Relationships

The Golden Key to Happiness

by Joyce and Barry Vissell

Several days ago we attended the Cultural Awareness Program at Mt. Madonna School where our grandson is in first grade. His grade of ten adorable students reenacted a Buddhist story from Cambodia. In this story a single mother has three grown sons. She is very concerned that her sons do not help her or anyone else, and care only about money. She confides this concern to her beloved sister and together they come up with a plan. The mother draws her three sons together, shows them a treasure chest, and says, “When I die, you can open this chest. It has been locked with a golden key and my sister will give you that key after I pass from this world. What I will be giving you will bring lasting happiness. The sons secretly think that their mother will be giving them precious jewels and a vast amount of money.

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A short time later, the mother passes from this world. The sons go to their aunt, claim the golden key, and return to the treasure chest with great excitement. When they open the treasure chest, they discover that the only thing in there is a letter from their mother. In her neat handwriting she had written, “The key to lasting happiness is to always help and serve people. If you follow my words, you will always know happiness in your life, for helping others brings a warmth and joy to your heart that money can never bring.” The sons loved their mother very much and therefore decided to follow her advice. They started helping people wherever they went and indeed they became very happy and fulfilled men.

After watching the children’s precious play, I reflected upon my father. My father was always helping people and going the extra mile. If someone asked him to do something for them, he would always do much more, often in secret. Towards the end of my father’s life, his heart and his health were failing and he completely lost his hearing. He could have sat around feeling sorry for himself, but instead he used what very little energy he did have to make wooden toys for a very poor day care center for migrant Mexican workers. When he had made around seven toys, after making special arrangements, my mother drove him to the day care center. It brought my father so much joy to see the children playing with the toys that he had made. They had very few toys and none of them very nice. These were beautiful toys. My mother snapped a photo of him and he had the biggest smile on his face.

My parents then went out to dinner to celebrate the toys and the joy on the children’s faces. My mother reported that my father seemed happier that evening than she had seen him in a while. He kept talking about how excited the children were to have his toys. Twelve hours later, my father died of a fatal heart attack. His last hours on this earth were spent in giving and bringing happiness to others, just the way he would have wanted his last day to be.

My mother also was constantly giving to others. Towards the end of her life these ways became small, but still she continued. She would write letters of encouragement and call people she felt might be lonely. And then because her memory was failing her, she was not able to do even these things. She said to Barry and me, “I cannot really help people anymore in the ways that I like, but I can still smile at people. Smiling will be my service to others now.” And indeed anyone who passed my mother was given one of her winning smiles.

Of course there are other ingredients to a happy life. Remembering God and taking time to feel that connection with the Divine, honoring ourselves, loving others and expressing that love, and taking good care of your body, getting exercise and eating well are all important. Honoring our planet and all of the animals and helping and serving others is very important. As the Cambodian story suggests, the golden key to happiness is truly in being of service.

My parents were not able to leave very much money to my brother and me when they died. But they left us with the valuable gift of modeling service to others. This gift has been more precious than any jewel-filled treasure chest.

Here are a few opportunities to bring more love and growth into your life, at the following longer events led by Barry and Joyce Vissell:

Jul 22-27, 2018 — Shared Heart Summer Retreat at Breitenbush Hot Springs, OR

Oct 10-16, 2018 — Assisi Retreat, Italy

Feb 10-17, 2019 — Hawaii Couples Retreat on the Big Island

About the authors:

Joyce & Barry Vissell, a nurse/therapist and psychiatrist couple since 1964, are counselors near Santa Cruz, CA, who are widely regarded as among the world’s top experts on conscious relationship and personal growth. They are the authors of eight books, including two new books, To Really Love a Woman and To Really Love a Man.

Call 831-684-2299 for further information on counseling sessions by phone or in person, their books, recordings or their schedule of talks and workshops. Visit their web site at SharedHeart.org for their free monthly e-heartletter, their updated schedule, and inspiring past articles on many topics about relationship and living from the heart.

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The Divine Setup: How Our Perceptions can be Painfully Wrong

 by Joyce and Barry Vissell

Sometimes our perceptions can get us into trouble. What appears so clearly to be our reality may not be real at all. Or it may be partially correct, but not the whole picture. We humans have a tendency to interpret our partial experiences as the whole truth and ignore other people’s partial experiences. How brave of us to actually consider that we may be partially right and may have partial information.

