Sunday, November 28, 2010

Reptiles in Literature: Stressed in Scottsdale, by Marcia Fine

Marcia Fine is a wonderful author who I recently met online. Her book, Stressed in Scottsdale’s title made it a must-read for me. It didn’t disappoint, either. Just one in a series (The Jean Rubin series); it examines reptilian behavior unintentionally, perhaps, in one of it’s meccas, the female mind. (the other mecca being, of course, the male mind).

Fear and suspicion originate in the reptilian brain, whether rational or irrational. It is for good reason, though. That brain is responsible for our survival as human beings. However, our brainstem can take this a bit too far. “Survival” can turn into obsession and paranoia, which also reside in this brain.

A prime example of this is main character, Jean. Jean has a whole list of stressors, too lengthy to list here. Not the least of which is her suspicion that her husband, Maury having an affair because he has taken a recent interest in the caloric content of kung pao chicken and heading off to the gym more. While this alone might not constitute an affair, his switch his from tightie whities to plaid boxers might be more cause for alarm.

In The Professional Communications Toolkit, author, D. Joel Whalen says,

       Time and time again, your brain stem makes you miserable. It gives you rotton feelings when you                                                                           should be feeling excited and powerful. It makes you stupid when you need to be intelligent. You become a klutz when you need grace and charm. Your brain stem can’t learn from its past mistakes. It continues on its consistent track record of failure, as it obsesses about things that will go wrong. Fear and anxiety are hard to ignore. Your brain thinks it’s protecting you. In reality, it may be harming you with pent up stress and preventing you from optimal performance.

I won’t spoil it for you as to whether Maurey is indeed having an affair. {You’ll have to read it for yourself). But as it turns out Jean discovers that she is addicted to stress, like a lot of us.  As she puts it,

“I am alone in a chasm of appointments, management, and problems.”

c. 2010

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Simmer Down
In today’s world it is rare anyone gets a moment to quiet their minds. Work struggles, family struggles, “oh-my-gosh-it’s-the-holiday” struggles seem to vie for space in our heads. Merely entertaining these thoughts can be enough to wear you out.

Yet we want to think about our problems. We think we need to.

As Scott Aaron Gaul, of the says, “Stress is automatic but relaxation is learned.”

This is because at the root of our stress is fear. You don’t need to tell yourself to worry about imminent doom. That is automatic. The primal part of the brain that is responsible for worrying, doesn’t know the difference between imminent doom and frustration or exasperation. So it responds the same way in either case. It takes higher brain functions to reason and respond.

Myrko Thum tells us in his blog, ;
The mind is busy
According to Eastern spirituality, the mind is always attempting to seek pleasure and avoid pain. The mind is never at rest because this attraction and avoidance causes an unending string of thoughts. For some people, most of the thoughts are not satisfying and this lack of satisfaction causes fear and stress. The mind will never find rest through achieving more, it will only find rest through slowing and becoming quiet. 

When we pause for a moment, and take a mental break from the situation, we better able to “reframe” situations as solutions and actions rather than dangers and threats.

c. 2010

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Too blessed to be stressed…

Thanksgiving, the holiday, doesn’t actually stress me out as much as thanksgiving, the concept does. My parents do Thanksgiving dinner, so they are the ones who do the stressing out about that. My dreamy boyfriend and I enjoy the fruits of their labor. [I do help out a little].

Occasionally I’ll hear someone use the phrase, “I’m too blessed to be stressed.” It always makes me think, Why can’t I have that mindset? And I tell myself that next time I am stressed, I’ll repeat that saying to myself.

With the Thanksgiving holiday around the corner, I always feel somewhat guilty for stressing out about seemingly trivial things when I have so much to be thankful for. And to be honest that kind of stresses me out too. [Ugh, I’m such an ungrateful person].

It’s all a matter of focus, though. If I am concentrating on the aggravations of my daily life, which can build up, if I’m keeping count, it’s hard to be thankful for the many good things I have.

Rhonda Byrne, author of The Secret,  suggests not allowing negative things to take up space in your brain. I disagree with this. How am I supposed to fix them if I don’t think about them? I just can’t let them become my focus.

I am, after all, too blessed to be stressed.

c. 2010

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Emotional GPS

image credit:

In SARK’s newest book, Glad No Matter What, there is a chapter entitled Emotional GPS.

