Back to the Garden

“I cannot say exactly how nature exerts its calming and organizing effects on our brains, but I have seen in my patients the restorative and healing powers of nature and gardens, even for those who are deeply disabled neurologically. In many cases, gardens and nature are more powerful than any medication.” Dr. Oliver Sacks

My attention is grabbed by everything to do with gardens right now as Ottawa leans or should I say limps towards the sun. It doesn’t really matter to me; I am simply delighted that winter is done and all the gardeners are buying soil,  spades and seeds.  I am also interested in Dr. Oliver Sacks so when I spied this excerpt on gardens and healing, from his new book, I was ready. The moment I read this piece, a few days ago, I knew it had a home here, although I hadn’t planned to use it this week.

However, as my world travels have taken me in the past two weeks to the westcoast, back to Ottawa, and now an early morning flight to Calgary,  this seemed like perfect timing. A little gift to me and now to you.

This is an excerpt from “Everything in Its Place,” a posthumous collection of writings by Dr. Sacks.

Note 1:) Oliver Sacks was a neurologist and well known author of many books. He died in 2015.

Note 2:) When you read this piece, you will note there are two additional articles at the end of the excerpt, by Dr. Sacks. You may enjoy those too.

Note 3:) I will be back here next week and I am looking forward to seeing former colleagues and the wonderful members at Wellspring Calgary. Many thanks to all of you dear readers who show up here week after week and even tell others. I appreciate you all. Warm regards, Trudy



cherry blossoms tGabriola

Never Take a Break From Learning

As many of you know, last week my Mother celebrated her 99th Birthday on April 13th. She is one of the lucky ones who has stayed healthy in body, mind and spirit. As I observe her many years of living fully I see that the attributes of ageing well, are similar to living well with illness. There is nothing we can do to guarantee a vital long life nor is there anything we can do to prevent illness. This need not be discouraging, however, it is a simple fact that we cannot control these outcomes.

What is way more important is that we can do so many things to increase our chances to improve the quality of our everyday life, and reduce the risk of many major illnesses. I don’t need to list the obvious and we all know the exceptions to the rule. So bearing that in mind I want to briefly mention one thing that my Mother and others swear by. Life long learning.

This morning my Grandson Rowan was talking about his Great Grandmother’s age. He finds it impressive because she is 90 years older then he is.  He comments on how she will be his age squared at the big 100th next year.

“Imagine, Great Grandma, at HER AGE, can text me, he proclaims. Not every Great Grandma can do that,” he says.

“She’s a life long learner,” I say.

Never take a break from learning,” he states. ” You can take a break from work and from school, but never learning.”

Coincidentally, I had been reading a journal of my Mother’s this morning, while I waited for Rowan to take a math test. This is where she writes down tips on ageing that she agrees with, along with her own experience. Life long learning was hi-lighted throughout the journal and her conscious practice from the time she turned 65 was to learn something new every year. Because of that practice she can use her ipad for reading, searching, photography, texting and all the myriad of things that I use mine for. I believe she was about 92 when she learned how to use an Ipad. (16 week course at her local library)

Another outcome of this continual learning is that she is up to date on the world around her and can relate to what her great grandchildren are doing. And it is fun. Consequently, she is never bored. I have never once heard her state that she is too old to try new things. Yet, she has clarity that there are certain things to give up – like driving.  “Don’t dwell on things you can no longer do; just be grateful that there are other ways to get around, other than with your own car,” she writes.

Learning new things is important when we are living with illness. What can we do about our own situation and how can we play an active role in our treatment? Take on the role of discovering the non-medical things that are helpful and available, in our communities: creative arts; writing; music; discussion groups; courses; nutrition; exercise; walking groups… so many opportunities.

As I read Mom’s journal and saw the time she has spent writing and recording important information that can help us live well I also see that it is no accident that she has ended up  still flourishing at 99. Why? Because everything she wrote down, she actually applies. Truth is, I want to be more like her.

Final Thoughts:

As long as you live, keep learning how to live.” Seneca


Note:1) The cake was made by an inherited and beloved family member, James Hawkins. What I know is that it was delicious and everything you see was edible including the basket. The roses took him 7.5 hours to lovingly make. The other special surprise was 99 folded cranes made by his better half, Sheila. She didn’t specify the hours but I know it was many. They were suspended from the ceiling in the centre of the room, and a golden crane will be added next year for the 100th. This is a shout out for celebrations!! Do it while you can. Yes, it is worth all of the effort and labours of love leave us all with unforgettable moments.

