Communicating Without Controlling Part II: Speaking Your Wants

This is the second in my blog series on Communication. This material comes from Susan Campbell’s book, Saying What’s Real. I find her suggestions have been extremely helpful to me to further develop with my partner our intimacy and trust. I hope you will try out these suggestions and see for yourself.

As I mentioned last time, in order to communicate effectively you have to be in the present. All too often, we speak in reaction to a restimulation of some past unpleasant experience, or to a fear of some made-up (but seemingly real) future event (again, a projection of past fears and experiences into the future). If you can turn your thought structure away from the past and future, and be in the ‘now’, you will find that things are much simpler, and a whole lot less fraught.

Back in December, I blogged about communicating feelings, using the phrase, “Hearing you say that, I feel ___” and filling in the blank with your emotion (sad, angry, happy, etc.), or your sensation (hot, cold, excitement, relaxed, tense, etc.). This month I want to talk about sharing your wants.

For many of us, stating what we want in the moment can be discomfiting. We may have learned early in life that expressing or even feeling our wants leads to disappointment. So rather than take the risk of saying what we want in the moment, we give in to the expectation that our want won’t be met, and that we will feel the pain of disappointment. We protect ourselves by staying silent about our wants, or undercommunicating by using hints, giving up too easily, or being indirect. Alternately, we may overcommunicate our wants by resorting to threat, demands or manipulation. Both are ways we attempt to control the outcome, and ultimately will never lead to right relationship.

Campbell emphasizes that our wants need to be expressed in the NOW. Saying, “I want you to be more affectionate towards me” is more of a directive, and not communicating what is currently present in the relationship. Much better is, “I love it when you hug me tight. Would you do that for me now?” Asking the other to be more affectionate is asking them to hold your request for you and to read your mind as to when you want that affection (not likely to happen). The latter expression actually helps to teach our partner what we like and when we like it. It does not indicate some vague future actions, but something specific and time-based. Hearing that request, I can decide in this moment how I want to respond, and I’m not held to trying to remember what I am expected to do in the future. You take responsibility for expressing what you want in the moment, and the listener has the freedom to say yes or no.

Some other examples of ‘now-based’ vs. control-based requests:

  • I want you to hold my hand. / I want you to hold my hand whenever we go for a walk.
  • I want you to come home early Friday and we can go out to a restaurant. / I wish you’d spend more quality time with me.
  • I want you to tell me you are glad to see me. / I want you to be more reassuring.

Notice that making ‘now-based’ requests involves taking the risk of hearing ‘no’ or ‘not now’. It also involves taking responsibility for asking for what you want when you want it, rather than the once-and-for-all directive that puts the onus of remembering your wants on the listener. Note: it is very unlikely that someone else will be able to feel and respond to our urges!

So, some hints about making requests that will increase your intimacy and effective communication and empower you as a worthy human being:

  • Be specific: don’t ask for something so vague and general that the other person has to make it up. Think in terms of teaching the other person how exactly to please and delight you.
  • Timing is almost everything: don’t ask when you are not likely to get what you want. You are not likely to get a back rub when she’s getting ready for work. And make your ask as close as practical to when you want it to happen, leaving room for necessary planning and preparation.
  • Don’t postpone: holding off on making your wants known can lead to building up of pressure around suppressed needs and desires. That can lead to high-risk stakes where you are unwilling to take “no” or “later” for an answer. When that happens, you are likely to blurt out controlling behaviors: manipulation, threats and demands. What gets communicated then is your urgency and unwillingness to take anything but compliance. It’s better to ask for what you want in the moment, rather than saving up making requests until it’s become a big deal.
  • Ask without expectation: Campbell says “expressing your in-the-moment wants, simply and directly, is a profound act of trust. As such, it helps you learn self-trust.” By asking from a frame of mind that is open to the others’ right to refuse you, you affirm that however it goes, you can and will deal with it. It is critical that you don’t make a conscious or unconscious assumption that you must have your want satisfied. This builds self-trust by relying on yourself to be able to deal with whatever happens.. If you can’t accept a negative response to your request, “then maybe you have a belief that you should always get what you ask for.” And how does that belief serve you?
  • I shouldn’t have to ask: many of us fall into this trap, thinking, “If she really loved me, I wouldn’t have to ask. She’d know what I like.” For you, having to ask is tantamount to admitting that the other doesn’t care much for you. Really, this is just another way of avoiding risk in asking for what you want. You don’t ask for much, so you don’t hear ‘no’ very often. But the chance to develop self-trust and resilience in your relationships is lost. If the other person cares about you, the risk is an intelligent risk. Believe me, hearing no will not injure you!
  • I don’t want to feel indebted: some of us fear that asking for something puts us one down in regard to the other, that our independence will somehow be limited, or that feeling needy is unattractive or uncomfortable. Campbell says this may be due to a caregiver early in live who was undependable, and that it is not safe to feel dependent or needy (I have to include myself here!). But today is not the same as years ago, and the person you face now is not the same person from your childhood (most likely). And now you are far more capable of handling a situation that leads to pain or disappointment than you were as a child. So what do you really risk? Can you bear to live with the disappointment of a NO? Can you bear to live with the joy and fulfillment of a YES? Gamble intelligently, and try taking some risk!

