Lifestyle factors complicate counselling and therapy assessments

Blog Post No. 174

By Dr Jim Byrne

8th September 2018

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Dr Jim’s Blog: “What’s wrong with my counselling client?” Lifestyle factors complicate counselling-psychological assessments…

 Copyright (c) Jim Byrne, September 2018

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Introduction

Emotions-and-survivalMany of the human tragedies that clients bring to our counselling and psychology consulting rooms have pure social-psychological roots. These include:

– childhood abuse or neglect;

– traumatic experiences later on;

– stress and strain of difficult lives;

– relationship problems;

– and the normal human responses to losses, failures, threats, dangers, frustrations and insults; and so on.

We also see our fair share of

– attachment problems;

– personality distortions (or mal-adaptations to parents and others);

– and retreats from an intolerable reality.

New complications

DrJimCounselling002But all of this is now complicated by the existence of

– widespread consumption of junk food;

– disruption of normal sleep patterns by economic stress and new technologies which destroy melatonin;

– plus adoration of sedentary lifestyles;

– and various other lifestyle factors that

# precipitate problems of anger, anxiety and/or depression, in their own right; or

# magnify emotional disturbances that have psychological roots.

Body-and-mind

Because of this changed reality, which has come upon us in the past couple of decades, in the main, we now need to be able to spot the contribution of lifestyle factors to emotional and behavioural disturbances which may or may not be otherwise psycho social in origin.

SOR-model3

Our solution

The Lifestyle Counselling Book

We have done a lot of research on the multiple sources of human disturbance; and compiled that in a book, titled Lifestyle Counselling and Coaching for the Whole Person: Or how to integrate nutritional insights, exercise and sleep coaching into talk therapy.

We have also written a page of information about these Lifestyle Counselling problems, abstracted from our book, which you can find by clicking the following link: https://abc-counselling.org/counselling-the-whole-person/

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This book, like all our other books, is available via Amazon outlets, all over the world, as both a high quality paperback and as a downloadable Kindle eBook.

A Kindle dBooks imagePS: If you want to see the kind of range of ideas that I write about, please go to Books about Emotive-Cognitive Therapy (E-CENT).***

That’s all for today.

Best wishes,

Jim

 

Dr Jim Byrne, Doctor of Counselling

ABC Coaching and Counselling Services

jim.byrne@abc-counselling.com

Telephone: 44 1422 843 629

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Writing therapy and business success

Blog Post No. 172

By Dr Jim Byrne

8th September 2018

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Dr Jim’s Blog: How to use Writing Therapy for business success

Copyright (c) Jim Byrne, September 2018

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Introduction

Jim.Nata.Couples.pg.jpg.w300h245 (1)Every day, I discover some new problem that I have to solve, for important, self-defined reasons.

No matter how many problems I solve, I still find new challenges to grapple with.

This is our human nature.  We are problem-finding and problem-solving creatures.  We move forward in life by wrestling with difficulties.

If we do not wrestle with difficulties, we get stuck at some unsatisfactory point along our path through life.

Navigating the turbulent seas of stressful life

Man-writing3My Writing Journal is my *anchor* and *compass* in the turbulent seas of life. At least when it comes to processing my negative experiences.

For example, yesterday I was feeling quite unhappy because one of my major goals was not being achieved to any significant degree. Nothing I did seemed to shift my unhappiness about that sense of stuckness.  To be clear, it was a goal about business success…

I had worked hard to define that goal, and to work out a detailed action plan.  But progress was so far below par that I felt greatly discouraged.

Writing Theapy book coverSo I sat at my desk with my journal, and reminded myself of the writing therapy processes that I have written about in my book, which are designed to help in this kind of situation. I used the section on self-management skills, and pretty soon I had identified something that I can do to maximize my chances of achieving the goal in question.

Pursuing business goals

On this particular occasion, I was concerned about a business goal, and so I made a commitment to write it in my journal every morning, and then to review progress against that goal, also in my journal, at the end of every day.

