Adieu For Now

By Gerti Schoen, MA, LP

After two years of blogging  I have decided to take a break from it for now. I’d like to thank all readers for their thoughts and comments and hope to be back some time in the future when I have something new and exciting to say.

Have a wonderful holiday season!

 



The Upside Of Loss

By Gerti Schoen, MA, LP

sadness

Most of us resist loss at all cost. We hold on to relationships that may have run its course. We hold on to our ego drives and get rigid about our little neuroses, even when there is no real purpose other than defending ourselves. We resist accepting that certain behaviors are maladaptive just because we don’t want to admit that we are wrong.

Many addictions are nothing but a cover up to face losses that are too painful to bear.

But there is an upside to loss that we don’t take into account when we so desperately try to fend it off: As soon as we can truly let go, there is freedom to be gained. And isn’t freedom one of the most prized rewards we are seeking?

The trouble with craving freedom is that we usually don’t want it to involve pain. We’d like to be able to be free of our bad habits and our defensiveness just like that. But it’s hard to let go of that. It always involves pain or even humiliation. Nobody chooses to be humiliated.

But after we mourn those ego losses, and if we can shrug them off and see them as a necessary part of maturation, we can truly be free. We can shed the shackles of our fears and anxieties and just be.

The less involved your ego is in a situation, the more freedom we have to do what we want. By experiencing a loss, we are shown that our attachment to material objects or to certain personal relationships have prevented us from being free. Our confusion and fear is usually nothing but our ego’s relentless drive to maintain the game it is playing, and to resist loss.

Only when we learn to let go can we truly be free.

 

Sheldon Wood via Compfight



Fed Up With Social Media?

By Gerti Schoen, MA, LP

internet down :( 

You are not alone. Users of sites like Facebook, Twitter and Friendster are leaving their digital social fixes behind in throes and are trying to make an effort to return to the real world. Why?

Many people are simply done with the daily pressure to put out digitally. They feel overwhelmed by the constant stream of good news, sent out by well meaning friends and relatives, and can’t help but feel bad about not having all that many exuberant things to say every day.

The disdain has led to what researchers at the University of Washington call “pushback”. The authors of the paper, titled “Pushback: The Growth of Expressions of Resistance to Constant Online Connectivity,” have interviewed many digital users who crave to unplug and reconnect to others on a different level.

The most prevalent cause for the pushback is emotional dissatisfaction, “often accompanied by disappointment, a result of having had high expectations regarding the technology that were not satisfied”, the researchers cite. Many people experience online connections initially as invigorating, but realize that they can’t deliver in terms of reliability and depth of connection. Many end up feeling emotionally deprived or empty.

“Everyone now wants to know how to remove themselves from social networks” wrote one disillusioned digital junkie, Sean Dockray, back in 2010. “It has become absolutely clear that our relationships to others are mere points in the aggregation of marketing data. Political campaigns, the sale of commodities, the promotion of entertainment – this is the outcome of our expression of likes and affinities.”

While this is a rather cynical view of a wide variety of possibilities in online connectivity, many people crave more immediate forms of communication again. The trick, of course, is to find the right balance between making use of the advantages of digital connectivity, while not neglecting real world relationships.

Those who navigate the digital maze successfully take advantage of the immediacy and ability to reach a larger circle of connections, while being aware that online tools won’t replace personal contact.

“Longing for connection to people is what makes it hard for users to push back on technology, what brings them back. But technology seems to overpromise and underdeliver in this respect,” the researchers summed up. “If technology both helps us to connect, and at the same time drives us apart, we need to learn to manage technology, and know when to push back.”

 

Kirk Lau via Compfight



Getting Rid Of Ego

By Gerti Schoen, MA, LP

estupid egoCreative Commons License

Many spiritual traditions advocate to become selfless. We are not supposed to think selfishly, be reckless, ungrateful but instead love thy neighbor like yourself.

So many of us engage in self defeating behaviors. We put our own interests last. We don’t stand up for ourselves when someone wrongs us. Sometimes we allow others to be selfish, reckless and ungrateful with us.

The great misunderstanding when trying to get rid of ego is that this doesn’t mean we have to give up all of our needs and wants. We absolutely do have the right to sustain our own livelihood and our own interests.

Many of us feel disdain towards people with grand egos. Those who always need to stand in the limelight and grab as much attention and praise as possible. This certainly means that ego is at work. It’s the grand ego that gets in the way of being considerate of others.

