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Mindful : February 2018
meet my needs first?—and then feeling g uilty: Selfish fool, there might be someone really sick back there. Instead of dwelling on thoughts like these, choose a more sympathetic one: May I feel settled and at ease. Next, we might turn our awareness to others playing their parts in the medical system. Take our doctors, for example: We can trust they are working incredibly hard. They’re not always able to let us know the reason for a delay. They may be dealing with personal troubles that are out of their control. Physician stress and burnout run rampant with pressure to see more patients, constraints imposed by insurance, and the sheer volume of information required to stay current. Our doctors deserve some compassion: May your day get better, and may you find respite from whatever wears you down. What about the strangers in the waiting room? They’re all here for a reason. Many must be ill or accompanying someone who is. They may be worried about the wait time, or about their finances, or their work. Whatever it may be, we can acknowledge our commonality and offer empathy instead of adding to the tension: May you find some strength or, if nothing else, your sense of humor (and let me know if you find mine, while you’re at it). Then there’s the office staff. Maybe the recep- tionist seems grumpy or the medical assistant harried, adding tension to the room. Yet they, too, have their reasons. They frequently manage hordes of people, many of whom are on edge and not always respectful. The staff may also shoul- der blame when a doctor falls behind. Whatever the reason, resentment will not improve any- one’s experience. Perhaps we can problem solve, express an opinion, or even leave. If not, we can still offer our compassion: May you find peace, in spite of the challenges you face today. Finally, our awareness can expand far beyond the waiting room to the countless people who suffer from illness. Many cannot even reach a hospital. Nourishing food, clean water, and a peaceful home all contribute to good health— but these privileges are far from guaranteed. May all of us receive the care that we need and, globally, may we care more for one another. In the midst of everyday stresses, this com- passion practice reminds us of our intentions and our common humanity. At any moment, we can reflect on the perspectives of everyone around us. Without fixing, changing, or resign- ing ourselves to anything, we offer back our best state of mind: strong, proactive, and grounded in compassion. ● A Healthy Dose of Compassion? In recent years the scientific community has sought evidence of how compas- sionate thoughts, for ourselves and others, may affect our brains and our behavior. In one 2012 study, MRI scans of expe- rienced practi- tioners found that their gray matter had increased in areas of the brain linked to empathic responses, anx- iety, and mood. Other studies have suggested that the practice decreases our risk for stress and burnout, spe- cifically among those in the caring professions, such as teachers and healthcare work- ers. One study of counseling students found that practicing compassion improved their ability to see oth- ers’ perspectives and feel empa- thy for others’ distress. While we don’t yet know all the measurable health benefits of compassion meditation, it’s a promising new area to explore. 26 mindful February 2018 LIVING | mindful md