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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High Holiday Reflections

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While my primary spiritual juice comes from Sufi mysticism and nature, I’ve also been a life-long Jew. Every year I observe the Jewish High Holidays of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.

I begin a period of intensified introspection during the Hebrew month of Elul that precedes the High Holidays (many orthodox Jews begin the month before Elul). Consistent with the Jewish tradition, my self-scrutiny peaks during Yom Kippur, which I observed yesterday and the previous evening. I want to share a few of my reflections and realizations, most of which were poignant reminders, rather than original thoughts.

  • Despite my credentials and talents, I am merely another vegetable in the human soup. Like Muslim salaat prayer lines, in which I’ve also quite often participated, Yom Kippur is a great leveler or equalizer.
  • G-d’s Power, Magnificence and Beauty cannot ever be really grasped and sufficiently praised or appreciated.
  • Paradoxically, each of us is an integral and significant part of the universe, yet less than a grain of sand. For me, this is the grandest of all paradoxes!
  • As much as I benefit from and enjoy praying alone, praying communally is very sweet, rich and potent in its orchestral synergy.
  • The numerous clergy, choir and band members (what a treat!), as well as temple staff behind the scenes, were fervently pouring their souls into creating a momentous occasion for the largest congregation in our multi-state Western region.
  • Remaining  “awake” and present are essential for overall vitality.
  • Like virtually every Yom Kippur, my heart blew open—I was often choked up, filled up, and at times in tears. Yet again I clearly realized that love is so much more satisfying than judgments.

As often at the end of the High Holidays, I emerged feeling a wonderful combination of humbled, joyous, triumphant and purposeful. However, this year I noticed that I was much more comfortable than ever before with lingering questions and uncertainties.

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Gender Comparison of Life Expectancy

Retirement Home

Like most of us, I have long known that women tend to outlive men. However, each time I visit a nursing home or assisted living facility, I feel startled by the disproportionate number of women residents. Here is a summary of some key points from online research that I did shortly after visiting my age 93 mother-in-law in her Harrisburg, PA assisted living community:

  • The most current life expectancy figures predict U.S. women living to age 80.3 and American men surviving to 75.3.
  • Numerous factors affect life expectancy, e.g. race, geographical region, lifestyle, educational and socioeconomic level, career, etc.
  • Although women have historically lived much longer than men, the gap is narrowing sharply over the past 30 years, as more women take on work stress and less men are engaging in heavy manual labor.
  • The mortality gap varies during stages of life. For example, in the age range of 15 to 24, men are nearly five times more likely to die than women, largely due to violent and reckless behavior of men in that age group (a “testosterone storm”). Between ages 55 to 64, more men than women die, mainly due to heart disease, suicide and substance abuse.

Life expectancy for both genders has continued to increase as a direct result of overall healthier lifestyles, improved nutrition, medical science advances and unprecedented wealth. Consequently, the next generation of retirement communities and nursing homes is likely to reflect a more even distribution of men and women, which is encouraging to me, as a man.

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The Love Field

Happily, beauty can be found in many places, such as in many forms of nature and in all types of artistic expression.

For me, the epitome of beauty occurs when people collectively open their hearts at a gathering—ranging from an audience experiencing a rousing performance, to a graduation ceremony, to a wedding, and to a spiritually uplifting congregation. The gorgeous synergy that folks create when they unify at a heart level can be termed a love field. Personally, I find such a field more fragrant than a perfumed flower garden.

Jim and Ruth book launch

My wife, Ruth, and I were the recipients of the ineffably sweet energy of a love field that emerged when 100 of our strong local supporters attended the September 4th launch of our marital enrichment book, Secrets of a Soulful Marriage: Creating and Sustaining a Loving, Sacred Relationship, published by SkyLight Paths. Since everyone ultimately longs to give and receive love, those in attendance rallied around the theme of the book, as well as celebrating us. The love in the room was palpable throughout the festive evening party. Ruth and I were saturated with the heartfelt expressions of all of the well-wishers, including those of many people who were unable to attend.

Jim and Ruth dancing

I believe that humanity can’t have too many love-filled gatherings. Although the essential nature of God is Love, and we are created in God’s image, people often live out of fear. In 1965 Hal David, Burt Bacharach and Jackie DeShannon collaborated to release the song, What the World Needs Now Is Love. I’d say that the world has always hungered for love and always will need large doses of it, as we individually and collectively journey toward the One and reclaim our true identity.

