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Awareness Happiness Meditation Positive Potential real beauty real love Relationships stress management

My Working Summer Staycation

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What can you do when plans go awry?

Accept what you cannot change; appreciate what you have, and make the best of it.

I had the opportunity to put this into practice when I had to cancel my family vacation. Summer is usually the best time to take time off from my busy practice. Patients have fewer respiratory infections and with school out, many are on vacation themselves. To celebrate my daughter’s high school graduation, we had planned seven months ago to take her to New York and the Calgary Stampede.

But through circumstances beyond his control, my locum physician had to cancel without time to arrange a replacement. Realizing how disruptive it would be for patient care, I cancelled my trip and let my family travel without me.

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For part of my first day in an empty home, I appreciated the quiet order. Coming home after work, there were no shoes to trip over. The dishwasher was loaded the way I like it to allow for efficient unloading. There were no dishes in the sink except for my breakfast cereal bowl. I could choose what I wanted for dinner – and prepare and eat it alone.

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I made a list of things to do over the next two weeks (My wife was no longer around to write her list). Of course, the work of medical practice could consume as much as I would allow. The daily review of test results and consultation letters and making referrals consumes at least two hours after the last patient leaves the office.

After the long weekend, I worked an extra Saturday morning to reduce my patients’ wait time for appointments. I finished two medical legal reports (about 10 hours of work) on evenings and weekends. I was happy that I wasn’t out of town for the maternity and newborn care for two of my long-time patient families.

I missed my family especially on my wife and daughter’s birthdays. This was the first time I wasn’t with them on their special days. I was thankful for texting, email and facetime.

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I turned my quiet home time into a mindfulness retreat. I listened to Tara Brach’s podcasts on dharmaseed.org each morning and night and throughout the weekends. They inspired me to remain mindful at all times. I chose my thoughts and my activities.

I enjoyed being a tourist in my own town. We are lucky to live in a vacation destination for the rest of the world, and summer is a magical time with special community events every weekend.

I enjoyed Burnaby’s Canada Day concert and the awesome fireworks at Swangard Stadium. I called up my oldest friend and we met up at Deer Lake for the VSO’s Symphony in the Park. I enjoyed the live music at the Khatsalano Street Party.

I enjoyed weekend and evening cycling through busy, beautiful Central Park, and extra swims in the outdoor pool.

I cycled around my alma mater, UBC and explored the rich displays of the Museum of Anthropology. I treated my eyes and my soul to the Nitobe Memorial Garden, a uniquely beautiful Japanese garden hidden in the northwest corner of campus.

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I cycled the seawall of English Bay and Stanley Park. I must have taken over 200 photos during my two-week working staycation.

Life is never perfect and may not always go our way, but it’s still beautiful. Missing the people in our lives reminds us to appreciate them and our precious time together. Being tourists in our own town shows us the beauty around us each day.

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Awareness Compassion Happiness Love Relationships

A Hundred Days to Happiness #45: Creating More Happiness Today

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Unless you make happiness a priority, the rest of your life can take over.

As you go through this day, be mindful of your words and actions, and as you reflect on your choices, ask, “Does this contribute to the happiness of myself and others?”

When we’re busy or distracted, it’s easy to deny our impact on those around us. There are many ways to give feedback. If we aren’t mindful of our tone and choice of words, we can create more unhappiness for our loved ones, friends and peers.

If we don’t look for them, we can miss many opportunities to help and encourage the people in our lives. And even if we do see them, we don’t always follow through.

Your happiness exercise for today: Regardless of the competing priorities of your day, make it your purpose to create more happiness for yourself and others.

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Awareness Coping with Loss Forgiveness Growth Happiness Letting Go

How Do You Think About Your Past and Future? How Does It Influence Your Experience of the Present?

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At an inspiring workshop last weekend, clinical psychologist, Dr. Lee Pulos spoke about how our beliefs about the past and future influence our enjoyment of the present. He showed us how visualization of a positive future is a key to success in life.

