Tag - shared heart foundation

The Shiny Pen: Taking Responsibility in Relationship

by Joyce and Barry Vissell

For a relationship to be healthy, both partners need to be willing to take responsibility for their own part in an argument. This is sometimes very difficult to do. It is always easier to see your partner’s fault than your own. If you’re angry or defensive in a situation, look deeper and you will find your part. Joyce and I sometimes tell the following very humbling story in our workshops to illustrate mutual responsibility:

We were in Maryland to lead a workshop on living from the heart. It was Saturday morning and we had about an hour before our host would be driving us to the workshop. We love to go for walks, and so we left for a nearby park. We found a trail wide enough for us to walk side by side. The conversation was light at first, but then Joyce started talking about an incident in her childhood. She was remembering something painful, and tears came into her eyes while she spoke. At that exact moment, I noticed something shiny on the ground, and stopped to pick it up. In the few seconds it took to clean off the dirt and see that it was only a shiny, but not particularly valuable, pen, Joyce had fully entered her vulnerability. She needed me to comfort her, and stopped and turned to the side to let me know this. But I wasn’t there! She turned back and saw me rubbing something in my hand.

By the time I approached her, and before I had the chance to explain why I had stopped, she was hurt about my abandonment of her. I immediately got defensive. In the next few minutes, we quickly cycled to a very low place of blame. Unfortunately, that’s how we arrived back at our host’s house, minutes before we needed to leave for the workshop. Although we were not actively arguing in front of our host, we were both upset.

We got into his car and were backing down his driveway when he suddenly stopped and noticed something on the driveway in front of his car. Unbelievably, he said, “It looks like there’s a pen on the driveway. Do either of you want it?”

“NO,” I nearly shouted with perhaps a little too much vehemence. Our host looked somewhat surprised before he resumed backing out of the driveway.

It was a workshop leader’s worst nightmare. Joyce and I arrived completely shut down to each other. We managed somehow to say a few welcoming words, then quickly paired everyone up with instructions to talk about why they were there. The two of us found a vacant spot on the floor, sat down facing one another, feeling tremendous pressure to work things out so we could lead the workshop. It was painful to see the occasional questioning and concerned glances from participants.

After about twenty minutes of trying, we finally were able to communicate the hurt behind the anger: Joyce’s feeling of abandonment and my hurt from being accused of abandoning her. I was then able to apologize for not being aware of her vulnerability when I stopped to pick up the pen. And Joyce was able to apologize for not making sure she had my attention in her vulnerability. The moment we both took responsibility for our own parts of the conflict, the storm was over. Smiles popped up on both of our faces. Love crept back into our hearts. We held each other in an embrace of gratitude.

Now we owed an apology to the group. We called everyone back together into one group, and told them what had happened to us that morning. We did not expect, however, the response from the group. A number of the group were very aware of our conflict. They felt it rather than understanding the details. People were grateful for our honesty and vulnerability. Some shared their pain of growing up in homes where blame and anger were the rule, and nobody ever took responsibility. One person said, “This is the best role-modeling I have ever seen in my life. I’ve gotten my money’s worth out of the workshop in less than an hour. I can go home now.” Everyone laughed.

Taking responsibility is not about blaming yourself or labeling yourself a bad person. It’s not about guilt or shame. You take responsibility best by seeing yourself as a good person who has made a mistake. In fact, you are a beautiful divine being having a human experience. Knowing this truth, it becomes easy to take responsibility for any mistake – and admit it.

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 Love, Risk To Be Healed, The Heart’s Wisdom, Meant To Be, and their new book, A Mother’s Final Gift: How One Woman’s Courageous Dying Transformed Her Family.

Call Toll-Free 1-800-766-0629 (locally 831-684-2299) or write to the Shared Heart Foundation, P.O. Box 2140, Aptos, CA 95001, for free newsletter from Barry and Joyce, 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 Power of Gratitude to Change Our Lives

by Joyce and Barry Vissell

Barry and I have just returned from Assisi, Italy, where we led our second week long retreat with musician and friend, Charley Thweatt. Similar to last year, the retreat in Assisi was life-changing for both of us. Assisi, the home of St. Francis and St. Clare, is a very inspiring place and lends itself to inner reflection and a desire to create a more fulfilling life.

