Wednesday, March 26, 2014

The Work As Self Care ...

Hi everyone!

Many of us think of self care as something we do away from our caring work, in order to refresh and refuel. However, whether we're helpers in a professional workplace or family caregivers whose work lies within the walls of our own homes, there are things we can do while at work to rejuvenate and enhance our resilience.

Sometimes self care at work can be as simple as pausing for a few moments in the day to take some deep mindful breaths, eat a healthy snack, drink some water, go to the bathroom, wash our face and hands, rest quietly while gazing out the window at the natural world, connect deeply with a co-worker or go for a run up the stairs.

But how many of us think of the work, itself, as a means of self care, purpose and meaning? Many of us can forget that we chose the work we do because, at its best, it was so energizing and life-giving. As Rachel Remen, physician, healer and author of, Kitchen Table Wisdom, says:

No question that the medical system (in the USA) is seriously broken, but Medicine itself is not. Even on the most stressful and pressured of days there are moments in which we can experience something else, moments in which we connect to people on a very intimate level and make a difference to them and they to us. Times when, despite everything, we experience compassion, give and receive love, ease suffering and fear and are profoundly trusted. Instances when the greatness and courage of an ordinary person is suddenly revealed and we know ourselves to be in the presence of a hero. Or we recognize that we ourselves are heroes. No question that these experiences are brief, but they happen daily. And often they are life-giving - like taking single breathes of pure oxygen in the middle of a deep-water dive. There is a deep river of meaning that runs through the work of every health professional. It can sustain us in difficult times.

Rachel's wisdom does not apply only to those engaged in healthcare. The same could be said of first responders bringing people to safety, teachers reaching out to children who've been abused or neglected, clergy comforting the bereaved, therapists helping to heal emotional wounds, interpreters easing communication in a new land or family caregivers coordinating and providing care for loved ones.

If we can be mindful of the golden moments of human connection and compassion that brought us to our work in the first instance, and that are still available to nourish our hearts and souls today, we will both build our compassion fatigue resilience and bring a greater degree of humanity and caring to those we serve.

I think John O'Donohue understood this when he wrote his Blessing For Work:

May the light of your soul bless your work
with love and warmth of heart.

May you see in what you do the beauty of your soul.

May the sacredness of your work bring light and renewal
to those who work with you
and to those who see and receive your work.

May your work never exhaust you.

May it release wellsprings of refreshment,
inspiration, and excitement.

May you never become lost in bland absences.

May the day never burden.

May dawn find hope in your heart,
approaching your new day with dreams,
possibilities, and promises.

May evening find you gracious and fulfilled.

May you go into the night blessed,
sheltered and protected.

May your soul calm, console and renew you.

Monday, March 24, 2014

March 31st - Health Accord Day of Action ...

Resilience includes our ability to turn strong emotions into constructive action. To move from helplessness to empowerment.

So, it's time to get out your red umbrella!

The current Health Accord between the Federal government and the provinces expires March 31st and Ottawa is refusing to renegotiate. Expiration of the Accord will result in a $36 billion dollar cut to public health care over ten years and an additional $16.5 billion dollar cut to health care equalization payments. Our Prime Minister needs to recognize that nationally funded health care is a primary value for the majority of Canadians and return to the negotiating table.

On March 31st, people across the country will be holding rallies, carrying red umbrellas, to sound the alarm and let their MP's know that it is time to step forward and ensure the future of health care system. Here in BC, rallies are being held in Campbell River/Comox Valley, Kamloops, Kelowna, Nelson, Princeton, Richmond, Surrey and Vancouver.

The Vancouver rally will be held at MP Wai Young's office at 6406 Victoria Drive from 9-9:30 am. For more information about the rally, please contact Bev Trunchy at (604) 837-1433 or

For more general information, you can check the Canadian Health Coalition Website at:

As a healthcare professional, former family caregiver and a citizen of Canada, I can't think of a more important issue upon which to make your feelings heard. It makes no practical sense to reduce healthcare funding at a time when demands will be greater than ever. And it is vitally important that the same basic services continue to be available to us in each and every province.

So, attend a rally if you can. Otherwise, take a moment to let your MP know your feelings. An email to Justin Trudeau and Jim Mulcair would not go amiss either!

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Living at the Threshold ...

At any time you can ask yourself: At which threshold am I now standing? At this time in my life, what am I leaving? Where am I about to enter? What is preventing me from crossing my next threshold? What gift would enable me to do it? A threshold is not a simple boundary; it is a frontier that divides two different territories, rhythms, and atmospheres.

