My First Two Couples Sessions as an Amazon
Hello you wonderful group of people. I can hardly tell you how glad I am to be back with you, and to be doing this Tele-class today. This Tele-class is particularly meaningful for me. As you know I am back in my regular daily life, after a powerful Rite of Passage. I feel blessed to say that I am healthy and strong, and that I have joined the “clan of the one-breasted women.” I am now an Amazon! And it inspires me to be awake, alert, intentional at a whole new level. It motivates me to embrace daily life in a more conscious and coherent manner. I am also giving myself a chance to dwell in the “not-knowing place.” And I am dedicating this coming year to discover what lies in the “hidden realm” for me. Today I want to take this opportunity to thank all of you for being in my life at this time and for giving me a chance to speak about my beloved work.
I decided to dedicate this first Tele-class to the first two sessions which I did after the Sabbatical month that I took after the mastectomy on July 26th. And as I began to write this lecture, I realized something I had not seen before. It was about “goodbyes” and “hellos”: the “goodbye” to my left breast, and the “hello” to my new life as a one-breasted woman.
As you know I said a very conscious goodbye to my left breast. But what I only realized in preparing myself for this talk with you today, is that the timetable that I gave myself to fully enter back into daily life corresponds with the wisdom of the period of Shiva. Shiva is the Jewish ritual of mourning for a loved one. You take seven days of full focus, exclusively on the process of grieving. Then you take one month, still paying attention to the goodbye but doing your daily life. And then you take one year, where you put your consciousness on all the “firsts.”
After the mastectomy I had the seven days of full focus. I rested, relaxed, took it easy, walked in nature, sat in the sun, visited with Yumi and my children and grandchildren. Then I took a month Sabbatical to intentionally and consciously live into my new reality. I had so much energy that I decided to Marie-Kondo our “nest.” I let go with gratitude of everything that did not spark joy anymore and found the right “nest” for everything that does. And now I am finding myself embracing this new year, a year of “firsts.” Everything is new. I have never done life as an Amazon.
My first day back at work was on Monday August 29, 2016. I met my couple in the Tokyo Room, at the Downtown D.C. Marriott. It was the same room that I worked in in May 2016, before I left with Yumi for our big overseas adventure. At that time, while I was there, there was a conference for people who had either lost one or both of their legs. All day long I saw them walking around. Never in my life had I seen so many of them together. And wherever I went, the ladies room, Starbucks, the Lobby, there they were.
And then I knew: “The Kosher Choreographer is wanting to give me an important message.” And what came to me is that we do not always have the luxury to say “goodbye” when we lose a part of our body. It could be from an explosion, from an accident, in battle. And I suddenly realized that I was given the luxury to say a conscious “goodbye” to my left boob in my own way and in my own time.
What was eerie was that as soon as I realized the opportunity I was given, I did not see one more person from that conference. It was as if they were sent to me as messengers. And when I received the message, their mission was accomplished. So on my first day back at work I had the opportunity to say a big thank-you to these messengers for their meaningful contribution to my life’s journey.
The young couple I met with on my first day back at work was a couple whom I had seen twice for a two-day intensive.
He: petulant, genius, self-made billionaire, utterly creative, very young emotionally, enormous gap between the superior functioning in the world and the relational capacities.
She: magnificently beautiful, soulful, kind, young emotionally but with some relational skills.
They are not married, and they have an adorable little boy, who is 10 months old. Their relationship has been marred by a relational coping pattern of “ins-and-outs” by him, the door sometimes slamming, but always staying a bit ajar, to her befuddlement, confusion and overwhelm. She then feeling helpless and powerless and paralyzed.
When they came in on that Monday, and I asked them about the deepest aspiration they are putting on the horizon as a direction for the day, he said, “We are not here to work on our relationship. We are here to work on custody for our son.” The brusque tone in his voice took my breath away. As I listened to both of them, it seemed that indeed finding a good way to share parenting was what they had come in for. I let them know that I do not do custody work. But that shared parenting might be something to explore.
We took a break. I needed a break. There was toxicity in the space, with a sense that at any moment there could be an avalanche of reactivity. What do I do?
I then decided to do the Expert Process with them, inviting each one of them to be an expert for the question: “What is the most beneficial environment for a little baby boy when his mother and father are not a couple anymore?” They were to listen thoughtfully and generously to the other’s point of view as an expert on the subject. What ensued was a hotchpotch mixture of some good thinking and a lot of charged, volatile reactivity.
