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Got Mojo?

“Lost,” she stated. Simply. “I feel lost.”

...in a dark wood

Having “mutually” agreed that she should leave her job as a highly-paid management consultant due to the recession and re-structuring at her firm, my client was burning through her severance package…and feeling very unsure of what to do next.

Another client, that same day, also recently “dismissed” — through no fault of his own– from his accounting job at a Wall Street firm, joked casually about “running a ski resort” (he has recently taken up skiing and loves it!), but quickly dismissed that as an “idle fantasy”…and returned to the more measured state…of “feeling lost.”

No motivation. No direction. A sense of having been ripped off track by huge winds of change…and sucked up into a dark fog…with no light at the end of the tunnel. In other words: NO MOJO!

We’ve all been there. Shift happens. Especially somewhere along the trajectory called, “mid-life” (30-40-50 and up…), the rug gets pulled out from under us–a lay-off, an illness, a divorce–and suddenly the “story” we’ve been telling ourselves about WHO WE ARE no longer rings true. SO…how do we re-claim our MOJO?

As my “unstoppable” guest on my radio show, Life Shifting with Dr J, Frankie Picasso, stated: “We need to reconnect to our deepest dreams…not dismiss them but re-discover over how they fuel our MOJO for living full-out.” You got it Frankie, Bravo!

My “lost” client, above, actually dreamed about being a doctor when she was a child…but got de-railed on that path by parents and life events. Today, she is a mid-lifer who would dismiss the possibility of med school as far-fetched and impractical. Maybe. BUT what about the QUALITIES of being a doctor that her childhood fantasy was attempting to live through her? There are myriad ways to “doctor” the world; she only needs to re-connect, at a deep level, with the dream…and re-configure it to her current life story.

Likewise, my client who fantasizes about running a ski resort: why is this dream so quickly dismissed? He’s a former venture capital consultant; he knows a lot about how to raise money, how to run a business. But perhaps “running a ski resort” IS too far fetched, impractical. No matter. In the dream are the seeds of possibility. By exploring his fantasy–and seeing what’s POSSIBLE instead of what’s WRONG…the MOJO — the motivation, the enthusiasm the creativity can be tapped…and soon he’ll find his way out of the FOG.

mojo in motion!

It turns out that he loves to be in nature, to get his hands dirty…to make THINGS (maybe skis?). Whoa…is it out of the question that one day he just might discard the suit and tie, roll up his sleeves and glide off to manage a ski manufacturing business in Vermont? Sounds like a dream worth exploring, no?

I heartily encourage you to listen in to my conversation with executive coach, radio host, Frankie Picasso, author of “Midlife Mojo” –a guide to re-inventing yourself AT ANY AGE! Her story of becoming a certified master life coach after surviving a devastating motor cycle accident and having to RE-LEARN, literally, how to walk…is inspiring and wise. She never gave up, and today she has a successful coaching business, is a sought-after speaker/teacher…and works on major, multi-million dollar non-profit projects–supplying portable homes to the homeless all over North America! Way to go Frankie!

So…if you are feeling a bit LOST these days…listen in here to my talk with Frankie, and remember: Don’t discount your dreams!

the nugget of GOLD in an endless sea

Dream On!

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!!!

Cheerio!

Dr J

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.

Continue reading

Celebrating Fear?

Well, I guess this moment had to come. I can now “officially” call myself an expert on Fear!

Why? Well, in the midst of a hurricane gale and deluge of rain last Saturday here in the wilds of New York City, I sauntered into Barnes & Noble (to get dry!) and lo and behold…there on prominent display I discovered my own book: Shift: Let Go of Fear and Get Your Life in Gear!. Wow!!! So exciting to see my dream manifest…the book delivered, published and on the shelves of my favorite book store!

Iphone Blur but Happy!

So was I happy? You bet. Was I joyful? You bet! Was I anxious, worried, verklempt (is that a word?)? Yup! Yikes. How could I be feeling FEAR in the midst of what should be a celebratory moment?

