How Women Can Help Each Other Heal

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Sister Dang Nghiem (affectionately known as Sister D), a nun in the tradition of Thich Nhat Hanh, thinks women are uniquely positioned to help and support other women. Mindfulness is key to the process.

By Sister Dang Nghiem

Omega: You, your mother, and your grandmother faced very difficult situations and choices in life, as do many women. Is there a unique role that women can play in helping other women heal?

Sister D: It is our own spiritual life that will inspire others to heal through their spiritual life. My grandmother had never gone to school, so in terms of education, I am much more educated than she was. However, as I was growing up in Vietnam, I saw my grandmother sitting quietly on the wooden bed when she didn’t have to go grocery shopping or do the cooking or cleaning. She would do her rosary or just sit quietly. She wasn’t gossiping, she wasn’t complaining—she was peaceful, stable, and quiet.

That image of my grandmother became a part of me so that when I went to the United States and when I suffered from depression, from despair, from stress—that image came to my mind and it healed me. It really comforted me and gave me strength to go on the next day. 

Women, interestingly, can be very harsh to each other. We can be jealous and envious and cause each other more difficulty than we can imagine. If we don’t learn to heal our own pain and suffering, if we don’t learn to be aware of our own mental states and feelings, we can be cruel and indifferent toward each other. But if we learn to take good care of ourselves, if we love ourselves, then that love and compassion flow naturally toward one another.

Omega: How did you heal your relationship with your mother when she left your life at such a young age?

Sister D.: My mother loved my brother and me very much. When she was pregnant with me, she had to make the decision whether to abort me or to carry me on, so I’m still alive today due to my mother’s compassion. She had to make a very difficult choice because she didn’t have a proper husband, stability, or financial resources.

When I was growing up, my mother was very violent toward me because she was suffering herself and because she had also suffered from sexual abuse. She worked so hard she never had time to rest, to be at peace with herself.

As a Buddhist practitioner I have learned to rest. I have learned to walk peacefully. When I do walking meditation, I say to my mother, “I’m walking for you, Mother. I love you. I’m living this life peacefully and mindfully for you, and I heal for you.” In that way, I now heal and transform not only myself, but also my mother inside of me. 

For years in my dreams about my mother, she would be dumb and deaf and unable to recognize me. But two years or so after I became a nun, in my dream my mother said something to me. I didn’t hear clearly, but I knew she spoke to me, and I responded to her, “Yes, Mother.” I woke up right away and I was so happy that my mother actually spoke to me and that I spoke to my mother kindly.

Even when your mother or father or partner is no longer with you physically, they continue to be there in your stored consciousness. You think about them, you behave, you react toward them, and that’s why if you heal your way of thinking—you heal your body and mind—then you will not think or react negatively toward them anymore.