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Timeless Wisdom

This week on “Life Shifting with Dr J” I had the opportunity to meet that rare, special kind of leader, one who truly “walks the talk.” In a world where scandal, duplicity, and political maneuvering seem to define the leadership landscape, it is encouraging–and inspiring–to know that there are leaders out there who have integrity, humanity, humility, and most importantly, wisdom. Dr David Surrenda, CEO of the Kripalu Institute for Yoga and Healing, is one of those leaders. He is a clinical psychologist and a thirty year veteran of the corporate, academic and organizational consulting worlds, and author of multiple books on leadership and self-development, most recently: “Retooling on the Run: Real Change for Leaders with no Time.”

I was honored to have him join me on my show. Click here to listen or download to Itunes/Mp3. Wowed by his clear, concise and simple message about leadership, I am in complete sync with his core principle: it is all about self-mastery. As I write in my book, “Shift: Let Go of Fear and Get Your Life in Gear,” it is impossible for us to be role models as leaders until we gain a measure of self-awareness — and humbly take up the gauntlet to LEAD OURSELVES.

As David pointed out in our conversation, self-mastery is not about becoming a “super hero,” but rather about becoming adept at stalking ourselves, becoming aware of our faults, our habits, and our fears–not with an ear for self-criticism, but with an eye for seeing how we can put in place practices to become more fully realized as humans.

Key to this journey of self-realization is shortening the “recovery time” from when go off track–get triggered, practice a bad habit, break a commitment, fall victim to fear, etc.

Mastery=Quick Recovery not Perfection

We will never be perfect, nor are we ever “finished” manifesting our full potential. BUT, with a commitment to continuously growing, learning and tracking ourselves, we can surely become more of WHO WE ARE MEANT TO BE.

I dearly hope you will take time to download the interview and hear from David directly. You will love his quick and concise six-step methodology for self-mastery. Here’s a preview synopsis:

KEY STEPS TOWARDS SELF-MASTERY

1. Gain Perspective– take the long view
2. Be a Student–of your self
3. Clarify Your Intent–know where you are headed
4. Map Your Patterns-look for gaps in consistency
5. Course Correct–don’t criticize, simply correct and re-balance
6. Evaluate Progress–shorten the “recovery time”

In a time when the world is crying out for wise leaders, I am heartened to know that people like David Surrenda are out there doing their thing, leading organizations that shape our world. Kripalu is one of the largest holistic health centers in the entire world…and I’m happy to be able to say, it is in good hands.

Thanks David…and to all, Namaste,

Dr J

Hanging Tough in Turbulent Times

I don’t know about you…but I’ve been reeling with all the turmoil in the world lately. Sitting here in the “relative” calm of New York City, sometimes it feels like the world is falling apart all around me.

Are you hanging on? Or hanging tough?

Look east and nature is wreaking havoc on our friends in Japan. Look west and a psychotic dictator is tearing apart the fabric–and the humanity–of his own country in Libya. Not to mention that the so-called “economic recovery” here in the U.S. feels anemic at best and the slumbering bear of recession seems endlessly poised to reemerge from his winter hibernation!

That’s why it was so inspiring to hear about a great new book that just hit the shelves this week: ” Emotional Balance: The Path to Inner Peace and Harmony” by Dr Roy Martina. Dr Roy joined me on my radio show, “Life Shifting with Dr J” and shared some of his powerful insights from the book. The key theme of which is thus: how to find–and maintain–emotional balance in the midst of life’s inevitable ups and downs. How timely is that!

There are many important and ground-breaking principles in Dr Roy’s work, which beautifully aligns with the themes of my book, “SHIFT: Let Go of Fear and Get Your Life in Gear“. I love the synchronicity of how his work, which emanates from his many years of practice as a holistic medical doctor, dovetails perfectly with my work, which hails from my experience and research in psychology. So cool to see the bio-medical and psycho-spiritual worlds not just collide but INTERSECT and interweave — with far more alignment than discord.

At its core, Dr Roy’s work is all about helping readers find what he calls the “Still Point”–that place of aligned, centered presence, where we are re-connected with our divine essence — and the fears, at least the ones that cause us recurring anxiety and stress, are recognized as the result of the way our brains develop leaving us “conditioned towards stress”. But the good news is that leading edge work in neuroscience has proven that our brains, as well as emotional and nervous systems, are highly malleable and adaptable. In sum, we are powerful weavers of our own stories, and can discard the narrative of fear, insecurity, scarcity and separation at will (with the help of some focused, intentional practice). His book gives us the tools we need to do just that–offering us a “way out” of anxiety, stress and depression, and a pathway to restoring our emotional balance. In essence: a road map for finding our way home to ourselves.

I hope you’ll give our chat a listen–just click here to get the download for free. It was a joy to speak with Dr Roy while he is on his book tour all around the world (he called me from Amsterdam at midnight!)…I came away re-invigorated, empowered and less vulnerable to the onslaught of the outer world turmoil that sometimes feels omnipresent. I also feel most heartened by the way that the disparate worlds of psychology, spirituality and modern medicine are FINALLY integrating and moving towards a unified approach to health and healing. There is a piercing LIGHT of hope on the horizon!

Namaste,

Dr J

Are We Hard-Wired to Suffer?

Howdy all…in case you missed my new article on Huffington Post…here it is in its entirety. Seems to have generated some buzz on the wire…what do you think? Please weigh in here or go HuffingtonPost.com. I’m very interested in where my readers come out on the causal scale– nature/environment/culture?

Yesterday I had one of those classic moments with a client that never fail to bring the conversation to a stand still. He was sharing with me his tendency to, as he put it, “always feel anxious and worried about everything.” At one point, with a shrug, he simply declared, “I’m just hard-wired to be anxious. I’ve always been this way.”

Really? Hard-wired to be anxious, worried and stressed-out? Not.

