The Student is Ready
by Andrea Girman, MD, MPH
In June of 1995 I was completing a medical residency at the Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland. As a member of the house staff of a renowned academic medical center, I was no stranger to the presence of luminaries who might be found at any given time in the medical campus’ lecture halls, elevators or patient rooms. Despite this, I never imagined that such a conservative institution would be the place of meeting the most luminous being I have ever encountered in my life.
For many months prior to the end of my training, I began to experience what I can only describe as the re-emergence of a deep questioning in my heart. Softly at first – like a whisper into a dark tunnel – I felt the question before I even heard it inside my head. Yet insistently it continued to make its presence known, finally breaking way into my consciousness: What is it that is missing in your life?
As is often the case when we ask a question from the deepest parts of our heart, psyche and soul, Spirit is waiting to echo an answer back to us. And so it was that one early morning I awoke, sitting upright in bed to a voice that felt both inside and outside of me. It simple said, “Spirituality. There is no spirituality in your life.”
The message was heart-breaking. As a child reared on the teachings of Catholicism in a small coal-mining town in Northeastern Pennsylvania, I always felt as if some deeper piece of knowledge was being hidden from me. It wasn’t until my high school and collegiate experiences with a number of broad-minded theologians – Jesuit priests and lay professors alike – that my eyes were opened to the spirituality beyond the dogma, to the common threads of mystery, gratitude and silence that wove all religions together at their mystical cores. Somehow, within the journey of becoming a doctor, I had let go of the very practices that connected me to something greater than my individual human experience.
What to do? I certainly had enough intuition to trust that ignoring the answer to my question was most definitely not the wisest of choices. I began to consider possibilities that might help me regain peace of being. Retreat at a Trappist monastery in Kentucky? Contemplative prayer work with Carmelite nuns in Baltimore? Yoga? Mindfulness meditation?
One morning while nursing my training-induced addiction to caffeine, I was mindlessly flipping through a local paper. At some point, my gaze was captured by the face of a man looking up at me from the lower right corner of the right hand page. I thought, “ This man’s face is expressing everything that I want to feel and be in this life.” Reading the text that framed his picture, I learned that he was a spiritual teacher who would be leading a course on healing breathwork in Baltimore that weekend. With the crushing demands of the final days of residency bearing down on me, I thought, “Can’t make this happen right now.” Closed the paper. Finished the coffee. That’s that.
One hour later, while walking across the bridge that led from the parking garage to the main body of the hospital, I found myself again seeing the face of the man from the paper. I stopped in my tracks, looked up to the heavens, and said, “I get it.” At noon, I headed from clinic with my peanut butter and jelly sandwich to a small lecture hall, and sat there awaiting – something.
I cannot now remember his words. I can only remember the rush that moved through my mind and heart when this petite man in white robes with long-black hair and a beard that reminded me of the pictures of my childhood Jesus walked into the room. I remember the impact of his voice on my being, and the welling of sobs that broke slowly from my mouth and eyes. I sat there, crying for one hour, not quite understanding why. And at his leave, I walked up to one of his teachers and gave her my name. “Whenever the course, whatever the cost, I will be there.” The student was finally ready.
I have been incredibly blessed by the presence of many wonderful teachers – of a diverse array of disciplines – in my life. These individuals encouraged me to keep seeking until I found a satisfying answer. In college, one professor told me, “You are the question and the answer.” I didn’t quite believe him, until I sat at the feet of my spiritual teacher. Now, there are moments when I know the bliss of the present moment and the uncompromising stillness of it.
This September our community will be graced by the presence of another luminous being, His Holiness the Dalai Lama. Like the unanticipated arrival of my guru one decade ago, his visit here to the place I now call home is something I could never have imagined. I find myself wondering how I might prepare for him, how I might most optimally receive his message, how I might support his work in the world through our community. I am not quite certain of the answers to all these questions yet, but I am holding them in my heart anyway. It is my sincerest intention that I – and that we as a community – be ready for all that is offered when this glorious teacher appears.
Andrea can be reached at her office at 208-726-0078.