To Love Is To Be Happy With – Chapter 1

The Option Process and Me

Life appears as a beautifully-orchestrated symphony. The sun rises like a giant orange eye flaming above the horizon. A sea gull soars through the morning mist and then dives toward the water below. The seasons dance across windswept fields, their mellow cadence caught in the movement of their own melodies. And then there’s the rhythm of me, natural and self-regulated … an easy motion flowing with my own nature.

But there were times in the past, times that seemed so frequent, when my movements were obstructed and blockaded by unhappiness. Sometimes for days, weeks and even years, I found myself tumbling over the cliffs of my discomforts … occasionally being ripped and torn by the jagged edges, cut and bruised by my own thoughts and emotions.

Before the Option Process, I lived in a stop-start atmosphere. My doubts, reflections and questions oftentimes became indictments. Like those around me, the not knowing, the worry and fear infected so many of my activities and pleasures. I wanted peace, but believed it was nowhere to be found. I loved people, but always feared losing them. I created fantasies that most often did not come to pass. The world appeared to be filled with joy and excitement, yet, at times so much of me seemed unlovable. I had friends, yet felt peculiarly alone. I was happy one moment, confused or frightened the next. Life was an up-and-down roller coaster that I couldn’t seem to get off.

These were the dams inhibiting my flow. And when all else failed, I would rely on dramatic comparisons to soothe my personal trauma. I would instruct myself to review all those titanic catastrophes I had escaped by accident of birth . . . look at the wars, famine, disease, earthquakes and tidal waves. I even fed myself the age-old axiom: “I felt bad about having no shoes until I saw the man with no feet.”

Adapting and coping was the order of the day … yet, somehow I knew these were half-measures. I persisted in searching for more.

In the mid-1960s, I scrambled through college as an aging adolescent infused with ideals and expectations. I lived with Sartre and Camus, burned midnight candles with Kant and Hegel, overturned stones with Aristotle and Aquinas. D. H. Lawrence, Faulkner, Fitzgerald, became my brothers as I pantomimed my life through their books.

Bouncing in and out of relationships, I tried to contain my energy while I explored new contacts and delved into new areas of learning. Yet, beneath the surface of all this activity, there were so many questions left unanswered, so many riddles impregnated with fear and discomfort.

But discomfort was fashionable in an era when classrooms were filled with youthful beggars being led into the maze rather than out of it. Freud was still king, which left many of us petrified in the face of our supposedly black and mysterious unconscious which could, without warning, crack through the thin veneer of our everyday sanity and reveal a ghastly prehistoric apparition of ourselves.

Days, months and years were spent doing gymnastics on intellectual and artistic high bars. Aloft, yet grounded. The exploring was intermingled with doubt and confusion. Graduation from college was capped with a degree in philosophy. Then, graduate work in psychology. I was lost in a world where almost everyone saw themselves as victims. Like my peers, I distrusted myself and refused simply to act on my own inclinations.

Life, marriage and then the death of a loved one. At twenty-one, the fabric of my daily existence disintegrated, setting me adrift with only my ambivalence and discomfort as consolation. I turned to a Freudian psychoanalyst and danced my exterior dialogues on the carpet of his lonely Park Avenue office. The sessions continued for seven years. My chatter echoed against the walls of his silence. Almost drowning in painful associations, I waited for those few words which would dissolve the fog … interpretations for a lifetime served up by one who presumed he knew.

Restlessly, I plunged into a business venture in films and advertising that met with incredible success, yet the anger and self-doubt continued to flourish. Even when I terminated therapy with its half-measure concept of life, some of the discomforts still remained. A well-meaning psychiatrist left me with a popular slogan shared by many so-called mental health practitioners: “You will always have times when you are anxious, uncomfortable and fearful, but now you are better equipped to handle them, to cope.” I had wanted a more affirmative resolution. I felt cheated and short-changed. And in that dissatisfaction, I knew my journey had still just begun.

In graduate school, the truth was reduced to complex plastic and paper replicas of reality… a theoretical masquerade supposed to represent flesh and blood. Motivated to move on, I continued the search.

With my wife Suzi who joined me in some of the explorations, I investigated and participated in numerous pursuits of awareness and understanding. Moving from conventional therapy and an academic vision of psychology, I researched altered states of consciousness through hypnosis and auto-hypnosis. Eventually I became skilled enough to put myself into a hypnotic state merely by touching my index finger to my forehead. Dramatic and fascinating, but incomplete.

