A Story of Two Hikes

Lately I have found that the best "medicine" I can give myself during the course of a day is to get out of my chair and go on a hike. I am fortunate to live within a few minutes' drive of several open space preserves, so there are no excuses! Except the voices in my head saying that I "should" be "working"...a very narrowly defined version of working indeed. I've found that every time I actually take the action of going on the hike - against the more prudent advice of the thoughts in my heads saying things like, "Breaks are for the weak", and, "Working hard is the only way to survive in life" - I experience a burst of creative ideas and energetic opening, which makes me grateful for every breath and every step I can take. It's not like "working out" at the gym, which I did for many years and with much gusto. Recently I took a hike and recorded two videos - one before and one afterwards. I set an intention (or actually a "goal") of practicing self-acknowledgment during the hike, since I had spent the better part of the day flogging myself to work harder, falling into the old thought pattern of, "It's never enough." About halfway through the hike, I realized that in the effort and concentration of pursuing my goal of self-acknowledgment, I had not acknowledged anything that was going on in my immediate surroundings! I had not taken in the particular sights, sounds, and other physical sensations of being on a walk outdoors surrounded by open space and natural vistas. My head was down for most of the first half of the hike. But once I realized this halfway through, and opened myself to experience the present moment, I softened my gaze. I was not working so hard to be on this hike and accomplish rejuvenation as if it were another homework assignment by a teacher. I was shifting into receptivity and noticing everything gently, in real time. I started to look UP at the sky, notice the sounds of the birds, appreciate how the outline of the mountains against the sky, on this particular day, were barely visible because of the misty haze. I started to listen to the sound of my own footsteps on the trail, and how they provided a steady, soft rhythm over which the birds occasionally improvised their solos. During the second half of my hike, there was a shift into musicality from what had started out mechanically. This was my experience of coming into the present moment. You hear Eckhart Tolle and Oprah and other teachers talking about "being in the present moment", but what is your own experience of it, in your own body? I post this as a reminder that we may spend lots of time trying to learn something, or pay someone to teach us "how to" do something, or read blog after blog in search of the answer to the questions in our heart. I believe that learning and growth are the ultimate purpose of our lives here on earth. However, keep in mind that the most important thing to do while learning is to notice yourself as you learn. By developing the ability to notice what is going on inside you, how you are applying the lessons specifically in your life, and honoring your experience as you respond to being taught, you are giving yourself the true gift of learning...and healing. I encourage you to find the energy of openness and receptivity in your daily life through your own practice....maybe it's a hike, or maybe it's something else. Discover what restores YOU! Video before the hike (where I set my intention): Video after the hike (which felt like two different hikes based on a mind shift halfway through):

The Difference Between Being Organized and Uncluttered

You can be both organized and cluttered at the same time. Have you ever thought about that? A friend sent me a link to an article discussing the difference between organization and uncluttering. It arrived in my life at a time when I was open to receiving an "aha" moment. Even though I have found a place to store and/or organize many items in my home, I have noticed that so many of these items are ones I don't need or love anymore. At one time, they held an important place in my life. At one time, they were useful to me. At one time, they were needed on a regular basis. But how about now? I have undergone three major career changes in my life, and have lived in five different cities over the past twelve years. I have had an underlying assumption that my life "should" be constantly expanding in size. An unexamined belief that progress and growth means accumulation of things. I have full closets that I haven't touched in several years. And while my mind and body and spirit are trying to move in a new direction, the weight of these untouched contents is becoming palpable. Continue reading "The Difference Between Being Organized and Uncluttered"

Love Hurts…Is It True? A Few Things I Once Learned About Love…And How I’m Unlearning Them

