There is no aspect of life more ripe with opportunities to grow than our relationships. It also seems to be perhaps the most difficult and often painful way to learn. Sometimes, I get the distinct impression that I may have been a little over confident when I signed up for what I wanted to achieve this lifetime.
I can see it now, back in the place it all began, way before I was born. A fluffy, nebulous space of brilliant, white light. There I am, in my shiny soul nakedness, just brimming with enthusiasm about my coming incarnation, having a chat with God about what I might like to learn this time around.
” I’m so stoked about this lifetime, God. I’m totally inspired and excited. This is my time, I can just feel it. This is gonna be my last time around. I just know it”
“There’s no reason to rush dear. You have all the time in the world to complete the syllabus. Besides, this is infinity, you don’t get extra credit for finishing ahead of time” God chuckles, being particularly partial to a pun.
“No really, God. I’ve been over the last one, I see exactly where I went wrong – I know I’m ready. You know, you really had me with that parenting thing. You really got me going. I just have to tell you, that is the most brilliant way to teach unconditional love, I don’t know how you come up with this stuff.”
“Oh, well you know… I’ve had a bit of practice, and of course the omniscience thing is handy, “ God murmurs, with customary modesty “Anyway, back to you. Have you had a think about what you might like to try this time? I thought you might like to give Life Purpose 101 a go” He suggests gently.
“Life Purpose? No way God, I want you to really challenge me this time. I want to do Relationships again, but this time, take off the training wheels, I’m going for Gold!”
” Ahh, hmm, I see.” God pauses, for quite a long time, until squirming, I interrupt the silence
“God, I know what you’re thinking..” God raises an eyebrow
“Well, erm, no obviously not” I respond a little sheepishly “The thing is God, I just wanted to say that whilst it may have looked like a bit of train wreck from your perspective, especially towards the end of my marriage, I feel I grew so much and I have given it a lot of thought and… well, I just know I am not going to make the same mistakes again”
God tactfully says nothing and look into the middle distance. In retrospect, I can see he was probably mulling over the free will issue and how difficult it is to uphold when you really just want to steer your creations away from the impending cliff edge of their own self-destruction.
“Trust me on this, God. I’m ready. Don’t hold anything back, I want you to give me your best shot.”
“As you wish, my child, as you wish.”
And here I am. Stumbling clumsily between the ego: “why is this happening to me?” and highest self: “what am I being shown here?”. Some days, some years, some relationships it feels like the time I misguidedly imagined I could become some other version of me who isn’t terrified of rollercoasters and got on Space Mountain at Disney.
I’m holding my breath, clenching my teeth and hanging on for dear life. All I can do is try to remember that this crazy rollercoaster ride through the darkness only feels like it is going to be fatal. That it’s going to end and I’ll be back in the light pretty soon. In the light is where I feel like I’m finally getting it. I can see where my patterns are, painful as it is to really see them. But it is in becoming conscious that we can finally choose a different behaviour and that’s when we get to choose to stop the ride and get off.
A prayer or intention for the rollercoaster of unhealthy relationships
Dear God, (or Goddess, Universe, Highest Self…whatever works for you)
Please heal the part of me that permits and accepts unhealthy relationships.
Teach me to protect my inner child from people who hurt her/him, even unintentionally.
Show me that forgiveness doesn’t mean staying connected at the expense of my well-being.
Remind me that it’s not my job to try to heal or change other people but simply to learn the lessons I am being shown.
Help me surrender, to trust and let go.
Amen (or So Be it, Thank you, Om Shanti)
Today is Yom Kippur, the most sacred day of the year to those of the Jewish faith which calls for reflection, repentance and atonement.
As I thought about this day and what it means, I was struck by the idea that the desire to make amends or reparation for wrong-doing to another is, at the heart of things, a process of recognition that we are not separate.
Repentance requires from the transgressor an identification with and a validation of the pain of the victim. Sin is an act of separation, but both repentance and forgiveness unite. Thus, atonement can be understood as At-one-ment, a fundamentally yogic practice.
