|Photo Courtesy Seth Santoro|
JB-Hi, Seth. Thank you for taking the time to meet with me. I first came across your book, How I Learned to Smile From the Inside, shortly after it was published in February 2013. The premise intrigued me as I was reeling from a divorce and the emotions associated with it left me, well, not smiling. I found your book to be very helpful, and quite to the point. I’ve looked at other ‘self-help’ books that are overladen with technical terms, yet you write from a very down-to-earth layman’s point of view. You also use your own experiences to illustrate your point, rather than telling the reader how to move forward.
SS-Thank you for having me here. I am honored and humbled to share my thoughts and responses to my book, How I Learned To Smile From The Inside! I am always open for interviews and extremely curious as to how people will react to my words. Bring it on!
JB-In the preface to your book, you talk about searching for something to help you get through a great deal of trauma and unexpected events, yet couldn’t find what you were looking for. What was the actual turning point where you decided to write your book?
SS-I remember exactly. I was sitting on a plane, I’d been handed boarding card #24, my favorite number, as if given a sign from the universe. I knew was about to go through a rough time ahead. I’d just found out my boyfriend had seroconverted, and was rushing back to him. I knew my journey through understanding this would be difficult and wanted to document my journey through this. I was also hoping it could help a least one other person.JB-Your opening line, “I want you to find your smile again…and pronto!” is rather telling. Some might say it’s rather altruistic. Do you see that? Why do you want people to smile again?
SS-It’s completely altruistic. Our past experiences help build us up from the inside. You can always tell when someone’s smile is genuine from the inside or not; when someone helps you with something, you can tell if they’re doing it out of the “have-to” space or genuine sincerity space. I remember distinctly when I was 5 years old, I remember wanting to be a fireman or a lawyer or a figure skater in order to get fame, and then use that fame and money to help others.JB-You’ve been through a lot: two near brushes with death, some deep emotional pain and anguish. And yet here you are smiling again, when many people may have given up and just plodded on in life. What do you think motivated you to not plod through but embrace life?
SS-Children. I have always wanted a family, and it’s been an extremely strong desire of mine since I could walk.That and the fact that I’ve always been curious about how exactly this particular tough situation would pan out. It’s all in an effort to reach a point in life and reflect on the life I’ve lived.JB-How did you come up with the S.M.I.L.E. model?
SS-I wanted a personal map of what I was experiencing as I grew through these events. I wanted something that would be a positive influence. I knew Shock was an important reaction to any traumatic event. And I wanted to end with Embrace as a way of accepting the past to move forward. I knew the steps, more or less, I just needed to find the best way to spell out the word, SMILE.JB-I love your quote, “Pain is inevitable, suffering is optional.” I’ve seen different variants of it, “Growing old & Growing up”, “Change & Growth”. They all seem to suggest it’s all an attitude. Comments?
SS-I wrote it in a song years ago and many, many people have commented on it, and it just stuck with me.JB-Having gone through grief counseling myself, I couldn’t help but notice a similarity in your approach to the five stages of grief as hypothesized by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross;denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. Did you base your work on hers?
SS-Not necessarily. Though her work was ground-breaking, and I have studied her steps thoroughly, her work is geared toward death and dying. My work is dedicated to losses of any kind and healing from them. I believe we all can choose to be happy or sad. As I said, all our experiences build us up to who we become. It is our reaction and responses to them that helps build us.JB- So my choosing to stay with men beyond the ‘expiration date’ of the relationship helped define me in learning what I do and don’t want in my next relationship.
SS-Exactly!JB-In reading your book, I came away with the sense the S.M.I.L.E. method is more linear, you move from one stage to the next, where the stages of grief may not necessarily be so linear. People may move backwards to a stage, experience them in any order or even skip one altogether. Do you see it that way?
SS-I think in a small way it is more linear, but that doesn’t mean it is for everyone. Some people may move back into a phase, but it is more of a progression.JB-You see Shock as a positive reaction, as essential to our surviving the trauma we may have just experienced. Would you care to elaborate?
