I hate to admit not knowing an English language word, or compound word, such as is counterfactual.  When I first read it, on an Instagram posting by miriamlewis34575 this morning, I didn’t believe it was a real word, but quickly realized that the word makes perfect sense, and describes something that otherwise wouldn’t have a simple noun to encapsulate it.  So, getting beyond the fact that I didn’t have a clue about what it meant, I immediately sought out a definition that I could work with in the course of the conversation with this person.

close up of chess pieces

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If only I had known the meaning of the word before chatting with Miriam, I might have appeared to actually know what I am talking about, instead of being caught off guard. I might not have looked like a complete and utter ignoramus to this erudite young woman. 

And that’s the point.  Counterfactual actually means projecting alternatives to what might have happened if such and such occurs in reality.  If I’d only done this or that…

What a useful concept.

It seems to me that what it describes is a condition commonly experienced by EVERYBODY on the planet, and is often responsible for the most negative or positive interpretations of events that occur in people’s lives.  Not the events themselves, but how we feel about them, how we cope with the actual events by reinterpreting them in terms that make sense out of otherwise potentially random and senseless events.

Unfortunately, a lot of the time, the interpretation we give an event or series of events is far more emotionally damaging than justified by the events themselves.

“If only I hadn’t been five minutes late for the exam, and failed to get into law school, my entire life would have been completely different.”  Of course, rationally a person knows that such counterfactual thinking is somewhat dangerous to your forward progress in life.  It makes excuses instead of inspiring more efforts.  At least sometimes.

In my own experience most of my regrets come from counterfactual thinking, often leading me into emotional downturns, and wasted upset, often over things not in my control.  Counterfactual thinking can ultimately be disabling, freezing me in my tracks and preventing positive planning to overcome a bad situation.

man in blue and brown plaid dress shirt touching his hair

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Of course, that refers to Negative Counterfactual thinking rather than Positive.  But Positive Counterfactual thinking can also have negative consequences, if it causes me to fail to recognize that the unfortunate events which occurred were the result of a series of decisions well within my control, but which I chose to avoid dealing with in time to deal with the actual consequences.  It suggests that in those situations I may fail to change my future behavior as a result of learning from my own mistakes.

I don’t think that anyone can avoid counterfactual thinking.  It’s basic human nature. But we can be analytical and rational in our interpretation of our own feelings, and thereby perhaps improve our long term outcomes.

 

Whenever religion is used to suggest that there is a certainty: about the nature of God, if any; the nature of humanity, as if knowable; morality, if unconnected to pertinent circumstances, then religion is dangerous because of instead of generating genuine reflection and a healthy quest for more information and spiritual growth, it postulates that everything is already known and not worthy of our intellect, our compassion, or our investigation.

The world’s great religions are aligned with the journey of discovery, the mystery of spiritual enlightenment, and the challenge of learning ethical conduct for all human beings.

It is not religions that fail, it’s religious people who seize upon an imperfect understanding of faith, and seek to impose it on themselves and all others.

This is as true of fundamentalist atheists as it is of Jihadists of all other descriptions. To assume that one person actually knows the true nature of the universe, including the total certainty that there can be no God or universal consciousness of any kind is as religious as an absolute faith in any other religion and is just as dangerous as fanatically believing in any other cant.

I noticed a year or two ago that at least as many of the people I consider important in my life are no longer with me, as there are living people,  that is, they have died.  It’s probably quite normal for someone of my age (I’m sixty-five in June) but I find it totally frustrating.  One, I don’t make friends easily.  Two, I hate losing anyone that I have since people are so hard to replace.  Three, they’re not exactly replaceable anyway and in the course of missing them I realized that I don’t want to replace them, can’t replace them and sincerely just wish that people I love would just stop doing it.

I can see a day coming when I myself will die, and then I’ll truly be without any friends and loved ones at all.  Mind you, I probably won’t notice since I’ll be dead.  Unless my younger sister is right, and she’ll be there waiting for me on the other side with her amazing smile.

My sister Judith has always been morally opposed to death and dying, she simply won’t have it!  Mind you, she’s not been all that successful at preventing it, but who knows, maybe her attitude has forced some of her loved ones to postpone it for a year or two anyway.  Maybe.   Hmmm… Maybe not.

Goodbye Kathryn.  I’m really going to miss you.  Well, at least for now.

A couple of suggestions and questions.

