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Five Weeks of Yoga Classes

Why yoga classes? If I recommend some activity for my clients, I want to have had some direct experience of that activity. Otherwise, it seems phony to not have “walked my talk.” Having heard many clients complain about their yoga instructors, I wanted to see how class with this instructor would feel to one of my clients.

Julie is a yoga instructor I met at a psychiatrist’s open house held to market the practice as an ‘integrative approach’ to the whole person. As I unrolled my yoga mat at the first class, I noted that I was the oldest, and the only male in the class.

Julie greeted us, dressed in a yoga ‘uniform’, conservative, all black, form fitting attire worn by instructors in the yoga videos I had already watched and tried to imitate in the privacy of my TV room. Unlike the DVD presentations, her background music from an iPod docking station, created a soft, gentle atmosphere.

Sitting on a mat, on a hardwood floor, with bare feet, felt harder than the soft carpeting of the TV room, but afforded a secure footing for standing poses. The stretching was tedious at times, trying to pretzel my body into a pose that began to resemble what the instructor was showing and describing in her soft voice.
Near the end of the first class, I felt myself drifting off to lucid dream sleep; my mind wanting to go to dreamland, not the reality of the world around me.

Each succeeding class went better, as I learned from Julie to only take the stretches as far as my body would comfortably move. That was helpful.

Each succeeding class left me with a better frame of mind, more relaxed and feeling refreshed, but gave me a difficulty in making the mental shift to task orientation as I returned to my office for the remaining two hours left in the workday. 

By the fourth class, I found myself in such an altered state upon leaving the class. Seeing the world with visual clarity, heightened sensory awareness, and feeling like walking was a gliding process….a ‘high’ of sorts.

By the fifth class, which included ‘chair work’, I had become accustomed to that endpoint in the stretch that I could hold with just the right amount of tension that could be sustained for the two minutes of a pose.

The classes ended, with Julie taking a break for the holidays.

Now, I know the how the experience of yoga, much like meditation classes, when done on a regular basis, following an instructors lead, leads to that altered, intuitive state, one more pathway to that state in which one makes better choices with less fear and anxiety.

A state in which one feels more connected to others, and lives with a sense of awe, gratitude and wonder at what the universe brings to us in our ordinary daily experienced day.


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Chop Wood, Carry Water

Each year, I go to the woods with a chainsaw to cut firewood. Later, returning with a hydraulic woodspitter, to split the pieces, stack them in the sun to dry for a year before bringing them home to restack for the winter. A seeming mundane physical task men have done since early days of caves and fires.


 



Being in an office each day, I do need outdoors and physical intensity for balance in my life. One of the ways I maintain some balance in my life is to work outside at some mundane task


For me, making firewood serves to balance my life, as well as provide a cozy fire in my backyard and in my home. Sitting in front of a warm fire, as I write this post, gives inspiration and a warm atmosphere to the entire room and house.

“Why spend so much time and energy doing all that? You would be ahead working and simply buying the wood.” someone may comment. Financially, yes, I would be “ahead,” but not physically, emotionally, or spiritually. (It is so easy for some to measure the value of life in financial numbers. )


I do it for the same reason some people run, workout, play guitars, draw, sketch, paint, make Zentangle art, play competitive sports, ride horses, do beading, quilting, and other artistic home crafts, These all have their origins in ancient civilizations.


I do it for balance and for expression of some deep internal impulse.


While civilization has shielded men and women from much drudgery of past centuries, we can yet reconnect with our primal roots and our souls through creative/expressive forms that are symbols of our ancestors.


Rick Fields wrote his best seller, Chop Wood, Carry Water, based on a well known Buddhist quote, “Before enlightenment, chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment, chop wood, carry water.” Here an ancient Buddhist saying conveys the spiritual value of seeming mundane physical tasks when done as a mindful ritual.


As much as spiritual rituals of today’s religions, these activities are in some way spiritual rituals for the doing of them reconnects us with a deeper part of us that is embedded in our very souls.


We are not just chopping wood, making art, or writing stories. We are connecting with the Source energy of our very souls that provides healing, inspiration, and compassion for ourselves and all others in our world.

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Writing a First Novel

I have begun writing my first novel. My friend Judi tells me that each November there is a national challenge of writing a novel in one month. The challenge is that of writing 50,000 words in one month; 1,667 per day toward a new novel. The goal is to complete a first draft, even a messy one; the editing and rewriting can come later.


 http://www.nanowrimo.org/


Why would I do that? For the same reason I began my first Yoga class last Thursday. For the same reason I learn a new German word each day on my iGoogle home page. For the same reason I do Zentangle art. And for the same reason, that in the past, I have learned to do meditation and tai chi, to fly an airplane and a hang glider.

Sometimes it helps to put oneself in the place of a beginner; to do something one knows that one cannot do well at the beginning. Sometimes it helps to challenge oneself to complete a task that seems so daunting at the beginning, one questions one’s sanity. A creative challenge stretches the mind and imagination that can never go back to its original size.

