Great Barrier Reef (3): Night on the Reef


Two of the dives were night dives and this was a totally different experience! Armed with a flashlight I paddled about as the previously sedate Trevally and Red Bass (who drifted along during the day) began a feeding frenzy! The photos didn’t turn out so well with the flashlight as the only light source. But if you can imagine these 4-5 foot long fish zipping all around, searching for any poor little fish caught out in the open, you might get a little sense of what it was like!


I also saw 6-7 reef sharks, which at first was kind of scary/invigorating, but they really kept a much greater distance than the Trevally and Red Bass. The crew told us to expect seeing the reef sharks as a common place event, particularly on the night dives.




Great Barrier Reef (2)

Some of the dive sites were at places called “bommies,” which were pinnacles of rock in the middle of deeper water. Some of these weren’t so great for snorkeling as far as seeing the surface of the bommie. However, there were masses of schooling fish that I delighted in swimming with, surrounded by zipping colours.

Schooling Fish

Schooling Fish

Close-up of Red-bellied Fusilier

Close-up of Red-bellied Fusilier

Red-bellied Fusilier Schooling

Red-bellied Fusilier Schooling

I swam for hours in these swarms of fish as they swarmed and then would suddenly dash for deeper water (a few times I saw circling barracudas, but many times I could not tell why the sudden dash for the deep). It was a very strange feeling to be completely surrounded by these teeming fish and then suddenly to be all alone in deep water – where I couldn’t see the bottom and I couldn’t see another living creature. Soon enough, though, the swarms of fish would come back up and begin zipping about again. Each site was a little different as far as which fish would be schooling closer to the surface and how intermingled the schools were. The yellow-finned fish always seemed to be closest to the surface. The striped blue fish always schooled with them, but a little deeper. The Unicorn Fish were generally deeper yet, but at one site they were coming to the top and I ended up swimming alongside them.

Schooling Fish with Diver

Schooling Fish with Diver


Unicorn Fish Schooling

Unicorn Fish Schooling

I could have just stayed there, gently swimming in these swarms of fish forever. It was just like a dream! It is hard to describe how peaceful the feeling was and the photos just can’t capture the three dimensional experience of it!

Schooling Fish with Diver's Bubbles

Schooling Fish with Diver’s Bubbles

Great Barrier Reef!!! (1)

Reef from Above

Reef from Above

I had a great time out on the Reef. I did a 3 night live aboard trip with a flight out to Lizard Island to start with, and then a cruise back along the Reef toward Cairns. The flight was a nice way to get an overview of the Reef. Also, all the dive sites were more than 100 kilometers from Cairns, which is a good thing because a lot of the Reef is getting damaged from high density tourist use. A number of things I read were quite pessimistic about the future of this massive reef system that runs all the way up into Indonesia. The tour I went on was very aware of the need to make efforts to preserve the Reef.

Flying in Formation over the Reef

Flying in Formation over the Reef
On Approach to Lizard Island

On Approach to Lizard Island

Spoilsport, our home for 3 nights

Spoilsport, our home for 3 nights

I did my PADI certification for scuba back in Auckland a few weeks ago. I had difficulty equalizing the pressure in my ears and had some fluid in my ears after that (four flights in a week with pressure changes highlighted that I still had some problems with equalization), so I ended up snorkeling the whole time. Of the 12 dives, there was only one that I was somewhat disappointed that I wasn’t able to go under water.

Parrot Fish with Remora

Parrot Fish with Remora

Reef View

Reef View

Every time I went out, I saw more and more amazing things, the kind of things you generally only see in books or documentaries…

Unicorn Fish Close-up

Unicorn Fish Close-up


Puffer Fish

Puffer Fish

Green Sea Turtle

Green Sea Turtle

Trigger Fish

Trigger Fish

I’ll post some more photos in another blog…

Cairns, Australia

Shell Statue Cairns  waterfront

I decided to take a week off and head North into tropical Queensland to the town of Cairns. Cairns is one of the major jumping off points for the Great Barrier Reef as well as for excursions further North into the Daintree Rainforest. Cairns waterfront is very touristy and the beach is not very swimmable, as it is muddy. But it is a great place to head out to the Reef from. I also love anywhere that you can see wild parrots zipping about. In fact, there were quite a few interesting birds around town and on the waterfront.


I liked the botanical gardens better than the Brisbane gardens. There is a boardwalk through the wetlands (although it was quite dry during the whole trip and the stream beds were dry).