May you be caught up in a grand conspiracy to spread love; may that sweetest of “rains” be showered upon you and may you soak up the joy.

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Honoring Working Bees

Aaaahh, Labor Day—a day set aside to honor and celebrate dedicated workers and to grant us an extra period of rest and play.

While researching comparative U.S. work trends with those of other industrial nations in recent years, I must admit that I was very surprised to learn that the average American works less than the average worker in most first-world countries. Frankly, I thought that on the whole we worked much more than most nations. According to the Federal Reserve Economic Data compiled last year, the average U.S. work week is less than 33 hours. This is hard for me to fathom when I know so many people who work 60+ hours per week. The peak labor period in our country occurred in 1950: still averaging slightly less than 40 hours a week.

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Hopefully, this trend is reflecting a recent commitment to work/life balance, whereby we devote ample time to family and other relationships, health habits, leisure activities, spiritual focus and to rest. I’m aware of Generation Y’s insistence in limiting their work time and balancing their lives.

Perhaps we’re also learning to take a page from the British with their 3:00 tea times and the Spanish and Mexican mid-day siesta. Over the past decade, some corporations have begun implementing the power nap. As one who has specialized in stress management in my private practice and as a consultant, I recognize that during the past 30 years an increasing number of people have sought various ways of managing their stress levels—and practicing methods with greater regularity.

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The term labor of love is a very apt one for those, myself included, who regard their work as a life purpose or calling and/or for those who simply enjoy what they do. Passion about one’s profession and a dedication to service are two virtues that contribute greatly to job satisfaction, even for folks who consistently put in a lot of hours. Conversely, working with golden handcuffs–performing a high-paying job that the person dislikes–depletes energy and morale and erodes the soul.

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What Is a Soulful Relationship?

As the authors of a recently published book on the topic of marital enrichment, Secrets of a Soulful Marriage: Creating and Sustaining a Loving, Sacred Relationshipwe enjoy receiving folks’ input about what the term “soulful relationship” means to them.

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As you might imagine, people express a wide variety of attitudes and feelings in response to the question, “What makes a relationship soulful?” Here are some features that we consider central to a loving, meaningful relationship:

  • Healing hurts, disappointments and resentments from your past
  • Developing your character, such as integrity, compassion and generosity
  • Actively listening to your partner’s expressed needs, feelings and requests, and cleanly, clearly stating your own
  • Accepting and often appreciating your partner’s differences
  • Practicing ways to constructively resolve issues and conflicts
  • Cherishing your beloved and demonstrating respect
  • Keeping romance and intimacy alive
  • Championing your spouse’s overall well-being and quest for a balanced life
  • Supporting each other ‘s life purpose(s) and spiritual connection
  • As parents and busy professionals, ensuring that your couple relationship is primary

If you want, you could rate yourself and your mate on each of these items according to a 1 to 5 scale, whereby 1 indicates minimal practice of that specific quality and 5 represents strong, consistent demonstration of it.

Of course, this is not intended to be an exhaustive list. Discuss it with your partner and add several other traits that reflect soulfulness for you.

Here’s to a long, love-filled and mutually satisfying relationship!

-Jim and Ruth

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Lurking in Your Backyard

Sex trafficking—the heinous act of duping teenage (or pre-teen) girls into a life of prostitution—only occurs in third-world countries, right? Oh so wrong! As accustomed as we can be toward turning a “blind eye” to that which we’d prefer didn’t exist, it is no surprise that most folks are quick to deny that sex slavery may very well be happening in their cities, towns and suburbs. The victims could be anyone’s daughter, relative or acquaintance–and secondarily, all who love and know them. Thanks to the many who are willing to pay big bucks to “turn tricks” with a young girl, the sex trade has become so epidemic and so lucrative that sleazy pimps are only part of the scene. Eager to get a big chunk of the action, organized crime and drug cartels have joined the foray. U.S. law enforcement agencies estimate that 100,000 girls are victims of the avarice and perpetuation of paid sex.

