A Sweet and Gentle Surprise this Wednesday Morning

On this magnificent day in Ottawa – yes- the sunshine, blue sky and perfect temperatures are the perfect antidote for all my previous complaints. It turns out the gardens loved all that rain and cool air and now after four days of sunshine the plants are bursting forth all over.

This being the case, I am already in a state of enthusiasm, when my friend showed me her latest art acquisition. It’s a tender, meaningful piece of a young soldier holding the front paws of  a small bear, standing on hind legs. She says in passing, that is “Winnie.” I  looked dumbfounded and she added, “you know, the real Winnie the Pooh.”

I didn’t know the back story to one of the world’s favorite characters. She briefly explained that the real live “Winnie” was a Canadian bear cub.  This particular bear cub was found and adopted by a young British/Canadian  soldier, Harry Colebourn,  who was also a veterinarian. He named the young cub, Winnie, in honour of his new hometown of Winnipeg.

My friend was on her way out the door when all of this quickly transpired, so I couldn’t ask more. Nevertheless, my curiosity was piqued and I went looking for the history of Winnie the Pooh. I quickly found a lovely piece on a history site with original photos. It is an inspiring story on the ripple effects of one young man’s actions that influenced a small boy and his Father, A. A. Milne.

“You can’t stay in your corner of the forest waiting for others to come to you. You have to go to them sometime.” Winnie-the-Pooh

I am often awestruck about ripple effects and how one action leads to untold consequences for both good and ill. We can easily get jaded with all the horrors in the world and overlook, as unimportant, a small act by a man who loved animals. Yet, that series of events resulted in a series of beloved children’s books that brought relief and hope to a war torn world. And have lovingly endured for over 80 years.

“Statues at both the London Zoo and Winnipeg’s Assiniboine Park Zoo, of Colebourn holding the hands of Winnie as she stands on her hind legs also offer reminders of the bond between a Canadian soldier and a black bear cub that led to the creation of a literary classic.”

I hope you click on the link below and read this gentle and true background on how Winnie the Pooh came to be.  A simple distraction that warmed up my heart.

The surprising background to Winnie the Pooh

Fun Facts:

CBC website on “90 Wierd and wonderful facts about Winnie the Pooh”

Fact 63) Cambridge University’s Pembroke College Winnie-the-Pooh Society was established in 1993. The Queen is apparently a member. They regularly meet at 4 p.m. every Saturday of the full term to drink tea, eat cake and read from the works of A.A. Milne. The annual membership fee is £2 ($3.35 CAD).

Fact 89) A group of researchers in the pediatrics department at Dalhousie University published a report (you can read the spoof) entitled Pathology in the Hundred Acre Wood in the Canadian Medical Association Journal’s winter 2000 lampoon issue. The satirical article assigns each Milne character at least one psychological disorder. (there have been readers who took it seriously)

Note 1:) My friend’s dad, so I learned, went to the same British school as the author, A.A. Milne. Hence a little more interest in Winnie.

Note 2:) Every now and then I think we can benefit from an obscure, kind and little story that is ordinary and extraordinary at the same time.

Note 3:) I thank you for opening this blog post and I wish you all a great first week of official summer. I hope to enjoy Friday the 21st,  the longest day of the year, outdoors and in a garden. Remember  Pooh’s advice: ” you’re braver than you believe and stronger and smarter than you think.”

Next Steps…part 2

So, here’s the thing. I have never once done something like walk a 1/2 Marathon, where I finish, and wish I hadn’t done it. I am satisfied after I do the walk. (walk is a synonym for any form of exercise) I am never disappointed with my time. My goal is simple – I want to finish.

And I am always awestruck by the supporters of these community race week-ends. Streets lined with people of all ages, cheering everyone along, plus  water stations; snacks; sprinklers; inspirational signage and live music.  And of course the hundreds of volunteers,  dozens of police, and the emergency medical assistant teams, without whom, no races would be walked or run. Money is raised for charity; confidence is raised in one’s own ability through training and execution; lives are changed through challenging one’s self to take a chance.