I sat. I sat in a new way. I sat there as a true witness. I looked. I observed. And I pointed out calmly which were the wise thoughts of an expert and which were the impassioned reactions of two people, who love each other a lot, and are closing the door to their couple-ship.
Then we took a very short lunch break. I asked the heavenly hosts for assistance. I did not know what to do. I also wondered why on earth on this first day back did I find myself in this hostile, conflictual atmosphere between two people who profoundly love each other, and cannot live with or without each other.
And then I had a brainstorm. It was based on the fact that when I don’t know what to do, I go back to basics. The guiding principle is always two clear distinctions:
- the distinction between the “survival dance” and the “essence of connection,” between coping in isolation and living in connection
- the distinction between the “upward trend” and the “downward pull”
So I decided the following: I will take two very large flip charts which I found, by the exquisite Kosher Choreographer, in the closet of the room. On one flip chart I will write “LIFE!” and on the other one I will write “COPING!”
And so when the couple came in after lunch, the flip charts were ready. I explained to them again that custody is a different process, which I do not do. However, what is my specialty is to focus exclusively on the sacred space and the little sanctuary being established for a little boy, loved dearly by both his mother and his father. That is my specialty.
Whatever occurred in the room after that introduction went either on the “LIFE!” chart, or on the “COPING!” chart. I wrote down the wise, intentional, coherent ideas and opinions on the “LIFE!” chart. And I put the reactive, sometimes mean, sometimes offensive and aggressive statements on the “COPING!” chart. I told them that we would take one hour to establish this distinction to see if it got us anywhere.
As I was myself focusing on the two distinctions, I could stay calm, patient, self-possessed. The “COPING!” chart got very full. However, the “LIFE!” chart had some deeply soulful, wise, clear and coherent statements. They were the essential declarations of responsible parents. On the other hand, the relational space between them just got more and more toxic and venomous.
I sat. I watched. I observed. And I was asking God: “Tell me. Why is this my first day back at work? Why am I sitting here today, seeing one of the worst survival dances ever? Tell me.”
And suddenly I heard an answer. The answer I got was: “End the session here. But give them your best advice, from your heart and soul. Do it in an encounter way with each of them.”
And so the hour was up. And I started by re-reading for them the wisdom and the enlightenment which they had generated on the “LIFE!” chart.
And then I said: “I don’t usually give advice. But I am inspired to bring this session to an end with some guidance for each one of you.”
I took a deep breath, and I looked at both of them with that sense of wanting to hold them close to my heart for an eternity.
I told her two things:
1- “Do let go of him. Say goodbye in your heart to the good, the bad, and the hopes and dreams. Let go of this man whom you love dearly, and whom you will love forever.”
2- “When you let the baby be with him, trust his fathering. He is a good dad. And he has enormous gifts to give to his son.”
I told him two things:
1- “Honor this woman. Honor the mother of your child. Honor her with all your heart and resources. Remember always that you love her and that you will love her forever.”
2- “When things don’t go your way, watch your petulant reactivity. Observe yourself there. And learn to apologize and to transcend, just the way you did with me today.”
They left. I sat blown away. I could not think of one good thing that had come out of this day. I could not understand why this was my first day back at work as an Amazon. I was disturbed and exhausted, and yet in a whole new way I had never felt before, simultaneously peaceful and serene.
The next day I wrote them a short report describing what I just wrote. And then a miracle occurred. They both answered thanking me for the major importance of this day.
She wrote: “We went home in silence. As soon as we saw our little son, we stepped up to fully be with him, both of us together.” They laughed, they played, they loved him. And then they made love, in the night, and they made love in the morning. They experienced “LIFE!” at its fullest.
I wrote back. I told them that they had chosen “LIFE!” when they got home. However I said: “The hungry monster of the relational coping pattern is still there with you, to catch you in your vulnerable moments. Work needs to be done to stretch the relational muscle that can say NO to this hungry monster!”
And here is what I wrote to them:
“I was delighted to be meeting with you both and happy to see you again. As I prepared myself for the day, I was looking forward to take another step in the journey of your relationship as a couple. And then you took my breath away. You had come not as a couple to work on your connection, but rather you had closed that door. And you had come as parents to see if you could wisely share parenting of this special little boy of yours. And the purpose was a good one: creating the safest, most comfortable, secure, easy, nourishing environment for your son. In the depth of your souls, neither one of you wants this child to become a yo-yo and a pawn caught in the tensions of a challenging love relationship. You both truly want what is best for this baby boy.
The day we spend together brought to light what you both know deeply and well:
- You love each other with a big enduring love.
- You love your boy with every cell of your beings.
