the perspective of love, what does this look like?
* What is the most skillful way to work with these circumstances so that it turns perfectly for everyone concerned?
* What would it take from me for this complaint to evaporate?
* How can I provide what I think is missing instead of demanding it?
"These were the questions we trained ourselves to ask. So, there was lots of growth, and precious little complaint. Sure, our minds would holler, `But he really did do it!' `She really was nasty!' `I'm right, there's something really wrong here and it ain't me!' `I'm putting in my 100% but what about his 100%?' But blame always backfires - it's purpose is to unburden ourselves (usually of guilt) but actually it only weakens and saps our power. So eventually, if sometimes reluctantly, we'd get back on track and feel that surge of energy that is always there when true 100% responsibility is taken. Perhaps the most important outcome of this vow of responsibility was the amount of energy that was released to be used in positive, life-serving ways."
If radical honesty is telling your detailed truth, radical responsibility is blaming no one and being personally accountable for the quality of life in your community and bioregion. It means being personally responsible and committed to making a difference wherever possible, trusting that others are doing the best they can, given their internal and external resources.
Responsibility and commitment go hand in hand. A panfaithful love is deeply committed to the health of each member of the family and to the health of the body of life upon which the family depends. This commitment is holistic: it is concerned with mental, physical, spiritual, and ecological wholeness. It takes this kind of total commitment to have the courage and patience to deal effectively with the shadow side of life: its ugly, chaotic, confusing, painful, and depressing aspects. Every relationship and community has its shadow side. Without commitment, it is all too easy to bail out when the going gets tough. Within our family and clan, it is the commitment that we have made to each other and to Aluna as a whole that helps us weather the storms that blow our way from time to time. Commitment helps us deal openly and creatively with the conflicts inherent in community living.
The commitment that I have made to each member of my expanded family is this: "I promise to love you and to be real, honest, and vulnerable with you for life." Of course, there are other, more specific commitments that I have also made, such as certain agreements that I have with my children. The exact nature of these commitments differs with each relationship.
To be panfaithful means to be faithful to all; to be loyal to life; to be true to the divine life force of the universe. It means being a person of integrity in all situations and relationships. Within a panfaithful context, sexual and relational diversity can run the gamut. Some people will be gay, others will be straight, yet others bisexual. Some may choose to be celibate, others monogamous, and still others may be non-monogamous. These are not hard and fast categories, of course; they are on a continuum. It is not uncommon for someone to identify herself or himself one way at one time in their life and another way at another time. What is most important in being panfaithful is not a person's sexual orientation, or how many intimate friendships they have, but how honest, loving, and committed they are with those with whom they are in relationship. For example, for some, non-monogamy is a way of bonding and getting close to many people. For others, it is a way of avoiding getting close to anyone. The former may be panfaithful (if it satisfies all eight criteria). The latter is definitely not.
What is also important in being panfaithful is whether or not the bond that naturally occurs as a result of shared intimacy is honored. We live in an interconnected and interdependent world where, at this point in time in history, nothing is more important than for differences to be respected and for there to be a flow of honest communication and feedback between people. Thus, the panfaithful norm, whenever possible, is "once intimate, always friends." While this may not apply in all situations (e.g., battered women who end abusive relationships), one should generally avoid severing ties to past lovers and friends, and remain committed to telling one's own truth. It is possible to be lovingly honest while maintaining clear and distinct boundaries.
Forward to Part 3
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