Tag Archives: joy

Love Shouldn’t be a Prison, and True Love Isn’t

love-prison

 

Since this is the month we celebrate Valentine’s Day, I thought I’d dust off one of my favorites from several years ago that seemed to resonate with many people. Even if you’ve been following me from the beginning, this one’s worth a second look:

One thing that assures a long-lasting relationship is kindness—each partner treating the other with the same respect, courtesy and gentleness that characterized their mode of relating in the beginning.

Unfortunately, our human tendency after settling in is to relax those standards. We drop those nicer habits. Not good. A relationship should be a place where flowers grow . . . not a place where we’re constantly encountering prickly nettles.

Another crucial element is freedom. Love shouldn’t be a prison, and true love isn’t.

Go to my column titled “The Grander Version of Love” where you can read about Carl and Lynn. I go into more depth about kindness, freedom and two other components that comprise a healthy relationship.

I welcome your views! 

“Making marriage work is like operating a farm. You have to start all over again each morning.”

— Anonymous

(c) Salee Reese 2017

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After Grief

Misty path thru the woods

One of the hardest parts about a loved one dying is the sense of disconnection. I can relate to that awful feeling—I’ve experienced it many times.

A special person comes to mind. For nine full months, I grieved his death. It seemed like all color had left my world during that time. Joy was virtually nonexistent. In fact, I think I avoided joy—clinging to grief instead. I somehow believed our connection would stay intact if I remained in that grief-space. Not only that, I thought that moving on seemed like letting go . . . even dishonoring what he meant to me. A betrayal of sorts.

I was wrong.

At the end of those nine months, I came to realize something: Joy—not misery—is the space of connection.

An image of him in my mind prompted that sudden shift in my perception. He was looking lovingly into my eyes . . . and he was joyful. Radiant, in fact—a far cry from miserable. I smiled back and a warmth I hadn’t felt for nearly a year filled my entire being.

This is how they communicate, I thought.

I can’t see, touch or hear him anymore, but I can experience nearness.

Now when I think about him, I smile. That smile immediately ushers me into a joy-space. It’s the only space he can be in and the only space where I can find him.

That comforting image of him wasn’t new. It had penetrated my consciousness before, but I’d ignored it.

I’ve discovered that others have experienced something similar.  When I tell people I saw my sister and my father smiling ear-to-ear after their deaths, invariably they start nodding knowingly. We then begin to share our stories.

Yes, grief has its place. It sets the stage for an intimate connection with ourselves and with the truth and depth of our feelings. In a way, grief can be comforting as it shuts out the noise and artificiality of everyday life. It’s a silent walk down a gray and misty path.  We need that for our goodbyes and reminiscences.

(c) 2016 Salee Reese

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Gifts that Endure

family collage

A gift is defined by how it impacts the heart. 

Sadly, we’re hypnotized by ad campaigns that tie the act of gift-giving to the act of spending money. In fact, the more money spent, the greater the perceived value of the gift—and the greater proof of love.

Something has definitely gone awry when the measure of one’s love is determined by the amount of money sacrificed.

The word “sacrifice” is no exaggeration for many people around this time of year. Some have difficulty paying for heat and groceries. So, instead of joy in their heart during the holiday season, despair, guilt and anxiety fill the air.

Jerry is a good example. He’s a construction worker with four children. When I counseled him a few years back, jobs were scarce. I couldn’t help but sense his heavy heart as he talked about how disappointed he was with himself. Why the disappointment? Because he wasn’t able to buy enough “stuff” for his family. He was convinced he was a failure as a dad.

Another client, Nicole—a single mom—was equally distressed. She was laid off so her Christmas-anxiety was the cause of many sleepless nights and, like Jerry, she also felt like a failure as a parent.

How can Jerry and Nicole arrive at peace? I like what The Beatles had to say about that:  “All you need is love.”

As a therapist, I deal with issues of love and abandonment—stemming from childhood—all the time. But I’ve yet to encounter an adult client grieving over having received too few gifts as a child.

The fact that Jerry and Nicole are concerned for their children tells me their hearts are in the right place. The love—that precious commodity underlying a healthy parent-child bond—is more than evident.

In an effort to have them rethink their definition of a gift I asked them two questions: What would bring joy to your children’s hearts? Throughout the year, what do they ask you to do with them?

To get a sense of the sheer magic of those questions, imagine yourself at age eight and being asked by your parent, “What would you like us to do together?”

Our involvement with our children spells love to them. So my advice to Jerry and Nicole was simple: “Give them you.”

Sure, there’s a thrill—a rush—when receiving material gifts. But more often than not, they impact our pleasure circuits—which are fleeting—not our heart.

Ask yourself this: How many gifts do you really remember from last year? I would venture to guess that joyful experiences—involving people—remain memorable, evoking inner smiles yet today. Such memories clearly take center stage . . . because they impact the heart.

 

Names are changed to honor client confidentiality.

(c) Salee Reese 2015

 

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The Truth about Tears

inside out

“Only strong people allow themselves to feel pain.”

