Myth: If You Don’t Have Something Nice To Say To Someone, Don’t Say Anything At All

By Linda & Charlie Bloom

Couple“A failure to confront is a failure to love.” Scott Peck    

No one likes to be confronted, even in a nice way, for failing to keep an agreement. And many of us have come up with some very effective ways to discourage others from giving us feedback that we’d rather not hear. The problem with keeping the messenger from giving us the message is that we may be denying ourselves valuable information that could come in handy in the event that we might want to enhance the level of integrity, respect and trust in our life and in our relationships. One of the most popular ways of discouraging others from giving unwanted feedback is to invalidate or deny the legitimacy of any responses to our words or behavior that another person is providing. Saying, for example, “I was disappointed when you didn’t keep your agreement to follow up on the project that we’ve been working on” or When you didn’t show when you said you would for our meeting, I became worried that something had happened to you and I thought that perhaps I had written the wrong time in my appointment book”, or “I’m noticing that I’m feeling less trust for you to keep your word since the last four times that you’ve promised me that you would do something, you haven’t done it”.

It’s hard to hear that someone, whose opinion of us matters, is feeling mistrust, disappointment, anger or other negative emotions. When we minimize or diminish the legitimacy of their feelings by rationalizing, justifying our behavior, or simply telling them that they are making a bigger deal of something than it is, and that they shouldn’t get so upset over nothing. Not only does such invalidation fail to convince most people that they are wrong in feeling what they do, but it further undermines the level of trust and respect in the relationship. The intention is to invalidate another’s feeling of, for example anger, disappointment, distrust or anxiety, by trying to convince someone that they them that they shouldn’t feel that way because:

a) “I had a good reason for doing what I did.”

b) “You shouldn’t take things so personally.”

c) “You’re making a mountain our of a molehill. You need to chill out. You’re making a big deal out of nothing. You were late for an appointment with me last week/month/ year. Can’t you just get over it? Move on dude,” etc.

If you’re like most of us, you’ve probably been on both the receiving or giving end of dialogues like these from time to time in your life. And if so, you probably are aware that these responses generally ARE very ineffective strategies for getting the job done. The job, in most cases, being to discredit the other person’s feelings in order to avoid accepting responsibility for having broken an agreement (however small it may have been) and the guilt or distress that may ensue.

These attempts to silence our confronter or accuser when we are reminded of a transgression serve to defend us, or actually our public image, from being tarnished by an act that reveals our underlying humanness including it’s imperfections, deficiencies, and flaws. The bottom line is that we don’t want to look bad, to ourselves and /or others. And bad is how we think we will look if we’re caught in the act of being unreliable, insensitive, or overly self-centered. When our actions reveal unattractive aspects of our personality through angry or disrespectful words, hurtful behaviors (either actively or passively expressed) or violations of trust it’s natural to want to explain or justify ourselves in order to avoid the discomfort of the shame or embarrassment that often accompanies exposure of such a situation, since such information.

“Shooting the messenger” isn’t necessarily the best way to deal with someone who is bringing news, however difficult to accept it may be since such information may be worth listening to. After all, sometimes we may not be aware of our transgressions, and even if we are, we may not want to know how it has impacted the other person. When our defensive strategies succeed in screening out any feedback that we don’t want to hear, we deprive ourselves of the very information that we need in order to interrupt unskillful patterns and diminish the frequency of future occurrences.

Reacting defensively with anger, hostility or judgment when confronted with someone’s feelings over having been on the receiving end of a broken agreement, may intimidate that person into shutting up or retracting their words. Unfortunately there is a problem with winning that game. These feelings don’t go away, they go underground, and they will, from time to time, arise in various subtle forms that directly or indirectly express themselves.

Consequently, couples often find themselves arguing over topics like money, sex, kids, and in-laws; these subjects tend to be cover-ups of the real issue. The actual issues have to do with things like power, control, respect, trust, freedom, and acceptance, although the are generally buried beneath layers of ignored, invalidated and denied feelings that have been accumulating and neglected for quite a long time, sometimes as long as decades. When the build-up of unacknowledged feelings reaches a point at which it becomes intolerable to bear and there is no capacity left in our emotional holding tank, our emotional circuit breaker shuts off a power line when the circuit gets overloaded. However in this case, you can’t just re-set the breaker. The system needs major repair, or worse, it may be beyond repair.

When it comes to dealing with broken agreements or with emotions that arise between people that need attention and understanding, there is no such thing as “no big deal.” Any disturbance that is unacknowledged or unattended is a big deal and it quickly becomes a bigger one if it is denied or invalidated.

