One way to define love is "sustained, compassionate attention". These words came from John Muir Laws, a naturalist, educator, and artist who inspires stewardship of the land by sharing his practice of nature sketching. When I read these words, I began to see the importance of my own art practice in developing sustained, compassionate attention for myself.Read More
I recently returned from a week-long stay in Keystone, Colorado. I was there with a small group of physicians gathered to restore their voice to the practice of medicine.
How I got there was through a series of events I can only call synchronicity.
What I felt was a profound feeling of "coming home".
I showed up as all of me, in full color. My role was to listen deeply and expansively, and I chose to record what I heard in visual form.
It was as if everything I practiced was serving me in my service to this gathering. Each morning I woke early and rode my rented bike along the many trails around Keystone. I listened to the Snake River winding its way through the trees. I inhaled with awe each time I arrived at the vista of Lake Dillon. I clawed my way up a steep hill only to be rewarded with the jackpot of a stunning view of Breckenridge and beyond.
I had learned from these past few years of practicing self-care that these morning steps were my fuel for being present and thinking creatively. I knew what to do - even in an environment away from my familiar surroundings at home - because I had practiced them into new habits. I had my biking clothes, I was comfortable riding, and all I had to do was explore new roads and read new maps.
I also had my daily sketching and art journaling practice in place, something I started only within the last two years. I have experimented with many different formats and media, and I am comfortable drawing outside. On this trip, I brought a small Moleskine Japanese album with accordion pages. It fit in my small travel purse or pocket, and I carried a pouch with pen, markers, and water brushes.
On my morning rides, I often sketched a scene quickly in ink, filling in color later in the day or in the evening. I noticed what I noticed. I took note of the stories I wanted to tell. And by the time I got home, there were three or four panels that needed coloring, which I completed within a few days.
New experiences, new people, new places -- all of these fuel my creativity and keep me inspired.
I am grateful for the daily practices I cultivate at home, so I am well-prepared to stay open when I'm on the road.
For a frame-by-frame caption story of my Keystone travel journal, see my post here.
For an in-depth reflection on the contents of the physician meeting and its impact on me personally, stay tuned!
Why is "love" such a hot button word for so many of us? It seems we remain as divided with respect to this word as we are on so many other issues. There are "hopeless romantics" and there are "anti-Valentine's" party hosts. There are those who sprinkle the word "love" over every communication with strangers or friends, and there are those who use it sparingly, like precious strands of saffron reserved only for the finest occasion.
We never said the word "love" in our house, so during my childhood, I formed the belief that something was missing from my experience compared to the outer world of suburban midwestern America I lived in. We didn't talk like the characters on The Brady Bunch. The emotions expressed in my family were much more raw, more volatile, so close to the surface and not easily contained. The love I experienced was unrelenting, filled with the need to protect me from constant imminent danger, and would never let me off the hook.
Over a lifetime of accumulating ideas of what love is - from what I was told, from what I experienced, and from what I imagined - I decided, other-than-consciously, that it was not safe to love fully.
So I made up a definition of love that suited me, protected me, and preserved my belief in what was possible. I chose different outer images to imitate. I tried on many different outfits in my attempts to recreate safety in love. First, it was a white coat in medical school. Then, it was a pant suit that placed me at the negotiating table, equal to men. Next, it was high heels and feminine-looking skirt suits that projected a combination of power and approachability. Finally, I went barefoot and wore "spiritual" clothes (whatever that means).
These were symbols of the stories I made up about love. I believed I had to earn love by being a skilled professional, by being accepted by a prestigious institution, by measuring up to someone else's standard, by performing above all the rest, or by joining in special rituals. I believed, other-than-consciously, that how I chose to present myself on the outside actually represented how much I loved myself on the inside. So I placed my attention on my outer presentation, believing I could come up with the "right" thoughts or do the "right" things to create the outer world I desired, while continuing to avoid the depths I feared most.
The bigger experience of love I have recently awakened to, through the precise application of language, love and presence, has truly gone to the root of all - and that is consciousness. I finally touched and stayed in places I had avoided for so long. I was shown, by experience and not any concept, how to love my fear, love my pain, love my anger, and love even what I had given up on ever loving again. And to allow "loving what I feel" to transform each emotion into a petal of my heart's desires blooming in action. This was an experience of love bigger than my imagination could accommodate. It was beyond the box of my known reality.
