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Saturday, December 11, 2010

Be Like the Moon

In a book called A LONG WAY GONE written by Ishmael Beah about his experience as a child soldier in Sierra Leone, there is a quote which stuck with me -

"We must strive to be like the moon... people complain when there is too much sun and it gets unbearably hot, and also when it rains too much or when it is cold. But, no one grumbles when the moon shines. Everyone becomes happy and appreciates the moon in their own special way. Children watch their shadows and play in its light, people gather at the square to tell stories and dance through the night. A lot of happy things happen when the moon shines..."

I guess one could interpret this in quite a few ways after finishing the book, but to me it is simply saying -

Don't be like the sun - occasionally scorching those who stand too long in your presence.

Don't be like the rain - leaving people uncomfortable and wishing to escape to some shelter.

Be an agent of tranquility and peace in the world, bring out the best in others, basically - just be like the moon.

:-) As always, thanks for reading. AMDG.

Monday, November 29, 2010

The Assault on Reason

Saying former VP Al Gore and I see eye to eye on everything would be quite an overstatement, but there are a few things... probably more than few. Actually, one issue which he has written about I am in full support of. In his book “The Assault on Reason” he describes, among other things, how “television’s quasi-hypnotic effect is one reason that the political economy supported by the television industry” has (among other things) polarized us and changed political discussion from its more intelligent past.

Unfortunately, I find this to be true in my own interaction with the TV. It’s really uncomfortably refreshing to turn on one of the cable news stations and hear them talking about something I agree with – and the complete opposite when I don’t. When considered, it seems obvious that these cable news stations, while providing “news,” mostly are businesses attempting to sell their product just as much as McDonalds wants you to buy a hamburger. It seems the result of watching these programs consistently is not original ideas and thoughtful discussion, but virtually regurgitated opinions of charismatic talking heads, and this (like Mr. Gore describes) is assaulting our ability to reason.

Perhaps the following quote from the book can help sum it up:

- “Our systematic exposure to fear and other arousal stimuli on television can be exploited by the clever public relations specialist, advertiser, or politician…”

This fear can be attached to you name it: taxes, gays, religion, war, etc… It is easy to see ourselves or people we know respond with deeply emotive responses to such topics.

I am not trying to state that visual media is all bad. Indeed I agree again with how Mr. Gore states it:

- “visual images—pictures, graphs, cartoons, and computer models— communicate information about the climate crisis at a level deeper than words alone could convey. Similarly, the horrifying pictures that came back to us from both Vietnam and the Iraq war helped facilitate shifts in public sentiment against failing wars that needed to end.”

These are important things to be disseminated, without a doubt, but when they are repeatedly driven at emotive responses, and we let ourselves be taken by them - it crosses the line.

Of course, Gore goes on to bash President Bush and the GOP which I felt was a bit unnessecary, but when using it as an example, it helps to drive home his major point.

I find the best way to discover my own thoughts on an issue is to read; read an article or a book. Reading does still enable the "trapping" into regurgitated opinions, but it sure does a better job of encouraging thought.

In the same vein, I encourage everyone to read this article written by Ted Koppel called Olbermann, O'Reilly and the death of real news. It really does a great job of describing his first hand perspective on how modern news has been denuded.

As always, thanks for reading J. AMDG

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Understanding a trip to Maine and "generational amnesia"

I imagine most people have had at least one experience in their lives where they have been in complete awe of nature. I have had my share and hope to continue to pursue many more during my life, but my most recent - this past August in Maine, specifically Acadia national park – was particularly special for me. In a word… wow. The place is simply breathtaking.

We camped, car camped that is, for one entire week. I’d say it was pretty rugged for a couple quasi-urbanites, but the best part of these rustic accommodations was that it forced us to be at surrounded by the natural beauty of the place for nearly every minute we spent there.

I didn’t begin to fully appreciate the effect this vacation had on me until driving home when we happened to hear some quote on the radio (the exactness of which escapes me now). It was something like “the more people replace natural beauty with things virtual, they start to forget.” Hearing this and comprehending its meaning made my heart ache for all the natural beauty which has been lost over the years and for folks who just can’t/haven’t had the chance to experience such things.

I assure you that this is not some left wing plea for saving this and that, just a bit of reflection on something I find important to my life.

The next 11 hours of the drive provided ample opportunity for these thoughts to really sink in, and thus when I got home, I tried to do a bit of reading on the issue. The most original information I found was a thoughtful study by psychology researchers at the University of Washington who investigated specifically the effect of modern technology and its increasing encroachment on to human connection with the natural world…

Specifics of the study:

- Subjects under stress had much better quality recovery by actually personally viewing a scene of nature (outside) versus seeing the same scene in real-time high-definition television.

