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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:


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


Jennifer Freed: The Cat’s Meow!

Greetings all,

What a great show this week with best-selling author Jennifer Freed, PhD. Jennifer joined me on Life Shifting with Dr J to share about her new book: Life Lessons from Stanley the Cat–Nine Lives of Everyday Wisdom. Filled with beautiful illustrations, potent and inspiring information, this book will touch your heart, open your mind, and activate your soul (even if you’re not a cat lover!).

wild, wistful...and wise

Jennifer has done a marvelous job of reflecting on her 19 year-long relationship with her beloved pet, and distilled into this compact book all the wise and wonderful teaching he passed on to her–about life, love, catching rays, rats, and the all-important NAP.

Seriously, this book is easy to digest, comes in small, well-articulated morsels…and is quite profound. As a psychotherapist and depth psychologist, Jennifer knows how to dig below the surface and scratch at the core of our human foibles–with a non-judgmental stance, tons of compassion, and a touch of humor. Much of what Jennifer gleaned from her nine-lived Stanley–and that she shared in the book and with me on the show–is about REMEMBERING the little things that matter most in life:

–Take time to DO NOTHING
(only in quiet repose, can the seeds of your creativity be watered)

High Productivity

–Take time to rest, relax and stretch
(the body is your true home, without it you’d be pretty lost!)

Learn from the best!

–Reach out to TOUCH someone when they are in pain
(sometimes all we humans really need is a HUG and a little caress)

–Eat what your body needs…and leave the rest for the dog
(you can only digest SO MUCH…so don’t be greedy!)

–Spit up instead of swallowing bad food or bad feelings (it is good to purge the system once in a while!)

And so on…

As we approach the holidays and maybe feel a bit revved up with a long to-do list of parties, shopping, travel plans and the like…it is quite easy to get lost in the whirlwind of busy-ness and forget to BE PRESENT, to actually ENJOY the moment(s)…of each day.

what matters most?

I hope you will find time in your busy schedule to download and listen to Jennifer’s wonderful stories (click here) about how this cool new book came into being. Listen deeply as she shares the wisdom passed on by her beloved pet (who passed away recently after 19 years). You’ll definitely want copies of this book for Xmas gifts…and you may just find yourself curled up in front of the fire, nuzzling your dog, cat or significant other, perusing this book…and sailing softly into dreamland…with a smile.

Many thanks to Jenn! Her book deserves a special spot on your gift list…right next to SHIFT: Let Go of Fear and Get Your Life in Gear! (shameless self promotion, I know…but hey, SHIFT would make a super holiday gift for someone in need of a life-shift, or a lift…and a GIFT!!!


Dr J

Life Shifting Re-cap: De-toxify Your Life!

Well…it has been a week since the big first step into the holiday season with Thanksgiving and Black Friday. How did it go? Did you have your fill of food, fun…and family? Did you do the cyber-shopping thing this year or get up and out at 5am and storm down to the mall? I was in an outlet mall on Friday afternoon and I have to say it seemed surprisingly tame and calm. Surreal almost. The people there did seem to be in good spirits. It was nice to see smiles and sales…a nice combo!

Since we’re entering another holiday season, when many of us re-connect with loved ones with anxiety-producing results, I invited “Goddess Coach” Melissa Zwanger to join me this week on my radio show, Life Shifting with Dr J!

Melissa is an expert in helping women entrepreneurs and business leaders/owners take their organizations to greater heights of success…AND she is what I would call a “fitness trainer for the emotions”. Melissa specializes in helping people stay grounded, centered, and compassionate in even the most stressful of family situations.

The perfect guest to help me kick off this holiday season, Melissa comes armed with years of training in a whole host of healing modalities, and an MBA from Wharton. Melissa shared her top tips for “de-toxifying” your emotional self especially when confronted with difficult family members.

Here’s a quick summary of the steps Melissa recommended you take — should you get triggered once again by that curmudgeon uncle, a testy brother or judgmental mom:

1. identify the true feeling.

