The World Continues to Support Us

Warning: this is longer than usual – about 4 min. I am sorry.

Living well is not about ignoring our difficulties or even our grumpiness. We get important information from these facts and feelings that often help us see what needs to be done.  Yet there is more to the story then solving problems. We can actively seek out the kernels of goodness each day and use our attention to see all the surprising ways we are being helped. One example is to become an armchair anthropologist and track down all the people and events that make it possible for us to enjoy a cup of hot coffee or tea, as just one example.

For instance, this morning I ordered an Americano at Wild Oats, a bakery café in the neighbourhood where I live. With even a quick overview I can see dozens of hands that helped me receive this delicious cup of coffee.

  • JP –  the barista, greeted me and immediately started making my coffee;
  • the city ensured there was clean water;
  • many growers of the beans;
  • harvesters, truck drivers and pilots;
  • local distributors and suppliers;
  • Ottawa road crews who cleared away mountains of snow so the delivery truck could deliver the beans;
  • elements of sunshine, soil and rain in the country of origin where the the coffee bean started out;
  • patrons of Wild Oats who provide resources for the owners to stay open.

Within a few seconds,  all of you could add to this very partial list. In truth it is almost endless.

It may seem a waste of time with no practical reason to consider such matters. Instead, just drop the $2.75 plus a tip on the counter, say thanks and go. What more is there to do? My inclination, however, is that when we notice, even once in a while, the true cost of what we buy and receive, including people and things required,  we will be awestruck. And there is more. What did it take, in this moment, to have the coins in our pocket to pay for that cup of steaming hot coffee?

I bet we could list dozens and dozens of people and events in our lives that contributed to our ability to pay. Remember the person who taught us to read or gave us our first job? What about those who formally and informally taught us life skills and professional skills? It is a mind blowing experience to truly see the depth and breadth of our support and good fortune. It isn’t about being grateful for everything but it is about noticing.

I think about this trail of breadcrumbs when it comes to medicine, and the lucky era we happen to live in. Anyone diagnosed with a serious illness today has more options  than ever before. In my own case, there is a good chance I wouldn’t be sitting here writing these words had I been diagnosed, three years earlier than I was. Why? The drug that saved/extended my life wasn’t yet available for a case like mine.

It would be amazing to see the list of names who contributed, over the years, to the research, development and testing of the many lifesaving drugs and procedures we now use. Even though we wish we didn’t need them,  where would we be without them? What about those who then fought to make them available? The list goes on.

So, here is a fun suggestion.  How about a laundry list of  names of people and or things that have been helpful to you in any part of your life. Perhaps trace the specific lineage of your success. Who was on your team? Sometimes it is a surprise to spot a person or circumstance that you had previously not noticed. Don’t forget everyday things like a hot shower or a laptop readily  taken for granted, until a power outage strikes.

You may consider small things that make your life better, like a toothbrush. What about the vital role of the person who picks up the trash? Or those who stock the shelves in the grocery store, or take your blood in the lab? Nothing is too small or too large for your list and it may surprise you how easy this is to do, once you get in the flow.

It takes time and effort to notice all the ways we are supported. If we don’t pay attention or only notice all that is wrong, so much of our lives disappear into the background, unnoticed and unappreciated. When we pay attention to the support we receive our world expands and we have more fun.

Be assured that reflecting on these things does not take away from the effects of a terrible diagnosis and treatment. It isn’t about undermining our own effort and  hard work in these daily transactions of life. It may, however, give us pause for thought as we see the bigger picture.

Possible side effects include moments of spontaneous gratitude, pure joy, a desire to live fully while we can, and an urge to give back.



Note 1: It is a constant, continuous, spectacular world we live in, and every day you see things that just knock you out if you pay attention, Robert Irwin, artist

Wild oatsNote 2: To pay attention, this is our endless and proper work. (Our beloved poet, Mary Oliver, who died this January)

Note 3: I notice that long-time residents of Ottawa rarely complain about the winter cold and snow. They are busy either enjoying what winter has to offer, or, they are cozily snuggled up in front of a fire. They know it is all about how you dress (took me too long to figure that out) and they direct their attention to the beauty of this season. Like right now, as I write, beautiful distinct snowflakes are falling on the pristine backyard. There are a pair of cardinals on a tree branch. The fireplace provides comfort to body and soul. I want to become more like these hale and hearty winter people with no complaints whatsoever.

