The newly released documentary, Dalai Lama’s Awakening, narrated by Harrison Ford, showed at the Emerson Theater last month as part of the Montana State University President’s series. The documentary follows some of the Western world’s most brilliant individuals as they travel to India to meet with the Dalai Lama in an intensive retreat to generate solutions to world problems. The result was not specific solutions, as the participants expected, but an inner transformation of the participants themselves. For me, the moving message was captured most clearly in a shared quote from Leo Tolstoy: “Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.”

At a live teaching last Sunday, Tibetan spiritual teacher Anam Thubten also spoke this message: The most difficult, the most powerful, and the highest spiritual calling is to work on changing your own personality. He told the story of a renowned master who interviewed would-be followers with the question: “Do you have a difficult personality?” If they said yes, he encouraged them to go away, as it would be too difficult for him to help them change that.

To my mind, the lessons from Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) are a rare gift. They make being able to see and change one’s own limiting styles of interacting with others, normally such a Herculean task that it is beyond the reach of most humans, actually doable. This is why my partner Tony and I invest in learning and practicing the model for ourselves, and take the time and energy to offer Hold Me Tight: Conversations for Connection workshops, simplified versions of EFT that are educational, interactive, and experiential.

Our hope is that workshop participants begin a process of inner transformation. Within an affirming, illuminating, and educational context, partners receive insight from each other about what exactly they do that negatively impacts the other. This insight is freeing, as partners make complete sense of their own and each other’s behaviors, and learn, often for the first time, how to escape from habitual patterns that are limiting, stressful, or distancing.

As partners explore their inner worlds and share with each other, deep fears and needs are articulated and shared, bonding couples with feelings of greater closeness and care for each other. With deeper mutual understanding and the necessary tools, partners learn to support each other in the ongoing transformation of old, habitual coping mechanisms into new, positive ways of reaching for and receiving the love and support everyone needs to flourish and grow.

The other day, I found myself in an old, familiar pattern, when in distress I told Tony how and what he should do regarding some important decisions. This was enough to drag Tony into an old pattern of his own, to which I responded with even more pointed direction and advice giving. Only a few minutes later, as we were both in distress and feeling alone, Tony realized what was happening, reached out a hand, and we were both able to step out, reconnect, and engage in a positive and loving way.

To me, there’s nothing more meaningful than being able to step out of my own habitual, limiting patterns and then share the knowledge and tools to help others do the same. I believe that these simple changes have far-reaching impacts: on our children, our colleagues, our neighbors and friends. I imagine the Dalai Lama would approve.