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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

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Achieve Your Positive Potential


Our kids expect to be asked, “What do you want to be when you’ve grown up?”

In our first two decades, life is not just about being but becoming: learning, growing and anticipating new experiences. We recognize the constant change in ourselves and our horizons, both are ever expanding.

But at some point, most of us stop seeing perpetual personal growth and expanding horizons. We can settle in a habitual way of seeing our selves. Life becomes routine.

We can get so settled that we are startled by change: in school or work, relationships and health. We are surprised when we look in the mirror and notice that we’ve grown older or put on some weight.

Maybe after making the big choices in life – what to study, where to work, where to live and who to marry, we can settle into autopilot, and we do, until we are shaken awake by turbulence.

But in reality, we with everything around us are constantly changing. We remain in perpetual motion. If we don’t mind our bearings and keep our eyes on the horizon, we won’t notice that the landscape has changed and we can fly off course. We even forget that we can choose to change our destination.

The healthiest and happiest of my patients remain on course most of their lives. They’ve settled into good routines of eating healthy balanced diets, attending to their relationships and physical activity.

When their life situation changes, they adapt. They learn what changes they need to make to remain as healthy as possible. With a new diagnosis of high blood pressure, they reduce dietary sodium (salt) and lose extra body fat through a combination of exercise and healthy eating.

When they become bothered by degenerative arthritis (osteoarthritis) in their knees, they’ll adapt to more appropriate exercise (for example, changing from running and jumping activities to swimming or stationary cycling).

My most vibrant patients don’t wait for the signs of aging and chronic health conditions to tell them to change. Making positive changes is a way of life. They see their potentials in life as ever evolving. They set new challenges and goals, visualize the best they can be and take steps each day towards these new horizons.

You are always being and becoming. Regardless of your age and circumstances, consider your positive potential in the important areas of your life.

Do what my healthiest and happiest patients do each day. Check your bearings, take a look at the landscape and affirm your destination. Are you still on course? What are you doing each day to move you in the right direction? What are you doing that takes you off course?

If a relationship needs some work, visualize a more positive situation and come up with one or two things you could start doing to produce a positive change.

What is your positive potential for health? Make a few small changes in what you eat (or don’t eat).

What is your potential for fitness? What can you add to your daily exercise routine (a little more endurance activity, more resistance training or the commitment to do daily exercise)?

Don’t wait for the turbulence of life to force you to change. Choose your goals and move each day in the direction of your positive potential.\

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

Coping with Loss Emotions Empowering Healthcare Grace Growth Happiness Healthy Living Letting Go Love Positive Change Positive Potential Relationships stress management Wisdom Your Calling

Coping with Change: Becoming an Agent of Positive Change

Tinkerbell Crashlands

Change is a reality of our lives, our bodies and our relationships. None of us will escape aging, loss and death. But don’t despair, there’s much we can do in the meantime.

The greatest waste of our time is the denial of change. We’re likely to be caught by surprise when relationships end, we lose loved ones, we become ill or we suddenly realize that we’re getting older.

A second source of misery is to cling to things we cannot hold on to, including the vigor and appearances of youth and those moments in our lives when almost everything is just right. The third is to crave for the material things and sensual pleasures that give no lasting satisfaction.

So what can we hold on to?

Not even your family or dearest friends. Though they may stand by us, no one lives forever. Being mindful of our mortality, we ought to hold each other closer each day, not missing an opportunity to hug one another – physically, in word, and in action.

The grief of losing our loved ones can be partly consoled knowing that we spent well the time we shared together and fully expressed our love.

I have learned from my parents and my wisest patients, the keys to coping with change and adapting to age. By example, they have taught me the three As: acceptance of the inevitability of change, appreciation of that which we have while we have it, and – the most empowering of all – agency.

Throughout the drama of our lives, we remain not pawns but players. Though we may fall into roles – patterns of thinking, reacting and behaving, we remain free to break out of old roles. Here we may express our true character.

By seizing the locus of control and acting in a positive way, we abandon an attitude of helplessness that can lead to anxiety and the feelings of hopelessness that beget despair.

In all of my relationships great and small, I have asked myself, “What is my responsibility?” and “What can I do to make things better?” In every situation, “What is my positive potential?”

As change is unavoidable and much of it beyond our control, appreciate the precious good in our lives and accept our calling as agents for positive change. Ask, “What can I do today to make the world better for those whom I touch?”

Dad & Mom