October 8, 2014

Quote of the day: "Computers are getting smarter, we're not"

That's web inventor Sir Tim Berners-Lee on the future of farming, work and computing

“Companies,” says web inventor Sir Tim Berners-Lee, “are increasingly going to be run by computers. And computers are getting smarter and we are not.” The only solution, he argues, is for people to embrace new technology, and accept that some jobs will simply disappear.
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Still, users can gather up their data to derive new insights about themselves and then put them to good use in a way that is currently neglected: “People feel passionately but I think we’re missing a lot of the value of personal data because it’s stored in these different silos,” says Sir Tim. He points out that businesses have long been quick to realise this value for their own interests. “Enterprises do data integration or they die – if you can’t do a query across the company you die. Companies like Mint that integrate across the financial side of your life but that’s the start.”

“There’s a lot of art about keeping the consitency across silos to allow them to integrate, but in the future you’ll be able to hone going through the system – say you’re filing your taxes it won’t ask ‘what’s this expenditure’ it’ll say this is where you were, this is your diary, annotated with photographs.”
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He emphasises that the need for software developers and the like, rather than being small as it is today, will be almost infinite in an increasingly technologically dependent future.
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people are hanging on to small farms, because they like to have a world in which crops are grown locally by hand, again around Massachusetts for instance. You might start to think of farming more like performance art, where you know the person who has done it.”
Posted by Jill Fallon at 2:27 PM | Permalink

October 7, 2014

"Total pandemonium" in upstate New York nursing home, "The lights turned back on in people' eyes"

A wonderful article by Atul Gawande.  Can life in a nursing home be made uplifting and purposeful?

One young doctor in upstate New York thought so and he came up with a highly eccentric way of demonstrating it. In this extract from his book Being Mortal, Atul Gawande tells the story of Bill Thomas and his miraculous menagerie.

In 1991, in the tiny town of New Berlin, in upstate New York, a young physician named Bill Thomas performed an experiment. He didn’t really know what he was doing. He was 31 years old, less than two years out of family residency, and he had just taken a new job as medical director of Chase Memorial Nursing Home, a facility with 80 severely disabled elderly residents. About half of them were physically disabled; four out of five had Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of cognitive disability.

Up until then Thomas had worked as an emergency physician at a nearby hospital, the near opposite of a nursing home. People arrived in the emergency room with discrete, reparable problems – a broken leg, say, or a cranberry up the nose. If a patient had larger, underlying issues – if, for instance, the broken leg had been caused by dementia – his job was to ignore the issues or send the person somewhere else to deal with them, such as a nursing home. He took this new medical director job as a chance to do something different.

The staff at Chase saw nothing especially problematic about the place, but Thomas with his newcomer’s eyes saw despair in every room. The nursing home depressed him. He wanted to fix it. …

He didn’t give up, though. He came to think the missing ingredient in this nursing home was life itself, and he decided to try an experiment to inject some. The idea he came up with was as mad and naive as it was brilliant. That he got the residents and nursing home staff to go along with it was a minor miracle.

He brought in a dog, four cats, live plants and a bird in every room, children in the afternoon, and a big garden in back.

It was ‘total pandemonium,’ Thomas said. The memory of it still puts a grin on his face. He is that sort of person. He, his wife, Jude, the nursing director, Greising, and a handful of others spent hours assembling the cages, chasing the parakeets through a cloud of feathers around the salon and delivering birds to every resident’s room. The elders gathered outside the salon windows to watch.
‘They laughed their butts off,’ Thomas said. He marvels now at the team’s incompetence.

‘We didn’t know what the heck we were doing. Did, Not, Know what we were doing.’ Which was the beauty of it. They were so patently incompetent that almost everyone dropped their guard and simply pitched in – the residents included. Whoever could do it helped line the cages with newspaper, got the dogs and the cats settled, got the children to help out. It was a kind of glorious chaos – or, in the diplomatic words of Greising, ‘a heightened environment’.
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‘People who we had believed weren’t able to speak started speaking,’ Thomas said. ‘People who had been completely withdrawn and nonambulatory started coming to the nurses’ station and saying, “I’ll take the dog for a walk.” ’ All the parakeets were adopted and named by the residents. The lights turned back on in people’s eyes. In a book he wrote about the experience, Thomas quoted from journals that the staff kept, and they described how irreplaceable the animals had become in the daily lives of residents, even ones with advanced dementia.
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The most important finding of Thomas’s experiment wasn’t that having a reason to live could reduce death rates for the disabled elderly. The most important finding was that it is possible to provide them with reasons to live, period. Even residents with dementia so severe that they had lost the ability to grasp much of what was going on could experience a life with greater meaning and pleasure and satisfaction. It is much harder to measure how much more worth people find in being alive than how many fewer drugs they depend on or how much longer they can live. But could anything matter more?
Posted by Jill Fallon at 12:54 PM | Permalink

April 1, 2014

5. Watch 'Groundhog Day' Repeatedly

Charles Murray in the Wall Street Journal with Advice for a Happy Life

1. Consider Marrying Young

Merger marriages are what you tend to see on the weddings pages of the Sunday New York Times: highly educated couples in their 30s, both people well on their way to success. Lots of things can be said in favor of merger marriages. The bride and groom may be more mature, less likely to outgrow each other or to feel impelled, 10 years into the marriage, to make up for their lost youth.

What are the advantages of a startup marriage? For one thing, you will both have memories of your life together when it was all still up in the air. You'll have fun remembering the years when you went from being scared newcomers to the point at which you realized you were going to make it.

Even more important, you and your spouse will have made your way together. Whatever happens, you will have shared the experience. And each of you will know that you wouldn't have become the person you are without the other.

Many merger marriages are happy, but a certain kind of symbiosis, where two people become more than the sum of the individuals, is perhaps more common in startups.

2. Learn How to Recognize Your Soul Mate

Marry someone with similar tastes and preferences. Which tastes and preferences? The ones that will affect life almost every day…..What you see is what you're going to get. If something about your prospective spouse bothers you but you think that you can change your beloved after you're married, you're wrong. Be prepared to live with whatever bothers you—or forget it.
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It is absolutely crucial that you really, really like your spouse. You hear it all the time from people who are in great marriages: "I'm married to my best friend." They are being literal. A good working definition of "soul mate" is "your closest friend, to whom you are also sexually attracted."…

A good marriage is the best thing that can ever happen to you. Above all else, realize that this cliché is true. The downside risks of marrying—and they are real—are nothing compared with what you will gain from a good one.

3. Eventually Stop Fretting About Fame and Fortune

Fame and wealth do accomplish something: They cure ambition anxiety. But that's all. It isn't much.

4. Take Religion Seriously

Start by jarring yourself out of unreflective atheism or agnosticism. A good way to do that is to read about contemporary cosmology. The universe isn't only stranger than we knew; it is stranger and vastly more unlikely than we could have imagined, and we aren't even close to discovering its last mysteries. That reading won't lead you to religion, but it may stop you from being unreflective.

Find ways to put yourself around people who are profoundly religious. You will encounter individuals whose intelligence, judgment and critical faculties are as impressive as those of your smartest atheist friends—and who also possess a disquieting confidence in an underlying reality behind the many religious dogmas.

They have learned to reconcile faith and reason, yes, but beyond that, they persuasively convey ways of knowing that transcend intellectual understanding. They exhibit in their own personae a kind of wisdom that goes beyond just having intelligence and good judgment.

5. Watch 'Groundhog Day' Repeatedly

The movie "Groundhog Day" was made more than two decades ago, but it is still smart and funny. It is also a brilliant moral fable that deals with the most fundamental issues of virtue and happiness, done with such subtlety that you really need to watch it several times.
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Without the slightest bit of preaching, the movie shows the bumpy, unplanned evolution of his protagonist from a jerk to a fully realized human being—a person who has learned to experience deep, lasting and justified satisfaction with life even though he has only one day to work with.

You could learn the same truths by studying Aristotle's "Ethics" carefully, but watching "Groundhog Day" repeatedly is a lot more fun.
Posted by Jill Fallon at 2:27 PM | Permalink

February 10, 2014

He looked like an elegant pirate and became a figure of legend.

Never yet melted learned about Carton de Wiart via Wikipedia.  What a manly man.

Sir Adrian Paul Ghislain Carton de Wiart VC, KBE, CB, CMG, DSO (5 May 1880 – 5 June 1963) was a British Army officer of Belgian and Irish descent.

He served in the Boer War, First World War, and Second World War; was shot in the face, head, stomach, ankle, leg, hip, and ear; survived two plane crashes; tunnelled out of a POW camp; and bit off his own fingers when a doctor refused to amputate them. Describing his experiences in World War I, he wrote, “Frankly I had enjoyed the war.” …

 Carton De Wiart

Carton de Wiart was thought to be a model for the character of Brigadier Ben Ritchie Hook in Evelyn Waugh’s trilogy Sword of Honour. The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography described him thus: “With his black eyepatch and empty sleeve, Carton de Wiart looked like an elegant pirate, and became a figure of legend.” …

Carton de Wiart was born into an aristocratic family in Brussels, on 5 May 1880, eldest son of Leon Constant Ghislain Carton de Wiart (1854–1915). By his contemporaries, he was widely believed to be an illegitimate son of the King of the Belgians, Leopold II. …

In 1891 his English stepmother sent him to a boarding school in England, the Roman Catholic Oratory School, founded by Cardinal John Henry Newman.  From there he went to Balliol College, Oxford, but left to join the British Army at the time of the Boer War around 1899, where he entered under the false name of “Trooper Carton”, and claimed to be 25 years old.

Carton de Wiart was wounded in the stomach and groin in South Africa early on in the War and invalided home, and his father found out about him leaving college. His father was furious but allowed his son to remain in the army. After another brief period at Oxford, where Aubrey Herbert was among his friends, he was given a commission in the Second Imperial Light Horse. He saw action in South Africa again and on 14 September 1901 was given a regular commission as a second lieutenant in the 4th Dragoon Guards. Carton de Wiart was transferred to India in 1902. He enjoyed sports, especially shooting and pig sticking.

Carton de Wiart’s serious wound in the Boer War instilled in him a strong desire for physical fitness and he ran, jogged, walked, and played sports on a regular basis. In male company he was ‘a delightful character and must hold the world record for bad language.’ …

By 1907, although Carton de Wiart had now served in the British Army for eight years, he had remained a Belgian subject. On 13 September, he took the oath of allegiance to Edward VII and was formally naturalized as a British subject.

He went on to fight in WWI, winning the Victoria Cross, and returned to active military service again in WWII, despite being over 60 years old.

His Victoria Cross was awarded for:

For most conspicuous bravery, coolness and determination during severe operations of a prolonged nature. It was owing in a great measure to his dauntless courage and inspiring example that a serious reverse was averted. He displayed the utmost energy and courage in forcing our attack home. After three other battalion Commanders had become casualties, he controlled their commands, and ensured that the ground won was maintained at all costs. He frequently exposed himself in the organisation of positions and of supplies, passing unflinchingly through fire barrage of the most intense nature. His gallantry was inspiring to all

He retired to Ireland at age 71, where he subsequently devoted his energies to fishing for salmon and shooting snipe.
Posted by Jill Fallon at 12:22 PM | Permalink

January 24, 2014

A Lake of Beer for God

Beers brewed by Trappist monks are regularly on lists of the world's, yet, there are only 10 official Trappist breweries in the world.  The only one outside Europe is, thank God, at St Joseph's Abbey in Spencer, Mass, which will begin to sell its beer this week, but only in Massachusetts.

According to the official website of the brewery, “Our recipe was inspired by the traditional refectory ales known as patersbier (“fathers’ beer” in Flemish). These seasonable beers are brewed by the monks for their dinner table and are typically only available at the monastery. Spencer is a full-bodied, golden-hued ale with fruity accents, a dry finish and light hop bitterness. The beer is unfiltered and unpasteurized, preserving live yeast that naturally carbonates the beer in the bottle and keg, and contributes to the beer flavor and aroma.” The beer will sit at 6.5% Alc.10


 Spencer Trappist-Ale-Label

NPR in American Beer Fans, Praise the Heavens tells the backstory.

For more than 60 years, the monks at St. Joseph's have supported themselves by making religious garments and preserves, including jams and jellies.  Still, that wasn't enough, so several years ago, they started looking into brewing.

But there was a problem: The monks knew nothing about brewing — or even drinking — beer. So, one of the monks called up Martha Paquette, the co-founder of Pretty Things Beer and Ale Project in Sommerville, Mass., for help.

"They'd maybe drunk some Budweiser," Paquette says. "So, we had a lot of fun with the monks introducing them to hops, dark beers, richer, stronger beers."

Learning to drink beer was the easy part. To learn to brew it, the abbey sent two of its monks to train at Belgian monasteries and hired a professional Belgian brewer.  The monastery also received some major financing — the monks wouldn't say how much — for a sleek, state-of-the-art brew house. Now, the 36,000-square-foot, stainless steel building sits behind the stone abbey and is mostly automated…..

The brew has already passed one major taste test: To get the official "Authentic product label," Spencer Trappist Ale's first had to win approval from the International Trappist Association.

"We tasted the beer the day we gave the approval," says ITA spokesman Francois de Harenne, and it was considered a good product — deserving to bear the logo."

 Brother Isaac Keeley Brother Isaac Keeley is director of the Trappists’ brewery in Spencer.  At the Spencer Brewery website, you can learn about the beer, the monks and even watch a beautiful video of a day in the life of a Trappist monk in Spencer.

I have been on retreat several times to the Abbey and can attest to the beauty and the peace that can be found there.  Now with beer, it will be heavenly. 

In the tenth century, Saint Brigid wrote a prayer that begins

I'd like to give a lake of beer to God. I'd love the heavenly Host to be tippling there For all eternity.

And ends

I'd sit with the men, the women and God There by the lake of beer. We'd be drinking good health forever And every drop would be a prayer.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 12:04 PM | Permalink

January 9, 2014

Religion as a buffer against the strains of modern life

Religion forms buffer against work stress

Having a religion could be the key to avoiding work stress as a study found those with a faith are less anxious in the work place, healthier and less likely to take sick days.

Religion is the answer to combating work stress because it provides a "buffer against strains" of modern life, research has claimed.  Dr Roxane Gervais, a senior psychologist at the Health and Safety Laboratory in Stockport, surveyed employees to find out how content they were with their working lives.

The study concluded that employees who are more actively religious are more likely to report low levels of anxiety, depression and fatigue and also higher presence of meaning in life, that is feeling that their lives have meaning. Workers said that attending religious services connects them to a higher being as well as makes them feel better about themselves.

Dr Gervais said: “As the pace of work and life accelerates, people long for meaning, and the younger generation in particular is looking for more than just a big pay cheque at the end of the month.
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“We should hence encourage employers to accommodate, where possible, employees’ religious beliefs while at work, and not shy away from the issue.”

These findings are being presented today (THURS) at the Annual Conference of the British Psychological Society’s Division of Occupational Psychology’s in Brighton. Previous studies have shown that companies who accommodated workers beliefs improved morale, staff retention and loyalty.

The report also found that those who regularly practiced religion were more likely to have healthier lifestyles and so took fewer sick days.  Dr Gervais added: “Religiosity seemed to assist individuals in gaining better well-being and using more appropriate coping mechanisms.”

This story reminded me of what Mother Theresa said when she visited the United States,  "The spiritual poverty of the West is greater than ours… You, in the West, have millions of people who suffer such terrible loneliness and emptiness…They feel unloved and unwanted. These people are not hungry in the physical sense, but they are in another way. They know they need something more than money, yet they don’t know what it is. What they are missing, really, is a living relationship with God.”

Posted by Jill Fallon at 1:05 PM | Permalink

November 22, 2013

Seven years of Brain Pickings

Brainpickings  Brain Pickings is a delightful, weekly and free "interestingness digest." that comes out on Sundays.

Maria Popova writes

On October 23, 2006, I sent a short email to a few friends at work — one of the four jobs I held while paying my way through college — with the subject line “brain pickings,” announcing my intention to start a weekly digest featuring five stimulating things to learn about each week, from a breakthrough in neuroscience to a timeless piece of poetry. “It should take no more than 4 minutes (hopefully much less) to read,” I promised. This was the inception of Brain Pickings. At the time, I neither planned nor anticipated that this tiny experiment would one day be included in the Library of Congress digital archive of “materials of historical importance” and the few friends would become millions of monthly readers all over the world…..

Happy Birthday, Brain Pickings: 7 Things I Learned in 7 Years of Reading, Writing, and Living  

Here are seven things I’ve learned in seven years of making those choices, of integrating “work” and life in such inextricable fusion, and in chronicling this journey of heart, mind and spirit — a journey that took, for whatever blessed and humbling reason, so many others along for the ride. I share these here not because they apply to every life and offer some sort of blueprint to existence, but in the hope that they might benefit your own journey in some small way, bring you closer to your own center, or even simply invite you to reflect on your own sense of purpose.


1.  Allow yourself the uncomfortable luxury of changing your mind. 

2.  Do nothing for prestige or status or money or approval alone. 

3.  Be generous

4.  Build pockets of stillness into your life. 

5,  When people try to tell you who you are, don't believe them. 

6.  Presence is far more intricate and rewarding an art than productivity. 

7.  Expect anything worthwhile to take a long time.
………….As I’ve reflected elsewhere, the flower doesn’t go from bud to blossom in one spritely burst and yet, as a culture, we’re disinterested in the tedium of the blossoming. But that’s where all the real magic unfolds in the making of one’s character and destiny.
Posted by Jill Fallon at 12:08 PM | Permalink

August 13, 2013

Mental health roundup: Cellphone holdout, Facebook, shopping and power

The managing director of an investment firm: My Life as a Cellphone Holdout

For the last two decades, I have spent 83% of my waking hours enjoying the freedom of not owning a cellphone, 5% feeling smug about it, 2% in situations in which a phone would have been awfully convenient and 10% fielding incredulous questions. The first is always: How do you do your job? (I'm not the junior blacksmith at the Renaissance Faire; I'm a managing director at a private-equity firm.) I explain that my colleagues are very tolerant, the firm provides me with all of the latest communication tools (computer, telephone, Post-its) right at my desk, and accomplishing my daily tasks without a smartphone is not beyond human capability. Indeed, people lived this way back at the Dawn of Civilization, circa 1992.
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I don't own a cellphone because I don't want to disappoint Henry David Thoreau. …I know that cellphones have their uses. But it was hardly a difficult choice to sacrifice their utility in an attempt to make more room for thought.

Study: Posting Facebook Photos Negatively Impacts Real-Life Relationships

According to research from the University of Birmingham, University West of England and the University of Edinburgh, people who frequently post photos to Facebook can’t control how their various “friends” will perceive the posts.

“It’s worth remembering that the information we post to our ‘friends’ on Facebook, actually gets viewed by lots of different categories of people: partners; friends; family; colleagues and acquaintances,” said Dr. David Houghton, lead author of the report, told Phys.org. “And each group seems to take a different view of the information shared.”

“Our research found that those who frequently post photographs on Facebook risk damaging real-life relationships. This is because people, other than very close friends and relatives, don’t seem to relate well to those who constantly share photos of themselves.

Shopping actually makes us feel lonely - especially if we're doing it to fill a void or impress others

new research from the University of Chicago suggests that shopping as a cure for loneliness is futile - and could in fact make us feel more lonely.  In fact, the very act of fending off loneliness by shopping can create a vicious cycle where one shops because they are lonely, feels more lonely because they have shopped, and continues shopping in a misguided attempt to cure the loneliness.

The study, published in the Journal of Consumer Research, analyzed data from 2,500 consumers over six years.

Power Corrupts … the Brain

full story at
When Power Goes To Your Head, It May Shut Out Your Heart

Power fundamentally changes how the brain operates.
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It turns out, feeling powerless boosted the mirror system — people empathized highly. But, Obhi says, "when people were feeling powerful, the signal wasn't very high at all."

So when people felt power, they really did have more trouble getting inside another person's head.

"What we're finding is power diminishes all varieties of empathy," says Dacher Keltner, a social psychologist at University of California, Berkeley,
Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:10 AM | Permalink

August 10, 2013

Techno-brain clutter

How Clutter Affects Your Brain and What You Can Do About It

Clutter Isn’t Just Physical

Files on your computer, notifications from your Twitter and Facebook accounts, and anything that goes “ping” in the night competes for your attention. This creates a digital form of clutter that erodes your ability to focus and perform creative tasks. Mark Hurst, author of Bit Literacy, a New York Times best seller on controlling the flow of information in the digital age, put it best when he said:

When you have to-do items constantly floating around in your head or you hear a ping or vibrate every few minutes from your phone, your brain doesn’t get a chance to fully enter creative flow or process experiences. When your brain has too much on its plate, it splits its power up. The result? You become awful at: filtering information, switching quickly between tasks and keeping a strong working memory.


The overconsumption of digital stuff has the same effect on your brain as physical clutter.

 Brain Clutter

Cluttered brain, too much on your mind

David Somers, an associate psychology professor who researches in the BU Center for Neuroscience, pointed to brain clutter as a larger public health concern. 

“Brain clutter is responsible for many of the things we forget – either because we didn’t fully pay attention or because we got distracted when we were supposed to remember,” he said. “Brain clutter is responsible for car accidents and many other sorts of mistakes that we make. These problems are much more severe in clinical populations – ADHD, schizophrenia, OCD, Alzheimer’s – all have major attentional components.”

Somers also identified habits such as compulsively checking one’s Facebook or reading text messages as a self-generated, technological form of brain clutter.  Even in the absence of a cue that we’ve got new mail or texts, we obsessively check,” he said. “This really cuts into our productivity. This techno-brain clutter is a learned phenomena, it is rather like an addiction, and frequently interrupts us with little conscious awareness that we’ve stopped our tasks.

There are drugs like Adderall to deal with this, but, by far, the most effective treatment for distraction is developing the habit of spending time daily in meditation or prayer.  I've found both clears the mind, settles it down and brings peace.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 9:22 AM | Permalink

July 25, 2013

What the rich do and the poor don't

From Dave Ramsey  20 Things The Rich Do Every Day

1. 70% of wealthy eat less than 300 junk food calories per day. 97% of poor people eat more than 300 junk food calories per day. 23% of wealthy gamble. 52% of poor people gamble. 

2. 80% of wealthy are focused on accomplishing some single goal. Only 12% of the poor do this.

3. 76% of wealthy exercise aerobically 4 days a week. 23% of poor do this. 

4. 63% of wealthy listen to audio books during commute to work vs. 5% for poor people.

5. 81% of wealthy maintain a to-do list vs. 19% for poor. 

6. 63% of wealthy parents make their children read 2 or more non-fiction books a month vs. 3% for poor.

7. 70% of wealthy parents make their children volunteer 10 hours or more a month vs. 3% for poor.

8. 80% of wealthy make hbd (Happy Birthday) calls vs. 11% of poor

9. 67% of wealthy write down their goals vs. 17% for poor
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17. 84% of wealthy believe good habits create opportunity luck vs. 4% for poor.

18. 76% of wealthy believe bad habits create detrimental luck vs. 9% for poor.
Posted by Jill Fallon at 11:30 AM | Permalink

July 24, 2013

Reading Makes Us More Human

 Man Reading John Singer Sargent    In the Atlantic Reading Makes Us More Human by Karen Swallow Prior

A debate has erupted over whether reading fiction makes human beings more moral. But what if its real value consists in something even more fundamental?

What good literature can do and does do -- far greater than any importation of morality -- is touch the human soul.

Reading is one of the few distinctively human activities that set us apart from the rest of the animal kingdom. …Reading, unlike spoken language, does not come naturally to human beings. It must be taught.
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...the books I have read over a lifetime have shaped my worldview, my beliefs, and my life as much as anything else. From Great Expectations I learned the power the stories we tell ourselves have to do either harm and good, to ourselves and to others; from Death of a Salesman I learned the dangers of a corrupt version of the American Dream; from Madame Bovary, I learned to embrace the real world rather than escaping into flights of fancy; from Gulliver's Travels I learned the profound limitations of my own finite perspective; and from Jane Eyre I learned how to be myself. These weren't mere intellectual or moral lessons, although they certainly may have begun as such. Rather, the stories from these books and so many others became part of my life story and then, gradually, part of my very soul.
Posted by Jill Fallon at 1:06 PM | Permalink

July 17, 2013

The Wisdom of the Ancient Greeks To Solve Modern Day Problems

Who knew that cognitive behavioral therapy was based on the philosophy of the Greek Stoic Epictetus?

Anxious? Depressed? Try Greek philosophy
Crippled by social anxiety and burnt out after a decade of hedonism, Jules Evans eventually found inspiration from the ancient Greeks. Here he tells how 2,000-year-old words of wisdom transformed his life and equipped him to help others solve their modern-day problems.

Growing up in the Nineties, my friends and I were amateur neuroscientists. Every weekend, we conducted experiments on our brains with various chemicals, to see what happened: marijuana, LSD, MDMA, amphetamine, mushrooms, all tossed into our system like ingredients in a cauldron. We had some hilarious, beautiful, even spiritual times. Then I noticed my friends beginning to burn out.

My best friend had a psychotic breakdown when he was 16. He’s been in and out of mental care homes ever since (he’s now 35, like me). Other friends developed paranoia, bipolar disorder, depression and anxiety. In my first year at university, I started to get panic attacks, too. My body would be filled with mortal terror, in the most un-mortal of situations. I lost confidence in my ability to know myself or to steer a coherent course through life. I started to distrust myself, to avoid social situations. I was terrified that I had permanently damaged myself before the age of 21.
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I investigated these disorders on the internet, and found they could apparently be treated by something called cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT….. I also found there was a CBT support group for people suffering from social anxiety … For 10 weeks, we listened to the course, practised the exercises, and did the “homework”. And for me, it worked. The panic attacks stopped after a few weeks, and I gradually got back my confidence in my ability to steer a course through life. I steered a course to Russia, where I worked as a foreign correspondent for four fun, vodka-soaked years.

When I came back to the UK in 2007, I decided to research CBT. I went to New York to interview the psychologist who’d invented it, Albert Ellis, and asked him where he’d got the idea for it. He told me he’d been directly inspired by ancient Greek philosophy, particularly by a line from the Stoic philosopher Epictetus: “Men are disturbed not by events but by their opinion about events.”

 Epictetus

Ellis, like the Greeks, suggested that our emotions always involve beliefs or interpretations of the world. Our interpretations may often be inaccurate, irrational or self-destructive, and this will make us emotionally sick.
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The Stoics were aware of how little we control in life. None more so than Epictetus, a Stoic philosopher of the first century AD, who grew up a slave in the Roman Empire (his name means “acquired”). He divided all of life into two categories: the things we control and the things we don’t. We don’t control the economy, the weather, other people, our reputation, our own bodies. We can influence these things, but we don’t have complete control over them. The only thing we do have control over is our own thoughts and beliefs, if we choose to exercise control.
Epictetus suggested that emotional problems arise when we try to exert complete control over something external. When I had social anxiety, for example, I rested all my self-esteem on others’ judgments of me. This made me feel very helpless, anxious and paranoid.
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The good news is that we can change our habits. Epictetus said “there is nothing more malleable than the psyche”, and contemporary neuroscience agrees. Every day, we have a choice to either reinforce a habit, or challenge it. The Greeks understood the importance of habits to the good life – their word “ethics” comes from “ethos”, meaning habit – and they developed some great techniques for habit-formation.
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Today, CBT is available free on the NHS. It has brought some of the Greeks’ ideas to millions of people. Many people have used it to learn to “take care of their souls”, as Socrates put it – which is where the word “psychotherapy” comes from. I hope some of them might go back to the original source in philosophy, because CBT leaves a lot out – Greek philosophy wasn’t just a feel-good therapy, it was also a road map for the good life, and the good society.
Posted by Jill Fallon at 3:58 PM | Permalink

July 11, 2013

Oliver Sachs turns 80

Oliver Sachs on The Joy of Old Age. (No Kidding.)

