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Burnaby Division of Family Practice Compassion Empowering Healthcare empowering patients Growth Love Positive Change Positive Potential Purpose Relationships Self-care Wisdom Your Calling

Your Positive Potential: Notes from my keynote for Inspiration Day

inspiration-day

Saturday, February 22nd, 2020 was Inspiration Day at Century House in New Westminster. Gracious members of the audience requested my speaking notes. Here they are.

I began with a brief introduction to my Empowering Patients public education program sponsored by the Burnaby Division of Family Practice. The purpose of my series of workshops, videos, posters and key points handouts is to provide everyone in our community with unbiased health and wellness information essential to live healthy, happy lives.

With respect to the things within your control, the best predictor of your future health are the habits you practice today.

Real healthcare is self-care as it is individuals – not professional healthcare providers – who provide over 90% of their healthcare.

The four foundations of self-care are: 1. what you eat (what you put into your body); 2. what you do (physical activity and rest); 3. how you feel (emotional wellbeing), and 4. how you connect (healthy relationships).

These are all key topics of my Empowering Patients talks. The slides and handouts are available in addition to videos on the public website for the Burnaby Division of Family Practice. https://www.divisionsbc.ca/burnaby/for-patients/empowering-patients

Upcoming 2020 Health Talks

Everyone is welcome to attend these no-cost talks, however registration is required as space is limited.


March 12, 7:00 – 8:30 PM – ‘Emotional Wellness’
Brentwood Community Resource Centre, 2055 Rosser Avenue, Burnaby
CLICK HERE to register.


March 31, 7:00 – 8:30 PM‘The Positive Potential of our Relationships’
Bonsor Recreation Complex, 6550 Bonsor Avenue, Burnaby
CLICK HERE to register.


April 8, 7:00 – 8:30 PM ‘Healthy Eating’
McGill Public Library, 4595 Albert Street, Burnaby
CLICK HERE to register.


May 14, 6:00 – 6:45 PM – ‘Healthy Physical Activity’ & Walk With Your Doc
Confederation Seniors Centre (4585 Albert Street, Burnaby)
CLICK HERE to register.


For more information, check out all Empowering Patients materials.

THE POWER OF OUR STORIES

How we tell our stories affects how how we experience our lives.

HOW OUR STORIES CAN LIMIT US

The helplessness of the victim can feed anxiety.

If we can’t let go of anger, what we hold continues to harm us.

Remembering only loss and surrendering to hopelessness begets depression

With an attitude of entitlement, you will never be satisfied.

THE DEFAULT MODE NETWORK is the brain on autopilot creating stories. This typically happens when we are daydreaming, neither focussed on a specific task nor meditating. We can adopt unquestioned assumptions and core beliefs – many of them limiting beliefs, such as: “I have to be perfect to be loved.” “I can’t trust anyone.” “Life is unfair.” “I’m not good enough.” “I don’t deserve success, happiness or love.” “I am powerless.”

COGNITIVE BIASES are unconscious cognitive shortcuts with which we misinterpret reality. One such bias is the negativity bias. We notice more of what is wrong than what is right – with our partners, our situation and ourselves. To counter the negativity bias, we need to see (and hear) FIVE positives for every negative. This is a key principle for maintaining positivity in your most significant relationships and in creating a happy home for our children.

Actively see the positive in your life by the daily practice of gratitude. I start each day – before I even get out of bed, with a prayer of thankfulness for all the blessings in my life, beginning with the person lying next to me: my wife. This attitude primes the pump for noticing the positive aspects of all that I will see throughout the day. By days end, when I will reflect on the day with another prayer of thankfulness, my cup is overflowing.

I teach quality improvement to my physician colleagues to improve patient safety and health outcomes. When problems arise, we do a root cause analysis. This might include using the Five Whys. Ask at least 5 whys to get beyond the proximate or superficial causes of problems to get to the root cause.

I applied the Five Whys to every problem I could think of and found a single root cause for every problem in the world: a false sense of self.

We live with the illusion of separateness . . . and a life of competition.

