Plot Twist!

In My Dear Friends in America, Daisaku Ikeda wrote:

“You are the playwright of your own victory.  You are also the play’s hero.  Shakespeare wrote, “All the world’s a stage, / And all the men and women merely players” (As You like It, act II, scene vii, line 139).

Buddhism teaches us that the individual writes and performs the script for his or her own life.  Neither chance nor a divine being writes the script for us.  We write it, and we are the actors who play it.

Despite the fact that we can take responsibility for our lives and plot out the life we’d like to live, there’s no getting around the fact that some things are simply out of our control. Even in a real stage play, props fail, actors forget their lines, and any number of things happen that could disrupt the beauty of a carefully crafted script.

Then what?

It’s a cliché to say attitude is everything, but it certainly does count for quite a bit.

When acting out the drama of your life, sometimes you have to improvise until the story gets back on track.

A word on hope. #NaBloPoMo #Buddhism.

NaBloPoMo March 2013What is your philosophy of life? Does it involve action, momentum, value creation and good cheer? Is it passive, reactive, somber? Quality of life is more about how we decide to live, rather than what happens to us in the living of it. There’s risk in choosing to live optimistically. We can’t predict or control the hurricanes or floods, the disappointing diagnoses, the betrayals. Sometimes we don’t see that knock out punch coming, and there we are dazed, contemplating the wisdom of standing. The decisions we make in difficult moments are grounded in our approach to life.

I advocate a philosophy of hope. It’s funny, because I’ve often said, “hope is not a strategy.” But that’s incomplete. What I mean is hope is not going to write your paper, deliver your presentation, or mend strained relationships. Hope doesn’t take the action steps required for living day-to-day.

But having hope can keep you facing forward, looking on the bright side of a dark moment. It can feed your courage so you can regroup and try again tomorrow. Hope ensures you don’t give up at the crucial moment, when time is still left on the clock.

Hope is for the living.

We must face each issue that crops up, without flinching, solve it, overcome it and move on to the next. That is what human life is really about. That is what it is to be alive. When you triumph over your sufferings, they will all be transformed into joy. And you yourself will grow and expand.

“Despair is the refuge of fools,” goes the saying. As long as you hold on tightly to hope, as long as you take earnest actions to fight, you can be sure that spring will come again. A Russian proverb says, “There is no winter in the kingdom of hope.”

~Daisaku Ikeda in Goya

Present moments and future pleasures. #NaBloPoMo

Love in the past is a memory. Love in the future is a fantasy.
To be really alive, love — or any other experience —
must take place in the present.
~Jack Kornfield

I don’t want to get too caught up in what’s next. I want to enjoy what’s now. (While still excited about what’s next.)

I’ll admit that’s been hard the past few months. After a period of dormancy, my life is in the full bloom of spring. It’s glorious. I have big plans and I’m working toward them day by day. Still, I find myself saying things like, I can’t wait until

Now, I want to be clear: There’s absolutely nothing wrong with being excited about the future, no matter whether future means five years or five minutes. But being too caught up in future happiness – or past, for that matter – makes you miss opportunities for joy and growth in the current moment.

Happiness is not something far away. It is to be found neither in
fame nor in popularity. When you live with integrity,
your hearts begin to fill with a happiness as vast as the universe.
It’s about being true to yourself and starting from where you are.
~Daisaku Ikeda

Where are you?
There’s risk living fully in the present moment. You have to be open. Vulnerable. You have to face life as it is, not as you would have it be, or as it used to be. It requires acknowledgment. Discernment. And it’s a balancing act, really. Reflecting on past moments, looking forward to future moments, all while living in the now, is more than a notion.

NaBloPoMo March 2013

That’s really a challenge if you feel your life is a smidgen too far from perfect. Why focus energy here and now, when you really want to just hurry up and get to happily ever after? And if life is good now, but better is just around the corner, it’s easy to want to rush time along.  Funny thing, time.  You can’t get to future moments without experiencing this one. And because the chain of cause and effect is never broken, the way you experience the future is predicated, in large part, on the way you frame your present adventures.

Mindful moments.
One way I’ve remained mindful of (and grateful for) present moments, is by adding to my joy jar. I could do this more often, and I’m writing about it now as a gentle reminder to myself.  Another strategy I implement is listing. I jot down small, specific tasks I want to accomplish in a short period (one day or two), and check them off as I go.  It’s simple, but it allows me to see and appreciate constant progress, and consequently build momentum.

I also enjoy simple things like outdoor exercise, sitting in the sun, stretching, or salt baths. These all help me slow down and notice what’s going on right now. They also help me listen to my body, which whispers its need of rest or better nutrition before turning to drastic measures like illness or injury.

vorfreudeCultivate your life.
My aunt is a Master Gardener. And no matter how excited she is about her future blossoms, there’s no escaping today’s work of tilling the soil, planting and pruning as the case may be. She enjoys the work of gardening (even the setbacks), the anticipation, and the fruits of her labor.

And so it can be with us.

I Gave Up.

So it happened. I gave up.

I run 50 miles a month. I’ve hit the magic number a few times now, but I knew October would be difficult.

October was wonderful and busy and challenging, due in no small part to time in planes, rental cars and hotels. Traveling put a cramp in my otherwise clearly delineated exercise schedule. Treadmills? Yuck. Four a.m. wake up calls to get everything in? Definitely not. I decided to just run my miles whenever I could, and I’d adjust as needed. No ink on the calendar this month. Pencil only. Just in case.

Early on, I accomplished two amazing personal victories, yet I was already behind.

I made it halfway to my goal just after mid October. Yet as I counted the sunrises and tallied the miles, I lamented:

  A few days later:

And at some point I came to believe there were too many miles and not enough days remaining. Tired from the wear and tear of the month, I embraced inflexibility and pessimism. I decided there was nothing more I could do.

I gave up.

And I sat with that for a moment, that spirit of gave up. I realized two things. One, it didn’t suit me just then. Gave up felt like a stranger invading. Unwelcome. What have I been doing all these years, if not training myself for perseverance? Two, it didn’t make sense! It was definitely possible I would not reach my goal, but why in the hell was I giving up the game when there was time left on the clock?

“Even if things don’t unfold the way you expected,
don’t be disheartened or give up.

One who continues to advance will win in the end.”
~Daisaku Ikeda

I had time and determination left. And the only way I’d know if I had enough of either was to keep striving. I erased a few items on my schedule, realizing I was going to have to release the less important ones to keep my primary goal in focus.

Down to 10 miles, I had choices. Stick with my typical four milers and somehow squeeze in a shorter run? Or go for the five-mile barrier I hadn’t challenged in 18 months?

My next time out, I finished four and checked in with myself as I cooled down. I can do one more mile, I thought as I stretched one of my quads. I have the time. I have the energy… Let’s do it!

And out I went, for another mile. I hit five that day. Then, in a moment of inspiration, ran five again the next.

Finished my goal with two days to spare. The goal I was ready to shelve. I finished it. Early. This taught me something…

Sometimes it seems unlikely we’ll meet a goal. And if we’re tired or run down, it’s easy to say it’s not worth the effort to continue. And sometimes, for many reasons, that might honestly be the best choice. But check your gut and your resources first. Because here’s the thing: If the clock hasn’t run out yet, it’s not time to give up.

Beyond the Bright Side | #30in30 #WriteLikeCrazy

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.

On Framing Death

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

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.