Thetis Lake I get To blog

Three Little Words: I Get To

Nine years ago, I was happily preparing for my last treatment at the Cancer Centre. “Finally, I will be done,” I said to myself. A celebration seemed in order and I was making plans.  The week before this auspicious date, however, I had pause for thought.

A beloved family member was diagnosed with an advanced cancer, for which no treatment was available, at that time. He, on the other hand, would have given his right arm for the chance to get chemo.

It struck me like a ton of bricks. As glad as I was to see the end of my chemo, I had been one of the lucky ones, where treatment was available.

A common refrain, not just in the sick room, but at work, home and elsewhere are words like this:

  • I have to make dinner.
  • I have to go to work.
  • I have to clean the garage.
  • I have to weed the garden
  • I have to do my taxes
  • I have to go to chemo today
  • I have to go for that cat scan.
  • I have to go for an angiogram
  • I have to xxx (substitute anything that comes to mind)

Imagine, for a moment, what it might be like not to be able to do any of those things for a myriad of reasons: no job; no money; no food; no rights; no hospital; no treatment and so on.

Years before I had cancer, my father had lost his legs to diabetes. One holiday night, my spouse and I were standing at a sink filled with dirty dishes. The dishwasher was broken so it required us to do the job. When we started to complain about “having” to do all this work, we both looked at each other and knew how grateful my Dad would have been to stand at that sink and wash every dish.

I don’t think it is helpful to compare suffering. I do think it can be helpful to assess our options realistically. It is not lucky to get heart disease or cancer or any number of illnesses. But, when that happens, we are fortunate if there is a protocol that just may help us get better.

This is not denying the anxiety and fear and side effects that come along with many medical procedures. It doesn’t imply that there is something to like. It simply acknowledges that today I get to do something that may help me regain my health and extend my life.

There is power in words.

Many people have reported back to me that making that simple shift from “I have to,” to “I get to” has dramatically changed their approach and experience not only to medical treatment but in their daily life. You may want to experiment yourself and see how it works. You could be surprised at the difference three little words can make.

Note 1: This phrase, “I get to,” is more and more in the mainstream. There is even jewelry inscribed with these three little words. It first came to my attention, many years ago, from an article of the same name written by Kate Monaghan, and published in Thirty Thousand Days. It took root in my “operating system,” when I saw that not everyone was fortunate enough to get to have treatment.

Note 2: Because there is such power in words, I caution you to not think of “I Get To” as a formula. Use it where it fits and as you see fit. Thank you for reading these musings. See you next week, Trudy



transformation, butterfly, blog

Barbara Kingsolver – Teaching Herself Joy – over and over again

Recently, several people I know have been faced with terrible and heart wrenching news. Unfortunately, there is no formula or pat answer to deal with life’s catastrophes. Nor is there an arbitrary timeline to work with. We are all different and we bring different psychological, emotional and physical constraints to our life’s challenges and sorrows.

Yet, we do have examples of how certain people work to transform their pain and grief even when their life is in ruins.

I have found inspiration, relief and practical help by the example of Barbara Kingsolver, in her book High Tide in Tucson, which shows how such transformation is possible.

 Every one of us is called upon, probably many times, to start a new life. A frightening diagnosis, a marriage, a move, loss of a job or a limb or a loved one, a graduation, bringing a new baby home: it’s impossible to think at first how this all will be possible. Eventually, what moves it all forward is the subterranean ebb and flow of being alive among the living.

In my own worst seasons I’ve come back from the colorless world of despair by forcing myself to look hard, for a long time, at a single glorious thing:  a flame of red geranium outside my bedroom window. And then another: my daughter in a yellow dress. And another: the perfect outline of a full, dark sphere behind the crescent moon. Until I learned to be in love with my life again. Like a stroke victim retraining new parts of the brain to grasp lost skills, I have taught myself joy, over and over again.

Note: When we are in the midst of fear and and uncertainty, it can be helpful to reach out for help from friends and family. Asking for help can take courage. Why? Probably because it shows our vulnerability. Yet, research shows that when we allow ourselves to be vulnerable, we up our chances to live a wholehearted and meaningful life.  Thank you for reading my blog.  I always love to hear from you. Trudy



wabi sabi


Wabi-Sabi – the beauty of imperfection, impermanence and incomplete.

