Autism continues to be a serious problem in many families. Parents are being told, there’s nothing you can do – all your loving concern and attention simply won’t make any difference. The only solution, it seems, is a one-way ticket to an institution. Good-bye, loved ones.
Every now and then, however, a story comes along that gives hope. (See link below.) Like many other examples posted on this blog, the secret seems to be in re-imagining relationships – meeting people who are different, and learning and growing together. There is no “silver bullet,” but patient interest – and attention to what is actually happening in the moment – can make all the difference.
There is a widespread belief that aging is a process of decline, a disease, a bad thing. Participants in the Shadowpath Conversation Café at Hesperus are having a different experience. They are learning about creative elders who are saving the best for last.
For example, Shishir Lakhani will be in the hotseat on March 11. Details and registration here. (He was originally scheduled to appear on an earlier date.) Shishir is a retired entrepreneur who has spent the last ten years being a tireless advocate for the Heart And Stroke Foundation (see earlier post.) At a meeting of the Richmond Hill Historical Society, he described how the single-minded focus that is often necessary for success in a business career can have adverse effects on personal health and well-being.
Shishir’s discussion of spiritual opportunity cost really caught my attention. The relentless attention paid to external goals can undermine personal health and inner development. The business mission is etched into a person’s very being, and obscures any signals that call for a course adjustment.
In his book Phases, Dutch physician Bernard Lievegoed makes a similar case. He explains why aging is nothing to be feared, particularly if you have been spiritually active in the earlier phases of life. He describes the existential crisis that hits people who have done nothing else but chase personal success, pushing aside everything that might interfere with his career… Such people are less able to cope with the biological symptoms of aging, and are prone to much suffering as they get older.
So we’re very grateful that Shadowpath is hosting the Conversation Cafés at Hesperus. Much more than fireside chats – they are kindling new fires!
The purpose of life is to have a purpose. – Shishir Lakhani
In my previous post, I wrote about the Conversation Café at Hesperus Village. The Shadowpath team is doing a great job of bringing together creative elders from around the community and stirring the pot.
The first ingredient at the next event on Sunday February 18 is Shishir Lakhani, B.Sc. PQS DTM:
Actively retired and gratefully giving back, Shishir believes that the purpose of life is to have a life of purpose. Born in Africa (of Indian heritage), educated in England, Shishir has made a fulfilling life in Canada. Shishir has an extensive business background of over 30 years.
I’m sure that Shishir will bring lots of spice to the conversation, so come along and taste it!
Psychiatrists are highly trained specialists who play an important role in our healthcare system. Unfortunately, they sometimes hyper-focus on the technical aspects of their art, and lose touch with the human side.
Costas Tirovolas was a psychiatrist who understood this. His wife recently wrote a short piece in the Globe, describing how he always brought a human touch to his work. Although not a patient man, he learned to slow down and listen. A diverse range of interests – from Bach and Greek language studies thorough to fast cars – ensured that his life was not only about work.
In other words, by taking care of his own mental health, he was able to help others.
My mind has such wonderful qualities, and I am just beginning to feel its potential. Yet when I reflect on the images given to us by neuroscience, I am perplexed. The language of neuroscience seems totally inadequate to describe what I actually experience. I realize that the images are generated using actual data, and yet they do not co-relate in any obvious way with my own internal experiences.
The difficulty becomes even more pronounced when I experience poetry or art. The gestures and forms of my mental activity in no way relate to the spidery motifs that propagate in neuroscience imagery. Anyone who pays even cursory attention to to their own inner life will readily make the same observation.
Or will they? Are people beginning to believe that the images generated by neuroscientists are actually pictures of the brain and its activity? Will they lose interest in the unique qualities of their own thinking, and focus instead on the optimization of synapses and neural pathways?
The late Ursula Franklin, writing about cultural conformity, put it this way:
The technology of an activity defines the activity itself, and in so doing excludes the emergence of alternatives.
I have recently come across several helpful articles by psychiatrist Renato Alarcón. For instance, in this Article in Psychiatric News, he explains how cultural factors are very important in diagnosis, and says that outcomes would be much improved if psychiatrist paid more attention to them.
Taking culture into consideration enables psychiatrists to depathologize behaviors they might otherwise view as symptomatic, and to obtain a fuller picture of what patients are experiencing. Knowing patients’ traditions and beliefs may allow psychiatrists to employ culture in a psychotherapeutic role, by building rapport and collaboration.
Of course, this is easier said than done. To help shift attitudes, Dr. Alarcón helped develop the DSM-5 Cultural Formulation Interview, which helps clinicians account for the influence of culture in their clinical work, improve patient-clinician communications, and ultimately improve outcomes.
In his work, Renato Alarcón demonstrates the power of liminality – of actually meeting people. (See Key Concepts Page on this blog.)
The important thing is to understand the human entity, the patient’s background, why he or she comes to see you now but didn’t come earlier, and how he or she explains their symptoms and causes of those symptoms. The individualistic approach, a strong aspect of American life and of Western culture in general, stresses that people need to take responsibility for their own behavior. It often neglects, however, a cultural background that encourages reliance on family and friends. If psychiatrists fail to ask about cultural issues, he said, their work is incomplete.
Xavier Le Pichon – Global expert on plate tectonics and people
In a recent post, I wrote about the philosophy of disability – the practice of thinking through issues without giving privilege to able-minded or able-bodied perspective. As I begin to practise this philosophy, new horizons of learning are opening up for me (and giving me inspiration for future blog posts!)
In other words, I am beginning to appreciate the value of socio-diversity, and why it is just as critical for our survival as biodiversity. Here are quotes from two recent articles which have provided me with helpful background and context:
People began to use the word “normal” in the early 19th century. With progress in medical statistics, scientists began to figure out what “typical” species functioning was, and this gave them a standard endorsed by evolution. The typical human being was seen as a successful example of the species. Anyone who was not “normal” was a deficit – a threat to the species. This was the beginning of eugenics.
...paraphrased from an interview with Anita Silvers. Professor of Philosophy, San Francisco State (CBC Ideas podcast, minute 38)
As I knew from my own scientific experience, the weaknesses, the imperfections, the faults facilitate the evolution of a system. A system, which is too perfect, is also too rigid because it does not need to evolve…One can ask whether it is not also true of our societies. We tend to dissociate the individuals who are well adapted to our social life from those that have difficulties to follow the pace that is imposed on them by our life style. Yet a society that separates the producers from the others considered as dead weight, even as marginal or excluded individuals, is a hard society, characterized by conflicts and often by complete rejection of minorities. It is sad and pessimistic. On the contrary a society where all are well integrated has a much more adaptable structure, with a different, easier and more conciliatory mode of life. It is often happier and more optimistic.”
…Xavier Le Pichon, quoted in a blog post by Trent Gillis
United we stand, divided we fall.