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Behind-the-Scenes At Oprah's Lifeclass With Tony Robbins And Deepak Chopra

Marianne Schnall   |   April 8, 2012    5:20 PM ET

It's not every day Radio City Music Hall temporarily closes down its men's bathroom. But that's exactly what happened when Oprah Winfrey decided to film two episodes of her Lifeclass series at the famous theater in New York City. My adventure started when I got the email from the OWN team inviting me to attend the tapings of Oprah's Lifeclass: The Tour featuring two charismatic guest teachers -- spiritual wise man Deepak Chopra, who taught the afternoon show about tapping into your spiritual side (which will air on OWN on April 23) and charismatic life coach Tony Robbins, who taught the evening live show about living fearlessly.

When I first got to the theater, I was escorted backstage, downstairs to the brightly lit Rockettes dressing room, to convene with about ten other journalists, and then taken into a small room next door for an intimate meet-and-greet with Tony Robbins. We were all personally introduced to him, and he lasered each of us with his full wattage attention and smile. He then sat down on a couch and thoughtfully and insightfully answered a few questions. At the end of the conversation, we took a picture (which you can see on this page) in which I look like my own mini-me next to the 6'7" Robbins. He is quite literally larger than life.


I was then escorted back to the main hall to be seated for the Deepak Chopra taping. As press we were given seats that actually had plugs on a railing in front of our seat so that we could charge our computers and phones while we watched. That is one of many things that is so groundbreaking about Oprah's Lifeclass -- her unique, pioneering, interactive incorporation of social media -- in addition to a corresponding online curriculum and live webcast, Oprah encourages people to fire up their phones (on vibrate of course) during the show so that everyone in the audience, and online, can participate in polls, comment on Facebook and live tweet during the show (she also has people Skyping into the show from around the world). I sent out quite a few tweets during both tapings -- in fact, I found myself taking copious notes throughout the shows because I wanted to remember some of the profound droplets of wisdom that were said (a few memorable sound bites I jotted down follow this article).

Being at an Oprah show can at times feel like being at a Beatles concert -- when Oprah first comes out on stage the reception is exuberant and deafening, with everyone standing on their feet clapping wildly. Some of my favorite moments happened behind the scenes during the commercial breaks when Oprah speaks off-the-cuff, sometimes seriously, sometimes funny, to the audience. For example, during one of the breaks on the evening show, she complained about her uncomfortable high-heeled Louboutins, finally lamenting "I can't take it anymore" and handing them off to a lucky fan in the audience, remaining barefoot until a stage hand offered her a more comfortable pair. During the Deepak Chopra show about spirituality, she admitted during a break that her own practice was put to the test when that previous week she and her OWN network were scrutinized in the press when news was released that OWN had cut 30 jobs and cancelled The Rosie Show. Oprah confided that she found it helpful to keep repeating her prayer, "In God I move and breathe and have my being "and to keep reminding herself that this "isn't who you are and don't get that confused".

Adding to the excitement was a surprise pre-show for the Tony Robbins evening taping, when Tony suddenly appeared on stage about a half an hour before the show to pump up the crowd. He managed to get over five thousand of us at Radio City hugging total strangers and dancing, jumping, and screaming (his trademark "yes, yes, yes!" accompanied by fist pumping) -- a truly definitive and memorable Oprah Lifeclass moment for me and everyone else. Normally I get embarrassed doing this type of thing but the moment was contagious. Tony's potent point was about how our state -- and the motions of our body -- affects us and others around us, and there was a tangible surge in energy, of feeling awake and alive -- that I noticed in myself and the audience as a result.


Both Lifeclass shows -- and this is true of the whole series -- contain thought-provoking, life-changing sparks of inspiration. As Oprah pointed out during Deepak's show, to her, spirituality is not about traditional faith or religion but about "living your life with an open heart through love". You can watch the Deepak Chopra Lifeclass episode on OWN on April 23 (if you are not sure where to find OWN, use the channel finder ) and the Tony Robbins Lifeclass show which has already aired on OWN live can be viewed online. It is certainly refreshing and hopeful to see meaningful television that is aimed at uplifting and inspiring people to, quoting Oprah, "live your best life". I, like many others, wholeheartedly support, appreciate and thank Oprah for launching and nurturing OWN, creating visionary television like Lifeclass, being a role model, and for all the humanitarian work she does in the world. If I had had a chance to meet her in person that day, I would have given her a big hug.

Here are some of my notes I took during the Lifeclass tapings:

Oprah Winfrey:

"Don't get confused between what people say you are and who you know you are."

"The stories you tell yourself can make or break you -- no matter who you are."

"You can step out of your history and the past and write a new story for yourself."

"Courage is feeling the fear and doing it anyway."

"You don't become what you wish for, you become what you believe."

"There is no life without a spiritual life."

"We are all spiritual beings having a human experience."

Tony Robbins:

"We are all telling ourselves stories. The question is "does your story empower you or hold you back"?

"You can't have real courage unless there is something you are really afraid of."

"The only solution to fear is massive action."

"You can't wait for the perfect situation. You've got to get out there and discover your passion."

"When you focus on serving, there is no fear in you."

"To break through you need: 1) A strategy, a "how to" 2) The right story 3) A different state of mind. Your state determines your story."

"Love is the oxygen of the soul."

Deepak Chopra:

"Spirituality is a journey into self awareness."

"Everybody does the best they can from the state of spiritual awareness they are in."

"Our great option is to choose love rather than to choose fear and shut down."

"Your personal transformation is the future of the transformation of the world."

"The worst thing you can say about another contains some truth about yourself."

"Whatever you are struggling with is a reminder for you to find true purpose in your lifetime."

"You are a spark of divine consciousness."

Watch "Oprah's Lifeclass: the Tour" on Monday nights at 8pm EST/7pm CST on OWN. Follow the show online at and see the coursework that corresponds to each episode's theme. Join the "Lifeclass" conversation online on Twitter @OprahsLifeclass and using #lifeclass.

Marianne Schnall is a widely published writer and interviewer whose writings and interviews have appeared in a variety of media outlets. She is also the co-founder and executive director of the women's website and non-profit organization, as well as the co-founder of the environmental site Her new book, based on her interviews with a variety of well-known women, is titled Daring to Be Ourselves: Influential Women Share Insights on Courage, Happiness and Finding Your Own Voice.

Ask Tony Robbins A Question

Jessy Whitehead   |   March 20, 2012    2:31 PM ET

Entrepreneur, author and peak performance strategist, Anthony Robbins will be joining me LIVE on Mondays with Marlo, Monday March 26th at 11:30am EST! Ask him anything you'd like to know about:

  • Overcoming fears
  • Most common obstacles to success
  • Breakthrough
  • Lifeclass
  • His contributions to the Anthony Robbins Foundation
  • Following your dreams while still being practical
  • Marriage
  • Starting over after a divorce
  • Reinventing yourself after 50
  • How to get out of a rut
  • Stress in the workplace
  • Depression and loneliness
  • Tips for succeeding
  • Managing money
  • Bullying
  • Raising happy children
  • Building self esteem

Post your questions in the comment section below!

For the past three decades, Anthony Robbins has served as an advisor to leaders around the world. A recognized authority on the psychology of leadership, negotiations, organizational turnaround, and peak performance, he has been honored consistently for his strategic intellect and humanitarian endeavors. His nonprofit Anthony Robbins Foundation provides assistance to inner-city youth, senior citizens, and the homeless, and feeds more than two million people in 56 countries every year through its international holiday "Basket Brigade." Robbins has directly impacted the lives of more than 50 million people from over 100 countries with his best-selling books, multimedia and health products, public speaking engagements, and live events.

What began as a young person's desire to help individuals transform the quality of their lives has grown into Robbins' lifelong crusade as he is called on by leaders from every walk of life-presidents, political leaders, advocates for humanity, CEOs of multinational corporations, psychologists, peak performance athletes, world-class entertainers, teachers, and parents. Since fathering the life coaching industry, Robbins has produced the #1-selling audio coaching system of all time. He also is a corporate Vice Chairman, and Chairman overseeing five private companies. Robbins has been honored by Accenture as one of the "Top 50 Business Intellectuals in the World"; by Harvard Business Press as one of the "Top 200 Business Gurus"; by American Express as one of the "Top Six Business Leaders in the World" to coach its entrepreneurial clients; by Forbes as a Top 100 Celebrity; by Justice Byron White as one of the world's "Outstanding Humanitarians"; and by the International Chamber of Commerce as one of the top 10 "Outstanding People of World."