What types of responses to an ask are legitimate? Obviously, a yes is ideal. A ‘Yes, but not now’ should have some specific time attached, like “when I’m done reading this chapter” or “by next Thursday”. “Maybe” begs for some explanation, but at times can be the only response that makes sense (“Maybe, if I can get the day off tomorrow”). Of course there is “No,” and it is really important that this response be respected and understood that it is a ‘no for the present time’, and may change with circumstances. Another response could be “Yes, if you’ll do this for me.” You may consider this bargaining and transactional, rather than given out of love and compassion. Campbell says that there is a place for this sort of agreement in any relationship and this can make things workable when both parties have to stretch a bit for fulfill the other’s request.

What is important to note that asking is more important than getting what you want. By asking, we expose our inner self to others to what we feel in the moment. We learn to speak to what we can control (our wants), and let go of controlling what we can’t (whether we get it or not). We can open ourselves to wanting without being ‘reasonable,’  rather than caretaking others from being exposed to your wants. Wanting is being present to who you are in this moment. It is being vulnerable, and not being controlling.

I’d love to hear your comments. And another tip forthcoming next month!

Namaste, John


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Communicating Without Controlling: Part I

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One of my favorite books on relationship is Susan Campbell’s Saying What’s Real. She claims that research shows that “nearly 90% of human communication comes from (the usually unconscious) intent to control.”  Think about that for a moment. Ninety percent of … Continue reading

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A Wink and a Smile…For Me!

I’m aware that for me, at least, a lot of my internal dialogue has a tendency to run myself down. In the morning, I often find inner “Mom” telling my inner CEO all the things I’d left undone yesterday (and the days before). I start to plan my day out, and another voice (the ‘bad manager’) starts in about how terrible a time manager I am, and I can’t get half of what I planned done even on a good day. There’s chatter inside me about relationships, not being worthy or likeable enough, or diplomatic enough. Bleah!
Over the years, I’ve learned to tone down this negative chatter from my internal gremlins, and I can often tune it out entirely for a few hours. Every morning I practice centering with yogic breathing (pranayama), and radiating out my abundance of love and compassion to the universe in my meditation. When I catch myself rehearsing angry thoughts, I re-center, relax, and re-create myself. This practice works for me, even if it is not a once-and-for-all permanent solution to my ‘stinkin’ thinkin’’.
I was recently talking with my cousin Max on one of our monthly calls, and he mentioned to me how we winks at himself in the mirror as a way of expressing self-love and acceptance. I thought that was a great idea, and for several days, kept reminding myself I want to try that and see what it’s like for me. I had an image in my head about what it would feel like, and what the impact could be, but it must have been my gremlins that held me back from doing more than just a thought experiment. Finally, yesterday, my lucky stars aligned, and I winked at myself in the bathroom mirror. I reflexively smiled back at my image (and image returned the favor…imagine that!). I experienced a sense of self-acceptance that was deeply intimate, tinged with humor and mischief. I felt a sort of loving attraction that had nothing to do with vanity, and everything to do with someone who is up to something in the world, living values fully, and who was not going to be put down today under any circumstances. Life is Good.
I winked again at myself today, enjoying the inside…’joke’ is not the word for it, it’s more like ‘knowingness.’ I find it a way to instantly recall in the present moment the joy of being alive and being me. I feel momentarily released from the tension and heaviness of getting caught up in the culture of doing-ness, and measuring up to arbitrary standards that oppress me, and suck away my connection to my natural happiness, exuberance and sense of anything being possible, my joy.

Now just a second…I’m off to wink once more. I’ll be right back…

Yep, still works like a charm! Thanks Max!

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Accessing the Power of Gratitude

Gratitude 11547471I have been noticing the fall changes lately, enjoying walks filled with breathtaking colors and warm sunlight, and eking out those last few bike rides in mild weather. Sujata and I are also making our Thanksgiving plans, and I’ve been noticing just how much there is to be thankful for, not just in this season of feasting and friendship, but every day as well.

The practice of gratitude as a tool for happiness has been in the mainstream for years. Long-term studies support gratitude’s effectiveness, suggesting that a positive, appreciative attitude contributes to greater success in work, greater health, peak performance in sports and business, a higher sense of well-being, and a faster rate of recovery from surgery.

While we may acknowledge gratitude’s many benefits, it still can be difficult to sustain. So many of us are trained to notice what is broken, undone or lacking in our lives. And for gratitude to meet its full healing potential in our lives, it needs to become more than just a Thanksgiving word. We have to learn a new way of looking at things, a new habit. And that can take some time.

That’s why practicing gratitude makes so much sense. When we practice giving thanks for all we have, instead of complaining about what we lack, we give ourselves the chance to see all of life as an opportunity and a blessing.

Remember that gratitude isn’t a blindly optimistic approach in which the bad things in life are whitewashed or ignored. It’s more a matter of where we put our focus and attention. Pain and injustice exist in this world, but when we focus on the gifts of life, we gain a feeling of well-being. Gratitude balances us and gives us hope.

There are many things to be grateful for: colorful autumn leaves, legs that work, friends who listen and really hear, dark chocolate, warm jackets, tomatoes from a home garden, the ability to read, roses, our health, butterflies, the stars on a clear night. What’s on your list?

 Some Ways to Practice Gratitude

  •  Keep a gratitude journal in which you list things for which you are thankful. You can make daily, weekly or monthly lists. Post your gratitude and share with your friends on FaceBook (my friend Tanya does this, and I feel grateful seeing her posts!). Greater frequency may be better for creating a new habit, but just keeping that journal where you can see it will remind you to think in a grateful way.
  •  Make a gratitude collage by drawing or pasting pictures.
  •  Practice gratitude around the dinner table or make it part of your nighttime routine.
  •  Make a game of finding the hidden blessing in a challenging situation.
  •  When you feel like complaining, make a gratitude list instead. You may be amazed by how much better you feel.
  •  Notice how gratitude is impacting your life. Write about it, sing about it, express thanks for gratitude.

