A Wounded Nation

Politics, to me, look a lot like an intimate relationship–maybe it’s just the lens through which I see… (so many things!)

It does stand to reason, though, that opposites “attract,” in a sense; that really, we can’t have one without the other—(that tends to be when revolutions occur)—yet the intrinsic balance of different perspectives creates a stronger foundation for relationships or, in this sense, for a nation—for the collective. Opposing strengths and perspectives, when they can depend on and challenge one another—sometimes even when they need to battle things out—ultimately lend to a more powerful system.

wolf-packThis concept is part of our nature, but we’ve become disconnected to its inherent value. It even shows up in the animal kingdom. Herds and packs of animals work collectively for their survival, yet they each have unique roles, due to their innate strengths and qualities, and exhibit those strengths with the intention of surviving and thriving together. They certainly battle it out at times, yet there seems to evolve a natural respect among members. They are stronger BECAUSE they are different.

(And just to note, I’m not speaking of political candidates here—I’m speaking of parties.)

I often wish I could do relationship therapy among political parties.

You see, there’s a fascinating and consistent theme when couples come into therapy. The belief goes something like, “My partner is more of the problem in this relationship.” So the request, from both partners, often is a bit like, “Can you please let my partner know that she is the problem,” “convince him of how he needs to change, and then we’ll be good!” (Basically). But here’s the deal: Research into human nature and relationships has found—through decades of intensive exploration into this subject—that, 1) One partner’s belief that the other person is “the problem” is the quintessential “Kiss of Death” to the relationship—it’s by far the most damaging belief, and strongest indicator of relationship failure. And, 2) …it’s almost NEVER true.

Swallow that one for a few moments (relationally, politically, whichever is the most difficult!)

People who end up being really good at relationships are the people who are willing to explore the possibility that their perspective isn’t the only valid one. –That, in fact, underneath someone else’s seemingly polar opposite opinion, there’s something just as legitimate as what we want or believe. That doesn’t negate that how we see things is as important, and we need to require equal regard and respect, but the key to being influential is partly based on our ability to also accept influence—to have some flexibility in the way we interact with one another.

We’re all biased to see the world through the lens that we’ve each developed based on our unique experiences, our heritage, our culture, our family dynamics, and the personal qualities that we’ve cultivated throughout our lives. Each of us has strong feelings about what is right and wrong—how people are supposed to act, both in relationship and in the world, and we tend to naturally believe that our beliefs are both “right” and also shared by the majority. The fact is, though, that’s just not so. In fact, with most of the things that people tend to argue over, there is no universally accepted “better way.” And even when behavior is actually “universally wrong,” how we respond to it is the most important piece of whether we’re going to see more of it in the future or not. And blaming and shaming simply doesn’t bode well for creating change.

People struggle with this idea because each one of us becomes attached to how our own perspective works for us.

Now, what happens when we apply these truths to politics, to parties or affiliations? Seems to me that we’re all coming in believing “the other guy/gal/belief system/policies/way of being/etc., etc… is “the problem.” I’ve certainly had my own share of that perspective. But in reality, WE ARE ALL A PART OF THE PROBLEM. We have all contributed to the condition of our current political landscape. And the truth is, we all have legitimate concerns. At the foundation of all the negativity and anger and aggression—at the root of bad behavior—there’s always some reasonable perspective, something that we each believe passionately about how to make our nation a better place to hang out for a while.

Talking politics on social media platforms seems only to invite those who either vehemently agree or disagree, which doesn’t resolve anything and mostly serves to polarize viewpoints, subsequently people, even more than we already are. Of course, being a “relationship person,” initiating or engaging in those dialogues without some intention for understanding seems counterintuitive. So I’m both working to understand, and asking you all to do the same.

There is a similar dynamic in intimate relationships—we’re naturally attracted to those people who have a lot of opposing qualities to us. It’s part of our makeup. There’s more chemistry in relationship when we have some polarizing characteristics that draw us together. But so often—most often, in fact—we don’t know how to tolerate those differences very well and we begin to see our partners perspective as “off”—not as effective maybe, or just bad in some way. We pathologize one another. And it’s almost impossible to influence a partner when they believe you see them as “the problem.”

The same is true in politics—how are we ever going to influence one another if we continue to blame each other for problems that we have collectively created?

tree-handI have friends and family—people whom I highly respect and regard, people that I know are both rationally and emotionally intelligent, thoughtful, engaged, educated—who are on both (all) sides of this election. And so I cannot simply dismiss any of their emotional and/or rational stances through a reactive assumption that they are simply “wrong” and everyone who agrees with them is as well. It takes mindfulness, flexibility, and inner tolerance to stay present and become curious.

Just as when my children are arguing over something…. If I jump in and assume one person is the problem, I lose the opportunity to support them in honoring the deeper thing at stake for each of them, and I prevent them from engaging their young nervous systems in a practice that I believe is essential for healthy relationships—to be able to willingly listen, from the heart, to what is true for one another, while simultaneously standing up for what is true for themselves.

Our differences are what truly make our country great. But acknowledging differences can be uncomfortable. We so often automatically assume that one of us is right and the other wrong, rather than allowing some space to explore the benefits and risks of both ways of thinking—to tolerate two opposing perspectives with equal regard requires some “mental strength training.” Yet we desperately need to cultivate tolerance—and I mean true, authentic tolerance, not just the kind that pays lip service—we need to practice countering the internal story that says someone else is the problem, and look for what’s right about someone else’s viewpoint. Then, and only then, do we have any chance of asking, and requiring, that they also give space to what we believe.

political-earthWe are becoming so divided and wounded, as a country… it’s painful, it’s scary, and it’s weakening our chances of thriving on our little spinning planet. But we’re trying to find resolution by putting blame on one another, rather than attempting to understand one another. And I want to provide a reframe for how we’re seeing the current state of things, and maybe even see it as an opportunity to do something different—to engage in dialogue with respect, with curiosity, trusting that there is more to the story than what we know—always.

