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 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 Be More Emotionally Adaptable

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, 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, 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, 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, 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, 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, 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 | 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, 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, 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, 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, Publication | Leave a comment

Balance: A Mini-Lesson on Mini Self-Care

Balance: A Mini-Lesson on Mini Self-Care

NOTE: This post is about how to take care of yourself when you’re too pressed for time for normal self-care. But first, some back story.

In the summer of 1979, after two of my roommates were mugged and I narrowly escaped the knife myself, I left Brooklyn’s Bedford-Stuyvesant for parts unknown.

I’d arrived in New York five years earlier with two books, two cameras, and a knapsack full of clothes, but by the time I left Brooklyn I’d accumulated a small U-Haul truck’s worth of possessions. With two Parisian friends, I loaded up my collection of books, tools, photography equipment, random bits of furniture, and a Yamaha 200 motorcycle into a rental truck. We drove across New York State to Buffalo, where I dropped everything off at my mother’s house – including the Parisians, who were continuing their trek across America.

A few days later, I flew to London to begin a two-month trip through the UK and Europe, to be followed by a three-month residence at an artist colony in Virginia, where I hoped to figure out where I’d settle next.

Two days before my return flight from Brussels, Belgium, the airline I had planned to take home went out of business. The next flight I could get a seat on was a week away, and I was short of enough American Express Travelers Cheques to buy another ticket.

But fear not! I’d worked my way through college and supported myself in New York City by doing a variety of construction jobs, and one of the trades I’d learned was roofing. And as it luck would have it – or so I thought – the brother of the friend I was staying with was a roofer.

When I left New York, I had sworn off construction work, figuring that if I continued I’d end up missing a thumb or walking with a limp. But this job was low stress, and actually fun. Although the Belgian materials and techniques were a little different from what I’d used, the work itself was essentially the same and within a day I was keeping up with the rest of the crew. I made more than enough that week to pay for the flight home.

Toward the end of my stay at the Virginia artist colony three months later, I was still without a next destination. An opportunity arose to extend my stay by helping to build new artist residences. “Why not?” I thought. Nothing bad had happened during my brief job in Belgium, and this job, too, looked like fun.

Three weeks into it, I had my answer in the form of two ruptured disks. The days of supporting myself with construction work were now behind me and I had to find another way to keep bread on the table and my writing and photography habit alive.

I’d spent my childhood as a kid scientist and my first year of college as a Cornell engineer. I knew that if push ever came to shove, I could work with computers. When I recovered from the back injury enough to become mobile again, I enrolled in a crash course in computer programming at Boston University.

And this is where mini self-care comes in.

The B.U. program packed a minor in Computer Science into one summer school session. Material for each course that would normally would have taken a semester to cover was squeezed into seven days. It was a brutal academic experience unlike any I’d experienced. Every day packed in two weeks’ worth of coursework: Each evening was our “weekend,” and each weekend a virtual semester break.

However, the program came with unintended benefits. Besides learning the fundamentals of everything from hardware architecture to LISP (the original language of artificial intelligence), I stumbled, inadvertently, on mini self-care.

Inside my maelstrom of computer intensity, in order to stay sane I looked for small, quiet spaces in which to recover. I took short walks from the computer buildings to the main campus, where for a few minutes I’d gaze out at the boats and ducks on the Charles River. I took five-minute coffee breaks. I brought a paperback novel with me and read a few pages during lunch. Unlike my classmates who lived nearby and spent most of the night toiling at computer terminals in the lab, each evening I walked back to Cambridge for a return to normality and a few hours of sleep.

Of the 24 men and women who began the program, I was one of only eight who completed it. I believe my improvised mini self-care had something to do with it.

Mini self-care is the abridged version of full-sized self-care.

Many of us have evolved a set of activities that help us feel balanced and relaxed and that allow us to recuperate from stress. We might have a hobby, take trips or vacations, practice yoga, meditate, binge-watch a television series, hike or take walks, swim, play a sport, garden, go for a ride, and so on. We do these things regardless of whatever else is going on in our lives, and they help to restore equilibrium when the tensions of work, health or family problems – or even a bad winter – wear us down.

But what can we do when we don’t have time for any of that? When even half an hour of yoga or a 15-minute walk seems like yet another burden in an already overburdened day, and a week-long vacation feels like an impossible dream?

