Ashes to ashes…tragedy befalls us

Tragedy befalls us or does it? in Greek «τραγωδία» is a word referring to a very sad situation that doesn’t have a very happy conclusion as it leads to suffering and most often death. When we say “befalls” it refers to things that happen by fate or chance. In the ancient world there were perfect explanations for everything, and usually involved ‘gods’ or other deities and mere mortals often trying somehow to make things “right” as they raise for us ethical or real life dilemmas.

Taking a recent trip with a group of colleagues and friends to the ancient theater of Epidaurus, we experienced one of the most famous of Sophocles’ plays “Electra” which the wise poet wrote towards the end of his career playing up the post-trauma of the Trojan war in the house of Mycenaean King Agamemnon (more here: classical literature ‘Elektra’). Though many directors change the structure of the plays to make them more to modern standards, this version was truly respectful of the storyline. More importantly we FELT the pain and inner struggle of the characters…I can still hear the drums beating as fast as my heart in the evening darkness as the actors in unison walked slowly with floating robes like solemn soldiers on a mission.

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Concluding the play Elektra, Epidaurus Summer 2018 Festival

This ancient theater in the valley of the Peloponnese is an acoustical marvel, and many world famous actors have passed through including Kevin Spacey as King Richard III (by William Shakespeare) honoring the ancient tradition with exceptional performance — glimpses can be had on this ‘World Stage’ clip.

I still recall Elektra’s brother Orestes’ blood-stained arms, the circles of ashes made in Elektra’s frenzy. Ashes to ashes, from dust to dust, this indeed is all we are made of. How ironic that the very next day we would be witnessing real-time tragedies of fire and ashes with almost 100 people dead in the ‘eye’ (mati) of Rafina, a seaside community outside of Athens (coincidentally the most losses in a fire since WWII), multitudes of animals, properties and nature burned within a matter of hours…. in the days following rainstorms and flooded streets in many parts of Greece as well as a “state of emergency” in California fires on the other side of the planet this year with several firefighters already dead and almost 100,000 acres of land burned to the ground.  Apparently since last year a sobering 60 servicemen have lost their lives on duty from such things like falling trees, bulldozers, etc. (more in the Mercury News article)

Unfortunately, tragedy befell Greece, and this is due to several factors in my humble opinion —

  • communication  breakdowns — in many countries in a state of emergency the military and the government have the right to take over a situation that is out of hand and work directly with media and municipalities.
  • organization and planning — ditto for this, but we know in the summer with high winds fires are constantly being set off, what are we doing to monitor beyond forest volunteers?  what about having a ‘drone watch’? See aerial surveillance for legislatures.
  • the “oh brother” syndrome («ωχ αδελφέ μου») — really now, you ARE global citizens so act like one!
  • environmental preparedness and social marketing — cutting down overgrowth, keeping water hydrants functioning, a system of communication (sirens, media buzz sound, megaphones), volunteers patrolling forests. One favorite character that was ‘built in’ U.S. culture was Smokey the bear to ‘prevent wildfires’ including some practical how-to steps…
  • health literacy about fires — taking care with outdoor fires (beach, camp, etc.), understanding that plastic and other waste (that people often leave near bushes on the sides of the roads) can be ‘fuel’ for any set fire.  If near a fire and no access to water hoses or water (many people were saved because they went to sea) keeping wet or wool blankets, crawling on the ground to avoid smoke inhalation, having adequate fire drills (and alternate with earthquake drills in schools once a year at least!), the need to have smoke detectors as well as functioning fire hydrants, firemen equipped with supplies (addressing shortages in Greece), using volunteers effectively, understanding how important time is when there are high winds…..moving quickly is of the utmost importance.

This tragedy could have happened to any government (or political party) but the situation was all too familiar to the fires back in 2007… it was purposeful arson in many parts that also ended in tragedy. However we know that prior to 2007 the persons responsible for the fire brigade planning in the country seemed to have more clear plans to make clear paths for the fires not to ‘jump’, cutting down overgrown trees, etc.  There are so many unpaved roads, no street signs, no functioning fire hydrants (or none at all) and the list goes on and on. Notably when systems don’t work (systems), we need to test and change them to be more effective as public safety and the public’s health should override any individual ‘rights’ this is why public health law exists!

