Happiness Challenge

Michael with his fiance, Dana. Photo by Sasser Stills.

Michael with his fiance, Dana. Photo by Sasser Stills.

 
My son, Michael, has been participating in the Facebook “100 Days of Happiness Challenge,” which as of this writing has about 3600 “likes.”  I suggest checking it out and deciding whether you’d like to participate:  https://www.facebook.com/100daysofhappinesschallenge.

I want to briefly share my reaction to the Challenge. I appreciate the spirit of it:  dedicating oneself to finding at least something each day to feel happy about or grateful for, which can effectively “change your world.” However, I believe that permanent happiness could be profoundly realized in a moment.

My experience is that what most people call happiness involves an ephemeral mood or at best, a peak experience. That’s as much preaching as I feel to do in this very short blog post. I simply want to issue the invitation to sincerely look deeper for the nature of true and lasting happiness. A rigorous inquiry should not require 100 days.

Anyway, during his roughly three weeks of engagement with the 100-day Challenge, Michael seems as joyful and looks as radiant as I’ve ever seen him! Whatever works.

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Marital Dividends

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Most of the activities in our marriage enrichment weekend retreats involve releasing blocks to intimacy, developing communication skills and romantic expression. Despite some of the accompanying challenges, couples tend to quickly garner insights and feel uplifted by those practices.

However, a few of the exercises that we include in our retreats are emotionally evocative and require some “digesting.” During our most recent retreat, held at the majestic Ghost Ranch in northern New Mexico at the end of March, three participants demonstrated a high degree of courage as they vulnerably revisited the deaths of loved ones.

Both partners of one couple, “Bill and Mary,” married three years, were widowed. On separate occasions during the weekend they encountered strong reminders of their deceased spouses. Rather than trying to suppress their emotions, they faced them head on. Mary, who had earlier stated that she had unfinished business with her deceased husband, made clear contact with him and was able to resolve her guilt by dialoguing with him.  Bill held her as she cried through her reconnection. Afterwards, Mary felt great relief of feelings that have haunted her since her former husband’s death. Her face instantly brightened and her softer energy was palpable to each of us. Having lost his wife six years ago, Bill’s experience wasn’t as intense as Mary’s, but he gave into his tears and was glad that he allowed himself to touch his pain. Bill and Mary sent an email to Ruth and me the following week to profusely thank us for the evocative exercises and for giving them the space to emote. Both reported that they continued to feel a new freedom in their relationship as a result of their emotional releases.

One activity, which included a glimpse into death, could have proven very confrontive to “Ryan,” but he boldly opted to accept the challenge of “stepping” into the experience. That exercise was offered on the eve of the anniversary of Ryan’s 16-year-old daughter’s fatal automobile accident. His daughter was driving and his wife became a quadriplegic until dying six months later. Although less expressive than Bill and Mary, Ryan informed us that he was deeply moved by the images that he witnessed and by his ensuing realizations.

Ruth and I applaud the emotional courage of these three retreatants, who, each is his/her own way, reaped healing and insights beyond their expectations by choosing to encounter feelings that many people would have decided to avoid. These folks served as models for the other participants, and now for you, of the value that can be gleaned from allowing and working with raw emotions.

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Why Ask?

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Sometimes, for days I live in the question of what to write my weekly blog about, as was the case this week. The answer finally arrived last night: write about a favorite topic of mine—questions.

What constitutes a good question and what is the value of a well-crafted question?  I just intended to illustrate two good questions in one. I will offer what I regard as partial answers.

For me, the major difference between an effective or powerful question and a less meaty one is that the former diverges and the latter converges. Divergent questions create openings into or invite further questions.  They are like a tree with numerous branches and twigs.  Convergent ones are readily answered, “yes, no, or I don’t know” or with a (supposedly) factual answer, like, “2 + 2=4″.

Well-crafted questions do not allow for quick or cheap closure, but rather prompt continual discovery. Those who have a tolerance for ambiguity, patience, and a hunger for depth appreciate or even enjoy these kinds of questions. These evocative questions require pondering and exploring from different vantage points. Often they require continual inquiry.

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Divergent questions serve to:

1) Engender a lot of inquiry, which can lead to a lot of learning or to new directions.

2) Stimulate or open the mind, heart, and/or gut.

3) Elicit powerful, rewarding conversations.

What would you add to this list?

Here are several examples of strong questions:

  • What if……? What are the possibilities?
  • What is the meaning of life?
  • What is love?
  • What can you learn from nature?
  • How can you live as your best self?

I assert that effective divergent questions often serve as a doorway or gateway to the Divine.