–Heather, 16

If you haven’t watched the movie Inside Out, drop everything and head for a theater immediately! The story takes place inside the head of 11-year-old Riley, where five key characters reside—all representing her main emotions: Joy, Fear, Disgust, Anger, and Sadness.

The story carries a powerful message about the important role each emotion plays in our life, including those less desirable emotions such as sadness.

In the movie, Sadness starts out as a bother but ends up the hero. That’s because she knows how to handle Riley’s problems. Unlike the other emotions, she knows where to take things so they can change for the better.

She’s also the only character who demonstrates  empathy. When Riley’s imaginary friend—Bing Bong—from early childhood, becomes sad and discouraged, Joy is powerless, but that isn’t true of Sadness. She listens in the only way that counts—at the heart level. Bing Bong got better.

And when Riley’s parents got in touch with their sadness over Riley’s sadness, they were capable of listening. The result? Things got better. Prior to that, Riley believed that the only allowable emotion was joy. And in the movie we learn that joy has its limitations.

It was apparent that Riley was sheltered from negative emotions from the start. Therefore, she was poorly equipped to deal with the stresses and heartbreak of moving to another state at the age of eleven.

As I lost myself in this movie, I couldn’t help but be reminded of Heather, whom I quoted above, a teenager I counseled who was grappling with overwhelming sadness. Her parents were oblivious to that fact until they found her suicide note. Read her story here.

Both Riley and Heather needed the freedom to feel, and the freedom to express it. They needed to be understood, and that was best accomplished when their parents felt with them.

When I asked Heather: “When you’re hurting, what do you need most from your mom? Do you need for her to be strong?” Without any hesitation, she replied:

“No! I need to see her feelings. Showing feelings isn’t being weak—it’s being close.”

That says it all.  Thanks, Heather.

 

Names are changed to honor client confidentiality

(c) 2015 Salee Reese

 

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Freedom is Creating a Fabulous Elephant!

elephant 1

“It takes one a long time to become young.”  

–Pablo Picasso

I remember hearing about an 8-year-old girl who painted a picture of a fabulous elephant. What made her elephant earn the distinction of being fabulous? She used a wide array of colors.

Unfortunately, her teacher was stricken with an adult brain and was therefore incapable of seeing the fabulousness of that elephant. So instead of enjoying the unique creation, she felt it her duty to inform the little girl that elephants are not multi-colored.

The little girl had an immediate comeback:

“You don’t know elephants very well.”

No, we adults don’t know elephants very well—we don’t know a lot of things very well because our perceptual filter is so narrow. Children, on the other hand, are not confined to a rigid idea about reality. They don’t deliberately think outside the box . . . they just don’t see the box. The box doesn’t exist.

And for that reason, one could say they’re intimate with the realm of freedom. Writer and educator Ashley Montagu wrote about this rare freedom children so readily possess. In an article for Psychology Today titled, “Don’t be Adultish,” he suggested that we “preserve the spirit of a child, of youthfulness, inquisitiveness—the curiosity that is so evident in children. An open-mindedness that is free to consider everything, a sense of humor, playfulness—all these qualities we are designed to develop rather than outgrow.”

I like that. How unfortunate that so many of us mistakenly carry around the notion that we’re supposed to outgrow such traits. Doing so is something I call self-abandonment and a recipe for either a boring existence or depression.

No wonder we grownups are inclined to turn to the bottle, the pill, wild parties and so forth to remedy this sorry condition. But, as we all know, those things are merely band-aids. They’re no substitute for reclaiming our lost self.

Think about it, do children seek out the substitutes? No. They don’t have to. They’re neither enslaved by convention or weighed down by adultishness.

The child within each of us contains the seeds for authentic happiness.

The path to reclaiming that inner child looks different for each of us. I had conversations with Drake, Bud, Jane, and Garth about walking that path.

There can be no change, no opening to a new way of seeing and being as long as we continue to tightly grip that which is no longer working. We have to be willing and ready to let go.

And we attain the know-how for doing that by becoming young again—young enough to be able to paint a fabulous, multi-colored elephant!

Names are changed to honor client confidentiality.

(c) Salee Reese 2015

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Missing Sasha

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just a dog2

Sadly, Carrie’s four legged friend passed away.

When she told me about it a day later, she struggled hard to fight back the tears. She was surprised to be so affected. After all, it was just a dog, right? Wrong. Psychological experts are increasingly acknowledging the importance of pets in our lives. Indeed, they provide companionship, loyalty and even love—all qualities of a true friend.

To move through the grief, I suggested that she write a letter to her furry pal. She did, and I was so moved by what I read, I urged her to let me publish it. I explained how it could help many, many people who have suffered the same loss. What’s more, that single letter described so perfectly the special bond between humans and pets.

She agreed to having it published. Here it is:

Dear Sasha,

I miss you!!! I am writing this letter to let you know how much you have meant to me. You have only been gone for a little over 24 hours and I miss you everywhere. I miss you at your dog bowl and at your bed in the closet. I miss you at the top of the stairs barking because you were no longer capable of making the long journey down. I miss you licking your paws endlessly and begging for the crust from our pizza on Sunday nights.

