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Questions to Stimulate Intimacy

March 28th, 2017

I often hear couples, who have been with each other for a long time say, “I just don’t know what to say or what to talk about. It seems like we’ve talked ourselves out.” Maybe.

However, after some exploration, I discovered there are a lot of things that many couples don’t know about each other. At the same time, there are a lot of things that couples can discuss, which can actually help deepen their relationship and create more intimacy.

Below you will find a series of questions designed to open up a dialogue between two people, so they can really get to know each other, which will allow for more love and for more intimacy to develop between them. I see these questions as a form of fore-play. As you go through these questions, please take your time. There’s no need to rush to complete them. And, after you’ve gone through them once or twice, go through them again. Don’t be surprised if more is revealed each time you answer these questions.

What gift that you’ve received put a smile on your face?
What surprises you? Do you like surprises?
What gives you joy?
What would an exceptional day from morning to night look like?
How do you describe yourself? How do others describe you?
What would you like to accomplish this year?
What did you dream about when you were young?
Tell me an adventure you had?
What holds your attention or focus these days?
What are you grateful for?
How do you create a sanctuary or a sacred space? What does it look like?
What qualities do you want in a dear friend?
What do you love about yourself? What do you want to change?
What principles or values do you hold true?
What mistakes turned out to be positive growth points?
What do you wish you could tell your younger self?
What do you want to tell the person you’ll be four years from now?
What advice or information you received changed your life?
What do you want to spend more time doing?
What or who motivates or inspires you?
What makes you feel alive and joyful?
What past positive experience would you like to relive?
What have you discovered about yourself and others?
What have you always known?
What do you want to be better at?
What’s worth taking a risk for?
How do you want people to remember you?

And, after you’ve gone through them once or twice, go through them again.  Don’t be surprised if more is revealed each time you answer these questions.  So, let’s open up and discover who we are and who that wonderful person sitting next to you truly is!

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What’s the difference between Judgment and Evaluation?

July 30th, 2015

A friend of mine once told me that next to every truth stands a lie, that one person’s ceiling is another’s floor, and that to follow a truth is like walking a razor’s edge—it’s easy to fall off in error. I find defining the difference between evaluation and judgment to be in this fine-line category. As I start to define evaluation, I feel myself moving over into judgment, and as I start to describe judgment, I move into evaluation.

So, what is the difference between judgment and evaluation?

Evaluations are positive. Judgments are negative. Evaluations help you decide what you want more of in your life and create a sense of connection. Judgments can create confusion and separate you from others. Evaluations are expansive in nature; judgments are constrictive. Evaluations give you freedom of choice; judgments limit your behavior and the behavior of others. Evaluations merely state what “is” in a neutral, objective manner. Judgments indicate an opinionated, subjective value. Evaluations can be seen as a mental or a scientific approach,while judgments are emotional in nature and often suggest a moral, self-righteous approach.

I would encourage you to reread that paragraph again. Go slow. Challenge it. Process it. What parts ring true to you? Wat parts stir some deep emotion? Obviously, I am encouraging you to move toward evaluation versus judgment. Challenge that.
“OK, enough comparisons and enough challenges,” you say. “What’s the difference between judgment and evaluation? I still don’t understand. How can I decide if I like something if I don’t have an opinion or a judgment about it? How can I judge whether it’s good for me or not good for me? I am confused.”

This confusion is the razor’s edge that I spoke about earlier. Discerning the difference between judgments and evaluations in some areas is very easy, while in other areas it’s very tricky. It’s something that you just have to play with and watch very closely. Let’s look at some examples.

Here are some statements that are judgmental: He’s ugly. I think she’s stupid. I am such a fool. Can you believe she’s wearing that dress? That guy drives like he’s half-asleep.

In each of the judgmental statements, the speaker is assuming to know something about something s/he does not truly know anything about, and the statement sounds very opinionated. Notice also that the speaker is placing himself/herself in a superior position. The expressions of compassion and understanding are not present. The general tonality is one of scolding or ridicule. The primary position is I know what’s right, and what you’re doing, wearing, or saying is wrong!

Here are some statements that evaluate: He’s six feet tall, and he weighs 95 pounds. Every time I ask her to do this task, I have to show her all the steps. I find I keep repeating the same pattern over and over again. The red dress she was wearing had nine yellow dots the size of basketballs, placed four inches apart. He drove his car down the freeway at 26 mph. I saw him pour a glass of milk into his gas tank.

In the statements above, notice that descriptions are expressed in detail. The adjectives describe very specific traits. An opinion is not stated, and the speaker is not running assumptions. S/he is just describing what is seen. There’s no rightness or wrongness presented. Everything is very factual.

You say, “Well, I don’t like red dresses with yellow dots the size of basketballs.” That’s fine. In fact, it’s good that you know what you like to wear and what you dislike. You enter into a judgment, however, when you state, “That dress is ugly, and anyone wearing it is stupid and obviously has no taste!”

And you might respond, “I know style. That’s my job, and I know that red dresses with yellow dots are disgusting and anyone wearing them or suggesting someone should wear them is crazy and stupid.”

Notice how this position creates separation? Notice the position of self-righteousness? Notice all the assumptions? Who is defining what is ugly and what is stupid? Whose taste of clothing is “right?” The above speaker is assuming s/he knows the “right” answer to all of these questions. Beauty, intelligence, and fashion are all subjective and relative to some arbitrary standard that someone has set. We have all been told that beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

Judgments indicate a position of self-righteousness. The underlying assumption is that I am right and you are wrong, and that you must do what I do and must think like I think. If you don’t, well, judgment will be directed at you. Evaluations describe what you see, hear, or feel. They reflect an attempt to discover what works for you and what does not work for you. The underlying foundation is the knowledge and acceptance of what works for me might not work for you and what works for you might not work for me.

For the next week, watch how you describe people, places, and events. Ask yourself if you’re evaluating or judging what you’re seeing. How do you feel when you accurately describe what you see? How do you feel when you judge what you see? Be aware of how your body reacts. I would also encourage you to listen to how other people describe people, places, and events and watch how you react to their evaluations and judgments. You then might want to ask yourself which process, evaluating or judging, sets you free and allows you to create more of what you want in your life.

