Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category
Monday, April 29th, 2013
“The best thing for being sad,” replied Merlin, beginning to puff and blow, “is to learn something. That’s the only thing that never fails. You may grow old and trembling in your anatomies, you may lie awake at night listening to the disorder of your veins, you may miss your only love, you may see the world about you devastated by evil lunatics, or know your honour trampled in the sewers of baser minds. There is only one thing for it then — to learn. Learn why the world wags and what wags it. That is the only thing which the mind can never exhaust, never alienate, never be tortured by, never fear or distrust, and never dream of regretting. Learning is the only thing for you. Look what a lot of things there are to learn.” – T.H. White, The Once and Future King
Are there times when it seems like you are the only one wrestling with the obstacles life drops in your path? As you can see from the above excerpt, you aren’t alone and in fact, struggle was around long before you or I arrived. As uncomfortable as it is to hear, life presents all of us with difficult paths to follow at one time or another. Life’s hurdles come in many different packages. Death, job losses, broken relationships, difficult neighbors, problematic family members, illnesses, broken dreams or even personal mistakes that you wish you hadn’t made; an endless list of bumps in the road of life that can trip you up, cause you to stumble, and even fall.
Unfortunately –life with all its good times and bad will present you with many such barriers to happiness. But, adversity can also bring you a gift. If you are willing to open that ugly package dropped in your path you may find a wonderful lesson. A death may teach you to be more aware and attentive of the living while they are still with you. A job loss my teach you that you have more to offer the world than you ever thought. A broken relationship might teach you that relationships die if they aren’t attended to. And, stressful friend and family relationships may teach you to set the healthier boundaries necessary to protect your space.
You can learn a lot from difficult times if you aren’t too busy denying them. A Buddhist proverb says, “When the student is ready the teacher will appear.” Notice it doesn’t say that the teacher shows up when the student is ready to learn. The teacher is always ready to pass on what they have learned but the student may not always be ready to hear it. Difficult times create those teachable moments that open us up to seeing things through new eyes. It is the process called learning that allows us to continue growing and becoming stronger. Are you ready for the teachers awaiting you?
Monday, April 1st, 2013
“When you cease to make a contribution, you begin to die.” said Eleanor Roosevelt. I believe this statement was her testament to the fact that life isn’t just about “showing up” whether that be to the dinner table, to the work place or for an after- hour’s brew at the neighborhood pub. I think she was telling us that we feel most alive when we are passing on something to others that will impact their life in a positive fashion. English novelist, George Elliot ( aka Mary Anne Evans 1819-1880) shared a similar sentiment when she stated, “ What do we live for if not to make life less difficult for each other?”
This concept of reciprocity has frequently been attributed to the success of humans as a species. We are social creatures and we rely on each other to share what each possesses so we are free to reach beyond our own limitations. After all, if I don’t have to do everything, I can specialize in what I am good at. Reciprocity is also intrinsically connected to empathy and this too has been attributed to that same success. To feel the pain of another and to respond with kindness, understanding and help is so much a part of who we are as humans. The concept of sharing is part of every culture and points directly at the major role that inter-dependency plays in our very survival as a group. The idea of paying it forward goes back centuries; carved in stone by the Egyptians, reference in the Bible and even mentioned as early as 317 B.C in the Greek play, Dyskolos only to be rediscovered and described by Benjamin Franklin April 25, 1784 in one of his letters: “I do not pretend to give such a deed; I only lend it to you. When you … meet with another honest Man in similar Distress, you must pay me by lending this Sum to him; enjoining him to discharge the Debt by a like operation, when he shall be able, and shall meet with another opportunity. I hope it may thus go thro’ many hands.”
