Thursday, 20 September 2012

To be really happy...

“To be really happy and really safe,
one ought to have at least two or three hobbies,
and they must all be real.” - - Winston Churchill

Yep – from the Gratitude calendar. This hit home hard – I brought this paper home too, and it’s on my computer monitor so I can’t forget. I don’t really indulge in any hobbies, although I dabble in many. I’m in trouble…

One evening last spring we went to see a friend’s band play at a local blues club. It was an interesting evening with energetic music and an audience that obviously enjoyed themselves listening and moving to the music.

This friend’s musicianship is obvious to anyone who sees him play – a terrific mixture of skill and talent that communicates to those of us listening. It was so much fun to hear him play again after a fairly long hiatus. At a break he was telling us how much he enjoyed this part-time avocation. Daytime finds him occupied in an office tower, but evenings and weekends he is back to playing music. His eyes positively shone as he said this return to playing meant it felt like the sun shone brighter, colours were more intense, and food tasted better. “I know that’s not true”, he said, “but that’s what it feels like”.

In the documentary on stress, a scientist discusses how stressed monkeys brains are low on dopamine… while monkeys with less stress have brains that “light up” with dopamine. For those with less dopamine receptors, the sun does not shine as brightly, the grass is not as green, food doesn’t taste as good. (I was a little freaked out to hear almost exactly the same language from the scientist as from my musician friend).

Damn it friend, it IS TRUE. When we doing what we are created to do or being who we are created to be, the sun SHINES brighter, the grass is GREENER, and food TASTES better.

While on vacation touring wineries in Oregon in August, I came upon a book in an antique store that I HAD to purchase … by Winston Churchill. The quote from above is on page 2. I bought it and I am working on walking that path towards the brighter sun.

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Stress can kill, gratitude can heal

I’m dying. Before leaping to conclusions, understand that so are you: you are dying. We all are. But some of us are dying faster.

A National Geographic documentary was shown at work today, sponsored by our film committee. The film covers the advancing understanding of how experiences affect us at our deepest levels – not only deep in our personal understanding but deeper still… to our cells, and genes, and telomeres! 

Full disclosure: We only saw the first ¾ of the film today, and tomorrow we see the part about how to combat stress. After all we ALL experience stress. It’s just that our society generates an atmosphere where stress thrives, and the “deep end of the gene pool” is full of those who will discover the antidotes to the negative effects of stress.

I was fortunate to be born into a family with fewer than normal health issues. But alcoholism casts a long shadow over my family – and it has had profound effects on me, and subsequently on our kids, even though the effects are muted through the generations.

I am truly grateful that both my parents had the strength to stop the worst of the behaviours of alcoholism: my brother and I were never exposed to drunken rages or abuse. But my parents had suffered, and that suffering, being children of alcoholics (CoAs), led to maladaptive responses. This is well documented in the literature on CoAs. I admire my parent's ability to start the change, and recognize my responsibility to continue that walk away from the harshness of alcoholic behaviour.

That all being said, as a CoA myself, my personal history is largely coloured by fear and stress. Anxiety attacks are common. Damn. Stress. Kills.

There are ways to deal with stress. Which brings me straight back to Gratitude. My next posts will be on three resources that have been enormously influential for me in the past year:
The book "One Thousand Gifts" Ann Voskamp challenges us to find and recognize moments of blessing.
Shawn Achor's TED Talk on happiness (his book is even better than the TED talk, but it gives you a great taste)
Brene Brown's amazing work on shame and resilience in the book "The Gifts of Imperfection". Brene’s book on wholehearted living is the only non-fiction book I have read more than twice. (I might be on my 4th or 5th read, all the more to understand and embed the principles into my life).

I add them here for your interest and elucidation. Click on one at least!

Sunday, 16 September 2012


“Life is pain, Highness. Anyone who says differently is selling something.” (Wesley, in the Princess Bride).

Like everyone else I know, I hate pain. Last night as I lay down, my right shoulder stiffness developed into outright discomfort (that’s what nurses call “pain”). It lances from the neck all the way to my forearm. After decades with varieties of back pain resulting from the intentional release of the seat belt that had saved my life, this is new. (Side note: when the car flipped into the snowy Saskatchewan ditch I shut off the ignition intending to exit the car. I’ve always used seatbelts, and I automatically hit the disconnect latch - and promptly fell on my head; we were still upside-down.)

But this is new. I’m not really sure how to cope with it since some movements which logic tells me should be awful, are fine, and others (leaning forward, for instance) are excruciating. Weird. (Second side note for all those who endure nurse nagging from me: yes I’m calling the physiotherapy office as soon as they open tomorrow – at seven A.M.).

In church this morning the question was asked – why does God allow pain? Fortunately the question wasn’t answered. If they’d been able to provide an answer in 30 minutes, I don’t think it would have been valid. No one wants to acknowledge the elephant in the room: we all endure pain to some level at some time, and it's often "not fair".

I forget as easily as anyone else that pain is a gift. Without pain, I would continue to injure my stressed neck/shoulder.  Pain reminds me that there ARE limitations, and choices to be made.  Dr Paul Brand and Philip Yancey wrote on this in “The Gift of Pain”. If small pains are ignored (think the rub of a shoe on a heel), they can lead to injury (blister). Pain can be that gentle or severe reminder that something must change. So while I wait for my physio to (hopefully) make the alignment change to fix this current issue, I can think about other places where pain whispers into my life. I’m not quite prepared to be fully thankful for pain, but I am grateful for the opportunity to be reminded… 

Saturday, 15 September 2012

Thoreau speaks

Last Christmas I received a daily page calendar... called "Gratitude". 

That was only a little ironic, as the concept of gratitude was clearly (to me) the theme for the year. (I find my God is a god of irony). I took the calendar to work and was pretty sure there would be many platitudes that would be recycled quickly and literally. And there have been.

But there have been a few deep and surprising moments. The most recent was a quote from Henry David Thoreau: 

"Live in each season as it passes;
breathe the air, drink the drink,
taste the fruit, and resign yourself
to the influences of each."

I couldn't find it in myself to toss the page into my recycling, so I brought it home. 

After a few days (still unable to recycle the paper), I posted it on Facebook in my status. The next day, a blogger that I follow 'religiously' (she'd love that pun) posted the SAME quote and spoke eloquently about her own reaction to Thoreau's words. Okay, I thought... I'm listening, God. 

On the face of it, there is something to learn. But in the middle and under it, there is much more to learn. I'm listening.

I've been looking out at the mid-September trees and worrying that some where turning brown leaved rather than golden (this happened a couple years ago and was entirely depressing). Meditating on the quote, I started just being thankful for green leaves.

I'm not the sort that sees meaning in every corner. Sometimes a sign is just a pizza. But sometimes, a sign is a signal, a breadcrumb, an encouragement to continue down the path. So I'm listening. And the leaves are... turning to gold.