Change of Scene

Dr. Jinroh Itami, who developed Meaningful Life Therapy, used travel as one of his non-medical tools. He famously took a group of Japanese cancer patients to climb Mt Blanc three decades ago, long before strenuous exercise was encouraged in cancer circles. He also took another group to Yellowknife to experience the magic of the Aurora Borealis at New Year’s, and the opportunity to be part of an Indigenous Healing Circle. Both trips involved a change of scene, customs and new experiences. Showing up with an open mind and open heart was the only criteria.

Travel to foreign lands often opens our eyes and causes us to pay attention in ways that the predictability of life at home does not. Our senses are awakened by the sights, sounds and tastes of a new place different from our own. Reports from travellers indicate that in spite of the challenges that travelling brings, they often feel stronger, more alive and more hopeful especially when they stretch themselves and engage in mental and physical challenges.

I had a powerful experience after cycling the Cabot Trail, which was in my own country but a very different venue. After completing the 300 KM ride, mostly hills, I felt so filled with exuberance and satisfaction that I was certain I could take on the world. This trip had been the most challenging activity I had ever exposed myself to and I seemed to stay in the flow, to my complete surprise, for about six more weeks.

I suppose the crux of the matter when we do something different is we take ourselves out of our comfort zone and expose ourselves to learning new things and sometimes risk. (never fool hardiness, by the way) When we learn new things and immerse ourselves in the flow we temporarily disappear along with our worries and anxieties.

I am currently 4500 KM away from my home but still on the continent of North America and in a place I formerly lived. I notice the air, how light it is; the giant red fireball of sun sinking behind a mountain; the peeling bark of arbutus trees hanging over the water, and the wonder of old friendships renewed in person rather than through updating an app.

I know people, who unable to travel, create the activity of travelling at home. There are many variations on this theme but one example comes from a brilliant woman wanting to walk the Camino. (and she no longer could) She worked out the mileage and created a local walking trip, based on that mileage. She organized some friends to join her and they created passports and mapped out specific and significant locations within their city, where they would travel to. With each time dated goal in mind they made it across the city and surrounding areas covering the mileage they would have walked on the Camino. They all loved it.  Why would they do this?

Four reasons: purpose; companionship, laughter and activity. They all looked forward to their walks and they all experienced a greater sense of well-being. Evidence based? Maybe/maybe not? Anecdotal evidence. You bet. That literature has lots to say.

Worth a try? What have you got to lose? Zooming around a curvy trail on your motorbike; zip lining at Whistler; walking from town to town in England; cycling, singing or reciting poetry in Ireland; strolling in a park at the other end of your town; sitting on a park bench, people watching, in front of your city hall. Exploring with a magnifying glass a one metre square patch of grass in your own backyard. We have no idea what we might discover about our world, each other and ourselves. New adventures, both home and abroad, just waiting for you and for me.

Note: Greetings from Gabriola Island, BC. A place where the summer of 2018 is hot with no humidity. How great is that.  Until next Wednesday, Trudy



No Blame

As I sit on a bluff above Georgia strait, with the city of Vancouver in the distance, I am thinking about the concept of blame. There are so many reasons to blame another. So many things to blame as to the cause of our illnesses, failures and disappointments. And yet…

When I was diagnosed with cancer my oncology surgeon made it clear that I was not to blame. He strongly stated that I had done nothing to cause my cancer and could have done nothing to prevent it. Some would disagree, but I chose to believe him. Although that was ten years ago, I believe him still.

I have seen the extra suffering that blame causes. A couple of years ago a young woman with advanced cancer was interviewed in the Globe and Mail. When asked what surprised her the most she said, “how I was blamed for getting cancer.”

How did this terrible judgement come to pass?  I believe it is an unintended consequence of the notion that illness can be prevented with the proper lifestyle choices. We use the word “prevention” as though it guarantees outcomes, rather than using expressions such as “reduce your risk,” or “up your chances.”

Don’t get me wrong. I am all in favour of healthy lifestyle choices. Those choices make me feel better. Yet, I disagree that they prevent anything. Naturally they have a positive impact on our well-being and quality of everyday life and that is reason enough to pay attention to how we live. However, I have seen too many people suffer needlessly when their good choices did not prevent a serious illness.

But blame! We need less of it, although it seems to insert itself into so many corners of our lives. Take relationships. How often do we blame the other for our inconveniences, hurts and troubles? Daily life is fraught with opportunities to blame, especially on the home front.

