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Monday, April 23 2018

A Love/LOVE Story:


The Alchemy of Intimacy


         In our story, at the cosmic level of pure being, UNIQUENESS and ONENESS dance together.  Neither exists without the other – and both are deepened by this timeless dance. The dance of UNIQUENESS and ONENESS is called RELATIONSHIP.  It is how LOVE expresses itself in an expanding Universe of LOVE.


         At the human level – the level of doing - relationship is also a dance of uniqueness and oneness.  The human doing of relationship mirrors the cosmic being in RELATIONSHIP.  Here, too, uniqueness and oneness support each other in a synergy that deepens both.  Our wholeness as individuals enhances our capacity to form deep intimate partnerships – more perfect unions - just as an intimate partnership fosters deeper individuality, personal growth and wholeness in each partner.


         In this story’s third installment, as we explore the alchemy of intimacy, we see how a healthy and balanced approach to close human relationship brings doing and being together in a way that transforms the individual, creates a LOVE entity (a Third Self), and expands the universe.  In this alchemy, love becomes LOVE.



Individual Transformation


         Most of us bring to our closest relationships a hope that the relationship will lead to healing and transformation.  And I believe it does – only not in the way we hope.  We hope that our wounds and sore spots will be comforted in the balm of relational love and will essentially disappear.  Generally, the opposite happens.  Our partners inevitably activate the very discomforts we were hoping to avoid.  I see this activation as a well-disguised gift.


         Typically, our first response is to try to get the partner to change, so that our discomfort abates.  While not always a bad idea, this approach usually doesn’t work – until, oddly enough, we face what we need to face with spaciousness, compassion and love.  This loving ownership of self often frees our partner to join us in that compassionate, healing endeavor. 


         For example, one person in a relationship is sensitive to feelings of loneliness and abandonment.  When that sensitivity is activated, he tries to get his partner to be more loving.  The partner, however, who is sensitive to feelings of being criticized or controlled, stiffens and emotionally withdraws in an attempt to avoid her discomfort.  Her withdrawal activates his discomfort; his pressure activates hers.  Around and around they go, stuck in a painful dance that sidetracks them from intimate connection, illuminates their sore spots and invites deeper self-reflection.   Once each faces his/her own sensitivity, owns it compassionately and shares it in a self-revealing way, space opens for both to heal. 


         Intimate life - through the gift of grace and the messiness of trial and error - tugs us gently and persistently toward expansion.  Despite many failures, we learn new skills, new ways of seeing and operating.  We collect more tools for our toolbox. We learn new love languages. We become more whole and complete, more able to grow a relationship.



  The Third Self


         It’s long been known in the psychotherapeutic community that - in healthy, balanced, mature relationships - the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.  This wholeness cannot be accounted for by simply looking at the individuals in the relationship, any more than water can be accounted for by looking at hydrogen and oxygen. 


         When people gather – as a couple, a family, a team, a tribe, an organization, or a nation – there is an identity created that is distinct from, and larger than, the individuals that make up that gathering.  In their teachings about love and intimacy, Teilhard de Chardin and Richard Moss label this distinct identity the Third Self - a spiritual entity, present in every relationship, with its own evolving energy or character, its own unique potentials and purpose, and its own requirements and needs.


         This Third Self is palpable and real.  It’s the spirit or soul of a relationship - a bit like the culture of an organization.  It is co-created by the individuals in a group and it, in turn, has profound effects on its members.  For example, a problem solving team creates a climate of trust, openness and safety that welcomes and values input from all its members.  In the warmth of that Third Self, individual team members blossom and shine.


         In close, long-term relationships, the impact of the Third Self is even more powerful.  When we orient ourselves toward intimacy - toward spaciousness and self-revelation - our human love co-creates a spiritual entity whose essence is LOVE.  Our balanced, generous and heartfelt doing of love mirrors cosmic LOVE, births new LOVE and expands the universe.




Expanding Universe of LOVE


         Relentlessly, since that first explosion of LOVE, the universe has been expanding.  According to Teilhard de Chardin, all evolution – personal, interpersonal, planetary and cosmic - is relational.  Growth takes place in the context of relationship.  And LOVE is the energy at the core of that growth.  Creative, intelligent and intentional, LOVE energizes evolution.  Since we are inseparable from LOVE, each of us is part of that expansion.  And the part we play matters more than we can imagine.


         In this story, while all relationships teach and transform us, our closest relationships lead to the deepest personal transformations and have powerful effects on the world around us.  Every act of authentic intimacy - every doing of love - makes LOVE.  Knowing and being known, receiving and radiating love, consciously co-creating LOVE – these actions transform people, partnerships and planets.  LOVE heals.  LOVE grows the universe.


