Short Story: Howl Like You Mean It 🐺
One more crazy writing experiment...
It is another Sunday and I am still alive and still writing. Al-hamdulelah 👐🏽, cheers 🍻, and everything in between.
Thank you for reading.
I mean it from the bottom of my heart.
Also a special thanks to 🙏 Atta Pilram, Riitta Kamel and Gabe Charbonneau 🙏 for their incredible, personal and timely emails and messages of support week in and week out. Your kindness and generosity fill my cup!
Ok now for the good stuff….
If you are wondering what we will actually do here since Season 1 is over, fear not, Paul will be announcing an exciting new series soon 🎭. In the meantime, I will be going back to the cave to finish off ✍️ the first draft of the novel which is almost there!
I will squeeze in one more experimental post that is inspired by my friend Gabe Charbonneau and his work and leadership at Medicine Forward.
These doctors are on a mission to reclaim the the soul of medicine and recreate the sacred bond between doctor and patient.
In the process, they are reclaiming their own souls, and figuring out how to relate to their own selves.
The following is a piece of flash fiction inspired by listening in to one of their conversations around feeling all feelings. A topic we discussed extensively on our Season 1 Finale.
I love you, and I mean it.
See you next Sunday,
Howl Like You Mean It
A very short story about a doctor looking for meaning and happiness
“Have you ever howled before?” He asked me as we made our way down the Literary walk in Central Park. That is not exactly what I had expected when he invited me to his ‘walk and heal’ session. Howl? I thought to myself. How awkward. The mere idea was unsettling.
“Yes howl, like a wolf!” he said, as he ran off the pavement and crossed onto the green patch of land that rooted the great American elm trees. He approached one of them, and much to my embarrassment, hugged the trunk and started howling. “Aaa-wwwooooooooo!”. As expected heads of people walking by started turning.
What is this guy about? I thought. I laughed the same way I did at everything that made me uncomfortable. I can’t remember when I started using laughter to express all emotions. It is some sort of defense mechanism I have developed. I laugh when I am happy, I laugh when I am sad, and I definitely laugh the most when I am uncomfortable.
“Common try it.” He said as he continued 'Aaa-wwoooing'.
I laughed again. “You are making others uncomfortable.” I said.
“Do you mean I am making you uncomfortable?” said he.
“Well, yes that too.” I said. “I mean this is not what I am here for. You said this would be walking and healing, not tree-hugging and howling!” I hated how impatient I was, but at least I was being assertive.
It is a good time now to tell you how I got here in the first place.
I am a physician who worked hard for everything. When I was a child I had dreams of becoming a dancer, because I loved moving my body. I loved twirling and twisting to swing music and even Russian ballads.
At some point though, my mother knocked some sense into me. I had great grades and we made the decision that I would join medical school. I say we, because it was not her fault alone that I let go of my dancing dreams. I felt like the right thing to do was to pursue a career in medicine.
Over the past fifteen years, I went from a kid that wanted to dance, to a senior neurology resident. I developed my no bullshit attitude towards life. I thought that this would be it. I would finally be happy, but a few months ago I realized how depressed and overwhelmed I actually am. Somewhere along the line, the lights went off in my soul.
That’s when I had my first conversation with my howling and tree-hugging, therapist here. He is also a neurologist at my hospital, but the pressures of the hospital seem to evade him. There is a certain vibrancy about him. Some inherent capacity to feel, and connect with the source of life, which I am jealous of.
I judged him without saying anything for years, until I was so annoyed at his happiness that I had to ask him. What is your secret? How can you be so lively despite the demands of the hospital? I asked him.
"I feel all my feelings." He said with a smile. It did not make sense to me at first. Then he told me about a course he did called Compassionate Inquiry. The creator of this course, Gabor Mate, is a renown psychiatrist. I had seen some of his videos on youtube, and agreed with about 50% of what he says. My tree-hugging colleague here told me about the research and evidence behind a lot of this trauma work. That got my ears perked.
“So, how does one feel all their feelings?” I asked him over lunch.
“By embodying them.” He said.
“That still does not make any sense to me.” I said.
That’s when he invited me to this ‘walk and heal’ session at Central Park. “I’ll show you. It requires getting out of your comfort zone to actually be comfortable in your own skin.”
So this is how I find myself here, with my tree-loving and howling friend. “This is all part of the therapy.” He said as he left the elm tree and joined me back on the pavement. “The reason why you are suffering is that there are feelings that are not expressed. You keep them in.”
He seemed to want to say something else afterwards but I interjected him. “You understand why, right? I take pride in being able to control my feelings. I mean as a doctor, I can’t express my anger at patients, right? Whatever happened to being professional?”
“Yes but we are taking a walk in Central Park. Have you ever considered that there is a false contract about emotions? There doesn’t need to be a certain responsibility around them? I mean what if feelings are these things that you don’t have to do anything about?”
“But, of course there is a responsibility!” I said. “Everything I feel is my responsibility! If I didn’t suppress ninety percent of my feelings I would not be a doctor by now!”
He stopped walking and held me by the shoulders.