As a non athletic person I was introduced to the power of exerting oneself in the company of others, whether for a  community cause or for a  personal goal. The ripple effects go way beyond what I would have thought possible. People get fitter; depression often lessens; other new habits become easier to stick with; friendships are formed and stories become part of family and friend lore. “Remember when…”

Best of all, from my point of view, all are welcome in these races.

Every single age and body type. I used to assume that to take part in something like this you had to be a certain type. One introduction to a race weekend, and those ideas are soon vanquished. People in wheelchairs; people using walkers; people who are blind,  along with those who have other challenging conditions.  I almost forgot the relay teams. A chance to participate without doing the whole race yourself. It is as egalitarian as I have seen, with accommodations made to help anyone wanting to participate.

I am writing about this because all across small town North America, you will find shorter events that people can participate in. It isn’t just about these big weekends. Shorter events are common. Family walk/runs. Fund raisers that are active rather than traditional bake sales. The community improves when multi-generational people, get outside and participate in some event, and maybe have a picnic afterwards. Being outdoors and moving our bodies, even in the slow lane, improves almost everything.

Next Steps

So what’s next? Part of living well at any age is taking care of the basics. Moving our bodies and spending time with others is part of that. For me personally, the next steps are strength training and flexibility.  We all want to preserve our functional strength  –  the strength that helps us get through our daily lives and do what needs doing. As we age, it becomes vital and if we haven’t started we had best get going. Our bodies are so amazing, and although I have neglected my body for seven months, my body still wants to cooperate. Consequently I now want to lend a hand to my body.

Therefore, my new physical goal is to do what I can to improve my core strength. I found a set of basic exercises that I can begin doing three times a week. I upped my chances of success by agreeing to do them with a buddy. Despite the fact that we don’t live in the same city, we can report in to each other from the same page. It may be ideal to have a gym and a trainer but it isn’t always in the budget.

Why all this talk on exercise?

We are designed to move,  just like we need good food and water. We do not, however, need to be action figures or marathoners.  Moving our bodies helps pretty much everything that ails us. It can be as simple or as complicated as we choose. It can be gentle and slow; it can be fun and it feels great! Moving our bodies is good medicine. In general, the best exercise is the one you will do.  Don’t overlook it.

In sickness and in health and in all ages we need to do what we can to be strong and flexible. As a result, most conditions like cancer and heart disease do better with exercise. (Even a little bit.) Nevertheless, always talk to your physician first before exercising, especially, if you have been sedentary or you are living with a chronic condition.

Time slips through our fingers, and there is no sense regretting what we haven’t done. Start where you are is always the best policy.

Notes:

Note 1:) This past Sunday in Halifax, was near perfect weather. Yeah! That was a bonus.

Note 2:) Many thanks to my cousins Heather, Sonya and Barb. You are great sports, wonderful company and I am glad that we are related.

Note 3:) Don’t worry, this is the end of my exercise soap box for awhile. Although, I do want to slip in the great benefit of dancing, for those so inclined.

Note 4:) I love the notes and comments you kindly post and email. Always, I appreciate your showing up week after week. With appreciation and warm regards, Trudy

 

 

 

 

We’re Better Together

Ok. let’s start with the weather. There is a reason why Canadians focus so much attention on the weather, and this is one of them. Today Ottawa achieved the distinction for the coldest June 4th, in the history of this city. This is our year of multiple weather breaking awards. We have had the coldest February; the most snow and the gold medal  for the coldest capital in the world, on January 19th. Need I say more.

I keep hoping the weather will warm up but that is a pipe dream, a wish, a marshmallowy kind of unrealistic fairy/pixie hope that I have no control over whatsoever. I can subtly complain, as you have just noticed or I can acknowledge what can’t be changed and choose my clothing and activities accordingly. Which is what I did on Sunday morning.

You see, I have been neglecting my walks. I gave myself a pass for the six seven months of winter due to extensive ice that can cause broken bones. Here we are in June and although it is pouring rain it wasn’t cold on Sunday, so,  I dressed for rain and went walking. The motivation wasn’t just about getting my body moving, rather it had everything to do with walking a 1/2 Marathon this coming Sunday in Halifax. The fact that I am doing so with three wonderful cousins is the real reason that I went for a three hour walk in the rain.