A Process of Getting Free From Judgments

1. What do you judge about yourself or others?
2. What do you tell yourself about the people you judge?
3. What should/shouldn’t the people you judge do?
4. Who taught you these rules?
5. How do your judgments separate you from others?
6. What do you want?
7. What can you do to create what you want?
8. Are you willing to take action? When? How?
9. What can you do the next time you’re aware you’re judging?
10. Is there anything else you can do to feel complete right now?

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Automatic Pilot

June 11th, 2015

I’m sure you have wondered why you keep doing the same things over and over again, knowing full well that what you are doing just does not work, but you just keep doing it anyway. Right?

“Why?” you ask.

Well, one answer to this question is simply, “You are on automatic pilot.” Automatic pilot? What do you mean? Who set it?

I’d like to tell you a little story that will help to explain. Let’s say you live in California and you want to sail a ship to Hawaii. You know where you are going. You know the direction you need to go in order to get there. So you begin to build a ship. As you build your ship, you have a special little device that you can set, and it will take the ship wherever you want it to go. Knowing Hawaii is southwest from where you are, you set your special device, your automatic pilot, for southwest. Everything is set. You finish building your boat, and everything is in working order. You start on your trip to Hawaii. You are sailing along, enjoying the sun. Your automatic pilot is working like a charm, and you are well on your way. You close your eyes. Visions of Hawaii dance in your mind. At some point you open your eyes and discover that your ship is heading straight for an island. With terror in your heart, you grab the helm and point the ship away from the island. Feeling comfortable again, you settle back and close your eyes. Now, while you are off dreaming, your automatic pilot comes back into control and redirects the ship back to the southwest, straight for the island. A seagull cries out. You open your eyes only to discover that you are heading on a collision course with the island. Again, you grab the helm and point the ship away from the island. Whew!

Our automatic pilot will always move us in the direction that it has been set. So, who set our automatic pilot? It was set years ago by our parents, our primary caregivers, our siblings, our teachers, our friends, and even ourselves. Sometimes it was set by verbal commands. More often, it was set by what was not said, by nonverbal actions. It was also set by the experiences we have had. Once the automatic pilot is set, it remains set until we consciously go back and change it. One thing that is very interesting about the automatic pilot is that when it is set, we are making the best decisions we can at that moment based on all the information we have to work with. As children, we discovered what we needed to do in order to survive in our environment. We survived. We are still alive. However, what kept us alive in our families of origin probably will not be effective in the world we now find ourselves living in today. As adults, we do not want to carry on and live our lives based on the perceptions of an infant, a young child, or an adolescent.

As you probably are becoming aware, the automatic pilot is in that vast unconscious part of us. Most of us have not gone back inside and changed our automatic pilot. And if we have attempted to change it, we probably used methods we were taught. We can begin to use the five steps to change as a method of changing our automatic pilot. By focusing on positive affirmations and positive self-talk, we can begin to send the automatic pilot new orders and new perceptions from which our ship is to be steered.

What outdated messages are you still following? As a point of awareness, reflect on what beliefs about yourself you would like to let go of and what beliefs you would like to consciously program.

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Active Listening

April 24th, 2015

Listening is a powerful skill that is learned. It requires practice, practice, and more practice. There are two things people do if they don’t feel they are being heard. They will repeat themselves over and over, and/or they will raise their voice. Many people hold an erroneous belief: if I yell at you, then you will hear me. This, of course, often is not the case. In fact, most people shut down and stop listening when they are being yelled at.

However, it’s nice to be able to realize when people don’t feel they are not being heard. As I suggested, they will start yelling or repeating themselves. If this happens, it is a clear indication for you to do some active listening. If you find that you are repeating yourself to someone or yelling at them, then you probably don’t think they are hearing you either. You could ask them to do some active listening.

So what is active listening?

Active listening is a therapeutic tool that has been around for a very long time. Basically, I tell you what I heard you say. I use your words as closely as possible. I don’t interpret your words; I use your words. This helps us speak in the same language, whether it is visual, auditory, or kinesthetic. This can feel like I am just parroting you or mimicking you, but I’m not. I am just repeating your words, and you will feel like I am finally hearing you. When I repeat your words, it doesn’t mean I agree with you or disagree with you. It just means that I hear what you are saying. Once you are clear that I hear what you are saying on the surface level, then you can drop to the next level, and then the next level, until eventually you are telling me what you really want to tell me. You couldn’t tell me the deeper message until you knew I heard the surface message. Without active listening, you would not feel heard. You would feel you would have to argue with me to prove your point so that I would agree with you. When I am actively listening, you don’t have to convince me of anything. I don’t have to prove you wrong or make you hear my point; I just listen. I am not making any commitments to you. I am just listening.

As we go through this process of active listening, it is valuable to speak in short phrases rather than long paragraphs. This keeps us current with each other. We will know what we have said to each other. We will know what has been heard. Most people, particularly when they are arguing with each other, speak in paragraph form and go on and on. Their partner responds, reacts, or defends against the last thing spoken. Their rebuttal is also in paragraph form, and they go on and on. Their partner does the same, and a downward spiral of miscommunication and misunderstanding happens, leaving everyone walking away unfulfilled, exhausted, and defeated. Because most of what has been spoken was not responded to, everyone feels unheard, and yes, now they have to repeat themselves and/or yell at each other some more. Ugh! I’d say this type of communication is not very effective. However, if we speak in short phrases and repeat what we have heard using each others’ words, we will know that everything has been heard correctly. As a result, repetition and yelling decreases, and we can move toward creating a win-win solution.

This can be a very tedious process, and I wouldn’t ask you to do it for more than about ten or fifteen minutes at a time. And of course, you don’t have to do this with all of your communication. It is just during those challenging or sensitive times that it is necessary, or when you find you are repeating yourself or raising your voice.

