Everything Is Medicine

How Nailah Dodd’s illness led her to become a healer for others.

Healthy Life—Nailah Dodd says, "As my prayer deepened, so did my connection with others and my joy for living a full, balanced life." Photo: Masayuki Tsujimura.

by Nailah Dodd

Growing up with a mother who was an SGI pioneer member, I was definitely guilty of riding my mother’s enormous wave of fortune and protection from her Buddhist practice. I occasionally attended youth activities, more so to appease my mother than anything else.

At 18, I was attending Temple University in Philadelphia, 3,000 miles away from my hometown of Seattle, when I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis. This autoimmune disease caused so much pain that I found myself in tears most days, dropping things or unable to walk. I made the difficult decision to not pursue a career in medicine, which had been a lifelong dream. Abandoning this dream made me feel like a failure. When I chose to receive the Gohonzon, it was more an act of desperation than one of faith.

My fledgling practice, however, helped me realize that much of my physical discomfort was a manifestation of a larger dissatisfaction with my life. When my mother traveled all the way to Philadelphia to enshrine the Gohonzon in my new apartment, that action was the push I needed to take control of my life. I began to chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo with determination. As my prayer deepened, so did my connection with others and my joy for living a full, balanced life.

At Temple University, I became the vice president of the Buddhist campus club, and even helped the students at University of Pennsylvania re-charter their Buddhist campus club. I also shared this practice with several close friends.

In the meantime, I found a naturopath physician who helped me sustain my life with significantly less pain. I went from low grades for the first three semesters to earning a 4.0 GPA for the remainder of college. I graduated with honors with a Bachelor’s of Science in public health.

As a new college graduate, I was on cloud nine! Despite the exhaustion of working 80-hour weeks all summer, I was still energized to participate in the Ikeda Youth Ensemble Dance Group in the massive summer Seattle Seafair Torchlight Parade. Through that experience, I made friendships that will last a lifetime and pushed my faith more than ever before. So it came as no surprise that in making such a profound cause to transform my life, I encountered yet another major obstacle.

I needed to take control of my life. I began to chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo with determination.

If I have learned anything from my numerous health woes, it is to listen to my body and trust my instincts. After experiencing extreme fatigue, chest pain, dizziness and shortness of breath, I went to the emergency room but was sent home and told to take a pain reliever. Had I listened to those instructions, I would be dead. I immediately found a doctor, my father’s cardiologist, who normally takes months to see. Several tests proved that my heart was not pumping enough blood and was beginning to fail. I saw this turn of events as nothing but my protection and fortune from chanting to the Gohonzon.

I was applying to graduate school, working, and taking statistics and microbiology classes, but in the midst of all of that, on Dec. 12, 2014, I had major heart surgery. The procedure revealed that I had an even more severe condition than originally diagnosed.

During my recovery, SGI President Ikeda’s guidance in the November 2014 Living Buddhism could not have been timelier. It reads: “There is really no clear-cut dividing line between poison and medicine. The same substance can act as either a poison or a medicine, depending on the dosage and the life force of the individual who takes it . . .

“If we triumph in the end, everything we experienced can be seen as medicine” (p. 53). Defeat, or succumbing to the poison in my life, was never an option.

To live a life where you feel trapped in your own body, to feel that at any moment your body can fail you, is incredibly frustrating. The energy it takes to push through another day sometimes seems too much. However, based on faith, I remained unswayed from my commitment to my passion, my purpose and my life.

I continued chanting with determination, when five months after my surgery, I moved to New York. Out of thousands of applicants, I was one of five people accepted into the Accelerated Graduate Nurse Midwifery Program at Columbia University. This has been the opportunity of a lifetime.

Filled with appreciation, I soon joined Byakuren, a behind-the-scenes training group for young women in the SGI-USA. I also took on leadership for the first time, becoming a unit leader in Washington Heights Chapter. Every day, I am determined to speak about Buddhism with someone, whether it’s a curious person on the train looking over my shoulder at my Living Buddhism magazine or friends in my program.

After moving to New York, I was hospitalized again and faced the possibility of another heart surgery. Despite all this, I managed to excel in my graduate studies. As a midwife and a doula, I will be assisting women and families during one of the most significant periods of their lives. I consider it an extreme honor and privilege to witness the emerging of new Bodhisattvas of the Earth through the lens of an obstetric healthcare provider. To be given this unique mission and purpose as a healer further pushes me to transform any obstacle in my own life.

Recently, I learned from my doctors that I no longer need another surgery and now I am off all of my heart medications!

Through this dark and uncertain time, my practice has never been stronger. I have found my voice as a Buddha, and have such resolve and peace in my heart that I can transform any poison into medicine. Armed with my Buddhist practice, I can’t lose.