Is This Love For Real?

 

The experience of “falling In Love” is exciting and romantic. On a physical level, our bodies are infused with an intoxicating blend of “feel good” neurotransmitters that are pre-programmed for bonding and procreation. We are obsessed with our beloved. It certainly feels like love!!

Later on, the picture is not so rosy. We begin to see aspects of our partner that annoy and anger us. This is when the “honeymoon” is over and the “real work” of the relationship begins. Now we begin to have moments where we doubt our choice of partner. Our question now becomes:   “How do I know that this is “true love?” Or, “How do I know this love real and lasting?”

CONDITIONAL LOVE

One way to explore this question is to ask yourself what your expectations of your partner are. Do you love him/her only when certain conditions are met…such as your partner continues to look a particular way or treat you a particular way? Does your love hinge on your partner agreeing to make “changes” that you deem to be in the best interests of creating YOUR ideal mate? Is your love possessive and controlling in some manner that demands your lover to be a certain way in order to receive love from you?

This is CONDITIONAL LOVE. It usually does not last.

There is an alternative that can last a lifetime

AUTHENTIC LOVE

Authentic love is based on a fondness and admiration of the other person, which does not depend upon how they feel about you…even if you wish with all your heart that your love were reciprocated. When your love is authentic you can bravely declare it and not retreat into bitter vengeance when the one you love does not feel the same way. Authentic love exists of course in non-romantic settings as well…but is particularly sweet when Romance and Authentic love co-exist and are felt by both people in the relationship.

Now there is a love worth waiting for

 

 

 

Mastering The Art Of Deep Listening

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I think it is fair to say that there is a deep socio/political divide in America right now. All around me it feels like there is evidence that we are not all on the same page about who we are as a people, what our values should be, and how we treat other people.

Underlying the “divide” is the collective emotion of FEAR. In my 25 years as a therapist it is my observation that fear often divides us as human beings. We struggle to connect, to understand each other, and to create harmonious, peaceful, nurturing relationships, but we often fall short. We fall short in our family relationships, in our community and institutional relationships, and even in our relationships as citizens of a particular country or of the world as a whole.

At this particular point in time I find the reality of the “disconnect” between people to be particularly distressing. How did this happen? I sometimes feel like I inhabit a different country than other people, and yet I somehow missed how different our realities really were. I guess I was afraid to really look.

It’s dawning on me recently that I am responsible for my part in creating this disconnect. I have been asleep. I have been complacent. I have surrounded myself with others who believe as I do and we have congratulated ourselves on how right and smart and compassionate we are. We are not. I am not.

For me, the reality is that I have not been listening. I have not been listening in a deep way. I have not been listening in a way that promotes deep understanding and empathy. I have not attempted to put myself into the reality of someone who does not share my view with the goal of just really “getting” them. The truth is I often enjoy the argument. I want to be “right”. I can’t solve the problems in the world as a whole, but I can change the way I listen to people regardless of weather or not they agree with me. This is the only way to begin to dispel the fear that continues to divide us.  It must begin with me. Below are the communication skills that I teach to couples when they have trouble communicating. I’m going to start using these skills all the time…. not just in my therapy room

HOW TO START REALLY LISTENING:

  1. Suspend all preconceived notions you may have about the views held by the person you are trying to communicate with. Take the view that you are here to “learn” about a different point of view… a different reality. Zen people would call it “beginners mind”. Your job as “listener” is not to defend yourself, or prove the other wrong. Lay your weapons down.
  1. After you have heard the other person out without interruptions, ask “clarifying” questions. Basically this is not about refuting what you have heard. It’s about understanding what you have heard. When you feel you have a decent understanding, check it out. Repeat back what you think you heard and correct the parts that aren’t right.
  1. Part three is the most important. Try your best to find an empathy bridge to this other persons view. “I can see how you might feel this way” for example. Try to find a way to understand and communicate to this other person that their point of view makes sense

In an ideal world, the other person in your dialog would become your “listener” in the second part of this exercise. Sometimes this is not possible, and you are up against someone who does not have the empathy for you that you are able to have for him or her. I would argue however, that you are still better off. You have given the best possible opportunity for understanding and “breakthroughs” are possible and do happen. From these “breakthroughs” are created new and more inclusive points of view, and the world becomes one where there are not “winners” and “losers” (zero sum game), but multiple “winners” (non zero sum game

That’s the world I want to live in.