         Romantic movies make such fanfare about love – high drama, violin music, grand passion, love that is larger than life.  We may roll our eyes a bit, and yet find ourselves somehow stirred.  Maybe it’s not just that our emotions are being played.  Perhaps something deeper is being tapped, something we recognize at the level of soul, but can’t quite recall.


         Perhaps we have an ancient memory of LOVE that is grander than anything imaginable – LOVE that is larger than life.





         First of all, I want to thank your for being patient with me these last couple months, as I have focused single-mindedly on the topic of love - repeating similar themes in slightly different ways.  I’m preparing for a presentation on the transformational power of love at an upcoming conference and have been gathering my thoughts through these postings - rehearsing with you. 


         Secondly, I want to remind you that Richard Moss is coming to central Minnesota (June 28 – July 1) to offer a retreat – Choose Only Love - focused on the spirituality and psychology of love.  I am so looking forward to this extraordinary gathering and hope some of you can join me there. 


         Please check out Richard’s website at for more information.  Feel free to email me with any questions at   Scholarships are available as needed.











Posted by: AT 10:55 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Sunday, April 15 2018

         Nearly 20 years ago, some dear friends asked me to speak at their wedding.  Since the third installment of our story is still in process, I’d like to share with you what I shared with them - one of my first attempts to express publicly some themes you’ll see in that third installment - A Love/LOVE Story: The Alchemy of Intimacy.



A Wedding Talk


         Look into each other’s eyes.  Feel into each other’s hearts.  Everything you need to know about love is right here.  That’s because who you ARE is love.  You are children of the Universe, children of God, who is Love.  You are created in Love - and of Love.  It’s your essence.  You cannot not be Love.


         Love has no opposite.  I used to think hate was the opposite of love.  Then I thought fear was.  Now I believe that everything we do is either an act of love, and therefore an expression of who we are, or an act of searching for Love, because we’ve temporarily forgotten who we are.


         As you know, we spend much of our time in that state of forgetfulness and searching.  Traditionally, weddings are a time when a veil is lifted.  Today, you lift a veil for us.  You help us all remember, once again, that Love is where we come from, it’s where we’re headed, and it’s who we are right now.  Thank you!



         Today, you are affirming spiritual partnership.  This is a grand and glorious, bold and brave thing to do, a wonderful adventure.  You’ll have great fun - playing and working together, laughing, loving, building, discovering.  Plunge into the exhilaration of it all.  Drink deeply.  Don’t let the temporary nature of all joy dampen the fullness you feel.


         Spiritual partnership is a challenging opportunity for healing and wholeness.  And, as you know, it’s not always fun.


         We have these wounds inside us - fears of abandonment and not belonging, fears of not being good enough, fears about losing ourselves as we try to be close to another.  Spiritual partnerships shine a spotlight on those wounds.  I guarantee you: there is not a sore spot in you that will not be unearthed by your relationship.


         Being together is going to hurt sometimes.  You may feel like your relationship is going awry.  You may even be tempted to look back on today and wonder if you did the right thing.  Don’t worry, mates.  This is your relationship doing exactly what it’s supposed to do.  It’s supposed to expose your sore spots, so you can heal.  It’s supposed to invite you to stretch beyond your habitual patterns of thinking and feeling, acting and reacting.  That’s how you realize wholeness.


         When hurt happens, the first impulse is to tighten up.  You’re going to want to run like crazy or fight like a banshee.  You’ll want to go to war with the pain and build barriers to protect yourself.  And, sometimes, that’s exactly what you’ll do.


         Here’s my invitation:  Notice this tendency to tighten.  Breathe.  Breathe deeply.  Breathe gently.  Soften to your wound.  Stay present to yourself.  Offer yourselves the gentle light of awareness and the tender mercy of compassion.  Sometimes our hearts have to break in order to grow.


         You’re going to misread each other at times.  You’ll see each other through lenses shaded by old wounds.  Breathe.  Breathe.  Soften to the process.  Stay engaged.  Soften and open to grief - yours and your partner’s. 


         Invest your energy in knowing and being known.  Reveal all you can to each other.  Be naked and vulnerable - in joy and in sorrow.  See each other with soft eyes - and clear eyes.  Make room for complexities and contradictions.   Cherish the mystery.  Free each other, as you free yourselves, to be and become.


         When you love this way, you’re not just doing something nice for yourselves and for each other.  You’re helping all of us.  Not to put any pressure, but the Universe is counting on you.  Your love grows, not just yourselves, it grows the Universe.  Love is the Energy of the Universe and when you love well, you contribute to an expanding Universe of Love.


         Trust your love.  It’s who you are.  Trust your lovability, your worthiness to receive.  And trust your love-ability, your capacity to love.  It’s boundless.


