Honoring Working Bees

Aaaahh, Labor Day—a day set aside to honor and celebrate dedicated workers and to grant us an extra period of rest and play.

While researching comparative U.S. work trends with those of other industrial nations in recent years, I must admit that I was very surprised to learn that the average American works less than the average worker in most first-world countries. Frankly, I thought that on the whole we worked much more than most nations. According to the Federal Reserve Economic Data compiled last year, the average U.S. work week is less than 33 hours. This is hard for me to fathom when I know so many people who work 60+ hours per week. The peak labor period in our country occurred in 1950: still averaging slightly less than 40 hours a week.

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Hopefully, this trend is reflecting a recent commitment to work/life balance, whereby we devote ample time to family and other relationships, health habits, leisure activities, spiritual focus and to rest. I’m aware of Generation Y’s insistence in limiting their work time and balancing their lives.

Perhaps we’re also learning to take a page from the British with their 3:00 tea times and the Spanish and Mexican mid-day siesta. Over the past decade, some corporations have begun implementing the power nap. As one who has specialized in stress management in my private practice and as a consultant, I recognize that during the past 30 years an increasing number of people have sought various ways of managing their stress levels—and practicing methods with greater regularity.

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The term labor of love is a very apt one for those, myself included, who regard their work as a life purpose or calling and/or for those who simply enjoy what they do. Passion about one’s profession and a dedication to service are two virtues that contribute greatly to job satisfaction, even for folks who consistently put in a lot of hours. Conversely, working with golden handcuffs–performing a high-paying job that the person dislikes–depletes energy and morale and erodes the soul.

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What Is a Soulful Relationship?

As the authors of a recently published book on the topic of marital enrichment, Secrets of a Soulful Marriage: Creating and Sustaining a Loving, Sacred Relationshipwe enjoy receiving folks’ input about what the term “soulful relationship” means to them.

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As you might imagine, people express a wide variety of attitudes and feelings in response to the question, “What makes a relationship soulful?” Here are some features that we consider central to a loving, meaningful relationship:

  • Healing hurts, disappointments and resentments from your past
  • Developing your character, such as integrity, compassion and generosity
  • Actively listening to your partner’s expressed needs, feelings and requests, and cleanly, clearly stating your own
  • Accepting and often appreciating your partner’s differences
  • Practicing ways to constructively resolve issues and conflicts
  • Cherishing your beloved and demonstrating respect
  • Keeping romance and intimacy alive
  • Championing your spouse’s overall well-being and quest for a balanced life
  • Supporting each other ‘s life purpose(s) and spiritual connection
  • As parents and busy professionals, ensuring that your couple relationship is primary

If you want, you could rate yourself and your mate on each of these items according to a 1 to 5 scale, whereby 1 indicates minimal practice of that specific quality and 5 represents strong, consistent demonstration of it.

Of course, this is not intended to be an exhaustive list. Discuss it with your partner and add several other traits that reflect soulfulness for you.

Here’s to a long, love-filled and mutually satisfying relationship!

-Jim and Ruth

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Lurking in Your Backyard

Sex trafficking—the heinous act of duping teenage (or pre-teen) girls into a life of prostitution—only occurs in third-world countries, right? Oh so wrong! As accustomed as we can be toward turning a “blind eye” to that which we’d prefer didn’t exist, it is no surprise that most folks are quick to deny that sex slavery may very well be happening in their cities, towns and suburbs. The victims could be anyone’s daughter, relative or acquaintance–and secondarily, all who love and know them. Thanks to the many who are willing to pay big bucks to “turn tricks” with a young girl, the sex trade has become so epidemic and so lucrative that sleazy pimps are only part of the scene. Eager to get a big chunk of the action, organized crime and drug cartels have joined the foray. U.S. law enforcement agencies estimate that 100,000 girls are victims of the avarice and perpetuation of paid sex.