We’re wired to handle short-term stress, but when stress is continuous for too long, the constant flow of the stress hormones adrenaline, cortisol, and norepinephrine takes a toll. When we reach a point where there’s nothing left to give, we “burn out.”

Burnout leads to feelings of hopelessness, depression, apathy, and physical and emotional exhaustion. It hampers work, home life, health, and undermines most of what we find satisfying in our lives.

The optimal way to avoid burnout is to reduce the stress and weave back into our lives what we find restorative. However, when time pressures won’t allow that strategy, an almost-as-good alternative is mini self-care. Although mini self-care may not be as reinvigorating as the longer forms, it will help to withstand the stress.

Some examples:

  • Self-care: You do yoga for self-restoration. Mini self-care: Pick one pose and do it for a couple of minutes two or three times a day.
  • Self-care: You like to walk or run. Mini self-care: Take a five-minute walk around the block.
  • Self-care: You like spending an hour at the end of the day reading. Mini self-care: Carry a book with you and read a couple of pages at regular intervals two or three times throughout the day.
  • Self-care: You like to talk with friends on the phone. Mini self-care: Exchange short texts throughout the day.
  • Self-care: You take two-week vacation trips. Mini self-care: Spend a night away on the weekend. If you can’t take a night, walk downtown and pretend you’re a tourist.

And so on.

Mini self-care isn’t a permanent replacement for the full version, but many find it helpful not only in warding off burnout, but in feeling more balanced in times of stress.

To create your own mini self-care plan:

  1. Make a list of the things you do that feel restorative
  2. Figure out the shortest version that still feels meaningful. The 80/20 rule often applies: you can get 80% of the benefit from self-care activities by spending 20% of the time you’d really like to spend.
  3. Decide when to do your mini self-care. Mini self-care is more effective if it’s incorporated into a routine. Schedule some activities for morning, do some at lunch, and do others in the evening.
  4. Add randomized mini self-care. Do one self-care activity randomly throughout the day. For instance, several of my clients who meditate use an app that makes a gong tone or buzzes to signal them to stop what they’re doing and take three long, slow breaths. The slow breaths interrupt what they are doing just long enough for them to get a fresh perspective. But you could instead stretch, go for a quick walk, drink a glass of water, or just zone out for a minute — whatever feels like self-care for you.

It’s been decades since I last nailed down a shingle or wrote a line of code, but mini self-care continues to be helpful in burnout prevention, which is common in my profession. Although I’m not as diligent as I could be about my morning, lunchtime, and evening mini self-care routines, when I practice them, body, mind, and spirit all hum along much more smoothly, regardless of the level or duration of stress.

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

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)

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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, Publication | 2 Comments

Publishing and Self-Publishing: Next Steps

Publishing and Self-Publishing: Next Steps

NOTE: This is the second in a series of occasional posts on my ongoing adventures and misadventures in self-publishing. Had I known what I’m posting here and will post in occasional future pieces on publishing, this journey would have been a far less rocky road! (Our regular programming will resume shortly.)

Regardless of whether you are planning to self-publish or are getting published by a traditional publisher, these are a few things it would be good for you to do before – preferably long before – your books are published.

1. Influencers. Gather together the names, addresses, and email addresses of the influencers you know so you can send them review copies of your book a) to create blurbs for your book and b) so they can review the book shortly before it goes live. Influencers include anyone who has a following, such as book reviewers, bloggers, other writers, or people who are fans of your writing and who connect and network well. (I think of these people as “connectors,” and many of us have people who are skilled at that in our lives.)

2. Minions. Gather together the names and email addresses of your “minions” (friends, fans of your writing, helpful family members) so you can find out if they want to be on board your launch team. The launch team will receive pre-release versions of the book so they can leave reviews on Amazon and Goodreads as soon as the book is launched, and they will share info about your book among the people they know. They may also do other promotional tasks, such as ordering the book from their local libraries to induce the libraries to buy copies.

3. Everybody. Gather together the names and email addresses of everybody you know so they can be informed of upcoming launches, sales, events, etc. They might also buy books, leave reviews, order from their libraries, etc.

4. Buy Your First 1000 Copies by Tim Grahl and read it. Of all the book launch and book promotion stuff I’ve read in the past year, it’s the simplest, clearest, and also most generally applicable map of the process I’ve encountered. Grahl’s book will give you his ideas on how and when to use the lists of names in items 1, 2, and 3 above.

