I hope that our towns and cities can become compassionate communities in which people live and die well. We need to break through our fears, especially in the UK in talking more openly about death.
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I hope that our towns and cities can become compassionate communities in which people live and die well. We need to break through our fears, especially in the UK in talking more openly about death.
I hope that Lancaster, the city in which I live may become the first official compassionate city in the UK. I don’t mind if it isn’t, but I do hope that many cities choose to take on this mantle.
Here is a beautiful and moving animation of what becoming a compassionate community is about.
This guy, Nick Vujicic, is undoubtedly one of my heroes – watch him, and be inspired, challenged and healed.
If you have never read ‘The Secret Garden’ by Frances Hodgson Burnett, then read no further, go and read that book and then come back! Seriously – it is one of the most beautiful children’s stories ever told and I have just finished reading it to my eight year old daughter.
It is a story at many levels, but ahead of its time it reveals the power of our psyche in affecting our physical health and how changing the way we think can alter our wellbeing – both physical and mental. Colin, a rejected and yet thoroughly spoilt boy believes he is going to develop a hunch back and die young. His entire life is driven by anxiety of what might happen and a kind of hatred of himself and the world around him. That is until a girl, who was once very similar to him and a boy, who is as free and loving as any human could be, enter his life and awaken the possibility of transforming hope.
I have seen so many patients over the years who believe incredibly negative things about themselves and the world around them. Some of them have evidence to back this up and others most certainly do not. What amazes me time and again is that those who allow their minds and thought patterns to be transformed become much physically stronger and more whole. Those who refuse to change the way they think (because it is actually a choice and a retraining of our thoughts – no one else actually makes us do it) stay as they are and get worse, which always makes me sad. It is not simply about the power of positive thinking. It is choosing to align yourself with a wholly different story, with a different set of imaginings, with hope for the future in place of despair, with love in place of fear.
Colin finds the ‘magic’ that helps him to change. The same magic that causes the plants to grow and the seasons to change; that allows creatures to give birth and the birds to sing their songs. The magic that teaches a boy to walk, a girl to reach out, a hardened old man to cry and a father and son to restore a broken relationship. The magic that allows the place of our greatest pain to become a place of redemptive joy. The magic that allows a human heart to soften and learn to love. It’s what John Newton calls ‘amazing grace’. It’s what I call the Holy Spirit. The dancing One who breaths life through everything and invites us into this same dance. To throw off self-pity and shame and to find life in all its fullness instead. All it takes really is the deliberate choice that we can change and once we open up the possibility, well, truly anything can happen!
In my opinion there are two main systemic barriers to providing great health care on the NHS, currently (there are other ones also but in terms of the system itself – these are the two biggest). The answer to overcoming them btw is not privatisation via the TTIP. I like to look for solutions to problems, rather than focus on the negative….
So, firstly (and it really isn’t that hard to do, it just requires some funding, which in the medium/long term would be money seriously well spent):
Amalgamate patient electronic records and share them across the system. There is so much time/money wasted and clinical errors made because of this very easy to solve issue. I’m sure there are reasons why citizens may feel concerned and I really do understand them, but given the great work already going on in Tameside at the hands of the excellent, Dr Amir Hannan, and the positive feedback from patients, this needs to rolled out as far and wide as possible.
It helps patients feel more able to manage their own health conditions and ensures notes are always available at each consultation. It means medication changes are managed more safely and effectively and information is shared between professionals in a timely way.
Break down the silo mentality and reality of the various care organisations. Breaking down the walls that prevent effective team working and amalgamating the budgets of health and social care will be a huge breakthrough for care. We are already seeing this with the establishment of Integrated Care Teams within general practice. The teams comprise of: GPs, Community Matrons, District Nurses, Community Therapists, Midwives, Health Visitors, Mental Health Teams, Social Workers, the Police, the Fire brigade, and a Care Co-ordinator to pull it all together. If you also throw into the mix third sector organisations aligned with practices and patient volunteers, you have an amazing force for good!
