Elder Parents Journey: Making Plans

My first job was at a funeral home in the days when ambulances were part of funeral home services before EMS. I know what it was like to respond to heart attacks and strokes and more in the middle of the night.

I know what it was like behind the scenes when the mortician calls for assistance with a body after an autopsy of suicide at 3:00 am. I know what embalming is like, what it entails, the color of it first hand. I’ve stood as an usher outside of viewing rooms and watched over the families as they navigated both the known and foreign waters of final loss, so I know that world of service, as well.

And frankly, I would not change those memories. They are part of who I have become.

So, as I sat with all of those memories in the conference room of another funeral home. Angel, appropriately named, was my guide into another phase of my parents’ passing: the prearrangement they discussed but never got around to. There we were, she and I, delving into what my parents might want as their everlasting statement to a world they will never see.

It’s not about them, of course, but about those left behind. It’s about family and expectations when they could really care less except for whatever their decisions might bring to their children’s children’s children.

Funeral homes are consciously designed, and every aspect of them, from marketing to services provided, are focused on making the important choices easy and comfortable. I have no problem with that. I need that support, that assurance… the affirmation that they have this. It’s one less thing I have to deal with. And so my experience as an employee at the funeral home makes sense. I know that world. My anxious discomfort can joke with Angel, and she gets it.

It surprised me that my parents opted for cremation since their fundamentalist religion espouses that they will need their physical bodies when the Messiah returns. It surprised me less when they specified that they did not want a memorial. In my father’s words, “There’s no one left to attend. Everyone is gone.” At 92 years, that’s mostly true.

Still, having no memorial at all leaves out a lot of relationships: children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren at the least, plus people in the church they attended for decades, and others who might want to pay their respects. Thinking in this way reflects more of their feeling of growing isolation with age than true clarity.

Personally, I think that the decision rests with my sister and me. Funerals and memorials are not for the deceased; they are for the living. They are a part of the healing process of grief. Angel spoke about that. Even though I was way ahead of her on the topic, I let her give me her thoughts uninterrupted. There was something in her words that suggested she was working on some of her own sadness.

Working in a funeral home carries its own special weight. Dealing with the emotional expression of shock, pain, and grief are difficult when confronted on a daily basis. Even when not working with families suffering a loss, every aspect of the workplace and work is about death.

When Angel and I finished our discussion, we rose and shook hands. She walked me to the entrance door, and we each returned to our routines and plans.

It was a beautiful day outside. I paused for several minutes to gaze at a jetliner cruising high overhead against a thinly clouded, bright blue sky. And for some reason, I remembered myself as a boy, lying on the grass at the seventh tee of Leon Valley Golf Course as my father teed off. The warmth of the sun on my face was exquisite.

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Elder Parents: The Journey Begins

Having both parents suddenly go into an assisted living facility is stunning. It has put me in a place that I never expected—that WE never expected—and it is difficult in a way that I am not sure people who have never had the experience can understand. None of my father’s planning applies. Not the will nor the trust they let go of several years ago (I believe from bad legal advice) nor the cabinets of papers he meticulously kept. All of that is, in his words, “of no value.”

They have been forcibly scaled down from a 2000 square foot house to less than a 500 square foot apartment. On one side of that sieve is years of furniture and memorabilia, and food and supplies purchased, never to be eaten or used. On the other, a Spartan space of basic comforts and limited potential. Don’t get me wrong. They enjoy their new home. It is safe, comfortable, and supportive. They talk about going home, but they also are coming to know that it is impossible now.

There was one moment when I was working in my father’s office, an hour or so after beginning to dig through years of papers and files, when I just stopped. My mind suddenly went on “Pause” and I looked around this room. Photographs of family and friends, many of whom are now gone, were posted on every wall. Certificates, accolades, and photographs of prominent people he admired.