  1. Don’t smoke
  2. If you smoke, quit!
  3. If you quit and still get COPD, what the hell do you do then?

Donald B Wilson 1959-60 a

I’m not exactly in the best physical condition, considering everything.  I’m a type two diabetic, dependent on insulin.  I’m way too heavy, as my lifelong personal physician put in my chart – obese! She was far too polite to say that out loud to me, so I found out only after she retired and sent me a copy of the charts for my next doctor to see.

Up until 12 years ago I was a heavy smoker, having nearly started in the cradle, with both parents chain smoking my whole childhood.  I stole my first smoke from my mom before going to elementary school!  By the time I was ten I was smoking pretty regularly, and spent high school pretty much hanging out in the smoke pit with the other addicts.  Both parents scolded me for smoking, but then doing what you do rather than what you say does not give parents a whole lot of credibility.  None, actually!

Still, although it might have been their fault that I started smoking, they didn’t hold the stick in my mouth, and force me to smoke for the next forty years.  That was my own doing, and there’s no getting around the fact that I smoked a lot! for a long time! and didn’t really think about the consequences much.

Actually that’s not true.  In my periodic journals and diaries over those years, I remember bitching and complaining about how much damage I was doing to myself by smoking, despite hating what it might doing to me long term, I still kept on smoking.  I was totally resistant to all efforts made to get me to quit.

I did try from time to time.  Once, in my forties I stopped smoking for almost a whole year, before giving in to the filthy habit. So I guess I did know how harmful it might be to me in the future.  And eventually I did quit.  Twelve years ago next January.  It wasn’t easy.  In truth I might still be smoking if I hadn’t ended up in hospital for near a month as a result of blocked colon surgery.

Part of quitting was about trying to be a better example of a human being to my grandchildren than I had been to my own children growing up.  Twelve years ago I didn’t have any grandchildren, yet, but I was encouraged by believing that it would be better if they never saw me smoking at all.

I really hoped that by quitting when I did that I would avoid the worst consequences of smoking, such as COPD or lung cancer.

Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) is an umbrella term used to describe progressive lung diseases including emphysema, chronic bronchitis, refractory (non-reversible) asthma, and some forms of bronchiectasis. This disease is characterized by increasing breathlessness.

Well, I hate to say it, but so sad, too bad.  I have COPD, having pretty much avoided it until I caught pneumonia in August 2016 which triggered it, with severe breathlessness and a pretty severe and sudden restriction in my lifestyle.  The following list of things I could do comes from the Mayo Clinic website:

Lung therapies

Doctors often use these additional therapies for people with moderate or severe COPD:

  • Oxygen therapy. If there isn’t enough oxygen in your blood, you may need supplemental oxygen. There are several devices to deliver oxygen to your lungs, including lightweight, portable units that you can take with you to run errands and get around town.

    Some people with COPD use oxygen only during activities or while sleeping. Others use oxygen all the time. Oxygen therapy can improve quality of life and is the only COPD therapy proven to extend life. Talk to your doctor about your needs and options.

  • Pulmonary rehabilitation program. These programs generally combine education, exercise training, nutrition advice and counseling. You’ll work with a variety of specialists, who can tailor your rehabilitation program to meet your needs.

    Pulmonary rehabilitation may shorten hospitalizations, increase your ability to participate in everyday activities and improve your quality of life. Talk to your doctor about referral to a program.

Lifestyle and home remedies

If you have COPD, you can take steps to feel better and slow the damage to your lungs:

  • Control your breathing. Talk to your doctor or respiratory therapist about techniques for breathing more efficiently throughout the day. Also be sure to discuss breathing positions and relaxation techniques that you can use when you’re short of breath.
  • Clear your airways. With COPD, mucus tends to collect in your air passages and can be difficult to clear. Controlled coughing, drinking plenty of water and using a humidifier may help.
  • Exercise regularly. It may seem difficult to exercise when you have trouble breathing, but regular exercise can improve your overall strength and endurance and strengthen your respiratory muscles. Discuss with your doctor which activities are appropriate for you.
  • Eat healthy foods. A healthy diet can help you maintain your strength. If you’re underweight, your doctor may recommend nutritional supplements. If you’re overweight, losing weight can significantly help your breathing, especially during times of exertion.
  • Avoid smoke and air pollution. In addition to quitting smoking, it’s important to avoid places where others smoke. Secondhand smoke may contribute to further lung damage. Other types of air pollution also can irritate your lungs.
  • See your doctor regularly. Stick to your appointment schedule, even if you’re feeling fine. It’s important to steadily monitor your lung function. And be sure to get your annual flu vaccine in the fall to help prevent infections that can worsen your COPD. Ask your doctor when you need the pneumococcal vaccine. Let your doctor know if you have worsening symptoms or you notice signs of infection.

https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/copd/diagnosis-treatment/drc-20353685

It might seem obvious that I need to change my habits, if I’m going to improve the quality of the rest of my life.

