A Dialogue between Don and “Joey”
Joey: You said in one of your blog posts that stress is mostly “fearful thinking that stirs up a perception of threat, often where no real threat exists.” Right?
Don Joseph Goewey: Right.
Joey: Well, that’s all fine and good, but I am barely making it in the world. I have lost my job and don’t know if I will be able to keep my house. I don’t even know in this economy if I will ever be able to find work. Isn’t that a REAL threat, a REAL danger? And if so, then this book or work won’t really help me. Right?
Don: The approach in the book can help you, especially with the situation you described. But first let me say that my heart goes out to you. I understand how you feel. I’ve been there. Years ago, I had a high powered job at Stanford Medical School. I had worked hard, climbing the career ladder and thought I was headed for even greater things. Then one day the world came crashing down on me. My boss and I didn’t see eye to eye and I got fired. Nine days later I was diagnosed with a brain tumor. I was married with four children and I had a high mortgage payment that unemployment insurance or disability couldn’t possibly cover.
Don: Yes. The doctors told me to prepare for a paralyzed face, being half deaf, and using a walker to navigate across the room. I thought at that time: Who is going to hire an executive who staggers into the interview on a walker, speaks out of a half frozen face that drools, and has to ask “What?” a lot because he can’t hear that well. Especially, a guy who had just been fired. All the signs said “You and your family are doomed. You’re all headed for the poor house.”
To make matters worse, my marriage, which was already in trouble, was falling apart. All the stress and fear just widened the cracks that were already there. I have never felt more lost and more alone and more afraid and more stressed than at that time of my life.
Joey: So how did this thing you call Mystic Cool help?
Don: I had a kind of awakening. It was a moment of epiphany at that dark hour of my life. I described the event in my book. The short version is that I saw with clarity that the extreme stress I was experiencing had more to do with the way I was seeing things through fearful eyes than anything happening to me. It was like my eyes were wired back to some part of my brain that was locked into fight of flight. It made fearful eyes that saw a threatening world. And I felt the damage this way of seeing was doing to me: to my brain, my body, my career, my relationships — to my entire existence.
Joey: I think I know what you mean. It’s the trouble caused by a troubled mind.
Don: Yes, well put. I think it’s how a troubled past and probably some bad genes wire the brain for fear. Because of it, I couldn’t perform well, I couldn’t see opportunities that were there or make the moves I should have been making, or even face the handwriting that was on the wall. I was too afraid to look. I felt lousy physically. I was fatigued and lackluster. I couldn’t sleep. It seemed that when I wasn’t angry, I was depressed. My relationships were strained because I was hard to be around. I felt like a victim and victims are not good company.
All these negatives were indications that stress and fear had taken control of my brain. Then, in the middle of a kind of breakdown, I saw it all with penetrating clarity. I saw that the cause of my stress and fear was internal not external. It was something that was happening in me, far more than something that was happening to me. As I said, I saw that the stress and fear I was experiencing was a choice.
Joey: How did seeing all that help you?
Don: Because I also saw with absolute clarity that peace was also a choice. It was the choice I was not making. I discovered that I could actually choose to be at peace even in the middle of all these hard circumstances. As I did, I discovered that peace made me powerful. It made me larger than what was happening to me. Peace gave me that “calm under siege.” It also opened the door to that mystical zone that athletes, artists and scientists talk about, where we gained the clarity, insight and joy that enables us to excel. I saw that peace was the polar opposite of stress. Time disappears. Intelligence flows. It’s like the dots connect themselves. Peace gave me that power, and I began to think that peace was powerful enough to change all the dire circumstances I faced.
Joey: Did you?
Don: Yes, it was the change that changed everything in my life. I was finding out, in real life terms, that what Plutarch said two thousand years ago was 100% correct: Plutrach said that what we achieve inwardly changes outer reality. The surgery was a huge success with none of the disability that was predicted. I got my job back or actually I was offered a better job in the medical school. My wife and I divorced but it was for the best. These outcomes were all related to my shift in attitude.