An exercise that I have often found both fun and enlightening is engaging with a group in serial questions, requesting that all questions be responded to with somehow related questions.  For example, “Why is the sky blue?” “Do you feel blue right now?” “How long is right now or a moment?” “What do you long for?”  Try this with some friends for ten minutes to produce a natural high.

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Profoundly Simple Healing Approaches

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I just completed a lovely, impactful group and personalized healing retreat at Sunrise Ranch Conference and Retreat Center in Loveland, CO. I’ve had the fortune to be guided for several years by one of the retreat facilitators, who is designated as a top teacher and guide in a large, international spiritual organization with which I’m affiliated. In addition to the transformational work that each of the participants engaged in during the retreat, this was a training intensive for those of us who have been learning a host of healing methods during the past two years.

What became eminently clear to me during the retreat is the depth and magnificence of some basic, axiomatic principles. Here are some examples that can be applied to various levels of healing and well-being, such as physical, emotional and spiritual. Some of the examples are presented in the first person.

  • As I come to love, appreciate and accept myself increasingly more, I can do the same toward others.
  • Similarly, patience with myself and trust in the natural process of unfolding allows the frequency, duration and intensity of my judgments to recede.
  • Offering kindness and compassion are foundational forms of service. The golden rule lays at the core.
  • In difficult circumstances, feel deeply, learn, detach and then move on.
  • Attune regularly to my inner guidance and seek support where needed.
  • Humor and play are vital for the soul and can be excellent forms of teaching and healing.
  • Periodically refresh or refine my personal relationship with the Divine.

Emerging from my retreat with a distinctly greater lightness of being, I was reminded of the book All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten by Robert Fulghum, 1988. Regarding healing methods, of course some conventional procedures and sophisticated techniques can be beneficial. However, as with so much of life, some of the simplest approaches are highly effective.

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Potent Perspectives

We can gain new perspectives many different ways, such as through life experiences, adversity, stories and humor. While my wife, Ruth, and I recently visited my 93-year-old mother-in-law for a week in a Harrisburg, PA nursing home, I was able to combine each of those elements for a strong dose of perspectives.

nursinghomeI have visited nursing homes a few times in the past, most recently almost 10 years ago, when my elderly mom was rehabilitating from a knee replacement. Within minutes of stepping into the PA facility I was poignantly reminded of my previous ventures into those dreary places. Yet again, I was haunted by the number of vacant faces and nearly lifeless bodies I witnessed, many of them flopped sideways in their wheelchairs. Clearly, every day felt like a half of an eternity to many of the residents. The secondary trauma I had previously experienced in similar settings gripped me once again.

One prominent difference between my Harrisburg visits and past ones was that this time, I’m a full-fledged senior myself.  The prospect of my wife or I possibly ending up not so far down the road in such an environment starkly glared at me!  My commitment to maintaining my vitality and living my life fully and purposefully intensified throughout our week-long visit.

I’m pleased that I offered much empathy, encouragement and practical forms of support to my mother-in-law, who is overeager to return home after her bloody fall and broken ankle. Never missing an opportunity to play with people, I exchanged humor with staff members and patients alike.

elderly_handsI soaked up the inner beauty of some of the residents, whose plight and ages had robbed them of their physical attractiveness. One guy who especially touched me happened to have been the band leader of the musicians who played at my wedding nearly 44 years ago. At age 87, afflicted with Parkinson’s disease, he still had more than a spark of life. That spark was most apparent when he played on the piano a number of light, old songs for the patients and when he related stories about his musical career.

I also felt in awe of the amount of patience, depth of caring and dedication to service that I observed in several staff members.

I’ll end with a tribute to the person who struck me the most, a 63-year-old woman who has dutifully attended almost daily for 7.5 years to her 85-year-old husband.  Before marrying his wife-to-be, that man prophetically warned her that she would someday be cleaning up his drool. Sure enough, he suffered a very debilitating stroke. Unable to talk or even show recognition to his wife, his greatest gains have been holding his head up and regaining some of the 40 pounds he lost on his previous liquid diet.  The dear wife, whom I dubbed a candidate for sainthood, has loyally remained at his side, virtually day in, day out.

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Let Us Not Be a Caravan of Despair


This the first of several blog posts written by contributors to our men’s anthology that update key developments in the authors’ lives since publication of our book in 2011. I will post the other guest blogs during the next few months.

-Jim

This blog post is offered by Rev. Rudy Gelsey.

In the year 2000, my life took a new turn, from being a Unitarian Universalist Minister for some 40 years.  That summer, I experienced a tipping-point when attending an interfaith retreat in the high mountains of New Mexico. At the end, the leader, on the basis of what I shared, commissioned me to become, henceforth, a servant to the people of the planet

Mending Our Broken World book coverIn 2004, I completed my book, Conversations with Sacred Masters: Bringing the World Together. That led me to writing Mending Our Broken World: a Path to Perpetual Peace (MOBW).  MOBW provides a practical guide to help in the formation of a World Federal Union.