None of these tasks should take a big chunk of your time, and they are all best done months before the book actually comes out.

If you already have a previous book published, you should also:

5. Amazon. Join Amazon Author Central and set up your Author Page. While logged into your Amazon account, search for one of your books, click on your author name, and you should be directed to your existing Author Page. There, you should find a link for claiming the page as yours and updating the book information and author bio. If you don’t yet have a book on Amazon, you will have to wait until the book’s pre-release period to do this.

6. Goodreads. Join Goodreads and apply to be a Goodreads Author. The Goodreads process is similar to that on Amazon (who owns Goodreads) if you already have a book on Goodreads. If you don’t have a book listed there, you can add your book and then claim the author page once the book is in its pre-release period.

Becoming familiar with the structure and functions of the author pages as early in the process as you can will make it much easier to clean up the inevitable errors in your book descriptions, author bio, and other fields, and to format the pages so they are most inviting to future readers.

More anon,
– David
David J. Bookbinder

P.S. There’s a new review of Paths to Wholeness on the site “Reader’s Favorite”: https://readersfavorite.com/book-review/paths-to-wholeness

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)

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

Posted in Paths to Wholeness, Publication | Leave a comment

Balancing the Books

Balancing the Books

From late spring to early autumn, 1971, I hitchhiked across the United States, following a meandering loop west from Buffalo to Berkeley, south past L.A., up the coasts of California, Oregon, and Washington, and back east through Canada. I was on a mission not only to see the country, but also to find out who I was.

I hitchhiked to force myself to connect, if only for a lift to the next town or to find somewhere to crash for the night. On the journey, a new goal emerged: to develop the parts of myself I knew must be there, because they resonated when I encountered them in others, but to which I had no access. In the largest sense of the term, I took that trip to achieve balance.

Balance is a word with many meanings, in many contexts. But in May, 1971, to me it meant to bring out the latent parts of myself and mate them with what was already there and, in so doing, to become someone whole and complete.

I discovered that I had an incomplete view of who I was during my freshman year as an engineering student at Cornell University. I had grown up a kid scientist, obsessed with the workings of the natural and technical worlds, and my hope was that I’d graduate with a degree in Electrical Engineering and work for NASA. In an Introduction to English Literature course, I read the long poem “The Marriage of Heaven and Hell,” by William Blake.

Though by then I had witnessed Woodstock and dabbled in sex, drugs, and rock-and-roll, I was vaguely aware that I spent most of my time in my head and lived hardly at all in the realms of emotion and the body. Blake’s poem reached out forcefully, over hundreds of years and thousands of miles, with the message that, if I continued on my present course, I would live out my days as a shadow. His potent words and vivid images not only prompted me to drop out of engineering, but set me on a lifelong journey of self-actualization.

The next summer, I began my cross-country trip with $400 and a sense of longing and adventure. I returned with 25 cents in my pocket and an expanded outlook. My travels had included many adventures I still vividly recall, but more important, they also more clearly revealed the unrealized facets of myself I wanted to develop.

Within days of my return, I made a literal list of new activities to undertake. On it were writing, photography, learning a trade, practicing a sport, pursuing a spiritual activity, and, to carry on the traveler’s sense of adventure, motorcycling. This list became the curriculum for a program to rebalance myself that, in a more nuanced way, I’m still following today.

That semester, I began to carry out my curriculum, setting aside physics and calculus courses and exchanging them for the humanities, and seeking out activities that would, I hoped, enhance the physical, emotional, spiritual, and creative sides. I took all the literature, philosophy, psychology, and creative writing courses I could fit into my schedule. I read novels not only for the stories, but for what the authors could teach me about how to be human. I volunteered at a mental hospital and at a faculty-run free school for elementary-age children. I learned the carpentry trade and used it to put myself through school and, for several years after graduation, to support my new writing and photography habits. I taught myself metalworking and began making knives as a hobby. I started to learn tennis, bought a motorcycle, practiced Transcendental Meditation.

Other books followed Blake’s. I began to read seriously in Hinduism, Buddhism, Sufism, and the works of the Armenian-Russian mystic G. I. Gurdjieff. Within the field of my new major, English Literature, I doubled down on literature classes with a psychoanalytic focus, which led to my first foray into psychotherapy, where I delved into a childhood I had unwittingly pushed aside by forgetting everything that had happened to me before age 10.

