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The Cabin

an excerpt from the new book


by Dr. Kathleen Hall


Dr. Kathleen Hall is a former World Trade Center stockbroker turned stress management expert and founder of The Stress Institute. Her message of mindfulness will be welcomed by all those who seek a less stressful, more meaningful life.

The excerpt follows Dr. Hall as she dumps a high-profile Manhattan lifestyle to live on a Georgia farm with no electricity or indoor plumbing. While restoring her farm, she earns degrees in divinity from Emory and Columbia. She then studies under some of the world's greatest leaders in spirituality and medicine, including Nobel Peace Prize winners President Jimmy Carter, the Dalai Lama, Bishop Desmond Tutu, Dr. Herbert Benson of the Mind/Body Medical Institute at Harvard, Dr. Dean Ornish of The Preventative Medicine Institute, and Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn of the Center for Mindfulness at the University of Massachusetts. Her story is truly extraordinary.

Remarkably, Dr. Hall's new book recommends -- not the sort of drastic life changes she has navigated -- but the most simple and rewarding transition any stressed-out individual can make: paying attention to the moment. Her book covers the basic routine we all live: waking, eating, commuting, shopping, cleaning, sleeping... For Dr. Hall and for you, each moment in that day can be transformed from routine to profound.

More information about the book, Alter Your Life, and author Dr. Kathleen Hall follows the excerpt. Enjoy.

The Cabin

by Dr. Kathleen Hall

We can do no great things --
only small things with great love.
-- Mother Theresa

As I pushed open the old log cabin door, two black scorpions rushed across the planked floors and disappeared into the fireplace. An unfriendly welcome, but I knew there was no turning back. A faint light filtered through the closed shutters. It smelled musty and moldy; I was sure the room hadn't been opened in years. The old wood floor creaked as I slowly walked across it to open the shutters and invite the daylight in.

Standing in the midst of dancing cobwebs and swirling dust, I realized I had taken my first step on a journey with no map, no directions and no clear destination. In the stark silence of that moment, a certain sense of peace swept across the room and engulfed me. I knew my choice to live an intentional life would change the rest of my life, and, for the first time, I sensed the adventure and the uncertainty of my choice.

The cabin had no electricity, no water, no gas, no kitchen, and no bathroom. I surveyed the outside and discovered the outhouse and a rain barrel on the far side of the cabin. Back on the front porch, I snuggled into an old rocking chair that had been left behind. In anticipation of the days ahead, I pulled a scrap of paper from my pocket to write on.

As I began making a list of how-to books I would need on plumbing, construction, and electrical work, a rush of energy and a sense of power surged deeply through my body. I grinned as I rocked back and forth in the tattered rocker that creaked with each rock. In this primitive cabin in the north Georgia mountains, I was a long way from my previous life.

~ The Unintentional Life ~

I was working in New York City, flying back and forth to Atlanta each week. My life was a hectic race. But I had all the trappings of success as measured by our culture. As a stockbroker at a Wall Street firm, I was set on a model of doing everything faster and better than any of my competitors.

My aspiration was to have it all. I am the oldest daughter in a family of seven children and groomed for self- reliance. From the time I was a little girl, I wanted to be a successful woman. For me, that meant having an upwardly mobile career, a successful husband, perfect children, a nice home, a great car, elegant clothes, and fabulous vacations. I constantly worked to keep a perfect dress size and drove the ultimate driving machine to match.

My life was very well calculated and moving at a planned, orchestrated pace, when one day -- in a split second -- everything stopped.

I had landed at the airport as usual early Monday morning and grabbed a cab to the World Trade Center. I got out of the cab, entered the building, and headed for the elevator. All of a sudden, my chest was so tight I could hardly breathe. We were all packed into the elevator as usual, but this time as it sped up to my office, I thought I was having a heart attack. I lurched off the elevator and lay against the wall.

Three hours later, I was still against the same wall and hadn't moved an inch. An attentive security guard had noticed -- and perhaps because he had seen it before -- made a diagnosis of a panic attack.

Little did I know that would be the first of many to follow. It wasn't too long until insomnia began to haunt me at night, while panic attacks continued to plague me during the day. I became obsessively aware of the people that surrounded me each day.

Along with the panic attacks and insomnia, a new keen sense of awareness began to emerge. As I went to work each day, I noticed we all seemed to look and act like zombies. It felt like we were trained to do the same thing over and over again. I noticed how people were buying lunch from a sidewalk cart then mindlessly eating as they walked away. Everywhere I looked, everyone and everything began to look the same. It seemed as if we were all in some trance. My well-designed life had started to unravel.

Later, still in New York, I was studying for my commodity boards when I stumbled upon an old copy of Henry David Thoreau's journal in the apartment where I was staying. I dusted off the front of the book, turned to the first page and it read:

"I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived."

Little did I know then that these words would change my life forever.

My initial response to that famous passage was shock, confusion, and an indescribably immense sadness. Was I living deliberately? Was I living an intentional life? How in the heck did I know what the essential facts of life were? And if I die tomorrow, have I really lived at all? Is living in the middle of this rat race really living?

Thoreau's words made me painfully aware that the course I had charted for my life was far from "intentional." I had carved out an outwardly "successful" life, and it had become a prison of my own design. My life had nothing to do with my authentic self or with an awareness of my own desires and dreams.

I had not been in the woods since I was a child. I knew nothing about the realities of living in nature, and the mere thought that nature held the possibility of teaching me something both intrigued and terrified me. A fundamental shift occurred in that moment, and I knew there was no turning back.

One week later, I purchased a farm with an old log cabin that sat by a lake. There wasn't even a road into the cabin from the main road. I had to hike to the cabin for the first year. I was determined to live up to Thoreau's challenge. I was going to face the challenge of living an intentional life. I would turn this land into a working farm. With each step, I chose to release the life I had so masterfully orchestrated and designed, and I surrendered to the unfolding of an intentional life.