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This reminds me of the classic Indian story: A group of blind (or rather, “sight challenged”) men heard that a strange animal, called an elephant, had been brought to the town, but none of them were aware of its shape and form. Out of curiosity, they said, “We must inspect and know it by touch.” So, they sought it out, and when they found it they groped about it. The first person, whose hand landed on the trunk, said, “This being is like a thick snake.” For another one whose hand reached its ear, it seemed like a kind of fan. As for another person, whose hand was upon its leg, said the elephant is a pillar like a tree-trunk. The blind man who placed his hand upon its side said, “An elephant is a wall.” Another who felt its tail, described it as a rope. The last felt its tusk, stating the elephant is that which is hard, smooth and like a spear.

In one version of the story, the men become so attached to their perception of the elephant that they get into a fight with each other. And that’s exactly what happened to Joyce and me recently. This is humbling and embarrassing for me to tell, but it’s so perfect a blunder that I must share it.

We were nearing the end of our Hawaii Couple’s Retreat. It was around 6:30 in the morning and we were doing our stretches on the little lanai outside our cottage. Joyce, perhaps fifteen feet away, happened to check her Facebook account on her phone and saw a video of our son speaking. She clicked on the video, afraid that she would never find it again if she didn’t watch it in that moment as we had such limited reception.

On my side of the lanai, I heard muffled talking and, simultaneously, drum beating coming from Joyce’s direction. It was disturbing to me, and I was concerned about waking the neighbors close to us. I called out to Joyce to please turn down the volume. She responded, “Barry, it’s John-Nuri giving a message. I want to listen to it now.”

I felt irritated. “Joyce, it’s bothering me. It’s just noise coming from your phone. Turn it down.” This time, I left out the “please.”

Meanwhile, Joyce did turn the volume down, and had the phone pressed against her ear to be able to hear.

I could no longer hear the muffled voice, but the sound of the drumbeat coming from her direction was still upsetting. I lost my temper. “Joyce, I can’t believe you’re being so inconsiderate! I would never do this to you!

The video ended a few seconds later, and she turned off her phone.

I was still upset at the sound of the drumbeat coming from her way. I told her so.

She called out, “My phone is off. Do you mean the drumming coming from the retreat center?”

It was like I was driving too fast to make such an abrupt turn. My anger was on a roll. I felt embarrassed and foolish. I grumbled, “Sorry,” with way too much of a sharp edge.

Joyce wasn’t having any of it, and turned away from me to finish her stretches as the drumbeat continued.

It took me a full minute to settle down and swallow my foolish pride. I got up, walked over to Joyce, lay down next to her, vulnerably apologized, and then offered to hold her. She graciously accepted and all was well.

We like to refer to this kind of situation as a “divine setup.” The universe seems to arrange a “perfect storm,” just in case we place too much trust in our perceptions. It’s always some kind of test.

I imagine the angels having a conversation that morning, “Hmmm. You hear that drumbeat perfectly aligned so it sounds like it’s coming from Joyce’s phone?”

“Yes, perfect. Let’s see how Barry handles that one.”

“Oops, not so well. Oh, wait, at least now he’s sincerely apologizing.”

I remember the first ten-day intensive we had shortly after building our HomeCenter. The workshop went so deep, and participants became so vulnerable that, every day, I said or did something that ended up hurting someone’s feelings. Then that person had to take a risk and confront me in front of the group. And I had to take the risk of apologizing, which then led to a whole deeper level of vulnerability. Each person I hurt ended up thanking me for inadvertently exposing a deeper layer of healing for them. Seems like I was used as an instrument of healing even though I was largely unaware of it. I can’t say that it was loads of fun, but the deep growth for all of us was definitely worth it.

It can be healthy to question our perceptions, rather than just assuming they’re correct. Our egos hang on to what seems real. Egos have instantaneous attachment to what our eyes seem to be seeing, what our ears seem to be hearing, and what all our senses seem to be telling us. But we are more than our egos. There is a deeper, more spiritual reality that may be telling us everything is not merely as it seems. It may require a moment’s pause to get past assumptions. Had I paused a moment to ask myself if Joyce has even one inconsiderate bone in her body, I would have smiled to myself and said no. I know she’s probably the most considerate person I have ever known.