But there is also a small ego that gets in the way. The one that keeps whispering that we’re not good enough, that we are worthless or unlovable. That too, is ego. It’s the kind of ego that has trouble distinguishing right from wrong because it thinks it has to lose out to be of worth.

Getting rid of ego does not mean to put yourself last. It is the ability to separate right from wrong, to know what is needed at any given situation for yourself and those who are involved. Sometimes other people have to hear the word no, if it means that it is for the greater good.

A small ego is just as much an obstacle to live a purposeful life as a grand ego.

 

!unite via Compfight



The Deeper Meaning Of Compassion

By Gerti Schoen, MA, LP

helping_hand_240Compassion is a word that can feel a bit overused these days. Everyone seems to remind us to be compassionate with ourselves and others. But there is immense worth to the concept and the deeper meaning behind it.

I’ve been reading a classic in the great variety of Buddhist books, Chogyam Trungpa’s “Spiritual Materialism”. Trungpa was one of the first Tibetan lamas to bring the dharma to the West, and his insights are of a timeless validity.

“Compassion is not feeling sorry for someone”, he writes. “It is basic warmth.” This warmth is to be extended to oneself first with the help of meditation practice. “Meditation is a delightful and spontaneous thing to do. It is the continual act of making friends with yourself.”

When the first task is achieved, then it is possible to extend this friendship to the world. “Trust and compassion for oneself bring inspiration to dance with life, to communicate with the energies of the world.”

Trungpa reminds us that compassion is generous, altruistic, joyful and authentic. He calls it “the ultimate attitude of wealth – the attitude that one has been born rich rather than one must become rich.”

Internalizing this message means that we can finally be confident: be free of the nagging voices that we aren’t good enough, that we must become someone else – someone more successful, attractive, intelligent and so on.

But his most inspiring message I feel speaks to how we are in the world:

“Compassion automatically invites you to relate with people, because you do no longer regard people as a drain on your energy. They recharge your energy, because in the process of relating with them you acknowledge your wealth, your richness. So, if you have a difficult task to perform, such as people or life situations, you do not feel you are running out of resources. Each time you are faced with a difficult task, it presents itself as a delightful opportunity to demonstrate your richness, your wealth. There is no feeling of poverty at all in this approach to life.”

This is quite the radical thought. We have been programmed to pursue monetary wealth and accumulating possessions so thoroughly that we tend to forget about what we already have. “You do not need to secure your ground”, Trungpa said. We don’t have to hold on so tightly to what we think we need from life. We can stop making unreasonable demands and just be open whatever comes at us.

Not an easy task to achieve – but certainly a worthwhile one.

 

Hartwig HKD via Compfight



Religion and Romance

By Gerti Schoen, MA, LP

Amor I love you 

Love and interconnectedness are two of the topics Alain de Botton is exploring in his book “Religion for Atheists”. In it, he discusses that atheists too can make use of the rituals and the struggle with the human condition, a role that is often assigned to religious organizations.

In this context, he explores the role of romance in modern day life:

“In the lonely canyons of the modern city, there is no more honored emotion than love. However, thus is not the love of which religions speak, not the expansive, universal brotherhood of mankind; it is a more jealous, restricted and ultimately meaner variety. It is a romantic love which sends us on a maniacal quest for a single person with whom we hope to achieve a life-long and complete communion, one person in particular who will spare us any need for people in general.”

De Botton appeals to his readers to let go of this single minded view of what love may be, and to open up our hearts and attention to try and talk simply to a stranger. He reminds us of the cultures of the Middle East or South America, where hospitality is extended to everyone, including the unknown visitor.

When thinking about the term romance, I was reminded of the German romantics, a movement of poets, philosophers and artists in the 18th and 19th century. It spread to the United States in the 18hundreds and was represented by writers like Thoreau, Hawthorne and Emerson.

Romanticism was not about romantic love between two people, but about a healing of the differences and the separation between humans. It was a deeply spiritual movement full of symbolism, mysticism and a yearning for oneness with nature and all creation.

I believe that we must return to a wider and more inclusive definition of what romanticism means. We cannot insist on our narrow definition of romance, because one partner can never fulfill all our needs. It is about the greater whole where love finds its ultimate home.

As Emerson wrote:

“We live in succession, in division, in parts, in particles. Meantime within man is the soul of the whole; the wise silence; the universal beauty, to which every part and particle is equally related, the eternal One.”