Have you looked at a baby lately? Or hung out with small children who are living in a secure home with at least one loving parent? In general, well-fed kids (poverty is another thing entirely) are relaxed, spontaneous, playful and full of life a good deal of the time. Since when did it become in vogue to blame our adult anxieties on so-called “hard-wiring?” What does “hard-wiring” mean anyway?

In the 19th century, before Freud, most psychological maladies, lumped under the heading “hysteria,” were thought to be nervous disorders caused by bacteria. Patients were often quarantined, subjected to leeches, or sent away for a “cleanse.”

In the endless nature versus nurture debate over the source of our pain, nature, circa 2010, has taken the lead. We are culturally awash, once again, in a bio-chemical, reductionist moment. Peering into the recesses of the brain more deeply than ever before, we latch on to the work of electrolytes, neuro-peptides and synapses, hoping to root out those dastardly chemicals that bring on our suffering. With this narrative in vogue, we take umbrage in labeling our issues, challenges and deficits “hard-wired” — hence, unchangeable.

Ironically, it is science itself which may restore some equilibrium to this conundrum, for scientists have a wonderful habit of de-bunking their own theories. Today, neuroscientists are re-discovering what Freud, even with his limited purview on the human mind, understood implicitly in his early forays into developmental psychology: The brain itself, the supposed home front of “hard-wiring,” is malleable, adaptable and constantly renewing itself.

Brain scientists are beginning to understand that the biochemistry and neuronal network that under girds the structure of the brain is constantly re-organizing and adapting to changes in the outer world. New research bringing together the best of neuroscience and psychiatry, such as detailed in The Brain that Changes Itself by Norman Doige, MD. calls into question the notion that the “wiring” in our brains is “hard” in any way, shape or form.

So if the latest research is accurate, and our brains ARE adaptable and changeable, what are we to do about this tendency to default to the “hard-wiring” narrative?

In the research I conducted over a 10-year period for my new book, Shift: Let Go of Fear and Get Your Life in Gear, what I came to see repeatedly in my clients (and I might add, in my own life!) is that these default narratives, especially when spoken in the context of anxiety, stress and worry, point, not to chemical dysfunction, but to our addiction to comfort, our antipathy towards change (in a nation born of revolution) and our bifurcated relationship with FEAR. In a culture addicted to “happiness” (but that rushes out en mass to delight in big screen terror of vampires), we have forgotten, or at least dismissed, the truth that fear, especially when change is in the works, is perfectly normal — maybe even healthy.

In other words, when you find yourself defaulting to the story, “I’m hard-wired to be ______”, (e.g. anxious, stressed, worried, fill-in-the blank with your favorite), it usually means that some aspect of your life is ready to shift, ready to release, ready to be, in fact, renewed. BUT, because change is uncomfortable even for the most adaptable of us, our egos will hook into whatever cultural narrative is in vogue to hold us “in check” — in an effort to protect us. But from what? It seems we would rather languish in depression or wallow in worry instead of simply acknowledging our fear of the unknown, breathing deeply and stepping into the flow of life… and changing.

So the next time you find yourself feeling anxious and you begin to ask if perchance you’re “hard-wired” for misery, try asking yourself some different questions:

What pattern might I be stuck in–at work, in my relationships, in my life?

What change might be afoot that I’m resisting?

Is it possible that my life might be BETTER if I relaxed, just a bit, and allowed the change to unfold?

In the case of my client, when he stepped back, took a deep breath, and contemplated what possible change might be in the works, he realized that he was frustrated with his job, bored with his living situation and dissatisfied with many aspects of his life. He actually desires change but fears it.

There is another narrative available to him, of course, a story of new beginnings and unexplored territories, which could be fueled, not by the energy of anxiety, but excitement, even enthusiasm. But in order to shift gears, he will have to give up his story that he is “hard-wired” for worry. Instead, with an awakened awareness that change is inevitable, and a willingness to release that which no longer serves him, he might just re-wire his way into of a new way of being…creating whole new vistas of possibility.

So check your wiring…and don’t be afraid to blow a few circuits now and again…you may just re-wire the system… and light up your life!

Dr J

Releasing that S.O.B. called J.O.B.

A recent article in the NY Times called attention to a huge paradigm SHIFT that I’ve been noticing for a few years now: The “JOB” as we know it is on its way out! Like a wave that is building…getting ready to make land fall and wash away a cultural icon, the linear, full-time, boxed in life mode called “having a JOB” seems to be dying out. The article pointed out how millions of people coming out of the recession are making a conscious decision NOT to look for a job — but to craft a life built around consulting assignments, part-time work, and freelancing gigs. Welcome to the brave post-JOB world, where we are ALL called to be entrepreneurs and to create businesses, to craft work/life-styles that mine the talents, visions and passions that make us unique…and to bring those forth. In a word, welcome to the “portfolio” world!

Of course, we all know how painful it can be to lose one’s job, to be laid off, or re-engineered out of a corporate gig that we thought was a “secure” position. Losing a job can wreak havoc on our finances, our families, and our sense of security, but sometimes equally important is what it does to our sense of identity, raising the inevitable question: Without this JOB, who am I?

It may sound rather fantastical or unrealistic to speak this way, yet we are so quick to forget that the “full-time” job, and picture we have of work life made up of 60 hour weeks with a couple of weeks break in the summer or at holiday time if we are lucky, is relatively new on the cultural scene. The work world that we consider “normal” actually grew out of the Industrial Revolution–a time when factories arose to replace farms and people became cogs in the new machine of productivity. The “job” –as an arduous, exhausting, all-consuming, clamor up the rungs of a corporate ladder or scramble to get off the factory floor–is not etched in our DNA!