As I embarked on what would become a seemingly endless pursuit, my thirst for evolving awareness and knowledge increased. The citadel of books was supplemented by experiments with a diverse series of theories and alternatives. Freud was tempered with Jung and Adler, retranslated and revised by Horney and Sullivan. Touched base with the slapping hand of Gestalt, which was humanized by Perls, and with the fascinating exorcism of the primal scream, dramatized by Janov. Lived my existential love affair with Sartre and Kierkegaard. Came upon the soft and loving embrace of Carl Rogers just after having explored the trinity of Eric Berne. Passed through Skinner rather quickly, but lingered with Maslow.

Pieces of the puzzle. Each with its own beauty and wisdom, yet without the thread to weave the fragments together. Turned to the quiet wisdom of Buddha and Zen. On to Yoga and a lyrical version of Meditation. This was complemented by Taoism and the incisive lesson that “Life is not going anywhere, because it is already here.” Then dipped into Confucius. “To know what you know and what you don’t know is the characteristic of one who knows.” Continued moving East with exposure to the philosophical base of acupuncture and reflexology. Faced West once again, viewing the collective consciousness of mankind and its genetic implications.

A beautiful and sometimes exhausting journey where philosophy, psychology, religion and mysticism merged. And yet, I knew to continue … to pursue that, as yet, elusive perspective which for me would ultimately illuminate the horizon.

Another evening. Another classroom. In a school that has since disappeared, I came upon a short, rotund monk-like Friar Tuck who sipped Coke and smoked one cigarette after another. He spoke of something called the Option Method … concrete, incisive and illuminating.

Although the initial words were not spectacular in content or presentation, I began immediately to crystallize a knowledge I had always had, but which had never been brought into awareness. As it materialized for me, I could feel the blood racing through my arteries. All my feelings and behavior did come from my beliefs and those beliefs could be investigated and changed by my own choosing. It seemed disarmingly simplistic. And then as I came to explore myself through this new perspective, Option became more than a philosophy … it developed into a vision that would become the spine of an evolving life-style we call the Option Process.

And all this was born out of a very special attitude: To love is to be happy with.

Unhappiness was finally taken out of the closet of mental health and put back into what the ancient Greeks called the arena of philosophy. Questions and dialogues were not indictments or judgments being made for diagnosis … they were merely catalysts to help clarify my beliefs and my thinking process. “Why am I unhappy?” and “What do I want for me?” became a profoundly moving perspective by which I could approach myself and precipitate new choices. I realized how I had used myself against myself because of what I had believed. What really dazzled me was my increasing awareness that I had learned to be unhappy.

The unhappiness mechanism had been internalized and operated with consistent regularity. Being uncomfortable was an unquestioned ingredient in my life as well as in the lives of all those around me. It was a way of dealing with myself and my environment.

I dreaded obesity and rejection in order to motivate myself to diet. I feared lung cancer so that I could stop smoking. I became anxious about unemployment as a way of pushing myself to be more conscientious and to work harder. I felt guilty to punish myself now in order to prevent myself from repeating a “bad” behavior in the future. I became melancholy when someone I loved was unhappy in order to show them I cared. I got angry at those in my employ to make them move faster.

When I surveyed the environment, I saw people punish in order to prevent, fear death in order to live, hate war in order to stay in touch with their desire for peace.

Signs of unhappiness were everywhere. I was taught that I “had to” be unhappy sometimes and that it was even “good” or productive to be unhappy. Our culture supported it. Unhappiness was the tattoo of a thinking, feeling man. It was the mark of sensitivity. It was also considered by many to be the only “reasonable” and “human” response to a difficult and problematic society. The expression “happy idiot” was not just a casual comment, but a suspicion that happiness and idiocy were synonymous. Like many before me, I adopted these beliefs and many others, never considering or testing their validity in my mind. I too became a living spokesman for unhappiness as I stumbled and dragged myself across the difficult landscape I believed life was supposed to be.

Unhappiness was used as a motivator to help me take care of myself and try to get more … all this so that eventually I would be happy or fulfilled. All these beliefs, taught to me so I might do the best for myself, had actually become a breeding ground for all sorts of fears, anxieties and discomforts.

