Conversations about Choices

“It’s your choice,” my father would often say. Usually the issues at hand were important, and although there was freedom of choice, it was accompanied by responsibility for the outcome.

So he never asked why. He just left the choice to us. There were times I made choices that he did not approve of, and had to bear the responsibility. There were times I made choices that in his opinion were based on youthful fervour, and he accepted because they seemed the right choice.

Life is made of choices. I choose to wake up early and meditate now. I wish I had a done that all my life; my breathing is that important. I choose to write every morning. Some days I am inspired and the words flow, other days I struggle with concepts.Some mornings I choose to make time to go for a walk or run near the sea. When I am out there I choose to feel the luckiest person alive; waves crashing next to me and the sun rising, sometimes high, sometimes peeping through layers of cloud; occasionally dolphins playing in the blue.

I would not say that I freely choose to go to work. But somehow I am aware of my responsibility and the outcome born. The responsibility to my patients and the outcome born on a sense of achievement. I choose to listen to stories and poems as I drive, and not the news and the popular radio shows that fill the emptiness of the car with nothing. Somehow I am aware of what happens in the world, and most times it is so negative I can imagine the world choosing that path without having to hear about it. But I choose to feel the pulse of goodness beneath my feet as I walk and breathe.

I choose to breathe at work. That is sometimes my only choice, to focus on my inner strengths and be able to make all the choices required for a good outcome. After all, medicine is just that. Decisions affect outcomes, and those outcomes are a measure of our success. I choose to use mental checklists to improve my outcomes. I breathe slowly and deeply when faced with cognitive dysfunction. Slowly I realise how we are all affected by problems and sometimes stop thinking clearly. I work very hard at making the right choice, not for me but for my patients. At work I choose to do everything once, and to do it well. I choose to do it today. I choose to use a diary, not just to book patients but to record messages and attend to planning and protocol.

In the evening I choose to end my day by writing in a notebook. I record the day, my ideas and these four items every day: two of my successes, two things  for which I am grateful, two answers I have received and actions I have taken regarding my dreams, and what my purpose for the day has been.

Choices are like doors...

Choice is such a simple word.

Conversations about Breathing

I enjoy meditating. I wait for the slowing of my heartbeat and breath to allow my soul to connect to who I am. I start the morning in peace and hope for a better day.

When my father was agitated or angry his breathing would speed up. If he thought the issue at hand was manageable he might frown. If he was really tense his face would whiten like knuckles ready to box and his eyes would widen, his movements would slow and then he would almost stop breathing. Then I knew he was really angry.

I have found myself doing the same in the office at work before. A few years ago my chest tightened with a crushing pain and I decide to change things. The first thing was a visit to a cardiologist for intervention, and the second, much harder, was to discipline myself to be responsible. To be able to choose my response to any situation. In my world I have chosen the path and if events force me off that path they are events beyond my control. My response to those events, however, is well within my control. So I finally came to understand a very personal form of responsibility. There are other responsibilities in my life; to my wife, to family, to friends, to myself, to my cultures, to my nations and to my dreams. Each one of those I was taught as a child. Choosing a peaceful response to a situation came later, perhaps after mastery of some aspects of the other responsibilities.

My father was very serious in his responsibilities. He was responsible for his wife, his children, his mother after his father died, his sister after their father died, his church and religion, his Greek community and federation, his SAHETI and many other people and ideals. These formed part of his dream, and fulfilled him to a degree as much as they caused him angst at times.

The difference in our lives is astounding. Mine a life of luxury and meditation and his a life of giving and prayer. There are similarities but those lie in his shadow. But it is the similarities that allow me to write his story. The differences will add many more pages to the road he travelled.

It is fair to say my father meditated while in prayer. His breathing slowed and he spoke to God of his desires, his dreams and the hope he had for his family, his church and his community. In prayer his breathing must have slowed down.

His favourite saying in times of hardship was a simple Latin motto: “dum spiro spero”.

I breathe therefore I hope.

Dad, Panagioti and Me; Kakouri 11 July 2008