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Posts Tagged ‘intention’

I’ve been thinking a lot about stories lately.  The stories we read, the stories we watch, the stories we tell others about ourselves, and, the stories we tell ourselves in the privacy of our own minds.  Before you decide that this is just another “change your script” post, I ask that you read a little longer.  I’m not here to tell you that in order to be happy/successful/whatever you need to change your story: that message is already out there for anyone who needs it.

I simply want to remind you of the power of stories in general. Little stories combine to make up bigger stories; my stories join with your stories and your stories join with the stories of other people, all to make up a complex tale of humanity.  Some stories are made up completely from our imagination, some have bits of fact embedded within and others are fully factual.

 We are surrounded by stories everywhere that we look: books, movies, and television may be the most obvious places to find stories, but we find them in the way that children play, in advertising, in the clothes that people wear, the way that shops are laid out and goods are displayed, the way that food is made, prepared, and consumed, and even the way that we drive and the routes we choose to take are all stories (or parts of them).  Our education is full of stories, too, and not just the literature and language courses but all courses: we hear science stories and math stories and history stories and social sciences stories and philosophy stories and…

 You get the idea.  Our lives are filled with stories, and these stories do more than entertain and educate us: they shape us, as do our responses to the stories.  The stories that I tell not only reflect reality, as I perceive it, they help to shape that reality.  When I hear a story, I choose whether or not to accept it as it is, or to change it internally.  If I read a story about a political figure, I can choose to accept it as it is written, disregard it as untrue, or accept that it may have some basis in “reality” as it is collectively defined but that it may not be complete.  In any case, once I make that decision, I then have to decide whether or not I internalize this story and incorporate its message into my own worldview or not.  Whichever I choose, I will most likely make that decision in the blink of an eye and without any input from my waking self.  This is an unobserved, subconscious act on my part, and when I later paraphrase that initial story in a story of my own, I may not remember where those ideas came from.

Part of how we construct our stories is where we choose to focus.  Over time, the area of focus will be determined automatically, based on where we have focused before.  A great way to develop a better understanding of oneself is to shift focus in the middle of an experience.  Let’s say that I am riding the bus, and I fall into the usual habit of focusing on how hot and uncomfortable I am.  If take a moment to shift my focus onto other riders, I will have an entirely different experience than I usually do, and I’ll add depth to my daily routine.  It will provide a perspective that I did not have before, and will pose questions that I might never have asked before.  My perspective can be further broadened if I am able to make the leap from simply focusing on others to imagining myself in their shoes.

 One of the things we need to move beyond is the idea that there is only one way to tell or interpret a particular story.  For instance, I will tell the stories of my youth one way, my mother will tell them another way, my father will tell them a third way, and so on.  And all of these would be “correct,” in that they reflect the perspective and the memory of the person telling it.  There is no single way to tell the story of me, just as there is no single way to tell the story of you.  My story will change over time, and not just because I will add new paragraphs; the earliest threads of the story will be altered as time and experience shift my gaze from one aspect of the story to another.

 One of the ways that my story has changed is by becoming aware of the presence of all of the stories around me.  When I watch a documentary program on television, I am aware not only of the story that is being presented, but also of the stories that the filmmaker chose to not tell but that might have been.  Why this story and not one of the other possible stories?  What other possibilities were there?  In other words, why did the filmmaker point her camera in that direction, and what lies just out of the shot?  If this is a subject of interest to me, the knowledge of stories left untold can lead me to do personal research.  And if I choose to look at life in that way, it reminds me that there are countless angles and directions in which to point my lens.

When I realize that all my thoughts and words and deeds and beliefs are my stories, that gives me control over them.  I can rewrite my stories, if I choose to do so.  If my collected stories make me happy and help me to engage in activities that make other people happy, then it is unlikely that I will refocus my perspective.  Nor would I be expected to, although a shift in focus can always bring in new ideas.  If my stories don’t make me happy, if where I choose to focus my lens brings me pain or grief or anger, than maybe I need to shift my gaze a bit, widen the aperture, and let this new field of vision shape a new set of stories for my life.

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The New Year is upon us and the winter holiday season has drawn to a close. We will all soon be back on our normal schedule, with some of us hunkered down for the winter as well. It is a good time to talk about change, don’t you think?

We just changed from one year to the next (an entirely arbitrary change, by the way – our years could start in March or July). Many of us will attempt, and some will succeed, to make lifestyle changes to improve or maintain good health. And I have to start preparing myself for the change from full-time student to, well, whatever it is I will become after I finish school. Initially that will most likely be unemployed, but it is my intention to change from that status to one of income producing member of society in some way within a short period of time (by the way, if any of you out there know of someone in need of a researcher or a digital artist/photographer available in mid-March in the Pacific NW, let me know).

We are surrounded and inundated by change all the time. Most of the time we don’t pay it any mind. But once it threatens to infringe on our carefully crafted daily routine, we tend to get all huffy about it. Which is kind of silly, don’t you think? I mean, if we can’t stop the change from coming, what point is there in getting all worked up over it?