         In her poem, Wild Geese, Mary Oliver writes:  “…let the soft animal of your body love what it loves”.  As you embark on this amazing adventure, let the soft animal out of its cage.  Let it purr.  Let it roar.  Like a bonfire, let it warm you.  Let it warm your household and your community.  Let it warm all of us.  And, while you’re at it, let it warm the Universe. 


Posted by: AT 02:55 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Monday, April 09 2018

         This second installment addresses the relational dance at the human level.   In a recent post, Three Approaches to Relationship (archived on the Softening to Love website, Feb. 3), I compared two imbalanced approaches to relationship – fusion and isolation – with a more balanced approach that mirrors the cosmic dance of UNIQUENESS and ONENESS.  Our story continues, with a focus on that third approach:  Intimacy. 


A Love Story: The Dance of Intimacy


         The dance of intimacy is essentially a two-step - with infinite variations – the two steps being the two essential tasks of close relationship: knowing and being known.  The dance requires that we let go of control agendas and self-protection strategies and that we honor uniqueness and oneness in a balanced way.


         This segment of the story, shifts our attention from the cosmic level to the human level, offers practical wisdom about intimate life, and touches on the following topics:  Spaciousness, Into-me-see (self-revelation), Partnership in Conflict, and Balance.





         The intimate stance in relationship sees and honors what is.  It creates space for the self, for the other and for the relationship.  Spaciousness offers partners in relationship the freedom to be fully themselves and, thus, the freedom to connect deeply.


         The lover’s declaration of intention to the beloved might sound something like this: 


         “I want to enter your world gently, to see the richness of you through clear and compassionate lenses.  I want to be a mirror that reflects the beauty and uniqueness of you.


         “Without abandoning my own perspective, I want to try on yours and see what you see.  I want to appreciate your inner world and your outer world.  I want to know what makes you laugh and what makes you cry, what you want and what you don’t want, what you value and what you think.


          “I want to approach you, each day with fresh, curious and attentive eyes and ears – humbly aware that you are evolving and growing and that I am not the expert on you.  Each day, I want to learn more about you – and more from you.


          “I want to meet you, discover you and accept you, as you are, without correcting, criticizing or confining you – or confusing you with anyone else.  I welcome every aspect of you into my life and into my heart.”





         The lover continues: 


         “I want to reveal myself to you.  I want to reveal how I feel, what I believe in, what matters to me, my hopes, my dreams, my wants and desires, my sore spots and vulnerabilities, my fears and joys, my failures and triumphs, my heart, my mind, and my soul.  



         “I intend to share myself with you, as truthfully and accurately as I can – resisting the temptation to present myself to you as someone I think you might like, as a way of trying to win your affection.  I will do my best to stay honest with you and to stay open to your honesty with me.  My intention is to be fully present with you - to open my heart to your heart.”


         Revealing the heart is an act of courage.  The emotional nakedness of deep self-disclosure feels risky.  We long to be seen.  We long to belong.  And we feel vulnerable to rejection and judgment.  Sometimes, in our fear and yearning, we reveal too much too soon.  Sometimes fear tricks us into hiding from connection.  It takes wisdom, trust in ourselves and in each other, and conscious effort to keep fear from running the show.


         In this story, the essential tool for self-revelation is the I-statement.  For example, if I want to express what I feel or what I want, I first attend inside to discover what I actually do feel or want.  Then I simply share it, as in: “I feel…” or “I want…”


          One pitfall here is the common tendency to hide a judgment in the guise of a self-disclosure.  For example, if I let you know I’m unhappy about something and then go on at great length to convict you of wrongdoing, I’m probably delivering more of a you-statement than an I-statement.  I may find it hard to trust that my feelings are valid.  I may try to build an ironclad case to protect myself from being discounted.  Ironically, the case I build can make it less likely that my feelings will be heard.


         In the intimate approach to relationship, I don’t have to prove my validity.  If I’m feeling hurt or angry or unhappy, I can say so.  I can speak about what I like and what I don’t like, what I want and what I don’t want.  I get to set boundaries about what is ok with me and what is not ok.   Genuine self-disclosure - even when it is hard to share or hard to hear - is a gift to a relationship.  It’s an act of intimacy.  



Partnership in Conflict


         In any authentic approach to close relationship, conflict is inevitable.  The relational dance can be especially challenging at these times.  Our focus can easily shift from knowing and being known to winning, defending, controlling or self-protecting. We may see the partner as an adversary, rather than a friend and resource.  The body can flood with the chemistry of fight-flight. With the nervous system on high alert, our most primitive self tends to grab center stage.  We armor up, harden our hearts and act tough, as if we’re fighting for our lives.