That said, writing as one who has felt the sting of unemployment myself over the years, I don’t want to be cavalier about this transition. It is a big SHIFT in our culture…and in our lives. BUT, and this is a big BUT, there is a true silver lining here, if we choose to see it that way. By letting go of the cultural fantasy that life is a straight line trip up the job/career ladder to nirvana (or golfing by the sea shore), we can reframe the change and see through to an opportunity to reinvent our relationship with WORK. We can begin to create new ways of being in the world that not only pay the bills, but nurture and nourish our creative spirits…and keep our soul’s alive.

So, if you’ve recently lost your job or are just wondering if it is time to step off the corporate ladder and try to fly solo or create a business, non-profit, or other way of working that might better aligned with your soul’s desire, here’s what I consider to be the 3 key steps for making the SHIFT (oh, and read my new book SHIFT too…where you’ll find a whole host of tools and practices to support your transformation:

Your Workbook for Life-Shifting!

1. Release: Letting go–or “being let go” (if the rug-pulling comes from outside your control, as is often the case) can be emotionally devastating to our egos. Grieving the loss, of a job, of an identity, of who we thought we were…takes time. Don’t criticize yourself for feeling a sense of loss, or sadness, just let the feelings come up and flow through you. Exercise, eat well, sleep a lot, if necessary, and be sure to share your true feelings with a loving companion, therapist or coach. Grieving is part of the process of letting go–it doesn’t take forever but it does need to be honored.

Try not to be freaked out by the symptoms of change. Anxiety, stress, worry, lethargy, boredom, mild depression are all naturally occurring symptoms when we are feeling stuck, in a RUT, or experience a rupture in our lives. They, and you, are NORMAL! Our protective egos will try desperately to “rev us up” (anxiety) or shut us down (boredom/depression), as a way to protect us from CHANGE.

Vent...breathe...vent some more...breathe...and...release!


We are bombarded with advertisements and self-help books all wanting to help us alleviate the symptoms and get back on that treadmill. It is ok to want to feel better–but don’t miss the forest by getting caught up in the trees. Sometimes symptoms of FEAR (which most of these are!) are a gift in disguise, calling us forth to do the inner work of re-inventing our relationships, our careers, jettisoning our small view of ourselves as “nine-to-five-ers” or just good enough to hold on to that S.O.B. of a job.

2. Reframe: Step back, take a deep breath, and look for the gift, the opportunity, and the possibilities that are all around you, even in the wake of a major job loss. Do a lot of journaling–about your passions, your gifts, your dreams. Put together a list of what you KNOW YOU ARE GOOD AT…and ask everyone you trust and love what gifts they think you bring to the world. Letting go of the victim energy and going inside ourselves to re-connect with the “through-line” of our passions, our talents and our capabilities is the crucial transitional shift required to begin again.

Embrace your ever-present inner beginner!


3. Re-invent: Create a vision–not a specific goal, but a picture/fantasy–of how you’d like to be living and what work you see yourself doing a year from now…and five years from now. Write a mission statement and create a “vision board”–a collage–that operates as a billboard for the new brand you are crafting in the world. As Tom Peters would say: the advert for YOU, INC.

Then start reaching out to people and offering to help, to serve and provide your talents/capabilities to the world. Don’t “network” in the outmoded ways (collecting business cards: NOT!), but connect with like-minded people, build relationships with key people who you admire, who are doing work in the world that is aligned with your passions and your new ways of seeing yourself. Remember: one deep, abiding relationship is all it takes to link you to the next great adventure in the work of your life. Networking is not about quantity…but quality!

the cirle of giving...always gives back!


Create a whole surfeit of resumes, websites, and FB pages that proclaim your gifts…and, finally, and most importantly, don’t be afraid to GIVE AWAY your time, your energy and your efforts to those who need your help. Giving of yourself, in the areas aligned with your passions/talents is the surest way to have the universe return the favor–in the guise of paid gigs, consulting/p-t work…and very likely, (God forbid) that old stand-by, another J.O.B.

We live in a time of great upheaval–where SHIFTS have become the norm…and the full-time j.o.b. seems to be disappearing. But, deep down, I believe this is all good news: a new day is also dawning (a key theme in my new book: ENDINGS always segue into BEGINNINGS!) when the idea of a “job” is being replaced with something new, something better, something more connected to who we are as humans: the integration of work, passion and play. Can you imagine a day when our adult lives are no longer bounded by “work days” and “vacation days?” A time when we love our work so much that we don’t “need” a vacation from it?

Step up to your growing edge...take the leap...and soar!

Or am I just crazy? What do you think?

Cheers,

Dr J

Sun may set on your job...but rise to the work of your life!

Twenty Questions…and A New Video!

Dear friends,

I just wrapped a “prep” project for what I hope will be an opportunity to chat with Diane Rehm’s of NPR’s Diane Rehm’s show book segment. I had to answer the proverbial “twenty questions”…(Ok…fifteen!) which was time-consuming but also great fun as it forced me to think deeply about WHY I wrote my new book, “SHIFT: Let Go of Fear and Get Your Life in Gear” –and why I’m passionate about helping people MOVE THROUGH FEAR and shift their lives into high gear!

I thought I’d share the question/answers with you here…BUT of course I still hope you’ll tune in when I get the call from Diane! Also…check out the cool new video that my publicity team created for me…I think it captures my excitement about the book as a tool for becoming a master “life-shifter”, the need for us all to get better at handling the up and down cycles of life… and my desire to help!