There is the illusion of the Other . . . that engenders prejudice based on colour, gender, age, body shape, clothing, faith, language, accents and customs. The other may appear strange, different, less than, threatening or dangerous.

We went through an exercise in compassion to dissolve this false separation. I asked audience members to look at a person directly across the table from them. They were to look into each other’s eyes – not speak – but rather listen to these words. This person was once a baby, loves and held in the arms of parents . . .  just like you.

This person was once a child who laughed and cried, with big hopes and dreams . . . just like you.

This person has felt alone and sad, heartbroken and disappointed . . . just like you.

This person just wants to be happy . . . just like you.

This person needs to be loved . . . just like you.

The inescapable truth: you are not a separate, independent individual. You are a global citizen interdependent with every other person on this planet. Your wellbeing is dependent on the wellbeing of others.

We are all a part of a greater whole, members of a family, supported by a network of friends, neighbours and peers.

We are part of a community, citizens of this country and members of humankind, connected to all living things, a part of nature and this planet.

This is your true identity.

You belong here.

Another exercise to foster unconditional love. Imagine in front of you, one whom you love naturally and easily. Someone who always brings warmth to your heart and a smile to your face.

Say these words to them: May you be happy, healthy, peaceful and safe.

Now imagine someone you have had a disagreement with in the past week.

And say those same words: May you be happy, healthy, peaceful and safe.

The big problems of our society and the world will never be solved by people looking out for themselves. When we realize our interdependence and connection with the global community and all life on this planet, we will see the positive evolution of humanity and life on Earth.

It begins with us.

Together let us be the change we wish to see.

What is your story?

Engaging with Life and Coping with Change

The reality of change. Change is the nature of all things. It is our very nature. It is futile to pursue and cling to that which does not last. Nothing lasts.

We must appreciate what we have when we have it.

Every gift is not ours to hold forever. We must love and appreciate others while we can and let go when we need to. Accept what you cannot change. Accept responsibility to change what you can.

Be an Agent of Positive Change

Be dynamically response to change. Seek out the positive potential of each moment. Be responsive not reactive.

The Science of Neuroplasticity

Though our habits of thought and behaviour seem hardwired, with effort and repetition, we can transform our own minds. Donald Hebb, Canadian neuropsychologist said, “Neurons that fire together wire together.” this is how we can adapt to our changing world. You can retell your life story . . . and see beyond the illusion of a separate smaller self.

Evolving into Our Positive Potential

Discovering your potential in life. Your calling is the intersection of four circles: your passions, your talents, your values and the needs of the world.

Joseph Campbell said, “Follow your bliss.” When you listen to life and rise up to meet the challenge, you will find meaning and purpose.

Heed the call which may change at different stages of your life. There is a potivie potential to be realized in each day. We must see, feel and act.

We are all a part of the Love Cycle. In our lives, we receive love in many forms. We give it forward. The giving of love does not diminish us but connects us and makes us stronger.

At the end of each day . . . and at the end of this life, you don’t want to regret having not given enough or loved enough. The greatest tragedy in life is that we may die not knowing how much we were loved.

Life is lived fully by loving without limit, giving all you’ve got and holding nothing back.

We are all human and imperfect but still deserving of love, beautiful and able to love.

You ARE good enough.

You ARE worthy of love.

You DESERVE to be happy.

You are BEAUTIFUL just as you are.

You belong here.

We are all interconnected in the Cycle of Love. When we realize our interdependence and connection with the global community and all life on this planet, we will see the positive evolution of humanity and life on Earth.

It begins with us.

We are part of a greater whole.

We are all Agents of Positive Change.

You are greater than you think. We can make a difference.

Together let us be the change we wish to see.

Dr. Davidicus Wong is a physician and writer. 

Tapestry Talk

Categories
Growth Happiness Love Parenting The Qualities of a Child

The Privilege and Joy of Parenting

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Fathers Day is not just a day to honour our dads (My own dad is my role model for kindness, generosity and resilience); it’s a time to remember the privilege and joy of being a parent.

