For years now I have seen in the Mindfulness Bell fruits of work with prisoners. I have longed to hear of peoples’ work in mental hospitals and hostels. I have longed to tell my story of healing from years of abuse, and how Thay’s teachings have helped. In the last issue, two people wrote bravely and movingly of healing from and living with psychological problems in conjunction with the teachings. It was excellent to see this included. However, there is another way for many seriously damaged people to heal, with psychotherapy and the teachings and practices.
When I was preparing to visit Plum Village, my therapist asked, “What will you do in the meditation sessions?” because I could not meditate, but did practice psychological healing work. She suggested I practice my healing work in the sessions. After I arrived at Plum Village, I discussed this with Sister Chan Khong.
I told her, “I am healing from multiple personality, or dissociative identity, disorder. In my mind and consciousness are many, many personalities. They are from my childhood and youth, when each trauma was so severe it became detached from my conscious memory. These traumatic memories stayed bottled up as bits of raw emotion, which surface when triggered, together with my personality at that age. I heal by letting them surface, one by one, sharing their painful memories and welcoming them into a shared consciousness.
“Because I am lots of pieces that have not all yet come together, ordinary meditation is hard for me. Please can I devote the meditation sessions to my healing work?”
To my delight, Sister Chan Khong said it made complete sense to do this. So during my visits to Plum Village, I spent the lovely meditation and other meditative times loving and nurturing my inner personalities, letting them surface their pain until they were able to let it go. In the years since then, practicing healing work for many hours a day, I have felt part of a wider Sangha.
I have also been helped by two other Plum Village practices. One I learned when Thay came to London last year and taught a huge, packed concert hall the first eight breathing practices of Buddha. The second of these was to breathe in all the way in, and breathe out all the way out. In a very challenging time this was a lifesaver. It was physical, easy enough for all my parts to do, especially the small inner children. It transformed panic into energy.
The other practice was Touching the Earth––getting in touch with ancestors. My ancestors were not good people. To heal, I had had to sever contact with my family of origin, and I had not wanted to get at all in touch with ancestors. When I heard of Thay’s Prayer Ceremonies in Vietnam to heal the wounds of the terrible war, I wondered if I could do an Atonement Prayer Ceremony for my ancestors. I was encouraged in this by the main teacher in a US practice centre. So I wrote prayers and reflections and took spiritual writings from many religions as well as two of Thay’s poems, and, with my therapist, I did an Atonement Ceremony for the misdeeds of my ancestors.
This completely changed my life. Suddenly, I had ancestors, I came from somewhere. Soon afterwards, I was able to look at childhood photos I had previously found too upsetting. Understanding flooded me as I looked at some very odd family photos and realised that my father and grandfather had been put in a terrible situation. With this understanding came the possibility of forgiveness. And with it came a fuller understanding of evil as sickness, with a cause and cure.
Although my healing during these past twelve years has been a “path of tears,” it has been quite different from any other approaches to the chronic psychological pain from my past. Drugs can be terrible as well as helpful, and Cognitive Behaviour Therapy and other therapies I tried were a continual battle. These years of inner healing based on memory work have been radiant and transformative––a healing into love, deeper friendship, unstressed creativity, and so much more. I want to share with the wider Sangha the effectiveness of the psychotherapeutic remembering approach to the dissociation that lies behind so many severe psychological problems suffered by many individuals.*
At present, only some lucky people can afford this therapy, and even then it can mean sacrificing almost everything else. But the more it becomes known, the more likely it is to gain acceptance from health insurance companies and become part of standard health services. It also seems to parallel Thay’s teachings––only towards a group of consciousnesses that slowly merge into the more usual one.
I offer this to the Sangha.
- US contact for this psychotherapeutic work is firstname.lastname@example.org, and K. contact is email@example.com.
Kate Evans is a writer for children and adults, living in London. Her Sangha is her therapist, her healing work, her breathing practice, and daily listening to the CD of Plum Village chanting.