A couple of weeks ago my boyfriend and I decided we were going to climb Mt. Mitchell. It sounded like a great idea but we both had no clue what we were about to get ourselves into. We started at the Black Mountain campground, about an hour outside of Asheville. It took us 30 minutes to find the trail head as the campground was closed and all the signs covered (do NOT do this off season). We started out in great spirits, high energy, prepared and ready to tackle 5.7 miles up 3600 feet elevation climb to the summit and back.
We started out strong, fast, excited. We stopped to take pictures. We greeted a group of hikers. The sun was shining. What a beautiful day for a hike!
An hour into it I started to wonder who’s idea this was. Oh wait, it was mine.
The second hour, I started pondering on why someone would want to do this. I mean, I’m active, I run, I hike, I’m in good health. Why not? But really, this was HARD. By the third hour of unrelenting uphill climb through the ever changing vegetation and climate, in the middle of thick, lonely, never ending woods, up there in the “no going back” land, on a hike that gave the word “commitment” a whole new meaning, up there I had my answer.
I was doing it to challenge myself. To see what I could do. To show myself what I was made of. So next time I had doubts about accomplishing anything I could say to myself “Dude, you did Mt. Mitchell!” It’s funny, the life lessons you learn on a hike like that.
I came out inspired and I finally have a moment to share my inspiration with you. Here’s what I learned:
1. Commitment is everything – Once you fully commit to doing something, your EGO will not let you quit. Hey, the EGO is good for something! Also, announcing your intentions and plans to the world and significant others will help you not give up. Everything you want to accomplish is like climbing a mountain – you have to commit to it.
2. Be prepared – Physically, mentally, emotionally. I don’t think I would have made it 6 hours and 9 minutes, 11.4 miles up and down a mountain if I didn’t have the following: an awesome companion, love for nature, information about the trail, hiking pole for support, layers of warm, breathable, non-cotton clothing, humor, a spirit of adventure, a hat, gloves, hiking socks, water, snacks…Details matter. Don’t underestimate preparation, it can make the difference between succeeding and failing.
3. No giving up – Tell yourself there is no going back. Someone once said that it is right after the moment you want to give up that the miracle happens. Remind yourself why you set your goal, what is your motivation, what drives you. Inspire yourself every moment of the journey and don’t let negativity creep in. On the trail, I was hot, I was freezing, I was sweaty, tired, irritated with slippery leaves, wobbly rocks and pesky roots, scared by sudden snow falling and loud wind blowing. I didn’t let that get me down. I kept on going.
4. Visualize – Imagine what it will be like when you reach your goal. When you get to the summit (so to speak). What will it feel like? My experience was somewhere between wanting to throw up and crying. But I also felt exhilarated, accomplished, proud, humbled, changed. Visualize what it will look like once you achieve your goal, how it will change you and what it will mean for future endeavors.
5. Work hard – Accomplishing anything is hard work. Prepare yourself for it. Be patient. Know that hard work will pay off in the end. It will be unpleasant and uncomfortable at times. You can do it though. You are ready. You are committed. You can do the work. Stop with the laziness, excuses, procrastination. Just do it. Sacrifice short-term pleasures for long-term achievements.
You are ready.
When someone is compulsively obsessed with any activity, substance, object, or behavior that gives him/her pleasure we can say they are engaging in addictive behaviors. In the case of drugs, there is a chemical dependence that occurs, which has several components but basically means that if you stop using the drug you will experience negative symptoms, physically, emotionally and mentally so you continue to use in order to avoid withdrawl symptoms. Most chemically dependent people use to maintain baseline, which means sometimes you may not notice they are high as they may appear “normal”. There are still signs depending on the drug and of course you will be able to see the devastating effect of the drug in all aspects of their lives. Where there is smoke there is fire.
With other things, that, for lack of a better description, do not enter the body, it is hard to determine…
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“So you go to therapy too huh?”
“Used to. I don’t now, just waiting for my friend.”
“I see. Why did you stop going?”
“I know what my problem is.”
“I like change too much.” (pauses) “And I’m too hard on myself.”
“Ah, learned that from the best didn’t you? Who was it, your mom? My dad loved to point out all my mistakes, I could never do anything right, I could never be good enough, no matter how much I tried. He would come to my baseball games and shout from the sidelines what he thought to be encouragement but I was mortified and embarrassed.”
