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Caregiving Love Medical Ethics patient-doctor relationship Positive Potential Purpose Relationships Your Calling Your Goals

Find your inspiration!

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To make the most of this life, we must make the most of each day.

What inspires you to rise out of bed each morning, do what needs to be done, pursue your goals and give the extra effort that makes a difference? What gets you through the in between times with a mountain range of challenges between you and your destination?

From an early age, I was hooked on reading. By grade 6, I had finished reading the World Book Encyclopedia and spent hours each week at the McGill Branch Public Library in North Burnaby. Like my mom, each week, I would borrow my limit of books.

I was inspired by Norman Vincent Peale’s The Power of Positive Thinking, Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence people and James Allen’s As a Man Thinketh. I learned much more from countless books, and my eyes opened to an expanding horizon of possibilities.

So enriched and moved by the writing of others, I imagined how wonderful it would be to help and inspire others with my own words some day.

For ten days in grade 6, I had a flare-up of rheumatoid arthritis with rashes, fevers and painful joints. On Burnaby Hospital’s pediatric ward, I was cared for by my doctors and nurses who weren’t treating a disease but rather me as a whole person. I trusted them to do their best for me, and it was then that I decided to be a physician – to give forward the care that I had been given and to care for others when they are most in need.

An inspiration can get us started on a path, but what keeps us going?

We can be most inspired by those we serve. When I became a parent, the awesome responsibility of caring for a helpless baby, loving unconditionally and nurturing each of my children to their greatest potential was the greatest of callings.

I had to rise to this responsibility and strive to be my best to give my best. My children have made me a better person.

As a physician, I developed my golden rule of medicine: treat every patient with the same degree of care and consideration I would want for a best friend or family member. For any of my patients, I refer to the same colleagues and order the same tests in the same time frame that I would want for those in my personal life.

The needs of my patients have inspired me to be a better physician. I am inspired and supported by a few of my colleagues, including my classmate, Dr. John Law, who like me, commit to continuous quality improvement in their clinical skills and looking outside of the box, learn advanced techniques to meet the needs of our patients.

The most inspiring physicians learn from one another and from their patients.

In your personal life, whom do you serve? Look both inside and out of your own home, community and workplace. If there is a need, can you rise to meet it?

Each day presents us with infinite opportunities to make a difference big or small – to lift up the hearts of a few people and to live a meaningful life.

Celebrate Inspiration Day from 10:30 am to 1 pm on Saturday, February 6th at Century House at 620 Eight Street in New Westminster. I’ll be there to enjoy the entertainment of the Century House Singers and Comedians and give the keynote presentation. Admission is $5. Call (604) 519-1066 for more information.

Davidicus Wong is a family physician and his Healthwise columns appear regularly in the Burnaby Now, Royal City Record, Richmond News and Vancouver Courier. For more on achieving your positive potential in health, see his website at www.davidicuswong.wordpress.com.

Categories
Balance Compassion Coping with Loss Empowering Healthcare Forgiveness Friendship Grace Happiness Letting Go Love Parenting Positive Change

Achieve Your Positive Potential at Any Age

Tapestry Foundation, VanDusen Garden September 10th, 2015

On Thursday, September 10th, 2015, I spoke to an enthusiastic audience of over 200 brought together by the Tapestry Foundation for Health Care in this season’s first Dialogue on Aging. 

I talked about how we are co-authors of our own life stories, a new definition of health and the role of love in finding the ultimate meaning in our lives.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/96272981@N02/sets/72157656157306844/

Though I don’t actually use notes while public speaking, here are my draft speaking notes:

Achieve Your Positive Potential at Any AgeDavidicus Wong, M.D.

Thank you to each of you who has taken precious time out of this day to be here with me. Thank you, MaryLou Harrigan, who on behalf of the Tapestry Foundation, invited me to share some of what I have learned from my family, friends and patients.

Together we weave the tapestry of our lives. It is our shared story and a work of art. We are the creators and the creation. We are given 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.

This evening, I’ll talk about change, a cause of much fear, frustration, anger and grief; how it is an inescapable reality of life on earth and being human; and how it is seen as a source of suffering.

