Archives for Shannon Cutts

Good News

The Secret to Sustaining Happiness


Many years ago, I was sitting on the floor of an ashram, wearing what looked (to the westernized me at least) a lot like pajamas.

Our lesson that day was about happiness - how to find it, how to hold onto it.

Our teacher explained, "People will fight so hard to get rid of pain, suffering. But when it comes to joy, they think it should just come to them and stay all by itself."

Since that day, I have never taken my own happiness for granted. 
Continue Reading

Animal Mentors

The Birds of Pandemonium


Granted, now that Pandemonium Aviaries is a 501(c)3 nonprofit, Michele has lots of volunteer help. But no one knows better than a fellow nonprofit founder (aka moie) that the pressure to do more, and do better, never ever stops.

Not to mention that - especially in the early years - she faced a rather staunch brotherhood of exotic bird breeders who overall hadn't much use for a gal with a soft heart for the injured, abandoned, neglected, misunderstood, and otherwise traumatized cast-aways in the exotic bird world.

But none of that stopped her. 
Continue Reading

Celebrity Mentors

What Would Judy Say?

My mom sometimes likes to check out library books for me to read.

Recently she presented me with a particularly unexpected selection: "What Would Judy Say? A Grown-Up Guide to Living Together with Benefits."

I have watched Judge Judy on TV for years, but I'd never really taken the time to get to know the woman behind the show.

Well, my loss! Judge Judy is UH-mazing!!

She has the coolest website called "What Would Judy Say?" where she tackles issues as diverse as cancer and divorce, child custody and roommates, finding your passion and (obviously) living together outside of wedlock.

Now, to clarify, I am not currently living with anyone outside of wedlock or otherwise - except for, of course, my 14-year old parrot, Pearl, and my 13-month old tortoise, Malti.

But I have in the past, and if I did so again, I would follow Judge Judy's advice to the letter - especially the parts about taking care of what my mentor calls "my own side of the street."

Judy would call this "no joint anything."

I call it planning for my own future....whether or not my significant other will or won't plan for his.

The thing I like the most about Judge Judy is how very, well, grownup, she is about it all.

On the reverse side of her book, she shares an African proverb:

Only a fool tests the depth of the water by jumping in with both feet.

Maybe you are nodding your head right now (I was when I first read it!) But I have done this....I have jumped in with both feet, sometimes even thinking myself brave as I did!

Later I found out testing the water with one foot would have been both wiser and braver....and would have likely required far fewer band-aids.

The truth is, while there is plenty of drama in Judge Judy's television courtroom, little if any of it is coming from her.

And while she can appear brusque or sharp at times, I have always sensed a deep underlying compassion - a kind of "get over it already life is short and if you don't get unstuck now you'll just have to get unstuck later!"

There is something else I didn't know until I read "Living Together with Benefits."

Judge Judy has been divorced twice - and one of those times was to the man she has since remarried (and is still married to), Judge Jerry.

She has definitely had her share of heart aches and heart breaks.

She has five children and 13 grandchildren.

She is not someone who sits on the sidelines, watching and listening to - and often, um, judging - others' choices, and then writing about them.

She has lived what she writes about - which is to say, she is a mentor I can much more readily trust. 
Continue Reading

Emotions

From Meditation to Mental Resilience

I have never been in jail.

Thank goodness.

But even the thought of going to jail...even the merest firing up of my imagination around the subject...brings on unimaginable stress.

When I have imagined myself in jail, I have pictured myself sitting for meditation 24/7, in that way winning over all the "real" criminals with my gentle spirit and wise mind.

Or at least keeping my eyes closed so if doom approaches, I won't have to say hi before it finishes me.

Speaking of stress, recently I read a fascinating article that reports on what scientists are learning about building resilience (aka "the ability to quickly bounce back from tough experiences").

It reminded me of what I have shared so many times with friends who fear public speaking (and I mean fear it - the way I fear jail).

Our limbic brain - the very primitive part of our brain that remembers our caveman-with-spear days like they were yesterday - responds to stress as if it were a fanged predator.

Or many fanged predators.

