Heroes All

As my last formal blog post on this website, I serendipitously have come full circle—ending with a motif in which this blog began–as a follow up to the men’s anthology that I edited, Ordinary Men, Extraordinary Lives: Defining Moments. That theme involves surmounting hardships and life challenges. (I will be posting a casual blog next week and as of Jan., 2015, I’ll begin publishing relationship-oriented blogs at www.energyforlife.us. All of my previous blogs will be preserved on that site.)

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Last night I was deeply touched and inspired by the touted movie, The Theory of Everything, a romantic drama about the crowning achievements of theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking and his relationship with his ex-wife. For me, the most cogent messages of this British film were that deep love, strong commitment and passion for one’s life purpose can trump even severe adversity. As a doctoral student, Hawking contracted motor neuron disease—better known as ASL or Lou Gehrig’s disease—a degenerative disorder that quickly incapacitates its victims. Hawking was told that he had two years to live. Buoyed by his burning drive to explain the very essence of cosmology, and by his wife’s unwavering devotion to him for years, Hawking became world-renowned for his work and remains alive today, about 50 years after incurring his debilitating disorder. Widely regarded as one of the most brilliant theoretical physicists since Einstein, Hawking’s international best-selling book, A Brief History of Time, has sold over ten million copies. Stephen has also exuded love for his three now-adult children and an endearing sense of humor.

Most of us know at least several accounts of people who have overcome huge odds to lead amazing lives. You may even be of those people. However, each of us can delve into our own life stories and find colorful examples of heroism and achievement in the face of conflicts and adversities.

I laid awake for nearly two hours early this morning pondering many of the numerous ways in which I’ve been shaped by life challenges, injuries, humiliations and periods of depression. My heart rejoiced at how I gleaned vital lessons from dark times and countless “mini-deaths,” and how I’ve risen from a shy, oft-withdrawn youth to a very loving man, who serves and is richly rewarded on many fronts. In a nutshell, I attribute my diverse successes to strong will—including intentionality, discipline and persistence—and to a lot of grace. Ultimately, even “my” will is a form of grace, which I’d call G-d’s Will.

I highly encourage you to take inventory of your growth in various areas of your life that has occurred because of, rather than despite, the tough blows that you have been dealt—ranging from small to large ones. I promise you that you will find this exercise most informative and gratifying! In the process, you may garner more self-confidence, courage and sense of purpose.

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Soulful Choices

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Each of us is continually faced with the choice of acting in control, right, or winning (one-upsmanship), versus loving. Our egos, which we all give into at least sometimes, lead us toward the former decision. Soulful couples, in mature, healthy relationships, have learned to orient themselves toward acts of love. They become strong, consistent supporters of their beloved’s overall well-being and fulfillment.

The decision to love starts with an overarching intention, which then requires a moment-to-moment choice. Firm intention must then be followed with rigorous discipline to regularly think, feel, speak and act in loving ways. Of course, our love cannot be confined to our partners, as real love has no bounds. The more we love, the wider and deeper loves grows, ultimately embracing the universe.

LOVE-LIFE

In this holiday season, more light is available to support our desire and capacity to love. With increased lightheartedness, we tend to be softer, kinder and more joyful, offering material gifts and charitable acts of service. It is an ideal time to practice not only giving, but forgiving ourselves and others. December is also an opportune month to practice self-care, which is vital amidst the additional stresses and demands of holiday-related events.

What specifically would you like to bring to the forefront within yourself, toward your mate (or a significant person), and in relating with others this holiday season? You might want to  discuss your intentions with your partner, trusted family members and/or friends. After all, making love the centerpiece of your life allows everything to work so much better!

Here’s inviting you to get a jump on your new year’s resolutions by going through the only gateway to real life success and power—love.

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Main Street USA–Not Quite

Having lived in large metropolitan areas over 80% of my life, I was very refreshed by spending my post-Thanksgiving weekend on Main Street in the little town of Westcliffe, Colorado. My wife Ruth and I were invited by Westcliffe’s Main Street manager to do presentations on health and marriage as part of the town’s Movember festival. Located about 60 miles southwest of Colorado Springs, nestled against the rolling Sangre de Christo mountain range, Westcliffe ‘s population is somewhat more than 500—only slightly larger than my high school graduating class of 1964.

