Unlearning: Our commitment begins

Tuhoy, Tame Iti

Our unlearning begins when we release the strongly held inbuilt distrust of ourselves and each other. We must unlearn to relearn. Taking full responsibility for the vision of life we want, we uplift ourselves and the world. Our commitment to the vision begins.

These sentiments speak volumes to me of the integrity and grit of The Tūhoe people of Aoetearoa (otherwise known as New Zealand). They struggle with the costs of colonisation, with the depth of brokenness, with worry and despair.

And still, meeting with them, seeing their land, standing on the edge of civilization, and sharing our breath, was one of the most uplifted experiences of my life.

Mana, the power of knowing who you are

As you can see in the photo above, I met one of the Tūhoe, Tame Iti. His passion for change, his creative spark, and his deep compassion transmitted across the internet as I watched a TED talk : Mana, the power of knowing who you are prior to our trip.

Then I met him. Unexpectedly. Wow. Mind-blowing-ly cool.

The meeting is not about the ego, the self, it is about the place. Introductions start with your mountain and the river. The felt sense of respect in every pore of my being, connected to the Tūhoe. Weʻre interconnected. Though look at us, at first glance, it is too easy to simply see the differences.

In the past, Tame Iti was known as an activist, considered a trouble-maker by some, jailed, and freed. His people, the Tūhoe, have attained sovereignty from the Crown, and are now doing the vital work of restoring peace to the people and the land.

According to one person of the Tūhoe Nation, when the people work out their relationships, the land will be restored. I get this. On a very deep level I get this. I care passionately about the land, but I am a relational health coach, my focus is on people. When we are okay, the land is okay.

Gives more than it takes

The Living Building, on the Tūhoe Nation, is a building that gives more than it takes, is indeed remarkable. As we walked through the space, we discovered much about the purpose, the vision behind it. The impetus, as I understand it, was to demonstrate what is possible.

The Living Building impressed upon me the importance of having a vision, a purpose for living. While many still live in poverty, and struggle with addictions, and unhealthy conditions, the question of the use of resources to build this feat of wonder surfaced.

And so it is with me, I demonstrate what is possible. I live as a sober woman of integrity, in a committed and happy marriage. I am well-rested, fit, awake, and fully alive. I work on my relationship vision, which grows to encompass family, both offspring and parents, landscapes and Hawaiʻi lifeways, vocations and creative pursuits. I want a lot from life, and I give a lot to it.

Yet, ironically, I no longer strive. Striving begets strife.

Part of my unlearning has been to give up striving, striving for more, for perfection, for winning. Instead, I have a relationship with enough, with good enough, with cooperation, and, ironically, all of this invites abundance. Abundance of spirit, of connection, of time, of health, and of willingness to keep on keeping on, saving the planet one relationship at a time.

Despite cataracts, clear vision

Tame Iti showed us around his art studio. Depictions of Frida Kahlo peered at me as he told me he quit banging his head against the wall with his activism. How I heard that, was that he quit fighting anyone or anything, and quit hurting himself in the process.

He sees clearly. He understands we are all the same.

He looked me in the eyes, thoughtfully. I commented on his purple eyes, he told me they were cataracts and he was due for surgery next month. And yet, his vision is clear. He knows what matters most. To tap the creative spirit within all of us to create a better world, to restore the land, to heal the minds.

Unlearning to relearn

I must unlearn the role of colonizer and the accompanying guilt, remorse and shame I feel as an relative of one who colonized. I must unlearn addiction and the subsequent numbing out to lovingly show up to the present moment. I must remember where Iʻm from and tend to the land and the space between wherever I am.

The importance of mana, knowing who we are and where we come from, is vital. When I told him I was a recovering alcoholic, he replied, but where is your Tūhoe? In other words, I am more than a recovering alcoholic, a recovering colonist (via my ancestors), and a recovering American.

I am Proud to be Tūhoe.proud to be Tūhoe

Being Mortal & Transitioning Gracefully

transitioning with ease

I want to die gracefully. Moving and transitioning with grace and ease is also how I wish to live my day to day life. My desire for greater connection with loved ones inspires me to allow space for grace.

In the past, transitions challenged my sense of calm and ease. From day one, I felt the pinch of forceps on my temples, hurrying me to a place I wasn’t ready to be. (I’m talking about the birth process.) Therefore, I historically run a few minutes late. I rush past my beloveds, spill my coffee, and wonder which clock to believe. This frenetic energy didn’t get me where I wanted to go. 

Developing an observing quality of mind, I saw myself racing around and my connections with others suffered. This woke me up. I began to slow down, say good-bye with a soft gaze, offer hugs, and guess what, grace and ease entered my heart… and I ended up being on time!