There are some warnings to put in place. Manchester, which is the first place to really try this under ‘Devo Manc’ is having a huge overall budget cut (20%) as it launches into it. The hope is that by working more collaboratively and in an integrated way, savings will be made. But the ‘Save our NHS’ group have some major misgivings.
 Independent: What is TTIP? And six reasons why it should scare you:
Huffington Post: Corporate Courts — A Big Red Flag on ‘Trade’ Agreements:
 MEPs will be voting on a resolution on TTIP in Strasbourg on June 10th. It’s not a legally binding vote, but what MEPs decide will send a strong message back to the European Commission about where we all stand on TTIP. If there’s enough opposition, especially to the worst parts of TTIP, it could damage the deal for good:
Euractiv: What will Parliamentarians vote on TTIP?
 You can find out more about the European Citizens Initiative and who’s involved here:
If you want to, you can sign a petition here:
We need to continue with the kind of healthcare we actually believe in, improving it where this needs to happen, without it being stolen from those who need it most because of greedy trade deals.
In my video blog about ‘Reimagining Health’, I talked about the fact that our well being is not and cannot be an isolated, individualistic experience. The truth is that we are part of a Corporate Body (that is a community of people with a physical environment in which we live) with a Corporate Soul (a set of beliefs/mindsets/worldview) and a connection to the Corporate Spirit (which in my view is either the spirit of love aka God or the spirit of fear). These corporate experiences have a massive impact on our individual sense of health and wellbeing, and actually, as we are part of the corporate, our individual wellbeing has an impact on others around us also.
Our Corporate Soul is the issue I want to concentrate on in this post. It is complex and something to which I believe we pay little attention. However, it’s effect on our individual and corporate wellbeing is vast. Take a moment to think about the subliminal messages that come through our various forms of news and multimedia everyday.
“Your life isn’t as good as your ‘friends’ on Facebook”
“You need to be on Facebook or you are missing out on so much”
“Unemployment is being caused by Immigrants – be wary of them”
“Be afraid – people hate our country and are trying to kill us for the ‘values’ we uphold”
“The way our country does things is right and just and those who die for ‘our country’ are never to be forgotten”
“Pollution is rising – we are heading for natural disasters”
“Buy the new car – you need it, don’t worry about the pollution – live for the now”
“The chocolate industry is built on the slave trade”
“You can’t change anything, so keep on eating all the chocolate you want”
“Banks are to blame for the financial crisis”
“We have bailed out the banks with taxpayers’ money, because we need them so much.”
“Really the reason for our national debt is the poor, who claim too many benefits – we should blame them because they are lazy – we won’t bail them out”
“We all need to live longer”
“We can live however we want – our healthcare is free”
“Our children aren’t doing as well as some other children around the world when we measure them against a set of very narrow targets – therefore we need more targets and more testing”
“The only way to keep our nation really safe is to keep the nuclear deterrent – in the end, this is what makes us safe”
“Our armed forces protect us by using violent force to topple regimes which do not suit our national interest. Power vacuums are now left in those nations with untold turmoil and the rise of significant extremism of which we should be even more afraid and need to silence. We will do this with more force. The use of violence make us feel safe”
No wonder we are so messed up. We have some very damaging and also conflicting messages coming at us, especially through the (social) media 24/7. When do we stop to ask ourselves how healthy our worldview/beliefs/mindsets are? How much of our life is driven by fear? A fear of want? A fear of lack? A fear of the ‘other’? A fear of loss? A fear of debt? A fear of attack? And how much of this feeds our individual(istic) souls of self-protectionism?
How badly we need some conversations together that enable us to challenge some of our current core beliefs. We will not find a place of health and well-being, happiness or wholeness until we do. We have aligned our lives with the Spirit of Fear and our Corporate Soul is entirely broken as a result. We must realign ourselves with the story of Love. There is so much goodness out there. Can you see it? Only love can drive out fear. Only love can heal and awaken our souls to another holistic way of being.
I am someone who has many dreams – I mean the night kind of dreams….very seldom would they be a night mare, but they come with incredible detail! Maybe this is because my mind is processing, maybe it’s because I’m a bit weird or maybe it’s because I’m finally quiet and the Spirit of God can talk to me!