Note 2:) I am compiling a list of Mom’s tips that I will include in one of these posts. Maybe my 52nd, which happens in three weeks. They are equally helpful and inspirational for living well with illness and living well as we age.

Note 3:) Thanks once again, for showing up and reading this post. With appreciation and best wishes, Trudy


cherry blossoms Gabriola

Nature’s Healing Gifts are Waiting For You

I am in a place of blossoms and dozens of shades of green this week. After six months of winter in Ottawa, well, I think if there is a heaven, this is it. Nature’s spring palette on the westcoast is something to behold. It provides an injection of spontaneous well-being.

You can’t arrive here in April from the colder climes and not want to fall down into the magnolia and camellia blossoms covering the sidewalk. These petal carpets are magnified by the Japanese cherry and plum trees providing canopies on the streets as far as the eye can see.

As you stroll, you pass one front yard after another, where lawns have been transformed to  flowers, herbs and leafy things to eat, gardens.

Strolling around Vancouver and Victoria seems to me like “flower bathing,” the urban version of Japanese “forest bathing.”

Over a decade ago, when I was ill, I received a surprise gift of a book by Marjorie Harris:  The Healing Garden: Nature’s Restorative Powers. At the time I sat down and read it cover to cover.  It hasn’t been on my mind in years, until this trip.

Here is an excerpt:

spring cherry blossomsMy garden is not a hobby. It is a fascination, an amazement. It is, occasionally, an obsession. What else do I really want to think about? When I make the transition into the garden – stepping across the deck, dodging the mess that seems perpetually to lie about-I’m conscious of a feeling of expectation. Something will happen here. When my stomach roils, work becomes impossible and the world has gone mad, I know I must go into the garden to destroy a few bugs, stir up the compost, break fallen branches into pieces.

I fling myself find I am absorbed by this Other that I rely on implicitly. I may have started out to pull a weed, absorb a scent or sit, briefly, and feel the sun on my body. But whether I’m conscious of it or not, I’m here to be rescued. It is this same sense of need that affects people who are ill-this ability nature has of distracting us from ourselves, making us forget who and what we are by drawing us away from whatever troubles the world presents…

What is it about the garden that makes it such a place of healing? Perhaps we project hope into it each time we set foot into this place. ‘How wonderful this new plant will be next season when it comes into its own.’ we think. How truly amazing that anything will survive because it is too cold or too hot, or there is too much or too little rain. And yet survive it does…

Whenever I come into the garden I am determined not to spend all my time here. I should do the laundry. Nothing, however, seems quite as important as spreading mulch, even though the day is windy and cold. It takes a painfully long time, but the sense of exhilaration with this kind of hard labour is indescribable. All the cobwebs are swept away. My logy body is refreshed…

By approaching plants as part of the health of our own bodies and spirits, not as a mere hobby or way to fill in time, we can continue on refreshed in our own journey through life, connected to our own past and our present. Plants heal, gardens heal, nature heals. It’s absolutely necessary to value them highly for what they can do for us, and to treat them with the respect they deserve. To learn how to respect and love ourselves, we have no further to go than the garden.”

daffodilsI no longer have my own garden to design and tend, yet I flourish still from all the gardens that surround me. Most importantly, the Central Experimental Farm garden near where I live, is a favourite. In this garden, I walk, admire, smell, photograph, sit, muse and enjoy the beauty. Consequently,  when the time comes to leave, I am thoroughly refreshed.

Nature’s beauty, in all of its guises,  is a restorative. Let’s celebrate that.


Of course, a garden may not be your favourite place.  Rather it may be the mountains, the fields, the seashore or any of the myriad wonders of nature.


Pay attention to the world around you. In fact, make it a priority like eating and sleeping. Spend time outdoors in spots you love. Take advantage of the healing properties of breathing fresh air and watching the sun come up or go down. Take solace in the ebb and flow of the tides. Become a moon viewer, a rainbow noticer, a bird watcher. And if you can, take a stroll everyday, wherever you are, and see how many different shades of green you can spot. See how our hearts lighten and strengthen, with the gifts of nature.


Note1:) I am on Gabriola Island now, for the occasion of my Mother’s 99th Birthday this Saturday.  My entire extended family consider ourselves lucky to still have this gentle, inspirational, wholehearted and vital woman in our lives.

Note 2:) Every city has amazing gardens. Furthurmore, a  few are hidden and virtually unknown, yet, what a thrill to find them. Consider a secret garden hunt this April, in addition to your Easter egg hunt. You may find a treasure.

