From Caroline’s 2014 Salon
Sometimes it’s good to pause in life for an infusion of wisdom and insights that just make life better. Everyone could use a dose of common sense wisdom once in a while. I was reminded of this yet again because of a conversation I had recently after a lecture I gave.
A woman asked to speak with me about a problem she was having with her marriage. As she spoke about her marriage, her skin rapidly turned that shade of inner heat and fire – that hot red. Her anger was flaming out of her. Her jaw tightened and her body posture revealed that she had stood many times in positions that exchanged heavy verbal weaponry. She was an emotionally exhausted human being who desperately wanted to retire from her battlefield marriage. I asked her the obvious question, “Why are you staying in your marriage? And why is your husband staying with you? You do realize he is as miserable as you are and perhaps he is talking to someone this afternoon the same way you are.”
It never, ever ceases to surprise me how many women are shocked at the thought that their husbands might also be unhappy in their marriage. These women tend to think that the unhappiness issue is theirs and theirs alone – a secret that is up to them to reveal to their husbands – or partners – should they decide to drop that bomb. Many have the idea that their husbands are just fine or not happy but passive about it or content to be miserable. Most of the women – and mind you, I am talking about a substantial number of women over the course of these past three decades – see themselves as the navigators of whether their marriages have a future or not.
Yet another conversation worth adding to this discussion happened just the other day. Again, I was speaking with a woman who has had a lousy marriage for two decades. Two decades! And now she has colon cancer on top of a lousy marriage. The dynamics of healing an illness are an entirely different subject, of course, but there is always overlap when we are speaking about the healing of anything: a business, a relationship, creative blocks, a marriage, and a physical illness.
For the sake of making the points I need to make, let me say this: In order to heal, you need to know the laws that govern healing. Healing is not a random, whatever procedure. Healing is as much a science of the soul as it is a laboratory science. It follows rules and even common sense. Now, returning to the woman I mentioned earlier, she asked to meet with me because she wanted to discuss the path of healing the challenge of colon cancer.
We found two empty chairs in a lobby area around all the conference commotion and she took about two minutes to give me the background history on her health. Then she turned to her marriage. I listened to her tell me that her illness had brought about a new tenderness from her negligent husband. Now they had a chance, she felt, of making their marriage work. They had a marriage scarred by long periods of silence interrupted with raging battles. Battles over what? Essentially being ignored and unnoticed. It was tragically apparent to me that she had created a story for herself in which her illness had rescued her marriage – and just in time, as her husband was thinking of retiring. He was handsome, vital, energetic, with an appetite for travel and fun. She was not up to any of his retirement plans and would not be for quite some time. Would they even be speaking to each other every evening so openly again, she asked, were it not for her illness?
Many people create narratives around illnesses. And in truth, there is wisdom in framing an illness as an experience other than a suffering tragedy that should not have happened to you. The attitude, “How could this have happened to me? I’ve done everything right. And this is wrong,” does nothing to support the recovery of health.
But there are wise ways of framing the experience of illness and there are ways that are high risk. Weaving an illness into the resolution of yet another problem happening in your life is just plain high risk. Even if an illness can be tracked to the stress generated by the difficulties in a marriage or a job, the business of actual healing falls upon the choices that must be made within the consciousness of the individual confronting the illness. That is, whether a spouse remains attentive or a job situation improves cannot – indeed must not – become part of the strategy of your healing. You of course must examine the stress of all the situations and relationships in your life but the journey of healing is a solo flight. It’s that realization that so often becomes a crossroads for people: Can I proceed with my healing alone? Can I make choices that might release me from my familiar world or patterns of behavior or relationships? So many times, people say, “I just can’t do it.”
I understand that. Illness weakens us and these life-changing choices present themselves at a time when we are at our most fragile. It doesn’t seem fair or right or even possible to accomplish. But healing choices do not necessarily have to overturn the whole of your life. You can introduce different ways of interacting that lighten your stress and reshape the way you order your own life, if not reality. That’s not small; it’s huge, really. Yet, these suggestions are not intimidating in the sense that you are packing your bags and heading out the door. And further, each one contributes to keeping you healthy or helping you on your path to healing:
- Listen to people without interrupting. What is more irritating than someone who is constantly interrupting you? Or do you interrupt other people?
