As the weather vacillates between the snowstorms of
winter and the warmer temperatures of spring, the March
issue of the HealingHeartPower newsletter finds its way
to your inbox.
I am delighted to be hosting Robert Masters and Diane
Bardwell as they bring their Transformation Through
Intimacy work to Boston for the very first time.
Articles in this issue have a particularly relational and
quality of life flavor to them: Emotional Connection
and Good Health: Why We Shouldn't Do It All
Living a Life of Design: Building a Halcyon Life
by my colleague, Hillary Rettig, author of The
Lifelong Activist, and Working It Out After
Divorce: Co-Parenting As a Lifelong Process.
I look forward to seeing some of you at the March 15
Healing the Traumatized Heart workshop.
And it isn't too soon to register for our 2nd annual
November EKP Cape Retreat. For details on
the Cape Retreat, contact Gretchen Stecher at
comments and contributions are welcome, as always.
Emotional Connection and Good Health:
Why We Shouldn't Do It All Alone
"Self-sufficiency" and "independence" are qualities our
culture promotes and even idealizes. Look to the movies
for the attractiveness of "the strong silent type" of man.
And the professionally successful, self-reliant woman
achieves higher social status today than the warm,
nurturing, relationship-oriented woman of decades past.
One could say that we have not only enculturated a love
affair with self-reliance, but also gone to the extreme of
promoting pathologicial self-reliance. While self-
sufficiency and independence to a point are important
benchmarks of adulthood, taken too far, these same traits
are hazardous to our hearts.
Henry S. Lodge, MD, author of Younger Next
Year, writes, "the science of the past decade has
demonstrated that love, companionship and community
are deeply women into our DNA. Emotional connection
is a biological imperative, and we pay a high price for
ignoring it. Isolation is what's unnatural--and deadly."
Lodge notes that men who have heart attacks who go
home to empty houses and have "a high level of stress
are four times more likely to die within the first few years."
For those who are most isolated, the risk of premature
death from any cause is up to five times higher.
And being connected impacts the small stuff as well as
long-term health. "More connected people are
happier and healthier across the spectrum of life, in
thousands of major and minor ways," acknowledges
Lodge. Having a strong sense of social connection
will reduce the number of colds you'll get, in addition
to increasing the odds of surviving cancer. "Love,
friendship and community can't be written out on a
prescription pad, but they should be."
We would all be healthier if our culture would teach
emotional literacy skills--to know ones own heart, and to
value the time investment required to build and sustain
intimate relationships. Instead of trying to push away,
shut off, ignore or medicate our emotions, we need to
learn to understand and heed the messages they give.
Lodge reflects, "Emotion is not nature's afterthought; it
is one of the master regulators of health and
happiness in every corner of your body. You have
trillions of emotional signals moving around your brain
and body every day." Trying to shut our emotions off is
hazardous to our health. Learning to speak the
language of our emotions and our bodies can help
live a healthier and happier life.
This information really challenges the "I am a rock, I
am an island," socialization process for men, which
also has effected more and more women, as our
society has promoted professional success and
devalued investing time in nurturing relationships. I
am afraid the pathological self-reliance idealized in
our culture is rooted in the degree of heart trauma
people live through and then ultimately, live with.
How do we promote connection in our daily lives?
1. Make time to cuddle up. My cats curl up with
one another and sleep contently every day. The same
can hardly be said for most people in our culture,
including those who live with a partner.
2. Understand the biological imperative to be part of
a group. It may be easier to do everything on your
own, but you will go farther and last longer if you take the
time to do things with friends, family and loved ones.
Lodge says, "reconnecting with your community
becomes a life-affirming, lifesaving and urgent priority."
3. Invest in and value your primary
relationship. Lodge notes that men who are
married live longer than men who are not, and credits
this to their wives' emotional connections. "A woman's
death cuts about five years off her husband's life
expectancy." The fact that if a man dies, his wife's life
expectancy drops for the first four years, but as she
adjusts to her new life, her life expectancy increases.
Lodge reflects, "That's a humiliating and embarrassing
comment on how little effort men put into their
4. Reach out to others. So many of us are
always waiting for the other person to make the first
move. Don't wait. Initiate. Find a concert you want to
attend, and invite a friend or loved one to join you. Have
a group of people over for dinner. Talk to the person
exercising next to you at the gym.