Sometimes it takes hitting rock bottom for intimate relationships to come out on the other side with both the capability and the heart for thriving in a new way. And when I see it, it’s one of the most inspiring things in the world—because people have to push beyond themselves, they have to dig into the depths of belief systems and stories that they’ve been telling themselves, they have to stretch into tolerating that their view isn’t the only valid one, and their responses or solutions for dealing with life aren’t the only sane, reasonable ones out there! They also need to practice the habit of standing up for themselves without making their partner wrong—of honoring their own bias, while honoring the way their partner sees things as well.

When these practices are embodied, they are able to step back, take a look at one another, and see the beauty of their partner before them—see that even in the midst of differences, flaws, and idiosyncrasies, we are each, in our own way, imperfectly perfect.

We are ultimately such a young democracy—we’re really still learning how to do this well—just as we are understanding more and more how to have healthy intimate relationships. And we’re going to screw it up along the way—a lot! But it’s how we respond to those screw-ups that set us up for success or failure as we move forward. The shame and blame game… that just gets us nowhere. And I’m not saying that we don’t have to deal with bad behavior, yet so often how we do that undermines our effectiveness in creating change.

Here’s my challenge to you all:

Next time someone shares a political belief, or really any belief, that you cannot even fathom as being reasonable, take a moment to pay attention to your internal story about what that means. Pay attention to your body—to how the automatic processes in your body take hold and put you into a “protective or defensive” mode. Notice the impulse to make that person wrong, to counter and put yourself above them. Take a breath. be with just that, for a moment. Feel how that, just that impulse, plays a role in becoming more distant or more connected, and take a moment to see if it is within your capability to explore the possibility that maybe if the two of you share in some open dialogue, you might both learn something.

I believe that if you can do this, consistently, with intention, you will notice a new strength within you. And I believe if enough of us have a similar practice, we will strengthen our nation, from the inside out—regardless of what happens in this election.

 

For the Love of Your Life

 

Angie

The Other Side of Addiction

I’ve been in recovery for almost five years. It’s difficult to say, however, what my recovery is from. There’s no measureable substance with which I can relate my sobriety, no way to legitimately claim abstinence from a particular behavior. There is no 90-day or five-year chip. Some people might not believe that my recovery is “as important” or “as difficult,” or even “as real” as recovery from a substance or specific behavior. They might also believe that the damage from this side of addiction couldn’t equal its counterpart.

I can assure you, however, my recovery is real—as real as the destruction in its wake. And it’s been a difficult journey. Some of you may be able to relate. Others may not want to.

My addiction is emotional and relational—almost impossible to quantify, but poignant in body and soul. Clean and sober, for me, is a process that occurs internally and in the realm of how I connect with people in my most intimate relationships. The only way to understand whether I’m “on” or “off” the wagon is by having a felt sense of being in relationship with me—and not just any relationship—being in the grit of life with me.

Maybe it’s silly for me to look at my own earlier relational habits as addictive processes. But if we are not able to look at this spectrum—the tightrope that we all have walked, in some form or fashion, whether personally or in relation to others—it’s impossible to have the necessary understanding and compassion when it comes to the need to hold and heal the overarching epidemic of addiction in our culture and world. It has literally become part of the infrastructure of our relatedness, an underlying root system that is rotting out from under us, from which our relational matrix has evolved.

A large percentage of how we know one another, how we manage emotions in the presence of one another, how we share intimacy, and how we function are relational constructs that have depended on generational patterns of addiction to exist. And it is essential that we look to each one of us—to how we’ve been a part of this evolving destructive cycle, if we want to begin to heal our capacity for being in the world and with one another.

It’s easier to think of addiction in regard to alcohol or drugs, or a behavior such as pornography, gambling, gaming, or sex. It’s much more clear to imagine how the effects of those behaviors can wreak havoc in families and relationships, or in our professional lives. …But emotional addiction? What does that even mean? And who’s to say what’s addictive when it comes to our hearts expression?  One way to look at it is this:  An addictive personality has an inability to regulate emotions internally, so seeks some external substance, behavior, emotion, or relationship to help regulate. This could be alcohol, sex, heroine, shopping, food, relationship, control, gaming, or any other number of behaviors intended to provide short-term relief from emotional discomfort.

Some might see these types of relational/emotional addictive patterns as a “co-addiction” or co-dependency. The thing is… ALL addiction is RELATIONAL. It begins with emotional pain—emotional loss or trauma. And it begins in relationship. And I want to point to the beauty in that, as it is through relationship—with ourselves and others—that we heal.

Culturally, it is easy to look to an “identified patient” when it comes to addiction. But addiction happens within a system of closeness, of togetherness, of intimacy of some sort, and so really, addiction IS co-addiction, and almost always happens in a co-dependent system. And it is through a systemic lens that we need to look, if we are going to heal.


Systems support dependency through co-dependency. Think about it.


Since addiction doesn’t happen alone, we don’t heal alone. We heal when we are in the presence of willingness, compassion, understanding, honesty, challenge, and grace; and are able to allow our pain some space–to have a voice. When we can fully be with what is in the presence of another, we have an opportunity of living into the people we were designed to be. When we learn to allow healthy relationship to help regulate our nervous systems, with mindful intention, we can begin to increase our own tolerance for emotion, and learn to organize and regulate our experiences from an internal locus of control.  