Office equipment, relics of a long-gone era, stood dusty and unused. File cabinets of paper files stretching back more than 75 years resting in black metal cabinets waited for relevance. The flotsam and jetsam of waves of time were everywhere I looked. Notes that had meaning only for my father lay abandoned on the desk and worktable. Paper clips, rubber bands, pens, random screws, keys to unknown locks… a deputy badge from the time he helped to find a murderer and a pocket watch inscribed “The Greatest Dad.”

But what struck me most was that the room, as the house as a whole, was frozen in time. At one point, my father stood up and walked out of that room. He did not know it, but he would never return. It was a haunting and indescribable feeling: the room frozen in time and waiting for a return that would never happen.

The stroke had advanced slowly. First, it took his balance so that he slumped to the floor at the HEB then asked for help to get to his truck, where he fell again. He thought he was just tired. He didn’t really remember falling against the garage wall while taking the groceries inside, but the helpful neighbor noted it. The stroke made itself known when he fell after going to the bathroom that night, and his words slurred as he asked my mother for help. But her dementia told him that he should go to sleep; he would feel better in the morning.

You see, he was her caretaker. It never occurred to him that the roles might suddenly be reversed.

Someone called 911. My sister and I are not really certain who that was. Dad spent a week in the hospital, and several weeks in skilled nursing rehabilitation, progressing remarkably well. Then, there came the move to assisted living where reality seems to be readjusting over time. The dream to go home, to sit once again at his desk and pore over bank accounts and taxes, and for her to fall asleep in her favorite chair while watching television, is gone.

So, I take his place in this office chair surrounded by ghosts. I think about all of the material goods that have accumulated over the decades: gifts, photographs, memorabilia from times past. And I remember his words as I ask about various items that he might want us to bring: “it is of no value.” I see my mother gesturing that it should be thrown away. There is nothing in this home that they want to take into their new life. Nothing at all.

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Transition: Reset

I lean against the heavy door of 2018 and knock as loudly as I am able. It does not budge. I try the doorknob. It is still locked as before. I turn, put my back against it, and slide down to sit on the cold step. Nothing to do but wait.

This evening the dead weight of the sandbags I gathered and attached to my soul each month of 2017 is challenging to carry. Although I have accomplished a great deal today, removing many things from my end-of-the-year to-do list, I feel listless and unsettled. In just a few days, the new year will begin. I “should” be reviewing the past year and doing my planning rituals for 2018, but I do not have the urge to do so. I “could” be writing—there is that novel that has been waiting patiently for me to continue—but I do not feel inspired.

I do not feel inspired.

It is the season; I know that. This is the time of going inside, of slowing down, of allowing rest and rejuvenation. Less than a fortnight after the longest night of the year, I feel as though life remains on “pause,” waiting for the turn, waiting for the end of the hibernation that I have, so far, denied myself.

I remember the tea lights that I stored in a drawer some time ago, and the desire to honor the pause is set.

Recipe: Two cups each of baking soda and epsom salts, sprinkled generously in a tub of flowing hot water. Swirl until soda and salts are dissolved. Option: Add 5-10 drops of lavender or other essential oil of preference.

Candlelight illuminates the steam as it wafts across the surface of the water within the greater darkness. The bath is probably 99 degrees (as I fondly recall this year’s visit to Pagosa Springs); the air of the room held firmly at 69 by the central heater. That 30 degrees makes a great deal of difference.

Unlike the springs, I cannot fully submerge. The skin softens and thrills as it dips and rises from the water, alternating slowly between liquid heat and airy chill. I take long pauses in between to rest into the space of relaxation, surrendering the weight of the sandbags one by one to the water.

In one such pause, memories of the year come unbidden. Much was accomplished; some remains undone. Still, I feel blessed. The balance of the successes weighed against the challenges fares well overall. It was no simple thing, the launching of three major programs. I am grateful to those who journeyed with me and showed the way through them all.

“What is the smallest, most subtle move you can make
to adjust for greater comfort?”

Returning to the present, I feel the temperature of the water moderating, but a subtle shift in position to dip my shoulder deeper, raising the surface to my chin, assures me that it remains comfortably hot. My knee appreciates the dip, as well.