To start at a beginning, a place of innocence, no blame, is being a beginner traveling in a foreign land. These journeys make my life richer, giving me a sense of confidence and mastery. But, the journeys also bring me a sense of humility. For me, these are the journeys into a great sense of awe and appreciation for the abilities of others whose creative work I consume each day and often take for granted.

Judi is a published author who teaches creative writing classes. She is way ahead of me in this venture. I struggle to keep with the daily writing pace. Today is day 6 of the journey. I need only concern myself with today’s goal by writing one sentence at a time, just as Zentangle art is made “one stroke at a time.”


The novel will take care of itself; it will write itself into what form it wants. My place is to stay in my beginner role each day as I sit and write each next sentence as it comes to me.

The goal of this journey is not to win, but to enjoy the experience, and to finish well.

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Athletics- 5 ways it gives women an advantage

Providing employee assistance services for corporations for over 20 years has enabled me to make some observations of how athletics, in junior or senior high school levels help women in both their business and personal lives. This is particularly true for women in management positions. Both in sessions, and in corporate consultations, I routinely ask women about any background in athletics during their adolescent development.

How does it help them? I have seen five ways in which the participation in athletics directly relates to benefits later on in their lives.

First of all whenever personal crises, addictive habits, or a job burnout creates difficulty with mood and energy, a woman who has previously been in athletics, can return to that part of her life's discipline as a way to you begin to get unstuck and recover from this difficulty. They remember the experience of a workout which leaves them pleasantly fatigued, perspiring. Then after experiencing a cleansing shower, getting dressed, the world looks better to them. That is when an individual's brain chemistry is at its best.

Secondly, the experience of putting aside personal differences to work together as a part of a team with other women toward some common goal translates well later on when group projects require teamwork without seeing every other woman as a competitor.

Too often, I have observed women's management styles emulate that of mothers bossing children, giving two kinds of feedback to subordinates – none and negative. The experience of relating to coaches and being coached translates into a management style that provides coaching, teaching, mentoring, encouragement, as well as a matter-of-fact focus on performance expectations. Lack of performance is not seen as a personal affront, but a challenge the subordinate must master.

Being able to push through the hard places in life is a fourth benefit from athletic experiences. There are two sports, more than the others, which breed a certain mental discipline and toughness for experiences later in life: Track and swimming.

“Why these two sports?” you ask. Think of what is involved in the training; hours of solitude, without applause or encouragement, pushing yourself to do your personal best.

Your body says, “This is really getting uncomfortable. I want to quit.”
But your mind overrides the body with, "You will not quit. You will keep going. You are not quitting before you're done.”

Later in life, this experience helps women see themselves through difficulties  in both their career and family situations, helping them to push through and finish projects that others would simply neglect or give up on.
Body image issues are greatly minimized when an athlete has spent a time in dialogue with her own body through training and participation in sports. Later on, it makes it much easier for her to return to this dialogue through workout activities in a more productive and friendly way rather than seeing it as a negative contested struggle against her own body.

In my work with families and adolescents, I do promote the notion that it is important for girls at this age to experience some form of athletic endeavor. It pays great mental, physical and psychological benefits for the rest of their lives.

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Getting Unstuck – differences between women and men.

 Inertia – that sense of stuckness that plagues us all from time to time- is a common complaint for clients that want a better life. Inertia is a term that comes from physics describing the motion, or non-motion, of a body of mass. Newton’s first law of motion states, “A body at rest tends to remain at rest unless acted upon by an outside force.”


“I know what I should be doing, but I just can’t seem to make myself get up and do it.” Or “There are so many things I need to pay attention to, I just don’t know where to start.”


Usually, my approach for men is different from that of women.


For men, the most common approach is to get them to begin by organizing, or clearing up, or caring for some of the spaces in their lives. This can include their vehicle,(usually a good place for them to start), their home office, yard, garage, tools, or even just their sock drawer. To have men organize and care for some territory they have acquired or reign over touches some more primitive masculine archetypal place in the psyche. To master some these neglected areas frees up energy for other tasks. So for many men, it is a great symbolic place to start.


For women, whose focus is more on “inner space” and relatedness, the approach to stuckness is often to return the focus to the relationship with the body. This becomes one of the primary relationships for women when separating from the mother. To become one’s own mother requires conscious focus for it is too easy to neglect adequately nurturing all of what the body and soul needs in the process of attending to the needs of the others in one’s life.


“Start with your body.” is what I often tell women. “Begin by focusing on the relationship with your own body.” That can include paying attention to everything the body needs including proper rest and sleep. It includes making conscious choices as to everything you put into your body; water, oxygen, food, drink, men, nutrients, etc. “Start here.” is my mantra for most women.


Movement, physical movement, for everyone is essential. Walking outside is usually my preferred place to start - in nature. Outside light is the best antidote for what some describe as “Seasonal Affective Disorder


Newton’s second law of motion, “ A body in motion tends to remain in motion unless acted upon by an outside force” now comes into play. Mastering just one fundamental task energizes the whole being to take on the next best challenge.

.”