SpaceGrace

Emotional pain lights up the brain just like physical pain, and whether an addiction is to an external substance or an internal feeling, the brain’s pain response can be soothed in similar ways. Our addictive patterns—whether to heroine, shopping, or emotional control or drama—are all attempts to soothe pain, to escape it—to be in the world, in our bodies, and in relationship with others.

As Dr. Gabor Maté says, we need to be looking not at what’s wrong with addiction, but what works—what’s right about it. When we can understand how it’s working, we can begin to understand the underlying need. And when we can understand and validate the true need, the habit and/or desire to avoid it can dissipate.

So what’s the difference between addiction and co-addiction?

Let’s first define addiction:

Addiction is a condition that results when a person ingests a substance (e.g., alcohol, cocaine, nicotine) or engages in an activity (e.g., gambling, sex, shopping) that can be momentarily pleasurable but the continued use/act of which becomes compulsive and interferes with ordinary life responsibilities, such as work, relationships, or health. In this scenario, the decision to stop ingesting the substance or engaging in the activity can feel impossible.

The definition of co-addiction looks a little different:

Co-addiction is the dependence on the needs, behaviors, or control of, another—to the point where one can become entirely preoccupied—and placing a lower priority on one’s own needs and behavior, resulting in an external locus of control: The experience of one’s emotions being regulated by someone or something external to the self. Initially, the experience can feel pleasurable, as it can result in a sense of connectedness, purpose, the building of ego, and the feeling of “care-taking.” For an active co-addict, however, the decision to “let go” of an addict and their behavior, and focus instead on SELF, can feel insurmountable.


If any one of us finds ourselves in intimate, long-term relationship to “an addict,” let’s get clear:

That doesn’t happen if we don’t have the right wiring to be in relationship with addiction. We are an integral piece in the puzzle. This is where co-dependency can be confusing. If we’re in an addictive system that we can’t seem to get out of, we are on the spectrum of addiction—plain and simple. That doesn’t mean that other things aren’t in play, or that we always have equal culpability in every relationship or situation. It does mean, however, that what we bring to the table matters and that more than likely, if we’re blaming an addict, we have blind spots with regard to how we are impacting our relationship.

Addictions related to our emotions can contribute to levels of toxicity in our lives that equal, and may even surpass, the damage done by chemical or behavioral addictions, mostly because of our lack of awareness, coupled with our blame toward “the addict.” When we see another as “the problem,” we disregard areas in our own lives that are causing damage. We may be embodying contempt, which research has shown is the kiss of death to relationship. (That’s another article!) When we focus on another’s problems, we also disempower ourselves to take charge of our own path. We become the victim to our situation and lose our objectivity—our ability to clearly see a different way.

I have fallen “off the wagon” multiple times. What does that look like, you might wonder. Someone with a substance addiction can’t “kind of” relapse—a drink or drug is a tangible slide. Yet a thought…. even a misstep in relationship is subtle—less obvious. Comfortable, in a way, because it’s what we “know,” (that early wiring) and also because there is a certain relational truth to the core underpinnings of our addictive behavior—the underlying intention to connect in ways that feel good can be incredibly healthy. The feeling, though, is also incongruent, and most often in my case, I’m the only one any wiser. Thankfully, I’ve gotten better during the last decade at tracking the subtle shifts that clue me in, and less comfortable with how they land.

When I have a misstep, the most obvious impact is that I feel incongruent with who I know myself to be in intimate relationship. It shows up in my behavior, in my every day emotional presence, and in my body. Dr. Maté shares a quote in his book In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts stating, “Nothing records the effects of a sad life so graphically as the human body.” When we learn to pay attention to the subtle shifts in sensation, in our bodies, we begin to know when we’re off track, and how to utilize that deeper wisdom to help us find our way back into alignment.

So… the actual point of this share?

We’re in this together, each of us. We exist in systems that are held in greater systems; from physiological, biological perspectives, from family, relational, community, and cultural perspectives, from spiritual and energetic perspectives, and from the perspective of healing, change, and growth.

Healing addictive cycles needs to happen from a “bottom up” approach, rather than a “top down” approach, changing the foundation verses treating the symptoms. We need to nourish the mitochondria of a diseased cell before we simply apply a balm to the resulting external wound. We need to look at the foundation of this matrix of our cultural connectedness—our human identity and the way in which we experience one another.  We need to understand how we’ve woven together the fabric of our human experience and how each of us are a part of that fabric. We need to heal from a lens of togetherness rather than separateness.

I’d appreciate your thoughts, your own sharing, your resistance and reservations.

For the Love of Your Life,

Angie

Thankful

I wrote this article a couple of years ago, and while I don’t often “re-write” articles, this one, to me, is more of a practice–a reminder of the blessings in my life.  They have shifted and grown, so I will allow my sharing to grow as well.

If you care to read, please take a moment to quiet your thoughts, and allow your heart to open to the gifts that are yours, right in this very moment…

Happy Thanksgiving.  

I’m blessed to live in a state where a three-hour mountain ride on my road bike is possible at the very end of November. So today, Thanksgiving, as my way of “giving thanks,” I donned my cool weather (even though it was close to 70 degrees) riding gear and headed out into the peaceful hills to breathe it all in.

I had my kids a few hours longer than anticipated last night, so just soaked them up, playing games, doing puzzles, coloring, snuggling, cooking, eating. And I’ll have them again on Friday for our Thanksgiving.

