This article encourages using kindness to enhance good health. Kindness by doctors, kindness by the person who is ill, kindness by caregivers. All of us  have the power to make someone feel better. Simple acts of kindness can have a positive impact on our health. Everyone involved has the potential to benefit by giving and receiving kindness.

There are times in all of our lives when being kind to ourselves and others is not a priority. We may feel consumed by stress, fear, worry and doubt. It could be our health or the health of a loved one that has put us into a depressed mood. Or we could be an overworked professional caring for others but finding it hard to smile, reassure, and communicate with kindness. Being kind is not difficult. The more you practice, the easier it becomes.

Kindness in the simplest sense is a positive transmission from you to another. That transmission can be a verbal or non-verbal communication that is sent by you to them. For a silent communication that is kind, consider how good a smile can feel. There are times when the grey foggy clouds of winter disappear for a brief couple of seconds when you are showered with a deliberate warm smile. And, that silent communication is as good for the person sending it. Why? Because they are digging inside of themselves to show a warm, caring, kind gesture. For some of us smiling might feel awkward, especially with people we don’t know well. There are people who pout or go through life rarely smiling. So using those muscles feels strange. Good. Let it feel strange. Send that smile. It can make the recipient feel better. It can make another person feel like they matter. Affirmation is such an important and often lost form of kindness. Yet it is so basic to the fabric of who we are and the way we connect with others.

A simple verbal form of kindness is asking “how are you,” “how do you feel,”? “what’s new in life”?  But, don’t just ask. Stay around and listen for the answer. Sometimes with illness there is a heightened feeling of isolation. When someone asks about us in a simple straightforward manner it can break through an emotional wall. It is a form of kindness that sends the message that the other person counts.

I know from personal experience that when I slow down and treat others kindly, they react with positive emotion. It makes a difference. And when I have been absorbed with pain, and certain people treated me with verbal kindness, I felt much better. It helped me shift into a more positive mindset. Every little kindness picks us up. Communicating with warmth and caring improves our emotional well being and health.

There are so many ways we can all manifest simple forms of kindness. Send a person you know a smile and a good word. Ask how they are. Make the effort and see how good it makes you both feel.

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Nine months ago my wife was diagnosed with breast cancer and several days later she had the lump successfully removed. Burned into my memory is the moment the doctor told us the news. My first thought and fear was, ‘what if I lose her?’. As her husband, with very protective tendencies, an emotional odyssey of strong and different feelings began.

At the same time my brother who lives on the east coast worsened. He was diagnosed with schizophrenia over thirty years ago. During the last ten years, as his guardian/caregiver (the rest of our family has passed), I was able to set him up in an apartment with programs, daytime help and a dog. He was able to live with restrictions; yet independently. Last fall his condition worsened and my role as a distant caregiver changed. He was diagnosed with a progressive brain disease. I was now dealing with new and more frequently indifferent medical help. This was a new level of stress. It felt like a gorilla on my back. My dominant emotions regarding care giving people I love became worry, fear and doubt.

As a Caregiver here are a few words of encouragement:

  1. You have an incredibly difficult and often unrecognized responsibility. People will come up to you and ask how so and so is doing, without any awareness that your eyes are red and strong aspirin is not stopping your headache.
  2. It takes tremendous emotional stamina to help an ill family member or loved one.
  3. Your ability to be a successful caregiver depends on how you learn to care for yourself. Here are some tips:
  • You deserve to know you have respect and honor that is often not recognized. Don’t expect to hear it, but let me tell you again. Being a caregiver earns you dignity and self-respect.
  • You don’t have to always answer friends and family when they ask questions about the person who is ill. I know a man who compulsively believes he has to give an updated biography about his wife, every time he is asked. Sometimes dredging it up feels miserable. I actually rehearsed with my wife some responses that would get me out of the “answer muck” in a respectful way. Here are a few responses to the question: “Thank you for asking and showing your kind support. Now is not a good time to talk, but again thanks for asking.” “Let’s talk about the illness later. Thanks for the concern and good feelings you send our way.”
  • Care giving can affect your mind, body and spirit. Take time out to relax and restore all of you. Listen to music, play a game or sport, get your own counseling to just talk out your worry, fear and doubt. You need and deserve support!
  • Don’t be embarrassed to get help. You have earned it. So many people say they would never go for counseling. Why not? Counseling can really help assuage your worries and fears. Or at least not let them grow and dominate you.
  • There are books for care givers. Read a few.
  • Laughing brings pleasure to the brain, releases stress and takes you away from thinking, thinking, thinking about the illness.
  • Make a new friend, hike in nature or play cards. Tell your closest friends you want to just hang out and talk about other things. All research says social interaction (in person not on line), helps eat away at the alienation that comes from care giving.
  • Learn how to be honest and speak from the heart with the person you are care giving . They are vulnerable and very able to hear your reality. Try to deepen your relationship through a deliberate attempt to improve communication.
  • Choose who you spend time with. I know someone who has been with his wife for years during her battle with cancer. He told me he chooses who he will spend time with, who he will talk with, and tries to bring less stress into his life so he can be there for his wife. Make a list of people in your life and minimize spending time with those people who don’t bring you benefit, kindness, or humility.
Care giving can be and often is very difficult. You are taking responsibility and doing your best to help someone who is fighting for their health. The stronger you are for them, the more effective your care giving. Take care of yourself. It will make a big difference.

