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The Stress Doc Letter
Cybernotes from the Online Psychohumorist ™



APR 2009, No. I, Sec. I

Fight when you can
Take flight when you must
Flow like a dream
In the Phoenix we trust!


Table of Contents

Section I

Shrink Rap I:  Meditations and Mantras, Sayings and Slogans

Shrink Rap II:  "Still Crazy and Evolving after All these Years" or Generating "Four 'C'-ing Evolution"
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Section II

Main Essay:  The Stress Doc's Conception of Ritual and the Spiral:  Four "R" "Spiral-Ritual" Gives Birth to the "Spiritual."

Testimonials:  13th Expeditionary (HQ) Support Command, Ft. Hood, TX, INOVA Health Systems, Holiday Park Multi-Service Senior Center

Readers:  Puns

Offerings:  Books, CDs, Training/Marketing Kit:  Email stressdoc@aol.com or go to www.stressdoc.com for more info.
 



Overview:


1) Shrink Rap I:  Meditations and Mantras, Sayings and Slogans.  Popular Stress Doc words of wit and wisdom.

2) Shrink Rap II:  "Still Crazy and Evolving after All these Years" or Generating "Four 'C'-ing Evolution":  Discovering and Designing Interconnection among "Creativity, Change, Conflict and (Mostly Good) Crazy."  Drawing on the wisdom of pioneers in the field of science, theatre and education -- including Jonas Salk, Charles Darwin, George Bernard Shaw and John Dewey -- the Doc sketches a path of "Four 'C'-ing Evolution."  An ability to grapple with loss and risk letting go, along with a yin-yang predisposition for being deliberate and deviant are foundational qualities.  And a personal example that hits close to home brings the concepts to life.

3) Main Essay:  The Stress Doc's Conception of Ritual and the Spiral:  Four "R" "Spiral-Ritual" Gives Birth to the "Spiritual." Having both a schedule or established procedure and a willingness to shake up the mindset and skillset routine based on new data or hunches, yet continuing to practice day-after-day so that memory and mastery muscles develop, is a formula for exploring, experimenting, risk-taking and learning. 
 



Shrink Rap I:

Meditations and Mantras, Sayings and Slogans
[The following are found in the article below, "Still Crazy and Evolving after All these Years"]

1) On Leadership and Team Building

a) "With 'T 'n T' you're dynamite, sister; but 'Tough 'n Tender' and a 'Thinker' now you're a dynamic leader!"

This saying captures my belief in developing a bi-hemispheric perspective -- being expressive emotionally, whether tough or tender -- and being cool and reflective cognitively.  An ability to grapple with contradiction and complexity, yields a powerful edge:  According to esteemed novelist, F. Scott Fitzgerald, "The test of a first rate intellect is the capacity to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function."

b) "There's no 'I' in team but there are two 'I's in winning."

This aphorism challenges the notion that team members must totally subvert their individual talents and perspective.  First, it recognizes that for a winning team, each person needs ("two eyes") to be observant internally (looking inside for self-awareness) and observing the greater environment (soft scanning) while keeping both "eyes on the prize" (focused perspective on vital outcomes).  And second, successful teams need two "I"s -- "Individuals" with "Integrity" -- who communicate openly and honestly.  And, of course, this two-way flow is especially critical between the leader and team members.
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2) On Risk-Taking, Ritual and Rites

a) "Confronting Your Intimate FOE:  Fear of Exposure"

This phrase simply underscores my belief that we often are afraid to move out of a comfort zone because our perceived inadequacies will be exposed.  But more often than not it's our own internalized critical voice rather than feedback from the external world that holds us back.

b) "I'm a Learner Not a Loser."

The perfect antidote for discovering the opportunity in errors and for disarming your "Intimate FOE."

c) From Ritual to Radical Practice -- The Four "R"s of Rites of Passage:  "A Ritual that's Repetitive, Responsive, Risk-selective and Reflective forges radical performance and the rite of passage."

[Radical.  Middle English, of a root, from Late Latin rdclis, having roots, from Latin rdx, rdc-, root; see wrd- in Indo-European roots.]

