The Buddha Walks into the OR Part 5: Attention, Please!

It’s almost impossible to look around and not find something in media, in pop culture, in all sorts of places about mindfulness.  Interestingly, it’s not just out there in popular culture; my friend and fellow burn surgeon Sharmila Dissanaike led a session during last year’s American College of Surgeons Clinical Congress on mindfulness.  One of the ways in which she highlights the relevance of mindfulness is around resilience, which we know helps to protect us from burnout and career dissatisfaction.  In short, she sees mindfulness as a tool to expand our resilience and help us maintain our passion for our careers.

Mindfulness is also the 5th Paramita, or perfection.  Mindfulness takes practice, and over time it does cultivate the other perfections. An important feature of mindfulness in this context is the relevance of focus, and of tuning out distractions, in a way that we can concentrate on being in this very moment. As I write this, I’m suddenly struck by the serendipity of Tuesday’s blog on multitasking and cognitive bandwidth; even though I was writing about that from a pedagogical perspective, the key message was how we can help learners gain and maintain their focus so they can be more effective.

Susan Piver discussed meditation in one of her recent Open Heart Project weekly Dharma talks as a tool to unite the first four paramitas. Generosity and Patience both come from a place of opening that requires awareness and observation. Discipline and Exertion are more pointed and fierce, and are associated most strongly with mindfulness because of that focus. By putting Discipline and Exertion to work for ourselves, we are able to open to experiences in a way that demonstrates Generosity and Patience because we have more insight.

As surgeons if we are able to be right here, in this exact moment, then we are able to be more effective in our technical and cognitive work. As people, if we are able to be right here, in this exact moment, then we are able to be more compassionate caregivers for patients and families, and we’re able to be more effective team leaders. As family members, if we are able to be right here, in this exact moment, then we are able to be a more effective mother/ father/ sibling/ child/ parent/friend.

What is in front of you right now?

How can you use this moment to both focus on and open to what is around you?

Imagine the difference that mindfulness can make in your ability to both feel good and do good.

Be here.

Pay attention.

Blogger’s note: Heeding my own advice about being present and paying attention, you’ll have to wait 2 weeks for Paramita #6. It’s time for my summer break!