For the past two years, I’ve been attending graduate school earning my Master’s of Science in Counseling. After the massive amount of practice hours and essays I’ve completed, it’s a huge joy–and relief–to finally be practicing as a student counselor at a Seattle counseling practice. I’m helping real people! Finally!
As a new counselor, I offer low-cost counseling services to Washington residents. Currently I am only taking remote clients using a secure video platform. If you or anyone you know has immediate plans to work on their self-improvement goals, call myself or my supervisor, Brittany Steffans, at 206-535-1787.
So don’t know if I mentioned this, but my book, The Naked House: Five Principles for a Minimalist Home has now been republished by my new publisher, Next Chapter. The cover is AWESOME and what I love best is the ELEVEN interviews I conducted with minimalists of all varieties: financial minimalists, career travelers, parenting minimalists and of course, people who just stripped their houses down to make room for life to happen more beautifully! Their stories have inspired me to live even more minimally. (More on that to come.)
Some of the advice in Fights You’ll Have After Having a Baby is pretty standard stuff. Some of it, however, is not. Here, a short Q and A that follows the lessons in the book that might help clarify a few of the more nuanced suggestions.
Lesson: Change Your Partner the Right Way
What about when there’s a behavior in my partner that really does
need to change? In the book you show how Matthew slowly learned how
to take on more responsibility for his child. In my case, I’d like to
change the way my husband disciplines our kids. I want him to be more
firm. Is this something that I can change about him? Are some
qualities changeable, and others not?
Yes. But we don’t know which is which until we give our partner the
chance to show us.
The way I see it, there are three ways to change your partner for the
better. The first, and most important, is just believing the best of
them and treating them well. This is the one we should always be
When this isn’t enough, we have two other options. One is the major
argument or discussion, which involves detailed negotiation. The
other is what I call “the slow nag.” This is when you make
little hints and suggestions—maybe even good-natured jokes—about
the issue without ever forcing it. When done right, it’s surprisingly
Are you sure this will work?
Okay, fair enough. But are you sure it’s okay to try to change
your partner? Everyone tells us this is a terrible idea, that we need
to accept them as they come or not at all.
Yes, I am absolutely sure that over the course of your marriage, you
can and will change your partner in a wide variety of significant and
not-so-significant ways. It’s not only possible but nearly
unavoidable; we do it every single day. Whenever we look at someone,
whenever we speak to them, whenever we have any kind of interaction,
we affect the way they think and feel. Think about it: How would your
partner affect your behavior towards him if he did what is
recommended in this book, and treated you with utmost respect and
love all the time? You’d change a heck of a lot. And the changes you
didn’t make in spite of his caring suggestions would probably be the
ones that meant too much to you to give up. Well, it’s the same for
him. There are things about himself he won’t change for you or for
anyone, ever. The question is: Can you live with those things? Are
they deal breakers or not? Incidentally, there’s a great book about
accepting our partners for who they are called Marry Him: The Case
for Settling for Mr. Good Enough by Lori Gottlieb. I highly
recommend it, even to long-time partners.
Lesson: Brush Up on Your Endocrinology
My husband is such a taker. He just takes and takes and takes,
until I can’t give anymore, and I explode. Why are men like this? How
can I get him to give more?
Don’t concern yourself with why. Men are simply better at getting
their own needs and wants met than women are. When you can’t or don’t
want to give anymore, simply don’t. Tell your husband that you need
some “me” time, and take it—even if he doesn’t love the
idea. The trick is to do this gently, without anger and with grace.
For me, this has been one of the hardest marriage skills to learn,
but now I get a nap every day. It was worth the work.
Here, it’s worth mentioning that personality differences, too—not
just gender differences—affect the way your partner meets his
needs. My favorite personality typing book is the (misleadingly
titled) Dressing Your Truth: Discover Your Personal Beauty Profile
by Carol Tuttle. The book only discusses female personality types,
but in other books of hers, males fall into the same four categories.
Understanding not just your unique behavior but the basic internal
beliefs that give rise to that behavior is incredibly therapeutic and
The bottom line: There are four main personality types: wind, water,
fire and rock. Wind people are bright and animated. Their driving
purpose in life is to enjoy it. Water people are subtle, caring and
soft. Their driving purpose is to love and care about people. Fire
people are dynamic and passionate. Their driving purpose is to
accomplish their goals and change the world. Rock people are bold and
striking. Their driving purpose is to seek and disseminate truth. If
you want to better understand the motivations behind your partner’s
quirks, read this book.
Lesson: Don’t Defend Yourself
Okay, so not defending myself. I get how doing so can be unhelpful
and even counterproductive, escalating the fight even further. But
self-defense is one of our primary human drives; we all want other
people to acknowledge when we’re in the right, or to at least to
basically understand our intentions. How can I avoid getting
Try this: Look forward with great anticipation to your next
opportunity to be criticized by your partner in some way. Then, when
it happens, in the moment in which it is happening, ask yourself,
“What would it feel like to just not defend myself right now—to
smile and say nothing committal, maybe even to agree with what my
partner is saying? Would it make me proud?”
Then—just as an experiment, mind you—say something kind in
response. Not necessarily an apology, if an apology feels insincere
to you, but something sweet and understanding. Something like, “Okay.
You might be right about this. I promise to give it some real
Now, observe how you feel about yourself in this moment and compare
it to how you might have felt had you defended yourself. Do you feel
more self-respect? And what about your partner’s response? Did their
anger begin to dissolve?
