Friday, May 31, 2013

Your Brain on Love: The Neurobiology of Healthy Relationships

Friends, I wanted to let you know about an excellent audio learning course that we’re just releasing with Dr. Stan Tatkin called Your Brain on Love: The Neurobiology of Healthy Relationships

We’ve created the course for professionals (CE credits are available, see below) as well as for anyone interested in the further reaches of intimate relationship and the crucible that relationship can serve as a path of awakening and healing. Also, if you’re wanting to learn more about attachment theory and its relevance to adult intimate relationships, this course will be of interest to you. 

Learn more about the course and listen to an audio sample here.

“Improve your brain, improve your relationships.” In short, that’s what Stan discovered from his leading-edge work as a researcher and couples therapist. Here, Stan merges current insights from neurobiology and attachment theory to help you shift out of conflict and into deeper and more loving connections.

You'll first learn to identify attachment styles-patterns of intimacy that begin in the earliest years-both in yourself and in those around you. Stan then guides you through his proven principles and practices for building enduring security and commitment between partners, family members, and others whom you love. Here’s some of the areas Stan explores:

  • The warring brain versus the loving brain

  • When your brain's threat response is getting in the way of love

  • How to avoid triggering fear and help your partner feel safe and secure

  • Simple gestures and words to put out emotional fires

  • The power of rituals to build trust and intimacy

  • How to make your relationship a sanctuary, and more

Based upon key insights from neurobiology, attachment theory, and emotion regulation research, Your Brain on Love will show you how to change the way you relate with others and open the way to greater love and connection.

We hope to continue to bring you more high-quality content in this area over the months and years to come. Our next series will focus on Deepening Intimacy, launching in the new year. -Matt Licata

For those seeking Continuing Education credits, 5.5 hours are available. Please click here for additional information. 

Course objectives:

  • Define and recognize your attachment style and the attachment style of your partner—the ways in which we respond, react, and interact with others, particularly in close relationships.
  • Discuss ways in which your attachment style has informed your previous and current relationships.
  • Explain how to use your attachment style as a tool to change the way you relate with others, opening the door to greater love and attachment with others.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Enter here... with your wide-open heart as the only guide that could ever be

When we choose intimate relationship as the crucible for our own awakening, we make an open invitation to all that is unresolved to come to the surface, to show us the areas of our bodies, our psyches, and our hearts that are calling out for love, attention, and awareness. Just being around the “other” will be sure to trigger this process and to open us into the unknown where we no longer have any reference point from which to organize our experience. We will be asked to stay very close to our somatic reality and to burn up in our habitual ways of responding to difficult sensations, feelings, and emotions. We come to know that each has an important message to deliver, that each come as messengers of the ever-transformative movement of love. We are not guided to meditate or pray more, engage in ritual, recite mantras or affirmations, or move toward healing or transformation of any kind – only to burn. 

In my experience, most have a much greater capacity to do this than they may believe, but it does require a certain courage, fearlessness, and deep longing to know who we are at the deepest levels. It requires an ongoing commitment to train ourselves to not automatically act out of that which is unresolved within us, out of our hopes, dreams, pain, fear, and images, even the spiritual ones. It requires that we learn to stay, to not abandon the “other,” whether that “other” is our partner or our own somatic experience or our own tender heart. For in that moment, these are one and not separate. The path laid out before us is often directly into the scary places, and the only guide is your own wide open heart. 

It can be helpful to look into each of our relationships to start to see the landscape of the (unconscious) agreements we’ve made with the other to avoid the experience of too much exposure, nakedness, rawness, uncertainty, and vulnerability. It is easy and quite natural to unconsciously start to define a “good” relationship or a “great” partner as one who doesn’t really question these agreements, and who supports our enacting of the mechanisms of survival which arose (intelligently) out of our childhoods of origin. It doesn’t take much – just one word or not returning a phone call or a quick glance or some apparent coldness or distance – and we are vulnerable, unprotected, unsure, the ground has slipped away for just a moment. It is by entering this groundlessness directly, by coming unbearably close to it, tasting it, touching it, feeling its contours, caring enough about it, that the past can become metabolized and fully integrated into what we are. And in this we see that life is not actually what we think, that nothing in reality actually corresponds to our concepts; we see so clearly how awareness is curative in and of itself, and how fortunate we are to have this unique opportunity to bear witness to how love is moving in this world. 

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Love is always choosing you

There is a deeply wired-in part of us that wants love to feel safe. But love can never be safe as it transforms everything it comes in contact with. It is it's nature to re-arrange, re-order, re-design, and alter all that it touches. In this way, it can never provide the ground that we believe we want. We think that this safety is what we're after, but when it's all said and done the longing that was placed inside each of us is for love to do with us what it will, to pour through us and to show us the totality of what we are. We want our intimate relationships to provide safety, surety, certainty, and to confirm what it is we know - and of course these qualities do arise within the field of love as love is the ground of all qualities. But love is transformative by nature and seeks to re-wire everything in its pathway, to bring into the light each and every quality of our being, to introduce us to what is unknown, to show us its majesty.

When our lives become organized around the movement of this sort of intelligence, this type of creativity, nothing can ever be the same again. We see that this love is not personal, never has been, and never will be. In this way, to choose love is to choose death, the death of all that is false, all that is separate, all that is less than whole. We see that we could never choose love because to do so would be to choose the end of "me" and everything I thought was important and necessary. But in one moment, one that is totally out of time, you see that love is always choosing you, and longs in its own way for you to allow yourself to receive its invitation. 

Self-care and Selflessness: A Contradiction?

