Welcome to another episode of Mindfulness+. My name is Thomas McConkie and we have a guest in the studio today who's more dear to me than I can say, David Timpson. David, thanks for being here.
It's my pleasure.
Where to begin my heart. My heart just bursts. There are no walls, no floors, no ceilings here. You've always brought that out in me. I had met David... I've probably talked about him in this podcast that during some season, some episode, there was a time in my life where I was just getting sick and tired of suffering so much. And I kind of cried out and said, "I need a path. I need a teacher. I need something." And David showed up as a great friend and mentor and advocate and teacher, and all sorts of beautiful archetypes. And David, I can't even speak to what a beautiful friendship in life it's been with you.
Well, and I'll have to say that it's been equally good for me because just your open heart, and your powerful ability to express your feelings and ideas has always inspired me. So it's gone both ways.
Thanks, David. So we go back. I met David when I was about 18, so this is 1998. And so, I'll do the math, it's been over 20 years.
Yeah, '98, I was 48.
Yeah, and here we are on the path together. David and I, we got together, I don't know how this happened. I hadn't seen you... We've kind of ebbed and flowed out of close touch to no local manifest touch, but always in the nonlocal touching. But sometimes we talk more than others is what I meant to say. And all at once, I think is right at the beginning of COVID, we just like came back into orbit, and we started book clubbing. So we've been in a great rhythm. Studying the masters Lex Hixon, the Prajnaparamita, "Physicians of the Heart." So some of that I think might come up today. It's already here.
David Wonderful, wonderful.
There's so much I want listeners to hear about your path, your practice, and just feel who you are because it's been so influential to me. Maybe to kind of lay down a bit of groundwork. if you could just talk a little bit about your background in medicine. I could start anywhere. David's a Renaissance man, so I can't appropriately introduce him. He's done too much in his life and accomplished too much, but let's start with your prolific career in medicine. If you'll just say a little bit about how you came into that to give listeners a feel for context.
I think what really strongly enticed me into medicine is that when I was about eight years old, my mother came down with a particularly virulent form of multiple sclerosis. And so from my eight year old eyes, I saw my mother go from being just a wonderful, ideal mother, actually, to being partly blind. And then, very rapidly within a few months, she was totally blind. And she lost the ability to move any of her muscles except for her neck and head. She couldn't move her arms, her legs. And she was in a hospital bed in our home. It was a state she was in from the time I was about, oh, 10 or 11 years old, until she passed away when I was 21.
Thomas I've heard you talk about this at different times since I've known you, in really moving ways. What was it like to see your mom meet that illness with the attitude she did?
It actually was surprisingly tender because my mother never complained once. I never heard her in all those years complain about her lot, but she was so happy when I'd come home from school. First thing I'd do is walk in and tell her about my day. And if I was dawdling, she'd say, "David, get in here, I need to talk to you." And I said, "It's not like I have anything else to do." And so I'd get her one of her favorite coconut crusted marshmallows and tell her about my day. It didn't affect her mind. She had tremendous wit, tremendous memory. She would tell me all about the talking records that she got from the society for the blind that came. So she was listening to all of the great books and magazines, so she kept her mind busy. And she loved college sports.
Thomas I think you've mentioned it before. She was doing college sports. My dad would set up a card table. And he was a hobbyist. He loved building model airplanes, cars, and paint soldiers. And so he was in there just with her at night when he got home. And he was also ideal. He never complained. He just covered all the bases. My mother's parents ended up moving next door to us. And so I felt like I had more adult love and supervision in my life than most of my friends did because they were good and it was better. But it also broke my heart. And I decided that if I could with my life, I would try to do something to answer that, to answer that suffering I saw in her. And so medicine was a obvious choice. The woman I married, her father was a successful surgeon in Salt Lake City, classmates with Russell Nelson, by the way.
Thomas Oh, interesting, President Nelson.
But they were friends. Yeah, President Nelson. And so he felt like that'd be a... He also gave a good pitch for medicine, and that that's how I ended up getting into it.
So you entered the healing arts after a really significant encounter with illness in your family growing up. Is that fair to say?
What kind of medicine did you practice?
