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The Stress Doc Letter
Cybernotes from the Online Psychohumorist (tm)

October 1998, No. 2

Dear Readers,

Here is your free Stress Doc Newsletter. Twice a month I include original or favorite essays and articles from my various online and offline writings, including my weekly Humor From the Edge <A HREF="http://members.aol.com/hfte/">HUMOR FROM THE EDGE HomePage</A> and AOL/Online Psych <A HREF="aol://4344:972.doc.1264535.556723207">The Stress Doc @ Online Psych</A> columns.

Please forward this letter to interested friends, colleagues and family members, or send along their email addresses. (Also, if you don't wish to receive the newsletter, email me - stressdoc@aol.com .)

SPECIAL ANNOUNCEMENT: The Stress Doc and Digital City- Washington Go National: Shrink Rap and Group Chat, the Stress Doc's popular dynamic chat group, moves to a weekly format -- Tuesdays, from 9-10:30pm EDT. Here are links & announcements: <A HREF="aol://4344:1097.tuechat.25384394.563747919"> Tuesday Chats</A> and <A HREF="aol://4344:363.gorkin.5732839.568857121">Dig City Promo - Stress Doc</A> . Hope to see you on Tuesdays.

Reader response to the Humor From the Edge column on my recent West Virginia mountain retreat compels me to offer "The Gospel of a Country Road" in today's newsletter. (One reader was rethinking her plan of moving out of the state ;-) And since we're dealing with discovering the human spirit, I'll throw in another daily source of higher nurturance -- "Three Part Harmony."

Also, scroll past the essays to find information on my speaking and training schedule, the library of articles on my award-winning website -- www.stressdoc.com <A HREF="www.stressdoc.com">STRESSDOC HOMEPAGE</A> - and any fastbreaking developments. And here's my AOL/Online Psych Page <A HREF="aol://4344:972.doc.1264535.556723207">The Stress Doc @ Online Psych </A> and special AOL/Workplace Series <A HREF="aol://4344:972.docwork.1255066.562088752">The Stress Doc Interview @ Online Psych</A>.

Click on these links if you'd like free subscriptions to Humor From the Edge <A HREF="http://members.aol.com/hfte/">HUMOR FROM THE EDGE HomePage</A> (for which i write a twice/weekly column) and/or to The Death and Dying Newsletter <A HREF="http://www.death-dying.com/">Welcome To Death & Dying...Where Life Surroun...</A> (See, this newsletter will make you die laughing ;-)

The Stress Doc captures the colorful sights, animated and soothing sounds and profound silences as one travels down a mountain country road. Once again, he must escape the big city to nurture fully all his senses and tune in to the big picture.

The Gospel of a Country Road

Take me home, country roads To the place I belong West Virginia, mountain momma Take me home, country roads.

John Denver knew of what and where he sang. And yet, each year I debate taking my solo, overnight retreat to the mountains of West Virginia. It’s a five-six hour drive, and I’ve done it before, at times money has been a concern, while October’s usually a busy month, and the leaves probably won’t be that spectacular this season with the lack of rain…blah,blah,blah. And fortunately, it’s not a logical debate; it’s a spiritual one. An act of faith. In some silent subterranean nexus of psyche and soul, there’s a need to be connected intimately and tangibly with the big picture. So I go…and return quieter, wiser and spiritually richer.

A Long Days Journey Into the Soul of the Dark Night

This year I journeyed to Helvetia, WV, also known as Little Switzerland. Helvetia is an idyllic mountain village, maybe thirty residents. While Heidi doesn’t live here anymore, one of the natives is, in fact, that delightful and dynamic "mountain momma" (actually, a grandma) who returned to her roots after a divorce and living abroad. She built a bed and breakfast, that is, a Hutte or restaurant along with separate sleeping quarters. The latter is a rustic, wooden, two storied cabin-like structure that captures the feel of Old World Europe. The town was originally settled by Swiss and German immigrants about 130 years ago. Escaping religious persecution, these folks landed in Brooklyn and somehow did the covered wagon tour to their New World mountain hamlet. (And I complain about my long trip. Actually, I enjoy the focused excitement of driving along tight mountain curves.)

