Choose your community wisely.

Continuing our theme of enriching the soil for life long good health, in this post I will talk about the importance of our community in which we live. I will use the word ‘community’ in a wider sense than the usual meaning; it will also include sense of connectedness and formation of social networks with other individuals in that community. So this includes all of our relationships with each other, including family, friends,work colleagues, acquaintances and strangers; as well as the relationships with the broader world, to the universe and the  community in which we live. I am using this wider sense because we are social beings, and we as individuals can only flourish in a good, wholesome, fertile Eco-system.

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Eco system that promotes stress will cause ill-health. Studies show living in communities that are stressful and cause unhappiness contribute to ill-health and in communities where there is happiness and contentment are health promoting.

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Our Eco-system starts with our families and on that we may not have a choice. If possible we would want to experience in our family a wide range of emotions without fear of harsh judgement and with over all feeling of  happiness, feeling of being safe and supported;  and also having a sense of  unconditional love. In this kind of environment we produce less toxic hormone in our bodies. We are able to learn from our mistakes and grow. We can explore and can afford to be adventurous. Of course the opposite is true when our family environment is not supportive but is  judgmental and so resulting in us shutting down, unable to share our emotional life. The first situation as you can imagine is ‘life giving’ and the second situation is ‘stifling and life draining.’

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Friendship can be mutually beneficial in different ways. The best friendship, according to Aristotle  is that in which both individuals are equally virtuous and never do any harm to each other, to do so would be against their nature; and they have mutual love for each other. Lesser friendships are where there is limited mutual benefit through the association.

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The further away we move from our association with family and friends, to work associates, acquaintances and strangers our reasons for association become more limited but these associations still can have significant impact on us depending on whether the relationship is stressful or not.

The sense of the relationship to our neighborhood should be where its safe to be there without coming to harm from individuals, noise and pollution.

We also want to have the sense that we are not poisoning our planet and we want to leave behind a healthy planet for our children and many future generations.

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Obviously we don’t have complete control to organize our community around us so that it allows us to flourish. We never the less need to align ourselves so that it causes minimal harm to our person-hood  This requires deep thought on what we value, practical wisdom and great courage to make a change. In the end, the change that results in less stress and more contentment will be healthy one indeed.

Sense of Self (Me) and We.

If one decide to become part of “we” it doesn’t mean they should lose sense of “me” ; if “me” does gets lost there is a serious problem knowing and developing the sense of self.

In relationships we share patterns of energy with one another which pass through our neural circuits, these patterns of energy carry meaning and information. If this energy and information is not transmitted properly there are serious consequences for knowing the self and being part of the we.

For example, if  the past experience of relationship connections were unreliable, it will prevent us from knowing ourselves and will cause difficulty relating to others as “we.” So as not to risk being hurt again by similar experiences to the past ones, we will shut parts of ourselves off . This may result in us living life of isolation and creating sense of independence which will allow us to survive but it will limit our sense of vitality that we are able to feel as part of we. We may also find that our sense of self to be in an overwhelming upheaval if our experience of past connections with those we depended for comfort  were inconsistent, un-welcomed and intrusive. In this situation we may find ourselves with disabling doubt , anxiety and fear when ever we allow ourselves to become dependent on our loved one for support, caring  and well-being. We may continue to look for a perfect partner but never finding one. We may become highly reactive to ambiguous communication that may fill our daily lives with dread and uncertainty. These experiences prevent us from growing and knowing ourself as a person; they keeps us from being “me.” They also constrain our present experiences and limits us from constructing more helpful future. We have to grow beyond these past memory patterns and move towards integrated state of thriving as both a strong “me” and a vitalizing “we.”

Daniel J. Siegel in his book Pocket Guide to Interpersonal Neurobiology mentions studies of empathy and reports…

…” individuals who are shown a photograph of a gruesome accident can be overwhelmed in their response and shut down their capacity to help if they ask the question: What if that were me? How would I feel? Instead , if they ask the question, ” How does that person feel?” they are more likely to have the internal resources to extend themselves and help other. The gist of these finding is that if we fuse together you and me, “I” will become lost and overwhelmed. We will become confused, fused – with. Joining is not the same as fusion.”

Various mindful awareness practices are direct way to increase the capacity to become a part of a we without becoming lost as me. ( in the future posts I will say more about these practices.)

Resources

Daniel J. Siegel :  Pocket Guide to Interpersonal Neurobiology

Communication in Relationships

Relationships can be viewed as sharing of energy and information flow. How is that some relationships are happy and lasts for ever and others are always in turmoil and has a very short life ?

