From SADness to Sunshine: Illuminating Paths to Happiness with Dr. Norman Rosenthal

From SADness to Sunshine: Illuminating Paths to Happiness with Dr. Norman Rosenthal

by Chris Tompkins | February 21, 2024

If you’ve ever attributed your seasonal depression to Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), then you have Dr. Norman Rosenthal to thank. The world-renowned psychiatrist first identified the condition more than 40 years ago. Since then, he has pioneered light therapy as a treatment for SAD during his time as a researcher at the National Institute of Mental Health. Today, Dr. Rosenthal’s expertise — on everything from the transformative power of poetry to the importance of adversity — can be found in his vast selection of scholarly articles and the popular books he has authored or co-authored, including New York Times bestseller Transcendence: Healing and Transformation Through Transcendental Meditation.

The gift of adversity

Dr. Rosenthal says that his number one message for young people is that sometimes, when things go wrong, that is when you learn the most. He says that he thinks social media, in part, has spurred this idea that kids have to be perfect.

“But to be human is to be imperfect,” he says.

He says that parents, in both their desire to protect their children from adversity, and in trying to impose their own ambitions for their children onto them, hinder their child’s ability to experience adversity. Instead, he explains that parents should be helping their kids through adversity so that their child comes to the realization that they can do hard things.

As a means to those ends, Dr. Rosenthal explains that loving your child and having their back is paramount. He also emphasizes the importance of helping your kids discover who they uniquely are and urges both parents and kids to celebrate that uniqueness because from that often comes their most precious gifts.

“I think that for a kid just to know that their parent is their friend and ally goes a long way in giving them the security to enter the world as an individual, unique with all their wonderful skills and assets and issues that all of us have,” he says.

Do kids get SAD?

Dr. Rosenthal explains that especially in the higher latitudes, like Ontario, kids definitely grapple with SAD and the first signs are typically set off by puberty, especially in girls. By the senior year of high school, adolescents experience SAD at nearly the same rate as the adult population (about 5%). Symptoms include trouble waking up and getting to school in the morning, falling grades, feeling down and being less friendly or sociable. Dr. Rosenthal recommends a dawn simulator to wake up to in the morning or a light box at the breakfast table as one way of treating SAD.

The creative cure

Among Dr. Rosenthal’s other recommendations to combat symptoms of both SAD and other mental health issues is poetry. His book, Poetry Rx: How 50 Inspiring Poems Can Heal and Bring Joy To Your Life, is indicative of his earlier emphasis on the importance of kids and parents really embracing what makes them unique. He explains that when he was growing up, there were certain poems that he found to be very helpful to him in a variety of ways but when he pitched the idea of a book of healing poetry to his publishers none of them thought it would sell. Dr. Rosenthal, however, stuck with his conviction — that he had appreciated and found poetry to have healing properties since childhood — and after getting the attention of one publisher, Poetry Rx went on to be listed among the New York Times’ top wellness books of 2021.

Listen to the full episode at the top of this post for more on what Dr. Rosenthal has to say about building resiliency, the healing power of the arts, and the importance of celebrating uniqueness in our kids.

Visit our website to discover a variety of other guests that we’ve had on the show. Shaping Our World episodes are also available wherever you get podcasts.

Transcript

[00:00:12.170] – Speaker 2
Well, hey, everyone. I’m Chris Tompkins, and welcome to the Shaping Our World podcast. My goal in this podcast is to invite you into a conversation that will leave you more confident in understanding and inspiring the young people in your life. If you’ve been listening through our seasons, we get on this podcast and we talk with leading experts and try to offer relevant resources for parents and youth workers and people that really care about kids so that we can dive deeper into the world of our youth today. Every once in a while, as I look ahead to the guests, there’s a guest that sparks my interest, and today’s is definitely one. Today, we have Dr. Norman Rosenthal on the show. Dr. Norman Rosenthal is a world-renowned psychiatrist, and the best-selling author who first described seasonal affective disorder, SAD, and also pioneered the use of light therapy as a treatment during his 20 years at the National Institute of Mental Health. A prolific researcher and writer, he has written more than 300 scholarly articles and authored and co-authored 10 popular books, including Poetry Rx, the New York Times bestseller, Transcendence, and the National bestsellers, The Gift of Adversity and Supermind.