Dr. Pulos is an expert on success. He’s presented motivational seminars to many organizations and businesses, counselled elite athletes and served as sports psychologist to world class teams.

In our conventional thinking, we see our present as the consequence of the past. That’s how most of us see reality: who we are and what we have are the products of our past experiences and actions.

He explained how the future really creates the present.

There are many potential futures. The most successful people have acquired the habit of setting ambitious goals for themselves. They visualize a positive future that is clear and compelling.

This provides a blueprint and the motivation to move towards that positive vision, and that future will become our present.

He asked us to imagine ourselves as passengers on a grand and bountiful cruise ship. On board we have a wealth of interesting people, a variety of entertainment and a vast choice of food to enjoy. We can hop off the ship at every shore and enjoy the beauty and culture of destinations around the world.

But many of us tow behind us a barge loaded with junk from the past.

The weight of that junk slows us down and prevents us from sailing forward. When we ruminate – recycling the same old thoughts about our most negative experiences, we actually spend more time on that rusty old barge of the past while we could be enjoying what is present on the grand cruise ship.

As you sail through your life, how much time do you spend enjoying cruising through the present? How much time are you spending on the rusty old barge of the past? Do you need to hop off the barge, cut off the line and set free the old useless junk of the past? That can be one way to set your self free to enjoy more fully the present.

Are there negative experiences in the past you keep rehashing? By replaying the same scenes over and over again, we bring the past back into the present. It becomes a habit of thought that prevents you from seeing yourself, others and your world any differently. It contracts your vision and therefore limits your capacity for happiness and success.

Too often we replay negative soundtracks from the past. Listening to the oldies is nice if that puts you in a positive mood, but too often the negative words you heard in the past can become the monologue of negative self-talk in the present, feeding feelings of misery, inadequacy, victimhood and anger. None of this enriches your present or empowers you to work for a better future.

You can’t change the past, but you can choose your thoughts – how you think of your past and how much time you choose to spend there while actually living in the present. Look around and enjoy what is good and be mindful and kind to the people in your life today before they drift off into your past.

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Awareness Happiness Positive Change Positive Potential Uncategorized

A Hundred Days to Happiness #27: Am I moving closer or further?

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“Happiness,” said Gandhi, “is when what you say and what you do are aligned with what you believe in.” To be truly happy we must know our deepest values, discover our life’s purpose, and live accordingly.

We are all imperfectly human and we all fall short of our own ideals, and an important part of finding peace and being happy in this world is to accept those imperfections in ourselves and others.

Like life itself, in spite of imperfection, we are still beautiful and worthy of love and happiness.

When I look back, the times in my own life when I felt most unhappy were not due to the circumstances of life or the actions of others. Though I may have blamed them at the time, my happiness was not caused by bad luck, injustice or the ill will of others in my life.

The greatest unhappiness was when I didn’t act according to my deepest values – when I could have said the right thing but didn’t or when I could have made a big difference but didn’t. These were the times when I failed to achieve my potential – when I failed to seize the day and instead let opportunities slip away.

Now don’t be down on yourself just because you’ve done the same thing; we all have. It’s part of being human. We go about our days semiconscious and distracted by competing priorities. Our personal values compete with those around us, and even in our own minds, consciously and subconsciously, we have opposing motivations.

This happens so often without our awareness that we sometimes don’t realize why we may be feeling unhappy even when – for the moment – things seem to be going well on the surface. But when there is dissonance between what we say and do and what we truly believe in, we cannot shake a gnawing unease.

So it’s helpful to reflect on your greatest values and to discover your calling in life. Once you have this foundation, it can be the measure of your words and actions each day.

I practice meditation through mindful living. At times throughout the day, I pause and reflect on my inner and outer activity, asking “What am I feeling? What am I thinking? What am I doing?”

And I measure the integrity of my activity at the moment by asking, “Am I moving closer or further from my ideals, my calling and my deepest beliefs.”

This serves as a correction when I’ve strayed, and an affirmation when I’m fully aligned.