See below and click here: SHIFT VIDEO

Let me know what you think! I’d love to hear from you! 🙂

1. What inspired or compelled you to write Shift: Let Go of Fear and Get Your Life in Gear (GPP Life; April 20, 2010)?

There were two main drivers behind my passion for writing “Shift.” The first motivator emerged when I found myself frustrated with the dearth of current self-help books that I wanted to share with my clients. Today’s self-help literature feels so fragmented and “dumbed-down” to me. There are lots of short, pithy “motivational speech” type books about how to achieve happiness in five easy steps, and books that tackle anxiety and depression from a bio-medical perspective (the neuro-science angle is all the rage) and cognitive slant (“change your mind and you’ll change your life”), but very few that take a serious look at how change really operates in our lives—and more importantly: how to navigate the inevitable FEAR that accompanies change. I kept returning to books that were written up to twenty-five years ago (e.g. Feel the Fear and Do it Anyway or The Road Less Traveled) and finally decided that a book needed to be written that provides an integrated—mind, body, heart—approach to moving through change, and fear.
The second reason I was inspired to write “Shift” was that after working with clients for over 15 years from all walks of life—business, academia, government—I noticed a clear pattern, a series of distinct stages, that people would seem to go through whenever a big upheaval or transformative “shift” would happen in their lives. I definitely noticed it in my own life as well. In the process of shifting out of the corporate world, into the entrepreneurial, consulting arena, I watched myself go through specific stages, and experience distinct anxieties and fears, all of which paralleled exactly what my clients were going through. I decided that a roadmap of these stages, with tools for working through the fears that accompany them, would be exactly the kind of self-help book that I wished that I had been able to reach for…and one that could potentially help people relax more as they undergo change, perhaps not need the “pharma fix” to quell the symptoms—and in general, become more masterful at dealing with change.

2. “Shift happens,” as you so colorfully put it. If change is such a common and constant part of life, why do most people dread it?

We are constantly bombarded with media images of smiling, prosperous, skinny, happy people who are lounging on Caribbean beaches drinking Pina Coladas. This “endless happiness” rant—a sort of consumer nirvana, has become the holy grail of Western culture. Yet, the reality, as we all know, if we stop and think about it, is that life doesn’t really work out this way. Change, as the Eastern traditions remind us, is constant. We become so caught up in the quest for material wealth, security and so-called “happiness,” that when life does what it does—change—and we are called to grow and move beyond our comfort zones, into new jobs, new relationships, new careers, new family or community constellations, our first reaction isn’t excitement, or enthusiasm, but, unfortunately, dread.

3. Anxiety, worry, stress, and even depression often come with the territory of major life changes. What’s wrong with how most sufferers treat these painful symptoms?

The issue here is what I call the “myth of the symptom.” This myth is that just by alleviating the symptom, we will not only feel better, we WONT have to change. The reality is that most of the time these symptoms are a surface manifestation of our deep-rooted resistance—and fear—of change. We view the painful symptoms as “the enemy” when in reality, they may very well be our soul calling out to us to grow, stretch and move out of our comfort zones. In a word, to change!
Far too often, we seek to alleviate the symptoms, and temporarily feel better with pharmaceuticals or comfort food or excessive sleep or alcohol, but despite our best efforts, life keeps moving. We eventually have to heed the call to wake up and get with the program—to take a risk, step over the edge and change. Our jobs, our families, our relationships, our finances—these will all constantly morph and change.
On the other hand, as I’ve seen over and over again in my practice, especially with entrepreneurs and business leaders, even positive changes like a job promotion or starting a new business can bring on symptoms of fear. Unfortunately, our cultural tendency has become to avoid, dismiss or deny even the most positive opportunities to grow. Instead, we get stuck and reach for the pharma fix. This is unfortunate, because very often the symptoms which we label as BAD, are actually very helpful “pointers” to our need to move, grow and shift, if we could just wake up and “smell the coffee” as they say. This is why I approach fear—and its attendant symptoms, anxiety, depression, stress, etc.—with reverence and view them as potentially (not always) positive signs of growth and change, not as pain points that we should immediately attempt to banish or cover over with drugs.

4. In Shift, you confront the formidable subject of fear—but in a way rarely talked about in self-help books. Would you explain how fear and change naturally go together?

Too many self-help books treat fear as if it were an enemy, something to be avoided, dismissed and jettisoned as soon as possible so that we can get back to being fat, dumb and happy consumers. I’m frustrated with this approach to self-help, because I believe that the endless clamor for happiness and avoidance of pain is actually promoting the very opposite of what is intended: distress and de-motivation. Fear can be a great motivator. It shows up as a signal that it is time to “get in gear” and move forward in our lives, to take new risks, learn new ways of adapting, and to be creative. Fear is a signpost on the road that change is in the works, and it is not always, or even most of the time—bad.
In the context of change, our trouble starts when we feel anxious, or stressed, and we label ourselves as having something “wrong” with us, and make the symptoms worse. In truth, the push to grow and change that comes from the outer world, or from our soul’s desire to expand and create, often brings up the symptoms of fear—and this is actually a GOOD thing…a sign of life pushing us forward against the edge of complacency.

5. As you note in Shift, most people view change as a three-stage event—with a beginning, middle, and end. How did you come to see change as actually happening in six stages?

After reading the best-selling book “Transitions” by William Bridges and noting that most books of this type denote change processes as having these three basic stages, I started to notice that there was more going on in each of these stages than at first meets the eye. I started studying closely the events, the emotions, and the fears that showed up during the early, middle and ending stages of the cycle of renewal/change that clients were experiencing and I began to see a pattern of shifts that occurred all along the way, six of which are clearly identifiable: a rupture (breakdown), a release (ending, letting go), a retreat (rest stop), a revival (beginner phase), a rehearsal (new commitment) and a realization (manifestation). I found that breaking the change process out into these more nuanced stages was extremely helpful—mostly because the types of fears that we experience vary greatly at each stage along the way.
Recognizing that fear morphs and shows up differently at each juncture is an important element in becoming more masterful at moving through change—because we can come to EXPECT to feel fear, to consider it “normal” and not to denigrate or criticize ourselves for not always being thrilled with each stage even as we know that we are growing and evolving. Even at the culmination of a change process, what I call the realization stage—we can feel fear (fear of success!) and perhaps reprimand ourselves for not truly embracing the moment. Yet, when we become aware, for example, that fear may show up even in the realization of a dream, we can ride the wave of the symptoms with greater equanimity, calm, and awareness….and yes, even enjoy the ride~!

