Archive for May, 2011

“Dream deep, for stars lie hidden in your soul. Reach high for every dream precedes the goal.”

Starry, starry night by Vincent van Gogh

This is one of my favourite quotes. With passion, insight and resolve we can achieve whatever we want. How do we go beyond just knowing ourselves and our talents, and not limit ourselves to what we think we’re able to do now or in the near future? We dream … and then we can use what we know about ourselves and our strengths to move forward … and become passionate. Capable is good, but passionate is better.

I like the language: “Dream deep”, “Reach high”  the words punch through complacency, implying the passion and energy that we all have within us … “hidden in our souls”.

It’s one thing to dream though, it takes insight, foresight, thought and work to define our goals through those dreams. It takes courage to set ourselves goals. We have to have faith in ourselves, hope in a future, and trust that we can get there. We have to find a path, or many paths to reach a goal. And we have to work. And never, never give up.

I thought I knew about setting and achieving goals. It was expected that I would go to university. My mother desperately wanted it for me. It became my goal to become the first person in my family to get a university degree. I did. But I wasn’t passionate about it. “C’s get degrees”  was what my generation was about. It was elitist at that time simply to have a degree. It wasn’t until I got to work in business and discovered that I was good at it that I began to reach for something higher, something less ordinary. I became one of a handful of women in management, then one of an even smaller group who had children while working in management. But still I didn’t dream. I didn’t see myself as the CEO, although others may have. Because I couldn’t visualise myself in that role and because I couldn’t dream it, I couldn’t see it as a realistic goal for me.

I dreamt of being a good mother, wanting my children to be happy, to be kind to others, to be good, and to reach their potential. This was the first time for me that a dream preceded a goal. I learned to be patient, to love unconditionally, to see the world as they saw it, to be fierce for them, to protect them while letting them learn about risk … and so many other things that every mother learns.

Yet I had so much more to learn about dreams. I had to break my back to learn about turning dreams into something real. I dreamt of walking, and my goal became to stand up and walk with crutches. I found health professionals who could help me, or fate brought them to me and I wrung every bit of knowledge and expertise from them. I expanded time so that I could exercise, sleep, exercise, look after my children, sleep, exercise, try new equipment, care for my children, become exhausted, re-energise, love my children. I did not place limits on myself. I reached high, and I dug deep. In return my children took care of me. Young as they were at the time, just 4 and 10, they found ways to support me, nurture me and help me. They joined me in pursuing my dream. Now, as adults, they still support me. They are always enthusiastic about every small change, and support any new path I take. My husband too, supports my dream to walk. He helps with stretches, finances a personal trainer, massage therapist or any other resource that might help. When others doubt, my family and health professionals who work with me reassure. The universe conspires to keep my dream alive and to show new paths for me to explore.

I sometimes wonder if this made me a better or worse mother. I was less able to look after the children’s physical needs and less able at times to look after their emotional needs. I wasn’t always there for them. But my world opened another world for them. We skied with disabled skiers. The boys buddied skiers with one leg, or who were partially sighted, or who had had head injuries. My sons and daughter saw people with physical limitations having fun, reaching high, digging deep, coping and excelling in a world that is often hostile to them. They saw opportunities to help others, expected nothing in return and were rewarded with maturity, insight, empathy and an appreciation of privilege. Perhaps it gave them a desire to find the stars hidden in their souls, and to reach high. They are certainly wonderful adults.


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My physio came to the gym today to film me walking. First I walked with a dictus and then with FES (yep, bionic woman) to compare the difference in gait pattern. The dictus lifts my foot at the ankle then I swing my leg through while I go up on the toes of my other foot. FES lifts my foot at the ankle, helps bend me bend at the knee, and I can swing my leg through while keeping the other foot flat on the ground. FES wins hands down! And it takes so much less energy to walk!

So, while I had my physio in the gym, I asked her to help me get on the treadmill to see if I could walk on it using FES. (Not possible with the dictus). Wow! Wow! Wow! Ok it was at 1km/hr, and after 10 metres my leg was scuffing, but i was walking normally! And after a half minute rest, I could do it again with a normal gait. Rest, walk, rest, walk, rest, walk. Get off. Do something else. Go back to the treadmill. Fantastic. What a life!

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The Dompost ran an extraordinary article in Saturday’s paper (Saturday 21 may 2011) “Paralysed man takes first faltering steps”

The case was originally published in “the Lancet”, a reputable medical journal.

The man had a spinal cord injury at chest level and had become paralyzed five years ago. It appears from the article that electrodes were implanted in his spine and using electrical stimulation he was able to walk, and had improved bladder and sexual function.