I thought that I might feel a little “whoa is me” being solo today, but I’ve been struck by how filled my heart is—especially as I road—with the amazing blessings in my life. Of course my brain goes to the psychobiological—“well, I’m stimulating the release of positive neurochemicals through exercise so of course I’m feeling good!” But there’s more to it than that today.

Maybe because of the work I do, or certain shifts I’ve felt as of late, but I’m often reminded that the pain I’ve suffered throughout my life, while sometimes overwhelming to me, does not compare to what so many endure. The things that people can do to people, and the burdens that humans must bear… the trauma and tragedy, the abuse, the betrayals, the life and death events that break hearts and tear families apart, the unresolved hurts… And what I see, consistently, is that the human spirit is not only resilient—we want to feel joy and so we choose to. Not always, and not everyone. But feeling joy beyond our particular suffering is a choice before us that motivates bravery beyond measure. And when I witness those who’ve suffered so much choosing to continue to open their hearts to love and to joy, risking what is most vulnerable, I am humbled and changed.

And without really trying to today, I kept thinking of the things I’m most grateful for. My “top 10” – not necessarily in any order.

I’d like to see your list too, if you’re motivated to share.

10 Blessings for which I’m incredibly Grateful

img_0705

#1 My children. Beyond anything in this world, they are my greatest teachers, my most powerful motivation, the wellspring of my love. They have grown me into the mother I am and they are the center of my heart, my most profound joy. I am currently struck by their emotional intelligence. Their ability to open their own hearts, to cultivate empathy, and to love—just purely LOVE, is so humbling. Deep gratitude to this life for the blessing of my children.

img_1027

#2 About three and a half years ago, I met an amazing man who, with humility, integrity, willingness, and love, has taught me to slow down and has connected with me in a way I’ve longed for my entire life. He reflects my gifts, challenges my mind and body, inspires my deepest respect, and my most playful presence. He “meets me” in the unique design of my heart’s longing and I have changed through receiving his love. I am blessed to be fully sharing my life.   To practice the skills I’ve cultivated over the past decade in an intimate and loving relationship, where they are welcomed and where I feel cherished, is… well, amazing. I am so grateful.

img_0474

#3 My family. We’re Greek and messy and dramatic at times. We’re quirky and strange in our own way. We exhaust one another. My parents taught me early on how to work really hard and they taught me that family is family and we stick together. They taught me that sometimes, no matter how tired we are, we just do what needs to be done for one another. They taught me to cherish our time together, to celebrate and dance, to be passionate, to tend to one another well, and to love big. I am so grateful for my family.

pic4

#4 My work with my clients, I’ve found, is often as transformative for me as it is for them. I am humbled and honored that people choose to open their lives to me, and to trust me with their hearts, their questions, their shame and hurt, their anger. The work that I do is an incredible gift to my life. The community and team of people—Noeticus Counseling Center—with whom I work is like a cocoon for our collective personal and professional development, and provides me with the foundation for my work as a therapist. So thankful!

img_1221

#5 My closest friends are the people who meet me in the stability and the chaos, holding my hands through our shared journeys. They are the ones who grab ahold when I don’t have the strength and the ones who pull me back with loving arms to challenge my objectivity. They are the ones who see and love all of me, and allow me to witness the wildness, the grit, and the suffering of their hearts.  They allow me to help hold them with gentlenss, especially when they forget to be gentle with themselves. I am forever grateful to these women who have stepped into the fire with me!

hurts

#6 My deepest hurts are blessings that have strengthened my tolerance, broadened my perspective, and challenged every edge of my heart. Engaging with the brokenness has taught me that there is a deep wisdom in pain, when we pay attention, when we stay present. When we can allow ourselves to feel, we are opened to fully engage with life. When we stretch to feel the pain, we are also strengthening our hearts capacity for love, for play, and for intimacy. My deepest hurts are gifts for which I will be forever grateful.

climbing

#7 I have cultivated a variety of physical practices over the years, with the influence of friends and mentors, and I am so thankful! Last week I danced, I climbed, I ran, I skied, I strength-trained, (and I also did these wild leg-blaster workouts that leave me crazy shaky and happy!) and this week I hope to ride… challenging my body has strengthened my mind, and I am grateful for the ability and motivation to push myself beyond comfort.

img_3270

#8 My education—both my formal education and life education, and the integration of learning and practices that have changed my visceral experience of living in the world. My education is a privilege, and something I do not take for granted. I am grateful for the opportunities, the support, and the motivation to embed the practices that change who I am and how I impact others.  I am thankful for mentors, for their work and legacy that I now have the opportunity to hold and share.

dance

#9 My health has allowed me so much opportunity. It has allowed me to learn to trust my body, to track the very sensation that informs me of what needs tending to, to deepen into complete present-centered relationship with me. My health is never a given. It is both something I do my best to manage well and it is a gift for which I am wholly grateful.

neuralplasticity

#10 Neuroplasticity! So thankful that the “emotional wiring” I had for the first half of my life will not be the same wiring that I have at the end of my life! My brain—everyone’s brain—is plastic! We can completely rewire how we exist in relationship to others, how we respond to life, to love, to everything that comes our way. I am so thankful for the way that my brain and body work together to create the life that I envision.

There are so many gifts in each of our lives. I hope that you are struck today, and every day, with the unique gifts that have been offered to you. Please take them in and share them with all of us!

I ran across the following and sadly, I do not know who wrote it.  I’d like to give credit so please, if you know the author, let me know.  It speaks to my heart though…  maybe it will speak to yours as well.

