The One Thing Guaranteed To Turn Your Goals Into Reality

" learn to dance by practicing dancing or to learn to live by practicing living, the principles are the same. In each, it is the performance of a dedicated precise set of acts...from which comes shape of achievement, a sense of one's being, a satisfaction of spirit...Practice means to perform, over and over again in the face of all obstacles, some act of vision, of faith, of desire. Practice is a means of inviting the perfection desired."

―Martha Graham

The practice of spirituality

Creating a spiritual life is something like writing a story. Ultimately, it is a mystery—one that will not unfold unless you go into the workroom and make an effort, however banal and humdrum it feels. In other words, you have to practice.

All spiritual traditions show you ways to do this, like attending services and participating in religious rituals. Some practices involve consistently performing a physical exercise, such as yoga and tai chi. Many people find great spiritual value in walking regularly, especially while using breath-control techniques.

The practice of mindfulness
Mindfulness is another example. When we learn to witness ourselves, we stand outside our feelings and thoughts and observe instead of judging, analyzing, or denying them. This practice allows us to become less attached to our dramas, less victimized by our moods, and more aware of what is driving us.

The practice of love
A committed relationship is another form of practice. Many of us think of love as something that should be effortless and constant, not something that requires serious work. The inevitable struggles and disappointments of relationships can help partners develop acceptance, honesty, flexibility, empathy, patience, and self-awareness. To do so, though, we must move off the path to some sort of abstract happiness and get on the one headed toward awakening.

Ironically, when we relinquish the requirement that our partner be the source of our well-being, the relationship can become a wellspring of sustenance and nourishment.

Life as a practice
Some philosophies suggest that life itself, like relationships, is a practice. Ordinary challenges—growing a garden, raising children, or working a job—can be invitations to soul-work. Our daily lives offer us constant opportunities to increase compassion. Many religions have designated days of the week and times of the year for fasting, praying, and reading scriptures. Muslims bow in prayer five times a day. The Balinese Hindus offer baskets filled with flowers and rice to their deities thrice daily, and the Benedictine nuns sing Gregorian chants.

Establish a schedule for your own practice—it doesn't have to be perfect or make you happy—but make it good enough to get you to show up and stay grounded. Mysticism causes us to soar; an ongoing practice keeps us rooted to the earth.

Becoming spiritually literate is about paying attention to what is in front of your eyes at each moment. Thinking about what was, or what could be, diminishes what is happening right now. If we do not pay attention to now, we may never recognize our true prayer or song, the connection to the spark we seek. When we pay attention, we may be surprised.

When her sons were 4 and 7 years old, Lily went to a spiritual retreat and made a recommitment to meditation. When she returned home, she carefully set up an altar in the corner of her bedroom. She found a perfect candle and a meditation cushion with Sanskrit phrases on it. Then she announced to the boys that she would be spending 30 minutes each day in her room meditating, during which they needed to be very quiet.

The day she began her practice, they stood outside her room, compliant and quiet. After about 10 minutes she heard a quiet buzzing, which began to increase decibel by decibel. She tried to ignore the sound, meditating with her special mantra, but the noise grew louder. Soon she could hear the boys hitting one another, then crying and yelling. In exasperation she jumped up, opened the door, and screamed at them, "You two better stop it right now. I mean, stop it, damn it! I am working on my spiritual practice!"

Her sons' faces fell at the sight of their raging mother, and Lily was struck by the absurdity of this scene. Her spiritual practice was hurting all three of them. What her true practice should be, she realized, was to use every event in the day as an opportunity for kindness and patience to emerge. Nowhere was this practice more important than with her children.

Spiritual ideas can be exciting to learn and talk about; so can fitness and learning Spanish. Practice is the bridge that takes us from thinking to becoming.

This post originally appeared in MindBodyGreen.

How To Make Your Relationship Feel Brand-New

No Matter How Long You’ve Been Together

Almost every animal species engages in some form of play. Animals splash or tumble or roll over one another; they scamper or squeal or squawk with delight. Puppies chase their tails. In Brazil, two juvenile black caimans were seen chasing each other in circles, and in Cuba, two crocs played in a courtship ritual, with the male inviting the female to take rides on his back in their pool.

Researchers say that play is not just about fun—it's an element of the courting rituals of animals throughout the creature kingdom, teaches cooperation, and relieves stress.

Play is often suggested to couples as a way to restore their relationships. This, however, is not as easy as it may sound. As we grow older, we lose the ability to play spontaneously. Organized games and sports aside, play is an intuitive, natural pursuit for kids. As adults, we need to relearn the art. To be told to "go and play," however, is as useful as being told to "go and create." Play isn't as straightforward as that for adults. Then there is the question of time—the basic priorities of modern life may leave little room for fun. Acting on the suggestion to play more can cause stress because it is so difficult to do.