This excerpt from Leonard Koren’s definition of Wabi-Sabi comes from his book, by the same name, for Artists, Designers, Poets and Philosophers. I was mystified by the concept, when I first heard about it, due in part to being a North American child of the post war. It seemed to me that my teachers, at least, were expecting perfection, and spent time looking for the flaws to be fixed in every project. They were certainly not looking for flaws to admire.

Yet the Japanese honoured and celebrated the cracked pots, which were long ago repaired with gold. They honoured the naturalness of ageing, the inevitability of death and an acceptance of what is. This concept appreciates simplicity and pays attention to the details including the flaws, giving value to what is also not perfect.

Although Wabi-Sabi is viewed as an aesthetic philosophy I like to apply the spirit of Wabi-Sabi to everyday living and working. Everything from how we accept the flaws of our fellow mortals and ourselves, to how we manage our difficulties at home and in our workplaces.  Making room for imperfect points of view and an open mindset for problem solving offers potential for greater collaboration and productivity, in whatever circumstances we find ourselves in.

I find this spirit encouraging. It allows me to be more expansive with learning new things. I approach the unfamiliar more as an experiment and see what happens. Rather than thinking about it forever – like this website and not doing it, I take the first step and then the next. It isn’t about being careless or cavalier. It is about doing the best we can with what we have. Most importantly it encourages completion. The danger we face when seeking perfection is that we can never be done. With a spirit that is willing to take risks, and make mistakes, we enjoy the satisfaction of learning and doing. We recognize the beauty in our imperfectly perfect selves and the works of our lives.

It can be useful to take time to reflect on things that each of us wants to do. That is, if we take action.   Turns out purposeful action is good for our health and our healing. Yet, even then, many of us have decided to do certain things yet never begin. How many things have you decided to do that aren’t started yet? Imagine, things that we really, really want to do, but we don’t take the first step. In my case the reason was often fear of not doing something well enough.

It is a great experience to discover the joy and satisfaction that comes from producing:  a drawing; a new recipe; a book; an article; letters to old friends; learning an instrument; photography; to name but a few. Jump in with both feet. Go for it. Make music, write, do stand-up comedy, see the world, take that pottery class, join a wood working group, dig up a lawn and plant flowers. Learn a new language, travel, ride a bike, take a class in anything that interests you. Renovate a room. U-tube will teach you everything you need to know, according to friends of mine who are always trying new things.

Sure, mistakes will happen. But learn to love the effort you put in to living your life. Celebrate your attempts, your rejection letters, and your uneven hand-thrown bowl. Find moments of joy every day, by the courageous act of  making time for something you love.  Live wholeheartedly and allow room for the flaws.

Note: One of my most favourite stanzas from Leonard Cohen appears to celebrate this same  spirit of Wabi-Sabi:

Ring the bells that still can ring

Forget your perfect offering

There is a crack in everything

That’s how the light gets in.




wabi sabi shampers bluff

You Can Do It

Oftentimes when tragedy, illness, accidents or any manner of difficult things happen, well-meaning people do their best to soften the blow. Believe me, I have been enormously grateful throughout my life for the tenderness, kindness and practical help of loved ones. I needed there encouragement and benefitted from it. There is, however, another aspect to caring and I was reminded of this in a story Jack Kornfield described in his book The Wise Heart.

During a time Jack was living in a forest monastery in Thailand and studying with the meditation master Ajahn Chah, he contracted malaria like most others who resided there. Although he had received medicine it was slow to take effect and he was in his little hut feverish and wretched.

His teacher, Ajah Chah came to his hut to check on him and the conversation went like this.

“Sick and feverish, huh?” he asked.

“Yes,” I replied weakly.

“It’s painful all over, isn’t it?”

I nodded.

“‘Makes you feel sorry for yourself, doesn’t it?…makes you want to go home to see your Mother?’ He smiled and nodded. ‘Yes, it’s suffering, alright (he continued)…at least now we have good medicine’…he waited for a while, then he looked at me with the warmth of a kind grandfather.

‘You can bear it, you know. You can do it.’