Note 3:) Thank you for coming by and reading these musings. I appreciate your care and interest. See you next week. Warm greetings to all, Trudy

Legacy, Community and the Golden Thread

Hampton community, came out on a rainy day, to greet Nelson Mandela’s grandson.

It was a small thing, really. My cousin Sonya lives in small town Hampton New Brunswick – poulation 4289. She texted me to say “Nelson Mandela’s Grandson is coming to Hampton tomorrow. He will have coffee at Station 33, and visit the Credo Monument.” There may be at best three  reader’s of this blog who know what the Credo Monument is let alone Hampton. I was curious. As it turns out:

It is a memorial to John Peters Humphrey

Humphrey is one of Hampton’s own, and the monument  includes four engraved articles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  He was invited to serve as the first Director of the United Nations Division of Human Rights in 1946 and created the preliminary draft of the Declaration of Human Rights. Furthur more, when the General assembly  adopted the final declaration, Mrs Eleanor Roosevelt called it the “Magna Carta of all humankind.”

So, Siyabulela Mandela, didn’t come to Hampton for coffee. He came to honour John Peters Humprey;  a humble man, from ordinary circumstances. “Like my  grandfather,” he said, “two men who rose up to make a change in the world.”

John Humprey lost both parents to cancer –

When John was a young boy, he lost both his parents to cancer. He also lost his left arm in a fire, and unfortunately, he was brutally bullied as a kid. Labeled a mischief maker, (like young Nelson Mandela) either boy could have gone on to create havoc in the world; instead, their joint legacy is one of working for dignity and freedom for all, regardless of colour, race or homeland.

Siyablelea, a scholar in his own right, generously spoke about the foundation that John Humprey and his grandfather established and about his hope that all of us will continue to work on behalf of others. I loved seeing the photos Sonya sent, where he is equally at ease with little children and the story she told me about how he gave his umbrella to an older woman, who was standing in the rain. He inspired everyone.


Coincidentally, as crazy as it sounds,  this isn’t the end. I have a second story about Hampton, which is also about legacy.

His name is Randy O’Dell.

Randy, another young boy from this tiny town, was forced to go to work at 12 years old, after his Father died.  His Mother had five young children to support and she needed his help. Of course, there was no way to know that the consequences of that job would lead to asbestosis in his lungs and an early death at 65.

But here’s the thing. In between the 12 year old and the 65 year old Randy, a golden thread unfurled. No stranger to hard work the young Randy moved to Calgary as a journeyman electrician and eventually formed his own company. He was admired for his brilliant business mind, attention to detail and skill with people. Yet, Randy was not selfish and he wanted to leave behind something meaningful for Calgarians, the city that provided him with many opportunities.

And this is what he did. He made it possible for Wellspring Calgary to build a second vitally needed location for those affected by cancer. Named the Randy O’Dell House it will open this September. Randy didn’t live to see the house but his legacy will live on.  Not just the $4,000,000 dollars that he donated before his death, but the thousands of people diagnosed with cancer,  and their families, who will never even know Randy, but who will not have to face cancer alone. In fact, at the Randy O’ Dell House they will be exposed to the life altering programs and services that meet the emotional, social, practical and restorative needs of people living with cancer and those who care for them. All free of charge. This is quite the legacy.

In thinking about this, it doesn’t stop there. Randy’s legacy began with the first kid he gave a job to. Hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of people  came through O’Dell Electric over the past four decades.  Their lives changed because they worked in his company  and were the recipients of his leadership. I find it mind boggling. Even before the bequest to Wellspring he had left a lasting legacy.

Ok. You must think I am now finished.

But I’m not. As Randy reflected on what else he could do to say thanks to Calgary, he thought about the hundreds of young electricians who came to his company from SAIT – the school in Calgary that trained those young electricians. This reflection led to a $2,000,000 contribution to create the Randy O’Dell Centre for Electrical Trades at SAIT.  This Centre will benefit thousands of students in apprenticeship programs and more. Randy was determined to give back and these two permanent legacies do just that. Both will open in 2019.

Ten days ago on March 23rd an enthusiastic team of O’Dell Electric staff and their families volunteered all day to complete the rough in at the Randy O’Dell House. Talent, compassion, smiles, laughter, tears and nourishment for body and soul were on hand that day. My cousin Alan was one of them. A house powered not just with electricity but with love.

