How Answering One Simple Question can Make Your Dreams Come True
By Gay Hendricks
New World Library Copyright © 2007 Gay Hendricks
All rights reserved.
MY FIRST WISH
Remember the first wish I made on my imaginary deathbed?
* * *
I wish I'd enjoyed a long and happy marriage with a woman I adored and who adored me.
* * *
WHY I WISHED FOR IT
At the moment I told Ed my greatest wish, I had no evidence that it was possible. I had never seen such a marriage. All I had to go on was a tiny glimmer of possibility that I could feel inside me. I also had the great gift of a new relationship with a willing partner, Kathlyn, who had the spirit of a true cosmic adventurer combined with a huge heart and a clear mind. I had never met anyone who had all the qualities I most desired in a woman. At the time, unfortunately, I was busily frittering away this big opportunity in the same way I'd messed up just about every relationship I'd ever been in: with indecision, lack of commitment, and an inability to keep my hands off other women.
My first love as a teenager was Alice, but even the glow of first love hadn't kept me from seeing Kathy and Joyce on the sly. Then came Linda, my first wife, and long before I left Linda, I was seeing Barbara and Jane. Then came Carol, who complained for five years that I was not committed to her. I strenuously told her how wrong she was, all the while enjoying wild, secret romps with Nancy, Donna, Barbara, and many others whose names I've forgotten. So when Kathlyn came along, offering me everything I'd ever dreamed of, my immediate response to this gift was to start seeing Lynne on the side.
So there I was, one foot in the relationship with Kathlyn, one foot out the back door. As soon as I formulated my first wish, I could feel this issue begin to seethe and ferment within me. I found myself asking, for the first time, why I persisted in splitting myself in half by pretending to be in one place while occupying another at the same time. Up until then I had never seen this dynamic as a pattern. I just thought it was the way life was supposed to be. Now suddenly I realized it was not only a problem — it was the problem.
One way a pattern stays hidden from oneself is through lack of awareness. But I had been going a step further to ensure that the pattern stayed in place. I'd added a drop of a superglue called self-righteous justification: I frequently proclaimed that monogamy was only for domesticated dull-ards, not for wild, free mavericks like me!
But suddenly this philosophy seemed hollow and false. Even worse, I was beginning to suspect that it was part of a hand-built defensive façade designed to hold me back from reaching a potential I deeply longed for. So, I asked myself, if my beliefs were indeed the problem, where had they come from? It only took a split second for the answer to become clear.
I had started out my life that way. I was literally born into the pattern.
My father had died shortly after I was conceived, so when I was born, my mother was both a grieving widow and an unemployed single parent. In desperate circumstances, she turned me over to my grandmother, who adored me and willingly took care of me. She had raised four daughters and had always longed for a son. At age sixty-five, she finally got her wish. But then my mother, out of guilt and her natural maternal urges, wanted me back, so back I went. Not long after, she changed her mind and returned me to my grandmother. For the next seven years, I shuttled back and forth between my mother and my grandmother in what was essentially a joint custody arrangement.
Yet it was my grandmother who felt to me like my real mother, whereas my mother was a person I visited from time to time. They lived down the street from each other, so if things became difficult with my mother — and they nearly always did — I could escape to the comfort of my grandmother's warm and loving presence. If I'd been given a choice, I would have probably never spent a single night at my mother's house. Ultimately, though, my mother insisted that I stay at her house permanently. After I started school there were fewer and fewer overnights at my grandmother's house. No wonder the thought of living with one woman now seemed like forced imprisonment!
The pattern was so obvious — why hadn't I seen it before I was in my thirties? I felt lucky I'd become aware of it, and at the same time embarrassed and stupid that I'd taken so long to see it.
HOW MY WISH CAME TRUE
* * *
I'm enjoying a long and happy marriage with a woman I adore and who adores me.
* * *
I remember the exact moment when I realized the game was up — and that I was not going to spend the rest of my life playing out a destructive belief pattern created in childhood.
Not long after getting clear on my five wishes, I visited a friend and mentor of mine, Dwight Webb, at his place in New Hampshire. Kathlyn was in Colorado, where we both lived at the time. One day, I had Dwight's place all to myself while he was off teaching a class. As I strolled around the house, admiring the beautiful details of the cabin Dwight had built by hand, I had a sudden flash of insight: There was only one way I could find out if I had what it took to create the kind of relationship I really wanted. I had to make a deep, personal commitment to creating it — no matter what. The commitment had to be freely chosen by me, and it had to be large enough to include the likelihood that at some point in the process I would give up in despair when I confronted the biggest barriers to achieving my goal. My commitment needed to be powerful enough to get me through those barriers, and yet — this was the real kicker — there was no way to know what the barriers actually were until I made the commitment!
