Mindfulness and the Art of Forgiveness

In a previous post, I highlighted the need for compassion and forgiveness to sustain a second marriage.  However, forgiveness is a need in all facets of our relationships because we can experience a grievance or hurt wherever we are – at work, at home or in our daily activity outside these spheres.  Dr. Fred Luskin, an international expert in forgiveness, explains that there are three main aspects of a grievance, wherever or whenever it is experienced:

  • Exaggerating the personal offense we experience
  • Blaming someone else for our negative feelings
  • Developing a grievance story.

In his book, Forgive for Love: The Missing Ingredient for Healthy and Lasting Relationships, Fred draws on research to demonstrate that forgiveness leads to a sense of peace as well as physical and emotional welfare.  In contrast, maintaining a grudge, grievance or anger results in illness, a loss of personal power (you become controlled by your emotions) and an inability to focus on the task at hand.  The very words we use – such as “consumed by envy” – evoke the destructive power of grievances and sustained anger.

Developing the art of forgiveness through mindfulness

Fred points out that, contrary to popular belief, forgiveness is not about the other person by whom you feel aggrieved, it is about yourself – your thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations and consequent behaviour.  He contends that the focus in forgiveness is self-awareness and self-regulation, not reconciliation.  Some of the mindfulness practices that can help you develop the art of forgiveness include:

  • Mindful breathing: Fred offers a specific, brief practice here.  He suggests that you take three deep breaths.  When inhaling, you focus on the movement of your stomach as it fills with air.  As you exhale, you concentrate on your stomach softening (and the sense of release).  On your third deep breath, Fred suggests that you bring your focus to something or someone you love or a thing of beauty – filling your mind with something positive which can serve to displace negative thoughts and emotions.
  • Naming your feelings:  Fred suggests that through reflection you seek to identify the catalyst for your grievance and name the feelings that you experienced.  He argues that your past experiences may have influenced your feelings, but you experience them in the present and you are responsible for them (not the person you blame for those feelings).  Once you name your feelings, you can take ownership of them and effectively tame them (you control them, they don’t control you).  You can also identify how you have exaggerated the personal offense that you have experienced and what expectations or assumptions underlie that sense of being offended.  Fred maintains that we each carry around in our head what he calls “unenforceable rules”.
  • Choosing your channel: Fred proposes that we learn to replace the “grievance channel” (where we repeat our “grievance story” to ourselves and others) with more positive channels such as those focused on gratitude, love and beauty (especially the beauty of nature).  In his book, he offers multiple suggestions on how to switch “channels” throughout the day.  If we achieve this switch on a regular basis, we naturally develop our “forgiveness channel” because appreciation, a sense of beauty and feelings of love displace negative feelings of hurt, anger and resentment.  The art of forgiveness can be further developed by reading about, or listening to, stories of courageous acts of forgiveness by others.

Fred suggests that we need to become aware of the space in our minds that we are allocating to our grievance – how much of our time and energy are being consumed by accommodating and entertaining our grievances.

Reflection

To develop the art of forgiveness, we need to be conscious of the thoughts and emotions we are cultivating through the stories in our head – we become what we focus on, the choice is ours to be bitter or appreciative.  As we grow in mindfulness, we can become more self-aware of our “unenforceable rules” in the form of unrealistic expectations or unfounded assumptions, more readily name our feelings and learn to achieve self-regulation by consciously choosing to entertain positive thoughts and feelings of love and appreciation.

In reflecting on what unenforceable rules we carry in our head, I am reminded of an observation by Michelle De Kretser in her book, The Life to Come, when talking about Pippa’s reflections about her family friend Rashida (a Muslim born in India):

There was a whisper in Pippa’s brain, like a subdued, left-hand accompaniment to her thoughts, and this whisper was of the opinion that Rashida should be grateful that white people overlooked the double handicap of her religion and race.  [p. 221, emphasis added]

_____________________________________

Image by Pixource from Pixabay

By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

Disclosure: If you purchase a product through this site, I may earn a commission which will help to pay for the site, the associated Meetup group and the resources to support the blog.