“Stand tall for a second, will you? Imagine that you are a mountain." I humored him and imagined myself being a mountain. "Is it your responsibility whether there are clouds above you, or sunshine or rain? Is it your responsibility if it is snowing? Or are you that same mountain with different moods based on the weather?” He continued. “Now is the time to let go. Try to embody what you are feeling. This time is for you.”
“I still don’t understand what you mean by ‘embody’,” I said with an eye roll that I used to give my mom.
"How about we try an exercise that can help you do that?"
“Sure, as long as there is no howling involved!.”
“Deal. Here come sit on this bench, we will do a quick meditation.”
I sat on the bench as asked.
I read a lot of studies about meditation and its effects on the body and the mind. I had been searching for ways to cure this newfound depression. Meditation seemed well substantiated, and I wanted to try it.
“Ok, now get comfortable, close your eyes if you feel like it, take a few centering breaths. Let your body sink into the bench. While it relaxes, turn the clock back and look at a time in your life where you felt in your full power. A time when you were completely on top of your game. A peak experience in your life.”
All I could think about was being around my son who was visiting this week. I saw his face smiling and hugging me. I remembered writing, and how much in flow it made me feel. Time flew, I felt so alive.
“Try immersing yourself back in that experience. You were tingling with the excitement of what was going on. As you are recalling that experience, try to take in all the sensations of it. Where where you? Who is around you? What are the sounds and smells in the situation? ”
I remembered medical school, feeling so stimulated by my neurology classes. I was in the class again as a student. The thrill of knowledge rushing down my spine came back to me. I felt the headache I would feel after class because of how concentrated I was. I saw the gardens that I would walk up to after class to ground myself. The heady smell of daffodils and the sweet sticky green grass outside of campus all came back to me.
“Stay with that for a few seconds until you are ready to come back to the present. Is there anything that your body was going through that you would like to name?”
“Hmmm, yes I felt a headache first, then a relaxation in my shoulders, and a widening in my chest.”
“Fantastic work, these are all emotions passing through your body!”
“So what does this have to do with my depression then? How is this therapy?”
“Well, let’s see if we can find out what feelings you have repressed. Ready for one last exercise? This one requires some honesty.”
“Sure” I sighed.
“Isn’t it funny how sighing is normal and yet howling isn’t?” he said with a mischievous smile. “Sighing is also an emotional release from the body, yet it does not weird us out.”
“You’re going to try to get me to howl again won’t you?” I said.
He laughed. “No! No! I promise! This exercise is about your triggers. Now get back into that comfortable position and think of something that triggers you.” He told me.
All I could think of was him. I hated his all-loving all-encompassing zest for the world. I hated his nonchalance and his ability to howl in public. His simplistic view of the world. Oh, how it all got on my nerves.
“How does your body feel now that you are with your trigger?” He asked.
“It feels contracted. My heart is racing. My headache is back.”
“What is the feeling that you have?”
“Judgement. I am judging you for being so open with your feelings.”
He was silent for second.
“I appreciate your honesty. Judgement is a way we repress other emotions. Which of the five emotions do you think lies beneath the judgement? Anger, sadness, happiness, fear or creative energy?”
“Hmmm. There is anger and some fear. I am angry at the hospital, I am angry at my relationship with my patients, I am angry at how doctors are being treated. I am angry at every inch of documentation that I am expected to do. I am angry at how powerless I have become at work. I am afraid that I have wasted my life.”
These words shocked me. I had never seen myself as an angry person. I always thought I had it under control. But holy shit, was I angry!
“Thank you. What does your body want to do when it is angry?”
“It wants to scream and it wants me to make flex my muscles like the incredible hulk.”
“Would you be open to doing that?”
“No, no. I can’t, I am too afraid that someone I know will see me.”
“Ok, then imagining it, is good enough for now.”
I opened my eyes, and a teardrop fell down my cheek. It must have been the first time in a decade or so that I experienced a tear. Something had shifted.
We walked back to his car and he rolled up the windows. “You know this is my favorite screaming spot.” He said with a smile. “No one can hear you in your car, everyone is busy being in their own car.”
This was all the permission I needed for my final release. I screamed. I
flexed my muscles like the incredible hulk and screamed off the top of my lungs. I screamed for the whole drive back to the hospital. I screamed for the injustice I felt at the hospital.
Then I smiled. I felt elated. I felt the way I had when I danced alone in my room as a little kid. “I understand now.” I said with a smile. “I get why you howl.”
He smiled back and said nothing.
I held his hand and took a deep breath in. On my exhale, I surprised both of us with the sound that came out from me as we parked by the hospital.
Thanks for reading In Search of Gumption! This newsletter will arm you with information, stories and research on how to turn your pain into beauty and compassion.
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📖 Excerpts from the novel in progress and updates on how it is shaping (I will declare a publishing date in the next few months.)
🔍 Commentaries, essays and resources from the creators on our own healing journeys and what we have tried. (see themes above)
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✍️ Short Stories of gumption that inspire you for your busy week.
🦸♂️ New authors and commentators on the topics we discuss.
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