Managing the emotions that arise in us when we really listen to another’s distress that our own actions have contributed to requires tolerance, restraint, intentionality, and vulnerability, as well as a range of other personal qualities. Few of us come into adulthood with these qualities fully developed. It is in the crucible of relationships that the motivation to strengthen these traits and the opportunity to practice their development occurs. When we embrace the challenge of using our relationship as a means of self-development we open the possibility of shifting the trajectory not only of our relationship, but also of our life itself. And that is a big deal!

When It Comes To Togetherness In Relationships, More Isn’t Always Better

By Linda & Charlie Bloom

CoupleParkbenchPondThere’s not much question that an awful lot of relationships suffer from a deficiency of quality time together, a condition that greatly diminishes the experience
of connection shared by the couple. Other responsibilities and commitments have a way of winning the competition for our time, leaving us feeling resentful, frustrated, tired, lonely, or some combination of the above. While insufficient connection time is unquestionably a common phenomenon that afflicts many relationships, it is by no means a universal condition; in fact some relationships have the opposite problem.

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True Lovers Feel Their Love All The Time

By Linda & Charlie Bloom

Linda: Years ago when our kids were small there was a recurring scenario that got played out a lot between Charlie and me. It had to do with my wanting connection and Charlie being distracted or preoccupied and unavailable to be present with me. These situations would often deteriorate into conflict since neither of us was particularly skilled at handling our differences very consciously. This situation would usually occur when Charlie would return from one of his frequent work-related trips, which often took him away from home for a week at a time. By the end of the week I would be hanging on by my fingertips, barely able to keep it together, and counting every moment until he walked through the door.

Unfortunately, when Charlie finally did walk in the door he was often so emotionally and physically burned out that the last thing that he wanted to do was to have a deep, meaningful, sustained connection with me. He had just spent the past week working fourteen hour days in intense interactions with dozens of people, and he had been barely holding it together until he was able to make it home and recover in what would sometimes be as little as 24 hours before his next trip.

Having been with people all week, Charlie’s need for some quiet time and solitude ran directly counter to my need for connection. Now, having him finally home, but being unable to really be with him was almost more painful than being separated. The lack of connection felt unbearable, and his lack of availability seemed a confirmation of my suspicion that he didn’t really love me. By my reasoning, if he did, he would feel like I did and would want to rush into my arms and melt into me.

This pattern of re-entry was a source of great suffering for both of us and we struggled with it for a long time. We came to fear and dread our reunions, but neither of us saw any hope that things could substantively change, at least as long as Charlie continued to keep his job, and he was clear that leaving it wasn’t something that at this point he was willing to consider.

The problem of course wasn’t just the re-entry process, but it was our inability to get beyond the frustration and anguish that we both felt and reinvigorate our emotional connection which was in need of replenishment after several days of neglect. We needed to get caught up, but we never seemed to get there.

Charlie: The pattern was always the same: I’d come home and get rushed by the kids who would hug my legs and wrestle me to the floor where we would all roll around and laugh until I broke free and went over to Linda, who had patiently and graciously stepped back to allow them to have their piece of me first.

Linda: I knew that they hadn’t seen Charlie for a week either and that they weren’t as able to defer their desire to play with him as well as I was. But still, a voice inside my head asked me “When is it going to be my turn” and “Why do I always have to be last?”. But it didn’t seem right to get mad at three small children so I was very conflicted within myself, and that inner conflict always ended up playing itself out between me and Charlie.

Charlie: I was in a quandary too. I really did want to be with Linda and hated to see her unhappy, but I knew that if I didn’t get some cool down time alone in my study that I wasn’t going to be much fun for anyone to be with. I felt guilty for not being able to be there with Linda and angry with myself for not being a “bigger” person. That didn’t really help very much.

Linda: Both of us were bringing conflicted feelings into the mix that was obscuring the love that was underneath them. To me the scariest thing in the world would be when I felt disconnected from Charlie’s love. At those times I would go into a panic and get demanding, anxious, and angry, which are feelings that Charlie (understandably) wouldn’t find particularly attractive.

Charlie: And I would respond accordingly, by getting angry and shoot back pretty ugly words that were designed to get Linda to back off and shut up. It wasn’t a pretty picture.

Until one day we had an interaction that changed things, permanently.  The interaction went like this:

Charlie (immediately after walking into the house): Hi Honey. Hi kids. Daddy’s home. (Kids run to me and wrestle me to the floor).

Linda: Where were you? Your plane got in almost three hours ago.