No phone, no TV. Over 36 hours detached from the virtual virtues and vices of cyberspace. And maybe that’s the moral of this essay: when so absorbed in my online and offline writing and workshop activities, I sometimes forget how critical it is to nurture the larger senses and spirit. Let me sketch and relive this vibrant picture. The town is bisected by a babbling stream, a stone’s throw from my bedroom window. How restful that late afternoon nap after an hour’s hike up and down that forested country road. Gently rocked to sleep by the gurgling, splashing stream. I wouldn’t be surprised if there isn’t some hard-wired memory in our reptilian brain.

And speaking of the brain and the senses, for me, the color of the leaves also evoke an overpowering chemical reaction. When bathed in sunlight, the shimmering waves of lemons and apricots and orange-cranberry hues overwhelm the logical left-hemisphere. All I can do is gaze and sometimes gasp. And from a distance write: The forest as the artist/Trees willowy and bold The brushstrokes of the branches/Leaves afire red and gold. And then God-like fingers/Stream down from above Solar rays caress you both/A touch of nature's love. (Email stressdoc@aol.com for the entire "Mountain Vision" lyric.) While not brilliantly breathtaking, the colors have a more subtle, a more mature beauty this year. (Maybe it’s a projection of a fifty year old psyche ;-)

And when the color disappears and night descends, then the other big picture show takes center stage. Walking in the cool, clean, crisp mountain air, down another country road, beyond the last remnants of man-made lighting, reveals the truly majestic and miraculous mystery. As wonderful as cyberspace is, it can’t compete with the real thing. Growing up in New York City, presently living in Washington, DC, one hardly remembers the night sky. Viewing clearly the Milky Way and a myriad of stars (this year I didn’t see shooting stars) surely places everything in a vastly different perspective. And on this "I- ThouMAX" screen, one does not just find constellations; there are almost limitless projections. Silhouetted against the darkened yet starlit panorama, the towering black-grey tree-covered mountain ridge morphs into the elongated spine and tail of a slumbering brontosaurus. Down a darkly deserted road, Hollywood has nothing on the resultant primal images and urges when plugging our own imagination into the ultimate mountain momma...mother nature! I can still detect a lingering soreness in my neck from not being able to stop gazing heavenward.

And day follows night. Again, I’m a lonely traveler along another hallowed and hushed path, before the sun has climbed above the mountain ridge. It’s the coldest part of the day. Frost on my car windshield. The first steamy breath sighting of the season. Seeing the stream, a gently flowing, dark purple sheet of glass with a hint of light, reminds me how rarely I observe my environment at this hour of the morning. (And I'm a morning person.) Yesterday’s late afternoon rustling of deer just beyond sight is replaced by the morning song and medleys of birds. Also, the rhythmic rat-tat-tat of a woodpecker.

And I’m ready for the hearty breakfast in front of a fiery pot-bellied stove. The heat and light are as nurturing as the fresh fruit cup, warm banana bread and preserves, oatmeal and brown sugar and hot tea. Such a meal has me sleepy. And for now, alas, the dreamy journey must end.

I’m heartened by having set down my trip in words and images. This gets saved to a readily accessible file to remind me that this man can’t live by intellect and words, psychology and virtuality alone. There must be time for space and color, light and shadows and pitch darkness, for the animated sounds of nature, along with tactile and olfactory pleasures and bracing cold pain, for a quiet sanctuary to recover our primal essence. Yes, take me home country road. A world for simply being not of human doing and, surely, a time and place for…Practicing Safe Stress!

The Stress Doc makes his case against TV and one for more interactively provoking and actively meditative pursuits - from classical music in the cave to tea house rituals and the rites of nature. Here's to nurturing and stimulating your primal and transcendent mind-body-soul.

Three Part Harmony TV, Tea and Natural Me

"What! You don't have a TV?" Upon discovering I've done the '90s tubeless, I get some pretty incredulous cracks and looks. Occasionally, I do catch something with a friend. And watching the recent World Cup at a sports bar really intensified the audience experience. Of course, there is some fine and funny programming and, even, some better commercials. Though practically being a mid-life "tele-virgin," the screaming, in your face commercialism starts offending after awhile. Sort of like an ex-smoker who's particularly averse to second-hand smoke.

However, this article is not strictly a diatribe against television. It's really an essay on how going tubeless (a gift of omission) along with two other daily rituals (gifts of commission) help cultivate a nurturing and stimulating, mind-body peace and quiet. And how with practice this harmonious process may evoke the fertile spirit of relaxed concentration.