The relationships in which each individual respect the internal world of the other without judgement; and has a sense of openness and allows for the possibilities of the others internal world; and also allows it to unfold in its own special way, then these individual will cultivated a loving-compassionate connection that will carry them through good and bad times. This is known as integrative communication in the field of neurobiology; it promotes the development of healthy relationships as it honours the unfolding of the other as a unique person in their own right without trying to change them the way you want them to be; and it fosters a special bond of trust, imbued with love.

When we compassionately help a child to cultivate her own passions and interests as she grows we are helping her to understand herself, so she has a sense of herself as a unique person. During this process we are promoting parent-child relationship which has a healthy elements of integrative communication.When we are connecting with others with feeling of compassion we  share our internal emotional world with theirs. This is how we learn from each other, this is how the child learns from her parents. We continue to grow and learn all our lives in a supportive – nurturing relationships, where vulnerability is respected and truth honoured.

When we are in a truly integrative relationship we not only care for the other during times of stress, but we also take joy in others’ joy and pride in their accomplishments.

To some this form of integrative communication come naturally, but for some it maybe necessary to first develop an internal state of presence. If we are filled with doubt and uncertainty, envy or hatred , then it is hard to achieve the integrative communication that is needed for a joyful and lasting relationships.

We can teach ourselves with mindfulness to become aware of our internal states; we can learn to check inside of ourselves to see if we are in internal state of receptivity or reactivity. If we are in reactive state we have no internal space to be compassionate, to see others point of view or be respectful. We are instead ready to fight – flight – or – freeze. These are not conditions for communication, let alone integrative communication. In contrast, when we are in receptive state our muscles relax and our minds become open to others and to our own internal experiences. We are now likely to be able to engage in integrative communication.

It will not come as a surprise if I tell you that integrative communication is linked to longevity, health and even happiness. The relationships that are integrative thrive and promote a creative expression and vitality.

Resources

Pocket Guide to Interpersonal Neurobiology  by  Daniel J. Siegel.

Vulnerability Is A Birthplace Of Joy, Creativity, Belonging And Love.

In my previous posts I talked about how important fellowship is for living a good life. Have you ever wondered how we make connections with others; why some connections are so strong and close, while others are loose, untrustworthy and unreliable. And how those close connections with others gives us richness, purpose and meaning to our lives. While those not so close connections leaves us feeling little uneasy.

It seems our vulnerability plays a crucial role in making these connections. When we normally think of vulnerability it is in a sense of being unprotected. What are we usually protecting ? It is some aspect of ourselves  which we are fearful of revealing because it causes us to feel shame. When we are busy hiding our fear and shame it is hard to be our authentic self. But it is only when we are our authentic self that we are likely to make a close and lasting connection with someone; and maybe resulting in a life long friendship.If we are unable to be authentic it is unlikely our connection will be strong and long-lasting – because there will be a sense of distrust in this connection until what is hidden is revealed. The revealing is hard, being authentic is hard, so we reinforce our fear and shame by telling ourselves we are not worthy of these close connections or true friendship. We continue to hold on to our fear and shame. We continue to be without close friends.

In order to connect and have close friendships we need to be vulnerable. Being vulnerable is to have enough courage to say I am not afraid to be as I am with all my imperfections. It is to say I am worthy of love and belonging as I am. It is to say I am beautiful when I am my authentic self . It is to say I embrace my vulnerability.

While vulnerability is a space where we struggle with shame, fear and issues of worthiness; it can also be the birthplace of joy , creativity, belonging and love. This happens when we fully embrace our vulnerability, we no longer need to give energy to our fears, we are our authentic selves, people around us sense we are not fearful or hiding anything, we are at ease. This frees us to be joyful, to be creative, to belong and to love. We are able to say” I love you” first. We are able to invest in a relationship that may not work out. We can do things without guarantee that they will work out.

It is important to recognize that we cannot selectively numb vulnerability. When we numb vulnerability we are also numbing  gratitude and happiness. We numb vulnerability in variety of ways – by moving from uncertainty to certainty e.g. from religion being faith and mystery to wanting certainty ; by blaming, it allows one to discharge pain and discomfort ; by pretending what we do doesn’t have impact on others people; by trying to be perfect. When we get into these kinds of behaviour patterns we are not only suppressing or numbing the vulnerability but also numbing to be in gratitude and being happy.

Alternative way of being could be to allow ourselves be seen as we are, love with our whole heart without expectation or guarantees, practice gratitude and joy. Accept ourselves as being enough.