- Do not finish another person’s thoughts. One of the worst habits I can think of is when a person says, “I know what you’re going to say,” or they finish a sentence for me. How does anyone know what I’m going to say? And further, can anyone really say anything the same way you can? That habit is just plain rude. I know one person who is notorious for doing this – and I mean notorious – and as a result of this obsessive habit, she has lost a number of friendships. She is not aware that this is the reason friends have gradually pulled away from her company, but I know that because these people have confided that reason to me.
- Look people in the eye when you are speaking to them. Don’t allow your attention to wander around the room or worse, check your cell phone every thirty seconds. I will admit that I am as guilty as other people of the habit of bringing my cell phone to social events. It’s very difficult to leave it behind, especially when you work internationally and receive emails 24/7. But honestly, social email can often wait. After awhile, you wonder if you are having lunch or dinner with a cell phone or a person. These habits chip away at the intimacy you are trying to maintain with the person sitting opposite you. After enough chipping has been done, a wall collapses and all you are left with is a cell phone. Relationships require attention. You know, people complain quite a bit these days about calling businesses and getting auto-voices on the other end. We all miss the days of having a person answer the phone and the warm response of, “May I help you?” But armed with cell phones – whether walking down the streets or sitting at dinner tables – are we really any different?
- On more intimate relationships – Do not go to bed angry. I’ve asked people all over the world how they handle disagreements in their relationships – and let me note that there are disagreements and then there are “disagreements” I am first referring to the irritations of ordinary life – not discovering your spouse is committing adultery or addicted to porn or physical abuse. So, relationships can bring out the dark side of each other or the best side. Or both. But a policy of settling differences before nightfall as opposed to pouting, withdrawing, and going to bed angry is just wiser. Getting up in the morning to a day already marred by rage and hurt is beyond foolish. It’s taking your first breath in a toxic waste dump. Why would you do that? The only reason is pride – and pride starts the ugly tug-of-war otherwise known as the power play. Once that starts, there is no going back. Eventually that becomes the root cause of nasty emotional and psychological suffering – and you know where that story ends. As for more serious disagreements, well – those require serious choices. Enough said on that.
- A wise piece of advice is don’t attempt to have a serious discussion about a serious emotional issue if one of you is hungry or tired. Pay attention to the strength of your own and your partner’s physical wellbeing before discussing a subject that you know by its very nature will drain the two of you.
- Never humiliate the other. You can’t take words back.
- Screaming serves no purpose. If you have to raise your voice, you’ve lost your power. Further, it is a sign that you have been energetically gutted. You need to retreat and regroup for your own health.
- Do not make up stories in your own head. The idea that the universe is designed as a system of polarities (right-wrong/good-bad/positive-negative/winner-loser) is only one level of reality. Yet another is archetypal – the realm of patterns of power. It’s one in which you are able to view the behavior of yourself and others – and all systems of life – as impersonal and personal simultaneously. Actions you would have otherwise taken as personal become impersonal, such as Warriors attack; Hermits seek their own space – it has nothing to do with you; Addicts will find an addiction; Shape-shifters will find disguises. You cannot change the patterns someone has any more than they can change you. Get that truth and you cease to be disappointed in another person for not changing. And you are able to not berate yourself for not being enough for someone who was seeking an archetypal pattern that, simply put, you do not have. (It’s worth knowing your archetypes for this reason alone. Check out my website for Sacred Contracts – it’s a class of spiritual sanity if nothing else.)
- Move your body. Get out of your head and emotions. Walk. Move. Work out your stress. Sweat it out so that you don’t have to implode or explode in a relationship.
These suggestions of pocket wisdom can do more to reduce your stress than you can imagine, to say nothing of how much they will improve the quality of your life. And living in wisdom can only enhance your healing.
Trust me when I tell you wisdom is power.
Love for now,