Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Reflections on getting older

My birthday is just around the corner.  I've been thinking of this the past few weeks.  I have a lot to reflect upon.

I've travelled and lived in many parts of the world, and met extraordinary people who have impacted my understanding and views of the world.  But the memories that matter most to me are of the people I have loved and who have loved me in return.

As a therapist, I have a front and centre seat from which I have learned about the mistakes that people make when they believe that love alone will be enough to make their relationships last.  Love is not enough.

Mark Twain wrote that marriage is an example of the triumph of faith over experience.  On the day that people marry, they feel deeply in love.  But over the years almost all marriages experience serious crisis-half ending in divorce.

As a therapist, I also witness people finding extraordinary courage to lay aside their old expectations of what love was supposed to bring to their marriage.  I see people work hard to re-define what their relationship can become, what happiness and contentment can look like as they throw away their Hollywood inspired fantasies.

I have learned that happy spouses tend to see their partners as smarter, better looking and sexier than they really are.  Research shows that positive illusions about one's partner foster a good relationship.  A man whose wife sees him as a hero is more likely to behave heroically.  A woman who is treated like a queen is more likely to behave with elegance and grace.

I've learned that people tend to discover what they seek.  People who want money tend to acquire it. People who seek hedonistic pleasures and adventures generally find what they want.  People who look for humor find it, as do people who look for trouble.  In my experience,  people are pretty much as happy as they make up their minds to be.

A couple happily married for over 50 years was asked at their anniversary celebration to reflect on their many years of married life.  The wife said, "I regret the time we wasted trying to change each other".  The husband said, "the secret of my marital success is I wake up every morning, look in the mirror and say to myself, 'you're no prize either".

I know now that life is always changing.  Time passes.  Thoughts and emotions come and go.  Tragedy strikes and then grace and joy peek around the corner.  Relationships of all kinds flourish and wither.  Passion waxes and wanes.  Hope doesn't always die.  There is often a depth of wisdom and emotion that comes from years of sticking it out.

Modern relationships require two people, often with different interests, personal styles, ways of communicating, and habits, to live together for 60 years  People change enormously over those years.  Learning to let things go and focus on the big picture can go a long way.  Good communication doesn't always mean saying everything.  Good manners can soften hearts.  Laughing together can ease tension.

When my son was born I vividly recall feeling my heart crack open, and from within it's very centre a feeling of pure love flowing out to protect and care for him like no else could.  I've learned a few things about that kind of love too.  Love is not enough to become a great parent.

I know now of what Kahlil Gibran meant when he wrote of children, "You may give them your love, but not your thoughts for they have their own thoughts.  You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you  For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday".

Childhood is idyllic only in retrospect.  Children have lives as complex as those of adults, and it takes as much time and effort to build a respectful relationship with my son as it does a grown up.

Families are a source of our greatest joy and also out greatest sorrow.  Zorba the Greek called families, "the whole catastrophe".  Learning to apologize can eliminate a great deal of anger and sorrow.

The rhythm of life is mostly about the blah blah blah...then drama, magic, sparkles, then back to the grind of moving through the day.  I've learned that trying to celebrate moments, recognizing positive change and noticing the profound can transform our moods and keep us focussed on the important stuff.

For me, the profound can be as simple as catching the look a father gives his son that shows how deeply he cares that his son is happy.  Profound can be the smile a wife gives her husband when she sees that he now understands where she has been coming from; he sees her.

I've learned that contentment within oneself and within relationships involves learning to balance one's dreams within reasonable expectations.

As a young man I recall hearing words that became my life's mantra, my internal compass.  These words defined my behavior and influenced the choices I've made as I have journeyed through time.  The words were, "Who you are when no one else is looking, is who you really are".