Freedom of Choice

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I’m always shocked by how much freedom I have in my life. I can eat whatever I desire, whenever I choose to, such as breakfast food for dinner. Pasture-raised eggs, organic spinach, aged cheddar from Ireland, and Texan salsa comprise the best dinner ever! I can also take the train to San Francisco on a whim and explore museums while burning off the heavenly honey cake I indulged in at a charming Parisian cafe. I can drive to Lake Tahoe early in the morning when the birds and sun are still in a slumber and begin a refreshing hike by meeting the sun on the reflection of the giant blue-green lake. I can choose any coffee shop in Sacramento, occupy a seat steadfastly, and devour a novel while people enter and leave in a blur around me.

The problem with freedom is having too many choices.

I have the freedom to decide who I want to be in a relationship with, that decision is purely mine. Similar to the dizzying amount of profiles on dating apps, there are too many options of men I could date or marry or ignore. So when the right man comes along, how will I recognize it’s time to make a big commitment?

Life was drastically different for my parents’ generation. My parents and their peers, who grew up in India, mostly had arranged marriages. My mom was presented with very few options of men before she agreed to marry my dad after meeting him once. She did have the right to reject a proposal, but she encountered extensive societal pressure to get married early without fully knowing the person she would spend the rest of her days with. It was a huge leap of faith, a leap I’ve been unwilling to take so far.

I have the freedom to form as many goals as I want:  I hope to learn as much as I can, evolve in my personal development, find a fulfilling career (and then change careers every 10 years hehe), give back to the world, explore a variety of books/places/foods/activities/experiences, enjoy time with friends, settle down only when I meet someone who’s on my wavelength, and try to find meaning in my everyday existence. In contrast, my parents had fairly simple goals when they first immigrated to the U.S.: raise a family and earn money through engaging work. Maybe my attention is diverted in too many directions?

I have the freedom to live away from my family and close friends because of financial independence, career aspirations, and personal preferences. This means I can live nearly anywhere on the planet! Maybe I’m living in Northern California simply to savor the scenic wilderness of the Sierra mountains. 🙂

Sometimes I yearn for simple paths instead of a maze of hundreds of trails. Sometimes I crave one choice for dinner instead of ten. And sometimes, I wish I didn’t have the financial freedom and family support which allowed me to quit a career just to explore my authentic self. These things would have led to a simpler life.

Nothing has come easy for me, and it’s because I sought out the complicated maze of trails and got lost in the thick forest. This foray into freedom started when I left my parents’ home at the innocent age of 17. Upon reflection, I am grateful for the zigzag labyrinth of adventures encountered along the journey. That freedom of choice is the most precious treasure I have, even if it is transient!

-devs

 

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Love in the Time of Trump

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Does the existence of a self-centered, dishonest, and uncouth President bring me clarity?

Yes!

During the past 18 months of daily emotional upheaval and moral decay, I’ve slowly become numb to gross violations of human rights and international agreements. Child separation seems to be the norm, and I display a defeated sense of apathy.

How can we change a mad man? How can we overpower an entire federal agency that is trying to gut its own purpose? (Yes EPA, I’m talkin about you. The exile of Scott Pruitt has not stopped you from destroying the home of America’s original inhabitants – animals, plants, and American Indian natives.) How can I explain to my black friend’s baby that he lives in a time where people hate him for the color of his skin, in an age where Stephon Clark was murdered by police right here in Sacramento for no apparent reason except for being a black man?

The outrageousness of this time is exhausting. Yet it is also cathartic.

The outcomes of low-income people are just as, if not more, important than my own. I desire to build partnerships with people who are willing to fight for equality in access to education, employment opportunities, healthcare, housing….and equal access to serenity and a life of peace. I want to be surrounded by brothers and sisters who can recognize the immorality of our current politics and can offer help in making a change.

Change needs to occur internally first. What I think affects what I believe which affects my actions. Sometimes compassion needs to be factored into those initial thoughts. I have received compassion on countless occasions and it’s my duty to pay that forward. The Dalai Lama once said, “Compassion and tolerance are not a sign of weakness, but a sign of strength.” 