This month, as my son turns 27, I recall that I was just three years older, when he came into this world and into our lives. He was due on our 3rdanniversary but came two days early. (I was looking up the traditional present for a 30thanniversary. Not silver, gold or diamonds but rather a medal my wife deserves . . . for all the times I’ve come home late for dinner or stepped out of social events to attend patients in hospital).

Though I was in the early years of my practice, I had already delivered hundreds of babies. Nearly three decades later, each birth seems no less transcendent; I appreciate the privilege of being a family physician and to be present during the spiritual milestones of my patients’ lives.

As new parents, our lives and identities were transformed much as they did with marriage. We were no longer just individuals or a couple, living only for ourselves. In a magical moment, we became parents . . . and a family, living beyond our own self-interests.

We were responsible for all of the needs of a precious child.

Being a parent is the greatest of gifts. From the moment of his birth, my life has been infused with new levels of joy, enhancing my experience of everyday life. I would come to see life through my son’s wide and curious eyes. The world was again teeming with wonder and adventure.

I became more mindful and present. Those ordinary parent-child activities – reading and drawing together, playing in the park, building sandcastles, going to the Vancouver Aquarium, riding the Stanley Park train, swimming and learning to ride a bike – were extraordinary. They remain vivid, palpable memories today.

We grow too as our children grow up. We learn patience, acceptance and most importantly unconditional love. We are given the honour to give forward the legacy of love we have received from our own parents.

And being loved by our children, motivates us to be our best selves that we may be exemplary role models and worthy of their love.

This Fathers Day, we will celebrate and thank our fathers – and graciously appreciate the joy and privilege of being parents.

 

Categories
Compassion Growth Happiness Healthy Living Positive Change Positive Potential Purpose

Your Story and How You See Yourself: Implications for Personal (and Global) Wellbeing

 

Tapestry Talk

On Friday, April 7th, 2017 at 7 pm, I’ll be speaking at the Vancouver Convention Centre East, 999 Canada Place in Vancouver as part of the Tapestry Foundation for Health Care’s public presentation series. My topic: Going Beyond Old Stories – Exploring, Engaging and Evolving into Our Positive Potentials.

I’ll talk about exploring your personal story and the stories of others, engaging in the understanding and unfolding of your life story, and how our understanding of self, others and life can evolve as we transform our selves and our world towards our positive potentials. See more at http://www.tapestryfoundation.ca

One of the key determinants of physical and emotional health – and therefore, happiness itself – is our sense of belonging – our connection with our community.

Yet most of us go through our lives as distinctly separate individuals. Siblings compete with one another (as do spouses). We begin our lives in school focused on individual achievement (or failure). In sports, we compete with an “us versus them” mindset.

Competition spreads to every part of adult life. We compete for jobs to earn more and get ahead. We compete for our homes. We fight traffic in our daily commutes. What is traffic? Other people.

We compete as we compare ourselves with others, and we judge others – just as we know others are judging us – by the clothes we wear, the cars we drive and the symbolic prestige of particular mundane items of utility – phones, shoes, purses and watches.

When we follow this mainstream way of thinking, the natural conclusion is we all lose. By the end of this life, you will lose all you have gained. Everything you have built will one day be gone, and in a few generations, your name will be forgotten. What’s the point of it all?

How you tell your personal story – how you see yourself and how you relate to other people and the rest of the world – impacts your emotional wellbeing and your capacity for enduring happiness.

The inescapable truth is this: you are not a separate, independent individual; you are a global citizen interdependent with every other person on this planet. Your wellbeing is dependent on the wellbeing of others.

The “me against the world” and “us versus them” story disconnects us from others and dehumanizes them; they become objects in the way or objects to be used. In reality, we have more in common with every other being on this planet than we realize.

We each have hopes and dreams, pain and pleasure, joys and sorrows. We experience the same range of emotions and we are all subject to illness, misfortune, aging and death. We can unconsciously adopt maladaptive core beliefs and get stuck in narrowed points of view, yet we each have the capacity to change and grow.

This recognition can awaken compassion. We share our vulnerability, and we share our responsibility.

The big problems of our society and the world will never be solved by people – and countries – looking out for themselves. As long as we see one another as separate and competing individuals, we will continue to see abuse, crime, homelessness, hunger, terrorism and war.