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Yes, Newton, the world has speeded up for everyone.

Yes, Newton, the world has speeded up for everyone. And, No, Newton, you will not get it all done.”

This is what I tell the businessman and his assistant in the hall as we stop to chat this week.

“People in all walks of life are having that same experience. They feel just like you do. Their “to do” list grows each week. They complain of working longer hours just to keep up the demands of the job. Whoever they answer to expects more of them. “

The trend of ever increasing work demands seems particularly true for those working in the private sector or self employment.      (For some reason, those employed by government either complain less or are immune to this trend.)


Another trend I have noted in my practice, that people more frequently complain that life comes at them with emotionally charged events, at a pace faster than they can metabolize. When this occurs both in their personal and work life, anxiety, irritability, burnout, and depression follow. Health issues appear from inadequate attempts to calm the inner turmoil. Friendships suffer. People no longer play. Couples no longer take time for bonding between just the two of them. Sex becomes one more item on a ‘should get this done’ list.

A number of authors – “channelers”, they are called, - began, at about the same time, writing after the “harmonic convergence” of 1988 that as we move through this 25 year period of 1988 to 2012 ( the last nanosecond in a 25,000 year cycle) that every few years it would seem that events come to us with greater speed. That we would have less time to sit and process them before the next event or experience would be upon us. ( More to come on this topic later in this week.)


In noting the seeming effect of someone having dialed up the ‘speed dial’ on the world, and each year, time moving faster, people are more in need of paying attention to what is takes to adapt to this shift in their lives.

Over the next few posts, I will discuss some of my thoughts on what this shift means and how to adapt more effectively.

For now: Each day, take time to stop. Engage in some meditative activity. It is essential. Some activity that has the ability to ground you in time and space, holding you to the present moment.
Draw, sketch, Zentangle, write a poem,( anything from free verse to limericks to haiku will work), All of these are creative activities that slow the mind and body; helping up go inward and downward, to a place of safety and sanctuary.

We cannot slow the pace of the outer world or its events, but we can influence the pace of our inner world, and thus our personal world.



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Coming Back to the Center

Coming back to the writing life after a period of weeks getting caught up on the office work from having been away on retreat, life begins to resume some sense of normality. The predawn thunderstorm that came through here two hours ago did remind me of how much safer it feels to in one’s home than out in nature at such times.

A return to my morning ritual of journal writing brings back a sense of harmony to life, no matter how much the demands of work life may intrude into one’s thought life. Writing, walking, weights, and water, all in increased amounts is what is takes to realign my body, mind, psyche and soul.

Learning what it takes to regain balance and perspective in life, so as not to get so far afield that one loses perspective, has, at times, been a challenge. Learning not only what it takes, but then actually doing it, has been one of the keys to continued growth and richness of my life.

 A belief that has been a part of my personal and professional life is the following:  If one can develop just one ritual, discipline, or practice that is done daily to quiet the mind and bring one back to a sense of centeredness, one can always add other daily practices later. Being true to that one practice can have a transformational effect on our lives.

Returning to my practices, no matter how long I have been away from them, always feels like returning home. Feeling safe in the midst of a thunderstorm.

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The Annual Retreat

It was a dark and stormy night…..

Tuesday, September 8, 2010, New Moon night.

It was a dark and stormy night at the campground. Winds blew the rain sideways as it whistled through the valley. Two camping groups took down their tents and left the campground. Two tents that remained unattended bobbed about in the wind like helium balloons tethered to the ground by one stake. A golden retriever huddled behind the front wheel on the downwind side of the truck awaited the arrival of two bike riders who would not be returning until after the storm.


In less than an hour, the wind and rain stopped. The bike riders returned to give comfort to their pet and to re-attach their tents to the earth. As blue patches of sky soon appeared over the treetops in the west, three news helicopters flew overhead at low altitude; a hint that something ominous had occurred nearby. The park ranger who came by later to check on the camp ground indicated he had heard on his radio that a tornado had touched down a few miles east of the park.


September 12, 2010, Sunday morning,

By contrast, the remainder of the retreat gave clear skies, sunshine, and cool nights, making for ideal hiking weather and nighttime campfires.


Taking this annual retreat alone has been a way to reconnect with nature and to the body and soul. It has been an annual time of taking stock of my lifestyle. And it is the annual time of re-visioning what I intend for the focus of my life in the following year – what is to be made more central, and what will allowed to be more peripheral.


A retreat journal I have been keeping for the past five years is always kept in a Ziploc bag to protect it from changing weather conditions. Using it only for this retreat time gives me an opportunity to review the past year; looking over last year’s comments, reflecting on changes that I had made commitments to change, and noting how some things in life seem to take longer to shift.


Six days of retreat allows one to catch one’s breath, like taking a breather upon reaching a plateau in a day of hiking, stopping to take a cool drink and downing some nourishment. More than any other quality, it is Gratitude which overwhelms me at such times. The moments are brief and transcendent, whether sitting on a rock along the river, looking out on all directions from the top of an 80 foot fire tower.