1. TV or Not TV. My biggest objection is the passive mindset that television often induces. Even with good programming, you're usually not working, playing with or transforming the information. In fact, a book on peak performance and flow states called, Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, by Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi (pronounced, "chick sent me high"; I can relate to that state of arousal ;-) notes that television induces the dead opposite of vital flow.

Maybe I'm particularly vulnerable. I have a long (especially childhood) history of escape, if not addiction, by turning on the tube, tuning out and, ultimately, numbing my genuine thoughts and feelings. Knowing my vulnerabilities, eight years ago, when I moved to Washington, DC to convert, somehow, an amorphous multi-media Stress Doc Enterprises dream into an operational reality, I didn't bring my old black and white. I was moving into an efficiency. Even though a large apartment, there would be no room for escape. I wanted maximum focus and productivity. With a TV, there'd be little thinking outside the box!

Boxed In and Maxed Out

The irony is now I spend far more hours in front of another box than I ever would a TV screen. But getting into this 14" baby continually challenges me to think and create outside the box. Of course, I'm referring to my instrument of obsession and imagination -- Max, my computer. Now I do have another power tool named Max but, alas, he's not 14". Mark, behave, this is a PG rated column. Get back to the subject at hand...computers.

Here is the critical difference between '50s and '90s technology. For me, especially with the advent of the internet, the computer is a catalyst and vehicle for motivating, generating and expressing ideas, getting feedback, creating friendships and business contacts and contracts, as well as bantering, flirting, arguing, consoling and cajoling, etc. It is the most interactive of mediums. Well, maybe second to leading a live workshop or therapy group…but not by much. Believe me, I'm good stimulated-exhausted after an intense, 90 minute "Shrink Rap and Group Chat." (Now every Tuesday on AOL/Digital City-Washington from 9-10:30pm EDT <A HREF="aol://4344:363.gorkin.5732839.568857121">Dig City Promo - Stress Doc </A>.)

And finally, when I break away from writing and the computer, with no TV in sight, reading and classical music rise above the horizon. You've got to listen to Debussy's short pieces, "Clair de Lune," "Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun," and, especially, "Maid with the Flaxen Hair." Also, for pure transcendence, Mozart's "Piano Concerto No. 21" and, my personal favorite, the sublime sounds of his "Clarinet Concerto in A," the middle movement. The heaven's open with this Adagio!

Yet even with transcendence, I still need to get away from the writer's cave on a daily basis. And here are the two self-indulgent, nurturing and stimulating gifts I alluded to earlier.

2. Tea for Me. If I'm not doing a workshop in the late afternoon, I trek three blocks to my favorite watering hole. (For all the financial uncertainty of the existential capitalist life, there is a blessing to being self-employed and a writer: a bit more discretion and permission for daily regression.) Actually, my afternoon oasis is an Asian-style teahouse called Teaism. It's a perfect name for ism-driven Washington, DC. A renovated brownstone, the upstairs décor is mostly wooden floors and wooden tables; windows and track ceiling lights enhance the luminosity. A black net screen with minimalist Oriental design hanging from the ceiling provides a semiopaque boundary between the surreal and the real. Along with soft ivory pastel walls punctuated by Japanese-like wood cuts, the ambiance is spare yet comforting, if not serene.

Before heading upstairs into this den of reverie, I place my all too predictable request: scones (two, with tasty yet not too sweet apricot preserves) and a pot of hot Jasmine tea. Four dollars, including the tip. In the early days, staff poked fun at my ritualistic order. How shall I rationalize the practice? Two competing schools of thought come to mind. The American philosopher, Ralph Waldo Emerson, observed: "Rigid consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds." I choose to counter the house snickers with my approximation of a line by French author, Gustave Flaubert: "Live your life like a bourgeois so your heart and mind can run wild." (Today, I'm considered "part of the family," an eccentric uncle, perhaps.)

And after my high tea, I proceed to write unfettered (yes, I still like writing a first draft longhand) for an hour or two. I can be lost in my own world or, if I choose, can come up for air and breathe in faces and voices. And there's even room for that crass ten-letter word - "networking." In fact, for a new 60-80 hour organizational contract, I am beholden to a colleague whom I met at Teaism.