Books, my refuge as a child, have often been the first step into activities that have extended me. Before I looked for a job as an apprentice carpenter, I read books on carpentry and woodworking. Before I volunteered at a state mental hospital, I read seminal writings of psychologists from Sigmund Freud to Fritz Perls. Before I put torch to carbon steel to make my first knife, I read a book on metallurgy. Before I taught my first class, I read books on pedagogy. Even after a near-death experience in 1993 permanently altered the way I think and feel, books were what I went to in order to begin to understand who I had become, and it was a book by Carl Rogers that convinced me I could become a therapist.

The cycle of reading/acting/reading/acting has continued to this day.

I have almost no sense of direction, but I’m very good at reading maps, and books are, for me, the most elaborate and detailed maps to just about everything. In my travels through time since my trip across the United States, they have guided me into places I would never have ventured without their gentle prodding.

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

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)

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, Publication | 1 Comment

Adventures/Misadventures in the Book Trade (and a price promotion)

Adventures/Misadventures in the Book Trade (and a price promotion)

Thanks to your recent survey responses, I’m starting to work on an expanded piece on Balance and will be rolling it out, post by post, soon. I would be happy to include stories from you on how you maintain balance. Email me, or post your story as a comment to the blog version of this and subsequent posts, here: http://davidbookbinder.com/photoblog

Meanwhile, I’d like to convey some of what I’ve learned so far in my decades-long adventures and misadventures in publishing and self-publishing. This post is an overview. From time to time, I’ll go into more detail on the various stages of this process, and also of my experiences in traditional publishing.

But before I get to that, I’d like to announce a price promotion. The Kindle version of my book Paths to Wholeness: Fifty-Two Flower Mandalas is now on sale for the next week at the rock-bottom price of $2.99. Get ’em while they’re hot! Tell your friends and family! Here’s the link: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B01NAAFU3S

Traditional Publishing

My history in traditional publishing has been a rocky one. Although the focus of this post is self-publishing, here’s a bit of background on my experiences in that realm.

I started writing seriously in 1974, shortly after I moved to Manhattan with a B.A. in English and no clear ideas what to do next.

I worked as a freelance reporter and photographer for several small newspapers and then, at 26, came heartbreakingly close to a major break: publishing a book of photographs and stories about people who lived, worked, and performed on the streets of Manhattan and Brooklyn. The editorial board at Scribners approved the book and wanted to give me a $10,000 advance – huge at that time. But the company head, Charles Scribner IV, read it when he returned from a London business trip and killed it. “Into every life a little rain must fall,” my agent told me. “Such a book should never be published,” Scribner had told my editor.

A few years later, a Paris publisher wanted to translate the Street People book into French and include it in a series of “outsider” books named after the Périphérique, the highway that divides Paris from its suburbs. My motto until then had always been, “Don’t count on it until the check clears,” but the contract was signed and the advance check cleared. Then the editor, who suffered from undiagnosed bipolar disorder, sunk first into a deep depression and, a few months later, disappeared. My book sat in limbo for two years, partly translated, until the new editor trashed the series and started one of his own.

I’ve had better luck with books I cared far less about – in 1979, a book about American folk music published by a division of Simon & Schuster, and in 1989-91, three books about computer software published by Addison-Wesley. But the books that have had meaning to me have languished in anonymity, while the ones I was less attached to have made it to the light of day.

Self-Publishing

Self-publishing seems, on the surface, to solve a major problem for authors by doing away with the “gatekeepers” and providing a direct link from author to retailer. Like most things in life, however, self-publishing is a good news / bad news proposition.

The good news

The good news is that self-publishing has come a long way from the vanity presses of yore.

Thanks to the innovations of Print on Demand (POD), you no longer have to go to a vanity publisher, buy 1000 books, and try to sell them to bookstores, often ending up with hundreds of unsold copies moldering in your garage. POD means the book doesn’t get printed until someone orders it, so there’s no need to stock inventory. And because it’s a largely automated process, printing a book doesn’t have to cost you anything but time! If you can handle the cover creation, editing, and preproduction stages yourself, the production cost is $0.00.

