Tag Archive | compersion

Trust Fall

By Gil Cambia

Ask anyone what is the first association they have with the term “hippie commune” and you’ll get “free love.”  This term technically makes no sense, unless you assume that all love in Babylon is expensive and that Milton Friedman, bless his heart (or lack thereof), didn’t mean to say “no free lunch” but “no free love”. Either way, it begs the question of what is meant by that term and whether there is any truth in it. This article is somewhat of a personal account through the thorny rose garden of compersion.  [Compersion is the feeling of joy associated with seeing a loved one love another; contrasted with jealousy.]



Ever done a trust fall? You know–when you step up on a platform and fall back, against every bit of intuition which yells at you “We’re gonna die!” and “Don’t do it,” only to be caught by all of your friends. I’ve done it many times and guided many people through the process, as I’ve worked in the ropes course industry for many years. I still remember the look on this 11-year-old boy’s face after getting caught. His eyes sparkled with a combination of elation, disbelief, sheer love, and a little bit of residual tears of fear from the 5 minutes it took him to finally drop. What I saw in him was actually a new emotion, one that he didn’t expect to experience. It was more powerful than he had words for.

This is all nice and good, but there is something different that happens to parents when they watch their children try the trust fall. They don’t get to have the endorphins, adrenaline, and peer pressure. It just feels so scary to watch a loved one go through it, especially if you don’t get to be a catcher. I’ve had some parents tell me that they went through a more challenging ropes-course experience in watching their children participate than in participating themselves. Nonetheless, it can be a powerful growing experience even when it isn’t very enjoyable.

So my little family and I moved here to the Louisa communes and started a new one called Cambia, and we’re doing quite well, all things considered. Something you need to know about the Louisa communes, however, is that people are very polite. They don’t just assume that because you are a family you must be monogamous. In fact it might be rude to utter such Babylonian terms, so they ask you right away if you are polyamorous. And asking one spouse is also too presumptive, and one should really ask both in case one of them is poly and the other is still stuck in their ways.

This is all well and good. We, of course, do not believe in sexual possessiveness and felt mildly appreciated for that. So no, we didn’t get subsumed into orgies right away. People just wanted to know in the same way that they want to know one’s preferred pronoun. But the compersious challenge came right away when my son said he didn’t want me to be his primary and that other people are more fun to play with.

Hmm… he’s right. I’m often preoccupied and am trying to do multiple things while watching him. What do I do? I try to be better and more fun but a part of me wants to tell other people in my community to not be so much fun. I don’t want him to start crying every time I tell him it’s my turn to watch him. It is so insulting. Does he not remember all of the reusable diapers I washed by hand with hand-pumped ice cold water in the rain? The answer is no, he doesn’t and he doesn’t need to remember. I wouldn’t want him to be polite and suffer through his time with me, pretending it’s the best thing since homemade flatbread. And just to add insult to injury, he sometimes calls other people “Daddy” and seems to not bother changing that mistake. Sometimes calls me by other people’s names too, but he never confuses me with the really fun people in his life.

Good Gaia, he’s only 4, not 14. I’m not ready to be snubbed. Why is this happening??? I know why, and I know that it’s good. He is growing up with endless adult attention, people to play with and teach him things. On my end, however, not only do I feel inadequate as a parent, but I also feel like I must not want what’s best for my child but what’s best for my ego.



So guess what, I realize that there is no way to win his heart without offering mine completely. I try my best to play with him with full attention, with creativity, but without being contrived or fake. I just started taking more interest in him and in wanting him to enjoy the game I create for him. This effort turned out better for everyone involved. And if Milton Friedman was reading this paper he would attribute it to the breaking of monopoly that I had over him, and that the competition sparked improvement in quality. Ugh, maybe you’re right just this one time. In the big picture, though, Milton, you’re wrong. Competition also leads to reduction in quality and increase in the Kitsch factor. The pressure on me was to be a better dad and not a more attractive dad, because my motivation was not sales but connection.