[00:01:34.510] – Speaker 2
His most recent book is Defeating SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder): A Guide to Health and Happiness Through All Seasons. Those of us who live in the north may be a little more familiar to seasonal effective disorder. And so when I was looking at this and thinking about our conversation today, I was just amazed that we would be talking to the man who really coined that term and understood what it was all about for us. And this conversation is a great conversation today as we get into topics about overcoming adversity and seasonal affective disorder and poetry and the arts and how to encourage the uniqueness in our kids. How do we journey alongside them as they navigate the challenges in their life. And Dr. Rosenthal has some really great things to input into this conversation. So without further ado, let’s dive in and hear what he has to share with us today. Welcome, Dr. Rosenthal.

[00:02:38.970] – Speaker 1
Thank you. Thank you. Good to be here.

[00:02:40.960] – Speaker 2
It’s really great to have you on the show and your expertise on a bunch of topics that are really important to parents and youth workers and people who care about kids, particularly where we are up in the north, I think is going to be father for some great conversation today. I’m looking forward to having you on the So thanks for being here. We often ask a few kickoff questions around our topic, shaping our world. So let’s dive into it today with you. So what shaped your world when you were growing up, Dr. Rosenthal?

[00:03:13.930] – Speaker 1
I’ve always been interested in the mind for some reason. I’ve always wondered why people did strange things, interesting things, curious things, and by the same token, why my mind worked sometimes sometimes in strange and curious ways. So that really was a shaping influence. And it’s an unusual thing, but that’s just how my mind worked that I thought, Why did so and so do such and such? And I did have exposure to some really interesting people. For example, I had a cousin who was a compulsive gambler, and he would say, such and such a horse can’t possibly lose the race this afternoon. Nothing can happen to make him lose. I would think, why is he so sure? Anything can happen. I would question the way people would think about things. I had an uncle who completely lost his memory and only reclaimed it after working very hard. He had suffered in the war. He had had head injury and suffered in the war. There I saw somebody who just blanked out on a chunk of memory and it slowly came back. I would say that these kinds of observations made me think, this is something I really want to study because It fascinates me.

[00:04:46.640] – Speaker 2
It’s fascinating that, and we hear this often on the show that already at a young age, different things sparked people’s future careers and future endeavors in life. And so it’s interesting to know that your life’s work now was even present, the curiosity, the interest, and led you into what you’re doing today. That’s fascinating. So outside of the work and what you’re doing, tell us a bit about you, your personal life? What shapes your world today? What are you interested in? What fascinates you? Where do you spend some of your time outside of your technical work?

[00:05:25.100] – Speaker 1
I would say in middle life, I became absolutely persuaded that that taking care of one’s body and mind were crucial to developing into a solid, healthy human being. So I’ve just done my workout. I walk up and down the hills in the neighborhood. I do yoga once a week, and I meditate frequently. We can talk more about that if you like. And I try to just intrigue my mind and fascinate my mind with all kinds of new things. My son is a psychiatrist just like me, and we love turning each other onto a podcast about this or that. In fact, just yesterday, we were discussing something called motivational interviewing, how you use a technique to help people get more motivated. It’s an incredible innovation and development, and it’s been around for a long time, but it’s not as widely known as it should be. But there we were talking about it and discussing it. And so I love to keep my mind alive and enjoy the world around me, which is such an incredible place that we’re privileged to be in and also try to stay healthy and well, physically and psychologically.

[00:06:59.080] – Speaker 2
Oh, that’s great. That’s so inspiring. Even as I’m listening, I’m writing that down. I’m the motivational interviewing. Like, okay, I got to look up that. That may even help me today. So thank you. Thanks for sharing that little tidbit as we go on. Can you tell us a little bit about some of the work that you’re involved in now, specifically, you have a long history of publications and research and work that you’ve been doing. What’s in your world today that you’re working on and has your interests Well, I’m closing a long arc right now in my…

[00:07:38.670] – Speaker 1
What I would say is to some degree, my life’s work, which is the effects of the seasons on human psychology and depression. This started in the 1980s, 40 years ago, and when my colleagues and I described what was then a completely unknown syndrome, which we called seasonal affective disorder or SAD. I wrote many papers on the subject, professional papers, but I thought that what I wanted to give the general public was a summary, something that was really short and to the point and interesting. And so that is a book that I just wrote this last year called Defeating SAD. Sad stands for seasonal affective disorder or winter depression. And the book is a how to book for anybody who is fascinated by their seasonal responses or troubled to know how to understand them and how to treat them and manage them. I felt like something I wanted to do because I felt like I was in a unique position to make that contribution. That’s part of the motivation for talking with wonderful people like yourselves who want to inspire young minds and try to get that message out that we were just talking before this interview about sometimes that you never notice something until it’s pointed out to you.

