Get Out Of Your Own Way

I guess I’d have to admit that my all-time favorite fortune cookie was actually a typo, stating that I would have mang children.  What on Earth are mang children and how did I get selected by the fortune cookie industry to have them?  In any case, it’s given me the giggles mang times over the years, and for that I am grateful on this Thanksgiving eve.

But that’s not all for which I am grateful.  My second favorite fortune cookie suggested that if I thought life was too difficult, then perhaps I was taking myself too seriously.  The word “perhaps” makes all the difference, doesn’t it?  It suggests, rather than mandates.  It provides for choice. Well then, perhaps Ishould choose to consider that I am taking myself too seriously?

It’s not that life doesn’t give us difficulties, challenges, but so much of our muck is a loss of perspective, and not consciously choosing our response.

My friend Gary Hales was dying of cancer several years ago.  I do believe I learned more about living through this man’s dying process than any other source.  Anyone who knew him knew what pure joy in living looked like.  He was about the most irreverent person I ever knew, and yet wise beyond description.  He had been in remission for ten years, and in his words, “remission, dear, reminds us that every day is gravy.  How can you not enjoy”?  And he did savor.  Even in his most extraordinarily difficult last few months, when he had lost most fine motor coordination (including speech — talk about a reason for gratitude) he was still the funniest person I ever knew.

I went to visit him at his assisted living apartment one day at lunch.  He had managed to get himself in the shower but had fallen.  There I was, on my lunch break, realizing there’s only one choice, and so I got in the shower with him.  I was completely soaked through my clothes, he was completely without his, but not without one shred of dignity, thanks to his sense of humor, so within seconds we were laughing hysterically.  Even though his life was ending in the most profoundly difficult circumstances, he was full of joy and laughter — and mischief.

The other lesson came in the preciousness of time.  I recall being in a store with him, where the store clerks completely ignored him.  Apparently, even if you are DOCTOR Gary Hales, and editor in chief of a medical journal, you are still deemed unworthy of acknowlegement if your walk and talk are not “normal”.  I got self-rightous and pounced on the management.  Gary, as always, just twinkled, held his left arm out, pointed to his wrist with the other hand, and simply said in his new language, “don’t… have… much… time…please… don’t… waste…”  In spite of the speech problems, it worked, and within moments, the manager had comandeered a high-backed executive chair and was rolling him around the store, providing personal shopping services.  Gary just winked at me.

It’s hard to imagine more difficult life-circumstances, and yet he kept us laughing and learning til the end, and beyond.  The lessons are endless, if you’re not too self-rightous to learn.

Get out of your own way.  Perhaps yourself too seriously.  Start TODAY enjoying your precious time, by being thankful, being kind, being forgiving, and by finding the humor and joy wherever it exists.  Once you start to see it, it’s everywhere.

We have an abundance for which to be Thankful; I’ll start with the life and lessons of Dr. Gary Hales.