“Having loved enough and lost enough, I’m no longer searching… just opening, no longer trying to make sense of pain but trying to be a soft and sturdy home in which real things can land. These are the irritations that rub into a pearl. So we can talk for a while but then we must listen, the way rocks listen to the sea. And we can churn at all that goes wrong but then we must lay all distractions down and water every living seed. And yes, on nights like tonight I too feel alone. But seldom do I face it squarely enough to see that it’s a door into the endless breath that has no breather, into the surf that human shells call God.” (Author unknown)

For the Love of Your Life!

 

Angie

Co-Parenting with Ex’s… and Their New Partners

Like so many people I know, my tolerance for emotional distress has been stretched to maximum capacity a number of times throughout my life. And honestly–I’m so grateful… There’s this one specific piece that has pushed my edges more than anything else. …Wait, let me put that another way—that feels like a sledgehammer in the center of my heart, and it has demanded that I stretch further than I thought possible.

And the idea is this: ….That I am going to have to share my children with another mother.

Fuck.

Having had a few years to really consider the possibility of “another woman” in the lives of my children, I’ve had some time to FEEL a lot. And I think the potential of someone else in a “mothering” role, in their lives, is one of the most terrifying things I’ve ever experienced.

me-lillyFrom the moment that my son was born, and then as powerfully as that first moment, when my daughter entered the world four years later, my heart exploded wide open. My entire identity became something completely new—I was an altered human being. In fact, it seemed as if the world became a different place, as soon as they each took their first breaths. There are those rare times in life that our identities and perceptions alter so dramatically. Becoming a mother is the most profound shift I have personally ever experienced. I’m guessing many of you can relate.

I know that my children can never really know how much I love them. At least until they are parents themselves. And I have to trust that my love—which is sourced from a place that is so much bigger than me—is going to hold them …through these transitions, through all of the things that I fear may damage them, due to me or to someone else.

So I remind myself that I’m not going to do it perfectly—that there really is no right or wrong, that I need to do it “well enough,” and hold them to the best of my ability throughout the journey. And that the love that surrounds us, that is going to be the foundation for how they resource their own sense of safety and being-ness in the world, is more powerful than anything.

Obviously we cannot control who our ex partners choose to support the rest of their hearts journeys, and who all will be influencing our children. We cannot have any control over how those people interact and influence these little people who inhabit almost the entirety of our hearts… Unless, of course, we are open to some dialogue, and unless we are both respecting and honoring the strength and the possibility of different perspectives, and unless we are willing to stretch ourselves. And those things are my intention and hope.

We also have to trust who our children are, and their capacity and need Nathaniel-Lillyfor feeling loved from multiple sources, and for ultimately designing their own paths as they take nourishment from the strength and support around them. We need to help our children feel a sense of community… And I believe there is huge opportunity for us, and them, in accepting the community we have, including our ex partners new partners. Because really what is the alternative?

By developing positive relationships with one another—and I’m talking authentic connection, because each one of us knows the discomfort of un-owned resentment, and our children, especially, feel when we are out of integrity—we provide safety for our children to trust, to cultivate closeness, to love and receive love, and to learn to depend on their family—their entire family—to support them.

Our kids look to us for cues in who and how to trust, and their hearts are soothed when they see us doing the work to stretch ourselves into new, supportive and authentic relationships.

Some might balk at the idea of my developing a positive co-parenting relationship a partner of my ex-husband. But let’s really look at this. If she’s in love with the man that I loved for so many years, chances are we have some things in common.

My ex-husband is holding and managing half of my children’s lives in his hands and heart, and if he chooses a woman as worthy of both his heart, as well as theirs, it is my work to open my heart as well. A woman who is willing to be a positive, loving force in the lives of my children deserves my appreciation and respect, and if she opens her heart to them, I want to support that with everything in me, because they will feel the nourishment of her love. And do you wonder if that hurts or scares me? You’re damn right it does. And it is the practice of parenting to continue to consciously stretch into all that our children need and that can serve them.

N-L2These two little people are the number one most important thing in my world. Their happiness and capacity to thrive is worth every ounce of me stretching into a better version of myself. And no matter what I have to do to authentically show up and support healthy relationships in their lives, they are worth it.

We can handle so much more than we imagine, as can our children, and even more so if each of us can understand the fabric that weaves the complexity of emotions around and between us. When we’re honest with our kids, sharing honestly what’s happening in our lives in a way that they can understand, it settles them. They feel our congruence with our inner truth.

And when they see us doing the work to cultivate resiliency and to stretch into life, rather than close ourselves off from it, they begin to embody that same strength. And what better gift can we give?

I’ve seen a beautiful quote a number of times that goes like this: “The best gift a man can give his children is to love their mother.” ~ Anonymous

I’ve always loved that.

I wonder… for the divorced family, the best gift of each parent might be to truly honor and appreciate our ex-partner, and his or her new partner!

For the Love of Your Life!me-kids

Angie

 

 

 

Sexy

“Mom, do you know what ‘sexy’ means?”  Asks five-year-old Lilly. 

“Well, I know what sexy is to me, honey.  Sexy can be very different for different people.” 

“What does it mean to you, Mom?”

This was the origination of an engaging and thought-provoking dialogue between my daughter and son, Nathaniel, and I, yesterday morning.  They’d heard a song on the radio stating, “I’m sexy and I know it,” and had some great questions!  (My favorite question of Nathaniel’s was, “what’s ‘passion in my pants’ mean?”)  !!!  Oye!

When I posted part of the conversation on Facebook, I received a few, “So….  What is sexy to you?” questions.  And while my answers, I’m certain, are no more interesting than any of yours, I thought it could be a fun dialogue to bring to the digital table.

