John D. Kelly IV, MD, is a professor of orthopedic surgery at the University of Pennsylvania. He focuses his blog on helping surgeons reduce stress while achieving balance in their practices and families.

The eye is the lamp of the body

Sacred scripture states that “the eye is the lamp of the body.” In other words what we see, or choose to see, determines our state of being. Every waking moment our vision is at work. We take in and process information constantly. Even visually impaired people have a “vision” of what or whom they are experiencing.

I have written extensively on the virtue and practice of mindfulness, or living in the moment. I truly believe that when we are “present” we are connected to our source and naturally look for all that is good, all that is positive.

However for the 99.9% of the time when are not fully in the moment, we are left with a choice. Our eyes see what we choose to see. Our “lamps” will determine the measure of peace we experience in our lives. Again, we have a choice.

Bad or broken

The famous author and theologian John Powell, SJ, used to write that every obnoxious behavior is a cry for help. People tend to act out their conflicts and brokenness is less than appealing ways. Examples include the patient suffering in pain who berates the office staff or the addicted person who appears to magnify symptoms and persists relentlessly in an effort to receive medication.

We can see these souls as “jerks” or broken spirits who are suffering beings looking for someone or something to ease their pain.

How about the spouse who seems to continually complain and criticize?  Do we see him or her as annoying or someone who has a need that is not being met?

Our eyes can see irksome behavior or someone who is wounded. It is our choice.

That is not to say we shouldn’t have boundaries. Our creator didn’t design us to be “whipping posts” and endure relentless abuse. However, in most cases, when we separate the pain from the divine being, our need to become defensive and reactive wanes. We extend compassion instead of anger. We naturally turn the other cheek and avoid escalation of conflict.

Angry patients

Several years ago during office hours, I was alerted to a disruptive patient in the waiting area. I went to meet the patient and asked him to enter an exam room. Immediately, I was hit with a barrage of foul language and accusations. Thankfully, I had the presence of mind to see that this patient was irrational and extremely agitated. After a few prayers, I developed the strength to apologize for any misgivings our office rendered and for being tardy. After some more foul language and insults, the patient left in a huff.

The following week I was summoned to the front desk where this same patient was waiting for me. Instead of insults, I was greeted with an apology along the lines of, “Dr. Kelly, I am sorry for my behavior last week. I am bipolar and was not taking my medications.”

Had I saw only the behavior and not the pain, I could have easily escalated the confrontation. “Call security,” “use force,” “terminate the patient” or other harsh measures would have easily followed. It would have gotten ugly.

When we see the pain in others and develop compassion, our lives will be transformed. Everyone has goodness. That is their birthright. We can see all that is bad or dysfunctional or see someone in pain.

It is our choice. Dedicate the next 30 days to look onto others with compassion, not judgment. It is not a “sin” to be wounded. When we extend loving kindness and compassion, our lamps will indeed always burn brightly.