Daniela Ginta, The Mindful Writer

Freelance Writer and Photographer, Author of the Mindfulness Blog

Tag: compassion

So… Kindness

‘Be the change you wish to see in the world.’ Mahatma Gandhi

Suns to giveThe boys and I used to play a game. If you could have one wish… Or three. What would you wish for? One of mine was always ‘that there is enough kindness in the world’. The boys would smile and tilt their heads.

Of all the things you could wish for, Mom? Of all. Of any. Just like that.

Kindness. It’s what we crave. Smiles and warmth; the touch of brightness that someone’s kindness brings forth and makes into a hug. The thing that’s often the hardest to give.

Not because we don’t want to, but because we’re often locked inside. Because somehow, somewhere, when we were just about opening our eyes to the world, we were met, every now and then, with a cold breeze rather than the warm one our hearts were primed for.

So we learned to hide the wish we wished for. Kindness. We learned to say ‘perhaps I am not worthy of it’… Then, an even colder breeze took ‘perhaps’ away and the certainty of unworthiness spread like an algae plume taking over a lake. Clear becomes opaque and troubled. We’ve all been there, we’ve all lingered a bit too long at times in that realm.

Kindness reverses it. It is always a few words away, a hug away, from wherever we are, whenever… It’s what we need the most of, it is what we often give or receive the least of.

I will always remember the last conversation I had with my Mom. It was kind and warm like an embrace. The last moments I had with my Dad were hugs and tears. Kindness and forgiveness became the ground for later understanding that without them every day is a burden. But each burden becomes a lesson. Each memory too.

I carry mine as you carry yours. We ought to remember the occasional unkindness too. Loud voices, storming away from people, seeking a refuge. Wanting to be at peace with the world and yourself, but running away from both. We all do it until we learn that until kindness comes from within, it can never happen for real…

The parting words to last us into the next hour, or the next day, or the rest of our life… are they going to just echoes of the stomping and the shadows of frowns?… The regret of having let go of kindness for a bit becomes a sharp bite and then a healing wound.

We learn kindness from understanding that we’re all fallible, all humbled by how easy it becomes to bring our hearts and minds to a new start. ‘Try again’ is a soft breeze that takes us sailing farther than anger and resentment ever could…

To be kind is a choice. One that has us open our eyes to a new day and say ‘I want to be kind’. One that has us look into ourselves and upon seeing all the broken bits, we take a deep breath and think that all that we are – broken bits included – deserves kindness. We walk on the path where others walked too, we see the wells of their steps filled by the same: joy and sadness, hope – lost and found again, will to live and love, desire to be listened to and understood, the need for kindness. We gain compassion for the other travelers when we stop to soothe our own aching feet.

To be kind is a choice that powers more than our face muscles to open into a smile. It is what makes us reach to those who need a word, a hug, or no sound at all, but a listening ear. It is what makes us forgive and ask for forgiveness. It is us be willing to show ourselves vulnerable. It is what makes us soar, tattered wings and all. It is what mends them…

To be kind is a choice that allows us to build instead of destroy and see instead of turning a blind eye. To be kind is to come to the realization that we are the measure of kindness and through what we give we can make someone’s world brighter. And just like that, kindness fills the heart of those who give it.

That’s why I wish for it when I’m asked. Not because I am always kind, but because I need to remember to be. Because I can choose.

Children Matter. Period.

Originally published as a column in NewsKamloops on Friday, February 19, 2016. 

momentsThere is nothing scarier or more upsetting for a parent than to feel helpless as he or she watch their child struggle with something they do not have the key to solve.

Last night found me wrestling thoughts of helplessness as I laid next to my youngest whose asthma flared up again a couple of days ago after a long dormancy. His breathing was my worry metronome.

Yes, for a while it did not bother him. As much as I would like to say that I almost forget it exists, that is not the case.

Whenever I pass by the hospital I think of it, whenever I see a cat I think of it (yes, it is cat-triggered yet ever new episode makes us wonder whether other allergens will become dreadful asthma triggers as well), and though I am not a pessimist by nature, the memory of his raspy breaths can easily demolish the earnest smile I could muster on a good day.

Something switches forever inside one’s heart when their child is born. You can’t quite identify it to put it in proper words but the short of it is ‘I’ll do anything to keep you alive and thriving’. And then, every now and then, we are put to test.

