Hospice Volunteer

January 31, 2010 by  
Filed under Featured


by Wendy Hammond

Lately, I’ve been middle aged.  I suppose this is why I wake up at two in the morning and consider my life.  Usually I’m horrified.  I wander around my dark house listening to the music and rhythms of my husband’s breathing, and I think about the things I’ve always wanted to get out of life, and I wonder, in my middle aged way, why none of it feels meaningful anymore.

The search for meaning led me, several months ago, to get on the internet and type “hospice + volunteer” on the Google search page.  I had read Kubler-Ross’s Death and Dying, and Tuesdays with Morrie and I figured that by working with the dying I’d find the meaning in life.

So I signed up for volunteer training at a nearby hospice.  Every Wednesday night about 40 of us met in the Hospice cafeteria.  We watched Nurse Betty demonstrate how to put on and take off latex gloves.  We listened to lectures on the stages of dying, bereavement, and color therapy for the sick.  We practiced healing each other with energy from our hands.  For our last class, a college professor spoke about the life lessons we would learn from the dying.  Then Helen, the director of volunteers, gave each of us a blue paper with scrolls xeroxed on it.  The paper certified that we had graduated from the volunteer training and were now ready to minister to the dying for one shift every week.  We ate sugar cookies and hugged each other goodbye.  We drove back to our homes imagining how we would sit at deathbeds and commune with the souls making their way to the world beyond.  We would hold their hands and talk deeply about life.  Some of us would write our own books: maybe not Tuesdays with Morrie but certainly Fridays with John.

That first night, I presented myself to the nurses station full of expectation.   I made myself notice every detail — the rose colored carpet, the buzz of the fluorescent lights — because I wanted to remember every moment as I began my journey into the depth and breadth of life’s meaning.

The receptionist looked up at me blankly.  Apparently she didn’t know I was coming.  “Wait here,” she said.  I leaned on the counter and waited.  Every so often a nurse or CNA ran past the desk. “Do you know about this volunteer?” the receptionist asked.  They all shook their heads and kept running.  Finally a short muscular man named George grabbed my elbow.  “I’ll take her,” he said.

George raced around the floor pointing out where to fetch chucks, diapers, wipes, gloves, gowns, towels and topical medications.  I ran behind him hoping I’d remember half of what he said.   He showed me where to put soiled laundry and how to deposit biowaste, then he turned and looked me over.  He frowned.  “How strong are you?”

“Pretty strong.”

He kept frowning for a moment as if he didn’t believe me.  Then he smiled, wickedly.  “Good.”

I held no hands that night; I didn’t discuss the meaning of life.  I cleaned up shit.  George and I went from patient to patient turning them, changing diapers and chucks, replacing soiled bedclothes with fresh, putting salve on bed sores.  The smell of shit was constant.

As I worked I thought about Tuesdays with Morrie, how wise Morrie was, how much he liked to talk.  Most of these patients were too sick or too medicated to say anything, much less impart wisdom.  Some of them slept, some stared.  Some patients looked dully at television sets.  Every few seconds a TV character got shot or fell off a building.  It struck me how easy death was on TV and how hard it was for these patients.  These people had been dying a long time, and most of them had months to go.

I must have made a face because George said, “Do you mind this?”

“No, absolutely not.”  But I realized that wasn’t the truth.   I didn’t like that truth, I’d been trying to ignore it, I felt ashamed of it, but here it was.  Death, the process of dying– it was pissing me off.  Here I’d spent my valuable time training as a volunteer, and now I was doing smelly, hard physical labor.  I had expected, in return, to find meaning in life, but I wasn’t finding meaning in life.  I was watching the meaningless suffering, helplessness and medicated boredom of people slowly dying.

George and I started to work on Liz.  A nurse had already given her the maximum pain medication allowed, but still she winced badly even when we touched her arm.  “Can’t we just leave her be?” I asked.

George pointed to the blood on the bed pad near her bottom.  “Her bed sores are infected,” he said.  “You want ‘em to get worse?”  Liz was a large woman, and we heaved and pulled and cleaned as gently as we could, all the time watching the agony on her face, now lessening, now getting worse.