LAST night I dreamed about mercury — huge, shining globules of quicksilver rising and falling. Mercury is element number 80, and my dream is a reminder that on Tuesday, I will be 80 myself.
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Eighty! I can hardly believe it. I often feel that life is about to begin, only to realize it is almost over. My mother was the 16th of 18 children; I was the youngest of her four sons, and almost the youngest of the vast cousinhood on her side of the family. I was always the youngest boy in my class at high school. I have retained this feeling of being the youngest, even though now I am almost the oldest person I know.
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At 80, the specter of dementia or stroke looms. A third of one’s contemporaries are dead, and many more, with profound mental or physical damage, are trapped in a tragic and minimal existence. At 80 the marks of decay are all too visible. One’s reactions are a little slower, names more frequently elude one, and one’s energies must be husbanded, but even so, one may often feel full of energy and life and not at all “old.” Perhaps, with luck, I will make it, more or less intact, for another few years and be granted the liberty to continue to love and work, the two most important things, Freud insisted, in life.
--
When my time comes, I hope I can die in harness, as Francis Crick did. When he was told that his colon cancer had returned, at first he said nothing; he simply looked into the distance for a minute and then resumed his previous train of thought. When pressed about his diagnosis a few weeks later, he said, “Whatever has a beginning must have an ending.” When he died, at 88, he was still fully engaged in his most creative work.

My father, who lived to 94, often said that the 80s had been one of the most enjoyable decades of his life. He felt, as I begin to feel, not a shrinking but an enlargement of mental life and perspective. One has had a long experience of life, not only one’s own life, but others’, too. One has seen triumphs and tragedies, booms and busts, revolutions and wars, great achievements and deep ambiguities, too. One has seen grand theories rise, only to be toppled by stubborn facts. One is more conscious of transience and, perhaps, of beauty. At 80, one can take a long view and have a vivid, lived sense of history not possible at an earlier age. I can imagine, feel in my bones, what a century is like, which I could not do when I was 40 or 60. I do not think of old age as an ever grimmer time that one must somehow endure and make the best of, but as a time of leisure and freedom, freed from the factitious urgencies of earlier days, free to explore whatever I wish, and to bind the thoughts and feelings of a lifetime together.

I am looking forward to being 80.

He's had a most interesting life as you can read at Wikipedia

Posted by Jill Fallon at 6:34 PM | Permalink

October 10, 2012

Shinya Yamanka's Nobel Prize

 Shinya Yamanaka

The Healer

Shinya Yamanaka, a scientist at Kyoto University, loved stem-cell research. But he didn’t want to destroy embryos. So he figured out a way around the problem. In a paper published five years ago in Cell, Yamanaka and six colleagues showed how “induced pluripotent stem cells” could be derived from adult cells and potentially substituted, in research and therapy, for embryonic stem cells. Today, that discovery earned him a Nobel Prize, shared with British scientist John Gurdon. But the prize announcement and much of the media coverage missed half the story. Yamanaka’s venture wasn’t just an experiment. It was a moral project.

In the introduction to their Cell paper, Yamanaka and his colleagues outlined their reasons for seeking an alternative to conventional embryonic stem-cell research. “Ethical controversies” came first in their analysis. Technical reasons—the difficulty of making patient-specific embryonic stem cells—came second. After the paper’s publication, Yamanaka told a personal story, related by the New York Times:
Inspiration can appear in unexpected places. Dr. Shinya Yamanaka found it while looking through a microscope at a friend’s fertility clinic. … [H]e looked down the microscope at one of the human embryos stored at the clinic. The glimpse changed his scientific career. “When I saw the embryo, I suddenly realized there was such a small difference between it and my daughters,” said Dr. Yamanaka. … “I thought, we can’t keep destroying embryos for our research. There must be another way.”
--
Yamanaka transformed that debate forever. He tore down the wall between preserving embryos and saving lives. He did what only a scientist could have done: He made it possible for both sides to win. In the words of Julian Savulescu, an ethicist and supporter of embryonic stem-cell research, Yamanaka “deserves not only a Nobel Prize for Medicine, but a Nobel Prize for Ethics.”

Bravo!

Posted by Jill Fallon at 11:52 AM | Permalink

September 27, 2012

Thoughts on Beauty

Bad Catholic writes Humans Are Useless

Beauty begets love. A flutter and twitch of female lashes can crush a man’s heart like a Bud Light can under a steamroller. A father who spends the day immersed in the beauty of the Shenandoah Valley returns by night with hugs for his children and a softer touch for his wife. Beauty begets love, as sunlight wakens sleepers…

Love likewise begets beauty. Beautiful art is a “labor of love.” Love has poetry gush from the dry well of a man’s imagination, music from a girl ashamed to sing, and literature from the lonely.

The reason for this relationship is not that the two are both glorious, wonderful, and likely to be pasted in Helvetica over instagrammed pictures of middle-schoolers making out on a beach. Beauty and love are bonded by their similar operations within the human person.

To appreciate a thing as beautiful is to appreciate it as useless, not because it is trash, but because it is real treasure. That which is beautiful is good in and of itself. We do not appreciate the beautiful in regards to how we can use it, change it, or by what it can do for us. We appreciate the beautiful for being, for presenting itself to our intellect — for existing.

Margaret Laracy with a doctorate in psychology, witnesses to the positive effects of natural and artistic beauty in clinical practice and how it restores fullness: True Beauty Satisfies the Human Heart

In my research, I found empirical studies showing that exposure to natural beauty is salutary, actually improving physical and mental health. There are also health benefits of exposure to artistic beauty, as expressed in painting and music. I became increasingly aware of how the various forms of beauty can help to heal the human person, particularly in terms of psychological healing.

Many people think of beauty in sentimental or superficial terms. Such reductions detach beauty from truth. The encounter with beauty comes through the senses but is not limited to what is on the surface of things or to what is felt.

Beauty engages reason. It is a delight of reason. Beauty can be described as the attractive intelligibility of an object. So beauty is a quality of an object, but it is actualized in the encounter between the object and the perceiving subject, in a relationship.

St. Thomas Aquinas names three essential conditions of beauty: clarity, harmony and integrity. Clarity is what comes first through our sense experience, when we notice the distinct illumination — the luminosity — communicated by an object. For example, the brilliant colors of a flower initially draw our attention. We also experience harmony, or the right ordering of the parts. The harmony of a flower is expressed in the size and placement of petals on a stem of a flower. All of this is synthesized into a complete configuration, thereby showing the third aspect of beauty, integrity. The wholeness of the object elicits repose and contemplation, rather than agitation and grasping. There’s a restorative feeling of being "at home." Within this rest, though, there is also an opening to more that continues to call us.
--
Beauty is a form of knowledge, but it differs from scientific knowledge.  Beauty conveys an intelligibility that is not reducible to scientific properties. For example, to see a rose and appreciate its beauty is to know it. I may know nothing of what a botanist could share with me about the organic properties of the flower. Nonetheless, the knowledge of the rose that I have is genuine. In fact, if I had studied botany and knew all the facts about roses, but had never seen and appreciated a rose, my knowledge of it — albeit scientific — would be incomplete.

Beauty, properly understood and experienced restores the fullness of the human person

Posted by Jill Fallon at 3:40 PM | Permalink

October 30, 2011

Remarkable story of redemption

The white supremacist gang leader who turned back time: Remarkable results after heavily tattooed criminal went through 16 months of agonizing laser surgery

The tattoos that covered a man's face show the hate that was once in his heart.

Bryon Widner was one of America's most violent and well known white supremacists, and his heavily-tattooed face displayed it proudly.

After shunning his racist beliefs, he was still unable to hold work because of his facial scarring, and went through a long and complicated journey to have the tattoos removed, in hopes of truly starting his life anew.

 Widner Tattoo Redemption

Posted by Jill Fallon at 8:34 PM | Permalink

August 23, 2011

Decision Fatigue

We only have a finite amount of willpower each day writes John Tierney in The New York Times who asks Do You Suffer from Decision Fatigue?

Decision fatigue helps explain why ordinarily sensible people get angry at colleagues and families, splurge on clothes, buy junk food at the supermarket and can’t resist the dealer’s offer to rustproof their new car. No matter how rational and high-minded you try to be, you can’t make decision after decision without paying a biological price. It’s different from ordinary physical fatigue — you’re not consciously aware of being tired — but you’re low on mental energy. The more choices you make throughout the day, the harder each one becomes for your brain, and eventually it looks for shortcuts, usually in either of two very different ways. One shortcut is to become reckless: to act impulsively instead of expending the energy to first think through the consequences. (Sure, tweet that photo! What could go wrong?) The other shortcut is the ultimate energy saver: do nothing. Instead of agonizing over decisions, avoid any choice. Ducking a decision often creates bigger problems in the long run, but for the moment, it eases the mental strain. You start to resist any change, any potentially risky move — like releasing a prisoner who might commit a crime. So the fatigued judge on a parole board takes the easy way out, and the prisoner keeps doing time.

A form of ego depletion, "Decision Fatigue" is now the subject of  scientific study and the results of the experiments are fascinating.

These experiments demonstrated that there is a finite store of mental energy for exerting self-control. When people fended off the temptation to scarf down M&M’s or freshly baked chocolate-chip cookies, they were then less able to resist other temptations...Willpower turned out to be more than a folk concept or a metaphor. It really was a form of mental energy that could be exhausted. The experiments confirmed the 19th-century notion of willpower being like a muscle that was fatigued with use, a force that could be conserved by avoiding temptation.
--
Part of the resistance against making decisions comes from our fear of giving up options.
--
Once you’re mentally depleted, you become reluctant to make trade-offs, which involve a particularly advanced and taxing form of decision making.
--
Spears and other researchers argue that this sort of decision fatigue is a major — and hitherto ignored — factor in trapping people in poverty. Because their financial situation forces them to make so many trade-offs, they have less willpower to devote to school, work and other activities that might get them into the middle class. It’s hard to know exactly how important this factor is, but there’s no doubt that willpower is a special problem for poor people.  Study after study has shown that low self-control correlates with low income as well as with a host of other problems, including poor achievement in school, divorce, crime, alcoholism and poor health.
--
The cumulative effect of these temptations and decisions isn’t intuitively obvious. Virtually no one has a gut-level sense of just how tiring it is to decide. Big decisions, small decisions, they all add up. Choosing what to have for breakfast, where to go on vacation, whom to hire, how much to spend — these all deplete willpower, and there’s no telltale symptom of when that willpower is low
--
people with the best self-control are the ones who structure their lives so as to conserve willpower. They don’t schedule endless back-to-back meetings. They avoid temptations like all-you-can-eat buffets, and they establish habits that eliminate the mental effort of making choices. Instead of deciding every morning whether or not to force themselves to exercise, they set up regular appointments to work out with a friend. Instead of counting on willpower to remain robust all day, they conserve it so that it’s available for emergencies and important decisions.

It's called risk avoidance in AA.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 1:19 AM | Permalink

July 10, 2011

"The Real Saints are Hidden

 Church In The Clouds

                                                                                                  Janez Tolar

Looking for the Little Ones

Stop and consider that the real saints are hidden. They follow the little way. If you were to tell them they were a saint they would laugh and tell you to keep searching. If you even had the sense and discernment to see the saint next to you--the ordinary person who perseveres--the little person who serves others--the plain Jane who takes life easily and simply loves people, then you would learn again what true holiness really is. If we only had eyes to see the simplicity of the saints, the extraordinary ordinariness of holiness, the practical good humor and humility of the truly grace filled ones.

The little way is the one Therese de Liseux found in her Carmelite monastery.  A pampered, middle-class girl in provincial France, she entered the convent at 15 and died of tuberculosis when she was 24.    She lived a hidden life, yet her spiritual autobiography, The Story of a Soul, published after her death became a modern spiritual classic, read by millions around the world and translated into dozens of languages.  She was beatified in 1923, canonized in 1925 and declared a Doctor of the Church in 1997.

 Therese

She wrote

" I have always wanted to become a saint. Unfortunately when I have compared myself with the saints, I have always found that there is the same difference between the saints and me as there is between a mountain whose summit is lost in the clouds and a humble grain of sand trodden underfoot by passers-by. Instead of being discouraged, I told myself: God would not make me wish for something impossible and so, in spite of my littleness, I can aim at being a saint. It is impossible for me to grow bigger, so I put up with myself as I am, with all my countless faults. But I will look for some means of going to heaven by a little way which is very short and very straight, a little way that is quite new"
Posted by Jill Fallon at 8:32 AM | Permalink

July 3, 2011

"Genuine freedom requires responsibility"

Remarkable.  I've sung  America the Beautiful countless times and never pondered "Confirm they soul in self-control"

Paul Kengor did, This Fourth of July: Confirm Thy Soul in Self-Control

As noted by John Howard—the outstanding senior fellow at the Howard Center for Family, Religion, & Society—Montesquieu noted that each citizen in a self-governing state must voluntarily abide by certain essential standards of conduct: lawfulness, truthfulness, honesty, fairness, respect for the rights and well-being of others, obligation to one’s spouse and children, to name a few.

“Each new generation must be trained to be responsible citizens … to be virtuous and conscientious,” writes Howard in The St. Croix Review. “Once the free society is well-established, the daily life of the family and the society is such that becoming virtuous is not a monstrous chore for the young people.”

Sadly, becoming virtuous has indeed become a monstrous chore in a society not only lacking virtue but eschewing virtue—fleeing virtue like a vampire fleeing a cross. Living life in a good way—what Benedict Groeschel calls The Virtue Driven Life—becomes so alien that the people prefer darkness over light. When virtues are not taught—whether at home, at school, or by America’s educator-in-chief, the TV set—they become unknown and ignored and unfulfilled, desiccated and dead upon the national landscape.

And perhaps saddest of all, as John Howard notes, v
irtue is something that can be acquired, like learning to speak a culture’s language. Once inculcated, however, it needs to be continuously reinforced by the cultural elements of the society. Virtue needs nourished, like fruitful plants need water and sunlight. Says Howard emphatically: “I want to repeat…. Virtue must be continuously reinforced by the culture.”

We Americans might not think about this much, but we actually sing it fairly often, even if the words don’t sink in. Consider this line from one of our sacred political hymns, America, the Beautiful:

America, America,
God mend thine ev’ry flaw,
Confirm thy soul in self-control,
Thy liberty in law.

That’s the ticket: Confirm thy soul in self-control...
--
In truth, a genuine freedom requires responsibility. As the song says—and as Washington and Montesquieu intimated—we must successfully govern ourselves in order to successfully govern our nation.

It’s a timeless concept worth remembering this Fourth of July and every day going forward.
Posted by Jill Fallon at 8:34 PM | Permalink

March 8, 2011

Full flourishing

David Brooks on The New Humanism or how to enlarge the too simplistic current definition of human capital as IQ and professional skills 

Yet while we are trapped within this amputated view of human nature, a richer and deeper view is coming back into view.

This growing, dispersed body of research reminds us of a few key insights. First, the unconscious parts of the mind are most of the mind, where many of the most impressive feats of thinking take place. Second, emotion is not opposed to reason; our emotions assign value to things and are the basis of reason. Finally, we are not individuals who form relationships. We are social animals, deeply interpenetrated with one another, who emerge out of relationships.

to include to include qualities you may not have heard of, but can recognize immediately as important for the full
flourishing of human life.

Attunement: the ability to enter other minds and learn what they have to offer.

Equipoise: the ability to serenely monitor the movements of one’s own mind and correct for biases and shortcomings.

Metis: the ability to see patterns in the world and derive a gist from complex situations.

Sympathy: the ability to fall into a rhythm with those around you and thrive in groups.

Limerence: This isn’t a talent as much as a motivation. The conscious mind hungers for money and success, but the unconscious mind hungers for those moments of transcendence when the skull line falls away and we are lost in love for another, the challenge of a task or the love of God. Some people seem to experience this drive more powerfully than others.
Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:35 AM | Permalink

February 23, 2011

"Sneer at faith all you like. Just don’t assume science is on your side."

Tom Knox in the Daily Mail, The tantilising proof that belief in God makes you happier and healthier

I am not a religious zealot. On the contrary, I was a teenage atheist. And although in adulthood I have had a vague and fuzzy feeling that ‘there must be something out there’, I was never a regular church-goer. But what I have discovered, on my voyage through the science of faith, has astonished me.

From Britain, he traveled to Salt Lake City.

Why did I feel safe? Because I was in a largely Mormon city, and Mormons are never going to mug you. They might bore or annoy you when they come knocking on your door, touting their faith, but they are not going to attack you.

The Mormons’ wholesome religiousness, their endless and charitable kindliness, made their  city a better place. And that made me think:  Why was I so supercilious about such happy, hospitable people? What gave me the right to sneer at their religion?

From that moment I took a deeper, more rigorous interest in the possible benefits of religious faith. Not one particular creed, but all creeds. And I was startled by what I found.

--
For a growing yet largely unnoticed body of scientific work, amassed over the past 30 years, shows religious belief is medically, socially and psychologically beneficial.

He reviewed many recent studies and found that  believers have

  • lower blood pressure
  • better mental and emotional health
  • longer life - about 7 years
  • less depression
  • faster recovery from illness, broken hips, cancer, heart disease etc etc
  • greater happiness

These results appear  not just among Americans, but among Europeans as well. 

In 2008, Professor Andrew Clark of the Paris School of Economics and Doctor Orsolya Lelkes of the European Centre for Social Welfare Policy and Research conducted a vast survey of Europeans. They found that religious believers, compared to non-believers, record less stress, are better able to cope with losing jobs and divorce, are less prone to suicide, report higher levels of self-esteem, enjoy greater ‘life purpose’ and report being more happy overall.
What is stunning about this research is that the team didn’t go looking for this effect — it came to them unexpectedly.
---

Why might we be hard-wired to be religious? Precisely because religion makes us happier and healthier, and thus makes us have more children.

In the purest of Darwinian terms, God isn’t just good for you, He’s good for your genes, too.

All of which means that, contrary to expectation, it is the atheists who are eccentric, flawed and maladaptive, and it’s the devout who are healthy, well-adjusted and normal.
--
Sneer at faith all you like. Just don’t assume science is on your side. 
Posted by Jill Fallon at 8:38 PM | Permalink

January 28, 2011

The Enigma of Smiles

In More to a Smile than Lips and Teeth

Dr. Niedenthal and her colleagues have surveyed a wide range of studies, from brain scans to cultural observations, to build a new scientific model of the smile. They believe they can account not only for the source of smiles, but how people perceive them. In a recent issue of the journal Behavioral and Brain Sciences, they argue that smiles are not simply the expression of an internal feeling. Smiles in fact are only the most visible part of an intimate melding between two minds.

“A smile is not this floating thing, like a Cheshire Cat,” said Dr. Niedenthal. “It’s attached to a body.” Sometimes the lips open to reveal teeth; sometimes they stay sealed. Sometimes the eyes crinkle. The chin rises with some smiles, and drops in others.

Cataloging these variations is an important first step, said Dr. Niedenthal, but it can’t deliver an answer to the enigma of smiles. “People like to make dictionaries of the facial muscles to make a particular gesture, but there’s no depth to that approach,” she said.

--An embarrassed smile is often accompanied by a lowered chin, for example, while a smile of greeting often comes with raised eyebrows.

--How another person interprets the smile is equally important....Dr. Niedenthal argues, people recognize smiles by mimicking them.

--Embodying smiles not only lets people recognize smiles, Dr. Niedenthal argues. It also lets them recognize false smiles. When they unconsciously mimic a false smile, they don’t experience the same brain activity as an authentic one. The mismatch lets them know something’s wrong.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 8:26 AM | Permalink

January 6, 2011

"Goodness is the only investment that never fails"

The Boston Globe lights up with the Top 10 Inspiring stories of 2010.

From Rudy Favard, co-captain of the Malden Catholic football team, whose Simple act elevates all

_inspire_carry__.jpg

to the love of a sister who brought back her beloved big brother from the brooding soldier who returned home from Iraq suffering from PTSD, One step at a time.


_sister_vet_Iraq.jpg

to Brian Christopher, a homeless Navy vet who really could have used the money to buy presents for his children, a man in need finds wallet and moral compass, proving beyond a doubt there is one honest man in Boston.

_honest-man.jpg

Stories like these are important because they show us - and we all have to be reminded - how many people are doing great good, unnoticed, all around us.

"Goodness is the only investment that never fails," Henry David Thoreau.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:31 AM | Permalink

January 4, 2011

Wisdom of the Hands

In Boston, woodworking as a class in middle school and high school is seeing a resurgence.

Drills and skills

While there’s no quick fix, many woodworking teachers are convinced that getting students to work with their hands and not just their heads would help. They believe that shuttering the shops was irresponsible and shortsighted, a mistake that has helped create a dependent generation of young people who don’t know how to fix things and lack even the most basic manual competence. They say it’s also alienated students whose intelligence and gifts do not lie in traditional classroom learning.

“Does working with your hands make you smarter? Woodworking teachers have observed that effect for years,’’ said Doug Stowe, an Arkansas woodworker and teacher who writes a blog called “Wisdom of the Hands,’’ which advances the concept that hands are essential to learning.

--

“Culturally, we reward people who are very good in mathematics and writing, and we also value athletes,’’ he said. “But there are a lot of kids in the world who are extremely talented experiencing the world through their hands. And I think we should support them and help them.’’

Posted by Jill Fallon at 6:13 PM | Permalink

December 9, 2010

Narcissism

Narcissistic personality disorder describes a condition is which there is an inflated sense of self-importance and an extreme preoccupation with one's self. A malignant self-love.

Every one knows the type and most can point to narcissists among their acquaintances or friends.   The decision to eliminate from the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders is puzzling, so I was pleased to learn that Not every one is pleased.

One of the sharpest critics of the DSM committee on personality disorders is a Harvard psychiatrist, Dr. John Gunderson, an old lion in the field of personality disorders and the person who led the personality disorders committee for the current manual.

Asked what he thought about the elimination of narcissistic personality disorder, he said it showed how “unenlightened” the personality disorders committee is.

“They have little appreciation for the damage they could be doing.” He said the diagnosis is important in terms of organizing and planning treatment.

“It’s draconian,” he said of the decision, “and the first of its kind, I think, that half of a group of disorders are eliminated by committee.”

A recent study showed that Narcissistic students don't mind cheating on their way to the top.   

What is a therapist to do with these budding white collar criminals?

In Narcissism - The Malady of Me, Benedict Carey writes

Most people can smell it from across the company cafeteria, and in the most precious precincts of places like New York, Los Angeles and London, it’s a familiar scent.

--_Narcissus.jpg

Narcissism was always a natural. Its technical definition describes a devastatingly vulnerable person, compensating for a deeply imprinted inadequacy with a desperate need for admiration, and a grandiose self-image.

--

A word like that is not going anywhere, regardless of what the experts working on the DSM decide. On the contrary: in recent months some of the researchers pushing to drop the diagnosis have softened their stance; the betting now is that the diagnosis is going to remain in the final revision. The term, like so many people it describes in life and in treatment, cannot be so easily ignored.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:05 AM | Permalink

December 7, 2010

Alien self-concepts

Annie Gottlieb in Elegy for Experience

I hardly know anyone under 40 (and few enough over 40) who isn’t on one antidepressant or another; what we considered an existential and deeply individuating ordeal, they conceptualize as a chemical imbalance. What they don’t seem to realize is that “my serotonin” or “my dopamine” is every bit as much a subjective fantasy as “my libido” or “my anima.” We have no direct, sensory experience of our neurotransmitters! They are concepts without any emotional color or content, without any associations except for the prestige of science, an authority that derives from the very fact that it speaks a language we cannot relate to. This is an alienating fantasy of one’s self, not as a cosmos of experience, but as a chemical robot in need of a tune-up by an expert. This robot has no inner space; it is solid-state.


--prescription-drugs.jpg

With so many people self-medicating to deal with their feelings and pain, I was not at all surprised that Drugs were found in 33% of killed drivers.

According to a National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) report released Tuesday, one-third of all drug tests on drivers killed in motor vehicle accidents came back positive for drugs ranging from hallucinogens to prescription painkillers last year.


Posted by Jill Fallon at 9:31 AM | Permalink

October 16, 2010

Viva Chile

To watch these men each enter the capsule Phoenix and then be tugged slowly to the sky and there released embrace family and officials whose efforts made their new lives possible was one of the most inspiring things I have ever seen on television.

I'm with Peggy Noonan who writes Viva Chile!  They Left No Man Behind

the saving of those men gave us something we don't see enough, a brilliant example of human excellence—of cohesion, of united and committed action, of planning and execution, of caring. They used the human brain and spirit to save life. All we get all day every day is scandal. But this inspired.

Viva Chile. They left no man behind.That is what our U.S. Army Rangers say, and our Marines: We leave no man behind. It has a meaning, this military motto, this way of operating. It means you are not alone, you are part of something. Your brothers are with you, here they come. Chile, in leaving no man behind, in insisting that the San José mine was a disaster area but not a tomb, showed itself to be a huge example of that little thing that is at the core of every society: a fully functioning family. A cohering unit that can make its way through the world.
--
So many nations and leaders have grown gifted at talk. .... But Chile this week moved the world not by talking but by doing, not by mouthing sympathy for the miners, but by saving them. The whole country—the engineers and technicians, the president, the government, the rescue workers, other miners, medics—set itself to doing something hard, specific, physical, demanding of commitment, precision and expertise. And they did it.

For two weeks they were entombed deep in the earth and no one knew they were alive.  They had almost no food and no water.    What kept them from descending even further into despair?    I can only think it was their strong faith.  Growing up in a strongly Christian culture gave them the resources that enabled them to survive a disastrous, hellish situation in such a splendid manner. 

It was surely praying at their 'makeshift shrine' that kept the Chilean miners sane.

What nobody has done so far – that I have seen (I may be wrong of course, there has been vast international coverage of this story) – is to give a convincing account of what it is that has kept the men sane and united and undespairing, what has sustained their hope of deliverance from this truly appalling ordeal. And I have no doubt at all that it was their religion and that that there weren’t that many Adventists or Evangelicals down there.

Consider the following CNA report from Santiago, which appeared on August 27: “The 33 miners trapped in the San Jose mine in Atacama, Chile, have requested that statues and religious pictures be sent down to them as they wait to be rescued… Chilean officials say the rescue could take months but that they hope to reach the miners by Christmas… A small passageway has already been put in place so messages and supplies can be sent to the trapped miners.

“Although a crucifix has already been sent down, the miners are continuing to request more statues of Mary and the saints… to construct a makeshift chapel. ‘The miners want to set up a section of the chamber they are in as a shrine,

"God won" writes Deacon Greg

Aren't we supposed to be unfazed by this sort of thing?

Aren't we supposed to shrug it all off, attribute it to science and engineering and the sheer grit of the human psyche? 

Isn't it supposed to have more to do with willpower than wonder? We live in a post-Christian world now, don't we?  To paraphrase Tina Turner: what's God got to do with it?

Well, it seems, everything.

We sit here in our living rooms and offices, sipping coffee and checking e-mails, and hour after hour, another one emerges, up a long dark hole, to a shaft of daylight, and there are cheers and tears -- and then something more.  Something that moves even the most hardened heart.  The world is blinking back tears as we see it, again and again.  One man, breathing his first fresh air in months, falls to his knees and prays. Another makes the sign of the cross. And in the media-saturated aftermath, one of the miners is interviewed on camera, still wearing his dark glasses, still numbed by it all, and he puts it in terms we can all understand. It sounds so simple -- to some, I'm sure, simplistic -- but it all makes perfect sense.

"I've been near God, but I've also been near the devil," he says through a translator. "God won."

 Chileestebanrojas18Threscued

Posted by Jill Fallon at 12:30 AM | Permalink

October 8, 2010

The tested formula for inner calm

From the Daily Mail, wisdom in a headline.

The secret to happiness: don't date a neurotic or worry about your career, go to church and stay thin

Experts have now come up with a simple formula for those in search of inner calm.

According to their research, people who go to church, stay thin, avoid worrying about their careers and have emotionally stable partners should be well on their way to achieving the sought-after state of mind.

Challenging the theory that an individual's long-term happiness depends on their genes, a group from the University of Melbourne, in Australia, found changes in lifestyle led to significant long-term changes in general satisfaction.

