Friday, 31 January 2014


For the past nine years, one of my office windows, the one I faced while sitting at my desk, gave me a wonderful view east and thus I saw many glorious sunrises in northern New Mexico.  I am also linked to the weather wunderground (www.wunderground) which gives me sufficient data to know current and future conditions in my immediate area.  Or I can check out the weather for any location that interests me or one where I might be while traveling.
Clear sunshine, a dominant feature in New Mexico, varying temperatures, cloudy or not, anticipated precipitation, not nearly enough currently that has resulted in severe fire danger (that was posted most reently), wind velocity and direction – all of this and more at my fingertips.  Does it matter in the whole scheme of things?  Probably not, but I like being in sync with the weather and consider it a friendly companion, especially when outdoors.
I like Bill Bryson’s quote that there is no such thing as bad weather, only inappropriate clothing.  Weather is what it is and whether or not you subscribe to climate change or whether you complain about it being too cold, too hot, too windy, too dry or too wet, there is nothing you can do to change it but you can make some adjustments whether in clothing or location or even in attitude. You are only stuck where you are if you believe that. 
This winter has been hard on many people and some of the southern parts of the U.S. have just suffered what is a bit unusual for them, extreme snow and cold.  It’s a result of the polar vortex or the jet stream being farther south than usual and who knows why that is except that some meteorologist somewhere who probably has an explanation.  I didn’t bother to look it up.
As many have said, if you don’t like the weather, just wait awhile.  It’s bound to change.  And, if you like it as it is, then celebrate that by soaking it up whether in sun and surf, on the ski slopes or beaches, on lakes and rivers, in the mountains or the valleys, in the high desert or on the plains, on farms and ranches, in the cities and towns, wherever you are. My conclusion is that weather is a wonderful phenomenon, and being tuned in to it and fully alive with it enriches every day. Even in small ways, the weather adds a dimension of appreciation for the gift of yet another day. 
Natural disasters are the exception and thankfully, most often short lived - tornadoes, earthquakes, hurricanes, floods, blizzards, tsunamis and even a severe drought- all of those test how we both prepare for and respond to extreme weather conditions and events.
I still face east most mornings although no longer in the same place.  It’s part of my daily ritual as one who watches the sun and connects with it as I tune up and in for the day ahead. This morning, in the dark before the sunrise, just across the Kansas border in northeastern Oklahoma, I felt a light mist on my face.  Sure enough, the forecast says light drizzle this morning.  Drizzle and mist?  It’s really quite nice especially having come from the very dry, high desert.  It is still all about change!

Monday, 27 January 2014


In Louis Menand’s New Yorker (Jan27) review of Scott Stossel’s book, “My Age of Anxiety” (Knopf) Menand gives a fairly good historical perspective on how the topic of anxiety has been researched, described and treated.  And, like Stossel’s condition, not a whole lot has changed in the so-called human condition of the reaction to the stress and uncertainty of our lives.
It seems that people worry daily about everything from their work to their finances, about their children or their parents (or other family members) about their present or future conditions, including health and wellness, and in some places about where they are going to live, what they are going to eat or how they might end up.  One of the better definitions of anxiety that I heard a long time ago was “prolonged worry over matters we can do nothing about.”
Perhaps it would help to understand the continuum of anxiety, not unlike the continuum of fear.  One can experience mild fear or stark terror as extremes on either end.  Likewise, there are the little worries that are not all that upsetting, concerns of one kind or another that we can actually do something about and take action to the enormous anxiety that renders one feeling helpless and ultimately depressed.  That’s probably why the diagnosis in the DSM-V has tried to separate some of the related “disorders” from each other.
Much has remained the same in the areas of anxiety and depression, with refinements of criteria and symptoms across the lifespan. Some disorders included in the broad category of anxiety disorders are now in three sequential chapters: Anxiety Disorders, Obsessive-Compulsive and Related Disorders, and Trauma- and Stressor-Related Disorders. This move emphasizes how each category has its own distinctions while still being interconnected. 
Menand says that the term “anxiety” is a catch-all and I tend to agree.  He says, “people describe themselves as excited, nervous, apprehensive, tense, stressed out, bugged, worried, panicky, vapor-locked, scared shitless, sick to their stomach, and feeling like they’re gonna die.”   Sometimes it does help to give the feeling a name rather than not be able to put a handle on it and deal with it.
What I want to suggest is that there are numerous ways to alleviate anxiety and as Stossel and others have discovered, drugs and therapy don’t always work.  There are those who have made enormous changes in their lives whether in life-style, locations, significant changes in significant relationships, or in the approach to solving the problem instead of doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results (the classic definition of insanity). There are many people who have experienced a reprieve from anxiety that is most welcome and mentally healthy.  In fact, it is life-giving rather than life-reducing.
What seems to be an obstacle to making the change is the unwillingness to take the risk and step off into the unknown. That’s often a scary proposition and some people would rather be in a state of stress-filled security than live in a situation without knowing the outcomes.  In the end, it boils down to choices and choosing not to do anything is also a choice.  It’s your turn to play your cards. 

