2007 Edition Vol. 1 Issue 2

CIM Class 1972 web site publication.

“It’s not labor that kills, but the small attrition from daily routine that wears us down.”– – Ray Bedicheck

In Search of Balance

Cle S. Estrera, Jr.

The hurly-burly of everyday living
    My good friend Benfer Aranton told me that old age has finally caught up with me, for I now derive romantic pleasure from listening to the birds singing and from watching butterflies fluttering from flower to flower and bees buzzing from bloom to bloom. I guess in some people like me, it’s an inevitable drift in this fast-paced world where so much of your energy is consumed in your struggle just to keep up with the rat race that all too often at the end of the day you’re emotionally drained and physically exhausted. In the hurly-burly of everyday living, your brains become confused and you lose track of what is important. You drift far away from peace, and your life is way off balance. Because it is our natural desire to be among the fastest, if not the fastest in the race, we design our lives so tightly; we carefully plan our work to fit into our routines that any change or emergency readily throw us into a disaster mode. We grow in years without growing more mature. Instead of learning to see life as an ever-changing process, we treat it like a series of events that only run us into trouble.

    Being tyrannized by your jobs and held captives by mortgages and credit card charges, you need to have some form of activity or hobby you can look forward to enthusiastically at the end of every day, activity that could reinvigorate your spirit, put yourself back in balance, and fix if not restore your sanity. Otherwise you’d constantly end up slouching on your couch munching on left-over adobo or humba and drinking beer in front of the TV, raising your cholesterol and blood pressure instead of your IQ, and expanding your abdominal possessions instead of your mental horizon. I guess I just don’t want to imagine myself down the road, tired and exhausted, locating the nearest rocking chair, waiting passively for death to come. Louise Jerome said: “People do need to have a purpose, some direction in life, both before and after retirement.”

     I don’t know about you but watching Nature’s little creatures frolicking in our backyard have been reinvigorating to me. They make me feel connected with things around me and help restore my balance. They give me some kind of wisdom that is expressed in a powerful quietude of simplicity. They have taught me to appreciate the little things in life. They make me realize that it is actually the little things that make up the world, hold it together, and provide harmony. Yet many of us are so focused on what are considered “big things” in trying to achieve peace and happiness, and thus ignore or take the little things for granted. All too often we use the common phrase –“If only” – which can be the most poignant yet also the most poisonous phrase in the vocabulary. We use it in the mistaken belief that we will have peace and happiness when we achieve the “big things” in our life. So we put our peace and happiness on hold until certain conditions are met. Then after we get the “big things” we wanted, a whole new array of desires for more “big things” take over and the struggles would start all over again.

    But consider this. Nails, nuts, bolts and screws hold together a house or a building. It’s the same with us. As we interact in our daily lives, the little things we say and do define us to others and also determine how we feel about ourselves. A smile or a small compliment is often enough to change the complexion of someone else’s day, and of our own. Perhaps this realization is one of the rewards of old age

     I must admit that my good friend Benfer is right. The peculiar truth about it is that every time I go to Southern States store to buy a bag or two of wild bird seeds, the only people I see struggling with those bags of seeds are geriatrics. But I like it though because I feel a lot younger around them especially when I have the opportunity to help an old couple lifting those bags into their car and they would say: “Thank you, young man.” I feel blessed that the process of aging has yet to ravage my strength savagely, and I can still lift a forty pound bag of seeds as easy as a bag of groceries

Where your balance could be
    Gardening is one of my favorite pastimes. It’s one of the things I look forward to at the end of the day and on weekends especially this time of the year. It is like a meditation for me; it opens myself up to communication with my inner self, washes away my worries and banishes the troubles of the day. It has taught me to apply spiritual solutions to life’s sometimes perplexing and troublesome situations. I’ve been able to put my intellect and thought processes into perspective.

    Tending flowers and other plants and watching them grow and bloom make me feel alive. They put me in touch with the beauty and order of things in the universe. They often remind me that life is temporary and thus I should be more appreciative of the richness and potentials that lie around me because I don’t have all the time in the world. One life is all we have, and it should be enough. When we are willing to accept that death is looking over our shoulder, life becomes sweeter. Billy Graham said: “It was the Psalmist, one of the world’s wisest men, who prayed, ‘So teach us to number our days that we may apply our hearts into wisdom.’ The fact is, one cannot truly face life until we have learned to face the fact that it will be taken away from us.”

