31 May 2009

Resilience:Loss & Adversity

I have a head cold that I can't get away from.
Sometimes I can hide in a good book, throw myself into a project
or escape into a good movie. Nope. None of those worked last night.

“The art of medicine consists in amusing the
patient while Nature affects the cure.”

Up anyway at 3 AM, I decided to listen to the Super 14 Rugby Final, the Waikato Chiefs taking on the Bulls in South Africa. Nah. That was no good either as the Bulls ran away with the game, the Chiefs leaving gaps too big for Habana & Co. to ignore. Add to that the enormous trip and the high altitudes and I'd think the Chiefs were wishing the Hurricanes had won the week before.

Not a fair comment, that. This was the Chiefs first time to the final and they deserved that play-off spot. However things went last night, they still came in second in the standings for the entire season and deserve respect for that. I didn't see the game, only listened to it on the radio, but I'd say they deserved respect for staying on the field to the end. Musta been terrible as they saw the points adding up, 61-17 to the Bulls.

How do you process defeat, loss, such pervasive frustration that you just wanna hide? How do we cope with financial loss, job loss, a failed relationship, a project gone wrong?

Pink sings:
I've got my things packed, my favorite pillow
Got my sleeping bag, climb out the window

All the pictures and pain, I've left behind

All the freedom and fame, I've gotta find

Running away is an option some take. I hope the Chiefs look at all the victories of the season that took them to this recent showdown. I just wish the sweetness of those victories could linger in their mouths rather than this defeat, but that's the way it is. You play until there's only two left and then only one can win. I hope most of them will look toward next season, that alcohol will not dull their pain, and that those who are preparing for the All Blacks tours will develop the character needed for the next campaign.

I hope all of those who are facing career changes because of an economy with no room for flab will develop that same character, that they will not lose themselves in destructive vices and that they'll look forward, remembering their success and anticipating the good they can shape out of their past.

Upskilling mid-life is not easy, but many are finding the need to do so. University and other tertiary programmes are finding enrollment up. Indiana University topped 100,000 students across its eight campuses. Many other universities worldwide are reporting 5-10% increase in student numbers and in credit hours taken.

Yates and Masten in Fostering the future: Resilience theory and the practice of positive psychology (2004, p. 525) have a table of assets and protective factors that promote positive development for young people including positive sibling relationships, connections to competent and caring adult models, a positive view of self, good problem-solving skills, and appealing personality.

Their view of resilience as ordinary magic has led them to suggest that interventions for increasing resiliency focus not only on ameliorating problems but also on promoting competencies, enhancing assets, and developing protective resources.

The bamboo that bends is stronger than the oak that resists. -
- Japanese Proverb.

Canadian psychologist Albert Bandura says, “We find that people's beliefs about their efficacy affect the sorts of choices they make in very significant ways. In particular, it affects their levels of motivation and perseverance in the face of obstacles. Most success requires persistent effort, so low self-efficacy becomes a self-limiting process. In order to succeed, people need a sense of self-efficacy, strung together with resilience to meet the inevitable obstacles and inequities of life.”

I'm not backing myself much at all today, head cold and all. I'll just lie low and survive this malady which receives so little sympathy in the grand scheme of things.

The doctor tells the patient he has very bad flu.
The patient says he wants a second opinion.
The doctor says, ”OK, you’re ugly too”.

I hope the Chiefs will turn their loss around and reframe it as a platform for future success. I hope too that those who are faced with far more serious and life-shaking losses will find the source of courage, the sense of future, the support of their friends and family.

Take the old prophets as your mentors. They put up with anything, went through everything, and never once quit, all the time honoring God. What a gift life is to those who stay the course! You've heard, of course, of Job's staying power, and you know how God brought it all together for him at the end. That's because God cares, cares right down to the last detail. James 5:10-11 (The Message)

30 May 2009

Impressive Destinations: Family

My dad has commented a time or two that I am hard to impress.
Is that only one of the reasons why I am still single?

Anyway, he was trying to think of where to take me in near his home in Florida, a destination for us to enjoy together when I visited him.

He has taken me to Bok Tower Gardens, Thomas Edison's home, Marie Selby Gardens, Moat Marine Aquarium and so many other beautiful places. Of course we have done Disney World and Busch Gardens. We've camped and walked in State and National Parks, followed roads to see where they go and have walked or sat on amazing beaches as God painted the sunset. All of these are wonders, beauty we can be in and absorb.

The cause for my dad's concern is that I have had the pleasure of snorkeling the Great Barrier Reef, white water rafting from just below Victoria Falls, getting caught in a blizzard near The Grand Canyon, appreciating the engineering and beauty of The Taj Mahal, tasting the dust of the great plains of Kenya, going to sleep hearing the hippos in the river of the Lilongwe Valley, Malawi, walking the rough paved streets of Jerusalem, tramping the mountains of New Zealand, sitting in the shadow of the Golden Gate Bridge and enjoying the views from The Empire State Building. I've followed the amazing Blue Morpho butterflies of Costa Rica, been in London for The Trooping of the Colour to celebrate the Queen's birthday and been in Dublin on St Patrick's Day.

Yep, I'm hard to impress.

What my dad failed to consider in his thinking though is that the biggest draw for me to Florida is him.

Freeware Reviews

Gizmo's Freeware Reviews
At this community site you'll find the best freeware, reviewed and rated.

Freeware (from "free" + "software") is computer software that is available for use at no cost or for an optional fee.