Saturday, 18 January 2014


Two recent “events” have given me pause to consider how they are real and symbolic regarding what is the constant in our lives, and that is, of course, change.  We are all about change of one kind or another, most of the time.  Some are big changes, really big life changes and some are small changes, shifts in the way we do things, moving from place to place, and even the smallest kind of thing like a haircut.
The most recent change for us is a move from our home and six acres on the Chama River in northern New Mexico.  We moved from a 2800 square foot house, chock a block full of furniture, art and personal effects into our motor home of 320 square feet of living space.  If we were in a warmer climate, which we will be soon, we could add the outside patio, but right now, it’s 27 degrees out there.  Never mind what we did with all the stuff.  It went into storage until we feel like dealing with it, probably in the late Spring or Summer.
We also had a barn full of more stuff and several other buildings.  They were used for storing equipment including a tractor and mowers, tools, garden supplies, chickens and donkeys, all requiring care and maintenance.  We figured that after nine years there, enjoying the wonderful scenery and the rural, remote location, it was time to move on to other activities including our desire for more mobility.  Less to take care of seemed appealing.
While that may seem like a big change, and in many respects it is, much of it is within our control.  Some life changes appear outside of our control and those can seem overwhelming and demand that we respond in order to survive.  When my wife was 37, she suffered an aneurysm followed by a stroke, life threatening and terribly difficult.  However, she decided to make some big changes, survived, and developed her own radical theory of disease and healing and has lived on 29 years including a bout with cancer 5 years ago while we were in London. The treatment, along with her attitude, was effective and successful.
The more recent cancer story in our family is about a sister-in-law, diagnosed a little more than a year ago with kidney and uterine cancers, apparently separate and unrelated but that’s hard to reconcile.  She had major surgery at a world-renown cancer center in Texas, and then suffered the treatments of chemo and radiation therapies.  This past Christmas Eve while in Italy with some family members, a brain tumor, metastasized from the uterine cancer, was detected and needed immediate attention.
A quick flight back to Houston, more surgery to remove the newfound tumor and Voila she is on yet another road to recovery.  These life interruptions are not only upsetting and annoying; they are painful, and debilitating.  Changing one’s life to include treatment for cancer is an enormous adjustment to say the least.  The support, care and love of family members are therapeutic in themselves and the personal adjustments required to adapt to this change include significant physical, mental, emotional and spiritual exercises, along with various drug protocols.
The highs and lows of the emotional roller-coaster represent more change than one would normally like to deal with.  However, we need to understand and accept that this ebb and flow are the norm and weave these strands of irregularities into the tapestry of our lives.  We can learn to expect the unexpected, anticipating that there will inevitably be these life-threatening, life-changing experiences at some time (or times) in our lives and build up a bank account of personal resources upon which we can draw when needed.
The real question is not why did this happen, although there are those who like to speculate and search for reasons, perhaps in order to put the blame on some genetic or environmental flaw.  The better question is what will you make of it and how will you respond?  How will you be an active participant in your treatment, not merely a passive recipient?  Knowing that you are the major player in the ebb and flow of transition can make a big and positive difference in the outcome.  

Wednesday, 1 January 2014

TURNING THE PAGE, with David Eagleman

Whether it is with a finger, an arrow or feeling the paper and not a virtual page, it is a new year, a new month and a new day.    Remember paper calendars that hung on the wall?  Some were from local businesses and presented as a gift at the end of the year.  They were usually advertisements for the business with the information about services or products and contact numbers.  Often accompanied by seasonal pictures or other illustrations some of these calendars are now in the category of collectibles as few remain on the market.  However, our propane delivery guy offered me one the other day which I graciously refused.  I wondered afterwards if I should have accepted it even out of mere curiosity.
Now we will get used to writing 2014 and it will go fast enough, just like last year.  I am not sure I ever got completely comfortable with 2013, not just the numbers but that phenomenon of the older we get the faster the days, weeks, months, and years, seem to fly by.   Why is that?  What accounts for the perception of ever-increasing speed?
David Eagleman, the neuro-scientist, has several explanations and the following illustration is a good one.  So-called “brain time,” as Eagleman labels it, is intrinsically subjective. “Try this exercise,” he suggests in a recent essay. “Put this book down and go look in a mirror. Now move your eyes back and forth, so that you’re looking at your left eye, then at your right eye, then at your left eye again. When your eyes shift from one position to the other, they take time to move and land on the other location. But here’s the kicker: you never see your eyes move.” Your brain has both condensed and accelerated the scene of eyes darting back and forth and recast it as a simple one: your eyes stare straight ahead. Where did the missing moments go?
The more details in the memory, the longer the time seems to go on. “This explains why we think that time speeds up when we grow older,” Eagleman said—why childhood summers seem to go on forever, while old age slips by while we’re busy without regard for time. The more familiar the world becomes, the less information the brain records, and the more quickly time seems to pass.

“Time is this rubbery thing,” Eagleman said. “It stretches out when you really turn your brain resources on, and when you say, ‘Oh, I got this, everything is as expected,’ it shrinks up.”

Ever hear someone say, “It’s been a long day and we know that days are accorded the same 24 hours and yet some seem longer than others?  People don’t like it very much when I say that I have news for them after that remark, that all days are the same length.   It has to do with the choices we make during any given day and what we might have done to either “slow it down” or “speed it up”  and whether we were learning something new or repeating something already well-known.

As we age, this process comes into play even more, making time seem to fly by much faster. This is because the more we age, the more often we come into contact with information our brains have already processed. This familiar information takes a shortcut through our brains, giving us the feeling that time is speeding up and going ever faster.

For young children, it’s easy to see how this would work in reverse, since the majority of information their brains are processing would be brand new, and require more time to process.  As we learn new things, it seems to take longer and now there’s an explanation beyond being obtuse!