It’s The Little Things That Matter

As we prepare to celebrate the life of one of the greatest civil rights leaders of all time, Martin Luther King Jr, I find myself humbled as I reflect on the incredible sacrifices certain people have made on behalf of others.  As a student of human behavior, I find people that are free from the common human desire to hoard their resources for themselves or their families intriguing.  A few years ago I read a book about Greg Mortenson, Three Cups of Tea.  Now although there have been questions regarding some unethical use of the foundation’s money on Greg’s part in the last couple of years, at the time I was incredibly moved by the way this explorer devoted his entire life to building schools with the primary goal of educating young Pakistani girls.  I admired his goal of building literacy and peace, one school at a time.


Greg could build an entire school for $12,000.  At the time I read the book, we had just taken a trip to Disney World with the kids.  I remember thinking about the thousands of dollars we spent for 10 days of entertainment which were now over.  I felt incredibly selfish for spending so much money with no bigger purpose than nice memories for my family.  In that moment, I was driven towards making a personal sacrifice.  I decided to forgo one of my biggest addictions in life – my 3 pump, non-fat, no-foam grande vanilla latte from Starbucks.  I calculated that the $30 I spend most weeks at Starbucks equates to over $1500 a year!  Wow.  By forgoing my daily Starbucks and sending the money to Greg Mortenson, I could build a school for girls in 8 years.  I’m ashamed to say that my effort only lasted about 8 days.  Geneticists have actually identified a gene for altruism1.  I evidently didn’t inherit it. L Like many Americans, my family and I continue to enjoy way more privileges than most other people around the world.


I often feel ashamed when I compare my level of personal sacrifice with those that do more, when in reality this is just a different manifestation of the sin of envy.  Instead of wasting energy wishing that I had enough altruism to give up my comfortable life in the northwest suburbs and direct all of my resources to someone else’s great cause, I can stop judging or blaming myself and focus on what I CAN do, and try my best.  I was not programed to live in a hut in Africa, or sacrifice all of my personal resources to some greater cause.  But I was blessed with traits that have enabled me to develop expertise in both medicine and psychology, which gives me opportunities to help others in a variety of different ways.  For this, I am very grateful.


I love identifying other people’s gifts and pointing them out.  I do this because I know we all have a human tendency to agonize over our weaknesses and failures instead of celebrating our strengths and accomplishments.  I also know I feel great when people make me feel special, and so I try to do this for others whenever I can.  


The action I witnessed that inspired this posting was that of Scotty Forester and his friends Abe and Jeep, 16 and 17 year old high school students.  On one of the surprise 55 degree days we had this week, I left work early to take my 3 year old and 7 year old sons to the park.  The boys were immediately drawn to the hockey rink where Scotty, Abe, and Jeep had suited up in their Blackhawks gear to also enjoy the surprisingly warm weather.  My seven year old, Scott, who loves to play and watch every sport he encounters, sat on the side of the rink intensely watching the action in his new Derek Rose jersey from Santa.  Completely unexpectedly, the boy we came to know as Scotty skated over and said, “Hey Rose, do you think I could get some help out here?”  I’ve never seen my son’s eyes get so big as he glanced over his shoulder with obvious thoughts of “who me”??? The smile on his face when he realized he was about to have an opportunity to play with the BIG boys was priceless.  The boys brought out an extra stick and showed Scott how to hold it and shoot.  They then included him in a game of two-on-two where they made sure Scott felt accomplished and proud.  As the sun set and it was time to take Scott home, I thanked the boys for their kind, nurturing act, and made sure I went home with their contact information to use as a future babysitting resource for my 3 boys.  I’ve spent the week wondering if those three boys have ANY idea how much their small act of kindness made a difference in my son’s life.  He’s been glowing over the experience all week, and drew the picture I’ve attached.  I think this is his personal way to “scrapbook” a special memory. 

Random acts of kindness like this remind me how powerful we all are to make a difference in someone else’s life.  I’m encouraged by the fact that we don’t all have to be Martin Luther King Jr or Greg Mortenson to make this world a better place.  I strongly believe that we have the influence to create positive change in the world by doing our best to impact every life we touch with acceptance, love, and kindness.  Even the simple act of holding a door open for a person laden down with strollers or packages could make a difference in someone’s day that we might find hard to believe.  It’s also important to remember that those who act the most “unlovable” are probably the most in need of kindness or affirmation.


