Arielle Ford & Brian Hilliard Sonia Choquette
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Arielle Ford & Brian Hilliard

Celebrating Love Wabi Sabi Style

By Donna Strong

 

Spending time with Arielle Ford and Brian Hilliard is a gift, because you can easily feel the love and respect, and the way they have learned to become a harmonious whole, while remaining human and real. They began their time together with a whirlwind courtship based on a deep soul recognition. Once they settled into relationship, like us all, they began to wrestle with how the divine aspects of love find a way to meet the challenge of navigating daily life together. Over time it is the mundane aspects that too often become monumental in relationship — we can become trapped in the ‘10,000 things’ and forget the commitment to love whatever  shows up.

With Arielle’s latest book, Wabi Sabi Love, we are invited to see what can happen when we shine the light of love on the more trivial aspects of life that too often get blown out of proportion while what really needs to be addressed remains invisible. In this book we get to share in the unfolding discovery process of Arielle and Brian that shows us the wabi sabi way of love in action. This book is a guide to shape shift our perception about the imperfect and impermanent aspects of our lives, so we can see the transcendent beauty of spirit that shines through the cracks in our lives and in our partners. We invite you to enjoy our lively conversation with Arielle and Brian for this issue.

Awareness: To begin, what does ‘wabi sabi’ refer to, and how did the two of you discover it in your own life together?

Arielle: Well, “wabi sabi” is an ancient Japanese esthetic that honors all things old, worn, withered, imperfect and impermanent, and it seeks to find beauty and perfection in imperfection. ‘Wabi sabi love’ is about daring to find and love the imperfections in yourself and especially those of your mate.

I originally discovered wabi sabi in the mid-1980s when I was doing a lot of publicity for art galleries. Then when Brian and I got together, we spontaneously came up with ways to bring more lightness and humor to what was potentially annoying out of our desire to have a more loving connection.

Awareness: Well, that’s beautiful. If it happened spontaneously, it certainly affirms that love is the operating system. Can you tell us about some of the qualities we would use to live in a more wabi sabi way?

Arielle: Well, I mean, for me it’s all about intention. I also learned that I had to lighten up with my own quirks and crazy things that I did; and often with the stuff that Brian did, that could sometimes be annoying to me, like the way he squeezes the toothpaste and other funny things.

So I guess the qualities are really about humor and developing a generous heart; and then wanting, first and foremost, to live in a state of harmony.

Awareness: Therein comes the intention. Wonderful. I get that. Can you tell us about learning to be gentler with our own and our partner’s imperfections?

Arielle: Well, let’s start with our obsession with perfection.

You know, we have all been brainwashed by the media and society to seek perfection in ourselves and our spouses and our kids and our work. The truth is, there’s no such thing as perfection, and I actually think the word should be changed to “pure-fiction” because it just doesn’t exist.

So knowing that it doesn’t exist and knowing that we all have faults and quirks, life is going to be simpler if we accept that and try to have more fun with it. I said it already — lighten up. I’m a sloppy person. I make a mess wherever I go. In the early days Brian used to question me about it.

Then one day he had the most brilliant a-ha moment, and he said, “You know, I figured out that you just have a blind spot when it comes to crumbs around the toaster, so I’m just going to clean up after you, and solve two problems.” He didn’t have to think about why I’m such a slob anymore and I didn’t have to think, “Oh, did I leave crumbs somewhere that are going to annoy him?” It’s just a silly, stupid thing and there are so many easy solutions to the things we make a big deal out of.

Awareness: I do get that. It’s what you were saying; it’s about applying love to bring more insight.

Brian: Right. Right. For me, it’s an awareness tool. I embrace the idea of being accountable and responsible for everything that’s being co-created. So why would I want to be annoyed? Why would I put significance on being annoyed when ninety-five percent of the time Arielle and I are really in what you would call the flow of love and grace and care for one another?

If there’s any annoyance, I really take it as an opportunity to do the work in terms of my own growth. I say why take myself out of the flow, even if I need to have a construction helmet on in the kitchen when Arielle’s cooking and there’s food flying all over the place? {Chuckles all around}

Brian: I’m sure we all agree — humor is a wonderful elixir to a healthy, loving, holistic relationship, but we’ve got to bring it into our lives. It takes discipline to take the significance out of most things, and drill down to what really matters — devotion and love to one another and having a really healthy, intimate union.

Arielle: You know Donna; I read a study a couple weeks ago that blew me away. It was talking about one of the primary things that couples fight about, and it wasn’t money or kids or stuff. It was how to load the dishwasher; whether you should put the silverware in point up or point down! People actually fight about that.