1. Arising from or going to a root or source; basic: proposed a radical solution to the problem.
2. Departing markedly from the usual or customary; extreme: radical opinions on education.
3. Favoring or effecting fundamental or revolutionary changes in current practices, conditions, or institutions
4. Linguistics Of or being a root: a radical form.
5. Slang Excellent; wonderful.

Once again a yin/yang nature is revealed.  Having both a schedule or established procedure and a willingness to shake up the mindset and skillset routine based on new data or hunches, yet continuing to practice day-after-day so that memory and mastery muscles develop, is a formula for exploring, experimenting, risk-taking and learning.  And this process will enable you to engage new role challenges, broaden and deepen aptitudes and achieve unanticipated levels of error, opportunity and success.
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3) Growing through Loss

a) "Whether the loss is a key person, a desired position or a powerful illusion, each deserves the respect of a mourning.  The pit in the stomach, the clenched fists and quivering jaw, the anguished sobs prove catalytic in time.  In mystical fashion, like spring upon winter, the seeds of dissolution bear fruitful renewal."

While no one can predict with absolute certainty the needed time or the way of meandering (in mind-body-spirit) through a grief process for a particular individual, engaging with grief's painful emotions will sow their own courage building as well as healing and restorative seeds.  (See b.)

b) "For the Phoenix to rise from the ashes,
One must know the pain...
To transform the fire to burning desire."

Remember, the "s"-word for Passion is not "sex" but "suffering"  (as in the "Passion Play").

c) "There's real difference between feeling sorry for yourself and feeling your sorrow.  When you are feeling sorry for yourself you tend to blame others.  When you are feeling your sorrow you have the courage to face your pain.  And we all, at times, need to feel our sorrow."

An adage to help people not beat themselves up too badly in the face of human frailty and foible.
 



Shrink Rap II:

Using the popular title of a recent speaking program, the Stress Doc" explores the basis for "Still Crazy and Evolving after All These Years."  Drawing on the wisdom of pioneers in the field of science, theatre and education -- including Jonas Salk, Charles Darwin, George Bernard Shaw and John Dewey -- the Doc sketches a path of "Four 'C'-ing Evolution."  An ability to grapple with loss and risk letting go, along with a yin-yang predisposition for being deliberate and deviant are foundational qualities.  And a personal example that hits close to home brings the concepts to life.

"Still Crazy and Evolving after All these Years" or Generating "Four 'C'-ing Evolution":  Discovering and Designing Interconnection among "Creativity, Change, Conflict and (Mostly Good) Crazy"

"Still Crazy and Evolving after All these Years."  It's the title of a recent speaking program for seniors, mostly retirees.  The program was a big hit!  (Here's the blurb; see testimonial below.)

Program Blurb:  "The Stress Doc, Mark Gorkin, will encourage us to explore a new self-discovery.  We most often think of the senior years as cruising to the end.  Can we really set new sights and adventures at any age?  Gorkin believes all those trials and tribulations, flaws and foibles allow us to explore new landscapes and mindscapes.  In addition to being inspired, you will laugh!"

The enthusiastic response has motivated me to:  a) develop a program for an array of ages, professions, organizations, etc.; see the end of the essay for an outline on "Still Crazy and Evolving after All these Years (and Despite these Out-RAGE-ous Times)" and b) flesh out the foundation for being "good crazy" and for having a capacity for personal and/or professional resilience and evolution.  I must say, most people love the title.  Why is that?  Perhaps the title is embraced because it suggests that a person can still retain his or her uniqueness and spirit despite life on the "burnout battlefront" with its exhausting crises, disturbing losses or numbing demands and hassles:  "Try as you will, you can't squeeze or pound me into a listless mass or a robotic mind."