What’s left now for many are feelings of emptiness and anger for many (typical of grief and post-traumatic symptoms that can range from loss of sleep to anxiety or the need to self-medicate). Grief or “bereavement” Counseling is needed and it is important to continue support groups and understand that even those watching the news may have anxiety or worse panic attack type reactions (children are in particular vulnerable to anxiety so it’s important to discuss with them ways to feel safe and express their sad or angry feelings). Play and music therapy are useful as are regular counseling and parenting techniques. A local bookstore has a book for kids emphasizing the circle of life and loss for children to understand (Εκδόσεις Παπαδόπουλος «Η Έλλη και ο Κύκλος της Ζωής» — Papadopoulos book publishers “Ellie and the Circle of Life”) but there are no books in Greek specific to dealing with traumatic events. A spiritual approach and books like Thomas Moore’s Dark Nights of the Soul help people who have experienced loss and difficult life ordeals. There are several theories about the stages of bereavement and people can feel denial that it happened (avoidance), anger, or try to accept it and move on. Particular emphasis on expressing sadness and anger is needed here.  It’s also not easy for servicemen (people) to endure everything from evacuating to picking up the corpses. There are many groups, therapists who use cognitive behavioral, meditation, and virtual reality techniques proven to be effective with these workers.

We are angry at the government and inefficiency. Mr. Tosca, the Ministry of Internal Affairs recently resigned, but nothing will change unless we re-evaluate and organize better — house in order, country in order, and see my past post on Kondo method. We can help Greece, a country in its worse crisis since WWII, by donating to worthwhile groups and initiatives like Act4Greece or The Hellenic Initiative, and Red Cross initiatives for those affected. In addition some self-care on a daily and weekly level like guided meditation helps. If we do this at least 3 times a week (much like exercise habits) and I particularly liked this one to bring more inner peace:

We cannot change that which we cannot control but YES we can learn to be more effective for the betterment of our communities.

 

 

 

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Poverty lives among us

Many  of you may think you know what poverty looks like. But given what poverty levels are there substantial numbers of people in the world living it every day. You can see it, you can smell it, you can feel it, it is not so pleasant for you or for your daily living requirements.

When poverty exists, there are no street cleaners picking up after daily trash, not enough policemen to go around and do an adequate job, people’s ADL skills are so low that you often have to hold your nose from the stench in crowded public transport systems.

One day I saw an older man picking through trash from a dumpster in broad daylight in a more upper scale part of a city but I didn’t have time to ask him what he was looking for exactly — food, or other? I frequently see some people picking out aluminum cans for recycle money and sometimes to the dismay of local people living there (since they dump other trash on the ground and don’t pick it up) or to monetary loss of municipalities.

Another day I saw someone rummaging through my neighboring garbage bin so I asked – stated “are you looking for food? I’m sure the local fast food place or the church further down can help you out with that….” He looked at me saying in broken Greek (so I knew he was a migrant, and pretty well dressed guy who could look like any local!) “you know what I’m looking for? Clothes for my wife and kids”. So I told him where he could find stuff including the fact that we now recycle clothes in big red bins in many areas of Athens now! Then I thought to ask how many kids he had? He said FIVE. So I smiled saying “wow, you moved fast but hard to support all of them…most of us can’t make it with one or two!” The current poverty levels falling under “extreme poverty” are up to 15% according to survey sources in Greece.

How can we reach people in being more health literate about spacing children and general contraception information, being realistic about responsibilities and understanding that we now live in cities mostly not in farms, and talking more seriously about overpopulation as  many religious leaders still continue to preach about the “sin” of birth control and encourage population growth… really?

Let’s help people better manage themselves their homes and communities to not delve in poverty so that the upper “land lords” gain the wealth only. Share the wealth, live in and with integrity.