So I would love to hear about a “random act of kindness” that you’ve witnessed or experienced.  With all the negative things we see or hear going on in the world, I think we are all empowered by stories of small things that any of us could do to make a difference. J

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1http://scan.oxfordjournals.org/content/early/2010/10/28/scan.nsq083.abstract

Three Cups of Tea: One Man’s Mission to Promote Peace…One School at a Time, Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin, 2006 Penguin Books

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The Miracle of Light

“The people walking in darkness have seen a great light,” wrote the prophet Isaiah 9:2 about the coming of humankind’s savior in the Old Testament.  It’s Christmas Eve, the celebration of Jesus’ birth.  According to Christian tradition, a brilliant star emerged from the dark sky on this night 2011 years ago to signal that the light of Christ had come into the world.  But it’s also time for the celebration of Hanukkah, the festival of light.  The menorah, with its nine beautiful candles, is the focal point for this special holiday.  The Hindu people also recently celebrated a 4 day festival of light called Diwali.  Each day of Diwali has its own tale, legend, and myth to tell.  My favorite is Amavasya, the second day of Diwali that tells the story of Lord Vishnu, who in his dwarf incarnation vanquished the tyrant Bali, and banished him to hell.  Bali was allowed to return to earth once a year to light millions of lamps in the hope of dispelling darkness and ignorance, leaving in its place the radiance of love and wisdom.  What a beautiful image!  I am comforted that there are so many paths to spirituality.  With so many different people and cultures, it’s not surprising so many different stories exist that we can choose to adopt as our “religion”. 

 

Why is light so central to all of the major religions?  I believe it’s because these stories of light represent the beautiful glow that illuminates our spiritual essence.  We’ve all heard that the eyes are the window to a person’s soul.  The eyes are where we see another’s inner light and love.  It doesn’t matter whether a person is young or old, sick or vibrant, or beautiful or ugly.  If you take the time to look, listen, understand, and truly connect, you can be blinded by another’s light.

 

I think it’s no surprise that these celebrations of light come at the darkest part of our year.  This can be a tough time to get through.  As a primary care physician, I’ve seen countless patients come in over the past couple of months with what I like to scientifically call “the blahs”.  All joking aside, human beings clearly do better in the presence of light.  Psychiatry has even formalized the condition with the cute acronym, SAD – Seasonal Affective Disorder.  But there’s really nothing cute about feeling the drop in energy, mood, and well-being that affect millions of people during the months surrounding the winter solstice.  So the creators of our ancient celebrations knew what they were doing when they placed all these celebrations at the darkest part of our year.

 

At Christmas time I seek out non-traditional Christmas music.  At this point I invite you to listen to my all-time favorite, “Mary Did You Know” by Clay Aiken.  Yes, I’m a little embarrassed to admit that in addition to being a pop queen, I also like Clay Aiken.  Will the teen-age girl in my head ever grow up?!  I kind of hope not. 😉 

I find the music to be hauntingly beautiful, but the lyrics speak to me even more strongly.  I love the image he weaves of Mary looking down at the mystery of her baby boy, perhaps because I can so vividly remember those first tender moments with my own sons. 

 

I am touched by the love between a mother and her newborn child because I think this represents human connection in its purest form.  When do people stop loving each other so freely?  When do we learn to hide our tender side with sarcasm and games?  People put up so many barriers to intimacy in such a wide variety ways.  Regardless of your personal religious beliefs, no one can debate that Jesus’ teachings, with all their layers of symbolism and imagery, are powerful.  Jesus said, “Let the children come with me because the ones who are like them can enter the kingdom of heaven.”  I don’t care to speculate about what happens after we die, but I live every day with the goal of creating my own heaven on earth.  I believe loving with open hearts, like children do, is the best way to make this happen.  Don Miguel Ruiz says it best in The Mastery of Love, “When the heart speaks, even with the resistance of the head, something inside you changes; your heart opens another heart, and true love is possible.”

