January 16, 2014

What Is Really True?

Michelle called me in a snit about a conflict in her marriage with Rob. She'd worked herself into quite a frenzy, and after a couple of minutes I said, "You're very afraid."

"I'm angry," she said.

"Oh, I can hear that, but your anger is only a response to your fear. Slow down until you can feel that."
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She paused for several moments before she said, "Yeah, I'm afraid."

"Of what?"

"That Rob will never love me. That I'll never feel loved, that I'll always feel alone."

"Considering your experiences in life so far, your fears are entirely understandable, but let's look at them. Do you KNOW that Rob will never love you?"

"It sure doesn't seem like he will."

"You're right. The evidence of his unconditional love is pretty slim, but at this point he barely understands the DEFINITION of Real Love. He certainly doesn't have any consistent experience with it. It's a fact that you aren't loving him unconditionally in a consistent way, are you?"

"Well, no, not really."

"Okay, so you don't really KNOW that he'll never love you. He actually MIGHT learn to love you, right? Isn't that possible? With lots of help?"

"I suppose."

"So your fear is based on an irrational belief. You don't know it will happen, it hasn't happened yet--that he'll NEVER love you--so it doesn't make any sense at all to fuss about what hasn't happened."

"He hasn't loved me up to now."

"You're right, and he hasn't known HOW to love you, so he couldn't possibly have loved you. That was then--in the Age of Great Darkness, if you like--and that time is OVER. The past is gone, and fears of the future are all based on suppositions and lies. So why fuss about the past or the future? Why not stick with what is TRUE RIGHT NOW? Just a thought."

"Okay, I'm willing to try that."

"So what do you KNOW to be true? You have to start with that, or everything else falls apart. In mathematics they start with what they call axioms--self-evident truths upon which all other principles or theorems are based. For example, if A = B, and B = C, then A= C. When working with complicated formulas, they just assume the axiom to be true, rather than proving it over and over again. You need some axioms in your life."

"Okay."

"Do I love you?"

"Yes, I trust that completely."

"In what way do I love you? As a peer, as a partner, or how?"

"You love me like I was your own daughter."

"True. So that would make me your--"

"Daddy."

"Yes, so put that into a sentence."

"My Daddy loves me."

"Yes, true. That's your first axiom. Now, do you suppose that I invented love? Or that I create it on my own?"

"I hadn't thought much about it, but no, I suppose you just pass on to me what you get yourself."

"Yep, and the source is far greater than myself. You can call it anything you want--Higher Power, God, whatever--but that's where it all comes from."

"I call it God."

"Fine, so what's the second axiom?"

"God loves me."

"Yes, and if it's true that I love you and God loves you, how does that directly eliminate one of the fears you talked about."

"I never have to be alone again."

"Brilliant. That's the third axiom. So if you're loved and not alone, what else matters?"

"Not much. I'd have everything I need, and I'd have no need to be afraid."

"That's the fourth axiom. Now, for the last. If it's true that you're loved and not alone, that you have everything you need, and that you have no need to be afraid, what other feeling would follow?"

"I'd be grateful."

"Yes, you would--all the time. And with all those feelings, would it matter if your husband--at least for now--doesn't love you unconditionally? Would you really have to get it from him?"

"I guess not."

We spend a great deal of time fussing about the past, the future, and the pain of present issues, which seem to be very complicated. Everything becomes much simpler when we remember basic truths that are undeniably true (axioms):

1. Somebody loves me. They might fill the role of a father, mother, teacher, friend, wise man, or whatever, but if I pay attention, I can find someone who offers me some degree of Real Love.

2. God loves me. Many people have a terrible notion of the nature of God--or don't believe in the idea at all--but we human beings don't generate love on our own. We tap into a great, infinite, eternal flow, and then we have the capacity to share some of that flow with others. The source of that infinite power is God--or whatever name you choose to give that power or being.

3. So I am never alone. With the love of caring people and God, I can't be alone.

4. I have everything I need and have no need to ever be afraid. Once we know down to our bones that we're loved and not alone, we really do have what matters most, and then who can hurt us? We become invincible.

5. I am so grateful. With all the above, how could I not be?shutterstock_130218290.jpg

When I remember what is true, I cannot at the same time complain, find fault, blame, or be miserable. Stick with the truth, and everything else that's good--love and happiness--will follow.