 It is these moments of reconnection to the Great Divine Mystery that makes this retreat an annual time of personal and spiritual renewal.



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Preparing for the Annual Retreat.

For those of you who do not know me, this is the time of year I attend to my annual ritual of a solitary retreat, taking my tent camper to an empty state park campground for the week. When I arrive late on Labor Day Monday, the campers are gone, the dumpsters are spilling over with trash, and only raccoons or cats scavenging for food can be seen in the campground.

A friend of mine remarked, “How can you spend a week by yourself? The most I have ever done is one day.”

After spending the mornings meditating and writing in the retreat journal, it is time to take a 3 hour hike on trails through woods and steep terrain. After an early dinner, I settle by the campfire or the river to read until dark, then retiring to sleep until the herons awaken me. (When I say dark, I mean dark, -- moonless, no electricity, stars only, dark. )

The retreat is an annual ritual; a time without human contact, a time to read, write and reflect on the life I have watched and lived over the past year.

“The life which is unexamined is not worth living.” Plato noted a few years ago.

Listening to the inner dialogue on retreat helps me find meaning in this life.

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Creative Couples: What happens when two creatives meet?

What are the characteristics of creative couples?


Periodically, I find in my practice, couples who consist of two people, each gifted in their own way in some physical, spiritual, psychological or creative way, who managed to find each other. While not totally rare, it is uncommon.
Over the past two decades, as my brain does its pattern recognition, I begin to build my own list of characteristics for "these couples" (I don't really know what to call them). In these next few blog posts, I want to begin to describe these creative couples; their characteristics, how they meet, their early relationship, and their relationship style.


CHARACTERISTICS: Here is a list of some common traits shared by these couples.

- each of the persons seems to have been on their own sojourn, or journey, often feeling that they a bit of a wanderer on some solo sojourn, searching for someplace, or person.

- each of the persons often is involved in their own spiritual or creative development; often having some form of regular ritual.

- at least one the persons, usually has had the experience of being the one that is estranged, different, "orphaned", or in some respects, separate from others in their family of origin.

- usually, at least one and sometimes, both of their lines of psychological, or career development is nontraditional, often being different from that of others within the family.

- developmentally, one or both of them have a relatively androgynous personality, that is, having interests and abilities that range along a broad continuum of characteristics we traditionally ascribe as either masculine or feminine.

- for one, or both, it is a subsequent marriage/partnership. It is rare for both parties to have this is their first marriage or partnership arrangement.

- significant age differential between the two parties is not uncommon; in fact, more likely to be the rule than the exception, with 7 to 14 years being the most common age span.

- couples of this nature, carry with them an energetic, auric field around the two of them that is noticeable whenever they appear at social functions. Their presence, or absence, is noticeable. They bring a noticeable energy to the group by their shared presence; an energy that neither of them brings on their own.

Next: How do they find each other? What is the early part of the relationship like for them? How do they keep their relationship vital?



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Giftedness = Intensity, Complexity and Drive

Intensity, Complexity, and Drive are three primary words attributed to gifted adults in Mary-Elaine Jacobsen's The Gifted Adult, one of the most readable of all books on giftedness. Her extensive research also uncovers an additional element in all gifted individuals, children and adults: Altruism. Altruism, a kind of humanitarian vision along with a sense of Mandated Mission in life that is not taught to the individual but seemingly inherent in their temperament or DNA.

Living with Intensity by Susan Daniels, PhD is a compilation of 15 chapters of perhaps the most detailed and technically written research on giftedness, detailing the best of the best research in the past decade.

Three words emerge from these researchers; Intensity, Sensitivity, and Excitability. The researchers explore not only intensity but the emotional sensitivity and excitability or (inspire-ability) of artists.

Painter Amanda Dunbar: "Artists are inherently sensitive and emotional creatures. This is compounded when that artist is in childhood or adolescence. The very characteristics that are needed to create art can make hurtful issues even more difficult to deal with... As I mature, I am becoming more and more grateful for my earlier difficulties and challenges they give me a clear vision and a foundation to stand on in regard to who I am as a person and who I am as an artist."

The author of Gifted Grownups: The Mixed Blessings of Extraordinary Potential", Marylou Kelly Streznewski notes that while many gifted adults make outstanding contributions to society but "there are large numbers of frustrated gifted adults who do not find outlets for their potential. The author looks at a number of issues that affect how people realize accounts or fail to do so.

If you grew up feeling different from others in your family, or your classmates, it may be because you ARE different. Reviewing any of these three books will help you understand the ways in which "being different” can be a challenge as well as a gift. The authors help find ways to make the best use of what you have been given.

Streznewski comments, "One of the biggest aspects of it is to convince yourself that you are entitled to this, that your creativity is important... I was well into my 30s before I gave myself permission."


It is never too late.

Soon: Gifted Couples

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Characteristices of Gifted Adults and Adolescents

In my conversations with gifted adults, often their focus is on what they have not yet mastered, not on what their giftedness has brought them. They recognize that they have an intelligence most around them do not possess, or a knowledge base others do not have, or a view of the world that others do not share.


