Monday, December 30, 2013
My colleague Margaret Paul once said that "relationships are the PhD of life." We can learn many things through introspection and self-focused personal growth. But we cannot fully grow and evolve unless we actively embrace the lessons available in all of our intimate relationships: Parent/child, life partners, friends, creative collaborators, family, co-workers... Our relationships are truly relation-SHIPS. How smoothly we sail requires the efforts of both parties. When we hit obstacles, it can because of me or you or both of us...And consciously tending to the needs of me, you and the "we," is often required to get the SHIP back on track. Too often, we think of relationships as just "you" and "me," and may not be aware that there is also a "we" that needs conscious care and attention. When you and I become polarized or in conflict, we are at risk of tearing apart the "we" if we are not aware that it is part of the picture. It is too easy to "other" a loved one when we are angry or disappointed or hurt, and lose sight of the irreplaceable value they add to our life. While a role or function can be replaced (golf buddy, singing partner, colleague in the office next door), no individual person can be replaced. Making a new friend does not take the place of an old friend we may have lost. Authors Joel and Michelle Levey coach people to find more harmony and balance in relationships of all kinds. They note, "So much of the joy and sorrow in our life is related to the quality of our relationships. By learning to recognize the many invisible patterns of relationship, you may come to a wealth of valuable insights regarding how to find more harmony with the people in your life." To have more balanced relationships, they encourage us to: * "stay honest with ourselves and with others about what is really true for us * communicate what is true for us with authenticity and compassion * listen fro the heart, and for the heart, in what is being communicated * make the invisible visible by recognizing and clarifying assumptions and expectations * know our options and make conscious rather than compulsive choices * show respect by being willing to "look again" or "look more deeply" into ourselves and others * keep coming back to patience, openness with discernment and a sense of humor * have confidence in ourselves and nurture trust in our relationships * treat ourselves and others with kinds, caring and compassion, * see each relationship as a mutually supportive vehicle for realizing our highest potentials and for discovering wholeness greater than our individuality * view the relationship as serving a larger sphere of learning and development than just for ourselves * intuitively sense the common ground of being that animates and inspires you and all your relations The mirror of your relationships will relentlessly offer moment to moment feedback on the quality of harmony and balance in your life. Receive this feedback with a sincere wish to awaken even more deeply to your highest potentials, and the quality of your relationships will noticeably improve over time." This material is adapted from Living in Balance by Joel and Michelle Levey
Why so often do we equate vulnerability with weakness or neediness or desperation? Are we so scared of opening our often armored hearts, that we are uncomfortable with those who dare to open theirs? Conscious vulnerability is not weakness at all. In fact, it is quite the opposite. It is not only courageous, but even more so. It is a divine power: the divine power of an open and touchable heart. If I live with an open, touchable, and therefore, vulnerable heart, I risk being hurt. But if I live life numb, closed and untouchable to protect my vulnerability, I disconnect myself from the flow and gifts of life. It takes strength and courage to live consciously with a vulnerable heart. Yet, to be fully alive and emotional vital, we need to take the risk of being touched by life and other people who are part of our lives. When we are brave enough to be vulnerable, we help create emotionally safe spaces that allow other people to risk being vulnerable too. The safer we make it for others to open their hearts, the safer a world we create for everyone. My colleague Jeff Brown writes, "Sensitivity is a sign of life. Better hurt than hardened. I bow to those who keep their hearts open when it is most difficult, those who refuse to keep their armor on any longer than they have to, those who recognize the courage at the heart of vulnerability. After all the malevolent warriors destroy each other, the open-hearted will inherit the earth." When we risk living with an open, vulnerable heart, we take a stand for creating an emotionally safer, more authentic, welcoming world when both we and others have the space to connect and be who we really are.
