Still Learning

IMG_4234A few weeks ago my family and I spent five days up in the mountains. Overall, it was a lovely vacation, with much laughter, hiking, game-playing, and boating. But for some reason my husband and I were in one those spells when we bumped heads at some point each day. Perhaps it was hormones or lack of sleep; whatever the cause we weren’t in our best flow. On our last day we had a horrible fight in the middle of Garden of the Gods (oh, the irony of having a blow-up at Garden of the Gods!), in front of our kids, then drove back in silence until we arrived at our cabin and each retreated to our separate corners to continue to fester in our own dark projections. We finally, miraculously, found our way back to sanity, and after consciously choosing to express accountability in front of and to our kids, we re-entered the ease that normally flows through our marriage.

As I took a hike by myself later in the day, I marveled at the fact that, well into our second decade together, we’re still learning. We’re still growing. We’re still diving into deeper and deeper layers of our self-knowledge and knowledge of each other. Some part of me thought that we would have nailed this marriage thing by now. But when I step back and think of our marriage as a teenager, it makes sense that we fumble at times. As adults we don’t typically find our stride until our mid-thirties and even forties. Perhaps it’s the same with a marriage.

Yes, we’re still learning. My guess is that we’ll be learning for the rest of our lives. My hope is that, at some point on this marriage journey, we’ll each find enough internal equanimity that we can hold space for the others’ moods. We can do it now much more than we could years ago, but perhaps it will happen with more frequency when our kids are a bit older and the external space opens up.

I felt terrible that we fought in front of the kids until I reminded myself that it’s not necessarily the arguing that’s traumatic for kids as the lack of repair. I have clients who grew to adulthood believing that, because they never saw or heard their parents arguing, marriage didn’t include arguing. Every time they argue with their spouse now they believe that something is wrong. Or the more common scenario where parents fought a lot but never showed repair. As I shared with my son later that day, “I’m so sorry we argued and I’m sure that felt scary. I want you to know that it’s normal to fight when you’re married, and that Daddy and I try to learn from our fights so that we’re always growing. One day you might fight with your wife and that’s okay as long as you’re both accountable and learn from it.”

I’m sharing all of this because it’s of utmost important to me to dispell the illusion that, even when we’re on a path of deep personal and spiritual growth, there’s a “there.” We live under a massive cultural illusion that life is a mountain you climb and when you’ve done enough inner work, you will reach the top where no winds or storms of human folly will affect you. My soul-sister and colleague, Carrie, and I share the philosophy that it’s especially important to shatter the myth that therapists have somehow evolved their way above the tempests of psyche that emerge from the underground realms and seize you in a paroxysm of projection.

We are not immune. I am not immune. I don’t have all the answers. In fact, I don’t have any answers because I don’t believe single answers exist. I’m highly suspicious of “experts” who write books espousing their simple, three-step approach to a conflict-free marriage. It’s not that I don’t believe that there are tools and practices that can greatly aid in developing healthier ways of communicating. But anyone who says that it’s possible to have a conflict-free relationship, well, I just don’t buy it. And I believe that setting up that expectation is part of what entrenches the conflicts further, for as soon as you hook into the belief of, “This shouldn’t be happening,” it’s a quick downward spiral to shame.

If you’re in an intimate relationship with anyone – friend, child, parents, partner – you will butt heads. It’s helpful to learn skills, like walking away as soon as someone is triggered, but that’s not always possible. Sometimes you’re in the car or on vacation, and you’re forced to stay in proximity when one or both of you has been overtaken by the dark side. So you do your best to plod through it. You remind yourself that, as horribly awful as it is to be in conflict with someone you love, it’s also a sign that you’re in relationship with someone you love – which means that you have love in your life. And with love comes tension. With love comes extremely high levels of discomfort. With love comes projection, which can lead to a feeling of hate. And with love comes, if you take it as such, the opportunity to deepen your awareness of yourself and others, to learn how to give and receive love more deeply. It’s a rough path at times, for sure. I’m not sure why, but this seems to be the way that we grow best. When the storm passes, there your beloved sits, face clear and heart open, and you revel in gratitude for this path of love and learning and growing that you’re on together.

It's Not What You Think

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One the many problems of living in an image-based, superficial culture is that we learn to take life at face value. You have a dream about having sex with someone other than your partner and you latch onto the most obvious interpretation that you secretly want to have sex with someone else. You find yourself obsessively thinking about your ex and you assume it means you still want to be with him or her. You bolt awake in the middle of the night with unexpected doubt about whether you love your partner enough and you assume that you don’t love your partner enough. Your child screams at you and you assume that he’s trying to control you or needs a lesson in manners and respect. These seem like reasonable enough interpretations, and they’re certainly supported by the mainstream culture.

By contrast, part of the reason that people respond to my … Click here to continue reading…

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The Wisdom of Longing

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At the core of each human being rests a heart full of love, tinged with sadness and aching with longing. Some would say this longing points to our awareness of our original separation from a divine source, the knowing that we are all one yet painfully separated from each another because of this form of a body. We ache to merge back into our source, to float in the sea of oneness that is only love. But we can’t quite get there. No matter how much we meditate, create art, sit in nature, or make love, we are offered only momentary tastes of the delicious state of non-duality that defines our essential nature.

Yet there are other kinds of longing. The core longing splits off into tendrils of cousin longings, thinner threads of silk that ripple from heart through body. Longing for a partner. Longing for a baby. Longing for … Click here to continue reading…

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Fear Distorts Perception

Our eyes are not viewers; they are also projectors that are running a second story over the picture that we see in front of us all the time. Fear is writing that script. Now fear is going to be a player in your life. You get to decide how much. You can spend your whole life imagining ghosts, worrying about the pathway to the future, but all there will ever be is what’s happening here, and the decisions we make in this moment which are based in either love or fear.

- Jim Carrey’s Secret of Life

It’s our ultimate decision: How much do we allow fear to run our life? In every moment, we’re offered the choice. Every time we choose love, our heart opens. Every time we choose fear, we contract further behind the wall of pain that barricades the heart. And if you choose fear, … Click here to continue reading…

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True Beauty

A few weeks ago I met with two women from my spirituality group. They had never been to my home, and as we stepped onto the deck to begin our meeting they both remarked on the beauty of our land. I found myself qualifying and explaining about the dirt and weeds: “It was a lot more beautiful before the flood,” I said. But they both replied with, “You can feel the beauty. It’s still here.”

These are both women with a strong spiritual practice, which to me means that they have learned to see beneath the surface of things and tap into the underground river that informs and connects the invisible layers of our lives. While my husband and I look at our yard and see what was destroyed by the flood – the beautiful flower gardens, the luminous green lawn – they’re seeing the whole picture, feeling with their … Click here to continue reading…

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