The Divided Path

My life has long been about answering the question: what should I be doing?  Whatever this experience is, how should I approach it?  As a meditator and a medical student, I find myself being pulled hard in two seemingly different directions.  When I get my mind in the right place to excel at medicine, I find myself neglecting right understanding.  When I focus on meditation, it comes at the expense of medical studies.  This may seem obvious, but it goes beyond the simple issue of time.

Making time to sit with a busy, stressful schedule isn’t easy, but it can be done.  The rift turns out to be much deeper.  I’ve always managed to excel in academic performance by harnessing ego.  Desire for prestige.  You want to be the best doctor, not just for the sake of your patients but for the sake of your pride.  When I allow my mind to indulge in this desire for pride, I excel.  This mental technique benefits my studies and my patients.  Additionally, any academic endeavor is best pursued with a strong curiosity.  But I now find myself much more curious about experiential, rather than intellectual, understanding.  Figuring out pathophysiology isn’t getting me any closer to reality.  This is problematic because doing well in medical studies is much more difficult than I had imagined, and having a strong source of motivation is vitally important.

I’m trying to convince myself that I can be a householder with a profession that is in line with my values enough so that I don’t have to make a choice between prideful or intellectual success in medicine and egoless success in experiencing.  I’m trying to find a pure motivation to study medicine, one that isn’t based on ego or craving.  I’m trying to combine the goals of being a great doctor and being a fully liberated person into a unified path.  According to Goenka, Sayagyi U Ba Khin was able to work harder at his profession after becoming a meditator.  I’ve found it to have the opposite effect – I lose my motivation for any work that isn’t directed towards understanding reality.

Can there be pride in one’s accomplishments without ego?  If so, how?  If not, what is the more pure motivation?

Can there be intellectual curiosity once one begins to see the limitations of the intellect?  Once one has found a deeper way to explore reality?

Here’s what I’m going to do.  I’m just going to let this happen.  Prestige in medicine is associated with thoughtful, hard-working people.  Experiential truth is forged alongside intellectual understanding.  I’m going to try and foster these mental states as responsible desires rather than cravings, being conscious of subtle sensations as much as possible when I realize I’m on one of these waves.  I’ll let you know what I find.

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About Trygve

I’m an aspiring physician currently in medical school in Cleveland. I grew up in North Carolina, the only child of a biomedical researcher and a music teacher. After college, I was in the US Army for 5 years, spending the final year in Baghdad as an advisor to the Iraq Army. I started meditating seriously about 3 years ago, and I've since come to realize very clearly that in order to understand reality and act skillfully, we need not only conceptual understanding, but actual eradication of all our mental impurities.
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2 Responses to The Divided Path

  1. Branden says:

    Just get out there and do it. Trying needn’t be a part.

  2. Long Mai says:

    It’s very true. I am a student of mathematics, and I found the same way. It seems to me that most people who do vipassana have a very different life. They don’t care much about hard-working, they have a care-free life, enjoying things and loving people. It’s definitely good, but it doesn’t support my study of mathematics. I’m looking for some intrinsic reason to study mathematics too. (ego definitely helps! I found motivation in Ayn Rand novels/movies: Atlas shrugged, the fountainhead)

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