I’ll talk about happiness; how popular culture sells us an empty version of it; how our pursuit of it actually leads to greater unhappiness; and I’ll share the secrets of lasting happiness.

I’ll introduce you to a new way of thinking about your health; recognizing the limitations of standard definitions, and leading to a new approach to caring for yourself.

By the end of this evening, you’ll understand the meaning of life (at least my version) and rather than seeing yourself as another hapless and helpless victim of change, you will recognize yourself as an agent of positive change, embracing age – welcoming each and every new day and seizing the positive potential of your life.

THE STORIES OF OUR LIVES

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 life stories. With deep listening to these 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?

My aspiration is that by the end of this evening, you may receive an insight that may inspire you to rewrite your story for the better and empower you to be an agent of positive change in the writing of your life story from this moment forward.

MY PARENTS’ STORIES

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. She was sold into slavery at age 9 to a wealthy Chinese family. 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.

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. They received no help from their aunts and uncles in town. 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 meet 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.

My mother’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 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 LOVE CYCLE

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 – 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.

DISCOVERING YOUR POTENTIAL IN LIFE

When we are young, our potentials may seem vast. Choosing a career can be a daunting task for the young. When I’m counseling my own children, my young patients and others at a crossroads in their studies or careers, I draw them the 4 intersecting circles Steven Covey conceived in his book The Eighth Habit: your passions, your talents, your values and the needs of the world. Where these 4 circles intersect is your calling.

Joseph Campbell said, “Follow your bliss”; heed the call and do what you were meant to do. When you listen to life and rise up to meet the challenge, you will find meaning and purpose.

Mahatma Gandhi said, “When what you say and what you do aligns with what you believe, there you will find happiness.”

But the call can change throughout our lives. We may receive the calling to a profession or mission in early adulthood or even in mid-life. Your calling at age 26 may be to be the best parent you can be to your child. When your career is established, your calling may be of generativity; What can you give forward to others and to the future?

Each day, there are opportunities to follow-through with an act of kindness, a word of encouragement, a thank you or a helping hand to someone in need. There is a positive potential to be realized in each day. We must see, feel and act.

YOUR POSITIVE POTENTIAL FOR HEALTH

How do you define health?

Many think of health as the absence of disease; indeed, healthcare is then seen as the treatment of illness or injury. I see that as a negative and reactive approach to wellbeing.

I see health as the dynamic balance of the important areas of your life (your body, your emotions, your environment, your family, your social relationships, your vocation, your mind and your spirit) and the achievement of your positive potential in each of those areas.

What that positive potential is begins with an understanding of your strengths and challenges in each area and guided by your own values, moves towards your own personal goals.

Considering your family relationships, you could ask, “What are my greatest goals and what is my ideal vision for my family?” We have to move beyond what is wrong to what can be great.

When I chaired the Ethical Resources Committee at Burnaby Hospital, I would ask the question, “Given the medical facts and the individual’s values, what is the right course of action? What is the positive potential of this patient’s situation?” What is the best we can do for this individual?

In the presence of chronic conditions, such as diabetes and heart disease, we can empower the individual with education and professional support so that they remain in control and experience the best quality of life.

HOW POPULAR CULTURE MISLEADS US

The happiness that popular culture promises us is ultimately unsatisfying and in fact leads to emptiness and greater unhappiness. The common belief is that we are happy when we get what we want; happiness comes from the satisfaction of our cravings (for material things, sensual pleasures, wealth, prestige, status, power, the latest fashion or the newest iPhone). But none of these things last and neither does the satisfaction we experience.

THE REALITY OF CHANGE

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.

                                                                                                            Tsongkhapa

 Change is the nature of all things. It is our very nature.

It is therefore futile to pursue and cling to that which does not last. Nothing lasts.

If your desire is to remain youthful for the rest of your life, you will ultimately be unhappy. If you seek to accumulate wealth and hold onto it forever, you will never be satisfied. If your goal is to be free of aging, illness, accident or loss, you will not find happiness. If you expect your relationships to stay the same your whole life, you will be disappointed.

