“Only as a [spiritual] warrior can one withstand the path of knowledge. A warrior cannot complain or regret anything. His life is an endless challenge and challenges cannot possibly be good or bad. Challenges are simply challenges. The basic difference between an ordinary man and a warrior is that a warrior takes everything as a challenge, while an ordinary man takes everything as a blessing or a curse.” -Don Juan, as quoted by Jack Kornfield in A Path With Heart
I’m sitting down at the computer, winding down with a glass of wine and some leftover Thai food, trying to decompress after having spent the last 2 hours being demoralized by one of my attendings in neurology clinic. To be honest, in the last few months of intern year, I’ve spent more days than not feeling discouraged.
This afternoon, it started with the attending offering snide and biting criticisms of my interviewing and physical exam skills, and ended with him keeping me in clinic over an hour past when everyone else had left, making me repeat parts of the physical exam he felt were unsatisfactory (much to his amusement, I’m sure), and demanding that I spend even more excessive amounts of time pouring through articles to include in my assessment and plan of the patient’s note.
I’m sure he would call it “education,” but I call it plain, old-fashioned douchebaggary. It’s common in medical education, and it’s worn on me over the last few years that I’ve worked as a lowly underling in the hospital food chain.
The whole experience was painful, and I was ready to come home and sulk about it for the rest of the night before gorging myself on Thai food and drinking myself to sleep. But, as I was walking home, I remembered a quote I had read a while back. I don’t remember exactly where I read it, but it was probably in a book my Jack Kornfield, as he is one of the spiritual writers who has most influenced the way I think about Eastern philosophy and religion:
“Everyone is your Buddha.” -Some genius (probably Jack Kornfield)
There is a concept in Eastern philosophy that suffering is your greatest teacher. When things are easy, we fly by, not wondering or worrying about ourselves or the world we live in. I enjoy it when I feel like this, believe me. But at the same time, it’s those moments when I’m troubled and in pain that I’m forced to confront how I’ve created my own suffering, and consider alternate ways of interacting with myself and the world.
In the same way, it’s those people who challenge us who create the most opportunity for us to learn about ourselves, as unpleasant as they might be. If you think of your Buddha as the person who teaches you the most, those who torment you are your Buddhas just as much as those who inspire you. Everyone is your Buddha.
What did I learn today from interacting with this douchbag neurology attending, other than my obvious and palpable disdain for authority figures? A lot of things. I learned that I’m impatient and hate other people having control over my time (although I already knew that). I learned that I have trouble letting the negativity that others spew wash over me, and instead tend to absorb and internalize it. I learned that when I’m insulted or scorned, as much as I shouldn’t care what the offending party thinks, I still feel hurt and have trouble letting go.
With this knowledge and new self-awareness, I have an opportunity to change my bad habits. I can choose how I interact with myself and the world. When the next painful moment comes, I will remember how I feel, right now, and make a conscious choice to react to the situation differently.
This change doesn’t come immediately, and instead happens slowly over time, step by step. If you are aware of your destructive patterns, though, the change will come. You don’t even need to try that hard to achieve it. At the beginning of the year, I probably would have spent days sulking about this experience. Now, I feel almost all better after venting to a friend, having a glass of wine, and writing this blog post. I call that progress.