As we worked, I began to notice the transaction I had expected — my time and labor in exchange for a sense of meaning.  I considered how much of my life had been a transaction.  My effort in exchange for money and success.  My nurturing in exchange for my family’s love.  Was I a human being or simply a consumer?  No wonder I didn’t find meaning in life lately.  And what a horrible thing I was doing tonight, trying to buy a sense of life’s meaning off these sick and dying people.

When we finished, Liz’s face was flushed red and covered with perspiration.  I wiped her forehead with a cool washrag while George adjusted the pillows under her knees.  She started to whisper, “You’re so good to me.  I can’t thank you enough.”

I wanted to believe she was talking to us.  If I couldn’t get meaning out of this, at least I could get gratitude.  But her unfocused eyes told me she was speaking to someone not in this room.  George stroked her gray, matted hair.  “Go to sleep, Sweetie,” he said.  “Go to sleep now.”

She closed her eyes.  Her body twitched, agitated.  Finally I understood:  Liz wasn’t getting anything out of dying; she was just dying.  And I wasn’t getting anything out of cleaning her; I was just cleaning.  I was doing the work simply because it needed to be done.

Suddenly the shouting in my mind quieted down, and for the rest of my shift I lifted and cleaned and comforted as best I could, free for the first time in years from the questions like hungry monsters in my mind: what can I get out of this, where’s the meaning, what’s in it for me?

Wendy Hammond is a playwright now living in Asia and setting up the drama department of TischAsia (Tish NYU).  She is also a minister and a mother.


A Special Chance Meeting

January 30, 2010 by  
Filed under Blog

Early this morning I was picked up by a friend to go on a hike.  I love hiking. Its great exercise plus I get to be outdoors and enjoy the natural beauty of Los Angeles.  For people that don’t know LA, this is a city with many mountains and hiking trails.  Sometimes, you can actually find yourself in spots where there are no people or buildings and the only sound you hear is the wind.

Forty five minutes into our hike I saw a woman running with her dog.  She was wearing a sports bra and pants which showed her Mercedes Benz scar (an inverted Y).  I know that scar.  It is the same my husband had after his liver transplant and it is the one when he was delirious from ammonia and steroids, he thought was the mark of a special type of warrior.

I felt an immediate kinship with the woman and asked if her scar was from her liver.  She said no.  It was from bowels and pancreas. I let my friend walk ahead of me and I kept pace with this woman who now was also walking.

I told her my husband had a liver transplant in 2006 and she asked how he was doing.  I told her he had passed away in August 2008 but not from the transplant but for the cancer which had returned with a vengeance in 2007.  She said she was sorry and I know she was.  I find there is a depth and honesty in people that have come near death or who are struggling to stay alive that leaves no room for superficiality.  I thanked her for her compassion.

She went on to tell me she had been in a coma for 5 days three weeks ago and out of the hospital only a week.  I tell her what my husband used to say about the Mercedes Benz scar; the mark of a warrior, of special people.  She smiles and tells me she feels she is one of those toys on springs inside a box, the harder she is pushed down the harder she springs back up.

At that moment she realized her dog was nowhere in sight and I realized I too had lost my friend.

We said goodbye and she went looking for her dog while I went looking for my friend who I find a few yards ahead of me.

Fifteen minutes later the woman runs with her dog past my friend and I and says to my friend, that I was a special person.  I thought for a second why she would feel that way before I realized for a short time I had shared with this woman compassion and understanding and I didn’t pity her, I just listened to her.  I had stopped her to say I understood and I honored her bravery.

The woman reminded me how lucky I am to be alive, healthy and to still have the possibility of experiencing many things.  She also reminded me of my husband’s strength of will and spirit.  He was having a nice meal with my nieces the day before he passed away from cancer complications.  She reminded me of all the people who every day struggle to stay alive and come to realize what is really important simply because life is precious.


One New Yorker Asks, What Is Love?

January 28, 2010 by  
Filed under Featured

After seven years of talking about love with people on the street, Karen Porter Sorensen learned a few things that helped her when family members were ill.

By Marie Suszynski
Medically reviewed by Pat F. Bass III, MD, MPH

what is love

Some researchers say that love isn’t just an emotion. It’s a need — like thirst or hunger — and that romantic love can create such intense cravings that it feels like a drug.

Karen Porter Sorensen, the Brooklyn, N.Y., author of love (luv) n. who asked perfect strangers for their thoughts on love in New York City, saw first-hand that people do, in fact, have a yearning for love and connection with others.

