Saturday, January 14, 2017

Healthy Imagery For Love: Love As A Collaborative Work of Art

Mindy Len Catron is a writer and an English teacher, who, in her own words, "gets paid to think about words for a living." Her TED talk, "A Better Way to Talk About Love," eloquently and directly addresses the way we talk about love and what's wrong with it.

The primary image we use for the beginning of a relationship is "falling in love." When I wrote Healing the War Between the Genders: The Power of the Soul-Centered Relationship, like Mindy, I recognized that "falling" imagery is neither healthy nor desirable really. Mindy notes that this imagery is not "jumping," and that it is "accidental, uncontrollable, and happens to us without our consent." We are "struck" or "crushed." We "swoon." Love makes us "crazy" and "sick."

Mindy points out that "our metaphors equate the experience of loving someone to extreme violence or illness." NOT a good model. And awfully painful and unhealthy if this is something we seek to have long-term. Love positions us "as the victims of unforeseen and totally unavoidable circumstances." This disempowers us, ungrounded us, and throws a big wrench into the fabric of both our lives and our sense of self, rather than supporting us to be more grounded, empowered, communicative and creative.

Mindy was curious how our language evolved to this imagery of romantic love as craziness and mental illness. She found that "the history of Western culture is full of language that equates love to mental illness." She notes that in "As You Like It," William Shakespeare wrote "Love is merely a madness," and Friedrich Nietzsche wrote, "There is always some maddens in love." Contemporary music is full of song titles and references to "crazy love."

Interestingly enough, the neurochemistry of early romantic love and mental illness is very similar. Mindy cites a study from 1999 that used blood tests "to confirm that the serotonin levels of the newly in love closely resembled the serotonin levels of people who have been diagnosed with obsessive-compulsive disorder." She also noted that "low levels of serotonin are also associated with seasonal affective disorder and depression." The early phases of romantic love can include swings in mood and behavior. This is associated with what I call "the new relationship energy phase" of relationship in Healing The War Between the Genders.

Eventually, however, this new relationship phase ends as intimacy progresses, and people move into what I call "the shadowlands," where our unresolved issues or triggers, and our deeper needs emerge to be worked or acted out in the cauldron of intimacy. The new relationship energy phase can last for just a short time, like days or months, or a few years. However, eventually, people go deeper into the emotional-spiritual cauldron of relationship, and many of the "highs" suddenly become "lows" and what seemed to be "perfect" becomes complicated, flawed or simply human.

Sadly, the media gives us lots of imagery of the pathological version of romantic love, and does not include the follow on stages, nor road map that allows us to navigate a healthy journey of long term romantic love. So, many people repeat the "falling in and out of love," model wondering what is wrong with themselves or their loved ones.

Mindy offers a wonderful, far more realistic and healthy imagery for love: "love as a collaborative work of art." I have always been a strong believer in conscious, collaborative relationship, where communication, self-knowledge, honesty, self-love that allows space to really see and love another are central to the dance and the journey.

Mindy notes, "So, if love is a collaborative work of art, then love is an aesthetic experience. Love is unpredictable, love is creative, love requires communication and discipline. It is frustrating and emotionally demanding. And love involves both joy and pain. Ultimately, each experience of love is different."

It is far healthier and more empowering to understand love as something that is co-created between two conscious people who like and respect one another. And this also suggests that the two people have the power to create the form, the structure and the very journey together on their own authentic terms.

Mindy reflects with this imagery of love, "you get to stop thinking about yourself and what you're gaining or losing in a relationship, and you get to start thinking about what you have to offer." As an artist, love and life can be more inspired and inspiring. And blocks and obstacles can be understood as a natural part of creative process. Learning the introspective and self-care tools to work through obstacles and blocks better prepares us to be creative collaborators. I hope this imagery gets more visibility and air time, so that we can transform the common imagery to this healthier notion of love.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Waves, Anchors and Islands: What Is Your Relationship Attachment Style?

"Love is the condition in which the happiness of another person is essential to your own."

--Robert Heinlein

In his book, Wired For Love, Stan Tatkin suggests that people have one of three primary styles for attachment, which he calls waves, anchors and islands. To be able to better both your own attachment style and needs and the style and needs of your partner, it is worth understanding the characteristics and differences between them.

