On being a human being

I started writing this entry months and months ago after a conversation with one of my long time patients.  She was referring to her husband’s tendency to . . . do, do, do, do, do . . . and to have great difficulty getting him to settle down and just . . . be.  I thought the play on words was amusing and thought it would make a great blarticle at some point.  I went on my way . . . doing, doing, doing, doing, doing . . . and seem to have lost track of . . . being.

Life has been busy.  And, at times, difficult.  I have become very aware of my own feelings of being overwhelmed with factors in life and I am seeing how others in my family are being effected by their own feelings of being overwhelmed.  It is so easy to get yourself over stretched these days.  The competition for my time is fierce as it is for everyone else that I know.  Too many things to do and not enough time to do them.  It leads me (and perhaps you, too) to have feelings of inadequacy and, at times, anger and sadness.  It is especially difficult for me to see this in my own kids who are all stretched thin with obligations and expectations that are placed on them (and that they place on themselves).  This concern peaked for me when my daughter (during a moment of upset) said she couldn’t spend 10 minutes chillin’ because she had too much to do.  Never mind that her actual ability to . . . do, do, do, do, do . . . was compromised by her upset state of mind and she would be completely ineffective in getting something done.  I think of times when I have been completely overwhelmed . . . with stuff in my head and stuff outside my head . . . where I should have stepped back and calmed myself down . . . but did not.  And I thought . . . “holy crap . . . I’ve created a human doing . . . not a human being!!!”

Time to wake up.

As often happens, answers to problems present themselves if you keep your mind and your eyes open.  A while back a patient who was battling cancer tried to tune me in to Jon Kabat-Zinn and “mindfulness meditation”.  While I have meditated on and off all my life (my parents took me to learn Transcendental Meditation back in the 70’s), it is something that has NOT been at the core of my day (to say the least).  On a recent visit, he again brought this to my attention, as did another colleague of mine . . . and the light bulb went off. 

Mindfulness meditation has it’s roots in Buddhist meditation techniques of using your breathing as a focus of staying in the here and now.  It is not religious and it is not spiritual.  It is simply about being here and now.  Realize, that almost all of our thoughts are an evaluation of the past (often a negative evaluation) or an imaginary creation of what the future might be.  None of these are real.  The only real is here and now.  Your review of your past experience is very subjective.  It is very much based on the attitude that you bring to it.  Your memory of events is selective.  Think about how many times you have had mistaken interpretations of an event.  Concrete events have happened in the past . . . but your emotional experience of them is hardly fact . . . it is subjective . . . it is interpretation . . . it is conjecture . . . it is not real.  The future ???  Hasn’t happened yet.  Anything you think about it is a dream.  It is made up.  It is not real. 

What is real is that your breath goes in . . . your breath goes out . . . your breath goes in . . . your breath goes out . . .

Letting go of the dreams of the future and the evaluations of the past has a very healing effect.  As Kabat-Zinn writes . . .

“The formal practice (of mindfulness meditation) can give you the strength and the self-knowledge to go back to the doing and do it from out of your being.”

Being a “human being” is not about not doing.  It is about doing from a different place.  About not getting lost in the doing and not mistaking what you do for who you are.  It is about tapping into your true self-worth–deeper than anything that can be done and not dependent on what you do or how you do it.  Has it made a difference for me? Yes.  I’m still overwhelmed at times.  I’m still sad, anxious, upset, and irritable at times.  I’m getting better, tho’, at catching myself . . . and witnessing myself . . . and calming myself . . . and centering myself . . . and being here . . . now . . . the breath goes in . . . the breath goes out . . . in . . . out . . . in . . . out . . .

–Dan Hartman, MD

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