Tag - shared heart

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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Being Vulnerable with a Woman

by Joyce & Barry Vissell

(An excerpt from the Vissell’s new book, To Really Love a Woman)

To be vulnerable with a woman is to allow yourself to be seen and known in your entirety, not just your powerful, independent, secure, loving and capable self. Yes, you love a woman by being powerful, by protecting her from all harm, by fathering the little girl inside her, and by gently taking the lead. But without vulnerability your loving is incomplete.

To be vulnerable is to show her your fear, pain, shame, and need for love. Showing your vulnerability, by the classic definition, is showing your weakness and therefore showing the way to be attacked and defeated. This is the military model. If you’re fighting in a battle, you avoid vulnerability. The problem is that this model is entirely useless if you’re striving for intimacy. Many of us have been programmed since our early days on the playground to avoid vulnerability so we wouldn’t get attacked by other kids. The choice is clear. Do we want to avoid vulnerability with our beloved, or do we want to feel the heights of love?

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To be vulnerable, contrary to what many people think, makes you truly attractive, even irresistible. The opposite of vulnerability is keeping on your armor, your protection from being hurt. Trouble is, this armor also keeps love away from you.

It’s often more difficult for men to show their vulnerability. We’re so often raised with “machismo.” We hear the messages, “Be a man. Men don’t cry. Never show your fear.” We’re taught to hold in our feelings. We view all feelings except anger (and related feelings like frustration, irritation, and annoyance) as a sign of weakness. Yet it is our vulnerability that is our real strength, not the hollow bravado we usually display to the world.

After years of experience, Joyce and I have come to realize the extreme importance of vulnerability. I feel it is impossible to truly love another person without being vulnerable. I like the expression of “intimacy” as “into me see.” To be intimate is to let your partner see into you … all of you, not just the parts you like about yourself. Intimacy has come to mean sex for many people, but it is so much more. Vulnerability is the cornerstone of intimacy. Vulnerability allows you to be seen at the most fundamental level.

I love to lead men’s retreats, and by the end of these weekends all the men understand the importance of vulnerability. During these weekends we experience the tenderness of fathering one another, and the liberation of having our inner little boys safely loved by other men as fathers. We share our pain, our fears, our shame, our feelings of unworthiness and insecurity. And most importantly, we experience how our vulnerability allows us to be more authentic, and how this authenticity makes us more loveable – and more powerful – in the eyes of every man present.

For most of the men, it’s easier to be vulnerable at these weekend retreats with other men than it is to be vulnerable with the women in their lives. A standard of safety is established from the beginning of the retreat. They often admit that they lack this safety at home with their wives or partners. Some admit to being scared of women, that somehow women have the power to hurt them. Therefore, as a true solution to this problem, I challenge each man to bring their vulnerability to the important women in their lives. By doing this, they create the safety they need, rather than waiting for their women to create the safety for them. It’s touching for me to hear from the wives and partners after a men’s retreat. Quite often I am thanked by these women who are deeply moved by the vulnerability of their partners.

4 ways to be more vulnerable with a woman:

Timing is important here. You need to be sensitive to her level of receptivity. She may not be ready to drop everything just because you want to express your vulnerability. It may not work to blurt out your vulnerability as she races around the house after the children. It never hurts to ask her first: “Honey, I have something vulnerable to share with you. Is this a good time for you?” Then listen to see if she’s really ready, not just automatically saying yes.

  1. Ask her for help.If you don’t ask her for help, you foster the illusion that you don’t need her. But you do need her … in a thousand ways. And don’t only ask for help in physical ways, like helping you hang a picture. Ask for emotional support, like holding you when you feel sad, or for reassurance when you feel insecure. Ask for spiritual help too, like sitting with you in prayer or meditation.
  2. Admit that you need her love.When a woman feels needed as well as protected, she feels really loved. If she feels needed but not protected, then she goes into “mother mode,” and you become another one of her children. Definitely not attractive to her! When she feels you need her love as much as she needs yours, she can relax into the relationship.
  3. Let her know, without anger, when you feel hurt by her.It’s easy to bypass hurt feelings and jump right into anger. Even though I more typically express my anger, reflexively covering over my hurt, I sometimes will let Joyce know I feel hurt by something she did or said. Showing my hurt, without the anger, shows Joyce my vulnerability. It also shows her how important she is to me. She loves this and will usually immediately apologize.
  4. Be courageous enough to admit your fears to her.Yes, you have just as many fears as she does. Women tend to speak more about their fears. You may hold them inside, or worse, not even be aware of them. That does not mean you’re less afraid. Admit your fears about failure, not being good enough, or even losing her through death. This makes you more human, more vulnerable, and definitely more attractive to her.

