Category: discernment

The Science of Happily Ever After

This article from the Atlantic popped up in my Facebook feed earlier this week: Masters of Love.

It covers some of the research by social scientists relating to the success of marriages in response to rising divorce rates beginning in the 70s. In the first section of the article, the research of Psychologists John Gottman and Robert Levenson is reviewed. In their study they brought newlyweds into the lab and observed how they interacted with each other. They also hooked the couples up to electrodes to measure and record the body’s response to their interactions. Six years later, they brought the couples back in to see who was still together.

From their data, they grouped the couples into two groups the masters and the disasters. The masters were still happily together after six years, while the disasters had either broken up or were chronically unhappy. In their observations of the disasters, the disasters looked cool and calm during the interviews, however the electrodes told a different story of what was going on physiologically. Their heart rates were quicker, sweat glands more active, and blood flow was faster. The data pointed to a conclusion that the more physiologically active a couple was, the quicker their relationship deteriorated. The masters had a lower physiological response and were able to maintain warm and affectionate behavior even when they fought. This helped create a climate of trust and intimacy that made both partners more emotionally and physically comfortable.

In a follow-up study, Gottman and Levenson set up a lab to look like a bed and breakfast retreat and invited 130 couples to spend a day at this retreat. In this study, they observed the couples go about what they would normally do on a vacation. In this study, an observation would come that be a key indicator on whether or not a relationship would thrive or languish. Throughout the day, partners would make “bids” for the others attention. “For example, say that the husband is a bird enthusiast and notices a goldfinch fly across the yard. He might say to his wife, “Look at that beautiful bird outside!” He’s not just commenting on the bird here: he’s requesting a response from his wife—a sign of interest or support—hoping they’ll connect, however momentarily, over the bird.” In this scenario, the wife can respond by either “turning toward” or “turning away” from her husband. These interactions had a profound effect on marital well-being. The couples who had divorced by the six-year follow-up had “turn toward” bids only 33 percent of the time. Those that were still happily married had “turn toward” bids 87 percent of the time.

One of my goals as I move through the process of my divorce is looking at ways that I can improve myself and the way I will interact with a future partner. There was a time in my relationship/marriage with A that I was definitely in the “turning away” camp. There was at least one stretch of time in our marriage that it might have been pushing it to get up to the 33 percent of time for “turning towards.” In that time, the seed was planted that would eventually lead towards the pending divorce. While I did make an effort to improve my moments of “turning towards” during and after a period of couples counseling last summer and fall, it was perhaps already too late even at that point. The seed had been sown.

The article goes on to talk about the habits the masters have. How they are looking for things they can appreciate and say thank you for. In doing this they build a culture of respect and appreciation. Disasters end up looking for their partners mistakes. This behavior ends up building a culture of contempt and ends up being the biggest factor that tears partners apart. They give their partner the cold shoulder – deliberately ignoring or responding minimally – thereby damaging the relationship by making their partner feel worthless and not valued. This ends up not only killing the love in the relationship, it makes it harder for the partner to fight off physical ailments (such as viruses). In this culture of contempt we miss around 50 percent of the positive things our partner is doing and see negativity that isn’t there.

This paragraph reflects where I most contributed to the downfall of my marriage. I was guilty of this for far too long, creating an environment where…while love may have still been there…its hold was tenuous. I had killed enough of it that fighting for what remained became difficult. Stepping outside of comfort zones to have difficult discussions took more energy then it should have. It was easier to let the feelings of contempt to control our thoughts instead of the hard work of focusing on kindness and generosity.

So as I look to heal from the trauma of divorce and eventually to opening myself up to a new relationship it is important that I take lessons like this to heart. I need to focus on being someone who “turns toward” those bids for attention from romantic interests, friends, and really just people in general. I don’t want to be someone who’s heart is ruled by contempt. Kindness and generosity sound like a better way to live life.

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Intern intentionality

While looking for information on a different non-profit service org today, I came across the new site of the Episcopal Urban Intern Program (EUIP).  For those of you that don’t know, applying to the EUIP in 2007 led to me moving down to Los Angeles in August of 2007, though not as a participant in the EUIP.  One of the reasons I wasn’t selected was because of my age.  The EUIP is designed for folks approx 20-30 years old.  I was turning 31 in Auguest of 2007 (when it would have begun).  The program directors job was to choose good candidates who would have a good shot of forming a good community.  The interns that were selected were all between 21 and 24 that year (if I remember correctly).  I knew when I applied though, that I was pushing the age range, so I wasn’t too bummed out.  Plus I ended up getting offered a different opportunity to intern in Los Angeles through the Episcopal Church.  While that internship didn’t end up working out as well as I’d hoped it would, it was still a valuable experience for me.

This year, another one of my friends was accepted into a new intern program affiliated with the Campus Ministry at Cal State – Channel Islands…the Abundant Table Farm Project.  She luckily still fit under the 30 yr old ceiling most of the intern programs have.