Leaf, Botanical Gardens

Ginger, Botanical Gardens

I took a couple of day trips out of Cairns and will blog about those later. There are a lot of shops and restaurants in Cairns, but for me, it worked best as a base for other activities in the area. Wifi was a little tough to come by and not many of the cafés had it available.

singing bird, Botanical Gardens

Flowering Shrub, Botanical Gardens

The weather was great while I was here, 30 degrees Celsius and sunny. A nice breeze today near the ocean as I sit drinking coffee and watching the various birds cavort about in the flowering trees.


Bird at waterfront

More Ginger, Botanical Gardens

Health of Health Professionals Conference – Brisbane, Australia (October 3-5, 2013)

Brisbane at night

I’ve been over in Australia the past couple weeks. First it was for the HOHP conference. This is the second one I’ve attended and I’ve enjoyed both of them. They happen every 2 years and rotate throughout the Australian states and New Zealand.

Ibis at Roma Parklands

I presented on “Re-humanizing Medicine: Supporting Whole Health in the Professional to Deliver Whole-Person Care.” My main point in this presentation was that the way we treat ourselves is linked to the way we treat patients, therefore to deliver whole-person care, the professional must develop themself as a whole person. This is a theme from my book (which will hopefully be out early 2014).

Bribane Botanical Gardens entrance

The conference draws an idealistic and committed group of health professionals who care equally for good clinical care as well as for creating sustainable and humane work environments for professionals. I spent some time in a couple of workshops with Hilton Koppe, an Australian GP, who uses creative writing and experiential learning in his teaching. His workshop, “Beyond the Clinical Record: Using Creative Writing as Burnout Prevention,” was a great buffet of different writing techniques and exercises that health professionals can use to process the stress of clinical work.

Brisbane Botanical Gardens

Overall, this is a really worthwhile conference for anyone interested in supporting health professionals own health so as to provide better patient care. The conference draws people from worldwide and is a nice size so that you can interact with presenters and get to know attendees of the conference, as well.

Roma Parkland Gardens

This was the first time I was in Brisbane in the state of Queensland, Australia. The city is on a river and has many nice gardens and restaurants and a very walkable Central Business District. The gardens even have plenty of lizards running about!

Lizard at Roma Parklands

Thoughts from the Clinical Director: Change

I tend to be somewhat philosophical and the more change and stress I am under, the more philosophical I become. Sometimes at night when I don’t know what to do, I lay on my back on my back stairs and look at the stars. Tonight there are patchy, fast moving clouds concealing and revealing the stars. Moby has a song called “We Are All Made of Stars.” The refrain is “people they come together, people they fall apart, no one can stop us now, because we are all made of stars.”

Scientists think we are literally made up of stars – that is that at the time of the Big Bang, there was only hydrogen and helium and these elements made up the first stars. Eventually when these stars died and exploded, they created heavier and heavier elements, such as some of the medium weight elements like carbon, oxygen and nitrogen, and these are the elements that we are physically comprised of.

We are going through a lot of change at BRC in the upcoming months, personally the most relevant change to me is my final day on 24/10/13. We are looking for locums to fill in for the clinical work and will be having interviews for the permanent position in the upcoming weeks and will keep you updated as we have more information. There is also the change of our psychologist leaving, our nurse educator having left as of today, and our other consultant leaving in February. That is a lot of change in the clinical team and it is likely to have some ripple effects in how stable BRC feels.

There is actually something called the Book of Changes, as the I Ching is sometimes translated. This is an ancient Chinese text that dates back to between the second and third millenium BCE. This book is all about studying change. It states that “When change is necessary, there are two mistakes to be avoided. One lies in excessive haste and ruthlessness, which bring disaster. The other lies in excessive hesitation and conservatism, which are also dangerous.”

Psychiatrist, Carl Jung, in his foreword to this book discusses the role of chance and synchronicity that influence how changes play out. No matter how well change is planned for, there will be unforeseen chance events. This makes managing change as much an art as a science.

Here are some more quotes from the Book of Changes, maybe they apply to BRC.

Everything is in motion: therefore if one perseveres there is a prospect of great success, in spite of existing danger. When it is man’s fate to undertake such new beginnnings, everything is still unformed, dark. Hence he must hold back, because any premature move might bring disaster. Likewise, it is very important not to remain alone; in order to overcome the chaos he needs helpers…In order to find one’s place in the infinity of being, one must be able both to separate and to unite…If a person encounters a hindrance at the beginning of an enterprise, he must not try to force advance but must pause and take thought. However, nothing should put him off his course; he must persevere and constantly keep the goal in sight.