When more of us realize our interdependence and connection with the global community and all life on this planet, we will see the positive evolution of humanity and life on Earth. It begins with you. Together let us be the change we wish to see.

On Friday, April 7th, 2017 at 7 pm, I’ll be speaking at the Vancouver Convention Centre East, 999 Canada Place in Vancouver as part of the Tapestry Foundation for Health Care’s public presentation series. My topic: Going Beyond Old Stories – Exploring, Engaging and Evolving into Our Positive Potentials.

I’ll talk about exploring your personal story and the stories of others, engaging in the understanding and unfolding of your life story, and how our understanding of self, others and life can evolve as we transform our selves and our world towards our positive potentials. See more at http://www.tapestryfoundation.ca

Categories
Emotions Empowering Healthcare Growth Happiness Healthy Living Positive Change Positive Potential Purpose Self-care Your Calling Your Goals

Your Happiness and the Value of Goals

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The stage of the musical, Frozen at Disney’s California Adventure in Anaheim, California.

It’s the time of the year when I’ll be expecting patients coming in with new goals to improve their health. Many will be keen on starting a new exercise routine, eating a healthier diet, reducing alcohol or quitting smoking.

But for the rest of us, it will be business as usual. Most of the patients I care for will present one or more problems to be diagnosed, investigated or treated. These could be physical symptoms, relationship difficulties or challenges in their life circumstances.

Our brains are attuned to identifying problems. We see more of what’s wrong than what’s right. This negativity bias is part of our evolution. Our ancestors survived because they were able to detect problems and dangers early.

For most people today, our negativity bias is not such an advantage. In fact, it can lead to dissatisfaction and conflict in our relationships. Who wants to live with someone who can’t get anything right, and who can live with one who always finds fault?

Whereas appreciation and gratitude bring greater satisfaction and happiness, seeing the cup half full brings misery.

All of us want to be happy, but most of us look for it in the wrong places.

If your happiness depends on getting everything you want you may never find it or you won’t be able to keep it. The trick is to be happy with what you have and engaging with the world to achieve your positive potential.

In part, it is a way of being and seeing – being present and seeing with appreciation even that which does not last.

Consider the quick passage of the past year; life and all that we experience are fast and fleeting. Opportunities arise and pass away, and so do people, including our selves and those we love.

I love the work I do, helping my patients solve their problems, but my patients and I are most engaged when we turn those problems into goals. Problems can make us feel like helpless victims of life. When we transform them into our personal goals, instead of running from or struggling against what we don’t want, we move towards what we envision.

When a patient is struggling with anxiety, I may ask, “What is your goal? What does happiness look like to you?” “Is it seeing yourself managing and mastering the challenges of each day?” “Is it experiencing a sense of abiding peace and calm?”

When one is depressed, the goal may be to see one’s self and life with acceptance and gratitude, and to be engaged in meaningful activity.

Consider your values and your greatest virtues, and set your goals. Visualize with all your senses what success and happiness look like. Create a plan of action to get from here to there, and take at least one firm step each day in the direction of happiness.

As part of the Burnaby Division of Family Practice’s Empowering Patients I’ll be presenting a free talk on “Emotional Wellbeing” at 7 pm on Wednesday, January 11th, 2017 at the Confederation Community Centre in North Burnaby. Everyone of any age is welcome to attend. Please preregister by calling Leona Cullen at (604) 807-2372 or e-mail lcullen@divisionsbc.ca.

 

 

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Compassion Friendship Growth Happiness Love Parenting Positive Potential real beauty real love Relationships

The Game Changer in Life: Seeing the Best in You

Central Park Lake 1

I confess that whenever I came across a green bag labeled for donation after my children had cleaned their rooms, I would rummage through it.

There I might find books and collectible items I thought they would treasure forever. After all, I had spent many hours finding just the right birthday or Christmas gifts at each stage of their lives.

Over time, I realized that such material things (though inspired by love) are not made to last forever nor should any of us cling to them. Kids grow up and outgrow them all.

The best gifts we can give our children are those they will keep forever.