After each workshop session in the morning we walked to various sacred places as a group, singing together when we could. In each holy place, I prayed for guidance on how to deepen my spiritual life. The answer came when we visited San Damiano, the convent of St. Clare, where she lived her entire life in prayer, contemplation, and healing work. The answer was a reminder to live my life more fully in gratitude. The simple act of gratitude in our daily lives has the power to transform any situation, relationship or personal challenge.

Last year, Barry and I were having a difficult time financially. The economic situation of our country suddenly affected us in a big way. We wondered if we could hold onto our home and continue to pay college payments for our son. At the same time all three of our dogs and our elderly cat had major veterinary expenses, our car broke down and needed a lot of repairs, and Barry found out that he needed a very expensive dental procedure. It was not a happy time for us.

During the biggest crisis, we sat on our couch one Sunday morning and pledged to not do anything else until we had spoken everything for which we were grateful. We stayed there for over an hour. Once we started the gratitude process, we could hardly stop. At the end of that time, we saw and felt how truly abundant we really were. True, the money was not coming in, but we were rich in other ways that were important to us. We held onto this feeling of abundance, even when our financial situation worsened. The gratitude saw us through a very difficult time and eventually things turned around for us financially as well.

A practice we do as a couple every day is to notice and thank each other. Sometimes it is in the area of simple things like doing the wash or computer work. And then there is also the deeper gratitude and appreciation of being able to be each other’s partner. We have a friend whose husband was injured when his private plane crashed thirteen years ago. He suffered brain damage among other injuries. He is confined to a wheel chair, cannot talk, and communicates very little through a special device. His wife cares for him on a daily basis. She could understandably feel like a victim of circumstances or even want to leave the relationship for a more exciting life. Instead she has transformed the situation through gratitude. She is grateful that he is still alive and grateful for each tiny communication that comes from him. She is grateful they can continue their love in a silent way communicated through eye contact. Her sense of gratitude has transformed the tragedy into a sacred place of love. We recommend the practice of gratitude to all couples who come to see us in counseling or in our workshops. Those that have taken up this practice notice a beautiful change in their relationship.

We have also used gratitude in raising our three children. Throughout their childhoods we have thanked them for the amazing gifts they have given us. I never wanted them to feel a sense of guilt for all we have given them through our time and money, which is sizeable if you consider private school and college costs. But I wanted them to know that the gifts they have given us just by being our children have transformed our lives. We have a male friend whose mother is never happy with the amount of times he calls her. When he calls his mother she typically remarks, “After all I have done for you, the least you could do is to call me more often.” Imagine if this man called his mom and instead she said something like, “I am so happy to hear your voice. I feel so blessed to have had the privilege to be your mother, for you have brought me so much joy.” He would probably call her every day. It is never too late to thank your child for the wonderful gift of their presence in your life.

Barry and I have a very old hot tub that we go in every night before going to sleep. Lately we have been using that time together to discuss business concerns. In my time in Assisi I received the message to bring just one more part of my life into gratitude and I would be making a major step in my spiritual and emotional well being. I chose that hot tub time. Those 15-30 minutes in the hot tub are no longer used as a business meeting. Now we are spending the time in gratitude, reflecting on all the gifts of the day, so that when we fall asleep we will sleep with this feeling of gratitude. It is a simple practice and doesn’t require any more time, yet I truly believe it is blessing us.
In what way can you add this quality of gratitude on a daily basis? Is there something you do every day that could be turned into a gratitude time? St Francis always greeted people with the phrase, “Pace e Bene,” which means peace and goodwill. I truly believe that gratitude has the power to bring about Pace e Bene within our hearts.

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 Love, Risk To Be Healed, The Heart’s Wisdom, Meant To Be, and just released, A Mother’s Final Gift: How One Woman’s Courageous Dying Transformed Her Family.

 

Call Toll-Free 1-800-766-0629 (locally 831-684-2299) or write to the Shared Heart Foundation, P.O. Box 2140, Aptos, CA 95001, for free newsletter from Barry and Joyce, 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 Nest of Peace

by Joyce & Barry Vissel

Finding peace in your lives and relationships, especially if you feel stressed with financial, health, or relationship challenges, can sometimes seem almost impossible. And yet finding that peace is essential.

