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Compassion Coping with Loss Relationships

Remembering and Honouring Our Mothers

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Visiting the cemetery each week, reminds me of what matters most in life.

When we remember whom we have loved and lost, and recognize that all lives – even our own – will someday come to an end, the multitude of tasks that consume our days and the real and imagined dramas that engage our emotions are revealed as distractions from the marrow and meaning of life.

This time of the year has become bittersweet for myself and many others.

I remember my own mother who died suddenly in 2003, and I remember my patients who are mothers: young mothers fully engaged in the busiest, most stressful times of their lives looking after every detail of their infants’ and young children’s wellbeing; mothers of teens and young adults who will never stop giving and worrying about their children; and mothers with critical health conditions and whose remaining time with their families is painfully precious.

My mom was uniquely ethical and generous. She always did what she believed to be right and just, and she gave more than she got.

But when we think about it, giving more than you get is part of the lengthy job description of every mother. In spite of some progress in gender equality, mothers today still take on more than their share of maintaining the home and caring for their children.

Children can never pay back their mothers for the selfless care that began nine months before their births, continued through uncounted sleepless nights during infancy, a lifetime of meals prepared, and clothing purchased, picked up and laundered.

I appreciated how my mother loved and accepted me just as I was. She expected from her children a high standard of behaviour, but forgave us when we faltered. We didn’t have to be perfect to be loved. She saw the best in us and nurtured our potentials.

This day, let us remember and honour all mothers.

At my mother’s resting place, my sister and I chose these words, “Her legacy of love endures.” We honour our mother by giving forward to all whom we can touch with our lives, the love she gave to us and many others.

When you are being hard on yourself, judging yourself too harshly, beating yourself up for your failings or just think you’re not good enough, give to yourself what you need the most – a good dose of motherly self-compassion. Remember you were loved just the way you are and with the eyes of a good mother, you are beautiful.

Honour your mother by being the best version of yourself – and loving others as she has loved you.

Categories
Love

How to Stay in Love

Mom & Dad's Wedding Photo

Dad and Mom’s Wedding Photo

My sensible wife reminds me that Valentine’s Day is only a Hallmark holiday – a day when florists are overwhelmed selling roses at the highest prices of the year and when you should have made a reservation if you wanted an intimate night out.

Of course, we could never outlaw Valentine’s Day in Canada; the chocolate, floral and greeting card industries would lobby ferociously for their biggest day of the year.

Quite contrary to Hollywood movies, I’ve always told my children I wouldn’t let them get married when they were head over heels madly in love. After all, infatuation is not unlike a psychosis where reality testing is impaired. We see only the idealized good in the other and none of the bad.

Legally, individuals with impaired judgement cannot give consent. So why should they be allowed to sign a marriage certificate? Every young couple needs a cooling off period . . . . until they see (and love) each other as they really are.

With mature love, we see the best in our loved ones, want what is best for them, see their faults, accept them and love the whole imperfect, human package.

We’ve seen many wedding invitations with the inscription, “Today, I marry my best friend.”

In my practice, I’ve seen some marriages fall apart over time. I’ve seen young couples blissfully in love and delivered their babies, but years later, they can’t stand being in the same room together.

If they were to have invitations to a divorce party, I would expect to find the inscription, “Today, I divorce my worst enemy.”

Why does this happen?

Sometimes they have fundamental incompatibilities in values and temperament. Sometimes, one partner does something that forever changes how the other sees them. Instead of all good, the other is seen as all bad.

Neither of course is a true reflection of reality.

And there is that Negativity Bias of the human brain. As Rick Hanson – the psychologist and author of “Hardwiring Happiness” – has said, our brains are Velcro for the bad and Teflon for the good.

This Negativity Bias has had survival value for the human race; it helps us spot and avoid danger. Yet it makes us miserable; we don’t recognize the good in our situation, our partners and ourselves. It also makes us miserable to live with if we voice all those negative observations as complaints and criticisms.

Many couples just drift apart. We take the other person and our relationship for granted. When they are neglected, the relationship is at risk.

Lasting relationships – like good health – require our daily attention and maintenance.

Here are four suggestions that have worked for my patients in lasting loving relationships.