The body remembers. Every “punch in the gut,” each “heartbreak” and “stab in the back;” all the kisses, hugs, and explosions of joy. They are stored in the bio-energetic field, aligned with limb and organ. The body remembers them all so that it can learn to move toward Love and away from Fear.

Watery heat nudges into the body’s core, loosening the bonds. Bath salts and baking soda draw away the energetic fragments—pieces of emotions splintered by tripwires and triggers or simple exhaustion. They slip into the water like stale sludge held too tightly for too long, creating a spreading opening for creativity and hope.

It is peaceful in the candlelit darkness, held by water and the scent of lavender. This is different from waiting. It is a timeless pause between past and future. Nothing to do; nowhere else to be.

After a while, the body curls, pulls the plug, and stands without my intellectual decision or command. As the water slips down the drain, the shower is turned on—cool and forceful, sloughing off the remains, becoming clear and ready. A new day, a new year, is just around the corner.


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Are You Not Feeling Heard?

Do you feel misunderstood in your relationships?
Does it seem that your partner doesn’t quite hear you?

You already know this, but it is worth looking at the issue again in terms of creating and sustaining relationships. Clear communication is not only important; it is crucial. A problem can enter, however, when you think that you are communicating, but you are not.

In this discussion, I want to be clear that I am not speaking exclusively about long-term committed relationships. Instead, I am referring to a larger context of relationships that includes a broad range, such as: companions, friendships, siblings, families, work-oriented relations, and many more. The elements that help create and sustain relationships of all kinds are essentially the same.

With that in mind, let’s take a dive into some observations about communication that you might want to remember if you find yourself in a difficult spot.

Words Are Not Communication

It is not uncommon to confuse speaking with communicating. You communicate not only with words, but with a spectrum of tone, gesture, posture, touch, and even an energetic meta-communication. All of these channels need to be clear and focused in order to communicate effectively and without confusion.

A person told me once that she felt that I was often dismissive of what she said. I did not think I was, in fact I held her thoughts and opinions in high regard! When I asked about that, she said that whenever she spoke—and sometimes others, as well—I shrugged my shoulder when she finished speaking. I was completely surprised and unaware that I did that habitually in conversations.

As I tracked that gesture, it usually happened when I stopped to think about what the person had to say. I was not dismissing what was said, but signaling (apparently confusingly) that I was going internal for a moment.

Don Miguel Ruiz in his book The Four Agreements points out that it is important to “be impeccable with your word.” It is important to be as clear as you can to communicate what you mean to express. Also, “taking things personally” generally interferes with clear and open dialog, and “making assumptions” will sidetrack the conversation into directions that are likely not true or helpful.

That being said, he also suggests that while you are responsible for what you say, you are not responsible for what the other person hears—how they interpret what you are saying. People will hear you through their own filtering system, just as you will interpret what others say the same way. That is why it is very important to keep talking until each person is as sure as they can be that they have been heard correctly.

Some highly sensitive people express to me that they “know” when someone is saying one thing, but mean another. In other words, they believe that the person is lying, even though all of the other indicators seem in alignment. This read of the energetic meta-communication link is very tricky. If you find that you feel this way, it is time to engage the Third Agreement, and not make an assumption about what the other is meaning. Ask for clarification instead. It could be that your partner is not “lying,” but means something different that what they seem to be saying.

You have to be careful with words. They are slippery sometimes. And yet, communication without them is not really possible. All in all, do your best to be clear and open to feedback from the listener.

Communication Is Two-Way

Remember that there are two or more people in any conversation. At least you need someone speaking and someone listening. An essential component in that equation is the listener. At any point in which the person who is supposed to be listening breaks away, the communication is effectively at an end. This most often happens when you, as the listener, begin to formulate your response to what is being said, rather than attending fully to the speaker.

