I’m in a doctor’s office by William Thiele, messy contemplative


I’m in a doctor’s office meeting with several physicians about our practice of compassion. We have completed an eight-week course of Compassion Cultivation Training, and now that we are experts in showing compassion, (just kidding big time!), we have gathered for a reunion to share how things are going.

After our initial greetings, we spend ten minutes in group meditation. We seem to fall into the silence and stillness easily, though we all have plenty of thoughts rumbling through our minds as usual. Resonant gongs end our time in shared silence. As we come out of the quiet, I invite us to share anything we feel comfortable sharing about places where our practice of compassion was smooth or difficult. I also ask if we have noticed how our daily commitment to meditation practice has affected our compassion practice.

We shared a variety of experiences of the hard places, situations where the compassion did not flow easily. Some of those were at family gatherings where old family patterns played out. Some of those were in work situations. And some of the hard places involved encountering strangers, like my experience of a man on a bicycle asking for cash as I was getting out of my car.

What really drew my attention was the poignant way the physicians shared some of the incredible stresses of their work lives. The long hours, the never-ending paperwork, the daily exposure to death or medical situations with no solution, the short-staffing of nurses, and the challenge to have a life outside of work were all discussed. The need to offer opportunities for expressing feelings about powerlessness and loss for medical residents was an important topic. They all agreed that there tends to be no time for the human factors that are most needed, due to the volume of work and unending expectations.

When are doctors supposed to have time to meditate, to be still with the Source of healing and wholeness that fuels their compassion, when there is no end to the needs of patients and the demands of medical reporting? Where are doctors invited to share their human feelings of stress, suffering, loss, and powerlessness, much less their anger, sadness, or even joy? At what point in the work day can a doctor just pause to breathe for a few moments and not be seen as a “slacker”? Where is it safe for them to be human without appearing to be weak?

I came away from the meeting with a renewed longing to be of support to nurses, doctors, therapists, chaplains, and medical administrators who seem to get chewed up by the demands of modern American medical care. I filled with compassion for those who need time to fill with compassion, and have none. I wished for relief of their suffering. I wanted to find a way to help relieve that suffering.

In my imagination, I can see myself sitting in meditation with groups of doctors, medical staff, chaplains, administrators. I have been blessed to lead such groups occasionally over the last twenty-five years, but how can I be part of the solution more than occasionally? How can they find the time to break away from the demands of their jobs to sit in stillness, to come to the center, to cultivate the compassion they need for their patients and themselves?

Lord God who made us all, will you guide us into a renewed sense of having “enough time” to address our deeply ingrained needs for each other, for sharing our common humanity, for sitting in stillness together, and filling with the compassion that sources our service? May we find a way together to be happy, free of suffering, and to know peace and joy, even in the mess of modern American healthcare. Amen.


About soulcare4u

I am the author of Monks in the World: Seeking God in a Frantic World, published by Wipf & Stock and available through Amazon.com; and of a blog on Wordpress.com, "A Contemplative Path." I serve as the founding spiritual director of The School for Contemplative Living (www.thescl.net), adjunct faculty of Loyola University, and as a pastoral counselor and spiritual director in private practice.
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