In our youth, change means growth and we welcome adventure. In our early years, we are looking forward.

With age, change can be seen as a decline in our minds, in our bodies and in our relationships. We look back to what we have lost, and we look forward to further loss.

We forget that we are always growing and there remains the potential for positive change even in the face of difficult circumstances and personal loss.

This insight into the reality of change can heighten our appreciation for every moment and all of experience without aversion or clinging. We must appreciate what we have when we have it. Every gift that we hold (including those we love most) is not ours to hold forever. We must love and appreciate others while we can and let go when we need to.

COPING WITH CHANGE

A key psychological principle is the locus of control. If we see life as hostile, unpredictable and beyond our control, we become anxious, demoralized and hopeless. To prevent this spiral down with the stresses of life, we must recognize what we must accept and what we have the power to change. Accept what you cannot change, but accept responsibility to change what you can.

Become an Agent of Positive Change.

Though you, your world and everyone around you is in constant change, you can be dynamically responsive to change and seek out the positive potential of every moment. Our brains are naturally resistant to change, we quickly fall into habits of behaviour (e.g. eating and physical activity) and habits of thought (e.g. conceptualizing and relating). To be efficient frequently repeated thoughts and behaviours become entrenched with reinforced neural pathways.

But the science of neuroplasticity has taught us that our brains can change for the better, we can literally rewire our neural pathways and create new habits of thought and behaviour. This is how we adapt to our changing world.

But it requires effort and practice to reinforce new more positive habits and ways of thinking.

You can retell your life story in a more empowering way, embrace more fully the present moment and create a more positive future.

SO WHAT IS THE MEANING OF LIFE?

We discover ourselves and find meaning through the living of our lives. Through intention and action, we define who we are, and like rough stones in a tumbler, we rub against one another and through our relationships discover our truest selves.

A few years ago, my old friend, Steve told me that his little daughter, Vanessa wanted him to play with her when he was busy with yard work. He felt guilty when she asked, “Why did you and mom have me if you’re not going to play with me?”

Behind the sly daughter-father manipulation, there was ironic truth.

Why are we here? What is the point? Where is the meaning?

 To be born; to learn and to forget; to grow and to age; to see, to want, to crave, to pursue, to gain and to lose all we gain; to care, to worry, to suffer, to regret and not to care; to grow ill and to die?

There is one answer for each question. Why are we here? What is the point? Where is the meaning?

To learn to love. To love and be loved.

 But we are confused by love. 

It can be an idea (that consumes our thoughts and preoccupies our minds); an emotion (that carries us away), or a spiritual experience (THE spiritual experience: the experience of the spirit and the discovery of your true self).

Love the idea or thought can be a concept, obsession or preoccupation. Everyone has a different idea of what love is and we forget that others, including those we love, may have vastly different ideas of just what love is, and our ideas about love can change with experience; they can expand or contract.

Love is also an emotion or a variety of emotions. It can be warm and fuzzy; faithful, full and abiding; passionate and possessive; wanting and craving.

But the big L Love is THE spiritual experience – the experience of the spirit; of our deeper, greater self; and of our deepest connection to another. This is the experience of your true self and the true self of another. This is the real thing. This is authentic love: metta, compassion, lovingkindness, agape.

This is why we are here.

This is the point of it all.

This is the meaning of life.

Without Love, we see ourselves as separate and competing in a win-lose world; what benefits others does not benefit you; to give to others takes away from you; to give strength to others diminishes you; we are always incomplete and searching.

Without Love, we pursue counterfeit happiness: the illusion of perfection, having everything we want; the delusion of permanence, the futile search for lasting satisfaction.

Without Love, all is ultimately empty and we remain alone.

With Love, all is clear. Everything makes sense.

We see ourselves clearly. We see others as they are. The world and life start to make sense.

Without judgment, with understanding and compassion, with complete acceptance, with hope but without expectation, we see beauty in another, in our lives and in ourselves.

We see our lives and every relationship as a gift.

Love creates a “new math”. You no longer need to keep track. The more you give, the more you get. The less you keep, the more you are free. You give more than you get and you don’t keep track. You win by giving all you have; the winner gives it all.