But most of all I miss you by my side. You have always been there when I was sick. You never left my side for days when I was down and out.

You were such an inspiration to me. Loyal till the end!

You were the smartest dog I’ve ever known.

You made us laugh so many times. Thank you for that. You will be missed by all.

I miss you so much.

Your jealousy of Amy [Carrie’s daughter] has always made us giggle. Seven pounds of dog trying to wedge in between us lying on the bed.

As I write this letter to you, I am realizing how much you made us all smile. In today’s world, you don’t always get a lot of that. Did I mention I miss you?!!?

Thank you for being my best friend. Sometimes I feel bad for saying that because most people consider their best friend to be a girlfriend, mother or spouse. (Humans!!!) My criteria for best friend is: faithfulness, understanding, loving, being accepting, never judging, taking care of my needs, listening to my problems. Yes, you meet all the qualifications of a best friend. I hope I was the same for you, because you gave me such great joy.

As I sit here and write to you, I feel as though I’m 10 years old. Not only were you my friend, but you were everything to me that my parents weren’t.

With you, I never felt alone—never felt judged. You were always on my side, always protecting me, and always standing up for me.

Did I mention I love you??? It’s lonely here without you. Some day there may be another dog in our home but he or she will never, ever replace you. I love you with all my heart.

Until we meet again!  I wish you Godspeed.

Love you forever.   ~ Mom

If reading this brought a tear to your eye like it did mine, good for you. 🙂

I welcome your thoughts!

Names are changed to honor client confidentiality.

(c) 2007 Salee Reese

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Ooooo … when love blooms!

dancing couple

Is your brain marinating in a cocktail of hormones and giddiness? If so, it’s probably love . . . new love!

New love is the budding stage of something potentially profound between two people. And just as a flower bud is fragile, the same is true of love. Both must be treated with tender loving care.  When a couple masters this fine art, it becomes a thing of beauty that is a pleasure to behold.

A few years back, I observed such a wonder:

My spirit smiled as I watched them glide across the dance floor. Arm in arm, they exuded a tenderness so real, it almost seemed possible to reach out and touch it.

Oh, there were plenty of other dancers to appreciate, couples with more finesse and physical appeal, but this couple had me transfixed.

Have you ever become captivated watching elderly couples dance to the music of some bygone era? Obviously I have, particularly with those whose lives appear interwoven by the threads of some shared past.

Those couples are easy to spot. Love flows between them palpably, richly different from the newly-in-love brand. It is a love that has matured to perfection.

Never mind that the external luster is gone. It’s apparent that something more enviable has replaced it—a mysterious something that shines in their eyes for each other. Such love surpasses physical attractiveness.

When I watch such couples, it makes me wonder about love. Just what is it? Is it more about allure and attraction, magnetic in its mysterious intensity? The kind that permeates popular culture in movies and TV? Or is it more like a garden you tend and cultivate? It is, of course, both.

With a gravitational grip like none other, the power of new love pulls people together. The action doesn’t stop there. It proceeds to swoop them up and swirl them around and around until they become dizzy with brainlessness. The whole event rivals anything that can be found at the amusement parks!

No question, falling in love is supremely exciting. But then, lovers eventually reach the ground; some grow restless and bored, while others till a garden. And, oh, how it blooms! That’s what I saw in that couple gliding across the dance floor. I was viewing a couple in their bloomed state.

Now then, how to tend a garden? Borrowing from the wisdom and experience of others, I came up with a few powerful tips:

  •  Mary Durso, married for 58 years, says: “If you have respect and consideration for one another, you’ll make it.”
  • Allyson Jones, author, says: “Love teaches without lecturing, resolves mistakes without  scolding, and gives without expecting things in return.”
  • Thich Nhat Hanh, a Buddhist monk and author of “Teachings on Love,” asserts that love is about feeling connected to someone in their suffering, not just in their joy.  When we love someone, we’re moved by their pain and desire to remove that pain.
  • Wayne Dyer, author of “Your Erroneous Zones,” offers his definition of love: “[Love is] the ability and willingness to allow those that you care for to be what they choose for themselves, without any insistence that they satisfy you.”
  • John Gottman, Ph.D, a leading marital researcher, tells us that a strong union is one in which two people deal with problems head on.

When couples avoid discussing hot topics because it might lead to conflict, intimacy is forfeited and huge gaps form—creating distance between them. According to Gottman, couples thrive when the two “turn towards” each other when problems crop up, rather than “turning away.”

The couple on the dance floor might say: “Get out there and dance!” In other words, factor in fun. Without happy times and positive experiences, the weeds of a relationship tend to take over.

So how does a relationship mature to a ripened state? It requires “the garden.” An individual can make any ordinary garden thrive, but love requires two gardeners who busy themselves with the planting, the watering, the fertilizing and the weeding.

And we mustn’t underestimate the valuable role that age plays. Dazzled by the couple on the dance floor, I felt privileged to bear witness to such enchantment.

Is it not true that aged wine is grander?

 

© Salee Reese 2007

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