April 25th is international Pay It Forward day; the day we are to be inspired to make our community better even if it is just through simple random acts of kindness. The movie version, Pay It Forward, was released in 2000 and starred Kevin Spacey, Helen Hunt, Jon Bon Jovi and Haley Joel Osment. This romance drama was about a social studies teacher who challenged his class to make the world a better place by doing three things that would make a positive impact in the life of three others. One student takes him seriously and does just that. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qfW0wCV9iFI
For some, this idea may seem idealistic and therefore, remains just that –an idea. But, I hope this Food For Thought and the little video at the end of this piece will inspire you to look at your own good fortunes and to find a way to pay it forward to someone else. Pay for the coffee of the person behind you in line at the coffee shop, or pay the bus fare of the next person getting on. Smile and greet an elderly or physically challenged person. Drop off some fresh produce at your local food pantry ( not much of that is available to those who must use that service), spend a beautiful afternoon picking up trash at your local park. Be creative, get inspired and just do it. I have, on more than one occasion, had a graduate of one of my classes who had received a scholarship, send me a check to pay for a future student who would also need a scholarship to attend. They reported that they appreciated the scholarship that made it possible for them to participate and they just wanted to show appreciation for the gift by passing on the experience now that they were in a better financial place. That is paying it forward.
When I was at the Garden Expo in February, I was given numerous packets of vegetable seeds for no cost. I was just asked to pass on a portion of my vegetable crop to my local food pantry when I harvested them. I have been blessed with a wonderful garden so that is what I intend to do this year. Sharing that magnificent freshness with someone else will do wonders for my soul not to mention the exercise and fresh air I will get in the process. After all, isn’t it true that you can never do something for someone else without gaining something for yourself in doing so? So, check this out http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qc8ZbVcdHpg and see what you might be inspired to do this April 25th.
Friday, March 1st, 2013
Who doesn’t want to be happy? I know that for me it is an experience that is welcomed and desired. Even our own forefathers saw happiness as an entitlement and entered it into our Declaration of Independence. “We the people of these United States are… endowed by [our] Creator with certain unalienable rights, … among these… the pursuit of Happiness.” We seem to have fervently embraced this concept through our frantic search for more stuff, more activities, more food, more sex, and even more exciting love relationships. The more we have the happier we are. Getting more becomes the guarantee for attaining our unalienable rights as Americans. We should get what we want and when we get it, it will make us happy.
It appears that the search for greener grass is hard wired into us as many are in search of it in one form or another. Now science has taught us that indeed we are neurologically designed to seek happiness and the pleasure it brings us and when we lose it we experience pain. At those times we look for ways to escape in a new purchase, new place, situation or substance to avoid the pain that comes as a result of happiness lost.
Yet, there is a spiritual side to this concept of happiness as well. Buddhism is a philosophy that explains this through its four truths; the first and second of which is that life is difficult because we are attached to how we believe things should be and when we don’t get what we want we suffer. Well, for many of us, that isn’t new or welcome information. We all recognize the uncomfortable feelings that can emerge when things don’t go the way we want them to. When a significant relationship ends we know too well what it means to suffer. We become ill with grief because our happily ever after didn’t last forever as we planned. We may struggle with feelings of loneliness, fear, anger, guilt or rejection –far from feeling happy. Some experience these emotions while in their relationship so they seek out and run into the arms of another person hoping that passion will distract them from the unhappiness they are feeling. Passion gets confused with sex and sex becomes the new segue to happiness –at least until that relationship moves into reality or ends all together because it wasn’t built on a foundation of anything lasting or of any meaning.
When I began doing the research for this article my initial intent was to explore the topic of passion and its relationship to happiness. And I was moved by what I learned. My students learn quickly that there are advantages to slowing the movement of a new relationship down. This creates space for learning more about that person before jumping in prematurely. The hormones of romantic love can be deceptive, creating a mirage that leads two people to pursue something that isn’t real or attainable. And when the relationship ends one or both feel used or mislead and sadness moves in to replace the passion.
So, here is what I learned about this word we call passion. It’s origin can be found in many cultures. In Latin and Greek, passion or pathos, is defined as “to suffer”. The long version of this translation is “a strong devotion to some activity, object or concept, driven by strong emotions of desire or repugnance that brings meaning into your life.” The idea of learning from a distasteful event reminds me of the miracle in the ugly package that I speak of in the Rebuilding class. To be able to use the current crisis to identify and make important changes in your own life can be very rewarding.
The Hebrew word for passion is “ratzon” and can be translated into, “an intense emotion that compels a person into becoming devoted to something.” The “Iki” in the Japanese word Ikigai means the breath or spirit that comes from doing what you love and what gives you a reason for being. In other words, to develop a passionate pursuit for something that you love to do brings with it a sense of purpose and a new understanding of what it means to be human –to be alive. The common thread that seems to runs through all of these definitions of passion is the ability to surrender, to give away a part of you, to sacrifice something in exchange for a more authentic form of happiness. It means to move from being selfish to being selfless.
