Monthly Archives: September 2010

deepak chopra’s “muhammad”

Rare leaf of the Quran

deepak chopra’s new book about the prophet muhammad is unusual. there is a certain rawness and roughness to it that i have not seen in chopra’s books before. as i was reading it, i felt a strange insistence on the part of chopra – not an insistence that the content of the book or islam or the story of the prophet were “true” or “right”, but an insistence on the importance of muhammad’s story. “you gotta know about this!” chopra seemed to be urging, “you can’t really understand the world or your history if you don’t know muhammad’s story.”

perhaps this feeling of insistence comes from the book’s structure. while all events unfold chronologically, each one of muhammad’s 19 chapters is told from a different perspective, by a different player in the prophet’s life. only some of the voices are pious, like bashira the hermit, who is visited by a young muhammad and who foresees his importance, mulling over a mysterious sentence he had found scribbled on a few old bible pages: “when the sun’s face is hidden, god will bring his last prophet.”

chopra brings out the chaos of religions and cultures in muhammad’s arabia of 1,400 years ago. christians and jews and a multitude of deities surround muhammad everywhere he goes and like his forefathers, he tries to carve some sort of sense into this jungle of ideas and beliefs by adhering to the idea of one god. against the very pragmatic religious stance that the constantly bickering tribes around him take, this proves quite absurd and unrealistic but muhammad quietly persists in his belief. the people in his world grudgingly allow this persistence because early on, he demonstrates a wisdom and calm beyond his years – and he is wealthy. in his twenties, he marries khadijah, a rich widow much older than he. this union is a linchpin in his worldly and spiritual success.

the different voices surround muhammad like a spiral. many of them are from people on the margins – a beggar, a slave, a nameless jewish scribe, a prostitute. khadijah does not have a turn at her version of the events until chapter 8 – in the beginning, the spiral feels loose; the more the book moves on, the closer the spiral draws; more and more weighty voices show up, the story becomes heavier, sadder, louder. before his enlightenment by an angel who demands he “recite” (literally: “koran”), the narrative drifts a bit. following this, part three of the book is entitled “the warrior of god” where muhammad brooks no more nonsense. muhammad introduces the idea of the jihad – the holy war – and becomes an influential warlord. muhammad clearly prefers peace over war, but he also prefers his people’s and his god’s survival over peace. towards the end, chopra portrays muhammad’s terrible and wonderful greatness. after muhammad decides to kill his prisoners of war, a friend of his, after a difficult conversation about this decision, concludes:

i listened. i understood. i accepted … the prophet has become his revelations. he sees beyond life and death, and his mind cares only to be part of god’s mind.

muhammad is a novel, explains chopra. not all of what he relates is historically accurate. and

i didn’t write this book to make muhammad holy. i wrote it to show that holiness was just as confusing, terrifying, and exalting in the seventh century as it would be today. …

among all the founders of the great world religions, muhammad is the most like us. …

the most remarkable fact about muhammad is that he was so much like us, until destiny provided one of the greatest shocks in history …

the message he brought wasn’t pure; it never is. as long as our yearning for god exceeds our ability to live in holiness, the tangled mysteries of the prophet will be our own mystery too.

changes at change therapy: expectations and silence

Bridge Over Some Water
where does this go?

those of you who have been here often may have noticed that i’ve become somewhat quiet lately. here’s why.

i’m trying to revamp my life a bit. bringing some things to a close, shedding others – basically making room for something new. what that new thing is, i don’t know (i guess that’s why it’s a “something”). i also am experiencing a time when i often don’t have a lot of energy.

trying to post less on this blog has been an interesting experience. writing these regular entries here has mostly been very positive – it’s honed my ability to quickly throw down a few words on a topic in such a way as to express myself at least somewhat clearly. it’s given me a structure to write on a very regular basis. perhaps most of all, it’s connected me to YOU – a wide variety of interesting and insightful people.

so why would i slow down when it’s such a great thing? i guess it’s what is sometimes referred to as a “luxury problem”: too much of a good thing is still too much. in fact, it may not be the writing and connecting in itself that is too much but the expectations i have around it. must post at least 4 times a week. must answer comments. etc. i’d like to experiment with wrenching myself away from these expectations and see what happens. probably some of them are good expectations (like answering comments). others might not be so useful.