Being empty of self, you live fully.

At the end of each day and at the end of this life, you don’t want to regret not giving enough or loving enough. It is like leaving Denmark having spent your last Chrona because it is worth nothing when you leave.

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

THE EXPRESSION OF LOVE

To experience Love is to awaken; to express Love is to be fully alive.

We can express love as we serve others: through our intention to do good (and not to harm), to be open to the suffering and the needs of another, and to help where we can; to seize each and every opportunity to make a positive difference; to share our own gifts; to see beauty in another, and bring out the best.

Love lifts us up.

Our families can open us to connecting, letting go of self-interests and learning to love unconditionally. Loving my children has made me a better person. The love of my parents who loved all that I was brought out the best in me.

What I want most for those I love is that they each love themselves the way I love them: that they accept themselves and their lives just as they are, forgive themselves, let go of what they do not need, let go of what holds them back, see the beauty that I see in them, and share their gifts with the world.

Loving your life as it has unfolded is a challenge. There are events and experiences that are unpleasant, regretful and overwhelming: misfortune and trauma, negative situations, difficult relationships, harm we have experienced, harm that we have done, missed opportunities, words left unsaid and acts left undone.

We have all made mistakes, taken wrong turns and experience regret. We have all felt angry, selfish, cold or closed.

We experience aversion with strong emotions – fear, anger, despair – that are hard to accept, acknowledge and release. We may wish to relive happier times, erase negative experiences and correct our mistakes.

But the only way to live life fully is to live fully in the present – to acknowledge and accept all that has happened, all that we’ve done and all that we are – in order to be present to each arising moment.

To turn away, hide or fight against our nature and the reality of our world is to give greater power to the very things we push away. They continue to hold us back from fully loving, fully living and finding our true selves.

We can choose to let go, and we are freed to see more clearly: to see beauty, to love unconditionally our selves, others and our lives.

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

What I can do in my thoughts, words and actions to benefit another – or to benefit the world – benefits me.

What I can do to nurture my soul nurtures the world.

Davidicus Wong

Categories
Compassion Happiness Positive Potential Purpose Your Calling Your Goals

A Hundred Days to Happiness #26: The Call of This Day

Central Park, Burnaby
Central Park, Burnaby

In my last post, I wrote of the call to your life’s purpose as the intersection of your talents, your passions and the needs of the world. We often think of our life’s purpose as one overarching drive, and that often is the case.

But in our lives, we have different priorities and goals at each age. The needs of the young are not the same as the needs of our elders. That’s why parents can give advice to their adolescents, but the lessons aren’t fully learned without the experience of years. With the cycles of life, parents must be patient with their children just as their children may one day need to be patient with them.

Your calling as a child is to establish a sense of your self and your self-worth as a human being worthy of respect and love. You discover your talents, learning in school and from life. Your parents play a pivotal role in helping you establish your self-concept and your perspective on the world.

As a teen you have to cope with your emotions, your relationships with your peers and your role in society. You tread the line between independence and dependence on your parents.

In young adulthood, the focus may be on your career, making a living, establishing your own place and finding a significant other. As a parent, you are focussed on your children: the joys and challenges of parenting.

In midlife we look back at our lives, re-evaluate our goals and priorities. For some, it is a reaffirmation of our calling. For others, it can be an about face when we realize that we have not been true to our deepest values and passions.

The golden years is a time of looking back, taking stock of our lives and making sense of it all. It can be a time of generativity, giving to future generations, sharing what we have learned and accomplished over a lifetime.

But in every day of your life, there are many calls, and in an ordinary life, they are often missed. As you go about the busyness of your day, it is natural to miss the many opportunities to make a difference in your world and in particular, the lives of people around you.

I remember as a child shopping with my parents at a downtown department store. Maybe it was Woodward’s or The Bay. I had to go to the washroom . . . badly. I didn’t have a dime to get into a toilet stall. A kindly man noting my distress saved my day by giving me the dime that I needed.

Sometimes you can do something that may seem small to you but can make a big difference for someone else, but to do that small kindness requires a kind and open heart and the will to do what needs to be done.

