Friday, 1 January 2016

Shakubuku and obstacles

This is an experience I shared at my area kick-off. It was supposed to exemplify the "Light of Courage".

In this experience I will talk about how I challenged my tendency to focus on outside validation over internal validation through my fight to do shakubuku.

I am a fortune baby, which means I grew up in a Buddhist household with both my parents, my paternal grandparents and other members of my family practising.
My house was full of Buddhist publications, we had at least one meeting a week and according to my dad Nam Myoho Renge Kyo was one of my first words.

I have always struggled with shakubuku. Talking about the practice was never a problem, but I did not feel “qualified” to introduce someone to the practice as I did not experience being shakubukued. Something so simple as: “Do you remember the first time you heard Nam Myoho Renge Kyo?”, which is an experience most people shared, is not a question I can answer.

This caused me a lot of suffering because I felt I was lacking as a disciple of sensei since only one person received Gohonzon after being introduced to the practice by me (my kindergarten teacher when I was three years old, btw), so I naturally chanted quite a bit about it and started taking bolder actions, such as handing out NMRK cards, something that I found really hard before.

Now, let me say a few things about what I came to call my “One Evil”, as in my tendency to attach my self worth onto external confirmation and gratification.
This karma has always been part of my life, and it would create vicious circles of me feeling worthless; my environment reflecting my conviction and consolidating my ideas, either via (what I perceive as) harsh, unfair criticism or lack of deserved praise; me becoming bitter, angry, sad, usually slandering one person or the other and feeling even more worthless. Now go back to step one. It has poisoned my life at school, my choir, my relationships, my work and has even seeped into my SGI activities.

In all this, what does not help is that some situations were, objectively, unjust. I was bullied as a child and abused as an adult, and I often found myself desperately trying to communicate with the best of intentions, only to be misunderstood and criticised. It is very difficult when you’re suffering to detangle the external cause from the internal one and to focus on the things you can change (your karma and your life state), rather than on those you can’t change (other people’s perceptions and actions).

In September I started a new job at a school with a very positive vibe. The first week or so, the Assembly coordinator got word that I was Buddhist and asked me to run an assembly about Buddhism later on in the year. I enthusiastically said yes.

However, things quickly took a negative turn. I was not given my own teaching room and had to run around all day, which was exhausting. I also found the place cold and unforgiving and had a very hard time adjusting. The second week, 4 students made a false allegation about me based on a joke I made, which lead to me being dragged into a disciplinary meeting. Another disciplinary meeting happened for something that other teachers were not punished for.

This situation made me doubt my suitability and my abilities not just as a teacher, a job I love, but also as a newly appointed Chapter leader. How could I encourage others if I was unable to communicate in a way that others can understand?

Sheer fatigue made my daimoku and study go down. On some days I would only manage to chant twenty minutes and study almost nothing. This coming from chanting an hour a day and studying at least twenty minutes.

I felt my energy and my positivity leaking out of me and increasingly looked at myself and could not find a single thing I liked. I would start the day crying and dreaming of horrible accidents that would keep me from going to work. I wanted to run away and leave teaching altogether. 
I had panic attacks and nightmares and was working myself to the ground. My first formal observation was judged very harshly, with every attempt to find faults in my teaching, and after several weeks I was told I had to do it again, this time with two Deputy Principals.

And to top it off, I had several items stolen from me in school.

I had chanted to find what I had to learn from my predicament and to feel true gratitude, only for more blows to be thrown my way while being blamed and told I was being negative (kind of like when I was being bullied in school and told by the teachers it was my fault for being oversensitive).
The only thing I could do was persevere.

In the three week window this whole thing unfolded, the assembly coordinator came back to me to ask me if I was still game. I finally took a moment to reflect and realised that these assemblies were probably the biggest and most important opportunity I had to create value out of this hellish situation.

I agonised over how to create a ten minute presentation that would convey all that I wanted to share with the kids and where I could share my heart and be understood. I chanted, studied and finally decided to first challenge misconceptions about Buddhism, then talk about the Jewel in the robe, a parable from the Lotus Sutra that explains how we tend to blame our suffering on the outside but we forget the unlimited potential we possess. I also had a picture of a buddhist meeting and the words Nam Myoho Renge Kyo in my presentation.

I was going to present to a different year group a day, starting from Y7 (my year group) all the way through to Y11, which included the very scary and infamous Y8s. I was quite nervous before each of them as I did them without notes, but each time my lilac training kicked in, I guess.

The assemblies were amazing. A total of about 1000 children and dozens of staff attended them and heard NMRK. I have had colleagues and children telling me how inspired they felt. The other day, I was crossing through a classroom to be welcomed by a huge cheer by children I had never taught who said I was so cool. The very scary school Principal was present in one of them, and he made a point of congratulating me over “holding two hundred children in a thrall”. The assemblies were also mentioned at the management meeting, so all of a sudden all of the scary school managers started randomly congratulating me in the corridors. 

I don’t know what is going to happen in January when I go back there. I don’t know if I will end up leaving. What I do know is that the courage to share the practice is always going to bear positive results in the end.

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