The Sacred Soul of Medicine: The Compassionate Healer

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In one brief moment, an exchange of compassion, understanding, and respect from a health care provider, can not only change an entire experience for a patient; it may mean the difference between recovery and healing, or complications and death.

Allison was a 24 year old young woman suffering from an inherited genetic connective tissue disorder that leads to joint hypermobility, skin hyperelasticity or laxity, and tissue weakness. One of Allison’s significant challenges with her disease was profound disabling pain. She had established a long term (6 year) health care relationship with a primary medical physician who understood the complexity this disease placed on her daily life, and thus her disease was relatively well managed in his care. The physician had made referrals to a clinic specializing in connective tissue disorders, but the wait list for a new patient appointment was nearly 18 months in length. Therefore, Allison relied heavily on the health care relationship with her primary physician. However, earlier this year, her primary physician retired and she was sent to another medical provider in the same clinic for continued management.  Even though that provider had access to all of her records along with treatment management plans; their first visit fell apart completely. Allison arrived to her appointment in severe pain, with her mother Margaret for support.  Allison explained her pain and reviewed her use of medications to control the pain, and she then informed the provider that her narcotic was due for renewal, with only a few pills left.  The provider promptly refused to renew her narcotics, and in fact stated that she was “drug seeking” implying she was abusing drugs.  Allison began to fall apart emotionally, and her mother stepped in to support her. Margaret outlined to the provider the history of Allison’s disease, the severity of her pain with its degree of debilitation, and how the only way the pain had been effectively managed was with the regular scheduled dosing of narcotic. Margaret further explained their history of trying other approaches (medical and non medical), all of which had not been successful. She further explained that they still had an 18 month wait to see the specialists for a detailed plan of treatment for her connective tissue disease.  The medical provider, while seemingly listening to their comments, would not acknowledge their validity, and again refused to renew the narcotic. He was adamant that Allison was “drug seeking” and in fact, he then stated that he intended to document this in her records; such that if she went to any other provider for treatment or relief, it would be evident she was in fact “drug seeking”.  There was a complete dissolution of any relationship between Allison, Margaret and this provider, with no establishment of rapport, respect, and common ground.

By the time Allison arrived home from the appointment she became overwhelmed with anxiety and fear. She screamed at her mother, acting out her fears and worry towards Margaret, as if her mother was to blame for the outcome at the appointment. As the next few days wore on, Allison’s distress moved into a state of debilitating pain. She ran out of her narcotic, and her pain was unbearable. This downward cycle led to a loss of sleep and a deeper state of depression than had already been present. Her chronic illness was spiraling out of control. Margaret was equally distraught and immediately did what she knew to do, she sought out solutions. She made inquiries into other medical providers, called friends who could connect her with specialists in other states, and sought natural treatments to help manage Allison’s pain.  As the days progressed, Margaret was also in tears. She could find little support, and she made an effort to rebuild a relationship with Allison’s primary physician. This meeting was not successful with her leaving feeling he could not listen or understand their concerns. Margaret was finally able to find another medical provider who agreed to meet with Allison, after learning of the difficulties. But, by this point, Allison was no longer able to cope. Allison stated that any reserve of energy she may have had to survive on a daily basis was gone. Any hope she may have had for a future state of wellness was gone. All that remained for Allison, was the will to die. She could no longer face the debilitating condition of her body, and the associated pain. When the single treatment that had allowed her to have some semblance of stability was removed by a physician who seemed to not care or understand, her world crashed.  She made an attempt to kill herself, unsuccessfully.

While this story may seem dramatic, unreal, or rare; in fact it is not. The degree of instability and tenuousness in the health care patient-physician relationships sits right on the edge of despair for many individuals.  While there were many factors that contributed to the above scenario, there is one known factor here; that had a respectful and compassionate health care relationship been established where both the provider and patient achieved some common ground and understanding, then it is very likely the patient would have had a more beneficial outcome.