Nouwen Quotes on Prayer

"Praying pervades every aspect of our lives. It is the unceasing recognition that God is wherever we are, always inviting us to come closer and to celebrate the divine gift of being alive." (Pg. 40)
"Forgiveness is the name of love practiced among people who love poorly." (Pg. 153)

"As long as we are afraid of God we cannot love God. The greatest block in the spiritual life is fear." (Pg. 167)

"Love - deep, human love - does not know death....Real love says, 'Forever.' Love will always reach out toward the eternal." (Pp. 187-188)
From The Only Necessary Thing: Living A Prayerful Life
(Selected Writings of Henri J.M. Nouwen compiled and edited by Wendy Wilson Greer (Crossroad, 1999)

Reflections from Kevin Young On Shoulders Of The Shepherd
The Only Necessary Thing
The phrase kept churning in my mind until I couldn’t dismiss it any longer. It’s the title of a book on prayer written by Henry Nouwen, one of the best on the subject. I pondered his thesis; the four simple words of the title.
“The”—the one elevated above all;
“Only” set apart in it’s priority over every other;
“Necessary”—needed as distinguished from want or desire;
“Thing”—the stuff our lives consist of.
What Nouwen has tried to tell us, is that many things are part of our life in Christ, but only one has ‘indispensable’ stamped on it. Why? If you take the time to consider the nature of prayer, you’ll discover that it’s essence sits at the nucleus of our spiritual vitality. We can’t put the Word in practice without prayer. We can’t obey God’s will without first discerning it in prayer. We can’t step out beyond our fears, without knowing an invisible hand stretches out to grasp ours and pull us onward—through prayer. Prayer reduces the ambiguity of the untested and uncertain to faith in God’s resources. Prayer feeds intimacy with God, simply because prayer is being with Him. Prayer lets God know in every way possible, that we surrender, each time we bow our knees.

29 May 2009

Handy Trade Lists: Local & Global

Need some extra cash? Have things lying around your house that you don't use?
Craigslist is optimal for you. It is easy to post listings, execute the transition and has no mailing/shipping, etc.

Q: What is craigslist?
A: Local classifieds and forums for 570 cities in 50 countries worldwide - community moderated, and largely free.

Q: What can I find there?
A: Jobs, housing, goods, services, romance, local activities, advice - just about anything really.

Q: What is the origin of craigslist?
A: An email list of SF events, started as a hobby by Craig Newmark in early 1995.

Q: Who runs craigslist?
A: Jim Buckmaster has been CEO since late 2000.

Q: Is Craig still involved with craigslist?
A: Craig works in customer service, in addition to fulfilling his iconic responsibilities.

Q: How much traffic does craigslist get?
A: More than 20 billion page views per month

Q: How does that compare with other companies?
A: craigslist is #7 worldwide in terms of english-language page views

Q: How many people use craigslist?
A: More than 50 million each month, including more than 40 million in the US alone

Q: Is craigslist available in languages other than English?
A: Yes - in French, German, Italian, Portugese, and Spanish

Q: How many job listings does craigslist receive?
A: More than 1 million new job listings each month

Q: What about craigslist discussion forums?
A: More than 100 million user postings in 100 topical forums

Q: How many employees does craigslist have, and where are its offices located?
A: 28 of us work out of a victorian house in the Inner Sunset neighborhood of San Francisco

Find Craigs Lists for Indianapolis, Delhi, India, Auckland, Brisbane, Australia, Louisville, Cincinnati, SW Florida, Birmingham, England, Bangkok, Thailand, . . . you get the idea.

An alternative for stuff is The Freecycle Network, made up of 4,751 groups with 6,757,000 members across the globe. It's a grassroots and entirely nonprofit movement of people who are giving (& getting) stuff for free in their own towns. It's all about reuse and keeping good stuff out of landfills. Each local group is moderated by a local volunteer (them's good people).

"Our mission is to build a worldwide gifting movement that reduces waste, saves precious resources & eases the burden on our landfills while enabling our members to benefit from the strength of a larger community."

The Freecycle Network is also international. Check it out.

LAUGHTER: The Pursuit of Happiness

Why should we laugh when there are so many reasons not too laugh around the world?

Laughter is an innate & natural way of achieving connection, clarity, health, harmony & lightness by rebalancing the chemistry of tension, stress & pain, and having fun doing it.

The average child laughs 400 times a day, The average adult laughs 17 times a day .There is no reason for this deterioration in frequency, except that we as adults choose to be more serious, thinking it adult to do so.

What happens when you laugh? From NZ Herald

Laughter activates the chemistry of the body...in particular Seratonin and Endorphins, which create the feel good effect....and increases our capacity to fight disease. Laughing relaxes the body and reduces problems associated with high blood pressure, strokes, arthritis, and ulcers. Some research suggests that laughter may also reduce the risk of heart disease. It also has a high social context!

A good hearty laugh can help: reduce stress , lower blood pressure ,elevate mood,boost immune system ,improve brain functioning , protect the heart , connect you to others , foster instant relaxation , make you feel good.

From The Aucklander By Debrin Foxcroft

In these gloomy times it's hard to find the silver lining, but Pat Armistead says humour - and sharing it with others - is the way to move forward.
These are dark, dark days. Recession, job losses, terrible weather and a winning Aussie league team. Feeling happy yet?

Pat Armistead lived through her share of pain before learning how to be happy. Her partner of two decades left her. Her son died. Her business failed.

However, it was here, in the midst of misery that she discovered the only way to move forward - learn to laugh, take pleasure in the small things and share this new understanding with others.

“As a result of a long series of losses, I fell into a depression,' says Ms Armistead.

“I didn't want to be medicated so I went looking for something else. In the end, I came to the realisation that in medicine there is haematology and neurology but no joyology.'

About eight years ago, she founded the Happiness Club. It is based on the Auckland's North Shore and offers meetings, speakers and regular newsletters.

“I saw how pain keeps us trapped,' says Ms Armistead. ``But it's not about cracking jokes, it's about being good humoured despite everything.'

Mikal Nielson is a new member of the Happiness Club, although he has been following the club's newsletter for two years.

“I am fascinated by the different approach to life,' he says. ``More joy, more laughter, I truly believe that's the way to go.'

The president of the New Zealand Positive Psychology Association, Aaron Jardin, agrees. The lecturer in psychology at the Open Polytechnic says there is a lot of research being undertaken on the idea of happiness and it's effect on people.

“The field of positive psychology is about 11 years old and you need a longer time to really understand the impact,' he says.

Mr Jardin does believe happiness can be learned.

“Yes, you can learn to be happy,' he says. ``But how you learn to be happy is different for everybody. There is no easy way.'

In the field of positive psychology, researchers have begun to develop a variety of interventions in an effort to find what works best.