Charlie: (Defensively) It took a long time to get my baggage and the traffic out of the airport was horrendous. You wouldn’t believe it. Oh yeah, I stopped by the office to file my expense report since if I didn’t I wouldn’t be able to do it for two weeks.

Linda: You’ve got time for the kids, time for your expense reports, time for everything and everyone but me! Don’t you know that I’ve been handling everything here alone all week and we have barely even spoken on the phone since Tuesday! Sometimes I wonder why you ever got married! You don’t even love me, do you? (Crying)

Charlie: “uhhh….”

Linda: “See! You can’t even tell me that you love me. That proves that you don’t.” (Now crying really hard).

Charlie: “Wait a minute. Can I answer your question?”

Linda: “What question?”

Charlie: “About whether I love you.”

Linda: “I know the answer. Your silence spoke volumes!”

Charlie: “Please give me a chance.”

Linda: “Okay… what?”

Charlie: I do love you. Really. But, and I’m being honest here, I hate it when we have these fights. I hate it because when we fight I don’t feel loving towards you. I feel hurt, I feel angry, I feel scared, I feel frustrated, and those feelings obscure the love that I have for you that is always underneath them. So do I love you? Absolutely. I want us to be together always and I have no plans to ever go anywhere. And do I always feel that love at a deep level? Not always. Sometime I don’t. And when you ask me for reassurance of my love at a time that I’m feeling any of those things that I just mentioned in that moment I can’t tell you what you want to hear and mean it, but that doesn’t mean that it’s not there. Sometimes I just have trouble accessing certain feelings because I’m distracted or preoccupied, or possessed by other feelings like fear, anger, or exhaustion and I’m in survival. But the love is still there and I can usually reconnect with it if I can just get myself centered and disconnect from those other distractions. Can you understand what I’m saying? Do you believe me?”

Linda: (long pause, then quietly) Yes. I believe you.

Charlie (Becoming emotional) Thank you. (Long pause). I hate it when we fight. I hate being out of touch with my love for you and I hate knowing that it’s not just you. I play a big part in these breakdowns that are so painful. I get angry at myself whenever you are disappointed in me because I feel like I’ve failed you and let you down and then I get mad at you for “making me feel bad”. Crazy isn’t it?

Linda: “Thanks for clarifying things. I’m glad that I’m not the only one who hates our fighting and that you don’t see me as the problem because I get so distraught when there’s a disconnect between us. Maybe I’m kind of crazy myself, but I can’t help it. Our relationship is the most important thing in my life and when we’re not in sync, it’s hell. And when we’re connected, it’s heaven.”

It’s not only possible to love someone and not always feel that love to the same extent, but it’s inevitable that we will. A myriad of factors influence the degree to which we are in contact with loving feelings. Being understanding of that fact can enable us to find the understanding, patience, trust, and acceptance to forgive ourselves and/or our partner when those feelings aren’t present in our current experience.

Paradoxically, accepting an absence of loving feelings in this moment can often have the effect of reawakening those feelings in our partner or ourselves. Feelings like hurt, fear, anger, loneliness, or jealousy can override our softer, more vulnerable emotions, often causing us to doubt our partner or ourselves. There’s a big difference between the experience of love and the experience of loving feelings. The former can come and go; the latter doesn’t. The more true to ourselves and each other and the accepting of each other’s experience we can be, the more present those loving feelings will be between us. When we trust the truth of our own love, the truth of our partner’s love, and that we are worthy and deserving of that love, the doubts and fears dissolve and disappear. And it just doesn’t get much better than that.




The Crucial Factor in Making Real Change in Your Life

By Linda & Charlie Bloom

“People don’t change.” If I had a nickel for every time I heard that sentence, I’d be rich. And it is a sentence, not just grammatically-speaking, but those words sentence the speaker and anyone who has a close relationship with him or her to a future in which substantive life changes are impossible. The problem with this sentence is that it’s not true. Another problem is that I used to not only believe this, but I was a primary perpetrator of what I now see as a widely accepted cultural myth. It’s been a while since I’ve stopped making that claim but now I’m on a roll about clarifying that people can and DO change.

Change however, doesn’t necessarily come about as a result of what we think will precipitate it and when it doesn’t, it’s easy to conclude that it can’t happen. There’s something attractive, even compelling about believing that making substantive changes in our lives is unrealistic or even impossible. For one thing, if I can’t change, then it can’t be my fault that I act the way I act, do the things I do, or am the person I am. After all, I can’t be responsible for doing something that I don’t have the power to do differently. If I have no control over my predispositions and I can’t be held responsible for my actions, and I can’t be blamed for anything that has caused distress to anyone else. And if it’s not my fault, then I can’t be punished. Believing that people can’t change enables me to not only avoid responsibility for my current and future actions, but it relieves me of the obligation to put the time and energy into making an effort to try to become a better person. Why bother trying to accomplish something that can’t be achieved?