 

As a physician, I also gravitate to the image of Christ the healer.  But Jesus doesn’t heal with a prescription pad, he heals with love and forgiveness.  I also love the reference in the song to Jesus calming the storm with his hands.  Who doesn’t feel at times like they’re living within a storm?  Stop a moment and think of a person who was there to calm that storm for you.  That person allowed the God inside themselves to connect with the God inside of you.  I’m grateful that I get to do this for patients almost every day.  When a patient comes into my office in the midst of their own personal “storm”, if I know them well enough, I roll up on my chair and hold their hand as we talk and problem solve.  In these moments I can almost see my light pour out of me and into their scared and empty places.  I often can’t fix what’s wrong, but I know my patients frequently leave feeling a little more hopeful, a little more centered, and with a little more faith that they can navigate their next personal hurdle.  This is why I do what I do.  I know my happiness hinges not on the love that other people feel for me, but on the love I feel for other people.  I tell people that I’m a connection junkie.  The feeling of euphoria that comes after a true connection is made can’t be beat.

 

So when I celebrate any holiday, what I’m really celebrating is a festival of human light.  In these months of darkness around the winter solstice, we need to let our light shine all the more brightly!

 

 

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The Story We Write

Yes, the holidays are upon us.  What a crazy mix of emotions and thoughts this time of year brings.  It’s a time for shopping, cooking, decorating, preparing, gathering, giving, celebrating, and remembering.  I enjoy this time of year because I get a special glimpse into the traditions, families, and histories of my patients, colleagues, and friends.  I also like paging through the memories in my own mind as I watch my kids grow and reflect upon past holiday experiences with my own relatives.  We are all living a story where we star as the main character. 

 

I like to reflect upon the tale that I’ve written so far, and imagine what the next chapters will look like.  Stephen Covey teaches us to “begin with the end in mind”.  In his book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, he invites the reader to imagine that they are a guest at their own funeral.  He challenges us to envision four different eulogies.   One remembrance will be given by a family member, one by a friend, one by a business colleague, and one by a church or community acquaintance.  What would each of these speakers say about you and your life?  I’m sure some chapters of our lives are more fun to revisit than others.  It’s human nature to inflate that which brings us pride, and gloss over the chapters that reveal our weaknesses or failings.

 

Unfortunately we can’t always hide the unbecoming chapters in our stories.  Just ask Britney Spears, who turned 30 years old today!  Over the past 10 years Britney has captivated the world with her unfolding drama.  Through a combination of both her and her mother’s efforts, Britney was launched into stardom as a child in the early 1990’s.  Given her “fast” environment and intense personality, it is not surprising that Britney grew up quickly.  At age 18 she shocked the world by appearing scantily clad on the cover of Rolling Stone, definitely NOT looking like a little girl anymore. 

 

Britney enjoyed 5 years of pop-stardom before starting to unravel.  First it was the 55 hour marriage to a childhood friend, followed six months later by her second marriage to the unreliable Kevin Federline, whom she had met only 3 months before.  Five months later she was pregnant, and when her baby was only three months old she was pregnant again.  Two months after the second child was born, Britney filed for divorce, and two months after that Britney’s closest relative, her aunt, died of ovarian cancer.  What followed was a year of increasingly erratic behavior, a short stay in drug rehab, and then a string of longer stays at a variety of psychiatric treatment facilities.  During this year Britney lost custody of her children and became estranged from her parents.

 

I honestly don’t think the writers for a soap opera could have scripted a more enthralling story.  The world watched captivated when Britney fell apart because each one of us has either experienced, or lives in fear of being forced to endure even part of what was Britney’s reality.  Have you ever felt intoxicating love followed by devastating heart break?  Have you ever navigated a divorce or custody battle?  Have you ever lost a close relative or friend to serious illness?  Have you ever experienced what substance abuse, addiction, or mental illness can do to ourselves or those we are close to?  Have you ever suffered the pain of having irreconcilable differences with a parent or your own child?  Have you ever had two babies in one year and tried to string together a complete sentence while enduring hormonal swings and complete physical and emotional exhaustion?  Have you ever gone from the height of your career to the depths of public humiliation? 

 

I think we love to watch the personal failings of those we consider iconic because it makes us feel better about our own shortcomings.  It’s easy to see that Britney made LOTS of poor choices, but she was so young with so many questionable outside influences, I think it’s hard to say that anyone under similar circumstances would have been less impulsive.  I remember watching the paparazzi stalk Britney at her lowest point.  I remember feeling both sorry for her, and shocked at how the public was salivating over her misfortune.

