04/14/2020 Personal Growth
Dr. Sheila Patel, M.D., takes time to reflect on her life’s purpose and encourages others to do the same.
This article is dedicated to the healthcare workers, and others, who sacrifice daily in service to others.
The current COVID-19 climate has given the world an opportunity to reflect, and I am no exception. As a child, I remember witnessing the suffering of sick people I saw on TV. I felt a stirring inside that I couldn’t explain, but I knew that helping people heal was going to be my purpose. That feeling led me to pursue my career in medicine and staying connected to that sense of purpose has helped me through many of my most challenging experiences, especially now.
During the H1N1 influenza pandemic in 2009, I was working in an emergency room in Wisconsin. We began hearing about a previously unidentified influenza virus, and before long every community was dealing with it. Children and adults of all ages were affected, and as is the case today, fear and uncertainty inspired panic. But that soon changed, with supplies in abundance and test kits readily available. Clear guidance from local and national health agencies helped to calm people, who weren’t as overwhelmed with information as we are today. Antiviral treatments proved successful, and before long a vaccine became available, and the pandemic was over.
Many things have changed since 2009 and this pandemic feels different. It is potentially more devastating than anything we’ve seen in our lifetimes, and with this virus, we have been forced to face some sobering realities, namely that our hospitals are overwhelmed and undersupplied. Healthcare workers are coming into the situation already stressed and burned out. These same healthcare workers are also at greater risk, as testing has not been easy to implement, and basic personal protective equipment and supplies are hard to come by. Compounding these problems is misinformation. What people hear isn’t always accurate, and medical staff feel less supported by our leaders. As healthcare workers become sick and isolate themselves, we are faced with the dilemma of who will care for those in need. The same goes for grocery store workers, truck drivers, firefighters, and law enforcement, all of whom are at risk. Despite these challenges, there are workers who still show up, ready to be of service.
This pandemic is a tall order in and of itself, but it also leads us to ask an important question: What keeps people going during times such as this? And how do we not allow fear to consume us? If our logical mind took over in these situations, fear would win out. But luckily logic rarely dictates our purpose, or dharma. Instead, there’s a voice that comes from the heart, a calling of the spirit, that spurs us on. And you can’t quiet that voice when it starts calling.
These days I spend a lot of my time talking to people about creating health and wellbeing through lifestyle practices. I also see patients in a medical office and enjoy helping them to prevent disease. But although I do my best to teach people how to stay healthy, there are times when they can and do get sick. Striving to help them comes from the stirring I felt all those years ago. It’s what makes me show up to care for patients every day.
More important than anything else is connecting with that inner drive that keeps me moving forward, despite fatigue or the threat of illness — and that is purpose. Purpose is an integral pillar to wellbeing, during times of strife or calm. For health care workers, reconnecting to our sense of purpose helps us through the toughest times. It provides us with the energy, courage and emotional strength we need to move forward, allowing us to act from a place of the spirit and overcome our fear.
In our current state of social distancing, it’s the perfect time to reflect on your life’s purpose by asking yourself three questions: What natural talents do I have? What brings me joy? And how can I use these talents to bring joy to others at this moment in time? A good place to start is meditation. A regular meditation practice can help you discover your unique talents, whether it’s fixing things, making people laugh, cooking, or creating community, and using your talents to then help others will naturally help you find meaning and purpose in these challenging times.
In the yoga philosophy, when someone serves others through their selfless actions, it’s referred to as karma yoga. Health care workers are karma yogis in action, putting aside their sense of self to care for others. In the current situation, we can all strive to align our actions, or karma, with our purpose. In doing this, we feel inspired to keep going. When we are in dharma, we’re less concerned with what’s in it for ourselves and instead focus on how we can serve others. This philosophy is so critical during times such as the one we are all experiencing.
This current time for reflection is an opportunity for self-discovery and connecting to your sources of joy. Meditating can help you begin a journey towards exploring your purpose, whatever it may be right now. For me, I will continue showing up at the office, seeing patients, and teaching people how to be healthy in all aspects of their lives. We all should strive to keep connecting to the things that give us meaning and fulfillment and continue encouraging others to do the same. People will always need help, and each of us can find ways to meet those needs. Challenging times tend to bring out the best in us. Find your purpose and let it guide you through these uncertain times.
Learn how to use meditation to help heal mind, body, and spirit with the Basics of Meditation, a self-paced online course guided by Deepak Chopra. Learn More.