Main Street is the most common small-town street name in the United States and the center of the limited action in practically every small locale across America. Like most of its cohort villages, the bulk of Westcliffe’s businesses, restaurants and community events are located on or adjacent to Main Street. Also similar to many small towns, Westcliffe exuded a quaint, unpretentious charm and its old homes and establishments had character aplenty. Furthermore, its residents, who were well acquainted with one another, were very warm to one another and welcoming of us.

 

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Despite its appearance of being a typical American small-town, Westcliffe had its own unique story and flavor. A significant portion of its residents were age 50 and above and had either relocated or retired to Westcliffe for its natural beauty and its quiet, yet stimulating atmosphere. Many of them are relatively wealthy, well-educated professionals, IT specialists, or artists. The town folk’s political persuasions covered the entire spectrum. Their religious/spiritual views also represented a cross-section. Thus, in several respects, this relatively tiny community had some notable diversity.

Ruth and I were highly impressed with the genuine congeniality of Westcliffe, its quality restaurants, and the range of activities this little place offered. However, what pleased us the most to us was the residents’ code of agreeing to disagree, to “live and let live,” and to intimately befriend one another despite some prominent differences. They had learned to listen to and appreciate each other’s life stories. I was reminded of the old adage, “Don’t judge a book by its cover.” Many of the seemingly simple folks we encountered had esteemed careers and reflected both intelligence and depth.

Besides being graciously hosted and nurtured in Westcliffe, Ruth and I felt enriched by our two days in this lovely mountain community.

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Grateful for Gratitude

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‘Tis the season to be jolly—and to be grateful. During Thanksgiving week, besides carving our turkeys, we might opt to carve out additional times to be dig deeper than usual into our hearts.

But isn’t complaint, blame and victimhood the order of the day? So many of us feel like we’ve been given a raw deal by our governments, bosses, and even by our supposed loved ones and friends, etc.

To say it rather simply, the most grateful people are those who take a high measure of responsibility for their lives and who maintain a strong connection with The Divine (Source, or by whatever name you call the Highest Power).

Thankfulness ranges from surface-level appreciation of things, to acknowledging our love for people, pets, nature, etc., to an increasingly profound awe of all that has been manifested on earth and in the universe. Whatever we open our hearts to, especially life’s qualities, benefits us and serves others. For me, all qualities reflect the nature or essence of The Divine. The more that we ignore or take for granted, the less happy we are.

I wish to make a bold statement. I assert that every sentient being, through its connection to the Whole, is imbued with at its core (in its heart of hearts) with unwavering gratitude. Like a tent or ship can be anchored, we are ultimately anchored to the All. However, given the privilege of will and choice, humans can elect to suppress or deny recognition of bounty.

Here’s wishing you and your loved ones a truly focused and happy Thanksgiving and holiday season.

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Late-Life Sex

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I want to encourage folks that sex in later life is not only possible, but in some ways can be even more satisfying than sex in the prime of youth. Without being sensational, boastful or graphic, I’d like to personally disclose a bit in the process of debunking the common myth that elderly sex is rare and/or disgustingly weird. One of my areas of specialization as a psychologist is relationship issues and enrichment, so I know a lot clinically about sexuality and sexual dysfunction. However, I’d prefer to avoid academic statements and statistics in this blog. I happen to know that my wife’s and my sexuality is prevalent enough among older folks to site the “good news.”

Clearly, and no surprise, at age 68 I’m not as virile as I was as a young man. From a physical standpoint, my urges and erections aren’t as strong and I can’t have sex as frequently as I did even 20 years ago. However, my wife and I have a lot going for us, which has allowed us to say that in many respects, we enjoy our sex life more than ever. I will mention general, but key factors that contribute to our satisfaction and are optimal for sustaining pleasurable senior sex:

  • primarily, a deep love and respect of ourselves and for one another
  • personal maturity and maturity as a couple (We have been together 47 years.)
  • developing beauty and richness in our lives as individuals and as a couple—often, yet not always, through breadth and depth of experiences
  • heightened emotional, sensual and spiritual connection
  • presence, spontaneity and freshness over efforts to perform (sure helps to have an empty nest!)
  • honest, assertive communication (direct, caring and respectful)
  • maintaining vibrant health through various good-health practices/habits
  • minimizing substance use, including pharmaceuticals, which can reduce or block libido (Neither of us take any medications.)