 

 It was in February of 2008 that Britney was released from the psychiatric ward of the UCLA medical center and started to get her life back on track.  After all the humiliation she endured, it must have taken some incredible inner strength to put herself back together again both mentally and physically.  Isn’t it amazing that three years later she’s back on the stage and rocking the charts?

 

I think this is a perfect example of what Covey describes as “by design or default”.  Covey eloquently points out that “in our personal lives, if we do not develop our own self-awareness and become responsible for (our choices and outcomes), we empower other people and circumstances to shape much of our lives by default.”  In contrast, living “by design” means that by using our capacity for “self-awareness, imagination, and conscience” we can take back control over our story and create the outcome we want.  As a close friend of mine has said, “I want to look back on my life without regret.”

 

So I invite you to slow down this holiday season and set aside some time to reflect on your story.  Do you like the main character?  If not, there’s no reason why you can’t rewrite your own script.  As this year comes to a close, it’s the perfect time to imagine what next year might bring, and enact positive changes to make it happen.  With the end in mind, you’ll soon find that you’re thriving, not just surviving.

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We R Who We R

I have a confession to make….  I have an addiction to pop music, especially when sung by daring, crazy women.  The problem began when Madonna hit the charts when I was about 10 years old.  I was raised Roman Catholic, and I can still remember the delicious excitement of listening to her naughty music!  As a preteen, I’m pretty sure I barely knew what she was singing about, but something about the positive energy, and occasionally spiritual lyrics got me hooked.

I also love to dance.  The fact that I don’t dance particularly well becomes completely irrelevant to me when the beat of those top 40 dance hits are in the air.  My office staff is used to seeing me hip hop into the office lost in the world of my pop music, but my 12 year old daughter is much less tolerant of my shameless dancing.  Despite my new status as “the most embarrassing mom in the world”, I dance because it lifts my spirits and gets me through those tasks I find to be pure drudgery.  When I’m sad or scared a song like “You Make Me Feel Good” by Cobra Starship takes my thoughts a happier place.  When I’m angry I burn off my negative energy by running 4-5 miles with the more rebellious pop hits raging in my ears.  When I wasn’t subleasing and had an exam room I could “personalize” I had a plaque on my wall that read, “Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass, it’s learning to dance in the rain.”  This saying reminds me that although we will perpetually face new challenges, it’s up to us to find ways to make this life our “heaven on earth”.

So this explains why the pop star, Kesha, has provided about forty percent of the inspiration for this posting.  The other forty percent is from the Toltec warrior, Don Miguel Ruiz, author of The Four Agreements, my latest read.  The remaining twenty percent comes from the amazing people in my weight management program, whose bravery I celebrated in my last posting.  My group continues to do great!  We are now up to 19 patients who in sum have lost 266 pounds!  Five of these patients are type 2 diabetics that are now off their medications.  Three are diabetics who were dependent on 4 insulin shots per day, and now only use one small daily injection or none at all.

So what do the pop star Kesha, a Toltec warrior, and my weight management patients have to do with each other?  They have all given me insight into a concept that I find fascinating – social scripting.  A social script is a set of rules that we were taught to believe by society.  Ruiz calls this training “the domestication of humans”.  Ruiz is very big on “dreams”.  He argues that nothing we experience is actually “real” but is actually the “dream of the planet” which “includes all of society’s rules, its beliefs, its laws, its religions, its different cultures and ways to be, its governments, schools, social events, and holidays.”  Ruiz eloquently describes how from birth we are taught “how to behave in society: what to believe and what not to believe; what is acceptable and what is not acceptable; what is good and what is bad; what is beautiful and what is ugly; what is right and what is wrong.”

We spend a lot of our time examining individual social scripts with my weight management patients.  During the first month of the program every patient completes an exercise that identifies their own personal “language of rules” from a set of 72 selections.  I’m intrigued by the fact that my initial patients seem to share several internal rules.  Rules I often see in these patients include “Clean your plate”, “be good”, “please people”, “don’t rock the boat”.  

The “domestication of humans” obviously has a necessary role in society.  With our proclivity to succumb to the seven deadly sins (see my prior posting First Politics, Then Religion, Now Sex?! for details), one could imagine humanity without rules running completely amuck in a Lord of the Flies type fashion.  That being said, I do believe we often ignore what we really want out of life because someone else has imposed their “dream” for what our life should look like upon us.  Having to do things that actually go against the grain of our nature never feels good, but deviating from the social script imposed upon us invariably causes shame.  People “medicate” their unhappiness and shame in a wide variety of fashions, but one common self-soother is food.