Dr. Tsang, my pulmonary specialist, referred me to the Fraser Health Respiratory Rehabilitation and Education Program at the Physiotherapy Department at  Langley Memorial Hospital close to where I live.

It is a six week Pulmonary rehabilitation program pretty much as described in the Mayo Clinic Internet website.  A rehabilitation respiratory counselor provided lessons and counselling, and worked with a physiotherapist and dietitian to provide useful information.  The classes (my class had five COPD students) run for about three hours twice a week, and for me personally, were extremely useful.

There is really two different types of learning that goes on in the classes, both of which are useful but one of which is essential if a person really wants to get the benefits of the information provided in the handouts and lectures.

All the materials presented are readily available on the internet or at your Public Library.  You could find them yourself, read them, and then do what is recommended.  You’d think that as a adults we could do that, and save everybody a lot of money in providing these classes.  Hell no!  Because information without reinforcement and actual exercises is only a small part of the learning process.  In some ways the biggest thing I learned in the program was how to let go of my fears, anxieties and panic, when experiencing extreme shortness of breath.

It’s no party, not being able to breathe freely.  In fact, its terrifying when you discover yourself unable to catch your breath any time your do any exercise at all.  For me, even walking up a flight of stairs seemed beyond what I was able to do.  I thought I was going to die, and the more afraid I became, the more difficult I found it to catch my breath.

The doctor told me that it wouldn’t likely kill me to breath, no matter how short of breath I am.  Her advice was helpful, although I’m not sure I actually believed her when she told me.

What was more useful was sharing the experiences of the other students within the context of the classes, where we were encouraged to stretch ourselves and learn to manage our boundaries while improving our cardio vascular  health.  We walked, biked and did stretching exercise as a group, with the instructors monitoring our oxygen levels and pulse levels.

After six weeks I gained insight into better management of my health, and an improved sense of opportunity to control my future.

Before I started the class I had already begun to walk and do more exercise four or five days a week.  After completing the program I’m committed to walking and exercising more, as well as changing my diet to improve my weight.  I know that doing so will also improve my diabetes and blood sugar levels.

I no longer feel so dis-empowered by my COPD, and see it as somewhat similar to my diabetes, which I also resented like crazy when I was first diagnosed.  Just as I have learned to manage my blood sugar levels through a combination of medications, insulin, exercise and diet, over the past ten years I will get control of my cardio vascular health, and reduce to a minimum the impact of COPD on my life.

I have learned that just because it’s hard as hell to breath when I exercise is no reason to stop exercising.  In fact, the opposite is a fundamental truth.  Use it or lose it, as the old saw goes.

I now make real effort to get and walk every day, and to exceed the minimums recommended in the class.

Instead of taking the shortcut every time, I’m learning to take the longer road home

 

 

 

 

 

 

I was taught as a child to be “blind” to racial and ethnic differences, by a family that had fled Sweden to escape poverty and discrimination because they were Laplander in a land dominated by Scandinavian Swedes, Danes and other late arrivals to the northernmost coasts of Europe and Russia.

This “blindness” included denial by my “Swedish” family of their Lap roots to the point that I only found out by taking a DNA test through Ancestry.com that I was descended from a persecuted minority. My grandfather worked his entire life in education in first nations communities in Northern Canadian communities striving to improve the lot of Inuit and First Nations peoples in their own lands and territories.

I thought that being colour blind was a good thing, and felt no sense of difference when in the presence of people of colour. To me people were people and I judged them on the basis of their actions towards others, their level of personal accountability, and their willingness to be friendly towards me and my family.

It never really occurred to me that “colour blindness” was a symptom of belonging to the dominant race, at least visibly. By not “seeing” race it allowed me to ignore systemic discrimination against blacks, asians, aboriginals, and other people people in Canadian society who don’t get an automatic pass because of their race or color or religion.

But I have learned that it is important to see difference in people, in order to identify when they are being treated as less than full citizens or even as less than human.

Our jails are full of people who look or act differently than the dominant community – first nations, other racial minorities, religious minorities, etc. Educational opportunities to help level the playing field are seldom as equal as they seem, with economic and social barriers in place that pit all of us against everyone.