I was also remained of the very important principle that “success cannot be pursued”.  Success, like happiness, is something that happens as a by-product of following your conscience in doing your life’s work.   So I began to write about my life’s work, and how to pursue some elements of that today, and not how to translate that into material success!

As I wrote, the *writing therapy process* itself began to resolve things, and throw up new ideas.  I now have a daily strategy to follow which should take care of the problem for me; and if it does not; then I can go back to the ‘drawing board’ (or writing therapy journal) and do some more work on this problem.

Conclusion

My book on Writing Therapy teaches these points (among the more than 20 strategies I include); and also the principle that you have to “think on paper” – (or *perceive-feel-think* on paper) – otherwise you will get washed out into the turbulent sea by the stressful waves of life, and lose your connection to your anchor in life (which should be your life’s work, dictated by your conscience!).

Draft cover jimnearfinal (2)

For more on this approach to living consciously, please take a look at the page of information on the subject of *How to Write a New Life for Yourself*, by clicking this link: https://abc-counselling.org/how-to-write-a-new-life-for-yourself/

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A Kindle dBooks imagePS: If you want to see the kind of range of ideas that I write about, please go to Books about Emotive-Cognitive Therapy (E-CENT).***

That’s all for today.

Best wishes,

Jim

 

Dr Jim Byrne, Doctor of Counselling

ABC Coaching and Counselling Services

jim.byrne@abc-counselling.com

Telephone: 44 1422 843 629

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Reading, writing, literature and self-healing

Blog Post No. 168

By Dr Jim Byrne

15th July 2018

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Dr Jim’s Blog: Literature, personal writing of fiction, and therapeutic healing of the heart and mind

Copyright (c) Jim Byrne, July 2018

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Introduction

Call out about LiteratureIndividual Life is a gift, bestowed by Collective Life, upon fragments of Living Stuff.  Life is a rolling floor-show of life living itself!

We come into existence knowing nothing; and guessing what life might be about.  We stumble through childhood, suffering the blows of negative treatment, and savouring the kiss of good fortune.  We float into adolescence with the naiveté of a baby encountering its first crocodile! And, if we are fortunate, we encounter love in our late twenties, or our early thirties, and feel the full range of emotions: from ecstatic and sweet joy, to fearful and angry insecurity.

Often, we need to encounter the possibility of love in more than one relationship before we can make sense of this ennobling and devastating emotion.  We seek words for our experiences of love and hate, joy and devastation, only to fall back again and again into the void of unknowing: the wordless pit of unconsciousness.

If we are fortunate, we will discover some aspects of the great literature of those who traversed these trackless voids of human beginnings and developments before us; and we may feel in our hearts and guts the pains and pleasures, the defeats and victories, that those who went before us felt and described.

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On being human

DrJimCounselling002The highest calling of a human being is to make sense of our own life, as moral beings, and to share that understanding with those who follow along behind us, so that they might avoid – or traverse more smoothly – the swamps and volcanoes that we had to endure.

Whether we are born in the smallest village in Ireland, or the largest suburb of the largest city in the United States of America; or somewhere in South America; or South Asia, or Central Africa; there is nothing to say that we may not have the latest parable of human suffering and divine love on the tip of our tongues!

Full cover 3

So speak to the world of your journey, that you might know where you have been; and that others might benefit from your journey!

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Regarding literature

Donna_Tartt_The_GoldfinchThe reading of good quality literature – from any and every era of the novel and the stage play – is emotionally educating, and healing of traumatic past experiences.  You can recover from sadness and depression; anger towards the world; and defeatist timidity: Just by exposing your mind and heart to the stories of others who went before you.

The writing of semi-autobiographical stories – with some, little emotional distance from direct, personal experience – is a great way to indirectly digest past traumatic or difficult experiences.

A good semi-autobiographical story, built on fragments learned from the insights of generations of novelists and other authors, is a great way to pass on personal healing examples and therapeutic gifts.  And that is what I have tried to do in my story about Daniel O’Beeve.***

I would like to encourage readers to begin to write short pieces, stories – in semi-autobiographical form – about their own difficulties in the past.  It will help you enormously to grow your emotional literacy (or EQ).

