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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


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!


Dr J

Dancing on the High Wire of Life

Howdy all,

Time for a re-cap of my fabulous radio interview with Gabriele Ganswindt this past Monday on Life Shifting with Dr J. Such a cool conversation! Gabriele, psychologist and executive coach extraordinaire, is an expert on two of my favorite “Life-Shifting” themes: finding balance…and building resiliency in challenging times! A most timely topic no? You can listen to the full interview or download to Itunes/podcast with this link: http://www.transformationtalkradio.com/meet_shows.php?id=3991#

So here is your key question: HOW DO WE DO IT?

What to do?

How do we stay grounded, flexible and adaptable in the midst of what may feel like an “out-of-control” world?

A tough question, needless to say, but Gabriele says, “Don’t despair! There ARE practices and ways of being/thinking that can truly help us stay “on track” and centered, even in the midst of chaos.”

Gabriele knows of what she speaks: She is a successful business owner, a mother to two young children, a homemaker, a philanthropist, a writer, an ordained interfaith minister, an organization development consultant and life coach…and a survivor of a life-threatening illness. 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!

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!


Dr J

The Trouble with Happiness: Part One–The Asymptote of Joy

I’m going to have fun with these next few posts. I’ve been thinking a lot about “happiness” these the past few weeks–especially as I have been “enjoying” (if I may call it that) being unhappy and hanging out “under the weather” and under the radar for a while. As Barbra Streisand famously remarked once,”I like being unhappy, it gives me time to think.” Go Babs!

Is there a pathway to happiness?

Is there a pathway to happiness?

It’s also always fun to find a way to use a new word, or should I say, an old Greek word, in this case “asymptote” (asumptotos), one that I loved tossing around the dinner table when I was thirteen, but haven’t had occasion to use much since.

On the other hand, I also feel a little like Jim Cramer (CNBC’s “Mad Money” host). He’s the guy who starts off his stock-picking TV show most days by noting that his opinions are likely to get him kicked off the “invite” list of the best parties on Wall Street. As I think about getting back on my soap box, I’m ever so aware that my thoughts on one of the most over-used words in the English language–“happiness”–are likely to get me kicked out of the “self-help” guru club…and fast.

Ah well, as Woody Allen would say, I never would want to belong to a club that would have me as a member. So what the hell.

Here, in a nutshell, is my beef with happiness: it may cause unhappiness. Yup, straight up folks: I think sometimes happiness can be toxic to your health. Our cultural obsession with all things “happy” may actually be one of the major sources of unhappiness in the land.

Ok, Dr J…where are you going with this one? Well, let’s start at the beginning: with a definition. Easier said than done. You see, one of the immediate problems we run into with anything and everything related to “happiness” is just how elusive the idea really is. And if you doubt me on this, just try looking it up in the dictionary!

Were it only this simple...

Were it only this simple...

Happiness, according to Webster’s New Collegiate is, “a state of well-being and contentment; a pleasurable satisfaction (what?); good fortune, prosperity, felicity, and aptness” (aptness? LOL). The great thing about dictionaries is that they are designed to make you go from one word to another in an endless loop: clever design!).

So do these definitions of happiness make you happy? Are they apt? Ummmm. Let’s go one further, shall we? And so, we turn to the American Heritage Dictionary, New College Edition, only to find that, whoa, the word “happiness” is not even in the dictionary, except as a subset of the word “happy.” Happiness, it seems does NOT, at least in the collegiate ranks, stand on its own two feet.

Now here again, though, the definition of “happy” (which it seems is an adjective on its way to being “happiness”) conjures meanings such as “prosperity, good fortune, satisfaction, and in this unique variation: “characterized by luck.” I like that one. Millions of self-help books sold…like lottery tickets, all based around a concept “characterized”…by luck? Is there something fishy here?

I recently read one of the many new self-help books that are hitting the cyber-shelves, tackling anew if not afresh, that age-old quest for, you guessed it, happiness. This one is called, “Happy for No Reason” by Marci Shimoff, who is not a psychologist as far as I can tell, but one of the Jack Canfield/Mark Victor Hansen (“Chicken Soup for the Soul” guys) writer-gang , who churn out best-sellers like Gallo produces cheap wine—in large quantities.

In the book, Marci does a great job of encapsulating the bulk of what has become standard fare in the personal growth domain: the power of intention, the importance of health and nutrition, the value of meditation and learning the ways of Eastern philosophy and “centering” techniques, and so on.

I have utilized many of Marci’s suggestions, incorporated them into my workshops—especially yoga and meditation—and written about the value of learning how to live in the present—and release the past. As a big fan of Deepak Chopra and holding a spiritual perspective on life’s ups and downs, I’m not anti-happiness in general.

