Friday, December 18, 2009


Peace, according to a variety of dictionaries, means freedom from war, mental calm, quiet tranquility, and living harmoniously in relationships and in society.

At this time of year it is easy to lose track of our sense of peace so I leave you for the next two weeks with the gift of two poems - poems that I hope will help you to rest in the moment, to b-r-e-a-t h-e out the stress and to b-r-e-a-t-h-e in the peace. The first is an adaptation of an old Celtic prayer and the second was written by Mattie Stepanek, a 10 year old boy with muscular dystrophy whose writing touched the hearts of thousands during his short life.

Deep Peace

Deep peace of the running wave to you.

Deep peace of the flowing air to you.

Deep peace of the quiet earth to you.

Deep peace of the shining stars to you.

Deep peace of the infinite peace to you.

December Prayer

No matter who you are,
Say a prayer this season.
No matter what your faith,
Say a prayer this season.
No matter how you celebrate,
Say a prayer this season.
There are so many ways
To celebrate faiths,
There are so many faiths
To celebrate life.
No matter who
No matter what,
No matter how...
You pray.
Let's say a prayer
This season,
Together, for peace.

Mattie Stepanek, December, 1999

Warmest blessings and deep peace to you and yours this holiday season,


Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Healing Compassion Fatigue...

Every year, I drive across Vancouver on the first Saturday morning in December to attend the Open House at the Vine & Fig Tree, a small bookshop owned by my friend, Elaine Perry. As I drive, I happily anticipate the twinkling fairy lights, the spicy aroma of mulled cider, the home baking donated by grateful customers, Elaine's welcoming hug and, of course, her eclectic mix of books, (eastern and western spirituality, current fine fiction and poetry, children's books), and gifts, ( Advent calendars, fair trade African bracelets, beeswax candles, Buddhist singing bowls, journals, and Chor Leone and Electra CD's , among others). The air hums with holiday greetings and wide ranging conversations and there's a sense of happy "community" throughout the shop.

This year, I was fortunate to meet a lovely woman, a fellow adult educator, while pausing between purchases to sip a cup of cider. She is involved in teaching instructors to be better educators and she generously shared her philosophy of teacher development with me - in a nutshell, that learning the theory and technique of teaching is much less important than our individual development as human beings. That it is our healing and wholeness, our individual growth and development, that make us into good and credible educators. I was very grateful for this conversation, and for a similar one (by email) with CF Specialist, Eric Gentry, PhD, for I believe that both have a light to shine on the paths of those of us seeking to build compassion fatigue resiliency.

As with the process of creating better educators, the process of building CF resilience must, to my mind, focus first on the individual health and wholeness of the helper. There is no question that systemic issues and toxicity in the workplace must be addressed wherever found, but, ultimately, it is our individual wellness, our capacity to regulate our traumatic stress, that determines our CF resilience.

CF is, primarily, an individual trauma issue. We are secondarily traumatized in our work because our personal trauma and loss history has taught us to perceive personal threat where none exists. ie Due our previous personal trauma, our autonomic nervous systems mistakenly activate upon hearing stories of threat to others and we become symptomatic.

So, if trauma is the core problem in compassion fatigue, the solutions must center around the healing of that trauma. If we work successfully on our individual trauma recovery, we will ultimately make better systemic decisions and our workplaces will improve.

Some will object to this viewpoint, believing that in stating it, I am "blaming the victim". I do not believe this to be so. As Eric Gentry says, "People in recovery have resolved this paradox better than anyone: Addicts are not responsible for having the disease of addiction but are responsible for their recovery from it." In the same sense, we who experience CF are not responsible for developing CF, but we are responsible for our own recovery.

So, what am I saying here? Just that if we are to solve a problem, we must be able to state that problem clearly. Once we've done that, we have the resources of the universe at our disposal for our healing, growth and development. The grace that is recovery is available to each of us if we can find the courage to seek it out. There is a light in the darkness beckoning each of us to a place of greater wholeness and wellness this holiday season.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Book Review: The Housekeeper and the Professor...

I have just finished reading a lovely book called, The Housekeeper and the Professor. It's a wonderful, gentle read for anyone interested in relationships and how they develop, but particularly wonderful for anyone interested in the subtleties of the caregiving relationship.

The story, itself, is that of a Japanese housekeeper and her 10 year old son who care for an aging mathematics professor with a traumatic brain injury. As the result of the injury, the Professor has a short term memory of only 80 minutes, requiring a re-introduction to the Housekeeper every morning as she arrives to do her work.

Behind foreground themes of mathematics and baseball, Yoko Ogawa's spare but beautiful writing explores the caregiving relationship in all it's complexity. Themes of love, loyalty, fierce protectiveness, vulnerability, denial, humanity, respect, perseverance, and caring are all dealt with in a lean and sometimes poetic hand. We are drawn into the chronic sorrow that is a part of all permanent injuries, the joys and difficulties of life's simplest things, and the day-to- day creativity required for adjusting to lost abilities.

If you are someone who requires action and excitement to make "a good read", this is not the book for you. If, on the other hand, good writing, keen observation and the gift of story telling are the elements of a good book, you will find them here.