         In order to reorient toward knowing and being known, we may need to do some breathing or take a break to get back in balance.  As we re-engage, we may need a structure to help us return to the constructive conversation.


         The Native American practice of the “talking stick” can be helpful to create the room needed for spacious and skillful talking and listening.  The person with the stick uses I-statements to self-disclose from his/her perspective for up to five minutes without interruption and then sets the stick down.  The partner takes the stick, mirrors compassionately something that seemed important to the speaker, then self-discloses – using I-statements - for up to five minutes without interruption.  The stick can alternate in this fashion, till each has had his/her say.


         This practice invites a nice balance of spaciousness and into-me-see.  We can stay soft, gentle and receptive, and still be honest, clear and firm.  Sometimes, just having our say and listening to each other in a respectful setting allows a conflict to melt.  Especially with big issues, it’s often better to allow some time for “percolation” rather than push for immediate resolution.


         When resolution is needed, knowing and being known is at the center of a constructive, win-win approach.  We set a time and declare our intention to find mutually beneficial solutions.  We work as collaborators - not as adversaries advocating exclusively for their own agenda.  


         Win-win problem solving begins with each person stating what he/she wants.  A very important next step is for both persons to acknowledge the validity of what the other wants.  Then, they can collaborate to find creative possibilities.


         In some cases, when both needs are honored, partners can agree that one individual’s need is more crucial at this time and should take priority.  In other cases, if the two wants appear mutually exclusive, partners can dig deeper to see the goals that underlie the stated wants – thus, allowing new possibilities to emerge.  Sometimes, brainstorming can result in a mutually acceptable compromise.  Sometimes, partners agree to take turns, as a way for both to get what they want/need.


         Once relational partners become collaborators, routes to conflict resolution are abundant.  Trust deepens.





      Dancing skillfully in the ballroom of human relationship requires balance in so many areas.  Here are a few:   


·      Honoring self and honoring the other;


·      Listening and self-disclosing;


·      Showing up and letting go;


·      Following and leading;


·      Wise heart and wise mind;


·      Receptivity and clarity;


·      Flexibility and firmness;


·      Playfulness and seriousness;


·      Gentleness and strength.



         Balance and skill in the dance of intimacy grows us as individuals.  It grows relationships.  And it grows the cosmos. 



         Stay tuned for the final installment:  A Love/LOVE Story: The Alchemy of Intimacy.

Posted by: AT 12:28 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Monday, April 02 2018

         The second installment I referenced last week, A Love Story: The Dance, needs a little more time to gestate.  Here’s a guided meditation I wrote a while back.  It ventures into that same neighborhood of love’s dance.




The Lover Speaks


         Picture yourself in a beautiful wooded area – on a gorgeous day.  The sun is shining, a gentle breeze is blowing, and the temperature is just right for a walk in the woods.


       Imagine you're on a path that heads toward a clearing.  As you draw closer to the clearing, you hear the sound of a voice.  You stop and listen.  The speaker is not visible to you – and from the sound of the voice, you can't tell if it's a male or a female.


       The speaker is talking out loud in soliloquy – as if rehearsing a message to a beloved.  The lover speaks:



       "Can I open my heart to the mystery of you?  Can I soften my being to the energy of you and to the many different ways your energy comes toward me?  Can I receive the truth of you in all its versions, in all its contradictions.  You seem so new to me – yet so anciently familiar.


       "Can I open to your divinity, as well as to your humanity – to your uniqueness, as well as to our oneness?


       "Can I allow you to matter, to complicate my already complicated life?  Can I trust myself to find balance – to make room for you, but not too much room – to give myself completely to you, without giving up myself – to love you and not lose me?


       "Can I approach you, each day, with fresh eyes – letting go of history, labels, preconceived categories and judgments – so that my gaze is filled with wonder and curiosity?  Can I see you with the eyes of an innocent waif, who has never before set sight on a human being – and, at the same time, see you with the eyes of the aged sage in me, who has seen it all and loves it all?


       "Can I come to you from the fertile void that allows the miracle of you to blossom without expectation or containment?


       "Can I notice the details of you with all my senses alive – eyesight, hearing, touch, taste and smell?  Can I also attend to you with that sixth sense that immediately recognizes your soul?


       "And, if we become lovers, can I stay fully present and engaged?  Can I keep my heart and eyes open and clear?  Can I surrender completely to the joy of discovering you?"



       The lover is now silent.  Quietly, without being noticed, you return down the path along the way you came – walking slowly, pondering what you heard.


       And as you walk, a question crystallizes:


           How do I attend to my beloved?


Posted by: AT 12:01 am   |  Permalink   |  Email

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