A Nest That Provided Peace and Protection

July 13, 2011
Learn how safety and peace are not always found where we think they will be.

Joyce and Barry Vissell, a nurse/therapist and psychiatrist couple since 1964, are counselors near Santa Cruz, CA, who are widely regarded as among the world’s top experts on conscious relationship and personal growth. They have given me permission to reprint an article from their July 3, 2011, Shared Heart Foundation newsletter called “A Nest of Peace.”

I have chosen to share it because it beautifully expresses the way in which we can all create peace and serenity in places where they are most needed.


Finding peace in your lives and relationships, especially if you feel stressed with financial, health, or relationship challenges, can sometimes seem almost impossible. And yet finding that peace is essential.

There is a story of a king who offered a prize to the artist who could paint the best picture of peace. Many artists tried, and the king finally chose two of the best. From these two, he had to choose one to receive the prize. The first picture was of a perfectly calm lake, with majestic mountains around it. The sky was pure blue with soft fluffy clouds. All who saw that picture thought that surely it would win the prize. It appeared to be the essence of peace.

The second picture was very different. It also held a lake, but the wind was creating high waves. The mountains around the lake were bare and rugged. Above was a turbulent sky with rain and lightning. Down the side of the mountain tumbled a raging waterfall. This painting did not look peaceful at all.

But when the king looked closer, he saw behind the waterfall a tiny bush growing in a crack in the rock. In the bush, a mother bird had built her nest. There, in the midst of the rush of angry water and noise, sat the mother bird on her nest….in perfect peace.

Which picture won the prize? The king chose the second picture. “Because,” explained the king, “peace does not mean the absence of noise, trouble or hard work. Peace means to be in the midst of all those things and still be calm in your heart. That is the real meaning of peace.”

When we do couples retreats, we always challenge the couples to create in their lives 10 minutes to connect in a peaceful, spiritual and loving way with one another. There are many different ways to do this. Barry and I say a prayer of gratitude and trust each morning while we hold hands. Saying this prayer together allows us to connect in our hearts and feel our spiritual connection with each other. We create our own nest of peace and safety to which we can return again and again when life challenges us.

Nineteen years ago, we were experiencing a great financial challenge. We had lived the first twenty-three years of our married life without financial stress. We lived in very inexpensive rental homes, drove old cars, and bought our clothes and our children’s clothes from second-hand stores. We kept cash on hand and only bought something if we had the cash for it. We didn’t have a credit card and had never been in debt. All that changed in 1989 when the earthquake destroyed our small rental home. We had been paying only $270/month rent and suddenly were forced out into the real world of high rents.

We decided to follow our dream and were able to purchase 16 acres right next to the rental home at a very good price. We were very naïve about mortgages and decided at the same time to build the house of our dreams, a home in which we could raise our three children and, at the same time, hold some of our workshops. Then we got the first mortgage bill and realized how very high it was. How could we ever come up with so much money each month? Our children were happy to have a home once again, after camping for six months in order to save money. We did not want to leave our new home, but the mortgage was so high that we wondered if we might go into foreclosure before we even had a chance to really live there. We were scared and started taking it out on each other. The picture of the turbulent sky and waves on the lake might describe our situation. Each day got harder and harder for us.

Finally we realized we must create a place of peace for this challenge and it was at that point that we began saying a prayer every single day. We sat for ten minutes each day and asked for help and guidance from a loving power greater than our own minds. Our financial situation did not immediately change, but these ten minutes of peace every day brought a trust into our lives that calmed the turbulence. Every month we somehow made that payment, sometimes by just a few dollars. When we would pray together it felt as if we were sitting in that nest of peace behind the rushing waterfall. We still return to that nest day after day as other challenges and situations come into our lives.

I feel very grateful for this “nest” and the peace that comes from sitting in it each day. For the people who have taken us up on our “ten minute challenge,” their lives change in a special way. We will forever encourage couples and singles to create this nest of peace.


NOTE: The Vissell’s most recent book, A Mother’s Final Gift: How One Woman’s Courageous Dying Transformed Her Family, is a heart warming story that should be read by anyone who fears dying.

Children With Talent That is Not Encouraged

June 17, 2011
How many young people have the potential to develop great talent but are unable to do so because they live in unstable and dangerous conditions?

This morning I checked my email to find a video on “Korea’s Got Talent.” As someone who doesn’t watch the American version and has only seen the one of “Britain’s Got Talent” — with the unpolished but brilliant Susan Boyle who is now the highest selling UK artist overseas — I wondered what made this video impressive enough to land on Mel’s Daily Video.

It highlighted Sung-bong Choi, an orphan who lived on his own since he was five years old, sleeping in stairwells and pubic restrooms and selling chewing gum on the street. He taught himself and got a GED and didn’t go to school until high school, so he must have brains. Without the television contest, we may never have had the chance to hear him. And he may never have had the chance to develop his talent further.

How many other people are there whose talents in many different arenas remain unknown because they haven’t had a chance to shine in public? How many children have been crushed by the indifference of adults in this sometimes-cruel world?

As I watched, I thought of a segment on the “News Hour” on Wednesday in which a young Afghan girl said she liked to skateboard (which would never have been allowed under the Taliban). Even though she could now join the boys, the areas where they were able to ride were strewn with stones blown off buildings in Kabal. At the end, the voice of one of the young men says, “I want to live in a country without war.”