Any thought pattern I chose in the past as a way to survive is no match for the power of being fully present and allowing the love contained in presence itself to shine its unrelenting light on my anger, pain, grief, and even apathy. I had believed that by not touching these feelings, I would somehow rise above them. In fact, I was unaware of the energy required to keep them suppressed and avoided. My buoyancy returned only after being willing to touch, stay, and love exactly what I had believed to be untouchable, unworthy of my attention, and unloveable. In the light of love, which I experienced as pure nonjudgmental and unflinching presence, everything I once thought I was not safe to feel became my love, expanded. I found myself forgiving people I was once convinced had really "damaged" me. I found myself spontaneously making lists of the things I love about my mom (how she never let me off the hook, how she unrelentingly saw my highest self already expressed in the world, and how she did it even though it was hard for her so much of the time).
I am now excited when I experience uncomfortable feelings, as they are a chance to expand my capacity for love. I get to love what I feel, and let my love grow. I now reclaim my love as the life force which has loved me into existence, expressing itself in every experience, feeling, and desire that has come through me. I AM my love. And I love my love.
I facilitate this awakening in my Eye Reading sessions and this is the level at which all of my work is offered. It is time to play a bigger game.
This month, you can join me in awakening to your greater depths of love in a free teleclass, "Renegotiating Love", a free Friday talk at Prajna Center in Belmont, "Receiving The Love That You Are", and my ongoing introduction to my program for physicians, "Live Your Medicine: Responding To The Evolutionary Wake-Up Call to Remember Your Love, Your Art, and Your Medicine".
Since leaving medicine, I’ve been an entrepreneur and an independent artist. They are similar pursuits, and both have taught me about the experience of living in creative rather than reactive mode. In the moment you can claim your role in creating the experience you are having right now - as reflected to you by the external circumstances you find yourself in - you begin to take a creative stance. You begin to see yourself differently within the grand puzzle of your world. No longer can you point your finger and your attention outward at “them”, but now you must see the source within you that holds your power to create, choose, and act.
Every artist and every entrepreneur has had to touch this inner place in order to bring a never-before-seen vision into material reality. Whether you name it “imagination” or “vision” or “desire”, every human being has an inner source of creativity. Some of us have placed this in a box in the basement of our consciousness. Maybe we have given up on ever being able to use it in this lifetime. But as long as you are alive, you have this source within you, waiting for you to open the space for it to breathe.
Here are four creative mindsets you have within you, waiting to be awakened and remembered.Read More
There is a scene in the movie, The Matrix, in which the main character Neo is offered a choice between the “red pill” and the “blue pill”.
This is your last chance. After this, there is no turning back. You take the blue pill—the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill—you stay in Wonderland, and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes. Remember: all I'm offering is the truth. Nothing more.
Does it excite you to imagine discovering how deep the rabbit hole goes? Or do you notice a resistance toward leaving the comfort of your current reality?
In the movie, “truth” at first appears as a chilling image of the planet taken over by machines, living off the energy of human beings who are lying unconscious inside jars of gelatinous solvent. Towards the end of the film, it is love received from his beloved which finally wakes Neo up to the reality of his own illusion. That he has believed in everything within the Matrix, and through that belief he has created his own truth. With new eyes touched by love, he sees everything as it actually is: a construct of his own consciousness, where elements take on only the meaning he assigns to them.
Awakening to choice - realizing in any moment that you have a choice - is a moment of connecting to your creative power. Notice that your power to choose always resides inside you. You choose whether to activate your own power by choosing to choose.
No one, no thing, no place, no circumstance outside you can, without your consent, take your power away. You may have been taught to give your power away in the past. Forgive yourself and choose now to be your own power.
The most powerful choice you have is to awaken to the love that you are. Survival and “getting through life” may have hardened you to this truth. You may have learned to protect your core from fully receiving what you feel. By protecting yourself from what you feel, you have denied yourself love. You have refused to shine the light of love on certain aspects of your experience, while insisting on exposing only the so-called acceptable parts. When you encounter a situation that brings you close to touching what you feel, do you stay or do you run?
My experience is I had a strategy of keeping intensely felt experiences at an arm’s length, making it about “them” or “those people” over “there”. I thought I was dealing with these experiences in a "professional" manner by detaching myself, seeing “objectively”, and disconnecting from what I feel. I experienced burnout in a caring profession as a result of the very pattern I had been taught was “professional” and proper.
Only when I was guided, with love and no judgment, to receive what I feel inside me — reversing the pattern of distancing myself from what I feel — did I wake up to the magnitude of the love that I am. I cannot describe in words or quantify this magnitude because it is not a measurable “amount of something”. I can only say that I felt my love, as me, come through me, in a moment of complete awe and flow of both humility and security. I simultaneously felt the smallness of my human self and my human thought forms, and the vastness of my true self as an expression of the love of all-that-is.