My choice to surrender had begun....

~ The Stall ~

Not so long ago, I was sitting in the corner of the stall at my stables after foaling out a mare, and I reflected on the choices I have made in my own life. I now live in the woods full time, and it has taught me much. Many lessons have come to me as I built this farm and made the choice to live an intentional life.

Many incredible people have inspired me along the way: the ninety-year-old farmer down the road that still makes hominy and cans his own sauerkraut; the eighty-eight-year- old, near-blind woman who made me a prize-winning quilt at the country fair; my elderly patient who has survived both legs being amputated, blindness and renal dialysis, but still responds to life with a smile on her face. There are so many simple, holy people in the woods who have taught me a lot. As I slowed down and listened to their stories, I discovered the profound depth of their awareness. These teachers of mine have created intentional lives of their own choosing. I am also blessed with the four-legged angels that inspire me daily: my dogs, cats and horses.

Most people would see the surrender of a life on Wall Street to a life in a log cabin in the north Georgia woods as opposite ends of the scale. By comparison to what others have done, I realize every day my goal is to live an intentional life, and I still have very far to go.

It takes one courageous step at a time. People who live extraordinary lives are in fact ordinary people who make choices that lead to extraordinary circumstances. These choices are often very small, and these choices are available to you.

Our lives are filled with seemingly mundane, everyday tasks, tasks we often mindlessly or begrudgingly complete as quickly as we can. Perhaps because we live in a world where bigger, faster, and first are seen as best, often the smallest and simplest things are dismissed or overlooked. But it is these small, simple, everyday moments that can be a gateway to growth and renewal. Routine activities such as working, shopping, reading -- not extraordinary events -- hold the potential to bring you a life of greater peace, balance, and contentment.

About the Author

Dr. Kathleen HallDr. Kathleen Hall is one of the nation's leading authorities on stress management and work-life balance. founder of The Stress Institute. Dr. Hall left her life as a financial advisor with a Wall Street firm, and made a radical choice to redefine her success. Her book, Alter Your Life, offers simple methods for bringing mental, physical, and spiritual health into our busy lives.

Dr. Hall has studied under some of the world's greatest leaders in spirituality and medicine, including Nobel Peace Prize winners President Jimmy Carter, the Dalai Lama, Bishop Desmond Tutu, and Buddhist teacher Thich Nhat Hanh. She has completed coursework with medical pioneers, including Dr. Herbert Benson of the Mind/Body Medical Institute at Harvard, Dr. Dean Ornish of The Preventative Medicine Institute, and Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn of the Center for Mindfulness at the University of Massachusetts. As a member of the American Association of Cardiovascular and Pulmonary Rehabilitation, she has spent the past decade directing a cardiac rehabilitation program focusing on stress management.

Dr. Hall's media credits include: The Today Show, ABC News, CNN, CBS, Fortune magazine, The Wall Street Journal, the Associated Press, Parents magazine, Investor's Business Daily, USA Weekend, CNN Health Radio, Cosmopolitan, Woman's World, the Chicago Tribune, Redbook, Woman's Day, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and dozens of radio shows. Her speaking credits include The Home Depot WIN Initiative, Office Depot Success Strategies for Businesswomen Conference, Turner Broadcasting Corporation, and Austin Business Journal Profiles in Power Conference.

Dr. Hall earned her Bachelor of Science in Finance from Jacksonville State University, a Masters of Divinity from Emory University, and a Doctorate in Spirituality from Columbia Theological Seminary, and has clinical training from Harvard University. A popular speaker and lecturer on stress management, work-life balance, mind-body medicine, and how to Live an Intentional Life, she has served as an adjunct college professor and wellness educator.

In 1997, Dr. Hall opened the 250-acre Oak Haven Conference and Learning Center outside Clarkesville, Georgia, where she works with individuals and groups. She lives on her Clarkesville, Georgia, ranch with her family and a variety of rescue animals. For more information, please visit one of the web sites devoted to Dr. Hall's work:

About the Book

by Dr. Kathleen Hall
Published by Oak Haven
ISBN 0-9745427-2-5, 184 pages, softcover, $15.95

Overbooked? Overworked? Overwhelmed?

Themes like "I just don't have time" and "I'm exhausted" rule our lives today. We are overbooked, overworked and overwhelmed. Just getting done what must be done fills our days. The notion of finding a precious hour or two to learn how to create balance, reduce our stress and discover an intentional life to soothe our aching souls is simply out of the question.

Dr. Kathleen Hall's new book, Alter Your Life, provides an alternative to the struggle to "make time" for renewal. In the breakthrough book readers will:

  • Discover how to overcome obstacles preventing you from living the intentional life of your dreams
  • Practice easy stress reduction techniques that deliver immediate results
  • Maximize the simple moments in your life to be the most rewarding
  • Enrich the quality of your life by achieving work-life balance

We can discover how to live an intentional life in a manner that requires no doctrine, no memorization of a new vocabulary, no trekking off to distant holy lands. It does not require us to change our jobs, our lifestyle or transplant our personalities. It doesn't even require any additional time.

We can develop our own unique personal practices that can help us return "home" once we realize that we are out of balance. In time these practices will become an effortless and restorative part of living an intentional life of mental, physical and spiritual well-being.

Alter Your Life offers tools to help you find your own unique choices that will bring greater balance to your demanding life. These simple, effective tools, based on age-old, time-honored medical, psychological and spiritual knowledge and wisdom, will soon become second nature and bring with them a greater sense of ease and fulfillment.

Copyright ©2005 by Dr. Kathleen Hall. All rights reserved. Reprinted in The Radical Academy with permission of the author.


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