When asked what the most surprising thing about humanity was the Dalai Lama gave the following response:
Man. Because he sacrifices his health in order to make money. Then he sacrifices money to recuperate his health. And then he is so anxious about the future that he does not enjoy the present; the result being that he does not live in the present or the future; he lives as if he is never going to die, and then dies having never really lived.
While this quote has broad applications, it also has many implications for the busy physician, or health care provider. I want to break it down today and discuss some items that we often take for granted. Here are three lessons from the Dalai Lama.
More shifts do not mean more wellness
I am surrounded by some of the hardest working people that I know. They pick up extra shifts, nights, weekends, and holidays. All to earn an extra buck. I get it. Life is busy, and there are a ton of costs and debts that must be paid.
What scares me, though, is that many of these people have families that they care deeply for. They work the themselves to the bone in order to provide the life of their dreams. This is obviously well intended, but at what cost?
We spend all of our days, while we have our health, just to find ourselves spending all of that money we saved at the end of our lives when our health fails. How ironic. Instead, we should be living a life well lived all while obtaining our wealth.
Don’t think of extra shifts as money missed. It might be an opportunity for wellness, which also pays dividends.
Instead of picking up that extra shift, why don’t we live within our means so that the debt is a little less crippling? Maybe then we could spend our time doing the things we love with the people that we love.
Instead of keeping up with the Joneses, let’s keep up with our kids and our spouses. Love them how they should be loved.
Let tomorrow take care of itself
Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. ~ Matthew 6:34
The Dalai Lama and the Bible can agree on one thing. Today has enough to worry about, why worry about tomorrow? What’s the point?
We are so worried about our future that we cannot focus on the present. Here are some questions that commonly flood my mind:
- What’s the next step? Residency? Becoming an attending? Board certification? Associate professor? Partner?
- How much money do we need to retire? How long will it take to pay off my debt? Will I ever be financially independent?
- Am I doing a good job at being a dad? Will my kids turn out okay? Am I loving my wife the way that I should?
We all have different worries and concerns, but the one thing that consumes us all is what tomorrow holds. It takes active practice to focus on being in the “here and now.” Some call this practice the art of “mindfulness.”
What if we could truly enjoy every moment? Focus on every breath we breath, or the birds whistling in the air? Feeling the wind pass by as we drive down the interstate with the windows down [one of my personal favorites].
The point is this. Life is too short for us to focus on meeting our goals and to not appreciate the present. I am guilty of this, too. I tell my kids all the time, “Hold on, I am doing something.” More often, I wish I would give them the attention that they deserve.
In fact, this is going to be an intentional decision for me going forward. My wife and kids are my priority. Time to walk the walk instead of just talking the talk. Here is to more “I spy with my little eye” at dinner and asking my family how their day was. And actually listening.
Tomorrow will take care of itself when I get there.
Facing our Mortality
The great irony in the Dalai Lama quote above is that, as people who work in health care, we are all too familiar with our mortality. We know that any day could be our last. It only takes one car accident or illness.
Yet, even with our ever present reminder at work each day, we live a life full of busyness with the anticipation that someday we will “make it.” We never live in the now and fail to realize that some of the most important things to us are right in front of us. We live a life that assumes they’ll always be there; but we know that’s not true.
In our pursuit to live a life well lived, let’s focus on today. Let’s focus on a life that is worth living. Let’s love the people around us with reckless abandon. Forgive those that we have held a grudge against. Help those who cannot help themselves. Teach the ones who will be coming behind us.
I challenge you today to hug the ones you love a little tighter. Hold them for a little longer. Put your cell phone on silent and listen to the people around you. Turn the music off, put the windows down, and feel the wind in your hair.
I encourage you to take a deep breath, and to worry a little less. Take this moment to realize that your life is a life well lived right now. Enjoy the present and stop worrying about the future. After all, if you are reading this site, then you have likely made a financial plan. Let that plan work, and focus on things that matter more.
“Set it and forget it” so that you can now focus on what’s truly important. It is likely staring you in the face.
What worries you and keeps you up at night? What prevents you from being present? How can we be more mindful today? Leave a comment below.