Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Why Are Relationships So Frustrating?

Can you see that everything in your reality appears to you as one of two categories? Either you think of it as yourself (or belonging to you) because you have control over it, or you think of it as part of your external environment, because it is not under your control. A "relationship" is where these two categories meet. A relationship is formed when you interact with the external environment, and you have some influence, but most of it is outside your control. That's what makes the relationship experience interesting and exciting (but sometimes also frustrating). Other people are just a specific instance of your external environment, but a special one, because of all the things in your world; they are the most like you. Therefore, your interactions with other people also have a special significance to you.

Maybe you are looking to other people for acceptance; that is to say, you want to be accepted by them. You might say to yourself, "Why should I change so that other people will accept me? I am what I am. They should learn to deal with me as I am." You have a strong desire to find someone who can accept you just as you are: totally, completely, and fully. At the same time, you also want to achieve full self-acceptance, to feel totally comfortable and "at home" being yourself. But you continually struggle with the challenge of accepting others as they are. Right now, some people in your life are exhibiting qualities that you don't want to deal with. They may pass judgment on you, criticize, nag, complain, or fail to give you enough respect and consideration. In short, they just don't do what you want them to do. Am I wrong about these things?

The essential challenge for you is to recognize that being accepted by others, accepting yourself, and accepting others are not three different things, they are in reality the same thing, because acceptance is a state of mind regarding the way you interact with your environment. Acceptance doesn't come from outside of you, it comes from within you. It is your willingness to just allow things (and people) to be as they are. Think about water flowing around rocks in a stream. Sometimes the water flows gently around whatever obstacle it encounters and continues downstream unhindered. This is your mind in a state of acceptance. Sometimes the water hits the rocks forcefully and churns back on itself, creating a frantic whirlpool that goes nowhere. This is your mind in a state of non-acceptance. While being accepted by others is not something you can directly control (and you only frustrate yourself by trying), accepting others and accepting yourself are your free choice. Once you choose the path of acceptance, you are then also free to perceive your environment as being accepting of you, because you are no longer demanding anything in particular from it.

My motivation in writing this is to help you clarify your thinking and stay on a productive path. Realize that you will keep meeting the same problems in different relationships until you figure out that the frustration is itself presenting the learning experience you need. You could turn right now and ask yourself, "What is the real cause of the things that frustrate me? What am I trying to change that is outside of my control? What can I learn about myself from these experiences?" I would love to hear you reflect on your feelings, respond to those questions and unlock the personal growth that comes from doing so.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

It's Summertime and the Living is Easy

I didn't really mean to take the summer off, but it just happened that way. I really thought after I stopped working on June 1st, I would have a lot more time for this blog. However, it turns out that I actually had a lot more time for relaxation and recreation. The weather here has been unusually cool for summer and it's great to be outdoors—swimming, walking, biking, and trying to keep up with the copious amount of zucchini coming out of our garden. I think up until this week, we had the air conditioning on only about four days so far this summer.

For those of you who remember my "Changes" post, you will be heartened to learn that my father-in-law is doing quite well. In spite of having an advanced aggressive cancer, he has responded well to chemotherapy (so much so that he has to take another 12 week round). He even resumed playing golf about two weeks ago.

After I stopped working, I made a conscious decision not to rush into doing anything. I often get a restless feeling, like I should be doing something, and sometimes I will start a project out of that feeling, and get caught up in it. But now I have a different problem, which is mental inertia. I've become so relaxed, that it's hard to get started on anything. Nonetheless, I want to resume regular postings, so my new goal is to put up at least one post every week so I can get back into the swing of things.

I would especially like to thank all of you who have been reading my blog for the past six months, and particularly those of you who have taken the time to leave comments. Your encouragement and support has been very much appreciated!

Finally, I would like to leave you with these insightful thoughts from the book, The Lost Art of Listening, by Michael P. Nichols:

"The yearning to be listened to and understood is a yearning to escape our separateness and bridge the space that divides us. We reach out and try to overcome that separateness y revealing what's on our minds and in our hearts, hoping for understanding. Getting that understanding should be simple, but it isn't.

The essence of good listening is empathy, which can be achieved only by suspending our preoccupation with ourselves and entering into the experience of the other person. Part intuition and part effort, it's the stuff of human connection.

A listener's empathy—understanding what we're trying to say and showing it—builds a bond of understanding, linking us to someone who understands and cares and thus confirming that our feelings are recognizable and legitimate. The power of empathic listening is the power to transform relationships. When deeply felt but unexpressed feelings take shape in words that are shared and come back clarified, the result is a reassuring sense of being understood and a grateful feeling of shared humanness with the one who understands.

If listening strengthens our relationships by cementing our connection with one another, it also fortifies our sense of self. In the presence of a receptive listener, we're able to clarify what we think and discover what we feel. Thus, in giving an account of our experience to someone who listens, we are better able to listen to ourselves. Our lives are coauthored in dialogue."