This topic has been on my radar and infuriating me for several years. As coordinator of Whole Man Network, I arranged for the Denver-based organization Mile High Women’s Outreach Center (MHWOC) to educate participants about sex trafficking. A few days ago I attended an MHWOC showing of the video “Chosen,” produced by Shared Hope International, followed by a candid discussion of this atrocious, global modern-day slavery practice. For me, the most salient personal story in the video involved an articulate, beautiful 17-year-old girl—a straight-A high school student, cheerleader and active member of her community. Promised an exciting new life and ten times her waitress earnings, this seemingly-sophisticated Kansas girl came ever so close to unknowingly joining a prostitution ring. Fortunately, her caring ex-boyfriend became suspicious enough to tell his and her parents and ultimately save her from degradation.

Traffickers prey on vulnerable youth wherever they can find them, such as around schools, shopping malls, arcades, parks, etc. These glib guys are adept at gathering information through seemingly innocent conversations. They especially exploit girls who are lonely, lost, have a history of being physically and/or sexually abused, are runaways, throwaways, and the like. These charming, antisocial predators, most in their 20’s, are adept at luring the girls with acts of kindness and affection, lavish gifts and glamorous promises. They typically offer the girls the special attention they lack, often pretending to become their boyfriends. They gradually groom them for prostitution, such as by getting them to dance at a strip club and then have sex with them. The initial princess treatment often shifts to pimps’ physical abuse and threats, such as harming the girl’s family if she escapes. Frightened, filled with shame, and burning their bridges with family and friends, the trapped girls feel there is no safe turning back.

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Annual FBI stings and local police response serve to stop some fraction of the trafficking. What YOU can do is:

  • Familiarize yourself and loved ones with the warning signs described above.
  • Share this blog and discuss your concerns about this “cancer” with others.
  • Notify authorities about suspected predators and/or girls boasting special attention, gifts, and/or outlandish promises from older guys (My daughter knew one such girl.)
  • Learn more from, refer people to, and financially support any of the below national resources:

Shared Hope International

Girls Educational and Mentoring Services (GEMS)

Polaris Project

The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children

1-800-THE LOST

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Writing with Wife

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Ruth and I recently speaking to a group.

 

During 38 years of our 44-year marriage, my wife Ruth, and I have worked together in many capacities. These have included serving as therapists in private practice, co-directing a holistic health and human development center, teaching classes and seminars, delivering conference presentations (including as keynoters), leading marriage retreats, and most recently offering ourselves as “coaches for soulful couples.”

A few years ago, I coordinated and edited a 40-story men’s anthology; Ruth collaborated with our youngest daughter Alyssa and oldest granddaughter Hannah to write a photo-rich yoga book. We edited each others’ books and many of the blogs that we independently wrote. However, neither of us had written a book together until co-authoring Secrets of a Soulful Marriage: Creating and Sustaining a Loving, Sacred Relationship, hot off the press from SkyLight Paths Publishing. Many people have inquired about our experience in working together on the book, so I’ll share that in this blog.

Our wedding in 1970.

Our wedding in 1970.

Amidst the beauty of our long relationship (meeting nearly 47 years ago) and vast experience doing couples counseling and facilitating marriage programs, we have for years felt an increasingly-strong calling to promote marital enrichment on a larger scale. Writing a practical, inspirational marriage book struck us as a viable project to undertake.

In October 2012 we dedicated half of our week-long Sedona, AZ vacation to brainstorming content for our “Secrets” book. During that week we jotted down various topics and specific ideas, practical tools and exercises for couples, some key quotes and many of our personal experiences that we wanted to impart. Also, we felt that it would be important to include brief stories from a number of couples whom we deemed to have deeply committed, “soulful” relationships. We intended to self-publish our book and amid our busy schedules, to take our time doing so.

