It seems the pandemic has ushered in a deepening divide in American society, particularly between those who follow science and those who believe in spirituality. Many feel pressured to choose a side. Communities have become less accepting of differing views, neighbors have become less tolerant of one another, people draw lines between those they find like-minded and those who’s leanings they see as too different to even respect. It doesn’t have to be that way.
Evidence that there is more common ground than most realized can be found in the example of Barry Kerzin. He embodies the best of both sides. Science and spirituality have coexisted in him for decades. Kerzin himself is a fusion of these two seemingly divergent directions. On one hand, he is a medical doctor, a physician. On the other, he is an ordained Buddhist monk and personal physician to the Dalai Lama. Kerzin doesn’t understand when people question the ability to live in these two worlds at once, because he sees science and spirituality as two branches of the same tree.
“I rely a great deal on my feelings, instinct, and intuition,” said Kerzin. “Yet, I also will check and analyze. Don’t we all? To make good choices I will throw it all in the mix. That is how we stay true to ourselves, our values, and who we are.”
Kerzin is puzzled by our increasing tendency to draw dividing lines between philosophies, groups and beliefs.
“One very important ingredient in humanity is acceptance,” Kerzin explained. “None of us grow by planting a flag in the ground and saying I’m right, you’re wrong and that’s that. Acceptance allows us to step back and see things from other perspectives. That’s how we develop a personal understanding of why our friends and neighbors see things differently.”
“Even when we have the best of intentions we are not always right,” he said. “Our passion, even our sense of purpose can end up hurting someone else which is why being an active listener to the thoughts of others is important. We need to take the approach of not being here to teach you but to learn from you.”
Interestingly, he believes this same curiosity, this desire to understand, is also what attracted him to science. Having a background in both modern and spiritual medicine has given him rare insight into how they fit together.
“I used to feel like someone who wore two hats; one spiritual and one scientific,” said Kerzin. “I no longer feel that way. Those two worlds have blended. Think about it, one focuses on physical, the other on mental wellbeing. They’re so interconnected that if you work with one and forget the other, you haven’t done a full job. We really need to nurture both.”
As one of very few who have such training and experience in both worlds, Kerzin’s perspective is invaluable and unique. He says science and spirituality cannot succeed unless they are both led by the very same guiding force. “Compassion, compassion, compassion,” said Kerzin.
“If you have empathy, that means you are willing to considering someone else’s perspective, and open to feeling their emotions,” said Kerzin. “If you have compassion, that means you have the desire to help. Listen, the thing we want most in life is to be understood and not be hurt. Once we realize that’s the same thing that others want, and once we are willing to offer our understanding and compassion, then their lives will be enriched and ours will be, too.”