2017 Returns

2017 has brought so many blessings to my life already! It feels like a luscious harvest of all kinds of beautiful fruits after years of draught and poor crops, disappointments and hunger. 

There is so much joy in following our own hearts, not compromising our core values, living in harmony with what we believe is important, standing up for ourselves. 

Somehow we need to be prepared to lose everything and start from scratch, in order to set ourselves free to lead the life we really want. 

What is the life I really want? It is actually what I already have. The health, the family and friends, the job. Everything that disturbs that will be removed. Everything that adds on top of that will be the icing on the cake. 

The misery of being half a human being and not being able to be myself is over. I feel like shouting from the top of a mountain: Halleluya! I am FREE! 

Money

An acquaintance made a comment that the single thing determining quality or value is how much it’s worth in terms of money. A provoking thought but unfortunately maybe not that far from the truth. 

Money is at its best when used for the greater good. Personally I think money is at its worst when it curses the people that have it with a sense of entitlement. Just go ask any Norwegian. The entire country gone from rural poor to exorbitantly rich within a couple of generations. According to one of my Norwegian acquaintances, easy money (or oil) is spoiling the country’s youth. No need to strive, no need to work or perform. Just ask and you will receive. You might not even have to ask. 

The issue with entitlement is that it makes us believe that we deserve something we have not earned. Just because. And that’s not real. Everything we have, material or immaterial, we need to earn. I know this is kind of Biblical but just consider for a moment. 

We have to earn respect, liberty, trust, love, friendship, kindness, rights, peace. Nothing is a given, but rather a result of our own actions. Guess what? Behaving like an asshole with money won’t earn you respect, love or friendship. You’ll be a rich, lonely asshole. 

That’s another reason that I find tax havens a hideous thing. The super rich tax evasors have agreed with themselves that they are entitled to their money and deserve to keep it to themselves. In theory that might be true in a system with no public services, public infrastructure, etc. But thankfully humanity has collaborated from its beginnings and evolved towards building systems that guarantee a minimum welfare and equal rights and opportunities for all, in recognition of our deeply social nature and our interdependency. “Survival of the fittest” is such a dumbass notion – knowing how vulnerable we are, and how it all can change in a split second. No one is invincible. 

In fact, the super rich would never be able to make a buck in a world without taxation. I’d even argue that taxes make business activity possible. Taxes ensure infrastructure, health, education. Everything that is needed to create value and do business. 

Applied to our personal lives, many of us have experienced having to share common goods with family, ex-spouses, etc. I guess inheritance and divorce are main life events where money becomes a symbol of the underlying feelings and beliefs we hold true about life, relationships and each other.

In those instances we reveal ourselves, good or bad. The skeletons come crawling out of the closet. It becomes about every kind of wound and disappointment experienced in the relationship, it’s personal. That’s why it so often ends miserably. 

At the end of the day, each one of us is responsible for how the choices we make about money impact our relationships. It can be an instrument used for the greater good and benefitting the largest amount of people in a family or a community. It can be an instrument of social justice and solidarity, taking into account capability and burden. 

Or it can be an instrument of power and a symbol of superiority and avid individualism/egoism. In which case the “fittest” should keep in mind that there is a universal form of justice called Karma
What goes around, comes around.

#money #cantbuyyoulove #butitcandestroyit

Seven days of Calm

Last spring I came across a meditation app and decided to give it a try as I was in need of relaxation in order to deal with my father’s serious condition. 10 minute sessions for 7 days seemed like an acheivable goal. This was my experience with the 7 days of calm from the Calm app.

Day 1: 

The construction work outside is driving me nuts…

I try to control my thoughts and focus on breathing

Female meditation guide, soothing sound of waves, sunset on the beach

I feel good…

Need a nap!

Day 2: 

I go for a quick meditation session on the bus

Session starts reminding me of the benefits of mindfulness and meditation – good trick to keep me motivated, plus I can’t jump off the bus 😊

Breathing in – breathing out

Succeeded to shut out conversation from German and Cuban passagers in front and at back of bus

Felt relaxed afterwards

Day 3:

Theme was self-compassion

Very difficult to keep focused on the meditation

Thoughts wondered

Note to self- do not meditate right after lunch in middle of digestive process

Day 4:

Theme was self love – I need this session!

