Sunday, March 19, 2017

I Have Moved to A Medicinal Mind!

So it is indeed that time. I have moved to a new webpage with more content and some truly beautiful photography courtesy of my brother James Abbott and close friend (essentially a brother) Max Mishkin!

Follow me now at amedicinalmind.com 

You can continue to access all of my previous posts here and can be redirected to these posts from my new page.

I thank you for following for 2 wonderful years and hope to continue providing nourishment to your being!

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Perception is Reality

Taken from my recent newsletter: A Week of Compassion, I thought this was worthy of a mini-post.Certainly some food for thought 

Teaser: Much bigger news and posts to come!! stay tuned

           Perception is Reality. While most of us have heard this expression before, few have really dug into its implied meaning. With the opportunity of this conscious life, we have been given the gift of awareness, of perception, of discernment. Despite our greatest efforts to identify a “truthful” reality, we are all limited by our subjective impression of the world around us- our perception. Unfortunately, while truth or right knowledge can find its way into our perception, so too can many other mental modifications (presented in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras) as verbal delusion, misrepresentation/misconception, sleep and memory. In elucidating this concept further, we can see that even the well-trained mind and regular contemplative is left with a perception that can and is constructed from one of the many “distorting” mental modifications. Taking this back to the practical level of our lives, we share the common example of an argument stemming from a miscommunication- “No, you said this!” Actually I said this, but that’s okay, you must have an issue hearing.” “Well this is what I heard.” Or how about that childhood memory where you were grounded or put in timeout- “but I didn’t do anything???” Rather than struggle to pursue an explanation of the “truthful reality” or try to convince someone else of your perception, we must rest with the knowledge that WE, JUST AS EVERYONE ELSE, ONLY HAVE OUR OWN PERCEPTION and THIS PERCEPTION BECOMES OUR REALITY.              

           If someone is hurt by you words, confused by your actions, or disturbed by the look on your face, it does not matter what your perception or intentions may have been, someone was left hurt, confused and disturbed. While we can certainly pursue a life solely seeking truth or search for ways to filter our perception down to a near truth, we encourage you to instead pursue a life where we can forgive and forget, perceive and relieve- relieving suffering when we perceive it, feel hurt when we feel it, authentically and genuinely care for those from a compassionate heart, even if we find ourselves walking miles and miles away from the “truth.”

Friday, January 13, 2017

What Does My Spiritual Practice Actually Look Like?

It’s 2017. It’s been a while since my last post. While I can’t say I have been working tremendous hours in the hospital, I have certainly been spending time nourishing myself with genuine connection, reflection, writing of different sorts, and this “little” research project that has taken (rightly) much of my passionate heart.

During my “Rabbott Hole” searches of any and all blogs about health, nutrition, spirituality, kindness and love I have come across numerous authors/bloggers sharing their personal habits and day to day activities in posts commonly titled “What Do I Eat?” “What Do I Do?” or “A Day in the Life.” My initial reaction to most of these articles was one of awkward distancing as the concept of writing about yourself seemed too self-centered, and really who cares about what you eat or what you do at 11 AM every day?

Stepping back from this place of judgement, I realized that indeed, I did have a curiosity into the habits, thoughts and day to day actions of some of my respected colleagues (or at least individuals I hoped to meet in the future.) This is certainly not an excuse or reason to surround yourself in the distracting minutiae of social media, celebrity gossip and any other form of self promotion centered around materialistic gain and wealth, it is simply an acknowledgement that as humans we are often curious as to what our role models do and how we can possibly develop similar habits in order to flourish in the service of others. But rather than merely focus on what others DO, I encourage you to examine how your mentors ARE, what VALUES they hold, how your role models simply BE.

Abstract as this may seem, we must not be reduced to become habit copiers, DOING merely as others DO, as our life is not one of constantly DOING, but one of constantly BEING with intermittent periods of purposeful DOING. BEING scattered with DOING, not DOING scattered with BEING.

Lengthy introduction aside, I have approached this post with the joyful desire to share my personal spiritual practice, not as an act of self promotion or to convince you to adopt my ways of thinking and practicing, but to simply offer a glimpse into what has nourished my being and allowed me to grow, for no one has a monopoly on flourishing and if there was anyway I could spread a means to obtain and remain with one’s inner happiness, I most certainly would.