6. Most self-help books approach personal growth as a steady, uphill journey or a linear process. What makes Shift radically different?

Again, it is a Western conceit to consider personal development to be a linear, uphill, trajectory. This tendency to view life as a straight line towards enlightenment—or happiness—is built in to the culture mostly through out education system, which is designed with 2 or 4 year increments of study, each of which culminate with a graduation, and some formal ritual of completion. Yet, the deeper truth is that we never “graduate” from life. Thus, early in our lives, we are suffused with the cultural patterning which tells us that life is a series of steps to be climbed that lead straight up to happiness, prosperity and retirement. Yet, if we look at how nature works—in seasons and cycles—we see that life really doesn’t operate in a straight-line trajectory. Everything moves in cycles, and every culmination, or “realization’ or graduation, is followed by an ending, a letting go, and a return to a beginning.

7. In Shift, you take issue with the popular notion that everyone has an “authentic self.” So, how do you define identity? If there’s no such thing as the self, how can a person possibly develop self-awareness?

I like the way you phrased this question because although I take issue with the idea of an “authentic” self, I do believe that we have a self—an essential, deep and abiding beingness that is very real, but not static. The key to my approach to the self, and our need to constantly reinvent the self all throughout our lives, is to recognize that what we consider to be an “authentic” self is just a story, a narrative of how we see ourselves, how others see us, and how we are moving in the world at any given moment in time. It is not “inherent” or “real” or unchangeable—just the opposite in fact. What is “authentically” real about us is in constant flux—our roles, our beliefs, our attitudes—and once we recognize this it is very freeing. We can then give ourselves permission to re-write the “story of me” at any time, throughout our entire lives.

8. In Shift, you also take issue with the prevailing self-help focus on achieving happiness. Why?

I am not fundamentally against “happiness.” However, my concern with the trend towards studying everything about human life from a “positive psychology” standpoint is that it carries the assumption that happiness is something to be “achieved” as a goal, as a marker of a life well lived. Yet, how many people do you know that are constantly happy? Happiness is an ephemeral, moving, transient experience, and unhappiness—melancholy, sorrow, grief, and yes, even fear—are not always bad. I’m more interested in helping my clients live a life of meaning and depth, a life filled with exploration, creativity and risk-taking, than I am helping people to climb up a “happiness tree,” find a perch to hang out on and rot. Happiness is a great, if momentary, experience along the cycle of change that characterizes real life—not something to be set forth as the pinnacle to be achieved. This attitude toward life actually sets us up for the opposite experience—distress—because it is so unrealistic and more like a Hollywood movie than the way life really works. By being bombarded with images that promote striving for success and happiness as the epitome of life’s purpose—we set ourselves up to be highly self-critical, to rarely measure up…and paradoxically, to be very unhappy!

9. Why do you have a problem with experts who stress the power of positive thinking? Why do you see navigating change as a matter of the body and heart as well as the mind?

I am not against “positive thinking” or approaches to personal growth that incorporate awareness of how our thoughts impact and influence our feelings and behaviors. The thinking mind is a key component in the constellation of self; it is a crucial part of who we are. BUT, it is not everything. Human beings are much more than “brains on a stick”—we are thinking, feeling, and physical beings. Just changing your thoughts may have a temporary impact on your life—making you feel better, change a behavior for a while, but real transformation, the kind where you wake up and don’t even recognize yourself or your life, requires the full-on engagement of the emotional, physical and mental aspects of who we are. We have to bring the body/heart right up in the front seat with the head.

10. As you explain in Shift, the best approach to navigating change depends on whether a person is more of a “thinker,” a “feeler” or a “doer.” How can a person determine his or her particular predisposition?

Everyone uses all three of the modalities to move through life—thinking, feeling and doing. However, we all have a stronger affinity for one or two of these and tend to ignore or dismiss the others. In Shift, readers can take a simple diagnostic exam to help them determine which of the three modes of operating they lean towards—giving them information about what they should attend to and not ignore. In order for real transformation to occur in our lives, we need to engage with all aspects of our being—and knowing more about our natural tendencies can help us to be sure to bring into focus those areas of our lives that we might naturally ignore or dismiss.

11. Throughout Shift, you reinforce the benefits of meditation and yoga. How can these spiritual fitness practices help anyone deal with the challenges of change?

The real benefits of meditation and yoga are simple, yet profound. Both of these practices help us get out of our thinking minds and become aware of our emotional and physical states. We learn to attend to our breathing—a natural access route to become an observer, a witness of ourselves, whether in action in yoga postures, or in a relaxed, contemplative state like meditation. Learning to step back, create space for feeling, sensing and being present to our physical and emotional energies is key, for it encourages us to create a dialogue within our selves—to listen in for clues, symbols and signals about what is really happening in our lives—and how/what kinds of change may be occurring.

12. As you make clear in Shift, what most people really fear isn’t the end result, but the beginning. Would you share a few nuggets of wisdom or strategies for making starting over less daunting and more manageable?

A crucial strategy that I offer my clients—and everyone who is up against feeling stuck or resisting the call to change—is to remember what it was like to be a kid, to connect to that “beginner’s mind”. The key to becoming masterful at what I call “life-shifting”—moving through life’s upheavals and ruptures, is to become aware that every ending signals the shift to a new beginning. As we get older and more set in our expectations that as “adults” we’re supposed to “have it handled,” we may resist and fear endings.
But even more often, we struggle with the call to begin again, to start over, because being a beginner is often awkward and uncomfortable. I always remind my clients that life moves in cycles and that the “beginner” phase of any life change can be the most exciting, energizing, and fun part of the process. We have to give ourselves permission to view this stage—what I call the “revival” –as a creative, exploration process. We need to recognize that “feeling inadequate” is perfectly normal, and that if we can get in touch with the child-like energy that is always available to us at any age, we can learn new skills, re-invent our roles, and our sense of self at any point in life, even very old age.
I encourage older people, baby-boomers in need of renewal for example, to blend together the two energies—of the inner child and the wise adult—together in approaching new activities or learning new skills. It is not only ok to make mistakes, and to stumble along the way, it is normal and expected. We need to lighten up on ourselves and remember to have fun along the way. It is a misnomer to believe that “mastery” means doing everything well or being an expert. Mastery, to my mind, is about becoming aware that being an awkward beginner, a ungainly adolescent, and a struggling apprentice, are natural parts of an endless cycle of change—becoming masterful is about becoming adept at moving through these phases and not dreading, but delighting in the process.