It’s important to identify those rules that work for us and continue to do our best to follow them, but it’s equally as important to identify those rules that we don’t necessarily need to follow.  Just because a certain way of life works for one of our “scriptors” does not mean that by default it is right for us.  People need to be empowered to “rewrite” their own script without guilt.  So this is where Kesha comes in because I think it’s critical “You know we’re superstars, We R Who We R”!

References:

The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom, A Toltec Wisdom Book, Don Miguel Ruiz, 1997 Amber-Allen Publishing

The Lord of the Flies, William Golding, 1954 Faber and Faber Ltd.

We R Who We R 

You Make Me Feel Good

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Where There’s a Will There’s a Way

Followers of my site may have been wondering what the seven deadly sins have to do with wellbeing, or why I’ve become so interested in the concept of desire.  So here it is….. J  Over the past month I am excited to share that I have launched a weight management program with a select group of 14 patients that I have known very well over the past 3-6 years.  In the last thirty days these patients have in sum lost a total of over 150 pounds!  On average, patients are losing 3.2 pounds per week, which means that my program is taking 45 pounds off this group every week!

After treating the medical complications of obesity for the past 15 years, I know that weight management is one of the most critical healthcare issues facing our country today.  My study of the obesity epidemic has made me aware of many frightening statistics, a few of which I’ll share with you here.  In 1985 8 states had an obesity rate equaling 10-14% of the population and all other states had less than 10% of their population obese.  In 2010, no state had a prevalence of obesity less than 20%. Thirty-six states had a prevalence of 25% or more; 12 of these states (Alabama, Arkansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and West Virginia) had a prevalence of 30% or more.  Even more discouraging, obesity is no longer a problem for only adults.  In 2010, 17% of American children and adolescents were obese.   

Another scary fact that was reported in January 2011 was that 8.3% of the US population is obese AND already has Type II (what we used to consider adult-onset) diabetes.  This form of diabetes is a direct result of obesity in genetically susceptible individuals.  In 1994 there was not a single state with a diabetes incidence of more than 6% of the population.  In January 2011, 8.3% of the population has diabetes, which equates to 25.8 million Americans.  If the obesity epidemic is not contained, it is projected that 37.7 million Americans will have diabetes in 2031!   People who are obese spend almost $1500 more per year than an individual with normal weight.  Obesity costs our country 147 BILLION dollars per year, and this number is rising.  With the current focus on containing healthcare costs, obesity is a problem we can’t afford to ignore.

So what do we do about it?  I’m very encouraged by the movement in this country to “leave no child inside” and to do away with addictive substances in our foods like high-fructose corn syrup.  That being said, millions of adults have already become victims of their genetics, environment, and ingrained eating habits.  As an internist who cares for only adults, I’ve been searching for the formula to help the hundreds of patients I know and love to find the strength and tools to get back to a healthier weight and maintain it.  I am excited to announce that I am now offering a variety of programs which include medically formulated dietary products to promote rapid weight loss without hunger.  I am also offering nutritional counseling, individualized exercise plans, medical monitoring for patients coming off of their medications, and most importantly, behavioral counseling.

I am fascinated by the process of personal change.  We can all identify people who seem to be living their lives “just right” as well as those that never seem to be making their goals a reality.  Are the people experiencing success “just lucky” or is there some formula that everyone can employ which would enable each one of us to get what we want out of life?  Obviously there is no simple answer, but I do strongly believe that there are certain characteristics that the “winners” in life share, and over the course of time I’d like to explore a few of these.  Today I want to talk about courage.

Every day I get to witness the bravery of my patients.  The way I’ve seen so many people courageously battle a wide variety of scourges from cancer to depression inspires me to never give up and to always keep pushing towards the hope of something better.  Most recently I’ve stood in awe of my weight management group.  I am incredibly impressed by the bravery of these people who for the umpteenth time in their lives are willing to make another weight loss attempt.  I see too many physicians say that “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks” and that my older patients, who have been heavy for decades, will never get down to a healthy weight.  I’m glad nobody told that to my 63 year old insulin dependent diabetic who was on 70 units of insulin each day who is now completely off insulin shots after only 3 weeks on my program.  I also celebrate the bravery of my 330 pound patient who was failing gastric bypass, and with my program is now down to 305 pounds! Every day these patients struggle with the desire to lapse back into their unhealthy eating patterns, but with the right tools, the right team, and bravery sprinkled on top, I have no doubt they will continue to succeed!