Your happiness exercise for today: Reflect upon your deepest values and your calling. Throughout the day, ask yourself, “Am I moving closer or further?”

At any time you must make a difficult decision or find yourself where you didn’t expect to be, ask the same question, “Am I moving closer or further?”  The solution may be the answer to the question, “What will bring me back into alignment with my true self and my calling?”

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Awareness Compassion Coping with Loss Emotions Positive Potential Purpose Relationships

#13 Life is a box of Purdy’s chocolates . . .

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At dinner time, when I would ask my 10-year-old daughter how her day went, she’d usually answer, “Good!” and then tell me all the fun and interesting things she did. My 14-year-old son almost always answered, “Bad” and when I asked what went wrong, he’d say, “Everything.” My 16-year-old invariably answered, “Good” but sometimes when I asked, “What was good about it?” he’d say, “Nothing.”  I suspected this was his strategy for avoiding more questions.

We all have our good and bad days. People with chronic conditions such as fibromyalgia may have good days when energy is good and pain is manageable or bad days when it’s hard just to get out of bed.

Each day, good and bad things can happen to us. To borrow from Forrest Gump, life is like a box of Purdy’s chocolates to a person allergic to peanuts and no picture guide. Each day can bring unexpected pleasure, pain or disaster.

Of course, disaster and tragedy can ruin a day. But lesser negative events don’t necessarily have to turn a whole day bad. I ask my kids (and my wife) to tell me the good things about the day – in a variation of my count your blessings exercise. I keep fishing for them to mention their dad.

If they can’t think of anything positive, I ask them what good thing they did for someone else. This is a not so subtle hint on how to make tomorrow a better day:  take action and make it better for others.

When one of my kids had a tough day, we would talk about what happened. Sadness and stress can’t be whistled away with an upbeat song. Feelings always need to be acknowledged as in country music. Then, like jazz musicians, we can look at our part in how things turned out and how, as individuals or as a group, we can improvise and harmonize.

Bad things happen to all of us. Accidents happen, our stuff is lost or stolen, others are rude or angry with us, we can be rude or angry, we all get sick, and we all will die.

We also get good luck, green lights, free parking, healthy days, and life today. With this life we feel the contrasts that make it all stimulating and worthwhile.

The pain in life enhances the pleasure. An ice-cold drink is refreshing after mowing the lawn on a sweltering August day. A hot chocolate is perfect on an icy, winter morning. My brother-in-law, Wayne enjoys relaxing with a Coke and a magazine after completing a big weekend project.

The most grouchy, grumpy, self-centred and selfish make me appreciate all the more the sweet, thoughtful and generous people I meet. In a world of people who are minding their own business, I love those who make it their business to make the world a little warmer and kinder for others.

Although I appreciate those who are having a bad day and making bad days for others, I live for those special people who sparkle. They let the light in on our dark, drizzly days and shine it on the rest of the world.

Let’s count our blessings. Be thankful for that person who’s giving you a hard time; they’ll make everyone else you meet seem so much nicer, and appreciate the special people who make your day better.

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Awareness Friendship Grace Happiness Love Meditation real beauty real love Relationships Wisdom

#7 The Three Gifts

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Each morning before rising, I open my mind with a meditation of gratitude for the gifts of a new day. There are three gifts that we are each given: the gift of place, the gift of person and the gift of presence.

These gifts are not meant to be clung to, put on a mantle or stashed away. They are ephemeral and precious. They must be appreciated right now for they are not ours to keep. We are entrusted with them this day and perhaps this day alone.

The Gift of Place This is where you are in life right now. You may be a child, a teen or an adult; at the beginning, middle or end of life. You may be pondering your choices for a vast, unknown future; beginning a course of study; starting a new job, considering a change or nearing retirement.

Wherever you may be in life, there’s no other time like it. In spite of the challenges facing you today, appreciate what you have right now. This may be the stuff that nostalgia is made of.

To embrace the gift of place is to see what is before you at this time and to appreciate what you have in your life this day. Look around you. Though all may not seem perfect, much of what you see today may be gone tomorrow.