Tatkin lists strengths of people who relate in each style:

"Anchors are secure as individuals, willing to commit and fully share with another, generally happy people and adapt easily to the needs of the moment." This style reflects a person who is secure in themselves and therefore secure in attachment.

"Waves are generous and giving, focused on care of others, happiest when around other people and able to see both sides of an issue."

"Islands are independent and self-reliant, take good care of themselves, productive and creative, especially when given space and low maintenance."

Two anchors operate like a team, and believe "two can be better than one," and "we can do it together." But anchors don't always pair with other anchors. If they pair with a wave or an island, they can be pulled off their centers and become more secure in their attachment. Or on the upside, an anchor can pull a wave or an island into a more secure attachment pattern, and their partner may become more like an anchor as a result.

Anchors likely experienced security from their early caregivers. Tatkin suggests that an anchor "learned from early caregivers who placed a high value on relationship and interaction. Their parents were attuned, responsive, and sensitive to their signals of distress, bids for comfort and efforts to communicate." In adult relationships, anchors are "unafraid to fully share one another's minds without concern about negative consequences." Anchors both "respect one another's feelings and treat one another as the first source to share good news and bad."

Islands, on the other hand, need much more personal space and are less comfortable with the close attachment style of the anchor. The island might say, "I want you in the house, just not in my room...unless I ask you." Islands are very sensitive to what they perceive as intrusions from a partner. While an island's parent may have been loving in some ways, likely they were not touchy-feely or the kind of parent that responded quickly or at all when their child was sad or scared or needing comfort at night. The island, therefore, learned to be self-reliant and believe, "I can do it myself." An island may not expect frequent interactions with a partner, including sexual intimacy. Tatkin says "islands tend to experience more interpersonal stress than waves and anchors due to their higher sense of threat in the presence of their significant others and social situations in general." When an island's partner is away on business, they are more likely to feel the relief of the lack of interpersonal stress, rather than the loss of the partner's company.

Waves comes from families where they did not experience a sense of steadiness or security. In a partnership, a wave may be ambivalent about getting close. One part of him/her wants connection. The other part might be afraid of connecting. As a result, after a separation, a wave might envision connecting with their partner, but upon reunion, find angry feelings surfacing that prevent the easy connection. At some level, dating back to childhood, the wave feels that opening to intimacy might yield rejection, that the people closest to him/her won't get or be able to meet his/her deeper needs. The wave might feel, "I often feel as though I'm giving and giving, and not getting anything back."

Understanding your attachment style and your partner's attachment style is important in understanding triggers and conflicts that arise, and learning how to respond to them. During times of distress, even if an anchor gets triggered, they likely possess the inner resources to ground themselves and contextualize what is going on. Islands and waves have a harder time doing so. In times of distress, physical contact and non-verbal communication is often what is needed most to bridge a divide. An island relies too much on talking and may not be able to connect readily on a non-verbal level. An island is less prone to seek or even care about reassurances of love and security when stressed. A wave, on the other hand, may appear more "needy" and "insist too much of verbal assurances of love and security." The wave can appear "overly expressive, dramatic, emotional and tangential.

During a conflict, an island will focus on the future and avoid the present and the past. S/he will be at war, driven by a threatened left brain retaliating "by communicating attack or retreat." A wave, on the other hand, will focus on the past and avoid the present and the future. "'I can't move forward until we resolve what's happened,' is a common wave statement." Anchors are most able to stay in the present and work through the conflict in the present.

To help a wave in a time of conflict or emotional distress, touching them and providing a calm presence can ease the stress. To help an island in a time of relationship stress, speaking to them calmly in a reassuring rational way may break through their discomfort.

Tatkin believes it is very important to get to know your own style and the style of your partner, so you can understand the dynamics that come into play when conflicts arise, and how to most productively and respectfully deal with them.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

From Information Scarcity to Information Overload

In what seems to be a paradoxical way, I happened upon a very thoughtful piece written by Marriah Raphael Starr, a Facebook friend (who I also know in real life) reflecting on the magnitude of change that has taken place since the 1990's. He wrote a very thoughtful essay on Facebook, the kind of essay that I would have found in a newspaper or magazine article in 1990.

Marriah notes that in 1990, "We lived in environments characterized by low system noise, high vitality, intrinsic values, and symbols that accurately reflected reality." And in 2016, all of these aspects have reversed entirely.