Robbins has been selected as Vice Chairman of Health, Education, and Science for the United Nations Research Center for the International Council for Caring Communities (ICCC) NGO. Working with the Organization of American States, the Carter Center, and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), Robbins helped negotiate an electoral solution for peace to the strife and conflict that have devastated the Venezuelan people and their economy.

Robbins' commitment to creating an enduring legacy that will impact the world is surpassed only by his passion for family as a dedicated father of four children and a loving husband to his wife, Sage Robbins.

Giving Back Is The Point Of Power

Peter Baksa   |   May 16, 2011    1:04 PM ET

This post is part of Breakthrough with Tony Robbins. A series featuring the empowering stories of individuals who have triumphed in the face of hardship and crisis.

After an early life of trial-and-error, I have come to a life of blessing in which I want to give back to persons who are hurting or alone, but who deserve blessings. It seems simple now, but I have not always seen how the Universe gives and desires us to share one with another -- to give back.

Two days during my fifth year stand out clearly in my mind. My dad's car arrives, carrying a boat almost as big as the car. Dad places me inside the boat, seating my younger brother, Ron, right behind me. I am teleported into a different world where pirate ships are defeated, and new lands discovered. On a Sunday later that fall, after church and lunch, we take a nap. Mom sleeps with my little brother, while I am sent to my parent's room. Hearing someone coming, I pretend to be sleeping. Dad walks past. Just as I sit up to talk with him ... he clutches his chest. I ask what is wrong. Silence. I shake his body. No movement. I bolt to get mom. She turns his lifeless body over, shouting my dad's name. As his body is carried out, mother sends Ron and me to grandma Toffel's house next door. Mom's demeanor changed. Perhaps like her, I loved dad for the boat, but regretted the life we got when he died.

At age 9, I am a starting pitcher in Little League. Each step poses a struggle as my mother, a widow, scrimps to keep us fed. Then, I lose my baseball mitt. At practice, I tell my coach, who approaches mother. Two hours and an ocean of tears later, she is not finished explaining her troubles. He finds me a left-handed mitt. As I get used to it, I take extra long on the pitcher's mound. I re-kick the dirt, trying to get my mother's voice out of my head. As I look at the hitter, I imagine his bat contains my mother's wails and humiliation. I fight to hold back hot angry tears and throw my first pitch. Strike one! I wipe the sweat on my face and realize that pain, humiliation, and adversity have become my motivation. That old, uncomfortable mitt gave me a way to increase my game: pitching strikes means I didn't need to bother with the mitt.

As an undergraduate, I was a walk-on member of the track team and ran by the same old rickety house. One day I knocked. An elderly man invited me in. The living room had no furniture, except canoe to catch water from a gaping hole in the roof. A WWI veteran, and a new widower, he wanted to move. Maybe because I grew up without a father, I decided to help him. I drew up a contract, found him an apartment, and helped him move there. Then I paid my fellow athletes to fix the place up. Hardly any skills. Yet in 7 weeks, it was completely remodeled and rented to a sorority. Six months afterward, I called the university folks to negotiate a potential sale; my bank account was restocked and school loans paid off. The man had been hounded by the university, he told me; I had approached him "on the right day and in the right way."
Shortly afterward, I was running a City Master Plan project my small firm had won even though I was under 30. This was another blessing -- the opportunity to design and implement a 20-acre parkette, fitness trail, and water feature. I got valuable experience, while the community got an exceptional development. For the first time in such a powerful way, my visualizations became the reality I saw.

My master's degree thesis offered a mathematical model to value real estate, focusing on how the energy permeating a building draws or repels tenants. I asserted a building evokes a feeling much like an oil painting or piece of music and translates into numbers. The committee could not envision this. At an impasse, I debated whether to appease the committee members. I maintained my stance and obtained my masters degree by the narrowest of margins. Here the reality I saw manifested; value is not just the cost of things.

The derision about granting my masters degree caught the attention of the architecture department. The dean invited me to become University of Illinois's first Ph.D. in architecture. Under my professor's tutelage, I designed a HVAC system to circulate air while exploiting natural air currents; this increased heating and cooling efficiency by nearly 68 percent. I worked in my own laboratory; a tuition waiver allowed me to take course sequences in four colleges. I also took ballroom dance classes as a way to meet girls, and this manifested in falling in love with a young violinist.

Unfortunately for graduate work, my business escalated. A prominent real estate developer died. I used to run by an all limestone mansion every day. According to any expert, it was not worth much. Yet, I loved its Gothic cathedral feeling. I phoned my banker to join me in attending the auction. Once there, I spotted all the big name players. So I visualized the building again, its grainy limestone on my hands. This present-experience (what I call the point of power) centered me. The bidding began, and I made my one bid. The banker and I stopped at our building on the way home to feel the limestone again.

My real estate business added staff, and I enjoyed giving back by helping them thrive. One night I was awaked at 3:00 a.m. One of the fifty or so employees, "Sharon" was crying. She needed money to bail out her son. I thought of my own mother -- a struggling single woman raising two boys -- and my heart melted. I comforted Sharon, paid the bail, and drove both of them home. Surely, I was tired, but warmed by a feeling of family.

I have also been able to give back to my community. For example, I was invited to be on the board of directors of the local symphony. Once seated, I discovered that this 125-year-old symphony was on the verge of bankruptcy. Three board women came to my office. Over tea, they asked me to take the position of president. I declined without much hesitation. That night, I felt a deep sadness toward all those who depended on the organization and toward the community. The musicians and the children in the surrounding community who were always invited to our annual free concerts. Some their only exposure to the classics performed live. After I accepted, I initiated fund-raising events and reached out for support. Within eight months, our first concert was sold out. Within 18 months, the company ran at a profit. To this day, this successful volunteer effort is one of my proudest achievements. And I owe it all to the women who visualized a great outcome in the organization and me. Sometimes, we are actors in the visions of others.

Five years ago, I decided to do camera interviews at each port on a sailing trip up the east to Manhattan and then back to Miami Fl. Many persons agreed, but then were unable to say much. I asked questions about their belief systems in religion, politics, and eating. Their practices came from their parents or their long-time associates or meaningful classes taken or media.
One of the inspirations for my book "The Point of Power" came from a chilling moment during these interviews. A family of 5 each member appeared obese walked into a McDonald's. After interviewing the parents, they were not aware that they were handing their bad eating habits over to their teenage children. The parents seemed to love these kids, but could not see that they were marching their children down the plank to super sizing their next meal. Life spans of children ages 9-14, according to the AMA, are getting shorter because of weight and the sharp rise in diabetes due to the diets imposed by us adults. It was in this moment that I felt an urge to cause a bigger ripple; by translating the wisdom I had learned to a larger audience through writing.

Most persons simply seem to swim along in the stream of life until they meet the falls. Had this become my life as well? That led to a decision. Those who know me would be surprised that in my thirties, without any disease or medical condition, I had outsourced the company I had founded. It was posting record profits, and yet I chose to close it down and embark on my semi-retirement. I want to devote my life to helping others explore and benefit from the Law of Attraction. I have also decided to give my attention to the things that feel good. With this elementary logic, I create the best life possible -- one of giving back.

This give-back attitude emerged from a series of transformative events in my life and the lessons that I was able to learn from them. Lacking a father led to a desperate home life, of course. The embarrassment of losing a baseball mitt led to focusing on pitching more strikes (because then the pitcher doesn't need a mitt). Furthermore, these experiences led me to be able to make connections with others in their losses (such as the elderly man).

Notice, I was not so much determined to somehow, at sometime in the future have wealth. It was to see the wealth in the bleak situation or see triumph in the bidding situation when it could have easily ended in failure (like losing the bid on the Grey Stone building). This led to my three-point insight:

  1. Intend by thinking positive thoughts; be gracious, be humble, think love, and intend an outcome (this or better).
  2. Declare a plan of action and a clear desire; feel it, experience it, make clarifications during the sync period, live it.
  3. Trust the Universe to do its bit -- have faith, forget about it, and detach.

Writing this has been my greatest joy because I truly believe that the Universe intends good for us. With such wealth in the present moment, how can we not share with others?

To read more about Peter's story and his inspiring philosophy, check out his book, "The Point of Power", available now on Amazon. He is also the author of "It's None of My Business What You Think of Me!: If You Want to Change Your Life ... Change the Way You Are Looking at It". His website is

Getting Over My Sideways Years

Tim Sanders   |   May 11, 2011   11:25 AM ET

This post is part of Breakthrough with Tony Robbins. A series featuring the empowering stories of individuals who have triumphed in the face of hardship and crisis.

