Relationship Based on Freedom

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Dec 142013

My son Bill and I will do doing our third Monk and CEO program on December 16. This one will be about healing relationships, and I have been reflecting on what I have learned about relationship in my marriage. There are many things, of course, but the one that stands out at this point is how freedom to be myself and to be an independent person has provided the space for a growing relationship of intimacy. Yes, it is counter-intuitive. Independence can lead to a more intimate relationship.

When my wife and I were in our mid-fifties, I wasn’t at all sure the relationship would last, and this activated panic in me. How could I get along without Sarah? How could I be complete as a person? Fortunately, I was in therapy at the time, a step that had been stimulated by Sarah’s drive for greater intimacy in our relationship. Many of my therapy sessions dealt with our uncertain relationship. My therapist helped me face the reality that my marriage might not last. Ultimately, I had no control over my wife and what she did. However, therapy also helped me see that I could have a life without her, even though that was not in any way my preference. I started to see that I was already a whole person, and didn’t have to have her to complete me.

I also read several books on relationship including one about co-dependent relationships. This helped me see that I had been co-dependent with my wife and thought I needed her to complete my personhood, to fill in gaps in myself. I also started to see the possibility for freedom from that dependence and the empowerment that would result. I started to be less afraid of the future and whether I would remain married.

This book also taught, and my therapist supported the view, that truly strong relationships can only be built on a stance of independence (I am already a complete person) and not from co-dependence (I need the other person to complete me). Living from the reality of independence, two people have the freedom to be fully self-expressed and the opportunity to be related deeply from who they truly are; they can become inter-dependent, two whole persons who are able to share life without clinging.

All of this happened in my life over 20 years ago. Sarah and I are still married, and I am still learning how to be in relationship. However, we are reaching depths in our relationship that I would not have dreamed of when I was in my fifties. I am thankful each day for my marriage of over 56 years, a relationship that still is unfolding based on freedom and commitment, a relationship moving toward inter-dependence.

 Posted by at 9:31 pm

Shared Experience- A Path to Closer Relationship

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Dec 122013

My son Bill and I are currently preparing for our third Monk and CEO program, which will be on healing relationships. This has brought up for me many memories of our time together, including our trip to the Abbey of Gethsemane where Thomas Merton lived.

While Bill was in graduate school, he asked if I would be interested in going to the Abbey of Gethsemane with him for a retreat. He had felt deeply moved by the writings of Thomas Merton and wanted to spend some time at Merton’s home and be among the monks who currently live there. This was at the point in my life when I had realized the importance of my family to me and felt my desire to strengthen family ties, including my relationship with Bill. Although I didn’t know much about Merton, I jumped at the chance to spend time with Bill. There had been considerable conflict and misunderstanding between us as I had pursued my corporate career and Bill had started exploring a spiritually centered life. I wanted to bridge the gap between us, and this was a good opportunity.

We went to Gethsemane and spent about three days, living as the monks lived. For the most part we were silent while there, even while eating, and had prayed twice and had communion before breakfast each morning. I also spent time in the library and started reading Merton books, a step that was to enrich my life subsequently. Merton seemed to speak for me in powerful ways. As an example, the following prayer described my life experience so well and still does:

“My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going.  I do not see the road ahead of me.  I cannot know for certain where it will end.  Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so.

“But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you.  And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing.  I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire.  And I know that if I do this, you will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it.  Therefore will I trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death.  I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.[1]

In making this suggestion, Bill gave me a great gift. I not only came to know him better and see the wisdom of his path but also to form a new connection with the teachings of Thomas Merton, a blessing that has enriched my life ever since that visit. As we left the abbey, I said to Bill, “I understand silence now.” Bill and I shared an experience that was meaningful for each of us. Even though we saw it differently, we recognized that it was special for each of us, and this shared experience brought us closer together. To this day, we still talk from time to time about Thomas Merton, some aspect of his writings, and our time together at the abbey.

[1] Growing Up After Fifty: From Exxon Executive to Spiritual Seeker, by Bob Epperly, pp. 71-72, Human Sun Media, 2013.

 Posted by at 4:59 pm