Saturday, 2 June 2012

Courses and songs

This post should have been another of my descriptive, "everyday Buddhism" posts to talk about Buddhist courses, and it has shifted into one of my biggest experiences so far.

Because my HQ course has been the first time I had to sneak out a lilac shift to cry. And also the second time.

But let’s start from the beginning. Or, well, from the point where my memories started creeping back and creeping me out.

The Monday before the course, I was with a couple of friends. They are a really nice couple, and have a loving, very loyal relationship which is quite cute to watch. At some point during the night, the girl had a panic attack and the rest of the evening was dedicated to comfort her and make her feel better. At one point, she was sitting on his knees, being cuddled and comforted as she cried, and all of a sudden the memories of my past came back, as they often do, and slammed me full force.

Luckily, I have been doing a lot of daimoku recently, and the effect was rather different than usual. Usually, I would plunge deep into the world of hell and a massive crisis of tears, desperation and self loathing would ensue, leaving me exhausted and sad.

Why, you may ask?

Let’s rewind to a few years back. I met a guy. The first person I have ever loved, I mean really loved. To the point of stupidity, to the point of forgetting myself. I would have done anything for him. I bared my soul to him, telling him everything about me, loving him with the desperation of years and years of loneliness and lack of appreciation.

His answer to my furious, all encompassing love was not what I expected, or wanted, although it was probably what I “needed” in my life.
He was brutally critical of every aspect of me. What I did, what I was, was never enough for him, and he seemed to have a knack for exploiting every weakness I had in order to cause the maximum possible amount of pain.

I remember endless hours spent asking, pleading, begging for some comfort, for feeling his love and his protection, for him to make me feel beautiful and desirable, and receiving in return only more criticism, more brutality, more abuse.

And I put up with it. Because I was in love, because I was obsessed with getting what I wanted, what I DESERVED from him.

That night, looking at my friends hugging and acting, basically, as a loving couple should act, I finally accepted, with the calmness only hours and hours of daimoku can give you, that yes, that was abuse.

I suffered from an eating disorder when I was 20. It didn’t last for long, and I was never hospitalised for it, but I was anorexic. I didn’t eat. I had a journal in which I wrote what I ate, giving me compliments when I starved myself and insults when I ate.
It was the summer I became a member of the SGI, and I realised that something was really wrong when I started feeling something as elating and powerful as an orgasm whenever I had cramps for hunger.
I knew I had to stop. Even if, for the first time in my life, I felt powerful. Even if I felt completely in control, for the first time in my life.
Luckily, I had Buddhism, and my Buddhist friends, and I decided to let go of that addictive feeling of power and embrace my Buddhahood instead.

I told my boyfriend what I had gone through, I tried to explain to him how tempting it was, whenever I felt depressed because my body was a bit too round to answer to the current standards of beauty, how tempting it was to just go back to it, to just go back to not eating.
His answer? In a slightly disgusted tone: “I don’t know Ewa, I don’t see you much not eating.”

It took me two years to finally decide to split up with him, and another two to cut him completely from my life. Years in which he cheated on me, humiliated me and never, ever, made me feel cared for or really appreciated. Years of tears and cruel criticism and feeling suffocated and desperate. 

This song probably describes quite well my feelings during that relationship.

And this other one, is almost perfect to talk about how I felt after it ended, when one of the few things that made me happy was the thought of him, curled up on the floor as I kicked him in the stomach until he cried.

What’s the point of all this?

The point is, I could blame him, and hate him until my last breath, and it still wouldn’t change anything.

Because what happened, is that I was looking for happiness outside of myself. I loathed myself, and as a result I got loathed. I abused myself, and I got abused.

I didn’t believe in my unlimited potential, entrusting someone else with my happiness, and I locked myself securely in the world of hell.

Few things happened at the course that made me realise that this was the right time to take everything out. Among the many experiences, two stood out for me. 

One, breathtaking, was the experience of my very group leader at the course, a lady I didn't know who with immense calmness and serenity shared with us the years of sexual abuse she suffered at the hands of a family member.

The other was from a guy I actually already knew superficially, one of the many smiling, positive, lovely guys you see around the SGI, who then knock you out with an absolutely unexpected experience about self harm.

I suddenly accepted that I was feeling, again, a profound sense of guilt. My guilt was multilayered, and completely messed up.