Thursday, October 31, 2013
When we think about intimacy, too often our frame of reference is far too narrow: as something that only is part of a "romantic" relationship. While intimacy is often one of the things we savor when it is available in a romantic relationship, it is a quality of "human communion," as author Agapi Stassinopoulos notes in an article called "Why Intimacy is the Secret Key to Health" in the Huffington Post. Being with another person, even for a series of moments, where you feel that you have their full attention, that you really matter, and that deeper levels of your heart and soul and theirs can be exposed, shared and appreciated is a very sacred experience. And it is something our souls crave in relationship to other human beings to be healthy and vital, Do you have a friend who knows just how to respond to you when you are scared or sad? Do you have a friend who knows it is better to just be present and listen rather than give advice when you are struggling? Is there someone in your life who knows your favorite kind of tea or the kind of gesture that makes you feel loved when you are having a bad day--or hard life passage? When someone truly knows and sees you for who you are, and responds to you with a sense of sacred respect and knowledge of what matters to you, intimacy is created. Stassinopoulos notes that when intimacy is created, we are so fully present with another person that the outside world may disappear, and both people might feel they "are in the presence of something almost sacred." This kind of space is one where we are not distracted, and the person we are listening to or talking with might get the sense that they are "the only person in the universe" to us at that very moment. Stassinopoulos reflects that our fast-paced world does not promote the kind of slowing down needed to both open to and experience this deeper sense of connection. If we focus on what is "next," we may very well miss the opportunity available to us in the moment. When we are always focused on what's next, we can live with a sense of anxiety that puts up protective walls to survive, rather than taking down protection to help us take in the moment for what it is. If we go too fast, always focus on what needs to be done, and in the process, forget to look one another in the eye, or extend a helping hand, we start to shut down and numb out--like the frogs in the pot of boiling water. When intimacy is rare, no matter how much we need it deep down inside, we often do numb out in order to survive without such a basic food group for the soul. We need to find ways to make ourselves feel emotionally safe, to slow down and create the kind of moments where we can truly look into one another's eyes and see who is with us in the here and now. If we come to another person with "an authentic unconditional caring," their walls and defenses start to melt, know we can be truly safe and loved. If a person connects with you and responds in the spirit of "I have all the time in the world for you," we are far more inclined to open up, take risks and be vulnerable. Knowing we really ARE emotionally safe, the other person really DOES want to hear what we have to say, and feeling care through a glance, a touch or a hug, melt our defenses and free up life energy. Stassinopoulos invites us to inquire how our world would be different if we consciously initiated and sustained more intimate experiences with one another. My mentor Stan Dale used to say intimacy meant "in-to-me-I see." When another person can offer a grounded, loving, pure and clear mirror, our defense melt and we can feel seen and heard. The soul thrives on being authentic, and it celebrates when it encounters other people who encourage us to be who we really are. If we offer deep caring, patience, a willingness to learn and understand...and bring love and goodwill to one another without strings, not only will our emotional and spiritual health improve, but also our physical health. Intimacy really IS a food group for the soul. And we need our recommended daily allowances.
Saturday, September 28, 2013
We live in a time when more and more kids and adults are being "diagnosed," with behavioral, neuropsychological or mental health "issues." While it is hard enough to live in this world with whatever issues we are facing that lead to a diagnosis, the diagnosis itself creates a whole new hellish world of its own: one of being "othered," and therefore losing respect and privilege that comes with being "normal" or one of the masses. Many people who experience behavioral, neuropsychological or mental health issues rightly fear the diagnoses and labels that are given to their challenges and experiences, and the stigma that comes with them. The very fact that we enter the world of "disability" or the equally stigmatized euphemism "special needs," takes us down countless rungs on the ladder of privilege. Career doors that our talents could open for us are slammed shut, sight unseen. Strangers judge us without taking the time to get to know us. Other people run the other way as we become the dark mirror of what everyone fears might happen to them or someone in their family. After all, being on "the spectrum, " having behavior or mental health issues, seems to diminish our personhood in the eyes of our human eat human society. If racism and sexism were issues of much of the 20th century, all the other ways we reduce or "other" those who struggle with neuropsychological, behavioral or mental health issues are issues of our current times. Truthfully, ALL of us are unique beings and have "special" needs. It's just that some special gets held in high esteem and other special gets labelled as "crazy," "sick" or even just "different." Writer Rachel Cohen-Rottenberg notes, "Both autism and mental health discourses in this country are extremely pathologizing and destructive. It is hard to believe the change in ways in which the world looks at someone pre- and post-diagnosis. The loss of 'normalcy' privilege, of respect, of a certain kind of cultural authority are really mind-boggling. You might be the same person you always were, but once you lose the label of 