There is a story of a king who offered a prize to the artist who could paint the best picture of peace. Many artists tried, and the king finally chose two of the best. From these two, he had to choose one to receive the prize. The first picture was of a perfectly calm lake, with majestic mountains around it. The sky was pure blue with soft fluffy clouds. All who saw that picture thought that surely it would win the prize. It appeared to be the essence of peace.

The second picture was very different. It also held a lake, but the wind was creating high waves. The mountains around the lake were bare and rugged. Above was a turbulent sky with rain and lightning. Down the side of the mountain tumbled a raging waterfall. This painting did not look peaceful at all.

But when the king looked closer, he saw behind the waterfall a tiny bush growing in a crack in the rock. In the bush, a mother bird had built her nest. There, in the midst of the rush of angry water and noise, sat the mother bird on her nest….in perfect peace.

Which picture won the prize? The king chose the second picture. “Because,” explained the king, “peace does not mean the absence of noise, trouble or hard work. Peace means to be in the midst of all those things and still be calm in your heart. That is the real meaning of peace.”

When we do couples retreats, we always challenge the couples to create in their lives 10 minutes to connect in a peaceful, spiritual and loving way with one another. There are many different ways to do this. Barry and I say a prayer of gratitude and trust each morning while we hold hands. Saying this prayer together allows us to connect in our hearts and feel our spiritual connection with each other. We create our own nest of peace and safety to which we can return again and again when life challenges us.

Nineteen years ago, we were experiencing a great financial challenge. We had lived the first twenty-three years of our married life without financial stress. We lived in very inexpensive rental homes, drove old cars, and bought our clothes and our children’s clothes from second-hand stores. We kept cash on hand and only bought something if we had the cash for it. We didn’t have a credit card and had never been in debt. All that changed in 1989 when the earthquake destroyed our small rental home. We had been paying only $270/month rent and suddenly were forced out into the real world of high rents.

We decided to follow our dream and were able to purchase 16 acres right next to the rental home at a very good price. We were very naïve about mortgages and decided at the same time to build the house of our dreams, a home in which we could raise our three children and, at the same time, hold some of our workshops. Then we got the first mortgage bill and realized how very high it was. How could we ever come up with so much money each month? Our children were happy to have a home once again, after camping for six months in order to save money. We did not want to leave our new home, but the mortgage was so high that we wondered if we might go into foreclosure before we even had a chance to really live there. We were scared and started taking it out on each other. The picture of the turbulent sky and waves on the lake might describe our situation. Each day got harder and harder for us.

Finally we realized we must create a place of peace for this challenge and it was at that point that we began saying a prayer every single day. We sat for ten minutes each day and asked for help and guidance from a loving power greater than our own minds. Our financial situation did not immediately change, but these ten minutes of peace every day brought a trust into our lives that calmed the turbulence. Every month we somehow made that payment, sometimes by just a few dollars. When we would pray together it felt as if we were sitting in that nest of peace behind the rushing waterfall. We still return to that nest day after day as other challenges and situations come into our lives.

I feel very grateful for this “nest” and the peace that comes from sitting in it each day. For the people who have taken us up on our “ten minute challenge,” their lives change in a special way. We will forever encourage couples and singles to create this nest of peace.

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 Love, Risk To Be Healed, The Heart’s Wisdom, Meant To Be, and just released, A Mother’s Final Gift: How One Woman’s Courageous Dying Transformed Her Family.

 

Call Toll-Free 1-800-766-0629 (locally 831-684-2299) or write to the Shared Heart Foundation, P.O. Box 2140, Aptos, CA 95001, for free newsletter from Barry and Joyce, 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 http://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 Myth of Irreconcilable Differences

by Joyce & Barry Vissel

In a court of law, if both partners of a married couple claim they have irreconcilable differences, the court will grant them a legal divorce – without even asking what the differences are!

Joyce and I, on the other hand, having worked with thousands of couples over the last 37 years, challenge that there is no such thing as irreconcilable differences. We have seen that ANY difference can be not only tolerated, but even appreciated. But that takes real understanding and a commitment to love.

So what constitutes grounds for separation or divorce? It’s not the differences themselves. You will end up separating or divorcing if you choose not to try to understand them. Your relationship will end if you choose not to look inside to better understand yourself, as well as your partner.

