Sunday, January 8, 2017

The Monk and the Mensch

I first heard about Phil Stutz and Barry Michels on NPR. This was shortly after the publication of a profile of Barry in The New Yorker in 2011. You can read the article here:

I related immediately to Phil's impetus for creating techniques for therapy called The Tools: the frustration therapists feel when they (we) have competently formulated the combination of genetics and experiences that have created the human in front of us and they (we) have no earthly idea how to help. I awaited their book with great hope for the future of my life and my practice.

And then in 2012 it appeared: The Tools: 5 Tools to Help You Find Courage, Creativity, and Willpower - and Inspire You to Live Life in Forward Motion. I devoured it. You can buy the book here:

Then in 2014 I participated in a weekend seminar with Phil and Barry at the Omega Institute in Rhinebeck NY, and in 2015 and 2016 a weeklong seminar. I use at least one of the tools every day. In fact, I am using the tool called Reversal of Desire right now to keep me writing. (More later.)

You may be familiar with cognitive behavioral therapy: if you change your maladaptive thoughts and destructive behaviors, other psychological symptoms like depressed mood or binge eating will abate. This approach has always left me cold. Where's the affect, the feeling? And can something like depression really be reduced to thoughts and behaviors? I don't doubt that CBT has been effective for people, but I could never seem to present it to a patient with confidence.

The Tools integrate feelings into a model that also includes thoughts and behaviors. Key elements of the model are the True Self, the Shadow and Part X. And the entry point to change is feeling, which has always seemed to me the right place in the gears to stick your fingers if you want to stir things up.

So this essay is a brief introduction to The Tools and their creators, as well as an endorsement from me to use them. I often work with patients who struggle with weight loss, many of whom have had bariatric surgery. Tools, especially Reversal of Desire and Inner Authority, are now an indispensable part of my work with these individuals.

Phil Stutz is from NYC and he has the attitude and the accent to prove it. Phil doesn't seem impressed with anyone or anything. He doesn't get distracted from his message by the trappings of success.

Phil tells a story about an early presentation he was giving about The Tools. He was so nervous he wrote his entire presentation on note cards and proceeded to read the text off the cards. The room was dead. (I've always wondered why everyone didn't leave at the break, but they must have sensed something valuable.) Anyway, during said break, Phil had a visit from his Shadow who rallied to his aid. As you can guess, the post-break presentation was a huge hit.

Phil and Barry taught me about the Shadow, first articulated by Carl Jung, whose ideas have less traction these days and were not part of any psychology curriculum of mine. Your Shadow is every part of you that you want to ignore, deny or disown, that you are ashamed of or afraid of, that you desperately try to hide. But you know it's there in all its despicable glory.

The energy we spend keeping our Shadows hidden could, if channeled productively, solve a whole lot of problems that seem intractable. And, beyond just energy, the acceptance and integration of the bad stuff makes us whole persons. A tool called Inner Authority aims to reunite the Shadow with our everyday self, the one we think is acceptable and presentable.

I noticed just yesterday what an enormous difference this tool has made in my work as a therapist: a patient who used to terrify me is now engaged in treatment at a whole new level. I use Inner Authority before and during every session with this person.

Phil says Barry Michels has used the tools more diligently than anyone else. Barry is the polished foil to Phil's ascetic. Phil and Barry present an answer to a question I've been asked many times as a therapist: If I really want to lose weight - AND I DO - why do I keep overeating and avoiding the gym? Any of this sound familiar:

Good You: I'm going to have an orange now.
Bad You: But I really feel like having cake.
Good You: Oh, no, I shouldn't eat cake.
Bad You: Oh, just this once won't hurt. Besides, I worked out this morning.
Good You: No, I don't want the sugar train to carry me away. No cake!
Bad You: Just a little piece!

For "cake," substitute "work," "exercise," "writing," "socializing," ANYTHING. Does it ever feel you have an inner saboteur? Of course, it does, at least when it comes to anything that's important to you or that requires discipline. I admit I do not have an inner saboteur about brushing my teeth, but flossing is another matter altogether.

Phil has a name for Bad You: Part X. Part X will use EVERY trick in the book to throw you off track from EVERYTHING. Part X is a big powerful machine with a 1-word vocabulary: "NO!"

True Self: Time to get up!
Part X: I don't want to!

True Self: Time to go to work!
Part X: I don't want to!

True Self: Time to finish the blog post!
Part X: I don't want to!

The bad news is that Part X is never going away. The good news is there's a tool to help quiet it so you can act the way Good You, or your True Self, knows you want to. The Tool is called the Reversal of Desire. If (almost) everything worthwhile in life results from hard work, sacrifice and pain, why do we always shrink away from pain? Logically, we should regard pain as a sign that we are on the road to a magnificent outcome. But we don't.

Reversal of Desire trains your mind to flip your opinion of pain from undesirable to desirable. (I mean, we're not talking about the pain of a migraine headache here. Rather, it's the pain of pushing yourself out of your comfort zone.)

Phil has a saying: "Work like a bandit and live like a monk." Which I interpret to mean: Push yourself to be uncomfortably creative and don't get hung up on the outcomes. Another teacher of mine put it this way: "Don't get so carried away eating the fruit that you forget to water the tree."

Very many of my patients these days obsess over outcomes. Now, results are fine, even necessary, don't get me wrong. But they are fleeting and don't often bring the inner validation people seek. Much more important is process, the way we live every day.

For example, suppose you go to college. You go to classes, write the papers, take the tests, do everything you're supposed to do. You rack up credits and then you graduate. That's a result. The goal of getting a college degree is finished, it's finite, and no one can take it away from you. But then what?

Then . . . process. And it's all process. Here's what I struggle to communicate to my patients: There's no goal to life. There's just your life. You may accomplish some goals during the course of your life, but there's no goal to life itself. There's just living.

There used to be a saying: "He who dies with the most toys wins." I always heard it as mocking materialism but a lot of people took it seriously. I feel really sorry for them. Whenever I need some encouragement I reread the part of the book about being a consumer versus being a creator (see page 204 of The Tools).

Well, I could go on for a long time. Go read the book and start using The Tools, at the very least Reversal of Desire. Start putting Part X in its place: the back of your mind, not the front. Live the life you know you want to live.

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