The Jewish prayers said today enumerate the many forms of sin that might need to be confessed. One of the first of which is described as having “hardened our hearts“. The hardening of our hearts may sometimes start as a desire to protect ourselves, yet the armored heart ultimately functions to inhibit our ability to feel another’s pain.
Once our vulnerability is secured beneath the shell of a hardened heart, our compassion becomes hidden alongside it. The hardened heart is disconnected from the other and becomes consumed with the ego of its individuality which need not be affected by the suffering of another.
The hardened heart belongs to both victim and transgressor and in many relationships both parties play both roles, in turns or simultaneously. But there is a cure for this evil malady, it is the practice of unconditional love.
As my yoga teacher Shiva Das would say “it’s easy to love when it’s easy to love”. But it is when it is least easy to love, that it may be the most powerful and the most important to do so. This is a rigorous spiritual practice, it requires faith, humility and discipline.
The revelation I had today was that true liberation from my own suffering was possible through the healing power of love. In order to be free, we must reject the illusion that we are a wounded child and remember the divinity within us that connects us with infinite, benevolent power.
By choosing to love precisely at the moment that it would seem impossible to do so, by loving the person who seems least deserving of our love, we transcend the role of victim. We are able to view the transgressor and ourselves and the similarities between us with compassion.
The division between us falls away and we see that we are both struggling and striving in our perfectly imperfect ways to understand what we are being asked to learn. In this moment of Namaste, all things are possible.
Today I celebrate a deeper understanding of how “Love is the Strongest Medicine”. Even as we feel broken by others, we can heal and grow by consciously going beyond forgiveness and striving to love those who hurt us.
Perhaps the true loves of our life are the people who challenge us the most to love them unconditionally. It is not an easy path. But when we succeed, how sweet the reward. When my heart is fully focussed on giving love, there is no space to fear or recollect it’s absence. In this moment, love will give us a God’s eye view of the situation and miracles can truly occur.
“Life will break you.
Nobody can protect you from that,
and living alone won’t either,
for solitude will also break you with its yearning.
You have to love.
You have to feel.
It is the reason you are here on earth.
You are here to risk your heart.
You are here to be swallowed up.
And when it happens that you are broken, or betrayed, or left, or hurt, or death brushes near,
Let yourself sit by an apple tree and listen to the apples falling all around you in heaps,
Wasting their sweetness.
Yesterday I found a new role mode, in an Elephant Journal article by Robert Sturman about The Guiness Book of Records reigning oldest living yoga teacher, 93 year old Tao Porchon Lynch. As impressive as her strength and flexibility are for someone of any age, let alone a nonagenarian, it is much more than her physical prowess that enchants me about this radiant being.
For not only does she love yoga, but also wine and dancing the tango.
In a interview with Tara Stiles-Parker, she credits her longevity and zest for living to proper breathing and making a concerted effort to think positive thoughts, along with a nightly shoulder stand before bed each night. She eschews fear and procrastination, simply doing the next right thing without delay.
She beams and twinkles with a light that simply dazzles me.
“Smile at everyone”
She advises as she illustrates the phenomenal magnetism of her charismatic charm.
This is how I want to live my life.
Waking up grateful for each new day,
thrilled by the prospect of all that I can learn,
all the wonderful places and beautiful people to be met,
making the most of the great gift of life
and blessing all I see with a smile.
Being in the business of helping people, it’s a little annoying that it always seems so much more difficult when I’m dealing with my own problems. Undoubtedly it’s all due to a lack of perspective and not being able to see the wood for the trees. Sometimes the answer we are so desperately seeking comes simply from being able to find the right questions. I’m grateful to have had a breakthrough tonight when I read this question from the fabulous Cheri Huber
“What do you have in your life and what do you exclude from your life in order to avoid discomfort?”
