Relationships: The Doctoral Program of Life Lessons

Last Monday, I so resonated to Mike Dooley’s daily “Notes From the Universe,” I postponed the blog post I had prepared for today, to share this one instead.

To set the stage for today’s insights, here’s the note I received from Mike, verbatim:

“It isn’t easy at first, but one of the greatest gifts you could ever give someone who makes your heart soar is the freedom to learn their own lessons, at their own pace.

Even trickier is discovering that one of the greatest gifts you could ever give someone who gets on your nerves is the freedom to learn their own lessons, at their own pace.

And perhaps most challenging of all is understanding that one of the greatest gifts you could ever give yourself is the realization that your heart soaring and your nerves fraying have never been dependent upon other people and their lessons.

Tallyho, The Universe”

Thanks, Mike. I needed a nudge to re-explore what I’ve learned about relationships.

Relationships: The Doctoral Program of Life Lessons

Healthy boundaries are at the core of healthy, harmonious, fulfilling relationships.

Such boundaries are not about separation; they are about creating an environment that fosters constructive core energy characterized by love, respect, curiosity, compassion and gratitude. One of the greatest gifts we give others is not choosing to love them; it is having the generosity and courage to allow them to love us. If at this point in our exploration you’re hoping for a big dose of holding hands and singing “We Are the World,” you’re in for a disappointment.

Relationships are not
for the naïve or faint of heart.

Relationships are the doctoral program of life lessons. Just when we think we’re starting to get the hang of living from unconditional self-love, the Universe raises the bar and sends us relationships. As challenging as you may have found the journey of self-love, it is by comparison relatively easy to accomplish in isolation. It is much trickier in community with others.

Relationships offer the opportunity to recognize and transform any and all vestiges of unexamined fear within ourselves, thereby becoming even clearer channels for love and light at all times and in all situations. They are, in the words of George Frideric Handel’s Messiah, “the refiner’s fire.”

Intimate relationships are loving mirrors.

The adage of opposites attracting is based in part on the idea that we seek in our companions a way to complete the underdeveloped or unappreciated parts of ourselves. Now there is a formula for friction! You can choose to walk around feeling annoyed and put upon most of the time or, like the oyster, choose to embrace the irritant and set your intention to create a pearl. It’s up to you. You are the decider; what will you do with your precious gift of life? How might you find greater joy in your relationships if you weren’t so attached to tolerating them with resentment?

Kick all thoughts of “fixing” others to the curb.

Even if they let you do it, it is not kind. It robs them of their personal power and opportunity for personal growth. By forcing a situation on them that they may not be ready for, you expose them to a sense of failure and cheat them of the opportunity for authentic, organic growth that could have empowered them by unfolding in its perfect time. As with the man who thought he was making it easier for the struggling butterfly by cutting it out of the cocoon, it does not matter what you think your motivations are; the butterfly is still dead and you’re the one holding the scissors. It is neither respectful nor realistic. You can’t make anyone else change. Substantive, lasting change comes from within.

Share ideas and possibilities freely.
Then completely detach from the outcome.

When you find it hard to do so, your real opportunity is not to “fix” the other person’s life. It is to figure out what feeling you believe you’ll have, the one you won’t let yourself have now, once they get in alignment with your plan. Next, get curious about what fear is blocking you from allowing yourself to feel that feeling, just as things are. Finally, determine what truth and love-based reality you could substitute for your chosen fear-based lie and illusion to produce the desired feeling for yourself right now, without anyone else having to change anything else. If you are really interested in changing someone’s life for the better, focus on the only life for which you have been given both the responsibility and ability—your own. In the process, you will find that moods can be contagious. Your greater joy and fulfillment will improve the experience and opportunities of everyone and everything you encounter.

What kind of companion are you,
and what type of people
do you spend most of your time with?

Honest, optimistic, encouraging people committed to mutual growth? Companions who share deep, meaning-filled relationships? People who lift one another up and help raise one another’s energetic frequencies when they are low? Or wet blankets, devil’s advocates and downers?