As you practice, an inner shift begins to occur, and you may be delighted to discover how content and hopeful you are feeling. That sense of fulfillment is gratitude at work.

Author’s content used with permission, © Claire Communications

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Righteousness: Guiding Light or Deadly Intoxicant?

RighteousnessRecently I got into an argument with a loved one. I felt I was due an apology. I pleaded my case, and did not get the response I was looking for. Suddenly, I was feeling a familiar sense of aggrandizement and entitlement. How dare this person defy me, when I was so clearly wronged, and my good principles and ethics were trodden on?

The argument, taking place on the way home from Minneapolis, ended in icy silence and entrenched positions. I was holding a judgment of righteous indignation. If you had asked me, I would have told you that God, or any reasonable person, would take my side. Powerful stuff, eh?

That night I suffered the worst case of nerve pain in my feet that I have ever had. I have an undiagnosed nerve disease that randomly causes stabbing pains in my feet. I can go for months symptom free, and then it will strike. Usually it is intense to the point of breathing through it and bearing with it until it passes. But this night it struck with a force so strong my body actually recoiled in convulsions, again and again. I remember thinking that this would not be good for my back. Sure enough, I have been dealing with back spasms ever since…nine days of debilitating pain and exhaustion. I feel alternately humbled, frustrated, depressed, angry (at God) and hopeless. I need to make a difference every day, and this painful experience has shrunk my world to just trying to get myself healed…it feels like the head of a pin is my world now.

Is there a connection between my righteousness and the pain I have experienced for well over a week? I am tempted to say ‘YES,’ because I have been examining my sense and behavior of righteousness for several months now, and I have become aware of the impact my righteousness has on not just me, but my community.

So what is this feeling that so many of us carry, this sense of righteousness? It’s been around for a long time. Webster defines righteousness as the quality of being morally right or justifiable. Wikipedia says righteousness is an important theological concept in western religions. It is an attribute that implies that a person’s actions are justified, and can have the connotation that the person has been “judged” or “reckoned” as leading a life that is pleasing to God.

Ah, so if my behavior is justified by, and pleasing to God, then whoever is on the other side of that is “wrong” or “sinful” or just plain “whacko”? ‘I’m right, you’re wrong, and God’s on my side.’ There, if ever there be a case for ego inflation, is the Mother of all egotistical positions.

Something is definitely askew with my (our) thinking around righteousness. If I need to justify my actions or position, this is a perfect indicator that I am not living from my heart, that I am not in connection with the object of my justification [see Anatomy of Peace, Arbinger Inst.]. I find it hard to believe I’m quoting a devout Christian here, but in the words of Andrew Womack, there “…is confusion about how we become right in the sight of God. It is commonly thought that our actions are the determining factor in God’s judgment of our righteousness. That’s not true. There is a relationship between our actions and our right standing with God, but right relationship with God produces actions, not the other way around. That is to say, we are not made righteous by what we do.

So true, or heartfelt, righteousness comes from us first being in right relationship. Then what follows in action can be righteous. My mistake and my downfall has been to judge my actions to be right as a way of justifying my opposition.

How seducing and intoxicating is this feeling of righteousness? My own experience has been one of towering ego, standing far above the ‘others’ who are not only “in the wrong,” but are, simply, “wrong”. I found this in an article by Roger Lockard, that sums it up nicely: …The sense of righteousness is endlessly versatile. It can become fuel for a rapacious crusade, or a comforting wrap into which we snuggle for affirmation and reassurance. This emotional fix is endlessly enticing, insidiously corrupting, and charged with such compelling authority that we can become willing to die—or kill—in its thrall.  At this point you may conjure images of terrorists piloting planes into skyscrapers or blowing up buses—rabid fanatics bent on vengeance. Or the Timothy McVeighs and Theodore Kaczynskis: alienated, forlorn figures stewing grimly in righteous vitriol. As with addiction in general, people prefer to think of the problem as involving others—not themselves. But in the case of righteousness, such a belief is almost always mistaken. Most of us, whether we be timid or bold, liberal, conservative, or (especially) some version of radical, are prone to imbibing heady infusions of the stuff. Viewing ourselves as “good,” in fact we become grievously toxic, literally intoxicated. In this poisonous state of mind we are able to write off others—often literally billions of others—without hesitation or remorse, because they are “bad.” It’s on the news every day: people addicted to righteousness are wreaking havoc, at home and abroad. And as I view this madness, I feel myself swell up with—what? You guessed it—righteous indignation! As usual, addiction becomes a closed system, feeding on itself.

There are two paths of ‘righteousness’ I have described here. One is ‘grievously toxic’ and intoxicating by inflating our sense of self and rightness of action. The other path is one of humility and compassion, born of being in right relationship with one’s Higher Power, community, and humanity. Actions taken from this state of being in right relationship with all of creation—even if not in agreement with their behavior—is no longer “all about me”, but “All about Us”. You and I get to choose our ‘path of righteousness.’

One final note: having written this piece, my back spasms have eased considerably, at least 50% in the last hour and a half. Read into that what you will. For me, this has been catharsis.

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Hole in the wallHole in the wallHole in the wallIMG_20140405_123526_797Hole in the wallSome annoying things can mask powerful and destructive forces. Only by opening them up to the light can we heal them and use these forces for good and constructive purposes. I know this from my own personal experience, but recently I was able to witness this in a new way.