13. In today’s economic climate, more and more people are being forced to change their careers, lifestyles, and expectations about retirement. Can you offer any words of reassurance or practical guidance to help them?

When I look to reassure people that they can get through a major change, or a difficult time in their career or family life, I remind them that ideas like “retirement” are very new on the cultural and historical scene. The fact that we are living longer and living healthier lives means that instead of worrying about retirement (although financial planning is wise), we have the opportunity to reinvent our lives over and over again rather than sit back, watch tv or play golf. By recognizing that we have the energy of creativity available to us at any age, and that what we consider our “defined self” is anything but determined, we are free to re-write and re-craft our own personal story all along the path of life.
I’m reminded of my adopted mother’s view of life. She passed away about a year ago after struggling with cancer for many years, but even in the last five years of her life, with cancer, she still found time to volunteer at local elections, work part-time in the city hall of my home town, and gather on weekends with friends and local folks that were decades her junior. When I would ask young people who loved brunching with her on the weekends, why do you hang out with my mom…I mean, she’s “OLD”? They would answer, “Because your mom is ageless. She has a joy about her, grit and determination, a wonderful sense of humor…and she really knows how to LIVE. It is a joy to spend time with her.” I feel grateful to have had a mom who really didn’t buy into the cultural story of retirement and “giving up” as you get old…she had innumerable careers, a busy, active social circle, and endless numbers of hobbies that kept her engaged literally right up until just a few weeks before she died.

In Shift, readers will find inspiring stories of a number of men and women who “re-invented” their stories about who they thought they were…at forty, fifty and beyond. You are never too old to learn how to master change, because change is occurring anyway…the key is strapping on, with enthusiasm, for the ride!

14. As you share, you trace the birth of your book all the way back to the fateful date when you were seven. How did learning the truth that you were adopted mark a seismic change in your life and identity?

I like to share my adoption story with people because along with other important “shifts” that I’ve experienced in my life, this is a great reminder that who we think we are is ALWAYS subject to change. I had an early life experience, a revelation, of how my sense of self was not “fixed” or fact. I have a genetic story of who I am that is different from the environmental story. I have moved at times in my life from feeling like an “orphan” to being embraced with having two families, and many friends. Life is like that. Our identities are not etched in anything even remotely concrete. When people come to me with stories of failure, or childhood trauma, or breakdown in their careers or relationships, I’m quick to remind them that this is just part of the story of who they are—and always subject to change.
Today in our culture, we suffer a great deal from what I call “crises of identity” because we get very attached to our jobs, our lifestyles and our material possessions. But, these are always subject to change…and this is not a bad thing, but can also represent an opportunity, for re-birth, growth and new expression of our potential as creative beings.

15. What is your greatest goal or aspiration for Shift? What would you most like any person grappling with a major change to learn from reading your book and do first?

What I most want people to “do” after reading my book, is to give themselves a break. HAHA. To relax more and lighten up. To realize that who they see themselves being and doing is not fixed in stone. As a culture, we need to re-connect with the child-like, playful, inventive energy that made our country great in the first place.
My greatest aspiration for the book is that people will come away with an awareness that they are always moving, shifting and changing and that this “fact” gives them a great deal of freedom to become bigger, better and MORE of who they dream of being…BUT they have to re-assess their beliefs about fear, and its attendant symptoms, and become less rigid, less “dictatorial” and attached to some so-called authentically fixed story of self.
I’d love to see people breathe a sigh of relief after reading “Shift”—and not be so quick to reach for the anti-depressants or beat themselves up for not always being happy. Instead, to recognize their fears and anxieties as normal responses to a deeper process that undergirds all human life: the impulse to grow, create and constantly be born anew…at any age.

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Death is Life

“Endings…beginnings. Sometimes it feels like there is very little difference between the two. Both are hard. Both occur seemingly at random. Both are unpredictable. Life is like that.” Anonymous

Welcome back blog readers! I’ve missed you! It has been a while! My apologies for dropping off the blogging radar screen these past few months. I haven’t gone far from the writing scene actually…but been consumed with completing my soon-to-be-released book, Shift: Let Go of Fear and Get Your Life in Gear, which will–hurrah!–be in bookstores in early April (you can pre-order it NOW on Amazon!)

Coming Soon...

And so…as I return to the blogosphere today, ushering in the new decade and with a new book about to hit the shelves, I’m deeply aware of the cyclical nature of life–filled with endings, deaths of a sort–and new beginnings. On some fundamental level, this natural, but all-too-often denied cycle of life is at the core of what my book, Shift, is all about.

Over the past couple of decades, we Americans (and maybe Westerners in general) seem to have lost touch with the reality that everything, and I mean EVERYTHING, in life moves in cycles–relationships, careers, economies, business. We have slipped into a “growth” trance, falsely believing that real estate prices always go up, credit to buy “more” is always available, that “saving for a rainy day” is unnecessary because rainy days can be avoided with Prozac.

As we emerge from this difficult time, I hope those of us in the self-help world will also sober up a bit…get off the
“instant happiness” and “five steps to bliss” trains…and re-dedicate ourselves to supporting our readers through the very real twists and turns that make life meaningful…and an on-going mystery.