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I feel communicating with people in our lives can be one of our great pleasures. People love to talk, argue, share perceptions, and discuss movies. The purpose of this blog post is to suggest a language and way of viewing a film that will enhance your discussions. Use it to widen your film vocabulary in order to express our many perceptions, feelings, opinions and thoughts we get from watching a good film. Let’s increase our ability to have a great conversation.

Writing

With film, the writing is the beginning (after the idea) of a collaborative process, which leads to various interpretations and languages for each interconnected component of the film. In other words, the camera speaks a language, as does the acting and directing and sound. A good film always has a wonderful interconnection between the various collaborators. The people who write a screenplay need to use a special language, other than dialogue, which gives instruction and information. For instance it might just say interior: with a description of the decrepit home or exterior with a very brief description of the rain outside the crowded streets of the city they are in. Good screenplay writing (even when taken from a book) must talk several languages for each component of the film. Even then, the director changes the color or tone or location. The actors interpret where to put emotional emphasis and the camera picks up an expression

Have you experienced that when discussing films, many times people tend to compare the film with the book. I don’t like the discussion, a book starts and stops with writing as the art form. The book would have all written descriptions, while the film will take the written description of the sunset and show it with the camera, or the emotional outpouring of a character. They are such different animals. I suggest moving on as fast as you would stop drinking tepid coffee.

Zig Zagging

Lets have a conversation about the writing in a film. A good screenplay uses dialogue in a Zig Zag manner, which is how people usually talk to each other. Zig Zag is an accurate description of indirect communication when we converse. Who doesn’t remember how obtuse we can get with family, in relationship and life in general? Often we dance around with our words. For some people directness is just plain uncomfortable. Therefore most screenplays are written where the characters communicate indirectly, or Zig Zag, as they look at each other.

Subtext

Sometimes indirect dialogue and words can say one thing, and mean another. A well-written script in the hands of terrific actors often leaves the unspoken, or indirect word underneath what is being said. This is called the subtext. It is a powerful opportunity for us to feel for, empathize, care about (or despise) the various characters. Good camera work captures the teardrop, smile, frown or look of disgust, which works with the spoken words, but helps inform us what they mean. When a character starts a film by talking in a very zig-zag fashion; it could be the writers intent to use the subtext to involve us the audience in feeling the conflict, or igniting our curiosity. Many times an audience has to be hooked, or feel involved quickly. Clever dialogue uses words to hide what is going on inside the character and the story. In discussing the writing, look for what wasn’t said that leaves you curious.

The King’s Speech was so beautifully written because often the words between Jeffrey Rush as speech therapist Lionel Logue, and Colin Firth as King George VI of Britain, conveyed more feeling by what wasn’t said. The words used were just a clever way into a deep beautiful friendship. Also, the way they spoke, especially the Jeffrey Rush character using clever and smug words, had an important purpose. His dialogue at critical times conveyed humor to relieve them of the enormous tension. We quickly felt and cared for Colin Firth because of his huge struggle with stuttering and acute social awkwardness. We were made aware of conflict, pain, and the beginnings of an important relationship almost immediately. We were sucked in. We cared. The actors took exceptional writing and told a fantastic story. Storytelling at it’s best.