 

 

 

 

 

Lessons From A Butterfly

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I was inspired today by the following quote attributed to Ellen DeGeneres:

“ Life is short. If you don’t believe me, ask a butterfly. The average lifespan of a butterfly is 5 to 14 days.”

This got me to thinking. For sure, I thought. That’s true. The older I get, the shorter life seems to be. What can I do to make sure my lifespan hits closer to the “14 day mark”? I’ve come up with a few ideas. Its not only about how many years we’ve got, cause face it, that’s kind of out of our control. For me it’s more about expanding the time we have so it doesn’t just feel like time is “flying by”. How can we do that? Here are some ideas:

  1. Strive to spend some time each day immersing yourself completely in the “now”. If you are slowing yourself down, and using all five senses to experience each moment to the fullest, time will expand and create the illusion of “more”.
  1. Related to #1, time spent in quiet contemplation is time that “feels” longer because it has “meaning” attributed to it. I think this is because thinking about what we do, and who we are, adds richness and depth to the experience of being human. It just makes the time feel longer, bigger, and more.
  1. Say “Yes” to new experiences, even when you’re not sure how you are going to like them because they are out of your “comfort zone”.  I learned this lesson from my sister-in-law after she lost her husband of 45 years.  A wise friend told her that the way to begin a new chapter of life is to take the risk of doing something that is beyond what you might imagine you would like. It’s really the only way to stretch yourself into the new person you need to become.  A new and “novel” experience actually heighteners and lengthens our experience of time.  Besides, who knows where you might meet your new best friend, or the love of your life?”
  1. Practice gratitude every day for everything you are, everything you have, and all of your experiences. What seems clear to me now from the perspective of more advanced age, is that our labels of “good” and “bad” for particular experiences become meaningless as the experiences retreat into the past. We can see, for example, that an experience with domestic abuse paved the way for an increase in our self-esteem, and the appearance ultimately of a partner worthy of us. I also think that truly feeling grateful brings in more of what we actually long for. We are “happier” and more “content”, and in that state we actually will live longer.

So that’s it…. those are my thoughts.

Give flight to your butterfly,… live long and prosper

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Finding Love…Cultivating a Grateful Heart

Finding Love….Cultivating A Grateful Heartstock-footage-closeup-of-a-buddhist-monk-with-orange-robe-pray-in-temple

Thanksgiving always reminds me of the importance of Gratitude for living a fulfilled and awakened life. This year what I also realized though, is that I don’t always feel grateful. I complain. I criticize. I judge the actions of others. I forget in these moments that much of what I see “out there” in the world of “not me” actually exists “in here”….that is within me. When I am truly honest with myself I admit that what I don’t like in others is actually a reflection of some part of me. Put another way, the truth is that…in some way, at some time, and to some extent….I am that too  (whatever “that” is in that moment

The Full Meaning Of  “I am That”

When I think of “I am that” I am referring to “that” as the wonderful magnificence of me…as well as the shadowy hidden parts of me. I am “all of that” in equal measure, in fact. I had a spiritual teacher who would say….if you see it, and can recognize it, then you are it. I believe this.

Cultivating Gratitude For All Of It

From this more “all encompassing” perspective, I feel called upon to cultivate gratitude in my life. I am grateful for all that I may label as “good”, as well as all that I may label as “bad” at any given time. Most of all , I am grateful for the “unifying field” that holds it all together and allows for the possibility that we can all be “at one” with one another. “Wholeness” and “Oneness” is what I seek at all times for myself and for the world

From Gratitude…Flows Forgiveness

It seems to me that from a place of gratitude, forgiveness can begin to flow easily and abundantly. Surely, if I am “that” and you are also “that” then we can forgive both ourselves and everyone else who may have “wronged” us. Actually, in fact, forgiving one is forgiving the other. Is there really any separation?