While it may be technically true that we can’t change certain aspects of who we are and some intrinsic characteristics or internalized personality traits, such as being introverted or extroverted or preferring solitude to socializing or vice-versa, we all have a great deal of power to influence what we do with those predispositions and which impulses we choose to strengthen and reinforce and which ones we choose to weaken.

Changing conditioned patterns is not easy, but it is possible. Trusting that change is possible is the first step, which means that we have to be willing to give up our excuses for being the way we are and take on a commitment to make the effort to develop the qualities and traits that will promote the kinds of behaviors and practices that we wish to integrate more fully into our lives. This is what most people are talking about when they use the term “doing your own work”. It is also a prerequisite to finding the motivation to “be the change” that you wish to experience in your life. Motivation, or “intense desire” is a determining factor in this process. When it is strong, the likelihood of a positive outcome is great. When it is weak, the prognosis for success is slim to none.

In addition to these factors, it’s necessary to clearly recognize the benefits of putting the necessary time and energy into the process. Since it’s natural to want and expect desirable results from our efforts, we need to be able to answer the “What’s in it for me?” question in a way that makes it seem worthwhile for us to invest our life energies in the process of change. Self-interest has to do with getting my needs met and my desires fulfilled. When we recognize that not only are the needs of those in my circle of care fulfilled when I behave in ways that enhance their lives, but in doing so, my quality of life is also enriched. And in so doing, they become more inclined to want to reciprocate by participating in our relationship in ways that are mutually fulfilling to us both. When his cycle is in place in a relationship, self-interest becomes enlightened self-interest, which not only changes the dynamics of the relationship but also instigates change within both partners.

Researchers at Duke University in 2006 found that “more than 40% of the actions people perform each day aren’t actual decisions, but habits.” People who have poor relationships are frequently acting out their fears and anxieties. How that manifests in their behavior runs along two major lines. The avoidant style is characterized by acting out a craving to feel safe, and in control by withdrawing from the relationship and having minimal involvement. The controlling style is characterized by manipulation with anger, aggression, threats, and ultimatums.

Motivation to change can be strengthened by recognizing the effect negative behavioral patterns have on the quality of our lives. When this recognition provokes an interruption of the automatic patterns of avoidance and aggressiveness, there is a greater likelihood that communication that is driven by a desire for greater authenticity and vulnerability will be brought forth in the relationship.

Disrupting just one unskillful behavior, for instance using silence to punish, or making critical, judgmental remarks, or being bossy by giving commands, can lead to a whole series of positive shifts. Instituting date night or an evening a week at home designated for discussion and connection can break the habit of avoidance. A conscious and mutually shared commitment to new practices can, if successfully implemented, transform even those relationships that have been deeply entrenched in negative patterns.

In addition to creating an agreement with our partner, collaboration with others can give us new ideas of regarding specific practices that may support the changes we wish to bring about. This kind of support can help us to trust that real change is an actual possibility. The key to victory is creating the right routines. Each success brings with it a feeling of accomplishment that strengthens our motivation to keep up the good work. These wins accumulate over time to eventually create the Big Win: a relationship worth protecting and treasuring, where both partners’ needs are fulfilled and what had previously been resentment, tension, and despair has been transformed into harmony, gratitude and appreciation. All in all, that sounds like a pretty decent trade-off.



Feeling Unappreciated, Taken Advantage of, or Overburdened? Try This.

By Linda & Charlie Bloom

CoupleCloseupIt’s never too late to put in these corrections!

(Charlie): The other day I caught myself feeling like a victim. Again. I’ve been writing and teaching about responsibility and accountability long enough to know that whenever I feel victimized by someone or something, there’s usually (like about 99.9% of the time) something for me to learn from that experience. And about 99.8% of the time, I’m not, at least initially, very enthusiastic to find out what the lesson is. This particular instance was no exception. I was feeling overloaded, overtired, and resentful, all of which I’ve come to recognize as symptoms of putting more on my plate than is really good for me.

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Sometimes Not Helping Really Helps!

By Linda & Charlie Bloom
Photo: Konstantin Leonov

Photo: Konstantin Leonov

The toughest lessons can be the most powerful ones.