Please take a look at my story if you need a template, or some guidance on how to fictionalise a life story.  Link to Daniel O’Beeve’s story.***

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PS: About an hour after I posted this blog, Daniel’s story became available on Amazon, here: Daniel O’Beeve’s story at Amazon.co.uk.***

And here: https://www.amazon.com/dp/1722816821/

And here: https://www.amazon.ca/dp/1722816821/

For more links, please go here: https://abc-counselling.org/2018/07/15/reading-writing-literature-and-self-healing/

That’s all for the moment.  I hope you try this therapeutic writing approach, and gain enormously from using it!

Best wishes,

Jim

Dr Jim Byrne

ABC Coaching and Counselling Services

jim.byrne@abc-counselling.com

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Daily Resilience–boosters for you

Blog Post No. 46

31st March 2017

Copyright © Renata Taylor-Byrne 2017

Renata’s Coaching & Counselling blog: Daily resilience–boosters for you

Introduction

Do you want to be more resilient? To stand up to the pressures of your daily life more vigorously and powerfully and energetically?

Tennis-starIn this blog I am going to summarise some findings from research conducted on athletes, which can help us build our resilience in the face of all the hassles and challenges we can face at work each day.

An explanation of micro-resilience at work

Micro-book-coverBonnie St. John and Allen Haines wrote a book called ‘Micro-resilience’, and in it they summarise this research finding: Dr James Loehr (a sports psychologist) wanted to understand why there were hundreds of athletes who were on international tours, but there were only a few who regularly won the tournaments and trophies. He wanted to know what the difference was between these two sets of athletes.

Loehr put heart rate monitors on a selection of the two different sets of tennis players – the ‘winners’ and the ‘also ran’s’ – and discovered that the top tennis players were able to very speedily recover their energy and positive focus after having played shots.

As they were returning to the baseline in the tennis court, or to the side of the court, they used particular strategies to recover their energy, focus and motivation.

These top-players very quickly returned their heart rates to normal – much more quickly than their less successful competitors. Here was the crucial part of what Dr James Loehr learned:

The further he went down the list of seeded players, the more dramatic the differences were. Those at the bottom of the list (the less successful tennis players) employed none of these rejuvenating behaviours….”

“They stayed keyed up, tense and even distracted in the sixteen to twenty seconds that normally elapse between a point scored and the following serve.”

The power of ‘mini-recoveries’

He discovered that by the final set of a 3 hour tennis match, the player who had been using small, imperceptible ‘mini-recoveries’ in-between the points, was much more likely to succeed in the tennis game than the players who did not use such strategies.

So Dr Loehr created something called the ’16 second cure’ and this consists of focusing exercises and relaxation techniques that help the players, who are under intense pressure, to do the following things:

“…shake off mistakes, release tension, and project a positive image to their opponents…”

And this strategy has now been taught by tennis coaches throughout the world.

How this research finding can help people in all types of jobs

We can all use this research insight in any field of work.  Each day, any of us can experience periods of intense pressure, quiet times and a whole range of experiences in-between. We also have a constantly changing selection of people to deal with and respond to. How can we keep going so that we aren’t totally washed out by the end of the working day?

Power-of-full-engagment-coverDr James Loehr created the concept of the ‘executive athlete’ after these research findings, which he wrote about in his book ‘The Power of Full Engagement’ (2003) with T. Schwartz.

This very successful use of energy management strategies by athletes can be transferred to other working environments, if we adapt them appropriately.

Micro-resilience techniques to help us stay in control

If you experiment with using some of these strategies – listed below – to keep you going during the day, you will find that your energy level is higher and you won’t feel as drained.