When this happens, you may be reacting to something that you heard, or think you heard. If you feel yourself getting emotional, that’s often a signal that you have taken what they said personally. Remember, though, that you might have heard something inaccurately and be sure not to give into making assumptions.

In the same way, you, as speaker, need to be as clear and focused as you can on what you are wanting to communicate. You may sometimes find yourself speaking to what you think your partner will say in response instead. This is another slippery form of “making assumptions.” Do your best not to get ahead of the conversation. Let your partner have their turn.

Let there be gaps in the dialogue—opportunities for you and your partner to reflect on what has been said, your reaction to what you have heard, and what you want to say in order to be as clear as possible.

Disagreements

Partners in strong, authentic relationships do not always agree. That you and your partner do not agree is not a sign of problems in the relationship at all. In fact, it is likely a sign that the relationship is stronger than it might seem. When each person feels safe in the relationship, disagreements are much easier to manage and navigate.

When you disagree, it is important that each person has felt heard. If either you or your partner do not feel that you have been heard, then the discussion likely needs to continue, perhaps after a break. If you find yourselves “butting heads” instead of communicating, it is a very good idea to take a break. You are very likely lost in a web of assumptions.

It is perfectly OK to say something like, “I don’t feel like you are hearing me.” Such a statement is not necessarily an accusation; it may be an expression of how the person actually feels. It may simply be that what is being heard is not what is intended to be expressed. Time for a few clarifying questions, like: “This is what I think you said. Is that accurate?”

As long as each of you has expressed your opinion or belief as clearly as you can, and you believe that each of you has been heard, you can certainly agree to disagree. In fact, many ongoing disagreements can lead to very interesting and enlightening discussions in the future.

Long Silences

Let’s be clear. It’s completely OK to go for long periods of time with little or no talking between partners. In fact, there is an argument to be made that silence is a key requirement in healthy, authentic relationships.

An important element in managing long silences is how the relationship structures around them have been laid. Communication and dialog both before and after are generally helpful. The “emptiness” that is sometimes felt during lengthy periods of silence can easily be filled with assumptions about why one partner has become quiet or stopped interacting.

Another element, again, is how safe each partner feels in the relationship. When there is trust and clarity, lengthy periods of silence—even hours or days—do not seem as threatening, and there is little need for making assumptions.

  *   *   *

Again, it is very likely that none of this is new to you. However, I often find that when I am working with couples or partners having trouble in the relationship, the difficulty involves one or both forgetting these few fairly simple aspects of communicating effectively. If this is you, I invite you to take a moment and reflect on how you might improve your communication.

Remember that you can apply these ideas to any relationship, including life companions, friendships, relatives, and business. Communication is a key and core issue in creating and nurturing relationships of all kinds.

Learn more about this topic and relationships in general in my book, Spirit Paths: The Quest For Authenticity. I devote an entire chapter in it to the issue of Relationships, Tribe, and Community.


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Change The Narrative — With Gratitude

Winebelly_071317_200Let’s change the narrative, the stories that we tell about life, the universe, and everything. Let’s work together to create a new narrative, one of compassion, respect, caring, abundance. Of course, the place to begin is within.

You have likely heard many times that change begins with you—that you can only change yourself, not anything “out there.” However, that is not the whole of the story. When you dive into the depths of you—when you fearlessly let go of the story you tell yourself about who you are, and you fiercely examine what part of your inner story resonates with what you want to change “out there” and work to address that—you do have a profound opportunity to make a difference in the world.

Why? How? Because we are all connected in this amazingly creative multi-dimensional space. Not only do you receive waves of energies coming from your energetic environment, you also send energetic waves, as well. You radiate your energy, or more specifically, you radiate your feeling state. Thus, as you shift your own deep feeling, you affect the field (or Spirit) surrounding you.

How do you do that??

It takes breaking old patterns that support how you currently view the world. Nothing else will do. If you find that you feel depressed or angry after spending time on social media, cut that time to a minimum, or eliminate it altogether. Let go of attachment to people in your life that feed feelings of hopelessness or anger or whatever the feeling it is that you do not want to experience… much less put into the field. Set boundaries on what enters your energetic space.

