Dealing with A Crisis of the Heart and Finding Well-Being

“We have all known the long loneliness and we have learned that the only solution is love.”
– Dorothy Day

____________________________________________________________________________

What can we do when loneliness, anxiety and depression take hold. We can hold on to hope.
I explored the Crisis of the Heart that is overtaking so many of us in my latest article on Thrive Global.

There is a crisis of the heart impacting us at the moment. It’s showing up as depression, anxiety, and attention disorders. These are also symptomatic of a cognition crisis. Adam Gazzaley, PhD explains it as:

“A crisis at the core of what makes us human: the dynamic interplay between our brain and our environment — the ever-present cycle between how we perceive our surroundings, integrate this information, and act upon it..”

The numbers of people suffering are staggering. In the United States, depression affects 16.2 million adults, and anxiety about 18.7 million. In New Zealand, it is estimated that one in five women suffers from depression, and about one in 10 men; with about one in six people suffering from anxiety.

Gazzaley describes a sharp increase in the number of teens impacted. American teens have experienced a 33% increase in depressive symptoms, with 31% more having died by suicide between 2010 and 2015. And in New Zealand, the percentage of 15- to 24-year-olds struggling with mental health has been steadily increasing, affecting

11.8 per cent in the past year. The estimated number of youth in NZ experiencing psychological distress has gone up from 58,000 to 79,000 in the past year. And tragically, NZ has the highest youth suicide rate among teenagers between 15 and 19 in the OECD.

What is causing this horrific increase, this crisis spiralling out of control? Grazzaley and many others argue that we just cannot keep up with the rapid rise of technology and it is impacting our brains and our well-being.

“Our brains simply have not kept pace with the dramatic and rapid changes in our environment — specifically the introduction and ubiquity of information technology.”

But it’s not only our brains that are impacted; it’s also affecting our emotions and our hearts. Jack Kornfield describes this crisis as:

Our Crisis of Heart.

“No marvellous technological developments alone  will stop continuing warfare, racism, environmental destruction, and global injustice. The source of these sufferings is in the human heart. Actions based on greed, hatred, disrespect, and ignorance inevitably lead to suffering.”

Gazzaley echoes this sentiment as he notes that “the increasing complexity, speed, and multitasking of our modern environment has overtaken our capacities, and we live disconnected from our own self and from one another.”

This disconnect from our self and from one another is perpetuating the crisis, and the crisis is spiralling out of control. So how do we get a handle on it, how do we deal with a crisis of the heart? Kornfield asks us to reengage the heart.

If actions based on greed, hatred, disrespect and ignorance lead to suffering, then it makes sense that actions based on their opposites — generosity, love, respect, and wisdom — lead to happiness and well-being.

Numerous studies have shown that there are ways to increase joy, compassion, peace, and gratitude. The benefits of mindfulness and compassion are well researched. The work of Richard Davidson, professor of psychology, is especially interesting. Davidson’s work at Center for Healthy Minds at UW Madison has shown that positive emotions such as loving kindness and compassion can be learned. This is great news; these positive emotions can be learned and nurtured to grow.

But the rapid rise of technology continues, and even as we work to hold on to the positive emotions that we are nurturing, the disconnect that Gazzaley described looms.

But there is hope. Kornfield is working with others to bring principles of heart and compassion into the field of technological development:

“Together with technology leaders, neuroscientists, and contemplatives, I have helped co-found something called the Open Source Compassion to bring principles of heart and compassion into all levels of technological development. We acknowledge that the capacities of modern technology are among the most potent of human creations. We are collaborating with companies and institutions around the world and beginning to formulate a kind of Hippocratic Oath for tech, which reads:

· We will not create technology that causes harm to humans and to life.
· If later we learn that it inadvertently does so, we will change it.
· We will strive to create technology that fosters human well-being and respect.
· We can create technology for profit, but not if it contravenes the first three principles.
· Working at all levels, we will act with professionalism and take these responsibilities as paramount.

Ultimately we must have hope; hope that there can be positive change and that love will prevail. Kornfield implores us:

Let these words be a reminder, a call.

Find your way to quiet yourself and tend your heart.

Promote love and spread the power of compassion in your work and in your community.

Have hope.

I’ll close with a wonderful video of Jack Kornfield entitled: ‘Wisdom, Compassion and Courage in Uncertain Times

I’d love to hear about how you deal with a crisis of the heart.
And as always, thank you for taking the time to visit. I appreciate it.

Advertisements

Forgiving Myself and Others . . . Why Bother?

Forgiveness will not be possible until compassion is born in your heart.”

—Thich Nhat Hanh

____________________________________________________________________________

I recently had a rather intense conversation about forgiveness with a friend. She was adamant that there are some people that do not deserve forgiveness, ever. She went on to say that serial rapists and pedophiles do not deserve forgiveness period. And although there is very compelling evidence that forgiveness is good for the person who forgives, we came to an impasse.

