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“You must not fight, for anything really”

“You must not fight, for anything really”

Photographer:Fotograaf: Joey Roberts/ Simone Golob

Anke Oenema inspired by Thich Nhat Hanh

The Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh has nothing to do with Anke Oenema’s academic field. But when it comes to dealing with an academic career, he is a great source of inspiration for this associate professor of Health Communication.

Different cultures and Eastern philosophies have always interested Anke Oenema, partly because of her many trips to India. When friends told her about their lessons at Thich Nhat Hanh’s school (in the south of France), she did some reading up on the monk. “He is a peace activist, who was once banished from Vietnam. He calls on people to make peace, not just in the world but also within themselves. Your worst enemy is often yourself. His story is very similar to the philosophy of mindfulness. It is all about who you are and what crosses your path.”

As a researcher, one regularly has inner conflicts, says Oenema. “There is always the pressure to perform and publish. Many researchers are perfectionists, which is awkward if there are lots of things that you want to do. It is very easy to get too far ahead of yourself. You have to make choices, find a good balance.” For Oenema this means making choices from within oneself. “You must not fight, for anything really. Follow your own path and don’t be led by what others think should or must be done. Fighting costs energy, energy that could be used for something else.”

Oenema tries to stay close to herself when making choices. “For example, when I had to choose which direction to take in research. Should I continue to focus on the prevention of obesity or should I gain more insight into public mental health. I asked myself: what would suit me most? What inspires me to discover new things? What is the best contribution I can make to society?” I find peace in walking. “Literally putting your feet back on the ground, getting out of your head. It is almost meditative.”

She is not someone who has a major goal that she is heading towards, says Oenema. “I do things, look at what comes my way and then I think: what now? What is important to do after this, what is my next step? That is the way the path develops and unfolds. I think that is beautiful.”

Oenema never heard Thich Nhat Hanh speak. “And that will never happen now, he is old and sick (he suffered a brain haemorrhage in November 2014 from which he is now recovering in a hospital in Bordeaux, ed.). On the one hand, that is a pity – I heard from others that he has a tremendous aura, which is felt by everyone in the audience – on the other hand, I am not someone who would throw myself completely into something like that.”

This is a series in which researchers talk about the person who inspired them most

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