She talks about the difference between responding and reacting. [An example of setting Intentional Moods]. She talks about creating an Emotional GPS in our minds that will “recalculate” the emotional route we happen to be going down at that moment.

She cites her experience at the bank where she was dealing with repairing the damage done by fraudulent checks [an understandably tedious task that only few can handle with grace]. By “recaulculating,” she was able to upshift from her reptilian response to her reasoning cerebral functions. Don’t think it doesn’t take work, and practice.

Fortunately, life offers us many opportunities to practice "recalculating." When your children are unappreciative of the meal you spent hours cooking just right, “recalculate.” When your boss isn’t satisfied with your best effort, “recalculate.” When there is a long line at the grocery store, “recalculate.” 

SARK shares,
"If difficult or destructive feelings persist, I keep recalculating until I've discovered a different way to go."

You will then be in a better place to be able to handle things. Responses inspired by thought and consideration are much better than reptilian reactions any day.

She ends her chapter by saying that "we all have access to an emotional GPS within and can utilize our transformative practices and skills to support feeling our feelings, create new routes, and tell new stories."

c. 2010

Monday, November 8, 2010

An interview with Susan Kennedy, aka SARK

SARK is a best-selling author and artist, with sixteen titles in print and well over two million books sold, including the national bestsellers Succulent Wild Women, Bodacious Book of Succulence, Eat Mangoes Naked, Prosperity Pie, Juicy Pens, and Thirsty Paper. Her newest book is Glad No Matter What. She is also the founder and CEO of Planet SARK, a thriving business that creates innovative products and services to support empowered living. SARK lives and creates in San Francisco, CA. But you can visit her in Charlotte, NC, online, at

How can we be glad when so many bad things are happening?

How can we not? “Bad” things always have, and will always continue to happen. It is how we choose to respond that makes the difference. We all have an opportunity to respond to whatever is happening with as much gladness as possible, which will always shift the very things that are happening. If you look at every bad or difficult situation, you will ALWAYS find the goodness and gladness. Focusing on that is what creates the real movement and solutions that we are always wanting.

Why are YOU so glad?

I’m NOT all the time, just as much of the time as possible. I’m glad because I’m alive and well and able to contribute to the world and share love in significant ways. It’s not about the glass being half-full or empty, it’s about living with a glass that’s both. We can feel all of our feelings, and find gladness and joy more often. It’s not about finding the silver lining, as much as it is the rainbow lining, which includes all of our feelings, not just the glad ones. Paradoxically, this creates more gladness.

In what specific ways can we all be more glad?

Feel what you feel. When you feel it, then let that go. This will open the channels for more gladness. Look for things to be glad about, and talk about them, write them down, celebrate them. This will call more gladness to you. Make your most “alive choices” which are the ones that are a little scary, or make you a little nervous. These are the things that will fill your soul, and in turn fill the soul of the world. Do your transformative practices, which means taking whatever happens, and finding new ways to respond, and continue to practice. Telling and living new stories. This means that you should stop repeating and reliving negative incidents, and instead focus on retelling the great and good things. This will cause and create more goodness and gladness.

Why this book now?

We are all seeking better ways to live and love our lives and assist the world in being a more creative, nourishing, and glad place. This book demonstrates how I do that, and gives powerful stories and examples of how you can do that. Here are a few examples; facing a 3 hour flight delay, I built a fort in the airport. Being at the DMV with a lot of unhappy people, I stood up and sang Amazing Grace. Hearing that I was being audited, I transformed fear and worry into a great exchange with the IRS agent who cried because she said no had ever been that nice to her.

What was your biggest inspiration for writing this book?

The deaths of my mother and cat, and the end of a romantic relationship formed the initial reason for writing the book, but transformation is always my greatest inspiration, and how we can literally “change the form” or what happens to us and what we do with that, is the basis of this book. All of my changes and losses have been transformed into gifts and opportunities, and those gifts and opportunities create more GOODNESS and GLADNESS to share with the world.

Can one really be “glad no matter what”  ?

Yes. By finding the glad parts in WHATever happens, and doing our transformational practices. We will still feel all of our feelings, we will just be invited not to spend so much time there. By feeling what we feel when we feel it, we can learn to better hold multiple feelings and find the glad parts in as many of them as possible.

