A year ago I found myself caught between two very strong forces: The pull towards The Relationship School® in Boulder, CO and the passion for our family life in my Swiss village. I was stressed and confused. These forces were tucking at me strongly, persistently.
Shoud I really go? Was it just midlife-crisis that had me jump into this adventure, or was there any wisdom in leaving my family for a week and flying over the Atlantic?
I chose to go. And I found a path that I have been following ever since with all my heart. Here is how one boy I never met gave me the courage to go:
Swiss mountains around me, packing list in my hand. My head insists I am going in the wrong direction: to the US. I have been looking forward to The Relationship School® in Boulder for months. Now my body stalls.
Just now my village home is paradise.
Only yesterday my kids had formed a circus with their friends. The arena was under Miriam’s linden tree, by the pony barn. The afternoon sun was shining through the branches. The children jumped and danced on a board balanced over an old tin bucket. My heart burst with gratitude and joy – the last thing I wanted to do was leave my little girl to go to the US.
There she was, swinging dangerously, smiling and throwing the first dried leaves into the air from her pocket. All-natural confetti.
It was only because I created my own hell in the midst of this paradise that I was now getting ready to leave for a seven-day-trip. As it turned out for me, awakening to this hell, led to finding Jayson Gaddis and his Smart Couple Podcast. Which was the beginning of a fundamental re-gardening process: very slowly I was turning the destitute industrial area of our marriage to match our idyllic surroundings of lush greenery, spaces maintained with love and abundant signs of community.
I dropped the packing list and used the last hour before my children would walk down from the village school to ride down to the lake, getting our groceries from the organic co-op.
As I was pedalling up the hill again I remembered an email from a German friend. He was housing a refugee boy from Syria: Maher. Maher’s mother was killed on their flight from war, and his father and siblings were scattered over Europe. My friend was asking for help to reunite Maher with his family. All it would take was some luck and a few thousand Euros to cover plane fares. This was my chance to bribe the universe and to quiet my fears about travelling without my family. I put my bike away and went straight to my laptop to make a donation.
Helping out this boy gave me the courage to face my own fears. It also helped me connect my travels with one of my highest values: being of service. Learning about relationship would serve world peace — it may sound far fetched, but it seemed clear as rain to me: I was travelling for myself, for my family, and for Maher.
Then I finally packed. One day and a 15+ hour plane journey later I joined just over 50 people at Boulder’s Integral Center for the first ever Relationship School Live Weekend. For about half of us this was also the kick-off to a nine-month journey, studying the Deep Psychology of Intimate Relationships in order to become well-practiced “love warriors”.
Jayson and his wife Ellen Boeder fed us neurophysiological knowledge and role-played common situations in the “full catastrophe” of family life. They modelled the attitude, timing and language that can turn a relational challenge into love. We repeated the moves in real-time exchanges and learnt how this felt in our own bodies. Over time, I could practically feel my relational muscles become stronger!
I was in a jet lag haze that seemed supportive of opening my heart through sheer exhaustion. Practicing with the other students meant checking in with myself, opening my heart and entering an intimate exchange.
Over and over I failed or succeeded to stay connected to myself, keep my heart open and stay in intimacy. This was taking it much further than countless hours spent on the meditation cushion, as essential as they are to me.
Whatever sense of awakened love I was feeling was directly put to the test of actual relating.
The day after the Live Weekend I found myself sitting in Trident Café, Boulder, with a massive soul hangover, clear mind and expansive heart, my relational muscles slightly sore.
Just as working out makes my body feel confident and alive, I was filled with new confidence to bring home to my family, my entire relational life. If this were to wear off, I was still left with a down-to-earth set of practical tools, a map and a compass.
I was intent on expanding paradise by tending to my marriage: to me it’s the most important thing in my small privileged life, and the best contribution I can think of to create a global garden in which my family and Maher can heal and thrive.
Packing that morning for my trip home, I checked email one last time. My German friend had sent a note: in the few days since my donation, the fund to bring Maher’s family together had grown to over 3500 Euros. People had teamed up to organize flea markets, offer legal counsel and sent money to make a difference for this boy. My heart softened as I realized how eager people are to do something practical to help relieve suffering in the world.
With the Rocky Mountains at my back and a thick Relationship School® manual in my bag, there was no doubt I was going in the right direction, my direction.
I was bringing back home a keen determination to live in integrity beyond my meditation cushion, a set of tools for everyday, heart-swelling memories and a small to medium sized “cowboy hat” for my kids to parade around our Swiss village.
And most importantly I was bringing myself back home.
(One last thing on Maher: It turned out to be a long and difficult process to get the visas for Maher’s father and siblings. In the end it took a whole year. Miraculously, just as I am posting this now I got an overjoyed email from his foster parents with a family picture: tearful laughing faces. . . . The day had finally come when Maher, his father and his siblings were reunited. Big out breath. Yes!!)