Transformed by Beauty

On Saturday, August 18th – our last day in Rome, we went to the Vatican museum. We saw the timeless works of Raphael, da Vinci, Rodin and of course, Michelangelo.

We took the time to appreciate the experience of standing before Raphael’s Transfiguration, Apollo Belvedere and the School of Athens. We stood and sat in the Sistine Chapel, necks extended, absorbing the sublime scenes painted by Michelangelo.

Seeing works of divine inspiration and timeless beauty was a transformative experience.

I was absorbed by the scene of God giving life to Adam.


God rides a cloud shaped as the corpus callosum – the structure in the human brain that connects the right and left hemispheres. Michelangelo was intimately familiar with anatomy. I wonder what he was trying to tell us.

God is within our own minds. We conceive of Him because He is a part of our very being. The eye with which we see God is the same eye by which He sees us. He is the creator and greater consciousness who makes us creative and conscious.

In our minds, we imagine God in our image just as the Greeks and Romans imagined their gods in human form, and their beauty – celebrated in sculpture – was human beauty. By doing this, we limit God, and limit ourselves.

We are more than our bodies and self-interested egos. We are a part of God (the transcendent) – one small aspect of His manifestation and His consciousness on Earth.

God remains beyond our limited human conception, but if we expand our awareness, our self-conception and the depth and breadth of our love, we may become more transparent to His transcendence.

Seeing great beauty – in art, in nature and in our lives – we can lose our normal awareness of separateness,  become uplifted by transcendent beauty and feel our deeper connection. At the same time, we connect to and witness beauty without our egos and wish neither to hold or possess it.

This may be how God may see us – with compassion and love – and sees the beauty in us. When we feel this from others and when we love others in this way, we experience God most directly, and we realize that deeper, truer spiritual connection represented by God’s creation of Adam – our fingers approximated.

We see one another.


Compassion Empathy Grace Growth Love Parenting Positive Potential Relationships

The Person Who Inspires Me Most

Who inspires you?

Of all the great personalities in history and of all the people you have met in your life, who has inspired you the most? Whose words and actions, style and manner have influenced you in the most positive way?

When I was growing up, I spent many hours reading comic books and fantasized about being a superhero, like Superman, Batman and Spider-man. I imagined having super powers, having a secret identity and using my powers to overcome adversity (bad guys), rescue those in need and save the world.

I also read the World Book encyclopedia – cover to cover – from A to Z, and the stories of the great men in history and the Greek and Roman Gods filled my daydreams and imagination. The biographies of the saints and martyrs were inspiring in some ways but the ways they ended their promising careers (and lives) held me back from following their examples.

I looked up to my brother. He was 4 1/2 years older – which seemed like a long stretch of time in elementary school. He was a top student, star athlete and all-round popular guy. I used to admire his trophies (when he wasn’t at home).

One time, I noticed that a bronze palm leaf mounted on a wood block was off center. When I tried to twist it back into place, it snapped off. I spent a whole afternoon feeling bad, trying to glue it back together and worrying about how I would confess. That evening, when I told my brother what happened, he smiled and said, “It’s only a trophy!”

I discovered my own sports, did well in school and amassed my own pile of hardware. And when I think back, the trajectory of my overachieving high school years was set not by my parents but by my brother. He showed me what was possible and what was within my reach.

When I reflect upon who has been my greatest inspiration – and who still sets my standards for morality and compassion, my mother comes first.

She was literate, outgoing and kind. She was the best cook. Even now, with every Thanksgiving and Christmas, I long for the turkey, gravy and stuffing she prepared for us. She was the most thoughtful person I have ever known. She not only considered our every need but she would worry about every other person she knew . . . and she knew a lot of people.

She was the most empathic person I knew. She could easily get caught up in the suffering of other people.

She was the most honest person I have ever met. She would walk a mile back to the grocery store if she was given extra change.

She would always do what she knew to be right.

My mom taught me the importance of family. When she was 9 years old, she and her siblings were orphaned. With both parents dead – and without other relatives to support them, the children decided to work hard to keep the younger ones fed and clothed until they all finished school. With better luck, I’m sure my mom could have gone to university and become a teacher or a nurse.

The courage and love shared by my mom with my aunts and uncles remains an inspiration. Without their shared efforts, the family would have been separated, and I would never have known all my cousins. We still meet each year for a big Boxing Day dinner.

My mom filled our home with books. She taught me to read with Dr. Seuss. She encouraged me in art, music and writing.

My mom came to the hospital every day when I was 10 years old and hospitalized with rheumatoid arthritis. She’d bring my favourite foods and stay the whole day. She was the one to take me to all the doctor’s appointments and all the blood tests. And she was the one who would lose sleep watching over me when I was feverish or in pain.

My mother had faith in me when I did not. She believed I could do great things if I worked at it. She gave me freedom to discover my own talents and supported me in nurturing them.

My mom inspires me still with the selfless, unconditional love she gave me. It remains her legacy to me, and I aspire to give that same love forward to my own children and to every other human being I can touch.


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Who Inspires You?