Sorry about this economic digression. Let’s digress into anthropology instead:

It takes a village, right? There is one culture remaining that does not have a word for “father” and does not have a word to distinguish “mother” from “aunt”. This is one of the last matriarchal societies on this planet.



The Mosuo people of the southern Yunan province of China have been living in a matriarchal and matrilineal way for longer than recorded history (not fair; they had no written language so most of their existence is before recorded history). Every household has a matriarch whose mother, sisters, and brothers help with raising all of their children regardless of who birthed whom.

The Mosuo traditionally have no marriage. They practice something they call “walking marriage,” which is a secret connection between a man and a woman as the man is invited by the woman to her private room, which she gets when she turns 13 after her “flower ceremony,” where she has the liberty of inviting whomever she wishes to her space and they must leave by dawn.



This ritual functions to create a complete uncertainty of paternity. Every man knows who his nieces and nephews are, but not his children. This is far from perfect now. There are many Han (dominant culture) influences and their traditional ways of life are disappearing.

The important thing to realize about the Mosuo is that they have very low rates of violence, rape, murder, warfare, child abuse or abandonment in comparison to patriarchal tribal societies. Though difficult to document or verify, it appears that more sex and more sexual diversity is experienced by both genders. This last point should surprise us, shouldn’t it? When women are in charge, there is more sex and more diversity than when men are in charge?



As one anthropologist describes it: “In matriarchies, mothers are at the center of culture without ruling over other members of society,”  “The aim is not to have power over others and over nature, but to follow maternal values, ie. to nurture the natural, social and cultural life based on mutual respect.” From a reproductive perspective, it makes perfect sense. For the reproductive fitness of the female, it makes sense to have support in raising children. Unlike men, she cannot have hundreds of children through raping and pillaging, and restricting the reproduction of other men will not help her children in any way.

This is the reality of the bonobo and the naked mole-rat. They also have structurally determined paternity diffusion, and what’s the result?



Cuddle puddles! Unlike gorillas and chimps, bonobos do not fight invaders, steal their females, kill their young, play political games, or abandon their orphans. And yes, they have more sex than any other primate, and they are pretty undiscriminating about their sexual partners.

When a male does not know who is his child, and he figures that at least a few in the group are, he has an evolutionary pressure to care about the entire group, not just his own. Also, if he can’t stop a female from mating with others multiple times a day, it’s better for him just to join the fun than to try to control it.

So how did it go for me? How am I handling being in an open relationship? It wouldn’t be very interesting if I said that it was great, would it? It really wasn’t easy, though. Of course I love those who love my spouse, but it’s hard not to feel insecure. I’ll spare you the details that you may have read this far just to get to some juicy stuff.

Let me just say the following: it’s the greatest trust fall of all. Just when you think you are falling to your death, when it’s someone else’s time to spend the night with your partner, you get caught by both your partner, their new partner, and the entire support network of poly love warriors.  It’s an incredible feeling. Your intuition yells to you, “She doesn’t want you anymore!” and your partner smiles and reaffirms that she will always love you. You lay there in the hands of those who caught you and you think you must have fallen to your death and woken up in heaven, and the truth is you did.

When love loses restrictions, suddenly the love with a partner becomes a true rather than an obligatory expression. Suddenly your partner not only feels owned by you but actually appreciative for the effort and struggles you are willing to go through for his or her well being. What better way is there to show love?

To be honest, it isn’t instant nirvana. It takes a long time to overcome the internalized patriarchy completely. But luckily, the path is not pure suffering. There is a distinct experience of greater love and greater security.

The cultivation of compersion is that of true love. It’s about vulnerability, it’s about trust without control, it’s both letting yourself fall and getting caught by the soft loving hands of your friends, and about watching those you love get caught by others and not by you. Through this process you get nudged to become a better, more loving, and more lovable person (or so I hope).



