As a college student exploring complementary and alternative medicine, Eastern meditation carried with it the allure of realigning esoteric energies and optimizing true potential. I was intrigued by the mysticism surrounding the practices, steeped in my own cultural heritage. My heart was quick to embrace meditation with curiosity, trusting into a tradition that had been followed for centuries to bring peace. My scientifically trained mind remained cautiously skeptical… until I found myself consistently turning to my practice as a soothing respite from the uncertainties of my twenties.
Throughout the hectic demands of medical school and residency internship, I teetered on the brink of burnout. I struggled with ways to express my authenticity within my chosen profession. I rarely felt as though I was helping people in the way I wanted to (or perhaps was meant to). I was good at what I was doing, was praised for my thorough patient care, but my heart ached every day as something did not feel right. I wanted the chance to go deeper with my patients, walk further with them through their suffering, help them to transform their experiences in a different way - something beyond the medications and interventions western medicine is so valued for.
Peers and attending physicians seemed to love and take so much pride in their work. I loved my colleagues and loved my patients, but I carried so many feelings of guilt and shame for not loving my profession. How does that quote go? “Love what you do and you’ll never work a day in your life.”
I knew from tuning into my inner presence that the career track I was taking was not aligning with my greater purpose. I was just not sure what that purpose was, or rather how to bring the power of my personal contemplative and self-care practices into the arena of medical care without being labeled as a “quack”. The idea of taking a strategic pause in medical training to explore potential paths was viewed as a career-ending move by many. Interestingly, it was the older physicians in my residency program who encouraged me to pursue this “career soul searching” rather than ending up in regret later in life.
My personal meditation practice, in addition to loads of self care and social support from my amazing family and friends, were the only things getting me through at that time. No matter how emotionally fatigued I was from a day in the hospital, the time I spent meditating and/or mindfully moving helped to create space to just rest my mind and literally do nothing. The deeper I was able to let go into this space – space between breaths, space between moving thoughts, space between smiles and tears – the more I was able to feel into the available sensations of gratitude for what I did have. I was able to open my perspective beyond conventional answers to the real possibilities in front of me.
Stepping into the unknown was of course scary, but I knew I had the stability of my inner presence no matter where the journey took me. I learned to say yes to opportunities that aligned with this commitment to exploring my strengths and passions, and that included becoming a new mom. Fortunately, in those years I had away from conventional medicine, evidence was building for the use of meditation in healthcare through programs like University of Massachusetts’ Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction and Relaxation Response interventions at the Benson Henry Institute. The potential role for contemplative practices in healing was growing stronger and legitimizing the way I knew I truly wanted to help people.
When I returned to medical training in 2011, I was finally able to see a path where I could be my authentic self within the framework of western medicine. Combining experiences in public health, health behavior, lifestyle medicine, and mind body interventions during my residency in Preventive Medicine rekindled my passion for my profession. Though I continued to draw daily upon my personal meditation practices, this time it was less about building strength to deal with work stress and more about taking time to just enjoy where my patience and journey had brought me.
Cultivating mindfulness through meditation and other practices teaches us to lean into life experience with softness and trust while staying true to our inner values and truths. It helps us with acknowledgment and acceptance, opening up our potential for even the slightest shifts in perspectives. Just as the moment can change us, we can change our experience of each moment, moving closer to healing and growth. I feel very fortunate to have had the access and courage to listen to the insight from my natural awareness. Had I not heeded its guidance, I could have been in a much different place in my career right now – perhaps even more burned out, depressed, or not able to share my true strengths with patients.
Though I may not always hear its wisdom or have the mind-space to rest into it without judgment every time, my relationship with pure mindful presence is consistently evolving. My hope is to share in this journey with patients and communities I work with to help those around me access and cultivate their innate ability to shine, not just physically, but in mind, mood, and spirit.
With Peace, Rashmi
Rashmi S. Bismark
I'm a preventive medicine physician specialized in mindfulness, lifestyle, and community health. I'm a yoga teacher, an educator, a researcher, a devoted mom and expatriate wife, living a blessed global nomad life.