Take great care in choosing your closest relationships. While we may have great love, respect and compassion for others who are choosing to fuel themselves with fear, it is not necessarily optimal to expose ourselves to a constant diet of such companions. Yes, mindfulness can help you keep yourself clear, but a constant need to be on alert for attitude and mood contagion is exhausting. Even the strongest among us needs a break now and then. Pay attention to what you are feeding your sense of belonging.

While challenging relationships
present great learning opportunities,
they are debilitating on a regular basis.

One of the reasons we become stuck in codependent, mutually destructive relationships is that we are resisting appropriate allocation of responsibility. When we choose to remain attached to the energy of regret and resentment, we entrap ourselves in a shame and blame web of our own making, unable to break free into self-responsibility and healthy detachment. Learning to bring to bear unconditional love, respect, curiosity, compassion and gratitude produces the shift from a disempowering core energy of fear, reeking of “I don’t matter” and “I am powerless,” to an empowering core energy of love, emanating “I matter” and “I am powerful.”

Relationships have been
the greatest teachers in my life.

While often they didn’t feel helpful at the time, in hindsight I can see that they provided the sacred space in which I received my most difficult lessons about the true meaning of healthy boundaries. They were the classroom in which I learned how to establish constructive limits for myself and how to recognize when my “desire to help” was not fueled by core energy of love but by fear in the form of anxiety, self-doubt, avoidance or arrogance.

Across a variety of roles and venues—daughter, sister, parent, wife, mother, boss, subordinate, coach, friend—I had to be taught these lessons about respecting my own and others’ boundaries again and again before I began to see the light. These same advanced classes are the ones to which the Universe continues to invite me each day.

Don’t set your intention to develop
more patience or better boundaries
unless you are prepared
to embrace the inevitable upheaval.

We only become better at anything with practice. Practicing patience and boundaries requires doing so in difficult situations. It is the only way to get good at it. To illustrate, I’ll share three personal examples I experienced while writing my book. They are part of a stream of ongoing moment-by-moment opportunities the Universe keeps sending to help me deepen my own ability to live these lessons, clarify my boundaries and strengthen my commitment to my calling. They included two of my beloved cats being diagnosed with illnesses, my husband undergoing two surgeries in one month—with two more to come—and a rift in a long-term friendship.

So how did I fair? I remained on an even keel in handling the two cat-astrophes, demonstrating real progress in my ability to be fully present when I perceive my loved ones are in pain or danger. I didn’t even consider my past practice of spinning death horror stories in my head that would only serve to freak me out and block me from accessing my deepest wisdom. I embraced my responsibility for my cats’ diagnoses and care and continued chipping away at sculpting the framework chapters of this book. I remembered that all relationships are sent to us for a season and a reason. I practiced being here now, appreciating every moment life gives me with the furry family members I adore.

I also did fairly well with my husband’s surgeries, trying to be supportive (love) without being intrusive (fear). I freely admit to a few times when I stuck my nose in and pushed my approach over his (disrespect). The good news is that I noticed my slips quickly (curiosity), didn’t beat myself up (love, respect, and compassion), apologized voluntarily (love and respect) and shifted my focus back to writing the framework chapters, trusting my husband to manage his own healthcare.

The rift in the friendship proved
the greatest challenge of the three for me.

I did a bit of obsessing, which distracted and blocked me from writing and other happy endeavors. But I also handled it, especially the fear, much more constructively than I have handled such situations in the past. I applied curiosity instead of judgment in assessing what my friend and I each contributed to the rift. Over a period of months, I made multiple attempts to repair it. When it became clear to me that reconciliation was not in the cards, I released all of it with love and light and firmly but lovingly closed the door. For me to have pushed the situation any further at the time would not have been loving, respectful or compassionate to either of us.

With deep disappointments,
this release process is often iterative.

When the pain of such experiences resurfaces periodically, I try to resist distracting myself with eating to excess, shopping until I drop or working harder and longer. I set my intention to embrace my feelings with curiosity and identify the opportunity for even deeper healing within me. Sometimes there’s an aspect for which I bear responsibility that I’ve not fully accepted. Other times there’s an element of my friend’s responsibility that I’m still trying to carry. I focus my energy on embracing my own lessons and completely detaching from my friend’s lessons because, frankly, they are none of my business. I have enough on my own plate at all times to keep me constructively occupied. I remind myself that we each did the best we could with the wisdom we gave ourselves access to at the time. I foster genuine gratitude for the growth our relationship has offered me and release both of us into the loving arms of the Universe to move forward on our individual paths.

