Thursday, September 20, 2012

Making Self Improvement a Priority with Love and Support

First I have to say, when I hear from other people “It will change your life.”  Just that statement alone makes me skeptical.  I’ve heard it many times before, let me list a few. 
In college, from a Walt Disney World interviewer (for the internship I was applying), “If you are offered this opportunity, you better take it, because not only is it a paid internship, but it will change your life.” Results, I changed my major from Art to Writing because being a Disney Animator is nothing but some “creative think tank” coming together and telling you what and how to draw or animate.  In this particular instance, the change in my life wasn’t as positive as I had hoped.
The first day at my first job in my field of study at the Albion News, one of the part-time writers said, “Well, working here will definitely change your life.”  Sure did, made me never want to trust people, never work in Journalism again and I was subjected to writing my own mom’s obituary at the age of 22.  Still not seeing the positive from that situation.
When I hit an ultimate low in my life, after my mom died, I was offered drugs to help me deal… again, with the tag-line, “It will change your life, you will feel so much better.”  False again, no further description necessary.
So after hearing from others who practice SGI Buddhism, who have attended conferences at the Florida Nature and Culture Center say “It will change your life.” You can see why, I might be skeptical.  But after everyone you talk to, all ages and races repeat the same thing, “It will change your life.”  You can’t help but to wonder, could it really?
I made the determination at the beginning of this year that I was going to do one major thing for one simple purpose, self-improvement so I could help others improve as well.  I didn’t know exactly what that was going to be, and trust me, I’ve tried several things, three new part-time teaching gigs, a mentorship certification, and becoming a stronger member of SGI by joining the dance group, stepping up to be the Young Women’s Division District Leader in our area (with very little experience), and helping to produce the first Future Division Theatre Performance at the August World Peace Prayer at the Phoenix Cultural Center.  Out of all of those things I did for self-improvement, several things stood out, everything I did for others at SGI (and for myself) made me sincerely happy inside.  (Happy, like a kid again, happy.)  So by April of this year, I had my heart set on trying to attend an SGI Leadership Conference because I wanted to indeed “change my life” for the better.
But the series of events unfolding as we reached the deadline for the conference I had my heart set on, made me think, I had set an unattainable goal for myself.  But then the mystic law took it from there.
First, the conference was announced only for Leaders at the Chapter level and up.  (For a few months, I pursued becoming a Chapter leader in order to go, but with the new reorganization that was out of the question.)  But then out of the blue, I received an email from SGI-USA announcing (one month prior) that the conference was open for Young Women’s District Leaders.  Within an hour of reading that email, I had posted on Facebook, “I am finding a way to get to this conference.” 
The next day, I was unexpectedly paid two weeks early the exact amount for the conference fee.  I couldn’t help but to feel this was the mystic law making it attainable.  When I proposed the idea of me going, I was met with the most positive encouragement from my husband, so my mind was made up.  I was going to the conference.  I called the next day to the Central Territory main office in Chicago and told the woman that I was mailing a check from Phoenix – is there anyway you can hold a seat for me until you receive the check.  She confirmed me over the phone at the moment.  But at this point, I still had to figure out the flight arrangements and I didn’t want my husband and daughter to be at home alone, while I was off in pursuit of self-improvement and changing my life.  (That wouldn’t have been fair.)
Luckily, with the help of our family, they were able to secure flight arrangements to visit Pennsylvania while I was at the conference.  Oddly, the conference coincided with my husband’s father’s birthday, how amazingly perfect.  In that same timeframe, I was also able to secure a flight to Ft. Lauderdale from the closest airport near my house.  The next thing we had to figure out was who would watch our dogs?  We’d had some issues with previous caretakers in the past and luckily, someone from my district graciously agreed to do it.  I was relieved I knew it was someone who I could trust.  So it seemed everything was lining up to be perfect, my husband and daughter would get to visit our family in Pennsylvania and I was going on a mission for self-improvement.
If I only knew a month ago, how many more trials there would be to come…. (not to say the decision would’ve changed but it was questioned repeatedly).  First, was the struggle financially… could we really afford to go?  But, every time I would question my intent to go, Zach would reassure me, everything is going to work out.  Zach doesn’t practice Buddhism with Nina and me, but he attends all the activities that include performances by us and fully supports the positivity Buddhism brings to our house. 
About two weeks ago, I was faced with a demon of the past which made me question my readiness to be able to attend such a fundamentally life changing opportunity because if this demon could persuade me again in my life - how could I possibly expect to change my life if I can’t confront a demon of the past?
My workload tripled, I had just been assigned a major project at work which required double the time a normal project would, numerous meetings, only to realize that the other two projects I was working on had to be completed before I could leave for the conference or it would affect my annual review tremendously. 
This was followed by having to prepare semester-long curriculum for two new courses, which I had to start teaching immediately.  It was seriously one thing after another, on top of being casually sick.  I was beside myself in piles of work, which kept me from my regular Buddhist activities, in turn my determination began to dwindle. 
Last week (only 1 week prior to the conference) when I found myself seriously ill (on my own birthday) to the point that my birthday meal of the day was merely mashed potatoes, I was really ready to throw in the towel.  It took nearly four days to recover from the sickness, which made it almost impossible to finish my work in time for the conference.  But somehow I did.  And through it all, Zach continued to reassure me of the opportunity I was being given, he told two days ago… you had your heart set on an unattainable goal for months, now you are within days of reaching it and you have lost your courage, stop worrying. Everything is going to work out and I know that when you come back from the conference you will see things better and it change your life and make our lives better. I already can see the change.
Somehow, he could see how much Buddhism has helped me become a better person and he knew (without being a member of SGI, the value it has in my life).
So here I am, on my laptop, only a few hours from my departure to Ft. Lauderdale and FNCC (having dropped off Zach and Nina over five hours ago for their flight to Pennsylvania) crying my eyes out in front of my Gohonzon chanting for the safety of the flights in the sky tonight, chanting for the change and self-improvement. 
This is when I realized that all of the challenges leading up to this event have already made it an accomplishment.  Surely something which makes you jump over every hurdle has more than just a little value, it must have life changing properties. 
One thing I’ve learned in my 31 years is anything I ever struggled to do, was worth the lesson I learned from it.  I’ve already learned I am strong enough to make one single determination for self-improvement and even though the first three attempts didn’t get there, I haven’t given up the spirit to seek for the right cause or opportunity.
I realize now that whatever this conference yields will be a positive experience because of all those hurdles.  Sometimes you don’t appreciate things without fighting all the challenges; this has to be one of those times.  I find irony in the fact that the name of the airline which will take me to and return from Florida is Spirit Airlines.  But most importantly of all, I want to thank everyone who has supported me over the past month in believing I was ready and this was the right time for me to go.  But more than everyone else, I have to thank my husband, Zach, for the constant reassurance and support over the last month of challenges, it was because of your confidence in me, that I am able to go and appreciate this conference. 
Yes, I do believe that this conference isn’t going to just change my life, but it will have influence on everything I do, from teaching students to developing curriculum, to being a better mom and a better wife.  Because with the support of my family and the influence this practice has made in only a year and a half of my life, I am a better person than I was and want to continue to pursuit happiness even in the midst of darkness.
It’s time to be the change.