I was taking the dishes out of the dishwasher yesterday, and putting them away in our cupboards when I suddenly stopped. Before that moment befell me I had been performing this chore while in my mind I was thinking about what I wanted to do next, which was to go into my office and continue writing my book. Writing my book was fun, while doing dishes was merely a chore that I had to get out of the way. Then liminality happened.
In a movie I once saw many years ago, there was a scene where a man was running across a bridge that was collapsing. Every time the man took a step, the stone beneath his feet would give way, so he had to quickly step onto the next stone, which also would fall away. And so he ran across the bridge, getting just enough weight on the stone to allow him to reach for the next, before the solid object dissolved under his foot. I was mesmerized by how lightly he ran, and suddenly felt that I was being given an important lesson. The stone bridge was the world, that begins to dissolve as soon as it’s created, so there is no sense in putting too much weight or importance on any given experience, for it will surely pass. The man in the movie represented my essential being, intuitively guiding my every step, reminding me to experience and release each moment in time. Don’t hang on to the last minute and don’t put the weight of expectation onto the next, for only consciousness is stable in my otherwise unstable existence.
One of the greatest myths ever spread throughout the world concerns the influence of beliefs in our lives. The myth is that beliefs affect our destiny and determine what happens to us, and that our beliefs and thoughts create our life direction. People even suggest that our beliefs actually create our reality, so if we want to change our lives we have to change our beliefs. This usually means substituting negative, pessimistic beliefs for positive, optimistic ones. In fact, beliefs are merely a replacement for knowing. When we forgot who we really are and submitted ourselves to the directions of the human mind, beliefs were born. As such they are limited in their nature and limiting in their effects on us. Even the most empowering belief is still a weak replacement for knowing who we are and what our purpose is. For many years in my work as a counsellor and group leader, I would encourage people to confront their beliefs about themselves and the world and to face the experience that created those beliefs. I suggested that most or all of our beliefs come from our childhood, and that our negative beliefs emerged from painful experiences that we did not resolve at the time. I made a few mistakes when I delivered this model and I would like to correct one of them now.
Dilemmas are commonplace experiences in people’s lives, and are generally dealt with in a similar manner by all of us. We look at the situation as a problem to be solved and consider the two primary options available to us. (Note: sometimes there seem to be more than just two options from which to choose, but the dynamics and effective response apply regardless.) Typically each of the options hold satisfactory possibilities but unsatisfactory side effects as well. The artist who wants to quit a job that offers great pay, but little in the way of creative opportunities is faced with an obvious dilemma: keep your financially secure job but feel emotionally dissatisfied, or follow your emotionally rewarding creative impulses but risk financial instability. The person who wants to leave an emotionally barren partnership for a more “loving” relationship, must decide whether it’s worth it to leave a happy, harmonious family situation. Any dilemma with an emotional component — which most dilemmas include — is always difficult to resolve, and people can find themselves stuck in them for years! The stuckness is usually caused by the individual’s fear of making the “wrong choice”, one which will diminish, or even ruin” their enjoyment of the road they chose to travel.
Where is Your Relationship Leading You? (Part 2)
In 2001 I decided to explore what the key indicators were, which determined the direction intimate relationships would take – growth or atrophy. Below are listed some of the influences in most, if not all, intimate relationships.
- Agreement (Covered in Part 1)
- Appreciation (Covered in Part 1)
- Individuality/intimacy balance (I hour creativity per week)
- Emotional transparency
- The sacrifice/indulgence factor
- Accountability; increase of blame, complaints, criticism and judgment
People enter into and remain in intimate relationships for a wide variety of reasons, ranging from the romantic to the practical; the material to the spiritual. This article is intended for those who see their partnerships as opportunities to learn and grow in love, happiness, and emotional maturity.
Most interpersonal conflicts seem to be fuelled by the feeling of being unfairly treated, being misunderstood, or both. In the outer world, or “Storyland”, there are millions of details to every conflict or power struggle, and we often explore the details constantly in our minds or through our arguments. We either use the details to come to an understanding of all the sides of the argument, or to reinforce our position and prove we are right. Meanwhile the underlying feelings in the inner world are rejected, suppressed or ignored because they seem to be too painful to face at the time.
In my experience as a relationship counsellor, and as a husband of over 25 years, it has always seemed like a good idea to discuss every major issue with my partner until a truly satisfying agreement has been reached. It creates a sense of flow and intimacy, two basic ingredients to true partnership.
It started out as an exciting idea:
Peter and I would take a bus into the interior and get off in a national park. From there we would follow an old fur traders trail back down to the coast. I had come across a hand-drawn map with the trail marked, and did some reading about the path, feeling confident that I would be able to find it in the park and traverse its length to the university grounds where the trail ended. The path we would follow was about 100 miles long, and we gave ourselves a week to complete the trek. Peter and I were in our twenties, both fit and healthy, and itching to get out of the city, to walk through a wilderness that few people got the chance to see. It was perfect – what could go wrong?
Although the word “conflict” has been shaded with a rather negative connotation, the fact is that it is through the stimuli within conflicts that life provides an opportunity for growth. There is no conflict without the presence of some degree of irritation, but it is the defensive reaction to irritation that extends the conflict and can magnify it into a power struggle — even an all-out war.