Let me explain what he means:

LOW SYSTEM NOISE

Marriah describes the media environment of 1990 as "low saturation." He notes: Only 5 major television channels were available without a cable subscription: NBC, CBS, ABC, Fox and PBS. And cable tv was very rare. Records and tape cassettes were stlll the media for people to listen to music. Phone conversations took place over landlines. Cell phones were rare and limited to phone conversations for the few that had them. We did not have 24-7 programming on tv. Word of mouth and the postal service were the predominant ways of receiving messages. Photos were taken on cameras using film and only a print photo album allowed people to share their pictures. E-mail did not yet exist on a mass market level. Nightly news broadcasts and the morning newspaper were the only ways to get state wide, national and international news.

Marriah called this "information scarcity, because information was hard to produce and hard to get." If someone didn't have access to the information contained in libraries, book stores, movie theaters and private homes, Marriah suggests that a "side effect of information scarcity was boredom." And being creative was the only alternative to being bored.

HIGH VIRALITY, INTRINSIC VALUES AND SYMBOLS REFLECT REALITY

Marriah defines high vitality as the likelihood that a good book, song or movie would go viral, because people were bored and any cultural product that received lots of attention, either quickly or over time would reach what Malcolm Gladwell calls "the tipping point." A key piece here, is what Marriah calls "intrinsic values." A good song, good book or good movie was actually good. Some intrinsic property "within the cultural product" attracted people to it. Too, Marriah adds, "when people read a news story in a newspaper in 1990, they could guarantee that the words written in the story reflected what actually happened. When a politician made a speech in 1990, voters knew that the speech reflected real events." Marriah summed this up by saying, "The map is the territory."

He then goes on to explain how all of these qualities have reversed in 2016:

* With the internet, smart phones and online social networks, we live with high system noise, instead of low system noise

* With all these media of information and system noise, "we have gone from information scarcity to information surplus in only one generation"

* Boredom has been replaced by a constant barrage of information from all of our technological information channels (e-mails, smartphones, cable television, infinite videos, infinite websites...)

* Marriah postulates that with such a high information management problem, persuasion is the last thing on people's minds. He believes that it is all people can do to keep up with all of the information that is "pushed at us."

* Marriah says products no longer have intrinsic values, but are designed for specific groups of people. Songs, books, movies and other products may not be inherently good, but with a large enough fan base, there is a market for them.

* As we have seen with the recent election, campaign speeches and news stories no longer have to reflect reality. And many people will still support a candidate regardless of the facts.

Marriah concludes that we have lost control over "the vitality of information, the intrinsic properties of information" and "the connection between information and reality." The best way to survive today, he suggests, "is to maintain low system noise and produce information that reflects our shared reality."

While all our social media are fun and informative in many ways, there is no substitute for the gathering of groups and communities of like-minded and caring people to talk real time, face to face. And from these conversations, organize to speak and take action.

Monday, October 31, 2016

Why Is It So Hard to Receive Love?

With far too many friends living with or dying from cancer, I have been doing a lot of introspection. What has emerged at the heart of the matter is how important it is to love and be loved...And how important it is to share one's love with the people we love--every day, since we never know how many days we will have here on this earth.

Many many years ago, my then business partner, Wynne Miller, wrote her one (and to my knowledge) only song, and the lyrics seem very current and relevant as I ponder the subject of receiving love. Wynne wrote, "Love is there, if you can let it in. If you're bare enough to let it through your skin." And, "When it's there, we're afraid to let it touch us. We want to run and hide...Though we all need love as much, we fear it will be denied."

If all of us need love, and if love is truly the most important thing in life, why are we so hesitant or afraid to let love in? Author Kim Anami, in an article entitled, "How To Receive Love," suggests that we have a hard time letting love in because we don't feel worth of love. Our culture gives more negative feedback about what is wrong than positive feedback about what is right. Self-love is an important skill, yet some religions interpret self-love and self-care as selfish rather than healthy and essential. As a result, many of us develop guilt about taking care of ourselves and loving ourselves.

Yet, it is hard to have a loving relationship with another person if we don't first have a loving relationship with ourselves. If we are uncomfortable with parts of ourselves, then we are likely going to be uncomfortable with those parts of others. And if others seek to give us love and attention for or focus on the parts we are not comfortable with, we are likely to reject or deflect the energy and attention.

