A critical eye for diagnosing a patient’s health problem is crucial to being a physician, says Dr. Ahmed Bailony in an article on KevinMD. However, he recently discovered that this analytical approach to his work was seeping into his personal life, influencing him with a negative tone. Even a baseball game became an event to dissect with a critical, problem- focused approach. He realized that his view of life was becoming increasingly pessimistic.
Dr. Bailony is not alone in realizing the increasing negativity in our lives that comes from focusing on problems. The health-care industry itself has recently begun to talk about shifting from a “disease management” focus to a “health creation” focus, as more and more evidence indicates that focusing on disease does not necessarily produce health. Similarly, problem-focused negativity in the news, on social media, in many movies and books can influence how we see life.
This doesn’t mean we should shut ourselves off from the world, forego critical thinking skills. However, becoming aware of these influences awakens us to the need for a change of thought that rebalances how we see ourselves and the world.
A study from the UK monitored the mental attitudes of 360 patients with heart problems over the course of one year. It found that patients who approached their health with a willingness to give up their more negative attitudes and habits had better health outcomes.
There is no medication that can cure negativity. We need to find a solution that helps us move thought in a different direction.
Dr. Bailony found a solution. He took time every day to notice beauty in his life. This simple act began to change his perspective and helped him keep a healthier, but still analytical, approach to his work.
To me, taking time for a daily dose of beauty is like a prayer. It is a moment in which to appreciate life from a spiritual point of view. It is an active acknowledgement that goodness is present, and it nourishes hope and can be quite transformative.
An experience I had as a volunteer visitor in a prison chapel illustrates this. Prisons are not beautiful places. A negative, sometimes violent atmosphere is common. The ugly bars, solid wire fences and steel doors that clang shut the moment you go through them can be intimidating and defeating. It is hard to find beauty in these places or to share that idea with those living there.
However, it was there that I learned an important lesson on noticing moments of spiritual beauty. I was sitting in a courtyard with an inmate who had a violent criminal record. Hard, ugly metal and concrete surrounded us with not a tree or a flower to be seen. We had been meeting for several weeks when he confided that he was having a hard time finding any hope in life. He felt despair all the time. Suddenly, he stopped talking and began gazing intently at a small bird hopping around looking for crumbs of food. “What a beautiful little creature. I feel free when I look at him,” he said.
The lesson this bird taught us both at that moment was the importance of taking the time to recognize beauty, even in a small sparrow.
Maybe it had already started, but from then on, I began to notice this inmate’s approach to life changed. He became more involved in changing his attitude, became less critical of others and more open to new views of life. He continued to cultivate moments of beauty every day – no small accomplishment within the walls of a prison. He said he couldn’t believe that for all his life he had missed these simple views. He started to volunteer in the prison for the first time. He began to feel better physically and visited the doctor less often. A few weeks later, he shared with me that he felt hope for the first time in a long while.
Reviewing this incident later, I think that in seeing the beauty in that sparrow he felt the presence of something that was innocent and untouched by the violent events of his life. Perhaps in recognizing it, something awoke in him and he no longer felt hopelessly lost. If this brief moment had a healing effect on him, it was also a lesson for me that I have never forgotten.
Relating this lesson to what I have learned as a Christian Scientist has taught me that consistently recognizing the beauty in life gives me a prompt to see the spiritual cause that produces them. This is a great prescription for ending negativity.
When I have a day where it seems everything around me, and even my own thoughts, are negative, making the choice to remember and acknowledge one or or two moments of beauty takes me back to the presence of God – which I see as all good.
It is never too late to begin critically weeding out negativity by cultivating a sense of beauty and goodness – the expression of the Divine that is always with us.
This article was published in the Vancouver Sun HERE