Journey to enlightened healthcare
A unique self-help health program began with wanting answers and evolved into a superb holistic health program.
Part 1 — A Conversation with Brother Promise
I had a conversation with a loving, joyous, youthful monk, living and developing a holistic health program to enrich the lives and health of others. He is a fellow writer on Substack, where I publish my Mind Wise newsletter, where I discovered his work and connected with him.
(Ron Parks—”RP”): “Hi, can you please introduce yourself and tell us what got you interested in mental health?”
(Brother Promise—”BP”): Hello, my name is Brother Promise. I was born and raised in a suburb of Paris, France. As a teenager, I went through psychosis, and it was extremely difficult. Unfortunately, the mental health professionals I met could not help me. When I asked my psychiatrist how I could take better care of myself, he could not answer me, so I set out to find the answer for myself. I joined a martial arts club, began to exercise more, and then discovered mindfulness meditation through the teachings of Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh. At the age of 18, I went on my first retreat at his main monastery in southwestern France, called Plum Village. A year later, I returned to ask for monastic ordination. Since then, I’ve lived in several monasteries, including in Thailand and the United States. I’m 34 years old now.
(RP): “What is Mental Health Revolution?”
(BP): “Mental Health Revolution is the name of my Substack and YouTube channel, and my attempt to keep the promise I made to myself as a teenager: that if I found things that helped, I would share them with others. I believe our world needs a Mental Health Revolution and that this revolution should uphold three values: empowerment, holism, and positivity. Empowerment, because it’s time to take a self-centered approach to mental health. Holism, because mental health is multifactorial. And positive because we can do more than manage our pain: we can cultivate well-being, purpose, virtue, love, and transcendence.
The most important thing I share on Mental Health Revolution is my Daily Wellness Empowerment Program. I also speak about the intersection of mental health and social issues, and have a book for young people on this topic called Heal the System: Suggestions for Frustrated Youth. I am also fascinated by the analytical contemplations of Buddhism and have written another book called Vipassana: Contemplations Leading to the Bliss of Letting Go.
Everything I do is free.
(RP): What is the Daily Wellness Empowerment Program?
(BP): “The Daily Wellness Empowerment Program (DWEP) is a program that aims to empower individuals with ten daily practices for mental and physical wellness. All these practices are do-it-yourself, simple, free, backed up by science, and holistically effective, and are based on insights from Buddhism, lifestyle medicine, positive psychology, and physical exercises from Asia. For increased effectiveness, the process of implementing these daily wellness habits into one’s life is informed by behavioral science.
This is the DWEP Sheet that I invite your audience to print out if they’re interested:
On the left are the ten DWEP practices. In the middle is a space for DWEP practitioners to set their own goals in relation to these practices. And on the right is a space for them to check at the end of each day whether or not they have met their DWEP goals, to help them reflect on how their actions affect their well-being. I also encourage DWEP practitioners, if possible, to check in once a week with a friend, a “DWEP Buddy,” to support and encourage each other. At the back of the DWEP Sheet are 1-sentence summaries of the instructions for each exercise.
So far, I have given two DWEP courses at my monastery, and the response has been wonderful. The course is eight weeks long, during which we meet once a week for two hours. In those two hours, we begin with a half-hour DWEP check-in, where people bring in their DWEP Sheet from the previous week, pair up, and talk about how they did with their DWEP goals in a spirit of empathy and mutual support. Then I teach the DWEP practices for an hour. As much as possible, we learn by doing, such as practicing the sitting meditation together, the physical exercises, or the mindful communication exercises (as part of Meaningful Human Connections). I also share the science behind the practices. At the end of each DWEP meeting, participants set new goals for the following week. At the end of the eight weeks, participants leave with a comprehensive wellness strategy for their lives.
As a teacher, I try to provide the maximum wellness value in the least amount of time while creating a safe, comfortable atmosphere where people can connect authentically and meaningfully.
My goal is to make the entire program available online for free. Right now, there is enough material online for people to get started at home (with the DWEP Sheet, the DWEP Manual, and some videos), but I need to make more videos. There are so many things I want to do, but it’s going to take some time!”
(RP): “I’ve reviewed the teaching and practice materials Brother Promise has developed for The Daily Wellness Empowerment Program (DWEP). Everything is superbly organized, easy to follow, and all the components fit together organically and holistically. Or, to say in another way, they fit human nature and are incentivized to establish daily healthy habits and routines. Every component is beneficial and genuinely supported by users and medical research. Many of the program’s elements come from long-standing cultural traditions and practices. The actual names of some of the components may vary in different cultures and traditions. Many of the program’s features are consistent with what I have come to accept and integrated into my practices and teachings. I can vouch for the benefits of such programs and practices as they have kept me healthy, active, and working as I enter my 80s.