There are many legacy stories. These are just two. And it isn’t about the money. John Humphreys used the power of words, which impacted people while he was alive and continues after his death.  Randy transformed a difficult life into a better life, but not just for himself. He contributed to improving the lives of so many others, while he was alive, by giving them opportunities. John and Randy’s legacies live on. A deep bow to them both, these boys from Hampton, population 4289.

And a deep bow to Nelson Mandela and his grandson Siyabulela Mandela working to carry on his grandfather’s legacy.


Dr. Jinroh Itami, often said “it is more important to do what we can do with our life and to leave something useful for society rather than merely setting our mind at rest.”



Note 1) We all create our legacy everyday. Not everyone can do what John and Randy and Nelson Mandela did. But we all do something. Everyone of our words and actions leave ripple effects in the world. Sometimes, we hope the sands of time will obscure what we wish we had done differently. But the past is written in stone. The great thing is that as long as we are still breathing, we have the chance to do things differently now. “Start where you are,” as Pema Chodron says. There is no such thing as perfection; we fall down and we get up each time. That too is a legacy.

Note 2) Community is vital to our lives. We need community and we can contribute to making our communities better. There are multi-coloured threads, all with a hint of gold weaving their way in and out of our circles of influence. The tapestry becomes rich, meaningful and beautiful. The communities of Hampton, Wellspring, SAIT and Randy O’ Dell Electrical are on my mind tonight. They are representatives of millions of communities worldwide, and made up of billions of people doing such fine and good work in the world. How lucky to be part of the human community.

Note 3)  “I cannot do everything, but still I can do something; and because I cannot do everything, I will not refuse to do the something that I can do.” Helen Keller

Note 4) Thanks to Sonya, and her friend Debbie for the photos of Mandela and to Patti Morris’s facebook for the O’Dell volunteer day. And thanks to you dear reader who tunes in every Wednesday. Next week I will be short and sweet on this page. Enjoy the April showers and flowers. Warm greetings to all, Trudy


















A Sufi Tale for the here and now

 Nasruddin went to a tailor with a piece of cloth and asked the tailor to stitch him a shirt.The tailor took his measurements.

“When will it be ready?” Nasruddin asked the tailor.

“God willing, it’ll be ready in a week’s time,” said the man.

Nasruddin could hardly wait for the week to pass. On the morning of the seventh day he hurried to the tailor’s shop. He was bitterly disappointed when he learnt that the shirt was not ready.

“God willing, it will be ready the day after tomorrow,” said the tailor.

Two days later, Nasruddin was again at the tailor’s shop. The shirt was still not ready.

“God willing it’ll be ready on Saturday,” said the tailor.

On Saturday it was the same story.

“God willing…,” began the tailor.

“Stop! Stop!” said Nasrudin, now thoroughly fed up. “Tell me, how long will it take if you leave God out of this?”

I so delight in these ancient tales, and I often find them applicable to my own life. Take my online workshop as an example. Although I don’t bring god into it, it is taking me way longer than I had ever imagined.

I was initially nonplussed about getting this ready to go, since I was clear on what I wanted. It is a labour of love. I know the material. I could visualize it working. And I wanted it to be useful. But then, reality set in, and I saw that what I wanted was way more challenging to put into this self-study program than I realized.

Getting Things Done

So, here I am, working on my third version. It can be challenging to let go of hours of focused work and start over. Nevertheless, I  think of my Mother when she was knitting Harry Potter scarves for her great grandchildren two years ago.

She was 97 at the time and had never used circular needles. I recall her telling me that she had started over seven times with the first scarf. Hours and hours of work and a year later she had completed and mailed seven scarves, complete with crests and in the colours of their particular houses. The scarves are beautiful and every stitch is imbued with love and meaning. It will be a photo op at her 100th Birthday coming up next year.

Just so you know, especially those who have been asking me about my course, I have not changed my mind, just changed the date.  I think this latest version is closest to what I had envisioned. (God willing or not) :-))

Life is full of interruptions. We all have many competing purposes and our own fears. With the best of intentions, some things will never get done. Wholehearted Living Workshops is not one of those.  I am committed to bringing this project to the light of day.

Happily I am ready with some of the extra elements like podcasts and webinars. Furthermore,  I am confident that since you have now given up hope of ever seeing this course, I will get to surprise you, when I tell you it is done.

Spring is a great time to revive, revise or create something you may want to send out into the world. As Neil Gaiman says:

“Go and make interesting mistakes, make amazing mistakes, make glorious mistakes, and fantastic mistakes. Break rules. Leave the world more interesting for your being here.”

Note1) I wish you so many lovely spring moments. Blue sky and sunshine make the whole day better.