That they cannot easily have a dialogue with others concerning their world view, breeds a sense of loneliness, and frustration and futility. The lack of a relationship they see ‘ordinary people’ taking for granted almost angers them. For the first time, they bump up against something that they, of themselves, cannot master. The sense of powerlessness is unnatural.


Their sense of the relationship challenge is not unlike couples with infertility issues seeing “‘everyone else is pregnant”.


“If it’s up to me, I can make it happen.” is usually the mantra of the gifted adult. But in the matter of relationships, one person, no matter how gifted, cannot make it happen.


The solitude and aloneness breeds sense of isolation, alienation, and loneliness. A low grade depression creeps into their lives, leaving them often in a state of edginess in their social relationships, or on the verge of tears in their solitude. It is this uncomfortable emotional dilemma that often drives them to seek therapy.


A part of my job as a therapist is to help them understand who they truly are; all of the advantages, and the disadvantages they have. I also want to give them some understanding of the statistically minority of which they are a part that makes communication and relationships challenging for them.


Three books, published in the past decade, more than others I have been able to locate give some of the best findings of research into the characteristics of giftedness of adults and children. In the next post, I will cover the key concepts of these three books.


What is this Giftedness about?” Parents and gifted adults often ask. “Is it just that we now have better ways of measuring and identifying it?”


My response is most generally along the following: Giftedness is a part of an evolutionary trend that we will soon more clearly identify, and that will someday demand a different way of educating our children to not just memorize facts, but to use their minds in a truly creative, imaginative way to make their lives and the world a better place.

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Zentangle or Doodles

Another response has come from someone who read over my blog posts on Zentangle and has seen my crosstrainer shoes asking, “What's the difference between the Zentangles and my doodles? I've been doodling all of my life."   It's an honest questioning from someone who wants to know.   

I often respond with, "Is your work teachable? Can you teach others to do what you do?"
At that point, I find myself in a mini-lecture with this analogy to music.


The 102 “tangles” are a form of standardized notation, much as in music, that students first learn to master. Each Certified Zentangle Teacher learns to master these 102 tangles so as to be able to teach students to make art in the first two classroom hours. Standardized tangles make classroom instruction possible. The students soon learn to recognize these tangles in a complex looking piece of art the way musicians recognize chord structure in someone else's music.


Yes, there are gifted artists who paint well without lessons, or gifted musicians who can write and play songs without reading music. But they have no method for teaching students their craft.


My father grew up in an Amish home where musical instruments were forbidden. While I was yet in grade school, I would see him bring home from his monthly excursions to the local auction barn keyboard musical instruments; a bellows organ, an upright piano, or several accordions. I would marvel as in a few minutes he could teach himself to play familiar hymns as the family sang along. His method of teaching me to solve any problem was, “If you just look at it long enough, it will come to you."  My brain was not wired like his.  I never learned to play “by ear.”


For certain gifted people no lessons are necessary to create art; not so for the general population. We need a way of learning to make art we enjoy. Zentangle makes that possible for us “one stroke at a time.”

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Depression in Gifted people is no ordinary depression

Depression in gifted adolescents and adults is not just ordinary depression, a common cold mood disorder. Depression in gifted creatives is more often a ‘failure to thrive’ syndrome; the result of an emotional nutritional deficiency.

Witness two examples:
My day begins when Steve brings in an assemblage of three 20/30 somethings into the conference room to review our public marketing efforts. Three truly bright minds that are not only gifted creatives, but exude the joy in being able to do what each loves most to be doing; persuasive writing, website design, or data analysis, To be able not only to get paid for it, but to also engage in joint ventures with likeminded others - it doesn’t get any better than this!

Only hours later, an articulate young man, not dissimilar in age, comes into the office with complaints of depression, explaining he is in a no- brainer job with little opportunity for creativity, feels stuck in a neighborhood with constant street noise, and is in a relationship with little lasting stability. He complains is life does not allow the quiet or solitude necessary for the writing, playing and recording of his music, or for quiet sketching as a form of relaxation. Intuitively, I sense this man is creatively gifted, no different from the three who had been in the conference room.

What happened to him is that without the interaction with other gifted individuals, his own creatively does not grow. With little serenity or solitude, he cannot find his own center for nurturance and renewal. Gradually, his psyche slipped into a malaise, much like a small child who learns that he cannot count on his mother or the world for nurturing.

The course and style of treatment here is different, not limited to antidepressant medication and a few supportive nods of the head. Just my recognition, articulation, and validation of this issue brought a sense of connection, relief, and hope to this young man.

While I cannot keep you apprised of his progress, over the next few weeks I will be writing a series of posts on gifted individuals addressing the following questions:

  • What are the characteristics of Gifted people that makes them “different” from others?
  • How is their mood management a different issue?
  • What does it mean to grow up “different” when your parents, siblings, school mates, spouse or children don’t “get you”?
  • How is creativity and solitude or loneliness linked together?
  • Couples: Creative couples.
  •  - How do they find each other?
  •  - What happens when two gifted people find each other?
  •  - What does it take to keep this relationship truly vital for years?
In this series of posts, I want to share not only what the best research has found, but what I have learned in paying close attention to gifted children, adolescent, adults, and couples.