Research evidence is clear, that the quality of a patient’s health is directly related to quality of the patient-physician relationship. There are four types of patient-physician communication problems that are most likely to lead to legal action by the patient: 1) deserting the patient, 2) devaluing the patient’s views, 3) delivering information poorly, and 4) failing to understand the patient’s perspective (Schleiter, 2009).   However, when the patient feels they are perceived as being “known as a person”, meaning that the physician understands them as a unique human being or is empathetic; the patient is more likely to be more satisfied with their care and have greater improvement in their medical condition (Beach 2006, DelCanale 2012, Ha 2010).

Our health care system fails us, and one key reason is due to misplaced focus. Technological advances in medicine have created extraordinary opportunities for understanding disease, treatment and outcomes, yet come with overshadowing directives to reach quotas, financial goals, and health care profits. Along with that, are the incredible stresses placed upon health care providers to achieve so much in such a short time.

What has become lost in health care, is the “sacred soul” of medicine: the medical provider as healer. One who recognizes the sacredness that lies in the deeper understanding that we each are unique, complex, interconnected persons. The sacred soul of medicine has wisdom that lies not only in the depth of understanding medical disease; but lies in reverence of the complexity of the emotional, spiritual, cultural, physical, financial, and environmental facets that contribute to an individual’s illness. The sacred soul of medicine is the Compassionate Healer.

The Compassionate Healer understands, that health and healing must begin in the first exchange with a patient and be carried out through every interaction. The Compassionate Healer recognizes that as human beings, we all carry with us a lifetime of influences, beliefs, traditions, and responses; and that when we follow our basic human nature of kindness, we engender more powerful, meaningful and harmonious relationships.

His Holiness the Dalai Lama, has dedicated his life to living with and teaching compassion; and he emphasizes the following points on bringing compassion into health care relationships (Mayo 2016):

  • treat everyone the same (recognizing we are all equal)
  • educate the sense of oneness (we are all human beings, emphasizing our sameness rather than our differences)
  • promote human value
  • offer kindness and love

How do we train and support the Compassionate Healer in healthcare? Compassion is not merely an action, but a way of being. To “be” a Compassionate Healer involves more than acting in a kind manner, it requires engaging in radical empathy. Being compassionate meets meeting another person “where they are”, in an effort to understand (from their perspective) what they are sensing and experiencing. Being compassionate means to listen and respond in such a way, that you begin to understand on a holistic level, the degree of distress or suffering the person experiences.

The “act” of the the Compassionate Healer begins at the entry point in the health care relationship, where the physician has an opportunity to create the foundation for a strong, respectful, compassionate patient-provider health care relationship. It starts before the patient and physician meet, with the physician being prompt; demonstrating respect for the patient’s time and schedule. The physician then should conduct a detailed patient assessment of the multifaceted dimensions (emotional, physical, spiritual, environmental, financial) which are deeply woven into their patient’s beliefs and perceptions of their health and wellness. This approach exhibits empathy and awareness that the patient is a unique and complex human being. The physician must then build the relationship through being empathetic and acting with deep listening, learning and exploring sources of illness and treatment options; utilizing a model of shared decision making. This approach engenders equality in the relationship along with respect, compassion and kindness.

The foundation for positive, successful health outcomes in the health care delivery system lies in the patient-physician relationship, and the Compassionate Healer is the key to this relationship. The Compassionate healer brings trust, empathy, emotional support, and the desire to truly understand and alleviate the patient’s suffering and disease. As our health care system continues towards drastic change, training and supporting the role of the Compassionate Healer must become a priority.

References:

Beach, M. C., Keruly, J., & Moore, R. D. (2006). Is the Quality of the Patient-Provider Relationship Associated with Better Adherence and Health Outcomes for Patients with HIV? Journal of General Internal Medicine, 21(6), 661–665. http://doi.org/10.1111/j.1525-1497.2006.00399.

DelCanale, et. al. (2012).The Relationship between Physician Empathy and Disease Complications: an empirical study of primary care physicians and their diabetic patients in Parma, Italy. Academic Medicine, 2012 Sep;87(9):1243-9.

Ha, J. F., & Longnecker, N. (2010). Doctor-Patient Communication: A Review.The Ochsner Journal, 10(1), 38–43.

