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!
"When you touch one thing with awareness, you touch everything." - Thich Nhat Hanh
Since moving to the coastside community of Half Moon Bay three years ago, I've become more and more inspired by farmers. Specifically, local organic farmers and the ecosystems they steward. I am not sure how this evolution happened, but somewhere along the way, in the age of industrial farming and processed foods, in the trance of busyness that convinced me to prioritize my "job" over taking the time to feed myself well, I woke up to the way farmers are actually key players in the health care ecosystem.
For me, the past few weeks have included the following. On the first Saturday of May, my acoustic rock duo provided the live music for our local farmers' market. Our evolution from being loyal customers to becoming more active participants in the ecosystem providing this precious resource for our community has been a dream come true for the kind of musicians we desire to be. We play for tips, lettuce, strawberries, olive oil, bread, chocolate, a bit of cash, and a big dose of the love that comes from knowing we are feeding the community with our art and joy.
Two weeks ago, I became a member of my first CSA (Community Supported Agriculture). This means I signed up to get a box of locally grown, organic produce delivered to my door by a farm collective every two weeks. In each box is a note from Farmer Paul, with a poetic missive on his observations in the field, followed by some bullet points on "how to be a great and green member of the farm family". These two lines really hit home for me:
"Remember, you are not a customer; you are a shareholder in our farm.
Paying your bill is not enough. Owning a share means doing your share."
The "aha" for me was that I do have a responsibility. I was not just "buying" a box of food delivered to my door each week. I am now responsible for holding a piece of the thread. I am now a weaver of our local ecosystem. I am adding my voice to the chorus saying "Yes!" to locally grown organic produce, picked by hand, delivered by hand, and gifted to us all by the land. Do you feel that? We are gifted our food from the land. The land is not a factory. It is a generous donor and partner. And what we give to the land it gives back to us in multiples.
Several days later, I attended a lecture by Daphne Miller, MD, a family physician and author of the book, Farmacology: What Innovative Family Farming Can Teach Us About Health and Healing. Her curiosity about the relationship between her patients' health and the health of our soil led her on a global odyssey to visit small family-owned farms, as well as agricultural scientists and ecologists studying organic farming practices. The one-sentence summary of her talk was, "We are the soil." What we put into the earth, we put into ourselves. And what we put into ourselves, we also put back into the earth.
All of this has gotten me thinking more about both how we feed our world, and how we are fed by our world.
The thought seeds that take root in our consciousness create feelings which course through the cells of our body as chemical signals and are digested in each cell, creating our experience of life.
Imagine the gut - our digestive system - as the place where our feelings about the world are taken in, broken down and digested into the elements that fuel our entire being system of Soul+Body+Mind, driving our decisions and actions in the world.
Each of us is a mini ecosystem living within a sphere of progressively larger ecosystems - our bodies, our relationships, our homes, our families, our communities, our nations, our planet, and our cosmos. Mindfulness of food - what we put into our mouths - equals mindfulness of what we take in from our experience of life and what we perceive through our consciousness.
When we touch the essence of "WE ARE THE SOIL", we see that what we feed our consciousness we also feed to our world.
What are some things you can do now, in your world, to live more from this awareness?
- walk outside and breathe fresh air...imagine and feel the air feeding every cell of your body
- notice the products you choose that wash down the drain -- this eventually becomes part of our soil
- plant a garden
- walk barefoot in or touch actual soil or living earth
- vote with your dollars and support a local organic farmer in your area
- receive the sounds in your environment and notice how they are feeding you
- clean up your thinking...junk thoughts equals junk food
- love what you feel and trust your gut
Your mind may react to this list as being too simple to have an impact. But I believe we can each find our own way of remembering the ecosystems we are already part of. And when we remember, we touch everything in our world in a new way.
We can reclaim our position as owners again...not just customers, but holders of our own share in this web of life.
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.
A few weeks ago, on August 20, I read the news that BKS Iyengar, the renowned Indian yoga teacher and founder of the Iyengar Yoga tradition, had died at age 95. Immediately I was brought back to the many memories I have as a result of his teachings. My first California yoga teachers were trained in the Iyengar tradition. In their classes I was exposed for the first time to silent meditation and chanting. I remember as a student just managing to tolerate these first few minutes of ritual as I waited for "the real yoga class" to begin. What could these Sanskrit sounds possibly have to do with my physical strength, flexibility, and fitness, which is why I did yoga (or so I thought)? As soon as I read the news, I went to my bookshelf and pulled off my well-worn copy of Iyengar's book, Light on Life. Nearly every page is marked and notated, evidence of the way I used to read as if every book were homework that I would have to write a paper on someday.
