Living Vividly Habit Challenge May 2018

Asking for Help

Asking for help is one of the hardest things we ever do. Our culture prizes capability, ability, individualism, and self-sufficiency so highly. We struggle with feelings of helplessness and shame when we admit we can’t do it all on our own. We fear rejection when we ask for things. We have no room to be seen to need things, to be vulnerable, or to seek the support of people who care for us. Imagine, for a moment, that your ability to ask someone for help is a gift you are giving them: a gift of vulnerability, opportunity, and connection. A gift of knowing exactly what it is you need and want most in that moment. A gift of having the information that they need to be of service to you. Remember how good it feels to help others. Are you brave enough to offer that possibility to the people around you? This challenge offers a chance to weave a stronger social web and practice the other side of the relationship dynamic of helping others—allowing ourselves to ask for some help. Having some practice asking for simple things may make it easier to ask when big things come up, and that’s a skill worth cultivating.

Ask for someone’s help in a large or small way today. (A friend, a partner, a friendly sales associate or teacher or family member all might have different kinds of help to offer!)
Express sincere gratitude for someone’s assistance.

I’ve gotten pretty good at asking for help routinely for little things. But I do find that I push myself hard. It requires a real effort for me to take it easy before I’m in pain, or ask for help when I would like it, but don’t desperately need it. It was good to take time this month and reflect on where I am wise enough to tap into my sources of support. (My housemate’s help in the garden has been tremendous this season.) Co-creating beauty and food!
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Living Vividly Habit Challenge April 2018

Wayfinding on Life’s Journey

Thinking about your life’s direction and what you want to accomplish with your time on this earth doesn’t have to be limited to the start of the new year, the span of a midlife crisis, or even the moment when you’re considering a new direction. In fact, there’s no time like to present to stop and think about the big picture. Are you putting your life’s energy into the things you really believe in? Or even the things that make you the most happy? Now is a great moment to start bringing your actions in line with your values and goals! This challenge is intended to strengthen your focus and direction, putting whatever resources and energy you have into what really matters to you.

To Do:
Make a list: what makes you happy? (Consider what gives you a lasting sense of satisfaction and pleasure, not just a momentary boost. What feeds your soul, or makes you proud of yourself?)
Make a list: what do you need to do for yourself? (What are the necessary elements of your self care: physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual?)
Make a list: what do you need to do for your friends, family, and community? (Consider your obligations, your relationships, and the opportunities in your life for giving, connecting, loving, and sharing.)
Make a list: what do you need to do for the future? (What are your long term projects, life goals, the things you want to accomplish for posterity or as a big ambition? Be sure to break these into smaller lists as needed, and identify manageable first steps.)
Re-evaluate your current habits, dailies, and to-dos. See how well your current routine is supporting you in reaching your goals. Do the things you’re already doing on Habitica align well with the items on your four lists? Is there anything you want to update, remove, or add?

It’s so beneficial to revisit this challenge periodically. I worked through mine while I was away on vacation for Spring Break: gaining perspective with a little distance. The main thing I added to my routine is more cuddle time with my cat. She’s so good for my morale, she deserves to be a priority! Purr-therapy for the win.

The feedback I got from my Guildmembers was very positive and inspiring. This challenge was really beneficial for a lot of people.
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Living Vividly Habit Challenge March 2018

Something New

As the seasons turn, it’s a great opportunity to stretch ourselves a little and explore the world in a new way. When was the last time you shook up your routine or stepped out of your comfort zone? Let’s indulge our thirst for novelty and feed our hearts and minds on a juicy challenge or two this month! This challenge offers a chance to build mental flexibility and social engagement!

Seek out something new
Share something new with a friend!

To Do:
Take a new path (drive the scenic route, or walk somewhere you’ve never explored)
Go to an event you’ve never attended before
Try a new food or beverage
Listen to some music you’ve never heard before

This challenge was a lot of fun! I had an opportunity to invent a new herbal tea blend, bake a carrot pie, make homemade calzones, attend a Cuddle Party, help a friend groom a horse (I held his head, anyway), and listen to some Cuban salsa! Doing new things always helps me feel more engaged with life.