[00:09:26.190] – Speaker 1
Here we are with the weather There’s an old quote that said, Everybody complaints about the weather, but nobody does anything about it.

[00:09:37.690] – Speaker 2
Right. Yeah.

[00:09:39.280] – Speaker 1
Actually, there’s really a lot you can do about it. So that’s a piece of what I’m doing right now. But in the course of a long career, I have done so many different things, and we may have a chance to touch upon them. They include meditation, they include unusual ways of treating depression and writing. One thing that, especially for young people, if there was one message I’d like to give is that sometimes when things go wrong, That can be when you learn the most and when you get the most is when things go wrong. I did write a book called The Gift of Adversity, and looking at my own life and when things went wrong, that turned out to be very instructional. As long as my brain is working, and I hope that is quite a while yet, I will continue to be fascinated with the mind and how we can get the most out of it.

[00:10:45.630] – Speaker 2
That’s amazing. And I am so grateful for your mind and how it works and paying attention to that, because I think growing up where I did in Canada, as we were talking before, just paying attention and going, okay, there’s a reason why I’m not feeling 100 % over these seasons in the middle of the winter. And so curiosity and inquiry and learning about what’s going on around you and how it impacts how you feel, I think is huge. And that’s part of the reason why we do this podcast in general is to help parents. And I want to start where you finished because youth mental health is It’s a growing concern for parents and people that work with youth. I know a lot of parents who journey with this podcast, and in general, you hear stuff in the news. This is a growing topic. I think It’s really interesting because a lot of generations worry about how their kids are doing, the young people and what’s going on in their world. But I know statistically that there has been some exponential rises in levels of depression and anxiety and self-harm and suicide ideation and even attempts to complete suicide.

[00:12:09.110] – Speaker 2
So much so that in the United States, the surgeon general has issued a warning now on youth mental health, and particularly around social media. And it’s one of the top priorities for the US surgeon general as a whole, from public health. And this is a big thing. Some in the world have described it even as an epidemic. And we’ve spoken a lot on our podcast in previous seasons about the pressure young kids feel these days growing up in this world and how that connects to their mental health. And a lot of it comes around avoiding making mistakes, or as you might say, constantly aspire to excellence. And my daughter is one that really wrestles with this. And we were just literally having a conversation last night about leaking from her this pressure to be perfect, whether that’s grades, sports, whatever that is, this message of trying to be excellent and perfect is just so pervasive and definitely connects to how young people feel about who they are and who they’re becoming. And I know as parents, and maybe more than ever before, we hear all these messaging and Surgeon General’s morning, and then we’re like, okay, we need to protect our kids.

[00:13:30.070] – Speaker 2
And so often that comes in the form of really trying to isolate them and protect them from experiencing any adversity. But as you talked about earlier, you say that innovation, resilience, wisdom, dignity can only come from confronting and engaging with our failures and defeats. You even go so far as calling it a gift, which is the title of your book, The Gift of Adversity. Can you expand on the importance of experiencing adversity Particularly as it pertains to kids and young people in that developmental time in their life.

[00:14:06.480] – Speaker 1
Yes, I definitely would love to do that because there is this pressure to be perfect. And I think it’s fed by social media because we want the perfect shot. We want the Instagram to look absolutely sparkling. I mean, why else do people stand on the edge of a cliff to get the perfect angle and then fall down the cliff? I’ll tell you something. This is a silly little anecdote that will illustrate the point. Last night, I came home from visiting with the kids, and I was going to get a steam inhalation from a pot of boiling water. I was going to put my head over, put a towel over my head, and And breathe in the steam, and it was going to feel great. Well, so far, so good. I didn’t take my glasses off, and the glasses fell right into the boiling water.

[00:15:11.800] – Speaker 2
Oh, man.