Schleiter, K. E. (2009). Difficult Patient-Physician Relationships and the Risk of Medical Malpractice Litigation. AMA Journal of Ethics, Volume 11, Number 3: 242-246.

Sharing, MayoClinic. (2016). Eight Lessons on Compassion in Health Care from the Dalai Lama. Sharing Mayo Clinic, March 4,2016. http://sharing.mayoclinic.org/discussion/eight-lessons-on-in-health-care-from-the-dalai-lama/

*provider and physician are used interchangeably

Compassion and the Individual

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His Holiness the XIV Dalai Lama is a recognized global expert and teacher in the human trait of compassion. He believes, and we agree; that every individual desires a life filled with happiness and contentment. Happiness can be found in many ways, but love and compassion are the primary sources in the development of happiness. During our lives, we all experience some degree of suffering. When an individual becomes ill, suffering is common. It is in these moments that we cherish compassion, and are dependent upon another for support and care. When that caring is provided with sincere love and compassion, the quality of the healing experience and recovery are positively influenced. Every individual, in every interaction seeks to feel valued, respected, understood and appreciated. These feelings are vital to our happiness and well-being, and are critical components to the inter-dependency we share in our health care relationships.  The Dalai Lama outlines this well in his article, “Compassion and the Individual“.

The “Eyes of Truth” in Transformation

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We swirl in cycles of life, loss, death, transformation, and rebirth. All that withers, or dies, gives rise to the cycle in creating anew.  This process of transformation when observed through the lens of awareness, is an exquisite process of evolution and growth.

Just as the darkness of the chrysalis gives way to the beauty of the monarch butterfly; the wounds that bind us give way to new awareness and understanding. When we become lost in the binding of “our” chrysalis, we lose sight of our process of growth and renewal. We hold fast to our binding, clinging to the darkness that enfolds us, allowing it to enclose us from within. From this small vantage point we are unable to experience our chrysalis as it surrounds us in a blanket of protected comfort.

This phase of darkness and shadow exists in us all. It may come many times, and in many forms throughout this life experience . This chrysalis we create, is our opportunity to see deeply into our “old” being, and to transmute from within, in order to regenerate and recreate ourselves anew. Our chrysalis is our gift to ourselves, our gift to redesign all aspects of our being.

We are experts in this process of transformation. We have died and been reborn through many cycles and life times, through the experiences of pain, trauma, disease, unrest, loss, and suffering. Our deepest challenge inside this created chrysalis, is the loss of our “eyes of truth”, our insight into our highest, most conscious expansive state of existence.  We have lost our vision, and within the dark womb of our chrysalis we are lost, afraid, and alone. In these moments, that we are unable to grasp the truth of our being, our experience of our greatest selves, and our qualities of limitless potentialities.  Within the darkness of this womb, we cannot remember the dream and experience of flight. We suffer, as we only remember our experiences of pain and darkness. Within our chrysalis womb, we cannot experience the vastness of all that is, for we are bound and held firmly in place (by our beliefs).

Through lifetimes of suffering, we have lost our vision, our “eyes of truth”. Yet, consciousness has now evolved collectively, where we may see through the darkness within this womb, into our matrix of complexity. Here we will find the silver threads of our light, threads that unravel the darkness of our created chrysalis; thus unfolding pieces of wisdom and insight. Each silver thread becomes a chain of wisdom, driving us ever deeper into understanding of our greater more expansive selves. As we begin to  “see truly” our light of consciousness grows, and we understand our highest selves.

Our awareness has focused on this small dark space of chrysalis we formed. Yet, with a simple shift in our understanding we recognize that we hang from the vine of an exquisite tree, and as we gently sway, we are waiting to give birth to our divine being. A being so expansive and beautiful, that soon will take flight. With our “true eyes” we see that all that holds us there, is but a mere silver thread that holds our chrysalis to the tree, and that we are wrapped in fine soft layers of silver thread,  holding us within.  If only we had these “eyes” to see our true experience, to know in the most magnificent way that soon we will take flight to glide ever so softly upon the winds.

