Monthly Archives: September 2009

rethinking mental health

the robert wood johnson foundation has joined forces with ashoka’s changemakers to launch “rethinking mental health: improving community wellbeing”, a competition for new ideas and practices that challenge the status quo in terms of how we think about and address mental health care needs.

the foundation invites you to join this important conversation and put forward your ideas on how individuals, families, and communities can move past narrow perceptions of mental health and expand their involvement in finding solutions. 10 ideas will be selected by a panel of expert judges and put forward for a community vote. the three ideas with the most votes will each receive a cash prize of $5,000.

you can join the effort by:

1.      visiting the website and commenting on entries from others like you who are deeply concerned about this very important issue and want to get involved;
2.      entering the competition and sharing your ideas for improving mental health with the world;
3.      helping spread the word about the competition through blogging or social media;
4.      nominate an inspired idea or project.

entries and comments can be submitted until october 14th.  a panel of judges will then select 10 ideas that the changemakers community will vote on to select the top three. the changemakers collaborative competition winners – the three finalists that receive the most votes – will be announced on december 16, 2009 and will each receive a cash prize of usd $5,000. as important as the three winners, however, is the dialogue that occurs about mental health and that as many great minds as possible come to the table with fresh thinking and new solutions.

(the information on this was passed on to me by my blogging friend alison bergblum-johnson, who helps people write about mental health)

what poem opens your heart?

after the post on happy questions last friday, i decided to ask some happy questions on twitter and it was a wonderful weekend conversation. you can find most of it by searching for #happyquestion on twitter. one of the questions was inspired by qrystal, one of the first people i ever followed on twitter (it seems so long ago now! a whole 2 ½ years!) qrystal, like i, likes poetry, so after reading one of hers i decided to ask

what poem opens your heart?

i`d like to share with you some of the responses i received:

wallace stevens’s “mozart, 1935”

rainer maria rilke`s duino elegies

w.s. merwin the rain in the trees (he reads a bit of it here in the youtube video)

leonard cohen: love itself

pablo neruda: sonnet xvii

the precious treasury of the basic space of phenomena by lonchen rabjam

clearing in the woods by l.e. sissman

sonnets to orpheus by rainer maria rilke

rudyard kipling`s if

poems by rumi

dr. seuss’s lorax (that was mine)

mary oliver`s the journey is the one i`m reprinting here:

the journey

one day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
kept shouting
their bad advice–
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
“mend my life!”
each voice cried.
but you didn’t stop.
you knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations,
though their melancholy
was terrible.
it was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
but little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do–
determined to save
the only life you could save.

what poem opens your heart?

10 happy questions

as you know, questions have a special place in my heart (see this post on encouraging questions, for example.)

as i was preparing for a little workshop i facilitated today on solution focused coaching and counselling, i realized that my first discovery of the power of questions was not back in 1999, when i first really learned about the various delightful forms of brief therapy (solution focused brief therapy being one of them) but back in 1991, when i was studying to become a TRAGER® practitioner. TRAGER® is a form of bodywork that, among other things, asks gentle, curious, open questions about delightful possibilities we carry in our minds, hearts and bodies.

we gently shake out our hands, feel the weight, and ask: what could be lighter?

we let our arms hang down loosely and ask our shoulder joints: what could be freer?

we let our legs dangle from a massage table, allowing the calf muscles to relax and ask: what could be softer?

this shows that meaningful questions can be useful not only in one-on-one therapy, with the therapist posing the questions. they can have an important place even if we ask them of ourselves. in fact, questions like these are designed to bring us joy simply by asking them, without regard to what the reply might be.

other example of such happy questions are

  1. what puts a smile on my face?
  2. what feels good on my fingertips?
  3. what’s the beauty in this?
  4. what opens my heart?
  5. how does this delight me?
  6. what’s the song that makes my heart dance?
  7. what feels silky/cool/warm [whatever your favourite sensation is]?
  8. where in my body do i feel god/the creator/the universe right now?
  9. who do i love with all my heart?
  10. what does happiness look like?

what happy questions do you have?