Being Mortal & Transitioning Gracefully

I highly recommend this book, Being Mortal, by Atul Gawande which encourages us to find a new conversation around medicine and what matters most at the end. He describes the experiences of several of his patients’ deaths and the deterioration of his own father. He explores new ways of working with others to empower them to contemplate their own death and the considerations of family before they find themselves in the “throes of crisis and fear.” He highlights what I find myself infinitely curious about, which is, what is the story we tell ourselves about our lives?

To quote directly from the text,

“People seemed to have two different selves–an experiencing self who endures every moment equally and a remembering self who gives almost all the weight of judgment afterward to two single points in time, the worst moment and the last one. The remembering self seems to stick to the Peak-End rule even when the ending is an anomaly. Just a few minutes without pain at the end of their medical procedure dramatically reduced patients’ overall pain ratings even after they’d experienced more than half an hour of high level pain. ‘That wasn’t so terrible,’ they’d reported afterward. A bad ending skewed the pain scores upward just as dramatically.”

We have purposes larger than ourselves

“In the end, people don’t view their life as merely the average of all of its moments–which, after all, is mostly nothing much plus some sleep. For human beings, life is meaningful because it is a story. A story has a sense of a whole, and its arc is determined by the significant moments, the ones where something happens. Measurements of people’s minute-by-minute levels of pleasure and pain miss this fundamental aspect of human existence. A seemingly happy life can be empty. A seemingly difficult life may be devoted to a great cause. We have purposes larger than ourselves.

Unlike your experiencing self–which is absorbed in the moment–your remembering self is attempting to recognize not only the peaks of joy and valleys of misery but also how the story works out as a whole. That is profoundly affected by how things ultimately turn out. Why would a football fan let a few flubbed minutes at the end of the game ruin three hours of bliss? Because a football game is a story. And in stories, endings matter.”

Invite space for grace

I agree wholeheartedly that endings matter. I also think beginnings matter. We must pay attention to quality of ease in the transitioning of our mundane existence. I think this is precisely why we should all be asking ourselves the question, what is the story I am telling myself about my life? It is a valuable exercise to book-end our day with two essentials: wake up with a smile before our feet hit the floor (this sets up positive cascade of neurotransmitter responses) and review our day before our head hits the pillow with a gratitude list or a www list (what went well) and write this down and/or share with a loved one.

These two simple practices, practiced on a daily basis, provide the fundamentals ingredients for helping us enjoy a better quality of life, a more accepting and gracious remembering self, and an experiencing self who notices what is going well in the day. This adds up to a more wholesome self who is better equipped at “Being Mortal” and making the difficult choices around life and death, and transitioning gracefully. So, for today, let us narrow the lens of the “good life” to this 24 hours of today.

Perhaps this one wild and precious life is workable and worthy of appreciation in each and every moment.

Instructions for Living a Life: 1. Pay attention 2. Be astonished 3. Share about it. – Mary Oliver

Our kuleana, our responsibility, is for higher love; conscious connection

embodied presence attachment

Our kuleana, our responsibility, is to be true to ourselves, so that we can be true to others, When we inhabit our lives fully, enjoy our own embodied presence, then we can show up in conscious connection. From here, we can be amazing partners and feel higher love.

Relational responsibility takes work

Our romantic relationship cycled through lust, attraction and attachment, all the way into a satisfying long-term marriage. The romantic phase gave us the juice to experience the transformative power of love. For us it started hot, it burned wildly, and it still keeps us warm inside. Our marriage and our mutual commitment provide the most rewarding opportunity to grow and heal; to give and receive love. It is our responsibility to show up and do this.

We’re really expecting a lot from our romantic partners

On one hand we want stability in our partner. Reliability, predicable safety and security.

On the other hand, we want a sense of fresh aliveness. Wild, erotic, new, mysterious wonder and amazement.

In one person!

Esther Perel, an erotic desire expert, explores this conundrum in her groundbreaking work on couples and partnerships. She explores the crisis of desire by asking, “can we love what we already have?”

Check out her book Mating in Captivity or her many TED Talks if you want more about this or her blog here https://estherperel.com/blog/let-go-of-being-the-perfect-partner

Instead of looking for the right partner, we become the right partner

Many couples cycle through the romantic phase and wind up in the power struggle phase only to split up because the illusion of finding the perfect partner which fuels the search for someone better. When we want perfection, we fall in love with the potential of someone (and ourselves). We tell ourselves we will be okay only if he changes.

In early power struggle stages, I often blamed my husband. It wasn’t until I took 100% responsibility for my 50% of the dynamic that awareness blossomed.  Responsibility, kuleana, is essential in committed relationships.