I think a lot of us get stuck on the idea of what forgiveness actually means. Forgiveness is defined as a conscious, deliberate decision to release feelings of resentment or vengeance toward a person or group who has harmed you, regardless of whether you believe they actually deserve your forgiveness. Remember the act of forgiving is for you the forgiver, not the person you are forgiving.

Forgiveness does not mean that you gloss over or deny the seriousness of an offence against you. It does not mean forgetting nor excusing what has been done. It does not mean you have to reconcile with the person or release them from legal accountability.

As Anne Lamott puts it:

“Forgiveness means it finally becomes unimportant that you hit back. You’re done. It doesn’t necessarily mean that you want to have lunch with the person. If you keep hitting back, you stay trapped in the nightmare.” 

Forgiveness is for the forgiver. It brings the forgiver peace and hopefully freedom from anger.

It took years of therapy to be able to forgive my mother. I was convinced she did not deserve forgiveness. She chose alcohol over her own children, dying and leaving me motherless at the tender age of 16. But when I finally reached a place of letting it go, it was so liberating! I felt lighter and more energized than I had in my entire life. Forgiveness is so freeing. It loosens the knot in my stomach that comes from resentment and anger at another person.

I love Jack Kornfield’s definition of forgiveness:

“Forgiveness is, in particular, the capacity to let go, to release the suffering, the sorrows, the burdens of the pains and betrayals of the past, and instead to choose the mystery of love. Forgiveness shifts us from the small separate sense of ourselves to a capacity to renew, to let go, to live in love.”

Letting go of grudges and bitterness can make way for happiness, health and peace. And studies have shown that forgiveness can lead to better relationships; greater psychological well-being; less stress; lower blood pressure; fewer symptoms of depression and a stronger immune system. Just to name a few of the health benefits.

But as we all know, it’s a helluva lot easier said than done. Fred Luskin is a pioneer in the science and practice of forgiveness. He offers us nine steps toward forgiveness:

1. Understand how you feel about what happened and be able to explain why the situation is not OK. Then discuss it with someone you trust.
2. Commit to yourself to feel better; remember forgiveness is for you and no one else.
3. Remember forgiveness doesn’t mean you have to reconcile with the person who upset you; it does not condone the action. In forgiveness you are seeking peace for yourself.
4. Recognize that the distress now is coming from the hurt feelings and physical upset you are currently suffering, not from what offended you or hurt you when it happened.
5. At the moment you feel upset, practice stress management to soothe your body’s fight or flight response. Take a deep breath.
6. Stop expecting things from other people that they do not choose to give you.
7. Put your energy into looking for another way to get your positive goals met than through the experience that has hurt you.
8. Remember that living well is the best revenge. Instead of focusing on your wounded feelings, and thereby giving power over you to the person who caused you pain, look for the love, beauty, and kindness around you. Put more energy into appreciating what you have rather than attending to what you do not have.
9. Amend the way you look at your past so you remind yourself of your heroic choice to forgive.

One of the best ways I can get myself to a place of forgiveness when I’m feeling stuck is to journal. I write pages and pages about why I’m angry and resentful and hurt. I write until it’s all out. And then I usually talk about it, and occasionally even write an article about it about because as Anne Lamott tells us:

Now you get to tell it, because then it will become medicine – that we evolve; that life is stunning, wild, gorgeous, weird, brutal, hilarious and full of grace. That our parents were a bit insane, and that healing from this is taking a little bit longer than we had hoped. Tell it.

I’d like to close with a beautiful meditation on forgiveness with Jack Kornfield.

I’d love to hear about how you practice forgiveness.
And as always, thank you for taking the time to visit.  I appreciate it.

Elastic Thinking

“The measure of intelligence is the ability to change.”
– Albert Einstein
____________________________________________________________________________

The world is changing so fast, the way we do things has changed so much in my lifetime, it’s hard to remember how we used to survive. I was talking to a friend who is in her 20s recently, and she asked me how we survived when we were travelling around the world in the 80s, without cell phones or internet. And I tried to remember . . . how did we survive? We had a Lonely Planet book and we talked to other travellers and we just winged it a lot! Somehow we survived without ever making a reservation or really having much of a plan at all. We just did it.

There is no argument that things are changing quickly, and it seems that many of us, especially those of us born well before cell phones and internet, are running just trying to keep up. But what I’ve noticed a lot lately is that some of us are adapting and learning more quickly than others. So I’ve been fascinated to read about some of the research about how these changes create new demands on how we must think in order to thrive in this era.