Well, as you’ll discover if you read my book, there is a clear pattern of dread that follows us all through the ups and downs of change in our lives–even at times of accomplishment or great joy. Depending upon what stage we are in as we go through career change or relationship upheaval, different fears will come along for the ride.

The final stage in the journey through life change I call REALIZATION–typically a joyful, exciting and wonderful time in the cycle, when things all line up for us and we cross the threshold known as, “success”.

Sweet Success moments are the last places you’d expect to find fear, right? Wrong! Working with hundreds of clients over the years–executives, leaders, entrepreneurs, doctors, lawyers–I’ve witnessed over and over the great paradox of achievement: it not only brings great joy and happiness, temporarily, but it also brings on its own peculiar brand of stress, worry, anxiety…and you guessed it: fear!

So…when I saw my book on the shelves, and started putting together my book tour plans, and started thinking about celebrating this amazing milestone with my family and friends…well, lo and behold, I started feeling anxious.

Have you ever reached a pinnacle moment–a graduation, a promotion, an accolade–and in the very same moment you felt exhilaration…you also felt awkward, undeserving, anxious…fretful? Well, here’s the thing: before you reach for the Prozac or the Xanax…or the double scotch on the rocks..take a deep breath and say to yourself: this is normal.

Fear–of success, of making a mistake, of letting others down…and of course, THE BIG ONE: not being good enough–is a perfectly normal response to success. This fear, which may emerge just as we come up close to the edge of manifesting our dream–the altar, the threshold of fame, the signing of the contract–can keep us STUCK…hold us back…and, literally, if we don’t recognize and accept it as OK…destroy the moment.

The Joy of the Spotlight?

Far too often, our media-glitz, sound-bite culture only shows the “happy face” side of fame, of celebrity, of riches and acclaim…and then we act “surprised” when someone famous commits suicide or devolves into addiction. What happened we ask? How could someone so successful be so miserable?

By only seeing one half of the success equation–the joy part–we deny the truth of how life really works. Everything has a dark and light aspect and what we push away or deny comes back to bite us, often just when we are SUPPOSED to be ecstatic. If we clamor for achievement and think it will only bring happiness, we are setting ourselves up–for a fall.

So I am learning to celebrate FEAR…to welcome it in all its glory. It is a partner, a pal, a troublesome sibling all along the road or growth, expansion and creative expression. Here’s the real skinny: If you’re not feeling fear then you’re not growing!!!

My Buddhist teacher Goenka offers these enduring words of wisdom about the fear of success: “Sit still and BREATHE into it–inhale the joy of your success and exhale the fear…but don’t fight it. Don’t judge it. Don’t make yourself wrong.”

You ARE GOOD ENOUGH…you are…as am I…a miracle of creation. Our fears, especially in moments of great accomplishment…are simply a warning signal from an “Old Self” that the jig on an outdated story is up! Some small part of you may want to remain the same, to protect you from the big bad world of CHANGE. This vestigial self hopes you won’t grow and change and become DIFFERENT..new..and BIGGER.

BUT it is too late, the vehicle of self is in the groove…on the highway of transformation: you are on your way!!!! Learn to welcome the fear of success: It is a signal that you are doing something RIGHT…you are growing, becoming, moving and unfolding the next great vision of what your soul is calling forth from within.

I am truly excited to see my book out in the world….AND I have my moments of doubt, anxiety and FEAR…about what the manifestation of this dream might mean. I hope that my book…and my owning up to my fear…will help generate a much needed NEW conversation in our culture, about change, about fear…and about the ridiculous fantasy that we are always meant to be happy. NOT. Life is much too complex for such an seductive…but false, idol.

Terrific or Terrifying? Yes and Yes.

So as I shift into a new adventure…and hit the road to share what I’ve learned about change, fear and the mysterious journey we are all on together, I am learning to celebrate my fear…not to fight it or denigrate myself for feeling it. After all, I am human…and I am happy…but not blind: banishing fear is impossible. It comes with the territory.