As a preface to the descriptions of my practice, it is important for you to know that I currently see my practice as one of dynamic fluidity. Currently I have no particular structure, ritual or pattern of practice, I simply approach the day and allow it to reveal a path of spiritual engagement and service to others. In approaching our days with this fluid vision, we must be reflective and truly engage the moment with an open heart. Dynamic fluidity can easily become an excuse to not practice, to say there is not enough time or to find other distracting tasks with “false” nourishment. Dynamic fluidity requires genuine openness and by cultivating genuine openness we can ultimately discover Freedom of Faith.

So you are telling us that you want to share what it is you actually do as part of your spiritual practice with the huge caveat/disclaimer that you DON’T actually routinely DO ANYTHING?

The simple answer:
Yes, this is precisely what I am hoping to do.

As many of you likely know, building habits and routines around structured time is nearly essential for nurturing success and minimizing distracting time away from the tasks you actually wish to complete. I will be the first to say that as I was beginning to explore the practices of mindfulness meditation and yoga in February 2013, I NEEDED this STRUCTURE. I NEEDED to know that as soon as I woke up I was going to do a 20-minute yoga practice. I NEEDED to know that I would take a 30-60 mindful walk at lunchtime and that I would end my evening before sleep with a restorative 15-minute yoga practice. I gained stability, “flexibility” and grew tremendously from this structured practice, but as we do not need training wheels on our bike forever, there comes a time when we can shed such structure and step into another level of growth that would have otherwise remained unattainable if we became strongly attached to the training wheels.

Important Reflection: Where are you on your path of spiritual growth, enlightenment, engagement? Are the training wheels on? Is one wheel teetering off and making it more difficult to ride? Are you actually now riding a unicycle? Reflect on your current practice, how satisfied and nourished are you by your current practices and more importantly how satisfied are you with your life “outside” of this dedicated practice? Are you happy with the way you carry your being, your interactions with peers, are you upholding your core values and serving your greater intention?

Some serious questions for reflection, but ones that will surely provide some food for continual nourishment as you revisit, refine and rediscover your practice.

For the patient among you, or perhaps the ones crazy enough to continue reading this post, I offer now, through the telling of a story, a reflection upon my most recent day of practice. A precise and comprehensive list it is not, a glimpse into what is possible when you live in gentle curiosity, it most certainly is.

Waking alongside my girlfriend, with a comforting darkness and warmth showering the room, I reflected on my dreams from the previous night: a curious visit to my high school, a “vision” of my parents as I was birthed into the world, playing soccer with former US goalkeeper Tim Howard. Possibly random, possibly symbolic, I rested, eyes closed, holding gratitude in my heart for my parents as they brought me into this world, for my teachers and their nurturing of my youthful passions, and for the US Men’s soccer team for the joys and heartbreak they have given me over the course of my life thus far. Opening my eyes once more I embraced my girlfriend and a few of her furry friends, smiling with the love that I now held in my heart, thankful for the opportunity to have met such a beautiful soul and for the capacity to spend our days growing, reflecting, and simply being together. Dressing quickly, I kissed her goodbye and moved to my car where I then started listening to a podcast from Krista Tippett and the amazing folks at On-Being. In this interview, Krista was sharing a space with Eugene Peterson, a fascinating clergyman, poet and author whose theological language and interpretation of the Bible is dare I say “Biblical?”

Continuing my journey into this auditory space, I began my walk to the family medicine clinic with much more on my mind than what was the best drug for strep pharyngitis. Reaching the hospital entrance, I was ready to enter our chapel and share the prayers now overflowing from my soul. Having recently started this “new practice” of prayer in the chapel 5 days earlier, I was eager once more to find the genuine sense of immersive warmth that had surrounded my being as I held the hurt of all those in the hospital, patients and healers alike. For in these short periods of prayer, I would take this hurt and extend back a renewed passion, light and love from our Divine Creator. Wishing for a relief of suffering for all patients, families, and clinicians, I would reach into the deep well of my nourished heart to bring peace to those overwhelmed in the storm. Yet, this practice as I have just described it, with all of its joyful warmth and potential to bring healing, was not what was calling me this particular morning. For out of the corner of my eye, as I directed my gaze to the chapel, came a gleeful grin from my second father, a brother, an unbelievable friend: George Thompson. Having met George in the beginning of my spiritual awakening, we have formed a bond unbreakable by even the most destructive of hurt. The gleeful grin I was now witnessing, however, was not directed at me, but at the glowing face of another: an elderly but youthful appearing woman who I immediately recognized as a previous acquaintance, but exactly where I was not entirely certain. What unfolded next is nearly indescribable or as I commonly say “wordless.” 