What I really appreciate about this perspective on passion is how it can lead you into relationship with other individuals who share your passion and your purpose. This doesn’t have to be a deeply altruist pursuit. A passion for helping in the community or a passion for sports, art or music can all provide opportunities to create the closeness and companionship that are important to human relationship. While being actively involved in doing what you love you might just find your pathos, your ikigai, your spirit, your meaning or purpose. At the same time you may meet another person truly worthy of being passionate about because you share the same purpose. Your shared passion can bond you together as you mutually pursue a common goal with shared meaning. The excitement that this brings could activate the love potion in your brains causing you to see each other through new eyes, maybe ones filled with a passion of its own kind. Viktor Frankl, author of Man’s Search For Meaning, pointed out that the pursuit of happiness (pleasure) is temporary while the pursuit of meaning (which is unique to humans) is enduring.
Tuesday, October 30th, 2012
November is upon us and in short order many of us will gather around tables with family or friends to celebrate our national day of giving thanks. We reflect back on days long past when our ancestors bowed their heads in gratitude for surviving a difficult journey across the big water and rejoicing because they made it through the first growing season in this new world that would become known as the Americas. Their gratitude, their appreciation was for the simple things of life. In 1863, President Lincoln officially declared the 26th of November as a day to celebrate and reflect on the many blessings we have been given.
Over the years the traditional turkey dinner has hung on as the standard for many, yet exchanged for other traditional meals by others. But, it still remains a day to consider all we have to appreciate. My Swedish grandmother would say that we are rich enough when we are thankful for what we have. She was talking about being content and how closely related to happiness it is. The German inventor, Fredrich Koenig spoke of a similar sentiment when he was quoted to have said, “We tend to forget that happiness doesn’t come as a result of getting something we don’t have, but rather recognizing and appreciating what we do have.” Contentment comes from feeling satisfied with what you have whether you have plenty or little. I recently heard of a survey quoted. It asked how much was enough and the response was a consistent, “Twenty percent more than I have now.” How do we define how much is enough when enough is always more than we currently have? How often do we wait for the day when we can have a little more in the hope that having more will finally make us happy. Unfortunately for many, reaching that goal becomes the bench mark for more longing.
It is this longing for more—for bigger and better, that leads some couples to my office. Two individuals working so hard to have enough only to reach that goal and enough is no longer adequate. Soon the “stuff” they work so hard to acquire becomes more valuable than their relationship and then their relationship begins to suffer. Could there be some wisdom in my Grandmother’s words that fits relationships too? When you are thankful for what you have you are rich enough. Take some time over this month to look at all you have and ask yourself if you have expressed a sense of gratitude –not just for your “stuff” but for your loved ones as well. Maybe you too could learn to be content. Throw in a little joy once in awhile and you just might have the formula for real love.
Sunday, August 26th, 2012
A reader of the August newsletter sent in this question. “I’ve been dating a guy for a little over two years and I think that he has loyalty issues. A few months ago I noticed that he started to share things I have said to him when we are out with other couples. These are things I have shared in private conversations. When he does this I feel embarrassed and hurt but when I tell him that, he says I am too sensitive and I should just laugh it off. It is getting to the point where I don’t feel comfortable sharing as much. Could you please explain what loyalty means?” — Feeling Betrayed in Madison
Betrayed –let me begin with a quote from George Elliot, “Oh, the comfort, the inexpressible comfort of feeling safe with a person, having neither to weigh thoughts nor measure words but pouring them out just as they are…” The operative word here is “safe”. In order to build and to maintain intimacy within a relationship, each needs to help the other feel safe; both physically and emotionally. When I speak of intimacy I am not just referring to sexual intimacy though that is one of many. I speak about the pouring out of feelings and thoughts about various topics at a deeper level than one would do with a casual friend. Because this opening up of ourselves can leave us feeling vulnerable we need to be certain that this person whom we have shared will value the confidence we have place in him or her and see it as a gift. We need to know that they will not use that information against us in any way.
