How to (Really) Listen

How to (Really) Listen

The first duty of love is to listen.
– Paul Tillich

Failures to listen are endemic to our species.

The most common complaint from parents who bring their children to me for counseling is that “they don’t listen,” by which the parent usually means that the child does not obey. When I talk with children, they likewise complain that their parents don’t listen, but they mean it literally. Failure to listen to children has subtle but enduring consequences. Kids who grow up unheard can pass on what they experienced to their own children.

I discovered the value of listening carefully to children, in their words and their behaviors, many years ago. One evening, while visiting one of my brothers, I joined the family for a dinner of fried chicken. My niece, then three years old, repeatedly asked for “an angel.” My brother and his wife told her to stop complaining and eat her dinner. As her requests for “an angel” became more strident, so did her parents’ reprimands. I found myself wondering what she might mean by “an angel” and offered her a chicken wing. She smiled, took the wing, and happily finished her meal.

The complaints I hear from couples are similar to those I hear from parents: “He doesn’t listen.” “She doesn’t listen.” “He/she did it for no reason.” But there is always a reason; usually, we need only to ask, and to listen, to determine what it is.

Many of us are so concerned with what we want to say, or so convinced that our beliefs are true, that instead of really listening, we talk over one another, interrupt, discard the other person’s point of view, leaving unheard and often unspoken the deeper parts of who we are.

In the Buddhist sangha I attend, each week someone reads from the writings of a teacher. The teachings are called the dharma, and we explore them in a dharma discussion. One by one, as we are so moved, we speak either to the topic of the reading or to something important that has occurred in our lives. A sangha rule is that after someone speaks, we wait three slow breaths before anyone else talks, so we have time to fully take in what each of us has shared. We don’t need to mentally rehearse anything, we don’t have to look for the right time to chime in, and we aren’t afraid that we won’t have a chance to say what we need to say. There is, somehow, always enough time.

With my niece, I was outside the family system and could see the dynamic from a distance. As a therapist, I am also outside the family system and can sometimes discern, more readily than its members, where communication has broken down. And, as a sangha member, I am reminded of how to listen at the beginning of each dharma discussion. But we don’t have to be outside the family system, or therapists, or Buddhists, to listen. We just have to practice.

The following exercises are some I have found helpful in my training and my life. You might, too. They are all practiced by two people. First, one speaks while the other listens, and then they reverse roles. You may wish to try them with a friend or family member.

  1. Listen silently. Sit quietly for five minutes and listen to someone talk about something important. Signal your interest using only your facial expressions and your eyes.
  2. Listen with tonal responses. Add, to the above, non-verbal utterances such as “Ah!” “Mmm,” “Uh-huh,” and so on.
  3. Listen with body language. Add, to the above, by responding to the body language of the speaker with your own body language.
  4. Listen with comments on tonal responses and body language. Add, to the above, by commenting on the speaker’s tone and body language, but not on his or her words. “I noticed your voice dropped.” “I see that you’re shaking your head from side to side.”
  5. Listen with mirroring. Finally, add to the other exercises by directly mirroring what the speaker says. Listen to what feels like a chunk of monologue and then signal the speaker to pause. Next, say something like, “So, it sounds to me as if you are saying…. Is that right?” If you have captured the gist of what the speaker said, the speaker continues with the next chunk. If not, the speaker clarifies, then you mirror back the clarification to make sure that you now understand.

By nature, we may not be good listeners. But, by nature we are not good at many things, and yet we eventually learn to do them well. Listening skills are not complex and they are easily learned. Even young children I have worked with can become quite skillful at listening, often with surprisingly little instruction. So can we all.


P.S. If you find what you read here helpful, please forward it to others who might, too. Or click one of the buttons on the left side of this page.


From Paths to Wholeness: Fifty-Two Flower Mandalas
PrintAmazon  –  BookBaby  –  B&N  – Books-a-Million
eBook: Kindle  – Nook  – iTunes  – Kobo

NOTE: Paths to Wholeness is now available at the following Boston-area bookstores and libraries:

Cabot Street Books & Cards, 272 Cabot Street, Beverly, MA 01915
The Bookshop, 40 West Street, Beverly Farms, MA 01915
Boston Public Library (main branch)
Brookline Public Library (main branch)
NOBLE Public Libraries (Beverly Farms and Salem)
MVLC Public Libraries (Hamilton-Wenham)

Please let me know if you find it in other locations!

Also available:
52 (more) Flower Mandalas: An Adult Coloring Book for Inspiration and Stress Relief
52 Flower Mandalas: An Adult Coloring Book for Inspiration and Stress Relief
Paths to Wholeness: Selections (free eBook)

Follow me on:
Bloglovin’
StumbleUpon
Medium

Copyright 2017, David J. Bookbinder
http://www.transformationspress.org
http://www.davidbookbinder.com
http://www.flowermandalas.org


P.S.  If you find what you read here helpful, please forward it to others who might, too. Or click one of the buttons on the left side of this page.


Posted in essay-flower-mandalas, flower mandala, Paths to Wholeness, Publication, technique | Leave a comment

15 Self-Help Books that Really Helped

15 Self-Help Books that Really Helped

If you type “self-help books” into Amazon’s “Books” category, you’ll get more than 675,000 hits, and their “Kindle” category lists nearly 300,000. That’s a lot of self-help!

But how many of these books have actually helped? And how many books outside the “self-help” category have been even more helpful?

Just for kicks, I drew up a list of the 15 books that, over the course of my lifetime, I’ve found most helpful, either personally or professionally. Here they are in the order in which I read them.

What books have been helpful to you, “self-help” or otherwise?

The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, by William Blake

I first encountered this part visionary / part comic / part poetry / part etching long poem in 1969, in an English class, while an Engineering student at Cornell University. I had grown up a kid scientist, and my hope was that I’d become a NASA engineer. I was also very much in my head and not so much in my body, in the world of logic and not so much the world of emotion. Blake’s poem convinced me I had to change all that or else live out my days a reduced version of myself. This powerful piece reached out to me over 200 years and 6000 miles and changed not only my focus (from Engineering to English major) but also set in motion a process of actualizing the more suppressed parts of myself, a lifelong activity that began then and there. Thank you, Mr. Blake!

Tales of the Dervishes, by Idries Shah

I read this book in 1970 in what officially was an English Composition class but was really a class in what for me were radically different ways of thinking and seeing. Tales of the Dervishes, a collection of Sufi teaching stories, was my first introduction to Eastern thought. The tales are in the form of parable, and they’re intended to be understood differently according to the ability of the listener/reader. Some I still vividly recall and have used in conversations with friends and therapy clients. I went on to study with a Sufi guide for a while, and learned from him a Sufi meditation practice aimed at increasing intuition and creativity that seemed to open up a kind of 6th sense. Remarkable stuff. I’ve since migrated to Buddhist practices, but I continue to find the Sufi teachings and practices intriguing, and my experience of them began here.

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, by Robert Pirsig

Sitting in front of me on my desk right now is the copy of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance I bought in August, 1974, and carried with me on my own motorcycle trip from Buffalo, out to Indiana, down to Baltimore, and finally up to New York City, where I stayed for 6 years. I was a year out of college, still trying to figure out what to do when I “grew up,” and Pirsig’s book came out shortly before I started my trip. Though at the time it seemed clichéd to take such a book on a motorcycle trip, and it was one more heavy thing to add to the already overstuffed pack strapped behind me on my little Yamaha 200, it turned out to be exactly the right thing to guide my inner journey, and even helped me diagnose and repair a motorcycle issue that led to my seizing a piston in Ohio.

It’s been 42 years since I read this book, and when I flip through it and see the sentences I underlined I’m sometimes puzzled by those choices, but it still leaves a feeling in my chest of almost indescribable  longing, wonder, excitement, and calm. I can’t say many other books have had as lingering an effect, so this one makes the “Books that have inspired me” list.

Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, by James Agee and Walker Evans

James Agee and Walker Evans’ book of lyrical prose and hard-edged images was one of three books I brought with me when I moved to NYC in 1974, and one of a short list that had a major influence on me as a young writer. This was the first book I’d encountered that looked and felt deeply about a group of people largely ignored by the rest of the country, and it directly influenced my own several-year project photographing and interviewing the people I encountered living or working the streets of Manhattan and Brooklyn. I have yet to encounter anything that quite matches it in its powerful synergy of prose and photographs.

The Drama of the Gifted Child, by Alice Miller

I encountered this book in the mid-80s, a year or two into my first serious round of psychotherapy, and it was as if all the lights suddenly went on in a previously dimly lit room. Although it’s been a long time since I read The Drama of the Gifted Child, the shock of recognition – of the dynamics of my family, of my role in it, of the roles filled by my siblings, my mother, and especially by my father – became starkly revealed in a way no amount of discussion or dream analysis had approached. There’s something compelling about how some authors can strip away the confusion surrounding a complex psychological set of interactions and lay bare the bones of it, and Miller did that for me in this book.

Iron John, by Robert Bly

In Iron John, Bly translates, interprets, and expands a little-known Grimm’s Fairy Tale that depicts the path of a young prince growing into manhood. Bly uses the folktale as a frame for the larger story of how men of the last few generations have been taught to be men mainly by women and, more recently, also by the media. He portrays what has been lost and gained as a result. I read this book shortly after it was published in 1990 and found it to be the brightest lens on men, and what was difficult about being one, I’d ever seen.

Bly, a poet I’d first encountered at Cornell  University at an anti-war rally, not only precisely and lyrically delineated mens’ problems, he also outlined a solution and taught it to large gatherings of men.  (I attended a weekend workshop he held at Brandeis University.) Bly sought to bring together older and younger men to promote a return to a male apprenticeship process lost in the industrial revolution and the nuclear family. His aim was to help us break out of our extended boyhood. Bly’s book and his gatherings of men greatly enlarged, for a time, a nascent Men’s Movement that roughly paralleled the Women’s Movement of the 60s and early 70s. Today, I still recommend Iron John to male clients, and also to women who want to understand men.

Life After Life, by Raymond Moody Jr.

In 1993, I had a near-death experience as a result of a series of medical errors. At the time, I’d never heard of a near-death experience. This was the first book I read that opened my eyes to what I had gone through. Several others followed, as well as a subscription to the International Journal of Near-Death Studies, membership in a group of near-death survivors, and eventually, transitioning from a PhD program in English to one in counseling psychology. Nearly a quarter of a century later, it’s still not clear to me exactly what the meaning of an NDE is, but Moody’s book did a credible job of documenting the phenomenon, one I still find more valuable than the extraordinary claims of those who have more recently, and famously, written about near-death experiences.

Being Peace, by Thich Nhat Hanh

I read Being Peace about 20 years ago, and then again in 2014. It was the first book by the Buddhist teacher and writer for me, and it is, I think, a seminal work, capturing in one short volume the essence of what he would go on to explicate in his many books since this one. The first time I read this book, I had never heard of Thich Nhat Hanh and was attracted to the title. I read it in a couple of sittings. The second time through, I read the book in short bursts, one section per week, in the company of other people who also follow Thich Nhat Hanh’s teachings. It took several months to complete the reading, and it was a far more profound experience. Each short segment has layers of meaning and emotion that take time to settle into the soul. Highly recommended as a first place to meet this wise teacher and his work.

Focusing, by Eugene Gendlin

Although it was ten years or so between the time I bought Eugene Gendlin’s Focusing and when I actually began to use this technique in my personal life and my therapy practice, in many ways it is now at the heart of both. In the late 60s and early 70s, Gendlin teamed up with pioneer psychologist Carl Rogers to try to figure out why some people seemed to get better with therapy while others did not. After screening for all the factors one might suspect made the difference – therapeutic training and approach, experience, types of problems clients came in with, demographics, etc. – it turned out that the dominant factor was something clients either came into therapy doing (and they got better) or didn’t do (and they usually didn’t). Gendlin realized that this factor was a natural human quality, and he created this book, and many others, to help those of us who didn’t natively do it learn how.

I have practiced Focusing for many years, and I have taught it to a wide variety of clients so they can do it themselves. Easier to do than to explain, Gendlin’s Focusing handbook nevertheless does an excellent job of summarizing the rationale behind it, the technique itself, and what to do if things don’t seem to be working.

The Highly Sensitive Person, by Elaine N. Aron

Aron’s book The Highly Sensitive Person is one I wish had been written decades ago. It helped me understand that I’m a “highly sensitive person” – someone who takes in, on both a sensory and emotional level, more than most people do. There are a lot of us – according to Aron, some 20% of the population, a figure validated by an independent study done by Harvard and the University of Toronto a few years after Aron’s book was published. Being “highly sensitive” is a blessing and a curse: We can’t screen much out, so all kinds of things bother us that don’t bother most people, but we also have more data available at a conscious level, and sometimes we can do things with that data that people who automatically screen more out cannot. The simple test for this type of sensitivity is on Aron’s website, hsperson.com, and her practical advice for how to cope with this characteristic is a uniquely valuable resource.

When I Say No, I Feel Guilty, by Manuel J. Smith

This is the book I most often take off my shelf and show to clients. Even if all you learn from it is the “Broken Record” technique for saying no and sticking to it, and you accept that his “Assertiveness Bill of Rights” really does apply to you, When I Say No, I Feel Guilty will change your life for the better. I wish Manuel Smith had written it 50 years ago!

The Anxiety & Phobia Workbook, by Edmund J. Bourne

This book is the most helpful book on anxiety I’ve encountered, and one I pull off the shelf to show a client almost as frequently as When I Say No, I Feel Guilty. Bourne knows anxiety from the inside out, and his comprehensive work on the subject is a balanced approach comprising psychoeducation, tools, and strategies that anyone suffering from anxiety can benefit from. His approach to understanding and healing the damage from mistaken beliefs alone is enough to make the book a worthwhile purchase. His chapter on panic attacks has helped many of my clients completely overcome this disorder. A must-read for therapists and anxiety sufferers alike.

Art & Fear, by David Bayles and Ted Orland

Art & Fear is the most concise and friendly companion to anyone trying to define themselves as an artist that I have so far encountered. In a series of concise essays, Bayles and Orland (a photographer and potter, respectively) put forth most the anxiety-provoking aspects of being an artist and offer sound, accessible wisdom on how to stay grounded, motivated, and focused.

The War of Art, by Steven Pressfield

Pressfield’s concise assault on Resistance and his distinction between the professional and the amateur artist helped me break through some substantial blocks along the way to creating my book Paths to Wholeness and inspired at least one artist I know to start making the transition between hobbyist painter to pro. Highly recommended for any creative person who feels held back by the mundane. His last paragraph is a terrific sendoff, the culmination of all that came before: “Creative work is not a selfish act or a bid for attention on the part of the actor. It’s a gift to the world and every being in it. Don’t cheat us of your contribution. Give us what you’ve got.”

Paths to Wholeness: Fifty-Two Flower Mandalas, by David J. Bookbinder

If you don’t blow your own horn, journalist Jimmy Breslin once said, nobody else will. Writing Paths to Wholeness was one of the most powerful self-help activities I’ve engaged in, in a life of practicing self-help. In it, I tried to distill into one volume the best of what I’ve learned as a therapist, writer, photographer, and person. Paths to Wholeness contains 52 potent essays and striking Flower Mandala images by a spiritual seeker (me!) who, having traversed his own winding path toward awakening, now guides others to find balance, build resilience, overcome fear, and to expand their hearts by listening deeply, inspiring hope, and more fully loving.


P.S. If you find what you read here helpful, please forward it to others who might, too. Or click one of the buttons on the left side of this page.


Books:
Paths to Wholeness: Fifty-Two Flower Mandalas
PrintAmazon  –  BookBaby  –  B&N  – Books-a-Million
eBook: Kindle  – Nook  – iTunes  – Kobo

NOTE: Paths to Wholeness is now available at the following Boston-area bookstores and libraries:

Cabot Street Books & Cards, 272 Cabot Street, Beverly, MA 01915
The Bookshop, 40 West Street, Beverly Farms, MA 01915
Boston Public Library (main branch)
Brookline Public Library (main branch)
NOBLE Public Libraries (Beverly Farms and Salem)
MVLC Public Libraries (Hamilton-Wenham)

Please let me know if you find it in other locations!

Also available:
52 (more) Flower Mandalas: An Adult Coloring Book for Inspiration and Stress Relief
52 Flower Mandalas: An Adult Coloring Book for Inspiration and Stress Relief
Paths to Wholeness: Selections (free eBook)

Follow me on:
Bloglovin’
StumbleUpon
Medium

Copyright 2017, David J. Bookbinder
http://www.transformationspress.org
http://www.davidbookbinder.com
http://www.flowermandalas.org



P.S. If you find what you read here helpful, please forward it to others who might, too. Or click one of the buttons on the left side of this page.


Posted in Publication, request, Review | Leave a comment

Keep Your Sanity with the Personal Craziness Index

Keep Your Sanity with the Personal Craziness Index

To stay sane in an insane world, we need more than new tools and techniques. To maintain sanity, we also have to keep doing the things that got us there.