There is a fascinating article in Psychology Today, ‘Your Elastic Mind’, by Leonard Mlodinow, Ph.D., a theoretical physicist and the author of Elastic. In this article Mlodinow explains that there are certain talents, or qualities of thought that are now essential in these rapidly changing times. He gives us some examples:

“The capacity to let go of comfortable ideas and become accustomed to ambiguity and contradiction, the capability to rise above conventional mind-sets and reframe the questions we ask, the ability to abandon our ingrained assumptions and open ourselves to new paradigms, the propensity to rely on imagination as much as on logic and to generate and integrate a wide variety of ideas, and the willingness to experiment and be tolerant of failure. That’s a diverse bouquet of talents, but as psychologists and neuroscientists have elucidated the brain processes behind them, those talents have been revealed as different aspects of a coherent cognitive style. I call it elastic thinking.

Elastic thinking endows us with the ability to solve novel problems and overcome the neural and psychological barriers that can impede us from looking beyond the existing order. It’s important to understand how our brains produce elastic thinking, and how we can nurture it. In a large body of research one quality stands out above all the others—unlike analytical reasoning, elastic thinking arises from what scientists call “bottom-up” processes.”

In an interview in Scientific America, Mlodinow explains that:

“In my field, science, researchers are overwhelmed by something more constructive, the more than three million new journal articles each year. In personal technology, we must all learn to navigate a landscape in which the number of websites has been doubling every two to three years, and the way we use and access them is subject to frequent “disruptive change.” More importantly, social attitudes are changing just as fast—compare the pace of the civil rights movement to the speed at which the campaign for gay rights swept the developed world. Or look at the overnight rise of the “me too” movement.

The failure of businesses to adapt has led to the quick demise of countless companies, and major power shifts in industries from taxis to hospitality. But we must adapt to thrive in our personal lives, too. We have to be willing to rise above conventional mindsets, to reframe the questions we ask, to be open to new paradigms. We have to rely as much on our imagination as on logic, and have the ability to generate and integrate a wide variety of ideas, to welcome experiment, and be tolerant of failure. I call that manner of thought elastic thinking, in contrast to rational or logical thought.”

The way that this has shown up in my life recently has been the challenges that I have faced as I’ve embarked on a new adventure in my career, pushing me way outside my comfort zone. I’ve had to learn how to use new platforms for my New Online Workshop; had to learn new tools on You Tube and new ways to connect with people around the world. It has pushed me way beyond what I thought I could do, and my fear of failure and doing it wrong has been rampant.

I have absolutely had to practice what Mlodinow described:

‘I’ve had to ‘reframe the questions I ask; I’ve had to be open to new paradigms; have had to rely as much on my imagination as on logic, and I’ve had to generate and integrate a wide variety of ideas, to welcome experiment, and be very tolerant of failure!’

If this topic interests you, I encourage you to take the time to watch this very interesting ‘Talks at Google’ by Leonard Mlodinow – ‘Elastic Thinking in Times of Change.’

 

I’d love to hear about your elastic thinking skills.
And as always, thank you for taking the time to visit.  I appreciate it.

 

Exciting Announcement! Interactive Online Workshop Series!

“The biggest adventure you can take is to live the life of your dreams”

– Oprah Winfrey 

_______________________________________________________________________________

Hi Everyone –
I’m so excited to announce a new workshop series! In this interactive online workshop you will learn to:
  • Identify Limiting Beliefs and Move Beyond Them
  • Overcome Obstacles that Prevent You from Moving Forward
  • Move Toward Achieving Your Dreams and Living Your Best Life!

One of the first questions that people have is – What’s the cost?  The answer is simple – Whatever you want to pay. That’s right.  I want this workshop to be completely accessible to everyone that is interested, and I absolutely do not want money to be an obstacle.

This Workshop begins Tuesday May 29th at 6pm PDT
Sign up today to start your journey!
patti@thiswayupbook.com

Want more info?

 

Still have questions?

Please email me at:   patti@thiswayupbook.com

I look forward to hearing from you!

 

May’s News

“Within all of us is a divine capacity to manifest and attract all that we need and desire.”
– Wayne Dyer 

_______________________________________________________________________________

In case you missed our May Newsletter . . .

How Can You Manifest Change in Your Life?

… It’s easier than you imagine …


I receive lots of inquiries from people asking how I got my book published.  I usually respond glibly, “Tenacity!” And that was certainly one aspect of the process.

But the truth is that I practiced what I preached in my book and focused a lot of energy and belief on the energy of getting my book out there. In my opinion, this is how one sets out to manifest what they are focusing on. I explored this in a recent article on Thrive Global.

I believe, after reading books by Deepak Chopra and a myriad of other authors, that everything is energy. And that belief shapes everything else. Each energy has a specific vibration, as Esther Hicks/Abraham explains. And we must be “on the same frequency,” to use a common metaphor, to be in alignment. Once this alignment is met, things start to happen. If the vibration is high, as in joy and gratitude, you start experiencing more joy and gratitude, and more things that bring you joy and gratitude start to come your way.