You and I are capable of these small, significant acts each and every day. We just have to look for them.

So to answer the call – where your talents and passions meet the needs before you – does not have to wait for your work of a lifetime. You can answer the call every day, even many times throughout a day.

Your happiness exercise for today (and every day): Look for an opportunity to do what you can to help others in need, and answer the call by seizing that opportunity. You will discover that in the process, you will meet your own need to make a positive difference in our world.

Categories
Coping with Loss Easter Emotions Happiness Letting Go Love Purpose Relationships

A Hundred Days to Happiness #25: Moving forward from the wasteland

Wasteland or Beach? Davidicus Wong
Wasteland or Beach? Davidicus Wong

In his poem, The Waste Land, T.S. Eliot said, “April is the cruelest month.” The waste land refers to a state of spiritual desolation, a life without hope and meaning. It is a reference to the Grail legends, wherein the wounded king’s domain lies in ruins. It can also refer to modern times.

In a lifetime, we weather many storms. At times, sorrow rains, but at our core we remain dry. At others, joy shines upon us, yet we still cast shadows. In good times and in bad, there is a constant though sometimes imperceptible wind; what is this that can sustain us through the vagaries of life?

In 2003, April was indeed the cruelest month for me. The sudden death of my mother was a shock. Although I was fortunately old and wise enough to have already valued and nurtured my relationship with her, the loss struck with stark finality.   It seemed as if all was lost.

It is no coincidence that Easter is celebrated in early spring, when the sun shines longer and the cherry blossoms bloom. Life emerges from the dark, dead of winter. We are ready for renewal.

The cyclical changing of the seasons informs our perceptions of time and mortality. Change is inevitable, indeed constant. Death is an unavoidable part of life.

Although we recognize repeating patterns and relationships, we are caught up in a dynamic of change, always moving forward in time until we meet our own end. We and everything in our world are never exactly the same from moment to moment.

Many when confronted by inevitable change, struggle to cope. Some see their cup of life as half full; others, half empty. In the golden years, a few see that cup as chipped and nearly dry.

I choose to see through the illusion of the cup. My world is infinitely grand. It is filled not with a finite amount of water but rather an ocean. It is teeming with life, mystery and adventure. It is ever changing, yet nothing of value is completely lost; it is transformed.

We are buffeted by the waves and storms of life, but no matter how great the storm, we can enjoy calm waters a few metres below the surface. We must each nurture a central core of peace. It is an inner strength that can sustain us throughout the great and small changes of life.

The grail which can rescue each of us from the waste land is an abiding sense of purpose. It requires us to be open to shift perspectives, to calmly revisit our deepest values and goals. It is these that will serve as compasses as we find our way out of desolation.

Life is all about relationships. My relationship with my mother did not end with her passing. Her greatest values, her wisdom and her love are inseparable from my own character. I see her and her influence in my father, sister, brother and each of her grandchildren. I appreciate the continuity of the past, present and future.

The key to living more fully and consciously is to remember what matters most. In your interactions with others, recognize that the present represents yesterday’s dreams and tomorrow’s memories. Treat and cherish your loved ones accordingly.

Categories
Happiness Positive Change Positive Potential Purpose Your Calling

#24 Discovering your purpose in life

Sunset in La Puerta, Mexico by Nicole Kinnear
Sunset in La Puerta, Mexico by Nicole Kinnear

When I talk to my kids about their future careers, I know that what they decide to do with their lives will be shaped by their life experiences. Though they may have passion in a number of areas today, they will discover more of themselves as their lives unfold.

I draw for them three large circles analogous to the model used in the business classic, “From Good to Great”. In that book, Jim Collins asserted that great companies chose as their business the intersection of three great circles representing (1) what they did better than any other company, (2) what they were passionate about, and (3) the needs of the world.

I see potential in each of us, and when I look at my kids and talk to patients, both adolescents and adults at a crossroads in their lives, I draw them those three large circles.

The first circle represents your passions. What do you love to do? What would you be willing to do for free? What could you do for hours at a time and instead of feeling exhausted, you feel energized?