Have you ever thought about how you learned what love means? What moments in your life explicitly taught you how to love? What examples of love did you observe, and what did you unconsciously learn from them? For most of my life, I have had a murky understanding of the words "love" and "compassion". They were abstract concepts, which I felt no bodily connection to. They were supposed to be good things that good people expressed and felt all of the time, but I had no clue what they felt like to me. "I love you" was not something ever uttered in my household. As far as I know, the phrase doesn't exist in the Chinese language, at least as it applies to families. For most of my life, "love" was a word used by my parents to rationalize their financial anxiety, anger, worry, asking for too much information, and criticizing. "If we didn't love you and care about you, we wouldn't bother to nag you so much," they'd say in defense of themselves. Continue reading "Love Hurts…Is It True? A Few Things I Once Learned About Love…And How I’m Unlearning Them"

CHOICE: Your Daily Dose of Sanity #1

Today, my online course, "12 Days of Holiday Sanity" begins. As the holidays approach, are you feeling more and more peace, joy, and love? Or are you feeling more and more frazzled, with a longer and longer list of things to do? If you want to experience twelve daily doses of inspiration and clarity to help you find your own source of sanity this holiday season, and learn some tools to bring into the next year, sign up here>> Below, I'm sharing the first lesson from this course with you as a gift to remember this holiday season, and throughout the year as you encounter the feeling of so many things "to do". If you enroll in the course, you'll also see a video and be able to download the worksheet for today's lesson. Each day for the next 12 days, you'll receive a new lesson. All lessons will appear on a password-protected website, which you'll have access to after the course is finished. Enjoy!

Daily Dose of Sanity #1: CHOICE Continue reading "CHOICE: Your Daily Dose of Sanity #1"

Does your December feel like a race to the end of the year?

For most of the years of my adult life, the time between Thanksgiving and Christmas has felt like a race. "A race to where?" you might ask. Great question! Instead of racing through your list of "to do"s, try something new this holiday. Try adding some restorative practices to your days, and checking in with yourself to ensure that you are sharing and giving your best self to the people you care most about. Don't know what restores you? Well, here's a great place to start: STOP. Yes, that's right. STOP doing for even one whole minute each day. For those of us who thrive on the thrill of accomplishment, fitting in, doing more, working harder, and making things look good, this might be as big of a challenge as anything you've put on your "to do" list. That's why you need to do it now. STOP. Just sit still with yourself for ONE ENTIRE MINUTE each day, and watch what happens. Feel everything that comes up. Feel your resistance. Feel your annoyance. Feel your jitters. Feel your desire to be anywhere but right here, right now. Give yourself this gift every day during the month of December, and you'll be on your way to being able to give to others what they truly desire - your full presence and peace with yourself. Want more inspiration and instructions on how to create restorative practices and restore sanity to your holiday season? Enroll in my online course starting December 13th. Register here>>

Restorative Practice #5: Do One Thing At A Time

Have you ever tried actually doing one thing at a time? I've found that it takes a tremendous amount of trust - an amount I often don't have - to truly do one thing at a time. Somehow my brain prefers that high-anxiety mode of doing many things at once, having many irons in the fire, keeping many options open, so to speak. But the reality of that mode is nothing ever gets done, and I never feel totally complete. In other words, I set myself up to prove the belief that underlies this kind of behavior: "I am not enough." To turn this behavior around, I first choose a new thought to believe: "I am complete, as I am, in this moment." At first, I repeat it as a mantra that sounds ridiculous because my brain has never practiced focusing attention on all the ways that I am, in fact, complete, as I am, in this moment. I have trained my brain, for many years and quite intensively, to find all the ways that "I am not enough" - all the ways that I "should be" doing more than what I am doing right now. But since I have made the choice to be and do in a different way, to connect with a different energy as the source of my actions, I keep repeating that mantra. I allow myself some stillness and some time to find one example of how I am really complete, as I am, in this moment. I find some gentleness toward myself as I learn a new way. I remember that I am like a toddler, about to take my first steps, and joyfully falling and getting up more times than I will be able to count. I choose something to do, in this moment, which gives me the feeling in my body of being complete as I am. These days, it is a hike. I get to move my body, deepen my breath, and bring my senses in contact with nature - the sky, the cool air, the silence. Yesterday I happened to shoot two videos - one before my hike, and one after. I think you'll see a visible difference in my face, or at least sense a different energy from me, in the two videos. Plus, in the second video I leave you with two questions to ask yourself about your own restorative practices. Enjoy!