“In America, the gratitude visit seems to work really well,' says Mr Jardin. ``It's about writing a letter of gratitude to someone who has helped you.'

An international study is under way to find out what works on a global scale. The researchers behind the Wellbeing Study are look at what works and what doesn't work for people from differing backgrounds around the world. Anyone wanting to be join the the New Zealand section of the study will find more information online at www.wellbeingstudy.com.

Ms Armistead encourages people to really look at what makes them happy. She says happiness and humour can help shift our perspectives and help us appreciate the small things in life.

" takes you off the path and throws you in the bushes,' she adds ... with another laugh.


The Parting Shot:

I believe you are here to bring joy

Not just into your own life but the lives of others.

10 years ago I started sending what I call Glad Mail. I send 3 pieces a day honouring, acknowledging, personally congratulating what I see in others. That's over 10 thousand pieces of mail.

Catch people doing something right!

28 May 2009

Hearing Damage: Technology

Music used to bind us together, whether we liked classical music at concerts, or whether we enjoyed the sort of light pop played on the radio. It still does so to a much greater extent than anything else in our divided society. But the phenomenon of plugging in earbuds removes the social element from musical enjoyment.

There is something bleak about this. Societies are happy when the greater number have mastered social skills, and this must depend upon people learning to appreciate one another.

How can this be done if we are all plugged in to our separate earbuds, shattering what was left of our hearing, and completely insensitive to the nuisance we are creating for the person sitting at our side?

By the time they are 35, this generation will have experienced serious hearing loss. Of that, medical research is in no doubt whatsoever.

Earbuds - the tiny speakers that fit inside your ears - are universally more popular with young listeners than the less stylish headphones, but have been proven by medical research to damage hearing irreparably, and to do so fast.

Exposing your ear drums to badly mixed rock music at 110 or 120 decibels is the equivalent of standing near a jet aircraft.

And will people try to sue Sony or Apple for hearing damage the way many have pursued tobacco companies for the damage their products cause?

Who is forcing us to put those micro earpieces in and blast our hearing away?

How do I know if noise could be hurting my ears?

You may be exposed, at work or through hobbies, to noise that hurts your hearing. If you have to shout when you talk to a coworker who is standing next to you, the noise level at your workplace may be hurting your ears.

Both the loudness of sound (called the intensity) and the amount of time you hear the noise are important. Sound is measured in decibels. Eight hours of hearing noise at 85 decibels could hurt your hearing. At higher sound levels, you could lose hearing in even less time.

Noise is measured in units called decibels, on a scale from zero to 140. The higher the number in decibels, the louder the noise. The louder the noise, the greater the risk of hearing loss. Hearing loss can occur with regular exposure to noise levels of 110 decibels or more for periods longer than one minute. No more than 15 minutes of unprotected exposure to 100 decibels is recommended. Long-term exposure to 80-85 decibels or over can cause hearing loss.

Here is a list of common noises and their decibel levels:

  • Aircraft at take-off (180)
  • Fireworks (140)
  • Snowmobile (120)
  • Chain saw (110)
  • Amplified music (110)
  • Lawn mower (90)
  • Noisy office (90)
  • Vacuum cleaner (80)
  • City traffic (80)
  • Normal conversation (60)
  • Refrigerator humming (40)
  • Whisper (20)
  • Leaves rustling (10)
  • Calm breathing (10)

Noise levels of 130 decibels or over will be painful and is very likely to cause immediate hearing damage.

Deepest Desires: cul-de-sac

"All our desires ultimately lead us to God." Janet Ruffing

The journey of desire may lead us to byways and cul-de-sacs . . . We may not know what it is we long for but our deepest longings are God-given because they always point toward the Divine.

Knowing Our Desires
Can it really be that the things I most deeply want point me toward God? Can it be that these same things tell me something about what God most deeply wants for me? Can it be true that my desires reflect in some important ways God’s own desires?
I suspect there are a number of reasons why we doubt this. First, most of us have been conditioned to expect that we will never get the things we most deeply want. Our deepest desires and longings are, therefore, simply setups for frustration. They are dangerous. Consequently, they remain unexamined and unknown. They may unconsciously point us toward God, but if they do, we would not be any more aware of that fact than of their essential nature.
Beyond this, most of us harbor a deep seated suspicion that God’s desires for us and ours for ourselves share no common ground. We suspect that if our desires are to be fulfilled it will be at the expense of God’s—fulfillment that will have to be stolen from God. Christian spirituality, we mistakenly believe, has to do with the crucifixion of our desires—possibly of desire in general.
As a result, most of us do not know our deepest desires. We may know our superficial wants (“I want a new car” or “I want a holiday,” etc.) but not our deeper longings. Unfortunately, the superficial wants and desires we can most easily identify are often those that are most disordered and most in need of purification. This only reinforces our sense that our desires are at best irrelevant to the spiritual journey, and at worst, seriously in opposition to it.
The only way to know our deepest desires is to start with the surface desires that we can access and follow them downward to their underlying longings. This, as we shall see, then allows us to identify those desires that are most in need of refining.

One way or another, our desires form and direct our spirit. Thomas Merton puts it this way: “Life is shaped by the end you live for. You are made in the image of what your desire.”

27 May 2009

Identity, Integrity, Influence

"Unless there is within us
that which is above us,
we will soon yield
to that which is around us."

quoted in Dr. David Jeremiah's, What to do when you don't know what to do.

81 Years of Marriage in 101 Years of Life

Britain's longest living married couple have celebrated their 81st wedding anniversary. BBC

Frank and Anita Milford, who live together in a nursing home in Plymouth, Devon, exchanged vows on 26 May, 1928. ( The same year penicillin was discovered)

Frank is 101 and Anita will be 101 next month. In February they will break the record to become the longest married couple in Britain.

They say they still have little arguments, but will always have a kiss and cuddle before they go to bed.

The pair, who said there was no "magic secret" to a happy marriage, met at a YMCA dance in the St Budeaux area of Plymouth in 1926 and were married two years later at Torpoint register office.