It did not take long into our conversation for me to discover that this woman, Louise Malloy, had been a standardized patient, a clinical actor of sorts in my medical school. Following this striking realization I was flooded with the immediate imagery of a woman struggling with depression, seeking an escape from her suffering, simply asking to be heard. Taken back to this interview some 2.5 years earlier, I was nearly moved to tears. Luckily, thanks to Louise’s curious sense of humor, what followed next was not a deluge of tears, but a joyful connection, a smile, and a hug. In 10 minutes, we had gone from stranger, to acquaintance, to mutual friend, to personal friend, to souls of the same heart. As we finally parted ways, I was left extending my appreciation for this shared space, for her youthful humor, for her gracious blessing, and in return she left me with these words, “Thank you, my friend, I cannot wait for your message.” Curious, perplexed and out of time, I could only smile, turn, and begin my walk to the family medicine clinic; for it was 7:55 AM and the next “practice” was calling, ready for an open soul to step inside.

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Can We Truly Find an End to All Suffering?

For the past 3 years as I have expanded my understanding and practice of medicine, I have been guided by my “North Star” to create and nourish a space where all can heal and be healed. As part of this exploration, I have been witness to pain and suffering I would not wish on my worst enemy- (although at this point of my spiritual journey I am not sure I could have or completely agree with the concept of a “worst enemy”).  In wishing to bring relief to such profound suffering and incorporate this intention into the essence of my being, I have been reciting, as part of a daily reflective practice, a set of mantras focused on these precise wishes.

The three mantras go as follows:

1. May there be an end to all suffering on Earth
2. May there be peace for those who seek it
3. Be your own strength

Over the past few months, however, following a deeper study into the Five Mindfulness Trainings of the Vietnamese thinker and poet Thich Nhat Hanh, I have started to examine my first mantra a little more closely, questioning whether “an end to all suffering on Earth” would actually be as joyful as I initially imagined?  After reading this last sentence you may be saying to yourself, “What in the world is he talking about? Of, course we would want to live in a world where pain and suffering have no place in our common language and understanding.” If we collectively approach the concept of suffering from this perspective, I would certainly agree, admitting that in reciting and sharing this thought for close to three years, it would be close to hypocritical not to agree. As with all things in this world, however, we live with dynamic understanding and are blessed with the capacity to evolve our present beliefs (never being defined by their content), and to engage in purposeful reflection, entertaining alternative perspectives that may at first seem completely contradictory to our present vision.

In pursuing such practice, I now believe that what I truly desire is not for THE END of SUFFERING, but actually for THE RELIEF of an INDIVIDUAL’s SUFFERING. Digging a little deeper, one can start to contrast the concepts of Relief vs. Eradication, Cessation vs. Destruction, Impermanence vs. (Non) Existence. For without my own experience of debilitating anxiety and depression, being devoured within the disturbing black hole that is our deeply flawed medical education system, I would certainly not be here breathing today, writing and urging for all humanity to bear witness to our world of suffering all the while striving to create a more joyful and loving place to live. Despite waking each morning with a hopeful smile wishing at my core to remain free from the torment of wrongful desire and selfish gain, I indeed long to have eyes that will forever see such acts of selfishness, of jealousy, of hatred, for it is with these eyes that the seeds of my compassionate spirit are watered and given life. If not for the tears of a grieving son following the unexpected passing of his father, would I find the strength to go forth opening and extending my compassionate heart?   

Having grown in my faith, accepting much of the immeasurable uncertainty in this unexplainable world, I realize there is no good answer to the questions I have posed, and perhaps the best I can do to reach a state of reasonable understanding is to suspend my disbelief and hold two supposedly contradictory wishes in a state of paradoxical acceptance.

The first wish being: To aid in the relief of an individual’s suffering

The second being: To bear witness to the suffering in this world so that I can generate a compassionate heart willing to aid all those in need on their own journeys towards healing and wholeness.

Revisiting my initial mantra from this new place of understanding, perhaps the succinct statement below would be the most precise revision.

 May I bear witness to the hurt, so I can live wholly for its relief.

Once again, I have no profound answers or reasonable explanations for the purpose of such disturbing suffering in this world.  What I CAN offer, however, is a truth that we CAN control how we PERCEIVE and RECIEVE this pain, and most importantly, we CAN control our RESPONSE to the EXISTENCE of such hurt.

So are you willing and able to help relieve the suffering of just one other person today? For maybe, just maybe, through the collection of such seemingly minute and “inconsequential” acts of compassion we can approach the asymptote that is a world without suffering.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

What is Your Level of Understanding?