Key to cleansing, grounding and re-claiming your balance when you get knocked off center, is to step back, breathe, notice your bodily symptoms, and attempt to identify the true feeling. It may be sadness or anger or frustration. The starting point for release and re-centering involves creating a space–a physical, emotional, mental opening–even if only for a few seconds, where you can identify and tend to the underlying feeling.

Calm in the storm?

2. Separate the Feeling from the NEED.

Once you have a sense of WHAT feeling is being triggered in you, then you can begin to re-frame the situation and ask yourself a crucial question: What do I need right now? When strong negative emotions are stirred up in us, usually they are a signal that a deep need or maybe a hurt or trauma from the past is re-surfacing. It is well nigh impossible though, to ask another person to be supportive, or to change their behavior, unless you are CLEAR about what you want/need to have happen. Continue reading

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?


Dr J

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

The Trouble with Happiness: Part Three–Money, Meaning and the Madness of “More”

Post the onslaught of Michael Jackson media madness, I want to get back to the topic, which was very much on my mind last week…and hasn’t left: happiness.

Today’s New York Times kicks off with another recession winner: California is about to “default.” I’m not sure exactly what this means, although it is safe to say that it is seriously gloomy news, as the economic hurricane of 2008-2009 continues to plow down industries–real estate, banking, insurance, automobiles (all of which are heavily concentrated in California) like match sticks in a blaze. I guess one could surmise that, with its credit rating downgraded, and its deficit ballooning, the entire state is about to be “foreclosed”. storm

Of course, the situation is no laughing matter, and we’re not exactly sitting pretty here in my home state of New York. The pain has managed to spread, far and wide, touching just about everyone, in the pocket book–and head, and heart.

When I reflect on what’s happening with the economy on a psychological/cultural level, somehow I always end up harping once again on our addiction to material, consumable, instant, microwave-safe, happiness…and all the trouble it gets us into. It just seems to me that the deeper issue we face, as a nation and a culture, is a crisis of identity: We’ve lost sight of who we are, and what REALLY matters.

Perhaps the trouble I have with the Americanized version of “happiness,” isn’t so much with our desire to be “happy” but with the path we’ve chosen to get there: we’ve just drunk way too deeply on the Kool-Aid of consumption. Clamoring always for the almighty “more,” is a form of madness—a malaise of meaning that is more symptomatic of clinical manic depression than of the happiness it is designed to create. Herewith is the real question: Why do we feel so empty that we cram ourselves endlessly with stuff?

Our vehicle of choice?

Our vehicle of choice?

Isn’t enough, well, enough? After all, sated is state of being, not having.

I recently watched a documentary on the housing crisis, in which a family of four from Mexico had moved to Southern California in pursuit of the American Dream. After struggling mightily for a number of years, the husband had achieved a modicum of success: legal status, a white collar job in office tower, a comfortable apartment in which each of his kids had their own bedroom–and the requisite computers, televisions, Ipods, even an SUV. But when the opportunity came up for him to get a low interest loan on a huge house, a big lawn and a long commute, he grabbed at the chance.

Then, when he lost his job in the downturn, this hard-working immigrant was forced to give up his home, declare bankruptcy and in effect, start back at the beginning. I couldn’t help but wonder, having come so far from the hardscrabble poverty he had grown up in south-of-the-border, why would he risk everything just for MORE house?

More happiness? Really?

Was it inevitable that we’d get so far off track? I mean, if you think about it, we’ve been wise to the shadow of greed, and the addiction to material wealth, for a long, long time. Erich Fromm, that psychological provocateur, warned us rather poignantly in his invaluable tome, “The Sane Society” way back in 1955:

“Originally, the idea of consuming more was meant to give man a happier, more satisfied life. Consumption was a means to an end—that of happiness. It now has become an aim in itself. Man has become alienated from the work he does, the things and pleasures he consumes, and from the social forces which under gird our society.”

So where do we go from here? As Carl Jung might say, the shadow side of our addiction to happiness—at least in material form—has reared its ugly head in the form of a deep recession (or collective depression?). But Jung was also an optimist, and noted that breakdown always precedes breakthrough. As he might put it, with the ego—that “material me”—comatose and drunk on debt, might the soul come alive?