Note 2) “There is no innovation and creativity without failure. Period.” Brene Brown

Note 3) I appreciate you taking the time to read my blog posts. Warmest wishes to all, Trudy

Note4) I have several books of Sufi tales but I used the version here from a website called With thanks.

special moments

Unforgettable Moments

Oftentimes when we think of unforgettable moments, we think BIG events. Weddings, births, retirements, graduations, transitions and milestones. Major life events also include the ones we didn’t want to happen. Some unforgettable moments are painful ones, like the date and moment you were diagnosed with cancer or some other intractable illness. Or how about when you crashed the family car. Yet, the peaks and valleys, as noteworthy as they are, are often not the ones we talk about.  When asked to recall the moments that matter most in our lives, they are often common place, with a twist.

This week a friend recommended the book, The Power of Moments, by Chip and Dan Heath, professors at Stanford and Duke respectively, and the authors of several books. You may have read or seen their popular book, Made to Stick.

I went on to recommend, The Power of Moments, to another friend and colleague, after reading 16 pages. Obviously, I was captivated from the beginning. Why? It is filled with stories, practical examples, and suggestions, about brief experiences that change our lives or jolt us out of our default assumptions. Furthermore, it is a reminder to create memorable and meaningful moments whether it is at work or home. The opportunities are endless, and their suggestions brilliant, innovative and kind.

I invite you to read this tiny true story from The Power of Moments that touched me deeply. It  goes like this:


The hidden milkshake.
A little girl is in the hospital and the doctors can’t quite figure out what’s wrong. She’s running a fever, and they are worried. She is on a diet of no solids and that means, every single morning, a bowl of cream of wheat on a tray. She cannot stand cream of wheat. Her father knows this. So on her second morning in the hospital he hustles into the room and from under his overcoat he pulls a large chocolate shake! “Trade ya,” he says. And on every morning she is in the hospital it goes like this. He eats her cream of wheat, and she drinks the shake. He leaves the empty bowl on the tray. Many years later, she can barely remember being in the hospital, or the many tests they conducted. But she can remember her father pulling that shake out from under his topcoat with a smile.

This story reminded me of when I was a child of 5 or 6, with a full blown case of  measles. I have no memory whatsoever of the measles but what I do remember is this:


  • an old fashioned rose bowl with a beautiful red rose floating on top of the water and placed on my night table.
  • cool cloths routinely changed and  placed on  my forehead.
  • the Golden Book of Poetry – a gift from my Mother – with beautiful illustrations and dozens of poems, many of which I still remember by heart, today.
  • my Mother sitting on the edge of my bed reading one poem after another as I begged for more.
  • cool treats like lime or cherry Popsicles, ice cream and sips of Canada Dry ginger ale, always served in a special dish or glass.
  • the patchwork quilt made by our Gandmother and used on occasions like these to tuck me in.
  • my sister and I making up stories using the various patches of material as a backdrop for our tall tales.

We all have defining moments in our lives. The liberating thing is that we don’t have to always wait for them to appear. We can become a “moment spotter,” one who notices the opportunities to make a moment special, for someone else. I love the notion of becoming a “moment spotter.” I want to be one of those people.

The research shows that the most precious moments in our lives, often cost the least. In other words, we get the opportunity everyday to make our own lives more meaningful by finding ways to make someone else’s moments unforgettable. Every day, fresh moments keep arriving. How lucky is that.


special moment on a sunday afternoon


Note 1:) Thanks to my amazing, almost 99 year old Mother,  for a lifetime of unforgettable moments.  And to my Grandchildren for the extraordinary opportunity to participate in their everyday, special moments.

Note 2:) I recommend the Heath brothers book, The Power of Moments. Anyone who is interested in creating more memorable moments both  at work and at home, will not be disappointed.

Note 3:) May you all have a few days of sunshine and warmth as the great Canadian North starts to thaw. (I am not referring to Vancouver and the Islands, where daffodils and cherry blossoms are now in bloom. Lucky ducks.) Thanks for  taking time to read these posts and see you next week. Warm greetings, Trudy






Wake up call

Wake-up Call

Illness gives us that rarest thing in the world–a second chance, not only at health but at life itself! Louis Bisch, physician, in 1937

When we are diagnosed with a serious illness, along with the fear and shock, we start asking dozens of questions. What happens now? What are my options? Will I die? How long might I live? What does this mean financially? What about my children? What are the side effects of treatment? What does this mean for me and my family? How will I tell my Mother? Who will I tell?