Approaching myself with an Option attitude, I did not judge my unhappiness or tell myself that I could not be unhappy … or that I should not be unhappy. There was no implicit statement that I was “supposed to” be happy. After all, until this moment, unhappiness had brought its own rewards, keeping me and others motivated and in check. Yet, my unhappiness as well as the unhappiness of others was a very expensive commodity. It soured the wine. Fear, tension, discomfort and anxiety take their toll, literally short-circuiting our systems. The result is self-defeating consequences: loss of loved ones, unachieved goals, pain, ulcers, high blood pressure, violence, suicide and wars, among others. These by-products far exceed the effectiveness of the mechanism of unhappiness … and the underlying beliefs of unhappiness.

The Option Process helped me understand the nature of the underlying beliefs, my beliefs, which triggered my behavior and feelings. I became more able to freely choose with awareness what’s best for me … to recreate myself as I wanted, to trade unhappiness for happiness. And in dissolving those consuming, troublesome and often painful beliefs (with their accompanying behavior and feelings) I grew happier, crystallized my energy and became more effective in getting what I wanted. In contrast to many of my previous misconceptions, being happier actually led me to getting more for myself.

As I processed the data of me, I found I could retain or discard information and beliefs as I saw fit. Nothing was bad for me … the more I knew, the better equipped I was in actualizing my wants. Perceptions and actions had no inherent good or bad, just the designation I gave them … the designation I chose to give them. My responses always followed from those choices. In discarding and adopting new beliefs, the knowledge, responsibility and expertise of my life was being turned over to me, where it always had been. And that, too, was accomplished by my own decision, my own choice to do that.

There was no pretense that this was the only way to happiness … but the Option Process gave me a clarity and control that is always mine. Direct. Attainable. In unplugging my beliefs of unhappiness, I focused more easily on my wants and experienced myself irrevocably under my control.

No secret codes to master or initiations to endure. No mystery understood by a select few. No question of my being sick, maladjusted or disturbed. No judgments about what I do or who I am. No good or bad, should or should not. Even when I was unhappy and fed myself enormous doses of grief, I did so as a way of taking care of myself.

Others who would label or condemn us do so for themselves; their assessments having nothing to do with who we are. Sickness, stupidity and inferiority are their judgments, having only as much power as we give them. Fight the devil and we make him stronger. Ignore him and he is likely to disappear. In changing my focus and allowing myself to be, I keenly experienced my own freedom.

Me investigating me became a joyful pursuit into myself. Like being my own Socrates, I uncovered my own beliefs and understood the whys of what I felt and did. In this adventure, there was no teacher, guru or knowing therapist with the right answer. I was the mover, the explorer and the discoverer. And the more I came to know, the more clearly I chose from happiness … instead of first becoming unhappy in order to move.

I was amazed to see how often I used unhappiness as a condition I promised myself if I did not get what I wanted or expected. If my lover did not care for me, I’d be miserable. If I didn’t get the job, I’d be angry at the interviewer and myself. If I didn’t get passing grades on an examination, I’d be resentful. Expecting and not getting … all just another way to motivate myself. It was believing that wanting was not enough. If my happiness did not depend on it, I might not really work for it.

This was the dynamic of turning wanting into needing. When I want something, I focus on trying to get it. There is no fear of future unhappiness if I don’t. In wanting, my happiness is not contingent on getting.

But in needing, I give my wanting extra importance by making my happiness dependent on getting. If I don’t get what I say I need (love, money, security), I say I will be unhappy. It’s my self-fulfilling prophecy. I used to believe the worry and threats made me more diligent in pursuing my goals; but, in fact, it was often a painful and self-defeating distraction.

On some occasions, my needing actually led to extinguishing what I wanted. In fearing I would not get, I sometimes chose not to go after my goals to avoid the unhappiness. Why do that? There were many reasons, but the most prominent was the belief that if I tried and then did not get, I’d even be more unhappy than if I simply did not try at all. At least I might be able to console myself with “well, since I didn’t try, I didn’t lose anything … and if I really tried, I could have gotten it anyway.” The pressure of needing created a short circuit and the result was immobility.

By contrast, when I began to consider what I wanted as “wants” and not “needs,” then I moved toward goals without having my life or happiness dependent on them. I also did not have to live with the anxiety of worrying about missing my mark or “failing.”

Unhappiness in my pre-Option days was also a gauge to measure the intensity of my desires and loving. The more miserable I became when I did not get what I wanted or when I lost something I loved, the more I believed I cared. If I was not unhappy about the threat or loss of something, maybe I did not want it enough. Even more plaguing was the belief that if I allowed myself to be happy under all circumstances, I might, thereafter, not want anything or care about anyone. If I was perfectly satisfied with present conditions, I might not move toward altering them or take advantage of new possibilities. I also remember believing it would be callous and inhuman if I were not unhappy in certain situations.