Now, this is not to put your head in the sand and ignore that there is suffering in the world. It is rather to deeply shift your feeling state to be in alignment with what you want to receive. From that place of balance, you will find more useful and appropriate ways to act, if you need or want to. Not react, but act. That is an important difference.

Gratitude

One of the best places to begin—one of the most powerful and accessible ways that you can begin to make that change—is through being in gratitude. Notice that I am not saying “be grateful.” I am suggesting that being “in gratitude,” fully immersed in that feeling state, can create a profound shift in the core of how you are in the world and give you leverage for more insights and change.

You can probably identify 5, 10, 20 or more things to be grateful for in your surroundings at any given moment, if you look for them. Take some time, as often as you can, to pause and look around. What do you see, hear, smell, feel, touch that you can find gratitude for its presence in your life, or in that moment?

Pick one and let yourself dive deeply into the feeling of being in gratitude for that one thing. What is that feeling of gratitude like in your body? Allow your awareness to sink into the feeling that your body responds with as you experience what it feels like to be in gratitude for just that one thing.

Choose another and do the same thing. Let the resonance of Gratitude find a home in your body, as well as your feeling, because it is your body that is the antenna—it is your body that sends out that electro-magnetic wave into the field. Your body will learn with practice how to feel more and more that sensation, and it will become easier to find.

Change the Narrative… With Gratitude

From the very first time that you do this simple exercise, you will find the story that you are telling yourself about You and your life shift. At the very least, you will have broken the habitual thoughts and actions based on the old patterns that keep you stuck, if only for a few moments. As you change your inner story through practice, you change the narrative of how you are with others… and they will shift, as well.


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On Being Gentle

gerry16_300_sqI have been thinking a lot lately about what kind of attitude I need to cultivate in order to best weather the current emotional swings I sometimes feel in these turbulent times. The word “gentle” kept coming up, and I realized that I did not really understand what that means.

So I looked it up.

According to the New Oxford American Dictionary, it means “mild in temperament or behavior; kind or tender.” It has a quality of being “moderate in action, effect, or degree; not harsh or severe.” While technically correct, I’m sure, the definition was unfulfilling. The definition did not really seem applicable on face value. Are there not occasions when gentleness might be inappropriate to the needs of the time?

As I continued researching sociological articles and writings of more philosophical sources, one observation stuck out more than others. Being Gentle is not the same as being Weak.

Gentleness As A Quality of Strength

Unfortunately, too many people equate gentle with weak. I had to admit that I, too, was one of them until I began the search to understand what being gentle actually means (or can mean), particularly as applied to these times.

While I agree that being gentle is more aligned with my values than is being either weak or harsh, I wonder: What is the balance between being gentle and speaking truth to power?

Gentleness is a strong hand
with a soft touch.

According to author Gary Thomas, “Gentleness is a strong hand with a soft touch. It is a tender, compassionate approach toward others’ weaknesses and limitations. A gentle person still speaks truth, sometimes even painful truth, but in doing so guards his tone so the truth can be well received.”

The strength to which Thomas spoke, according to his examples, was physical strength. This reflects the possible gentleness of people in authority with power over another. As we know from many stories, confrontations between police and citizens do not always end in violence. Those in authority do not always abuse their power. I would suggest that by not doing so, they are expressing a flavor of gentleness.

We need a LOT more of that.

However, the quality of gentleness that comes from inner strength is what most resonates with me as a person without the power of authority or physical strength. What does that flavor of gentleness look like?​

The Gentleness of Inner Strength

I thought immediately about Rosa Parks in her protest against the treatment of people of color. She chose (either by design or circumstance) to make her statement on a bus in 1955 Montgomery, Alabama, when she refused to give up her seat to a white person when the white section was full.

