On Interrelatedness: No Beginning, No End March 21, 2014
Yesterday I met with my writer’s group, The Purple Pros, at the Barnes and Noble Café. As is our custom in this group which has met for over twenty years, one of us brings a meditative reading; another brings a topic we write about for five minutes. Despite the fact that these activities are randomly chosen, their themes are almost always remarkably similar, if not identical. Moreover, the same themes inevitably crop up again during our touch-in ritual. We never fail to be awed by the mystery of this synchronicity.
It happened again yesterday. Margie lost her beloved husband several years ago. To the great joy of those who love her, she’s found love again and will soon marry a wonderful man. To celebrate this happy occasion, I light a small candle in a sparkly gold container and read a blessing from John O’Donohue titled “For a New Beginning.” Margie tears up as I read. Afterwards she tells us of a synchronicity that makes this blessing especially meaningful.
Since I’ll be out of the country the day of her wedding, and since she and her fiancé are both patrons of the arts, I give her a carved wooden Endless Knot that was hand-painted by the young students at an art school we support in Bhutan, a country whose economic development is based on “gross national happiness.” I bought it there several years ago. The tears continue to roll down her cheeks as she tells us the paint is the exact colors of her wedding! Enclosed is this description: “In the endless knot all the lines are interrelated to each other and the knot has no beginning and no end. It symbolizes the infinite knowledge and love of Buddha to all sentient beings. It is good to give as gift to your dear ones as an expression of your eternal love and compassion.”
Lenny’s writing assignment is to write a scene that depicts happiness that is meaningful and true to us. Here we go again. First we celebrated Margie’s upcoming marriage ritual which is all about love and happiness; then I give her a gift from a country whose official goal is to promote happiness; now we are to write about what brings us happiness. Usually I need time to think before I start writing; occasionally I never even get started. This time my scene arrives immediately and fully formed. I can’t write fast enough. Only after I’m finished do I connect all the dots: it’s about the interconnection between happiness and ritual, relationship, meaning and love.
This is what I wrote. It makes me happy just to think about it!
My granddaughters are excited about tonight’s sleepover. They ring the doorbell then run and hide, a ritual they started in early childhood and still enjoy. I loudly lament their absence until they race from their hiding places and give me hugs and kisses.
After depositing their backpacks their first stop is my bedroom. Sophia sorts through the makeup in my vanity drawer and picks out something to take home while Alex tries on my shoes. When she falls in love with an old pair that fit perfectly, I give them to her.
Dinner is delivery pizza consumed over a favorite video. Dessert is freshly baked chocolate chip cookies, still warm.
The rituals continue at bedtime. They bathe in the spa tub with bubble bath crystals and fragrant lotions. Sophia pulls the pillow cases off her favorite Swedish foam pillow. Alex asks for her glass of water.
I tuck them in and kiss them goodnight then sit at my desk on the balcony outside the same room their mother once occupied, my presence a reassurance they still crave. Their door swings open and Sophia comes to me clutching the large furry rabbit hand-puppet I brought her from a trip to the Grand Canyon a few years ago.
“You forgot to say goodnight to Snuggle Bunny!” she says with questioning eyes as she tentatively holds out her beloved bedtime friend. Will I still want to enact a ritual that means so much to her? I receive Snuggle Bunny with infinite tenderness. As my fingers animate her head and arms in gestures of shy love, we three murmur our goodnights.
Healing the Sacred Divide can be found at Amazon and Larson Publications, Inc. Ebook versions of The Bridge to Wholeness and Dream Theatres of the Soul are at Amazon, Kobo, Barnes and Noble, Smashwords, and Diesel Ebooks
Image Source = Wikipedia: Zeskanowana praca ręcznie wykonanej kopia ogólnie dostępnej grafiki
The Secret to Healing Relationships March 14, 2014
Here’s one of the most important things I’ve learned about relationships: If we do not understand our worth and respect our right to be different, our relationships will be seriously impaired because others will not understand our worth or respect us either. But if we accept the natural entitlement that belongs to every soul, and if we can learn to trust our soul’s processes enough to stand firm in the face of misunderstanding and opposition, we can more easily bridge the divide between ourselves and others.
While we might sometimes feel that people we know and love are being deliberately perverse, at bottom, few are truly motivated by a need to create difficulties for us, but simply believe our differences mean that we are wrong and they are right. This blind spot has nothing to do with our true worth and everything to do with the walls every ego builds around itself from an early age.
If we understand this, our next challenge is to see the other side of our relationship story. The uncomfortable kicker is that if we are offended by those with whom we are in conflict, it is not necessarily because there is something terribly wrong with them. Just as their inability to accept us as we are is not necessarily due to our flaws but to their inability to see and respect our differences, so our inability to accept them as they are is, in large part, due to the walls we have built up around ourselves. Ouch!