The three cousins represent one of the most important resources we have in life.  Other people we can count on.  More and more research is coming forward on the importance of time spent with others. Besides all the other basics of eating, exercise, sleep and purpose, we all need people in our lives that we can count on and enjoy. It makes everything better.

In a recent book, Timeless: Nature’s Formula for Health and Longevity featured on  The Greater Good Science Center at the University of California, Berkeley, author Louis Cozolino, has this to say:

People who lead extraordinarily long lives are those who have maintained close ties to others. Centenarians,  tend to be more extroverted and have higher morale, indicative of reaching out to others, giving and receiving support, and maintaining attachments…much of wisdom is expressed in how people interact with and treat one another.”

 

The famous longevity study, still ongoing after 80 years, out of Harvard, is very clear on the dominant role of our good relationships with others as an important factor in happiness and longevity. Dr. Waldinger, the current director of that study suggests that we try new things with old friends, to help keep our relationships lively. (our marathon walks are something like that)

Consequently, when it comes to health, healing and longevity our social interactions appear to be paramount.

When we combine a purpose/goal, in the company of others  we up our chances considerably of accomplishing the goals we set out to do. Whether it is physical activity, creativity, or volunteering together. So many different opportunities to contribute and have fun.  In my case, the long walk next Sunday is one of those opportunities. Because I am clear on the goal and not wanting to let others down, if not myself, it is easier to actually achieve it. We don’t let the weather or our feelings of lethargy be the only defining factors. They are there but they don’t call the shots.

When we make our goal or purpose public and join in with a few others we up the pressure to show up and do it. And guess what? When we do certain activities in the company of others we can have fun. FUN. When my cousins and I do these long walks once or twice a year we get to catch up. We live in different provinces but we now come together and we have a visit as we cheer each other along.  If something goes wrong, we take care of each other. We aren’t there to win the race but to put one foot in front of the other – approximately 26,000 steps. And when it is over we celebrate with pizza and prosecco. And we laugh alot.

I am not able to run and I recall the exact moment in time when I discovered you could walk in these big race week-ends. It was October 2014, and I was cheering my daughter as she ran the Toronto Marathon that fall. I was near the finish line and I caught a glimpse of a woman about my age, walking and when she passed by she had an official bib on her back that said WALKER. That was it. I knew that the next year I would be a WALKER. And so it has been every year since.

I am definitely not suggesting that everyone rush out and walk a 1/2 Marathon. I am suggesting that having a goal or a purpose with a few others, where you also move your bodies, has a wealth of effects worth cultivating. (and of course we don’t limit ourselves to only physical activities.)

The last two years my Mother joined us in Halifax and Ottawa.

She, along with 40 more relatives, walked the 10 K and 5 K together. She was 97 and 98 for those two walks. This year she has the year off,  as she prepares for her 100th birthday bash in Victoria next Easter weekend. In the meantime she still walks 30-60 minutes everyday; contributes to quilt making for refugees; plays cards; stays in touch with family on her I-pad (that counts too) and says YES to all invitations. She continues to cultivate her many wonderful friendships within and without the family and is graciously and lovingly blind to all of our flaws.

Staying in touch and reaching out to old friends and family members may seem like too much trouble. I am not consistently good at it myself and I want to get better. But it isn’t trouble. It is more like self-care. Taking care of your own precious mind, body and spirit. Oh, I almost forgot to mention that one of the best things you can do for your mind is (not just exercise) but spending lots of time with people you enjoy.  And what could be better than that. Our entire community benefits when we take care of each other.

Notes

Note 1:) There is so much info on this topic on Harvard but this is a 15 minute synopsis that you may enjoy.  Ted Talk with Dr. Waldinger 

Note 2:) One of my goals is to become more like my Mother, the person and centenarian I admire the most.