Years ago I asked a good friend the secret of her marriage.  “We adopted a principle of ‘no blame,’ from the start,” she said. “We decided that life was filled with things that can go wrong. That each of us would make mistakes and hurt the other. Blame would only make it worse. So instead of blame we asked the question ‘what needs to be done to solve this problem or mend our hearts or fix the scraped side of the car.’ And we did it. It didn’t mean there was no discussion but there was no blame.”

Recently, I overheard my Grandson saying to his sister who was blaming him for something, “Remember Sophie, we are not a blaming family.” Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t but I enjoyed the moment where “no blame” was even under consideration.

I have also heard, with illness, the body being blamed; our thoughts; our Mother; or a myriad of other culprits.  I understand our human tendency, yet, I wonder if all this blaming ever really helps? What is the point to find fault and blame, in the long run.  Life is short. It is what it is. Maybe we are better off to move along and put our energy into what we can do something about. Why not place that sack of blame on the recycling bin and reduce our suffering, as it becomes compost for growth.

In life, it is hard enough to manage and accept all the difficulties that come along with a serious illness. Let’s not add blame into the mix.

In relationships, no blame, does not mean no consequences. Nor does it mean no anger. And it certainly doesn’t mean condoning or liking. I see it more like a shift of attention where we shine the light on what happened, step back and solve the problem together. We provide space for each other to make mistakes. We allow for human frailty and tough conversations without slaying the other.

This is not an easy task but may be worth a try, while we have the chance.

Note: As I take in the cooler west coast evening air and watch a buck, a doe and a fawn, energetically and playfully frolicking in the yard. I sink contentedly into this magical moment. My thoughts, however, soon drift to Japan and are with my Japanese friends who are now sweltering under the threat of an enormous, devastating heatwave of historic proportions. May they too experience relief  soon – a cool breeze and a drop in temperature. Until next week, Trudy

importance of water for the brain Japan walk

Something Surprising

Meaningful Memories Japan

Meaningful Memories






Help and be helped blog

How to Help and be Helped

Initial Shock

Yesterday, my friend Patricia, sent me a link to a short article in Tricycle by the well-known writer’s writer, Natalie Goldberg. The article is called Old Age is not Guaranteed and is an excerpt from her new book called Let the Thundering World Come Home.

I liked it because it is a reminder of the shock that overtakes us when we receive threatening news about our mortality. And this happens even before we know all the facts. From the first hint that we are not in control of our bodies, our entire system reacts, no matter how we may have previously viewed our intellectual equanimity about our eventual demise. (preferably at a ripe old age.)

Natalie nails the disconnect that happens when we face the possibility that we may be running out of time.

My own immediate experience with a fearful diagnosis was also to be blind-sided. Nothing made sense. The world seemed surreal and my heart pounded so hard that I was convinced anyone standing within earshot could hear it.  When word got out, a young brilliant woman who was going through treatment, stopped me in my tracks when she said, “at least you have the skills to deal with this.”

At the time I thought, “what skills?” Her sincere statement wasn’t unkind or thoughtless.  She was in a program I taught about living well with cancer and she had made an assumption. At the time, it brought me up short.  I realized, however, that our “ knowledge or practices” do not protect us from the initial onslaught of emotions flooding our bodies, when first presented with life threatening news.

Our skills can and do kick in, but at the height of the storm we are simply trying not to capsize. It is all a blur and forward motion is not even on the radar. What helped me most in those early moments came from those who had also been afraid and did not attempt to minimize my fear or exacerbate it.

I think now of the gift basket that was dropped off the very next morning following my news. Two colleagues braved a blizzard in Calgary to bring me solace – a wicker basket containing a favourite blueberry muffin and a steaming cup of coffee; a book of poetry; a beautiful wool throw; flowers; cards; a journal and more. One warm hug from each and they were gone, back out into the storm.  Nothing required from me. I will never forget how this one thoughtful action helped calm the inner storm in which I found myself.

My agency was activated soon afterwards.

The article by Natalie Goldberg is timely for me because she points to something important to remember.  The upheaval most of us experience when we first get word of a life threatening diagnosis. The upheaval is not only natural and out of our control, but we will be required to ride it through, even while wishing it were not so. When the eruption subsides we can use the skills we have and  cultivate knew ones, to do what we need to do. There are none of us free from sickness, old age and death. Yet, we learn that we can lead meaningful, purposeful and loving lives, not all the time, but, much of the time even while co-existing with illness. And through it all, while not easy, we come to discover that it is doable and definitely worth the effort.