Cue major epiphany. Not so much because I answered the question but because, all of a sudden, I became aware of the way I was reacting to the problem. Inspiration came when I realized that a beautiful solution to this and every other problem might lie in simply changing the way I thought about the whole concept of having a problem. Back to Cheri here, who succinctly explains in The Key that there are Four Causes of Suffering:
- Not getting what you want
- Getting what you want and not being satisfied with it
- Having to endure the absence of those or that which you love
- Having to endure the presence to those or that which you do not love
The issue, in every case is that we don’t like that which we don’t like and that our reaction to experiencing discomfort or fearing that we are about to experience discomfort is to attempt to do just about anything to avoid it. The ego goes into over-drive in an all out attempt to control and change things. I think that actually having some tools and skills in the interpersonal realm can put one at a huge disadvantage here as the danger is that we can become consumed by the fallacy that if we just try harder or longer we can make it all better.
Some part of our brain is fixated on a series of irrational assertions centered in the flawed logic that insists that things should be different. That this version of reality is totally unacceptable. That if we were to take the unimaginable risk of accepting the way things are, nothing is going to change. That by taking a stand and refusing to accept the way things are, we have some possibility of changing them. Not so much. The truth is that there is one and only one thing within our control and that is how we think about things.
When it comes to reality, resistance is futile because resisting reality is really the problem.
And here is where the miracle comes in. When I am able to give up my attachment to the way I hoped, or dreamed or believed things should be, it actually comes as something of a relief, suffering is really exhausting.
There is a peace in the acceptance that comes from surrendering the impossible task of trying to control the universe. It’s even better when we entertain the concept that someone or something much better and bigger than us is actually in charge.
Here’s to serenity.
Sweetheart, I’m so glad you reached out to me. I hear that you are hurting.
I’m so sorry that life is really hard right now.
I have time for you. How can I support you right now?
Where are you? Can you find somewhere quiet and safe that you can lie down on the ground?
Take a breath.
All the way in and all the way out.
When you feel ready, become aware of the floor underneath you. Mother earth, holding you in the palm of her hand.
Let go, let her take your weight.
Relax. Feel everything soften as you sink in to the support of the earth beneath you.
Feel peace spreading inside you, like the sun coming out from behind the clouds.
When you feel ready, can you open your eyes and say hello to your toes?
Notice your feet, your legs and send them some appreciation for carrying you this far on your journey.
Take another breath.
Put one hand on your tummy and the other on your heart.
Can you feel your heart beating?
Let yourself notice the beat of your heart, the one constant thing that remains.
Be an empty beach at the end of the day,
The echoes of the childrens voices have faded away
and all that remains is the whisper of the surf,
As the waves go in and out, like the breath,
In and then out.
Bring your awareness to your face now.
Pay close attention
Can you feel the breath here? Going in and out.
Can you feel the warmth of your skin, radiating out in to the air?
Wait, listen, can you feel something else?
It’s the softness of a hundred butterfly kisses,
Tiny kisses of love and light.
From all the invisible loves that surround you.
And love from before,
Love from ahead,
And love from beyond.
Feel it now. Open to this love and see it surround you,
Let it fill every cell and dry every tear.
Hear the celebration for every moment of your being,
Your strength and your courage, your big, beautiful heart.
You are safe, You are loved
You are safe, You are loved
Inspired by my best friend Lauren, who is always there when I get lost, with her timeless, patient, peaceful wisdom to guide me safely back to shore.
Holidays can be the most wonderful time of the year but they can also be the most difficult. There is something about the message that this particular time should be full of joy that can create a lot more pressure for people who aren’t feeling particularly joyful for various reasons. One of the keys to getting through it is to remember that, in fact, you are not alone in feeling this way. Many people are suffering from sickness or depression, are dealing with being separated from loved ones, or coping with personal challenges or financial issues that are overwhelming.
Even if you are lucky enough to be surrounded by loved ones, ironically, this season of cheer and goodwill to all men is the time of year that families and couples fight the most. There is nothing quite like an extended period of time in an enclosed space with your nearest and dearest to push your biggest buttons and, when you add alcohol to the mix, things predictably go downhill.
Being single during the holidays is arguably worse than being part of a fighting couple: For some reason, being unwillingly single for the holidays sucks even more than on Valentine’s day, presumably because you at least have a fighting chance at ignoring the existence of the latter.