The Art of Not Being Offended

This was written by Dr. Jodi Prinzivalli

There is an ancient and well-kept secret to happiness which the Great Ones have known for centuries. They rarely talk about it, but they use it all the time, and it is fundamental to good mental health. This secret is called The Fine Art of Not Being Offended. In order to truly be a master of this art, one must be able to see that every statement, action and reaction of another human being is the sum result of their total life experience to date. In other words, the majority of people in our world say and do what they do from their own set of fears, conclusions, defenses and attempts to survive. Most of it, even when aimed directly at us, has nothing to do with us. Usually, it has more to do with all the other times, and in particular the first few times, that this person experienced a similar situation, usually when they were young.   Yes, this is psychodynamic. But let’s face it, we live in a world where psychodynamics are what make the world go around. An individual who wishes to live successfully in the world as a spiritual person really needs to understand that psychology is as spiritual as prayer. In fact, the word psychology literally means the study of the soul.   All of that said, almost nothing is personal. Even with our closest loved ones, our beloved partners, our children and our friends. We are all swimming in the projections and filters of each other’s life experiences and often we are just the stand-ins, the chess pieces of life to which our loved ones have their own built-in reactions. This is not to dehumanize life or take away the intimacy from our relationships, but mainly for us to know that almost every time we get offended, we are actually just in a misunderstanding. A true embodiment of this idea actually allows for more intimacy and less suffering throughout all of our relationships. When we know that we are just the one who happens to be standing in the right place at the right psychodynamic time for someone to say or do what they are doing—we don’t have to take life personally. If it weren’t us, it would likely be someone else.   This frees us to be a little more detached from the reactions of people around us. How often do we react to a statement of another by being offended rather than seeing that the other might actually be hurting? In fact, every time we get offended, it is actually an opportunity to extend kindness to one who may be suffering—even if they themselves do not appear that way on the surface. All anger, all acting out, all harshness, all criticism, is in truth a form of suffering. When we provide no Velcro for it to stick, something changes in the world. We do not even have to say a thing. In fact, it is usually better not to say a thing. People who are suffering on the inside, but not showing it on the outside, are usually not keen on someone pointing out to them that they are suffering. We do not have to be our loved one’s therapist. We need only understand the situation and move on. In the least, we ourselves experience less suffering and at best, we have a chance to make the world a better place.   This is also not to be confused with allowing ourselves to be hurt, neglected or taken advantage of. True compassion does not allow harm to ourselves either. But when we know that nothing is personal, a magical thing happens. Many of the seeming abusers of the world start to leave our lives. Once we are conscious, so-called abuse can only happen if we believe what the other is saying. When we know nothing is personal, we also do not end up feeling abused. We can say, “Thank you for sharing,” and move on. We are not hooked by what another does or says, since we know it is not about us. When we know that our inherent worth is not determined by what another says, does or believes, we can take the world a little less seriously. And if necessary, we can just walk away without creating more misery for ourselves or having to convince the other person that we are good and worthy people.   The great challenge of our world is to live a life of contentment, regardless of what other people do, say, think or believe. The fine art of not being offended is one of the many skills for being a practical mystic. Though it may take a lifetime of practice, it is truly one of the best kept secrets for living a happy life.   —Dr. Jodi Prinzivalli

The Happy Club

A friend and I were talking about the childhood universal trait of forming clubs.  We supposed it directly fulfills the essential need to belong on Maslow’s famous hierarchy.   I had a bike club, among others.  She had a happy club.  Yes, it seems to be a universal need…. wait… did you say A HAPPY CLUB?  Yes!HappyClub
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Wow.  A Happy Club.  I want to belong!!  And here is the kicker:  their HAPPY CLUB, consisting of four little children, went around the neighborhood offering good deeds. They even had a song called “what can we do for you”?   Now my question is did they offer the good deeds because they were happy, or did offering the good deeds make them happy?  Probably both.

Have you ever noticed or thought about how it feels to be kind?  Little children know!  They’re not defended, offended or judgmental, and if we observe, they will teach us alot about being kind, AND about being happy.  There does, indeed, seem to be a direct relationship between the two.

I truly believe we are born happy and stay that way for at least a few years… Life events, internalized messages (particularly shame) can scramble our coding, cause us to forget we’re ok, and the result is depression, anxiety or both.  We manage THOSE conditions in variety of [often unhelpful] ways, seeking approval, spending money to buy a shiny object, over-medicating.  We’re trying to be happy, but we’ve forgotten the essentials!

How to be happy?  A thousand authors offer a thousand recipes for happiness.  And we certainly know the advertisers promise that cars and trucks, clothing, electronics and cleaning products will make us happy.

Complaining or criticizing will not make us happy. Controlling or policing others’ behavior doesn’t make us happy; as a matter of fact, it is crazy-making.  Buying a shiny object gives us a short-term chemical rush, but does not cause happiness.

Happiness is fundamentally linked to thoughts and behaviors.  If thoughts are habitually on judging what is wrong out there, you can expect continued hits of stress hormones.  Good luck with that.  If thoughts are trained to find what is right, now we’re onto something.  If behaviors are intentionally, consciously consistent with values, you can expect a hit of serotonin, particularly if you adopt a non-judgmental attitude.

