Tuesday, April 17, 2007

A Game of Chess

Dr. Daniel Lowenstein (D.Lo) told our class a story yesterday during our first day of Brain, Mind, and Behavior (BMB):
"Once upon a time, there was once a traveler searching for the meaning of life, and he heard that there was a great Zen master who possessed an especially deep understanding of the essential. So the traveler journeyed up the mountain and stayed at the monastery where the Zen master lived, and spent many years enjoying life there and learning. Many of the people at the monastery had never lived anywhere else, and the traveler was delighted to learn that one of the favorite pasttimes at the monastery was playing chess. Since the traveler himself was quite good at chess, he spent many days playing with the monks.
One day, the traveler finally meets the great Zen master. The Zen master invites the traveler to play a game of chess, but warns the traveler that whomever loses the game will be exiled from the monastery forever. The traveler agrees and the two begin playing. At first, the traveler finds himself with the upper hand, and realizes that he is very close to defeating the Zen master. However, he soon becomes lost in thought, wondering why the Zen master would agree to this game, how much the monastery must mean to him after all these years, and how the Zen master would live in exile. Before the traveler could finish these thoughts, he looked down at the chess board and realized that he was now losing. The traveler refocused his attention to the game and barely brought himself back from the brink of defeat, before those intrusive, worrisome thoughts again clouded his mind and he found himself losing again. However, the traveler was able to turn the tide of the game once again with enough concentration, and this cycle continued for several more hours before the Zen master used his stick to knock the chess board off of the table with a mighty "thwack."
'That,' said the Zen master, 'is the secret to living life with the greatest meaning...by living with both the greatest concentration and the greatest compassion.'"
D. Lo continued by saying that as doctors, we must live life with the greatest concentration and the greatest compassion. The dichotomy between science and the humanities has always fascinated me, because medicine is truly the intersection between science and society.
When people asked me why I wanted to be a doctor (usually during an interview), I said that it was the personal stories of patients that fascinated me and the idea that I could somehow intervene and change that story for the better.

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