Archive for Relationship

Searching for Happiness: Lessons from Tara the Rescue Dog

I brought home a shelter dog, Tara, in early January. She has been blessing and challenging me in powerful ways since then. All of my core wounds are being brought to the surface in this relationship~ dynamics of responsibility and projection, patience and control, commitment and ambivalence. So much of what I’m learning with Tara seems reflective of the challenges at the center of any relationship- with ourselves, our loved ones, and even with life itself. The powerful lesson here that keeps grabbing my attention is about how the external circumstances of our lives can never guarantee happiness.

These last ten weeks with Tara have been a roller coaster ride with highs of total delight in her sweetness and lows of feeling I’ve made a terrible mistake. When I slow down I notice a kind of obsessive questioning about whether or not she is making me happy. I am reminded of all the times I have had similar thoughts about other life circumstances (relationships, jobs, places to live). It is a kind of “grass is greener” syndrome, an urgency to surround myself only with things that make me happy, and to avoid anything that makes me unhappy. Can you relate? Perhaps this shows up for you in dissatisfaction with yourself or your relationships. Maybe you find yourself daydreaming about a future reality when everything will be better.

Sometimes, especially when there is some form of abuse present, it is essential to find a way to make a change. What I’m talking about is the suffering that comes from endlessly seeking something “out there” to make us happy. Every situation, every relationship, every choice in life comes with a mixed bag of joys and challenges. I find it is so easy for me to forget this, though, because of how much I want to maintain the fantasy of how good I will feel once I get that “thing” I’m seeking. It can become a kind of addiction…thinking about how good we will feel, using that imagined feeling to distract from life-as-it-is. In all that wanting there is often a great deal of suffering, a rejection of ourselves and our lives as we are.

I had quite a fantasy about how my life would be with Tara. Now I see that that’s a lot of pressure to put on another being to fulfill! Ten weeks into our journey, I’ve realized I need to lay that fantasy to rest. If I keep looking to Tara to make me happy (and never make me unhappy) I’m setting myself up for one struggle after another. She’s just a dog. A high energy, super affectionate, and sometimes anxious and reactive dog.

So what am I doing with all of this? I’m giving Tara a break. I’m surrendering a bit more to the choice I’ve made and to the imperfect and blessedly complex journey that will follow. I’m working on letting her be a dog, and I’m discovering a way to be at ease in the process. My hope for us, especially those of us with the conditioning of western culture, is that we can find a new kind of happiness. This happiness is simpler and more humble. It doesn’t demand ecstasy and bliss. It allows life to be more messy. And it finds that just being is enough, just enjoying the simple pleasures of our lives. These days I am finding how really being present can turn the mundane into something quite rich and nourishing. When I meet this moment as it is, whether in a conversation with a stranger or friend, playing with my dog, writing these words, drinking a glass of water, then all the stories about happy and unhappy fall away and just this… is enough.

Seeking the Holy Grail of Differentiation: Holding Onto Myself Through the Layers of the Onion

My favorite author on relationships, David Schnarch, speaks about differentiation as a kind of “holy grail” of relationships. He says that the deepest and most lasting form of intimacy is born from ones’ capacity to both hold onto oneself and stay open to another at the same time. Through Shadow Work®,  I know that I live much of my life in the loop between the energies of Lover and Warrior, which are in many ways diametrically opposed. Lover energy wants to stay connected with the other and is willing to sacrifice connection with self in the process. Warrior energy is all about building and maintaining a sense of self and cares little about staying connected with other. I’ve played out this roller coaster ride in many of my relationships- going to one end of the extreme and then compensating with the other.

While I’ve learned a great deal over the years about how to moderate the extremes for a smoother ride, I’ve recently had the opportunity (and the challenge) of seeing how easily I give up my connection to myself when seeking intimacy with others. I often liken personal change to the layers of an onion. When I come back to the same issue again, and start to feel critical of myself for not having transcended a pattern, the onion analogy helps me recognize that I may have circled back to the same issue, but it is at a deeper level this time around.

This recent reflection has inspired me to take the next step in learning what it means to hold onto myself. I’m finding how to use my body as a barometer. When my breathing becomes shallow, I take this as a sign that I am leaving myself to focus on another. I’m discovering the subtle embodied shift that occurs when my attention resides internally rather than going out of myself towards another. And, miraculously, the result is often that I am more available for connection when I am more rooted in myself! When I stay with myself, I also come to know myself more fully. I am more aware of the emotions running under the surface, and more resourced to give them attention and care.  I feel that I’m discovering and integrating aspects of myself that have been blocked from my awareness for some time.

I could share a dozen stories of how I’ve worked with this issue over time. I believe that these kinds of relational patterns become embedded early in life, and it is only through peeling back the layers of the onion one at a time that we come to fully claim what is possible for us. If this story has inspired or intrigued you in some way, you may wish to contact me to explore how these ideas, of differentiation, and of different archetypes, can help you find greater wholeness and aliveness in your own life!

P.S. The book I mentioned above is called Passionate Marriage: Keeping Love and Intimacy Alive in Committed Relationships by David Schnarch!