January 14, 2014

Look for the Gift

When my grandson Brad was ten years old, he wrote this essay for school:

"My winter break was the best I ever had. I went to Rome, GA to visit my grandparents. I had a lot of presents on Christmas, but I was most excited by a huge, heavy box. I opened it, but when I looked inside I was disappointed. There was a bunch of teapots, vases, dolls, and other stuff.

"I said, 'Is this some kind of joke?'" Depositphotos_34284367_xs.jpg

"But then my Mom said, 'You're going out with your favorite uncles to shoot up all that stuff with guns.'

"Suddenly I was not disappointed.

"We went out into the woods with two pistols, a rifle, and a shotgun. The pistols were hard to control and kicked back on my hand, so I was a terrible shot, but a gun's a gun, right? I was better with the rifle and shot up more glass things than anybody else. I tried the shotgun, but it kicked my shoulder so hard that I set it on the ground and ran away.

"I shot everything to pieces, and it was amazing. I learned a good lesson. I thought my present was a disappointment at first, but it turned out to be the best I ever got."

We often fail to see the gift in great many things in our lives--until we look closer or think about it. Depositphotos_1250055_xs.jpg

January 9, 2014

Like Riding a Horse

Sally told me, "Real Love is like riding a horse."

Depositphotos_12608455_xs.jpgI was curious about what she meant, so she told me that a saddle is held in place on a horse by a girth--like a belt--that goes under the belly and fastens to both sides of the saddle. The first time she rode a horse, her cousin intentionally failed to tighten the girth firmly, which meant that the saddle was loosely secured to the animal.

When Sally got up on the horse, the saddle promptly rolled to a position under the horse, with Sally clinging to the saddle for her life and bumping her head on the ground. Understandably, she lost some of her enthusiasm for riding horses, but in time she tried again, this time with competent assistance. She learned to ride a horse and enjoyed it.

Learning how to feel and share Real Love can involve some slipping and bumping of heads. Sometimes we'll want to quit, but if we persist, we learn how to feel loved and to love others, and after that the joy is fulfilling beyond words.

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January 7, 2014

Dilute the Pain--But with What?

A kind friend sent me this mythical story, which teaches much when viewed from a certain perspective.

An aging master grew tired of his apprentice's complaints. One morning, he sent him to get some salt. WhenDepositphotos_26207579_xs.jpg the apprentice returned, the master told him to mix a handful of salt in a glass of water and drink it. "How does it taste?" the master asked.

"Bitter," said the apprentice.

Chuckling, the master asked the young man to throw a similar handful of salt into the lake by which they stood. "Now drink from the lake," said the old man. After the student complied, the master asked again, "How does it taste?"

"Fresh," remarked the apprentice.

"Can you taste the salt?" asked the master. When the young man shook his head, the master explained, "The pain of life is salt. The amount of bitterness we taste depends on the container we put the pain in. If you wish your pain to change, often you need only to stop being a glass. Become a lake instead."

Although it communicates a true principle, the story could actually be annoying if you don't know how to "become a lake." But we do know. As you gather Real Love and share it with others, the love dilutes or even eliminates the pain within you and in the hearts of others. Love is, in fact, an infinite river that washes away the pain of all our wounds.

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January 2, 2014

Making Balsamic Vinegar

Over the centuries, vinegars have been used for cooking, health, and even cleaning. The word vinegar comes from the French for "sour wine," which is understandable because most vinegars are made from fermented grapes, or from other fruit and berry juices, grain, herbs, rice, or honey.

Depositphotos_33965175_xs.jpgBalsamic vinegar, however, is made from whole, unfermented grapes--usually Trebbiano or Lambrusco from the Modena and Reggio Emilia regions of Italy. The production process is laborious, and the longer the vinegar is aged--accompanied by considerable tasting and manipulating--the finer the taste and more expensive it becomes.

The balsamic vinegar sold at Wal-Mart costs about $6.00 for 18 ounces, or about 33 cents per ounce. Sometimes the label states that the contents are "aged," but that might mean that the vinegar was aged from the time it left the factory until it arrived at the store three weeks later.