Oh, how magnificent it would be, if our ” true eyes” could see such a transformation. We would revel in the experience of our silver chrysalis womb, as we eagerly await our new flight.

New Year’s Blessing

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I am a link in Lord Buddha’s golden chain of love that stretches around the world.                                

I must keep my link bright and strong.

I will try to be kind and gentle to every living thing, and protect all who are weaker than myself.

I will try to think pure and beautiful thoughts, to say pure and beautiful words, and to do pure and beautiful deeds, knowing that on what I do now depends on my happiness or misery.

You too, are a link in Lord Buddha’s golden chain of love that stretches around the world.

May your link remain bright and strong.

May every link in Lord Buddha’s golden chain of love become bright and strong.

May we all attain perfect peace.

 

Buddhist Prayer

Photo credit: Joanne Delabruere

Between Me and Thee

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May the Divine love and light that swirls in the magic of the universe encircle us all May we all share in our blessings                                                                                                   May we all share in the easing of each other’s pain
May we all know that we are one body                                                                                           May we all know that what each of us feels, sees, and hears, is experienced in all others
For there is no distinction between me and thee
For whatever we do for one, we do for us all
So share the heavy burdens of your heart, and then set it free
Share what makes you light and blissful, so that we may all swirl in its glory
For there is no distinction between me and thee.

 

Letting Go: Dying Consciously

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We have such a hold on life. We cling to ideas, material things, and each other. Such clinging, and holding on provides our “meaning and identification” of who we believe we are.  Yet life is about letting go,  experiencing the full measure of each drop of time. Life is the gentle flow of the water, the raging of the river, and the stillness within the pool.

Death is but another bend on the journey in the water’s flow. Death, brings transition, transformation to new form, and frees the Soul into a new realm of existence. This is our greatest moment, to let go and fall into acceptance. We can fight, struggle, and rage against this storm, but we will no longer have control of our physical being.  In this fight, we bring pain and anguish. We can plead, beg, and negotiate; and bring on further mental despair. Or we can enter this new sacred space with gentle peace, allowing acceptance and grace to wash over us.

To die consciously is to bring the fullness of our life, love, and acceptance to our deathbed. To know that we have offered our greatest service through this Divine life, and to honour our journey; by embracing our next adventure, unafraid of where it may lead. To let go at death, is to merge our consciousness with that of Creator, and moving freely again into the cosmic oneness and dwell within the light.

“When a soul is out of the cocoon of the (three) bodies it escapes forever from the law of relativity and becomes the ineffable Ever-Existent. Behold the butterfly of Omnipresence, its wings etched with stars and moons and suns! The soul expanded into Spirit remains alone in the region of lightless light, darkless dark, thoughtless thought, intoxicated with its ecstasy of joy in God’s dream of cosmic creation.”  ~ Sri Yukteswar~ From Autobiography of a Yogi~

 

Sacred Economics: The Art of Gifting

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Money, and the exchange of money have contributed to alienation, division, competition, scarcity, and abject poverty. The very idea of money is fraught with emotion, stress, and for many anguish. In today’s society- the division due to money is extreme. Property and ownership have become prima over community, relationship, and meaning.

Property is not a thing- it is a relationship amongst individuals about things.  Money is an agreement; an agreement between individuals. In Sacred Economics, gift exchange is distinguished from other forms of exchange by a number of principles, such as the form of property rights governing the articles exchanged; whether gifting forms a distinct “sphere of exchange” that can be characterized as an “economic system”; and the character of the social relationship that the gift exchange establishes

In a gift society; building community, gratitude, desire, and need for each other is the end result. Money no longer becomes a barrier, when you are called to serve and live based on your talents delivered through gifting. An economy that embodies the principles of gifting, aligns us in the true expression of ourselves, our higher good and our higher service.

It is time for a conscious evolution in the energetic exchange of goods and services. It is time to apply reverent energetic exchange that serves our true purpose.  Around the world, there are restaurants that run exclusively in a Gift Economy, including several Panera Bread stores here in the United States. There are health care clinics in California and Oregon, music groups including Radiohead, and even a law firm in Chicago, all successfully operating in a Gift Economy.

