A Personal Note
Like many people, I didn’t know when I was growing up what might be the best methods for dealing with tough situations. There were a number of challenging moments during my early years that definitely were beyond what I knew how to handle.
For example, I began to realize at a young age that there was a cloud of lingering pain and fear in my family. My European-born father had barely survived the Holocaust and he lost most of his relatives in the concentration camps. We tried not to bring up the past because we could sense how much pain it caused my hard-working father. But sometimes at the dinner table when I didn’t finish all my vegetables, I would be told that I was “letting down the six million who died.” Only later did I fully understand the impact of those words—that somehow any slip-up on my part might unintentionally dishonor the millions of souls who had perished during those nightmarish years.
My mother was born in the United States, in a more secure situation, but when I was ten years old she was diagnosed with cancer and she spent the next four years dealing with brutal chemotherapy side-effects, intense mood swings, and progressively declining health until she died when I was fourteen.
My mom was only 46—a highly-intelligent woman who never got the chance to live her dreams. It was so clear at every family gathering from then on that each of her loved ones (especially her parents, her widowed husband, her siblings, and my sister and I) felt devastated to lose her.
Not knowing how to successfully process these and many other painful dilemmas during my early years, I found that I had acquired by the time I reached 23 years old a variety of physical symptoms and internal distress. Since I’m a guy (and guys are not supposed to ask for help or directions, even when they feel a bit lost), I thought I should just keep it all inside and keep plugging away at life. But I realized in my mid-20’s that my first long-term relationship was not going well and my first choice of career had turned out to be somewhat of a detour from my deeper calling.
I remember waking up one morning at the age of 24 and wondering, “Is this how it’s going to be from now on—a life of inner agitation, painful disappointments, and just going through the motions without much joy or sense of purpose? Or is there another way?”
That was the year when I began to search for and put into practice some of the resilience methods and refocusing techniques that eventually turned my life around. I learned about and tested in real-life situations numerous possible methods before I began to rely on a few extremely effective tools that have worked consistently whenever I remembered to use them immediately in the middle of a tough situation.
I am extremely thankful that I’ve had the chance to learn from many compassionate and wise women and men on what works and what doesn’t work for becoming much healthier and more fully alive even during tough days and stressful weeks. I am still seeking and learning. But every day of my life I am grateful to have found some highly-useful tools for dealing far more effectively with the stresses that still arise in my career, my family responsibilities, several volunteer activities, and being a constantly involved parent of a vulnerable child with special needs whom I love dearly.
Once I realized that these particular, easy-to-learn tools worked consistently in my own life, I began to offer them to some of my counseling clients who expressed an interest in alternative methods for dealing with stress and overload. The seven tools you will learn in the seven chapters of this book have already helped thousands of women and men I have counseled since I became a licensed psychologist in my mid-30’s and when I later studied to become a spiritual direction mentor in my mid-40’s.
I can’t name names, but I can tell you that the creative and smart women and men who were referred to me for counseling sessions and who have tested out these particular methods as a result of our one-on-one confidential conversations included:
- numerous rabbis, cantors, pastoral counselors and adult education teachers from a variety of denominations who wanted to learn more about how to combine psychology and spirituality for dealing with stress and overload.
- spouses and children of clergy who wanted to find creative ways to deal with the pressures of living in a fish bowl.
- many individuals who were moderately or strongly religious or spiritual, and who wanted to learn alternative methods for dealing with tough situations and busy schedules.
- a number of women and men who would not call themselves religious or spiritual, because they had felt alienated from organized religion, but they were still a bit curious about a non-judgmental spiritual approach that wasn’t dogmatic or rigid.
Each of these individuals has given me feedback on which tools they found most effective and which methods were easiest to utilize during life’s most stressful moments. I appreciate how honest and genuine my diverse counseling clients have been at teaching me which methods work beautifully and which methods need to be discarded from the menu of choices.