Blitz escape

Mr Milford worked at Devonport dockyard until his retirement at the age of 60.

The couple stayed in Plymouth throughout the Second World War and the Blitz, twice having narrow escapes from bombs - including one which fell on their house.

They have two children, five grandchildren and seven great grandchildren.

Their 74-year-old son, also called Frank, said the main secret of his parents' wedded bliss was simply being happy with each other.

"They've enjoyed themselves, enjoyed their lives very much but they've been always very content with their lot," he said.

26 May 2009

Susan Boyle: Cultural Insight

I'm relatively oblivious to much of popular culture. That's bad in that I'm a chaplain on a university campus where most of the people I'll share a table with are very interested in popular culture. In fact, it's usually popular culture that distracts them from their studies and keeps them up late at night and makes them late to lectures.

But even I'm aware of the Susan Boyle phenomenon.
Many commentators, opinionated lot they are, have written about the woman, the surprise, the process and the reactions she's gotten. You can search online and find op/ed pages giving more column inches to Susan Boyle than to the Taliban, Tamil Tigers or torture these days. She's more popular than politics, the economy and Swine Flu. And why not? Don't we like underdogs, success stories and happy endings?

But is this an end or a beginning? What do we do with success? Does it enrich or corrupt?

One comment that jumped out at me on one of the YouTube clips was how Susan Boyle had been judged on her appearance and how wrong everyone had been. Rather than being polite and evasive about the preconceptions as my grandmother's generation might have done, people just said, "We were all laughing at you. No one's laughing now!"

Have you done that? Misjudged a person based on appearance or socio-economic circumstances? SlumDog Millionaire comes to my mind.

We are all much more than our name, our "look" or our car. We are more than our address, our job and our hair on a rainy blustery day.

What other stories, films or books illustrate this evolution of opinion as we get beyond the surface of things and into the substance of a person?

Join the conversation here. I'm weary of the reluctant dribble of feedback ONLINE. Click COMMENT and chime in.

See more Susan Boyle commentary at The Huffington Post.

Good Fat: Cholesterol Conversation

"It is the type of fat in our diet, rather than the total fat contained
in our diet, that largely effects our cholesterol levels and CHD risk."

Jenny Bowden clarifies the Good Fat - Bad Fat issue for me. All fat is not created equal!

Not A Low Fat Diet, Rather A Good Fat Diet - From Thinking Nutrition by Jenny Bowden

Professor Murray Skeaff is head of the Nutrition Department at the University of Otago and a specialist in oils and fats. Skeaff has surprising news when it comes to our fat intake and blood cholesterol levels.

It is the type of fat in our diet, rather than the total fat contained in our diet, that largely effects our cholesterol levels and CHD risk. Both saturated fats and trans-fats increase our LDL or 'bad' cholesterol levels. Trans-fats also decrease our levels of HDL or 'good' cholesterol levels. So trans-fats are a doubly bad whammy and are unequivocally worse than saturated fats. But, that doesn't mean saturated fats are okay, it means we should limit both.

Polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats have positive effects on our blood cholesterol levels, reducing the total cholesterol to HDL cholesterol ratio. This ratio is considered a far more accurate predictor of mortality from CHD than total cholesterol, according to a substantial 2007 review published in the prestigious journal Lancet.

Simply decreasing our total fat intake has very little effect on our cholesterol levels and CHD risk. What we need to do is remove saturated fat from our diet, in New Zealand this is largely dairy fat, and replace it with poly and monounsaturated fats. In practise this means some basic substitutions:

  • Swap butter (over 50% saturated fat) for vegetable-oil based margarines (5-18% saturated fat) - most NZ margarines have just trace amounts of trans-fatty acids and considerably less saturated fat than butter, check the labels
  • Swap full-fat dairy products (milk, cheese, icecream) for low-fat options - one month down the road and you won't even miss full-fat products
  • Swap animal fats in cooking (like lard, chefade etc) for good cost-effective vegetable oils like canola, sunflower and soybean oils, these are even better at improving cholesterol levels than the more expensive olive oils!
  • Swap high-animal fat products like french fries for a healthier option like baked potatoes

But, then is the fun part. You get to add other sources of good fats to your diet - like nuts and seeds. A small handful of these as an occasional snack is a great idea - toasted almonds are my personal favourites along with Brazil nuts. My biggest issue is trying to keep the handful small!

Jennifer Bowden graduated from Massey University as a nutritionist with both a Bachelor of Science with First Class Honours, majoring in Human Nutrition and a Master of Science with Distinction, majoring in Human Nutrition. Check out her website and blog, Thinking Nutrition, for more health topics and nutrition conversations.

25 May 2009

Scott Dixon 6th in Indy500! 2009

Scott Dixon has consistently been in the top ten of nearly every Indy 500 race he has finished. Accidents kept him out of the top finalists twice. An amazing racing career for a well grounded Kiwi fella. See interesting facts about Scott Dixon below. He's kept his NZ roots even while living in Indiana, USA.

  • Age I first knew I wanted to be a race car driver: 5 years old
  • If I weren't a race car driver I'd be... an athlete, maybe a triathlon runner.
  • Give me a day off and I'd be... On the beach
  • Favorite vacation spots: New Zealand and Turks& Caicos
  • First job: Sign writer/ decaler
  • Worst job: Mechanic for street cars in New Zealand
  • Most embarrassing moment of 2007: Running out of fuel on the final corner of the final lap of the final race of the season to finish runner-up the championship.
  • Most embarrassing moment in racing: Crashing in a race when I was 13 and when I got out of the car everyone could see that I had a cushion tied to my bum so I could see over the steering wheel and reach the pedals.
  • Secret obsession: Chocolate
  • Can't stand... Airport security line, slow people in fast lane, people who talk too much about themselves
  • Really enjoys... a nice night out with Emma.
  • Guilty pleasure: Buying watches and Lemon Drop shots
  • I'd be lost without my... mobile phone
  • First car ever owned: 1982 Honda Prelude
  • My street car: Acura MDX
  • Personal motto: "Fly under the radar."
  • Nicknames: Iceman, Dixie
  • Favorite sport to watch: Racing, Track & Field, Rugby
  • You're on Death Row, down to your last meal, what is it? Big Ben Mince and Cheese Pie
  • I'd really like to meet...Why? Matt Damon. He's a cool actor and done some cool movies
  • Favorite book: "Crossing the Line" Marc Ellis Autobiography (NZ Rugby player)
  • Favorite TV show: "Entourage", "LOST" and "Flight of the Concords"
  • Did you know ...? The son of two dirt-track racers, Scott Dixon climbed behind the wheel of a car for the first time when he was 13 and won the championship in the New Zealand Formula Vee after being granted a special license to compete.
  • Did you know ...? Scott Dixon was born in Australia but is a citizen of New Zealand.
  • Did you know...? Scott Dixon trains and occasionally competes in triathlons.