All this pales in comparison to how hard it is to get through the holidays when you are mourning a loved one. It is particularly painful, not just because it is a time full of memories, but because everywhere you turn, the message is that this is the time to be together with loved ones. The joy that the rest of the world seems to be experiencing can make those burdened by grief feel particularly isolated.
The most important survival skill at this time of year is to give yourself permission to have the feelings you are having. Stop telling yourself that you ought to be feeling differently just because the calendar is on this particular page. It is hard enough to deal with difficult feelings without heaping guilt and shame on top of them. Quit Should-ing yourself. Expectations are 99% of the cause of all suffering. Give up the expectation that you should be feeling or reacting any differently to the way that you are. At a minimum, accept that the reality is this is how you are feeling. Even better, show yourself a little compassion and respect the fact that if you had a choice, you wouldn’t choose to be feeling like this.
Step 2 is to imagine yourself as someone else that you care about and think about how you would treat them if they were feeling this way. Perhaps you would be a little more patient? Give them a break? Give them permission to curl up under the covers until they felt stronger? Everyone is unique and we all have different things that make us feel better – and crucially for some people, the most important thing is simply having permission not to feel better until we do. Sometimes it takes a heck of a lot more time and energy to try to stop yourself having a feeling than to let it run it’s course. Sometimes, little things can help a lot. Be brave and ask for help. If that’s too much or there doesn’t seem to be anyone available, come up with a short list of things you can do for yourself that might help. Maybe it’s going to the movies and escaping reality for a while, finding someone to talk to, getting some exercise, making yourself some nourishing food.
Step 3 is to remember that practicing gratitude can be a very helpful aid. Sometimes, even coming up with a list of things to be grateful for is a major challenge (click for a link to a post on some suggestions to get started). If that’s the case, try an appreciation list instead. When all seems lost, sometimes it helps to focus on appreciation for the things we have experienced, the ability to feel, the breath that still carries hope that there will be a better moment ahead. If these holidays are hard for you, I truly hope something here will be helpful. Please remember that you are not alone and that everything changes. This too shall pass, I promise. I wish you peace in your heart.
Evolution equips us with the desire to learn from the perils we survive. Once bitten, twice shy; yet this pre-historic instinct designed to protect us from predators and poisons, really doesn’t serve us when applied to affairs of the heart. Take Alice. Alice has a broken heart. Like a clock that stopped, it’s frozen in time, hands pointing fixedly to the moment three years ago when she found out that her boyfriend was cheating on her. Alice would really like to meet someone. More specifically, she would really like to meet someone, get married and have children, sooner rather than later. But she is not even dating right now and the reason is because she is stuck. Immobilized by her shattered trust, the torment of the unanswered why, the bitterness of betrayal and the abject terror of being so hurt again.
Alice has a heart so tender, sweet and generous. She is a sweet girl who enjoys being a girl, inside and out and yet when men meet her, they don’t find her feminine at all. The tension of all that unresolved emotion has taken up residence in her body, you can actually see it in the jaw that aches from night after night of being clenched so tight. It’s as if the fear and pain has been there so long that it has become hardened over time, solidifying into a rock-hard protective shell around her heart, mirrored by the layer of extra weight she has cloaked her body in. Trying to meet a guy in this condition is incredibly difficult, the metaphor that comes to my mind is that it’s rather like belly-dancing in a suit of armor.
For a woman (or man) who identifies as feminine and seeks a masculine counterpart, openness and softness are powerfully attractive attributes to embody. Ironically, it is being vulnerable which requires the most courage of all.
Perhaps the most important step in the process of healing a broken heart is to make a conscious decision to stay in the present and to remember that our past does not dictate our future. If we don’t, the danger is that we show up on the doorstep of a new relationship with a pantechnicon of emotional baggage accrued in every other relationship starting with our parents. To leave the past behind may take work, just because emotional wounds are invisible, doesn’t mean they don’t need tending to or healing time just like physical injuries. Journalling, friends, coaching or counseling can help, but don’t wait for the fear to disappear. Choose to love in spite of it.
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