The final piece of the resilience puzzle is to build Balancer-enhancing attitudes and practices into our daily lives, so they are as much a part of our routines as breathing. Then we keep watch to make sure we’re staying on track.

When Balancer incorporates the new tools ReBalancer uses, it gets stronger. Mini self-care then becomes something we do every day, not just when stress is high. The Experiment becomes an experimental attitude we carry with us 24/7. Meditation becomes a daily activity. Self-compassion and acceptance become the new norm. And so on.

But changing habits takes time. If we don’t stay on top of our game, we run the risk of drifting back to our old, less resilient ways. UnBalancer loves when that happens! So we need a method for regularly checking in with ourselves to make sure we’re using all the shiny new tools and techniques we worked so hard to acquire.

To help stay on track, I recommend using a monitoring tool called the Personal Craziness Index (PCI). The PCI was first presented by author Patrick J. Carnes in his groundbreaking book on addiction recovery, A Gentle Path Through the Twelve Steps. But it turns out that the PCI has uses beyond maintaining sobriety, and one of them is to monitor resilience.

The PCI is a universal tracking tool that can be used by anyone to monitor and maintain balance. It relies on the fact that in both subtle and obvious ways we respond to aspects of our lives differently when we’re in balance and when we’re not.

The PCI is a build-it-yourself tool. In each of 10 major life areas, the PCI lists three indicators of how we act when we are in balance. Then we track the most significant ones – the ones that most clearly indicate whether we are in or out of balance –  every day.

If we notice we’re slipping back into unbalanced behaviors, chances are good we are headed for a major tilt in the near future. What’s nice about the PCI is that corrective actions are built into it. All we have to do to restore balance is resume any balancing activities we’re no longer doing, and stop doing the unbalancing activities that sneaked  back in.

For instance, suppose that in the “Health” category we wrote that when we’re feeling balanced, we go to the gym three times a week, cook our own meals, and sleep at least seven hours per night. Although each of these actions alone may seem unimportant, as indicators that Balancer is humming along smoothly they are invaluable.

When we notice we’re skipping the gym, picking up junk food, or skimping on sleep, we become aware that we’re also becoming more vulnerable to imbalance. At this stage, because we’ve given up only a little ground, out-maneuvering UnBalancer is easy: we will ourselves to return to the gym, cook our meals, and get more sleep, and thus reverse the downward slide.

Detecting mild imbalance before UnBalancer gathers enough strength to pull us under is much easier than restoring balance once we’ve been toppled.

In 12-step recovery programs, the phrase “fake it till you make it” expresses the idea of using our will to assume new, more self-actualizing behaviors and attitudes. The PCI helps us “fake it till we make it” when the amount of willpower that’s required to keep personal craziness at bay is still small. Then we can go forward, Balancer unhindered, UnBalancer thwarted once again.

What to do:

  1. Create Your Own Personal Craziness Index. Listed below are 10 suggested categories for the Personal Craziness Index. If some of these categories don’t fit your situation, you can substitute others that do. Under each category, write 3 indicators that you are in a good place – list either things you do that keep you in positive territory, or things you don’t do that also show you are functioning well. For example, under Health/Hygiene you might list “exercise 3x per week” as something you do to stay fit, or “don’t eat junk food” as a reminder to avoid unhealthy eating.
  2. Track 7 indicators. Choose the 7 indicators, from any of these 10 categories, that most clearly show that you’re maintaining your defenses against personal craziness. At the end of each day, tally up how you did. Give yourself a score from 1 to 7, where “7” is “I’m doing all the positive things / not doing any of the negative things” and “0” is “I’m not doing any of the positive things / doing all of the negative things.” Keep a daily log. NOTE: You get a “0” for days you don’t bother to check!
  3. If your score dips below 7, reverse the trend. If your numbers start dropping, reverse the trend by resuming the positives on your PCI and avoiding the negatives. When your Personal Craziness Index is restored, your personal craziness will, likewise, diminish, your personal sanity restored.

Personal Craziness Index


Related Posts:
The Under Toad and the UnBalancer
The Balancer/ReBalancer Tag Team
A Mini-Lesson on Mini Self-Care
Gyroscopes and Personal Flywheels
Hanging in the Balance
Balancing the Books
The Experiment
How to Design an Experiment
Build Your Resilience in 6 Steps
How to Rebalance Your Brain in 3 Easy Steps
How to Boost Connections and Support
Handling Change, Part I: Radical Acceptance and Self-Compassion
Handling Change, Part II: Forgiveness and Self-Forgiveness
Handling Change, Part III: Creative Approach and Experimental Attitude
Three Ways to Mix Mindfulness into Your Life
Keep Your Sanity with the Personal Craziness Index

Books:
From Paths to Wholeness: Fifty-Two Flower Mandalas
PATH: “If you don’t know where a path goes, it’s hard to take the first step. When we are on a path with heart, the going may be no easier than when we are on another path. But we don’t mind. We sense that we are not just passing time because we can feel the path taking us where we need to go. And when we come to the end of our days, we know that our time on the planet has not been squandered.”

PrintAmazon  –  BookBaby  –  B&N  – Books-a-Million
eBook: Kindle  – Nook  – iTunes  – Kobo

NOTE: Paths to Wholeness is now available at the following Boston-area bookstores and libraries:

Cabot Street Books & Cards, 272 Cabot Street, Beverly, MA 01915
The Bookshop, 40 West Street, Beverly Farms, MA 01915
Boston Public Library (main branch)
Brookline Public Library (main branch)
NOBLE Public Libraries (Beverly Farms and Salem)
MVLC Public Libraries (Hamilton-Wenham)

Please let me know if you find it in other locations!

Also available:
52 (more) Flower Mandalas: An Adult Coloring Book for Inspiration and Stress Relief
52 Flower Mandalas: An Adult Coloring Book for Inspiration and Stress Relief
Paths to Wholeness: Selections (free eBook)

Follow me on:
Bloglovin’
StumbleUpon
Medium

Copyright 2017, David J. Bookbinder
http://www.transformationspress.org
http://www.davidbookbinder.com
http://www.flowermandalas.org

Posted in Balance, Copyright, essay-balance, Publication, technique | Leave a comment

Three Ways to Mix Mindfulness into Your Life

Three Ways to Mix Mindfulness into Your Life

At the risk of stating the obvious, in order for Balancer to keep us balanced, it’s helpful to do activities that explicitly promote … balance.

Mindfulness-based activities are at the top of the list. The term mindfulness, the state of being focused on the present moment, without judgement, has become part of the zeitgeist in the past several years, and for good reason.

The benefits of mindfulness-based activities are physical, emotional, and psychological. Mindfulness has been demonstrated to:

  • Relax muscles and decrease blood pressure
  • Reduce rumination, stress, anxiety, and emotional reactivity
  • Promote empathy and self-compassion
  • Improve working memory, focus, self-insight, and intuition

Mindfulness works, in part, because of changes that occur in the body and the brain. But over time, mindfulness also reminds us that we don’t have to keep riding every mental train we find ourselves on. When we notice we’ve been kidnapped by a thought, worry, emotion, physical sensation, or distraction, we can get off that train and return to the station.

Three basic ways to develop mindfulness include:

  1. Mindfulness-based activities. Imported from Eastern cultures, practices specifically developed to increase mindfulness include sitting and walking meditation, yoga, tai chi, and chi-gong.
  2. Recreational activities with a mindfulness intention. When practiced with a mindful, in-the-moment intention, activities such as running, working out, gardening, bicycling, and even motorcycling can promote mindfulness.
  3. Approaching mundane tasks with a mindfulness intention. Household chores such as washing the dishes, vacuuming, or folding laundry become a form of meditation when we allow ourselves to pay attention to the process of the task itself and our in-the-moment responses, rather than hurrying through it to get to the next thing.

Meditation is the easiest to describe fully in writing, but much of what I say here applies to other Eastern-based mindfulness practices, too

Many people think meditation is complicated or difficult, but it isn’t. It’s literally as simple as breathing, and a good place to begin meditating is with a three-breath meditation repeated throughout the day.

At a retreat I attended years ago, I was introduced to the concept of the Mindfulness Bell. At random times throughout each day, someone sounded a bell, and we all had to stop what we were doing and take three slow, abdominal breaths. When you take an abdominal breath, your belly goes out when you inhale and in when you exhale, the opposite of how many of us breathe. The result is slower, deeper, more concentrated breathing.

If you’re unfamiliar with abdominal breathing, you can practice by lying down on a bed or couch and putting one hand on your belly. Close your eyes and breathe without purposefully helping your breathing. Notice how your belly rises with each intake of breath and falls as you breathe out. This is natural breathing – the way babies breathe.

Whenever the bell rang, we halted in mid-sentence, mid-stride, mid-chew, as if we were in a big game of freeze tag. At first this interruption annoyed me. I was in the midst of spiritual evolution, damn it! But by the time the retreat ended, I’d embraced these “interruptions.” Each time the bell sounded, I was able to stop what I was doing, saying, or thinking and reset. Did I need to be thinking or feeling what I was thinking and feeling? Did I want to do what I was about to do? Learning to be still in the midst of life, even briefly, helped me reevaluate these choices.

I have often recommended this three-breath meditation to clients, suggesting that they use any interrupting sound, such as a car horn or a phone’s ringing, as a substitute for the Mindfulness Bell.

The effects of this simple change can be revolutionary.

One client whose life was ruled by chaos found this practice to be more valuable than anything else we had done in therapy. At a street corner on the way to work, hearing the Mindfulness Bell of a car horn, she could think, “I don’t really want to waste my time partying tonight.” About to leave for a bar, pausing on the first ring of her cell phone, she could see how the evening would play out and decide, “Not this time.” Hearing a siren blare in the midst of pangs of guilt or shame, she could choose to forgive herself.

An anxious client found a Mindfulness Bell app for his smartphone and programmed it to ring randomly throughout the day. He was often on the road for his job, and while driving his mind inevitably went to worrying. When the bell rang, he took three breaths and allowed himself to return to a more centered place. Over time, not only did his anxiety lessen, but tuned in to his true desires and made major positive changes in his career and relationships.

I also continue this practice. When I step into my office and turn on my computer, I hear its Mindfulness Bell, pause for a moment, and imagine putting on an invisible jacket worn only by my best self. Brief meditations throughout the day help me shift gears between clients, return to center, and reinhabit that best self again and again.

Once you get the hang of the three-breath meditation, consider adding other forms of meditation to your day.

Sitting meditation is usually done with eyes closed, seated on a cushion or chair, in a quiet space. A breath-oriented meditation is one simple, time-honored approach. Focus on the intake and exhalation of each breath, imagining the air entering your body, expanding your lungs, and then leaving it as you exhale. If your attention drifts to something else, just gently bring it back to your breath. Sitting in the morning for 10-20 minutes helps to start the day in a more centered way, but if the mornings won’t work for you, any time of the day is okay.

Walking meditation is another way to reinforce mindfulness. Traditionally, it’s practiced by walking slowly back and forth or in a circle while focusing on the breath, the feeling of your feet touching and lifting from the ground, and the physical sensations you take in from your surroundings. However, if you have a regular walk you take recreationally, or even a short walk from the parking lot to your job, you can do these in the same mindful manner with the same centering effects.

Mindful recreation. Applying mindful attention to an activity like swimming or running can generate the same restorative and balance-enhancing effects as walking meditation. I recommend starting first with mindful walking, and then, when you feel comfortable with the cycle of losing attention and restoring it, experiment with translating this mindful approach to your chosen activity.

Mindful attitude. Another easy way to incorporate mindfulness into you life is to perform daily tasks with a mindful attitude. Taking a shower, brushing your teeth, and eating, if done without distraction and with a focus on your actual actions, can become a regular mindfulness practice. Even chores, done mindfully, can become centering meditations.

The “washing the dishes” meditation is often suggested by meditation teachers and is one I do myself. As a child, my brother Mike and I did most of the household chores, including washing dishes and putting them away, and as a result I’ve never much liked that task. So I’ve turned it into a meditation. I let the dishes pile up during the day and then wash them deliberately at night. I pay attention to the sound of the running water, the feel of the soap and sponge, the transformation of each dish from dirty to clean. The dish washing takes the same few minutes as it would if I were listening to music, thinking about what else I wanted to do that evening, or just pushing through an unpleasant chore. But instead of feeling slightly agitated during or afterward, as I once did, now I feel relaxed and refreshed.

Not long ago, I discovered that this specific meditation had potential side benefits. I was working with an anxious 12-year-old boy, the oldest of several siblings. His parents wanted me to teach him to meditate. So we tried sitting meditation, but he couldn’t sit still. We tried walking meditation, but he found it boring. Then I thought of dish-washing meditation. I gathered up the few cups and dishes in my office and put them in the sink, and I had him toss in a few of the washable toys. “Now,” I said, “squirt some dish soap on the sponge, and I’ll show you how to do dish-washing meditation.” I explained the process and for about five minutes he carefully and attentively washed the dishes and the toys. As he dried the last dish, he turned to me and said he felt much calmer. Then he added, gleefully, “And my mother will love this! I have a big family, and we have a lot of dirty dishes!”

Try turning any chore you regularly have to do, but don’t much care for, into a meditation and you may experience the same mini-transformation – and perhaps also the same glee!

What to do:

  • Mindfulness practices. Try an Eastern-based practice designed to enhance mindfulness such as sitting or walking meditation, yoga, tai chi, or chi-gong. These practices have been demonstrated to reduce stress and anxiety, improve focus, relax the body, and increase resilience. Consider starting with a simple three-breath meditation, as described above.
  • Mindful recreation. If you are already a runner, swimmer, walker, bicyclist, or participate in another recreational activity, approaching what you already do with a mindfulness attitude will generate many of the same beneficial effects as a mindfulness practice such as walking meditation. Pay attention to each moment and, if you find yourself drifting, bring your attention back to the present. Then rinse, lather, and repeat (as they used to say on shampoo bottles).
  • Mindful chores. Instead of just powering through daily tasks and chores, practice mindful dish washing, vacuuming, laundry folding, tooth brushing, and notice the subtle benefits, both in the moment and over time.

COMING NEXT: Keep Your Sanity with the Personal Craziness Index

Related Posts:
The Under Toad and the UnBalancer
The Balancer/ReBalancer Tag Team
A Mini-Lesson on Mini Self-Care
Gyroscopes and Personal Flywheels
Hanging in the Balance
Balancing the Books
The Experiment
How to Design an Experiment
Build Your Resilience in 6 Steps
How to Rebalance Your Brain in 3 Easy Steps
How to Boost Connections and Support
Handling Change, Part I: Radical Acceptance and Self-Compassion
Handling Change, Part II: Forgiveness and Self-Forgiveness
Handling Change, Part III: Creative Approach and Experimental Attitude
Three Ways to Mix Mindfulness into Your Life

Books:
From Paths to Wholeness: Fifty-Two Flower Mandalas
DREAMS: “None of us has the nine lives of the proverbial cat, but we can fully exploit this one’s possibilities by remembering the dreams of our youth and using them as a beacon to show us who we really are and what we can look forward to becoming.

PrintAmazon  –  BookBaby  –  B&N  – Books-a-Million
eBook: Kindle  – Nook  – iTunes  – Kobo

NOTE: Paths to Wholeness is now available at the following Boston-area bookstores and libraries:

Cabot Street Books & Cards, 272 Cabot Street, Beverly, MA 01915
The Bookshop, 40 West Street, Beverly Farms, MA 01915
Boston Public Library (main branch)
Brookline Public Library (main branch)
NOBLE Public Libraries (Beverly Farms and Salem)
MVLC Public Libraries (Hamilton-Wenham)

Please let me know if you find it in other locations!

Also available:
52 (more) Flower Mandalas: An Adult Coloring Book for Inspiration and Stress Relief
52 Flower Mandalas: An Adult Coloring Book for Inspiration and Stress Relief
Paths to Wholeness: Selections (free eBook)

Follow me on:
Bloglovin’
StumbleUpon
Medium

Copyright 2017, David J. Bookbinder
http://www.transformationspress.org
http://www.davidbookbinder.com
http://www.flowermandalas.org

Posted in Balance, Copyright, essay-balance, Publication, technique | Leave a comment

Handling Change, Part I: Radical Acceptance and Self-Compassion

Handling Change, Part I:

Radical Acceptance and Self-Compassion

Emotional adaptability is the ability to respond to changing circumstances and events without being unduly shaken by these changes. It’s a Balancer characteristic and a key component of resilience. Those of us who are emotionally adaptable can bend with the wind, like saplings. Those of us who are less adaptable are likely to strain and crack as we struggle to maintain equilibrium.