The foundation for this kind of prejudice is buried in our psyches at birth and we begin to build on it around the age of three when we realize that others are not extensions of ourselves but separate beings. This awareness creates our ego, an edifice we design and construct by selecting the beliefs, qualities, goals, attitudes and values we like while rejecting those we don’t. Nobody does this on purpose or is even aware of doing it. It’s simply a natural stage of ego development that becomes habitual, and if hiding our fuller selves behind our walls does not cause problems and suffering for us we may never discover them.
Sometimes we reject others who remind us of qualities we have disowned. At other times we befriend them because something in us is attracted to their differences. Either way, the challenge is to heal the either/or divide which both egos in any relationship have created. If we can accept the truth that we are as ignorant and fearful as others, we can change our focus from criticizing them to knowing ourselves. Then our ego’s walls begin to soften and crumble and the authentic heroic journey begins.
Lowering our defenses and baring the truths of our souls creates a healing elixir which is a mixture of understanding and compassion for ourselves and others. This magical potion is the only lasting solution to transforming dysfunctional relationships. Accepting our truths and speaking and acting on them with kindness and restraint is powerful medicine. As we dispense this medicine step by step, day by day, we become visible proof that it is possible for the human ego to change and mature, thus becoming more attractive and inspirational to others who, in turn, are motivated to change.
The beloved American actress and singer, Pearl Bailey, wrote: “”You never find yourself until you face the truth.” To that I would add, “…and you never find others until you find yourself.”
Formula for a Successful Marriage February 19, 2014
Yesterday my friend Pat sent me a link to an article in the New York Times she knew I’d like called The All-or-Nothing Marriage. It asks the question, “Are marriages today better or worse than they used to be?” Writer Eli J. Finkel writes,
“This vexing question is usually answered in one of two ways. According to the marital decline camp, marriage has weakened: Higher divorce rates reflect a lack of commitment and a decline of moral character that have harmed adults, children and society in general. But according to the marital resilience camp, though marriage has experienced disruptive changes like higher divorce rates, such developments are a sign that the institution has evolved to better respect individual autonomy, particularly for women. The true harm, by these lights, would have been for marriage to remain as confining as it was half a century ago.”
After studying the scholarly literature on marriage, Finkel offers a third view.
“Perhaps the most striking thing I learned is that the answer to whether today’s marriages are better or worse is “both”: The average marriage today is weaker than the average marriage of yore, in terms of both satisfaction and divorce rate, but the best marriages today are much stronger, in terms of both satisfaction and personal well-being, than the best marriages of yore.”
The reason for the success of the best marriages comes as no surprise to me: “Those individuals who can invest enough time and energy in their partnership are seeing unprecedented benefits.” So Finkel’s magic formula for a successful marriage is T (time) + E (energy) = SM (successful marriage.)
Synchronistically, today is my husband’s birthday and I read this article immediately after wrapping his presents and signing his birthday card. I don’t think he’ll mind if I share what I wrote with you: “I can’t believe you’re 70, my darling. Our love feels so much younger than that! Perhaps it’s because we’re just starting to get it right!!” His response after reading it this morning was, “We are, aren’t we?”
As I wrote to Pat, obviously I didn’t mean ‘younger’ as in, naïve, unformed or immature (we were certainly that, having married at 20 and 21!), but light, youthful, rejuvenating, hopeful, free. As someone who has worked hard at my marriage and myself, I can tell you that both endeavors are paying off in a deeply satisfying way at this stage of my life.
When Fred and I met we could hardly have been more different. He’s Irish/Italian, I’m Dutch/English. He was an extraverted, socially confident jock; I was an introverted, serious-minded student. He was an outspoken “bad boy” who always said exactly what he thought; I was a quiet and reserved “good girl” who kept my feelings and opinions to myself.
A recipe for disaster? Many people probably thought so, yet here we are in our 70th year on Earth preparing to celebrate our 50th wedding anniversary this summer. So what’s our secret? Part of it has to do with Finkel’s findings about the importance of Time and Energy to devote to our relationship. Somehow we both found work we love that gives us enough time to share a lifestyle we both enjoy. Likewise, we both lucked into good health and plenty of energy. Believe me, we know how fortunate we are. As Finkel notes, so many people don’t have these luxuries!
But I’d like to add two more ingredients to Finkel’s equation that have been essential to us. Despite our differences, the one thing we both share is a deep ‘Commitment’ to each other and our relationship. Second, in mid-life I devoted my remaining years to a search for self-knowledge via a regular program of Inner Work. So what’s my magic formula for a Successful Marriage?