The pages that the book fell open to were about extension and expansion in yoga poses. How when we reach and stretch, we often only think about the point to which we are trying to reach, but we forget about where we are reaching from. And as I pondered this, I realized that no matter how far we are trying to stretch, we are always reaching from where we are now. From the center of our being.
How often do we check in with how we are as we are doing something?
With the completeness of our focus on the outward gaze, how skilled are we at really seeing the inner place we are always reaching from? Do we know this place? Do we know how it feels? Do we really know it as it is NOW, or do we know it as a memory, a snapshot of some previous moment in time, or some interpretation created by our judging mind? Do we only see what we think other people are seeing - some image of how we're supposed to look?
Developing clear inner vision, and the capacity to really see where we are reaching from, is the core practice of being present. In the years since I started yoga practice, I have been exposed to many more forms that give the body, mind, and soul the opportunity to be together in harmony - improvisational music, whole body listening, Breema bodywork, to name a few. When this harmony is happening, we have the opportunity to see the world within our true selves. When we practice seeing into our true selves, we begin to know more and more where we are reaching from in any moment, even as we continue to reach toward something else.
Each day since Iyengar's death, I have read a few pages of the book again. I am grateful for the life he lived that enabled him to write those words on the page. And I feel gratitude for the life I am living that enables me to understand the meaning of those words beyond the page.
Where are you reaching FROM? And how can you practice seeing your true self with inward-looking eyes?
Join me in the Energy Gardeners' Club for some practice with the support of nature, sound, art, and a circle of safety and encouragement. Starting next Tuesday, September 9th in Half Moon Bay.
I saw Gravity this weekend. It was date night. Since we normally watch movies on Netflix in the luxury of our own living room, with the sunset and ocean behind our backs and the fire roaring in the fireplace, the trip through traffic and the ordeal of finding a parking space in a shopping mall made me expect a lot from this one.
We decided to splurge on the 3-D version. We got a big bag of popcorn, and settled into the theater, which we had mostly to ourselves.
I was already filled with gratitude for my life on the coast after we set foot inside the neon shopping mall that contained the movie theater. At that moment, seeing the names of the food court vendors – none of which were familiar to me, feeling the fluorescence of everything, squinting at the brightness of the SALE signs in every store window, hearing the echoes and reverberation of the cavernous container of the space, I realized how long it had been since I’d shopped in a mall. When had that shifted? I recalled a time in my childhood when the only place to shop for clothes and shoes was the mall. It was also one of the main “hangouts” for kids who went out after school (of which I was not one).
I won’t talk too much about plot points here, but I want to list several of the “messages from the universe” that I feel are embedded in the movie. I’ll scramble them up so as not to have to give too much of a spoiler alert. But if you must see the movie first, I’ll warn you that I refer to some scenes in the text below.
1. We’re hurtling at light speed toward our destiny at all times.
2. There are two ways to go through our brief moment of time called life – light and floating and free, with laughter, presence, and acceptance, or tethered, struggling, thinking hard, constantly driving somewhere, not knowing where in particular.
3. As unlikely and miraculous as it was for the protagonist to arrive back to earth, her journey is a metaphor for the set of unlikely circumstances that collide to create any individual life on earth, and both are equally miraculous.
4. There are two ways to meet our inevitable demise of death – in awe and wonder, with a light heart, and fully present, or with fear and regret. The way you die is the way you live. Start living.
5. To continue living, you must continuously jettison the parts that no longer serve you. Even though at one time in the past they were essential to your survival, these parts can be exactly what’s holding you back right now. Keep letting go.
6. Sometimes you find yourself on the end of a tether, getting whipped around, believing you’ve been rescued or saved. While you’re technically alive, the ride may feel nauseating, and you’re never permanently protected by what’s on the other end of the tether.
7. Use what you have, do what’s in front of you, remember what you know, and start from where you are.
8. Be grateful for your mind, and remember to use it to serve your heart’s desires, not replace them.
9. Everything can be blown to bits, and you can be one of those bits. You can experience your own rebirth by falling back down from (your head) space into the watery womb of mother earth. You can dive deep, find air, reach land, express gratitude, and then finally find your own legs. This is the story of human evolution…from star stuff to dirt, that’s what we all are: miracles.
10. Sometimes we need to journey far, far away in order to find our way back home.