Emotional adaptability varies from person to person and can also be impacted by life events. Most of us are less emotionally adaptable when we are under constant or unusual stress. Those of us raised in a rigid environment, with fixed ideas of how we or the world works, may also be less adaptable. Being attached to expectations of ourselves, others, or how things ought to be also limits emotional adaptability.

The good news is that there are many ways to become more adept at responding to change.

Some of the best strategies for enhancing emotional adaptability include practices that promote an accepting attitude, increase compassion and self-compassion, and enable forgiveness and self-forgiveness. Creative activities and an experimental attitude are also helpful in increasing our adaptability to change.

Radical Acceptance

Although chronic stress, adversity, and other actions of the UnBalancer can sometimes make us more emotionally rigid, for many of us the most persistent obstacle to emotional adaptability is difficulty with accepting things as they are.

When we don’t accept how things really are, we live in a false reality that we must constantly defend against the evidence. We may become preoccupied with a hypothetical future, worried that things won’t turn out the way we hope, or stuck in the past, consumed by resentments over things not turning out as we wanted them to.

When we’re struggling to defend this alternate reality, we have fewer resources to deal with what’s actually at hand. We’re too busy rebuilding our imagined reality to go with the flow, respond with compassion, or see the humor in our own situation.

In the absence of acceptance, there can be little or no forward movement. We grow older, and the external circumstances of our lives still change, but we can’t embrace them. As the Talking Heads put it, inside our heads it’s “the same as it ever was, same as it ever was, same as it ever was.”

Buddhist teacher Tara Brach recommends what she calls Radical Acceptance as a way to open ourselves to present reality. Radical acceptance means fully accepting our situations, feelings, limitations, and strengths. Radical acceptance is a prerequisite to meaningful change. As pioneering psychologist Carl Rogers observed, “The curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I can change.” Tara Brach adds, “When we can meet our experience with Radical Acceptance, we discover the wholeness, wisdom and love that are our deepest nature.”

When we accept things as they are, we don’t have to struggle against their reality. We can radically accept our bodies, our pasts, our peers, our partners, our children, and the strengths and limitations of our own personalities, and then we can choose to try to change what can be changed, and to embrace what cannot.

Radical acceptance is a balm for difficult emotions such as envy, resentment, and frustration. We accept our present circumstances and what has led up to them, and we understand that railing against them won’t change anything. Radical acceptance is also an antidote to the lingering pain of misfortune. When we radically accept our losses, we are more open to the possible gains that may come from them. Then we can move on, recovered.

Radical acceptance can be as complex as accepting a traumatic loss or catastrophic event, or as simple as accepting the weather.

An example: I’ve lived in the U.S. Northeast most of my life. Here, the winters can be harsh. I have never liked cold weather or snow, and I’ve never been drawn to winter sports. Each year, as the days shorten and the nights grow longer, I have felt a sense of dread as winter approaches and a great sense of relief when I finally put away the snow shovel and hang up my winter coat. But this past winter just was. Autumn flowed into winter as it always does, and this time I was fine with it.

The weather acceptance switch flipped the previous summer during a meeting of the Buddhist study group I belong to. On an extraordinarily hot and humid evening, as we began our walking meditation, I was struggling with the discomfort of my shirt sticking to my back and the sweat beading on my forehead. Then our teacher said, “This is heat.” As we walked in silence, I pondered his observation, feeling into the reality of the present moment, and something shifted. The rest of that evening, and for all the other hot days that summer, heat was simply heat, not something to be dreaded or avoided. When the cold set in this winter, I thought, “This is cold.” When the snow fell, “This is snow.” When it melted, “This is Spring.” And as the summer heat approaches again, I remember, “This is heat.”

When we radically accept something, we don’t judge it. We don’t get angry, we don’t try to fight it, and we don’t resent it. We simply recognize that this is how it is, freeing up all the energy we might otherwise have expended on judging, fighting, anger, or resentment. Then we can take in, with renewed openness, whatever comes our way.

For more on Radical Acceptance, see Tara Brach’s book Radical Acceptance: Embracing Your Life With the Heart of a Buddha.

Compassion and Self-Compassion

Like Radical Acceptance, developing a compassionate attitude toward ourselves and others promotes emotional adaptability and increases responsiveness to our present reality.

Self-compassion is a term coined by psychologist Kristin Neff to describe extending to yourself the compassion you would feel for a good friend or someone you love.

Dr. Neff’s description of compassion and self-compassion is as eloquent and complete as any I have seen. “Having compassion for oneself is really no different than having compassion for others,” she writes. “Think about what the experience of compassion feels like. First, to have compassion for others you must notice that they are suffering. If you ignore that homeless person on the street, you can’t feel compassion for how difficult his or her experience is. Second, compassion involves feeling moved by others’ suffering so that your heart responds to their pain (the word compassion literally means to ‘suffer with’). When this occurs, you feel warmth, caring, and the desire to help the suffering person in some way. Having compassion also means that you offer understanding and kindness to others when they fail or make mistakes, rather than judging them harshly. Finally, when you feel compassion for another (rather than mere pity), it means that you realize that suffering, failure, and imperfection is part of the shared human experience. ‘There but for fortune go I.’

“Self-compassion,” she continues, “involves acting the same way towards yourself when you are having a difficult time, fail, or notice something you don’t like about yourself. Instead of just ignoring your pain with a ‘stiff upper lip’ mentality, you stop to tell yourself ‘this is really difficult right now, how can I comfort and care for myself in this moment?’”

Self-compassion is one of the most powerful tools for reducing critical self-talk. When we are compassionate toward ourselves, we don’t give ourselves a hard time and we don’t push our vulnerable feelings aside and “suck it up.” Instead, we treat our difficult emotions as if they were a baby crying inside us and do whatever we need in order to attend to it.

Practicing self-compassion helps us become more responsive not only to our own needs, but also to the needs of others. Released from the tyranny of our inner critics, we become more able to blossom into our full selves and, ironically, less self-centered and more compassionate toward others. We have more of ourselves to give away.

Extending compassion to others also enhances our emotional adaptability. Giving to others lets us become our best selves, even when we feel depleted. This principle underlies healing practices in many indigenous cultures, where the shaman chooses a sickly boy to become his apprentice. The boy becomes strong through healing his people, but he must continue to heal others in order to stay healthy himself.

In my work as a psychotherapist, I have found this healing/healer link also to be true. Regardless of what is going on in my life, when I get to my office and put on my imaginary “therapist jacket,” I become my best self, doing what I can to attend to the needs of my clients. Because I have been that best self all day, by evening the troubles of the morning have become smaller and more manageable. And the next day, I often awaken a little more emotionally adaptable, not only to my clients, but also to myself.

For more on self-compassion, including a quick test of your level of self-compassion, see Kristin Neff’s site self-compassion.org.

What to do:

  • Radically accept. The most essential step to adapting to change is to accept the change itself and your own responses to it. Accept who you are and your present circumstances and free up the energy that might otherwise be exhausted through struggling against reality. See Tara Brach’s book Radical Acceptance: Embracing Your Life With the Heart of a Buddha to more fully explore Radical Acceptance as a way of life.
  • Be compassionate and self-compassionate. Treat yourself with the compassion you would have for a dear friend and you will quiet your inner critic and also find yourself more able to respond authentically to change and to the needs of others. See Kristin Neff’s website self-compassion.org for more on self-compassion, and take her quick test to check out your own self-compassion level.

NEXT: Part II, Forgiveness and Self-Forgiveness

Related Posts:
The Under Toad and the UnBalancer
The Balancer/ReBalancer Tag Team
A Mini-Lesson on Mini Self-Care
Gyroscopes and Personal Flywheels
Hanging in the Balance
Balancing the Books
The Experiment
How to Design an Experiment
Build Your Resilience in 6 Steps
How to Rebalance Your Brain in 3 Easy Steps
How to Boost Connections and Support
Handling Change, Part I: Radical Acceptance and Self-Compassion

Books:
Paths to Wholeness: Fifty-Two Flower Mandalas
PrintAmazon  –  BookBaby  –  B&N  – Books-a-Million
eBook: Kindle  – Nook  – iTunes  – Kobo

NOTE: Paths to Wholeness is now available at the following Boston-area bookstores and libraries:

Cabot Street Books & Cards, 272 Cabot Street, Beverly, MA 01915
The Bookshop, 40 West Street, Beverly Farms, MA 01915
Boston Public Library (main branch)
Brookline Public Library (main branch)
NOBLE Public Libraries (Beverly Farms and Salem)
MVLC Public Libraries (Hamilton-Wenham)

Please let me know if you find it in other locations!

Also available:
52 (more) Flower Mandalas: An Adult Coloring Book for Inspiration and Stress Relief
52 Flower Mandalas: An Adult Coloring Book for Inspiration and Stress Relief
Paths to Wholeness: Selections (free eBook)

Follow me on:
Bloglovin’
StumbleUpon
Medium

Copyright 2017, David J. Bookbinder
http://www.transformationspress.org
http://www.davidbookbinder.com
http://www.flowermandalas.org

Posted in Balance, Copyright, essay-balance, Publication, technique | Leave a comment

Handling Change, Part II: Forgiveness and Self-Forgiveness

Handling Change, Part II:

Forgiveness and Self-Forgiveness

 

Forgiveness and Self-Forgiveness

Like acceptance and compassion, the ability to forgive ourselves and others can free us from what Romantic poet William Blake called “mind-forged manacles” – in this case, feelings such as anger, hatred, resentment, guilt, shame, and victimization. Liberation from these feelings through forgiveness can help us be more available in the present moment and more adaptable to its ever-changing conditions.

Forgiveness, however is sometimes difficult to achieve.

Some obstacles to forgiving are easy to understand. Forgiveness is hardest when there is ongoing harm. Before we can offer forgiveness, we must be safe; before we can ask to be forgiven, we must stop doing harm. Forgiveness is also challenging when injuries haven’t healed. Unhealed wounds can lock us into a pattern of attracting others who hurt us again, or they can imprison us in a self-protective shell that keeps out not only potential harm, but also healing.

But for many of us, the chief impediment to forgiveness is unwillingness. Our culture glorifies an “eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” tradition that spans millennia. Forgiveness – forgiving others, seeking forgiveness, even forgiving ourselves – is seen as weakness. If we have been hurt, we may feel, we should punish those who harmed us, and if we cannot, we should at least punish them in our hearts. If we have harmed others, we may feel that we should punish ourselves, hoping that self-punishment will prevent us from harming again.

Releasing ourselves from these vengeful emotions through forgiveness may seem unfamiliar and unsafe. But actually, refusing to forgive ourselves doesn’t guarantee we will not harm again, nor does refusing to forgive others punish those who have harmed us. Withholding forgiveness merely uses up energy that could be put to more life-affirming purposes.

Forgiving my father for our lifelong estrangement began with a dream I had several years after his death and concluded when I realized, finally, that I was no longer afflicted by what had been damaging in our relationship. I could then regard him with compassion, understand how his difficulties and limitations had shaped him, and forgive him for his part in our conflicts – and myself, for mine.

The most helpful tool I’ve encountered for fostering forgiveness is a Buddhist meditation popularized by psychologist and teacher Jack Kornfield. Within the safety of the meditation, it instructs us first to feel the pain of keeping our hearts closed and then offers gentle steps for opening them just enough to ask for forgiveness from those we have harmed, to forgive ourselves, and to forgive those who have harmed us. Cautioning that forgiveness may come slowly and cannot be forced, the meditation encourages a gradual letting go of the burdens of unforgiven acts, with each iteration lightening our load just a little, like a sigh of relief.

For more on forgiveness and self-forgiveness, see the “Forgiveness” chapter in my book Paths to Wholeness: Fifty-Two Flower Mandalas and Jack Kornfield’s Forgiveness Mediation.

What to do:

  • Forgive and self-forgive. To break free of the burden of what Romantic poet William Blake called “mind-forged manacles” such as anger, hatred, resentment, guilt, shame, and victimization, practice slowly forgiving yourself and others with Jack Kornfield’s Forgiveness Mediation. For more on forgiveness and self-forgiveness, see the “Forgiveness” chapter in my book Paths to Wholeness: Fifty-Two Flower Mandalas.

COMING NEXT – Part III: Creative Approach and Experimental Attitude

Related Posts:
The Under Toad and the UnBalancer
The Balancer/ReBalancer Tag Team
A Mini-Lesson on Mini Self-Care
Gyroscopes and Personal Flywheels
Hanging in the Balance
Balancing the Books
The Experiment
How to Design an Experiment
Build Your Resilience in 6 Steps
How to Rebalance Your Brain in 3 Easy Steps
How to Boost Connections and Support
Handling Change, Part I: Radical Acceptance and Self-Compassion
Handling Change, Part II: Forgiveness and Self-Forgiveness
Handling Change, Part III: Creative Approach and Experimental Attitude
Three Ways to Mix Mindfulness into Your Life

Books:
Paths to Wholeness: Fifty-Two Flower Mandalas
PrintAmazon  –  BookBaby  –  B&N  – Books-a-Million
eBook: Kindle  – Nook  – iTunes  – Kobo

NOTE: Paths to Wholeness is now available at the following Boston-area bookstores and libraries:

Cabot Street Books & Cards, 272 Cabot Street, Beverly, MA 01915
The Bookshop, 40 West Street, Beverly Farms, MA 01915
Boston Public Library (main branch)
Brookline Public Library (main branch)
NOBLE Public Libraries (Beverly Farms and Salem)
MVLC Public Libraries (Hamilton-Wenham)

Please let me know if you find it in other locations!

Also available:
52 (more) Flower Mandalas: An Adult Coloring Book for Inspiration and Stress Relief
52 Flower Mandalas: An Adult Coloring Book for Inspiration and Stress Relief
Paths to Wholeness: Selections (free eBook)

Follow me on:
Bloglovin’
StumbleUpon
Medium

Copyright 2017, David J. Bookbinder
http://www.transformationspress.org
http://www.davidbookbinder.com
http://www.flowermandalas.org

Posted in Balance, Copyright, essay-balance, Publication, technique | Leave a comment

Handling Change, Part III: Creative Approach and Experimental Attitude

Handling Change, Part III:

Creative Approach and Experimental Attitude

 

 

 

Creative Approach

Creative activities – and the creative approach to life that often accompanies them – can also help us become more emotionally adaptable.

Creative activities are rewarding as outlets for self-expression. They feel good, they are centering, and they give us a sense of accomplishment. And they’re often fun! But besides these more obvious benefits, creative activities can also change the way we approach our lives.

When we work creatively, we dive deep. We pause, look at what we are making, check inside and ask “Is this working?” and then bring up something of value that we might otherwise never have discovered. As we pause/look/check/incorporate, we create something new and authentic.

Because our brains get better at doing whatever they do, the more we practice diving deep, the better we get at it. Regularly doing creative activities often leads to a more general diving deep, allowing us to become more proficient at sensing and incorporating the less obvious aspects of ourselves and the world around us. This increased facility for sensing and responding to the whole of our present circumstances makes us more aware of ourselves and our surroundings, and more adept at adapting to change.

When we make the effort to check in with our deeper natures, we also tend to forge ahead more surely. If we look only at our superficial thoughts and feelings, and we try to make a change, it’s as if we are trying to move an iceberg by pushing on the tip. We may manage to lean it over, but it will eventually spring back. Diving deep allows us to travel below the water’s surface in our mental/emotional submarine, where we can take in the whole iceberg, home in on its center of gravity, and exert our efforts exactly there. The movement that results may be smaller, but what moves stays moved.

I see this dive-deep/move-forward-surely process often in therapy. Clients who tend to make the most profound changes may begin a session by simply describing a situation. But then they pause, check in with some murkier, less clear part of themselves, and bring to the surface what they find. For instance, they may begin by describing a situation that made them angry. “When he did that,” they might say, “I was so mad that…” And then they pause. “Well, it wasn’t just that I was mad. I got mad, but really, I was hurt.” Then we can deal not only with the surface feeling of anger, but also with the deeper feeling of hurt that triggered it.

Engaging in a creative hobby can not only train the brain, but can lead to changes in what we do with our lives. A friend in the construction business for most of his career began to create small oil paintings a couple of years ago. He found the practice centering, calming, and self-reflective, so much so that now he is taking the necessary steps to become a professional artist – a reinvention.

If you’re already doing something creative, keep doing it! If not, experiment with different art forms. Begin with the forms of creativity you enjoy taking in. If you like to read, consider writing. If you like to listen to music, consider learning to play an instrument and/or composing. If you like to look at art, consider painting, photography, sculpture, pottery. If you like movies, consider acting – or making movies yourself. If you enjoy walking in gardens, consider starting one.

One of the best books on living more creatively is Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity. For specific training in diving deep, both in life and in creative activities, see Eugene Gendlin’s work with Focusing at focusing.org and his concise handbook on the technique of Focusing, Focusing.

Experimental Attitude

As discussed in more depth in another post, maintaining an experimental attitude toward life keeps us more open to experiences and to other people and helps us be more resilient in the face of difficulties.