- Children were found to develop deeper and more social relationships with real-life pets versus robotic pets – however, they did actually develop one way superficial relationships with the robotic animals

At first thought, these may seem like trivial findings, yet if thoughtfully considered, it can be understood that over time, an increasing number technological nature experiences will do two things to our psyche as humans.

First, there will be a large void in our ability to find solace and healing in nature b/c we will be deprived of such experiences – perhaps w/out even knowing what is missing.

Secondly, and I find more interesting, the baseline of what people perceive as the full human experience of nature will shift - the researchers actually referred to this as “generational amnesia.” The reason for this is that people naturally believe the environment they encounter during childhood is the norm – thus measuring all environmental degradation later in their life versus their ‘norm.’ It can then be assumed with each generation the degradation baseline moves further and we become oblivious to changes of previous generations.

Take poor air quality and asthma as an example. There wasn’t always such rampant asthma in cities, but it is considered today to be a normal part of the human condition. Those coming up today will thus not see pervasive asthma as an environmental issue to contend with. More simply, what about the creek/stream you knew from when you were a kid, chances it’s close to being dried up today. Those coming up today won’t even see the difference by that dried up creek-bed.

That is an uncomfortable picture for me. I guess the point of this reflection is best summed up by a quote from one of the researchers: “We are a technological species, but we also need a deep connection with nature in our lives.”

Thanks for reading. A.M.D.G.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Anniversary Thoughts

This past summer my wife and I celebrated our first wedding anniversary.

What a special thing for me to write. And with the coming and going of that day, I guess it is easy to ask myself 1) what is the significance of that first year and 2) did I learn anything?

Well the easy answer is 1) tons and 2) you’re darn right I did. I felt it would be beneficial for me to think and write about it, so here are some of my thoughts.

First, perhaps I have started to develop an understanding of one of the points of my friend’s homily during our ceremony. This point was that he believed we were ready to enter marriage because we had reached a point in our respective lives of love for ourselves, an understanding of who we are as individuals – our own hopes and dreams and faults and failures altogether. Though at the time, I admit I didn’t really understand this, I do now. Without that love and understanding of self, this past year would have been much more difficult.

For example, as I sit and think about the times we have disagreed as a couple; it has usually been the times when I have felt out of sync with myself. A continued understanding of this will help us grow together. It is interesting then for me as I take that reflection one step further. I feel most in sync with myself when I feel in sync with God - when I am devoting time to prayer and service. I find this synchrony directly translates to excitement about my foreseeable path in life, and makes me even more excited because that foreseeable path involves spending it with my wife. Awesome.

And then I have considered the meaning of the often said phrase “marriage involves sacrifice.” …which ‘defining’ things of my first 29 years did I give up in order to make this marriage work? I guess it may seem odd, but honestly I feel basically like not much. Sure, I have not done a few things here and there which I may have done otherwise, but it seems that the result of that decision each time to do something or spend time with her has always resulted in more harmony and understanding of who we are as a couple. Since I voluntarily made a commitment to her to make her needs and our growth as a couple a priority (and I am a man of my word J), I don’t find it overly difficult to do such things. Really, it seems that sacrificing things of self enable me to better understand my love for her, and this feels great.

And then there is also the old adage that “marriage is hard work.” Yeah, I guess that is true. However, of the more recent years of my life which I can remember very clearly, I don’t think any year has been as easy or as fun as this past one. Challenges are easy with her to depend on. Fun things are more fun with her involved in them.

During our ceremony I recall that we were given a blessing that we were to live our life as one spirit. When I realize that I have accepted that blessing fully, I find something proven of what I already felt to be true – that God’s love is life giving. If I take the example of JC – the humble servant himself, I find that doing things for her energizes me again and again to get up and do it again the next day. This then has many implications of how I can interact with the world as a whole – I can use the love and energy I get from her as a springboard to spread that same love to others… Man, this marriage thing is getting better and better the more I think about it.

My dad once spoke to me many years ago about marriage – he said that marriage is not a union of convenience, a temporary set up, or even a way to beat loneliness… to succeed in marriage we have to commit to our love and to each other each day. At that time I must have thought, “wow, that sounds terrible and really hard.” However, after a year of it I feel like as long as we continue to love ourselves, keep our spiritual connection a priority, and continue to understand the concept of self-sacrifice, this whole marriage thing is not nearly as difficult as it sounds.

