The Stress Doc Letter
Cybernotes from the Online Psychohumorist
NOV 2007, No. I
Fight when you can
Take flight when you must
Flow like a dream
In the Phoenix we trust!
Table of Contents
Stress Doc's Note: Best wishes for a meaningful and hopeful holiday
season. You'll find my classic holiday article in Shrink Rap--II: "The Four
'F's of Holiday Friction." (Don't miss my acclaimed "Holiday Blues/Holiday
Stress" Joke). In Shrink Rap--I, look for a new program title and concept --
"Soul-ar Power." And the Main Article (Part II) is a simplified version of the
"Four 'P's of Passion Power" Model.
Shrink Rap--I: Life Management, Spiritualism: Community News; Program Blurb
and Testimonial; and "Discovering Soul-ar Power" article.
Shrink Rap--II: The Four "F"s of Holiday Friction
Testimonials: ComPsych, Kindred Healthcare, Comfort Keepers
Heads Up: Housing Opportunity Commission, No. Virginia Community College, 4th
Infantry Division, Ft. Hood, TX, Washington Area Sewerage Authority
Main Essay: Attachment: Leading with "Passion Power" -- Being
Purposeful-Provocative-Passionate-Playful. (Simplified version.)
Offerings: Books, CDs, Training/Marketing Kit: Email
email@example.com or go to
www.stressdoc.com for more info.
Overview: Sec. I
1) Shrink Rap--I: Life Management, Spiritualism: Community News;
Program Blurb and Testimonial; and "Discovering Soul-ar Power" article. The
Stress Doc is moving into a new field as a speaker: Spirituality. You can be
assured he takes a non-traditional yet soulful approach.
2) Shrink Rap--II: The Four "F"s of Hoilday Friction. Holiday stressors
and survival strategies. A Stress Doc classic.
3) Main Essay: Attachment: Leading with "Passion Power" -- Being
Purposeful-Provocative-Passionate-Playful: An Interactive Model for Expanding
Personal Energy, Professional Creativity and Organizational Synergy. A new
Stress Doc leadership model examines the "Passion Power" impact when projecting
simultaneously a "cognitive-affective" and "gravitas-comedia" Four "P" presence.
Shrink Rap I:
"Discuss Life Management, Spiritualism," The Gazette: Community News,
Nov. 7, 2007
[Interview with Kristina Gawrgy]
Mark Gorkin, a motivational speaker and psychotherapist, will lead a
discussion 1:15-2:15 p.m. today at Holiday Park Senior Center about the
meaning of life. He will discuss how for some spirituality is connected to
church and religion and for others it is connected to whatever gives meaning or
value to life.
"For all audiences but maybe especially for audiences 60 (years of age) and
above, this is a time to contemplate: Is there anything I haven't done that I'd
like to do," Gorkin said.
Gorkin said he would use comedy to introduce ideas about the meaning of
life. "When our bodies age...you have to be able to laugh at the aches and
pains...because if you didn't laugh you'd be crying all the time."
Gorkin said people also should expect to participate in he discussion and
share their own experiences with spirituality and soul searching.
For more information on Gorkin, visit
Spirituality and Aging: Discovering the Brea(d)th and Depth of Life
What does spirituality mean to you, especially in the autumn years of life
(let's say sixty and beyond)? As time moves by, does it mean relating with a
higher power and contemplating your place in the cosmos? Or does it suggest
more deeply connecting to your inner essence or sense of solitude? Might it
involve more authentic sharing and communing with mates and friends? Or how to
survive the evolving relationship with your children? And, did you know that
the word "spirit" literally means "breath of life?"
Perhaps the key question: no matter where one's place in the cycles of life and
family, health and energy, how can you breathe more life and connection into
your journey; how can you paint your horizon with more meaning and hope, with
more vibrant and peaceful colors? How can you be more uniquely spiritual?