Bruce Headey, an associate professor at the university, questioned people in Germany about their jobs, social lives and religious activities during a 25-year period.

Initially, some 3,000 people responded to their surveys but towards the end of the period, this figure stood at 60,000.
Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:29 PM | Permalink

August 24, 2010

AA: The Power of the Group

From Wired, Secret of AA: After 75 Years, We Don’t Know How It Works

“Doesn’t matter how much snow we get—a foot, 10 feet piled up in front of the door,” he says. “I will leave my apartment tomorrow and go find a meeting.”

He clasps his hands together and draws them to his heart: “You understand me? I need this.” Daily meetings, the man says, are all that prevent him from winding up dead in the gutter, shoes gone because he sold them for booze or crack. And he hasn’t had a drink in more than a decade.

The resolve is striking, though not entirely surprising. AA has been inspiring this sort of ardent devotionfor 75 years.

------It’s all quite an achievement for a onetime broken-down drunk. And Wilson’s success is even more impressive when you consider that AA and its steps have become ubiquitous despite the fact that no one is quite sure how—or, for that matter, how well—they work. The organization is notoriously difficult to study, thanks to its insistence on anonymity and its fluid membership. And AA’s method, which requires “surrender” to a vaguely defined “higher power,” involves the kind of spiritual revelations that neuroscientists have only begun to explore.

What we do know, however, is that despite all we’ve learned over the past few decades about psychology, neurology, and human behavior, contemporary medicine has yet to devise anything that works markedly better. “In my 20 years of treating addicts, I’ve never seen anything else that comes close to the 12 steps,” says Drew Pinsky, the addiction-medicine specialist who hosts VH1’s Celebrity Rehab. “In my world, if someone says they don’t want to do the 12 steps, I know they aren’t going to get better.”

------One thing is certain, though: AA doesn’t work for everybody. In fact, it doesn’t work for the vast majority of people who try it. And understanding more about who it does help, and why, is likely our best shot at finally developing a system that improves on Wilson’s amateur scheme for living without the bottle.

___There’s no doubt that when AA works, it can be transformative. But what aspect of the program deserves most of the credit? Is it the act of surrendering to a higher power? The making of amends to people a drinker has wronged? The simple admission that you have a problem? Stunningly, even the most highly regarded AA experts have no idea.

_joyous_future.jpg

There is evidence that a big part of AA’s effectiveness may have nothing to do with the actual steps. It may derive from something more fundamental: the power of the group....after a review of nearly 200 articles on group therapy, a pair of Stanford University researchers pinpointed why the approach works so well: “Members find the group to be a compelling emotional experience; they develop close bonds with the other members and are deeply influenced by their acceptance and feedback.”

Lots more at the link.
Posted by Jill Fallon at 9:40 PM | Permalink

July 27, 2010

Truth

The fashionable attitude among too many is that to believe in truth is to be hopelessly naive.    Unless, of course, they themselves have fallen victim to falsehoods. lies and injustice in which case truth suddenly becomes very important.   

No one wants to fly in a plane if the pilot doesn't believe in the truth of aerodynamics and what his instruments report.  No one wants a court system that isn't founded on the principles of justice, truth and the rule of law, no matter how often judges and lawyers stray from those principles.  No one wants scientists who fake results.
No one wants pharmaceutical companies who don't disclose the truth about the side effects as they learn them about the medicine they make.  No one wants banks that don't care about the accuracy of the money in your account.  No one wants friends who lie to them. 

We depend on truth in small matters and in large, far more than we think.

Is there anything worse than believing lies and falsehoods?  RR. Reno says yes, there is An Error Worse Than Error

For a long time as a young teacher, I believed the danger of prostituting their minds by believing falsehoods was the preeminent, or even singular, intellectual danger my students faced. So I challenged them and tried to teach them always to be self-critical, questioning, skeptical. What are your assumptions? How can you defend your position? Where’s your evidence? Why do you believe that?

I thought I was helping my students by training them to think critically. And no doubt I was. However, reading John Henry Newman has helped me see another danger, perhaps a
graver one: to be so afraid of being wrong that we fail to believe as true that which is true. He worried about the modern tendency to make a god of critical reason, as if avoiding error, rather than finding truth, were the great goal of life.
--

If we see this danger—the danger of truths lost, insights missed, convictions never formed—then the complexion of intellectual inquiry changes, and the burdens of proof shift. We begin to cherish books and teachers and friends who push us and romance us with the possibilities of truth.

The life of the mind turns into an adventure. Errors risked seem worthy gambles for the sake of the rich reward of engrossing, life-commanding truths that are only accessible to a mind passionate with the intimacy of conviction rather than coldly [and] critically distant.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 1:50 PM | Permalink

July 23, 2010

Intervention. "What the hell is this show doing right?"

Well, isn't this a refreshing bit of news, a reality show that can really teach us something.

The A&E reality-TV show Intervention has a 71 percent success rate in rehabbing the most determined, hardened addicts.

here is the obvious question: How has a 45-minute reality show that airs during summer on basic cable succeeded where so many other treatment regimes have failed? Why does a camera crew filming a determined drug addict hitting bottom convince someone to go into recovery? Does it merely take a united family leveling threats all at once to exorcise some of the demonic powers of addiction? In other words, what the hell is this show doing right?
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Intervention offers real drama—drama in the Greek sense of the word: It’s all fear and pity and pathos. Instead of just documenting the annals of addiction and the humiliation people put themselves through in order to maintain it, the show instead focuses on the complicated ecosystems that sustain addiction: families.
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So what role do the cameras play in this road to recovery? Is that another element in the show’s successful treatment rate? According to VanVonderen, no. "It's not because of the show that people have broken through their addiction—I think it's because of the intervention. People are more likely to go to treatment if there’s an intervention, they’re more likely to stay in treatment, they’re more likely to do better afterward, because everything’s changed. Not just, they went to treatment. The family’s gonna get well without you, and that comes through in the intervention.”

In other words, VanVonderen says the real power of the intervention comes through when addicts learn, “Now the jig is up, it’s not gonna work like it did before. That strikes fear into their hearts.”

Posted by Jill Fallon at 9:40 PM | Permalink

July 19, 2010

Business School Lessons Applied to Real Life

The innovative and highly respected author of The Innovator's Dilemma, Clayton Christensen asked his graduating students at the Harvard Business School three questions.

First, how can I be sure that I’ll be happy in my career? Second, how can I be sure that my relationships with my spouse and my family become an enduring source of happiness? Third, how can I be sure I’ll stay out of jail?

Then he used his own life as a case study so that his students could see how he applied his own theories to guide his life decisions. 

Here are some snippets from How Will You Measure Your Life?

More and more MBA students come to school thinking that a career in business means buying, selling, and investing in companies. That’s unfortunate. Doing deals doesn’t yield the deep rewards that come from building up people.
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The choice and successful pursuit of a profession is but one tool for achieving your purpose. But without a purpose, life can become hollow.
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If you study the root causes of business disasters, over and over you’ll find this predisposition toward endeavors that offer immediate gratification. If you look at personal lives through that lens, you’ll see the same stunning and sobering pattern: people allocating fewer and fewer resources to the things they would have once said mattered most.
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Like employees, children build self-esteem by doing things that are hard and learning what works.
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The lesson I learned from this is that it’s easier to hold to your principles 100% of the time than it is to hold to them 98% of the time. If you give in to “just this once,” based on a marginal cost analysis, as some of my former classmates have done, you’ll regret where you end up. You’ve got to define for yourself what you stand for and draw the line in a safe place.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 8:44 AM | Permalink

June 2, 2010

To hear for the first time

The moment when young Jonathan hears for the first time.

Cochlear implants are still a relatively new technology.  Here are 9 more people hearing for the first time.

And there's Harold Whittle who long ago heard sound for the first time after being fitted with a hearing aid.

The-Face-Of-A-Boy-Hearing-For-The-First-Time-20780-1238001482-30

Posted by Jill Fallon at 8:58 AM | Permalink

May 26, 2010

A very restricted circle of potential being

Mark Vernon on spirituality, not machinery

You Are Not A Gadget, the new book by Silicon Valley luminary Jaron Lanieris, he says, fundamentally a book about spirituality. He is at pains to stress that humans are not machines, though the digital revolution has developed the habit of assuming we are. So, he advises, "We should assume supernatural specialness to people." Supernatural? Specialness? Spirituality? It seems misplaced language for the man who coined the term "virtual reality" and is routinely included on lists of leading public intellectuals. Is it anything more than West Coast hippie-speak?
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He's no Luddite. Rather, "Enlightened designers leave open the possibility either of metaphysical specialness in humans or in the potential for unforeseen creative processes that aren't explained by ideas like evolution that we already believe we can capture in software systems." So,
he prefers a mysterious view of life over a materialist one, not out of any prior metaphysical conviction, but simply because it works – works in terms of enlarging, not restricting, our humanity. It's a pragmatic advocacy of a religious attitude to life, and no doubt shaped by his Californian context. But it's a strikingly religious attitude, no less.

A quote from William James seems apropos:

"Most people live, whether physically, intellectually or morally in a very restricted circle of their potential being. They make very small use of their possible consciousness, and of their soul's resources in general, much like a man who, out of his whole bodily organism, should get into a habit of using and moving only his little finger."

Posted by Jill Fallon at 12:06 PM | Permalink

May 10, 2010

The Doctor's Demeanor

I've wondered for a long time why medical research is not doing more to harness the power of placebos.

Today in the Boston Globe fake medical treatments can work amazingly well.

For a range of ailments, from pain and nausea to depression and Parkinson’s disease, placebos--whether sugar pills, saline injections, or sham surgery--have often produced results that rival those of standard therapies.
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“In the last 10 years we’ve made tremendous strides in demonstrating the biological veracity of the placebo effect,” says Ted Kaptchuk, an associate professor at Harvard Medical School and one of the coauthors of the Lancet article. “The frontier is, how do we utilize what is clearly an important phenomenon in a way that’s consistent with patient-practitioner trust, and informed consent?”
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according to advocates, there’s enough data for doctors to start thinking of the placebo effect not as the opposite of medicine, but as a tool they can use in an evidence-based, conscientious manner. Broadly speaking, it seems sensible to make every effort to enlist the body’s own ability to heal itself--which is what, at bottom, placebos seem to do. And as researchers examine it more closely, the placebo is having another effect as well: it is revealing a great deal about the subtle and unexpected influences that medical care, as opposed to the medicine itself, has on patients.

And then I learned how much depends on context.

“Medicine is intensely meaningful,” says Daniel Moerman, a professor emeritus of anthropology at the University of Michigan at Dearborn who coined the phrase “meaning response.” “It’s this highly stylized, highly ritualized thing.” He urges us to “forget about the stupid placebo and start looking at the system of meaning involved.”
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“It’s amazing,” says Kaptchuk. “Connecting with the patient, rapport, empathy . . . that few extra minutes is not just icing on the cake. It has biology.”

It may be, then, that the simplest and least ethically hazardous way to capitalize on the placebo effect is to acknowledge that medicine isn’t just a set of approved treatments--it’s also a ritual, with symbolism and meaning that are key to its efficacy.
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Whether we call it the placebo effect or use new terms, the research in this field could start to put a measurable healing value on doctors’ time and even demeanor, rather than just on procedures and pills. And that could change medicine in a way that few blockbuster drugs ever could.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 12:05 PM | Permalink

April 28, 2010

Council of Dads

When Bruce Feller was told he had a rare and serious form of bone cancer, he immediately worried about his twin daughters.  How would they live without him?  How best to pass on his life lessons to his daughters at their different stages of life?

“Would they wonder who I was? Would they wonder what I thought? Would they lack for my approval, my discipline, my voice?”

Then he realized how he could give that to them even if he wasn’t there. He appointed a
Council of Dads, men from different stages of his life who would try to fill his role. He reached out to these men in a letter that spelled out his wishes.

“I believe my daughters will have plenty of opportunities in their lives,” he wrote. “They’ll have loving families. They’ll have welcoming homes. They’ll have each other. But they may not have their dad. Will you be their dad?”
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Feiler set some early rules for his council: no family, only friends. No women, only men. He wanted council members to represent different elements of his personality. He wanted a dad to take his girls to a sporting event, a dad to buy them a ridiculous future gadget we can’t even fathom, a dad who would sit through the dance recitals.

He found six men to fill his many roles: a nature-loving dad, a travel dad, camp counselor dad. He also wanted them to come from different times his life: the childhood pal, the book agent, the college friend. They all accepted the challenge, sometimes poignantly. Feiler writes that one council member, who lost his own father when he was a child, said, “The most important thing a parent can do, I believe, is water a child profusely with love. I would water your children with love.”

Another told Feiler that by creating a council, he had ensured that his voice would never be forgotten because his girls would be surrounded “with voices that will, in the totality of symphony, create sounds of their father.”

--

Reading more about Bruce at his website, Bruce says the Council of Dads turns out to be less about parenting and more about friendship and closing the divide between close friends and children.

Now he wants to take his concept worldwide.  He's encouraging others to set up their own councils via his website
Council of Dads

He has partnered with the National Fatherhood Initiative and is working to put how-to pamphlets on 1,500 military bases for members of the armed forces.

“It resonates with them because they spend time away from their children and it’s a professional hazard that they might die,” he said.

USA Weekend interviews the six friends to learn what they have to share. It takes a village of dads.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 8:45 AM | Permalink

March 2, 2010

Skinhead Puts on Skullcap

In the New York Times, the Changing Face of Poland: Skinhead Puts on Skullcap

When Pawel looks into the mirror, he can still sometimes see a neo-Nazi skinhead staring back, the man he was before he covered his shaved head with a skullcap, traded his fascist ideology for the Torah and renounced violence and hatred in favor of God.

“I still struggle every day to discard my past ideas,” said Pawel, a 33-year-old ultra-Orthodox Jew and former truck driver, noting with little irony that he had to stop hating Jews in order to become one. “When I look at an old picture of myself as a skinhead, I feel ashamed. Every day I try and do teshuvah,” he said, using the Hebrew word for repentance. “Every minute of every day. There is a lot to make up for.”

Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:39 AM | Permalink

February 22, 2010

Temple Grandin

This month HBO released a film about Temple Grandin starring Claire Danes in a remarkable performance about  the  woman who is described as an "innovator, author, activist and autistic".    I loved it and found the film quite amazing in the way it told the story and gave us glimpses of how Temple's mind works.

 

This is a must movie for parents, relatives and friends of anyone who is autistic because Temple is so articulate on what it is like being autistic and hypersensitive.  After being diagnosed as autistic at the age of two, doctors recommended institutionalization but her parents refused and instead sent her to schools with structure and supportive teachers who directed her fixations in fruitful directions.   

So  for an autistic person what is life like amidst the normals?  In the WSJ weekend interview, Temple calls it  Life Among the 'Yakkity Yaks'

'Who do you think made the first stone spear?" asks Temple Grandin. "That wasn't the yakkity yaks sitting around the campfire. It was some Aspberger sitting in the back of a cave figuring out how to chip rocks into spearheads. Without some autistic traits you wouldn't even have a recording device to record this conversation on."
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Nevertheless, with aggressive early intervention and tremendous discipline many people with autism can lead productive, even remarkable, lives. And Ms. Grandin—doctor of animal science, ground-breaking cattle expert, easily the most famous autistic woman in the world—is one of them.
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Ms. Grandin lives in a simple apartment in Fort Collins, Colo., and has used the profits from her books to put students through school. "Four PhDs I've already done, I'm working on my fifth right now. I have graduate students at Colorado State—some of them I let in the back door, like me: older, nontraditional students. And I've gotten them good jobs."

"You know what working at the slaughterhouses does to you? It makes you look at your own mortality."

"When I was younger I was looking for this magic meaning of life. It's very simple now," she says. Making the lives of others better, doing "something of lasting value, that's the meaning of life, it's that simple."

How about meaning, I ask. What's the picture for that word? "Ok, now I'm seeing a mother saying your book helped my kid go to college—that's meaning. Or my kid got a job because of one of your lectures—that's meaning. Or a rancher comes up and says that piece of equipment works really well—that's meaning. Concrete, real stuff. On. The. Ground."

Posted by Jill Fallon at 4:54 PM | Permalink

The Remarkable Character of George Washington

What made George Washington, born 278 years ago today, so great?  His character.  In the end, the intangible quality of character is how our families and friends will remember us. 

The Character of George Washington

What made George Washington the most remarkable man of an extraordinary generation? He was not an intellectual giant like Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, or James Madison. Compared with most other founders, he was not well educated (he attended school for only about five years), and, unlike many of them, he disliked abstract philosophical discussions. Washington was intelligent, well informed, and astute, buthe was neither a polished writer nor a spellbinding speaker. Moreover, he was not particularly affectionate, said little in public meetings, and lacked the charisma of many of his successors. Defeating the British with his ragtag army was an impressive feat, but he was not a traditional military hero. He won no spectacular victories during the Revolutionary War. Although he is widely admired as an outstanding president, few of his policies were stupendous successes.

While praising his military and political record, many scholars contend that Washington’s genius lies principally in his character. The only other American president who has been so highly extolled for his character is Abraham Lincoln. Since Washington, all presidents have been ultimately measured not by the size of their electoral victories or the success of their legislative programs, but by their moral character. His character helped sustain his troops throughout the travails of the Revolutionary War, convince delegates to the Constitutional Convention to assign significant powers to the presidency, secure the ratification of the Constitution, and enable the new republic to survive in a hostile world.
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Many admirers considered Washington’s self-control the key facet of his character. He could master events because he had mastered himself. Despite being surrounded by fear, despair, indecisiveness, treason, and the threat of mutiny, he remained confident and steadfast. Eulogists also heralded his self-sacrifice, devotion to the common good, compassion, generosity, and benevolence.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 4:06 PM | Permalink

February 15, 2010

Goodness is more subtle, revealing itself gently

Rod Dreher with a marvelous tribute to his friend Gerard Faucheux who was killed along with his parents in a car crash.

A novelist I was listening to on the radio the other day spoke about how difficult it is to portray goodness effectively in fiction. Evil, she said, tends to manifest itself in dramatic strokes, but goodness is usually more subtle, and reveals itself more gently.

He made you want to be good.

Today I thought about the last time I saw him. He was in Dallas on business, and he came to dinner. We hadn't seen each other in a long time. He told me about his wife Kathy, and showed us pictures of his kids. He talked a lot about his music, and about his life in Mississippi. Gerard was a quiet man, and that night he spoke so modestly about his blessings and his accomplishments, but I was sitting there thinking, Man, you've got it all. You've got the life everybody dreams of having. He wasn't rich or famous, but he had a wife who adored him, and four great kids. He had his family, he had his faith, he had his music, and as far as I could tell, he was at peace with the world. Here's the thing: he always was. My wife was telling me tonight that getting to know Gerard at dinner that night was a memorable experience for her. She said, "There was no ego there. He just reflected goodness. It was the strangest thing. He was just sitting there, making normal conversation, but it was so clear that he had a pure heart. It was really something to encounter. He made you want to be good."

He made you want to be good. That's the story of Gerard Faucheux's life, right there.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 1:49 PM | Permalink

July 15, 2009

Finding the Meaning of Life in the Face of Mortality

Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York has begun a new program "to help cancer patients find a sense of meaning, peace and purpose, even as the end approaches.

Helping Cancer Patients Find the Meaning of Life

“For many cancer patients, the biggest challenge is, ‘How do I live in the space between my diagnosis and my eventual death?’” says William Breitbart, a Memorial Sloan-Kettering psychiatrist who developed the program, known as meaning-centered psychotherapy, and has tested it with more than 300 patients since 2000.

Dr. Breitbart based his program in part on the writings of Viktor Frankl, the Austrian psychiatrist who survived Auschwitz with the conviction that people can endure any suffering if they know their life has meaning. The eight-week program helps patients with Stage 3 or 4 cancer reconnect with the many sources of meaning in life—love, work, history, family relationships—and teaches them that when cancer produces an obstacle in one, they can find meaning in another.

 Dr Breitbart


“We help cancer patients understand that they are not dead yet,” says Dr. Breitbart.
“The months or years of life that remain can be times of extraordinary growth.”
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Session five focuses on encountering life’s limitations, and Frankl’s message that even when everything else has been stripped away, people can still choose their attitude toward a situation and the meaning they take from it. Discussion questions include: what would be a meaningful death?
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“We tread lightly here; this is not supposed to be a scary session,” says Shannon Poppito, clinical psychologist who led many of the sessions. She says that what troubles many cancer patients most is not the fear of death, but unresolved issues from the past. It’s never too late to resolve them, says Dr. Breitbart, who notes that in Tolstoy’s “The Death of Ivan Ilyich,” the main character becomes the person he wants to be in the last five minutes of his life.
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And
simply experiencing life can be meaningful. For session seven, patients are asked to list things they love or find beautiful. Ms. Wilker talked about her husband and her 28 nieces and nephews and 62 grandnieces and grandnephews. She also talked about the view from her apartment that she was enjoying again and the Greek statue of Winged Victory that she had seen in her 20s in the Louvre.

“I realized that I didn’t have to work so hard to find the meaning of life,” she says. “It was being handed to me everywhere I looked.”

In the final session, group members present a “legacy project” that symbolizes the meaning they’ve found and want to pass on.
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It’s paradoxical,” says Dr. Poppito, who is now in private practice, using meaning-centered therapy to help patients face a variety of life transitions. “You’d think that once people have found this new meaning in life, they wouldn’t want to let it go. But knowing their life has meaning and that it will continue beyond them seems to lessen that white-knuckle grip on life and give them a sense of peace.”

Posted by Jill Fallon at 12:39 PM | Permalink

Zoning Out

Thus is good news for those who daydream.

Stop Paying Attention: Zoning Out Is a Crucial Mental State

Researchers say a wandering mind may be important to setting goals, making discoveries, and living a balanced life.

The fact that both of these important brain networks become active together suggests that mind wandering is not useless mental static. Instead, Schooler proposes, mind wandering allows us to work through some important thinking. Our brains process information to reach goals, but some of those goals are immediate while others are distant. Somehow we have evolved a way to switch between handling the here and now and contemplating long-term objectives. It may be no coincidence that most of the thoughts that people have during mind wandering have to do with the future.

Even more telling is the discovery that zoning out may be the most fruitful type of mind wandering....In their fMRI study, Schooler and his colleagues found that the default network and executive control systems are even more active during zoning out than they are during the less extreme mind wandering with awareness. When we are no longer even aware that our minds are wandering, we may be able to think most deeply about the big picture.

All of which brought to mind one of my very first posts in 2004. Does Daydreaming Make You Happy?

After finding that about one child in 30 is brilliant and happy, (Harvard psychologist Burton) White did a great deal of research to determine what demographic or psychological characteristics distinguished those children. But the children came from a wide variety of backgrounds -- rich and poor, small families and large, broken and stable homes, poorly and well-educated parents -- and from all parts of the U.S. Finally, through extensive questioning, he determined that the bright and happy children had only one thing in common: All of them spent noticeable amounts of time staring peacefully and wordlessly into space." -- Michael Ray and Rochelle Myers (from Creativity in Business)

Posted by Jill Fallon at 12:18 PM | Permalink | TrackBack

May 14, 2009

The Predictive Power of Marshmallows

IN The New Yorker this week, an insightful article by Johan Lehrer on the secret of self-control, DON'T.

What, then, determined self-control? Mischel’s conclusion, based on hundreds of hours of observation, was that the crucial skill was the “strategic allocation of attention.” Instead of getting obsessed with the marshmallow—the “hot stimulus”—the patient children distracted themselves by covering their eyes, pretending to play hide-and-seek underneath the desk, or singing songs from “Sesame Street.” Their desire wasn’t defeated—it was merely forgotten. “If you’re thinking about the marshmallow and how delicious it is, then you’re going to eat it,” Mischel says. “The key is to avoid thinking about it in the first place.”
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According to Mischel, this view of will power also helps explain why the marshmallow task is such a powerfully predictive test. “If you can deal with hot emotions, then you can study for the S.A.T. instead of watching television,” Mischel says. “And you can save more money for retirement. It’s not just about marshmallows.”
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 Children Marshmallows

But Mischel has found a shortcut. When he and his colleagues taught children a simple set of mental tricks—such as pretending that the candy is only a picture, surrounded by an imaginary frame—he dramatically improved their self-control. The kids who hadn’t been able to wait sixty seconds could now wait fifteen minutes. “All I’ve done is given them some tips from their mental user manual,” Mischel says. “Once you realize that will power is just a matter of learning how to control your attention and thoughts, you can really begin to increase it.”

Another researcher, Angela Duckworth found that the ability to delay gratification, was a far better predictor of academic performance than I.Q.
She said that her study shows that “intelligence is really important, but it’s still not as important as self-control.”
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According to Mischel, even the most mundane routines of childhood—such as not snacking before dinner, or saving up your allowance, or holding out until Christmas morning—are really sly exercises in cognitive training: we’re teaching ourselves how to think so that we can outsmart our desires

Posted by Jill Fallon at 8:44 AM | Permalink

April 16, 2009

The Neural Patterns of Unconditional Love

'Unconditional love, extended to others without exception, is considered to be one of the highest expressions of spirituality, said Professor Mario Beauregard, of Montreal University’s centre for research into neurophysiology and cognition.

Professor Beauregard used magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) on low paid assistants looking after people with learning difficulties, as examples of people with proven ability to feel strong unconditional love:

When the subjects were asked to evoke feelings of unconditional love, the scans showed seven brain areas that became active, three were similar to those of romantic love. The others were different, suggesting a separate kind of love.

Prof Beauregard’s discoveries showed that some of the areas activated when experiencing unconditional love were also involved in releasing dopamine - the chemical involved in sensing pleasure.

The greatest love of all: Study shows why humans are capable of caring unconditionally

Posted by Jill Fallon at 9:34 AM | Permalink

April 7, 2009

The Healthy Side of Pride

The fine art of keeping up appearances may seem shallow and deceitful, the very embodiment of denial. But many psychologists beg to differ.

To the extent that it sustains good habits and reflects personal pride, they say, this kind of play-acting can be an extremely effective social strategy, especially in uncertain times.
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“I have a new client, a laid-off lawyer, who’s commuting in every day — to his Starbucks,” said Robert C. Chope, a professor of counseling at San Francisco State University and president of the employment division of the American Counseling Association. “He gets dressed up, meets with colleagues, networks; he calls it his Western White House. I have encouraged him to keep his routine.”

When All You Have Left Is Your Pride

Pride, in short, begets perseverance. All of which may explain why, when the repo man is at the door, people so often remind themselves that they still have theirs, and that it’s worth something. Because they do, and because it is.

However much pride may go before a fall, it may be far more useful after one.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 9:43 AM | Permalink

December 15, 2008

The Yawn Explained

I've wondered about this all my life.  Why do we yawn? 

Now, the Discovery channels claims to answer that question. It Cools Your Brain

If your head is overheated, there's a good chance you'll yawn soon, according to a new study that found the primary purpose of yawning is to control brain temperature.
The finding solves several mysteries about yawning, such as why it's most commonly done just before and after sleeping, why certain diseases lead to excessive yawning, and why breathing through the nose and cooling off the forehead often stop yawning.
The key yawn instigator appears to be brain temperature.
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The new findings also explain why tired individuals often yawn, since both exhaustion and sleep deprivation have been shown to increase deep brain temperatures, again prompting a yawn-driven cool down. Yawning additionally appears to facilitate transitional states of the brain, such as going from sleep to waking periods.
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"Bouts of excessive yawning often precede the onset of seizures in epileptic patients, and predict the onset of headaches in people who suffer from migraines," he added.

Now  I recall when I used to suffer from migraines, I yawned a lot.

But Discovery solved the puzzle of why yawning is so contagious

 Yawning, Contagious

photomontage by Zachary Scott

Some  contend it's the capacity for empathy, but why do we yawn just thinking about it?

Steve Platek, a cognitive neuroscientist at Drexel University is the go-to expert.

