Writing :: Humor/Entertainment
The Wisdom of Dr. Jeffrey Gladstone- page 3
OTHER PAST LIVES:
You were a wandering minstrel.
You were a Labrador retriever named Sooty Cinders from Straw Hollow
and you lived in Amber Valley, Vermont, at the turn of the century.
This is your first life. Sorry. Total blank from the past.
You were Joseph Kennedy’s father in Ireland.
I believe that you studied biophysics in Eastern Europe in the early
1800s, but soon gave that up and became a bouncer at a bistro in Paris.
You invented wallpaper.
G: You were a leopard in Samoa, but you were eaten by a tribesman who
mistook you for his cousin, whom he detested violently. That tribesman
was known for his progressive myopia and lived in ridicule for mistaking
a leopard for his cousin, who was clearly pear-shaped.
You ate with your hands too much in your past life.
Then Gladstone went on to expound about the way people can make changes
in their lives:
G: I would like to impart some wisdom on how people can change when
they have run aground – when self-control has totally failed. I
believe that in any situation where people react compulsively – they
might argue, or overeat, or eat shaving cream – there is a key
moment of choice. Maybe just for a second, when you look back on it,
you see some alternatives. For example, if someone says to you, "You
are a disgusting and malignant tumor on the body of humankind," perhaps
your tendency is to become instantly enraged and to engulf your tormentor
into a Bruno Sammartino half-nelson, all but choking the life breath
out of him or her. Now wouldn’t you like to be able to restrain
yourself, so that this remark might only engender a slight balling of
the fists and perhaps cause you to raise your eyes skyward, while whistling
the Canadian national anthem? Wouldn’t you like to have a choice?
Or course you would. The trick is to focus on another avenue of sensory
information at the moment of impulse. If the person’s words are
triggering your normal reaction, look immediately at his or her chin:
is it single or double or even multiple? Stare intently at the chin while
he or she is speaking. Then you will discover that there are other plans
of action, the best of which might well be "My God, your chin is
ugly!" of "Did you know you have a wart under your second chin?"
G: You know Harry, it is quite important to change your attitude toward
mistakes. One way to do this is to imagine a broad context in which your
mistakes are not problematic. For example, if you are having an allergic
attack at a wedding and are sneezing quite violently and with great frequency,
you might feel ill at ease and wish everyone would stop looking at you.
But the trick is to immediately broaden the context – you could
imagine that the entire scene is taking place on 5th Avenue in New York
City. There are riveters behind you breaking through the sidewalk. There
are muggers grabbing the bouquet. Dogs are sullying the grounds. Cars
are honking their horns, people are screaming obscenities of every conceivable
variety to each other, and a lone unshaven man is talking to himself
about the Vikings and the return of Leif Erikson. Then your sneezing
is a drop in the bucket, barely perceptible. Now of course, we know that
we cannot order up such a scene a la Fantasy Island. But by merely imagining
it, we will relax our bodies to the point where the allergic shock will
cease to bother us: we will not tense up against it and unwittingly prolong
it. And we will have a beatific smile on our faces as we go through this
entire process. Probably the vibes we give off will be so good that everyone
will feel warmed in spite of the sneezing. Maybe years later, the bride
and groom will refer back to this even and smile gently to each other: "Remember
when Dr. Jeffrey lost control at the wedding? I don’t know why,
but it made me feel so special." Perhaps this will create a new
phenomenon -- guest sneezers at all weddings. After all, this is how
the creative process works: out of the ashes of obnoxious blunders come
S: And I understand that you have done a lot of work in the area of
creativity. Can you comment on some of your more profound insights so
that people can understand how they can become more creative.
G: Hi Harry, good to be here. You look at me quizzically as if that
remark was a non-sequitur. But this is a partial answer to you query.
I was experiencing a newness in talking with you, so I let it out by
telling you "good to be here". That is the first key to becoming
more creative: express yourself even if you might appear a bit peculiar.