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Orienting Polyam

So there’s this discussion that pops up periodically in poly circles, about whether polyamory is a sexual orientation. Amidst a great deal of fuss and flame (this is the Internet, after all) folks generally get polarized into two camps—those who feel that polyamory is a philosophy or lifestyle choice, and those who claim it as their identity, and feel like they’re just ‘wired that way’, many (but not all) of whom classify their need to relate multiply right alongside their sexual preferences. A great deal of argument over whether poly people belong in queer spaces generally ensues. (I’m young enough that ‘queer’ doesn’t carry connotations of a slur for me, and it’s my preferred inclusive term for the delightful alphabet soup that is the rainbow community: so I’ll be using it in this piece.)

That’s a big question. Do poly people, who may otherwise be cisgender and straight, belong in queer spaces by virtue of their marginalized relationship orientation? You can probably guess that I believe the answer to be no. Poly folk and queer folk may be natural allies, and certainly there is a great deal of intersection between the two communities, and plenty of people who identify as both (including yours truly)… but they’re not the same thing, and I believe it’s important to make a distinction between them.

Now, a relationship orientation is certainly part of one’s identity. And a polyam orientation is demonstrably marginalized. Poly folk often deal with similar worries to members of the queer community about coming out, or losing custody battles, or facing discrimination on the basis of their ‘lifestyle’. But polyamory is not a sexual orientation or a gender identity. It is a relationship orientation. And while the freedoms to build one’s relationships in whatever configuration suits the people involved is equally deserving of protection from discrimination as any other freedom, it is an additional facet of one’s identity, not the same thing as a sexual orientation or gender identity.

Did you ever consider that you have a relationship orientation? Our dominant culture assumes the default of monogamy so thoroughly, most people haven’t even thought about it. People are seen to be monogamous, or to be failing at monogamy, and those are the only choices presented. But there is a lot more out there!

The More Than Two Glossary of Poly Terms defines a relationship orientation as “a preference for sexual or loving relationships of a particular form; as, for example, a preference for relationships that are monogamous, for relationships that are polyfidelitous, for relationships that are polyamorous, and so forth.”

I particularly appreciate the emphasis on relationship orientation describing the form of one’s “sexual or loving relationships”, as that expands the potential for asexuals and aromantics to be included in polyamory (as they certainly are) and for one’s own poly network, polycule, or poly family (whatever terminology you prefer) to encompass those relationships which are emotionally intimate, maybe even practically or financially entwined, but not sexual. I certainly have friends I consider family—family of choice—and they are fully as important a part of my web of connections as anyone I might choose to be with in a sexual relationship. I have lived with some of them, and gladly.

Rather than putting together a laundry list of relationship orientations for you to consider and meticulously defining what each might or might not include, let’s take a look at the kinds of questions that go into defining how you might structure your personal web of relationships.

Ignore, for a moment, the script you’ve been handed. This script dictates a singular opposite-sex partner, kids, a joint bank account and a suburban house. It suggests that you and your one partner are expected to focus on just ‘the couple’ and prioritize that over your friendships, and encourages sexual jealousy to police that line. Instead, imagine discussing and deciding about all of these points. Do you and your prospective partner want to have kids together, or might they like to help raise kids of yours without taking on full parental responsibility? Do the two of you want to live together? Would that be with just the two of you, or would you prefer more adults in the household? Will you share finances? Have sex? Be sexually exclusive? Cultivate romance? Be romantically exclusive? If either of you has more than one partner, how might you choose to apportion your energy and time between them? The idea that these are real choices, and that happy and healthy relationships can develop through exploring these questions, even if the collective answers don’t look like the mainstream idea of ‘relationship success,’ is what it looks like to explore alternative relationship structures, and to be open to the idea of more than one relationship orientation.