My grandmother Billye, raised me to understand that "success is not a destination, it's a direction -- and that direction is forward." In 1981, my life was jolting forward via my success as a champion debater and former special education student.

Then it all changed with one sentence: "Your father's been murdered."

Even though I only spent one week every summer with him, I loved and admired him. He was a swashbuckling gadabout that saw the world, wrote for television shows and sent me postcards from exotic places -- far away from rural New Mexico where Billye and I lived on a farm. He was brutally murdered only a week before we would finally spend time together, sharing an apartment in Los Angeles while I attended Loyola Marymount University on a full scholarship.

When I got that news, everything I believed in was shattered -- especially my faith in God and my confidence as a person. I stopped being a winner and instantly became a victim. I slumbered my way through college, discovered drugs and rock and roll, and started to live the user-life of a person pursuing passion instead of purpose. Thirteen or so years drifted by as I blew opportunity after opportunity, disappointing Billye as well as my wife, Jacqueline.

Every day, brushing my teeth and connecting with myself in the mirror, I knew I was blowing it. I had chosen resentment and hate instead of forgiveness and understanding and I was paying the price. So was my wife and son.

I still loved Billye, I just didn't believe her teaching anymore, even though they had rescued me from the short bus and delivered me as a champion debater and senior class president. When dad got killed, everything changed, and I believed that I had been successful as a fluke, and that faith had no value in my life. One day in 1996, while driving home to Clovis NM from the Lubbock airport, I stopped to take a picture of the water tower in Sudan TX where Billye took possession of me for good. It wasn't the best time for her to adopt a little boy, but she loved me and wanted me to have a proper home. That picture changed my life -- it was a visualization of the second chance that we all get in life, whether we are five years old or thirty five.

Sitting in bed one night, it snapped in my psyche: You have a second chance in life, but the trick is to seize it, move on from your pain and point the car forward again. I decided that night that my wife and son deserved a champion, not a bitter man that couldn't let go of a random murder in San Francisco that involved my father. I decided at that moment to reacquaint myself with Billye's teachings -- based on the masters of motivation (Peale, Carnegie, Bristol and Maltz). I started to invest in my mind diet, practice gratitude and take control of my self-image. Through this practice, in less than one year, I was the same guy that rose to the top of the pile as an eighteen year old. Just in time for the opportunity of a lifetime: The internet.

In 1997, I interviewed for a job at Mark Cuban and Todd Wagner's AudioNet (which would later become I started out as a sales rep, but through a series of personal victories rose to business development manager just as the world wide web took off. I leveraged what Billye taught me: Generosity is a wonder drug and positive thinking is rocket fuel. It helped me make vital connections and propel my career. After Yahoo! bought our company, I was offered a job running the think tank (ValueLab) and moved the family to Nothern California.

Staying in close touch with Billye and her 'masters of motivation,' I soared at the company, fueled by her plan for confident living. I gave my way to the top and in 2001 was awarded the role of Chief Solutions Officer at Yahoo! and a year later published the New York Times best seller Love Is The Killer App. When I look back on it now, I realized that my breakthrough was based on three simple steps:

  • Notice the visual icon (the water tower) and let it replace the 'artifact of suffering' (my father's gravestone).
  • Admit to Billye that I was off track, going sideways and ready to make a change.
  • Respond to the single question she asked me in 1996: "What are you not doing today that you were doing during your magical senior year?" Answering that question led me back to the plan that rescued me earlier in life. I realized that I wasn't building, giving, learning, loving and being thankful for life. When I chose a new path -- going back to my Eden, the doors of life swung wide open for me.

If you are moving sideways in life, you can turn it around too, and point yourself back forward. But you'll have to open your eyes, open your heart and go to the only place of recovery available to you. Home.

Tim Sanders is the award-winning author of 'Today We Are Rich: Harnessing the Power of Total Confidence'. You can learn more at

Busted: A Fugitive Fraudster Husband

Abigail Pesta   |   April 3, 2011    5:02 AM ET

What do you do when your husband disappears from your bed one night, leaves you with $6 million in debt, and turns out to be a total fraud? If you're Michelle Kramer, you pick yourself up, dust yourself off and get a Ph.D. in psychology -- so that you can diagnose your missing husband as a major narcissist.

Michelle was a 29-year-old psychology student based in Chicago when her husband, a wealthy sinus surgeon named Mark Weinberger, vanished during a family vacation in Greece -- on purpose. He knew something that Michelle didn't. He was about to get busted for alleged healthcare fraud and medical malpractice of the worst kind: performing unnecessary surgeries on patients at a clinic he ran in northern Indiana. Michelle's search for him turned up shredded documents, survivalist gear and a mountain of debt.

Five years later, in December of 2009, Weinberger was found -- hiding in a tent atop the highest mountain in the European alps. He'd been living on and off in the tent and in a nearby Italian town, with an apparent plan of writing a survivalist handbook. In the meantime, more than 300 malpractice suits had been filed against him in the States.

Today, Weinberger is back in America, and this week, a judge in Indiana ordered him to pay $13 million in one of those many malpractice suits. Separately, he has pleaded guilty to 22 counts of healthcare fraud and is awaiting a judge's sentencing, due later this month.

Michelle, meanwhile, has refused to be defined by her husband's mind-boggling betrayal. Last spring, she completed her Ph.D. in psychology in Chicago. This spring, she is working on a postdoctoral fellowship in Baltimore. I had the pleasure of meeting Michelle and learning the details of her personal journey. She credits her down-to-earth, blue-collar parents for keeping her grounded, even when she and her husband were flying around the world in private jets or hanging out on their yacht in Europe. "I never lost myself, even when I had all that stuff," she explains. "I just didn't lose who I was."

You can read her full story in Marie Claire this month.


Abigail Pesta is an award-winning journalist who has lived and worked around the world. Currently she is the editor-at-large of Marie Claire magazine in New York. In Hong Kong, she was a news and features editor for The Wall Street Journal. In London, she ran an editing desk for Dow Jones Newswires. She has also worked at Glamour, where she launched Mariane Pearl's popular column about women who change the world. Abby writes short stories for her website, Fine Words Butter No Parsnips.

6 Mindful Strategies To Recover From The Shock Of Loss

Ronald Alexander, Ph.D.   |   March 30, 2011    8:37 AM ET

Today many of us are dealing with devastating losses in our lives, from natural disasters such as the earthquake and tsunami in Japan to losing our homes, jobs and relationships. After the initial shock of any type of trauma, there are, of course, the various stages of grief that everyone goes through, including denial, rationalization, anger and acceptance. For those who are on this journey, it is important to have faith in yourself and the inner compass that guides you. If you do this, you'll understand that opportunities for growth and happiness lie in the most unexpected places, ready to be seized if you're open to recognizing and embracing them. I don't believe we ever get over a significant loss, but we do learn to move through it, live with it, and perhaps even use it creatively to find our life's purpose and harvest its lessons.

Mark and Selena, a couple I treated a few years ago, are a remarkable example of how you man deal with a devastating loss and transform your life. They came to me shortly after their two young children had been killed in a car crash when they were with their teenage babysitter, who somehow survived. Mark and Selena were overwhelmed with guilt, anger, and feelings of loss. They could barely function and couldn't begin to imagine how they could go on without their children, or why they would want to. I discussed various treatment options, and we agreed upon a method outlined in my book, "Wise Mind, Open Mind," that combines a mindfulness practice with positive psychology and creative thinking to help one let go of the past, tune in to the present, find his or her core creativity and finally move forward with the future. While we were working with the tuning in stage, I was concerned that due to the depth of their sadness, it could take several years before they would be ready to move out of their grief and begin to envision a new life.

I decided to meditate on their situation, and what came to me was the visual image of the subcontinent of India. "That's curious," I thought, but decided to sit with it, and soon, as if a voice had spoken to me, I had an inner knowing that I needed to suggest to Mark and Selena, who had conveyed an openness to the idea of traveling, to take some time off from their jobs and travel to the city of Varanasi in India. Varanasi is known as a holy place where the dying go to prepare for death and where bodies are prepared for the traditional cremation and return to the sacred Ganges River.