I decided to specialize in anesthesiology. And for me it was ideal because the anesthesiologist is more than the guy who just keeps the person asleep. You have to be kind of the internist of the operating room. You have to know about all the dynamics of medical diseases. And the surgery that's going on, it is unique to that surgery so that for every combination of diseases that a patient has and the surgery he's having, it's a unique set of anesthetic problems. And so the classic anesthesia texts are basically like 3000 pages long to describe all that.
Yeah, I mean, you're the crossroads of all of these interdisciplinary procedures.
Yeah. It's also good for someone who doesn't want to just finetune people as they come in for a crash landing in their life, just regulating their diabetes or whatever in the operating room. The medicines we use, if they haven't worked in a few seconds, then it was the wrong choice. Or if the patient's worse in a few seconds, you've made the wrong choice. You know very rapidly if things are gonna work or not and that's kind of nice. So things really go snap snap in the operating room.
So, this is interesting. I mean, as you're describing it to me, I've talked to you about this, who knows, hundreds of times, but as I'm hearing it new in the moment, your craft as a physician is extremely delicate, the right amount of medicine for the right patient at the right time. And yet, what I wanna talk to you about today is even more delicate and subtle and refined than that. There's the medicine, which is, a razor's edge, but something that's really struck me about you and our friendship and hearing about your career as a physician over the years is how you incorporated your meditative awareness into this really sophisticated craft. Anything you wanna say about that as we're getting into this? 'Cause I wanna ask you how you became a meditator and how that practice opened you up to a new way of being a doctor. And I think for people listening, how this can inspire us to be new kinds of human beings, bring our meditative awareness to whatever our craft happens to be.
Right. When I was just very young, I was probably five or six before my mother got sick, one night I was just in my bedroom looking up at the dark ceiling and in my mind's eye, I could see the stars in the sky just as clearly as if I were on the top of a mountain. And I just lay there just seeing the beautiful scene in my mind of all the stars that were visible, and the intuitive hit came to me that I was that, that I was that.
Thomas That's a young age to have a breakthrough like that.
Yeah, like five or six. And so, obviously, I actually repressed that memory. It didn't come back to me until I was about 32 or 33.
Thomas Yeah, yeah.
So the conveyor belt to medicine is, as you know, four years of college, four years of medical school, and four to 10 years after that, it's specialty training. So, really
No time for stargazing in there.
No time for stargazing.
No, I was busy with my notes and books until I was about 31.
And then something broke through again, something broke open. How would you talk about that? What was it then, at 31, 32, where that intuition came back?
Well, 31, 32, I had a chance to read something other than medical books. And so I started reading in earnest everything I could get my hands on from Joseph Campbell.
Yes, we share this in common. That was one of the first texts that kind of cracked my head open.
Yeah, "Hero's Journey." And the other thing he wrote.
Yeah, there you go. "The Hero with a Thousand Faces."
He was a masterful, masterful storyteller.
He totally captured me. And what I realized since he was a master mythologist, what I realized for myself is that the great religious traditions offer tremendous value and blessings for many, many people. But they all have a similarity. They all have a hero's journey. They all have various tests and hardships and so many, many things. But I resumed what I'd done earlier before I went to medical school. When I was 16 and 17, I took classes at the U of U in summer school between high school and got about 30 university credits in comparative religion 'cause I was really interested in that stuff. But anyway, I started meditating. I started out with transcendental meditation and then started reading all sorts of Daoist and Buddhist and Vedantic books, and I just started different meditative techniques. And just found that that reading books on spirituality and meditation were what I enjoyed most, so I did that.
Yeah. First, I'll say, I'm having the experience right now, if you're listening, I hope this is transmitting through the airwaves, but I feel like I'm just like huddled around a little fire with the tribal elder. It's kind of revealing the mysteries of the universe to me, so I feel like I'm in the right place. I hope y'all are feeling like that too. So, meditation practice, I'm struck by... I mean, I'm youngish, I'm 41 now and
David And 71 here, so.
