Obstacles In Life

photo credit: r2hox via photopin cc

photo credit: r2hox via photopin cc

“Happiness is not the absence of problems or worries; it is to be undefeated no matter what problems or worries we may face.” -Daisaku Ikeda

I’ve been taking classes to learn a new style of communication for the past year.  Another woman signed up for the same courses as me, and we’ve been together the whole way through.  We are now in our last class, and oddly enough, communication between the two of us has become problematic.  Some of her comments to me following my practice sessions in class struck me as being jab like, hitting below the belt.  The first time I overlooked it, but then it happened again and again and again until I decided to point it out to her using the communication skills we had been practicing and in the best way I knew how–calmly and assertively.  Only, it wasn’t well received and she yelled at me in front of another classmate.

Since we live on opposite sides of the country, I arranged for a phone appointment to clear the air and give each other a chance to say what we each needed to say.  My primary question for her during that call was essentially how can we move forward together?  I took this opportunity to share with her the comments that had really bothered me, but I was met with explosive laughter followed by “You are way too sensitive!”  She then informed me that from here on out she would make every effort to speak to me “plain vanilla.”

Needless to say, I could see that this conversation wasn’t going to be as productive as I had hoped.   I invited her to share her frustrations, but she wasn’t really interested;  and what little she did say was that it was all me.   Within 15 minutes, the conversation came to an end and she hung up on me right as I was thanking her for her time.  While it wasn’t an easy 15 minutes of my life, I was calm and polite the whole way through.  I wasn’t expecting the hang up.

Maybe I am naive.

But, I still have three months left of class with her and there’s no turning back.  So, I decided last night to do what I always do in times like these; chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, pray for this woman’s happiness, and study Nichiren Buddhist literature published for my faith community.  It didn’t take me long to find an article that would help me out titled “Polishing Ourselves Through Adversity.” One statement from President Ikeda’s guidance really struck a chord with me.  He says:

“Never fear hardships.  Don’t allow yourselves to be defeated by criticism.  Rather, be grateful for all obstacles because they help you polish and develop yourselves.”

We are here to learn, grow, and improve ourselves for the better.  In spite of the fact that this particular individual was not open to a dialogue, it took a huge amount of courage on my part to contact her and invite her to problem solve with me.  I challenged myself to do something that I normally would have cowered away from doing.

But, I did it, and that was a big growing step forward along this life journey of mine!

Greatness Is Upon You

photo credit: steve loya via photopin cc

photo credit: steve loya via photopin cc

On the rare occasion, I cross paths with another individual who just doesn’t seem to enjoy my company. They may send off signals of agitation by my mere participation in the conversation and give off a vibe of disrespect.  They may even strike below the belt with a verbal jab here and there.  When I happen to meet a person like this, I wonder–what is this all about anyway?  Why is this person difficult?  Why don’t they like me?  What did I say or do to offend?

What is IT all about?

Interacting with folks like this, doing one’s best to effectively communicate, it can seem like no matter what is done for the sake of positive interactions, attempts at making amends, and seeing things from their perspective–some folks just aren’t feeling your vibe.  Even though it can be uncomfortable, perhaps people like this cross our paths as a learning opportunity, an opportunity to challenge some aspect of ourselves that requires fine tuning. When I view these strange happenings from that perspective, then I can come to appreciate their brief presence in my life.  They are showing me something within that needs changing, and I get to make the adjustments for a stronger, happier me.  Even if that person loses their cool, I can stay strong and calm and not let it get the best of me.

As these thoughts floated about my mind, I came across this quote:

“Who is truly great?  I hope you can develop the ability to discern true human greatness.  A great person is someone who forges unity among human beings through sincere dialogue, armed with a solid philosophy, feet firmly planted on the ground.  A great person is one who lives among the people and earns their unshakable trust.  Fickle popularity and temporary fads are nothing but illusions.” -Daisaku Ikeda

I might not win everyone’s heart, but as long as I keep my feet firmly planted on the ground, as long as I am genuine and sincere the whole way through, that is the stuff greatness is made of!

What is your special brand of greatness?

Living Life With Wellness

photo credit: Twig Aho via photopin cc

photo credit: Twig Aho via photopin cc

On my journey toward becoming a Health and Wellness Coach, I have learned that you can be physically healthy, void of any illness and at the same time lack the experience of wellness.  On the other hand, wellness can be present even in the midst of battling disease.

Wellness encompasses many aspects of life and it doesn’t necessarily mean you are free of health challenges.  Rather, wellness is about living your life to its fullest with a sense of purpose and a loving acceptance of self.  It’s about developing your awareness and living with conscious choice in a way that improves your overall health and well-being.  Wellness is about achieving your fullest potential with vitality and a positive attitude in spite of whatever challenges you face.  These ideas are very Buddhist in nature which is probably why I was drawn to this particular field in the first place.