(Charlie) It isn’t always necessary to travel to exotic places to have enlightening experiences.  In fact, some of my most enriching moments have come from my local neighborhood, or in this case, my health club.  The other day, after spending an hour on the cardio machines, I was enjoying the peace and stillness of being alone in the club’s steam room.  Soaking in the hot, moist air is a ritual that I often reward myself with after my workouts.  On this day it was especially delicious since I had the usually crowded room to myself.

That is, until the door opened up and a woman came in and sat down across from me.  She was an older woman, probably in her 70′s.  I acknowledged her with a nod of my head, then closed my eyes to return to the stillness that I had briefly lost.  Ahhh. . . .

“I grew up in Tennessee and if someone ever told me that I’d be paying money to sit in a hot, steamy room I would have told them they were nuts!”

Her voice shattered the silence like a huge boulder splashing into a still pond.  “So much for a little silent meditation retreat”, I sighed to myself.  And now she probably expects a response from me.

I opened my eyes.  “Yeah.  We’re really lucky to be living in such a beautiful climate when so much of the rest of the country is sweltering in hot, muggy weather.”

“Woo-boy!”, she shouted. “The summers in Tennessee were so miserable!  You wouldn’t believe it!  And that was before air conditioning!  We didn’t even have a fan!  We lived in a small house.  It was really tiny!”

“Well”, I thought, “I might as well just join in the conversation because this scenario isn’t likely to change anytime soon.”  And so I did.  I let go of my attachment to being quiet and turned the knob to the conversation channel, choosing to ignore the sign on the wall that prohibited speaking above a whisper.

The woman whose name I never did get told me that she and her family of two sons and her husband had moved to California about 40 years ago.  “My older son was pretty wild in his youth.  He’s calmed down a lot over the years.  He was a surfer and he loved being out in the water.  He loved his freedom, didn’t care much for school when he was growing up.   One day we got a call from him.  He was in the county jail.  He’d been arrested for driving recklessly on his motorcycle.  He was still in his teens.  ‘Mom,’ he said, ‘they’re going to keep me in jail for ten days if I don’t come up with $300.  Can you help me out?!’

‘Sure’, I said, ‘I’ll bring the money down to the court house right away.’

‘Great! Thanks for bailing me out.’

‘Oh I’m not paying for you to get out, I’m bringing your money.’

‘Mine?’ he said.

‘Well of course.  You’re the one who got himself arrested, aren’t you?’

‘But I need that $300.00.’

‘Well, then save it, and spend the next 10 days in jail.’  And that’s exactly what he did.  And he hated it.  One day I went down to visit him and I recited a verse from a poem that I had memorized by Oscar Wilde.  The poem is called, The Ballad of The Reading Ga’ol.”

I never saw a man who looked with such a wistful eye,

upon that little tent of blue

which prisoners call the sky,

and at every drifting cloud that passed

in happy freedom by.

“He loved that verse and he memorized it and he recited it to some of the other prisoners.  They thought that I had written it and I became a local celebrity there for a few days.”

“The day my son was released from jail he looked up at that big blue sky that was now more than just a little tent.”  “Man is it great to be free.  I’m never ever going to do anything that could land me back in a place like that again.”  And he hasn’t.  He’s grown up to be a very decent and responsible man, with kids of his own, and he still loves to surf!”

The woman told me that not bailing her son out of jail and seeing him suffering there was one of the hardest things she’d ever done, but that she knew that it was the right thing.

“I hated to see him in that awful place, but looking back on it, I’m certain that it was one of the best spent 10 days of my son’s life.  He learned some very big lessons about life in a very short period of time.  And he never forgot them.”

Sometimes life gives us experiences that are painful but brief.  If we can show up for them and really integrate the teaching into our lives, we can avoid much more painful experiences later on.  It’s like an inoculation in which the body develops an immunity to an invasive disease by getting a small dose of it. These inoculations only work when we fully internalize the lessons and open ourselves to the full impact of the experience.  It’s more painful than avoiding it or running away or having someone else pay instead, but the long-term value of the experience is priceless.

When we try to protect others from the natural consequences of their behavior, our efforts may inadvertently result in an outcome far worse than the one we helped them to avoid.  It may be an act of much greater love to support someone to accept and deal with and come to terms with the natural consequences of their choices than to rescue them from those results.  Failing to get the message in the inoculation stage all but guarantees us that the message will be delivered again and again in the future in increasingly larger doses until we finally do get it.  The Universe is very generous and persistent in offering us an abundance of opportunities to learn the lessons that support our ongoing evolution.

