Tony’s wife insisted he come to one of our Finding Meaning in Medicine retreats because he was deeply depressed and about to leave medicine. A highly skilled oncological surgeon, after 10 years of doctoring he was so stressed and disheartened that he felt that he could not go on. In a discussion over dinner one evening, I suggested that he might want to develop competency in seeing the meaning that was present in his work just as he had developed competency in diagnosis and surgery. “What meaning?” he replied bitterly. “Aha!” I said. “If you have 10 or 15 minutes a day, you may be able to answer that question for yourself.” He looked dubious but he said he would try. So I told him about The Journal.
The Journal is the wise work of an old friend, the author and deeply respected teacher Angeles Arrien… a simple way to begin to see your life differently and find greater joy and satisfaction in it. Many doctors, nurses and medical students in our workshops have used it to recover their “child eyes” and experience their daily work as renewing and even inspiring. Want to give it a try?
All you need is a journal and a quiet place to reflect where you will not be disturbed for 10 or 15 minutes. Personally I like doing this after dinner.
What you do is simple. Just sit quietly and slowly review your day BACKWARDS, starting in the present moment and watching in your mind’s eye a sort of “day video” that runs from the present moment towards the morning. Recall your activities and meetings, the people you spoke to, the things you saw and the people you passed on your way to somewhere else. You get to do this review three times, each time asking yourself a new question.
So start by slowly reviewing your day backwards, moving from the present moment towards the morning and asking yourself the first question: WHAT SURPRISED ME TODAY? As soon as you find ANYTHING AT ALL that surprised you, stop your review and write about it briefly in your journal.
Then slowly review your day backwards again, moving from the present moment towards the morning. This time ask yourself the second question: WHAT TOUCHED MY HEART TODAY? As soon as you find ANYTHING AT ALL that touched your heart, stop your review and write about it briefly in your journal.
Then slowly review your day backwards for the last time, moving from the present moment towards the morning. This time ask yourself the third question: WHAT INSPIRED ME TODAY? As soon as you find ANYTHING AT ALL that inspired you, stop your review and write about it briefly in your journal. Then put your journal away until tomorrow.
Doing this simple thing every day builds your capacity to be surprised or touched or inspired by small things. So the trick here is to write down THE FIRST THING YOU COME TO that answers the question for you and not to look for the most surprising or most touching or most inspiring thing that happened in your day. And this is important: DO NOT BECOME DISCOURAGED!! Many people find that for a little while the answers to all three questions are exactly same: NOTHING, NOTHING and NOTHING.
But then a magical thing starts to happen. At first, people begin to notice things that completely passed them by as they were living through their day. Little things, then bigger and bigger things. As Tony says, “In the beginning I could only see and appreciate things 6 hours after they happened. It was like being under a spell. I could only really see my life when I was looking backwards over my shoulder.” Lots of people experience this same thing. But as people begin to grow new eyes, this time gap starts to close and eventually they become surprised and touched and inspired in the very moment their lives are actually happening to them. And then, of course, everything changes.
After 6 months of doing this a few minutes every day, Tony wrote to me to say that he had discovered he was surrounded by heroes and angels. He looks forward to going to work. He feels this very simple thing saved not only his career but also his marriage. So give it a try. Let me know how it goes…