If I see life, the world, myself, and others without judgment, there is no good or bad, and everything seems and feels more peaceful in and around me. Judgment not only reinforces the blindness of belief, but also reinforces my rejection of what is. Rejection is suffering. If I am rejecting something, I will suffer. If I judge what I am rejecting, I will strengthen my attachment to suffering. I have never known a way to ‘let go’ of judgment, but have noticed judgement spontaneously falling away, when I notice my rejection and turn toward acceptance.
How Relationships Help us to Grow Up
I have begun many relationship and emotional adulthood workshops with statements such as the following: “Regardless of your age, educational background or religious / life philosophy, it is very likely that you have acted like a child from time to time in your important relationships. If you’re the boss of a company, you’ve probably thrown a tantrum or two….
The Expectation/Fantasy Cycle
Human personalities carry with them four basic tendencies—emotional obsession, behavioral compulsion, mental fixation, and physical addiction. These four tendencies lead people into repetitive and predictable patterns of thought, emotion, and action. Once we identify with a need, and insist that this need must be met in order for us to be happy, secure, and empowered, we launch ourselves into a specific cycle as illustrated and explained below.
Life becomes a much simpler journey when you realize that there are only two directions to take at any given moment, a fact that is often more apparent when you are confronted by a problem or crisis. One direction is rejection and the other is acceptance. People who appear to be involved in unconscious living tend to consistently opt for rejection, while those who seem to be waking up or growing up emotionally lean toward acceptance.
In close relationships, expectations are emotional stresses that are often fuelled by the expecting person’s need for belonging and importance. The expectation is often looked at as a “right” by the one doing the expecting. Examples of this include:
- You are my wife so you should behave in a way that doesn’t upset me.
- You are my husband so you shouldn’t be looking at other women. You should want only me all the time.
- You’re my friend so you’re supposed to take my side when I disagree with someone or something, even if I’m wrong.
- You’re my parent so you should support me financially.
- You’re my girlfriend/boyfriend so you should give me sex when I want it.
- You’re my employee so you should always agree with me
- You should remember my birthday.
- You should consider my feelings before making a decision.
- You should do what I want to do.
- You should feel the same way I do.
The question “Why?” may be helpful when dealing with mechanical, scientific, medical, and math problems, but it can create a huge distraction and delay when you are dealing with an interpersonal conflict in your marriage, family, friendships, or work situation, or any personal issue that has an emotional component to it. In other words, if you are confronted with a situation in which you are feeling annoyed, anxious, or otherwise irritated, asking “Why is this happening?” or “Why did you do that?” will be of little or no help to you in coming to a happy and peaceful resolution to the issue at hand.
There is an interesting story in Buddhism about “The Dweller on the Threshold.” In spite of the various ways it was described, I was given the impression that this Dweller is one vicious and ugly critter whose job it is to test the sincerity of the spiritual seeker.
Of the eight children in our family, my brother Douglas was the most troubling, if not the most troubled. When I was a young boy he was a lot of fun to be around—playful, generous, funny, and always coming up with creative ideas regarding games that we could play. He seemed to be constantly organizing us younger siblings into games of tag or hide-and-seek with the other kids in the neighborhood, and even organizing amateur concerts where we would sing or act out skits for our parents.
In my experience, waking up seems to begin with awareness of a “presence” in your life. Your physical world does not change, but the way you see it does. You might look at an object with your eyes, and register its solid appearance, but you are aware of the presence behind or beyond that appearance. Or perhaps you will be entertaining a belief in your mind and suddenly be aware of the presence beyond that belief, rendering the belief to be insubstantial, even meaningless. As the belief dissolves, awareness of the presence grows and you begin to realize that the presence is the awareness itself, and the awareness is You! Whereas before it would seem to you that you were looking out at the world from within your body, in the awakening stage, the body – and the very world itself – are now experienced as being inside the awareness; inside You. At this point a wonderful little awareness game takes place.
“I do not like broccoli. And I haven’t liked it since I was a little kid, and my mother made me eat it. And I’m President of the United States, and I’m not going to eat any more broccoli.”
– George H. W. Bush 1990
When I first read the term “Emotional Adulthood” in a book by Jed McKenna, it struck a chord in me. I am still not completely sure what he meant by it, but those two words conjured up childhood memories of observing my parents’ behaviors, especially when they were upset. When I was fourteen years old, it dawned on me that my mother and father often behaved childishly when they were confronted with emotionally uncomfortable situations.
It must have been on a television program that I first witnessed someone being placed into a hypnotic trance. I don’t remember why the man was being hypnotized, whether it was simply an act or whether I was watching a documentary. What I do recall was the subject being guided to close his eyes and relax as deeply as possible. He was then asked a number of questions, to which he replied in a drowsy voice. Once the hypnotist was finished with his inquiries, he spoke the following words to the subject: “Now I am going to count to three and as I do so you will begin to awaken from your trance. When I reach the number three you will open your eyes feeling relaxed and refreshed.” At the number three, the subject opened his eyes, blinked a little, and then smiled.
