Linda: Many years ago, Charlie and I went to Brietenbush, Oregon for a couples’ retreat with Stephen and Ondrea. This was during the time when I feared that my marriage was dying. Charlie was working so much, away from the family three weeks out of every month. The children were young, and Charlie’s schedule left me operating as a single parent most of the time. I missed him terribly and I was furious about the broken agreement that we would parent the children together while mutually supporting each other’s career development.
The material that was being presented in the Levine’s workshop was valuable, but I was desperate to have the specific issue that was plaguing me addressed, so we approached them on the lunch break requesting some individual time. Stephen and Ondrea sat right down and sacrificed some of their break time to speak to us.
I thought I was bringing Charlie to get fixed. I knew that he respected Stephen from reading his books. So, I thought that if Stephen said that he should put family first in front of a career, Charlie might make a different choice. I certainly had not been able to reach him with my pleas to reconsider his obsessive work schedule. During our meeting with them, I described how horrible I felt about our separations. I saw Stephen wince when I said, “I want to dump him.”
My expectation that Charlie would get nailed to the wall for his irresponsibility to the family was foiled. To my surprise, it was me that got nailed to the wall. Stephen responded by saying “It sounds like you are attached to your picture of what you think marriage is supposed to look like. I think some practice of non-attachment will help you.” Then Ondrea spoke about the power of forgiveness meditation, to forgive Charlie for not being the perfect husband, and to forgive myself for not being the perfect mother and wife. The last thing I expected was to be called on the carpet, when Charlie was in my mind, the guilty party. I dint’ like hearing that. Charlie seemed to be delighted by what they were saying. I waited for them to confront him, but it never happened. Although I was shocked, there was also a part of me that was relieved to find out what my work was. At least now I had some sense of what I could do to help repair our marriage.
It took us fourteen hours when we were driving up the coast to Oregon. Coming home, it only took us twelve. It felt like I dropped a heavy load of resentment and righteous indignation, which I had been carrying for years, in this transformative weekend.
Going to this workshop was a pivotal moment in my life. I made a commitment to a yearlong series of classes to learn to develop a practice of mindfulness. I disciplined myself to get my attention away from what Charlie was doing or not doing, and on to myself doing my practice of non-attachment, letting go of my picture of how the marriage should be, and practicing forgiveness. The input that I got from these two trusted facilitators gave me focused work to do on my own.
I shudder to think what might have happened to our marriage without their intervention. After the Oregon workshop, Charlie continued to work for the company for another year. But that last year that he worked his demanding schedule was not as horrible for us because I was diligently doing my work to forgive him and myself and to practice being more spacious so that at least in the little time that we had together, we could enjoy each other. I will always be thankful to Stephen and Ondrea for their generosity to sit with us when we were in a painful gridlock, and for their practical wisdom. Charlie and I lived to tell the tale, and so much that we have learned from the Levine’s has enhanced our work, and for their dynamic influence on my work and my life, I live with the deepest gratitude.