And we can’t usually stop it. Most of the time the change comes from outside of our sphere of influence, or is an internal process that takes us completely by surprise (these can sometimes be prevented if we are aware of what’s going on internally, which most of us are not). I’m thinking of the panic and the vituperative tone of the current “health care debate.” I put all of that in quotations because A) we don’t have a health care system we have a symptom management system, and B) the tone so far is nothing near a debate – more like an argument between two groups of 4 year olds in the sand box.

What I hear in this debate is fear, and it is likely all fear of change. Fear that the people who donate millions of dollars to my reelection campaign will pull their funding if I vote the “wrong” way; fear that my state will not get as big a piece of the pie as some other state; fear that I’ll look foolish in the eyes of my constituents and/or party members; fear that as bad as the system is now, change will be worse; or fear that one side or the other of the aisle will have more control. It is possible that some of these folks actually want U.S. citizens to have affordable access to basic medical care, prevention education and training, and proper nutrition. But if that is the case, I’m not hearing it in the debate.

We hear a lot about how the U.S. has the best health care system in the world, and many people in this country believe that. But is it simply not true. 17 countries have better maternal mortality rates than does the U.S., in part because only two countries have more caesarean sections than we do. We are tied with the UK at #5 in the world for death by circulatory disease, and we have more teenage pregnancies (both in gross numbers and per capita) than any other industrialized nation. We are ranked #3 when it comes to number of years that women live in ill health (10.7 years) and #7 for men (8 years). 30.6% of our population is obese, which is known to create and contribute to a number of health issues, and yet only Japanese people go to the doctor more often than we do (on average 8.9 visits to the doctor per person per year). We spend more per capita on health care than do other countries and the amount we spend is a greater percentage of our GDP than for any other country, yet we only have 3 hospital beds for every 1,000 people (that puts us at a ranking of 81, tied with the tiny countries of Samoa and Andorra) and we are ranked #47 for life expectancy at birth (men and women combined).

In addition, the statistics show us that we spend 95% of our health care dollar on disease treatment and only 5% on prevention, and that doctors interrupt patients roughly 20 seconds into the patients’ description of their problem, which is no where near enough time to get a clear picture of what is really going on. Now I can pick and choose which statistics to display here, in order to make my point (and I know that you know that), but no matter how you look at it, this is clearly not the best health care system on the planet. All systems have their drawbacks and their successes, but it is pretty clear that something needs to change here.

The medical system is fraught with fear: of malpractice suits, of not getting paid, of missing something that this test or that test will highlight. There is no room in the current medical model for a patient-doctor partnership, which is what is truly needed for reform. Patients are not textbooks, and we all respond to stressors in different ways. The only way real reform will happen is if personalized medicine, also known as functional medicine, is given precedence over the disease management model.

But since there is no profit for the big pharmaceutical companies in functional medicine you can expect to see more fear-mongering in the future.

Which takes us back to the topic of change. I see a lack of civility, a lack of compassion, and a lack of basic manners in our current society, with an overabundance of vitriol, misdirection and outright lying taking their place, both on a national scale and interpersonally. It is more popular to be snarky and cynical than it is to be genuine and compassionate, and we see that reflected in our media, the forms of entertainment that dominate the airwaves, and the way our politicians conduct business.

I say it’s time to make a change. It is my intention to be more conscious of my words this year, to become more aware of what I am saying and why I am saying it.

To speak with more clarity and compassion, and to keep my mouth shut if I can’t engage in “Right Speech.”

To speak my truth with grace and not with rancor or arrogance. To recognize that there are many things that are true and that some of these true things contradict each other. My experience in life is my truth: it may differ from yours, but that does not negate the trueness of either experience. We need to change how we respond to the truths of others.

To gently but directly call someone when they speak an untruth. When rumors and misunderstandings are stated as facts, we need to stand up for the truth. Be prepared with evidence, or at least be prepared to find the evidence to show that you aren’t just engaging in debate out of pure emotion.

We need to change how we interact with our physicians and other service providers. Speak up for yourself in the clinic and insist on working in partnership with your care provider. You are not a helpless infant who needs to be cared for by an all-knowing parent. You are responsible for your own health and well-being, so act like it. Learn what you can about what you are currently living with and learn what options are out there for treatment or maintenance. Learn about nutrition, about how diet can create so many of the illnesses we see in modern society. Recognize that your primary care physician simply can’t know everything there is to know about the body and, when your instincts tell you that you need a specialist, insist on it.

If this is of value to you, then let others know your intention. And call your elected representatives, too. Tell them that the tone in Washington has been too divisive and ask them to consider their choice of words before speaking.

After all, we all have to live in this society. Isn’t it nicer when we act like compassionate adults instead of whiny, pouty children?

statistics from NationMaster.com

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