Here are a few opportunities to bring more love and growth into your life, at the following longer events led by Barry and Joyce Vissell:

Jul 22-27, 2018 — Shared Heart Summer Retreat at Breitenbush Hot Springs, OR

Oct 10-16, 2018 — Assisi Retreat, Italy

Feb 10-17, 2019 — Hawaii Couples Retreat on the Big Island

About the authors:

Joyce & Barry Vissell, a nurse/therapist and psychiatrist couple since 1964, are counselors near Santa Cruz, CA, who are widely regarded as among the world’s top experts on conscious relationship and personal growth. They are the authors of eight books, including two new books, To Really Love a Woman and To Really Love a Man. Call 831-684-2299 for further information on counseling sessions by phone or in person, their books, recordings or their schedule of talks and workshops. Visit their web site at SharedHeart.org for their free monthly e-heartletter, their updated schedule, and inspiring past articles on many topics about relationship and living from the heart.

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To Really Choose a Man

by Joyce & Barry Vissell

To really love a man is to choose him over and over again. It’s not enough to say marriage vows one time, though that is certainly important. The relationship is deepened if you let him know often that you would choose him all over again if given the choice.

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There are many things that stand in the way of a woman clearly choosing her partner as the most important person in her life. For many women, their children become more important than the man in their life, even if that man happens to be the father of the children. Having raised three children, I certainly understand this pull to make the children more important. I was a hands-on stay-at-home mother. I was and still am so in love with our children. When our first child, Rami, was born, I thought she was the cutest thing in the whole world. If I was in a room and she walked in after being away for a while with Barry, I would make such a big fuss over her and go on and on about how cute she was. If Barry walked in right after her, I would look at him and think to myself, “What could he do right now to help me.” He was becoming more of my helper than my partner. All of my adoration was going to Rami. One day Barry sat down next to me and said in a vulnerable voice, “I wish you could be as enthusiastic when I enter the room as you are with Rami.”

He was absolutely right. I was giving a clear message that I was choosing Rami over him. I vowed to stop that right away. From then on, I sincerely tried to be enthusiastic about both of them. I vowed to stop seeing Barry simply as someone who could help me with the children, and see him as my partner, the man that I love and adore. From that time on, I made a point to let him know I would choose him again if given the choice. I also tell him I feel I made the best choice in a husband.

A woman’s friends can also stand in the way of her choosing her husband or partner. I know women who would much rather spend time with their women friends than their partners. As a woman, I know how vitally important it is to have women friends. I know that most women feel they could not even survive this life without their women friends or, in some cases, their sisters. There are so many gifts that come from having women friends, like receiving their understanding of your feelings, body changes, mothering issues, or just the special bonding that can happen between women. However, some women do this to excess in which they are clearly choosing their women friends over the man in their life. The man is relegated to the background. He becomes a convenient person to watch the children, earn money, or help with the house. If the man feels second to the women friends, he will then go off and develop his own interests, and soon the two are merely passing each other as strangers in their home. This cycle will get worse unless there is a renewed choosing of each other.

Interestingly, body image can also become more important to a woman than the man she loves. Of course, exercise and working out is important in a woman’s life, but not more than choosing love. She can become too preoccupied with how she looks. Hour upon hour can be spent in the gym sculpting a certain look to her body.

Sometimes women choose their family of origin over their partner. Their siblings and parents become more important than the men in their lives. I know several men who have to spend every single holiday and vacation with the women’s family. One man lamented that he thought he was marrying one woman when instead he married her whole family of fifteen members. Every Christmas, Thanksgiving, Easter and each and every vacation he had from work was spent with her family. It was hard to feel the togetherness in their relationship around so many people. When he once asked if they could just spend one vacation totally alone, not only did she refuse, but he also then had her whole family upset with him for even coming up with the suggestion. This man loved his wife very much and did not want to leave her, but he always felt secondary to her family.

