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An Aging Elder: Choose to Enter Conscious Elderhood

I woke up this morning with more aches than a porcupine has quills! My knee, back and shoulder were all seeing who could scream the loudest for my brain’s distracted attention.

Aging and Elderhood, encroaching personal entropy and joyful evolving consciousness!
What a juxtaposition!

While I am extremely grateful for entering conscious Elderhood, I am very aware that my body is slowly running down. I was talking to a friend about running recently and he said, “the older I get, the faster I was.” So true. I was reading recently that the best hope for the world was that more and more people worldwide were living past 50. However, it has also been noted that civilization often advances one death at a time. Enough already – I’m confusing me!

An Aging ElderI think it is no longer enough to just get older, even though it’s true that old age is not for sissies! We also can choose to become Elders, and our journey to Elderhood begins in adulthood. I have written about Signs of Elderhood in an earlier post. If you want to become an elder, you have to begin to wake up, grow up and clean up in adulthood. Briefly, cleaning up, in addition to eating healthier and exercising more, usually involves embracing some form of depth work in psychotherapy to heal wounds from the past. Waking up means realizing you need to move beyond religious dogma and become a seeker of what IS and your true nature. Growing up means a willingness to recognize and move through actual developmental stages that we have become aware of in the last hundred years. This work may be very challenging as you transcend and include the mainstays of your culture. All of this is necessary to be able to show up as an Elder and not just an old person.

Gratefully, when you choose to enter conscious Elderhood, there is more to life than aches and pains.

By John Mariner,
Licensed Clinical Social Worker

Thank You for Everything – Really? Everything?

In these disturbing times, what is most calming to me is to thank You for EVERYTHING.

Who is this You I am thanking? The Divinity, evolution, Spirit- in – Action? You go by many names. And thank You for everything? Really? Everything? The total picture of all there is?

Yes.

Thank You for Everything - Really? Everything?Try it. “Thank You for everything.”

All of the good and all of the bad?

Yes.

Thank You for the total picture of all that is. Can I trust You that much? Do I have to thank you for Trump? Thank you for everything. Don’t make me do it! Thank You for everything. For the horrors of war? For the suffering of children? For my ability to reason, will, feel and act? For our ability together to make things better for everyone?

Yes.

Thank you for everything, all of the “good” and all of the “bad.” EVERYTHING.

By John Mariner,
Licensed Clinical Social Worker

Don’t Take the Payoff: Developing Compassion for Ourselves

Harville Hendrix, one of my mentors, once remarked that self hatred, or a lack of compassion for oneself, is so deeply entrenched for most people that moving to a true love of oneself is extremely difficult. It follows that compassion for others will be equally challenging if we consciously or unconsciously hate ourselves at a deep level. We may hold this contempt for self because, no matter how hard we try, we can not change behaviors that we KNOW are destructive to ourselves or to our relationships.

A little known secret about developing compassion for ourselves is what I refer to as “refusing to take the payoff.”

Here is what I mean.

When we beat ourselves up for “screwing up yet again,” whatever the ugly behavior might be, we are actually reinforcing that behavior rather than changing it. Beating ourselves up actually “feeds the beast” (the detested behavior) rather than eliminating it! The way it works is that beating ourselves up for our bad behavior keeps the negative loop going and reinforces and sets up the next round of the same behavior we want to change. Punishing ourselves is the “payoff.”change blvd and same old street

When we decline to beat ourselves up, we refuse to take the payoff and act more compassionately toward ourselves. It’s not that we are condoning the problem behavior. It’s just that we are no longer willing to punish ourselves, and therefore are less likely to punish others.

By John Mariner,
Licensed Clinical Social Worker

The Positive Effect of Mistakes

Sometimes my goal or simple wish as a counselor is not to make too many mistakes. It is easy to make subtle mistakes of saying too much or too little – usually too much. Mostly listen, stay with the flow, hold a safe container for the individual or the couple in the room, love them and myself as much as possible.

aspects of counselingI hate making mistakes and usually it is the main way that I really learn. So while making mistakes is good for my learning, I don’t want to make too many of them, especially when they effect others. Speak up, tell the truth with love as best as I am able, have the courage to say what needs to be said. Over thirty years of practice is helpful, and I still make mistakes of talking or leading too much instead of following the flow of energy in the room and following content down the rabbit hole.