Here’s the story: for many months we’d been having a problem with a circuit breaker tripping out for several outlets in our kitchen. It’s been mildly annoying, as we have had to move small appliances around to make use of the few remaining outlets that were still working in our kitchen. Every time I would reset that circuit (we got to the point of naming it “Old #12”), it might stay on for a week, or trip off before I could walk out the utility room door. Random, vexing, mysterious is how I would call the situation. We had need recently for an electrician for a small remodeling project we were doing elsewhere in the house, and hired our neighbor Gerry—who is also the Fire Chief for Northfield—to help us on the electrical work. Of course, I added in the task of fixing Old #12.

Our electrician opened the breaker box and tightened the connections to the circuit breaker #12. They weren’t particularly loose, but it was a good place to start, and the circuit stayed on after the workers left. Several days later it tripped again. Ugh! Now what?

I called the electrician back, and a week or so later he got back to me, and we started the search for the hidden cause in earnest. He replaced the breaker with a new one. He disconnected all the downstream boxes from the line. It still tripped, so we knew the problem had to be in the wiring from the breaker box to the first outlet. Out came the drywall saw, and he started opening up my kitchen wall above the box. I cringed at the thought of all the time it would take to repair and repaint, but like ripping a scab off an infected wound, it had to happen.

There was a moment of electric silence as he shined his flashlight into the opening he’d made, and we saw and smelled the charred wires and wood where there had been–at least– a smoldering fire. We experienced that moment with heavy silence and the unfolding realization that a bullet had been dodged. A wire staple holding the wires had been fastened directly into the Romex wire feeding the box. From time to time it made a dead short across the wires, which tripped to breaker when the amps got high enough. We were very uncomfortably close to having had our house burn.

Gerry, our electrician/fire chief said, “I don’t like to use the ‘f-word’, but in this case I will: you had a Fire. If you had put a bigger breaker in, there is no telling what could have happened with more heat.” Gerry got our problem permanently fixed (most of it: there’s a gaping hole in our kitchen wall now). There is a feeling of “there but for the grace of God, go I” that remains for me, evoked each time I look at the ripped opening exposing the black, toxic-smelling evidence beneath the glossy surface of painted wall.

What is it that attracts my attention to this particular point? Could this be a metaphor illuminating the dark workings of shadow that hide unseen deep in my psyche, that which creates danger and threat to life and well-being? Is it an essence that shows itself in a persistent and annoying outward behavior, like the random tripping of the breaker, that is the symptom of something fundamentally in need of healing? By revealing that which lies beneath the surface and exposing it to the light, permanent healing may take place. So it goes, too, with us humans: our annoying, dysfunctional behavior can be the IMG_20140405_123526_797symptom of a repressed, hidden source of power that lies within. Bringing it out into the light, owning it, can let us heal the wound and use that power for goodness. And for awhile, there remain some jagged and sensitive edges that time and caring will close and heal.

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My Sister Left Me

All aloneWe all make assumptions that we act on. Some assumptions we hold by agreements we make with others. Some assumptions are implicit in our cultural expectations, like how I should behave as a parent or husband, or as a person of my age group. Still other assumptions we just ‘make up,’ as if out of thin air, like my assumption that if driving somewhere out of town with my wife, I will be behind the steering wheel. We quite possibly have to make assumptions about others and the world in order to function efficiently. Imagine what it would be like to live for even one day in this busy world without making up any assumptions about others and oneself. But we often get a rude awakening when those assumptions turn out to be untrue, and nothing more than our wishful thinking.
I’d like to share with you a story that is an example of my own awakening when my assumptions were challenged by circumstances as a youngster in my first days of kindergarten. This came to me a few days back as a recovered memory (something that happens to me frequently as I get older). These memories often have a present-day message for me hidden in them, and this one is no exception.
I was just starting kindergarten at Clara E. Coleman School in New Jersey. Back then there were no buses, and everyone walked to the elementary school located in their part of town. My sister, Stephanie, would wait for me by the exit doors at school to take me home. I relished the time with her. She is almost five years older than I, so she knew all about school, and what to expect, and I looked up to her wisdom and caring for me. She also provided security for me, as the school lay beyond my usual range of exploration in the neighborhood. Out beyond busy Prospect Street, I knew no one, did not have any friends, and did not normally go, at least on foot and especially not alone.
Our arrangement of walking together worked well for a week or so, until one day I left my class and started walking toward home. I’d gone as far as the first street on the edge of school grounds when it hit me that my sister was not with me. Suddenly, I felt alone. Very alone, in that moment. Feeling abandoned and vulnerable, I just started to cry. The uniformed crossing lady at the corner saw me standing there, alone, all tears and sobs, and approached me. “What’s the matter?” she asked me.
“My sister didn’t come to walk me home. She left me,” I said.
“Well, do you know your way home from school?,” she queried.
There was a moment for me of transformation of consciousness, a moment when the assumption I held that I could not make it home without Stephanie lifted. I was struck by the fact that I had the resource to get home on my own; I knew the way, even where to take the short cuts to get back home, and all along the route there were Safety Patrol kids who would make crossing busy suburban Jersey streets safe.
My assumption about dependency in this situation was exploded. I was truly empowered with my own inner resource and knowledge. I wiped my tears and runny nose, set my sights down the long street, and with a much lighter step, made my way home on my own. This was a big accomplishment for me, as much for the physical feat of finding my way as for the emotional and spiritual feat of learning that I have the inner resource to find my path in life as well.
So, here’s an invitation to you the next time one of your made-up assumptions is exploded by Reality, because this is the Universe calling you forth to BE. You may be feeling frustrated, abandoned, or like a trap door just opened under your feet: Trust that the universe supports us when we are in need and open to listening. Stay with that feeling of falling, the chaos, the not knowing. Just stay in the discomfort for a moment or two breathing, and then ask yourself what is real and true for you in this moment? Be open to the answer that calls you forth, the one that empowers you, that connects you to other humans or to nature or to the cosmos. Your exploded assumption, like a big balloon that has just burst, may give you a shock, but it also reveals a piece of the world that was previously hidden behind that big, puffy, colorful made-up bit of fantasy that you have been carrying around, letting it get in front of your face to block clear vision.

