As an assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at UCLA, I see myself as a bridge between traditional medicine and the spiritual, intuitive realm. I profoundly believe that it's important to integrate the wisdom of both in order to help people and to help myself.
My mother was a powerful teacher for me in a certain way. She, too, was a physician. During the 1940s, she worked in a hospital emergency room in Philadelphia, but ironically she struggled with self-doubt that kept her from seeing her own magnificence.
Although she had been a fantastic, loving family physician for 40 years, at age 70--with a thriving Beverly Hills practice and flawless credentials, a part of her felt unworthy of such success. In order to prove herself and keep up with younger doctors, she decided she needed to take her National Medical Board Exam again.
Mother's preparation for the tests required months of intensive study. My father, who was also a physician, and I were spectators, loving her the best we could and hurting as she hurt. During the board exam, the lymphoma that she had been diagnosed with 20 years earlier suddenly changed into an aggressive malignant leukemia. She passed her exam, but she died shortly after.
Taking a Spiritual Path
As a young doctor myself, watching as Mother let fear, anxiety, and self-doubt accelerate her own death was extremely difficult for me. Yet I recognized that, over the years, I had developed similar traits of being a workaholic and having self-doubt. This recognition prompted me to take a different path, a spiritual path, on my own life's journey.
On this path, I learned to transform negative emotions, such as self-doubt and fear, into something positive. I came to understand that emotions are not meant to be a form of torment that makes a person feel miserable. They can be a springboard to the higher self, which is compassionate and loving.
Early in my career, however, I was unsure of how I might bring what I had learned to help my patients. I had a patient I will call Christine who I was treating for depression. I prescribed antidepressants, and she got better. Then during one session with her, I suddenly had a premonition that she was going to attempt suicide. Afraid to trust my intuition and of what other physicians would think if I brought intuition and spirituality into my practice, I didn't broach the subject of suicide. Within a week, Christine overdosed on the antidepressants I had prescribed.
Christine survived, but this was a wake-up call for me to have the courage to go beyond the realm of traditional medicine. I began to incorporate intuition and spirituality into Christine's treatment. She stopped being hard on herself, emotionally beating herself up by thinking she wasn't worthwhile. She developed more self-compassion and continued to improve. She saw fear differently than a biochemical abnormality and embraced it as an opportunity for her to be courageous.
We, too, can discover that fear is an opportunity to find courage and that frustration is an opportunity to find patience. Anxiety can prompt us to find inner calm, and loneliness alerts us to be more connected to others. Releasing anger, we bring forth compassion.
In pairing negative emotion with positive change, I teach people to start with a less than intense fear that they want to be free of. I ask them to identify the fear. It could be a fear of saying no to a friend. Once they work with that, I suggest, "Now go to a larger fear, such as a fear of being a failure. Identify what triggers the fear, what sets it off." Perhaps it's seeing the careers of friends skyrocket while they themselves feel as if they will never achieve what they desire to achieve.
Once the trigger has been identified, I ask them to look at that fear from a spiritual perspective. Allowing ample time for the answer to each of my questions, I continue: "Ask yourself, 'How can this fear help me develop courage?' Can you see that having courage means that you will cultivate self-love and build confidence in the talented person that you are? Define what courage means to you. Then deactivate the fear by becoming still, closing your eyes, and connecting with Spirit within. Repeat this statement: 'Spirit within me is greater than any fear. I am not my fear, I am larger.' Begin to understand what a tiny speck on the screen of your life that fear is."
Any one of us can accomplish the spiritual shift of going within and tuning in to Spirit. When we do, we realize that we have the strength and courage to deal with anything or anyone because we are not alone. We understand that Spirit is moving us beyond the small self to the courageous self. This is the core of emotional freedom.
Transforming our Emotions
We can have an epiphany, a life-changing revelation, but I believe in taking small, steady steps in transforming our lives. It's with stitch by golden stitch that we become beautiful tapestries of soul development. A three-minute compassion meditation once or even several times a day helps us tune in to our spirituality and follow inner guidance, transforming our emotions.
Such a meditation might go like this: "Close your eyes and take a deep breath. When any thoughts come to mind, release them and let them float away like clouds drifting across the sky. Return your focus to your breath often and then begin to focus on your heart--everything that is loving and good and compassionate within you. Relaxed and at ease, allow yourself to feel all the compassion within and for yourself."
Whenever any of us start embarking upon an emotional healing, it's critical that we devote time to such a "compassion practice" in order to be able to deal with whatever we are going through--whether it's self-criticism, depression, anxiety, or frustration.
As we work on the development of our souls, we are able to see that every heartbreak, every loss, and every gain can transport us to a life of greater courage and emotional freedom.