What losses have you transformed into gifts or opportunities?

I was molested by a family member and transformed it into compassion and forgiveness. The death of my mother was transformed into feelings of unconditional love and gladness that she lived and that she was my mom. The death and physical loss of my cat showed me that his unconditional love lives within me, and that I now share that with the world. The loss of youth has and is being transformed into wisdom and self-love that is profound and life changing. The loss of money has transformed into knowing that our true wealth does not lie in the material but the spiritual. The changes in my business have resulted in entirely new uses of technology and creativity.

You say that whatever is happening, we have the opportunity to practice centering ourselves. What does that mean and how do we do it?

By doing our transformative practices, we can choose to respond to what is happening instead of reacting. We can allow whatever is, instead of resisting what we say we don’t want. We center ourselves by knowing that whatever is happening, it is external. We go within and center in the internal. This will create calm, compassionate responses to outside circumstances. And when we forget and react instead, we know that our transformative practices will lead us back to our truer responses. Here is a recent example; a driver was late in picking me up to drive me to the airport. Rushing to meet him, I slipped in cat poop and fell down. He greeted without explanation or acknowledgment about being late. I reacted defensively and so did he. I considered not riding with him as part of my reaction. Instead, I sat in the back of the car staring at the back of his head, disliking him. Then I went within and responded differently and asked if we could start over. We ended up forgiving each other and hugging and crying at the airport.

What is the middle place? How do we get there?

The middle place is in between the extremes of our emotions. It is where we can find our greatest centering and compassion. The middle place is messy and full of multiple feelings. It’s not concerned with “being right.” It’s where we might say; “I’m disappointed that my friend didn’t ___ , but I love him/her and choose to think the best about it.” We get there by going within before responding and choosing not to quickly react to outside circumstances. And when we forget, we go to the middle place to find our calm, compassionate responses.

You encourage your readers to go towards the broken, dark, and difficult places. Why?

Avoiding them doesn’t work. It is very tempting to avoid, deny, lie, and create cover ups. It seems to work in the short term, but it accrues and causes tremendous damages later. Time does not heal anything either without applied transformative practices. I know this because I tried everything to not feel the darker, more difficult feelings. Then I attempted suicide and woke up to really begin my transformative practice work. We need to feel everything. We can use a flashlight to look at the darkness and get help to support us. We can learn not to dwell in repetitive negative stories and live with life-long grudges. We can do our transformative practices now and all of our lives and live in a much more self-loving, self-caring way.

How can we support others with their losses/grief?

By doing our transformative practices, we are much better positioned to support others. We can compassionately witness their experiences, which means to listen without judgment or fixing. We can be present for their pain, which means to just be there. We can acknowledge what has happened or is happening, which will open up the channels for them to allow instead of resist. We can hold them in the highest light, which means to see them coming through a change or loss, and not stuck there, which is what they fear. We can remind them of their holy purpose and how we can see them changing or growing. We can light little lanterns in our hearts for them and tell them that. We can remind them that THIS TOO IS CHANGING and will not last. We can encourage them to “hold their experience,” which means to deeply experience all of their feelings as much as possible and result in greater healing. We can let them know that we see, hear, and feel them We can create opportunities to creatively assist them in times of transition. Instead of focusing on our helplessness, we can think of things we can do, that will be of use. We can understand that our BEING is more important than our doing.

What will being glad really DO for people?

It will fill them from the inside, so that they become and live like “full cups of self-love and gladness” sharing the overflow with the world.

What’s the “glad game?’

It originated with Eleanor Porter’s book Pollyanna. Pollyanna was a young girl whose parents died and she was sent to live with relatives in a small town that she didn’t know. Her relatives were less than kind and the town unwelcoming. Pollyanna invented the glad game to play with everyone she met. In time, her relatives and the whole town transformed. In this way, we can all play the glad game with our lives. With whatever is happening, we can feel our feelings, and then find the good and glad that’s there, and share that too. For example, my friend jus thad a car accident on the freeway and her car was totaled and she had no collision insurance. She was shocked, scared, worried, and angry. She was also grateful not to be physically injured and glad that I came to help her. Later she was even more glad that her estranged father appeared in her life and helped her to get a replacement car.

