So often our sense of the distinctions and differences between ourselves and others is the primary lens through which we see the world. In this practice we can try stepping into someone else's experience. As caregivers, our capacity to get close to the experience of the "patient" is a particularly rich form of mindfulness practice. This practice uses the imaginal or conceptual aspect of mind to begin cultivating a sense of interconnectedness.

As you sit with and listen to a patient's or client's story and symptoms, see if you can begin to sense what it might be like for you to be in their situation. How would this illness cause you to modify such taken-for-granted activities as walking, driving, or going out to dinner? How might it affect the tenor of your emotions and sense of self? Notice the quality of your breathing, the sensations in your body, the stream of thoughts and feelings as you maintain your commitment to get close to the experience that they are describing to you. Notice how your intention and commitment to this process begin to affect the way you listen, the questions you ask, your capacity to feel another's pain, the unfolding of empathy and compassion.

Pay particular attention to the implicit assumptions that you have made about “reality.” You may start to notice that the perceived “reality” of the patient is often quite different from that of the practitioner. Knowing this and then attempting to close this usually unspoken gap in understanding between patient and practitioner can begin to shift the entire context of the healing relationship. Once again, remember that this is a “practice,” one you were probably not introduced to during your years of formal education. Keeping this in mind may help you dissolve some of the discomfort of feeling you have to perform or be perfect.

Saki Santorelli in Heal Thy Self: Lessons on Mindfulness in Medicine