“Smiling Buddhas smile because they are wise, not because they are happy.” S.N. Goenka

Cheers,

Dr J

G = V + E + H (C2) [A Tribute]

“You had the grace to hold yourself, while those around you crawled…” Elton John, Candle in the Wind”

Lucille Kelleher (1925-2009): A Touch of Grace

Lucille Kelleher (1925-2009): A Touch of Grace

Grace. It is one of THOSE words. One of those words that we hear often, use lightly, and rarely think about what it means. I’ve been hearing it a lot lately, and unlike most situations when the word gets bandied about, this time I’m listening.

The reason is simple: it’s about my mom. On Wednesday April 8th at approximately 3pm, my mother departed this world. It was not unexpected, as she had been ill for a long time. But still. It was an intense, exhausting, and blessed experience to be with her at the end of her long, generally happy life.

She left us, at the end, with few words, yet even in the last days, in the throes of obvious pain and discomfort, she often mustered her signature expression: a smile. She was grace personified…and I feel blessed to have been close to her–physically, emotionally, and spiritually–during the transition. I was the last to hear her voice.

Four days before she died, she simply looked up at me, and quite adroitly, spoke the words, “I want to get out of here..(pregnant pause)…literally.” (Yes, ever eloquent, her final word, was “literally”!). Upon this final salutation, she smiled, squeezed my hand, and slept. A few days later, the vital heart released its grip, and, after 83 life-loving years, she was free from this world.

Now it has been over a week since she got her wish, and I can’t get this word–“grace”– out of my mind. Everyone who calls or writes or speaks of their long and abiding friendship with my mother says it: she had grace. She was graceful. I’m trying to make some sense of it all–to take her down off the pedestal (let’s face it, she wasn’t Marilyn Monroe, or Princess Di!) and reflect on how she came to embody this lofty, clearly deserved, yet seemingly impenetrable attribute.

Of course, if I’m truly honest with myself, there’s a selfish basis to this reflection as well. Not only do I want to honor, respect and remember my mom as having “grace”–and perhaps get a better understanding of what that meant for her–but I want some of that grace stuff for myself. Don’t we all? Did she pass on “grace” to me, at least by osmosis?

I was adopted…so I didn’t get it in my genes. On top of that, As I think about my work with clients and the powerful “life-shifts” that I am passionate about supporting in them, I also wish for them–a touch of grace. Actually, more than a touch: a graceful living, a graceful dying. A life of grace.

But how do we, as non-royal, non-celebrity, ordinary humans, gain access to the blessing of grace? Is there a recipe we can follow? Perhaps not. But, in honor of my mother’s passing, and the remarkable, yet unmistakable gift of grace that she brought to life — and to death itself–I hereby offer up what I would consider my mom’s personal concoction: G = V + E + H(C2).

First, we start with the big “V” for vitality. If you don’t have the pulse of life energy pulsing through your veins, keeping you motivated, enthusiastic and ALIVE–even at the end–you can’t possible embody grace.

I remember my mother, at age 75, two weeks before she was due for a double knee transplant surgery, hopping a series of planes with me…and

V is for vitality!

V is for vitality!

wandering the streets of Venice, Florence and Sienna. She had never been to Europe before–and her retort when I expressed concern: “damn if I’m gonna pass up a chance to see the world, just because of a little knee pain.” Of course, she could barely walk, and she required a wheelchair as we sallied across the Ponte Vecchio…but no matter, she positively radiated a desire for adventure, for exploration. That’s vitality…and before you can acquire grace, you gotta have it, in spades.

Secondly, I think the perfect complement to vitality is equanimity. Balance. Calm. Groundedness. It has been many decades since I saw my mom “fly off the handle” (when I was nine years old, she tore up my bedroom in a tizzy because I just couldn’t seem to pick up my dirty clothes!).