Note 3:) Thanks everyone for dropping by and for all of your encouraging words. See you next week, shin splints and all. (only kidding, I don’t walk fast enough to get that painful condition) Warm regards, Trudy

Blossoms

It’s funny how things come together.

The last few days I couldn’t decide what to write about on my blog. It wasn’t a lack of ideas, more a lack of focus. I blame it on the weather with rain, dull gray skies and still needing to wear a flannelette nightgown for sleeping. It doesn’t help that this is the end of May, not the beginning of November. It’s true that we did have a sunny warm week-end. In fact too hot for the runners at Sunday’s Marathon. It all goes to show that the weather is out of our control and we may as well “dress accordingly,” as my sensible friend declares and get on with living.

As I was walking home, after dropping my grandson off at school, I noticed the apple blossoms bursting forth on the lone tree pictured here. And suddenly I was pulled into the beauty right in front of my nose. As well as into childhood and the joy I experienced gazing at apple orchards in the Annapolis Valley in the spring. Childhood memories conjure up all kinds of stories and Dr. Rachel Naomi Remen popped into my mind like a joyful surprise.

Rachel Remen is a brilliant storyteller and her unique perspective on healing comes from her role as physician, professor of medicine, and longterm survivor of chronic illness herself. Her first book of true stories, called  Kitchen Table Wisdom, is well worth putting on your nightstand, and reading a story everyday. It is medicine for the soul.

So, in these rainy spring days as trees and flowers still bloom and blossom even without weeks of sunshine, and the world has suffering galore, my heart turns to Dr. Remen. She is our faithful reminder and cheerleader, from the trenches,  of how lives do have beautiful,  heartfelt and meaningful moments even on dark days.

 

Over the years I have seen the power of taking an unconditional relationship to life. I am surprised to have found a sort of willingness to show up for whatever life may offer and meet with it rather than wishing to edit and change the inevitable…When people begin to take such an attitude, they seem to become intensely alive, intensely present. Their losses and suffering have not caused them to reject life, have not cast them into a place of resentment, victimization, or bitterness.

From such people, I have learned a new definition of the word ‘joy.’ I had thought joy to be rather synonymous with happiness, but it seems now to be far less vulnerable than happiness. Joy seems to be part of an unconditional wish to live, not holding back because life may not meet our preferences and expectations. Joy seems to be a function of the willingness to accept the whole, and to show up to meet with whatever is there. It has a kind of invincibility that attachment to any particular outcome would deny us. Rather than the warrior who fights toward a specific outcome and therefore is haunted by the specter of failure and disappointment, it is the lover drunk with the opportunity to love despite the possibility of loss, the player for whom playing has become more important than winning or losing.

The willingness to win or lose moves us out of an adversarial relationship to life and into a powerful kind of openness. From such a position, we can make a greater commitment to life. Not only pleasant life, or comfortable life, or our idea of life, but all life. Joy seems more closely related to aliveness than happiness.

The strength that I notice developing in many of my patients and in myself after all these years could almost be called a form of curiosity. What one of my colleagues calls fearlessness. At one level, of course, I fear outcome as much as anyone. But more and more I am able to move in and out of that and to experience a place beyond preference for outcome, a life beyond life and death. It is a place of freedom, even anticipation. Decisions made from this perspective are life-affirming and not fear-driven. It is a grace.

Rachel Naomi Remen, Kitchen Table Wisdom: Stories That Heal

 

Notes:

Note 1:) Kitchen Table wisdom was first published in 1994. It is probably available in a second hand bookstore for a good price. It is only available in my library as an ebook but I think this is a  book to read in print. In 2006 they republished a tenth anniversary edition with new content, which I haven’t read.

Note 2:) I have always found solace from words. Especially a well told true story. I think as humans we relate to stories. I believe Rachel’s stories are so profound because she  identifies with the suffering and challenges of her patients. A shared humanity, filled with learning, comfort, laughter and the richness of what cannot be measured. As Jon-Kabat Zinn, Ph.D, proclaims: “an extraordinary outpouring of human wisdom.”

