Teach this triple truth to all: A generous heart, kind speech, and a life of service and compassion are the things which renew humanity.—Buddha
As with most new couples, when Brian and I first married, we experienced several months of true bliss. But as anyone will tell you, marriage is not the same as the romancing prior to the wedding. Have you ever noticed we never really learn what happens to Cinderella after the prince sweeps her off her feet and they ride off together into the sunset? What no one tells you is that in real life you have to learn to live with each other’s habits, quirks, and, yes, downright annoyances.
While we were showered with numerous well wishes from friends and family, the one wedding gift we didn’t receive was the handbook on how to have a great partnership. And as you can imagine, being single for forty-four years didn’t exactly train me to share my life with anyone. As a businesswoman, I was used to making the decisions and calling the shots about where I was going, what I was doing, when, and with whom.
Brian, on the other hand, was a former successful athlete who had spent his life being a team player, caring deeply about how his actions affected other people and the world around him.
Early on in our relationship we decided that our union would be our number one priority. We promised each other that our choices would be based not on what Arielle wanted, or on what Brian wanted, but on what was ultimately best for our relationship. This shared commitment meant that when we encountered the inevitable disagreements and upsets, no one would threaten to walk out and both of us would take responsibility for finding a solution.
Together we explored couples workshops to learn heart opening strategies to keep our love on track, and we always kept the lines of communication wide open. We shared our deepest thoughts and dreams as well as our imperfections and fears.
We have been fortunate to find guidance among our cir cle of friends and colleagues who are happily married, gen- erous souls who have graciously shared their wisdom with us. Many of them—and others who have successfully navigated choppy marital waters—share their stories of turning conflict into connection and compassion in these pages.
Over the past fourteen years, Brian and I have created a life together that far exceeds my wildest imagination. When I’ve had a full day, I sometimes leave my shoes lying about. And wouldn’t you know? Every now and then Brian will find one, get down on one knee, and place the shoe tenderly on my foot, proving that married life does indeed have its fairytale moments. And then there are those times when you’re both vying for the remote or have two totally different ideas about what a date night should include, and you wonder how two seemingly opposite people could ever find long-term bliss.
If you know anything about the Law of Attraction, you know that you first have to declare your vision before it can become reality. When I was creating my soulmate wish list, I was very careful to list every statement in a positive way, such as, “He will be loving, kind, and generous.” Making positive statements about your intentions is an old talk- to-the-Universe trick since the Universe simply cannot hear the word “not.” According to the Law of Attraction, if you say, “I do not want X, Y, or Z,” you will end up getting just that. Although I knew this, there was one must-have requirement that I never did figure out how to position in a positive light, so I simply wrote: “He will not be a football fanatic.”
Having grown up with a father and a brother who lived, breathed, and talked football 24/7, I often felt as if foot- ball was my nemesis in my ongoing competition for my father’s attention. The truth is, I hate football, and I just couldn’t imagine spending my life with someone who had football blaring on the TV. Truthfully, I’d rather be alone than be subjected to the sound of crashing helmets and the grunts of men in tight pants chasing a pigskinned orb to the beat of seventy thousand cheering fans.
Wouldn’t you know? What I resisted persisted. Brian was indeed a huge sports fan—for basketball! Okay, not football exactly, but the similarities were glaring. He comes by it honestly as a former player, but that didn’t change the fact that I wasn’t sure, at first, that I’d be able to overcome what I perceived to be this most harrowing obstacle. Would I have to compete for his attention, just as I had to for my father’s time and focus?
It would be unfair of me to put down the entire world of sports in one fell swoop. After all, those athletes work hard toward their goals, engaging in countless hours of practice while nobody is looking. I mean who doesn’t get goose bumps when watching the Olympics? I have shed a tear or two on occasion, watching those medalists stand reverently on the award platform. In truth, it wasn’t the actual notion of organized sports that put me off early in my relationship with Brian. It was the idea of competing for my partner’s attention and playing second string to a pack of men on a flat-screen TV.
I decided to face the first of many tests by opening myself up to the possibility of actually loving sports. Could it really be all that bad? What might I gain by broadening my think- ing? More important, what would I lose if I didn’t try to find something positive about my husband’s passion? It was time to do some digging, and fortunately I quickly found some research that substantiated my belief that incompatibilities are an inherent part of all relationships.