“Ha. I can’t complain about my parents really. They would tell me all the time how proud they were of me and brag to all the family and friends about my accomplishments…I don’t think of those times though when I think back. I think of how one B in 4 years of straight As forever defined me as ALMOST perfect.”
“I wish I was good with change. I’m a creature of habit. I eat the same breakfast everyday, eat lunch and dinner at the same time everyday and I always have a salad with my meals. And a glass of milk before bed. I always wake up at the same time every morning, I like to watch traffic and weather. Be prepared, you know…My mother had Bipolar. She would do crazy things like wake us kids up at the crack of dawn, pack us up in her Impala like sardines and take a road trip to Atlantic City for no reason at all. Or I would come home and she’d be painting my room a bright turquoise. They fought a lot, my parents. You never knew what you were walking into.”
“When I was about 15 my parents were both abroad and my grandmother and brother were in charge. It was summer. I did not leave my house for a month and a half, didn’t talk much to anyone most days. I read a lot. And listened to music. A lot. I ate, slept, sat, stared out the window, you know the normal teenage stuff. For a month and a half in the summer I did not leave the house. And now, the house eats at me. I don’t like to be home. I hate routines too. And silence. I particularly hate silence.”
“That doesn’t really explain why you like change though.”
“Maybe I don’t really like change. Maybe I dislike sitting still.”
“I started drinking heavily after my wife left me. And it dawned on me, it was probably because the house was too quiet. But you see, me drinking wasn’t the problem. My drink was my companion. I could always rely on it. Problem was, I didn’t want to face things changing around me, didn’t want to adapt to losing my job after 15 years, admit to failing my marriage or watch my parents get old and sick. Drinking was the only steady thing. The only thing I could control. Even when everything was falling apart I could drink to perfection. How about that?”
“I hate feeling powerless. It makes me driven to change. Change gives me a goal, something to look forward to. But sometimes it messes with things that aren’t broken, ya know? I have a dilemma as a matter of fact. A puzzle. A problem without a solution. And I have absolutely no idea what to do about it. I mean, I can make the change. That’s easy, I know how to do that. Yet I’m paralyzed. What if this one doesn’t need fixing? What if this a puzzle that will reveal itself slowly, on it’s own time? Will my immobility cost me dearly?”
“There’s gotta be something in between, right? Change when you have to, sit the rest of it out. But then how do you know you’re just being lazy, coming up with excuses?”
“It’s knowing how to tell the difference that is particularly challenging.”
“So what will you do?”
(after a long pause) “I think I’ll sit this one out.”
…to be continued
Lord Shiva is the third God of yogis. He is Shiva the destroyer of the world, following Brahma, the creator and Vishnu, the preserver. That is to say, everything that gets created, gets preserved only to be destroyed in the end. And so the cycle repeats. Shiva is responsible for change both in the form of death and destruction and in the positive sense of destroying of the Ego and the shedding of old habits and attachments. In other words, who needs therapy? Whether you talk about it or not, whether you approve or not, change will happen naturally because that is the order of things. The question is what to do till then? How can we possibly bare the heavy weight of waiting and anticipation? Can we call on Shiva to speed things up? Or are we deathly afraid of change itself? All that has a beginning by necessity must have an end. Destruction has a purifying power for problems help us see things more clearly. Destruction opens the path for new creation, a new opportunity. Shiva stands for letting go of everything in the world form.
Before I start talking about how our goal in life is to move towards nothing, let’s change subject.
Many know that the Renaissance, from the word rinascere (to be reborn), was a great area of rebirth for the arts, politics, science and humanism. The Renaissance followed the Black Death that hit Florence between 1348-1350. The plague hit Italy hard and it is speculated that people got so familiar with death, they started to focus more on their lives on Earth than on afterlife. Humanism and the quest for uomo universale was born. Although I doubt it would have all been possible without Dante Aligheri.
There is no change without loss. There is no rebirth without death. Creation is only possible in ruin. Change can not happen without letting go. Transformation can not happen without going to the root, the foundation.
This is called Radical Change.