Note 3:) Thank you so much for continuing to stop by. There are so many wonderful things in the world to claim your attention, so I appreciate you spending a little time here. See you next week, Trudy

 

A story I remember with delight

In the spring of 2004 I had the privilege of meeting Rabbi Zalman Schacter in Vancouver at an extraordinary multi-faith/no faith retreat. It even included the Dalai Lama along with a number of other wise people from around the world.

At lunch time on day two I was preparing to sit down,  when a stranger asked me this question. “What faith are you?”

I said, “Oh, I am multi-faith. I learn from the wisdom of all the great teachers.”

My interrogator was quite insistent that I pick, so,  at that moment I flung my arms wide and announced, ” if I had to choose today, I would be Jewish, because the Rabbi’s are so hilarious.”

With the flinging of my arms I hit someone standing behind me who turned out to be one of those hilarious Rabbi’s. I quickly apologized, with some embarrassment, but he exclaimed, with a generous smile,  “this is the best compliment I have received as a Rabbi.”

Of course, with that statement, my choice was vindicated and we all laughed.

I truly delighted in the wisdom stories of the Rabbi’s that day, which were delivered with so much humour and humanity.

They often seemed to confirm my own point of view that not everything necessarily happens for a reason.  Rather, a realistic view is that whatever happens becomes part of what forms us. Yet, there is a recognition that  depending on how we view things, we can increase or decrease our suffering.

Rabbi Schacter wrote a blessing that resonates with my experience, so I pass it on to you.

I dedicate this post to all of you who are working with “what is,” doing the very best that you can with challenging situations. You have my highest admiration.

  “Whether the golden sun warms you to the core or the bitter cold wind stings your face, it is all a blessing. Whether you are surrounded by pleasure or immersed in toil and strife, every moment is a thing that carries boundless beauty and possibility.

Take each moment as it comes to you and give your best to it. Resenting the pain will only make it more painful, and hoarding the pleasure will only prevent you from experiencing its joy.

Give your attention and your energy to where you are. For when you truly appreciate the value of where you are and what you have, it opens you up to a world of possibilities.

Move beyond your own arbitrary judgments, and things that were once difficult and intolerable can become far easier to bear. Consider that much of what makes something difficult is the way you think and feel about it.

Rather than seeing yourself as enduring something unpleasant, see yourself as contributing your very best to a challenging and energizing situation. Rather than waiting for something better to come along, take the initiative and find a way to make something better actually happen.

Every moment is a truly unique and valuable blessing when you see it as such.”

Rabbi Zalman Schacter

Notes:

Note 1:) Rabbi Schacter, was the author of many books, a founder of the Jewish Renewal movement, an innovator in ecumenical dialogue and a revered as well as a controversial figure in the overlapping circles of his life.

Note 2:) Now that tulip festival is over, the tulips are at their best.  Lucky runners and walkers, as this is race weekend coming up and they will all get to pass by the breathtaking display along the canal.

Note 3:) My direct experience, for my entire life, is that helping hands have always shown up when needed.  As always, I deeply appreciate your kind words and thoughtful emails and comments. Warm greetings, Trudy

Words as Gifts and Words as Weapons

Gossip

 An old Jewish folktale, on the power of words.

It goes like this:

The words we use can hurt as well as heal…yet there is more to kind speech than saying nice things.

There was once a man who loved to gossip. He loved the attention it brought him, and could not stop himself from speaking about others, sometimes sharing the good they did, but most often sharing the mistakes they had made.

In time, however, he realized the harm his speech was causing and he sought to make amends. He went to his rabbi and explained the situation, and asked how he could make amends.

The rabbi thought for a moment and instructed the man to go to the marketplace and purchase two of the finest feather pillows he could find. He should then take his pillows to the top of the mountain overlooking the village, tear them open, and spill the feathers into the wind.

The man was surprised and pleased at the rabbi’s advice. He thought repentance would be much harder than this. So he ran to the marketplace, purchased his pillows, and within an hour had scattered their feathers to the wind.

He returned to the rabbi all aglow. He was ready to be forgiven for his gossiping. Not just yet, the rabbi told him. There was one more thing to do. He had to return to the mountain and repack the pillows with the feathers he had scattered.

