the law of synchronicity

Friday morning at 1 am I was thinking, My God, how incredible! I had spent that week thinking of two topics. First, ideas about women, age and achievement as a woman. Second, cervical cancer and the HPV vaccine, as I just got my first series vaccination a few weeks ago. I’ve been wondering about the underlying mechanisms of HPV and how it can lead to cervical cancer, and how much of a problem all this poses for women in the world.

I went out Thursday night to celebrate a friend’s birthday party downtown, and after a pretty decent amount of eating, dancing and such, I made a quick stop in the restroom before leaving. As I walked in I heard a woman speaking to the restroom attendant saying, “I just love visiting NYC!” Compulsively, I asked, “Where do you come from?” This woman is researcher based between Kenya and China who studies cervical cancer. I asked if she was a PhD or MD and she said, “Oh, I have a PhD. But let me tell you, if you are thinking about it, do yourself a favor and go for your MD.” We then engaged in a deep conversation (all within several minutes of hand washing and hair fixing) about how as a woman researcher, the best option is to get an MD. She told me that working in her field with a PhD she is “a woman before a researcher.”

“The men will walk all over you. Just get your MD, don’t give them that chance.” She kept telling me how famous and renowned she is in her field. She graduated from top schools and leads the field in her area of research. “I do very important work!” And yet, she was so…bitter. It seems that for all her work and all her qualifications, she still feels that she has to prove herself over and over…she still has to strain her voice and demand to be heard.

I work in a hospital and I know many powerful women in the field of research doing great things. Some are PhD’s, some are MD’s and some have both. There certainly seems to be an advantage to being an MD when doing medical research. So I can understand if she clashes with MD-egos as she is doing research in a medical field. But I wonder about the effect of her sex on her experiences. How much of what she is experiencing comes from the fact that she’s a woman?

I have often thought about whether in my own field of clinical psychology, I wouldn’t be better off if I got an MD as well. Would it give me more credibility in my field, amongst my peers?

Ultimately, I’ve decided that I need to make realistic academic and career goals that are rooted in self-knowledge. I have neither the patience for empirical lab-based classes nor the taste to deal with all the bureaucracy that comes with being an MD (not to mention my personal qualms with the modern field of psychiatry). But it saddens me to think that my mindful decision may one day cause regret and frustration. It is a fact that there is a measure of friction women face as researchers and professionals in any field; the measure changes based on the field. It is a sad reality and we all grapple with it. But I also think that there are some areas where women are making great strides, and the progress shouldn’t be ignored. The progress can serve as an example to many of us who may doubt our ability to progress or compete in this world. I don’t think it’s entirely true that this is a man’s world, anymore.

When we continued in our exchange, she argued that I ought to get an MD or even an MD PhD (which is on average a 10 year program), upon which I asked how one would figure a family into all this (because, you know, I just wrote about it!) She blinked and told me that that was her regret in life. She said she didn’t have children when she could and that she didn’t think that she could have them anymore…

She’s 41, she’s beauuuutiful, and she’s brilliant. I don’t know what in that combination would preclude one from having kids unless she herself didn’t really want them. Amazing what blocks we form in our own minds. I have spoken a lot about patriarchal societies and about culture and norms that lead us to be unhappy or that prevent us from being able to actualize… But I would be remiss if I said that we were powerless…far from it! It is hard to rise above opposing forces, harder for some more than others as their obstacles may be more formidable or even deadlier.  But for those of us who have relatively minimal resistance, feeling limited or barred or powerless is really…I dare say…a choice!

We choose our reality, and if one day we wake up and decide that we are going to go for our dreams, every single one of them and let the rest of the chips fall where they may, it’s all going to happen!

My favorite part of the exchange that night was the following:  “I grew up without a father, and my mother was a very strong woman. She taught me many things. But there were a few things she didn’t tell me because she didn’t know them herself, so I’m going to tell them to you. First, never, ever forget to be feminine.” She looked me up and down…(one of those nights when you KNOW you look good), so she said, “and you’ve got that covered. Second, for God’s sake get your MD and don’t let anything stop you. Third, have kids. Have them now, have them whenever. Do it all, you’ll figure it out somehow.” I told her I would consider an MD (which in my mind means going as far as I want to in my career), as long as she would go and have her kids. We laughed, and agreeing, we parted ways.

The next day I looked her up on Google and found her to be, just as she said, the leading researcher, internationally, in her field. I thank the law of synchronicity that brings people together just when they need each other…I Thank the law of synchronicity that provides answers to the questions in our hearts, just when we need the answers the most.

The woman from that night…she really does amazing work. I wish she knew just how amazingly, incredibly, beautifully inspiring she is, and I thank her, wherever she is!

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Response to Is “the clock” ticking?

Thank you, everyone, for your comments and your stories. I love it that you are sharing and I hope that you will want to continue to respond with your stories, thoughts and feelings.

There are some common themes in our thoughts, it seems…strength, trust, faith.