My logical, rational mind said, "Ron, that's crazy. Why would you send two grieving and suffering parents who have no spiritual connection to India, and who are Lutherans from the Midwest, to Varanasi, where they know no one and would see death and suffering all around them?"

I discussed it with several of my colleagues, who agreed it was a terrible idea, but every morning when I meditated and connected to my intuition, it kept telling me the same thing. Finally, one of my old teachers and mentors, Ram Dass, told me, "I think you may be on to something. They need to immerse themselves in their grief instead of denying it. Where better to do that than India?" When I mentioned it to Mark and Selena, they weren't sure how they would benefit from a trip to Varanasi, but they meditated on it and told me that taking the trip felt "right" to them.

In India, Mark and Selena connected with their grief as they observed the dead and dying, but at the same time, they started to feel a sense of connection to other people and to a world in which suffering is inevitable. While there, they spent time working with a committed humanitarian in her facility for the poor. She did not try to explain to Mark and Selena how they might handle their loss but instead invited them to join her in her everyday work of attending to the sick and dying.

When they returned to the States, Mark and Selena told me that they had finally begun to heal. The deep compassion that had been awakened in them had eased their grief, and they felt that they'd transformed from suffering parents who had lost their children to people who reached out to other suffering parents. They said they no longer felt quite so alone.

Over the next few months, Mark and Selena continued their mindfulness meditation practice and began to move forward with their lives. Selena, who loved music, returned to school to earn a master's degree and began working with children as a music therapist. Mark went back to his work as an electrician, but he now approached it in a very different way. When he consulted with clients, he suggested bold changes that they hadn't considered and had more patience and compassion with them. In time, Mark and Selena adopted two special-needs children and had another child of their own. They continued to talk about their children who died and kept photographs of them in their home, but they were able to creatively transform their tragedy into a new life with meaning and purpose.

For those of us who are unable to take such radical steps, here are six strategies from my book, "Wise Mind, Open Mind," to help you mindfully recover from a loss:

  1. Reach out for support. Don't try to bear your trauma alone. Ask for assistance from your friends, spiritual leaders, support groups and professionals.
  2. Sit quietly and reflect. No matter the severity of your trauma, sit quietly and ask yourself, "Historically have I experienced other challenges in my life, and how did I navigate through them?" Now use these past experiences to tap into your internal courage and strength and explore whether you can implement the same strategies again.
  3. Trust your inner resources. Once you realize that you survived other traumas before, trust in yourself to know that you have the ability to get through your present challenge.
  4. Learn to keep yourself centered through the unbearable feelings of grief. When the waves of sadness and helplessness wash over you, initially feel the emotion and its depth, but then start to breathe through the grief with slow, deep breaths. This will help you stay grounded and bring you back to the present.
  5. Start imagining a new life. Even though you are experiencing immense grief, start to imagine and invent in your mind's eye a new future for yourself.
  6. Practice mindfulness. While doing grounding practices such as meditation, yoga or even walks in nature, remember that your loss is cyclical like the seasons. Even when we are in the depths of winter, we know that eventually it will become more manageable with the advent of summer. Learn to tolerate and pace yourself through the most severe times.

Many of us admire people like Al Gore, who found his road to the White House suddenly blocked and chose to focus on educating people about global warming, and Christopher Reeve, who left acting behind after becoming a quadriplegic and went on to become a film director and advocate for those suffering from spinal cord injuries because they were able to let go of the past and transform their lives. You, too, have the ability to tap into your inner courage, move forward with your life and even reinvent yourself.

Why Writing About Grief Makes Me Happy

Allison Gilbert   |   March 26, 2011   12:05 PM ET

Several weeks ago my new book, "Parentless Parents," was published. This is the third book I've written that deals with mourning and loss. And while you might assume I'd be the last person you'd want to meet at a cocktail party, I've been told otherwise. I smile; I laugh. You might even call me "bubbly."

Each book I've written is the result of successfully pushing through an unwanted and unanticipated experience, and using that experience for something more powerful than anger and self-pity. Writing about death and grief has been healing for me.

I wrote my first book, "Covering Catastrophe," after nearly dying on 9/11. I was a producer at WNBC-TV in New York at the time, and when the second tower collapsed I thought I was going to be buried alive. The dust cloud knocked me off my feet, and emergency crews dragged me off the street so I wouldn't be crushed by falling debris. I was taken by ambulance to the emergency room at Bellevue Hospital. Doctors cut off my clothes to examine my skin, and shoved tubes down my throat so I could breathe.

Physically, I was fine. Emotionally, though, I was in trouble. I had panic attacks for days, and many journalists I'd later speak with were also having traumatic flashbacks. Because of what we experienced, three other radio and television journalists and I decided to write a book documenting what it was like to be a broadcaster that day, both personally and professionally. Creating this book was cathartic for all of us, and what happened after publication was even better. "Covering Catastrophe" was turned into a documentary by the U.S. State Department, has been recognized by the National September 11 Memorial and Museum and every penny earned has been donated to 9/11 charities. Giving back is the best emotional Band-Aid I know.

Three days after September 11, my father died of cancer. I was 31 years old. Almost immediately (and because my mother had died several years earlier) I felt compelled to write about my parents' deaths. "Always Too Soon" was hard to write because for the five years it took to complete, my parents' deaths were always with me. I had to deal with how much I missed them with every period and comma I typed. What kept me going was the anticipation of helping others cope with the same pain. My muse was an imaginary group of readers who needed comfort and validation.

And readers responded. Men and women emailed me wanting to talk about being an adult orphan. Many of these emails specifically addressed the challenges of being a parent without parents. To manage the influx of emails, I began sorting them by state and city, and then, when I had two or three from any one area, I started playing matchmaker. It was in putting these strangers together that Parentless Parents, the organization, was formed. It was also how I knew that "Parentless Parents," the book, needed to be written.

In "Parentless Parents," I write not only about how the loss of my parents affects me, but also the myriad ways their absence affects my children, who don't have my mother and father as grandparents. Since the book came out, it's been warmly embraced. Parentless Parents support groups are taking shape all over the country. The Parentless Parents Group Page on Facebook continues to grow. And then there are the new emails I've been receiving from readers, like this one from a mother of two young children: "You tapped right into my life, my heart and my soul. It is comforting to know that at least one other person in the world has gone through similar tragedies and has some understanding of what I deal with on a daily basis."

In truth, I'm happy in the face of what I write because I have an outlet for all my feelings. Conducting interviews, leading focus groups, creating the Parentless Parents Survey (the first of its kind) and writing -- all of it has brought me incredible peace. My upbeat attitude has been shaped by creating a new and different conversation about loss, and the symbiotic relationship I have with my readers. Ultimately, the most important lesson I've learned from writing is that I'm not alone.

Disabled Iraq War Veteran Gets Inspired... And So Can You

Eric Frazier   |   March 9, 2011    9:15 AM ET

I would never walk again.

Though everyone told me to be positive, the cold facts were painful. The news from my doctor was a harsh reality that tore me up inside, leaving me hollow, my mind spinning and my eyes seeing nothing but a vacant future.

Inspired to serve my nation by the tragedy of the September 11 attacks, I proudly served with the United States Marine Corps, returning from my overseas tour healthy and able bodied. With my fiancée Shenette, a Corps gunnery sergeant, my future in 2005 seemed bright -- that is, until the dark day I suffered a severe spinal cord injury that took away my legs and left me learning to live again.

For most people, the road to recovery starts when they enter a rehabilitation hospital. For me, my recovery process started in March 2007, when I left my final rehabilitation hospital and joined a team called World T.E.A.M. Sports. That's when I accepted the challenge of riding the Face of America Ride -- my very first ride -- a ride that changed my life!

Competitive by nature, the idea of riding 110 miles from Gettysburg to our nation's capitol using a handcycle appealed to me. It was a challenge I needed to undertake. I'd always been athletic, having participated in sports in school. But a handcycle was something different -- a challenge that encouraged me to excel.

So many of our dreams at first seem impossible, then they seem improbable, and then when we summon the will, they become inevitable. With support from my family, I began to train and learn how to channel my energy into my arms and hands.

Completing the April 2007 Face of America, I joined Team Semper Fi, a sports program funded by the Injured Marine Semper Fi Fund. The Team was founded by other wounded Marines and sailors who refused to let their challenges prevent them from competing in athletics. Together, their athletic drive and unwavering spirit on their road to recovery is an inspiration to all they meet.

With Team Semper Fi, I participated in several events nationally, including a marathon in Virginia Beach, triathlons in San Francisco and Washington, and became active in wheelchair basketball, competing in conference tournaments and championships.

