Healing Our and Our Ancestors’ Hearts

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This past week, the Plum Village monastics started their 2017 U.S. Tour, Awakening Together. They offered a five-day retreat at Blue Cliff monastery, which several Still Water practitioners attended. During the retreat, Sister Dang Nghiem, also known as Sister D, offered a very moving dharma talk on using the Beginning Anew practice with ourselves and others.

Sister Dang Nghiem was born in Vietnam during the Tet Offensive and arrived in the United States in 1985 after being raised by her grandmother. She earned two undergraduate degrees and became a medical doctor before ordaining as a monastic at Plum Village. She has written two books, Healing: A Woman’s Journey from Doctor to Nun and Mindfulness as Medicine: A Story of Healing Body and Spirit.

Beginning Anew is a practice used frequently in the Plum Village tradition in a variety of ways. It is done as a regular ceremony to surface and address any hurts or misunderstandings that have arisen between monastics in the course of monastic life. It is also used to address a conflict or disagreement between two people when a particular incident has occurred. And it is also a powerful practice done alone for addressing hurts we have inflicted upon ourselves. Thich Nhat Hanh described it in a recent Lion’s Roar article:

Beginning Anew is not to ask for forgiveness. Beginning Anew is to change your mind and heart, to transform the ignorance that brought about wrong actions of body, speech, and mind, and to help you cultivate your mind of love. Your shame and guilt will disappear, and you will begin to experience the joy of being alive. All wrongdoings arise in the mind. It is through the mind that wrongdoings can disappear.

Sister Dang Nghiem shared the four steps of Beginning Anew as:

  • Watering the flowers—saying “thank you” as you acknowledge what is good and nourishing in yourself, if practicing alone, or the other person, if practicing with someone.
  • Expressing regrets—saying “sorry” as you acknowledge your own unskillfulness toward yourself or the other person.
  • Expressing hurts—recognizing the hurt within yourself that you may have self-inflicted or that you felt from the other person’s actions.
  • Reconciling—finding ways to support yourself and asking for support from the other person moving forward.

Sister Dang Nghiem’s talk was very deep and personal, and it touched many retreatants. She modeled how to be present with her own suffering, how to be vulnerable, and how to transform her and her ancestors’ suffering by living the practice.

This Thursday, we will watch the main portion of the talk and then share our own experiences in addressing our lives’ traumas and those who have traumatized us. Because we will watch the final 40 minutes of the talk, which address Beginning Anew, we will end our sitting at 7:30 pm and begin watching the talk at 7:40 pm. You can watch the entire dharma talk here.

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