“But that’s impossible,” the man said. “Those feathers have gone everywhere, there is no way I can take them back now.”

The rabbi nodded solemnly and said, “What is true of feathers is true of words. Once spoken they can never be retrieved. The harm caused by gossip cannot be undone.”

Taken from Rabbi Rami Shapiro’s book, “the sacred art of Lovingkindness preparing to practice.”

Blaming words

The old nursery rhyme about how words can never hurt you is debunked everyday, word by word.  As we hurl words at each other, in the public and private sectors, we duck, not because they break our bones but because they can break our hearts, and our spirits. We have never been more capable of hurting each other with words, than we are now.

People diagnosed with serious illness are too often struck by words. Just like the young woman, who, when asked what surprised her most about cancer said this: “I never thought I would be blamed for my cancer.”  This doesn’t happen to everyone but it happens too frequently, in my opinion. Especially with young adults and those with lung cancer.  The hurtful assumptions about “what you did wrong,” or some variation on that theme can even be posed by well meaning and misinformed friends.

I understand why this happens. We are deluged with information on how to “prevent” cancer, heart disease, diabetes and any number of serious illnesses. We read about all the lifestyle factors that can prevent these conditions. And if we are following those guidelines and don’t get ill ourselves, we come to believe it is really that simple.

On the other hand, the reality is far more complex. Cancer is a multi-factoral illness. We don’t know precisely what turns a cancer cell on, or why a healthy and fit 45 year old has a heart attack. We all know people who did everything right and still have a heart attack, get cancer, and other challenging conditions. The last thing they need is to think they are to blame.

Don’t get me wrong. I am all for a healthy lifestyle.

Of course, lifestyle matters! We up our chances to stay healthy, if we take care of the basics. I am a cheerleader for a healthy lifestyle, but not because it will prevent anything. Rather, because we improve the quality of our everyday lives. We feel better in body, mind and spirit. It is also true that we can  reduce our risks to several serious and chronic illnesses, if we attend to the basics. This is important, even though we cannot control the outcome.

Should we get an unexpected diagnosis, our good health can  help us better undergo our treatment and recovery.  And if we are fortunate enough to avoid serious illness, let’s not make assumptions about why others get sick. None of us have as much control as we think. We learn this lesson quickly, when we or someone we love is unexpectedly diagnosed with a serious illness.

So along with a healthy lifestyle, I am an advocate of promoting words that heal. My own good intentions are not always translated into action but I keep on trying to be conscious of the words I use.   I fret about what we all read in the press. When we see the word “prevent,” let’s suggest a substitute like “up our chances” or “reduce our risks.” When we read about lung cancer let’s remember that one of the first hospitals to ban smoking was the Montreal General and not until 1998.  At the time my children were born, many doctors and health professionals were all smoking. Smoking went on in hospital rooms, movie theaters, airplanes and so on.  Even during Dr’s visits. In other words, it wasn’t that long ago, when we were all exposed to smoke.

What I Mean by the basics:

          1. Sleep
          2. Good food and lots of water
          3. Smoke free environment
          4. Move your body
          5. The company of others: friends, family and strangers
          6. Have fun today
          7. Your Ikigai – a reason to get up in the morning

 We have come such a long way. Yet…

Many people of my generation and older were steeped in first hand and second hand smoke. The average age of a lung cancer patient is 7o. So let us offer words of comfort to the strangers we read about and the friends we know, who are suffering from any smoke related illness. Forget the whole notion of blame. And no reason to stop there. Let’s offer our encouraging words to anyone who needs them.

Words are powerful. Consider the balm of sincere words lovingly poured on a fractured relationship. Think of last words. What would you want yours to be?  Think of the everyday way we fling words around, unconscious about where they will land. Think of times when the words of another were a lifeline for you, and how we can now offer our word’s to those in need of solace. In fact, during this time of weaponized words in almost every sector,  let’s join the resistance by offering our words as gifts to those who cross our paths. Let’s use our words to comfort and encourage.

 

“Tell us please, what treatment in an emergency is administered by ear?”….I met his gaze and I did not blink. “Words of comfort.”