This topic has been on my radar and infuriating me for several years. As coordinator of Whole Man Network, I arranged for the Denver-based organization Mile High Women’s Outreach Center (MHWOC) to educate participants about sex trafficking. A few days ago I attended an MHWOC showing of the video “Chosen,” produced by Shared Hope International, followed by a candid discussion of this atrocious, global modern-day slavery practice. For me, the most salient personal story in the video involved an articulate, beautiful 17-year-old girl—a straight-A high school student, cheerleader and active member of her community. Promised an exciting new life and ten times her waitress earnings, this seemingly-sophisticated Kansas girl came ever so close to unknowingly joining a prostitution ring. Fortunately, her caring ex-boyfriend became suspicious enough to tell his and her parents and ultimately save her from degradation.

Traffickers prey on vulnerable youth wherever they can find them, such as around schools, shopping malls, arcades, parks, etc. These glib guys are adept at gathering information through seemingly innocent conversations. They especially exploit girls who are lonely, lost, have a history of being physically and/or sexually abused, are runaways, throwaways, and the like. These charming, antisocial predators, most in their 20’s, are adept at luring the girls with acts of kindness and affection, lavish gifts and glamorous promises. They typically offer the girls the special attention they lack, often pretending to become their boyfriends. They gradually groom them for prostitution, such as by getting them to dance at a strip club and then have sex with them. The initial princess treatment often shifts to pimps’ physical abuse and threats, such as harming the girl’s family if she escapes. Frightened, filled with shame, and burning their bridges with family and friends, the trapped girls feel there is no safe turning back.

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Annual FBI stings and local police response serve to stop some fraction of the trafficking. What YOU can do is:

  • Familiarize yourself and loved ones with the warning signs described above.
  • Share this blog and discuss your concerns about this “cancer” with others.
  • Notify authorities about suspected predators and/or girls boasting special attention, gifts, and/or outlandish promises from older guys (My daughter knew one such girl.)
  • Learn more from, refer people to, and financially support any of the below national resources:

Shared Hope International

Girls Educational and Mentoring Services (GEMS)

Polaris Project

The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children

1-800-THE LOST

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Writing with Wife

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Ruth and I recently speaking to a group.

 

During 38 years of our 44-year marriage, my wife Ruth, and I have worked together in many capacities. These have included serving as therapists in private practice, co-directing a holistic health and human development center, teaching classes and seminars, delivering conference presentations (including as keynoters), leading marriage retreats, and most recently offering ourselves as “coaches for soulful couples.”

A few years ago, I coordinated and edited a 40-story men’s anthology; Ruth collaborated with our youngest daughter Alyssa and oldest granddaughter Hannah to write a photo-rich yoga book. We edited each others’ books and many of the blogs that we independently wrote. However, neither of us had written a book together until co-authoring Secrets of a Soulful Marriage: Creating and Sustaining a Loving, Sacred Relationship, hot off the press from SkyLight Paths Publishing. Many people have inquired about our experience in working together on the book, so I’ll share that in this blog.

Our wedding in 1970.

Our wedding in 1970.

Amidst the beauty of our long relationship (meeting nearly 47 years ago) and vast experience doing couples counseling and facilitating marriage programs, we have for years felt an increasingly-strong calling to promote marital enrichment on a larger scale. Writing a practical, inspirational marriage book struck us as a viable project to undertake.

In October 2012 we dedicated half of our week-long Sedona, AZ vacation to brainstorming content for our “Secrets” book. During that week we jotted down various topics and specific ideas, practical tools and exercises for couples, some key quotes and many of our personal experiences that we wanted to impart. Also, we felt that it would be important to include brief stories from a number of couples whom we deemed to have deeply committed, “soulful” relationships. We intended to self-publish our book and amid our busy schedules, to take our time doing so.

For months following our Sedona retreat, we formulated a book outline and assigned ourselves separate chapters to write. We also gathered over twenty couples to contribute personal anecdotes and assembled local couples for an orientation. Frankly, we were dragging our feet until being approached by an editor from SkyLight Paths Publishing in August 2013. She and her colleagues had read and really liked the description of our Fall 2013 marriage retreat in the Ghost Ranch, NM catalog. She invited us to submit a proposal, book outline and a couple chapters to SkyLight Paths for consideration. Contract negotiations ensued and soon we were on board for a quickened pace of collaborating with SkyLight Paths editors to produce our “baby.”

