Saturday, July 31, 2010

One of the Great Miracles Made Possible through Intimate Relationships

Hi, Carina~

I am wrestling with ambivalence about an intimate relationship~ whether I should stay or leave. It's not easy because I absolutely love this man, and he loves me, and we are faithful to one another endlessly. But we have some issues in our relationship, mostly what I think is built-up resentment. We argue often now, most of the time over perceived needs that are not being met and little things that trigger anger. There are insecurities on both sides, and we are both flawed and human. Sometimes I feel so unhappy and have a lot of sorrow and guilt because I don't want to make my beloved or myself unhappy. He has issues with depression, and I feel like I might be enabling him by feeding his complacency with my own energy because I feel like I've fallen into a rut. Sometimes my gut tells me to run and sometimes it tells me to hold fast. Anyway, it's very complicated and I am aware that I am whipping myself into a frenzy as my monkey-mind pathologically chatters on... I'm just so confused and weary to the point of feeling profound failure at times.

I'm going to start counseling for myself, and I'm hoping that if we go as a couple that it might help. I just want to do the right thing for both of us, but I'm not sure what that is. Any advice on how to proceed?

In Loving Gratitude,



Dear Friend,

I'm so glad you wrote. What you're asking about here is indeed a universal scenario; that is, ambivalence in relationships. Kudos right away for the level of awareness that you're bringing. This is the key.

You write that you know that your monkey-mind's chattering is perpetuating your spinning, questioning mind. That's brilliant. All you have to do is notice.

You can always tell the difference between when the thoughts and ideas are coming from the mind (sometimes called the ego or unconsciousness) and when they're coming from stillness and intuition within.

It's as if the noticing, the observation, creates a ribbon of space, like the thin line of the Earth's atmosphere. In this sliver of silence, wisdom can arise.

I am always saying the same thing, aren't I?

You're not always going to be able to quiet down the churning in the moment. And so your job is to observe it -- without judgment -- as best as you can, being a human being who's pretty much always judging and assessing, like the rest of us. Observe all of it, as gently as you can.

Another thing to watch for with our intimate partners is the inevitable arising of old habit patterns. I mean, we're talking ancient habit patterns, that are surely and perfectly instigated by our partners' own brand of the same.

I have experienced in my relationship moments when mine and my partner's stuff are activated and no one can tell who's went off first (chicken? egg?) but there we are, reacting. And so, if I'm really paying attention, I have the opportunity to recognize my own old habits (I get pompous!) without having to get on board with whatever story they're telling me about why there's a problem with [any] relationship.

Or if I think I'm seeing some unconscious behavior in my partner, if I'm conscious enough not to get swept up in my own old reactions and posturing, I can notice it happening and hang out in a neutral position that is ultimately one of tender compassion.

And this seems to be one of the great miracles made possible through intimate relationships: the ability to be still or have someone be still enough for you that the unconscious patterns that we developed eons ago are not taken for who we really are. So much healing to be found, universally, every time we rest in that compassionate knowing.

And we have to have that compassion for ourselves. It's the only way this works.

So, should you leave your partner? I don't know, and I don't know that it matters. You don't need to know either. Opening up space -- and using the difficult times as catalysts for creating those slivers of space -- will allow life to flow naturally and for each moment's actions to become obvious to you as they arise.

There is no right or wrong scenario. There is only the opportunity to shift from the sleepy game of the mind, to the peaceful space of stillness that is who we really are.



If other questions arise from this writing, please email

Sunday, July 11, 2010

You Have to Experience Your Own Connection

Hi Carina,

How do you deal with daily life coping with chronic pain, injuries, and trauma? Without self-medicating, getting lost in seemingly endless talk therapy, or shutting down emotionally? Since a car accident in March, I've exhibited signs of an adjustment disorder, and continued pain from the trauma to my head and neck. My prognosis for the head trauma is good, although it could take up to 1.5 years to recover symptom-free, if at all. The prognosis for my neck is uncertain, and I am currently undergoing physical therapy.

I've had many physical and mental setbacks on this road. There's not a period of time that rolls by without crying bouts, mood swings, and anger. I've had great support from family and friends, but I fear the challenges too great for any one person (or many) to withstand.

I thought I'd learned major lessons from this accident months ago: I had an unusual sense of inner peace, and perspective previously not experienced in my lifetime. I employed mediation, breathing exercises, therapy, self-help books, and mild physical exercise to assist me.

But now, it seems all is lost. My life as I knew it is still very limited, and I'm having trouble finding new, but healthy ways to cope. With the resurgence of pain, difficulty concentrating, and continued PTSD-like symptoms, everything has lost its former meaning, and I'm having trouble sustaining enthusiasm, hope, and energy for future endeavors, relationships, and happiness. This is particularly disheartening because my side job (as you well know) does, at its core, require me to provide inspiration and drive to others. But mainly, I feel cheated, scared, and embittered by this turn of events -- and I keep wanting to wish it all away.

How can I deal better?

I appreciate anything you have to say.


Dear Reader,

I'm grateful for your letter and rather than pretend I know what it is you're experiencing, I'm going to defer to one of my teachers, who has time and again forged the path for the rest of us bumbling, stumbling, clinging and scraping along through this ever-changing life. As I write this, I'm reminded of this teacher saying that each person's path is unique and each person is here to play that unique path out. He says you can't go along with someone else's trip. You have to experience your own connection.