Now, Brian likes to put it in points down and I would prefer to put it points up because I think it would clean everything more. Early on, it was just, “well, you know what? He likes to do it points down because he thinks it’s safer for me so I don’t hurt myself, so let’s just do it his way.”

Brian: As I said earlier, I really believe that when there’s conflict over how you load the dishwasher, something bigger is going on — whether it’s control issues or being victimized or not being heard. There’s always something much deeper underneath it.

Awareness: I was going to bring up a comment from the story of Tim and Susan in your book. They said that learning to live together creates inherent friction, and they came to see it as energy and not necessarily a problem.

Arielle: Yes. That’s a really, really important thing to know. Harville Hendrix talks a lot about this. He says that the way you know you’re in the right relationship is if it starts off as a dream come true and then rapidly devolves into your worst nightmare.

He says a true relationship is meant to bring up all your childhood wounds so you can heal them. One of the things we’ve learned about being in a soul mate relationship is that there’s an unbelievable amount of healing that comes as a state of grace when you’re with your soul mate; and there is creative tension and friction that comes along with that.

John Gottman, who’s another expert in this field, says that every relationship inherently has a minimum of nine irreconcilable differences, and that that’s totally normal. So for the people who go into relationships thinking that there’s never supposed to be a problem or friction or tension, well, that’s just madness. The friction and tension is a creative way for you to grow and learn as an individual and as a couple.

Awareness: Part of what is so potent about this book is I think you are helping people realize that their creative life force is something, as you were just saying, we have to take personal responsibility for in a relationship.

Arielle: I think there’s two pieces of it. One is emotional maturity, really putting on the big-girl or the big-boy pants and stepping up and being an adult in the relationship. The other piece of it is what I call ‘wearing rose-colored glasses.’ They’ve done scientific research showing that couples who consciously choose to see the best in their partner have happier, more satisfying relationships. This is because they’re looking for what’s right instead of what’s wrong.

I know for certain that Brian doesn’t wake up in the morning thinking, how can I make Arielle crazy today? If I’m being made crazy by something, it’s not because it’s something he intended. It’s because some-how I’m interpreting what he’s doing, which is probably based on the way I was raised or what I think is right and wrong. So it’s really up to me to make the shift in perception, to find the “wabi sabi”-ness of whatever it is I’m judging as wrong or strange.

Awareness: Yes. I totally get that. One of the things I wanted to mention that struck me as I was reading the book, was that rather than people needing to winnow themselves down, there was this fullness from being more authentic in a relationship that is expanding.

Brian: I love that! With that expansion, Donna, you finally start dissolving the feeling of separateness into a truly sacred union. I know that when

Arielle wakes up she knows I’m going to be with her, she knows I’m devoted to her happiness. I think once we start moving and making the shift into devotion and sacred union, the energy does shift.

So often in relationships the energy builds up so there’s tremendous tension and separateness that becomes really hostile. The energy just stores in the relationship until it explodes and there’s never a sense of balance or union. It just continually feels like a separate dynamic.

Awareness: I get what you are saying. I think very few of us have an orientation to know how to channel what comes up out of our own stored stuff, whatever that is.

Brian: Here’s a wonderful example of what we’re talking about from the book. One time when Arielle was mad at me, she started pointing her finger. While her finger was pointed at me, she realized her thumb was pointing back at her, and that’s what I was referring to in terms of taking on a higher degree of personal responsibility and accountability for what’s going on in your relationship. You know, once you can drop your hand and not point the finger at the other person, it becomes less separate and more of a union.

That entails, I think, personal responsibility and really looking deeply at the foundational issues of your life and why things are coming up. That means realizing neither one is perfect, so that means we’re not always in control. The relationship does have uncertainty; it raises the question of how are we as a partnership going to take care of those issues? That’s how I see it. It’s kind of a more expansive view of wabi sabi. 

Awareness: Wonderfully expressed! You’re both well-appointed guides. Okay, last question. What has been the most gratifying experience for you since the book came out?

Arielle: Well, I gave a talk in November at this thing called the Awesomeness Fest. Afterwards, at least 50 people came up to me and said what they came to understand about wabi sabi was going to completely change the way they interacted with their partner starting immediately.

They so got that they needed to just start honoring and loving and finding the beauty in all the things they’d been judging about their partner. It just made me so happy to know it was an instantaneous thing for people to get, that it wasn’t this big leap to make a change in a relationship --— it was a small shift in how you were looking at things.

For more about Wabi Sabi Love, see the website. Awareness readers can receive a free audio download by going to www.wabisabilove.com/gifts.

Donna Strong is a writer and advocate and appreciator of the beauty of bees. See www.donnastrong.com or www.harmonyofbees.com or www.facebook.com/harmony.bees