“Watch the flow of water when it crosses over an area of land and you will see that it puts out fingers, and some of them stop because they come into blind alleys.
The water doesn’t pursue that course; it simply rises and then it finds a way it can go.
But it never uses any effort. It only uses weight [and] gravity. It takes the line of least resistance and eventually finds a course.
Now, we will do the same thing.”
I turned 31 on March 13th, 2020.
The day was full of hugs, smiles, and singing. That evening, I remember being packed around a hibachi table with friends and coworkers and dancing close together to local Sarasota band UNDER8D’s song “Cameltoe”. It was a lighthearted day that felt not only like a birthday celebration, but also a celebration of my impending transition from an associate to relief veterinarian, which I was scheduled to begin just a couple weeks later.
I was a newly certified yoga teacher with big plans to work relief veterinary jobs and take my veterinary colleagues on international wellness retreats.
The fact that the CDC declared COVID-19 a global pandemic on that day was certainly on my radar, but I had no idea of the chain reaction that it set forth to completely change the course of how my year was going to go – or really, how the rest of my life was going to go.
“Well, the state of Florida is closed, so we are canceling all relief work” is a typical phone call I received. By the end of March, I had three months of full-time work cancelled, I postponed my three international trips, and I sat down in my Zen room trying to figure out how I was going to pay rent for the year. What I didn’t realize is that the most exciting face of relief work was showing itself to me.
What just happened? Creativity shines.
The year 2020 acted similarly on humans both individually and as a collective. We were forced into creativity to generate income and connect with each other in ways that would be highly unconventional, or out of the ordinary, in any other circumstances. As veterinary professionals, however, I feel that we are uniquely suited to this type of challenge. We are trained in problem-solving for a multitude of different species that cannot talk to us. We were made for this shift in civilization. We are adaptable.
Looking back, I see the course of events like water flowing down a river. Rocks and barriers pop up as if to say “No, not this way, try that way,” as Alan Watts teaches. According to yogic teachings, the Sacral chakra, located in the pelvic region, allows a person to creatively “go with the flow” when it is in balance and flowing freely.
In adversity, we cannot change the wind, but we can change the direction of the sails.
I was never meant to work at a small general practice and occasionally take a few people to Africa. State-wide lockdown was the push I needed to branch out, to finally hone HQHVSN sterilization techniques, and to start training in emergency medicine. In 2020, I worked in five animal shelters and five emergency hospitals where I both provided much-needed relief coverage and received the opportunity to become a better veterinarian. I still plan to take people to Africa, but now I am a part of a larger community of prospective participants.
I have the chance to show that my techniques really work (especially if you are in “the dark place”). “The dark place” is where I call the place of suicidal thoughts. It probably merits its own composed written piece. I spent some time “there” for the first time in years at the onset of COVID panic when my career seemed like it was over, before I chameleon’ed my professional life.
Rather than spending ink (or pixels) on that, for now, I invite you to entertain these four steps of completely alchemizing reality. Entertain the thought that we can alchemize reality because of the simple fact that, as 2020 so emphatically revealed to us, “normal” is subject to change.
Step 1: change your mind
The first step in transmuting reality from the rubble of devastating collapse into fertile ground is changing our minds about it. It is a perspective shift from “I can’t” to “how can I?” This is a great philosophy with travel, for example, as too many people see opportunities to travel as something granted to another: someone with more money, more connections, overall more resources, and fewer restrictions. The philosophy is especially applicable to entrepreneurship, not to mention veterinary practice in general. Practice saying, “How can I do this thing that seems too hard or impossible?”
Step 2: prepare with intention and gratitude
The second step is mentally preparing ourselves with the two most important sentiments – Intention and Gratitude. Realizing the intentions behind our actions, or proposed goals, generates a palpable change in our characters. It creates an avatar with boundaries against distractions and non-negotiable standards. Gratitude is the flip side of Intention, the valley to Intention’s peak. It is the act of lovingly accepting or being thankful for the circumstances that be. Sometimes, of course, gratitude is easier than other times, being more difficult when surrounding a situation that gives us an opportunity to heal or teaching us that something just doesn’t work.
Step 3: ask for help
The third step is asking for help. This for some is the single hardest step. Help is always available to us, but the funny thing about help is that it usually only comes when we ask for it, whether silently or directly. Underneath asking is the sentiment that we are deserving of it – and in a crisis, depression and dark thoughts can get the better of us. We feel alone, we feel imposter syndrome, we feel compassion fatigue and lack of motivation. The beautiful thing here is that, if you are reading this, you have access to a veterinary community that is ready to lift you up.
Step 4: practice self care
Of course, the fourth step (or maybe it should have been the first step) is self-care. Last year in “the dark place,” with all the time in the world, I started making my own toiletries and creating the self-care routine of all self-care routines, ones that any outsider might view as borderline narcissism. Wellness looks different for everyone, but for me it was minimal to no alcohol consumption, early bedtimes, daily exercise, journaling, and many, many essential oils. If the body is in a state of imbalance, then so will the person’s actions and subsequently the respective reactions. The first and last step to alchemizing professional success is self-care.
“What are you going to be when you grow up?” an old boss of mine said to me mockingly after I finished my yoga teacher training.
Well, first I am going to be healthy. Then, I am going wherever the water takes me.