It’s humbling to realize how powerless we are when that happens. We turn to prayers and hope-building thoughts, we toss in our beds and renew the promise ‘whatever it takes’ and then we don’t let go, no matter what.

In my experience, the most important thing that happens when such occurrences bring us to our knees is to know that you are not alone. Many people are though and that is something no one should hide, but expose so it will not happen again.

As we went through a day of whizzing and monitoring the little guy, reaching for the puffer when needed, my thoughts traveled, as they often do, to all parents out there to struggle with not knowing what the future holds. We really are in this together.

There are degrees of uncertainty, as many as there are affections. There is though that common denominator that joins all parents: the worrying, the occasional relief just to get your strength back, the never-ending hope and the knowledge of how vital it is to not be alone as you face it all.

While some serious health problems occur just because and the cause is almost impossible to pinpoint, hence we resort to saying ‘genetic causes’ and leave it at that, while still not giving up the fight, others are avoidable and, worst of all, caused by human action. Irresponsible action that is. And that is simply unforgivable. That is something we need to know about, act upon and learn from.

Case in point number one: Flint, Michigan. If you’ve been reading the news about the town of almost 100,000 where people have been drinking lead-laden water for long enough to face serious health consequences, it is hard not to be horrified when you think of the dreadful reality that the parents of those thousands of children are facing.

Someone, somewhere (and it is not hard to know where as inquiries take place) decided to save money while putting people at risk. As always with any risks we take when it comes to a population group, the most affected will be children. Their small growing bodies can only take so much, and many of the consequences are irreversible.

Lead poisoning is one of them. Even small amounts can wreak havoc with a child’s body (with an adult’s too but the scale is different and for the scope of this column I choose to focus on children’s issues) causing irreversible damage. Ditto for unborn children.

A case that should serve as a reminder that our children are vulnerable and though resilience is one of their stellar qualities, they can only do so much when their health is becoming the subject of a Russian roulette game played by people who have the power to make decisions.

Case in point number two. The hydrocephalic babies born lately in Brazil and other areas of South America where a GM mosquito species resides and is being thought to spread the Zika virus, which many scientists believe to be causing the birth defects observed recently. Some environmentalists’ groups point to a pesticide called pyroproxyfen which was sprayed in order to kill the mosquito larvae in some areas as the culprit.

The answers are still not in, the debates are still raging. The reality that mothers of babies born with severe birth defects – many of them with limited access to funds that would help them care for their babies as they grow and face innumerable challenges – is a hard one to fathom. And the actual one they are left with.

The two cases and so many more remind me of these things: with our actions today we influence the fate of our children and their children. In how we plan our life and theirs we can make choices that honour the role we were given, as their protectors, to the best of our ability, and their defenders, in face of those who attempt to make bad choices.

It’s coming down to this: as much as we can, in raising our children – and the Earth village are all included here – we have to give it all. We have to keep our actions in line with the promise that matched the love we felt when we first laid eyes on our children.

Whether it pertains to digging mines or building pipelines, or to allowing the quality of air to increase as sales of new cars soar, there is but one way to do it right: the health of people comes first, children first of all.

In everything that we do at the community level, city and planet, we have to be mindful. Sometimes we really only have one shot to make it right. For them, for their future, for honouring ourselves and those who once cared the same for us.

So This Is Christmas…

Originally published as a column in NewsKamloops on December 25, 2015.

20151202_134554_001It is Christmas Eve and the four of us are tucked deep into the heart of Transylvania celebrating the winter holidays with family. Whether we travel or stay at home, this time a year is when we journey to a place that is always different no matter how much we repeat the rituals from year to year in an effort to make it just like the last one.

The thing is, try as we might, it is never the same. It could never be… With each year, I realize that it is not about the gifts but the presence we offer as we approach the day. Presence in more than one way.

It is about giving ourselves to serve others as much as we can, to be kind beyond expectations or at least to match them, to think of those who do not come close to joy because life throws them one too many curve balls, to be grateful not because we have what we want but to be grateful as we say ‘I have what I need’ because, in truth, many of us do.

It is never about material gifts.

The increased need for kindness in our immediate surroundings and beyond is evident. Times are rushed and pressing us into individual corners where we feel isolated and unhappy for it. Fighting back by reaching out seems counterintuitive yet it is not.

