A Shift of Attention

We are all well practiced in knowing what is wrong with our lives. Our mate is thoughtless; we had to wait for an hour at the hospital; no parking spot; the car didn’t start; the bank made an error; our credit card was hacked; our friend disappointed us; bad news again from our oncologist. Historically, being aware of the negative and all the possible things that could go wrong was part of our survival kit. It was more important to have heightened awareness to a possible attack by a sabre-toothed tiger, if we wanted to survive, than to admire the beautiful sunset.

So here we are in 2018 and that same survival technique can now cause us unnecessary suffering when we use our attention to only notice what is wrong with our lives. Those things that are wrong, by the way, are still inconvenient and harsh and need to be dealt with. We hope to influence the situation for the better. In truth, we ignore real life problems at our peril.

However, we have a chance to influence the quality of our everyday lives by occasionally observing the benefits we receive from often overlooked ordinary objects. Benefits that mostly blur into the background and, therefore, we don’t give them a moment’s thought.

I recently had occasion to assess the benefits I have received from my car, as an example. On my recent trip to Vermont, I glanced at the odometer of my ten year old Toyota and observed that I will have travelled 100,000 KM in my car by the time I returned home. I started thinking about what this car has provided me in the course of one decade:

  • It chauffeured me safely back and forth to my treatments at Tom Baker Cancer Centre for six additional months, through rain, snow, blizzards and sunny days.
  • It carried me across the country when I moved to Ottawa.
  • It was my reliable transportation on a return trip from Ottawa to Cape Breton Island where I did my first cycling trip around the Cabot Trail. Even though I was anxious, scared and tense on that first big trip alone, the car reliably did what it was designed to do. Even the unknown people who helped put my vehicle together crossed my mind.
  • It allowed me to drive my grandchildren to math, music, Dr. Appointments, shopping, playdates, school, museums, picnics, and all the while provided a container for discussion, laughter, stories, philosophy, plans, multiplication tables, singing, and music. (Especially Leonard Cohen – I think we all learned the words to most of our favourite songs)
  • It carried five of us plus four bikes and luggage to the Eastern townships, where we spent a week cycling for my 70th The car was our faithful Sherpa, on that trip, along with the designated driver.
  • It has carried balloons that filled the car for celebrations. And food. And gifts. All of which leave me with memories of happy times.
  • It has provided transportation to Quebec City in the winter, twice. Quebec City is one of my most treasured cities, especially in winter, where it is sheer magic.
  • It carries me routinely to the Experimental Farm Garden, where I am in bliss amongst the beauty of the seasonal flowers.

I am often awestruck by the wonders of nature. I am also in awe by the wonders of flight, my fountain pen or my iPhone, which is more powerful and versatile than many of my previous computers. And this week I have a great sense of awesomeness for my car. That for ten years, it has carried me and my loved ones safely, 100,000 KM through all kinds of weather, and provided access to so many wonderful memories. Those listed above being only a sample.

Through the worst of times we can shift our attention to include things that aren’t regularly showing up on our internal radar. This can provide balance, and give us temporary mental relief when we take some time to reflect on the everyday things in our lives that serve us. We notice  things most often, when they don’t work or are gone. Today, while I consider my car. I offer a word of thanks.

Note: Ottawa experienced a devastating tornado last Thursday, and there are still tens of thousands of homes without power. My cousin is one of those people. She called and commented how she had never appreciated until now, how much she relied on power. And her great appreciation extended to the hydro crews and the sacrifices and dedication they are making to restore power as quickly as possible.

Thank you for taking the time to read this post. See you next week, Trudy

Settling for Safety

There is a tendency, as we live longer or have health challenges, to gravitate towards safety. Sadly, what is considered risk free continues to diminish as time goes on.  I understand this tendency, and see it in myself.  The problem is, it can mean that we pack up our sense of adventure and say goodbye to anything that may cause us anxiety.

Tonight I am writing to you from a small town near Burlington VT. I was invited to come and assist at a nine day training in Japanese Therapies. There are wonderful participants from Australia the UK, US and Canada and it is a privilege to participate. Hard work? Yes. And, also, many satisfying, stimulating and fun moments. However, there are risks involved. Here are a smattering of mine:

It is a five hour drive from Ottawa with over half the trip on busy and fast roads. Highway driving is not easy for me. In truth it is highly anxiety producing. Accidents happen.

Residential training is demanding. The risk of failing to keep up.

There is the risk that I may not sound as smart as I want to be.

I left my extended Ottawa family at a particularly busy time and I don’t like to cause that kind of inconvenience. This is not really a risk but a consequence.

My other important projects will be neglected for ten full days. The risk of not catching up quick enough.

However, I have learned to say yes, knowing full well, I will be filled with regret, when it is too late to back out. But guess what? I have never regretted my “yes,” after the fact. What I have learned is that my most meaningful moments have involved risk and they have always been worth it.

For instance, my anxiety about the drive disappeared once I was on the road. Or my cycling trip around the Cabot Trail seven years ago, which was filled with insecurity and sometimes fear, yet, is now a hi-light of my life. Moving to Ottawa to take an active role in my youngest Grandchildren’s lives was a risky business for all kinds of reasons. And, yet, it was the best thing I could have done.

Today, one of the exercises in the training, was to examine our most meaningful actions in the past ten years and our actions with the biggest risk. Interesting to see that for everyone the two were related.

Taking risks is not being reckless. The willingness to take risks frees us to do things that we want to do. While feeling insecure, we can step out of our comfort zone and experience the aliveness of just doing it, (whatever it means to each of us) while we are still breathing. We can pour ourselves into something we love, while accepting the risk of failure.