It’s been said there are two types of pain.  The first or “primary pain” is that pain that is intrinsic to life.  It is unavoidable, like toothaches, an illness, hurt feelings, losses, disappointments, traffic jams, choosing the wrong relationship partner or the wrong line at the supermarket checkout counter, to name a few examples.  These things happen.  Hopefully we can learn from them and not make a habit of repeating behaviors that make them more likely to reoccur.

The second kind of pain, “secondary pain” is that which we can create in trying to avoid, deny, or escape from the first.  The noted analyst, Carl Jung has said that 10% of the pain we experience is probably unavoidable.  The other 90% is what we create in trying to avoid the unavoidable.

Think about that the next time you find yourself trying to rescue yourself or someone else from the consequences of their actions.  Learning how to learn from our experiences may be one of the wisest things that we ever do.  It sure beats the alternative!

Stay cool.

The Secret Ingredient To Being A Great Teacher And A Great Student

By Linda & Charlie Bloom

jolene.jpgThe other day I bought a raffle ticket at an event that I was attending. Wondering whether I would have to stay until the end of the event to find out whether I had won a prize, I noticed that the ticket read, “You must be present to win”, meaning that if you’re not here, you don’t get the prize. Kind of like life. You’ve got to show up in order to get anything. Sounds simple enough, right? In theory, yes, but in practice, you may have noticed, not exactly.

“Just be present, show up, wake up, pay attention!” Everyone these days it seems, from yoga teachers to movie stars, to advice-column-writers, to Dr. Oz, Dr. Phil, and Dr. Seuss are urging us to be present, as though it’s the easiest and most natural thing for a human being to do. Well, I don’t know about the natural thing, maybe, but I do know for sure, that at least for me, being present is anything but easy.

Actually if I’m to be honest, being present isn’t really all that hard for me. I’ve actually become able, over time to get present quite quickly when I really want to. There is, however, a slight problem. It’s the little matter of staying, or not staying present. When I’m present enough to be aware of when I’m not being present, I can come back to whatever moment is here, now. So it seems like it’s not so much a matter of getting present, but rather about staying present that is he big challenge for me. As I came to discover in speaking with others, this challenge isn’t unique to me, but rather is one that I share with a great many other people. While my understanding of the near-universal nature of this circumstance doesn’t change the reality of my situation, it does enable me to take it a little less personally and to be more open to listening to and learning from those who may be further along the road than I am.

One such person is Jack Kornfield, a Buddhist practitioner, storyteller, meditation teacher, and author of many wonderful and practical books, which happen to address issues that have to do with things like staying present when you have a mind that tends to wander.

One day when I was attending a Dharma talk that Jack was giving, he told a story that spoke directly to this very concern. It was, fortunately, one of the few times that I found myself able to pay enough attention to actually “get” the message. That is, I didn’t just understand it with my intellect, but the essence of the message penetrated though my mind and permeated my being, in a way that I integrated and absorbed it at what seemed to be a cellular level. This is not to imply that I consistently embodied it 100% of the time thereafter, but rather, I became able to more quickly bring back into my awareness the point of the story when I had forgotten it and put in whatever correction I needed to in order to get back on track. No small thing, at least as far as I was concerned.

The story is about training puppies to “stay”. If you’ve ever had a puppy and sought to train him or her to stay, you probably have noticed that the first time you give the puppy the command to stay, you are unlikely to be successful. In all likelihood, the puppy’s response to your command will be to act as though you’ve said nothing or that you’ve actually told him to jump up and down, run around in circles, bark loudly, and/or wag his tail vigorously. Should you repeat your command, it is likely that you will receive the same response from the puppy. Further efforts will probably generate similar reactions from the little guy. He just doesn’t get it.

Finally after about 300 tries, he might actually manage to stay a microsecond longer. You’re ecstatic! “Good puppy! Wonderful puppy!” You pat and caress him lovingly. Maybe you even kiss him. You tell him to stay again, and this time he might even stay a microsecond longer. Cut to the end of the story and this time (it could be several days or weeks or even months later), when you tell him to stay, the puppy instantly freezes. He doesn’t move a muscle, doesn’t blink, he barely even breathes. If you get up and walk away he stays perfectly still, rooted to his place on the ground His little eyes follow but not his body. You smile and quietly speak the word, “Come” and instantly he is unfrozen and filled with wild exuberance. He runs towards you in a frenzy of pure puppy delight.