Joey: Do you think attitude makes a difference in what actually happens? I find that hard to believe.
Don: It’s more than an opinion, Joey. Science has laid to rest any doubts about the power of attitude. The motivational posters are right: attitude is everything. In my book I lay out the research that supports that statement. Eventually, I left Stanford and started to work with people facing some of the most stressful situations any of us will ever face — from people faced with life threatening illnesses, to parents who had lost children, to inmates at San Quentin, to refugees of the Bosnian War who had lost everything. Together, we taught each other how to transcend stress by letting go of fear and to live from the powerful heart and mind that builds a dynamic attitude. It’s the attitude all the saints and entrepreneurs tell us about … the attitude that can achieve the miraculous in this world, even in the face of dire circumstances.
Joey: Well, maybe you just got lucky.
Don: My experience tells me that looking at life through the fearless self-confidence of peace, instead of the stressful self-doubt of fear is what brings you “luck.” The great American psychiatrist, Karl Menninger, said “Attitude is more important than facts.” Viktor Frankl, the father of Existential Psychology, is living proof of that. He was a Holocaust survivor. It doesn’t get worse than Auschwitz. He said it was attitude that often determined who survived that horror and who didn’t. “The last of human freedoms,” he said, “is to choose one’s attitude in any given circumstance.” Frankl said that attitude gives us the power to make a victory of difficult circumstances, turning life into an inner triumph. He said that even in the face of the Na
zi’s brutality and deprivation it was possible for one’s spiritual life to deepen.
Frankl scolded people who viewed him and other Holocaust survivors as special. He wanted us to understand his life as a demonstration of what is potential in all of us. He understood that we’re all capable of living an attitude that makes us larger than what’s happening to us.
Joey: Yes, but isn’t it hard to be peaceful in the middle of things falling apart?
Don: Sometimes it is. At times, life seems to go to hell in a hand basket. We can restore our peace of mind at those times with compassion for ourselves and maybe a little humor. It’s not about being perfect. Perfectionism is Type-A behavior after all. It can give you a heart attack. We need to keep remembering that a bad day doesn’t change the fact that a dynamically peaceful attitude makes us powerful.
If we have a bad day we can remember the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson. He said this:
Finish each day and be done with it. You have done what you could. Some blunders and absurdities no doubt crept in; forget them as soon as you can. Tomorrow is a new day; begin it well and serenely, with too high a spirit to be encumbered with your old nonsense. This day is all that is good and fair. It is too dear, with its hopes and invitations, to waste a moment on yesterdays.
If everyday things are a little better, a little more harmonious, a little more health giving and joyous; if each day we are expressing more life, we are going in the right direction. That’s all we need to know.
Joey: You make it sound so simple.
Don: Mercifully, growing inner peace couldn’t be simpler. We just got to want it enough to practice it enough to show us how sweet peace makes our life. Then the motivation to build on it grows exponentially. Nothing is more motivating than positive results and there is no more positive result than inner peace. It’s pure power, we just don’t get it. But we can. When you find that freedom, you become the most powerful person on Earth.
Joey: So that is what Mystic Cool delivers?
Don: Yes. It provides the proof that neurologically, biologically, psychologically and spiritually what’s in you is much larger than the problem that’s happening to you. The aim of my book is to give the reader a way to experience and then live from that powerful attitude.
Mystic Cool is about going through a difficult time without fear, without torturing yourself with fearful brain storms. It’s even downsizing your life if you have to, and still have peace in your heart and joy in your attitude. It’s learning, from experience, how peace lights up the brain to release the genius that only you possess so it can flow into the joy of excelling. When it does, you can move mountains. Mystic Cool is about bringing on that ordinary genius to serve you, not just now and then, but every day. Not just when times are good but also when times are tough.
Joey: And you think I’m capable of that.
Don: You are capable of that, Joey. Everyone is. No question about it, except when we’re afraid and stressed.