If you are publishing a book with a black-and-white interior and are willing to focus mainly on Amazon, the process is pretty easy even if your computer skills are limited mainly to using Microsoft Word.

Amazon’s CreateSpace division provides templates, relatively simple tutorials, a helpful user forum, and an extremely helpful staff that will walk you through any of the issues you encounter in the process of turning a file into a book. Within a few days, you can take your masterpiece from a file on your computer to seeing it listed on Amazon’s website. You get started here: http://www.createspace.com/

Ebooks, too, can be easily produced for $0.00. For eBooks, the process of using Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing interface is also relatively simple and even faster than CreateSpace. In less than a day, you can go from a properly formatted file created in Microsoft Word to published Kindle book. You get started here: https://kdp.amazon.com/

The not as good news

For print books, things get more complicated if you introduce any of the following variables: color printing, nonstandard sizes, distribution to non-Amazon outlets.

Color printing greatly increases the cost. You can sell a 200-page 6″x9″ paperback with a color cover and black-and-white text on Amazon for $5.99 and still make a small profit. The same book with a color interior – whether there’s just one color photograph or color on every page – has to list for at least $24.99 to make a profit. If you are printing mainly for yourself and friends and family, the cost to you is much less, but if your aims for distribution are wider, it’s hard to be competitively priced compared to offerings by traditional publishers.

Non-standard sizes usually cost more, and although they won’t affect Amazon distribution, distributing a non-standard-sized book (like, for instance, the 8.5″ x 8.5″ coloring book Mary O’Malley and I did, 52 (more) Flower Mandalas) dumps you out of Amazon’s expanded distribution to other online resellers and (potentially) to bookstores and libraries. There is a workaround – you can create a duplicate version of the book through the IngramSpark program – but the process of getting from manuscript to finished book is considerably more complicated and there’s far less handholding.

The worse news

Once you move into higher-quality books that contain illustrations, things get dicier as a self-publisher.

Stepping up in paper quality from a standard 50lb matte paper like that found in most trade paperbacks to a thicker and/or glossy paper stock like that found in coffee-table books changes the game dramatically. Amazon and IngramSpark are no longer options. You have to go to the few printers out there who can handle better paper, and you have to figure out a way to get those books to market.

Offset printing. You can get excellent printing in China or Iceland, and the cost per book is reasonable, but you need to buy 1000 at a time, which can leave you with the “hundreds-of-books-moldering-in-the-garage” problem unless you are very good at marketing and promotion and have a book in one of the genres that do well in self-publishing. (More on that in another post.)

Print on Demand. If you stick to POD, many of the options are very expensive per copy. When I did the Kickstarter version of Paths to Wholeness, the hardcover 12″x 12″ edition of the book cost me about $200 per book on Blurb.com, and the smaller paperback would have cost about $65 had I gone with Blurb or most of the other POD printers of photography books.

Instead I went with newcomer BookBaby, one of the few POD outfits that not only prints color books at a more reasonable (but still high compared to offset) cost, but also provides a distribution package to get the printed book onto online retailers and, at least in theory, into bookstores. The catch is that the retailers take a large chunk of the profit. Between BookBaby’s fees for printing and distributing, and Amazon’s fees for letting me sell the book there, my $40 Paths to Wholeness book earns me $1.32/book. And a $40 book is not an easy sell.

The bad news (unless you have a knack for it)

Which brings me to the bad news, unless you have a gift for it: marketing and promotion.

Sometimes self-publishing works out amazingly well for authors. The Martian, for instance, began as a blog, then a self-published book, and eventually rose to become a major motion picture starring Matt Damon and directed by Ridley Scott, my all-time favorite science fiction director! Authors writing mainly in the romance, science fiction, thriller, and to a lesser extent the new “get-rich-quick-on-the-Internet” genres sometimes also do remarkably well as self-publishers, especially if they turn out multiple books in quick succession.

For many, however, it’s an uphill struggle. The average lifetime sales of self-published books is estimated at about 250 copies.

Why? Because it’s so easy to publish a book now, it’s very hard to distinguish your book from the literally millions of other books out there. The most successful authors not only have a string of books, they have a well-defined market that they know how to reach.

But this is getting long. So, more on the ins and outs of genre, distribution, marketing, and promotion (as I’ve experienced them so far) another time.