Equanimity--a delicate balance

Equanimity--a delicate balance

She faced off with just about every kind of “lemon” that life could throw at her, and pretty much always made lemonade (which always had to have a touch of sherry!).

Cool, collected, easy-going—these are words that could easily describe how my mom lived life. She handled the ups and downs of the economy—sometimes she could afford a new outfit, sometimes she couldn’t—but she always had enough money for a gift for a friend, for a small donation to the Cancer Society. She wasn’t extravagant; she was equanimous, balanced, even-keel.

So to get grace you gotta have vitality; you gotta have equanimity; and, to solidify the three-legged stool, you gotta have Humor. “Life is too short,” my mom would say, “we all need a good chuckle–on a daily basis–or what’s the point?” She wasn’t a big extrovert,

Buddha had that right idea!

Buddha had that right idea!

or the life of the party, but she knew how to find the humor in life’s absurdity; how to turn “even a nothing day, and suddenly make it all seem worthwhile” (as a kid, I fondly remember Saturday nights with Mary Tyler Moore; my mom idolized her!).

After a few sips of a martini (or more likely her favorite: Jack Daniels and water, always “with a twist!”), she would roll out her latest joke…”hey did you hear the one about the priest, the minister and the Rabbi?” She’d have us all in stitches. Unfortunately, to this day, I can’t tell a good joke–so I rely on my ability to toss off a good one-liner now and again. I guess joke-telling skills are genetic, but no matter. She exuded humor. Laughter was her song…and I know that thanks to her, I can always hum a few bars.

Finally, just because you’ve mixed up a cocktail with vitality, equanimity and humor, I still don’t think you’ve cracked the code called grace. There are a couple more key ingredients. You see, grace is not for the faint of heart: Grace requires fortitude.

Never be afraid to go out on that limb...

Never be afraid to go out on that limb...

You can’t be a wilting flower, or hang back in the corner watching life go by…and get the moniker “grace.” You have to get out and live–with Courage and Compassion. For this two-fer, or C-squared as I like to think of it, I think it’s safe to put my mom back up on the pedestal.

She was courageous to a fault–outliving a full hysterectomy at the ripe old age of 24, outliving a bout with life-threatening pneumonia at 36, out-maneuvering double-knee replacements and still dancing at her 80th birthday party…out-living two husbands and two poodles, a long string of shia-tsu’s

She outlived them all...

She outlived them all...

and a mangy cat…and outliving a cancer diagnosis that was supposed to have her in the grave eight years ago.

Her courage, her strength of heart, and her will to live confounded the doctors for so long that a couple of them passed away while she was still doing lunch!

As for compassion, I think it can be summed up in very simply phrase: she loved everyone. From the taxi drivers, many of whom spilled their life stories to her on the way from JFK to Manhattan (much to my chagrin!), to the twenty-something hospice worker who became a trusted lunch companion, to her therapist who evolved into her best friend, to the great grandsons whose four-year old patter filled her life with joy: my mother cared about everyone.

She didn’t discriminate or judge. She had no tolerance for fundamentalists, religious zealots or homophobes, yet she never railed against them. She just stated the obvious: “they sure do miss out on having some great friends.” For my mother, compassion came easy.

So there you have it. A mother’s tried and true recipe for GRACE:
G= V + E + H (C2).

Perhaps, this is an overly simple, rather perfunctory attempt to “quantify” something that is in reality a bit out of reach, a touch effervescent or esoteric (she would have loved those words!). But, today, in tribute to her, I offer up this equation as a simple access route to the ineffable.

Grace, in the face of every inevitable “life-shift,” is always within our grasp. I know. I’ve seen it.

So, if you wanna shift your life into high gear, I suggest the following: Run down to the nearest Walmart and stock up on V, on E, on H, and don’t forget to buy extra C’s. They’ll come in handy when the chips are down.

Only one thing can never be washed away...

Only one thing can never be washed away...