Such a simple wish we adults seem unable or unwilling to provide the children of Afghanistan and elsewhere.

Yet without a basic level of shelter, food and education for everyone, we make it less likely that peace will come very soon. How many young people have great talent that is never encouraged by the adults in their lives because the adults are too busy fighting one another?

If for no other reason than to see the correlation between the British and Korean shows, I suggest you watch this one. It’s already been seen by more than 6 million people and is clearly a winner.

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Does Your Heart Need Softening?

July 8, 2010
When there is pain in your life and your heart wants to contact to protect itself, rather than tell yourself you need to buckle up and face life head on, simply use the word “soften” and notice how you are opened to a sense of peace you may have thought impossible a moment before.

In her last ezine Marci Shimoff, author of Happy for No Reason, writes about the experiences she has had in the past year when she had a divorce (“mutual and loving, but a loss, nonetheless”), the selling of her family’s home of 58 years, and the deaths of four people very dear to her, including her mother. Then she says, “Add to that the economic and planetary challenges (including the Gulf oil spill), and life seems shakier than ever.”

How has she handled this? She writes:

At first there’s pain, pure and simple. But, as I relax into my feelings rather than resist them, they bloom into something else: Gratitude wells up for the past and present; peace emerges about the future; love fills me with a beautiful depth and sweetness. And I feel a tenderness for all of us here on this earth, facing the uncertainty and inevitable changes of life.

The Buddhist nun, Pema Chodron writes: “We can let the circumstances of our lives harden us so that we become increasingly resentful and afraid, or we can let them soften us and make us kinder and more open to what scares us.”

The part of her message that struck me as important was this emphasis on “softening” your heart. As she says, when your heart is “feeling contracted, think of the word ‘soften.’ Just that little reminder can make a hard place inside melt.”

Try it. It works. It’s not a miracle word. It’s just the right word to use when your heart needs it.


Did you enjoy this post?
Here are a some related posts from this blog, and articles from the Support4Change website:


When Emotions Get in the Way of Gratitude

December 6, 2006
It is hard to feel gratitude when you are focused on guilt and disappointment in yourself and others.

Pink Star Flower“Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all the others.” — Marcus Tullius Cicero, first century B.C.

A woman, whom we’ll call Nancy, responded to my thoughts on Gratitude in the Morning. She said she wanted to be grateful but was “only stressed and worried” about her grown son who didn’t have a steady job and whose bills were piling up. She wondered what she could do to stop and hated the feeling of being “angry at him” and thinking “ill of him.”

This is a not uncommon reaction from parents of children with whom we’re estranged, or with whom we’re disappointed because they haven’t turned out the way we thought they should. (You can see my online book, Letting Go of Our Adult Children: When What We Do is Never Enough, for a more complete perspective.)

However, getting swept up in emotions and stress isn’t just a problem for parents. It’s common for anyone who has gotten tangled in a situation they thought would turn out differently than it has. In fact, many unpleasant emotions, from anger to depression, arise from expecting things will be different. Here are just a few examples: You assume your child will return safely from Iraq; instead, he is seriously wounded… . You put your heart and soul into a report the boss said he absolutely had to have on his desk Monday morning, even missing your child’s birthday party. Then you discover on Monday morning that he either ignores your efforts or has changed his mind… . You aren’t selected for the school on which you’ve set your heart… . Someone without insurance runs into your new custom-built car.

You could undoubtedly add several examples from your own experience that results in your being upset for a long time. These are the boulders and potholes that lie in the path of life. You have to learn to get past them. Naturally, some boulders that have rolled onto your path take a bit longer to climb over and some potholes are deeper than you’d like. Yet if you keep your eyes on the goal of living fully and of doing the best you can, you’ll get through that section of rough road and onto ground that is much smoother.

However, there are those who leave their own path and go over to help someone who’s having a hard time navigating a section of their road. This can be a noble thing to do, up to a point. What I’ve discovered with parents of grown children, however, is that they frequently keep a sharp eye on their child’s path, ready to jump in and rescue their child. They want to prevent him or her from experiencing the pain of resolving difficult issues through the child’s own efforts (like getting and keeping a job). It’s not that we have to do everything on our own. But one of the most important lessons in life is the recognition of where our responsibility ends and the other person’s responsibility begins.

What would I say to Nancy to help her extricate herself from the situation? First, I would say, “Step back onto your own path and look past the boulders and potholes. You will find there is beauty all around you. Take a deep breath and allow peace to enter your heart. Share love with a world of hurt and the hurt in your own heart will melt. Express joy in the small pleasures of life and joy will lighten your burdens. And most of all, give thanks for all you have, because without the gifts of nature and the talents of others, your life would not be possible.”

Then I would recommend to Nancy that she say to her son, “Son, if you want to live with the insecurity of not having a steady job, go ahead. I intend to pay attention to my own life. That includes getting on with what I have to do for myself. And what I have to do for myself is to express joy, love, patience, peace and gratitude.”

I believe she will then find that her son will be surprised she’s not hovering in the background with worry and criticism. He may even express disappointment that she’s not offering the help she had previously given. But eventually he will thank her for giving him the space to learn and live as a responsible, mature individual.

Especially if you’ve allowed your emotions to keep you from expressing gratitude, I would like to hear your answer to the following question:

For what are you grateful today?