Thanks for reading and special thank you to my super awesome wife for being well, super awesome I guess.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Counting Crows and their honesty

People are attracted to honesty… freely offered honesty, the kind that offers a window into who we are.

My wife and I recently went to the Counting Crows concert. We had the uncommon opportunity to stand at the very front of the stage. During the show, I turned around and looked out into the audience – taking in the scene of thousands of fans singing along and dancing – and then I turned to Adam Duritz. As he sang and the band played The Rain King, I took a quick moment to consider something which I guess I had not considered previously or at least recently... at the core of this band’s music (and many other musicians) is deeply personal reflections on life and love.

It was then even more interesting to me to think about how we seem to experience the opposite of what was happening here… people in general are usually turned off or uncomfortable by such openness? Yet these people were not uncomfortable, they were enthralled.

Is there something about Duritz’s honesty that makes it special? Background guitar and drums, is it the fame?

Perhaps… but I think it is simply people are captivated by the ability of this person to stand in front of millions and just speak from w/in. Very few of us have really unique experiences, and even fewer have unique emotions related to those experiences. Most people can and will relate to you, even if it doesn’t seem like it on the surface. My guess, after a brief 29 years of life, would be that everyone not only can relate each other, but for the most part, wants to feel personally connected with each other -- what better way than to use honesty?

Consequently, that is why the Counting Crows are loved so much, people feel like they have a personal connection with the lead singer and his honesty.

I’m sure someone once said this so I can’t quote myself, but the biggest obstacle to honesty is fear, fear of what others will think or how they will react to what we are truly feeling. I guess I should take a tip from Mr. Duritz, especially if I could include a catchy song with it.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Reverence for a Lost Companion: Reflections on the Life and Death a Pet

I never really realized how special pets could be until nearly a year with one culminated into one fateful day, the day my wife and I decided to euthanize our favorite little Kingston. And though the rest of these words will be about a couple important things I learned from the little guy, at the outset, at tear falls for I just miss my friend.

End of life care for a pet is a difficult one indeed. Intellectually, it makes sense – they are simply animals, and we eat animals for food, we see them dead on the side of the road, we curse them when they poop on our shirts. But emotionally, it is much more of challenge to understand and it is a decision which brings in to focus the idea of how much humanity do we each find in a beloved animal.

Some of the questions I find myself pondering are: what did I learn from my companion? Did I want to his suffering or my own? Can an animal really gain any benefit from suffering? Of course ultimately everyone has to make up their own mind on these matters, and like most of the decisions and thoughts I deal with at this point in my life, I let myself be guided by my Faith.

Kingston taught me a lot about love. I'm talking about the kind of love that we are called to display toward one another. The kind of love that greets you when you come home, with a smile, and a sense that he couldn’t be happier to see me; the kind of love that accepts gifts graciously; the kind of love that cuddles you when you are feeling down; the kind of love that just sits and shares space with you because just sharing space is sometimes all I need; the kind of love that is completely content with these simple measures and no more. This is especially a cool realization to me because this is the kind of love that I believe God has for me, and the kind of love I am to have for others. How neat for daily reminders to come in the form of a cute cuddly 5-pound kitten.

And really, how did I come to the point of euthanasia when completely against it in the human arena? I guess I have concluded is that physical pain in an animal does not bring it any further spiritual or emotional understanding, which I believe is one of the points of human suffering. Thankfully, I am able to gain a deeper understanding of others from suffering, able to gain a deeper appreciation of things I cherish, and able to deepen my belief system – all through suffering. I don't believe that is possible for a cat. Animals live in the moment and never wrestle with the daily anguish over life and death. These differences are part of what makes humans and animals special in their own right.

Ultimately, I admit that it is hard not to project at least some humanity onto Kingston - especially after living with him so closely for so long. Heck, he probably thought of me as a cat (that is, if he had the capacity for thought?). Yet in spite of it all, I am certain that he was given to me as a gift that I may not only benefit from his unconditional love, but also to test and prove my own. I have no doubt that my friend Kingston in all senses of my understanding fulfilled his duty here on Earth as a cat and as a pet and I only hope that I fulfilled my duty as an friend to him.