'normalcy,' a great many other things change." As a person with an issue approaches the terrifying process of evaluation and diagnosis, the fear and resistance to both are totally founded in the reality of the impact of such evaluation. The person needs support against the way society stigmatizes them (and all of us). A diagnosis can be a source of information and self-awareness, but that is a much harder frame to find and internalize when the outside world rarely gives that message. Cohen-Rottenberg also warns us to be wary of the experts we are told to put our faith in. They may do well-intentioned work, but rarely know what they are working on from the inside out. As I have been searching for resources for working with Aspergers, there seem to be a lot more resources to help younger kids succeed in school or for people to get medication, than to deal with the human, social, emotional and spiritual issues of being wired differently. Our medical system separates neuropsychological issues from mental health issues, when often they are inter-related and inseparable. This makes getting any kind of integrated care virtually impossible. The short-term nature of hospitalization and care, with an emphasis on moving the body because it is expensive to "warehouse" or "babysit" a person in a crisis, leads to never truly understanding the human being in the crisis, and never providing a context for long-term care that can truly help a person. Forced medication with needles and straight jackets is traumatizing. Yet, this is the norm for how to treat people in psychiatric crisis. If someone is scared to death of the treatment, they are beaten into submission or put out on the street. If the medication helps stabilize the crisis, then there is some redeeming value in this treatment. However, we somehow miss the heart of the matter and too often populate our system with robots, not compassionate care. I do not yet have answers of how to build a large and deep enough village to make a dent in the brokenness of our health care system or to try to educate the masses and transform stigma into understanding. I am just more and more clear as I journey through hell, that SOMETHING needs to be done.
Have you ever experienced the "push me-pull you" dance in close relationships? Once "new relationship energy" has dissipated, do you find yourself getting close to someone, only to find them pulling away. Or have you been on the other side of this see saw, finding yourself distancing as a person you care about has come in close, perhaps too close for comfort? Most all of us crave intimacy, but it can also be a scary proposition. Relationship experts Calista Luminaire and Lion Goodman write, "Anxiety is the uncomfortable body sensation associated with fear, uncertainty, instability or feeling unsafe...When infants are uncomfortable or afraid, they cry out, expressing their need to be cared for. If their needs are not attended to, they feel anxious." They note that in adults, the feeling of anxiety has its roots in the same primal part of the brain. They write, "Anxiety is a subconscious rattling of the nervous system signaling, 'I need care now!' If you're not certain whether you'll be care for, you feel upset or nervous.'" If when you are scared, you are responded to with love and care, you will feel safe, and your anxiety will "melt away." If your partner has a negative response, including criticism, judgment, rejection or withdrawal, your anxiety will quickly escalate into the red zone. Your primal fear of abandonment button will be triggered, and you may experience the same kind of fight or flight response that comes when something is a threat to your survival. Your partner, who is having their own parallel red zone response, then distances further, and the two of you descend seemingly separately, but actually together, into a downward spiral. Somehow, instead of being two people dancing on an equal playing field, one person has become the "distanced"and the other person has become the "pursuer." Both roles feel pretty horrible, and relationship breaks down. The distancer feels overwhelmed by the anxiety of the person needing closeness at a very primal level. The pursuer feels unsafe, rejected and abandoned. Becoming aware that this dynamic of anxiety and abandonment is starting to play out in an intimate relationship is the first step in breaking the downward spiral, and helping get your footing back on solid ground. If our primal needs for safety, comfort, reassurance and security had been met when we were small, we would feel safer as we opened our hearts and started to form emotional attachments with other people. But when these primal needs were not met or not met consistency, attachment triggers anxiety and abandonment, with an intensity equivalent to questioning our very survival. Important learnings are: 1. We are all human and many of us have unmet needs around attachment and security. 2. If we can get in touch with our own anxiety around intimacy and attachment, we can start to learn what our own inner child needs to be safe and secure. 3. If we feel frightened of someone else's anxiety or need for closeness, likely our own attachment fractures are coming to the surface to heal and transform. 4. The better able we are to have compassion for the scared, anxious inner part of us, be it the part that is afraid of being abandoned or the part that is afraid of being smothered, the better we can manage our own anxiety, whether we are the pursuer or the distanced. 5. The better we understand ourselves and our reactions, the more compassionate we can be with our partner and their reaction. 6. The better we know what we need, the more able we are to translate it into something doable in the here and now. If you tell someone, "I am feeling anxious and would feel a lot better if you held me for 5 minutes," that is giving them a doable task that can make a difference. It is also a contained task, so the distancer will not feel smothered. Learning the steps of the dance of intimacy takes courage, time and often good coaching. It is well worth the personal growth and relational effort to become skilled at this dance!
