On Framing Death

30 Day Blog Challenge, Spirituality

Although born with breath in our bodies, at some point we exhaust our share. Our supply runs out. We draw the last one. When that fateful day happens, we die. Whether we merge into the cosmic consciousness and become one with the essence of all there is, take a mystical trip upward or downward, come to inhabit another body, or simply cease to exist, is another matter entirely. I stake no claim on knowing.

But we can say with conviction: no one continues in their current form forever.

Death is something no one can escape from. It follows life as surely as night follows day, winter follows autumn or old age follows youth. ~Ikeda

Since we arrive with the guarantee that we will also depart, I always wonder why some people frame death, especially when it is the result of an illness like cancer, as “losing.” As in, “she lost her battle with cancer.” Such wording, while meant to convey the way a loved one has died, implies they could’ve been immortal if only… They lost, as if, had events gone another way, they could have “won.” But what might winning mean? In a battle for life, death is the certain winner. So perhaps life and death are not best framed as competitors.

It is fair to acknowledge the cause of death. And of course we can acknowledge our loss; our sorrow that our loved one’s time with us was shorter than we, and perhaps they, would’ve liked. But I don’t think we give life or death their full measure when we say someone lost because they died. Our loved ones may leave us, ’tis true, and perhaps it is of little solace that they are immortalized in our memories of them. But I would like to think that if we love them in death, as we loved them in life, they won.

Continuing Faith | #30in30 #WriteLikeCrazy

30 Day Blog Challenge, Spirituality, Temple Building

To accept is easy; to continue is difficult.
But Buddhahood lies in continuing faith.

Nichiren wrote The Difficulty of Sustaining Faith to one of his most trusted disciples, Shijo Kingo. Shijo was being pressured to give up his practice of Buddhism, and Nichiren reminded him that difficulties were predicted in the Lotus Sutra – that he must bear this firmly in mind and remain steadfast.

Although this letter is about maintaining faith in Buddhism, the encouragement is applicable to anyone. Victory lies in never giving up. It requires one to be relentless in her commitment to a task.

How many times do we start something – anything – with energy and verve, only to be to swayed when difficulty comes along? For instance, let’s say your goal is to run a marathon. You’ve found a training plan that makes sense for your level of fitness. You’ve chosen the perfect marathon, one that is bound to have great weather and a relatively flat course.

After a few weeks of training, you need new shoes, but your funds are low. You simply can’t run another mile in your current kicks, and you must put off training until you can get a new pair. Obstacle? Or maybe your training isn’t progressing as planned. You can’t seem to break 10 miles without hitting a wall. Obstacle. Or here it is, a couple of weeks away, and you sustain an injury that will force you to miss your race. Obstacle!

These obstacles must be signs, right? You think to yourself, Maybe marathons are for other people.

Maybe. But the obstacles don’t decide that. You do.

To accept is easy; to continue is difficult.
But Buddhahood lies in continuing faith.

As human beings, we can’t control our environment, our circumstances or the timing of things. The only thing we can control in a given moment is our ichinen – our single-minded determination. For various reasons we might not be able to run the marathon we intended. But we can still run a marathon.

Choosing to strive again another day, even to start all over if circumstances warrant – that’s continuing faith. It may seem more than merely difficult – it may seem Herculean. But the decision to keep moving toward your goal, undaunted by the inevitable setbacks; to keep believing in yourself even in dark times, that, that is enlightenment.

Treasures of the Heart | #30in30 #WriteLikeCrazy.

30 Day Blog Challenge, Spirituality, Temple Building

The treasures of the heart can never be destroyed.

Daisaku Ikeda wrote a message to fellow Buddhists and other Tohoku residents whose surroundings were decimated in the 2011 earthquake and tsunami. His message included these words, which were meant as both solace and inspiration.

I’m attending a Buddhist lecture this weekend, and the members of Tohoku were used as an example of maintaining faith – the spirit to remain hopeful and cheerful – in the most dire circumstances. Ikeda wrote to encourage them to remain undefeated, even in face of devastation. Now, over a year later, many people have temporary housing and still don’t have jobs, yet they maintain high spirits.

