How do you measure success?
With a large number of zeroes in your bank balance? Perhaps a horde of screaming fans? Or an office with a desk the size of a football pitch?
Absolutely not! At least, not according to Benjamin Zander.
In an energetic and humorous TED talk the charismatic conductor explained how he’d come to a different definition of success when he realised his job was to “awaken possibility” in other people.
He even came up with a way of measuring whether we have accomplished that: “You look into their eyes”. If we’ve left others with their eyes shining, job done! If we haven’t, we should ask: “Why not?”
“For me it’s very simple. It’s not about wealth and fame and power. It’s about how many shining eyes I have around me,” he concluded.
This refreshing idea defines success in a way all can aspire to whether they’re known to a handful or to millions. Look into the eyes of your children, spouse, fellow employees, friends and even strangers. Are their eyes shining because of your interaction with them?
And, specifically, if you are a physician, what about the eyes of your patients? Are they shining?
Not often enough, claims poet/essayist Meghan O’Rourke who, as a patient for many years, speaks from experience.
‘For a system that invokes “patient-centered care” as a mantra, modern medicine is startlingly inattentive—at times actively indifferent—to patients’ needs,’ she wrote in the Atlantic. Moreover, a “recent crop of books” by clinicians show she is not alone in her concerns.
“These inside accounts should be compulsory reading for doctors, patients, and legislators alike,” she insists. “They reveal a crisis rooted not just in rising costs but in the very meaning and structure of care.”
So what does a doctor need to focus on to help more patients leave their surgery or hospital with shining eyes? For some physicians the answer is simple: love!
“We want love to be a feeling we have, when in fact, love must be an action we show,” writes Edwin Leap MD in “The key to medicine is to love our patients”.
“When I act toward [patients] with competence, I show them love. And when I do that, I learn in time to see them less as numbers (or annoyances) and more as people. A crazy thing then happens; they love me back. And then the magic happens,” he explains.
Clinicians like Dr Leap and Pamela Wible MD – who says she prescribes “the love drug” – clearly put a premium on love in their practice. And experience tells them it’s helping.
Another physician, Kenneth D Bishop, highlights the marvel of love as being much more than “a cascade of synaptic firing and neurotransmitter release”, and has observed a remarkable phenomena. He says while he doesn’t know “what a spirit or a soul truly are”, he’s concluded, “with some hope”, that bodies are not “our limit”.
Many might feel that’s an extraordinary statement from someone whose profession is so focused on the human body. But as an oncologist his patients have taught him “there’s a part of us that’s unafflictable”.
In saying this, Dr Bishop was pinpointing what he describes as the “thing in us that cannot suffer disease, or degenerate, or know pain” irrespective of what we’re going through.
But could it be possible for a better understanding of that “unafflictable” aspect of our natures to actually change what we are going through?
That question was addressed by the experimental work of a woman who, like Ms O’Rourke, suffered chronic sickness for many years, without finding permanent respite from either allopathic medicine or alternatives of her day. On one hand, Mary Baker Eddy explored the mental factors underlying both sickness and the various treatments designed to relieve it. At the same time, she never ceased delving into the Scriptures to grow in her understanding of divine Love’s potency as a “very present help in trouble” (Psalms), as the healing work of Jesus arguably proved.
She eventually concluded that the strongest mental factor in favour of healing was neither material knowledge nor religious faith, but “spiritual, scientific Mind-healing” – healing based on an understanding of a consciousness beyond the human mind.
Central to this approach is the idea of a deeper, divine Love that physicians – and the rest of us – can be conscious of and express. This can enable them to identify the “unafflictable” or immortal aspect of a patient as not just a part, but the entirety, of who they really are. Grasping this with clarity can help their patients awaken to this possibility, too, and many have found this help them to uplift and uphold their wellbeing.
The final chapter of Mary Baker Eddy’s primary book on Mind-healing, Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, is devoted to letters from people sharing accounts of just such changes taking place. Similar instances of restoration to health through a spiritually awakened sense of possibility continue to this day.
Could the open minds and hearts of physicians exploring the potency of love actually be leading in a similar direction?
Time alone will tell.
But surely every step of progress that leaves more patients with shining eyes is to be warmly welcomed.
This was first posted on BuzzFeed as: “Awakening to the Possibility of Healing Love”