Acceptance frees us from unrealistic hope and unwarranted anxiety, self-compassion from self-criticism, and forgiveness from the weight of unforgiving.

Relieved of these burdens, we are more able to adopt an experimental attitude. We can face our lives with open minds, seeing them as ongoing experiments. When things shift in unanticipated ways, we can say, “That was my path, but this is my path now,” adapting to the present moment as it arrives. Instead of conforming to the limits of past patterns, we can try things out, see what happens, and adjust our view of reality – and our next steps – accordingly.

An experimental attitude gives our ReBalancers the power to craft new strategies on the fly whenever new challenges occur. These new strategies, once created, cannot be uncreated. They are always there, ready whenever we need them, helping us to feel confident that we can handle whatever unknowns life (and UnBalancer) hands us with curiosity, resourcefulness, and equanimity.

For more on the experimental attitude, see the blog posts The Experiment and How to Design an Experiment.

What to do:

  • Create and dive deep. To train your brain to respond more fully to yourself and your surroundings, do something creative on a regular basis, then practice applying the dive-deep/move-forward-surely process of creative work to your daily life. See Julia Cameron’s book The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity for more on living creatively and Eugene Gendlin’s book Focusing for a way to integrate subconscious needs, wants, and desires into your conscious self.
  • Experiment. Maintain an experimental attitude toward life to stay open to experiences and to other people, and to grow ever more resilient in the face of difficulties. Experience your life as an ongoing experiment, rather than as a fixed path. For more on experiments and the experimental attitude, see the blog posts The Experiment and How to Design an Experiment.

COMING NEXT: Three Ways to Mix Mindfulness into Your Life

Related Posts:
The Under Toad and the UnBalancer
The Balancer/ReBalancer Tag Team
A Mini-Lesson on Mini Self-Care
Gyroscopes and Personal Flywheels
Hanging in the Balance
Balancing the Books
The Experiment
How to Design an Experiment
Build Your Resilience in 6 Steps
How to Rebalance Your Brain in 3 Easy Steps
How to Boost Connections and Support
Handling Change, Part I: Radical Acceptance and Self-Compassion
Handling Change, Part II: Forgiveness and Self-Forgiveness
Handling Change, Part III: Creative Approach and Experimental Attitude
Three Ways to Mix Mindfulness into Your Life

Books:
From Paths to Wholeness: Fifty-Two Flower Mandalas
COURAGE: “The difference between those who successfully reach the end of their Hero’s Journeys and those who do not isn’t better opportunities, more strength, or superior allies, but the courage to get up and try again, even when the odds seem insurmountable and discouragement feels overwhelming.”

PrintAmazon  –  BookBaby  –  B&N  – Books-a-Million
eBook: Kindle  – Nook  – iTunes  – Kobo

NOTE: Paths to Wholeness is now available at the following Boston-area bookstores and libraries:

Cabot Street Books & Cards, 272 Cabot Street, Beverly, MA 01915
The Bookshop, 40 West Street, Beverly Farms, MA 01915
Boston Public Library (main branch)
Brookline Public Library (main branch)
NOBLE Public Libraries (Beverly Farms and Salem)
MVLC Public Libraries (Hamilton-Wenham)

Please let me know if you find it in other locations!

Also available:
52 (more) Flower Mandalas: An Adult Coloring Book for Inspiration and Stress Relief
52 Flower Mandalas: An Adult Coloring Book for Inspiration and Stress Relief
Paths to Wholeness: Selections (free eBook)

Follow me on:
Bloglovin’
StumbleUpon
Medium

Copyright 2017, David J. Bookbinder
http://www.transformationspress.org
http://www.davidbookbinder.com
http://www.flowermandalas.org

Posted in Balance, Copyright, essay-balance, Publication, technique | Leave a comment

Strive for Excellence, Not Perfection

The Perfect is the Enemy of the Good

 

My father was a storekeeper and the son of working-class immigrants. He wanted his children to do better than he had, and he believed the gateway to a successful life was education. Consequently, he held me, his firstborn, to high academic standards. This meant I had to get A’s, and to earn my father’s approval I abandoned many other activities so I could focus on schoolwork. By the time I completed high school, I had achieved a perfect average and was class valedictorian, but I’d learned very little about many other important aspects of life.

The roots of the drive for perfection are spread wide and go deep. The ancient Greeks saw perfection as necessary for beauty and high art. Buddhists are encouraged to practice the Six Perfections as part of the path to enlightenment. St. Matthew exhorted, “Be ye therefore perfect even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.”

Our culture’s idealization of perfection extends beyond religion, philosophy, and art. Our leaders should be perfect (George Washington never told a lie, Abe Lincoln walked miles to return a penny). The media projects images of perfect skin, perfect hair, perfect teeth, perfect bodies, and perfect lives, and offers us products to attain them.

Many of us see perfectionism as a motivator. Certainly, striving for excellence has characterized people who have made important contributions in the arts, sciences, philosophy, law, spirituality, athletics, and many other fields. But striving for excellence and perfectionism are not synonymous. Those who strive for excellence do their best and see setbacks as challenges, defeats as learning opportunities. Perfectionists, on the other hand, get their self-esteem from “perfect” behavior, appearance, and accomplishments. When they fail to achieve a goal or to conform to often unrealistic standards, they feel defective and ashamed.

Perfectionists are more often paralyzed, not motivated, by perfectionism. They can be plagued by envy when they see someone doing “better” than they’re doing, or they can languish in a state of potential, hating themselves for failing to achieve anything “important” but unable to choose a path because they might be unsuccessful.

A less extreme symptom of perfectionism afflicts people who avoid being seen in public unless their appearance is “perfect.” When they do find a spot on their clothing, a mark on their face, or some other “defect,” they may spend hours, even days, reviewing every contact they had that day, worrying that someone might have noticed this “imperfection.”

If you see a tendency toward perfectionism – you work too hard at something that may be impossible, worry excessively about how others might perceive you, beat yourself up for minor missteps, avoid challenges because you’re afraid you won’t handle them perfectly – try the following:

1. Record the thought. Write a sentence that captures your basic perfectionistic belief. For example, “If I’m not perfect, I am nothing,” or “If I make a mistake, I’ll lose everything.”

2. Question the belief. Is this belief always true, not only for you but also for other people? Where did this belief come from? Does it contribute to your well-being?

3. Create an affirmation. Create a counter-statement that more accurately describes your reality. Effective affirmations ring true, but they come from a gentler, more sympathetic place. For example, if you catch yourself thinking “If I’m not perfect, I’m nothing,” you can substitute an affirmation such as “I don’t have to be perfect to be loved and happy.” If your initial try at an affirmation doesn’t feel credible, change it to something that does. For instance, “I’m not perfect, but I’m still okay, and I’m working on getting better” carries a hint of perfectionism, but it also has an optimistic spin. A little different is enough to disrupt the perfectionist pattern and make an opening for change.

The ultimate antidote to perfectionism is self-acceptance. Self-acceptance is taking stock of things as they are and allowing them to just be. It is letting go of strivings, regrets, and self-recrimination. It is saying, “Whatever is, is. Whatever has been, has been. This is who and where I am now.” With self-acceptance, we can comfortably follow Ralph Waldo Emerson’s advice: “Finish each day and be done with it. You have done what you could.”

Those of us who tend toward perfectionism may not want to give it up entirely. Choosing to do a few things “perfectly” can be satisfying in ways that trying to wholly conform to perfectionistic standards is not. For example, I freely indulge my desire to keep my computer functioning “perfectly” and to tinker with a photograph until it’s “perfect.” I know that perfecting these things takes more of the limited time I have on the planet than is really necessary, but I’m okay with that. We don’t have to avoid perfectionism… perfectly.

From Paths to Wholeness: Fifty-Two Flower Mandalas
PrintAmazon  –  BookBaby  –  B&N  – Books-a-Million
eBook: Kindle  – Nook  – iTunes  – Kobo

NOTE: Paths to Wholeness is now available at the following Boston-area bookstores and libraries:

Cabot Street Books & Cards, 272 Cabot Street, Beverly, MA 01915
The Bookshop, 40 West Street, Beverly Farms, MA 01915
Boston Public Library (main branch)
Brookline Public Library (main branch)
NOBLE Public Libraries (Beverly Farms and Salem)
MVLC Public Libraries (Hamilton-Wenham)

Please let me know if you find it in other locations!

Also available:
52 (more) Flower Mandalas: An Adult Coloring Book for Inspiration and Stress Relief
52 Flower Mandalas: An Adult Coloring Book for Inspiration and Stress Relief
Paths to Wholeness: Selections (free eBook)

Follow me on:
Bloglovin’
StumbleUpon
Medium

Copyright 2017, David J. Bookbinder
http://www.transformationspress.org
http://www.davidbookbinder.com
http://www.flowermandalas.org

Posted in Copyright, essay-flower-mandalas, flower mandala, Paths to Wholeness | Leave a comment

How to Boost Connections and Support

How to Boost Connections and Support

For most of us, UnBalancer flourishes when we’re isolated. We are social animals, and separation from others weakens our ability not only to thrive, but sometimes even to survive.

Ostracism – being ignored and excluded – threatens our basic need for belonging. In other mammals, being ostracized removes the individual from the protection of the pack and usually results in death from predators or starvation. Human beings are hard-wired to fear ostracism, so much so that in experiments where researchers create games in which the participants’ avatars are rejected by the other players’ avatars, participants feel anxiety and depression even when they know that the other avatars are actually computer simulations.

Establishing and maintaining close relationships, on the other hand, makes us more resilient. A network of connections – friendships, family, support groups, spiritual groups, and group activities that validate our interests and identities – not only enrich our day-to-day lives, but they also keep us steady when things get rough. It’s as if each connection is a guy wire, bracing us when UnBalancer huffs and puffs and tries to blow our houses down.

However, connections are not just a numbers game. It’s important that our relationships are actually supportive. For many of us, that’s a no-brainer. But for others, a crucial component of building a more resilient environment is discerning who, in our circles of friends, family, and associates, is an ally of our true selves, and who may actually be an ally of the UnBalancer.

Those of us who grew up with strong social supports and positive mirroring of who we are tend to recreate these positive-reinforcing relationships throughout our teenage and adult years. We almost automatically choose friends and romantic partners who are reciprocal in their relationships with us, and we feel buoyed up by our affinity groups.

But those of us who grew up with dysfunction in our relationships with family or friends may subtly replicate this dysfunction in later relationships. It’s as if, instead of being surrounded by mirrors that accurately inform us of who we are as individuals and in relationship to others, our views of ourselves were shaped by circus mirrors. This distorted mirroring then, unconsciously, shapes our future connections.

For example, people who grow up with a narcissistic parent who offers only conditional love may choose narcissistic friends, employers, or romantic partners who treat them the same way, leaving them always feeling “never good enough” no matter how hard they try. Or they may become “people pleasers,” always doing for others but seldom letting others know what they, themselves, need. Those who grow up isolated from their peers due to prejudice, economic disadvantage, temperament, or other differences often come to see themselves as “outsiders.” Later in life, they often continue to find it hard to integrate themselves into groups.

As we grow aware that we may be repeating old, dysfunctional patterns in our newer relationships, we need to redefine them, if possible – or end them, if they can’t change. We may need to assert our needs more directly, set our boundaries more explicitly, and reconsider the relative benefits and costs of maintaining some of our friendships and family connections. We may also need to build new relationships with people who support our true selves and to learn to discern whether we’re repeating an old relationship pattern or experiencing something new and life-affirming.

What to do:

  • Get rid of the crazy makers in your life. Notice whether some of the people you have surrounded yourself with are more of a drain than they are a support. See if you can shift the balance, and if you can’t, consider distancing yourself from these relationships.
  • Water the seeds of connection. We all get busy, but a quick text, email, or phone call keeps the lines of connection open and increases the pull of nurturing, face-to-face reunions with friends and family.
  • Reevaluate people who are on the sidelines, but who possess a generous, helpful nature. See if you can deepen these relationships. Arrange to spend more time together and explore the potential of these connections.
  • Participate in activities you enjoy doing. Current friends not interested in the things you love, such as hiking, photography, travel? Head out on your own, and open yourself to meeting new people who share your interests. Meetup.com groups, spiritual communities such as churches and temples, and recreational groups all provide opportunities for expanding connection. Look into physical fitness classes or day trips sponsored by town recreation departments or community centers. Take a cooking class at the local Adult Education organization. Check out lectures and presentations at public libraries or community colleges in your own or surrounding towns. Join a camera club. Choose activities that you’ll enjoy on your own but also may attract like-minded, like-spirited potential friends.
  • Create affinity groups. Can’t find a group that is interested in something you’d rather not do alone? Create one! Reach out to your friends and social media contacts and see who else shares your interest, or start a Meetup.com group of your own. Anything goes! One friend mentioned her interest in cribbage on her Facebook page and several people outside her inner circle responded with enthusiasm, whether or not they had played the game before. Another started a monthly “gaming night.” I began an artist group that’s still running strong. The next step is easy – schedule a time, a place, and the snack! You only need a few participants to form a core group.

COMING NEXT: How to Handle Change with Ease

Related Posts:
The Under Toad and the UnBalancer
The Balancer/ReBalancer Tag Team
A Mini-Lesson on Mini Self-Care
Gyroscopes and Personal Flywheels
Hanging in the Balance
Balancing the Books
The Experiment
How to Design an Experiment
Build Your Resilience in 6 Steps
How to Rebalance Your Brain in 3 Easy Steps
How to Boost Connections and Support

Books:
From Paths to Wholeness: Fifty-Two Flower Mandalas
COURAGE: “The most profound form of courage is the willingness to face deeply entrenched fears and self-limiting beliefs and to move beyond them: to see obstacles not as roadblocks but as opportunities for growth. This is how we transition from surviving to thriving, victim to victor.”

PrintAmazon  –  BookBaby  –  B&N  – Books-a-Million
eBook: Kindle  – Nook  – iTunes  – Kobo

NOTE: Paths to Wholeness is now available at the following Boston-area bookstores and libraries:

Cabot Street Books & Cards, 272 Cabot Street, Beverly, MA 01915
The Bookshop, 40 West Street, Beverly Farms, MA 01915
Boston Public Library (main branch)
Brookline Public Library (main branch)
NOBLE Public Libraries (Beverly Farms and Salem)
MVLC Public Libraries (Hamilton-Wenham)

Please let me know if you find it in other locations!

Also available:
52 (more) Flower Mandalas: An Adult Coloring Book for Inspiration and Stress Relief
52 Flower Mandalas: An Adult Coloring Book for Inspiration and Stress Relief
Paths to Wholeness: Selections (free eBook)

Follow me on:
Bloglovin’
StumbleUpon
Medium

Copyright 2017, David J. Bookbinder
http://www.transformationspress.org
http://www.davidbookbinder.com
http://www.flowermandalas.org

Posted in Balance, Copyright, essay-balance, Publication, technique | Leave a comment

How to Rebalance Your Brain in 3 Easy Steps

How to Rebalance Your Brain in 3 Easy Steps


One of the most powerful resilience-building, Balancer-enhancing strategies is to consciously look for growth opportunities in experiences – to seek the silver lining in the cloud.

Looking for the growth opportunity in the struggle makes it possible for us to find it. Difficulties become, as a friend of mine puts it, “just an AFGOAnother F***ing Growth Opportunity.” Thinking of struggles as AFGOs allows us to accept, in a tongue-in-cheek but still meaningful way, that positive change can emerge from negative experiences.

When we go through difficult times asking questions like “What can I learn from this?” and “How can going through this make me a better person?” we gain leverage on our problems, and it becomes much harder for UnBalancer to unseat us. Instead of being knocked off course, we see obstacles as challenges and grow more resilient by overcoming them.

A close cousin of the AFGO is learning to condition our minds to pay equal attention to the positive.

Neuroscientists have determined that our brains contain twice as many cells that respond to threats as they do cells that process positive experiences, and that these threat-detecting cells respond about 10 times as quickly. Consequently, a stimulus we perceive as threatening has a disproportionately strong impact. Powerful experiences form much stronger memories, and the repetition of stronger responses and more vivid memories of perceived threats creates a cycle that reinforces a negative bias.

Our negative bias was once essential for survival. All protohumans could safely eat something that tasted good and could ignore the movements of familiar creatures. But if something tasted rotten, only those who immediately spit it out were likely to escape food poisoning, and only those who responded swiftly to a rustling in the brush avoided being eaten by predators. Our negatively biased early ancestors survived to produce offspring, while those who failed to react quickly enough to possible threats didn’t make it.

Our modern brains respond similarly to those of our ancestors. We, too, immediately sense when something tastes off, but we can eat an entire meal without even realizing we’ve consumed it. And we, too, quickly react to our modern-day predators – other drivers – but can miss our turnpike exit when we are lost in thought or absorbed in music or conversation.