Anyway, all this got me thinking about those of us in our 30s or 40s (or more) that are searching for ourselves, our spirituality, our intentionality.  Where can we participate in these kind of things?  I know my age group is more likely to be more settled into family life or a career (though maybe less so into careers in the current state of the economy), but there are many of us that are still searching for our vocation…or a vocational change.  Where do we go to find our community now that we are out of school?

I think this is something that I’ll add to my list to explore in the next year.

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Sketch 14

One of my friends asked me to ponder the question: “What do you really really really really want?”  To think about this absent of financial concerns, absent of the expectations of others.  Its a tough question I think, at least it is for me.  My first reaction is, “I don’t know what I want anymore.”  Which in some ways is also an answer to the question.  I want to know what I want.

In my current line of thinking, I want to learn how to make wine.  At least try it out.  I already know how to make beer, and I could pursue that, but something in me wants to keep that a hobby.  My thought was that I could find a job in Santa Rosa, and take some classes at the community college there.  However, so far my job search there hasn’t met with much success.  So I’ve been expanding the focus of my search.  Looking in Los Angeles, Seattle, Portland and Eugene.  I’ve found a few things, but I’m still greatly worried about what my life is going to look like in a month.  Right now its looking like I’m going to have to figure out something here in Los Angeles, maybe a temp job or something.  Of course that means figuring out someplace else here to live.

But my working/living situation isn’t the only area of life that I need to answer the “what do I want” question.  My spiritual life has suffered of late.  I don’t really feel that connected to it, to God.  It’s a struggle some days to remain hopeful in faith.  I want to reconnect with that again.  I want to hear God’s voice again.  Or at least feel God’s presence.

The past week has been spent mainly recuperating from the busyness of the prior week.  I’ve been kind of down and disheartened most of the time.  I pretty much avoided people all weekend, not really leaving my room much.  I skipped church Sunday morning, not because I slept in, but because I knew I had to be at work church that night.

Last night, I watched a movie, The Feast of Love, that was filmed in Portland.  Some scenes were filmed just a few blocks from my old apt in Portland.  One of my friends apt building was in the movie.  It made me miss Portland.  To think about my friends.  To wish I could visit, even just for one day, so I could be in some place that is so comfortable to me.

Continue reading

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Los Angeles

“I’m just trying to make some sense…..outta me”

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a rhino walks at the end of 2007

I made my first trip back to Oregon since moving to Los Angeles for Christmas.  It was an interesting experience, having been so homesick for much of my time here in Los Angeles.  I drove up to Eugene with a friend (though in separate cars), stopping in one of my favorite places, Ashland, OR, to break up the drive.  A nice relaxing evening in Ashland was just what was in order after a long day on I-5.  We were lucky going over the Siskiyou Pass, as if we had been another 10-15 minutes later, we’d have needed chains (which neither of us had).  After a late breakfast and a walk around downtown Ashland, we headed North on I-5 to continue our treks to our respective homes.

It was good being at home, seeing my Eugene friends, dancing at 80s night.  There was the typical family drama/stress…but really it was ok (I can say that now with some distance…while I was there, I was ready not visit the folks the next time I went to Oregon).  Really the important thing is that I was able to see my sisters.  I just have this feeling that any time now, we won’t all be able to gather as a family for the holidays.

As I look to the new year, I am still trying to settle into life in LA.  I’ve been here five months now and am just really starting to find my places around here.  My job is much more challenging than I ever thought it would be.  I often feel as if I am over my head.  I’ve been thinking a lot over the past couple weeks about whether or not I’m really ready to begin the process to go to seminary.  My thoughts are definitely leaning towards that I am not ready.  This of course brings up the question of what do I do in meantime.  Do I go back to school to teach or for law school?   Do I stay in Los Angeles beyond this school year?  These are the questions I’ll be trying to answer over the next few months.

That’s it for now, one of my goals for the new year is to make at least a weekly post here…so keep checking for updates 😉

I hope everyone has a great New Year!

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on thanksgiving…

I realized that this was first thanksgiving I’ve ever had without spending some time with my family.  It’s kinda weird how much its got me down, since holidays at home are always kinda stressful.  It is a weird dynamic, even though they often get on my nerves, I would give pretty much anything to have been home this weekend.

I’m struggling a lot right now.  I’m not adjusting as quickly (or easily) as I thought I would.  I’m not doing my job as well as I thought I would.  I’m doubting if its really the right fit for me.  Which makes me doubt whether or not the vocation I’ve been journeying towards is really where I should be going.  I miss Portland.  I miss the rain and grey skies.

But yet, I do not doubt that Los Angeles is where I am supposed to be right now.  I can’t completely explain it and it often doesn’t make a lot of sense to me.  Things aren’t all gloom here either.  I’ve got a couple of old friends that live down here that I get to hang out with once and awhile (though not enough).  I’ve also got a new close friend that I’ve met since being here.  I’ve found a really good church (in Beverly Hills of all places) to be a part of.  These are some of the things I’m thankful for this weekend.  I’m also thankful for my friends in New York, Portland and Eugene…who’ve listened to my whining over instant messaging chats.