Abraham Verghese,  American physician, author, Professor for the Theory and Practice of Medicine at Stanford University Medical School and Senior Associate Chair of the Department of Internal Medicine, from his book,  Cutting For Stone.

Notes:

Note 1:) I deeply appreciate the encouraging and kind words I receive from many of you. Kind words can cajole, comfort, inspire, nudge, remind and suggest. Don’t you think so much is in the tone of voice – the way they are given. Kind words can also say yes and no.   Thank you for taking the time to stop by here. I am grateful. Warm greetings to all, Trudy

early tulips

Let’s Celebrate More

 “Wanderer, there is no path
We lay down a path in walking”

Antonio Machado

Today is my one year anniversary of writing this weekly blog, and, guess what, I plan to celebrate. I also plan to toast all the wonderful people in my life who cheer me on. Those people also include the ones who catch mistakes and help me to get better at what I do.

It’s too easy to overlook our own efforts, and only notice the flaws. Furthurmore, I suggest that we all acknowledge our efforts for showing up and doing what is important to us. It isn’t about what the world considers worthy. Rather, just us taking action, contributing in our own small and big ways, falling down and getting up – brushing ourselves off and trying again.

My purpose is to offer encouraging words. To pay attention to the wonders of the ordinary. To be a reminder to myself and others going through life that  joy, beauty, meaning and relief can still be found in difficult times. This doesn’t mean there is an easy way, but it may come to mean that it is worth the effort, to notice and to create those moments.

Even though, life can be tough, we surely want to be part of it. When we grasp the fleetingness of it all, it can put things in perspective. We see that the hard bits and the easy bits are ever changing and lives can change in a split second. Best to live our lives fully now.

There is a story I remember that Barry Magid, (Author, Psychoanalyst, and Zen teacher) tells about a retreat he attended with a Rinzai Zen teacher. It goes something like this.

The teacher told a parable about a Mother tiger and her cubs. And how the mother threw all of her cubs off a cliff, when they were only a few weeks old. She would  raise only those who were tough enough to get back up under their own steam. The rest were left to die at the bottom of the cliff.

“Which kind of cub are you,” he asked the group?

Barrie indicated that he knew right away his answer to the question. He was not Samurai material and what he wanted to do was to set up shop at the bottom of the cliff and help those abandoned cubs, each according to their needs. (Excerpted from memory from the book Psychoanalysis  and Buddhism: Unfolding Dialogue. Edited by Jeremy Safran)

I am no Samurai. Similarly, we all find ourselves at the bottom of the cliff at one time or another. And in fact we are sometimes the helper and sometimes the helpee. We are called upon throughout our lives to be both. It is the ongoing circle of life for which, we need each other.

I also really believe that we need more joy, celebrations, tolerance  and kindness in our lives. At the same time we can step up and take more risks. Of course, when we do that (take more risks) we will have failures. The good news is that we become the people who know how to get back up. We cultivate resilience.

So, I recommend today we live with outstretched arms. Raise a glass to something you want to celebrate. There are so many options: milestones along the way; one pain free hour; beginnings and endings; making music; another day; a new baby…I have a list a mile long. Make your own.  Celebrate your life. It doesn’t have to be perfect. (no such thing) Relish your life, right now today. Take a moment or a few to acknowledge you are alive.  Keep on finding lots of ways to enjoy your life and those who are in it. Do not wait another single day.

Notes:

Note 1:) This is a beautiful Ted Talk called Nature, Beauty and Gratitude. If you have 10 minutes I recommend it.

Note 2:) A hundred thank-you’s for reading my blog and passing it on to others. I celebrate each and everyone of you, dear readers. Using the Kaizen Way -small and steady steps- my plan is also to make continual improvements. With appreciation, Trudy

Note 3:) Thank-you to Teva Harrison.  She was diagnosed with an incurable illness at age 37 and she died last week, at the age of 42. She left us a legacy, with her poignant and powerful book, In Between Days. As her husband wrote, “…she wanted ‘to live like a tornado’ and she did. Full-hearted, eyes wide to beauty and wonder, and pouring love into everyone around her.” She will be missed.