I got up at 4 am to travel. I tried to meditate on the train home, which proved to be a mistake.

I retook the session when at home, in my tracksuit and on the floor. I think this particular meditation demands more practice. The four sentences you have to repeat to yourself are:

May I be happy

May I be safe

May I be healthy

May I be at peace

And then extending those wishes to someone close, someone neutral and if possible, to the rest of the world

If everyone took this session again and again until it became our common mantra, the world would be in better shape!

Day 5 

Today’s theme was about the skill of meditation. Meditation is simple, but not easy. It requires practice and discipline.

Difficult to keep my focus on breath, particularly since I was so hungry (almost noon and no breakfast this morning) my thoughts wander to family matters. Still, the meditation guide tells me I should congratulate myself for making this session a priority. I love this Tamara lady, she makes me feel good about myself.

Day 6

Today’s theme was Patience. This meditation session was agony! I changed postures several times, I was falling asleep.

I guess I’m not patient enough.

Day 7

Today’s theme was concentration. I started the session by the lake, an ideal place to meditate, I thought. It proved impossible due to the many insects landing on my legs and arms. I decided to stop the session, that I retook at home in the balcony. It was wonderful. I’m not sure I concentrated much more but I did relax until the end. I am getting very attached to Tamara, I like her voice and her messages. I think I might have a crush on her 😀

This was a good introduction to meditation. It’s easy to fit into even the busiest schedules. It might be a while before I can meditate properly and experience the full benefits, but this was definitely a good start! 

Agur Jauna

Dad passed away last July 30th in the morning. We managed to fulfill his wish of dying in his own home.  

The last months were increasingly painful and by the end, his passing felt like a relief. At last he could rest in peace. 

The journey has been an emotional roller coaster. Not only was managing the disease and the patient demanding, but it became even more draining to deal with the well meant but incessant interest of family and friends. Trying to schedule their visits, answering the phone calls and messages daily, apologizing for my father’s behavior often times. My father was like a wounded lion that kept fighting everything and everyone. 

After 20 years living apart, being together again brought back many memories of my childhood and youth. Being back in Bilbao, close to my father’s sisters and friends reconnected me to a world that I had moved and grown away from. 

For 7 months my gang became a group of 70+ year olds, which proved enriching and demanding at the same time. There is a lot to be said for this group of people. They have all been present through the process and supported in every way they could. They have shown up for every hospitalization, for every crisis, they have brought cooked meals, they have put up with dad’s unjustified reprimands and tantrums and tried their best to understand and please a dying man. 

My father sought isolation at times and found friends and family rather intrusive, but he did not have the courage or the energy to establish boundaries, and left his daughters with the ungrateful task to turn visitors down, or to answer his mobile phone for him, etc. 

It has been interesting to observe the patterns of behavior established between my father and  two of his siblings. The passion, the drama, the rivalry. As well as the zealous smuthering and care. Both sides of the medal which are probably common in many family relationships, certainly in Mediterranean countries. I reckon a psychologist would have a field day studying the Puntonet siblings. The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. 

I certainly recognize elements of this in my own sibling relationships, and I do hope we are able to evolve from where we come from, and avoid perpetuating unhealthy relationship dynamics. I guess all it takes to get it right is genuine acceptance, no expectations and no judgement. Simple recipe, but in my own experience extremely difficult to achieve. 

My father has taught me valuable life lessons, I have recognized much of myself in him, also the opportunities for personal development and for making different and wiser choices in life. 

One morning, when he was still relatively communicative, I asked him what advice he would give me about life. He said: “well, it’s important to act according to your personal values and convictions, I believe that you already do this… and then you should not worry too much about making mistakes. Evaluate the results of your decisions and if necessary change them.” Not suprisingly his advice was that of an executive, an organizer, a first mover. A man that made decisions and made mistakes, but who ultimately was true to himself. Until the end. 

Thank you dad. I know you are well now. I miss you. 

The comfort of Classic movies

“Cowboy movies are simpler than a yo-yo’s mechanism”, as the father of my good friend said. He sadly passed last fall, a victim of the same type of cancer that is consuming my dad now. 