- You also are caught inside of a deadly relational coping pattern, which has you both suffering greatly when you are together.
During the day we spent together, I witnessed again and again how this relational coping pattern takes over. It discombobulates both of you. It is like a hungry monster that eats both of you up before you even know that it is hungry. And at that point neither of you can think clearly, and you are each in your own emotional reactivity to the other. I know that this is exactly what you want to avoid for your baby boy to be caught in.”
In my message to them I expanded on the two pieces of advice I gave each of them on the day.
And then I ended my communication to them with my deep appreciation for who they are in their essence.
To her I said:
“You are a magnificent, beautiful and loving woman, and you are a delicious mother.”
To him I said:
“You are a unicum, an unmatched bundle of power, and energy, and creativity.”
“Your boy is lucky to have you both. Inside of him, he combines the unique and outstanding strengths and resources that you both bring to the table. May you look back at this time and be able to say: “We did the right thing as a team, and with generosity of spirit towards each other.”
One more thing that I would like to add about the day’s session: At the conclusion of the day, the young man asked if he could have a moment with me alone. I normally let people know that I don’t meet alone with one party. This time, I accepted. His request of me was to know if I would meet with him alone for a two-day growth session. He asked me to think about it and not give him an immediate answer.
Here is what I wrote to him:
“When we saw each other on Monday, I was very touched by two moments that occurred just between you and me. One was when you came back into the room and you apologized to me for your reactivity. Your face was soft, and your eyes authentically expressed your genuine regret. The second one was when I gave advice at the end of our day to both your partner and you. When I turned to you, I looked deep into my neshama, my soul, to find the precise counsel that would go from my heart to your heart. And then I felt inspired to say to you, ‘Honor this woman. Honor the mother of your child. Honor her.’ Again your face softened. And in your eyes I saw your deep and heartfelt sensitivity and your thoughtful understanding. You took a breath, and you stayed quiet for a moment, allowing the true meaning of the act of honoring the ‘other’ to settle inside of you. And then you said: ‘I know what you are saying to me. It is right.’
At the end of the day, you asked to be alone with me. You wanted me to consider giving you personal counseling time in a two-day workshop. I was touched by the sincerity with which you made the request, as well as by the wisdom you had to say to me: ‘Don’t give me an answer now. Just you considering it is a gift to me.’
I thank you for that. I am moved by how seriously you are undertaking your journey of ‘tikkun,’ the journey of repair, healing, transformation and completion. You have welcomed your son in your heart, and being a father is growing your neshama, your soul. And I am clear that you are serious and determined about tending to your personal growth and development.
I am not sure that you know that I have made a commitment to myself to see only couples, and to work only on Shalom Bait, peace in the home. And now is a completely new time in my life. I am BACK! And my decisions about what I do, and what I do not do, are now even more vital and significant. And so for you and your partner, I want to remain exclusively a resource for the two of you as a couple and for the three of you as a family. My specialty is the honoring of the relational space and its sacredness. My focus is on you both taking the next steps that allow for this destructive relational coping pattern, what I have called the hungry monster, to dissolve so that your child can be with parents who know how to journey productively, and so that both of you can flourish.”
And so this was the very first session I did with a couple on the very first day that I came back to work as an Amazon. It was baffling, laborious, challenging, thought-provoking. When I came home after the day I felt that I had failed the couple. I felt I was in tricky waters, in a shark infested pool. I had been there many times in my career as a couples therapist. But there was something different for me that day.
What was new this time, is that I was holding all these feelings with the concurrent consciousness of “not-knowing.” I knew deep down, at all times during that day, that I did not know the real result that would occur for this couple, after being with me on this unique day in my own life. I knew that I did not know. And so I was simultaneously tired and peaceful. And that was new.
I then heard from them the next day about the choice they made for “LIFE!” and I realized again that during this year, as an Amazon, I want to spend much time in the “not-knowing” place and be open for the “hidden realm” to reveal itself, in its own good time.
The next weekend I saw my second couple after my Sabbatical month. Coincidentally it was the younger brother with his companion, also not married. And here I had a new learning. It came in the form of a deeper understanding of the importance of one’s place in the family constellation.
The first man that I saw was the first son in a family of seven children. He took the brunt of the mega-violence from the father in the family. He was on the front lines. The second brother was number four and the second son. But the eldest was a girl. And when this little brother was born, she was already a bit older, and she took this baby brother under her wings. And so for him, during the critical period when the neural pathways in the brain connect around bonding and attachment, there was a loving, joyful, sweet thoughtful attachment figure: his big sister.
