An open letter to Ted Kuntz, Vancouver psychotherapist, author of Peace Begins With Me
By Hélène Laberge
Dear Ted Kuntz,
I recently received your book Peace Begins With Me: An inspirational journey to end suffering and restore joy. First, I must first that the title reminded me of all those bestsellers, mostly American, which offer naïve recipes for happiness. And my first reaction was to recoil, to pull away.
Nevertheless, the warm fellow-feeling and confidence you inspire in those who have met you – if only for the equivalent of several hours, during conferences or colloquia in Vancouver or in Quebec – as well as simple curiosity impelled me to read your book. And it captivated me. I must add that I also found the clarity and elegance of its formatting and presentation very attractive.
Your book is entirely inspired by your unique journey toward joy and peace, carved out along the route of suffering. As a therapist, you have yourself practiced the methods you prescribe. As a human being, you share with us the thoughts that sustained you along this difficult path. With you, we encounter the long line of human beings – known and unknown, of all races – who have experienced suffering in its various guises, and who inspired you. From them come the apt quotations that underpin your thinking.
You cite Epictetus, who summarized the universal experience of suffering this way: “What troubles men are not things, but the judgments they make about those things.” Several decades earlier, the great Stoic, Seneca, preached the same thing: “We are as unhappy as we believe we are.” Your are therefore, so to speak, an heir of Stoicism, and this continuity is in itself hopeful. The paths of your therapeutic work are indissociable from these thoughts, and the suggestions you offer to help us attain this goal might seem like simplistic recipes were they not in some way the fruit of your philosophy.
You write, with stark simplicity, about the tragedy you suffered: At the age of five months, after receiving a vaccination, your son Joshua was struck by a very grave form of epilepsy that manifests itself in several seizures a day. Doctors were unable to find medication that could help, and you were abandoned, left to yourselves, that is to say, to all the anguish and worry imaginable in the face of your son’s fate. As a therapist, you felt powerless to heal yourself. Then two psi?? whom you consulted reassured you about your son’s future and gradually transformed your view of Joshua: “Yes, your son will live, and even survive you, and he will become what he is already, that is to say, your teacher.” You asked yourself what this child, whose intellectual capacities are those of a two-year-old, could teach you. Your answer: “The simple fact of opening my spirit to the possibility that Josh might teach me something allowed me to accept his lessons.”
Your philosophy of life draws on the Amerindian tale that opens your book. In summary, it is this: Our spirit is the field of battle between two antagonistic wolves, said an old sage during a walk in the forest with his grandchild: One is hot-tempered and vindictive, and seeks to hurt others. The other is peaceful, joyful, and full of love.
But how do we decide between these two internal wolves? And how do they show themselves? How, you ask yourself, do you nourish and fuel our negative wolf? In a number of ways: first by imagining the worst, by seeing yourself as a victim, by living uniquely in the past or in the future, by refusing reality, and by postponing all moments of happiness into the future. “I will be happy if I win the lottery, if I go on vacation, etc.” Or by describing past actions as “mistakes.” You teach us that the Amerindians have no word for mistake. Rather, they approach the idea through an image: “Sometimes, when I put an arrow in my bow, the arrow does not hit the target I am aiming to hit.” And you pose the question: How can you call a decision, made at a certain time and after significant reflection, a “mistake”? If, like the arrow, it didn’t attain the desired goal, you cannot reproach yourself. In your own case, in relation to Joshua, what parent, twenty years ago, could have foreseen that a vaccination might have such harmful effects? Since the mistake is unforeseeable, there is no reason to sink into guilt, anger, or sadness.
This negative, vengeful wolf, whom every being knows, must be disarmed by the positive wolf. The ways you suggest this might be done are the fruit of timeless wisdom: to accept, to face reality, to live the present moment, to savour it when it brings joy or pleasure, but also to allow suffering to express itself. You go so far as to counsel that we set aside a specific period during the day to abandon ourselves to worry or anguish. And as a therapist who has himself experienced its benefits, you advise exercises that encouraging breathing from the diaphragm, one of the elements of yoga.
But above all – and everything flows from this – it is the meaning, the significance that we attribute to an event that nourishes our negative wolf or our positive wolf. You illustrate the relationship between stress and distress very well. To quote you: “I discovered that distress is an internal force. Distress is my response to stress, my reaction to forces, to pressure, to burdens imposed on life. […] All of life’s events create stress. These events are not in themselves good or bad, they just are, that’s all. […] Everything depends on the interpretation we assign them. And depending on the meaning we attribute to it, we may have an entirely different experience of a single event. It is still possible to feel joy and anger at one and the same time in relation to the same event.” You cite Stephen Covey in relation to this: “Between a stimulus and response is our greatest power: the freedom to choose.” This freedom implies that we pay attention to what you call “emotional suffering.” If we focus our attention on this suffering, we discover that it is prey to many false ideas and beliefs. And this discovery frees us from imaginary suffering.
But I will stop here and let the reader himself or herself discover the therapeutic methods you have yourself explored and experimented with, and about which you write with clarity and simplicity. “Those of us who seek peace in our lives and yearn for more peace in our world need look no further than this candid exploration of one man’s personal journey to discover the source of his own peace.” (Al Etmanski, founder of PLAN, from the book’s dust jacket.)
The book is available in English. Contact the author via e-mail at: email@example.com. Mailing address: Ted Kuntz, 201-3041 Anson Avenue, Coquitlam, BC V3B 2H6.