Growing up in Pittsburgh, I enjoyed snow and ice, so skiing appealed to me. I began participating in biathlon and cross-country skiing in mid-season 2010, and was surprised I could compete at the highest level. It's not that sit skiing is easy, but its difficultly encouraged my competitive nature. I find it to be one of the hardest sports I have ever done, both able-bodied as well as adaptive.

I went to two World Cup events trying to make the Paralympic Team to compete in the Vancouver Paralympic Games. Despite my best efforts, I missed making the team by a very slim margin. To my surprise, the US Olympic/Paralympic Committee, along with US Biathlon, invited me come to Vancouver as part of an Ambassador/Alternate program. Their intent was to get me addicted to Biathlon. It worked. I decided to take Biathlon very serious and train hard. With summer arriving, I accepted an invitation to participate in World T.E.A.M. Sports' 2010 Sea to Shining Sea Cross-Country Ride and use it as my cardio base. During the 3,800 mile ride from San Francisco to Virginia Beach, I rode about 1,000 miles on my Sit-Ski, and that made a difference.

After the ride, I continued to train. It's hard to gauge how well you are doing until you compete, so after a few races, I saw how my training paid off. In the January national championships in Maine, I came in third. Plus, I am top-ranked in my division. At the next Paralympics in Sochi, Russia in 2014, I'm convinced our American team will be a threat to the Russians on their home turf. Looking back to the harsh reality of five years ago knowing I would never walk again, I am extremely humble and grateful the Lord put World T.E.A.M. Sports in my life to give me challenges that would alter my quality of life in the most positive way. Others should be inspired to participate in this April's Face of America Ride with disabled and non-disabled participants, including Marines, soldiers and sailors beginning their own road to recovery. If you're not a rider, sponsor a competing athlete or donate your used cell phones and other equipment to support the ride. As World T.E.A.M. Sports says, the exceptional athlete matters, and you can be exceptional.

World T.E.A.M. Sports is coordinating the Face of America Ride April 15-17, from Washington DC to Gettysburg. This inclusive 110-mile non-competitive bicycle ride includes disabled and non-disabled military active duty and veterans, along with the general public. For more information, visit the Face of America website. World T.E.A.M. Sports is teaming up with the nonprofit UpCycle4Hope to support the 2011 Face of America ride with UpCycle4Hope. This nonprofit is collecting used electronics devices including unused cell phones, video games, digital cameras, notebook computers and other devices for upcycling. Contact UpCycle4Hope by telephone at 941-225-8372 or explore online for further information regarding this innovative program that turns unwanted and obsolete devices into funding for World T.E.A.M. Sports and its many programs.

Vets And Caretakers Speak Up On How To Cope With The Aftermath Of Service (PHOTOS)

Rachel Martin   |   November 11, 2010    1:06 PM ET

According to Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA), 99 percent of Americans have seen some form of combat on television, yet only 1 percent have seen it in Iraq or Afghanistan.

For most of us, we may be touched by the stories we see on TV, or outraged by the violence that goes on overseas. But for those who haven't been in combat, it's impossible to truly know what it's like to be in a war -- or even more difficult, in some cases -- coming home from battle.

Troops face a job market in which civilian employers rarely understand or appreciate military skills and experience. Iraq and Afghanistan veterans are already turning up on the streets much faster than other generations of veterans, often within 18 months of coming home, according to IAVA. And over time, the signature wounds of current conflicts -- psychological wounds and traumatic brain injuries -- may contribute to higher rates of homelessness.

Executive Director and Founder of IAVA Paul Reickhoff and Director of Government Affairs for IAVA Todd Bowers spoke to the Huffington Post about their own experiences reintegrating into civilian life -- and shared the insights they've gained listening to the stories of so many others as advocates for young veterans.

"I was amazed by how many people asked me how many people I killed," says Bowers. "That's not how I look at it at all. It's about the people I save."

Reickhoff mentioned that he appreciates being told "thank you for your service," but would love people to take it a step further: "When you see a soldier in uniform ask them where they're going. Engage with them."

We compiled the stories of veterans, military nurses and caretakers who took the time to share their personal experiences. Here's what they had to say.

Could Condoleezza Rice Help You Overcome Being a Victim?

Russell Bishop   |   October 25, 2010    8:44 AM ET

Using Condoleezza Rice as an example of how one person rose above difficult circumstances certainly seemed to ignite some passion out there! As expected, it also offered another opportunity for the vitriol patrol to spew forth without care or consideration, but that just goes seems to go with the turf.

As Winston Churchill once said, "You have enemies? Good. That means you've stood up for something, sometime in your life." Not that I'm after enemies, mind you. However, I have learned that some people will lash out at anything that upsets their version of the apple cart.

I'm not a big fan of what Ms. Rice has done with her choices or her politics; however, I am a big fan of the underlying approach to life learned from her parents, who said, "We will have no victims here."

Refusing to be victimized by circumstances or events is one of the most life's most powerful lessons, and it comes by embracing the fact that no matter what happens, you still have a choice about how to respond. It is quite interesting to note that no matter how many different ways I share examples of those who have risen above, adapted to trying circumstances, or even survived unthinkable tragedy, there will still be those critics who find a way to ignore the lesson and wind up dismissing the individuals involved as somehow wrong, different or otherwise unacceptable.

As I have noted many times before, Viktor Frankl offers incredible insight about the meaning of freedom and how he used that lesson to survive Nazi concentration camps. But even that seems to get dismissed by those who seek only to criticize or who prefer to remain victimized by their circumstances.

Then there's W Mitchell, who speaks and writes of overcoming a disfiguring motorcycle accident and a subsequent paralyzing airplane crash. In his book, It's Not What Happens To You, It's What You Do About It, Mitchell writes, "Before I was paralyzed there were 10,000 things I could do. Now there are 9,000. I can either dwell on the 1,000 I've lost or focus on the 9,000 I have left." But here again, the critics rise up to dismiss Mitchell as some kind of freakish superhero.

Even when I reprint stories from ordinary folks who have written to share their stories of overcoming adversity, be it losing a job to being brutalized by racism, still the critics come out and find something that's wrong about the person, the lesson, or even the notion that you can rise above your circumstances.

But, what the heck -- let's give it another go! Here are just a couple of examples of the real stories readers shared with me last week:

Sheila writes of her own experience with overcoming racism:

I know of many women who have decided to take the "Responsible" route. I know from my own experience, that when one is considered to be Black in this country, you must do all that you can to succeed. Our former Secretary of State was taught by her parents to rise above the illogical thinking of those in charge in "Bombingham," to believe in herself when striving for a better life.

Sheila adds that when people rise above their circumstances, they sometimes find it hard to fit in with old friends and cultures who have chosen to stay behind, locked into their own version of being stuck. As she notes, there are still those who prefer to complain about being victimized "as if those circumstances are written in stone." She goes on to say:

We can all change our path that we walk on and when we stumble, we can make it part of the dance. Parents and mentors are the key to whether we tend to fall and stay down or get back up, brush ourselves off to start over again. I respect Ms. Rice for her achievements but not her stance or willingness to associate herself with those responsible for wrongdoing.

We have so much finger-pointing going on because everyone seems to have a sense of entitlement for contributing nothing or committing to nothing. It is also hard to keep a positive outlook when people in high places let you know in no uncertain terms that they will not hire someone of your color for a job paying a decent salary. Indeed, I have had that experience many times. However, I did climb through the ranks eventually to receive a decent wage, job title, etc. If I can do it, anyone can.

We may be able to get people to stop acting like victims, just by getting rid of that one major excuse...because color didn't stop me.

And Paul added:

Thank you for your article today about Condoleezza Rice. The article was very inspiring and well written. I'm going to share it with my Facebook friends.

My political beliefs are mostly aligned with conservatives, although I have a few mixtures of views as well. I believe in smaller, limited government, fiscal responsibility, less debt, fewer entitlements.

What I liked best about your writing is that it reminded me that instead of getting all pissed off about policies that I don't like, political manipulations and all, I can live these principles in my own life. Principles of spending less than I make, paying off debt, not complaining, and being an example of what I preach with my opinions rather than always trying to control others.

I felt very stuck lately and your article gave me some strength today.

Hu-Man wrote this eloquent summary, which seems quite fitting:

Regardless of whether you agree with Rice and her politics, her journey is an impressive and indeed a rare one. Looking at her experience, we are reminded time and again that it is all about choices we make in our daily lives and from moment to moment.