So rather than trying unsuccessfully to "go and play," we can provide ourselves with opportunities for play to occur and then see what happens. Here are some ways to do this:

1. Schedule unstructured time, and be open to something new happening.

I once knew two scientists, Brad and Meg, who felt that their relationship had lost its spark. They decided to take a vacation in Costa Rica, and in an unplanned moment, signed up to watch giant leatherback turtles emerge from the sea and lay their eggs on the beach in the moonlight. The experience was so touching that it bonded them, and they came away eager to work together to save the turtles from predators. The unexpected renewal of their bond wouldn't have occurred if they had not cleared space on their calendars for something unscheduled to happen.

2. Make quality time a priority, like you did when you first met.

In the first stage of love, time is plentiful. Somehow, we manage to carve out huge blocks of time from our overbooked appointment calendars and allocate them just to being together. Recently, I talked with Doug, a hardworking engineer and single parent of three, and he told me that he had recently fallen in love with Lexi, a full-time mom with a part-time job.

"I don't really know how we do it," Doug told me with a laugh. "The kids keep us hopping, and we do have to produce for our companies, but we still find time for each other all the same. One of us will drop by the other's house, and then, suddenly, we've spent an hour making love, laughing, or telling stories from our lives. Then it's back to work. Still, it's amazing how much time we can find, just because we want to."

Ask yourself when you and your partner last cleared your schedules for each other. Imagine that yours is a new relationship, like Doug and Lexi's and that you're madly in love, at the height of the first stage. What would you do to get the unstructured time you want and need to be together that might allow something unexpected to emerge?

3. Try something new.

Flirtation and sex often come naturally in the beginning of a relationship and are major ways couples play. These sweet pleasures can continue if we remain open to possibility and opportunity. However, it's natural for many long-term couples to find the sizzle disappearing from their sex lives, and as a result, they may blame, criticize, or turn away from each other. To avoid this, talk about what's happening openly, and try some new "games" to heat things up. For example:
  1. Go to a bar, pretend you don't know each other, and pick each other up.
  2. Practice foreplay without intercourse; touch, kiss, nuzzle, and lick but without penetration.
  3. Have sneaky sex. The sense of exploring the forbidden is very exciting. Make love in the kitchen, do a quickie on a couch at work with the doors locked, or have sex behind closed doors while the kids are watching TV.
The adage "variety is the spice of life" is a truism. Studies show that novelty adds satisfaction to relationships and can reignite passion. You may find it unexpectedly invigorating—and just plain fun.

This post originally appeared in MindBodyGreen.

The Difference Between Love and Limerence

A Therapist Explains

In 1979, before we knew about "the love drug," psychologist Dorothy Tennov coined the term "limerence" to describe the chemical reactions that happen in the brain when we fall head over heels for someone — "crazy in love," so to speak. Regardless of whether the person is a good match for us, the overwhelming download of chemicals into the brain can overpower sanity.

We find ourselves justifying relationships that are unrequited, toxic, or just lacking in fulfillment of basic needs. Over the next four decades of research, Tennov joined poets, playwrights, and pop songs in the conversation about the madness of love.

Here's what being
love-crazy looks like:
  1. Obsessive thinking about the limerent (that's the object of affection/fixation), which can become intrusive to daily functioning.
  2. Irrationally positive evaluations of their attributes and denial of red flags (e.g., "She is a serial murderer, but that's OK. My love will overcome that.")
  3. Longing for reciprocation, and when it doesn't happen, fantasizing about it until it becomes reality in your mind.
  4. Feelings of ecstasy in the presence of the loved one, even if they are barely aware of you.
  5. Deep, wild mood swings, from delight to agony and back again.
  6. Total anguish when the relationship ends: not ordinary grief, which accompanies the termination of all relationships, but the feeling that you actually cannot go on living without the person.
  7. Unsettling shyness in the limerent object's presence.
  8. Extreme exaggeration of any response from the limerent to be interpreted as "a sign" your feelings are requited regardless of actual evidence.
Irrational love — love based on "just a feeling" — can wreak havoc in the lives of people who are otherwise sane and functional. Unfortunately, our culture often promotes these unhealthy behaviors, with songs that are so popular people sing along without really hearing the lyrics.

For example, when Percy Sledge recorded the popular "When a Man Loves a Woman," I wonder how many people actually considered the words he was singing. Here are just a few of the things he refers to:

Can't keep his mind on "nothing else," can't see it, if she's bad, would spend his last dime, would turn his back on his best friend, and would sleep out in the rain.

What about "Every Breath You Take" by The Police? The refrain actually says, "I'll be watching you" — every move, every word, every night because, after all, "you belong to me." That's not what healthy, reciprocal love sounds like to me.

Thus, we understand that limerence can refer to an obsessive relationship in which one will behave in ways that might be harmful to him or herself for love's sake (in Sledge's case) or observe and analyze the limerent relentlessly and unwelcomely (much like stalking) as with The Police's protagonist.

Here's some advice to consider if you think you might be under the influence of limerence:

Remember that the strength of your obsessive feelings does not relate to how deeply in love you are. It simply relates to the strength of your limerence.

