The Stress Doc Letter
Cybernotes from the Online Psychohumorist
APR 2009, No. I, Sec. II
Fight when you can
Take flight when you must
Flow like a dream
In the Phoenix we trust!
The Stress Doc's Conception of Ritual and
Four "R" "Spiral-Ritual" Gives Birth to the "Spiritual"
During this season of rejuvenation (from seeming death to rebirth of life)
and rites of passage (escape from bondage, migrating from the physical to the
spiritual realm), my mind has been pondering the notion of ritual. Actually, as
a speaker and writer, my life is organized around establishing procedure both
for preparation to engage in and for the execution of these activities. The
ritual involves both intense focus and meandering intuition as well as a
capacity to "let go" and "let flow" -- through reading, note-taking, playing
with, sketching out and discarding ideas, experiencing that state of "thrustration,"
that is, torn between thrusting ahead and apparent dead end frustration as the
pieces still don't quite fit, 4am scribbling, continuously panning for and then
one day or night mysteriously-magically finding that rare "aha" nugget, cold eye
examination in the light of day, rehearsing, testing out lines with friends,
reconfiguring a new outline, exposing the above to a larger public audience,
absorbing for good and bad the feedback, none more judgmental than my own
critique…and then, starting the process all over and over and over again.
Actually, another stimulus for pondering things ritual is a quote from Adam
Gopnik in his new book, Angels and Ages: A Short Book about Darwin, Lincoln and
Modern Life (Alfred A Knopf: NY, 2009): "Repetition is the law of nature
and variation is the rule of life…Odd sorts and variations were to be valued for
the sake of progress, that bizarre variation was the key to the growth of
As I played with the notion of "ritual, one involving both repetition and
variation," the "Four 'R's of Ritual Practice" just naturally crystallized in
the mind. For me, ritual meant being:
a. "Repetitive" -- see above; as I have been reminded by several authors
of late – from Malcolm Gadwell (Outliers) to Geoff Colvin (Talent is Overrated)
– the path of mastery in a field requires logging 10,000 hours of intense and
b. "Responsive" -- to both the psycho-social-cultural environment along
with one's own hunches and soulful murmurings; favorite feedback-responsive
mantras include, "Strive high and embrace failure," that is, challenge fantasies
of perfection, and "I don't know where I'm going…I just think I know how to get
there," which requires both inner conviction and a willingness to meander off
the tried and seemingly "true" path,
c. "Risk-Selective" -- thinking and performing on the edge, falling over
the precipice, recovering with some hard-earned growing pains wisdom, as well as
sometimes choosing not to take a precarious path simply to avoid boredom or even
bypassing the danger infused adrenaline rush, and
d. "Reflective" -- cogitating wide and deep and still learning despite
making the same mistake; occasionally, you may even have an injection of insight
or a game-changing epiphany. (The criticality of reflection is captured in an
earlier musing: "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." As for my seemingly compulsive need to organize using
acronyms-alliterations…I am a charter member of the Twelve-Step AA Group --
Acronyms Anonymous! ;-)
From Noodling to Spiraling
As it were, fairly constant noodling on the subject of "The Four 'R' Ritual" and
its propensity for expanding enlightenment conjured up a precious image: the
visual symbol for repetition with progress is a "spiral." According to several
online dictionaries, there are three broad conceptions of the term "Spiral":
1. Mechanical. "Winding round a cylinder or imaginary axis, and at the same
time rising or advancing forward; winding like the thread of a screw; helical,"
2. Mystical. "In terms of astrology, mysticism and myth the spiral
translates into meanings of spirituality and rebirth. In terms of spirituality,
the spiral symbol represents the path leading from outer consciousness
(materialism, external awareness, ego, outward perception) to the inner soul
(enlightenment, unseen essence, nirvana, cosmic awareness)" and
3. Natural. "In terms of rebirth or growth, the spiral symbol represents
the consciousness of nature beginning from the core or center and thus expanding
outwardly. This is the way of all things, as recognized by most mystics."