When you discuss films with your friends or family or chat with a stranger, the most important aspect of the film is; What kind of storytelling is it? And what made that storytelling special in the collaboration process?

Acting

When discussing a film people usually think the most impressive aspects of the film is the acting, because acting is so critical to our impression of a film. Here’s something to look for that can enhance your point of view of the acting, which makes a good film so delightful to observe. When two equally fabulous actors are both in dialogue together and neither tries to be bigger or better then the other actor. They just maintain their authenticity of their character and communicate with each other. An example is Robert Deniro who plays a very smart crook and Al Pacino who is an equally shrewd cop in the mediocre film “Heat.” There’s a scene where the action and thriller aspect of the film is stopped and the two actors are in a diner seated at a table opposite each other. DeNiro moves his mouth in his famous mouth moving way, and Pacino stares and talks with his Pacino intensity. But they discuss the business they are in all the time letting the subtext underneath the dialogue scream out loud. Pacino says I’m going to catch you and take you down and DeNiro weaves and bobs and says no you’re not. I just watched these two American jewel actors and loved the interaction. This is also true with great ensemble acting. Each actor and actress so inhabits their character, and they play off of each other, it looks and feels like a smooth silk dance. When discussing the film’s acting, try to include how the various actors played off of one another. It will broaden the discussion.

Sound Track

I have a friend who memorizes who wrote the score to various films. She is so accurate in describing the emotion or tension or happiness created by the music. Often the music is in the background of our awareness. Some music is so beautiful it deserves to be mentioned.

We could have an evening with friends playing a parlor game where we come up with a song from a film that had a profound impact on us. For instance I will never forget how my mother loved the song “The Way We Were,” sung by her favorite Barbra Streisand in the love story with Robert Redford in the film, “The Way We Were.” At the time, I was emotionally influenced by Whitney Houston singing “I Will Always Love You,’ in the love story “The Bodyguard,” with Kevin Costner. Not only do I love hearing Whitney Houston sing that song, but it took place while I was having a break up. In a way the song acted as my emotional catharsis song. Certain songs from various films will influence us for a life time. Talk about it, it’s fun and meaningful.

Cinematography

I remember a Japanese film I showed at the Mount Shasta International Film Festival called: “Tony Takatami”. We felt at the time that the camera captured a look, a mood, and swept across the screen during silence in such a powerful way that the camera work not only showed the story, but conveyed tremendous emotion through visual images that substituted for dialogue. It was beautiful and refreshing to have a film convey so much information without relying on dialogue.

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Often all great films have camera work that is profound, moody, varied, and expressing stunning visual imagery along with unique texture. When you experience a film try to notice how the camera work captures something special through the visual technique of the cameraperson. One simple way to discuss what the visual quality is when you notice how they used close ups to show emotion, midrange shots and long distant shots. Sometimes we will be scared by an image far away and they slowly bring it closer until we can see the sweat glands on the killer’s face.

Directing

It’s so fascinating to read or hear in an interview with the actors how different directors work. From Woody Allen, Hitchcock, John Huston, Stephen Spielberg, Martin Scorsese etc. They all take their vision of the film and work with their actor’s and crew differently. I just finished reading Michael Caine describe how the late and great John Huston directed himself and Sean Connery in the great film, “The Man Who Would Be King.” Sometimes you read or hear that another great director says very little but expects his or her actor’s to nail the character on their own. Regardless of how they do it, almost every great film has to credit the direction. It is such a complex job requiring a person be the leader in every aspect of the film. They resemble the director of a symphony, able to hear every instrument and sound, then know when to pause, emphasize and work with others to create beautiful music. They may sit and leave the work to crew and actors, but they maneuver the film to get made. They make sure the story is told as effectively as it could be. A director usually works with millions of dollars of other people’s money, they can’t have many failures if they want to keep directing. It is an important job to be the leader of a bunch of creative and sometimes crazy people.

I welcome your feedback and ideas on this first blog post.

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Book Signing on Wednesday January 19th

January 11, 2011

On Wednesday January 19 from 2-4 I will be holding a book signing event for my latest book “Walking Through Walls” at Village Books in Mount Shasta. I invite everyone to come by for a chat, enjoy some coffee and pastries, and find out more about my novel. Hope to see you there!

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