The insidious fear that happiness and inertia might be synonymous was quickly dispelled. The more comfortable I became with myself, the easier it was to want more and dare to pursue more. In so many instances, my happiness was no longer at stake. Whether I secured what I wanted or not, I could still be comfortable.

Using the principles and the method of the Option Process, I had decided to change while the world around me seemed to remain the same. Yet, after a period of time, as I began to change, the environment around me also began to change.

In exploring the texture of my personal life, and in trying to neutralize the difficulties, I came to realize that going to work and earning a living was not a “must” or a “should,” as I had always been taught, but an activity, in fact, that I really wanted to do. Yet, all this time I had acted as if I was being forced. I began to look beneath the unhappiness and understood that in believing work was a “should,” I had never allowed myself either the comfort or the freedom to enjoy it. I touched on all my beliefs about stress being a necessary ingredient for success. In this considered evolution, I found myself discarding many self-defeating beliefs about needing things and about making myself unhappy if I didn’t get them.

The umbilical cord was finally being severed. The old beliefs were being left behind as I redefined the cornerstones of my activities and involvement’s. Together, Suzi and I rejected much of the old unhappiness as we persistently explored our discomforts and our beliefs. Making new choices changed the very texture of our existence as we redesigned our lives and began teaching and counseling others.

The attitude, the methods, the dialogue techniques, the philosophy, evolved into a global concept of living. Our friends whom we exposed to the Option Process had found new meaning and direction in their lives, accompanied by a deep and abiding sense of peace. Private and group experiences were supplemented by working with and supervising other students, who evolved from their shells of discomfort and confusion to find a new freedom and clarity. Whether it began with a single conversation or involvement in a series of dialogues, when those who participated wanted, they underwent startling and beautiful transformations. In some instances, hate melted into love, sickness evolved into health, aggression turned into acceptance, turmoil gave way to an almost mystical tranquillity.

We were alive and planting more seeds.

Suzi and I no longer exchanged comments like “If you love me, you would do this or that.” Each of us was happier with ourselves and with each other despite the reality that our first years of marriage had been difficult and stormy. We took our relationship and stripped away all the elaborate expectations and conditions, thereby eradicating many of the disappointments and conflicts. In accepting each other, we were more loving. And this flowed over to our children. Being more sensitized to the beliefs parents teach their children each and every day, we became increasingly more tolerant and respectful of the wants and individuality of the little people who shared our lives.

Nevertheless, if we ourselves and those we love still become unhappy and make choices away from each other, we do not view it as “bad” or unacceptable. For us, each unhappy moment is but another opportunity to discard a self-defeating belief as we walk the path toward becoming happier.

These attitudes became the springboard for which we later approached a situation with one of our children that others had labeled as “horrifying” and a “disastrous tragedy.” It was during this very special confrontation with the “impossible” that we fully realized what a beautiful and effective gift of living we had acquired. The story of our son is just one living example, among many, of the power, effectiveness and endless possibilities of the Option Process.

One brisk January 17, at 6:14 in the evening, Suzi and I joined together in patterns of breathing and loving to help facilitate the arrival of our third child. The method and the rhythms of natural childbirth filled the room with dazzling energy. A healthy, beautiful and blissful little boy peeked out into the universe and drew his first breath. His name was to be Raun Kahlil.

The joyful and ceremonious arrival of our son was immediately dampened by the events of the next four weeks. In the hospital nursery as well as at home, Raun cried day and night. Examination followed examination with no visible malfunctions revealed.

Three weeks later, a severe ear infection surfaced. The pediatrician prescribed antibiotics which, within twenty-four hours, caused severe dehydration. His eyes clouded. His skin turned a pasty white as the spark of life drained from our child.

Emergency hospitalization. Raun was placed in intensive care as he hovered precariously between life and death. The pressure of the infection caused both ear drums to puncture. Our thoughts and energy were entirely devoted to wanting our son to live. Finally, during his second week in the hospital, he began to respond.

For all of us, a second beginning. Now Raun seemed joyful; a peaceful and mellow harmony characterized the remainder of his first year. He grew and developed with beauty and strength. However when he was twelve months old, we began to note a growing insensitivity to audio stimuli as he became less responsive to his name and other sounds.