Career is another factor that can prevent a woman from really choosing her man. She and her partner may have come to agreements on childcare and hours of work. And yet, because it is harder for a woman in the professional workforce to prove herself, she may feel driven to spend many extra hours at night preparing for the next day. Doing well in her career may be her top priority and her partner may find himself further and further down her list.

Even spirituality can get in the way of a woman choosing her man. I consider spirituality very important, really the most important thing in life. And yet, even in this area, women can sometimes make unhealthy choices.

In our counseling practice, we sometimes will ask a couple if they would choose each other again. I will never forget the look on one man’s face when his wife, without any doubt in her voice, said she would choose him again and again. The man burst into tears. He had been convinced that she was merely tolerating the relationship. His heart opened wide just knowing that she would choose him again.

On the morning of our daughter’s afternoon wedding, a friend came to set up the sound system. I was outside preparing flowers around the altar when he handed the microphone to me and said, “Say the most important thing in your heart right now.”

I didn’t even need to think about it when I clearly and with conviction said, “BARRY, WHEREVER YOU ARE, I CHOOSE YOU ALL OVER AGAIN. I WOULD MARRY YOU AGAIN IN A SECOND!”

From down at the bottom of our sixteen acres, Barry was clearing poison oak and yelled up, “JOYCE, I WILL ALWAYS CHOOSE YOU!”

I’m quite sure all of our neighbors heard our booming testimony of love and choosing, which I thought was sweet.

The above is an excerpt from the Vissell’s new book, To Really Love a Man.

Here are a few opportunities to bring more love and growth into your life, at the following longer events led by Barry and Joyce Vissell:

Feb 4-11, 2018 — Hawaii Couples Retreat on the Big Island

Jul 22-27, 2018 — Shared Heart Summer Retreat at Breitenbush Hot Springs, OR

Oct 11-17, 2018 — Assisi Retreat, Italy

About the authors:
Joyce & Barry Vissell, a nurse/therapist and psychiatrist couple since 1964, are counselors near Santa Cruz, CA, who are widely regarded as among the world’s top experts on conscious relationship and personal growth. They are the authors of eight books, including two new books, To Really Love a Woman and To Really Love a Man.

Call 831-684-2299 for further information on counseling sessions by phone or in person, their books, recordings or their schedule of talks and workshops. Visit their web site at SharedHeart.org for their free monthly e-heartletter, their updated schedule, and inspiring past articles on many topics about relationship and living from the heart.

 

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My Experiment in Forced Simplicity

by Barry and Joyce Vissell

barry and joyce vissellSometimes we get what we ask for without knowing it. And sometimes we don’t like what we get, even though we asked for it. This is what happened to me a few days ago…

Joyce and I just made our annual autumn pilgrimage to Assisi, Italy where, with a small group from four different countries, we were uplifted by the powerful legacy of Francis and Clare. Francis especially inspires me to discover the joy of simplicity and celebrate the divine in nature. After a week absorbing the heavenly energies of this place, along with all the love in our group, I am inspired for many months. I’ll never forget the first time I saw the movie, Brother Sun, Sister Moon, in 1973. I left the theater with an overwhelming desire to give away all my possessions, and live the heavenly simple life of a wandering monk. Even without going through this extreme change, I have held Francis’ model of simplicity as something to continually guide my life.

So, returning home from Assisi last week, my heart yet again called out for the gift of simplicity. And here is how my heart’s call was answered. The weather was so hot that, one day, I took our dogs to a local beach. We all had a great time, me walking and the dogs retrieving tennis balls from the ocean. I got back to my truck and knew at once something was wrong. Someone had broken in and stolen my phone and wallet from the glovebox. It’s funny how my mind refused to believe what my eyes saw. I had to open the glovebox several times to make sure these precious possessions were actually gone. They were.

For someone so inspired by the poverty and simplicity of St. Francis, it’s embarrassing for me to admit how dependent I am upon my smartphone. I have loads of apps for just about everything. It used to be that my brain was in my head. But now it’s too often in a six inch long little metal box with a screen.

And then there’s my wallet, with credit cards, driver’s license, medical insurance cards, and all manner of items just ripe for identity theft. Within 15 minutes of the theft, the burglar had charged a large amount at a local gas minimart.