In the communication process, I put the responsibility on both sides of the fence. This means that if I find myself repeating myself or raising my voice, I can ask you what you heard me say. Or if you are repeating yourself or raising your voice, I can drop into the active listening process and tell you what I am hearing you say. The responsibility for clear communication is with everyone involved.

People usually get into trouble or miscommunication when they make assumptions. The definition of assuming is in the spelling. Anytime we assume something, we make an “ass” out of “u” and “me.” Making things even more challenging and confusing is that most people assume against themselves. They lose in their fantasies. They have negative self-talk.

They forget their partner is on their side. They forget that their partner is their ally. Most primary relationships have a few unstated agreements. The agreements are as follows: We love each other, and we won’t consciously do anything to hurt each other. We are a team, and we are here to work together. We will watch each other’s backs and protect each other. The primary intention to each other is not to hurt each other but to create a relationship where love and peace can exist and flourish.

If this is true, then how do people get into arguments in which they hurt each other? If you watch and listen, you will see and hear most arguments occur when someone has made an erroneous assumption. Because of their erroneous assumption, their partner reacts in a defensive manner. They feel they need to defend themselves against the assumed attack. They move into a position of “rightness” and attempt to force their partner to see their point of view.

Their partner feels attacked and often insulted and feels they have to attack back. Now both are arguing from their position of “rightness.” Hurtful words are said and more defending and attacking occurs. Eventually, one partner will overpower the other and “win” the argument, or both partners will become exhausted and temporarily retreat. After a time of cooling off, they remember that they love each other. They don’t like the feeling of separation and soon wonder, “What were we fighting about?” They make up, and all is forgiven. A bandage is placed over the gaping wound, and life goes on—that is, until down the road another erroneous assumption is made and another fight begins and on and on.

Eventually, the couple withdraws their love from each other, and in time separation occurs.

Is there another way? you ask. Yes, there certainly is. However, it does require change. In couples therapy, the first statement I often make is, “If you like the results you have in your relationship, then keep doing what you are doing. If you want different results, then you will have to do something different. What that difference is we will find out.” This is where the concept of “intention verses method” shows up. As I said earlier, I am not attached to the method; I am, however, focused on the intention of creating a loving, peaceful relationship.

What to do differently? There are so many things that it’s hard to begin. Let’s look at the situation above and see what could be done differently to create love and peace in that relationship.

One thing a couple can do is what I call a perception check. A perception check is a communication process in which we check our perceptions or our assumptions. Basically, we ask our partner what they meant by their statement or what the intention was behind their statement. This could sound like, “That comment made me feel like a bad child. Were you attempting to make me feel stupid? Were you trying to teach me a lesson? Were you attacking me? Was your intention to hurt me and make me feel wrong or bad? Were you trying to hurt me or punish me?”

For the most part, I have found that people are attempting to get their partner to do “it,” whatever that is, the “right” way. The right way of doing “it” is usually their way. They want their partner to be safe in the world and not to get hurt, or to look stupid to others, so they will correct or parent their partner the way they were corrected or parented as a child. Often, the correcting or parenting process is very dysfunctional and ineffective.

However, it is how their parents corrected them and how their parents loved them, and because they love their partner, they correct their partner the way they were corrected.

By doing a perception check, you often find that the intention of the communication was not to hurt but rather to keep your partner from being hurt or from doing something “wrong,” where hurt on some level would occur.

Isn’t it strange? We hurt the person we love as a way of keeping them from being hurt.

By doing a perception check, we often discover that we misunderstood our partner; we assumed they were out to get us, and thus we felt we needed to strike back at them. We could also do some active listening as a way of really listening to what is being said. Active listening is another way to avoid assuming what is being said. With clear, active, and accurate communication, most people are able to work together as a unit and stay in a loving, peaceful place.

Working together as a unit is a key to a healthy, long-term relationship. However, this often brings up the issue of control. I frequently hear people say, “He always wants to do it his way” or “She always wants to be in control and do it her way.” The truth is that we all want to be in control all of the time. In truth, it isn’t an issue of control; it’s an issue of direction. In order to understand this further, let’s explore the concept of direction.

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Key Areas of Our Lives to Keep Balanced

March 25th, 2015

1. Are you expressing Positive self-esteem?
2. Are you complete with your education?
3. Are your finances balanced?
4. Are you keeping your body healthy?

1. Are you experiencing peace with your parents?
2. Are you experiencing peace with your siblings?
3. Are you experiencing peace with your children?
4. Are you experiencing peace with your extended family?
5. Are you experiencing peace with your partner?
6. Are you experiencing peace with your existing friends and peers?
7. Are you experiencing peace with past friends and peers?

1. Are you satisfied with your job performance?
2. Are you content with your job or business?
3. Are you fulfilling your professional objectives?

1. Are you happy with your relationship with your Higher Power?
2. Are you walking your Spiritual Walk?
3. Are you doing your Spiritual practices?

Begin each day with the question: “What can I do today to make my life better?” Ask it, answer it, and then do it, every day.

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Addictive Patterns

September 27th, 2014

One of the most challenging behaviors or patterns to change is an addictive pattern. It is sometimes difficult to understand what motivates us to repeatedly engage in an activity that causes us pain. We know it doesn’t serve us. We know it hurts us, as well as others. We know it would benefit us to stop, but we do it anyway.

“Where’s the payoff here? It’s killing me, yet I keep doing it. I must be crazy.”

Possibly. In some of the twelve-step programs, they describe “insanity” as doing the same thing over and over again, expecting different results. In some spiritual organizations, they define “karma” as the inability to stop doing what you are doing even though you know it is causing you pain and suffering. We can break or end our insanity and karma through wisdom. Wisdom comes from the experience of working through our issues consciously.

Let’s explore some aspects of the personality and how it is formed to gain some understanding how the addictive pattern process works.

Our personality comes from our exterior senses: sight, hearing, smell, taste, and touch.

Our senses can be corrupted by becoming habituated or addicted to certain behaviors or stimuli. This process of habituation is a primal survival technique that is genetically coded so that we do not have to do original learning all the time.