Were it limited only to quick responses to actual threats, this negative bias would still serve us reasonably well as an aid to survival. The problem, however, is that our negative bias also makes it difficult to fully take in the positive aspects of our much safer world, and it can prevent us from fully enjoying it. If a toe hurts, we may not notice that we are otherwise healthy. If we suffer a loss, we can lose track not only of all we still have, but also of what we are continuing to receive. Our hard-wired, “better safe than sorry” bias often contributes to low-level pessimism. Even when things are going well, we may think, “Things are okay now, but wait until the other shoe drops.”

To recalibrate our brains, we need to update our programming to take into account the relative safety of our present surroundings. By training ourselves to pay as much attention to the positives as we do to the negatives, we can rewire the brain to have a more positive, and more satisfying, bias.

The difference between a negative and a more balanced bias came to me most clearly during a brief conversation with one of the monks who led a Buddhist retreat I went to many years ago.

We sat together on a hillside overlooking the dining hall and ate our lunches while I talked with him about feelings of hurt, betrayal, and despair that followed the difficult ending of a long relationship. My UnBalancer was having a field day with the attention I’d been giving these events and the injuries that resulted from them.

“I understand your feelings,” the young monk said, “but this way of looking at love is too limited. You think it comes only from these people, and now it is gone. But love comes from many places.” He held out his sandwich. “The baker who made this bread shows us love. Yes, it is his business, but the bread is very good and there is love in it. And there are the trees and the grass. They give us oxygen – without them we could not live.” He looked up at the sky. “And the sun gives us warmth.”

As he continued to point out human and non-human sources of love, I felt a shift inside. Until that moment, the idea that “the universe loves us” had seemed so abstract it was meaningless. But now, listening to this young man as he took in the love of the cosmos, I vicariously experienced his gratitude, and I carry these feelings with me to this day.

Because it goes against the grain of our innate wiring, watering the seeds of a more balanced bias takes work – but it’s worth the effort. Simple everyday practices can help. We can start to focus only on eating our food instead of looking at social media or the newspaper while we dine. We can turn off the radio on a long trip and experience the world we’re passing through. We can pause long enough, when we receive a compliment, to let the positive feedback settle into our being. Small changes such as these help us to move beyond the programming that our ancestors evolved in their more hazardous world so we can thrive in the one we live in now.

What to do:

  • Smell the roses. Eat the raisin. Literally. Negative stimuli hit us 10 times as fast and twice as hard as positive ones. To even things out, take the time to fully absorb the things that taste or smell good, feel nice, sound pleasing. Literally take in the smells of flowers, fragrances, foods. Pay attention to the sound of a friend’s laugh. Feel the textures of the objects you touch throughout the day – a partner’s skin, the glassy screen of your smartphone, your own hair. An exercise: Eat a single raisin as slowly as you can. Feel its texture, notice its color, smell its scent, and chew it slowly until it liquefies, savoring the flavor and the mouth feel. Then try this again, but with something in your refrigerator.
  • Look for the growth opportunities in everything. See difficulties as teachers. Whether we like it or not, all difficult experiences can become AFGOs. Develop the habit of evaluating the growth opportunities in everything that comes your way. The path from victim to victor is through seeking out and embracing opportunities for growth. Crazy traffic on the commute to work? A learning opportunity for patience. An illness that could be serious? An opportunity to learn to deal with uncertainty. An annoying co-worker who can’t stop talking? Another opportunity for learning patience – or for honing your assertiveness skills. And so on, with experiences from the most trivial to the most challenging.
  • Create gratitude lists. Frequently. Grateful people are generally more satisfied with their lives and relationships, cope better with difficulties, and are more generous, empathetic, and self-accepting. A simple but effective tool for promoting a grateful perspective is the gratitude list. It’s a way to reinforce the reality that whatever we may lack, we also have many things for which to be grateful. We may not have all the wealth we want, the health we want, the relationships we want, the things we want, but when we list what we do have, we have a lot. When you make a gratitude list, be open to including anything at all that you feel grateful for. A 50-item gratitude list I created for a chapter in my book Paths to Wholeness starts with “Being alive” and ends with “Popsicles!”

COMING NEXT: How to Boost Connections and Support

P.S. Paths to Wholeness is now available at the following Boston-area bookstores and libraries:

Cabot Street Books & Cards, 272 Cabot Street, Beverly, MA 01915
The Bookshop, 40 West Street, Beverly Farms, MA 01915
Boston Public Library (main branch)
Brookline Public Library (main branch)
NOBLE Public Libraries (Beverly Farms and Salem)
MVLC Public Libraries (Hamilton-Wenham)

Please let me know if you find it in other libraries!

Related Posts:
The Under Toad and the UnBalancer
The Balancer/ReBalancer Tag Team
A Mini-Lesson on Mini Self-Care
Gyroscopes and Personal Flywheels
Hanging in the Balance
Balancing the Books
The Experiment
How to Design an Experiment
Build Your Resilience in 6 Steps
How to Rebalance Your Brain in 3 Easy Steps

Books:
From Paths to Wholeness: Fifty-Two Flower Mandalas
“At times I still hover at the threshold of positive change, uncertain which way to go. Yet I also continue to deeply sense parts of myself that have been waiting for a lifetime to be listened to and acted on. When these parts awaken from their slumber, the effect is as breathtaking as the sun rising on a new day.”
– “Change”
PrintAmazon  –  BookBaby  –  B&N  – Books-a-Million
eBook: Kindle  – Nook  – iTunes  – Kobo

Also available:
52 (more) Flower Mandalas: An Adult Coloring Book for Inspiration and Stress Relief
52 Flower Mandalas: An Adult Coloring Book for Inspiration and Stress Relief
Paths to Wholeness: Selections (free eBook)

Follow me on:
Bloglovin’
StumbleUpon
Medium

Copyright 2017, David J. Bookbinder
http://www.transformationspress.org
http://www.davidbookbinder.com
http://www.flowermandalas.org

Posted in Balance, Copyright, essay-balance, Publication, technique | Leave a comment

Learning to Love Yourself

Self Love: Evolution

In my more troubled youth, I was often told that to truly love anyone, I needed first to love myself. This advice, though well-intentioned, set up an unhelpful dynamic. Loving myself seemed as much like actual love as masturbation was to sexual intercourse – a solitary substitute for the real thing. Why would I want that?

In my mid 20s, while riding the subway from Manhattan to Brooklyn, I had an insight: To love ourselves, we need first to experience being loved – not loved with strings attached, not intermittently loved, and not loved blindly, either, but loved for who we actually are, like Dr. Seuss loves: “You are you. Now, isn’t that pleasant?” Or Mr. Rogers: “You’ve made this day a special day by just your being you. There’s no person in the whole world like you. And I like you just the way you are.” Without this loved-at-the-core experience, loving ourselves is difficult to manage.

About 10 years ago, I received a variation of the “love yourself” advice, but this time I was better equipped for it. I had just completed five days at a Buddhist retreat. While there, I had been liberally sprinkled with what the retreat leader, Thich Nhat Hanh, called “dharma rain,” and some of it had soaked in. As we were leaving, a newfound friend said to me, “David, next time you think you need something from someone, try giving it to yourself first.” My initial response was still to see “giving it to myself” as emotional masturbation, but I knew her to be a wise woman; what she was telling me, I realized, had to mean something else.

My receptivity to her advice was enhanced by finding a different kind of love in the temporary community Thich Nhat Hanh and his monks and nuns had helped us create. There, I’d felt warmth and affection from nearly everyone I had met, shared meals and meditations, spoken heart-to-heart with one of the monks on a hillside overlooking the dining hall. Feeling loved had become broader and more available than it had ever seemed before.

I understood, finally, that receiving unconditional love from one person was not the only way to water the seeds of self love. I felt, viscerally, that I was not alone; on the contrary, I was fully embedded in the universe. The sun, the clouds, the trees, many human beings, as well as most of the creatures of the earth, in some way expressed their love, and I was among their recipients.

As the weeks passed, I tried to heed my newfound friend’s advice. Although at first nothing much happened, after a while I noticed a tiny droplet of warmth each time I tried to give myself something I thought I needed from someone else. Then one day, in the midst of grieving the suicide of a close friend, the love from the “lover” part of me toward the part that was hurting changed from a trickle to a flood. I was overcome by a love unlike any I’d previously experienced, an instant transfusion of compassion and caring pouring from a deep, wise-seeming part of me into a part that had always felt bereft.

Later that year, my lover and beloved parts united. Driving home after a 14-hour day of internship work and counseling psychology classes, I reflected on a particularly moving session I’d had that afternoon with a young artist whose mother had just died. And it struck me that I, who was so long separated from self love, was becoming someone who could love unconditionally and help my clients learn to love themselves.

In the years since then, it has become increasingly easier to love myself. A key to self love has been consciously encouraging awareness and openness toward both the parts that can offer love and the parts that need loving. I can feel loneliness and then truly comfort the lonely boy who still lives inside me, as if I am developing, within me, an ever-present father figure who can help “Davey” feel understood, cared for, and accompanied. As I learn to love myself more fully, I also become further empowered to love, care for, and accompany others.

Although the first rush of self love can be dramatic in its intensity, the preparation is often gradual. At first, it may appear that nothing is happening. But just as water can hover at its boiling point for a long time while energy is still being applied, eventually a quantum change occurs. As the water is transformed into steam, the unloved places inside us can transform into something whole and beloved.

From Paths to Wholeness: Fifty-Two Flower Mandalas
PrintAmazon  –  BookBaby  –  B&N  – Books-a-Million
eBook: Kindle  – Nook  – iTunes  – Kobo

Also available:
52 (more) Flower Mandalas: An Adult Coloring Book for Inspiration and Stress Relief
52 Flower Mandalas: An Adult Coloring Book for Inspiration and Stress Relief
Paths to Wholeness: Selections (free eBook)

Follow me on:
Bloglovin’
StumbleUpon
Medium

Copyright 2017, David J. Bookbinder
http://www.transformationspress.org
http://www.davidbookbinder.com
http://www.flowermandalas.org

Posted in essay-flower-mandalas, Paths to Wholeness, Publication | 1 Comment

Balancer: Build Your Resilience in 6 Steps

Build Your Resilience in 6 Steps

 

In recent posts, I’ve talked mostly about ReBalancer, the force that kicks in when our default stabilizer, Balancer, gets thrown out of whack by the UnBalancer. ReBalancer handles out-of-the ordinary stresses, but ReBalancer alone can’t keep us on an even keel. For that, we need Balancer to be healthy and strong.

Balancer doesn’t ask us for much. Much like our immune systems, it chugs along on autopilot, making minor course corrections when needed. Only when it encounters something it can’t handle does it call on ReBalancer to provide assistance.

This Balancer/ReBalancer tag team works very well most of the time. But if Balancer is weakened through too much stress for too long, or was never very robust to begin with, we become much more vulnerable to UnBalancer. Then if Balancer gets overwhelmed by a sudden stressor (an accident, a death, a financial crisis, etc.), it may crash before ReBalancer can take over. Recovery from such crashes can take a long time, and if the crash is sufficiently severe, the damage can be permanent.

It’s always helpful to teach ReBalancer new tricks, such as Mini Self-Care, The Experiment, and other techniques described in earlier posts. But it’s equally important to deliberately strengthen Balancer itself. Just as we can help our immune systems to better handle assaults to our bodies, we can better equip Balancer for handling whatever UnBalancer throws our way.

To do that, we need to build Resilience.

Resilience is the ability to bounce back. In a physical object, it is elasticity, the tendency of an object to return to its original shape after it’s been deformed. In an ecosystem, it is the environment’s capacity to rebuild itself. In a person, it’s the ability to recover from shocks to our systems. Without sufficient resilience, we are overcome by obstacles in our path. With it, nothing can keep us down.

Resilience in materials is intrinsic, but in people it’s a dynamic quality. Like a muscle, resilience can be damaged by too much stress or can atrophy if neglected. But it also gets stronger with exercise.

Human resilience has two aspects: physical and psychological. Both are partly determined by nature, partly by nurture. Just as some people are born with greater resistance to disease, some of us show signs of greater psychological resilience even at very early ages. But the larger share of resilience is the product of our own efforts to build and maintain it.

In the Balancer/ReBalancer/UnBalancer framework, resilience is the property of Balancer that allows it to spontaneously recover from the negative effects of UnBalancer. Rather than calling in the troops for reinforcement, a resilient Balancer takes a momentary hit, adjusts to the impact, and bounces back, carrying us along with it.

When I was young, I was fascinated by the properties of natural and man-made materials. I still remember experimenting with the bounciness – the resilience – of round objects. I studied tennis balls, rubber balls, badminton balls, golf balls, glass marbles, ball bearings, always looking for something that could bounce higher than the last thing I tried. I ended this quest when I found, in the toy section of our local pharmacy, the Super Ball.

Super Balls, invented in 1964 by chemist Norman Stingly, are made from an amazingly elastic synthetic rubber called Zectron. When dropped, a Super Ball bounces nearly to the height from which it fell. When thrown down hard, it can easily bounce over a house.

In my therapy practice, I see many people whose resilience has been beaten down or in whom it was never sufficiently developed. They’re like worn-out tennis balls.

After we deal with the problems that brought them into therapy, much of our work together involves creating a more resilient approach to life, so they can transition from worn-out tennis ball to Super Ball.

These are the six main factors I’ve found that can build psychological resilience and keep Balancer on track:

  1. Creating a resilience-friendly environment
  2. Adopting growth-oriented attitude and a positive bias
  3. Bolstering support from individuals and systems
  4. Increasing emotional adaptability
  5. Practicing balance-enhancing activities
  6. Monitoring for signs of imbalance

1. Create a Resilience-Friendly Environment.

Stress is one of the most insidious challenges to building resilience. It can be a constant strain on Balancer, gradually wearing down its efficacy and slowing its response time.

Basic ways to reduce stress often recommended by therapists include changing your emotional relationship to the stressor and practicing stress reduction techniques such as meditation or coloring. But the most effective method is often to remove or change the stressor itself.

Begin resilience-building by evaluating your environment – your home, your car, your job, your relationships. Focus specifically on ways to reduce unnecessary stress. Jobs, schedules, or aspects of your home, neighborhood, relationships, or weekly routines that interfere with living a peaceful life are all candidates for stress-reducing changes.

Removable stressors can range from simple things, such as sharpening dull kitchen knives, creating a system so you don’t misplace your keys, or replacing a cell phone that keeps losing its charge, to more challenging ones like ending a toxic relationship or transitioning from the wrong job. Regardless of the source, though, the first question to ask yourself is, “Can this change?” and if the answer is “yes,” change it!

I encountered a striking example of the efficiency and effectiveness of removing the stressor several years ago. I was working with a bright, affable 12-year-old boy who, despite an obvious interest in learning, was always getting suspended from school. When I asked him about the events that led to his suspensions, I noticed that he always smiled when he talked about getting his teachers angry. I visited his home and discovered that he had an angry and imposing stepfather. Provoking his teachers was my young client’s way of dealing with his resentment toward his stepfather – he could provoke his teachers and they wouldn’t hit him, but his stepfather might.

A typical intervention in cases like this is family therapy, so with the family’s permission I returned a week later. My client lived in a house adjacent to his mother’s business, and there was a constant interchange between the two locations, affecting all members of the family in some way. During the session, I asked each family member to imagine what their lives would be like if they woke up the next day and all their problems were solved. The first thing each one said – even the five-year-old – was that they’d be living somewhere else. A month later, they moved, and very soon afterward, my 12-year-old client stopped acting out in school.

A related aspect of creating a safe, resilience-friendly environment involves “cat hairs.” When you find yourself overreacting to a comment, a tone of voice, or a situation, or you inexplicably feel sad, angry, jealous, or some other difficult emotion, you might have a problem with cat hairs.

Of course I don’t mean literal cat hairs.

The term “cat hair,” in this context, comes from an experiment with lab rats. Researchers wanted to see if rats are genetically programmed to fear cats. They placed several rat pups who had been exposed only to people and other rats – never to a cat – in a cage and monitored their playfulness for several days. The rats played together freely until the researchers took the smallest cat stimulus they could think of, a single cat hair, and dropped it into the center of the cage. Soon, the pups stopped playing and ran to the edges of the cage, trembling with fear.

After 24 hours, the researchers removed the cat hair. They continued monitoring the rat pups, but days later, the rats had not returned to their baseline playfulness. Where there had been a cat hair, the pups seemed to feel, there might still be a cat.

Fear and trauma can leave an indelible imprint on us, too. Our automatic fear-handling mechanism makes us prone to reacting to our “cat hairs” with fight/flight/freeze responses. Such triggered reactions can negatively affect our jobs, relationships, and many other aspects of our lives, cheating us out of a more full version of ourselves. Fortunately, we have more options than rats do for dealing with our “cat hairs.”

