Sunday, January 01, 2017

Saved A Good One for My Last Read of 2016


Soar Above:
How to Use the Most Profound Part of Your Brain Under Any Kind of Stress
Author: Steven Stosny, PhD
Publisher: Health Communications Inc., Deerfield Beach, Florida, 2016                                                                     

I agreed to read this book thinking it would help me in stressful emergency situations. You know, times when you’re camping and you hear a bear sniffing around outside your tent, or when a gang of three attacks you on a dark street, or when . . .you get the idea. But instead this presents us with a whole way of living a less stressful life all the time and soaring way above the mundane circumstances we all face in our daily interactions. Steven Stosny has a wealth of experience in this field and knows his stuff.
He starts off telling us the three questions he intends to answer:

1. Why do smart and creative people make the same mistakes over and over again, in life, work, and love?
2. At what point does the unavoidable emotional pain of life become entirely avoidable suffering?
3. How do we escape suffering while remaining vibrant and passionate about life?
Then he proceeds to hit the answers “out of the park”.  He very carefully walks us through the process he recommends.  What comes to mind is “baby steps” as some of us remember the expression from that much-enjoyed 1991 movie called “What About Bob?” and starring Bill Murray and Richard Dreyfuss. And they’re crucial to our understanding and using the process he recommends.
Stosny reminds us of the unique need of humans to balance two drives – that of autonomy and connectivity. Using the development of our Toddler and Adult brains, he explains how some of us learn to do just that while others never quite master it.
The author also has a lot of time for the role of ‘values’ in our development and maturity, and that includes the value we place on ourselves.
The book contains numerous insights that we can all use in our lives as he shares with us some real examples from his counselling clients. Stosny writes, “I had to show him how to appreciate whatever rainbow he found, and, in a real sense, to become the rainbow. As T.S. Eliot would have it, you become the music while the music lasts. In marriage, for instance, if you do not become the love, the love will not last.”
He introduces us to “Toddler brain reactaholism” as the number-one addiction of our times, and then adds, “The other addictions tend to start as attempts to ease the chronic powerlessness and frequent ill feelings of reactaholism.”
We learn more about emotion, pain, healing, improving, repairing, and suffering which he defines as the result of pain intensifying and generalizing over time. One of my favorite sections in the book is the material on “Feeling Powerful vs. Being Powerful”.  That is excellently explained and it is in this section that he spends considerable time helping us understand the behavior of real toddlers – making this book great for young parents as well. Immediately after that, we are introduced to a bad dude – namely ‘blame’. Stosny says in life, we must choose between blaming and solving problems, because we cannot do both at the same time.  Understand that, believe it, and act on it, and the book has paid for itself.  Here’s another gem: “Blame-driven resentment makes you wrong, even if you’re right.” Enough said on that, but if you want more read what he has to say about anger (the sole purpose of which is to prepare us to ‘fight’) and anxiety for they are related.  Another gem: “If you wouldn’t drive a car designed by a toddler, don’t use coping mechanisms designed by a toddler.” Finally, you’ll want to find out why we sometimes react to a jerk like a jerk (his words).
The rest of the book focuses on how to turn Toddler brain feelings into Adult brain values; identifying Adult brain habits; and how radical self-value breeds radical value of others – at which point he gives us another one of my favorite gems from the book: “If you believe in the essential equality of all people, based on your most humane of values, you’ll never meet anyone superior to you.” Or put in my own words, there really won’t be people out there you’ll label as “deplorables”.
Another chapter tells us how to be happy (although I’m not so sure he’s got the whole answer although he has some good ideas on the subject). There’s a chapter introducing us to the “Web of Emotion” where we learn that everything we do makes the world better or worse. He talks about the advantage of association based on being “for” something vs. those that are based on being “against” something (well worth the read).
He ends the book charging us to build a “web of compassion and kindness” explaining each term very carefully, including what they are not.  The book ends with a series of exercises on how to begin and maintain what Stosny hopes he has communicated. For me, just the big “ideas” were sufficient to make it all worthwhile – and I found them easy to integrate into my own very complex life.  I’m sure you will too.

·      Ken B. Godevenos, President, Accord Resolutions Services Inc., Toronto, Ontario, December 31, 2016.

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