The “experts” think their always right. The readers either think their experts or will defend the experts almost to death against those who disagree. And the dissenters too often move quickly into “defense mode,” which again turns into “I’m right, you’re wrong, end of story.” You can find the tenor of this thread all over the place. It’s a pretty human condition.
At the end of the day, though, the best advice always comes from a place of humility and openness. Because no one walks the exact same path in this world. Humility and openness are the two qualities I think are most missing in these kinds of discussions. Which makes for more drama and excitement, but makes it more difficult for helpful truths to shine through.
Monday, April 22, 2013
Tuesday, February 26, 2013
That's one of the things I have learned as a blogger. It doesn't matter the overarching subject matter. You can be writing about religion. Politics. Relationships. The life of squirrels. Just about anything. And if the focus is on sex, it's almost a given you're daily blog traffic will double at the very least.
It's not surprising I suppose, but it speaks volumes that the gobs of folks will devour a poorly written sex advice post, while barely more than a few seem interested in the finer points of loving well. I've seen it here. I've seen it on dozens of other blogs across disciplines.
If you write about sex, they will come. This post isn't about sex. It just has the word sex in it. Over and over again. Sex. Sex. Sex.
Who knew our attention could be owned by a three little letters, and their meaning...
Wednesday, February 13, 2013
It's that time of year again. When chocolate and rose sales go up, while vino and lonely hearts go down. Tomorrow is Valentine's Day, roundly loved or hated depending upon one's relationship status.
For those of you who have a honey, the question often is "How can I show my love?" If you're feeling adventurous, maybe you'd like to take up one or more of these dating ideas. If not, a nice home cooked meal or handmade card certainly would be appreciated.
However, I'm guessing more than a few of my readers have a more cynical take on the heart holiday. There have been years when I was in a relationship, and yet didn't want to deal with the whole thing. The expectations around this day can be a real strain. It really is just another day after all. There are 364 others available to demonstrate how much you love someone, and no end to the ways you might do so.
There's another thing about Valentine's Day you might not know. The origins of the holiday aren't so loving.
Originally, the feast day of St. Valentine honored two third century martyrs by the name of Valentine who were elevated to sainthood in the early middle ages. Both Valentines -- one the Bishop of Terni and the other a priest in Rome -- were allegedly decapitated by their persecutors on February 14.
Thus began a long, often ugly winding path towards the now quite commercial holiday we know of today. For those of us living in the colder parts of the Northern Hemisphere, it provides the opportunity for a celebratory break from winter. Or an excuse to take a trip to somewhere warm. Or simply a day of bonding and commiseration with unattached friends.
In some ways, it seems like the tortured aspect hasn't disappeared, but has simply gone psychological. Living in the hearts of those who either long for love on the day, or who in a relationship where the expectations around the day are heightened. Whatever your experience with Valentine's Day though, remember that it all begins with you.
Sunday, February 3, 2013
I think we've been sold a bag of lies about relationships. On the one hand, there's the plethora of fairytale romances that are always easy, and are filled with a seemingly endless supply of happiness and pleasure. On the other hand, there are all these folks out there peddling the idea that because the fairytale is a lie, the truth must be that all of this relationship stuff is "hard work" and requires endless amounts of sacrifice and compromise. Some, seeing these two extremes, offer the suggestion that it's somewhere in the middle of fairytale and life-long drudgery in the name of security and comfort.
None of those views are really accurate. Although it is the case that many folks live out one of these narratives, usually the negative one, although occasionally you might meet someone who, at least on the surface, seems to be "living the dream relationship."
So, what's the true narrative you're probably asking?
As I see it, it's something like this. In our ability, or lack of ability, to embrace reality as it is, lies so much of how we experience our relationship(s). Each of us, and the two of us (or however many in poly relationships) together, decide - moment by moment - how things are unfolding. Obviously, when happiness and joy are the flavor of the day for you and your partner(s), it's quite easy to just go with what's happening. You love who your with and what you're doing. It's all good, as the cliche goes.
