Heart Centered Writing
January's Open Thread
When I started this publication almost two years ago, one of my goals was to be able to give a voice to each person here (as we are often silenced by the medical system) and I thus made an effort to correspond with each reader who reached out. However, as its grown (presently there are almost seventy thousand readers), that has become untenable, and as a result I don’t reply to the emails I receive or many of the comments here.
After a bit of thought, I realized the best solution was to have monthly open threads which I made a point of periodically checking to reply to every comment on. In turn, since anything is up for discussion (e.g., unrelated health questions readers have) I decided to pair the open threads with a specific topic I’d wanted to write about which didn’t quite lend itself to an article.
Before I started writing on Substack, outside of scientific publications I’d worked on, I had no real experience in writing and give or take everything I knew about it was self-taught. Once I unexpectedly became a full-time writer here, I’ve had to follow a fairly quick learning curve (e.g., many of my early articles here I feel were quite poorly written). Since I’ve received a lot of positive feedback (and questions) on my writing style, I thought sharing that somewhat unique writing philosophy would be a good topic for this month’s open thread.
From a fairly young age, I noticed I could hear the voice of each writer I read and to varying degrees, it felt as though I could feel the state of mind they had when they wrote.
Note: once we arrived at the digital age (e.g., instantaneous communication over the internet), I noticed this sense of the other writer became much stronger.
In turn, I noticed there were a lot of writers who I felt shared really useful information I wanted to learn but simultaneously just did not feel good to listen to and I essentially had to suffer through their angst to get to what I was looking for. As I became older and began to realize how much trapped emotions (e.g., trauma) unconsciously controlled people’s actions, I came to the understanding that those trapped emotions were often what fundamentally drove people to write and that simultaneously, as I saw in many other facets of the human experience, those writers often just weren’t aware of the influence their trapped emotions had upon their life.
When you work in any healing field, you will inevitably encounter difficult patients who continually make you want to shut down inside because of the unresolved emotional conflicts they bring into the therapeutic interaction. However, while challenging, if you can instead find the space inside yourself to allow your heart remain open to them, it transforms you as a person and allows you to be a much more effective healer.
Note: this is particularly true for people who are in high pressure fields like trauma surgeons or the doctors who work with very difficult patients (e.g., serial killers).
However, even though I was able to make peace with abrasive writing (e.g., something written by someone who clearly had axe to grind), it still didn’t feel particularly good to read those types of pieces. This is unfortunate since I’ve found the alternative genre (e.g., those calling out corruption within our institutions) tends to be filled with writers who had understandably difficult life circumstances (e.g., traumatic ones) which brought them to be willing to go to great lengths to expose what they could see was happening.
One of the most helpful pieces of advice I heard when I was younger was that people tend to remember not what you said but rather how you made them feel. All of this, in turn, led me to conclude that when writing, the state of mind you hold when you write is often the most important thing. Put differently, on many different levels, what you hold in your brain and your heart as you communicate is what’s ultimately imparted to your audience and likewise typically determines if they want to read what you wrote in the first place.
Since much the material in this genre is produced by writers in an understandably negative state of mind (as a lot of the topics we have to cover are quite awful), this creates the unfortunate situation where that state of mind in turn frequently harms their audiences. For example, I strongly believe in freedom of speech and fully informing my patients, but over and over again I find myself having to tell my patients that they need to stop reading Substack newsletters, listening to podcasts or participating in their pharmaceutical injury support groups.
On the surface, holding both of these positions seems immensely hypocritical, but it arises from the fact I’ve come to see how often the negativity and despair in those places directly transmits through to many who participate in them, ultimately leading to the situation where the participant’s mental (and then physical) health suffers. In short, I often find the suffering they experience from participating in those sources of information greatly outweighs any benefit they get from the extra information they receive.
Note: this is issue is not restricted to the alternative media. For instance, I previously wrote an article explaining how it’s much worse with the mainstream media (which intentionally tries to emotionally antagonize the audience so they will remain hooked to inane content that provides no value to their lives).
When I wonder why these platforms always get mired in negativity (e.g., the participants constantly encouraging each other to become more negative), I typically find that the human pain reflex often lies at the root of what’s happening. In the same way that people reflexively want to bite down on something to alleviate a sudden rush of physical pain (e.g., a surgery without anesthesia) they also will close their hearts and minds down in response to psychological pain.
