How to want what you have when it’s not what you want

IMG_5787Last year I found out, rather unceremoniously, that I had lost my job. I was a part of a small private practice that was bought by a competitor, a change facing many physician practices today. Unbeknownst to us, we were not going to be offered employee contracts as we had previously been told and instead, we were pushed out of town entirely. As the most recent hire and youngest of my group, I was the first to go despite four years of service. Not only that, I was given three weeks notice.

Three weeks.

The competing group had known for months in advance that they wouldn’t keep me on but they chose not to disclose the information. Of course, I was bitter. It’s not exactly easy to find a position as a pathologist these days. Even after accepting an offer, it takes months to get hospital approvals and state licenses. So there I was without a job for the first time ever in my life and I had no idea when I would be working again. I didn’t know how to process the shock of what had just happened let alone make decisions about the future.

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The Addiction No One Is Thinking About

columboWhen I was younger, one of my favorite activities was simply to think.

I remember laying on my back, on the floor in my room and gazing out the window, just thinking. I would think about my friends, about school, about books I had read…really anything. I imagined future scenarios, and reminisced about past ones. Lost in daydreams, I never would have thought that I was fostering an addiction.

I was a thinking addict.

Most of us are, in fact, addicted to our thoughts. Indeed, this is not an accident, but rather a result of neurological efficiency. Each thought, just like every action we take, corresponds to neurologic activity in our brains. And if there is one thing our brains are especially good at, it’s being efficient. This is ultimately the process of learning, although it may sound strange for me to tell you that you actually had to learn to think. But you did. What you learned to think about as a child and young adult is largely driving your thoughts today. Spend just five minutes observing your mind at work to find out for yourself. It’s an illuminating experience to catch our thoughts, and a forever life-changing one to start noticing our inner dialogue.

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What your cells want you to know

Cradle_of_Humankind_039Your cells want you to know that they are living, breathing, and sentient.

They want you to know that they hear everything you hear, see everything you see, and feel everything you feel.

They want you to know that they are affected by all the choices you make, from what you choose to eat, to who you choose to marry.

They want you to know that they want so much for your health and happiness, because when you are happy, they are happy.

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5 Reasons Affirmations Don’t Work

file0001179129151Affirmations are very specific, positive declarations that are said and/or written in attempts to change a negative belief about ourselves. If you follow any of the popular self-help books, you’ll find references made to affirmations, and even specific ones you can use when struggling with a particular problem. You can create an affirmation for virtually any issue, whether it is finding love, overcoming illness, or becoming financially abundant. The theory behind the use of affirmations is that what we think and say creates our reality, based on how our neurons fire and wire together.

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5 ways wellness coaching can change your life

IMG_0558One of the most important people to include on your journey to wellness is a wellness coach.

These are professionals who already have an established background in the areas of healthcare, nutrition and exercise science and who have elected to undergo additional training and certification to help you reach your wellness goals. But a coach is not your nutritionist, trainer or your doctor. Unlike those other services, which some coaches might also still provide outside of their coaching business, you are not purchasing information or a program to follow. Instead, you are learning how to partner with your intuition through the guidance of your coach, so that eventually you can coach yourself. This is why coaching of any sort is so valuable and worth the investment.

Specifically though, how can wellness coaching benefit you?

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An unhealthy focus on a healthy life

heartGardenThere is only one question you need to ask yourself when you consider making any change to be healthier.

Is my desire to change based on fear, or love?

Many of our attempts to eat well, exercise, and to generally live a healthy life are actually based in fear when we look closer. I’ve found that the more time and effort someone puts into a health endeavor (such as finding the optimal diet), often the more motivated they are by fear. If you follow some popular health and fitness blogs, the messages are clear: Eat (insert optimal diet here i.e. vegan, low-fat, etc) to prevent chronic illness and disease. Exercise (insert activity and intensity) to prevent dying early or debilitation.

The problem with coming from a fear based perspective is that you are setting yourself up for added stress even as you attempt to live a healthier life, with all the benefits it has to offer. Being fanatical about a strict diet or exercise regimen is identifying with a certain set of behaviors so much that without them, you don’t know who you are. There are all kinds of programs out there to help you stick to positive changes, and many focus on learning to identify yourself as “someone who doesn’t eat cake” or “someone who loves to be active”. But the problem is that if you do end up eating that piece of cake, or staying at home to watch TV instead of hitting the gym, you end up feeling like you did something wrong that you have to make up for the next day. How many times have we all thought that working out extra hard the day following an indulgence would counteract it? Not only does our metabolism not work that way, but that mindset reinforces our fear that there is always a perfect decision we should have made, that we failed to make.

It’s a life-changing and literally brain-altering experience to come from a place of love when you make your lifestyle choices. If you choose to eat healthy, do so because you love the flavor of the food and how it nourishes your body. When you decide to lift weights at the gym, do so because it exhilarates you to witness your own strength and progress. Find joy in each healthy behavior, not because it is helping you change how you look physically or is preventing a disease, but simply because each of these behaviors is an expression of self-love. It’s no different than reading a sweet child a bedtime story and tucking him in with his teddy bear. That’s how loving you want to be with yourself when you are on a journey of healthy living.

