Men’s Compromised Health

So often in my private practice I encounter a male client who has not had a physical examination for over two years, sometimes for as long as ten years. This form of self-neglect is of particular concern regarding guys who have a known medical condition and with those, for example, who are injured, obese, have high blood pressure and/or experience high levels of stress on a regular basis.The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that U.S. women are 100% more likely than men to schedule annual preventative exams.

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According to the National Center for Health Statistics, men have higher death rates from major disorders such as cancer, heart disease and diabetes. On the whole, guys also are more likely than women to be substance abusers and workaholics, and have a much higher incidence of suicide.

Given these kinds of serious concerns, Senator Bob Dole and Congressman Bill Richardson sponsored legislation 20 years ago to establish National Men’s Health Week around Father’s Day each year. President Bill Clinton signed the bill in 1994. To mark the 20th anniversary of this week dedicated to advancing male health awareness, numerous events were held around the country. Encouraged by the Men’s Health Network, health-oriented activities were promoted by various health care professionals, community groups, private industry and religious organizations. These efforts were designed to encourage men to develop a healthier lifestyle and to understand the importance of early detection of physical issues that could ultimately reduce the rate of mortality from disease. Wives, girlfriends, children and employers may also encourage (without nagging) guys to schedule a check-up.

In recent decades, several viable alternatives to allopathic medical care have become more credible and popular, such as acupuncture, naturopathic medicine and chiropractic.

Perhaps with greater attention to upgrading our health, we men may also reduce the longevity gap, as on average, women live several years longer than men. Furthermore, by consistently adapting favorable health practices, guys may enjoy a life of enhanced overall well-being:  increased physical, emotional mental and spirituality vitality, as well as better sexual performance with more satisfaction.

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The Richness of Father’s Day

Playing with my granddaughter on a recent hike.

Playing with my granddaughter on a recent hike.

 

As the father of three truly spectacular children and grandfather of two magnificent granddaughters, I relish the annual marker of “Father’s Day.”

This special day represents a lot for me, as I’m hoping it does for all of the loving, dedicated fathers who are celebrated by their offspring and partners on this occasion. It’s difficult for me to prioritize what I find most meaningful and awe-inspiring about this day. However, I can readily say that the least thrilling for me, yet what I still really appreciate, is the material gifts that I receive. Since I love wearing bedroom slippers, I look forward to receiving a new pair from my oldest daughter each year. My wife is consistently generous with gifts to me—sometimes to a fault.

My three kids and granddaughter being silly at Thanksgiving.

My three kids and granddaughter being silly this past Thanksgiving.

 

Now, for the ineffably beautiful “stuff.” I am profoundly humbled by the high honor and privilege of being a father and grandfather to these five incredible beings. My heart prostrates before G-d. Of course, I am delighted that each of my adult children love and celebrate me.

Clearly, I realize that what fills me even more is the overwhelming love and joy I feel for each of them! Each, in her (one “his”) distinct way, is such a shining manifestation of G-d’s grandeur. I could shed a river of joyful tears, but for now my eyes are dry and my heart swells with exuberance.

Ruth and I with our granddaughter on a trip to Winter Park last summer.

Ruth and I with our granddaughter on a trip to Winter Park last summer.

 

As Father’s Day approaches each year, I find myself reflecting a lot on my progress as a devoted and “good” father, as well as examining ways that I would like to become a “better” one. My kids have always offered me plenty of positive affirmations and feedback about how they’d like me to improve. I validate most of their perceptions, both pro and con, while adding my own aspirations to the list. As a therapist, I often tell clients who are parents that their kids generally serve as clear mirrors for them. Sometimes quite painfully, I have used my kids’ comments to catalyze my own character enhancements. My greatest teacher has been my youngest child, with whom I often clashed during her youth and teen years. As difficult as our relationship was for both of us, I have always recognized her beauty (inside and out) and her deep soulfulness. We have chosen to forgive each other for a lot. She has emerged into a sterling young adult and I’m so grateful (and relieved) that we have become close in recent years.

Wishing all of you dear fathers a glorious day of absorbing tributes, and more importantly, a time to use the opportunity to rigorously assess your fatherhood.

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The Bittersweet Empty Nest

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Most of you are familiar with the term empty nest: how couples feel and what they’re left with after their last child moves out of their house. The effects can be very dramatic, e.g. when their child(ren) move far away. They may be fortunate enough to become gradually prepared, e.g. by children returning home for extended periods, as during college vacations, and leaving home over a course of years.

My wife, Ruth, and I feel very blessed that all three of our adult children still live within a 60-mile radius of us—two much closer. Because we spread out our children over a 13-year span, the last one didn’t leave home until we were married for 40 years; she moved to Los Angeles for three years, but returned to our Denver area. We envision that two of our children will move out of state within the next few years. For us, finally having an empty nest has been a big celebration, especially since we have had the pleasure and luxury of being both emotionally and geographically close to our kids, who frequently get together with us.

Many people feel the way that we do: finally relieved of the responsibilities of daily parenting and delighted to have more personal time and sustained time together. However, at least as many couples feel adversely affected in a number of ways once they are alone. For example, they may grieve, suddenly feel old, feel lonely and a sense of emptiness in experiencing that they have little of substance to say to one another. Child-centered couples often come to realize that their children served to buffer them from establishing deep intimacy with each other.

Some factors that significantly ease the empty nest angst and pain are:

  • Couples forming a close bond with each other and communicating a lot throughout their relationship
  • Learning to constructively resolve conflicts
  • Developing a number of personal and shared interests/hobbies and activities
  • Arranging frequent dates together and deciding who will plan them
  • Getting together at least fairly often with other family members and/or friends
  • Maintaining frequent contact with the children, even if only by Skype, phone or email

For those of you about to embark on or in the throes of empty nesting, wishing you an exciting and joyous later-life adventure!

