The Mont Blanc Effect

In 10 days a group of 12 Japanese hikers, will arrive in Calgary to hike in the Rockies. They are all over 60 and all of them have been affected by cancer. Either they have had cancer or cared for those with cancer. They have also founded organizations that help survivors of cancer and the bereaved. Their purpose is to demonstrate to themselves and others that you can live an active, purposeful and joyful life while ageing  and while experiencing serious illness.

In 2017, they attempted to summit Mont Blanc, to commemorate the first climb that Dr. Jinroh Itami did with seven of his cancer patients 30 years prior, in 1987. Due to inclement weather they had to abandon that climb half way up. They had been training for two years and it was a great disappointment.

 

However, it didn’t stop them. Some of the group climbed different mountains in the area and they all celebrated their effort.

The following year three members successfully attempted the summit again and they succeeded.

The rest of their hiking group concentrated on climbing the eight mountains in Japan known as the Yatsugatake.

Their training continued in order to prepare for this year’s trek in the Canadian Rockies. The picture you see below is the last day of training as they summit the highest mountain in that group of 8, known as Akadake. (2899 metres high) The skills they were working on in this picture were ice breaking in preparation for the Rockies.

I am so impressed with their perseverance because the group is varied in their mountain climbing skill set.  Yet, they all trained hard and long with a mountaineer, over this past four years, to accomplish these feats.

Dr, Itami, who created Meaningful Life Therapy for his cancer patients back in 1981, realized that purposefully challenging yourself to go beyond your usual comfort zone was helpful in fighting cancer. His patients discovered new found physical and mental strengths that they didn’t know they had. They all went on to live full and active lives, many of whom lived much longer than originally predicted.

Besides the challenging aspects of climbing and hiking mountains, Dr. Itami’s patients were schooled in the arts of haiku, calligraphy, drawing and painting. Lending a hand to others, through ordinary everyday ways, as well as larger community endeavours. All of his patients were, and are encouraged to take on an active role in their own treatment and to learn the necessary skills of co-existing with uncertainty and the natural fear of death.

If you dropped in on one of his study groups you would hear a lot of laughter. Turning our attention to finding humour, even in the darkest hours gives our spirits a boost, if not our immune system. And focusing on what gets us up in the morning – our purposes, also known as our ikigai, allows people dealing with serious illness to live fully, accomplishing small controllable actions everyday that each person considers important to do before they die.

When I look at this photo, all I see is a group of joyful people having a great time. It makes me want to do whatever they are doing.

And guess what? I will get to experience my own challenge, as they are off scaling mountains. Thanks to a dear friend I will do a hiking/camping trip at Lake O’Hara in YoHo National Park. This is a stretch for me: camping; hiking in the mountains; encountering wild animals…and all the associated shinkiness that can accompany new things.

I have referred to my cycling trips as my personal challenge. Now I can add this next adventure. One thing I know is that when I came down off the Cabot Trail, my first big cycling trip at 65, I knew I could take on the world. It is time for a booster and apparently Lake O’Hara not only has mountains to climb but they are situated in one of the world’s most beautiful areas. Lucky, lucky me. Good luck to my friend Nancy who will be shepherding this newbie.

And good luck to our kindred spirits from Japan. May they have a successful and wonderful experience in the Canadian Rockies. There are several people looking forward to welcoming them to Canada.

I have learned a lifetime of lessons from Dr Itami and my Japanese friends and continue to do so. We have no idea when our last breath will come. But until then, Let’s sing while there’s voice left.

Notes

Note 1:) My friend Yoshie along with the group will be doing a presentation at Wellspring Calgary on Thursday afternoon August 1st. Please check the Wellspring Calgary website for details. So happy to be able to meet them in Calgary. Okinawa, Japan, is one of the Five Blue Zones in the world where people live the longest and most active lives. They attribute this to lifestyle factors and Ikigai/purposes.

Note 2:) Thanks to Nancy Wright for boldly taking me under her wing to camp and climb in Lake O’Hara.

Note 3:) You will see no more talk of weather on this site, at least until December. As Seth Godin says, “weather or anything else that’s not in our short-term control, can become an excuse and a distraction. If you can’t do anything about it, it might not be worth your focus an energy.”  I write this with a sheepish smile since I teach this exact message. And yet…reminders are needed and welcomed. I refuse to say that we are having a heatwave.

Note 4:) It is summertime and still so many of you continue to read this blog. Thank you! You and my grandchildren are part of my ikigai – my reason for getting up in the morning.

Do Whatever Works – until it no longer works. Natalie Goldberg

My attention was captivated by these words last Saturday Morning:

A Tender and Forgiving Practice

Maybe the first rule we should begin with, if we want meditation to be in our life for a long time, is: Don’t make a rigid structure and then chastise ourselves when we don’t live up to it. Better to keep a limber mind and develop a tenderness toward existence.  —Natalie Goldberg, “Rules for a Long-Term Relationship

These words showed up in my email, thanks to Tricycle Magazine. I subscribe to their Daily Dharma, mostly for the surprise of moments like this, when my heart does a leap of joy at such generous notions. And my mind readily transforms the word, “meditation,” into a synonym for all practices we take up, whether it is exercising, writing, attempting to live well under the same roof with another human being, not being so angry, or any number of promises we make to ourselves.