A priceless gift my parents gave me continues to enrich my life, and I’ve done my best to pass it on to my children. Their gift was to always see (and expect) the best in me.

Though my parents were very thoughtful and deliberate in the decisions they made, I suspect that the ability to see the best in brother, sister and myself was a natural byproduct of their love for us.

 

We were each unique and as flawed as any other kids. They would give us feedback and correction when we could do better, but they always gave encouragement and praise when we did our best. Much more than looking for what’s wrong in us, they were always looking for what was good.

That simple but profound view – to the see the best in others – is a game changer in everyday life.

More often, we live on the surface of society and when looking at others, stop only on the outer surface. We judge – and then behave – based on appearances, gender, dress or disability, race and roles. We make sweeping judgments, and we forget that we see only glimpses of whole people.

We forget that every person that we pass on the street, sit beside on the bus, and interact with in the course of our daily lives is a complete and complex individual.

Every one of us has hopes and dreams, pain and disappointment. Everyone is someone’s friend or cousin, sibling or parent. When we remember this, we are more open to compassion and it becomes more natural to treat others with kindness and understanding.

Consider this when you disregard or ignore another human being or when you immediately dislike someone you don’t even know. We all have good and bad days, but we can always make someone else’s day better.

With those we live and work with, we can get caught up in our quirky habits and differences. We can take one another for granted and keep a running tally of what we don’t like about each other. One of the secrets of a happy marriage is to deliberately make more positive than negative comments about your partner. It reminds us to look for and express the best in the other, who in turn feels more appreciated.

The teachers who see the best in their students can inspire them to work harder and achieve their best. The manager who sees the qualities of each team member will lead a productive and positive team.

The doctors who can help their patients see themselves as agents of positive change in their own lives will guide them towards their potential for wellbeing.

Today, take a good deep look into the mirror and in every face you meet. See the best in everyone.

Categories
Compassion Coping with Loss Empathy Forgiveness Friendship Grace Growth Happiness Letting Go Love

The gifts that give back

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7 Mantras (Davidicus Wong)

At one time or another, we all think about ourselves when we give to others.

That’s perfectly fine when your gift is a shared experience: a nice meal, a concert or a movie. You’re celebrating your relationship and saying “I love you so much that I want to enjoy some special time together.”

Some gifts are thinly veiled gifts to your self. Examples among spouses abound. Consider the husband who buys a big screen TV for his wife a week before Valentine’s so that they can enjoy watching the Super Bowl together. Have you ever received a gift that someone else uses more than you?

When I was 14, I gave my brother a record album that I liked myself. He immediately noted that I would be enjoying the music as much as he so I exchanged it for something he really liked (that I couldn’t use).

There are three virtues that I call “double blessing”: forgiveness, gratitude and generosity. They are two-way gifts – gifts that give back. They benefit the giver as well as the receiver. They strengthen our relationships, and they nourish our souls.

Forgiving

Shakespeare said it best in The Merchant of Venice:

The quality of mercy is not strained.

It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven

Upon the place beneath; it is twice blest;

It blesseth him that gives and him that takes.

Sometimes we are loath to forgive someone who has hurt us. It is especially difficult if that person’s actions have caused great suffering, were done with ill intent and with no remorse.

To forgive may feel like you’re letting the other off the hook, giving something up or diminishing yourself, but what you give up and lighten may be a load that has been weighing you down and holding you back.

If you’ve travelled by plane recently, you’ve noticed that most passengers are maximizing their carry on luggage, stuffing them under seats and overhead. This makes for an even more uncomfortable flight for themselves and their neighbours.

We weigh ourselves down by carrying into each new day the baggage of our past: resentments, prejudices, insults and slights. They hold us back from stepping lightly, moving forward and welcoming new experiences.

Forgiveness isn’t so much letting someone else off the hook as it is unhooking you from the load you’ve been towing. You are the one who is freed.

Appreciation

I taught my children that two of the most important prayers are those of gratitude at the dawn of each day and at dusk. When we frame the day counting our blessings, we nurture both optimism and happiness. We greet a new day with a cup half full and go to bed, with a cup overflowing.

