The Secret Of Life

The secret of life is enjoying the passage of time”

                    James Taylor

One of my wife’s mentors has a 104-year-old aunt, who on her 100th birthday was asked to reveal the secret of her longevity.

“I always have something to look forward to” was her answer.

Wisdom, happiness and longevity aren’t confined to people in cathedrals or ivory towers. They can be found in seemingly ordinary people in the most ordinary places. James Taylor, in his song “Secret O’ Life”, goes on to say, “any fool can do it”. Similarly, the Bible tells us to be more child-like (Matthew 18:4).

That doesn’t mean you have to be childish or think like a fool to enjoy life. It does mean that finding happiness is not complicated, and we sometimes get so wrapped up in our own thinking that we fail to see the simplicity in some of the universal truths about life as well as the beauty of life itself.

Observing which of my patients live well and handle age, illness and adversity the best, I see the power of this every day.

Jungian therapist Robert A. Johnson describes in his book, “Transformation: Understanding the three levels of masculine consciousness”, how the male psyche evolves from simple man (exemplified by Don Quixote), who asks “What’s for dinner?” to complicated man (Hamlet), who asks “What does it all mean?” to enlightened man (Faust), who asks “What’s for dinner?”

Too many of us dwell on the past – what we lost, what we never had, what we should or shouldn’t have done. Too many of us spin our wheels over-analyzing the present. Too many of us fritter away our days and our lives imagining or pining for distant futures at the expense of the present moment.

There is nothing wrong with thinking about the past, but we must each find our own way of making peace with it. There is nothing wrong with trying to understand our present circumstances, but not all of it will make sense to us now. Sometimes it takes years or a lifetime to understand the things we go through in life. There is nothing wrong with having dreams and goals, but we must somehow find joy in the journey towards those goals without feeling that we are wasting our time in our present life, since for some of us, that is all we’ll ever have.

Wisdom, like happiness, can’t be bought or taught. It is only occasionally learned in formal education settings through rigorous study and practice. More often it is earned through hardship and experience. It is gained when we look deep inside ourselves and acknowledge what we see. In the words of C. G. Jung, One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious”.

In medicine, wisdom is partly gained by being wrong, or at least humbled by facing the limitations of our knowledge. But clinical wisdom must be paired with human wisdom as well as some of that simple joy of life James Taylor sang about, so that we can truly be of help to our patients. Nietzsche, in words that could have been written for practicing physicians, said:

“There is one thing one has to have: either a soul that is cheerful by nature, or a soul made cheerful by work, love, art, and knowledge.”

That is the hope I carry, that my love of medicine, of my wife, my family, and of the arts and the beauty around me will help me be joyful in my daily living. I hope that love will sustain me as the alarm continues to ring at 05:10 on bright summer mornings as well as dark, howling winter ones, this year and for many more years to come.

4 Responses to “The Secret Of Life”

  1. 1 Jewell Burke June 24, 2012 at 2:20 pm

    Love it! So many people I know need to know this!

  2. 4 Coralynn "Holly" Thompson January 2, 2020 at 2:00 pm

    Wonderful perspective and sharing of life experience to revere. I personally have a wonderful corps of doctors. I will soon turn 75. Each has wonderful knowledge but, most of all, a remarkable sense of humor, which I love exchanging with them. Even when I am in pain or distress in a clinic or hospital, I try my best to make all staff members smile or laugh. It makes treatment so much better!

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Osler said “Listen to your patient, he is telling you the diagnosis”. Duvefelt says “Listen to your patient, he is telling you what kind of doctor he needs you to be”.



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