There were many interactions between the first and last “stay”, but the outcome was successful because of your willingness to “stay” with your own impatience, frustration, and exasperation. Your refusal to get angry at the puppy and yell at him or call him a ‘bad dog’, or threaten, punish or hurt him in any way was a crucial factor in his training. The puppy didn’t learn to stay simply because you taught him correctly, but because you gave him love and compassion, and trusted his innate desire to please you, to learn, and to embody what he learned. He felt safe and loved was free from the fear of punishment for having done anything wrong.

This is the attitude that we can learn to give to ourselves when we are confronted with an experience that is unfamiliar, or threatening, or uncomfortable. Sometimes what we must learn to stay with is our limited ability to remain fully present with what is in our own experience. When we ‘should’ on ourselves and angrily and judgmentally tell ourselves that we should be able to do something which we haven’t yet mastered the ability to do, we might want to remember the puppy story and ask ourselves if we are any less deserving of the compassion and patience that we would give to a defenseless creature who really is doing the very best he can, with what he knows and is capable of in any given moment. Providing this kind of self-compassion can be both the most loving thing and sometimes the most difficult thing that we can do for ourselves.

As we, like the puppy, practice the art of stepping into our fears and repeatedly standing in the fire of challenges and opportunities that we might prefer to avoid, our capacity to face into the unfaceable grows and deepens. And when we can be a supportive and non-judgmental witness to our friends and loved-ones as they traverse their own treacherous territory, we simultaneously empower them as well as ourselves in the process of growing courage, strength and wisdom. But don’t take my word for it, see for yourself. And if you get discouraged, try staying with it anyway. Who knows? You might be surprised by the outcome.

An Unforgettable Lesson in Forgiveness

By Linda & Charlie Bloom


From out of the mouths of babes.

Charlie: Recently, I attended my grandson Devin’s Little League game, something that has become one of my favorite things to do these days. I sat on the sidelines in my lawn-chair enjoying the game with Devin’s parents Cassia and her husband (my son) Jesse and Devin’s younger brother Ashton. One of the things that four-year-old Ashton and I like to do is to wrestle and roughhouse together. I’m usually careful not to let things get out of hand but accidents sometimes do happen, and yesterday one did. I was on the grass on my hands and knees and Ashton was jumping on and off my back. The third time he jumped on me, he fell off before he could steady himself and hurt his back. He was in pain and since he hasn’t (yet) learned to stifle his pain and withhold his tears, he cried and freely called out how much it hurts’. His mom hurried over and we both tried to comfort the little guy. I felt terrible, not just guilty for not preventing the mishap, but because if there’s anything more painful than seeing your own child in pain, it’s seeing your grandchild in pain. And what hurts even more than that is feeling responsible for having contributed to his pain.

Fortunately, the injury was minor and in a few minutes Ashton had stopped crying and was laughing at some funny noises that I was making and the incident was history. After Devin’s game ended we all walked back to the parking lot together. On the way I apologized and told Ashton that I was sorry about what happened. He looked at me and said, “That’s all right, Poppa. I forgive you”.

I was blown away by his words and by the obvious sincerity with which they were uttered. I checked with Cassia who told me that she and Jesse hadn’t ever spoken much about the concept of forgiveness with Ashton and hadn’t ever instructed him to forgive others.  Ashton however, being the highly sensitive and empathic person that he is has always been very attuned and responsive to others’ feelings and emotions.

I have always believed that left to our own devices, we humans are inherently compassionate and empathic and don’t need to be commanded to apologize, forgive, or act respectfully towards others; that is unless we are forced, coerced, or threatened to do so by parents and other authority figures who were themselves directed to speak those words, and in so doing, have lost with their own capacity for empathy.

The incident served as a powerful reminder and affirmation of my trust in an essential aspect of what is hardwired into all human beings. By this I don’t mean that I believe that we should unconditionally trust everyone or that everyone is fundamentally trustworthy, but rather, that when we defer to the wisdom of our heart, rather than to our judgments and mental constructs, we can see beyond our conditioned mind and into a deeper level of truth. Perhaps that’s what was meant in the bible where it is written: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”

Forgiveness, as many of us have come to know is not given exclusively for the benefit of the forgiven, but for the benefit of the forgiver. Letting go of a grievance or past injury doesn’t just help to alleviate the other’s guilt, but the offering of forgiveness is itself redemptive in that it relieves the giver of the emotional weight of that resentment. It’s been said that carrying grudges is like taking poison and expecting it to kill someone else.

When we recognize that trying to punish someone with our resentment is not only futile, but it is ultimately harmful to ourselves, the impulse to do so begins to diminish. At that point, the inclination to forgive, for most of us, arises naturally and we can more freely assess our situation. In doing so we may become more able to understand the underlying factors that have contributed to our situation, and release ourselves and the “offender” from the weight of our resentment.