 

Calling a Spade…

The joy of color, practicality and simplicity. This was what U.S. fashion designer Kate Spade inspired. A woman who made it in New York, originally from the Midwest, married for 35 years and mother to a daughter just 13 years old.  Truth is expressed in the phrase “calling a spade a spade” dating back to the times of Plutarch (ancient Greece)… nothing can be further from this in our days. The reality of midlife, excessive stress, the potential for, or reality of suicide. Does it have to be? Do so many people, including their close circle and our society need to suffer? Certainly not. A scary statistic is that in almost every state in the U.S. suicide has gone up since the year 1999 by 25% according to CDC (CNN report).  I believe that Dr. Stephen Ilardi got it right in his TedEx presentation, when he said that this is the modern epidemic of our civilization. Why? He says it is a combination of our physical self (eating habits, sleep habits, improper exercise) and our mental state.

I would further add that we have high expectations for ourselves, constantly comparing our outer ‘shells’ or situations with others (in real-time or on-line time like through Facebook), we don’t do enough self-care, we don’t have the skills needed to manage our life — keeping our life in order, cooking healthier (so many on-line sites to access) or taking supplements (my favorites are from Nutrilite), accessing social support or therapeutic support, less on-line time and more time with family, friends, nature, self-development groups; more on stress management, and financial literacy are important components of health literacy). This is particularly the case of those in the developmental stages of adolescence and midlife.

I recall years ago the movie The Hours which specifically showcased how it feels for one to be so trapped in their depression…hence another phrase ‘whose afraid of Virginia Wolfe.’  These people need to be given support networks, but it is not our job to ‘rescue’ them. But it is our job to teach younger children how to manage their emotions, how to eat better, get rid of negative thoughts, and cultivate love of learning, nature, and spirituality.  This is part of the original concept of Eudaimonia, as Aristotle described centuries B.C. “doing and living well”…. later adapted more formally into spiritual teachings, and some could even say a part of the more formal volunteerism movement. Indeed we need to cultivate this virtue of eudaimonia for a successful life as the author of the site “ARETE” indicates.

The goal in midlife as psychologist Erikson indicated is “generativity versus stagnation” — to ‘make our mark’ by creating and giving back to others and more importantly to younger generations, nicely described in the site link VeryWellmind. Teaching and working with clients in this stage of their life, we see how important it is for mid-lifers to understand and practice the above daily tasks. Else, we simply get stuck in the “swamp” of our negativity and depression. That simple, calling a spade a spade.

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Kate Spade’s designs inspired happiness

Kate was one of my favorites, whether it was eating out of her Lenox inspired cups and dishes, wearing her sunglasses or finding a place to ‘tidy up’ my make-up. Her husband Andy provided a recent statement (see Cosmopolitan article) indicating she struggled with anxiety and depression for years. Most of us know someone who is unable to get out of this ‘funk’ whether family, friend, or foe. We need to become more health literate about personality disorders, clinical versus situational depression, the reality of anxiety.  We also need to understand that some types of therapy for these disorders work better than others (cognitive behavior therapy, dialectical behavior therapy), while we need to move beyond the mind in addressing our spirit/soul with active work using breathing exercises, activity like yoga or taking walks in nature (sea, ocean, forest, whatever works), and believing that a higher power or energy is there to tap into if we need to. Some people just don’t bother to ask, others ask and expect too much…we cannot avoid natural disasters like recent volcanic eruptions in Guatemala but even there could they have heeded the warnings? Our body gives us warnings when we are anxious, suffer from panic attacks, are depressed, can we and do we get help in time?

The Kate Spade employees posted a dedication to her and her family on the company’s website. Sting’s song “The Shape of My Heart” is dedicated from our blog to you Kate, you inspired so many of us with your joy if you simply could see it and have gotten help in time.  Our best to your family and all families who have lost loved ones around the world.