We make the decision to follow a path…yes, that’s the first step. But the hardest part is actually then choosing to follow through. It’s hard to follow through because others will judge, we will face challenges, we will face the chain of decisions that follow the initial decision. We’ll probably face loneliness, if we’re going against the grain. We face doubts and then fears. And THAT’s when we need faith. One would hope to have faith in the path that they’ve chosen…faith that it is the right path and that it will bring fulfillment.

If we don’t have complete faith in the path, maybe we’ll have faith in ourselves, in our sense, to know when to turn back or fight on. If we don’t have faith in that, what is left? For the ones who are spiritually inclined, there is having faith in the universe…that the universe is a place of goodness and that it will conspire to help us on the path (The Alchemist).

The Bhagavad Gita, a Hindu scripture, has a message that I find helpful when I feel like I’ve lost faith (in almost everything). The key in life is to do your best, fight your hardest, get off the fence and be brave…but relinquish the fruits of the battle. The victory, the prize, even the success should not be the goal. The battle you forge, the Process, is where the growth lies. If you divorce yourself from the hunger for a specific fruit, a specific outcome, you make yourself an open vessel to be filled with endless possibilities.

We cannot control outcomes…this idea solidifies, I think, the older we get. We waste so much time and energy, chasing after castles in the sky.  My good friend Barbara always tells me, “Try, Shiva, for once, to explore living in the unknown.” We can’t imagine all that could be in store for us…if we would just let go and make room for those things to come.

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Is “the clock” ticking?

It’s always been interesting for me that of all the 613 mitzvot (commandments) in the Torah, only 3 (THREE!) are considered chovah, mandatory for a woman. The commandments are split up into to general categories, commandments that time restricted and commandments that are not. The Mishnah (the compilation of Jewish oral laws) explains that women are not required to fulfill laws that are time-restricted, and they may voluntarily choose to do the laws that are not time-restricted. This leniency is granted because of their constant demands, children, the household, etc. Requiring them to do all time-based laws would be unrealistic.

Isn’t it fascinating? For a gender that time is so much of the essence,  Judaism decided to give a break on exactly that issue? Women are not bound by time!

As I grow, as a woman, time is becoming more and more of an issue. What do I want to do with my life, when do I want a family, how will it all figure in, if I do this now how will I become successful, if i wait will I be able to have kids and raise them as I want to…it’s actually quite terrifying. I know people, friends and family who have gone through fertility issues, first and second marriages, first and second careers. Culture and society, obviously, play into this a lot. It’s more acceptable now to put off having kids, to pursue a career and make professional success a priority…but is it? I am sandwiched between modern culture and the modern orthodox (Jewish) culture. I would say that at least 50% of the people I went to high school with are married…and that is a conservative estimate. So am I late? According to a woman in our community I am; she once told me, “Nuu, come on, when I was your age (22 at the time) I had 2 kids!” Ehem…

Yeah, it’s a different generation, but different, in a big way, in that it is confused. Mixed messages are all around. Teen pregnancy, divorce, adoption, motherhood at 65, in-vitro at 25. We know we have options, but how can we hear our own voice over all the bantering, all the suggestions, all the PRESSURE?

It’s about perspective…objectivity to be precise. At the end of the day, time is an illusion. At best it is a social construct. “Norms” don’t entirely exist anymore, as far as I can see. I think as a woman who struggles with expectations, ambitions and guilt, the first and healthiest thing one can do is to just throw that clock away all together. It is a hindrance to creativity and a burden. We/I need to always remember that the world is wide and age is a number. This is not to say that one can just float like a dandelion seed  to wherever the wind blows. My point is that life is not about reaching checkpoints in a timely manner. It’s funny, that game “Life” that we play as kids is just like that. You get a job or go to college, you get married, you buy a house and have kids…but we need to remember, that’s just a game. It’s not the real thing. Forget the checkpoints. The only way to have peace of mind is to be efficient in whatever it is you are doing. Live. Whatever you are doing, do it with purpose, with mindfulness and with love.

Once in college I went to career guidance to talk about and plan graduate school. I came into college as a naive, sheltered (very sweet) observant girl from a religious high school. I asked the career counselor, “so how does all this figure in if I get married? How do people balance?” She gave me this funny look as if to say, “You got plans to get married, hunny?” And she said, “I…wouldn’t PLAN around marriage. You do your thing, and if something comes up like marriage, then you fit it around what you are doing.” It was SO incredibly important that I heard that piece of advice.

I think the moral and my message are first, as I said, throw out that old clock. It’s meaningless, a waste of time and causes the secretion of unnecessary stress hormones (bad for the skin). As a woman I know I need to be mindful that I am living for myself and not for a mold or a norm, imposed by others or even by myself.

Just look for a minute at the mystical aspect of things: The soul is timeless, isn’t it? So what is age? A number…not more. And we all have as much time as we want to have…we are as free as we allow ourselves to be.

Chag Shavuot Sameach :)

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