In a broader perspective of communal living, our movement is focused on creating wealth out of sharing, not out of possessing or overproducing. We have mastered it in shared land, housing, work, risk, costs, childcare, and many resources, but the most important aspect, the one that is also the least depleted by sharing with others, is love.

April is Manifesting Loud Love

What is important to me in this coming month is promoting the Loud Love conference and so we get a bunch of people to experience it.  We have a good program and a great team of organizers (see below).fall in love

Loud Love is about exploring, expressing, exporting and celebrating your romantic identity and experience.    There are a wide range of workshops offered from Blues Dancing (a non-sexual intimacy building skill) to Honest Seduction (yes, this is not a contradiction in terms) to Drag King 101, to Transcending Jealousy and building compersion (yes, people actually succeed in this) to advanced polyamory techniques.


Blues Dancing

Plus there is a days worth of open space technology which permits conference participants to present on topics that the group in interested in.

Loud Love Logo

The New Loud Love Logo – art by Mac

At the end of our last organizers meeting Sky pointed out that we are not where we want to be for this Loud Love event, which is in two short months.  And it made me realize that despite the good work we have done (securing a space, finding presenters, designing workshops, budgeting and more) there is more left to do to make this happen.


i dont usually ask things of my readers, but this post i will.  Please think about a friend of yours (or possibly you yourself) who would be well served by this event.  Then encourage them to register and attend or let us know who they are and we will let them know you recommend them for our event.  

Here are the awesome folks i get to work with on this event:

Sky Blue has been experimenting with relationships since he was 8 years old and did his first

sky bio picmediation with squabbling friends.  He’s been in some form of open relationship for most of the last 14 years.  A drop-out from UC Santa Cruz he’s lived and worked in cooperative and communal groups for most of the last 17 years.  His purpose in life is to help bring people together to transform themselves, each other, and the world around them.

Kassia is a musician, activist, community builder and all-around nosey-parker.   She hKassiaas traveled the world, lived on a commune, toured the US with a klezmer band, and practiced Jewish Farming.  After spending several years in Charlottesville helping start two small collective businesses (a hostel and a home-veggie gardening biz), she concluded that there is more fun to be had on the commune and recently moved back to Twin Oaks to work on her life-goal of conspiring with the universe to have as much fun as possible.

Angie Tupelo is a queer, anarchist, polyamorous, feminist, sub-identified, Angiesex-positive gal.   She recently moved back to the “real world” after living on a commune for 4 years, and is gradually adjusting to wearing shoes.  She gives workshops on Polyamory, BDSM for Feminists, Honest Seduction, Kink for Abuse Survivors, and Intentional Community living. She blogs about life, love, revolution, mental illness, and how they fit together in her life, and really really enjoys bacon.

Ali has been bisexual and polyamorous since before she knew what those words meant. She languished in mainstream culture for several years feeling ashamed of her desires for multiple concurrentAli intimacies with different genders before she found her physical and philosophical home at Twin Oaks. Among Ali’s many life goals is to make sex an acceptable form of social currency and move it from the taboo to appropriate dinner table conversation. She wants to normalize polyamory as a relationship model, move forward the idea of a mischief (group) of interconnected lovers taking care of one another, and to make group intimacy & sex as easily & openly sought as coupledom.

Paxus  facilitates a workshop called “Modesty is Dangerous” and you can start figPaxusuring out who he is from there. Paxus self-identifies as a revolutionary, but more importantly he identifies you, dear reader, as a potential co-conspirator in designing irresistible ideas which will change the world (super memes).  He comes to the Loud Love organizing team engaged, reckless, and feeling intensely daring.  His tangled form of activism fuses direct action against those threatening the biosphere (MonstantoWestinghouse, et. al) with actively fostering and building new income-sharing intentional communities with proselytizing for radical intimacy models (including Honest Seduction). Paxus is one of three parents in a polyamorous family.  His biography does not make credible fiction and was thus rejected by Wikipedia.  He co-founded and directs the Emma Goldman Institute for Theoretical and Applied Funology, an entity which there seems to be no proof actually exists.

