“You should write a book on collaborative medicine.” Swami Kriyananda once gave this advice to Dr. Peter Van Houten, the physician for Ananda Village, and the founder of a national award–winning rural clinic.
Recently we had an inspiring visit with Peter and his wife, Patricia, during which he shared about how he practices medicine “collaboratively” at his clinic. First, there’s the aspect of having practitioners from multiple fields—dentists, behavioral therapists, as well as doctors and nurses—who all work together as a team.
If, for example, a doctor feels that a patient’s physical problems stem from mental health issues, he or she will do a “warm handoff” to a behavioral therapist. Using this method, the follow-through rate of getting treatment and overcoming health challenges is extremely high.
But there’s a deeper aspect to collaborative medicine that has spiritual implications as well. Peter said that the clinic staff tries to form a bond of friendship and respect with each patient. Rather than just proclaiming as a medical expert, “You must take this medicine,” or, “You must stop that habit,” they involve the patient in the process, encouraging them to draw on their own understanding.
Peter said, “Because the patient feels respected and heard, they will often come up with a strategy that I also feel is the right one to take.” Together they come up with solutions in which the patient feels he or she is participating and using their own initiative.
As Peter spoke, I began thinking of how this collaborative approach was an underlying theme in much of what Swami Kriyananda created.
In the “Education for Life” system he founded, the teacher tries to see each student as an individual with unique strengths and weaknesses. Rather than employing the “one size fits all” method of education, an “EFL” teacher works with each child to draw out their own interests and thoughts about how they need to grow and develop. Over decades we’ve seen self-confident, strong, and happy adults emerging from this system.
Exploring another area—learning how to communicate and create harmony with others—Swamiji wrote, “If you really want to communicate with others, seek also to commune with them. Feel their consciousness. Appreciate them for what they are and for what they do, not only for what they say.” We might call this approach “collaborative communication,” in which we don’t talk at another person (especially when we disagree), but listen and remain open to their point of view. Swamiji defined maturity as the ability to tune in to other people’s realities.
In creating the Sevaka (Renunciate) Order for members of Ananda communities, he listed four vows: simplicity, self-control, service, and cooperative obedience. “Cooperative obedience,” he wrote, “means intelligent, creative participation in whatever one is asked to do, as opposed to that kind of obedience which asks, and is allowed to ask, no questions.” Here we see the same concept of collaboration being expressed as a way for community members to live and serve together.
Finally, we come to our meditation practice and search for God. If we passively wait for God to appear, expecting Him/Her to tell us what to do, we may wait a long time. But if we join our energy with God’s through “intelligent, creative participation,” our inner life becomes a dynamic partnership with the Divine.
God, then, like the good doctor practicing “collaborative medicine” with his patients, subtly “leans in” to draw out our innate wisdom. Through respected teachers, compassionate friends, and our own wisdom-guided intuition, the Divine Physician helps us make the right choices and walk the spiritual path with strength and confidence.
Yoganandaji wrote, “Be still, and let God answer you within. Learn to know Him by the extent to which you know your true, inner Self.”
May we all be healed of soul ignorance and find the Self within.
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