Just keep swimming

30 Day Blog Challenge, Personal Narrative

“I think that a lot of people in our country have gotten depressed, pinned in, pinned down with living lives they don’t want…tell me what your dreams are. What are you chasing? It’s not impossible.” ~Diana Nyad

There are lots of big stories in the news right now. Some of national import, others of international import, but the one of personal import is about badass Diana Nyad. She’s a 64-year-old marathon swimmer, she set a new record, and perhaps most importantly, she refused to be defeated by time, circumstances or self-doubt. She went for an Xtreme Dream and made it come true.

Age is not an excuse for giving up. Allowing yourself to grow passive and draw back is a sign of personal defeat. There may be a retirement age at work, but there is no retirement age in life. ~Daisaku Ikeda

Nyad swam 110.4 statue miles  in just under 53 hours, making the trek from Cuba to Florida without a shark cage. She wasn’t without protection – donning a special suit and mask to protect her from the jellyfish which foiled her previous attempt. And she wasn’t alone – her team was with her, stopping her for feedings and rest and making sure her path was as passable as possible.

Xtreme Dreams Require Relentless Pursuit

The seed to swim to Florida was first planted in Nyad as a young girl, and she made her initial attempt at the age of 29. That attempt, and the next three were beset by obstacles she couldn’t overcome. Despite the disappointing setbacks, she refused to give up on her dream without trying one last time.

You have a dream 35 years ago — doesn’t come to fruition, but you move on with life. But it’s somewhere back there. ~Diana Nyad

Not only is she a lifelong swimmer and dreamer, Nyad is also a lifelong learner. Although 35 years passed between her initial attempt and her final, successful one, Nyad said she learned we should never give up, we’re never too old to chase our dreams, and even solitary sports like swimming are a team effort.

I’ve been thinking quite a bit about goals in recent years. And as I’ve hinted in the past, I have a lifelong dream or two I’m pursuing. As beautifully illustrated by Nyad’s victory, dreams don’t simply come true on their own. It’s not enough to have one. It’s not enough to hope and wish it will come true. It takes effort. Human action steps. And sometimes, even with planning and preparation, it’s not enough to go for it once.

Anyone who has ever made a resolution discovers that the strength of that determination fades in time. The moment you feel that is when you should make a fresh determination. Tell yourself, “OK! I will start again from now!” If you fall down seven times, get up an eighth. Don’t give up when you feel discouraged—just pick yourself up and renew your determination each time. ~Daisaku Ikeda

It took Nyad five attempts  – five – over the course of more than 30 years. This tells as much about physical skill and endurance as it does about patience and perseverance.

But just as important as the thought to never give up, is the seriousness of intent and clarity of purpose. That 8-year-old Nyad dreamed of swimming the Florida straits, and 20-something-year-old Nyad was a successful endurance swimmer wasn’t happenstance.  Furthermore, that 64-year-old Nyad was ultimately successful, wasn’t a matter of luck. It was the culmination of focused determination and untold hours and years of disciplined work.

These are habits I’m developing in myself. Mostly I’m working to overcome my own efforts at self-sabotage through procrastination, something Joshunda tweeted about recently. It’s a process, but then again, growing and evolving always is. The point, at least for me, is to keep striving. Or, as Dory said in Finding Nemo, “just keep swimming.”

The worst mistake you can make is to give up on yourself and stop challenging yourself for fear of failure. Keep moving forward with a firm eye on the future, telling yourself, “I’ll start from today!” “I’ll start afresh from now, from this very moment!” ~Daisaku Ikeda

Be true.

30 Day Blog Challenge, Personal Narrative

Do you have a favorite quote that you return to again and again? What is it, and why does it move you?

If you summon your courage to challenge something, you’ll never regret it. How sad it would be to spend your life wishing, “If only I had a little more courage.” Whatever the outcome, the important thing is to take a step forward on the path that you believe is right. There’s no need to worry about what others may think. It’s your life, after all. Be true to yourself. ~Daisaku Ikeda

I first saw this quote in the November 2012 issue of Living Buddhism magazine. Sae Chonabayashi said it encouraged her to pursue her dreams. It encouraged me to do the same. At the time I read the piece, I was at a crossroads; I was unsure about quite a few things. That quote resonated, and I got clear on next steps in a hurry.

Life is short and no one wakes up in my skin every morning except me. I have plans and dreams, and it’s quite possible they won’t work out as I’d like…but I have to try.  I’ve always been one to play it safe. But safe isn’t always satisfactory, and time passes way too quickly these days for me to waste it in any state of dissatisfaction. So whatever the outcome, in eleven days, I’m moving forward on a new path.

I embrace possibilities and love.