In this manner, the Maya Center has implemented sacred gifting. Our services will be offered as a gift, with the trust that those served will gift back fair value for the service.  This system provides an opportunity to elicit trust, reverence, gratitude, and meaningful service.

The gift economy represents a shift from consumption to contribution, transaction to trust, scarcity to abundance and isolation to community.

~Charles Eisenstein~

Releasing Fear through Surrender

Fear has been our greatest challenge, and our biggest illusion. Fear stops us, freezing us in places we would rather not be. But why do we reside within fear, why do we allow ourselves to sit in that emotion? I believe we have been so deeply conditioned to know, accept and tolerate fear; that we are numb. Fear is overwhelming, but to evolve and transform we need to move beyond fear, recognizing it for what it truly is. Fear is a conditioned emotion meant to keep you in a regressed-repressed state. Fear, from a physiologic perspective is a biological mechanism of safety.  As a primal response, fear is an organised system to alert and protect you from harm- the primordial fight or flight mechanism within the limbic system. This system has evolved over millions of years, and holds an important role in our life if we view it on the physiological – biological basis alone. But where fear is illusory, and keeps us stuck- is in recognizing and living our true origins, our true selves. Fear prevents us from moving into the realms of greatness, glory and bliss that we so rightly are and deserve. Fear grips our being and we cannot let go. This is where it becomes important to recognize the illusion. We must learn to step into, and surrender, thus learning to let go of the emotion of fear. But when we let go, we are afraid- afraid that we will fall, and thus we don’t let go. If we recognize that fear arises as we are challenged with a new experience- understand that its primary role is one of protection. By recognizing and honouring that role, you can then move through the state of fear, and recognize that by surrendering yourself to the universal flow,  you are in fact allowing further expression of your greatness. When we reside in fear, we block the flow of creative, affirming energy to us. When we release and allow, we bring forth the potentiality, the full expression of what we may be. In this way, fear can be your guide; your trigger for recognizing the greatness that is about to enter- if you surrender into it.

Our concept of fear was aptly described in The Parable of the Trapeze, by Danaan Parry:

 

 

Loss, Hope & Impermanence

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I lost hope. Hope for something grand, beautiful, and meaningful. When I have become lost, I lose hope, and I am unable to feel love and connection. I become  disconnected from everyone and everything around me.  When my hope is gone the only thing that seems to grow brilliantly is the pain before me in the dark chasm of my wounded soul. From this place of despair and woundedness, I allowed myself to reside. These are the moments when I search deeply within; to find something – anything to hold onto. I grasp for faith, a glimmer of love, or  that small lasting measure of what is good. Battling in this darkness draws me ever deeper,  into the locked space within my soul.

There is no ray of light into this chasm, and it feels as if in these moments, that nothing can save me. This darkness brings coldness, loneliness and despair. But somewhere within this deep empty space I know that there is great wisdom, and it is found in this dark stillness. In this moment I allow myself to look into the pain and despair, I choose to venture further down- deeper into the chasm.  I give myself room to breathe, to be still,  and to sit within the darkness; willing the peace and comfort to show itself. In this darkness my demons and dragons are unleashed; revealing my biggest fears.  Failure and loss in all of its form consumes me, and I allow that essence in; to overtake me. I feel it, sense it. churn it, move it around and through me. It is cold, dark, heavy. I allow its presence to become fully alive so that I may understand its offering, its wisdom. I do so knowing that my only way  forward is through this darkness; and so I accept and surrender this path, this moment.

Loss has found me in so many ways in my life, and I have become a champion at moving through it. This time it feels different; deeper, primal, as if the core of my existence as a conscious being of light is being extinguished. The loss of life’s purpose manifest seems to hurt  more deeply than all the other losses. Contemplating this deep and ancient wound, the darkness within my soul feels heavy and burdened, unable to comprehend.  After being deep within this darkness for a time that feels unbearable, a  Buddhist  lesson comes to mind and heart; reminding me of the power held within change and suffering.

