Don Paglia | Marriage and Family Counseling. Constellations Workshops


Tip #81:

“It is not easy to tell one how to cast. The art must be acquired by practice.”

Charles Orvis-1883

I don’t care if we are talking about baking a cake, playing piano, playing golf, or making love. There is only so much one can learn from reading or studying about a given activity. Sooner or later one needs to roll up one’s sleeves (or take off the entire shirt) and get into the action. One also needs to be willing to make some mistakes, to do things poorly at first, and even run the risk of failing. I’ve addressed this notion of so-called failure other times before. Again, mistakes are not really mistakes if they get us to learn some important things, or help us improve our capacities, and ultimately help us to gain insights that prove helpful for future endeavors.

It’s best to simply see mistakes as learning experiences – that is, of course, if we have an expectation that there is something to learn. If we fall down and scrap our metaphorical knee and then stand back up and say to our self, ‘Oh well, I guess I won’t do that again or won’t do it that way in the future,’ that’s a good thing. By the way: We can learn from other people as well. We do not have to rely exclusively on our own experiences.

Other than with baseball we have the idea that we should somehow do things well or perform perfectly the very first time out in whatever endeavor we are doing, or else we have failed. This is simply not true. Baseball players, on the other hand, consider hitting the ball 3 out of 10 times when up at bat a pretty good hitting record. A 300 batting average would get you into the major leagues.  Whereas in real life we think you need to hit the ball 10 times out 10. Pretty dumb; not to mention very faulty thinking.  

Kaizen is a Japanese concept referring to business activities that promote, not perfection, but rather continuous improvement within all the various business functions including all employees from the CEO to the assembly line workers. Kaizen is the Sino-Japanese word for “improvement”. It has to do with processes, such as purchasing, logistics, and crosses organizational boundaries and on into even supply chains. It is now being applied in healthcare, psychotherapy, life coaching, government, banking and more. I try to get couples to apply this for their relationship.

By on-going improvements of programs and processes, Kaizen aims to eliminate waste. Interestingly, Kaizen was first practiced in Japanese businesses after World War II, in large part due to an American business man that brought it to Japan. Most notably it has been a fundamental part of The Toyota Way that brought Toyota into a highly competitive automotive market share. It has since spread throughout the world.

Regarding our current political situation, if the Democrats that have elected Joe Biden to be the next president with 75 million votes, but take this as justification to ignore the 70 million voters that did voted for Trump, we are just going to keep perpetuating the vicious cycle that ultimately changes nothing. Biden has asked that we all – his supporters and non-supporters – give each other a chance. He has vowed to serve as president of all Americans. But this also requires each of us to stop vilifying anyone who does not agree with us.

I see Joe Biden as someone who treats politics as being first and foremost about relationships. Long deceased Senator Tip O-Neill, once said, “All politics are local.” He even wrote a book with this as its title. In order to win elections progressives must fight for local governmental seats, and this means they must be responsive to those felt needs and concerns at the local, as well as, state and national levels.  This notion about listening to each other and about responding from a perspective that we are always in relationships makes it fundamentally about love.

Perhaps it seems strange that I bring up the subject of love. Hear me out. Love really is the answer. But what is love exactly? What do we really mean when we talk about love? Most of us have it very wrong. Many think of love as what movies, so-called love songs, and romance novels tell us.

We might think of love as having to do with having someone who makes us feel good and happy. This is a self-serving and juvenile idea of love. Real love – mature, adult love – is about wanting someone else to be happy and fulfilled – even if it means they do so without you. It is about wanting the very best for the other person.

It has to do with what many couples fervently have read during their wedding celebration from Paul’s letter to the Corinthians. Words that we are deeply touched by and then we seem to immediately forget right after the wedding ceremony or maybe following the honeymoon.

“Love is patient, is kind, does not envy, does not boost, is not proud, is not rude, is not self-seeking, is not easily angered, keeps no record of wrongs, does not delight in evil, rejoices with the truth, always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres, never fails.”

When we worked with engaged couples we often challenged them to read this scripture passage but substitute into the reading their own first name whenever the word love was read. As an example: I would say, “Don is patient, Don is kind, he does not envy, he does not boost, is not proud, Don is not rude…”

This is certainly a tall order. I know I do not love all the time, or love completely, or operate from a place of love nearly often enough. But this is what we are called to do. We do it imperfectly. We need to take on a Kaizen approach toward loving – having the possibility of continuous improvement.

Perhaps we can liken this call to loving more perfectly as us responding in always more mature ways regarding our thinking and behaving. This is similar to learning how to fly cast more skillfully. Practice, practice, practice.

It takes also more than just getting better techniques. It requires a new or more enlightened way of being. This new way of being requires us to have the prerequisites: open mind and open heart. This also means we develop a greater capacity for having real presence.

We cannot come from a place of love whenever we are afraid. Anxiousness is an aspect of fear. The opposite of love is not hate; it is fear. Hate is one expression of fear. Whenever we are afraid or anxious we cannot then be present and loving. That’s because we are caught up in survival mode. Our ego tells us to “watch out!”

Happiness comes to us through a practice of being present and open. And access to such openness can come about through meditation. No one has been able to define what the nebulous feeling of happiness actually is. But usually we get this quite wrong, as well.

In his book “A Monk’s Guide to Happiness,” Gelong Thubten, describes how he was able to rid himself of stress and fatigue through Buddhism. Eventually he became a monk.

In his book he states that “The best way to achieve happiness is to stop trying to find it.” He adds that “when we search for happiness, the searching becomes the problem. We are always hungry for something when we are looking for happiness – we are always searching for something more. We don’t ever feel happy because we are continually looking ahead, hoping to find something better. We are never satisfied with what we have.”

Buddhists believe that happiness is our natural state and that our brains are wired to be happy. Neuro-science backs this up. To find happiness, we can free ourselves of the daily distractions that obscure it from us through meditation.

The practice of meditation brings inner relaxation. When we free our self from the need to find happiness, paradoxically we discover that it was already there. Rather than thinking that our mind goes blank through meditation, we are simply controlled less by our thoughts.

Meditation allows our thoughts to pass by. It’s a bit like watching traffic. If we let our thoughts pass by; we are freed from the power they have over us. This turns out to be the way to happiness.

Thubten quotes a poem by Zen Buddhism teacher Shunryu Suzuki in his book to illustrate these points:

“You’re like a house

Leave the front door and back door open

Allow your thoughts to come and go

Just don’t serve them tea.”

Perhaps our own present day mystic, Dave Chappelle, offered us a powerful and epic message when last weekend on SNL he spoke of how for some of us we remember that terrible feeling we felt when Donald Trump won the election in 2016. He chided us to now realize that there are a lot of folks who are feeling that terrible feeling with Joe Biden’s win. He then went on to say that each side hates the other side for this terrible feeling. Chappelle then said, “I do not. I only hate that feeling.”

I refer us all back again to 1 Corinthians 1:3.