the other thing that has been rattling around in my head lately, more than usual, is the whole concept of “improving on silence.” is what i am saying really that important? is the world truly a better place for me adding my voice to the 15 thousand gazillion voices already out there? i need some time to think about this.

i’m not planning to abandon this blog at all. however, i’d like to relax on how often i post, and maybe also on what i post. i’d like to stop or at least put on hold the construction project of building the ego-gratifying self image of “isabella mori the blogger.”

so let’s see what happens …

writers festival

here are some of the events i’m considering going to at vancouver’s annual writers festival.

33 old friends

linwood barclay


gail bowen


quintin jardine

united kingdom

host: the honourable larry w. campbell
thu, oct 21, 8:00pm
revue stage
$19.00 (buy tickets online)

one of the draws for aficionados of crime fiction is the recurring character who must solve a crime at the same time as his or her life is moving on. from book to book, readers get a chance to live with these characters as they develop, face challenges and age, just like the rest of us. pi joanne kilbourn, chief constable bob skinner and zack walker are three such characters, and their creators take the stage to talk about how they came to life, how they are shaped and moulded in each new novel, and maybe, just maybe, what’s to become of them.

35 dark end of the street

sandra birdsell


michael helm


mauricio segura


russell wangersky


michael winter


host: genni gunn
thu, oct 21, 8:00pm
waterfront theatre
$19.00 (buy tickets online)

five authors each shine a light on the events, relationships and communities that exist in the darker parts of our cities and society. from immigrants trying to find their place, to murder on a snowy night, to a couple on the lam in a walmart parking lot, to assault in a unlit urban corner, these are novels that show readers environments, circumstances and psyches that we might not normally encounter. and isn’t that one of the reasons, after all, that fiction holds such appeal? there’s vibrancy and intrigue outside the circle of the street lamp, and these writers take us to the dark end of our streets.

36 an intimate evening with david grossman

david grossman


presenter: kathryn gretsinger
thu, oct 21, 8:00pm
ptc studio
$25.00 (buy tickets online)

renowned israeli writer david grossman began to the end of the land in 2003, when his eldest son was about to be released from military service and his youngest was on the cusp of being drafted. grossman had a wish that the book he was writing would protect his youngest son. but in 2006, during the last hours of the second lebanon war, his son was killed. astoundingly, he returned to writing the book and finished what is being called “one of the great anti-war novels of our time”. this is a special opportunity to hear from a great novelist who has experienced violence in the middle east in a most palpable way and yet continues to advocate compassion and reconciliation.

55 american splendour

anthony doerr

united states

paul harding

united states

yiyun li

united states

marisa silver

united states

wells tower

united states

host: jerry wasserman
sat, oct 23, 2:00pm
performance works
$17.00 (buy tickets online)

step aside, fitzgerald and hemingway! here they come. this afternoon we introduce you to the next generation of american writers who are taking the literary world by storm. paul harding has just won the 2010 pulitzer prize for fiction, yiyun li and wells tower were named as two of the new yorker‘s 20 best american authors under 40. anthony doerr was named by granta as one of the 21 best young american authors and marisa silver has been included in the best american short stories and the o. henry prize stories. we are delighted to present these american voices from whom you will hear a lot more in the coming years.

this event is sponsored by simon & schuster canada.

59 polyphony

eleanor catton

new zealand

genni gunn

british columbia

michael helm


kathy page

british columbia

adam lewis schroeder

british columbia

mauricio segura


marisa silver

united states

host: paul grant
sat, oct 23, 8:00pm
waterfront theatre
$19.00 (buy tickets online)

settle back this evening to hear seven fine writers read from their new works. there’s more than enough in store tonight to get you fired up on some riveting fiction by authors whose books may not have made it into your hands yet. let these voices transport you to italy and vietnam.  get swept up in an extraordinary adventure to a remote area of british columbia and thrown into the fray of two street gangs divided by race. be turned around by the chaos of a high-school sex scandal and flung deep into the turmoil caused by an attack on a dark street.  in other words, go places you’ve never been, feel things you’ve never felt, and come out changed.