Failure to always live up to our own standards and all of our promises,  can be the slippery slope to begin “throwing sticks at out heart,” as Rumi reminds us Not To Do.

The longer I live the less inclined I am to browbeat myself or anyone because we slipped up. It seems to me that human failing is built right into our DNA, just like death. It will happen to all of us. We are born and if we are lucky we will get old, and at some point we will all experience ill health and death. And in between the beginning and the end we will have time to experience the highs and the lows and the great possibilities that ordinary moments bring. Including the moments we disappoint ourselves.

When I then clicked on “read more” of Natalie’s article I came to this delight. Do whatever works – until it no longer works. The generous spirited Dalai Lama says things like this. So twice in the last 13 months I an indebted to the generous Natalie Goldberg, not just for her writing advice, but for her wisdom on living.

I am not big on formulas, but this advice is not just kind, I think it works well. No reason to be mean to ourselves and no reason to give up. We brush ourselves off and begin again. And we pay attention to what works for us and when and how to adjust our expectations and strategies, when things stop working. What stones to overturn and which ones to walk around. What structures to put in place and what to remove. Just because we failed to eat well today is no reason to discard the desired goal. We have another opportunity tomorrow.

Dr. Itami (Meaningful Life Therapy) encouraged his patients to have a variety of daily practices, such as creative pursuits, helping others, visualization, looking for humour and establishing short-term meaningful goals to work on everyday. These, and more enhance the quality of everyday life. Criticizing yourself for not “measuring up” was not part of the plan.

Although Natalie’s article is about caring for her relationship with Meditation, it is about so much more. Encouraging words for living our perfectly imperfect lives.

Notes

Note 1:) A delightful incident in the above article: Vietnamese Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh, who was then in his sixties, was asked by a woman practitioner, at a retreat, how he kept his practice alive. He smiled a wry, sweet smile. “So you want to know my secret?” She nodded eagerly.  “I do whatever works and change it when it no longer works.”

Note 2:) On July 13th I am lucky to celebrate, although  from afar, the 50th birthday of my son Rob. He will be cycling the 336 km (206 mile) ride from Seattle to Portland that day. The magic is in the ride. OK, he wants to do it in a certain time too.

Note 3:) Hope you get outside as much as possible while the summer days are filled with warmth and light. When I was a young girl I thought summer was the same amount of time as the school term. Imagine the timelessness of those summer days. Many thanks for stopping by. See you next week. Warmly, Trudy

 

 

A Great Day – “we woked up!”

When my granddaughter Sophie was 2 years old and I was going through chemo, she and her Mom came to visit. On the first morning, I heard her stir, and when I entered her room, she stood up in her crib and announced enthusiastically, “I woked up, Nana.”

There is nothing like a two year old in the house to make you stop and enjoy the moments. Every little thing from cheerio’s, to blackberries, from an ant or a bird or her stuffed pig is sheer magic. Jumping in one spot, getting into her car seat by herself, singing and playing the toy piano, and relishing every bit of her vegetarian chilli. Passionate about life. Holding nothing back but giving herself away, all day long.

This memory came to mind when I read what Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, author, distinguished professor of Psychology and Management, and thought leader, had to say on “waking up.”

“Wake up in the morning with a specific goal to look forward to. Creative individuals don’t have to be dragged out of bed; they are eager to start the day. This is not because they are cheerful, enthusiastic types. Nor do they necessarily have something exciting to do. But they believe that there is something meaningful to accomplish each day, and they can’t wait to get started on it. Most of us don’t feel our actions are that meaningful. Yet everyone can discover at least one thing every day that is worth waking up for. It could be meeting a certain person, shopping for a special item, potting a plant, cleaning the office desk, writing a letter, trying on a new dress.

It is easier if each night before falling asleep, you review the next day and choose a particular task that, compared to the rest of the day, should be relatively interesting and exciting. Then next morning, open your eyes and visualize the chosen event—play it out briefly in your mind, like an inner videotape, until you can hardly wait to get dressed and get going. It does not matter if at first the goals are trivial and not that interesting. The important thing is to take the easy first steps until you master the habit, and then slowly work up to more complex goals. Eventually most of the day should consist of tasks you look forward to, until you feel that getting up in the morning is a privilege, not a chore.”

― Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention

Children and certain adults are great examples. Sophie at two was aware, in her own way of the joy of waking up. My friend John who died ten years ago was also aware of this great privilege. In a phone conversation shortly before his death I was telling him about a particularly great day.

He gently reminded me that they are all good days. “You woke up,” he said. And I agreed. When I hung up from our talk, at that time, I thought about Wu Men’s little poem written hundreds of years ago that I love. I pass it on once again. A little gift for today.

Ten thousand flowers in spring, the moon in autumn,
a cool breeze in summer, snow in winter.
If your mind isn’t clouded by unnecessary things,
this is the best season of your life.
Wu-Men (1183-1260)

Notes:

Note 1:) The seminal work of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi is Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience.

Note 2:) You pronounce his name like this: (Me-High  Chick-sent-Me-High) Once you know, it’s easy.

Note 3:) I am always appreciative of you stopping by here. Many many thanks. Enjoy this beautiful summer month, wherever you are and find those magical moments to celebrate your days.