By Lissa Rankin MD
As children, we are all born with healthy souls, but sometimes life does a number on us. The traumas of childhood, the wounds of coming of age, the sacrifices we make for our careers and our families, the losses that eat away at our joy, and the fears we inherit from an anxious, panicked culture take their toll, and if you’re like many of us, by the time you reach adulthood, you’ve lost touch with the vital, healthy soul that still thrives and radiates within every single of one of us.
This was certainly true for me. After a happy childhood, my soul was still very alive and vital through my teen years, but my medical education changed all that. After a decade of difficult, sometimes abusive medical education, I felt disconnected from my soul. I know it never left me- souls never do- but at the time, I found it hard to let my soul guide my life. After ten more years working within a system that left me feeling like I was selling my soul for the job security and financial stability my career offered, I found myself coming home from work at the end of every day feeling like I had so much more to give my patients, but the system was keeping me from serving in the way my soul yearned to serve. What resulted was illness, depression, chronic anxiety, insomnia, divorce, and a feeling of disconnection from the calling that drew me to medicine in the first place.
The Masks We Wear
On the outside, it looked like I had the perfect life. Nobody guessed that my soul was getting buried deeper and deeper. I was so worried people could see how dark I had gotten without the light of my soul shining through unimpeded that I tried even harder to cover the darkness with a mask of perfection. The more worried I got that I would somehow blow my cover, the more pressure I put upon myself to keep the masks in place.
But those masks only furthered my disconnection from my soul. I had the Doctor Mask, which led me to climb up onto a pedestal and pretend to know it all. Then I had the Artist Mask, where I pretended to be deep and brooding and mysterious. And then there was the Mommy Mask and the Perfect Wife Mask, which led me to feel the pressure of baking the perfect cupcake or always wearing sexy lingerie in bed.
It was exhausting, trying to keep up appearances, when deep down, I felt so lost, helpless, hopeless, and alone. But I was afraid to seek help. After all, I was a doctor. I thought I had to keep up the appearance of having it all together. Otherwise, who would trust me to take care of them?
How My Perfect Storm Woke Me Up
Then my Perfect Storm blew through. Within two weeks of giving birth to my daughter, my dog died, my healthy young brother wound up in full blown liver failure as a rare side effect from the antibiotic Zithromax, and my beloved father passed away from a brain tumor. All hell broke loose, and my beleaguered soul stood up and said, “NO MORE!”
I finally decided to quit my job in conventional medicine in 2007. I now realize that this was a sentinel moment in the evolution of my soul. Shortly after quitting my job, I wound up taking a writing workshop at Esalen Institute in Big Sur, where a quiet little voice inside me kept telling me I was supposed to go and meet someone. After ignoring the little voice for way too long, I finally gave in, and when I arrived at Esalen, a woman asked me why I was there, and I said, “Because I’m supposed to meet someone here.”
After listening to a little bit of my story, she piped up and said, “Oh, you’re supposed to meet Dr. Rachel Naomi Remen.”
How My Soul Lit Up
I had never heard of Rachel, but when I got back home, I looked her up online, bought her book Kitchen Table Wisdom, read the whole book within 24 hours, and along with the 4 million other readers who have read Kitchen Table Wisdom, I fell in love with Rachel. We met soon afterwards at a workshop she was leading for doctors, and I have spent the last six years as part of a small group of doctors who meet monthly on Wednesday nights at Rachel’s house to discuss finding meaning in medicine. (I joke that Mitch Albom had Tuesdays With Morrie. Me, I’ve had Wednesdays With Rachel.)
In that circle of love, my soul started to heal from two decades of insults, and under Rachel’s mentorship, I found within myself a strength and a resilience I didn’t know I had. Some dim part of me I had almost lost touch with, the part I now call my “Inner Pilot Light,” began to flicker, and with the medicine of Rachel’s love and the love of the other doctors in our study group, I started to feel whole again for the first time in years. Once the barriers between me and my soul started mending, other parts of my life started falling into place. I started blogging and writing books and got in touch with my life’s purpose. Doing my soul’s work generated plenty of revenue so I could dig my family out of the hole of debt I had landed us in after quitting my job. Relationships I had nearly destroyed began to heal, and I started attracting new relationships into my life with people who were on the same healing journey to reclaim the soul that I was.
As a result, my spiritual life, which I had long ago abandoned because my soul didn’t resonate with the rigidity and judgments of my strict Christian upbringing, began to come back to life. I found myself on a spiritual path that led me to explore a variety of spiritual practices that felt authentic to my soul. As a result of this soul work, my health also improved, and I went from taking seven medications to taking only half the dose of one of them, and all of my many symptoms, the ones my doctors had told me would be chronic and require medication for life, disappeared.
Your Inner Pilot Light
In other words, my entire life changed. And it all started with a little voice I now recognize as the voice of my Inner Pilot Light, which told me to go to Esalen, because I was supposed to meet someone there. Your soul can be tricky like that. The soul speaks in mysterious ways. It’s persistent and unrelenting when you’re not paying attention. It will appear in dreams if your conscious mind is resisting its presence. And if you’re really ignoring the whisperings of the soul, the Divine is likely to thwack you upside the head with the proverbial two by four, the way I was hit with my Perfect Storm. The voice of your soul may feel scary, because sometimes the whispers speak of truths you’d rather suppress. But the truth will always set you free.
About the author
Lissa Rankin, MD is a mind-body medicine physician, founder of the Whole Health Medicine Institute training program for physicians and health care providers, and the New York Times bestselling author of Mind Over Medicine: Scientific Proof That You Can Heal Yourself. She is on a grass roots mission to heal health care, while empowering you to heal yourself.
Lissa blogs at LissaRankin.com and also created two online communities – HealHealthCareNow.com and OwningPink.com. She is also the author of two other books, a professional artist, an amateur ski bum, and an avid hiker. Lissa lives in the San Francisco Bay area with her husband and daughter.