If you have a pattern of falling in love with the fantasy of a person rather than the reality, you're probably suffering from this state of mind.
  1. Keep an honest journal of all of your relationship events — including the disappointing and painful ones, which will give you something with which to challenge your fantasies.
  2. If the majority of your friends and family see red flags in your partner that you don't, it could be a sign that what you think is love is actually limerence.
  3. Make an objective list of the qualities of a partner who would always be able to support you, even when you don't give him/her what he/she wants, and holds strength in living his/her own life. Do not include feelings. Do not try to make your list match the personality of someone you want to be in a relationship with. Make the list independently of other influences. Then, when you meet new potential partners, you can check your list to see if this person actually has the qualities you know you need in a partner.
  4. If your feelings of unrequited love are affecting your daily life and normal functioning, consider speaking with a counselor.
Dorothy Tennov once said, "Limerence is a distinct state that creates that 'feeling of being in love' — that state which Hollywood loves to portray as 'love' ... but limerence is really as far from the genuine article as a zircon is from a true diamond."

A zircon love affair is doomed to break your heart. You are worthy of a diamond.

This post originally appeared in MindBodyGreen.

The Single Most Destructive Factor In Your Relationship

And How To Face It Head On

"When we are not able to speak authentically, our relationships spiral downward, as does our sense of integrity and self-regard."

―Harriet Lerner, The Dance of Connection

Relationships: Linda Carroll

When we feel disenchanted with being in love (which most people experience), it’s easy to think that we’re the only ones struggling with such troubles. We tend to compare how we feel about our relationship (on the inside) with how other couples appear (on the outside). What’s ironic is that they too may be feeling unhappy about their marriage, though they act as if everything is fine. They may even be looking at us and secretly wishing that they had the relationship we have.

Given my work with hundreds of couples and my own marriage, which is my greatest teacher of all, I believe that a number of predictable troubles befall most long-term partnerships. As hopeless as they may feel in the moment, there are ways you can learn to overcome them and to move from surviving to thriving. Here are a few of those common struggles and strategies for getting past them.

Lumpy carpet syndrome:
Conflict is part of every relationship, yet many couples believe that strong differences of opinion means that their marriage is troubled, and because none of us wants a troubled marriage, we deny these differences by pretending that we agree, even when we don’t. What we get is something called "lumpy carpet syndrome," whereby we sweep the tensions that accompany our unspoken conflicts under the rug.

After a while, the carpet becomes so lumpy that we have to watch our step as we search for the few remaining smooth spots. It becomes increasingly difficult to cross the rug toward each other.

When we finally do face up to our differences, we may let loose with whatever we think and feel, and this is rarely an effective way to de-lump a carpet. Successful conflict management tends to seem counterintuitive, as it means listening to the uncomfortable things that our partner says about us.

It also means stretching to understand our part in the conflict and speaking in a manner that rationally communicates our feelings to our partner. It may even mean apologizing and finding ways to rebuild trust or to change our behavior. These skills take considerable courage, patience, self-awareness, and practice; yet all of us can — and must — learn how to restore openness and to reconnect.

How to deal:
It is essential to learn how to listen to and to talk about our partners’ grievances. We need to stop pushing matters under the rug and to deal with hurt or conflict right away or discard it as inconsequential. In healthy relationships, there are no lumps in the rug; instead, we need to stay in the moment. This means that instead of keeping a black book of resentments, we try to manage the situations that cause them when they happen.

According to Dr. Patricia Love — writer, speaker, and therapist — relationships run in a cycle, which it is essential to understand and to manage. Stuffing difficulties under the rug plays no part in this cycle. The cycle is as follows: Connection–Rupture–Protest–Repair–Reconnection.

We begin with a connection, and then, in all relationships, there is a rupture. This can be a big problem or something small, such as hurting your partner’s feelings unintentionally. The important thing is that it happens without intention; like falling in love, it is outside our control. It’s what we do next that determines the future of the relationship.

The person with the hurt feelings needs to find a way to 1) protest if it is significant or 2) truly let it go if it’s not. Sweeping it under the rug will not go well for either partner. Protesting skillfully doesn’t come naturally, nor does listening non-defensively. This is where our willingness to learn these skills comes into play. If we protest, and we understand the art of apologizing and forgiving, we can move forward to reconnection; if we don’t understand this art, we tend to sweep the issue under the rug, where it shows up as a grudge, a damaging blowup, or a quiet resentment that eats away at our love.

Rules to live (and love and fight) by:
One of life’s foremost myths is that the success of our relationship and our happiness is determined by what our partner says and does. The most valuable lesson you learn from releasing this myth is that all relationship change begins with you. Once you shift your focus from your partner to yourself, you gain enormous power to affect both your relationship and your own well-being.

The second point that I want to make is that many of the difficulties — both small and large — that we face when the rug has turned into a minefield will only be resolved when we apply courage and skill. Remember, long-term relationships have many seasons, some cold, others foggy or stormy, and this fact can help us to understand that, when difficulties arise, there is not always something wrong with our relationship; these seasons are normal, and now we have a map to help us traverse our lump-free rug.

This post originally appeared in MindBodyGreen.