If you want to be happy, try focusing on all that is going well.  Focus on improving yourself before you determine others’ wrongness.  Try making a habit of expressing gratitude for what you do have. Try forgiveness.  Try taking care of your self, your body, your environment, your life’s work, your family.

And try kindness.  Welcome to The Happy Club!  What Can We Do For You?

True Story

A few days ago, I was in the grocery store, in the throes of the decision between zucchini or yellow squash, and I heard someone say my name.

I looked up and a familiar face smiled as we recognized each other from… somewhere.   She knew; I didn’t.  I’m getting old.   She had two little ones in tow.   Something about my expression must have shown that I was searching for context and she quickly and graciously spelled it out.

She said “You sat with my husband and me at an Imago Workshop and helped us with a dialogue”.  “I just want tell you that day changed us permanently”.  “We love each other again”!

Then she immediately called out “Honey, remember Jeannie”?  He broke into a smile and came over and shook my hand with the same positive enthusiasm.

I looked at the kids and I looked at the couple and then I remembered them so well.  I remember them because their dialogue was AMAZING and still brings a tear to my eye when I recall it.

We met at a workshop Harville Hendrix was doing.  I was one of several assistants that day.  He prescribed a dialogue called the “Gift of Change”.    Couples were given a specific dialogue to do and told to raise their hand to ask for help from an assistant if they wanted it.

And this is how we met and changed each others’ life.  They raised their hand.   The dialogue was fairly simple; their change in relationship was quantum.   That was the day they opened up a willingness and commitment to be different in relationship.   They grew up.  They gave each other the gift of change in their own behavior toward one another, in lieu of blame.  Not tit for tat, not expectation from the other, not “I will if you will”, but a commitment to a mature approach of taking personal responsibility to be a better person .  They did it “for the kids”; then realized everyone reaps wildly rewarding benefits.

Standing in the grocery store, they laughed easily and told me they still see things differently and disagree; they still get triggered.  What has shifted is how they handle getting triggered.  They are now curious, conscious and intentional, and that is the goal. They have the connection that made possible by those three attributes.  And folks, when you have the connection, who cares if you loaded the dishwasher “wrong”?

Once you know something, you cannot un-know it.   You are changed in the way you see things and you cannot go back to “un-knowing”.  When you consciously understand that YOU contribute to the frustration you experience with your partner, and YOU decide YOUR behavior can change, everything changes.  This couple got it that day and with the applied curiosity, consciousness and intention in their dialogue, their relationship bloomed into beautiful living color we call “conscious love”.   That is what replaced the power struggle, and that is why they can laugh easily about getting triggered.

Of course we get triggered!   And on the other side of the responsible way we communicate about it is a connection that is rewarding beyond description.  Pain and fighting dissipate as dialogue creates connection.

What got to me was what always gets to me in the work I love to do:  their tenderness.  Underneath all that defensive fighting, bickering, blaming and criticizing is a vulnerability, and ultimately a desire.  This vulnerability is tender and intimate.  And the desire is honorable and easily addressed without the animosity of fighting.  Imago dialogue allows us to lose all that defensiveness and get to a place where we talk positively about what we DO want instead of fighting about what we DON’T want.

Seeing the children of this lovely couple reminded me of their motivation.  Children grow up and get into relationships that are familiar based on what they learned from watching and interacting with their parents.  This couple knows their own pain from childhood has impacted their adult life, so like most couples, wanted to get it right for their kids.

And they did.  And they healed.  And their children will grow up with good memories and a healthy approach in relationship.

Saying Goodbye

It may be simple, but it isn’t easy.  Life is change, and sometimes that change is loss.  Regardless of denial, or other defensive blinders we may employ to shield us from reality, it’s a fact that we will, at some point, lose someone we love, through death or breakup.  And there’s no sense sugar coating it; it’s sad; indeed.  Survivable, but sad.  Feels like a part of me died with her.  But the truth is, a part of me lives because she was such an amazingly positive teacher.  I just miss her.

