Learning How to Stay in a Relationship

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Joe: Good morning Calliope. Just a quick visit to share with you my latest column/newsletter. Hope you like it.

Learning How to Stay in a Relationship

Sailing at Sunset

Sailing at Sunset

Love does not consist in gazing at each other,
but in looking outward together in the same direction.~Antoine de Saint-Exupery~

When I first worked with couples, I thought the key to a better relationship was good communication. As I continued my career, I realized that marriage and similar relationships were more complicated than that. I also learned that there is no easy solution to staying together. Half of all marriages last and half don’t, despite a commitment “til death do us part.” I have not encountered any reliable statistics on the comparative success rate of relationships outside of marriage.

Most people say they got together because they love each other. But what does that mean? Love can mean sexual or romantic feelings, finding someone who cares about you or whom you care about. Many potential partners look for someone to take care of them. They might also be in the market for someone to take care of. Yet it is very easy to fall into the trap of depending on someone who might not always be there or trying to control the other person to keep the relationship the way they want it.

What does it take to keep the commitment alive? In his book, Passionate Marriage, David Schnarch suggests that one of the most important tasks is for each spouse or partner to know himself or herself before entering into a commitment. If you don’t know what you want from life, how can you reasonably expect another person to share your life with you? What are you asking the other person to share?

Let’s assume that two people understand what they want from life, share their goals with each other and agree to support each other in attaining them. That’s a good start. But wait a minute. Think back to how your life was ten, twenty or thirty years ago and what was important to you back then. Have you changed? Most of us have and are quite different now than we were in the past. There is no way to absolutely predict what you will be like in the future or what your partner will be like.

Your chances of staying together improve greatly if you both enter your relationship with a sense of adventure. You are setting out on an unknown voyage. Life circumstances, finances and health might alter your voyage considerably. You or your partner might both learn new life destinations. You might learn new ways to approach life taking you in different directions than you agreed on when you began your relationship. It will take a great deal of flexibility from both of you to weather all the challenges and surprises life has in store for you. To be successful, you must be responsible for meeting your own goals and support your partner in reaching his or her goals.

Life Lab Lessons

  • Learn to know yourself and what is important to you.
  • Share your life goals with your partner and encourage your partner to share his or her life goals with you.
  • Don’t expect your partner to reach your goals for you or blame him or her when you don’t reach them on your own.
  • Find ways to support each other’s goals.
  • If you clash, look for ways to compromise.


Life, Religion and Spirituality

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Joe: Hi Calliope. Here is the latest Sliding Otter News post you wanted to see:


Life, Religion and Spirituality

Nantucket Sound Sunrise

Nantucket Sound Sunrise

 Religion is for people who are scared to go to hell. 

Spirituality is for people who have already been there.

 ~Bonnie Raitt~

 Life is yours to live. Religion and spirituality help you make sense of your life and find your way. When was the last time you stopped to consider what your life is about? Why are you here? Children hear that they can be anything they want to be when they grow up. That is not quite true. Some paths require resources, money, skills or connections which might not be readily available to you. Your choices are not unlimited.

Yet many options are open to you. Your families, friends, circumstances and talents guide you toward certain paths. Those might be easier paths for you to follow. More challenging paths await you as well. These will require more effort from you but might be more satisfying in the long run.

If fame, fortune and power are what you crave, you have no need of religion or spirituality. You will pursue these goals at all costs regardless of the effect on your life and the lives of those you encounter on your way. It’s all about you.

Religion and spirituality are important to people who want their lives to be about something more than what they can grab for themselves. They form a context for living life directed toward a higher calling. When I was a child, a vocation was considered a call from God to pursue a higher purpose. Originally it meant being called to be a priest or a nun. Later it came to mean living any life in the context of a greater meaning.

How to find meaning outside yourself is not always obvious. Where do you start? What are the steps? Spirituality is the process of finding, accepting and sharing the meaning of being alive as you journey through life. You learn from others on the same path and share what you learn with your fellow travelers.

Religions are formalized systems for finding the meaning you search for on your spiritual journey. They are like cookbooks for the soul where you discover formulas for living a spiritual life. Obviously various religious systems cannot all be the one true path to spirituality and to God although many claim to be the only right way. Regardless of the claims, all religions start with the same purpose, living in a way which unites you with God.

How do you know if you are on the right path for you? Spirituality and religion both suggest reflection and meditation. If you never stop to see where you have been, where you are headed and the effect of your choices on you and those around you, you have no way to check your course. Honest reflection will help you evaluate your life path and whether it is taking you in the right direction. If you are hurting yourself or someone else, you might have made a wrong turn and need a course correction.