(post script on october 19 – there is a fabulous companion post about this topic on joanna young’s blog – coaching questions of the season)


early this year, i discovered haibun (through a blog whose name i forgot, unfortunately).   it is a japanese form of writing which can but does not have to have all the following characteristics:

  • contains one or two haiku
  • tends to focus on everyday experience
  • somewhere between 100 and 300 words
  • descriptive
  • terse, poetic prose
  • slightly ironic
  • sensory impressions
  • sparse or no philosophical comment
  • more showing than telling
  • written in the present tense

more about haibun here.

this is the first haibun i wrote, when i was in hawaii.

inside, a fan brings cool breeze-air. outside, a slight wind does the trick, born on kealaloloa where the windmills live. the stark red ginger blossoms by the bamboo gate move slowly against their heavy leaves.

the writer sits inside, putting together words about air here and there, the world flowing through brain and fingers. this writer could also be outside, feet on the warm pavement, arms moving now in the sun, now in the shade. tickled by a gecko scrabbling over a wall, a dragonfly disappearing into the banana tree by the koi pond.

the writer still sits in the deep arm chair, connected to energy brought by a thin, black cord hiding its prongs in the north side of a stucco house.

the nene bird sings
songs i do not know. far gone
are the cloudy hills.

image by the shane


invisible illnesses are, by definition, not seen. there are two parts to this: the (un)seen, and the (non)seer. i’m not sure that invisible illnesses are in fact invisible.

the man with chronic pain sits on his bed at 3:00 am, a gun in his mouth, ready to pull the trigger. he makes sure his wife doesn’t see it. but it is a reality that can be seen; in some/many/most cases a reality that exists because insufficient effort has been made by the medical profession to see his pain and suffering. ask anyone working in palliative care or a hospice (and, surprisingly enough, sometimes also in sports medicine): in many cases, if you experiment long enough, a combination of drug cocktails, complimentary approaches and human(e) caring out can be found that will bring adequate relief of the horrible experience of excruciating pain.

the woman who keeps going back to the casino covers her tracks; she doesn’t want her co-workers to know how deeply she is in debt, and she is horrified at her mother finding out what she’s done with the money that aunt judy left her. but there she is, look: at the table, throwing in one chip after the other. yesterday she won $6,000! she just knows it will happen again, maybe tonight, for sure tonight! at a deeper level, she feels she is doomed, is always a few minutes away from enrolling in the voluntary exclusion program but somehow is afraid to do it. and we, we know she, or someone like her, is there, right now, this minute. she, too, is at a high risk for suicide. we know it, and therefore we can see it. even if we suspect it – maybe we are one of her coworkers – we can see it, just a bit. we don’t always need a 100-watt light bulb to tell a horse from a dragon.

the old man whose wife died a few months ago is sitting in front of the TV. his children are busy somewhere at the other side of the country, and the dog passed away a year ago. he stares at the moving images in front of him but doesn’t see them. he knows there’s a world out there but he perceives no place for him there anymore. no-one needs him. he sees no more point in talking, cooking, or brushing his teeth. his curtains are drawn; no-one can look in; depression is about to take him over completely. but there are still stories inside of him, experiences, wisdom. they can be seen by those who take the trouble to listen to him to hear him.

in invisible illness, there are things that are hard to see; it’s not easy to directly point at experiences like pain, addiction or depression. but there are also things that are hidden by the person with the illness because of shame, hopelessness, or because of the many times an attempt was made to show what’s going on but no-one seemed to care. and there are things that are not seen not because they absolutely cannot be perceived but because we don’t look and don’t listen.

that can be changed.

(this post was written in honour of invisible illness awareness week, september 14 to 20, 2009)

soul music from a piano’s underbelly

soft, these sounds
steal again into my heart.
how’d he do it?
he played on the piano
like he knew all about our souls.

this is a little tanka – a short japanese poem – i wrote after listening to the CD of the wonderful sounds craig addy created when my friend and soulmate haedy were lying under the piano.

yes, under the piano.

one day, craig was kissed by his muse and he set out to design a little world under his baby grand. satiny cushions, soft blankets and inspiring colours created a womb of wonder under a firmament of melody and gentle rhythm that craig carried into our minds, hearts and bodies through the wood and metal of the piano’s underbelly. “touch the piano,” craig encouraged us, “you’ll experience the sound in a completely new way.” and we did, and it was true. the music came to us from everywhere – our fingertips, our backs that touched the vibrating floor, the air, our souls.

our souls – that was the deepest part. “how’d he do it?” i said in the tanka. i don’t know. does he know? maybe he’ll tell us. we had a very short conversation beforehand, nothing particularly personal. craig knows me a little; he didn’t know haedy. but then he sat down on the piano and he captured – i don’t know what. even the word essence doesn’t get to the heart of it. he captured who haedy was, who i was, he captured our relationship, our story, where we were at the moment, where we had been, where we might go. we lay there, held hands, listened, and cried. we were transported yet we were intensely there. haedy, who has stage four cancer and is in constant pain, was released from her aches for a while. i had intense memories of lying under my grandparents’ piano. craig, letting his hands go where they would, played music that nurtured us and understood and held us.

craig recorded the music and we were able to purchase the CD afterwards. it is my favourite CD right now. would you like to listen to some of it? go here to craig’s blog and let yourself be transported …