The trick is to start feeling that joy and gratitude now. It’s a bit of a conundrum, but honestly it is joy and gratitude that bring more joy and gratitude.

My approach: act as if you already have your dream. Look for the good in things you experience, try to live in joy as much as possible. Start every day with gratitude. Before you even get out of bed, focus on what you are grateful for. Choose three things every morning. Write them down in a journal if you have the time and the space. If that feels too hard, then just say it in your mind: feel the gratitude of having a warm bed, of knowing you can take a hot shower, of having food in your fridge. Focus your gratitude on what you already have in your life; this will impact your entire day.

As you think about that big goal, act as if it is already yours. Be in your life as if that goal is already there. Feel the joy of it.

After all, ultimately aren’t we all searching for more joy?

If you want to read more about this, check out the whole article on my blog.

PS: For those of you who may still be wondering about the perfect gift for Mother’s Day, or for your mother any day … look no further!  If your own mother or another mother you love likes Julia Cameron, Brené Brown or Annie Lamott (or all three), then This Way Up is a great gift!
Buy Your Mother’s Gift Here

 

Upcoming Summit: You’re Invited!

Reinventing You Summit

This summit will be live May 21 to May 31.  I’m so excited to share this summit with you!  The summit is hosted by my friend Naomi Sodomin. Naomi is the international best-selling author of Embrace the Mirror: Vision of Abundance and a Stronger You. And an all around inspirational woman.

 

If the path you’re on right now doesn’t light you up … if it doesn’t make you love your life, then it’s simple: you have to change it. Why wait to start a new journey, when the opportunity to begin that journey is right here? Join me and 20 other experts for the Reinventing You summit.

Register Today!

This Way Up Will Soon Be an Audio Book!

This Way Up is being made into an audio book! (I know, I know, I’ve been saying this for months! But we are in the final stages now … so close!) When it is finally ready, it will be available on my Amazon page and I will send a special link for the book in my newsletter. I can’t wait to share this new version of the book with you!

Buy the Book!

“Author Patti Clark is a cross between Elizabeth Gilbert

and Julia Cameron.”

This Way Up is a story of healing for women who yearn to lead a fuller life, accompanied by a workbook to help readers work through personal challenges, discover new inspiration, and harness their creative power. . .

Women spend so much of life nurturing and giving to others that when they find themselves alone—because of an empty nest, the end of a marriage, or the death of a partner—they often struggle with feeling purposeless. This Way Up provides a step-by-step way out of this sense of loss and into a life filled with enthusiasm, creativity, and joy.

 

Buy Online

Parting Words

“Release any expectations you may have of how you think your dreams will come true but by all means, with every fiber of your being, expect that they will, as you busy yourself enjoying who and where you already are.”

~ Mike Dooley

Thank you for being part of this movement. Watch this space for more in the months ahead.

What Makes You Happy?

“Be happy for this moment. This moment is your life.”
– Omar Khayyam 

_______________________________________________________________________________

What makes you happy?  Simple question, but one that is worth thinking about.  What makes you happy in this moment, for as Omar Khayyam declares, this moment is your life.  At the moment I am smiling and feeling happy.  The sun is shining, the view from my window where I sit writing is beautiful, and I love to write. So it’s easy to be happy in this moment.
What makes me happy in that larger sense, well that’s pretty easy for me too.  My sons.  I only have to think of my two sons, and a smile spreads across my face.  They are on the other side of the Earth from me at the moment, and that tugs at my heart and tempers my happiness a bit.  But nothing can take away the joy that those two amazing young men bring.  They make my heart sing . . .  in loud operatic ways!
Professionally I have a lot to make me happy.  Today I saw people who like books by Julia Cameron, Brené Brown and Anne Lamott also like my book, This Way Up.  That makes me really happy. What an affirmation!
This gives me a real feeling of accomplishment and achievement, which is one of the places happiness sits.
“Happiness lies in the joy of achievement and the thrill of creative effort.”
– Franklin D Roosevelt
It was my great pleasure to be interviewed on the topic of happiness recently by Sarah Jordan.

We talked about an array of topics but really focused on happiness..what it is, the benefits, and how we tend to block it.
I’ll close this post with a wonderful Ted Talk that has been around for awhile. Cognitive researcher Nancy Etcoff looks at happiness — the ways we try to achieve and increase it, the way it’s untethered to our real circumstances, and its surprising effect on our bodies. It’s interesting and informative and well worth the watch.

I’d love to hear what makes you happy.  What are you happy for in this moment? What brings you happiness in your life?
And as always, thank you for taking the time to visit.  I appreciate it.

Are We All Addicts?