This is the time when we should evaluate our presence. In our family with those still present (as much as we believe in happy ever after, eternity is simply not a built-in feature of humans or anything alive for that matter), in our community in how we give time and help financially and otherwise, in what we leave behind as we move into tomorrow.

Since the boys have been born, we have spent many a Christmas time with my family whether in Europe or Canada. My Mom and Dad were there for some but not anymore. One could say that we are poorer with each Christmas as we leave behind slices of life that will never return as such and people who smile back from photos only. The gift that matters is that we once spent time together.

But then again, it is not about what we do not have any more but about what stays with; it is about how we grow from there. Christmas is, in truth, albeit not exclusively, a time of evaluating. In doing so we should go beyond the personal sphere and go far enough to see the bigger picture of our common ground.

This year, more than ever before, it became clear that we need to do so. As a country, we are fortunate to be on the side of those who can help (we can choose to while withholding judgment), just like we are also fortunate to have the kind of leadership that allows us to rewrite the story of our global presence. Gifts of social conscience to be precise.

As individuals we can make choices: to care more, to care enough to make a difference in someone’s life, to show our human side more often even if that means simply smiling to those we meet on our daily path.

During a recent beach stroll in Vancouver, I came across a bench carrying words that reminded me of my parents, my husband, my sons, and the rest of my family, including my close friends. It was about presence, about time, about realizing that we are shaped by what touches our heart.

‘Sometimes love is for a moment, sometimes love is for a lifetime. Sometimes a moment is a lifetime. May this place reminds us how precious life is.’ I would add; ‘may this day and all that follow remind us of the same. May that we not forget between now and the time we need to show it or remember it ourselves.’

Meaningful gifts are those that last long after the wrappings are crumpled up and the thrill of yet another object is lost from memory. It is perhaps the absence of material gifts that make us most aware of what’s really important.

It is when we make room for presence without any material strings attached that we can understand the ephemeral nature of today, Christmas day included. It is when we make room to remember that presence is where we show up many sunrises and sunsets past Christmas, no fancy duds, just as we are, hearts full as they are on the day defined by giving. In truth, every day should be shaped that way.

May your Christmas be an opportunity for gifts that will keep on growing and giving, and for presence that you can find and offer kind and warm each day from now until the next Christmas comes along. By then we will be wiser and even more mindful of life’s fragility and our immense responsibility to make our gifts, given and received, last. Merry Christmas!

Still, Hatred Is Not The Answer

Originally published as a column in NewsKamloops on Friday, November 20th, 2015. 

Few are those who have not heard about the latest terrorist attacks claimed by ISIS in Beirut and Paris. At the same time, many news outlets have updates on the refugee situation. It is not to be solved any time soon, and according to some political analysts, we have seen nothing yet. The crisis is not about to end anytime soon, nor will the deluge of refugee slow down.

In the wake of the Paris attack that shook the western world to the core, there are many questions that remain unanswered. Why would anyone do that and what do they hope to achieve? How are we ever to stop the deadly machine that creates countless ripples of violence and harm, directly and indirectly?

It is unfortunate that one of the consequences of such attacks is the increased resentment Muslims experience from people who are overtaken by hatred. Just like worry does not solve anything in case of a stressful situation, hatred will solve nothing but only breed more hatred.

Yes, we are steeped in a moral dilemma that may not have a solution, but hopefully there are steps to mitigate some of it as we move along.

Whatever your opinion is about Syrian refugees, one thing is clear: resenting Muslim people, the ones here or there or the ones in between countries, will do nothing to shed light onto the crisis we’re in.

As our children hear on the news about terrorist attacks and then they hear contradicting opinions about whether refugees should be accepted by countries like ours, truth is they have little to learn from news outlets alone or from opinions flying this way or that.

As with so many (all) issues of our troubled world, education is key and it should start with our youngest ones. Instead of being politically correct at all times while at the same times being plagued by contradictory feelings, we should have them learn and we can learn with them, that in many parts of the world people turn to violence to get the message through and they are, in most if not all cases, opposing the very thing that would otherwise enlighten them and see different solutions.

Playing into the hands of groups like ISIS and allowing them to make us resent other Muslims will only isolate people and communities and thus create in the end more breeding ground for more hatred-based reactions to appear. It’s a vicious circle of the worst kind.

