On the emerging verdant leaves
I see succulent birth
Knowing the frailty
The temporality of existence
Makes this moment
On the emerging verdant leaves
I see succulent birth
Knowing the frailty
The temporality of existence
Makes this moment
Those seekers of metaphysical truth often speak of their “practice” by which they usually imply a spiritual practice. What they mean by that term may vary greatly. It might involve meditation, yoga, prayer, organized religious participation or a variety of deeply personal experiences in the pursuit of meaning and spiritual development.
But there is an approach that I have been pursuing over the past few years–that is to regard my medical practice AS a spiritual one. It might not be obvious to any outside observers, i.e. My patients or even my staff would not have noticed any change. The transformation is more subtle perhaps but definitely an internal one. I would like to regard what I do in my medical practice as a spiritual practice as well.
I attempt to be mindful of this when I put on my white lab coat at the start of a session of seeing office patients. I am consciously and subconsciously donning the robes of the shaman, the priest, the rabbi in order to bring into the examination room a sense that healing can and will occur.
As I type these words I want to make clear that I don’t see this action as elevating myself above my patients. I don’t feel that this is about my ego. On the contrary I am humbled to be in a position to help alleviate suffering. I say a silent prayer to Divinity to give me the wisdom, to offer solace, to make recommendations. In essence to assist in any way possible to help in the healing of my patient.
The exam room is, to me, a secret garden, a confessional box, the holy of holies. I am not trying to be overly dramatic with these words.
I have tried to make my medical practice my spiritual one.
News flash–the world is broken. Really? Say no more. Look at the news for a milisecond, look at your own lives, at times.
Brokenness seems to be the default position for existence. Its depressing at times, to be sure. Is this the result of Divine punishment for our sins at being human or the random fallout of an unfeeling cosmos?
I choose the myth of Tikkun. It is ancient, Kabbalistic and based on a fascinating and surprising notion. The world is broken, in need of healing. And it is on purpose! A more detailed explanation at another time, but a flawed, broken universe is parts of the Divine plan. But the myth goes further, as I see it. The flaw in the universe does not reflect Divine weakness but a Divine gift to us. Tikkun is healing, fixing what was shattered at Creation and WE, human beings are the instrument to do it.
It is a Divine challenge, an obligation but also an opportunity. In healing the world, Tikkun Olam, being active in righting wrongs, in helping others overcome adversity we accomplish the goal of healing ourselves, our souls Tikkun Ha-nefesh. The two are mutually dependent and mutually supportive. So do not be depressed by the news (really?). Dig deep down and recognize opportunity when it confronts you– be a healer, a fixer. Do Divine work and heal the world as well as yourself. Thank the Divine for the opportunity. Thanks for the chance to do Tikkun
A dying atheist’s prayer….
“I am a man alone in the cosmos”.
But there is no suffering in me
True there is no place to go
No bearded One
Or fantasy of redemption
But I rest serene
In a state of knowing
That this suit of carbon atoms, a perfect fit
Was used before–in a rock, a plant, a T. Rex perhaps
It is a borrowed vessel
Spewed forth from the dying supernova
The literal star dust that illuminates me
Those atoms of carbon that became me
Are themselves immortal
And that is enough
And so I sparkle
With the soul of billions of carbon beings
Each with their own consciousness
I am illuminated
My password is gratitude
My deepest silent knowing
That borrowing means
You have to give it back
What was never mine to own
An honor to recycle
Can you return a suit that has been worn?
In this story there is no other kind
We inhabit a universe of self-help articles/ programs and gurus. We have access to a multitude of therapists of all kinds from psychoanaltic to energy/spiritual healers to Yoga instructors, religious leaders etc. etc. Ultimately, however, no one else can do the work of healing for us. It must come from within.
There are times in which I find myself seeking to read the next tidbit of advise, of wisdom or recommendation. And truthfully there is good reason to do the seeking outside of ourselves for clues to what we might need. But healing ultimately means “to make whole” that which is unfinished, broken, dysfunctional. And although we can read the blueprint that is available to us, we need to do our own deep, often times difficult work to accomplish what needs to be done.
There are chemicals/ drugs/ pharmaceuticals which allow people to function better but these are not truly healing, only allowing those of us in extremis to do our own work. Firstly, make a diagnosis. What is ailing you, really? Our physical complaints need to be addressed by seeking professional help. Our spiritual/emotional selves cannot be healed by another.