Note4: People who live in Ottawa aren’t super human; they get tired, of course, driving in snow banks, with no place to park and long commutes, but they don’t complain about winter. Only mentioning, in passing, the occasional downsides of all this snow.

Note 5: I laughed out loud when I heard Alan Neal, discuss the weather during an interview, this afternoon on CBC radio, All In in a Day.  He was waxing poetic about winter and all of its beauty, while turning a blind eye to the inconveniences. As I was saying in Note 3… that’s Ottawa.

snow in yellowknife

ring the bells

The Element of Surprise and Caring

One year ago this January, on a cold winter day, there was an unexpected knock on my daughter’s door. I was greeted by a stranger delivering flowers. Turns out they were for me.

Christmas was in the past and my Birthday was nine months away. Who on earth would send me flowers for no reason whatsoever?

Inside the brown florist wrapper were a dozen exquisite white tulips, from my friend, in Victoria. I had done nothing to warrant this gift, which made the beauty of the moment all the more wondrous.

Moreover, there was a second part to the surprise, which surprised me even more. My reaction.

White Tulips HBFor days I marvelled at the beauty of the tulips. They struck me as the most beautiful tulips I had ever seen. They lit up my life in the most extraordinary ways. I had more energy, saw beauty everywhere, minded the cold less and had unadulterated waves of joy. I felt lucky, blessed and grateful.

The power of kindness is evident over and over again from our friends, family and strangers. I swear those dozen white tulips, boosted my immune system.

Going a step further, however, I read an article in the New York Times, this morning, on a number of studies, showing the power of caring physicians to improve health outcomes. This research, including Stanford University, corroborates my direct experience while going through cancer treatment.

My medical team are brilliant physicians and specialists. Furthermore, they are caring. They provided me with almost immediate access to them, should I think I needed it. They did extra research on my behalf, to help with my decision making; their interest in my family and grandchildren was an unexpected surprise; there was always enough time for one more question. Never rushed. My opinions were respected and they generously offered both humour and personal anecdotes, along with all the tests.

I am convinced that their personal interest and caring made my treatment more effective and certainly less stressful. I believe it still.

The authors of the NYTimes article concludeWe often think the only parts of medical care that really matter are the “active” ingredients of medicine: the diagnosis, prognosis, and treatment. But focusing only on these ingredients leaves important components of care underappreciated and underutilized. To really help people flourish, health care works better when it includes caring.”

I believe that this kind of caring  is essential and particularly important for anyone with a chronic condition. If that is you and you don’t have it, ask others for recommendations. Turn over every stone to find it. It can change everything.

And even beyond the medical, don’t you all notice how life affirming it is to work with people who care. Take my webmaster, as an example. Thanks to Margaret Rode, I do not live in fear of all that can go wrong. Her steady hand, sharp mind and kindness allow me to be confident that any mistake I make can be fixed. And even better we have a lovely supportive friendship. All of her clients feel that way. Once caring is involved it is no longer just a transaction, it is a relationship.

We do better in all parts of our life when we are in the circle of giving, receiving and caring relationships. They are worth looking for and cultivating.

List of suggested articles this week:

Can a Caring Doctor Make Treatments More Effective NYTimes

We Will All Leave a Legacy – whether we like it or not Globe and Mail

When Happens When Your Doctor Blames You Washington Post

Note 1: Thank you taking the time to read these posts. Sending my best wishes and see you next week. Trudy


Zen Seeds – an excerpt

There is a small book I like called Zen Seeds, written by a female priest, Shundo Aoyama. This is a favourite reflection.

