Working as a physician in a hospital, Nathalie Minami lives in a field of high responsibility and stress. Even so, she bases her work on a solid foundation of awareness, presence, and the wish to benefit everyone.
During her time in medical school and while learning medicine in the hospital setting, she felt both the joy of being able to help and also the load of responsibility on her shoulders. In order to be able to grow in that field, she developed different resources and skills. In these coming posts I’d like to share a bit of her story and how she found and developed meditative skills—and how she reconnects with them in her day-to-day life.
Nathalie grew up in Europe as a Catholic, and after finishing high school, went to Thailand to work as a volunteer in a small hospice run by Buddhist monks in the forest tradition. They lived simply in small huts and cared for their patients. Nathalie volunteered and lived there under very simple conditions for two months. This experience and also some encounters with spiritual travelers in Asia inspired curiosity in her about the nature of reality.
Back home in Europe she began medical school and read books connected to Buddhist spirituality (like Herman Hesse’s Siddhartha), went to public talks, and enjoyed podcasts by Spirit Rock on her iPod on her way to work. These talks on topics such as mindfulness provided inspiration to be more present to her life and made her feel understood and supported. She didn’t find a group where she could connect and discuss these topics and her experiences, but decided that after finishing school that she would again travel to places where this spirituality is lived.
“Actually right after medical school, I found myself pretty burned out. I realized that I would not be capable of helping others to heal if I would not allow myself to rest and take care of myself both physically and spiritually first. That’s why I went to Sri Lanka.”
Years later she reached that point and went again to Asia to find a place where she could immerse herself in a meditative environment and tradition. Originally her plan was to travel to different places, but found that the first, a monastery in the mountains in Sri Lanka, was perfect. Again the monks lived in tiny huts spread out in the area. No electricity, no running water (and it was always cold!), but a huge meditation hall and a rigorous daily schedule of meditation. This time she didn’t volunteer in the community but spent hours, days, weeks, just sitting, meditating, listening to Buddhist teachings, and dealing with a lot of pain. Looking back she feels like it was one of the most difficult things she ever did in her life. She was immersed in a totally different world and slowly felt herself being changed.
In the beginning she struggled with many things, and her body was not used to all the hours of sitting still in meditation. Everything hurt and she was relieved when the bell finally rung. However, later it often happened that she kept sitting and sitting even though everyone else had already gone. Her few trips to the small village nearby became rarer and rarer as she felt nearly overwhelmed by all of the colors and sense impressions walking there.
As her senses became very fine, her mind became calmer than ever. Everything was simple: only white clothing, breakfast and lunch, and otherwise only tea was offered. There was really not much to do. But she felt free in the face of this open and spacious, simple and meditative life.
The mind is not naturally peaceful. There is so much suffering inside and it’s not easy to learn to consciously deal with it. It’s hard work, but it has lasting effects.
Now back in our culture in normal life and immersed in work at the hospital, she feels like the meditative mind she developed at that time is rare to find. But at the same time, the feeling of it, a resonance is still there, and with a bit of time and practice it’s now much easier to go there than when she discovered it at first. At times she attends weekends and retreats to reconnect with that mind a bit.
In her work as a hospital physician she always relates back to this practice and this mind. It’s a very supportive base for her and informs how she connects and works with her patients. In the next weeks I will share more about that part: Moving Meditation and A Physician’s Practice.
Enjoy a good week!