The Watermelon Gift

The tiny store sat at the crossroad of two streets in the Park-Extension neighborhood of Montreal. It bustled with local residents sieving through the new produce that had been stacked carefully in the aisles; seas of yellow lemons, neatly arranged cheeses and meats, and packaged goods of nuts and dried figs from the motherland, created for a scene that could have easily been stumbled upon in a small Greek town.

He turned towards us in the line as he waited for the watermelon he had ordered to be cut; he planned on buying only half of the large fruit, as the whole seemed like too much. His eyes seemed to say that he had something to ask us. He was probably in his eighth decade of life; his skin was weathered by what was likely a lifetime spent out in the sun. In juxtaposition to his apparent age, his eyes seemed to still hold a very present and youthful joie de vivre.

We smiled politely at the old man, exchanging greetings in Greek as we fumbled with the many produce we had collected in our hands; we were indecisive about what we would be making for dinner that night and thus had errored on the side of caution, having picked up much more than could fit into any one dish.

The old man went on to ask my friend and I if we liked watermelon and if we planned on buying some that day; he went on the explain that there existed no sweeter dessert than a ripe watermelon. We responded that we hadn’t planned on it, to which he happily replied that he wanted to treat us to the other half of the watermelon. The joy in being able to share with us was unmistakeable in his smile. We initially tried to tell him that “he didn’t have to do that”, but it quickly became evident that he would not take no for any answer. Thus our “you really don’t have to” turned into a chorus of “thank yous” in appreciation.

We walked home with smiles that seemed to have settled in permanently for hours to come; the gifted watermelon, in all of its simplicity had, in its own way, restored our faith in humanity. It was a small gesture that resonated in a strong sense of gratitude for the presence of community and giving that still exists amongst the modernity of today’s society. In an era where the media reads constant stories of ignorance, close mindedness and selfish action, it was an act that spilled over with a humble sharing of joy.

My dearest readers, let us make an effort to notice the small tokens of human connection that exist in our everyday lives; let us collect these moments to remind ourselves of how simple acts of kindness can resonate profoundly in our experience of this life.

 

 

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Joyfully in the Moment

We often pair with happiness the notions of seeking it, of finding it, of discovering the meaning of it. Thus the pursuit of the aforementioned becomes the focus of the emotion, an –ing verb, rather than a feeling that rests in the present tense, in the present moment. And then there is this idea of joy; a wonderful word that brings happiness strongly into a present and momentary focus. Joy, defined as a current feeling of great pleasure and happiness, is therefore a concept that I’ve been trying to be more mindful of on a daily basis. Sometimes joy is manifested explicitly and simply for us, and so realizing how happy we are in a given moment, in these cases, becomes as easy as being simply aware of the feeling and identifying the moment as one of happiness. These are those moments of bliss and felicity, where you can literally feel your smile inching up right into the corners of your eyes and where the positivity is overflowing. Being mindful of these moments, however, is not always intuitive. Sometimes we can get so caught up in the pursuit of a state of happiness that we forget to pay homage to the actual happiness that arises from a culmination of all these joyous moments in our daily lives. I believe joy also speaks a sentiment of gratitude. Sometimes we have an envisioned notion of what will bring us happiness, and so we relentlessly seek those things at the expense of being cognizant of what we already have in our lives; things that if we pause to pay attention to, have the utmost potential to bring us great joy, in the here and now. Gratitude allows us to thus be more mindful of the joy-filled moments and joy-inspiring things that are already a part of our lives. My dearest readers, this is not to say that “pursuing” happiness does not have its place in living a full and happy life. On the contrary, there are so many aspects of looking to the future, and “ing”-verbs, that render life beautiful – dreaming and wishing, and looking forward to all that is yet to come, are some of the most beautiful doings to take up space in our minds. But as with everything in life, I think we need to balance the pursuit of happiness, with the living of happiness. So next time you look up to the sky and see a kite or a hot air balloon, and you find yourself smiling from ear to ear, make sure to be mindful of the joy you are feeling in that moment. My dearest readers, and may these joyous moments culminate into happy lives.

joyfully in the moment

Mindfulness in Mental Health Care

MIndfulness Article Meditative Stance PhotoMindfulness – to be aware in the present moment without judgement – can apply to all fields and professions. I was recently asked to write a piece for the Wellness Office of McGill University’s Postgraduate Medical Education Department, exploring how mindfulness has contributed to my medical practice as a pediatrics resident. The following is thus my self-reflection on the topic of mindfulness and mental health care; my experience of how mindfulness allowed me not only to better connect with my patients during my psychiatry rotation, but also allowed me to foster greater self resilience and emotional well-being during the process!

How has mindfulness affected your work and profession?

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Jon Kabat-Zinn, developer of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), assigns the following operational definition to the concept of mindfulness; “paying attention on purpose in the present moment and non-judgmentally.” To a great extent, this particular way of being – of being mindful, nurtured my personal learning, connection with patients, and sense of personal wellness, during my most recent child and adolescent psychiatry rotation.