Tip and Points to Ponder:
- Thank you, Brother Promise, for sharing your inspiring story and journey to find better healthcare solutions for yourself and others. Your love and attention to your inspired work and program will well serve the needs of others seeking health, a beneficial lifestyle, and consistent practices. Hopefully, more people will consider pursuing and trying out healthy alternatives to their present lifestyle, especially if there has been ill health or concern about not feeling their best in times of increasing demands and emotional distress.
- His DWEP program is free, and it might be what you need. Such beneficial programs can fit in with other more traditional healthcare things you are doing, and I’m sure you would have the support of your present healthcare givers. If not, you have my blessing and love to do your best and be open to trying new and wise alternatives. Of course, listen to the advice of your primary healthcare provider, but it is quite alright to seek other opinions from trusted and experienced healthcare providers or professional resources.
Impactful Life Experiences – Part 2
Part Two of the article, A Journey to Enlightened Healthcare, continues with the story of how my early life experiences resonated with the journey of Brother Promise and his inspired work with his DWEP holistic health program.
The intertwining of supposed separate worlds
Meeting Brother Promise
Brother Promise is a fellow writer on Substack, where I discovered his work and connected with him. Our seemingly two separate worlds surprisingly resonate and intertwine with each other in many ways. As teenagers, we both had significant health challenges. Brother Promise sought better answers and was inspired to study, find help, and support in his search. He discovered mindfulness meditation through the teachings of Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh[i] and eventually became ordained as a monk in the tradition of Zen Buddhism. He now lives in a monastery and internationally known retreat center in southwestern France called Plum Village, where he continues his learning, teaching, and developing his holistic health program to help others.
A terrifying health challenge
My journey to the interests and advocacy for holistic health[ii] programs started at a young age. Undoubtedly, the unhealthy ways of my youthful years and cultural influences impacted my developing body and mind and contributed to vulnerability and health risks. I was infected with polio when I was a young teenager.[iii] It was traumatic, but I was brought back to health after months in a children’s hospital, which at the time had an integration of traditional treatments and alternative therapies such as warm water and PT therapy as developed by Sister Kenny.[iv]
The frightening encounter with polio, which caused many to die or become paralyzed, along with other severe illnesses of family members, inspired me to seek answers and better healthcare ways. Eventually, my search for better alternatives led to my interest in medicine and my studies in a prominent medical school. The reality was that medical school wasn’t a very healthy but stressful environment, with little attention to students’ health and well-being. The training and struggles to succeed were difficult, especially with what I now know, that I had to work around some dyslexia and autism spectrum traits common in my family.
The cost of trying to succeed and fit in
I experienced significant anxiety and panic attacks during my training years. I thought my duress was just part of the training necessary to achieve my goals. That I was successful in meeting the requirements, talented and intelligent enough to pass, made me feel that this was acceptable, a trial by fire, to be successful in our culture.
In a bookstore, books about Eastern culture, especially yoga, attracted me. I bought a yoga book with instructions and began practicing the best I could. After graduating from medical school, I felt there was more to learn and a better way for healthcare and personal practice. I was able to study more yoga and some meditation and mindfulness Buddhist practices.
An enlightening experience and a realization
But the big enlightenment came when I attended a 10-day silent retreat for intensive study and practice. After a couple of days in the beautiful mountain setting and emersion in a wonderfully supportive and nurturing world of fellow participants and teachers, I experienced what true mental health and well-being were and felt like. I broke through the narrow reality that I had, that how I was living and taking care of myself was normal for a striving person in our culture, and that I was succeeding reinforced that my lifestyle and ideas that my way of doing things was best I could do, and all that was available.[v]
At the retreat, I felt a glow of health, relaxation, and peace in the flow of daily moment-to-moment experience, with a feeling of contentment. I didn’t miss that insatiable striving for more or fear-based worry and thinking about the future. The retreat had a plant-based diet, daily routines of invigorating exercise, often in a natural setting, mindfulness and meditation practices, and participation in sharing and working with our participants in the care of the grounds, our living quarters, and the kitchen helping with food preparation.
The realization came that proper mental, physical, and spiritual health was getting beyond our learned ideas and beliefs and being open to the deeper reality of what contributed to health and well-being. There was now a beacon of light showing the way toward a holistic form of living for health and well-being.
Over the years, many of the influences for my teaching and career work have come from many of the elements and practices found in Brother Promise’s Daily Wellness Empowerment Program (DWEP). The simple structure of his program for daily use, teaching aids, videos, and the daily practice sheet make it an effective program for many to get started on some primary practice to move towards the reality of better health and well-being, significantly where traditional recourse or medications-based treatment have fallen short or have been ineffective.