And even if knocked temporarily on a derriere or when having dropped the ball, this individual is not overwhelmed or paralyzed "Confronting the Intimate FOE:  Fear of Exposure."  The judgmental ego is muted while error is acknowledged, and the affirming personal mantra is -- "I'm a Learner Not a Loser."  And when laid low by loss, a basic Stress Doc saying helps negotiate the painful valleys and voids:  "There's a real difference between feeling sorry for yourself and feeling your sorrow.  When feeling sorry for yourself you tend to blame others.  When feeling your sorrow you have the courage to face your pain."  We all at times need to face our sorrow.  And by courageously engaging that "dark night of the soul" (sometimes alone, sometimes with a guide) you often discover a double-edged quality of loss and sorrow.

Good Grief:  Growing through Loss

Grappling with the stages of grief and ultimately letting go in the external or day-to-day world (while allowing the loved one's spirit to live lightly and enlighteningly inside) allows you to conceive fresh possibilities if not help formulate a new vision or mission.  As the Algerian-French Nobel-Prize winning author and existential philosopher, Albert Camus, noted:  "Once we have accepted the fact of loss we understand that the loved one [or loved position] obstructed a whole corner of the possible, pure now as a sky washed by rain."  Camus' description of natural grief as a cleansing and mind-opening force provides a conceptual bridge linking my own mind-body to spiritual-like musings:

Whether the loss is a key person, a desired position or a powerful illusion, each deserves the respect of a mourning.  The pit in the stomach, the clenched fist and quivering jaw, the anguished sobs prove catalytic in time.  In mystical fashion, like spring upon winter, the seeds of dissolution bear fruitful renewal.

As alluded to above, a key driving agent is often a higher power and harnessed aggression that helps transform pain into passion, purpose, persistence and possibility:  "For the Phoenix to rise from the ashes one must know the pain…to transform the fire to burning desire."  Or maybe an outcome of a grief process is simply a defiant and deviant stance that morphs into the classic line from the movie "Network":  "I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take it anymore."

Actually, a madness that goes beyond defiance or mere destruction and morphs into "divine madness" (what was once thought to drive the artistic mind) and mutation speaks to the other implicit message in the title:  with some crazy if not creative juice, I can keep changing (and influencing my surroundings) and continue to grow.  I believe it was acclaimed 19th century playwright, George Bernard Shaw, who in effect observed:  "The reasonable man adapts to the world.  The unreasonable man makes the world adapt to him.  Therefore, all progress depends on the unreasonable man."

Perhaps one way of conceiving "good crazy" is the notion of eccentricity, especially when as noted by the enlightenment philosopher, John Stuart Mill, an "evolutionary eccentricity" (my phrase) is "fired by genius, mental vigor, and moral courage."  As Adam Gopnik observed in his new book, Angels and Ages:  A Short Book about Darwin, Lincoln and Modern Life (Alfred A Knopf:  NY, 2009), "odd sorts and variations were to be valued for the sake of progress, that bizarre variation was the key to the growth of knowledge."

"Four 'C'-ing Evolution"

Perhaps the evolutionary link between "eccentricity" and deviance and change is captured in the psycho-semantic transmutation from "going crazy" (i.e., feeling and being out of control) to "growing crazy" (i.e., some paradoxical mix of controlled or designed chaos) with creatively managing or harnessing conflict the transitional bridge.  (Email stressdoc@aol.com for my article on "Creative Risk-Taking":  The Art of Designing Disorder.")  Hmm, I'm sensing "Four 'C'-ing Evolution":  a complexly stimulating interconnection among "Creativity, Change, Conflict and (Mostly Good) Crazy."  For starters, when it comes to the term "evolution," my immediate name association is not Charles Darwin but Jonas Salk.  The renowned pioneer of a polio vaccine, Salk noted that, "Evolution is about getting up one more time than you fall down; being courageous one more time than you are fearful; trusting just one more time than you are anxious."

Clearly, evolution involves risk and experimentation more than it does perfection.  In fact, just the opposite condition prevails.  Chaos theory reveals that a system having just enough structure (to negate anarchy) while also possessing a capacity for engaging with a high degree of environmental and operational uncertainty and fluidity is a system most capable of meaningful transformation and evolving complexity.  For example, a crystalline structure is so perfectly and tightly aligned, there is no evolutionary play.  It is figuratively, literarily (and chemically) set in its ways!  (Of course, individuals and systems must be able to tolerate if not feed off of growing pains anxiety while using consequential input and environmental feedback to evolve and mutate purposefully.)

