We’re talking about a way of working with the mystery of healing that has helped thousands of my patients. Start with a foundation of faith. Practice strengthening your faith until it reaches certainty. Have faith that you can heal, that you can be happy, that you can be successful, that you can live a life that is pleasing to your soul. Your life is full of clues about what is really going on inside of yourself, what you truly believe. How do your beliefs and conclusions compare with higher truths? Pay attention to your life so that you can pick out the clues and follow them back to your own personal truth. Forget for the moment whether or not your personal truth is really true from a higher perspective. The important point to note for yourself is what you actually believe for yourself, your own personal truth.
After faith and awareness, the next step is to open to and fully accept your personal truth. So often when we see some aspect of ourselves that we don’t like or that we know immediately to be untrue, we do something to alter it. We deny it, repress it, rationalize it, intellectualize it, sugar coat it or a whole host of other Freudian things. But how well have those things been working for you? People pay me a lot for my advice, but I’ll give it to you here for free: stop doing those things! Just admit the raw, naked, unadulterated truth of that aspect to yourself.
Years ago, when I was still a Resident in Saginaw, Michigan, my wife and I would go to Quaker meetings on Sunday mornings. These meetings were mostly silent opportunities for inner reflection. I remember one morning I was thinking about what it meant to be a doctor and how to be a good one. I knew I needed to be able to meet any patient right exactly where they are in their process and accept them just as they are and then gently lead them at their own pace to resolutions to their problems. Therefore, a doctor should not be judgmental, I concluded. I told myself that I wasn’t going to be judgmental. Unbeknownst to me, in that moment, I started an inner struggle that would take me years to realize and resolve.
When I finished my residency, I went to be the only doctor in a small town in Maine. I did obstetrics as part of my family practice. One of my patients had a long and difficult labor. I stayed with her at the hospital the entire time. I had done all of her prenatal care and knew her fairly well. She wanted to be as natural as possible during her labor. Over the course of the day, the OB nurse on duty thought that I should be much more interventional with her labor management. I disagreed. I monitored my patient very carefully and kept in good communication with her and her husband. I didn’t know him as well as he had not come to any of her prenatal visits. He was a young man who worked as a logger and had a reputation as somewhat of a hell-raiser around town. I ate lunch with him in the hospital cafeteria and explained what was happening with his wife’s labor and why the nurse wanted what she wanted and compared that to what his wife wanted. I felt like he was pretty on board with how everything was going.
Weeks later, my family and I were eating dinner at the local greasy spoon in Strong when he came in drunk and started yelling in my face about being so judgmental. I had no clue what I’d done to set him off. I was completely stumped. Several months later, some other patient stormed into my office and also yelled in my face about being so judgmental. Again, I had no clue what he was referring to. But to have two people do that within a matter of months was a wake-up call and I started to wonder what was going on. I didn’t know much about these steps back then, but I did start searching for answers. In that moment, though, I just redoubled my resolve to be open and accepting of everyone. (Little did I know that I had just redoubled my efforts to repress any judgmental qualities.)
Shortly after that, my family and I moved to Seattle where I got a job working for a hospital-owned clinic in downtown. I rode the bus to work which gave me built-in time in my day to read. I read all of Stephen Levine’s books and his ideas really changed the way that I thought about medicine. One day on the way home, the bus was going up University Ave near the University of Washington. University Ave is a microcosm of all of the diversity in town. There are people sporting every fashion of dress and every color of hair, sometimes all on the same head. I was reading a magazine and every time the bus stopped and people got on, I would look up from my magazine and this little voice in my head would snobbily say, “Look at that person’s clothes. Look at that person’s hair.” And I would say to myself, “Stop it! Stop it!” and go back to my magazine. Next bus stop, same thing. This went on nearly all the way up the Ave until it was driving me crazy. Somewhere near the top of the Ave I finally saw what I was doing to myself: I was judging myself for being judgmental.
In that moment of realization I said to myself, “I wonder if I can just accept the fact that I’m a judgmental SOB?” As soon as I said it, I felt a big knot of 2 inch thick rope untie in my solar plexus. That was in the late 80’s. I still may be one judgmental SOB—who knows?—but at least since that day, it has not been an issue in my life and, knock on wood, no one has come into my office and yelled in my face about it.
Accept the truth of what is really going on inside of yourself. Denying it and fighting it will not change it, it will probably hide it from you but not from everyone around you. I fought with my tendency to be judgmental every which way I knew how and in over five years, that fighting had not changed it one little iota, it was still an issue that I had to face. But one moment of acceptance and…poof!...as far as I can tell, it is gone. I am still discerning and I still have opinions but being judgmental does not seem to be an emotional button or problem-causing issue in my life.
So the steps to encouraging healthy change that we’ve covered so far are:
- Have faith that healing is possible, that you can know your truth, that you can find good solutions to your problems, that there is a good resolution to your suffering. You can do this.
- Pay attention to the truth of your life and to yourself living your life. Trust what you know. Get in touch with your wise, loving inner guidance. It will help you know how to have a healthy relationship with yourself and others. It will help you know what supplements, treatments and such are best you. It knows what you ought to eat, how much and when. It knows how much and what kind of exercise to do. It knows what career is right for you. Listen and trust.
- Accept the truth of what you see when you use your awareness. Your intentions may be pure (like me wanting to be a good doctor for my patients), and how we repress and deny may be very subtle, but pay attention to your life and the truth will out. Accept it when you see it. Quite often, that is all that is needed to get major perceptions or foundational beliefs to shift and change.
Build a foundation of faith that you can do this, your inner love and intelligence can guide you to live a life that is true to who you really are. A strong faith tempered by reason is a critical resource for your healing journey. And if you’re going on a journey, you pretty much have to start out from where you are. Find out where you are right now by paying attention to your life, both inner and outer. Admit the truth to yourself.
Living in illusion will not bring you lasting happiness, fulfillment and meaning. And your body or life circumstances will have to keep trying to shock you out of your illusion. That can be pretty painful. (Hey, I’ve lived everything I’m talking to you about, as well as seen it over and over in my patient’s lives.)
I call the next step in the process of healing change “the Alchemist” because it is what actually works the change. It can take an experience or aspect of yourself that is functioning like a lump of lead in your life and turn it into a lump of gold.
Copyright 2013 Steven M. Hall, MD