    Working in a garden can teach you how to become familiar with each cycle of growth and renewal. I guess I have the advantage of understanding the positive significance of gardening because my Old Man had constantly drilled into me the virtue of self-sufficiency when I was a kid. One thing he said that got stuck in my mind for a long time is this: “As long as you have a piece of land to toil and till for, you’ll never get hungry if you’re not lazy.” Coming from a poor family, a piece of land for my Old Man was nothing more than a means of physical survival. I’ve broadened its implication since then as a means of achieving mental, emotional and spiritual comfort and coordination that in turn enhance our physical well-being. To me, a piece of land is there to use, not abuse, to restore if not nurture its natural beauty, not neglect let alone neuter it’s growth and productivity, in order to enhance life of every living thing. Using that piece of land appropriately is the most satisfying and meaningful way of appreciating and being grateful of God’s blessings.

    Anyway, just forget your macho and prima donna attitude and try gardening for a while. You’d be surprised how gratifying it is, and it could be a healing process for you, a way to rebalance yourself. You’d be using more of your imagination than ever. Think about it. When was the last time you used your imagination productively and turned the picture in your mind into reality? With your life structured into routines, I doubt seriously if you have had the chance to use your imagination lately because routines don’t need any imagination. Imagination is where ideas to ponder originate from. Turning these ideas into reality is an expression of your self.

    Believe me. If you’d just give yourself the chance to feel the dirt in your hands, dirty yourself, and plant whatever plants or seeds your heart desires, and then see your work every now and then, you’d soon learn to make some changes and become resourceful and creative, if not artistic. In other words, you’d learn to channel your thoughts and ideas into constructive avenues. Further, you’d ultimately learn to acquire patience and develop a great sense of anticipation that has a way of reducing if not eliminating your frustrations and disappointments, and enhancing your willingness of acceptance. For the seeds you plant have different seasons. Some spring up quickly. Others take longer to germinate, even longer to bear fruit. All the impatience in the world won’t change this process. You’d learn to accept the fact that there are things you just can’t change, and if there is one thing you can change, it’s yourself and your level of frustration. Once you become aware of this, you no longer need to struggle to change the unchangeable. You’d understand the power you garner at the blink of an eye.

Sweet and fond memories
    When I was a kid, I helped my mother take care of her flower gardens, window gardens, orchids, vegetable gardens, etc., and there was a certain bird called tamsi which I believe is one of the humming bird species that was my favorite. A couple of tamsis used to wake me up early in the morning with its happy song, feeding on the nectar of our bougainvillea flowers and some insects in the window garden located in our bedroom. They became like an alarm clock for me until my eldest brother started peeing and vomiting on those flowers, coming home late at night drunk which happened almost every night. Fertilized by Tanduay and gastric juices, the birds avoided the flowers like a curse. The plants would wilt, wither and die. The insects and worms died, too.

    Sad to say, these tiny pretty birds have all been gone long time ago in Camotes, probably all dead or killed. Kids used to shoot them with their sling shots although the birds might have been vanished by insecticides. I missed those birds so much that every time I see the humming birds here in the U.S., they would remind me of my childhood sweet and fond memories. While many people are so attached to their unpleasant memories, I keep revisiting my sweet memories every chance I get. They give me peace and freedom, and they calm and clarify my life.

     Whether you are aware or not, if you stay connected with your unpleasant memories, you can never be free because they would re-open the wound again and again, letting it feed your self-pity or fester your resentment. They would continue to hold you in captivity. Further, when your life turns sour and is not moving forward, you’d find it too easy to justify or rationalize your life’s situation by blaming it on the past unpleasant events, instead of muster your courage and strength to move on to make your life better and be free. The glory of the human spirit lies in our ability to choose, to let go of despair, to turn our energies to creative uses. When we give energy to our resentments, we let others assume command over our lives. When we have given over our power to those we resent, we are no longer free to grow, to determine our actions.