Ikeda’s encouragement was based on this well-known passage from the gosho:

More valuable than treasures in a storehouse are the treasures of the body, and the treasures of the heart are the most valuable of all. From the time you read this letter on, strive to accumulate the treasures of the heart!

Nichiren, Three Kinds of Treasure

As noted above, there are three kinds of treasure elucidated in Buddhism:

“Treasures of the storehouse” are material treasures. They include such things as property and financial wealth.

“Treasures of the body” are attributes that endow our person, such as skills, knowledge, educational background, etc. They also include perceptions that are attached to or associated with us, such as social standing, reputation, position and fame.

We can define “treasures of the heart” as the mental and spiritual capacities to achieve mastery over oneself and to have genuine concern for others. This equates to such attributes as a solid sense of fulfillment, a brightness of spirit, a warm and attractive personality, self-control, conviction, a sense of justice, courage, empathy and compassion.

In the course of daily life, tragedies and mishaps occur, each with the power to demolish material treasures. With financial crises, natural disasters, and the like, houses, cars, clothes can disappear, almost without warning.

When it comes to the treasures of the body, these are more stable, but still susceptible to outside influences. A careless word or action by another can ruin our reputation. An accident, illness, or other obstacles can diminish the functioning of our bodies.

But the most durable, and according to Nichiren, the most crucial treasures, are those of the heart.  In other words, your determination to continue in adversity. Your capacity to care for others in need. Your ability to nurture hope even when situations seem hopeless.

Each of us has the capacity to develop a strong state of life – one that can withstand difficulties with composure and good cheer. I pray that we all strive to amass treasures of the heart. They are the most valuable and indestructible of all.

Cultivating Inner Discipline

Personal Narrative, Productivity, Spirituality, Temple Building

People often remark how disciplined I seem as if I woke up one morning and it just happened. It didn’t. And truth be told, I’m not equally disciplined in all areas of my life (who is?).  Like everyone else, I am a work in progress.

No Victory is Too Small
Being disciplined is the result of daily effort – but not Herculean effort. For me, the smaller, the better.

I take baby steps. I may not accomplish everything I want today, but I can be accomplished today. I can move forward today. I do this by finding the one, small, specific item I know I can do. I set my self up for success by making sure I have the time allotted to accomplish whatever that small, specific thing is. With a clear understanding of the task, I go for it.

Keep Moving Forward
Spending time and energy lamenting what you aren’t doing, doesn’t magically cultivate inner discipline. In fact, I find it to be a deterrent. Beating myself up (known as self-slander in Buddhism) is a sure-fire way to sabotage my forward motion. An oft-heard retort: “But you can’t move forward without self-criticism.”  No, you can’t move forward without taking a step forward.

You can, however, be reflective and honest, without being negative to yourself. After that honest reflection, you can decide on a small action, take that small step, and praise yourself for a job well done.

Praise is Karma, Too
We can devote plenty of time and effort to complain about what we aren’t doing, but for some strange reason we can’t spare a high five for our accomplishments. Especially something we view as small. We equate small with inconsequential. We shouldn’t.

If you think you’re too small to make a difference, try sleeping in a room with a mosquito. ~African Proverb

It’s so easy to recognize the significance of small steps when babies take them. But suddenly they “don’t count” when we expect we should have mastered self-discipline {or insert topic here} by now. The inner you is starting from the beginning! We don’t yell at the toddler taking her first steps, “that doesn’t count!” We say “yay!” We give smiles and hugs. We are full of congratulations. We offer encouragement for the baby to continue because she’s doing something right! She’s on the right path. When you’re taking your small step, so are you!

People often characterize karma as negative. It’s something bad that happens in response to our bad deeds. This is inaccurate. Karma simply means action. To that end, every thought, word, and deed count. What kinds of actions are you accumulating? Your negative self-talk? It counts. Those baby steps? They count, too. Every action is of consequence.