Platek says he thinks it has to do with empathy. The way he sees it, the more empathetic you are, the more likely it is that you'll identify with a yawner and experience a yawn yourself. In a recent study, Platek looked at contagious yawning in people with "high empathy," "low empathy" and everything in between. He found that higher empathy meant more yawn-susceptible and lower empathy meant more yawn-immune.

But that wasn't proof enough. So Platek put volunteers in M.R.I. machines and made them yawn again and again to pinpoint the areas of the brain involved. When their brains lighted up in the exact regions of the brain involved in empathy, Platek remembers thinking, "Wow, this is so cool!"

Some yawning researchers - of which there are few - have identified many types of yawns. There's the contagious yawn, the I'm-tired yawn and the I-just-woke-up yawn. There's the threat yawn, which is the my-teeth-are-bigger-than-yours yawn that's so popular with primates. ("People do it, too," says Platek, "but unfortunately, we don't have scary teeth anymore.") There's also the sexual yawn. (One scientist claims that yawns are used in seduction.)

At some point, you have to wonder: why study yawning? It's quirky, interesting, but not important, right? Wrong, says Platek. Nearly every species on the planet yawns: insects, fish, birds, reptiles, mammals. "Yawning is such a primitive neurological function," Platek says, "it's a window into what happened during the evolution of the brain."

The good thing about yawning is that it's not boring. "Scientists like me usually go to conferences and give talks about technical mumbo jumbo," Platek says. "The audience always yawns, and we're up there thinking, Oh, man, they're so bored! But when I give a talk about yawning and they yawn, I think: Sweet! They're paying attention!"

Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:52 PM | Permalink

October 25, 2008

Placebos and Nocebos

Half of U.S. doctors say they use placebo treatments.

About half of American doctors in a new survey say they regularly give patients placebo treatments – usually drugs or vitamins that won't really help their condition.

And many of these doctors are not honest with their patients about what they are doing, the survey found.

That contradicts advice from the American Medical Association, which recommends doctors use treatments with the full knowledge of their patients.

“It's a disturbing finding,” said Franklin G. Miller, director of the research ethics program at the U.S. National Institutes Health and one of the study authors. “There is an element of deception here which is contrary to the principle of informed consent.”
--

Most doctors used actual medicines as a placebo treatment: 41 per cent used painkillers, 38 per cent used vitamins, 13 per cent used antibiotics, 13 per cent used sedatives, 3 per cent used saline injections, and 2 per cent used sugar pills.

Placebo from the Latin I will please. A doctor pleases the patient by prescribing a placebo,  a treatment that the doctor knows is ineffectual but the patient is led to believe is effective.

A placebo won't work if the patient knows it's a placebo.  So what to do about the ethical challenges? 

Well to start, doctors shouldn't be prescribing antibiotics or sedatives. 

Dr. Ezekiel J. Emanuel, one of the study’s authors, said doctors should not prescribe antibiotics or sedatives as placebos, given those drugs’ risks. Use of less active placebos is understandable, he said, since risks are low.

“Everyone comes out happy: the doctor is happy, the patient is happy,” said Dr. Emanuel, chairman of the bioethics department at the health institutes. “But ethical challenges remain.”

Mindful Hack writes about placebos and nocebos.

Doctors use the placebo effect automatically in their work. For example, they behave confidently and reassuringly even when completely stumped by the patient's symptoms or faced suddenly with a life-threatening disorder. They are right to behave this way. A doctor's anxiety would trigger the placebo effect's evil twin, the nocebo effect. "Nocebo" means "I will harm," and nocebos really do harm. Patients may be ill for longer periods and suffer worse symptoms if nocebo effects convince them that they are doomed.

Some consider the placebo effect a mystery. In March 2005, British science magazine New Scientist listed thirteen "Things That Don't Make Sense", and the placebo effect was number one on their list. Of course, the placebo effect doesn't "make sense" if you assume, as they do, that the mind either does not exist or is powerless. The traditional Christian view is that the mind is grounded in the brain so long as we live in this world. Therefore, what the patient's mind perceives expresses itself in the brain and body. Both the placebo and nocebo effects are strong support for the traditional view.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 11:44 AM | Permalink | TrackBack

October 7, 2008

What is Good Character?

A question of character.  The idea of 'good character' sounds old-fashioned and patronizing, but it may be the answer to some of our most entrenched social problems writes Richard Reeves.

The first headmaster of Stowe school, JF Roxburgh, declared his goal to be turning out young men who would be "acceptable at a dance and invaluable in a shipwreck." A mixture of courtesy and courage used to be essential to the idea of a British citizen's character. Brits were the sort of people who knew both how to survive a Blitz and queue politely. Similarly, Robert Baden-Powell, the founder of the scout movement, aimed to induce in his young charges "some of the spirit of self-negation, self-discipline, sense of humour, responsibility, helpfulness to others, loyalty and patriotism which go to make 'character.'" He described his movement as nothing less than a "character factory."

But in the postwar shift towards a less constrained and judgemental society—"character-talk" in Stefan Collini's phrase—dropped out of public discourse, except when considering someone's suitability for high office. The idea of good character came to sound old-fashioned and patronising.

--
The three key ingredients of a good character are: a sense of personal agency or self-direction; an acceptance of personal responsibility; and effective regulation of one's own emotions, in particular the ability to resist temptation or at least defer gratification.
--
inequality of character may now be as important as inequality of economic resources.

The Research Digest of the British Psychological Society hails The return of 'good character' and its importance for a successful society while our fave Sissy Willis writes It's the character, stupid.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 11:15 AM | Permalink

September 18, 2008

"The Proper Sorrows of the Soul"

By focusing only on symptoms and not on causes, has psychiatry incorrectly diagnosed too many cases of ordinary sadness  - what Thomas `å  Kempis called "the proper sorrows of the soul" - as depression?

Ronald Pies, a professor of psychiatry at Tufts, outlines some of the conceptual and scientific problems in Redefining Depression as Mere Sadness.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 9:47 AM | Permalink

August 27, 2008

"I'm not interested in the darkness anymore"

The most amazing personal stories are always about transformation.  That's why conversion stories are so compelling.  Today for  example we have the story of Joe Eszterhas and he's written a book about it.

"Crossbearer: A Memoir of Faith" (Joe Eszterhas)

He wrote dark thrillers like Basic Instinct and Jagged Edge and lived a wild life.  After moving to Cleveland with his second wife, he was diagnosed with throat cancer.

Doctors at the Cleveland Clinic removed 80 percent of his larynx, put a tracheotomy tube in his throat, and told him he must quit drinking and smoking immediately...

"I was going crazy. I was jittery. I twitched. I trembled. I had no patience for anything. … Every single nerve ending was demanding a drink and a cigarette," he wrote.

He plopped down on a curb and cried. Sobbed, even. And for the first time since he was a child, he prayed: "Please God, help me."

Mr. Eszterhas was shocked by his own prayer.

"I couldn't believe I'd said it. I didn't know why I'd said it. I'd never said it before," he wrote.

But he felt an overwhelming peace. His heart stopped pounding. His hands stopped twitching. He saw a "shimmering, dazzling, nearly blinding brightness that made me cover my eyes with my hands."

Like Saul on the road to Damascus, Mr. Eszterhas had been blinded by God. He stood up, wiped his eyes, and walked back home a new man.

In a phone interview this week, Mr. Eszterhas said it was "an absolutely overwhelming experience."

'Basic Instinct' author writes book about faith.

But after his spiritual transformation, he said, he had had enough of death, murder, blood, and chaos.

"Frankly my life changed from the moment God entered my heart. I'm not interested in the darkness anymore," he said. "I've got four gorgeous boys, a wife I adore, I love being alive, and I love and enjoy every moment of my life. My view has brightened and I don't want to go back into that dark place."

Mr. Eszterhas' love and appreciation for life was magnified even more last year when his surgeon told him he didn't need to schedule another visit.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 3:06 PM | Permalink

August 15, 2008

"Unless we will ourselves blind"

Gerald Vanderleun gives us The Frame-Up.  The mystery of the world revealed in a backyard using an empty picture frame. 

The world is made of a perceptible mystery beyond our means of measuring, but not beyond all sight unless we will ourselves blind.

 The Frame Up

Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:47 AM | Permalink

June 4, 2008

Support for a Stiff Upper Lip

Talking about a trauma has for some time been the default position to help people recover.

A new study lead by UC Irvine psychologist Roxane Cohen Silver suggests that a one-size-fits-all approach doesn't work.  The study is published in the June issue of the American Psychological Association's Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology.

in the immediate aftermath of a collective trauma it is perfectly healthy not to want to express thoughts and feelings.
--
“Some people don’t need to express thoughts and feelings after trauma and do just fine, and it’s a myth that you must express your distress in order to recover,” Silver said. “Mandatory or required psychological counseling is often unwarranted and universal intervention is likely to be a waste of resources.”

Via Neuranthropology where Greg Downey wrote

The research looked at the effects of the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks and found that ‘individuals who communicated their thoughts and feelings about the attacks reported more physical health problems and emotional distress over time, even after controlling for exposure to and distance from the attacks.’

Brits at their Best  have more to say about the traditional stiff upper lip.

Words are powerful, perhaps more secretly powerful than we know. People who repeatedly relive a trauma by describing it in detail in psychological counselling sometimes find they have burned it into their souls.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 4:34 AM | Permalink

March 24, 2008

Dispatches from the Country of the Sick

Those of us, like me, who have always enjoyed good health still read accounts of those who are and who have been ill as messages from another country we never want to go to much as we wish the inhabitants well.

Cardiologist Dr. Thomas Graboys writes what it's like to be trapped in your own body with Parkinson's disease and betrayed by your own mind with an Alzheimer's-like dementia at 62.  My Daily Battle. proves to be much easier with the support of a loving wife.

A riveting account of a brain scientist who suffered a stroke offers far more reports Tara Parker-Pope.

After you watch Jill Bolte Taylor give her 18 minute address to the TED conference last month, you will never think of the right and left hemispheres of the brain in the same way.  She calls it her Stroke of Insight.  I call it a must-watch.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 2:22 PM | Permalink

March 11, 2008

The Art to Growing Older

Making art, whether it be singing, writing, painting or crafts seems to be the key in the art of growing older happily, still contributing, still creating. 

Studies Suggest There's An Art to Getting Older

In 2006, the preliminary findings from the federally funded Creativity and Aging Study suggest that
making art, or even listening to music or viewing paintings, supports physical, mental and emotional well-being and eases some symptoms of illness, including dementia.
----

Sometimes arts participation can be powerful therapy. Susan Perlstein, the founder of the National Center for Creative Aging and New York's nonprofit Elders Share the Arts, recalls a Holocaust survivor who sat watching her peers perform theater for a year before she told them how she escaped death more than 60 years earlier. The group turned her story into a play and made her the star.

"She said to the group . . . she felt for the first time she could feel at home," Perlstein said. "This process of being able to share your stories and transform them into art is actually a deeply healing process. She went from a depressed, sick older person to a lively young person. It was phenomenal to watch this change."

Taken as a whole, the benefits to the well-being of the old who participate in creative arts are quite extraordinary:
• new growth of brain cells stimulated
• better overall physical health
• less depression and loneliness
• medication use down
• a heightened sense of control and social engagement
• increased sense of independence

Posted by Jill Fallon at 11:56 AM | Permalink

February 29, 2008

Depressing news

Anti-depressants 'no better than dummy pills'

Millions of Britons are taking anti-depressants for no reason, according to a study that found they made little difference to the condition.

Researchers discovered the drugs, which cost the taxpayer almost £300 million a year, generally work no better than dummy pills, and said exercise and therapy should first be prescribed instead.
---

The study, published in the journal Public Library of Science: Medicine, looked at the results of 35 clinical trials in the US involving 5,000 patients taking SSRIs, including Prozac, Efexor and Seroxat. Prof Kirsch said patients taking the drugs did improve, but so did those on a placebo - showing most of the effect was psychological.

Thank God for the placebo effect.

Says a GP
I  see ever-increasing numbers of patients coming to my surgery because they feel psychologically out of sorts. In the main, a little sympathetic probing will get to the bottom of the problem: they are tired, stressed and finding it difficult to cope with the increasingly hectic pace of life. Generally drug therapy is not the solution.

But expectations of health and healthcare are changing and the public looks to medicine for an instant cure for any number of lifestyle troubles, even something to treat a general feeling of ennui.

Lacking time to talk and the reassuring community of a social network, we are increasingly prone to think that a bottle of pills might be just what the doctor ordered.

It isn't.

But it is Good news for therapists

"For many, medication is successful. But talking therapies can have dramatic effects. We have put a lot of emphasis on medication in the past and it is about time we redressed the balance and put more emphasis on talking treatments."

Maybe "compassion is an aphrodisiac."  After watching In Treatment, I'm convinced of it.

 Gabriel Byrne

Even if He Listens. He Cares. He Isn't Real.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 11:49 AM | Permalink

January 28, 2008

The Buzzer Beater

Jason, an autistic boy and the manager of his school's basketball team with responsibilities to hand out water  and lead the cheers, was tapped by the team's coach to suit up for the last game and then to play for the last few minutes. 

"If I weren't there, I wouldn't have believed it," said the coach.

\

Posted by Jill Fallon at 4:44 PM | Permalink

January 21, 2008

A Retreat to Recharge

It was just luck that six months ago I had scheduled a retreat at St.Joseph's Abbey in Spencer, Massachusetts. 

After two weeks of the flu, I needed some time to re-energize and get back on track before I took up again all the things I had to do.

So I looked forward to some time with the Trappist monks, to put my ordinary concerns aside, to get away from it all including the Internet and reconnect with my inner self.    I wasn't  disappointed.

 St. Joseph's Abbey Winter

"What was it like?" a friend asked when I got back yesterday.

"Like honey," I said.

It was slow.  Time expanded in a miraculous way.  I had plenty of time to read "St. Augustine Confessions (Oxford World's Classics)" , a book I always meant to read but never got around to.  Time too to take long walks and long naps.

It was sweet,  the atmosphere one of concentrated holiness and peace.  The meals delicious and taken in silence while we listened to tapes of John Shea, a gifted spiritual writer on the Gospel of St.Luke.

It was beautiful.  The monks, no matter the age, all work to make the community self-supporting.  At St. Joseph's they are most famous for their Trappist Preserves.

  Trappist Preserves

No matter what they wear as they work and some wear blue jeans,

 Making Preserves St Joseph's Abbey

when they gather for song and prayers, seven times a day, they put on their monk's robes.

 Monks Vestry St. Joseph's

And when they sing ancient psalms and antiphons,  they are as one, joining with monks around the world and in ages past in a timeless singing of praise and thanksgiving.    To hear them them is to be lifted up in a sublime experience of beauty.

It's said that monasteries are powerhouses of prayer and spiritual energy.  All I know is there is no better place to recharge.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 3:08 PM | Permalink

December 17, 2007

Spread the Gratitude

"Gratitude is the seedbed of joy," wrote Peter Kreeft.

If we practice more gratitude, we will all be happier.
Yet sometimes when we feel a sudden rush of gratitude, we do nothing  because it's awkward and we don't know quite what to do.

Say you're in an airport and you see a bunch of soldiers walking by.
You want to say thanks for your service, but you don't want to make a fool of yourself or of them.

The Gratitude Campaign has devised a simple gesture that says it all.
Thank you from the bottom of my heart.

Put your hand on your heart, then move your hand down and out extending it towards the person you're thanking.

Watch the movie if you want, about a minute long.

Spread the gratitude.  Thank you.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 8:07 PM | Permalink

December 5, 2007

A Fluke ...or the Future?

" It's like you take your base line [which is] fear, and you throw some self-doubt on top of that, and then you throw some desperation on top of that, and, before you know it, you got a seven-layer burrito going there.  I mean I can feel every one of them. I don't know how to express it, but I can feel them . . . just one right on top of the other, and maybe I've done that for so long, that when the rape happened, that was maybe the straw that broke the camel's back, and my mind said, 'Okay, that's enough, you're cut off, no more.' There's no more room on the pile."

Donna Kilgore's life was destroyed after the rape which left her with post-traumatic stress disorder where she couldn't feel her body and nothing felt real

She is one of the first patients to undergo experimental therapy with MDMA, a psychedelic drug better known as ecstasy. In Mithoefer's Psychedelic Medicine article, he theorizes that the breakthroughs came from having the psychic calm -- the feeling Donna had of being protected -- that allowed subjects to meaningfully reexperience and reassess the events that traumatized them, and at the same time be able to feel a powerful new connection to positive aspects of their lives. In Donna's case it was the love of her husband and children.

--

"OH, MAN, I'M IMPRESSED," SAYS MARK WAGNER, a clinical psychologist on faculty at the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston, an expert in psychological testing and an independent evaluator conducting the before and after PTSD assessments in Mithoefer's study. "I didn't know much about the clinical use of MDMA before this," Wagner says, "But I've seen each and every one of these patients, and, just as a clinical psychologist, it is impressive to see the degree of treatment response these folks have had. There are a couple of areas in medicine, like hip replacement, where one day you are bedridden, and the next you're out playing tennis. Or with Lasik surgery, you're blind, and then you can see. Nothing in psychology is like that. But this was dramatic."

Others were not so sanguine. The whole story is told in the Washington Post Magazine,  The Peace Drug

Posted by Jill Fallon at 9:30 PM | Permalink

December 1, 2007

When Sadness is Confused with Depression

We are designed to be sad when faced with a loss whether it be a romance, a parent, a job or a dog. Being sad is not a chemical disorder that needs treatment with powerful drugs.

But the wide availability of anti-depressant drugs and the easy access to them has confused the distinction between normal sadness and the major disorder of depression which is the breakdown of normal psychological functioning. Even people who just have a case of the"blahs" say they are "depressed."

So take with a grain of salt, reports that depression in the United States increased 300% from 1987 to 1997 or that 1 in 10 adults struggle with depression each year.

The Great Depression

The alleged epidemic of depression simply doesn’t exist. Horwitz and Wakefield are right: Millions who have been diagnosed with major depression never had it in the first place, even if their lives were nonetheless improved by the drugs they were prescribed.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 9:01 AM | Permalink

October 25, 2007

Defying zombiism, David Warren quit school at 16

David Warren quit school at 16 and hit the road.

In retrospect, it was the best personal decision I ever made, and I recommend it wholeheartedly to the young of today; at least, to those whose minds are not already imprisoned. Get out of that education “system” while you still can, and before it has made you into a spiritual corpse, mouthing politically-correct clichés along with all the other zombies. Get yourself a real education, in what you can find of the world, and see what you can accomplish without participating in the credentials racket. Make your “core relationship” with God, rather than with some Kafkaesque bureaucracy. Discover a vocation in which you can advance the cause of the good, the true, and the beautiful. And raise children -- in poverty, if necessary -- who will also defy the zombism of our post-modern age.

Education reform

UPDATE:  Gaghdad Bob points out that Joseph Campbell did the same thing. 

".... So I said to hell with it. I went up into the woods and spent five years reading.... It was from 1929 to 1934, five years. I went up to a little shack in Woodstock, New York, and just dug in. All I did was read, read, read, and take notes. It was during the Great Depression. I didn't have any money...."

Importantly, this wasn't just aimless reading, but what someone else once called the "mystery school of individuation." Perhaps you're familiar with the concept. You find one book that speaks directly to your soul, which tips you to another one that does the same. Pretty soon you're embarked on a wild nous chase, not for any "exterior" purpose, but for the purpose of trying to articulate the idiom of your own soul. The end result -- among other things -- is that 1) you know you have a soul, 2) you are aware that your soul is very specifically yours (i.e., it has its own language, so to speak), and 3) you don't want to do anything in life that would interfere with the intrinsic joy of living from your soul.

So did he.  Wandering, Wondering and Blundering into the Mystery

I can relate to Campbell's story, because in my case I quit college in my junior year (before they could expel me), and spent the next five or six years wandering, but not idly. Rather, it was a period of intense non-doodling, as if my soul were on fire and I was looking for water. By the time I entered graduate school in 1982, I was an utterly different person than I would have been had I spent all those years in the idiot factory. In short, I never would have become me. Whether it was luck or destiny, I cannot say.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 9:43 AM | Permalink

October 21, 2007

"We are such stuff as dreams are made on"

So what is sleep for?  More and more, it looks like memory and learning.  And naps have the same effect!

the new research underscores a vast transformation in the way scientists have come to understand the sleeping brain. Once seen as a blank screen, a metaphor for death, it has emerged as an active, purposeful machine, a secretive intelligence that comes out at night to play — and to work — during periods of dreaming and during the netherworld chasms known as deep sleep

An Active, Purposeful Machine That Comes Out at Night to Play

Since then the study findings have come almost too fast to digest, and they suggest that the sleeping brain works on learned information the way a change sorter does on coins. It seems first to distill the day’s memories before separating them — vocabulary, historical facts and dimes here; cello scales, jump shots and quarters over there. It then bundles them into readable chunks, at different times of the night. In effect, the stages of sleep seem to be specialized to handle specific types of information, the studies suggest.

"We are such stuff
As dreams are made on; and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep."
William Shakespeare

Posted by Jill Fallon at 7:28 AM | Permalink

October 2, 2007

Being conscientious wins in the long run

Being conscientious apparently dramatically lowers your risk for Alzheimer's, showing again the power of the mind over the body, in this case the brain.

A surprising study of elderly people suggests that those who see themselves as self-disciplined, organized achievers have a lower risk for developing Alzheimer's disease than people who are less conscientious.

Astoundingly, the brains of some of the dutiful people in the study were examined after their deaths and were found to have lesions that would meet accepted criteria for Alzheimer's - even though these people had shown no signs of dementia.

"This adds to our knowledge that lifestyle, personality, how we think, feel and behave are very importantly tied up with risk for this terrible illness," Wilson said. "It may suggest new ideas for trying to delay the onset of this illness."
--

Renee Goodwin of Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health was not involved in the new study but has done similar work that found a connection between conscientiousness and better health.

"It's having self-discipline and energy, doing the healthy things," Goodwin said.
----

The new findings, appearing in Monday's Archives of General Psychiatry, come from an analysis of personality tests and medical exams of 997 older Catholic priests, nuns and brothers who participated in the Religious Orders Study.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 11:35 PM | Permalink

The Happiness Paradox and Aeschylus Moments

Some of the most interesting articles published are not accessible to the average reader, hidden behind the subscriber walls of very expensive trade journals.

In the Washington Post, Shankar Vendatam writes about one such study - Is Great Happiness Too Much of a Good Thing?

But according to the new study, led by University of Virginia psychologist Shigehiro Oishi, people who report a large ratio of positive to negative events also seem to derive diminishing returns from additional happy events -- and ever larger adverse effects when they encounter negative events.

By contrast, Oishi found that even though Japanese people were less happy overall than Americans, they needed only one positive event to regain their equilibrium after experiencing a negative event. European Americans needed two positive events on average to regain their emotional footing.

Oishi's research also provides an intriguing window into why very few people are very happy most of the time. Getting to "very happy" is like climbing an ever steeper mountain. Additional effort -- positive events -- doesn't gain you much by way of altitude. Slipping backward, on the other hand, is very easy.


Slipping backwards is what Jeffrey Lord calls "Aeschylus moments" those difficult times when everything goes seriously off track from what we expected life to be.

Aeschylus moments can include the death of a family member or close friend, a serious illness for yourself, the ending of a treasured relationship. It can, in short, be anything that qualifies as trauma, a turning of one's world upside down -- or, to use the term associated with Aeschylus, tragedy. And when the pain of that moment passes, after it has fallen "drop by drop upon the heart," the person in question comes out the other side a different person than he was before he had his Aeschylus moment. If he's lucky, he is wiser, more thoughtful, determined to use his hard earned wisdom for something greater than himself.

Martin Seligman identified the three components of happiness as pleasure, engagement and meaning with the later two being far more significant.  Meaning comes later in life, most often after an "Aeschylus moment", after pain, after suffering.    Life becomes more precious after being broken which calls to mind the Asian practice of filling cracks with gold.

“When the Japanese mend broken objects they aggrandize the damage by filling the cracks with gold, because they believe that when something's suffered damage and has a history it becomes more beautiful,Barbara Bloom.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 9:42 AM | Permalink

September 27, 2007

Getting happier

LifeTwo, a new site about midlife improvement, is getting happy this week with a series of articles and exercises over seven days on how to become happier.    So even if you think you are already happy, if you do the exercises over seven days, you can get even happier quickly.

Wesley Hein is basing his articles and exercises on a new book 

"Happier: Learn the Secrets to Daily Joy and Lasting Fulfillment" (Tal Ben-Shahar)

by a Harvard professor named Tai Ben Sharar who has the most popular class at Harvard.  I wrote about the professor last year in Harvard Teaches Happiness and again in a Happiness Roundup.

What we are seeing is the outgrowth of the positive psychology movement begun by Martin Seligman that I wrote about in The Science of Happiness.

Seligman has found three components of happiness.
1.
pleasure- we all know about what feels good.
2.
engagement.  - the depth of involvement with one's family, work, romance and hobbies .
3.
meaning - using personal strengths to serve some larger end.

Of those three roads to a happy, satisfied life, pleasure is the least consequential, he insists: "This is newsworthy because so many Americans build their lives around pursuing pleasure. It turns out that engagement and meaning are much more important."

I understand the premise of Ben-Shahar's book is you can teach yourself mental habits that will make you happier.  While some  people are genetically disposed to be generally happier than others, everyone can learn to be happier if they adopt simple  habits like being grateful for three things during the day.

Your grandmother  called it "counting your blessings'. 

What's still remarkable to me  new is that so many people never heard or never paid attention to what their parents and grandmothers said. After all, Happiness, It's Not Rocket Science.

So head on over and get happier.  It's not selfish at all.    I think we have a moral obligation to be happy.  If you want to have a happier world, you have to work on yourself first.    After all, as Mahatma Gandhi said, "We have to be what we want to see"

In fact one of the great pleasures of maturity is a growing happiness, a fact that is inexplicable to the young.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 7:56 PM | Permalink

September 26, 2007

How many days left?

Kevin Kelly writes about My Life Countdown

I  am now 55 years old. Like a lot of people in middle age my late-night thoughts bend to contemplations about how short my remaining time is. Even with increasing  longevity there is not enough time to do all that I want. Nowhere close.
--

Another friend, a musician, told me about a recurring dream he had in which he could see the exact number of days left in his life. His days were numbered, literally. He recounted how invigorating this knowledge was, because while he could never be certain that number was true, it did help him prioritize his choices and defuse his procrastinations
--
I've been using this system for several months now and it has been very powerful. Day to day I  am aware -- and can rattle off if I am asked - how many days I have left.
--

The time left is still too short. And too close. And getting closer. And I'm sorry but I need to do something else right now....

According to his calculations, 8500 days left.  He even tells you how to configure your own life countdown

Posted by Jill Fallon at 9:52 AM | Permalink | TrackBack

August 30, 2007

The Call of the Entrepreneur

I've never liked the way Hollywood and the mainstream media  depicts the world of business as if everyone in business were greedy, arrogant and corrupt.  So, I was happy to learn about a new documentary entitled  The Call of the Entrepreneur  that follows the stories of three entrepreneurs, a farmer, a merchant banker and a fashion CEO.  The trailer gives a fine taste of

In his review at First Things Saint Duncan of Wall Street, Ryan Anderson finds that commerce can be a pathway to holiness.

So, what do these three stories in The Call of the Entrepreneur demonstrate? They show that an entrepreneur—even when just trying to keep his family farm afloat—is always other-regarding: always looking and reaching outside of himself to think of a product that others need and of innovative ways to make it. And in this creative act he cooperates with God and participates in divine creativity. Creation is an ongoing reality in which God upholds the world and empowers human agents to participate.

The emphasis, thus, is not on free markets as an end in themselves but rather, as Gilder points out, as a means to free human beings—free inventors, free producers, and free consumers. Brad Morgan took an unlikely resource and turned it into a highly demanded product. Frank Hanna identified the people who had entrepreneurial vision and enabled them to succeed. And Jimmy Lai worked his way from factory worker to fashion and media CEO thanks to the structures in place in Hong Kong. He now works to make the freedom and prosperity he enjoys available to the country he left behind.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 8:09 AM | Permalink

August 21, 2007

Exercise Makes You Smarter

An expanding body of research is showing that exercise can create a stronger, faster brain reports the New York Times in Lobes of Steel.

scientists have been finding more evidence that the human brain is not only capable of renewing itself but that exercise speeds the process.