Anyway, one of the things I’ve been thinking about quite a bit is the ‘corporate personality’ of cities. My great friend, Martin Scott, has previously done some work on this. Just as people, with their own history and nurture form their own personality, so too does a place. Personally, I’m a fan of the Enneagram as a way of helping understand who we are, why we are, what our shadow self is like and how to become more our ‘true-selves’. I believe this can also be applied to our towns/cities/regions and nations. If we understand the personality of the place we live in, we can help it become fully flourishing and enable it to become the right kind of ‘gift’ to other places. If you don’t know anything about the enneagram, then I would recommend Richard Rohr’s excellent take on it.
Anyway, recently, I had a dream about the city of Coventry (the city where I grew up – I love it!) which I think is a type 4 personality. In the dream, I was in the New Cathedral (one of my all time favourite buildings) and I was helping to facilitate a discussion with a diverse group of people from all over the city. The discussion took the form of a ‘world-cafe’ (a brilliant technique taught by the ‘Art of Hosting’). The underlying premise for the discussion was recognising that the 3 main ‘gifts’ of Coventry’s personality are as follows:
1) A place of peace and reconciliation
2) A place of refuge and healing
3) A place of creativity, innovation and development
And so the question being discussed was this:
If Coventry was ‘well’ how would it be flourishing in it’s primary gifts?
I wonder if we connected more with the personality of our cities and asked our selves similar questions, just how different our cities (places) could be? One of my passions is for health and wellbeing……what are the places we live in like – what do they look like, sound like, smell like, taste like, feel like, behave like, when they are healthy and well?
You might want a cup of tea whilst you read this! I often see patients a week or two after they have been discharged from hospital with a Myocardial Infarction (what we often refer to as a heart attack). In this part of my home county, once someone is diagnosed with having a MI, they are admitted to Blackpool Victoria Hospital, where an amazing team of cardiologists literally save their life by putting stents into arteries in their heart that have become clogged up. It has been a phenomenal breakthrough in medical science in the last 15 years and has revolutionised how cardiology services are configured.
New medicines are prescribed to help keep the heart and kidneys healthy and patients are reviewed to see how they are getting on. What I always love in the initial consultation following a heart attack is how reflective a person becomes. Everything in their life gets assessed and reprioritised. Key questions are asked about how much stress they have been under, and why they were living at such a fast pace whilst forgetting about what is really important – living well, relationships, love, beauty, people and connecting with the story of who they feel they really want to be for the rest of their life. It is very rare to find a person who is desperate to get back to business as usual or someone who doesn’t ask some fundamental questions about what life is for. It is possible in some of these consultations to have some of the best coaching conversations a practitioner can ever hope to participate in. Asking some questions of the patient about what they are going to change and how they are going to do so.
And yet, in the UK (and indeed the west), we suffered a heart attack beyond all proportions with the economic crash of 2008. But we have not really reflected on the major warning sign that it was to us. We have a government and financial system intent on “getting us back on track” – and I wonder to what, exactly? It isn’t that the financial system alone, just happened to have an infarction. It’s like assuming that a heart attack happens simply because of a defect in the cardiac system itself – this simply isn’t true. The crash was only a sign of just how broken our entire body is and we would do well to reflect a great deal more about how we are living as a nation and whether it gives us any real sustainability for the future of the planet and the generations to come. Our current response is not only to “get back on track” with where we were, but to “tighten our belts” (which means to cut benefits left right and centre without regard for the dehumanisation of people in the process). It’s like believing the correct response following an MI is to emaciate and punish yourself, without asking some fundamental questions about how healthy your whole life is.
So, what about about a national health check – let’s look at each system in turn and ask some questions – because the truth is, we haven’t faced the fact that we are in an age of transition in which answers are not obvious and we don’t have any experts who have been to the alternative future we long for. So, we have to learn together and ask open questions that provoke better conversations to help us.