T & E + C & IW = SM
As Finkel writes,
“The bad news is that insofar as socioeconomic circumstances or individual choices undermine the investment of time and energy in our relationships, our marriages are likely to fall short of our era’s expectations. The good news is that our marriages can flourish today like never before. They just can’t do it on their own.”
This one’s for you, Fred. Happy Birthday.
Photo Credit: Amy Smith Photography
The Feminine Symbolism of Vessels February 12, 2014
Our relationships with nature and matter are closely connected to our relationships with our bodies. In certain orthodox religious circles, love for God as remote masculine spirit has gone hand in hand with physical self-loathing. For example, Moses Maimonides, the greatest Jewish medieval philosopher, was merely stating a commonly held belief when he said that “all philosophers are agreed that the inferior world, of earthly corruption and degeneration, is ruled by the natural virtues and influences of the more refined celestial spheres.” Likewise, St. Augustine considered his body to be the major source of his spiritual problems and sufferings.
This attitude is an obstacle to the fullest development of our spirituality. In Care of the Soul, Thomas Moore writes:
“Spiritual life does not truly advance by being separated either from the soul or from its intimacy with life. God, as well as man, is fulfilled when God humbles himself to take on human flesh. The theological doctrine of incarnation suggests that God validates human imperfection as having mysterious…value. Our depressions, jealousies, narcissism, and failures are not at odds with the spiritual life. Indeed, they are essential to it….The ultimate marriage of spirit and soul, animus and anima, is the wedding of heaven and earth…”
Vessels are classic symbols of feminine matter. Of the many vessels symbolizing feminine containment, one that is particularly dear to Christians is the chalice or grail, the highest level of spiritual development and heavenly and earthly happiness. The female body is a vessel which receives sperm and produces eggs. A womb is a vessel within a vessel, the cradle of life that receives, holds, nurtures, and protects a growing embryo. A breast is a vessel which creates and dispenses milk. A skull is a vessel containing the brain, itself a vessel teeming with creative potential. In Christianity, Mary is a vessel for new spiritual life.
Another vessel-like symbol is the tower. A tower’s elevated position links it to heaven; its impenetrability to virginity; its vertical aspect to the human figure; its roundness to the womb; its containment to creative new life. Hence, towers that are closed and windowless were once emblematic of the Virgin Mary. In early Christian times a tower was often used to suggest the sacred walled city, another feminine symbol. The Herder Symbol Dictionary notes that a tower with a light is a lighthouse, which has long been a symbol “of the eternal goal toward which the ship of life [is] steered across the waves of this existence.” Its light suggests Sophia, the divine spark of life within us.
For Jung, too, the tower was a feminine symbol with sacred meaning. In his autobiography, Memories, Dreams, Reflections, he describes the stone tower he built at Bollingen, a small town on the upper shores of Lake Zurich, and writes that it “represented for me the maternal hearth.” He wrote,
“From the beginning I felt the Tower as in some way a place of maturation — a maternal womb or a maternal figure in which I could become what I was, what I am and will be. It gave me a feeling as if I were being reborn in stone.”
Vessels accept, contain, protect and preserve the birth/death/rebirth cycle of life at both the physical and metaphysical levels. Our planet Earth is a living vessel whose life cycles mirror the soul-making processes of psychological and spiritual transformation. The matter (L. mater) of which our bodies are composed is our mother, teacher, partner and guide on the spiritual journey. For that, it deserves our everlasting gratitude. How do you honor and thank your mother/body for nurturing the life of your soul?
Photo Credit: “Chalice” by Barbara Sorensen
Healing the Sacred Divide can be found at Amazon and Larson Publications, Inc. Ebook versions of The Bridge to Wholeness and Dream Theatres of the Soul are at Kobo, Barnes and Noble, Smashwords,and Diesel Ebooks
The Thanksgiving Gift of Two-Way Partnership November 26, 2013
My Thanksgiving gift for you is a video about a very special young woman who can neither hear nor speak yet has an extraordinary gift of communication. Stacy Westfall is a bona fide horse whisperer who communicates with her body, heart and soul. Before you see her in action I want to tell you something about human-horse relationships.
Most people think working with horses is a one-way form of communication: the human does the training and the horse does the listening and learning so it can serve the human’s needs. Most riders and trainers love horses very much and train them with kindness and patience; others believe they need to “break” horses with bullying and brute force. Either type can achieve great success…from the perspective of the human ego.
But the truly inspiring horse whisperers like Stacy step out of their egos and into the horse’s perspective because they want partnerships that are as satisfying to the horse as the human. They don’t have special powers the rest of us lack. Their secret is quite simple. They let themselves be trained by horses. They appreciate and respect the otherness of horses—their desire to please us, their willingness to serve us—so they take the time to learn and use horse language. Horses are exactly the same in reverse. They are “human whisperers” who appreciate and respect our otherness, are acutely sensitive to our emotional nuances, try to learn our language, and let themselves be trained by us because they want satisfying relationships too.
