Sunday, July 15, 2007

Life in the rear view mirror.

"And if life is just a highway, then the soul is just a car.
And objects in the rear view mirror may appear closer than they are"

Object in the rear view mirror always appear closer than they are. It is an optical illusion. It not only is an illusion when looking in a rear view mirror, it is as Meatloaf suggests, an illusion relevant to human life and our personal history. The incidents of the past appear closer than they are when you feel distressed and horrified by your personal history.

What are the issues associated with looking in the rear view mirror of life? Life must be directed by looking backwards to get some idea how we should operate in the present and future. Life is guided forwards, by looking backwards. But looking back has dangers that need to be understood and we need to remember that the perception of the past distorts the reality of the present, just as objects in the rear view mirror appear closer than they are.

As a psychotherapist with 26 years of hands on experience, I know you must look in the rear view mirror of life to heal. It is absolutely true that some digging into the past is essential for emotional healing. The issue is how much digging, and how much exploration is essential. And once begun, how do you stop the endless obsessing over the past having uncovered the secrets.

Woody Allen has made a career out of digging into his past. He has found the funny side of his neurosis and used it to make movies that are witty and entertaining. But how much of his behavior is valuable for the rest of us who have no need to make funny movies about neurotic people?

Why look backwards, and how far backwards do you need to look? Unless you have learnt from the past, you are bound to repeat the same mistakes. That is the human way. Unconscious behavior repeats itself over and over again, until we have integrated the lessons of the past and we no longer need to repeat them. This is the case for looking in the rear view mirror of life.

But having learnt from the past, when do we cease looking backwards? When do objects in the rear view mirror appear closer than they are? I suspect once you have become obsessed with the past you have gone too far. If the objective is emotional healing, and the behavior of searching through the past has become obsessional, then I would assume looking backwards has gone way too far.

In reality there is no past or future, there is only the present. Now is the present. The past is gone, and the future is undefined. There is nothing about the future that is real in the present. Yet we can become obsessed with the future and the past and miss the present moment. This is the great truth offered by Eastern religion. Western religion focuses upon the future (heaven and hell), while eastern philosophy teaches the value of living in the present moment, the “now”.

The concepts may be hard to grasp, but the consequences are large. All fear is a reaction to the past or the future. In present time nothing exists that needs to be feared. Yet we all live with fears. And all fears come from looking in the rear view mirror, where objects appear closer than they are. Fear is a clear distortion of reality, and it can only be healed by living in the present moment, which means giving up looking in the rear view mirror.

The important message to gain from this discussion is that while the past and the future may be intriguing, they are largely irrelevant. Present time is the only moment that exists and once you have gained that wisdom, you are capable of producing happiness for yourself. Without this understanding you are looking at life through the distortion of the rear view mirror. And you are driving your car forward while being distracted by the past.

“Even As Love Crowns You So Shall He Crucify You”

One of the most beautiful books of poetry ever written is ‘The Prophet’ by Kahlil Gibran. Gibran is perhaps the greatest Sufi poet along with Rumi. Sufi’s are the mystical branch of the Muslim religion as the Kabala is the mystical branch of Judaism. In this wonderful expression of wisdom in poetry, the Prophet who lives on top of the mountain sees his ship coming from afar, signifying that he is ready to die, and complete this life’s journey.

Before the prophet leaves this home by ship into death, he moves down from the top of the mountain, where he is asked a series of questions by the people of the village of Orphalese who have gathered to say goodbye. The questions they ask him are the fundamentals questions we all ask about life. The questions include what is love, marriage, children, work, giving, pleasure, death, and many other fascinating topics. The first question that he is asked is “what is love”. The Prophet proclaims his vision of love, which along with the Apostle Paul’s description in Corinthians 13, is perhaps the most beautiful description on the topic of love.

Inherent within the discourse is the point that love is our teacher, and that love gives us the opportunity to refine our human soul. The prophet says, “Love is for your growth and for your pruning.” Love will teach you many joyful, and difficult lessons. The centerpiece of the prophet’s teaching is that love shall both crown you and crucify you. Love shall instruct you and perfect you. Love shall prepare you for the next stage of the journey into eternity.

“For even as love crowns you so shall he crucify you…He threshes you to make you naked. He sifts you to free you from your husks. He grinds you to whiteness. He kneads you until you are pliant; and then he assigns you to his sacred fire, that you may become sacred bread for God’s sacred feast.”