Of the incident, in which she and three other people were told to stand up before being told to move to the back and Parks did not stand, Parks said,

“When he saw me still sitting, he asked if I was going to stand up, and I said, ‘No, I’m not.’ And he said, ‘Well, if you don’t stand up, I’m going to have to call the police and have you arrested.’ I said, ‘You may do that.'”

In my mind’s eye, I can see her shift to the window seat, waiting to be arrested. A gentle woman speaking truth to power. Parks did not refuse to move because she was physically tired; that is a myth. She did not move because she was “tired of giving in.”

“I only knew that, as I was being arrested,
that it was the very last time
that I would ever ride in humiliation of this kind…”

~ Rosa Parks, “My Story”

That Rosa Parks simply and gently did not comply is, for me, a clear example of the gentleness of inner strength.

Rosa was not the first who had used gentleness in response to power. Others had taken similar steps since 1942. While it is true that her case received considerable attention when the NAACP took it up as the best candidate for legal action, what catches people’s attention is the idea of a woman of color resisting only by saying, “No.”

Many people in the history of the racial and social struggles of the 1940s through the 1970s have stood up to power with gentleness. It is the core idea of the notable non-violent resistance movements of Mahatma Gandhi (1869-1948), Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968), and many more.

Practicing Being Gentle

As I sat with all of this, I reflected on what it would mean for me personally. I don’t have to stand up to physical authority. No one is telling me to move to the back of the bus, or which water fountain I can drink from, or which bathroom I can use. Not me personally. I would like to think that if any of these events did happen, I would have the courage to say, “No,” but truly, I do not know. I have not been so tested.

And yet, there is an inner resolve to practice more gentleness in my dealings with others. The fear that is sometimes trying to infiltrate my thoughts and spirit does not have to be expressed in anger or outrage.

This kind of gentleness reminds me in many ways of aikido, the Japanese martial art, in which the energy of the attacker is not resisted, but is blended with, turned, and redirected to restore balance in the situation. The founder, Morihei Ueshiba, referred to it as “The Art of Peace.” His goal was to create an art that practitioners could use to defend themselves while also protecting their attacker from injury.

Gentleness derives from a calm mind
focused on restoring balance.

If I put my mind to it, I am certain that I can apply the examples of gentleness of Rosa Parks and so many others to my own daily life. And, as with practicing aikido, when or if the time comes to speak truth to power myself, I just may be ready.

Still, even if it never comes to that, the notion of being gentle with myself and others every day is in alignment with who I want to be in this world.


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Three Keys To Successful Long-Term Relationships

You may already know that I have been in a long-term relationship for … well … a very long time. I have seen many other relationships that have developed during that time fall apart. As a counselor, teacher, and minister, I am always curious about what leads to break-ups, but even more, I am interested in what fosters long-lasting relationships.

I want to be clear that I am not speaking exclusively about marital relationships. Instead, I am referring to a larger context of relationships that includes a broad range, such as: committed companions, friendships, siblings, families, work-oriented relations, and many more.

Let’s take a look at three keys to successful long-term relationships, but first there is one concept that I would like to introduce. Your relationship template.

Your Relationship Template

Fundamentally, you learn what relationships are and how they work primarily from your parents. As you grow up, you watch what they do and how they interact together. From these observations, you draw conclusions about relationships in general, and these conclusions form a matrix of behaviors and beliefs that eventually becomes your relationship template. That is, the template that you carry with you into your own relationships as “how relationships ARE.”

Everyone has one. Even if you had only one parent—or no engaged parents—you have the idea of how relationships ARE that you learned as a child. (Notice that I did not say “ought to be.” Your template is reality for you, not conjecture.) One fundamental problem that I see over and over again is that relationships get challenged because the templates of the people involved clash. They simply, fundamentally, and subconsciously disagree about what relationships are and how they work.

Many times, people have trouble in relationships simply because their relationship template does not match that of their partner. Because these templates form key assumptions about how relationships ARE, they are rarely examined to see if they are actually true. And therein lies the problem. Until the partners realize that they are not the ones clashing, that it is their assumptions about relationships doing so, they generally keep arguing and blaming until the relationship is crushed.