Because this is what happens when you start writing at 9:00 PM and things just keep rolling.
This is taken from my message: A Week of Compassion for August 7th, 2016.

               For many of us, Learning has become an after thought. Perhaps, because of the current construct of our academic institutions and the “there is always something more” paradigm, we have actually started “fleeing” or “escaping” Learning in order to find a more “comfortable” place and devoid of curiosity and challenge. In this flight we can also start convincing ourselves that Learning implies resolution and that when we get a multiple choice question correct on a test we have succeeded in learning something- in breaking the tape at the finish line. Like any process, however, Learning is a dynamic JOURNEY that is not restricted to lecture halls or libraries and encompasses something much greater than right or wrong. In order to truly embrace a life where Learning is a pursuit, a process of integration, we must open our eyes to the many ways in which we observe, appreciate and understand the world.

                 Buddhist psychology offers us an interesting framework in which to expand our concepts of learning and understanding. From this framework, the first level of learning involves the acquisition of knowledge through mere observation, hearing others speak, and reading the written word.  In short, this level is basically accepting what you hear and read to be true and incorporating that into your understanding of the world. This level, however, is rife with bias and assumption and it isn’t until we enter the next level involving conscious reflection, action and reflection once more that we begin to truly deepen our understanding. Encouraged by curiosity and the conscious choice to dig deeper, ask questions, and test what you have heard and seen, this level allows for a broadening of your lived experience, but it too, has its downfall in being quite energetically demanding, requiring regular, conscious choice in one’s action and purposeful reflection. It isn’t until we reach the final level of understanding where, through the lived meditative experience, we seamlessly integrate and internalize our world of ideas, descriptions and practices into something that is simply “just us.”

                   For those of you wondering, what in the world does this mean- this is just too out there for me, you are not alone, and so we offer an example of these three levels of understanding in order to bring all of these conceptual ideas into a grounded, practical perspective. Ever remember your mom telling you it was nice to say please and thank you? You might have thought this was important or on the contrary, rather silly, but in its early stages you accepted and understood this to be something you should do because your mom or dad said so. Level one understanding. Moving forward you started choosing to say please and thank you, greeting others with a friendly smile, giving a gracious hug or returning the favor of another with thoughtful card. Consciously choosing and reflecting upon the acceptance or outcome of your actions, you actually started to understand that showing gratitude and giving thanks was something you did not because your mom and dad said you should, but because it felt good to appreciate others, to connect, to rest in the joy that was that perfect hug. Level two understanding. 

                 Now many of us have likely stopped here, which isn’t a good or bad thing, it just simply is. To reach the third level, however, takes another experience all together, one of deeper contemplation and integration. Anyone know that person at work who always volunteers first to bring in food for the potluck and not just chips or soda,  the person who goes out of his or her way on a Saturday night to pick up that one thing from the grocery store you really didn’t need right at that moment, but would certainly be better off having, the person that offers you a ride home despite living on the other side of town, the person who is always there ready to listen as if you were the only person on Earth with problems? These people, it seems, are almost no longer consciously choosing to be gracious, to put others first, to embody compassion, it is just simply who they are and what they do. This my friends, is our attempt at describing the third level of understanding- an internalization that (in this example) gratitude and compassion are exactly what each moment requires, what every human deserves, and what the world truly needs- all of which, for the described “person” above, does not depend on the “conscious” mind, but on an innate understanding of human existence. Pure, manifested love, embodied joy, and selfless giving realized at all three levels.  

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

How Do You Pick Your Blueberries?

You may be thinking after reading the title for this post “What in the world does this have to do about health, or what are they teaching you again in medical school?” While I can assure you there is not a dedicated lecture for blueberry picking as part of our biochemistry foundations course, a class on such fruitful splendor wouldn’t hurt (and in my humble opinion- would likely help quite a bit). Terrible jokes and attempted puns aside, I am writing to you now to share a deeply moving story from my summer adventures, and yes, ask you the question you’ve been dying to be asked: “How Do You Pick Your Blueberries?”

BUT, before I delve more deeply into that question, however, I want to take a short tangent to express some thoughts related to this post. As I continue to reflect on all of my writing endeavors, from my “scientific” blog posts and random thought explosions (the ones that crash land into my I-phone, usually when its time to walk across the street or down some awkward steps), to my rambling poetry and weekly email of kindness: A Week of Compassion,

Shameless plug: Sign up here to receive the weekly email: aka more smiles and love flooding your inbox!