Caption Challenge #1

Photo by Fred Armitage
Caption by you

Give it your best shot.

What caption would you give this photo?

Click COMMENT below and let us in to how your mind works.

Book Lists

My friend Cheryl writes . . .

I'm making a list and checking it twice.
Amazon has made a summer reading list.
NPR has made a summer reading list.
Have you made a summer reading list, yet? Need some ideas?
Look here and brainstorm a few titles.

24 May 2009

Self-help: Life Coaching

discernment - relationships - wisdom - book review
While many life philosophy or strategy books fill the shelves of bookshops, libraries and homes,
discernment is necessary in gleaning from each one what might be implemented beneficially in our own context.

That was gobbily gook for something my grandpa taught me when eating fish we'd caught ourselves. "Be sure and spit out the bones or they'll choke you." We rarely had to spit any bones out as grandpa was expert at filleting fish, but his wisdom still applies all these years later.

Not all that is published is worth swallowing.
Not all that is thrown into these self-help formulas add up.
Use your head for more than a hat rack.
Sift carefully. Throw away the chaff, or the larvae, whichever applies.

Here's a review of

The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz

This is a for stress management and personal growth. It's written in simple language, but deals with complex themes than can help people bring sweeping changes to their lives. A drawback to the book is that some of the 'agreements' are too extreme and, if taken literally, can cause additional problems. Here's an explanation of each.

Be Impeccable With Your Word

This means avoiding gossip, lies, empty promises and other ways we cause problems with our words. Say only what you mean, and realize that you can cause damage if you're not careful with what you say.

This is a great recommendation. Many people don't realize the power of their words and see the harm that can be caused with speaking carelessly, thoughtlessly or aggressively. Most of us are aware that screaming at someone may be upsetting to them, but subtle little digs at them, or gossip behind their backs, can hurt others more than we realize, and in hurting them, we hurt ourselves. This is an important, but difficult one to follow entirely. It's a great goal to aspire to, though, and a good direction to work toward.

Don’t Take Anything Personally

This 'agreement' deals with understanding how other people's behaviors are a reflection of them only. When someone gives us feedback about us, it's important to remember that no opinions are truly objective; we all have our biases, 'filters' through which we view the world, and the like. Because of this, we shouldn't take anyone else's view of us or our actions as entirely accurate; when someone says something about us (or anything else), they're really saying something about themselves and how they view the world.

This is good advice for making us feel better, but take it with a grain of salt. While everyone has their biases and there is no such thing as true objectivity, by never taking anything personally, people can really limit their ability to see their own negative patterns and biased thinking, and work on developing more healthy patterns and clear-sighted thinking. Don’t give up on the work of distinguishing responsibility, or you end up creating more stress in the long run.

Don’t Make Assumptions

Much stress is created when people assume they know what other people are thinking without checking with them. Understanding that other people might have different motivations for their actions, even drastically varying world views, and remembering to really try to understand others and discuss these motivations before jumping to conclusions about their behavior, can go a long way toward preventing interpersonal conflict.

However, taking this advice to an extreme may cause people to ignore their intuition about people, or common sense about someone's behavior that's damaging. It can also open people up to manipulation if they train themselves to believe someone's explanation of negative behavior rather than judging the behavior on its own. (For example, not 'assuming' they're being cheated on if their spouse is exhibiting erratic behavior and the classic signs of infidelity, but vehemently denies wrongdoing.) This one is a good suggestion, but should be tempered by inner wisdom and common sense.

Always Do Your Best

By this, Ruiz means to do the best you can at any given moment, and you'll have no regrets. Some days, your best isn't as good as other days, and that's okay. As long as you put an honest effort into life, you will have nothing to be ashamed of, and will not 'beat yourself up' over a less-than-stellar performance in retrospect. Review is from www.about.com

23 May 2009

Personal Responsibility

M. Scott Peck said in The Road Less Traveled, "the problem of distinguishing what we are and what we are not responsible for in this life is one of the greatest problems of human existence."

Book Club Questions, Lists & Links

Reading Group Guides is an online community for reading groups and I am sold on their offerings. They have a blog, discussion questions for book clubs or reading groups, tips for beginning and running your group, author interviews, a newsletter and more. They take polls, run contests and feedback readers' viewpoints to the publishing industry.

One great way of finding new titles is to check out this and other Book Reporter sites.

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne *
A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry
The Five People You Meet in Heaven by Mitch Albom -
The Friday Night Knitting Club by Kate Jacobs
The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls
The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood
The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini *
The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith *
My Sister's Keeper by Jodi Picoult
Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See
The Space Between Us by Thrity Umrigar
A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini *
The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger *
Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen
Atonement by Ian McEwan
The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
by Mark Haddon -
The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson
Girl with a Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier
I Feel Bad About My Neck by Nora Ephron
Life of Pi by Yann Martel *
The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold *
Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides
My Sister's Keeper by Jodi Picoult
The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri
The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd *
The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón
Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See
We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver *
The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion -

Books are marked
* if they have been discussed formally or informally in my book club.
- denotes books on my shelf which I have yet to read.

What are you reading? Are you enjoying it? Why?
To whom would you recommend it?
Did you buy, borrow or receive the book as a gift?