This is why an optimal level of conflict along with the challenge of generating new and effective behavioral responses is often essential to prevent a hardening of the cognitive arteries and an atrophying of the emotional muscles.  As the pragmatic philosopher and "Father of American Public Education," John Dewy noted:  "Conflict is the gadfly of thought.  It stirs us to observation and memory.  It shocks us out of sheep-like passivity.  It instigates to invention and sets us at noting and contriving.  Conflict is the sine qua non of reflection and ingenuity."  Conflict is a dynamic element influencing creative problem solving and adaptive complexity.

Though opening with the words of Salk and Dewey, of course, when it comes to the concept of evolution Mr. Darwin remains front and center.  However, for my purposes, even more critical than the popular notion of survival of the fittest is the significant role of deviation and mutation.  That is, small changes that allow for productively engaging with an environment, over a prolonged period just may culminate in significant alterations or metamorphosis.  When this evolving complexity leads to enhanced goodness of fit, the result may be adaptive advantage, both in the present and for subsequent generations (or, given sufficient time, changes and conflicts and creative adaptations yield a new evolutionary frontrunner).  As Adam Gopnik observed, "Repetition is the habit of nature but variation is the rule of life."

One Man's Evolutionary, If Not Shocking, Journey

And I believe a synthesis of Salk and Darwin/Gopnik is possible.  Of course, it's all relative, as our time frame and the capacity for change and mutation is on a human scale, that is one individual's (or family's) lifelong growth process, not the evolution of a species over eons and eons.  However, using a personal-human lens, consider the possibility for change, enhanced performance and strengthened family functioning spurred by my father's mid-life "sturm und drang."  When I was a sophomore in college my parents separated for four months.  Decades of emotional issues had piled up, especially issues from my father's past that had never been honestly examined.  Actually, it was during this period that I learned that my father had been going for shock therapy for many years in response to lurking depression and a "mental breakdown" (when I was eighteen months old).  His mother too suffered from clinical depression.  Regarding my father's twice annual treatment regimen, my parents were dutifully following medical-cultural norms and the doctor's orders.  However, my father finally broke out of his box and went for psychotherapy (following the suggestion of a woman with whom he was having a brief affair.  Once again life reveals that questionable actions nonetheless may instigate positive results).

And once committed to both individual and group psychotherapy he never again needed shock treatment.  No longer shocking away his emotions, my father was more openly expressing himself, including his anger.  No longer was his energy and aggression primarily being channeled as a hard-driving salesman; alcohol was being used less as an anger lubricant.  Naturally, his new behavior patterns generated a challenging environment from which my mother, brother and I had to adapt.  While confusing, scary and frustrating at times this conflict enabled each of us to begin breaking away from the many chronic defensive and self-defeating coping patterns used for personal and family "survival."  (For example, three years after my father, I began my own individual and group therapy journey.  It took another three years for me to have the courage to ask my father about his shock therapy experience!  That's another evolutionary story.)

My father also made two other life-changing decisions during this mid-life passage, in addition to generating upheaval in hearth and home.  One day while descending the New York City Subway steps he reflexively began to light up a cigarette.  No surprise here; he had been a two-pack a day smoker for over twenty years.  But then, he paused, and in a glaring, self-reflecting moment he threw away the cigarette, crushed the pack…and never smoked again.  What disrupted the reflexive-addictive behavior?  First was the realization that he was in therapy trying to remake his life.  Second, he also experienced specific cognitive dissonance:  he had recently started taking tennis lessons and, obviously, smoking was antagonistic with a desire for stamina and court endurance.  Now, blessedly, there was another arena for his Type A aggression and ambition.  (Actually, stepping onto the court for my father was a deviant act, definitely reflecting Salk's evolutionary battle between fear and courage.  As a child, my father had shunned competitive sports because his older brother was a star athlete.  Taking up tennis was sure to stir old psychic and competitive demons.)

