How is your heart?

My dear friend Dr. Lenna Liu is a pediatrician at Odessa Brown Children’s Clinic which serves diverse & predominantly lower income families in Seattle. She is also a mindfulness and meditation teacher. For the past two months she and the rest of her colleagues and staff at the clinic and hospital have been working heroically to save lives. They have been giving far beyond their normal capacity for work and heartbreak. To help keep everyone going, Lenna sends out an email message every week. She shared this one with me. I asked for her permission to post it here.

How is your heart?

It is so inspiring to work in a clinic full of superheroes–those of you feeding our community, supporting undocumented families, finding face shields, taking care of the sick while putting yourself at risk, calling and talking to families all day, leading us in this most challenging time.

And at the same time it is tremendously humbling. Not only do I think of you all, but I think about the healthcare providers in the ERs and ICUs and the first responders rushing into homes. I often feel guilty that I’m not doing enough, that I should be doing more, that i’m not making enough of a difference.

It’s been said:
“People will ask years from now how did you show up during this moment in the world?”
That can feel like both an inspiring and a daunting question.

It has reminded me of a famous teaching from Thich Nhat Hanh, Buddhist monk and peace activist.
A student asked him:
“… I am an activist and I care very deeply for the world. Sometimes I feel a lot of despair about what’s happening in the world around us, in terms of violence, poverty, and environmental destruction. What practices would you recommend for those of us who…are in despair about the suffering of the world?”

Thich Nhat Hanh said this:
Imagine a pine tree standing in the yard. If that pine tree were to ask us what it should do, what the maximum is that a pine tree can do to help the world, our answer would very clear: “You should be a beautiful, healthy pine tree. You help the world by being your best.” That is true for humans also. The basic thing we can do to help the world is to be healthy, solid, loving, and gentle to ourselves.

So anything you do for yourself, you do for the world. Don’t think that you and the world are two separate things. When you breathe in mindfully and gently, when you feel the wonder of being alive, remember that you’re also doing this for the world. Practicing with that kind of insight, you will succeed in helping the world. You don’t even have to wait until tomorrow. You can do it right now, today.

I am grateful for this reminder.
Like the pine tree, when a baby is born, she is worthy just in her being. She doesn’t have to DO anything. She has the full love of her family and her community just as she is. She contributes to the world just as she is.

So for those of you who have not stopped your caring, your giving, your selfless and noble efforts during this crisis, please remember that we need you in your fullest being, your fullest HEALTHIEST being. Please pause and take the time to eat, sleep, rest, exercise, nourish your spirit, and be loving and kind to yourself. It is not selfish to care for yourself, it renews your capacity to be your fullest self.

And for those feeling like we are not doing enough or in those moments you feel this way, remember that we are enough just in our being ourselves. Being parents, partners, daughters, sons. Being the voice that admits to feeling overwhelmed so that others can know they are not alone. Being the one who cries so that others feel permission to cry as well. Being the one who sings off key and makes everyone laugh. Every voice matters. We each contribute to creating a rich tapestry of humanity enduring this moment together.

And a reminder of the obvious, we are in a world pandemic. The enormity of suffering and healing needed is beyond any one of us. We each need to find our own balance of doing and being. And by finding that balance, we are being the pine tree and contributing to the forest of healing that this world needs now.

–Lenna Liu, MD, MPH

Seattle, Washington

Photo by eberhard grossgasteiger on Unsplash

Published by

Catharine H. Murray

Author, poet, speaker, workshop leader, teacher.

3 thoughts on “How is your heart?

  1. I will be my best self today, and it might mean taking a break from it all even if every day seems to be such an extended long break. But working from home and feeling the time away from the outside world accumulate isn’t an easy practice. Today I will be my best pine tree, and drink in some water and sunshine. I may venture out in a safe way or not. I will take the day as it comes.


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