The idea for Perpetual Peace Initiative (PPI) came about in 2011-2012 when I led a Jefferson Unitarian Church (JUC) series of monthly study-action groups on war and peace.

We give presentations and we reach out throughout the world to Presidents, Prime Ministers, Political, Religious and Spiritual Leaders to join forces rather than fighting with one another as has been ongoing for hundreds of years.  Presidents of countries that have veto power in the United Nations, as well as ministers of Foreign Affairs and U.N. delegates received our book.

Reading several hundred contemporary books on peace, I noticed they tended to address partial, short-term rather than global, long-range solutions. Today’s issue of bringing about world peace is mostly looked at from the angle of what will benefit this or that country rather than the world community as a whole. My innovative approach is inclusive rather than selective. I also propose religion and spirituality as important foundations for world peace, including 2,800 years of Perennial Philosophy.

This gives us the hope and inspiration to actively participate in helping to create a new spiritual paradigm. Vision, inclusiveness, spiritual depth, and compassion are its most essential building blocks.  If those terms are unfamiliar to you, you can acquaint yourself with the book, MOBW.  It will open your eyes.

Several factors drew me to the specific need for a World Federal Union. Having been a student of history since my youth, I learned of the brutal pattern of wars. Born in Austria, I lived through the horrors of World War II. That, coupled with my life’s work in the ministry, convinced me that the only antidote for perpetual wars is perpetual peace.  In my graduate studies at the University of Geneva, I learned that the federal system was the best political structure for human government, encouraging popular participation.  In 2004, I became totally blind. I continue my pursuits unabated.

As Martin Luther King, Jr., said:  “… all life is inter-related. All men are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be, and you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be… This is the inter-related structure of reality.”

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Passionate Warriors for Love

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During our “Secrets of a Soulful Marriage” retreat at Sunrise Ranch in Loveland, CO over Valentine’s weekend, my wife, Ruth, and I invited couples to give themselves playful and/or empowering names. We dubbed ourselves Passionate Warriors for Love, as are intentional in our efforts to give and to receive love and to spread the “good news” (no specific religious connotation).

Love, in its various forms, is probably the most common theme in literature, songs, movies, etc. What does it mean to be an advocate of love and to be a full-on lover? These are quintessential questions, as most of us would agree that love is the primal force that drives the universe. However, differences abound concerning the main ingredients of love. Paradoxically, while love is ubiquitous, it often shows up as mysterious and elusive. Love, in its various forms, is probably the most common theme in literature, songs, movies, etc.

I assert that to truly love your life partner, you must first love yourself, then continually develop spiritual (not necessarily religious) connection and love humanity.

Here are some significant questions regarding love to contemplate, followed by examples of my own responses:

1. What core qualities do I celebrate in myself?  spiritual, compassionate, warm, introspective, inquisitive, creative, playful

2. How can I promote my overall well-being?  become less reactive to stress; eat less sugar

3. What are some ways that I relate well to my wife and others?  listen deeply and empathically; offer verbal affirmation; provide comforting touch; offer a lot of perspective, including through humor and playfulness

4. Which of my patterns do I want/need to reduce or release in my relationships?  express myself more simply; find out what Ruth or my kids are doing before talking while entering a room; better manage my temper

5. How do I serve my beloved?  initiate a wide variety of household chores; earn my share of money; spend a lot of quality time with her; console her when upset and tend to her when sic

6. How do I serve others?  through counseling, coaching, speaking and group facilitation; help Ruth care for our granddaughters at least weekly; kinship leader for my spiritual community in the front range of CO; facilitate meditation classes at our temple; donate money and labor to several charities

7. What are some ways that I could better serve my family and others?  visit with my mom and friends more often; develop more patience; be more generous with money and gifts

8. How forgiving are you of yourself and of those who you feel have wronged you?  better than most people, but not as much as I’d like to be in either case

Although a solid start, this is just a sampling of factors to consider in enhancing your ability to love. You can inquire into other key areas, such as how you manipulate and create barriers to intimacy and regarding your romantic/sexual attitudes and behavior.

Then, what are a couple of specific changes you are willing to adopt this week and this month to elevate your love?  For example, I am currently taking on being less reactive to stress and being more materially generous.

Another glorious paradox:  the more love that you give, the more your love expands!

 

 

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Hooray for Committed Couples!

My wife, Ruth, and I feel so blessed and privileged—and I mean this with all of my heart—to be able to work with couples who are intent about healing and expanding their relationships.