During the next four months, Raun’s apparent audio deficit was compounded by a tendency to stare and be passive. He preferred solitary play rather than interaction with our family. When he was held in our arms, his body would dangle limply. More testing still produced no definite answers. Yet our son’s behavior continued to change rapidly. His delicate face and sparkling eyes turned toward another dimension of experience.

By seventeen months of age, Raun had withdrawn completely from all human contact and slipped behind a seemingly impenetrable wall. He was diagnosed as autistic, which has been traditionally labeled as a subcategory of childhood schizophrenia … considered to be the most irreversible of the profoundly disturbed and psychotic. “Incurable.” “Hopeless.” These were the underlying messages of the literature and the professionals we consulted throughout the country.

A classic case of autism. Silent and aloof, Raun stared through us as if we were transparent. And then there was his incessant rocking back and forth to some internal symphony. The spinning, hour after hour, of every object in sight. The self-stimulating smile and repetitious motion of his fingers against his lips. The lack of language development … no words, no sounds, no pointing gestures. No calling, crying for food, no signals to be changed or taken out of his crib. The loss of eye contact. The pushing away … the deafening silence … the aloneness.

Yet, although Raun was lost to us, he remained beautiful and blissful in our eyes … like a dedicated monk contemplating his life force as he sat patiently before the altar of the universe.

Committing ourselves to an openness to see anyone, go anywhere for help, we consumed every book available on autism and journeyed to different cities to explore and observe. Patterning. Psychoanalysis. Sensory conditioning. Biochemical experiments. Megavitamin theories. And finally exposure to various applications of behavior modification, which is the concept currently in vogue.

What became increasingly clear was that most programs were little more than experiments. The ratio of children reached was dismal, perhaps only a few in each one hundred. And ironically, success often referred to the one or two children who learned to perform minimal functions on a very primitive level.

The more we viewed and understood the nature of these treatments, the more polarized we became. Raun was a beautiful human being with his own special qualities and dignity. His eyes were so intense, so bright and so alive. But who out there was willing to respect that?

Professionals, in the name of medicine and humanity and probably with the sincere belief they were helping, had little children strapped onto tables as one hundred and fifty volts were slammed into their brains during electric-shock treatments. Other boys and girls were tied to chairs to prevent them from rocking. Some were enclosed in portable black boxes or closets as a form of aversion therapy. One doctor, who used these techniques, stated quite casually that these children were not very human in their responses to his therapy. Incredible how insensitive he was to the obvious fact that if someone locked him in a closet, brutalized his system with electric shocks and tied his hands and feet, his inclination to relate to his therapists would be quickly extinguished … especially if he also had had extreme difficulty making sense out of his world in the first place.

How could anyone hope to reach and help a dysfunctioning child by disapproving and condemning him?

Refusing to relinquish our good feelings, refusing to extinguish the life of this delicate and different child by placing him behind the stone walls of some numb and faceless institution, we decided to trust ourselves … to design and create our own program without having any concepts of limitations. We would try to help Raun recreate and expand his world in the same way we had recreated and expanded ours through the Option Process.

Our guide was the Option Attitude: To love is to be happy with. In approaching our son, we decided there would be no conditions to which he had to conform … there would be no expectations which he had to fulfill … there would be no judgments which designated his behavior good or bad. Our movement would respect his dignity instead of forcing him to adapt to our ideals or behavior. Working with Raun during his every waking hour (eighty hours each week), we met him on his own ground and entered his world. With love, with acceptance … always aware that for whatever reasons, Raun was doing the best he could.

We decided to do what was most apparent … if Raun was unable to be with us in our world, we would try to make contact by going to his world. The major thrust of our program was to be beside him and touch him in the most gentle and permissive ways. But the most important decision was to imitate him. Not a laboratory tactic performed from a distant or aloof perspective … we would actually join him with all our energy and enthusiasm. If he rocked, we would rock. If he spun or flapped his. fingers, we would spin and flap our fingers. It was our way of learning, of saying hello, of trying to communicate our love and acceptance of him. Several doctors suggested that by imitating him, we were committing a tragic mistake of supporting “bad” behavior. For us, there was no bad or good … there was just a different little boy whom we wanted to contact.

We also lavished him with affection, loving and caring, fondling, music, smiles, gentle visual and auditory stimulation. We tried to present to him an environment he might find even more fascinating and more beautiful than the self-stimulating one he had created. And his motivation would have to exceed that of the rest of us. With his memory disability, which we had uncovered during our marathon observation periods, Raun’s capacity to deal easily with us was severely handicapped.