[00:15:12.600] – Speaker 1
And these were very high high-grade lenses, cost $1,000. I looked up at the lights and I saw these lenses have been completely ruined. So I could castigate myself. I could say, How could you do such a thing? At least I didn’t put my hand in the boiling water to retrieve the glasses. I took a tweezer and I pulled him out. And here I am telling you the story. I’m supposed to be this expert. I’m this expert, I’m this doctor, I’ve got all these papers, and there I go and do a stupid thing like that. But that’s how life is. The reason I’m even telling the story is to say to the listeners out there, You’re You’re not going to make mistakes. You just right, roll with them, understand that that’s part of being human. Part of being human is being imperfect, is being open, and the key is learn something from it. Next time, when I look in the scene, I will take off my glasses before I do that. It’s just a way of saying, We keep trying to learn and do better, but we’re never going to be perfect. Yeah.

[00:16:30.490] – Speaker 2
When I hear that and you resonate with that and story, and then as parents, when you have these young kids that you love and care about and want the best for them, it is so tempting to try to protect them, to insulate them from the world, because we forget how much learning we had through failure or disappointment or setbacks. And so do you think parents have a role in hindering the kids’ ability to build resilience and home their problem?

[00:17:04.410] – Speaker 1
I do. In treating, because I’m also a clinical psychiatrist, I treat adults and children, I see the intensity of the competition that parents have for their children. I want my kid to get into an Ivy League school. They’ve got to get in here. So and so’s kid got in there. Early acceptance. And my kid is still hanging out there without a clear commitment from any school that I would endorse and I would feel proud to tell my friends, my kid got into such and such. And what’s happening is that the parent who is getting imbroiled in that competition is forgetting what is the purpose of the university. It’s an education. It’s teaching children to learn. It’s It’s a life experience. It’s fitting the child with a school where she or he will be happy and well adjusted. So I think that sometimes in our ambition for our children, we can actually hinder their emotional development by overemphasizing actual accomplishment over experience.

[00:18:25.110] – Speaker 2
Yeah. And I think that comes out, Dr. Rosenthal, too, in our Our priority as parents, like you said, over accomplishment, even sometimes at the cost of character and who they’re becoming because what our kids end up doing, we would say that’s not necessarily true. But as we think about what we talk about and what we esteem even in our language. And I think we have this idea of what this perfect world would be for our kids. And for us, it’s like you go to this school and you get this career and you find this partner and you get this type of home and you get the fence and the dog and all that stuff. And we hold that out as this ideal, and then everything fits into that. And so anything that sets that off kilter is problematic. And so what can we do to parents to continue to reset these expectations and journey alongside our kids, not pushing Journeying Adversity, not launching them out into it intentionally, but journeying alongside them when they face setbacks and adversity. How do we navigate wanting the best for them and then also helping them through those tough times?

[00:19:47.710] – Speaker 1
Well, I think that the fundamental sense of loving one’s kid and being one’s kid’s best advocate, not necessarily against the school or against the school board or this or this or this. But the best advocate in life for a kid to know that she or he is loved, supported, backed, that’s the first step. Then once that is a given, then you can get into the detail. Let me find a school that is right for this kid. Let me find an after-hours helping helperper of one kind or another who will reinforce this child’s skills, not hesitating, if a kid is anxious or struggling, not hesitating to seek out the help of a counselor or therapist to strengthen that kid’s skills and resources. I think that for a kid just to know that their parent is their friend and ally as well as their goes a long way to giving them the security to enter the world as an individual, unique with all their wonderful skills and assets and issues as all of us have.

[00:21:16.070] – Speaker 2
Yeah. I love what you’re saying about being an advocate. And I think sometimes as a parent or as someone who works with young people, it’s easy to think that being an advocate is about solving all their problems for them. And that term helicopter parent, it’s now sometimes being called, at least for those of us that live in the north, a snowplow parent. Rather than hovering, you’re now paving the way moving forward. And I think there’s something about those relationships and being an advocate for your kids, but also letting them navigate some of the tough things. If they have an issue with a teacher at school because they didn’t get the grade that they want, supporting them can also be encouraging them to say, okay, so why don’t you go have this conversation? What would you want to say to them? And helping them fight their battles and learning to navigate things for themselves, because that’s what the world is going to be like. And I’ve always This tension that we’re talking about right now, the gift of adversity, has been to help kids with this idea and notion of, I can do hard things. That’s part of the growing up process is that the more we’re faced with some adversity or challenges that come our way, and we learn that we can get through and be okay on the other side and have, like you’ve talked about, some learning and the growth that comes for that.