These realizations flood me as a wave of enlightening thoughts. Now more than ever I want to be closer to my family – sister, parents and dog – and my Indian culture, like those chewy, slightly spicy thikhi bhakri that comfort the soul. In this horrible age of public policy upheaval and racism, I want to avoid Trump supporters and surround myself with loved ones and friends. Maybe loving-kindness meditation is necessary to show compassion to people who have turned fear into hate.

I used to believe my purpose was to lead a feminist lifestyle with complete financial independence. A life in which career trumps love, where I could make a difference for millions through my work in health care policy. I thought my stubborn protests and arguments against my father would change his traditional, at times backward, outlook. The Time of Trump has taught me that no single person can create positive changes overnight, and wasting energy on hostile arguments isn’t a solution. Real, everlasting change occurs when one builds loving sustainable relationships over an extended period of time. According to John Lewis, a politician with firsthand experience from the Civil Rights movement, “Our struggle is not the struggle of a day, a week, a month, or a year, it is the struggle of a lifetime.”

National policies can drastically differ with each administration but the real work begins on the ground at the grassroots level. And those who don’t understand the dirt beneath the grass can never truly create informed public policies. (Yes Betsy DeVos, I am specifically referring to you here!)

In the Era of Trump, I recognize I need a partner who shares similar values to me. Someone who has led a life of serving others with compassion, whether in the dirt or through small everyday exchanges. Someone I respect because of his thoughts, beliefs, and actions.

In the Time of Trump, I reflect on past relationships as if looking at the red-orange sun from a sky blackened by wildfire smoke. Each love taught me new lessons. Each love shaped who I am. Those experiences were crucial to my journey and indirectly nudged me to find a love where I feel at peace.

The Age of Trump has unearthed my expansive heart and my infinite capacity of loving others. It’s time I actually emphasize love, being loved, providing love to those around me, and being of service to family and friends without focusing solely on my career path. Maybe this love can create a tiny ripple of compassion that slightly dampens the extremely polarized mindsets of our nation’s people.

I have discovered Love in the Time of Trump. Love for my life and everything in it. Thank you to the current President for somehow providing me with this enlightenment. 🙂

-devs

 

Friendspeak

The words that flow directly into the other’s neuronal circuits,

Instant understanding,

Instant empathy,

Regardless of the infinite space in between.

There is solace in friendspeaking with familiar souls:

Those who intimately know about

your resilience – you are the Queen of Failures after all,

your sun-induced grimacing headaches,

and the chalky taste of your vegan peanut butter cookies.

Those who go to The Last Bookstore with you and smile the whole time,

watch liberal documentaries leading to intense philosophical discussions,

hike in the foothills with you to breath in the serene view,

and walk by the privileged rose garden at McKinley Park.

Those who love you after being apart for 10 years.

Those who remember your braces and skeletal figure in 7th grade.

Those who offer you a place to live.

And those who learn from your mistakes.

Friendspeak:

Reassuring you that your prediabetes can be reversed.

Exchanging relationship stories and life’s irritations.

Commiserating on the devastating effects of current politics.

Interspersed with schoolgirl giggles of remembrance (dancing in DTLA!).

Sent among the unseen digital spies on your phone,

Those words of friendspeak

boost you to face another day,

knowing with confidence that you are

not

alone.

 

 

The Roseto Effect

Yesterday at work I was discussing ways of reducing health disparities (differences in health outcomes between groups) in the Medicaid population. A brilliant colleague brought up Malcom Gladwell’s “Outliers” which describes the Roseto effect.

Roseto, Pennsylvania, originally a small town of Italian immigrants, shed light on external influences that impact health. Dr. Stewart Wolf noticed that the town’s incidence of heart attacks was much lower than the national average. So began a long-term study on the residents of Roseto! They were known for smoking, drinking alcohol, lack of exercise, obesity, and eating copious amounts of animal fats and sweets, all of which contribute to heart disease. Yet Roseto residents were healthier than most Americans! Why? After obtaining lab tests and histories from town residents, Dr. Stewart Wolf hypothesized that their close social connections had a protective effect on heart disease. Before the 1970s, the town residents maintained a unique culture of a close-knit community with high levels of civic engagement, community support, multigenerational homes, and social gatherings. In fact, Dr. Stewart ruled out other causes such as genetic effect by proving that Roseto residents who moved to other communities had a higher incidence of heart disease. Not only did Roseto residents have better health, they had low rates of suicide, alcoholism, drug addiction, crime, and welfare assistance. The Roseto effect theory strengthened after the 1970s when the town became more Americanized and close-knit social ties broke down, contributing to increased heart attacks.