Balsamic vinegar aged for 3 years costs about $8 for 14 ounces, or 57 cents per ounce. 18-year-old vinegar costs $12 for 200 ml, or $1.80 per ounce. 30-year-old vinegar is $96 for 2.39 ounces, or $40 per ounce. I've tasted all these grades, and I can tell you that the 30-year-old stuff is worth the price. You make salad dressing with the inexpensive stuff, but the expensive vinegar is gently sopped up by the quarter-teaspoon with pieces of hot Italian bread--so you don't miss the fine taste.

I've long had the desire to taste 100-year-old balsamic, but I thought I'd wait until just before I died, because it costs $400 for 2.39 ounces, or $167 per ounce--roughly the price of gold 30 years ago. The other day a dear friend sent me a bottle of 100-year-old balsamic, and it was worth the wait. I taste it by putting less than a drop at a time on the end of my finger.

Loving relationships are like balsamic vinegar. You can easily get a relationship quickly and cheaply, and that's how it will taste--cheap, with a bitter aftertaste. Or you can take your time--along with care and skill--and produce a relationship worth everything you'll ever pay for it.

December 31, 2013

Real Commitment

Arriving in Central America from Europe in 1519, Hernando Cortes was determined to conquer the Aztec Empire of 5-6 million people--spread over 80,000 square miles--with a force of only six hundred men and 16 horses. Outnumbered 10,000 to one, the men were tempted to abandon this seemingly impossible mission and return to Spain. In order to remove the possibility of retreat, however--and to thoroughly motivate his men to fight--Cortes burned all his ships.

So in every battle the Spanish were fighting for their lives, with an intensity that frightened the Aztecs, who continued to withdraw deeper into apparently safer positions. By 1521 Cortes and his small army had conquered the Aztecs.

As people begin their journey toward Real Love, inevitably they experience the discomfort that accompanies growth. Although they profess their commitment to change, many of them then retreat into the comfort and apparent safety of their addictions to Imitation Love. Real Love is a sweet, subtle, and often soft sound or feeling, which the traveler on the road to genuine happiness finds only with careful listening and consistent practice. The distractions of the world blare loudly, with bright lights, luring the traveler back to familiar but deadly positions, from which there is often no escape.

cropped old life new life.jpgMany others, however, wisely cut themselves off from retreat by sacrificing their addictions to money, sex, alcohol, and conditional approval, to name just a few. They may quit stressful jobs that are impossibly distracting, or they may temporarily dissociate from emotionally harmful family members or friends.

These people who burn their ships--who cut off their avenues of retreat--travel much faster and more directly along the road to Real Love and happiness.

December 26, 2013

It Takes What It Takes

iStock_000024201132XSmall.jpgA couple of years ago I did an intervention with a couple, Marcus and Janie. During the entire three days, they both fought with each other--and with me--to be the most right and the most wounded. That does not make for happy lives or relationships.

By the time they left, they were communicating much better, but within months they were right back to acting like victims and insisting on being right. Marcus became completely deaf--emotionally speaking--but I thought there was some hope that Janie might listen to the principles that would enable her to climb out of the pit she'd wallowed in all her life.

She finally told me that she just couldn't hear me when I was "mean" to her. I explained that I was simply the only person in her life who would tell her what she needed to hear. She chose her friends precisely because they participated in her dance of Getting and Protecting Behaviors. They enjoyed all the Imitation Love she gave them, so they would never tell her the truth about what she was doing. They were also engaged in similar behaviors themselves and were far too blinded by fear to help her.

Janie quit communicating with me, and she divorced Marcus. For more than a year, she continued to participate in Real Love groups, but she continued to feel victimized by her ex-husband and others--including me. She would not entertain the notion that her own behaviors caused her misery and the conflicts in her relationships.

But then Janie called Sylvia, a Real Love coach, and began to tell her story--the same old one. Sylvia didn't argue with her. She simply told her own story. "I spent my entire life manipulating people to like me, and I was pretty successful, but it was all a lie. No matter how many people I fooled, I found myself alone. And I continued to do this in my personal life even while I was coaching others. I was so good at manipulating people that nobody saw what I was doing. They actually enjoyed my behaviors, so I was really stuck. And then I talked to Greg, who very firmly showed me what I was doing, while loving me the whole time. At first I thought he was being harsh or mean, but I realized that nobody else would ever do this for me, and he had nothing to gain by being cruel. He was trying to help, and he kept trying, even though he knew I would be irritated by what he was saying."

Janie called me and said, "I finally understand what you've been telling me all along. Everything you said was true, but I had created a world where people either agreed with me and liked me, or they were enemies, trying to hurt me."

