Dialogue Starts With Courage

I’m so happy to be holding my first memoir book signing at the Gilroy, California Barnes & Noble Bookstore. I can’t wait! It will be held on Saturday, October 11th from 2-4pm and copies will be available for purchase. I will be available at an information table near the front of the store to answer questions and discuss my memoir. I hope to plan a future event, maybe in December, in the San Jose area so stay tuned!

I am especially looking forward to sharing my experience with other people. I believe it is so important to talk to other people, not just about my memoir, but about our shared experiences. SGI President Daisaku Ikeda states:

Dialogue starts from the courageous willingness to know and be known by others. It is the painstaking and persistent effort to remove all obstacles that obscure our common humanity. Genuine dialogue is a ceaseless and profound spiritual exertion that seeks to effect a fundamental human transformation in both ourselves and others. Dialogue challenges us to confront and transform the destructive impulses inherent in human life.

SGI President Ikeda’s Message to the Civil Society Peace Forum held at the Cooper Union in New York – 9/8/2007

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Dialogue takes courage. It is much easier to isolate myself and ignore other people, rather than initiate conversation. For some people, it is easier to strike out at another person, rather than attempt to resolve the problem through dialogue. The same can be said of numerous politicians in the U.S. government, who prefer war and conflict over peace and diplomacy.

My determination for my October 11th book event is to have meaningful dialogue with the people who express interest in my memoir. I will not be reading from my memoir, nor will I be giving a talk. Instead, I will be available to speak with anyone who is interested in learning more about my incredible experience.

Jen

Buddhist Optimism – A Fighting Optimism

Buddhist optimism is not the escapist optimism of those who throw up their hands and say, “Somehow or other things will work out.” Rather it means clearly recognizing evil as evil and suffering as suffering and resolutely fighting to overcome it. It means believing in one’s ability and strength to struggle against any evil or any obstacle. It is to possess a fighting optimism.

 – SGI President Daisaku Ikeda, “The Wisdom of the Lotus Sutra: Volume V.”

I believe this statement epitomizes one of the major differences between the Buddhism that I practice, the Buddhism of Nichiren Daishonin, and the other sects of Buddhism in the world today. For most people, especially in the West, Buddhism is seen as a laid-back, meditative, easy-going spiritual practice that has more to do with bringing about the practioner’s own peace of mind than world peace. The Buddhism of Nichiren Daishonin specifically emphasizes that as believers, we need to not only pray and take action to improve our own lives, but we also need to pray and take action to improve the lives of others. It is not a passive, contemplative Buddhism, but rather an active, positive, and fighting for justice Buddhism.

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This is why I like this quote. “Buddhist optimism…is a fighting optimism.” We are not meant to retreat into the mountaintops and seclude ourselves in quiet meditation. Instead we must take an active role in society in order to improve our own lives and the lives of others. For me this is a real challenge. Given a choice, I would choose to keep quietly to myself, reading books and spending my spare time with my husband and dog. I would interact as little as possible with other people and keep primarily to myself. This is one of my biggest weaknesses, but Nichiren Daishonin’s Buddhism has helped me to open up my life and learn how to care about other people. I’ve developed compassion for my own family members, close friends, my Buddhist companions and even strangers on other continents thousands of miles away.

Without compassion and concern for other people, we do not get very far in life, nor will we get very far as a diverse, multi-racial and multi-lingual society.

Shine a Light On Your Dark Places!

Three or four years ago I borrowed a book from my mom to read on the flight home from Denver. The book was Jeannette Walls’ The Glass Castle. I loved it. The Glass Castle is Jeannette Walls’ memoir about her childhood and growing up with an unusual set of parents. I recently bought her third book, The Silver Star, published in 2013. The Silver Star is a novel and doesn’t offer quite the same insights into the author’s personal life like her memoir. It’s still a good read, and last night I was struck by a piece of advice the mom gave the young girl “Liz” after Liz had suffered a traumatic event.

Don’t be afraid of your dark places.

If you can shine a light on them, you’ll find treasure there.

How wonderful! I thought to myself as I lay reading in bed, using my husband’s blue headlamp for extra light. What incredible advice! The mother in the story is exactly right. I stopped reading for a minute and thought about my “dark places” – the places inside me that I associate with evil and rage and injustice. I realized that these places I tend to associate with the mafia and the evil voices/people that have surrounded me for so many years. While they all appear to be external, from a Buddhist perspective, this is not the case. There is something internal, inside me – a dark place perhaps – that I need the courage to overcome. That’s why I really liked this quote, especially the second part: “If you can shine a light on them, you’ll find treasure there.”