Now Love Emerges fully realized

Now is when love begins to really emerge into consciousness. It was always there but it can now be seen and felt in a way that was not possible before.

My gratitude then becomes a gratitude for the love that is everywhere present .….within and without all of us at all times.

So…Thank you, Thank you, and Thank you again

prayer of Gratitude

prayer of Gratitude

 

 

 

 

 

Finding Love….How To Reclaim Your Hidden Self

Finding Love…. Reclaiming and Celebrating the Hidden Self

Wholeness

Wholeness

I’ve recently begun a series of blogs devoted to solving the “riddle” of “Finding Love” in our lives. First I talked about “The Importance of Feeling Seen”. Next I touched upon “Daring to be vulnerable”. Now I want to talk more specifically about the part of us that often is not seen by others…the “hidden” self that feels tender and vulnerable and remains unseen unless we allow it to emerge from the shadows of our personality. In fact, the famous psychologist Carl Jung referred to our hidden self as the “shadow”. In simple terms, your “shadow” is any part of yourself that you don’t want to be seen by others…and in fact you may not even allow yourself to see it because you have denied it for so long or buried it so deep. Examples of “shadow” parts of us might be our extreme shame, or our desperate longing to be loved…orperhaps our bitter jealousy of a sister, brother, or friend.

Virtually anything can be in our shadow if its something we don’t want to “own” or admit to. It could even be a hidden talent that we are afraid to develop lest we won’t be perfect at it. Whatever the shadow is doesn’t matter. What matters is uncovering it…first to yourself…and then to another with whom you wish to achieve authentic intimacy. Uncovering and exposing your shadow is important work on the path to wholeness and, I believe essential for finding lasting love.

How Do You Know What’s In Your Shadow?

I think most of us are pretty conscious of certain parts of ourselves that we keep hidden much of the time. Who amongst us has not been jealous or envious for example? Recently I have found that it’s quite liberating to admit to my trusted women friends that I have felt jealous of them from time to time. I was amazed when I did this. When my jealously was hidden and suppressed I found it difficult to be happy for the good fortune of my friends. When I admitted envy, I could rejoice with them. I could join with my friend and we could be happy together. My jealously came out of the shadows and became an admitted part of who I am.

Now…. Look At Your Projections and Discover The Connection Between Judgment And Projection

In order to find deeper parts of our shadow selves that we really don’t want to admit to or just can’t see, we have to notice the places where we sit in extreme judgment of other people. What happens is that when we really don’t want to admit to a trait within ourselves we react strongly to that trait in another person. This very human tendency is called “Projection” and it’s a really good way to keep our shadow selves at bay. For me, a really good example was when a good friend of mine got a new car that I’d been coveting for a while, but I could not afford right now. All of a sudden I was talking negatively to others about the extreme foolishness of her buying this car. My extreme reaction was Projection. I could not just be happy for her until I admitted my jealousy and took back the projection. My projection, in this case gave me a clue about that same old hidden part of myself called envy

Know That You Are Enough

Brene Brown is a well-known “Shame” researcher who has studied the emotion of shame extensively. One of her findings is that people who are driven by the need to be “perfect” are often keeping huge parts of themselves hidden from themselves and others. What they are keeping hidden is obviously anything that does not fit the image that they are trying to project of being “perfect”. These hidden “non perfect” aspects are part of the shadow of a perfectionist. What a burden! Perfectionism becomes a problem of course, simply because it is unobtainable. Brene Brown stresses the importance of Knowing that you are enough which means, I believe owning all of the parts of yourself…the perfect and the imperfect. In her book, Daring To Be Vulnerable Dr. Brown also talks about how often all of us avoid looking at the imperfect parts of ourselves by staying ultra busy, or numbing ourselves with the many distractions that are available in our modern world. Drugs and alcohol also serve this purpose.

