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Perspective on Adult Definition of Play: A Balance of Energy

Play is fine for children, but what about us adults?

I think our culture needs an adult definition of play.

The perspective on adult play that I like the best is the following:

Pretty simple and extremely important!

Unless we experience a balance of energy in our lives, coming in as well as going out, we are likely to feel pretty unhappy. I think most of us experience more energy going out than coming in on a regular basis, and the expectations that we put on ourselves and others tend to not help matters. It is well known that on average, adults in the U.S. work more hours and take less vacation time than most people in the developed world. The demands of daily life can be extremely draining, and addictive behaviors do not really address this energy imbalance that many people experience in their lives.

So I recommend that we look at simple, healthy behaviors that we are already doing in our daily lives that give us more energy than they take.

having fun

This is our play, and we might want to be really subversive of the dominant culture and decide to play even more!

Take some time out of your day to go and play!

Let us know your thoughts – share comments below.

By John Mariner,
Licensed Clinical Social Worker

Nurture First, Then Work is Essential

The Protestant Ethic is strong on work before play. Get your work and tasks done first, and then relax if there is any time left.

Much that is useful has come from following this maxim, and there are times when work must precede more pleasurable activities.

Unfortunately the ethic itself is based on the belief that people are inherently lazy, and unless they drive themselves or are driven by someone else, they will succumb to their lower nature or some such gobbledygook. Also, there frequently isn’t any time left when all the work is done.

While it is important to learn how to delay gratification, this works best if it is a conscious process on the part of the individual rather than a rule that is bound up with fear and survival energy.

nurturing environmentMy own experience is that when I am well nurtured in mind, body and spirit, I work at my best. Enough sleep, healthy food, exercise and a meditative or journaling practice seem to be important for my optimal functioning at whatever work I need or choose to do.

If work before play is sometimes necessary, self-nurturing before work is often essential if we are wanting to move beyond a strongly entrenched survival ethic that frequently took a dim view of human nature.

By John Mariner,
Licensed Clinical Social Worker

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 Things That Make Us Happy Are the Things that Make Us Wise

When I first read “the things that make us happy are the things that make us wise” in Little, Big, a brilliant novel by John Crowley, it hit me like a ton of happy bricks! “Shut up!” I said to myself. For most of my life, I had heard that wisdom came with the pain of life with a large dose of suffering for flavoring. Wisdom coming from the things that make us happy was not the primary message from MY religious upbringing!

However, if you believe as I do that our essential nature is happiness, this makes a lot of sense.

jumping for joy

What if the things that lead to our true happiness
are also steps on our path to wisdom?

We are not talking here about addictions and aversions, which may seem to make us happy for a while and inevitably disappoint us. Good work, real love, true friends, a willingness to see the beauty that is in us and all around us are some of the things that make me happy. More and more I trust that these things lead to wisdom, even when wisdom seems excruciatingly slow in coming.

By John Mariner,
Licensed Clinical Social Worker

Taking Action In Your Relationship – No More Shame, Blame or Criticism

When people have been in a committed relationship for a number of years, they usually each have a fairly accurate map of how the other needs to grow and change. It’s one of the benefits of being in a longer term relationship; that our partner has this unique perspective on our personal landscape and they do not hesitate to tell us, whether we want to hear it or not. They are often better able to see us than we are able to see ourselves.

We should be eternally grateful to them for their pointed observations. Right?


variety of relationship emotions

The problem is that more often than not, our maps contain “BASEBALL BATS” of shame, blame and criticism, which we use to beat each other up.

“Read my map!”
“No! You read my map!”


We need to take the bats out of our maps and leave them out for good. No more shame, blame or criticism. Then our partners may be able to read our maps, which often are useful and accurate representations of how they need to grow. And who knows? If they do the same, we just may be willing to look at their maps of ourselves as well!

Have you found yourself using the “BASEBALL BATS” of shame, blame and criticism in your relationship? What have you done to stop this action?

By John Mariner,
Licensed Clinical Social Worker

Do You Use Comfort Food to Medicate Pain?

Just about everybody loves comfort food. (What do you mean, “Just about everybody?” EVERYBODY man!)

The problem with comfort food is its potentially addictive and destructive nature when comfort food is used to medicate pain. And we live in a society where there is a lot of pain to medicate, especially if you are the wrong class (lower or disappearing middle) or the wrong race (African-American or Latino) or especially combined with these, the wrong gender (female).

Comfort foodEver notice how relatively cheap sugar is? And French fries? So yes, I’m talking about comfort food and fat. One way of looking at body fat is that it is roughly proportional to the amount of entitlement and discounting you have to put up with in order to get through the day. In other words, the class and race you are part of. You don’t see a lot of overweight wealthy people these days, in case you haven’t noticed.