At first, the movements were slow … almost imperceptible. We began to train others as teacher-therapists, using the concepts and methods of the Option Process as our tool. Both our daughters, Bryn and Thea, were also teachers and loving mentors for their brother. The essential ingredient was the development of the Option Attitude … each and every day we had dialogues to explore beliefs and feelings so that we were more able to help ourselves help Raun. The specific tactics and techniques we established in working with our son were secondary to the tone and texture of our approach and contact.

Within eight months, this dysfunctioning, totally withdrawn, self-stimulating, functionally retarded and “hopeless” little boy became a social, highly verbal, affectionate and loving human being displaying intellectual capabilities far beyond his years.

Had we given up our wanting and followed the advice of the “experts,” our son today would perhaps be sitting in his own feces, alone and forgotten, drugged on Thorazine, spinning and rocking for endless hours on the cold floor of some nameless hospital.

Instead, at four years old, the child who they said would never speak or communicate sensibly, has become an exquisite and sophisticated conversationalist … filling our home with the music of his words every day. Affectionate, loving and vibrantly in touch, he continues to grow and learn by his own desire and statement.

Raun can already spell and read simple sentences. He loves numbers and does elementary addition and subtraction. With his chic and sparkling sense of humor, he imitates friends and members of our family in highly theatrical antics. His love of music has resulted in an intimate affair with the piano and in his now having created several tunes and melodies for himself. In a preschool playgroup for “normal’ children, he exhibits a socialization and verbal aptitude which exceeds his peers, yet he nevertheless shows an inexhaustible ability to extract excitement and joy from his playmates and his environment.

We call Raun Kahlil the first Option child.

He has in many ways been a great teacher and mover of us all. Our dedication, which flowed easily and naturally from our attitude and wanting, facilitated the evolution and rebirth of an amazingly beautiful and creative human being. Had we not been comfortable, had we been overridden by fear and anxiety, perhaps we might have never even tried to be with Raun. And then the “experts” would point to the little lost boy dribbling into the soup of his own confusion and say: “See, an unfortunate and irreversible condition.” But these words can never be anything more than the expression of a belief, which can become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

When we view something as difficult, terrible or hopeless, then we help make it difficult, terrible and hopeless. But when we decide not to see it as disastrous and difficult, by that decision alone, we begin to allow ourselves to see the beauty – and to find the answers.

The gift of living and teaching the Option alternative, the rebirth of Raun Kahlil, the happiness of being happy most of the time and the loving and caring shared with others has provided me with an exhilarating in-touch contact with the NOW of my life.

I guess I could have said that this person or that person has the power to make me better or happier. I could have continued to go outside myself with the promise of medication, libido analysis, religion, hypnosis, meditation, exercise or even the stars … all of which do provide certain comforts. But actually, we have only to go to our care to discover our own amazing humanity and power. We have only to allow ourselves to uncover our own knowing without fearing the results.

In presenting ourselves to ourselves without judgments, we found we knew it was really okay to be us … that, indeed, nothing is wrong with us and nothing ever was.

We all are, in our own ways, special and beautiful.

In most religions, disciplines and therapies, happiness is subordinated to the gods of sacrifice, adjustment, adaptation and endurance. Many even frankly state there will always be pain and unhappiness … and that’s true, only as long as we believe it. If I believe I’ll always be miserable, I will. If I believe I’ll always be insecure, I will. But when I allow myself to suspend those beliefs and deal with them, I find myself discarding much of the network that enforces my self-defeating behavior. And as I change those beliefs through the Option Process, I change everything about me … my feelings, my behavior and my wants.

Not a treatment or miracle, Option is a perspective and an evolution which maintains an infinite respect for the traveler moving along the path – a respect and learning environment in which each of us can become more of what we want to be.

And the implications are enormous. If Option applies to an autistic child, what about other children? What about all children? If it turned the impossible into the possible, what else can we do for ourselves and those we love? If we can fracture the spell of unhappiness and let our juices flow, there is no end.

The Option Process is a meaningful, relevant and mind-expanding journey for all of us who have ever been confronted by a situation we’ve judged or others have labeled unhappy or tragic. The ramification of being able to hear the voice within us alters our approach to every life experience: the birth of a child, the death of a loved one, marriage, divorce, sex, illness, financial hardship, love relations – the list is endless.

We each have our own discomforts, but as we become happier, we will tend to see, touch and move our worlds in a more loving and caring way.