Cleaning House — beyond Spring cleaning

Springtime for most of us implies flowers, planting and gardening, May wreaths, a spectacular blossoming time of year.  Others keep it as a traditional time for doing the annual Spring cleaning and overall “cleaning house.” A recent psycho-educational session about organizing our living space and ultimately better organizing our life, 738BE095-1BF3-458B-8D44-3970DA58D32Ewas based on more effective methods. This includes suggestions that were made in Marie Kondo’s book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying (first published in Japanese in 2011). As this month is also Mental Health Awareness Month we can find ways to tidy up our own lives, change our way of thinking,  positive overall mental health which is part of being more health literate about what mental illness is and what it isn’t.

Kondo’s method is largely based on “mindful” tidying and extends to a similar philosophy that rings true throughout time — healthy mind and healthy body. And I say why not extend this to a tidier and cleaner society with happier and more health literate people!? One editor nicely shared her “lessons learned” for her own home (and likely her office) after reading Kondo’s book.

Many of us for one always feel better in a clean and tidy environment as it helps us clear and settle our mind. We can start to prioritize and reduce procrastinating hopefully!

  • “Prune your stuff often” is an easy phrase to remember from what I consider to be a classic book, The Rules of Life (Richard Templar). Think of pruning a bush, the same way you then will sort and throw out paperwork to recycling, don’t just pile up clothes and dishes, store and wash your dishes daily, life will be so much ‘easier’ to get a handle on!
  • exercise your dusting, broom and mopping ‘skills’, and how about learning better tips like “How to Clean Your Room” video
  • use biodegradable cleaning products like those by Amway Home, so much better for the environment
  • use a small vacuum for daily messes, and leave heavier vacuuming for once a month.

Key messages she emphasizes are to respect yourself and your property (starting with clothes, books/papers, all closets, collectibles,  etc.), donate or sell as needed — most countries have Salvation Army which works on helping people in poverty and collecting and either re-selling or distributing products like clothes, furniture, collectibles.  There are also many common on-line selling sections like FB’s Marketplace.

Speaking  of clothes, for those of us who love clothes, accessories and shoes among other stuff we can also learn to better organize them (fold and store — for some of us space is a limitation so we have to move out winter stuff bring our spring and summer stuff, what a chore but good to see what we have and what doesn’t fit anymore!). The concept of Natalie’s blog of “wear you are now” fits nicely here!

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White color  is associated with “purity” and cleanliness, best shown with this lily of the valley, hand picked!

We all at some point may experience serious serious mental health issues with friends or family it is important to keep calm, get informed, get support.  Help can come in many forms, and it is not our job to “rescue” people, but you/we can:

  • intervene legally with human services or police if situations get out of hand and people are a danger to themselves (or to others)
  • educate ourselves and others on mental health issues (online, offline in seminars, by trained counselors, etc.)
  • get therapy ourselves if things get out of hand (including feelings of guilt if someone you care for hurts themselves you are never to blame for another’s extreme choice and live with a clear conscience if you’ve tried to help!). I recently came across a great video by handsome Father Mike Schmitz who talks about suicide (this video is part of others a series) — not only talks about the religious side of the matter but clearly differentiated the importance of having a team of professionals! As he says, are all doctors the same? are all religious advisors the same? so why not try different therapists as he puts a heavy importance on maintaining hope and never giving up. I think this song by the group Hurts “Never Give Up It’s Such a Wonderful Life” says it all friends….

A good friend who has years of experience in emergency medicine and writes a fab blog Heal Thyself Heal Thy World  always says “you can only do what you can do…”  There are many sites with great “tips” out there. I particularly liked one by Parent’s Magazine article about 7 Pink Flags to look out for in children with possibly serious mental health issues, and loved the importance of mental health video by the wife of Canadian Prime Minister, Sophie Gregoire Trudeau for May Mental Health Month — key emphasis on self-care and self-compassion.

Enjoy your new spring outlook, be strong and get support as needed, and carry on!