For months following our Sedona retreat, we formulated a book outline and assigned ourselves separate chapters to write. We also gathered over twenty couples to contribute personal anecdotes and assembled local couples for an orientation. Frankly, we were dragging our feet until being approached by an editor from SkyLight Paths Publishing in August 2013. She and her colleagues had read and really liked the description of our Fall 2013 marriage retreat in the Ghost Ranch, NM catalog. She invited us to submit a proposal, book outline and a couple chapters to SkyLight Paths for consideration. Contract negotiations ensued and soon we were on board for a quickened pace of collaborating with SkyLight Paths editors to produce our “baby.”

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Our book

We elected to independently write some sections of each chapter and then review the other’s work, yet chose to combine on many sections of the book. Neither of us was surprised to soon observe that our writing styles notably differed. Given my years of academic training, I had developed a rather formal, sometimes even pedantic and cumbersome approach to writing. Ruth’s style was more conversational and earthy, yet often, also ethereal. Ruth was quick to request that I simplify my writing and make it more reader-friendly. In turn, I asked Ruth to take some of the cosmic fluff out of her material. Although both us at times became testy or defensive, we each ultimately complied with the other’s guidance. Two SkyLight Paths editors, mainly the one who initially contacted us, collaborated closely with us to refine our chapter submissions. As the process became increasingly smoother, we came to feel like we were dancing together. Devoting many hours each week to writing together evolved into a new form of lovemaking!

We are extremely grateful to the staff of SkyLight Paths, who have been with us every step of the way throughout this year. We greatly respect the staff’s competence and so appreciate their warmth and accessibility.

Now we are turning our attention to a “love fest” book launch party and beginning our book tours with a stint in Philadelphia and Harrisburg, PA. With deep awe, we are celebrating the phenomenal privilege of sharing yet another life purpose. Learn more and order your book today!

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Wake-Up Call

Several nights ago, I was leaning back in my chair, as I often do, beginning to eat my dinner. My wife, Ruth, suggested that I sit up straight to avoid spilling food on my shirt, which I must sheepishly admit that I regularly do. After my next bite of food, I began feeling a bloating sensation that made me stop. During the past three years, I have felt this discomfort an average of every two months or so, but in all but one previous instance, it subsides within a minute or two of sitting still, taking some deep breaths, and using an acupressure tapping procedure that I’m expert in applying. This time, the bloating intensified from my abdomen to my solar plexus to the point that I labored to breathe, could hardly speak, and where I began spitting out long, thick strands of sputum. Sweat appeared on my forehead. No position I got into relieved my symptoms.

After about ten minutes of this distress, I asked Ruth to call 911. When the same syndrome occurred about three years ago, I had also called for paramedics, fearing that I might be having a heart attack. When the EMTs came out at that time, my symptoms soon abated and I declined their suggestion to take me by ambulance to the hospital. On this recent occasion, my symptoms also waned, but not as fully or rapidly. The team Physician Assistant (PA) read my EKG and detected a hint of an abnormality, so he suggested that I go to the ER to be certain that I wasn’t having a heart attack. Again, I was offered an ambulance ride as a precaution.

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I typically trust my intuitions. My strong intuition was that I was experiencing a digestive issue, not any kind of heart disorder, let alone a heart attack. However, to be on the safe side, I had Ruth drive me to the ER. Per my nature, I joked a lot with the doctor and team of nurses as they proceeded to hook me up to an IV, do a chest x-ray, and run enzyme tests. Three hours later, I was informed that all tests were negative. Yet, the staff suggested that I remain in the hospital overnight for observation and take a stress test in the morning.

Without hesitating, I refused the hospital stay and stress test. The strong recommendations that followed included seeing my primary-care physician (PCP) the next day, immediately arranging an outpatient stress test and scheduling an appointment with a gastroenterologist.