SS- I believe it is the body’s way to deal with the event in order to prepare the mind and heart to comprehend the news. It is also an essential part in the common ‘fight or flight’ response decision.JB-I could totally relate to your point in “Mock-cceptance” where you suggest to your readers to look for gifts from the Universe. The Universe is frequently giving us signs that we’re on the right path and so many people seem to be blind to them. Comments?
SS-Life is like that, there are so many little signs all around us, if we would just pay more attention to what is going on around us. When you’re sitting in traffic, check out the license plates, or the billboards around you, there may be a sign.
JB-In “In Overwhelmdom” you mention the frequently used phrase, “When one door closes, another door opens” though sometimes that long walk in the dark hallway can be a bit frightening. So there is no timetable?
SS-Emotions and time have no correlation. And emotions are not quantifiable. The time it takes for a person to move through one phase might be different from another. Also, someone may stay in one phase, say Shock, for a day, and that same person may stay “In Overwhelmdom” for weeks or months; whereas another person may be in those same phases for longer or shorter time periods.JB-Also, you mention in the “Overwhelmdom” section that we are highly charged emotionally, and without this heightened stage we cannot proceed forward. Comments?
SS-If you want to heal, you have to be willing to do the work. You have to be willing to go within, go deep, feel the feelings, move through the emotions, go dark and dive into what happened. Once you pass through these emotions, it’s only sweetness on the other side.
JB-You have such a way with words; I nearly fell out of my chair laughing with this line: “Feelings and emotions are a lot like farts…they come and go, sometimes they are loud and obnoxious, sometimes they are short and to the point. Sometimes they are loud and peaceful, and other times they are silent and deadly.” Any comments?
SS-I can’t really take credit for it, I heard it in an Empowerment Coaching class; “Feelings and emotions are a lot like farts.” I just expounded on it and added the rest. Everyone knows what silent but deadly means! It also helps people to just ‘get it!’JB-You equate Learning with fear. Learning to live with the situation at hand invites fear of the changes taking place and surrendering to that change is fearful, yet necessary for the final stage. Comments?
SS-Most of the time, we won’t feel we are ready. We won’t believe we’re finally ready until it actually happens or, sometimes we have to just fight, be fearless, and do it anyway.
JB-Not only learning to live with the situation, but to learn from your past lessons, is also key to the S.M.I.L.E. method. Comments?
SS-The Smile From The Inside lifestyle is a summation of all of your life experiences, divided by your ability to reflect and learn from emotional situations. In other words we need to be able to reflect and learn from our past experiences so that we may move forward and kick life’s ass.JB-In the final stage, Embrace, you say acceptance of the situation is not enough; we must embrace the situation completely and look forward to moving on to the next phase of life. To clarify, you say if you’re looking for your next ex, you don’t get it. But, if you’re looking for a next best friend/companion/lover BUT, feeling fearful, you’re getting the hang of it. Fear and struggles are natural. We’re only human.
SS-Yep. For example, in the case of a break up, it’s the difference of “I’m glad that’s over” vs. “It was a blessing that it happened”. Yeah, you will be all the better for it, when you realize you are better off for having been through it already. Now, with knowledge, you will do better.JB-You describe yourself as believing in inner peace and happiness which equals contentment. A very wonderful state of mind. I find myself trying to stay there. Critics might say this is all too “Pollyanna-ish.” How would you respond?
SS-I honestly don’t mind. I would much rather be known for having a hopeful outlook on life than the reverse. I am an honest person who lives an honest and real life. Inner peace and contentment, in my opinion, can be attributed to the same summation of all your life experiences and the division of all emotional situations. How well do you deak with loss? Stess? Traffic? That said, I am all about finding pockets of contentment. Remember, happiness is an inside job.JB-Do you have any new projects coming out?
SS-Right now, I am working on Book #2, currently entitled, “The Compound,” inspired by true events with my travels and work in Mexico. I am also working on an outline for Book #3, currently entitled, “The Five Steps to GRACE” which will be an intense book of healing from traumatic events. This book will highlight not only myself, but also four other absolutely courageous and inspiring individuals, what they went through, their process, and how they healed from it or are actively working on their healing. I also have ideas for six other ideas in mind. It’s gonna be a busy couple of years.JB-I want to wish you well with those! Thank you again for your time.
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