But we can do much more than just counting our blessings and acknowledging the gifts of the day. We can strengthen our relationships and spread happiness by thanking those who have helped us.

We all need to feel appreciated and to know that we make a difference to the people around us. If someone has touched you and made your life better, thank them. Don’t take anyone for granted. Don’t miss a day’s opportunities to express appreciation and to make a difference. All is fleeting.

Generosity

Each day you can see people in need, and you can help in ways big and small.

You don’t have to be rich to enrich your own day and make a positive difference. You can make someone’s day with an act of kindness, a sincere complement, a helping hand, encouragement and appreciation.

When we give freely and without expectation, we are nurturing our own capacity for unconditional love. We are each beneficiaries of kindness and love from many people throughout our lives: teachers, coaches, health care providers, family, friends and benevolent strangers. We cannot give back all that we’ve received, but we can give that love forward.

It is the greatest re-gift.

Categories
Burnaby Division of Family Practice Coping with Loss Emotions Friendship Growth Happiness Letting Go Love Positive Potential Relationships Your Goals

Bring Your Best to a New Year

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As we grow older, each year seems to pass more quickly.

When I was five years old, a summer seemed to last a year; now each season passes in a flash. As we accumulate years in age, each year, month, week and day becomes a relatively smaller proportion of the time we have experienced. And maybe we’re not as attentive.

Yet with each New Year as I review the old calendar, I am always surprised with what has happened in the span of just one year. The media recapitulates the big world events with retrospective spins, but what matters most to you and me are our personal experiences.

There were birthdays, anniversaries and many other celebrations; time spent with family and friends; plays and musicals seen with my wife.

There were hard times too. I looked after two dear patients who died from the most aggressive cancers. Though palliative care is a special opportunity to give my best in the worst situations and care for a whole family when they need it the most, each visit to home and hospice takes its toll. I die a little with each death.

Last year, my wonderful Aunt Cecile passed away in hospice. Though we miss her deeply, we were fortunate to have had the time to express our love and say goodbye.

There were changes in our relationships: meeting some for the first time; saying farewell to others; a deepening of some friendships; a drifting apart with others.

Taking stock of the old year is practice for looking back at one’s life.

Before moving on, I ask, “What am I most grateful for?”

I reflect on the good fortune not just the bad; the wonderful, kind actions of others; my gracious patients who entrust me with their care; my colleagues who support me in our shared calling; the many good people I have worked with to improve the health of our community; my best friends, and my family.

What have I survived? How have I been helped? How have I helped others? What have I learned? How have I grown? The answers are measures of a year and of life.

Entering this New Year, what will we do differently? What activities should we do more of? What should we reduce? What should we cut out all together? What can we create?

This life and each moment are precious. We have nothing to waste.

This year, I’ll be continuing my work with the Burnaby Division of Family Practice in our free public health lectures.

On Friday, January 29th at 7 p.m., I’ll be speaking on “What You Should Know About High Blood Pressure” at the Confederation Community Centre at 4585 Albert Street in North Burnaby (near the Eileen Dailly Pool and McGill library). Register online with lcullen@divisionsbc.ca or call Leona at (604) 259-4450.

Davidicus Wong is a family physician and his Healthwise columns appear regularly in this paper. For more on achieving your positive potential in health, see his website at www.davidicuswong.wordpress.com.

Categories
Coping with Loss Empowering Healthcare Grace Growth Happiness Healthy Living Letting Go

Write Your Own Life Story

Belle

As children, we are asked, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” and when we are young, we make our plans. Life intervenes.

People come and go into our lives; relationships change and end.

We make decisions based on who we are and what we know at the time we make them, but we cannot always foresee the consequences. Accidents happen, and illness arises.

Change is constant, unremitting and unavoidable – just like aging, but unlike aging, it is not so predictable. Many young adults see the randomness in their lives, and for many, this is discouraging.

Some of my patients with the wisdom of years look back on their lives with a different view. Though even more people have entered and exited their lives, which have taken ever more unpredictable turns, they discover greater meaning.