Along these same lines, Daisaku Ikeda (President of the SGI, a lay Buddhist organization) states:

“HEALTH IS NOT simply a matter of absence of illness.  Health means constant challenge.  Constant creativity.  A prolific life always moving forward, opening up fresh new vistas. That is a life of true health.  An unbeatable spirit is what supplies the power to keep pressing ahead.”

Life is full of difficult circumstances.  That is a fact.  Our challenge then is to enjoy and treasure our lives and the experience of living throughout the stumbling blocks we inevitably face now and in the future.

What challenges do you face today?  How will you respond?  Will you let them beat you down, or will you stand up with the determination to move forward with vitality and that unbeatable spirit to win no matter what?

Conspicuous and Inconspicuous Benefits

photo credit: AlicePopkorn via photopin cc

photo credit: AlicePopkorn via photopin cc

Conspicuous benefits are obvious.  For example, you do something good and the results are immediate.  You can see and enjoy the effects of that cause immediately.  Inconspicuous benefits are different.  You may set a positive intention and see it through, but the results may not be so obvious.  You may even think to yourself, “I did all that for nothing.”  Of course, that is hardly ever the case.  Prayers in Buddhism are like this.  For some, they are answered very quickly-conspicuous.  Others are slower to come by-inconspicuous.  The reality is that we are all in process of our progress, like a garden in constant growth and that growth takes time.  You will not see a sapling spring into a fine tree right before your eyes, but over time you will begin to notice changes that move in that direction until one day a fully matured tree stands before you with deep roots, a mighty stem, and adoring leaves.  Inconspicuous benefits born from prayer are very much like this.  It takes time and patience is required.

Daisaku Ikeda, Presdient of the SGI, Buddhist philosopher, educator, and peace activist shares solid encouragement on this matter in the Guidance Series of Living Buddhism September 2014.  He states:

1.  Sometimes our immediate prayers are realized, and sometimes they aren’t.  When we look back later, however, we can say with absolute conviction that everything turned out for the best.

2.  Buddhism accords with reason.  Our faith is manifested in our daily lives, in our actual circumstances.  Our prayers cannot be answered if we fail to make efforts to realize them.

3.  To create something fine and solid, it would be better to build anew from the foundation up.  The purpose of our Buddhist practice is to transform our lives on a fundamental level, not superficially.

4.  Conspicuous benefit is the obvious, visible benefit of being protected or being quickly able to surmount a problem when it arises.  Inconspicuous benefit, on the other hand, is less tangible.  It is good fortune accumulated slowly and steadily.  We might not discern any change from day to day, but as the years pass, it will be clear that we’ve become happy, that we’ve grown as individuals.

5.  No matter what happens, the important thing is to keep chanting.  If you do so, you’ll become happy without fail.  Even if things don’t work out the way you hoped or imagined, when you look back later, you’ll understand on a much more profound level that it was the best possible result.  This is tremendous inconspicuous benefit.

Vincent van Gogh once said, “If you hear a voice within you saying, ‘You are not a painter,’ then by all means paint, boy, and that voice will be silenced, but only by working.”  You can replace the bold words with whatever it is you desire to be, but keep in mind that nothing of true value happens overnight and certainly not without action.  Greatness takes time to develop, and it requires diligence, determination, faith, and action.  As time passes, you will look back to observe the inconspicuous fruits of your prayer and labor.  Just remember to never give up and keep making efforts toward whatever it is you want to manifest!  That is the key!

Have a wonderful weekend everyone!

24 Hour Spiritual Fitness

Photo by Arya Ziai, CC (no changes made, access license here: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/legalcode

Photo by Arya Ziai, CC (no changes made, access license here: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/legalcode)

“The highest offering to the Buddha is not to worship something reminiscent of the Buddha.  Rather, it is to inherit the Buddha’s spirit.  In other words, the highest offering lies in struggling to manifest, as one’s own way of life, even a part of the spirit of the Buddha, who upheld the philosophy that everyone is a Buddha and tirelessly strove to save all from suffering.”       -Daisaku Ikeda in Buddhism Day By Day

The process of developing a Buddhist practice (or any spiritual practice for that matter) can be likened to a spiritual workout.  This is because as an individual develops and engages in their practice, they enter into a process of change.  How does this work?  Well, our Buddhist practice becomes a way to transform our lives on a fundamental level.  When this happens, resistance naturally occurs.  We know life is full of hardships and obstacles.  These challenges serve as the resistance we encounter to improve the direction of our lives.  Their source can be internal or external in nature, but just as lifting weights creates the resistance needed to build stronger muscles, the obstacles we encounter through our practice become the resistance we need to build our inner muscles.  When we engage in this spiritual workout, we gradually develop and increase our wisdom, compassion, and general life force.  As a result, we become better equipped to face life’s challenges and our fears head on with gumption, know how, and grit.  It is a learning process that develops over time where we gradually overcome ignorance and negativity, realize the true value of our lives and the lives of others.  It is through this struggle or spiritual workout that  we are able to inherit the Buddha’s spirit.  (Buddhist Concepts, “Faith for Overcoming Obstacles”, Living Buddhism, September 2014)

Through this lens, everyday is a spiritual workout to develop and become your best!  How will you exercise your inner muscles today?