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Arrival in Bali

IMG_20131216_170805_591Monday, Dec. 16

This was a tough travel. After four hours flying to SF, then a 13 hour flight on China Airlines to Taipei, and another 5 hr. flight to Denpasar, Bali, it was just a short taxi ride to our place in Nusa Dua. There, feeling sick, jet lagged, and worse than I ever have in recent memory, I slept from 8 pm to 5 am today. My body is awakening to the warmth, humidity, gentleness of both the physical atmosphere and the vital energy of this special island. Sujata and I had an early breakfast, and headed for the beach just a hundred yards away from our room. The ocean was deliciously warm, calm and inviting. We played together, I following her lead in splashing and jumping for joy to be alive in this beauty and peace. In the distance, to the north looms the great volcano, Agung, who is the dominant feature of the landscape on the entire island. It is enormous. It is a reminder, like the wind turbines of Northfield, something I can see from miles away on my bike rides in the countryside. But this volcano orients me, not to a settled man-made place, but to an entire ecology of humans, land, sea, tropical air, and the stupendous forces that lay underneath us that from time to time make their presence known with smoke, ash, fire, and molten rock. We sit upon the Ring of Fire, that part of Mother Earth that loves, gives, and receives unconditionally, and in virtual silence. She provides our support on the earth we stand upon, our nurturance in the food and substance she offers our bodies. She just as unconditionally accepts our offerings of care and carelessness, of cultivation and pollution, and in the end accepts with the same unconditional acceptance, the remains of the body we leave behind us in death. And sometimes, Mother Earth lets loose her inner fiery core, discharging smoke, ash, lava and an anguished cry that are a warning to awaken us to not only her unlimited power, but our own. For a fire boils away in our core, giving life its passion and force and direction. Such a containment of our own life force must manifest itself in some purposeful and meaningful way, either to connect us to our reality as all-related, or in the opposite direction of the insanity of ego-inflation and isolation from Divine unity. Agung, this great presence, calls me today to a shared consciousness, to peace and gratitude for being, not toward any particular object, but to All.

Yesterday and today, Sujata and I have created a Stake for the day. The stake ties us to a purpose, awareness and commitment. We create it, and then say it in unison until it feels powerfully shared. Today our stake it “Joy, Beauty, and Presence create soulful writing.” We both have an urge to write today, and the joy, beauty and presence are what we want to bring as inspiration to that creation. She is downstairs in the garden, I in our room, but I feel the connection to Sujata as we are both writing, creating and relating what it is that is in us.
We awoke before dawn this morning, our sleep done, at least til afternoon nap time. We had our tea, and watched the sun breaking the horizon at low tide. We were amazed to see all that was exposed by the disappearance of the sea from the fringes of coastal beach. Here there were sand bars a hundred yards out, exposed and inviting to stand amidst the blue waters. All around are the boats, some high and dry, and others anchored in deeper waters, floating gently. The sounds of birds, pigeons and titwees (as they are called in India), and others unfamiliar, created the music that cheered on the dawn. As the sun arose amidst the cloudy horizon, we felt the warmth immediately. Down on the beach we walked among rocks of jettys, watching crabs scurry into their hiding places. Snails glided across the path toward their shady refuges as the sun caught fire and the temperature rose by the minute. I watched the tide for awhile, slowly and determinedly rising with the sun, covering up one feature in the wet sand after another, the ocean reclaiming what is rightfully her own.
We had breakfast today with the last of our oatmeal, and a huge helping of papaya bought at the local mini mart. With no reason to hurry and ‘get on with our day,’ every bite felt like a blessing of Mother Earth. This is the gift of beauty, joy and presence, and it creates more than soulful writing. I feel it creating love.

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Feel resentful when (s)he comes home?

familyconflict.jpgHave you ever gone away from home for a few days, leaving your spouse to ‘hold the fort’, and on returning home, feeling all smiles and joy, you were greeted with a gruff, resentful partner? You were on the road, working hard to provide for your family, but your partner thinks you’ve been on vacation, skipping out on all the home responsibilities.

You might feel the disconnect that only a day or two makes in your relationship, and wonder, where in the world did that come from? What the heck just happened?

You are not alone. Re-entries home can be rough on both our moods and our intimate relationships. When your partner goes away there may be feelings of abandonment: the empty space beside you in bed and at the table, the extra chores you have to do alone; the feelings of oppressive responsibility for kids and home and no one to fall back on. No wonder there may be some smoldering resentments just waiting to express themselves right after the cursory hug and kiss of reunion!

It can go the other way, too: when your partner leaves home, and you have the house all to yourself, living without compromise, spending time with friends, not having to live up to your partner’s expectations. You quickly get used to having your space all to yourself, and then here he comes: all the fun you were having suddenly collapses as you are expected to take care of his needs. He senses your deflation, and feels threatened that you had such a great time without him, thinking: maybe you don’t even want me around anymore?

