In Part 1: A rising tide floats all boats, I took my position on the side of Us v Them – free open access sharing v the old established order. Naive you may think but that’s led me to more discussions (and ranting) about Copyright […]
I’ve been feeling a little uneasy about Scott Weingart’s opening talk from SMACC. It was an extraordinary talk, recorded live on stage for the EMCRIT podcast and it took quite a few people by surprise. He talked about meditation and negative contemplation….all good things, if they work for you, but still I am uneasy and here is why…
A few years ago I started a year-long job that was a bit of a distance from home. Far enough that I wasn’t going to be driving home after 13 hours at work only to come back again the next day. So I rented a hospital flat and was away from home for that year. On the first day, during induction, I was asked how I was going to cope being away from Mr Edge and our girls.
At the time, my answer was very clear. They are safe, they are well looked after, they are happy.
I was pretty chilled about it all because, and I can recall it so clearly, it was a time of horrendous fighting in Gaza and I had been watching online the devastation happening in the Middle East. The hashtag that stuck out for me was a chilling call for the International Criminal Court to deal with Israel. Now this is not a political blog post and I have nothing to say about that. Whatever the circumstances, as a human being, it was harrowing. In particular I saw a series of traumatic photographs of a broken man, walking a broken street with a plastic bag. He was picking up the pieces of his child, who had been torn apart by a bomb. The final image was shocking, it was a close-up of the contents of that bag. I think about that image often.
Scott was getting at this… Imagining the worst case scenario will always set you free to make a leap, because it will make you realise the unlikeliness of that scenario coming true. It will give you the strength and courage to face the difficulties of your day. But do we really need to be so graphic? I think about that image a lot. Perhaps that is my own personal negative contemplation. My children are safe, they are well looked after, they are happy but it is a painful way to remind myself that this is so.
I play along with the rhetoric and philosophy of the Stoics. I keep Marcus Aurelius at arm’s reach in my school bag. In fact the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius was the book I took with me to Dublin (did I think I was going to get a chance to read it?). Like Seneca himself I could probably be considered slightly less than stoic at times…but that’s OK, I am after all a work in progress. For a start I do not join in deliberately with any Negative Contemplation. I don’t ever deliberately visualise my girls dead in my arms. I don’t feel the need to go that far. This is something that Scott brought up in his talk, he says he does this, deliberately, daily. Understandably he was met with stunned silence in the large auditorium. He went on to explain how this and meditation helps him get through the tough stuff and how you too could make a start yourself on the path to inner peace.
In this arena full of high achievers, we all want this to work for us too. Since SMACC I have heard a few people say that they are going to start meditating. They are rushing home to give it a go. But this is a bit of a word of warning…beware that it may not bring what you’re looking for and that’s OK.
I am not being a #meditationwanker and I am not having a go at Scott Weingart, VERY far from it. We are looking now to a future where our wellbeing is considered much more important and we can discuss mental health issues more openly. This can only be a good thing. In the past this would have been unconscionable. We need people like Scott, with the reach and influence he has, to say that it is OK to seek out help like this and to suggest tools that could help. I’m just saying, personally, I struggle with the meditation that he suggests and negative contemplation feels to me like the sort of self flagellation I accidentally achieve daily anyway. As long as I channel it to positive outcomes then that’s fine and it doesn’t necessarily have to be quite so traumatic.
So what CAN I do?
For me it is writing. I write a lot. Only a tiny portion ever reaches publication – the rest is all shit (you might argue the published bits are shit too). I am guilty more than anyone of trying something only a couple of times before moving on when I am not suddenly representing my country or winning awards but
Do what floats your boat.
I have friends and colleagues who meditate and boy do they do go on about it. I spent a lot of time punishing myself for not finding it helpful. I did this too when I couldn’t find what I was looking for in Tai Chi…I gave it a chance but after I while I went back to kickboxing because really I just needed to punch and kick people to help me feel peaceful.
It doesn’t matter if you can’t do what Scott Weingart says. Give it a try. If you try (and like anything, you need to give it time) and it doesn’t work for you, recognise that you didn’t fail and you don’t have commitment issues. It just wasn’t your thing. Stoics see it like this – it is not the problem that’s the problem, it is your reaction to the problem that is the problem. If this doesn’t work, don’t go beating yourself up…and it is not Scott Weingart’s fault either. So,
Imagine the worst case scenario
It is in the deliberate and in the mindfulness that you find your thing.
Strike your own match against whatever is going to set you on fire.