For the past thirty-five years psychologist and researcher John Gottman, Ph.D., has been studying married couples, and he has found that every happily married couple has somewhere around ten irreconcilable differences. In other words, scientific studies have now proved that having differences in a happy marriage is normal! What a relief!
Not surprisingly, Gottman found that the top two irreconcilable differences are about finances and children. The other biggies include sex, in-laws, housework, political views, communication, balance between home and work, and personal idiosyncrasies. According to Susan Boon, Ph.D., a social psychologist at the University of Calgary, the secret lies in coming to terms with the differences rather than trying to solve the unsolvable. The Wabi Sabi solution is to embrace the tastes, opinions, preferences, and unique viewpoints that make each of us individuals, rather than trying to eliminate them.
These claims all sounded really good in theory. But would I be able to truly overcome my sports phobia and celebrate our diversity with a full-blown embrace?
Wabi Sabi Principle
Having differences is inevitable. What matters is how we manage the differences, and this is where becoming a Wabi Sabi artisan really pays off.
Drawing on the Wabi Sabi lessons learned by my friend Moji, I realized that there was, in fact, a way out of my quandary. Moji, a smart woman whom I greatly respect, came up against a similar challenge when she fell in love with Jason, a football fanatic of the highest order. Her approach opened my eyes to the possibility that there was indeed a Wabi Sabi solution in my future.
Falling in love with Football
It was only their third date when Jason suggested to Moji that the two spend it watching a very “important” football game. Although these words landed for Moji with a thud, she tried to keep an open mind.
“My son had just started playing football as a freshman in high school,” she said, “so I was no stranger to the game. I quickly picked up the basics about this rough-and-tumble sport, but spending our date night watching grown men pound one another into submission was not my idea of romance!”
It was the beginning of football season, and Jason and Moji were just getting to know each other. And even though Jason’s football was a part of nearly every conversation they had, they still developed a strong bond that moved beyond the sport itself. A definite spark had been ignited.
“Before each game,” she recollected, “he would feverishly update me on all the players, stats, and injury reports. During the games, he would explain in detail the complexities and nuances of each play. His true passion for this game was undeniable.”
A few weeks into the season, Moji came to a critically important realization about the man she was falling in love with. Her outgoing, athletic, and very funny new love interest seemed to have a fatal flaw: he was literally obsessed with football and everything related to it.
It wasn’t long before Moji felt as though she were competing for Jason’s attention. She began to wonder, Is it going to be me or football? She was faced with a conundrum. Should she tolerate the sport and pretend she was having fun watching it, or should she throw a fit every time there was a game on? It was tempting to give in to one of those options, but realizing that she and Jason had true potential, she decided that she really wanted to enjoy her time with him and not just fake it. And putting up a fight every time he mentioned football seemed like a surefire way to end the relationship.
And then she thought, Why not me and football? Moji seriously pondered what it would take to make her relationship with Jason work and, more important, flourish. She thought about the elements of football. It’s a bunch of great-looking athletic men tackling one another. It involves speed, precision, and strategy. Her thoughts started reeling as she considered the sport’s redeeming qualities.
Finally she came to a conclusion. “The only thing for me to do is to dive into this with mind, body, and spirit to really learn the game. Then we will see if I love it too.”
Moji began asking questions about different positions and play calls. She even carried a little notepad to take notes as she learned about NFL teams, players, and even head coaches.
“Before I knew it, I was hooked. I am not kidding you! I loved football!”
Serendipitously, during football season the following year, Jason asked Moji to marry him. Their wedding took place shortly after the season ended.
Now, five years later, they plan their social life around all levels of football, whether it’s high school, college, or professional games, and they love every minute of it.
“My girlfriends think I do this for my husband, but the truth is, I am doing this for myself. I have become a full-blown football junkie!”
While Moji learned to love football, Jason had to learn to embrace a few things about Moji—the first being her parenting style. A lifetime bachelor, Jason suddenly found himself in the position of stepfather of a teenage son, a role he admits was a great challenge for him. “Being a step- dad doesn’t come with a manual. I’m not an enforcer type, but more of a happiness and harmony kind of guy.” Having grown up in a household in which he was required to make his own bed and wash his own dishes, he had a hard time accepting Moji’s lenient approach to raising her only child. “She says the reason she does everything for him is that she’s Persian,” he explained. It took a while for Jason to accept her way of doing things, but he soon realized that “A happy wife equals a happy life.”