S: (chuckling) Glad to have you, Dr. Jeffrey. Continue.
G: Thank you Harry. Good to be here. Becoming more creative requires
that you alter the sequence of your actions to shake things up. Then
you select new behaviors from the disruption that you have caused. I
S: Please do.
G: For example, we tend to fall into fixed sequences of focusing when
we are involved in a particular activity. Suppose I am a personnel officer
at a large holding company involving the importing of porcelain vases
from the Ming and Ping dynasties. Perhaps I have the following rigid
pattern of shifting my attention: when I interview somebody, I might
begin by noticing my visceral reactions (perhaps I have butterflies in
the stomach, or a mild gastroenteritis induced by yesterday’s Pizza
Hut binge) and then shifting to gazing at the client (looking to see
if he or she has translucent skin or counting the number of chins he
or she has) and then asking a routine question (What is your name? Your
sun sign?) to an abstract one (when else have you felt this way?); you
might find yourself periodically going from one friendly questioning
(do you enjoy erotic shows?) to inquisitive and probing questioning (was
your mother grossly overweight?). To become more creative, you must vary
the sequence of maneuvers – this will open you up to more imaginative
possibilities. For instance, you might now begin with an inquisitive
question such as "Did your father spit his chewing tobacco on you
when you were four years old, thus accounting for your obvious fear of
men?" and then ask "What is your name?", finally looking
at the person meaningfully, gazing at their chins, counting them out
loud in French or Spanish, You will then begin to think of creative responses:
the right things to say will come to you.
Another key is to maintain the balance between similarities and differences:
you want to see where a certain experience is similar in structure to
others and also probe its uniqueness. Let me illustrate how you can come
up with creative responses to people who complain about life. Suppose
a friend tells you that his wife has divorced him, that he has lost his
job, that his car was stolen, and that his left leg might have to be
amputated to reduce his stress level. First you listen attentively and
indicate how unusual all this is, acknowledging it with statements like "My
God, that is a hideous configuration of conspiratorial events whose sheer
weight must make you feel as if you were buried under an overwhelming
mound of excrement" and "There is no justice in the world;
you are the victim of the most heinous combination of circumstances imaginable
to anyone with an IQ of over 43." But then you must prevent this
individual from feeling too isolated in his pain and start to stress
the similarities: "On one level, this is similar to what I went
through last month when my wife and I argued about how much to pay the
babysitter. The argument, if extended to its logical limit, would have
clearly resulted in divorce; and you know what else? I saw one of my
neighbors drooling over my new Trans-Am – I knew that if he lacked
proper self-control or wavered for an instant, he would steal my car;
and yesterday, I had this muscle spasm in my left leg; I bet that if
I had given in to it, I might have fallen down the stairs and required
an immediate amputation. So I know what you’re going through."
G: You can also fantasize additional differences. In this situation,
you can come up with "You could be even worse off. You could be
losing both your legs. Or your wife could have shot you. Or the car could
have exploded with you in it." In this way, you are providing your
friend with a broader context. But this is very sensitive stuff. Sometimes,
you just have to guess what to do. For instance, if someone arrives at
your house and within two minutes, begins weeping hysterically, clinging
to your sports jacket and screaming "My kids are driving me nuts;
they always fight", you can respond in two different creative ways
-- you can superemphasize the similarities by saying that "mine
do too; let’s glue all our kids together with crazy glue and make
them work out their problems while we go off on a Caribbean vacation
of indeterminate length." Or you can overemphasize the differences
by remarking that "Yes, they are the worst children the world has
ever seen; what a burden on you to have them; they fight like wild cheetahs;
my advice to you is to threaten them with biurnal enemas."
S: That is fascinating. Earlier when we were talking during the commercial
break, you mentioned that you had discovered ways to open up people’s
G: Hi Harry, good to be here. That is quite correct. I believe that
you can learn to become more creative if you discover the edge of ambiguity
and let your perceptions bounce feely on either side of it. Allow me
S: Please do, Dr. Jeffrey.
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