And here are my metaphorical and alliterative perspectives linking "Spiral" and
1) Repetition -- "winding round" a metaphor for deliberate and devoted
practice and "rising or advancing" consciousness to soulfulness representing
progress is symbolized by the mysterious/magical movement of the "Spiral"
2) Repetitive, Responsive, Risk-selective and Reflective or 4 "R"
practice/process = exploratory and enlightening "Ritual"
3) Spiral + Ritual or Spiral-Ritual gives birth to the "Spiritual"
The 3 - "D" Spiral and the 4th "D"-mension
For me, Spiritual Practice occurs in 3 - "D" -- through Discipline, Devotion and
Daring. And truly living and conceiving in this 3 - "D" space-time may have you
spiral to the 4th "D"-mension: Deviation. Let's clarify terms. Some common
notions of deviation include:
a) Deviant behavior or attitudes
b) Divergence from an accepted political policy or party line
c) Statistics. The difference, especially the absolute difference, between one
number in a set and the mean of the set.
And synonyms of “deviation” include: aberration, difference, divergence,
variation; these words connote a departure from what is prescribed or expected.
My goal is to challenge the expected while diverging, and deviating from the
standard by broadening the conception of established procedure or "ritual." My
goal is to capture in human scale Adam Gopnik's pithy observation of Darwin's
penetrating observation and insight: "Repetition is the law of nature and
variation is the rule of life…(and) bizarre variation was the key to the growth
of knowledge." (My objective is no longer to think or be “out of the box.” Now
I want to be way outside the curve – outside the Bell Curve, at least two
standard deviations. Hey, if you're not living on the edge, you're taking up
way too much space! ;-)
Synergistic Effect of Four 'R' Ritual" and Three "D" Spiral
Consider these Key Outcomes of "Four 'R' Ritual" ("Repetitive, Responsive,
Risk-Selective and Reflective") and Three "D" ("Discipline, Devotion and
Daring") Spiral to Deviancy:
1. Radically Reasoned Perspective: "Radical." Middle English, of a root,
from Late Latin rdclis, having roots; definitions: a) arising from or going to
a root or source; basic: proposed a radical solution to the problem, b)
departing markedly from the usual or customary; extreme, c) favoring or
effecting fundamental or revolutionary changes in current practices, conditions,
or institutions, and d) Slang -- excellent; wonderful.
2. Resilient and Rejuvenating Passion: "For the Phoenix to rise from the
ashes, one must know the pain…to transform the fire to burning desire." And
keep to keep rising, raise the consciousness, performance and relationship bar;
develop your skills and focus your experience with the goal of discovering or
designing a role (or roles) that allow you to express your essence and talents.
3. Right On (Target/Tools/Techniques) Performance: Ironically, sometimes
being on target or on task means defying expectations or challenging what’s seen
as possible. Here's a testimonial from General Paul Wentz after a recent team
building workshop with senior officers and senior sergeants: "You definitely
were instrumental in setting the stage for our conference and achieved more than
I could have ever expected with respect to building our Team...as you saw, we
are a unique organization consisting of Soldiers in the Active, Reserve and
National Guard who generally don't have the opportunity to get together until we
meet in theater.......the exercises you provided during the seminar and the
excellent dinner session really hit the mark, and provided us with some very
useful concepts/tools as we continue to do the spade work in building an
effective Team....in an organization like this, that is a never ending task."
4. Unexpected Rites of Passage (reflecting and encouraging deviant
adaptation): Discipline, Devotion and Daring over time just may lead to
Deviation -- as in unexpected, divergent and outside the Bell Curve --
outcomes. Consider again the General's testimonial: "We will definitely look
into seeing how we can get you into theater to experience the "combat" side of
stress," i.e., there may be an unexpected transition for the Stress Doc…to
Spiral-Ritual is a conception of spiritual practice that comes from my essence
and it is consciousness I can live by. As 20th century West Indian dramatist
and poet, Derek Walcott observed: "Any serious attempt to try to do something
worthwhile is ritualistic." And my conception of spiral-ritual has a
paradoxical, yin-yang nature with its emphasis on practice and progress. 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. It will nurture
your spirit. And it will most surely help you in the long run…Practice Safe
13th Expeditionary (HQ) Support Command,
Ft. Hood, TX
("Communications and Team Building" Predeployment/Offsite program and after
dinner speech on "Motivational Humor" for 70 senior officers, senior sergeants
Mark, Sorry it has taken me a week to get back to you...one of those weeks...we
will definitely look into seeing how we can get you into theater to experience
the "combat" side of stress..you definitely were instrumental in setting the
stage for our conference and achieved more than I could have ever expected with
respect to building our Team...as you saw, we are a unique organization
consisting of Soldiers in the Active, Reserve and National Guard who generally
don't have the opportunity to get together until we meet in theater.......the
exercises you provided during the seminar and the excellent dinner session
really hit the mark, and provided us with some very useful concepts/tools as we
continue to do the spade work in building an effective Team....in an
organization like this, that is a never ending task...thanks again for making
time for us....you provided a wonderful service and laid the
foundation---definitely consider you a valued member of the 13th..will
definitely stay in touch and yell if--when:) we need some more from the Stress
Wentz, Paul BG (Brigadier General) MIL USA FORSCOM
13th Expeditionary (HQ) Support Command, Ft. Hood, TX
INOVA Health System/Recruitment Dept.