  1. Foster emotional intimacy. Agree on a habit of checking in with one another each day. How was your day? How are you feeling? (Don’t ask the tired parent who has been at home with the kids, “What did you do today?”).
  2. Show your affection. Express your positive feelings. Remember that Negativity Bias: you have to say 5 positive for every negative comment just to come out neutral. Think about that before you criticize your partner or your kids.
  3. Schedule regular dates. Commit your time to what and who matters most to you. Don’t wait ‘til there’s time; make time.
  4. Communicate in a healthy way. Take a breath and let anger cool before you react. Acknowledge your partner’s feelings and point of view. Express how you feel without blame.

Before you open your mouth, carefully consider your words. Is it true? Is it helpful? Is it kind?

This Saturday, I’ll be enjoying a nice dinner with my wife before watching a play. It won’t be a celebration of Valentine’s Day but rather our relationship.

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
Compassion Emotions Forgiveness Letting Go Love Parenting real beauty real love Relationships

Love . . . the real thing

Ducks at Central Park
Central Park, Burnaby by Davidicus Wong

I believe we are each a unique manifestation of the divine in this world.

When we are self-less, identifying less with this everchanging physical body and the elaborate personal story of endlessly conditioned thoughts and feelings that we have created throughout our lives, we see that we are all connected.

When others harm or insult me personally, they are also harming themselves. If I respond with misery or anger, I also harm myself – I allow myself to be twice stabbed, and it is my own self-inflicted wound that causes the longest suffering.

Our bodies are 60% water, but we don’t own that water. We are each a part of the water cycle. We take it in, we let it out. Water flows, evaporates, condenses and precipitates.

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We are also vessels of love and part of a great Love Cycle. It is an essential part of us, we take it in through many forms, it nurtures and sustains us, we give it out and we let it go.

Like all gifts in life – youth, health, friends, loved ones, careers – it is given to us in trust. It is not ours to own or cling to. We must appreciate these gifts when they are present but we cannot hold them forever – even our selves are not forever; we must let go of every gift.

But being human, we do not always love unconditionally – particularly with those closest to us. As parents, we may add judgment and expectation in our love for our children. The newborn baby is beautiful to us (even in her imperfection) because she is our own baby. When I was younger, I thought that I had to earn my parents’ love by being an overachiever but I later realized that that was not the case. They loved us each just as we were.

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Loved ones, friends, neighbours, coworkers and classmates may say and do things that attack our personal selves, and we can be pulled back into the usual mode of thinking of ourselves as separate selves – defending ourselves and competing for limited resources – the status quo of the win-lose game.

When couples fall in love. It begins with love, the idea and love, the emotion. Love, the idea is the product of infatuation – and we don’t see clearly. It’s like a psychosis, and I wonder if young people madly in love can really give informed consent to be married (until they have cooled off and come to their senses). Love, the emotion is a complex of our physical responses (which always fades with the passage of time) and our ideas and beliefs about that person (often inaccurate and incomplete).

With these limiting definitions of love, we can only love a few people in our lives.

Agape, metta or unconditional love is the real thing: the capital “L” Love. It is Love, the spiritual experience. It comes from an unlimited wellspring. It comes without conditions. Although it may seem foolish from a self-centric perspective, Love-based thoughts and actions benefit our truest, deepest, spiritual selves.

Just as Shakespeare said of mercy in the Merchant of Venice: The quality of mercy is not strained . . . It is twice blessed. It blesses both the giver and receiver.

Forgiveness is the same. Letting go of the past, acknowledging but relinquishing anger, and completely forgiving others – benefits most the one who forgives.

Life on Earth in a human body is a delicate balance. So easy is it for each of us to get lost in the delusion that we are just our separate personal identities. So easy it is to forget who and what we really are. When someone else – enemy or loved one – pokes at our little selves, we feel that natural response to defend and react. Mindfulness of our true identity reins us in.

We are human and imperfect, and we don’t always love unconditionally. In fact, most of the love that we have received in our lifetimes has come of course from other imperfect humans and came with conditions. But it is still love and part of the love cycle of which we are a part. It is the love that we give forward.

We can filter that love, purify it and share it with the rest of the world more unconditionally and closer to the original source of Love.