[00:22:45.340] – Speaker 2
I think as parents, we can go a long way in advocating not by solving all the problems, but by entering into them with our kids and helping them learn that they can do tough things along the way. Anything you want to input around helping young kids navigate adversity and learn from it in our role as adults who care for them along the way?

[00:23:12.270] – Speaker 1
Well, I would say, Celebrate your uniqueness. Each of us is a different person. There’s a tremendous desire to be like everybody else. There’s a tremendous desire to fit in and be accepted and be part of out of the group, and that’s fine. That is fine. We all feel that, especially around adolescents. We want to be accepted, we want to be celebrated, we want to be included, and I’m all for that. But you will notice in yourself that there’s certain things that you find particularly interesting that maybe other people don’t. And so have the courage or have I have the, yeah, I’d say courage, because if you break from the norm, that sets you aside. I remember things that I found really interesting, and they were unusual, and I loved Greek mythology for some reason. Now I see there’s a whole series of children’s books written around the Greek gods and so on and so forth. Don’t shy away from things that you find interesting, because the things that you find interesting and the things that make you different may be amongst your most precious gifts.

[00:24:41.890] – Speaker 2
Oh, man, that was great. I love that insight there. I think it is so many of us want to be like others and how, especially for young people, can we champion the things that are unique. Man, that was great. I love that insight. I think that’s so helpful. I I want to change gears to talk about SAD, seasonal effective disorder. Before we talk about it for young people and kids, can you maybe just give us a crash course, especially for those who maybe don’t live in a part of the world where this is as big a deal? What is seasonal effective disorder? How does it impact us as human beings?

[00:25:22.710] – Speaker 1
Well, yeah, great question. You know, some people are fine all year round. Some people don’t have any issues with the seasons, but not everybody is so lucky. Some people, when the days get short and dark, really have changes that are psychological and physiological. What do I mean by that? Physiological changes may mean they need more sleep, they have a hard time waking up in the morning, they feel down and slowed down, and maybe they work suffers or they’re less friendly or sociable. This is something that affects people as a result of the shortening days and the lack of light. I think that the ability to spot that somebody is having that trouble is very, very valuable because what we’ve learned through our work is it can be treated. And one of the major reasons for that is the lack of light, the dark, cloudy skies, the short days. For some people, that’s just great. And they’re full of energy and they’re fine and good for them. But For other people, and that is part of the diversity of human beings and all creatures, we’re a diverse population and there are evolutionary reasons for why that’s come about.

[00:26:58.360] – Speaker 1
We don’t have to go into them, but that’s how nature is. People are different from one to the other. It’s valuable to recognize these differences because you can do something about it. For somebody, maybe a child or an adolescent who is having trouble waking up in the morning and getting to school, whose grades are falling, who’s not really sociable, who’s feeling down, maybe what’s called a wake-up light or dawn simulator, which is a light that comes on gradually in the morning, just before you wake up and helps you wake up and helps you get going, can make a big difference. Or one of these light fixtures or light boxes that You could put at the breakfast table and while you’re eating your breakfast or doing your morning chores, there comes the light, can make a huge difference. These are things that are quite simple, really. Once you recognize them and once you treat them, it can make a very big difference in adults, children, adolescents, by the time they’re in their senior years of high school, they have got this problem pretty much at the adult rate of about five % of the population.

[00:28:18.160] – Speaker 2
Oh, wow. Yeah. Well, that was going to be my next question. And thanks for inputting that. Do kids get SAD? You mentioned by the end of high school, same as adults. But at what age do we typically start seeing people deal with this?

[00:28:35.980] – Speaker 1
Usually it’s set off by puberty, especially in girls.

[00:28:40.280] – Speaker 2
Okay. So kids do wrestle with that?

[00:28:42.680] – Speaker 1
Definitely, yes. And they often don’t know what’s going on. Oftentimes it feels like other people are giving them a hard time. The teachers are being too strict, the parents are being too fussy, too much is being asked of them. Instead Instead of saying, look, this is happening because of changes in my brain as a result of the seasons, that’s not an intuitively obvious conclusion. And for many years, until our work, it really got completely ignored and overlooked. And so in the last 40 years, it’s become more and more apparent, especially at the higher latitudes such as Ontario.