We may disagree with her stance on issues but how can we deny the depth and breadth of her accomplishments? Another person of similar level of accomplishment, Collin Powell, has also chosen to participate on the other side of the political ledger.

I think it was Obama that once said: "Can we disagree without being disagreeable?" Constant bickering and finger pointing never accomplished anything positive. We need more civility in our lives, ergo, in our society. That is the path toward accomplishing greater and greater feats.

Perhaps Winston Churchill said it best: "If you're going through Hell, keep going." He also said, "Success is the ability to go from one failure to another with no loss of enthusiasm."

What do you think? How could you keep going, with enthusiasm, even when the circumstances seem stacked against you?

I would love to hear from you about your ideas, about what you have done to work around the challenges you are facing, or about what you have seen a friend or neighbor do that has been effective.

I'd love to hear from you. Please do leave a comment here or drop me an email at Russell (at)


If you want more information on how you can apply this kind of reframing to your life and to your job, about a few simple steps that may wind up transforming your life, please download a free chapter from my book, Workarounds That Work. You'll be glad you did.

You can buy Workarounds That Work here.

Russell Bishop is an educational psychologist, author, executive coach and management consultant based in Santa Barbara, Calif. You can learn more about my work by visiting my website at You can contact me by e-mail at Russell (at)

Condoleezza Rice: A Role Model For Overcoming Adversity

Laura Trice   |   October 21, 2010    1:28 PM ET

Condoleezza Rice released a new book October 12 called "Extraordinary, Ordinary People: A Memoir of Family and gave a talk at the Ronald Reagan Library this past Tuesday. It was my second Presidential Library, after seeing the JFK Library.

While many may know Dr. Rice as the first woman to serve as National Security Advisor, the second woman to serve as Secretary of State and a Professor at Stanford, I wanted to get a sense of her as a person. I wanted to see with my own eyes, hear with my own ears and feel with my instincts what she was like. Between spin doctors, news clips and agendas, I have become almost numb to news media, as it seems truth is no longer presented in an objective way that would allow the people to decide for themselves. We are fed someone's version of something so we will be swayed in one direction or another. That is why I feel inspired at the chance to hear a public figure speak, without any bells, whistles or cameras.

Dr. Rice was one of the highest ranking woman in our country. She overcame both gender and race barriers. I wanted to hear what she had to say. What struck me most was the motto of both her parents and the small black community near Birmingham, Alabama, where she was raised. The motto for all the black families was "no victims, no excuses." She and her fellow students were raised without a chip on the shoulder but instead with a staunch and reinforced belief that even if you couldn't have a sandwich at the local segregated store, personal effort and determination could overcome environmental circumstances. They may have been living with segregation daily, but hard work and effort could lead to becoming President of the United States. The "no victims, no excuses" motto, she stated, was extremely important because if one felt like a victim, one felt "aggrieved" or wronged, and "the twin to aggrieved is entitlement." So, if I'm being put upon and wronged, you or the world owe me.

Standing in line for almost two hours for a good seat was worth that insight. I felt awestruck when Dr. Rice gently escorted an 89-year-old Nancy Reagan into the auditorium; I was in the presence of history. When asked what she learned from her parents that carried and sustained her, Dr. Rice said perseverance, optimism and self-reliance. A sweet story from childhood was about her at age three with a tiny toy piano that was so short that she could only play "What a Friend We Have in Jesus." She grew tired of the limitations and just before age four asked her parents for a piano. They told her that when she could play "What a Friend We Have in Jesus" perfectly, she would get a piano. When her parents left for work that day, she sat there, less than four years old, and practiced that song all day long. When they walked in at the end of the day, she played it for them perfectly and within a week, they had rented a piano for her. She said that flying into war-torn, dangerous areas as Secretary of State, her parents' reaffirming words that "your thoughts will carry you" always kept her feeling safe and sure. Even with her mother being diagnosed with breast cancer when Condoleeza was 15, Dr. Rice kept her focus and optimism. She spoke about the power that the U.S. wields but how important it is to couple power with principles to have its full effect.

Condaleeza graciously signed books for over 800 calm and respectful attendees. She had the glow and radiance about her of a woman who loves her life. Her dedication to education is so needed. One audience member asked what Dr. Rice would advise a 14-year-old girl. Dr. Rice recommended finding something the girl loves to do and to develop skills at it, even when some skills don't come easily. She related her own desire to be a concert pianist and the realization that, even though she practiced and was dedicated, she was not skilled enough to continue that path. Politics was her second love. I was also surprised to learn that her father, expecting a boy, had picked out the name John for her and taught her to love football, a passion she still carries.

I like her. I really enjoyed her as a person. She came across as a positive, insightful, warm, intelligent, energetic, compassionate and gracious woman who also has integrity. She is exactly the type of person I enjoy having as a friend.

"No victims, no excuses" is a motto that the United States might want to implement, considering the amazing list of black men and women who were raised in Dr. Rice's small town, where Civil Rights odds were against them. They had every right to be angry and discouraged, yet they held to a different and higher vision for themselves and their youth, a vision of optimism, accountability, dignity, respect and possibility. The word that comes to mind is "faith" -- finding the strength daily to forge forward in the face of adversity to move towards a yet unrealized goal. Thank you, Dr. Rice, for writing a book about character and family, an all-American topic no matter how someone votes.

What Condoleezza Rice's Journey Can Teach Us

Russell Bishop   |   October 18, 2010    8:31 AM ET

Last week, I wrote more on the subject of placing blame vis-à-vis getting involved at whatever level you can. To be sure, those whose personal competencies revolve around the ability to criticize continued their onslaught against all things positive and trashed anything and anyone, ranging from me to those who have demonstrated their willingness to do what they can despite the odds.

However, in one of those random acts of synchronicity, I happened to be driving on Wednesday, listening to Morning Addition on NPR when I heard that an interview was about to take place with Condoleezza Rice, who was flogging her new book. Having been one who has marveled at the apparent intelligence of this woman contrasted with her hawkish stance in the Bush administration, I thought to myself, "Now this is going to be good."

And it was. Very good, in an odd yet powerful way. (If you would like to listen to the interview, click here.)

Before any of the HuffPost trolls go off on this one, I encourage you to at least consider the underlying message about what a human being can do regardless of circumstance. In fact, consider the implications for our current social and political climate of blame and victimhood.

The interview began with a couple of vignettes from Condoleezza's upbringing in what she called "Bombingham," Alabama. (For those who don't know the history, Birmingham was the hot seat for civil rights change as young school children and their parents were set upon by racist police, attacked by police dogs, and endured numerous civilian terrorist acts of bombing, burnings and beatings.) In fact, one of her friends was one of the four little girls who died in a church bombing and firestorm as they attended Sunday school.

As she said, not only did they call it "Bombingham," but they also lived the terror of knowing that theirs was one of the most dangerous places in America where the police were to be feared as much as anyone in a white robe and hood.

What struck me in this interview were the values imparted to her by her parents, values and principles of integrity, responsibility and the ability to overcome circumstances, no matter how dire. As she said, racism and unspeakable acts were the norm, not something that people complained about, as much as circumstances she and her family simply recognized as "what is."

Her family taught her a major life lesson, that what matters is not what happens to you but what you choose to do about it. They framed it even more directly: we will have no victims here. Complaining, blaming and other demonstrations of being at the effect of the white racists were simply not tolerated. Her family put blaming and complaining in the category of victimizing yourself.

So Condoleezza grew up with the firm understanding that regardless of circumstance, she could do with her life as she chose, but choose she must.

Now, I must admit that while I admire the resolve and courage it must have taken to rise from "Bombingham" to a Ph.D. from Stanford to Secretary of State, I'm more than stunned by the stances she wound up taking on various political, social and economic fronts.

However, the reason I point to her story here has less to do with what she wound up choosing as her personal approach to politics and life and more with what we can learn from how she chose to respond to personal circumstances that pale in comparison to having lost a job, a retirement plan, or your life's savings.

Don't hear me saying that life is rosy out there, and certainly don't hear me apologizing for the misguided steps of the Bush era; however, do hear me continuing to say, as I have for the past couple of years on these pages, that you, too, can choose to make things better, regardless of the lousy hand life appears to have dealt you. Most of us, including me, have been hit hard by the combination of political shenanigans and corporate greed; however, each of us still has the opportunity to do something about it.