68 an intimate afternoon with david mitchell

david mitchell

united kingdom

sat, oct 23, 5:00pm
waterfront theatre
$25 (buy tickets online)

david mitchell has been called many things, all of them enviable. according to dave eggers, mitchell is “one of the more fearless and fascinating writers alive.” charles foran declares him “the most gifted of his generation of novelists.” of his five novels, two have been shortlisted for the mann booker prize. he is perhaps best known for his mind-altering modern classic cloud atlas, which was shortlisted for the man booker prize and sold in the neighbourhood of a million copies worldwide. mitchell joins us this evening with a new masterpiece, the thousand autumns of jacob de zoet, which follows a dutch accountant’s adventures in feudal japan. in the hands of this formidably talented writer, this is no ordinary tale, and this will be no ordinary evening.

this event is sponsored by random house of canada.


tomorrow is the international day of peace. to that aim, here’s a video of an interview between ram dass and thich nhat hanh – i’ve actually showed it before but i just have to present it again, it’s so important.

want some more peace talk? on this blog, there are 128 posts with the word “peace” in it. a few of them:

nagasaki: taking refuge in peace
international day of peace
thanksgiving, peace, metta
twitter peace, shalom, salaam and the salvation army
peaceful communication: problems and solutions
sunday inspiration: peace for afghanistan
organizational leadership, empowerment and sustainable peace
peace, conflict and chaos

am i my body? my feelings? musings on identity and focusing

lately, my three-year-old grandson is quite interested in the whole concept of identity and relationships.

“what’s your mom’s name?” “mommy!”

“who’s that?” “that’s callan. he’s my sister. jaden is my friend.”

“grandma, who’s that in the picture?” “the father.” “what’s his name?” “i don’t know. jack, maybe?” “no, that’s not jack.” “michael?” “no, not michael.” “is his name gordon?” “noooo! not gordon!” (that went on for 10 minutes, to ever-increasing amusement)

and the most interesting one:

i poke him in the belly. he giggles.
me: “who’s that?”
him: “that’s my belly!”
me: “that’s fabian!”
him: “no, that’s not fabian. i’m fabian!”

he’s not his belly. that’s something i’ve been thinking about quite a bit these last few months. to what degree am i my body? my mind? my soul? my ideal version is that it’s all me. i am my mind and my toenail. but it’s so easy to split it all off, and especially from the body. when i say “my feelings” there is a different connotation, a different implication, a different understanding from when i say “my knee”. there is a tacit understanding, often, that i am indeed my feelings but my knee is something that is owned by me, subservient to me. which of course raises the question of who “me” is (that’s material for another post; suffice to say that i quite like what matthew says here, informed by buddhist thich nhat hanh).

these thoughts about identity come to the fore even more now that i am taking a course in focusing. part of this is to go inside and acknowledge/describe a “felt sense” – processes, feelings or sensations that are experienced in the body. a suggestion in focusing is to describe such a sense like in this example:

i notice there is something that feels sad.

what’s curious is how my body reacted to that distancing. there are a number of layers: “i notice”, “there”, “something that …”; even “feels.” it is very different from

i am sad.

my body didn’t like the distancing.  the challenge i see before me is to use the various distances, rather than judge them. i know how very useful it can be for my clients to distance themselves from their feelings, to contemplate the possibility that they are not their feelings, and/or that they are not dominated by their feelings. if that can be useful for them, then clearly i might find some use for it as well.

fortunately, one of the core philosophies of focusing is that wherever the focusser wants to go is right. so there is not party line for me to tow; i don’t HAVE to use the distancing, i CAN use it. that makes me much more amenable to playing with it …

why being canadian makes us sick

today was the annual general meeting of the canadian mental health association. our speaker was dr. paul kershaw.  from his intro:

kershaw is an academic, public speaker and media contributor. he is one of canada’s leading thinkers about care-giving and family policy, receiving two national prizes from the canadian political science association for his research.

dubbed by some an ‘evangelist professor’, kershaw uses research to be a cheer-leader and critic of canadians with the intention of inspiring substantial policy change across the country. to this end, kershaw devotes time to liaise with leaders in government, the business community, the not-for-profit sector, and the academy.