[00:29:26.710] – Speaker 2
Yeah. Well, again, thank you for your work because for so many of us, knowing this has been very helpful in life. And we know, I think if you live up where we do in the north and you have the drastic shifts in seasons and less light and more gray through the winter. Anecdotally, you’ve experienced this. I used to always tell people, if you want to know about seasonal affective disorder, just look at the first warm, sunny day on a university campus. The place comes alive. People are out and throwing frisbees and people are saying hi to each other. They’re just more bright and chipper and up for life in general. And sometimes in the winter, you put your head down, your hood’s up. You’re just walking from A to B to get out of the cold. And something changes. And that was always my picture of that is a university campus on a first sunny, warm day. I love that you have a holistic approach when it comes to treatment. And you’ve mentioned some things already, but light therapy, diet, exercise, meditation. But one thing I just would love to ask about, you’re Our book, Poetry Rx, even offers up poetry as a remedy, and I love that.

[00:30:50.870] – Speaker 2
We’ve spoken to a couple of therapeutic practitioners who champion fostering creativity in kids as a means of preparing them for the future and helping them cope with the demands of the world they face, high-paced, fast, tech world, and even some of the anxiety and depression stuff we’ve talked about. You obviously feel like art in the form of poetry can teach us something How do you think creativity impacts our well-being?

[00:31:19.870] – Speaker 1
Well, I want to tell you that my book, Poetry Rx, subtitled how 50 inspiring poems can heal and bring joy to your life. That was one of those areas which I found extremely fascinating and set me aside from a lot of people who never really, maybe as children, related much to that. But as I grew up, I found that there were certain poems that I found extremely helpful to me in various ways. This book, Poetry Rx, was the book before Defeating Sad. I took the concept to various editors I’d worked with and agents, and they said, Forget about it. Poetry is not going to sell books. But somehow I’ve been obstinate. When I’ve got a conviction, I stick with things. This is something I would like to tell your younger audience. If you feel strongly about something and you’ve got a conviction and you see something in a way that other people around you don’t see it, don’t give that up too quickly. Check it out because they could be wrong, even though you’re just one person and there are so many people. People are often inclined to go with a herd, to I’ll just go with what everybody else is saying, but you may have an important, unique insight.

[00:33:06.740] – Speaker 1
Anyway, what happened was that I found a small publisher to publish this book who believed in it. At that time, Jane Brodie, who was a columnist for the New York Times, had written on a number of my books in the past, and I approached her this way, and she had came back with a very curt response, poetry does nothing for me. And I said, well, okay. That’s pretty direct.

[00:33:40.540] – Speaker 2
Yeah.

[00:33:40.930] – Speaker 1
You have a nice day as well. And so I said, Well, can I just send you my manuscript? She said, Fine, but don’t think I’m going to get to it anytime soon. I said, okay. Fedext the manuscript because it was not published yet. Next day, I get a note, Change of plans. I want to interview you tomorrow. It’s poetry week, and I’ve changed my mind. Well, she was totally converted by the book.

[00:34:11.970] – Speaker 2
Amazing.

[00:34:12.670] – Speaker 1
And realized that her husband had been a lyracist, that he had worked with words all his life, that poetry was just words and ways of putting them together in a beautiful, powerful way. And the book was listed as amongst the top eight by the New York Times for the year in the subject of wellness. I’m absolutely astonished that it has resonated with a lot of people. They bring it to me, they find this poem or that poem. For your young people, we can talk about this if you want at another time as well, but this book has given more people… People send me pictures of how it sitting out on their bedside table, et cetera, et cetera. So just to say that it’s just another example of find what gives you joy. Joseph Campbell, the great author of the myth of a universal hero, the hero’s journey, used to say, Follow your bliss. Follow the things that are telling you this is important and you won’t go wrong.

[00:35:30.040] – Speaker 2
Yeah, that’s so encouraging. What do you think it is about poetry and the arts that is therapeutic? What do you think it taps into in us that helps us with well-being?