“make a radical change in your lifestyle and begin to boldly do things which you may previously never have thought of doing, or been too hesitant to attempt. So many people live within unhappy circumstances and yet will not take the initiative to change their situation because they are conditioned to a life of security, conformity, and conservation, all of which may appear to give one peace of mind, but in reality nothing is more damaging to the adventurous spirit within a man than a secure future. The very basic core of a man’s living spirit is his passion for adventure. The joy of life comes from our encounters with new experiences, and hence there is no greater joy than to have an endlessly changing horizon, for each day to have a new and different sun. If you want to get more out of life, you must lose your inclination for monotonous security and adopt a helter-skelter style of life that will at first appear to you to be crazy. But once you become accustomed to such a life you will see its full meaning and its incredible beauty.”
Jon Krakauer, Into the Wild
No one teaches you about these skills when you are young. You are just supposed to meet someone, like them, be attracted to them, even fall in love with them. The rest is supposed to work itself out. Until it doesn’t. Often you don’t learn about these skills until it’s too late. But once you learn how important they are, you just want to share.
1. Empathy. Empathy means you can put yourself in someone else’s shoes and imagine what it must feel like to be there. Especially when you disagree or when you can’t relate to them. Try to put yourself in their shoes. Familiarize yourself with their world. Ask questions, be curious, leave your judgement and Ego aside and embark on a journey even knowing sometimes that what you might find is painful or unpleasant. Empathy is essential to creating a safe relationship. It may not be a happy one but you can’t get to happy without going through safety first. Empathy is definitely a skill you and your partner can learn. You don’t have to date a therapist to get empathy from your partner, but it helps if he/she is not self-involved, egocentric, incapable or unwilling to extend themselves in a compassionate, attentive way.
2. Listen. Develop listening skills. Don’t interrupt. Be patient. Listening means shutting up. Let your partner talk without feeling pressured or ignored. Be involved. Listening is active not passive. It involves paying attention, remembering, organizing thoughts and being open-minded all at the same time.
3. Be positive. It’s a harsh world out there. We get criticism from our bosses, parents, co-workers and even friends. Most importantly we get criticism from ourselves. We don’t need to bring more criticism home. We can choose to focus on what’s working, on what our partner is good at, what they can do well, what they excel in. We can choose to point out their best attributes, their wisdom, their strength, their greatness, their awesomeness. It’s there if you choose to focus on it and make it known to them and the world. Make it known you are proud to be on his/her side, thank them for existing, for being them and for all the little acts of kindness towards you and others. Praise them for their successes and turn their failures in a positive opportunity for learning and growth. Be their cheerleader. Lift them up. Be grateful for them.
4. Don’t take it personally. When he chooses to watch the game with his buddies instead of hanging out with you, when she says she’s too tired to have sex, when he is too distracted or stressed by work, when he forgets about something you planned or when she doesn’t like to hold your hand in public. Even when your partner cheats on you, it’s not personal. Shit happens. We are only human, we make mistakes. It’s not a reflection on you. It may not be about you at all. Our partners are individual human beings with an independent will and identity and they make mistakes. Learn to hold on to yourself and be unruffled in your self-confidence and trust of yourself and others. This can be a difficult concept to grasp or practice but not impossible.
5. Turn toward. When your partner shares something that is important to them, pay attention. Turn toward them physically, mentally, emotionally. Pay. Attention. This doesn’t mean you agree with them or even understand why it is important. Still, you turn toward them. If you don’t, if you turn away from what’s important to them, the opportunity may never present itself again. Next time they think about sharing with you, they will remember what it felt like to be ignored or shunned or criticized or even mocked for it and they will shut down and shut you out. When you realize you have turned away unintentionally, correct as soon as possible. Apologize and then turn toward them. Pay attention to what’s important to your partner even if you consider it to be minor, irrelevant, stupid, non-nonsensical. Know that when your partner bids for your attention (as Gottman puts it), they are looking for validation, approval, acceptance, love.
6. Team work. When your partner bitches about his/her boss, co-worker, friends, parents, the whole world, be prepared to take their side. Show them you are on their team. Show them you are loyal to them and stand by them even if you disagree with their actions, thoughts, feelings and beliefs. Be on their side because if they are in the wrong, deep down they know it. They don’t need you to point it out. Even if they don’t know they are wrong they will only get to that realization if they know you support them. There is nothing worse than feeling alone in a relationship. We want to be with a significant other because we don’t want to face the world alone. Don’t turn against him/her. Your partner does not need a mother or a father. He/she already has one in their own head. And that’s more than enough. Take his/her side and treat them with respect, dignity, trust and confidence that they can handle their shit.