5. Turn off the tv, and tune in to your
relationships. So many people rely on the
chatter of the television set to keep them company as
they decompress after a long day. While the news can
be a constant companion, it's not the same as a real-
time conversation--or silent moment--with a loved one
Share your thoughts:
Living A Life of Design
Building a Halcyon Life by Hillary Rettig
Gone are the halcyon days Samuel R. Delaney writes
of in his memoir, The Motion of Light in Water: Sex
and Science Fiction Writing in the East Village,
when his full-time but fairly relaxed (and low-paying)
job as a Strand Bookstore clerk was enough to
support him and his wife, poet Marilyn Hacker, in an
East Village loft while they began their writing careers.
True, the loft was cold and seedy, but who cared?
They were young, passionate, and living in one of the
most energetic and creative communities in the world.
That was way back in the 1960's. Since then, the price of
urban real estate has skyrocketed and incomes (in real
terms) have plummeted: this makes it much harder to live
as an artist, activist or other ambitious dreamer.
Another difficulty is The Winner-Take-All
Society trend documented in a book by that name
by Robert Frank and Philip Cook. They write about
how modern technology has created global markets in
which regional talent must compete with global
superstars, and also with mediocre talents backed by
powerful marketing and distribution machines (think
And while it's great that we all have access to the
superstars, the trend has been hard on regional
talents--including artists, craftspersons, food artisans,
and even sports teams--who would have thrived in
previous eras, but who these days simply can't
compete. This trend converges painfully with the
Bowling Alone trend documented by sociologist
Robert Putnam in which Americans increasingly
forego participation in the public sphere (i.e., they stay
home and watch too much TV); and also the "erosion
of the middlebrow" trend, in which American culture is
increasingly squeezed into the "high" or "low" camps,
with little in between. (So, for example, we've got
opera and pop, but no Gershwin, Cole Porter, etc.)
In my own field, writing, the middlebrow was
exemplified by publications such as The Saturday
Evening Post, which published John Steinbeck, Kay
Boyle, C.S. Forester, F. Scott Fitzgerald, C.S. Lewis,
and Ray Bradbury, along with hundreds of lesser-
known but still worthwhile talents. Because of the
eroding of the middlebrow, these authors' modern day
equivalents have a much harder time earning a living.
Happily, regional creativity and community are making
a comeback. But a key survival strategy for ambitious
dreamers remains finding a day job that meets our
financial needs without sucking up all our time and
energy, and also that doesn't violate our principles.
Make no mistake: this is a challenging task that takes
time to accomplish. But it is definitely doable, and
totally worth the effort.
Here are some steps to get you started:
1) Cut back aggressively on your material
"needs." This is a cliche, but it is also
foundational to success in life. Many people now work
forty or more hours a week to support a lifestyle they
don't even like-- what's the point? Better to cut back--
drastically, if possible--and start building the life you
really want. If you don't know how, start reading books
2) Get a career, not a job. As discussed in
"The Lifelong Activist," many ambitious
dreamers make the mistake of drifting from one
crappy, low-paying job to another. (Cf. activist Mickey
Z's book The Murdering of My Years). Instead,
build a long-term career for yourself in some
interesting, helpful and decently remunerative field
such as social service, medical technology, green
business, or library science. Or, if you're sufficiently
motivated, you can probably get a job doing some
form or art or activism. See The Lifelong
Activist for more suggestions and strategies.
3) While employed, work diligently to reclaim as
much of your time and energy as possible. Urge
your boss to give you flextime or let you telecommute;
reduce your workweek to 25 or 30 hours (while still
preserving your benefits); or let you work four ten-hour
days instead of five eight-hour ones, so that you have
three days a week with which to pursue your dream.
This is easier than you might think, but it requires that
you, (a) work someplace that aspires to treat its
employees well, and (b) are an excellent employee,
so that your boss is willing to accommodate your
needs Many people are initially reluctant to approach
their boss with their "personal" needs, but find out that,
once they open up and share their dream, their boss is
often touched by their openness and motivated to
support them. Humanity responds to humanity.
Is all of this easier said than done? Of course, in the
short term. In the long term, it's far easier to live a life
of keeping with your core values, and in which you
have a chance to pursue your dreams, than to
"murder" your years and live in unhappiness. It's
probably also not as hard as you anticipate, in part
because once you start making the move to living a
"life of design," you'll meet other people on a similar
path and you will all support each other in building
your halcyon lives.
Hillary Rettig, author of The Lifelong Activist: How
to Change the World Without Losing Your Way
(Lantern Books, 2006) , is a coach and workshop
leader who specializes in helping activists, artists and
others overcome fear, procrastination, perfectionism
and blocks. Read more of her writings at
Learn more about Hillary's work...
