Mind Over Matter

By Linda & Charlie Bloom

cardamine-pratensisCreative Commons License mindfulness via Compfight

“Mindfulness is not something that is only done in the meditation hall, it is also done in the kitchen, in the garden when we’re on the telephone, when we are driving a car, when we are doing the dishes.” Thich Nhat Hanh

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Mastering the Art of Relationship Yoga

By Linda & Charlie Bloom

YogaCreative Commons License Jean Henrique Wichinoski via Compfight

When you hear the word “Yoga”, it’s likely that words like stretching, exercise, practice, flexibility, bending, and twisting come to mind. That’s because the primary association that most Westerners have with yoga has to do with the “on the mat” or physical aspects of the practice of yoga or “Hatha Yoga”.

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Old Guys Rule!

By Linda & Charlie Bloom

'cause if I share it with you, you'll have some too sciencesque via Compfight

Linda: You see them in the park pushing the grandkids on the swings, wearing infants in their front packs, with toddlers in backpacks, pushing strollers, and holding small hands walking the kids to school in the morning. These older gentlemen are reaping the rewards of the work done by the torch-bearing women of the 60’s and 70’s, and 80’s who struggled to blur gender roles.

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The Prices You Pay for Winning an Argument

By Linda & Charlie Bloom
British summer

.craig via Compfight

 One of the widely held beliefs that threaten relationships is the idea that being victorious in an argument is a good thing. That notion is based in part on the assumption that when it comes to arguments, there are only two possible outcomes: winning or losing. It’s a zero sum game and if you don’t come out on top, there’s only one other place that you can go. Given this mindset, it’s no surprise that so many people, finding themselves embroiled in a relationship conflict, go for the jugular and pull out the big guns. “Big guns” are inflated or amplified threats, insults, and various forms of character assassination. “You’re just like your mother!” “No wonder your last wife left you!” “You’re the most selfish person I’ve ever known!” “I can’t take this any more. I’m calling a lawyer tomorrow!” “I should have listened to my friends who warned me not to marry you!” And these are just the mild ones!

Then there are the more subtle forms of coercion and manipulation that are designed to discredit the other person’s position or to invalidate their concerns in order to defeat their efforts to defend themselves in the face of an attack.

There are an infinite variety of strategies for winning an argument, but there are only a few motives that drive the compulsion to win. The most prevalent one is the desire to avoid an anticipated humiliation, punishment, or loss of power by defeating the other person and thus affirming a dominant position in the relationship. When there is not a high level of mutual trust in the relationship, both partners are likely to feel a strong need to be concerned with the degree of power and control they possess, since they are vulnerable to abuse, exploitation, and domination. The build-up of interpersonal defenses and aggressive behaviors, is not an effective deterrent to attack, not does it ever repair damaged trust. On the contrary, it adds to the problem and often provokes further aggression.

Consequently, trying to “win” an argument by defeating the other person not only fails to address the underlying problem, but generally intensifies it. While one person may appear to win the battle, both of them lose the war. When it comes to committed relationships, when one person loses in the short run, they both lose in the long run. When someone loses or gives up in resignation, trust goes down and communication closes up. Even though the active fighting may end, the underlying issues have not been adequately addressed and the differences between both parties haven’t been adequately resolved.

When this is the case, the spirit of mutual support and co-operation is broken and both partners begins to see each other as an adversary rather than teammates. on the same team. When this occurs, vulnerability is replaced with defensiveness, interrupting the flow of honest communication, and each person becomes more concerned with personal protection than the establishment of a mutually satisfying outcome. This diminishes the feelings of good will that are necessary to re-establish trust and shared respect.

At this point both partners are operating from separate personal intentions that are misaligned, making the relationship feel adversarial rather than cooperative. Now, each person sees the other as someone they need protection from and/or need to defeat, rather than a source of support and comfort. Fear, rather than love has become the dominant motivator in the relationship on both sides. Even when one person seems to be more angry than frightened, in fact, both are possessed by fear, but may be enacting different protective strategies (such as aggression and withdrawal or intimidation and accommodation).

When arguments fail to identify or address the underlying issue that has been activated, there is no way that that information can be accessed when both partners are driven by the need to protect and defend.  When this occurs it is likely that the real concerns will become submerged and go underground in order to create a truce which is a temporary disarmament that is necessary in order to engage in the relations that are necessary to continue and sustain normal life.

“Normal life”, however, is not synonymous with a mutually fulfilling and loving relationship. It is merely one in which active conflict is temporarily absent or minimized and the obligations and responsibilities of daily living can be satisfied. While this may be preferable to having a relationship that is actively antagonistic and mutually destructive, it is a far cry from what most couples envision when they initially share their intention to create a committed partnership. It is also far less than what is possible when two people are able and willing to hold and honor a vision of an ever-growing, ever- deepening, connection that becomes more loving and fulfilling over time.