My definition of loyalty comes from several sources that roughly define loyalty as “protecting and not betraying another person’s dignity, self-respect or reputation by being accountable in thought and deed as not to demean or embarrass your partner in any way in front of others.” The origin of the word loyalty comes through old French from the Latin word, lex, which means to bind or be obliged to as in a pledge of allegiance to. So, based on that definition I would say that your guy has broken the loyalty code when he shared intimate information that left you feeling embarrassed. And the question isn’t “are you too sensitive?” but rather why is he unaware that he is being insensitive to your reaction to being exposed.
President Woodrow Wilson said it well, “Loyalty means nothing unless it has at its heart the absolute principle of self-sacrifice.” Loyalty is really about that –self-sacrifice. When we put the welfare of our partner ahead of our own self-serving interest to fit in or to put someone else in a bad light so we look better; we are being loyal. In other words –in the presence of all others we stand united. We support one another because being loyal gives our relationship strength. It is easy to understand this when we think of the loyalty of a dog. They love us, help us and even defend us when needed and all they expect in return is that we love them back. And, they do this even when we fall short of acting in their best interest.
“Don’t air your dirty laundry in public,” This was a way of saying, “What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas” or what happens in the home should stay there. These statements are urging people to be loyal to one another. When couples are angry at each other and they bring the fight out into public view they are not only making the unfortunate bi-standers uncomfortable, they are also creating a situation that might shut down open and honest communication at home in the future. This doesn’t mean couples shouldn’t have disagreements. It means that in public you support each other and maintain a united front as a couple. Then, when you are out of earshot of others, you address the problem –in private.
All that being said there are times when loyalty is neither healthy nor productive. If your partner is abusing drugs or alcohol, is abusive to you or is having an affair then by all means find someone to talk to who can help you get the strength to confront the problem or even get out of the relationship. It doesn’t matter if this is a good friend, a pastor, a doctor or a therapist. What is important is that you trust them to support you as you take steps to address the problem.
So back to your friend. Begin by speaking to him in private about this problem. Let him again know how you feel ( embarrassed, hurt and betrayed ), what you think about this problem and that you need this to stop if he wants you to continue to intimately share with him. Give him an opportunity to see if he can and is willing to change his behavior. And if he is not, then you may want to consider what a future relationship with more of the same will do to your comfort and sense of safety when going out together –not to mention your self-esteem. You deserve to feel safe.
Sunday, August 12th, 2012
The following article, “How Nerds Created Sexual Fidelity”, is taken from: The Week magazine; June 10, 2012, Volume 12 Issue 570 – Health and Science page 21. This certainly could provide some “food for thought” for those of you who find yourself surrounded by the vast numbers of individuals who have slid into believing that the one night stand and the instant hook up is the standard to measure modern dating by. Read on and maybe you will have a pro or con comment to share about this in the next newsletter.
Monogamy may have been invented millions of years ago by male human ancestors who lost the usual mating competition to alpha males, and learned how to woo women with food and loyalty. That’s the conclusion of University of Tennessee scientists studying why humans, unlike most other primates, form long-lasting, monogamous relationships and families. Some 4.4 million years ago, hominids lived, as chimpanzees do today, in big groups dominated by powerful males, who mated with as many females as possible—and bullied less-aggressive males to keep them away from the women. But in what amounted to “the most important sexual revolution for our species,” biomathematician Sergey Gavrilets tells the Los Angeles Times, the wimpier men outsmarted the bullies.
Instead of physically fighting the promiscuous alpha males for access to their harem, they likely focused on one female and showered her with food. Those females liked the constant attention, rewarding their providers with fidelity. The offspring of those couples, having two parents to nurture and defend them, had better survival odds than did the offspring of neglectful alpha males—leading over time to humanity’s “self-domestication,’’ with male providers pair-bonding with faithful females. Without the romantic strategy devised by the prehistoric sensitive man, Gavrilets says, “we wouldn’t have the modern family.”
Let’s just reflect on this. So, millions of years ago “hooking up” was the standard means for the dominant males to mate with as many females as possible. Let’s spread that DNA of ours far, wide and fast as you may not get another chance. Then some fairly smart males came along and figured out that the females wanted more than the one night stand and invented loyalty. Can we learn from this?