“Everyone desires to be rich rather than poor. Everyone wishes to be healthy rather than ill. Everyone wants to be a success rather than a failure. No matter how hard you work during your lifetime, there may be times when you have to go without food for the day. No matter how much you complain of illness, you have to be ill when the time comes. Even if it is an illness you will die from, you cannot escape it. No matter how much confidence or capability you have, there may be failures.

Happiness that depends on what you acquire or become is only conditional happiness, not true happiness. No matter what happens, it is all right. If you become ill, just be ill; if you are poor, than just be poor. Unless you accept your present circumstances, happiness cannot be attained. To face any situation and accept it with open arms if it “can not be avoided” molds the attitude enabling you to see that such a wonderful way of living is possible. This is indeed something of consequence. As soon as this attitude is achieved, you have reached paradise, anytime, anywhere, and in any circumstances.”

Note 1: Thank you for continuing to read my blog. In truth I have struggled this past two days to say what I wanted to say. I then recalled this excerpt and realized that it perfectly expressed my thoughts. No reason to say another word. Warm regards and see you again next week, Trudy


Humour, Hope and Nasrudin

Another photo from Gottfried’s collection, with thanks. Hawaii rainbow.

Humour, from my understanding and experience boosts our spirits, if not our immune system. Granted, there is so much we don’t know for sure, but we all seem to benefit when we can have a good laugh. Funnily enough, we don’t all laugh at the same things.

Take laughter yoga, for instance. This highly popular program that is offered for people with illness, does nothing for me. I tried it and didn’t relate to the humour at all. Yet, we offered it at Wellspring, where many participants loved it.  We are all different and it is important that each of us pay attention to our direct experience, so we know what works for us and what doesn’t.

Life gives us opportunities to try new things. A curious mind can serve us well. Dr. Itami, the founder of Meaningful Life Therapy, used humour as a daily part of his non-medical prescriptions for his seriously ill cancer patients.

Not only that, he encouraged them to find something funny in their present condition. Not because their illness was funny, far from it. But as a shift of attention in learning to cope with the reality of where they found themselves.  A relief for that moment or two when they shared their story with others, and sometimes a longer relief as they went looking for humour.

And when that was an impossible task for some, they researched funny tales to tell each other, in their weekly study group.

When we cultivate a sense of humour, our lives improve. We probably all have people with whom we laugh a lot. I have one friend that as soon as she answers the phone we start laughing. Why? Who knows. But it has something to do with the irony of life; the cosmic jokes…we always feel better, when we hang up, even when we have been discussing a dire situation.

 I discovered Sufi tales, thirty years ago, and was introduced to the inimitable Mulla Nasrudin, who soon became my go to person to make me laugh. I have already included two of his stories in this blog and today I am giving you another favourite.


What you hadn’t thought of – from a collection by Idries Shah

If someone doesn’t say something to entertain me, shouted a tyrannical and effete king, ‘I’ll cut off the heads of everyone at court.’

Mulla Nasrudin immediately stepped forward.

‘Majesty, don’t cut off my head – I’ll do something.’

‘And what can you do?’

‘I can teach a donkey to read and write!’

The king said:

‘You’d better do it, or I’ll flay you alive!’

‘I’ll do it,’ said Nasrudin, ‘but it will take me ten years.’

‘Very well,’ said the king, ‘you can have ten years.’

When the court was over for the day, the grandees (persons of high rank) crowded around Nasrudin.

‘Mulla,’ they said, ‘can you really teach a donkey to read and write?’

‘No,’ said Nasrudin.

‘Then,’ said the wisest courtier, ‘you have only bought a decade’s tension and anxiety, for you will surely be done to death. Oh, what folly to prefer ten years suffering and contemplation of death to a quick flash of the headman’s axe…’

‘You have overlooked just one thing,’ said the Mulla.

‘The king is seventy-five years old, and I am eighty. Long before the time is up, other elements will have entered the story…’

I love this story. And it also reminds me about a reason to hope. Reality always contains an element of surprise – sometimes good and sometimes bad. David Steindl Rast and my Mother are my teacher’s on hope. Rast says: “To have hope is to remain open to the possibility of surprise even when everything turns out worse than we could ever imagine. Despair assigns reality a deadline, whereas hope knows that there are no deadlines.” My Mother, well, she always believes there will be something better around the corner. The surprising thing is,  because she expects it, she always finds it.