I made the commitment on the spot. Then I picked up the phone and called Kathlyn. I explained what I'd just realized, that I would never get to know whether the relationship of my dreams was possible until I made a whole-being commitment to it.
"I want to make a commitment to you, to create a passionate, creative lifelong relationship with you. Is this what you want?"
It was silent for a moment. Then I could hear quiet sobs over the phone. "Yes," she said at last.
I felt a deep smile spread through my whole body.
"Wonderful. I'm glad. I commit to creating this with you, and I commit to regarding anything I confront along the way — sexual feelings for other women, fear, despair, anything — as just stuff of mine that's coming up to distract me. I promise not to give up until we create the relationship of our dreams or we both agree to call off the quest."
"I make that promise to you, too," she said.
* * *
That conversation was more than a quarter-century ago, and everything I dreamed has come true. In fact, the fulfillment of my dreams has gone far beyond what I imagined was even possible. Along the way Kathlyn and I have raised two children to healthy adulthood, coauthored ten books, traveled widely teaching relationship seminars, faced the audience on Oprah and hundreds of other shows, weathered some hard times, and had many ecstatically good times.
Now, when people ask me if it's possible to feel lasting love, I can look them straight in the eye and say, "Yes." I know it can be done. I can give them not only hope and encouragement but also a realistic appraisal of the path — I know in my bones the attention it takes and the depth of commitment it requires.
And I can tell them it's worth every moment of careful attention it takes, because as I speak to them, I can feel the rewards of the quest: the glow of love and the calm of a heart in harmony with itself.
MY SECOND WISH
My second wish was all about completing — tying up the many loose ends in my life. I soon discovered a magical surprise: any significant act of completion unleashes a hidden power, a rocket fuel for manifesting your heart's desires. Every time I completed anything that had an emotional charge, I liberated a new wave of energy that increased my velocity toward my cherished goals.
The dictionary says that completion is finishing something and making it whole. I learned how much of my energy and power was being consumed by the things I'd left unfinished and un-whole. I discovered how much energy, lightness, and power I could feel by completing things and making them — and myself — whole. Here's how I first phrased my wish:
* * *
I wish I'd said all the things I never got around to saying to my friends and extended family. I wish I'd confessed the secrets I was holding. I wish I'd told some people how much I loved and appreciated them. I wish I'd told my daughter how sad I felt that I'd broken some promises to her.
* * *
Here's how I turned my wish into a goal:
* * *
My life is a complete success because I live in a state of completion with all my friends and family. I say all the important things I need to say, and do all the important things I need to do. As I go through life, there's nothing significant I leave unsaid or undone.
* * *
HOW IT WAS THEN
I come from a family of refugees and runaways. I had never seen this aspect of my lineage clearly until I formed my second wish. I chose this wish because I felt the pressure and weight of many things I'd run away from and left undone over the years.
As a kid, I lived near the railroad tracks, and I don't think I ever saw a train go by without wishing I could be on it. It wasn't until I was in my fifties that I found my true home, both inside myself and in the part of the world I live in. Before that, I'd always felt like I was on my way to someplace else — and the sooner, the better.
Once I began handling the many incompletions I'd left by the wayside in my past, I realized I had been following the well-worn patterns of a family script.
In doing some detective work on the pattern, I discovered that both my father and my maternal grandfather had run away from home when they were sixteen. Around 1890, my grandfather stole a mule from the family farm and rode off to seek his fortune in the newly settled territory of central Florida. The reason he always gave for his escape from the farm is both funny and insightful. "Farming," he would say, "will either kill you at a young age or make you tough enough to live to a ripe, old age. Death at an early age or a long life as a farmer seem about equal in my book." The clear message I took from this: If you don't like something, get out. Leave it behind and don't look back.
My father ran away from home by hopping a freight train. According to stories I heard from my mother, he had grown up in a terribly abusive family. His father "carried a Bible in one hand and a bullwhip in the other, and used them interchangeably." Finally one day he stowed away on a railway car, intending to take it from Alabama to Florida, but he got caught and thrown off the train. The same thing happened two or three more times, until finally the engineer gave him a job on the train as a locomotive stoker. In those days the steam engines ran on coal and sometimes wood; the stoker's hot and dirty job was to watch the fire and keep it roaring. Although I never knew my father in the flesh, I saw many pictures of him wearing his striped railroad cap.