Other factors contributing to neurogenesis, the creation of new brain cells: marijuana, moderate alcohol intake, sociability and chocolate while heavy alcohol consumption, stress and a diet high in saturated fats and sugar inhibit the production of new brain cells.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 11:49 PM | Permalink

August 6, 2007

Gesture More

What are gestures all about anyway.  It's not communication, but helping memory it seems

Gestures Convey Message: Learning in Progress

These are the kinds of gestures that offer a window on the murky link between body and mind, and which in recent years have given rise to an International Society for Gesture Studies, a scientific journal (aptly named Gesture) and a newsletter called Manufacts.

"I've really been struck by how sophisticated and focused the field has become," said David McNeil, a professor emeritus of psychology and linguistics at the University of Chicago, the hotbed of gesture studies where Cook did her seminal work on the educational value of gestures. "It's really gaining momentum very rapidly."

If you want people to understand and learn from what you are saying, gesture more.  If you want to remember something, gesture more.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 4:13 PM | Permalink

July 23, 2007

"Laughter is simply how we connect"

After reading What's So Friggin' Funny by Steven Johnson, a fascinating article, I think I want one of those Tickle Me Elmo dolls.    I've never seen them and they sound hilarious.

Sometimes you need to "laugh and let go" of mental or emotional tensions.  Laughter feels great and does a body good.

Saturday-Review editor Norman Cousins wrote his best-selling "ANATOMY OF AN ILLNESS AS PEREIVED BY THE PATIENT" in 1979 about how he recovered from an incurable, terminal condition  with laughter, rest and vitamin C and  brought to the country's attention to the reality of the mind-body connection in  what he called the "biology of hope."

The revelation that your mental attitude could affect your physical recovery,  that laughter really was the best medicine,  affected millions.  When Cousins "made the joyous discovery that ten minutes of genuine belly laughter had an anaesthetic effect that would give me at least two-hours of pain-free sleep," sales of videotapes of Groucho Marx and The Three Stooges soared.

Now neuro-scientist Robert Provine is teaching us even more about laughter as he investigates its source and purpose. 

As his research progressed, Provine began to suspect that laughter was in fact about something else—not humor or gags or incongruity but our social interactions. He found support for this assumption in a study that had already been conducted, one analyzing people’s laughing patterns in social and solitary contexts. “You’re 30 times more likely to laugh when you’re with other people than you are when you’re alone—if you don’t count simulated social environments like laugh tracks on television,” Provine says. Think how rarely you’ll laugh out loud at a funny passage in a book but how quick you’ll be to give a friendly laugh when greeting an old acquaintance. Laughing is not an instinctive physical response to humor, the way a flinch is a response to pain or a shiver to cold. Humor is crafted to exploit a form of instinctive. social bonding.

Laughter is simply how we connect in good cheer.


"The human race has only one really effective weapon, and that's laughter. The moment it arises, all our hardnesses yield, all our irritations and resentments slip away, and a sunny spirit takes their place,"
Mark Twain.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 7:22 PM | Permalink

May 16, 2007

The Importance of Being Human

Harvey Mansfield talks about the soul and the importance of naming people and things in their individuality in the 2007 Jefferson Lecture in the Humanities.

First he introduces us to the notion of thumos that Plato and Aristotle talked about - that part of the soul that makes us want to insist on our own importance.

The biology of Plato and Aristotle, unlike modern biology, takes account of the soul, the sense of human importance. Modern biology saves lives, but the old biology understands them better. The notion of thumos reminds us of our animality because it is visible to the naked eye when we observe animals. Modern biology uses the microscope and uncovers chemical and neurological counterparts to thumos, which actually distract us from analysis of the behavior they are meant to explain. We rest satisfied when we have pronounced the word testosterone and fail to observe as carefully as old-fashioned naked-eye science. Sociobiology has come up with the concept of turf, an unnoticed reference to thumos that we all use today to designate the marking out of one’s own. But in human beings, one’s turf is one’s family, one’s party, one’s country, one’s principle.

..... Having eliminated the soul, modern science cannot understand the body in its most important aspect, which is its capacity for self-importance. Modern biology, particularly the theory of evolution, is based on the overriding concern for survival in all life. This is surely wrong in regard to human life. If you cannot look around you and must insist on indulging a taste for the primitive, you have only to visit the ruins of an ancient people and ponder how much of its GNP was devoted to religion, to its sense of the meaning of human life rather than mere survival.
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Coming to religion, we arrive in the realm of what is particular and individual. Science and religion are nowhere more opposed than in regard to human importance. Religion declares for the importance of humans and seeks to specify what it is.
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True religion shows its concern for the human species by addressing individual human beings.  Science for its part speaks against the special importance of any object of science, including human beings, and in the theory of evolution it seeks to erode the difference between human beings and other animals.
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Literature takes on the big questions of human life that science ignores—what to do about a boring husband, for example.
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Altogether thumos is one basis for a human science aware of the body but not bound to it, a science with soul and taught by poetry well interpreted.

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May 7, 2007

All About Wisdom

"..whenever I had a problem, I went to something wholesome to solve it."

One of the “wholesome” things that helped, he said, was bowling.

That's about as good an explanation of dealing with problems as I have ever heard.

 Bird In Hand Victor Schrager

The Older-and-Wiser Hypothesis
in the New York Times Sunday magazine.

The popular image of the Wise Man usually does not include a guy in a bowling shirt, but several qualities have emerged again and again in older people like J. who score high on Ardelt’s wisdom scale. They learn from previous negative experiences. They are able to step outside themselves and assess a troubling situation with calm reflection. They recast a crisis as a problem to be addressed, a puzzle to be solved. They take action in situations they can control and accept the inability to do so when matters are outside their control.

so how do academics define wisdom now that they have begun studying it?  For one thing, you don't have to be smart or accomplished or even old, though most older people are more even-keeled and emotionally resilient.

Certain qualities associated with wisdom recur in the academic literature: a clear-eyed view of human nature and the human predicament; emotional resiliency and the ability to cope in the face of adversity; an openness to other possibilities; forgiveness; humility; and a knack for learning from lifetime experiences. And yet as psychologists have noted, there is a yin-yang to the idea that makes it difficult to pin down. Wisdom is founded upon knowledge, but part of the physics of wisdom is shaped by uncertainty. Action is important, but so is judicious inaction. Emotion is central to wisdom, yet detachment is essential.

Vivian Clayton whose research has made many breakthroughs in understanding, first analyzed the Hebrew bible
“What emerged from that analysis,” she says, “was that wisdom meant a lot of different things. But it was always associated with knowledge, frequently applied to human social situations, involved judgment and reflection and was almost always embedded in a component of compassion.” The essential importance of balance was embodied in the Hebrew word for wisdom, chochmah, which ancient peoples understood to evoke the combination of both heart and mind in reaching a decision.

Another researcher Birren boiled it down to the "Berlin Paradigm" and defined wisdom as
an expert knowledge system concerning the fundamental pragmatics of life.

Ardelt who's now doing research in Boston analyzing Harvard University graduates says
People who rated high in wisdom, she adds, were “very generous,” both financially and emotionally; among those who rated low in wisdom, “there was this occupation with the self.”

What is very clear is that old people with a more positive attitude towards old age lived seven and a half years longer.

They can regulate their emotions better, registering the negative, focusing on the positive.

It may be that the seeds of wisdom are planted early in life with exposure to adversity or failure, that one called a "stress inoculation" that enhances the person's ability to regulate emotions.

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May 1, 2007

Yoga for an immune boost

Yoga has now been shown to give an immune boost to breast cancer survivors even as it promotes psychological well-being and delivering the physical output equivalent to a moderate-intensity exercise.

Yoga gives immune boost to breast cancer survivors

I've been practicing yoga for over 15 years now, albeit only in classes.  Apart from walking, yoga is my principal form of exercise.  I'm lucky to have a teacher who understands middle-aged bodies so we're not endlessly doing upside down dog and sun salutations.    Instead he aims to get us to a state of energized relaxation and often incorporates elements of qi gong.

  Yoga

For those who have never tried yoga or for beginners, here are some of the physiological and psychological health benefits of yoga.  For the middle-aged, I believe yoga is better than most other forms of exercise because of the low risk of injury, the focus on the breath and the relaxed nature of the "asanas" or postures that build strength and balance. 

According to medical scientists, yoga therapy is successful because of the balance created in the nervous and endocrine systems which directly influences all the other systems and organs of the body.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 12:17 PM | Permalink

February 26, 2007

Multitasking Teenagers

Most teen-agers multitask because they can and they have  the gadgets to do so.  Yet some neuroscientists are raising red flags that those teenagers may be harming their still developing brains.

Teens Can Multitask, But What Are Costs?
Here's Jordan Grafman, chief of cognitive neuroscience at the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.

"Introducing multitasking in younger kids in my opinion can be detrimental.  One of the biggest problems about multitasking is that it's almost impossible to gain a depth of knowledge of any of the tasks you do while you're multitasking. And if it becomes normal to do, you'll likely be satisfied with very surface-level investigation and knowledge."

Russell Poldrack, associate professor of psychology at UCLA, who did a study

Multitaskers "may not be building the same knowledge that they would be if they were focusing.  While multitasking makes them feel like they are being more efficient, research suggests that there's very little you can do that involves multitasking that you can be as good at when you're not multitasking."

But researchers don't know for sure.  David Meyer,  director of the Brain, Cognition and Action Laboratory at the University of Michigan. 

"The belief is they're getting good at this and that they're much better than the older generation at it and that there's no cost to their efficiency."

Seems to me, teenagers should learn both multitasking and deep concentration if they really what to prepared for becoming a fully-functioning grown-ups. 

Some jobs, like air traffic controllers, may demand multi-tasking, but others, like surgeons, demand absolute focus.

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February 12, 2007

Placebo, Exercise and Funerals

Well this is good news.  The mere belief that you're getting a workout affects physiology as much as an actual workout does.

Sharon Begley reports in the Wall St Journal about Ellen Langer's findings. Why Thinking You Got a Workout May Make Your Body Healthier
"If you can put the mind in a healthy place, you can have dramatic physiological consequences," says Prof. Langer, whose study will appear in the February issue of Psychological Science.

It's an Aerobic Placebo .

Who knew that the word placebo - I shall please - comes from the rite of Vespers for the Office of the Dead or that it's now obsolete meaning referred to someone who came to the funeral claiming a connection with the deceased to get a share of any food or drink handed out at the funeral?  In France, placebo singers were archetypical simulators.

Wikipedia goes on to explore placebo in Chaucer , a Yes man character and its meaning a sycophant.

Today we know that many who get a placebo - a substance containing no drug and completely useless - often get better, a phenomenon known as the placebo effect. 

The FDA published an article on The Healing Power of Placebos

"Expectation is a powerful thing," says Robert DeLap, M.D., head of one of the Food and Drug Administration's Offices of Drug Evaluation. "The more you believe you're going to benefit from a treatment, the more likely it is that you will experience a benefit."

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February 8, 2007

The Insula, Integrating Mind and Body

You may not of heard of the insula before, but you'll hear more about this Small Part of the Brain and Its Profound Effects


According to neuroscientists who study it, the insula is a long-neglected brain region that has emerged as crucial to understanding what it feels like to be human.

They say it is the wellspring of social emotions, things like lust and disgust, pride and humiliation, guilt and atonement. It helps give rise to moral intuition, empathy and the capacity to respond emotionally to music.

Its anatomy and evolution shed light on the profound differences between humans and other animals.

The insula also reads body states like hunger and craving and helps push people into reaching for the next sandwich, cigarette or line of cocaine. So insula research offers new ways to think about treating drug addiction, alcoholism, anxiety and eating disorders.
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The bottom line, according to Dr. Paulus and others, is that mind and body are integrated in the insula. It provides unprecedented insight into the anatomy of human emotions.

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February 6, 2007

Making Up Your Career As You Go Along

Why career planning is a waste of time

Or why your best guess beats careful planning.

In reality, people frequently don't know what they want and psychology has proved it. 

We are very poor at what will make us happy in the future, We "miswant."

The argument about miswanting applies to any area of our lives which involves making a prediction about what we might like in the future. Career planning becomes painful precisely because it's such an important decision and we come to understand that we have only very limited useful information.

Maybe the Chaos Theory of Career Development makes more sense.
if you ask people about their career decisions, almost 70% report that they have been significantly influenced by chance events.

This seems to tie in with Purposive Drift: Making it Up as We Go Along by Richard Oliver at Change This

Your life is not a project plan.  Nobody knows where they will be in five years time.

Life is more open, much messier, more ambiguous, more complex, more mysterious, more surprising and filled with more possibilities for good or for ill than we can possibly imagine.

He argues that we revert to "machine-like' thinking because it promises a world of predictability and certainty to mask the frightening thought of our own fragility.

He says we are all more ignorant than we know and smarter than we think and believes our real compass point  is our sense of well-being.

Making it up as you go along, he calls Purposive Drift and that's a perfectly reasonable, responsible and realistic approach to life.

Seems to be the one I took.

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February 1, 2007

On Saints and Resilience

Last week the Pope said the saints have not 'fallen from heaven'. 

"They are men like us, with complicated problems. Holiness does not consist in not making mistakes or never sinning," Benedict XVI continued. "Holiness grows with the capacity for conversion, repentance, willingness to begin again, and above all with the capacity for reconciliation and forgiveness.

Saints Weren't Perfect, Pope Says

Today in the Wall St Journal, Jeff Zaslow tells the stories of three people and the lessons they learned from the losses they've endured.

Former Army Staff Sgt. Robbie Doughty lost his legs to a roadside bomb in Iraq. Thomas Sullivan lost 96 colleagues in the Sept. 11 attacks. Laurie Johnson lost her husband and young son in a small plane crash that left her seriously injured.

And yet today, all three of them remain positive about life. They even seem upbeat.

Mr. Doughty, 32, will host a grand opening today of his new Little Caesars pizza franchise in Paducah, Ky. Since his 2004 injury, "I've done so many things, even skiing," he says. "If there's something I can't do, there's always a way to work around it."

Plane-crash survivor Laurie Johnson sells stylish crutches.
Mr. Sullivan, 35, is now an Army Reserve captain in Iraq. In 2001, as a Fiduciary Trust employee, he worked on the 95th floor of the World Trade Center's South Tower, and escaped minutes before it collapsed. Yes, he feels survivor's guilt, but serving as a wartime officer helps to ease that.

Ms. Johnson, 46, is now an entrepreneur. That 2002 plane crash left her on crutches for two years. Since then, she has created LemonAid Crutches, which sells "designer crutches" with comfortable fabrics. It was her way of "turning lemons into lemonade," she says.

Are there lessons for us in these people's experiences? Researchers say yes, because the root of resilience is an ability to keep adversities in perspective, while making peace with things that can't be changed.

Being creative with what life deals you is key.

Dr. Zausner says that her own greatest achievements came after surviving ovarian cancer. "We don't know how strong we are until we have the occasion to find out. Our strengths are like icebergs, mostly hidden." Her new book, "When Walls Become Doorways," details her research into artists "who turned setbacks into launching pads."

Key too is  pressing on, helping others and finding purpose.

Sounds something like saints-in-the-making doesn't it.

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January 28, 2007

Male Yoga

The Real Live Preacher makes a good case that male yoga is nothing more than playing catch

Right in the middle of the conversation, I asked Cristopher, “When was the last time you played catch?”

“Just catch?”

“Yeah, just got out with a friend and threw the ball back and forth.”

“I don’t know,” he said. “Years, I guess.”

“So why did we stop doing that? I mean, I LOVE playing catch. I wish I could play catch right now!”
And so was born a new kind of lectionary study group. I pulled my old glove out of the closet – the one I’ve had since I was 12. I had to re-lace parts of it, but it still feels perfect on my hand. Cristopher and I get together once a week or so. We throw the ball around while talking about the passages in the lectionary for the coming Sunday. Sometimes we just play catch and say nothing. Or we might stop, sit down and talk more seriously. We do whatever we want to do.

I was scared the first time we met, wondering how long it would take before I regained my instinctive feel for my arm and my release. The baseball felt very small in my hand, and I was pretty wild. And man, was I ever sore the next day. We’ve gotten together three times now, and my arm has loosened up considerably. It’s starting to feel natural for me to throw a baseball. I don’t worry about it. I just let it loose and feel the power of my arm. My whole body moves in the follow-through, and when our "study session" is done, I feel loose and warm all over.

It’s like the ultimate male yoga.

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January 19, 2007

Straight, decent and steadfast.

Tom Brokaw found the World War II generation astonishingly straight, decent and steadfast.    A lot of it had to do with the way they were brought up and the culture in which they lived.

Greg Sheridan, foreign editor of the Australian, sends off his father and looks at the life of John Sheridan, an ordinary, extraordinary man of his generation.

It is an intense paradox of our situation that people of my father's generation were routinely much better educated than people today. You couldn't go through the Christian Brothers in those days without reading the great books, learning of the great music and studying the great history. Today we have a surfeit of information points and a dearth of education, a flood of trivial information and a lack of knowledge of who we are or where we come from.

My father tried twice to enlist in World War II but was knocked back on medical grounds both times. But he always did the right thing. Except on occasion of grave illness, he never missed Sunday mass in his entire life. One wife, one family, one profession, one religious faith, one house, his sons at the same school as him: a life as unfashionable in its limits and commitments as anything could be today. And yet a life within those self-imposed limits and commitments of vast, imaginative richness.
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His son is a baby boomer. My father came from much the better generation, and was much the better man.

The best of a generation via Tim Blair.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 8:26 AM | Permalink

December 14, 2006

Unprotected

In the Wall Street Journal, Danielle Crittenden reviews  "Unprotected" by a doctor who remains anonymous, fearing that she would be punished personally and professionally if her employer or colleagues knew what she really thought.

Hard to believe isn't it  in this day and age?  What is it that she says that's so shocking?

"My patients were hurting, they looked to me and what could I do?" So confesses an anonymous campus physician in the beginning of her startling memoir. Over the course of 200 pages, she tells story after story about suffering young women. If these women were ailing from eating disorders, or substance abuse, or almost any other medical or psychological problem, their university health departments would spring to their aid. "Cardiologists hound patients about fatty diets and insufficient exercise. Pediatricians encourage healthy snacks, helmets and discussion of drugs and alcohol. Everyone condemns smoking and tanning beds."

Unfortunately, the young women described in "Unprotected" have fallen victim to one of the few personal troubles that our caring professions refuse to treat or even acknowledge: They have been made miserable by their "sexual choices." And on that subject, few modern doctors dare express a word of judgment.

Young women are rarely told that there are physical, emotional, psychological, moral and spiritual consequences to their behavior.

Apparently, 'being judgmental" trumps everything, even common sense.

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December 13, 2006

Struck by Grace

How do you live after an inexplicable accident becomes an unimaginable tragedy?   

The psychiatrist who blogs as Shrinkwrapped encouraged a commenter known as  "Jimmy J"  to write about his journey.  Jimmy J was deadened by grief, a human "doing" not a human "being," when he was struck by grace. 

One Man's Journey 

Part I

Part II
Part III

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November 27, 2006

Happiness, It's not Rocket Science

It was too simple to be effective.

That's what Harvard graduate, motivational speaker and executive coach Caroline Adams Miller thought about thinking of three good things that happened during the day.

But she did the homework assignment and found

"The quality of my dreams has changed, I never have trouble falling asleep and I do feel happier,"

she said in Researchers Seek Routes to Happier Life.

Seems like a lot of those exercises suggested by Martin Seligman at the University of Pennsylvania work like

* think of three good things that happened during the day
* find your personal strengths and apply one or more of them in a different way every day for a week. (You can take the test and find your strengths at authentic happiness.)
* savor the pleasing things in your life - the first cup of coffee, a hot shower
* practice random acts of kindness for 10 weeks
* write down what you want to be remembered for.  (This suggestion falls into my idea of your Personal Legacy Archives and keep your life aligned with your legacy)

For a full understanding of Seligman's work and his own journey nothing beats  Eudeamonia, The Good Life by Martin Seligman, published in Edge.


About 25 years ago I began to ask the question, who never gets helpless? That is, who resists collapsing? And the reverse question is, who becomes helpless at the drop of a hat? I got interested in optimism because I found out that the people who didn't become helpless were people who when they encountered events in which nothing they did mattered, thought about those events as being temporary, controllable, local, and not their fault; whereas people who collapsed in a heap immediately upon becoming helpless were people who saw the bad event as being permanent, uncontrollable, pervasive, and their fault. 25 years ago I started working on optimism versus pessimism, and I found that optimistic people got depressed at half the rate of pessimistic people, that optimistic people succeeded better in all professions that we measured except one, that optimistic people had better, feistier, immune systems, and probably lived longer than pessimistic people. We also created interventions that reliably changed pessimists into optimists.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 3:35 PM | Permalink

November 19, 2006

Secret Santa Has Cancer

For more than 26 years, Larry Stewart was the Secret Santa who gave away millions of dollars and no one knew who he was.

Now that he has cancer,

he wants to inspire others to do the same. He said he thinks that people should know that he was born poor, was briefly homeless, dropped out of college, has been fired from jobs, and once even considered robbery.

But he said every time he hit a low point in his life, someone gave him money, food and hope, and that's why he has devoted his life to returning the favors.

Returning the kindness of strangers.

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October 3, 2006

Steroids Shrink the Brain

Another reason not even to try steroids if you're an athlete.  That explains a lot.

"Steroids Shrink the Brain."

A new study shows taking steroids to bulk up can lead to a "catastrophic loss" of brain cells.

Large doses of steroids were already known to boost levels of the male hormone testosterone and cause heightened aggression.

This could be evidence of impaired brain function, according to Professor Barbara Ehrlich, from Yale School of Medicine.

That explains a lot.

HT Siggy.

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October 1, 2006

Washing Away Sins

Dubbed the "MacBeth effect", it's the human compulsion to clean up physically after doing  wrong morally.

researchers found that study participants who focused on unethical behaviours such as lying, stealing, or betraying friends were more likely to follow up with activities that indicated they felt physically dirty.

Those who were given an opportunity to wash their hands after recalling incidents of immoral behaviour showed signs of a clearer conscious than those who had not washed.

“After we feel morally threatened, we have this deep psychological urge to cleanse ourselves,” says Chen-Bo Zhong at the University of Toronto, Canada, who led the study.

From the New Scientist,  Physical washing may help your conscience.

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September 18, 2006

Emotions in blood

I've written about Masuro Emoto's extraordinary photographs of water crystals
as they are affected by the thoughts, intentions and prayers of the people viewing the water in What is the Shape of the Water Within You.

I've been watching to see if any scientist could or would test his hypothesis by attempting to replicate his results.  So far none to my knowledge have even tried.

Rebecca Marina, a spiritual healer and energy therapist,  is not the traditional, creditable scientist I was hoping for.  Nonetheless, her photographs of the effect of emotions at the cellular level are quite remarkable.   

I must add that I have found EFT, a process in which you tap on certain points on your body that correspond to the Chinese meridians has remarkable effects on unresolved emotional issues.  EFT is simple, free, fast and effective and involves no drugs.  More and more psychotherapists are using EFT in their practices because of it often works where nothing else will.  Here is the main site for EFT.

Here are photographs of her blood showing the effect of her emotions at the cellular level.

Before and after photos of "blood cell clumping"

Blood cells, sadness, love, fear

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August 7, 2006

Gut Reactions

We instinctively know that how a question is "framed"  - think leading the witness or negative ads - can distort our decision-making.  Now scientists have brain images that confirm what we know in our guts.

Emotion rules the brain's decisions.

But Following Your Gut is  a good thing when it comes to life decisions and choices.

In Gut Reactions,, Jesse Prinz argues that emotions are embodied appraisals - they are perceptions of the body, but, through the body they also allow us to literally perceive danger, loss and other matters.


"Gut Reactions: A Perceptual Theory of Emotion (Philosophy of Mind)" (Jesse J. Prinz)

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July 31, 2006

Life Lessons from Tony Bennett

Mitch Albom interviewed Tony Bennett in this week's Parade magazine  to find out what makes him so satisfied.

1. He loves what he does.
"A certain contentment has settled over me."

2. He is not a "things" person.
He doesn't own a car, a boat, nor a house.
"I'm one a perpetual vacation.  I stay in a perpetual creative zone at all times."

3. He's held firm to his ideals.
"When you do something greedily, you might make a lot of money, but in no way makes you happy.  When you do something well and with care...when you hit the pillow at night, you can say, 'At least I did it right.'"

4. He never forgets where he came from.
"Life is a gift, a magnificent gift."

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July 26, 2006

Ten Stages of Breast Cancer

Katie Paine, a serial entrepreneur, battled and survived breast cancer.

From her blog, True Survivor, comes The Ten Stages of Breast Cancer

1. Denial
2. Fear
3. Information addiction
4. Decision shock coupled with analysis paralysis
5. Organizational compulsion
6. Fear of baldness
7. Everything is just peachy
8. You survived, boo hoo
9. I'm a survivor, now how can I give back
10. The fear is still there, but there's a lock on the door

This list doesn't do justice to all that she has to say.

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July 15, 2006

Christians in China

Something I came across while looking for something else.  There are 82 million Christians in China! 


"Jesus in Beijing: How Christianity Is Transforming China and Changing the Global Balance of Power" (David Aikman)

David Aikma, the author, in an interview.

I would like readers of Jesus in Beijing to grasp how Christianity, though assumed by many in the West to be outmoded and irrelevant to modern life, is regarded by many Chinese as the absolute key to a successful, peaceful, powerful modern China in the future.
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But another factor has been a very open-minded approach by many Chinese intellectuals into such phenomena as the remarkable historical primacy of Western civilization around the world. How could this happen? What were the core principles of Western civilization that enabled it, time and again, to correct itself rather than plunge into cyclical and eventually permanent decline?
Many concluded that it was Christian ethics and the dynamism of a faith based on a profound hope in the future and a belief that history was not cyclical, as Buddhism and even Confucianism proclaimed, but linear, and with a specific end goal.

Finally, Christians in the fine and performing arts have shown that there is a way out from the often-nihilistic cycle of modernism and postmodernism. T
his can be very attractive to artists who would prefer a hope-filled universe in which to develop their creative skills.

Another quote from the book

At first, we thought [the power of the West] was because you had more powerful guns than we had. Then we thought it was because you had the best political system. Next we focused on your economic system. But in the past twenty years, we have realized that the heart of your culture is your religion: Christianity.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 4:48 PM | Permalink | TrackBack

July 12, 2006

Happiness Roundup

A fine and exhaustive piece on the positive psychology movement can be found in this week's New York magazine. Some Dark Thoughts on Happiness or do New Yorkers want to be happy.

Writer Jennifer Senior interviews a number of psychologists and researchers including Martin Seligman who kicked the whole positive psychology movement.

   Smiley Art

She reports on the number of colleges now offering courses in positive psychology after the immense appeal of the course offered at an instructor at Harvard, Tal Ben-Shahar. Naturally, when Harvard Teaches Happiness, a lot of people pay attention.

While I read Stumbling on Happiness by Harvard professor Daniel Gilbert, I never got around to posting anything on it. What follows in a nutshell is all you need to know about it, thanks to Jennifer Senior. Me, I preferred by far Jonathan Haidt's book, The Happiness Hypothesis.

And no matter where they live, human beings are terrible predictors of what will make them happy. If Stumbling on Happiness tells us anything, it’s this. “Imagination,” says Gilbert, “is the poor man’s wormhole.” Our imagination has an odd knack for Photoshopping things in and airbrushing things out, which is why we think that getting back together with our exes is a good idea; it also tends to mistake our present feelings for future ones, which is why, when we decide to marry the right person, we find it unthinkable we’ll ever be tempted to sleep with anyone else.


