Shambhala Sun | November 2013
Mindfulness is the Best Medicine
After thirteen years as a Buddhist nun, SISTER DANG NGHIEM looks back on her medical career and realizes monastic practice and medicine aren’t really that different.
I had graduated from medical school and was doing my residency in family practice when I met Thich Nhat Hanh and his monastic community. Soon after that, my partner died suddenly in an accident. His death helped me make a decision to follow a life of Buddhist practice. I left medicine after seven years of training and became a nun.
I have been a monastic for thirteen years. Yet I see now that you do not need to leave your profession in order to live a mindful life, whether it’s medicine or another kind of work. In everything you do, you can bring to it awareness of your breath and body. You can unite body and mind, instead of keeping them separate from each other. When you stand up, you can be aware that you are standing up. When you stretch your body, you can follow your breathing and your movements. With mindfulness of the body, your listening becomes deeper and you are more aware of what’s going on around you. Then take that awareness into your daily life and into your work.
Imagine that you’re a doctor and you’re listening to a patient. If you’re thinking about other patients in other rooms and you ask the patient the same question several times, this will only add to their sickness and fear. The patient already feels vulnerable from being sick in the hospital. Now they feel that you’re not truly present for them. If your mind is thinking of other patients in other rooms, you’re wasting your time and your patient’s.
The present moment is the only moment we have.