BEFORE:

AFTER:

Physician Burnout and Wellness Resources

My take on physician burnout focuses on self-empowerment and witnessed self-inquiry to create a personal definition of physician wellness. There are many academic journal papers outlining the symptoms, prevalence, and possible explanations for physician burnout at every stage of medical training and continuing through practicing physicians mid-career. Here are a few of my favorites:

Mid-Career Burnout in Generalist and Specialist Physicians

Medical Student Burnout and Unprofessional Conduct

Mindfulness Intervention For Primary Care Physician Burnout

Depression and Suicidal Ideation Among Medical Students

Interview with Dr. Laura Roberts on Medical Student Depression and Distress

The blogosphere contains lively discussions on the subject of medical student and physician burnout. For example:

Physician burnout in residency

How physician burnout impacts patient care

Primary care physicians burnout and health care reform

New York Times article on medical student burnout and challenge to patient care

FREE recordings from my "Get the 411 Before It's a 911" coaching calls for medical students, residents, & fellows (also valuable for practicing, mid-career physicians):

Coaching Call #1 - I work with a practicing physician on the stressful thoughts of being on call.

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Coaching Call #2 - 5 Principles of Self-Care for Caring Professionals

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Coaching Call #3 - Creative Leadership for physicians

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Coaching Call #4 - Boundaries, Self-Care Principle #1 for Physicians

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Coaching Call #5 - Reactive to Creative Mode, Self-Care Principle #2 for Physicians

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

FREE episodes of "Revolutionizing Medicine...One Belief At A Time" podcast - examining the commonly held stressful thoughts among physicians:

Episode 1 - "I need to take care of my patients."

Episode 2 - "I am surrounded by illness and suffering."

Episode 3 - "Patients demand my time."

Episode 4 - "People need me to respond."

Blog posts I've written:

Why I Created "Self-Care For The Caring Professional" Online Course

5 Principles of Self-Care for Caring Professionals

Doctors On The Brink Of Burnout: The Way I See It

Who Is Responsible For Physician Burnout?

Creativity: A Prescription For Doctors

Diagnosis: Human

BUY the book, Physicians In Transition, including 25 interviews with physicians who have made the transition away from clinical careers and created the life of their dreams! I am included on page 27!

Want to learn more and get "virtual coaching" on this subject?

ENROLL in my online course, "The Art of Self-Care Primer". 21-day online interactive course takes you through each of the Principles of Self-Care (outlined in Coaching Call #2 above) in greater depth, including daily exercises that you can incorporate into your life. You complete the activities at your own pace, and have access to all materials after the course is completed! More info here>>

Or Else What? Finding Your Own Answer To Holiday Overwhelm

It seems to me that there's this game we play around the holidays. We somehow feel obligated to replay the old tapes of the past, gathering together in the same ways, repeating the same "traditions", whether or not they still work for us. The result? A clenching of the jaw, a tensing of our shoulders, a knotted up feeling in our stomach, as we enter this "joyous" holiday season. Some of us might even roll our eyes without knowing it when we say the word "family". Since all the messages around us are shouting, "Peace! Joy! Love! Thankfulness! Giving!" we feel downright guilty about our deepest truth: we just don't want to do the holidays the same way anymore. That guilt gnaws at our energy for a good two months. We conduct our surface actions under the weight of the thought, "This is what I have to do." So we suck it up. We buy our plane tickets, or get in our cars, battling the crowds of people who all seem to be happily going to visit family, but very well could be gnawing away inside too. Or we buy the new sparkly red dress, the high heels, the purse, the whole deal. We show up at the party with all the people we don't even like. We do it anyway. Why? Not exactly by choice, but because we think "we have to".