- Theology - Fiction - Literature - Mystery - Biography - History - Memoir - Spiritual -
- Folklore - Technology - Arts - How To - Economics - Business - Medical -
- Travel - Sports - Recipes - Parenting - Philosophy - Cultural -

22 May 2009


Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage.

Anais Nin

To dare is to lose one’s footing momentarily. To not dare is to lose oneself.

Soren Kierkegaard

Excellence: proverbial wisdom

Whāia te iti kahurangi
Ki te tūohu koe, me he maunga teitei
- Pursue excellence – should you stumble, let it be to a lofty mountain
Māori proverbs called ‘whakataukī’, ‘whakatauākī’ or ‘pepeha’ are sayings that reflect the thoughts, values and advice of past generations. They are usually very succinct and often use metaphor to convey key messages. A short whakataukī will often be so accurate in capturing a thought or moment, there will be little need for any other words to explain it further. Proverbs are important to the revival of Māori language – they carry flair, imagery and metaphor embodying the uniqueness of the language.

21 May 2009

Ida - The Missing Link?

Thursday, 21 May, 2009 11:22 AM

You may have noticed the media hype this week surrounding Ida, the so-called evolutionary ‘missing link.’ This story has generated huge media publicity, even leading Google to temporarily replace its regular logo with a stylised ‘Ida’ logo!

The most disturbing thing about this discovery (the skeleton of an ancient lemur-like creature), is not the fossil itself, which is interesting but hardly the breakthrough that has been reported. Rather, it is the incredible media sensationalism which has surrounded it, heralding Ida as the long lost ‘missing link.’

This claim is so far from the actual scientific facts as to be bizarre. Even the scientists who have published these findings are not advocating that this species represents a link to human primates. Such a claim is only being made as a result of irresponsible journalism that has inflated this finding to be far more than it actually is.

For a counterpoint to the current media frenzy surrounding Ida, check out this article from the Answers in Genesis.

From NZ Herald:

Experts praised the discovery for the level of detail it provided but said it was far from a breakthrough that would solve the puzzles of evolution.

About the size of a small cat, the animal has four legs and a long tail. Nobody is claiming that it's a direct ancestor of monkeys and humans, but it provides a good indication of what a long-ago ancestor may have looked like, researchers said.

This fossil was named Ida after Jorn Hurum's, six year old daughter.

My Feet Hurt.

Been there? After a long day at a zoo or amusement park? How about after a 4 day hike in the mountains? Yep, that'll do it, even if you do use trekking poles.

But mine hurt first thing in the morning in the normal course of living life in suburban Auckland. I've had orthotics in my shoes for years now, trying to combat the falling arches that may or may not come from too many years of walking trails in Africa with nothing but simple sandals.

I was told I had bone spurs. Boy, if I stepped on a stone in just the right spot on my heel, repentance was sure to be necessary after I could breath again! It might also be bursitis. Grandpa had that in his shoulder. If I'd known then what I know now, I woulda been more compassionate and careful when climbing into his chair with him.

I've had malaria where the pain came and went.
I had dysentery and tried to refuse the pain meds. The wise and experienced doctor knew I would need them in the days to come.
I've had a few surgeries, even walked around with an angry appendix for a few days before it finally crossed a threshold of pain.

Some of you have been in car crashes, or sporting clashes that felt like a car crash! Others have had vasectomies reversed, hernias repaired and other things clipped or snipped.
Some have had babies, been punched, suffered kidney stones or fallen down stairs. Some have tooth pain or eye surgery . . . . sensitive areas with nerves just waiting to come to attention.
What of cluster headaches and migraines so severe that there can be no light or sound stimulation?

My dad has managed pain for many years. A friend's mum had a major accident years ago that broke, compressed and stressed bits. She's lived with it all for years and still is so active in the community that local politicians stand when she approaches.

There are so many different kinds of pain, and effects of pain.

My dad's doctor recently told him that pain tolerance is learned or conditioned, probably not something we're born with.

It is easier to find men who will volunteer to die,
than to find those who are willing to endure pain with patience.

Julius Caesar

What can we do with pain?
How can we use it to enrich, stretch and grow us?
There is much talk of pain management. Hmm. I don't really like the sound of that.

"Tolerate it. Ignore it. Manage it."

Other pain relates to a void, a loss, an immeasurable ache that cannot be seen by the casual observer. How does such pain shape a person? I know the painful experiences of my life have shaped me; the painful times when no one else could see the pain or fear or anxiety, but it was as real to me as a paper cut or a skinned knee only far more pervasive.

Uncle Tom used to compare all injuries to a paper cut and he was not minimising the situation. They can be about as bad a pain as you'll have, like a rug burn! Painfully intense, but often not long lasting.

What about the pain that lasts, that wears you down, that impacts on your sense of humour?
What about the pain that changes your countenance so people think you are grouchy or unapproachable when in fact you are just a bit inward focused?

I know people like this.
They choose to get up each day and get on with it.
They choose to pour themselves in to their garden, or their art or their service to others.
In some ways, I hate their pain. On the other hand, I see how their pain shapes their character and makes them softer, more aware and more understanding.

As we move through our every days and mundane tasks and routines of life, let's be careful how we look at each other. What if that gruff retort really wasn't about you, but was about the fears and anxieties that person is trying their best to deal with?

What if that short clipped response, while not appropriate, was the best they could do today?
What if managing all that needs to be managed just seems a bit too hard?
Don't take things personally. Don't make assumptions. --

20 May 2009

What to read?

I had to make a big decision this week.

Okay, in the grand scheme of things . . . marriage, which country to live in, take the job or not . . . it wasn't a big decision, but a lot was riding on it.

  • What if they didn't like it?
  • What if it was hard to get?
  • What if . . .
A friend suggested I think too much. I have others friends, older friends, who used to encourage me to think more!

I was assigned the opportunity to choose our next book for book club.
We all read the same book or books and then discuss together. You've read previous blog posts here about discussion questions and how to run a book club.

Think about it . . .
You go to a huge bookstore or library and the shelves are loaded with books. SO many to choose from! I love it! Let me browse all day. All the better if they have a cafe and can make a decent cup of tea. I'll stay longer and shop more if I have sustenance.