Monday, September 2, 2013
I am grateful that since childhood I have been given the gifts of clarity, groundedness, and the ability to take vision and make it real through action. I have myself in positions of leadership again and again even without intending to land there or trying. Even as an 8th grader, I ended up elected to serve as the class president, despite or perhaps because instead of reading a canned campaign speech, I sat on the edge of the stage and spoke from my heart to everyone in the audience. I have been called "the engine" in numerous groups perhaps for my ability to sustain a strong focus, both for myself and the group or organization, and to find ways to integrate and direct the skills and talents of others in the group towards a common vision over time. Most recently, I have found myself repeatedly called "a force of nature." That term has at times been a compliment but at other times a less than endearing phrase. When another human being marvels at what I can create and sustain from a respectful place, that can be touching. However, when the implication is that another person is scared of me because my power and passion are so strong they fear being swept under by my wave, that saddens and isolates me. When I think of forces of nature, I think of hurricanes, tidal waves, earthquakes and the like. Each one is very powerful. Each one can be transformative to the landscape it touches. Each one can be dangerous and scary. And in most cases, we need to step away and protect ourselves when one is on the horizon. Might there be gentler and more connective images to evoke? Is the gentle light of the sun a force of nature? Is the soft sand that can caress your feet as you walk on the beach a force of nature? Are the stars in the sky and the beautiful formations they form a force of nature too? Can a force of nature work with you and for you, rather than against you? If each of us connect with our hearts, and live from that place, do we become benevolent forces for good in this world? If we treat one another with kindness and respect every day, do we transform the world for the good with our love? Can being a force of nature be a symbol of the good that is possible in this world when we embrace our power, rather than a source of fear or not good enoughness when we compare ourselves to others who are more embodied and empowered? Might forces of nature join as partners with our forces of nature and work together for the common good? Being a force unite is a whole lot more pleasurable than being a force operating all alone on the skinny branches of life. Might there not be a whole lot more wind underneath our wings if we use our heart power to help one another fly? What if forces like care and kindness helped us feel safer and be more real with one another, rather than batting down the hatches to defend ourselves from something that might touch us in places we have locked away? I would rather be a force of nature than some marketer's creation in a chemistry lab. What if we all find ways to be the natural forces we are capable of being and joining together to create a healthier happier world? That is a landscape I can exhale in!
Our world can be cold and cruel, and as we increasingly reach out and touch our handheld devices, instead of one another, it is easy to become numb to our basic human need to connect and feel connected emotionally, physically and in real time, to ourselves and others. Dr. Bruce Perry, who specializes in the impact of childhood trauma on our ability to bond and form healthy relationships talks about "attachment," our capacity to form and maintain healthy emotional relationships. Dr Perry believes that at our core, human beings are relational creatures. In fact, he believes the very nature of humanity arises from relationships. Almost everything we learn about what it means to be a human being is learned in a relational context including: how we impact one another through our words, thoughts and actions, how we think and feel and how we express or communicate our thoughts and feelings, how to respond or behave in a given situation and how the world works, both in small details and bigger picture ways. It is both natural and healthy to form special bonds with other people, "attachment bonds." Dr Perry describes four unique properties of an attachment bond: 1. an enduring bond with a special person, 2. involves comfort, soothing and pleasure, 3. loss or threat of loss of the special person evokes intense distress and 4. there is security and safety in the context of this relationship. Most all human beings have the innate, genetic capacity to experience attachment relationships: relationships which develop and stand on a special connection or bond. When as infants we are treated with attentive, responsive and loving caregiving, our genetic potential for attachment and bonding is expressed. When we lack the attentive, responsive and loving caregiving we truly need, our ability to bond or attach can be adversely impacted. This impacts the ability of the child to mature emotionally and socially and develop the critical attachment bonds with self and other needed to be healthy, happy and successful navigating the larger world. Dr Price notes that by compartmentalizing our world, we've decreased the opportunities to have relationships. Initially, if we are socialized to expect