It seems to me that no matter what we do we will experience suffering in our lives. We can isolate ourselves and do our best to protect ourselves from pain. But to live fully we will ultimately experience it all, the full catastrophe, as Zorba the Greek puts it.  But we also experience the hope and joy, the love and laughter and if we stay open,  all the amazing imperfectly perfect people in our lives. And that is what counts the most, in the end.

Let’s find ways to enjoy our lives, and gently encourage each other along, while we can!

Note1: Here is a link to humour and other learning elements of this perspective, on my website  

Note 2:  And a link to Laughter is the best Medicine from my June posting, for those who didn’t see it.

Note 3: I haven’t forgotten my online workshop. I am picking up the threads this week and more information forthcoming.

Note 4: Thanks again, for reading my blog posts. If you know of others who may be interested, please be free to forward them on. See you next week, Trudy

Greetings for the New Year 2019

Aurora Borealis 2002 – photo by Gottfried Mitteregger on New Year’s Eve in Yellowknife

Ten years ago my friend sent me the following stanza by poet Marge Piercy from her poem, The Spring Offensive of the Snail. She also added this note, “This is a great poem to start off the New Year. There is also a ceremony among some First Nations people, which involves throwing water over their backs seven times. In doing so, they wash away any habits or thoughts no longer beneficial for growth.  People forgive those who have harmed them and ask forgiveness of those they have harmed.  Now they are ready to start the year anew.”

“…But remember to bury
all old quarrels
behind the garage for compost.
Forgive who insulted you.
Forgive yourself for being wrong.
You will do it again
for nothing living
resembles a straight line,
certainly not this journey
to and fro, zigzagging
you there and me here
making our own road onward
as the snail does…”   excerpt from Marge Piercy’s poem

I wish you all a 2019 filled with many meaningful moments of joy, purpose, courage, generosity, health, awareness, adventures, laughter and lots of time with the ones you love. Let’s stay open to the element of surprise. We never know what might happen around the corner.

Like this photo that was taken by Gottfried Mitteregger in Yellowknife, 2002, at New Year’s. He was there with Dr. Itami and a group of cancer patients from Japan. They had come to see the Aurora Borealis and experience a traditional healing ceremony performed by a Shaman. Everyone was surprised by the extraordinary display of nature and the significance and joy of the nurturing ceremony they had experienced. Consequently, healing can happen, even when cure doesn’t.

It has been my experience that there is always help during times of distress and great difficulty. Sometimes we don’t even need to ask for help. It arrives unbidden. Sometimes we need to seek it out. Knock on doors. Write letters. Make calls.

And, even with all of our pro activeness, it doesn’t imply we solve the problem. Yet, we often find comfort, strength and new information. It is important to seek out what you need. Sometimes the locked door opens, even a crack, and allows some light to get in. Sometimes it doesn’t and, yet, our efforts and the efforts of others keep us from being alone.

2019 awaits us with 365 brand new pages for our book of life. Let’s all live them fully, in the best way we know how. “Zigzagging (along) you there, me here…as the snail does.”

With love and gratitude and a thousand good wishes for you all. Trudy

Note 1: In July of this brand New Year, some of the Japanese who went to Yellowknife in 2002 will arrive in Calgary to hike in the Rockies for four days and visit Wellspring Calgary where they will give a presentation and participate in Wellspring activities. There will be 13 participants, including Yoshie, the cousin of Dr. Itami. All are in their 60’s and 70’s; several have had cancer or been a caregiver. Even more, their purpose is to remind themselves and others that you can have cancer or other serious illness, be over 60 and still live fully. I am very happy that they chose Calgary for this year’s adventure. Last year it was Mt Blanc.

Note 2: Some of you will read this today as I will be flying home, tomorrow, so will post this early.

Note 3: Here you see a bit of one of the teepee’s, in the bottom left corner.