For example, I’m in the jungle, and I look at this berry. I recognize it. I ate this kind of berry last week. It was sweet. I liked it. I felt good after eating it. I didn’t get a bellyache or anything. I’ll eat it again. Oh, there’s another berry. It’s the same type of berry. Good. I’ll eat it again. Oh, another berry. I like these berries. (Okay, I have now habituated myself into eating these berries. I have an addiction.) I love these berries. Every time I see them, I have to eat them. Unfortunately, I have now found a large patch of berries and I eat them all day long. Now I have a bellyache. I feel sick.

Once the senses are addicted or habituated, our personality will want to repeat the experience because it likes it, it feels good. We are then tempted to repeat the behavior over and over again – even if it causes us pain.

Let’s say a couple of days later, I’m feeling better and I see that berry again. It looks good to me. Is it? What should I do? Should I eat it? I feel confused.

Every time temptation comes in, we split ourselves and our energy. One part says, “I want to do it now!” Another part says, “No, I’m not sure I should do it now.”

If we give into our temptations, we are in a roundabout way saying, “I love myself.” The eating of that berry was good for me. It felt good. I nourished myself by eating the berry. When I ate that berry, I was good to myself.

Before I explore ways of breaking additive patterns, I want to explain the concept of regular and irregular reward systems and how they affect the way we change our behaviors.

A regular reward system is one that is predictable. I have a lever. Every time I push the lever I get a reward. The reward is pleasurable. Remember, we move toward pleasure, so we push the lever and we get a reward. It is very predictable. It always works. Every time I push the lever, I get a reward. Wonderful.

An irregular reward system is just that—irregular. In other words, sometimes I push the lever and I get a reward, while other times I push the lever and nothing happens. Nothing happening is painful. As I suggested earlier, we want to avoid pain so we would normally move away from this, but we are not totally sure what will happen when we push the lever one more time. We liked the reward we got when we pushed the lever, so we push the lever again in hopes of getting the reward. If we get the reward again, we are very intrigued and an addiction is being formed. In some ways this is very exciting.

We are now in the “survival domain” aspect of the change curve. We feel alive. The feeling of aliveness is a secondary reward. We often create all kinds of wonderful rituals or superstitions in the irregular reward system. I might put my tongue on the right side of my mouth, push the lever, and get a reward. Wow! I push the lever again with my tongue on the right side of my mouth, and I get a reward again. I tell myself, “This works!” From this point forward, I will always make sure my tongue is on the right side of my mouth before I push the lever, and when it works enough times, this secondary behavior is now attached to the lever pushing and the reward. I now have a dual addiction. These dual addictions or rituals can become very embedded and complicated aspects of our personality. At some point, we find ourselves doing strange things that are now just a part of who we think we are, and we have no conscious idea of where they came from or how they serve us. They are just there.

Now, let’s say we want to change this behavior of pushing the lever. Under the regular reward system, all we have to do is stop getting the reward, and in a very short period of time, we will stop the behavior. Not receiving the reward is experienced as a painful experience, so we move away from it. We realize the lever is broken, and we move on to another behavior through which we can receive a reward. We seek another pleasurable experience.

If we want to change the behavior of pushing the lever when it has been learned under the irregular reward system, we have a totally different response. We push the lever. We get no reward. We push it again, no reward. Let’s see, maybe I forgot to put my tongue on the right side of my mouth. I put my tongue where it belongs and push the lever, no reward. Hmm. Maybe it’s not the right side, maybe it’s the left side. I put my tongue on the left side and push the lever, and still I get no reward. Maybe it is on the roof of my mouth. We will continue pushing the lever until we fall over totally exhausted, thinking maybe it will happen with the next push. It worked in the past.

We are chasing the reward, the pleasure, the “high,” or the love of the past. We are locked into an addictive pattern and there doesn’t seem to be a way out. We are now behaving in a way that looks crazy because we are now hurting ourselves and those around us and we cannot stop. People who care about us tell us what we are doing isn’t working, but we are incapable of stopping. We know that pushing this lever works for us. We just know it from the core of our being. And, yet, everyone wants us to change.

The first step to change is awareness.

OK, I am aware this lever no longer gives me the reward I used to get, but I do get some pleasure in pushing it. It is familiar, and that is comforting. So how do I break this addiction or habituated response?

In order to break the habituated response of the senses, we need to move beyond the personality. We need to move into what I call the “High self.” The High self is a neutral character who asks, “If I choose to do this, how will it affect me and how will it affect others around me?”

By asking and answering these questions, we can bypass the addictive personality and begin to make a responsible choice.

By asking and answering these questions, we can also begin to bring in compassion, loving, and caring for ourselves rather than anger and disgust.

When we repeat an addictive behavior pattern that we are in the process of correcting and react with anger and disgust, our energy drops and we disempower ourselves. We often go to fear, which once again calls the addiction forward. Remember that the addictive pattern gives us comfort by being familiar. We often use the addictive pattern as a way to avoid what we are doing, feeling, or seeing. The addictive pattern puts us into a bubble where we are not aware of what is going on. When we are in the bubble, we only think about fulfilling our addiction. The pattern of beating up on ourselves locks us into a pattern of numbing ourselves with an addiction that falsely nurtures us. The punishment we have given ourselves to create change is not effective. Thus, the addictive behavior is repeated and reinforced again and again, and the addictive loop continues with no success in sight.

This is where the five steps to change come into play. Hopefully, you are beginning to see how they are effective in creating change, even when dealing with an addictive pattern.

Our temptations, or our negative addictive patterns, can be used as a tool to strengthen ourselves. They can be used as signals or signs that say, “Where did the ‘need’ to do this originate?” “How will this serve me?” “What made me start this in the first place?” “Is there another way for me to get what I want rather than doing what I have done in the past?” “What is my intention?” “What other methods could I try to fulfill my intention?” By asking these types of questions, we can begin to take the power away from the addicted senses and create positive conscious change.

After asking and answering these questions, we can bring compassion and forgiveness in by saying to ourselves, “I am sorry for what I did. I was not aware of all of the consequences involved when I began doing this. I forgive myself for my actions and for any judgments I might be holding against myself and others.”