Life Lab Lessons     

  • What do you want from life?
  • Are you headed in that direction?
  • Have your choices made you a better person?
  • How have your choices affected others?
  • What could you do better today?

On to Spirituality

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Getting in Gear

Getting in Gear

Joe: Good afternoon Calliope.

Calliope: Good afternoon Joe. I wondered what became of you.

Joe: As you might have guessed I became sidetracked from work on my book.

Calliope: What happened this time?

Joe: Summer happened. After being holed up all winter, everyone I know seems to have suddenly become more social. I must include myself. So far the summer seems like a constant party. Well not quite, but it seems like it. I have been having too much fun to concentrate on writing.

Calliope: Are you still in party mode?

Joe: I still have plenty on my plate, so to speak. Maybe it was the heat, but I have found myself in the cool basement with my computer screen staring at me. I tried writing a few times and it felt unfamiliar.

Calliope: So now what?

Joe: I wondered that myself. Natalie Goldberg advises keeping the pen moving (or the cursor in my case.) Eventually it worked and I am back into writing mode. I discovered a few topics I left out of my first draft.

Calliope: What are you working on now?

Joe: I am revisiting the chapter on stress and spirituality. I wrote a couple of columns in the mean time and added them to the book.

Calliope: Do you think I could see one of the columns of which you speak?

Joe: Indeed. I would be happy to share  on on Life, Religion and Spirituality. I will have it to you tomorrow.


I’m de-stressed. Time to get back to work

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Engine 999

Engine 999

Joe: Good morning Calliope.

Calliope: Good morning Joe. I wondered when I would hear from you.

Joe: I haven’t forgotten about you. I told you I was taking a break to work on diabetes. It took longer than I thought to hear, take notes and organize them. I finally finished. I also had a newsletter to do for today. I will add it to the end of this post for you.

Calliope: I thought you must be up to something. How is the editing on your stress book coming?

Joe: I’m up to page 26 so far. I added a couple sections and might think of more as I go along. I am happy working at my own pace and also taking time to enjoy life along the way. Carol and I just got back from a few days in Albany, Connecticut and Cape Cod. I have also been reading Natalie Goldberg’s books on writing.

Calliope: Glad you are keeping busy. Keep me posted.

Joe: I will. In the mean time, here is the latest newsletter:


Relax and Leave the Thinking to Us

For every complex problem, there is an answer that is clear, simple and wrong.

~H.L. Mencken~

I once read H.L. Mencken’s opinion that only twenty percent of our citizens are capable of thinking. I found it hard to believe that so many people could be incapable of thinking. I neither agreed nor disagreed with this opinion. I decided to ponder it for a while. I am done pondering. Although I am still not sure about the percentage of thinkers, I have come to the conclusion that there might be other reasons people do not think than inability to do so.

Anyone who went to college knows that thinking is hard work. Thinking means using your mind to consider or reason about something. One way of doing this is to gather facts and evidence to see what they add up to. That approach is called inductive reasoning. The other approach is deductive reasoning. Here you start with well established general principles and draw conclusions based on them. I told you it was hard work.

So what about people who could think for themselves if they chose to? Some people are afraid to think for themselves. What if they reach the wrong conclusions? They would prefer not to have such responsibility. They are happy to have someone else think for them and tell them what to do. Others are too busy seeing to their own comfort and possessions. They might read the paper or go to meetings but seldom take an active part in decision making. In most organizations, a few people are left with the responsibility of making and implementing decisions.

Two large scale examples of organizations are government and religion. In any jurisdiction from village up to the national level, we elect representatives to act in our best interest and sometimes they do. Most of the time they act in their own best interest (being reelected). They also work hard to be seen as acting in their constituents’ best interest.

Religion is the other Great Decider. Over time, religions develop rules, commandments, and traditions seen as necessary to follow in order to obtain salvation. It is the job of the believers to follow these dictates in pursuit of a better standing in the afterlife.

Governments, religions and other organizations help you make sense of the world and of your life. Yet it is up to you to make sure the rules you are asked to follow fit the principles by which you live regardless of the community in which you find yourself. Taking exception to the rules has consequences. Yet even well established rules do not always continue to make sense as civilization evolves.