So my Teaism interlude feeds the body (and sometimes even the wallet), soothes the mind and invites my soul to come out and play - figuratively, if not literally. And fittingly, for the final self-nurturing and invigorating act, one must step outside.

3. A Walk in the Park. After concentrated writing and as the scones settle down, I become enveloped in a light-headed, peaceful drowsy aura. The temptation, of course, is to go home and nap. Fortunately, close by there's another option. To energize and rejuvenate a sense of time and space, I walk six blocks to wooden steps built into a small hill. Now I descend into an ecological niche sequestered from the urban bustle. I begin a three-mile brisk walk and/or jog in Rock Creek Park. Ever deeper into "The Heart of Lushness." (From green tea to green trees. Hmmm, I never considered that seasonal symmetry before.)

With the slow-moving creek, first on my right then on my left as I follow the trail, I can both absorb nature and be self-absorbed. Thoughts flow aimlessly as I walk past a creekside cemetery until I reach an area of sizeable trees sloping down a hill leading into a basin of small boulders and large rocks. At this natural watering hole, the water courses and gurgles. The sound of rushing water always has a meditative effect. As I once penned in a visualization lyric, "Mountain Vision,":

So head upstream, the gentle stream The babbling soothes your brain. A crystal clear reflection To find yourself again.

(Email stressdoc@aol.com if you missed it.)

And after pushing myself away from this second oasis, I stop on the trailside exercise course. Do the obligatory 100 sit ups and 30 pushups. Now feeling rather virtuous, I march along singing some of my lyrics such as, "The Stress Doc's Stress Rap," "The Song of Safe Stress" and "The Self-Righteous Rap." (It's good to rehearse these speaking program numbers.) Of course, passing a fellow jogger or cyclist in full song often evokes some weird looks: "Who is this mindless, if not homeless, character?" Well, they got one right.

And as I climb the wooden stairs and head back home, I have completed another cycle of leaving and return, nurturing and stimulation, inner and outer space travel. Bring on those evening therapy clients. Hey, a little Buddhist ebb and flow can only help…Practice Safe Stress!

(c) Mark Gorkin 1998 Shrink Rap Productions

"The Stress Doc Letter" features and functions:

1. Psychohumor Writings. To provide you the best of my past and current online and offline writngs, including Humor From the Edge columns and America On Line/Online Psych special topical essays, e.g, <A HREF="aol://4344:972.docwork.1255066.562088752">The Stress Doc Interview @ Online Psych</A> and <A HREF="aol://4344:972.olpny3.1264502.565460680">Make Your Resolution A Habit With Help From Online Psych!</A>. For those not on AOL, if you'd like a copy of these popular series, just email - stressdoc@aol.com. Or check out my website - www.stressdoc.com - or my AOL/Online Psych Page - Keyword: Stress Doc, <A HREF="aol://4344:972.doc.1264535.556723207">The Stress Doc @ Online Psych </A>.

My writings now appear twice/month in Perspectives, the electronic magazine of Mental Health Net. MHN is a not-for-profit organization devoted to mental health information and education resources online. They are located at: www.cmhc.com/

2. Online/Special Projects. Online groups, conferences and new or special projects that are flying around or about to be (or have been) launched:

a) Come on by for my weekly"Shrink Rap and Group Chat" on AOL/Digital City - Washington, Tuesdays, from 9-10:30pm EDT. It's an online stress support group. It's a free wheeling discussion, with some Stress Doc direction about your personal concerns on stress and wellness, relationship and family issues, loss and grief, career transition, creativity and psychological growth, etc. Here's the link: <A HREF="aol://4344:363.gorkin.5732839.568857121">D</A>i <A HREF="aol://4344:363.gorkin.5732839.568857121">g City Promo - Stress Doc </A>

This group replaces the Frequent Sighers Club which never quite got off the ground. (I still like the name.)

b) To promote my Coaching for Consultants and Entrepreneurs Program:

Special Announcement: I am starting a Multi-Media Coaching for Consultants Program:

** developing, delivering, marketing workshop programs online & offline ** humor/speech writing services and website design with the Cyber Doc ** online consultation and participation in chat group

For information on the products and instructional services, email me at Stress Doc@aol.com. With questions, call (202) 232-8662 or mail me at:

Mark Gorkin Stress Doc Enterprises 1616 18th Street, NW #312 Washington, DC 20009-2530