I will explore the forgiveness process at another time. For now, know it is a way we can release any judgments that we might be holding against ourselves for selling out to our exterior senses. If we truly had known better, we would have done better.

It is important to note that not all addictions are bad. As I suggested earlier, the addiction pattern is an aspect of primal survival. Once we are aware that we as humans are addictive creatures, we can use that information for our upliftment, advancement, and growth. All we have to do is get addicted to those things that serve us. Become addicted to healing yourself. Become addicted to forgiving yourself and having compassion for yourself. Become addicted to having joyful, loving people around who support you and encourage you to grow. Become addicted to blessing the people you see, the food you eat, and the people you touch. Become addicted to things that give health, things that set you free and that are for your highest good.

When temptation shows up again or when your addictive pattern knocks on your door, which it will, know this is an opportunity to challenge your addicted senses and to empower your High Self. The process of temptation is called the law of reversibility.

In this discussion of addiction, I would be remiss if I did not talk about the many twelve-step programs that are available today. The first twelve-step program that came into being is AA, or Alcoholics Anonymous. Many other related programs have sprung from this original program. For many, these programs have been a major blessing and a springboard for recovery and freedom. Even though some people have trouble with some of the concepts presented in the programs (mainly a strong direction to total abstinence and a belief in a Higher Power), I have personally witnessed many people achieve and maintain recovery through the twelve steps the various programs teach. Some addictions can be life threatening, and we often need support as we go through our process. It is nice to know that we are not alone in our process and others have walked before us. It is not necessary to reinvent the wheel. One thing that has always touched me in the programs is the statement: “Focus on the similarities, not the differences.” We are all individuals, with our own very personal issues, and we are all here on Planet Earth struggling to do our best with the information we have been given. In this we all share similar obstacles in our process to freedom and recovery.

If you want support in your recovery process, you can call your local telephone operator or access the Internet and get the telephone number for AA. From there you will be able to access all of the other programs.

I often say, “The advantage to being clean and sober is that we get to feel.” With feelings we can make accurate decisions about our life; we can discern what is effective and what is not.

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“I’m Right! You’re Wrong!” “No, I’m Right! You’re Wrong!”

August 6th, 2014

And so the battle begins.

I’m sure you have either been involved in this type of argument or have heard it going on out in the world. It just seems to be part of the human condition.

I have yet to find someone say, “I’m going to do or say this because I know it’s the wrong thing to say or do!” Humans just don’t think that way. We do what we think is correct. We do what we think is “right”. Yup. So, that means all that crazy behavior we see out there in the world is being done the “right” way, at least by the person doing it. Isn’t that wild? Everyone is doing what they think is “right.”

Our decisions and actions are based on the information we have at any moment in time. If we have different information, our perspective changes and our decisions, as well as, our actions change accordingly. So, a position of “rightness” is actually just a point of view. By changing our point of view our position of “rightness” changes.

Holding a position of “rightness” suggests that we know all the information to be known about a particular subject or issue. I’m suggesting that we don’t know. For example, we don’t know what that person experienced two hours, two days or twenty years ago that created a reactive pattern of hurt or pleasure. They might not even remember the moment when they created the belief or feeling that’s causing them to react to a certain situation in a certain way.

If you look out into the world there is so much we don’t know about cultures that are different from our own. We don’t even understand our own culture, our own country, our own family, or ourselves. How then can we then truly know or understand anything outside of our self? How then can we hold a position of “rightness?”

I work at not getting caught in the “right/wrong” game, because as soon as I do, everyone loses. I attempt to understand the other person’s point of view. I try to see the world through their eyes. I look to see where and how they learned to see the world. When I can understand and grasp their “illogical” logic, I can understand why they’re doing what they’re doing. I might not believe that it’s the most effective way to get the results they are attempting to get; however, their behavior is no longer “wrong” based on the information they have at that time.

Often the best solution is to agree that it’s okay for us to disagree. We don’t have to do everything the same way. If we did, life would be a little boring. So, because they think and do things differently than me, I get to grow and expand. I get to learn another way of looking at life. I can’t say this is always easy. When I listen to the evening news I often get challenged about the various things I hear. If I’m having a strong emotional reaction, I’ll challenge myself. Am I in a position of “rightness”? The answer always is “yes.” Ugh! “I am right! They’re wrong!” I then laugh realizing no one is listening to me. I realize that I’m at war inside my head. I’m certainly not creating any positive resolution out in the world. So I breathe and look to see if there is any positive action I can do to change the situation. If there is any positive action, I’ll take the action. If there isn’t a positive action, I just lovingly encourage myself to expand out of my position of “rightness” and realize that it’s all good. We’re all learning and growing. We’re all doing the best we can with the information we have. As we expand our consciousness, we will grow to another level of knowing, and then we will get to expand some more. It’s called etcetera. Oh boy, more fun!

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What I Love About You Is . . .

March 26th, 2014

In a healthy, loving, long-term relationship we have to continuously and consciously choose to fall in love with our partner. It’s an ongoing choice. They certainly didn’t teach us that back in high school or in the movies. It’s always been suggested that when we fall in love, we just stay in love. We just have to find the “right” person to fall in love with.

So, how do we fall in love?

From a nonromantic point of view, we program ourselves to fall in love. It looks like this: You look at that person and say, “Wow! S/he is beautiful! They’re so smart and witty! I just love the way they say that and that little action is so adorable! I think I’m falling in love! This is the one for me!” This is our self-talk when we fall in love with someone. Then as time passes, our self-talk changes and it sounds like this: “Oh my God, how disgusting. I can’t believe they just said that! I hate it when they do that! And, they’re doing it again! No! Not again! I can’t believe I’m with them! They’re so stupid and clumsy! I have to get out of here!” With this type of self-talk, we program ourselves to fall out of love with our partner. And, we do.

As I said earlier, in a healthy, loving, long-term relationship, we have to continuously and consciously choose to fall in love with our partner. We have to continuously focus on those aspects of our partner that we love and tell our self how those things, or attributes, make us happy. It’s also nice for those positive things to come out of our mouths so our partner can hear what we love about them.