"To be fair," I said, "YOU did not create that world. Your parents did, and you merely continued a pattern you were taught."

"That is so true," she said, "and thanks for saying that. Because of the way I saw the world, I could not hear you tell me the truth. Now I see what my parents taught me, which were lies--even though they didn't intend to do that to me. I've been living lies all my life. I've been a phoney, doing nothing but earning Imitation Love. I'm tired of it, and I want to really live instead. I need your help, because I can't see what I'm blind to. I just can't."

Janie came to Georgia for her own intervention, which required only a single day, because she was willing to genuinely listen. Sylvia came with her for support. Depositphotos_3354792_m.jpg Happy womanWhat a beautiful experience it was to watch a human being transform from being afraid, manipulative, protective, and angry to being calm, peaceful, accepting, and even joyful. It was a privilege to be there.

"I'm sorry it took me so long to understand what you were doing," she said.

"It takes what it takes, kid," I responded. "All that matters is what you're learning now, and that you're happy. Now that you're seeing clearly, and willing to continue growing, you'll discover levels of joy you never imagined."

It takes what it takes. Some of us need to hear the truth in certain ways. Sometimes we're not ready to hear the truth at all until we are so humbled by pain and misery that we become willing to give up our old behaviors and do anything different that will stop the pain. If you're not happy, don't give up. Keep telling the truth. To as many people as possible. Until you are consistently healthy and happy, do not associate with people who either promote your old behaviors or sympathize with them. Talk to people who have the courage to tell you what you're doing. Then listen to them.

December 24, 2013

The All-Powerful Bridge of Trust

iStock_000018118313XSmall.jpgAfter watching Lisa express her anger at Paul, her husband, for several minutes, I interrupted. "You don't trust him."

"Sure I do," she said. "I just don't like many of the choices he makes."

"You mean most of his choices."

Her silence eloquently expressed her assent.

"People who don't trust each other," I said, "simply cannot have loving relationships, and yet you keep saying that you do want a loving relationship. Your lack of trust is making it impossible for you to have what you claim you want."

"But I do trust him."

"Sure, when he does what you want, then you 'trust' him. But that's not trust at all."

"How am I supposed to trust him when he's unkind? Or selfish?"

"Which, of course, you define as doing anything you don't like."

People are fond of saying that they trust others, but they really don't. It's easy to trust someone who always does what you want and who doesn't make unloving mistakes. That's not trust; it's just enjoyment. Real trust--another word for faith--is a choice we make. Real trust is something we give, rather than demanding that our partners earn it.

Before making a decision to trust someone, it might be helpful to understand not only who to trust but what to trust. How can you trust your spouse while he's making mistakes, being selfish, and not loving you? Easy. Make a decision to trust that your partner is doing the best he can to be loving. Almost without exception, your partner does not get up in the morning and decide to be a jerk. His "jerkish" behaviors are just reactions to emptiness and fear, so when he feels more loved, his behavior improves considerably. Surely you've noticed that.

If you trust that your partner is doing the best he can, you fully expect that he will make mistakes, behave selfishly, and fail to love you on occasion. We all do that. It's the human condition. If you trust that your partner is doing the best he can to learn and grow--mistakes and all--then you won't feel betrayed when he makes the mistakes that are an unavoidable part of learning and growing. If, on the other hand, you trust your partner never to make mistakes and always to be loving, you'll feel betrayed each time he makes a mistake, and you'll withdraw your trust even more.

iStock_000018164235XSmall.jpgWhen give our trust, our partners can feel it, like giving them a gift. Grateful for our trust, they want to do the best they can to be deserving of it. Trust is the great bridge that spans our differences and flaws and brings us together in love. A failure to trust guarantees that such a bridge will never be built, much less used.

Many people wait for trust to be proven, but when we begin with distrust, we find evidence in every word and action to support our doubts. If, on the other hand, we give trust, other people behave better and we find evidence to support our trusting attitude.

Choose to trust. Be patient with those who receive your gift. Don't expect too much of them, and you'll be richly rewarded by your faith in them.