John O'Donohue

Thresholds are in-between places with possibilities for growth and transformation. They come in many shapes and sizes. This Thursday, we will all cross the threshold from winter to spring. Some of you will  soon be leaving the school year and entering summer holidays. Others will be leaving old careers and starting new ones. Some of you will be leaving couple bliss to become parents. Others will be leaving work to retire. Others, still, will be leaving behind years of caregiving to enter the realm of widowhood.Whatever our situations, we will all cross a series of thresholds over our lifetimes. Part of being resilient is learning to recognize the potential of these thresholds and knowing how to live well in the"in-between" places.

Thresholds are places of excitement, uneasiness and un-knowing. Author, Christine Paintner, writes, Try not to analyze (thresholds). The threshold is about resting into mystery, into unknowing, into the liminal space where the old is released but the new hasn't yet come into being. 

When we entertain the possibility of something new, we find ourselves in the humbling position of not knowing what the future will bring. This can be both enlivening and frightening. If the fear outweighs the excitement, we can find ourselves desperately trying to jettison our anxiety and find a sense of control. While this is an understandable impulse, it doesn't contribute much to our transformation and wholeness and it doesn't allow the universe to "unfold as it should".

Rather than trying to escape the turmoil of our un-knowing by retreating from the threshold or by avoiding our feelings, the practice is to stay present with ourselves in the space between old and new. To be attentive to our experience in the moment and to allow space for our feelings of grief, fear, emptiness, self-criticism and despondency. We need to let go, wait, and trust that, in one way or another, life and promise will declare themselves.

As the threshold of spring and new life approach this week, what are the thresholds in your own life, the ones calling to you to cross but that feel difficult to face or challenging to imagine? What might you need or want to guide, support and nurture you as you pass through these doorways into something new? 

Perhaps this blessing by Jan Richardson, one of my favourite writers-of-blessings, will help you on your way:

A Blessing In the Dust

You thought the blessing
would come
in the staying, 
in casting your lot
with this place,
these people.
In learning the art 
of remaining, 
of abiding.

And now you stand 
on the threshold 
The home you had
hoped for, 
had ached for,
is behind you - 
not yours, after all.

The clarity comes
as small comfort,
but it comes:
illumination enough
for the next step.

As you go,
may you feel 
the full weight
of your gifts
gathered up
in your two hands,
the complete measure
of their grace
in your heart that knows
there is a place 
for them, for the treasure
that you bear.

I promise you
there is a blessing
in the leaving,
as you walk toward home 
- not the one you left 
but the one that waits ahead,
the one that already
reaches out for you
in welcome, in gladness
for the gifts
that none but you
could bring.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Bouncing Back - My New Favourite Book on Resilience ...

Hi Everyone!

I'm writing this week's post to the delicate strains of hammers, drills and crashing tiles as a family of local roofers prepare to replace my roof. My body has never liked unexpected, uncontrollably loud drilling noises (likely the remnant of too many dental visits with insufficient freezing) and, normally, I would have left the house for the day but some unexpected commitments have kept me here.

Fortunately, I've been reading Bouncing Back: Rewiring Your Brain for Maximum Resilience and Well-Being by Linda Graham, PhD, MFT, so I have a number of excellent coping strategies at my fingertips to calm jangled nerves.

Published last year and readily available online and at your library, this easy-to-read, resource-rich, and enlightening book draws from the wisdom of ancient contemplative practices, relational psychology and modern neuroscience to teach us how to rewire our innate resilience systems, systems that may have gone astray through early conditioning in less-than-ideal environments.

In introducing her chapter on Losing and Recovering Our Equilibrium, Linda says:

"Keep calm and carry on" was one of the mottoes of the British government during World War II. When we feel we are under siege, ourselves, enduring our own personal version of the bombings during the Blitz, we need to call on the CEO of resilience (the prefrontal cortex of our brains) and use body-based tools (somatic resources) to regulate the progression of worry, fear, and panic in our nervous system that could cause us to freak out or fall apart. The somatic intelligence that flows from a well-functioning prefrontal cortex allows us to stay calm, stay steady in our wise mind, and deal.
That place of calm steadiness that the prefrontal cortex reliably returns us to is a physiological state known in modern neuropsychology as the window of tolerance. This is our baseline state of physiological functioning when we're not frightened, stressed, overtired, or overstimulated. When we're in this window, we're grounded and centred, neither overreacting to other people or life events nor failing to act at all. Being able to meet the storms and struggles of our lives from that place of steadiness, and being able to return quickly to that window when we are pushed out of it, is the somatic prerequisite of resilience.
She goes on to say that her book teaches us how to:

*  Use body-based resources like breath, touch, and movement to quickly return your nervous system from overreaction or shutting down to your baseline equilibrium, the calm that allows you to carry on;
*  Resonate with the calm in someone else's nervous system to calm your own;
*  Use relational resourcing to activate the release of the natural hormone, oxytocin, the fastest-acting mechanism in the human brain to counter the effects of the stress hormone cortisol, and return us to a state of calm and connection;
*  Use body-based tools to rewire old, conditioned responses to your survival reactions, so that they no longer derail your resilience. 

