In typical twenty first century fashion I am listening to 10% Happier by Dan Harris instead of actually reading it. Usually while doing dishes at the end of the night. Always multitasking. The thing that got me to pause and write in my journal after was his description in the first few chapters of constantly seeking The Next Big Thing.
The book starts off as an autobiography of the life of Dan Harris, a news anchor and reporter for ABC news who has a panic attack on public television. In getting to chapter three I can tell the introduction of mindfulness is around the corner. However, in the early chapters he seems to be laying the groundwork for why he needs mindfulness.
How does one really “need” mindfulness? For a long time in his life Dan describes a lot of mindlessness. Mindless chasing of The Next Big Thing. I see threads of myself woven in that story, echoing what I hear from many patients too. Everyone has their own Big Things as they go along. Some people, amazingly, are “type B” and not driven by the motor that seeks the peaks and valleys of life. They are content and “trucking along” like my best friend Jen who always answers “how are things with you?” With “Good”, and she means it. Here’s how the journey of The Next Big Thing has gone for me:
First big thing, my parents got divorced. I was two and a half and remember the moment they told me it was happening. I was in a pizza parlor. I had no real idea what it meant. My next memory is being at a stop light when I realized a parent was in each car and I could only be in one. That is when the crying for the one ensued.
The Next Big Thing, I moved to a town of one hundred and fifty people in the eastern Sierra outside of Lake Tahoe. I thought my mom and my step dad were trying to “ruin my life”. Turns out it was just beginning. I met friends I have to this day that became my soul sisters. Small town life was incredible. Also, boring.
The town I lived in was too small to have a high school, so we bussed to Nevada for a new school had four hundred kids in a class. With eight graduating in my eighth grade class it was a big transition. High school was both fun and painful, in the way that teenage years are hard. I graduated valedictorian of my class. The Next Big Thing.
Off to college, and UC Berkeley blew my mind. Academically I was swimming, and eating it up. I majored in a subject I had never even heard of before - medical anthropology. I could eat pizza at 2 AM (a true delight for a lifetime lactose intolerant country girl). I thought I would become a vet since I was a child until one day my chemistry teacher told me I was “smart enough to be a doctor”. Her husband was the town vet so I figured maybe she was trying to tell me to do something different. I also felt that humans needed more help than animals. I didn’t have any physicians in my family, in fact the generations before me never completed to college. After health challenges of my own that were helped by a chiropractor and acupuncturist, I started to explore the many directions the medical path could take me. Enter, The Next Big Thing. One could say I didn’t have a clue what I was getting into.
The journey to and through medical training is cultured around seeking The Next Big Thing. A classic carrot on the stick routine. First you need the MCAT (i.e. big test), then med school, then test after test after test for the first two years. Next the clinical experiences of third and fourth year. Enter Colorado, where I was selected by lottery to spend my third year. I landed in Castle Rock for my very first rotation, with a family doctor father/daughter combination. The older physician reminded me of Sherlock Holmes, twirling his glasses when thinking about hard cases. His daughter showed me that you could be a mom and be a doctor too. I was falling in love with Colorado and family medicine.
Love was the Next Big Thing. I met my husband my third year and moved back to California shortly thereafter to teach Osteopathic manipulation in a teaching fellowship. Enter a new, long distance relationship. Over the next three years, I traveled back and forth between California and Colorado (here’s looking at you loneliest highway in America) going between teaching and clinical rotations. One Big Thing to another. All the while residency loomed.
Residency is what they make doctor shows about. It’s when there are interns and “attendings” and life as you know it is pretty much all medicine all of the time. For “type A” carrot-on-the-stick folks it's the fact that you can’t control “the Match” into residency that drives you wild until it is settled. Residency determines where you live for three to seven years of your life AND what kind of medicine you will practice. For me, I was checking my palm pilot obsessively on a nice spring day eating crepes on 16th street mall when The Match results came in: Swedish Hospital, family medicine, my number one choice. The Next Big Thing.
After residency I started a clinic for a large corporation. We built it, they would own it (or did they own me?). Soon, I saw further to the medical system I did not want to be a part of. I wanted to do things differently. I had ideas brewing that solidified as I learned about direct primary care. I knew I could bring together the medicine I was passionate about practicing AND the people I loved to serve, my patients. I simply needed a different model. Direct Primary Care became my Next Big Thing.
Of course there were other great encounters along the way. I had my daughter literally the day after I finished residency. Between my two practices, I had my son. Parenting has been, quite possibly, The Biggest Thing I have done. Markedly the best. And sometimes the hardest.
Recently I had been fantasizing about moving out of the urban Highlands area where we have a lovely house and nice yard on a busy street. I grew up in the middle of nowhere on 6 acres and I miss quietude and stars. Don’t worry I wasn’t imaging anything drastic, but Golden and Arvada were looking nice. When I started listening to Dan Harris’s book I realized the treadmill I was jumping right back on. I see so many people do the same. As adults, we jump on the treadmill of life and start running 70-100 miles per hour. At first it seems like a lot. At Berkeley I remember feeling that pace, it felt hard and exhilarating and exhausting at times. Somehow, along the way I became habituated. I stopped realizing that running at a 7-10/10 on the stress scale wasn’t normal. Seventy miles an hour started to feel like walking and only once in a while do I realize I am moving 100 miles per hour. This is where mindfulness comes in. One day I’ll tell you more about my journey with that but shockingly I have been using some form of mindfulness to balance my “type A” nature since I was seven years old.
The next step in my mindfulness journey is to take the modified Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction class with you. This is a way to learn a new practice or cultivate a deeper one. Something that can help you change the treadmill habits. We have 3 more spots, is one yours? Register today. It really is your last opportunity to join.
It is mindfulness that keeps me grounded in my moment to moment awareness. Brings me back into my body and time checks my warp speed with the world around me. It lets me breathe bigger and deeper. It helps me to remember what it feels like to get out of fight or flight, to settle into myself. To let my nervous system calm down and stop seeking The Next Big Thing. Dan Harris chased adrenaline in war time news reporting. It is no wonder his adrenal system eventually crashed and needed the rescue of mindfulness to bring him fresh air (after boosting it up on the crutches of cocaine for a while). I appreciated the reminder that I don’t need to move houses. I can recognize the desire to move is my nervous system looking for The Next Big Thing. We start jumping back on the treadmill again because we are habituated to do so. Our adrenal system becomes wired for our stressful pace and unlearning this stress becomes the next real challenge.
I look forward to hearing more in the book about how mindfulness enters the stage for Dan Harris and how it transforms him. Are you reading along? You have until April 4 before we meet, plenty of time to start reading along. Leave a comment, let me know what you think about it so far. Tell me about YOUR Next Big Thing.