I have a vision for the evolution of medicine being led by those physicians who, through burnout, have come to the point where they are no longer able to play the game of denying what they feel. Physicians whose old strategies for survival have run their course. Physicians who have reached a recognition that their visceral knowing contains a truth which, despite being unexplainable, is worthy of their attention and love. Physicians who are prepared to choose the red pill.
I have no plans to teach doctors how to run their practices, or how to define their professional roles. I wish only to point to a door within you, which opens in. Perhaps you have been living your life trying to push outward, when all along you simply never knew that the door opens in. Any true resolution to the current pain in health care lies beyond that door within you. Will you open it?
If your heart says YES, join me on my next free telephone introduction to Live Your Medicine.
It has been fourteen years since I graduated from University of Michigan Medical School. I have journeyed far from the field of medicine, and yet my heart keeps hearing the call to return to my physician communities and share what I have learned. I simply cannot ignore my sense that the pain within our health care system - now felt at every level, including patients, physicians, and payors - is a resounding call to wake us up to our next stage of evolution.
It takes only a cursory scanning of the headlines of medical blogs like this one to get a sense for the unrest, the frustration, and the abundance of innovative practices emerging as a result of the rising sense of powerlessness among doctors. I left medicine immediately after receiving my MD, moving into uncharted waters after the Dean of Career Development at Michigan told me, "You're on your own. We can't help you with that." This was when, as a fourth year student, I announced I would be pursuing a career in venture capital.
I volunteered at a private equity investment firm - yes, I worked for no pay - and six weeks later, I was hired as an Associate. Within two years I was the youngest partner-level Investment Manager in the firm. No one told me this was possible. I simply would not accept anyone else's opinion of what I could or could not do. Especially after what I witnessed in my world of medical training.
One of my most vivid memories was on my Vascular Surgery rotation, where I was absolutely loving the concept of what we were doing - as intellectual masturbation material. But in practice, what I saw was my future laid out in the following scenarios. The second year resident, sick as a dog, showed up to work anyway, and, too weak to stand, lay down on a gurney in the OR while a case was going on. The third year vascular surgery fellow, a gentile Southern man, was in the middle of a lower extremity bypass graft and stepped out of the room. He lifted his mask, vomited into the scrub sink, and then reentered the OR to continue the procedure. This happened two more times within the same procedure before he completed.
Many of you reading this may be nodding and saying, "Yup. That's just the way it is. Suck it up or leave it." And my question is, "If you have trained yourself not to feel, what else might you be missing in your experience of other people?".
Later in the month, on a Saturday night call, we brought Mrs. X into the OR at about 10pm. This was hospital day 50-something for her. She had come in for a routine renal artery stent, and apparently had embolized into her IMA, killing off part of her gut. Her wound was infected, she developed multi-organ failure, and was kept alive, with an open abdominal incision, on a ventilator. She was unresponsive, and it was unclear, each day of the month we rounded on her, whether the family was aware of her prognosis. One day I spoke to her husband, and he told me, glossy-eyed, that the day before she was admitted to the hospital, they had played tennis together. He looked forward to the day they could do this again. What a far cry from the rigid piece of meat that was plugged into machinery and called "alive". I was confused, then, when we suddenly decided to bring her back to the OR to "drain her abdomen" or do something surgical, when there was no clinical evidence of any change in her status.
I will never forget the first snipping of the sutures holding her abdominal fascia together, as a wave of black liquid gushed out of her belly. We tried to catch some of it in a test tube to "send it for culture". As if we couldn't predict the lab report of "multiple anaerobic organisms not otherwise specified". Then, at around 11pm, our 63-year-old attending vascular surgeon walked in. He had street clothes on, and held a mask over his face. He leaned about ten degrees in over the body and said, "OK, I'm signing off". Then walked out.
We were left with closing her up, bringing this woman - not just a body - back to the ICU, and coming up with a story in our notes about what we did and why.
I moved on to a different rotation before she was ever pronounced dead. I wasn't there when someone had to break the news to her husband that they would never play tennis again in this lifetime. But I internalized a lesson in that month about the price of actually DOING what I LOVED. A door inside my heart closed, believing that my heart's desire - to do a job I loved, and to live a LIFE I loved - was simply not possible. I had to choose one or the other.
Since then, I have been a partner-track professional in a venture capital firm (again, something I was told would not be possible given my experience), I moved to California to follow my childhood dream of starting a violin school, built a successful six-figure business on my own from scratch, and then experienced the loss of that school through what I now see was burnout.
The gifts of burnout have been the rediscovery of my humanity, my desire, my creativity, my purpose, my own healing, and my love. I love empowering people and being co-empowered in relationships. I love seeing my ideas in action. And I love being the facilitator of true healing and transformation in people.
