You have to know when it is time. To go to ground. Going to ground is when your body, mind or spirit doesn’t just whisper “rest” it shouts, “REST (or else)”.
I am a high energy person. It is not easy for me to go to ground. When I was in college at Berkeley I often crossed the line of my physical or mental capacity for weeks or months or semesters on end. I would work tirelessly, study hard and play hard. I would get little warnings that I was doing too much but I would not heed them. Eventually my path would lead me to the emergency room. Not typically with a grave emergency, in fact as a physician now I can’t even remember the symptoms or constellation of things that led me there. But I do remember the feeling of waiting in the little curtained exam room, tilting my head up to the sky and closing my eyes. The exhaustion was palpable. “Ok body, I am listening. What?”
In medical school I learned a little more how to pull back from my edge. In yoga you learn how to get comfortable with your discomfort. How to find your edge. My introduction to yoga in college carried me far in medical school because my edge was everywhere. And finding it was essential. It’s akin to getting a good massage, there is “feels good” sore and “hurts” sore. You want to know where the line is. Crossing it so often in college helped me learn how to stay closer to the “feels good” side. Medical school was like taking a sip out of a fire hydrant. There was so much information and so much stress to intake it all as quickly as possible. I would often push to or beyond my edge but I didn’t end up in the emergency room any more. One day, when studying for finals I went for a quick break and walked with a friend. She told me about how she had read Sting’s autobiography that day and what an interesting person he was. The rest of us were frantic studying. I learned that we all have different ways of dancing with the edge.
In residency I was pushed again. At or beyond the edge for three years working 80 hours a week at times, 30 hour shifts. What normalized it was the milieu. We were all doing it. Even more, the people that I served at the hospital had all crossed their own line and where there for the moment when you close your eyes and say, “Ok body, I am listening. What?” It was alcohol for decades, swollen livers, diabetes surged beyond control with ulcers and wounds, coronary arteries that had a moment to say, “STOP-rethink this. What are you doing to me? Is it time to quit smoking? Is it time to slow down? Is it time for me to really make a change?” The nagging voice that whispered before became louder and louder until the body demands to be heard. And I, the physician, young, motivated, living beyond my own edge would come in, and listen. Shine a light in the direction of the path out, a way back to health. This was my favorite part of hospital medicine. Capturing the moment to harness the energy of change. It still is the magic of doctoring.
I am reminded of the latin roots of doctor, docere, "to teach". To teach one must be a student first. My body has taught me about my own line, my own balance. I continue to learn. We are dancing together. The edge changes every few years: my capacity, my flexibility, my resilience. I am blessed to have the distinct pleasure of doctoring to learn from the path of others. As I illuminate the path for others, so do they for me, together. I love this part.
I now have an internal “red zone”. When my body gives my awareness the red flag. “We are getting close to over doing it. Go to ground”. I push a little more. Soon something aches. “Go to ground”. I push a little harder. I catch a cold in clinic the next day. “Go to ground”. If I listen, I can kick it. If you learn a little about stress, cortisol and your immune system you will learn that we are all very intricately wired to listen.
Isn’t it about time?