The second circle represents your talents. What do you do better than anyone else? What comes easiest to you? In what area of your life can you become great if you had the right training and put in enough practice?

The third circle represents the needs of the world. How can you use your talent and passion to meet the needs of others?

The intersection of these three circles – your passions, your talents and the needs of the world – is your calling – what you need to do. Your calling is not icing on the cake when the rest of your life is looked after. It is the purpose of your life. It is your gift to the world.

Your happiness exercise for the day: Try this exercise today. Take a blank piece of paper and draw three intersecting circles. In the first, write what you are passionate about. In the second, what you do better than anyone else (your friends and family may help you here). In the third, look for the needs of your world.

Categories
Meditation Purpose Your Calling

Why I Write

From time to time, we should all question what we are doing with our time and with our lives. This is especially true when we simply fall into routine living and find ourselves doing what we do simply just because we’ve being doing it day after day, year after year.

In my own method of meditation (7 questions, 7 mantras), I ask myself each day, “What am I doing?”

That question is designed to address my current course of action and routines into which I have fallen. Are my actions aligned with my greatest values? Alternatively, have I somehow lost my way and fallen off the path? Have I responded to circumstances reactively rather than mindfully?

Next month will mark the 20th anniversary of my newspaper column. My first column in the Burnaby Now and the Royal City Record appeared in September 1991. Over time, I moved from writing twice a month to every week, and my column has been carried by other papers in the Now network.

At first, I was paid $20 for each article, but after a few years, I chose to make my writing part of my volunteer work for my community. It’s been a forum through which I could contribute to the health and wellbeing of more people than I could personally meet in my medical practice.

Writing a regular column can be challenging. However, I can never run out topics on which to write as I am ever learning from my patients and my children. I can keep writing as long as I keep learning.

Finding time to write is difficult. I’m as busy as most family physicians with practices that can consume as much of our lives as we allow. I have tried not to steal precious time from my family.

I regret that I’ve been unable to personally answer letters from my readers, but I do appreciate their words of support and encouragement. Without their feedback, writing is a solitary activity. I write with the intent that what I share will make a positive difference.

I’ve appreciated cards from long-time readers who took the time to say thank you and those who’ve told me that I gave them the words they needed to get through the hardest times in their lives. I’ve kept the letter from a mother who wrote that an article on hope helped her understand her son and find peace when he died from cancer.

One young man wrote how my series on finding our calling gave him the courage to leave his job, go back to school and do what he was really meant to do. He became an inspiration to those around him who noticed how much happier he had become

When I’ve given public education talks for nonprofit groups, I’ve been moved by faithful readers who tell me that they’ve saved every column I wrote and sent their favourites to loved ones.

This summer, I came to question my own writing routine but not because I was about to start my third decade. One of the papers published three very negative letters to the editor. They read as personal attacks from people I had never met. They conveyed a meanness of spirit that negated the spirit of my own writing.

It made me question why I wrote for the paper. With reflection over the past month, I realized that I don’t write for any newspaper. I write for my readers.

I write to share practical perspectives that can help others negotiate challenges to their wellbeing, improve their relationships, negotiate the health care system and inspire them to achieve their positive potential for health and happiness.

Categories
Grace Positive Potential Purpose Wisdom Your Calling

Making a Difference: Leaving Things Better Than How You Found Them

The chair of a hospital committee that I later chaired myself once said that we were all there to make a difference. The members of the committee were not always on the same page. Unlike the chair, many did not see the big picture; some were biased by their own special interests and local concerns.

My predecessor, of course, was referring to positive change. In fact, one of his mottoes was to leave things better than how he found them. He gave as an example how he cleans up public washrooms. While others don’t flush, leave a mess and contaminate door knobs, he would clean up the sink, pick up the litter and leave the room sparkling. I didn’t ask if he signed the janitor’s log on the wall.

Most visitors to a public restroom look after their own personal business. Some are flagrant in their disregard for the collateral damage of that business. Hence, the sticky floors, toilet seats and doors.

What would our world be like if we not only aimed to please and cleaned up after ourselves and others? What if we all thought more about who will follow us?