I also find myself drawn to brave leaders.  When I see an organization or company tackle a seemingly impossible task, I want to passionately support that effort.  I’ve just returned from Phoenix where I spent three days at the eClinicalWorks (eCW) national users’ conference.  Many of you know that I’m an eCW groupie.    I fell in love with eClinicalWorks because I admired the way the company committed itself to providing an affordable electronic medical record solution to the solo or small group doctors, since this is where the bulk of the healthcare in this country is provided.  My commitment to this company was also fueled by the story behind the innovative leadership.  Four men with unique strengths from one extended family birthed the idea of eClinicalWorks only a little over 10 years ago, and now have a company worth 200 million dollars that is truly revolutionizing the way medicine is practiced.  Every day this company faces incredible challenges in terms of government regulations, provider satisfaction, and being able to affordably provide the latest technology to both solo practitioners and large multi-specialty groups. 

But what really impresses me is eClinicalWorks’ continued commitment to innovation.  Over the past month I’ve had the opportunity to utilize one of eCW’s newest features, the care plan module, for my weight management program.  There are still many bugs to work out, but the vision behind the product and the implications for its use are pretty mind blowing.  At the conference I had the honor of discussing my weight management program with the CEO of the company, Girish Navani, as well as the technical genius behind eClinicalWorks, Vice President Sameer Bhat.  I’ve attached the photos I forced them to pose in below! J But once again it paid off for me to be brave (or maybe a little pushy?) ;-), because it sounds like my patients and I will have the exciting opportunity to help the company develop some amazingly interactive weight management apps for an individual’s smartphone or iPad.  These apps will provide inspiring data and much needed support for the brave people in my program.  After attending the national user’s conference for two years in a row, I’m hooked on eClinicalWorks because the leaders perpetuate a culture of positivity and courage at every level of the company, even in the face of a complex and often daunting healthcare arena.

So to the rest of my patients out there that are following this blog for some insight into how bravery can help you in your life, I challenge you to take a close hard look at what you want out of life and start seriously thinking about how you can get it.  Don’t be afraid to try new things.  Don’t give up on a goal you think you can never reach.  Don’t shut yourself off from personal connections that can lead to a treasured support network as you pursue your dreams.  A common thread in all the great success stories was the courage to be brave!

 

GirishSameer

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First Politics, Then Religion, Now Sex?!

So did my racy title get the desired effect of having you check this out?  😉  I must admit I am feeling a little “daring” with my writing these days.  My father thought my last posting made me sound like an Evangelist.  We’ll see what he thinks about this one.  J

 

So no, I’m not going to directly write about sex, but rather a closely related topic – DESIRE!!!  I felt the need for all caps because you can’t really talk about desire without emotion, right?  Desire can be a gift when it drives us to accomplish worthy goals.  Unfortunately, desire can also be a curse when it controls us or a loved one to the point that basic principles of human dignity are violated.  When I think about the negative side of desire I think of the movie “Seven” that came out in 1995 starring Kevin Spacey.  I’m still haunted by that psychological thriller over 15 years later!

 

For those of you not familiar with the film, it’s about a serial killer (Kevin Spacey) who sets out to murder 7 people he believes embody the seven deadly sins, which include gluttony, lust, greed, wrath, pride, envy, and sloth.  The seven deadly sins were first described by an ancient Greek monastic theologian in order to provide a conceptual system of the spiritual shortcomings humankind has struggled with throughout the ages.  Each of these sins relates to desire in some way, so I thought it would be intriguing to take a look at them.  For more interesting information regarding the history of the seven deadly sins, I recommend looking at http://www.deadlysins.com/sins/history.html.

 

 

Three of the “seven deadly sins”, lust, gluttony, and greed, are obviously the manifestation of normal human desires unchecked.  Let’s take gluttony, for example.  We all need to eat, and a multitude of wonderful human connections take place around the sharing of good food and drink.  Unfortunately, when we consistently consume more than we need, or fill our bodies with unhealthy substances, obesity, illness, and unhappiness are the result. 

