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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There’s been quite a drive to reduce human beings to purposeless, temporary clusters of molecules. I don’t buy into it. For me, to understand what it is to be human involves taking on board consciousness, an inescapable subjective experience of a self, the interconnectedness of a person with others and with the rest of the universe in which we exist, and, not least, through the development of symbol manipulation and language development, a constant bent towards storytelling and seeking meaning in every day existence. (Cripes! That was quite a sentence, and, believe me, I had to stop myself there…..I could see that sentence spilling over into an entire page…)

The NY Times recently published a piece, “In Defense of Superstition“, about Matthew Hutson’s “The 7 Laws of Magical Thinking”. This is one of those things which makes you wonder about the nature of reality. I don’t think reality can be reduced to its physical, material elements. There’s a lot about reality which emerges from the fact we live as conscious beings in an inextricably interconnected universe. From this perspective, what are we to make of magic, and magical thinking?

The article cites research showing that golfers told the golf ball they are to play with is a lucky ball are 35% more likely to sink the putt, and that people can improve their memory performance when in possession of a lucky charm. This doesn’t surprise me. What you believe, and what you experience emotionally and subconsciously significantly influences your behaviour and your performance.

Do you remember a movie entitle, “The Cooler“? I think it was William H Macy as an unlucky charm, employed by a casino boss to stand next to people on a winning streak, so they’d start to lose. When he falls in love, his ability to transmit bad luck disappears….fascinating movie.

We co-create our reality with the world we live in, and most of that creation doesn’t come from the “thinking” part of our brain!

The article sums up

But without it, the existential angst of realizing we’re just impermanent clusters of molecules with no ultimate purpose would overwhelm us. So to believe in magic — as, on some deep level, we all do — does not make you stupid, ignorant or crazy. It makes you human

I agree with the last two sentences, but I don’t agree with the assumption that we are “just impermanent clusters of molecules with no ultimate purpose”. Do you?

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The French do seem to have a different way of viewing Life from the British. That’s one of the reasons I really enjoy reading French publications, and one of my regulars is a magazine called “Cles“. In the most recent issue they have a thought provoking and different article about dieting. In “Cles” there is a regular section dedicated to articles which promote a “Slow movement” approach to Life, and in this month’s issue they take on dieting. (“Slow minceur, le corps tranquille”).

Essentially, the article advocates this approach to diet.

1. Don’t go on a diet.

2. Instead, slow down and really enjoy your food. For the French enjoying your food is about more than just the taste, the colour and smell of the food. It’s about the whole experience of enjoying a meal….the environment, the aesthetics, the company you share. The article doesn’t use the word “mindful” but such a concept would be consistent with this message – eat mindfully – slowly, really savouring and appreciating what you are eating, and the experience of the meal.

3. Stop when you’ve had enough. Sound straightforward? Maybe not so easy because we tend to have bad habits related to eating way too large portions, either because we were taught to clear our plates, or because we think more food for less money is a bargain. However, if you are eating mindfully, you’ll become aware when your body has had enough. And at that point, you can stop!

4. Learn to handle your emotions without reverting to food. In fact, the article quotes a David O’Hare whose book is entitled “Maigrir par la cohérence cardiaque” (which sounds like Heartmath to me, but see here).

5. Finally, they recommend not cutting out anything, but instead steadily eating a little less, moving a little more, and accepting that it will take a long time to lose a significant amount of weight ie take away any performance or fear of failure anxiety induced by setting short term targets.

What do you think? Maybe this way isn’t for you, but it’s sure different, and as we are all different, it’s good to have a range of possible strategies available, isn’t it?

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Every year I look forward to the blossoming of this Magnolia in the garden outside my consulting room. It won’t flower for long but that makes it even more special. I enjoyed it today. What are you going to enjoy today?

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