The difference between the two men was striking. Both are strapping, big, brilliant, accomplished, powerful. Yet the older one lives with a gigantic gap between his level of functioning in the world, which is exceptionally high, and his emotional/relational capacity, which is unusually low. His brother on the other hand has a more integrated inner world, and a greater emotional/relational IQ. And yet, even this younger brother, as a young boy, was deeply traumatized. With his hunger for a sweet connection with a man, he got close to a neighbor who took advantage of the boy’s longing for connection and violated him sexually.
But here is the difference that makes the difference. The big brother did not know connection at all. The younger brother hungered for something he knew. And even though the pervasive physical and emotional violence in the home was traumatizing to the entire family, the terrified and paralyzed mother included, the one boy had an attachment figure and the other one did not. The sexual abuse from the neighbor occurred when the boy was old enough for the memories to be stored in explicit memory and for the journey to have more integration.
And so from the point of view of the Encounter-centered work:
- With the first couple, it entails building the relational muscle from scratch.
- With the second couple it entails stretching an atrophied but already existing relational muscle.
As far as the encounter goes, the one couple is an accidental tourist in the “zone” of the encounter. They can taste it. It nourishes them for the moment. But because of the bottomless pit, the experience is not integrated, and the relational nourishment cannot yet be digested.
The second couple, when discovering the encounter zone, could be blown away by the experience, process it deeply in their learnings, digest the nourishment it provides, and then absorb the presence of the other in a completely new and beneficial way.
As a result, with the younger brother we could step into the full Intensive journey, with all of its steps, including a very powerful and effective unraveling of the Survival Knot on Day II. They both went down the “U” and came back on the other side with that sense of coherence of the “future calling.”
Here are their Main Squares and their core reasons.
Her Main Square: “The Main Square of Romance.”
She got there from a first statement which was: “When you disconnect, I feel alone and insecure.” And she arrived at “I know that you are a romantic. And romance is a huge part of living life and a key component to enriching our love.”
The poem they read to each other, sitting on a bench in the sun in the Main Square, was one that he sent to her during a time of disconnection:
“I stayed away to heal my soul.
Being ‘for you’ was my only goal.”
Her Core Reason:
“It is essential that I say this to you today because life is too short, and so I want you to be alive and present and happy, so that we can build a home together and create a happy home for our children to come, and together be an example to other couples who are less fortunate. And then when we are grounded in our own relationship, we can really enrich people in our community and together be a force.”
His Main Square: “The Main Square of the deep silence of the soul.”
He got there from the first statement which was: “Sometimes you put me in a catch-22 situation where I feel trapped.” And he arrived at: “I want to be your partner fully. I need you to throw away your expectations and your maps. Without noise and in the deep silence of the soul, you and I can have a real journey together. We could be something special together.”
His Core Reason:
“It is essential that I say this to you today because with this I make sense of my childhood, and I right the wrong of the past. If I do it alone, they have won. So we must do it together, you and I, so that we will leave this place a lot better off for everyone, and especially for our families and for us.”
The two-day session ended with the two of them having deeply connected.
Here is what they wrote:
She: “It has been three days and I still feel such deep presence from the work we did together. Our work together has already brought so much to our relationship. My partner has been more loving and true to his feelings than he has been in over a year. I loved the way you brought us into each other’s worlds. Being in my partner’s world was beautiful and painful, but most of all beautiful. You have an incredible gift of seeing people for who they really are, in their true light. It feels as if you transported us to the purest and most innocent place in our relationship. Thank you for being so present with us. What you bring to the world is extraordinary. What you brought to our world was extraordinary.”
He: “We had a special two days, and I’ll keep this e-mail short, because I am still not an expert at expressing gratitude yet. But I am learning. I look forward to the additional information you send over. I’m especially curious to see the scanned copies of some of what I said when ‘hosting,’ because right now it’s a blur. Good thing is that I remember everything my partner said, especially the part about being romantic, and that even if she tells me what to do, and then I do it, it’s good -- what a concept!”
So here were two brothers, and two sessions, and two worlds. One is the world where the relational brain has not been given a chance to develop the neural pathways of bonding and attachment. And even though the love is big and heartfelt, the new does not stick. The other world is the world of growing a connection based on the mighty bonds of a rich friendship, which accompanies the love. The difference is the presence or the absence of the relational “WE” muscle.
It is with enormous gratitude that I spoke to you about this relational “WE” muscle today. Your being in my life has made it all possible. You have helped me grow my own “WE” muscle. Thank you!