The “Think” Page

Questions to Ask Yourself

  • Do you want to be happier?
  • Do you have to be unhappy now in order to be happy later?
  • Are you afraid of becoming too happy? If so, why? What are your beliefs about it?
  • Do you believe that “wanting” is enough to motivate you?
  • Do you turn “wants” into “needs”?
  • If you didn’t get unhappy about losing something, does that mean you didn’t care?
  • When you are fearful or anxious, do you find yourself confused and unclear?

Option Concepts to Consider

  • The option attitude: to love is to be happy with.
  • Unhappiness is a motivator.
  • You are your own expert.
  • Only you know what’s good for you.
  • Others who might label or condemn us do so for themselves.
  • Nothing is wrong with us and nothing ever was.
  • Becoming happier is a beautiful (not painful) process.
  • Beliefs can be self-fulfilling prophecies.
  • We all do the best we can, the best we know how, based on our current beliefs.
  • The by-product of happiness is lucidity and clear thinking.
  • Happy people are more effective than unhappy people in getting what they want.
  • You can be everything you ever wanted to be (read on).

Beliefs to Consider Changing

  • Unhappiness is the mark of an intelligent and sensitive person.
  • If my happiness is not at stake, then it can’t be that important.
  • If I become perfectly happy, I will stop wanting things.
  • If I was happy all the time, I’d be an idiot.
  • Caring is measured by unhappiness.
  • If I’m not unhappy about my present situation, I won’t try to improve it.
  • We are too old to change.
  • Change is painful.


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The Option Institute and its teachers have had the honor to present programs (during the last four decades) that explore the attitudes and beliefs we have (and may want to change) and to help program participants find their own answers to questions about relationships, careers, family challenges and health issues. Our new program, Health & Healing: Navigating Life’s Health Challenges (formerly '5 Days to Live') , focuses on navigating significant health challenges and decision-making with greater ease, clarity, and clear purpose.

We are not a medical facility and we do not dispense any medical advice. We have and would always guide our program participants, to consult with their doctors, healthcare providers, and family members in making medical decisions for themselves and those they love. Neither Mass General Hospital nor any member of its medical staff endorses any program being offered by the Option Institute and its teachers.

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PRE-REQUISITES for attending Advanced Power Dialogues are:

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  • If it’s been more than 5 years since you attended PowerDialogues, please call 413-229-2100 to discuss options.

NOTE: Attendance of live sessions via Zoom are required to complete this course.

Please note, this is a per-person registration


Dear Donor,

Jeannie Reid was searching for answers to the challenges she and her family were facing. Jeannie and her husband Stuart’s son, Carson, had been diagnosed with Pervasive Developmental Disorder, a condition on the Autism spectrum. For Carson that meant being completely involved in obsessive behaviors and only using minimal words to identify objects, as well as frequently and completely melting down.

Soon after, Jeannie found the book, “Son-Rise: The Miracle Continues” and when she read it, she KNEW she had found what she was looking for. She began using some of the Son-Rise techniques described in the book on her own until she was able to come to The Autism Treatment Center of America for the Son-Rise Program Start-Up. As she put into practice what she learned there, Carson’s world was opening up. Today Carson is attending a Montessori school as a 'typical' student and functioning at or above typical grade level, being fully verbal and conversational, and very interested in learning about the world and interacting as much as possible with other people. He is even taking swim lessons at the local YMCA and doing great!

“It has been wonderful to get, and stay connected with other people and Son-Rise parents from all over the world. My son’s progress had already come very far, but now I truly believe we can go all the way!”

Jeannie wrote.

Stuart Reid then attended the Empower Yourself course and brought home a new sense of clarity, balance and personal power. He shared his new empowerment with Jeannie and she in turn gained in confidence, strength and enthusiasm. Their own relationship began to flourish anew, as well. Life-altering changes were happening for Jeannie and her family.

Jeannie journeyed again to Sheffield, this time for the Fearless course at The Option Institute to help her recognize and overcome her personal obstacles. Jeannie wanted to continue her amazing journey as she had found using the techniques she learned in The Son-Rise Program and in Fearless had absolutely changed the lives of everyone in her family.

But, because the Reids’ finances had been seriously stretched by then, their next steps were put on hold. Then an amazing event changed everything. Jeannie’s college roommate and lifelong friend decided to start a Son-Rise Program scholarship fund for people from the Cleveland area. Since then Jeannie has been able to move ahead with her courses, taking Radical Authenticity, Son-Rise Maximum Impact and Son-Rise Wide Awake ... and eventually she became a Certified Group Facilitator.