The nature of the rotation was one that required a great deal of resilience when it came to emotional health and wellbeing. On a daily basis I was esteemed to the responsibility of attempting, to my best ability, a therapeutic connection with mostly adolescents who were presenting at extremely vulnerable points in their lives. The “histories of presenting illness” were often laden with a heaviness, as patients recounted personal experiences involving debilitating anxieties, low mood, dark thoughts, social isolation and hardships that at times challenged their very will to live.

Being truly and intentionally present in these patient encounters quickly came to carry on two distinctive and equally important meanings for my practice as a resident – both a shared and introspective presence became the cornerstones of my practice. Firstly, being present meant mindfully engaging in a shared presence with the patient; ensuring that through conscientious listening and thoughtful discussion the patient felt heard, felt validated, felt rightfully seen as a whole person. Through this intentional shared presence, I had better chances of transforming what could be solely experienced as history taking into what I hoped would also serve as a therapeutic intervention.  Secondly, my mindful practice also drew on engaging in an introspective presence. More than ever it became important that I attend to my own emotions in response to the patient encounters that I was experiencing. In order to work towards emotional resilience and so that I may maintain my own personal wellbeing, I worked on my capacity to not only identify the emotions that I was feeling but also to observe them as outside my immediate experience in order to better understand them, and react more mindfully. This approach proved to be protective – a means of “debriefing with myself”, so to speak.

It was inevitable that the patient stories before me had the inherent potential to evoke strong emotions in me; by practicing mindfully I was able to exert some control over how these thoughts and feelings affected not only my ability to be present for the patient, but also safeguard my own wellbeing.

What I love and find most humbling about medicine is the idea that, by building a therapeutic alliance with a patient, we become woven into each and every patient’s unique life story. These life stories, as in my psychiatry rotation, can sometimes be considerably heavy and emotionally demanding of the physician. In these situations, a mindful practice has the potential to not only ensure a stronger therapeutic alliance between doctor and patient, but also fosters greater emotional resilience for the physician.

Original post can be found at: https://www.mcgill.ca/thewelloffice/our-services/pgme/residents-corner

Dearest New Year

Dearest New Year,
I can’t wait to get to know you
To discover what you hold, for me, between the book ends of two winters
The constellation of adventures that await me
Whether I have my head in the stars, marvelling at the magic
Whether I have both feet firmly on the ground, planted in authenticity
How will you have me grow?
Please teach me to grow into my wings

Dearest New Year,
I can’t wait to see more of the world
Not only by mere trains, buses and planes
But allow me to travel in mind, to unforeseen dreams and aspirations
Let me see more; gain more perspective and more insight
How do others live?
Please preserve my faith in humanity

Dearest New Year,
I want you to get to know me too
Know me for strength that is seeded in great vulnerability
Know me not only for the reasons for which I forget to breathe
But also for the moments that breathe life back into me
How will you interpret my canvas?
Please do so with kindness and tenderness

Dearest New Year,
With open arms and an open heart I welcome you
2018, may you be epic

 

 

 

My “To-Be” List…

My dearest readers,

We are all very familiar with the organizational benefits of keeping a to-do list, not to mention the sense of accomplishment that one feels when one strikes through an item on a list once it is done. As someone who loves lists, I was intrigued when I read about the idea to keep a different type of list in a book I recently bought, entitled “Everyday Mindfulness: 365 Ways to a Centred Life”. One of the daily suggestions featured in the book was to keep a running “to-be” list – a list focused on putting into words our goals for “being”. In other words, who do we want and hope to be, how to we want to be? As I set out to start what promises to be a challenging month in my medical residency training, I took a few moments this morning to start a “to-be” list. Here is what I added so far…what does your “to-be” list include?

“To-be” list – November 2017

To be driven by faith in place of fear, by love in place of hate, by understanding in place of ignorance

To be comfortable with the uncertainty of tomorrow, the understandings of times past, realizing that the present moment is to be valued and is fully in my reach

To forever be a work in progress, focusing on the growth that each experience brings, being kind to myself as the pieces settle into place

To be a catalyst for change in a world whose harsher sides are ever so apparent, all while choosing to continue seeing the beauty and good in humanity

To be a believer in the magic that can be born of being so passionate about something, that that passion is transformed into one’s gift to the world

To be courageous in the feat of building the life that I dream of, so that I may build a life that I am not only proud of, but can fall in love with each and every day

To be brave in the face of challenge, realizing that strength is resilience – that I may bend in the face of hardship, but I will not fold

To be myself above all other things…

 

to be list

“White Noise”

Life can become quite noisy sometimes. There is the obvious type of noise – that which arises from an accumulation of auditory stimuli from our environments. From the tense and chaotic sounds of rush hour traffic, to the sound of a hospital pager breaking the fragile silence of a call room, to the thunder of angry rainstorms, these types of sounds string together, at different volumes and pitches, to create a bustling soundtrack to our busy lives. And yet, for many of us, it may be a very different type of noise that renders our lives “noisy” at times –a type of noise that emerges from an internal chatter of multiple thoughts. Some thoughts racing, others lingering…some thoughts fleeting, others enduring…thoughts that when strung together, and life is busy, have the potential to become an indecipherable web of “thought-full” noise. Thoughts of what is to be, and what has been, replace an ability to experience being in the present. “Thought-full” noise can also lead to a mind space that does not allow one to authentically observe each thought as it floats in; positive self-talk might be lost in an overshadowing negative voice, while powerful and creative thoughts might be weighed down by thoughts of self-doubt and surrenders to the status quo.

