The Dalai Lama’s Cat and Healthcare

Over the last two weeks, I’ve read the first two books from David Michie’s series about the Dalai Lama’s Cat. My wife gave them to me as a birthday present, knowing that cats relax me and that I’m a big fan of the Dalai Lama.

These books are so artfully crafted. I found myself learning so much about Buddhism while being thoroughly entertained by the story as told by the Dalai Lama’s Cat. Essentially, the cat is new to Buddhism as well and shares her learning and perspective as she observes the daily life of the monks. She does this with a lot of attitude, humor, and wit.

What does this have to do with healthcare? One of the premises of Buddhism, as presented by the Dalai Lama’s Cat, is that true happiness comes in part from focusing on the welfare of others; happiness comes from putting others first. “Gain happiness for yourself by giving it to others.” (David Michie paraphrasing the Dalai Lama) Putting others first involves the ability to regard the suffering of others as your own suffering. The priority then becomes alleviating the suffering of others.

I believe that so many healthcare workers are drawn to this field because of the altruistic aspect of the work. For many of us, it is about the mission and about helping others. I will note that it is vital that healthcare organizations approach the needs of their employees from the same perspective. Both clinical and non-clinical staff have been pushed to the breaking point by this pandemic. Healthcare organizations must make the health and well-being of their employees a priority. This will only serve to enrich the organization. (Please note that selfless people should still practice self-care. Self-care is not the same as being selfish. Self-care is good! In order to help others, we can’t ignore our own needs. Through self-care, we model healthy behavior. The other thing to recognize is that we will never make everyone happy. Our happiness cannot depend on everyone else being happy.)

What also interests me is taking that mission and sense of service beyond the walls of the hospital. Are health systems committed to just the health and well-being of their patients, or does their commitment extend to the broader community? And when I mention the health of the community, I do not mean health fairs and information sessions. I’m talking about directly addressing the social and economic determinants of health. If the health system’s commitment extends to the community at large, it must include those underserved populations and neighborhoods that currently suffer from the negative impact of health disparities and racial injustice. The leadership within healthcare organizations should prioritize the needs of these groups above their own needs. Without referencing karma, I firmly believe that when you act in a selfless manner and in the best interest of others, it will ultimately serve you well.

I found that the mindset expressed in David Michie’s books about the Dalai Lama’s Cat connects really well with the #pinksocks movement and its emphasis on gifting, kindness, and generosity. As #pinksock founder Nick Adkins says, “The world is full of good. When you believe it, you see it.” We need more of that kind of thinking!

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