Organic cover girl

MacGyver dumped her job in high end tine-share real estate marketing to live with her friends in the country and do righteous work for an organic seed company.  She drives a tractor, works as cook and carpenter and tends chickens at absurd o’clock in the morning.  She spends 97% less time worrying about things than the average US American.  Some of her friends call her Surprise.  She is not afraid  to pick up a microphone and entertain without a plan as to what she is going to say or sing when she grabs it.   Not a day goes by when she is not appreciative for ditching the mainstream life and moving to Acorn.

Feonix and Aries Bios to come

Feonix and Aries Bios to come

Transcending Jealousy and The Shakespeare Challenge

kissThe coining of the word “kiss” is often credited to Shakespeare and i think it is an especially brilliant name, further solidifying his genius status in my mind.  Perhaps it was called just “snogging” before old Bill came along and saved the day.  In this spirit, i have asked Rabbit to come up with a better term for compersion, which is slightly poorly defined as the opposite of jealousy.  What compersion really is is feeling excited about your romantic intimate having other romantic intimates.  Great idea, terrible name.  Oh, and it turns out Shakespeare did not coin “kiss”, but has the first attestation of it (first recorded printing).

A talented group of organizers is putting together this Loud Love conference in June (you can register on line for it).  peoplecirclejoypplclosermost copyThe content is potent and eclectic, including: how to date a sexual assault survivor,  how to have a brilliant break up, honest seductionblues dancingbluesas non-sexual consent practice, transparency tools, how to explain polyamory to your kids, crafting sexy consent, BDSM/kink, becoming a drag king, multiple parallel honeymoons and much more.  One of the workshops i am most excited about is on how to transcend jealousy and learn how to be excited about your lover having other intimate relationships.

In polyamory discussions one often hears “Do i have to transcend my own jealousy to be polyamorous?”  The answer is no.  The stock reply is that you do not have to transcend jealousy to be in a poly relationship, but you do need to be willing to look at the feelings underneath it and communicate honestly about them with your partner.  If you can communicate about these and other tricky feelings, you maybe able to navigate through your jealous experiences and maintain multiple relationships.  If you can’t talk about it, you are sunk.poly

There is a fair amount of good stuff out there in the world on how to manage jealousy and there is precious little that i have found on how to build compersion.  And by the time Loud Love is actually happening, i am confident we will have found useful stuff on this important topic, and/or we will have found a capable facilitator for this workshop.

And hopefully Rabbit will have found a better name for it by then as well.

My would be Shakespeare practicing snogging

My would be Shakespeare practicing snogging

Missing Words

Tobias developed “Quink” as the opposite of trauma, when an important event changes your life forever, but in a positive way, instead of a damaging one. Rob Brezney popularized the term pronoia, the notion that the world is secretly out to help you have a wonderful time and support you. But there are numerous more terms needed.

Abigail text me the other day that she was meeting with her sexual wellness student group and they were looking for the term for a woman who enjoys sex, has a healthy relationship with it and has it often. This word does not exist (please comment if you know otherwise), but the derogatory terms for sexually active women go on and on.

Websters dictionary claims that “sexism” did not enter our vocabulary until 1969.  This has always amazed me.  What was the conversation about gender equality like, before these basic ideas we labeled?  i am confident that they happened, and i am convinced they were weaker and hampered.

My utopia consists of super cooperators and super appreciators.  And especially in the later, English is failing us.  We have a constrained vocabulary around appreciation.  No terms for smaller appreciations, or life saving/changing ones.  There is no term for an appreciation which brings with it an obligation to repay somehow.  No term to mark continued persistent efforts, or to commemorate spontaneous acts of good will.

Having new words is the first small but critical step towards changing the culture.  We have had the term compersion, for quite some years now, but most polyamorous folx are still taking baby steps when it comes to appreciating their lovers other lovers, much less being excited about them or feeling really good about them.

What new word are you making up today?  And how can we use it to craft a conversation which takes us to where we want to be?