From one point of view, I felt guilty for having lived those things in the first place. The self harm, the eating disorder and the abuse. I basically thought it was my fault.

Then there was another, more sneaking and sly type of guilt. There was one little voice in my head that said: "you have done this to yourself, just to get attention. You had no actual problem, you just wanted to feel important and for others to notice you". And more to the point, I felt a slight feeling of disgust in myself because what I lived was not, ultimately, that bad. Certainly not as bad as the experiences I heard that day. I wasn't sexually abused. I don't have scars due to my acts of self harm. I wasn't hospitalised and force-fed due to my eating disorder. So in a way, I was cheating myself, making things bigger than they were, again just to feel important, and to get attention.

It didn't help that several people, in the past, have expressed doubts whenever I mentioned these things. People who were, obviously, just responding to my internal cause, to my own self doubt.

The experiences helped me enormously from that point of view. The guy who spoke about self harm said it plainly, I was doing it to get attention. He described himself self harming and mentally telling his parents: "You are making me do this". I finally accepted that it was just the plain reality, also in my case, and it didn't make it less horrible.

I had a brief chat with the wonderful lady who shared her incredible experience, to whom I had already spoken about my abusive relationship before she shared it. She was amazing. She didn't express any doubt. She didn't ask me what he did to me. She just said, smiling with immense compassion: "The only thing you have to remember is that it wasn't your fault."

As I was doing lilac and chanting, something broke inside me. I turned to my lilac chief, asked her to protect the Gohonzon for me, took my scarf off and ran away. I found one of my lovely lilac friends, dragged her in an empty room and cried on her shoulder, cried and cried until I had no more in me.

He hurt me so much. So very very much. And I needed to let it out, I needed to allow myself that moment of weakness, I needed to feel safe, comforted and protected.

And I was. My beautiful friends were all around me, every step of the way. Both the people who comforted me and those who stepped in for me to protect the Gohonzon. And I finally found it in myself to feel gratitude for what happened to me. For the eating disorder, for the abuse, and even for the self harm. Because clearly, I had that cause in my life, and I had to let it out. And obviously it wasn't as bad as it could have been, because I was already chanting when all those things happened.
My faith and my practice enabled me to lessen my karmic retribution, to extinguish that bad karma, that cause, on a lesser level than it could have been had I not been practising.

And I’m better and stronger for it. And now, I won’t allow the spectre of that pain to hinder my present, and future happiness.

What’s really important is: what have I learnt through it?
In the words of Nichiren, do not look for this Gohonzon outside of yourself. Do not look of happiness outside of yourself.
I am a votary of the Lotus Sutra, and as such, obstacles will arise. But as Sensei says, it is fundamental to build an indestructible, standalone spirit. Which sometimes means to reach out for help, and to trust.

Nothing felt more empowering, ever, than going back to the Butsuma and tying my Lilac scarf back on, sitting next to my fellow lilacs to chant again, for the happiness and victory of the members at the course.

That night, at the entertainment, I decided to stand up for myself, even though I felt ugly, fat and unattractive, I felt at my absolute worst, but I was tired of hiding. Tired of disrespecting my life and tired of letting that spectre ruining my present, and I sang. 

I sang this beautiful song by my favourite Russian songwriter, Svetlana Surganova. It's a song that, in a way, explains beautifully the way I want to love, and be loved. 

Contributing to a course entertainment is a very special experience. It gives you a very good idea of how caring and safe the environment is. People support you even if you suck, because what counts is the spirit. That said, apparently I didn't suck :)

That is me, and I am a beautiful, strong person, someone who will love and be loved by the right person. Someone who doesn’t need to beg for love and attention. A generous, happy person. A Buddha (or as my lilac chief defines me: a fierce motherfucker).

Lilacing can change your life.

Thank you.


  1. Hey cocotte!
    Même connaissant l'histoire, j'ai eu des frissons en la parcourant. Te sentir si forte désormais me réchauffe le coeur. J'attends avec impatience de te voir le mois prochain (et d'entendre ta voix à toi!):)
    yours xxx

  2. Thank you for taking the time to share this and baring your soul with such bravery. I am a YWD from India and fighting similar demons and have emerged/still emerging from a heartbreak that is making me reflect on issues more deep seated. I am very comforted and encouraged by your what you have had to say and it has also given me a greater insight.

    1. Thank you so much! What you said means a lot to me and it's my main reason for writing this blog. I will chant for you.


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