I’m a long-term believer in parsimony: an economy of energy-expenditure, resources, expense, etc. I chose to merely visit my PCP the next day. Low-key and non-alarming as she is, my doctor listened attentively to my symptoms, performed a simple exam, and determined that I probably just had a recent buildup of acid in my gut. My doc looked at the EMT PA’s EKG and quickly pointed out that he put in a wrong lead, prompting a false concern. She ruled-out a stress test, told me to avoid a list of foods for a couple of weeks, and said that I’d only need to schedule a gastrointestinal exam if my symptoms returned. I also appreciated her suggestion to eat some digestion-enhancing foods like papaya, ginger and peppermint.

The past few days I have felt a new lease on life, which I’ve celebrated in many ways. I enjoyed an easy ¾-mile swim, dinner and games with several couples, a marriage conference, and large leads-group party, highlighted by three volleyball games.

More importantly, I have had a wake-up call in several key respects. I’ve re-learned not to sweat the small stuff, as in the grand scheme of things, it’s all small stuff! Besides checking my impulse toward agitation, I know that I need to schedule more downtime and relax before and during meals and to savor my food. I have been smug, believing that I could get away with eating an excess of not-so-healthy foods, in addition to my essentially good diet.

Also, I realize that I shouldn’t have ignored the bi-monthly indigestion clues, minor as they seemed, that something was amiss.

We’re all precious and need to treat ourselves as such, including making the most of the limited time we each have on this earth. As for invasive, expensive medical procedures, discernment is definitely in order!

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Tribute to Reb Zalman Schachter-Shalomi

Reb Zalman; photo by Daniel Sieradski via JTA

Reb Zalman; photo by Daniel Sieradski via JTA

 

Last night I wondered about what to write for this week’s blog. Soon my inner guidance said quite discernibly: “Be receptive.” Within an hour, another inner voice emerged that had previously been only a very faint background whisper: “Write a tribute to Reb Zalman.”

For those of you who don’t know (about) this truly remarkable man, I heartily encourage you to learn about him, starting with a Google search. I simply want to briefly laud him without referring specifically to his countless, widespread contributions and works that far transcend his Judaic influence.

During the spring of 1985, knowing very little about Reb Zalman, I attended a weekend dialogue he had with an articulate Congregationalist minister. Having experienced many spiritual teachers, I was highly impressed by the unusual blend of qualities I witnessed throughout the discussion. I found Reb to be brilliant, eloquent and charismatic, as many acclaimed masters are, yet unduly principled, warm, delightful and humble. At one point, greeting Zalman from two feet away, I was awestruck by what appeared to be a tall, slender candle alit in each of his eyes.

Since that most inspirational initial meeting, I have arranged to attend many formal and informal presentations by the Reb and have been in diverse audiences, large and small, in which Zalman prayed, spoke, sang, chanted, and joked, all reflecting his profound soulfulness. I’ve read many of his books over the years and became well acquainted with several of his protégés, one of whom facilitated a spiritual retreat for me.

Although I was never “called” to officially be a student of Reb Zalman, I have always regarded him as an important spiritual teacher for me, as he has been for thousands of others to varying degrees. My wife shares the same sentiments, probably even stronger.

Photo credit: Elephant Journal

Photo credit: Elephant Journal

 

My sense is that Reb Zalman penetrated virtually everyone who met him in at least a couple of these ways:

  • being melted by his genuine warmth, sweetness and unconditional love that were palpable in his countenance alone
  • experiencing the gentle heart of a deer combined with the courage of a fierce warrior
  • witnessing his uncanny gift for bringing heaven to earth in a starkly simple, practical manner, replete with humor and musical mastery
  • reading or hearing his poignant, albeit sometimes rambling, stories and verses
  • marveling at his proclivity for eclectic adventure and his numerous grand innovations
  • observing his unwavering devotion and quietly torrid love of the Divine, while steering clear of dogma

I last saw this extraordinary man interviewed on Skype (he was too tired that day to travel from Boulder to Denver) four months before his death; he was very lucid and still beaming. Although his body has recently died, I anticipate that Reb Zalman’s laser presence and rich teachings will continue to infuse our world for generations to come.