Working with these gifted persons is one of the more fascinating and fun aspects of my work.

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Zentangle Art as a Spiritual Practice

For more than 90 minutes, Daved and I watched with amused interest.

Except for bathroom breaks, the four Certified Zentangle Teachers® shared nonstop in an excited, animated way their experiences of Zentangle Art, their insights from the last training, their experiences of teaching others, and the joys expressed by those they had newly trained. The emotional fervor of the moment forced them to occasionally reach out and touch each other, or shed tears of rapture and wonder.

 I could've sworn that these women had just returned from some fundamentalist revival meeting.

 A one point, my eyes lost focus on the scene in front of me as the women’s words faded. Suddenly, I am an 8 year old boy, watching from the top step, mesmerized, as my aunts, Maude, Fanny, and Amanda, three of my dad’s sisters, circled on the porch for a Sunday afternoon, competitively share their experiences of the latest revival meetings, of hearing the most inspiring evangelists, of giving testimony to their spiritual experiences, and of having brought others into the fold.


 This scene from my childhood has not been in my consciousness for half a century. Now it has been called forth most vividly by the four women in front of me sharing their inspiration from the latest “revival meeting” with “Brother Rick” and “Sister Maria"; thus having been inspired to go out and “teach the gospel” to others.

Profoundly touched by this experience, their lives have moved to newer, richer paths.

"In our family, there was no clear line between religion and fly fishing.” wrote Norman Maclean in his novel A River Runs Through It. One could easily paraphrase his quote to “between religion and Zentangle”.

“But……….” I can hear you protest, “There's no theological doctrine in Zentangle. No right. No wrong. Nothing that gets you sent to Hell. They have nothing in common.”

I beg to differ. Even an alien visiting this planet for the first time can see the similarities.

In your mind, picture two video screens, side by side, one shows your usual religious service, the second, a Zentangle® teacher training. No sound; only video. What do we see on both screens?

We see people entering quietly, expectantly, greeting each other with smiles, anticipating a shared experience.

People move to their places, sit down and become less animated.

The moment the leader/ leaders stand in front of the group, the group members all give their undivided attention.

Soon, they all bow their heads.

For everyone, the focus is on the space in front of them.

After a period of time, the quiet focus comes to an end, people look up, turn to each other and smile.

Later, when the entire gathered ritual is complete, and the participants continue to congregate, speaking warmly to each other of what they had just experienced.


Since ancient times, the function of religious rituals has been to quiet the body, to still the mind, to narrow the focus to very specific point in time and space, and to lower the frequency of vibration in which we exist. In that stillness, we can come in contact with the very ground of our being. In that place, we become more loving, compassionate, and creative. From that place, artists create, musicians compose, and writers write.


In the silence of our observation, Daved commented it was his thinking that creativity was about connection; connection to something deep inside, as well as in connection to others outside. I think he's onto something there. Zentangle, like religion, connects us with something deep and mystical inside, and allows us to somehow connect with the community at large in some more creative, compassionate way.


Community, whether it comes from shared creativity, or shared Christianity, has a kindred basis. For both congregations, community is a byproduct that arises from a collective transcendent experience. Zentangle, like all spiritual practices, is one path to that experience.





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Emotional Responses to Zentangle Art

People do not remain neutral to seeing Zentangle art. Some are immediately dismissive, seeing the line drawings as little more than graffiti. Lifelong doodlers will see it as “what I have been doing for years”. Others, captured by the line drawings, remain with eyes fixed, not quite able to pull themselves from the art, not knowing what holds them to this art form. As a therapist, my surprise has been the strength of the emotional responses of many people, (including my own, at times), to these simple line drawings. Here are two recent examples:


A 30-year-old pregnant account executive, in the middle her session, stared downward.

"You wrote on your shoes!” She exclaimed. "My mother would have a fit. She always fussed at me whenever I would doodle on my shoes because I was so bored in class."

"But these are my shoes" I responded.

“It doesn't matter”, she replied, “my mother would still have of fit”.

“But, now you are old enough to buy your own shoes. You can write on them whenever you wish…..”   I began, thinking this was an opportunity for therapeutic intervention.
“My mother would still have a fit!” the client interrupted, “She says you’re not supposed to write on your shoes.


 I can understand people writing on their shoes, or even on their clothes, as a personal statement. But, do these “Zentanglers” carry this a bit too far in their expressive quests?


I, too, have an emotional, almost judgmental, response that says “people are not suppose to write on walls with Sharpies, or on the floor, or their cars”; a feeling that wells up within me when I see photos of any 'tangles' on otherwise pristine surfaces. These Zentangle art people -- they find a way, just like graffiti artists, to practice their craft wherever they find a blank space. Making “string lines”, they just start drawing; like some inspired (or possessed) person in an altered state.