They both belong to the same generation, born in the early 1940s in a Spain that just got out of a devastating and bloody Civil War. Most of the kids in my dad’s generation experienced hunger and scarcity. The result was that by the time the economy turned somewhat around and these kids were young men in the 1960s, still living in a Catholic dictatorship with very few tolerated pleasures, abundant food and drink were at the epicenter of all activity worth spending time on. Perhaps with the exception of going to the movies. 

I remember dad’s stories about the time when there was no TV, only radio. And when going to the movies was a special event. It was a window to the world, even when censorship was selecting what you were looking at. My dad’s view of the world was shaped in some measure by all those Classic movies from another time, when men’s references were  John Wayne, Humphrey Bogart, Gregory Peck or Charlton Heston, to name a few. 

I feel much sympathy for the Spanish baby boomers, they got the shortest straw. None of them experienced real freedom in their youth, women’s lib never arrived, the hippy movement was extraterrestrial to them if they ever heard of it. By the time there was any real consciousness, protest or revolt against the Spanish establishment in the second half of the seventies, most of these guys were already married and with small kids to feed and living life like their parents. And sometimes in total inner contradiction, torn between the traditional expectations of a rigid society and Bob Dylan’s the times they are a changin’.

Anyhow, my father loves movies. As soon as the video appeared as a household commodity in Spain, he bought a VHS AKAI machine and recorded all kind of films from the television, which we then would watch, particularly on weekends. Bilbao is a rainy city, so a fair amount of my childhood was spent watching old movies at home, which turned me into a bit of a Classic movie nerd. While other kids my age watched “Ghostbusters”, my idea of comedy was Hepburn and Tracy’s “Adam’s rib.”

Today we are back to basics. There is nothing more important than what is going on at this very minute. We try not to think about tomorrow, nor the day after. We don’t make plans. Our days are a series of routines mastered over the past months, only disrupted by the occasional visit to the hospital’s ER. These routines make my father feel safe and calm. 

Like our daily dose of Classic movies. There is something comforting about the memories these films evoke, about the associations, the storylines, the format. They sooth my dad, distract him from his troubles, allow him a break from his physical and emotional strain.  

When it’s movie time, everything else gets shut out and for some moments he gets the freedom he has always wanted. We’ll keep ’em comin’, dad. Just for you. 

Why I cannot be arsed about FB etiquette and other forms of social theater

Yes, most people with Internet access have a digital social life. Obviously digital social lives have rules, and there is some consensus about what is good and bad behavior on social media. 

In reality I find the rules should not differ much from offline social life. Basic rules of politeness and courtesy apply, like “do onto others as you would like done onto you”. However this is not always the case. Often social media platforms host a rougher tone which would be unacceptable in face-to-face interactions. Likewise, we place a set of expectations on social media relations that we would not dream of placing in real life interactions. In real life we chose when we hear from each other or share a special moment, like a night at the movies. We might not see each other for a while after that. We decide when and where we interact and are not obliged to follow each other around 24 hours a day. Yet we expect full access and attention on social media, and feel rejected or offended if we do not get it whenever we want it. 

One thing that particularly bugs me about social media is the implicit obligation to befriend someone if they invite you. Because they are colleagues, acquaintances you like, they have a relationship with someone close to you, etc. I have fallen for it quite a few times. After a while, the number of Facebook friends explodes and you find your social life is taken over by peripherical persons that you are either not ready or not willing to have daily updates from. 

Facebook provides us with the opportunity to hide posts from people so we only see posts from those we are really interested in. We can also filter our posts to target the persons we really want to share with. And so the social deception begins. We can pretend to be friends and like everyone, we can be nice. What a bunch of polite hipocrites!

I actually not only like but care about a lot of people. I have long-lasting, deep, fun, healthy relationships with people, and those are the ones I want to prioritize on Facebook too. These relationships are usually valuable because they were built on trust, genuine interest and many personal interactions over the years. 

When I have befriended someone mainly out of a sense of obligation I have regretted it every time. I then had 2 options: hide and filter or withdraw and unfriend. For me the only right option is to be truthful and unfriend. To me this only means: I am not ready yet, I need more time to care enough. I probably like you, but I’m not ready for us to be following each other around 24/7.