It’s a choice to focus on what works and what we like verses what doesn’t work and what we don’t like. When we focus on what’s not working, we then get what we are focusing on: More stuff that’s not working. It becomes a painful downward spiral.

Some people say, “That’s nice, but I just don’t know what to focus on. I don’t know what to say.” Okay. I’ll help you out a bit. Below is a list of some things to focus on in your relationship. It might sound or feel a little sappy at first, but check it out and see what results you get in your relationship. I suspect you’ll create a relationship with more love, joy and intimacy.

Say to your partner: “What I love about you is (fill in the blank).” In other words, “What I love about you is your heart.” “What I love about you is your loving me.” “What I love about you is your: music, your being, your peace, your life, your sharing, your oneness, your aliveness, your honesty, your actions, your visions, your mystical self, your saneness, your leadership, your compassion, your transformation, your movement, your simpleness, your desire, your newness, your grace, your listening, your touch, your alertness, your humanness, your excellence, your divineness, your humility, your understanding, your expansion, your naturalness, your vastness, your solutions, your expression, your embrace, your discovery, your respect, your support, your beauty, your sexiness, your hair, your eyes, your hands, your body, your mind, your orderliness, your piles of clothes, your wet towel on the floor, your cooking, your driving, your playfulness, your thoughtfulness, your etc, etc, etc.

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Domestic Violence February 26th, 2014

February 26th, 2014

What is it? What are the stages? And, how can it be prevented?

Domestic violence is a nice clinical name for a battering relationship or a relationship where someone is receiving physical or verbal beatings.

A batterer can be either male or female. They can come from a wealthy or a poor family, as well as, all races and religions. They are often extremely charismatic and very likable. You wouldn’t know someone is a batterer just by looking at them. However, if you look at their family background you will find one thing that is very consistent. Generally speaking, they come from a home where there was a lot of corporal punishment. Their parents were often very strict and cruel in the disciplining when they were a child. They received beatings. There used to be an old saying, “Spare the rod, spoil the child.” This belonged to the belief that there was something inherently bad within children, and it needed to be beaten out. “I’m going to beat the hell out of you. If I beat the hell out of you, then all that will be left is the heaven or the good.” So the parent, out of their loving for the child, would beat him/her so s/he would learn the lesson and change. Over time, the child began to pair loving with beating. “If I love you, I won’t let you do those things that I think are wrong. If you do those things that I think are wrong, then I have to beat you, so you will change and not do it again.” That’s how the parents taught or controlled them, and it worked, so that is how the batterer teaches or controls his/her partner.

A person who is being battered, I will call him/her the “injured,” does not fit any special psychological profile. There are no similarities in their family backgrounds. However, after a person has been in a battering relationship for a while, s/he begins to demonstrate predictable coping skills, which I will discuss later.

There are basically three stages in a battering relationship. You have the battering, followed by the honeymoon phase, then the tension-building phase, then the battering again, and then the loop continues.

There are two things that generally happen in a battering relationship: The battering becomes more intense or violent and occurs more frequently.

Drugs and alcohol often make a battering relationship more volatile. However, they are not the root cause, and there can be battering in a relationship even when both people are clean and sober.

Phase One
“What constitutes a battering?”

A battering is a slap, a hit, a scratch, a kick, a push against the wall, a shove onto the floor, bed, or sofa, a spit in the face, or a violent grabbing of the arms. After the injured has been touched once, words can become a battering. Throwing a glass across the room, kicking the door, or putting a fist through the door can become a battering. The object now becomes the injured and the batterer no longer needs to touch to inflict a beating. As the batterer smashes the glass, s/he is smashing the injured. The batterer’s words also become a beating. If the batterer says, “I’ll kill you!” Or, “If you do that again, I’ll get you, and you’ll be sorry!” The batterer’s words have meaning, and the injured fears and believes the batterer will do what s/he says s/he will do.

Phase Two
The honeymoon phase is when the batterer says, “I’m so sorry. I’ll never do it again. Please forgive me.” The batterer truly means this and believes s/he will never do it again. The batterer buys flowers, buys dinners, cleans the house extra special, and becomes a wonderful romantic lover. They become the person the injured really loves. The injured says, “This is who s/he really is. The other part is just something that happened and it won’t happen again.” That is until it happens again, and again, and again. The honeymoon phase becomes the only part of the relationship the injured thinks about. The injured begins to think that if s/he did things differently, then s/he would have the honeymoon all the time. If the injured hadn’t said “that’’ or did “that” the batterer would not have exploded, and the injured knew the batterer did not like the injured doing or saying those things. The injured thinks, “It really was my fault. I’m bad. I guess I really did deserve it. If I could just keep my mouth shut, everything would be wonderful – all the time.”

This is one of the big lies in a battering relationship. The injured needs to know that having a relationship with a batterer means having all three phases. The batterer is the whole picture, and there is not that much the injured can do to change that. However, there are a few things the injured and the batterer can do to change their relationship. I will address these things a little later.

Phase Three
The tension-building phase is when the tension builds. It builds and builds until something is said or done at which point the injured then receives another battering.

Some people who have been in a battering relationship for a while begin to recognize these phases and they know that after the battering, that the wonderful honeymoon comes. They sacrifice themselves so their partner can “blow their steam” so everything will be good again. This sacrificing of oneself is usually an unconscious process. However, this is often where the injured begins to blame themselves for the battering. As I indicated above, the injured knows what will make the batterer blow up, and the injured finds themselves doing those things that bring about yet another battering.

Why? What keeps a person in this type of a relationship?

There are many answers to these questions. This is a very complicated issue. We must realize each couple is working out their own individual issues, as well as, their own couple issues. Therefore, each situation must be looked at with fresh eyes, along with causes and solutions specifically designed for that relationship. With that being said, I will give some general concepts that might help you understand what keeps people in these battering relationships.

There’s a concept called “learned helplessness” that seems to be part of the battering relationship picture. I will describe a story to help you understand what I mean by “learned helplessness.”

