One thing about life is that it often takes a long time to really get even the simplest truths. We can be sent the same message over and over and fail to see it. The problem is that we play out identical patterns with different people -- repeat our mistakes because we live by rote -- and then wonder what went wrong. To break this cycle, we often need input from a teacher, mentor, or friend who can shed light on our situation and show us what we need to do, where we can go deeper, and how we can change.
For me, those teachers took many forms. Some, like Father Richard Rohr and Reverend George Dole, came as real people; others were revealed through great books such as the Zohar and the Bhagavad Gita. After my parents, the most influential by far was and is Emanuel Swedenborg, an eighteenth-century scientist and theologian who saw the Bible as a divinely inspired metaphor, illustrating our spiritual journey. He described the path of regeneration, or rebirth, as consisting of a life of charity -- which is essentially loving relationships. His writings on the nature of God, humanity, and marriage not only shaped my views on life but fundamentally shaped who I am.
For this reason you will find his doctrine, widely and wildly interpreted, as the foundation for just about every chapter of this book.
Just to be really clear: none of the truly big ideas here originated with me. I merely applied the wisdom of my teachers to my own experience. In doing so, I came to the conclusion that all the important things in life are actually about existing in relationship.
Of course there are other things, like brushing your teeth and flyfishing, but my feeling is that ultimately these come back to relationship too. So what, exactly, is the big secret about living in relationship?
Simply what the great spiritual traditions have been teaching for millennia. Boiled down, it's essentially love God, love yourself, love everybody else. Why am I saying it again? Because I don't think we can ever hear it enough. I think we need to hear it, read it, feel it, teach it, taste it, speak it, smell it, breathe it, until one day . . . we finally start to live it.
This book is my attempt to share the encounters and epiphanies that brought me back to that truth. I've also included exercises at the end of each chapter. Reading about something is easy. Putting it into practice is another thing altogether -- especially when the first time we try it is in the heat of a highly charged emotional situation.
These tools are designed to help condition our reactions, so that we can respond in a more conscious way when we are engaged with others. I will admit right here that I am not a good tool person. I usually try them once, or at least think about trying them -- okay, sometimes I just avoid them altogether because tools/exercises are usually work. These are not.
They are supposed to be effortless and fun while creating a shift in perception. I want you to see what each chapter's key concept feels like when it's put into action. But please don't feel compelled to do them. Just use whatever you like.