 

Miriam C de Souza via Compfight



The Foundation Of A Good Relationship

By Gerti Schoen, MA, LP

The Real Thing 

There are many theories about what makes a good and lasting relationship. In our present age, where romance seems to dominate the way we look at a long term partnership, many criteria have been called absolutely necessary for the survival of romance.

Some people believe that our partners have to continue to inspire us when things get boring and we crave novelty and excitement.

Others talk about the absence of negativity, and how important the containment of aggression is for a lasting bond.

I have been reading articles by the counseling pioneer Sue Johnson. Her main criteria for a functioning relationship is quite simple: safety and stability. “Adult love is a bond, an emotional tie with an irreplaceable other who provides a secure base from which to confront the world and a safe haven – a source of comfort, care and protection”, she writes.

According to her, a husband or wife is not responsible to provide ongoing excitement and exhilaration. This is why we have friends and an independent mind that makes us curious about the world.

Our closest relationship is more about attachment bonds. If we grew up in a house where the bond between parent and child was constantly threatened – by rejection, abandonment or addictions for example – then we will even more search for a secure person to connect with who can provide stability and safety.

This safety is being threatened when a couple engages in a pattern of critical attack by one partner and non-responsive withdrawal by the other. This kind of distance and rupture of the attachment bond are detrimental to a relationship, just as much and maybe even more than  explosive fights that remain unresolved.

That means that the most important element in a longterm relationship is to stay connected to the other, even when one person or even both people are angry. What makes it hard is the implication that the bond is broken because it implies that one person, or both are turning away from the relationship.

“Sustaining emotional engagement, rather than other factors, such as the ability to resolve arguments, predicts long-term marital satisfaction”, concludes Johnson.

If you can make it clear that the relationship is not in danger, even when there are arguments and disagreements, then your partnership will most likely survive for a long time.

 

gaspi *yg via CompfightCreative Commons License



Meditation and Running

By Gerti Schoen, MA, LP

Go

My husband has been training for the marathon, and I gladly sent him off into the woods, sitting down in front of my computer instead. After three months of watching, my body started to tell me, “you’ve got to move”.

I never liked running. It seemed monotonous, and devoid of excitement. I rather played volleyball or badminton instead. Running, I used to think, is boring.

That was twenty years ago. Now my body isn’t so fast anymore. I prefer yoga to bouncing around on a tennis court. And while Yoga can be pretty exhausting, it usually takes place indoors. More and more, I crave to move outdoors, in nature.

So I am trying to motivate myself to run. The good news is, you start very slowly. You’re not supposed to go and wear yourself out. You’re supposed to begin very gently. Walking is one walk to tackle it.

One writer who mastered not just the art of running, but also that of meditating, is Buddhist teacher Sakyong Mipham. In his book Running with the Mind of Meditation, one of the things he says is to be gentle with yourself, especially when you first start.

Gentleness keeps the mind from being too critical with yourself.  When your inner critic wants to scold you for not being fast enough, not running far enough, then the gentle voice will make it easier to persist by letting you do what feels right. “Gentleness allows us to keep our eyes on the prize without getting infatuated and without losing heart”, writes Mipham.

He discusses our usual habit of pushing ourselves aggressively rather than gently. “I have to be more aggressive” me might try and push ourselves. But Mipham contradicts: “In order to be determined you need not to be aggressive. Those aggressive mental states are taxing. We are more emotional, so were are less able to observe reality accurately. … Aggression is a short term solution for a long term problem. Gentleness is persistent. Gentleness is therefore a sign of strength, while aggression is often a sign of weakness. Aggression is often a last resort. Where do you go from there? If you become more aggressive, you seem insane, whereas if you have gentleness, you are like a great ocean holding a lot of power.”

What a wonderful way to look at gentleness – that it is an asset rather than a sign of weakness, which it is often interpreted as in our society.

 

Alessandro Pautasso via Compfight



When Marriage Does Work

By Gerti Schoen, MA, LP

It's all about loveCreative Commons License

Since the last post focused on a more somber aspect of marriage, I want to balance it out today and shine a light on the good times between two people.

I usually don’t like hit lists, for example “5 Ways to Have Better Sex” and the likes. It’s very tempting to read them, but because of its bullet point nature it often feels like nothing really sinks in.

Today though I came across a pretty long list of “25 Secrets to a Lasting Marriage”. One of the things I like about it is that it’s put together by people who have lived through long years of being in a relationship, and have experienced the joys and challenges first hand.