Differences are inevitable in all relationships. Conflict is optional. When we try to settle differences by winning the argument rather than seeking to find greater understanding from it, we deny ourselves the opportunity to learn more about ourselves and our partner and we miss the opportunity to engage in the practices that can make us a more skilled, loving, and responsible person.

While not all relationships are “made in heaven”, a lot more of them have the potential to become heavenly that we may think, if we are willing to challenge and interrupt embedded defensive patterns that may be doing us more harm than good. Perhaps it’s time to trade in the old clunker for a new model!

 



What May Be the Best Advice Any President Ever Gave America

By Linda & Charlie Bloom

Creative Commons License Carnie Lewis via Compfight

Like many of us of a certain age, I remember President John F. Kennedy’s famous words that he spoke in his 1961 inaugural address:  “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.” Over the years, I’ve found that this advice doesn’t just apply to one’s country but has applicability to many areas of life, and in particular, that of relationships. Yet while most of us would probably agree that embodying this philosophy in our daily lives is likely to enhance the quality of our relationships, actually doing so isn’t necessarily easy. Approaching life experiences from the question “What is it that I have to offer this person or situation?” rather than “What’s in it for me here and how can I get it?” is easier said than done.

It seems natural to be more concerned with our own needs and desires, rather than those of others. Yet, paradoxically, as many of us have learned, living life from an intention to give rather than to get is more likely to provoke feelings of fulfillment than doing the opposite. The attitude that we adopt and live from in our life may be the single-most important factor in determining the quality of our life experience. While it may seem counter-intuitive to choose to be more concerned with others’ needs than our own, doing so not only makes us more attractive to others and draws them into our sphere of influence.

This is not to say that obsessively focusing on others to the exclusion of our own needs is always a good thing to do. As many of us have learned, taking responsibility for others and ignoring our own needs creates another set of problems and not only promotes co-dependent patterns, but also inevitably generates resentment and codependence in relationships. Too much of a good thing is not a good thing.

Some of us are born with a predisposition towards giving, some develop it in the process of maturing. Some never do. Anyone can, at any age, can engage in practices that strengthen the quality of “generosity of spirit”. As this practice becomes more integrated into the fabric of our lives, the motivation to continue becomes stronger as it produces increasingly rewarding results. Our friend Bill Galt knows this from a lifetime of practicing this form of “enlightened self-interest. Here’s what he has to say about it:

“I’ve always known, even as a kid, that I was happiest when I was giving. Not just giving support, although I do enjoy doing that, but sharing ideas, offering comfort or giving from the heart as well as the wallet. I love being engaged in real conversations, and I spend a lot of time on the phone having them. I don’t do superficial very well, and I’ve found that when I get real, people almost always join me at that level.”

“My friends and family all know that they can always turn to me if they need any kind of help. It brings me pleasure to assist them in any way that I can. I’m always looking for ways in which I can serve. When my wife Gail and I lived in Baja California, we had a big hurricane that caused a lot of damage. After the hurricane, Gail and I got to work in the neighborhood and we had a blast! We put a roof on one person’s house and a door on another’s. Wherever we go, there are projects that call out to us to join in. In Baja, there was a huge overpopulation problem of beach dogs. We started up a “spay and neuter your pet program.” The local women were supportive of the idea, but their husbands weren’t, so Gail would wait until the men left for work and then go door to door to speak to the women. It seemed a little sneaky, but it worked! We brought in veterinarians from out of town, and by the time we left Baja, we had spayed and neutered several hundred animals!”

“Money has never been a major preoccupation with me. I’ve always trusted that here will be enough and there usually is. There was a time, many years ago, that money was pretty scarce with us and we didn’t have enough to pay our rent. If we didn’t come up with $500, we were at risk of getting evicted. After several days of frantically running around trying to hustle up the money, I finally scraped it. But before I could pay it, a friend came over who was in even more dire circumstances than I was, and after hearing his heart-wrenching story, I gave him the entire $500!”

“My wife pitched a fit! She was screaming at me that we might lose our house and there wouldn’t be a roof over our children’s heads. I thought she was so angry, that I thought she might actually divorce me, but I knew that it was the right thing to do. In less than a week, I had gathered together even more that the $500 that we needed to pay the rent”

I have had enough incidents like this one, although usually less dramatic, to feel absolutely confident that things will always work out and that I don’t have to stress out about things. When I look around me, I see so many people grasping and consuming. All this excessive materialism amplifies peoples’ fears and dissatisfaction. Professional marketers seem to know how to exploit inflame our desires and anxieties.”