I used these techniques during my career as a college tutor, and there are also techniques from Bonnie St. John and Allen Haines’s book. (Bear in mind that if you are working in exploitative work situations, you will need help from your union as well as these self-management strategies. The union’s specialist form of protection is necessary as it will be beyond your capacity to fully defend yourself if your energies are drained from: bullying management tactics; zero hours contracts; wages below the minimum wage, and/or unhealthy work environments).

Here is a little selection of just seven such strategies; and I teach many more to my coaching-counselling clients:

1. The Yoga ‘Death pose’

Picture-death-poseFirst, let us look at the ‘death pose’ from yoga practice.  This is an amazingly effective way to recharge your batteries, and is very good for your back. If you have you own office or there is a vacant room, simply lie on the floor for 10 minutes with a book (of, say, two inches thickness) under your head (as a ‘hard pillow’). Put your arms down by your sides. Clear your mind of any stress or strain, worry or preoccupation.  Breathe deeply into your belly, and relax.  Stay still, and close your eyes if you want to. Any ideas that arise in your mind should be gently brushed away.  After 10 minutes, very slowly sit up, and then stand up. This will refresh your body and mind at the same time.

Benefits-death-pose-callout

2.The  seated Tin Soldier/Rag Doll Relaxation Exercise

Whilst sitting at your desk, after about 30 or 40 minutes of intense concentration, you will need a break.  Sometimes you will need to get up and move around (as sedentary activity is very bad for you, physically and mentally!).  But sometimes you can relax while you are sitting down.  One way to do that is to use the ‘Tin soldier/Rag doll’ exercise.  This is how it goes:

Tense your body, arms, and face as much as possible for a couple of minutes. Really feel the tension in your body. Imagine you are made of tin, and are very stiff and unbending. (The ‘tin soldier’ phase).

Then slowly, slowly let all the tension drain out of your body, and change yourself into a rag doll. Feel yourself melt into the chair. Relax all your muscles – your thigh muscles, feet, arms, hands and fingers, stomach and jaw, and facial muscles.  Let your arms hang down by your sides.  Let your head fall, and your shoulder slump. (The ‘rag doll’ phase).

Sit with the feeling of complete relaxation for a few minutes (say, five or six).  This will be really good for your body and mind – to say nothing of your productivity, creativity and focus.  In the process, you will be switching on your ‘relaxation response’ which is (to get a bit technical) the parasympathetic branch of your nervous system.

3. Have a quick, healthy snack to boost your blood sugar level.

By eating a small amount of nuts and seeds (for example) you boost your blood sugar level which helps with willpower, and energy during late morning or late afternoon meetings or other challenges.

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4. Have a short walk

Get out of the building, to change your environment. Just a ten minute walk will put you in a different space (mentally), but in particular, it’s really valuable to get out at dinnertime (lunchtime).   You will feel mentally refreshed and have more energy for your work in the afternoon. Seeing trees and experiencing fresh air will boost your energy. Recent research shows that taking a stroll through a natural setting can boost performance on “tasks calling for sustained focus”: “Taking in the sights and sounds of nature appears to be especially beneficial for our minds.”

5. Write it Out!

If you’ve had a draining, difficult interaction with someone in work, and you are still reverberating from it, then when you are at your desk (or workstation), write down what happened and how you felt about it.  Writing it down will get it out of your head and give you a chance to cool down. Later you can then reflect on what happened.

(If you are unable to write anything down, simply name the emotions that you are going through, in your mind.)  This is a technique that is called “labelling” and there is a New England head teacher (whom St John and Haines describe in their book) who uses this technique when she has confrontations with parents and teachers.

“When she tried labelling, Kathleen noticed that it increased her sense of control. Now, unbeknownst to her guests, Kathleen’s notes during confrontational meetings not only cover action steps and follow-up items but also descriptions of her emotions during each encounter.”

Dr Daniel Amen, who is an expert on brain-scanning techniques, says: “Often, just naming a thought takes away its power”.

Or as Dr Daniel Siegel says: “You have to name it to tame it!”

