Archive for November, 2012

There was an amazing story recently in the NY Times about a Greek man living in the US. He was diagnosed with lung cancer in his mid 60s and given the prognosis of 9 months to live. He decided that instead expensive treatments and a costly funeral in the US, he would return to his native Greek island of Ikaria.

He moved back in with his parents and went to bed to be cared for by his wife and mother. But he started to feel strong enough to go out so reconnected with childhood friends and re-established his Sunday trips to church.

As the months passed he felt strong enough to do some gardening (a common activity on the island) and planted vegetables thinking he might not live to enjoy them, but he would enjoy growing them. Not only did he live to enjoy them but with his regular routines now of plenty of sleep, regular walks up the hill, spending time in the garden and in the evenings with his friends at the bar, and his weekly visits to the church he began to feel well enough to tackle the old, neglected family vineyard.

Three and a half decades on he is now 97, producing 400 gallons of wine a year from his vineyard and seems to be cancer free.

What can we learn from this inspirational story? Well, the author of the story in the NY Times concludes this –

If you pay careful attention to the way Ikarians have lived their lives, it appears that a dozen subtly powerful, mutually enhancing and pervasive factors are at work. It’s easy to get enough rest if no one else wakes up early and the village goes dead during afternoon naptime. It helps that the cheapest, most accessible foods are also the most healthful — and that your ancestors have spent centuries developing ways to make them taste good. It’s hard to get through the day in Ikaria without walking up 20 hills. You’re not likely to ever feel the existential pain of not belonging or even the simple stress of arriving late. Your community makes sure you’ll always have something to eat, but peer pressure will get you to contribute something too. You’re going to grow a garden, because that’s what your parents did, and that’s what your neighbors are doing. You’re less likely to be a victim of crime because everyone at once is a busybody and feels as if he’s being watched. At day’s end, you’ll share a cup of the seasonal herbal tea with your neighbor because that’s what he’s serving. Several glasses of wine may follow the tea, but you’ll drink them in the company of good friends. On Sunday, you’ll attend church, and you’ll fast before Orthodox feast days. Even if you’re antisocial, you’ll never be entirely alone. Your neighbors will cajole you out of your house for the village festival to eat your portion of goat meat


Those are probably reasonable conclusions but what inspires me most about this this story is the series of simple, pragmatic choices this man made. He didn’t set off to “beat cancer”, or to find the elusive magical cure. No, what he did was chose, moment by moment, day by day, to live. He might have died in his bed within days of returning to Ikaria. He would have had the death he chose, if that were the case. But he was not at any point focused on trying to determine the detailed outcomes.

Here is what inspires me about this story – at each stage he was focused on how he would live today and at no point did he think how to escape death.

Read the whole article here.

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I’ve long been bemused by the lack of reference to health in healthcare training. The standard clinical textbooks of Medicine not only have no chapters on health, books like Davidson, still a standard medical school text don’t even have an index entry for health.

Then the other day I stumbled on an old document from 1938 entitled “The Wheel of Health”, by G T Wrench MD. The content of the text is not what I want to mention today, but I’d like to share the following paragraphs from the author’s introduction.

Why was it that as students we were always presented with sick or convalescent people for our teaching and never with the ultrahealthy? Why were we only taught disease? Why was it presumed that we knew all about health in its fulness? The teaching was wholly one-sided. Moreover, the basis of our teaching upon disease was pathology, namely, the appearance of that which is dead from disease. We started from our knowledge of the dead, from which we interpreted the manifestations, slight or severe, of threatened death, which is disease. Through these various manifestations, which fattened our text-books, we approached health. By the time, however, we reached real health, like that of the keen times of public school, the studies were dropped. Their human representatives, the patients, were now well, and neither we nor our educators were any longer concerned with them. We made no studies of the healthy–only the sick.


1938! He could have written that today!

Does this not surprise you?

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Just outside of Kyoto, up near Arashiyama, there is a little amazing temple – Otagi Nenbutsu-ji.
The most striking and unique thing about it is the 1200 or so rakan sculptures representing disciples of the Buddha.
Here are just a couple –




And here’s a short video I shot to give you an idea of the scale of this….

Do you remember the news story about the old lady in Spain tried to restore a fresco? (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-19349921), well I think she’s been to Japan too!


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In Kyoto it’s a daily occurrence to meet people dressed in traditional dress, and it’s even more common to see people visiting temples and shrines to bring their thoughts, their prayers, their hopes and their wishes into the present moment


Prayers and wishes are tied to trees…

a wish

….but the traditions don’t seem stuck in the past. They cross the bridge into the present…

the bridge

…and are enjoyed with a light heart


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Buddha blue sky


zen garden

environments like these make you just want to slow down and become aware of …..


….this present moment.

These moments are worth their weight in gold….


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Autumn has been a little late arriving in Kyoto this year (warm weather for longer!), but it’s lovely to be able to witness the early turn of colour…..

kyoto autumn

Did you notice the flock of birds flying over the river?

As I looked up from the bridge I saw this one too….


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I look out onto Ben Ledi every day from home….

rain on the mountain

….so when I opened the blinds in my 32nd floor hotel room in Tokyo imagine my surprise when I thought it had followed me!

Tokyo view to the hills

Of course, once I looked more closely I could see it wasn’t Ben Ledi at all, but then again, I’ve never looked out over Tokyo and seen the hills like this before……something new every day!

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Look carefully….that eerie glow is the light from cities at night shining up through the clouds.

Cities at night

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