She also learned that one of the most important gifts we can give someone — especially someone who’s going through a health crisis — is love.

It’s easy to get swept away by love when you’re in a new romantic relationship. The real question is: How do you show love to a family member or a friend when you’re filled with grief over their illness? Sorensen has some ideas.

What Love Research Revealed

For seven years, Sorensen ran a “love research booth” in New York City and offered people walking by a single rose in return for answering five questions about love, such as, “What is love?,” “Who taught you love?,” and “Has your love ever been tested?”

The hundreds of responses she got were across the board. An art educator told Sorenson that love is making a new universe with other people. A man whose partner was dying said that to love is to understand what the other person needs and find ways to make it happen.

Why did she embark on this project? In part because Sorensen’s brother was diagnosed with a mental illness and he couldn’t express his emotions. Suddenly her brother didn’t believe in love anymore. “In some ways [the book] was a testament to him,” she says.

Sorensen was also new to New York City and wanted to connect to the city in an interesting way. And she was engaged and wanted to explore what love really was.

Loving Someone Who is Ill

Her research also helped her learn how to love family members when they were going through a health crisis. Not only was her brother struggling with a mental illness, but her mother fought breast cancer and survived, and her grandmother also became ill and died a week before Sorensen finished her book. Here’s what her research taught her about coping:

  • If nothing else, just listen. One of the greatest things you can do when someone you love is sick is to be available to her and listen to what she has to say without judgment and without having expectations of what you want her to say, Sorensen says.Being with a loved one living who is ill is uncomfortable, but it’s important to put your own feelings of discomfort aside and focus on her. “If you can, make space available for people to share whatever they want to share,” she says.
  • Be present, even when it’s painful. “It’s easy to check out and get caught up in your own grief,” Sorensen says. But it’s important to enjoy the moments you have left with someone who’s seriously ill. She and her family played Hungarian music for her grandmother during the last days of her life, which was something her grandmother loved when she was younger. And everyone in her family decided to dance for her grandmother, even though their sadness didn’t make them feel like dancing. “Find moments of joy even in the most difficult situations,” Sorensen advises.
  • Wear bright colors. When Sorensen did her love research on the streets of New York City, she always wore a red suit and red hat. Simply bringing color to somebody is powerful, she says. She used the same philosophy when she visited her grandmother when she was sick. When she walked into the room wearing bright colors, she noticed her grandmother light up.
  • When the person who is ill wants to be alone, try helping their family members. People who are sick sometimes don’t want others to see them vulnerable and in pain. Sorensen has a friend who volunteers to sit with people who have life-threatening illnesses to give them company. But she noticed that one of the men she visited, who had always been friendly and usually welcomed her, started sending her away. Instead of leaving, she sat next to his daughter in the next room instead and offered her a listening ear.

Looking for more love in your life? Sorensen put together 100 ways to do it, including sending a love letter to a stranger (which could be as simple as jotting a note of thanks to someone who showed you kindness), keeping a journal of where you see love, reading famous love letters, smiling at strangers, and spending the day telling the people who are important to you that you love them.


Living A Longer And Better Life

January 27, 2010 by  
Filed under Blog

I have just come across this TED talk and thought it was really worth the watch.  It breaks down scientifically the components that help humans live longer and happier.  Let me know what you think.

Dan Buettner is the author of "The Blue Zones: Lessons for Living Longer from the People Who've Lived the Longest." He spoke at the TEDxTC Event at the Science Museum of Minnesota in September, 2009. His Web site is http://www.bluezones.com/ For more TED Talks, click here

In the same way organisms select for characteristics that favor the survival and well-being of its species over successive generations, so too do cultures. With organisms, we call this process evolution and it represents a sort of accumulated wisdom. There is no word for this process in cultures, but there is one for the result. And that word is tradition.

For that past eight years, my team of scientists and National Geographic researchers have explored five parts of the world -- "Blue Zones" -- where people live measurably longer lives.

Compared to American averages, we found a bronze-age culture in Sardinia's interior that produces about 10 times more male centenarians; a remote peninsula in Costa Rica where 50 year-olds have a three-fold better chance or reaching age 90; a Greek island completely free of Alzheimer's (about 50 percent of Americans over age 90 suffer from dementia); and islands in southern Japan where people suffer one-sixth the rate of heart disease. How do they do it?

