Monthly Archives: September 2010

human, the storytelling animal

i just read too scared to pee – about women in nairobi’s slums for whom it is just too dangerous to go to the washroom at night.

details. it is details that make things real for us. statistics like “30% of men in a south african survey believed that women ask to be raped” are scary but they can’t grab us as much as the story of the woman who pees into a plastic bag at night because the 10-minute walk to the public latrine might get her raped. i haven’t even told a good story yet and already the imagination runs wild and questions pop up.

  • what do you mean, “public latrine”?
  • how come she doesn’t have a washroom in her house?
  • who are these animals that make her live that way?
  • i go to the washroom at least twice at night, how would i survive something like this?

it’s the same with other situations. the other day, a young woman talked about the things she has to do each morning because she has juvenile diabetes. a guy tells a story about the difficulties with finding work because as a single father, he needs to take his 6-year-old son to and from school each day; the son’s social anxiety makes it impossible for him to go to after school care. and when i was working with people with chronic pain, it was the daily details that people were talking about all the time: taking two hours each morning to get out of bed, not having the strength to make elaborate meals and therefore eating a lot of junk food, difficulty wearing shoes …

when we hear the details and the stories, we connect. why is it often so difficult to tell the stories then, when they are so crucial? and what is it that moves us when we go the other way and say, “spare me the details”? are the two connected?

what’s your experience with telling and hearing stories?

tweeting against suicide

in preparation for world suicide prevention today, i listened to some tweets. and then I listened to my heart’s response and wrote it down:

spread the word, save lives, get people talking!

yes, let’s TALK about it! who can YOU talk to about this today? and not just on world suicide prevention day.

today is world suicide prevention day. make sure everyone knows you’ll listen and that they’re important.

in a way, people kill themselves because they feel their lives have lost value, or sadder even, never had value. who can we tell today that it matters to us that they are alive?

suicide has affected our family, zero words to explain the pain. it never goes away. they shall be loved and remembered always.

who can we bless today, in silence even, who has lost a loved one? because words – words may just not do the job.

we have the power to change and reduce the stigma of suicide and mental illness, and we need people to talk about it without judgment or fear

power – i mean the power that rises strongly from within, often from a place we didn’t know could be a source. that strong, good power inside – what can you do today to nurture it?

you know what pisses me off? suicide. i am so fucking angry right now. two friends last year, and a close friend’s friend this week.

if we pretend the anger doesn’t exist, if we’re just meek and sad and ignore the fury that can come with surviving someone else’s suicide – that’s not going to help. how can we help this anger be healthy and productive?

today is world #suicide prevention day – get to know the signs, how you can help and how you can give help!

what do you know about signs of suicide?

today is world suicide prevention day. so everybody out there, before you do anything rash, just remember : somebody loves you.

somebody loves you. somebody loves you. somebody loves you. keep saying it. maybe right now you don’t believe it’s true. keep saying it anyway. hear the words. taste them. write them down and look at them. a mantra: somebody lives you. somebody loves you.

today is world suicide prevention day! please hold hands n spread the message……….let us save LIFE!!!!!

hold hands! whose hand can you hold today? who can you get just a tad closer to today?

u guys shld write the word love on ur arm because this week is suicide prevention week 🙂

love on my arm. so i don’t forget it. it’s so easy to forget. love. love. love. somebody loves me.

out of the darkness! take part, get the word out bout suicide. don’t wait to lose a best friend like i did to realize it is real.

don’t wait! death moves so fast. who have you been afraid to tell that you love them? is it time today to finally say it?

everyone wear something yellow tomorrow please! spread the word; suicide prevention <3

imagine – we all wear the clothes of life.

top parental worries: kidnapping, school snipers & terrorists. actual highest childhood risks: car accidents, homicide, abuse & suicide.

just imagine: knowledge can prevent lives. what are the assumptions and illusions that keep us away from life today?

light a candle near a window at 8pm on world suicide prevention day sept 10th

a candle in the window: you are important to me. i’ll wait for you. see the light? we’re waiting for you, to come home, to come back into the warm embrace

gay & transgender youth are 4 times more likely to attempt suicide then their straight peers.

the fear and shame and loneliness of “being other” kills. who can i call my brother today?

suicide prevention

when i was young, i thought for a long time that suicide was a normal, commonplace way for a person’s life to end. it was probably the most frequent cause of death i was familiar from friends and family. my earlier assessment was correct, at least partly – for example, among young men, suicide ranks among the most frequent causes of death. is it “normal”? actually, let’s forget about normal – it’s highly undesirable.

why do people kill themselves? it’s hard to speak of a single cause for a decision that has such a complex and painful pathway. one thing, however, is something that most of those who know about suicide agree on:

people commit suicide because they feel that’s the only way out.

and most of the time what they want a way out from is pain.

some of it is physical pain, mostly for people with chronic pain. cluster headaches, for example, have been called “suicide headaches.” chronic regional pain syndrome (crps, also known as rsd for reflex sympathetic dystrophy).

most of the pain is emotional pain, though. there are so many forms of emotional pain, for example

