Realities and Illusions

This past month I’ve come across five quotes with similar themes.  I’d like to share them with you and ask you to seriously think about what they might mean to you.

It is faith which moves mountains because it gives the illusion that mountains move… Illusion is perhaps the only reality in life.

The truth deserves a bodyguard of lies.

Those are my principles and if you don’t like them…well, I have others.

Much of what we deal with in counseling has to do with discriminating between reality and illusion, and our wishes about what could be or should be.  This is particularly true when working with couples because the relationship is influenced by what’s in the recesses of each person’s private thoughts, their fantasies, and what their personal history has taught them to believe about themselves.

We (and our relationships) are often limited by who we believe ourselves to be.  Sometimes we simply prefer our own descriptions of personal reality. But those beliefs can be walls barring future growth.

I believe God created us to seek more deeply and to go beyond our walls, self-deceptions and illusions of what seems to be.  The quotes above have a certain cynical wisdom to them in that they suggest we prefer not to know the truth.

That thought is captured best in my fourth quote from Jack Nicholson’s character, Col. Nathan Jessep, in A Few Good Men. In his famous courtroom speech he said “You can’t handle the truth! Son, we live in a world that has walls.”

Of course, Jessep was right.  Those walls may be our own illusions, which protect us as surely as Jessep self-righteously thought he was doing.  These quotes speak a limited truth, though.

Walls, illusions, and self-deceptions confine us as well as protect us.  History seems to show that walls or defenses can go up, sometimes for very, very good reasons. But, in safer times we must tear them down, in order to grow freedom within and between others.  Bringing down walls requires courage and strength of heart.  Realities can and do change.  We can protect ourselves not only with self-perpetuating lies, illusions, and endless adaptations of principle, but also with our truth and with our dreams.

A last quote:

The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.

Were you wondering who we were quoting?   The first quote is from Benito Mussolini.  The second, from Winston Churchill.  The third, from that cynical observer of the human condition, Groucho Marx.  And lastly, Eleanor Roosevelt.

Financial Intimacy

During the recent Christmas break I took the week off and couldn’t get myself to write a December blog because I slowing down.  The Sandy Hook massacre merited reference, but I felt stunned into silence. Kathleen Parker, a syndicated columnist, spoke my heart and mind in the column “Silence only Appropriate Response”

We spent the week doing what many people do at this time of year – getting together with family and friends and going to movies. We’re blessed to have our sons and their families here in Chicago and Naperville so we had our Chanukah and two birthdays in the space of a month.

At home I silently also worked on my cartoon collection gleaned from the newspapers.  That collection of cartoons on individual and couples counseling, patients, male-female relationships, men and our foibles, marriage, food and weight, stress, anger and spirituality took hours of my time given that I had 3 years worth of cartoons to catalogue.  It’s my thing, an outgrowth of something I’ve been doing since I was a kid.  I do appreciate the humor of absurdity and caricature which for me has its own spiritual perspective on life. The silence of doing this is good for my heart.

When I wasn’t in silent tenseness about the depressing news or enjoying family and friends over the holidays, I was my “busy beaver” self, paying attention to our year-end finances.  The same attention I pay to cartoons I pay to our finances (although luckily our financial picture is not as absurd as the cartoons that I collect).  This all leads to discussions with Raye about where we’ve been and where we are going in our finances and life goals.  Do you pay attention to where you’ve been and where you are going financially in some regularized manner and, if coupled, with your partner?  If not, perhaps you should consider how to increase financial security and intimacy with your partner.  Yes, “financial intimacy.”  Raye and I find it draws us closer, even when we have some tough discussions about what we want for ourselves in the coming years.

We manage a lot in our lives as you surely do.  We manage our finances, our home, our health, our relationships and psyches, our storage of “stuff “and information, and our time. We strive to simplify our lives and pay attention to what is important.  It pays to take time to find the humor in our private human comedy. God gave us this gift to do so, so open it up regularly in 2013.

In the spirit of lightness in this human world of self-importance and tragedy here are two quotes that stood out for me during my recent time away from practice. One is from that famous philosopher “Anon” which I’m currently keeping on my desk to deflate my ego:

It may be that your sole purpose in life is simply to serve as a warning to others.