It sounds like what you’re saying is that you should just accept
whatever criticism comes your way, no matter how wrong it is. That’s
not self-respectful, is it?
Yes, that’s what I’m saying, and yes, it is. You don’t have to accept
the criticism as true, but you can listen to it in silence without
agreeing with it in any way.
But doesn’t this just come across as a big “I don’t care what
you think” attitude?
Preferably, no. At times, in an effort to be less defensive, I’ve
used a superior tone of voice, responding with something like, “Okay,
Honey. You have your opinion.” I’ve since come to the belief
that this sort of attitude isn’t nondefensiveness—it’s ego,
disguised as nondefensiveness. And it really, really doesn’t work. It
doesn’t make me feel good, and it doesn’t dissolve his anger; in
fact, it fuels it even more.
If you’re going to choose between being condescending and not
explaining your side and being kind and asking to be given the chance
to explain your side, choose the latter every time. At least you’ve
shown that you are willing to truly listen, and by asking for
permission first before defending yourself, you’ve put the other
person in a much more receptive mode.
Lesson: Appreciate the Gift
Logically, I know that marriage is a gift—even the hard parts,
the arguments. But how do I go from knowing it to really knowing it,
to feeling really grateful for my partner on a day-in-day-out basis?
I have two ideas. The first is to dote on your partner—to do loving
acts regularly. The second is to relentlessly question your negative
thoughts about him or her.
A lot of people try to describe why it is that parenting, one of the
toughest jobs on the planet, is also one of the most well-regarded
and most sought-after. Here is my attempt: The beauty of parenting is
that here is this perfect new person, and you have the privilege of
loving them the most.
Teaching children is great. Watching them grow and admiring them and
laughing with them is wonderful. But just loving someone this much,
giving this much of yourself for another person every day—that is
the part that really gets you.
Well, it’s the same marriage: the practice of loving another person
just feels good. Making dinner for your partner, speaking gently with
them when they’re in a bad mood, holding them when they’re sad—these
are the things that give our lives real meaning, and the things that
truly bond us.
Compliment your partner. Every single day. Say nice things,
particularly when it’s unexpected. Be specific, too: something like,
“I am feeling very tender and affectionate towards you today.”
Genuine compliments are far too rare and far more valuable than most
of us realize; whenever we get one, we really treasure it, don’t we?
We remember some of them for a very long time.
My second idea is to relentlessly question your negative thoughts
about your partner. In “Change Your Story” I describe the
process of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, and I cannot recommend it
more highly. The theory among some psychologists and certainly many
spiritual guru-types on its effectiveness is that when you remove the
negative thoughts, love simply fills the gap, since love is who we
really are underneath. Sometimes I’m skeptical that this is the case
with me, but the more I journal my negative thoughts and replace them
with the truth, the more cheerfulness and lightheartedness I feel,
which naturally flows into my attitudes about other people.
Particularly people I really, really like anyway, like my husband.
There was a time when I would have paid anything for a magic wand
that could, with a wave, turn off all my husband’s worst traits. The
other day, though, when I was talking to my sister on the phone about
relationships, it hit me: At some point, I stopped wanting my partner
to be perfect. What would it look like if he had no flaws? Would he
do everything I ever wanted or asked him to do? And how long would it
take before I started seeing him as a robot, an automaton: “Honey,
will you wash the dishes?” “Sure, my dear.” “Then
go wash the car and pack the car for our trip?” “Of
course.” That’s not even a relationship, is it?
Marriage is one of the biggest challenges I’ll get in this life. I’m
milking it for all the self-improvement it’s worth.
Some of your advice is strange. Are you sure it’ll work?
In my life there are very few certainties, and for the most part I
like to keep it that way. One thing I do feel sure of, though, is
that self-improvement efforts—no matter how small, no matter how
flailing, and no matter how many times they seem to fail—are worth
it almost every time. Because often, even when they seem to fail,
they don’t fail all the way; somewhere inside you, something has
changed. Maybe it takes a year or two for you to see the difference,
but eventually you do.
Some of the advice in Fights You’ll Have After Having a Baby is pretty standard stuff. Some of it, however, is not. Here, a short Q and A that follows the lessons in the book that might help clarify a few of the more nuanced suggestions.
Lesson: Don’t Make It Into a Big Deal
Can you give me another example of how to pretend something isn’t
a big deal? Is it just about ignoring the little stuff, or what?
No. It’s partly that, but it’s also about having a bit of fun with
When something is bugging my husband and I know that it’s a temporary
thing—a bad mood, tiredness or whatever—I use the opportunity to
practice what I preach in this book: being nice, not getting angry,
keeping my perspective. Here is sort of what that looks like: First,
I don’t take hold of the rudeness he’s offering me. If he continues
to offer it, I say something like, “Hon, are you okay?”
Usually, that diffuses the situation pretty quickly. On the rare
occasion on which it doesn’t, though, and he’s actually mad at me, he
might explain what’s bothering him. That’s my chance to either talk
it through or tell him that I love him but I’m choosing not to do
what he wants me to do.
I’m a pretty serious person. I tend to be a little more like
Rachel the list-maker than Genevieve the intuitive. How can I learn
to not sweat the small stuff?
