Meditation for Medical Doctors
About 7 years ago, I found that my life had hit the proverbial wall. I was in my mid-thirties, and it would appear, had every reason to be happy in life. But the fact was, I was feeling empty and miserable. I realized that my happiness had been constructed based upon the “American Dream,” and that house of cards came crashing down in a hard way. Some aspects of this I handled well, others definitely not. But, what I learned through that painful experience was that true happiness was something altogether different than what I had led myself to believe in the first 3 1/2 decades of my life, and I was determined to figure it out.
I found a very compassionate and gifted therapist who ultimately turned me on to meditation as a way to understand myself in deeper ways. I started to understand meditation as a path to cultivating the conditions for what I call authentic happiness (that which endures regardless of what life is throwing at me). I became eaten up with practicing, going to retreats, reading books, and finding new ways to incorporate meditation in my life. I had found not only a source of healing, but also a deep and pervasive passion.
As I began watching my life and my perspective change, I noticed profound shifts in my professional life as well. I am an Orthopedic Surgeon by training, and as such, mainly see people for very targeted issues…or so I had initially thought. What I was learning is that no condition, no matter how specific on paper, occurs in a vacuum. The painful knee, for instance, is connected to a human being, an infinitely complex and wondrous concoction of physical, mental, and emotional processes that lives in community with others, and in the world at large. Only by understanding this bigger picture of the people who sought my help could I really serve them well.
This is not easy, mind you, as the health system continues to move increasingly to an assembly line model of care. Health organizations are pushing to become more “efficient,” and payment structures are set up to reward volume and illness-based diagnoses. I became very frustrated as I wanted to spend more time and get to know my patients better so I could really offer what I felt they really wanted and needed. I felt very much like I was living in two very separate and distinct worlds: meditation and medicine. Could the two ever be reconciled? I was beginning to wonder.
The long and short of it is, I still work to combine these worlds, but have learned one really valuable lesson along the way. I can’t always give my patients the time that they or I want, but I can ALWAYS offer them my presence. I can always be attentive and hear what they are really telling me. I can always allow my fellow human to be heard, respected, and attended to in a meaningful and compassionate way. And, I can always strive to meet the other where she/he is, not where I want or expect her/him to be. This, of course, has bled into the rest of my life and deeply affects how I treat myself as well as all those I encounter. While I certainly am not perfect at any of this, I see it as a practice, and hold myself to a high standard, while also being patient and compassionate with myself when I fall short. It is all one big beautiful mess of a journey, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
In sum, meditation is a practice, not a perfect. As I often tell my students, start where you are (it’s the only place you can ever be anyway), do the practices, and let the journey unfold. These practices have endured for millennia because they work. Trust the process, cultivate presence, meet each moment truthfully, and be empowered in your life. Your true happiness and fulfillment awaits. Believe me, if I can do it, surely you can as well.