Resources:

The Power Of Vulnerability

Seneca On Anger

The single most destructive emotion is anger. The great stoic Seneca said it is a ” brief insanity”. In his essay “On Anger” he says ,” No plague has cost the human race more.We see all around us people being killed, poisoned, and sued; we see cities and nations ruined. And besides destroying cities and nations, anger can destroy us individually. We live in a world, after all, in which there is much to be angry about.” He suggest unless we can learn to control anger, we will be perpetually angry.He says being angry is a waste of precious time.”

Some may suggest that anger has its uses, that it gets them motivated. Seneca rejects this claim. He says its true that sometimes anger is useful but it doesn’t follow that we should welcome anger in our lives. Sometimes people benefit from being in a shipwreck and yet who in their right mind would increase their chances of being shipwrecked. Seneca was not keen on employing any impulses over which the reason did not have authority.

Seneca is not suggesting that a person who sees his father killed and his mother raped that he should not feel angry. He says he should punish the wrongdoers and protect his parents but to the extent possible he should remain calm as he does so. He is more likely to do better job of protecting and punishing if he avoids getting angry.

More generally Seneca suggest when someone wrongs us they should be corrected ” by admonition and also by force , gently and also roughly.” Such corrections should not be made in anger; since we are not punishing them as retribution for what they have done but for their own good, so they do not do it again. He is suggesting the punishment should be ” an expression not of anger but caution.”

Seneca offers advice on how to avoid getting angry. He says do not believe the worst about others and their motivations; just because things did not turn out the way we expected then to does not mean others did us injustice. In some cases the person who we are angry at may have helped us, in which case we are angry because he did not do more to help us. He advise against becoming overly sensitive by coddling ourselves. If we corrupt ourselves with pleasure nothing will seem bearable and the reason things will seem unbearable is not because they are hard but because we are soft. Seneca therefore recommends that we never get too comfortable. If we harden ourselves we are less likely to be disturbed and get angry. He says we should also keep in mind that the things that angers us generally don’t do us any real harm; they are instead mere annoyances. By allowing ourselves to get angry over little things, we take what might have been a barely noticeable disruption of our day and transform it into tranquility shattering state of agitation. Furthermore, as Seneca observes, ‘ our anger invariably lasts longer than the damage done to us.”  What fools we are, therefore, when we allow our tranquility to be disrupted by minor things.Seneca also says we should remind ourselves that our behaviour also anger other people: ‘We are bad men living among bad men, and only one thing can calm us – we must agree to go easy on one another.” He also suggests that when we are angry we should force ourselves to relax our face, soften our voice, and slow our pace of walking. If we do this, our internal state will soon come to resemble our external state, and our anger ,says Seneca, will have dissipated.

If we are unable to control our anger and lash out at someone then we should apologize. This will instantly repair the social damage our outburst may have caused. It will have calming effect on us and it can help us become a better person; by admitting our mistakes, we lessen the chance that we will make the same mistake again in the future.

Everyone occasionally gets angry, but there are some people who are angry pretty much all the time. They are easily provoked to anger with minor or no provocation. Such cases Seneca would tell us are tragic. Not only do they not realize that life is too short to be angry all the time but they torment those around them.  Why not instead, Seneca asks, ” makes yourself a person to be loved by all while you live and missed when you have made your departure?” Why experience anti-joy when you have the power to experience joy?

Resources:

A Guide to the Good Life  by William B. Irvine

Creating and Sustaining Loving Family.

It is hard to change a family once the patterns are established, but that is not to say it can’t be done. It requires willingness, determination and maybe even outside (family therapy). The idea is to examine the old patterns which are not helpful and learn new ones in their place  which are more conducive to fostering harmony in the family. Here are some suggestions for creating and sustaining loving family by Donald and Nancy Tubesing, a Lutheran minister and educator – listed in their book The Caring Question.

1. Reach out in your family: They suggest in caring for your family by giving yourself to them, we ourselves grow in caring , tolerance and understanding. That is exactly what is needed in the long run to create a loving and caring family.

2. Make the family top priority: They found this characteristic to be common in most of the healthy families. It makes sense because making the family a top priority requires deliberate decision to invest time and energy in family relationships.

3. Expand the family memory bank: Every family has storehouse of collective memories….by recalling peak experiences ( which I mentioned in my article on New Years Resolution) , reliving familiar rituals and traditions, and retelling family stories keep the family spirit alive.

4. Deal with family problems: Our commitment to one another in the family provides the context for working out , rather than walking away from , the problems. All families have problems, commitment to family includes that we continue looking for alternative solutions if the current ones are not working.

