November 17, 2015

Our Shared World -- Fear and Hope

We find ourselves, again, at the intersection of fear and hope. The horrific violence in Paris on November 13 played out in real time through news coverage and social media shook us to our core, as many could identify with random sense of violence while going about one's day to day life. Human nature is to protect our families and our tribes, but who are our families and tribes in this day and age of global connection? 

Only two months ago, "we" rose up in horror at the sight of Aylan Kurdi, the three year old Syrian boy whose body washed up on the Turkish beach, as his refugee family was trying to escape the horrors of a war torn country. We are now confronted with many political voices refusing to offer sanctuary to families such as Aylan Kurdi's due to the violent assault on Paris we witnessed last week. But by viewing the world as "us" and "them" aren't we also losing a bit of humanity by separating ourselves from the image of Aylan and replacing it with an image of a terrorist. 

I don't know what the answer is, but I hope that as we each struggle with finding resilience in this horrific event we don't lose sight of the hope that exists by being blinded with fear. We live in a shared world, one in which I choose to give more energy to hope versus fear. It is with this intent that I share with you the poetry of Naomi Shihab Nye, Gate A-4

Marmool Cookies

Gate A-4

After learning my flight was detained 4 hours,
I heard the announcement:
If anyone in the vicinity of gate 4-A understands any Arabic,
please come to the gate immediately.

Well—one pauses these days. Gate 4-A was my own gate. I went there.
An older woman in full traditional Palestinian dress,
just like my grandma wore, was crumpled to the floor, wailing loudly.

Help, said the flight service person. Talk to her. What is her
problem? We told her the flight was going to be four hours late and she
did this.
I put my arm around her and spoke to her haltingly.Shu dow-a, shu- biduck habibti, stani stani schway, min fadlick,Sho bit se-wee?

The minute she heard any words she knew—however poorly used—
she stopped crying.

She thought our flight had been canceled entirely.
She needed to be in El Paso for some major medical treatment the
following day. I said no, no, we’re fine, you’ll get there, just late,
Who is picking you up? Let’s call him and tell him.

We called her son and I spoke with him in English.
I told him I would stay with his mother till we got on the plane and
would ride next to her—Southwest.

She talked to him. Then we called her other sons just for the fun of it.
Then we called my dad and he and she spoke for a while in Arabic and
Found out of course they had ten shared friends.

Then I thought just for the heck of it why not call some Palestinian
poets I know and let them chat with her. This all took up about 2 hours.

She was laughing a lot by then. Telling about her life. Answering

She had pulled a sack of homemade mamool cookies—little powdered
sugar crumbly mounds stuffed with dates and nuts—out of her bag—
And was offering them to all the women at the gate.

To my amazement, not a single woman declined one. It was like a

The traveler from Argentina, the traveler from California,
the lovely woman from Laredo—we were all covered with the same
powdered sugar. And smiling. There are no better cookies.

And then the airline broke out the free beverages from huge coolers—
non-alcoholic—and the two little girls for our flight, one African
American, one Mexican American—ran around serving us all apple juice
And lemonade and they were covered with powdered sugar too.

And I noticed my new best friend—by now we were holding hands—
had a potted plant poking out of her bag, some medicinal thing,
with green furry leaves. Such an old country traveling tradition. Always
carry a plant. Always stay rooted to somewhere.

And I looked around that gate of late and weary ones and thought,
this is the world I want to live in. The shared world.

Not a single person in this gate—once the crying of confusion stopped
—has seemed apprehensive about any other person.
They took the cookies. I wanted to hug all those other women too.

This can still happen anywhere.
Not everything is lost.

September 11, 2015

9/11: The Paradox of Horror and Hope

For some it may be hard to recall a time when "9/11" wasn't the shorthand phrase meaning "catastrophe". Before that bright, sunny, September morning fourteen years ago,  September 11 was simply a date on the calendar. In the blink of an eye it changed from ordinary to extraordinary, similar to what a previous generation may have experienced in early December 1941 when Pearl Harbor became synonymous with "war". At the time of these events our nation galvanized, we found a sense of collective empathy in our shared experience. In spite of the horror and fear we also found a sense of connection and community.

Through tragedy we found resilience. This is the magic of the human spirit. As we remember the terrible events that unfolded on that September day fourteen years ago, let's also remember the incredible goodness and hope that emerged and transformed us:  strangers helping strangers, kindness given without expectation, sharing of resources, a sense of hope and community. How will you honor the date that transformed us -- with horror or hope? There is no denying the horror of 9/11 but can we also honor the hope that unfolded?  Will you join me in sharing some hope and goodness on September 11?

Here are 5 simple ways to share hope on September 11:
1. Feed someone's parking meter
2. Buy coffee for the person behind you in line
3. Hold the door for someone
4. Text a <3 a="" friend="" nbsp="" to="">
5. Smile at a stranger

What will you do to share hope today?