Meanwhile, please check out the eBook version of Paths to Wholeness, now on sale for one week at the discounted price of $2.99 on Amazon.

Pass the word around and help me get the word out to more than that estimated 250 people!

More anon,
– David
David J. Bookbinder

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)

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

Posted in Paths to Wholeness, Publication | 3 Comments

Action

Action: Sometimes insight is the last defense

At times I feel like a Sherlock Holmes of the mind, each of my clients the faithful and resourceful Watson of his or her own unsolved mystery.

A Holmes-like insight is the province of traditional psychotherapy, and it is often a helpful tool. Insight can clarify the causes of anxiety or depression, relieve guilt and shame, explicate the roots of trauma, and point the way to new and better lives. But insight alone is seldom enough to effect lasting change. And, as one of my former professors remarked, “Sometimes insight is the last defense.”

In therapy, as in life, actions are more powerful than words. Identifying dysfunctional patterns, self-sabotaging thoughts, and triggered feelings that keep us prisoners of our problems is an important, even vital, preparatory step, but for significant growth, we need, also, to change what we do.

Psychologist Jim Grant envisions our collections of patterned thoughts, feelings, and behaviors as akin to a Spell that can lead us to act in ritualized, self-defeating ways. To break the Spell, we need to alter our actions. Even a slight shift in an old pattern opens the way for future growth that no amount of additional insight, by itself, can foster.

For example, addicts typically follow a limited but compelling set of commands such as: “Once I get the idea in my head, I have to get high,” or “If I’m around it, I have to do it,” or “Getting high is the only thing I have to look forward to.” In therapy, addicts can identify triggers, challenge addiction-related thoughts, and work through the feelings that entrap them in addictive behaviors. But to break the addiction Spell, they also have to act differently, “faking it till they make it” even when every conscious thought and habituated emotion is screaming at them to use. They must, to paraphrase Eleanor Roosevelt, do the thing they think they cannot do.

What holds true for addiction applies to any of the maladies that bring people to therapy. Each of us has our own patterns of thought, feeling, and behavior, and each requires not just insights – words and ideas – but also actions to replace dysfunctional patterns with new, more fulfilling ways to be in the world.

Of course, acting differently is much easier said than done.

When I was a junior in college, I took a class in the writings and teachings of the Armenian-Russian mystic G. I. Gurdjieff. One of Gurdjieff’s chief precepts was that most of us live in a waking dream, believing we are far more in control of our fates than we really are. The other students and I rejected this notion – we were, after all, the generation that would change the world! So our instructor challenged us with what seemed, at first, like trivial attempts at behavior modification.

Our first assignment was around eating. If we normally cleaned our plates at each meal, he said, we were to leave a bite behind, and vice versa. This task seemed undemanding, but in the week between classes, none of us succeeded in accomplishing it more than once or twice. Humbled but unbroken, we theorized that eating behaviors might be too deeply ingrained for an initial experiment. So next time, he let us choose. I decided to use my left hand for something I normally did with my right – opening doors – and on the way out I confidently opened the classroom door left-handed. By our next meeting, I was not so confident. I’d remembered the assignment only for that night. Score: Habit 2, David 0.
Or so I believed at the time.

What I hadn’t realized then, but understand now, is that although little had changed, I had changed something. I did remember to leave a bite on my plate at least once, and I had opened at least one door – the classroom door – with my non-dominant hand. I just hadn’t sustained the changes. Now, after witnessing hundreds of people better their lives by learning to act differently, I know that even a single exception to a dysfunctional pattern can be more potent than dozens of repetitions. Each exception makes more exceptions possible, opening the door (with either hand) to a new direction.

I have been drawn to action-oriented schools of therapy, and I use them with my clients, but psychotherapy is not the only way to break a Spell. All we need is a method that empowers us to recognize self-defeating patterns, to identify what those patterns want us to do, and to choose, through any means available, to do otherwise. And then, above all, to repeat the change again and again, as often as we can remember, until it becomes the way we live.

David J. Bookbinder

From: Paths to Wholeness: Fifty-Two Flower Mandalas
Buy onAmazon  –  BookBaby  –  B&N  – Books-a-Million (print version)
Buy on: Kindle  – Nook  – iTunes  – Kobo (eBook version)

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)

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

Posted in flower mandala | Leave a comment

Portrait of an Artist

Cameron Byron Roberts, Painter

About three years ago, Cameron Byron Roberts (a.k.a. Cam) and I cooked up an idea for a process-oriented group for late-blooming artist types like us.