In the research for the dissertation I’m writing on the ways in which spiritual belief and practice can serve a defensive function, I’ve come across the writings of Miles Neale, a Buddhist-oriented psychologist in New York City (who I ended up interviewing as part of the study). Miles recently sent me an article he just published which covers an important area in the ongoing dialogue between psychological/ therapeutic and contemplative approaches to health and well-being. One of the hot topics in contemporary psychospiritual inquiry has to do with the understanding of the “self,” i.e. its ontological status, what it is, how if at all it might be worked with, and how practitioners might be able to reconcile self-development/ self-love/ self-acceptance/ self-care with the contemplative discoveries of no-self, selflessness, shunyata, and so forth. 

During our free video series on the Self-Acceptance Project, more than one participant asked, "So what is this 'self' that we're accepting, anyway?" Or, in other words, how can we accept a self that isn't actually there upon investigation? All fair questions, of course. 

I’ll leave you with the first part of Miles’ paper below. If you find it interesting, you can head over to his website to download the entire piece, which I quite enjoyed. Or just go straight to Miles' website and read the entire article

Self-care and Selflessness: A Contradiction?

The nearly half century dialogue between Buddhism and Western psychology has created a potential forum for a mutually enriching exchange. It has also raised productive questions about the points of overlap and dissonance between the two traditions. One of the most apparent differences is in the way these disciplines relate to the self.  Psychotherapy emphasizes genuine care for the self and its feelings, needs and wounds, helps to restore a continuity in the sense of self when it begins to fragment and investigates how self-denial creates profound psychic disturbance and dysfunction in relationships.  Buddhist meditation establishes attentional equipoise, facilitates direct observation of the impermanent, insubstantial nature of the self and culminates in an intuitive insight of emptiness that ends the habits of self-reification and self-grasping at the root of suffering.  

Is there a contradiction between the goals of self-care and selflessness, and what does each tradition stand to learn from the other’s approach?

“Spiritual bypassing”: spiritual practice as pain-avoidance 

Psychotherapy encourages meditators to take a more care-ful approach to their traumatic wounds rather than circumventing them.  I’ve frequently observed meditators devaluing their own personal traumas in pursuit of more exalted and seductive spiritual virtues like the bodhisattva ideal of saving others from suffering. Likewise, some yogis aim for mystical heights of ecstatic bliss hoping to transcend their ordinary human fragility, only to come crashing down to their painful reality once practice is over. This phenomenon of using spiritual tools and teachings to avoid psychological issues, traumatic wounds, and unmet developmental tasks occurs so frequently, that in the early 1980’s Dr. John Welwood coined the term “spiritual bypassing” to characterize this tendency. Frequent scandals involving so-called spiritual masters who have had inappropriate relations with their students as well as students who see little psychological progress after years of spiritual practice stand as testaments to the deleterious effects of neglecting basic human needs. Indeed it may be possible to have profound spiritual insights, and at the same time neglect other areas of our complex being – including emotional, psychological, interpersonal or somatic dimensions. If we don’t take all of these dimensions seriously and incorporate them into “the work” of human development – then the shadow-side of our split identity can reemerge outside of conscious awareness, when we least expect it and with painful consequences. 
Common forms of spiritual bypassing

Spiritual bypassing occurs when we unconsciously attempt to avoid pain, shame and the unpleasant side of our humanity and can manifests in a myriad of ways. The most common forms I have observed in myself as well as in my clinical work with yogis and meditators include: when fear of rejection, fear of burdening others or conflict-avoidance masquerade as being easygoing, patient and accommodating; when co-dependency poses as care-giving and compassion; when guru-devotion leads to subservience and conceals unresolved childhood dynamics such as over-idealization or fear of reprisal; when the spiritual virtue of detachment is misunderstood as disinterest and one attempts to avoid pain by disconnecting from feelings and relationships; when spiritual success and accomplishment end up reinforcing narcissism and the very inflated self-images they were designed to see through; when ultimate truths such as selflessness and emptiness are misunderstood and privileged over relative truths and one consequently falls into the nihilistic extreme of self-denial or apathy. All of these examples share one thing in common; they are unconscious adaptations of pain-avoidance concealed in the fabric of spiritual practice.  Without a skilled objective observer such as a therapist or teacher to alert us, we can miss our unconscious attempts at bypassing, just as we do the blindspot in a rearview mirror.

Read the rest of this article now

Monday, May 27, 2013

Emotional Commitment and Great Sex

I’m often asked what books or approaches I recommend when it comes to intimacy, love relationships, couple therapy, and deepening one’s experience in committed relationship. I often recommend books like John Welwood’s Perfect Love, Imperfect Relationships and Robert Augustus Masters’ Transformation through Intimacy, both of which have been helpful to me personally as well as to many others I have spoken with over the years about these sorts of things. 

One other author/ therapist I find myself recommending a lot these days is David Schnarch, based here in Colorado. He is a licensed clinical psychologist, certified sex therapist, and clinical member of the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy. David is the author of Passionate Marriage: Keeping Love and Intimacy Alive in Committed Relationships and, more recently, Intimacy & Desire: Awaken the Passion in Your Relationship. David is deeply insightful, (collaboratively) confrontive, and has a very direct way of opening both individuals and couples to the real potentials inherent in intimate union and connection. 

For those of you unfamiliar with David – or wanting to learn a little more – here is an interview/ dialogue between David and my friend Tami Simon (entitled Emotional Commitment and Great Sex), that we recorded for our Insights at the Edge series. In this provocative discussion, Tami speaks with David about the four drives of sexual desire, his understanding of integrity and its importance in a healthy partnership, and what it might mean to “hold onto yourself” in relationship. I hope you enjoy their conversation… 

We hope to continue to bring you more high-quality content in this area over the months and years to come. Our next series will focus on Deepening Intimacy, launching in the new year. -Matt Licata