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Awakening an Inner Life

As most of us plunge daily into a world replete with work, activities, electronics and media, we tend to become more disconnected from our internal existence. We each have a gold mine inside of us that for many remains untapped, while many others have just explored the surface.

I feel that I have been blessed with an introspective nature, having quick and easy access to my thoughts and feelings throughout my life. For nearly four decades, I have engaged in many forms of meditative practice. I’ve also taught various kinds of meditation at the college level, several times annually at my temple, and incorporate themSometimes just a well-used overnight can be so rejuvenating! into the counseling and retreat work that I do as a psychologist.

Just as observing nature opens us to a profound sense of solitude, beauty and understanding, a foray into our inner lives continually reveals virgin landscape. What can be developed is concentration, receptivity, curiosity, creativity, imagery, deeper awareness of thoughts and feelings, greater presence and more. Some of the “more” includes a chamber of secrets that can only be acquired through diligent and persistent, yet patient pursuit. How’s all that for serious value?

There are a lot of “how to’s” with meditative practice. I just want to mention some basic, simple instructions for a practice that ultimately pays the handsome dividends I noted above. The essence of any meditation is detached observation or witnessing. Even if you practice other forms of meditation, e.g. involving a mantra or contemplation, I suggest taking at least five minutes daily (five minutes is plenty for beginners) to attune to what is happening inside of you moment to moment. Just observe the fluctuating thoughts, images, bodily sensations, breath patterns or emotions that occupy your attention. This practice is best done in a comfortable sitting position, with your back straight/erect, when alert and before a meal. Shortly after awakening is optimal for most people, including myself. Closing your eyes allows you to eliminate input from the external sense that you most likely rely on. You can sit quietly, or play various kinds of instrumental (non-lyric) music, e.g. classical, environmental, or new age. While my own preference is sitting quietly, each type of music will provide a different kind of experience.

Resist the very common temptation to evaluate or judge your meditative experience, such as, “my mind was really noisy today.” However, you may find it useful to become aware of a specific pattern, e.g. “I focused a lot on hunger pains in my belly” or “I was preoccupied with money worries.”

By allotting five or more minutes once or twice a day for this witnessing process, over time it will work its magic on you and you will accrue its benefits—some quite notable and others, very subtle.

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Remembering and Reflecting

Courtesy of Examiner.com

Courtesy of Examiner.com

On this holiday of remembering fallen soldiers, I pay tribute to all those who gave the ultimate personal sacrifice–their lives. While honoring the numerous acts of heroism through history, I also greatly lament every war.

Every one of our lives is so precious. We never know when our lives will end. I’d like to use this occasion to suggest that you pause awhile to reflect on the many kinds of impact, both sizable and seemingly small, that you have had on the world. You might even want to eulogize yourself!

Here are a few items to ponder that you might not consider on your own.
• When and how have you been heroic? Look for some ordinary, not necessarily sensational or headline ways.
• Remember some times that you were very surprised when told that you once did something that made a big difference for some people, or that what you did really touched them.
• How are you on track with your main life purpose?
• What are you avoiding or postponing doing that you know you really need to do? (tomorrow or too many tomorrows from now may be too late)
• What spontaneously comes to mind and/or heart about a life memory that lights you up?…another one…and another.

Short and hopefully sweet today. Wishing you a very meaningful Memorial Day and the start of making many, many more memorable memories (mmmmmm!).

P.S. If you have yet to read our men’s anthology, I invite you to visit the About tab on this site for a brief description of this book that features triumphant, transformational stories from 40 ordinary guys’ lives.

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Pride vs. Humility

Feeling pleased by just completing my latest book, which I co-authored with my wife Ruth, I got the idea for the topic of this blog.

Based on their religious or spiritual training, many people subscribe to the precept that pride is a character flaw. For years I have challenged the commonly accepted belief that attitudes, feelings and expression of pride are undesirable.

As a psychotherapist with over four decades of professional experience, I assert that self-esteem is the foundation of healthy psychospiritual development and character-building. Without a strong sense of self-worth, including pride about one’s accomplishments, a person feels unhappy and unfulfilled in life. Moreover, one needs to first have a solid sense of himself in order to gradually renounce aspects of ego.

Each of us needs to learn to discern the differences between a positive versus egotistical sense of ourselves. Narcissism involves grandiosity, excessive vanity and blatantly tooting one’s horn.

I witness and am turned off by many instances of false modesty or what I refer to as prideful humility. Too often I hear someone who is being acknowledged deflecting credit or allocating the bulk of it to others. An example is a quarterback who has had a great game or season attributing his success to the blocking of the offensive linemen or to his receivers’ prowess. Certainly, I feel it is appropriate and fitting to acknowledge team or group contribution, but at least accept some personal credit, without deflecting it. Of course, none of our accomplishments or virtues are purely self-generated; we’re all strongly influenced by our parents, close relatives, friends, teachers and others.

On that note, I advocate attaining sincere and deep humility. For me, the essence of humility is realizing that literally all of life’s gifts are the result of Divine Grace. In other words, all praise is quintessentially or ultimately due to God. Each of us best flourishes by aligning her will to the Divine Will, to the best of her understanding and ability.

Note:  Our new book is Secrets of a Soulful Marriage: Creating and Sustaining Loving, Sacred Relationships,  Jim Sharon, Ed.D. and Ruth Sharon, M.S.  Woodstock, VT: Skylight Paths Publishing, 2014.

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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.

Dante_Claudia_retreat

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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