“ I am not what happened to me, I am what I choose to become” – Carl Jung from Memories Dreams and Reflections
At its core, good medicine is built on the practice of wise relationship. Patients want more than expertise — they need a human face on the medical care they receive. Continuity, trust, and communication matter.
Caregivers, healthcare clinicians are always operating in the context of relationships – with patients, colleagues, and families -it is essential to know how to navigate that territory with skill, clarity and compassion. To deepen relationship with patients, we need to compassionately engage with suffering, cultivate the capacity to function with care, skill and composure.
Wise relationship requires a balance of wisdom and compassion.
In the Buddhist tradition wisdom and compassion are inseparable. There are the two pillars of the practice…. the two wings that allow us to take flight.
In Zen when we bow we bring our two hands together as in a gesture of prayer. This gesture symbolizes the coming together of wisdom and compassion. Attempts at compassion without wisdom can easily become sentimental or lean toward pity. In our culture we have a bias that associates wisdom with intelligence. Attempts at wisdom without compassion can easily become conceptual or even aloof.
Relationship speaks to the natural movement to connection that arises from a deep sense of belonging. Because we belong we want to connect.
While we are each unique individuals the truth of our interconnection is indisputable.
The great spiritual and political leader Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote.
“It really boils down to this: that all life is interrelated. We are all caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied together into a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. We are made to live together because of the interrelated structure of reality.
Before you finish eating breakfast in the morning, you’ve depended on more than half the world.
This is the way our universe is structured, this is its interrelated quality. We aren’t going to have peace on Earth until we recognize the basic fact of the interrelated structure of all reality. “
Wise relationship begins with self-awareness, leads to empathetic attunement, and ultimately expands to an appreciation of our deep interconnection with all life.
Mindfulness is a tool for the development of self-awareness. It is the capacity to attend to what is happening, as it is happening. It is a non-interfering quality of attention that is clear, stable and nonjudgmental. Mindfulness is saturated with sensitivity and curiosity.
Becoming mindful of our own pain, disconnection or defenses is what allows us to touch these same experiences in others with mercy instead of fear and pity. It cultivates a more authentic empathy and compassion. It deepens the therapeutic bond and the healing relationship.
Mindfulness shows us the habitual ways we try keep suffering at arms length. It shows the ways we separate from ourselves, each other and the world at large.
By embracing and investigating my own suffering I am more able to effectively support others to work at the boundaries and edges of their own pain and help facilitate an equally profound self-awareness in them. Medicine that includes wisdom and compassion is indeed the best medicine.
—Frank Ostaseski is the founder of the Metta Institute and cofounder of the Zen Hospice Project and author of Five Invitations: Discovering What Death Can Teach Us About Living Fully. www.fiveinvitations.com
Copyright Frank Ostaseski