“Gail and I have realized a degree of material success that allows us to see how hollow the relentless accumulation of money is. There is a big difference between needs and desires. We have learned to become very clear about this distinction and that makes it a lot easier to loosen our attachment things are non-essentials and focus our energies and attention on those things that really matter. We make sure that we only consume that which is aligned with our life vision, which is to serve society and the world. When we stay true to that mission, we enjoy long-term satisfaction. And it’s that sense of deep satisfaction and of having enough and being enough that allows us to continue to share all that we have. It’s the opposite of a vicious cycle. I guess you could call it a cycle of love.”



Better Than Happiness

By Linda & Charlie Bloom

Shooting For the Gold Viewminder via Compfight

It may sound strange coming from someone who has written dozens of blogs about happiness and taught a lot of seminars on the subject, to hear that happiness isn’t necessarily all that it’s cracked up to be. Or put another way, in terms of one’s overall quality of life, spirit, and degree of personal fulfillment, some things play a much more significant role than feelings of happiness. I’ll get to that in a minute.

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Marriage: A Good Deal or an Ordeal?

By Linda & Charlie Bloom

There are lots of expectations about what marriage will provide that motivate people to choose it over the single life.

Including…

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What’s your EIQ?

By Linda & Charlie Bloom

E-VolveCreative Commons License Keoni Cabral via Compfight

Here’s how to find out!

Chances are you’re familiar with the term “emotional intelligence”, that was popularized by the Psychologist Daniel Goleman in his 1995 best seller by the same name. To refresh your memory in case it needs refreshing, emotional intelligence, or “EI”, according to the 2008 edition of the Dictionary of Psychology, can be defined as “The ability to monitor one’s own and other people’s emotions, to discriminate between different emotions and label them appropriately, and to use emotional information to guide thinking and behavior.”  Goleman, however, wasn’t the first person to coin the term. That was done by the poetically and aptly-named Wayne Payne, whose doctoral thesis entitled A Study of Emotion: Developing Emotional Intelligence was written in 1985.

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Smiling at Fear

By Linda & Charlie Bloom

biG miNiaTURe wOrLd Sippanont Samchai via Compfight  A while back, Linda and I attended a weekend retreat led by Pema Chodron, a long-time practitioner of Buddhist meditation and the principal teacher at the Buddhist center, Gampo Abbey in Nova Scotia. The retreat was based upon the teachings of Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, a Tibetan teacher of Buddhism and author of many books, including Smile At Fear, which happened to be the theme of the retreat. Both Linda and I have been long-time fans of Pema’s work and her books, especially the best-seller, When Things Fall Apart, which seems to have been written precisely for these times.

So naturally, when we heard about the retreat, which was held at a huge pavilion in the Bay Area city of Richmond, we signed up for it, and not a moment too soon. Despite the fact that the event was being held in a building that accommodates 3,000 people, we just barely made it in before it sold out. The hotel that the sponsoring organization had contracted with for the special room rate however had sold all of its rooms that had been reserved for the retreat. After many phone calls and much time on line, we were able to find a nearby hotel that had rooms available and we reserved one for the weekend.

At the end of the first evening, we drove to our hotel and because it was dark and there was a detour on the road, I found it difficult to follow the directions and because of a number of wrong turns that I made, it took us about three times longer to find our way to the hotel than it should have. I made a verbal note to Linda to get an early start the next morning to make sure that even if we got lost again, we would make it in time for the opening meditation.

It was a good idea, but fate it, seemed, had other plans for us. After having breakfast at a nearby restaurant, we got on the road, with plenty of time to spare and I proceeded to get us even more lost than we had been the night before. Still, I wasn’t worried since we had left early enough to deal with any unplanned meanderings and still make it in time.

When after about fifteen minutes going in what turned out to be the wrong direction, it became obvious to us both when we ended up at a dead end, that my instincts, which are not always 100% reliable, had unfortunately failed me and it was time for another game plan. The question was, “Now what?”

Although I was totally unfamiliar with the terrain, I declined Linda’s suggestion that we might consider asking someone for directions. No need to do that. I did what any other man would do in a similar situation, one in which he had absolutely no idea of where he was or how to get to where he wanted to go. There was of course no need to ask anyone for directions. Yes, my instincts had just failed me, but there was no reason to believe that they would fail me again. After all how often does lightning strike twice in the same place? One misjudgment was fluke; two would be a near impossibility. Besides I was really sure this time that I knew the way. Linda was beginning to have her doubts, but bless her heart, she gave me another chance.

