Tuesday, January 11, 2011

"You Want Joy? Get Out of The Way!" - Dr. Dan Gottlieb

“…signing off, and I am happy.” I flipped the radio off and sat in my driveway, lost in those three little words. Funny how some words seem to swoop in the back door and push right back down in your seat, don’t they?

I am happy.They’re like an unexpected visit from a long-ago friend. So simple, yet so uncommon…so refreshing, yet so puzzling too.

I am happy. And yes, I think this it is the one statement that captivates the imagination in all of us, without exception, leaving a single thought in its wake.

Why is he so happy?I needed to know, of course. It was like a karmic calling card, inviting me to listen to his next show…and the one after that…and the one after that, until I was sure I had found the root of his bliss.

As he empathetically exchanged thoughts and advice with a caller, ironically on the topic of listening, my second favorite word behind joy, he slipped in a little known fact, to me at least, that most would not associate with happiness. “I’m not sure if you’re aware, but I am a quadriplegic.”

Now I not only need to know, but I needed to meet this man in person. I weighed the pros and cons all afternoon. Would he just say "buzz off" and hang up? Would he even take my call? But, then again, for a joy-seeker like myself, his optimism was irresistible. Finally, I took a deep breath in, slow breath out…and did the next best thing: email.

Message Sent:
Hello, I’m a writer on a quest to find the root of joy. You seem like a very happy man. Could I possibly interview you? Send.

His reply: Yes, be happy to. My house or office?

As I’ve come to learn, this is the essence of Dan Gottlieb. No complications. No fan fair. No grand expectations….not a chance. With Dan, it’s just one human authentically connecting with another and, subsequently, changing the world.

Dan Gottlieb is an acclaimed psychologist, host of the popular talk show, Voices in The Family on WHYY, columnist for The Philadelphia Inquirer, lecturer, father, grandfather and best-selling author (Letters to Sam) – yet he most intensely identifies with the title he has printed on his business cards: Human. Thirty-three years ago while driving down the Schuylkill Expressway, contemplating his next career move, surrounded by the scent of a new car, and hoping he’d been doing well by his two young children… a tire from a passing 8-wheeler crashed straight through his roof, instigating an accident so tragic it would wipe his mind clear of any presumption, plan, philosophy or day dream - of nearly anything he had formerly known to be true.

When he awoke, he was paralyzed.

“I’ll give it two years, before I call it quits,” he told friends. But, two years came and went - in fact two decades came and went, and along with it a mixed bag of emotional and physical suffering from depression, sibling death and divorce to substance abuse, dwindling health and a grandchild with profound autism.

But, I repeat, Dan is a self-proclaimed happy person.

He graciously explained, “Why am I happy? I made a choice to stop. I stopped wishing it would change. That things would get better, be different, or be the same as before. I chose the life I had, not the one I could have had or wished I had; then I made the life I actually had, the best it could be. I think it’s about clarification. Once the choice is truly clarified, I think we always choose life.”

Could joy truly be bred from surrender?
Yes. It is now a total of 33 years later…and Dan Gotlieb is smiling as wide as the sun. He is open and friendly, with a razor-sharp wit, and his wheelchair has clearly become a mobilizer rather than a crutch. He has the most genuine curiosity about life, humans, what makes them tick - or not tick - inquiring about, of all things…my problems. He was insanely interested as to why I was on this quest for joy. I will admit, I was unnerved at a certain point, willfully refraining from leaping in the air and screaming, “truly I’m not really all that interesting…you are!” However, Dan doesn’t think that way. He has traveled to the raw edge of the human experience and back, and this journey is where his passion lies –not only for himself, but for everyone he meets.

After intensely listening, as I awkwardly fumbled through the details, he explained to me, in the most poetic of ways, how he’d witnessed a vine growing from outside of his house, to the inside, that very morning. For some reason, I reminded him of the vine. He further explained that the vine needed oxygen and how it naturally burrowed through the drywall - through the insulation - through the stucco... to find air.

“Like the vine, you don’t have to pursue anything. It happens naturally if we can stay out of the way. For example, the oxygen needed to heal a wound comes from your blood, not the air. Everything your wound needs is inside you. In fact, I think pursuing things outwardly can be harmful. So…you want joy? Stay out of your own way. Just let yourself move naturally toward the oxygen. You just need air, that’s all.”

{You can find more on Dr. Dan Gottlieb at http://www.drdangottlieb.com/. Check back for part two of my day with Dan in upcoming weeks.}


1 comment:

  1. Maureen Neville is an incredibly talented & skillful writer/intuitive listener who I've had the pleasure of knowing these recent years.

    Mo - What a gift of inspiration you are giving through these amazing stories. You are not only providing a vehicle for positivity for others; you are making a huge contribution to the collective consciousness that initiates & motivates others. Through this story especially, may we all appreciate WHAT WE HAVE,
    make the the most of WHO WE ARE & take that next step toward BE-COMING...WHO WE ARE HERE TO BE!
    God Bless...Veronica Tronoski