Further commentary on relationship orientations from More Than Two Glossary of Poly Terms adds, “Just as some people feel that their sexual orientation is fluid and a matter of choice where other people feel that their sexual orientation is fixed and not subject to choice, so do some people feel that their relationship orientation is subject to choice whereas others feel their relationship orientation is not a matter of choice. It has been my observation that some people seem to be inherently monogamous, and can’t be happy any other way; some people seem to be inherently polyamorous, and can’t be happy any other way; and some people seem to be able, under the right circumstances and with the right partners, to be happy in a monogamous or a polyamorous relationship.”

Personally, I’d count myself in that last group, as someone, who under the right circumstances and with the right partners, can be happy in a monogamous or polyamorous relationship. But my mindset is irrevocably poly. I ask the questions instead of going with the unexamined default settings. (This is something I plan to return to in an upcoming post.)

Having done this work of self-examination, I gladly claim polyamory as my relationship orientation. This is how I’m choosing to structure my life and my relationships, consciously and for the benefit of everyone involved. To me, that choice is a choice to be true to my skills, capacities, joys, and desires. This is what fits me best and feels most authentic. It’s most definitely part of my identity. And I’ll be cheering on all my beautiful queer rainbow siblings in the Pride parade, come Saturday. But if I march, I march in support, or speaking from my queer identity, and not my polyam identity. And that feels like an important distinction to make.

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Sick Enough Yet?

How sick is sick enough to ‘count’? To doctors? To friends and family? To other people in the chronic illness community?

How disabled do you have to get to consider yourself disabled? As a personal identifier? As officially recognized by the state or federal government?

At what point can you forgive yourself for the things you cannot do? What *are* the things you cannot do? What if you *could* do some of them, but you choose not to, because of the probable consequences in pain or the way you’d run out of energy or ability to do other equally necessary things later?

Sometimes it’s hard to be chronically ill, but at the same time, not ill ‘enough’. It’s hard to have an invisible illness, to have to ‘prove’ how bad things are–when you’re not busy covering up how bad things are because you want to have as normal a life as you can. Would it make more sense to spend the day in bed, with my unfinished work and my unmet responsibilities piling up around my blankets, an invisible tide fit to smother me when I drag myself back into the fray? Or shall I, as I so often do, take one step after another, ankles throbbing, tension ratcheting tight up the right side of my neck, headache descending, and just do the best I can to do as much as I can, and pain be damned?

To all of those caught in this snare beside me, betrayed by body or mind–I see you. Be kind to yourself. You have nothing to prove to me. You can choose to struggle forward, or you can choose to rest. Each is as valid as the other, and each has its place. Your pain is valid. Your struggle is real, even when it’s invisible, and even when it feels, all at once, like too much to carry and not enough to impress the right people. I’m impressed. I don’t need to hear your diagnosis, if you’ve even found one yet. I’m astonished by your strength, your determination, the way you take one more step, one more breath, amazed by the magnificent power of every beat of your heart.

You don’t need to reach some benchmark of sick ‘enough’ to deserve compassion, caring, or rest. You don’t need to prove a thing to call yourself disabled, or chronically ill, or whatever feels right for you in this moment. It is okay to choose to spend your energy however you think is right. Go ahead and say you can’t do something, if that’s what self-care looks like for you right now. It is nobody’s business but yours if it is something you could have done yesterday or might do tomorrow.

Remember this. You already deserve compassion. You already deserve care. You have nothing to prove.

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Identity Introspection: Queer and Polyam

Queer. Pansexual. Panromantic. Polyamorous. To me, in my internal sense of my own identity, and in the ways in which I express that identity in the world, these things are closely allied and tightly bound together. I can see how in other people’s experience of or expression of a queer identity, how their queerness might be more closely allied with their sexual expression, or their gender identity, or a whole host of things I can’t even imagine! But for me, queerness is much more about the way I do relationships than anything else, and I find it interesting to reflect on how it all works, for me.