With real Love, I see more clearly. I see real beauty in the world and in other people. The two greatest spiritual experiences are to Love . . . and to be Loved in this way. It comes from the divine within us, and with it, we see the divine in others. As human beings, this is the purest way that we can experience God.

May you be happy, healthy, peaceful and safe. May you be filled with Love and give it freely.

God Creating Adam

 

 

Categories
Compassion Coping with Loss Letting Go Love

My Parents’ Stories: The Cycle of Love

Dad's family & home in Cumberland before his birth in 1930
Dad’s family & home in Cumberland before his birth in 1930

My dad was born on Vancouver Island in Cumberland, near Courtney and Comox. When Cumberland had a coalmine, it was one of the largest Chinatowns on the West Coast. My dad lost his father in early childhood. His mother was left with 6 children to raise on her own. But my grandmother’s life was difficult from the start. At age 9, she was sold to a wealthy Chinese family that moved to Vancouver. She worked throughout her childhood and was not taught English. She was married and had her first child at age 14. But my dad remembers her as being very good with her hands, a skilled chef and seamstress. She managed to make ends meet and raise each of her children to be independent.

My dad worked throughout his childhood to support his family, finished school, studied automechanics and worked at Vancouver Motors downtown. He saved enough to study science at UBC and dentistry at McGill. When he talks about his childhood, he never complains about the prejudice he endured or the hardship his family suffered. He talks about wonderful life experiences, his lifelong friends and the kindness of so many people along the way.

The Ng Siblings
The Ng Siblings

My mom was born in the Strathcona neighbourhood of Vancouver. When my mom was 9 years old, she and her 7 siblings were orphaned. Her oldest sisters were teenagers and her youngest brother was still in diapers. There was no extended family to help them. To keep the family together, the oldest sisters decided that they would all work to raise the rest of the family until the youngest finished school. My mom always taught me the value of a good family in which each is responsible for one another, and 76 years later, my aunts, uncles and cousins continue to celebrate the love of family at our annual Boxing Day party.

My parents’ stories could have been told with sadness or bitterness but instead, they are stories of courage, resilience, gratitude and love. The way they told their stories shaped how they lived their lives, related to others and raised our family.

My mom’s love for me was unconditional. She saw the best and expected the best of me. At first, I thought I had to be a top student and athlete like my brother to earn my parents’ love, but I eventually realized their love came with no conditions. I would always be loved and accepted just as I was.

My mom’s circle of concern continued to expand throughout her life. She had many friends and was involved in helping others in her United Church and community. She would go out of her way to make a positive difference in the lives of other people with not so random everyday acts of kindness.

When she died unexpectedly from a cardiac arrest 12 years ago, I was overwhelmed with grief, but over time I realized that my mother’s greatest gift was still with me. It was her love, compassion and kindness. I could never give back all the love that my mom had given me, but I was already giving it out and giving it forward. I realized that what I feel towards my own children is the same love my mother gave to me, and if I teach them well, that same love will be given to others beyond my own lifetime. My mother’s greatest legacy was of love. This legacy of love belongs to every one of us.

THE CYCLE OF LOVE

60% of our bodies is made up of water. It’s in each of our cells and in our circulation, but we don’t own that water. We consume it in our food and drink, we lose it through perspiration and elimination.

In school, we studied the Water Cycle. Water evaporates, condenses into clouds, precipitates as snow or rain, freezes, thaws, flows into rivers, lakes and oceans, continuously cycling around the globe. It belongs to no one. It belongs to everyone.

I see our selves as vessels of love and we are part of the Love Cycle. We receive love from many people throughout our lives – friends, family, teachers, coaches, ministers, nurses, doctors and other health care providers – and it comes in many forms including the random kindness of strangers. It doesn’t always come unconditionally – it comes in many imperfect and human forms because we are imperfect and human, but still we receive love from infinite sources.

Love is not a finite resource. It is in us to give, and the giving of love does not diminish us but connects us and makes us stronger.

Categories
Growth Happiness Healthy Living Love

Your Positive Potential at Any Age

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At every age and in every day, we have challenges, gifts, and a call to action.

In each day, I see all of life in the patients I serve – from newborns to the long retired.

Even when we cease to be paid, there is work to do: this is the work of a lifetime that we carry out consciously or unconsciously. It is the active creation of our own lives, the writing and rewriting of our own life stories, and the cultivation of relationships.