Thanks mom…for being you. You may not have been a great cook, but you knew how to mix just the right ingredients to perfect a life…with grace.

With love,

DR J

Demons, Dragons and the Daimon (part one)


“There are times when we may fool ourselves. There are times when we can fool others. But we can never fool our body. It is the most sensitive barometer of our inner world.
” –Sherrill Sellman

The demons are back!

For the past few months, I have been waking up in the morning with what can only be described as “a jaw ache.” I get out of bed, slipper-slide my way to the coffee maker, and notice that my mouth feels like it has been nailed shut. Fortunately, the sense of “lock-down” persists for only a few minutes. When I sit breathing deeply in meditation, or take a few swigs of java–my jaw loosens and the pain subsides.

I didn’t think much of it until I heard on an NPR talk show that dentists recently reported a 50 percent jump in cracked and broken teeth in the past six months. Of course, as trained scientists, they just note the data and try to avoid speculating on why this might be happening…but I’ll venture a guess: anxiety, worry, stress…maybe FEAR?! (not that we are living through a fearful time…)

Does once every twenty years make a pattern? Not sure, but I can tell you that in 1989 when I first moved to New York City, I remember going to the dentist for the first time (on the 90th floor of the Empire State Building, whoa!) and he asked me if I “grind my teeth?” I had no idea what he was talking about, except to note that ever since arriving in NYC, I had been waking up in the morning with a jaw ache…rather like the one I currently have. He told me that I needed to be careful about this–that if it persisted I could crack/split a tooth during the night, or wear down the enamel, and the subsequent treatment could be quite extensive, expensive, and painful. Yikes.

Of course, the great irony was that he had a thoroughly unscientific, but rather profound explanation for my teeth-grinding: anxiety. He noted that many new patients, who come to NYC from other places, often have a great deal of anxiety in their transitional months. He was right, of course. I was excited, but also was anxious about moving to New York: I was worried about my finances living in such an expensive city; I was worried about being lonely in a city of 8 million; I was worried about starting my new job; I was overwhelmed by all the amazing things to do in the city…that cost money. You get the idea.

The good news, is that within a few months–by the time of my next visit–the pain had subsided and I guess I had became a relaxed, just normally stressed out New Yorker…with a loose jaw. Teeth intact.

Twenty years on..it appears that the teeth-grinding night demons are back. And it seems, according to NPR and the national dentists association, that I’m not the only one whose dream state is being attacked by little guys taking jack-hammers to my teeth while I snooze.

So what is going on here? Well, to my mind, what I’m going to call the “anxiety demons” represent bad news…and good news.

Unpleasant little devils!

Unpleasant little devils!

The bad news is that we are living in a particularly stressful time — and the symptoms of anxiety, stress, and worry are ubiquitous. The good news is that the demons are prescient, potent and insightful: we just need to listen to their message, and almost always, they signal CHANGE is afoot. Our job, if we have the awareness to hear the message, is to not RESIST…but, as best as possible, to go with the flow. Change, even disruptive upheaval…usually happens for our own good (that’s where the daimon comes in, but I’m getting ahead of myself).

Back to the den of demons. Have you or anyone else you know experienced an unusual number of physical ailments lately? I’ve notice that a large number of my friends–and clients–have recently been taken down by a plethora of them: back pain, hepatitis, insomnia, stomach flu, sinusitis, skin rashes, Lyme disease.

One friend, who is considering a major career move that will take him across the country and potentially away from his spouse, took to bed with what he thought was the flu. Five weeks and many shed pounds later, he realized that the tenacious bug was a big wake-up call: he needed to rest, reflect, and really think through his decision. He was deeply anxious and wrought with guilt over the desired change.