bonding, attachment and relational connection, we will feel something very deep missing if we live in a non-relational compartmentalized world. The lack of development of our capacity to attach or bond creates a very deep emptiness inside, palpable in our hearts and guts. However, if we continue to live with this void going unfilled and with our needs for connection going unmet, we eventually numb out to ourselves and our needs and give up hope that our needs will ever be met. This numbing out creates a feral state of emotional and relational being, where we shy away from deep or warm emotional contact and bonding, and try to do it all alone. When we are in this feral state, even if someone approaches us with kindness, we feel more the intensity of the outreach than the valence of the emotional energy that accompanies the outreach. We learn to protect ourselves from the pain of not getting our needs met in the past by keeping up a wall to feel or experience our needs in the here and now. And this protection turns into a fortress that keeps danger out, by also prevents love and care to get in. While we can survive living in our individual fortresses, in time, the heart grows weary and lonely. We need each other. We are not meant to live lives of quiet desperation, each on our own exotic or simple path, independent of other people. When we have healthy and abundance attachment experiences early in life, we can welcome and embrace love, kindness and the bond that grows from both, later in life. If we have not had the safety, love, constancy or care to attach, we may run from true love and kindness, that way a a fly or an animal turns away from the light. We learn to live in a numb, compartmentalized, not entirely human world, where relationships and connection are at the bottom of the list. In this sense, to compartmentalize our lives means to emotionally, physically and spiritually starve. Our fundamental need for interconnection can not be met when we lives our lives of quiet desperation so quietly that no one really knows just how quiet and desperate things have become. When we are this isolated we die a small death every day, even if we think we are tough or strategic or better than others whose lives just don't measure up to our inner judge. We need to be able to soothe our defenses, and regain safety from love, kindness and bonding, so we get the core emotional, relational, physical and spiritual nutrients we need to learn, grow and survive. Loving touch, kind words, honest truth, and emotional constancy should be balms for the soul, not theoretical concepts. As the beautiful gospel song by Hezekiah Walker, "I Need You to Survive" says, "I need you. You need me." We need each other to survive, and surely to live and thrive.
Monday, August 19, 2013
So many of us wish to meet a "soul mate," another human being with whom we share a deep connection, with whom the level of intimacy seems rich and endless, and where we may feel like we've known the other person forever, even when we have just met them. With a soul mate, we can talk about seemingly anything,and the potential for joy, growth and fulfillment through relationship seems profound and exquisite. What we often don't take into consideration, and may not be aware of, is that when we have a deep connection with another person, not only do our most positive qualities have the opportunity to shine, but also our shadow parts come to the surface as well. Deep connections, because they are safe and far reaching, allow us to connect with our undeveloped, unhealed and unexamined parts so that we may heal and integrate them as we grow. When we do this critical shadow work, the rewards are soul rendering. However, if we do not realize that with soul connection comes soul work, we may run from this important opportunity for growth, sometimes abandoning ship--our own and the one we share with a soul mate. My colleague Jeff Brown, one of the most brilliant articulators of matters of the heart I know, has made a beautiful and very helpful distinction: soul mates and wound mates. A wound mate may be a soul mate who is not ready, willing or able to do the essential soul work needed to grow, both for oneself and in relationship. As a result, Jeff says the wound mate relationship is sourced "in unresolved emotional patterns, issues and holdings." Instead of recognizing what is being brought to the surface and mining it for gold, "wound mates just flounder in the mud, trigger after trigger, downward spiral after downward spiral." From a soul point of view, this kind of relationship really is a waste. To do our soul work, to point the finger inwards rather than outwards, takes great courage and consciousness. Yet, the fruits of such efforts are sweet and rare. If two soul mates do their work, they can bring out the best in one another and be the wind under one another's wings. If they run from the dark side of the mirror, they can feel as though they are clipping one another's wings and holding one another down or back. How sad it is when instead of recognizing that shadow work can bring us closer to ourselves and our loved ones, we run away, shut down, or reject the very source of love who at first appeared to be a gift from God. Perhaps even having this frame of soul mates and wound mates can help bring more awareness to the delicate dance of love, intimacy and relationship.
