Scott put pen to paper to share a little bit about his journey through our three-year separation. I'm so thankful and grateful for his willingness to be this vulnerable. Love you, Scott.
The story goes like this…
There was a Zen master by the name of Hakuin. He lived in a village where he was praised by his community in having achieved a pure life. Enter a young Japanese girl of the same village. One day, her parents discover she’s hiding her pregnancy. They were a prominent family in the village and served as the main food store owners. Ashamed, they demand that their daughter confess and identify the man that made her this way. Knowing it would only hurt the young fisherman to reveal his identity, she remained quiet at first. Ultimately, the pressure is too great. Rather than telling her parents and the village the truth, she reports it was Hakuin. When they confront the Zen master with her accusation, his response is simply, “Is that so?”
Once the child is born, it is delivered to Hakuin to raise. By this time, Hakuin had lost his reputation with the villagers—now vilified, he is no longer celebrated. Neither seemed to bother him. He accepts the baby as his own and cares for the child as if it’s his own.
Eventually, the young Japanese mother can no longer bear the weight of her lies and being away from her child, so she tells her parents the truth—the the name of the real father. The mother, father, and the girl all rush to Hakuin to ask for forgiveness. They apologize at great lengths and ask to have the child back.
Despite raising the child for a year, losing his reputation, and receiving ridicule from the villagers, Hakuin was willing and responds only with, "Is that so?"
I share this only to say that in the past three years of my personal journey and separation from Kiersten, I found great solace in NOT reacting and taking it personally. Of course, it was difficult at times. She said some harsh words to me, to my face. I would listen and with verbal or non-verbal cues respond with, “Is that so?” Intuitively, I somehow knew this was HER journey. I felt as if I even knew how the story ended. Once, I even confidentially stated that to her—but in that particular moment—that declaration only fueled a stubbornness within her, so I learned. She needed a good listener and a friend, not a consultant.
As time passed, I would find her at my door. These visits would be under the premise of dropping or picking the kids up, but they usually allowed for a bit of lingering on her part. And, in these moments she would exhale, give me a sweet smile, and through no-verbal or verbal cues, tell me how she was doing. I knew my place was just to listen- not to fix. I saw her struggling with things that had happened to her in new relationship that I recognized as abusive. It was hard to witness. I remember her asking me if I ever thought she had too much eye contact with men, because she was being told that does. Being made to feel like she was doing something wrong. I told her no, that’s not who she is. She’s a kind, open-hearted woman but not a flirt. In addition to dealing with losing her, it was hard to watch the woman I love becoming a shell of herself due to an abusive relationship she didn’t understand.
Finding this Zen space did not happen for me overnight. In fact, I would suggest I spent the first 4-6 months operating out of a very raw and emotional space. I was reacting. I was working from a headspace of mostly “taking it personally.”
Don Miguel Ruiz’s book “The Four Agreements” started me on this path.
The Four Agreements are:
These rules have a way of resurfacing in my life; they are similar to when you exercise and are reminded to work on your core. To me, these agreements make up the mental core.
I can by no means say I have mastered any of them. But, for the purposes of addressing the common question I receive from friends and family who have read or heard about our love story (and it truly is a love story)…
“How are you (meaning Scott) able to take Kiersten back?” or “How did you manage?”
…I defer to the second agreement. I never took it personally.
But, I can also honestly say that because I also tried my best in our 18-year marriage to not break the other three agreements around issues of integrity and intentions when it came to her specifically. I do feel like you could take the second agreement too far if you set out to do harmful things to others maliciously, not caring for others in general, and then becoming offended that you are not personally liked by those people. So, one does have to have a working moral compass when abiding to the agreements; otherwise, it’s like playing with chess rules when your opponent is playing checkers.
When Kiersten surprised me with her new direction in life, I also did not immediately go to this centered way of thinking to process what she was saying. I was a raw, emotional mess. Her news shocked me. It felt as if I had entered a completely new universe and was now living in a body I was familiar with but a life that was unfamiliar and strange. I couldn’t grasp the “why” of it. Why this? Why now? Why us? Why him?
Because I was asking her these questions, she was giving me hard-to-hear answers. Some of her answers flowed out like personal attacks on me, some were more introspective, and some came from a place of matter-of-fact reasoning. To her, they all had to be convincing since she was changing her path in life.