  • loneliness (e.g. for seniors – older men have a high suicide rate, as well)
  • shame (e.g. gambling has been referred to as the addiction with the highest suicide rate)
  • depression
  • guilt
  • unbearable emotional/mental pressure (e.g. for people with bipolar disorder or schizophrenia)

the list goes on.

to raise awareness about suicide, there is an event on september 10 in honour of world suicide prevention day. here is an announcement:

several community partners are organizing a commemorative event on world suicide prevention day at noon on friday september 10, 2010 outside of the vancouver art gallery.

every year in bc almost 500 people die by suicide – for each of those people, there are families and communities who survive them. on september 10 people around the world gather to remember loved ones who have died by suicide, to demonstrate support and compassion for families, friends and communities whose lives are touched by suicide, and to renew our commitment to learning more about suicide prevention, intervention and postvention so we can act effectively to reduce the incidence and impact of a devastating and often preventable tragedy.

we invite you to bring a pair of shoes that can be included in a display on the steps of the vancouver art gallery, commemorating people lost to suicide. after the ceremony, the shoes will be donated to lookout emergency aid society – so please only bring shoes that are serviceable.

god is community

i like to think about god when i wake up in the middle of the night. i had just finished deepak chopra’s new book on mohammed (review coming up soon). the many stories about the tribes, the complicated family relationships, the exchange with jews and christians, the interdependency with slaves – maybe that’s what made me come up with this idea: god is about community and cooperation. or maybe: god IS community and cooperation.

  • love your neighbour as you love yourself, says jesus.
  • give alms to the poor, says mohammed.
  • respect your parents, says the god of the old testament.
  • we are all one, says the buddha.
  • do not kill one living being, say they jain.
  • ren, a key concept in confucianism, is represented in chinese characters by the image of “human being” and “two”.

religions are, to a large degree, rules for living together. (i know, that’s not a new thought).

“if there were no god, it would be necessary to invent him,” voltaire said. who knows what a god is, whether god exists, and what it means for a god to exist. in my mind, these questions are often not that interesting – clearly, there are important levels at which god/gods exist.

however, i can see how it is through community and cooperation that gods could have been invented. evolutionarily, humans were desperately dependent on community and cooperation. we didn’t have the size of woolly mammoths, the adaptability of the cockroach or the fierceness of the sabre toothed tiger. huddling together, dividing labour, learning from each other as we developed tools were our only chances to survive. (banding together for raids and warfare apparently seemed like a good idea, too). building powerful rituals and stories around these communal means to survive made us stronger.

no wonder there is a god.

questions, koans

sometimes asking the right questions is what turns a problem around. and often making the questions as precise as possible is a good thing. i’m going to take the liberty of using one of raul’s posts. he asked, “why can’t i sometimes help the people i love the most?”  (by the way – read it. it’s quite moving.)

maybe that was the right question. and i wonder, how else could this have been approached?  let’s take the word “sometimes”. when it’s important to indicate that something doesn’t happen all the time, it’s a great word. on the other hand, there are situations where “sometimes” obscures what’s going on. in that case, it might be a good idea to ask something like

“why can’t i help my loved ones who have cancer?”

the good thing about rewriting a question is that it helps us see it in a different light. looked at it this way, i start to wonder, is this really a question, or is it a – a sigh perhaps, a sigh phrased as a question …

what, though, if it really is a question? in that case i’d like to know what the questioner is trying to accomplish, what the exact knowledge is that he wants to gain. in this case, i imagine that raul wants to help his loved ones who have cancer. so we could end up with this question:

“how can i help my loved ones who have cancer?”

this is a question that can be answered much easier, and can lead to action.

there are other times, though, when taking this rational approach doesn’t go anywhere useful or satisfactory.

“why can’t i get over my negative feelings about my father?” is a question someone (let’s call her perl) asked the other day. turning this into “how can i get over my negative feelings about my father?” didn’t have any effect. it was a long-standing problem that just didn’t want to go away. “what will your life look like once you’ve gotten over it?” produced only a lukewarm discussion; it just didn’t resonate, the possibility seemed too far away. “do you want to get over it?” is a question i asked quietly – it didn’t seem appropriate to ask at that particular point. so we were at a stalemate.

then we let go of reason. all we wanted was find a question …

“why can’t i get over my father?”
“why can’t i get my father?”
“why can’t i get it?”
“why can’t i let go?”
“what’s it like to let go?”
“what’s ‘let go’?”
“what’s let, what’s go?”

when we arrived at the last question, perl started laughing. it was a loud, free, happy laugh.

“it’s a koan!” she said, “i found my koan!”

the question doesn’t make much sense. but then not being able to let go of her negative feelings about her father after all these years of therapy didn’t make much sense either.

a koan goes deeper. it pierces through the shield of rationality – an important shield, one we are in great need of, but it’s not the level at which most of our life takes place. “why can’t i get over my negative feelings about my father?” it’s a mystery. so we went to a place of mystery.

what will perl do with this koan?

i don’t know.

where does a koan go?