The inspiration came from an article Malcolm Gladwell (Outliers, Blink, etc.) wrote for The New Yorker in which he differentiated between people who, early on, know what they want to do and are recognized for it at a young age (think Mozart and Picasso) and those who, much later, reach their creative heights through a trial-and-error process. The late bloomers at first produce work no more promising than artists who never create much at all (think early Cézanne), and Gladwell pointed out that without support, most late bloomers never bloom at all.

So we became our own late-bloomer supports, and we’ve been helping each other bloom for the past three years. We share our frustrations, respond to the words of artists and writers we find wiser than ourselves, encourage each other in our efforts, celebrate our triumphs, provide accountability, and in general strive to give to each other what late bloomers need to thrive.

During this three-year period, I finished a book, others have advanced in their respective arts, and Cam became not only a proficient painter, but a professional.

You can find Cam here:
http://cameronbyronroberts.blogspot.com/
http://www.cameronbyronroberts.com/
http://www.CRAboston.com

And now, some words from Cam about his history as an artist and his artistic process.

Ken Robinson, the great education guru, tells a story about asking first graders, “who is an artist?” where all the hands go up. By third grade only a few hands go up, and by fifth grade there are few hands remaining.

As one of those kids that always wanted to be an artist, I used to draw on anything, including the walls of my room, and sometimes the newly painted bookshelves in the living room, finding the “bank canvas” irresistible, until being informed they were not canvases.

However, like many kids, I came from a family that viewed art, if not suspiciously, not as a serious endeavor. Instead I was encouraged to be an architect, something more useful, and more employable, and after many years of resisting the suggestion, I enrolled in architecture school and eventually became a licensed architect.

For most of my career I felt somewhat removed from the profession, alienated from its underlying premise that the new was somehow going to be better than the old, its futurism and utopianism seeming messianic and egotistical, somehow.

The exception was my opportunity to work as an apprentice for the architect, Frank O. Gehry at a point in his career when he was transitioning from being a successful commercial architect to being a world renowned “starchitect” famous for, among other things, the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao Spain.

Our relationship blossomed one day when I mentioned that something he was asking me to work on reminded me of a sculpture by the artist Michael Heiser, who, as it turned out, was a close friend of his. Frank was and remains an artist, with his closest friends being artists, and his work being derived artistically. That early experience with Frank was unique and not to be replicated again.

Fast forward several decades: After teaching design and theory at Harvard, MIT and RISD, years as a consulting architect, corporate architect, several in the investment business, and consulting as a capital project manager, I took up painting in 2010.

My inspiration for taking the step came from Susan Langer’s On Becoming an Artist. This gave me the confidence to experience art-making as mindfulness and not be overly concerned about the outcome. Here’s my first painting, on May 2, 2010.

Years later, a re-reading by David Bookbinder of Steven Pressfield’s War of Art in the Artist Group we formed convinced me that it was time to take the outcome seriously. Some recent paintings appear below. There have been innumerable bad paintings and good paintings in between these and that first one, but I now understand the imperative of painting as a means of reconciling myself with existence, reconnecting to the present, and I feel at last that I have indeed become an artist.

Artist Statement (in progress)

Longing and memory, landscape remains ancient and newborn. Conditions evoke primal responses; the back-lit hedge wall, the deep, dark leaves of late summer, fall approaching, winter’s dusk, the sudden damp cold, anticipation of a warm fire, the quiet loneliness of childhood exploring the thicket, first light, dizzying mid-day, timeless afternoon, chiaroscuro evening, the churning majesty of the sea, the shelter of the rocks and the step into the unreturnable deep.

Interiorizing the landscape through painting, setting a point of view, making a clearing in the forest, a shelter in the thicket, or in the cave – that’s what my work as a landscape painter is about.


P.S.
Book News: In my ongoing effort to climb the self-publishing hill, I’m experimenting with price management. I’ve dropped the price of my eBook Paths to Wholeness: Fifty-Two Flower Mandalas to $4.99 on Amazon. You can download it here: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B01NAAFU3S

The compact edition, Paths to Wholeness: Selections is still free, here: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B01N1NV2MA

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Acceptance

Acceptance: It’s Already There


My path to acceptance has been mainly through loss: lost career opportunities, relationships, health and, nearly, the loss of my life. Acceptance has come with the recognition that each loss has also been an opening.