Men, it’s easy to become discouraged when you have difficulty sustaining erections. I have incurred my share of such bouts, only to repeatedly rebound from them. Each time, I have adamantly refused to give into the seductive advertising inducements for male-enhancement products, such as Viagra, Cialis or Levitra. Favoring natural approaches to everything, in life, I recognize that these drugs are laden with side effects, some of which are potentially dangerous. So, my advice is to remain patient and persistent, placing your focus on sensuality and relating with your partner during lovemaking.

A number of octogenarian couples enjoy physical intimacy, along with celebrating the ineffable contentment of ripened love. Be inspired and hopeful!

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Connecting with The Divine

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While recently viewing a short video offered by Neale Donald Walsch, the internationally-renowned author of two Conversations with God books, I was inspired to write a few of my convictions on the topic.

First of all, I disagree with Walsch’s contention that believing in God is a prerequisite for receiving communication from God (or whatever term you prefer, e.g. Source, Higher Power, Universe, Divine). I assert that if you are sincere, open-minded, and open-hearted in seeking a response to the to the question, “Does God exist,” you will receive a reply in some form. You need to be receptive and vigilant.

I believe that God is ubiquitous and omnipresent—existing everywhere and constantly accessible. The Divine (my preferred term) is best seen through the eyes of the heart. The more you develop your heart’s perceptibility, the more you experience and appreciate the miracles of Life—and gratitude for your life.

Similarly, attunement to your inner guidance, which represents God’s voice, requires gradual refinement. As you learn to introspect and discern, you gain clarity about spiritual matters and personal directions. Optimal methods for developing inner guidance involve some self-selected combination of:

  • sitting still
  • meditation
  • closely witnessing nature
  • journaling
  • prayer
  • mystical recitations or practices (some form of esoteric discipline)
  • reading religious, spiritual, or self-help texts
  • psychotherapy, especially with a psychospiritual focus

Substances such as psychedelic drugs or marijuana can open spiritual gateways, but in my experience they are often short-lived and limited.

Finally, I believe that God is constantly giving each of us customized coursework. Hence, everything is “on purpose” and there are no mistakes or accidents. Amidst the ever-evolving process of perfecting your inner guidance, you will receive increasingly clear answers to foundational or deep spiritual questions such as, “What is the meaning of Life” and “What is my special purpose in living?” While your journey may seem (very) circuitous for what might seem to be an eternity, you will be moving in a direction that ultimately takes you Home. As the proverbial saying goes, “All Roads lead to Home (which rhymes with Rome).

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Journaling for Your Soul

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As a therapist and life coach, I have often introduced my clients to two forms of journaling that they consistently enjoy and greatly value. Each method involves spontaneous or stream-of-consciousness writing. Both of these practices serve at least one of the following objectives for each person:

  • expanding awareness of attitudes, beliefs, behavior and emotions
  • increasing access to unconscious (subconscious) thoughts and feelings
  • generating creativity
  • breaking through writer’s block
  • providing direction for behavior or a course of action

Journaling Method #1

Without thinking, allow your hand to write or type 250 – 750 words (client’s choice each time). That range of words represents the equivalent of 1 – 3 typed pages on standard, 8.5 x 11 inch paper. Do this exercise once daily for five consecutive days and then decide if you want to continue. Afterwards, read what you wrote without judgment. You may benefit by re-reading it later that day or at another time. You may notice some themes that emerge. Clients who attempt this practice invariably find it very informative and powerful. Of course, some don’t continue it beyond the requested five-day trial, but many do—in a few instances for years!

Journaling Method #2

At the top of a sheet of paper (at least 5 x 8 inches) write a stimulus word or phrase about a topic you want to further delve into or explore. For example, you might write: a) love   b) my sadness c) my habit of procrastinating   d) how to resolve X matter. Write/type without thinking for just 3- 5 minutes. Afterwards, notice what grabbed your attention—sometimes it may be just a salient word or phrase. You could elect to re-write on your same topic or perhaps use one of the those prominent words or phrases as the stimulus for your next writing. This practice is particularly effective when done 1-2 times daily for at least a week.

During each of these journaling approaches, most clients are quite surprised, often awed, and sometimes disturbed by what their writing reveals to them. Journal material that they share with me frequently creates grist for further inquiry and potent discussion.

I invite you to try both journaling forms at least once to get a quick sense of their potential use and value. Please let me know your experience.