This is my initial response:

sitting-transperencyHonesty. That’s number one. Without honesty, it’s almost impossible to sink into one’s body and feel an authentic sexual attraction.  Dishonesty puts the body on edge, which can feel like a “charge” initially but ultimately drains our energy–including our sexual energy.  When a person embodies honesty, and we feel ourselves naturally trusting, so much more of our own essence can come to the surface.

Seeking Balance  People – males and female – who are seeking the balance of their emotional and intellectual bodiespurposefully developing themselves physically and emotionally, who are willing to learn and practice new skills in the face of vulnerability–that’s sexy as hell to me!

IntelligenceBut, not at the expense of relationship;sexymind1
meaning, willing to be curious about another’s perspective and ideas, while continuing to validate one’s own innate knowing.  A favorite quote of mine reads, “It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.”  — Aristotle

Willingness to be challenged, as well as to challenge others, with groundedness, compassion, and humor.

adults-playPlay!! The embodied freedom to get really silly, to risk, to reach out…  We are hardwired to be playful, and many of us forget that as we get older.  When a person knows how to get playful and can attune to the spirited play of another, we learn to release our grasp on the seriousness of life, and simply BE!

Touch – We require loving touch for our very survival.  And those who do it well more than likely were “touched well” in their touch1families of origin, and so know the language innately.  Touch is really our primary language.  It’s how we initially experience love, safety, trust, and attachment to others.  When we know it, we don’t need to depend on the limits of human language, and we are able to express the nuance of emotion that language simply cannot reach.    

An Ability to apologize is, to me, a pathway that helps my body and mind “yield” into trusting another human being–to know that he is self-reflective and humble, that he is willing to love beyond his fear of being wrong and, in so doing, he assures me that I am enough of a priority for him to risk being vulnerable.

kissing1

Oh, and of course…

A man who knows how to Kiss!  The ability to communicate desire, openness, wanting, lust, playfulness, excitement, curiosity…  a myriad of different intimate emotions through use of mouth, tongue, teeth, lips–speaking this language reflects a deep, innate ability to attach to another person, and to share deep, transformative intimacy.

That was my first hit as I pondered the fantasies of what naturally draws my sexual attention.  And yet there is so much more.

As odd as it may sound, Sexy, to me, is a person who has experienced enough suffering and found the strength to move through it, that he or she can stay present to pain—theirs, mine, or another’s.  Someone who doesn’t disappear—emotionally or physically—at the occurrence of life and all it serves up—who resources their body, mind, and heart because they’ve strengthened each enough to trust their will—that’s sexy!

(Just a note:  I’m generalizing a bit here, for the sake of ease, with hetero-language, even though there are a lot of characteristics that I find sexy in both men and women.  Just a reminder to keep a flexible mind—Ahhh… that’s sexy too!)

Of course I can’t forget Passion:  Passion about SOMETHING—passion-mewhether it be the environment, parenting, travel, astrophysics, the violent sexual habits of the African Bat Bug…  some THING that makes a person’s blood pulse a little more quickly, eyes open just a little wider, and heart reach beyond the familiar.

When we’re passionate, our passion can override fear, at times.  We stretch ourselves into new territory and learn to navigate life and relationships with internal motivation that keeps us wanting, moving, and reaching toward new places and new perspectives.

Those are some of the things that I find Sexy.    How about you?

For the Love of Your Life,

Angie

For the Love of Lust: Part Two

(If you missed part one of For the Love of Lust, Click Here)  

We are built for bonding.  There is no doubt.  Whether we ever satisfy our relationship1innate need for deep connection is dependent on countless factors, but suffice it to say, creating meaning through our relationships is a prime motivator for much of what we do in life.

Could it be possible, however, that our desire for intimacy has a shadow to it?  Maybe that the moral laws that govern our fidelity do not coalesce with passion?  Could it also be that through our efforts to increase togetherness in our relationships, we simultaneously create an emotional barrier to eroticism?

Many partners will admit to waning desire that can become a burden to relationships, coming alive only in response to others or conversely deadening one’s spirit of Lust altogether, after significant time has past.  Most will simply describe this process as fact, as natural.  And while sex and eroticism can take dramatic turns over the course of time, to submit to these socialized beliefs can actually cause harm to these unions we’ve worked so diligently to forge.

In Part One of this article, we spoke to the evolutionary advantages of Lust.  We spoke to the health and necessity; to the brain circuitry specifically designed to support it’s expression.  We also acknowledged the complexity of attaining a harmonious balance between Lust and Love.  (Again, if you missed that, click here).

Becoming Friends with Lust—Ours and Our Partners

Esther Perel, PhD, author of Mating In Captivity notes that lust doesn’t always play by the rules of good morals.  In fact, sometimes those rules are actually antithetical to the cultivation of lust and eroticism because, for that circuitry to be activated, humans tend to require a little bit of risk—something that our intimate bonds have a propensity to constrain.

When we consider the closeness that intimacy allows, the stripping away of lifelong emotional layers that lends to the foundation of relational love—the transparency that fosters safety—we have to wonder as to the other side of the coin.  When we have become so open, so able to yield into the transparent dance of togetherness, we leave nothing for our partners to seek out in us.  And our practice of seeking is related to another region of evolved brain circuitry that is necessary for us to thrive as humans.  Seeking feels good to our brains–it provides a sense of purpose and pleasure and forward motion.  When there is nothing left to seek out in our partners, the pleasure that comes from seeking must find another outlet for expression.