A client who I’ve recently taken on is “thinking big” for the first time in years, pondering life shifts that may take him and his wife into a new business venture, away from their home state, and perhaps out of his twenty year career in the hotel industry. In the midst of this “life-shift,” he has committed to tackle the one major demon that has held him back for years: his weight. Yet, in the first few weeks of our work together, as he gears up to face the possibility of major change–and a new regimen of diet and exercise–he has actually gained five pounds. Oops, wrong direction.

What’s going on here? Why do the demons attack just when we’re most vulnerable?

Well, my take is this: the demons are actually trying to protect us, to keep us from risking too much, upsetting the apple cart of our lives…and disturbing the peace. They are what I call the “front line” defense soldiers, attacking from the flanks–in the stomach, the mouth, the head, and the back (oh, could I tell you stories about clients with back pain!).

They are actually fairly benign in most cases–representing a temporary onslaught–but their goal is simple: to warn you about the dragon, that big time protector of what we might call, in Kafka-esque terms: the Keeper of the Castle “Status Quo.”

Demons, simply put, are symptoms. Symptoms, as Freud pointed out over a hundred years ago, are often the street lamps on the road to repressed fears, forbidden desire, and unhealed trauma. They can be a wake-up call that it is time to face down the dragon of fear…and move forward towards a new landscape. The mistake we often make, however–and that our sound-bite culture reinforces–is to ignore the deeper roar of the dragon, and tend the symptom alone. “Pop the pill,” “sleep it off,” “cut it out” (metaphorically AND quite often, literally), and “get back to work.” These are our mantras. And what of change, growth, re-birth, transformation? Ah, no thanks, please pass the NyQuil.

So, in most situations, we stay focused on the demons, try to alleviate the symptoms, and avoid coming face-to-face with the dragon we most want to avoid: the dragon of fear.

the real culprit...

the real culprit...

Why? Well, partly because the meaning behind the demon of illness can be elusive: sometimes a cold is just a cold. BUT, more often, I think, especially when we sense (if we take the time to reflect) that our symptoms may well be related to stress/anxiety, is this: fear is a formidable foe.

Slaying the dragon is no easy task. It is often easier to just pick off the demons, one by one, rather than face the truth of our deeper pain, or hear in to the music of our deepest desire. Yet, when we are finally anxious enough, fed up enough, sick enough, or just downright MAD (witness the recent election) enough, we may just rise to the occasion…and stand up to our fears, shouting, to the world, to ourselves, “yes we can~!”

The key to this shift—and you can bet we are in the midst of a major one right now—is awareness; becoming aware that the underlying issue is FEAR; that the headaches, body aches, diet dramas, and other afflictions, are not [always] random, accidental or genetic (as pharma execs and some psychiatrists would have us believe) but very simply the body’s own language, signaling us of FEAR…and CHANGE.

Here’s the rub: You can’t slay a dragon if you refuse to acknowledge that it exists (look what it took for us to finally see the insanity of the Wall Street fueled housing debacle). Only by becoming aware that we are AFRAID…or that we are UNHAPPY, literally “sick and tired” of the status quo, only then may we step beyond the demons…and enter the dragon’s lair.

At this point, you may rightfully be asking, “Ok, I’ve had a demon here or there, but if I can “take two aspirin and feel better in the morning,” why would I want to face down my deepest fears?” Good question. Yet, it is exactly that kind of thinking that gets us into these extreme messes — witness the mortgage crisis–in the first place.

By side-stepping the guardian of the castle, and avoiding our irrational terror of change, we are prevented from accessing the one thing that brings joy, passion and the energy of possibility into our lives: the daimon of our deepest desire. We all know what the dragons of folk tales really guard in those foreboding medieval castles: buried treasure!

buried in each and every one of us...

buried in each and every one of us...

Think about it. What are we really most afraid of? That we might have to shift our life focus from “money” to “meaning?” That there really could be joy in having less “stuff” and more time? That the breakdown in the “house of cards” called free market capitalism might cause us to re-evaluate what really matters?