So when my artist friend stands in front of a crowd of 3 or 300 to share her work, her prefrontal cortex is thinking "cool, maybe all 300 of these folks will buy a piece."

Meanwhile, her limbic brain is thinking, "300 predators....and they all look very hungry. Get me out of here!" 
Continue Reading

Inspirational

The Secret to Longevity

If you really wanted to live to be over 100, and you were able to take advice from those who had achieved it, would you do it?

Would you try their "secrets to longevity" for yourself?

The only sensible answer appears to be "yes" ... at least on the surface.

But what if this was the advice you got? (thanks, Time magazine!):

Drink one can of beer a day (110 year old Mark Behrends)
Drink lots of coffee (107 year old Downing Kay)
Stay away from men (109 year old Jessie Gallan)
Eat raw eggs (115 year old Emma Morano-Martinuzzi)
Sunbathe (116 year old Jiroemon Kimura)
Eat sushi (117 year old Misao Okawa)

What do you think?

I mean, these people are pretty....well....old.
Continue Reading

Celebrity Mentors

A Different Mind, A Beautiful Mind

In a recent post, I wrote about how one of my most influential mentors, Dr. John Nash, recently (and very unexpectedly) passed.

He will continue to mentor me posthumously, as will his wife, Alicia, who passed with him.

I first learned about Dr. Nash's life and recovery story through the movie Ron Howard made about his life.

Called "A Beautiful Mind," it was actually the title that drew me in.

I had never before thought of any mind - let alone my mind - as beautiful.

But I loved the idea. That a mind could be beautiful - that MY mind might one day be a beautiful place to visit....or live...was compelling.

At that time in my life (in 2001), my mind often felt more like a disaster zone - on a scale with Haiti or Japan.

It was a terrifying place - unpredictable, chaotic, rebellious and stubborn. It rarely made much sense.

Yet, just a few short years later (in 2004), by invitation I began sharing my recovery story. That is how powerful the "John Nash" effect was on me.

Recently a friend shared a powerful post called "Why the World Needs the Mentally Different" by Momastery blogger Glennon Doyle Melton.

While reading, I felt like her post might have been written by Nash himself, as she describes the addict's existential dilemma - come out of their interior world to re-engage with a daily life that feels neither satisfying nor okay - or stay put.

Melton describes needing a reason or a mission to come out of the protective interior boundaries that addictive thoughts/behaviors can create.

She is right. I needed a reason too.

In his memoir by the same name (written by Sylvia Nasar), Nash describes his difficulty with setting aside the extraordinary mental life his schizophrenia could create for him...in favor of a life where he felt ordinary, average, like everybody else.

It was only when his schizophrenia interfered with his ability to perform his beloved calculations to the point where he became non-functional that reality became a more powerful catalyst than continued fantasy.

For me, the most powerful part of the book was when Nash likened his recovery from paranoid schizophrenia to "putting his mind on a diet" - refusing to permit it to indulge in thoughts that had in the past proven to be illogical, unproductive, or simply impossible - no matter how wonderful, exhilarating, or freeing those same thoughts might have felt.

I, too, had to put my mind on a diet to recover from anorexia and bulimia.

I had to put it on another diet to recover from anxiety and panic.

And - full disclosure here - I finally had to medicate it - a different kind of diet - to manage my ongoing tendency towards depression.

In this way, I have my own continuing recovery system - as Dr. Nash did right up until the moment he passed - for ensuring I can find sufficient nourishment, stimulation, support, and meaning through "normal" (aka "non addicting") channels.

But it took some doing to convince me to make the attempt. 
Continue Reading

Emotions

The Introvert’s Temper Tantrum

As a true introvert, to stay as sane as possible after a lot of social time, it is not enough for me to simply keep company with myself (what others might call "alone but not lonely.")

I also need to specifically focus on refilling and refueling my inner self.

There are so many different ways to do this, but my preferred method is through meditation and sleep.

Through meditation, I can really feel my "self" - my individual presence - once again.

With breath, focus, easeful posture, and a deliberate calming of the mind, I can more quickly and easily decompress, process, analyze, conclude, forgive, let go, do whatever I need to do to "come back to center" again.