Yet, when I think about the emphasis on “being happy” that seems to permeate our culture these days–with happiness projects, books like Marci’s (and there are scores of them), even “happiness clubs”, etc. springing up all over the place, I can’t help but wonder if we are ultimately doing ourselves a major disservice here.

Consider an analogy. There has been substantial research done that shows that as our culture becomes more and more obsessed with physical appearance and vaults “thin” (all right, downright skinny if you’re a woman) and “fit” into iconic territory, incidences of poor self-esteem, low self worth, even depression—associated with physical appearance in young people in particular—have exploded.

Shouldn't she lose a few pounds...?

Shouldn't she lose a few pounds...?

It seems that as the book shelves, magazine racks, and now internet sites get clogged with pictures of pretty boys (think: Jonas Brothers, Brad Pitt), and elegant stick figure females (think: Angelina), that the IMPORTANCE we ascribe to beauty and a slim physique actually creates suffering, for one very obvious reason: most of us never measure up.

I submit that the same dynamic holds sway in the kingdom of happiness. Clamoring after happiness, at least obsessively, is surely a set up for failure. In a world where the real process of living is more cyclical and replete with constant shifts and upheaval, anchoring ourselves in “happy-land” is easier said than done.

The Asymptote of Joy. An asymptote is a mathematical term for a line that curves towards zero–moving continuously towards another straight line, yet curving in such a way that it flows infinitely towards the crossing point…but never gets there.

Check out line B: its a beauty

Check out line B: its a beauty

Joy, satisfaction, contentment, and all those pleasant dictionary terms that deign to evoke happiness, seem to me to be basically asymptotic: they move in the right direction–towards the end game of “being happy,” but they never quite arrive, or if they do, they don’t stick around for long.

Life just doesn’t seem designed for endless contentment (as people who, when on holiday, decide to up and move to the Caribbean often discover): most of us rarely settle into happiness for long periods of time. We get a glimpse of joy–have a peak experience (and mind you, I’m a big fan of joyful moments!) and a blissful sunny day, yet, clouds, storms—“rainy days and Mondays”—tend to break up the monotony fairly frequently. And, if you stop and think about it, aren’t you glad they do?

My concern is with the devil who hides below the surface. I mean, on balance, happiness APPEARS to be a laudable goal—who wouldn’t want to be happy, right?—but is it possible that its very unattainability may wind up creating and reinforcing its opposite?

I’d like to see the pendulum of self help themes swing back towards a more grounded, spiritually balanced view of life: away from happiness, as such, and over towards something equally elusive perhaps, but ultimately more enriching and enlivening: Meaning. Depth. Being.

At the end of the day, the self-help experts who trek along parallel tracks through the Eastern and Western landscapes are playing a treacherous and potentially contradictory game. Eastern philosophy, with its emphasis upon enlightenment —detachment, emptiness, acceptance of the transience of life — has never really been all that interested in happiness.

Eckhart Tolle’s work, which focuses us on how to step out of our conscious habits of mind, our story, and re-member that we exist in an unfathomable ocean of consciousness–an empty place where there is no happiness or unhappiness, but only NOW–would likely list “trying to be happy” as one more Western cultural addiction.

Freud–and Jung—both wrote extensively about what they considered to be our Western (and for them both, a particularly American neurosis) attachment to the notion of happiness. Both considered that particularly idealized form of American optimism, and its fondness for happiness, a form of denial of life’s true stripes, even a repression of the deep complexity of life (e.g. for Freud: the aggressive death instinct; for Jung: the Shadow). Is it any wonder that there is no exact translation of the word “happiness” in German?

That said, I don’t want to follow the Euro-path towards nihilism or abject pessimism. I’m not against happiness per se; it’s just that, at the end of the day, I’m not convinced that all this commercial focus on happiness is healthy. Life-shifting is about fostering contentment–at times–but it is so much more.

Hanging our hopes on “happiness” is like capturing a Monarch butterfly in your hands: you might get lucky and get one, if you try really hard, but then what?

Do you really want to grab on to this?

Do you really want to grab on to this?

You can’t really enjoy its beauty once its crushed up in your fist. Hold on to it longer than a few seconds, and it will surely die…and you will be anything but happy: you will be sad, sorry…and most likely feel quite guilty.

For me, helping people to “shift their lives into high gear” is about helping us all to be more IN our lives, less fearful and attached to transient highs and lows. My intention is that we (and me too!) become more awake and adept at moving through the inevitable cycles of life’s journey; that we become less attached to “finding happiness” — or having big houses and fancy cars…and lots of debt!–and more focused on relishing the depth of meaning, feeling and connection that is available within each moment.

Of course, the trouble is, we just might end up feeling happy. Darn! 🙂


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