We just returned from facilitating our signature marital enrichment weekend retreat, Secrets of a Soulful Marriage at Sunrise Ranch Conference and Retreat Center, in Loveland, CO. Ruth and I were deeply moved by the sincerity and dedication of each of the participants, which served to create a growing love field and synergy as the weekend progressed. The many forms of diversity, such as ages, length of marriage, cultural backgrounds and occupations, provided vivid color and texture to the group energy, in addition to folks learning a lot from one another.

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I was especially heartened by witnessing two key phenomena:

1) Without exception, the retreat couples repeatedly expressed and demonstrated various ways in which they support their partners’ overall well-being. Beyond the ordinary considerations of daily welfare, they championed each other’s career satisfaction, goal-setting and risk-taking, emotional and spiritual development, etc.

2) Each participant was earnest about becoming a more balanced, integrated person. Traditional gender roles were blurred, as many of the men regularly cook, clean, wash dishes and/or do laundry. An athletic man loves the domestic, caretaking responsibilities of being a stay-at-home dad, while his wife works as a medical doctor. One of the most romantic men in the group is a master craftsman who is passionate about engaging in extreme sports, such as motor cross. Another quiet, gentle guy scales some of the world’s largest mountain peaks. A couple of the sweet, sensitive women are rabid hockey or football fans. A radiant, dynamic woman serves as a massage therapist, yoga instructor and facilitator of shamanic journeys, yet also enjoys intellectual pursuits.

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Ruth and I are thrilled to recount the ways we have observed couples evolve since doing couples’ therapy, teaching marriage seminars and leading marital retreats for nearly four decades. The retreat weekends have become especially powerful and enjoyable for us and for the retreatants. We are facilitating our next one at Ghost Ranch in northern New Mexico March 28-30.

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A Powerful Little Word

I met with a mid-40’s male client yesterday who tends to be intellectual, philosophical and overly analytical. He recognizes that he can bog down to the point of creating paralysis through analysis.  During our session, “Joe” proudly reported that he had come to realize how much peace he could attain by accepting himself for who he is, being grateful for what he has, and living in the present.

I acknowledged the relief that Joe felt by relinquishing the intense striving that he referred to as “digging like a badger.”  He had been comparing himself to so many people in various ways and kept coming up short in his own eyes. As the old saying goes, he had been trying to “keep up with the Joneses,” and was depleted and depressed from feeling like he was “never enough,” despite persistent efforts.  Contrary to Joe’s self-deprecating perceptions, many who know him and I view him as a kind-hearted, sensitive, spiritual man who is a deep thinker and a very talented artist.
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While strongly affirming Joe’s recent decision to embrace himself, his current life and the power/beauty of presence, I offered Joe a “magical” three-letter word:  and. And serves to include, to connect/join; “but” tends to detract and diminish. I suggested that Joe could “have his cake and eat it, too.”  I referenced for Joe a saying that I like: “Wish to be who you are right now.” I essentially added, what if you felt okay about who you are, fine with what you have, and savored each moment, and stretched yourself for the fun of it.?! Play with dreaming and gently challenge yourself to journey toward fulfilling some of those dreams, goals or visions. I offered Joe the opportunity to see life as an adventure and as an exciting set of games or opportunities. Failing in an endeavor does not make him a failure as a person. Joe is already wonderful as he is—he is the cake, merely desiring the icing and cherry on top.

Against my better judgment, I’m choosing to share a corny joke with you that my and message conjured up.  What is God’s name?  Answer: Andy. Andy walks with me; Andy talks with me.

Yes, I can be a cornball, and let’s end on a positive note by considering that the world could use more  “that, and…” in lieu of “yes, but…”

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Football Testosterone

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With my home-team Broncos taking the field against the Seahawks in today’s Super Bowl, I ask you, what constitutes an excessive display of fan testosterone? I’d welcome your comments in the below comments box and I’ll publish my favorite responses.

You may simply list, in priority order, the number corresponding with these themes, and/or offer your specific thoughts and feelings.

  1. Attending the “Big Dance,” even when doing so far exceeds your budget
  2. Yelling and cursing while watching the game on TV
  3. Partying hard throughout the game.
  4. Decorating your house, car and/or workplace “to the nines” in your team’s logo and colors
  5. Dressing from head to toe in team paraphernalia and painting your face/hair
  6. Painting your chest and/or back in team colors
  7. Badmouthing your losing team for weeks following a Super Bowl loss

I didn’t bother listing some all-too-obvious items, like brawling at the game or rioting/looting afterwards.

Outlandish, yet realistic responses are definitely welcome.

I’ll confess where I land (and occasionally feel guilty):  definitely #2 and likely #7. In fanatical Broncos land, I regard myself as a relatively tame and sane big fan.

Have fun with this, but please be honest and not overly sensational.

Thanks for checking in.

Enjoy the Broncos’ victory today, along with me.

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