71 here, right. And so it's interesting to me when I look back at my own practice, I can hardly believe it's been almost 25 years, and I can hardly believe how much I've changed within the practice over time. So, that's just a sidebar that this practice, mindfulness, which we explore so deeply in this show, the benefits are cumulative and exponentially so. When I look at... I mean, I was amazed my first year of practice how much it changed me for the better, but then decade after decade, I could have never anticipated how much it would change me from the inside out. Then I sit across the table from you, the guy who actually initiated me, and you're in your fifth decade. I mean, I just feel the profound... I feel your heart just ablaze, David, and it's remarkable how you hold it. It's always inspired me the way you hold it.
Well, I've just felt really, really blessed. To use a metaphor of guardian angels, I think I have a few.
I think I have a few, but also I've noticed that there's the truth to the idea that the more things change, the more they're the same is that there's a commonality from now to 30 to 40 years ago. And that is that which is aware of what I'm thinking and feeling and sensing and experiencing doesn't feel like it's ever changed.
Thomas Right, it doesn't seem to age.
No, it doesn't seem like age. It's the same aware of what's happening, the same present knowingness that was there when I was five years old and saw the starry sky. Only now I'm quicker to recognize when my conditioned mind has thrown a bogus thought in and trying to make me believe it. It's like if I'm starting to feel irritated or upset or judgmental about anybody, I know, aha! I know my conditioned mind.
The gigs up. Not so fast.
David Yeah, that's right. That's, "Nope, I caught ya!" Like that guy didn't do the barnyard with you.
Yeah, remarkable. Well, I mean, you're spirit, it's such a deep flavor of freedom.
David And that's not to say that I don't get triggered. I have an autistic grandson who's 13 years old now, and he can just devastate me in a few seconds of just... He knows how to find that inner fury that I thought I had totally tamed.
Cool, good news for the rest of us who still find themselves activated frequently.
Yeah, and the good news on that is like, it was the main thing I learned in my early meditation is that it's a break from the relentless onslaught of the conditioned mind, the noisy mind. Always having to think that, well, it's like the old poem, "As a rule man is a fool. When it's hot, he wants it cool. When it's not, he wants it hot. Always wanting, what is not."
The Buddha could have almost said that exact thing.
David But anyway, it's a break from the conditioned mind that's a relentless onslaught.
That was an impressive nursery rhyme, by the way. You just rattled that off. Like you didn't even miss a beat.
David Well, I remind myself of it frequently.
Thomas Yeah. I think I might need you to text me that later. I actually again.
Oh, I will. I will.
So, there's so many different directions we could go. I might need to bring you back into the studio to capture some of these stories. There's one story you told me years ago, and it's inspired me. Ever since, actually, I'm surprised how much I think about it. I think you know what I'm talking about.
A practicing doctor, you can describe the medical situation as much as your profession allows you to ethically, but there's a man dying, and there is the experience you had with him and how you described it and how that unfolded. This happened to you, right?
But you tell the story, and it's as that happened to me, and it's changed my whole concept of how I can be in relationship in the world with myself and others. So, without setting too high a bar or expectation of doing that story, but it's so amazing. It's such a beautiful example of how this practice can change our lives and others' lives. I wonder if you'd be willing to say a little about it.
Well, I'd be happy to. And the context is I was somewhere around 50, maybe a little bit older than 50. So I'd had a pretty good run in just knowing how to find my equilibrium, to find a spiritual balance, and in a practice where people were routinely trying to die on my shift at the hospital. I'd sometimes have to go in the closet, the cleaning closet of the hospital, and cry my eyes out when something had happened 'cause I didn't think it was appropriate for professional doctors to cry in front of their patients. But in later years, I would cry openly with my patients and just hold them or hug them.
Thomas How much they appreciated that, we could hardly say.
And I think they appreciated my humanness, but that's about where I was. And also, it's probably good to say that through my whole medical career, and even earlier as a teenager, I had really strong intuitive hits about people. If I was a medical student, and I was assigned to a patient at the university hospital, and he was dying, I'd be sitting in the room just as an observer with a family, and I would just get the intuitive feeling that there were energetic entities in the room. And it's not like I saw ghosts or her voices, but I could feel, in essence, an energetic personality, and I'd figure, "Oh, there's another one in the room." And so I
What a juxtaposition, too, to be medical student and later on an anesthesiologist. I mean, this departs from traditional medical education in the Western world, right?