December 19, 2013

The Voice of Aslan

In the children's book series, The Chronicles of Narnia, the magical land of the same name is ruled by Aslan, who appears as a large, golden lion. The four children of the tale---the pure-hearted heroes, of course---can communicate clearly with Aslan and all the other animals. On one occasion small-minded Uncle Andrew is pulled from the "real world" into Narnia, where in his fear all he can hear from the animals is barking, growling, and the other expected animal noises. When his nephew, Digory--one of the four heroes--begs Aslan to say something that will help Uncle Andrew, Aslan responds:

"I cannot (comfort) this old sinner . . . he has made himself unable to hear my voice. If I spoke to him, he would hear only growlings and roarings. Oh, Adam's sons, how cleverly you (humans) defend yourselves against all that might do you good! But I will give him the only gift he is still able to receive . . . (to) sleep and be separated from all the torments (he has) devised for (himself)."

Like Uncle Andrew, most of us are so blinded and deafened by fear that we cannot hear the words of wisdom that could comfort and guide us. Instead we hear only criticism--"growlings and roarings"--and feel only pain, and then we defend ourselves by separating from all that is good by taking a long spiritual nap.

In the words of Aslan, "All will get what they want; they do not always like it."

February 11, 2013

Deaf or Offended

On several occasions I worked with Lisa over the phone, but she was not listening, and as a result she was making no progress in her personal happiness or in her relationships at home. On one call, she said, "I'm sorry that this is so frustrating for you."

I smiled. I hear this a lot. "Sweetie," I said, "it's not frustration. You use the word frustration as a way of shifting some of the responsibility for your lack of progress to me. If you believe I'm frustrated with you, then you also have a reason not to listen."

"No," she said, "I just---"

Having heard this conversation a great many times, and knowing Lisa well, I interrupted, because this line of thinking and arguing is never helpful. "Let me help you understand what you're hearing. Although it seems that we've spoken about quite a variety of issues, it's really only one problem. You are so wounded that you react to almost everyone as though they're trying to hurt you. Understandable. Even though you don't realize you're doing it, you attack people a lot, and they don't like that. Then they defend themselves, and you take their defensiveness personally.

"I've tried to tell you this quite a few times now, but you have utterly refused to hear me, because then you'd have to be responsible for your own behavior, rather than blaming everybody else for how you feel and behave. When we first began to talk, many conversations ago, I spoke to you with a level of directness---or emotional 'volume,' if you like---of about one, on a scale of one to ten. You didn't hear me at all. You kept blaming. Now, I have no need to change your blaming. Zero. You can blame other people for how you feel and behave for the rest of your life, and I'll be just fine. But YOU won't---you'll stay unhappy, as you are now---and because I genuinely care about your happiness, I increased the volume. I did this FOR YOU, to get your attention, to help you see what's been hurting you all your life. Again, I'm not talking about the volume of my voice---I didn't speak louder---but about how directly I spoke to you.

"Then I spoke to you at a level two. Nothing. I tried level three. Still deaf. Four. Deaf. But then I tried a level five---probably not even that high---and you called it frustration on my part, which is a sneaky way of blaming me for being impatient or irritated with you."

"I didn't mean to accuse you of anything," she said.

"I believe you," I said, "just as I believe you don't see how much blaming and attacking you do with other people. But you still do it, and I thought I would help you see it, only because it's making you unhappy and ruining your relationships. THAT is why I increased the volume, but when I reached a level five, suddenly you were offended at my directness or tone or whatever, all of which is intended simply to break through the deafness. But you don't sense my desire to help you. You hear only frustration---which is not there---or claim that I'm mean or angry. Then you focus on my tone or perceived frustration or anger, and now you don't have to listen.

"In short, you're either deaf or offended. This is not a small point I'm making here. You create a world where you NEVER have to listen. You believe that if people would just speak to you in the right way, you could hear them, but that's not true. There is no such magical way, because you're always deaf or offended. If that doesn't change, you'll stay right where you are for your entire life."

Most of us can't see our unproductive behaviors, because over a lifetime we've become accustomed to them. We're blind to them, so we REQUIRE the assistance of other people to see what we do. But we don't WANT to recognize our behaviors, because they're not attractive. We're not proud of them. We want to hide them under a rock, so when people lift up the rock, we tend to resist, argue, lie, run away, and act hurt. We're deaf or offended, and though we rarely do this intentionally, we isolate ourselves. We will not---or cannot---listen.

We can't listen until we have a very strong desire to learn and until we thoroughly trust the people who are trying to genuinely help us. The decision to give that trust can be made only by US.