Well, you’ll be shocked… SHOCKED, to hear this, but it soon became apparent that I was wrong again. Unbelievable! But apparently not to Linda who once again asked me with great patience and mindfulness if I might want to reconsider my decision to not ask anyone for directions. By now it was getting late and there was a serious possibility that we might be late for the morning meditation, and come straggling in after it had begun, with the room absolutely quiet, and we would destroy the stillness and conscious breathing of the 3000 punctual yogis who would be sitting in perfect posture being perfectly mindful, immersed in the joy of perfect consciousness. No doubt, all of them would open their eyes just long enough to see who it was that was interrupting their blissful state. It would be planted in everyone’s awareness that I was the one who was responsible for breaking the perfect peace of the room and clumsily, tardily, exposing my unenlightened self.

With all this going through my mind, it was clear to me that it would probably be a good idea to take Linda’s advice and pop the question to someone who might know more than I did about the local terrain, which probably would have been anyone over three years old that happened to be in the vicinity. I went into a nearby convenience store and asked the clerk for directions. As luck would have it, he knew exactly where the pavilion was and provided me with very clear and simple directions to the facility. I got back in the car, no longer feeling anxious or distressed, and headed for the pavilion.

It looked like we were going to make it on time after all. When we began to see signs directing cars to the retreat, I knew that we were home free, or so it seemed. Unfortunately, this was not to be the case. Four blocks from the pavilion a flashing red light appeared up ahead accompanied by a clanging bell. The two cars in front of me stopped at the railroad crossing that was literally less than twenty-five feet in front of me.

My mood immediately got dark again with all kinds of very unenlightened thoughts and urges coming into my mind. In an instant, I went from perfect peace to perfect frustration.

I checked the time. We still had nearly ten minutes before the first session began and we were so close to our destination. Even if the train took five minutes to pass we would still have enough time to get to the parking lot and make it inside before the meditation began. No problem, except for one thing: The train turned out to be by far the longest train that I had ever seen in my life, maybe the longest train in the world. It took more than five minutes, more than ten minutes, more than fifteen minutes. It took over twenty minutes for that train to pass and for the crossing bars to finally lift to let the drivers in what had now become an incredibly long line of cars to restart their engines and resume their travels.

My initial reaction to all this was to be possessed by a frenzy of impotent outrage. In the midst of my expletive-filled rantings, Linda, gently but in a way that pierced my wall of anger, reminded me of three things that for some unknown reason, I was fortunate enough to be able to actually hear, that stopped me and my rantings cold in my tracks (almost literally!). One: There is nothing that we can do about this situation. Two: It is temporary and at some point it will end. Three: We came to the retreat to experience peace, greater awareness, and acceptance of the experience of the present moment.

My initial reaction was to feel the urge to redirect my anger towards Linda –How dare she deprive me of my righteous indignation and of the pleasure of feeling like a victim of unfair circumstances! Then in the next moment, I saw the ludicrousness of my reaction, given the circumstances of our situation. And I saw things from the perspective from which Linda was viewing them.

We had been given an opportunity to practice what Pema had spoken about in the previous night: to be able to bring a mind of openness, acceptance, and non-judging awareness into all of our experiences, not just those that go in accordance with our plans. Not because this was the right thing for us to do, or because there was some reward that we would get for being mindful, but simply because to do otherwise was a certain prescription for continuing to create pain and suffering, something that I had just experienced a vivid taste of. I looked at Linda. She wasn’t distressed at all. She was smiling, not at fear, but at the ridiculous spectacle that I had made of myself in thinking that if I got upset enough, reality might change. My anger melted in that moment and I experienced a feeling of incredible gratitude towards Linda and a release of the frustration that I had been feeling. In what seemed like a moment later, the last train car finally passed, and the gate lifted. I started the car and we drove into the parking lot which was only about 100 yards away. The five minute walk from our parking spot to our seat inside of the pavilion was delicious. I realized about halfway to the building that I must have been smiling, because nearly everyone that I passed with whom I made eye contact, seemed to be smiling back at me. I smiled through the morning meditation and I’m smiling now as I write these this.

I’m remembering the words of Swami Satchidananda , who was fond of saying that we can’t stop the waves from coming, but we can learn to surf.

Hang ten!



The Real Reason You Get Attracted To People Who Are So Different

By Linda & Charlie Bloom
Flickr- Mo Riza

Flickr- Mo Riza

Relationships aren’t just about togetherness and connection. They are also about the spaces of separateness. While togetherness time promotes greater understanding and connection between both partners, the times between experiences of connection are just as important to the health and sustainment of the relationship.

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