Mostly I feel like I have been useful to the people I have just been with. Sometimes I don’t. Do no harm, I follow religiously. At the end of the day, I am deeply grateful for my work and for the people I work with. I am truly blessed. I prefer to own my mistakes rather than shove them under a rug. Besides, no rug would be big enough anyway.

What mistake that has occurred for you turned out to be the best lesson you learned?

By John Mariner,
Licensed Clinical Social Worker

Resentful Men: Power Dynamics in a Relationship

If, as I discussed in an earlier article, men are trained to be entitled (one-up) and women are generally trained to be (one-down) in this culture, why are men so often resentful in their intimate relationships?

This question addresses an insidious dimension of the state of intimate relationships in this culture.

Men, most often in the one-up position in this culture, are trained not to SEE the power dynamics in an intimate relationship, and women are trained not to SAY anything about the power dynamics in their relationships. When an individual’s entitlements (usually the man’s) are finally challenged, they often become angry and then RESENTFUL. “You’re crazy!” or “How dare you criticize me!” is often the initial reaction to an entitlement challenge. Part of the upset may be that the woman went along with her partner’s entitlements without challenging them for a long time. The unequal power arrangement was the “normal” state of things, even if the woman was resentful and unhappy. The traditional marriage contract was often we are one (and I am the one for the man) and yes, we are one (and you are the one, for the woman). This agreement is usually unconscious until the “we are one” myth is challenged and debunked!

coupleIf the woman begins to find her voice and starts complaining about her partner’s entitlements (sometimes louder and louder) and moves to blaming her partner, he is likely to become more and more resentful as well as entitled. Men often feel entitled to leave energetically and emotionally if they don’t like what’s going on, rather than talking about problems in relationships. Sadly, men are usually more unconsciously accepting of being lonely and disconnected in relationships than are most women. And then they wonder why a woman chooses to divorce them rather than stay in a situation where she is more lonely in the relationship than out of it.

So, in summary, many men get angry and resentful at the point where a woman begins to confront their unconscious entitlements. He may truly believe she has no right to do that or she has no right to do so in the WAY she is doing it, which is by yelling, complaining or blaming him. He has a point. Her complaining is not an effective way to bring about the change she wants in the relationship. Instead of complaining, she needs to find out if she has leverage with him meaning finding out whether he cares enough about her to make some changes in his behavior that she requests or, in some instances, demands.

By John Mariner,
Licensed Clinical Social Worker

But You Said You Love Me. . .

Ahh…romantic love…how sweet it is! And those sweet words when she told me she loved me.

Of course I knew what that meant…I had found someone who would meet all of my needs, and I would meet all of her needs without ever having to ask.

LoveWhat do you mean, telling me I was intoxicated by Cupid’s arrow hitting me smack in the heart? She said she loved me and by god, I am going to hold her to it! Didn’t she promise to meet all my needs when she said she loved me?

Well…not exactly.
Not necessarily even close.

When she said she loved you, she had her own ideas about what that meant, what love means, just like you have your own ideas about what love means. It’s not that we are deliberately misleading one another. It’s just that we have different brains, and the myriad of meanings we each may attach to a word like love are almost infinite. If we are lucky, there will be some overlapping of meaning that we both can agree upon, and if we are willing to compassionately deepen our understanding of the other person’s worldview, we may hopefully grow in love together.

By John Mariner,
Licensed Clinical Social Worker

Getting In Touch With Our Feelings: Men vs.Women

I have written about how men are often out of touch with their needs, wants and feelings, and how this underlies taking entitled positions as well as other problems they may experience in relationships. Initially in counseling, they may have a great deal of denial about the significance or even the existence of traumatic experiences in their life, especially when they were very young, even infants.

If a man is willing to consider even the possibility of unresolved childhood trauma but can not feel it, he may be willing to hear me when I share with him that I am feeling his pain in a conversation we are having. He may be willing for me to reflect his pain back to him, thereby validating the importance of his getting in touch with his packed away feelings as an opening into his heart.

man and woman embracingWomen often do this unconsciously for men that they love, but since they do it unconsciously, they may not insist that a man then feel his own pain, and instead take his unresolved stuff on as their responsibility to feel and to manage for him. A man may then stay unconscious and continue to act out his painful feelings and early trauma in ways that are destructive to himself and others.