How Could Mindfulness Help to Sustain and Nurture Relationships in a Second Marriage?

Tami Simon recently conducted a podcast interview with Terry Gaspard on navigating the challenges of a second marriage.  Terry is a college professor, author and very successful couples therapist.  In the interview, Terry drew on her book, The Remarriage Manual: How to Make Everything Work Better the Second Time Around.  Both Tami and Terry pointed to the divorce static that highlighted the difficulty of a second marriage – while 50% of first marriages end in divorce, this figure rises to 60% for second marriages.

Second marriages entail the added complexity of increased financial expenses, the challenge of blending families (where there are children involved) and the intellectual and emotional baggage from the previous intimate relationships.  As the two insightful women discussed the topic of sustaining a second marriage from ideas and perspectives developed through their own research and personal experience, it occurred to me that mindfulness could help partners develop the insights and skills required to effectively and happily navigate the many challenges involved in a second marriage.

Mindfulness for accepting “what is” in terms of partner differences

In a previous post, I explained that Diana Winston, Director of Mindfulness Education at MARC, incorporates “accepting what is” as an integral part of mindfulness.  Neither speaker in the podcast interview mentioned above thought that this entailed a totally passive position in relation to differences in partners in an intimate relationship.  While they recognised from research that 70% of differences in a relationship cannot be changed, they did identify ways to negotiate some differences.  Terry suggested, however, that some differences can involve what she calls “deal breakers” and these may need to be resolved with the help of a couples therapist if the second marriage relationship is to be sustained.

Terry drew on hundreds of interviews of couples and her own relationships to develop her book.  She maintained that trying to change the other person in a second marriage to be like yourself or some ideal image very often leads to divorce in a second marriage.  She points out that you will not change a person’s basic personality in a relationship – “morning people” do not automatically become “night people”, for instance, or introverts change readily into extroverts.  These are deep differences that cannot be changed, but if partners in a second marriage accept what is in terms of these more profound differences, it is possible to work towards various accommodations over time that make the relationship workable and rewarding.  Terry offers some suggestions in the podcast and in her book to address these differences.

Mindfulness for self-awareness

Research has consistently demonstrated that mindfulness develops self-awareness and the associated skill of self-regulation.  Self-awareness is critical to negotiate several significant hurdles in a second marriage:

  • Intellectual and emotional baggage – whether we like it or not, our past is in our present.  Each person in a second marriage brings their own baggage, both in terms of thoughts and feelings, to the new relationship.  We can act these out unconsciously and damage our relationship(s).  It may be that we bring to the second relationship a lack of trust, unresolved hurt, resentment or fears. Terry suggests that often rebound second relationships do not work because individuals have not taken the time and space required to heal from the damages of the prior relationship.  Mindfulness can help us to see what our personal “baggage” is and how it plays out in the conflicts we have in our second marriage, the points of irritation or the frustration and resentment that we experience towards our partner. 
  • Unrealistic expectations – we all develop expectations of ourselves and others that at times prove to be unrealistic.  Terry particularly mentions the challenge of blending two families in a second marriage and the unrealistic expectations that arise around this difficult endeavour. She contends that it takes at least four years for a partner in a second marriage to negotiate and achieve a balanced relationship with a stepchild (even longer for “stepchildren”).  Through meditation and reflection, we can become aware of our expectations and the influence they are having on our intimate relationship.  We can create the freedom of possibility by gaining release from the tyranny of unrealistic expectations of our self and our partner.

Compassion and forgiveness

Compassion and forgiveness are required in an intimate relationship because grievances will occur on the part of either or both parties.  Terry draws on the work of Fred Luskin, an expert in forgiveness, who talks about the “grievance story” or narrative that we develop when we are hurt in a relationship.  Grievance stories are effectively negative self-stories focused on our hurt that result from unresolved grievances we carry towards our partner over one or more incidents occurring in our second marriage.  They Invariably involve an unbalanced perspective, blaming the other person and some form of “punishment”, e.g. through personal attack (e.g. nagging) or withdrawal.