The lesson of  impermanence, teaching and reminding me that nothing remains the same. From moment to moment everything changes; leaving each consecutive moment something different, something transformed. The wisdom comes through; Thich Nhat Hahn’s lecture of impermanence reminds me that impermanence makes everything possible. He stated:

“When we bathe in the river today that we bathed in yesterday, is it the same river? Heraclitus said that we couldn’t step into the same river twice. He was right. The water in the river today is completely different from the water we bathed in yesterday. Yet it is the same river. When Confucius was standing on the bank of a river watching it flow by he said, “Oh, it flows like that day and night, never ending.  The insight of impermanence helps us to go beyond all concepts. It helps us to go beyond same and different, and coming and going. It helps us to see that the river is not the same river but is also not different either”.

Thich Nhat Hahn reminds us that life itself is possible through impermanence; that the corn of stalk cannot become so without the grain of corn being impermanent. That a woman cannot become a woman, and children and grandchildren would not manifest, without impermanence.

Our difficulty in our suffering is that we forget this lesson; that everything is impermanent.  At some point in our lives we will lose things; we will lose our possessions, our friends, our family; our dreams, and maybe even our purpose.  But we are reminded that without an awakened understanding of impermanence, it is not possible to be happy.  “Emptiness does not mean non-being and does not mean being either. It transcends all concepts. If you touch deeply the nature of impermanence, no self and inter-being, you touch the ultimate dimension, the nature of nirvana. Our freedom, peace and joy in the present moment is the most important thing we have” (Thich Nhat Hahn).

Within my chasm of darkness, I am reminded again, that moment to moment everything transforms. While I may not see the distant view of the beauty of my own transformation; I am reminded to welcome, honour, and love each moment within this journey of my life. For I am not the same as I was the moment before.

Within the deep chasm of my soul, a ray of light glimmers again.

Religious Persecution & Religious Harmony

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We are one race- the race of humanity. We are all one creation and as such, we are all connected. We all equally share in the responsibilities and experiences of glory upon this earth, and  we each share equally share in the experiences of pain upon this earth.

As human beings we each have the right to live harmoniously, and to choose freely our religious beliefs and doctrine- or to not choose religious belief. While we may have these rights, a large and growing percentage of people are being persecuted for their beliefs. It is currently estimated that 500 million people, live in places where they are being persecuted for their religious beliefs. Our religious freedom is protected by both the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and two subsequent UN declarations. There are some groups that refuse to condemn persecution on the grounds that it’s a “God-imposed” test of faith to be endured rather than an evil to be resisted. But this misguided perspective both insults and disrespects God, and displays an insensitivity to victims of attack, torture, and discrimination.

I am one of those individuals. I am being persecuted for my religious beliefs and lifestyle- operating a spiritually based healing center.  I honour and follow Buddhist traditions and customs, rather than conform to Christian religion.  I deeply honour and respect all religious beliefs and views and I maintain that at their core, they all hold similar values.

I have a right to live harmoniously, honouring and observing my belief structures; just as you have a right to yours. I have a right to share in the glory and bounty of this earth; as do you and every other human being.  As a Christian your religious doctrine teaches “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” John 13:34.

To my attackers I say: “Your lack of love, respect, and religious intolerance is unacceptable”. You persecute and attack me for my beliefs; yet I perceive your acts as feeble attempts of “control and power”.  I am saddened that you lack the depth and understanding of who I am as a human being, and who we are as one divinely connected human race.  According to Buddhist philosophy, happiness is the result of an enlightened mind whereas suffering is caused by a distorted mind.  A distorted mind, in contrast to an enlightened mind, is one that is not in tune with reality. (His Holiness the Dalai Lama).

Buddhist teachings are those of peace, compassion and love. I offer you love and compassion, as I do for all sentient beings. Our greatest gifts can be offered to each other when we find common ground to share our views and values; honour and respect each other, and live harmoniously.

I send prayers for your healing and well-being, and release from your own inner pain and demons.

Namaste’