I went to my orientation last week to learn to be a volunteer at the natural history museum in Los Angeles. This was the view from the building looking south; these banners are their current marketing campaign:
What blows your mind?
That’s why I was there!
As a kid above all it was the dinosaurs at the natural history museum in New York City that blew my mind. Dinosaurs still do! Even still living dinosaurs (birds).
Since I was a kid there have been so, so many things that have blown my mind, Zen, science and medicine, my family, the opportunities I have had, success, failure, pain and love, art… oh just so many things!
I retired 7 months ago. Another blown mind thing.
My identity as a physician fell away like a snake shedding its skin. Well, maybe even easier than that. Note that I am not talking about how I feel about my patients (or ex patients) and colleagues, just my role, my identity, as doctor.
There are others who can now enter that space for my patients, for the world. Making room for them to do so, and making room for new experiences for me. Awesome, win-win.
It was a bit stickier about my identity as an “expert.” I really knew a lot about my specialty of inflammation in the eye. Yes I read a lot, did research, went to meetings, but I also had over 25 years experience, immersion, getting to know the nuances. Now, again, other people will take on that mantle, and anyway I wasn’t the only such expert.
It wasn’t tough walking away from being an expert in this rare corner of the medical world, as much as not being a world class expert at all at anything of substance that I found was a bit stubborn for me. For several months I still had fantasies that I will gain that level of world class expertise again in something else somehow.
Eh, maybe, but probably not.
While I hope to get some expertise in whatever I chose to do, say being a docent at a museum, it certainly isn’t going to be full time immersion for 25 years!
Not interested. Not a fantasy worth pursuing. Let the young and hungry go after that. My ego doesn’t need that carrot on a stick to keep me going.
That too is falling away…
I want what blows my mind.
Mind blowing to me means the spontaneous, unaffected, expansion of how your mind sees the world, a new perspective, associated with joy and wonder.
I love to share mind blown with others.
What I am doing is volunteering at the California Science Center (which is free to all!) and the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles (many school groups, including inner city). Great excuse to read about non-medical biology, but that’s secondary. What it is about is sharing being mind blown with kids, teenagers, and adults. As they say, kids of all ages.
Maybe some will become interested in science and nature in a deep and abiding way. Maybe one will cure a disease, find a new, cheaper way to store carbon or create energy without pollution. Solve plastic. Or just find a potential career or lifelong hobby.
On the other hand, none of that may happen with anybody I interact with.
Just being mind blown, well that’s enough. That’s what it is about.
It is a form of deep compassion, “feeling with.” Being on the same wavelength of awesomeness.
So how wonderful to be greeted with those banners at the natural history museum as I was pursuing this. a bit of unexpected clarity!
Of course, that’s not all that I do. I also spend a bit more time at the Zen Center. I volunteer for democrats (will be canvassing with Grassroots Democrats HQ in a couple of days), I am still on the board of Swipe Out Hunger, which helps feed food insecure college students (many of whom now come from poverty, are first generation, are single parents, older, looking for a second chance), and I have done a bit of volunteering with Homeboy Industries, a job and life skills program for ex gang members.
Feeding people, taking care of the environment, doing your job, being kind, helping others, voting out republicans, donating to worthy causes, helping the sick and dying, yes, being useful, that’s all compassionate too. Please do all of those things that you can. We need all hands on deck.
But so often those activities become props for our egos, to assuage our guilt, to deal with our fears, to help us feel special.
Do it anyway, if it is good for others, but watch yourself. At least that’s been my experience. Compassion is what you do, who you are, when selfishness and fear and neediness, and anger and neuroses and conditioning don’t confuse you, don’t bog you down. It isn’t how you justify your existence, real compassion isn’t another ego boost (though I’d rather one “acts as if” and does something helpful for others, than do nothing because their motive wasn’t “pure” enough and they get an ego boost! Do good and observe: if your ego is there, it is a learning opportunity!
In my case volunteering at the museums, whatever that leads to in the long run, however long it lasts, is it own reward. No goals to meet. No accomplishments to attain. Of course society is better if people appreciate nature. If people know joy, are well educated, we are all better off. But even that, however benign, however useful, still tastes a little of “doing”, that is, the ego wanting to excel, to have a job, to justify itself. This “doing,” this “accomplishing,” this ego, can be very subtle! Well, that’s what practice is about.
What blows your mind?
For me sharing my most authentic, spontaneous wonder, mind blown, is love, is compassion. That is my practice. That is my best life right now.