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Smiling on Myself

I’m celebrating my birthday in grand style! Taking much time to write a blog doesn’t fit into my series of festive activities this week. No apologies. Rather, I’ll invite you to treat yourself similarly during your next birthday—and all of those to follow!

HAPPY BIRTHDAYS to us!

Jim Sharon

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Our Marital Dividends

Amidst an absolutely glorious weekend with Ruth, my wife of 44.3 years, I decided to write this blog celebrating the harvest we’ve gleaned together—Ruth in her mid 60s, me in my late 60s. Last night, Ruth found a heart necklace that I had given her in our second year of dating; neither of us had seen it for decades. Her showing me the necklace immediately confirmed my choice to tout our joy, even though this weekend has not marked any “special” occasion for us.

Unlike many couples, who dread having an empty nest, we were thrilled once our youngest daughter, 13 years younger than our oldest child, moved out of our home in 2010. We had at least one child living with us for 34 years of our first 40 years of marriage. What has eased the way is currently having all three of our adult children, their mates, and two granddaughters living in proximity to us (none more than an hour away)—and more importantly, having a rich relationship with each of them. We have the added privilege and delight of caring for our 18-month granddaughter most Fridays; we share tending to and playing with her amidst our work day, then picking up our other granddaughter (9) at school.

Our lives remain exquisitely balanced. While passionate about our shared work as psychotherapists, relationship coaches and speakers (www.energyforlife.us), we find plenty of opportunities for lovemaking, visiting with family, playing, socializing and exercising. Regular spiritual practices, meditation and classes anchor it all.

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It has been so special the past two years for us to collaborate in writing Secrets of a Soulful Marriage. The process, followed by book tours, has notably enriched our relationship. We’re now planning vacations, including cruises, during which we present marriage/relationship programs.

Having known each other nearly half a century, Ruth and I not only cherish one another, but have developed a profound mutual respect. More and more we have chosen to release the reactivity, judgments and drama that characterized the first half of our marriage. Through intention and acquired skills, we have become increasingly facile and quick to resolve conflicts and arguments. We’re also quick to read each other’s facial cues and body language, and more than occasionally we intuit the other’s thoughts. Sweeter yet is the genuine acceptance of each other’s personal “stuff.” We have even come to appreciate some endearing idiosyncrasies.

Since one of my life purposes involves promoting marital enrichment, I really hope that I have inspired many of you to persist through difficult periods of your primary relationship, as have Ruth and I. The fruits of a long-enduring love relationship provide a priceless heaven on earth—and a gateway to the Divine.

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Infusing Your Relationship with Soul

Love one another, but make not a bond of love. Let it rather be a moving sea between the shores of your souls. ~ Kahlil Gibran, The Prophet.

My wife, Ruth, and I, co-authors of the book Secrets of a Soulful Marriage (SkyLight Paths Publishing, 2014) recently facilitated a seminar entitled Infusing Your Relationship with Soul. I’d like to share several of the points that we discussed, along some of the participants’ contributions.

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“Infusing Your Relationship with Soul” Seminar Participants

Love is the primary energy of the soul. One of our fundamental and most meaningful drives is to love and be loved.

Via the context or perspective that we are spiritual beings having a human experience, we are inclined to treat our partner with greater respect and deeper appreciation.

There are numerous ways to express soulfulness or sacredness in love relationships. We invited participants to both broaden and deepen how they experience and convey those qualities. Our expression can be brought forth physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually. As a group, we fleshed out examples in each of these realms, some of which, of course, interface. Here is a partial list, which reflects various forms of soulful or sacred expression:

  • stewardship and service, ranging from home maintenance to financial management to community volunteering
  • offering kindness, compassion, empathy and respect
  • humor, play, or levity, which create fresh perspectives
  • intellectual or philosophical discussion
  • sharing artistic and creative talents
  • practicing stillness and/or silence
  • caring touch or embrace; massage; sexual foreplay (including Tantric) and intercourse
  • prayer, meditation, rituals and spiritual discourse
  • supporting each other’s core values and life purpose(s)

Intention to strongly connect, with sustained presence, pervades all of these forms.

I invite you, as I did the seminar attendees, to select two specific soulful or sacred qualities that you would immediately commit to further develop. By focusing on attitudes and behaviors that enhance just those couple, you are likely to find that you’ll eventually expand soulfully in other ways, as well.

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