At the same time, we forget that our imagination has a miraculous ability to rationalize its way out of grim situations—which is why we’re more likely to take a positive view of things we did than things we didn’t (so go ahead and ask that woman to marry you), more comfortable with decisions we can’t reverse than ones we can, and more apt to make the best of a terrible situation than a merely annoying one.


Because our imaginations are limited, we can be disappointed by the things we covet most. But it also means—and this is the gorgeous part—that we’re much more likely to cope well with situations we never thought we’d be able to survive. Perhaps the most profound study Gilbert cites is about the disabled, showing that those who are permanently injured say they’d be willing to pay far less to undo their injuries than able-bodied people say they’d pay to prevent them. It’s possible, as Gilbert notes, that they may even find some silver lining in their experiences, as when the late Christopher Reeve memorably said, “I didn’t appreciate others nearly as much as I do now.”

I've posted a lot about The Science of Happiness because I believe we have a Moral Obligation to be Happy to make the world a better place.

Forget the Market for Zombies. We know that Angry/negative people are bad for your brain. We don't want to be Soul Less.

So Who's Happy? People who are Hungry for Meaning. People who want to swim in a River of Joy, choose the Uphill Climb, sing at the Church of the Divine Road Trip, and Go Straight to the Good in Everything. They want to Look to the Good Things, and Find What We Love.

Even if they're just An Ordinary Guy, they learn Lessons from a Billionaire and look at their Wealth in 3-D. They know When Just Enough Is All Your Need and what their First Business is and they look at Investing in their Net Worth as Human Beings.

They don't need a Quaker Powerpoint to know What Really Matters , that Meaning not gadgets brings happiness, so does embracing the Five Things We Cannot Change. They Love More, Have Less.

They can transform an horrific act by Teaching Kindness. They believe in Paying It Forward. They hope some day to experience a luminous Moment of Grace Above all, they know it's Empathy and the Golden Rule.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 2:11 AM | Permalink | TrackBack

June 28, 2006

Lazy Advice to Graduates

If you are entering the so-called “real” world or if you are extending your stay in the “unreal," here is my advice:

Fall in love.

Not necessarily with another person, although that is nice, but fall in love with some area of knowledge. Don’t study a subject or take some job just because you think you can make a lot of money at it. Pursue a direction because it inspires you, because it feeds your soul, because it challenges you and causes you to grow as a person, because it advances the human condition.

Read more at Fred Gratzon's blog the Lazy Way to Success, where doing less accomplishes more.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 1:58 PM | Permalink | TrackBack

May 18, 2006

The Unlimited Capacity of a Mom's Heart

From Gifts of Motherhood in the Washington Post.

Before Michele Booth Cole walked her two daughters inside the Toys R Us that December morning two years ago, she made herself clear. They were there to buy a Christmas gift for a little girl at Mommy's job whose own mommy and daddy couldn't afford to get one, she explained to 5-year-old Grace and 3-year-old Madison.

"You will get gifts later on, but we're not getting anything for you. Do you understand?" The girls nodded. "Are you going to be okay?" They nodded again. "And we're not going to ask for anything," Cole stressed. More vigorous nodding.

They combed the colorful aisles of the huge Langley Park store, and the girls couldn't resist pointing to all the toys they liked but were careful not to ask for. They found the Bratz doll from the other little girl's wish list and stood in line. They looked at the games and dolls and dressy feather boas one more time. Hard to leave it all behind, but they did without a fuss, Cole recalls.

It was a small moment to reflect on sharing and selflessness, she says.
--
Part of good mothering "is to teach your children about the entire society, not just your own microcosm neighborhood of 10 square blocks,"
--
"Your heart doesn't have this limited, finite capacity," Cole says. "It has unlimited capacity, and you find out the more you share, the more you are able to do."

Now that's a good Mom.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 12:31 PM | Permalink

May 12, 2006

Getting Things Done

It seems like we're in the middle of an epidemic of ADT or attention deficit trait according to Dr. Edward Hallowell and it's making us dumber.

Why can't you pay attention anymore?
the constant and relentless chatter coming from our computers, phones and other high-tech devices is diluting our mental powers....you've become so busy attending to so many inputs and outputs that you become increasingly distracted, irritable, impulsive, restless and, over the long term, underachieving.

Multitasking doesn't work either though the attempt to do so can get your adrenaline going. Hallowell says no one really multitasks. You just spend less time on any one thing.

It's the great seduction of the information age. You can create the illusion of doing work and of being productive and creative when you're not. You're just treading water.

Remember frazzing? That's the frantic, ineffective multitasking, typically with the delusion that you're getting a lot done.

The brain doesn't multitask, it toggles among tasks rather than processing all tasks simultaneously.

Says Hallowell
We need to preserve time to stop and think.

If you don't allow yourself to stop and think, you're not getting the best of your brain. What your brain is best equipped to do is to think, to analyze, to dissect and create. And if you're simply responding to bits of stimulation, you won't ever go deep.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 11:34 AM | Permalink

May 10, 2006

Random Act of Daffodils

Along the roadside in Charlemont and Shelburne Falls where the Mohawk Trail winds through western Massachusetts, thousands of daffodils were planted secretly. When they bloomed, local newspapers were rife with speculation about the secret planter and this random act of beauty.

Mary Potter writes more in the Boston Globe

Everyone agreed that the daffodils brought beauty to the roadside; after a seemingly endless winter, we are all truly starved for color. But it was the secrecy, the surprise of it, that turned it into a story.
Whenever I was in Shelburne Falls, I did what I suppose those who live there did every day -- I scrutinized each face....Every single person old enough to have some measure of independence seemed a possibility.
---
It was more important for me to believe that we all have a streak of royalty, the capacity to be generous, to bring beauty to others, to show kindnesses not just to our families and friends but to those we don't even know. I didn't want to know because I was -- as I think most of us are -- starved not just for color but for the belief that we can tap into our better selves. In a time when ostentation and extravagance pass for substance, when what we own or what we buy passes for who we are, when spin passes for truth and bluster passes for action, a simple flower, planted in kindness and secrecy, speaks. It tells us to give of ourselves.

As far as anyone knows, they come up forever.

The Daffodil Principle - one bulb at a time and start tomorrow.
A Bit of a Runner survived on daffodils.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 4:43 PM | Permalink

April 19, 2006

Why Angry/Negative People Are Bad for Your Brain

Kathy Sierra explains why in Angry/negative people can be bad for your brain. Read the whole thing

1. Our "mirror neurons" activate in the same way watching someone else do something as they do when we're doing it ourself -

Spend time with a nervous, anxious person and physiological monitoring would most likely show you mimicking the anxiety and nervousness, in ways that affect your brain and body in a concrete, measurable way. Find yourself in a room full of pissed off people and feel the smile slide right off your face. Listen to people complaining endlessly about work, and you'll find yourself starting to do the same.
--
Regarding the effect of mirror neurons and emotional contagion on personal performance, neurologist Richard Restak offers this advice:

"If you want to accomplish something that demands determination and endurance, try to surround yourself with people possessing these qualities. And try to limit the time you spend with people given to pessimism and expressions of futility. Unfortunately, negative emotions exert a more powerful effect in social situations than positive ones, thanks to the phenomena of emotional contagion."

2. Emotional Contagion

"When we are talking to someone who is depressed it may make us feel depressed, whereas if we talk to someone who is feeling self-confident and buoyant we are likely to feel good about ourselves. This phenomenon, known as emotional contagion, is identified here, and compelling evidence for its affect is offered from a variety of disciplines - social and developmental psychology, history, cross-cultural psychology, experimental psychology, and psychopathology."

3. Happy People. Happy people are not vacuous.

"Furthermore, studies suggest that certain people's ability to see life through rose-colored glasses links to a heightened left-sided brain function. A scrutiny of brain activity indicates that individuals with natural positive dispositions have trumped up activity in the left prefrontal cortex compared with their more negative counterparts. "

In other words, happy people are better able to think logically.

And apparently happier = healthier:
---
Happiness is not our only emotion, it is simply the outlook we have chosen to cultivate because it is usually the most effective, thoughtful, healthy, and productive.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 1:33 PM | Permalink

April 18, 2006

The Great Basilica of Nature

Excerpts frpm the essay by John Barrow, winner of the 2006 Templeton Prize, entitled The Great Basilica of Nature . After a dazzling description of seeing the interior of St. Marks Cathedral in Venice, Barrow writes

But, on reflection, what was more striking to me was the realization that the hundreds of master craftsmen who had worked for centuries to create this fabulous sight had never seen it in its full glory. They worked in the gloomy interior, aided by candlelight and smoky oil lamps to illuminate the small area on which they worked, but not one of them had ever seen the full glory of the golden ceiling. For them, like us, 500 years afterward, appearances were deceptive.
---
The nucleus of every carbon atom in our bodies has been through a star. We are closer to the stars than we could ever have imagined.
---

It is to this simple and beautiful world behind the appearances — where the lawfulness of nature is most elegantly and completely revealed — that physicists look to find the hallmark of the universe. Everyone else looks at the outcomes of these laws. The outcomes are often complicated, hard to understand and of great significance – they even include ourselves – but the true simplicity and symmetry of the universe is to be found in the things that are not seen. Most remarkable of all, we find that there are mathematical equations, little squiggles on pieces of paper, that tell us how whole universes behave. There is a logic larger than universes that is more surprising because we can understand a meaningful part of it and, thereby, share in its appreciation.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 5:16 PM | Permalink

March 29, 2006

Draining the Life from Life

No one makes me think more than Charles Murray. A Plan to Replace the Welfare State

Throughout history until a few decades ago, the meaning of life for almost everyone was linked to the challenge of simple survival. Staying alive required being a contributing part of a community. Staying alive required forming a family and having children to care for you in your old age. The knowledge that sudden death could happen at any moment required attention to spiritual issues. Doing all those things provided deep satisfactions that went beyond survival.

Life in an age of plenty and security requires none of those things. For the great majority of people living in advanced societies, it is easily possible to go through life accompanied by social companions and serial sex partners, having a good time, and dying in old age with no reason to think that one has done anything significant.

If you believe that's all there is--that the purpose of life is to while away the time as pleasantly as possible--then it is reasonable to think that the purpose of government should be to enable people to do so with as little effort as possible. But if you agree with me that to live a human life can have transcendental meaning, then we need to think about how human existence acquires weight and consequence.
---
For most people--including many older people who in their youths focused on vocation--life acquires meaning through the stuff of life: the elemental events associated with birth, death, growing up, raising children, paying the rent, dealing with adversity, comforting the bereaved, celebrating success, applauding the good and condemning the bad; coping with life as it exists around us in all its richness. The chief defect of the welfare state from this perspective is not that it is ineffectual in making good on its promises (though it is), nor even that it often exacerbates the very problems it is supposed to solve (though it does). The welfare state is pernicious ultimately because it drains too much of the life from life.

It seems to me that the current French riots are all about security. Les jeunes, knowing nothing else, want everything to stay the same.

Roger Simon asks Can you imagine wanting or even considering keeping your first job out of college for life?

The profound fear that is permeating the French society and which I posted about in French fear is what happens when too much of the life is drained from life.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 7:44 PM | Permalink

March 17, 2006

Tribute to Saint Patrick

Patrick was a hard-bitten man who did not find his life's purpose till his life was half over. He had a temper that could flare dangerously when he perceived an injustice -- not against himself but against another, particularly against someone defenseless. But he had the cheerfulness and good humor that humble people often have. He enjoyed this world and its variety of human beings -- and he didn't take himself too seriously. He was, in spirit, an Irishman.
---
This former slave had the right instincts to impart to the Irish a New Story, one that made sense of all their old stories and brought them a peace they had never known.

Patrick's gift to the Irish was his Christianity -- the first de-Romanized Christianity in human history, a Christianity without the sociopolitical baggage of the Greco-Roman world, a Christianity that completely inculturated itself into the Irish scene ....transform[ing] Ireland into Something New, something never seen before---a Christian culture, where slavery and human sacrifice became unthinkable, and warfare, though impossible for humans to eradicate, diminished markedly
.

From

"How the Irish Saved Civilization (Hinges of History)" (Thomas Cahill)

Posted by Jill Fallon at 6:53 PM | Permalink

March 10, 2006

Harvard Teaches Happiness

The most popular course at Harvard this semester, attracting 855 students, more than introductory Economics, is Positive Psychology, a course teaching happiness, how to have a fulfilling and flourishing life.

Said one junior
From what I've seen and experienced at Harvard, I think we could all use a little self-help like this."
----

The courses can change how you see yourself and your life, Lopez says. ''A lot of people are just not accustomed to asking, 'What do I have going for me?' and 'What did I do right today?' "

Marty Seligman, the University of Pennsylvania professor who is considered the father of positive psychology for his scholarship and efforts to promote it, said he saw a similar groundswell when he offered a course in 2003. He sees the student enthusiasm as reflecting the tremendous appeal of the positive psychology movement in society at large.

I wrote about Seligman earlier in The Science of Happiness and A River of Joy. It occurs to me as I read about this Harvard class that positive psychology is meeting a deep need that in earlier times was met by philosophy classes or mandatory daily chapel.

We used to take for granted that the goal of a liberal arts education was to learn how to live a deeper, fuller, more meaningful life. Today, philosophy and religion has become so encrusted and encumbered with political and cultural battles that few incoming students can penetrate their vital centers where both religion and philosophy contemplate how best to live one's life.

Positive Psychology, around less than 10 years, is still fresh and new though the lessons are age old.

Gratitude
Simplicity
Meaning
Attitude
Acceptance
Sound body, sound mind

Posted by Jill Fallon at 3:01 PM | Permalink

March 7, 2006

A Generous Adventure

Sally Satel wrote about her search for a new kidney

Nowadays, because of dialysis, renal failure is rarely a death sentence, at least early in its course. Instead, it is a jail sentence, in my dark view, anyway. Depending on the technique, the patient spends several afternoons a week in a clinic or undergoes a procedure at home that lasts all night, every night. Dialysis makes all those things you take for granted--the freedom to plan your day, a late night out or a weekend away--forbidding, if not impossible.

A transplant means a good chance of a normal life. My goal was to find a live donor, ideally before dialysis became necessary. A donor can easily manage for a lifetime with one healthy kidney, and live donor organs function somewhat better, and last longer, than organs donated from the bodies of people who have recently died.

In a remarkable act of generosity, Virginia Postrel has donated one of her kidneys to her friend Sally Satel.

As surgeries go, the procedure is safe and straightforward--far more so than people think. A donor can live a completely normal life with one kidney. The recipient is not so lucky, since a foreign organ requires a lifetime of immunosuppressant drugs. But that's a lot better than the alternative.

She blogs about the operation here.

That's true friendship. May many be inspired to do the same.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 9:58 PM | Permalink

February 18, 2006

Who's Happy?

Lots of us are according to the latest Pew Study Are We Happy Yet

One third of us are very happy. Half of us are pretty happy. 15% are not too happy and 1% don't have a clue.

And it's been the same since they started keeping records, way back in 1972.


Much of the research into the field of happiness -- to say nothing of simple common sense - suggests that at the level of the individual, happiness is heavily influenced by life events (Did you get the big promotion? Have a fight with your boyfriend?) as well as by psychological traits (self-esteem, optimism, a sense of belonging, the capacity to love, etc.). The Pew survey did not look at life events or psychological characteristics. We only looked at happiness by demographic and behavioral traits. But through this admittedly limited prism, we found some fascinating correlations.

Several of them stand out: Married people are happier than unmarrieds. People who worship frequently are happier than those who don't. Republicans are happier than Democrats. Rich people are happier than poor people. Whites and Hispanics are happier than blacks. Sunbelt residents are happier than those who live in the rest of the country.


We also found some interesting non-correlations. People who have children are no happier than those who don't, after controlling for marital status. Retirees are no happier than workers. Pet owners are no happier than those without pets

Posted by Jill Fallon at 9:30 PM | Permalink

February 16, 2006

Church of the Divine Road Trip

Three "existentially challenged Pepperdine University grads" traveled the country in a 1985 neon-green Fleetwood RV and interviewed 86 successful leaders in a variety of professions.

Every one essentially gave them the same career advice.

Block out the noise and
really pave your own road
guided by what lights you up
.

What's so surprising as they talked to twenty something college students, is that no one else, neither parents nor teachers, ever told them the gospel truth to follow your heart and lines of desire.

Countless emails arrive daily. "I sometimes [wonder] what would have become of my life had I never found your book that day in Target," reads one note from a recent grad who ditched her indifferent plans for law school and moved overseas. "Thank you . . . for writing about an experience in our lives most young people are too frightened to acknowledge."

Read Inspiration Junkies at Fast Company.

Seems like there's a big market in simple truths

Posted by Jill Fallon at 9:35 AM | Permalink

February 2, 2006

Go Straight to the Good in Everything

One of my favorite books that I always keep close is

"The Art of Worldly Wisdom" (Baltasar Gracian)

I have a couple of different versions but I prefer the translation by Christopher Maurer. Written by a Spanish Jesuit in the 17th century, it is the only book with blurbs on the back cover by Frederich Nietzsche who said, "Europe has never produced anything finer or more complicated in matters of moral subtlety" and Arthur Schopenhauer who said, "Absolutely unique...a book made for constant use...a companion for life. [These maxim are] especially fitted to those who wish to prosper in the great world."

A propos to Groundhog Day, Same Stuff, Different Day, Gracian's maxim #140 is Go straight to the good in everything.

It is the happy lot of those with good taste. The bee goes straight for the sweetness, and the viper for the bitterness it needs for its poison. So with tastes: some go for the best, others for the worst. There is nothing that doesn't have some good, especially books, where good is imagined. Some people's temperaments are so unfortunate that among a thousand perfections they will find a single defect and censure it and blow it all out of proportion. They are the garbage collectors of the will and the intellect, burdened down with blemishes and defects: punishment for their poor discernment rather than proof of their subtlety. They are unhappy, for they batten on bitterness and graze on imperfections. Others have a happier sort of taste: among a thousand defects they discover some perfection that good luck happened to drop.

One exercise that Esther and Jerry Hicks suggest in Ask and It Is Given as a way of going straight to the good is a "Rampage of Appreciation."

It's really a game of noticing something that pleases you. The more you focus on it, the more you appreciate it, the more you will find other things that you appreciate, the better you feel. The better you feel, the more you want to do it. The more you do it, the better you feel. The better you feel, the more you do it. That's going straight to the good in everything. That's what the world weary, cynical and arrogant weatherman learned in Groundhog Day.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 4:01 PM | Permalink

Same stuff, different day

If you've been there, done that, if every day is the same stuff, different day, you owe it to yourself to watch Groundhog Day again or, if you're completely out of the loop, for the first time.

The tagline "He's having the worst day of his life...over, and over...

Why do so many people think this is one of the best movies in recent years, "timeless, uplifting, enjoyable and morally serious."

Why do religious teachers - Catholic, Jewish, Buddhist, Wiccans and Evangelicals - hail Groundhog Day as a triumph? Jonah Goldberg explores in A Movie for All Time.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 3:11 PM | Permalink

January 24, 2006

Pornification

More and more people are concerned about the pornification of America. Don Aucoin writes in the Boston Globe

Not too long ago, pornography was a furtive profession, its products created and consumed in the shadows. But it has steadily elbowed its way into the limelight, with an impact that can be measured not just by the Internet-fed ubiquity of pornography itself but by the way aspects of the porn sensibility now inform movies, music videos, fashion, magazines, and celebrity culture.

Caitlin Flanagan explores how nice young girls got so casual about oral sex in this month's Atlantic. Are You There God? It's Me, Monica (subscribers only).

Nowadays girls don't consider oral sex in the least exotic—nor do they even consider it to be sex. It's just "something to do."
-------
Somehow these girls have developed the indifferent attitude toward performing oral sex that one would associate with bitter, long-married women or streetwalkers. But they think of themselves as normal teenagers, version 2005
----

We've made a world for our girls in which the pornography industry has become increasingly mainstream, in which Planned Parenthood's response to the oral-sex craze has been to set up a help line, in which the forces of feminism have worked relentlessly to erode t
he patriarchy—which, despite its manifold evils, held that providing for the sexual safety of young girls was among its primary reasons for existence. And here are America's girls: experienced beyond their years, lacking any clear message from the adult community about the importance of protecting their modesty, adrift in one of the most explicitly sexualized cultures in the history of the world. Here are America's girls: on their knees.

When sex is completely despiritualized, girls and women become objects. It's even sadder when they become complicit in their own objectification. They have lost the mystery, the radiance, the incandescence of one of our greatest pleasures. How do we, our culture and society, step back from such desensitization that robs us of so much?

Maybe Pope Benedict XVI in his first encyclical tomorrow will shed some much needed light.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 8:05 PM | Permalink

January 15, 2006

Meditation, the Secret Weapon

The best way to exercise those parts of the brain involved in paying attention and concentration is to practice meditation.

Meditation not only reduces stress, it increases attention span, sharpens focus and improves memory.

From Time's Getting Smarter, One Breath at a time

One recent study found evidence that the daily practice of meditation thickened the parts of the brain's cerebral cortex responsible for decision making, attention and memory.

Even better, it improves emotional intelligence.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 3:23 PM | Permalink

Bathtub, bed and bus

So how do you become more creative? It's working hard at what you love.

From Time's Hidden Secrets of the Creative Mind.

Take risks, and expect to make lots of mistakes, because creativity is a numbers game. Work hard, and take frequent breaks, but stay with it over time. Do what you love, because creative breakthroughs take years of hard work. Develop a network of colleagues, and schedule time for freewheeling, unstructured discussions. Most of all, forget those romantic myths that creativity is all about being artsy and gifted and not about hard work. They discourage us because we're waiting for that one full-blown moment of inspiration. And while we're waiting, we may never start working on what we might someday create.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 3:22 PM | Permalink

November 29, 2005

Converts to Convents

Roman women are converts to convents.

Growing numbers of educated Italian women are throwing away their high heels and lipstick and opting for the austere life of nuns in closed convents.

A surprising 550 women in Rome chose to withdraw to cloisters this year compared with 350 two years ago, it emerged at a conference organised by the Vicariate of Rome and Italy's Union of Mother Superiors.
-----
Until recently, most women entering closed convents in Rome were third world immigrants with little education. Now the recruits are all Italians with university degrees.

"They are realising that what the world has to offer to them is not all it is made out to be," said Sister Pieremilia Bertolin, the secretary general of Usmi.

Well, it's often seemed like a blessed life to me.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 5:12 PM | Permalink

November 23, 2005

Looking to Good Things

Just published is Peggy Noonan's new book on John Paul the Great: Remembering a Spiritual Father. Her column today in Opinion Journal veers between the state of chatter today where the sheer volume of insult, name calling and rudeness has become a large negative blur that saps our energy and .looking at good things and good people whose well-lived lives can revive and refresh us.

Because those who have added to life, who have inspired us and pointed to a better way, should be lauded and learned from. I think the inspiration to be gotten from a life well lived--spectacularly lived--is more important than ever these days. It's important that we dwell on the good and, just as important, maybe more so, try to understand it. This makes us stronger rather than sapping us, as so much of the ebb and flow of news and argument tends to do. We need to be looking to good things.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 2:25 PM | Permalink

November 22, 2005

Is there a moral obligation to be happy?

Is there a moral obligation to be happy? I never thought about it in those terms until I came across this today via Tom McMahon.

From Denis Prager

It only takes a moment's thought to realize that while most unhappy people don't engage in evil, most evil is done by unhappy people. This is true on both the macro and the micro levels. We all know how much more likely we are to lash out at others when we are unhappy and how much we desire to make others feel good when we feel happy.

Given this association of evil with unhappy people, it is quite remarkable how little attention is paid to happiness as a moral, rather than only a personal psychological issue. Too often the pursuit of happiness (not the pursuit of fun or excitement) is regarded as a selfish pursuit, when in fact it is one of the best things a person can do for everyone in his life and for the world at large. The Founders of America were brilliant in many ways, not more so than by enshrining that pursuit alongside the pursuit of life and liberty.

----

The notion that happiness (or at least acting happy) is a debt we owe to all those in our lives and even to society at large is foreign to the vast majority of people. Yet, the more time I have devoted to writing and lecturing on this issue, the more I have come to realize that this is indeed the case. Ask anyone who was raised by an unhappy parent; ask anyone married to a chronically unhappy person; ask any worker whose co-worker is moody what their life is like and you will readily understand the moral obligation to be as happy as one can be.

He makes quite a good argument. Absolutely, the world would be a better place if people were happier, if they experienced happiness more often and more deeply. To do that, we have to grow up and take responsibility for creating our own lives, our best lives. For most, if not all, of us, that means doing the work - the necessary emotional and spiritual work so we can be happier. Still, no one can be happy all the time. Everyone suffers one way or another, some from disabling mental states of stress, anxiety and depression and it can a long time and a lot of work to burst through the shell into a larger way of being.

We can, however, be kind no matter how bad we feel. I think kindness is a greater moral obligation. Happiness is a state, an emotion, or a feeling of satisfaction. Kindness is more. Kindness is action in the world, ripples in the ocean of life. Didn't the Dalai Lami say,

This is my simple religion.
There is no need for temples; no need for complicated philosophy.
Our own brain, our own heart is our temple; the philosophy is kindness

Posted by Jill Fallon at 3:10 AM | Permalink

November 20, 2005

The Power of Making Choices

Coming of age in the 60s, the phrase "Keeping my options open" was one we all repeated to each other as the way to be for as long as we could. Only in retrospect does it appear to be bad advice.

From the Gruntled Center.

The problem with the religion of choice is that it does not let you actually choose anything. Any choice made now forces you to give up other choices in the future. If, on the other hand, you try always to keep your options open, you never get to live any particular kind of life fully.
-------

Choosing to live a married life with one particular woman is what makes the extraordinary change in men. Single men live the life of “options.” They have lots of choices, but many fewer accomplishments. Married men are the most productive economic group in society because they have given up the life of many options, and are living the life of their one great choice.

Hat tip Ambivablog

Posted by Jill Fallon at 11:57 PM | Permalink

November 11, 2005

Transpersonal Gratitude, a Great Fullness

From An attitude of gratitude for the deeply forgetful,
From the deeply forgetful we learn that love — not cognitive capacity — is the deepest human need and reality. In our aging society, an attitude of gratitude for those who have lost in large measure the very story of their lives is a necessity. Stephen Post

An attitude of "trans-personal" gratitude goes far beyond the routine everyday. It is to be grateful for the universe as it appears and for everything just as it is.

Care-givers who practice such gratitude maintain a positive state of affect and protection against depression. Emotional distress was predicted by those of self-reported low or no religious faith.

Cultivating the spiritual intelligence of care-givers then seems to be one of the highest priorities, especially for those dealing with Alzheimer's patients.

In my mother's circle of now elderly nurses, it's a given that hospitals with nuns as nurses give the best care. Mother Theresa is the exemplar.

Brother David Stendal Rast says the practice of giving thanks, of seeing all that is given as gift, is gratefulness, the mystical counterpart of gratitude. Gratefulness leads to Great Fullness and Great Aliveness.

"Gratefully Embracing All That Is" is the tagline for
Gratefulness.org, a network for grateful living.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 11:09 PM | Permalink

November 1, 2005

The Upside of Cancer

Cathy Siepp, a wonderful, smart and funny writer, reveals she has lung cancer.

Because sure, breast cancer is no fun; I’ve had friends who’ve died of it. But it also has a survival rate of around 85%. That’s the unsurvival rate of lung cancer, which is what I have. I’m actually lucky still to be alive, given that I was diagnosed almost three and a half years ago, after a cough that wouldn’t go away, and most lung cancer patients don’t make it past two years. Except that, since I never smoked even one cigarette, never lived or worked with smokers, and in fact have zero family history and no other risk factors at all (unusual even in people who don’t get cancer), the bald truth is I’m pretty unlucky to have this in the first place.

The upside of cancer?
One is that you can put the fear of God into people with hardly any effort at all,
and
The other advantage is people reveal themselves to you as they really are – it’s almost like a solution for invisible ink

I wish her the fullest of life along with my fond hopes she writes for a long time.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 3:26 AM | Permalink

October 31, 2005

A Flash of Light

An Italian poet said, "We live in a flash of light; evening comes and it is night forever." It’s only a flash and we waste it. We waste it with our anxiety, our worries, our concerns, our burdens."