Reminders of traumatic experiences that trigger strong emotions can often be removed. Sometimes these are physical objects, but more often they are habitual actions. For example, if a certain phrase or tone spoken by a friend, relative, or romantic partner reminds you of a bad relationship or a difficult childhood, you can ask him or her to change it. Most people will comply with a request like this when it’s presented in context.

When cat hairs can’t be removed, we can learn to see them merely as hairs. If your emotional response seems stronger than the situation merits, ask yourself what triggered it. Did the triggering object, words, tone, or action really mean what you felt it did, or did it just stir something inside? Over time, triggers that we understand to be only triggers – not cats but merely cat hairs – they gradually become less threatening. Then we can use our fight/flight/freeze mechanism as designed, to protect ourselves from actual threats rather than reacting to cat hairs.

What to do:

  1. Notice what is causing increased stress or a triggered response. Simply paying attention to the feeling and looking at what caused it often provides some relief.
  2. Remove the stressor, when possible.
  3. Change your relationship to stressors that can’t be removed. For most of us, our attitudes toward stressors and the emotional responses they generate are more than half of the stress. Even triggered responses can be detoxified by changing our relationship to them.
  4. Accompany the stress or triggered response. Feelings that are pushed aside tend to stay stuck, frozen within us like an ant in amber. Feelings that are fully experienced soon become different feelings. Sadness can turn into acceptance. Anger can turn into understanding. Envy can become motivation.
  5. Develop self-soothing skills. When we are able to self-soothe, sometimes even the cat becomes just a kitten, purring on our laps. (More on self-soothing in Part 5.)

COMING NEXT: How to Adopt a Growth-Oriented Attitude
(and more!)

Related Posts:
The Under Toad and the UnBalancer
The Balancer/ReBalancer Tag Team
A Mini-Lesson on Mini Self-Care
Gyroscopes and Personal Flywheels
Hanging in the Balance
Balancing the Books
The Experiment
How to Design an Experiment
Build Your Resilience in 6 Steps

Books:
From Paths to Wholeness: Fifty-Two Flower Mandalas
“Maybe our attempt to ‘change the world’ didn’t die with the ’60s after all. Maybe it is alive, in its own form, in the generation that succeeded us. Maybe what we planted still grows and we shall all, one day, reap its harvest.”
– “Change”
PrintAmazon  –  BookBaby  –  B&N  – Books-a-Million
eBook: Kindle  – Nook  – iTunes  – Kobo

Also available:
52 (more) Flower Mandalas: An Adult Coloring Book for Inspiration and Stress Relief
52 Flower Mandalas: An Adult Coloring Book for Inspiration and Stress Relief
Paths to Wholeness: Selections (free eBook)

Follow me on:
Bloglovin’
StumbleUpon
Medium

Copyright 2017, David J. Bookbinder
http://www.transformationspress.org
http://www.davidbookbinder.com
http://www.flowermandalas.org

Posted in Balance, Copyright, essay-balance, Publication, technique | Leave a comment

Balance: How to Design an Experiment

IMPORTANT: If you’re just tuning in now, click here for Part I, Balance: The Experiment and then come back here. This is Part II of a two-parter on using Experiments to keep your life on track. 

How to Design an Experiment

Like any experimenter, when our ReBalancers design Experiments, they follow a sequence of steps. The implementation may be spontaneous or deliberate, but the steps are basically the same either way.

  1. Observe the current situation to see what needs to change. Examples: a) My motorcycle’s valves need adjustment or the engine will be damaged. b) Current ulcer treatment doesn’t really work. c) My life is a mess.
  2. Develop a hypothesis about how to implement change. Examples: a) If I use a system like my brother did, maybe I can learn from failed attempts. b) Ulcers may be caused by a pathogen that can survive in stomach acid. c) If I ask for help, I may get it.
  3. Test the hypothesis with an Experiment. Identify a small, experimental action that can test the hypothesis, where the success or failure of the action is not of major consequence, but The Experiment is still significant enough to bring all the relevant factors to bear. Examples: a) Bend a feeler gauge. b) Try infecting myself with H. pylori. c) Ask a guy at McDonalds if I can share his table.
  4. Evaluate the outcome. If things move in a desired direction, do more of what worked. If not, see what you can learn to further clarify the problem, then design a new Experiment that incorporates the new data. Examples: a) Try the valve-adjustment approach on the other valves. b) See if antibiotics that are effective on H. pylori-caused gastritis can also cure ulcers. c) Ask for help again.
  5. Repeat steps 1 – 4 on an increasingly significant scale until the new behavior is part of who you are, folded into your personal Balancer.

The best Experiments are typically ones we feel some anxiety about trying, or that we have been putting off, but which, when we do them, give us a sense of progress. They are large enough to matter, but not so daunting that they are too scary to attempt. And the very best are those that we feel good about just for doing them, regardless of the outcome.

Mistaken Beliefs and Experimental Attitudes

In the personal transformation realm, Experiments are most useful when they test Mistaken Beliefs we hold about who we are and how we are permitted to interact in the world. These beliefs are formed when we’re too young to know they may be inaccurate. They function like a hypnotic spell, often unconsciously limiting our actions as long as we remain under their influence.

Mistaken Beliefs are one of UnBalancer’s basic strategies for keeping us down. Unlike acute causes such as an accident or other misfortune, Mistaken Beliefs act continuously, artificially limiting our potential, keeping us smaller than we need to be. The young artist in the example above believed, mistakenly, that there was no point in asking for help. I believed, mistakenly, that if I couldn’t solve a motorcycle problem on the first try, it was beyond my abilities. Bill Murray’s character believed, mistakenly, that his arrogance and selfishness were appealing to women.

The Experiment is one of ReBalancer’s best tools for breaking such spells. And when repeated Experiments become part of Balancer’s everyday repertoire, the result is liberation. Life itself becomes an ongoing Experiment, and we live in the present. Instead of conforming to the limits of past patterns, we just do, see what happens, and adjust our view of reality accordingly, free from the manacles of Mistaken Beliefs. (More on Mistaken Beliefs in another post.)

The Experiment is one of the most potent tools in ReBalancer’s toolbox. Unlike techniques and strategies for handling specific difficulties UnBalancer might throw at us, The Experiment gives ReBalancer the power to craft new strategies on the fly whenever new challenges occur.

These new strategies, once created, cannot be uncreated. They are always there, ready whenever we need them. And consistently doing Experiments leads to an experimental attitude, enabling us to feel confident that we can handle whatever unknowns life (and UnBalancer) hands us with curiosity, resourcefulness, and equanimity.

Related Posts:
The Under Toad and the UnBalancer
The Balancer/ReBalancer Tag Team
A Mini-Lesson on Mini Self-Care
Gyroscopes and Personal Flywheels
Hanging in the Balance
Balancing the Books
The Experiment
How to Design an Experiment

Books:
From Paths to Wholeness: Fifty-Two Flower Mandalas
“If there is one main factor that divides those of us who do not change from those who do, I think it is acceptance: of who we are, how we got to where we are, and that we – and only we – have the power to free ourselves.”
– “Acceptance”
PrintAmazon  –  BookBaby  –  B&N  – Books-a-Million
eBook: Kindle  – Nook  – iTunes  – Kobo

Also available:
52 (more) Flower Mandalas: An Adult Coloring Book for Inspiration and Stress Relief
52 Flower Mandalas: An Adult Coloring Book for Inspiration and Stress Relief
Paths to Wholeness: Selections (free eBook)

Follow me on:
Bloglovin’
StumbleUpon
Medium

Copyright 2017, David J. Bookbinder
http://www.transformationspress.org
http://www.davidbookbinder.com
http://www.flowermandalas.org

Posted in Balance, Copyright, essay-balance, Publication | Leave a comment

Balance: The Experiment

NOTE: This is a first draft of a book chapter. Responses, corrections, and any other observations are welcome, either via email or, preferably, as comments on this post.

Balance: The Experiment

“We’ve never seen anything like this!” shouts the general to his cadre in the crowded Situation Room.

An alien menace has humanity at its mercy. Nothing in our mighty arsenal has any effect against it. We will be dominated or destroyed within days … unless we apply Yankee ingenuity, create experiments that reveal our nemesis’s vulnerabilities, and find a way to exploit them.

The unknown enemy and the heroic victory against it has appeared in countless science fiction stories. The plot’s turning point is always an Experiment. The Experiment is also, often, the key to our own victories against the depredations of UnBalancer, the collection of forces that collude to prey upon our sense of equilibrium.

We all started out as experimenters. Beginning in infancy, Experiments are how we learn about ourselves, the world, and the way things work. What happens if I close my hand around my foot and pull? What if I tug on my mother’s hair? What if I put that in my mouth?

Unfortunately, like the hapless generals in science fiction stories, we often lose track of our experimental attitude as social conditioning insidiously snuffs it out.

Many of us learned to stop experimenting before we left elementary school. Instead of continuing our own explorations, we were taught to look to others and to existing methodologies for ways to deal with our problems. Sometimes this tactic works fine – it’s not always necessary to reinvent the wheel! But when existing solutions fail us and we can’t maintain equilibrium, we need to learn how to experiment again.

ReBalancer and The Experiment

Most of the time, a semi-automatic response system I call Balancer monitors our thoughts, feelings, and actions so we can maintain equilibrium. When this semi-automatic system can’t deal with a situation, Balancer starts to tilt, and we tilt along with it. Then ReBalancer, an auxiliary system, kicks in.

ReBalancer is Balancer’s Chief of Staff. When UnBalancer rages and Balancer tilts, klaxons sound – ReBalancer’s cue to take over the helm. But before ReBalancer can act, it has to determine what the problem is and whether it has the means to resolve it. The need for an Experiment arises either when the problem is unfamiliar, or when there is no existing method to solve it.

ReBalancer goes through a decision tree algorithm:

  1. QUESTION: Have I seen this problem before?
  2. IF YES, THEN: Do I have a method to handle it?
  3. IF YES, THEN: Use that method to beat back UnBalancer.
  4. OTHERWISE: Gather data and conduct an Experiment.

The goals of ReBalancer’s Experiments are similar to those of scientists and the heroes of science fiction movies. An Experiment provides new data that generates insights into the nature of a problem, and from those insights come new potential solutions. How long this takes to solve a problem depends on the problem itself and on ReBalancer’s skill in designing and implementing Experiments.

The Power of The Experiment

Without Experiments, ReBalancer (and we) are stuck in a loop, trying to solve new problems with old solutions, a formula for failure.

The Bill Murray film Groundhog Day is a textbook example of the power of The Experiment. When the movie starts, Murray’s arrogant weatherman character, Phil Connors, is eager to get together with his producer, Rita Hanson, played by Andie MacDowell, but he’s far too much of a jerk for her to respond. After a day of filming together in Punxsutawney, PA, on February 2nd, Phil inexplicably wakes up to an exact repetition of the previous day. He’s trapped in a time loop, living Groundhog Day again and again.

Phil’s fate seems sealed until, after many iterations of that day, he decides to Experiment. By applying what he’s learned from previous repetitions and seeing what changes, he learns to grow emotionally, becomes more aware of the needs of others, and work to improve the lives of the townspeople. After many repetitions, he’s become someone worthy of Rita’s attention. The next morning, he awakens on February 3rd, freed from his time loop, a transformed and more authentic version of himself. Score: ReBalancer 1, UnBalancer 0.

Another example comes from the annals of medicine. For decades, the medical establishment maintained that stomach ulcers were caused by stress, spicy foods, and too much stomach acid, and they were treated – ineffectively – with bland diets, antacids, and acid reducers. In 1982, two Australian doctors hypothesized that ulcers were actually caused by the bacterium H. pylori. Because an entrenched ulcer-medication industry was invested in the ineffective treatments of the day, these doctors (who years later were awarded the Nobel Prize for their discovery) couldn’t get permission to test their hypothesis on patients. So one of them, Barry Marshall, conducted his own Experiment: He drank the contents of a Petri dish infected with H. pylori.

Within two weeks, Marshall developed severe gastritis, a precursor to ulcers. Then he quickly cured himself with antibiotics known to be effective against H. pylori. Marshall’s Experiment completely transformed ulcer management. Marshall commented, “Everyone was against me, but I knew I was right.” Score: ReBalancer 1, UnBalancer 0.

My own life has been a series of Experiments that shifted me in ways I needed to shift. Sometimes an Experiment started something new. The Flower Mandalas that accompany my book Paths to Wholeness: Fifty-Two Flower Mandalas, for instance, began as an Experiment. For several months I’d been using a photo editor to transform photos of clouds, rocks, wood, and other subjects into mandala-like images. Then one day I spotted a dandelion seedhead and photographed it. A few days later, looking at it on my computer monitor, I wondered what would happen if I “mandalized” something that was already mandala-like. From this Experiment came my first Flower Mandala, the Flower Mandalas book, and the blossoming of a new way for me to see.

Experiments have also helped me overcome fear and expand my abilities. Sometimes these expansions have been specific to a particular situation, but often they have led to a more general, permanent change. Here’s the “before” and “after” of a recent Experiment in motorcycle maintenance:

Before The Experiment: Back in the ’70s, motorcycle maintenance was an integral part of motorcycling for me. When I returned to riding a few years ago, after a 33-year hiatus, I wanted to recapture that aspect of the experience. My skills, however, were as rusty as my 1972 Yamaha Twin. Simple tasks like changing the oil or cleaning the carburetor were scary, and when I encountered an unfamiliar problem, I often panicked. If something didn’t work the first time, I’d repeat it with increasing force and a feeling of urgency, hoping against hope that what hadn’t worked the first time would do the trick the second, third, or fourth. The net effect was broken parts, expensive repairs, and deepening discouragement. Score: UnBalancer 1, ReBalancer 0.

The Experiment: Though I didn’t know it at the time, what I needed to restore emotional balance (and maintain my bike) was an experimental attitude. A valve-adjustment Experiment turned that around.

My bike’s four valves need adjusting every 5,000 miles. When I looked up the procedure in the repair manual, manipulating a feeler gauge, a wrench, and a screw driver in the cramped space available seemed daunting. So on a family visit to Syracuse, ReBalancer kicked in and I asked my brother Mark for help. Mark is a mechanical engineer and motorcycle instructor with more than 40 years experience, and he has an engineer’s confidence that if one man can design a piece of machinery, another can maintain it.

On his first try, Mark couldn’t get the feeler gauge in place. My body tensed up, ready to panic again, but Mark just paused, thought about what he’d learned from this attempt, and conducted an Experiment, bending the feeler gauge so it more easily reached the gap. This got him closer, but there was still a problem with the adjustment nut. So he stepped back again and designed a new Experiment, switching to an angled wrench. By the third Experiment, he got it, and he quickly adjusted the remaining valves.

After the Experiment: Since then, I’ve incorporated The Experiment into my own motorcycle maintenance practice, regaining not only the mechanical agility I left behind in 1979 but also a deeper sense of self-confidence. Score: ReBalancer 1, UnBalancer 0.

The psychotherapy treatment room is a laboratory for Experiments. I have witnessed many clients make Experiments that empower them to tackle the much larger challenges they face. Clients ask: What if I were to test this limit, take steps down that path, plunge into these waters? Over time, they become emboldened to do what their parents, teachers, or peers had convinced them was impossible.

One young client detested writing assignments. He hated school and believed that his teacher wanted him to write essays that showed how much he liked it. To redirect his helpless rage, we experimented with using irony and sarcasm. He was thrilled to discover that his teacher had no idea that the conventional-seeming sentiments he was expressing were the opposite of what he actually believed.

The idea for this Experiment had come from one I’d inadvertently conducted in college. By the time I got to James Joyce, I had started to hate literary criticism. In a paper on Joyce’s Ulysses, I imitated the critics I was reading by homing in on a trivial point in the book and exhaustively supporting it with obscure footnotes from the text. Unlike my client’s fourth-grade teacher, my professor saw through me. He said that what he most enjoyed about the paper was my relentlessly negative attitude toward the assignment – but he gave it an A+ anyway and suggested I clean it up and send it to the James Joyce Quarterly. Score: ReBalancer 1, UnBalancer 0.

A more striking Experiment was executed by an art student I worked with several years ago. His life was a mess, fraught with addiction, depression, dysfunctional relationships, and a hostile and unsupportive family. He needed more help than he could get from counseling alone, but he’d learned from childhood experience not to ask for it. So we devised an Experiment: He would, at least once in the next week, ask for help in a situation where normally he would remain silent.

On a windy, bitterly cold afternoon a couple of days later, he stopped at a McDonald’s for a hamburger and coffee. Looking around, he saw that all the tables were occupied. He buttoned up and was about to eat his burger outside in the biting wind when he remembered The Experiment. Instead of leaving with his food, he asked a young man sitting alone at a table for four if he could join him. The young man said “yes,” and my client and he had a lively, animated lunch together.

