Maybe This Will Touch Your Heart Today

OK readers, I did it! I decided. My parents were a reliable sounding board in a conversation last week and while I trust my own intuition and will follow it even in the face of resistance, being reassured with parental support really sealed the deal. I plan to start the massage program in September!

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Source: www.ieet.org

Trusting intuition is something we address in class from the very first trimester. Mostly, we have these discussions in our naturopathic theory classes, although this week in Homeopathy 1 we started a topic on How To Take the Case, which is inseparable from learning about becoming a true healer. "Taking the case" means listening to our patients without any preconceptions; it means forgetting ourselves, and dissolving the boundary between the self and the world so as to note every important detail.

In discussing both homeopathic and naturopathic theory, our professors have talked about mirror neurons, a term that defines how empathy is evidenced in brain scans; the listener's brain lights up in exactly the same places as the storyteller's brain does. Our goal as doctors is to use our mirror neurons.

One of my peers asked about how, on the one hand, we dissolve the boundary between ourselves and our patients' stories of suffering, and on the other, maintain our own sanity and refrain from shouldering the burdens of every sick patient that walks through our doors.

It is a good question. How many mirror neurons can we afford to use? Turns out, the answer is different for every doc. Of course we knew that, everyone (every case, every patient) is different, after all.

One professor told us that he sits behind a desk, with the patient opposite him; this provides a physical boundary to remind him. Another professor spoke on how her spirituality and the healing cannot be separated. Her spiritual practice involves dissolving boundaries and finding compassion for every single living thing.

During several of these class discussions our professors have sited an author named Dr. Rachel Naomi Remen, a doctor known for her work teaching other physicians how to heal from the heart. On her blog, Remembering Your Power to Heal, Remen writes of physicians: "Our habitual way of seeing things and even our expertise can blind us to the meaning of even the simplest of our daily interactions and relationships." This tendency towards blindness is an obstacle to cultivating the healer in us, and comes at least in part, from our training. One of Dr. Remen's tools for learning to see through "new" eyes is to keep a "heart journal" in which you answer three questions each day.

The Heart Journal

The first question is: "What surprised me today?"

The size of the nose ring on the girl sitting next to us at the beach; it was huge but I figured she probably loves it that way!

The second question is: "What moved me or touched my heart today?"

On our way to the beach, Hanzi was looking out the window and said, "That was cute!" I asked what, and he told me that a little girl was leading her grandmother in an investigation of something smooshed on the sidewalk.

And the third question is "What inspired me today?"

The camaraderie of the group of "Bears" gathered at the beach, all bobbing together with their big bellies in the chilly Lake Michigan water.

If this exercise is something Remen thinks we should do as professional physicians, why not start practicing it now? In addition to practicing things like taking blood pressure, evaluating cervical range of motion, or taking a history from a SIM-patient, we should probably be cultivating the healer through exercises like this.

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Hard to believe, but I did study at the beach. Here's the evidence!
Want to find a Chicago beach to visit? It's easy: CPDBeaches.com.

The skill set of a healer includes knowing how to find the beauty in the midst of the suffering we are exposed to daily for the duration of our professional lives. So, to my fellow students, don't write in a journal every day if the time commitment freaks you out, but at the very least, have these conversations with each other. Try to talk about the heart-full things, rather than the test you're dreading or the professor you can't stand. Look for the things that inspire you, the things that touch your heart, and the things that surprise you. Forgetting to cultivate our eye for these things will, I suspect, prove a grave mistake whose consequences we will learn when we go out into the real world and try to heal people.

So, I encourage you to notice the things that make you smile more than the things that make you groan. You may even find less to groan about....