It does, and so I think I was wise to keep my mouth shut about those intuitions when I was still in practice. But for those who were wanting to know, I would talk more about it. But in any case, so that was my hit. I also had the hit that what we think about other people is very powerful also. That if we're holding them in a state of innocence in our mind, they're a lot more approachable. If they can sense that we don't have any negative judgment about them as we approach and start talking, they're more open.
That's what you mean by a state of innocence. To hold someone in a state of innocence in our heart is to just take to be true that they're lovable.
David Yeah, that they're beautiful and lovable exactly how they are.
That's right. And so, it got to be in my later years when I'd gone through having a wife die of cancer and leaving me with young kids and my own cancer and still having to practice, in my interviewing patients had got so that the first thing I wanted to do is to remember to hold them in beauty and innocence in their life, and I noticed what a difference it was in how people responded to me. In an interview, we'd get over the medical part quite rapidly. And then, I'd ask them a question about what seemed to me was maybe an area of ultimate concern for them. And all of a sudden their body language changed. Their eyes would get wider. And I could tell that then they'd lean forward like, "This person actually cares about me." So that's kind of the place that I'd come to in my practice. But one night, one wintry night, I was doing a long operation on a man, probably in his 60s. He'd already had fairly challenging medical situations. He had a colostomy bag that had gone bad. He ended up getting infected with a flesheating bacteria around his colostomy bag. And the surgeons were basically stripping away tissues that were already totally destroyed by this flesheating bacteria. And I'd had a chance to meet his extended family and his spouse earlier, and so I had a feeling for the family. And so the first thing I noticed is it felt like this energetic awareness of entities in the room. It's like they were in my operating room.
Thomas Yeah, wow.
And I started feeling, "Oh, oh wow." And then I just started speaking to this man in my mind. And I was
Thomas When he was sedated?
No, he was under general anesthesia general. He was completely under general. I was talking to him. And part of the... The only window we we really have into the body is the head and neck, because the rest of it is covered with surgical drapes. But sometimes, I'd put my hand on his forehead. But I was talking to him, I was saying, "You know," let's just call him Joe, "You know, Joe, what's going on with you is the equivalent of you're being skinned, and to recover from this would be like a burnt patient recovering from a 90% third degree burn on his body. That's the kind of recovery you're gonna have. And I'm just telling you that what you're in store for is years of graft surgery, years of extreme pain and disability from this. And I'm just telling you because it's my clinical experience that if you decide that your life is really full and complete now, you might decide to just go with these folks. I can tell, I've have come from the other side, you might just wanna go home with them. And your family who are still in the hospital, they won't think you've abandoned them. They know you love them." So, I just was talking like that to him. And eventually, after hours, the surgery was completed. And one of my main goals is to get them off the operating room table and into the ICU, so I don't have a whole books worth of paperwork to fill out if they die on my table. That's not what I ever want. So I did get him safely put in the ICU. And the next morning, I came back and meet rounds, and he'd passed in the night. And I just thought, "Oh, good for you, Joe." I expressed my condolences.
May you travel
Yeah, may you travel and may your travels be
swiftly to the other shore.
swiftly to the other shore. And may you and your family have peace and joy and comfort. And so that was it. It was onto the next day's work. Well, a few months later, I had a friend who is quite well known to be an intuitive. And she came back from an experience in the
And just quickly for listeners, an intuitive, another soul, not unlike yourself, who is sensitive to these, we could say energies, information, things that are quite refined and subtle and signals we can easily look past if we're not paying attention.
I considered myself just really a dim light compared to her. She had amazing abilities. She'd gone to Peru and had an ayahuasca journey with the elders of the, of the tribes there. And we were just sitting in her apartment talking, and we were reading some of the works of Lex Hixon, Ramprasad and others that were... We were reading about that. And she says, "Oh, by the way, David, I had a really interesting experience in Peru." I said, "Oh, tell me about it." So we were just standing there, I think, just having a cup of coffee. And she said, it was a night vision, and this rather elderly man came to me and said, "When you get back to Salt Lake City, tell the good doctor who helped me decide to cross over, tell him, thank you." I said, "What?" She said it again.
Thomas And she had no idea about it.