Or else what?

When was the last time you questioned your own holiday patterns of action and so-called "traditions"? When was the last time you gave yourself permission to even ask the question, "What do I want to do for the holidays?" Continue reading "Or Else What? Finding Your Own Answer To Holiday Overwhelm"

Recognize and Rest

I've been teaching and deepening my learning each time I teach. This time it's the lessons of Tibetan Sound Healing, as transmitted by the lama Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche. So simple are the sounds of the warrior seed syllables (just 5 single syllable sounds, chanted repeatedly), and yet so deep the lessons, when practiced. The concept that really stuck with me from Tuesday was resting in the recognition that "I am complete, as I am, in this moment." Without reason. Without condition. Without any explanation. I breathed it in and felt the power of resting in that energy of peace, joy, and freedom. What power could I manifest if I just rested in that recognition? Today I practiced again, right after a particularly poignant moment of recognition for me. Take the time to say this to yourself: "I am complete, as I am, in this moment." Say the sound "Ah" and breathe into the feeling of space opened by the vibration in your body. Repeat and rest.

Cleaning Up The Crap

Face-to-Face With The Crap

I stopped by my post office box this morning after who-knows-how-long. I was expecting to have trouble turning the key on my box, the folded up magazines and edges of post cards shredded by all the successive stuffing and weeks of piling up. I was surprised to see an empty box, except for a single slip of paper saying, "Please claim your mail at the counter." I stood in line as a young man with tight-fitting jeans, tortoise-shell glasses, a Members Only jacket, and a black Tumi laptop backpack (this was the downtown Palo Alto post office) put one envelope after another on the scale, each certified mail with return receipt, and then wanted to mail two packages overseas Priority Mail. He was taking forever. And then it was my turn, finally. I extended my hand with the slip of paper and waited. A few minutes later, the woman behind the counter emerged with a white Postal Service carton (the kind the mailmen use in their trucks) between her two hands, resting against her belly. "Here you go," she said cheerily. "Wow," I said out loud. I had to look at the physical representation of several weeks (probably a month) of not attending to my previous ritual of checking my business mailbox. Mostly this ritual was about feeling important for having a business mailbox. None of the mail I receive there seems to be addressed to me personally, and all of the bills I receive online. The energy I spend on my P.O. box is primarily spent shredding and throwing things away. It's mostly crap. I sighed as I tried to make a bundle out of the assorted items in the carton, then carried them, like an infant against my chest, over to another counter to sort through them. I picked a spot right next to the recycling bin. They were predictable things - all the junk mail and marketing solicitations of having a credit card and magazine subscriptions mailed to a P.O. Box. They were also vestiges of my previous life, which consisted of lots of time spent thinking about furniture, clothes, shoes, and travel destinations. So two Pottery Barn catalogs, two Crate and Barrel catalogs, a Restoration Hardware catalog. And of course, two Shar Music catalogs. Why always two? And then the mailings from Yoga Journal. At least four statements saying the same thing – “Your subscription expires a year from now. Will you pay us now? Thank you.” I went through as much of it as I could at the post office, then brought the rest home. I opened my home mail box also to be greeted by a fully stuffed space. Looking at it, having to look straight at it, reminded me that it was unequivocally time. It was time to clean up the crap. Not the pile of mail in front of me. But what the pile of mail represented in my life. It reminded me of the central image in Iyanla Vanzant's memoir Yesterday, I Cried, and this quote:
"Some people don't know how, and others never think about going back and cleaning up their crap. Most people want to start today and feel better tomorrow. They want to take a yoga class, listen to a meditation tape, rub a crystal on their head, and believe they have fixed their lives and healed their souls. You cannot create a new way of being in one day. You must take your time remembering, cleaning up, and gaining strength."
It hit me that I have been feeling ready to do some remembering. I had built some strength and rather than running forward, it felt like time to clean up some crap. Continue reading "Cleaning Up The Crap"