The current Reconciliation Commission and Investigation into the disappearance and murder of aboriginal women and children needs to be followed by a similar commission into the treatment of minority women and children, and their rapes and murders in Canada during the same periods of history.

Canada is NOT the United States with its history of slavery and discrimination against blacks. We have our own history, and a self satisfied attitude of superiority to American historical has allowed our nation for all too long to escape genuine self examination and rectification of serious and persistent ill treatment and denial of human rights to all too many of our fellow Canadians.

I have learned to see difference, and it shames me to see what this blindness  in my country has allowed to exist, and continues to exist.

The last Blog in this series was about deciding what you can’t do without, and getting rid of everything else.  Well, maybe.  In some senses it was really about deciding that it’s okay to eliminate stuff from your life that no longer serves you in a positive way.  I stepped around it a bit, but ultimately came down to getting rid of people from your day to day life who either (a) are destructive to you, or (b) are not contributing in a positive way to the quality of your life.

I know that lots of people blog on the subject of toxic relationships, and its good to take advice that reduces unnecessary pain and sorrow.  What about people who are merely indifferent or who make no contribution.  Not toxic necessarily, but of complete indifference.  Be brave, get rid of them from your life too.  You won’t miss them a bit, and their absence might make room for you to add something or someone to your life that actually makes it better.

So that’s probably enough on that issue for now.  Be careful that you don’t welcome stuff back into your life once you’ve got rid of it.

It’s a little bit like my problem with books.  I always seem to keep everything I’ve read for the past ten years or so.  I so envy people with empty shelf space on their one book case.  I just don’t know how they can do it, really.  About twenty years ago I screwed up my courage to the sticking point and threw away about 10,000 books that were clogging up space on shelves that lined all the walls of my very large family room and several other rooms in the house.

Even after getting rid of all those books I still retained a couple of thousand books that I couldn’t bear to let go.  And lest you think I’m exaggerating when I say 10,000 I know there were that many because my kids at the time counted them, and gave up counting after reaching 10,000.  They weren’t all just my books, I’ll admit, I’d inherited a substantial library from my mom, who had kept a lot of books from her dad.  So not only did I inherit a lot of books, I also inherited their bad habit of being unable to rid myself of them once they no longer were likely to be read again, either by me or one of my family members.

However, that was more than 10 years ago, and I’ve accumulated numerous book cases full of books and magazines again, many of which I’ve read and won’t reread.  I still find it hard to let go of books and magazines, especially if enjoyed reading them enough to think that I might want to read them again.

So, taking my own advice I’m going to clean out a bunch of books that I really don’t think I’ll read again.  Don’t like doing it, but don’t like not doing it either.  So wish me luck over the next few days and weeks while I get to it.

Anybody need a few books?

A step by step Guide to making at least one good decision every day of your life.

IMG_1030Would a Guide like this be useful?  If someone gave it to you, would you do what it said to do, or would you do the same thing you always do when you get advice you don’t really want?

You probably will do what you have always done so far.  Right?  Why not?  Well then, it’s got you to this point in your life, the point at which you’re asking for advice about how to make at least one good decision every day.

On the other hand, maybe you’re ready to try something new, and give The Plan a shot.  If you are ready to give it a try, then let’s get to it.

Step One

First, make a list of things you can’t live without.

The list can be short or long, it’s up to you.  But just a suggestion, keep it as short as you can.  The more stuff you can’t live without, the more stuff with which you have to live.

Take your time making this list.  It is important.  Who says?  Well, for one, you do. So, take at least a couple of hours thinking about it before you decide finally what should be on the list.  What do I think should be on your list?  You really don’t want to know.  I don’t even want to know.  Because it’s totally irrelevant to the Plan.  It’s also lesson one in The Plan – What I think is important to you doesn’t matter, and you should stop spending so much time worrying about it.  I’d probably put all sorts of stuff on the list that you wouldn’t think of anyway, because it’s stuff that is important to me rather than to you.

I am sure you have a lot of experience at figuring out what is important to me and other people in your life.  We have told you often enough, in enough different ways, so you have a pretty good idea of how to get through a day without once thinking about what matters to you.

Hmm.  Back to the list.

Try to figure out stuff that matters to you, and that you really couldn’t imagine living without in your life.  It’s probably not stuff, at least, not physical stuff.  For some of us it really is physical stuff like cars, houses and other things like that…. If it is, then put it on your list.  But ask yourself whether your life would be any better or worse without it?  (Just a random thought to ponder on the way to The Plan.)