The US Congress just passed a bill that will have every Syrian refugee’s immigration documents (those who make it to that stage) personally signed by the heads of the US intelligence and security agencies in order to prevent possible terrorists from entering the country.

But, as New York Times columnist Nickolas Kristof points out, it is worth taking into consideration that a terrorist might not come as a humble refugee but, say, a graduate student. The issue is already a thousand times bigger than a few seconds ago, isn’t it?

In a way, that is perhaps what an organization like ISIS aims to create: alienation at all levels, fearmongering and hatred between people, which in turn provides some of the most fertile grounds for more violence and more conflict.

Then again, albeit the Syrian conflict is the most present on the news because of its gravity and the ever-growing waves of concern relating the long-reaching arms of terrorism, there are other serious crises happening around the world that people are less, if at all, aware of.

A humanitarian crisis of big proportions is unfolding as we speak in Nepal, where the survivors of the earthquake in April are not only undernourished and in great need of medical supplies, but the country’s border with India has been under a severe blockade for the last couple of months, which greatly aggravated the many troubling issues that Nepalese people had to face after almost 9,000 of them died and almost 2 million lost their homes.

And there’s more. In 2014, according to UN High Commission for Refugees, there were 60 million refugees and internally displaced people around the globe, the highest number since the WWII. Almost half of them are children. To all of us who have the privilege to tuck our children in bed every night, that is unthinkable.

Placing the Syrian refugee issue in the context of global refugees and displaced people who find themselves at the present moment in great need of help may just add compassion to their plea, which in turn may reduce the resentment and stigma associated with various ethnic groups.

Time will tell and though desperately needed, an answer is far from reach. This is not a black and white issue. But if we judge a whole nation or religious group based on a few (or more, unfortunately) extremists, we are only making more room for negative outcomes and potentially pushing more people to seek acceptance on the wrong side of being human.

Because truth is, there are two sides in each of us. A compassionate approach to life is nothing but a matter of choice, despite the occasional temptation to give in and join the ranks of those who fear and resent.

Compassion Starts Where Judgment Ends

Initially published as  column on AM News, now part of NewsKamloops

This past week I was among the many people who got to see the photo of a little Syrian boy who washed up on the shores of Turkey as a result of the horrific crisis that has thousands of refugees flee Syria. It’s the kind of photo that shakes and rattles people’s hearts, whether they have children or not.

The crisis is not new and there are now 4 million refugees in five host countries and a total of 15 million people in need of assistance inside and outside of Syria, according to Mercy Corps, a humanitarian aid organization presently on site in the Middle East.

While most people were horrified and considered the very image a visual of our failed humanity, some opinions opened the door to controversy and criticism. Peter Bucklitsch, UKip member and parliamentary candidate in the 2015 elections, said the boy was well dressed and well fed and his parents too greedy for the good life in Europe.

His tweet (deleted since) garnered supportive comments alongside highly critical ones. The ones defending the comment said there are plenty of hungry people already in the UK and other European countries lining up for food at food banks, there have been cuts that made impoverished people poorer and increased crime, and an influx of refugees would make matters worse.

Most people called him heartless and worse. Factually speaking, the comment is nothing but harsh judgment applied to people he knew nothing about and, from a compassionate point of view, there is little more one should say about a dead child other than ‘that is sad and unfortunate, unacceptable by anyone’s standards.’

Others argued that there are many children dying, not just in Syria, but in Ukraine and Africa and that a photo should not steal the front page the way this one did.

These are strange times indeed, where we can show our best or worst sides. There is no competition regarding children dying and where it happens most, and there should be no ‘us versus them’ either. A child that dies is one too many. To argue that too much attention is being given to one cases versus the others causes us all to lose track of what’s important and engage in useless rhetoric.

They do not call this situation a crisis for nothing. While political analysts are not entirely surprised to see how far it got, there are no adequate words to properly describe it either, which is why photographs are worth more than any. European governments have been accused of having supported the US war on the Middle East and North Africa for more than a decade, which lead to the displacements and desperation we see today.

It is overwhelming to say the least. More than half of the Syrian refugees are under the age of 18. In the context of the Western societies protecting their young ones, often to the point of bubble-wrapping, we have to think of what children in war-torn countries witness and go through, and what that says about our world as a whole.