Upon thoughtful review, the events of our lives fall into place and create a coherent narrative. Seemingly random events, meetings and even difficulties, take on greater meaning as they led to the lives were meant to live.

I chose the specialty of Family Practice – or it chose me, I simply answered its call – when I fell in love with the stories shared by patients. As medical students, when we take a history, we learn about family relationships, the pivotal points in every life, the triumphs, the tragedies and the disasters; and ultimately, how each person made sense of the unfolding of their lives.

Most people have to rely on reality TV, soap operas and romance novels to be privy to the intimate details of other people’s lives. With deep listening to real life stories, we learn empathy. Understanding the suffering that others endure, we develop compassion.

In an English Literature course, my professor told us that a comedy typically ends with a marriage and a tragedy with a funeral. If this was the case with real life, every one of our lives is ultimately a tragedy, and indeed that’s how a lot of people see their lives: after a certain age – 40, 50 or 60 – it’s a downhill ride to senescence.

I soon recognized that the happiest of my patients told their life stories quite differently. They accepted the same illnesses, accidents and losses in life but also recognized with gratitude the gifts that they had received – aspects of their health that continued to thrive, good fortune that came when most needed, and most importantly, love and kindness shared – particularly from family and friends who had passed on.

If tomorrow you met a friend you had not seen since early childhood, how would you tell your life story? How you reflect upon the past – what you regret and what you appreciate; how you judge others and judge yourself – can impact your happiness in the present and how you continue to see and live your life. Is there another way to tell your story?

Together we weave the tapestry of our lives. It is our shared story and work of art. We are given a canvas and paints – the raw materials and circumstances of our lives. As we live our lives and relate to one another, we build upon what others have built and experience a life intricately connected with the rest of the world. Together we weave a tapestry of inconceivable complexity and beauty that continues to exist beyond our individual lives. This is the art of living . . . a work of art.

Who writes your life story? From this moment forward, will you accept your calling to be an agent of positive change in the writing of your own life story?

Categories
Emotions Empowering Healthcare Growth Happiness Healthy Living

The Power to Change Your Brain

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Instead of buying a new computer or smart phone when your old one can’t keep up with your needs, wouldn’t it be great if it had the limitless ability to upgrade its own hardware and software to meet the demands of the moment?

Your own brain already has this ability.

At birth, we are born with approximately 86 billion neurons and as they die, one by one, they are not replaced.

This has lead to the common assumption that our brains and therefore our capacity for thinking and remembering decline throughout adulthood. Associated with this assumption is the belief that we are less capable of change as we age. That’s the way the majority of adults think and behave. With time, we get stuck in habits of behaviour and thought; it gets harder to change our routine and how we see ourselves.

Although the actual of number of neurons (nerve cells) does not increase with age, up to adulthood, the human brain can increase to five times its size at birth. The increase in volume is due to myelination (the outer insulation of nerve fibres) and the growth of connections (or synapses) between neurons.

The principle of “use it or lose it” applies to your brain as well as your body. We know muscles that aren’t challenged will atrophy and become weaker. If we don’t move through a full range of motion, we become stiff, and if we limit our activity, we lose our agility and balance.

How your brain adapts and evolves over a lifetime, depends on how you use it because the brain is capable of creating new synapses (connections between neurons) at any age. Frequently used connections are reinforced and become stronger and more efficient. Seldom used connections are lost.

This creates habits of thought, which beget habits of behaviour and habits of feeling.

If we reinforce habits of drinking, smoking or using drugs when we are stressed or in response to particular situations, those habits become more entrenched over time as we strengthen the corresponding synaptic connections.

But if we stop the cycle, try out a new and healthier pattern of behaviour, and repeat that pattern repeatedly over time, we can reinforce an alternate neural pathway. The more we travel along this new connection of neurons, the more we strengthen the synapses until we have adopted the new and healthier habit.

The same principle applies to how we think about our selves, others and our world. It’s simpler and more efficient to hold onto assumptions and beliefs about others and our world, but too often it doesn’t keep up with the reality of change.