The other is from the comedian, Lilly Tomlin, who said:

I try to be cynical, but it’s hard to keep up.

It Was My Pleasure

How often have you thanked someone only to hear the popular “Not a problem.”  I assume that means it didn’t cause any problems to accommodate my request.  It’s a phrase that has come into common usage, especially in restaurants, but I’ve never gotten used to it.

Occasionally, we have someone who accommodates our specific request with “It was my pleasure,” meaning “it gives me pleasure to give good service to you.”  This sense of service is now so uncommon that we take secret delight in hearing the phrase.  Pleasure in giving good service in any relationship is an added value and always welcomed. Don’t you feel better when you receive and give pleasure?

Lately, I’ve been providing some needed services to my wife, Raye, who had hip joint replacement surgery on September 25th.  I spent a night in her hospital room making sure her needs were attended to, looked into rehab facilities one afternoon, made sure one resident physician did his job after an urgent call from her, and generally made sure I was “available.”  I can’t say it was pleasurable, but I did feel I did what was needed to make her stays more comfortable.  I was there for her and she really appreciated it. That was my pleasure.

When Raye came home from rehab two weeks after surgery, she still needed much attending to and I was able to take time from practicing to provide some needed home services and coordinated a list of people who offered to help.  There were some fun and warm moments between us when I was providing certain services, like gently messaging her thigh when it was in pain or when she needed lotion applied to her legs and cute toes after showering.  When she thanked me I responded with “It was my pleasure.”  She got it.

I also made meals, washed and ironed some of her clothes, kept the house tidy so she wouldn’t trip with her walker or cane over the “stuff” I can leave about, coordinated calls offering to help out and I can’t tell you the number of times I hauled her portable wheel chair out of the trunk to take her where she needed to go.  Going out of your way for someone, is always appreciated.  Going out of your way for someone you love and loves you adds good memories to a life together.

Have you been there, will you be there, for your partner when they actually need you?  Do you want to be there? Will it cause tension or will you feel good about providing needed help, even when it’s an inconvenience.  Will there be pleasure in giving service.

Real problems should bring couples closer together, not further apart.  I hear a lot of concerns about this in my office.  “Not being there” feels like a betrayal whether the “missing” spouse is male or female.  Bitterness about feeling abandoned in their legitimate needs is a leading reason couples seek counseling.  Don’t let each other down –again!

Raye is now rapidly becoming more independent and welcomes her recovery as I do.  More of my time is my own again.  But something obviously special happened during this time together.  The pleasures experienced give us courage to face our aging.   That’s no small accomplishment!

Relationships In A Democracy

Recently we all celebrated the 4th of July in our own ways with family and friends.  Some of us spent time outside in our yards or at public festivals such as Naperville’s Ribfest while some opted to stay out of the sizzling heat and celebrate indoors!  Each year we celebrate Independence Day and hopefully reflect on what it takes to maintain our freedoms and show respect to those who protect them.

A few years ago I realized that marriage, a partnership between men and women as equals, comes out of the very democratic culture we celebrate on Independence Day.  After all, American democracy is about equality.  It’s about relationships and our obligations to others who are equal to us.   In America I have the right to free speech, even with my wife, but I also have the obligation to listen to her, to even actually consider what she is saying.  And she has the same rights and obligations. That’s the American Way.

So many couples I see are failing to speak to each other in ways that the other has the potential to hear.  If only they were willing to open up their ears to listen to their partner as an equal.  As a counselor in the true sense of that word, to give counsel, I’m obligated to seek to understand the stuck structure of a relationship and the repetitive, hurtful ways couples relate to one another.  But from there, we find another more useful structure to help partners feel again like equals pursuing happiness with each other.

With the above in mind, I would like to offer an adaptation of an essential section of the Declaration of Independence for American couples:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men and women are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator, with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.  That to secure these rights amongst couples, marriage was instituted for couples, deriving their just powers from the consent of those who chose one another; that whenever any form of partnership becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of either partner to alter or abolish it and to institute a renewed partnership, laying its foundation on such principles, and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness.  Prudence, indeed, will dictate that partnerships long established should not be changed for light and transient causes.

Our American sense of relationships between equals, expressed in the Declaration of Independence, extends into the intimacy of our lives with each other.  When that happens the fireworks are awesome.