And I felt that he was fully there with me, that he knew my pain from his own hard struggles. It took another day for the medicine to kick in, but his simple kindness made the situation bearable. His compassion gave me courage.”

I was touched by this description and it reminded me of an incident just before my surgery. A student in a workshop I was facilitating, who had been through a difficult cancer treatment, approached me and said something like, “I’m glad that it is you who got cancer, rather than someone else.”

English was not her first language and she explained. “Please don’t be offended…I mean that you have the resources that will help you manage the cancer treatment. You can do it.” And then she kissed me on both cheeks.

At the time I laughed with her over the unusual way to express caring for someone who was diagnosed with cancer. In retrospect I understand the wisdom of her words. She had been through tough times herself and she recognized that we need strength to go through it. Her words stayed with me and since that day they continue to give me courage. They remind me of my own strength and toughness, during difficult times.

Whenever others say the equivalent of “You can bear it, you know. You can do it;” their confidence and strength reinforce my own. I am most thankful for these tough angels in my life. They have made an enormous difference.

When we face the unexpected and the difficult, we all have resources to “bear it.” We need our friends, of course. We need all the help we can get. But never forget this important truth: as tough as it can be, you can do it. We all can.

Note: May you all have many moments of joy during this beautiful month of August. Until next week, Trudy

Change of Scene

Dr. Jinroh Itami, who developed Meaningful Life Therapy, used travel as one of his non-medical tools. He famously took a group of Japanese cancer patients to climb Mt Blanc three decades ago, long before strenuous exercise was encouraged in cancer circles. He also took another group to Yellowknife to experience the magic of the Aurora Borealis at New Year’s, and the opportunity to be part of an Indigenous Healing Circle. Both trips involved a change of scene, customs and new experiences. Showing up with an open mind and open heart was the only criteria.

Travel to foreign lands often opens our eyes and causes us to pay attention in ways that the predictability of life at home does not. Our senses are awakened by the sights, sounds and tastes of a new place different from our own. Reports from travellers indicate that in spite of the challenges that travelling brings, they often feel stronger, more alive and more hopeful especially when they stretch themselves and engage in mental and physical challenges.

I had a powerful experience after cycling the Cabot Trail, which was in my own country but a very different venue. After completing the 300 KM ride, mostly hills, I felt so filled with exuberance and satisfaction that I was certain I could take on the world. This trip had been the most challenging activity I had ever exposed myself to and I seemed to stay in the flow, to my complete surprise, for about six more weeks.

I suppose the crux of the matter when we do something different is we take ourselves out of our comfort zone and expose ourselves to learning new things and sometimes risk. (never fool hardiness, by the way) When we learn new things and immerse ourselves in the flow we temporarily disappear along with our worries and anxieties.

I am currently 4500 KM away from my home but still on the continent of North America and in a place I formerly lived. I notice the air, how light it is; the giant red fireball of sun sinking behind a mountain; the peeling bark of arbutus trees hanging over the water, and the wonder of old friendships renewed in person rather than through updating an app.

I know people, who unable to travel, create the activity of travelling at home. There are many variations on this theme but one example comes from a brilliant woman wanting to walk the Camino. (and she no longer could) She worked out the mileage and created a local walking trip, based on that mileage. She organized some friends to join her and they created passports and mapped out specific and significant locations within their city, where they would travel to. With each time dated goal in mind they made it across the city and surrounding areas covering the mileage they would have walked on the Camino. They all loved it.  Why would they do this?

Four reasons: purpose; companionship, laughter and activity. They all looked forward to their walks and they all experienced a greater sense of well-being. Evidence based? Maybe/maybe not? Anecdotal evidence. You bet. That literature has lots to say.

Worth a try? What have you got to lose? Zooming around a curvy trail on your motorbike; zip lining at Whistler; walking from town to town in England; cycling, singing or reciting poetry in Ireland; strolling in a park at the other end of your town; sitting on a park bench, people watching, in front of your city hall. Exploring with a magnifying glass a one metre square patch of grass in your own backyard. We have no idea what we might discover about our world, each other and ourselves. New adventures, both home and abroad, just waiting for you and for me.

Note: Greetings from Gabriola Island, BC. A place where the summer of 2018 is hot with no humidity. How great is that.  Until next Wednesday, Trudy