 As I write this, my dearest readers, I find myself on a quiet beach in Maine for an impromptu vacation. The October weather makes it too cold to go into the water, but is just right to find myself sitting with my feet in the sand, pen in hand, paper in lap. As you will learn from anyone who knows me well, it takes a great deal to get me out of the water when I am at the beach. And yet, on this vacation, without being able to go in the water, I am learning to appreciate the ocean and beach in a completely different way. I have the chance to observe it and admire it for the way the ocean waters kiss the shore – in beautiful symbiosis the waves carve away at the sandy shore and the shore breaks each wave, and yet both seem to kiss time and time again in a constant give and take. I am able to relish in this interaction of land and sea with my eyes closed too; in fact it is the sounds of this symbiotic dance of two elements that I appreciate most as I sit here, ironically, my mind full of thoughts. The sound of rolling and crashing waves creating a sort of “white noise”; a calming background noise that has been marketed commercially in so many forms such as computer screen savers, to baby mobiles, to machines that act as sleep aids. Here I have it in its most natural form.

As my mind takes in the calming effects of the “white noise” that surrounds me, I find myself reflecting on how I might learn from this moment to be able to better decipher through the “thought-full” noise when it happens. Here, by the water, to observe each thought, to appreciate each thought for what it is, to allow each thought to enter my gentle awareness, feels more effortless. Of course, we cannot always depend on vacations to the seashore to be able to be more mindful of our thoughts, but perhaps it is about finding the “white noise” in everyday moments that could be something to strive for. To commit to entering a space that allows us to decipher through the web and experience our thoughts with tender awareness. By interacting with our thoughts in this way, a noisy mind need not be “thought-full” in a heavy and confusing way, nor “thoughtless” in an empty and denying way, but rather “thoughtful” in a mindful and fulfilling way.

Just as the shore line is a place that is constantly in flux, changing with each meeting of wave and sand, gently as each invades each other’s space in a constant give and take, so can we create a mind space where our thoughts and our awareness gently meet, dancing with one another constantly. In this way the “thought-full” noise can be unraveled into a thoughtful string of moments where we may be present to experience and observe each thought as it floats through our minds.

Needless to say, I’ll be bringing back much more than sand in between the pages of my books this vacation – I’ll be bringing some “white noise” back with me as well!

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“La rentrée” – Back to School for the Autumn Soul…

My dearest readers,

If you were to ask me about the seasons, I would have to say that although summer definitely lifts my spirits, I hold a special place in my heart for fall – I think my soul is of the autumn type. There is something strangely nostalgic in how, as the warm rays of summer dissipate, we once again find new warmth in the coziness of fluffy sweaters, scarves wrapped around our necks, baked apple pies and creamy caramel macchiato. Perhaps even more than this is the familiar feeling of “back to school” excitement – a feeling that, even as an adult, I recognize in myself, as the crisp air of September sweeps in among the changing colours of the trees.

I love the way the French language coins the beginning of the school year as “la rentrée” – meaning the return. My dearest readers, whether you are a student truly “returning” to classes, in the traditional sense of the phrase, or someone who is simply continuing in their career journey after brief periods of vacation over the summer months, I believe there is something to be said about the rejuvenating and reviving energy that the autumn brings. Remember how we all felt those first few days of school when we were little? Anticipation, excitement, dreams and aspirations were all wrapped up into the nervous smiles that we brought to the school yard and all wrapped around our small fingers holding onto new pencils.

Fall is a truly dynamic state for nature – one that we can look to for inspiration as we seek to be anything but stagnant ourselves. The leaves change colour from moment to moment – reinvention in action. How can we use this time period to rejuvenate our own ideas and passions? As the temperature gradually drops we also seek out warmth, often through a new-found appreciation for closeness. In gratitude and thanksgiving, the sense of wanting to foster human connection is revived and heightened.

In fact, it was exactly four years ago that I found myself being inspired by a walk through a farmer’s market in Ottawa to start a blog. I started off my first article with the following; As the leaves begin to change color and crisp early mornings are met with aromas of hot chocolate and apple pies, all wrapped up in cozy sweaters and chunky scarves, I find myself thinking about the elements in my life that I am most thankful for.”

And so, my dearest readers, what type of excitement, warmth and nostalgia does Autumn stir up in your heart? May we embrace “la rentrée” with hopes of rejuvenation, dynamic change, connection and gratitude.

fall leaves