An Exercise For Peace

“Peace Makes A Comeback”  Photo by Betsy Streeter (no changes made, see license here: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/legalcode)

To pass judgement is easy.  It does not require a highly evolved nature.  To treat another as your equal with true respect, minus the Judger’s cap, can be much more challenging.

Regarding a fundamental principle for a more peaceful and respectful way of living, Daisaku Ikeda states:

“Buddhism teaches that all people are inherently Buddhas.  I believe that this Buddhist view of humanity embodies a fundamental principle for world peace.  You are a Buddha and I am a Buddha.  That’s why we must not fight each other.  That’s why we must respect each other.”

Think of someone who drives you crazy.  Reflect for a moment.  What is your typical response towards that person? How does your response contribute to an unhappy encounter?  How can you begin to neutralize the charged energy that develops when you are around that individual?  And then, how can you treat that person with more respect than perhaps you think they are giving you?

It can be a hard exercise to establish, believe you me.  It helps to keep in mind that it is a practice and practice does not mean perfect.   Acknowledge yourself for the small steps you take and remember, in the end, everything begins with you.  When you change, the environment and the people around you change too.  You are a Buddha and I am a Buddha.  That is why we must not fight each other.  Rather, that is why we must respect one another.

Have a wonderful week and happy peace making!

A Leap Of Faith

by Mary Brack

Photo by Mary Brack

This morning while performing my morning prayers (a.k.a. doing Gongyo) I suddenly broke into a crying fit of tears.  You see, I am engaged in a battle with myself, and I suffer because I am afraid.  I’m not talking about being a little bit scared about whatever goes bump in the night.  I am talking about immobilizing fear.  It is  probably more than, you know, a deer in headlights sort of thing.

I describe my situation as one where I am standing at a fork in the road and on my back is this giant monkey.  Take a closer look at that monkey and you will find that what I really carry is a massive amount of fear.  This is a fear about living, fear about choosing which path to take on this journey of mine and both choices scare the hell right out of me.  It is an internal battle of questioning, doubt, and confusion.  And so, I stand in this place, stuck as can be, afraid to move, and afraid of making the “wrong” choice.  At the same time, I am learning that being a grown up is all about the hard choices we have to make, and life is a series of hard choices.

Along with the fear and stuck stickiness, I am frustrated by the presence of this huge gap in my life of where I am and where I want to be. I realize that time is passing me by and the only way to get past this is through it.  I know I cannot get from point A to point B without trucking through the space in between.  Life gets hard and I think after awhile one simply has to get comfortable being uncomfortable.  Trying to avoid the discomfort is itself a source of suffering.  And the stress, oh the stress times like these can bring!  Yuck!  Somebody call the doctor!  The stress I feel right now is so great that even my body responds in an agitated way as if to communicate that this must change.  I simply cannot continue to stand stuck upon this path any longer.  Heck!  I’m not even on a path anymore.  Rather, I’ve taken to lying in the dirt.  Good grief!  It is true that the mind and body are one.  Seriously. It is as if my emotional suffering is now expressing itself in physical form. I literally get pains in the heart space of my chest and this morning my right rhomboid seized up in a most painful way, so much so that it is nearly impossible for me to turn my neck left or right with ease, even as I write this.  And it hurts.  Truly.

In Nichiren Buddhism we would say that my faith is being tested.  It is a battle of win or lose, and I am determined to win!  And so I up the ante.  I increase my life force by stepping up my practice.  I get in front of my Gohonzon and I chant my butt off!  I search for guidance in the Living Buddhism magazine, World Tribune, and other sources of Nichiren Buddhist literature.  This pays off, and I find words of treasure to keep me company along this journey of mine.

President Ikeda shares a bit of wisdom from the famous jazz musician and SGI member, Wayne Shorter.  Wayne says, “Do not avoid confrontation with the unexpected and unknown.”  Ikeda builds on this by saying, “You will also be sure to encounter many things you find difficult or challenging from now.  When that happens, it’s important to have the lion-hearted spirit to confront them with resolve. ‘I’ll try my best!’ Chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo will give you the courage to do so.” (From Opening A New Era of Kosen Rufu Together by SGI President Daisaku Ikdea, World Tribune, September 12, 2014)  And of course, nothing beats the words and wisdom of Nichiren himself who says, “Though one might point at the earth and miss it, though one might bind up the sky, though the tides might cease to ebb and flow and the sun rise in the west, it could never come about that the prayers of the practitioner of the Lotus Sutra would go unanswered. (“On Prayer,” WND-1, 345)  With this I recharge my batteries and renew my determination to break through.  And so, with both feet firmly planted on the ground and my eyes toward the sky, I take my next step and a leap of faith.

What about you?  What inspires you to move through your fear place?