Let’s start with Education. George Monbiot has written a stunning piece in the Guardian about the current health of the education system: http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/jun/09/aspirational-parents-children-elite?CMP=share_btn_fb – well worth a read. Our education secretary, Nicky Morgan on the other hand is intent on more testing of our children and has recently given a speech in which she claimed that arts and humanities subject choices close down a child’s career options and they will earn 10% more in their life if they do Maths at A level – whooppee do dah. For an alternative and altogether more inspiring approach, look to the lovely Ken Robinson:
Couldn’t education become about real learning in which our children feel inspired and find hope for the future?
Ecology – Oh dear – so far a string of broken promises on the environment from the western governments. It turns out that oil and industry is more important than the future of the planet. Is it? If not, what are we going to do?
Defence – undergirding our entire nation are three things: Money as debt (see finance), the state of the exception (see law and order) and military violence. The ultimate trust of our nation rests on nuclear warheads. How healthy is this? How much fear do we have to create as a narrative to believe this is actually a good thing? Do we want that to be the undergirding faith of our nation? And what about the change in rhetoric regarding soldiers who die in war. David Cameron recently referred to soil from the battle fields of WWI (which was brought to London) as ‘Holy Ground’ and he described those who died fighting for the ‘allied forces’ as ‘martyrs’. Is the nation state therefore the ‘saviour’? If it is, what on earth do we mean by this? If not, then is there other language we can find to use about the two world wars without creating a very dangerous worldview?
Housing – 69% of the land continues to be owned by 0.6% of the population and there is a real lack of social housing available in deprived areas. This is causing significant problems for those already under huge financial strain, given the effects of austerity measures. Who does the land belong to and why?
Justice – How many of the perpetrators of crime are victims of a system that left them with little or no other choice but to commit crime? How restorative is our justice process?
Law and Order – our prisons are full to breaking, our police force is being cut and replaced with private security firms. How effective is our law and order system? And what undergirds it? Georgio Agamben cuts through to the heart of the issue in his exquisite book ‘State of Exception’. Underneath the whole of western ‘democracy’ lies the right for the government to suspend the rule of law i.e. invoke Marshall law if deemed necessary. I look at the people movements emerging across Europe right now and wonder how far we are from the ‘state of exception’ being invoked. All it will prove, as we already know, is that democracy is a vain imagination. What is it that undoes ‘the powers’? Could a movement for positive peace, founded on love offer any realistic alternative? If so, what?
Immigration – apparently the answer to our problems is to become more fearful of the ‘other’, create a politics of fear and blame immigrants for our financial problems. We are barricading our doors and building up our walls to ‘protect our way of life’. And while there are currently 4 million homeless Syrian refugees, the UK has welcomed 147 of them in total. Did you know that the entire world population could fit into Texas? Our concerns about lack of space and lack of jobs is really unfounded and we seem willing to ‘love our neighbours’ with great initiatives like comic relief and generous charitable giving, just as long as it doesn’t actually have to affect us and our way of life…..how loving is that? How healthy is love that does not truly cost us and change us?
Health – this whole blog is about it, but 1 in every 5 pounds spent in the NHS is due to poor lifestyle choices we are making. We can’t live exactly how we want if we hope to continue with a health service that is free for everybody. How will we change the culture? Can we find innovative ways of working collaboratively within the system that breaks down the silos in order to work more effectively for the good of our national health? Is privatisation the answer? If not, what are we willing to change/protest about to keep it public?
Government – a majority with 36.4% of the vote? Deeply wrong. There continues to be profound disengagement with the system and a deep cynicism that the current style of government can bring any real lasting change. We need a new politics – what might that be like? Where are the leaders who will choose to facilitate instead of dominate?
Economy – ah yes, that old chestnut. Do we want an economy in which the gap between rich and poor continues to widen? Do we want a system in which the poor are punished whilst the rich are exonerated for their greedy crimes? The entire western economy is based on a system of debt that requires us to continually grow and expand our borders so that the debt can be serviced. We have become slaves to the economic beast. Where are the alternative experiments emerging? What can we learn from them? Are we brave enough to try something new? I have posted this before, on my other blog – www.reimaginingthefuture.org but Charles Eisenstein is so worth watching:
The human heart provides us with a great metaphor. The health of our nation(s) is not good. We’ve had the wake up call, and if we’re not careful (this is a warning from a doctor, so take heed), the next heart attack will be even more catastrophic. We have to reflect on where we are and ask ourselves where our current trajectory will lead us. I don’t want to get back on track if it leads us to more depression, destruction and decay. I want to find the road less traveled by – the one that leads to life, hope, love, regeneration, recreation and a beautiful future for our children. So many questions. So much to learn.