 

 

 As promised in the title, I’ll now touch on “lust”.  We obviously need this primitive desire to ensure that our species will continue to exist.  On a more cosmic level, the depth of human connection possible when people share themselves physically can lead to the height of spiritual communion, sometimes expressed in the social institution of marriage.  But when people with personal voids repeatedly try to fill that emptiness with meaningless sexual experiences, the satisfaction is transient, especially if there is an absence of other positive relationships in the person’s life.   Further, we can all cite examples of people who have hurt the ones to whom they’re supposed to be committed when lust leads to lies and deceit.

 

 

 

Only those with the purest of callings are able to escape the pull of money in this culture.  The current economic crisis could arguably be attributed to the sin of greed.  How many people overextended themselves when the access to home mortgages was so easy?  How many politicians and business leaders have been led into dishonest dealings because of greed?  That being said, the accrual of money as a result of hard work or a creative idea is extremely satisfying.  The happiest people are not tortured by “keeping up with the Joneses” but rather use what they and their families need, and then become active in charity.

 

 

Wrath, the most extreme expression of anger, is also one of the seven deadly sins.  Anger is a completely normal human emotion that serves an important purpose.  We become angry when something important to us is threatened.  We can best understand and keep our anger from turning into wrath if we seek to understand what feels threatened, and then explore whether that threat is indeed real before reacting.  If after careful consideration we determine it is real, we are then often better equipped to peacefully find solutions that protect what’s most important to us.  I’m sure we’ve all felt the strong desire to protect something valuable to us at some point.

 

I define the sin of pride as the excessive desire to be right.  One of my best teachers over the past year has been Stephen Covey, author of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.  One of the habits he encourages is “first seek to understand, then be understood”.  There are so many different attitudes and approaches to life in this world.  Who’s approach is right?  Who’s is wrong?  Although we could all identify actions that are truly evil, more often than not a person’s cultural, social, and economic circumstances influence the choices people make about how to live their lives.  This doesn’t make one way wrong and another right, but rather simply different.  What’s right for one person may be completely wrong for another.  As our very partisan political landscape demonstrates, pride frequently gets in the way of progress.

 

Envy is the sin of desiring that which we have no right to expect.  Life is not fair.  The natural human inclination to be dissatisfied means there will always be people with more of whatever it is we seek.  The sin of envy prevents people from appreciating the good things they have, because they are excessively focused on whatever they perceive is lacking.  Having a front row to the suffering that disease can cause reminds me even on my darkest days that things can always be worse.

 

So the first six sins all show how uncontrolled desire will lead to unhappiness, but the seventh sin, sloth, highlights how the absence of desire can be just as bad.  I came to understand this concept after reading Shatter Your Speed Limits by Wendy Lipton-Dibner.  By using a cute narrative, Wendy talks about how people can get what they want out of life by working hard to identify their “burning desire”.  The process is not dissimilar to peeling an onion.  On the surface, we may think we want something, but if we are unable to discover what that achievement truly represents for us, we may not be able to generate the passion and dedication required to make it a reality.  I’ll share that Wendy’s process helped me to discover that starting my own practice was my “burning desire”.  I’m happy to say that after assembling my resources and giving myself the internal permission to go for it, I’m making my dream come true! J

 

The sin of “sloth” is probably the only vice from this list that I have not felt the pull from at one time in my life or another.  I try to learn from the quieter people in my life how to occasionally “be still”.  I know I’ll always need to keep practicing this!  Each of you has a virtue in some area that makes it difficult for you to relate to one or more of the “seven deadly sins” as well.  Share this strength with those around you who struggle in the areas in which you excel.  In my opinion, this is one of the most special gifts a person can give.

 

 

 

 

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The Secrets to Success

So I’m finally back with another posting after 6 more weeks of whirlwind start up activities!  Thank you to those of you that attempted to wade through my summary of the health care bill and it’s implications on primary care.  I know it was dense, but for those of you that do tune in to the latest healthcare debates, I thought it would be useful to have my perspective as a representative for the American College of Physicians.  I do recognize, though, that although I was excited about what I learned in Washington, it was a little “ho-hum” for most of you.  I often query my patients for their reactions to the things I’m crazy enough to post here for the world to read.  That series often got the “I started to read it, but it was late….” response.  Ok, I get it.  Most of you thought it was boring!!! But it was useful to organize my thoughts and I’m glad it’s “out there”.