Clearly a challenge. Still, have no fear (well, maybe a little), Mark Gorkin,
MSW, LICSW, the Stress Doc™, the popular Holiday Park speaker and "psychohumorist"
is here. Through thought-provoking lecture, lively discussion and fun exercises
Mark will help us purposefully and playfully engage with the spiritual and
psychological, and even the comical. So don't miss your appointment with the
Stress Doc...May the Farce Be with You!
Holiday Park Senior Center
["Spirituality and Aging: Discovering the Breadth and Depth of Life"; 60
Thanks once again! You are such a stimulating speaker and it's fun to watch you
in action! I wish I could have stayed all the way through your program but what
I did hear was really terrific. I even e-mailed my daughter about the "birth of
a star" and she really appreciated it. The way you motivate the audience to
"work together" is really quite amazing and they are quite vocal when you're at
the helm which is great.
Anyway, I just wanted to say again how much we love having you and how much we
appreciate your programs. We'll look forward to the next one :) Thanks again.
Betsy R. Graft
Holiday Park Senior Center
3950 Ferrara Drive
Wheaton, Maryland 20906
Phone - 240-777-4999
Discovering Soul-ar Power: Part I
Spirit's Passion, Courage and Creativity
Recently, I led a program on "Spirituality and Aging: Discovering the Breadth
and Depth of Life" for an audience of mostly independent retirees, many former
federal government scientists. The enthusiastic response affirmed my strategy:
acknowledging a traditional or supernatural being approach to religious belief
while exploring a non-deistic spirituality. The Jungian therapist, James
Hollis, in his book, Finding Meaning in the Second Half of Life: How to
Finally, Really Grow Up, 2005, provided a bridge: "Whatever moves us
deeply, occasions awe and wonder is religious, no matter through what venue it
may come." Hollis also referred to a distinction that spoke to my irreverent
side: "It has been said that religion is for those afraid to go to hell, and
spirituality is for those who have [already] been there." Done that!
My goal was to share ideas and experiences that would engage a spiritual
spectrum, and eventually a broader age group. I opened with the literal meaning
of the word "spirit" -- "breath" or "breath of life." Actually, I focused on
the first thing stirred by that spiritual breath, for me the deepest part of the
human psyche, one's "soul." Hollis also gave me a working definition. "Soul is
our intuited sense of our own depth, our deepest running, purposeful energy, our
longing for meaning, and our participation in something much greater than our
ordinary consciousness can grasp…When we ask the meaning of a mood, reflect upon
our history, inquire into the dynamics of a physical symptom, ponder a dream, we
are in dialogue with soul."
Upon sharing this definition, I noted the prevalence of "soul" in our language
and culture-- "soul food," "soul music," "soul mate," "dark night of the soul,"
etc. Next, the audience divided into small groups and discussed their
understanding of "soul" and where or when soul engagement occurs. Not
surprisingly, answers ranged from a house of worship to being in nature while
communing with a higher power or listening for a deep, quiet voice within. Now
it was my turn.
Mandala Movement and Moment
Nearly thirty years ago I had a most profound discovery of, if not dialogue
with, my soul. This transformational experience was parts "mystical," parts
"madness," or at the least off the academic wall. Not surprisingly, I would
draw upon this deep and disturbing wellspring to illuminate my unprecedented
To make a long story short, in 1977, as a doctoral student at Tulane University
School of Social Work, I was struggling to find a dissertation topic that fired
some passion. At an impasse, I decided to punt…and went into psychoanalysis.
In those days, you could be a patient at Tulane University Medical School
working with a senior psychiatric resident for $10/session. (Three days a week,
lying on the couch, talking about myself, I was in narcissistic heaven.)
Actually, the analytic approach progressively opened me to deep and tender parts
of my emotional memory and psyche. And over the course of nine months, the pain
poured out in sobs and waves of grief. For the first time in my life I started
However, one day, about nine months into my analytic journey, something very
uncharacteristic occurred. I lay down on the couch and realized I had nothing
to say. Fortunately, my analyst made his greatest intervention: "Don't say
anything." Initially perplexed, I gradually gave in to the silence. (Hey, even
if they were inexpensive, as a struggling graduate student I was still paying
for those sessions.) It was an uncomfortable silence, but after a short while I
simply let go…perhaps for thirty seconds. And then in this quiet space of just
being, no conscious or subconscious musings, I'm overcome by an unprecedented
sensation. Suddenly I have this mysterious and ineffable feeling that I'm
connected to everything.