The reason I find this so amazing is that with electrodes attached externally to my lower leg I am able to walk, still with crutches, with a normal gait and proper alignment meaning less effort, less damage to joints and lower spine, and without the need for a dictus (ankle brace). See my earlier blog “Bionic Woman” This article suggests to me that the way forward in treating the symptoms of a spinal cord injury is through electrical stimulation, and if that this can ultimately and viably be achieved through electrode implants.

Stem cell research seems to have hit a brick wall. Reported results from China seem to be over inflated, with many subjects actually regressing after about three months because the implanted stem cells are reabsorbed. A lot of stem cell work is being done in Germany, but mostly also with disappointing results and even deaths from what is, after all, quite high risk surgery.

Electrode implants really are an exciting development.

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Years ago I discovered a world where art intersects with words. Two of my passions gave birth to a third passion, calligraphy. I call my version of calligraphy letter art, where there are no rules or limits to what can be created. I might feel like doing a water colour wash then add letters and words in one or more media applied with any sort of tool, from brush, nib, stick, card or finger. Or I might start by drawing letters in rubber then wash over the top, peeling off the rubber to reveal a message.

"Letter Art" in watercolour wash

Once, when I was at a party I became animated about how much I enjoy this. The next moment is etched in my memory. Some woman piped up “Next you’ll be doing cake decorating.” Initially I was shocked that she would mock me by comparing art with cake decorating, then I realised how judgemental I was being. I began to think about how creativity finds an outlet whatever, and that judging and comparing creativite outlets in an attempt to diminish one or both, is to demean the human urge to express ourselves, to interpret the world, to discover beauty, or do whatever.

I often return to that thought, that is, the legitimacy of the human urge to be creative, and that creativity has no boundaries. Whether writing poetry or prose, the writer has a message and uses literary devices to create something special. The artist can blend media, surface, technique and so on. Singing, playing a musical instrument, photography, sculpture are also conventionally regarded as being creative, so why not cake decorating, meal presentation, calligraphy, scrapbooking, dancing, dress design, furniture design, and so on. (incidentally, some of these latterly mentioned creative outlets are regarded as “feminine”, so perhaps there is some gender bias at work here.)

Creativity and imagination are related. Albert Einstein said “Imagination is more important than knowledge”. This inspires me to believe that human endeavour is at its finest when we apply creativity – to look for opportunities, to solve problems, to seek wisdom and understanding. It is through art, literature, music, any creative work or thinking that our spirits soar.

Einstein's "Imagination Is More Important Than Knowledge" in watercolour wash

So what is creativity? I’m not sure it can be defined or measured. What is art?. Where painting intersects with calligraphy, is it no longer art? Clearly that isn’t so, otherwise Colin Mc Cahon wouldn’t be regarded as one of New Zealand’s great artists. Does someone’s willingness to pay for artistic endeavour define a work as art? If someone will pay for a cake to be decorated does that mean that cake decorating is art? I believe it can be, and that it can certainly be an example of creativity.

Is literature only the work of great writers? If only the greatest writers were published, my reading world would be impoverished. I love reading “coming of age” novels (I have realized in the last few years that I have yet to come of age – will I ever grow up?). Barbara Kingsolver is perhaps best known for writing “The Poisonwood Bible” yet it’s “The Bean Trees” and “Pigs In Heaven” that I enjoyed the most. And I’d be a lesser person if I hadn’t read Billie Letz’ “The Honk and Holler Opening Soon”, “Where The Heart Is” and “Made In The USA”. And I find plenty to chew over in Marion Keyes novels.

And good things happen when creativity intersects with technology. I’ve discovered plenty of great writing on blogs. One of the best things I’ve learnt about blogging is that because it provides a great medium for writers it’s become a treasure trove for readers, and a fantastic forum for ideas. It’s a wonderful spark for creativity. It’s a great place to find poetry:

Julia Fehrenbacher of Painted Path writes wonderful poetry and prose.

This via kind over matter


When she slows
quietly down
instead of pushing
urgently forward
When she asks and listens
and receives
instead of talking and telling
and trying
When she bows
to this light-filled
instead of running
screaming away
It bows deeply back

and she feels herself

back into
the wide open
of Grace

People have always found ways to express themselves creatively, to feel their spirits soar and their hearts sing. Creativity is an essential part of who we are. It can’t be measured and it shouldn’t be compared or minimised, but rather celebrated and embraced, wherever it is found.

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This afternoon I was wired in every sense of the word!

This is a milestone, no doubt about it. With electrodes strategically placed on my left leg I was able to achieve a relatively normal gait … No hitching, no going up on my toes to lift my right leg up high to swing the other leg through, no heaving and pushing on my crutches to force my left leg through, no shoulder strain, no rotating, no leaning to one side …. And no dictus … Amazing!

Left leg bent at the ankle and knee, lifted at the hip, then took a step. I walked straighter, faster and with less effort. (Still with crutches of course.)

Awesome outcome.

I hope to trial it and see if the stimulus is maintained over time.

Big smiley face

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