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6. Using your sense of smell

Cinnamon

Scents are very powerful. Dr Joan Borysenko, who was one of the pioneers of  integrative medicine and worked at Harvard medical school, stated: “Certain scents can cut right through an emotional hijack. For example, cinnamon, vanilla and nutmeg.” These scents affect our limbic system and relax us very quickly. This finding was confirmed by Dr Daniel Amen, in his book ‘Change your brain, change your life’:

“Because your sense of smell goes directly to the deep limbic system, it is easy to see why smells can have such a powerful impact on our feeling states. The right smells likely cool the limbic system. Pleasing fragrances are like an anti-inflammatory”.

So, having small samples of spices, perfumes or sweets, in your work environment, which have really comforting associations for you, can give you a quick boost of energy.

hardcastle-crags

7. Images from nature can calm us down

Finally, having pictures of scenes from nature around us will have a beneficial effect on us, even if they are just on our screensaver or on a poster on the wall. Or in a frame on our desk or workstation.  Just looking at photos of nature in a quiet room can give us a greater mental boost than walking down a busy urban street.

Dr Marc Berman and researchers at the University of Michigan had participants take a break for 10 minutes in a quiet room to look at pictures of a nature scene or city street. They found that mental performance improved after the nature break, even though the images were  only on paper. Although the boost wasn’t as great as when participants actually took a walk among the trees, it was more effective than an actual city walk.

Conclusion

Balancing our stressful working days with micro-resilience techniques- like the seven outlined above – will make us happier, increase our energy, and improve the quality of our lives.

Why not experiment with them, and see if any of them work for you!

If I had more time and space I could teach lots more of this stuff to you.

Best wishes

Renata

Renata Taylor-Byrne

Lifestyle Coach-Counsellor

ABC Coaching-Counselling Division

Telephone: 01422 843 629

Email: renata@abc-counselling.org

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References

Loehr, J and Schwartz, T (2003) The Power of Full Engagement. New York. Simon and Shuster.

St John, Bonnie and Haines, Allen (2017) Micro-Resilience: Minor shifts for Major Boosts in Focus, Drive and Energy. London. Piatkus.

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Continue reading “Daily Resilience–boosters for you”

Great books and quotes; morality; and learning and growing…

Blog Post No. 145

By Dr Jim Byrne

27th May 2016

Dr Jim’s Counselling Blog: Great books and quotes; morality; and learning and growing…

Copyright (c) Jim Byrne, 2016

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Introduction

Dr Jim's photoI am sorry it’s taken so long to get around to writing this blog.  I have been so busy proof-reading my new book on Holistic Counselling in Practice.***

Today, I have finished proofing the Conclusion (Chapter 8), so I thought I’d take a break and get this blog post out to you.

Books and quotations

I have often read a book – like Catch 22 or One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest – and felt like I’d been hit by a hammer of enlightenment!  Woken up to a whole new dimension of reality that had previously escaped me.

I am feeling that at the moment – during my occasional evening readings of a few pages of A Little Life***, by Hanya Yanagihara – the story of the troubled life of Jude St Francis.  Sometimes I am so deeply moved by his horrible childhood, that I feel I’ve grown a new chamber in my heart.  My heart which was frozen for most of my own childhood.  (See the parallels in Daniel O’Beeve’s autobiography.***)

There is no way to quickly and easily sum up those emotional learning experiences.  They are written into my sinews and bones; adjusting my nerves like the strings of a lute.

Perhaps this ‘unspeakability’ of the long, involved novel or autobiography is why many of us seem to love quick but impactful quotable quotes.

The problem with quotes

Quotable-quotesHowever, quotable quotes are a two-edged sword, in that they have been ripped from their original literary context, and we have to make up our own context for them.  When we make up our own contexts, we may seriously misconstrue the original intent of the author.

The worse example of this kind of misunderstanding – which I have come across in recent times – is when the author is a Zen master, who has spent his life living in a monastery, surrounded by individuals who are steeped in Buddhist moral teachings – individuals who have grown up in devout Buddhist families.  Those Zen masters can often say things which, in that original context, may seem slightly risqué – but which would have been understood by the listeners as not at all undermining their decades of moral teaching. And in any event, their moral intuitions would have been so solidly encoded in their guts that no single statement would make any difference to their behaviour in the world.