The question is: will you be one of those who continue to whine, complain, bitch and moan, or will you choose to take on some kind of personal responsibility for improving your own circumstances and those around you? It doesn't matter to me which "tea party" you belong to, right or left; those who choose the victim's approach of angry remonstrations over self-empowering positive action are doomed to remain stuck in the world of "they did it to me."

Are you angry? Understandably so! Are you harnessing your anger and redirecting that energy into useful action? That's the real question, now, isn't it? Stop victimizing yourself over the circumstances and start owning the outcome -- it's bad enough already without having to pour more victimizing thought and emotion onto the fire.

What do you think? How could you move from being at the effect of others to becoming the cause in your own life? What small step could you take to help move things forward?

I would love to hear from you about your ideas, about what you have done to work around the challenges you are facing, or about what you have seen a friend or neighbor do that has been effective.

I'd love to hear from you. Please do leave a comment here or drop me an email at Russell (at)


If you want more information on how you can apply this kind of reframing to your life and to your job, about a few simple steps that may wind up transforming your life, please download a free chapter from my book, Workarounds That Work. You'll be glad you did.

You can buy Workarounds That Work here.

Russell Bishop is an educational psychologist, author, executive coach and management consultant based in Santa Barbara, Calif. You can learn more about my work by visiting my website at You can contact me by e-mail at Russell (at)

Life After Prison: How One Man Found Redemption Through Fatherhood

Tom Matlack   |   October 17, 2010   12:33 PM ET

After ten years in prison on a mandatory drug charge, a new life.

Abrigal Forrester served 10 years without parole for his first offense, a drug charge. He was inside from age 21 to 31. He had a daughter, was married and divorced, and paid child support during that time. When he got out, he immediately got a job as a janitor at MIT, and ultimately became Program Coordinator for Street Safe Boston, an organization working to reduce violence in the most dangerous areas of the city. He works from the Roxbury Boys' and Girls' Club.

TOM: So tell me a little bit about what happened.

ABRIGAL: It was from 1991 to 2001 that I was in state prison. Long story short, I ended up getting a 10-year mandatory sentence for drug charges. I went from Walpole to Concord to Shirley. If I'd gone to the federal system, it would have been three years, eight months. But I wouldn't become a government informant. And the state already had implemented mandatory sentences, and January '91 was when they implemented that whole no-statutory good-behavior time rule.

TOM: How old were you were when you got there?

ABRIGAL: I was going on 21.

TOM: Jesus. So you got out when you were 31?

ABRIGAL: Yeah. I got out when I was 31, yeah. For me, personally, the whole process of being incarcerated helped me -- not because of the incarceration, but because of my own drive to make changes in my life and to grow and develop. Over that time period, I pretty much committed myself to change.

TOM: Did you find help inside?

ABRIGAL: I found help from older men who were willing to get engaged and question your thinking. But you have to seek that out. The system itself didn't provide anything. It's really about whether or not you want to change.

Around year six, I did some college courses and stuff. But then I went to a minimum institution, which meant that I had to sacrifice the education track I was on. I went because I didn't want my family to have to keep going through that whole shakedown when they came in.

When I came home in 2001, I swent to Roxbury Community College, started working, got a job at MIT -- my first job. I was making $16.21 an hour, because I did some networking on the inside with a family friend who told me what I would need to learn in order to become a maintenance person, or what they called a maintenance technician, which is really just a janitor, but (laughs) that's a good title for it.

I always stayed ahead of my job. My thing was, get the skill set so that I can transfer the skill set outside to this other job that I'm trying to prepare myself for. And it worked. The superintendent offered to write me a recommendation letter.

I went to MIT, I interviewed, they hired me. My first nine months home, I was working from 11 p.m. to 7 in the morning, going home for two hours, going to school from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., picking my daughter up from school, sleeping from 5 p.m. to, like, 10 -- and doing that for nine months. Just to get myself acclimated.

And then, in the ninth month home, September, I got an offer for a job at this organization called Strive. They were more of a social service, a nonprofit, community-based organization trying to work with people and get them jobs, train them for jobs.

I ended up taking that job, then graduated with my associate's degree from RCC. I then matriculated over to UMass Boston for undergrad in psychology, and I got that degree in 2008. Then I continued on the professional track, worked for Strive for five and a half years, did some stuff with them, and helped them build out an ex-offender training program that I supported in developing and facilitating.

The sheriff of the county jail here, Sheriff Cabral, wanted to bring the job-training component to the House of Corrections, so I helped build that. I did the training in the House of Corrections for two and a half years, then moved on to the Urban League to manage their employment resource center, which is just right across the street. And now I'm at StreetSafe Boston.

TOM: What does StreetSafe Boston do?

ABRIGAL: StreetSafe Boston is a violence-intervention program. The goal of StreetSafe is to work with five primary neighborhoods that have been identified through a Harvard research study as having the most violence in the metro Boston area.

The goal is to target those neighborhoods, target those individuals based on intelligence information. To try to intervene in violence, try to help support and extract those individuals, and then provide them with support for their basic needs, whether that be education, employment, mental-health services, housing, recreation, or health services.

TOM: And so you have one daughter?

ABRIGAL: Yes. I have a daughter, and I have a son. My daughter is 19, and my son is 5. My daughter was born six months before I was incarcerated.

TOM: And what's the situation with the mom now?

ABRIGAL: We get along well. I paid child support to my daughter when I was incarcerated, because I tried to be as responsible as possible. There were jobs you could get that paid you $50 a week, which were like the highest-paying jobs in the institution. I was fortunate enough to work my way to those jobs.

So at every end of the month, I would send her at least $125.

TOM: Wow, that's crazy. That's great. So your daughter is all grown up now.

ABRIGAL: She's all grown up now. It's an interesting place to be. (Laughs.) I was on the phone with her this morning for about two hours. She's just starting college, Palm Beach State. But she's living in Lauderhills. And there's a transportation issue. She's struggling with getting a vehicle, all this stuff. Hopefully, once I get past this house situation, I'm going to try to drive my car down there and give her that.

TOM: What was your childhood like? Where did you grow up?

ABRIGAL: I grew up in Dorchester, on Regina Road, between Codman Square and Four Corners, which were two high-profile neighborhoods for crime and violence back in the '80s.

TOM: Were your parents around?

ABRIGAL: My mom. My father was around -- diabolically enough, he lived right up the street but had a whole different family.

TOM: Really?

ABRIGAL: Yeah. I'd say I was, like, five blocks away. It was pretty much me and my mom. My sisters were much older than me. By the time I was nine or 10, they were pretty much out of the house, which created a somewhat vulnerable situation for me as a young boy growing up in a very socially threatening neighborhood. I was very astute in academics from age one, grade one to five. But then, middle school was different. I went to one of the toughest middle schools in the city, which was Woodrow Wilson. And that's when a lot of changes started to take place for me.

TOM: There are 10 questions we ask everybody. First, who do you think taught you about manhood?

ABRIGAL: My understanding of manhood only began to develop when I went to prison, to be honest. Prior to that, I was in what we would call the state of just being a male -- still living life by my desires, what I missed and what I didn't have as a kid. You see a lot of grown men who have their priorities confused. They live at home with mom but they got a $30,000 car outside. I don't consider that to be manhood.

You know, when I went to prison and met men who were doing long sentences, for some reason these were the men that I associated with. These were men that I could have conversations with. They would question my thinking. And so it was really then, I believe, that manhood became a serious question for me.

TOM: How has romantic love shaped you as a man?

ABRIGAL: Oh, man. Romantic love. You know, I don't know if I could say romantic love has shaped me as a man, as much as getting to a place where, as a man, monogamy has begun to shape me. Being at a place where being with one person and fighting yourself and desires and all that good stuff to try to stay and be with that one person. Because when you're monogamous, it's not always about running. It's not always about leaving quickly.

I was married to my daughter's mother once -- while I was incarcerated. We got married when I was incarcerated and divorced while I was incarcerated.

There was the sense of her being romantically in love with me, and us thinking we could still build a future, and then me trying to convince her even before we got married, "You need to move on." But she was like, "No, I want to be with you." And we got married. And then three years later, she realized, "I can't do this whole 10 [years], you know?" She needed romance, and she needed to move on. And me in a position where I could not even fight for the love that I have for her.

It was like sitting at a place with your hands tied, your feet tied, your voice tied, no speech, paralyzed, watching someone that you love just walk away. You know you love them, you know they love you, but you can't do anything.

TOM: Right.