When you do experience a “setback” or “relapse”, which is essentially engaging in a behavior that ultimately does not serve your higher purpose, do it with love. This sounds somewhat paradoxical, because how can it be self-loving to indulge in a behavior you have pre-identified as harmful to your health? The answer is that no single behavior in and of itself is healthy or harmful. Every choice you make occurs in a context. Eating spinach is healthy, but only if you are eating plenty of other things as well. A spinach-only diet would lead to malnutrition pretty quickly! Eating birthday cake might lead to some unfavorable hormone and blood sugar fluctuations temporarily, but if this is an occasional treat then you can trust your body will recover and suffer no ill effect from a once-in-a-while indulgence. As long as your overall context for your choices is love, you can feel comfortable that any choice you make will be aligned with the healthy life you truly want.

I encourage you to evaluate your health behaviors and investigate whether you tend to approach them from love or fear. For those that are rooted in fear, how can you be more loving towards yourself as you make a change? Apply this question to other areas of your life, and you might just find that health is the natural outcome of love itself.

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Coping with grief

file0001465861740Grief passes through us in waves, taking us over in rhythmic contractions. It can come over us at any time after we have experienced a loss, whether it is the death of a loved one, the ending of a relationship, or the change of a situation we had grown to be comfortable in. Whatever it is that we grieve, the feeling is the same. It is like a vice grip around our heart, as if an old bitter woman’s deformed fingers are clawing at us, reaching into our lungs, causing each breath to travel into us with the exquisite torture of knowing we are still alive while what we loved is not. Usually, if we stay with this feeling and breathe through it, we find that the old woman eases her grip a bit, forgetting us for a brief moment in her slumber. But eventually she wakes, and remembers.

This process of grieving is universal, and something we cannot experience without first calling ourselves human. It is felt at all ages and life circumstances. Grief is the cost of being alive in this world. At some point, we will lose someone or something close to us. And while we often grieve the absence of others, what is hidden within the layers of that grief is the sense that we have lost a part of ourselves. Even if we are grieving a loved one’s death, it feels like a part of us has also died.

What I have learned from experiencing my own grief, however, is that rather than representing a death, it actually is a form of giving birth. Grief is experienced in waves, like labor pains, contractions meant to bring forth new life. In the midst of a grief contraction, the only thing I can do is breathe. I focus on my breath, allowing it to flow through me along the waves of pain I feel that travel through my body in a very physical way. Eventually, the contraction subsides and I am fine again, until the next wave. Intense periods of grief consist of these contractions that may occur over a period of days, weeks or even years. It will last as long as needed to birth what is wanting to be born. The more we turn away from it, the longer our labor; and those who never face it may even die with a part of themselves trapped within, yearning to be allowed even one breath of this wonderful life.

Grief is a process that the spiritual and physical body undergoes to bring new life into this world. The life we choose to bring forth is up to us, but it will usually be greater than anything we could have imagined.

To anyone experiencing a loss, here is a guided meditation that I have found helpful for myself:

Breathe through the waves of grief you are feeling like a mother in labor breathing through a contraction. Let the feeling pass. Once you find stillness, ask yourself this simple question: What am I birthing into the world right now? It’s ok if no answer comes to mind, or if several come at once. The point is to acknowledge that you are in a transition phase right now, between death of the old, and life of the new. You have the strength and courage to accept all of your feelings, no matter how painful they may be, because you are delivering into the world a part of yourself that is very much loved and needed at this time. Envision this part of you existing right now in the core of your being. Breath into your core, relaxing your body, so that you can allow this new life to emerge.

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How I lost my spirit in medicine (and what I did to get it back)

file1291253622910Over the past several years, my perspective on myself and life has slowly undergone a shift. In my late teens and early twenties when I was going through medical school, I felt like I had little time to work on self-development and so I didn’t. I figured going through medical school was development enough, and in some ways it was. I pushed the limits of my knowledge further than I ever had before. I accepted that I wasn’t the “best and the brightest”, in the group of talented individuals I was blessed to call my peers. But what I didn’t realize happening was that I was slowly becoming a more and more negative person. I was surviving in a difficult environment, and when we are thrown into survival mode often our perception of threats looms much larger than it should, because it seems our life depends on it. When we become adept at identifying potential threats, we stop living in a balanced world and instead blend into the negativity the way a chameleon blends into the leaves he hides behind.

