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Three Part Harmony: TV, Tea and Natural Me

Mark Gorkin, LCSW ("The Stress Doc")

The Stress Doc makes his case against TV and one for more interactively provoking and actively meditative pursuits -- from classical music in the cave to tea house rituals and the rites of nature. Here's to nurturing and stimulating your primal and transcendent mind-body-soul.

"What! You don't have a TV?" Upon discovering I've done the '90s tubeless, I get some pretty incredulous cracks and looks. Occasionally, I do catch something with a friend. And watching the recent World Cup at a sports bar really intensified the audience experience. Of course, there is some fine and funny programming and, even, some better commercials. Though practically being a mid-life "tele-virgin," the screaming, in your face commercialism starts offending after awhile. Sort of like an ex-smoker who's particularly averse to second-hand smoke.

However, this article is not strictly a diatribe against television. It's really an essay on how going tubeless (a gift of omission) along with two other daily rituals (gifts of commission) help cultivate a nurturing and stimulating, mind-body peace and quiet. And how with practice this harmonious process may evoke the fertile spirit of relaxed concentration.

1. TV or Not TV. My biggest objection is the passive mindset that television often induces. Even with good programming, you're usually not working, playing with or transforming the information. In fact, a book on peak performance and flow states called, Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, by Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi (pronounced, "chick sent me high"; I can relate to that state of arousal ;-) notes that television induces the dead opposite of vital flow.

Maybe I'm particularly vulnerable. I have a long (especially childhood) history of escape, if not addiction, by turning on the tube, tuning out and, ultimately, numbing my genuine thoughts and feelings. Knowing my vulnerabilities, eight years ago, when I moved to Washington, DC to convert, somehow, an amorphous multi-media Stress Doc Enterprises dream into an operational reality, I didn't bring my old black and white. I was moving into an efficiency. Even though a large apartment, there would be no room for escape. I wanted maximum focus and productivity. With a TV, there'd be little thinking outside the box!

Boxed In and Maxed Out
The irony is now I spend far more hours in front of another box than I ever would a TV screen. But getting into this 14" baby continually challenges me to think and create outside the box. Of course, I'm referring to my instrument of obsession and imagination -- Max, my computer. Now I do have another power tool named Max but, alas, he's not 14". Mark, behave, this is a PG rated column. Get back to the subject at hand...computers.

Here is the critical difference between '50s and '90s technology. For me, especially with the advent of the internet, the computer is a catalyst and vehicle for motivating, generating and expressing ideas, getting feedback, creating friendships and business contacts and contracts, as well as bantering, flirting, arguing, consoling and cajoling, etc. It is the most interactive of mediums. Well, maybe second to leading a live workshop or therapy groupbut not by much. Believe me, I'm good stimulated-exhausted after an intense, 90 minute "Shrink Rap and Group Chat."

And finally, when I break away from writing and the computer, with no TV in sight, reading and classical music rise above the horizon. You've got to listen to Debussy's short pieces, "Clair de Lune," "Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun," and, especially, "Maid with the Flaxen Hair." Also, for pure transcendence, Mozart's "Piano Concerto No. 21" and, my personal favorite, the sublime sounds of his "Clarinet Concerto in A," the middle movement. The heaven's open with this Adagio!

Yet even with transcendence, I still need to get away from the writer's cave on a daily basis. And here are the two self-indulgent, nurturing and stimulating gifts I alluded to earlier.

2. Tea for Me. If I'm not doing a workshop in the late afternoon, I trek three blocks to my favorite watering hole. (For all the financial uncertainty of the existential capitalist life, there is a blessing to being self-employed and a writer: a bit more discretion and permission for daily regression.) Actually, my afternoon oasis is an Asian-style teahouse called Teaism. It's a perfect name for ism-driven Washington, DC. A renovated brownstone, the upstairs décor is mostly wooden floors and wooden tables; windows and track ceiling lights enhance the luminosity. A black net screen with minimalist Oriental design hanging from the ceiling provides a semiopaque boundary between the surreal and the real. Along with soft ivory pastel walls punctuated by Japanese-like wood cuts, the ambiance is spare yet comforting, if not serene.

Before heading upstairs into this den of reverie, I place my all too predictable request: scones (two, with tasty yet not too sweet apricot preserves) and a pot of hot Jasmine tea. Four dollars, including the tip. In the early days, staff poked fun at my ritualistic order. How shall I rationalize the practice? Two competing schools of thought come to mind. The American philosopher, Ralph Waldo Emerson, observed: "Rigid consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds." I choose to counter the house snickers with my approximation of a line by French author, Gustave Flaubert: "Live your life like a bourgeois so your heart and mind can run wild." (Today, I'm considered "part of the family," an eccentric uncle, perhaps.)

And after my high tea, I proceed to write unfettered (yes, I still like writing a first draft longhand) for an hour or two. I can be lost in my own world or, if I choose, can come up for air and breathe in faces and voices. And there's even room for that crass ten-letter word - "networking." In fact, for a new 60-80 hour organizational contract, I am beholden to a colleague whom I met at Teaism.

So my Teaism interlude feeds the body (and sometimes even the wallet), soothes the mind and invites my soul to come out and play - figuratively, if not literally. And fittingly, for the final self-nurturing and invigorating act, one must step outside.

3. A Walk in the Park. After concentrated writing and as the scones settle down, I become enveloped in a light-headed, peaceful drowsy aura. The temptation, of course, is to go home and nap. Fortunately, close by there's another option. To energize and rejuvenate a sense of time and space, I walk six blocks to wooden steps built into a small hill. Now I descend into an ecological niche sequestered from the urban bustle. I begin a three-mile brisk walk and/or jog in Rock Creek Park. Ever deeper into "The Heart of Lushness." (From green tea to green trees. Hmmm, I never considered that seasonal symmetry before.)

With the slow-moving creek, first on my right then on my left as I follow the trail, I can both absorb nature and be self-absorbed. Thoughts flow aimlessly as I walk past a creekside cemetery until I reach an area of sizeable trees sloping down a hill leading into a basin of small boulders and large rocks. At this natural watering hole, the water courses and gurgles. The sound of rushing water always has a meditative effect. As I once penned in a visualization lyric, "Mountain Vision,":

    So head upstream, the gentle stream
    The babbling soothes your brain.
    A crystal clear reflection
    To find yourself again.

(Email stressdoc@aol.com if you missed it.)

And after pushing myself away from this second oasis, I stop on the trailside exercise course. Do the obligatory 100 sit ups and 30 pushups. Now feeling rather virtuous, I march along singing some of my lyrics such as, "The Stress Doc's Stress Rap," "The Song of Safe Stress" and "The Self-Righteous Rap." (It's good to rehearse these speaking program numbers.) Of course, passing a fellow jogger or cyclist in full song often evokes some weird looks: "Who is this mindless, if not homeless, character?" Well, they got one right.

And as I climb the wooden stairs and head back home, I have completed another cycle of leaving and return, nurturing and stimulation, inner and outer space travel. Bring on those evening therapy clients. Hey, a little Buddhist ebb and flow can only helpPractice Safe Stress!

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