Saturday, January 16, 2010

Omega Thinking

Chi Rho and alpha omega
In response to yesterday's post, one reader wrote she was glad I had decided the ministry would always be a part of my identity. I responded by saying, it's taken a while to grow into those shoes, and I'd like to expand on that idea this morning.

Unlike some who've made mid-life course corrections, for me, attending medical school hasn't been a matter of disconnecting from one career path to assume another. Lately, I've been thinking about it using the image of the Greek capital letter omega that you see on the right of the Chi-Rho symbol in the photo. The left leg represents my younger self taking a relatively direct route toward adulthood. At some point, I don't know where or when, I didn't necessarily get off track, but certainly took a left turn.

"Left," according to depth psychology, much like "downstairs" in dream imagery, represents a movement toward the unconscious. If you're left-handed, the right one would work similarly for you. By shifting attention away from dominance, i.e. reliance on our conscious strengths, we become more familiar with what is hidden or unexplored. This is not to say I saw the intersection approaching and switched on the turn signal. I didn't even know I'd changed direction at the time; it's something I've learned in retrospect.

For the past few years I've been moving around the loop, assuming I knew where I was going. It's safe to say I was completely unaware that, when I arrived, I'd be so close to where I started, but that's how omega thinking operates. It brings you back around to face yourself, albeit a somewhat older self, as represented by the space between the left and right legs of the omega.

Cosmologists theorize as we approach the speed of light, time slows down and finally begins to reverse itself. Coming to the end of the loop and setting off on the right leg seems like that in a sense. Some of the issues I face now are very much the same as my classmates. I think about residency, getting established as a professional, repaying student loans, and so forth. My perspective is somewhat different because I've been "around the loop," but that doesn't alter the fact. I don't mind; it actually feels appropriate. Turning right suggests a more conscious approach to life that encompasses and embraces what's gone before.

Integration is the term we use to describe the process of bringing conscious and unconscious together forming a functional whole. How peaceful and satisfied we are about who we are depends a lot on how well we do integration. This is not usually something we pay attention to at earlier life stages (though it can help a great deal if we do) but as we mature, it gains in importance.

I used to describe medicine and the ministry as wearing two hats instead of one. Now, I think of them as the same hat. The reason lies not in the nature of the hat but the person wearing it. If I was doing pastoral counseling I'd be a lot more clinical in my approach as a consequence of working in psychiatry. In medical settings, I tend to be more aware of issues related to meaning and purpose as a result of being a minister. One informs the other and I'm comfortable with that.

It comes down to being as opposed to doing. Both/and rather than either/or permits me to be myself. Instead of draining energy trying to maintain an artificial distinction between the two halves of my "coin," I can use that energy to be more attentive to patients, viewing them as persons in the process of becoming, even as I am. Even as we all are. It will make me a better doctor and it definitely makes me a happier person. And that's not a bad place to find yourself, no matter where you've come from.

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