Yes, I was shocked. Yes, I felt violated. And yes, I felt discouraged by the many hours and days of work involved in protecting my identity. What a concept, identity theft! Used to be, our identity could not be stolen. But, alas, now it can be, on paper anyway.

Yet I couldn’t help feeling another part of me. Somehow, I can’t quite imagine St. Francis with a smartphone and wallet full of credit cards, meeting a leper on the road and saying, “I’d love to give you something, but please wait while I find an ATM.”

I’m certainly not St. Francis, but I now had a rare opportunity, even for a little time, to be unplugged from the high-tech pace of the twenty-first century. When I could momentarily separate myself from the work and discouragement, there was a certain feeling of freedom, and yes, simplicity.

I must confess, even walking the dogs on beautiful trails I have built leading right out our door, I have my cell phone with me (at least it’s on airplane mode) to listen to music or an audiobook. I know better. Walking the dogs in nature could be an opportunity for reflection and silence, or listening to the natural sounds of the wind or the birds. So that’s the first thing I did (after cancelling my credit cards). I went for a long technology-free walk with the dogs. It was liberating! I imagined Francis, in the early thirteenth century, walking everywhere in Italy and beyond, mostly barefoot, and often singing praises to God. I started singing too. It was wonderful!

When I got home, Joyce said she had texted our three grown children about my misfortune, and asked them to comfort me. They reminded her that they couldn’t text or phone me. She had forgotten. Texting especially has largely replaced phone calls in our lives, especially with our kids. So I walked two minutes down the hill to Rami’s little house, where I could visit with her in person.

Simplicity is a key to spiritual growth. Gandhi understood the secret of simplicity. The Shakers sang, “’Tis a gift to be simple, ’tis a gift to be free. ‘Tis a gift to come down where we ought to be.” Two months ago, Joyce wrote her column about clearing clutter as part of her spiritual retreat. There is stagnant energy in not-needed possessions that keep us from our freedom.

Simplicity is being directly connected to nature. The Native Americans understood this well. Haridas Baba, one of our early spiritual teachers, said, “For those that wear shoe leather on their feet, the whole world is then covered by shoe leather.” It’s a metaphor for the layers we put between ourselves and the natural world, separating us from this essential, life-giving connection.

This is one of the reasons Joyce and I must spend time outside, preferably in nature, every day. It’s also why I crave the wilderness. At least once a year, in addition to camping and river trips with Joyce, I go on my own form of vision quest, usually an extended trip on some remote river, where I typically don’t see another person for days at a time. Recent research is finally proving what we’ve intuitively know all along. In one study by cognitive psychologist, David Strayer, 22 psychology students scored 50 percent higher on creative problem-solving tasks after three days of wilderness backpacking. Doctors around the world are calling it “The Nature Cure.”

I just spent an hour waiting in line at our local DMV to get a new driver’s license. Over 90 percent of the people around me were glued to their smartphones. I probably would have been too, catching up with office work. But now all I could do was stand in line. It became a meditation for me. I was aware of my breathing. I started to notice the goodness and beauty of the many people in this busy place. Then I started singing. No, not out loud. Just very quietly to myself. I didn’t want to draw attention to myself. But I was truly happy and at peace, enjoying my experiment of forced simplicity.

Here are a few opportunities to bring more love and growth into your life, at the following longer events led by Barry and Joyce Vissell:

Feb 4-11, 2018 — Hawaii Couples Retreat on the Big Island

Jul 22-27, 2018 — Shared Heart Summer Retreat at Breitenbush Hot Springs, OR

Oct 11-17, 2018 — Assisi Retreat, Italy

About the authors:

Joyce & Barry Vissell, a nurse/therapist and psychiatrist couple since 1964, are counselors near Santa Cruz, CA, who are widely regarded as among the world’s top experts on conscious relationship and personal growth. They are the authors of The Shared Heart, Models of LoveRisk to Be Healed,The Heart’s Wisdom, Meant to Be, and A Mother’s Final Gift.

Call 831-684-2299 for further information on counseling sessions by phone or in person, their books, recordings or their schedule of talks and workshops. Visit their web site at SharedHeart.org for their free monthly e-heartletter, their updated schedule, and inspiring past articles on many topics about relationship and living from the heart.

 

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