Saturday, May 18, 2024

Q&A with Beth Kurland




Beth Kurland is the author of the new book You Don't Have to Change to Change Everything: Six Ways to Shift Your Vantage Point, Stop Striving for Happy, and Find True Well-Being. Her other books include Dancing on the Tightrope. A psychologist and mind-body coach, she lives in the Boston area.


Q: What inspired you to write You Don’t Have to Change Everything?


A: This book emerged from many different threads that wove themselves together somewhat organically.


For several years after writing my previous book Dancing on the Tightrope, I kept a file on my computer that I titled “tools for life.” In it, I began to write down things I found most helpful in working with my patients, what I had learned from others in the field that had been most beneficial, and what I found most transformative in my own life in working with the range of emotions I experience and finding ways to cultivate well-being. 


Around this time, I was taking writing workshops where I was given writing prompts and simply wrote stream of consciousness, whatever wanted to come out onto the page (often autobiographical vignettes). I had no specific plan to turn any of this into a book. 


Also at this time, I took a deep dive in mindfulness through a yearlong certificate class that helped me deepen my mindfulness practice.


When the early stages of the pandemic hit, I sat with so many patients virtually as we all shared collective fear, anxiety, and uncertainty. What struck me at this time was that even though so many difficult emotions were present for people, and happiness was often elusive, well-being could nonetheless be found to support people through their challenges. 


All of these threads came together as I felt a deep calling to start writing. Like pieces of a puzzle that fit together and form a picture, as I began writing I started to see how each of these things fit together, and through that process this book was birthed.  


Q: How was the book’s title chosen and what does it signify for you?


A: The title of this book came to me one day when I had dozens of sticky notes spread before me on my kitchen table, each representing different ideas and themes from the book. 


When I stood back and looked at all of them, I realized that a core message I wanted to give people was that they don’t need to fix or change themselves to find deep well-being and to experience change in profound ways. 


So many patients have come into my office through the years feeling that something is wrong with them, or wrong with how they are feeling (often judging more difficult emotions as “bad” or feeling weak for feeling these more unpleasant emotions).  


I think most of us experience this to some degree—a sense of “not enough” and a natural tendency to push away our unpleasant emotions (or alternatively, we get swallowed up in them). We often struggle, thinking we need to change how we feel. 


I wanted to give a different message right from the get-go, to let people know that when we accept our inner experiences as they are, yet change where we are looking from, natural ease, compassion, connection, self-compassion, clarity, perspective, and possibilities emerge. 


Instead of disconnecting from ourselves (as we do when we push away our inner experiences), we can find a wholeness when we learn to meet ourselves right where we are from this new viewing point.


There is much emphasis in the “self-help” genre on improving ourselves in order to become some bigger, better version of ourselves. I wanted to turn that notion a bit on its head.  


I don’t believe I am in the business of fixing people. I believe that I help them see their strengths that are already here and help them meet their inner experiences with greater compassion, awareness, and presence.


By learning to shift their vantage point, I help people tap into innate qualities of well-being that are already here, that can support them through the ups and downs of their life.  I also give people tools that they can use to access this innate well-being.


In terms of the subtitle, looking back over my years as a psychologist and fellow traveler on this planet, I have come to see that when we learn to shift our vantage point in six particular ways, each of these six vantage points become portals into a deep “well” of well-being that is available to us.

Q: The author Kristen Lee said of the book, “In her true signature form, Dr. Beth Kurland offers a rich tapestry of practical, accessible strategies that help us rethink change and live with greater presence and compassion.” What do you think of that description?


A: I am so touched by those words and so honored that Kristen reviewed my book. I have deep respect for her work. I think her words capture the essence of how I see this book. 


One thing that I view as a strength of mine is the way that I pull together a lot that is out there in the field of psychology, mindfulness, neuroscience, etc., and translate it into teachings, stories, and experiential practices that people can access and bring into their daily lives. 


I tried to make this book very practical, with questions for reflection, mind-body practices, and even accompanying audio meditations so that readers can have a direct felt experience of shifting their vantage point and finding well-being. 


This is certainly a book that is meant to be experienced as well as read. It helps readers think about change in a new way that leads to living one’s life with greater presence and compassion.


Q: What do you hope readers take away from the book? 


A: I hope that readers take away the idea that who they are is enough, just as they are, and that they are not alone in this human journey, but part of a common humanity that at its core is wired to thrive. I want them to have an experience of themselves as the “Whole Self” rather than the “hole self” that I explain in the book. 


I hope they learn ways to meet and greet their more difficult or unpleasant daily emotions (the ones we all experience in the ups and downs of life) from a place that allows them to hold their inner experiences with greater self-compassion, stability, ease, and presence. 


I want to empower people to understand more about the role their autonomic nervous system plays in their well-being, and show them how, through this understanding, they can discover immense inner resources to support them wherever they are. 


I hope that people look at things in new ways after reading this book, including seeing their own strengths that they may have overlooked, and discovering how to access and turn up the volume on inner qualities they already have to support them. 


I hope that after reading this book, readers will be able to access a deep “well” of well-being to carry them through their life.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: I’m really excited to be working on a companion online course to go along with this book (using this book and my previous book as its foundation). 


As much as I believe there is great power and learning in experiential exercises and practices, I know that people benefit most fully when they are part of a community of shared learners, having the opportunity to meet weekly to bring these practices more deeply into their lives.   


My vision is to grow a community of people who want to take a deeper dive into this material with me and incorporate it into their lives in lasting and meaningful ways. I think more than ever, we all need connection and support, and we can learn so much from one another. I am planning to launch this course sometime in the fall of 2024.


Q: Anything else we should know? 


A: In terms of reading the book, it’s the kind of book where one can dip their toe in with small doses at a time or jump all in right from the start.


I like to think that this book has something for everyone (for those who like to understand the science behind things, for those who enjoy the stories, for those who have experience with meditation and those who don’t, for those more spiritually oriented and those who like practical and concrete tools). 


I believe, as a graduate professor once said to me, that we teach what we most need to learn ourselves. I had to read through the entire book at least four or more times during the editing process and each time I think I got a little something different out of it myself.


For those who like to listen to books on tape, there is also an audio version of this book. 


Because there is a lot of personal story in this book, it was really important for me to narrate it (and I am grateful I was given the opportunity to do so). Narrating the book was an intense and at times emotional experience for me. Given how much I love listening to books read by the author, I hope others will find listening to the book enriching.


I love to hear from people! Readers can find me on Instagram, LinkedIn and Facebook, and there are many free resources on my website. For anyone interested in taking a deeper dive, they can check out my 1:1 coaching or my online course coming in the fall.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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