Positive “MAY” Energy

IMG_E4256.JPGHappy May day!  Today is a day of gathering flowers, making wreaths, and thinking of bringing in the positive energy into our homes.  In this part of the world in honor of the Roman-name goddess “Maia” (which also in Greek is the name of the midwife who delivers babies) people make May wreaths and in essence this is why people dance around the May Pole in most parts of Europe (and in the U.S.) In my family we often throw flower petals on the floor to bring in the positive sun-spring energy! We all need it.

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Add rose petals to your rooms to bring in the energy of the day!

May 1st is indeed a historically a pagan holiday of celebrating the official transition into the bounties of flowers and Spring.  Internationally celebrated it is also International Worker’s Day — one thought could be for supervisors or ‘bosses’ to take the place of the worker to see what their daily work involves, now there is an idea!

Flowers make any room brighter, and our mood lighter.  If you ever get a chance to go to any flower shows even better!

IMG_3972.jpgOne amazing one visited recently was the Euroflora show in Genoa, Italy on an older pavilion ground overseeing the sea (every five years if you want to visit and brush up on some Italian, see Euroflora_Genoa_2018).  You will learn more about the plants and blossoms of the world and maybe how you can make your own home and neighborhood/community even better. Granted some of us suffer from sringtime allergies but these can be in-check and helped over the long term.

We all may be stuck in the ‘shoulds’ of life some of which may be necessary for our daily survival. For example, we should eat at least 5-a-day fruits and vegetables, drink 6-8 glasses of water daily, exercise at least 10 minutes daily, sleep 7-8 hours as part of your self-care routine. After all this is what health literacy is all about.

This May, let’s focus in the “may” of life and the power of affirmations. Indeed the mind, as long as you water and nurture your positive thoughts daily they will grow (affirm repeatedly as the site indicates). However many words (even tags that we see around our cities, most of which we should just undo altogether….) repeated over and over — our subconscious mind ‘filters’ millions of messages and we keep many — can affect us both positively or negatively.

Here are a few for the day…. May you…

  • walk in sunlight to warm your soul
  • hear the birds and bees sing their happy songs
  • feel butterfly wing “kisses” on your sun-touched skin
  • choose the beautiful ‘flowers’ of your thoughts and heart to remind yourself of better things in difficult days that may come!

 

 

Kick Butts Day…Cigs that is!

12C1AA8C-0E4A-4838-A297-05E878E9A9B9March 21st is the day kids and adults say “no” to smoking and increase awareness. Years ago the “Truth” campaigns against tobacco were started in the US states of Massachusetts, Florida, and California and because of their appeal it helped the entire anti-tobacco movement. However in many parts of the world young people are starting to smoke in early teens, and even though they know it’s bad for them they continue anyway — now “vaping” is another slightly safer but still problematic as toxic chemicals affect the smoker. Love this California ad. 

Studies prove that passive smoking is alive and well and environmental tobacco smoke in non-smoking areas show unhealthy limits (Vardavas, Kondilis et al.). It is amazing how big tobacco keeps targeting smaller and poorer countries including Greece, by funding seaside club-bar venues like this one!

So it’s time for us to set the record straight… besides long term effects on one’s heart and lungs leading to serious and chronic health issues including death, here are some other (of many) issues one needs to think about:

1) Cigarettes make your teeth and fingers yellow, visit your dentist at least once a year (twice is the ideal).

2) Your skin loses elasticity and you age faster. Think of loading up on antioxidants like vitamins!

3) Your hair, clothes, furniture, and home, stink… 17118D71-9187-44AD-B893-96B4832F168Eif you smoke prefer open spaces but pleeeaaase do not expose people to passive smoking or throw your cigarette butts on ground and seas — Don’t pollute !

Ever wonder how some cafes, restaurants, or public places successfully deliver their “thanks for not smoking” messages? Take a look….