Because of this, I believe the best “antidote” to this dilemma is to make the point to keep your heart and mind as open as possible and make a point to have that come through in how you address the issue so that some of that openness is transferred to the readers. It’s not always easy for me to do that (some of the topics I cover really upset me) but I believe it’s very important for both the mental health of the readers, but also because all of that negativity creates paralysis and it’s only when people are in an open state of being that they can overcome the collective paralysis the ruling elite always uses to enslave the rest of society and prevent anything from being changed.
Note: this was also the logic of many of the leaders of the most successful protest movements in history (e.g., the non-violent methods used by Martin Luther King and Gandhi). Conversely, this is also a key reason why the media also continually tries to antagonize its viewers, as when they are in that agitated state, it’s very hard for them to adopt an open state of mind and come together to fix the disasters being created by the predatory ruling class.
Similarly, I’ve been involved in numerous alternative groups dedicated to trying to fix something wrong with the world. In each case, I’ve seen that if the hearts of the group can stay open, the group is general successful, whereas if they begin to close down and everyone gives into negativity or despair, a toxic dynamic takes over the group and quickly fragments it.
For example, once the mandates were dropped and there was no longer a unifying threat to unite everyone behind, I saw multiple groups protesting the COVID-19 response devolve into drama and gossip which was then followed by the majority of the group leaving. This was a huge shame because those groups provided the vital community organizing to prevent something similar to the corrupt COVID-19 response from happening again. Conversely, all the successful organizers I’ve ever spoken to have emphasized that they prioritize having a heart centered focus in what they do from the start so negativity can’t fracture their group (as most of them are well aware this is one of the most common methods outsiders use to neutralize any group which threatens the status quo).
Since I first started this publication, one of the most common messages I’ve gotten from readers here is that really appreciate how my writing makes them feel (and in many cases they imply that it’s their primary motivation for reading what I write).
This publication in turn has been unusually successful (e.g., in less than two years, despite starting from nothing, being completely anonymous, and it being done alongside a busy professional workload, it’s made it onto Substack’s leaderboard and [excluding everywhere its republished] already gets almost a million monthly views). I share all of this because my hope is that it can inspire others to consider writing in a more heart centered way as well, which I argue both rewards the writer but more importantly is also critically important for our entire movement.
Do Things Well
Since I first entered the holistic medical field, I’ve noticed an inverse relationship between how effective (and ethical) a practitioner is and how much they advertise. This, in turn, is quite unfortunate for patients searching for the right doctor, as the doctors they want to see tend to be very hard to track down (and typically have full practices).
As many of those doctors are my friends, colleagues and mentors, I’ve had the privilege to observe much of what they shared in common (which was discussed in more detail here). One thing that distinguished all of them was that while they were not necessarily perfect human beings, they all made a point to practice the art of medicine as best as they could, to not cut corners on things many of their colleagues did, and to always be looking for a way to do what they were doing better.
On the surface, this clearly benefitted the doctors, as their patient’s recognized all of that and as you’d expect, their practices grew quite quickly through word of mouth and, most importantly, they had much more enjoyable interactions with their patients (since the right people filled their practice).
However, it also benefitted the doctors on a much deeper level as the growth they underwent from their commitment to honing their art of medicine created a profound opening within them that deeply improved their general happiness and their satisfaction with life. Similarly, many of my spiritual teachers have shared that while it’s impossible to do everything well, finding the key areas of life you wish to devote yourself to and dedicating yourself to developing mastery within them is incredibly important for any spiritual path.
I’ve tried to adopt these principles into my personal life (e.g., much of what I share in my writing is a product of the decades I spent doing my best to learn all that I could about health and medicine). Likewise, even though its often quite challenging (e.g., because of the topic at hand, because something stressful is happening in my life, or because I’m short on time) I make a point to prioritize the quality of what I put out on here and most important, to always write with an open heart.
In short, I very much follow a quality over quantity model here. Much like my colleagues have found in medical practice, even though I “advertise” less (since I publish relatively few newsletters) choosing quality over quantity has actually been a successful strategy—what I write is much more likely to be read, and since I’ve consistently shown I don’t compromise on quality, that’s made many other people feel much more comfortable promoting my work (which in turn has done far more for this publication than any amount of mediocre articles I could have written).