5. Finding the forgiveness factor: Families need some way to reach out to one another with love and forgiveness. Most of us haven’t had much experience with true forgiveness. We need to learn how to ask for, grant and accept forgiveness……Forgiveness is not forgetting; it is refusing to hold grudges. Forgiveness doesn’t demand that the others change first. Forgiveness is an attitude freely given that accepts hurts and drops the charges…… Seek out and practice a variety of rituals for asking and offering forgiveness in your family.

6. Accentuate the positives: Say I love you ….don’t assume that the others know you care. Tell your family you love them with your words, with your looks, with your touch, with your attitude, with your thoughtfulness – several times a day. Affirm one another by noticing each others unique qualities, tell them they are special.

Resources:

Chop Wood Carry Water

By Rick Fields, with Peggy Taylor, Rex Weyler, and Rick Ingrasci.

Family Life – love it or fight it – it will shape your future.

Family is the most important mode of association in our life. We can love the family or hate it but like it or not it will shape our future. It is hard to ignore or neglect the central role family play in our life. It is the matrix of life where our journey begins and in this matrix we share a bond of common experience  and love that is unique in its strength and depth. It is this beginning which leaves in us a psychological imprint of our family and influences our future relationships. Sometimes without us even knowing that our family experience is influencing us. At times I see patients who know that  the way they are conducting themselves doesn’t make any sense but they still continue repeating the same destructive behavior because they don’t know how to stop it and it makes no sense to them that they are doing it. It is not until we examine the early childhood experiences and the patterns of behavior that got established, that we fully start to understand the present behavior. The family is such a rich source of information about ourselves that some therapist don’t even want to work with the patient directly until they interviewed as many family member as they can to understand the family dynamics because that’s where the best hope lies for helping the patient.

We don’t get to choose our family, like we do our friends. We are born in a family , we have no choice of the parents and no choice of our siblings. If our values and outlook on life differ from those of our family we still have to get along with them until we are of an age we can leave home. Family, therefore can be a demanding training ground for learning how to live with our fellow human beings. Generally speaking if we “graduate” with flying colours from the family life then we will do well in life outside the family. If we had a difficult time of it in the family, experienced little love and support, didn’t feel safe and secure; were unable to resolve the problems with our parents and our sibling then we will take these issues with us when we leave the family and then recreate them in our relationships with others outside the family until we learn our “lesson”. Many of the problems that are reenacted result from suppressed feelings stored from incidents that happened when we  were children. The same unresolved conflicts we had with our parents always seem to ” mysteriously ” reappear to affect our current adult relationship.

Most people’s experience of the family is as a loving support system from which we can live our lives, venture out into the wider world to explore and interact with confidence; and then come back to a loving family at the end of the day. The family also act as a mini-society where we can test and put into practice all the ideas about the sort of life one wants to lead. If we want peace in the world, we can try to create peace in the family; if we want a loving life we can practice building loving relationships within the family. Our family will give us very accurate feed back on our performance which can be valuable information for our own personal growth. It is hard to overestimate the influence our families have on us and some people believe it starts even before birth.

Importance of the Family  may also be one of the important ingredient for creating a positive future for the world according to sociologist Elise Boulding. She writes….The truth is that the home is the training ground where people first learn to live with one another, where they learn to love , to hate, to get angry, to fear , to forgive. Unless they can learn in their homes how to love and work with other people, how to handle hate, anger and fear so that it does not destroy themselves or others, and unless they can experience the full depth of forgiveness in the give and take of family life, they are not going to be able to go into the world and help….

Resources:

Chop Wood Carry Water

By Rick Fields, with Peggy Taylor, Rex Weyler, and Rick Ingrasci.

Relationship with the loved one

In 1858, a British epidemiologist named William Farr set out to study what he called the “conjugal condition” of the people of France. Farr’s was among the first scholarly works to suggest that there is a health advantage to marriage and to identify marital loss as a significant risk factor for poor health. Married people, the data seemed to show, lived longer and lead healthier lives. “Marriage is a healthy estate,” Farr concluded.(1)  It has been a common belief  since then that a married couple tends to be more healthy than those who are not married. However , new data suggests :- “When we divide good marriages from bad ones,” says the marriage historian Stephanie Coontz, who is also the director of research and public education for the Council on Contemporary Families, “we learn that it is the relationship, not the institution (of marriage) , that is key.” (1) The upshot of all this is that being in a good relationship with your loved one confers health benefits. Let us therefore look at the components of healthy relationship with the loved one.