How can we give ourselves permission to develop our capacity for self-love, both as an end in itself and also so we can receive more love from others? Kim Anami suggests one key ingredient is to forgive ourselves. "We can carry guilt around like a penance, one that prevents us from fully receiving love and pleasure." Denial of love and pleasure is a form of self-punishment.

We need to give ourselves more permission to be human, and recognize that life is a journey of learning and growing. Everyone makes mistakes. Everyone has things to learn. Everyone has a bad day. Or a bad month. Or a bad year. Or a bad chapter. That does not make us bad.

There may be core parts of us that are essential to who we are that may be perceived as "different," that don't easily fit into the mainstream or mesh with society's images of who we "should" be. Yet our unique qualities may be our greatest gifts and our points of power. What is "different" or "unique" about us may be the very points of power that both allow us to make a positive difference in the world, and serve as pathways to self-expression and happiness.

Giving yourself permission to be authentic, to move, act, speak, express and make choices from who you truly are reinforces self-love. Learning to meditate and focus inward, helps us connect with that authentic self. Journal. Draw. Take a walk. Sing a song. Dance. Learn to follow your own natural rhythms. Define and embrace what you truly feel and believe. And let these things be the ground of your life, the ground of your being.

The more self-defined you are, and the more you validate your authentic self, gifts and foibles, the more space you have to love others and receive their love. When another person shines their love light in your direction, it will resonate with the light you already feel, rather than illuminate a dark shadow you would rather keep under wraps. And you will shine your love light on others too.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Laura Loved: A Tribute to Laura Weingast Nieratko

On Tuesday, September 27, Laura Weingast Nieratko, my friend of many years, sadly passed away after a 4 year courageous battle with stage 4 colon cancer. Laura and I met through the world of personal growth, a lifelong passion for both of us. And our paths crisscrossed many times over the course of many years through personal growth workshops and communities.

About 8 years ago, Laura and I were buddies in a workshop that focused on our life visions, and we started a wonderful ritual of weekly lunches together. During these few years, we grew very close, as we not only share our hopes and dreams, but also our journeys. There is something very special about touching in every week with a close friend, as life choreographs its various twists and turns, sometimes happy, sometimes sad.

It was during this time that Laura met the man who ultimately became her husband, Don. And I watched a very special and poignant love story unfold. Laura and Don met dancing, a shared passion for both of them, that allowed fate to bring them together. And when Laura and Don danced, there was a heavenly twinkle in both of their eyes. Looking back at pictures of Laura and Don dancing, the connection between the two of them and the love they shared is very palpable.

Laura had one of the most beautiful spirits I know, and devoted her life to helping children and parents desiring children find each other through her adoption agency. Laura's work was work of love.

And thanks to Laura, more than 6 years ago, I joined a very special group of women, my "women's group." And sharing ones life's journey with a group of heartfull and wise sisters as the years go by is both rich and deeply meaningful.

For the past few days, since Laura passed, I have been overtaken by waves of tears at all times of the day. Her voice, her memory and most of all, her radiant smile fill my thoughts and heart.

Beginning on Tuesday morning, I wrote a song for Laura, which seems very fitting to be part of my new "Say Yes to Love" album that I am currently recording.

Here are the lyrics:

Laura Loved ©2016 Linda Marks

With a smile With a warm embracing smile The light in her eyes was a beacon from her soul

With her voice With her clear and gentle voice Words of courage and wisdom were offered from her heart

Laura smile Laura shine Wherever you are, you are kind Laura smile From above We will never forget Laura loved

When she danced Laura's spirit would shine with joy She and Don would create heaven here on earth

Through her work Helping people, changing lives Planting seeds for children, growing happy homes

Laura smile Laura shine Wherever you are, you are kind Laura smile From above We will never forget Laura loved Laura loved

They say there are angels in heaven They say the good die too young Live your life with your whole heart Hold fast to your dreams and fly

Laura smile Laura shine Wherever you are, you are kind Laura smile From above We will never forget Laura loved Laura loved Laura loved Laura loved

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

When the Words Won't Come

I don't know about you, but for me, sometimes things happen that are just too hard, shocking or painful to fully grasp. When that kind of event happens, I am taken aback, left speechless, often stunned and just can't wrap my heart or head around what has happened. Even if I try to intellectually analyze the event or the circumstances leading to it, I just can't put all the pieces together, and have to just sit with the reality that what has happened is something that at the present time, I just can't understand.