So, which book for our upcoming meeting in early June? Hmmm.

Oh, The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Barbery looks good, but . . . no, our library ordered several in February but they aren't in yet. Uhm, how about Leonard Woolf by Glendinning? Nope, too long at 500 pages. The History of Insects looks good by Y. Roberts, but not enough copies either. People of the Book by G Brooks?
Jasmine Nights by Somtow is intriguing but again, too old to still be actively circulating. Okay, George MacDonald's Lilith? Again, no copies in library. Some things, even good books, just don't hang around forever.

I've decided on Mexican Days by Tony Cohan. I've read his previous book and enjoyed it. This one takes us deeper into the nuances of Mexico, old and new. We'll see how it goes . . . and how it goes over with the book club.

Does it matter if they like the books I read? No, not in the sense of us all having to agree. Book clubs serve to stretch us, getting us to read authors and subjects we might not have chosen on our own. But we have to hope that the majority of the people will find some benefit in each title chosen.

I was about to resort to a Louis L'Amour Western with a happy conclusion in which the good guy rides off with the happy woman on the horse behind him. But then, my friend Rachael would choose a wacky sci-fi next time and I'd be obliged to read it! See, it does matter what we choose so it doesn't come back to haunt us in future meetings!

Biography? Historical Fiction? Travel Writing? Fantasy?
Ethics? Cultural Exploration? Science Fiction? Politics?
Spiritual? General Non-Fiction?

Reader's Links: www.allreaders.com Reading Group Guides

19 May 2009

Obama at Notre Dame: Excerpts from the speech

We must decide how to save God's creation from a changing climate that threatens to destroy it. We must seek peace at a time when there are those who will stop at nothing to do us harm, and when weapons in the hands of a few can destroy the many. And we must find a way to reconcile our ever-shrinking world with its ever-growing diversity - diversity of thought, of culture and of belief.

In short, we must find a way to live together as one human family.

It is this last challenge that I'd like to talk about today. For the major threats we face in the 21st century - whether it's global recession or violent extremism, the spread of nuclear weapons or pandemic disease - do not discriminate. They do not recognize borders. They do not see color. They do not target specific ethnic groups.

Moreover, no one person, or religion, or nation can meet these challenges alone. Our very survival has never required greater cooperation and understanding among all people from all places than at this moment in history.

Unfortunately, finding that common ground - recognizing that our fates are tied up, as Dr. King said, in a "single garment of destiny" - is not easy. Part of the problem, of course, lies in the imperfections of man - our selfishness, our pride, our stubbornness, our acquisitiveness, our insecurities, our egos; all the cruelties large and small that those of us in the Christian tradition understand to be rooted in original sin. We too often seek advantage over others. We cling to outworn prejudice and fear those who are unfamiliar. Too many of us view life only through the lens of immediate self-interest and crass materialism; in which the world is necessarily a zero-sum game. The strong too often dominate the weak, and too many of those with wealth and with power find all manner of justification for their own privilege in the face of poverty and injustice. And so, for all our technology and scientific advances, we see around the globe violence and want and strife that would seem sadly familiar to those in ancient times.

. . . I said a prayer that night that I might extend the same presumption of good faith to others that the doctor had extended to me. Because when we do that - when we open our hearts and our minds to those who may not think like we do or believe what we do - that's when we discover at least the possibility of common ground.

Read the whole speech here.

There are plenty of links online for you to pursue the protests and support.
Choose your commentators carefully.

Since when was morality legislated?

How To Geocache

I often refer to geocaching, an adventure sport I've enjoyed for over a year now.
Here's an explanation from geocaching.com to tell you how to go about it. Geocaching crosses national and generational barriers and is adaptable to your physical capabilities. Some caches are drive-by's and others require climbing mountains or special scuba gear.

Geocaching (pronounced geo-cashing) is a worldwide game of hiding and seeking treasure. A geocacher can place a geocache in the world, pinpoint its location using GPS technology and then share the geocache's existence and location online. Anyone with a GPS device can then try to locate the geocache.

Finding your First Geocache

Step 1 – Research

Your outdoor geocaching adventure starts indoors with preparation and online research. Search Geocaching.com for a geocache that will meet your immediate goals and interests. Are you looking for an adventure for the entire family? Perhaps an afternoon in a dog-friendly park? Make sure that you review the cache attributes since these icons serve as a helpful resource as you select your first geocache to find.

As you select a geocache, keep in mind the following:

  1. Have you considered the difficulty and terrain ratings of the cache? We suggest choosing a 1/1 difficulty and terrain rating for your first geocache find so that you can learn how geocaches are placed. Remember, geocaches are hidden but not buried.
  2. Consult the surrounding maps of the area. Is this an urban or rural cache and how will this change your preparation? Do you have the right maps to help support you in the cache search? Road maps may be more than adequate within a city but topographical maps, which show land and water features, may be more useful elsewhere. Topographical maps will tell you what terrain you will encounter.
  3. Keep in mind that distances can be deceiving. Understand the difference between distances as the crow flies (a direct line) versus true distance of travel. You may be a mile from the cache according to you GPS device, but there may be a river or other obstacles in the way. It is up to you to find the best route to the cache, remembering to respect the environment and practice Cache In Trash Out along the way.
  4. Once you are close to the cache location, you can navigate using your GPS device. For instance, if you are in a small park, you can try to simply follow the GPS arrow. In a large park, this method may be challenging so follow the established trails as much as possible while still keeping the GPS arrow heading the general direction of the cache location.

Our experience has shown that preparation and research will vary for each cache. Many people find that they begin with the online maps to get an idea of the area, and then decide to supplement with a detailed paper map. The cache page itself is a rich source of information and may include an encrypted hint. Previous finders may have uploaded photos, or may have included clues in their online log. Be careful though; too much information may inadvertently ruin the surprise for you.

