A Practice of Stillness by Ronald Epstein , M . D .
An excerpt from “ Attending : Medicine , Mindfulness and Humanity ”
Practicing presence , for me , is practicing becoming available ( to myself and others ) and practicing quieting the mind . Being available means showing up and letting patients know — through words and gestures — that there is space .
Patients can recognize presence when they don ’ t feel that they have to say , “ I know you are busy , but . . .” or “ Sorry to bother you with . . .” Clinicians are afraid of being too available — myself included . They ’ re afraid that patients will call them at all hours of the day and night and invade their personal lives relentlessly . Even though I know that ’ s a real risk , I have to remind myself that being more available often saves time . At the end of a visit , I ’ ll say that usually I ’ d schedule a follow-up visit in a month , but that they can come back sooner ; they usually say no but appreciate knowing that space is there . Sometimes I give out my home phone number to patients who are worried or are seriously ill . Patients rarely call , and in thirty years of practice , I can count on one hand the patients who called inappropriately . Knowing that they can reach me makes them feel that I ’ m present . I find that they call the practice less often ; they don ’ t feel a need to repeat and amplify their concerns .
Quieting the mind makes space within the clinician ; it promotes openness . For those who are drawn to it , sitting practice offers one way to quiet the mind ,