It can all go south after just a few minutes. This has happened many times between me and my partner, and we know it can happen by default. So the last time my wife went away for a few days to visit our daughter, and I stayed home to work, it was the perfect setup for another rough re-entry.

But this time I prepared to do things differently. I designed a re-entry protocol that we used to reconnect and dispel the usual hurts and resentments that have so often accompanied one of us returning home.

Re-entry protocol? Huh? Sound pretty formal and scripted? Perhaps so, yet I know that it worked for us, really really well. After we did our protocol together, we felt closely connected, listened to, and supported. I felt appreciated for what I’d done in my few days alone, my wife felt listened to, and we both say this has been an easier, better transition home than we can remember for years.

After arriving home, my wife was tired, so we did not use our protocol for a couple of hours while she rested. I was a little worried that it might not work with the delay, but there was no problem. I’ll share with you the essentials of what we did here, and you can use these ideas to tailor your own re-entry protocol. It is important to take at least a few uninterrupted minutes to share where each of you are physically and emotionally. Trust your partner to respond in a good way; there is no need to control.

The essentials of a re-entry protocol are to be together and take a moment to create the atmosphere for you to be in relationship, regardless of what emotions are up in you or your partner. Turn phones and other distractions off. Each should ask, “How was it for you while I was (you were) gone?” and listen attentively to the answer. Repeating back the gist of what you heard is helpful to the speaker to feel completely heard, and for the listener to get it right. After each takes a turn, the next step is to communicate to each other any wants or needs you currently have. Saying “I want you to cuddle with me” is much better than “I need you to show me more affection.” The first is in the moment and actionable now. The second statement is more controlling, telling the listener how to be, and does not necessarily get you an immediate response. The listener can respond to these requests with a simple “Yes”, “No” or offer something else instead. Don’t make a counter offer conditional if at all possible (I’ll do that for you if you do this for me). Fulfilling requests is not a transaction. Give what is from your heart rather than what is from the calculating part of you. Finally, acknowledge one another, taking turns to make a statement of appreciation, such as, “I appreciate you for the hard work you did while away to provide for me and the family”, or “I acknowledge you for being so caring and attentive for our daughters while I was gone”. To each appreciation and acknowledgment, let it land for you, feel it in your body, and then say “thank you.” When you both feel complete, blow out the candle and end the session, maybe with a hug and a kiss (or more), or just a loving smile, whatever comes from your heart in the moment.


Here is the protocol we used, followed by some suggestions for things you can use as well:

H= one who has remained at home       A= One who was away

H: “Welcome home!”  (offers to help bring in belongings).

A: “Thank you.”

Both sit down facing each other. H lights a candle or incense to create the space.

H: I am glad you are home.

A: responds to H., then asks: “How was it for you while I was gone?”

H: answers the question, including H’s current physical/emotional state.

A: “What do you feel is needed now?”

H: answers with a request, if there is one

A: responds to request with “yes”, “no”, or a counteroffer. A asks if there is more, until H. is complete.

H: asks “How was it for you while you were away?”

A: answers the question, including A’s current physical/emotional state.

H: asks, “what do you feel is needed now?”

A: responds with any requests and H answers with yes/no/counter

A: then gives acknowledgment or appreciation to H.    “I want to acknowledge you for… (specific action, impact on self and others, feelings”

H: “Thank you”

This is repeated until complete. Then roles are reversed.

H: thanks A for listening.

A: thanks H for caring.

Both may blow out candle, do namaskar, or otherwise close out the session in a good way.   END.

Other things that might be included in your protocol:

I feel disappointed. I hoped you would ask me…

Was it hard for you?

I assumed we would…

 Try it, and let me know what you did and what your experience was. I’d love to learn from you.

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What I See Is Me

canstockphoto6978438 butterfly with glassesI have been turning this thought over for months now, never quite getting to the point of writing about it, because I’m not sure I know how to get this across clearly to my readers: What I see is Me. I am hoping that this blog will help me to be clearer about a growing awareness in me, and let me share some thoughts that point in a fascinating and resonant direction. It might be a bit messy. Please forgive me my struggle to put these words artfully and with clarity.

Eastern mysticism talks about Maya, the Veil of Illusion. The idea of maya is that the ego-attached mind creates an illusory world that we live in, believing all the time that what our mind has created is real, when it is not. We see a coiled rope, and think mistakenly that it is a snake. Our mind, great gift that it is, most of the time, is filtering and interpreting our reality, instead of being open and presencing reality.

Carl Jung and Sigmund Freud have written about the psychological phenomenon of projection. The parts of us that we have not been able to embrace (both ‘good’ and ‘bad’), are projected, or made real, in our view of others. “The pot calling the kettle black” is a classic turn of phrase that captures the essence of projection. Our intolerance of traits we see in others is all too often an intolerance of ones that we ourselves possess, but deny or repress their existence in ourselves. This is the Shadow part of ourselves, and I recommend Debbie Ford’s book, The Dark Side of the Light Chasers for further reading if you are interested in this rich subject.

Many other thinkers, both modern and ancient, have pointed toward the same or similar realization that our perception is what creates ‘reality’. For me, the five words of the title, which came to me as epiphany three months ago, have taken a high and abstract concept down to a visceral level for me, one that has ever-expanding repercussions and possibilities for my concept of self and creation.

