Just a couple of minutes into speaking with Xpress about #Chill: Turn Off Your Job and Turn On Your Life, local author Bryan Robinson is presented with a perfect opportunity to demonstrate the message of his newest book. His dog, barging into the conversation with disregard for the business at hand, represents all the unexpected challenges that life can throw into the works.
“When you really immerse yourself into who you are and lead your life from that place, that allows you to be in the moment and to be present with people instead of reacting to the barking dog,” Robinson says with a chuckle. “He’s begging me for attention, and I’m not going to hit him or get frustrated with him — I’m just going to love him.”
As a licensed psychotherapist and professor emeritus at UNC Charlotte, Robinson is best known for his research and writing on work addiction. #Chill, he says, is an attempt to apply his insights from that specialization to a broader audience. The Asheville resident makes the local debut of his book at Malaprop’s Bookstore/Café on Friday, Jan. 11, at 6 p.m.
“Your job may not be where you’re gainfully employed. It can be being a parent, it could be being a friend, it could be your hobbies,” Robinson explains. “[The book is] not just for workaholics by any means; it’s [about] how all of us can chill, take the time to take care of ourselves and pay attention to the knee-jerk reactions that we make.”
Robinson intentionally structured #Chill for a January release, dividing the book into 12 chapters that correspond both to the annual cycle of months and the steps of the Workaholics Anonymous program. Each section features a central message — “Heartspeak and Compassion” in February, for example — followed by short readings that explore different aspects of the theme.
The book also contains 366 “chillers,” mantra-like affirmations for every day of the year. Phrases such as “I remember there’s more happening around and inside me than I realize” and “I remind myself of the blessings that disguise themselves in hardship” serve to focus the reader’s intentions and foster personal reflection.
At the root of every chapter and chiller in the book is the concept of mindfulness. Modern psychotherapy and ancient spiritual traditions such as Buddhism, says Robinson, agree that calm acceptance of life as it comes is crucial to health and well-being. But contemporary culture, he notes, pushes people toward quick responses and a constant sense of worry.
“I see a lot of people in my practice who are burning out. They don’t even know how to relax, and they’re not workaholics,” Robinson says. “People are having a harder time with letting whatever’s happening happen, instead of getting upset and reacting and frustrated.”
This pattern holds true in Asheville, Robinson continues, even as the city advertises a laid-back image to the outside world. “It’s part of our human nature. It doesn’t matter where you live,” he says. “When we’re rushing and hurrying and we’re worried about how we’re going to get things accomplished, we’re not in that place.”
And while people may not be able to alter the societal conditions that contribute to the problem, Robinson says, they can shift their own attitudes about those conditions. He regards personal accountability, not outward-facing resentment, as the most productive approach to achieving mindfulness on a broader scale.
“If we can take responsibility for our actions, more of us, then we can change things on the global level. But we can’t blame the world or life or other people for what we do,” Robinson says. “We can demonstrate and we can vote and we can make changes, but reactivity is not the way to do it.”
Robinson’s message has earned him a number of well-known admirers, including feminist icon Gloria Steinem and singer-songwriter Alanis Morissette, both of whom wrote promotional blurbs for #Chill. At the Malaprop’s launch event, he will be joined by actress and writer Maryedith Burrell, who starred on the 1980s TV series Fridays and Throb.
Burrell will lead a conversation with Robinson, an approach he says he enjoys more than simply reading from his book. “I can be more transparent. It’s more entertaining, and people walk away with more,” he explains. “It’s going to be a lively event, and there are going to be some surprises too that I can’t share yet.”
Before the launch, Robinson encourages people to take the “How Chill Are You” quiz on his website (avl.mx/5j7) — especially residents of Asheville. “It goes beyond just hanging out and having a beer and chilling,” he says. “#Chill is about how we show up in life.”
WHAT: Bryan Robinson launches #Chill in conversation with Maryedith Burrell
WHERE: Malaprop’s Bookstore/Café, 55 Haywood St., malaprops.com
WHEN: Friday, Jan. 11, 6 p.m. Free.