She had no idea, she'd been gone. She had no idea. And we were not the closest of friends, but she was an acquaintance that I trusted.
Thomas Joe paid a visit in Peru, apparently, whatever that means.
Apparently, in her own mind's eye, Joe paid her a visit and express that. And, well, I had to sit down. It just I was thunderstruck with that sharing. And I thanked her for sharing about that. And I made up my mind that I was going to catch myself before I ever thought a negative thought about another human being.
Thomas Can we slow down there?
And have not succeeded in that wish. But I do catch myself because if I have a negative thought about another human being, I instantly know that I'm not my happiest self or my most peaceful self. And I know that it's actually not really true. That it's something that my conditioned mind has come up with that's crossed a trip wire of some kind of the massive unconscious conditioning that I have that, I believe we all have that, that there's something not exactly right about them. But any case, I really do try to catch myself, and more and more, unless it's my autistic grandson, I don't get triggered. But I decided to start a new practice at the hospital where I would just walk around the rooms of the hospital. My hospital was a community hospital. It wasn't that big. I could walk all the patient rooms in about 15 minutes. And I would just walk, and just, I knew many of the people behind the doors, knew where all my patients were, but it didn't matter whether they were my patients or not, I would just wish them peace and rapid healing and wish them goodness and health. And so, before I went home, I would just do those silent rounds. And I've never heard of anybody else who's done that in medicine in a traditional way. It's not like there was a code that I could bill for nor did I care about that.
Thomas Or a double blind study you could perform to prove that it's effective.
That's right, there was no around that. But what I noticed is that I always felt better, that I was doing something that... The great insight for me is that if I'm ever intending to do something positive or helpful or comforting, I'm the one who gets comforted and helped, and if it helps someone else, all the better.
Thomas Yeah, done.
So, that's the gist of it.
It's so powerful, David. For me, there's so many takeaways from just this single story. But like one thing that sticks out to me in the moment is like a palpable faith you took from that experience with your friend in Peru who said, "By the way that thing you did several months ago, this is how impactful that was," right? And that you walked away, in my own words. I don't know if you'd use the word faith, but this conviction, this knowledge, this direct experience that every intention in my heart, every blessing I send out, or any bit of ill will, it impacts the whole, it impacts everything everywhere simultaneously. And therefore, I'm gonna like really take on this responsibility to emanate good in the world. I'm just endlessly inspired by that story and the practice. And I think the person it's helped you become, and so much more, but it's moving to me every time we talk about it.
Well, it still inspires me. And my meditation now is oftentimes, I think, more akin to Centering Prayer, my Centering Prayer.
Thomas What would you say about that?
It's like when I get still, it's just like breathing that the wish for blessing and peace and guidance for every single sentient being in the universe. And every sentient being everywhere. And that is a wish for all beings. I noticed that I feel flooded with it myself, and it might come in just in the form of an insight, and it helps in Centering Prayer. If I'm having a traditional thought, I don't follow it. I just come back to just a peaceful, openminded, openhearted place just expecting the beautiful, and it always happens, but not knowing how it's gonna happen or what's going come out.
Right. There's so much you're saying. I mean, this would be a whole other conversation. Hopefully, we can schedule one to have. But how do I describe it? I mean, this capacity we have as human beings, we call it mindfulness. We call it Mindfulness+ here. But this capacity we have to shift into a completely different experience of now. We can go from, you've used this term again and again, conditioned mind, this everyday ordinary mind where it's from thing to thing, and I'm suffering, or I'm just mildly irritated, or whatever it is, but I'm just kind of bogged down in the conditions of life and this bodysuit that's achy and creaky, and everything's stacked against us and with that one degree shift, all of a sudden, it's a kind of paradise that's right here.
It reminds me of the words of Jesus in the New Testament, "The kingdom, it's right here. The time is ripe, the time is now, if you just had eyes to see." I think the great masters of wisdom on the planet have lived in this reality you're speaking to, and I feel a real invitation into it when we talk.
Yeah, I feel exactly what you feel. And I would say that any wisp of negativity or judgment makes the availability of that kingdom obscure; it veils it.
Thomas It prioritizes this kingdom, the one we're living in, and all we see is this, we always see what's right in front of our faces.
