By: Prianca Naik
I’m drowning in self help materials and I have to say I love it. My obsession with self-improvement came to life in the late nineties in high school with my female posse and me waxing philosophical or so we thought. We were deeply into a phase of pointing out each person’s flaws to her in a quest of bettering ourselves! Can you imagine? Needless to say, we kiboshed this destructive exercise within a month or so. And yes, it took that long because we were fifteen and naive.
Growing up, my mother and grandmother incessantly encouraged me to be better. They instilled the habit of selflessness in me at a young age and were never shy about pointing out my shortcomings. I struggle with an abundance of self-criticism and am eternally bound to self-development. As a child, I looked to my elders for insight and as I got older, I found myself surrounded by authors, speakers, and TED talks.
My tendency to delve into an amalgam of resources keeps my mind occupied with blogs, books, and podcasts. I recently listened to The Art of Mindfulness by Thich Naht Hahn and incorporated his advice on responding to the sound of a phone ringing into my daily routine. Let me explain. My phone is my lifeline, my wealth of information, my map, my conduit to friends, and my job’s direct tunnel of torture. There are no longer pagers for physicians like there were in the eighties. There are 3 am text messages: “Patient has a sore throat and needs losenges called in ASAP.” Work and play and survival all coalesce; where one begins and the other ends is no longer tangible.
For the past few years, I kept my phone on complete silence without vibration because the text notification tone along with the noisy judder provoked intense angst. Then suddenly, after hearing what Thich Naht Hahn had to say, I decided to change my phone’s alert. The silence morphed into the sound of a bell to call me into a mindful moment. “You hear your phone ring,” he says. That sound is your cue to breathe in and think “calm” and breathe out and think “smile.” Well, this seemed easy and just plain brilliant to me. Now, I could transform the torture tunnel into a simple tempering tool. Of course, I still have a love-hate relationship with my phone. But now I use it to implement my mindfulness practice. The text bing awakens me to the present moment.
My February docket features Dan Harris’ book 10% Happier which chronicles his downward spiral into the bottomless pit of anxiety and the role of mindfulness meditation as his life preserver pulling him out of drowning waters. On his podcast, his honesty and naked vulnerability are an inspiration for all of us. He uses his mental breakdown and the predicating events to help so many like him out there. He truly destigmatizes anxiety and places mindfulness meditation at the forefront of current convention.
Mindfulness helps one to become an observer and step outside of himself. It creates distance between the mind and its products. Feelings, thoughts, judgements, and senses are not the main act during meditation. The breath takes the leading role. Mindfulness counteracts all-consuming thoughts, which at times can truly swallow a person whole.
There is a method to everything we do. When I was a third year medical student, the internal medicine department head would ask us, “what is your method?” in solving the mystery of each clinical case. My critical care attending used the same question when inquiring how we read chest x-rays on rounds. I have learned to excel in my work with this framework. Similarly, in life, there must be a method to clarify the chaos. Of course, life can never be flawless and, in fact, we should never strive for perfection. However, just as I studied to become a physician, I study the mastery of being human. This work is becoming my life’s quest. Dan Harris, Thich Naht Hahn, and Jen Sincero have made this peregrination possible. Their words, be it wisdom or candor, propel me upward like the swing of a bungee jump recoil and for that, I am grateful.