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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 voilĂ .   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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