To destabilize our intimate bonds with behavior that many see as riskyfor example, to rekindle eroticismcan feel as if it opposes the exact behavior that is nourishing our relationship.  So often, our “lust needs” take a back seat to the cultivation of care and closeness

lust5And yet… as is clearly stated in Part One, we are hardwired for lust as well.  So while lust can quiet itself for a time, that particular brain circuitry needs expression and ideally that expression would be practiced in a way that supports our vision for an integral relationship.

Lust, for most people, tends to require a certain amount of risk—these two emotional constructs act very similar in the brain, in fact.  The question in the development of lust in an intimate relationship subsequently becomes, how do we RISK without risking too much?

Neurochemicals of Risk

The nature of risk is related to the emotion excitement, which is essentially a combination of hope and fear.  Excitement, on a physiological level, provokes a state of hyperarousal, where thoughts and body states are pushed to stretch beyond homeostasis—our natural state of equilibrium—to a palpable emotional experience that, while stressful, is also related to positivity.  You see, when we push ourselves just slightly out of our comfort zone, and we experience some resulting pleasure, the reward center in our brains lights up like the 4th of July!

Exciting experiences activate dopamine, a neurotransmitter in the brain’s rewardDopamine1 system that helps us experience pleasure.  The pleasure and reward center is housed primarily in the frontal lobe of the brain, and provides a “reward value” for experience.

For risk to be related to reward, our brains need healthy doses of dopamine and adrenaline, along with their available receptors.  And the culmination of reciprocated lust ignites serotonin as well—which is related to feelings of happiness and mood regulation.  Top that off with healthy doses of oxytocin, vasopressin and endogenous opioids and this neurochemical cocktail—if given to a skilled mixologistis deserving of a worthy name!  No wonder our drive to acquire, and experience, the rewards of lust are so powerful.

The fact is, even a one-night-stand can stir these potent neurochemicals into existence, which is why we can experience incredible closeness—the feeling of, anyway—after even a brief sexual encounter.  And yet, one-night-stands do little for the other driver of our relational circuitry—those connected to Care, Bonding, and Love. 

Cultivating the Sweet Spot

Our brains and bodies have evolved to the point of reaping significant benefits of both intimacy and lust—just rarely collaboratively.  The relationship between the two is complex and clearly non-linear, as we may have previously assumed.  Science has demonstrated that both are necessary to our collective evolution.  And if we are to thrive, individually and collectively, we need to stretch into new possibilities for these constructs not only to co-exist, but also, to inform and enhance one another.

The current marital trends are far from indicating a culture of happy unions.  With over 50% divorce rate (60+% in second marriages) it’s time we take a look at the deeper implications of a society that is known to deny the health of lust.  More importantly, we need to cultivate a more united vision of intimacy and lust working, and playing, side by side.

Practices

There are many practices that have been designed to deepen our awareness and experience of intimacy and sexuality.  I’ll focus on three that I believe, and that are grounded in science, as central to supporting a healthy transition into developing lust within an intimate partnership—whether you’re in one or not.

These practices are for individuals, maybe those who are deeply connected to a partner and looking to enliven a relationship; and also for those who are seeking to explore a new relationship, where lust is alive from the beginning, and remains a central theme in the developing journey of Love.   These practices are simply “some” ways to help reconcile our need for security and adventure, closeness and separateness, stability and risk, predictability and novelty.

1)    Honor Autonomy

autonomy1In our desire for connection, we can often forget that we are primarily individuals seeking togetherness.  We can become essentially “fused”—not knowing where we end and our partners begin.  This feeling can be incredibly soothing and seductive initially, as we can imagine we’ve found our intimate home and that, finally, we are met, deeply recognized, loved unconditionally.  However, becoming over-connected can, in reality, become a hindrance to eroticism.

For deep connection to be possible, separateness is vital.  While this may seem contradictory, the ability to step away from our partners as separate entities, the ability to self-regulate and practice autonomy, are necessary qualities for one to be able to move toward the other.  As Esther Perel states, “When people become fused—when two become one—connection can no longer happen.  There is no one to connect with.  Thus separateness is a precondition for connection:  This is the essential paradox of intimacy and sex.”

Find ways to establish—or reestablish—independence, autonomy, and separateness.  Nurture activities and personal interests as a means for strengthening not only your attractiveness and desire-ability to your mate, but your own internalized “attraction to self.”

Also, encourage your partner—or future partners—to do the same.  Honor his or her need, whether stated or not, for separate interests and activities.  When developing closeness, look to the future vision that you would like to create—where there are worlds yet unexplored within the context of your partner’s autonomy.

2)    Cultivate Mystery

It can be difficult to be lustful for someone about whom we know everything. synapse1
If nothing is left to the imagination, our minds become uninterested, lacking the tension necessary for desire to flourish.  And as science of the mind is fairly certain, our sexuality is more related to the space between our ears than the space between our legs!

Nourishing the mystery in our intimate unions can feel somewhat counterintuitive since some of the elements of lust don’t necessarily support the development of a harmonious, transparent relationship.  Clearly, lust and intimacy are on very different trajectories, and when they yearn to coincide, fears of the unknown can destabilize our inner worlds as well as our intimate journeys.

One place where we can always escape the confines of fusion is into our own minds—where imagination can take us anywhere, to anyone.  And when we honor the beauty of our minds, simultaneously soothing the innate fears that may arise, we are cultivating our unique mental wanderings that may inform us of what naturally excites us.

The question becomes, can we tolerate the anxiety provoked by our partner’s developing autonomy—by his or her intrinsic capacity to always escape into the sanctuary of the mind, to where we are quite possibly NOT the center of their attending neural processes?  When we can stand firm in our own sense of self, within the vulnerable “unknowns” of our partner’s inner mental territory, we give space to his or her unique exploration of self, grounded in the safety of an intimate home.