As we each walk the journey of this day, we have many choices. We can leave things as they are and leave the clean up to someone else, we can make a mess and walk away, or we can make things better.

Your legacy may be something big: your life’s work, or your legacy may be how you live each day, making a positive difference in small yet meaningful ways and shining a light on the people you know and those whom you will never meet.

Categories
Coping with Loss Growth Happiness Positive Potential Purpose Your Calling

A Hundred Days to Happiness #94: Finding Your Own Path

In one version of the Grail legend, Parcival is a knight, noble and compassionate by nature, who by his formal knightly training resists the call to express that compassion spontaneously and ask the mortally wounded Grail King why he suffers. His failure to answer that calling throws Parcival and the world into a wasteland.

The wasteland in literature and myth is a state worse than Vancouver with no garbage pick-up.  The landscape is barren and humans live without meaning and purpose (which to me reminds me of people who spend weekends in the malls shopping only for the sake of shopping).

After years in the wasteland, Parcival is given a second chance, and this time, he answers the call, restores the world and achieves his potential as the new Grail King.

In my last post, I talked about how life’s speed bumps and detours wake us up and force us to find a new path.  But how does one find the right path?  There is no GPS for the ultimate destination.

As an overly introspective teen, I was torn by the existential dilemma.  We are free to choose; in fact, we are condemned to choose, and our choices have significant consequences.  Yet we never have a complete picture.  We have insufficient information to determine what will ultimately be the best course of action.  We never have the map to take us home.

The darkest time in my youth was in second year Science at UBC.  Worn down by the long commute from Burnaby, I caught pneumonia and missed a month of classes.  For the first time in life, I wasn’t at the top of the class.  Unable to catch up, I had to withdraw from all my courses.   It felt like failure.

I was demoralized.  My dreams of med school imploded.  I didn’t have a job for months.  I didn’t talk to my friends, until I got sick again and they came to visit me in the hospital.  I did a lot of thinking, and most of it was negative.

I finally did get a job, thanks to my best friend’s mom, in a government office.  My coworkers lived in a white collared wasteland.  The beacon at the end of each dismal day was the clock set incorrectly forward.

Heads which were downcast most of the day, popped out of their cubicles at 3:55 pm, and at 3:58, all would begin the brisk walk down the hall so that all could leave the building at 4:00 sharp, at least according to the fast clock.

After months working in just a job in the wasteland, I returned to the adventure of discovering my calling.  I knew that my life’s work must be meaningful.  It must fully engage my abilities and be consistent with my deepest values.

To remain on the path is the work of a lifetime.  Many do not find a life that fits well.  They settle into a position at work or a place in society that was decided by circumstances, others or the pursuit of money.

Our goals at each stage of our lives will necessarily differ.  Time with your family is most valued in early childhood and later life.  Creating a sense of self among peers is the priority of adolescence.  For the young adult, the emphasis is in establishing a vocation and later, marrying and starting a family.

In mid-life, we are also mid-career and consider the path so far, sometimes with appreciation, sometimes with regret. Some are called to embark on a new path; others ride the same road to its mostly predictable end.

And when we are at the end, in the golden years, we have the time to reflect on the life we have lived.   By the way, I think we say golden not because of material riches but because it rhymes with olden and if our eyes don’t fail us, we may be able to see the approaching sunset.

We consider the legacy we leave to our families and to the world.  We are preoccupied with the myriad medical issues that come with the aging body, and we must come to terms with our own mortality.

In his book, The 8th Habit, Stephen Covey speaks of the need to “find your voice.”  This, in fact, is your life’s work, your calling.  It is the key to lasting happiness because it transcends the transient objects we pursue for gratification.  This is what Joseph Campbell called “finding your bliss.”

In Covey’s model, your voice lies at the nexus or intersection of four great circles, representing your talents (what you do best), your passion (what you care about), the needs of the world, and your conscience (what you know is right).

When I’m counseling my young patients at the crossroads of life, considering which path to blaze, I draw out the circles and ask them to consider their calling.  In future posts, I’ll address how each of us can achieve our unique calling, our positive potential in life.