Bless you, humble master!

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Many Breaths of Fresh Air

Jefferson Lake

My wife, Ruth, and I recently returned from a glorious weekend in the mountains that rejuvenated us during the less than 48 hours of our time away. My daughter and her boyfriend hosted us so graciously in the boyfriend’s parents’ mountain cabin located in a remote area about 15 miles south of the tiny town of Jefferson (for those of you familiar with this area). Although we have lived in Colorado for over 40 years (amazingly enough!), we remain in awe of the majestic beauty and grandeur of the mountains. I want to offer several highlights of our weekend in the hopes of refreshing and inspiring you.

  • Taking in the vast expanses of land, surrounded by many shades of lush, verdant green and snowcapped mountains, with a narrow river winding through
  • Meditating on the cabin deck, captivated by leaves on numerous aspen trees, shimmering in the wind
  • Rigorous 4-mile hike around emerald-green Jefferson Lake, exercised by frequent trail ascents and descents
  • Receiving a pontoon boat ride on Jefferson Lake
  • Staring back at two lake woodchucks, one on its hind legs, as they checked us out from a distance of 15 feet
  • Driving by a family of grazing deer
  • Looking wide-eyed through binoculars at a slender black bird with a yellow stripe, red head, and black and red speckles under its wings

Wherever you reside, I really do hope that avail yourself of the limitless mysteries and treasures of nature, which serve as the most reliable bible!

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Shocking Results

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Amid the hustle bustle of daily life, many people claim that they yearn for a brief interlude of solitude. However, a “shocking” University of Virginia research study recently published in the Science journal found that a number of people, especially men, struggle to devote even a short time alone with their thoughts.

Participants in the study were isolated for 6 to 15 minutes during which they were told to simply allow their minds to wander. They weren’t permitted to sleep or to use a cellphone. In some instances, the experimenters suggested that the subjects could rehearse what they wanted to think about when alone. Some even received the recommendation to contemplate pleasant thoughts, such as planning an upcoming vacation. On an average, the 55 participants rated their idle time as a “5″ on a 0-9 scale. A control group, given the option to sit and think or to engage in an activity such as reading or using the Internet, enjoyed their isolation time much more than did the experimental group subjects.

Wondering how people would respond to a radical option to distract themselves from their thoughts, the researchers ultimately offered them the opportunity to press a button to receive a strong electric shock on their ankles. Quite surprisingly, of the 42 subjects who initially indicated they’d be willing to pay $5 to avoid the shock, 67% of the men, as compared to 25% of the women, administered fairly frequent electric shocks–typically about seven–during their allotted alone time. One man shocked himself 190 times!

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Clearly, most of the men were unduly challenged by a relatively brief stint of sitting with their thoughts. Women in our society are more accustomed to self-contact, although they, like their male counterparts, are exposed to burgeoning environmental stimulation. Sophisticated technological devices and the social media blitz increasingly command people’s attention in recent decades.

My experience as a psychologist, meditation instructor, and as a participant in spiritual communities confirms that overall, women are markedly more comfortable with introspection, meditation and emotional focus than are men. However, results of The University of Virginia study suggested that even a notable number of women sought  aversive electrical shocks in an effort to bypass their thought patterns.

Is it any wonder that disorders such as ADD and ADHD have become so prevalent in our culture?

Reference:

Wilson, Timothy et al. Science 4, July 2014. Vol. 345, no. 6192, pp. 75-77.

 

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A Triumphant Milestone!

 

Each low on energy from several days of a nagging cold, yesterday my wife, Ruth, and I attended the Bar Mitzvah of a boy adopted two years ago (at age 11) by his aunt and uncle. Although we have known the family for about eight years and attended the Bar Mitzvahs of the two biological sons, we had never before met “Mark”. Like most of the guests who attended the affair, we were blown away! In fact, I have never been more moved by a Bar or Bat Mitzvah–and I’ve partaken in well over a hundred of them.