The bottom line here is that we may compassionately feel another’s pain and unconscious feelings, but we can not do their work for them. Paraphrasing something Carl Jung once said: “Enlightenment is not just about basking in the light. It’s about making the dark conscious.”

By John Mariner,
Licensed Clinical Social Worker

The Dynamics of the Journey of Self Recovery

When men set out on the journey of self recovery and really begin to connect with their needs and wants and feelings, they are embarking on a journey into the long unexplored and long neglected realm of their hidden selves. The relatively few men in our culture who are courageous enough to take this journey can get deeply immersed in their needs and wants and feelings, so long ignored and possibly screaming for attention. The danger now, if they are in an intimate relationship with another, is to make what they need and want and feel preemptive; that is, more important than their relationship with the other. This is a challenging and often relationship-threatening place for a couple to find themselves.

The work of recovery takes on another dimension. I really begin to get that my needs and wants and feelings matter and are important and yet not more important than the needs and wants and feelings of the significant others in my life. Now I am faced with, maybe for the first time in my life, really being able to negotiate on an equal footing about needs and wants and feelings with another person rather than take entitled positions with them! This is because I am finally getting in touch with more of the whole of me than ever before and more able to be in touch with the whole of you.

But being able to do this is not enough. Now that I am more able, I must choose to do so; indeed to exercise and practice this new ability if it is to be more than just potential. In other words, now that I am truly growing up, I must also show up and know that I won’t do so perfectly. But you, my love, probably knew that anyway, and you may have been waiting a long time for me.

By John Mariner,
Licensed Clinical Social Worker

A Better Alternative to Addictive Attractions

In the waning years of the Roman Empire, the citizens of Rome were given free bread and entertainment in the form of bloody circuses involving wild animals eating people, and gladiators fighting each other to the death. In this way, the leaders of Rome in its decline managed to keep the population under control with free food and spectacles to minimize the possibility of dissension and revolt. I guess they figured that a populace satiated on circus entertainment and free bread would be less likely to make waves or protest the decline of the general welfare. A bit chillingly like today with much of TV being mindless crap, and obesity stemming largely from empty calorie fast food approaching epidemic status.

Why is it so hard to resist the siren song, the addictive attraction of mindless entertainment and plentiful, empty calories?

I think, in large part, the empty calories and entertainments fill the emptiness, the void of meaning, that many people feel in their lives.

barren image

We live in a time when meaning is a scarce resource; one that is not readily available in the culture at large.

At the Relationship Resource Center, we don’t offer free food and spectacles, but we do address the lack of meaning our clients may be experiencing. We see this work as one of the most important services we can offer, and one of the reasons that we believe psychotherapy and coaching really matters.

By John Mariner,
Licensed Clinical Social Worker

The Key Component to a Successful Professional Working Relationship

It has been over forty years now that Mary Simon, Howie Lambert and I have been working together. In 1973, I joined Mary and Howie at Gilpin House, a community mental health center that was an outreach of Denver General Hospital. We formed strong bonds in the ensuing years that would lead to our forming Enrichment Resources and later, with Roz Cantrell, The Relationship Resource Center, a wonderful coming together of therapists and clients.

joined handsI think the core psychotherapists have stayed deeply connected with one another for so long, longer indeed than most marriages, in part because we are committed to telling the truth with love to one another on an ongoing basis. This is the essential condition for evolutionary or integral love to grow. What integral love means is that we work to transcend and include personal love and invite and give feedback to one another to recognize, integrate, and move beyond our ego and personality structures.

This demands that we challenge each other to delve even deeper than what our ongoing commitment to professional growth and development requires. The nearest equivalent I know is the Buddhist “sangha,” although we do not come together in any specifically religious context. Our connection at its deepest level might be called psychospiritual in nature, and we work to support our own evolution, as well as the others that we come in contact with, in our lives and in our practice.

The Relationship Resource Center is an amazing place to live and work. I am deeply grateful for what we have created and delighted to be part of its ongoing evolution. The wonderful and challenging practice of what I am calling integral love demands that we continue to grow and show up more and more in our lives. It is immensely helpful to have a context like RRC that supports this essential development in each of us.

By John Mariner,
Licensed Clinical Social Worker

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