Full of practical, hands-on exercises, this book will soon become a psychological life-saver for anyone recovering from compassion fatigue or other forms of posttraumatic stress. Let me leave you with one of Linda's deceptively simple exercises as an inducement to read the rest of this excellent book:

Resonating with the Calm of Others to Calm Ourselves Down
The next time you're in a situation that might cause your own nervous system to rev up and push you out of your window of tolerance, like flying during a thunderstorm, you can practice picking up the vibe of someone else's calm to keep yourself calm. In this exercise, it's the physical proximity of the calmer person that is helping you regulate your own nervous system, even if the person is not someone you're close to personally. Of course, you can rely on the calm of people who know you well to help yourself calm down, too. You can even use memories of people who care about you and support you to calm yourself.
1.  Pick a partner for this exercise. If you're in a public place, this person may not even know you've chosen her. First, notice and name the stress response in your own body - mild, moderate or severe.
2.  Tune into the calm you can pick up from the other person; synchronize your breathing with hers, if you wish, and receive her calming energy into the energy field of your own body. Continue receiving her calming energy until you feel calm again. 
3.  Reflect on your experience. Notice whatever calming your body was able to do. 

Monday, March 3, 2014

Live Your Values ...

It's not hard to make decisions when you know
what your values are.

Roy Disney

I met my dear friend, Lin, at university a number of years ago. One of the things that first attracted me to her was her integrity. Her inside and her outside matched. She had been consciously thoughtful about what she valued in life and her actions revealed those values clearly to anyone who met her. 

Lin believed in trying to become as fully human and fully alive as possible and that belief led to deeply held values including stillness, faith, respect for others and the environment, connection, hospitality, wellness, and learning. In turn, her values led to actions such as practicing a life of inclusive contemplative faith, communicating in intentionally respectful ways with others, organic gardening, making her own environmentally-protective cleaning supplies, nurturing longterm close relationships, generously sharing her home and belongings, taking daily strenuous exercise in the outdoors, and deeply investing in motherhood and in her teaching vocation. (Now, she wouldn't want you to think she's Little Miss Perfect. Her language does occasionally reflect the passion of her emotions and there are certainly days when divorcing her family and running away seems a reasonable choice - just like the rest of us.)

I do remember being quietly amazed the first time I saw her using her values, intentionally, to guide an important decision. (At that time in my life, I'd done little of my own work and I was still living in reactive vs responsive mode. It hadn't occurred to me that I could be that consciously value-driven in making decisions.) I gradually came to realize that much of my friend's resilience (she'd not had an easy life) was rooted in knowing what mattered most to her - her values - and how she used those values to give continuity and guidance to her life. 

When we know our personal values, they can become strong anchors in any storm whether illness, injury, job loss, bereavement, natural disaster or other trauma. While relatively stable over time, our values are not necessarily static - different ones are more important at different stages in our lives. So, it can be useful to reflect, from time to time, on what really matters to us right now.

One way you can do this is to put some quiet time aside and, in your journal, (or in your mind if it's sharper than mine), do the following exercise, adapted from Danea Horn's, Chronic Resilience:

1.  Values are reflected in our actions. Sometimes there can be a disconnect or dissonance between what we think are our values and what our actions show. Think back over the past week. How did you spend your time? What values do you think your actions represented? Make a list of the activities and the values they stand for. (eg slept in, showered, got dressed - values = comfort, cleanliness; walked to work - values = health, connection with nature, thrift;  family dinner - values = family time, good nutrition, relaxation)
Remember that there are no right answers - only those that reflect your personal values. (eg family dinner might be about valuing family connection or it might reflect the excitement of trying a new recipe)
What do you notice from your list? Do your activities reflect the values you hold dear? Are you shocked by what your activities are revealing? Is there something you want to adjust?

2. Answer 3 questions to help you determine your values:
a.  What's important to you? Activities. People. Projects that bring you joy and satisfaction. What makes you feel fully alive? What makes time pass quickly? What would you choose to do if you had free time? What do you feel fully committed to? What can you not live without?
b.  What do you want to be remembered for? What will your legacy be? What do you want your work to stand for? What do you want others to receive from your work? How do you want others to feel after they interact with you?
c.  What lessons are important for you to learn during your lifetime?  Where do you want to grow? What do you need to learn about relating to yourself or others? What do you need to learn about love? About trust? What areas of life feel essential to explore?
The answers to these questions - the themes, ideas and hopes - will point you toward what you value. Try to distill each value into a word or two. (eg If you feel fully alive when watercolour painting, your value might be "creativity").

3.  List your top 10 values in order of priority. Then use them to guide your decisions, the projects you pursue, how you fill your free time and what to do in a crisis. When you know your values, you can look at your calendar repeatedly and ask, "Do these activities, this schedule, support my values?"