In youth, we have energy, dreams and enthusiasm, but we lack experience, wisdom and money. As adults, we learn from life experience, make a living and may finally be able to do the things we’ve dreamed of, but we may lack the health and vigour to live those dreams. Parents are often too stressed and overworked to enjoy their children as much as they would wish; when they finally have the time, those children may have grown up and moved on to their own independent and busy lives.

The Gift of Person These are the people in your life today. Just as a man can be adrift in the ocean and die of thirst, we can be surrounded by people yet feel alone. To live fully, we must feel connected; the deeper our connections, the greater the satisfaction.

It’s too easy to take others for granted especially those we see every day. Think of the people in your life today. Who would you miss if you were never to see one another again? Treat them accordingly – with respect, affection and joy.

There are special people in my life with whom I can’t help from smiling whenever we meet. I know I would miss them dearly when life separates us as it inevitably will. The most precious gifts in life are not flowers, metals or jewels; they are the special people who come into our lives, bring joy and enrich our experiences but must eventually say good-bye.

I no longer have my mother in this world, but I do have my father, sister and brother; my wife and children; my extended family and my friends. Whenever I feel a pang of irritation or start to take them for granted, I remember how precious each is to me.

The Gift of Presence When our names were called during roll call in school, each of us would pipe up, “Present!” In both school and life, we may be physically present but without our hearts and minds fully engaged.

The gift of presence is the ability to master our conscious awareness of life’s experience; that is, being more fully awake, in touch and involved in the very experience of our lives today. As we explored in my previous article on meditation, we exist on many levels. To be fully present is to know our own thoughts and feelings, see our world with clarity and act with passion and deliberation. It is to be open to the experience of wonder.

So seize this day, and enjoy the ephemeral gifts of place, person and presence.

Ready to take a fresh look at life, question self-limiting beliefs and discover enduring happiness? Join me in “A Hundred Days to Happiness.” Since February 1st, I’ve been sharing insights I’ve learned from my patients, friends and family. Each day, I will post one new insight on facebook.com/davidicus.wong, twitter.com/DrDavidicusWong and my blog, davidicuswong.wordpress.com.

 

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Awareness Empowering Healthcare Healthy Living patient-doctor relationship Preventive Health

What raises your doctor’s heart rate? Alarm symptoms!

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Many doctors’ offices have a litany of posters lining their reception and examining rooms – so many in fact that the average reader would have difficulty discerning what is most important.

For this reason, I prefer to keep my posters to the essential.

For the past 10 years, each of my examination rooms has a single poster highlighting alarm symptoms. It summarizes the symptoms that might indicate a serious medical condition requiring immediate attention.

All family doctors have had patients who – after presenting a long list of problems that we do our best to address completely – add on an alarm symptom just as they are leaving.

“By the way, doctor, I’ve been getting this chest pain every time I exercise . . .”

This is when the doctor’s heart rate goes up perhaps along with blood pressure, but I can’t be sure of the latter because I’ve never checked my own pressure when I’m trying to help a patient.

The above example suggests angina – chest pain or pressure (that may also be experienced in the throat or either arm) provoked by exercise or anxiety and relieved by rest. It could be a sign of ischemic heart disease – where a major artery supplying cardiac muscle is critically narrowed.

Obviously, serious symptoms must be dealt with right away. The doctor will need to take a detailed history, complete a careful examination and propose investigations and treatment.

Here is my list of alarm symptoms.

  1. PAIN: pain that is unexplained, severe, colicky, electrical or persistent; chest pain, especially if it is squeezing or associated with sweating, nausea or radiation into the neck or arm; bone pain, especially if it is unremitting and disturbs sleep.
  2. LOSS OF FUNCTION: unexplained changes in speech, memory, emotions, swallowing, bowel movements, urination, heart rhythm, vision, hearing, balance, coordination, sensation or muscle function.
  3. CONSTITUTIONAL: unexplained sudden or progressive changes in weight, body temperature, energy, appetite, thirst, leg swelling and exercise tolerance.
  4. GROWTHS: new or growing lumps felt in the skin, mouth, muscle, breast or scrotum; lymph nodes felt around the neck and under the arms; skin changes, including ugly moles, persistent scabs or sores.
  5. BLEEDING: in urine, sputum, stools (which can appear tarry black with bleeding peptic ulcers) or vomit. Nosebleeds that are recurrent or prolonged require medical attention.