If I took a dog and placed him on an electrical grid, and I then gave the dog a shock, the dog would jump off. If I put a cage around this grid, and then put the dog inside the cage, the dog would not be able to jump off the grid when I gave it an electrical shock. After a while, the dog will just stand there and take the shock. The dog would have learned that it could not get free: it had to stay on the grid and endure the pain of the electrical shock. This is called “learned helplessness.” Now that the dog has learned this, I can remove the cage, and give the dog a shock, and he will no longer jump off the grid. The dog will just stand there enduring the electrical shock. I would then have to drag the dog off the grid many times in order for the dog to realize that he was free to jump off the grid when he felt an electrical shock.

People who are caught in a battering relationship often have this “learned helplessness” behavior trait. The batterer has threatened the injured many times stating s/he will kill the injured, kill their child, kill their parents, make slanderous phone calls to the injured’s boss, or do something that is frightening and/or horrifying. These threats are taken seriously. The injured believes the batterer could and would do what they say. Batterers, because of their charismatic personalities, are seen as omnipotent. The batterer has shown up in places that they were not supposed to be, and they knew things they had no way of knowing. The batterer seems bigger than life, and if they say they will do something, they are believed. In order to avoid these horrifying events (the electrical shock), the injured does not move. The injured stays and endures the pain. The injured truly believes there is no way out, and there is no safe place to go. This is often very difficult for the injured’s family and friends to understand. The injured’s loved ones often get caught in the battering relationship’s up and down, emotional roller coaster during the battering, and right after the battering when the injured is saying, “I hate him/her! I’m getting out of this relationship. Help me!” It can also be very frustrating for some therapist who are working with the injured, and for the police who arrest a batterer, only to have the injured drop the charges the following day.

There is another concept called “codependency” that is also found in battering relationships. Basically, codependency means: “I see what is wrong with you and I know how to fix you. I will make you better, or heal you, or bring out your potential. No one understands you like I do. I know all that you need is a little love, my love, and you will blossom and grow into who you truly are.” What is amazing about the codependency concept is that both the batterer and the injured are saying this about each other. Thus, a deeply, entwined, symbiotic relationship develops. The honeymoon phase reinforces this type of self-talk.

Another concept that keeps people in battering relationships is called “love.” “I love him/her and s/he loves me. I can’t leave someone I love. You really don’t know him/her like I do. If you did, you would see why I love him/her. S/he is my soul mate.” The injured will also create many excuses in order to protect the batterer. “S/he was just tired. S/he was under a lot of pressure at work. S/he just drank too much.” This is often difficult for those on the outside to understand. “How can you love someone who beats you?” The answer often is, “I just do. S/he didn’t mean to do it. Besides, it really was my fault. I made him/her do it.” Again, it’s the person the injured experiences during the honeymoon phase that they love.

Money is another major reason why people stay in battering relationships. The injured is afraid that they will not be able to provide for themselves and their loved ones if they leave the batterer. Even though this is rarely true, because of the level of dependency and codependency that has been created within a battering relationship, it’s believed to be true.

So, what do you do if you find yourself in a battering relationship?

Seek help. There are many organizations today that have been created to help people heal a battering relationship, or to get out of a battering relationship. In the Los Angeles area you can call (310) 392-8381, a 24-hour hot line. Or, you can call your local police department and ask for help. Seeking psychotherapy often is an important part of breaking the battering cycle, and regaining self-esteem and dignity.

Awareness is the first step to change. The injured must first be aware that s/he is in a battering relationship before there can be any effective change. The injured can’t change anything until s/he is aware that what s/he is doing, is not working. Educating oneself as to what a battering relationship is and how it develops is part of the awareness phase.

Beyond the above, there are a few basic things that can empower the injured.

Let’s look at the dynamics of a batterer for a moment. As a batterer moves toward a battering episode, s/he crosses an invisible line. On one side of the line, the batterer has control and s/he has conscious awareness. On the other side of the line, the batterer has no control, s/he has no conscious awareness, and often, no conscious memory of what s/he has said or done. The batterer has no memory. This is an amazing thing. Many times the batterer will look at the injured and say, “What happened to you?” Or the batterer will say, “I never said that.” There is no memory in there. This is very scary for both people involved. The injured begins to feel crazy. They know what happened, but the batterer insists that’s not what happened. The batterer also feels crazy and out of control. The batterer didn’t want to say all those things or do all those things, yet they were not able to stop. It’s like someone else takes over and the batterer is not able to stop themselves. Because of this, the batterer’s self-esteem is low. They’re not able to keep their word.

When I work with a batterer, I ask them to be aware of this invisible line. I have them identify what is happening in their body. Are they experiencing heart palpitations, sweaty palms, and a flushing sensation in their face? Are they holding their breath or clenching their fists? What’s going on? When a batterer can identify what’s happening before s/he explodes then s/he can walk away. I encourage the batterer to take a walk, to calm down, to refocus on who s/he is, and what s/he wants. When s/he walks away, the statement that is delivered is this: “Rather than say or do something that I’ll regret, I’m going to take a break. I’ll be back.” The statement “I’ll be back” is a very important statement. In a lot of battering relationships, both partners want to resolve the issue now. “You’re not going anywhere until we finish this!” Or, “You always leave when things don’t go your way. I want you to stay here and finish this!”

Some couples use the leaving as a way of punishing rather than a time of healing. They’ll go have an affair or they’ll say, “I’m leaving you. I hate you!” These are not the words I would encourage you to use.

Once a batterer begins to identify this invisible line, s/he can begin to take a time out and cool down. After they do this for a while, their self-esteem begins to increase because they are learning to have control over their behavior. They begin to trust themselves. Their partner however, does not trust them.

Trust is an interesting thing. We trust someone if their actions match their words, if they are consistent, through time. And, if they pass our tests. Some of these tests are conscious, while others are unconscious. In a battering relationship, the issue of trust has been shattered many times. Let’s say the batterer wants to change and has gone to therapy, and s/he seems to be changing. Can the batterer be trusted, not to repeat the battering pattern? There seems to be only one way to find out. To test him/her. And this is what often happens. The batterer is tested, and tested, and tested, until – bam – s/he explodes, because they just couldn’t take it anymore, and the couple has another battering. The injured then says, “See! I knew I couldn’t trust you. I knew you didn’t change.” The batterer has to start all over once again. This testing pattern continues, and the battering cycle also continues, with the injured blaming him/herself for pushing too hard. This, as you can see, is a very difficult cycle to break. However, the cycle can be broken if both partners have the willingness to change.