Moji’s willingness to explore where her lover’s interests might take her and Jason’s ability to embrace Moji’s parenting style are two clear illustrations of what it means to have a generous heart. We may never fully agree with how our significant others see things, but we can learn to accept, honor, and respect their viewpoints as their own and as valid. Moji and Jason discovered that their traits each had deep cultural roots. Rejecting either aspect would have meant the end of their relationship; by accepting their differences, they deepened their bond.
While Moji’s full embrace of football is admirable, finding acceptance for my husband’s own sports fanaticism is something that admittedly took me a long time to develop.
Wabi Sabi Principle
Embracing the most fundamental aspects of your partner seals the bond in your relationship.
In the early days of our relationship, I discovered that Brian would occasionally watch a football game (usually a playoff game or the Super Bowl), but he had a near freakish passion for basketball. You could say he comes from a family that is basketball crazed, whether it’s high school, college, or the NBA. Believe me when I say these folks eat, pray, and love basketball. On my first visit to Oregon to meet Brian’s family, he took me to my first professional NBA game to see the Portland Trailblazers play in the Rose Garden. In true Brian Hilliard fashion, we had courtside seats that cost about as much as a midsize vehicle. I was not pre- pared for the explosion of sound, the bright lights, or the intensity of the crowd. As a highly sensitive person (HSP), I found myself trapped in a nightmarish situation. My nervous system was overwhelmed. By the end of the first half, I was on the verge of a major headache.
Brian was very understanding and assured me it was quite all right with him if we left the game. We went to a quiet romantic café for dinner and spoke about life, love, and our future. The one topic we avoided was basketball.
During the next few years, I heard a little bit about Brian’s college-jock days as a basketball player for the Oregon State University Beavers, but Brian is very humble and I really just didn’t get the magnitude of his athleticism. Then on one of our later trips to Portland we went to a resort at Mount Hood for a birthday party for one of Brian’s closest friends. We were seated next to two adorable young women whose fathers had also attended OSU. At one point in the conversation, one of the women asked Brian what his last name was.
When he replied, “Hilliard,” the two women literally screamed in unison.
“Brian Hilliard? You’re really Brian Hilliard?”
“Yes,” he said, proudly but quietly.
“Oh my God, my dad is going to die when he finds out we met you! You have always been one of his favorite Beavers of all time! He just loved the way you played.”
I looked at my husband and thought, Wow. I’ve married a jock. Who would have guessed? I didn’t know a thing about basketball, but I was about to learn. During the first six months of living together, I noticed Brian cut out a page of the sports section of the local paper and made daily notations on it. One day, I asked him if it was some sort of crossword puzzle. He shot me a look, then nearly rolled on the floor with laughter as he said, “It’s the sixty-four team bracket for March Madness!” Huh? I knew I needed to learn more about this secret sports world of Brian’s.
Sharing your partner’s passion isn’t always easy, especially if you have an innate aversion to it. But at this point in the game, I realized that the heart of a Wabi Sabi artisan is a generous one. It is generous in the way that it sees its partner and in the way that it sees itself. It is generous by always giving the benefit of the doubt and seeing the other person’s greatness beyond the scope of a momentary mess- up. A Wabi Sabi heart is generous in the interpretation of events and with its time and investment in making the relationship number one, despite opposing viewpoints.
Shopping is a great example of how couples who have a lot in common can still become diametrically opposed. Did you know that it has now been scientifically proven that men and women have radically different approaches to shopping? While women tend to troll the malls for deals and delight, men often apply a more linear methodology to purchases: go in, get it, and get out. According to research conducted by the University of Michigan School of Public Health, the reason lies in our evolutionary psychology.(D. J. Kruger and D. Byker, “Evolved foraging psychology underlies sex differences in shopping experiences and behaviors.” Proceedings of the 3rd Annual Meeting of the NorthEastern Evolutionary Psychology Society, Journal of Social, Evolutionary and Cultural Psychology 3, no. 4 (2009): 328-42.) Men hunt; women gather. Thousands of years ago women had to develop a keen sense of discernment to differentiate the poisonous berries from the nonpoisonous ones. At the same time, men planned their attack first in an effort to conserve energy, then grabbed their prey with practiced dexterity. These opposing strategies helped sustain the human race, but when it comes to consumer activity today, men and women often get entangled in a cross fire of their own making.