The horse whisperer/human whisperer relationship is the best example of two-way partnership I know. You’ll see it going on between the horse and human in this video. Look for Stacy’s signals: hand pats and rubs, heel nudges, turning her head in the direction she wants her horse to take, shifting her body weight. Then watch for Baby Doll’s signals to her. Throughout the performance his mouth is licking and chewing, licking and chewing. Know what this means in horse language? He’s telling her he’s thoroughly bonded with her and is doing his absolute best to please her.
Watch his ears. When he’s alert and focused he points them forward. This tells Stacy he’s paying attention and ready to go. When she gives a signal he swivels one ear back toward her. He’s listening. When she asks him to do something that requires extra concentration and exertion, like spinning in circles or running backwards, he flattens them on his neck, indicating his agitation and determination.
Watch his tail. When he’s relaxed his tail is relaxed. When he’s asked to move sideways or kneel, his tail switches back and forth with increased intensity. And when he’s getting excited and probably a bit annoyed about the truly difficult things, he whips it up and down with some attitude. But he does what Stacy asks him to, then he licks and chews and pops his ears back to alert and all is well again. He does this for the same reason you push through your annoyance to do the tough exercises your trainer or aerobics instructor asks of you. Because this partnership is important to you, you’re grateful for it, you want to do your best, and it feels good when you do.
The best way I know to show gratitude to our loved ones this Thanksgiving is to be a human whisperer: To pay attention what they’re asking of us, learn the nuances of their communication styles, push through our annoyance, and try our best to be a good partner. May you allow yourself to be trained by your loved ones this Thanksgiving. Enjoy the video.
“Thinking noble thoughts does not connect us with the Holy; only the ability to feel love for ourselves and others does that.”
I recently posted this quote from Healing the Sacred Divide on Twitter and received the following comment from Amrita. “Yes, over the years of introspection, I have [come to understand] that in order to know the whole one needs to know the dark as well…to know positive , one must be aware of the negative and one must not act negative as it would amount to bad karma. The whole self-help industry talks about being positive but it doesn’t explain all the mysteries. Do explain it in your blog…”
There are so many dimensions to this issue that I could write books about it. But I’ll try to distill it into two posts by going straight to the core (or coeur) of the matter: the heart. I’m reminded of the saying, “You can pretend to care, but you can’t pretend to show up.” The mysteries are not about pretending to love and care: they’re about feeling and manifesting love and care. Feeling and being are key.
Humanity has always intuited that the mysteries revolve around love. Loving feelings are prayers from which everything good flows. Tenderness, kindness, healing, peace. Compassion. Choices to forgive, set aside hurt and anger, sacrifice our ego’s need for revenge so others won’t get hurt: these are choices to love.
Using self-discipline, will power and positive affirmations and intentions to be more loving is, of course, a step in the right direction. But mental activity without physical and emotional participation is not enough. Sometimes it’s just a band-aid the ego sticks on the surface of a wound to avoid dealing with deeper, more painful realities. Every ego experiences wounding, and we all try to protect ourselves by repressing, disowning, ignoring or escaping. But until our psychic wounds are addressed and healed, the pain always oozes back into our awareness. Sometimes it’s so overwhelming that our mental discipline crumbles and our positive affirmations have no effect at all.
“In the realm of feeling…Western man is apt to be the puppet of his unconscious moods.”
–M. Esther Harding
We tell ourselves to blow off someone’s unkind words, but our vulnerable, innocent child within thinks, “What did I do?” and we start feeling hurt and sad. If we don’t catch those feelings right away, we move on to feeling wronged and resentful. We think, “I don’t deserve to be treated this way!” and now we’re really angry. Saying we love the person who elicited this response doesn’t make the anger go away and they can feel it whether we admit to it or not. If we’re not feeling love and they’re not feeling lovable, no one is convinced.
Or we knock ourselves out trying to look fabulous and act adorable and pleasing so we’ll be loveable and loved. But this takes a lot of work that uses up a psychological energy. When there’s no energy left we let down our guard; then the least little thing sets us off. Resentment and pettiness and self-loathing creep in, and the attitudes and actions that spew out into the world have nothing to do with love.
Unloving feelings that destroy our resolve to love are aspects of the unhealed and disowned parts of ourselves we call our dark shadow. When the shadow walks in the door, positive thoughts and will power fly out the window and the results are utterly predictable. Toxic feelings from unhealed wounds birth toxic behaviors. That’s just the way we’re made.
This is why getting in touch with our true feelings is the first step to connecting with the Holy. I’ll discuss the second step next time.