- Anthony de Mello, 20th century Jesuit priest

via Zaadz and Brian Johnson, Philosopher & CEO who offers more from de Mello -

"The way to really live is to die. The passport to living is to imagine yourself in your grave. Imagine you’re lying in your coffin….Now look at your problems from that viewpoint. Changes everything, doesn’t it?"

"You’re not living until it doesn’t matter a tinker’s damn to you whether you live or die. At that point you live. When you’re ready to lose your life, you live it."

"Life is for the gambler, it really is."

"So love the thought of death, love it."

If you haven't read his thinkarete.the manifesto, you will love it - What would you do if you weren't afraid?

Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:14 PM | Permalink

October 26, 2005

Going to the Dogs

Walk a Dog, Lose Weight. A recent study found that overweight people bought and walked a dog for one year lost an average of 14 pounds.

These results are better than most weight loss plans and far more fun.

Besides who else will ever love you so unconditionally as your dog? Or take such joy in life day after day?

  Otis The Bulldog Pumpkins

Posted by Jill Fallon at 9:36 AM | Permalink

October 15, 2005

Where the rich go to cry

Everyone must deal with the Business of Life, even the privileged and over-indulged.

The LA Times reports on Moonview Sanctuary
a new high-end clinic for the rich and, often, famous. It is a kind of psyche-spa for the burned out, the depressed and the anxious elite who want total anonymity and are willing to pay $175,000 a year for the latest innovations in mental health — no insurance accepted. Where the rich go to cry

Even corporate moguls and Hollywood celebrities are looking for a more integral way of living.

Many people have abandoned the religion of their youth and never found something to pick up in its stead, and have an emptiness or hole that they can't fill up with psychology or analysis or relationships or drugs or alcohol. Our goal is to help them look at what they discarded and how they may be able to bring it back into their lives."

Moonview works with an array of religious people, medical director Eagan says, including Catholic priests, Buddhist monks and a Native American drumming specialist, among others.

Said one minor celebrity

"When you're living in a town where people feed you bull constantly, you want to hear the truth. You hear the truth here, and it's an incredible motivation,"

Posted by Jill Fallon at 12:28 PM | Permalink

October 10, 2005

When Professionalism is a Net Loss

Here's a very interesting essay by Paul Graham on what business can learn from open source. via Daily Dose of Optimism.

Workplaces
Another thing blogs and open source software have in common is that they're often made by people working at home. That may not seem surprising. But it should be. It's the architectural equivalent of a home-made aircraft shooting down an F-18. Companies spend millions to build office buildings for a single purpose: to be a place to work. And yet people working in their own homes, which aren't even designed to be workplaces, end up being more productive.
--
The atmosphere of the average workplace is to productivity what flames painted on the side of a car are to speed. And it's not just the way offices look that's bleak. The way people act is just as bad.

Things are different in a startup. Often as not a startup begins in an apartment. Instead of matching beige cubicles they have an assortment of furniture they bought used. They work odd hours, wearing the most casual of clothing. They look at whatever they want online without worrying whether it's "work safe." The cheery, bland language of the office is replaced by wicked humor. And you know what? The company at this stage is probably the most productive it's ever going to be.

Maybe it's not a coincidence. Maybe some aspects of professionalism are actually a net loss.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 6:37 PM | Permalink

September 29, 2005

In the presence of a Master

I've been practicing yoga for at least twelve years now and grown an inch taller as a result. Yoga has become such an integral part of my life, I can't imagine not doing it at least once or twice a week.

B.K.S Iyengar has been practicing yoga for at least 70 years. His influence, like his school of Iyengar yoga has had extraordinary influence in the West. For three days he has been at a yoga conference at Estes Park, teaching teachers and students alike, He's said this is his last visit and he is passing on the lineage, as he has said, "May my end be your beginning."

Yoga Journal has put up a blog where many, including famous yoga teachers, are relating their experiences in the presence of a Master.
Fascinating.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 5:04 PM | Permalink

Lance Armstrong on Suffering

"Suffering, I was beginning to think, was essential to a good life, and as inextricable from such a life as bliss. It's a great enhancer. It might last a minute, or a month, but eventually it subsides, and when it does, something else takes its place, and maybe that thing is a greater space. For happiness. Each time I encountered suffering, I believe that I grew, and further defined my capacities--not just my physical ones, but my interior ones as well, for contentment, friendship, or any other human experience."

Posted by Jill Fallon at 5:04 AM | Permalink

September 17, 2005

Fear is a waste of time

Tony Snow says Fear is a waste of time. After being diagnosed with cancer, Snow experienced panic until he received a visit from a friend who had survived cancers of the breast, lungs and lymph nodes.

Here is the most important thing she said: "When I was sick, my husband and I would sit in a group with other women who had the same thing. We sat in a circle, the same people each week.

"Some looked strong and vigorous; others were pale and weak. But none of that mattered. We discovered that we could figure out who was going to live and who would die just by looking into their eyes. The ones who were afraid didn't make it. The ones who were pessimistic didn't make it. The women who made it were the ones who wanted to live, and were ready to fight. Some of the big, strong women weren't ready to fight."

Posted by Jill Fallon at 11:34 AM | Permalink

September 16, 2005

Silence, Movement, Joy

Now we know that the iPod trend brings a spike in noise-induced hearing loss. People set the volumes on their portable music players too high and they wear them too much.

At the same time we learn that visceral fat, fat around internal organs, shows strong links to cardiovascular disease, insulin resistance and other metabolic problems.

It's not just couch potatoes with visceral fat, but those who spend too much time in front of a computer and don't get any exercise.

So get outside and walk everyday WITHOUT your iPod. Movement in silence is what we need more of.

There's a joy in movement and a joy in silence you shouldn't be without for even one day.

  Joy In Movement-1

Posted by Jill Fallon at 1:40 PM | Permalink

September 14, 2005

It's Playtime

Curt Rosengren over at Worthwhile writes about the importance of play.

It's more fun, it's hardwired into us and serves a useful purpose

From Stay on the ball by Pat Kane in the London Times

More play in your life can help you to live longer and think sharper, broaden your occupational and spiritual horizons, and generally fine-tune the complex organism that is you.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 5:18 PM | Permalink

August 25, 2005

The Power of Placebos

According to new research published in the Journal of Neuroscience, the belief that a pill will relieve pain is enough to cause the brain to release its own natural painkillers.

If You Think You'll Feel Better, You Will

Posted by Jill Fallon at 1:02 PM | Permalink

August 23, 2005

A Moment of Grace

Five teenagers stole a credit card, used it to buy DVDs and video games, a turkey and other groceries.  One boy, a college freshman, threw the turkey from the backseat of a moving car.

Victoria Ruvolo didn't know what happened when a frozen turkey came crashing through her windshield.  Every bone on her face was shattered requiring five weeks in a hospital and many surgeries.

Ryan Cushing, 19, faced 25 years in prison when he walked into the Long Island courtroom for sentencing.

Then, a moment of grace, what the New York Times called "something startling and luminous"

Victoria Ruvolo met Ryan Cushing for the first time.  He said he was sorry and begged her to forgive him.    Victoria did.   

She cradled his head as he sobbed. She stroked his face and patted his back. "It's O.K.; it's O.K.," she said. "I just want you to make your life the best it can be."

The prosecutor denounced the crime as heedless and brutal, but at Ms Ruvolo's insistence, they gave him a plea bargain: six months in jail and five years' probation.

Given the opportunity for retribution, Ms. Ruvolo gave and got something better: the dissipation of anger and the restoration of hope, in a gesture as cleansing as the tears washing down her damaged face, and the face of the foolish, miserable boy whose life she single-handedly restored.

William Keahon, the defendant's lawyer, said,

This woman's spirituality must be incredible to have this forgiveness. I've never seen this in 32 years of practicing law.

Every day we make a difference in the way we live and deal with other people.    Victoria Ruvulo restored her life, Ryan's life, and immeasurably affected for the better the lives of everyone in that courtroom and everyone who reads her story and who can understand the power of forgiveness.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 3:25 PM | Permalink

August 20, 2005

Ethical Blurred Lines

4 out of 5 high school students think there is nothing wrong with cheating, according to a recent survey conducted with 4500 high school students by Rutgers University.

Russell Williams, says

I do want to point the finger to the causal problem - a forty-plus year tradition of moral relativism in America's institutions of learning.
---
The relativists have been in the driver's seat championing the ethic of feelings. If it feels good to me, it must be right. The narcissistic, me-centered, moral relativists have fine-tuned this ethical mantra. Unfortunately, our kids have been immersed deeply in a prevailing society ethos that is more interested in getting what we think we deserve rather than discovering ethical principles that guide noble behavior.

I don't write these words as discouragement. I believe the character pendulum is swinging in a significant and promising direction. However I am certain that the survey points to the stark reality that there is tremendous work to be done educationally in America to guide today's kids from ethical blurred lines toward moral clarity in distinguishing between right and wrong.

Williams is president of Passkeys Foundation Jefferson Center for Character Education.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 11:34 PM | Permalink

August 3, 2005

Staying Open

From the New York Times, Your Body is Younger than You Think.

The cells in our body are in a constant flux of change, growing, dying, renewing, so much so that the average age of all the cells in an adult's body may turn out to be as young as 7 to 10 years.
---

About the only pieces of the body that last a lifetime, on present evidence, seem to be the neurons of the cerebral cortex, the inner lens cells of the eye and perhaps the muscle cells of the heart. The inner lens cells form in the embryo and then lapse into such inertness for the rest of their owner's lifetime that they dispense altogether with their nucleus and other cellular organelles.

Mind. Eye. Heart.  What you think.  What you see.  What you feel.
All that makes us unique as individuals.

Isn't it curious that these are what we say we want to keep OPEN.
Open Mind.  Eyes Opened.  Open Heart.    Keeping mind, eyes and heart open is how we stay fresh, flexible, vital  and youthful.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 2:53 PM | Permalink

July 27, 2005

Character. A Resource in Decline?

This is one of the best essays on character, I've read in a long time.
Doug Manning On Character.

I love character. Character is who you are when no one is looking. Character is who you are with people who can't give you anything. Character is who you are when things don't go your way. True character is fearlessly being who you are. True character is stepping up when stepping up is required.

Character defines the quality of life you get to experience. It differentiates the great from the good, the interesting from the humdrum, the resilient from the fragile.

------

True character does not develop in a cave. It unfolds in the full flow of life, when things are challenging. You cannot become a character by wishing it so. Character comes from choosing the uphill climb. You cannot develop true character until you take complete responsibility for your own life.

Read how he compares the character of his parents' generation, his  generation and his children's generation.

HT to Jeremy who asks whether character is a resource in decline in these days of material abundance, rising expectations and too few challenges.

Your personal character is your primary asset, one that you build up over time and a resource that you can draw upon in difficult times and can never use up though you can lose it with a single disgraceful act.  It may be the only guarantee of everlasting happiness said Seneca, the stoic.

In the not so distant past, in our private schools and liberal arts colleges, the building of character was considered as important as the acquisition of knowledge.    Heraclitus said, "Character is destiny, " and  Booker T. Washington said, "Character is power". 

Character is formed in the torrent of life.Could it be that we have to be knocked down and beaten up by life before we can start Learning from Life?

“How many gifts do we have, buried under a hardened armor, awaiting the gracious trauma of a shattered shell?"  the Doctor asks.

And Kahil Gibran tells us
Your pain is the breaking of the shell that encloses your understanding. Even as the stone of the fruit must break, that its heart may stand in the sun, so must you know pain.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 9:18 PM | Permalink

July 25, 2005

A True Champion

What a true champion  Lance Armstrong is with his 7th victory in the Tour de France. 

   Lance Armstrong-4

He praises the tour itself, his competitors and then turns to the journalists.

Then, in a pointed message to the journalists who have worked overtime to prove that he has won his races by using drugs, he also had a direct message: "To the cynics and sceptics, I say I am sorry that they can't live a dream, or believe in miracles, as there are no secrets to my success. Vive le Tour."

He's humble.

Sheryl Crow shed a tear. Cancer survivors praised his inspirational tale. Rivals and fans fondly bade farewell to a cycling great.
On the day of his last ride in the Tour de France, Lance Armstrong absorbed all of the accolades with a calm smile.
The seven-time champion began the final stage in humble fashion, posing for photographs in front of a chalkboard scribbled with "merci et au revoir" — thanks and goodbye.

He donates his share of the prize money to his team.

Did I say his girlfriend is Sheryl Crow?

   Sheryl Crow-2

No wonder cancer patients around the world look to him as their model of how you can Live Strong.

r

"It's Not About the Bike: My Journey Back to Life" (Lance  Armstrong, Sally  Jenkins)

The Lance Armstrong Foundation believes that in the battle with cancer, unity is strength, knowledge is power and attitude is everything.  A great place to go when first diagnosed, its website provides practical information and the tools need to LIVE STRONG.
Knowledge is Power.

Of course there's his remarkable story of recovering from testicular cancer that had spread to his lungs and his brain. 

Cancer revealed  his great strengths and purpose in life.
Cancer left him scarred physically and emotionally, but he now maintains it was "… the best thing that ever happened to me," This new perspective allowed him to think beyond cycling and focus on his debt to the cancer community. He formed the Lance Armstrong Foundation within months of his diagnosis to help others with their cancer struggles.

His story, his inspiring example and his foundation is his Great Legacy to all of us.

He knows "that every day is precious and that every step matters."

Posted by Jill Fallon at 8:36 AM | Permalink

July 19, 2005

Giving aid to a sniper

Private first class Stephen Tschiderer, a medic, was shot in the chest by an enemy sniper hiding in a van a short distance away. 

The incident was videotaped by the insurgents.

Tschiderer, was knocked to the ground from the impact, but he wasn’t killed, thanks to the protective body armor he was wearing. “I knew I was hit,” said Tschiderer.... The only thing going through my mind was to take cover and locate the sniper’s position."

After a few seconds, Tschiderer jumped to his feet, shot back, then took cover and located the sniper.
----
After being shot and calling for help, other soldiers from Tschiderer’s unit joined him and together they tracked down the wounded sniper by following the blood trail he left as he and another attacker fled the scene.

The sniper was handcuffed and given medical aid by the very man he had tried to kill, Tschiderer.

His Mom after seeing the video the Army released said, "That shows the incredible strength of character that we're incredibly proud of."

Story and link to video here.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 4:42 PM | Permalink

July 18, 2005

Investing in your own net worth

Ben Stein never fails to enlighten, this time on investing in your own net worth

Our lives are measured by what we do for others, not by how much money we make. Spending time with lonely people, military families, widows, widowers, this is a pretty easy way to make a huge difference in a suffering human life. So when you think of your uncle who just lost his aunt, when you think of the woman down the street whose husband was just called up by the Guard and sent to Iraq, don't just think about them: ask them out to dinner. Invite them to a barbecue. Just call them up to gossip.

People are always asking me for stock tips because they think I know something about the market. Usually, I don't. But I do know this. Sharing company with a lonely man or woman or child is about as good an investment in your own net worth as a human being as you can make. Do it today.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 1:39 PM | Permalink

July 15, 2005

Lessons from the Light

I just came across this summary of interviews of people who have had near death experiences by Ken Ring.  What's remarkable to me is how close these insights are to those of the great wisdom traditions of the world's religions. 

1. There is a reason for everything that happens.
2. Find your own purpose in life.
3. Do not be a slave to time.
4. Appreciate things for what they are.
5. Do not allow yourself to be dominated by the thoughts or expectations of others.
6. Do not be concerned with what others think of you.
7. Remember, you are not your body.
8. Don't fear pain or death.
9. Be open to life and live it to its fullest.
10. Money and material things are not particularly important in the scheme of things.
11. Helping others is what counts in life.
12. Do not trouble yourself with competition - just enjoy the show.

Ken Ring, "Lessons from the Light: What We Can Learn from the Near-Death Experience"

Posted by Jill Fallon at 8:01 PM | Permalink

Tell ill elderly about Hospice

A lot of people are dissatisfied with the way their relatives in nursing homes are treated at the end of their lives.  With one in four Americans dying in a nursing home, that's a lot of unhappy people.

Too often they don't get pain medication.  Some 25% of those with cancer don't get daily pain medication and many are sent to hospitals where they receive aggressive treatment in the last weeks of life

Many Elderly Not Aware of Hospice Value

Providing information can enhance end-of-life experience, a new study finds.    Just by giving elderly people straightforward information makes them more likely to enter hospices for their end of life care.

Helping the Dying to Live

HospiceNet for patients and families facing life-threatening illness

Posted by Jill Fallon at 3:26 PM | Permalink

July 9, 2005

Brooklyn and the Gulag

If you ever wondered what exactly meaning and purpose adds to your life and world view, take a look at David Gerlenter's piece in the LA Times
Woody Allen's History Goes Nowhere  - and it doesn't explain Natan Sharansky.

If you understand their disagreement, you will grasp the main spiritual question facing Americans today.
Allen, 69, is a filmmaker from Brooklyn. Sharansky, 57, was a political prisoner in the Soviet gulag; today he is an Israeli politician.

Then ask yourself, who is living the more valuable life.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 7:56 PM | Permalink

June 30, 2005

More inviting and interesting

Larry Derfner, a blue state liberal now living in Israel writes in the Jerusalem Post,  Rattling the Case, God Bless America about Billy Graham's last crusade and seeing evangelists as people.
Those quarter-million congregants on the grass at Flushing Meadows were regular Americans with an emotional, spiritual need.
Leticia Mateo, a 32-year-old university administrator from New Jersey, described to The New York Times her experience of the crusade.    "It's like an opening in your heart. You feel like you're behind bars and someone has given you the key to get out," she said.
How can anyone not root for such people?
------------------------------------------------------
But the point is that America's religious revival is more than just a right-wing political phenomenon. It has also brought Americans of different races and economic classes together; brought community to towns, suburbs and neighborhoods that were being atomized by modern American life, and brought recovery to millions of Americans whose lives were being destroyed by alcoholism, drug abuse, domestic violence and the whole menu of contemporary American afflictions.
For all the irrationalism and Christian American chauvinism this religious revival has contributed to American politics, it has another side: that of an open-hearted, egalitarian social movement.
If I, a traditional blue-state liberal, think about people instead of just about politics, then the new, born-again America doesn't scare me at all. As a society, in fact, it seems more inviting and interesting than the one I left.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 8:59 PM | Permalink

June 29, 2005

"I must die or be better"

From Uncovering the Real Abe Lincoln in Time magazine, July 4.  Specifically,  Doris Kearns Goodwin's piece on Lincoln's emotional strengths that made him The Master of the Game.

Empathy
Humor
Magnanimity
Generosity of Spirit
Perspective
Self-Control
Sense of Balance
A Social Conscience

At the lowest point in his life, in a deep depression, Lincoln wrote:

"I am now the most miserable man living," he wrote a friend at the time. "If what I feel were equally distributed to the whole human family, there would not be one cheerful face on the earth. Whether I shall ever be better I can not tell; I awfully forebode I shall not. To remain as I am is impossible; I must die or be better, it appears to me."

His friends were worried that he was suicidal and removed all razors and knives from his room. Throughout the nadir of Lincoln's depression, his best friend, Joshua Speed, stayed by his side. In a conversation both men would remember as long as they lived, Speed warned Lincoln that if he did not rally, he would most certainly die.
Lincoln replied that he was more than willing to die, but that he had "done nothing to make any human being remember that he had lived," and that "to link his name with something that would redound to the interest of his fellow man was what he desired to live for."

Even in this moment of despair, the strength of Lincoln's desire to leave "the world a little better for my having lived in it" carried him forward. It became his lodestar, providing a set of principles and standards to guide his everyday actions.

Finding his meaning and purpose saved Lincoln's life.  With that lodestar to guide his actions, he went on to leave his Great Legacy.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 1:54 PM | Permalink

June 23, 2005

Most doctors believe in God

Surprisingly, most doctors believe in God and in an afterlife a recent survey reveals that will appear shortly in the Journal of General Internal Medicine.

In a survey of 1044 doctors across the nation, 76% said they believe in God, 59% belief in some sort of an afterlife and 55% said their religious beliefs influence how they practice medicine.

Dr. J. Edward Hill, president of the American Medical Association, said religion and medicine are completely compatible, as long as doctors do not force their own beliefs on patients.
Belief in "a supreme being ... is vitally important to physicians' ability to take care of patients, particularly the end-of-life issues that we deal with so often," said Hill, a family physician from Tupelo, Miss

Posted by Jill Fallon at 3:11 AM | Permalink

June 16, 2005

How to Feel Rich

If you didn't read Ben Stein's How to Feel Rich in the New York Times, it's reprinted at Beliefnet. Don't miss it.

The secret to happiness is being grateful for everything.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 3:15 PM | Permalink

June 15, 2005

Find what you love

Remarkably good life advice from Steve Jobs.

I didn't see it then, but it turned out that getting fired from Apple was the best thing that could have ever happened to me. The heaviness of being successful was replaced by the lightness of being a beginner again, less sure about everything. It freed me to enter one of the most creative periods in my life.
.......
I'm pretty sure none of this would have happened if I hadn't been fired from Apple. It was awful-tasting medicine but I guess the patient needed it. Sometimes life's going to hit you in the head with a brick. Don't lose faith. I'm convinced that the only thing that kept me going was that I loved what I did. You've got to find what you love, and that is as true for work as it is for your lovers. Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work, and the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven't found it yet, keep looking, and don't settle. As with all matters of the heart, you'll know when you find it, and like any great relationship it just gets better and better as the years roll on. So keep looking. Don't settle.


Every life transition, especially if it's hard,  is a chance to recreate your life, to reorient towards your own North Star, your truest self.

Philosopher and theologian, Harold Thurman Whitman wrote, "Don't ask yourself what the world needs - ask yourself what makes you come alive, and then go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive."     

Find what you love.  That's what makes you come alive.  Part of the Business of Life™.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:17 AM | Permalink

June 13, 2005

The Real Test of Character

It is fitting with father's Day close upon us that I remember again the most important lesson my beloved father, dead now 14 years taught me. 

He treated everyone the same, everyone with respect.    A tall, good-looking Irishman, he was greatly respected in his profession - he was an arbitrator and loved by many. 

I was reminded when I read Janice Turner's piece in the London Times.

The real test of character: how big people treat little people

OVER THE YEARS I have improvised my own psychometric tests for evaluating a person’s character. I determine someone’s profligacy with money by how deeply they are prepared to fish around in a full kitchen bin to retrieve a lost knife. I rate their joie de vivre by whether, if a child’s football crosses their path in the park, they step over it glumly or boot it back with a grin.

But my definitive test is how someone treats the people who serve them, those over whom, if so inclined, they can exercise cruel and arbitrary power. I once listened to a teenager boast, while her mother giggled indulgently, that she had tormented their Austrian au pair until she’d left. That one remark told me all I needed to know about that family. Men who are churlish to waiters, women who berate their cleaners, mothers who brag that they’ve run through 14 nannies in seven years: can’t middle-class professionals learn how to behave with all these newly acquired staff?
--------
A colleague who had lunch with the Prime Minister told me that even deep in conversation about the euro he always made eye contact with the waiter each time he was served. Of course, it would be crass to judge someone entirely on their private good grace, to rate US presidents not by, say, their foreign policy but the fact that the Clintons were cold and haughty with their security detail while the Bushes are affectionate, informal and kind.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 11:29 PM | Permalink

June 8, 2005

Movies most profitable

Well this is a shocker.  But maybe it shouldn't be.  Study shows G-rated far more profitable.

While the movie industry produced nearly 12 times more R-rated films than G-rated films from 1989-2003, the average G-rated film produced 11 times greater profit than its R-rated counterpart.

I'm not the only one who's a sucker for a good movie with a good story.

So why did I feel disgusted as if  I had to take a shower after watching one of Hollywood's latest ballyhooed movies, Closer?
It was brutal.    Shiny and glossy on the surface,  debasing underneath.  What a depressing, flat land to live in.

I don't think of myself as a prude.  I love Six Feet Under and just finished watching the third season on DVD.  (Thank you Netflix. Granted I'm a year behind,  but I can immerse myself in the sweep of the series and the depth of the characters.  One episode after another was great fun on a rainy Saturday.  Yes, it pushes the envelope, yes it's edgy, but there's a sweetness,  a yearning for real love, a tenderness in dealing with the recently departed, above all an acknowledgement of the great mysteries of life and death.

Maybe that's the new edge.  Tenderness and mystery.

Barbara Nicolosi, who writes Church of the Masses, has a quote on her banner.  "Theaters are the new Church of the Masses - where people sit huddled in the dark listening to people in the light tell them what it is to be human."      (Don't miss the hilarious post of her interview with the New York Times)

That's what we need more of - movies that tell stories of what it's like to be human.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 7:01 PM | Permalink

June 4, 2005

One Montezuma, please

Now I know what to do on my next trip to Florence.  Hemingway's.

How's this for a review. I have seen God in a cup of chocolate.

the very best was their Mexican-style drinking chocolate, called the Montezuma, a viscous drink made with very bitter chocolate, seasoned with chillies, aged Cuban rum (I don't drink, either, but I had two of these), and cinnamon and nutmeg. The longer I held sips of Montezuma in my mouth, the more flavors and subtleties I discovered. The chillies suffused my sinuses and the rum made my whole abdomen glow gently, like banked coals. This was, without a doubt, the best thing I ever tasted, and possibly the best sensation I've ever experienced. I've seen people in religious ecstasy. That's what this felt like.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 11:41 PM | Permalink

June 2, 2005

The Green Genocide

This is such a stunning article by an atheist in Africa that I simply must point to it, The Green Genocide by Andrew Kenny or why religion works better than ideology in the overall scheme of things. 


Previously, religion had served mankind's deep needs for explanation, order, spiritual comfort and transcendental meaning. Now a new and hideous thing was summoned up to serve the same needs. The thing was ideology, and in a few decades it caused more bloodshed than millennia of religion. It was darker and more irrational, and contained within it something unknown to all the Religions of the Book: a death wish. Religious leaders, however bad they may be, however prone to hubris and hatred, are generally constrained by fear of God above and by ancient tradition and wisdom.

Ideological leaders have no such constraints.

Ideology comes in three colours: Red, Brown and Green, representing Marxism, Fascism and environmental extremism. Judged on sheer evil, the worst crime in history was brown, the Nazi genocide, although the reds slaughtered more people. The death toll (difficult to measure) is roughly: Hitler's holocaust, six million; Stalin's famine and terror eight million; and Mao's famine 30 million. But the Greens have topped them all. In a single crime, they have killed about 50 million people. In purely numerical terms, it was the worst crime of the 20th century. It began in the United States in 1972. It was the banning of DDT.
-------

I have heard not one word of pity or regret from any Green organization about the vast loss of human life caused by the ban on DDT. On the contrary, they seem to regard it as a glorious triumph. The likely reason was spelled out with chilling clarity by Charles Wurster of the Environmental Defence Fund in the United States in 1971, when it was pointed out to him that DDT saved the lives of poor people in poor countries. He said: "So what? People are the main cause of our problems. We have too many of them. We need to get rid of some of them and this is as good a way as anything."
-----

Posted by Jill Fallon at 3:23 PM | Permalink

May 30, 2005

Millionaire Mindset

Most millionaires work for themselves, doing what they love, living below their means.

Paul Farrell's who writes at Marketwatch gives 10 tips to the millionaire mindset.

1. Don't obsess over money.  Millionaires spend an average of six minutes a day on personal finance.  They have better things to do

2. Accentuate the positive.  Attitude rules.

3. Think differently
.  Don't fit in.  Go your own way

4. Quit doing what you hate.

5. Do what you love.

6. Find the real you.

7. Invest in "You, Inc.". 

8. Live with passion

9. Live in the moment

10. Make a difference

Sounds like they understand the Business of Life.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 9:59 PM | Permalink

May 20, 2005

Spelling Love and Peace

I've gotten a number of lovely emails about my post, Fill Our Lives with Beauty

The one I treasure the most is from the physician artist Zen Chuang who also sent me photos of his spring garden.