Forgiveness is a process, not an event. It doesn’t occur in a single moment, but rather over time, and often not as quickly as it did for Ashton. Perhaps if we were all more able to see the world through the eyes of a little child, it would.

Has Technology Hijacked Your Quality of Life? Eight steps to getting free.

By Linda & Charlie Bloom

Couple with laptop in bedUnless you’ve been living in a cave since the mid-90’s, it’s probably not news to you that the domination of electronic technology in our lives is growing to a level that not only threatens to do great harm to our overall quality of life, but there is overwhelming evidence that significant damage has already occurred.

Continue reading… »

The Good News About Being “In Transition”

By Linda & Charlie Bloom

Richard Birlew via Compfight

 It doesn’t have to be an ordeal.

Webster defines “transition” as a passage or process of changing from one form to another. It has been said that we live in a time of transition, of rapid change, and things in our fast paced society don’t show signs of slowing down any time soon. Researchers tell us that the average high school graduate is going to have nine different careers in their lifetime! The people who are faring the best in these challenging times are those who have learned to ride out transitions and make the best of them.

We experience transitions throughout our lives. Some of them we choose, and some of them come uninvited. Transitions occur when we graduate from high school, leave college, get married, end or begin relationships, become parents, or change careers. We transition when we move to a different community or when we retire. These are some of the well-known markers that characterize maturation during our life span. There are, however, other transitions that while not as obvious, are nonetheless still very real. Examples of these are health problems, financial change for the worse or better, our children leaving home, or a loss that occurs through death, divorce or for any other reason. Some transitions are more subtle, such as the identity shift that occurs when we recover from an addiction, or become more forgiving or less perfectionistic or less ambitious.

Some people get tossed around by life changes that can affect them for weeks, months, or even years. Others may recover more quickly and use the crisis to prompt growth and the opening of new possibilities in their lives. These people are the ones who have cultivated the quality of resilience. They bounce back more easily. We can’t prevent life from slapping us upside the head, often when we least expect it to, and lucky breaks are random and unpredictable.

We do, however, have the power to determine how we respond to what befalls us. Each rupture in our life is fraught with opportunity for growth. Transformation involves a shift in our attitude or perspective that allows for the experience of new possibilities. Each transition provides a chance to come back to a truer version of who we are.

Although transitions usually look like problems at first, the option is always there to cultivate an attitude of curiosity and wonder. We can hold these circumstances as a message from the Dean of the University of Life, and take advantage of the teachings and gifts. It is not about denying the dark shadow side of change, which may include feelings of sadness, fear, anxiety, grief, disappointment or anger. But it has to do with holding an open mind, spacious enough to contain the dark as well as the golden. For those of us who are naturally resilient and optimistic, this will come more easily. Others may have to work harder and stretch further to respond to transitions as the growth opportunities that they are. For both groups, the big questions are: What is there for me to learn here? What do I really want? What are my true needs? What do I need to develop within myself to order to effectively meet this challenge? Who will be my supports?”

Remaining open in the midst of the chaos and confusion that often accompanies life change can be a huge challenge. Only if we look deeply into our own lives can we see what will be required of us to make the journey from the life that we have previously known to the rebirth on the other side.

Although transitional times, can be stressful, the process can also be profoundly energizing, life enhancing, exciting and even fun! You don’t have to worry about finding or creating the right learning opportunities. They’ll show up. Guaranteed. They always do. They always will. Once we accepting the challenges that transitions demand, what we had previously seen as problems become opportunities to create a richer and more fulfilling life.

Of course, our transitions affect others as well as ourselves, particularly those with whom we’ve been in relationship for a long time. Friends, family members, and romantic partners who have known us as our pre-transition self have some adjusting to do when they perceive that we seem to have somehow changed.  Comments like “You’re not yourself any more” often reflect some resistance to accepting the self that our transition has influenced us to be, even if that shift is for the better. They may want to coerce us to change back to being who they had previously known us to be. When we resist their resistance, we are likely to affirm their assessment that our change is not one that is for the better. In truth, who we are hasn’t changed at all, but the way in which we are showing up to others may be different than it had been. Making an effort to be patient and understanding with our loved ones when they are fearful that they have lost the person that they have come to know and love for so long, will go a long way to reassuring them that we’re still here, and in some ways, perhaps better than ever!

Purchase this book now! Purchase this book now!

Linda & Charlie Bloom are authors of 101 Things I Wish I Knew When I Got Married & Secrets of Great Marriages.
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