Like foraging the forest floor for nutrients, shopping is both a social and a sensual experience for women. A shared mission to search out the perfect little black dress can be a totally fulfilling night out with a favorite girlfriend. Women enjoy roaming around until something catches their eye, whether they are searching for clothes, shoes, purses, or accessories (especially if they are at bargain prices). One of the reasons women often (including me) adore shopping is that it fully engages all of our senses. Running your hand across the fabrics from silk and satin to linen and leathers, observing the colors and patterns and styles of the latest fashions, smelling the newest fragrances, and feeling fine leather shoes on your feet are delightful experiences most men never care about.
Those of you who struggle with your partner’s passion for shopping—or with your partner’s indifference to your own shopping obsession—may find inspiration in the way my friend Jerry occupies his time between his wife’s fittings in the women’s apparel department.
shop, pray, love
Like many men I know, Jerry used to hate shopping, and luckily for him, his beloved wife, Diane, doesn’t go shop- ping very often. However, on those rare occasions when she does hit the mall, she likes to have Jerry come along.
From the start, Jerry glanced at his watch frequently, making it obvious that he would rather not be there; in turn, Diane often felt pressured to rush through what used to be an enjoyable pastime.
One afternoon, as Jerry was anxiously biding his time while he sat in the middle of the dress department, he closed his eyes and literally asked God for help in dealing with what felt to him like an unbearable situation. Almost instantaneously, he received very clear and specific instructions: instead of waiting impatiently for their shopping expedition to end, he was to take out his pen and write Diane a love poem. Jerry followed this spiritual prompting, and as he did, he was overcome with a great sense of peace. Not only was he reconnecting with his love for Diane, but he had also made the shift from focusing on only his own preferences to a state of gratitude for the life they shared together. Rather than being bored and antsy, he became engaged and enlivened by discovering a different way to relate to the process of shopping altogether.
In the middle of this transformation, Diane came to show him a dress she wanted to buy and found Jerry sitting peacefully with a smile on his face. Confused but intent on shopping, she went back to trying on more clothes. After a brief interlude, she came back to check on him again. He was still calm and peaceful. After she had made her purchases, she went to find him so they could finally leave before the experience inflicted any further damage. He asked her to sit down and said, “I’d like to share something with you.”
Jerry quietly read her the beautiful love poem he had written as a tribute to her. She thanked him as her eyes filled with tears and the shutters on her heart blew wide open. They left the store giggling and holding hands in a bubble of love no shopping high could match. To this day, whenever they find themselves at a mall, Jerry writes her love poems.
But the story continues. Jerry’s Wabi Sabi moment not only helped him and his wife; his epiphany helped a total stranger too.
One day Diane was in a department store, shopping with her mother. She saw a young woman quickly going through the clothing racks while a young man sitting nearby was looking miserable. Diane approached the man with a smile. “It’s really horrible, isn’t it?” she softly said to him.
“Yes,” he said, dipping his head down as if not wanting to admit the torture he felt. “I really hate this.”
“My husband used to feel this way too,” Diane said. She surveyed the young man’s face for a moment.
“Used to?” he asked, sitting up a little straighter.
Diane shared her story about how much Jerry hated shopping until he began using the time to write her these exquisite love poems.
The young man listened intently without saying a word. For a moment, he paused with a look of uncertainty on his face. Just as Diane drew back, hoping she hadn’t over- stepped her bounds, the young man leaped from his seat and called out to his wife who was closing in on the dressing room with an armful of clothes.
“Um, honey, do you have a pen?”
The Wabi Sabi wisdom of this story hardly needs explaining. Imagine hating a situation (shopping) so deeply that out of desperation all you can do is pray . . . and then to have your prayers answered instantly with a simple but brilliant solution. Our intuition feeds us the answers without fail when we take a moment to listen.