I have come to realize that writing blog posts or stories on seemingly pure “medical” or “health” topics like “6 Nutrients to Heal Your Gut” or “10 Strategies for Incorporating Mindfulness into Your Life” just doesn’t speak to my heart, and, in truth, I know there are many much smarter and more dedicated individuals in the halls of holistic medicine who have already shared such thoughtful wisdom which will remain readily and constantly accessible for your brain to download. So I provide this realization, not to demean or bring down those writing such pieces, for I read and am nourished by such knowledge daily (PubMed rabbit holes anyone?), but to acknowledge their efforts without feeling a need to repeat or reinvent the wheels, and, more importantly, to clarify the true reason I am sharing this story (about picking blueberries) with you now.

It was July 3rd, a hot steamy day in North Carolina. I had just spent the last two days with my paternal grandparents on gorgeous Lake Norman in Mooresville, North Carolina, and had now made my way to my maternal grandparents’ old home place in Huntersville, the farm of my childhood and still, current residence of my great uncle and aunt, Dan and Linda Whitner. Now, seven years following the passing of my maternal grandmother (Sydney Whitner Stancil) from metastatic cancer, I found myself walking through the overgrown grass and old go-kart tracks remembering those summers spent with my “country” grandparents. While my maternal grandfather (Bob Stancil) who is still alive and kicking, would likely boast beyond his true “country farm” status, my grandmother was born and raised at home in the soil, working in the family greenhouse and teaching youth in the local grammar school about the beauty held with our most precious neighbors: the world of plants. While showing up some 10 years late to be under my grandmother’s formal tutelage, I was lucky enough to attend my grandmother’s “home school,” full of lessons on baking banana bread, building and filling bird feeders, weeding the vegetable garden, and best of all, picking blueberries. Just ask my mom or dad what my favorite food was growing up and you will almost assuredly get an answer that involves blueberries- if blueberry pizza was a thing you can bet that would have been on the list.

But as I look back now, it wasn’t simply blueberries themselves or eating blueberries bought from the store that stoked my fire, but feeling the early morning dew over my shoes as we walked to the blueberry bushes, hearing the birds sing or cackle as we stole their precious fruit, or smelling the honeysuckles nestled nearby spreading a welcoming joy like no other. For you see, I wasn’t in it just for the blueberries, sure I would more than happily stuff my face with two fistfuls of violet deliciousness for every one that made it into my bucket, but I was there for the stillness, the calm, the peace of the morning with my grandmother, one of the only people in my family that seemed to understand and honor the wonder that was and is silence. In holding this space with nature, she taught me not only how to listen and be still, but how to feel through your heart into your hands with the rhythm of the Earth.

Try to grab eight ripe blueberries all at once, as fast as you could and you would end up with four green “rocks” and two brown leaves without the nearest speck of blue goodness For picking blueberries takes a gentle nature, a patient palm and a willingness to let fall was is to be in that moment. We have become so consumed in our modern lives to see how much we can fit onto our plates and still wake up the next morning saying I guess I can stumble out of bed and do it all over again. We are also commonly our harshest critics, unwilling to extend the same compassion to ourselves that we show to our loved ones. Being gentle with ourselves in each moment, resting in the joy that is our spiritual wholeness, and acknowledge that perhaps, OUR plans, or at least the timing of OUR plans, are not necessarily or likely THE plans. I profoundly believe in our free will and have spoken many times about the choice we always hold to pursue each moment from a place of mindful awareness, but I also deeply believe in a greater intention or “dharma” for our lives- in both life and death. Appreciating the talents and qualities that make each person unique and holding fast to your own deepest values for the joy they bring you are far and away the most important “truths” to our collective human existence.

So as I stood on the North Carolina red clay, amidst the resurrected blueberry bushes, transplanted on life support from my grandmother’s original patch to their current home in the backyard of my great uncle- years past their original life expectancy, I couldn’t help but smile seeing the face of my grandmother burning forever brightly in their dried-up roots. During the years under her caring eye, I had learned to receive each moment with peace, to grasp each blueberry with a humble hand, to cherish the love held within each fruitful bounty, the same love held within each of our hearts. While the years following this lesson have sought to hide and discard this truth, it has been alongside some of the most compassionate and generous friends that I have rediscovered my grandmother’s teaching, her blessing. Transformed from living human cells into the mitochondria, cellulose and membranes of these blueberry bushes, my grandmother was still with me in a new form, guiding my hands to her heart so that I could always hold her close. Suspend your disbelief or choose not to believe at all, it doesn’t matter to me, I have already decided to take the road that science cannot explain, breathing gently with each passing soul, asking the mysterious question, “How do you pick your blueberries?”