There are so many practical matters that require answers as we step forth into unknown territory. And yet, something else looms large. Many people, including myself, soon discover two additional questions arising to the surface:

What’s Important?

What Things Matter?

The answer to these two questions are often the catalyst for transformation. And each of us has to answer them for ourselves.

Illness can provide us with a wake-up call. We can use illness as an opportunity to get down to the business of living. Surviving a plane crash can do it too. ( 5 minute Ted Talk) When we come face to face with our mortality, we can use it to reassess our lives.

I suppose, it would be better if we did this without the urgency of illness, but most of the time when things are sailing along, we feel no need to question the status quo.

What’s interesting, when we do take up these questions, is how we zero in like a laser beam and quickly separate the wheat from the chaff, as my Grandmother used to say. What is that wheat for most people? Relationships.

Old fashioned notions around love, friendship, kindness, helping, community, telling stories, making memories. And time! Wanting time to live and live it with loved ones, doing things that are meaningful. It is rarely about what money can buy and way more about the things that money can’t buy.

We are all creating meaning with every single interaction we have.

There isn’t an encounter, in person or online where we don’t leave evidence of who we are and what we care about. Each time we play peek-a-boo with the child at the next table or smile and say hello to the homeless person, crossing the street, or spontaneously buy a bunch of tulips for our friend, we are creating a meaningful moment.

Meaning isn’t a big glossy package that comes with awards. Those are not to be denigrated; it is a wonderful thing to be recognized for our contributions. Yet, even more, a meaningful life seems to be made up of all the small things that go in to being a helpful neighbor, offering a shoulder to lean on, taking time to call our faraway aunt.

Living a meaningful life is available to everyone. All it takes is the courage to let go of what doesn’t matter and start spending your precious time and attention on what does matter.

We are all meaning makers. We can all lend a hand, love, and be kind.

Stay in touch, OK.  Trudy

Note 1:) A note, subsequent to last week’s post. Certainly, 15 minute activities are not for everything. Many projects demand long periods of focused work; yet,  fifteen minute intervals can work wonders.

Note 2:) Spring break is here, in Ottawa, and we are excited by the sunshine, blue sky, extra hour of daylight and an opportunity to disrupt our usual routine. Grandchildren skiing and snowboarding for the week and I have time to devote myself to projects that flourish with blocks of fifteen minute periods strung together.

Thank you for showing up here, week after week. A deep bow to you all.




The Freedom of Fifteen Minutes

Photo by Luca Upper on Unsplash

My eight year old Grandson discovered the freedom and power of using fifteen minutes, everyday. He loves playing the piano and he loves his teacher. His progress stalled, however, through the randomness of his practice. There was never enough time. Monday afternoons arrived and suddenly, or so it seemed, he had missed practicing. Cramming,  just before class, was unsatisfactory.

Consequently, we were, driving to piano class to see a teacher that Rowan loved, and he was in distress.

Where there is a problem, there are solutions. We looked at the facts.

  1. Rowan loved to play piano and he desired improvement.
  2. He was embarrassed when he wasn’t prepared.
  3. Mondays became stressful when he came home from school and discovered that sitting at the piano just before class didn’t work.
  4. He had obligations beyond school, so time was at a premium: enriched math, jiu jitsu and skiing.

After discussing various options he came up with a plan. He would practice 15 minutes every morning after breakfast, before leaving for school. Five days a week would do, and weekends were optional.

It is not an exaggeration to say this transformed his learning experience and his enjoyment. He noticed his improvement the very first week, as did his teacher. The progress is cumulative. Better music making; no more embarrassed moments; no Monday stress and heaps of personal satisfaction.

Consequently, Rowan drew his own conclusions that 15 minutes a day was more valuable than one hour once a week. He has never looked back. And when there is a reason to miss a day,  the impact is minimal compared to  missing the one hour time slot.

Guess what? Our brains also like these shorter bursts of habitual learning.

Neuropsychologist, Dr. Heather Palmer,  is an advocate of utilizing the 15 minutes.

“Don’t squander the 15 minutes,” she declares; “there are so many things you can do.” Time deceives us and we often think we need much bigger blocks of it to do anything. Yet, in fifteen minutes you can practice a musical instrument, pack one moving box, write a card or two, listen to a short podcast, write, read, sketch, tidy up the spice drawer, or walk around the block. Ordinary things that you want to do but never seem to have time for.