I need to be personal here, though my life experience tells me that my story is by no means unique. Possibly, it is universal at some level. Anyway, here’s the point: from an early age I have sensed and felt, and eventually come to believe, in my separateness in the world. I viewed my life as if through glass: things happened around me, and occasionally through me and certainly to me, but I was like a dot painted on a balloon: there, but not really a connected part of the whole. Maybe I just made it all up. Could everything be made up, including myself? Is it possible that what happens in the world around me could be my own creation, or not a part of me at all? I remember messing with my friends’ minds in high school by asking them for proof that the world exists independently of them. What proof do we have that anything existed before we were born? What if everything we know and assume to be true is just a part of what we make up from the moment of our birth? People, things, everything we come in contact with…could it simply be something that our mind creates, and has no existence outside of us? Believe me, this really messed with my friends’ minds; no one had an answer for me. Neither did I; I hadn’t a clue. It bothered me, too. How do I know that we are not just dreaming our lives, and believing that the dream has a reality independent of ourselves?

My short answer is: I don’t really know if “life is but a dream.” All of our perceptions could be simply made up, a dream that we each believe in, like the world in the movie The Matrix, where we might wake up one day and find out that reality has nothing to do with what we have been experiencing. Our bodies could be simply a thing we believe exists and has experiences, but maybe it really isn’t ‘there’? When I think about this, I realize I simply have no absolute proof that this alternate explanation of Reality is not true. All I really know is that I do exist, as I am conscious of my existence. Not that “I think, therefore I am.” To me, it is that “I experience a world, and therefore I am.”

There’s more. If what I see is Me, my creation, then my experience tells me that there are at least two different universes. One exists when my consciousness is “below the line,” when I feel hurt, or small, disconnected from others. The universe appears to be cold and exclusive, life stacked against me or simply indifferent. If there is a web of life, from below the line I judge that I am not a part of it. From this perspective what I see is me: my inflated ego, pumped up with its victimhood, or, at times, my grandiosity, a sense that the universe was created to serve me personally (so chop chop, hop to it!).

When I am “above the line,” my state of being is in connection with others and Nature, and my heart is at peace, reality appears very differently to me. At times I have an awareness that what I perceive truly is Me, that the connection I feel with everything outside of my skin is as alive and a part of me as what is inside my skin. At such moments my body feels electrified, and my heart opens in a way that I feel a sense of joyful tears resting in my chest. I experience a sense of sacredness around me. Words I speak from this place have a very different impact on others, for what is spoken, what happens, comes from a place of authenticity. What I see is Me. Not the small ‘me’ of the inflated ego when I am below the line, but the real Me that is made from the same energy as all creation. Everything that happens here I can see happening within an ecosystem of interdependence. I feel the presence of the Divine.

I invite you to take a look from time to time, considering that ‘What I see is me’. Take in all that you see, feel, and sense as being a part of yourself. What changes? And if what you see on the outside is truly you, who are you being in this moment? What is there inside you?



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On Carrying Curses

This day being Halloween, what could be a better time for a blog post on curses?

Have you ever felt like your life was cursed? Don’t reject this idea too quickly. While you may never see anyone boiling toads and eye of newt in a big black pot with whispered incantations to bring bad luck to somebody, often our self-doubts can lead to negative beliefs that hobble us. My definition of a curse is that it is a belief held by the self that one is somehow destined for a significant and repeated failure. When you think of curses in that way, could that apply to you? It certainly has applied to me for many years, and after decades of working on my “problem,” I have learned some secrets of dispelling curses that we carry to our great detriment.

For many years, I carried a belief that there was ‘something wrong with me’, and that because of it, ‘I would be abandoned’ by those I loved. Never mind where I picked that assumption up; it is just not important to resolving the problem. Over time the assumption became a judgment, and finally a self-belief. Now I was stuck with a belief that made people leave me in hurtful ways, and it sapped my confidence.

Of course, one’s belief in the curse is a crucial part of what makes it “true.” Voodoo does not work on those who don’t believe in it somehow. I think part of the curse’s effectiveness is that we are unwitting participants in co-creating the reality, the same way, generally, that our attachment to misery and victimization helps to ensure that we will be miserable and victimized. It’s like “The Law of Attraction” in reverse. With time, wearing the curse can actually shape and change our bodies. I have seen curses lifted from people while doing deep process work, and along with the curse goes years of bent posture, wrinkles and lines, and deadness of eyes. It is as if a part of one’s passion and aliveness was stored away from availability by the curse.

I also carry the image of a curse being sort of sown on to us. It can be removed, but the stitching has to be removed first, bit by bit. It all starts with awareness of the belief that gives life to the curse. It is important to see clearly how the curse shapes one’s life and thought. There must also be a desire and commitment to lifting the curse from one’s life. Beliefs are rarely given up in total just by deciding. Making a commitment to lift the curse requires an affirmation for oneself that will fill the void once the curse is lifted.

I am also a big believer in a ritual burning or burying (or drowning, or other disintegration) as necessary to inform the whole being that the curse has been removed and is gone for good. Curses have different ways of staying attached to us. For me, I buried part of my curse, and still some remained. Part of the curse was sewn onto me. I found it helpful to tear some cloth and then bury that to remove the last traces.

Do you carry a curse you are ready to get rid of? Get some help in doing so. Human connection is a great antidote to curses that separate us from our fellow humans and ourselves. Therapy can help, as can working with a certified life coach who has experience with this sort of process.

Halloween may be over now, but if goblins and alien creatures are messing with your life, today is a great time to chase them away for good!

