For Love

As the big day for romance approaches I am filled with love. It has been said that we are only able to fully love when we acknowledge that the world is a terrible place. It is. And yet…we have chemistry on our side. Oxytocin, the so-called cuddle chemical (L. Phillips) fills me as I write this from my firelit room in freezing Michigan, far away from the sunny little one who caused this physical reaction.

owen.me.Photo on 2-5-15 at 6.36 PM #2

This is Owen. No matter the distance, my love for him persists.

I’m a fortunate person. All my life I have had one goal: to be a good wife and mother. And while I have not always met my own expectations, in fact, have often failed, I am grateful to have lived to see both my children grown and beloved and happy. Recently, I have also found my own hard-won happiness. For the first time in my life, I am putting myself first. I love my family. Visiting my son, his wife, and my grandson makes that love feel very immediate. So I have many reasons to feel fortunate, although they all come down to one thing: love.

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A friend gave me the picture frame above. Family is Everything. Is that true? Certainly I’ve lived my life as if it were. But what about friendship? I really love my friends. And I feel such compassion for all the lonely people without family or a beloved or a best friend. Because their circumstances leave them without close connections, are they nothing? Do they deserve nothing? I think they deserve everything. Love is everything and everyone deserves it. Unless they, you know, rape and pillage and so forth. Those people, I don’t know. They probably never got enough love. Or they were born defective, without empathy, which is the definition of a psychopath.

I don’t really like to talk about my family and psychopaths in the same post. It’s an unfortunate and uncomfortable truth: the world can be such a sad, bad place but also full of joy and wonder.

This weekend we have official permission to dwell on love. I measure life a success if you have happiness and love. The two seem to me to be twins, mirroring each other, shining like glitter on fresh snow. But ah, there’s the catch: snow is cold and icy and so too is a life without love, or a life that is lived loving someone who will never return your feelings.

Unrequited love is much on my mind as we come to Cupid’s special day. I think of all the sad lovers, the unhappy lovers, the unrequited lovers in the world. For so many people, this weekend is going to be full of tears. I have been in that place. Is there anyone who has not?

If you came to this page because you’re alone on a day when it hurts more than usual, I can tell you again: love yourself first. Love can transform itself. You can love someone without them returning that love and it is still good to feel that love inside yourself. Turn it around and give it to yourself. It feels a little weird at first but it works, I swear it does.

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You can be alone with a box of chocolates and love yourself, not by eating the box empty, but by feeling that love you have for another as a good thing. Let it expand and fall back upon your own self. Love is why we are here: to love ourselves well and to love others. Feel love, send love, speak love. Even if you are sad and alone and have the flu. I in fact have the flu at this moment and perhaps that is why this post seems a little effusive. The DayQuil made me do it!

Love yourself well. Take rest and allow your heart to heal if it is broken or bruised or heavy.

Like attracts like and if you let love reside without prejudice, it will return to you. You will be loved. Love is not what you think it is. It is not always hearts and flowers and that sweet rush of pure junkie joy that comes from the new. We get addicted to the high of new love like we get addicted to chocolate and grandchildren. After my time with Owen, I wanted someone to make me a perfume that smelled like him: milk and baby lotion and that special Owen-ness.

Sometimes love can be quiet and strong and giving. Give love freely even when it flies right out the window, right past the heart you aim it at. Love anyway. If you are broken, let love heal your heart. And if you have the flu, take two NyQuil and call me in the morning.

Serious Moonlight

If we let it, the full moon tonight will work in perfect harmony with things we want to come true in 2015. I’m not one to make resolutions in the new year. I resolve to make changes, take actions and move forward with my life’s purpose every single morning.

But 2014 was an unusual year for me, so with this first 2015 new moon I thought it couldn’t hurt to ritualize my daily habit of trying to do my best. First, do you know what you want to accomplish with your life? Try to clarify that if you can. I want to love and be loved. That’s really it, although this love business manifests in a few different ways for me: writing, relationships, health.

Writing

My goals for writing have always been simple: to write the best books I can and to keep a daily writing routine. I feel that writing is a sacred gift that steers me through life, so I am humbled and grateful when anyone else reads and appreciates my words. I’d do it even if I was certain I was the only person in the world who’d ever see a word I wrote. Me and Emily Dickinson:) But even Em, with her carefully stitched manuscripts tucked into a box under her bed, sent some of her work out into the world.

This year’s first new moon calls for us to take action on our life goals, and in that spirit I have stretched a bit further this year, resolving, like Emily, to take my work out into the world by setting up readings, book signings and some other things truly out of my comfort zone. Too often with resolutions, we don’t do the footwork so much as make a wish. This new moon demands we put in real effort, something beyond saying the words. So what else can you do to forward your goals? Maybe something you’ve been hesitant to try? Now is the time to go for it, because success is in the stars.

Relationships

I have a new grandchild coming. I was blessed with little Owen last year, and now his cousin is set to come into this world in 2015, and that kind of love, well, you need to experience it to understand it. I certainly had no idea of the bigness that would be my love for Owen. It’s pure and it’s powerful. I’d like all my relationships to be that way, so effortlessly full of kindness and compassion.