Differences are not the problem. Secrecy, cruelty, active addictions and infidelity are hurtful and can be grounds for divorce if either partner refuses to get help.

During the romantic, early stages of relationship, most couples experience little difficulty with differences, even big ones. Their wide open hearts find enough room to embrace their differences. We once saw a liberal democratic woman in love with a conservative republican man. Their explanation? “We love each other enough to agree to disagree!”

When you’re in love, you easily understand how opposites attract. The differences in your lover don’t bother you. Their messiness or neatness, their introversion or extraversion, their love of the outdoors or their love of the indoors, their raw food vegan or steak and potatoes diet, these don’t seem to detract from the love you experience together. They may even be “cute” to you.

It is only later, after the honeymoon glow has faded, and each of your egos and personalities have powerfully come on the scene, that differences get magnified and can grate on you.

The question then is: How do you solve the problem of differences? One thing is for sure. It will never work to try to change your partner! Sure, you may correct bad habits. Early in our marriage, Joyce took a firm stand against my messiness. Just because I never used a vacuum cleaner in the first 22 years of my life, it simply wasn’t acceptable to her at the time that I didn’t help her clean the apartment. Did I change? Yes. Sometimes she laughs at how fastidious I can now be.

On a more serious note, I have had difficulty with Joyce’s sensitivity. Sometimes I’ll give her what seems to me a small correction, and she’ll feel criticized and hurt. I remember one time, long ago, when I complained about her sensitivity. She said to me, “Barry, you could have married a man who is just like you.” Her point was well taken. Now I am deeply grateful for her sensitivity. Perhaps more than anything else, her sensitivity has caused me to develop my own sensitivity.

Our religious difference – me being raised Jewish and Joyce Protestant – nearly destroyed our relationship in our early years. We tried to change one another. We had many arguments about religion. After two years, we deliberately transferred to different colleges to get away from each other. We tried dating persons of our same religion. It just wasn’t working. All the differences were only in our minds. In our hearts, there was a love big enough to embrace all our differences.

Finally we decided to get married. My childhood Rabbi was extremely discouraging. Joyce’s minister, Reverend Davis, agreed to marry us on one condition. He said, “I will only marry you if you promise never to try to change each other. It is the differences between you that will help you to most grow.” In a way, he was our first spiritual teacher, giving advice that has helped us to this day.

Our early marriage was still not easy. Although we understood about not changing each other, religion was still a difference we were trying to tolerate. What really helped was a deeply soulful search for a spirituality that we could share. We started with Transcendental Meditation, Hatha Yoga, Sufi Dancing, and Ram Dass’ book, Be Here Now, traveled the world in search of spiritual teachers, and studied a wide variety of spiritual paths, including the roots and origins of Judaism and Christianity. We searched for, and found, spiritual similarities that we shared, practices we could do together. Our favorite at the moment is very simple: we touch our foreheads together and take turns speaking a prayer from the heart – an expression of gratitude, asking for ways to be of service on this planet, as well as asking for help with current challenges.

Yes, Joyce and I have our own spirituality, our own practices. Is one method better than the other? Absolutely not. If it brings inner joy, peace, and respect for all life, it doesn’t matter what the practice.

Yet as a couple, we make it a priority to share sacred moments, whether it is the praying together, sitting side by side meditating in silence, appreciating one another, practicing sacred sexuality, or celebrating the beauty of nature.

It really doesn’t matter how different two people are if: one, those differences are respected and two, the similarities are found and celebrated. Over the years we have observed that couples must have or create a common link, a unifying quality, something that is deeply shared. If the deeper focus is on what you have in common, your differences become background, and thus are more easily embraced and loved. If you focus on your unity, your diversity will challenge you to grow. Celebrate your similarities, and you will learn to celebrate your differences.

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 Love, Risk To Be Healed, The Heart’s Wisdom, Meant To Be, and just released, A Mother’s Final Gift: How One Woman’s Courageous Dying Transformed Her Family.

Call Toll-Free 1-800-766-0629 (locally 831-684-2299) or write to the Shared Heart Foundation, P.O. Box 2140, Aptos, CA 95001, for free newsletter from Barry and Joyce, 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 http://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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