I recently read an article in the NY Times about the only city in America that might just toss off the recession-syndrome rather lightly, having been through more than its fair share of depressions, tropical and economic. Yet, New Orleans just keeps on being happy:

In one nationwide Gallup survey, New Orleanians in number far greater than other Americans reported themselves “extremely satisfied” with their lives, despite some of the worst violence, poverty, and mismanagement in the country. While the rest of us Americans scurry about with a Blackberry in one hand and a to-go cup of coffee in the other in a feverish attempt to pack more achievement into every minute, it’s the New Orleans way to build one’s day around friends, family, music, cooking, processions and art.” Dan Baum for the NY Times, June 18, 2009

What might we learn from a city that knows a thing or two about being under water?

There is nothing inherently wrong with wanting “more,” but it is the quality—not the quantity—of the more that really matters. Perhaps, shaken out of our fairy-tale slumber turned nightmare (we are like the “Three Little Bears” of the brothers Grimm—overfed, undernourished), we might choose to live, once again, more like our Cajun brothers and sisters,

soul food

soul food

with more relatedness, more compassion, more depth, more meaning…more soul!

Bon beignets!

Dr J

The Sun Will Come Out….

…And so it has, literally and figuratively. I’m back. Early this morning (ok, 9am. Early for me!) while sitting on my flower be-decked roof deck on the 20th floor of the classic NY high rise that I call “home” (part time), it dawned on me that for the first time in many weeks, I was really feeling good again. Like myself.



I stretched a bit, sipped my Starbucks, reveled in the tasty 100% full fat muffin that I had splurged on…and felt the sun seeping into my bones, reviving mind and body. It felt good.

Darn tooting. It feels GOOD to revive and return after “being away” psychologically and physically for what feels like a long time (I guess in “real” terms, it has been about two months). Of course, I didn’t really “go” anywhere, at least not far (with the exception of one delicious week of beach time). Mostly I just STOPPED the train called “productivity” and got off for a while.

As I’ve shared in this blog, I recently lost my mother to a long arduous battle with cancer. So, truth be told, I’ve been grieving. Sad. Down. Tired. Missing her. Angry at the IRS and the Bank and the SS administration for all the bureaucratic red tape they wrapped me and my siblings up in…in the wake of her death. It hasn’t been fun.

BUT…it has been life. Shifting. Doing its thing.

For the past few months, I’ve been living through that dark, difficult period of the “Life-Shifting” process I call “Release and Retreat:” stages of change where we experience a profound ending, a death of sorts–sometimes literally, sometimes metaphorically.

This kind of upheaval is surely unavoidable– an inevitable part of life’s journey, yet we seem to struggle with it the most…and understand it the least. Yet, isn’t it really simple? Shifts happen. Things end.

Sometimes, the ways we’ve known the world to be—like having “moms” around, or having a full-time job, or a spouse who always agrees with us, or kids that are young and compliant—just up and vanish. It can be a shock to our system—finding ourselves in the midst of something that we like to think “happens to other people”…

I keep thinking of the old adage—“when you fall off the horse, just get right back on again”—and wonder how we, as a culture, came to buy this load of crap. Excuse my French. BUT, having known people who have fallen off a horse—and broken ribs or pretty badly mauled up their back—the LAST thing they should do at that moment is get back on that horse.

Excuse me?  Get back on? Ummmm, right.

Excuse me? Get back on? Ummmm, right.

Thank God, we sometimes ignore stupid “folk wisdom.”

The reality is that loss is painful, and grieving takes time. In this context, I’m really frustrated with the overuse of the term “depression.” In the midst of the recession, with many people going through the unfortunate, but natural process of “de-selection” (e.g. losing their jobs), which happens all the time (just maybe not on the scale at which we are currently seeing it), we insist on calling ourselves “depressed” (and reaching for the pharmaceutical fix). BUT…the real emotion we are experiencing is loss/grief/sadness–all of the above. Here’s the rub, Mr. big Pharma: these emotions are NORMAL.