For many of us at any age, life can seem a struggle. We fight, flee or resist what we don’t want and we crave and pursue what we want, thinking that when we are free of that which we don’t want and have all that we desire, we will be happy and at peace.

But that’s not reality. Life is never perfect or if it ever is, it won’t stay that way. Change is the reality of life, but we can still be happy.

In youth, what we want may be on the horizon and in the future just beyond our reach.

As time passes, what we want is in the past – loved ones missed and opportunities lost. In the latter half of our journey, we may be looking back more than forward. The present reminds us of what we don’t have: people no longer with us; our youth, vigour and time.

We forget the possibilities of the present.

At every point in life – indeed, in every day – you have a positive potential to be realized.

Given your abilities and your experiences, what can you do to help another person today? There is always someone in need of just the thing that we can do for them.

Looking at the people in your life today, what can you do to make each relationship even better? Is it time to call and catch up with an old friend? Is it time for a crucial conversation? What thoughtful action would express your appreciation for another?

Accept your body as it is. How can you become as healthy as you can be? What can you do to help yourself? What would be the first step to improving your wellbeing?

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 Foundation 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 www.tapestryfoundation.ca/education/public-presentation-series.

Categories
Grace Happiness Parenting

#49 Happy to be humble – the secrets of sane parenting

To find happiness as a parent requires the humility to learn from your children.

As a dad, I sometimes can’t tell if I’m parenting or being parented. At different stages of our relationships, it’s hard to tell who’s growing faster.

I fondly remember one fall evening soon after my two sons had moved to a new elementary school.  As I was rushing them to an evening concert, I told them, “I left my office early today, mom had dinner ready for us, but we’re still going to be late. So whose fault is that?”

“Kind of yours, Dad” said my older son. “Mom doesn’t drive this way to school.”

Parenting requires patience – with your children, your spouse and yourself. As young parents, we have total responsibility for a helpless newborn but we don’t start off as experts. As we gain experience, we can become more humble and continue to learn.

Each child is a unique combination of you and your spouse’s qualities. This can feed back on your own vanity. When my son was putting on muscle and pushing heavier weights than his football teammates, I realized that those were my genes he was expressing and I was inspired to work out even harder myself.

When one of my sons was especially set in his ways, I attributed his stubbornness to my wife. She blamed it on me. We finally agreed that he got a double dose.

I’ve come to realize that when one of my children is being especially infuriating, I might just be seeing a reflection of myself. Accepting your children can be like accepting yourself.

The learning never stops. It continues in both directions.

When I was driving my daughter to elementary school (She’s now in high school), I once told her, “You’re so lucky to be a kid.”

“You were a kid before” she answered.

She meant that I already had my turn to be a kid and have fun. It was her turn to enjoy being 12 years old. And my turn to enjoy being her dad.

Your happiness exercise for today: To be happy in life requires the humility to be forever learning from it. As long as we’re alive, we are changing, growing and learning. Think about this past week. What has life taught you? Be thankful for your teachers.

Categories
Compassion Coping with Loss Emotions Empathy Growth Happiness

The Other Side of Grief

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Grief is the ultimate human experience that forces us to feel profound loss – the worst of all emotional experiences, accept those feelings and a new reality, gradually let go of the past and those feelings of sadness, reintegrate our memories and love shared back into our souls, and day by day, week by week, month by month and year by year, find ever greater hope, meaning and happiness again.

We must have certainty and faith in the hope that the deep vast emptiness in our hearts will one day be filled with the love that transcends time and physical death and that some day soon, what now seems so immediate, empty and terrible will be replaced by peace, meaning and even happiness.

The sadness and loneliness is telling us to reach out to others who also care about us and share what we feel and ask for what we need them to do to help us.

The waves of sadness will dissipate over time. We may recognize that months later, we are doing better, but with reminders and special dates feel another wave. This is normal and a necessary part of the process of letting go, healing and creating a new and more meaningful life.

Your anger is justified and a normal human reaction to the unfairness of life and death and the meaninglessness from our perspective at this time, the preoccupations and silliness of others’ behaviour and the foolish things that others say.

Your energy will return as will your sleep. Your heart will heal and become strong again. You will find deeper and greater meaning in the story of your life and meaning and enjoyment in your daily life.