  Love And Peace

The daffodils will come up from the earth every year spelling Love and Peace to the sky.

Zen's gallery, From Earth to Sky, is well worth your visit.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 3:31 PM | Permalink

May 1, 2005

Fill Our Lives with Beauty

While looking for something to illustrate the last post, I came across this beautiful image of a lotus and a far more powerful rule of life, Paint Our Days with Colors, Fill Our Lives with Beauty.    Actually, there were two and I couldn't decide between youth and experience.

      Lilies -Youth And Experience

I wanted to give credit to the artist, now I want to tell his story.  From Earth to Sky is a gallery featuring the watercolor works of Zen (aka C-C) Chuang who's not only an artist but a physician as well.  His motto( a too small a word, and I'll be damned before I call it a mission statement, maybe it's a banner or a gonfalon) is Paint Our Days with Colors, Fill Our Lives with Beauty.

Born in Taiwan where he began painting watercolors, by way of Argentina where he spent his teens before making the US his home, Zen graduated from Brown with a degree in biochemistry and studio art and then, a medical degree from Yale School of Medicine.  While in medical school  he wrote and illustrated a children's book Gee-Chi about a little bird who finally finds his voice and a friend.  Take the time to leaf through Gee-Chi on his website (that Zen created and manages).  It hasn't been published  because he's not certain the story is just right yet.

                 
      Little Bird Gee-Chi

A profile in January's ArtBusiness News reveals that he takes his easel and brushes wherever he goes and he has gone through much of the United States, treating people in medically underserved areas  "from the Painted Desert of Arizona to the arctic tundra in Alaska; from the foothills of the Maine mountains to the countryside in the Carolinas."

He begins his morning with a brush in hand, painting as meditation what he calls the "coins in life"  - the visual delights he can share through the wonder of his watercolors.  He paints the "essence" of peaches, of an autumn leaf, of a butterfly, approaching more closely the nature of things.  Clearly his study of biochemistry informs his art.  He's quoted in the profile, "What’s underneath a brilliant leaf shining in the sun are billions of cells operating on the microscopic level."
                       

      Sugar Maple

Then it's off to a busy, solo family practice in Taunton, Mass, treating newborns, the dying and everyone in between.  It's the human condition up close and Chuang relishes his opportunity to "watch the life cycle every day." 

Another feature in Yale Medicine captures his sensibility,  "He tries to see each day as a gift. “There is so much adversity. … But most of us go through daily life without any big problems. That in itself is a miracle. That’s something we take for granted, like the air.”

Rounding out his day may be the course he teaches to first year medical students at Brown, "Art and Medicine," designed to enhance their observation skills and encouraging them to become more creative and humanistic doctors.

He's living an integral life and now he's putting all in one place - a colonial house with offices on the first floor, a studio upstairs, a gallery in the garage, and a healing garden where this spring it blooms with thousands of bulbs planted by Brown University students, part of the web of relationships that support his life.

Doesn't he look like a happy man?  He really understands the Business of Life.

                        Zen Chuang

Posted by Jill Fallon at 1:32 PM | Permalink

Reality TV in Monastery

Changes five lives forever.  Five men underwent a spiritual makeover spending 40 days and 40 nights with Benedictine monks.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 4:40 AM | Permalink

April 14, 2005

Spirituality May Slow Alzheimer's

Research suggesting that a rewarding spiritual life may help slow the devastation of Alzheimer's disease was presented to the annual meeting of the American Academy of Neurology.

This is the first study to actually attempt to look into a relationship between spirituality and religiosity and Alzheimer's disease," Kaufman said. "We did not specifically look into the mechanisms, and we certainly need to replicate these results and do a larger study."

Vincent Corso, a former priest who is now manager of spiritual care and bereavement services for Visiting Nurse Service of New York Hospice Care in New York City, said he was not surprised by the findings, however preliminary.

People who are connected with a spiritual presence in their life, whether it takes the shape of a family member, close friend, support network, meditation or yoga, have a sense of peace and probably, by extrapolation, longevity," he said. "What's important to people is how much they're able to connect with the people around them. If that creates a feeling of well-being, then that aids in the healing process.

Meanwhile, experts had hoped that Vitamin E or Aricept might slow the progression of Alzheimer's but neither showed any benefit according to a trial, the results of which are also being presented to the American Academy of Neurology

Posted by Jill Fallon at 7:06 PM | Permalink

April 12, 2005

Communion of Saints

All my life I've been entranced by the idea of the Communion of Saints.  If you were raised Catholic, you know what I mean. But, I've never explored it as throughly or with as much success as Dawn Eden, a convert to Catholicism.  I saw it as a beautiful idea, she saw them as friends.  A quite remarkable story, Saints Alive.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 5:56 AM | Permalink

April 10, 2005

First Business

All too often the dailyness of our lives obscures life's very majesty.   

Our  inter-connection and inter-dependency on others is so deep we don't see it.  Whether its our food, sown, grown, and prepared for our consumption, our clothes made and sewn half a world away, our trash, removed and recycled far from our eyes, the people in factories that make our cars, our planes and trains, the researchers who find new ways to cure disease, making our lives healthier and longer, all those entrepreneurs who have brought us the technology we now can not live without, the people who entertain us, write for us, explore for us, pray for us. 

The numbers of people that have added to, supported or changed our lives is larger than we can comprehend.  In this dizzying interdependence, the golden rule -treating others the way we want to be treated - the greatest and simplest moral precept seems the only way to live.

Each of us must grown and develop our moral sense and character and that, I believe, is the first and most important business of our lives.  I've long believed that our personal character is our greatest wealth, one like education that can never be taken away.  Personal character is what we depend on to get us through life's most difficult times.  Growing through life and not just going through life is the point and there is no point in life where we can not grow more, we just can't grow backwards.    What Rumi wrote:

No mirror ever became iron again;
No bread ever became wheat;
No ripened grape ever became sour fruit.
Mature yourself and be secure from a change for the worse.
Become the light."

We hear and read in countless places that the time to learn about financial fitness is when you're young, so you can start saving, investing and giving early and reap the benefit of compound interest and long-term growth.  Youth is also the time to begin to develop a moral character , a fact intuitively grasped by millions of families who may not be believers but who insist on some sort of religious education for their children, if only to imbue with a moral sense.

The story that Varifrank relates in Robert the Counter shows what a profound effect some crippled children have on the students who came to work with them.    Such a lesson is never forgotten and the students are richer by far.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 5:01 PM | Permalink

April 8, 2005

What Really Matters

Have no doubt, meaning and purpose is BIG.  The extraordinary success of a Purpose-Driven Life by Rick Warren which to date has sold over 20 million copies.

Bill Jensen has a new book out called "What is Your Life's Work".  I've been reading excerpts he he's made available  on line, and already there are whole paragraphs I want to quote.  Normally, I would post this on Legacy Matters, but since this is also about work, here it goes.

From the introduction:

Put simply, this book is about what we learn about ourselves when we teach our loved ones, especially our kids, what matters and about the powerful need we have to leave something behind -what we want to be remembered for.

Bill has spent his career listening to people,  collecting stories and studying how we work.
To jump start insightful conversations, he used to ask "What really matters here?"   That is until the economy took a nosedive, no one wanted to rock the boat, everyone wanted to keep their job.  So he changed the question,


"What is the single most important insight about work that you want to pass on to your kids? Or to anyone you truly care about?"

BAM! The floodgates opened. A happy accident: Changing my question to something much closer to home, "Why do we do what we wouldn't want our kids to do?  Which of our mistakes should they not repeat?" unleashed completely new conversations.

Jensen than asked them to put their thoughts on paper: "Write a letter to that loved one.  Or keep a journal -a work diary."  ..." Something magical happened.  They got back more than they gave."....A work diary for others ends up being a tool for self-discovery."

Some astonishing facts:
• 75% of us are disengaged from our jobs
• 75% of all employees are now searching for new employment opportunities
• 83% of us wish we had more of what really matters in life."

You can pre-order the book at Amazon
HT to Curt Rosengren at Occupational Adventure who alerted me to the free downloads.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 7:11 PM | Permalink

March 28, 2005

Feel like an Outsider?

Julie Leung first felt like an outsider in high school and then reflects on why we all do.  The Outsider:why high school never ends.
My teacher revealed truth to me. In his simple but unbelievable statement, he told me that everyone feels like an outsider. Everyone has moments of loneliness. Everyone worries whether she fits or whether he is odd. "In" and "out" are illusions. Inside, we are all outsiders.....

The truth is we are all outsiders. Our secret fears are real and revealed. We are each random points, outliers, misfits, rejects and strangers. We are alone. We are all different. Yet we are all the same.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 12:55 AM | Permalink

March 17, 2005

A lake of beer

Happy St. Patrick's Day and as a friend just wrote me, "The top of the morning to you and all the rest of the day to meself!"

One thing you can say about the Irish, and I'm Irish, is that they have a good sense of heaven.  Here's the first verse of my one of my top two Irish prayers . 

St. Brigid’s prayer

I'd like to give a lake of beer to God.
I'd love the Heavenly
Host to be tippling there
For all eternity.

You can read the rest if you click here.

St. Brigid’s prayer   
I'd like to give a lake of beer to God.   
I'd love the Heavenly   
Host to be tippling there 
For all eternity.   

I'd love the men of Heaven to live with me,   
To dance and sing. 
If they wanted, I'd put at their disposal 
Vats of suffering.   

White cups of love I''d give them,   
With a heart and a half; 
Sweet pitchers of mercy I'd offer 
To every man.   

I'd make Heaven a cheerful spot, 
Because the happy heart is true. 
I'd make the men contented for their own sake 
I'd like Jesus to love me too.   

I'd like the people of heaven to gather 
From all the parishes around, 
I'd give a special welcome to the women, 
The three Marys of great renown.   

I'd sit with the men, the women of God 
There by the lake of beer 
We'd be drinking good health forever 
And every drop would be a prayer.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 3:37 PM | Permalink

March 15, 2005

Ashley Smith

From the Blog of Henry David Thoreau,  March 14, 1860

No sooner has the ice of Walden melted than the wind begins to play in dark ripples over the surface of the virgin water. It is affecting to see nature so tender, however old, and wearing none of the wrinkles of age. Ice dissolved is the next moment as perfect water as if it had been melted a million years. To see that which was lately so hard and immovable now so soft and impressible!  What if our moods could dissolve thus completely? It is like a flush of life to a cheek that was dead.

Life can change so suddenly.  Stone walls around a heart dissolve.  Maybe something like that happened when Ashley Smith was taken hostage by Atlanta courthouse shooting suspect Brian Nichols.

I asked him if I could read. 
He said, "What do you want to read?"
"Well, I have a book in my room." So I went and got it. I got my Bible. And I got a book called "The Purpose-Driven Life." 
I turned it to the chapter that I was on that day. It was Chapter 33. And I started to read the first paragraph of it.
After I read it, he said, "Stop, will you read it again?" 
I said, "Yeah. I'll read it again." 
So I read it again to him.  It mentioned something about what you thought your purpose in life was. What were you -- what talents were you given? What gifts were you given to use?
And I asked him what he thought. And he said, "I think it was to talk to people and tell them about you."
I basically just talked to him and tried to gain his trust. I wanted to leave to go see my daughter. That was really important. I didn't want him to hurt anybody else.

Her family says Ashley has been turning around her "sad, tough life."  Well, she done more than that.  She not only saved her own life, but probably others as well by the way she handled a terrifying situation.  Now, she'll probably get a book contract and inspire and influence many more.  She's found her purpose. 

UPDATE: The Washington Post has a good story on Ashley who the murderer Brian Nichols called "An angel sent from God".

Smith did not develop trust by being wishy-washy. At one point during her seven-hour ordeal, Nichols told her he was "already dead." He might have had a point -- after all, he was suspected of killing a judge, a court reporter, a sheriff's deputy, and a federal customs and immigration agent. But she would not hear it.  "He needed hope for his life," she recounted in the interview that has been replayed countless times.  "You are not dead -- you are standing right in front of me," she recalled telling Nichols. "If you want to die, you can. It's your choice."

UPDATE 2.  Peggy Noonan has great piece on OpinionJournal(no subscription needed but registration required) Flannery O'Connor Country  She points to two photos of Brian Nichols, the first before he met Ashley, the second after.  Then she writes.  Something changed.  Something happened.

It is an idiot's errand to follow such testimony with commentary. It's too big. There is nothing newspaper-eloquent to say. We have entered Flannery O'Connor country, and only geniuses need apply.   

Here are mere facts. They were together seven hours and each emerged transformed. He gave himself up without a fight and is now in prison. She reported to police all that had transpired, the police told the press, and now she is famous. 

Tuesday evening on the news a "hostage rescue expert" explained that she "negotiated like a pro." Actually what she did is give Christian witness. It wasn't negotiation. It had to do with being human. 

It is an amazing and beautiful story. And for all its unlikeliness you know it happened as Smith said. You know she told the truth. It's funny how we all know this.
Posted by Jill Fallon at 11:01 AM | Permalink

February 18, 2005

"Frank" dead

Here's a great story via Jeff Brokaw's Notes & Musings about a brave young boy who named his tumor "Frank", short for Frankenstein. 

His mother employed the power of the Internet to save her son's life.

She found a surgeon who used an alternative procedure to the traditional craniotomy, the cutting through her son's face and skull that in any event would be too risky given the location of 'Frank'

She printed up "Frank Must Die" on bumper stickers and sold them on ebay to cover the costs of the surgery.

The tumor was shrunk, then removed through the boy's nose without cutting his face.

The surgeon did not charge for the procedure.

The mother donated the money raised to a charity to help other children with cancer.

The tumor was no longer cancerous according to the biopsy.

The boy is alive, happy and celebrated his 10th birthday.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 3:19 PM | Permalink

February 15, 2005

Stressed Out and Sick About It

According to the American Psychological Association, Americans are too stressed out.

  • Forty-three percent of all adults suffer adverse health effects from stress.
  • Seventy-five percent to 90 percent of all physician office visits are for stress-related ailments and complaints.
  • Stress is linked to the six leading causes of death -- heart disease, cancer, lung ailments, accidents, cirrhosis of the liver, and suicide.
It's time to meditate, relax and get more sleep. Try yoga or books on tape for a stressful commute. Every little bit helps and saves wear and tear on your immune system.
Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:37 PM | Permalink

February 9, 2005

Walking a Labyrinth

Today is Ash Wednesday and via the Anchoress is this Lenten Labyrinth in a java applet allowing you to experience walking a labyrinth.  Labyrinths are symbolic of the path of life and the spiritual journey.  The most famous is the labyrinth at Chartres Cathedral near Paris, France

Unlike mazes which are designed to confuse, a labyrinth has only one path.  The way in is the way out.

Sometimes called a path of grace, A labyrinth is an ancient symbol that relates  to wholeness. It combines the imagery of the circle and the spiral into a meandering but  purposeful path. The Labyrinth represents a journey to our own center and back again out  into the world. Labyrinths have long been used as meditation and prayer tools.

Often thought of as a purely Christian symbol, labyrinths are found in many cultures.  The Hopis call it the Medicine Wheel, the Celts describe it as the Never Ending Circle and in mystical Judaism, it's called the Kabala.  At Grace Cathedral, there is a multitude of labyrinth articles and links and multi-media presentations. 

To me, a labyrinth looks a whole brain.  The walking of a labyrinth integrates both right and left sides of the brain as you quiet your mind and go with the flow to the center of yourself.

When you are in San Francisco, visit Grace Cathedral and experience this walking meditation either on their outdoor labyrinth made of terrazzo stone or inside on their wool tapestry labyrinth which is modeled after the labyrinth at Charles.  Otherwise, allow yourself the time to quiet your mind while viewing the Lenten Labyrinth, one of Leo Wong's amazing applets.  Others in his series include Circles of Om, Circles of Ankhs

   Grace Labyrinth

Posted by Jill Fallon at 8:26 PM | Permalink

February 2, 2005

Lessons from a Billionaire

So you get to spend six hours with Warren Buffett whose worth $40 billion and what do you learn?  It was not what Darren Johnson, a 23-year-old entrepreneur expected.  These are his headlines in his post The Wisdom of Warren Buffett, and to get the true flavor you have to read the whole thing

  1. Be Grateful
  2. Be Ethical and Fair
  3. Be Trustworthy
  4. Invest in Your Circle of Competence
  5. Do What You Love

So he came not thinking what a great investor Warren Buffett is,  he came away hoping that he could "mirror the image of humility, charity, intelligence, optimism and justice that Warren Buffett represents." 

That's the impact of a man who understands  that personal and social capital matter more in the end than financial capital.

Update:  Oops. Forgot to give a hat tip to Jason Kottke

Posted by Jill Fallon at 3:34 PM | Permalink

January 28, 2005

Quaker powerpoint

Each soul has a unique spiritual DNA, but life has a way of separating us from our true selves writes Parker Palmer. 
All of us live more or less divided lives and all of us yearn for wholeness.  When the pain of living such a life becomes too great, the inner journey towards wholeness begin.  Finding Your Soul is a wonderful exploration of the soul's journey and you can't beat Palmer's  "Quaker powerpoint."

All the great spiritual traditions want to awaken us to the fact that we help to create the reality in which we live. And all of them ask two questions that are intended to help keep us awake: What are we sending from within ourselves out into the world, and what impact is it having “out there”? What is the world sending back at us, and what impact is it having “in here”?
Posted by Jill Fallon at 6:56 PM | Permalink

January 18, 2005

Screening for Distress/ I will survive

One problem that doctors often overlook when treating patients with cancer is the anxiety and depression patients feel.    While distress at a diagnosis of cancer is normal, certain types of distress or undue distress can interfere with treatment. 

As Amy Marcus writes in the Wall St Journal

Patients may find it difficult to even get out of bed, much less attend appointments and chemotherapy sessions. Some distraught patients avoid acknowledging their disease and cancel appointments. And distress can cause sleeplessness and confusion that may result in failure to take their medication properly, potentially lowering their chances of a cure.

The American Cancer Society along with 19 major cancer centers have released guidelines for evaluating a patient's sense of distress with a simple, rapid  screening test.    The guidelines are free and can be found at the National Comprehensive Cancer Network. They are designed to be self-administered, helping patients and their families help themselves.

According to the NCCN, red flags for undue distress include 

  • Excessive worries
  • Fear
  • Sadness
  • Confused thinking
  • Despair or loss of hope,
  • Severe family problems (marriage crisis; child having problems in school)
  • Spiritual crisis (loss of faith, feeling life has no meaning)
  • Severe financial problems

Those who score highly are urged to consider seeing a counselor, joining  a support group, trying meditation, exploring spiritual beliefs, keeping a journal,  or creating a support group of family and friends.  To see how blogs can help create that support network, check out Sandee's blog Day Without Rain.

Sandee who has breast cancer writes so well and movingly about her battle that she was a finalist in the Best of Blogs for 2004.  Here's a sample:

Cancer continues to be such a wild ride,  When they said the word “cancer" back in 1998, within one second, the next word in my head was” death”, the life I knew was instantly gone & where I had a future, I now had a question mark." So many emotions … I felt like my body failed me because I had cancer. I tried to remove myself from everyone that I loved, because I figured if I did that, I wouldn't hurt anyone. I was wrong! Cancer has thought me so much ...
I've learned that...
~If I didn't have the friends & family I have, I wouldn't have been able to get through the treatment. ~I need to trust people especially my doctors.
~Priorities get crystal clean, you don't sweat the small stuff & everything is small stuff compared to cancer.
~I was able to find hope and strength in the worst of times.
~Beauty is in the simplest things.
~I came out of it a different person -- stronger, better & not bitter.
~Love is what gets you through
… And I keep learning every single second of the day!  So I guess having cancer has changed me for the better, I wish I could have changed a different way, but I'll take this way if necessary. Cancer is a disease of LIFE, not just a disease of the body. And though others want you back to normal, normal is different now. It’s not about being strong; it’s about being grateful for every second. My only wish is that I am a glimmer of hope to all those that think that cancer means “death” it doesn’t!
Posted by Jill Fallon at 5:59 PM | Permalink

January 14, 2005

Scientist Collaborates with Dalai Lama

Like people who don't believe that adults continue to develop throughout their lives, not so long ago, scientists believed that connections among brain cells were fixed early in life and did not change in adulthood.  Buddhists however have contended for centuries that meditation can change the workings of the brain.

That mental training through meditation can change the inner workings and circuitry of the brain has been proven by Richard Davidson, a neuroscientist at the University of Wisconsin, W.M. Keck Laboratory for Functional Brain Imaging and Behavior, who published the newest results of his meditation study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in November.  Davidson spoke  to Marc Kaufman at the Washington Post 

"What we found is that the longtime practitioners showed brain activation on a scale we have never seen before.  Their mental practice is having an effect on the brain in the same way golf or tennis practice will enhance performance." It demonstrates, he said, that the brain is capable of being trained and physically modified in ways few people can imagine."

What makes the study even more interesting is that it's the result of a collaboration with His Holiness, the Dalai Lama.

From the Mark Kaufman article:

The Dalai Lama first invited Davidson to his home in Dharamsala, India, in 1992 after learning about Davidson's innovative research into the neuroscience of emotions.

The Tibetans have a centuries-old tradition of intensive meditation and, from the start, the Dalai Lama was interested in having Davidson scientifically explore the workings of his monks' meditating minds. Three years ago, the Dalai Lama spent two days visiting Davidson's lab.   

The Dalai Lama ultimately dispatched eight of his most accomplished practitioners to Davidson's lab to have them hooked up for electroencephalograph (EEG) testing and brain scanning. The Buddhist practitioners in the experiment had undergone training in the Tibetan Nyingmapa and Kagyupa traditions of meditation for an estimated 10,000 to 50,000 hours, over time periods of 15 to 40 years. As a control, 10 student volunteers with no previous meditation experience were also tested after one week of training.  The monks and volunteers were fitted with a net of 256 electrical sensors and asked to meditate for short periods.

Thinking and other mental activity are known to produce slight, but detectable, bursts of electrical activity as large groupings of neurons send messages to each other, and that's what the sensors picked up. Davidson was especially interested in measuring gamma waves, some of the highest-frequency and most important electrical brain impulses.    Both groups were asked to meditate, specifically on unconditional compassion. Buddhist teaching describes that state, which is at the heart of the Dalai Lama's teaching, as the "unrestricted readiness and availability to help living beings." The researchers chose that focus because it does not require concentrating on particular objects, memories or images, and cultivates instead a transformed state of being.   

Davidson said that the results unambiguously showed that meditation activated the trained minds of the monks in significantly different ways from those of the volunteers. Most important, the electrodes picked up much greater activation of fast-moving and unusually powerful gamma waves in the monks, and found that the movement of the waves through the brain was far better organized and coordinated than in the students.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 3:46 PM | Permalink

January 5, 2005

The Top Ten Unfounded Health Scares of 2004:

The Top Ten Unfounded Health Scares of 2004 according to the  American Council on Science and Health

  • Pediatric Vaccines and Autism
  • PCBs in Salmon and Cancer
  • Cell Phones Cause Brain Tumors
  • Nightlights and Leukemia
  • Chemicals in Cosmetics
  • Mercury in Seafood Causes Neurological Problems in Humans
  • Cheeseburgers and Cardiovascular Disease
  • Antibiotics Cause Breast Cancer
  • Teflon Causes Health Problems in Humans
  • Soda Causes Esophagael Cancer

Dishonorable Mention

  • Deodorants, Antiperspriants Cause Breast Cancer
  • Plastics Cause Cancer
Posted by Jill Fallon at 2:45 AM | Permalink

December 22, 2004

Physicians' Views of Faith, Prayer and Miracles

I found this survey quite astonishing. Holiday Season Survey Reveals Physicians' Views of Faith, Prayer and Miracles.

  • A majority of doctors (55%) said they have seen treatment results in their patients they would consider miraculous.
  • Most physicians pray for their patients as a group (51%).
  • Even more, 59% pray for individual patients.
  • 67% encourage their patients to pray

A national survey of 1100 physicians conducted by HCD Research and the Louis Finkelstein Institute for Religious and Social Studies of the Jewish Theological Seminary in NYC over the past weekend.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 4:42 PM | Permalink

December 16, 2004

Healthy Heart, Healthy Brain and Improved Memory

Another reason to pump up your heart. Improving cardiovascular health may slow dementia according to a review published today in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

I never heard of mixed dementia before - a combination of Alzheimer's disease and a gradual cognitive decline caused by ministrokes or vascular dementia. But the study authors Doctors Eric Larson and Ken Langa at the University of Michigan say that the distinctions among them aren't as important as "pushing cardiovascular treatments that could prevent or slow down memory loss and confusion."

I seem to be focusing a lot on the heart lately. I believe our hearts are the center of our well-being. Anything that improves our hearts from physical exercise to spiritual exercises like meditation and prayer to emotional healing and ever greater expressions of love enlarges, deepens and lengthens our lives.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 4:40 PM | Permalink

December 15, 2004

The Sound of Your Cells

Your body has about 10 trillion cells, each of them busy growing, reproducing and dying. Just how each of them know what they are supposed to do is an awesome mystery to me.
Now I was never very good at high school science so I accept what scientists say about How Cells Work.

    "At the most basic level, a cell is really a little bag full of chemical reactions that are made possible by enzymes. Enzymes are made from amino acids, and they are proteins. When an enzyme is formed, it is made by stringing together between 100 and 1,000 amino acids in a very specific and unique order. The chain of amino acids then folds into a unique shape. That shape allows the enzyme to carry out specific chemical reactions -- an enzyme acts as a very efficient catalyst for a specific chemical reaction. The enzyme speeds that reaction up tremendously."
As I said it's a awesome mystery to me. But I can accept easily the idea that cells make sounds since I've listened to Molecular Music.

Dr. Linda Long is an award winning biochemist and musician who has translated the three dimensional positions of a protein's amino acids into note sequences. This sonic way of describing protein structures is another way of perceiving and recognizing patterns in very complex structures. On her site, you can hear MP-3s of medicinal plants like pokeweed, mustard and and parsley in a collection called "Music of the Plants" or you can listen to MP-3 clips of note sequences derived from protein hormones in "Music of the Body" and hear the calcium chimes or the voice of metabolism. What I can't describe is how wondrously lovely and soothing the music is. It's unlike anything you've ever heard, yet it's still very appealing. She is now marketing CDs of her music.

For her work, Dr. Long has been awarded an Invention and Innovation award by NESTA, the UK's National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts. She says,

    It’s about viewing science from a different perspective, so that people who may not be able to look at scientific data in an analytical way can still connect with it and get something from it.
Because I can easily grasp the idea of the cells of the body working together in a wondrous symphony, I can understand this story in the New York Times, Listening for Cancer by Clive Thompson.
    Three years ago, the nanotechnology expert James Gimzewski realized something startling about human cells: since they have many tiny moving parts, they might be producing tiny vibrations. And since all vibrations produce noise, it would be theoretically possible to listen to the sound of a cell. Gimzewski set about adapting an extremely small device to measure these vibrations and then with another device proceeded to amplify them loud enough for human ears. He discovered that a yeast cell produced about 1,000 vibrations a second. When he amplified the signal, a musical hum filled the room. ''It wasn't at all what I expected,'' he recalls. ''It sounded beautiful.''

    Beautiful, and also potentially revolutionary. Gimzewski says that his technique could become a unique tool in the war against cancer: to figure out if a cell is malignant, doctors could simply listen to it.

    When a cell turns cancerous, its internal machinery alters: it might divide more rapidly, and its walls could take a new shape. Those changes, Gimzewski surmises, would produce distinctive rates of vibration and thus distinctive noises. He has already measured the acoustics of some cells going through death cycles. When he measured an inert yeast cell, its lack of movement produced a dead-sounding hiss. And when he immersed a bunch of yeast in alcohol, the cells emitted a creepy ''screaming'' sound as they suddenly perished. Even minute changes -- like getting warmer -- make the cells sing differently. Gimzewski calls his technique sonocytology, and in August he published the first paper on this field in the journal Science.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 12:50 PM | Permalink