Perhaps we can discern both lessons for subverting "bad crazy" behavior and for embarking upon deviant or dramatically different, i.e., "good crazy," coping.  Drawing on my father's experience, four critical components of confronting and challenging addictive behavior emerge, actions that also have affinity with the dynamics of Salk's "just good enough" concept of evolution:  1) having a vision of yourself that contradicts or is incompatible with being an addict, 2) having just enough courage to stand up to the fear of letting go of those habitual chains, 3) having a personal coach/support group to share screw ups and successes, and 4) having a specific activity (e.g., a hobby like tennis) for channeling aggressive energy and/or ambitious drives and that also encourages dedicated if not ritualistic practice while yielding tangible progress.  (How about this slogan:  In "good crazy" mode, "Ritual practice designs the path for predictable risk and unpredictable rites of passage"?)

Deviant and Deliberate Evolution

Pulling together various conceptual threads while embracing a yin/yang spirit, let us note that deviation and "deliberate practice" are both vital dynamics of human evolution.  Do you recall Gopnik's adage about repetition being nature's habit while variation is the rule of life?  Passionate and purposeful practice (including obsessive noodling) involves:  a) discovering a skillset and an activity in which you want to excel or be uncommonly good (and having at least a little talent from the cultural heritage or gene pool never hurts), b) seeking a sufficiently knowledgeable counselor, coach or mentor, c) designing and repeatedly engaging targeted learning sessions -- "deliberate practice" to develop a variety of skills and "cognitive-emotional muscles" central to your desired area of expertise, d) being open to feedback throughout the trial and error process, and especially e) not being afraid of failing, in fact, learning to design for error and opportunity, while f) being ready to make rapid mid-course corrections, and g) a willingness to repeat over and over this learning process…Here's where potential for performance growth meets the ongoing path of evolution and mastery.  (My choice of these steps are influenced by Geoff Colvin's book, Talent Is Overrated:  What "Really" Separates World Class Performers from Everybody Else, Penguin Group, 2005).

In closing, this article has fleshed out the concept of "Still Crazy and Evolving after All These years."  Key components have included:  a) individual uniqueness and a resilient spirit, b) "Confronting the Intimate FOE:  Fear of Exposure,", c) "Being a Learner Not a Loser," d) growing through grief and loss, e) transforming pain into purpose and passion, i.e., having "going crazy" mutate into "growing crazy," f) deviancy and deliberate practice as evolutionary keys, g) the concept of "Four 'C'-ing Evolution" -- "Creativity, Change, Conflict and (Mostly Good) Crazy," h) aphoristic-like wisdom from Jonas Salk and John Dewey, and i) an example of risk-taking and rite of passage on a human scale.  Hopefully, these words will both inspire some "good craziness" and help you…Practice Safe Stress!
 



Mark Gorkin, MSW, LICSW, "The Stress Doc" ™,
a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, is an acclaimed keynote and kickoff speaker and "Motivational Humorist" known for his interactive, inspiring and FUN speaking and workshop programs.  In addition, the "Doc" is a team building and organizational development consultant for a variety of govt. agencies, corporations and non-profits and is AOL's "Online Psychohumorist" ™.  Mark is an Adjunct Professor, No. VA (NOVA) Community College and currently he is leading "Stress, Team Building and Humor" programs for the 1st Cavalry and 4th Infantry Divisions, Ft. Hood, Texas.  A former Stress and Conflict Consultant for the US Postal Service, the Stress Doc is the author of Practice Safe Stress and of The Four Faces of Anger.  See his award-winning, USA Today Online "HotSite" -- www.stressdoc.com -- called a "workplace resource" by National Public Radio (NPR).  For more info on the Doc's "Practice Safe Stress" programs or to receive his free e-newsletter, email stressdoc@aol.com or call 301-946-0865.  And to view web video highlights of a Stress Doc Keynote, go to http://www.stressdoc.com/media_downloads.htm .

(c)  Mark Gorkin  2009
Shrink Rap™ Productions