In Dr. Judith Orloff’s great new book, Emotional Freedom, she does a marvelous job of clarifying the distinction between grief (a normal emotional response to major loss–any loss), and depression, which is really a more insidious “shutting down” of one’s life force — usually as a defense mechanism against fear/terror of change, not a reaction to change.

A fundamental difference.

They can look…and feel…the same. Moments, days, even weeks can go by in the midst of grieving — after a job loss, or the loss of a loved one–when you just don’t feel like moving, everything feels’ “hard,” life feels heavy, boring, empty, and exhausting. Of course, whether you call the experience “depression” or not doesn’t change how you feel–but, as Judith points out and I want to reiterate, both as a psychologist dealing with clients in this situation, and as someone who recently moved through the experience personally, the key difference is MOVEMENT.

We've all been  there...

We've all been there...

Grief eventually lifts. Depression, if it is really a serious condition–bio-chemical or psychological (and it usually is both) tends to deepen. Grieving is natural. Grieving, even though painful, is ultimately restorative and needs to be honored. I’ve had to “take a break” from my practice, from writing, from responsibilities for others (as much as possible), in order to create space–a retreat space–for release, rest, and restoration.

We would likely hear a lot less about “depression” (and all the marketing that surrounds its supposed miracle cures) if we came to see that much of what we call depression is not depression at all, but the emotional response to loss–a reflection of our difficulty with change, letting go, and grieving.

I know, I know…big pharma won’t be happy to hear this. They’ve managed to convince us that we are almost all depressed, much of the time, AND that the only way through the gray mist of depression is with a bright purple pill (which, by the way, you take FOREVER). NOT.

Take two, or three, or four and call me in the morning...?

Take two, or three, or four and call me in the morning...?

I’m sorry, but I just don’t buy it. I’m all for using medication when things get really serious…but having just gone through a period that probably would have rated “high” on most Pharma-fan doctor’s “depression meter”…and come out whole on the other end, sans drugs…I just want to raise awareness about this key distinction.

Grief and depression may look–and feel–the same, but they are NOT the same: if in the midst of this terrible recession, you start to feel down… ask yourself a few key questions before you turn yourself over to the drug counter:

—Did you recently go through a major loss (and YES a job counts!)?

—Have you or a loved one been through a life event in the past few months like job change, geographic move, illness or death in the family?

—Has your financial, living, or household situation experienced any kind of major change?

—Are people around you experiencing sudden change or loss?

If any of the above are true for you, very likely you are not so much depressed as grieving–for yourself or a loved one. Let it be.

Take time–as much as you can allow–to breathe, rest, get off the treadmill of doing–and be compassionate with yourself. Think selfish thoughts like:

“I need to be kind to ME,”

“I need to accept that these emotions are NORMAL.”

The antidote may be simple, if not obvious: you may need to shift out of the passing lane on the highway of life…and rest for a while.

He's got the idea...

He's got the idea...

Really. It’s that simple. In fact, when my clients REFUSE to take the much needed break in the wake of change–even if it is a mini-retreat of only a few days/weeks–very often they wind up getting SICK…and end up in bed anyway. Funny, the universe will sometimes throw us off that horse…no matter how much we try to hold on.

I say: jump!

Take this one right from the horse’s mouth: it is OK to take a break when life throws you a curve. You CAN turn off the phone; you can stay off of Facebook;

Pull the Switch!

Pull the Switch!

you can, at least temporarily, ignore your email; your husband CAN find his way around the kitchen; the kids CAN live on pizza for a week…even the creditors can wait! 🙂

And of course, if the dead zone persists–for weeks or months–DO see your doctor. I’m no so much anti-drug, as pro-life (and not THAT kind of pro life!)…pro-life in the sense that change, loss, sadness and grieving are NORMAL. We don’t need to fight them, avoid them, or run from them. We need to embrace them…and lo and behold, they shift!

“The sun will come out, to-mor-row”…just like the song says!

Here comes the sun...(oops, wrong musical!) :)

Here comes the sun...(oops, wrong musical!) 🙂