Note: much in the same way I hope this movement can recognize the value of quality over quantity (as quality rather than quantity is typically the most effective way to persuade those committed the existing narrative), it is my sincere hope that principle can be recognized within the medical field (e.g., you get much better results for patients if you take the time to do a few things well rather than [quickly] doing dozens poorly). Unfortunately, the business of medicine has largely shifted towards having doctors prioritize quantity since almost everyone is paid based off of how much they do, not how they will they do.
Clarity of Communication
Ivan Illich (a gifted polymath) argued that most of the problems with our society could be traced to two widely held beliefs:
•That you need a doctor be healthy.
•That you need to be taught to learn.
These two points in turn have shaped much of what I’ve written on here (e.g., if everyone believes they need a doctor to address anything which might be wrong with them, then this inevitably creates a medical system which eats up the national budget and keeps on saying it needs more funding even though it fundamentally fails to address many of the country’s health needs).
The second point however is less appreciated (and if anything far more insidious). It initially came about from Illich’s observation that our intuitions were failing to educate those who went through them, that the solution (more schooling) didn’t fix the problem (rather it often made things worse). Conversely, Illich saw that when you simply gave people the tools they needed to learn and did not tell them what to do, they often learned far more than any teacher could teach them.
In turn, my experience of the educational system was that I’d occasionally have a good teacher (who I learned a great deal from) but the vast majority of them simply threw information (or rote logical algorithms meant to take the place of critical thinking) at us which we were expected to memorize and regurgitate. Because of this, I found many students didn’t retain most of the information that was shown to them, and year after year the same material would be retaught because too many students didn’t learn it the first time (or second or third time).
Worse still, I found that if I let myself be subjected to this “educational” process it often seemed as though it was taking away my cognitive faculties and placing me into a subservient place of fear where the material became something I had to submit to so I could get through it rather than a partner I could engage with.
So, to solve this dilemma, from a fairly young age, I started self-teaching myself a lot of material outside the existing curriculum (e.g., what I felt was important to learn), and I only put a real effort into the classes (or tests) I felt had real value and hence were worth learning. Because of this, I had an immense degree of variability throughout my academic performance (e.g., I almost failed certain years of my education while in others I was at the very top of my class).
Once I found myself within the role of being a teacher, I tried to avoid replicating everything I’d seen teachers do that I didn’t agree with. In my eyes, some of the most important things were:
•When presenting the information, as much as possible you have to do so in a way that people can relate to so that it becomes their own rather than just being an abstract idea someone expected them to memorize. In turn, there are a lot of ways I could approach many of the topics I bring up here, but I always try to pick the ones that I feel people can relate to with what they already bring to the table.
•Always try to make things as simple as possible and avoid jargon which requires specialized knowledge to understand the topic. For example here, rather than using medical terms (which many aren’t familiar with), I typically use something with an equivalent meaning a medical professional will quickly translate into medical terminology.
Note: I also put a lot of thought into using precise language when trying to define an ambiguous concept which is prone to misinterpretation.
•Vary the approaches you use to elucidate the subject, since people will often have a different angles from which they can understand it. Likewise, this is why I try to vary the type of content I present here (and even within the articles themselves) since I know different audiences will each want something different they can take away from what they read.
•Always try to drill down to the core quality of a subject at hand, and then use those core principles to weave a tapestry which explains the complex picture in front of us. As I got older, I noticed more and more the same processes were at work in a variety of seemingly unrelated events. In turn, once I understood those processes, I found if I could identify them within an event that was unfolding in front of me, I could often predict exactly what would come to pass. Likewise, I found that if framed a complex subject through the core principles which appeared to be at work, that would provide me with a relatively concise way to explain the otherwise incredibly complex subject.
Note: I later learned this approach is very similar to the essence-based philosophy of Buddhism.
•Be acutely aware of the most critical points relating to the subject at hand (e.g., those that have to be understood to grasp the full picture, and those which will be the most likely to be misinterpreted), and then give an extra focus on those points so they are not misunderstood or forgotten.