I have learned over the years that throwing even the most spectacular temper tantrum does nothing to bring someone back.  It only creates unnecessary drama, drowning out the meaning that is available when we’re consciously open to learning.  Life’s pain or sadness does bring a learning opportunity.

Q:  How will I live without my beloved canine companion?

A:  Consciously, hopefully, and quietly for now.  One day at a time. Going through the motions of walking alone, remembering with a sense of curiosity, all that she taught me.

Remembering does help. Time will also help, I know.

Most helpful is the realization that I can honor her memory through embodying her qualities, like empathy, intelligence, loyalty, playfulness, forgiveness, her sense of responsibility, her capacity for joy and kindness, and most importantly, unconditional love, which makes a positive difference in the world, and THAT thought helps — and heals — alot.

But the bottom line is this:  pain and loss are part of living, just as happiness is.  We need to be able to accept loss, learn from it, and keep moving forward, becoming better because it happened at all.

Simple, yes.  Easy, no.   I live more joyfully because of her; it is now my tribute to her life, making mine more meaningful.

Goodbye, dear friend.  Thank you for being such an enormously positive influence.

Sing Your Songs Today

Spring has passed, Summer has gone, and winter is here.
And the song that I meant to sing remains unsung.
For I have spent my days stringing and unstringing my instrument.

~Rabindranath Tagore

Make Love Last!

Being in love is an amazing experience, which usually involves being passionately energized, filled with desire, joy and positive feelings and consumed with thoughts of the other person.  Congratulations on finding someone with whom you want to spend the rest of your life.

Let’s make this relationship last!

Research reliably shows that couples who attend marriage preparation courses or premarital counseling and address their concerns in advance are much less vulnerable to divorce.

As a marriage therapist, I am teaching a one-day marriage preparation workshop designed for new couples to help create asolid foundation for a lifetime of love.

Topics include:

  • the stages in a relationship and the brain chemistry involved in each
  • basics of healthy relationships
  • effective communication skills
  • what to do about conflict – how to turn conflicts into connections
  • how to safely address concerns and explore difficult topics
  • affair prevention
  • keeping your love vibrant

Come and learn how to communicate, how to deepen your connection, and how to create lasting love.

Seizing Opportunities

I just returned from a camping trip with Moseley, and two other friends, who have known each other since they were 14.  The purpose of the trip was to visit their newly acquired property on the South Carolina coast.  I am honored to have been invited and thrilled to witness their amazing achievement.

When they were kids, they declared, like many of us do, that they would purchase land, preferably on the coast, and be in each other’s lives always. They made good on their intention, and my hat is off to them for so many reasons.

One of those reasons has to do with seeing and acting on an opportunity. We’re talking once in a lifetime deal on coastal property.

So often, opportunities present themselves and we hedge, perhaps out of fear or skepticism.  “Too good to be true” we may tell ourselves, until the opportunity has passed.  Our comfort zone may be to stay with the familiar “missed opportunity” paradigm.  We feel safer with what is familiar, even if it’s not working for us!   Opportunities are all around us, and we may not see or act on them, because of the “scarcity mentality”.  FEAR, often driven by the daily news that comes out of our electronic life distract or, also known as television.  Turn that stuff off and live your life!

Overcoming fear, seizing an opportunity, stepping out of skepticism and scarcity is exhilarating, rich and rewarding beyond description.  This is life!  Make good on an intention, follow your passion, live your dream, seize the opportunity.

Premarital Class Start Right Stay Connected Workshop

It’s that time of year for marriage proposals and committed relationships. The first stage of a relationship is so delicious and amazing.

Help relationships stay strong, healthy, vibrant, and loving with a START RIGHT STAY CONNECTED workshop. I’ll be doing a one-day workshop for new couples on June 6 in Atlanta, GA. Click here for more information on this event. Please keep this in mind if you know anyone who is planning to marry or commit to a life partnership. I would appreciate it!

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