So, for the action portion of this intention, I will use a mindful meditation that focuses on lovingkindness. I have meditated daily for many years, and only occasionally have I added this extra piece to the practice. You begin by summoning up a mental image of a particular person. There is a sequence some teachers recommend: such as a friend, an acquaintance, an enemy, a loved one, a stranger. If you need self-love, as I do, include yourself. In fact, start there. I kind of just let this part flow as far as the mental pictures, and there are words too. These can be any variation on one Spirit Rock mantra: “May I feel protected and safe/may I feel contented and pleased/may my physical body support me with strength/may my life unfold smoothly, with ease.”

And of course, through it all, breathe, notice thoughts, let them go.

Health

Self-love. Self-care. I have not done much of it in this life. Writing has taken care of the inner me. For most of my life, I kind of just let the outer Cindy fend for herself. She’s getting on in years. In 2015, I will be 60 years old. I want to be kind to my physical body this year by giving it what it needs and reversing or slowing down the habits that help me stay in false security. I’m talking about soothing substances…food, drink, chemicals…I put into my body and the frequency and enthusiasm with which I choose unhealthy stuff.

Actions here include keeping a food journal, working on a book about health and diet with my friend Lisa, and getting rid of the pounds accumulated since Thanksgiving by working Lisa’s plan and counting calories. I’m also focused on physical movement, yoga every day, and walking more, because we writers are not known to be a particularly active bunch.

So that’s my third intention and the actions I will take as this new moon comes into fullness tonight. To love myself, body and soul, and to treat this slightly tattered package with the care it deserves.

What about you? What will you do for your one vast and beautiful life in 2015? Whatever it is, do it now, with sacred intention, and you will see serious moonlight results.

Make Love Happen: Post-Romantic Stress Disorder

unnamedMy writing critique partners looked skeptical when I talked about falling in love as being a kind of hijacking of common sense by our own bodies and the hormones they produce. I wouldn’t have believed it either if I hadn’t read Post-Romantic Stress Disorder and other books and articles with information, fact-based, provable stuff. fMRI brain scans have revealed to science the hormones that produce the feeling of being in love.  Scientists, psychologists and researchers have been tracking those effects for a while now. But I wrote all about it here.

And then I promised to write about what to do when those hormones calm down and the “in love” feeling goes away and you think you don’t love your partner anymore. Not true! And the same brain that produced those hormones is capable of helping couples stay together to create stable, mature love. We just have to make new pathways, cultivate new habits, and retrain ourselves from certain prevailing myths about what love is and what it is not.

First, recognize the signs of trouble when they start. Next, do something to subvert the process. Here’s the breakdown. The first sign is criticism. Do you criticize your mate or does your mate criticize you or do you both pick on each other? Stop it! Learn how to disagree constructively instead of destructively. Let go of nastiness and instead try for empathy and compromise. Don’t discuss when angry or tired. Wait until you are well-rested and ready to play nice. Then calmly say your piece with “I” statements so feelings don’t devolve into contempt and your partner doesn’t feel defensive and withdraw from communication.

Those bolded words are the steps in the process of walking away from intimacy. There’s a final warning sign, but by the time dissmell happens, it’s too late. Your relationship is doomed. Dissmell is a severe reaction, a disgust of your partners’ body odor. It could be a mouth like an ashtray, sweat that stinks, feet that make you faint when socks are removed, whatever the odor, if it offends you to the point of criticism, it needs to be addressed. Or you need to hire a lawyer. Because disgust can’t easily be turned around.

Hell, none of this is easy. But dissmell and disgust really are the death knell to a relationship. I should know, because it happened to me. I thought my partner (not my husband, but a former partner) was right and there was just something wrong with me that only he could see. I blamed myself. That’s a shame response and it happens when a relationship is out of sync because of childhood trauma. It’s all so buried and unconscious and insidious.

I’m well out of that relationship and have since done loads of work on my self-esteeem, which really for a relationship with anyone else to work, you have to be right with your own self first. You have to love yourself and out that shame that may be holding you back from true intimacy. Because intimacy is more than sex and cuddles. It has to do with trusting your partner with anything, including the things that have shamed and wounded you. Sharing these things builds intimacy, which puts the marriage back on the right track.

Here are a couple of other intimacy builders: make time for each other. My husband recently started taking off one day a week to spend just with me. Try new things. Be adventurous in ways that appeal to both of you. Listen, we are both 59 and there are still so many things we want to do. But we came up with something really wild, something so out of my comfort zone, but something I really want to do. We’re going to take lessons together. I can’t say what kind because my friends who don’t like guns will shoot me (hint).

Be spontaneous. Friday night a note popped up in my mail about a concert for one of my favorite bands. Problem was it happened to be the next night. And my husband had to work the morning after. And we were sure tickets would be sold out. And we already had a perfectly good plan to go out to dinner. But I thought about that spontaneous thing: getting excited about new and different things actually releases some of those same “in love” chemicals our souls crave. So we went for it. And we had a great time.