The popular language app Duolingo reminds participants that 15 minutes everyday is all they need to learn a language. My grand kids and I studied German over the summer and of course we didn’t become fluent but we had fun and we gained vocabulary. I have taken it up again but this time with Japanese. According to the research, mastering the language isn’t the important part. Exerting the effort everyday is what counts.

There are many things we want to get done, if only we had the time.

Fifteen minutes is not a formula. Yet,  I have re-discovered that 15 minutes a day makes a difference. I now keep a list of “15 minute” things that I want to do. Everything from re-organizing my books,  learning a language, gathering materials for a colleague, updating a slideshow, working on a presentation and playing the piano. Fifteen minute periods at a time, strung together over a month, yield surprising results.  It is one way to make/find time. Most importantly, by utilizing your fifteen minutes to start or continue something you want to do, you have the satisfaction of getting it done.

There is always 15 minutes. Use it while you can.

Note 1:What I’d like to say is this. Live fully every moment of your life. Do not wait for everything to be threatened before you realize the value of all you have.” From The Dr. Will Not See You Now, by Dr. Jane Poulson

Note 2: I wish you a good first week of March. We turn our clocks ahead this weekend, which is my first sign that spring is coming. Yeah!  Thanks  for stopping by. See you next week, Trudy


Futility of Unnecessary Comparisons

 I needed tulips so I helped myself.

When I was going through my treatment for cancer there was an evening when my spouse told me about an unusual sensation in his right leg. For several days it had felt as though cold water was being poured on his foot and calf. It sounded like some form of neuropathy to me and I told him so.

Unfortunately for him, I chose that moment to climb up on my soapbox and announce, “the one thing I have learned since my cancer diagnosis is that ANYTHING can happen to ANYONE at ANYTIME.”

I then went on to list the possibilities, all of them bad: car accident; stroke; heart attack; cancer; ALS; financial ruin; being caught in a hotel room as a cyclone goes through. You get the picture.

He begged me to stop and added that he thoroughly regretted mentioning his leg to me. And then we laughed.

It is, however, no laughing matter. This is life. In a single moment we can go from this to that.  Fortunately, it is not always so dramatic, yet, our life can radically change in one moment. Through no fault of our own.

Part of the shock and the pain we suffer goes beyond the event itself. We simply can’t imagine that this thing is happening to us.  We can imagine “these things” happening to others. But in our heart of hearts we can delude ourselves into thinking that we just might be exempt from the unacceptable.

It makes sense.  We would be a sorry lot if we spent our days fretting about all the things that might and could go wrong. And we aren’t better off if we think only good things should happen to us. It is easy to believe our lives are normal only when free of any and all misfortune. Of course, if that were the case, it would be the exception.

How easy it is to compare our misfortunes or gains. Yet, as we all know, there will always be those whose suffering is more than ours and those who suffer less.

Take today

I have a minor health complaint as measured on the big scale of medical woes, even though I don’t like it. I explained to a friend who is going through an exceptionally rough time that I am not prepared to talk about my minor issue.

“There is no comparison,” I said, “to what you are living with.”

Such a typical and human response. We laughed and I went ahead and said a few words afterall.

It reminded me, however, of something important.

Where I began this piece was where my caregiver and spouse uttered a complaint, really a statement, about his condition. You already know what happened back there. The important point, though, is that caregivers are often reticent to complain about anything because after all they at least don’t have cancer, or heart disease or any other significant health problem. Their job is to grin and bear it, so to speak and support you.

It is a mistake, in my way of thinking, for caregivers not to be able to issue a complaint or get a break or be able to say to someone, “this sucks and I need help.”

It doesn’t stop there. Having worked with many people undergoing treatment for cancer and others with heart disease, I know this tendency to compare shows up everywhere. Shame, even enters into it. More than one person told me that her cancer was not as bad as some others and therefore she shouldn’t take up space in workshops. This kind of judgement is endless.

The truth is, suffering is relative to our experience, including our environment, conditioning, learning and DNA.  I agree it is essential to acknowledge how fortunate we are. I also conclude, that it doesn’t help anyone to line up suffering on a scale and plot a graph as to who suffers most. (or even who should be suffering more or less) It is an individual and a multi-factoral experience.

When things go wrong, we can all use a hand.

One type of suffering we can minimize is what Buddhists sometimes call “piggy back suffering,” which means something like suffering on top of suffering.

An example is a diagnosis of a life-threatening illness. Besides the reality of having the illness there is the additional and unnecessary suffering of the “why me,” and “it’s not fair” part. Although it is perfectly natural and human to view it this way, it isn’t helpful.

