Compersion or Mudita: Unlearning Jealousy the Buddhist Way
What if, instead of feeling threatened by your partner’s involvement with someone else, you were thrilled?
Have you heard of “compersion”? Definitions abound but the layman summary could be: “the opposite of jealousy”. It covers any positive feeling that arises in you when someone you love feels happy for reasons other than you.
This notion is the keystone of polyamory and open relating — all modes of relating that do not require emotional or sexual exclusivity. What if, instead of feeling threatened by your partner being emotionally or sexually involved with someone else, you were thrilled for their excitement? This is what compersion is about.
No matter how this idea makes you feel now, your partner being involved with someone else that makes them happy has the potential to make you feel happy too.
Compersion is not confined to romantic and sexual relationships. A parent could feel abandoned when their child left their home or they could be excited for them pursuing their dream — a form of compersion. Or as Marie-Claude L’Archer, author of Compersion: Polyamory Beyond Jealousy, points out, you could feel neglected seeing how much energy your spouse is allocating to their new job, or you could be pleased with seeing them so fulfilled — compersion in another form.
What seems like a very healthy response in these familiar situations can easily appear crazy in a romantic relationship if you are not accustomed to open relating. How could I not be jealous of my partner being involved with someone else? Wouldn’t that be a lack of self-respect?
The thing is: no matter how this idea makes you feel now, your partner being involved with someone else that makes them happy has the potential to make you feel happy too.
Some people’s brains seem wired for polyamory: they spontaneously feel joyful in these situations that none of the implicitly monogamous education you might have received prepared you for. These people are gifted naturally with a love exempt of any trace of possessiveness. They are natural compersion ninjas.
For the rest of us, it looks more like a skill that we need to learn if we want to master it. Except that in practice, from my own experience and the one of many who undertook this journey, it does not feel like you ever directly “learn” it. What you do instead is work on other things, like letting go of your projections and insecurities, until one day, compersion just arises. Like it was already there, always. And you simply removed what was in the way.
What you do is work on other things, like letting go of your projections and insecurities, until one day, compersion just arises.
What does this process look like? Some particular situation triggers a reaction in you. You work on the insecurity that was revealed, by first taking full ownership of the way you are feeling. You meditate on it, you talk about it with your partner(s) and others. You come up with mechanisms that make this insecurity a little bit less threatening for you (for examples of how to do so, check out The Ethical Slut by Dossie Easton and Janet Hardy). You take your time. And the next time you encounter the same trigger, your reaction is maybe a little less strong, and you just do it all again. And again. And eventually, one day, it’s just out of the way. You might not even realize that you used to be triggered in such situations.
And what is left then? Joy. Happiness. The pleasure of seeing someone you love being happy. Maybe, if you are like me, a warm feeling in your belly with a pinch of excitement.
Surprising? It was for me.
Except that, as I realized in a very different environment, none of these insights are new. They are very old. At least 2,500 years old to be exact.
In Buddhism, as you work on yourself through meditation practice and an exemplary lifestyle, you improve your ability to focus, your awareness, and your equanimity. As you do so, you also develop qualities that are allegedly the pillars of enlightenment, also known as “Sublime Attitudes”. These are loving-kindness (Metta), compassion (Karuna), sympathetic joy (Mudita), and equanimity (Uppekha).
Wait a second… Mudita, sympathetic joy? Being happy about others being happy? This is exactly what compersion is about!
Granted, when the term compersion was coined in the 70s by the Kerista commune, it was probably thought of more specifically for romantic or sexual involvement. Similarly, I would wager that Buddhist monks never quite had open relationships in mind.
Yet, it remains that compersion in its wider sense happens to be a Buddhist concept. You can be jealous of friends, family members, lovers or strangers; or you can be compersive of them.
The parallel goes on: as many mindfulness teachers might tell you, your practice does not really focus directly on developing these sublime attitudes. What you do instead is train your mind to observe whatever is there in the present moment without judging it. Just noticing and accepting what is there. By doing so, all the things that could come in the way of full presence tend to get a little bit weaker. And a little bit weaker. They lose their power on you. Until they don’t arise anymore.
And what do you find instead? Peace. Joy. These sublime attitudes. Among others, Mudita.
Successfully navigating polyamory might require a form of work on one’s self that very much echoes the teachings of the Buddha. Again, nothing confines this form of work to any one type of relationship — it is just often more salient in polyamory where you have to unlearn and let go of many reactions implicitly prescribed to you by the environment in which you were raised.
A mindfulness practice is a fantastic tool to help you overcome any particular challenge that you might encounter in your personal life.
Conversely, a mindfulness practice is a fantastic tool to help you overcome any particular challenge that you might encounter in your personal life, and especially in your relationships with others — whether you are polyamorous, monogamous, or simply an exhausted parent with teenagers at home.
No matter which type of relationship you build with the ones you love, you get to decide if you want to use it as an opportunity to work on yourself. As Eckart Tolle writes in The Power of Now, “the relationship then becomes your sadhana, your spiritual practice.”
Originally published at https://awakeandsexy.com.