Whether it’s basketball or accompanying your beloved to the mall, learning to love—or at least accept—what your partner loves requires an open mind and a generous heart. While I was struggling my way through the basics of learn- ing about basketball (did they play in innings or quarters? Rebounds are good but traveling is bad?), I was fortunate enough to come across a book called Secrets of a Very Good Marriage: Lessons from the Sea by Sherry Suib Cohen. Sherry’s heartfelt memoir opened my eyes to a new way of embracing Brian’s favorite sport. Just as she embraced her husband, Larry’s, love of the sea, Larry learned to get involved in Sherry’s work as well. They both showed me that developing a passion for the things your mate is passionate about is one secret to a very happy marriage.
hook, line, and eternal love
Bermuda. The very word conjures up images of pink sandy beaches surrounded by aquamarine waters and sun- drenched days melting into balmy evenings under star- speckled skies. What could be more romantic? This was the future on which Sherry’s fantasy honeymoon with Larry was forecast.
Theirs had been a short but sweet courtship, and both were certain they were a match made in heaven. He was enchanted by her and said he knew the minute he saw her that they were meant to be together. She loved his zany sense of humor, as well as his honesty and his brilliance. It also didn’t hurt that he was always game for anything.
They married and went to Bermuda for a much-anticipated honeymoon of rest, relaxation, and fun. What they got, how- ever, was more than either of them bargained for. They shared an experience that would change the trajectory of their marriage, and their lives, forever.
After their crisp November wedding in New York, they arrived at the island paradise, excited to explore each other and their surroundings. On their first day Larry suggested to his new bride that they take out a rowboat, maybe do a little fishing and explore the islands that make up Bermuda. Sherry, a self-professed landlubber, had never been in a boat of any kind. The rickety old rowboat he heaved into the water gave her the chills. But, being very much in love and eager to please her new husband, she pushed aside her fearful thoughts of the sea and climbed into the small boat.
“It started off as a beautiful day . . . one that would be just me, Larry, and the sea. Lost in thought and in each other, we soon discovered we were lost at sea too!” To add to the excitement, the weather—which had started out sunny and warm—quickly turned cold and dreary. Sherry recalls how it began to rain. “I was trying to be a good sport. We rowed and rowed until finally, after what seemed like an eternity, we found our way back to shore.”
As they stumbled off the boat, freezing cold, soaking wet, and exhausted, Larry saw a sign on the dock that said Fishing for Blues Tonight. Instantly rejuvenated and with the excitement of someone who had just won the lottery, he turned to his new bride and said:
“Let’s go get warmed up, change our clothes, and then go fishing tonight!”
Her stomach sank. Her worst fears flooded her body as grim thoughts raced through her mind. Her life was not going to end in a dinghy.
This is not going to last. He is completely insane and off his rocker. After the day we just had, any normal person would want a long break from the ocean, she thought.
They didn’t go fishing that night, or the next. But very quickly, Sherry began to understand how deeply connected Larry was to the ocean. She didn’t really understand this passion and love for the sea but rationalized that maybe, in another life, he had been a great fisherman.
“I’m a very strong woman,” she told me. “I know how to get my way and do what I want, when I want. But I also recognized that this was something I couldn’t fool with. I knew, with absolute certainty, that for the rest of our life together the ocean would either be with us or between us. Realizing this, my choice became crystal clear.”
Originally, Sherry saw Larry’s immense love of the sea as his worst fault and a great potential threat to their rela- tionship. But eventually she came to respect it and often wished she had something she loved as much. One day she had a beautiful epiphany when she realized she did love something as much as Larry loved the ocean: Larry him- self! Larry is her greatest love.
“He is the smartest and funniest person I know. I love his wrinkles, the sag in his belly, the slight stoop to his walk. I would rather be alone with Larry in the middle of the ocean than any other place in the world.”
Sherry eventually found enjoyment lying in the sun, or reading or writing while she spent time on the boat, but she never really came to love the ocean the way Larry does. Dealing with engine breakdowns is her least favorite boating experience; however, over the years she has even learned to bleed the engine when necessary and help navigate if the instruments fail.
wabi sabi principle
Play a part in your partner’s life story. When you engage in your love’s interests, you acknowledge not only the person, but also the passion.
Larry is a firm believer that a good marriage requires each person to be an active player in the other’s stories, not just a passive bystander in them. Fortunately for Sherry, he has what it takes to put that philosophy into action. When Sherry is writing a magazine piece or a book, Larry accompanies her whenever possible. He has cooked with Paula Deen and loudly admired Estée Lauder’s paintings. He has even taken part in conflict-resolution sessions that were the basis of one of her books. “This way,” Sherry says, “we each live colorful, layered lives. In fact, we each live two lives—together.”