The Danish Twin Studies established that only about 20 percent of average lifespan (within certain biological limits) is dictated by genes. Lifestyle explains most of the rest of the longevity formula.

We found that all five Blue Zones possessed the same nine lifestyle characteristics. Among them: a low-meat, plant-based diet (all of them ate a lot of beans) and a ritual of "downshifting" each day. They experience the same stresses we do -- kids, health, finances -- but they managed it through daily prayer, meditation, ancestor veneration or city-wide happy hours (like the Sardinians).

The secret to longevity, as I see it, has less to do with diet, or even exercise, and more to do with the environment in which a person lives: social and physical. What do I mean by this? They live rewardingly inconvenient lives. They walk to the store and to their friends' homes and they live in houses set up with opportunities to move mindlessly. They do their own yard work, hand-knead their own bread dough, and, in the case of Okinawa, get up and down off the floor several dozen times a day.

They live in strong families that keep them motivated to support loved ones. Centenarians are still living near their children and feel loved and the expectation to love. Instead of being mere recipients of care, they are contributors to the lives of their families. They grow gardens to contribute vegetables, they continue to cook and clean. This has a powerful two-fold effect: Children and grandchildren in these families benefit from their grandparents' wisdom and care while the centenarians feel the motivation to stay active, to get out of bed in the morning, and live for a purpose.

They live in cities where it is easy to walk to their friends' houses, to the store or to church. So, we figured they get about 105 minutes of physical activity everyday -- and no health club membership!

We know from the Framingham studies that happiness, smoking and obesity are all "contagious." If your three best friends are obese, there's a 70 percent better chance that you'll be overweight. People in the Blue Zones either proactively surround themselves with people who practice the right behaviors or are born into communities of people who do -- or people whose idea of fun is gardening, or bocce ball or swimming; people who eat meat sparingly, who have faith, who are trusting and trust-worthy. Why is this so important?

No supplement, hormone, antioxidant or pill of any sort has been shown to reverse, stop or even slow aging. The problem is two-fold: to do the study properly, you'd need to follow two groups of people for life: one who takes the pill, the other that doesn't. Then you'd have to control for all other factors and compare the average age of death for each group. No such study has ever been done on a "longevity" supplement.

The second problem is adherence. People in general just don't stick to doing anything for very long. Are you taking supplements? How long have you been taking them? I'll bet not more than a few years.

Science (and hucksters) have offered us countless diets but research done by the University of Minnesota's Dr. Robert W. Jeffrey has shown that fewer than 2 percent of people adhere to diets for more than two years. For anything to really impact your life expectancy positively, you need to do it for most of your life. Friends, unlike pills or diets, are much more likely to be much longer-term undertakings.

The secret to solving much of America's health care crisis and battle with chronic diseases lies in emulating the environment in Blue Zones. Is it possible?

Last year, my partners and I made Blue Zones-inspired changes to the environment of an entire American town -- Albert Lea, Minnesota, (see AARP Magazine article). We made the town more walkable and bikeable, dug public gardens, made it easier for kids to walk to school and people to expand their face-to-face social networks to include more people motivated to change their health habits. The results were astounding.

If the trends continue, life expectancy for the average participant would rise about three years and health care costs for city workers would decrease by 48 percent.

The wisdom of the world's Blue Zones represents centuries or even millennia of observed human experience. As Democrats and Republicans argue over how to solve the health care crisis, perhaps they should take a moment to consider the wisdom of their grandmothers.


What is Osama Bin Laden Doing About Haiti?

January 23, 2010 by  
Filed under Blog

I don’t know but I do know what many people, businesses, organizations and governments are; they are helping.

As I watched Hope For Haiti on January 22nd, I was taken by how we as a people mobilize every time there is a disaster.  I was also taken by the amazing performances that took place all night.  Singer after singer gave one of the best performances of their careers; simple and heartfelt.  I have never been a Justin Timberlake but watching him sing with Matt Morris Hallelujah, I was blown away.  His performance was just of great depth and sincerity.

Performers, without any big sets or costumes, just stood on a stage and delivered something from the heart that I’m sure touched everyone watching.  It was a night of amazing simple beauty and I hope these talented people remember how effective they were by just singing from within and trusting they have something to give and share.