If we think of ourselves as being stuck in our ways, addicted to our attachments or incapable of positive change, we will live this self-fulfilling prophecy. Too often we limit our capacity for growth and happiness by our prejudices and unexamined assumptions; we see only evidence to reinforce our beliefs and are blind to evidence that show them to be false.

Certain patterns of thought reinforce particular emotional states, and once in these states, those patterns are reinforced. Thoughts focussed on negativity, judgment, blame and hopelessness reinforce feelings of anger and sadness. Thoughts of appreciation, personal empowerment and a positive purpose beget happiness.

With a healthy brain that can literally change itself, each of us is capable of positive change. Which free upgrades will you choose?

At 7 pm on Tuesday, September 22nd, I’ll be speaking on Emotional Wellness at the Bob Prittie Metrotown Library in Burnaby. I’ll talk about the key emotional health skills we all need to cope with life’s ups and downs; managing stress, difficult thoughts and feelings; recognizing the symptoms of stress, anxiety, depression, mood and other psychological conditions; and where to find help.

This free presentation is provided by the Burnaby Public Library in collaboration with the Burnaby Division of Family Practice as part of our Empowering Patients public health education series. As space is limited, please register by calling (604) 436-5400 or online http://bpl.bc.ca/events/emotional-wellness

Categories
Caregiving Compassion Coping with Loss Emotions Empathy Empowering Healthcare Friendship Growth Love Meditation

The Reality of Change

St Stephen's Basilica, Budapest, Hungary
St Stephen’s Basilica, Budapest, Hungary

There is a stereotype that older people can’t keep up with change. Family members will laugh at the blinking display of the unset DVD player (or for the even less adaptable, VCR).

And the older we get, the more quickly time passes and trends change.

But there is wisdom in aging. With time, we see that change is constant and inescapable – in politics, technology, economics and fashion. We learn to be cautious about taking anything for granted because everything changes.

With the insight of change, the wisest give up pinning their happiness to that which doesn’t last: material things, the hottest fashion, the latest Apple product, wealth, popularity and youth.

But for most of us, change is a source of suffering.

As we age, many lament the loss of vigour, the outward signs of aging, illness, and separation from loved ones. We have expectations and when these are thwarted, we grieve their loss. We may feel powerless and in despair.

But if we see life as it is, we will recognize that change is inevitable.

Instead we live with the unexamined expectations that our careers will run smoothly, our relationships won’t change, jobs won’t end, we and those we love will live forever: we won’t age, suffer accidents, become ill or die.

We all know better. Yet we approach each day ignoring reality, taking for granted the beautiful gifts we hold for a moment, acting unkindly to those who may not be here tomorrow, and letting pass by even the smallest opportunities to make a positive difference in our fragile world.

An empowering psychological principle is the locus of control. Some in the midst of change, feel helpless (and thus anxious) then hopeless (and ultimately depressed). They do not feel a sense of control in a sea of change.

But if in a changing world, we recognize the ways we can exert control – where our intentions and actions can make a positive difference, we feel empowered.

If you had a limited amount of cash that had to be spent today, what would you choose to do with it? If you had just one more day to spend with someone you loved, what would you say and what would you do? If you had just this day to make a positive difference in the world, what would you do today?

Would you spend another moment holding onto the past, complaining, watching TV, doing meaningless work or shopping?

I bet you won’t.

Tsongkhapa wrote eloquently of the preciousness of a human life.

“The human body at peace with itself is more precious than the rarest gem.

Cherish your body. It is yours this one time only. The human form is won with great difficulty. It is easy to lose.

All worldly things are brief like lightning in the sky. This life you must know as the tiny splash of a raindrop, a thing of beauty that disappears even as it comes into being.

Therefore set your aspiration and make use of every day and night to achieve it.”

On Thursday, September 10th, 2015 from 7 to 8:30 pm, I’ll present a free public presentation in the Visitor Centre at the VanDusen Botanical Garden (5251 Oak Street, Vancouver). As part of the Tapestry Foundations for Health Care’s Dialogue on Aging public presentation series, I’ll be talking about “Achieving Your Positive Potential at Any Age.” For information and registration, call (604) 806-9486 or check online at http://www.tapestryfoundation.ca/education/public-presentation-series.