Grateful for Gratitude

gratitude

‘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

Senior-Couple

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

Conversations_with_God

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

WomanWritingInJournal

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.

Jim_Ruth_book

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

Shofar-Rosh-Hashanah

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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