•Focus on the continuity of ideas within your writing and how everything flows, rather than breaking it into simple independent statements. While this is how people are taught to write within the educational system, losing that continuity within writing makes it very difficult for a complex idea to emerge from the individual simple ideas you presented (this is somewhat analogous to determining if a 3D image can sprout from a 2D picture).
•If you get overly intellectual, it’s very easy to lose people. That’s why doing each of the previous is important, and even more so why you must always be quite mindful of your emotional state when you write.
Note: because of my personality, I always like to see both sides of an issue and think subjects over extensively before adopting a position on them. In turn, many of the subjects I write about here I’ve spent years debating with myself and as a result I can quickly present the key points I think people need to have to be able to reach an informed position on a subject. Likewise, because of my familiarity with those topics, I often know (and hence can preemptively head off) the likely ways an idea I put forward will be attacked.
That all being said, while I find clarity of communication to be important, I’ve found being heart-centered to take priority, and because of this, when I have the choice between writing something which “feels” right, verses putting something together which is technically “correct” (e.g., for the grammar), I will default to the one that feels right. This for example was why I stopped using editors, as I found many of the changes they made which made the article “more correct” caused it to lose the feeling I was aiming to have behind the words and hence overall worsened each piece.
Note: I believe my ability to recognize this is a result of me having no formal training in writing, as had I had one, I likely would have defaulted to the “correct” way to do things and hence ignored the nagging feeling that something felt amiss.
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Spirituality in Writing
In each era, many come to the conclusion that what society offers them lacks the deeper meaning they feel at their core life is supposed to provide. In turn, I would argue that the underlying reason why spirituality and faiths emerge is because they provide a means to fill that void each human soul yearns to have be addressed.
Modern life, in turn, is characterized by time being the most valuable commodity and each us having far too little time to do all that we want to do in life. Initially, most are pulled into society’s torrent (which is often referred to as the “rat race”), but as time goes on, many begin to realize all is not right and that they need something to address the existential emptiness which results from living within this paradigm.
A variety of methods exist for navigate this dilemma. On one end of the spectrum, some of my most extraordinary colleagues are able to get an incredible amount done in a day, while on the other end, as individuals move towards death, their perspectives totally change and they realize most of the things in life they previously deemed important were just distractions that were keeping them away from the things that really mattered in life.
In turn, I believe one of the most important reason why someone should not do a half-baked job on a task they’d set their minds on performing is because doing so steals the most precious thing in life (their time on Earth) away from them. For example, one of the things I’ve always greatly disliked about our economy is how many of the jobs in it incentivize you doing a very mediocre job and pay you for your time and compliance rather than your results. As a result, I frequently meet individuals near the end of their lives who lament the fact most of their life was spent trying to get through the day rather than on doing thing they found interesting or meaningful.
Likewise, that is a major reason why I put so much effort into making a point write each article here well. Similarly, if I don’t feel alright with the quality of my work, it’s a lot harder to bring myself to be motivated to keep putting the time I put into it.
Note: at this point I have a general idea of all the topics I’m supposed to cover here (of which there are a lot), so I know if I do one badly that will requires me to rewrite it in the future, which ultimately costs me a lot time and makes it much less likely I’ll make to the final goal I have for this publication. This is analogous to the situation I run into in clinical practice, where I frequently know if I don’t take the extra time to do what I think a patient needs to get well, it will ultimately cost me a lot more time long term because I’ll likely have to deal with everything else they need at some point in the future. Because of how I’ve structured my medical practice, I have the flexibility to spend extra time with patients who need that—but simultaneously, most doctors cannot do so because corporate medicine boxes them into a tightly packed schedule of brief medical appointments where they inevitably end up seeing the same patients over and over again.
In the final part of this article I will share a few of the deeper spiritual insights I’ve gained from writing on here (which I’m still on the fence about disclosing), and some of the things I’ve found have greatly helped me with saving time on the nuts and bolts of writing this publication (e.g., I use a non-standard keyboard layout which is much faster to write with and creates significantly less wrist strain while doing so).
Lastly, please remember that the primary purpose of this post is for it to be for you and to be where you can ask the questions you want to ask (e.g., those that don’t quite fit into a specific topic).