One of the hallmarks of this American culture is self-reliance. Messages about doing it all on our own, and being strong and tough and persevering abound, not only for men, but also for women. When a woman finds herself in the position of being a single mom raising a son on her own, most people look the other way and tell her to just carry on. When my son was 2 ¾ his dad and I separated. He was 4 ½ when his parents divorced. I was the primary custodial parent, but my son did have contact with his dad. When my son was 12, he and his dad stopped seeing one another. My son had asked his dad to address some serious issues between them, and his dad responded by pulling away. Initially, the separation was very good for my son. He and I together finally had the space for my son to have a more “normal life.” Soccer, Red Sox games, movies and leadership conferences all became easier to take part in for my son with his life unencumbered by the issues with his dad. Realizing that my son needed good male role models in his life, I sought out organizations and activities that allowed my son to interact with male mentors. I found Boys to Men New England when he was 12, and over time, BTMNE became a critical part of the emotional foundation for my son’s life. One part of Boys to Men is an annual Rites of Passage teen weekend workshop in August. My son participated in the workshop when he was 13, and staffed it when he was 14, 15 and 16. When he was 15, following the workshop weekend, it became clear that my son was feeling deep pain from what I have come to call “the father wound.” Even though he was part of a community of men and boys during the workshop, the absence of his father cut deep. My son started to ask questions about who his father was and who he might be since his father provided half of his genetic material. My son wondered why his father might disappear and leave his son. And my son also felt the pain of his parents’ divorce and estrangement. No matter how hard I tried to support my son’s interests and find resources that also supported his interests, there was a huge void inside of him that I could not fill: the father wound. Over time, I came to realize that no matter how good a mom I was, no matter how hard I tried to find resources to help my son and to help him learn to help himself, because I was his mom and not his dad, there were many things I just could not do. A teenage boy looks to men in his quest to determine what it means to be a man. I was not a man. A teenage boy needs to hear the story of other men’s journey to manhood. I did not take that journey as a woman. The mentors in Boys to Men had something to offer my son that I could never give him: the experience of growing up male in this culture, and coming to define the men they wanted to be through their experiences growing up—with and without the support and involvement of other men. As my son’s struggle deepened, I realized it was the other men he needed to talk to, not just his mom. And having other men really see and know him became invaluable as he started to face some increasingly difficult and painful passages in his own personal journey towards manhood, a journey that is still underway. It takes a village to raise a child, and the village must include male mentors and role models deeply committed to the best interests of each male child. When my son feels connected to other men who care, his spirit grows. When my son feels isolated and alone, especially from other men, his pain grows. I am very clear I cannot do it alone, and I cannot successfully guide my son to manhood without the care, commitment and involvement of other good men. If you are a man who cares about boys in their transition to manhood, become a mentor with Boys to Men. There are many other boys like my son out there counting on you. And even boys who have two parent homes need a village that includes emotionally available men. Opening your heart to a teenage boy can be the difference between helping a young man learn to fly, and watching someone with great potential crash as his pain weighs down his wings. This post was written for The Over My Should Foundation
Wednesday, February 27, 2013
Cedar Barstow of Right Use of Power defines power as "the ability to have an effect." She underscores the truth that "how we use this ability is the difference between abuse of power and use of power for good." Cedar has identified four different dimensions with goals that relate to power, each of which has two polarities. When we tend to behave at one extreme or the other, we find ourselves losing power. When we work to find a balanced place in the middle of each continuum, we can live in "the power zone." Here are the four dimensions Cedar has identified: 1. Be informed and aware Goal: Use power to evolve relationships and situations. Polarities: Too little information (which creates information) and Too much information (which creates overwhelm) Task: To find and utilize just the right amount of information to make well-thought out decisions. 2. Be sensitive and compassionate Goal: Use power with both heart and strength Polarities: Over-focus on self (self-absorption) and Under-focus on self (unconsciousness) 3. Be connected and accountable Goal: Use power to prevent, resolve and repair harm. Polarities: Over-responsible (introjection/shame) and Under-responsible (projection/blame) 4. Be skillful and wise Goal: Use power to promote well-being and serve the common good Polarities: Over-attached (unable to let go) and Under-attached (unable to hold on) For more information: http://www.rightuseofpower.com/power-polarities-ethical-wisdom/