A major turning point occurred several years ago. At that time I was bleeding internally and before I noticed any symptoms, I had already lost about 25% of my blood supply. Though less drastic than a brush with death a few years before, this situation recalled the terror of that time. I grew steadily weaker and underwent a series of increasingly invasive tests, but no diagnosis or treatment emerged. I consulted alternative healers and frantically scanned the Internet. I imagined fatal outcomes. And then one day I stopped fretting.

A Buddhist friend had given me this prayer, with instructions to recite it often, without judgment:

Please grant me enough wisdom and courage to be free from delusion. If I am supposed to get sick, let me get sick, and I’ll be happy. May this sickness purify my negative karma and the sickness of all sentient beings. If I am supposed to be healed, let all my sickness and confusion be healed, and I’ll be happy. May all sentient beings be healed and filled with happiness. If I am supposed to die, let me die, and I’ll be happy. May all the delusion and the causes of suffering of sentient beings die. If I am supposed to live a long life, let me live a long life, and I’ll be happy. May my life be meaningful in service to sentient beings. If my life is to be cut short, let it be cut short, and I’ll be happy. May I and all others be free from attachment and aversion.

At first, welcoming disease or death scared me even more, but with each recitation, I grew calmer. While I waited for test results, I began to have a different relationship with time. Whether I would live or die, whether I would heal by myself, with interventions, or not at all, was already out there in my future, waiting for me to arrive. I didn’t have to plan. I didn’t have to do anything differently. I just had to move through time, making the best choices I could, until my fate became clear. I stopped looking things up on the Internet and returned to my work as a therapist.

That moment of acceptance was liberating. Since then, I have been increasingly able to generalize the process. It’s all, already, there. I don’t need to fret. I don’t need to push. I just need to live my life to the best of my ability and, of the infinite possible futures, I will inevitably arrive at the one that is mine.

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 is being who we are, in each succession of present moments, swayed neither by avoiding what we fear nor by clinging to what we think we can’t live without. In the absence of acceptance, there can be no forward movement. The hidden patterns that create clinging attachment and fearful aversion take over, repeating themselves in our minds, feelings, behaviors, and relationships. We grow older, and the external circumstances of our lives change, but inside it’s, as the Talking Heads put it, “the same as it ever was, same as it ever was, same as it ever was.”

Acceptance is the door that closes one life chapter and allows another to open. Acceptance is the last of Elizabeth Kubler Ross’s five stages of loss and a necessary precursor to moving on from mourning. Acceptance is the first of the 12 steps in addiction recovery programs and essential to beginning a sober life. Acceptance of self, and of responsibility for change, is the start of true recovery from the many unhappinesses that may come our way. Acceptance can be painful, but it is a pain that unburdens. In difficult circumstances, acceptance is the thing most of us try hardest to sidestep – and then try even harder to achieve. In its simplest form, acceptance is saying to ourselves, “Although I may be suffering, I can be content now. Yes, there are things I would like to change, and when I change them my life may have more ease, but I can already be content with my current circumstances.”

Accepting our real state, no matter what it is, begins the shift from victim – of external circumstances, of thoughts and feelings, of physical challenges, of past injuries – to victor.

More anon,
– David

From: Paths to Wholeness: Fifty-Two Flower Mandalas, © 2016, David J. Bookbinder
Buy onAmazon  –  BookBaby  –  B&N  – BooksaMillion (print version)
Buy on: Kindle  – Nook  – iTunes  – Kobo (eBook version)

Also available:
52 (more) Flower Mandalas: An Adult Coloring Book and
52 Flower Mandalas: An Adult Coloring Book

P.S. The Goodreads Giveaway for Paths to Wholeness: Fifty-Two Flower Mandalas and the Goodreads Giveaway for 52 (more) Flower Mandalas end tomorrow, January 5th. Last chance to enter!

P.P.S. Yesterday, Charity Rowell-Stansbury, who runs the book review blog On My Kindle, did a nice email interview on me and Paths to Wholeness and posted it here: http://www.onmykindle.net/2017/01/featured-title-paths-to-wholeness.html

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

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