Although I wouldn’t call myself demisexual, as I can experience attractions outside of relationship, I have only ever acted on those attractions within relationship (be it longstanding friendship, or something more romantically oriented). I had never seriously considered my sexual identity until one of my best friends (whose gender expression did not match what I had at the time considered my pool of potential love interests) fell tumultuously in love with me. Then the situation warranted quite a lot of consideration! I have come to the conclusion over the years that I am ‘sexually fluid in the face of love,’ which is to say, if someone falls in love with me who I had not previously considered in a sexual sense, it won’t take me long to warm up to the idea, if it’s someone I care about and we seem compatible in other ways. (Yes, it has happened more than once.) So, at the root of it, my queerness arose in response to a desire to explore a new way of relating with someone I cared about.

Of course, once I started looking at all the world through new eyes, I discovered how incredibly sexy a whole lot of additional humans are–and how had I managed to avoid noticing that before? Heh.

That openness to previously unconsidered opportunities has been at the root of other expansions of identity for me as well. It was at the heart of my first experiments in non-monogamy, and my eventual embrace of a polyamorous relationship orientation. Falling in love with a second person without falling out of love with the first one was an unexpected development. Having the courage to try and see what pursuing both relationships at once could be like was something I respect tremendously, both in my own former self and in my partners at the time.

Today, I see myself simply as a person, building fascinating and beautiful relationships with other people. Embracing a polyamorous identity means I get to do that–with friendship, with family-building, with sex, with love–up to the natural limits of my energy and time, in whatever ways are most well suited to me and the people I engage with. The mere existence of my current relationship(s) has no bearing on the emotional, relational, or physical intimacy I may pursue in other relationships. (Agreements or commitments I may make within those relationships can have such a bearing, but those are things I choose, not things that happen by default, just from having a pre-existing partnership.) Embracing myself as queer/pansexual means that I get to do that with whatever other humans cross my path, regardless of their gender identity, focusing instead on the issues of love and compatibility that matter much more to me.

At the heart of things, both my queerness and my poly-ness are based in an openness to relating with my fellow humans. A pursuit of intimacy, vulnerability, and joy that are unlimited by convention–constrained only by the logistics of needs and wants, the requirements of all those other kinds of compatibility, and the inevitable limits of my energy and time. Those are fetters aplenty for me, who takes her responsibilities to her beloveds so seriously. I need and want no more than that.

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Living Vividly Habit Challenge February 2018

Love’s Foundations

I would like to take some time this month to acknowledge the relationship between self-esteem and loving oneself, and being able to receive love from others. The very foundation of being loved is feeling worthy of the love you receive. So this month, let us reflect on those things we find most worthy of love in ourselves. No matter how small or seemingly insignificant to other people, it’s what we deem most valuable that counts. The things we’re proud of, even if they’re simple, ordinary things, are worth celebrating. This challenge offers a chance to build emotional resilience by focusing on what we value most in ourselves.

Remind someone else of what you value in them.

Read over your list of value and love, out loud if you can, silently if not. Take a moment to feel worthwhile.

To Do:
– Make a list. Write down 3-5 things you’re proud of in yourself. (These can be qualities you value in yourself, things you have achieved, or actions you choose to take. Are you proud of your positive outlook? The way you always try to help people? That time you brightened a stranger’s day? Here’s your chance to celebrate yourself.)
– Add, at the bottom of your list, “I am loved.” (You can specify, if it lifts your spirits, who it is that loves you, be it your parents, your children, your pets, your partner, your friends or your spiritual source.)
– Post your list somewhere you will see it every day.

I found this challenge to be nicely self-affirming, but from the feedback I received, I could tell it had a powerful impact on some people whose preexisting sense of self was not as strong as mine. Even with my own foundation of self-love, there was something a bit profound about reading my list aloud every day. This is what mine said:

I care about connecting with people and nurturing them.
I am self-disciplined.
I am braver than I used to be.
I make an effort to be authentic, vulnerable, and present.
I am patient.
I am well and deeply loved.

To me, these statements echo with authenticity, and make me feel good all over. Consider what things you’re proud of in yourself, that you hold profoundly true. Reflect on that. It is the gateway to accepting the love that others hold for you.

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