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Practicing the Fundamentals

In many endeavors, there are fundamentals skills that must be learned if we want to be successful. To be a point guard in basketball, we must learn the skill of dribbling. In martial arts, there are fundamental elements to kicking or striking that must be learned and practiced. To play the piano, certain hand motions and keystrokes must be perfected. Any coach or teacher will tell us that we won’t get very far in our pursuit if we have not learned the fundamentals. The same is true if we want to be a great partner. We must practice the skill of feeling and expressing APPRECIATION in our relationships if we truly want to be extraordinary partners!

When an investment appreciates, its value grows. In the same way, appreciation of our partner means that we perceive them in such a way that their value increases to us. The truth is that they are already infinitely valuable in the eyes of Creation, but when we appreciate them their value increases from our perspective. We notice an aspect of them that we see as valuable, feel it, and then express it to them. Paradoxically, this is a very self-serving act because we are the ones who directly benefit from feeling the appreciation. We are uplifted to a higher state of being.

Many of us are not very skilled at this fundamental ability, particularly if we did not grow up in a household where it was practiced regularly. This means that we must retrain ourselves to make it a habit, and the only way to do this is practice, practice, practice. The ego will try its best to get us to focus on our partner’s faults and limitations, because it mistakenly believes this is the way to fulfillment. I have had to put a great deal of energy into becoming more proficient at appreciation and I still have a long way to go, but I have noticed remarkable results when I practice it-—and so will you!  



Welcoming the 3 Kissing Cousins--Doubt, Worry, & Fear

I’d like to introduce you to some old friends of mine who I’ve known most of my life. Virtually every day at least one of them pays a friendly visit and says hello. These 3 friends are so closely related that I call them kissing cousins—Doubt, Worry, and Fear. I’ve had a tumultuous relationship with all three and I’m usually not too happy when they appear. Occasionally I will attempt to bolt the front door and lock them out, but that never works. They just kick the door in and wreak havoc in my home, leaving messes everywhere. What tends to be most effective when I hear them knocking is to welcome them in, give them some space, and treat them with compassion.

When Doubt arrives she tells me that I am not good enough or that I can’t do something for any number of reasons. Her voice is often a faint whisper but even if I can’t clearly make out the words, I can feel her presence. When I am able to sit with Doubt in compassion and understanding, she will make her way out the door and is replaced by a new visitor—Self Confidence. Self Confidence tells me to fully believe in myself and to know that I have all the resources within to succeed in my endeavors.

When Worry pays a visit he tries to take my attention out of the present moment and into the future. He wants me to think about all kinds of negative outcomes that could occur. In fact, he just appeared and commented, “They probably won’t like what you are writing.” I hear you, Worry, and it’s OK that you’re here. I understand you are just doing your job and trying to protect me, but I don’t need your protection right now. I give you permission to leave and I’ll allow my new visitor, Trust, to step into my home. Trust tells me to stay focused in the Now, that I am going to be just fine, and that whatever the future holds will be for my highest good. Thank you, Trust, for those words of encouragement.

Last, but not least, is my good pal Fear. He puts on a great show, appearing to be the biggest and most powerful of the cousins. Rather than whisper, he shouts out loud, “Don’t try that! You might fail! They will laugh at you! Get small so they can’t see you!” Because his voice is so loud he can be very challenging to deal with. But when I can sit with him and let him shout, while at the same time cultivating compassion, his voice begins to weaken. I then have the wherewithal to call in my other companion, Courage, to help out. Courage tells me that I have the strength to move forward, even if Fear is still lurking around my home. It tells me to stay committed to my vision regardless of what obstacle may appear in the way.

While I sometimes fantasize about ending my relationship with the 3 kissing cousins, without them I may not enjoy the company of their counterparts (Self Confidence, Trust, & Courage) quite as much. So for now, I won't go out of my way to invite them over, but when they come a knockin' I will do my best to treat them with the respect and compassion they require.  



Only 50 Million Steps to Enlightenment

Our minds tend to want linear steps that direct us how to achieve something. Many articles and books written today have a title such as “The 5 Steps to This” or “7 Keys to Achieving That.” We want the logical, linear steps that will help us get to our destination. Not long ago I went to a book-writing seminar and was told that the title must be something along the lines of “6 Steps to a Healthy Relationship” or no one would even pick it up. So I am now following their advice and thought I would share with you the steps required to attain Enlightenment.

