I’ve had a large number of psychologists in my workshops. They heard about mindfulness years ago and took to the practice as a natural extension of their training. Now I’m being sought out by physicians, but their interest is more personal.
What a career choice! Doctors work unnaturally long hours and have high rates of burnout, divorce and substance abuse, as well as the highest suicide rate of any profession. Physicians are more likely to suffer from mental illness but much less likely to be treated for it. A 2012 study on physician suicide begins with the lament that there have been so few studies.
Although you must be highly ambitious to become an MD, it often starts with the simple motivation to relieve suffering and help others. Simple on the surface, at any rate. This is a huge moral commitment, and since it’s impossible to take on the emotional load of every suffering patient young doctors are taught emotional detachment that is reinforced by the fierce competitiveness of the profession and the tendency towards obsessive-compulsive perfectionism. Over a lifetime this often boils down to plain insensitivity. Emotional detachment has been described by one professional as, “an unnatural skill in which you must suppress your innate sympathy.”
Suppressing your innate sympathy is clearly at odds with your fundamental motives and renders your practice of medicine inherently stressful.
There are other ways to manage emotional overload. The resolute practice of mindful noting cools your emotional reactivity by building equanimity without sacrificing your sensitivity to others.
Central to the whole notion of mindfulness is care. You care about life and what you do with it. You care for yourself and others by seeking physical, mental and emotional balance.
You express care most tangibly by managing your reactivity. While mindfulness is known to be calming, it also has a more profound purpose: to recognize and let go of reactivity. This happens not by force of will but by understanding yourself from the inside. As you master this reflective skill you exude presence and become a powerful role model. You express the full potential of your healing sensibilities.
You’re not only under pressure from patients. You also have to function within systems that can be bureaucratic, discriminatory, heavy-handed and sometimes just plain irrational. You can become hardened, or you can become resilient.
Resilience is a flexible inner strength that enables you to consistently bounce back from adversity. By training you to accept what-is with equanimity, Mindful Reflection™ keeps you firmly in touch with your convictions so you can pursue your highest goals with poise and presence.
With resilience arises the recognition that human ignorance, like human mortality, is inevitable. Both summon your desire to heal, and both at times are beyond your power. Resilience enables you to accept your limitations without being defeated by them. You honor life by always seeking new pathways and by exploring life without preconceptions.
These three qualities of Equanimity, Care and Resilience are intimately connected and overlap naturally. They arise together from a committed training in Mindful Reflection™.
Mindful Reflection™ combines the well-known practices of mindfulness with the less well-known reflections that corral your thoughts and bring mindful attention to all you do. For more information contact the author.