Now unlike Mayor Bloomberg in New York City, I am not advocating that we take people’s Big Gulps away from them or stop Wendy’s and other chains from “Biggie Sizing” it. I would advocate that we address the real pain that many people, especially the poor and underprivileged in this country, experience and medicate with comfort food. Instead of trying to pry the comfort food away, let’s work to change the underlying conditions that lead people to de-value their health in their more fundamental struggle for survival.

By John Mariner,
Licensed Clinical Social Worker

The Spiritual/Life Journey as Surfing

Just yesterday, a client came up with the metaphor of surfing for what it is like to be on the journey of life.  Though I’ve never surfed, it makes a lot of sense to me.  We really aren’t in control of what waves life sends our way.  We do have the choice of whether to fight them, sink, or do the best we can to ride them with as much grace as possible! To ride them, we must be aware and attuned both to the wave and to ourselves, and have the courage to jump into the flow.

AND, we will not always catch it just right.  We may frequently get unceremoniously dumped and even beat up a bit – or a lot.  Still, we can choose how we react to the experience.  We can wallow in self-blame or self-pity, we can sink under the water and refuse to play again. Or, we can swim to shore, find our bearings and say, “Well, THAT didn’t work!  What can I do different next time? “  We might need to nurse our bruises for a while, but hopefully, eventually we’ll find the courage and confidence to try to catch the next wave a little more gracefully.

Mary Simon, Psy.D.

Moving Beyond the Power Struggle


Remember the song that said “For everything…, turn, turn turn, there is a season…, turn turn, turn.”  This is a phrase from Ecclesiastes that provides deep reflection on some automatic behaviors in relationships.   After the “Romantic Stage” of all relationships there comes a period in which the partners feel hurt and betrayed by each other.  This is often referred to as the “Power Struggle”.  At this time conflicts are not resolved and resentments begin to build up inside both partners. 

Many people handle this stage by turning away from the other person.  It just feels safer and less fraught with frustration and grief.  The endless repetitions of all too familiar fights are avoided by shutting down, stonewalling the conversation, and turning inward.  This can have devastating effects on a love relationship.

Unbeknownst to you, your partner feels lost and abandoned.  S/he feels unimportant and unloved by you as you stop talking and control your own reactivity through silence.  What you are doing to feel secure and to avoid the conflict feels provocative and offensive to your partner.  Obviously this is not going to move the relationship closer.

 What is required here feels counter-intuitive.  You must stop your retreat and turn toward your partner.  You must abandon the security of your fortress of silence and approach your partner with an open hand and a curious mind set.  What you say is not as important as making the approach with warmth and a desire to be closer to your friend.

~ Dr. Howard Lambert





One of my favorite poets, Mary Oliver, once posed the poetic question, “What will you do with your one wild and precious life?” I have found this to be a wonder-filled, thought and action-provoking question, and one that is particularly poignant as we leap into 2012 (which coincidently happens to be a Leap Year).  Another similarly provocative question that I like to ponder around the New Year is, ‘What would you do if you had no fear and you knew that you could not fail?’

A colleague of mine (and an excellent writing coach), Andrea Costantine, recently asked the question, “What would it take to make 2012 your best year yet?”  As I consider my answer to this question, I recall the notion that what you focus on expands. In other words, if I focus on what I fear, or what I don’t want (my “NO”), I will tend to move in that direction, and that will play a large role in determining what I create and draw into my life. If, on the other hand, I focus on what I love, on what is life-affirming, and on what I do want in my life (my ‘YES!’), that will be the direction I will tend to move. As my daughter, at age 4 wisely proclaimed, “Peace attracts peace.”

 With this in mind, I challenge you to consider the following questions:

  • What is your vision of the best year ever?
  • What would you do if you were to focus on what you truly want in your life in 2012? How might that look, feel, sound?
  • Who is the person you will need to be or become in order to bring this vision into reality?
  • What support might be helpful (e.g. a friend or relative, a coach, a therapist) as you stretch into your new vision?

 As you enter the portal of this New (Leap) Year, I invite you to discover your “YES!!!” and then take the leap!

~ Suzanne Mariner 









Being Present: Avoiding the Reactivity Trap

Here’s a concept that I’ve been finding really helpful of late.  It’s called “The Shelf,” and it’s the place where I can rest my “baggage” when I find that my buttons are getting pushed by something.  The best example I can think of is when I’m trying –  REALLY trying – to listen to something that my partner is explaining, and I find myself getting triggered.  The idea is that I go, ‘Aha!  I’m about to fall into the “reactivity trap.” I need to take “my stuff” and put it on the shelf, so I can be truly present here.’  It’s an active decision to not pay any attention to my own internal triggering.  Maybe later I can take it down and explain my side of things.  Or maybe I can just leave it up there  . . . ?

 Mike Misgen, LPC

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