Archive for April, 2012

morning dew

I was recently reminded – “this is your last chance to enjoy today”

Here’s the morning dew on someone’s front lawn – beautiful, huh? Once you start to look for what sparkles, you can see it everywhere. I especially like the sparkles in children’s eyes.

Enjoy today – it won’t be back.

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Here’s a question I asked myself as I headed home today, and I think you might like to ask yourself the same question…..

How kind was I today?

I often hear stories of unkindness. Patients tell me about their experiences of not being heard, of being judged or dismissed, of, frankly, being treated unkindly, by health care professionals. But today one of our inpatients really made me think more deeply about it as she itemised for me the acts of kindness which she had experienced from individual after individual during her stay in our hospital this week. She said she didn’t know such a place existed. I was delighted to hear such encouraging feedback, and, yet, surely the “norm” in healthcare should be kindness?

That got me wondering…..what if every doctor, every nurse, every day asked themselves “How kind was I today?”

(And don’t give me the “cruel to be kind” thing – being cruel is cruel, you have to be kind to be kind!)

Maybe talking about the need for empathy and compassion is too hard for some professionals to hear, but surely everyone can relate to kindness.

Let’s increase the kindness quotient!

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As I walked to work this morning the sun shining through these flowers stopped me in my tracks…

morning light

What stopped you in your tracks today?

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When I read this passage from Marilynne Robinson’s new book, I immediately recalled Robert Solomon’s “Joy of Philosophy” (which I reviewed and reflected on here)

There is a tendency, considered highly rational, to reason from a narrow set of interests, say survival and procreation, which are supposed to govern our lives, and then to treat everything that does not fit this model as anomalous clutter, extraneous to what we are and probably best done without. But all we really know about what we are is what we do. There is a tendency to fit a tight and awkward carapace of definition over humankind, and to try to trim the living creature to fit the dead shell. The advice I give my students is the same advice I give myself—forget definition, forget assumption, watch. We inhabit, we are part of, a reality for which explanation is much too poor and small. No physicist would dispute this, though he or she might be less ready than I am to have recourse to the old language and call reality miraculous

I do think reducing a human being, in whatever way, takes us into acting at a subhuman level. It’s this reduction of the miraculous, amazing, special individual to a data set of measurable parameters which lies at the core of a lot of our problems these days. (This is why I argue for a SEA CHANGE in our values).

Robert Solomon’s book is subtitled “Thinking Thin versus the Passionate Life” and in that, he nails it.

A data led, reduced, materialism is a poor, thin, inadequate way to live. What I argue for is a rich, passionate life of wonder and amazement – a miraculous life.

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Pulled up the blinds of my consulting room on my first day back at work after a week’s holiday and this is what I saw…..



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The view from Sirius……I was exploring the origins of this idea today (it’s actually a French phrase “point de vue de sirius”), and found that someone had helpfully linked it to this clip from the great Dead Poets’ Society (haven’t seen that film in YEARS!)

I like it. In French, this idea relates to the idea of the “vue en haut” – the perspective from on high. Voltaire’s 1752 tale, Micromegas, is often cited as the origin of the Sirius reference. In this amazing, centuries ahead of itself tale, a person from Sirius, Micromegas, visits the Earth. The idea of “le point de vue de Sirius”, refers to both that ability to stand back and take an overview, something we all need to do from time to time (and which I’ve been doing on my week’s break from work these last 7 days), and, also, that ability to experience the extraordinary in the ordinary.
Years ago I chanced across a little paperback in a secondhand book shop – the poet Stephen Spender’s “Life and the Poet” where I read his idea of the poet getting into the mindset of a traveler from Earth visiting the Moon for the first time. The view from Sirius idea encompasses that idea.
However, it’s Pierre Hadot, the French philosopher, I have to thank for explaining it in his brilliant “N’oublie pas de vivre” (“Don’t forget to live”).

Whatever its origins, I think it’s a great concept – so why not try to adopt the “view from Sirius” today, and see how things look now?

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Stumbled across a fabulous extract from Marilynne Robinson’s new book. Here’s just one of the paragraphs which hooked me –

There is a great difference, in fiction and in life, between knowing someone and knowing aboutsomeone. When a writer knows about his character, he is writing for plot. When he knows his character, he is writing to explore, to feel reality on a set of nerves somehow not quite his own. Words like “sympathy,” “empathy,” and “compassion” are overworked and overcharged—there is no word for the experience of seeing an embrace at a subway stop or hearing an argument at the next table in a restaurant. Every such instant has its own emotional coloration, which memory retains or heightens, and so the most sidelong, unintended moment becomes a part of what we have seen of the world. Then, I suppose, these moments, as they have seemed to us, constellate themselves into something a little like a spirit, a little like a human presence in its mystery and distinctiveness.

She’s writing about writing fiction of course, but the insight is applicable to life too, don’t you think? I recall Dan Siegel’s great line about the importance of “feeling felt”. I think that, as a doctor, it’s these little moments which are all around us every day, if we can only be sufficiently present and aware to notice them, which embed their constellations of human emotion into our psyches. I do believe, it’s these, and all the others I encounter in the everyday clinic, which create the conditions for understanding – for my understanding of those who come to me to be heard and to be felt.

This is the essence of “healing”.

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