So…. Celebrate All Of Who You Are

So…now that you know how to find your “hidden self”, rejoice in it, reveal it, and celebrate your well-earned place in the human race. People will find you much more approachable as you emerge from the shadows, as long as you surround yourself with a trusted cadre of like-minded folks. One of my favorite songwriters is Leonard Cohen. He has a great line in one of his songs about how true enlightenment comes when a crack appears in anything that we as humans call “perfect” This is how the line goes: “There is a crack, a crack, in everything…that’s how the light gets in. That’s how the light gets in”

 

 

 

The Golden Key To Long Life And Happiness

 

Sustained Happiness

Recently there has been a proliferation of research regarding the nature of “Happiness”…that elusive state of mind that we all crave. Much of this research comes from the relatively new field of “Positive” psychology. The research methodology often involves compiling “self report” surveys from all over the world. The main question asked of people recruited for the survey is very simple. It is usually some variation of   “How happy are you, and to what do you attribute your level of happiness? Research subjects are given general categories from which to choose including health, wealth, spiritual practice, relationships with family and friends…etc. The findings after upwards of 15 years of this kind of research are shocking…but not altogether surprising.

General Findings Of Happiness Research

As compared with middle age adults in other highly industrialized countries, Americans rate extremely low on the “happiness” scale. Our rates of anxiety and depression are sky high. At the same time we have disturbingly high rates of “mood” disorder and general discontent, we also spend the most money trying to solve our “happiness problem”. Common attempts to “feel better” include buying the latest technological toy, taking exotic and exciting vacations, working on improving our bodies, engaging in numerous “self help” activities, and taking psychiatric medications. Overall these attempts appear not to be working. At the very least, the results don’t seem to last.

So…What’s Wrong With This Picture?

To put it simply…in popular American culture, many of us seem to be seeking happiness in all the wrong places. We would do well to look at the activities and values of people in other parts of the world who report higher levels of happiness…as well as looking at populations in the United States who report higher long-term levels of happiness. When researchers did exactly this, here is what they found:

The Top Three Characteristics Of People Who Report High Levels Of Happiness

  1. The happiest amongst us consistently report that they enjoy meaningful, intimate, relationships with family and/or friends
  2. A higher degree of contentment is correlated with those who have found a sense of purpose in their lives. This can be achieved either through work that is more of a “calling”, or really anything that one can feel passionate about
  3. A belief in something that is greater than the “self” also brings about a sense of peace and acceptance. Anxieties are “soothed” by this idea, and it does not necessarily mean the belief in any particular religious ideology…although it could.
  4. People who know how to re-write their life story are happier and probably have a longer, healthier life!

Importance of Relationship

The good news is that improving your relationships is something anybody can do at any time. It doesn’t take huge amounts of money unless you are amongst those who really need to work on how to connect with others. Here are some steps you might consider:

  1. Assess your current relationship environment. Does everyone you deal with on a daily basis add value to your life? If not consider gently letting go of those who do not. This could even mean changing jobs if you are forced to work in a hostile environment
  2. Consider reconnecting with people from your past. These people are like “gold” because they can help you reconnect with lost parts of yourself that can enrich your present sense of yourself
  3. Nurture your relationships every day. Don’t be afraid to be the first to call. If you find you are “working too hard” to keep something going though, this is another sign you may need to let a relationship go
  4. Don’t forget to be your own best friend. Spend time alone getting to know yourself in an atmosphere of quiet contemplation. Become curious and interested in the world through whatever “portal” makes sense to you (such as books, movies, nature) This will make you interesting to others and people will want to be around you.

Live Long And Thrive

I’m aware this is the Kaiser tag line, but I’m gonna borrow it because I like it. The longest living amongst us always report that they derive energy and the “will to live” through their relationships. As an added bonus, successful long-term romantic relationships often begin as deep committed friendships. Friendship is the fertile soil out of which intimacy sprouts and flourishes.