Just make sure you strike it somewhere and remember it is unlikely to be your last match and that’s OK.
The Friday night school disco was always an awkward, fun, silly affair with smoke machines, rotating disco lights and the occasional shifty bottle of MD:20:20 smuggled past the headmaster. I had danced with Harry, the new boy. He was a bit different, I liked him. […]
Landing on the wrong runway has left with me a story to tell for life. It probably gets more animated each time I tell it over a drink or two…but for once, I’m not the guilty party…ish. I say “..ish” because I wasn’t flying the aeroplane, I was […]
WMT’s Mountain Medicine Course
You have the chance to be an expedition medic. Which group would you choose to join?
- A charity walk with thirty people climbing Kilimanjaro?
- A school trip to India with thirty 14-18 year olds?
- A high altitude climb with a small group of fee paying climbers?
It’s not what you might expect to be debating, sitting on the side of a hill on a beautiful calm October day in the Lake District. The small group of doctors (and one nurse) joining the Mountain Medicine course run by Wilderness Medical Training had some interesting and entertaining views. They were views based on a range of experiences and it made for an excellent weekend.
The Wilderness Medical Training courses including the 2 day Mountain Medicine course are open to doctors, nurses and medical students interested in medical care far from home. This October the group was made up of one nurse and a range of doctors including a few FY2s, a couple of FY3s, GPs, anaesthetic trainees and Consultant physicians. They all gathered at the Grasmere Hostel for a weekend of Mountain Medicine. Some were there taking their first steps to find out a little more and others there to add to their already impressive experiences.
The Grasmere Hostel was an excellent, very clean and modern facility with kitchen, dining area, sitting room, sauna and conference room space (as well as a drying room which wasn’t needed). There was no real need to venture out to the local pub next door but we did of course. We had some pub grub with one or two beers whilst getting to know the others arriving for the course ahead.
The chat was about previous courses, about current jobs and about the hot topic of the junior contract, though all these things seem pretty distant when you’re sitting there watching the sun set over Cumbria.
The first day started with bacon and eggs and introduction talks from the instructors who were straight to it, imparting their knowledge and clear expertise. This wasn’t teaching from the books, this was teaching from experience, and it showed. Talks included how to prepare for an expedition and basic navigation.
The reality of being an expedition medic isn’t just about knowing your ABC from your um, elbow. Being part of the team leading an expedition means that the medic on board should know what’s going on around them. That’s true for the preparation, route finding, navigation, security on steep ground and all things expedition related as well as being the one dealing with emergencies. The course covered these and more. Day two covered topics such as high altitude and cold injuries.
Walking in the hills in smaller groups allowed time to discuss relevant topics between group activities. Discussion points included group dynamics, water purification, medical kits and communication technologies, until it was time to deal with an injured climber on the hill, secure someone on a steep patch or cross a river.
Back in the conference room after a warming dinner and with the wine flowing, the instructors each gave a personal, inspiring talk. In one evening we went from breathing bottled Oxygen on top of Everest to taking prophylactic Diamox at altitude in the Antarctic, to sipping cold champagne in the Frozen Arctic for a romantic honeymoon story. A final talk gave insight into how we could find our way in the world of Wilderness Medicine and it was all very positive. Two days just aren’t enough though and this introduction to Mountain Medicine really only gets to scratch the surface but it was enough of a scratch to get this medic hooked again.
And my answer to that earlier question about which trip I would choose? Can’t I do all three?
It helps if you have some knowledge of navigation to start with as time is short. Knowing your Ordnance Survey maps, the scales and the symbols on them will help. Also, you have to be fit enough to be able to walk in the hills for an afternoon or two but vast previous experience is not necessary on this course.
Excellent preparation information and joining instructions. Use of social media to bring the group together to help with transport prior to joining. Very nice and clean hostel facility. The clear experience and professionalism of the WMT instructors. The Medic Course Notes book is an impressive manual of all things Wilderness Medicine. This take-away manual covers a lot more that the two day course can.
Two days just isn’t enough time! Parts of the course felt a bit rushed towards the end in order to fit it all to the time allowed.
At £420 for the weekend, it will bite into your training budget but it compares well to other two day post graduate courses. You get a lot for your money, including an impressive hostel and 12 CPD points if that’s what you’re after. You will have to pay for travel to Cumbria.
Other courses run by the group include Chamonix Mountain Medicine courses in Winter, on skis and in Summer as well as the annual Morocco Mountain Medicine Course.
WMT’s Commercial Director Barry Roberts walking down with the group after a beautiful October day in the hills.