It does seem that just as we get comfy in our strata-loungers, something equally demonic, but in a good way–shows up to shake us up, forcing us to change and grow. It is a mystery par excellence: this daimon of passion and longing, the creative impulse to build new castles and try out new economic systems, the drive towards a better world–the instinct to elect better leaders. Where does this come from?

Carl Jung considered the daimon the key to individuation: a daemonic pull towards growth and transformation that ultimately pushes aside our complacent, self-absorbed ego-self to reveal the soul, or Self with a capital “S”. Thomas Moore, in his new book “A Life at Work,” likens the daimon to our “soul’s desire”–a calling from deep within the unconscious to create meaning, connection, and depth in our lives, and in the world. In short, our life’s work:

A daimon is an unnamed urge that pushes you in a certain direction. it is the force behind the passion and tenacity of your yearning. The Romans believed that a child is born with his daimon, or in their language, his genius. It is a fertile idea; that the deep passion and drivenness that stays with us all our lives is there from the beginning. The daimon is a primal, creative urge. The daimonic voice is deep-seated and connected to your personality and destiny. [The challenge] (sic) is to learn to trust it, without being naive or giving up your basic skepticism.

To my mind, the daimon represents the final frontier—below the demon, beyond the dragon. It is that deep inner voice that calls forth our deepest aspirations as humans: to live out our dreams, to make the world a better place for our children, to satisfy our hunger for peace, brotherhood, and community. We all know those feelings, even the most cynical among us were deeply moved by the recent inauguration of President Obama. SO, where does that voice—the one that calls forth the immeasurable creative potential of humanity—reside?

It’s in there, deep in our souls, but it can be hard to hear behind the din of demons and dragons who would hold us hostage to anxiety, stress, worry, guilt..and loudest of all: our fear. In my next blog, I’m going to explore further how we might “slay the dragon.” But for now (funny, I can feel my jaw tighten in anticipation…it’s almost as if my own demons are just lying in wait, whispering, “leave us be…don’t rock the boat…just take that Xanax the Doctor prescribed…no need to get feisty on us!”), I’ll leave you with this question:

What demons have been showing up in your life lately? Are you ignoring them? Fighting them? Perhaps…listening in for the message they carry?

Behind the fortress of fear...is there a doorway to possibility?

Behind the fortress of fear...is there a doorway to possibility?

What dragon of fear or harbinger of change might they be pointing to? Are you listening? Please let me know. We’re all on this battlefield together…

Of course, the recipe for success, even in this trying time, is simple (but not easy!):

1. De-code your demons

2. Slay the dragon…and

3. Follow your daimon.

Onward, HO!

Dr J

Coping with Fear? Take a Breath

As some of you may know, I recently had the opportunity to garner a couple of minutes of fame–by being profiled in the NY Times. If you haven’t seen the article, here’s the link: NY TImes. In addition, I will be featured in an article in Investor’s Business Daily–on “Managing Success in Tough Times”–sometime in the next couple of weeks. It has been exciting to get a little attention from the media, especially since I’ve been writing and coaching executives and business leaders about coping with fear and anxiety, stress and worry…all that stuff that we are ALL experiencing these days, for many years. Not that I’m really thrilled to be focusing on the dark side of life, so to speak, but at least the media is taking a fresh look at the issue of fear — in society, business, and life — and not everybody, at least not me, is selling meds!

Is this YOU?

Is this YOU?

That said, I’ve been surprised by how difficult to understand the journalists find my rather straight-forward advice. If you’ve read my blogs before, or seen my website, you’ll note that I believe there are basically six key steps involved in moving through fear — and getting your life back on track. It seems that step #2, however, is a real sticking point…at least with journalists. Then again, maybe they are a specific demographic who need their own “prescription”…or as the New Yorker says in the musical “Rent”: “I don’t choose fear, but I’m a New Yorker, and FEAR is my life!” Hah. A media lament?