After a fourth-year teacher from Spring Garden, a private elementary school, took a Zentangle class with Deborah, she proceeded to teach her fourth-graders how to make a Zentangle. This art form became the rage in the students’ homes. At the annual fund-raising event, even the brochure announcing the annual fundraiser was decorated with the Zentangle art.   An ensemble of the 20 students' Zentangle cards fetched a high bid of $325.00!   For fourth grade students, no less.
At this benefit auction, my bid won me a safe deposit box for life, prompting a visit to a local bank I'd never seen before.


In explaining the flier’s artwork as “Zentangle” art to the young bank manager, I pointed out the use of Zentangle art on my shoes. She appeared intrigued, explaining she has been an avid doodler all her life.

A week later, when a note came from the bank thanking me for having stopped into secure my safe deposit box and inviting me to make use of the banking services, the entire front of the bank's thank you note was covered with a very intricate and time-consuming form of the Zentangle art. The bank manager obviously must have taken me seriously and looked up the word Zentangle on the internet.


It so impressed me. Any branch manager who takes such care when writing a thank you note surely would exercise care in taking care of the money I deposit to her branch.

The Thank You Card


A writer once said, "That which is written with little effort, is read with little interest."


Is it the amount of focused time, attention, and creative energy that goes into one of these 3 1/2 inch squares that creates in people the fascination with this art form?


Does the artist imbue the work with an energy that emanates out to the viewer, capturing and holding her attention no differently than when one observes other line drawings created by artists from cave dwellers to Kandinsky.

Or, is there something primitive or primal in this work that touches a place deep in our archetypal unconsciousness of which were not yet aware?

"The mission of art is to inspire wordless awe." Alex Grey writes in his insightful book, The Mission of Art.

Wordless awe seems to be the most common, and perhaps most appropriate response to viewing any Zentangle art that has been created with concentrated, focused attention. Wordless awe is our most common response to great works of art, great music, mystical spiritual experiences, and even transcendent sexual experiences. (ever watch two artists in class look up from their work, smile at each other as if to say, “Was that as good for you as it was for me?”)


All of these experiences put us in touch with some great creative force that seems to come not from us, but through us; Experiences that, when we are open to them, change us is some way. We know we have been touched deeply in some way and there is now no way of going back. Such seems to be the experience of people becoming engaged in this Zentangle art form.  It has been mine.



Next,    Zentangle as a Spiritual Movement

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Zentangle Art as Cross Training

Cross training is essential to all athletes who want to perform at their highest potential. I’ve known that since my high school and college days of track and baseball.   Cross training is the name coaches give to those endless, repetitive, mind-numbing exercises that seemingly have little in common with one's actual skill training in a sport, yet are supposed to be essential in one’s overall athletic development.

 Our baseball team came to joke that any maintenance chore assigned by the coach was considered “cross training.”   “Push that rake, Miller, it’s cross training.”

In my 30s, I undertook running as a form of exercise. As my race distances got longer, I decided to not set running a marathon as a goal, telling myself the cross training required to do marathons was a commitment of time I would not take from the family and give to my running.

Even though I no longer do any athletic cross training, I wear New Balance cross trainers to the office Several years ago I realized I simply felt better wearing the cross trainers; even better than wearing my best Johnston and Murphy dress shoes.

Because my career requires significant creative, mental work, the only cross training I do these days is for my brain; drawing mind maps, cutting/stacking firewood for the winter, coloring mandalas, (not Sudoku, it’s – too structured, using only part of the brain.).

Zentangle, I have discovered, is one of the better cross training activities for my brain.

Creating a Zentangle art tile as cross training for the mind, requires investing an hour
- Paying attention to the ceramic point on the paper,
- Feeling the pen drag across the ridges of Italian watercolor paper,- Hearing the muffled sound of paper,
- and watching the pen move deliberately in repetitive movements; rhythmically, hypnotically entraining the mind to this narrow focus.

Then, for the next three days, my journal writing shifts:
- the handwriting becomes legible,
- the mind stays on the page,
- the writing develops focus. (this must be the “Zen” part.)
Less drivel fills space on the page, more material comes from the intuitive heart.

One April afternoon, Deborah and Marijane were in the park creating Zentangle art in anticipation of attending the workshop training for Certified Zentangle Teachers. I decided to use the Zentangle art form (my mental cross training activity) to decorate the cross trainer shoes.

An hour of focused attention….., and voilà.   Wearable art.        “How cool is that!” I tell myself, “How brave is that!”

Next:   Responses to Zentangle wearable art.



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Love and Intuition


Love and Intuition by Sherrie Dillard, one of the books on my reading stand, contains the subtitle, “A Psychic’s Guide to Creating Lasting Love.
From its cover, one could mistake this book for one of those “How to find your soul mate” books, even though she has one chapter on such a topic. While the book cover does contain this subtitle, (perhaps for marketing purposes), it is a fraction of the content.

Her central message is that if one desires to use intuition as a guide for better decision making, then one needs to first attend to the business of clearing away any old unresolved anger and resentment toward others, as well as the regret or guilt one carries toward oneself.