I wonder about the risk of risking nothing –  might that possibly be the riskiest thing of all.

Note1: It is still summer in Vermont and I get to drive over a picturesque covered bridge almost everyday. The area looks like a pastoral movie set. Sorry that I don’t have a photo yet.

Note 2: When I turned 65, my 91 year old Mother flew 4500 KM from Vancouver Island to Ottawa for the occasion. She also joined my daughter and son in accompanying me on a hot air balloon trip as a surprise gift. (Her friends told her that this was way too risky.)  She is now 98, still taking risks and living fully. Thank you for reading this post. See you next week, Trudy

Photo by Alex Block on Unsplash

If It’s Raining and You Have an Umbrella, Use It.

If it’s raining and you have an umbrella, use it.

This advice from Psychiatrist, Dr. Shoma Morita, means that when you find yourself in difficult circumstances and there is the possibility of taking any action to relieve or influence those circumstances, then do so.

I suspect that this maxim comes to mind today because I am under the weather. Rarely is there absolutely nothing to be done. This may mean cancelling appointments or making one. We may need to usher in a change of plans, however inconvenient. It may be seeking an opinion or turning over every stone to look for a solution; perhaps a change in medication is required or even a change of Physician. There are so many situations and choices that can arise in daily living and most come with options for intervention. We need to seek those options out.

I find this maxim practical for all manner of difficulties I have encountered. It is the opposite of a victim mentality and encourages me in a proactive stance.

Many years ago, I read a book edited by Claude Whitmyer containing many essays on Mindfulness and Meaningful Work. There were so many gems that have stuck with me over the decades and one was a description of the trap of a “victim mentality” written by Rick Fields. He described it thus:

“The victim mentality ultimately discharges you from any responsibility for your life. Since clearly what is happening to you is not your fault. You don’t have to lift a finger…Now, to be sure, there is a sense in which we are clearly victims, in our culture. We often are at the mercy of forces that we have no control over. A good hurricane (such as Florence, which is zeroing in today on the Carolinas or the super typhoon heading for Hong Kong and the Philippines) or an earthquake will remind you forcibly of that fact. So, will even a moment’s contemplation of what it means to live in a Nuclear Age…

Nevertheless, there is a vast difference between being a victim (which we all are, in some areas of our life) and having the Victim Mentality. Being a victim means there are some areas in my life where I am battling powerful forces, but I will do battle with them. Whereas, having the Victim Mentality means giving up: “what’s the use? Why even try? I have no power at all; the things you suggest may help other people, but they can’t offer any hope to me…”

I want to state a simple truth. And that is, I believe every individual has more control over his or her life than he or she thinks is the case… no matter how much of our life we perceive to be unchangeable, because it is in the control of someone or something else, there is always that part that is under our control, and that we can work on to change, be it 2%, 5% 30% or whatever, it is almost always more than we think.”

One of the guidelines of Dr. Itami’s Meaningful Life Therapy is to be an active agent in your own treatment. Take an interest and inform yourself. Find out things that you can do. The bottom line is to take some action rather than endure unpleasant circumstances, or unnecessary suffering that can be changed, or alleviated in some way.

At times when much of our life can seem out of our control, it is even more vital to take charge of the things –even small things that we can do something about. Never underestimate the impact on our well-being that small steps can make. And notice how often small steps lead to significant change.

Note: I hope you have a lovely September week, the month of fresh starts and brand-new scribblers. See you next Wednesday, Trudy

playful calculations

Playful Calculations

Tonight, while driving home from math class, my eight-year-old Grandson Rowan called out a surprising question from the back seat. How many days have you lived Nana? Since I was at the wheel, I explained I couldn’t do that calculation, until later. He suggested the calculator on my phone would do the trick.

It quickly became apparent that time flies as he informed me that I have lived 26,289 days and he has lived 3,040 days. Yikes, where did all those days go? Of course, Rowan is now on a roll. Next question is how many hours?

630,936 hours, to be precise. And when will you reach 700,000 hours is the final question? Looks like 80.

The enormity of these many hours lived was of great interest to this young mathematician.

The enormity of how these hours have been spent was of great interest to me. None of us knows what the final tally will be but according to Malcolm Gladwell I have had plenty of time to become an expert in more than one field. Oops.

These calculations got me thinking. No matter what I have done or not done with my hours, thus far, going forward I intend to treat them all with the respect they deserve. I want to spend my hours doing this work that I love; being with people that I love; learning new things; being awestruck with the beauty all around me; hours for moodling and watching the hummingbirds at the feeder; hours for creating words on a page that just may be a lifeline to someone I don’t even know; hours with books and music and cycling and lending a hand. Hours for rest and rejuvenation.

I do not want to spend another hour fretting about good enough or “what if’s” but use the hours I have to be bold and brave, exuberant and generous in all the ways that I find meaningful.  I don’t want to take my hours for granted nor do I want to be a slave to inertia or busyness.

Rowan reminded me through his questions that I have lived many, many hours and with a little luck I may even get to 700,000 or more. But since that final figure can not be determined ahead of time, I will look at each hour as a precious gift to be fully used and fully savoured.

Note 1: I have had enquiries about registration for my  online course. I want to launch it in October during the Thanksgiving time and when I do, I will let you know here. Once it is available, you can register at anytime since it is self-directed. I am excited to launch it and thrilled that there are a few of you planning to sign up.

Note 2: You may want to do your own calculation and see how many days and hours you have lived. It is revealing in all kinds of ways. Until next week. Trudy