What’s the biggest difference between this book and the first book you wrote/published?

The fact that I’ve been doing my transformative practices for 20 years and it shows in my ability to live “in the middle,” and live like a full cup of self-love and gladness, sharing the overflow with the world. That I practice feeling all of my feelings fully as much as possible, and that I can show others how and why to do the same. That I’m a “transformative change agent,” actively living and practicing what I’m writing about.”

What is one question people never ask you that you wish they would?

What are your NEW dreams? Do you have enough romance in your life and would you like more? How has your work nourished you?

Who or what inspires you?

YOU. The world. Everything from my toaster crumbs to purple starfish on the beach in British Columbia, next to bioluminescent water.

When did you know you were a writer?

When I was 10 years old and my 80 year-old best friend Mr. Boggs went into the hospital and my mom told me he probably wouldn’t be coming out. So I wrote and created something for him every day for a month. And he did get out and said to me; “I think you saved my life. Nobody else called or wrote while I was in there, and I had to get out to see you.” I ran in the house and said; “Mom! I’m supposed to be a beacon of hope and write books for the world.” And she said, “eat your peanut butter sandwich.” I wrote my first book that summer.

photo credit: 

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Trivial Reptiles?

I witnessed a hilarious reptilian episode at our trivia game this past week. Finn is a regular participant at most events. Oh yeah, and he cheats. Everyone knows this, but can’t seem to prove it. Since I could, I said something to the host. As he was turning in his answer sheet, I came beside him, and said to Scott, the host. Don’t accept Finn’s answers. He was cheating. I listed my allegations, along with my proof that he had been looking up his answers.

I’m used to denial when I turn people in for cheating, [yeah, I do it a lot]. But this was a sight to be seen. I really wish I had a video of this, it is just too indescribable.

Oh my GOSH! Why would I cheat? I turn people in for cheating! When else am I supposed to go to the bathroom? I don’t even have a signal in there. Follow me in there, I want to show you that I don’t have a signal! He says in a high- pitched voice, not taking a breath.

This went on for at least 5 minutes straight, maybe longer. Poor Scott didn’t know what to do.

Finn felt threatened and went first into the classic “fight” defense mode. The thing is, he is all talk. He went into “flight” mode by running out the door at the end. When he was caught breaking the rules, a misdeed, he had probably crafted an entire alternative reality to himself as to why it was justified, he was frantic to defend it.

Our reptilian brains are our most primitive brains, and are incapable of reasoning or rational thinking. Finn’s reptilian brain, like ours, which is responsible for stress responses, doesn’t know the difference between being my accusing him of cheating at trivia or physically threatening him. All it knows is that it’s being threatened. It requires more cerebral thinking for that to happen. Usually this happens rather quickly, but it is possible to get stuck in your brainstem, as Finn was.

He was getting so combative that it was provoking my reptilian stress response as well. I’m not exaggerating when I say that it took some real upshifting to not call him the piece of shit that he was. After all, it’s just trivia for me.

photo credit:

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Workplace Stress As a Source of Humor

Today's post is borrowing from John Kinde's e-letter.  John Kinde is a humor specialist, which has to be the coolest job EVER! Anyway, I am hoping he doesn't mind me using his post.