Control freaks do well to find other outlets for their passion. Do
you have at least a few other close friendships? Do you have at least
one hobby you really love? Your partner shouldn’t be your only source
Also remember that the whole letting go thing feels weird at first;
when you’re emotional, your instinct is to directly deal with the
situation. After a while, though, as talking about your relationship
issues becomes less the norm than the exception, you begin to settle
into a habit of ignoring stuff that starts you both spinning.
You become more at peace with peace.
What if we never get there? What if we never figure out how to be
“comfortably in love” again?
Relationships aren’t always fun and easy. But they should be a lot of
the time. If yours isn’t, you’re either not a good match—water and
oil—or you’re really seeking out problems. Stop the problem-making
habit and start a fun-making habit. If you do lots of enjoyable stuff
together, little problems tend not to grow.
And definitely don’t get too much into his emotional business unless
he shares it with you. Remember that your partner’s happiness is his
job—not yours. Be the best partner you can be, and let him figure
out everything else. Give him a bit of advice, then let him make his
Lesson: Be Uncomfortably Nice
What is the best way to show my partner that I love him on a daily
Use a pleasant tone of voice. Always, always, always, unless you
truly, in that moment, cannot. If you follow only one piece of advice
in this book, follow this one. Use a (sincerely) pleasant tone of
voice at all times, particularly during the mundane activities of
life. This is where your relationship really lives. If you’ve fallen
into that common but horrible habit of speaking with slight
condescension to your partner on a regular basis, know that in order
to make things work, this will have to change.
So, what about when your partner says something that’s not just
rude, but super mean? The other day I told my husband I was really
stressed out and he said, point blank, “I don’t care.” I
couldn’t believe it. It hurt so much.
That does hurt. Have you asked him why he said it?
He said it because he didn’t care. In that moment, he didn’t care
about how I felt.
Not necessarily. People say this stuff. He probably cares but at the
time was upset about something else. My best advice is to ask him if
he meant what he said. Ask him sweetly, at a time when he’s not mad.
He’ll be impressed by your mature way of handling the situation.
He’ll remember it, and if you handle rude comments this way
regularly, he’ll eventually learn to be more careful with his words.
Countering not-nice with nice is the best way to get an apology.
So, how do you do this? I mean, we all snap at our partners and
kids sometimes, right? We can’t be nice all the time.
Make it your number one priority for a week. A nice tone of voice,
all day long. It’s a habit.
Lesson: Shamelessly Bargain (And Always Have a Bottom Line)
One of the things my husband struggles a lot with is getting time
to exercise. He likes it, and it’s important to him, but there’s only
a certain window of opportunity—in the hour after work—when he
can get to the gym or take a jog. Lately, though, he’s been skipping
this window and coming home early to crash on the couch. Then when
it’s his turn to take the baby, he says he really needs to get his
exercise done. It’s not fair, and the other day it caused a huge
fight. What should I do?
It sounds like you have a schedule in place that you’re generally
both happy with. If that’s the case, it’s just a matter of sticking
to it—even if he doesn’t like it. Tell him that it’s his baby time,
offer to discuss it, then walk away. If you need to, leave the house
to force him to do his duty.
Oh, that’ll go over well.
Risk the argument. See it as an investment you make for your future
happiness; if he sees you’re going to enforce your agreement, he’ll
take future agreements more seriously. See it as practice for when
you have to do the same kind of enforcement with your kids.
If you don’t take this advice, don’t blame him for taking advantage
of your fear of confrontation.
Oh, and as always, when you leave, leave with a smile, or at least without undue emotion. He may not be smiling back. But that’s okay.
Giselle is a forty-year-old mother of two. She has been married for seventeen years.
Mollie: Can you remember a time when your marriage felt extremely difficult? What was the problem and how did it begin?
Giselle: I remember it like it was yesterday. It was when our second kid was born. At that time, we were both very successful in our careers and lived in a beautiful new home, with nice cars and basically all you could ask for. The problem for us was that we didn’t really respect each other. We hadn’t learned how to have a productive disagreement and talk through things. Being two very stubborn individuals, we thought we could change each other into the molds we wanted by not backing down in a fight. Ever.
The second child’s birth really brought this all to light. Having all we could ask for just wasn’t enough anymore. We decided that we were either going to live separate lives or work for it and that’s when we reached out for help. Honestly, at that time, while he wanted us to survive, I thought we didn’t have a chance and was prepared to move on. I just couldn’t take that step, though, partly due to my faith.
So, we tried a year’s worth of counseling. It helped. But, what really helped was just maturity and learning that we fell in love for a reason and it all can be fixed as long as we’re both willing to at least try. Now, we know that fighting is just a big waste of time and actually listening to each other is way more effective, no matter the outcome.
If I’d only known then what I know now. When couples think they’re doomed, I want to scream “It’s fixable!” and “I was there.”
Mollie: What was one specific argument that you had that showed the lack of respect and ability to communicate?
Giselle: To be totally transparent, what sticks out in my head at the moment is when I called him to tell him I was pregnant with baby number two and his response was, “What the fuck!” That wasn’t fun.
Mollie: Tell me more about that.
Giselle: Okay. Let me set the stage. We were living in my husband’s hometown at the time and had been for about seven years. By then, we had made good friends, but they were more like the kind of friends that were fun to party with and we never really opened up to them for help and support with our marriage (or with any intimate feelings for that matter). It’s a habit for both of us to not be vulnerable anyway.
When I told my husband about being pregnant with baby number two and he responded badly, I just retreated further and never really talked about my feelings to him or anyone else. Instead, we fought a lot about other stupid things and never really dealt with our real feelings. I was really hurt at the time and felt alone but never said that to anyone. At this point, we were so distant from each other we basically were just co-existing.
When the new baby was a year and a half old we moved back to my hometown to be closer to my family. At that time, I thought either we’d get divorced and it’d be better for me to have my family around, or we’d work it out and it’d still be better to shake things up and have a stronger support system. We started counseling there, too.
It took a while, and things still aren’t perfect but definitely worth the move and surrounding ourselves with supportive people. We communicate much better now and know how, when in an argument, to listen to each other more and to do our best to at least hear what the other person is saying.
Since then (the past eight years or so) I’m so grateful we didn’t give up on us. We both love our kids and learned so much along the way. We actually like each other and love each other now.
No married couple gets everything right. Here, a few pieces of marital wisdom that didn’t make it into Matthew and Rachel’s story.
1. Figure out the money
thing. Different plans work for different people. The key is
to do just that: plan.
2. Figure out which kind
of fight you’re having. Is the fight about what it seems
to be about–money, in-laws, whatever–or is it about feelings and
egos getting wounded? If it’s the latter, deal with the feelings
first. Then circle back to the mother-in-law’s casserole
3. Make it into a joke.
I hinted at this one several times, but seriously–no, not
seriously–this is funny stuff. Marriage is funny. Kids are
hilarious. If you can laugh even while fighting, resentment and
tension lessen considerably. (The kids will appreciate it, too.)
4. Keep the chores
separate. Yours are yours and theirs are theirs. This
minimizes chore fights and nagging considerably.
5. Figure out
what you can control and what you can’t. Marriage is the
Serenity Prayer all over the place.
6. Use “I”
statements. You’ve heard this before, but it bears
repeating: No matter how unnatural or uncomfortable it feels, make
the negative comments about you. After all, it is about you.
Otherwise you wouldn’t be dealing with it.
7. Don’t punish your
partner. They won’t learn a darn thing through it except
to escalate and solidify their bitterness and anger. No one wants to
feel like the bad guy. Whenever possible, make them into the good guy
and yourself into the good but struggling guy. They’ll become the
person you show them in your mirror.
8. Don’t yell.
Ever. What is the point?
9. Most important, notice
the small resentments and don’t let them grow any bigger. Seeing
a few of my married-couple friends repeatedly pass entire evenings
together barely looking into each other’s eyes caused me to suspect
the discomfort in their relationships. I realized that I never wanted
my marriage to get to a place where we could no longer really look at
Some of the advice in Fights You’ll Have After Having a Baby is pretty standard stuff. Some of it, however, is not. Here, a short Q and A that follows the lessons in the book that might help clarify a few of the more nuanced suggestions.
Lesson: Change Your Story
What if my partner is regularly rude, selfish and impatient? Should I still change my story about him?
What do you mean by regularly? Does your partner treat you well most
of the time? Do you usually feel good when you’re around him? Does he
bring much more happiness than unhappiness to your life? Is he
holding up his end of the bargain? These are the questions you need
to answer. Only you.
But maybe he really is just a bad person.
He’s not a bad person. He’s just a person. Sometimes people
appreciate you, and other times, they get annoyed and look for
someone to blame. When you relax your character judgments, you see
more clearly. You are more able to make decisions about your
relationship based on your needs, your feelings and your mental
Lesson: Don’t Fight. Just Talk Instead.
My husband suffers from chronic depression and anxiety. It isn’t unusual for him to be in a bad mood as soon as he gets home from work. What is the best way to handle a bad temper?
First, don’t be afraid of your husband. Anger is often about control.
Sometimes people yell because they feel out of control of a situation
and want to merely let out the frustration they feel. Other times
they yell as a way to intimidate others into letting them have their
way. This is not a judgment; we all do it, and most of us do it
regularly. However, anger is a sign of weakness. Yelling is the weak
person’s way to feel strong. Know this, and know this with
Second, don’t respond to anger. Say nothing—nothing at all. Don’t
apologize for or justify your partner’s temper, either to others or
to yourself. Don’t pretend you agree with his perspective or placate
him. Just let him be. Fully accept, embrace and acknowledge that this
is not a good or justifiable quality, but merely a common one.
Say nothing. Let the silence be not a resentful one, though, but one
that comes from a deep sense of self-respect; a caring, dignified
A lot of the time, that’s what I do. I just ignore it and let it
go. Other times I engage with him—either to agree with him and make
him feel better or to defend myself, if the anger is directed at me.
No sometimes. Just don’t engage at all in that moment. No response,
other than a blanket statement like, “I hear you,” and that
only if he specifically asks for it. He will be astounded at your
self-control. And self-control trumps an attempt at controlling
others any day.
But then how will anything get solved? How will we work through
If the problem is just his problem—his anger problem—there is
nothing at all for you to do other than offer an example of another
way of being, praying for him, and suggesting he get outside help if
needed. If the problem is a family or relationship one, simply wait
to discuss it when neither of you are upset. It’s a lot more fun that
way, and much more productive, too.
What about expressing your anger? Isn’t doing so a hugely
important thing to do for your own mental health?
Admitting your anger to yourself is, I believe, hugely important. But
talking about it with other people is often unnecessary (except in a
self-controlled, reasonable way). Imagine being the kind of person
who is able to deal with all of her negative feelings internally, who
doesn’t blame others for it or play the victim. Do you like that
image of yourself? Maintaining your self-respect is reason enough to
observe your pain in your own quiet heart rather than exploding at
One night after dinner I asked my husband to help me with the
dishes. He said he would, then started doing them, but after a little
while he stopped. I finished sweeping the floor, then started getting
the baby ready for her bath. Then I asked my husband if he was going
to finish the dishes. He said, “You said you were going to help
but never did.” I said, “Can’t you see that I’ve been
cooking and cleaning for over an hour?” He never finished the
dishes or apologized. Now I’m mad at him. What do I do?
Why did you ask him to help you with the dishes, if what you really
wanted was for him to do the dishes? Maybe this was just a
communication issue. Say exactly what you want, even if the request
is less attractive that way. If you want, tell him what you will do,
too. Something like, “Can you do the dishes, Hon, so I can
finish sweeping up and get the baby in the bath?”
Your fight wasn’t about whether or not he did the dishes. Your fight
was about your feeling unappreciated or unloved. Know the difference,
and deal with the real issue first. Tell him that you don’t feel
loved in this moment, and ask him to acknowledge all the work you
Remember: Always assume his motives are good. Don’t start the inner
monologue about his lack of character. And don’t hear insults where
insults aren’t spoken. Instead, hear need— tiredness, stress,
sadness—or just his desire to feel loved, too.
Lesson: Apologize Every Chance You Get
The other day, I was a jerk. I said some things I regret, and
don’t know how to forgive myself and move on. Any advice?
I know how you feel. There are a handful of slammed doors behind me,
too. Did you ask your partner to forgive you yet? If not, do. Some of
the tenderest moments in relationships come after fights and sincere
After that, take apart the argument. Pull the meat from the bone.
What is the important stuff here? What do you need to do differently
next time to avoid the argument? Do you need to renegotiate
something? Time to look forward.
Deanna Mason is an intelligent, highly skilled stay-at-home mother of five. A member of a traditional religion, she frequently surprises me with her insights into energy healing, self-improvement strategies, education and politics.
Mollie: I want to ask you about mindfulness because to me, you have always seemed very present, very able to slow down, take your time and do one thing at a time. My first question for you is: What is it like to be inside your head? Are you normally at peace, or are you full of distracted thoughts, concerns, plans, regrets and the like? In short, do you have mind clutter?
Deanna: This is an interesting question. Thanks for asking!
I do have plenty of thoughts mulling around all the time but they’re not racing. It’s more of a putter. I like to figuratively pick something up and think about it. Then I set it down and think about something else. I often get excited about something and think about it a lot for a while. If there are a lot of things to remember, I will write them down so that I can stop remembering them. I will usually remember them later anyway, but the stress of remembering is gone after writing it down.
I do enjoy pondering things. I wonder about things a lot but it’s
more in observation and awe than worry and stress.
Mollie: Are you often happy?
Deanna: I usually have a lot of hope for my situation and my future. I feel a lot of inspiration in my everyday experiences—things like needing a piece of string to tie up sleeping bags this morning and remembering just where I put the twine two months ago after the kids made bows and arrows out of twigs. Or feeling disgruntled about setting up beds for company arriving late and being reminded that this is a labor of love. Often I will think of taking something with me that doesn’t make a lot of sense and when I get there, I need it: an extra extra change of clothes for the baby, a pen, a book for someone I didn’t know needed it, extra formula that ends up being for someone else’s baby. There are also impressions I hear that are not positive—snarky sorts of comments that I choose to ignore. I believe it is a life’s work to learn to differentiate the good from the bad. I am better at ignoring the negative and listening to the positive than I used to be. I have gotten better at recognizing negative thoughts and rejecting them more quickly.
I do have peace generally and when I don’t, it’s something that I focus on, ponder about and try to solve. I often ask myself “why” a lot. Not “Why did this happen to me?” but “Why do I feel this?” or “Why is this my reaction right now?” Sometimes I will create an image to help resolve the negative feelings. Sometimes a song lyric pops into my head that helps me process things. Sometimes I focus on moving the energy through quickly and not allowing it to linger.
Mollie: It sounds like you’re saying that you flow through your day in a very mindful way, enjoying your thoughts but directing them rather than letting them direct you. How careful are you about this? Is there a conscious decision to be mindful and to check your thinking each day, or is this just your habit?
Deanna: Mostly, it is a habit. I do make a focused effort to express gratitude in my morning prayers. Often I ask if there’s anything that God wants me to do that day. I listen and write down just a couple of things. Sometimes they are obvious, sometimes not; they’re things that come to mind in that moment that feel inspired, such as to call a particular friend or to pay more attention to a particular child or to unpack something that I end up needing later … even just to catch up on dishes. Often, realizing that my mundane tasks are known and important to Him really changes my attitude about accomplishing them. Then, at the end of the day, I report back to God about what I did. I learn a lot from this process. I enjoy getting to be helpful in this way even if my efforts are small. I feel more joy when I am intentional about my priorities and involve God in my real day.
Mollie: Besides refocusing your thoughts, what are your other spiritual practices?
Deanna: I pray and read my scriptures every day. I try to do the work necessary to replenish and feed my spirit. Those things are vital for me to be able to keep my inner peace and stillness so that I can hear the positive influence around me and continue to feel hope. When I miss or get casual, I get cranky more easily. I can stew or worry about things and feel helpless. Those feelings don’t usually last very long, though. I get back on track as quickly as I can after I notice I’m falling off and I am an eternal optimist.
This summer, I signed a contract with Creativia, an excellent small publisher who is taking on Fights You’ll Have After Having a Baby. Working with them has been an awesome experience so far, and guess what? There’s an audiobook version in the works, too. Stay tuned for details on how to get your new, improved version of the book.
Recently, I enjoyed an email exchange with my friend and fellow spirituality blogger Evan Griffith, a person who thinks deeply and is deeply … alive. Just the kind of person I like having around, in other words. I needed some advice about when to say “yes” and when to say “maybe later.” Here is what he generously offered.
Mollie: I am having a hard time deciding which opportunities are yeses … and which are nos. Some are a clear yes or no, while others are just things that come up and either sound good or don’t.
First question: Do I only do the things I have a clear yes or no about? Pray about everything and be ruthless about waiting for a clear yes before moving forward?
Evan: You get to the pithy heart of things, man.
My inclination is to tell you to only engage in the clear yeses.
I say this partly because of what I know of your life, and partly because you need to keep creating books, putting work out there. Only say yes to powerful projects that keenly interest you–and keep diving deep into your self challenges, sharing them with all of us.
Mollie: Second question: If I do decide to only go with the clear yeses, how do I locate new opportunities? Do I seek them out or do I just wait and let them come if they come? I have always thought it was a recipe for mediocrity and small-mindedness to not search and explore; it really, really limits what you are able to do with your life to just the things that, for example, a suburban mom runs across. There’s a whole world of stuff to do, and sometimes I have a nagging suspicion that I’m not doing as much as I could. On the other hand, I have a friend who is never seeking out the next big thing and she is very, very happy and very Zen. Desire is bad, remember? Buddhism? Byron Katie also says she never plans anything, really. She makes day-by-day plans and if they happen, great, and if they don’t, then that’s fine, too.
Evan: My take is that 1) you stay ready to seize new opportunities that you search out, while also 2) not expending a great deal of energy to do so.
Here’s how that might look: You challenge yourself to take on a project that expands you, one that is fully within your personal mission but also stretches your boundaries a bit. In this way you are continuing to create your life’s work–AND at the same time making connections beyond your immediate community. This allows you to reach out and Zen it, too. You can reach out as much or as little as each week allows.
P.S.: I’m in the camp who believes desire is good–that it’s only negative when you attach too strongly to any one particular path. Abraham Hicks/law of attraction ideas are to me a contemporary restating of the Tao– finding the path of least effort to what is most meaningful. This way you get to have desires and soul surf your way there–or to an approximation of there–or even somewhere you didn’t know was there until your soul surfing toward the original there took you there . . .
Mollie: Extra credit question: What about when I felt something was a clear yes, but then it didn’t turn out well at all? Was I wrong?
I often wonder about that, too. There are times when my clear yes worked out swimmingly, and there have been yes pathways taken that seemed to bear no fruit–or worse, sucked!
I don’t have an answer. Except in the sense of kaizen: continuous small changes or improvements toward a goal. In my understanding of kaizen, every undertaking leads you to greater understanding of what works and what doesn’t, what’s right for you and what isn’t. This clarity leads you to better experiments, better improvements, other small changes that can be made toward your ultimate goal.
I would add that enjoying this process like a scientist, where no answer is good or bad but simply an enlightening answer that allows for further inquiry, is the ultimate spiritual mode of living.
After Rachel and Matthew had their first child, they had a couple of fights. Well, okay, more than a couple—they fought for over three years. They fought about schedules. They fought about bad habits. They fought about feeling unloved.
They even fought about the lawn mower.
And besides actually having their child, it was the best thing that could’ve happened.
Chronicling their greatest hits, from the Great Birth Control Debate to the Divorce Joke Showdown, Fights You’ll Have After Having a Baby is a post-partem story with hope. It offers true stories from the field, nitty-gritty advice and, most important, a nuanced understanding of what it takes to be married with children.
Contributor: Subhan Schenker, who runs the Osho World of Meditation in Seattle.
Mollie: When someone is fully enlightened, do they feel psychological pain?
Subhan: I have heard that enlightened people feel physical pain but not psychological pain. They may have some awareness that there is a mind that has pain, but it’s very far removed; the mind has dropped into the basement.
Mollie: What do you do when the mind makes a judgment and tries to nudge you—sometimes not so gently—to do something, change something, or at the very least, abhor something about yourself or your life, which then separates you from that feeling of connectedness?
In other words: How do we react to the monsters in our heads?
Subhan: You don’t. It’s not about getting rid of anything. It’s about watching, noticing what’s there. Becoming aware of how the mind functions is tremendously helpful. You’ll be able to experience how parts of the mind push and pull you; that there are so many judgments–about you, about everyone else, about everything! This watchfulness becomes more and more available. And the distance between “you” and the thoughts starts to grow.
Mollie: Where do the monsters go?
Subhan: Once this dis-identification starts happening, the thoughts aren’t perceived of as monsters. They are simply the way the mind functions, and they don’t have to be taken too seriously! They lose their power over you.
I can’t explain it. I can’t intellectualize it. You have to try it for yourself. When you have a thought you don’t like, notice it, remind yourself that it’s not you. I tell people to step back just one-twelfth of an inch from the mind. That doesn’t seem too hard, does it?
Mollie: I do that. It doesn’t always work.
Subhan: No, it doesn’t always work. The mind is tremendously powerful. It can process an unbelievable amount of data in a mere second. It is a miracle that we have the ability to step back from it at all. The only reason we are able to is that what is behind it is indestructible. And usually, we only obtain just a flash of true silence. Maybe for ten seconds you are in silence, and those ten seconds can be life-changing.
Mollie: Why is this the way it is? Why is it so hard to detach from mind, from pain? It doesn’t seem fair.
Subhan: Maybe awareness isn’t that cheap. Maybe awareness has to be earned.
The truth is, though, it’s hard because it’s hard. Because this is the nature of the mind. Asking “why?” is a game of the mind, the one it plays a million times a day. Why can’t I have this? Why can’t I do that? Why can’t I be there, feel that way?
D. H. Lawrence was a very intelligent man. One day he was walking with his nephew in the woods when his nephew asked: “Why are the leaves green?” Lawrence didn’t answer right away; instead, he thought about it for a time, wanting to give an answer that was the truth. Finally, he said, “I know the answer, but you are not going to like it. The leaves are green because they’re green.”
Your mind is not happy with this answer. But your inner being is.
The leaves are green because they’re green. Asking “why” leads to a never ending work game!
“They’re green because of chlorophyll.” But why does chlorophyll create GREEN? “Because of the chemical reaction in chlorophyll.” “But why does this chemical reaction create GREEN and not RED?”
(Once a children learn the “why” game, they can keep adults over a barrel forever!) Ultimately the only real answer we can give is that leaves are green…because they’re green…!
Mollie: So what about when you really do want to change something about yourself or your life? Maybe your life is going pretty well, and you already have a lot of what you want, but you would just like to tweak something just a bit. What next?
Subhan: Well, the first thing I’d say is to watch that desire. Notice your perceived need to change things. Ask yourself what this tweaking is all about. That desire is the mind, and by accepting its ideas, you’re identifying yourself with it. But the truth is, you are not your mind. You are much bigger, much grander than it, and within the real you there is no idea of “lacking.”
What is the point in identifying with a lacking? Don’t. Don’t allow there to be a split between the reality of the person you are and the ideal of the person you want to be. Because whenever you have something called the ideal, you will be in conflict with the real. And if you’re in conflict with the real, you will never arrive. There will never be a time when the mind doesn’t want something different, or something more. Never. So, it’s better to sacrifice the ideal for the real!
Mollie: Then how do we ever change anything, do anything, get anything done? If we’re all perfectly content with things just as they are, won’t we end up sitting around and meditating all day like you?
Subhan: I don’t meditate all day. I am in constant contact with people. I do counseling sessions. I write. I teach classes at the college. I lead four meditation sessions a week at our center. I do numerous weekend workshops.
You see, the mind tells us that if we stop listening to it, and stop being in conflict, we won’t get anything done. But all you have to do is look at the great spiritual masters to see that isn’t true. Buddha, Lao Tzu, Christ, Rumi … They all accomplished a lot and many things change around them.
Subhan: When I am in acceptance of who I am, Existence does the changing!
Mollie: How? Let me slow down and look at this process you’re talking about because there’s obviously something I’m not getting here. So, there you are in a state of meditation, disidentified with the mind, blissed out. Then the mind comes up with another judgment—say, “My child is misbehaving, and I want him to stop.” This is the moment we’re really talking about—the moment that repeats itself all throughout the day. This is when you decide to either reidentify with the mind and become the one who is judging, or to not accept the judgment, and just notice it instead. But when you decide to just notice the judgment, isn’t that also a decision the mind is making?
Subhan: No. I don’t decide. We are part of an Intelligence so vast our minds are useless compared to it. When we are in a state of meditation, it is not our minds that do the deciding, but this Intelligence within us.
Mollie: But if you don’t use your mind, how do you speak? How do you carry out the instruction of this Intelligence—say, to hug the child, or to correct them, or to comfort them?
Subhan: For verbal and physical responses like these, you do use the mind and body. They are tools that allow us to be part of the physical world—to speak, to move our bodies. The key is to respond rather than to react. When you react to your child rather than responding, you’re not using your mind; it’s using you.
Mollie: Ah, I see. So you can still speak, talk, respond to the situation without using your mind to do so? Maybe we are defining mind differently. So there is the mind that’s the ego, the monster, the monkey, the neuroses, and there is the mind that’s a simple, useful tool, a tool we use to translate what is going on in our larger Intelligence? And so is the body, when we hug the child rather than yelling at him?
Subhan: Yes, that’s right. The mind is a fabulous tool … but a crappy boss!
Mollie: So how does a spiritual seeker, someone who is committed to becoming disidentified with the mind, make this switch? In that moment when the child is so-called misbehaving, how does she learn how not to react as the mind would like and to instead suspend thinking, then receive and act upon Intelligence, all without using her mind? This sounds like quite the skill. How does she learn how to accept a situation she finds unpleasant, without “making it into a problem,” as Eckhart Tolle says?
Subhan: Meditation. Meditation that really works, really functions, allows you to, for a moment, to be completely separated from the mind. This doesn’t happen overnight! So it’s best to start with simpler things and situations. Practice watching the thoughts whenever you remember to do so, in simple settings that aren’t triggering emotions and control issues, etc. You slowly build up the knack of watching – in your meditation, in simple situations, and then, ultimately in more “difficult” situations.
Mollie: Then what?
Subhan: Then, acceptance comes. And wisdom comes, the wisdom that is right for that moment.
Mollie: Then what? I will ask it again: How do we end up getting what we want out of life, if we’re always just listening to Intelligence and doing whatever it tells us to do?
Subhan: We try to force Existence to give us what we want, but this is ridiculous, totally futile. It’s like we’re playing the greatest cosmic joke on ourselves: We are buddhas, capable of extraordinary things, even peace and enlightenment, and instead we’re acting unconsciously. We pretend to have all kinds of self-imposed limitations, including a mind that has no clue what to do most of the time, that’s creating many more problems than it’s solving. It is our nature to be a buddha. Anything else is going against the flow. To paraphrase Osho: “The miracle is not when we obtain enlightenment. The miracle is when we conceal it.”
Mollie: So if we want to be truly happy and free of mind, we have to let Intelligence give us what it deems best for us, no matter what that may be?
Subhan: That sounds like the mind talking, not wanting to give up its control to a higher intelligence that resides within us. One we step back from the mind, it loses its control and the intelligence is THERE, waiting to be of immense service!
I tell people to ask for 100 percent of what they want, then let the Universe decide, because it will!
Mollie: So would you say that the main purpose of meditation is to teach us acceptance of whatever the Universe deems best for us?
Subhan: The purpose of meditation is to disidentify with the mind. Acceptance comes naturally after that.
Mollie: Then what? What happens after acceptance?
Subhan: Acceptance and gratitude, and peacefulness and fulfillment become real once there is the disidentification from the mind. I had an early experience of this before I became a meditator. I didn’t know it at the time, but I had dropped into meditation. When I was a young man I was driving my mother’s car when it slipped on some ice. In the ten seconds between starting to slide and hitting the car in front of me, I had my first experience of the meditative state. The mind understood that there was nothing it could do, no role for it to play in that moment, and it said, “I’m out of here. You’re on your own.” Those ten seconds felt like an hour. They were bliss. And the silence was so serene, so “palpable!”
Then I hit the car, and the mind said, “Oh, I can deal with this.” And it started in again: “What is your mother going to say, how much is this going to cost,” etc. It was much later that I realized that when the mind disappeared, something extraordinary emerged. And later still, it became clear that this space had something to do with an essential nature that is always there, although covered by the minds overthinking.
Mollie: I see. And yes, that bliss is what I want. But should I make it a life goal of mine to obtain it? Should happiness be something I strive for? Because it seems the more you try to get happy, the more neurotic you become.
Subhan: You’re right! Anything you desire is a product of the mind. And it will create misery around it. Do not make happiness a goal. In fact, do not make anything a goal. All goals keep you stuck in the mind. Life will give you what you truly need.
Mollie: So—and I realize that I’m really trying to pin you down here—would you say that if I practice meditation regularly, and practice living in a state of meditation and acceptance, I will certainly become happy?
Subhan: I will say that if you stay with it, there is every possibility that you will have more moments of feeling loving, feeling grateful, feeling at peace. And that’s assuming that you are doing a meditation that works for you. Because as I said, a lot of people are doing meditation techniques that don’t really work for them.
Also, be really careful because the mind that asks that question is more interested in the goal than the process. As long as you have a goal to your meditation it will keep you locked in your mind, evaluating whether or not your meditation session was “successful.” Every time the meditation happens the mind will judge it based on whether or not it has achieved that goal. The mind is very crafty. Instead, be there sincerely, without the notion of getting somewhere.
The mind doesn’t want you to be happy. How many times have you experienced a moment of joy and the mind has tried to throw you out of it, using every complaint, seeing every shortcoming, predicting every future bad result it could?
The mind doesn’t want you to be happy, because if you are it is no longer needed.
Mollie: And how long will it take for me to get there? How much meditation would you recommend that I do?
Subhan: There is no way for anyone to know that. There is no formula to it. It is a quantum leap. But after a while, you will notice that you don’t take life so seriously, that you have moments of greater clarity, and that you even feel more gratitude, just for being alive. These are clues that the meditation process is working.
Mollie: Is just meditating and noticing the workings of the mind enough? Is there anything else I need to do?
Subhan: Watching the mind is essential. But you can also find people on this path of discovery who can share their experiences and understandings with you. They offer workshops and sessions that can be of great assistance to you in coming back to your inner, essential nature!
Mollie: No mantras? I love my mantras.
Subhan: If you enjoy mantras, then use them! Some mantras can help you go deeper inside. Just remember, the point of meditation is to disassociate yourself from the mind.
Just watch the mind. A thought comes, and you watch it. Nothing more. This is the only real meditation. Saying mantras may be a good and helpful practice, but it may not lead you to the state of meditation, which is awareness, relaxation and no judgment.
Now, let me ask you a question. Have you had enough of what you don’t want yet?
Mollie: I would have to give that some thought.
Subhan: If you have to think about it, you haven’t. When someone is being physically tortured, and they’re asked if they’ve had enough yet, there is not a single instant of reflection. The answer is yes.
Mollie: That is true. I am getting there.
Subhan: I would hope you get there as fast as you can.