I hope that we as a people also remember how it felt to come together and help, and how it felt to be part of a world community that cares.  I also hope we can continue to do that without having to wait for another crisis to remember to care for each other.

Now going back to Osama and his peeps, they are certainly not helping Haiti.  They are too busy killing and maiming others in the name of god.  He continues to believe that his Muslim world is being poisoned and desecrated by infidels – read us – and has found plenty of firebrand clerics to offer Quranic backing for his belief that terrorism is glorious and that all methods of war are justified in the battle against the infidels.  So he’s probably thinking, just like Pat Robertson (read lunatics) that god gave the Haitians what they deserved.

We live in a world that is full of dissent cause by poverty, dictatorship, and terrorism.  Maybe if we, the people that have more stable governments and economies, could show compassion as part of our daily lives and truly show interest in being a part of the world community, maybe people like Bin Laden would have a harder time portraying us as evil.

I’m not being naïve and recognize that part of being human is to have a certain level of selfishness, my home, my money, my family, and that is okay, we just need to add the caring part a little bit more.

So my hat is off to Shakira, Wyclef Jean, Alicia Keys, Bruce Springsteen, Stevie Wonder, Taylor Swift, Coldplay, Rihanna, U2 and all the singers for their incredible performance and all the actors and directors answering the phones but mostly to all of us that gave money and showed up.

If we can pull together such an effort in only ten days, imagine what we could do if each one of us spent 10 minutes a day doing something for someone else.  It is in my opinion an idea worth pursuing.


People Who Devote Time, Money And Skills To Making A Difference

January 21, 2010 by  
Filed under Inspiring People

By Amy Wilson
(MONEY Magazine) – Some people seem destined to make the world a better place. Dr. Evaleen Jones of Menlo Park, Calif. is one of them.

The 42-year-old family practitioner and founder of Child Family Health International (CFHI; cfhi.org), a nonprofit that places medical students in impoverished communities abroad, got her start in philanthropy at a young age. In 1986, as a first-year med student at Stanford, Jones wanted to volunteer at a health clinic overseas. When she couldn’t find an opening, she bought a plane ticket and flew to Ecuador to visit clinics. She was shocked by the scarcity of equipment. So the next year she formed CFHI and spent weekends pulling together a mobile surgical unit for a clinic in Ecuador, which became CFHI’s first big donation.

CFHI has since sent some 5,000+ students abroad. The ~$2,000-a-month tuition covers room and board and also buys supplies and other necessities for the clinics where they volunteer, which helps make the partnerships possible. Schools like Princeton now offer programs in collaboration with CFHI for credit. “Students return,” says Jones, “with a passion for compassion.”



Thinking About Haiti

January 20, 2010 by  
Filed under Blog

We heard about and saw the results of an earthquake. Images of massive destruction, of the landscape and the victims flooded the media. The images and the reality were so shocking that it was greeted with a universal outpouring of sympathy, caring and generosity.

Haiti has long been known as the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere. It has a unique history. I recommend a trip into Wikipedia land to get a quick review of the turbulent history of this “should be rich” country, which has been occupied and plundered and the victim of internal and external greed and corruption.

Once you absorb some of this horror, perhaps you will wonder, as I do, why the citizenry of the world that has now rushed to try to help the starving, poor, ill-clothed, sick people of Haiti who are victims of this natural disaster, were so oblivious to the documented day-to-day horrors that the Haitians were suffering before the earthquakes.

As you read a compendium of the events in Haitian history, you will recognize things you had heard before. Aristide, Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, the US occupation of Haiti, the first only successful slave revolution in history may well resonate with you. And you may ask, as I do, why the world does not unite, as they do after a natural disaster to work to alleviate the suffering?

For me, Darfur comes immediately to mind. Genocides, past and present, are revisited. What’s wrong with us? How can we be so caring and at the same time be so oblivious? How is it that we can send a contribution to the Red Cross, our Church, the Cancer Fund, and not insist on healthcare legislation the guarantees coverage to everyone including people that have lost their job, have no job, or have previous chronic illnesses. Why are we unable to conceive of supporting a tax or a fee which will not affect our standard of living to pay for humanitarian foreign aid or aid that will help some poor country out of the poverty suffered by the Haitians before the disaster?