To thine own self, be true.

NaBloPoMo March 2013

On looking and leaping. #NaBloPoMo #amwriting.

30 Day Blog Challenge

NaBloPoMo March 2013

Do you always look before you leap?

Of course. Gravity is real and objects are solid. Not looking where you leap can lead to injury. Or worse.

That said, looking first doesn’t negate the leaping. It simply means assessing the situation beforehand. I weigh pros and cons. I mull things over and consider multiple angles. I do a gut check: How does it feel when I think about leaping? I can’t say if I put more stock in feelings over facts. It depends on the leap in question. I don’t do all of this to talk myself out of leaping, but rather so I can leap mindfully.

I think a related question is Have you ever taken a leap you’ve regretted? The answer to that is a solid no. Regret is a strong word and one I’ve always scorned. I love myself and I love my life. Everything is not exactly as I’d like it to be, and that’s part of the drama of life. Sure, I’ve made decisions I wouldn’t make again. But I don’t regret them; I learned from them.

There’s no need for us to be held back by the past or how things have been so far. The important thing is what seeds we are sowing now for the future. ~Daisaku Ikeda

Keeping past decisions and future goals in focus encourages me to be mindful of my present actions.

So yes, I leap. But first, I look.

Good credit. #NaBloPoMo #amwriting.

30 Day Blog Challenge, Productivity

NaBloPoMo March 2013When good things happen, people tend to underestimate how much credit is due to their own efforts, and overestimate the influence of outside forces.

  • That was just luck.
  • It’s only because someone else did thus and such.
  • I was in the right place at the right time.

Meanwhile, when something negative happens, the opposite is suddenly true. They get plenty of credit for the poor outcome, while the external forces are let off the proverbial hook.

  • It’s all my fault.
  • I always do thus and such wrong.
  • If only I had done this, that or the other thing.

In either case, the scales are always tipped to favor luck for good things, and self for bad.

Why is that?

We are co-creators in this world. That means just as there are some things outside of our control, there are other things that we have the ability to influence. We owe it to ourselves to get clear on our power in either case. We deserve credit for the victories in our lives. Perhaps we were in the right place at the right time, but we were also prepared and ready for the opportunity when it came along.

History is created by people. Each individual is a key protagonist in that endeavor. Instead of relying on others, we must enact our own great drama of creativity. Then we can break through the shell of our limited self, advancing and improving ourselves day after day. ~Daisaku Ikeda

We have agency. Don’t relinquish your power, content to subject yourself to the whims of the universe.  Sure, good and bad things “happen.” But be just as sure that you contribute to the good things. The more you recognize your power to co-create the wins in your life, the more victories you can accumulate.

Yes, Lady Luck deserves some of the credit, and so do you. Give credit where credit is due.

Beyond the Bright Side | #30in30 #WriteLikeCrazy

30 Day Blog Challenge, Spirituality, Temple Building

Success is not a matter of accumulating more of this or that; it is not measured in quantity. It means changing the quality of your life. Wealth, power, fame and knowledge alone cannot make you happy, no matter how much of these you acquire. Nor can you take them with you when you die. But by improving the quality of your life you will at last approach true happiness. ~Daisaku Ikeda

But how does one change the quality of life? Lots of guidance encourages us to remain steadfast in difficult times; refuse to give up during challenging circumstances. Some people mistake this kind of rhetoric to mean just look at the bright side. This understanding is inaccurate, or at the very least, incomplete. The better reading is that you should become the bright side. It means build the kind of core, that regardless of your surroundings, you can maintain hope and cheer. Furthermore, actively radiate that cheerful, hopeful state of life in the actions you take to change your surroundings for the better.

Easier said than done.

One way to build this kind of core is through a practice of gratitude. Far from something “hokey” or “mystical,” it’s a grounded practice of being present and appreciating even the slivers of goodness in daily life. This does not mean you don’t notice when things are awry. This does not mean you can only see the glass as half full. But it does mean that even if your glass is half empty, you can be thankful for the half that remains. And as a second step, take action to help make fuller glasses more likely in the future. Anyone can sit back and complain, but how does that improve quality of life?

Developing a solid state of life is not a spectator sport. It’s an act of creation. We witness. We appreciate. We build.

Don’t Give Up | #30in30 #WriteLikeCrazy

30 Day Blog Challenge, Productivity, Writer's Craft

Anyone who has ever made a resolution discovers that the strength
of their determination fades with time.
The important thing is not that your resolve never wavers,
but that you don’t get down on yourself when it does and throw in the towel.
~Daisaku Ikeda

23 down. 7 to go:

I have made a commitment to write (and share) every day for 30 days. Some days it’s been a joy – especially those days when I have time to truly craft or be playful on the page. It’s also rewarding when I’m feeling a bit righteous and want to make a little noise about something on my heart. Unfortunately, not all days are sunshine. When I’m tired, or my day simply hasn’t gone as planned, I often debate skipping and just catching up the next day.