Life can be tough, challenging, and frightening…but also inspirational and filled with deep meaning. But we have to be willing to face the music and accept the truth: all parties end. After all, we humans are just tiny, yet miraculous little containers of water and dust floating on a huge fire/dirt/water ball in space…What do we REALLY know of the “grand design?”

Our Tiny Home

Last night, I had the privilege of attending a short, but moving candlelight vigil service in honor of a dear friend and neighbor who recently passed away. Carol was only in her early fifties, a vibrant, passionate, and warm human being–and the star real estate agent in my apartment building. As we neighbors compared notes, we came to realize that a huge percentage of us had purchased our coops in the building (in NYC we have COOPs not just condos!) because of Carol’s heart-warming enthusiasm for our building and neighborhood, along with her impeccable integrity. We all wanted to have HER as a neighbor.

Now, sadly, she has left us–gone way too soon.

Saying an emotional good-bye to my dear friend, and being ever-present to the recent devastation and loss in Haiti, I am deeply aware of how unpredictable life can be. Perhaps just to maintain some semblance of equilibrium, and to be able to get out of bed in the morning with a modicum of optimism, we Americans tend to dismiss, deny, and generally ignore (or medicate against) the cyclical nature of life.

Sunrise or Sunset? Maybe both?

But…DR J, you might ask, why focus on the negative? Why not just read the latest tome on how to “change your mind and change your life” (not!), pull out that Visa card, take your Abilify…and get on the “happiness train?”

Well, I’m not fundamentally against happiness! But, I would say that when we deny the reality that EVERYTHING in life is transient, everything moves in cycles–everything ends–we lose touch with the depth, the meaning, and the possibility that life’s downturns provide. We miss the spaces for learning, the opportunities for being moved, the moments of deep connection, and most fundamentally, those mysterious openings when something new is being born in us in the wake of an ending. Newborns, of the human or theoretical ilk, require SPACE to grow and flower. Empty space. Gaps in endless productivity. Breaks from shopping. Hibernation. Quiet moments of contemplation and solitude. All of the above…

I’m excited about my new book. It is a different kind of self-help book…one that I hope will truly HELP people instead of filling their heads with false fantasies about the so-called “Secret” ways to attract cars, mansions and eternal riches into their lives. Not!

In Shift, I do lay out a “prescription” of sorts, for how to deal with life’s upheavals and cycles in a meaningful, enriching, and energizing way. After creating what I call the “Life-Shifting” program for self-renewal, and seeing it work, in real time, with hundreds of clients from all walks of life, I wanted to share my findings–and offer a “road map” through the dark woods of change–into the light of new beginnings.

In the book, I also share my own personal journey through the vicissitudes of change (not without a bit of drama!) and share some truly amazing stories of transformation that I’ve had the privilege of witnessing firsthand. You really can “re-invent” yourself — at any age, in the face of any difficulty. I’ve seen it.

So…In honor of the “new conversation” that I hope to kick off in the coming months, I’ll shortly be bringing this blog to a timely end…and gearing up to launch a new website and blog at http://www.Jeffreyhull.com.

Stay tuned for the kick-off date. I will be back soon with announcements about timing and exciting events where you can join me in person — and learn more about how you can “make the shift” and transform your life into a meaningful, soulful, and yes, even joyful journey.

Many Paths, Many Possibilities

In the meantime, here are a few of the questions for you to ponder:

How do you weather downturns in the economy? Or in your Life?

Do you reach for the pharma fix or instead step back, reflect, breathe…become aware of your fears… and recognize that “this too will pass”…that endings and down moments are, well, just NORMAL!?

Have you taken time during this economic tsunami to reflect on what really matters, to re-evaluate your priorities?

Are you “making the shift” to live out your dreams..yet staying grounded in the “real” world?

I’d love to hear from you!

Namaste,

Dr J

Demons, Dragons, and The Daimon (part two)

Well, wouldn’t you know it? No sooner I had hit the “post” button on part one of this blog, the demons came out swinging.

We've all been there...

We've all been there...

By late in the day yesterday, I was felled by a full-blown assault: sore throat, achy head, stuffy nose, body aches…not a pretty picture.

Was I surprised? Not really. I could feel the anxiety rising in me (even mentioned it in my final paragraph yesterday), as I thought about the controversy my post might engender…and about the formidable challenge that lay ahead: trying to slay that dragon of fear. No easy task…and I’m basically a simple country boy from New England, no super powers here.

This morning, after a good night’s sleep and a 90 minute miracle cure called yoga (more on that soon), I feel much better. BUT, I’m still acutely aware that my little expose suggesting that the demons of illness often have emotional underpinnings, runs counter to the bio-medical model that serves as our cultural norm. With the emergence of diagnostic categories for just about every imaginable symptom (restless leg syndrome anyone?) and a drug industry ready to promote a magic pill that cures everything (we now even have an anti-depressant that works on top of other anti-depressants that don’t…thanks Abilify!), the very ancient idea that we might LEARN from our illness, that our body–and soul–might be speaking to us through the symptom…well, that is very much out of vogue.

Counter culture or no, I still hold to my thesis: much of the time our bodies get sick because we are driving on auto-pilot in the fast lane, avoiding, denying, or just plain ignoring the emotional billboard that reads: Change! And FEAR–accompanied by its demon sidekicks, anxiety, stress and worry–is in the driver’s seat.

Who's driving this bus?

Who's driving this bus?

So, let’s hit the road. Gather up your courage, as we face down the demons, enter the dragon’s lair, and consider a crucial question: Why is fear so difficult to conquer? Here are a few possible reasons:

1. Fear is irrational. In today’s world, where fixing the body is akin to fixing a car (have you soon the TV show “House”? Jung would turn over in his grave if he could witness this 21st century archetypal hero/fixer of the human machine, who operates devoid of any human emotion), the idea that fear– irrational, invisible, uncontrollable, and elusive–might be lurking in the ER, is antithetical to our view of medicine.