This is really true, especially in Buddhism because we use our problems and sufferings to help us grow and to create value. While I was writing my memoir, I determined that my story would be one way for me to create value out of the horrendous situation I found myself in for so many years. By writing about my experiences, I could not only heal emotionally, but I could also be a source of hope and offer encouragement to others. I also came up with a great, new idea for a children’s publishing company that I’m really looking forward to starting, and I think this will also be a way for me to “shine a light on my dark places,” and find the treasure within.

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This is such an amazing perspective to view the darkness within our own lives. We must not be afraid to illuminate this darkness – to create happiness from suffering, joy from pain, and treasure from poison.

Making Change Happen

I was a little out of sorts over this past weekend, and it took me a couple of days to recover. I had this expectation that on Friday, August 1st, the voices, the mafia, and all the people traipsing around after me would go away. When that didn’t happen, I became very upset. It is extremely difficult for me to accept the situation as it is, but when I went to my Buddhist study on Tuesday morning, I felt encouraged by another woman’s experience. She too had also been feeling frustrated – as if nothing was changing in her life in spite of all the effort she was making. She eventually was able to achieve success and accomplish the goals she had set for herself. Carla described how even though we pray and take action, we may still feel like nothing is changing in our lives. Yet, somehow we have set the wheels in motion with our daimoku (Buddhist prayer). At the right time, we will see the results.

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I was encouraged by her experience because I have felt frustrated many, many times over the same issue in my life. I have felt as if nothing was happening in terms of making progress with the people who are harassing me and stalking me. All too often I have felt deadlocked in my life for years, stuck in a place that I haven’t been able to get myself out of, with nothing changing from one day to the next. John and I argued for awhile on Saturday morning. I told him I wake up every morning and listen to see if I can still hear “Loach” (the name I have given the mafia “thing” that yells constantly and follows me everywhere). I listen for the other soft, whispering voices as well, but every morning I wake up, and they are still there. I hate them. I wish they would go away and leave me alone forever. I asked John, “Who does this? What type of person? They must be psychotic!”

Living in their own drug-induced, delusional world, this small pack of miserable leeches clings to me desperately. I have no idea why. There is no logical reason – only insanity and their own miserable lives, rife with addiction, crime and who knows what else. In the end, their misery has little, if anything, to do with me. I became their focal point, their scapegoat, but they don’t know how or why – nor do they care.

What I realized yesterday morning after listening to my Buddhist friend’s experience, was that even though I do not see immediate change in my life or my environment, the wheels have been set in motion. Change is happening and it will become apparent at the right time. I am sure of it. I just have to be patient. Unfortunately, patience is one thing I lack.

Women In Nature – Adventure!

I decided to enter a submission for an anthology titled Women In Nature. The first book in the Women In Nature series was published this May, and the publisher, Louis Grace Publishing, is currently accepting submissions for additional anthologies in their series. They are currently accepting submissions for the following categories: adventure, children, healing, water, indigenous ways, food, and dwelling. These are short essays – only 750-2,000 words – and must be inspiring and uplifting for the reader.

When I read the submission guidelines on their website, I remembered the six-week backpacking trip I took in Montana the summer of my freshman year of college. I picked a few memorable events from my backpacking trip and wrote a brief essay titled “The Darkest, Starriest Skies.” I think I may have continued the “stars” theme from last week’s blog post, but I also discovered that I really enjoy writing about my past experiences – particularly the happy ones.

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I’ve found over and over that writing about my past experiences helps me tremendously to push the bad memories I have of the voices and the mafia into the background. Writing about, remembering, and not-quite reliving the fun times I’ve had helps me rediscover all the positive, enjoyable experiences in my life. I’m starting to realize that the past twelve years I’ve spent battling these horrible people and relentless voices do not make up the sum total of my existence. I have plenty of great, positive, adventurous stories to share with my readers, and I plan to continue writing about them long into the future.

I even started a second memoir about the two years I spent in the Dominican Republic as a Peace Corps volunteer. I am excited to write this memoir as well, and I can’t wait to share my experience with others. I still face quite a bit of negativity on a daily basis – mostly in my own thoughts. It’s easy to be angry, and hard to be positive, but I make continuous efforts to keep happy thoughts. My Buddhist faith, my husband and my family help me tremendously. I can’t wait until this is over.