• Charith Ratnayake

Meditation in Medicine

This post is an excerpt from Aspiring Docs Diaries:

When I was a pre-med my life was extremely task oriented. There was always a checklist looming over my head, ready to cause existential dread at a moment’s notice. Clinical volunteering, non-clinical volunteering, research, extracurriculars, leadership, grades, the MCAT —all tasks I had to complete if I ever wanted to become a doctor. I became someone who didn’t have control over my own life, a victim of constant neuroticism. What if I didn’t score a 510+? What if I never got published? How would I get into my preferred medical school? These were all questions that wore away at me. It got to the point where I felt like a bundle of an insecurities, rather than a living, breathing 22-year-old.

I believe that many pre-meds get sucked into this mindset. A quick scan of different pre-med online forums reveals the anxiety, confusion, and stress that is inherent to this preparation and application process. It is actually kind of morbidly ironic that the process designed to find our healers can be so unhealthy. I obviously needed to find some kind of solution. Thankfully, I found my answer through rediscovering a part of my heritage I had long forgotten.

Although 99% of people assume I am Indian based on my looks, ethnically I hail from a tiny little island called Sri Lanka. India and Sri Lanka are similar in many respects, but one major difference is that the majority of Sri Lankans are Buddhist. Growing up Buddhist meant that I suffered perpetual cramping sitting crossed legged, collected pirith nool (blessed strings) like Pokémon cards, and got really good at chanting words I didn’t know the meanings of. When I was a kid, Buddhism was extremely important in my life —it was how I met my friends, learned about character, and really became who I am today. However, as I got older my religious background took a backseat to everything that was going on in my life, as it often does. Although I still don’t consider myself extremely religious, there was an aspect of Buddhism that solved my pre-med problem: meditation.

For Buddhists, meditation is extremely important. It serves to center yourself and free yourself from the external attachments of life. As a premed, you have a lot of external attachments. I personally use meditation as a way to provide my mind with a few minutes of peace. Meditation gives me a fifteen to thirty-minute period where I can forget about all my responsibilities and commitments. It allows me to focus internally and achieve a state of relaxation I don’t get throughout the day. When I was a premed this was extremely helpful because I had so many thoughts competing with each other for my attention. Meditation allowed me to improve my focus and devote all my attention to the task at hand. However, more importantly, it helped me feel like myself again. I was able to stop fixating on the next due date or essay and start living my life.

Meditation is something that I believe would definitely help all pre-meds, so if you ever feel overwhelmed I recommend taking five minutes to just try it and see if it helps. It is definitely hard at first, but I have included a few steps below to demystify and explain the practice.

Step One: Find a relaxing environment free from any visual or auditory stimuli.

Step Two: Set a timer for five minutes (increase as you get better) and close your eyes.

Step Three: Focus on your breathing. Specifically, focus on your lungs as they expand and contract with each breath. The most important part of this is to ignore all the random thoughts in your head. If you feel your mind drifting, try your best to bring it back to the breathing focus. It’s hard but you’ll get better at it.

To be honest, I never thought I would write an essay on meditation, but it is something that everyone should know about, especially considering the bundle of anxiety and stress that the average pre-medical student experiences.

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