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On Assumptions, Judgments, Beliefs

We all love a good story, especially the ones we make up. Other stories we buy retail from a respected authority, like our parents, teachers, or church. Stories become our assumptions, judgments about ourselves and others, and our beliefs. There are the some strong similarities among assumptions, judgments and beliefs. All of these entail some interpretation and summation of Reality in our minds. They can be ‘negative’ or ‘positive’ in perception, like the glass half empty or half full. We appear to need them to help us negotiate our world. If I assume some neighborhood is not safe for me to be in, I’ll look for an alternative route, for instance. In fact, (it is my belief) that the human, and many animal minds create mental maps based on assumptions, judgments and beliefs that we use consistently not just to get around physically, but to guide or regulate our relations with others (“I better not talk to her now, she’s crabby in the morning”) and our own behaviors (“I don’t think I can do that”). I have often watched my cats very cautiously slink up to some new object that they have not ‘mapped’ into their territory, like a plastic garbage bag that blew into our yard. I assume that they sense possible threat or danger in anything out of the ordinary. After investigating by smelling, vision, and whacking at it a few times with her paw, my can maps the new object “not harmful or threatening, and this is where it lays”, and the bag can be ignored.

The old reptilian part of our brains is much the same as an animal’s. The unknown evokes in us a fear response. With practice, we can learn to pay less attention to the “flight-fight-freeze” response, and use higher-functioning regions of our brain to create greater possibility and choice. It is as if we can use belief to overpass our original, subconscious assumption that something new is a threat to our survival.

So what makes assumptions, judgments and beliefs different from one another? It seems to me that there is a sort of hierarchy here among these. When I make assumptions, I don’t have a lot of specific information to interpret to create a thought. I assume things based on my past experiences, and extrapolate out to the present moment. I also don’t have a lot invested in my assumptions. For instance, I assume that a stranger I meet socially in a safe place, like a hotel lobby or grocery store, is willing to help me with directions if I ask them politely. If I get a scowling response from him, and hear, “Don’t bother me, I’m busy”, I can easily abandon my assumption of willingness. Assumptions are often our default starting place, and any new information that we receive that contradicts our assumptions can help us let go of them, because assumptions are held lightly. So, when we clear our assumptions about our relationships, it can help greatly to get on firmer footing with the person we hold the assumption with. One way to do this is to clear it directly with the person by asking if you can share an assumption you hold with them. If they answer ‘yes’, then you can respond with something like, “A story I make up about you is that…(you are smarter than I am) “. Notice how this wording makes me the owner of the assumption, and there need be no response from the other person. What often happens when we state our assumptions aloud is that we can let them go. At the least, being conscious of the assumptions that we hold makes the relationship much easier by not being subconsciously guided along the rails of the assumption, and thus opening up more possibilities in the relationship.

Not so with judgment: judgments are held at a deeper level than assumptions. They are more persistent. When I hold a judgment about someone, I have interpreted data I have received by witnessing, hearing from others, or reading about the other. I have more of my ego involved, and it is harder to let go of the judgment thought. I make choices in my behavior both consciously and unconsciously to minimize the ill effects to me and maximize my own position. An example:  I hold a judgment that my boss doesn’t like me and has it in for me. I might thus avoid her, and keep conversations with her to a minimum. I might also say things to my coworkers to put her down in others’ esteem. Interestingly, such behavior, based on judgment, will often bring about events that give further evidence that the judgment is held ‘correctly’, like when I get passed over for a promotion because (from my boss’s perspective) I am aloof and a rabble rouser. To me, being passed over will reinforce my original judgment that I am being victimized. How much things might change if I were to ask my boss, “Can I check something out with you? Do you have any performance issues with me?” Or, “Is there something I can do to help your program succeed?” Even if I get a negative answer to my questions, I have communicated a desire for a better relationship. That is a step toward loosening my ego’s hold on that judgment.

When we hold judgments that don’t serve us well, like the example above, it takes some work to let it go. Contradicting the judgment with an investment in relationship is the best way, but not always possible. Another approach is to say or write your judgment, along with words that release it, like “I have held a judgment that I can’t trust Carl. I let go of that judgment now”. Say or write it every day, and put it into practice in your behavior until it no longer has power over you. Note that you will want to do this if it serves you and the relationship. If Carl is, for instance, a compulsive gambler, you won’t want to be loaning him money until he gets help to change his behavior. It still makes sense to visualize the whole person, the trustworthy Carl, who stands behind the compulsive behavior.

Beliefs are thoughts that we don’t just hold, we identify with them. Typically, beliefs relate to how we see ourselves and the world; they are the foundation of our concept of reality. We invest heavily in them. Like monetary investments, we receive dividends from them, and occasionally we feel the acute pain of loss when they lose their value for us. You might recall your childhood when you learned there was no Tooth Fairy. For most of us, giving up that belief was not easy. When my children got the knowledge, they continued for several years to put their teeth under the pillow and write earnest notes to the Tooth Fairy. They required a transition period, where the new knowledge was received that better fit with observed Reality, but there was not yet enough evidence that the new or updated map of reality could be trusted.

When we hold self-limiting beliefs, such as, “I don’t have the self-discipline to be able to run a successful business on my own,” all I can see is the evidence that this belief is true. The belief filters my reality. When I see clearly how this belief is limiting my choices and fulfillment in life, I still need to get enough contradictory messages that I am capable, before I am truly willing to let go of the chains that bind me with my belief. The only way I know to get these new supporting messages is to begin acting from the new belief or paradigm, and to be open and curious about what happens when I do so. That means stepping into unknown territory, parts of the map that are yet unmapped. It’s scary, and always worth it. And so much easier to do when we have a reliable guide as we traverse virgin territory on our life’s path.

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