This small Experiment was a turning point. My client realized not only that he could ask for help, but also that when he did, he was likely to get it. Over the course of the school year, he received assistance and advice from several sources and was able to quit using drugs, leave a job where his coworkers expected him to be the “party boy,” return to making art, and resolve major issues with his family. Even his lover quit drinking and drugging. Score: ReBalancer 1, UnBalancer 0.

COMING SOON: How to Design an Experiment

P.S. I’m still experimenting with ways to lower the price of Paths to Wholeness: Fifty-Two Flower Mandalas. The “price war” started by third-party sellers is over, and so is Amazon’s discount. The book is now permanently on sale, by me, for $31 + $3.99 shipping, the lowest price I can sell it for. To get that price, click the “New from” link under the main “Paperback $40” price on Amazon and select the first Transformations Press entry.

Related Posts:
The Under Toad and the UnBalancer
The Balancer/ReBalancer Tag Team
A Mini-Lesson on Mini Self-Care
Gyroscopes and Personal Flywheels
Hanging in the Balance
Balancing the Books
The Experiment

Books:
Paths to Wholeness: Fifty-Two Flower Mandalas
PrintAmazon  –  BookBaby  –  B&N  – Books-a-Million
eBook: Kindle  – Nook  – iTunes  – Kobo

Also available:
52 (more) Flower Mandalas: An Adult Coloring Book for Inspiration and Stress Relief
52 Flower Mandalas: An Adult Coloring Book for Inspiration and Stress Relief
Paths to Wholeness: Selections (free eBook)

Follow me on:
Bloglovin’
StumbleUpon
Medium

Copyright 2017, David J. Bookbinder
http://www.transformationspress.org
http://www.davidbookbinder.com
http://www.flowermandalas.org

Posted in Balance, Copyright, essay-balance, Publication | Leave a comment

Balance: My Life in the Balance

NOTE: This is a guest post by Barrie Levine. If you are interested in doing a guest post on Balance or a related topic, please email me at david@davidbookbinder.com.

My Life in the Balance

by Barrie Levine

During the two tough years of my husband’s illness, I lost my balance. Every consideration in my life was laser-focused on his well-being. I never doubted the vital importance of my full-time role as a caregiver; in fact, I considered it a gift to accompany my husband as I always had in our marriage, this time (sadly) on the journey to the end of his life. He would have done exactly the same for me. In his acceptance of me as his caregiver, I felt his ultimate trust in me as his life’s partner.

In the triage of action, necessity, and balance, the immediate casualty was balance. I let go of everything that was unconnected to the mission at hand. Nothing else mattered, no one else’s needs, certainly not mine. I was intent on doing everything humanly possible to keep my husband out of a nursing home where he would, I feared, be heavily drugged or restrained to manage his unpredictable behavior. My support system of compassionate friends and family made this possible.

I drew upon every ounce of my strength to be patient, loving, and physically strong, and to keep him oriented, safe, and calm. As his condition worsened, my efforts became futile; dangerous times began in earnest. When he tried to exit our moving vehicle on Route 128, the looming crisis I had hoped to delay finally made itself known, on this day, in this way.

When my beloved husband died in hospice on December 2013, I lost my bearings. My life-long career was in shambles. My husband’s beauty salon was shut down. My elderly Mom was in a nursing home. Many of the sympathetic mourners got on with their lives and assumed I was doing the same, checking in less frequently. I couldn’t fall asleep before two in the morning but woke up at dawn nevertheless. My adult children needed me to recall memories of our family life together to help them heal, buckets of tears always accompanied the telling. I attended loss of partner or spouse bereavement meetings where the participants bonded in shock and pain. My everyday life did not seem real to me. I felt as if I had died too and had entered a world that made no sense at all.

Yet, I wanted to find a reason to get up everyday. I didn’t know exactly what that reason could be. And if I got up, I had to stand steadily on two feet. At first it was intentional every step of the way: swing my legs out of the bed and on to the floor; stand up straight; eat a decent breakfast; walk out the door, even if I had to shovel the snow. But, where in the world to go? I remembered the Senior Community Center in the next town where I had attended a weekly Caregivers Support Group. In those two years, I sometimes peeked into the gym to watch the exercise class in progress. This time I walked in.

I took a place in the back row and followed the instructor’s directions robotically: “Stand on one leg, focus on something in the room, anything that’s not moving, let go of the chair. Switch legs and repeat. Hold on to the chair for safety, if needed.” My body moved, but my heart and mind were numb. I told myself, “You don’t need to focus laser-like on the needs of another human being for 703 days and nights. Just focus on ONE SIMPLE THING. Stay with it at all costs. Finish the class. Then you can leave.”

After a few weeks, I noticed voices of classmates directed at me: “Hi, how’s it going, do you like the class, you’re new here, welcome.” I responded politely, shared the morning experience, then ventured to ask others how they were doing in return. My flexibility and balance started to improve, once I paid attention more mindfully to the moves and stances.

When balancing on one leg, I realized that my muscles were not just holding a position stiffly but were in constant internal and what felt like dynamic movement, making split second ongoing changes to accommodate my position. If one foot was in tandem with the other, then both legs worked actively in unison to achieve stability. If I closed my eyes as directed, considerable inner focus was required to maintain steadiness. Not counting the days or the weeks as the winter moved on, I realized to my surprise that I did not have to hold on to the back of the chair anymore for dear life. I figured out that balance did not just mean “standing still and not falling.” My balance was a force within me, and if it kept changing, I would change, and my life would change too.

In the Spring of 2014, I visited my son and his family in Israel for a month. The years of caregiving and months of intense grief had left me profoundly exhausted. I slept in a single bed in a single room with a single window overlooking the side of a steep and stony hill. If ever I envisioned what a physical place of healing looked like, this would be it.

When I returned home and to the exercise class, various people came up to me to ask, “Are you okay, where have you been, were you sick, we missed you, good to see you again.” I didn’t know their names yet, there were several dozens in the class. These were people who did not know my husband or me, the suffering of his last two years, or the journey that was in store for me, grieving a husband in one year and losing my mother the next year.

The many sincere expressions of concern for me, a newcomer, from new people in my new life, felt like blessings washing over me, freely and generously. Like Blanche Dubois, I was open to admitting that “I have always depended on the kindness of strangers.” Moved to tears, I fled to the ladies’ room and wept, this time not for my husband, but for me.

Copyright 2017, Barrie Levine

Related Posts:
The Under Toad and the UnBalancer
The Balancer/ReBalancer Tag Team
A Mini-Lesson on Mini Self-Care
Gyroscopes and Personal Flywheels
Hanging in the Balance
Balancing the Books
My Life in the Balance

Books: Paths to Wholeness: Fifty-Two Flower Mandalas
PrintAmazon  –  BookBaby  –  B&N  – Books-a-Million
eBook: Kindle  – Nook  – iTunes  – Kobo

Also available:
52 (more) Flower Mandalas: An Adult Coloring Book for Inspiration and Stress Relief
52 Flower Mandalas: An Adult Coloring Book for Inspiration and Stress Relief
Paths to Wholeness: Selections (free eBook)

Follow me on:
Bloglovin’
StumbleUpon
Medium

http://www.transformationspress.org
http://www.davidbookbinder.com
http://www.flowermandalas.org

 

Posted in Balance, Copyright, essay-balance | Leave a comment

“Crazy” Amazon book sale

Quick note: $14.66 Amazon price drop

Setting up Transformations Press as an Amazon seller seems to have triggered a little price war on Amazon:

Amazon.com itself is now selling the print version of Paths to Wholeness for $25.34 and it’s eligible for Amazon Prime free shipping! Normally, Amazon sells it for $40.

I don’t know how long they will keep it at that price, but if you have been holding off buying the book because of the cost and would like a copy, this is probably as low as it will go.

Here’s the link: https://www.amazon.com/dp/0984699406

Thanks!
David

Posted in Copyright, Paths to Wholeness, Publication | Leave a comment

Balance: Hanging in the Balance

NOTE: This is a first draft of what will eventually be a chapter in a book. Responses, corrections, and any other observations are welcome, either via email or, preferably, as comments on this post.

Hanging in the Balance

There once was a Zen monk who, while walking across a field, encountered a ferocious tiger. The tiger chased the monk across the field until he reached the edge of a high cliff. The monk’s only chance was to grab a vine that grew at the cliff’s edge and lower himself out of the tiger’s reach. As the monk hung from the vine, he saw that below him, another tiger was waiting. He also noticed two mice starting to gnaw on the vine.

What could the monk do now?

Although few of us are literally pursued by tigers above and tigers below, most of us have to deal with one of UnBalancer’s chief confederates, Uncertainty. And if we haven’t yet, we will soon enough.

NOTE: “Confederate” is the term I’m using for the accomplices of UnBalancer. Besides Uncertainty, these include unbalancers such as Entropy, Chance, Illness, Accident, Loss, Misfortune, Obliviousness, Fear, Greed, Distrust, Anger, Hatred, Doubt, Jealousy, or any of the myriad external and internal forces that can knock us out of alignment.

We’re uncertain about what will happen in our relationships, the economy, the climate; how people see us; how an undertaking will go; how our children will do in school, and in life; what will become of us as we age. And no matter who we are and what we have accomplished, we are uncertain about our own end – when it will occur, what will cause it, whether we will suffer, how we will be remembered, what will happen afterward. The only thing we can really be certain of is Uncertainty.

For many of us, Uncertainty is the biggest threat to Balance of all UnBalancer’s confederates. Unlike the more acute unbalancers, Uncertainty isn’t a sudden blow to our internal gyroscopes that makes us tilt, after which we go through a recovery process and move on. Instead, it can feel like a constant pressure, pushing us steadily down; one that, if it goes on long enough, with enough force, grinds our bearings into grit.

Some years ago, I moved a several hundred books and vinyl records from Buffalo to Boston, filling not only the trunk but also the front and back seats of my car with heavy boxes. By the time I got close to home, I could hear a low whine from the left rear of my car, near where the heaviest box, my record collection, sat. Within days, the car began to rumble. Then it screamed. The constant weight had worn out that wheel bearing. Uncertainty can be like that.

Many of us try to combat Uncertainty by creating an illusion of certainty. We anticipate a worst-case or best-case scenario and pretend it’s real, though it’s only a shadow on a wall. When we cling to the best case, we may fail to strive for the best outcome. When we dread the worst case, we become hypervigilant, seeing only signs of catastrophe. Our projections enable us to sidestep Uncertainty, but at a sometimes terrible cost in ignorance and anxiety.

Others follow the adage, “Hope for the best but expect the worst.” We keep up a positive attitude, but we also steel ourselves for disaster. We keep our spare tires inflated, save for a rainy day, buy bread and bottled water when the forecast calls for snow, back up our computers, purchase long-term care insurance, and in this way hope to keep Uncertainty at bay.

Some of us go one better and create multiple backup plans. Like good Boy Scouts, our motto is “Be prepared.” My father, a Boy Scout leader for many years, lived by this credo. He had duplicates, and in some cases triplicates, of all the vital parts of the devices in our house … just in case. Stacked beside his workbench were two or three replacement motors for the washing machine and the dryer. Shelves in a nearby closet overflowed with duplicate faucets, belts, hoses, clamps, fasteners, and other spare parts. We could have stocked a small hardware store with all that stuff. Yet none of these backups were a bulwark against his failing heart.

These typical Balancer strategies for getting us through the anxiety of Uncertainty are sometimes effective. But often, optimism, hypervigilance, platitudes, and even backup plans aren’t enough.

That’s when the gleam appears in UnBalancer’s eyes.

Fortunately, we have more than Balancer’s standard operating procedures to help us handle Uncertainty. Just as UnBalancer has its Confederates, so Balancer has its Allies.

I introduced ReBalancer in a previous post. When Balancer starts to tilt, its first line of defense is ReBalancer, its Chief of Staff. Sometimes ReBalancer, drawing on its storehouse of tools, techniques, and strategies, is equal to the task. But in the face of a powerful combatant like Uncertainty, it may also need to call in other members of Balancer’s cadre.

Balancer’s Allies include Acceptance, Logic, Intuition, Common Sense, Gratitude, Moderation, Patience, Perseverance, Support, and the many other internal and external resources that can help restore equilibrium.

I’ve written elsewhere about using Acceptance and also about what the Romantic poet John Keats called Negative Capability. These are among Balancer’s more powerful Allies. But when the tigers are above and the tigers are below, and the mice are gnawing on your vine, you need to pull out all the stops and call in UnBalancer’s ultimate Ally.

That Ally is Presence.

Let’s return to the monk hanging from his cliff:

As the vine began to give way, with death imminent, the monk also saw a ripe wild strawberry growing on the cliff wall. Clutching the vine with one hand, he plucked the strawberry with the other. He put it in his mouth. “This lovely strawberry,” he thought. “How sweet it tastes.”

In my own life, I’ve faced uncertainties small and large, and so have my friends, family members, and therapy clients. Those who deal most effectively with potentially paralyzing Uncertainty respond very differently than those who succumb. Instead of catastrophizing, exhausting their energy on worry and backup plans, or escaping from their fears with alcohol, drugs, or distraction, they turn their focus to the present. They remain alert to whatever they must do to try to ensure a desired outcome, but they are also fully engaged in everything else in their lives.

Rather than putting their lives on hold when faced with uncertain health, an uncertain relationship, or an uncertain political or economic time, those who vanquish Uncertainty savor the life they have, in each moment. They know that whatever they are uncertain of will, in time, become a certainty, but they are in no hurry to get there. They eat the wild strawberry growing on the cliff wall. They are fully present, and Uncertainty has no power over Presence.

There are everyday examples of this practice, and there are dramatic ones. One particularly striking example comes to mind: the case of Jean-Dominique Bauby.

Bauby, a Parisian journalist and magazine editor, was stricken, at age 43, with a massive stroke that put him into a coma for 20 days. When he awoke, he was completely aware and alert but also nearly paralyzed, able only to swivel his head slightly and to blink his left eye. He was locked in a body with almost no way to communicate his thoughts, feelings, and needs to the outside world. Miraculously, we know what happened to him because he wrote a book about his experiences, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly: A Memoir of Life in Death, from inside this locked-in state.

He wrote his book literally one letter at a time, blinking his left eye while a transcriber recited the French alphabet in order of letter frequency, recording a character when Bauby blinked to indicate his choice. Each word took about two minutes to write and the entire book took 200,000 blinks.

It’s been almost 20 years since I read Bauby’s book, but the contrast between his external and inner worlds is still vivid. I remember, for example, his experience of food. Bauby had been something of a connoisseur and he’d enjoyed many fine meals. After his stroke, he was fed through tubes, perhaps never to eat again. The tiger above and the tiger below. So instead, he “ate” like a king by recalling past meals and rearranging them in his mind.

Although Bauby remained completely aware of his surroundings, he lived mainly in his imagination. He found ways to have a full and meaningful life in what most of us would consider unendurable conditions. “My diving bell becomes less oppressive,” he wrote, “and my mind takes flight like a butterfly. There is so much to do. You can wander off in space or in time, set out for Tierra del Fuego or for King Midas’s court. You can visit the woman you love, slide down beside her and stroke her still-sleeping face. You can build castles in Spain, steal the Golden Fleece, discover Atlantis, realize your childhood dreams and adult ambitions.” Like the Zen monk in our story, he found the strawberry and savored it, dealing with the terror and Uncertainty of his fate by seizing each moment.

Bauby died from pneumonia two days after his book was published. The Diving Bell and the Butterfly sold 25,000 copies on the first day, became the number one bestseller in Europe, and was later made into a well-received film.

Often, we think we are on one path only to find, somewhere down the line, that we have actually been on another without knowing it. We are rattled, and until we become present to the life we are now in, we can dwell in a branch of purgatory managed by Uncertainty. But once we see that this path is, simply, another path, we are free to take in everything that we find along its way. We hold onto the vine and reach for the strawberry and see how sweet it tastes.

More anon,
David
David J. Bookbinder

P.S. I’m experimenting with ways to lower the price of the print version of my book Paths to Wholeness: Fifty-Two Flower Mandalas. Third-party sellers on Amazon seem to be engaged in an automated price war, gradually driving the cost down one penny at a time, so I have become a kind of third-party seller myself, as Transformations Press. I can’t match the discount available to these large third-party sellers, but I have dropped the price from $40 to $28.50 plus shipping. To get that price, click the “New from” link under the main “Paperback $40” price and select the first Transformations Press entry. Order the book from there and I’ll send it to you at the discounted price.