[00:35:43.780] – Speaker 1
Well, It’s really interesting. And one young man whom I found over the web in the Boston area had fallen into problems with drugs in a Massachusetts neighborhood where a lot of people were dying of overdoses. The thread that saved him was his English teacher who encouraged him to write poems. In fact, there was one poem that he brought to my attention that was very instrumental in his recovery. I’m going to get it right now because it’s It’s only 24 words long. Can you believe it? And he found it was so powerful in helping him. And it’s called The Pool Players by Gwendolen Brooks, also known as We Real Cool, The Pool Players, 7 at the Golden Shovel. May I read it?

[00:36:53.330] – Speaker 2
Yes, please.

[00:36:54.250] – Speaker 1
We Real Cool. We left school. We lurk late, we strike straight, we sing sin, we thin jinn, we jazz June, we die soon. I asked him, What was it about the poem? He said, What the poem brought home to him in its very brief format is the quick pathway between a simple infraction like skipping school and hanging out in a pool house instead of going and doing your stuff and how quickly that can lead to your death. Because you take some drugs from somebody, it seems innocent, and one thing leads to another, and that’s the end. He had lost a lot of friends through drug overdoses in the area, and he himself had gotten involved. And this proved to be the thread that he followed out of this labyrinth that helped him get healthy, a solid job, and able to bring his experience to the public through a web page that I accessed and through this poem that I included. I I never knew the poem before he brought it to me, but it’s actually a very famous poem. She was a very famous, prize-winning poet. But this particular poem has resonated, especially nowadays with young people and how many people are falling prey to the powerful drugs that are out there.

[00:38:52.120] – Speaker 2
Wow, that’s such an encouraging story. I think what you’re highlighting here is when others can give words to our experience, it allows us to enter into what we’re navigating in a different place and come about the thinking and the journey from a different perspective. And the arts, poetry, music sometimes just touches us in a different space and allows us to access something that without those words, we wouldn’t have. And I love your story about… Was it Jane Brodie you mentioned?

[00:39:31.360] – Speaker 1
Yeah, Jane Brodie. And yes, and good for her. She really came around. And I would actually encourage you to go and look up that article on the web. Yeah. Because it shows you, because she was at that time a very senior columnist. She’d run her column for decades and it was very famous. It was called Personal Health. She since retired. But I would encourage you to go to the web, look up Jane Brodie, look up my name, Norman Rosenthal, and poetry, and see how somebody at that age and stage of her career was willing to totally be persuaded that she had been wrong, that there was this huge world that she could discover and bring to the attention of her readers and put it down there in a way that was accessible and persuasive.

[00:40:36.370] – Speaker 2
That’s great. And I think it’s encouragement for us, especially with kids, when things that are offered up like this as poetry, as therapeutic or help, it’s so easy to think, that’s not going to work for me. That’s never going to help. And you hear that from kids too, right? That, well, don’t encourage me to do that. Getting off my social media is not going to help me, or reading a poem or different things like that is not going to help. And I think that the beauty of your story here is that as we open ourselves up to things that may be not as readily accessible best for us or we naturally are inclined to go down those pathways. If we open ourselves up to that, we might find a gift. And so might our kids in that. And as we expose them to the arts and to different, even some things we’ve talked about practices or therapeutic help along the way for anxiety, I think we might find a gift in all of that. And I love that story. I’m just literally on the Amazon site for your book. And the first thing that comes up is an endorsement from Jane Brodie on the book itself, on poetry.

[00:41:51.380] – Speaker 2
And it literally says, I used to believe that poetry didn’t speak to me, but now I see how wrong I was. And so great encouragement for us to expand. I bet you there’s going to be people who will literally go out and purchase this book and use poetry and the arts to help us even with something like SAD. And so I love that encouragement. That does lead me into the next thing. You’re a proponent for transcendental meditation. So even just talking about meditation. And I read on your website that aside from improving immediate physical health, it can also change the lives of kids at inner city schools and rehabilitate those who are marginalized in society, like prisoners or men and women who are affected by homelessness. Can you explain to us about meditation? Why you practice it from a psychological and physiological perspective, how meditation connects to our well-being?