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off the grid

Early tomorrow morning (as in 5.15am) I am heading out to Our Lady of Guadalupe Trappist Abbey for a weekend retreat.  I’m leaving the cell phone, the laptop and the bustle of the city behind.  What I’ll be taking with me, a couple books, my moleskine and an open mind and spirit.  It’ll be a weekend of silence and discernment.

The books I’ll have with me:

  • The Seven Storey Mountain by Thomas Merton
  • Jesus the Son of Man by Kahlil Gibran
  • The Essential Rumi translated by Coleman Barks

I’m sure I’ll have a lot to say about the weekend when I get back on Sunday!

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The Seven Storey Mountain (pt 2)

For my review of Part 1 of The Seven Storey Mountain click here.

Parts 2 & 3 of The Seven Storey Mountain were much more enjoyable for me.  And as a result, I got a lot more out of these sections of the book.  I think in the end I had the expectation of the later Merton who was much more open to non-Catholics.  The harshness of the young Merton (and Father Louis) was a little unsettling for me.

The things that stuck most for me in this section were nuggets of wisdom about discernment and vocation.  Merton’s journey from conversion to the monastery was fascinating for me as well.  My reading of this book has been timely for me.  This was of course a purposeful reading on my part.  With the hiatus of my path to seminary it has been a time to rediscover aspects of my faith.  My faith hasn’t been something I’ve questioned, however I have let it coast somewhat recently.  Its time for me to get my hands a little dirty with my spiritual life again.

I’m going to take a weekend retreat at Our Lady of Guadalupe Trappist Abbey next month.  I’m really looking forward to this time to really focus on my faith life.  There are also a few sections of The Seven Storey Mountain that I plan to meditate over the next month or so.  I’ll probably post on a few of those later on this blog.

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mountain climbing

Often when we have a goal in mind we try to take the straightest possible route to that goal.  However often, the straight route isn’t always the fastest or best route.  The example given to me this morning was of a sail boat tacking.  Since I haven’t done much sailing in my life, I can relate to it more in terms of hiking and climbing mountains.  When trails are built and there is a high grade of elevation gain to overcome, they are often built with switchbacks.  While in terms of distance, the trail becomes longer, it is actually easier on our bodies and often faster then trying to head straight up the side of a mountain.  (Actually come to think of it the principles are the same in sailing at trail building)

At my discernment meeting this morning, the group decided to bring itself to an end.  As a group (me included) it was discerned that now is not the time for me to pursue the priesthood.  It wasn’t a no, but a not yet.  I’m incrediably thankful for the members of my discernment group and all of the support they gave me throughout this part of the process.

So what does this all mean for me now?  Honestly, I have no clue.  For the immediate future, I am working up at OHSU as a Performance Analyst (at least that is what they are going to call the official position once they post it).  It’s actually a pretty cool job as office jobs go.  When they post the permanant position it’ll be only 0.6FTE, however that might not be a bad thing as it would give me the opportunity to explore other things.

What I need to remember now is: (1) Look for the positive things in the developments of the last week. (2) Learn from all the events that have affected my life in the last six months. (3) Pray and the Pray again.  (4) Be thankful for the wonderful friends I have.

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discerning the possibilities

It has been an interesting few months for me and my discernment process.  I’m not entirely sure if it has completely broken down or just taken a few steps backwards.  As it is for the moment, my committee is scheduled to meet again on Aug. 18th.  I still have not completed the last “formal” assignment the committee gave me back in May.  However, I am going to work on the essays over the next week and see if I can’t get something done for it.

What I’m most trying to figure out right now is what to do in the near term.  I have an interview with a company to teach english in Japan on Aug. 9th.  I’m still trying to decide whether or not I’d take the job if it is offered to me.  On one hand, it’ll be an incredible experience.  I’ll get to live abroad for a year, work on becoming semi-fluent in another language and eat lots of sushi.   On the other hand, the timeline to head off to seminary will be most definitely postponed.  One of the things that I’m wrestling with however, is whether or not my summer hiccup hasn’t already pushed back seminary until at least 2008.  If I do end up accepting a position in Japan, I will probably move my stuff down to Eugene and do some temp work there until I leave in order to save as much money as possible.

If I do end up deciding to stick to the current course of action and stay in Portland there are things I must decide here as well.  Things with my roommate have still not recovered to a point where I’d like them to be.  I’ve made an effort to move on from the anger and hurt I felt from his actions of a couple months ago.  For the most part that has made things a lot better.  However, every once in awhile, I really get a little down because he doesn’t really make any effort to include/invite me in/to things even though I have.  So I’ll need to decide whether or not I need to find a new place to live.  It just sucks sometimes feeling so alone in a place, even though you have a roommate…and feeling alone even if he’s there.

So that’s where things are at for the moment.  I’m not sure if I’ll post again until after the discernment committee gathering on the 18th. 

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