“She goes from one addiction to another. All are ways for her to not feel her feelings.
– Ellen Burstyn 

_______________________________________________________________________________

Are we all addicts?  Well perhaps not all of us, but I’d put forth that there are lots and lots of us!

Life has become so stressful for most of us, that it is almost impossible not to become addicted to something. In the most of the world, much of society not only encourages addiction, but almost demands it. Some addictions, such as workaholism, are actually applauded in our culture – while others, such as nicotine, TV, internet porn, gambling, and sex addiction, are simply tolerated. And I believe that women are pressured hugely to drink wine in most social gatherings.  Wine has become a staple in the “Girls’ Night Out.”  As this article in The Huffington Post points out – Women Have a Complicated Love Affair With Wine.

Anne Wilson Schaef, author of When Society Becomes An Addict,  explains:

“Often unknowingly the vast majority of us collude in a system that encourages addiction and co-dependence – and sees these states as normal. Many of us are addicted to chemicals, not only to alcohol or drugs but nicotine, caffeine, chocolate and overeating in general. Even more of us are involved in addictive processes: workaholism, gambling, compulsive shopping, sex, and so on. The realization of the extent of our addictions, both individually and as a society, is shocking.”

And this book was written before the internet took over as our number one addiction.  If we are using anything to not feel our feelings, and we do it consistently, it is argued, that we are in an addiction process.

In another article in The Huffington Post:

Buddhist nun Pema Chodron, author of Start Where You Are, agrees with Anne Wilson Schaef – we all are addicted to something. But she doesn’t blame it on American culture; she says it’s simply part and parcel of our human nature. Chodron explains that we are restless, irritable, and discontent – we find it impossible to just sit still and BE. So we distract ourselves with activity and entertainment: cell phones, texting, video games, iPods, TV, movies, magazines, non-stop busyness to keep us looking everywhere but inside ourselves. We mood-alter with substances (sugar, alcohol, drugs, nicotine, caffeine, etc.) and activities (shopping, gambling, sex, work, viewing porn, etc.) Chodron says that we are unable to simply be awake and present to life – so we medicate our existential anxiety.

The article points out some sobering numbers regarding addiction in the US. But I’m sure many people will object to the use of the word addiction, but here is one way to decide for yourself (if you can get past the denial!)

 

Russell Brand describes the 12 steps of recovery from addiction in his book Recovery in a very in your face manner that may help some people see their own addiction.  Most people either love Brand or hate him, but I find this confronting, in your face description of addiction and the way out refreshing.

Here are Brand’s 12 Steps:

“Here is how I look at these steps now, and it’s how I invite you to look at them too. It certainly de-mystifies it. I’ve probably overcompensated with the ‘f ’ word, but my point is that this is a practical system that anyone can use.

1 Are you a bit fucked?

2 Could you not be fucked?

3 Are you, on your own, going to ‘unfuck’ yourself?

4 Write down all the things that are fucking you up or have ever fucked you up and don’t lie, or leave anything out.

5 Honestly tell someone trustworthy about how fucked you are.

6 Well that’s revealed a lot of fucked up patterns. Do you want to stop it? Seriously?

7 Are you willing to live in a new way that’s not all about you and your previous, fucked up stuff? You have to.

8 Prepare to apologize to everyone for everything affected by your being so fucked up.

9 Now apologize. Unless that would make things worse.

10 Watch out for fucked up thinking and behaviour and be honest when it happens.

11 Stay connected to your new perspective.

12 Look at life less selfishly, be nice to everyone, help people if you can.

 

For Step One, Are You A Bit Fucked?  Brand describes addiction simply and succinctly:

This is an invitation to change. This is complicated only in that most of us are quite divided, usually part of us wants to change a negative and punishing behaviour, whereas another part wants to hold on to it. For me Recovery is a journey from a lack of awareness to awareness.

A 5-point guide to the cycle of addiction:

1 Pain

2 Using an addictive agent, like alcohol, food, sex, work, dependent relationships to soothe and distract

3 Temporary anaesthesia or distraction

4 Consequences

5 Shame and guilt, leading to pain or low self-esteem . . . And off we go again.

 

I love the simplicity of that 5 point process.

If you can go through that 5 point process and honestly say nope not me, then consider yourself one of the lucky ones.  If not, there is hope in the steps mentioned above.

 

I’ll close this post appropriately with Brand’s own video of the 12 steps.  Enjoy!

I’d love to hear about your own recovery process, whatever that looks like.
And as always, thank you for taking the time to visit.  I appreciate it.

 

Choose to Make Your Life Sacred

“Something opens our wings. Something makes boredom and hurt disappear. Someone fills the cup in front of us: We taste only sacredness.”

– Rumi 

_______________________________________________________________________________

 

Today I choose to make my life sacred. By focusing on the beauty and the sacredness of life, I can move away from the fear and uncertainty.