Shift your focus. Your kuleana is you first. Look within. Just do you. Be comfortable in your own skin. From here, just do your partner. I take responsibility for my own happiness. I manufacture my own misery whenever I want my husband to be different than he is. It typically happens when I want myself to be different than I am. It’s a contagion. It fuels the power struggle. 

Make it safe, connect, and feel the joy

Communication breeds safety for more vulnerable expression of desires, preferences and dislikes. Sex gets better when we express our needs, our desires, both in the bedroom and outside. More intimacy, in-to-me-see,  more pleasure. When I give and receive in all aspects of our relationship, I am more free to give and receive while making love. It’s so yummy.

The sex of long term committed relationship blows my mind! The juice from our mutual integrity and commitment fueled with the curiosity and mystery of the continual evolution of self and other is enticing. Remember, conscious partnership is recognizing we are not me. Incompatibility is really good news. See this blog for more https://amyelizabethgordon.com/incompatibility-is-good-news/

We fall in love with our own wholeness

From our embodied presence, we recognize differences with curiosity instead of struggle. If we spot it we got it–all those things we love about our partner (and all the things we despise). Our lost self, our hidden self, and our disowned self integrate back to a natural place of wholeness.

We experience relaxed joyfulness and calm abiding

Incompatibility is good news

Incompatibility, bridging differences

Incompatibility in marriage is a common complaint. It implies the inability of harmonious coexistence and fuels the power struggle. Yet most relationships have some level of incompatibility. I know mine does, and we have harmonious coexistence much of the time.

A basic tenet of truth in partnership is we are not me. When I remember this catchy phrase, I open my eyes to new perspectives. Eliminating differences is a futile waste of my precious life force. Alternatively, seeing new perspectives is invigorating and affirming.

Incompatibility is good news

It can help me heal old wounds, therefore it’s not a death sentence to relationships.

My relationship is solid, we’ve been through a lot, we adore each other, and, despite all that, my default is fear. That is the predictable hell I can land in sometimes. I know this familiar ache of loneliness, deeply. 

My Imago Mentor Maya Kollman taught me a really mind-blowing idea:

Couples would rather live in a predictable hell than have a taste of heaven and lose it. 

Here’s a recent example of how this shows up in our marriage. Away for a week, I returned home to find my paintings moved to another room. I scanned the environment in a hyper vigilant fashion, looking for clues of whether I was welcome or not.

I asked my husband, “Do you even want me here?” Based on this one observation: He had moved my paintings. Period. (I wanted my paintings in our bedroom, he didn’t).

My fear response: I concluded he didn’t want me here. Ouch. (He wanted neutral decor for awhile and he had left me a love note to tell me this). This default place of the familiar fear of feeling unwanted is so very old.

If my reaction is hysterical, it is probably historical.

Am I wanted?

This a default worrisome thought that gets triggered in times of stress, transition, and reconnection.

If I resist it, it persists. If I name it, I tame it. 

My birth story in 5 short sentences:

My mom birthed four boys.

A major historical event, man landing on the moon, brought my parents into baby-making space together once again.

Despite birth control; pregnancy.

They loved me dearly and would probably never admit that I was unwanted.

But truth be told,  I wasn’t planned.

This prenatal vibe may indeed color how I see myself in the world. With this awareness, I soften to myself and share my vulnerability with my husband. I heal the old wound through our difference of opinion of where the paintings hang. Willing to see things in a fresh perspective, I let go of the predictable hell and experience a new freedom.

For more information

Please check out the founders of Imago Relationship Theory. Harville and Helen Hendrix broke the ground for a new relational paradigm. In fact, they propose that incompatibility is grounds for marriage! Check out their website — which offers 3 free books — an amazing resource. https://harvilleandhelen.com/books/making-marriage-simple/

Believe in the power of love

Love: Romantic Phase

Why love matters is beyond simple description. Falling in love entices my embodied presence in incredible ways. Feeling powerful, free of pain, invincible and higher than high is an amazing life experience. Yet this experience eventually fizzles out; it’s not sustainable.

We can chase it; we can’t contain it.

Romantic love, and the stories I tell myself about it, pull me higher than I’ve ever been before and push me into deep funks.

Love is a powerful force indeed

In the early stages of our romance, we felt the chemical swirl of feel-good hormones and daring behaviors. The hot and steamy seduction connected us deeply. The pursuit of these passions dominated our days.

Then came the mental wrestling match: Is this really happening? Is this okay? Is this the right time? What about _____ (fill in the blank)?  All of this mental meandering resulted in the back and forth, together/apart dance of our relationship.

You know what I’m talking about?

Then came the subsequent surrender. I fell, in love, hard. Hooked on the drug of love. Biological imperatives called the shots; we were hooked.

