Guest Blog

Guest Blog:
Susan Grace Beekman

In this week’s blog, I am pleased to share the wonderful insights of Susan Grace Beekman. Susan is a Master Coach and Instructor for Dr. Martha Beck, a Certified Facilitator of The Work of Byron Katie, and a certified Spiritual Director skilled in contemplative listening and spiritual mentoring.

The Big Question: What if Mom was Right?

Around the time I got kicked out of Sunday School for asking too many questions, I decided I’d have to answer them for myself by trying out other brands than the Southern Baptist variety.

linda carroll susan grace beekman
During my early teen years of searching and angst, desperately trying to find even a partial answer to my mental confusion, I turned to my mother. Why are we here? What’s the point? I asked.

She looked at me with such sympathy and kindness. “Maybe you ask too many questions,” she said. “I just accept things, and I’m pretty happy.”

My friends said essentially the same thing as my turmoil turned to depression. I kept looking, convinced I’d find a more satisfying answer, that other people must know something that I didn’t. Seek and ye shall find. The words bubbled up from somewhere.

So I became a seeker. My senior year, desperate, I picked up The Religions of Man, by Huston Smith. I had found my manual.

Philosophy classes followed in college, featuring Existential Ennui 101. Then came a life-long fascination with the concepts and practices of world faiths, which offered snapshots of the truth and stories to back them up. Eventually these same questions led to more and more study of archetypes and mythology and contemplative practices. I learned to meditate and crossed paths with Vipassana, or mindfulness. I began to hear a few subtle answers at last, as I listened, and the Search was still on.

No matter what showed up on the mystical path, what I continued to notice is that the mind just kept cooking up new questions that could not be meditated away. Or medicated, for that matter. (I had already given that a good try in my twenties)

Thirty years of seeking later, I fell in love with inquiry when I discovered that some of the thoughts that present themselves simply want to be understood…not in the mind, but in the heart.

Now my business
required asking questions of my clients. So much for my mother’s advice! I became deeply committed to this process, sometimes called the Great Undoing. During the past decade, I’ve questioned the thoughts of hundreds of people, if not thousands. Almost without fail, I’ve witnessed the radical freedom that comes as the old personal religions are questioned one by one. I also continue to notice for myself how much suffering is relieved when I stop believing those stale old refrains.

And what I’ve noticed is that new refrains still come all day long, like piped Muzak in the brain. The idea of bringing each of them up for inquiry can be (just perhaps) a bit overwhelming.

Which led to a new question. The big question. The scary question.

What if my mother was right?

What if I DO ask too many questions? The more questions I’ve asked, the more I’ve come to see that there is a mind below the mind that is just fine. All the muzak of random thoughts firing away can drown it out, but at a deep level, there’s an internal Knowing that is deep and true and beyond questions because it is at the root of being. And it would be asking one too many questions to inquire into the reality of that voice.

This essay originally appeared on Susan’s website, Oasis Life Design.

Guest Blog:
Building Relationship Skills

In this week’s blog, I am pleased to present the insights of Linda Bloom, LCSW, and Charlie Bloom, LCSW. Married since 1972, they have lectured and taught at learning institutes across the United States and have offered consultations and seminars throughout the world.
Myth: “Having had a happy childhood is a prerequisite to having a great relationship as an adult.”

The best predictor of the future is not necessarily the past.
Linda on Building Relationships
If this myth were true, most of us would be doomed to relationship hell. Fortunately, it’s not, and we’re not. It turns out that it is possible, even for people who have lived in difficult, abusive, even horrible circumstances to create loving and healthy relationships. Many of the couples we know who are living deeply fulfilling lives grew up in situations that were far from ideal and some were downright wretched. We also know people who grew up in families in which there was an abundance of happiness, love and security who have terrible track records regarding their relationships. This is not to say that it is not preferable and advantageous to have grown up in a happy family, but simply to underscore that it is not an essential factor in creating a successful relationship as an adult. So, you might ask, what then are the critical factors that determine the likelihood of relationship success? We’ll get to that in a minute.

While there is no way to accurately assess the percentage or number of people who came from unhealthy families, it’s reasonably safe to state that a lot of us didn’t get a great start in life and grew up under less than ideal circumstances that included various forms of addiction, abuse, and neglect. While there is no doubt that such circumstances pose significant obstacles that impede physical, emotional and intellectual development, they are by no means insurmountable, given the right kind of support, resources and motivation in adulthood. This is not to infer that overcoming such hardships is by any means a simple thing or can be easily corrected, but rather to challenge or at least question the widely held belief that anyone who has grown up in a “dysfunctional” family cannot hope to create a healthy adult relationship.

