It is estimated that 60-90% of physician visits are related to stress.  I see this born out in my work daily.  In the course of a clinic day, I address patients with concerns ranging from muscle tension and pain to menstrual disorders, anxiety and depression to digestive problems. Stress influences or exacerbates the health concerns of every person I see in clinic.   The very nature of our days, our modern, urban life is infused with stress.  The pace advocated by our wired world is encapsulated by an ad I recently saw on CNN promoting a Samsung 4G product.  See the below paraphrased exchange between office coworkers.

“Have you heard that Rick got a promotion?”
“Oh that’s so 14 seconds ago.”
“We should send him a card.”
Into the screen enters a beaming man with card in hand,
“Thanks guys!”
“Did you hear Jenny had her baby?”
“Oh that is sooo 27 seconds ago…”

We can’t always change our external environment, but our internal environment, that of the mind and heart and even the physical body, we can influence. When we move so quickly, we seem to perceive fewer choices.  This newsletter introduces meditation as one tool by which to manage our busyness and support our health.  I outline some of my recent efforts to support others in this vein including public presentations and website updates.  This writing might be best enjoyed when you can sit down with a warm beverage and carve out a few slower moments.

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Beginning a few years ago, I decided to stop using the word ‘busy’ to describe my life.  Describing our lives as busy has become a peculiar badge of honor in this culture.  There seems to be a prevailing idea that our lives only have substance or meaning when we are ‘busy’, in work, in social engagements, in personal endeavors.  Previously, when I found myself saying “I was busy” I often found I was less focused and productive in attending to tasks, and I felt less attentive and present to the people I was interacting with, in or outside of clinic. I discerned some years ago that I didn’t want to describe my life, professional or otherwise, in that way.  More importantly, I didn’t want to experience my life in that way.  In a cursory glance at the definition, busy is defined as

  1. actively and attentively engaged in work or a pastime (sounds okay so far, then it goes downhill)
  2. not at leisure
  3. full of or characterized by activity
  4. have a lot going on, complicated
  5. not immediately accessible
  6. officious, meddlesome
  7. cluttered with detail to the point of being distracting

Taking the time to pause in our days is not just a lovely activity supportive of compassion and spiritual development.  It very directly influences our health.  I have joked with many patients, that I would do well to place a sign at the entry to my clinic, like an amusement park ride, “Warning, entry may involve risk of increased personal awareness.” This is the case because I have seen meditation and other simple mindfulness practices have an enormous impact on the physical and mental health of my patients, and so I prescribe them regularly.  And I can’t imagine working in any other way considering people come to me with an interest in feeling better and being well.

It’s been a rather…full few months.  In January and February this year, I attended not only my regular bi-annual week long meditation retreat at Tahoma One Drop Zen Monastery on Whidbey Island, but additional weekend retreats at both Great Vow Zen Monastery in Oregon and the Bellingham Insight Meditation Society.  In late Spring I will be attending another week long Insight Dialogue meditation retreat.  It is never easy to invest the time, energy and resources in these pursuits; to pull myself away from clinic and life beyond clinic.  However I have discerned over the years that I have more to offer the world when I do.  And so I continue prioritizing my life in this way, and thankfully the sweet man I share my life with and other forces at large have conspired to support me in these endeavors.