Acknowledging these harmful narratives and dealing with them through meditation and reflection can heal our wounds and enable us to participate more fully and constructively in our intimate relationship.  Fred’s book, Forgive for Love: The Missing Ingredient for a Healthy and Lasting Relationship, offers processes to overcome grievance stories.  It also provides an understanding of the nature of forgiveness, the underpinning science, the benefits of forgiveness and how to develop forgiveness (especially through the “gratitude channel”).

Reflection

After almost 35 years in a second marriage, I can readily relate to the issues described by Tami and Terry and the need for the perspectives and skills that they discuss to sustain a second marriage.  Their insights and strategies are particularly relevant, practical and workable.  As we grow in mindfulness, we can develop the acceptance, self-awareness and forgiveness necessary to deepen, enrich and sustain a second intimate relationship.  A key ingredient for success seems to be to develop a “growth mindset” along with tolerance.

_____________________________________

Image by Arek Socha from Pixabay

By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

Disclosure: If you purchase a product through this site, I may earn a commission which will help to pay for the site, the associated Meetup group and the resources to support the blog.

Building Your Relationship

In an earlier post, I looked at the different levels of connection involved in “love”.  Before that, I explored ways to develop a sustainable intimate relationship through mindfulness.  The reality is that building a relationship takes time and effort, but the rewards are great.  No relationship is perfect and the belief that this is possible, leads to unrealistic expectations that can easily undermine a relationship.  Every relationship experiences its ups and downs – its highpoints and low points – as two people try to negotiate the waves of life.  Many people offer sound advice on things to do and to avoid in a relationship to enable it to grow and develop.  Here are some suggestions that resonate with me:

  • Express gratitude and appreciation: this is a consistent theme and it is understandable why people recommend this so highly.  No one likes being taken for granted, especially in an intimate relationship where there is always substantial give and take.  Kira Newman points out that research shows that a lack of gratitude can drag down a relationship.  Gratitude can not only help the relationship but it can also be healthy for you and enable you to deal with things that would normally get you down – things like wanting to complain, being bore or feeling overwhelmed by difficulties.
  • Don’t harbour resentment: Leo Babauta suggests that resentment is one of seven deadly sins that can kill off a relationship.  Resentment can eat away at us and cloud our thinking as well as undermine our health and wellbeing.  Leo offers ways to deal with resentment in a relationship in his discussion of the deadly sins.  In a previous post, I offered a process of in-depth reflection designed to reduce resentment.
  • Challenge your unrealistic expectations: in the early stages of a relationship, the other person seems to be perfect (our perceptions can be clouded by the honeymoon stage of love).  As time goes on, we begin to notice words and actions that we find annoying or upsetting.  If we dwell unduly on these unmet expectations, they can outweigh our positive experiences in the relationship.  Leo suggests that unrealistic expectations of perfection in our partner and our relationship can be the seeding ground for resentment.  He argues that a foundational unrealistic expectation is wanting the other person to fulfill our lives – be the source of our personal fulfillment.  He argues that it is important to find our fulfillment within our self and bring to the relationship a person who fully shows up in their life.
  • Comprehensive and regular communication with your partner:  Leo reaffirms the views of many people that communication is “the cornerstone of a good relationship”.  He suggests that this communication should not only cover what we appreciate in our partner but, in a kind and courageous way, involve sharing our resentments, jealousies or unfilled expectations that may arise over time in a relationship. 

Reflection

It is so easy for a relationship “to go off the rails” and many people who have been able to sustain a long-term relationship, readily admit to the times when they experienced “darkness” or deep dissatisfaction in their relationship.  The suggestions in this post can help to move us out of the dark and into the light again.  If we can grow in mindfulness as we pursue our personal fulfillment, we can bring to the relationship a deep sense of gratitude, an enlightened self-awareness, a capacity for reflection-in-action (to prevent unnecessary escalation of a conflict), the resilience to meet relationship challenges and the ability to sustain the effort and the lifelong learning required to enrich our relationship.  Developing our relationship will enable us to reap the rewards of companionship, mutual respect, love and a deep sense of psychological safety.

_____________________________________

Image by Foundry Co from Pixabay

By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

Disclosure: If you purchase a product through this site, I may earn a commission which will help to pay for the site, the associated Meetup group and the resources to support the blog.