Life Lab Lessons

  • Take responsibility for how you live your life.
  • On occasion, spend some time evaluating your beliefs and principles.
  • Don’t leave living your life to the whim of anyone else.
  • If you are not satisfied, decide what changes you can make.
  • Maybe you can help change the percentage of thinkers in the world.


Distractions, Distractions

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Sailing at Sunset

Joe: Good afternoon Calliope.

Calliope: Good afternoon Joe. What news?

Joe: My book has been chugging along nicely for the past couple months. In the last post, I mentioned the Diabetes Summit on ways to prevent or reverse type two diabetes. I thought I would listen to a few of the presentations but found many of them fascinating and highly informative. After all my quality of life lies in the balance. Most of them grabbed my attention and it was usually well into the afternoon before I was ready to move on. Fortunately the series ends this Friday and I will be back to business as usual.

Calliope: So you haven’t worked on your book at all?

Joe: Not quite as bad as all that. I have done some work on it but not as much as I wanted. And then I have a column due this Saturday.

Calliope: So, another post

Sailing at Sunset


Joe: Not quite. In reviewing the manuscript, I realized I had omitted a section on toxic shame as a stressor. I decided to write a column on shame which I could also insert into the book. So I have not lost complete touch with my project. Talk with you later.


Time Out for Diabetes

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Aquinnah Lighthouse

Aquinnah Lighthouse, Martha’s Vineyard


Joe: Good afternoon Calliope.

Calliope: Good afternoon Joe. How are you ding with the stress book?

Joe: I finished the first draft and am now reviewing what I wrote, making corrections as I go along, noting what might be missing from my list of topics and considering its organization. So far, so good.

Calliope: What’s this about diabetes?

Joe: I thought I knew enough for diabetes for now, but found myself distracted from concentrating on it while I am in the midst of working on this book. As luck would have it, I discovered a series of very informative interviews on diabetes, particularly dealing with it naturally rather than through medications. The link is  Diabetes Summit in case any of my readers are interested in a side trip into diabetes world. I am into day three of a two week series and am learning quite a bit.

Calliope: Sounds interesting. Do you find this a distraction from your writing?

Joe: You could look at it that way, but I would rather be alive to be able to write longer. It’s a matter of perspective. Talk with you later.



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Joe: Hi Calliope. Here is my latest Sliding Otter newsletter, based on a theme from my book in progress. Hope you like it.

Learning to Approach Life with a Beginner’s Mind

Sculpture Play

Play Sculpture- Nantucket

In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities,
but in the expert’s there are few.

Shunryu Suzuki

 When we are born, we have no idea what we are supposed to do about anything. Have you ever watched a baby looking around with wonderment at the people, walls, pets or anything else in the room? Everything is new, fascinating and unknown. As we grow up, we develop habitual ways of doing things.

We learn about life from what we see others do and from our experiences. Families, churches and communities have their own traditions, often surviving for decades or even centuries. We grow up with these traditions. But the traditional way is not always best for us or for those around us.

I am not suggesting that all traditions are useless. Many have worked for generations and continue to be effective. We find comfort in traditional ways of doing things. We do not need to think about how to act. Doing the “right” thing brings approval from others who share our traditions. Yet traditions can survive well past their expiration date if we never stop to reconsider them.

We go to doctors for checkups to see if the way we are living is good for our health. We rely on the doctor to tell us how we are doing and whether we need to make any changes in how we live. That doesn’t mean we will make the suggested changes or stick with them, but at least we have a way to gauge or progress. Yet doctors have their own traditions and sometimes suggest outmoded ways for us to live.

What about the rest of our lives beyond the physical? How do we make sense of our actions and know if we are on the right track? We expect religious leaders to be of help and often they are. Yet religions have their own traditions, some healthy and some not so much. Then where do we turn?

That’s where the beginner’s mind comes in. We can take a fresh look at our own habits, traditions and of course any ruts in which we find ourselves. For a little while, we can put aside what we have learned to take as truth. We can see whether our actions are consistent with who we want to be in life. If we follow our old path, does it lead us closer to our goals in life? We can also examine our goals to see how meaningful they are.

We don’t have to pore over our every action and analyze everything we do ad nauseam. But stepping aside from the daily grind on occasion to take stock of ourselves and our way of life can help us get back on course. Take time out and give it a try.

Life Lab Lessons

  • Find a quiet place with no distractions.
  • Set aside some time in your schedule just for you.
  • Think about what is important to you in life.
  • Is that still a worthwhile goal?
  • If not, what could you do different?

Calliope: Thanks Joe. Can’t wait for the book.

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