Such consciousness luminaries as Freud and Einstein have called this mysterious,
higher level consciousness "oceanic." According to noted 20th century
psychoanalyst and author, Rollo May, (Freedom and Destiny, 1981), in such
altered states, "One experiences being absorbed into the universe and the
universe being temporarily absorbed into one's self. Grasping the wholeness of
the universe comes from one's deeper self."
And within minutes, this cosmic connection is somehow mirrored by two seemingly
1) the split -- an out of body experience where some manifestation of
myself (even if it's just a dream-like or hallucinogenic projection) is looking
down from the ceiling while I'm lying on the couch, and
2) the integration -- in my heart and soul there's a vague, inexplicable
yet nonetheless tangible feeling of wholeness and self-acceptance. Hmmm…what
the heaven or hell (or both) is going on?
I left the session in a state of bewilderment as much as one of wonderment.
However, I put this all aside to run a variety of errands. But later that
evening the question returned as I was sitting in the Tulane Library attempting,
once again, to forge a dissertation topic from an uninspired mind and heart.
Talk about ignoring the obvious. I had had the most mysterious and intriguing
experience of my life. Duh…earth to Mark. (Or should it be cosmos to
earthling?) Finally I was ready to embark on a most profound soulful
At first I started jotting down a list of terms trying to convey the ineffable
and oceanic, words like contentment and sensual, but also animation and
aggression. I realized a linear listing could not capture the afternoon's sense
of wholeness and connectedness. I now started to position terms like aggression
and tenderness and serenity and potency in polar opposition along a North-South,
East-West compass-like grid. Eventually, aided by a couple of "Aha" moments,
including a childhood memory of compulsively doodling in geometric figures, I
conceived an operational structure: a concentric or multi-ringed octagonal
design that allowed for polar, circular and sequential relationships among the
words. (It would take four months to complete this verbal-visual-spatial map
with its five concentric rings and forty-six words. Six words were placed
inside or outside the basic octagonal frame.)
About two days after my semi-paradoxical foray of capturing the ineffable
through words and geometric design, there arose a question from the recesses of
my unconscious: "Was this a Mandala?" I headed straight for the library's big
Oxford World Dictionary. Without conscious awareness I, in fact, was
creating a "Mandala," the Sanskrit term for "magic circle." The Mandala is a
symmetrical configuration often displaying an Indian rug-like pattern. It is
comprised of a central image, connoting seed-like growth potential along with
unfolding layers, signifying a progression into deeper psychic-cosmic dimensions
(Mandala, Jose and Miriam Arguelles, Shambala: Berkeley, 1972. This
book contains numerous illustrations). The symbol has been used to induce
meditative states for several millenia. The dictionary also noted that the
Mandala was one of the "archetypal symbols" of the "collective unconscious"
studied and elaborated upon by early 20th century psychoanalyst, Carl Jung. I
had done a smattering of reading on Jung, perhaps just enough to seed the
subconscious connection. For the most part, though, these new concepts were a
foreign (and somewhat foreboding) language. I had never done careful reading on
Mandalas, Jungian archetypes, Eastern religion, mysticism, meditation or altered
states of consciousness. The subject had always seemed a little too far out.
Obviously, that would all change. In fact, the Mandala would soon become the
"Holy Grail" of dissertation pursuits.
As noted earlier, I was definitely "off the academic wall." Not surprisingly,
after a two-year quest, unable to capture systematically in doctoral prose my
analytic-mystical-graphical-poetic experience, I succumbed to total mind-body
exhaustion. I call those days, "When academic flashdancing whirled to a burnout
tango." I left the doctoral program feeling defeated and humiliated. However,
with a new round of grief work, support of friends, the start of a private
therapy practice (specializing in stress and burnout, naturally) and regular
physical exercise, I was able to rise gradually from the "academic ashes." As I
For the Phoenix to rise from the ashes
One must know the pain
To transform the fire to burning desire.