“It feels good and right to lift our faces to the sunlight.  It feels good and right to follow our hearts. Something in all of us ignites when we live this way.”

Sarah Blondin takes us on a beautiful journey of making our life sacred in her podcast Live Awake. Blondin, the creator of Live Awake focuses on the sacredness of life in her podcasts.

“She decided after waking from what felt like years of sleep, that nature was responsible for loving her awake. She decided the earth breathed its grace up from the roots of her feet. The trees gathered together to give her grounded strength. She decided the wind carried loving whispers from the divine to her slumbering ears. She decided the sky showered her with wisdom and mirrored the boundless nature of every soul walking this earth.  She decided after waking from what felt like years of sleep, that she would live forevermore wide open to all that came to be in front of her. She decided that living awake was a choice, and in that moment she became free. And in that moment she chose to be the beam of light that reaches toward all other life, to be the beam that assists the earth in breathing and loving others awake.”

I invite you to listen to the podcast here, on Soundcloud, Make It Sacred. It’s a beautiful uplifting podcast. There are several Live Awake podcasts available on the wonderful free app –  Insight Timer.  There are hundreds of guided meditations by wonderful teachers available on this app.  I recommend it whole-heartedly.

I’ll close this post with another video from the Live Awake archives, Choosing Harmony.  It is a lovely way to spend nine minutes.

 

 

Let me know your thoughts on how you make your life sacred.
And as always, thank you for taking the time to visit.  I appreciate it.

Is Love All You Need?

“Love never dies a natural death. It dies because we don’t know how to replenish its source. It dies of blindness and errors and betrayals. It dies of illness and wounds; it dies of weariness, of witherings, of tarnishings.”
― Anaïs Nin

_______________________________________________________________________________

 

I was sitting in the seat of the car, looking out the window, pouting. The day was not going as I had planned it in my head. He should have known! He must have known how I wanted it to be, after all we were married and he should know . . . he should be able to read my mind . . .

Lennon and McCartney tell us that Love is All You Need. But in the case of romantic love, is that true?

Alain de Botton describes why we created and still live by the inaccurate, and often disastrous image of romantic love in his NYT article: “Why You Will Marry the Wrong Person.”

In the past, people married for practical reasons, but in the 1800s, we replaced practicality with the romantic version of love:

“For most of recorded history, people married for logical sorts of reasons: because her parcel of land adjoined yours, his family had a flourishing business, her father was the magistrate in town, there was a castle to keep up, or both sets of parents subscribed to the same interpretation of a holy text. And from such reasonable marriages, there flowed loneliness, infidelity, abuse, hardness of heart and screams heard through the nursery doors. The marriage of reason was not, in hindsight, reasonable at all; it was often expedient, narrow-minded, snobbish and exploitative. That is why what has replaced it — the marriage of feeling — has largely been spared the need to account for itself.”

Romantic Love tells us that we all have a soul mate out there and it is our task to find our one true soul mate, and we will know when we find him or her because we will have that very special feeling. Botton describes this search for romantic love in his very entertaining talk “On Love” from ‘The School of Life.’

We are led to believe that when we find our soul mate, we will never be lonely again, that person will understand us completely and practically be able to read our mind. (flashback to me in the car pouting) We will feel completely understood and loved. This love shall be one long romantic holiday . . .

 

The reality is though that what we are looking for when we fall in love is familiarity. We are not necessarily drawn to people who will make us happy, we are drawn to people who will feel familiar.

“What we really seek is familiarity — which may well complicate any plans we might have had for happiness. We are looking to recreate, within our adult relationships, the feelings we knew so well in childhood. The love most of us will have tasted early on was often confused with other, more destructive dynamics: feelings of wanting to help an adult who was out of control, of being deprived of a parent’s warmth or scared of his anger, of not feeling secure enough to communicate our wishes. How logical, then, that we should as grown-ups find ourselves rejecting certain candidates for marriage not because they are wrong but because they are too right — too balanced, mature, understanding and reliable — given that in our hearts, such rightness feels foreign. We marry the wrong people because we don’t associate being loved with feeling happy.”

Botton adds:

“The person who is best suited to us is not the person who shares our every taste (he or she doesn’t exist), but the person who can negotiate differences in taste intelligently — the person who is good at disagreement. Rather than some notional idea of perfect complementarity, it is the capacity to tolerate differences with generosity that is the true marker of the “not overly wrong” person. Compatibility is an achievement of love; it must not be its precondition.”

For a relationship to last, we need more than that out-dated version of romantic love. So what do we need to make a lasting relationship? Well for one thing, we definitely need good communication. The day out with my husband would have turned out a lot differently if I had communicated my vision for the day instead of assuming that my husband should just know.

But aside from good communication, science is showing us that lasting relationships come down to two things: kindness and generosity.