ROZ 56952 “It’s no accident that most ads are pitched to people in their 20s and 30s. Not only are they so much cuter than their elders…but they are less likely to have gone through the transformative process of cleaning out their deceased parents’ stuff. Once you go through that, you can never look at *your* stuff in the same way. You start to look at your stuff a little postmortemistically. If you’ve lived more than two decades as an adult consumer, you probably have quite the accumulation, even if you’re not a hoarder…I’m not saying I never buy stuff, because I absolutely do. Maybe I’m less naive about the joys of accumulation.” ― Roz Chast, Can’t We Talk about Something More Pleasant?

This is where I admit that I have a lot to learn from my partner about eliminating unnecessary stuff from my life.  Over the years she has driven me a little crazy, what with her habit of giving away things she no longer wants or needs, like lovely jewelry she hasn’t worn in a while.  She’s given diamond rings away to our kids or their partners, and random bits of ceramics or glass wear, simply because it occupies space she doesn’t really want to maintain anymore.

Actually, she’s brilliant.  She has always had a knack at being able to focus on what matters to her, and let the rest go, even at the risk of offending other people.  Good on her, good advice for the rest of us.

But minimalism aside, which has critics as well as advocates , there are practical reasons for adopting a more limited list of important things to keep than just the amount of junk you have to pay to store or display.

The idea applies well beyond things, and includes non-purposeful or even destructive connections to organizations, companies, services, or even relationships.  Imagine going through the things you pay for every month to determine which of them could be eliminated without reducing your quality of life.

Even if you’re resistant to eliminating television or cable vision from your life, how hard would it be to get rid of all the channels you never or seldom watch.  Recently I eliminated over 50% of the channels on my Telus television subscription, and ended up basically with the minimum number of channels I could get on a basic service, as opposed to an enhanced package.

It’s not that we stopped watching television, or even that our interests had narrowed to the point where basic TV would satisfy us, rather we found alternative sources of programming at a small fraction of the cost, using internet based sources rather than broadcast TV.  It wasn’t that we weren’t using these sources before, but despite using these alternatives we have been paying for all the extra channels on cable for years, even though we had stopped relying on them for content.  It was a habit and being a little too lazy to go through the list and eliminate the unused or unnecessary.

We did go back, a month or so later, and added back a couple of channels we realized are of more valuable to us than we previously thought.  It’s okay to backtrack. It’s rare to right about anything completely. 

Now I’m going to talk about some of the harder things to reduce, eliminate or deprioritize.   The harder things to let of are relationships that no longer serve a positive purpose in our lives, but in which we continue to invest time, energy and emotional commitment.  Of these, the easiest ones to eliminate are people or time commitments that simply bore you to death, literally.  How many social meetings or gatherings do you attend every month that actually fail to enrich your life experience?  Do you really have to attend countless committee meetings, or have a hand in the governance of your local whatever organization.   Is it really your duty to sit on your strata council?

For some people, these social organizations and gatherings provide meaning and purpose, and for those people they are far from unnecessary or a waste of time and energy.  For most of us, not so much.  So just stop going, resign or don’t offer up your time.  Trust me, most often your absence will hardly be missed.

An even harder group to eliminate are destructive friends, relatives and acquaintances.  It’s amazing how many of the people in our day to day lives take pleasure in inflicting misery on us.  A good principle to follow – if someone really doesn’t like you, stop spending time on them. Also, if you really don’t like and admire someone, stop spending your precious life energy trying to fix them, or getting them to change into someone you might like.  Stop trying to impress that opinionated aunt, or the bitchy neighbor down the block who never has anything positive to say.   Don’t return phone calls to people who merely want to give you a piece of their mind on any subject you don’t want to hear. Especially people who phone or visit merely to criticize or put you down.

When was the last time you looked forward to a visit from/to your least enjoyable acquaintance, friend or relative?  Just stop going, listening or participating.  You’ll feel a lot better about yourself if you stop listening to poison, about yourself or anyone else you care to know.

So, make a list of what you don’t need or want.  Whether it’s stuff like an old table wasting space in the family room, or a relative who hasn’t a good thing to say about you for twenty years.  Invest yourself in those things and people that matter, divest yourself from those that don’t.

Step One could take a while, first to make the list, then to actually implement it. And then to revise it again. But do it with relish, and reward yourself whenever you eliminate something else or someone else that no longer serves your best interests.  Enjoy the absence of unnecessary stuff as a kind of liberation.  Likewise the absence of destructive individuals in your life.

A less cluttered life is by most accounts a better life.

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