Anyway, just for the record I want to clarify and reinforce the importance of my second step to releasing fear: Don’t React, Respond. You see, once you have taken the first step–RECOGNITION–and actually become aware of the fact that your stress, worry, anxiety, irritation, short-temper, etc. are, in many cases, ALL symptoms of an underlying sense of dread–FEAR–then, and only then can you take the next step: REFLECT. BREATHE. Create some space between your thoughts/feelings and your actions. Is this so difficult to grasp?

or is this you?

or is this you?


Perhaps, the issue is not understanding but more an issue of admission; admission of our anachronistic, out-dated, type-A habit of REACTIVITY: acting without thinking. We all do it. We all, in fact, have been told over and over again by just about every self-help book and leadership training seminar that ACTION is where it’s at. You know the mantra: “Get moving”. “Get a goal”. “Get a trainer and GO”. Well, yes…and no.

The NY Times writer had particular difficulty with my second step. He was constitutionally unable to write words like “breathe” or “find space to reflect” or “be responsive rather than reactive” — all quotes that I had hoped would end up in the NY Times. Instead, as you’ll see in the article, I got “use calm deliberation when making a decision instead of being rash–or something like that–and then he added that I said that I “hammer this distinction into my clients.” OY! First of all, as a psychologist I know better than to hammer anything into my clients…or anyone else for that matter. That’s right, go ahead and hit the man when he’s down. NOT.

But no matter, I’m thrilled to have been provided that opportunity to express some semblance of my views in the NY Times, so I have no beef with the writer. I just wonder why it is so challenging for these guys to “get” the idea of stepping back, taking a deep breath or maybe five deep breaths, getting centered and grounded before acting. It seems that in our Type AAA world, the idea of repose, reflection, and BEING (instead of doing), is very nearly revolutionary. I’m not sure that you’ll find the work of Deepak Chopra, Wayne Dyer or Marianne Williamson on the book shelves of the average newspaper writer. That’s ok. BUT — they really miss the boat…and the boat being captained by what I’m going to call the “Type B” leader has left port bound for smoother seas. Type A…or more recently Type AAA, captain’s ships have sunk.

In fact, it is just this type of “shoot now, think later” kind of action-hero business and political leadership that has gotten us into the current economic quagmire in the first place. The same old stuff is just not going to work anymore. It is time to grow up, to step back, become more conscious of the impact of our actions–and take RESPONSIBILITY for how we BE in the world.

Fear, that ubiquitous blanket of anxiety that drives so much of our lives, does not have to WIN. Life is not a battle to be fought but an experience of richness, depth and experience to be savored. BUT, you’ve got to create the space for the experience to unfold…and that requires a G-A-P between feeling, thinking…and acting. A breath. A moment of repose. As Eckart Tolle might say, a moment of NOW.

So after taking a few deep breaths on this chilly, blustery, sun-washed Saturday morning here in NY, I rest my case against FEAR: it does not have to own us, or control us, or take us down the garden path towards despair. It is a feeling, a series of thoughts that grip us tight sometimes, but only as tight as we allow. The key step in releasing the demon of anxiety is NOT a prescription medication but rather a practice of BEING alive and remembering to breathe, create space between the words, the decisions, and the action of life.

Funny, the journalist from Investors Business Daily and I share something in common: a home in the woods just north of New York (where I was pictured in the NY Times). That article hasn’t come out yet…and I was a little concerned that he too, had trouble grasping the idea of “stepping back” from the brink of reactive action-mode…but I’m hoping that maybe just before he writes the article, he takes a long walk in the woods. Maybe he’ll stop by a river and sit for a moment. Maybe he’ll gaze up at the sky, scan the horizon of beauty that surrounds him, be visited by the delicacy and grandeur of a deer (one not pursued by a hunter!)…deer-photoand then, once back at the computer…he’ll take a deep breath and share my ideas from a place of “calm deliberation”–a whole, centered, blissful place that is always available, always within us all. A place of mystery and depth and joy–a place beyond fear.

Ok, I can always dream!

Happy breathing!

Dr J