Inspired by Sherry’s newfound appreciation and acceptance of Larry’s fishing as well as his voluntary involvement in her passion for writing, I realized that my marriage would be well-served if I could find a way to love basketball, or at least love watching Brian doing what he loves. I was determined to embrace March Madness, that World Series of the college-basketball universe, with as much adoration as I could muster.
I decided that I would join Brian on the couch to watch the last fifteen minutes of any game he was watching. He was always delighted to answer my rookie questions, and he never got impatient with me when I called the end of the quarter “an inning.” It was exciting to see the kid in him light up when he saw the players excel. By the time March Madness ended, I was looking forward to watching the last quarter of the NBA games he watched. But two more unexpected surprises emerged from my new practice of watching games with Brian: First, he began sharing more of his collegiate career memories with me, allowing me to appreciate and admire him in a whole new way. And second, I began to develop a genuine appreciation for the players as well as the game!
Don’t get me wrong. I love Brian with all my heart and soul. But when I saw Avery Johnson, a suave point guard for the San Antonio Spurs (all five foot eleven of him), walk onto the court, I fell in love with him in a fanlike way. After a short while, he became my favorite player in the NBA. I can’t explain it; I just became entranced with his wily ways on the hardwood. My other crush was Jason Kidd of the New Jersey Nets. Watching Avery and Jason work their magic gave me two more solid reasons to watch basketball with Brian.
The point is, you may never grow to love your partner’s passion as much as he or she loves it, but you can grow your own heart by learning to love and support the things that really turn your partner on. One way I learned to connect to my “generous heart” is by taking five minutes to do a Heart Lock-In, a technique I learned from the Institute of Heartmath, which I find assists me in letting go of any negative emotions and reconnecting with my commitment to being a loving and supportive partner.
The heart is a muscle that pumps life-giving blood and oxygen throughout our bodies. We already know that running, biking, hiking, and other cardio workouts are proven ways to strengthen our hearts and improve our long-term health. In the same way, a Heart Lock-In improves the emotional and spiritual strength of your heart—only you don’t have to break a sweat to reap the benefits!
For the past thirty years the visionaries at Heartmath, located in Boulder Creek, California, have studied the heart. Their research offers compelling evidence that the heart possesses its own intelligence and has great influence over how the body’s many systems align themselves. The Heartmath scientists have found that when we focus on the area around the heart, while remembering and reexperiencing feelings such as love, appreciation, or gratitude, the positive results can immediately be measured in our heart rhythms (heart rate variability). They call this “heart coherence,” a highly desirable state that improves our emotional, physical, and spiritual well-being.
Using the Heartmath techniques is one way to begin developing a generous and expansive heart. Just as your bicep muscles respond to lifting weights on a regular basis, spending time each day focused on the experience of love, appreciation, or gratitude builds a reservoir of these good feelings, which translates into greater love, joy, and har mony in your relationships. And quite frankly, who doesn’t want more of that?
exercise: Strengthening Your Generous Heart Muscle (fill in the blanks)
What hobby, passion, or activity does your partner love that you have yet to embrace?
Use your imagination for just a moment, and ask yourself the following question: “If the key to having all my dreams come true is to find a way to fall in love with ____________, what is the easiest way for me to do this?”
Now write down five or more ways your relationship would be improved if you could find a way to accept or possibly even love what your partner loves.
Do a Heart Lock-In. It is about experiencing your heart at a deeper level.
Close your eyes and breathe slowly. Shift your attention away from your mind and focus on the area around your heart.
Remember the feeling of love or appreciation you have for your partner. Focus on this feeling for five to fifteen minutes.
Gently send that feeling of love or appreciation to yourself and to your partner.
(For a deeper experience of a Heart Lock-In, please visit www .wabisabilove.com/audio to download a guided audio version.)
With practice, a Heart Lock-In can provide physical, mental, and spiritual regeneration and resiliency so the next time you find yourself dreading something your partner loves to do, you can more easily make space for it. Growing your generous heart will also help grow your love for each other.
Deepak Chopra loves this new book: Discover BIG LOVE when you discover the secret of Wabi Sabi Love (free gifts!)