    I have always loved the little creatures - birds, bumblebees and butterflies - because I grew up with them and they have only one thing that they want you to know and that is that they enjoy and are happy and grateful for what you’re doing to them – feeding them and planting flowers, bushes and berries to share with them. When they realize that you are not a threat to their existence, they’d come near you and some would even feed on your hand. They’d watch what you’re doing and they’d sing happy songs as if to encourage you and say – “We wish we could help you!” or “Are you not done yet?”

    This past weekend, a hawk swooped down on a group of mourning doves feeding in our backyard. The hawk caught one of the doves but because the dove was too heavy for the hawk, the hawk had to stay on the ground and probably would have started pecking and eating the dove when my dog got out into his pen. Since the two birds were just inches away from the dog pen, afraid of the dog, the hawk flew away, leaving the wounded dove on the ground.

    The dove was still alive although shocked and groggy with a couple of wounds in the chest and base of the neck and was bleeding. So I cleaned and treated the wounds with A & D ointment and put the poor bird in a box with grass clippings as bedding, and some seeds and water. I then placed the box under the tree. I watched the wounded bird all day using my binocular every now and then, and as the day wore on, she became more active, started eating and drinking. In the evening I decided to check on her. As I got into her box slowly, I asked how she is doing. She looked at me for a long moment like she wanted to say thanks and goodbye, and then flew away. It was the most wonderful feeling I’ve had in years. She could have flown away earlier, but she waited for me to come before she did. Isn’t that wonderful?

The human connection
    An important part of our job as physicians is talking to strangers - our patients and their families or loved ones. But all too often our interest is solely in learning about our patient’s medical condition that most if not all of our questions are routine and are directed mostly toward the signs and symptoms and the circumstances that lead to the patient’s illness. We often learn nothing more about this stranger, and our connection is strictly professional, temporary, short and superficial. Not that there is something wrong with it especially when you have a busy practice.

    Suffice it to say, Lab, X-rays, MRI, Scans and other machines’ results are generally more attractive to physicians than the sights, sounds and splendor of the human body and the wonder of the human mind. Where once history and physical exam took at least 70% of the physician’s time for a patient, these day and age the machines have taken over most of that time. The results spat from the machines rather than the care and compassion that come from the heart that would lead to the understanding of how the patient feels, all too often determine how the patient is going to be treated. Indeed the machines have gotten more powerful and dominating. Nevertheless let’s consider what Elbert Hubbard said: “One machine can do the work of fifty ordinary men. No machine can do the work of one extraordinary man.”

    My observation of the medical practice is basically the same as that of Thomas Lewis, M.D. in his Notes of a Medicine Watcher. If you notice that in some cases, when we, as physicians, focus solely on making the diagnosis with the use of the machines, we lose sight of fully understanding the patients’ complaints and how to treat and alleviate their pain and suffering. Sad to say, and more often than not, because the medical practice has become so highly specialized, the patient is seen and treated as parts rather than as a whole human being. Many patients end up like a walking pharmacy if they are still able to walk – having to take two or three or more medications for every symptom.

    Perhaps if we learn something about these strangers by asking non-routine questions, questions unrelated to their medical condition like: “Where did you grow up?” “Where did you go to school?” “Have you been to other countries like the Philippines?” “What kind of movies do you like?” “What baseball team are you betting on or cheering for this year?” etc., our jobs may not be as physically demanding and emotionally draining as they have been. For these are questions that make human connection, questions that don’t just make us a white-coated cog in the health care machine that like every other cog would routinely or robotically do only what needs to be done to get through the day, but a human being who is interested in learning about another human being’s life. Perhaps in making the human connection, you may come home one day with still more energy left in you.

    Sure, on the surface, it’s easy enough. When you’re busy with three or more patients to see and the hour is getting late, all you want is to get things over with. But at some appropriate point, we should take a small moment with the patient and make ourselves ask unrelated or non-routine questions. You’d be surprised how many patients would readily open up and tell you more about them, their families, their experiences, beliefs and other personal things. You’d be surprised too to find out that you’re not much different than them in terms of coping with difficulties and solving problems. And when a patient or two would one day say to you, “Doctor, you’re not only a good physician, you’re also a good person,” you’d cherish it for the rest of your life. Perhaps it could help a lot in maintaining your sanity and restoring your balance.


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