“The most effective cure and healing occur when the patient decides to heal himself.”
As a board-certified foot doctor specializing in outpatient minimally invasive foot surgery at the Park Avenue Foot Clinic in Silicon Valley that I founded in 1975, I felt like a man in control of his destiny. I quickly became a spokesperson for my specialty and a popular radio and television personality with appearances on KGO, the former KPIX “Evening Magazine,” with Richard Hart, and network news programs throughout the San Francisco Bay Area.
I seemed to have it all—success, security and celebrity. Then in 1986 I began to lose my footing. It was like someone had pulled the rug out from under me. Unwilling to admit I was in a downward spiral I thought the answer was to build a certified surgical center. “Bigger was better,” or so I thought. But, some “inner prompting” told me to postpone my grandiose plans.
Like so many success-driven workaholic professionals and entrepreneurs, I had resisted change, and was unwilling to admit I was experiencing major burnout. Two years later while operating on a patient, my surgical drill mysteriously dropped out of my hand. I got through the procedure successfully, but I was beginning to panic. It was the second time my body had rebelled against me. The first time was when I was diagnosed with a slipped disc in my lower back.
After consulting with seven medical specialists, undergoing painful muscle testing and nerve conduction studies over a six-month period, I was told I had an ulna neuropathy and carpal tunnel syndrome (trapped nerves in the elbow and wrist) leaving me unable to hold a scalpel firmly. It was a surgeon’s worse nightmare. Navigating the medical health care system with all its uncertainty left me with a great deal of empathy for what patients go through. Becoming a patient was very humbling and it caused me to face my own mortality.
I realized that real transformation is not governed by outer success but inner peace and contentment.
Rather than undergo the surgery that doctors believed could return me to my private practice, I decided to do the unthinkable: I was preparing myself to walk away from it all to begin a new life of inner exploration. I felt that there must be a reason why this was happening to me. So I decided to let go and trust that the universe would provide me with some direction. My friends and family thought I was going off the deep end.
But, as soon as I came to this decision, I experienced a deep sense of relief. I felt like Sisyphus, who, according to Greek mythology was condemned by the gods to shoulder a rock up the mountain again and again—for all time. It never occurred to him that at any moment he could gently step aside and let the rock of his troubles hurdle to the ground.
I realized I was my own worst jailer and held the key to my own captivity. All I had to do was make the decision to let go of an unhealthy situation that kept me spiritually gridlocked. I realized that real transformation is not governed by outer success but inner peace and contentment. One of my key wisdom figures among many was the late Joseph Campbell who said: “Life is not a puzzle to be solved but a mystery to be lived.”
I took a sabbatical overseas and let an associate see my patients. When I returned I hired another associate to operate my clinic for three years before officially calling it quits. During this time, I began to discover those places in the heart and the human spirit, which were difficult to reach and unable to see while I was striving to get to the top. I began to experience peak experiences, meaningful coincidences, intuitions, omens that came out of nowhere, giving me a renewed sense of vision of finding my way. One of my patients was a yoga teacher and through private lessons she helped cure my back. Looking back I realize these were moments of grace, affirming that the road less travelled I had embarked upon was just what the doctor ordered.
Any moment, good or bad, provides us with the opportunity to hasten the search to improve the quality of our lives.
It’s been said that a person spends a year searching for lost objects, and entire lifetime trying to find oneself. But, it doesn’t have to be this way. Any moment, good or bad, provides us with the opportunity to hasten the search to improve the quality of our lives. All that is required is the courage and openness to respond to the “call” to change the trajectory of our lives when it no longer serves us.
He was a member of the Saratoga Community of Painters and a former saxophone player for the Saratoga Community Band. He loves haiku and mystical poetry, enjoys worldwide travel, has attended many mindfulness meditation retreats in Myanmar, Thailand and India, and is a devoted yoga enthusiast who received his certification from White Lotus in Santa Barbara. He also enjoys biking, hiking, swimming, and writes passionately about celebrating life experiences with a deep sense of gratitude. His light-hearted posts can be found at: enjoyyourlifenow.net
We invite you to share a story about yourself or another person, reflecting on the question: “How has gratefulness shifted a moment, an experience, or a lifetime?”
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Your reflection struck a chord in me. I am adjusting to retirement and have recently moved to the mountains. But like Sisyphus, I remain stubbornly attached to issues and worries — my big rock. Anxiety. I will keep that image of Sisyphus in mind, with the aim of letting go, detaching.
Dear Paula, the mountains are seemingly the perfect setting to learn how to detach. As trees drop their leaves they show us how lovely and natural it can be to let things go. When I went through bouts of depression many years ago, I noticed when I journaled I always found one of two things that were positive during what appeared to be a sad day. Wish you much peace on your life’s journey.