Step 2 – Safety Tips

As with any outdoor activity, it is important to be prepared. Here are a few helpful tips:

  1. Make sure to tell someone where you are going and when you intend to return. Going into a forest or remote locations without a partner is inherently dangerous. Geocaching is great fun, so think about planning a group hike with your family or friends around the geocache adventure.
  2. Pay attention to your surroundings. It is easy to focus on your GPS device and forget to look around you. (Please believe us, there is a reason why this shirt is so successful.) Being conscious as to where you are walking will not only ensure your personal safety but will also respect the environment.
  3. Pack your pack. Bring along a compass, map and extra batteries in case your GPS device fails. No matter the terrain or length of time on the trail, it is always a good idea to set out with extra clothing, food and water.
  4. Be mindful of the local environment, especially during seasonal changes. Is the area prone to poisonous plants? What about bugs or dangerous animals? Not sure of the area in which you are heading? Ask a question in the regional geocaching forums. Local geocachers are happy to help support you.

Step 3 – The Hunt

Now you are ready to find your first geocache!

  1. As you leave your car or a well-marked trail, make sure to mark its location as a waypoint! It may sound silly, but once you get focused on the cache hunt, it’s easy to get disoriented. Use the waypoint to guide you in your safe return.
  2. It should be pretty straightforward to get within a mile or so of the cache location. If you have done your research well, you should also feel good about knowing the best method of getting to the cache location. We suggest that you keep your GPS device on the entire time even if you may occasionally lose signal from overhanging trees, mountains, large concrete structures, etc.
  3. When you get close to the geocache (within 300 feet, which is the length of a football field), check your GPS device’s signal strength. Sometimes the signal will have an error between 25 - 200 feet. Concentrate more on the overall distance decreasing and less on the arrow as you get closer to the final location.
  4. The final 30 - 100 feet can be the most difficult. It helps to think like the person who hid the cache. If there are stumps around, investigate around the base. Check for an unnatural pile of rocks. Some geocaches, especially in highly populated areas, are cleverly hidden with ingenious camouflage, so it helps to know something about the container used. Is it as bigger than a shoebox or small like a film canister?

Step 4 – The Actual Find

Hurray! You found your first geocache. Congratulations! Now what?

  1. Take note of the style and method of this hide. Where did this geocache bring you? Enjoy the location.
  2. Sign the logbook with your name, the date, and a few words about your experience.
  3. If you trade for items, remember to trade for something that is of equal or greater value.
  4. Make sure to seal the cache and place it back exactly where and how you found it. If it had some rocks covering it, please replace those.
  5. Use the waypoint you created as a helpful guide for your return.
  6. When you get home, log your experience online by going back to that cache page and using the links provided. The cache owner is automatically notified of your log and is always happy to know about your adventure, the condition of their cache, and any environmental factors. Upload photos to share your experience visually with other geocachers.

Still have questions? Please reference our Getting Started page or our Resources page for additional details.

18 May 2009

Farrah Fawcett: truth?

God gave women intuition and femininity.
Used properly, the combination easily jumbles the brain of any man I've ever met.

Farrah Fawcett

Imagination to Image

"It was a bravura performance, transferring the energy of the imagination through the arm to the image. I believe the power of those has everything to do with the fact that the horizon begins and ends outside the containing sheet. A lesson learned and hopefully not forgotten: the frame might contain the mark but not the gesture."

Hamish Keith, speaking of Colin McCahon's painting in large panel format.
Native Wit, p 141.

Bio from John Leech Gallery: As an artist, McCahon was truly experimental, navigating a wide range of artistic styles over the years from regional realism and cubism to abstraction and abstract expressionism and these influences are very much represented in the group of works on display. Particularly evident is the bold formal style for which McCahon is renowned where the language of landscape is reduced to simple yet sensuous geomorphic forms found in works such as Untitled (Northland), 1962 and Untitled (Landscape), 1963. Northland became the subject of several major series - most notably the Northland Panels, 1958 which is now held in the collection of Te Papa Tongarewa Museum of New Zealand. In Untitled (Northland), 1962, the chief formal interest comes from exploiting the relationship between cloud and hill forms. Works from this period can also be seen as a precursor to such series as the Landscape Theme and Variation paintings from 1963, where the curved semi-circular hills become a recurring symbol of both the landscape and Christ.

Throughout McCahon's oeuvre there is a continual reference to the landscape which is often enlisted as a spiritual metaphor. "Once more it states my interest in landscape as a symbol of place and also for the human condition. It is not so much a portrait of a place as such but is a memory of a time and experience of a particular place ... the actual valley I saw was like a geological diagram, only overlaid with trees and farms. In my painting all this has been swept aside to uncover the structure of the land." (Colin McCahon quoted in Introducing Our New Zealand Artists: Colin McCahon, Betts and Ritchie 1985.)

Angels & Demons

Dan Brown writes fiction, not theology. I saw Angels & Demons this weekend with friends and I was underwhelmed. The fact that we were three rows from the screen made me feel a part of things, but some of it was just too far fetched to really grasp. Our average score was 4.5 out of 10, so save it for a video rental rather than an expensive night out. The book was good. Another plug for reading!

Read more from Ben Witherington

"Yes, Tom Hanks is back, and yes the plot is still filled with historical hooey (to use Tom Hanks' words), but this movie is not as deadly dull as its predecessor, in fact it has some interesting moments in it.

This one is bound to offend less because :
1 ) it doesn't suggest there was a Mrs. Mary;
2) it involves a guild of mad scientists called Illuminati who must have been cowboys as well as they kept carrying around branding irons, an interesting juxtaposition; and
3) it gives one an inside glimpse at the Vatican, even though the Vatican in actuality would not allow Opie to film there. Still Rome and its churches come alive in this film, and that's worth seeing.

This film is briskly paced and whilst it appears to set up a science and religion clash, actually the message of the film seems to be that the two can make nice, even if they aren't yet kissing cousins. The ratings on this film are only at 37% so it appears the critics are in a 'once bitten twice shy' mode after the Da Vinci Code bomb. The difference is that this movie quite literally bombs at the end, but lest I spoil the plot I will simply say this film is better than the usual summer drivel, but don't expect any Oscars coming the way of this two hour thrill ride."

Click the link above for all of Ben's opinions on this one.