Going back even further, I'm descended from Protestants who were forced to flee parts of Europe because of the Huguenot persecutions of the eighteenth century. At one point, King Louis XV of France, a rabid Catholic, passed a law making it legal to persecute Protestants. Suddenly it was okay to steal from Protestants, even beat them on the street, with no punishment. This new law did not bring out the compassionate side of the Catholics, and many of the Protestants fled to England and other points west.
My European ancestors migrated to England and Scotland, and then came to America and took root in the South. They became successful in business and the plantation economy, only to find themselves on the losing side of the Civil War. They lost their lands and businesses, and fled farther south to start again in the jungles of Florida at the end of the nineteenth century.
Within this general refugee script were many smaller dramas that involved running away. My two aunts ran away from home to get married, in order to escape the wrath of my grandmother, who did not approve of the men they loved. Both of these marriages endured for more than forty years, during which time my grandmother forgave her two daughters but steadfastly refused to speak to their husbands. (You can see why Southerners tend to make such good novelists. All they have to do is write down what's going on around them.)
When I was nineteen, my grandfather, the former mule thief, slipped me $500 and told me to get the hell out of the swamplands before they swallowed me up. I took his advice, bought a beat-up '58 Ford for $175, pointed it north and never looked back.
Geographical liberation is one thing, but internal freedom is something else indeed. Escaping to New England and later to California changed the scenery but only reinforced my habit of not completing significant emotional communications. By the time I was in my thirties and had my life-changing conversation with Ed, I had piled up such a stack of incomplete communications and unmade amends that I felt as though I was collapsing under the weight of them.
HOW IT IS NOW
One day, not long after my meeting with Ed, I sat down and made a list of all the incompletions I could think of. I broke them down into categories:
* Unspoken truths: Significant things I'd withheld from the significant people in my life.
* Broken agreements: Promises I'd made and hadn't kept
* People I appreciated and loved but hadn't told directly
* Money I owed
I wish I still had my original handwritten list, because I'm sure there were a few other categories I don't remember. The list was twelve pages long by the time I finished writing down all the things I'd left incomplete throughout my life. It seemed daunting when I looked at the list as a whole, but I was soon to discover something remarkable about the act of making completions: each one you take care of gives you a fresh burst of energy. If the completion is a major one, such as a big lie you finally admit to, the liberation of energy feels like rebirth.
The power of this phenomenon cannot be overstated. Why had I never heard of it before? Surely others must have tapped into the power of completion throughout history, but if they had, I certainly hadn't run across any descriptions of it. This discovery seems to me something that ought to be flashed across TV screens, awarded Nobel Prizes, and taught in every grade of school. Instead, I only learned it in my thirties, by a chance encounter with an esoteric teacher.
I set about the task of completing the incompletions, starting with the ones I felt most resistant to doing. I figured if I did the hard ones first, the easier ones would feel like eating dessert. The hardest ones were lies and broken promises to a number of women in my life, including my daughter and her mother, my long-ago first wife.
Linda and I were together for a little over four years, but they were probably the most unconscious four years of my life. I met and married her when I was twenty-two, just after my grandmother died. Looking back, I think I felt completely alone and without a source of love when my grandmother died. I remember just sitting in my backyard, for hours at a time, wondering what I was going to do with my life.
Linda strayed into my stagnant sludge-pond of grief, burdened by her own load of undigested feelings, and we stayed mired there for our short, unhappy time together. The only bright bit of sunshine to emerge from our union was our daughter, Amanda. Both of us adored her, and focusing our attention on our daughter enabled us to find some common ground between us. After a couple more years, though, we went our separate ways. Linda and Amanda moved a continent away, and I lost daily contact with Amanda. It was by far the most painful event of my life.
Several incompletions with Linda and Amanda were at the top of my twelve-page list. I contacted Linda and asked her if she wanted to hear them. When she said yes, I got in the car and drove cross-country so I could sit down with her, and then with Amanda, face to face.
By then ten years had gone by since our divorce, but when Linda and I sat down together it was as if no time had passed. I told her about the process I'd gone through that had led me to make my list of incompletions. I asked her again if she wanted to hear them, and when she said yes, I began a sweaty but liberating hour of divulging secrets, feelings, and other unspoken pieces from our lives together. (Continues...)
Excerpted from Five Wishes by Gay Hendricks. Copyright © 2007 Gay Hendricks. Excerpted by permission of New World Library.
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