So, step one in maintaining long-term relationships is to examine and understand the assumptions you are making about relationships based on your own template. If both partners do this, they have a chance to create a new, hybrid template that might serve them much better.

Now, let’s move on to three keys of maintaining relationships.

You Have To Be Flexible

The relationship has to be flexible enough to accommodate change. Everyone changes over time. Everyone. So the relationship has to be able to expand and contract to handle that change.

You will grow apart, sometimes greatly, and you will come back together. It’s quite like breathing. The relationship has to have room to breathe. If it doesn’t—if one partner tries to hold fast to “how it is supposed to be”—then it will be stifled. If it can’t breathe, then it will die.

People, especially those who are on a spiritual path, are always evolving. Frankly, the pace of growth can be uneven and partners can become separated. Over time, it may be that they become so greatly separated, either by the pace of change or its direction, that it can become difficult or impossible to come back together.

Interests may diverge so far that there is no center of gravity to pull the boundary of the relationship back, to inhale. If the relationship cannot inhale as well as exhale, it can be considered on life support. Then it is time to honestly reflect and reevaluate the core of the relationship and whether it can continue.

Sometimes such flexibility can be scary, but it is worth it over time. Healthy and strong relationships are flexible enough to survive and thrive well into the future.

You Have To Be Willing To Let Go

This doesn’t mean that when times get tough you have to let go, to bail when things go wrong. It means that you have to be willing to let go. Just as if you hold too strongly to “how things should be,” the need to hold on to your partner may eventually strangle the relationship.

From a shamanic perspective, since everything is alive, so is the Relationship itself! What happens when you try to hold too tightly to an animal, perhaps even your pet? Its instinct is to fight, to escape. Only when you do not hold too tightly or too demandingly, can you hope to continue the relationship.

If you find yourself getting “clingy,” it’s time to take a step back and reevaluate whether you might be creating the problems you are wanting to avoid. If you are feeling desperate to hold onto your partner, odds are very good that you are strangling the relationship.

However, if you can remind yourself that it is OK to let go if things are not working right then—if you can see that letting go if needed might eventually lead to your own and your partner’s happiness—you may find that your relationship grows stronger, more intimate, and more rewarding.

You Have To Like Each Other

Love is not the key factor in maintaining long-term relationships. I know many people who genuinely love each other, but simply cannot get along. When I ask clients who are seeking assistance with what appears to be a failing relationship whether they like their partner, sometimes it takes a while for them to say. And, actually, quite often the answer is “Not really.”

I’m not referring here to the reality that you might “love the person but just don’t like them right now.” That happens all of the time. One partner might do something that annoys the other, so that they don’t “like” each other in the moment. Eventually, things get settled out and they are good again.

The quality of like I’m referring to is more that of best friends. If you are not best friends with your partner, essentially you don’t really like each other—perhaps not enough to keep the relationship together long term. If you don’t basically and fundamentally like each other, it is difficult to really trust each other either.

Being good, close, best friends is intrinsically connected to trust, and trust is the bedrock of successful long-term relationships. Once trust is lost, the relationship is functionally dead. If trust cannot be regained—and I would argue that the best, if not only, way to regain trust is if you like each other enough to be willing and able to truly forgive because of that—the relationship is in trouble.


These three keys do not all have to be in place all of the time for the relationship to be successful. Rather, they offer excellent ways to examine and evaluate what might be going well or wrong in your relationships with others.

Again, the examples I use here may seem to refer to one-to-one committed partnerships because that is the easiest way to talk about them. However, if you think about all of the relationships you have in other arenas more broadly and apply the keys to them as well, you may find that they can help you decide which relationships are likely to succeed over time, and perhaps those you might want to let go.


You can learn more about this topic and relationships in general in my book, Spirit Paths: The Quest For Authenticity. I devote an entire chapter in it to the issue of Relationships, Tribe, and Community.

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