The Prophet goes on to say, “But if in your fear you would seek only love’s peace and love’s pleasure, Then it is better for you that you cover your nakedness and pass out of love’s threshing-floor, Into the seasonless world where you shall laugh, but not all of your laughter, and weep, but not all of your tears.”

Love is according to all ancient wisdoms, the paramount teacher. Love is both wonderful and extremely difficult. The lessons of love are priceless. Yet most of us think of love as an emotion that is sweet, easy, happy and joyous. We think of love as an emotion only, rather than a spiritual force that changes us and perfects our spirit. The Prophet teaches that this is not so. Love can and will crucify you, but in so doing the character and personal growth is well worth all the pain. Those who have chosen the spiritual path know this well. To love is to open yourself up, to become vulnerable. To love is to be open to pain, hurt, depression and sadness. But it is also to be open to joy, delight, excitement and happiness. It is far better to love and suffer from that love, than to never have loved at all. There are risks in loving, but the rewards are much greater than the suffering in the view of the Prophet.

As a Therapist I can tell you much of the work of therapy is hard and rigorous, but the rewards are beyond verbal description. To end the pain of the ego, to find the peace in solitude, to come to acceptance and to give up control, these are the priceless qualities produced within us when we enter love’s threshing floor. As a Therapist who acts as a guide for people upon their personal spiritual path, I am privileged to watch in awe as human’s wrestle with their inner demons, do battle with their ego self, resist the dark side, and reach for the impossible dream. And with love as the master, the rewards of such work are magnificent to observe. I am continually humbled as I observe the work people do in therapy to resolve their inner conflicts, to come to peace with their dark side, and to find all that love has to offer.

Love truly is the ultimate teacher.

The Secret of Good Marriage Counseling.

The carpenter uses a hammer, the mechanic a wrench. What does the marriage
counselors use to create the magic during a marital therapy session? Marriage counseling is a relatively new profession, unless you consider religious leaders as the predecessors
of the vocation. As a profession, marriage counseling is less than sixty
years old. And it is really only in the last twenty years that it has become accepted as having real value for society.

The secret of good marriage counseling is simple. It is assumed that when a
couple experiences a breakdown in their marriage, communication is the problem. And that with clear communication, solutions can emerge. So how does the therapist
create the context so that the truth can appear?

The secret is in listening for the pain, and then looking for the love. The pain
is the confusion that has gotten in between two people who began there
relationship with optimism, but now find that it has become entangled with
emotional pain, discontent and disillusionment. The pain must be released, or forgiven, for healing to occur, and it can only be released once it is stated, expressed, and understood. When a relationship is in trouble, both of the partners are in pain. One often appears more in pain than the other, but this is really an illusion. Couples mirror each other. If the relationship is to heal, both have to get in touch with their communal emotional pain, even though one may express the pain while the other is stoic.

Listening for the love is the healing work of marriage counseling. As the
pain comes out, so will the faint whispers of love and commitment be
expressed. Listening for these faint cries is the essential work of the therapist, as the couple has probably lost sight of the caring, the commitment, and the love they felt for
each other when they began their marriage. Getting both individuals in touch with that love is what heals the hurt, and rebuilds the trust. This is the skill the marriage counselor brings to the experience.

Sometimes, but not often, marriage counseling ends in a couple divorcing. Mostly, couples find ways to carry on, working through the issues until the love is permitted to return and blossom. In my experience, most marriage counseling is successful, when success is defined as carrying forward with the commitment made at the beginning of the marriage. Most couples still promise “till death do us part” and assisting two people find the love they have temporarily lost because the pain has become larger than the joy is the secret to good therapy.

The work of counseling marriages is a sacred task. The therapist is invited
into the most vulnerable places of a couples intimate relationship. The counselor is
the mediator for the marriage. The marriage is the client and the husband and the wife are seen as the two individual parts of the whole. Good marriage counseling honors the relationship, and helps both parties return to the joy and the love that was present when they started their commitment.

So what is the secret for finding a good marriage therapist? Get referrals from friends or professionals, and then talk to the therapist ahead of scheduling an appointment and ask them their philosophy and how they practice their trade. Try the therapist once, and if it doesn’t feel right or an emotionally safe place for you and your partner, immediately look for another therapist. If you are not certain the therapist you are seeing is right for you, they probably aren’t. Not every therapist is appropriate for everyone. Marriage counseling is a highly personal experience and if you do not feel honored, heard and that you can trust the therapist, find one who will serve your needs. Finding the right therapist is your responsibility; don’t expect the therapist to tell you they are not appropriate for you.