What we all can do after the shock has subsided and we are fully cognizant of what has happened, we can ask a question. What can I do now?

We help ourselves when we begin to put our energy into the things, we can do something about and not waste our precious time and energy railing against what can’t be changed. Life isn’t fair. I am the first to agree that this isn’t easy.  And the first to say it is possible. There is always something that can be done, even if it is only small steps.

I no longer believe that “it won’t happen to me.” This isn’t a depressing thought but rather a realistic call to live fully. We each get to decide what living fully is for us. This is a life koan (a paradoxical anecdote or riddle, used in Zen) for each of us to discover.

Life isn’t necessarily fair but when I am clear-eyed, I see that it mostly, if not always, works in my favour.

Sing while there is voice left.

Note1: The Buddhists have a corner on the market, in my books, with practical advice on how to reduce suffering. Anything by Pema Chodron.  I especially like this title When Things Fall Apart. And also Darlene Cohen’s excellent book Turning Suffering Inside Out: A Zen Approach for Living with Physical and Emotional Pain. Remember to check for books at the library. I primarily provide a link to Amazon so you can read more about it.

Note 2: Dr. Itami  devoted his life to improve the quality of his patient’s lives, extend longevity, and encourage them to live a meaningful life everyday. His work is based on Morita Therapy. Check out his guidelineslearning elements and other articles on this website, if you are interested.

Note 3: Thanks so much for dropping by to read the Wed post. I hope you find them useful in some way. I enjoy writing them and  I wish you all a week with many wonderful moments. Warm greetings, Trudy

photo solstice GAM

The Power of Music on Health, Well-Being and Ageing

“According to Arnold Steinhardt, a founding member and first violinist of the Guarneri String Quartet, chamber music audiences nearly always include many health care practitioners, everything from podiatrists to psychiatrists, since there seems to be a mysterious and powerful underground railroad linking medicine and music. Perhaps music is an equally effective agent of healing, and doctors and musicians are part of a larger order serving the needs of mankind. Perhaps they recognize each other as brothers and sisters.” This excerpt is from a longer and interesting article on Music and Health from Harvard Health Publishing, Harvard Medical School.

As so often happens, I am looking for one thing and stumble across the unexpected. I have been interested in music my entire life and in recent years fascinated by the research on the brain and the advances in neuroscience. On a personal level, much like you, I have  experienced the rejuvenating and life affirming aspects of music. Music Therapists and those who play or actively listen to music know the importance of music to soothe and enliven the soul.

Similarly, music can also, reduce pain, give us goosebumps, conjure up a memory and bring on unadulterated bouts of joy. Just a few of the anecdotal effects  being  examined using Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI). Next up is the possibility of a prescription for music, in lieu of, or in conjunction with a pill. Obviously not a panacea.

Currently, there is a fascinating 10 year study being carried out by the National Institute for Health.

It includes the healing effects of music on the brain and the body.  I found an engaging and brilliant interview with Renee Fleming, Frances Collins, director of NIH and Vivek Murty, the 19th and former Surgeon General of the US.  It is 45 minutes long but don’t let that scare you off. It is worth the time to settle down and watch/listen to these three  experts discuss the links and the promise between science and music. Their discussion of the research, and it’s pivotal role in our health, is fascinating.

I loved it so much that I will book another appointment with myself to listen again. The link I include here takes you to the NIH page with a few different videos from a conference on the subject. I chose that in case you wanted to see more.  However, the one I am recommending is Music and the Mind with Fleming, and Collins. Renee Fleming is as skillful a moderator as she is an outstanding opera singer.

National Institute of Health Not to be missed  There is no need for me to add a another word. I hope you enjoy this as much as I did.


Note 1:) To read the full text of  Music and Health from Harvard, I find the simplest way is to type Music and Health  into your search engine and then select. It is awkward but give it a try.

Note 2:) Tonight, I am attending a musical performance at the National Arts Centre, thanks to a friend. This is bound to fill up my heart, stimulate my brain and may well boost my immune system, Zukerman Plays Bruch. And I have the good fortune of listening in a grand hall filled with others equally enthralled. Apparently, this is also an important part of music’s properties – listening and playing in community.

Note 3:) I hope you take the time to listen to a little music everyday – music that you love. I once had a student who decried the spiritual and meditative music sometimes associated with illness. “Finally,” she told me, ” I sat down at my piano and banged out Heavy Metal, with a glass of red wine, and felt better than I had in weeks.” Go and make some music or enjoy the music made by others. See you next week. Thank you for showing up here week after week. I appreciate you. Trudy