[00:42:49.930] – Speaker 1
Yes, there are different kinds of meditation, and they do make a difference one to another because the techniques differ. The A mind that I have found over the years to be extremely potent for me and my clients is called Transcendental Meditation. It’s widely available, including up in Ontario, as when I last checked, and it needs to be taught. Then you get a lot of coaching and follow-up to stick with the technique. It involves thinking a sound, a word, sound or mantra that takes you into a very lovely space in your head that’s called transcendence. When I rediscovered it because I had done it as a very young man, and then a patient steered me back to doing it again, when I rediscovered it, I was so intrigued that I wrote a book called Transcendence, and that actually was a New York Times best seller. It was a first book on a subject written on that subject for many years, and so it was widely embraced. But as I continued to do the meditation, I realized that it changed the way my mind worked. It improved the way my mind worked. So I wrote another book on it called Supermind.

[00:44:24.380] – Speaker 1
So these are two books. And there again, just go check it out on my website, normanrosenthal. Com or on Amazon. And you’ll get quite a lot of information just in that way. But I’m fascinated because friends that had been high school friends of mine that we’ve reconnected 50 years later, believe it or not, have looked into that technique and find it extremely helpful. It’s just another tool, one of many tools. We We looked at all the tools we’ve talked about. Getting light, getting exercise, believing in oneself, being authentic, not worrying about imperfection because we all have imperfections, learning to celebrate those things about ourselves that are unique, taking the season seriously, backing up our children, backing up our friends, encouraging them to be who they are. And now we’re talking about a mental technique that can soothe, grow the mind, inspire, make life better than it already is.

[00:45:41.490] – Speaker 2
It’s amazing. And what a great summary of our conversation as we wrap up. And as you mentioned, people can go to your website. So many books that we’ve talked about and so much more as resources. Any other places you can point parents who been listening to this or their kids around the topics of, adversity or SAD or meditation or any of the tools that we’ve just talked about, encouraging kids? Is there any other books you’ve read or places they can go to learn more and to discover how to help their kids in this season of life?

[00:46:21.470] – Speaker 1
The web has given us such a wealth of information. There’s so many things that you can learn from. My website can be a entry point to a lot of other resources as well. It’s normanrosenthal. Com. But the cornucopia of all wonderful books and writings. The New York Times Well column, which did list Poetry Rx as one of the books of the year, is always a good resource because it lists other books that help you learn how to change and how to strengthen yourself in various ways. The David Lynch Foundation is a wonderful foundation for transcendental meditation. I encourage you to look into that. And otherwise, just enjoy the many wonderful things that are out there, along with trying to avoid getting too addicted to the stuff that is so-called click bait, can waste a half an hour, an hour very easily and not leave us enriched in any way.

[00:47:44.490] – Speaker 2
Any final thoughts, words of encouragement for parents who are working through challenging situations with kids or kids that are struggling with anxiety, depression, and they just feel overwhelmed? Anything you just want to to give a final thought or encouragement to them today?

[00:48:03.470] – Speaker 1
Yes, yes. Besides the web as a resource, a good therapist, a good counselor, a sympathetic person to talk to, Don’t shy away. Some people don’t want the stigma or the labeling of a child as problematic. It doesn’t have to be presented that way. It can simply be viewed as somebody who needs a little extra help, doesn’t have to go on a school record, make sure that it doesn’t. It can just be something extra to help somebody in their life journey.

[00:48:45.030] – Speaker 2
Dr. Rosenthal, it has been a great conversation today. I appreciate the work that you’ve done, just the way that you’ve been set up to tackle some of these things from how your mind works and your relentlessness on topics. I’ve been so encouraged by it. And just by your time that you’ve given us today, very appreciate you and what you shared with us today. And thank you so much for being with us on our podcast.

[00:49:11.080] – Speaker 1
Well, thank you for the opportunity. It’s been a real pleasure. Bye now.

About the Author

Chris Tompkins is the CEO of Muskoka Woods. He holds a degree in Kinesiology from the University of Guelph, a teacher’s college degree from the University of Toronto and a Master’s degree in Youth Development from Clemson University. His experience leading in local community, school, church and camp settings has spanned over 20 years. His current role and expertise generates a demand for him to speak with teens and consult with youth leaders. Chris hosts the Muskoka Woods podcast, Shaping Our World where he speaks with youth development experts. He is an avid sports fan who enjoys an afternoon with a big cup of coffee and a good book. Chris resides in Stouffville, Ontario with his wife and daughter.
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