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Inner focus

More than twenty years ago I was living in Baltimore during my OBGYN residency. My mother and I and my three dogs lived in a little bungalow with two bedrooms and one bath in Towson. We had a front yard just big enough for us to plant a few bushes of Azaleas and different kind of Lilies, and a tiny backyard. In the summer, our hanging baskets on the front porch were overflowing with petunias and geraniums.  The white picket fences were buried in the wisteria vines.

With my meager salary of a medical resident, my mother and I couldn’t afford to do much. In the weekend, I would drive her and the dogs to some areas that were rumored to be near a body of water, as my mom always loved the open water. We would drive and drive and get so lost that by the evening, we would end up driving back to our bungalow with the three dogs totally exhausted. I would buy a dozen spicy crabs from some cheap eatery and we would sit picking the crabs in our tiny dining room. We were happy and content and did not get bothered by the fact that we had spent the whole day in the car. We somehow realized that at least our activity was different from my typical workday during the week.

Fast forward twenty two years later, my mother is gone now, as are the three lovely Westies. I have “grown up” into a very comfortable physician living in a big house with a second weekend home on the Chesapeake Bay. I now live on two acres of beautiful trees, shrubs and flowers, and even have a tennis court on my property, where my boot camp friends come over on the weekend to exercise with me. 

Am I more happy now? I know many people would not believe it , but I am not necessarily more happy now than twenty years ago. I admit life is more convenient. I no longer bounce checks. I no longer debate internally for a long time before walking away from a dress I would love to buy.  I no longer have to wait until my next paycheck come before taking my father to a restaurant fancy or otherwise. I do not, however, equate conveniency with “happiness”.  As a matter of fact, there have been moments when I get nostalgic about those days in Baltimore when my mom’s eyes would light up as I walked into the bungalow with her favorite steamed crabs. Life was so simple then, but we tend to treasure things when they come in limited amounts. The rare things in life tend to be the ones we cherish most.

My OBGYN practice is in an affluent part of Montgomery County, Maryland. This county is among the ten most wealthy counties in the country. Most of my patients are overeducated and wealthy. The majority of them are fit, attractive and nice. Most of them are married with beautiful children. Many of these patients make the folks from “Lake Wobegon” look “average”. I remember during the downtime of the economy, I told my husband how the media had “exaggerated” about how poor the nation has become and how many folks had lost their jobs. My patients did not show any change in their lifestyle, I told my husband. He reassured me that my patients were not “the norm” of our society, but the “2” standard deviations above the norm on the bell curve of wealth.

It did not take me long, however, to realize that wealth and power do not equate to joy. In many instances, they make life even more complicated. To have too much can reduce you to having very little. In the quest for happiness, many of us get astray by the false illusions created by society. We fall into the trap of the “Haves” and the “Have Nots”, thinking that money and power will solve all our problems.  

Several years ago, on the way to work, I was fascinated by the news on NPR of how the people on the Island of Samoa were considered the most happy folks in the world. They are very poor but very happy. They value their time with their families and believe that all they need to be happy is to have good personal relationships. They do not need to go to fancy restaurants; they are totally content with picnics by the river or their backyards. 

In this section of our blogs, we will explore our “inner” life. We have psychologists in our troop, but we do not declare that we are the only experts in helping you find joy. Indeed, many of us understand that psychologists and psychiatrists are not immune from depression. As a matter of fact, there are some inside jokes that psychiatrists go into psychiatry to “find themselves”. 

We hope, instead, to help you understand how attitude and inner strength, hope, gratitude and compassion, in many instances, can bring you joy.  We hope, as you walk with us on this journey, you will find joy in so many different ways.

In the last few weeks, we seemed to be bombarded by so many tragic events, from the Boston Marathon attack to the tornado in Oklahoma. We heard about the seven children drowning in the school hall, dying with no time to give their parents a last hug. We heard of the only child, a daughter, from a Chinese family being one of the deaths after the marathon attack. We heard of a 16 year old athlete and honor student of a local high school who took his life just last week. Several children of our boot camp friends were his personal friends.

The “outside” world is not so much better. We have watched in horror the events unfolding in Syria, from the killings of women and children, to the refugee camps in Turkey where the children are standing with their eyes wide open, yet their mind in a state of sorrow and confusion, wondering why their childhood had to end so abruptly.  As recently as last  week, we saw on the news the killing of a soldier in the street of London, where the murderer, with the machete still in his hands, encouraged passerby to take photos of his act with their cell phones. We saw on the news, how a woman wearing a long blue dress dragging her suitcase passed quietly this mad man . She did not stop, she did not even pause, she did not run away from him. She walked on with her life, as if the event in front of her was a movie clip she just happened to witness. But then we also heard of another woman who got off the bus and confronted one of the killers. She tried to calm him down so that he would not attack anyone else. She is one of the rare heros in modern society who has the courage to speak up against injustice and to intervene in the midst of horrendous act, knowing that she was facing danger.

Most of us are silent witnesses. We survive such events with quite a bit of sorrow, but they do not stop us from shuffling our children to their sport events , or prepare us for the get-togethers with our friends. Life has to go on, as it should, because nobody knows if he or she will be the next victim of the next horrendous event. Life has to go on because we should continue to experience, to breath, to contemplate. 

For some of us, however, the world seems to stop for a long time after a tragedy. We have a hard time trying to comprehend the tragedy and to “let it go”. We can’t cope with it. We develop fear and withdraw further into our own nest. We decide to embrace only those in our family and our circle of friends. We put up borders between ourselves and strangers. We do not believe in anybody else but ourselves. We get on with our lives because it was “them” who got affected, not “us”.

In our “Inner Focus”, we will try to discuss openly our social problems and how to solve them.  We hope for interactions with our readers so that we can learn from each other. Wisdom can be found in anybody and everywhere. Wisdom often comes from experience and hardship and not necessarily from the “ivory tower”.

We welcome any topic in which you would be interested.  As almost all of us are parents, mental illnesses in youth and adolescence and parenting will often be our topics.

We also will help you cultivate “Inner Peace”, the essential element in the quest for Joy and our ability to survive in this often dark and complicated world.  We will discuss techniques and sound evidence of how inner peace exists in all of us.

Live the moment,

Thu

 

“Live Now, Pick Life’s Roses Today”

                   - Pierre de Ronsard, in “ Sonnets pour Helene” (1578)



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