Leaning to love yourself, then others, is the first order of business on the road to intuitive guidance.

So what makes intuition important? What if I don’t plan to be a psychic?

These days, events and situations confront us at such apace we no longer have the time to gather all the information or data we think necessary to make good decisions. It wasn't this way a decade or two ago. This is a different world; we are not in Kansas anymore, (to borrow an oft used phrase). Decisions need to be made from an intuitive basis more often in our ordinary day to day lives.

Teasing apart our emotional reactions from intuitive information takes practice; this is some of the best of what Dillard has to offer in her book. Learning how to distinguish our own internal issues from the energies we absorb from others is becoming one of the most important concepts we need to understand for maintaining our emotional, spiritual, and mental health.

These are not concepts that have been taught in your college psychology classes or texts; these are concepts that lie on the interface of psychology and the spiritual realm. They lie in the arena of transpersonal psychology; a psychology that give recognition to knowing that there is something more than just our unconscious within us that influences our emotional and mental life.


Developing a greater intuitive ability facilitates a greater awareness of these varying influences that affect our psychic lives. Developing greater intuitive abilities lessens the confusion in our emotional lives, leads to better decision making, and opens the way to greater creativity.

Not only can intuition, as a form of spiritual guidance, provide us with some of the best guidance out of certain situations we have gotten ourselves into, it gives us notions of new, possibly unmapped directions to travel, and give us the people that will play a role in that new life.


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Life without Television

Two different periods without television played a key role in shaping my life. During the first one, I came to appreciate reading and books. In the second, I gained an appreciation for the power of writing.


My parent’s, both raised in the Amish tradition, saw no place for television in our home for the first twelve years of my life. Then my mother’s capitulation to my older sisters’ wishes brought a large, 21 inch RCA, ( all TV was black and white back then), into the living room. Not enamored with Lawrence Welk, Dinah Shore, and the genre of variety shows, I began to find other places to hibernate in the more fascinating worlds of the Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew, and later Sherlock Holmes.


Unlike the melodrama of my own family life or television soap operas, the drama of these books actually led somewhere. Information was uncovered; the drama ended with resolution of tensions and mystery between characters.

 By the time I finished grade school, I had read all the Hardy boys and Nancy Drew mysteries that had been written at that time. In high school, (as distinguished from grade school. There was no “junior high school), I discovered a volume of The Complete Sherlock Holmes in our high school library. Because the librarian allowed me to keep renewing the book so long as no other student wanted it, I was able to read the entire series in the course of a year.

The reading of these mysteries cemented my lifelong friendship with books and my fascination with human behavior. Halfway through college, I decided studying human behavior was imminently more fascinating than chemical processes in the lab.

Later, when a marital separation came, I moved into my rental house, choosing to leave television behind. While remodeling this house over the next 16 months, without the distraction of any television, I wrote intensely. A habit of daily journal writing emerged; a daily ritual that continues to this day some 15 years later. By now, I have accumulated several Rubbermaid boxes of journals in addition to my shelves of books.

Much of wisdom is born of experience. But, having enough knowledge to make use of one’s experiences so that these experiences become wisdom, and not a sense of victimhood, or helplessness, makes a big difference. Knowing the difference between the good drama of our lives and the melodrama cycles of soap opera lives helps us take our lives on some meaningful or creative pathway.

 Reading helpful, inspirational books, or writing the deep, raw truth that lies within, or sharing in deep dialogue with someone we trust -– any of these paths –- ( and you get to choose)  can bring maturity, understanding and richness to our lives and relationships.



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Growing Pains

Most of us see ourselves as good, kind, compassionate persons.  We do not see ourselves as deliberately doing harm to others, particularly those with whom we have some relationship.  This is true for the people who come to the office for help with a dilemma that has them at a crossroad of their life. Those who work in the healing professions find this a particularly perplexing quandary.


Even as we care deeply for others in our lives,  we are faced with this double bind.
We feel a need to grow.
We want to go where life offers joy,  fulfillment and aliveness.
We want to go where our creativity and talents can find an arena of expression.
Most of all, we want to take our lives on a path with meaning, purpose and direction.


Yet, if we are to follow the path of our own development,
We may disappoint others.
We may not live up to the expectations of others.
We may not fulfill the commitments we have made to others
We may even leave others behind.


Notable writers, psychiatrists, and psychologists have written volumes on our needs for "self actualization" or for  "individuation".   We support and applaud the development of children and adolescents as they grow through stages. We even take for granted they may inadvertently hurt those they love while finding their chosen path.  We assume it is all a part of the unfolding of life's drama .


Not so with adults. We assume we as adults should know better. We assume adults will make choices that will no bring disappointment or even pain to those around us.  Yet, this dilemma of our needs for creative expression and relationships may require some of the most difficult choices we face.


We as adults, as well as our relationships, need creative growth. Balancing these two may give us growing pains.  Piloting our way through such dilemmas with grace requires faith and some guidance.


But, it is the stuff from which wisdom is born.

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