What Does Love Mean?

In a previous post I explored ways to sustain an intimate relationship.  But what does love mean?  We use the word so loosely – referring to everything from a dessert to a location to an intimate friend.  Mitra Manesh explores this question in her guided meditation podcast, Meaning of Love – one of the many weekly meditation podcasts from MARC, UCLA.  Mitra is a mindfulness teacher with MARC, creator of the Inner Map app and provider of mindfulness teaching through her short videos on Vimeo©.  She has worked extensively to bring mindfulness to the corporate world, combining Eastern and Western perspectives.

Guided meditation on the meaning of love

Mitra begins her guided meditation by suggesting that you first become grounded by using your hands as the anchor.  She suggests that you can focus on the pressure of your hands on your lap, the touching of your fingers together or the up and down movement of your hands on your stomach as you breath in and out.  Whatever hand anchor you choose, the idea is to gently bring your mind back to this anchor whenever your mind wanders. 

Once you have become grounded, you can explore “love as connection”.  Mitra’s guided meditation is based on the idea that the connection underpinning love occurs at four levels – the physical, intellectual, emotional and universal levels.  The meditation follows a progression from a focus on the physical to universal connectedness and incorporates connection to self (experiencing self-love):

  • Physical connection – here the initial focus is on a pleasant body sensation such as the warmth of your fingers touching, the softness of the palm of your hand or the firmness of your feet on the floor. Once you have experienced this pleasant bodily sensation, you can extend your focus to the recollection of the pleasantness of a physical connection to another person such as a hug or a kiss.  When you have achieved awareness of physical connection and experienced pleasant recollections, you can gently move on.
  • Intellectual connection – firstly focus on connecting to your own mind – what is going on in your head.  Mitra suggests that you envisage your thoughts as clouds coming and going, merging and dissipating – blown by the winds of change.  This is a pleasant change from other forms of meditation where you are discouraged from being distracted by your thoughts.  Here the idea is to notice what is going on in the process of your thinking – how one idea leads to another, how ideas connect you to past experiences and how ideas flow through you endlessly.  You can expand this intellectual focus to recollecting a recent experience where you felt a strong intellectual connection to a colleague, a family member or an intimate partner.  You can then move on to the next level of connection.
  • Emotional connection – this is the level we often associate with love, but genuine love operates at all levels.  Here you first focus on a pleasant emotion that you may be experiencing at this moment – enjoying the contentment, pleasure or happiness that arises through this mindful awareness.  If your current emotion is experienced as unpleasant, Mitra suggests that you look inside yourself to see what unfilled need is giving rise to this negative experience.  Again, if you wish to extend your sense of emotional connection to another person you can recollect a time when you were with someone, a friend or partner, where you had a real sense of emotional connection – whether the experience was one of joy, peace, safety, comfort or other positive feeling. 
  • Universal or spiritual connection – this is not an aspect that Mitra dwells on in her guided meditation.  However, we can focus on human connectedness and our connectedness to nature to gain a sense of the universality of our connection. 

Tara Brach, in her brief talk on the meaning of love, discusses the “aliveness of connection” and the translation of this universal connection into compassionate action.  To illustrate this connection to all living things, she tells the story of a prisoner who saved a pigeon from stoning by another prisoner by saying simply. “Don’t do that – that bird has my wings.”  Tara argues that radical compassion has all the elements of love including caring, forgiving and appreciating.  She illustrates the multiple meanings given to “love” by sharing stories of how 8 year old children described love. One child, for example, had this to say on the meaning of love:

When you tell someone something bad about yourself and you are frightened that they won’t love you anymore, but then you are surprised that they love you even more!

Reflection

Love has multiple levels and is expressed in many different ways. As we grow in mindfulness through meditation, reflection and compassionate action, we can learn to appreciate self-love and love for others that we experience at all levels – the physical, intellectual, emotional and universal levels.  The essence of love is connection and mindfulness practices can help us to better understand and enhance these connections.

_____________________________________

Image by Annie Spratt from Pixabay

By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

Disclosure: If you purchase a product through this site, I may earn a commission which will help to pay for the site, the associated Meetup group and the resources to support the blog.