There is probably no other training out there more efficient in making a person feel inadequate and small as medicine. It’s unfortunate, because this is the profession based on teaching and healing others. No doctor should come out of the process worse for wear, no matter how much information they have to memorize and how sick the patients are that they see. But what often happens is that we enter our esteemed profession with a more negative mindset than what we came in with. We now try to anticipate all the things that can go wrong, not just with our patients, but with ourselves as we are learning. What if we get asked a question that we don’t know the answer to, and it’s the mean attending on rounds today? What if in our attempt to learn a new procedure, we screw it up and get yelled at, or worse, cause harm to the patient? And in some scenarios, the questions are even harder to answer, especially for women. What if we are sexually harassed by a superior? When I was a student, a surgeon used my body as a sweat rag for his forehead in the middle of a case. Years later, a chairman inappropriately placed his hand on my thigh when asking me a question. Worse has happened to other women. If that doesn’t teach you to survive by being on the lookout for threats, I don’t know what will.

It wasn’t until I made it out of residency and fellowship training that I finally could take stock of what I had even been through for the past decade. I was looking at a landscape within myself that I didn’t even recognize anymore. I finally had the time to evaluate what teachings I wanted to keep from that time, and what I wanted to throw out. It was a mental and emotional clearing of my closet (or medicine cabinet, if you will). I got rid of any thought that I wasn’t smart enough, I wasn’t good enough, I wasn’t a hard worker, I had to get everything right (especially the first time), and that if I didn’t know the answer to something then that meant I was a failure. None of those thoughts were original to my self-concept when I started medical school, and yet each one had grown its roots into my psyche by the time I started private practice. It’s one thing to prepare future physicians for the stresses they will face in their medical careers; it’s another thing entirely to short circuit their brains with fear and negativity.

What I wish I had known back then, all those years ago, was that I didn’t have to go through the experience like velcro for other people’s negativity. I was sensitive and young, and took very seriously my experiences with those who were older and wiser. It took several years before I realized that attendings, professors, senior residents or even administrators were still capable of acting like children, ruled by their egos. Because I gave them all the benefit of the doubt, and myself none, I learned a way of being that ultimately kept myself small and dormant. This is not to say that everyone experiences what I went through, but those who are more emotionally sensitive (often women) share similar stories. Practicing meditation, self-compassion, loving detachment and other stress resilience techniques might not have changed my circumstances, but they would have helped me cope with them more effectively, leading to a lot less suffering. I was detached from my spirit, and only reconnected to it once I had time to breathe.

No one is perfect, and this career takes a toll on everyone. You can’t go through medical training and come out the same person as you went in, nor should you. What we live through changes us on a fundamental level, but if it isn’t changing us for the better, how can we really contribute to positive change in the world? It’s not a lofty or naive goal at all to go to medical school in hopes of making a difference in the world. I would hope that most of us in medicine are humanitarians on some level. After years of delayed income, sleepless nights, mental and physical strain, and often failed relationships in the process, it’s certainly not all about the “money”. There is a deeper purpose, a spiritual seed, that is ready to germinate and nourish ourselves and others, but only in the right conditions. It is the responsibility of each individual involved in medical education to understand that ultimately, we are all in this together for a purpose larger than ourselves.

In any circumstance we face, there is truth and there is illusion. Differentiating between the two in my medical career has been the only way to keep the strong connection to my higher Self, while progressing in an institution that is still very much in its spiritual infancy.

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The longing in every woman’s heart

file0001008154008Experiencing life as a woman is a gift, that I have heard many men claim they are glad not to have received. Our feminine bodies and minds flow with nature in a way, in lunar rhythms and cycles, that men just often don’t understand. Just as the moon pulls the ocean tides, so are we pulled in an ebb of flow of life. We create and build life, and we also release its potential with our very blood.

At our center, there is a longing. We are born into this world naked and alone, and spend the rest of our lives trying to find the right clothing to cover us, and the right partner to be with us. Even as our baby-girl-bodies emerge from the womb, we are longing for something, for some sense of connection to another. For some sense of connection to ourselves.

Social mores tell us that once we marry and have children, our role as women will be fulfilled. Is this what evolution had in mind for us, to be the vessel for more people? Or can becoming a mother also be a strong catalyst for another kind of birthing process?

What life are we really meant to bring forth?

Each woman has a wild, instinctive nature. There exists a part of her, no matter how tame she has become by society, that remains untouched, like a glowing white pearl hiding within a seashell. This is the gift she is born with, this gift of life, of creativity and wildness. This is what each woman struggles to protect throughout her life, whether she knows it or not. This is her true essence, a small indesctructible pearl that is born from the challenge and hardship of every woman who has come before her. The true longing in each woman’s heart is to take this pearl from deep within, caress it in her palms, and show it to the world.

We don’t long for children, for men, for material objects, as much as we long for ourselves. We don’t give birth to another human being as much as we give birth to ourselves. And we don’t nourish the life of another human being with our bodies, as much as we nourish the living planet with our very being. We are women, we are connected to the divine through our blood. We wax and wane with the moon, resting at times from depletion and then brimming full with abundance.

Only when we recognize the longing in our own hearts to be ourselves, to expose ourselves, and to birth our highest Self into being, will we be able to influence the course of humanity. Our men have done the best job they knew how to, until now. They have only known how to be men. What is necessary now are for self-realized, self-birthed women to step forward, unashamed in our femininity, and join them.

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