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Our book

We elected to independently write some sections of each chapter and then review the other’s work, yet chose to combine on many sections of the book. Neither of us was surprised to soon observe that our writing styles notably differed. Given my years of academic training, I had developed a rather formal, sometimes even pedantic and cumbersome approach to writing. Ruth’s style was more conversational and earthy, yet often, also ethereal. Ruth was quick to request that I simplify my writing and make it more reader-friendly. In turn, I asked Ruth to take some of the cosmic fluff out of her material. Although both us at times became testy or defensive, we each ultimately complied with the other’s guidance. Two SkyLight Paths editors, mainly the one who initially contacted us, collaborated closely with us to refine our chapter submissions. As the process became increasingly smoother, we came to feel like we were dancing together. Devoting many hours each week to writing together evolved into a new form of lovemaking!

We are extremely grateful to the staff of SkyLight Paths, who have been with us every step of the way throughout this year. We greatly respect the staff’s competence and so appreciate their warmth and accessibility.

Now we are turning our attention to a “love fest” book launch party and beginning our book tours with a stint in Philadelphia and Harrisburg, PA. With deep awe, we are celebrating the phenomenal privilege of sharing yet another life purpose. Learn more and order your book today!

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Wake-Up Call

Several nights ago, I was leaning back in my chair, as I often do, beginning to eat my dinner. My wife, Ruth, suggested that I sit up straight to avoid spilling food on my shirt, which I must sheepishly admit that I regularly do. After my next bite of food, I began feeling a bloating sensation that made me stop. During the past three years, I have felt this discomfort an average of every two months or so, but in all but one previous instance, it subsides within a minute or two of sitting still, taking some deep breaths, and using an acupressure tapping procedure that I’m expert in applying. This time, the bloating intensified from my abdomen to my solar plexus to the point that I labored to breathe, could hardly speak, and where I began spitting out long, thick strands of sputum. Sweat appeared on my forehead. No position I got into relieved my symptoms.

After about ten minutes of this distress, I asked Ruth to call 911. When the same syndrome occurred about three years ago, I had also called for paramedics, fearing that I might be having a heart attack. When the EMTs came out at that time, my symptoms soon abated and I declined their suggestion to take me by ambulance to the hospital. On this recent occasion, my symptoms also waned, but not as fully or rapidly. The team Physician Assistant (PA) read my EKG and detected a hint of an abnormality, so he suggested that I go to the ER to be certain that I wasn’t having a heart attack. Again, I was offered an ambulance ride as a precaution.

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I typically trust my intuitions. My strong intuition was that I was experiencing a digestive issue, not any kind of heart disorder, let alone a heart attack. However, to be on the safe side, I had Ruth drive me to the ER. Per my nature, I joked a lot with the doctor and team of nurses as they proceeded to hook me up to an IV, do a chest x-ray, and run enzyme tests. Three hours later, I was informed that all tests were negative. Yet, the staff suggested that I remain in the hospital overnight for observation and take a stress test in the morning.

Without hesitating, I refused the hospital stay and stress test. The strong recommendations that followed included seeing my primary-care physician (PCP) the next day, immediately arranging an outpatient stress test and scheduling an appointment with a gastroenterologist.

I’m a long-term believer in parsimony: an economy of energy-expenditure, resources, expense, etc. I chose to merely visit my PCP the next day. Low-key and non-alarming as she is, my doctor listened attentively to my symptoms, performed a simple exam, and determined that I probably just had a recent buildup of acid in my gut. My doc looked at the EMT PA’s EKG and quickly pointed out that he put in a wrong lead, prompting a false concern. She ruled-out a stress test, told me to avoid a list of foods for a couple of weeks, and said that I’d only need to schedule a gastrointestinal exam if my symptoms returned. I also appreciated her suggestion to eat some digestion-enhancing foods like papaya, ginger and peppermint.

The past few days I have felt a new lease on life, which I’ve celebrated in many ways. I enjoyed an easy ¾-mile swim, dinner and games with several couples, a marriage conference, and large leads-group party, highlighted by three volleyball games.

More importantly, I have had a wake-up call in several key respects. I’ve re-learned not to sweat the small stuff, as in the grand scheme of things, it’s all small stuff! Besides checking my impulse toward agitation, I know that I need to schedule more downtime and relax before and during meals and to savor my food. I have been smug, believing that I could get away with eating an excess of not-so-healthy foods, in addition to my essentially good diet.

Also, I realize that I shouldn’t have ignored the bi-monthly indigestion clues, minor as they seemed, that something was amiss.

We’re all precious and need to treat ourselves as such, including making the most of the limited time we each have on this earth. As for invasive, expensive medical procedures, discernment is definitely in order!

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