Since 1977, I have been sending out a newsletter called LEARNINGS. Here is how I began the first issue:
This newsletter—LEARNINGS—is my way of sharing with you what I am learning. Often I learn something with one client that would have been useful with another client the day before. In order to bridge that gap of time and also to bridge the gap of space that separates me from clients and other friends outside Cleveland, I will share my learnings with you regularly in this newsletter.
That statement feels amazingly accurate more than 35 years later. The only real change is that I moved from Cleveland to London and then on to the Crook of Devon in Scotland.
In the earlier newsletters, I shared one or two learnings each time. Then I read a wonderful book by Michael Phillips called The Seven Laws of Money. He describes the Taoist approach to creating Seven Laws about anything.
I like that approach except that instead of announcing Laws, I prefer to share Learnings. I’ve now discovered Seven Learnings about all sorts of things, including Journaling, Love, Retreat, and Diversity. The latest Learnings starts here; the rest are in the Learnings Archive.
As the end of each year approaches I begin thinking of what to write about inLearnings. This year the choice is obvious. On 18 April 1998 Rosemary and I got married. We met in April 1997 and since then I have been learning a lot about love.
Here are my seven Learnings.
1. LOVE IS
Love is. Love is spiritual, erotic, companionable, challenging, tough, nurturing, and more. When our friend George Simons spoke at our wedding about Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, he observed that although Paul’s famous words on love are often read to couples at weddings, the message was originally addressed to a congregation. It was a congregation of people with skills and talents – but not much love. I have learned that love – in families, between friends, within groups – is sometimes very well hidden. When we recognise that love is, then things begin to change.
2. LOVE YOU
With Rosemary, I learn daily about love. When I pay full attention to her, I am able to experience her world more fully. I keep learning to do this with my friends, colleagues, and course participants.
For more than 25 years, I have been teaching – and learning – the skill of active listening. One of my ongoing learnings is that I am overly-eager to connect your experience to mine – so I begin talking before I’ve finished listening.
One magical morning in La Jolla almost twenty years ago, I watched Carl Rogers (the developer of the active listening process) work with a client. Afterwards, he described the process: You the speaker are a railway engine moving slowly out across a curving twisting bridge above a gorge. I the listener am facing you and walking backwards across the bridge with you. When I stay very close to you I know where we are going. When I move back too quickly I fall off the bridge.
Having fallen off many such bridges – and dangled dangerously from others – I am learning to stay close. When I focus on you – when I love you – then I learn and grow. And sometimes you do too.
3. LOVE IS ME
My friend Bob Gray and I used to discuss this point when we were college students at Wooster: in order to follow the ancient admonition to love your neighbour as yourself, you would first have to love yourself so that you could love your neighbour.
There have been times in my life when I did not love myself enough to love anyone else. For the past two years I have been learning again to love myself as a good human being, doing his best in the world. As I wrote in my journal, paraphrasing Marsha Sinetar: “Be who you are and the love will follow.”
4. LOVE IS YOU-ME
You-Me is a word that Rosemary created to describe our relationship. In a successful relationship we focus on the system as well as on the components. If I just care for Rosemary or for myself, that is not enough. I must also care for you-me. So we sit talking late over dinner or go for a walk together – to focus on you-me.
5. LOVE IS TRUSTING
I am learning the trust Rosemary – and to trust myself. That means not only risking to listen, but also risking to share what I am thinking and feeling.
We developed our relationship (the you-me) using two amazing devices. One is the talking stick – and ancient tradition introduced to us by Rainbow Hawk and Wind Eagle. The one holding the talking stick shares fully while the other listens fully. The second device – email – is less ancient but it encourages the same process of sharing while trusting the other to listen.
When working with groups, we trainers often say to each other – and to our participants: “Trust the process.” I’m beginning to believe that we mean “Trust the love” that is in yourself, in this group, in this couple, in this organisation.
6. LOVE IS CHERISHING
Rosemary and I wrote our own wedding vows. We said: “I promise to love you, trust you, and cherish you for the rest of my life.” Cherishing means loving you when it’s easy and when it isn’t. Cherishing means finding out how you want to be loved. Cherishing means caring deeply, holding gently, committing completely.
7. LOVE IS LEARNING
I love Rosemary and she is very different from me. Recently we had a difficult conversation with raised voices (sometimes known as an argument). After a long effort to convince her that I was right, I spent almost as long working to hear what she was saying. I did not agree at all and I kept on listening till she agreed that I had understood. The next day – I am not a fast learner – I acknowledged that much of what she had said was right. And that I was wrong.
Later we sat in front of our fireplace. The dogs and the cat curled up around us. We held hands and dreamed the fire. We keep on learning and we keep on loving. We wish the same for you.