In a related article from Psychology Today there is a discussion about the advantages of long term monogamous relationships. One of the comments suggests that that “soul mate” feeling we often experience in the initial throes of falling in love is simply the hormonal rush of lust. They make the point that the true sense of being “soul mates” is the reward of two individuals who have worked through the difficult times that are part and parcel to living side by side for decades. Here is a brief quote and if you are interested you can read the full article yourself. “I suspect that happily married couples eventually pass a threshold into this last, most rewarding stage of marriage. The transition point into the stage of becoming each other’s soul mate would be different for each couple, and some couples would arrive earlier than others. (Sadly, many couples never even come close to achieving this). Perhaps this shift is the result of successful reconnection at a certain key transition point, such as the reconnection that follows the launching of adult children or the transition to retirement. However, this is not a passive process - marriages don’t get better as a function of time alone, but rather they get better as a function of two partners continuing to treat each other with love and respect despite the challenges life brings. ( I hope you caught that part; “despite the challenges life brings.” ) Whenever two individuals do become each other’s soul mate, the remaining years of marriage are grounded in security and a rare and special form of earned intimacy. As I see it, during the soul mate phase of a well-nurtured marriage, the developmental tasks would be to celebrate and make meaning of the life you have lived together, operating as sacred keepers of each other’s history.”
Is the fun and freedom of hooking up or serial monogamy the answer? For many people that is the current norm for meeting partners –with sex becoming separated from intimacy. That norm is a trend that started about fifty years ago when the sexual revolution exploded onto the scene. In an article about Vidal Sasson, the four-time married hairstylist was quoted to have said, “In those days having sex was the same as having dinner.” I guess not much has changed for some people in fifty years. And in still another article about Jack Nicholson he proudly stated that he loved women and the idea of falling in love. But he also admitted that each tryst only last about eighteen months before he would go looking again. His only complaint was that he was getting too old to continue this trend so things were looking pretty lonely for him now that he didn’t have the looks or the energy to do another go around in the dating scene.
Could there be something better than having a relationship that has a shelf life of milk even if that requires tolerating the discomfort that comes with delaying the gratification that accompanies jumping from person to person? Unfortunately, for some it takes too much time and energy to build a relationship bridge. For others there isn’t a desire to do so because the only thing they want is the twenty or so minutes it takes to fulfill the purpose of the hook up. In this age of instant gratification we often act first and think later when the consequences are biting at our heels and hindsight is shaking the parental finger at us. We think we can hook up our bodies separate from our souls only to find out that even the most casual hookups can activate some strong attachment feelings that need to be recovered from when the relationship ends after that one and only night.
Isn’t there something to be said about taking time to build a foundational bridge with someone that could eventually lead to security and true intimacy into old age? How many times in your life do you or can you go through this process of building and blowing up relationship bridges? Wouldn’t it be wiser to put some of that energy into being a little more choosy so you don’t have to invest so much energy into cleaning up the carnage…. of yet another relationship? What do you think about this? Is there a side to this story that I am blind to that you think I need to hear? Send in your comments and they will be included in the next newsletter. I would love to hear what you have to say.
Monday, August 6th, 2012
Tell me who I am.
Imaginary words form, but catch
in my throat; they drown
waiting for your consent.
My lover spoke and said to me,
“Arise my darling,
my beautiful one, and come with me.”
Comfort me. My sagging eyes
and spine are old,
contorted like a trapped animal. Mostly,
heal my hate
with your fleeting luxury.
See! The winter is past;
the rains are over and gone.
Flowers appear on the earth;
the season of singing has come,
the cooing of doves
is heard in our land.
I am not unlike a child, wilting
in the thick air,
looking for your sign of relief.
The fig tree forms its early fruit;
the blossoming vines spread their
Arise, come, my darling;
my beautiful one, come with me.
This poem was written and contributed by a graduate of my class. She has given me permission to post this on my blog along with her essay that follows. It is her description of what it is like to have experienced a relationship in which she ended up realizing she was being used by the man she speaks of here.
I became what I hated. I gave up my power waiting for a man to tell me who I was.
Sure, I had an idea, but thoughts are just thoughts until they are validated.
The insatiable craving for validation and comfort led me down a difficult but worthy road of sifting through the true desires of my heart.