Why not enjoy a coffee in peace, as you write about all the money you will be saving once you kick the habit? Places you can travel to, wonderful tastes and smells that come back to you when your olfactory system kicks in. Think of who you need to recruit on your support team to help you quit? Especially in dealing with possible relapse…

It’s time for future generations to bind together and make smoking a part of the past. Power to young people to take back your life and breathe free. 6C8B07D3-6D4A-49CF-94B7-2A1CE4C3ABAC

 

 

Lent, The “ides of March” and Spring

Lent, The “ides of March”, and forthcoming Spring

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This year the tradition of Lent has started for many traditional Christians around the globe and every 4 years the Eastern and Western Calendars “meet” so this year Lent has started together (https://www.timeanddate.com/calendar/roman-calendar.html) Carnival marks the last time of “letting loose” with food, drink, dress/costumes and for many a continuing of winter-Spring traditions extending back to the ancient times; whether you are  celebrating “Clean Monday” (Καθαρή Δευτέρα) with kite-flying and a vegetable and fish “diet” or preparing for a 40-day “fast” we focus on getting rid of our negative “habits” temporarily (leaning away from “temptation”)  and perhaps reflecting on being better people as well as preparing for Spring! And since we’re thinking of those left-overs last month was also Dental Care Awareness for kids  month, maybe it’s the chocolate binge and from Valentine’s Day or thinking of those marshmallow sugarcoated “peeps” for Easter …who doesn’t love Easter candy?! Whatever one does reminding ourselves to visit the dentist at least 1-2 times a year is vitally important and brushing teeth, flossing, sugarless gum after meals also helps! Ironically even the more health-literate Greece, due to the economic crisis not only has the dental profession been affected negatively among other health ‘tragedies’  described in an article in the reputable medical journal The Lancet appropriately called “Omens of a Health Tragedy” by Kentikelenis et al. (2011 article).  Indeed, children in Greece now have some of the worst teeth in all of Europe — The latest sign of Greece’s decay: Children’s teeth (identified Reuters article) since not going to the dentist often,   more than just ‘a pain’ in one’s month as teeth indeed affect and even reflect a person’s overall health.

In Spring, Pagan and Neo-Christian traditions come to light…

  • Persephone comes up from Hades after she was lured to the underworld by a pomegranate and her mother Artemis (Demeter) decides she will allow the bloom of Spring and summer hearth before Persephone goes down again into Fall and Winter scarcities.
  • We await for the Groundhog to see his shadow
  • The bracelet of Spring “Martis” (Ο Μάρτης) — Greece and the  general Balkans one will see the unisex wearing tradition of a red and white bracelet supposedly to prevent a sunburn, and we are called to  hang the bracelet on a fruit tree to “grow” the end of the month…remember some superstitious  stuff is ok but don’t obsess…
  • The famous reference about “The Ides of March” which refers to the full moon which corresponds to the 13th of March, May, July, October.  However most of us identify this with March 15th (starting in 44 B.C.) when the Roman ruler Julius Caesar was killed specifically due to his dictatorship rule many of us recall his supposed famous last line at his assassination ‘et tu, Brute’ (Latin for “and you, Brutus” or “even you, Brutus”… said at the time to his ‘friend’).

This special season think of the various messages that can help you integrate actions for better health:

  1. If you feel like a breath of fresh air away from the troubles of everyday life, plus a bit of exercise running in the wind, ‘go fly a kite’ (not just for controlling your anger any more!)
  2. Eat less, remember your 5 servings of fruits and vegetables a day for better health. Fast wisely. There are many good supplements, and a great line for all ages is Nutrilite brand.
  3. If you are not eating certain foods during this time or eating later in the day you need to consult a doctor and fast wisely. Children, the aged, those with serious chronic diseases should not fast, minimally reducing protein and as always less carbohydrates.
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    Pan, mythical god figure of the wild in Arcadia

    Pan might lure you to his mountain path, just don’t fall prey to things that are bad for your health!

  4. Love that candy, but remember to brush your teeth and seek dental care!
  5. Allergies may be around the corner in the new bloom, be aware of side effects and take precaution (not just the ‘ides of March’).
  6. The kids may be waiting anxiously for the Easter bunny, keeping up with Peter Cottontail, but personally love this quote by a famous late comedian-actor, Robin Williams (1951-2014):

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