“We are born, and we die; and in between we have the chance to keep each other company, which is the thing that counts the most.” John Tarrant

Note 1: My heart goes out to everyone who gets blown over with devastating news. Ask for help, when you need it. We are all here to help and be helped. Trudy

Note 2: You may want to click on the link, at the beginning of this post, to read the excerpt from Natalie’s book. See you next week.



peonies immersed in beauty

Immersed in Beauty

Set aside sometime everyday to spend with something that you love.

apples generous impulse

Never Resist a Generous Impulse

Laughter is good medicine blog

Laughter Is Good Medicine

There isn’t much to laugh at when it comes to cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and so many other painful, life threatening, and on-going difficult illnesses that life throws in our way.  Dr. Itami, who founded Meaningful Life Therapy in Japan, uses laughter as part of his healing prescription for cancer patients.

Humour therapy is built into his unique approach to treating his patients, along side conventional medicine. Patients are encouraged to go looking for funny stories. In fact he invites them to find something funny about their own personal and difficult situations. You know, things like the crazy assumptions people make or the unhelpful suggestions that are sometimes offered. Or the particular ironies of our situation.

The point is to find a funny story to share with others when they meet in a group setting each week.

Why, you may ask? What on earth is the purpose of this odd assignment?

Well, for one thing, laughter is good medicine. There isn’t necessarily undisputed clinical proof to say that laughter boosts the immune system.  There are, however, thousands of anecdotal testaments that laughter boosts our spirits and improves the quality of our everyday life.

As we start paying attention to moments and events that will yield a funny story, we give ourselves a temporary mental break.  We shine the spotlight of our attention away from the moments of anxiety and worry that often accompany illness. I recall the fear I experienced while waiting and waiting for the confirmation of a test and/or the possibility of a serious illness diagnosis.

When we surround ourselves with friendly, goodhearted funny people and don’t resist the humour, we lighten up, even when times are tough.  Children and young people are catalysts of joy and laughter. Lucky me – I have had the gift of spending inordinate amounts of time with all of my grandchildren, at various ages, and I find laughter flows naturally when I am with them.

I have a friend that as soon as I hear her voice we both burst out laughing. A stranger may think we are losing it and in a way we are. Losing ourselves in the ironies and cosmic jokes of life itself and our own funny selves in particular. When I hang up the phone I can feel my heart and immune system saying YES. You just gave me exactly the boost I needed.

All of us have daily trials large and small so why not actively seek out gentle joy and humour so that we laugh more often both for the fun of it and the health of it.

Practice wise medicine and try to have a good laugh at least three times a day.  Edward Hays

Note: I love being around people who love to laugh. I am not that funny myself but when I am with them, laughter bubbles up out of nowhere, to my delight. Warm wishes, until next Wednesday. Trudy




Showing Up 5k thanks to Nacy MacKenzie for the photo

Showing Up Wholeheartedly

Woody Allan, along with others, has been quoted as saying that 80% of success is just showing up. There is a kernel of truth there but I suggest that showing up wholeheartedly may be the defining factor.

Last weekend my 98 year old Mother along with 39 family members participated in the Ottawa Race Weekend. Several ran or walked the ½ marathon but it was the 5K on Saturday that was the hi-light. This event was where my Mother, along with our motley crew, walked the 5k in 1 hr and 34 minutes. This is no mean feat at 98 years old, and having flown 4500 KM to do so.

I was thinking about what my Mother brought to the occasion besides her walking poles. First of all was her commitment and effort that she put into preparing for the walk. More importantly was her heart and grit as she placed one foot in front of the other. She gave it her all, with a smile on her face, determination and a desire to complete the course, along with the rest of us.

When we crossed the finish line together she received her medal along with the cheers of the crowd. Yet, what delighted her was to have earned that medal and done her part to contribute to our team. She went to bed that night happy and satisfied.

I have pondered on what it means to show up wholeheartedly. Dr. Itami, my mentor, encouraged his patients to take on all tasks with that spirit. He would remind them that not much changes if you are just warming the seat. With a willingness to fully participate, stretch ourselves appropriately (in this case, the 5K not the 10k) and generously contribute to whatever it is you are doing, a subtle change of spirit takes place. We rejuvenate and become more creative and alive as it influences everything we do. Best of all we have more fun.

Living Well with Illness and ageing, for that matter, isn’t about running races, rather it is about finding fulfillment in the present by living to the best of our ability. It is about carving out meaning, each in our own way, through active engagement in purposeful activities. Like I said last week, it is singing while there is voice left. Three cheers to my wonderful Mom and to all of you dear readers.

Note: Some people go around flashing photos of their kids and grandkids. I go around, to the amazement and dismay of my mother, flashing photos and telling stories about her. Until next Wednesday, warm regards, Trudy