An important distinction to consider with this level of the erotic dance is whether or not we are utilizing our fantasies as fuel for our intimate partnerships, or whether we are escaping into the erotic, only to return to safety and stability with our partners, and leave the fantasy separate.  Part of how fantasy can serve to edify our relationships is to acknowledge and share at least part of what is occurring in that solitary space.  Risk bringing the erotic design of your own mental forays into sexual play with your partner—and be open for him or her to do the same.

Conversely, when our own imagination confronts what we assume about ourselves—the principles and experiences within our comfort and moral code—with new stimuli that forces us to question our truest desires, our integrity, and our natural wiring for lust, we have an opportunity to strengthen our sense of self and to share something new and different with our intimate partner.

Through imagination, we maintain a sense of freedom and personal wonder

that can bring new life to our relationships.  

It can feel intimidating to allow our imagination to wander and wonder, to consider what or who, besides our current partner and situation might naturally entice or excite us.  Through our development of safety and closeness, we’ve forgotten that our erotic mind needs to flourish as well.  So allow yourself to re-attune to your innate lustful longings, and then allow them to come alive with your intimate partner.

3)    Practice Mindfulness

a.    In perception

Practice increasing your tolerance to the exploration of space between meditation1you and your lover.  When your partner feels distant, or when you are proactively choosing to strengthen your own autonomy, allow the emotions and the sensations that activate your nervous system to arise.  Welcome them, sit with them, yield into the discomfort of “stretching” your perception and tolerance.  Allow them to inform you of the long-standing patterns of anxiety and fear that tend to surface and cause discord.  Welcome that knowledge like a long-lost friend, here to help you increase both your ability to push the edges of your comfort as well as to strengthen your ability to track your natural sensation that ultimately will lend to deep understanding.

b.    In thought

Practice unconditional acceptance and presence to all of your thoughts from the perspective of an observer.  Practice noticing the thought, and letting it go, over and over and over.   Don’t fall into spiraling thoughts that trigger fear.  Rather, notice the thought arise, and witness it being released with each breath. Notice any impulse to create a story with your thoughts, to give deeper meaning to fear or insecurity.

According to Dr. Brent J. Atkinson, in his article, “Rewiring Neural States in Couples Therapy:  Advances from affective neuroscience,” we can easily “blindly trust” a feeling or thought, because our brains are hardwired for self-protection.  We often automatically attach ourselves to an emotion—as if the emotion is real, and the idea that someone else caused it feels just as real.  In all actuality, the automatic processes of the brain do this naturally.  Our “protective mechanisms” are designed for hypervigilance, first and foremost.  So if we feel fear, for example, we will seek out a source—external to us—that we can attach to the cause, and from which we can then protect ourselves.  This dynamic, while serving us in regard to our survival, can be toxic to our relationships.

Instead, practice simply noticing the thought without attaching it to any external source.  Allow it to exist solely, without spiraling out of control.  Practice being present to all that arises in regard to mental information, just as it is, without trying to dismiss, avoid, or change anything that may ultimately serve to bring awareness.  Simply witness… and let go.

c.    In body

Pay attention, nonjudgmentally, to the subtle signals and sensations of your body.  Reject nothing.  Notice in detail the sensations that are present—especially any tightness or tension that arises or that draws your attention.  Notice any small, seemingly automatic movements that could be related to a deeper emotion.  Allow those sensations to simply “be” without attempting to dismiss them or push them away.  Allow your sensations space to exist, and time to guide you to your body’s internal wisdom.

Also, nurture physical practices that help you touch into your own internalyoga1 resources—your body, your strength, the wisdom that resides in each and every cell of your being, along with your ability to practice new skills.  Experience your body in moments of strength, in times of vulnerability, though practices that stretch and push you beyond what you know.  Our physical selves help to shape our psychological selves, so be present to the shape and flow of your life.

Research has demonstrated that those people who enjoy physical practices, such as strength training, dance, cycling, running, or yoga, experience more excitement in their lives.  And as we practice risk by exploring new physical practices, risk becomes an integral aspect of our natural drive for learning and pleasure.  So the very practice of getting physical opens your neural pathways to experiencing more excitement, more risk, and ultimately more lust.

Embody Your Intention

We have an opportunity, individually and collectively, to transcend the inhibitions and fears ignited by longstanding ideas of lust, as well as our attachment to any historical meaning or power we’ve given over to it.  Lust is a natural, potent, necessary quality of human beings.  Like all other qualities intrinsic to our evolving selves, this specific circuitry in our brains needs to be understood and allowed space to breathe—to find it’s way out of hardwired constraints—in a way that helps us to thrive rather than has us cycling in a spiral of fear.

It is time we transcend the fears that bind our relationships, and allow our bodies the chance to expand their language repertoire—to own and practice our original language and deepen our understanding of the subtext, the nuances, the dialects of our own—and our partners—primary tool of communication.  It is time we work toward becoming fluent in our unique erotic style, allowing ourselves to fully embody the dynamics of seduction, and then share that energy with those whom we love and trust.

Through following the practices of presence, mindfulness, autonomy and mystery, we can begin to lay claim to our birthright for experiencing both the intense nurturance and love of intimacy, along with the fiery and erotic dance of lust—together.

If you’d like more tips for enhancing your intimate partnership, check out my !0 Rules For Intimacy, a free download with lots of juicy and challenging tips for Relationship Transformation.  And keep coming back and joining in the dialogue here!

For the Love of Your Life…

Angie