The Vissell’s new books, To Really Love a Woman and To Really Love a Man, can be ordered from their website with free shipping at http://sharedheart.org/sharedheart2/books-and-dvds.html, or from Amazon.com

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

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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Prayer Works

By Joyce and Barry  Vissell

There is a large billboard sign along the Saw Mill River Parkway north of New York City that reads in big bold letters, “Prayer Works.” There are no other words on the sign. A man named Tom in one of our couple’s retreats on the East Coast told our group that he rode by that sign every single day on his way to work. He did not believe in prayer and he scoffed at the sign each day.

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At the time, Tom was dating and in love with a woman named Rose. After a few years, their relationship crumbled. Tom accepted a good job opportunity in Europe and moved away. He was hoping he could forget about Rose, but his feelings for her only grew over the course of several years. Finally one night, in desperation, he thought of the “Prayer Works” sign, and decided to give it a try. He bowed his head in prayer and very humbly asked to either be free of his longing for Rose or else be able to reconnect with her.

At that exact time in New York, Rose had just ended another painful relationship. A dear friend of hers was at her house and asked about Tom. Right then and there, she decided to send him an email and find out how he was doing. They had not been in communication for several years. Well, to make a long love story short, they just gave birth to their second child. Tom admitted to our group that he is now a firm believer in prayer.

We had a lovely experience with prayer recently. Our Assisi retreat this year was very small, with only six participants. We had never done a retreat with so few people, but cancelling it was out of the question. Plus, we really wanted to go as it is a highlight of the year for our own spiritual growth. My dear friend Debbie is a devout Catholic and she told me about a special room at her church that is dedicated to prayer. Our Assisi retreat was drawing close and I felt we needed at least one more person to make the retreat flow better. I also strongly felt that I needed to go to this special room that Debbie had told me about.

Sitting in this room, I felt a little out of place since I was not raised Catholic. But while the others in the room were kneeling, I sat very quietly and prayed. I sincerely asked for one more person to be guided to the retreat. When I left that room, I had a very good feeling that, regardless of the number, the retreat would be just perfect.

At that very time, all the way in Australia, a Catholic nun realized that she had the possibility to be in Assisi from October 11-17. So she typed into google search, “Assisi Retreat October 11-17.” Since those were our exact retreat dates, we were the first search result to pop up. She had never done a retreat that was not Catholic and so she wondered if it was the right thing for her. At the time, she was visiting her childhood home with her eight siblings. As she is so loved in the family, all of her siblings became involved and started reading our many articles on our website. Finally, they concluded that it would be a good fit for her.

She emailed us and asked what we thought. At first, Barry was hesitant as we had never had a Catholic nun in any of our retreats before. He said, “What if she only wants to sing and pray, and wants nothing to do with the personal growth work?” But I felt this was so divinely guided that I assured him it was going to be fine. In a Catholic Church, I had prayed for another person and a nun signed up. I pictured that she would be in long black robes, like the nuns in Assisi. I have to admit, it was hard to picture a nun in our retreat, but I felt that we needed to trust.

Well, this nun showed up in blue jeans and a flannel shirt with a large red heart necklace around her neck. She lives in South Africa and helps run a large home for eighty African children that desperately need help. Sister Sally turned out to be a very great light, and her presence in our small group filled the room with love, courageous personal growth work, and humor. Indeed it was a very great blessing and answer to my prayer.  Of the ten Assisi retreats we have done, this one was my favorite and her presence was a large part of that.

These are examples of almost instant answers to prayer, but that is not always the case. Sometimes it can take years to feel an answer to a prayer, but the important thing is to persist. When I was twelve, my father had a very good engineering job which ended when his boss suddenly died. My father was out of work at a time when it was difficult to find a job. On top of that disappointment, his childhood polio returned and he was in great back pain. My mother was barely able to support the family with her church secretary job.

I did not mind the lack of money, but I saw the strain it caused both of my parents and I wanted to help. I took on many babysitting jobs, but that only helped to pay for what I needed for school.  Upon asking my mother what more I could do, she replied that I should pray for my dad to find meaningful work that would not cause additional harm to his back.  Every single night for four years, I prayed for my father.

Finally, a school official from a local junior college somehow found out about my dad, and called him to ask if he would consider working as an engineering instructor. My dad had never even considered teaching. He went on to teach engineering for twenty-five years, until he retired at the age of seventy-six. He absolutely loved his job, and the students all loved and respected him. My mother and I both felt that the offer of that job, which came so unexpectedly, was an answer to our daily prayers.

Perhaps, like Tom used to, you scoff at the notion of prayer. Or maybe you have tried to pray and nothing happened so you gave up. As the sign says in bold letters, “Prayer Works.”  I invite you to try and persist. You will be blessed in ways you cannot even imagine.

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.

Read more...