Working It Out After Divorce
Co-Parenting As A Lifelong Process
When I work with couples who are facing divorce,
there is often a hope, if not a wish, that when the
divorce papers are final, the issues that led to the
divorce are gone or can be left behind. While this is
wonderful wishful thinking, what I have found is quite
the opposite: the very issues that lead to divorce not
only remain, but also can be more intense without the
commitment to work through difficulties that most
marriage commitments bring.
When children are involved, this becomes problematic. If
mom and dad (or mom and mom or dad and dad)
couldn't work it out when they were married, why on earth
would you think they could work it out once they were
divorced....or would even consider trying?
Children feel all the tension that exists between their
divorced parents. And they often suffer when parents
ignore this tension or act out from it. Children often
feel "in the middle" (and are sadly, too often placed in
the middle when parents cannot contain or work
through their disappointment, anger, fear, or hurt).
And even when they are not placed in the middle, they
still feel pain that their parents are treating one
another with animosity, contempt, distrust, disrespect,
anger or fear.
If parents really love their children, one of the greatest
gifts they can give their children once they divorce, is
the gift of working through whatever issues are
needed with their ex-spouse so that they can co-
parent in the most respectful way possible. When I
say respectful, I mean respect both for the children
and for one another as ex-spouses and co-parents.
For some divorcing couples, this is work, but doable
work. If the couple is divorcing from because of
different needs and different goals, yet from a place of
love and respect, it can be easier to put the needs of
the children first. This requires a degree of maturity on
the part of both divorcing parents, and the ability to put
the children's needs first and foremost.
For many divorcing couples, the pain of the broken
marriage can be so great that it contaminates all good
intentions. While intellectually, few divorcing parents
can argue against putting the needs of their children
first, deep hurt, anger, pain, and resentment can far
overpower any intellectual understanding. Sometimes
it is surprising how primal behavior between two
divorced parents can be.
When one is coming out of a particularly painful or
abusive marriage, working it out with the ex-partner
seems virtually impossible. After all, isn't the inability to
work things out the reason why the marriage broke in the
I believe strongly that a divorcing couple can benefit
profoundly from "divorce therapy"--therapy to help the
couple work through the divorce and with co-parenting
issues over time, to assure whatever healing is
possible can take place, and that both parents can
make the emotional room to act in the best interests of
their children. This "divorce therapy" becomes a kind
of family therapy as the children grow older and can
participate in the process themselves. Having the
divorce therapy or family therapy space for the
children gives them hope that even the hardest issues
are workable, and that when things feel overwhelming
or impossible, there is really is a way to make things
better over time.
The thought of being in on-going therapy with an ex-
spouse can seem unthinkable or even like torture. Who
wants to spend all that money? Who wants to see their
ex-spouse regularly and talk about hard issues? Who
wants to be in therapy for years?
On the upside, therapy costs are far less than legal
expenses. Couples who work out their emotional
issues in a therapist' office, spend far less fighting
each other in court. Too, having parents take
responsibility for working on their emotional issues
gives an invaluable model to kids. Emotional illiteracy
is epidemic in our culture, and learning good
communication and relationship process skills will
help both parents and kids in all areas of their lives.
The healing, learning and understanding that divorce
or family therapy can offer is well worth the time, the
money and the emotional energy invested.
This is a subject I write about from more than a
theoretical or even clinical place. It is a subject I have
lived myself for the past 10 years. When my ex-
husband and I separated and moved towards divorce,
I asked that we engage in on-going divorce and
family therapy until our son was in his early 20's. I am
very grateful that my ex-husband agreed. While there
have been many rocky passages, having the steady
container of the family therapy has allowed profound
transformation to occur at every possible level.
As our son has encountered some of the issues that
led to our divorce, having a place to name them,
explore them and work with them has created a sense
of safety and empowerment for him. Being able to
develop his own voice and be able to define his own
needs to his parents has allowed our now 12 year old
son an emotional maturity beyond that of most of his
peers. While he understands why his parents
divorced, he also understands that the issues
underlying divorce can still be addressed, worked
through and made better in the higher interests of
parenting a child.
For me, as the primary custodial parent, having this
space has been invaluable when issues have arisen.
Knowing there is a place, a time, a container for the
hardest issues allows them to remain contained when
appropriate and worked in an appropriate way. When
two people have a child together, they are indeed
bound together for life. Honoring this truth, and
making a commitment together to honor the child is a
profound spiritual journey.
Share your thoughts...
The Boston Area Sexuality and Spirituality Network
programs for the 2007-2008 season are posted on