Note 4:) Tomorrow my youngest grandchild turns 9 and my Mother is, as you have read, 99, Both are full of life and love and light up all of our lives. 

Horseshoe Bay and Bowen Island from St Marks

Musings at 30,000 Feet

My semi-annual trips to Calgary are home-comings, reminding me of the life-changing circumstances that Calgary represents in my life. As I settle into an exceptionally comfortable aisle seat in row 13, I cannot help but reflect on the twists and turns of life.

As I view my life it is a bit like observing tangled skeins of wool of a variety of textures, lengths and colours. And my attention, now, is turned to the untangling –  locating dropped stitches; noticing glaring mistakes and false starts. Yet I see the richness and colour of loving and meaningful relationships; adventures and achievements all ultimately woven together into beautiful patterns. Consequently, I get to see a unique and beautiful tapestry that is my own life, mistakes and all.

The grand puzzle as seen from my 8th decade is about noticing all the pieces and seeing where they fit.  The gift, unseen in younger years, is that the slipped stitches, rocky shoals and faded parts are just as treasured as the perfect moments and the straight-through paths. Why? Without them, it would be a different life. In fact, as when putting together a jigsaw puzzle, the oddly shaped pieces and the ones that reveal no clues as they lie scattered around, are often the exact pieces we need to transform the scene into a gorgeous, discernible and ever changing tableau of a life.

And at these times I marvel in wonder at how it all came together. It may be that way for some of you too.

canmoreIllness, untimely death, terrible disappointments of all kinds shake us up and often make us re-evaluate our lives. My life’s work, working with those who have been affected by cancer,  came to fruition in Calgary at Wellspring. My own cancer was diagnosed and treated in Calgary. I owe a debt of gratitude to so many people, and especially to those in Calgary, who provided medical and non-medical support along with a multitude of helping and caring hearts and hands that continues to this day.

Thus it is no surprise that I leave today in a reflective frame of mind. The city and the inhabitants  of Calgary are among the most generous of anyplace I have lived. Not just with money but with time and generosity of spirit. Wholeheartedness characterizes Calgary in general and Wellspring in particular. I leave counting my blessings. In truth, I come and go from everyplace counting my blessings, yet, Calgary was a turning point.

Once again, on this trip I had the honour and the privilege to spend time with members of Wellspring. No one can spend time with people going through a difficult illness and not leave inspired by their courage, resilience, wisdom, humour and kindness. As Jon Kabat-Zinn states in his book: Letting Everything Become Your Teacher –

“Healing does not mean curing, although the two words are often used interchangeably. While it may not be possible for us to cure ourselves or to find someone else who can, it is always possible for us to heal ourselves. Healing implies the possibility for us to relate differently to illness, disability, even death, as we learn to see with eyes of wholeness. Healing is coming to terms with things as they are.”

It seems to me that whoever you are and wherever you are we all have nothing to lose by being anything other than our ordinary selves. Live your precious life. Sing while there’s voice left. Find joyful moments daily. No reason to hold back.

Notes:

Note 1:) Rob Gaudet shot the banner, from St Marks, outside Vancouver. It overlooks Horseshoe Bay And Bowen Island. I took the 2nd photo in Canmore, near Banff, during an evening walk, last Wednesday evening.

Note 2:) As I was walking in Canmore I thought of my Japanese friends, who will be in Canmore in three months time. It will be the last night of their four day hike in the Rockies. I celebrate their dedication to purposeful living – demonstrating the principles of living an active and full life with illness and while ageing. I will join them in Canmore and for their presentation at Wellspring Calgary the next day.

Note 3:) I am not grateful for cancer but I am grateful that I am in Ottawa, immersed in the daily lives of my beloved Grandchildren. Yet, if not for the cancer I would not be here. The twists and turns of life are a complete mystery. Ultimately, my experience has taught me to go ahead and live fully with it all.  It is a wondrous gift, this life of ours. See you next week. With thanks, Trudy

gardens

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

Notes:

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