Three minutes of Zen [54]

In Love, Sex, and Relationships by Dr. Keith Witt

Time for LoveBoomers will remember the song, Afternoon Delight, by the Starland Vocal Band. I particularly enjoyed that song because for decades afternoon was my yummiest time to make love. Is afternoon your favorite time? Sunday morning has been big for many couples I’ve worked with. Does your partner know your preferences? Remember your last sweet, juicy moment. Are you a more feminine person feeling known, claimed, and beautiful? Are you are more masculine person feeling present, resolved and passionate? These states can be expanded into a shared yoga of sensual intimacy if we can offer and receive influence from our lovers. How about the times you really enjoy your partner, and are most grateful to be with him or her? Times you’ve laughed together, cried together, celebrated together, or shared emotional experiences tend to be signature couple’s moments that can yield a sense of an intimate shared life. Practice sidebar: It’s useful and fun to write such positive episodes down, and add to them every week as you find more pleasures. This tends to make you more vigilant about when you feel close, and help to not take the strengths and joys of your relationships for granted. Try sharing this with your spouse, who will probably add some loving memories and experiences of their own. Such moments nourish relationships. It’s a good idea to experience them early and often. Deliberately creating sweet, playful intimate moments forms a yogic path to bliss, and is healthy relationship hygiene. Blaine and Alexandra: One couple, Blaine and Alexandra, came in one day and Blaine said, “We get an ‘A’ for doing our assignment!” “Oh boy!” I thought to myself. Even though at that moment I couldn’t remember what I’d asked them to do, such declarations are always good news. I relaxed into my chair, “Tell me more.” Blaine looked to Alexandra, who nodded slightly, and he continued, “You suggested we connect each night before bed in some intimate sensual way, so we’re doing ‘Three minutes of Zen.’ We lie down and hold each other for at least three minutes every night before we sleep. It’s been great!” He turned to Alexandra, who added, “I had no idea how wound up and tense I was! We get into bed and Blaine holds and strokes me and I relax and connect. It’s kind of turned into a game—you know—‘Is it three minutes of Zen time?’ Like that.” The fact that both enjoy the mutual holding and that it feels playful—like a “game”—is significant and revealing. The power of play from cradle to grave: From birth to death, we learn best when we’re having a good time. Ask any grade-schooler why they especially like a favorite teacher (also usually their most effective teacher), and they’ll give you some variant of, “She makes learning fun. It’s like a game.” The instinct to play is our most complex social drive, and we grow and learn best when harnessing it. This is one reason couples often rebel against dry, clinical exercises presented as work. For example, take the basic empathy exercise:
  • “Take some time and sit facing each other. You, Alexandra, tell Blaine what you want, and, Blaine, you repeat it back until she’s satisfied you’ve got it right.”
The empathy exercise is central in many couple therapy systems, but people hardly ever follow through for more than a week (if that) because it’s not much fun. Infants from ten to seventeen months hear the word “no” every nine minutes. They are exploding into a complicated, delicate, and dangerous world, and parents are constantly monitoring and interrupting rude, hazardous, or irritating behaviors with some version of, “no.” Famous pediatrician/psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott called the mother/child relationship the “holding environment” and believed that the more playful the “no,” the better for baby’s development (and Mom’s sanity). Say fifteen-month-old Joey is happily tipping Mom’s favorite lamp back and forth as she walks into the living room from the kitchen, and she has one of the following two reactions:
  • Reaction #1: Horrified look, angry tone: “Joey! Let go of that lamp right now!” Joey instantly plunges into a shame spiral at the hostile disapproval, freezes and starts to cry, which gets louder as Mom angrily picks him up continuing the disapproval rant—“I can’t turn my back on you for a minute. Bad boy!”
  • Reaction #2: Alarmed look, half-smile at the incipient disaster, urgent tone of playfully exaggerated alarm: “Joey! Stop! We don’t play with lamps.” Joey, looks mildly guilty as he lets go of the lamp and freezes, but is happily laughing seconds later as Mom picks him up, whirls him around, and plops him down next to his toy truck which he can trash all he wants.
  Play works better at every level. Infants grow better, kids learn more, and learning/transformation is more fun with play. When someone asks me what kind of teacher I am, I often respond with, “I’m more of a psychospiritual entertainer.” If people aren’t having fun in my classes, then I’m not doing my job. In therapy, if I’m not laughing regularly with my clients, I reload my strategies to be more playful. In terms of down-regulating (soothing) painful emotions, couples who interject caring humor (not nasty humor) into arguments are adding a little play to a difficult situation and are less likely to divorce and more likely to report high satisfaction and intimacy. When it comes to up-regulating (increasing) positive emotions, couples particularly benefit from regular doses of sensual play. So turning transformational practices like intimate talking or touching into playful games like “Three minutes of Zen” is great. The more laughter, play, fun and joy the better.