In Atlantic Magazine’s article ‘Masters of Love’, psychologists John and Julie Gottman describe their work. Together they have studied thousands of couples in a quest to figure out what makes relationships work. From the data they gathered, they were able to separate the couples into two major groups: the masters and the disasters. The masters were still happily together after six years. The disasters had either broken up or were chronically unhappy in their marriages.

The masters felt calm and connected together, which translated into warm and affectionate behavior, even when they fought. Whereas the disasters were in a state of ‘fight or flight’ even when they were not fighting. It’s not that the masters had a better physiological make-up than the disasters; it’s that masters had created a climate of trust and intimacy that made both of them more emotionally and thus physically comfortable.

“Throughout the day, partners would make requests for connection, what Gottman calls “bids.” For example, say that the husband is a bird enthusiast and notices a goldfinch fly across the yard. He might say to his wife, “Look at that beautiful bird outside!” He’s not just commenting on the bird here: he’s requesting a response from his wife — a sign of interest or support — hoping they’ll connect, however momentarily, over the bird. The wife now has a choice. She can respond by either “turning toward” or “turning away” from her husband, as Gottman puts it. Though the bird-bid might seem minor and silly, it can actually reveal a lot about the health of the relationship. The husband thought the bird was important enough to bring it up in conversation and the question is whether his wife recognizes and respects that. People who turned toward their partners in the study responded by engaging the bidder, showing interest and support in the bid. Those who didn’t — those who turned away — would not respond or respond minimally and continue doing whatever they were doing, like watching TV or reading the paper.”

Gottman explains that masters have a habit of mind in which they scan the social environment for things they can appreciate and say thank you for. They are building this culture of respect and appreciation very purposefully. Disasters are scanning the social environment for partners’ mistakes. And it’s not just scanning the environment, it’s also scanning the partner for what the partner is doing right or wrong; criticizing versus respecting him and expressing appreciation.

The Gottmans have found that contempt is the number one factor that tears couples apart. People who treat their partners with contempt and criticize them will eventually kill the love in the relationship. On the other hand, kindness glues couples together. Kindness is the most important predictor of satisfaction and stability in a marriage. Kindness makes each partner feel cared for, understood, and validated. Kindness makes us feel loved.

So if we are looking to live happily ever after together, we need to ditch the antiquated version of romantic love and move forward in the spirit of kindness and generosity.

I’d like to close this post with the video by Alaine de Botton that I mentioned above.  It is well worth the watch, both amusing and insightful.

 

Let me know your thoughts on romantic love and what makes a relationship withstand the test of time.
And as always, thank you for taking the time to visit.  I appreciate it.

 

Practicing Conscious Gratitude

“The root of joy is gratefulness…It is not joy that makes us grateful; it is gratitude that makes us joyful.” 
― David Steindl-Rast

________________________________________________________________________________

In the Muppets’ Christmas Carol Movie, Kermit sings: “Tis the season to be jolly and joyous” . . . But what if you’re not feeling overly joyous? As we enter the holiday season this year, many people are feeling less than joyful. The political scene is grim and there is a lot to feel anxious and unhappy about. And for many, the idea of spending more time with family during the holidays does not fill the heart with glee. How you feel is your choice, daily. But if you want to feel more joy, not only this holiday season, but in general, there is an answer.

Science tells us that happiness and joy are things we can cultivate. Thanks to the advent of fMRI machines (functional magnetic resonance imaging), we can now watch our brains in real time and see which areas of the brain light up when we’re angry, frustrated, or joyful, and we can also watch the brain change depending on what we focus on. The idea that our brain architecture can change has been termed “neuroplasticity.”

We can literally rewire the neural pathways that regulate our emotions, thoughts, and reactions. This means we can create new neural pathways that lead us to compassion, gratitude, and joy instead of anxiety, fear, and anger. We can reprogram our brains’ automatic response with a conscious effort to build new pathways.

 

In a study done by The National Center for Biotechnology Information, Neural Correlates of Gratitude, it was found that gratitude can be a natural antidepressant. When we consciously focus on what we are grateful for, certain neural circuits are activated; when activated, an increase of dopamine and serotonin is produced, which is similar to how many antidepressants work.

Building new neural pathways may not come easily at first. A good analogy is bushwhacking through a jungle. Imagine trying to walk through a jungle in a dense rain forest. It requires a machete every step of the way to clear the path the first time through. After a few more times, you might lay down some stones to keep the path clear and eventually the path becomes a road and soon it becomes easily travelled. As you walk the path more and more, you continue to reinforce it and make it even stronger. Eventually, this new neural pathway becomes a habit.

To add to the strengthening of some pathways, our brain also has a way to ‘prune’ the pathways used less often. Scientists call this “use-dependent cortical reorganization,” meaning that we strengthen whichever neural pathways we use most often, and lose the ones we use the least. Hebb’s Lawstates “neurons that fire together, wire together.”