Jeannie Reid’s story is about wanting BIG and making it happen. She is about to embark on her renewed private practice as an art therapist, and plans to be a super advocate for The Son-Rise Program in her area. Her wonderful new life is a product of her persistence and belief, and of the wheels she helped set in motion for others when her friends learned of how she and her family had been impacted by The Son-Rise Program.

“I know I will be able to give back by helping others, and that will be the top of my personal mountain! Thank you to everyone who donates! You are making a big difference in the world!

Jeannie Reid


Dear Donor

Two years ago, Antonio's kindergarten teacher told us something was not quite right with our little boy. He was not socializing, he somersaulted all the time and hardly spoke at all. At the time I was working for a municipality close to Florence, Italy and basically I had nothing left after seeing to basic necessities.

In the meantime, I looked up Autism with Google and as I was also looking for happiness and personal growth, I was guided to The Option Institute, thence the Autism Treatment Center of America. I read up as much as I could and started trying to apply the “Happiness is a Choice” suggestions. I'm not quite good at it but it has helped me with attitude, and everything else that seemed trying is really different after all this.

When I decided to come for The Son-Rise Program Start-Up, I really had little or no money to pay for it. I spoke to my friends, old and new. My mother helped me, friends I thought couldn't [help] tried their very best and the scholarship did the rest.

What the scholarship did was give a HUGE boost to my fundraising. About six friends contributed the rest, at the travel agency a very kind lady who I may now call a friend helped me some more. I am overwhelmed with gratefulness. Here I am, happy to have attended the Start-Up program and looking forward to learning more and praying to God for guidance.

So the gist of the matter is, I am a happy mum who hopes to implement a wonderful relationship with her child and is riding a not so easy moment with lots of hope in her heart and THANK YOU is not enough for what I feel. I still remember William's words, “If you do what you've always done, you will get what you've always got.” Now I'm trying to do different, bit by bit, day by day. I feel the difference already.

About Antonio ... we are going on with the Italian program and I play with Antonio after school in a quiet room in the house. Knowing what the little guy is exposed to (he's always putting his fingers in his ears and he seems to have problems with too much light in his eyes), I find him very brave as he bears it tolerably. Drums a lot to digest it all.

When we went to the doctor, just weeks after starting the program at home, she told me that she found him more attentive. His attention span has increased. He is also tagging or pulling at one's arm when looking for attention. The child psychologist last Saturday reported the same thing and what's more, my son has always required that I enter the room, hence assisting in every session. Well, this time he went in along with the doctor and told me, “See you later.”

At school, his teacher who speaks English as well, read up and watched my DVD (Kyle’s Journey, Jade and “I want my little boy back”). Now she's changing, bit by bit and I do appreciate that very much. He seems to be OK with her and actually sent me away from class this morning, again telling me, “See you later.”

He is now ONE HUGE GREENLIGHT and I'm hoping to be able to really have volunteers (still looking), raise funds and settle down to business.

God bless,



Dear Donor,

I am the mother of three children, all on the Autism Spectrum. Before I heard of the Son-Rise Program and the Option Institute, I was a desperate, angry and depressed person…. I was on Anti-depressants, sleeping multiple hours of the day, and for a period of time, using alcohol to run away from my pain.

Then I heard of the Son-Rise Program. I called to find out more about it and thought “this if for me!” But I could not afford it. You see raising one child with Autism is very expensive but raising three is just outrageously expensive with all the therapies and dietary interventions that we were doing.

But I was offered a full scholarship to the SRSU program. I have since attended all of the Son-Rise Programs and many of the Personal Growth programs offered by the Option Institute.  Each time I have been given a scholarship and each time I go I learn more about who I am and I change for the better each and every time.  Because of your most generous support, my children are recovering from Autism, I have found happiness in my life!  I am no longer on anti-depressants and I have so much more energy.

YOU are the reason that my family is in recovery. It is because of YOU that my oldest son now is enjoying school.  YOU are the reason my second son is speaking. YOU are the reason my daughter is no longer as rigid and controlling as she once was.  Thank you does not even begin to cover how much gratitude I have for you.  I thank God every day for you and I do not even know you.

Please know that you are changing lives with your donation to ATCA and the OI.  It is because of you that every day people are getting the help that they need. Thank you, thank you and thank you!

With so much love,

Kerry Rihtar