By Mick Krasner, MD
If you want to go fast, go alone
If you want to go far, go together
Our work in Medicine is not a sprint. It is more like a marathon. We know it requires discipline, commitment, intention, hard work, and stamina. But unlike running a marathon for individual reasons, it is a community activity. And in this time of the Olympics, as nations identify with their teams, our professional communities are similarly teams that provide opportunities for growth and fortitude, as well as for the transformation that is possible as we work through the crises that inevitably arise along the journey, the occasional or not so uncommon dark nights of the soul to borrow from a mystical source.
As contraction around professional well-being occurs with burnout, emotional fatigue, depersonalization within clinical encounters, and a falling sense of relevance and effectiveness, we sometimes find ourselves being able to take only small steps forward. As E.L. Doctorow commented on the craft of writing, “It is like driving at night in a fog, you can only see as far as your headlights.” And like driving at night, what supports us in our professional fog until the dawn comes and the fog burns off
At these moments especially, mindfulness as a community activity provides powerful strength for support of our colleagues, and as a result, for the patients we serve. Rather than placing a false and fragile bridge over the abysses, mindfulness, which is based on recognizing how things truly are, turning toward difficulties, calling upon innate qualities of clear comprehension and recognizing workable options, doesn’t focus on fixing or changing the reality of the abyss. Rather, it provides the deep listening, the fullness of the experience, and the complete presence of the community to hold, support, and even elevate those struggling.
And so, the abysses in those dark nights of the soul, abysmal as they may be, become workable challenges that our training in medicine and our commitment to mindfulness practice prepares us for. And they provide the source material for the meaning of our work and our efforts. The practice of medicine without mindfulness is like Doctorow’s automobile in the fog without headlights. The interdependence of medicine and mindfulness can be appreciated in the connection between medicine and meditation with their shared etymological origins in the Latin root mederi, which means “to heal.”