                    Neurons that fire together, wire together

 

So how do we do this? How do we create these new neural pathways and start to rewire our brain towards happiness, compassion, and joy? Many studieshave shown that cultivating gratitude, or practicing Conscious Gratitude, is the most powerful way to start building new pathways.

Seth Godin, best selling author, recently stated in an interview: “I think that gratitude is a profound choice. It is not just something that some people do. There is a way to look at life as either “have to” or a “get to”. There are all these things in life we could do because we have to do them, or there are things in life we do because we get to do them.”

Godin goes on to explain that this has nothing to do with the truth of what is going on in the world around you. It has to do with our narrative about what is going on.

Living life knowing you “get to” do something is better than constantly feeling like you have to. Godin poses the question: “What is the opposite of gratitude?” And he believes the opposite of gratitude is entitlement. “People who believe they are entitled to something, walk around expecting that the world owes them something, whereas the people who are grateful for something are eager to share that gratitude with others, and that lines up exactly with “have to” and “get to.”

So if we agree that being grateful can lead to joy, then how can we start feeling more grateful?

“Look closely and you will find that people are happy because they are grateful. The opposite of gratefulness is just taking everything for granted. ” ― David Steindl-Rast,

David Steindl-Rast, the highly-respected Benedictine monk, author and spiritual leader, explains his methodology for staying in a gratitude mindset in Anatomy of Gratitude:

“There is a very simple kind of methodology to it: stop, look, go. Most of us are caught up in schedules, and deadlines, and rushing around. And so the first thing is that we have to stop, because otherwise we are not really coming into this present moment at all. And we can’t even appreciate the opportunity that is given to us because we rush by. So stopping is the first thing … and finding something in that moment … I don’t speak of this moment as a ‘gift’, because you cannot be grateful for everything. You can’t be grateful for war, violence, domestic violence, or sickness, things like that. There are many things for which you cannot be grateful. But in every moment, you can be grateful. For instance, the opportunity to learn something from a very difficult experience. So opportunity is really the key when people ask, can you be grateful for everything? No, not for everything, but yes you can be grateful in every moment.”

Seth Godin believes that acting “as if” is underrated. “If you start acting as if you are grateful, you start feeling more grateful and you will become more grateful.”

Here are some things you can do right now to start practicing Conscious Gratitude:

1. Choose a time and focus on gratitude

Choose a specific time everyday where you will stop for a moment and focus on what you are grateful for in that particular moment.
I use 11:11. I have an alarm set on my phone to go off every day at 11:11. I stop whatever I’m doing (within reason- if I’m driving on a highway obviously I don’t stop) and I silently focus on what I am grateful for in that moment. Even if I’m stuck in traffic, I can be grateful for my car or a good sound system or enough money for gas to get me where I am going.

2. First thing in the morning, before your feet hit the floor, be grateful

Before you hop out of bed in the morning, take 30 seconds, (it really does not take more than that) to think about 3 things you are grateful for. This can be done silently in your head. Or better yet, if you have a partner that you share your bed with, ask each other to list those 3 things. It can be as simple as gratitude for a comfortable bed, a warm house, and a good nights sleep. It’s been shown that starting your day in gratitude positively impacts you for the rest of the day.

3. Start a Gratitude Journal

Choose a journal that you like the feel and the look of, and make sure that it is used solely for writing about things your are grateful for. How you write this is up to you; it can be as simple as list making. I like using colorful pens playing in my journal, but use what ever works for you. Make it a routine, try to write in it daily, even if it’s just for a few minutes a day.

4. Start new traditions in your family — like gratitude at meals

This may feel uncomfortable at first; but with time, the practice of going around the table and saying one thing you are grateful for that happened that day, can become a cherished family tradition. It’s a great conversation starter and a wonderful way to lift the energy at any meal time. Another tradition can be saying one thing you are grateful for before going off to sleep. If you have children, it is a wonderful way to end the day just before they go to sleep. Another tradition to reinforce gratitude in relationships is texting to a loved one in the middle of the day, one thing you appreciate about them. This works well with teens and couples with busy schedules.

So this holiday season, if you are hoping to embody Kermit’s words . . .

Tis the season to be jolly and joyous
With a burst of pleasure, we feel it arrive
Tis the season when the saints can employ us
To spread the news about peace and to keep love alive

. . . You can start by practicing gratitude consciously today. And if that doesn’t come naturally, start by ‘acting as if’ you are grateful. And pretty soon, what was once an act will become a habit.

 

I’ll close with a great interview with Brené Brown talking about Active Gratitude.

 

I’d love to hear how you practice conscious gratitude.
And as always, thank you for taking the time to visit.  I appreciate it.