Tip and Points to Ponder:
- As noted in the prior part one of these articles, A Journey to enlightened healthcare, I hope that more people will consider pursuing and trying out healthy alternatives to their present lifestyle, especially if there has been ill health or concern about not feeling their best in times of increasing demands and emotional distress. Brother Promise’s The Daily Wellness Empowerment Program (DWEP), presented in Part One, is free, with practices and lifestyle changes designed together in a concise, coordinated daily wellness program. Such beneficial programs can work well as a standalone but also would fit in with other more traditional healthcare you might be doing. Feel empowered to search and try wise and potentially healthy options when something seems lacking in your personal health and well-being program. Of course, listen to the advice of your primary healthcare provider for illnesses for which you are under their care. Still, it is quite alright to seek other opinions from trusted and experienced teachers, healthcare providers, and professional resources.
- Suppose you have an interest in beginning a health and well-being program. In that case, it doesn’t have to be in some type of intensive total emersion or retreat experience or commitment to a costly layer or complex program. Still, it may start with taking a simple step forward, attending a class, a lecture, or a simple workshop with a respected, experienced, recommended teacher or healthcare provider. Some, like me, began with reading and self-study and participating in health-enhancing activities with friends. So, whatever is your best starting point, commit and start as soon as the opportunity arises. If stuck and getting deeper into a problematic place, as with ill health or dysfunction, reach out to experience and professional resources for help and recommendations.
Featured Image Caption: Awakening to Well-being – by RRP design with Canva & stock photos
Share with Others!
Mind Wise newsletter is a valuable resource for your search and interest in mental health and well-being by Ron Parks, MD, MPH, an Integrative Psychiatrist, Holistic Medicine consultant, and writer.
[i]. Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh (quoted from plumvillage.org) “is a global spiritual leader, poet and peace activist, revered around the world for his pioneering teachings on mindfulness, global ethics, and peace. Ordained as a monk aged 16 in Vietnam, Thich Nhat Hanh soon envisioned a kind of engaged Buddhism that could respond directly to the needs of society. He was a prominent teacher and social activist in his home country before finding himself exiled for calling for peace. In the West, he played a key role in introducing mindfulness and created mindful communities (sanghas) around the world. His teachings have impacted politicians, business leaders, activists, teachers, and countless others. Thich Nhat Hanh has published more than 100 books, including classics like The Miracle of Mindfulness and Peace is Every Step. Through his simple yet profound teachings, mindfulness has reached a mainstream audience. With the energy of mindfulness, any action in our daily life—including walking, eating, brushing our teeth, or doing the dishes—can become joyful, relaxed, and meaningful. It’s a revolutionary approach that brings peace, clarity, and insight.” https://plumvillage.org/about/thich-nhat-hanh
[ii]. What is Holistic Health? Below is a quote from https://www.wcsu.edu/ihhs/what-is-holistic-health/
“Holistic health is an approach to life that considers multidimensional aspects of wellness. It encourages individuals to recognize the whole person: physical, mental, emotional, social, intellectual, and spiritual. The individual is an active participant in their health decisions and healing processes, including wellness-oriented lifestyle choices. Holistic approaches to health are derived from ancient healing traditions that help to achieve higher levels of wellness and prevent disease. These approaches include the use of traditional medical systems, mind-body-spirit interventions, manipulative and body-based approaches, biological-based therapies, and energy therapies. Most of these approaches are used in combination with each other and with conventional medicine to provide a holistic and integrated approach to health.
These traditional holistic approaches focus on the use of food, herbs, supplements, teas, homeopathic remedies, and essential oils as “medicine.” Movement, dancing, singing or chanting, sound and vibration, drumming, prayer, meditation, mindfulness, and touch are examples of activities that are included in holistic approaches. Holistic approaches include but are not limited to acupuncture, acupressure, biofeedback, massage therapy, chiropractic physicians, manual therapy, naturopathic physicians, meditation, guided imagery, yoga, therapeutic touch, reiki, and other energy therapies, and ayurveda. On campus, the interest and enthusiasm for this inclusive and multidimensional approach to health and wellness have resulted in the development of a concentration in Holistic and Integrative health within the Health Promotion Studies major at WCSU”. https://www.wcsu.edu/ihhs/what-is-holistic-health/
[iii]. Ron Parks, MD article in Mind Wise: https://www.inmindwise.com/p/covid-19-polio-past
[iv]. Sister Kenny Institute revolutionized the treatment of polio patients: https://www.minnpost.com/mnopedia/2012/11/sister-kenny-institute-revolutionized-treatment-polio-patients/
[v]. Ron Parks, MD article in Mind Wise: Yoga and Eastern Influence on Holistic Healthcare https://www.inmindwise.com/p/yoga-eastern-influence-on-holistic-healthcare