There is no us and them, really. Race, colour and religion do not matter when we are witnessing a humanitarian crisis like the one taking place in Syria.

Some people wonder why anyone would opt to get themselves in shoddy boats in order to cross the Mediterranean Sea, putting themselves and their families, including children and infants, at risk of losing their lives.

Desperation is a mighty beast.

What would we all do if our country was subject to a war such as the one in Syria? How many of us would be willing to live in camps or outside of camps, never making an attempt to flee in search of a better life? How many of us would risk anything for that one chance to have it better for ourselves and our children?

I would argue that the world, troubled and exhausted as it seems, has enough resources still for all who live on it. When there is a will created by compassion in face of tragedy, there is a way to carry out good deeds.

It is easy to express judgment when removed from a situation. Trouble is, judgment stops compassion in its tracks. Whether we are talking about the missing Aboriginal women in Canada and the governmental lack of attention to it, or the human slavery that is still very much alive and an unfortunate part of the western world commercial goods market, or the humanitarian crises happening in many places around the world, allowing compassion to have a front seat reminds us of a simple truth: we are only as human as we allow ourselves to be by opening our minds and abstaining from judgment so that compassion can thrive instead.

Taking Care Of Our Vulnerable Ones Is A Matter Of Importance

(Initially published as a column in the AM News)

giftsBetween 1998 and 2002 when my oldest son was born, I spent every Saturday morning practising social skills with a boy who had autism. He had a very sweet face and big brown eyes, and, just like any other six-year-old, he was happy to have people visit. Because of his condition, he had a couple of visits every week and his parents were relieved to have the help and also that extra bit of time off.

I was a volunteer, part of a buddy program that the Autism Society of BC had to put an end to in 2000, regretfully (sad to imagine that a program that used free community resources of the best kind – willing people, could not be saved). I opted to keep working with the boy, despite the program being terminated until my son was born and my days underwent a new baby reform and time to spare became a dream.

The boy’s family had many concerns about the future because they knew that one day their little boy with autism will become an adult with autism and the somewhat limited resources will be even more limited. They were right. He is now 21 and part of the group of adults with developmental disabilities who have access to limited care and resources, if any, outside their home.

A ‘then what?’ situation that I have come to hear of more than one time, and not just autism-related.

The son of some of my close friends has Duchenne muscular dystrophy and their journey, challenging by default one could say, has been, at times, even more challenging due to closed doors and a rather undignifying message of ‘No, we cannot help you with that.’

The community they live in stepped up and organized fundraisers to help out. It meant the world to my friends, but the fact remains that their expectations to have an ‘official’ hand get them out of the murky waters of increasing financial burdens and a quagmire of worries regarding the future are being put to test too often.

It is hard to imagine that kind of anguish. It is shameful that there is not enough funding to support those most vulnerable in our society. An ever-growing group, by all accounts and unfortunately so, that includes many people, young and old, with different issues; from developmental disabilities, to genetic conditions to cancer and mental issues, we hear of waiting lists and dwindling resources, and at the same time we hear of willing staff trying to help but becoming equally frustrated at the limited amount of funds that provincial and federal governments allocate to those in need.

In our own part of the woods here in Kamloops, we have but one oncologist at RIH, which means new patients who need one are directed to Kelowna. Cancer treatments and traveling do not mix well but what to do if you have no choice? The local discussion forums have been rife with arguments over the allocation of (lots of) money for the new Performing Arts Center when matters such as lack of specialized clinics are more needed in our midst. Steamy pros and cons matches aside, those who have been under threat, or their loved ones, know that available care is vital.

In caring for the most vulnerable, a country shows its true colours one could say. Budgets are never easy to figure out and issues keep piling up. Yet at the same time, those of us who are most at risk and their caregivers cannot be pushed to the side and told to wait until resources, be it money or people, are available. Some simply cannot wait; they do not have the luxury to do so.

It is heartwarming to see that at an individual or community level many people care and are willing to help out, but that is not enough to get those who need help through the thick of it. With elections approaching, we need to ask those who want to take the lead to care for our vulnerable ones. Together with a much needed solid education agenda, a plan to revive services and set aside funds for those in need should be a must-do for our soon to be elected government. We will all be better for it.

As I already said, it is hard to imagine the anguish of those who desperately need help, yet we have to do it. Our humanity obliges us to.

 

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