What do you do if you find yourself in a battering relationship, and your partner does not want to change or seems incapable of changing?

You get out.

This is often easier said than done. I will highlight some of the things the injured can do to get out of a battering relationship.

Number one: Notify the police. The police are more and more aware of the dangers of battering relationships, and they are trained to handle violent situations. The injured can get a restraining order if necessary.

Number two: Contact a local battering hot line and shelter. The people at the hot line will connect the injured with someone who can help and knows what to do.

Number three: Create a support group or join a support group specifically for battering relationships.

Number four: Know where to go in a moments notice if needed. Have an extra set of clothes in the trunk or at a friend’s house.

Number five: Hide extra money a short distance away from the house. If the injured is on foot, then s/he will have money to call and to pay for a cab.

Number six: Learn about battering relationships. Learn about what is keeping the injured in a relationship where s/he is getting hurt. The injured needs to learn how to set him/herself free.

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Put the Toilet Seat Down! How Many Times do I Have to Tell You?

October 30th, 2013

Sound familiar? Many couples are challenged with these little irritants that just don’t seem to go away. It ranges from the toilet seat to taking out the garbage, washing the dishes or taking care of the piles of clothes. These petite issues are endless.
I often say, “It’s not the issue that’s the issue. It’s how you deal with the issue. That’s the issue.”

How can you get your partner to do what you want, in a way that creates loving and intimacy? That’s the question I ask. Unfortunately, the way most couples deal with these little issues often creates resentment, hurt feelings and eventually separation. They find themselves fighting by saying mean and hurtful things to each other. The love, joy and excitement that brought them together slowly fades away.

Let’s first look at the concept of “Intention vs. Method.” Our intention is the final result that we are looking for. What do we really want? What is the most important thing? Do I want a clean house or do I want a loving house? Do I want the toilet seat down or do I want a hug and a kiss? Do I want that pile of clothes off the floor or do I want to share a sunset? What do I truly want? This seems real simple and obvious; however, it is often the biggest challenge. We must first know what we want and where we are going in order to get there. That’s step number one – and it helps to know if your partner wants the same thing. If everyone wants the same thing, then we can move on to the method part, but if we are not in agreement, then we must spend time exploring what we want as an end result.

That’s great you might say, “But, I want that toilet seat down and I want a hug and a kiss. How do I do that? I want my cake and I also want to eat it!”

Yes, that’s what most of us want. And, I want to suggest that there’s a way that we can usually get our partner to do the petite things we want so we can and experience loving and joy. But you’re a little ahead of me. So, let’s go back to “Intention vs. Method.”

Let’s assume we are in agreement with the end result. And, let’s say the end result we want is the toilet seat down and hugs and kisses. This is where we explore the “Method” part of the equation. It’s here where the fight often begins. “My way is better than your way!” “This is the way I was taught by my Mom/Dad, and it’s the way it’s supposed to be! It’s the right way! And, do it now, because I don’t have time to wait for you. And I don’t want to remind you. You’re an adult. You should know better!”

Can you hear the fight beginning? Can you hear the position of rightness? There’s a parent-child relationship developing with a top dog/bottom dog battle about to begin. If our intention is to create fear and separation, then this would be a good way of creating it. If, however, our intention is to create loving and joy, then insulting your partner and holding a position of rightness is probably not the most effect method of getting the task completed.

I have discovered there are many “methods” to completing any task. Some methods are faster, more efficient, some are more playful, some are more expensive, some are totally illogical from my perspective, some are redundant, and some are just plain silly. Which method is the most effective? It really depends on my/your intention.

Let’s assume we want to keep loving, joy and intimacy in the relationship and we want our partner to change their behavior so our little petite issues can be resolved.

The most effective method I have found to fulfill this intention requires us to do a few things. We must first let our partner know the end result we are looking for. It’s not enough to tell them what we don’t want. It’s important to let them know what we do want. “I want you to always put the toilet seat down after you go to the bathroom.” Then we catch them approximating the end result. If they put the toilet seat down we reward our partner with lots of love and approval. We touch him/her and let them know how wonderful we feel that they actually followed through with our request. We are not looking for perfection here. We don’t yell at them if they forget the next 20 times. We might remind them how important it is to put the seat down. We might go through some explanation, so they understand our illogical request. My mom use to say, “Repetition teaches.” “Yeah, but how many times do I have to tell them?” I’d ask. And she would reply, “As many times as it takes.” From her point of view, reminding someone was just another opportunity to connect and share loving. Punishment is not an effective tool for creating change.

So the process goes on. You catch your partner putting that toilet seat down and you give them love and attention, and if they forget you lovingly remind them how wonderful life could be if they remembered to put that toilet seat down. You might say, “This takes too much energy and too much time. Why can’t they just do it right the first time? That process just doesn’t work. I tried it once and that toilet seat stayed up. It only stays down if I yell and make a big fuss.” Yeah, I bet. And, I wonder how much laughter, joy and intimacy is going on in the home. I suspect not very much.

I often wonder where we’re going. Why are we in so much of a rush? I know we all have to keep our schedule, and get to work on time and we all have too much “dodo” in our lives. Yer, is there a way that we can enjoy the process of getting there? Can we enjoy the process of getting our partner to change all those petite issues? Can we create loving along the way? I say, “Yes.”

My two favorite affirmations are: “Oh boy, more fun!” and “I love this!” No matter what’s going on in my life, I challenge myself to say, “Oh boy, more fun” or “I love this!” Check it out and see how the world around you responds.

By the way, the resolution with the toilet seat is to put the seat and the lid down. Now everyone gets to learn a new habit, besides, according to Feng Shui this creates good chi energy.

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