Related Posts:
The Under Toad and the UnBalancer
The Balancer/ReBalancer Tag Team
A Mini-Lesson on Mini Self-Care
Gyroscopes and Personal Flywheels
Hanging in the Balance
Balancing the Books

Books: Paths to Wholeness: Fifty-Two Flower Mandalas
PrintAmazon  –  BookBaby  –  B&N  – Books-a-Million
eBook: Kindle  – Nook  – iTunes  – Kobo

Also available:
52 (more) Flower Mandalas: An Adult Coloring Book for Inspiration and Stress Relief
52 Flower Mandalas: An Adult Coloring Book for Inspiration and Stress Relief
Paths to Wholeness: Selections (free eBook)

Follow me on:
Bloglovin’
StumbleUpon
Medium

Copyright 2017, David J. Bookbinder
http://www.transformationspress.org
http://www.davidbookbinder.com
http://www.flowermandalas.org

Posted in Balance, Copyright, essay-balance, Publication | Leave a comment

Balance: The Balancer/ReBalancer Tag Team

The Balancer/ReBalancer Tag Team

Last week, I wrote about the UnBalancer.

As powerful as UnBalancer is, and as insidious as it can be, each of us has two powerful allies to help us counteract it. One of them is Balancer.

Like UnBalancer, Balancer has been difficult to define. I’m only beginning to understand its totality. It’s not only Awareness, though Awareness is certainly one of its components. It’s not just Mindfulness, either, though Mindfulness can be a powerful aid in maintaining balance. Nor is it fully defined by Logic, Intuition, Common Sense, Moderation, Resilience, or any of the other functions that help us maintain equilibrium most of the time.

Balancer is, I believe, much like the immune system, which automatically monitors our internal and external environments and correctly sorts out, most of the time, what’s us and what’s not, what’s good for us and what isn’t. Or like the pancreas, which in a healthy body automatically regulates, most of the time, the balance of sugar and insulin that is essential for survival.

For many of us, Balancer does a pretty good job handling routine stress levels. It deals with assaults such as minor illnesses, disappointments, bad weather, a too-short night or a too-long day. When these events occur, Balancer automatically compensates, much as a gyroscope can right itself when it’s nudged one way or another.

But if the stress is too much or too long, Balancer can be overpowered, and we start to tilt. That’s when the other ally, Balancer’s more deliberate partner, ReBalancer, fires its retro rockets.

Unlike Balancer, ReBalancer doesn’t automatically engage. It’s a consciously activated composite of the tools, techniques, actions, and supports we’ve acquired so we can restabilize when UnBalancer pushes us too hard, too suddenly, or for too long.

When Balancer fails to maintain equilibrium, ReBalancer can save the day. But ReBalancer can come to the rescue if, and only if, three factors are in place:

1. We let ReBalancer know we need its help
2. ReBalancer is ready to be called into action
3. ReBalancer has the skills needed to handle the situation

The stakes are high for maintaining balance. In my own life, I see numerous examples of UnBalancer getting the better of Balancer. Sometimes ReBalancer came to my aid, but when I was too slow in calling on it, or it wasn’t up to the task, things went south, sometimes permanently.

A couple of examples:

On a physical level, UnBalancer got the upper hand with Type II diabetes. I was diagnosed with the disease ten years ago, but it began as a reversible pre-diabetes a decade earlier, when I started to display the early warning signs: high cholesterol and triglycerides, high blood pressure, episodes of low blood sugar, and a bit of fat around the middle. My body was already out of balance. Calling on ReBalancer would have been a good move, but neither I nor my doctor took my symptoms seriously enough until I was past the point of no return.

Type II diabetes is typical of the Balancer/UnBalancer duel. Because of a combination of genetic and lifestyle factors, the body becomes resistant to the effects of insulin, which normally transports glucose into fat and muscle cells. The pancreas compensates by creating enough insulin to overpower the resistance, but the high insulin levels make the body more insulin-resistant. In a self-destructive cycle that continues for years, the body grows increasingly insulin-resistant and the pancreas pushes itself harder to compensate. By the time pre-diabetes symptoms begin to show, the glucose/insulin metabolism is already close to a tipping point, but nothing clearly screams “Look out! Diabetes on the way!” until it is too late to prevent it. Score one for UnBalancer!

Had I or my doctors been more astute, we would have put ReBalancer into action, creating an exercise and diet program to reverse my symptoms. If I had then incorporated ReBalancer’s program into Balancer’s repertoire, I may have prevented the insulin-producing cells from wearing out.

Another, more recent example is, like diabetes, common in the United States: too much work, not enough downtime, leading to burnout.

As a psychotherapist in private practice, I try to maintain a consistent number of clients. When people leave therapy, I take on new clients until my case load is where I want it. Then I stop until I have more openings. Balancer monitors my schedule and makes sure I don’t see too few clients or add too many.

Sometimes, though, a major world or local event shakes people up and brings many former clients back into therapy. Balancer can usually accommodate a few extra clients, but if I continue to add more, the work/downtime balance tips too far in the work direction. I love my work; it has felt like a calling, and one I gladly answered. But too much of a good thing is still … too much.

The brutal 2014-2015 winter, which broke Boston’s all-time seasonal snowfall record, took its toll not only on the local economy, but also the local psyche. Every week for 14 weeks, former clients, some of whom I hadn’t seen in years, called, emailed, and texted, asking to resume therapy. And because I had a policy of never turning away a former client, I accepted them. All of them.

Balancer’s scheduling arm tried to compensate. It filled gaps in my day normally devoted to paperwork with clients and pushed the paperwork off to the weekend. It added appointment hours first to the end and then to the beginning of one workday, and eventually added extra hours to all five.

While the scheduling arm handled those arrangements, another Balancer arm adjusted the rest of my life. First, it made more efficient use of non-work time. Then, as the clients kept coming, it cut out downtime, eliminating recreational activities, time with friends, and finally basic activities such as meal preparation, house cleaning, car maintenance, and sleep.

You can see where this is going, but I couldn’t. Balancer was too busy balancing, doing its valiant best to let me carry on.

Weeks turned into months, and clients I thought had come for a brief tune-up stayed for a new therapy run, while others continued to arrive. By the time the buds were on the trees I drove past on the way to my office, I was too tired and too wired on caffeine to notice.

UnBalancer was in charge and, to paraphrase William Butler Yeats, things fell apart, the center did not hold.

The slip toward burnout was gradual at first. I’d occasionally forget an appointment, or schedule two people for the same time slot. I procrastinated on billing and missed the payment window for several sessions. I put aside continuing education trainings until the last few months of the year, then had to cram them all in at once, further adding to my stress.

I slept poorly, drinking more coffee to stay alert and needing brief naps between sessions. Though I didn’t know it until my annual physical, my blood pressure had risen to dangerous levels. Only when a capillary in my retina leaked, causing a permanent blind spot, did Balancer pause from its frantic efforts and cry out, “Help!”

ReBalancer tried to come to the rescue, but it was sluggish, out of practice, and short on the skills needed to right the ship again. Over the next few months, I learned to take mini-breaks, add back short-term versions of restorative activities, practice new techniques for overcoming insomnia. I reduced my caffeine intake, shortened sessions, and – hardest of all – learned to say “Sorry, I can’t see you right now” to clients who wanted to return to therapy.

Eventually, clients completed their work and moved on. Slowly, I, too, returned to homeostasis, the skills developed by ReBalancer now incorporated into Balancer’s routines.

In my profession, I typically see people when UnBalancer has had its way for a long time. I’ve built a toolkit for supporting my clients’ ReBalancers and Balancers, equipping them to recover from the subtle mischief UnBalancer carries out.

I’ll cover some of those tools and techniques in future posts.

More anon,
– David
David J. Bookbinder

P.S. This is a first draft of what will eventually be a chapter in a book. Responses, corrections, and any other observations are welcome, either via email or, preferably, as comments on this post.

Related Posts:
The Under Toad and the UnBalancer
The Balancer/ReBalancer Tag Team
A Mini-Lesson on Mini Self-Care
Gyroscopes and Personal Flywheels
Hanging in the Balance
Balancing the Books

Books: Paths to Wholeness: Fifty-Two Flower Mandalas
PrintAmazon  –  BookBaby  –  B&N  – Books-a-Million
eBook: Kindle  – Nook  – iTunes  – Kobo

Also available:
52 (more) Flower Mandalas: An Adult Coloring Book for Inspiration and Stress Relief
52 Flower Mandalas: An Adult Coloring Book for Inspiration and Stress Relief
Paths to Wholeness: Selections (free eBook)

Follow me on:
Bloglovin’
StumbleUpon
Medium

Copyright 2017, David J. Bookbinder
http://www.transformationspress.org
http://www.davidbookbinder.com
http://www.flowermandalas.org

Posted in Balance, Copyright, essay-balance, Publication | 1 Comment

Balance: The Under Toad and the UnBalancer

The Under Toad and the UnBalancer

‘The Under Toad,’ Walt said. ‘I’m trying to see it. How big is it?

And Garp and Helen and Duncan held their breath; they realized that all these years Walt had been dreading a giant toad, lurking offshore, waiting to suck him under and drag him out to sea. The terrible Under Toad.

Garp tried to imagine it with him. Would it ever surface? Did it ever float? Or was it always down under, slimy and bloated and ever-watchful for ankles its coated tongue could snare? The vile Under Toad.

In John Irving’s novel The World According to Garp, the Under Toad is a monster created in the mind of young Walt Garp when he misunderstands a warning to beware of the undertow. For Walt’s parents, T. S. and Helen Garp, it becomes a code word for anxiety. “When the traffic was heavy, when the road was icy – when depression had moved in overnight – they said to each other, ‘The Under Toad is strong today.’

Lately I’ve been contemplating balance and what disrupts it. A cousin of the Under Toad I’m dubbing the UnBalancer comes to mind.

In physical objects, things go out of balance when there’s a design flaw, when something breaks, when unequal forces press on an object. Unbalance typically worsens over time, gradually compromising the whole structure. An unbalanced tire rattles the car. A leak in a roof leads to a ceiling falling in. When winds vibrated the Tacoma Narrows bridge to its resonant frequency in 1940, the whole structure danced briefly and then catastrophically collapsed. When an O-ring failed in the Space Shuttle Challenger, the spacecraft exploded.

The same thing happens to us, individually and collectively, when the myriad forces that throw us out of balance are at play. We begin to wear and to ripple, sometimes to the point of collapse, sometimes to explosion.

These myriad forces have a common source in the UnBalancer. It’s not yet clear to me what the UnBalancer is, but I do know what it is not, or more accurately, not only.

The UnBalancer is not only Chaos, though Chaos can be its ally, nor is it only Entropy, Chance, Accident, Misfortune, Obliviousness, Fear, Greed, Distrust, Anger, Hatred, Passion, Illness, or any of the other internal and external forces that sometimes knock us out of alignment. It’s all of these things, and it’s also more.

The UnBalancer is subtle, a magician that draws our attention to whatever’s in the foreground so it can work its mischief unseen.

When the teeter-totter of work and leisure gets too heavily weighted toward one or the other, things go awry. When our diet gets out of sync with the balance our bodies need to function, the system starts to break down in a multitude of ways. The same goes for waking and sleeping, time to connect and time to be alone, thinking and doing, yin and yang.

The UnBalancer revels in our unawareness, and it loves to spread the joy.

Like the frog (or toad) contentedly sitting in gradually heating water, the path to a multitude of forms of imbalance is almost imperceptible at first. When the books are out of balance, for example, the road to ruin has already been paved but nobody notices. The sh*t hits the fan when there’s nothing left to borrow. Witness the financial collapse of 2008. Or 1929.

The UnBalancer is also patient. On the global scale, the inventions first of agriculture and then of manufacturing have, over thousands of years, unbalanced the Earth itself.

The UnBalancer is strong today. So how do we reckon with it?

That’s the question I’ll be exploring in future installments.

Stay tuned!

More anon,
– David
David J. Bookbinder

P.S. This is a first draft of what will eventually be a chapter in a book. Responses, corrections, and any other observations are welcome, either via email or, preferably, as comments on this post.

Related Posts:
The Under Toad and the UnBalancer

The Balancer/ReBalancer Tag Team
A Mini-Lesson on Mini Self-Care
Gyroscopes and Personal Flywheels
Hanging in the Balance
Balancing the Books

Books: Paths to Wholeness: Fifty-Two Flower Mandalas
PrintAmazon  –  BookBaby  –  B&N  – Books-a-Million
eBook: Kindle  – Nook  – iTunes  – Kobo

Also available:
52 (more) Flower Mandalas: An Adult Coloring Book for Inspiration and Stress Relief
52 Flower Mandalas: An Adult Coloring Book for Inspiration and Stress Relief
Paths to Wholeness: Selections (free eBook)

Follow me on:
Bloglovin’
StumbleUpon
Medium

Copyright 2017, David J. Bookbinder
http://www.transformationspress.org
http://www.davidbookbinder.com
http://www.flowermandalas.org

Posted in Balance, Copyright, essay-balance, Publication | Leave a comment

Balance: Gyroscopes and Personal Flywheels

Balance: Gyroscopes and Personal Flywheels

My first counseling psychology supervisor once remarked that every psychologist begins as a child psychologist – as a boy or girl who, to survive childhood, develops the basic skills for psychotherapy.

I’ve been interested in becoming a therapist since my first year in college, but until my 50s, I didn’t know how I could handle the emotions of 20 or 30 people a week. Carrying people’s feelings has always been an issue for me. Only after enduring sufficient difficulties in my own life did I feel that I could handle whatever might show up in my office. Then I returned to school to train as a therapist. Now, years later, achieving balance and centeredness in the midst of what can be the stormy nature of psychotherapy practice is still a work in progress. But I have progressed.

For several years, I tried to use the image of rocks by the seashore as a metaphor for how I wanted to be in therapy sessions – feeling the waves wash over me, yet undisturbed by their ebb and flow. But rocks, as far as we know, are inert, and I didn’t want to be inert. So I looked for a better metaphor.

I wound up thinking about gyroscopes. As a kid scientist, gyroscopes fascinated me. Keep one spinning, and you can push a gyroscope in any direction and it will always right itself. As an adult struggling to stay balanced in the midst of turmoil, I imagined a gyroscope made of light, a tiny spiral galaxy spinning inside my own belly, supplying a steadying energy. The image of something inside me that can respond to – but not be uprooted by – external forces seemed to exactly fit how I wanted to be with my clients. When I have remembered this spiral galaxy gyroscope spinning inside me, I am energized by the end of the day. I think we can all use a spiral galaxy gyroscope, or something very much like it, to stabilize us, moment to moment, as we navigate life’s ups and downs. We need to move where events take us, but we also need to find our way back to center.

But sometimes, an image – even a powerful one – isn’t enough. To keep on keeping on through difficult times, many of us need a more powerful, more action-oriented, metaphor. We need a personal flywheel.

A flywheel is a heavy disk that rotates evenly in response to repeated applications of kinetic energy. In an automobile, the flywheel translates the jerky explosions of an internal combustion engine into vibration-free motion. A spinning disk that maintains an even flow of energy shows up in many places in the physical world. Another example is the potter’s wheel, whose mass enables it to translate the craftsman’s periodic kicks into the steady rotation needed to create symmetrical bowls, platters, and similar wares.

As a therapist, I often help people find their personal flywheels. By that I mean an interest or passion that is not part of a job, a chore, or something to do for friends or family, but an activity we do just for ourselves, independent of time, season, or circumstance. Even when only intermittent energy is applied, a personal flywheel keeps us going in the midst of difficulties, smoothing out the vibrations. No matter what’s going on, somewhere inside us the wheel keeps spinning, spinning, and all we have to do is give it a little kick to keep it going. Then the flywheel’s momentum keeps us going until we have a chance to catch our breath.

For the last several years, my work in photography, especially the Flower Mandalas, has been my personal flywheel. But a personal flywheel can be anything you feel passionate about. For some it is a spiritual connection and the activities associated with it, whether they are participating in a religious community or observing their own private rituals. For others, it’s a physical activity – working out, doing yoga, playing a sport for the sheer joy of it. Outdoor activities such as gardening, hiking, boating, or fishing may also fill that role, as can a vast range of hobbies and avocations.

What is important is that the activity be meaningful to you and that you do it, rain or shine, whether you are tired or full of energy, giving the wheel a little kick whenever you can to keep it spinning smoothly and your balance intact.

More anon,
– David
David J. Bookbinder

Related Posts:
The Under Toad and the UnBalancer
The Balancer/ReBalancer Tag Team
A Mini-Lesson on Mini Self-Care
Gyroscopes and Personal Flywheels
Hanging in the Balance
Balancing the Books

From Paths to Wholeness: Fifty-Two Flower Mandalas
PrintAmazon  –  BookBaby  –  B&N  – Books-a-Million
eBook: Kindle  – Nook  – iTunes  – Kobo

Also available:
52 (more) Flower Mandalas: An Adult Coloring Book for Inspiration and Stress Relief
52 Flower Mandalas: An Adult Coloring Book for Inspiration and Stress Relief
Paths to Wholeness: Selections (free eBook)

Follow me on:
Bloglovin’
StumbleUpon
Medium

Images and text Copyright 2017, David J. Bookbinder
http://www.transformationspress.org
http://www.davidbookbinder.com
http://www.flowermandalas.org

Posted in Balance, Copyright, essay-balance, Publication | Leave a comment