3. Upcoming Speaking/Training Programs.

a) Practicing Safe Stress - presentation for Forty Plus on November 2nd, 10-11:00am. For more info, call Mary Neznek, (202) 526-9244.

b) Rebuilding the Fire - workshop for the Unitarian Universalist Church of Arlington on November 5th, 7:30-10:00pm. For more info, call Linda Sweitzer at (703) 892-2565 or email reasst@uucava.org.

c) Stress Management and Team Building - workshop for Child & Adolescent Protection Unit of Children's Hospital, Wshington, DC, November 6th, 9-12:00. For more info, call Russell Brown, MSW, at (202) 884-6821.

4. Ongoing Training and Consultation Programs.

a) Overcoming Stress, Loss and Change; Managing Anger and Conflict - continuing series for Fairfax County Government, VA, Metro-Area Re-employment Project: for Displaced Federal Employees. For more info, call: Marilyn Manno, (703) 324-7390.

b) Stress, Communication and Team Building Skills Training - series of programs for Food and Drug Administration, Center for Devices and Radiological Health (CDRH). For more info., call Michelle Hudson, Deputy Director, (301) 594-4585.

c) Work Environment Intervention and Team Building - ongoing consultation and training for a department in Naval Sea Systems Command, HQ. For more info, call Sally Johnston, Program Manager, Civilian EAP, (703) 413-0755.

5. Testimonials.

a) On Becoming a Netrepreneur (an Internet Entrepreneur) - presentation for DC Metro Chapter of the National Assn. of Social Workers and The National Network of Social Work Managers on October 15, 9-3:00pm.

On behalf of the National Network for Social Work Managers and the Virginia, Metro Washington and Maryland Chapters of NASW, many thnaks for a job well done at our Oct 15 "Envisioning Electronic Social Work" conference. It was critical that the participants...learned about your work with AOL as the Stress Doc and your speaking engagements, as the netrepreneur you've become. They needed to know that what you have done, adapted to their interests, might be an option for them. Clearly, the audience was hungry for the information you shared and were impressed with what you told them. The feedback was very positive.

6. Award-Winning Website. To remind you that there is a lot more material on my award winning, USA Today Online "Hot Site" website. It's also just been acclaimed a 4 Star, top-rated site, by Mental Health Net, the largest review guide of mental health, psychology and psychiatry resources online today. Go to www.stressdoc.com or <A HREF="http://www.stressdoc.com/">STRESS DOC HOMEPAGE</A> . Also, check out my AOL/Online Psych Page, <A HREF="aol://4344:972.doc.1264535.556723207">The Stress Doc @ Online Psych </A> or Keyword: Stress Doc. Over 100 articles are arranged in 15 different categories:

Stress Doc Bio and Philosophy Stress and Burnout Managing Anger with Authority Power Struggles: Dyads-Systems Depression/Teens, Parents... Cyberaddicts Anonymous Good Grief Searching for Love Career Transition Humor: Art and Science Creativity Unbound Achieving Peak Performance Spiritual Exploration Readers' Submissions

6. Readers' Platform. Please submit questions, comments, criticisms, cutting edge information as well as stories about how you've used humor to help relieve a client's, family member's or your own stress. I will gladly print your offering and credit you completely. (And thank you for using your spellchecker.)

Mark Gorkin, "The Stress Doc," Licensed Clinical Social Worker, is a nationally recognized speaker, workshop leader and author on stress, reorganizational change, anger, team building, creativity and humor. He is also the internet's and the nation's leading "Psychohumorist." The Stress Doc is a columnist for the popular cyber-newsletter, Humor From The Edge . Mark is also the "Online Psychohumorist" for the major AOL mental health resource network, Online Psych and Financial Services Journal Online -- http://fsc.fsonline.com/fsj . And he is an offline writer for two mental health/substance abuse publications -- Treatment Today and Paradigm Magazine. His motto: Have Stress? Will Travel: A Smart Mouth for Hire! Reach "The Doc" at (202) 232-8662, email: Stress Doc@aol.com, or check out his "Hot Site" website: http://www.stressdoc.com . (The site was selected as a USA Today Online "Hot Site" and designated a four-star, top-rated site by Mental Health Net.)

(c) Mark Gorkin 1998 Shrink Rap Productions