The title is a bit misleading because there is actually only one step, but you must do it 50 million times. And what is that one step? Surrender. Then surrender. Then surrender again, and over and over and over again. In every moment we are either allowing or resisting our true selves and the natural flow of life. When you notice you are resisting, and you will know because it won’t feel very good, just surrender. I estimate we have about 2000 opportunities each day to surrender, so in about 70 years you will be Enlightened. And you thought Enlightenment was out of your reach! 



Listen to the Call of the Heart

In January of 1982, a plane carrying 74 passengers crashed into the icy waters of the Potomac River in Washington, D.C. Several of the passengers survived the crash but were stranded on wreckage and blocks of ice floating in the middle of the river. After nearly 20 minutes rescue workers finally arrived by helicopter and began to airlift the survivors out. A lifeline was lowered to one of the survivors, Arland Williams, Jr., but instead of holding on and saving himself he passed the rope to one of his fellow passengers. He did this several times, allowing for the others to be pulled to safety while he clung to the ice in freezing waters. By the time the helicopter returned for the final rescue, Arland was gone. He couldn’t hold on any longer and slipped away into the frigid water. I will never forget the profound impact this event had on my twelve-year-old mind. The idea that a man (or woman) could give up their life for the sake of another filled me with awe. For most people, this was a demonstration of courage and bravery to the highest degree. And it certainly was that, but it was also an act of pure love that touched something deep within my heart. It was the same way I felt when I thought about other heroic figures who personified love, such as Jesus or Mother Theresa. What could possess someone to make a decision to do such a thing?

I understand now that Arland was able to transcend the grip of his ego, which is based on fear and survival, and listen to the call of the heart. I don’t know exactly what transpired in his mind but my guess is that he surrendered to his Spirit, and let love lead the way. He was likely “possessed” by the Spirit of Love, which is indestructible, limitless, fearless, and knows we are all connected. And today, while his body may no longer contain life, that Spirit lives on and continues to inspire others, including me.

Most of us are not called to give up our life for the sake of another, but if we listen carefully we are called to set aside our ego for the sake of love every single day. The ego, in the way I am defining it, is designed to keep us separate and ward off any threats to the individual personality. The idea of genuine love threatens the ego because love recognizes oneness, togetherness, connectedness, openness, etc. Individuality can still exist in love but the ego doesn’t understand that. It tries to protect and defend itself, neither of which are characteristics of love. The heroes who can listen to the call of the heart, such as Arland, Jesus, and others like them, symbolize the willingness to transcend the ego for love of another. And it is in answering this call where we can all truly find our Selves.

This does not require some fantastic or life-threatening event, and we don’t have to go very far to search it out. We can do this every day and with the people that are right next to us. Our partners or spouses offer wonderful opportunities that challenge our ego’s stronghold on a daily basis. We tend to complain about these challenges, not realizing these are the very gifts that can lead us to our freedom. So listen carefully today, because your heart is calling.   



It's Easy A-B-C and 1-2-3

Wouldn’t it be great if love was as easy as ABC and 123, just like Michael Jackson and the Jackson 5 say in their song? It seems like it should be that easy, right? We are all relational beings and cannot help but be in relationship with others. It is one of the most natural and inevitable things we do. So why does it seem so difficult at times? The real answer is that I do not know, but because I claim to be a relationship “expert” I will have to give you my 2 cents, or maybe it's just my sense.

If you want a fulfilling relationship it is actually very simple. Unconditionally love and accept the other as they are without judgment. That’s it! That is all you have to do in order to have a wonderfully fulfilling relationship. Yes we could add a lot of other “tips” about how to be in a great relationship, but that is all secondary. If you love and accept the other as they are, which means that you are immersed in the energy of love as you behold them, you will be fulfilled. See how simple that is? Unfortunately, simple does not always mean easy, and in the case of relationships I have found it to be anything but easy. 

In the grander scheme of life I believe we are here to transform ourselves into more loving beings, to move from limitation to freedom, and from darkness to light. Part of the “fun” in that process is facing challenges along the way. If we didn’t have challenges and some uncertainty, life might even become a bit dull. If you were a professional tennis player, would you want to play a 5 year old? No, because you would win every time and there would be no challenge. There is not much excitement in that. If you were an artist would you only want to draw or paint a square because it is easy to do? Of course not. So there is something about challenge that brings excitement and refinement to our craft, and all of us are engaged in the craft of relationship whether we like it or not. The more we understand this idea and embrace the challenges as valuable stepping stones to the next leg of the journey, the more joy we will experience and the more refined our relationship skills can become. Michael, take it away for us:

Sit yourself down, take a seat

All you gotta do is repeat after me


It’s easy as 1-2-3

As simple as do re mi…

That’s how easy love can be