Dennis, a beautifully written article, thank-you for sharing your story! I can relate to you. I was an RN and retired at age 57 and am now 64. I was so stressed out and decided I couldn’t live like that anymore. In retirement I have done a lot of “inner work” and it is the best time of my life! I admire you, you are ain inspiration!
Peace and blessings to you, Sheila
Thank you Sheila, for your thoughtful comments. As you know being a caregiver in the medical field can be challenging. I thought I was indispensable, but found out that life went on without me. Doing the “inner work is key.” I am happy to hear you found the peace and joy you were looking for. Thanks for sharing your story.
I wish to post this expression of gratitude and admiration for your sharing of insights after making the brave choice to step back and look at what life is telling all of us.
(But not before also giving a ‘wave’ to your subtile sense of humor ….”A foot doctor that lost his footing” O’ :-0 very good!…… I will return it with a favourite quote. Seneca, “Fate leads the willing and drags along the reluctant” This is perhaps a clear pointer for those who chose to “drag their feet”. ? )
At this current point in western history the need to listen to the “inner prompting” has never been greater. Not just those of our generation that didn’t stop and listen to ‘Uncle Joe’ (as like minded called him) but those generations following after. The news every day this loaded with examples, so I don’t wish to belabour that here.
Instead I will to stay with your key point, “I realized that real transformation is not governed by outer success but inner peace and contentment. “ Yes and I am sure you know the poetic verse of Rumi ( All peace and Blessings be to him) which says …”Why do you stay in prison when the doors are so wide open. Step outside the tangle of fear thinking, live in silence”.
So Yes! to “realizing” with gratitude …. Realizing becomes understanding and understanding with experience become Wisdom. This fact is no different now then back before the great Greek Philosophers. As Brother David Steindl-Rast said, quoting an Eastern college, “The name “Yoga” originally meant, “Understanding””. I am an Essene Christian so I have much in common with our Sufi brothers and sisters who take the English word Understanding and convert it into “Standingunder”. Standingunder implies doing as the Hippoocrates quote says, “the patient decides to heal him himself”. Or, (back to Uncle Joe again ) it is as implied in the ‘Legend of the Fisher King’ the Hero must ask the wounded King, “What Ails You?” That one sincere question, to one’s own egoic self is the beginning of going within and only then is TRUE HEALING set in motion.
Words barely touch the TRUE value of the expression “Know Thy Self” but, as an Essene Christian, the parable of the ‘The Prodigal Son’ penetrates deeper into the reason why we enter into this three dimensional – earthy realm in the first place. It is to get our experiences and wisely know, ‘Who and What we are, Beyond name and form’ and move forward with the Evolutionary Impulse within Beingness.
Again, I express gratitude to you and your family for sharing your experience Denis.
Be Well Be Present
Hi Ed, I so appreciate your wonderful response to my story. I guess I’m busted. I see the you noted my intentional pun about “a foot doctor that lost his footing.” :-). I loved the honesty in the Seneca quote you offered up. Thank you. The “inner prompting” you speak about guides my whole life. Any trip I take or pastime I wish to undertake does not occur unless I am guided from within. I love the Rumi quote you cited as well. I have an entire shelf of his mystic poetry by Coleman Barks. It’s curious you cited the famous quote by Hippocrates. I employed him as my spirit guide in my books and cited that very quote. Thanks for sharing the wisdom you have gained from your own life experience. It affirms what we are all called to do: to awaken. In gratitude and peace, Dennis…
Greetings Back Denis
Yes to “awaken” and I am sure you have the works of James Hillman on your reference shelf. Hillman was a true, brave and honest “awakener” reminding us “Words have meaning” and the meaning of “meaning” were such points as “even the brain has blood in it!”
I would like to close off by paying respect to the founder of the web service , Brother David, by quoting him form his “Deeper then Words”. In it he points to something …(which actually originated with the Egyptian culture and the Greek adopted it as their own…..and by the bye…. reflects your Yoga stance photo too.) and sums up, very nicely, what we as Essenes, and all who venture “within” to know our TRUE Self, apply as day-to-day attitude.
“Greek statues typically have a support leg and a free leg. Beginners in self-awareness stand with their support leg firmly in their ego consciousness. The goal of spiritual training is to shift our weight until the center of gravity rests in the true Self-our Buddha nature, as Buddhists would say; other traditions use other expressions. Saint Paul writes, “I live, yet no longer I, but Christ lives in me” (Galatians 2:20). Try to feel your way inside toward that core of yourself where you are the Watcher who is not your thoughts but can watch them. This going-inward unveils your Self to yourself-your Christself. The more we identify with this reality, the more we become uniquely ourselves and, at the same time, one with all others. Only this Self can “believe” in the full sense; only our true Self can trust unconditionally.”
Be Well Be Present
Hi Ed, thanks for sharing Br. David’s “Deeper than Words,” passage quote. I love the support leg and free leg reference.