As women, it is paramount we understand our vulnerability. It is a beautiful trait; one we must have to be able to love. We cannot keep our hearts in a jar, starve it, and ignore the allure of our most precious quality. Understanding our vulnerability involves knowing who we are, where we came from, and where we are headed. When we know our worth and intricacies of our innermost places we can take refuge in this knowledge.
Acting on this knowledge and understanding becomes the testament to our worth. It is this action that brings freedom, stillness, and healing. It’s not grand sweeping gestures or epiphanies that lead us there; it’s the teeny tiny choices we make that build on each other over time allowing us to recover what we have lost. In the end, giving peace and a hope to sustain us.
Thursday, April 26th, 2012
Getting rid of the “D” on your forehead after a divorce is a process and certainly one that no two people go through exactly the same. However, there are many parts of that process that individuals share. Strong feelings of hurt, anger, fear, guilt, rejection, and loneliness are often common denominators. Learning that you are like everyone else who has or is going through this process is just the beginning. Divorce sits alongside death as one of the most painful experiences life can put in front of you. As Bruce Fisher, PhD stated in his book Rebuilding: When Your Relationship Ends, “For many people, divorce is a broken experience, and before they can go on with their lives, they need to be able to pick up the pieces… The depth of the disappointment will depend upon how much more one wants to get out of life or how much one feels it necessary to add someone to one’s life to make it worthwhile. I hope that the time that individuals spend in my Rebuilding Class helps them to put some of those pieces back together. The ten weeks that individuals spend in my Rebuilding Class helps individuals to slow down long enough to reflect, learn and to grow through this difficult experience. As they continue on their journey they can learn to feel better about themselves and their relationship future. This important time offers a rest from being in a relationship so that individuals can reflect and heal before rebounding into a new relationship.
Monday, March 12th, 2012
It has been said that we should love others as we love ourselves. Love for someone else has its roots in how you love and care for yourself. Can you accept that you are not perfect? Do you trust and respect yourself? Are you committed to your own personal growth? Do you treat yourself with kindness and un-conditional love? Do you understand what your rights and responsibilities are? Can you laugh at your own mistakes and foibles? Our greatest barrier to finding a loving relationship is in not truly loving ourselves. And the greatest obstacle to loving ourselves isn’t in the painful things some past person has said or done to us but rather our own ongoing criticism, and judgments that we place on ourselves. These destroy our self-confidence and create fears that can block us from connecting with others.
Wednesday, June 16th, 2010
As I stated in my last blog, pets can bring great happiness to a relationship but they can also contribute to some angst. I was introduced to the latter with my cat Wiskers who liked to munch on anything knit. There was a lot of angst in my house as socks, sweaters, afghans and t-shirts began to disappear on a regular basis only to be found later with half the garment missing. Let’s not mention the fuzzy furniture, coughed up hairballs or the times she missed the litter box and deposited by-products of her previous meal on the floor. Surely she felt blessed to be in a household that loved her or she may have had her own share of troubles.
There is some literature that supports the belief that a marriage is happier if there is a pet in a household where both people love and enjoy it. However, the “both” component is crucial because a pet can also divide a couple, especially if the decision to bring that pet into the relationship isn’t shared. There are many things to consider and BOTH individuals should be involved. Some people are really good at making their case when they want something badly enough. But the bottom line is; if you talk someone into something they really don’t want to be a part of, it could come back to haunt you when problems occur down the road. This applies to both having a pet when you enter a dating relationship as well as introducing a pet into an already established one.
First and foremost, consider all the possibilities when you try to combine these two relationships. It is important to consider all the positive and negatives before introducing a pet into your “couplehood.” And a good discussion about who is going to take on which responsibilities of ownership will help fend off at least some potential arguements. “I never said I would do _______,” isn’t fun to negotiate, after the fact. And keep in mind that you can introduce Sunshine to your new love but you can’t make someone love her just because you do. Believe it or not, not all people love having a ferret or iguana around either. And just because you get a thrill out of letting Dracula walk up and down your arm doesn’t mean that your pet tarantula will make your girlfriend tingle all the more for you.
So if you really don’t like pets –period, or you don’t like a certain kind of pet, you need to be honest about this if you intend to move your relationship forward to a future of sharing a household. It isn’t fair to the pet to have to live in a house where it isn’t wanted by someone.