I know that the goal at BRC is always to provide supportive care to clients in order to promote mental health, recovery and rehabilitation.

The I Ching discusses three kinds of change: non-change, cyclic change and linear change. Non-change is the fixed background that makes change possible. (At BRC this is the continual goal of supporting rehabilitation; for staring at the sky, it is the, relatively, fixed and unchanging background of stars). Cyclic change is the recurrent change of the organic world, or we can see cycles in the history of psychology, such as between nature/nurture and biology/psychology. (At BRC when changes are proposed I often hear, “we used to do it that way;” with the sky, it is the cycles of clouds covering and uncovering the same stars). Linear change is a form of progress and this creates a specific history for a given place or person. This is another level of viewing cycles of change, that when sequenced together they lead to a progress toward a certain goal. (While there are cycles of change at BRC, there is also a continual adjustment to the changing needs of the clients and the changing philosophy of the DHB. While there are similarities of current change to past methods, we are continually at a unique point in time in which we are striving to bring about the right elements at the right time to support change and growth for clients. For the sky, the interplay of cyclical change against the background of the non-changing sky creates unique moments and configurations which will not happen again, but which create a kind of linear, beautiful movie).

I’m not sure how much the I Ching can help us during this current change, but maybe these concepts can help to put the current anxiety and change into a larger context. The Greek philosopher, Heraclitus, wrote that “There is nothing permanent except change.” I do know that having a larger context in which to view change can lead to greater acceptance of the change in the moment as well as to allow one to work effectively in the current moment rather than resisting the reality of the present.

The Promise of the Inner World

If you take away all a person knows,

you are left with the mouth of a fish

gulping water as fast as it can. If you

take away a person’s coverings, you are

left with the naked freedom of a star.

If you take away all a person has done,

you are left with a soul eager to build.

And if you take away what a person has

saved, you are left with a life that

has to live now.

Stripped of too many thoughts, we

grow wise as stone. Stripped of too

many accomplishments, we grow

possible like the sun. And stripped

of what we hoard, we grow immediate.

So taking away is not just about loss.

Like it or not, we are forced, again

and again, to the nakedness of freedom,

to the eagerness that wants to build its

way out of nothing, and to the poverty

of time that has to live now. If blessed,

we wake, one more time, gulping

our way into tomorrow.

(Mark Nepo, from Reduced to Joy)

Thoughts from the Clinical Director: Crazy?

Sometimes I think that the work that we do at Buchanan is pretty crazy. This is a word that can mean a lot of different things. It is often considered a pejorative term for mental illness. Cultural critics sometimes say that it is a made up term used to label as deviants people who do not think and act the way the dominant culture dictates. What I mean by crazy is that we hold hope for people who often do not have any hope and whose objective circumstances are pretty hopeless. I suppose our work could also be viewed as crazy because it does not fit within the box of inpatient or outpatient mental health treatment that views people as illnesses and symptoms that need to be “normalized” or “controlled” with psychiatric medication. At Buchanan, we still use the standard biomedical treatment approach, but this is not the only way that we view human beings. We strive to see the needs and strengths of the whole person and this could be considered crazy from a reductive biomedical perspective of psychiatry.

I have heard people talk about different kinds of crazy, like “good crazy” and “bad crazy.” Maybe we’re that good kind of crazy by constantly working to bring hope to the hopeless and by taking on clients who are complex and don’t fit squarely within the categories of mental illness and who do not seem to get better in other treatment systems. I think this is good kind of crazy to do this kind of work. It does mean, though, that our work is often not easy, predictable, or straightforward. It takes time and effort to get to know the whole person. It requires patience as we work with people to change life-long patterns. But it is also really fulfilling work when we get the privilege of seeing someone change and grow, which is a double bonus, because I think that also means then that we are changing and growing, too!

In Praise of Craziness, of a Certain Kind

On cold evenings

my grandmother,

with ownership of half of her mind—

the other half having flown back to Bohemia—

spread newspapers over the porch floor

so, she said, the garden ants could crawl beneath

as under a blanket, and keep warm.

and what shall I wish for, for myself,

but being so struck by the lightning of the years

to be like her with what is left, loving.

Mary Oliver