But so far I haven’t done that.

It’s difficult, continuing. I think it’s important to just acknowledge that. Even if you enjoy something, you may not enjoy it the same every day. And even if you’re committed to something, your commitment may not look the same every day. But here’s the thing… even though we acknowledge something is not as easy as we’d like, I think we owe it to our commitment not spend too much time lamenting.

Lamenting is the magic expander. It makes everything loom larger than it actually is. This is so hard, we think to ourselves over and over again. And suddenly we’ve made the thing heavier. We’ve made the task larger. And then it becomes too much! We mop our brow, woozy from the imagined strain. Tomorrow, we think. Maybe I can manage it tomorrow.

Just when I’m whipping out the handkerchief, ready to call it a night, I often realize that I have the same power to shrink the task as I had to enlarge it. And I tell the lamenter thank you, but your services are no longer needed. I remind myself of my original goal, and go from there.

My goal is to build a writing habit. That means I simply need to write. Something. Anything. Even a five-minute freewrite.

It all counts.

That doesn’t mean there won’t come a day when you really don’t have it in you. Not five minutes. Not five words. And that’s okay, too. On those days, be gentle with yourself. Who deserves your love, if not you? Don’t give up on your original determination. Don’t give up on you.

And this makes 24. 9:53 p.m. Home office.

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.

Every Tiny Bit | #30in30 #WriteLikeCrazy.

30 Day Blog Challenge, Productivity

I’m proud of myself.

I have written daily, without fail, during the 30in30 and WriteLikeCrazy challenge. Today, I don’t have much to say, yet I remain committed. So here I am, showing up, even though I’m sleepy and am not up to writing any of the brilliant ideas germinating.

I have no harsh words for myself. Only love and congratulations for continuing to forge ahead, one word at a time.

I wish the same for you.

Never for an instant forget the effort to renew your life, to build yourself anew. Creativity means to push open the heavy, groaning doorway of life itself. This is not an easy task. Indeed, it may be the most severely challenging struggle there is. For opening the door to your own life is in the end more difficult than opening the door to all the mysteries of the universe.
                                                          Daisaku Ikeda

On Behalf of Justice. | #30in30 #WriteLikeCrazy.

30 Day Blog Challenge, Abolition & Justice

Reading in preparation for a lecture on Buddhist writings, I came across this quote:

What is the noblest way of life? My unhesitating answer to that question is: a life dedicated to truth and justice.

Only in a world where truth and justice flourish can people freely bring forth their innate goodness. If, in contrast, philosophies or belief systems that deny the possibility of infinite human improvement prevail, misery and suffering will abound.

~Daisaku Ikeda, Lecture on Nichiren’s Letter from Teradomari

This resonated today. As some of you know, I’m becoming an activist and advocate for modern abolition – the end of mass incarceration. These days I’m mulling a series of essays. I want to help us imagine a world in which imprisonment is no longer the strategy of first resort. My premise begins with the innate potential, dare I say, the innate goodness, present in all people, and the options we can design when this potential, or goodness, is foregrounded rather than summarily discounted.

I’m thinking about our continued reliance on the mantra of personal responsibility in the face of structural inequities; the fallibility of lawmakers; the dynamic way we criminalize behaviors; the hierarchy of crime.

And if we study the fallout from mass incarceration on the incarcerated, on their families, and on society at large, I believe we’ll find we’re not “better off” with a swelling population of bodies in cages. There are too many minds in cages already, and we certainly aren’t any better off for that.

I digress.

This quote encourages me because speaking up against mass incarceration is a matter of justice. In 2010, 1 out of every 137 people was behind bars. (How many friends have you on social media?) Now, over 2.3 million people are jailed and imprisoned, and the number continues to grow. Mandatory sentencing guidelines cage people for decades with no consideration of their individual circumstances. While inside, prisoners are routinely denied reading materials that could be a pathway to growth and transformation. Where is the justice in that?

Corporations profit from an increasing prison population. Who might be criminalized next to feed the bottom line? And once you’re freed, good luck. In many places, ex felons are summarily barred from reentry into society. No money. No housing. No opportunity for work. No voice.

No justice.

Each of these things is but a strand in the knotty mess that is mass incarceration. This mess strangles the very possibility of individual human improvement, and by extension, societal improvement as well. Our disposal and disregard of people we view as “other” or “less than” does not move us forward. Fighting on behalf of justice? Maybe that does.