Where Are You Now?
Cultivating inner discipline means starting from where you are and taking a step. And then doing it again. And again. There’s no need to lament last week or yesterday. Don’t be overwhelmed about next week, or even tomorrow. Start from the current moment. Move forward today.  And that small step you’re planning? Congratulations in advance!

On Living, or Dying, with Anger

Personal Narrative, Spirituality, Temple Building

It is dangerous to hold fast to anger toward another.

Perhaps even poisonous.

One may look around one day, only to find herself rotting, dying a slow death from the inside. And yet, aware as I am of this simple point, I catch myself, arms wrapped ‘round my body, one crossed over another, refusing to release it. It’s almost comforting, this anger. Terrifying to think of letting it go, and Goddess forbid, opening my heart again. Where would I be without this cloak ‘round me? Without this veil enclosing my heart? One shudders to think of it. And yet one shudders a great deal more to ponder the alternative.

Praying to expel this poison. Move past the betrayal. Get on with life and the living. Anger, held too long and too deeply, is for the dead.

Goddess Awakening

Personal Narrative, Spirituality
Nike, Goddess of Victory

Although my mother didn’t do this knowingly, I am named for the Goddess of Victory. And in fact, my name and my mother’s name both mean Victory, or Victorious One, or Victory of the People.  The victory part, I always got. This goddess thing is new. And serious.

A little background is in order…At the end of last year I found myself wanting to bring in the new year with some kind of serious spiritual reflection. I usually chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo on New Year’s Eve with the intention of empowering my goals for the new year, but this year I wanted to step it up. After much stalling mulling, I realized I wanted to do an extended program of sorts, kind of like the ones Sojo does. And thus was born my 60 day plan: Rebirth: A Celebration of the Divine.

That program is a post all onto itself, but I want to make it clear – doing it was the start of a new life – a new me. One of the tangible outcomes? I’m embracing my role as a reiki channel of divine energy. One of the intangible, but more important outcomes? I’m open to receiving love and guidance that deepens my connection to this mystic universe.

Today’s post is a testament to that. In the past week, I have started to read about and think about the divine feminine.  I’m getting visions of peacocks and explosions of (what must be divine) energy, and urges to just BE. Be beautiful. Be sexy. Be powerful. Be FULLY ME.

Thinking about the divine feminine has stirred something in me. It feels important. Exciting. This idea of powerful, creative, sensualness – this is what is totally moving me today. I wanna be somewhere in a bath with oranges and honey, rose petals and cinnamon, and candles. I wanna be strolling in the world, fierce in power, confident in word.

That’s where I am today – all up in that. No, I don’t wanna be worshipped, but I do want people to respond to my power. I want other women to embrace theirs as well. I want to more fully awaken this divinity within me. She is truly a goddess. But she feels neglected. Silent. Quiet. Shy. She wants to be nurtured. Loved. Open. Alive.

Today I write because I FEEL her stirring. It’s deep. Exciting. It translates as sexual energy, but it’s not about sex at all. It’s about SENSUAL in every possible sense.

It is divine. It is feminine. It is ME. She wants nothing more than to more fully express herself. So to the world I say, watch out.

What a Difference a Day Makes

Personal Narrative, Spirituality, Temple Building

Yesterday I really had the blues. I’m still not quite sure why. I felt like a visit to the ocean was in order, even though it was a cloudy, rainy day. It was also a pretty cool day…very unlike the high 90s we’ve experienced lately. Still, water beckoned and I went.

A wedding was just ending, but I wasn’t in the mood to scope out the happy couple or offer fake smiles to the guests, so I drove past my usual spot and parked a tad further up the lot. I snatched an area pretty close to the water and sat down. And listened.

I started to journal just in time for raindrops to fall. I looked up at the sky asking the clouds if they were serious? I mean they appeared to be breaking up and yet here were the drops, threatening to ruin my journal.

