Arrayed before me on colorful yoga mats, fish-festooned beach towels or standing in a corner, the students engaged in a 30 minute body scan. Same body, different day. They concluded the body scan by grouping into dyads and sharing their experience of the exercise this time, guided to stay focused on this particular body scan. The bells marked a transition into the larger group and a discussion of this body scan and the practice during the week. The question was raised about the issue of falling asleep when doing it at home and I had to share my own experience: “You think it’s tough falling asleep while being led, imagine how it is for me when I nod off (as I did twice this afternoon) while leading!” This brought a laugh from the crowd, but somehow I think sharing my own “failings” put them at ease.
Discussion of the Nine Dots exercise highlighted people’s preferred modes of solving problems, or not solving them, as some were willing to share. A few folks noted the sense of relief they feel when they mindfully choose to give up on a difficult task (like this one, or a recent med school assignment that apparently gave many of them fits).
The readings for the week included some early chapters from Full Catastrophe Living by Jon Kabat-Zinn and an article entitled The Virtue of a Common Life by physician David Loxtercamp, but the one that triggered the most extensive discussion was Rachel Remen’s Recapturing the Soul of Medicine. When I rather offhandedly asked if med school “squeezes the soul out of medicine” it was like an earthquake in a bobble-head doll factory! But nonetheless, the ensuing discussion highlighted how many work to find balance in their lives, both within (in some cases) and in spite of (in others) medical school. We talked about finding balance as a moment-by-moment process rather than a grand gesture, and many students shared their own approaches to balance and fulfillment, as well as their fears of not being able to continue to maintain them as the demands grow.
Sitting in the presence of these amazing ambitious beings, I could clearly feel the welling up of strong feelings around making one’s way through medical school without losing their real reasons for wanting to become doctors in the first place (exactly Remen’s point) and how each has made his or her own way toward staying close to the dream while staying firmly rooted in the world as it is. I have a feeling this is going to be an interesting journey . . .