And I was fired up for another challenging if not quixotic pursuit, one that
reflected a most important legacy of the Mandala experience. This time it was
breaking into TV and radio with no prior media background. Once again a
somewhat dubious undertaking, though one that did have lasting influence on:
a) Insight -- "The only thing more dangerous than taking a big risk or
not taking any risk is taking a risk while minimizing the precarious reality of
the situation," from my article, "Creative Risk-Taking: The Art of Designing
Disorder," (Paradigm, Spring 2001) and
b) Identity -- I may not have completed the doctoral dissertation, but I
did acquire from the TV editor of The Times Picayune the
twenty-plus-years-and-still-going-strong, nationally trademarked stage moniker,
"Stress Doc" ™.
The Mandala Moment and aftermath helped me recognize that there was psychic and
creative energy inside, smoldering for years, longing to come out. (Also
painful splits within my own psyche, for example, the "too good and
"self-sacrificing" child versus the "selfish and shameful" one, waiting to be
recognized and nurtured, if not integrated and healed.) And the "creative
burnout" interlude along with my five-year, off and on, media adventure helped
me realize that psychological understanding expressed with humor and irreverent
wit, as opposed to academic parlance, was my essence and path. I had discovered
my "psychohumorist" ™ voice. (Talk about integrating opposites. And, of
course, I've always let the audience decide where the emphasis on that word
For me, discovering your "voice" equates to the outward expression of your
"personality" and "integrity" or your "style" and "substance." This essential
expression in ideas and imagination, music and movement (or some harmonious or
cacophonous combination) captures your authenticity, intensity and complexity.
It also projects your depth and multifaceted nature. Your true voice is a rich
palette allowing you to color your world in the serene and sensual, in the silly
and sublime. For example, Lawrence Bergreen, the biographer of jazz great,
Louis Armstrong, conveys the potency, vibrancy and individuality of such a
liberating voice. Satchmo had "a distinctly American brand of optimism and
striving (but) there was a power and even an edge of anger to the laughter. It
was a cosmic shout of defiance, a refusal to accept the status quo, and a
determination to remake the world of his childhood and by extension, the world
at large, as he believed it to be." (Quoted in, Kay Redfield Jamison,
Exuberance: The Passion for Life, 2004.)
Finally, in addition to "Insight" and "Identity" (and the aforementioned
"Integration" and "Integrity" noted above) there was another "I"-word that
helped me understand my turbulent "American in Cajun Paris" years and the
compelling need to "come out of the creative closet." And this word brings us
directly back to the Mandala and to the pioneering psychoanalyst, Carl Jung, and
his study of this archetypal symbol. For Jung, the Mandala was the
quintessential symbol of "Individuation," the process of grappling with if not
reconciling the opposites in a psyche as a pathway to both wholeness and to your
deepest and most authentic self. What I am calling "soul." "Individuation,"
according to the previously cited, James Hollis, "is the lifelong project of
becoming more nearly the whole person we were meant to be…what the gods
intended, not the parents, the tribe, or, especially, the easily intimidated or
inflated ego. One must surrender the ego's agenda of security and emotional
reinforcement, in favor of humbling service to the soul's intent; 'what wishes
to live through us.' Our greatest freedom is found, paradoxically, in surrender
to that which seeks fuller expression through us. It cuts a person off from the
herd, from collectivity, but it deepens the range in which more authentic
relationships can occur." Perhaps my burnout and "rebuilding the fire" path was
driven as much by soulful destiny as academic defiance.
"Insight," "Identity," "Integration" "Integrity" and "Individuation"…Aha, I
think we've got it. These "Five 'I's" might be conceived as the foundation of
my newly coined concept -- "Soul-ar Power." And Part II will flesh out the
conceptual skeleton, to help you discover your depths and evolve your Soul-ar
Power" through "Good Grief and Letting Go," "Mining the Silence," "Courageous
Decisions and Conversations" and "Play and Creativity." Until next time, May
the Force and Farce Be With You!