[Stress and Team Building Program]
Mar 23, 2009
Thank you for coming to INOVA Health System and providing a well balanced,
stress relieving workshop to our recruiters last week. They thoroughly enjoyed
it and were completely engaged. Not only was your humor great, but also your
content very appropriate. In times like these, we feel it is important to not
lose perspective and ensure that hope is present in our every day lives. Thank
8110 Gatehouse Road
Falls Church, VA 22042
Tel: 703 205 2272
Holiday Park Senior Center
["Still Crazy and Evolving After All These Years" program for sixty
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 crusing 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!"
Mar 18, 2009
Hi Mark !
Yes, yes, yes ! This was definitely an outstanding program and so much FUN
! It is -- to put it plainly -- an exciting experience listening to you and
wonderfully uplifting ! I love the way you can get us all to laugh at ourselves
(and at you !!) but then also motivate us to talk to each other and think about
our good experiences and even not-so-good experiences; to explore and think
positively about life -- all that good stuff !! We do need people like you to
put things in perspective !
Thank you Mark, so very much, for being a wonderful part of Holiday Park
life. We had a very large audience and we all enjoyed ourselves immensely. It
was a fantastic afternoon.
Take care and enjoy the spring !!
PS: I loved the (Shrink) rap !!!!
Betsy R. Graft
Holiday Park Senior Center
3950 Ferrara Drive
Wheaton, Maryland 20906
Phone - 240-777-4999
1. The roundest knight at King Arthur's round table was
Sir Cumference. He acquired his size from too much pi.
2. I thought I saw an eye doctor on an Alaskan island,
but it turned out to be an optical Aleutian.
3. She was only a whisky maker, but he loved her still.
4. A rubber band pistol was confiscated from algebra class because
it was a weapon of math disruption.
5. The butcher backed into the meat grinder
and got a little behind in his work.
6. No matter how much you push the envelope,
it'll still be stationery.
7. A dog gave birth to puppies near the road
and was cited for littering.
8. A grenade thrown into a kitchen in France would result
in Linoleum Blownapart.
9. Two silk worms had a race. They ended up in a tie.
10. Time flies like an arrow. Fruit flies like a banana.
11. A hole has been found in the nudist camp wall.
The police are looking into it.
12. Atheism is a non-prophet organization.
13. Two hats were hanging on a hat rack in the hallway.
One hat said to the other, 'You stay here, I'll go on a head.'
14. I wondered= why the baseball kept getting bigger.
Then it hit me.
15. A sign on the lawn at a drug rehab center said:
'Keep off the Grass.'
16. A small boy swallowed some coins and was taken to a
hospital. When his grandmother telephoned to ask how he
was, a nurse said, 'No change yet.'
17. A chicken crossing the road is poultry in motion.
18. It's not that the man did not know how to juggle,
he just didn't have the balls to do it.
19. The short fortune-teller who escaped from prison was
a small medium at large.
20. The man who survived mustard gas and pepper spray is
now a seasoned veteran.
21. A backward poet writes inverse.
22. In democracy it's your vote that counts.
In feudalism it's your count that votes.
23. When cannibals ate a missionary, they got a taste of religion.
24. Don't join dangerous cults: Practice safe sects!
And, saving the best for last:
25. There was a man who entered a local paper's pun contest. He sent in
ten different puns, in the hope that at least one of the puns would win.
Unfortunately, no pun in ten did.
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
firstname.lastname@example.org or call 301-946-0865. And to view web video
highlights of a Stress Doc Keynote, go to
(c) Mark Gorkin 2009
Shrink Rap™ Productions
Mark Gorkin, The Stress Doc ™
Washington, DC, Columbia, MD & Chagrin Falls, OH
Acclaimed Keynote/Kickoff Speaker -- Interactive, Inspiring & FUN
Motivational PsychoHumorist ™ & Team Building Consultant
Author of Practice Safe Stress ™ and of The Four Faces of Anger
Click here: Stress Doc Video or
Best wishes on the journey and, of course...Practice Safe Stress!