I am genuinely grateful for the advanced class in boundary setting and the opportunity to share it here (yet another silver lining). In the Bible, Ecclesiastes 3:1 (The Message version) tells us, “… there is a right time to everything on earth.” The Tao rules of engagement for right relationships express this principle as, “When you come, we welcome you. When you stay, we do not hold on to you. When you leave, we do not pursue you.”

If the Universe feels my friend and I
still have unfinished business, It will
reopen the door when the time is right.

If not, the time may have come for us to move on permanently because we are meant to learn our remaining life lessons through other situations and relationships.

One way or another, we’re going to keep being offered the lessons until we learn them. The longer it takes, the tougher the lessons get. As we say in the practice of Reiki,

May I learn my lessons quickly
and gently and help others do so as well.

The only person controlling your life is you. Turn unexplored possibilities into fulfilling realities by harnessing the transformative power of love to step into your greatness. Choose your energy and change your life!

Mike Dooley of (Totally Unique Thoughts) believes everyone is special, every life is meaningful and “thoughts become things.” Imagination is a gift that can bring love, health, abundance and happiness into our lives. CLICK HERE to join over 600,000 other people who’ve signed up for his completely FREE email-based “Notes From the Universe”—daily reminders that you are adored and powerful and that dreams really do come true.


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About djwlifecoach

I am retired from 40+ years of helping individuals and teams build lives and organizations they love. One of the great joys of my retirement from professional practice is having greater bandwidth to donate my professional and creative talents to support and promote animal and social welfare charities. During my 30 years as an organization transformation consultant, I served as a senior partner in four of the world’s largest, most prestigious global professional services firms. In 2005, I took a five-year sabbatical to find healing and peace because non-stop work had taken its toll. My recovery from burnout led to finding my purpose guiding others on their journeys. As a board-certified coach, author, consultant, radio host, Reiki Master and EFT/tapping practitioner, I share hope, possibilities and empowerment with the world. 111419 DJW Sid CH Pet Corner Photo ShootI help clients achieve rapid, extraordinary, sustainable results by connecting who they are with what they do, a connection often lost through stress and the sheer busy-ness of daily life. Courageous self-awareness and unconditional self-love lead to honest choices based on priorities that nurture you and those around you on a journey to wholeness. Decades in coaching, consulting, change management, organization development, human resources and mixed media artistic expression honed my business sense, professionalism, creativity, intuition, leadership and communication skills. The result? Practical tools that help you become more insightful, creative, committed, productive and fulfilled. Even the most dedicated and hard-working individuals can shift from frustration to a sense of futility when their values, passion, work, and lives become disconnected. One of the problems with not taking care of our health is that the effects of ignoring it are often slow to show up. We continue to juggle family responsibilities, work and finances until we lose ourselves, waking up one day 50 pounds heavier in body and soul—no good to ourselves or anyone else. I love working with people who are ready to take life-changing action to make their dreams a reality. At each moment, you have inside you all the wisdom you seek to choose your life and your way of showing up. Limiting thoughts, beliefs and feelings can block you from moving forward. An absence of love and concern for yourself can result in negative head talk that holds you back with discouraging messages about who you are and what you can do. By listening and caring deeply, I guide you in connecting with your own inner wisdom. We identify the way you’d like to live. We determine what’s blocking you and release you from the hold those blocks have over you—unleashing the positive energy that will fuel you forward. Together we develop a plan to move you closer to your heart’s desire. My books, blog, radio show and signature coaching programs help individuals and organizations harness the transformative energy of love to turn unexplored possibilities into fulfilling realities and step into their greatness. What’s love got to do with it? Everything! My book, Choose Your Energy: Change Your Life! (Hay House/ Balboa Press 2013) shares my story and the stories of 10 of my clients along with my signature Discovery Framework. For fun, I love reading, sewing, knitting, yin yoga, afternoon tea, opera and movies. I live in Williamsburg, Virginia with my spouse, Wilson Abney, and the cat who runs our life, Maisy Jane.
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