As a provider I have come to realize that the challenges and difficulties we face when dealing with the health care system are a given. It is only through profound listening and observation that we can recognize the moment for action, the opportunity for growth, the path that will allow us to transform the problem into a purpose...only then can we find our way to creative innovation. It is through the power of willingness that we can literally create new possibilities.
Stopping, looking deeply, and focusing intently on the task at hand make us more attentive, more effective, and more complete doctors. It is only when we are attentive, engaged, and actively listening that true healing can occur.
I refer to my encounters with my patients as interdependence, as I also benefit from our interactions. This interdependence is characterized by awareness of suffering, by the courage to face challenges, and by altruism that borders on pathological optimism.
When I talk to health care providers I try to always emphasize that a collective shift in health care begins with us, with our personal shifts. We must first be the prototype before we can see widespread change. By embodying mindfulness and presence in our daily work we create the inner conditions to see more clearly the changes that are needed, and become the ultimate laboratory for testing these changes in the field. These changes can be as simple as actively listening and observing more. Changes so easy that anybody can understand them when we translate them into systemic innovation.
Mindfulness is the awareness that arises from paying a particular attention to the present moment, not judging (not ‘liking’ or ‘disliking’). Mindfulness is more than just paying attention to the present moment; it means befriending those dark moments that are a given in our personal lives, in our relationships, and in dealing with institutions. Mindfulness entails the realization that befriending those dark moments is okay, especially when they are our own. The latter is the true essence of compassion.
The health care system can be simplified to the patient and the doctor encounter: that is where we must start. We must remind ourselves that the effect of any intervention depends first upon the inner state of the one intervening. This means that working on ourselves must come first. If we cannot embody the principles of mindfulness and presence, how can we expect others or the larger system to?
For providers it is imperative to consider this alternative paradigm: the power of caring is more powerful than intellectual knowledge. In order to care more, we must first listen, listen again, and listen some more. We must make our patients experts in their disease, thereby empowering them. We must learn to put ourselves in their shoes and see from their perspective. In essence, we must begin practicing participatory medicine: a process by which the doctor and the patient craft the healing process together.
I believe with my heart that these practices have the capacity to close the gap between the people we are now and our highest selves. I believe that this will transform us into better providers, and that this will translate into better interpersonal relations and better institutions. I believe that these changes will give us freedom and lightness of being.
I once heard of an exercise that asks us to imagine ourselves on our deathbed, on our last day of life, in our final moments. What would we say to ourselves right now? I, personally, would tell myself that living with intensity - as if each day were my last - will produce profound transformation.
So I ask you: stop and look deeply inside yourself. Be ready for your free-fall into this journey called ‘mindfulness.’ Although the journey of mindfulness is one in which we are offered no securities, it is the one journey we may take in which we can be truly free.
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