I may feel sadness. I may feel scared. I may feel numb because it is all too big. And I may feel overwhelmed, knowing this is too big for me alone, and wishing there was someone I could turn to for connection or understanding or perspective or comfort, or all of the above.

But sometimes no one is there. I am alone. Much as I would like someone to come sit by my side, there is no one who I can actually call to do that. And I have to find a way to slow myself down, take some deep breaths and try to ground myself in the moment, so that I can create the internal space to ride the waves of what is so overwhelming, and hope that with time, I will have more internal space and feel less overwhelmed.

I have found that having even one person understand what I am going through makes all the difference in the world. But, when what I am facing feels really, really hard, and perhaps involves something I have not talked about with many other people, then it is hard to find the words to express what I am going through, how I feel and what I need. What if what is happening is so big that most people I might share it with will get overwhelmed themselves, and rather than just hear me and support me? What if a trusted listener will react, distance and judge me for what I have shared? That makes things worse, not better.

So, I have to be very selective of who I might consider sharing what is so hard with. Who can actually hear me and understand what I am wishing to share without judgment or overwhelm? Who can hear me with compassion, so that maybe I can actually feel into my pain or fear or tears? There are times, where my work is to reach out to God or a higher power, praying that the person or people in my life I am concerned about will be safe and watched over by a higher power. Can I find comfort in knowing that spiritually I am never really alone, even if practically, I am? I can also find comfort in the presence of my dog or cats, who are sources of unconditional love. They can offer love and empathy even when I don't have the words.

Initially, it may be hard to find words. But then later, even if I have done the internal work to find the words, what if there are not many people who might be able to hear them? Learning how to turn to my inner strength, and deepening my capacity for riding life's unexpected and often painful waves is its own kind of personal training. And hopefully, if I work hard with what is difficult, what will follow may not be so hard. And maybe I will be fortunate enough to find a person or persons who can actually hear my heart and hold it, like a messenger sent by God to remind me I really am NOT alone.

What I really need to do is be gentle with myself when the words won't come.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

The Power of Love in Healing

The Power of Love is a topic that inspires music. Luther Vandross sang a song about "the Power of Love." Burt Bacharach wrote "Love Power." Countless other songs talk about the power of love. Empathy and caring often make the difference in medical care. Many of my clients have noted that a caring, empathic doctor made them feel much better when leaving an appointment than a cold, facts only doctor.

At the 2016 United States Association of Body Psychotherapy Conference, Joan Borysenko noted that kindness is actually good for health and healing, and so are empathy and caring. Tender loving care actually reduces IL-6 and cortisol levels and increases HGH levels. Joan said, "when stress and the false self fade away, you become who you truly are. Loving awareness is a person's essential or true nature."

And loving awareness has a power to heal, both in the here and now and transgenerationally. The field of epigenetics explores how stress is carried through generations. Molecules of emotion cause epigenetic changes that can go our for four generations. If we can create calm, peace and healing, we can not only improve the quality of our lives now, but also we can transform trauma that was passed down to us from past generations, and prevent trauma from being passed down to future generations.

Most all human beings have a need for comfort or closeness. In fact, comfort or closeness can communicate love, and provide healing. Closeness is the root of intimacy. And intimacy can be defined as "in-to-me-I-see." When there is emotional safety, we can open up and let pain, fear and anger out, and love in. And in this process, we not only heal, but also transform our molecules of emotion.

Author Eleanora Wooley defines closeness as "a nearness to anything or a coming together to unite, whether the other is another human being, an animal, nature, God or another layer of oneself." Love can be experienced in all of these ways. Our cats and dogs are often sources of pure, unconditional love, and our personal healers. Aspects of closeness include: something shared, a sudden recognition, an experience often in silence, vulnerability (a capacity to be open and exposed to another), a sense of freedom, and for some, a bodily experience.

As we feel emotionally safe, we can let down our defenses, which let woundedness, pain and other potentially toxic energies out, and nurturing, healing energies in. In the process, we can both know ourselves more authentically and deeply, and be known by another more authentically and deeply. Love allows us to feel more connected, emotionally, physically, spiritually and relationally, and even transgenerationally, whether we can feel it or not. The power and energy of love is truly life energy. And opening our hearts to give and receive life energy is healing, regenerative and transformative.