It seems as if this experience you are having - unacceptable as any of us would have it be - is now your specific path. I hesitate to say this out of not wanting to sound like I'm handing you a cliche. But there it is. Sure as I'm sitting on my couch, leaning forward and slightly straining my left shoulder as I type. Ah, see? Thank you for bringing my awareness to this moment. Now I'm sitting back. Less strain.

What we are experiencing right now is IT. There is no other way this moment could be. Our job is to find it in ourselves to open to that, again and again.

In the movie that I'm going to suggest for you, you will see stories of people who have been asked to accept the unacceptable and who have experienced major changes in their lives that didn't go along with the plans they'd created for themselves. And yet, there they are. How does one go on?

Our suffering is our path to God. And no one wants to suffer.

The mind (or the ego, the unconscious part of us, call it what you like) has such solid ideas about who we are, who we're supposed to be, how we're supposed to be, etc. And yet, like everything else in this ever-changing universe of forms, we are as we are. Right now. And that's it. That's the doorway.

This very moment is infinite.

You are likely going through a big challenge to the mind and the ego that knows you - or imagines you - in a certain way. Be very gentle to yourself during this breakdown, and do what you can to stay open. Feel the breaking down of the ego and, when you are able, observe it from the infinite space of knowing that rests behind everything.

It seems as if you have some strong tools already. And here is where I'll stop talking and give you a homework assignment.

Rent the movie Ram Dass: Fierce Grace. You can even stream it on Netflix like I did this afternoon. A good part of the movie is Ram Dass, once a thriving Harvard psychology professor turned yogi loved the world over, as he recovers from a stroke he had in 1997.

As I was wondering about what to write to you, I happened to revisit this documentary. And then I knew that was the offer I have for you today.

It is a gift from one of my greatest teachers. I bow to him and to all those who came before him. As Pema Chodron writes, "I feel gratitude that someone saw the truth and pointed out that we don’t suffer this kind of pain because of our personal inability to get things right." (Click here to read the chapter from The Places That Scare You - Fearlessness in Difficult Times.) And to the great teacher within, who leads the way if we are quiet enough to hear, my deepest gratitude.

You could very well be pioneering the way for the rest of us. For sure as night turns into day, we will all go through major changes and losses in our lives: physical, emotional, roles we play, relationships, etc. Our attachment to them is our suffering. Being with them is our gateway.

Thank you so much for writing. Stay in touch.



If other questions arise from this writing, please email

Saturday, July 10, 2010

You're in the Perfect Place for Expansion

Dear Carina,

I have recently had my heart broken. The man I was with ended our relationship because, "I was not a believer, and that his true path was to seek God and I wouldn't help that." Although I am not Christian, I do believe in a spiritual being or higher power. I am finding this difficult to deal with given the personal nature of it. I was truly in love and experienced wonderful things with this man. I am unsure of where to begin to pick up the pieces. Please help.


Thank you so much for writing. I really feel for you.

It can all feel so personal, and our mental/emotional states - that we confuse with who we really are - have a field day churning over the stories and reasons and justifications and ow! and and and . . .

One temptation is to analyze why he does what he does. This can seem helpful at first. In the past when I had relationship woes, I used to talk with a therapist friend of mine about what might have been going on with my men. Our analytic conversations soothed me. They helped me come up with a theory of why they acted like they did and it depersonalized my feelings of rejection. So this can be useful for one level of relief.

After some time, however, I would find that the mental indulgence took the focus away from the deeper opportunity I was being handed.

In The Power of Now, Eckhart Tolle says that women tend to be closer to their spiritual essence, relating more to emotions and the body, while men tend to be further removed, being more identified with the mind (though they may purport otherwise, sometimes even criticizing their women for being unenlightened). Of course there are exceptions to this rule, but the good news here is that your heartache and willingness to stay open are access to your natural state: living continuously in the arms of the beloved, infinite divine.

And if you can't feel that right now, don't worry. You are still there.

There is always another layer of acceptance we can offer ourselves. If you cannot except the details of the current situation because it's just too painful for your mind and heart, you can open your heart to yourself and to the pool of confusion and sorrow that you're in.

Seemingly unsolvable situations ask for only one thing: surrender.

How in the world do you do that when your heart is broken and your mind is swirling with thoughts of defense and sadness and rejection?

You go inside. You get quiet. You see if you can sense, even if only for brief moments at a time, the infinity of who you truly are. Maybe you aren't your partner's path to God, but he may be yours.

Take very good care of yourself, quiet down when you can, and know that within you in this very moment is the capacity for all healing, all connection with the divine, all grace. You are none other than that. You're in the perfect place for expansion. I can feel it.

All love and spacious peace to you,


P.S. A longtime favorite book of mine during the hardest times is Pema Chodron's When Things Fall Apart. And one of my new favorites (especially if you're an animal lover) is the deeply simple and instant-space-connecting book by Eckhart Tolle and Patrick McDonnell, Guardians of Being. Takes a person right out of the stories and into the comfort of this infinite space we inhabit. It's absolutely beautiful.

If other questions arise from this writing, please email