Many may think that it’s common sense to seek immediate medical attention with these symptoms.

One of my patients failed to report blood in his urine for over one year. By then, he presented with the behavioural symptoms of cancer that had metastasized from his bladder to his brain.

More recently, an elderly patient reported a 50 lb weight loss and progressive difficulty swallowing. Although they began 5 months earlier, he did not report these symptoms of stomach cancer until now.

Health literacy varies widely in our diverse society. We each have different personal alarm settings. Intelligent people may ignore worrisome symptoms because of their fears.

My intention is not to raise anxiety. Much of the time, the above alarm symptoms have innocent causes. However, they may also be harbingers of serious conditions, including heart attacks, strokes and cancer.

They therefore require timely medical attention. The poster in my office requests my patients to bring these symptoms to my attention at the beginning of a visit. An alarm symptom may require extra time to evaluate and we may need to postpone dealing with less serious problems.

If you are having symptoms of a heart attack or stroke, don’t wait for a doctor’s appointment . . . or even a taxi. Call 911.

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Awareness Compassion Emotions Exercise Friendship Growth Happiness Healthy Living Love patient-doctor relationship Physical Activity Positive Potential Preventive Health Relationships Wisdom

Don’t Live on the Surface of Life

How much do we live on the surface of life?

Sometimes life on the surface seems easier.

Health care on the surface would go for the quick fix. Instead of going to the trouble of making an appointment – or even establishing a long-term relationship – with a family physician, why not just go to a walk-in clinic?

You could just treat the problems that pop up as quickly as you can with a prescription rather than the commitment and work of lifestyle changes. You could expect a professional to solve all your problems rather than learning what you need to do to prevent disease, promote well-being and actively self-manage chronic conditions.

And when you’re feeling old before your time – from the accumulated effects of smoking, drinking, mood-altering drugs, inadequate rest, unhealthy eating and physical inactivity, you could go for the quick cosmetic fix of a tummy tuck, facelift, Botox or fillers.

Exercise on the surface would be similar.

You’d just do what it takes to look better. A young man may focus on muscle building without the cardio, balance and flexibility of more rounded exercise regimes. He may even take the shortcuts of steroids to look better on the surface at the cost of his long-term health.

Dieting on the surface targets weight loss without providing our bodies with sufficient nutrition. We might choose a high-caffeine energy drink to make up for a good night’s sleep.

Relationships on the surface seem simpler. The focus is fun. All of our friends – even our closest – would be facebook friends with a complete preoccupation with appearances.

We’d judge others by the way they look.

We wouldn’t share our heartaches or our deepest dreams. We wouldn’t go out our way to show our commitment or our feelings. We wouldn’t demand the best of one another and say what needs to be said.

Knowing ourselves on the surface would be too simple. We would react and give in to the feelings of the moment, seek to satisfy our cravings and avoid discomfort. We wouldn’t reflect on the origins of our emotions, master them and learn from our mistakes. We wouldn’t grow.

Going to school and work on the surface would take less effort. We’d just be putting in the time day after day. We’d wait for the bell to ring and for the weekend to start. We would do the bare minimum to get by, and we’d get back exactly what we put in.

Living our lives in this world on the surface would be simpler but empty. We would mind our own business, not giving out, away or forward. And when we die, our lives would end having not touched the lives of others. We would have existed but not really lived, enjoyed the depths of human experience or approached our personal potentials. No one would have really known us – not even ourselves.

From this moment on, don’t live your life on the surface.

Dive in . . . live deeply, and love completely.

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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.

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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.