Yeah. The other thing that really helps me instantly go to that other kingdom is my love for classical music. Just on the way driving over to your house today, there was a magnificent baroque flute concerto with an ensemble, and I was having to pay careful attention to just drive safely because if I hear really beautiful classical music, it always, what I say is it just blows me nonlocal. And I've got to got to pay attention to what I'm doing because I'm so stunned by the beauty of great classical music. So, that's another way that I instantly go.
Yeah, it's yet another topic, just our personal pathways into this experience that I think is so ordinary and so human. I hope that comes across in our conversation today, just that it's right here. And we all have our particular gateway that opens up into, you know, just right now. But you share it in such a unique way, David, and your life is so beautiful, and your heart is just so palpably full of love in here. I wanted the Mindfulness+ audience to get a little taste of it. I really appreciate.
Well, I'm really happy to be here. And I'd raise both hands to like, have I done my share of selfish or thoughtless things? Absolutely. But do I feel better when I'm remembering to be kind and patient? Absolutely.
Yeah, indeed, well said. I wonder, so, I always end this show with an actual practice, a little guided meditation. Is there anything you might take us through? It could be simple, or it could be ornate, but I wonder if you'd take a moment to invite us into whatever is in your heart?
Oh, of course. On the outside, I love the Buddhist and Daoist and Vedantic traditions, but in the inside, my heart of hearts is Sufi.
Thomas Which is a branch of the Islamic tradition.
A branch of Islamic. But I have the highest regard for the Sufi saints and writers.
Thomas And you're an ordained Sufi as.
Yes, I actually took hand in the Sufi order of AlJerrahi in New York, and so I'm a dervish.
Thomas You're cardcarrying.
So, I'm just a dervish, which just means I'm a committed follower of the dervish order. But there aren't any rules except to be a good human being, as good as you can be. So, I think what I'd guide through is maybe some of the divine names. One of the divine names is Warith. Warith is our groundedness in the conditioned mind. And in everything that it entails, all the details of this life that we're in. And so I start with Warith and then pair it with Baith. Baith is letting go. Letting go of the conditioned mind stuff. And so, that gradually, as the Warith fades out, it's a process of coming to a new awareness, and it's Haqq Haqq is the divine name for, it's for the absolute. And it's like the existence or the awareness that's beyond the conditioned mind. And it's just supremely loving and peaceful and beautiful. And so any experience we might have that feels like the deepest love we've had, or the greatest piece we've had, or the greatest beauty we've seen in our lives, those are doorways to AlHaqq But then, there's coming back to the life that we're living in. And then there's, this is not a divine name, but it's a Sufi teaching, and it's marifah. Marifah is coming back after having had a nice bath in the divine, coming back and doing your job as a grandparent, or as a parent, or as a teacher, or as a physician. It's just doing... It's coming back into this life with the intention to just be kind and patient and pay my very best attention to supporting good outcome in whatever I'm doing. So, that's what I'd share today.
Mm. Thank you, David, I'm just really taking that in. Yeah, this final kind of flavor sentiment teaching of reality, I should say, of marifah. Truly, what I feel from you is the absolute, like more beautiful than we could say, more goodness than we could express all right here, and yet pouring through the relative and the details of our lives.
David Yes, interestingly, marifah in Arabic means untying the knot. And I think that in this regular world of conditioned mind, there are plenty of knots to untie, people who have their underwear in a knot, so to speak, and maybe we can help them
Panties in a bunch, is that the same medium? Am I understanding?
David Yeah, well, same thing.
My underwear's in a knot. I haven't heard that one, but I get you.
So, maybe, and for all of us, the ultimate job as healers and supporters is to help people undo their knots. And just get to a state of smoothness and peace in their life.
Indeed. Well, this encounter has untied some knots for me, and I trust that it has for others, so just a deep thank you
David Oh, you're so welcome.
for being on the show today
It's always a joy.
and being in the studio.
Always a joy to be together.
Yeah, indeed. Well, we'll look to have you back on, and I'll look forward to more stories, more encounters with you, David Timpson. You've been listening to Mindfulness+. We'll be back with more next week. Thank you.
David Thank you, Thomas.