Be a Headland of Rock

May 16, 2019  •  Leave a Comment

Be a headland of rockBe a headland of rock

I was set up with my camera to capture the battle of surf and shore as the waves from the previous night’s storm impacted the rocks on the edge of Lake Michigan.  I wanted to capture that dramatic spray of water and clouds of mist caused by one of the grand collisions.  But often in life, what we expect is not what life has in mind for us.  We need to be open to new options and willing to accept what we are given.  By experimenting, I found that if I slowed my shutter speed down to several seconds in duration, the chaotic water blurred out in the frame and produced a tranquil, dream-like image.  The sprays of water as the attacking waves went airborne, became a dreamlike cloud of haze over the rock.

By stepping back and taking a longer view, I had turned a chaotic scene into a tranquil image.  How often can the same be true in our lives?  By stepping back from the immediacy of everything that is happening around us and thinking about how this event will look to us in a day, a month or a year how can we change our perception of the difficulties in our day?

I recently had a patient who was rendered unable to eat by an unusual gastrointestinal problem.  So unusual, that the textbooks and medical literature had no established course of treatment.  I took it upon myself to do what I could with little more than my own experience as a guide.  I took him to surgery and did what I thought would work.  I was pleased with the operation went, but the results were not as pleasing. The patient was still unable to eat and I suffered a brief crisis of confidence.  In the middle of this failure and set back it was tough. What if I had done the wrong thing and made everything worse?  What if I couldn’t fix this?  What if it wasn’t fixable, or worse yet it was fixable, but I wasn’t a good enough surgeon?  What if the family sues me?  I could lose my job.  I could lose my medical license.  Destitute and unemployable my wife would leave me and take the children with her.  I would end up dying alone under a bridge, be eaten by wild animals and no one would know or care.

That kind of catastrophizing is all too human.  It amounts to taking life’s challenges and turning them into tragedies. It is the kind of thinking that fans the waves rather than calming them. This is the opposite of what Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius advised us to do because it is neither accurate nor productive and it keeps us from practicing the creativity and open-mindedness needed to excel in the face of adversity.  So he advised us to be the rock and stand strong and resolute against a sea of chaotic thoughts.

To steel myself for the coming discussion with the patient and his family, I reflected back on the many times I had been in similar situations.  Times I had operated on patients and been through difficult post-operative courses where I thought things might end terribly.  The consistent element of those previous examples was that I kept working the problem, did the best I could, and they eventually got better.  I told myself that although things looked bleak for this patient now, that I would find a way if I kept working the problem.  And I did.  

In the photograph, I learned that in a long view individual waves blurred together and become a tranquil scene.  I have also learned the same is true in my work and life.  When things seem bad and problems appear insurmountable, I take a step back and remind myself of all the times I have been in similar situations and ultimately prevailed.  Then I remind myself that one day, this problem will be one of those things that I look back on as a great success. The trick is to get a little distance and take a longer view on your problems, and like the waves in the photograph, a more tranquil scene will appear.  



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