Saturday, January 9, 2021

Lessons and Teachers - March On


“Step by step walk the thousand mile road.”

Miyamoto Musashi, A Book of Five Rings 

I have been revisiting my “100 Days of Xinyi” ( blog posts from back in 2014... Yes, some of my views have changed a bit (because I’m, you know, a genuine, fallible human being who strives to change and evolve...). And yes, I might, now, have written some of those posts with a slightly different tone (a la “I wish I knew what I know now; When I was younger” - Ron Lane / Ronnie Wood). But, still yes, I stand by my blogging at the time, for that time, and I am even planning on re-posting and re-visiting those original “100 Days” posts over time. That said, I am hoping to simply do periodic posts on topics of interest to myself (and hopefully to others, too). 

In 2018, I completed my “MSc Public Health, With Distinction, Health Services Management” from University of London / London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM). That was a five-year journey that included continuing to work as a health care professional and during which my wife and I started our family. Suffice to say, after completing that (third) university degree I needed a couple of years off from academic reading and writing (rest and recovery and regrouping are underrated, but good things). Of course, I still (some habits don’t change) kept reading many articles and books - but the thought of doing more academic writing, particularly after completing my ‘Final Project’ for my masters degree, was not particularly motivating... [Note - these blog posts will not be academic writing!]

Then, in 2020, we all got to contend with the “worldwide global pandemic” (one of my most favourite, overused, annoyingly repetitive, tiresome, redundant phrases - [insert winking emoticon here])... My reading - and ongoing quest for evidence-based knowledge - went into overdrive and I can say (for better or worse) that I have (as of now) read in excess of one-hundred peer-reviewed articles about COVID-19 (not to mention several times more than that in terms of popular press and opinion pieces). 

Day to day, I work in health care, in direct care, in a mental health setting. And, as I went to work, ‘masked-up’, day after day for every scheduled workday of 2020/21 (and a few extra shifts, too), I tried to truly ‘practice what I preach’ in terms of applying the best knowledge available to the task at hand. In addition to my, and those of my clients, actual ‘tasks at hand’ (activity-based therapeutic activities) this meant working at staying safe, too. Armed with my additional, formal education and self-study, the goal of translating knowledge to practice has involved trying to help to keep myself, my clients, and my co-workers safe - in addition to striving for more positive overall health (while, more than ever, recognizing that ‘surviving’ is prerequisite to that whole ‘thriving’ thing). 

I did my best in 2020 - and I put my knowledge out there, while I also put my body on the line, too. While all citizens were encouraged to maintain “tiny bubbles” (sadly, not of the Champagne variety...), “essential” workers continued to plug away and adapt their practices. In my job, I worked across three units and across two staff shifts, however, and I therefore found myself ‘exposed’ to not only multiple clients a day - but also to dozens of rotating coworkers. It felt ‘weird’, to say the least, to retreat home each evening to my family bubble - while then being expected to (and willing to) cross paths with so many people at work each day! That said, I have nothing but profound respect and empathy for those workers even more exposed and vulnerable than myself (e.g. Emergency Room and Intensive Care Unit and Long Term Care staff [obviously!] - as well as grocery store clerks, school teachers, etc., etc.).

As I watched the science evolve and self-correct (precisely as scientific knowledge is supposed to) over 2020/21, and I simultaneously watched the tragedy of nations that ignore science and let themselves be damaged by dogma, partisanship, and willful ignorance... I found myself reaching not only for science to try to get through the first year of the pandemic, but reaching for the ‘wisdom’ of various ‘teachers’ and ‘masters’. Both those that I have learned from personally (e.g. my various mentors, instructors, coaches, parents, etc.) and others vicariously (e.g. through general reading, studying history, studying rehabilitation, studying public health, etc.). All the While, I was trying to convince those not-so-convinced by science, reason, randomized-controlled trials, evidence-based medicine, etc. (and just trying to survive and thrive myself)… Throughout, I found myself as often reaching for the wisdom of Xenophon and Machiavelli and Grandmaster Yu Hua Long and my mother, as I was simultaneously reaching for peer-reviewed journals and meta-analyses...

Yes, there are many ways of “knowing”. Yes, diversity of opinion and various means of examination and persuasion are necessary when facing any messy, wicked problem. But no, not all opinions are of equal value or merit. Interestingly (at least to me), I found that even teachers as diverse as Machiavelli and my mother are significantly more rational and practical (and clearly worth listening to and learning from) than the anti-maskers, anti-vaxxers, and purveyors of far-right and far-left misinformation, conspiracies, intolerance, hate, etc...

So, what will follow in the coming days (as always) are simply my thoughts and feelings and reflections on life and lessons learned (so far). Meditations on continuing to march forward - and on continuing to reflect upon the teachings of so many great teachers that have inspired me and continue to inspire me. As I keep on marching forward, this project is also about looking back at some of the things I’ve learned over the course of 45 years on earth, reflecting on it, and using any light that I’ve gleaned to guide me towards the ‘light at the end of the tunnel’ (as hopefully the “worldwide global pandemic” may be mostly under control by the time we reach 2022). This seems like as good a year as any to take stock of where I’ve come from, where I am, and where I want to go. I think that many other people, individually and collectively, are (or ‘should’ be - to assert a ‘normative’ statement) doing the same (at least those of us who are lucky enough to literally be ‘surviving’ right now and therefore in a position to seek better ways of ‘thriving’ in the future).

As I quoted Lao Tzu from the Dao De Jing at the beginning of my “100 Days of Xinyi” project back on June 15, 2014 - “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step...” Note: journeys may not always be a pleasant. Not every journey is a vacation! And, even a vacation may involve many ‘less than satisfactory’ moments and experiences. Many aspects of the journey of the past year (and of our lives) are ‘less than satisfactory’, if not downright “suffering”. 

This is why I my next post is about Xenophon (and, in particular, “The March of the Ten Thousand”). Because, well, sometimes things can appear particularly hopeless - and seeing what Xenophon went through can help one to put things in perspective, inspire one to keep marching, and remind us that as bad as things seem - we can, and should, not lose hope. Early on in 2020, I re-read “Memorabilia” and “The March of the Ten Thousand” [aka the “Anabasis”]. Xenophon’s wisdom has been but one of many sources of courage and intention (i.e. both Xin and Yi) the past few years.

To all those good who are fighting the good fight - keep going forward (and sometimes even backward when necessary). Just keep going.

All good things to all,

Sean Boulet - January 9, 2021

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