kershaw does not shy away from tough issues. on radio he has been labeled a “boomer-hater” because he speaks about intergenerational inequities between baby boomers and the generations that follow. as a proud feminist, he chides the personal and policy decisions by which many men evade their fair share of care-giving work, and fail to enjoy a fair share of the joys that come with caring. among the general public, he argues that ‘being canadian’ is making us sick, because the medical system in which we take national pride shows more of a disease fetish than an aspiration to promote health. at the university of british columbia, in the college for interdisciplinary studies, kershaw is the human early learning partnership (HELP) scholar of social care, citizenship and the determinants of health.

here are my notes from his talk:

how many children come to school ready to learn? 70%. that sounds like a good number. but what if you turn it around?

30% of children come to our schools vulnerable (don’t meet age appropriate benchmarks – e.g. not fully developed re fine and gross motor skills, playing with peers, following simple instructions, etc.)

why should that worry us?

we are most sensitive to our environments in the early years. what happens in the early years sets the tone for the rest of the life.

statistically speaking, those who are vulnerable in kindergarten tend to have more problems with teenage diabetes, mental health, coronary heart disease, elevated blood pressure, premature aging, etc.

what are the fundamental failings in canada when it comes to looking after our youngest citizens?


poverty 1: families are strapped for time – “i’ll compromise my time in the domestic area” work-life conflict – BC has the highest rate of work life tension
poverty 2 – service poverty (lack of social services)
poverty 3 – income poverty – we have the highest rates of poverty among children

5 reasons why we fail our next generations

1 – our perceptions don’t reflect reality
2 – lack of gender equality
3 – we have other policy priorities
4 – we have a disease fetish
5 – we are a boomer centric society

1 – misperceptions

  • canadian perceptions of reality are not reflective of actual reality
  • “do you knw what share of kids reach our school system vulnerable?” 82% of BCers underestimate how vulnerable we are
  • 86% thought we’re more generous to address these problems than we are

2 – lack of gender equality

  • we are at the bottom of OECD countries re family policy and gender equality
  • gender equality and family policy go together
  • we used to be #13, now #30
  • in 2001 we had a ministry for women’s quality, now we have no ministerial representation whatsoever
  • quebec is the only place with a good family policy because they want to breed more quebecois

3 – we have other priorities

  • 45% of our budget allocated to things medical
  • social service spending has contracted
  • health care is consuming an ever growing share of the budget, mostly because the budget overall has shrunk
  • social service spending used to be 18%, then 15% just before recession, now even less – 500 dollar less per person now

4 – we have a disease fetish

  • a mismatch between how we devote our public spending and how we spend on children
  • spending increases as we get older despite the fact that it would have the most impact if it was spent on children
  • this reflects that when someone gets sick we want to be there
  • we are lousy at prevention
  • but what do we owe ourselves in this society?
  • another example: we spend millions to save the lives of preterm babies but spend nothing on things like food for 5-year-olds
  • do we want to be dominated by disease or by health?

5 – we are baby boomer centric

  • this creates intergenerational tensions
  • politicians are baby boomers, they want to spend money on what concerns their age group
  • we can tackle children’s problems in a 5-year period (different from, say, environment, which takes much longer)
  • but baby boomers are aging so that’s what they pay attention to
  • we are also worried about pensions. but we are doing well with pensions and we’re not ranking well at all when it comes to children.

what do we need to do?

  • we need to think about health promotion differently. we need to address time, service and income poverty. improve parental leave system. why 40-45 hours a week for both parents? typical canadian works 300 more hours than the typical dutch person; netherlands and scandinavians do much more for children
  • need to increase welfare by 50%, and need to think about tax policies for the working poor
  • service poverty – need access to monthly parenting support and health check in. too spotty right now.
  • after kids are 18 months, needearly learning and care services. THAT is a major health promotion policy.

this is not inexpensive, a good 3 billion dollars a year. where to find the money?

1 – we HAVE found an extra bunch of money before, for increased health services
2 – if you’re patient, prevention early on has HUGE economic payback once they hit the labour market. we can predict the quality of our labour supply. with increased child health, we can increase economic growth by 25% – enough to pay down entire debt before these kids reach retirement