 

But now I’m ready to talk about more interesting things, like the secrets of a life well lived!  I’m hoping I get some comments to this one.  We all need all the guidance we can get!  I can’t even begin to tell you what an amazing trip the past year has been for me.  As I reflect on where I’ve been, I realize that I’m just starting to see things as I think they really are.  I believe I’ve gotten to the place I am through some serious self analysis and study from some pretty incredible teachers.  I don’t use the word “teachers” in the traditional sense.  Yes, I am a conference junkie, and I read every meaningful piece of psychology and philosophy I can get my hands on, but I learn even more from my family, friends, colleagues, and patients.  For those of you that are interested in following the postings I have planned, I think it’s important that I wade into those controversial waters again and share my views on religion so that you know where I’m coming from.  I am an incredibly spiritual person.  Although I formally associate myself with the Episcopal church, I am very equal opportunty when it comes to religion.  From what I’ve learned so far, all the major world religions in their purest form share similar principles and a belief in some higher power.  I think people call this higher power different things like karma, fate, kismet, God, Allah, Yahweh, etc. but at the end of the day I think it’s the same thing.  I love the quote from the French philosopher Teilhard de Chardin, “We are not human beings having a spiritual experience.  We are spiritual beings having a human experience.”

 

Although we are all extraordinarily unique individuals, we are all wrestling with the same human desires, challenges, hopes, and hurts.  The more psychology one reads, the more one realizes how universal our struggles are.  One great psychologist that I think has it “just right” is Erik Erikson.  For those of you that are not pop-psychologists like me, I invite you to read a summary of his theories from this website http://www.learningplaceonline.com/stages/organize/Erikson.htm which I believe gives a very readable summary.  I think it’s a great personal exercise to read through each stage and reflect how we think we did there.  As you read, ask yourself “Did I master this stage, or did something happen which left me with a personal deficit that I need to continually work to overcome?”  Tough things to think about, I know.  We should all be reassured, though, that not one of us is perfect.  We all have strengths, and we all have short-comings.  One of the reasons I love my job is that I get a much more intimate view of the human condition than most people in the rest of society have.  Seeing every day that I’m not alone with my inner conflicts and personal disappointments has enabled me to be more forgiving of myself when I fall short of a personal expectation.

 

So as I reviewed the eight stages of development that Erikson writes about, I was happy to see that I’m right on track! 🙂  I’m finding that I’m straddling stage 6 (Intimacy and Solidarity vs. Isolation) and stage 7 (Generativity vs. Self absorption or Stagnation).  Stage 6 is supposed to take place from age 18-35, but has been pushed back a bit in my generation as we start our families later.  Stage 7 typically includes ages 35-65, so at age 37, I guess I’m right where I should be.  Stage 6 is where we learn how to love.  It is during this time that we hopefully find mutually satisfying relationships and often start our families.  Stage 7 is when we tend to be occupied with creative and meaningful work and with issues surrounding our family.  Strength comes through care of others and production of something that contributes to the the betterment of society.

 

So that’s what I’m trying to do with the creation of my practice.  I want to be MORE than just a doctor who refills your medications and treats your latest infection.  I believe the goal of a true primary care provider is to help each patient achieve a new level of excellence relative to wherever they are when they walk through that door.  I hope that my studies and life experiences will enable me not only to keep my patients physically safe and healthy under my care, but also can provide some level of insight or inspiration to tackle the much more difficult pieces of overall wellbeing.  So I plan to make this blog about lessons I’ve learned, and a venue for sharing snippets of great writing or ideas I’ve come across that have spoken to me in some profound way.  My patients or those of you who are close to me will probably realize that I will annonymously write about snipets I’ve learned from you.  I truly believe the tools for achieving happiness reside in the ability to find mutual love, respect, and understanding.  Tonight I’ll end with one more quote from Teilhard de Chardin.  “Someday, after mastering the winds, the waves, the tides and gravity, we shall harness for God the energies of love, and then, for a second time in the history of the world, man will have discovered fire.”

 

Mark Chagall (1966) The Burning Bush

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