Bad-quotable-quotesBut today, in the degenerate atmosphere of western neo-liberal amoralism, it is very dangerous to bandy about quotes that can be taken to be permissions to be amoral or immoral.  For example, from a book of Zen quotes that I frequently use, let me quote one passage:

“I am…the divine expression exactly as I am, right here, right now.  You are the divine expression exactly as you are, right here, right now. Nothing, absolutely nothing, needs to be added or taken away.  Nothing is more valid or sacred than anything else.”

Tony Parsons, page 20 of ‘365 Nirvana: Here and now’, edited by Josh Baran (2003).

Clearly, that final sentence (in bold type) would not be a good message to give to a young child, growing up in a family which has little moral training.  “Nothing is more valid or sacred than anything else!”  Really?  Not the law of the land?  Not the right of your neighbours to be left to live their life in peace, without being victimized by you?  Not moral rules about sexuality – such as the important principle of consent between adults?  Not the question of ownership of personal clothing, personal effect?  Not the importance of equality in romantic relationships?

When Tony Parsons’ “Zen enlightenment” is translated into the lives of economically and culturally deprived individuals, in modern Britain, it is clearly insane!  A recipe for disaster.

When it is shared with City of London Bankers it is even worse!  The bankers of the UK, the US, and elsewhere need to be re-taught the basic morality of our forefathers.  It is not okay to steal. It is not okay to lie.  It is not okay to oppress and exploit others. It is not okay to corrupt politicians!

Morality is not relative!

The last thing we need in the modern world today is ‘Zen masters’ pumping out quotes that promote moral relativity.  Morality is not relative.  There are some core principles of morality – some of which come from the Golden Rule – which are recognized by every culture on this planet.  There is no fundamental difference between our societies in terms of the basic morality of the people (which means the good people).  There are some variations between the expressions of those basic moral emotions.  But every society on earth – at the level of the good citizen – holds that there are some things which are more sacred and more valid than other things!

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Cherokee proverb: In E-CENT counselling we define the ‘good person’ or the ‘good citizen’ as somebody: (1) who has had a good moral education in childhood, which ensures that they have good moral intuitions in their day to day decision making and action taking today; (2) who has not had any corrupting experiences which have diluted their basic morality from their family and schooling; and/or: (3) who has explored some moral education of their own, and made a commitment to be a moral person.

In E-CENT counselling, we use the concept of the ‘Good Wolf’ (from the native American Cherokee people) to describe such a person, or such a manifestation in the world.  We each have a Good Wolf and a Bad Wolf inside of us, and the one that grows is the one that is fed.  (And Tony Parsons’ quote is food for the Bad Wolf, and not for the Good Wolf!)

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Conclusion

Amoral-counsellorI used to read ‘empowering quotes’ very uncritically.  Now I read them with a fine-tooth comb, for they often contain nuggets of pure Bullshit!  And sometimes such amorality or immorality that even a modern neoliberal carpetbagger – or unprincipled wheeler-dealer – would blush to utter those words themselves (while they conduct their ‘nasty trade’ under the cover of darkness!)

If you want to feel how wrong Parsons’ quote is, then ask yourself this: Would I be willing to go and see a counsellor (or a medical doctor – or any other kind of helper) whose website said this: Nothing is more valid or sacred than anything else”. ?

I think you will agree that most people would be too sensible to accept such an immoral stance in a professional helper.  They would see it as being dangerous and unacceptable.  So therefore they should also be able to see that this is actually an unacceptable (immoral) stance to adopt in life!

Maintaining moral standards is important if we want to survive and thrive.  The current tendency towards gross immorality in the ruling classes of our planet threatens the survival of us all: and the daily happiness of most of us.  We do not need Zen masters making that worse!

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That’s all for this post.

Best wishes,

Jim

Dr Jim Byrne, Doctor of Counselling,