From here all things are possible

And it was complicated. There was a lot going on in graduate school as these flames of passion licked our beings. Rarely is falling in love a clean situation. Other people are often involved. Difficult decisions determine the future.

During the lulls, the resultant longing and disappointment sometimes made me hurt so much I would wish I’d never even engaged. My body’s wisdom knew this man could heal me in ways I couldn’t on my own. My body’s wisdom knew we would create amazing things together.

Surrendering to the wisdom of my body, I committed to the relationship. I quit stirring the worry pot and I let the mental meanderings settle, my soul softening to the moment.

Romance reminds me of my meditation practice

In romance, I’m falling in love with my wholeness. I see my wholeness when I look in my beloved’s eyes. I think it’s outside of me. It’s not. In meditation I am searching for my wholeness. I think it’s outside of me. I realize it’s not.

In romance I feel blissed out; I can experience this in meditation also.

My mind, left unchecked, bounces back and forth between things I want more of and things I want less of. I praise people or I blame them (including myself). It is a dizzying game of push and pull. This game creates suffering.

This doesn’t get me where I want to go. I’m basically manufacturing my own misery.

Romance can do this, too, but we oftentimes stay stuck in blaming the other person.

When my mind is freed of the burden of attraction and revulsion, I’m free to settle into the moment. Fresh moment. New awareness. Joy and freedom. This is the joyful journey I’ve discovered in my primary love relationship. I’ve moved beyond push and pull, for the most part, and settled into sustainable sweet connection. We recalibrate back to this again and again. I believe in the power of love.

Being deeply loved by someone gives you strength, while loving someone deeply gives you courage. Lao Tzu

Resolving Conflict Through Repair: Hoʻoponopono

Resolving Hurt Peaceful Lake Taupo

I’m letting go of the notion that I’ll never hurt someone’s feelings. I invite you to do the same. I’ve lived with that intention and it didn’t get me healthier relationships.

In the past, I’ve walked on egg shells in the hopes I wouldn’t offend you. Twisting this way and that, try as I might, I simply couldn’t please everyone, all the time.

I’m happy to report that I’ve let go off this intention. I invite you to do the same. You know how slimy it feels when someone is trying to please you, yes? Naturally, the more I give myself space to be me, not who I think you want me to be, the more I can also cut you some slack and encourage you to be you.

Still, despite our best intentions, conflict happens. We hurt each other. There is a rupture in the space between, even with both of us being ourselves.

Some of the most important indicators a healthy relationship have to do with the intensity of the hurt/rupture and the immediacy of the repair. 

We want less intensity and more immediate repair. We want to be tuned into each other from a place of self-acceptance.

Hurt people hurt people. The intensity can be severe, the repair non-existent, and then the frequency quite often. We must heal.

When (not if) I hurt someone, I feel a shift in my body. I have a choice to react or respond. Today I choose, as much as I can, to respond. When I have this response-ability, I can often stop myself from saying or doing something regretful.

I calm myself down by taking a few deep breaths, and use my body as a guide for staying present in the moment. This lessens the intensity of the rupture/conflict. Deep breathing heals.

I remind myself gently it’s okay to feel uncomfortable. This, too, shall pass. I tend to myself with self-compassion. Later I walk or maybe take a hot bath.

In the past, I ran from discomfort which only fanned the flames of negativity. It didn’t resolve the issues at hand.  I’d be caught in the eddy of guilt and swallowed in the quicksand of shame. This was way worse that eggshell walking I mentioned earlier.

Guilt reminds me I did something wrong and I do what I can to fix it. It can be my teacher. I can get out of the eddy and get back into the flow of life.

Shame tells me I am something wrong and I truly believe it is toxic. It can be my tormentor. It’s an inside job, healing the shame; a job I find incredibly worthwhile.

Many people are conflict avoidant, they don’t want to hurt or be hurt. I haven’t seen that work too well. The negative energy builds up and growth gets truncated. Remember, conflict is growth trying to happen. It’s kinda like the birth canal. Dark and dank and sometimes terrifying, we can come out on the other side of conflict stronger and healthier.

Think of welding, the process actually strengthens the bond. Let’s become unbreakable. The beautiful opportunity to repair the space between is a skill we as humans must learn because we’re not perfect. And we can’t expect ourselves to be.

In Hawaiʻi, there is a beautiful relationship healing practice called hoʻoponopono. Hoʻoponopono means to correct. Pono means excellence, wellbeing, true condition or nature. To return to this sense of well-being is the spirit behind this traditional practice.

These are the essential ingredients needed in resolving conflict through repair:

I’m sorry.

hoʻophonopono healing

Please forgive me.

Thank you.

I love you.


Isn’t that enough?