2. Fear operates at the intersection of mind and body. At the end of the day, fear, whether we like to admit it or not, is a FEELING. And feelings don’t simply hang out in the cerebral cortex or in the lower intestines. They are more than just neuro-impulses racing across acetylcolene-filled synapses; they are what makes us human, mysterious…and NOT a machine.

Now Doctor, tell me again exactly where FEAR is located?

Now Doctor, tell me again exactly where FEAR is located?

They are complex, inscrutable, and hard to pin down with a pill, a knife, or even a therapist!

3. Fear has no regard for past, present, or future. Fear is always “fear of” something, but for some crazy reason (again a mystery that makes humans unique in the animal kingdom), the thing we are afraid of rarely exists in the present. We are terrorized by doomsday forecasts, just as we cling, usually unconsciously, to the horrors of the past.

The hard-to-accept truth about fear is that unless you are staring down an ax murderer in your front yard–or have a bear on your doorstep (don’t ask, I had that happen to me…and boy that was FEAR!)—the symptoms you have are very likely not about today…but about yesterday, tomorrow and the rest of your life.

Ghosts from the past and goblins from the future are TOUGH to root out (why do you think Charles Dickens “A Christmas Carol” is a classic tale: we can all relate to the terrors old Ebenezer faced…from the past…from the future. But it is also a story of redemption and conquered fear…).

The key to slaying the dragon is to attack it where it lives, in the irrational world of lions, tigers and bears (uh-huh), at the crossroads of mind/body, and on the frontiers of memory and fantasy. Here’s the recipe that I follow:

1. Accept that your fear is real. This is the crucial first step. As all the therapists and spiritual gurus in the world will tell you: self-awareness is half the battle. It’s ok to be afraid. We all are.

my favorite symbol for self awareness

my favorite symbol for self awareness

During my yoga class yesterday, when I was feeling like death warmed over…I didn’t just fantasize about chicken soup and Tylenol, I asked myself, “Ok Dr J, what are you afraid of?”

The truth was right there for me to see, but accepting it was hard (although once I did, I immediately started feeling better): I’m afraid of being controversial, afraid of making a mistake, afraid of being wrong, afraid of being glib, afraid of being grandiose…all remnants of childhood fears of just not being good enough.

Can anyone out there relate?

Can you admit it to yourself?

Acknowledgment, awareness, compassion (for self): these are the keys to the castle.

2. Take care of mind AND body. The best-selling phenom known as “The Secret” notwithstanding, I don’t buy that positive thinking or “clear intention” can vanquish fear. Ever notice how any expert who writes about the power of intention ALWAYS includes the caveat that they manifested their dreams ONLY AFTER CLEARING OUT all the distractions, obstacles and dead wood–or whatever they decide to call the detritus of FEAR. This gets them off the hook for poor results, because they can always say, “well, you just weren’t a clear enough channel,” all the while avoiding the real culprit: fear. It may make for bestsellers, but, sorry folks, it just ain’t that simple.

This is where practices like yoga, Tai Chi, or Chi Gong come in. You’ve got to get the body engaged.

2000 year old cure!

2000 year old cure!

Your mind, however clairvoyant, can’t do this alone. Yoga is particularly well matched to take on fear, because it brings body, mind and spirit back into alignment, strengthens your core (fear often attacks the gut!), and calms the mind.

3. Engage your fear of the past…and future. This is a tough one, but writing in a journal, finding a friend who’s a good listener (and open-minded), or having a supportive life coach or therapist can help. The key practice is self-inquiry.

Ask yourself what about the future seems scary? What kinds of “worst case scenarios” does your monkey mind generate? Can you see that these are all made up? Can you share your fears…then take a deep breath and come into the present moment, realizing that you’re ok. Now.

Ask yourself, What happened in your recent, or not so recent, past that still burdens you with fright? What are you fearful of happening again (at least in your imagination)?

swimming in fear infested waters?

swimming in fear infested waters?

Fears like to hide out in what you think are forgotten memories, and they like to lurk in the cataclysmic fantasies of an unknown future.

Talk them through. Bring them up. Get them out on the table: when brought into awareness, with compassion and support, their power wanes; soon they lose the ability to hold you hostage.

SO, there you have it. Slaying the dragon is not actually as hard as it sounds…but it must be approached on its own terms. At the end of the day, once you’ve taken the three crucial steps above, FEAR, to my mind, has only one final antidote (remember the redemptive ending to “A Christmas Carol”?): LOVE.

That’s right. Love, and compassion. But before you run out and buy People Magazine to check up on Jen and Brad….I don’t mean the gossipy, fatuous, clingy kind of love. I mean the energy of desire, connection, meaning and purpose–LOVE of life itself–the daimon of passion and compassion that fuels our inspiration, our creativity, our deep longing for community.

Love–what the Greeks call Eros or Agape–is much like fear, but is its opposite, and that’s why it is so powerful: love, like fear, is irrational. Love, like fear, operates at the intersection of mind and body. Love, like fear, has no regard for past, present and future. Love is as elusive as fear, yet, when present in our lives, it fuels our growth, nourishes our transformation, brings us into deep alignment with each other…and calms the soul.

Compassion, for ourselves and each other, is what binds us together as people; it is what makes a family a family (not genetics–oftentimes genetic families are ANYTHING but loving); it is what makes community–even culture–possible. And, most important of all, compassion/caring/love…heal us. They make us human; they make us whole.

wisdom of the elders

wisdom of the elders

I’ve said this before in this blog, and I’ll say it again: the thing that will slay the dragon of fear faster than any pharma fix is a good old-fashioned, deeply felt, hug. That’s right. We may be terrified to jump in the river of change…but maybe, just maybe, if we grab hold of each other tight enough, we can buck the tide.

Dr J