Do the research, seek outside advise and counsel but ultimately filter all of it through your own deep awareness. What resonates with you as truth? Your soul speaks to you through feelings. It knows what you need to heal and will give you signs, some subtle, others more dramatic. Don’t ignore them or rationalize them away. Embrace the intention to heal.
Discard the role of victim or the notion that you deserve to suffer for your “sins” or some unknown karmic debt. Don’t accept such a negative diagnosis–especially when it is self-inflicted. Don’t drown your pain in drugs/ alcohol or sex or other diversions. Understand that only you can fix yourself. Meditate, relax, exercise practice gratitude and kindness to yourself as well as others. Understand the basic of truth of existence–you are a spiritual being have a human experience. Mediate on that mantra. It will change your perspective. Only someone ready to be healed can do so and believe you have the ability to accomplish it.
I forgot why I started to write in the first place
It was simply to see what I think
You don’t really know until
You put it down
Is that what’s going on
Inside my head?
Is it OK to release the Gorgon
Is Pandora ready to
Open her box?
Remember, if you are old enough, the British musical invasion of the 60s and 70s. One group that stood out and shockingly has stood the test of time (physically, not just their music) was/is the Rolling Stones.
The mind remains a black hole of wonder and mystery. How else can I explain how the lyrics from The Stones song You Can’t Always Get What You Want surged into my consciousness? But it did. So please recall the following: ….Oh you can’t always get what you want. You can’t always get what you want. You can’t always get what you want. But if you try sometime you find you get what you need.…. ( Let It Bleed, 1969)
Now I am not assuming or even speculating the source or influence of those lyrics but it seems to me, now more than ever, that there is wisdom to be found within them. The notion that life brings what we need to evolve spiritually is derived from ancient wisdom traditions, often from Eastern religions but sometimes that which we have “heard” many times in the past becomes “heard” again, as if new, at a much deeper level. In effect, we finally “get it”.
And then there is Tolle’s statement, once again a restating of ancient truths:
Life will give you whatever experience is most helpful for the evolution of your consciousness. How do you know this is the experience you need? Because this is the experience you are having at the moment.
Will these statements of wisdom change your life? Perhaps, perhaps not. But if the message does resonate with you then consider the possibility that your attitude about what is occurring in your life will change. Adversity will not be regarded as some cosmic punishment. You will be able to discard the victim role you have been playing (which doesn’t work anyhow). It may offer you the courage to move on with life and to accept what cannot be changed and remain grateful for the opportunity to learn from it.
We all seek more serenity in our lives. Whether we refer to this as “peace of mind”, “contentment” or “happiness” or any of a dozen other similar terms. As The Buddha noted centuries ago, life is about suffering and the end to suffering. Of course there are many reasons why we suffer but I will address one in particular here– unrealized expectations.
We live in a time and place where we are exposed to the desires and lives of others. We constantly meet people who seem to be happy with their life circumstances. We continuously compare our own lives with theirs. Difficulties arise. Who ever coined the term “compare and despair” was not far off the mark.
We have developed expectations of what our lives should be like from our personal connections and the media which surrounds us 24/7. This may explain why we secretly relish the suffering of celebrities, billionaires, the rich and famous who we previously envied. Unfortunately we may even do the same for those friends and family who we otherwise love and appreciate.
The “why me” response seems primal and reflexive. “Why not me” is its corollary. Expectations are particularly problematic for us because they involve circumstances beyond our individual control. Why doesn’t my boss appreciate me? Why doesn’t my brother step up to the plate and assume responsibility? Why don’t my friends value my opinion? Why does my spouse seem disinterested? Why do I struggle with less money, less fame, a weaker marriage, a child who isn’t living up their own potential? Etc. ad infinitum.
And what about our expectations for our own lives, even those to which we have influence. We may take note of what we are grateful for but fixate on past dreams which crashed and burned or remain unrealized. Why am I not in a committed relationship? Why isn’t my health as good as my neighbors? Why do I covet my friend’s spouse? Why didn’t my career progress as far it should have?