As always, thanks for reading :-) AMDG

Sunday, May 23, 2010

The effort that went in to YOU

I am currently rotating on the psychiatry service, making up a rotation that I kindly deferred until my fourth year of school because I really had no interest in psychiatry. And though I still really don’t think I could make a career out of being a psychiatrist, I thank God that I didn’t skip this rotation altogether (which I was hoping for during that past few months) because I am learning more and more about life and the difficulties normal people face than I have on any other rotation. There have been so many heart wrenching stories of young and old folks who have seemingly everything together, but are depressed and suicidal. There are the stories of the folks who were just using a little alcohol or drugs (illegal and/or legal) here and there to cope with a tough spot in life, and they end up a few years later dependent and in need of treatment. And then there are of course the patients who most (including me at most points in my life) would really just consider “crazy.” (Although I have come to realize that I use this label in order to remove myself from having to put forth the effort to understand what is really going on in that person’s life).

And yet, the accumulations of all these stories have struck a particular chord with me. This chord is the abstract concept of the amount of work (and I use that term loosely) that went in to YOU. Really. Stop, think about it.

We often consider the best things we produce in our lives those which we work really hard for: our outstanding work projects, a special dinner we have made, a well executed competitive performance, a well groomed garden, or even a medical degree. These are all great things, without a doubt. However, they really pale in comparison to YOU. You are the product of years and years of hard work, a joint project of your parent(s), siblings, grandparents, aunts, uncles, friends, priests, teachers, mentors, friends of friends. All of these people and more have collaborated and put forth effort to produce the ultimate result -- you.

How special is that? Really, it’s amazing.

But then, of course, things can go wrong at any time. We can very easily misstep and become one of the stories of those hospital patients. (Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that those people are failed projects, just ones that need a little extra work J).

It’s mind blowing to consider the number of people over the years who have helped you become who are you. And it’s not over, more and more people will collaborate with others to help you become the person you ultimately become. It seems almost selfish if we don’t then in turn try to be cognizant of the “projects” that are going on all around us and not do our part to help out. Most of the time, we probably do without even knowing it.

I guess the point is, put the time in, because you were and will continue to be worth it, and so is everyone else.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Dr. Luck

It's funny, no... it's not funny. It's awesome how people can inspire our lives and not even mean to. Some people just have a knack for being a shining light though they don't even try.

It is so with friend of mine, Dr. Luck, who passed away this past week. Though I knew her only briefly and the majority of our conversations were short emails or a short constructive critiques of my professional development, she still somehow managed to inspire me.

And even as I sat behind her friends and family at her funeral, loving the love that filled the space, it was a song that she had selected to be sung at her funeral that will stick with me as I continue down my own road. I have no doubt that it will help me focus again and again on the same love that enabled her to do the amazing things she did with her life...

Sunday, April 18, 2010

"some good will come from this..."

Terrible things happen in life, sometimes. Whether they happen to us, to those we love, or people in some other part of the world, they just seem to happen. We can’t control them, even with our humanistic desire to do just that. I believe our effort to control them is cathartic and the right thing to do for now. But what do we make of the thoughts which these events inspire in so many. For example, I and many close to me were recently touched by the news of the loss of a young man’s life, just as he was beginning to blossom into the hopes and dreams of himself and those who loved him. These types of events make it very easy for us to get disillusioned by the inevitable loss that sometimes creeps right into our very own lives.

Yet still, there is hope for those who wonder “why?” and those who say “how could God let this happen to him/her” and even the questioning of “why did this have to happen at all?” It is no secret that when terrible things happen, caring friends and family often offer the condolence of “some good will come from this,” and though it is easy to dismiss this expression of hope as dismissive way to deal with grief and loss, I am happy to report that it is in fact true.

I had a conversation with a friend of mine two days ago discussing some of the tragic things which we have seen or been part of in our lives. She told of the traumatic experience of being within 100 yards of London subway bombing in 2005. I told of the untimely loss of a couple friends during my high school years. Though both stories were very different, we both casually described the effect those experiences had on the decisions we have since made since, and soon realized that a lot of those decisions have had direct effects on our career choices. My friend actually said at one point during the conversation “that was the day I chose to go to medical school.” We have both actually chosen career paths which are difficult but will eventually enable us to positively effect the lives of many people in our own way.

Now of course, everyone has life-experiences that help shape their lives, that is not to uncommon. However, what is interesting to me is that both events are exactly the type of events which people offer those same “why” questions mentioned above. And now, nearly 5 plus years later, some of the “good” which was hoped for result of those terrible events in our lives, is actually close to coming to fruition. Both she and I, nearly complete bystanders from our respective “life changing” events - have eventually used those “why” experiences for the good of others.

Thus I have come to the conclusion that when such terrible events occur, no matter how great or how small, though we grieve and hurt, it is REAL to expect good to result from our loss. There are in fact people, just like you and I who allow those events to move them and build up inside of them and ultimately inspire them to better the lives of others. It might take years, but if we are patient, real and tangible good will result from loss.