I’m not going to tell you the obvious things like to be kind and considerate because you know that already. It’s really easy to hurt the one you love because they are always there, right? But what if you develop some interests apart from each other? Everybody needs alone time and everybody needs something just for them. So build that into the relationship and suddenly your partner seems much more intriguing. Like someone you could really fall for all over again.

Post-Romantic Stress Disorder

PRSDBeen reading this awesome book by the father of the “inner child” movement that helped so many of us recover from childhood wounds. Bradshaw looked to experts in the fields of love, relationships, and science to infuse this book with smart advice for writers of love stories– unintended I’m sure–probably wrote it for actual real people in love or falling out of love fast and wondering what the hell happened.

fMRI imaging makes it possible for scientists to actually view the different areas of the brain and pinpoint the exact chemicals our bodies produce when we fall in love. I wrote them down somewhere but basically there are two or three hormones that kick into overdrive, one being testosterone (easy one:) and two others which act on the body like amphetamines. Thus the reason why we sleep and eat less when falling in love. Great for a diet, not so great for optimum clear-headedness.

Crazy in love is more than just a cliché, as it turns out.  These chemicals bath our brains, saturate specific areas, suppress serotonin. That drop in serotonin is what creates obsessive thought patterns where you just can’t get that beloved other off your mind. Every waking moment is devoted to thoughts of them. Or, if you’re together, you can’t keep your hands off each other.

This chemical reaction called being in love is natural and was meant to keep the species procreating and populating the planet. But that was back when we didn’t live so long. When people say “forever” these days, they might be in for a shock. About 17 months in, that “in love” feeling wears off. This confounds most people. Some think their marriage or partnership is at fault and divorce or split. “We just fell out of love” they say. Some stay together, but aren’t happy. Most marriages fail, something like 70%.

The lucky 30% make the necessary adjustments into mature love and live (mostly) happily ever after. But the rest of the population live basically miserable lives. Because we are programmed by genetics to form pair bonds. That’s just the way we’re built. Some people turn into love junkies, swinging from one 17 month high to the next. They might stay with their partner but have affairs or engage in other risky behaviors.

Bradshaw sets out to show everyone in a loving, committed relationship how to stay that way. As someone who has been married three times and in love more than I can reveal without embarrassing the hell out of myself, I recognized many of the dysfunctional patterns Bradshaw illustrates. And as someone who wants to stay married, and faithful, and while I’m at it, blissfully happy, I’m interested in his methods for attaining this Nirvana on earth. (I didn’t get to that part yet, will report on methods when I do!)

I needed this book way before now, but somehow have managed to keep my third marriage alive, if not always finely tuned, for 29 years. We’ve had our ups and downs and always have been able to repair damage done. Still, I’m one of those types who wants to know why shit happens. I write a lot about love but before this believed it to be an unfathomable mystery. I wondered what was wrong with me. What happened to the young woman who would do anything for her man? Why was I different?

Not so different after all. 70% of other people wonder these things, too (or at least the ones given to introspection). The answer is easy: it’s all in your head. The chemicals inside specific areas of the brain, to get technical. And thanks to science, we now can learn how to undo those obessessive patterns and blast new and healthier pathways through the brain. Which seems to me would be helpful after the in-love phase ends and that hungry for fattening foods and other bad-for-you- things feeling returns. Stay tuned for those fixes for our love-starved brains when I finish the book:)

Good Things

IMG_0902One of the perks about getting older for me has been the soundtrack in my head. There’s a lot of good music in there. Like a Paul Revere and the Raiders song from 1967 floating through my head for the last week or so. I have so much good in my life right now. A fews days ago all the lights dimmed, but if you cultivate gratitude, joy follows.

Every day, even on bad days, I find so much to be grateful for–mostly the people in my life, the ones I love. I have a really nice house and many material things, but I’m just grateful for a roof. I’ve had nice houses before. Possessions do not bring me joy. Well, yoga pants and fuzzy socks, but it’s the comfort factor. When my body feels happy, I feel happy in my head, too.

Among other nuggets from the Bard, I shared Shakespeare’s famous soliloquy “The Seven Ages of Man” with my students. It’s a set piece in my favorite play As You Like It that starts out “All the world’s a stage/And all the men and women merely players/They have their exits and their entrances…” When I started reading, I said “Everyone’s heard this, right?” I’m thinking it right now. You know this one, right? Or no? Most students had never heard of it.

I remember the first time I read certain stories and poems, and many other special “firsts” — that magic of learning a new thing. Like the power of gratitude. I started practicing daily gratitude 15 or so years ago. Some days it is really hard to drum up one little bitty piece of it. “Grateful to be here now, with the time and mental focus to know it” is a fallback for anyone who just can’t think of one good thing that happened to them that day, or one good consistent thing in their lives. I have other ones I say every day: “I’m grateful for my family.” And “I’m grateful for my true love.”

Good things bring the joy, and one of those good things is coming up: the weekend! As Paul says, “It’s a groovy world.” So, dance if at all possible. Maybe to this: