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Help and Healing for Intimate Relationships
If Love Fell Into Us
An Interview With Donna Miller (Breitenbush)
Memories of Vietnam - Intention Then and Now

Sarnath, India. 2001

Call 503 293-1757 or email us

The Power of Aligned Intention

Reprinted from Good News magazine, Sacramento, CA.

The words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. inspired me to work on improving my relationships and to simplify my inner life so I would have more energy and time to give to the world. Dr. King said:

"No one has learned to live until they can rise above the narrow confines of their individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of humanity...In order to live creatively and meaningfully, our self-concern must be wedded to concern for others."

My fascination with conflict resolution and working through differences non-violently was born in 1968 when I took my brand new degree in Asian Studies and boarded a plane for Saigon, South Viet Nam. I taught at the Buddhist University with guns and war rattling the windows in my classroom. War was antithetical to my inner experience of how to solve human differences. My exposure to Buddhist philosophy and spirituality strongly influenced my developing perspectives. The juxtaposition of the equanimity of Buddhism with the chaos of war generated a lifetime curiosity and sadness in me about our human tendencies toward aggression, acquisition, defensiveness, blaming and judgmentalness. Although I saw how these behaviors weakened interpersonal relationships as well as fueling war in the larger world, sadly, none of this immunized me from making many mistakes in my own relationships.

When I returned from Viet Nam I integrated what I had learned from that experience into a specialty in conflict resolution. I eventually worked as a corporate trainer and led public workshops on Creating Successful Relationships. My lifelong fascination with intimate relationships and conflict resolution led me to my "right livelihood". This journey has been about learning and teaching the alternatives of non-violence, unilateral disarmament and acceptance of our differences. Healing our intimate relationships and simplifying our inner lives are inexorably linked. They are processes which increase the likelihood that we will contribute to the solutions to society's challenges rather than creating more social problems.

Over the years, I have moved into specializing in couple's therapy because I see couples and families as the basic raw material, the potential, for the creation of a sustainable society. I am intrigued by the complex inter-weavings of issues and natural dynamics that occur in our most intimate relationships. But most of the people who show up in my therapy room or couples workshops feel more pain, anger and grief than they feel "intrigued". The unresolved conflict and the inability to deal with their very real differences after the honeymoon period destroys more than couples and families. We pay a huge price as a society for the instability, malfunctioning and deterioration of our couples and the families they create. King's vision of rising above the narrow confines of individual concerns to the broader concerns of humanity is hard to achieve when we do intimate relationships without mindfulness or skillfulness.

I witness the impact of intimate relationships gone sour on a daily basis. Nearly every aspect of people's lives are affected by their inability to create the harmonious and loving relationships they want. The conflict and poor functioning in the relationships can voraciously consume emotional, financial and even physical health resources. Unresolved differences can keep you locked into blaming your partner, and focused on defending yourself and preserving your well-being on a survival basis. It's like a slow bleed that eventually weakens and dis-empowers you. This doesn't leave a lot of energy to productively contribute to solving society's monumentally important problems or to be the uniquely creative visionary you are inside.

The 50% overall divorce rate we've all heard about masks the true magnitude of the epidemic and the despair surrounding committed relationship and family. That statistic doesn't separate out the fact that recent marriages, those occurring in the last 15 years, reportedly end in divorce nearly 2/3 of the time. The divorce statistics tell only a small part of a very big story. They only measure marriages. Most couples who begin an intimate relationship with the highest of hopes never even make it to the ceremony. Also, if you are gay or lesbian, you do not make it into the statistics. Consider that only a small portion of intimate, "committed" relationships actually make it to marriage, and that fewer than half of the marriages last. Many of those that do are not much to aspire to. We begin to see the magnitude of the challenge to create intimate relationships that are healthy, passionate, loving and enduring.

Part of my work is helping couples (and myself) really dig into the daily realities of getting along with another person, of surfacing differences and working through them... from the mundane to the larger core issues that each couple generates. This means working through what it really means to live peacefully and healthfully with another person; to discover what it means to truly love another human being passionately and to hold on to your SELF at the same time. For the majority of people, when it gets to the hard part, they simply bail out. It's hard and we don't have the stomach for so much growing up and self-confrontation.

Couples work inevitably points to the individual. Healthy, skillful, emotionally mature individuals create healthier, more stable relationships. Confronting the self and developing your emotional intelligence and integrity tests you severely. It will almost always look like it's about your partner, not about you. Giving up the seductive alternative of blaming our disappointments and problems on our partner is a behavior that dies a long and violent death in most of us.

When I see the size of the job, I am reminded of some ancient folk wisdom that a Vietnamese teacher shared with me during the war. This "four point" teaching is thousands of years old and answers the question, "How can I contribute to the planet?"

If you want to help make the world a better place:

  • Perfect the self. You can't help the world improve if you are arrogant, immature, narcissistic, blaming, judgmental, or emotionally and spiritually unhealthy. Work on yourself first, ...and last. Perfect the self.
  • Nurture the family. Build a strong couple/family. Take care of each other. Nurture. Invest time and heart.
  • Serve your community. Community can be your neighborhood, your state, a special-interest group, or whatever you feel called to give to. Serve something bigger than your own self-interests.

If human beings function in these ways, then...

  • The world will save itself.

Even back then, the message was very clear. Give up blaming others, stop living like a victim no matter what your story line is, face yourself squarely, grow up, stop thinking you can't make a difference or that it's somebody else's responsibility.

If you go out and serve your community but you haven't done your own growth work or nurtured your relationship or family's growth, that neglect will catch up with you. We have all experienced someone who is out there serving in various communities---political, spiritual, educational, for instance, and their inner life or family life is chaotic and ungrounded. First, perfect the self. Gradually your inner life simplifies and quiets profoundly. Throughout antiquity, Shakespeare, Thoreau and others have said, "Know thyself". I can't improve upon that as a basis for healthy relationships.

Thomas Crum, the author of The Magic of Conflict, uses martial arts to teach conflict resolution in organizations. At a lecture, someone pointed out to him that there were more than 40 wars going on in the world at that time and he might reach a few thousand people a year. They asked how he thought he could possibly make a difference. His answer stayed with me. He said, "When I die, what I want people to be able to say about me is that I was one of the people who was committed to turning it around." Crum knew that whether it looked like an overwhelming job or not, just like Mother Theresa, he was going to keep trying. Sometimes, his statement sustains me.

Top of Page

Help and Healing for Intimate Relationships
If Love Fell Into Us
An Interview With Donna Miller (Breitenbush)
Memories of Vietnam - Intention Then and Now

Contact Donna by email. or call 503 293-1757

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