7. Radical Acceptance. As much as it may feel that way sometimes, your partner is not an extension of you. Let go of your need to control. Letting go is a very important skill for peace, sanity and joy. What is needed is called radical acceptance: fully accepting the things you can’t control. Get honest with yourself about who your partner is and be prepared to fully accept them for who they are. They may learn new skills and even change significantly because you came into their life. But some things will never change. Accept it.
8. Ask for what you need/want. Don’t assume your partner knows what you want or need. They can’t read you mind. Learn to figure out what it is exactly you need or want and be able to articulate that assertively. Don’t expect them to know and then get pissed when they don’t give you what you expect. Take responsibility for your avoidance and lack of communication.
9. Diversify. This will sound weird but your partner is not enough. You can not meet all your needs through one relationship. You can not put all the weight of your happiness on one relationship and then expect not to be frustrated or disappointed. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying you should have affairs. But lets be honest, most emotional affairs start because someone is unhappy and someone needs a friend. They say it takes a village to raise a child. Well I say it takes a village to maintain a happy relationship. You need friends, co-workers, family, neighbors, community, meaningful and fulfilling work, hobbies, etc etc.
10. Patience. At one point or another you’re going to get frustrated with your significant other. It will feel like they are moving waaaayyyy slower than you would want them to and you don’t understand why they can’t do what you need them to do. You are going to wonder if they really care about you and even question whether you should continue to be in this relationship. What you need is patience and lots of it. Everyone goes through their own process of change and growing up. You can’t rush things. And you can’t place a timeline on someone’s growth.
“I love her very much, we have a lot of fun. But the sex is gone”
“I’m not attracted to him anymore.”
“It’s like the more someone rejects me, the more I want them. This guy likes me very much and he’s very sweet but the desire is just not there because I know he would never reject me.”
“We want what we can’t have I guess. When she told me she was leaving me, all of a sudden I wanted her more. We had the best sex we had had in years.”
“This happens to me every time. I’m fine for the first year or so and then the desire just dies. Am I choosing the wrong people for me?”
We’ve all heard the story. At first you can’t get enough of each other. At first, you can’t wait to have hot, steamy sex over and over again. All the time. But then your need for security, routine and intimacy kicks in and you want to get closer and closer. As the intimacy increases, the sex slowly dies. A sexless relationship is more common than you think, just not talked about. More often than not, “the relationship is not about sex anymore, it’s grown into a more mature, seasoned, meaningful commitment.” And you tell yourself this is what is supposed to happen. You may even tell yourself it’s a good thing. Until you become bored and unhappy.
Recently, I have had time to ponder on my current relationship and past ones trying to figure out what went wrong and what is working. One thing is for sure, independence and separateness definitely fuels my desire. Smothering and total enmeshment on the other hand are great for a safe attachment but they kill the fire. Quickly. It turns out, I’m not the only one. I have talked about independence and separateness in relationships here before in two different posts. Spending time alone when you are in a relationship seems counter intuitive. Why should you? Isn’t companionship what we crave the most?
I’ve been reading Esther Perel’s Mating in Captivity. She suggests that “our ability to tolerate our separateness-and the fundamental insecurity it engenders-is a precondition for maintaining interest and desire in a relationship.” Couples who love each other very much may find themselves in a sexless relationship. This happens because the relationship is too intimate. “Love enjoys knowing everything about you, desire needs mystery. Love likes to shrink the distance that exists between me and you, while desire is energized by it.” The ways she puts it, the relationship has become a flannel nightgown – it’s cozy, warm, comfortable. You want to cuddle or sleep in it but it doesn’t inspire much eroticism. In fact, the more someone loves you the more they become asexual to you. The more someone needs for you to take care of them the less attractive they become.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not suggesting we shouldn’t get close, have intimacy or rely on each other. We just need to make sure there is a healthy balance between that and cultivating separateness or nurturing a sense of selfhood – The quality that constitutes one’s individuality; the state of having an individual identity. Just like we need to nurture a relationship, we need to nurture ourselves, our hobbies, our friendships, our need for lonesome excitement, adventure and new experiences. We need to nurture our beliefs, values, lifestyle choices, self-care habits, weird quirks, passions, dreams, etc and hope they don’t clash with our partner’s.
Independence is sexy. Confidence is sexy.
Nurture your selfhood. Hold on to yourself. Be comfortable doing things alone, spending time alone. Your relationship will be much better off for it.