I sometimes wonder why billions of dollars are spent by modern medicine to treat symptoms of chronic diseases. Studies like the Roseto effect offer a root cause analysis approach. Go after the causes, not the effects!

Stress, loneliness, and helplessness are HUGE factors that contribute to poor health. Being able to trust and confide in other people and receive support during difficult times are crucial to human survival. We are emotional beings! In my opinion, love and spirituality are just as important as a statin or antidepressant medication in improving our wellbeing.

Public health and governmental agencies are finally accepting that other factors besides medical care contribute to good health. Social determinants of health (stable housing, access to healthy food, access to nature), cultural influences, adverse childhood experiences, and social connectedness are hot topics in government right now. In Medicaid, there are many pilot projects that focus on improving a person’s mental health, housing issues and social support in addition to physical health.

My colleague wanted to use the Roseto model to look at health disparities:  analyze why certain groups are healthier than others and share this knowledge to promote changes in groups who are not as healthy. Understandably genetic factors are hard to change, but changing one’s lifestyle or social support is an achievable goal. Or is it?

We live in the time of Millennials, constant screen time, multiple Facebook checks, and decreasing in-person socialization. How can we maintain close-knit social ties when technology is forcing us to do otherwise? I don’t know the answer to this question. As a pseudo-nomad ─ having lived in Houston, Dallas, Los Angeles, and Sacramento ─ with few close friends, I myself have not been able to maintain social connectedness where I currently live.

My dream? Live in one city for an extended period of time and cultivate a close community of friends and family who spend time with each other on a regular basis and help each other out.

A girl can dream, right?  🙂

Check out the video below that explains the Roseto effect.

 

Toni Morrison’s Views on Work

The New Yorker Magazine can go to extremes to appease its well-educated and slightly stuffy audience.  In depth articles on plant behavior, lingerie in the Middle East, and Bob Marley’s life can get overly complicated. But sometimes they publish pieces that are generous in their simplicity and authenticity, allowing one’s heartstrings to be pulled as if a harp is being strummed for a Celtic tune.

The following New Yorker excerpt by Toni Morrison, which describes her father’s advice about her childhood job, is one of those moving bodies of words that washes away built-up grime.

https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2017/06/05/the-work-you-do-the-person-you-are

Advice that Toni Morrison received from her father:

  1. Whatever the work is, do it well—not for the boss but for yourself.
  2. You make the job; it doesn’t make you.
  3. Your real life is with us, your family.
  4. You are not the work you do; you are the person you are.

In the words of Toni Morrison herself:

“I have worked for all sorts of people since then, geniuses and morons, quick-witted and dull, bighearted and narrow. I’ve had many kinds of jobs, but since that conversation with my father I have never considered the level of labor to be the measure of myself, and I have never placed the security of a job above the value of home.”

A big thank you to Toni Morrison’s father for arguing against the career-driven, individualistic American way of life. He stressed the importance of family and home and core identity which are unrelated to one’s work. When I left a career in medicine and was jobless, I had no clue who I was outside of my identity as a doctor. What did I value? What hobbies did I have? Who did I enjoy hanging out with?

To be honest, it was that value of home that saved me from losing my sense of self. It was my friends and family members (and dog!) who lifted me up to try harder,  be better, and smile brighter. My family accepted me despite setbacks with my career because they knew all along that my core would never change. I learned that jobs can come and go but your support system never leaves you.

I am extremely grateful to my family for their unconditional love, and I must also thank myself for discovering who I was at my barest moment.

This New Yorker piece also applies to those entering retirement as they will be challenged to create a meaningful life without a career. I hope you can learn from Toni Morrison’s experience and spread this simple yet powerful wisdom!

-devs-

 

Questions for Tomorrow.

Do you change to thrive or do you thrive to change?

Are bus drivers actually angels sent from above to help the mentally ill?