I have created a life in which I do what I love, and I am fully supported in the very uniqueness of my expressions of love. I have received trainings in life coaching, sound healing, traditional Thai massage, Breema bodywork, and Bio Optic Holography. I made a conscious transition from playing only classical music for thirty-plus years to improvising on my violin, voice, and other instruments. I co-created an acoustic rock duo with my partner-in-life, and we perform in public regularly. We live in a beautiful natural setting, among a community of people who value artistic expression, stewardship of the earth, and mutual support. I birthed myself as a visual artist, and have exhibited in a juried show during my first year as a painter. I have traveled the world and studied with the most inspiring people I have ever met in my life. And I share this with people, one-on-one, in groups, by phone and face-to-face.
I have avoided sharing the fullness of my learnings with physicians, other than those who happen to find me in their own internet searches. I have been hiding my joy. And now, even as I feel my fear of wading into shark-infested waters, I choose to bring my message to you. It is not necessary to settle for what others have told you is possible, or even for what you have defined in the past as possible. You are a creative force far beyond your current imagination.
I have followed the public and academic discourse on physician burnout and suicide, and I notice several things. First, the good news. It's being discussed and therefore legitimized as a "syndrome" in the eyes of the medical establishment. Not surprisingly, however, burnout is being "medicalized" as a diagnosis that must be prevented, eradicated, treated aggressively, and fought like a battle against a raging enemy among us. This is the medical mindset. It's how we were all trained to see the world - to focus on what's right and wrong, eradicate the wrong, and restore the system to its previous state if at all possible.
I have a different perspective. I see the experience of burnout not as something to be eradicated, shamed, attacked, or avoided, but as something to experience with full participation and curiosity. To see the depths of despair and loss as a form of structural tension within a system that holds great innate latent potential to launch a powerful trajectory in the direction of your greater mission in life. Yes, I believe your personal, specific experience of burnout holds the very keys to the fulfillment of your wildest dreams and desires for your thriving life.
Fundamentally, the process is one of remembering your love. Remembering your art. Remembering YOUR medicine. And LIVING YOUR MEDICINE. Yes, that means looking at yourself. Shining loving light - transcending right and wrong - on those experiences within you that require healing attention. When you have walked with courage through your own healing process, and you have touched the places within you that you did not understand how to love previously, you become your medicine. You embody the grace of healing, and you effortlessly deliver the level of care, compassion, and precision that flows through you as love.
If your heart says YES, please join me for a free introductory call to my new program for physicians, "Live Your Medicine", by registering here. Vote for your own joy, creativity, and desire by taking a courageous step on behalf of your own heart. And please reach out to any colleagues you know who may benefit from this discussion.
As the new year begins to unfold, I am waking up to a brand new world. I am aware of a bigger love within me than I ever knew before. And I came to this awareness not through reading but by acting on my heart's desires. I returned last night from a week-long immersion in Asheville, North Carolina, where I was trained in a beautifully powerful suite of modalities based on reading the map of the eyes.
I could tell you about the iris being a map of our thoughts, words, and feelings believed in our other-than-conscious world. I could describe the role of our words and language in creating states of consciousness. I could share that we have a sacred body language that speaks when our mind has not yet found the words.
What I choose to share is my experience of receiving true love.
In the presence of true love, I was able to touch and love and feel a place within me I had preferred to avoid. A place that was easier to relate to when it was "over there" happening to "those people", many miles or many generations away from my "here and now" reality. However, I know from my experience that trying live above our suppressed emotions, trying to get by with a comfortable material existence, at some point gets old. We grow out of the tiring routine. We know in our hearts something is calling for us to see, touch, feel, and love in a way we have never been able to before.
With guidance and great love, we can touch what we feel, and love what we feel, and experience healing beyond the box of what seems possible, reasonable, or explainable. I know I was raised with an intensity and commitment of unrelenting love, which sometimes felt overwhelming. I now love my parents for their intensity and their commitment, and for never letting me off the hook, even when it was hard for them. I love what I feel when it is hard for me, and I love myself as I do it anyway. This unrelenting love is the depth of love our world is created from, moment by moment by moment.
And this unrelenting love is the love that will heal our own hearts, moment by moment by moment. I am grateful to have the experience and the tools required to touch the experiences in all of us that we did not, in the past, understand how to love. With true love received specifically in the present moment, we begin a new trajectory in fulfillment of our greater mission in life.
If you are ready to wake up to your new world, please get in touch with me for an exploration of how we can partner in your process. I also invite you to join me for a free teleclass on Tuesday, January 20th, entitled, "All About Imagination". Expand your current container and discover a new activation of your imagination from the realm of true potential. Details and registration are here.