We are inspired by the actions and words of great leaders, such as Lincoln who said, “Don’t worry when you are not recognized but strive to be worthy of recognition”, Gandhi, “Be the change you want to see in the world” and Churchill, “We make a living by what we get; we make a life by what we give.”

Philosopher, Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us.”

They remind us of the potential that lies within every human being – a moral core that through positive, compassionate action can make the world a better place. We each have the potential – and responsibility – to live beyond our own self-interests.

Elite athletes stretch the limits of the human body. Musicians and artists express our creative potential. Scientists and inventors surprise us with new therapies and technology. They shape the future. They show us new possibilities.

But I have been most inspired by ordinary people who do extraordinary things.

In the face of adversity – personal loss, misfortune, abuse, poverty or disability, they have found the courage and strength to survive and thrive. When confronted with circumstances beyond their control and not what they had chosen, they recognize what they can control and choose to act positively.

I am inspired by those who have found within a wellspring of compassion. Living beyond self-interest, they see a need and they are moved to help.

On Saturday, November 17th, Century House in New Westminster will be celebrating Inspiration Day. Recharge your life with inspirational words, laughter yoga and live comedy. A $5 ticket covers refreshments and door prizes. I’ll be presenting the keynote, “Be Inspired . . . And Inspire Others: Achieving Our Positive Potential.” For more information, contact Century House at (604) 519-1066.

Who inspires you? Please send me your comments!

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Why We Need To Be Inspired

We all need a little inspiration at different points in our lives – to lift us up from routine, help us meet life’s challenges and push us towards our potential.

Inspiration can give us vision – opening windows to new possibilities: what we can do with our lives and what we can do. It is a lens that transforms what we see in the mirror, in the face of another and our perspective of the future.

It can give us courage – to persevere in the face of illness, misfortune, failure and loss; and to do what we know to be right.

What would life be without inspiration?

It would be like childhood without magic, families without love, working without meaning and living without passion.

We’d be diminished by age with each passing year, surrender to chronic health conditions, be defeated by disability and leave this life with a whisper.

There would be no path to follow, no beacon to guide us, and no hope to climb higher or run faster.

There would be no reason to find that little extra within our hearts and give more of our selves to the rest of the world.

Next: Who inspires you?

On Saturday, November 17th, Century House in New Westminster will be celebrating Inspiration Day. Recharge your life with inspirational words, laughter yoga and live comedy. A $5 ticket covers refreshments and door prizes. I’ll be presenting the keynote, “Be Inspired . . . And Inspire Others: Achieving Our Positive Potential.” For more information, contact Century House at (604) 519-1066.


Awareness Coping with Loss Emotions Forgiveness Grace Growth Happiness Healthy Living Letting Go Love Meditation Purpose Relationships Wisdom

Four Mind-Changers

Dr. Roger Walsh’s book, Essential Spirituality is filled with practical exercises from the world’s religions “to cultivate kindness, love, joy, peace, vision, wisdom and generosity.”

One exercise to foster wisdom is to reflect on the four “mind-changers” fundamental to Tibetan Buddhism: (1) Life is inconceivably precious, (2) Life is short and death is certain, (3) Life contains inevitable difficulties, and (4) Our ethical choices mold our lives.

These four truths inform my approach to medicine and the living of each day. With each baby I deliver, I have not lost a profound sense of wonder and gratitude. Life is indeed a precious gift that we can take for granted, but with each day of life, we have the opportunity to grow in wisdom and express love.

We can get so caught up in materialism and petty self-concerns that we forget that our days are numbered – as are those of our loved ones. If you had but one week with the people you love, what would you say and what would you do?

No one is promised a carefree life. Suffering and misfortune are inevitable. Accidents happen, we become ill, and we are harmed by others. The suffering in life is not doled out evenly; there is no fairness.

What we can control and what we do choose is how we take the gift of this life to meet the challenges of health, fate and our relationships. It is our words and actions that define who we are, how we find meaning and how we express love.

Awareness Coping with Loss Emotions Grace Growth Happiness Healthy Living Relationships Wisdom

Spirituality: Essential for Health

Ten years ago, my mom gave me what would be her last birthday present to me. Written by psychiatrist, Dr. Roger Walsh, the book, “Essential Spirituality” brings together the shared wisdom of the world’s religions.

Dr. Walsh’s work could serve as a guidebook for every human being with practical advice for dealing with our most challenging emotions, our relationships and the inevitable difficulties of life.

He talks about the perennial philosophy – the essential core of wisdom that is at the heart of all our great religions. It provides deep insights into life, human nature, health, happiness, suffering and peace.

His ideas resonated with my personal approach to life. In an undergraduate Religious Studies course, I learned that all the world’s great religions spoke the same language – at a deeper, esoteric level. Christian, Jewish and Muslim mystics could walk peacefully with Zen Buddhist monks as they share a common wisdom and vision of our world.

This is in contrast to how most people interpret their respective religions and those of others. There is plenty of fodder for argument when their essential texts are read in a literal way.

Many others have turned away from religion altogether when they no longer see its relevance to what matters most to them. They seem to get along quite nicely – going to school, working, shopping, managing their homes and raising their families.

What is the relevance of spirituality to our lives and to our health?