Is a perfect roommate even better than the perfect soulmate?

Why do the menstrual cycles of different women sync up easily but opposing political parties never come to a consensus?

Why worry about saving for a future house you don’t want to purchase?

Why does it feel utterly comforting when your building’s security guard smiles at you?

Can people completely change their true natures?

Why do high school friends remember details about you that you’ve long forgotten?

Why is it so hard to connect with others even though we are hard-wired to be social, attached beings?

Do mothers lose a sense of self? Do single women lose a sense of meaning?

In 100 degree weather, why do buildings run air conditioning to the point of hypothermia?

Why do some people who gorge on sweets never develop diabetes?

How can animals understand the depths of your soul better than you can?

Why do loud people get all the credit when humble silent people do all the work?

When will the medical community admit that Trump is mentally unfit for office?

When will I come to terms with myself?

How many licks does it take to get to the center of a tootsie pop?  🙂

-devs

 

 

 

A Day in the Life of Devs

Cocoa therapy:

Chocolate swirls and cocoa whirls,

marshmallows oozing on top,

the finest chocolate in the city

can’t replace what was lost

Outsider:

Not satisfied with the chocolate,

I open the heavy wooden door to the trendy and pricey restaurant.

All I see is a sea of white.

I am the only person of color in this establishment.

I eat the fancy pizza nervously with my head down, perusing my favorite magazine.

Recognition:

A toddler with clear blue eyes and golden hair comes up to me

“Ask the lady if she’s an attorney,” says his father.

The toddler continues to stare at me.

“She’s reading the New Yorker magazine. She must be an attorney.”

I turn to the father and explain that I’m a doctor, not a lawyer.

After they leave, I crack a smile. I love breaking stereotypes!

Maybe I was an attorney in my last life.  🙂

-devs-

Eulogy Virtues Part II

Two years ago, I wrote about David Brook’s piece in the New York Times (https://thoughtsandtremors.wordpress.com/2015/04/13/eulogy-virtues/). It’s funny what can happen in 2 years. I feel I’m farther away from my goals than I ever imagined!

Austrian poet Ranier Maria Rilke’s words come to mind:  “Have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don’t search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.”

Although my questions did not lead to answers, they did lead to personal growth. And maybe this growth is more important than my goals which is exactly what David Brooks is trying to convey in his Ted Talk on eulogy virtues.

Let’s be clear here. David Brooks is not the most entertaining speaker. His style is the opposite of the current President’s. On a side note, I’m not sure how a yellow-haired loud-mouthed populist who lacks competency as a moral human being, or even a moral ape, can be an influential speaker. Yet Brooks puts together a great argument: find your weaknesses and turn them into a life of love.

In the Ted Talk, this quote by American theologian Reinhold Niebuhr stands out:

“Nothing that is worth doing can be achieved in our lifetime; therefore we must be saved by hope.Nothing which is true or beautiful or good makes complete sense in any immediate context of history;therefore we must be saved by faith. Nothing we do, however virtuous, can be accomplished alone;therefore we must be saved by love. No virtuous act is quite as virtuous from the standpoint of our friend or foe as from our own standpoint. Therefore we must be saved by that final form of love, which is forgiveness.”

Forgiveness as a form of love. Such a great thought to ponder on. Ponder away folks! Let these concepts simmer within you like a pilot light in a 1940’s gas wall heater (one of the perks of living in a house built in the 1920’s…lead poisoning here I come!).

-devs-

The Flow of Words

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Humor:

Parts of me dwindle down, allowing my former self to peek out into the scary abyss.

Don’t be afraid Humor, jump into the world where you are Missed.

Missing:

The dog’s silky hair, free time, sunshine, mom’s food, my brother’s off-putting yet cozy smell, the yellow stains on the ceiling from the water leak, the friends who don’t Pity me

Pity:

You don’t go out to eat on the weekends? You don’t have any friends or family in town? You moved here without knowing anyone? You’re single? Wow, that’s Brave.

Bravery:

Bravery leads the way, as the other parts follow blindfolded

Stumbling through a dark forest, twigs crunching below their feet

Lengthy hazing ritual for a new beginning

Now open your blindfolds, look at each other, and hold hands

The the most difficult part is about to start!

-devs