Letting go of expecations is extremely difficult. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t have them. It doesn’t mean we need to doubt our own feelings. It has to do with releasing our attachment to our expectations. We need to stop ruminating on them, revisiting them over and over.
We need to seek a larger perspective on our individual lives. We need to recognize that to pick and choose what we envy from the lives of others is not reality. We must realize that life, every life is a totality. Be careful what we wish for. The unknown aspects of the life of others might be quite different from what we fantasizse.
We must recognize that we are both totally insignificant in the span of eternity while paradoxically undeniably important. Our smallest gestures of kindness and compassion move the cosmos as much as any president’s directive. The value of each individual life remains undeniable and unexpected. And there may be unrecognized karmic factors which make each individual life unique. Despite our best efforts to control the chaos around us, to micromanage our own lives and the lives of others, this is not only impossible but a further blow to our expectations.
Perhaps catch and release is an apt metaphor. Feel free to examine your expectations of yourself and others, then let them go. They are only your perception of your life which can change in a heartbeat. To paraphrase the Serenity Prayer—accept what you can’t change, change what you can and let go of any burdens that remain.
Release your attachment to your expectations and be grateful for the opportunity to live this life. There will be other lives to live. Stay tuned.
Everything new brings with its introduction unintended consequences.
Patient advocacy, access to our own medical records, the concept that we need to take ownership of our health care–all resonates as true and laudable. What happens in the real world, however, is often chaos and unnecessary suffering.
Please allow me to offter real world examples of this notion. Patients are able to access their radiology reports, blood work, endoscopy and surgical reports with their associated pathology reports even before their attending physicians. Sounds great? Not really. What immediately occurs is a frantic Google search for any medical terms which are unfamilar to the patient. What often follows is sheer panic and misery when uncertainty and confusion ensue. This is understandable. Even the most intellectually gifted layman (my patients, of course) do not understand the clinical significance or relevance of what occurs on a lab, XRay or pathology report.
Traditionally (in past days) the patient would receive the initial information while in the presence of their doctors. Immediate discussions would occur. Analysis of the real consequences of a radiology report which might recommend a follow-up procedure based upon some vague and usually benign finding could be quickly and easily placed in perspective. ” Yes, let’s order another study just to confirm that these findings are probably nothing.” That would often assuage the patient’s fears and avoid unnecessary panic.
The situations is quite different now. I find myself dealing with borderline hysterical (or nearly) patients who have convinced themselves via the internet that they are absolutely dying from what may be a totally innocuous condition.
My plea to my patients and to the patients of other physicians is to bring your reports to your doctors and, in persons, review every line of the report itself. Frankly, most of this interaction cannot adequately be performed over the telephone (sorry about that). Often the emotional content of the discussion can only be dealt with on a person to person basis. Often I rely on diagrams to elucidate the results. That is the way to promote the best in doctor/patient connections and to alleviate unnecessary chaos and distress.
The system is assuredly changing. Let’s all take a deep breath and try to make it work to everyone’s benefit.
Read another article today from Science Daily selections regarding the status of happiness in ‘old age’. This one contradicted some earlier studies which implied that we generally become happier as we get older.
Such confusion exists among claims made on the internet on a daily basis. There are outrageous assertions made continuously about the benefits of this treatmenet versus another. Recently I’ve seen postings regarding the old claims of the health benefits of coffee enemas. On their face, many might seem reasonable to some, ridiculous to others.
What willl ultimately determine “truth” is the scientific method. Now we all understand that science is imperfect. Its liability, its weakness is that not all science is ultimately accurate. Because scientists are human they may be prone to falsifying data for a variety of personal reasons. Of course this is reprehensible. But what makes science invaluable as a tool for ascertaining truth is its ability to correct itself over time. This is crucial. Studies need to be repeated, over and over. In this way what we deem to be truth is essentially a consensus of scientific studies (which need to be examined as to their own reliability) which is always open to revision. In this sense, scientific truth ( as opposed to religious truth) is always uncertain. But it is in this uncertainty, this insistence that results be confirmed over and over that we can rely on its veracity.
Is science ALL we need to understand the nature of reality? I would submit the answer is NO. We need the humanities– philosophy, literature, the study of consciousness, spirituality. Some of these aspects of human experience may NOT be open to scientific study. But when it comes to understanding the physical universe and its manifestations, we absolutely need it.