September 8, 2015

A New Notebook and Sharpened Pencils

 "Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?" ~Mary Oliver

For me, September signals new notebooks, sharpened pencils and anticipation of a new adventure. It doesn't matter how many decades removed we are from our back-to-school days somehow the idea of new beginnings continues to resonate.  It is a season of reflection and introspection, as is the custom during the Jewish holidays of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, but also one of unlimited possibilities and opportunities  Mindfulness can help us to pause, notice and choose opportunities that were previously hidden. Perhaps by making a few tentative marks in that new, clean notebook we will forge a new direction or circle back to a passion that we have consistently ignored due to the busyness of our everyday. 
This is a month of new beginnings; metaphorically a month of clean notebooks and sharpened pencils. I invite you to pause and consider, in the words of the poet, Mary Oliver, "Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?"

Wishing you a month of new notebooks and many sharpened pencils,

August 17, 2015

Summer Mindfulness Challenge Results

Last month I challenged readers to "locate a food item you have never eaten before, photograph it, then explore it mindfully with all five senses (sight, sound, smell, touch, taste), write a few lines about what you discovered, and email me the photo/description". Four adventurous souls accepted the challenge and this is what they discovered.....

Dragon Fruit (both N.B. and K.W. tried dragon fruit)

"It’s shaped like an extra large egg – perhaps the size of an ostrich egg, and cuts easily in half with a knife.  It’s very much like a  kiwi in terms of texture and taste.  Like the kiwi it shares the black crunchy bits inside and tastes better cold (in my opinion), although not quite as flavorful.  The skin is tougher than the kiwi and once cut into slices you can easily peel it back and eat like an orange. Overall, very enjoyable and refreshing." ~ N.B.

Cricket Chips

Cricket Chips (Chirps) "Chirps Chips are the most delicious taco chips that I have ever eaten! They have a wonderful wholesome flavor. I was unable to finish my bag of Chirps because a friend disappeared with them."   ~ W.S.

(I also tried Chirps, and they ARE really good! ~ P.R.)

"A cross between a plum and an apricot. They are sometimes called Dinosaur Eggs. It was really good. Did you know there are actually four types of pluots?" ~ G.K.

Thanks for your mindful experiments during July, KW, NB, WS, and GK. All were so great that each of you will receive a complimentary copy of my CD Opening the Door to Meditation.

July 22, 2015

Unpacking Privacy






Pamela Ressler @pamressler

Privacy is an ambiguous, powerful concept that, while meant to protect individuals, often shuts down useful conversations and innovations. As we continue to unpack our #MedX topic, Privacy: Preventing Harm or Innovation, by flipping the panel and actively engaging conversations I am struck by the notion that perhaps the word privacy does not fully address what we are examining in the context of social media and online communities.  The Merriam Webster dictionary defines privacy as "the state of being alone: the state of being away from other people: the state of being away from public attention." If we are engaging in online communities can or should we expect privacy?

Jodi (@jsperber) pondered in her initial #MedX panel post, What's Your Relationship with Privacy...Um it's Complicated, that when we use the term privacy in this context, are really responding to a lack of control of the dissemination of the information we are sharing? Perhaps this is rooted in the difference between privacy and confidentiality. Confidentiality refers to the ethical grounding of the patient-provider relationship. Information shared is not divulged without the express understanding of both parties. Are we uncomfortable with the perceived violation of this ethical concept  when we openly share health experiences in the public forum of social media? Do the benefits of connection outweigh the risks of information sharing? Is our digital footprint truly controllable?

In 2011, when my  Tufts University School of Medicine colleagues and I surveyed patient bloggers in Communicating the Experience of Chronic Pain and Illness through Blogging, we found the majority of bloggers chose to publish their blogs on public, openly searchable platforms (such as Blogger, Wordpress). These blogs were frequently shared and read by friends and family, and potentially a broader audience of unknown readers. The issue of privacy/confidentiality did not seem to be as prominent as it is today. Did the controlled ability of blogging; being able to edit, revise and then share  lend a level of perceived privacy even though the information shared resided in a public space? Was there an unstated expectation of confidentiality between blogger and her/his audience? Has the increased prevalence of social media and online sharing changed our perception of the concepts of privacy or confidentiality?  It is interesting to consider whether participation in online communities and the rapid, real time conversations in spaces such as Twitter or Facebook feels more vulnerable and public than the more controlled method of blogging.  Do online communities and real time digital interaction with others support the benefit of group empathy but at the same time expose participants to increased fear and vulnerability?  

As the ability to connect through social media evolves,  in health information sharing and creating more personalized medical systems,  let us begin to unpack privacy by examining and investigating broadly this elusive, ambiguous, powerful concept.

Do we have you hooked on this topic yet? We are thrilled to throw open our sandbox to those who want to think, discuss and create with us. This is the essence of a flipped panel. The conversation continues and evolves  through each interaction… please join us, Colleen Young (@colleen_young), Susannah Fox (@SusannahFox), Wendy Sue Swanson (@SeattleMamaDoc), Jodi Sperber (@jsperber) and me, Pam Ressler (@pamressler). We will be using the hashtag #MedX.