Over the last eight years I have noticed that the word “Awakening” has become a more prominent subject in books, on You Tube, as well as in the field of business and personal workshops and trainings. I am fairly certain that the word has different meanings to the various teachers and participants of these events, and since I am involved in leading workshops on the experience of consciousness, I would like to offer my understanding of what “Awakening” means. When discussing these terms, I find it helpful to use metaphors, one of which concerns a caterpillar’s / butterfly’s life.
A few years back I was leading a workshop in Malaysia, and sharing a story with the group about a farmer who had a bald spot on his head. Every day while he toiled in the chicken coop the perspiration made his scalp itch, so he would stop to scratch and rub his scalp. One day he looked in his mirror and noticed that his hair was growing back. He came to the conclusion that this was due to the fact that when he scratched his head he was inadvertently rubbing in chicken poop, which must have some miraculous hair-restoration properties.
My son was unemployed and temporarily living with us. He had completed a four-year degree program at a Montreal university and then spent a year at Taiwan University to master the Mandarin language, and now he was ready to face the working world. Only the working world did not seem to be opening any doors for him and he was faced with the age-old Catch 22, whereby he needed to get a job in order to have the work experience that all the companies were requiring in order for him to get the job that would give him the experience, et cetera, et cetera.
If you think that you are missing something in your life, your attention will often be preoccupied by what you need in order to feel whole or fulfilled. This lack inside may be expressed through the search for Truth, pursuing success, attempting to heal your past or present, taking risks to increase your confidence, trying to achieve some great feat, or through any number of personal endeavors. Accordingly, the people who come and go—as well as those who stick around—will reflect your quest for fulfilment by taking on certain roles. At any given time, an individual will represent a Threat, a Cautious Friend, or a Conditional Teacher.
When it comes to teaching lessons, life doesn’t seem interested in my schedule. I was twenty-one years old and coming home from my job as an office clerk. As soon as I walked through the doorway of the house I was sharing with two friends, I saw the wasp circling the ceiling light in the living room.
And the wasp saw me.
We are not human beings searching for a spiritual experience. We are spiritual beings immersed in human experience. —Pierre Teilhard de Chardin
As I type in the above quote by the famous Jesuit philosopher, my first response is to ask myself if the statement is true. More accurately, I ask myself, “Does this statement point me to the experience of Truth?” The intuition of my heart tells me that it does, although I have no empirical evidence to prove it otherwise. However, since trusting my heart over my intellect has always led me to profound life experiences, I follow it once more. Suddenly this insight leads me to look at my wife and recognize her as more than a physical entity or familiar personality, and a wonderful sense of recognition comes over me. The words appear: “I know you.”
For a long time in my life I had wrestled with the idea of “abundance.” Maybe it was because of the mixed messages that I gave myself about the meaning of the word. I was a member of what at the time was called “The New Age Community,” which seemed to be a large number of people involved in an attempt at integrating psychology, spirituality, mythology, natural healing, esoterica, the laws of manifestation and, for some reason, crystals.
Relationship is simple. That’s not to say that relationship is easy. Actually, I’ve found it to be among the hardest paths to follow effectively on a consistent basis, perhaps because the relationship path involves other people, and while you can share wonderful moments with other people, you also go through occasions that can be irritating, frustrating, intrusive, and challenging from time to time. The most irritating people tend to be the ones you are closest to. Typically, the most irritating person in your life will be the one with whom you enter an intimate relationship, a fact of life that often causes people to believe that they have chosen the wrong person to be their life partner. But this blog is not solely about intimate relationships or marriage; it’s about the relationship dynamic itself, regardless of the level of intimacy in that relationship.
As I get older, perhaps a little bit of wisdom trickles into me and I can perceive life from a different perspective. When I was younger, I would try to look into the future, searching for signs and messages to prepare me for what awaited me in the New Year. If I saw what I thought was a sign, I would assign specific meanings to the challenges that the omen predicted, in order to help me see a greater purpose unfolding in my life. I even decided that the first movie I saw in the New Year would represent the greatest experience that I would be given, and the second movie I saw would represent the greatest challenge I would face. Then I examined the astrological influences, and read the prophecies of other teachers and masters. All of these things I did simply to prepare myself and my workshop participants for what would come in the future.
My body is basically a system of knotted muscles that surround tight tendons or ligaments. It’s been this way since I was at least five years old. Whenever I mention that I feel as if I were made of wood, I am invariably advised to practice one of the seventeen kinds of yoga in my neighborhood.
I deflect these suggestions with various excuses because… well… I realize I may be the only person in the world that’s like this, but… well, I don’t like yoga. For some reason, people who are really into yoga believe this is because I never tried it, and they insist that if I did, they are sure I would come to love it just as much as they do.
Some people need something to believe in. Others need to know.
Imagine that there are two women arguing about African bushmen. One says that she read about the bushmen and the fact that they don’t hunt when it’s raining, while the other woman argues that her husband visited a tribe who in fact went hunting, rain or shine. The first woman thinks that the husband did not visit the particular tribe to which she was referring, whereas the second woman insists that hunting practices are the same throughout all the tribes of bush people.