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First Person: I'm Not a Doctor; I Just Play One in Real Life

Kumar, Anoop MD

doi: 10.1097/01.EEM.0000512980.13698.d9
First Person

Dr. Kumar is an emergency physician in the Washington, D.C., metro area. He enjoys translating wellbeing into everyday life. Visit his website at http://www.anoopkumar.com, and follow him @DrAnoopKumar.

Scott Weingart, MD, made a good case for how meditation can improve our quality of life in his recent article, “Kettlebells for the Brain.” (EMN 2017;39[1]:26; http://bit.ly/2j4yl39.) He mentions many benefits of meditation: stress reduction, insights into emotions and sensations, and increased concentration. There are actually two more benefits that meditation can offer.

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New Insights into Identity

Shakespeare wrote, “All the world's a stage,” and each of us plays multiple roles on any given day on this stage. I am Anoop-the-sleepy-guy when I wake up, but pretty soon, I become Anoop-the-husband or Anoop-the-father, usually in quick succession (although the order may be reversed). I become Anoop-the-emergency-physician if I'm scheduled for a shift or I may turn into Anoop-the-brother or Anoop-the-son if I'm off.

Consider that each of these roles comes with its own set of “shoulds” and “shouldn'ts.” Each role has its rule set, so to speak. That presents an interesting question: “Who would we be if we were not in character and there were no mental rule sets?”

Beyond all the roles of me-as-so-and-so is a core personality that was named “Anoop” on the day of my birth, just as your core personality has come to be known by your name. Yet it stands to reason that there was some part of us present even before that name and personality solidified; after all, each of us was alive before we developed our current likes, dislikes, tendencies, and idiosyncrasies.

Insights from meditation moves through three stages: insight into our roles, insight into our core personality, and insight beyond the core personality. To see beyond the core personality is to experience a shift in identity — a shift into equanimity and joy unbridled, where roles and rule sets can't enter. This is the home from which we emerge with different costumes — different roles — as we play our parts on center stage.

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Insights into Medical Science

Science is all about perspective. It is the perspective of a subject, the scientist, studying an object, the field of study. This subject-object orientation is fundamental to conducting and understanding science, including medicine.

The most important thing to understand about the subject-object orientation is that everything we could possibly learn about an object is limited by the capabilities of the subject. If I wanted to study the effect of a drug but didn't know how to properly collect data, for example, my research would portray an inaccurate picture of the drug. In other words, the very nature of the subject influences what we see in the object.

Now let's consider what the natural limitations of every human being are. Our vision is limited to seeing a particular range of wavelengths of electromagnetic radiation, in the neighborhood of 400-700 nanometers. Our ears are capable of hearing a particular range of frequencies. Our noses can detect particular scents but not all scents. This is true for each of our senses.

This means what we perceive as an object of our study is only a subset of the true object that remains beyond our detection or comprehension. More importantly, what we know of ourselves, the subject, is not the full picture either. An anatomist sees a human being as a physical structure made of organs and cells because that's what our biological apparatus is capable of detecting (aided by technology such as a microscope).

In meditation, as the roles are peeled away one by one, what becomes visible is the rest of us — the subtler, nonphysical aspect of the subject beyond the core personality. Accordingly, the subtler aspects of the objects we interact with also come into focus. This has powerful implications for science because new data are now available to refine our understanding of what the object is and how it works. A new set of nonphysical variables have now entered the picture. How will we label, account for, or harness them for diagnosis and treatment? These are the questions that are being asked at the frontline of medical research. Before long, their answers will appear in our EDs.

Meditation offers us a vehicle to explore ourselves. That process of exploration isn't fundamentally scientific, philosophical, or spiritual although it can be described in any of these terms. It's simply practical. It changes how you experience your life. What could be more practical than that?

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