We may want to shut things off with medication, drugs or alcohol, with busyness and distraction, with avoidance of things, places and people that remind us of our loss but we can only grow and heal by acceptance, patience and effort and remaining connected with those who care for us and those who have also walked this path of grief and healing.

We have to go through the motions even when we don’t feel like it: eat every meal even if we have no appetite, exercise when we don’t see the point, and get out of the house each day even if it would seem easier just to stay in bed.

We have to keep revisiting the places we’ve been, talking and thinking and living until it all starts to feel normal again.

This is the other side of grief.

The pain will be gone. You will look back with love, but instead of sadness, you will feel gratitude for the life and love you shared and how your life had been enriched.

You will be happy again.

Categories
Compassion Coping with Loss Easter Emotions Empathy Forgiveness Letting Go Parenting

Getting Through Grief

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My mom died suddenly on a sunny spring day 12 years ago this week. She had been in excellent health and very happy with life. Looking back, just before her death, it had been a wonderful time in the life of our family.

In the magical thinking of childhood, I had believed that I would have some intuition if anything terrible would happen to someone I loved, but I had never been so shocked in my life than at the moment my wife told me that my mother was dead.

At one moment life was very good, and in the next, it seemed it could never be good again.

My mom had been my greatest support throughout my whole life. She was an inexhaustible source of love and generosity. She lived for us, always putting her interests above her own. She loved me just the way I was with all my fears and faults, but she also saw the best in me, nurtured my talents and the best of my nature. She more than anyone else helped me achieve my potential for good.

I would be a lesser person without my mom. Without her seeing and believing in the best in me, I may not have seen it myself. That was the power of my mother’s love.

Her death was like a solar eclipse. A great energy and light in my life was immediately gone, and for what seemed a long stretch of time, it stayed that way and my life was diminished.

I’ve imagined what our lives would be like if my mother was still alive. She would have loved to see my children grow up, and she would be happily involved every step of the way. She would be at every violin and dance performance, school concert and football game. She would have shown her boundless love with the thousand thoughtful acts of kindness that came so naturally to her. She would have taught my daughter to bake and cook, and she would have been a better role model to my children than anyone else in their lives.

I know she would have been proud of me when I did my best for others, but she would probably tell me not to work so hard and risk burning myself out for everyone around me. But then again, that’s a quality I inherited from her.

I have never met a better person than my mother – no one with the same integrity and faith; no one with the same compassion and generosity; no one as thoughtful; no one as honest.

Maybe this is why I have been so disappointed by the behaviour of others and often am let down by the people around me. The rest of the world seems so selfish and self-centred, so stingy and thoughtless, and so small hearted.

But the legacy of my mom was her love – generous and compassionate, accepting the shortcomings of others but loving anyway, and it is this love that I give forward to my own children, to my family, to my friends, to my colleagues, to my patients and to every other human being I have the opportunity to help.

My mother was a great soul, but her love lives on in this world through me, and if I have loved my children well enough, through the love they will give forward to others. My mother’s love will continue to make the world a better place beyond our own lives, a little kinder and thoughtful, more gentle and generous.

Categories
Balance Compassion Emotions Empathy Empowering Healthcare Friendship Grace Happiness Healthy Living Meditation Physical Activity Positive Change Positive Potential Preventive Health

#36 The ABCs of Health and Happiness

Leftover Happy Face Cookie

The ABCs of Health and Happiness Davidicus Wong

Accept responsibility for your own health. Be active. Create happiness for yourself and others. Don’t drink to excess. Eat a healthy diet. Follow your bliss. Greet each day with gratitude. Help yourself to happiness by helping others. Identify your strengths. Jump at every opportunity to make someone else’s day. Kickstart each day by counting your blessings. Love unconditionally; we are all human and worthy of being loved. Mind your thoughts; they shape your moods. Nurture healthy relationships. Open your heart and mind. Project inner peace. Quit smoking. Respect your body. Smile and see the beauty in your world, in others and in yourself. Transform every problem into a positive goal. Understand that it takes a village to care for a village; everyone matters. Visualize your goals. When feeling rushed, wait for your mind and body to move together. Exude passion. Yield to your better and wiser self. Zestfully embrace this day.