Developing Sustainable Intimate Relationships through Mindfulness

Wendy Strgar, intimate relationship expert and author, stresses the role of mindfulness as a pathway to developing a sustainable intimate relationship.  In her books and blog she openly shares the ups and downs, troughs and deep valleys, of the 30 plus years of her relationship with her husband.  Her blog, Making Love Sustainable, has a category of posts devoted to mindfulness.  Wendy’s first book, Love That Works: A Guide to Enduring Intimacy, highlights developing intimate relationships as a learning journey for both partners.  Her latter book which provides a guide to awakening and sustaining intimate relationships focuses on “deep presence” and “attention” as key ingredients of a sustainable and rich intimate life.  I will draw on this latter book to share some of Wendy’s insights into how to sustain an intimate relationship through mindfulness.

Mindfulness for developing and sustaining an intimate relationship

There are very clear lessons in Wendy’s second book on sustaining intimate relationships that link directly to the nature of mindfulness as defined by Jon Kabat-Zin and the definition provided by Diana Winston.  Here are some key points that Wendy makes about developing and sustaining an intimate relationship:

  • Paying attention: Wendy’s longest chapter is devoted to this topic which she considers makes the difference between “fleeting pleasure and lasting happiness” in a relationship.  Her broader focus for a discussion of attention is being fully engaged in something that you love, that enriches you and makes you fully yourself.   A narrower focus that she emphasises is paying attention to your thoughts about yourself and your partner – since our thoughts create our reality.  In practice, this means dealing with negative self-stories on the one hand and developing a growing consciousness of how we think about our partner (a neglected area of personal inquiry).  As we have mentioned previously, “we are not our thoughts” nor is our partner solely what we think they are.
  • Being present: Wendy emphasises presence and being in the moment as key ways to communicate love and respect in an intimate relationship. If our mind is continuously wandering and we are lost in thought (about our “to-do list” for example), we cannot be truly present to the other person. In her blog post, Gifting Your Real Presence, she discusses the relationship benefits of being fully present and ways to achieve real presence.
  • Deep listening: the art of deep listening involves both paying attention and being present.  Wendy suggests that these aspects in combination develop the capacity for “full-body attention” and enable our partner to “feel truly heard”.  This art of listening requires that we do not “try to solve the other person’s problems or to steer the conversation” to something about ourselves and our achievements (to avoid the emotive content of the conversation).  In Wendy’s view, “attentive listening” serves to “enliven our intimate connection”.
  • Being non-judgemental: it is very easy to become obsessed with the negative spiral of identifying our partner’s faults and deficiencies (often to defend our own position or our sense of self-worth).  We can get into the negative habit of highlighting their lack of congruence – the inconsistency between their words (particularly their advice to us) and their actions. Again, paying attention to our thoughts about our partner will surface this tendency to judge and/or project our negative traits onto our intimate partner.
  • Developing the intention to focus on the relationship: Wendy suggests that an intimate relationship should be viewed as a container or environment that sustains “an atmosphere hospitable to love” (and intimacy).  This entails focusing on cultivating the relationship rather than the singular pursuit of our own needs at our partner’s expense or subservience to the assumed needs of our partner out of a sense of obligation.  Focusing on the relationship could also mean exploring the “unwritten rules” in the relationship. When we focus on cultivating the relationship atmosphere we can also think of the analogy of a garden.  Wendy suggests an intimate relationship needs the fertile soil of “showing up” in the relationship (translates to “sharing”), the pure water of setting aside time for intimacy, and the fresh air of clear and unambiguous communication.  
  • Bringing openness and curiosity to the relationship: this aspect lines up with Diana Winston’s explanation of mindfulness.  This entails a readiness to learn about our-self-in-the-relationship (through self-observation) and to get to know and understand our partner intimately – including their needs and preferences, communication style and their energy pattern.