ABRIGAL: So that was my first experience, and then I came home, got married to my son's mother, and that didn't work out. You know, that was a tough assignment. And what I understood was that I didn't know myself and I didn't give myself time to understand myself. I think that the more you know yourself, you understand -- you begin to understand the kind of relationships you need to get in.

When I met my son's mother, she was very new to relationships, monogamous relationships, pretty much a virgin. And me, I had experience. But sometimes, an experienced person with a non-experienced person, it's overwhelming. It doesn't become just a thing about romance or love and growth. It becomes almost like puppy love, and if you're at a place where you're past that phase in your life, you're now wanting room, and they want to cuddle, right? Or they want all your time.

And so, there can be a frustration in that kind of relationship. When I look back, I think that was the biggest challenge, was that my experience and her limited experience, it clashed.

And now I'm married again. (Laughs)

TOM: What two words describe your dad?

ABRIGAL: My dad? I don't know if I want to say stern -- I would say rigid when it comes to what he thinks is right. But he still has his own way of going about his life. It's hard for me to label it. My father was very interesting, because he wanted to be on deck in a certain kind of way, but at the same time, he abandoned many of the responsibilities.

TOM: How are you most unlike your dad?

ABRIGAL: I think my commitment to responsibility, regardless of the turmoil or tribulations. My father's the type that if he wasn't getting along with someone, like my mom, then he was M.I.A. I'm not that type. Compared to my father, it's my stick-to-it-iveness.

TOM: From what mistake did you learn the most?

ABRIGAL: Criminal life, you know? Making bad choices, going to prison. Having people tell you this is the pathway to your dream, your hope, your desire, and not researching enough. Or not being able to look at the reality of it. So now, I do more research. I look into things a bit more before I make a final decision, because other people can make a lot of things look really good.

TOM: How would the women in your life describe you, and is it true?

ABRIGAL: Ah, they'd probably describe me as stubborn. I stand firm on certain things. But not because I think I'm right. I stand firm because I do the research.

TOM: Who's the best father you know, and why do you think so?

ABRIGAL: A gentleman named Stanley Green. He's faced some of the same challenges as I have, and I've watched how he's fought hard to raise his son. His son is an athletic star. He has the ability, even through a rocky relationship with his son's mother, to stick and stay and fight it through. He has really been on deck. I think being a good parent is just being on deck, you know? That is what parenting is all about.

TOM: This isn't on my list, but why do you think so many fathers either aren't physically there, or aren't mentally there?

ABRIGAL: You know, it's work.

TOM: Tell me about it, dude.

ABRIGAL: Yeah, it really is. And it's a different kind of work, because the work is so encompassing. It changes all the time, it's not one-dimensional. Like, you go to your job, that work is one-dimensional. You get into a bottom line, you're just working. But a husband and a father -- today your work might be emotional. Tomorrow, your work might be getting up at 2 in the morning and going to the store. The next day, it might be that you're being attacked financially.

It changes, it evolves, day to day. And if you're not stable, if you don't have a support system, you'll run, because of your own insecurities in that work. Because there are times where you may not have the answer.

TOM: That's why we're starting with this conversation about manhood among men, because what the hell, we can't figure it out ourselves.

ABRIGAL: Yeah. How can you teach what you don't know? In my younger years, no one talked to me about manhood. When you really start to understand manhood, you see that when you go into a situation, you need to ask yourself what is it that you're doing.

TOM: So what advice would you give teenage boys now, about manhood?

ABRIGAL: A 16-year-old has to understand what responsibility means at 16. It's different from what it means at ... For instance, my son is five. My responsibility is to teach him: You need to pick up your toys and put them away. You need to put things in the trash. When you finish, you don't throw it on the ground. If we're riding in the car, you don't throw trash out the window. Those are responsibilities right there, but then he'll get that. And then he'll become 10 and his responsibilities will shift, and it will increase over time.

Manhood is something that is developed. It's about understanding what it means to be responsible in different phases of your development. That's how you become a man.

TOM: When was the last time you cried?

ABRIGAL: About two weeks ago, in my therapy session.

TOM: What was it about?

ABRIGAL: We were reflecting on some of my experiences when I was incarcerated. I was talking about my relationship with my daughter's mother, and losing that relationship that I had, and it brought tears to my eyes. And then I was starting to understand a little bit more about love. I was taught to shut down that love thing. You know, like, "Don't love no one." That's how I was taught in my neighborhood. Like, "You love a chick, you going to be a mess, man." When I finally got to a place where I started to understand what love felt like, I got incarcerated. So I never even got to express that love.

TOM: Last question. What's your favorite man ritual, guy ritual?

ABRIGAL: Favorite guy ritual? Hmm, I love sports, man. I'm a sports fanatic. That's my thing.


A related story of how an original contributor to The Good Men Project anthology, Julio Medina, is helping ex-cons reintegrate can be found here.

Read this and more from Tom Matlack on The Good Men Project Magazine.

Choose To Live Without Limits

Nick Vujicic   |   October 4, 2010    8:00 AM ET

Many people look at me and simply see a man with no arms and legs. They pity me, failing to see my happiness beyond my circumstances--failing to see that I live a zealous life, characterized by a deep joy that is unhindered by my circumstances. Although I appear "incomplete" on the outside, I am whole on the inside. Sadly, there are so many people with arms and legs who are whole on the outside but are broken on the inside. Their lives are characterized by unhappiness, dissatisfaction and un-fulfillment. My mission in life is to resurrect strength in these individuals, inspire them to fulfill their potential and motivate them to live life without limits!

Having been born without limbs (and with no medical explanation), I traveled a long road of unanswered questions. I traveled this road for so long that I eventually fell into a deep depression, telling myself that I could only survive as a burden to those around me. I felt like an inconvenience to my parents and a nobody at school. Although I was able to experience the groundbreaking opportunity of being the first "disabled" student to be integrated into Australian mainstream classrooms, I hated my life. Kids were kids, and I was ridiculed and humiliated. Teasing and rejection became the daily norm for me.

Although I had many friends, my life consisted of so much daily bullying that I believed my life had two purposes: to be teased and to be a burden to others. My parents loved me and did their very best to raise me and my two younger "normal" siblings in love, support and encouragement. They helped me believe that there was a future and a hope for my life. They believed in God, but it was a god that I could not understand at the time. How could I have a future for my life when I could not see one? At age eight, my desperation lead me to tell my mom that I wanted to kill myself. At age 10, I tried.

Finally having had enough of life, I went to the bathtub and rolled over. Once ... twice ... three times. The third time, I could not do it. I could not stomach the visual of my parents and siblings crying at my grave, asking "why?" and blaming themselves. Can you imagine if I didn't stick around in this life? I had no idea that I would complete a double degree in Accounting and Financial Planning, or that I could type 43 words a minute, or by age 27 I'd be a world-traveler, meeting Presidents and speaking to crowds as large as 110,000 people. I had no idea that I would found two organizations, give to the needy and address four internationally-based congresses. Who could have imagined that a man without arms or legs would be the hands and feet of love, hugging teenagers around the world, telling them that they are loved, making them believe that there is hope and a future for their lives? I love helping people see that their value is not determined by their religion, looks, wealth or job. I love helping them embrace a genuine satisfaction in living, a peace in belonging, and an inspiration to believe that a rich man can be poor, and a poor man can be rich. Each of us can live a life of fulfillment despite our circumstances.

We have a daily choice: we can choose to be angry about what we do not have, or we can choose to be thankful for what we do have. Being angry is counterproductive and fear and pain can be destructive. I believe it is far worse to be in a broken home than to have no limbs. I never try to pretend that I understand your pain, but I am here to tell you that there is hope, whether you see it or not. Just because you cannot see purpose in your life does not mean there is none. You are here for a reason. Find it. Seek it. Live it. If my life's journey can inspire you to live life to the fullest, never give up, dream big and believe in your potential, I am fulfilled. Why? Because I have come to understand that even when the clouds in my personal storm do not part, I can still carry someone else through their storm. If I do not get a miracle, I can still be a miracle for someone else.

Today, I challenge you. If this was your last day to live, who would you call? Who would you thank? What would you say you have taken for granted? Do your best. Set goals. That is success. What can you do today to be a better person? To be the kind of person you want to become? To be all that you can be?

Follow me on Twitter, Facebook,

Visit me on to pre-order my first book, "Life Without Limits: How to Live a Ridiculously Good Life!" (Doubleday Religion; On Sale: October 26, 2010)

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