And, I wonder how long this interest in the people of Haiti will last? Rebuilding a country and alleviating systemic poverty made more horrible by this disaster will take time and continued support. We have many who question our staying power to continue to keep troops and supplies in Afghanistan and Iraq to nation build. Do we have the staying power to continue to care about Haiti?

Caring should not have to be shaken out of us by a 7.0 earthquake.


The Little Rules Of Action

January 19, 2010 by  
Filed under Featured

Taking action doesn’t mean making life a blur.

“The shortest answer is doing.” - Lord Herbert

Post written by Leo Babauta. Follow me on Twitter.The

Too often we get stuck in inaction — the quagmire of doubt and perfectionism and distractions and planning that stops us from moving forward.

And while I’m no proponent of a whirling buzz of activity, I also believe people get lost in the distractions of the world and lose sight of what’s important, and how to actually accomplish their Something Amazing.

And so today I’d like to humbly present a few little rules of action — just some small reminders, things I’ve found useful but by no means invented, common-sense stuff that is often not common enough.

1. Don’t overthink. Too much thinking often results in getting stuck, in going in circles. Some thinking is good — it’s good to have a clear picture of where you’re going or why you’re doing this — but don’t get stuck thinking. Just do.
2. Just start. All the planning in the world will get you nowhere. You need to take that first step, no matter how small or how shaky. My rule for motivating myself to run is: Just lace up your shoes and get out the door. The rest takes care of itself.
3. Forget perfection. Perfectionism is the enemy of action. Kill it, immediately. You can’t let perfect stop you from doing. You can turn a bad draft into a good one, but you can’t turn no draft into a good draft. So get going.
4. Don’t mistake motion for action. A common mistake. A fury of activity doesn’t mean you’re doing anything. When you find yourself moving too quickly, doing too many things at once, this is a good reminder to stop. Slow down. Focus.
5. Focus on the important actions. Clear the distractions. Pick the one most important thing you must do today, and focus on that. Exclusively. When you’re done with that, repeat the process.
6. Move slowly, consciously. Be deliberate. Action doesn’t need to be done fast. In fact, that often leads to mistakes, and while perfection isn’t at all necessary, neither is making a ridiculous amount of mistakes that could be avoided with a bit of consciousness.
7. Take small steps. Biting off more than you can chew will kill the action. Maybe because of choking, I dunno. But small steps always works. Little tiny blows that will eventually break down that mountain. And each step is a victory, that will compel you to further victories.
8. Negative thinking gets you nowhere. Seriously, stop doing that. Self doubt? The urge to quit? Telling yourself that it’s OK to be distracted and that you can always get to it later? Squash those thoughts. Well, OK, you can be distracted for a little bit, but you get the idea. Positive thinking, as corny as it sounds, really works. It’s self-talk, and what we tell ourselves has a funny habit of turning into reality.
9. Meetings aren’t action. This is a common mistake in management. They hold meetings to get things done. Meetings, unfortunately, almost always get in the way of actual doing. Stop holding those meetings!
10. Talking (usually) isn’t action. Well, unless the action you need to take is a presentation or speech or something. Or you’re a television broadcaster. But usually, talking is just talking. Communication is necessary, but don’t mistake it for actual action.
11. Planning isn’t action. Sure, you need to plan. Do it, so you’re clear about what you’re doing. Just do it quickly, and get to the actual action as quickly as you can.
12. Reading about it isn’t action. You’re reading an article about action. Ironic, I know. But let this be the last one. Now get to work!
13. Sometimes, inaction is better. This might be the most ironic thing on the list, but really, if you find yourself spinning your wheels, or you find you’re doing more harm than good, rethink whether the action is even necessary. Or better yet, do this from the beginning — is it necessary? Only do the action if it is.

“Talk doesn’t cook rice.” - Chinese Proverb


Living Life In A Different Way

January 17, 2010 by  
Filed under Blog

Why is it that only in a crisis do we realize the value of life?  Why is it only then we know what is important and we become our best selves?

Reading, watching and talking about Haiti I see and feel the devastation but I also recognize the compassion of strangers coming together in solidarity to help.

I’m no Pollyanna and know there a number of individuals that take advantage of disasters by looting or setting up fake charities to collect money from the well intentioned.  But I’m not talking about those people because they are the minority.  I’m talking about the millions of people that want to help and are helping.

I believe when Barack Obama, Clinton and George Bush stood together at the White House, asking their fellow citizens to join together in benevolence and kindness they meant that.  Committing to assist is a transformational act.