Reflection

Developing a sustainable intimate relationship involves a lifetime pursuit of learning and focused intention to cultivate a loving environment for the relationship (rather than just accepting established patterns of saying and doing things which may be injurious to sustainability).  As we grow in mindfulness, we can learn to pay attention, be fully present, listen deeply, observe non-judgmentally and develop self-awareness and an unadulterated awareness of our partner (not contaminated by our unfulfilled need for attention derived from a deficient childhood).  Being mindful in an intimate relationship does not involve losing our self in the relationship but finding our self through the relationship.  It entails showing up fully in our life to enrich the relationship and engender intimacy through mutual appreciation and gratitude.

_____________________________________

Image by Sasin Tipchai from Pixabay

By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

Disclosure: If you purchase a product through this site, I may earn a commission which will help to pay for the site, the associated Meetup group and the resources to support the blog.

Parallel Conversations: Hidden Assumptions, Thoughts and Feelings

So often we end up engaging in conversations that are based on assumptions that are never made explicit. Each party to the conversation assumes they know what the other person is thinking and feeling but does not make this assumption known to the other person. The result is a parallel conversation – a conversation lacking touchpoints, where both parties are on the same track, talking about the same things with open awareness about what they and the other person is thinking and feeling.

The catalyst for this reflection is a conversation between Paulo and Karla, his female companion, reported in Hippie, a biographical journey written by Paulo Coelho. The book is a fascinating revelation of Paulo’s early days before he became a famous writer (today he is the “most translated living author”, having sold in excess of 300 million books). In the reported conversation (pp. 178-181), Paulo and Karla each assume they know what the other is thinking and feeling and each withholds information that they could have shared to reach a common understanding (the withheld information is provided in italics as the hidden conversation going on inside each person). The net result of this parallel conversation is reported by Paulo in the following words:

They were, yet again, travelling in opposite directions, no matter how hard they tried to reach one another.

Being aware of your assumptions, thoughts and feelings

I find so often, that I am working off assumptions that subsequently prove to be wrong or, at least, inaccurate. This seems to become a more regular habit the longer you are in a relationship – you tend to assume that you already know what the other person is thinking and feeling, because much of your conversation is based on intuition and a lot of communication is unspoken – a nod, a smile, a shake of the head, a wave of the arms.

The starting point for avoiding parallel conversations is to become more aware of what is going on for you in the process of the conversation – becoming aware of your assumptions, thoughts and feelings. Assumptions can create a divide and unspoken thoughts and unexpressed feelings tend to precipitate assumptions by the other person who is a party to the conversation.

Reflecting on a conversation after it occurs can help to increase your awareness of your assumptions, thoughts and feelings, together with the impact they have on your relationship. Reflecting in the process of communicating (reflection-in-action), is more powerful but is an acquired skill and demands that you are fully present in the moment of the conversation.

In Western society, we have developed our thinking capacity to a very high degree, and we are continuously consumed by our thoughts – engaging in planning, analysing, evaluating, critiquing, justifying, summarising, synthesizing and comparing. The cost of spending so much time in thinking, is that we lose touch with our present reality or as Jon Kabat-Zinn points out, we lose the art of “being present”.

Sharing your assumptions, thoughts and feelings

While we continue to withhold our assumptions, thoughts and feelings, we are opening ourselves to the potential negative effects of parallel conversations – misunderstandings, resentment, time-wasting, energy-sapping interactions, disconnection and depression.

Through reflection on a conversation, we can become more aware of what was occurring for us in the conversation – what assumptions, thoughts and feelings we brought to the conversation. This growing awareness increases our capacity to share what is occurring for us and thus build the relationship rather than damage it. By practising this reflection-on-action (the conversation), we can progressively develop reflection-in-action (during the conversation), enabling us to share on-the-spot, our assumptions, thoughts and feelings.

As we grow in mindfulness through reflection and meditation, we can increase our awareness of our assumptions, thoughts and feelings and their impacts on our conversations and relationships. We can develop the capacity to be more fully present in a conversation and share what is going on for us rather than withholding information about our assumptions, thoughts and feelings.

____________________________________________

Image source: courtesy of MabelAmber on Pixabay

By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

Disclosure: If you purchase a product through this site, I may earn a commission which will help to pay for the site, the associated Meetup group and the resources to support the blog.