After my last blog post, I got a couple of responses from people who felt I misrepresented them. I am always happy when people come back to me in discussion. We are never changed if we cannot receive challenge or we do not really encounter ‘the other’. So here is a conversation between me and a lovely person called Elly who helped me think more deeply about the complex issues of living with illness.
I’ve been introduced to your blog via Martin Scott’s, a dear friend. Interesting timing in that my daughter (in New York) and myself in the uk are both seeing consultants today looking at our multiple autoimmune diseases plus some possible new ones! We also have a group of friends praying today, as our health puts limitations on us. So here’s the thing, I read “living with” and then “are you healthy?” and got very angry….. don’t go away…. chronic illness is real, debilitating and often life threatening.. you know that. We would love to be able to function without them, sometimes it’s not possible and sometimes can mean often.
You suggest that health professionals and I would add government and well meaning charities label us disabled. I use the term disabled to get financial aid, practical help and to explain what it’s like because chronic illness doesn’t cut it for most people (they think it’s all in you head) another label. NHS and benefits don’t relate to it either. I was challenged by my use of the word and would like a creative way to describe my life (ever read the spoon theory?) My friends have been really positive with this site. Back to my anger… Maybe at myself for using the D word but also because I feel by putting us in 2 catergories you too have labelled us. We’re neither a or b (ok I know some are) but I am me, but with those limits… I’m my head I dream and sometimes wish I didn’t because trying to act on those dreams however small can bring on a crisis. I divert.. May I suggest that you too find a new way to address us?
are you healthy?
eating ..when we’re not nauseaous
exercising… limited due to poor mobility and pain
gratefulness… yes I am
care of others ….finding small creative ways to do this
nature would love to be out there too but grateful to hear the birds,watch the sky change
Now you may have not directed this at us but it felt like it so to try to deal with nasty feelings of mr anger I carried on listening to the amazing story of the 5th monk. (See reimagining health post). First you told it Soooo well, my attention was caught and I was totally engaged and with all that you shared. I think we will be hearing a lot more from you, you have a gift that will draw people to listen. What you say will be important (so maybe I had to get mad so I had to write to say all that (not from me).
If you want to use anything that I’ve written or you may want to delete feel free. Its been a long read admittedly or you may have given up! So bless you, continue on this journey and may others join. Use any of my stuff to encourage conversation. I’m going to get my gp reading this.
Wow – Elly – thank you so much for taking the time to write all of that. You are absolutely right and in my effort to write a shorter blog in which to engage people, I oversimplified it in a very unhelpful way. I was short sighted in how I communicated and probably pretty patronising as well – so for all of that I am really sorry. I guess we are only really changed as we encounter ‘the other’ and so I am hugely grateful that you took the time to tell me what it’s really like for you – it changes me.
In my experience with patients I find two broad categories of people who live with chronic ill health (be that back pain, a life limiting condition like MS, COPD/Asthma/Diabetes whatever).
Firstly, there are people who refuse to be shaped by their illness. They remain robustly determined that the illness will live with them but they will get on with life. It has become my conviction as a result, that you can have chronic ill health, be that physical or mental and still be well.
Secondly, there are those who are defined by and shaped by their illness. Some of this is the fault of the medical profession who label people according to their illness. In my last practice, we had a great policy (especially championed by one of our amazing nurses, Irene) that we would never talk about anybody as a ‘diabetic’ or an ‘asthmatic’. Rather we talked about a person who also happens to have diabetes or asthma. We wanted to define the person not the illness. But often people end up being wrongly defined and it hugely affects the way they live.
In these conversations about reimagining health, I want to recognise that 18 million people in the UK live with a chronic condition of some sort. So, if you are one of those people, my question is this: Are you living well with your illness or is it completely defining you?