So, dear Facebook friend, if you don’t care enough to see my posts or share with me, please unfriend me. I will understand. And then who knows? We might even have a chance for building a real, trusting relationship with each other in future. 

3-6 months

3-6 months is my father’s prognosis. He has an advanced inoperable pancreatic cancer. We got the news recently and we are still trying to accept it and cope.  “Let’s see how we manage this closing act”, my father said to me while in hospital. 

Managing the closing act is not turning out to be easy. My dad jokingly remarks that one should die two or three times in order to learn and master how to die well. It weighs on him when he is unable to live up to his own high expectations. He has always sought to excel at what he does. When you are a man of order, you have a hard time accepting that you are no longer in control of the situation.  

But what does dying well mean anyway? The measure of dying or living well is individual. For me it’s about authenticity and being coherent with your personal values. But I guess it can be about many things depending on who you are, being true to oneself, dignity, character, independence, relationships…

The process of dying sends you into a cocoon, where the only thing you can consider are your own most immediate needs. You become irritable, you lash out at people and loose your grip, especially with your closest and dearest. You also start detaching yourself from life. You stop doing the activities you once loved, like reading or writing. 

Though we have seen each other every year, my father and I have lived apart in different countries for 20 years. Thinking back on 2015, it’s been incredibly fortunate that we got to see each other more than usual due to a combination of family occasions, vacations and business trips to Spain. 
We enjoyed the opportunity to be together, chat, go to the market, cook some of our favorite meals and watch Classic movies. 

 
One of the highlights of last autumn’s visits was going to the theater together to see Euripides’ Greek tragedy “Elektra”. When the play finished, we agreed that the Greeks had human nature all figured out several thousand years ago 😊

During the October vacation, we went for some scenic drives together, among others to Torre Loizaga to see a great collection of veteran luxury cars.   

Dad was already then not feeling very well. He had trouble sleeping and an uneasy stomach, the sensation of being bloated and full. He was tired. The doctor said it was probably flatulence and prescribed something against the symptoms. Without further investigation of the root causes, dad was put on the waiting list to see a specialist. 

Eventually the specialist did see him in the middle of december, diagnosed him with a bacteria and prescribed an antibiotic treatment.  

Next time we saw each other again was at Christmas. I was shocked. My father had lost about 12-15 kgs, was extremely thin, weakened and exhausted. Friends and family had prompted him to see the doctor or go to ER but he wouldn’t hear of it. He had just taken the antibiotic treatment, he said. It was a 10 day treatment and now things would turn around. On December 27th, I was done waiting for an improvement and took him to hospital to ER together with my little sister and her husband. 

Dad had severe pains and could not stand up. We sat him on a wheel chair and waited for our turn. We waited what was an eternity for someone in his condition, from 5 p.m to 2 a.m. After the first few exams, my dad got finally admitted into hospital in the middle of the night. 

Several days of tests followed, including a scanner. The scanner showed a tumor in his pancreas. A sample biopsy was still pending, but we were sent home without knowing when it would be scheduled. A miserable New Year’s Eve followed where dad was still in pain and depressed. 

On January the 4th, we decided to go back to ER. If nothing else, dad’s pains needed to be put under control. This time the hospitalization lasted a couple of weeks. The first biopsy sample was not valid, so a new sample had to be extracted on the second week. Complications to his health emerged that also needed medical attention. 

 

Finally the results came back and the doctor was direct when breaking the news. The hours and days that followed were very intense for my father, as well as for the family and close friends. 

I know that my father wishes to die with dignity, at home and surrounded by his daughters. He wishes to die sooner than later a death without pain and being as little a burden as possible.  

I am a 42 year old woman. I understand that death is a natural part of life. I understand that this will come to all of us, and now has arrived for my dad with a warning, giving us all the opportunity to say goodbye. 

Although I do not wish his suffering, I do not feel ready to part. My dad is dependent now, so I moved in with him to support him through this process. I feel that it is a necessity for me too, as I intuitively know that being with him now will help me when he passes. I am extremely thankful that my employer has allowed me this time off, and that I have my partner and childrens full support. 

I understand my father’s remark about dying three times. We are constantly learning how to deal with and adapt to new situations in life. We have never tried this before. And all we can attempt is to learn fast and try to do our best. In that sense we are all novices. At least I know I am.