On to,  Workplace Stress As a Source of Humor, by John Kinde
Stressful work conditions, hospitals, war zones, police work and
other life-and-death situations are fertile grounds for humor.
This is because stress builds tension...and tension begs to be
released.  Humor is one of nature's stress relievers.
In the 1970s I worked with nuclear weapons as an ICBM (missile)
Launch Officer.  It's a job with certain stress factors that come
with the territory.  The possibility of being directed to launch
your missiles is an obvious stress situation.  But other, more
persistent stress factors were built into the system, similar to
the artificial stress of military basic training.  If you can't
take the stress of training, competition and evaluation, how could
you ever handle the stress of an actual combat situation? And then
there was stress from boredom, created by hour-after-hour working
shifts in the underground launch centers and never having to do
your job for real...thankfully.
One of the groups well-known for creating humor in the missile
business was The Groobers from FE Warren AFB.  In the mid-1970s,
four missileers formed a singing group which created humorous songs
about the Strategic Missile business.  They even produced a vinyl
record album of their music.  They were a hit performing as musical
guests at many command functions including the Olympic Arena
competitions at Vandenberg AFB, where I first saw them perform.
One of the lesser sources of stress for those in the missile
business was the second-class citizen feeling of some crew members
being in a pilot-dominated Air Force.  A group at Vandenberg AFB
created a parody for a banquet based on the USAF Thunderbirds, an
elite fighter-jet demonstration team.  Since the skit they created
was focused on missile launch officers, they adopted the name of
The Thunder Chairs and featured precision-demonstration launch
center activities from crew changeover to turning the keys (we
didn't launch by "pushing the button").  They were a big hit.
It was the environment of the missile career field that got me into
the humor business.  In 1976, I teamed up with two really funny guys
who worked in my unit.  As a serious person, I started learning the
foundations of good humor.  For three years we created entertainment
for our holiday parties, going away events and retirements.  The
two funny co-workers taught this not-naturally-funny guy the skills
of creating humor.
I recommend that you volunteer to be on a committee at your
workplace and help plan entertaining parties.  You'll help raise
morale and you'll sharpen your humor skills.  Creating fun parties
gave the initial focus to me, the Groobers, and the Thunder Chairs.
Volunteering gives you a hands-on workshop which trains you to be
There are many career fields more stressful than the missile
business.  One at the top of the list is working in a hospital
operating room, where life-and-death decisions are an every-day
reality.  Humor becomes an important coping tool.  A person working
in a surgical unit is most likely aware of a category of humor
called Gallows Humor.  It's humor created in the moment, normally
by a person under stress.  It's a coping tool.  There is a
right-and-wrong time and place for this type of humor.  A health
care professional, using this type of humor under pressure, needs
to be aware that one person's coping tool is another person's
inappropriate humor.  A health-care professional needs to be
cautious of using coping humor while in the presence of patients
and family members.  What is being used as a survival,
pressure-relief valve could be perceived as unprofessional by
someone not in the business.
Last week I received an email with a link to surgical room humor.
Toastmaster friend Karen Lewison referred me to a song parody which
also happens to fit into the category of our latest Joke Contest
theme...Music on Hold.
The link took me to a song parody by The Laryngospasms adapting the
song "Waking Up Is Hard to Do" to the profession of
nurse-anesthetists.  It is NOT an example of Gallows Humor, as it's
not created on-the-spot by an individual as a reaction to a
stressful situation.  It's a terrific parody produced by a very
talented group of nurses.  The parody itself will be funniest to
nurse-anesthetists and medical professionals.  People outside of
the business will also likely find it funny, but less so than
people who work in a surgical suite.  Many patients would also find
it funny, but there will be some who would not like it, as a
reaction to the apprehension they are feeling. What I do know, is
that if I'm wheeled into an operating room anytime soon, I want the
people working on me to have a good sense of humor! It's an
essential tool I want in their bag.
Before I give you the link, let me prepare you for what you're
going to see; some lessons to be learned:
The parody is funny primarily because working in an operating room
is a stressful job.  That makes it a place ripe for humor, because
of the humor principle of tension relief results in laughter.  The
 take their workplace and use it to grow tasteful song
parodies.  Their work provides an excellent source of stress relief
for professionals in their line of work.
A lesson to be learned from watching this video is:  Doing a parody
of a song where you customize it to fit a specific group is a very
effective way to get laughs.  And the secret is, you really don't
have to be a great singer to make it work (although in this example
The Laryngospasms are terrific singers).  The strength of a good
parody lies in the content, the writing, the tailoring and the
customization and not primarily in the musical skills of the singer.
Although if you ARE a good singer, that's a plus.  Remember that
the audience usually respects a good effort.  The rule in the
improv world is:  "If you can't sing...sing loud!"  Be bold and
confident.  It's the fit of the parody to the audience that
carries the day.
Also notice how they record the song music-video style in an
operating room.  This allows them to use props to accentuate the
humor.  It also allows them to include a nice twist by having the
"patient" sing along.  So even if you're presenting a parody at a
special event, it's an option to video record it in advance rather
than to perform it live.  Both performance techniques have their
Here is the link to the Waking Up Is Hard to Do parody
For information on The Laryngospasms and other parodies (Mr
 and All I have To Do is Dream) visit The Laryngospasms
web site
 and click on VIDEOS.