But for a lot of us, that's where the ease stays. As soon as negative feelings or disagreements or anything that we don't naturally like enters into the equation, the joy and happiness disappear. The level of conflict rises, as does the level of dissatisfaction and suffering.
Maybe you still can connect with that love you have for the one you're with, but it seems more fragile, tentative, and conditional. You want to go on a trip to Chicago, and your partner says she can't afford it for the third time in a six months. You offer to pay for part or all of the trip and she still says no. Suddenly, you feel angry, she feels guilty, and neither of you can sense the bigger picture on anything.
Whether things are pleasurable or not so pleasurable, you can develop a wider view on your relationship that isn't subject to the ups and downs of everyday life. In my experience, this has come through regular meditation and mindfulness practices, although there are other ways to cultivate it as well. One thing that has brought much more ease into my relationships in general, and my romantic life in particular, is the letting go of stories about what it happening in the moment.
This maybe sounds philosophical and abstract, but it's not. Here's an example. You and your partner have just finished eating dinner. You get up to go into the other room, leaving the dishes behind in the sink. You're partner doesn't like dirty dishes in the sink and makes some remark about how it would be nice to have a clean kitchen. You've heard this indirect criticism dozens of times and before you know it, you're body is filled with anger. And you're mind is churning up stories. "She doesn't appreciate me. He doesn't care about anything but getting things done. Everything is a rush. I just want to relax. There's no trust in this relationship." It tends to go on and on, somethings in outrageous directions, until either you a) start an argument or b) enough time passes so that you move on, but in an unresolved kind of way.
The way to shift these patterns is to make a conscious effort to recognize the story development before it goes too far, and takes you over. If you're like me, you need to begin by setting an intention to act differently because you want the boundless of love as you're life's ground. Maybe you even tell your partner or a close friend that you desire to be less reactive in your relationship, and have more ease, regardless of what's going on.
From the initial intention, it often helps to start monitoring the feelings that arise in your body. To watch for patterns. Do you get hooked by certain comments the other person makes? Do you get upset by your own limitations or weaknesses? What triggers you in general?
Many of us have been trained to ignore the deeper workings of our bodies, and/or to check out of them in various ways. So, actually tending to emotions and sensations that come up might feel really foreign at first. In fact, it might feel odd for weeks or months even.
The same can said for letting go of the stories that begin to arise once the emotions reach a certain pitch. Which is the next piece of the puzzle. Because for most of us, it's probably the case that those stories about what is happening seem to be the truth. The whole truth. And nothing but the truth. In fact, even when we're proven wrong, there's still a tendency to believe. Or maybe slightly modify the original story. "Ok. Maybe she isn't rushing me this time, but usually she's in a hurry, and expects me to keep up with her."
There's much more I could say about all of this, but I think I'll end here for now. To recap:
1. Set an intention to change a reactive pattern. "I desire to listen more to my partner when she's upset about the way the household chores are getting done, and to let go of any stories that come up for me in the process."
2. Start cuing into the emotions and body sensations that arise. (You can do this generally during your day to notice overall patterns, or specifically during situations pertaining to your intention.)
3. Do your best to let go of the stories that come up around difficult situations in your relationship. (Including the need to do any of this "perfectly" or even "well." Even if you catch yourself once during the day, and let go of some nonsense tale one time, that's great! You're doing it, and the momentum will build.)
May you all be well today. If you have any questions, experiences to share, or general thoughts, by all means leave a comment.
Friday, January 18, 2013
Although it's probably the case that socialization at school and other places put it into my head that crying isn't ok for men, the day that solidified it for me was my grandfather's funeral.
I was 13 years old. As one of the pallbearers, I stood at the end of the line, watching the casket sliding from the hearse. Suddenly, I felt weak. Grief rushed through me in a way I hadn’t known before. I turned away, just at the time when I should have been reaching up. My uncle turned and screamed something nasty at me. What exactly, I don’t remember. Only that “do your job” was tagged to the end of it. I didn't forgive him for years for that, even though it was mostly a reaction out of fear that the casket would fall.
