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)
I have become quite entranced by the power of organizing this year and I am recommending it to several of my clients and many of my friends. I have been waxing lyrical about discovering the almost magical healing properties of this seemingly mundane activity. Ironically, given that it is all about the physical detritus we accumulate over a lifetime, I have found that organizing is, in fact, very good for the soul.
- Want to know the biggest secret about organizing? It’s not about the stuff
To say organizing is about the stuff is to say that kissing is about moving your mouth around next to someone else’s. Which is to say that the sum of the whole is far greater than the parts. It’s a process, people and within this process there are many profound revelations and hidden benefits to be had.
To begin with, it’s an eye-opening indicator about just how much attention (or not) we have been paying to what surrounds us. Some people say that the state of your surroundings is a direct reflection of your state of mind and I have to say, that for me at least, there is a lot of truth to that. To begin with is the fact that the times I start to get messy coincide with the times I am feeling overly stressed or rushed. Of course, this easily becomes a vicious cycle if you find it stressful to be in disorderly surroundings.
I happen to think there may actually be some scientific merit to the idea that de-cluttering reduces stress, if only because it must take more energy to be in a cluttered room because each time our eyes survey it, our optic nerves and brain have to fire off so many more times to relay the information about all the stuff they are seeing.
So there’s something to be gained from the end result but what I haven’t heard so much about, is the healing that can happen along the way. Having recently gone through all of my possessions, I looked at, touched and made a conscious decision about the value and benefit of keeping each thing. In my case, needing to decide whether each thing is worth the cost of either storing or shipping pushed the stakes quite a bit higher.
What was astounding to me, given that I have moved a fair bit and most recently within two years, was the embarrassing amount of stuff that I really didn’t even know I had in my possession. I wish I had kept count of the astonishing number of trash sacks of stuff that got thrown away, not to mention all the things that were donated or sold. And at the end of all that, I still look at what I ended up with and feel that there is more to be let go.
Looking at mementoes from the past can be bitter-sweet. Reading love letters from someone who no longer shows us that they love us – for whatever reason – brings grief as we remember and re-experience joys and love lost and feel the pain of its absence.
Organizing gives us the opportunity to come face-to-face with a literal manifestation of how much emotional baggage we are carrying around.
The letting go was at times incredibly painful but when you stop to really think about it, totally irrational. Why do we get so attached to things? Of course, what we are really attached to is the meaning we ascribe to that thing, for a really good explanation of this, check out what my friend Jon has to say about Essentialism here.
What I came to realize was that the reason it was so hard to let go of certain things was because I greatly valued the meaning that I had attached to them. I realized that my reluctance had to do with feeling like I was letting go of experiences and emotions I wish were part of my present. So I understood that it hurt because it was very important to me to be able to remind myself or perhaps even to prove to myself that at this time I felt loved, at that time I felt happy or successful, or creative or whatever that emotion was that I want to be able to hold on to.
One of the most difficult parts of the experience was realizing that I needed to acknowledge that not only certain relationships were over, but also that certain phases of my life are over. That there are roles I wish I were playing in my life and other people’s lives that simply don’t fit or exist anymore. I realized I had been holding on to the props required for the movie set of the life I wished I was living.
Letting go of the things shattered my denial and resistance to being fully in the present – which of course is the only place we actually exist in. When I am able to drag myself (sometimes kicking and screaming) into fully being in the present, which perhaps I fear will be just too painful to even survive, I always experience relief. I need to try to remember that just like throwing up, once I finally submit to the inevitable, I always feel so much better afterwards. And the present is where the rebuilding can begin.
So this, dear reader, is how I came to discover the little known fact that organizing is in fact, a sort of spiritual practice since just like meditation it brings one into the present. Organizing facilitates a healing whereby we can review the past and acknowledge its gifts and lessons. As we take the gifts and lessons into our minds and hearts, we can let go of the stuff and without all that baggage it is so much easier to gracefully move on and grow towards a better future.
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.
Don’t you hate it when, just as you least expect it, the untamed past escapes its cage?
With silent stealth, it attacks without warning, devouring any present peace in one fell swoop.
Before you even know what’s happened, it pounces and you find yourself captive, dangling powerless from the terrible jaws of regret.
The pain is so immediate and piercing, it takes your breath away.
At times, you are ashamed to admit, you have yearned for a swift end to what feels like interminable suffering.
You long to turn away, to blind the eyes that cannot close to things you said and the things you did and far worse still, that which went undone and unspoken.
Oh, the cruelty of hindsight, how it taunts us with impossible possibilities of how we could have been.
The shoulds, the coulds, the questions without answer. The answers you wish you could change.
The quality of mercy may fall unstrained like rain from heaven but,
Hidden in the dungeon of our lack of self-forgiveness,
There is no absolution.
‘ I’m Sorry, Forgive me, I Love you and Thank you.’ A Prayer to my family – Guest Blog by Benedicte Vansina
A few months ago, I receIved a simple prayer from my friend, Allison. It comes from the book ‘Zero Limits’ by Joe Vitale. It is very simple and consists out of 4 sentences: ‘ I’m Sorry, Forgive me, I Love you and Thank you.’ She told me “If you open your heart and sincerely send these words to the universe (God, or whatever you call him), then miracles can happen.”
I love singing so I invented a song for these words. In one of my daily meditations, I visualized our children, my husband and finally myself on one line. I sang each of the sentences concentrating on every one of them. Gosh this was difficult! The hardest one to sing it for was to myself. Even crying, I managed to finish the prayer. It was such a powerful experience that I needed some time to recover and so I went out for a walk. As I walked, I thought: ‘I should try this out live’.
My husband Hugo and I started a family tradition of ‘talking circles’ with our 6 children. We try to do this every Sunday. We stand in a circle and start with a little concentration exercise. If anyone needs to clear something out with another, it happens then. Usually it is Hugo or me that have ‘something to say’. At the end, we do the ‘sufi dance’ together, a blessing we give to each other.
So one day, I decided to share the special prayer with my family. I didn’t think about this or how it would feel in advance, it was just a impulsive wish to teach them another way of praying.
After the start of the circle that day, I put myself in the middle of the circle and faced our youngest son. Then I start singing. While I looked him straight into the eyes, I sang ‘I’m sory’- then I turned a little untill I looked our next son into the eyes and continued my song ‘I’m sorry’. I sang this sentence 8 times while looking every time into the eyes of every child, my husband and finally looking up. I didn’t reach very far because singing it with my open heart and with full intention, hundreds of memories came up, of all hundreds of mistakes I had made with each of them.
After 2 or 3 measures, tears welled up and it became difficult to continue my prayer/song. After this first round, I took a moment to breathe, concentrate and start the second round, singing ‘Forgive me’ to every one of them. That too, was far more difficult than I had imagined. How on earth could they forgive such a huge mistakes? My song transformed into a whispering prayer because I couldn’t get the notes out anymore.
I took the same time to pronounce clearly to everyone one of them the third sentence, namely: ‘I love you’. If there weren’t any tears in their eyes by then, this was when they appeared. I focussed to keep all my attention with every sentence I whispered.
Finally the fourth sentence-tour started: ‘Thank you’ were the words I offered to every one of them, thinking of how much I have already learned from them and how lucky I am to have them in my life.
I guess everyone was impressed, most of all me. I never imagined it would be so difficult to do, how emotional it would get and how many things can be said in these few simple sentences.
I’m happy I did it. I don’t want to wait until the day they die to tell them what I told them that day.