There have been many times in my life when I need to justify a decision I’m about to make or have made. The higher the stakes and choice of my decision impacting others, the greater the sales pitch. It’s human nature. We’ve all done this. That inner monologue we all have is a great motivator for action in ourselves; the more self-convincing we can do betters the chances we get started at doing that thing.
Over the course of months, as she tried “selling” me on her new path, I learned to distance myself from the more negative justifications (Is that so?) and provide support to the “child” within her that needed a supportive “man” role. Before I continue, I may need to also inform you that just four months prior, Kiersten I started coming to terms with the fact that she had been sexually abused by a male family relative as a young child. With that realization, I knew there was a chance that I would take a few proverbial “hits” if something I said or did triggered that “little girl.”
I say all of this because intuitively I felt as if I understood. Despite the personal pain it was causing me to potentially lose the woman I loved, I knew it was a process of healing I was witnessing. In the big picture, these were chapters of self-discovery and healing in her life book that she needed to experience and it had very little to do with me.
Were there lessons, healing, and improvements that I needed to make? Of course, there were. I’ll tell you what they were.
I could go on; the list continues to evolve, because I do, too. For the most part, the improvements I needed to make one could consider cliché when it comes to relationship breakers. Only from experience and life come lessons that move the needle forward and continue self-growth. But, for many of these, you don’t ever actually stop working on until you are in the ground. There will always be areas for improvement.
I recently read another book called “Designing Your Life” by Bill Burnett and Dave Evans. In the book, they have the reader create a dashboard that measures (0-5) the fullness of one’s life in four main categories—love, play, work, and health. Essentially, in designing a life you will make unknowing sacrifices to one of these four pillars at any moment in your life IF you are unaware that they exist and can be measured. A balanced life is a happy life and one with complete fulfillment and all 5’s in each category.
Let’s look at a car. If cars were built without gauges to tell the driver they had no fuel, were almost out of oil, the tires were running low on air, or there’s little to no coolant left, you would have a lot of bewildered, surprised and possibly angry drivers sitting in cars that don’t work. Throw into the mix a surrounding condition that exists outside of the car (like weather) and you’ll have further levels of complexity generating even more confusion. With a car, you need a dashboard that helps you understand what you are doing to the car. And, with life, at the very least, you need an understanding of a theoretical dashboard that brings awareness.
Do you know what also brings sudden awareness? A divorce, a DUI, being fired, and a stroke. With Kiersten’s latest news, I was about to check the box in my lifetime for 3 out of 4 of those. While a DUI had personally never happened to me, it would have not been without effort, so for arguments sake, let’s say all four boxes had now been checked. If that’s not an awakening slap, then I don’t know what is.
The irony is that in my dashboard “love” reading, I would have felt it had always been steady in the 4-5 scale. The sudden announcement from Kiersten that she now wanted a divorce should have killed me, but instead I went inward.
Again, I didn’t know about this data as I am writing this today. But, as I look back on this time in my life and with the lens of this dashboard—love , play, work, and health—I can guarantee that I had too much weight in the love area. I had lost focus in managing the play, work, and health pieces. I had become too reliant on Kiersten in helping me stay “happy.” She did an awesome job of that for years as she is a pleaser by nature, but maybe her work on me had resulted in a deficit in her scale of fullness.
With her news, I woke up. I started reading. Two books found me—The Four Agreements and The Untethered Soul. Both books allowed me to “escape” from the day-to-day of still living under one roof with her but at the same time stay emotionally grounded while being spiritually elevated. I also started meditating, walking in the woods, and briefly stopped drinking. I started listening to my body. I noticed that when I had more than two glasses of wine I could feel the weight of depression add a layer. I started bringing fun experiences to my children that we could share. These experiences didn’t even have to cost money. I made it a point to just be present for them and keep smiling. Eventually, I was strong enough that I no longer worried about what the future brought but instead created this sense to just float. To float; however, did not mean you couldn’t manifest good things in life, so I also got really good at manifesting opportunities. Those opportunities included all the areas of love, play, work, and health. In other words, I got my mojo back.
But, in the end you’ve asked some variation of the question, “How did I manage to stay with Kiersten through all of this?” You can clearly see it was a mix of borrowed things I had read and perhaps experienced through observation of others. I created very little of this, only absorbed it. There really is no simple answer.
Well, I take that back. There is. I love her.
And, to borrow from someone else’s teachings, I know what love is. Thank you, Forrest Gump.