I’m sure many of the politicians, doctors, journalists and others who are now on the ground in Haiti are not thinking about their personal finance, or fame or anything else.  I believe most of them are in high gear to help, and are thankful not to be a victim in this catastrophe.

Now, anyone who has gone through any type of loss knows that life’s value system changes after a tragedy. But unfortunately some of the changes loose steam as life goes on.

At some point we knew what is important; love, health, friendship, laughter, but somehow the struggles of life start to take a toll and we start to forget.

Why can’t we live life remembering that every day counts and that love has to be tended to and cared for?

All of us who don’t live in  poverty, and therefore have food to eat and a bed to sleep in, spend a lot of our time thinking how to climb up the social and economic ladder often at the cost of relationships and simple contentment.

How many hours do we spend working or in front of a computer?  How many hours do we spend with ourselves and others?  When was the last time we asked ourselves what can I do for you today?  Or sat quietly enjoying the weather, a good meal, or good conversation?

We are always in a hurry and multitasking.  We drive and put make up on at the same time.  We dine and check our email.  We shop and talk on the cell phone.

Are we ever quiet so we can check in with ourselves?  How often do we even remember such basic things as taking deep breaths?

The world is moving fast and unless we make a concerted effort to be in touch with ourselves, others and the world, we are just like chickens running around with our heads cut off.

I have a hunch all the people in Haiti when they come back, they will spend time with their families and friends and appreciate them in a renewed way.  They will be inspired by a smile and inclined to simple pleasures.  But I also have a hunch that in time that will lessen and some of the profound feelings they are experiencing now will also be lessened.  So what’s the solution?

I heard of a course that emphasizes living one’s life as if we only had a year to live.  Truly having that thought would really put life in perspective on a daily basis.  Who would want to engage in road rage when we had a limited time to live?  Who would want to be angry at tech support in India when time was limited?

But who would want to spend quality time with their pets, friends, and family?  I think most everyone.

To quote a cliché, life is precious, even with all the difficulties and the unavoidable pain that we all have to go through, but if we slow down for the small gifts we are given on a daily basis life can be also beautiful.

I propose remembering with more frequency what matters and what doesn’t and if we can do that I’m going out on a limb and affirming that life will be more satisfying.


Working Hard At Being My Own Best Friend

January 16, 2010 by  
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Why and what are the most thought of words in my brain these days.  Why do we struggle?  Why all the effort? What is it all for?  And just plainly why and what.

To try to come up with any kind of possible answer I have been spending more time than usual hanging with myself.  Checking in and finding out more about this person I live with.  It’s a bit of an odd concept, get to know oneself, as if we are two separate individuals; one that just is and the other who works at getting to know the first one.

But how many of us really know ourselves?  And how many of us spend enough time with ourselves?  I’m not talking about time in front of our computers or TV.  I’m talking about time to listen to our thoughts, frustrations, hurts and pleasures.

We drive, we work, we eat, we are on our iPods, cell phones, chat-rooms but do we ever sit quietly and ask ourselves: how are we?  What’s bugging us?  What’s making us happy?

As philosophy is the cousin of existentialism and self reflection, I went digging through the Greek philosophers and found an interesting answer Antisthenes gave when asked what philosophy meant to him; he said the ability to hold converse with myself.

Now philosophy’s cousin – meditation – aims at giving ourselves time to be quiet and reflect.  It also works at making us present.  We are so often thinking of the past and of the future, that the present is almost never truly experienced.

Living requires us being in touch with ours senses and not just locked up in our heads.  Try washing your hands in water but truly being present in the moment.  Try making love and really feeling all the sensations.  Try eating an apple and getting lost in its crunches. Being present makes life be a completely different experience.

Being my own best friend also requires that I do something fulfilling for myself on a daily basis.  For me it means; a nice meal, a glass of outstanding wine, playing with my dogs or just sitting outside in the yard.

The bottom line is: in this world where we are bombarded with information and are asked to run and make decisions every minute of our lives, so it becomes easy to lose our sense of self.  And the only way of having any balance is by checking in.  So I for one want to be my friend.  No, I actually want to be my best friend.  Because I am the only one that knows every place and every person I ever met.  And I am the only one who no matter what will always be with me.  So I better be my own best friend.


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