No one around me seemed phased by the drops – which didn’t phase me in the morning as I ran in them. I embraced the rain just a few hours earlier, but sitting, trying to commune with the ocean, I was on the edge of annoyance, willing it to stop. I wasn’t happy about the idea of retreating to my car to sit out weather, but no one moved, so I held firm too. That is, until I had the overwhelming urge to go stand in the water. Really it was more of a command. As I sat there trying to talk myself out of it, I suddenly popped up and found myself heading to the shore. As soon as I stood there, I knew it was the right thing to do. The tide was coming in, and as I waded in a bit, the waves started splashing higher and higher up my legs and thighs.

I knew I had to go to the car and break out the emergency swimsuit. I returned to the water just in time for the rain to stop. I alternated sitting and standing, as the waves also alternated crashing down or gently rolling in. Twenty minutes in the water, and I was as good as new. I let the salt water take those blues away and fill me up with determination to keep moving forward. And more importantly with the fortitude to remain open, as my spirit guides keep reminding me to do.

After my romp in the water, I sat back down in my chair, enjoying the sunset. The clouds broke apart to show off the gold, orange and pink rays, and even exposed a hint of blue sky for the first time in what seemed to be a week. The sunset was literally the brightest moment all day.  I came home feeling like myself, grateful for the simple magic of the elements.

NMRK

Traveling Inward

Personal Narrative, Spirituality, Temple Building

So I’m in this weird in between place right now.

I hate it. I’m ALMOST finished with my degree. It’s ALMOST time to move. I ALMOST have an idea of my next steps. But nothing is clear, or in focus. Nothing is right now. Or at least, that’s how I feel about it today.

For the past several months this has been perfectly acceptable. Today, it makes me sad. I’m confused. On the one hand, I’m more open than I’ve ever been in life – I’m looking inside and around my life to understand my divine gifts and divine purpose. I’m starting to embrace the fact that maybe (maybe) I’m a healer, and can be a channel of healing for people in the world. I’m starting to consider the fact that maybe (maybe) my teaching is not really about K-12 or K-16, but about communities and families and life beyond traditional school/higher ed boundaries.

But all of this is in the budding stages. And rather than be excited or happy about it, I’m sad. Confused. Seeking clarity. Begrudging the not knowing. Today there are no skittles or rainbows or bright lights. Today there are tears, and inward looking, and silence.

I suppose that’s okay too.

On Being a Vessel

Personal Narrative, Spirituality, Temple Building

I was sleeping. I normally don’t dream or at least don’t usually have memories of dreams. This night was no different. It was maybe a year or so after my mother died. In any event, I was sleeping. Soundly. Suddenly, I woke up with this idea. It wasn’t an idea I wanted to have. It wasn’t an idea I had been mulling or chewing on. It was an idea that showed up, fully formed, in my consciousness. It demanded I wake up and write it down.

Efforts to ignore it and go back to sleep were wholly ineffective. It came with its own adrenaline rush and there was no pushing it off for the sake of shut eye. So there I was, in my office, trying to capture this idea that didn’t come from me, but was certainly coming through me. I remember feeling desperate to get it all down. And when it was all typed out, I felt as if I had just given birth. Having never actually birthed a human, I can’t be sure, but that’s about the closest I can get to describing it.

I knew at that moment I did not have the resources to make this idea a reality (yet). I thought then that it was at least 5 or 10 years in the making. I went on with life, not giving much thought to the idea.

This was around 2004 or 2005.

Since then, every two or three years, the idea gently resurfaces, as if to remind me it still exists. But earlier this year when it resurfaced, it was LOUD and demanding! Some aspects of it had changed, and it wanted me to know. I’m talking about it as though it has a life of its own. It does.

I felt scared because it seemed as if the time was getting closer to bring it from the world of the formlessness into the world of form, but I’m. Not. Ready. At least so I feel. Felt. Feel? I don’t know. It felt urgent. Like hurry up! Interestingly, there are still many pieces I don’t possess. But recently I realized that’s okay. Since I need help, I’ve now asked for it. I’m praying to meet a mentor who can help me. And I know that if I am truly a vessel for this, as it seems I may be, the path will be illuminated if I will just start walking.