Categories
Happiness Meditation Your Calling

A Hundred Days to Happiness #88: The Joy in Giving

Giving is the 8th choice in Rick Foster and Greg Hicks’ book, “How We Choose To Be Happy: The 9 Choices of Extremely Happy People: Their Secrets, Their Stories”. They define giving as “the choice to share yourself with friends and community and to give to the world at large without the expectation of a “return”.

They discuss the ideas of the 12th century Jewish philosopher Maimonides, who felt the highest level of giving was to provide to those in need that which will make them self-sufficient. Examples of this would be mentoring and teaching others a trade, a skill or an education. It can be the gift of your time and attention to make someone else stronger. These are the gifts that will last a lifetime. They may outlive us and be given forward to others and down to future generations.

This is the joy in teaching. I know this first hand as a father, physician and teacher. My children may not remember every word of wisdom I’ve preached to them, but they will never forget the skills that I taught them. Of my three children, only one of them doesn’t remember the moment I let go of the bike and they peddled alone on two wheels, but my amnestic son loves cycling the most and will never forget how to ride. I taught them to read and to draw and to make up stories from their imagination. My joy is in seeing their joy in mastery.

I love teaching medical students. These intelligent young people are brimming with enthusiasm for practical knowledge, clinical skills and complementary ways of helping their future patients. I love to share the intrinsic rewards of our profession – the depth of the patient-doctor relationship and the satisfaction of making a positive difference in the lives of others. Inspiring future doctors invigorates my own work.

One of the greatest joys is in teaching patients new ways to look at their lives and showing them new approaches to their life’s challenges. This could be showing a patient with a chronic condition such as high blood pressure, diabetes or asthma how they can take charge of their own health through knowledge of their condition and its treatment with lifestyle and medications. This could be teaching them meditation or cognitive therapy to master their own thoughts and emotions.

Maimonides’s second highest level of giving is anonymous giving – giving without recognition and with no expectation of reward. Whenever I donated blood, I would send out a prayer of health to the person who will one day receive the blood draining from my arm. On Saturday, May 7th the Canadian Blood Services is hosting their “Thanks Mom Stem Cell Drive”. At Burnaby’s Metropolis in Metrotown, any healthy person aged 17 to 50 can register to be a potential stem cell donor with a simple cheek swab. By registering, you could one day be called to donate stem cells in a process similar to a blood donation if you are a match for someone who could be facing a life-threatening condition such as lymphoma, leukemia or other blood diseases. For more information, check the websites at http://www.onematch.ca or http://www.thanksmom.org.

One of my favourite ways to give of oneself is to answer the call on a daily basis. I believe we each have a calling – a great purpose in our lives, and that calling is the intersection of our talents and passions with the needs of the world.

Yet if we approach each day with open eyes and an open heart, we will see many big and small ways we can make a difference in the lives of the people we meet each day.

Your happiness exercise: Move through this day with open eyes and an open heart. Look for ways you can use your unique talents and resources to help someone who needs it. It can be a kind word, a generous act or a helping hand. For extra happiness points, you could even do it anonymously!

Approach every day like this, always asking, “How can I make a positive difference today?” I feel this is the greatest way to seize the day.

Categories
Happiness Positive Potential Purpose Your Calling

A Hundred Days To Happiness: The Good You Can Do

In my last post, I talked about our potential to do harm even if we don’t intend to. That’s part of being human, but we can minimize our harm to others by being more mindful of our words and actions.

The daily news is filled with stories of the negative human potential – how we can harm one another through abuse, aggression and criminal actions.

But you and I have a greater potential, and that is our potential to help one another, to make a positive difference in someone else’s day and life, thereby increasing the happiness enjoyed by others and ourselves.

If we could match the needs of our neighbours with our own special abilities to help, imagine how much happier our world would be. There would be less suffering, and we would be living more purposeful and meaningful lives.

When we think about meaning and purpose, we usually think about our whole lives and our ultimate calling, but I believe there is a unique meaning and special purpose in each day. We just have to look for them.

Your happiness exercise for today: In your home, school, workplace or community, be an agent for positive change. Where you see a need that you can meet, take the initiative and make a difference.