Eventually we must contend with misfortune, illness and death – first the loss of loved ones but ultimately our own. Each of us must manage difficult emotions – anxiety, depression or anger. We all face challenges in our relationships. We may seek meaning and purpose in our lives.

Dr. Walsh distinguishes between the terms, religion and spirituality. Most of us think of religion with respect to our identification with a particular set of beliefs. Spirituality, however, refers to the direct experience of the sacred. You can be deeply spiritual without going to church. Spiritual practices – in Dr. Walsh’s words – help us experience “that which is most central and essential to our lives – for ourselves.”

Next: The four mind-changers of Tibetan Buddhism.

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October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month

October is Breast Cancer Awareness month.  So here are some facts about this disease.

The average woman has a 1 in 11 risk of developing breast cancer before age 75. Although the risk rises with age, breast cancer can be diagnosed at any age.

Screening mammography programs have been targeting women aged 50 to 70. However, in Canada, women over 40 may be screened as well. Screening mammograms for women between age 40 and 50 has been shown to reduce cancer deaths; however, because the disease is less prevalent than in older women, there is a higher rate of false positives (i.e. the mammogram detects an abnormality but the patient does not have cancer).

Screening mammograms have also been shown to reduce cancer deaths in women up to age 75. Therefore, a woman should discuss with their family physician when they should start and stop screening mammograms.

Risk factors for breast cancer include: (1) age (as stated above, the risk increases with age); (2) family history (especially in a first degree relative such as a mother, daughter or sister under age 50 or before menopause); however, 9 out of 10 woman who have been diagnosed with breast cancer do not have any family history. Some woman mistakenly believe that they are unlikely to have a breast cancer if they have no family history.
(3) being overweight (especially after menopause); (4) drinking more than 2 standard alcoholic drinks per day; (5) taking hormone replacement therapy for more than 5 years after menopause; and (6) having a first child late in life or not having any children at all.

There is some controversy regarding breast self-examination. Current medical evidence has not demonstrated that monthly self-examinations reduce breast cancer deaths. This seems counterintuitive as many women have discovered breast cancers because of a new area of breast tenderness or a palpable lump. If they had not done any examination at all, their cancers may have been discovered when much further advanced.

Some of the symptoms of breast cancer include: abnormal lymph nodes (felt as firm lumps) in the arm pits or above the collar bones, changes in the skin of the breasts (including dimpling or puckering, changes in visible veins or sores), changes in a nipple (including inversion, bleeding or discharge), a palpable lump (that may or may not be tender), or a new area of breast tenderness.

Although any of these breast symptoms will be understandably alarming, they may be due to benign causes. However, it is important to see a physician you trust to assess them appropriately.

Women with a family history of breast cancer should speak to their doctor about their personal risks. Depending on the details of that family history, some women may be eligible for specific genetic testing.

All women should talk to their family physician about breast health and the timing of the most appropriate screening tests for breast cancer.




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The Attitude of Grace: Thanks and Giving

Grace may be a prayer of thanks many of us will be saying before dinner, but it is also an attitude – a way of thinking and acting.

Thanksgiving is not just the giving of thanks. I divide it into “thanks” (or appreciation) and “giving.”

The thanks is in the appreciation of the gifts of our past, present and future. The gifts of your past have enriched your experience and shaped your growth. Think of the special people who have supported you through love, teaching and inspiration.

The gifts of the present are those that you have this day. One of the tragedies of every human life is that we don’t always recognize and appreciate the gifts that are in our hands at this moment. Both this moment and those gifts are fleeting.

The gift of the future is its promise – so rich in youth but still present in our later years and even at the end of life. This is what you give forward – the seeds you have planted, the good you have done and the love you have given. It is your gift to the world of the future. What can you give to others in the time you have left?

Thanksgiving reminds me to give. We give away . . . to others – not just the things we don’t need or can part with, but rather what is most needed by someone else. We give back . . . not just to those like our parents who have given so much to us but also to our community, to nature and to our world. We give forward . . . to our children, to the future and to others who may never be able to thank us.

The greatest gifts in our lives are not always obvious or appreciated when we have them, and they are not ours to keep. They are given in trust for us to give away, give back or give forward. And the greatest of our gifts is the love we receive and the love we express.

Grace Love

Thanksgiving: A Most Meaningful Holiday

Wine may grow in value with age, but as I age, I appreciate more the value in all things.

The celebration of Thanksgiving has become more meaningful with each passing year. It is the holiday with attitude – a decidedly positive one.

Unlike other stat holidays that are to many just a reason for a long weekend and cross border shopping, Thanksgiving asks us to pause and reflect, gather and give thanks for what we have been given. It can bring about a frame of mind that can frame our words and actions in the days that follow and possibly for the rest of the year.

Unlike Christmas where the meaning can be lost in the frenzy of feasting and shopping, Thanksgiving remains comparatively simple though much thought and love goes into the preparation of a meal to share with family and friends.

It is a reason to gather and appreciate that which we have. It turns our thoughts and actions towards the needs of others – the homeless and others who struggle to stay warm each night and to keep food on the table.

Next: Two meanings of grace. The “thanks” and the “giving” in Thanksgiving.