Relationship with the loved one is life itself. The relationship can be a source of intense delight and also source of much unhappiness and frustration that life has to offer. It is indeed a doubled edged sword. Loving another person can be Devine, it awaken the heart and lifts us beyond narrow confines of our self-interest. It can teach us that we are  part of the universe , inter-connected with all things, including all beings, plants, earth, our environment, the ski, space and the very air we breath. Cultivating a  relationship with loved one can be a spiritual journey. It can be also be a disappointing experience,the other edge of the sword , when loving another person bring us pain of attachment, possessiveness, jealousy , unrequited love and all the rest. How is it that some couple have the grace of perfect relationship and others experience nothing but frustration? Is there a secret journey to a perfect relationship ?  Let us go on couples journey to find out !

The couple’s Journey:

The couples on the journey of relationship often find them-selves adopting spiritual values even though they had no spiritual intentions at the beginning.(2) This happens when the couple decide to commit to the relationship, work through the up and downs and try to make the best of the bad situation. They come to realize that it is better to love then to stubbornly try to get what you want, they give up the power struggle because they learn that two egos cannot co-exist. The act of giving up the power struggle creates a space for new kind of relationship , they let in God and spirituality; thus creating entirely new kind of unifying force for their relationship; the force of God and force of Love.

Susan Campbell after interviewing dozens of couples identified five stages in what she calls “The Couple’s Journey” :- Romance, Power Struggle, Stability, Commitment, and Co Creation.

(a) Romance Stage: In this stage the couples have positive feeling towards each other. The feeling is so pleasurable that each want to ensure that the other is happy. At this stage the similarities between them are emphasized and the differences are ignored. The positive of this stage is that the couple begins to develop an emotional bond,  trust and a common vision that can sustain them in bad times. The negative of this stage is the couple can get so attached to apparent security of romance that they deny many of their real feeling in order to keep the peace. Which will lead to problems later.

(b) Power struggle stage : In this stage the differences become more apparent and the couple feels less control over each other and therefore they feel less attraction for each other and are also less in love. They start to feel competitive with one another for control and for what they want. They become increasingly frustrated with one another. At this point the relationship has a chance to continue only if they recognize the destructive dynamic and they feel they can deal with the differences between themselves in a creative way. Otherwise the differences will cause the partners to subtly punish each other for causing the disappointment, or they may try to dominate, overpower, or simply “change” each other. ( always a futile effort). If this escalate  they don’t make it beyond this stage.

(c) Stability Stage: In this stage the couple discover that the power struggle is actually a refection of unresolved conflict with in each of them. They begin to learn that the  relationship is actually a source of learning about oneself. With communication they further become to realize their  differences from new and wider  prospective, which includes both hers and his views. This is the first sign of hope  that this relationship will continue  and foster further spiritual growth and self discovery.

(d) Commitment stage: In this stage they recognize that they  need each other to help expand others prospective and their very being is in some way interdependent on each other. They further realized they are part of much larger interconnected network and anything they do, not only affect each other but everything else they are connected with. So if their actions foster the uniqueness of the partner and others it is likely their own uniqueness will be supported as well. As in any stage the mutual effect of each other will inevitably be experienced by each other – for good or bad; they realize that they can’t  always maintain “perfect couple image” and when the disappointments come up they come to see , though painful it maybe, that it is a lesson on ones own path that needs to be learned for self understanding. Instead of blaming.

(e) Co-Creative stage: In this stage partners come to accept each other as they are, and they are able to extend the ” unconditional love of otherness ” to their partner and to the world beyond the couple themselves. The couple engage in creativity or work aimed at the world , the “other” now becomes anyone or anything outside themselves which make them stretch beyond their narrow view to discover new potentials. Here they have also learned to embrace uncertainty, ambiguity and change in their relationship ; with these same skills it is easier for them to deal with our uncertain, ambiguous and changing world as well.

As I write this it makes me reflect on how I could have creatively  interacted with my partner so as to value her instead of wanting my own way. I realize now that wanting security and control is far less important than genuinely valuing your partner; which leads to growth , discovery and the capacity for love. I wish I had a wise teacher to guide me during my struggles. Then again, as painful as though it maybe, I needed to learn these lessons through experience with the real live partner.

May your journey be blessed with all the benefits.

Resources:-

(1) Tara Parker- Pope

Is Marriage Good for Your Health?

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/04/18/magazine/18marriage-t.html?pagewanted=all

A version of this article appeared in print on April 18, 2010, on page MM46 of the  New York Sunday Magazine.

(2) Susan Campbell- couples therapist- page 40, Chop Wood , Carry Water.

(3) Chop Wood, Carry Water

by Rick Fields, with Peggy Taylor, Rex Weyler, and Rick Ingraschi

Interchange Blog

Interchange Blog

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