One of the things that does characterize the experience of many of those who have grown up in neglectful or abusive families is the likelihood that they have internalized a belief that they are not worthy of being treated with respect or love. Children tend to take things personally and assume that they are deserving of whatever treatment they receive, good or bad. This of course adds an extra burden to anyone who has had to deal with this phenomenon. While there is no doubt that such an added difficulty is no easy matter, there is a difference between something being difficult and being impossible.

Those of us who were fortunate enough to have positive esteem mirrored back to us from loving adults were likely to come into adulthood feeling secure in ourselves and safe in the world. We probably felt valued, wanted, cherished, honored, and loved. Still, high self-esteem is no guarantee of a successful relationship just as low self-esteem is no guarantee of an unsuccessful relationship.

building relationships
Most of us fall in between the extremes of abysmal and ideal, yet the factors that seem to be most relevant to the question of the creation of successful adult relationships appear to have more to do with our capacity to learn, become more emotionally mature, detach from unhealthy patterns, and our commitment to heal the places in our inner lives that are in need of love, acceptance, and forgiveness. This includes our “shadow” aspects that everyone possesses; those qualities that we deem to be unacceptable to ourselves or others that we hold as shameful and try to conceal. The degree to which we can accept, integrate and come to terms with our shadow, is one of the most significant things that we can do to enhance our chances of creating truly successful relationships.

On the other end of the spectrum are those of us who came from families where we may not have felt wanted or valued, where things seemed chaotic or unpredictable, and we felt insecure much of the time. We may have felt that we were in the way, ignored, overly controlled, or that we were trouble. As children, we couldn’t change these conditions, so we were left feeling powerless, unworthy, and unlovable.

Most of us fall in the middle of the spectrum, so we know both extremes from our early lives and feel a mix of worth and worthlessness, unlovability and lovability. While psychotherapy is the treatment of choice for many of those of us who are suffering from low self-esteem, anxiety, depression, or addictive patterns, there are other means available through which we can heal past wounds that have left us feeling broken or incomplete, one of them being that of a committed partnership.

Committed partnerships provide us with the means through which we can expose the unhealed or unloved parts of ourselves to someone who has the capacity and desire to accept that within us that we had deemed to be unacceptable and bless us with their embrace of those aspects of ourselves. Such a relationship is not necessarily a substitute for therapy, but it can provide us with the kind of experience that affects our sense of value as a person.

Being related to with acceptance and respect can heal the places in our self-image that have been wounded and help restore us to a sense of wholeness where we may have previously felt broken. As we come more fully into integrity with our true nature, our capacity to give and receive love increases and deepens. Loving partnerships tend to diminish fear and anxiety and promote a sense of peace and security. These relationships, due to their very nature, expose whatever within us has been intentionally or unconsciously concealed or denied, thus providing us with opportunities to bring acceptance and self-compassion to ourselves and by extension, to others.

Linda on Couples
Marriage itself isn’t inherently healing. We don’t automatically experience happiness when we engage in a committed partnership. The shared decision to use the relationship as a means of promoting mutual well-being for both partners is the primary variable that determines whether we create a great or a not-so-great partnership.

Not only is it possible to have a great relationship even after growing up in difficult circumstances, but the pain of our past experience can actually become the motivation that drives our commitment to do the work that is necessary to create the kind of fulfillment that we were denied as a child.
The past does not have to dictate what the future will be. It is only one factor, and not necessarily the most significant one that influences future possibilities. We can recover, heal and grow beyond the limitations of our past experiences but only if we trust that this is possible. The saying that the person who believes that something is possible and the person who believes that something is not possible are both correct. There is great power in our beliefs and they can easily become self-fulfilling prophecies if we are not careful. If we are convinced that we are handicapped by our past then we will act in accordance with that belief and ultimately get to be right. If on the other hand we refuse to accept the notion that our future is determined by our past, and do the work necessary to heal and recover from our wounds and disappointments, we will not only free ourselves from the limits of old beliefs, but we will be well on our way to creating a life beyond what we previously could have even imagined. We can come from serious dysfunction, addiction, abuse, psychosis, etc. and still create a golden relationship. It’s all in the commitment.

This essay originally appeared in PsychCentral.