Later that day, my grandmother came around and told all of us "Don't cry. You're grandfather wouldn't want you to cry." She was trying to support us, but this is often how grandma's support has been - kind of off. Anyway, her words that day, as well as my uncle's, stuck with me, leading the charge of all the other comments and views I'd heard saying that men don't cry, that we best be "tough," no matter what.
That's my micro-level story. Consider, though, that suppression of male tears is a fairly modern cultural issue. Tom Lutz, a University of California, Riverside professor, who wrote an entire book on crying, traces it to the late 19th century, when factory workers—mostly men—were discouraged from indulging in emotion lest it interfere with their productivity.
So, the suppression of tears is directly tied to the rise of industrialized capitalism. And why might this be? Well, the way I see it, the worst aspects of capitalism turn humans into machines. Sometimes it's blunt, like forcing people to suppress emotional experiences around their work, and sometimes it's more subtle, like making people work a certain block of time every day, regardless of what their body rhythms are, how healthy they are, or what other needs they might have.
It's really telling how, given the suppression of male tears, there is so much trouble with men around issues of grief and loss. Think of some of the male alcoholics and drug addicts you've known or seen. Consider some of the men who end up behind bars for murders of spouses, partners, former partners, or family members. And what about those over calculating, uber-rational on the surface business leaders who die of heart attacks at age 55 or 60? I'd argue that some of these issues are related to the struggles many men have with crying, expressing grief, and working through grief.
Somehow, men need to break free from all of this. To be able to be fully human, and to live healthy lives. However, it goes beyond gender, and isn't just a "men's issue." Our entire society, with its obsession with speed, greed, and productivity, is implicated. Something needs to change on a grand scale. Lest we all be drowning soon in pools of grief.
Friday, December 21, 2012
If you feel swamped by all the opinions coming at you. If you feel stuck in patterns that don't serve you, or any relationship you are in. If you are afraid to take risks anymore because of the countless hurts you've experienced in the past.
If any or all of these are true, it's time to pause. Time to tune out the noise of the world around you and listen to what's coming up. To feel the fear. The confusion. The angst. The loneliness. To let all of that move through you until the truth of the moment calls. Everyone has had those moments when something seems to click, where all the effort to find an answer breaks down and suddenly a voice or an understanding appears and you know just what to do. A lot of us tend to think this kind of thing is accidental, or a stroke of good luck, but neither of those is really true.
You can learn to quiet down, slow down, and listen for the truth of the moment. And if you apply that skill to your relationships, I bet you'll start to see all the opinions and stories of others as just that: opinions and stories. Instead of being a slave to society's narratives about relationships, or your friend's and family's narratives about them, you can finally learn what is it that your heart desires. And locating that, it will be that much easier to listen to the heart's desire of the person you're with. In other words, you can be fully alive and authentic with each other.
But it all starts with you, and your willingness to slow down and listen for your heart's desire, again and again.
Wednesday, December 12, 2012
The minute I heard my first love story,
I started looking for you, not knowing
how blind that was.
Lovers don't finally meet somewhere,
they're in each other all along.
An attendant mistake to this is trying to find someone exactly like you, or judging everyone you meet on the basis of the lover in the story you have.
How many of your complaints about dating, or about your current partner, are really about them?
Another, better question might be this: how many of your complaints will actually move you in the direction of love, of intimacy, of awakening to what you really want in this life?
Most of us bumble along map-less. Some take the love stories that most excite them, and attempt to frame their lives around them, as if a person could become the characters within. Others collect the viewpoints of experts, friends, family, clergy, strangers on the street, and then attempt to follow the advice they're given. Still others operate with little framework other than sexual attraction, "chemistry," hoping from one hot catch to the next.
None of those options are very helpful in the end, even if they contain pointers.
Until you meet yourself, and see that the love story is really about you, you'll struggle in all things relationship.
A lot of folks never figure this out, and spend a lifetime struggling together and/or alone.
Whatever else you do, make an effort to find the lover within.
*Image "The Two Fridas" - Frida Kahlo