Through sleep, I retreat into the deepest inner spaces of "me," and while often even I am not sure where those places actually are, I know I have been there when I wake up feeling relieved and refreshed.

In other words, just going home to be alone and watching television or reading won't cut it.

Doing this may delay the inevitable - what I call the "introvert's temper tantrum" - but it won't prevent it.

I can feel the temper tantrum start when I begin losing patience with the smallest, simplest things....often these are incredibly minor events like dropping birdseed on the floor or spilling my coffee.

From there, slowly but surely, the irritation level within me rises, sort of like an emotional flood that has just passed its safety mark.

If I don't stop to tend to myself through meditation or sleep at this time, the flood waters will just continue to rise. 
Continue Reading

Mentoring

What Type of Perfectionist are You?

Just when I thought being (or, rather, trying not to be) a perfectionist was already hard enough.....did you know there are now 3 sub-types of perfectionists?

Oh yes.

A new study published by the Journal of Psychopathology and Behavioral Assessment reports in on the evolution of perfectionism, revealing in greater detail what perfectionism looks like when turned on one's actions, one's self, and others.

3 Sub-Types:

Self-perfectionists. You set high standards for yourself.
Socially oriented perfectionists. You think others set high standards for you
Other-oriented perfectionists. You set high standards for others.

The first type tends to be the healthiest - if you can use the word "healthy" and the word "perfectionist" in the same sentence. These folks are best able to maintain a healthy balance between self-focus on focus on others, and their sense of humor reflects that.

The second type tends towards self-deprecation, anxiety and depression. These folks do struggle to see others as three-dimensional beings in the midst of their concerns about self.

The third type is the one with the dark side, where perfectionistic standards are turned on others, often in ways the researchers term "the Dark Triad" (narcissism, Machiavellian motives, psychosis). Any interest they may display towards others has a purely self-serving focus.

The researchers are careful to point out that "people can be high on all three subtypes or they can be high on two or just one.”

I don't find that statement quite so reassuring as I suspect they think it is.
Continue Reading

Good News

Your Way IS the “Right Way”


For so so so SO many years, I kept looking for the "right way."

I wanted to know the precise "how to guide" to achieve whatever goal I was pursuing at that moment.

I wanted "the" steps - the ones that actual successful folks followed (an important distinction since at the time I didn't include myself in that particular group).

I never found that how to guide or those steps.

No matter how wide I cast my questioning net, or how long and loudly I asked, no one ever walked up to me and handed me the secret manual to successful living - the one I was sure everyone but me had already received.

Today, I know this is because there is no secret manual - at least not one that applies to everyone.

There is only my secret manual - my way. 
Continue Reading

Mentoring

The Real Story Behind Whiplash

Yup.

Former career-minded musician that I used to be, I finally watched the movie "Whiplash."

I had been told to watch it because I might be able to relate from my own years of intense musical practice.

In this, my best friend in particular warned it might have a "few scenes" I might find disturbing.

After about five minutes, I assumed she was referring to all the scenes.

I loathed this film from the start.

I hated everything about it - from the inaccurate portrayals of drumming and musicianship, to the seeming decision by screenwriters and producers alike to skip over meaningless steps like fact-checking jazz history, to the gratuitous displays of vile meanness that are already so prevalent in society today. However, in the midst of all this, one important actual fact did stand out.

In the opening scene, we meet the main protagonist, first-year aspiring jazz drummer Andrew Neyman.

Neyman desperately wants to rise above the mediocrity he sees in his family and those around him. To achieve this, he practices until his hands literally bleed.

His drive attracts the attention of the story's main antagonist, Shaffer Music Conservatory conductor and bandleader Terence Fletcher.

As a teacher and mentor, Terence Fletcher is as vicious and abusive as it gets. He quickly singles out Neyman for special attention.

At first, young Andrew seems to fold under the pressure. But then he surprises us (or at least me) by coming back for more....and more....and more.

Somewhat late in the development of Andrew's story, a minor character named "Sean Casey" is introduced.

We don't ever actually meet Casey...this is because he is dead by the time we first hear his name. 
Continue Reading