 

What I witnessed was a handsome, bright-eyed young boy brimming with confidence and beaming with joyful presence. He fluently and passionately chanted in Hebrew, with barely a hesitation or mistake, the entire afternoon and evening services, and the culminating Havdalah service. If that wasn’t enough, Mark sang two traditional, festive Jewish songs from stage during the celebration that followed. He graciously and very personally greeted his many guests, myself included.What has this kid accomplished? Check out this list for starters:

  • middle school honor student with a burning curiosity and an insatiable thirst for knowledge
  • trumpet player and theatrical performer
  • has played on community and/or school baseball, basketball and football teams
  • skis and enjoys outdoor adventure activities, e.g. river rafting and camping
  • (for me, most important: a discernibly sterling character)
Now for the really amazing parts. Before moving from Kansas to Colorado, Mark had only been to a synagogue on two occasions. He ate ham sandwiches. Now he regularly attends religious services, practices speaking Hebrew at home, keeps kosher and has joined a synagogue youth group. In conjunction with his Bar Mitzvah, Mark and his family have offered regular support to a Bhutanese refugee family who have settled in Denver to escape genocide in their country.

 

I’ve saved the most touching details for last. The parents of this extraordinary youth were chronic drug abusers. Mark’s mother divorced his father shortly after he contracted a brain tumor and proceeded to abandon her only child. Despite his terminal condition, Mark’s devoted dad was determined to teach his son as much as he could by the time Mark was six years old. The dad was graced with five years of life beyond that and spent many forms of quality time with his son.I also offer high praise to Mark’s aunt, uncle and young men cousins whose love and strong dedication to Mark’s overall well-being are extremely apparent.

Ruth and I really enjoyed the dinner and festivities, which we felt were elegant, yet tastefully done. Mark’s aunt constructed a tear-jerking slide show of her nephew’s life from birth to present.

The men’s anthology that I compiled and edited in 2011, Ordinary Men, Extraordinary Lives: Defining Moments, contains stories of men (and a couple of late teenage boys) who transformed their lives following adversity or major challenges. I would have been most honored to have included Mark’s life story in the book!

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Men’s Compromised Health

So often in my private practice I encounter a male client who has not had a physical examination for over two years, sometimes for as long as ten years. This form of self-neglect is of particular concern regarding guys who have a known medical condition and with those, for example, who are injured, obese, have high blood pressure and/or experience high levels of stress on a regular basis.The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that U.S. women are 100% more likely than men to schedule annual preventative exams.

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According to the National Center for Health Statistics, men have higher death rates from major disorders such as cancer, heart disease and diabetes. On the whole, guys also are more likely than women to be substance abusers and workaholics, and have a much higher incidence of suicide.

Given these kinds of serious concerns, Senator Bob Dole and Congressman Bill Richardson sponsored legislation 20 years ago to establish National Men’s Health Week around Father’s Day each year. President Bill Clinton signed the bill in 1994. To mark the 20th anniversary of this week dedicated to advancing male health awareness, numerous events were held around the country. Encouraged by the Men’s Health Network, health-oriented activities were promoted by various health care professionals, community groups, private industry and religious organizations. These efforts were designed to encourage men to develop a healthier lifestyle and to understand the importance of early detection of physical issues that could ultimately reduce the rate of mortality from disease. Wives, girlfriends, children and employers may also encourage (without nagging) guys to schedule a check-up.

In recent decades, several viable alternatives to allopathic medical care have become more credible and popular, such as acupuncture, naturopathic medicine and chiropractic.

Perhaps with greater attention to upgrading our health, we men may also reduce the longevity gap, as on average, women live several years longer than men. Furthermore, by consistently adapting favorable health practices, guys may enjoy a life of enhanced overall well-being:  increased physical, emotional mental and spirituality vitality, as well as better sexual performance with more satisfaction.

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