How a Cooking Lesson Translates to a Life Lesson

Many years ago, I had been intensely involved in my own psychotherapy for a number of months and was frustrated by my attempts to make the process go faster.

Try as I might, the more I struggled with my demons, the less progress I seemed to make.

One night, this beautiful Native American woman befriended me in a dream and deeply and happily surprised me …

In my dream, she was preparing to cook a meal over an open fire. She had this funny looking round frying pan that had a very small cooking circle in the middle. Instead of using the larger part of the pan to cook in, she placed a little food in the inner circle to cook. When that was ready, she took it out of the pan and repeated the process again. I came over by the fire and laughed and asked her why she was cooking that way. She smiled up at me and held me in her gaze for what seemed like an eternity and said to me, “A little bit at a time, John, a little bit at a time. . .”

When I woke up, I realized she had given me the key to solving some of the thorniest of my life’s problems … a little bit at a time.

step by step

I will never forget her magical frying pan with the little circle inside the larger circle and the most important cooking lesson I have ever received.

Sometimes you need to take it a little bit at a time and realize that being gentle and kind to yourself is much more useful than beating yourself up to get yourself to change.

This approach usually works much better with others as well.

By John Mariner,
Licensed Clinical Social Worker

The Golden Rule vs. The Platinum Rule

Most of us have heard of the Golden Rule:

This couple I know joined together in holy matrimony; he just loved his newspaper in the morning, and every morning he would lovingly bring her a newspaper. She craved her morning coffee and every morning, she would fix coffee for both of them.

One morning, about six months into their relationship, as he gave her the morning newspaper, she said, “This is so thoughtful of you, but I need to tell you that a newspaper in the morning is wonderful, but it’s not that important to me.”


He was taken aback and said, “You know, I don’t care that much about coffee in the morning. It’s nice that you fix it for me, but actually I prefer tea most days.”

They had a good laugh and discovered the Platinum Rule:

She loved it when he would fix coffee for her, and he felt very cared for when she would bring him some tea and the newspaper!

By John Mariner,
Licensed Clinical Social Worker

Catch Them Doing Good: Significance of Small Successes

Quite a few years ago, when I was a social worker at Fort Logan Mental Health Center, I was intrigued by a colleague’s work in another part of the hospital. He dealt with children who came to the Center with very challenging problems. He had amazing and wonderful success with many of them. One day, I asked him what he was doing different that seemed to work so well.

He said: “John, it’s simple. I catch them doing good.”

key to successYou see, instead of focusing on their problems, his focus was on what they did well, even if this was in the smallest increments. It’s not that he ignored their acting out behavior, he just wasn’t very excited by how they messed up. He was very interested in their small successes and acknowledging these.

I left Fort Logan not long after our conversation, but I had learned a great lesson from him.

I became much more interested in what people do that works rather than what they do that doesn’t work for themselves or others.

This approach doesn’t usually sell newspapers or make for exciting TV.

But then, I stopped watching most of what is on TV a long time ago.

By John Mariner,
Licensed Clinical Social Worker

The Path of the Happy Misfit

There is no roadmap. If you wake up to being a misfit in this society there are no roadmaps. We are the rejects. No, we are the rejectors.” – Steve Piker

There is a road, a gentle highway . . . if I knew the way, I would take you home.” – the Grateful Dead

No one, starting out in life as a small child, wants to be a misfit. Human beings have a basic need to fit in, to be loved and to be wanted. Failure to thrive, it’s sometimes called. At one point in history, unwanted or misformed babies were put out to die. The misfits.

Few parents, if any, want their children to be misfits. The road is not a “gentle highway” for kids that are misfits. They may be ridiculed, shunned or worse. Parents want their kids to “fit in” with school and with friends. The culture we live in demands that individuals fit in, sometimes doling out grave consequences if they don’t.

stand out in a crowdGiven this obvious repugnance for misfits, why would any one choose to be one?

This is a great question. Many years ago, a very wise woman, for whom I had the greatest respect, said to Mary and me, “What I wish for you both is that you become happy misfits.” Shut up! “What are you talking about?” was what I wanted to say back to her. The truth of it was I already knew I had chosen to be a misfit in this culture. I had rejected the draft protocol because I believed in the fundamental wrongness of the Vietnam War, I was a feminist when most men were not, and I firmly believed that people were more important than money and corporations, which clearly cemented my misfit status. I was becoming a conscious misfit at the time, but not necessarily a happy one. “Happy misfit” seemed like an oxymoron to me, and at the same time, deeply appealing.

To be continued . . .

By John Mariner,
Licensed Clinical Social Worker