For example, this is from Charlene, married for 18 years: “Divorce is not an option –- not to be thought about, said aloud, considered as an answer to a problem. Almost all problems are short-term. Divorce is a long-term answer.”

I’m not sure if all problems are short term. In fact, research by marriage guru John Gottman has concluded that 69 percent of happy couples still have the very same unresolved conflicts after ten years. But they are able to remain happy because they do not get gridlocked in the conflict and manage to get around it.

The quote reminds me of an interview I heard with George Harrison’s wife, Olivia Harrison. When asked how they managed to stay married for 23 years she replied: “You don’t get divorced.”

It’s easy to get hung up on what’s not working between two people. But the truth is, most of the time the rough times are temporary. If we can keep our eyes on what we have in common and accept that there are things which set us apart, it’s easier to navigate disagreements. “Our main clue for newlyweds is to plan forward and to look back only to the good times”, says Don, married to Estelle for 50 years. “Everybody has their rough spots, but if everything is focused on past hard times, your marriage can become like an albatross. Remember and revel in your successes. Ignore the times when you failed. Don’t look at problems to place blame, only to find solutions. Love is like a boomerang, throw it at your spouse and you’ll find it coming right back at you.” 

Ignoring the times you have failed doesn’t always work tough. You want to learn from your blunders, and pretending that they never happened may not be the best way to look at it. But I do agree with Don when he talks about putting more energy into remembering the positive ways a relationship works.

I really like what Ralph has to say about his wife of 17 years: “We’re best friends. You really have to like each other to last. When the sex becomes less important, you better enjoy doing things together (while still doing things apart). We drive for days to car shows sometimes. So we better like each other.” 

Lots of people know that it’s hard to love their partner when they do something that irritates us. But when we genuinely like them, there is a profound basis that cannot be shaken easily.

The most impressive and hopeful post though came from two psychiatrists: “We are about as different as a couple can get. But rather than be irritated by our differences, we revel in them”, says Doreen, married to Tim for 20 years. “We find each other’s foibles endlessly amusing, much like watching exotic animals in a zoo. Not a day goes by without my laughing so hard I cry at my husband’s making fun of something I’m doing. We tease each other a lot. It’s never mean-spirited. And we’re both psychiatrists to boot!” 

When two people have come to terms with their own weaknesses in a way that enables both of them to laugh at it, nothing can harm your bond. You’re well on your way into forever land.

 

Candida.Performa via Compfight



Marriage As A Process Of Disillusionment

By Gerti Schoen, MA, LP

128/365 | blur

When we first enter an intimate relationship we are hoping to gain something from it: that our partner will bring out the best in us, that our past disappointments will be soothed or healed. That romance will last.

We begin the relationship with an idealized view of the other. So by design, getting deeper into a relationship will always involve the process of disillusionment.

Disillusionment is a form of loss. We’ve lost the hope that nothing threatening or dangerous will come our way. We lose confidence that this time things will be different. And with this loss, more fear and pain are triggered than what we’ve already experienced in the past.

Many people are afraid to commit to an intimate relationship in the first place, maybe in part because of an unconscious fear of loss and disillusionment. There is more safety in longing for something that has yet to transpire, than facing that deprivation that comes with disillusionment.

In this case, we become attached to that sense of deprivation because it seems to protect from future loss.

The loss of dreams is extremely painful for us. It’s just as painful as a more tangible loss – say of a parent or a job.

In this age of delayed family building, many people face the loss of not having children. Others face conflict about job opportunities and geographic flexibility.

It is important for couples who face the loss of a dream, to acknowledge the underlying pain. Of course it’s much easier to pick a fight and to blame your partner for what he or she isn’t living up to.

But there is always a deeper layer of hurt and disappointment about the loss of a dream, and it has to be uncovered and acknowledged.

Letting go of a dream is hard to do. When your dream of owning a house one day is shattered by economic hardship, the pain of giving up on this dream is difficult to bear. So we hold on to it and hope that one day it might still be possible.

In the meantime, there will be ongoing arguments about how to keep the space clean, how and when to get repairs done, how to spend the money you do have and so on.

Couples need a break from the tension that the loss of dreams automatically creates and need to be acknowledged that all parties involved are doing the best they can.

Giving up the hope that unrealistic fantasies may never be fulfilled is the hardest thing to do.

madalyn_k via Compfight

 



 
 

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