For doctors: meditation, a world of difference

Meditation has many faces. It makes no sense to enumerate many forms of meditation which often vary widely. Below, I prefer to put some elements of what meditation is and is not, according to me.

What meditation is not: navel gazing, brooding on a meditation cushion, floating away in a superficially good feeling, counting the breath (a possible little technique that is not in itself the meditation), concentrating on one point (ditto), escaping for a while the stress from everyday life, much talking about it and rarely doing it oneself, exotically dressing oneself in a kimono, an advertising panel-like 'Zen' feeling of total relaxation...

What meditation indeed is: a way of thinking that is very different from the purely conceptual, putting off the obvious blinders, ‘encountering oneself’ in a not always comfortable way, acquiring new profound insights, at times also a form of mental top sport, a way of being that one carries the whole day through, a development of ‘compassion’ that starts from within and is strongly focused upon others...

From thinking to not-thinking

There are thousands of books written about it. In all narrowness, I here place only a rough dichotomy that nevertheless continuously recurs in some way or another, from 2500 years ago to the most modern insights.

Meditation does not stand in the way of conceptual thinking. On the contrary, it fertilizes this way of thinking. In addition, and that's what this is about, meditation (among other things) is an increased sensitivity to broader contexts. One goes as it were less quickly in mind from A to B to C, so that one can better see the communal in A, B and C at the same time. Do this further with D, E and F... and you start to notice something of this power. New patterns can come forward (starting to emerge). One could call this a heightened intuition or discernment. It leads to profound inspiration and insight. Perhaps to the solution of a mathematical problem. Why not? Now, the world of meditation directs itself not immediately at mathematics. It has traditionally been focused on, quite generally, the human condition: cause of suffering, relationship of man to nature or himself and the like. However, this is only one aspect of meditation.

Another aspect is pure meditation. This can be understood in many ways, such as: the patterns of which already spoken are now so wide that they do not fit into consciousness... and then of course it becomes difficult to say something concrete about it. One enters a zone of not-thinking. A kind of emptiness, that is not empty from anything but from conscious concepts. This already goes toward nirvana, which sounds not unfamiliar anymore to many Westerners. You notice: this is for the advanced. Which does NOT mean that with good guidance one can already taste something of a step in that direction at the first meditation.

Meditation is important for every physician

As a student, you may have noticed that one hears a heart murmur even with a perfect stethoscope, only if one knows what to listen to. How much more this is true for the deeper psyche of the patient? Also on a symbolic level, a heart has many kinds of 'noise' that can be heard only if one knows what to ‘listen’ to. Not obvious wisdom. Also, at this level a stethoscope is appropriate. Only this one is invisible. It’s your way of listening. YOU are the instrument and meditation is a suitable tool for the strengthening of this instrument. Empathy with big 'E': a very important feature for every physician.

One experiences this best personally in order to appreciate it. Preferably in good conditions, with good supervision of course. This is very important! In any case, IF meditation leads to more opportunities to understand patients, and therefore to treat them, then it is absolutely ethically correct to bring all doctors in contact with this. For me, there is no doubt. One can best start as soon as possible, this is in the first year of training. This is also a call to all deans. Slightly far-fetched? Not directly from this world? Well then, rarely a single decision will have such a large impact on total medicine. Meditation is not just a different world. It also makes a world of difference. One does not have to wait for a dean or rector to roll up one’s sleeves. Whether or not of a kimono, it really does not matter.