Monday, January 30, 2017

The first challenge to overcome is not a lack of reliable information and resources, it is teaching people where to find reliable information and resources

While most of us have mixed feelings about the mainstream news media for good reason, the thought of it becoming completely invalidated as an institution—or disappearing entirely—is a terrifying thought. Yet, weakening the media in either of these two ways appears to be what certain national leaders are now trying to do, according to veteran media specialists and social-justice advocates who attended the first 2017 meeting of the Michigan Professional Communicators with interest in religion and cross-cultural issues (MPC).

That being said, there are things that we as individuals, and as representatives of certain constituencies, can do to help assure that our government and the potential impacts its policies will have on our society don’t become completely opaque to us until it’s too late. 

Facilitator David Crumm cited a New York Times article in which our nation’s new chief strategist referred to the news media as the “opposition party.” Regardless of the fact our news media is in need of reform, branding mainstream media as a public enemy creates several problems.

“When you make the press your opposition party,” Interfaith Leadership Council Chairman Bob Bruttell said, it becomes “easy to dismiss everything they say” as taking a biased side—such as the “whiny liberal who didn’t get his political way”—instead of striving to report as objectively as they know how to.

Crumm also pointed out that part of what is weakening people’s trust in the media is the proliferation of fake news, by “Internet trolls” who have no moral compass guiding them. When asked by interviewers if it bothers them that their falsehoods are actually hurting people, they reply that they don’t care, as long as their stories get them readers and that they continue to get paid to produce such stories. Since this is what we’re working with, Bob Bruttell called on us to become “ethical geniuses” to counteract the “evil genius” at work here.

The role of public media is to connect people, Crumm pointed out—to get the word out not just about important major events, but important everyday resources that people need to help maintain and improve their communities. “What’s being threatened here is our ability to build community,” Crumm said, and our focus in coming together as an interfaith, intercultural alliance is building communities.

The first problem is not so much a lack of resources, said Amy Smolski of Macomb County Community Mental Health; the problem is lack of reliable information about what these resources are and how to access them. Since the media is typically where people go to get information about events and services in their areas, the illusion that resources are not available is likely to increase. It is also true that some resources will disappear due to changes in the government’s funding priorities, which makes our efforts all the more important to help foster the free flow of accurate information.

One response to this information need is, created by Michigan’s Community Mental Health Authority as a “community well-being clearinghouse” to help people “find activities, resources, support and belonging” near them. The Commonwealth program helps “connect the various grain-silos,” as Smolski put it, meaning helping various organizations that don’t always network with each other find out about each other’s offerings. For example, it can help clients of an organization dedicated to the religious or educational needs of a certain ethnic minority group become aware of housing, health, or employment-assistance programs that are available to them through other agencies.

The homepage for Commonwealth gives clear instructions for how to use the service, including how agencies can post their listings and how individuals can search the directory. While Commonwealth’s listings are fairly broad, the service carefully filters out political listings (you may find events about voter education, but not about endorsing a particular candidate), and for-profit listings (since the target audience is underserved populations, a listing for a health spa open house to attract new clientele would not be accepted).

Another hopeful development we heard at this meeting is that some science and advocacy groups are rushing to download and archive educational information that is being removed from federal government Web sites. This information has historically been used by many educators, and, while the government still maintains it, it will no longer be readily available through government Web sites and will thus be harder to find out about and access.  (If I find out more about this organization and how to access its archives, I’ll let you know.)

In my next two posts, I dive deeper into the MPC group’s and its affiliated organizations’ commitment to help both rebuild torn community ties, and create new ones, and how our interfaith community is transcending not only religious differences but religion itself to help foster unity in diversity.

Image: Detail from "Girl on Fire" by Karla Joy Huber, 2014; Prismacolor marker, Sharpie marker, highlighter

Saturday, January 28, 2017

An interfaith response to the first question diversity and inclusion advocates asked themselves after January 20: "Now what?"

As a society, “we have allowed ourselves to be formed by the people we disagree with, and stoop to their level,” Interfaith Leadership Council Chairman Bob Bruttell said at an interfaith communicators meeting yesterday. He then pointed out that our new president is not our enemy, meaning that scapegoating him misses the point that the recent changes to our government are a reflection of disunity, mistrust, and animosity that have been brewing in this country for a long time.

Bruttell reminded us that we need to live with and form “ethical responses” to the people in our midst whose dark sides were triggered and exploited by our current national leaders during the 2016 presidential campaign, rather than just react with retaliatory scapegoating and criticism against them.

Reacting with the same mistrust, criticism, and animosity that have been leveled at anyone the new regime considers “un-American” would only create more negativity, instead of sparking positive changes that will eventually put an end to this kind of thinking and acting as society continues to evolve.

The first 2017 meeting of the Michigan Professional Communicators with interest in religion and cross-cultural issues (MPC) focused primarily on answering the biggest question that advocates of diversity and inclusion, who now fear the threat of seeing their many years of hard work being undone one executive order at a time, are asking: “Now what?”

My biggest take-away from this meeting was the way the conversation was carried out, and how that led to a much more realistic, productive, and at the same time hopeful dialogue than if we’d sat around and “talked politics,” critiqued what we’re seeing, and reinforced each other’s indignation about why it’s wrong.

While it was acknowledged that much of what is going on at the government level right now is very, very wrong, facilitator David Crumm made the point that we didn’t meet to criticize the new establishment—We met to discuss what we can do to help prioritize the needs of our nation’s most “vulnerable minorities,” which at this point is anyone and everyone targeted during the 2016 presidential campaign through now, particularly Muslims, immigrants (especially from Muslim-majority countries), Mexicans, gay and transgender people, and the poor and undereducated in underserved urban communities.

Another interesting thing that stood out for me from this meeting was the presence of a few representatives of religious denominations that have historically been slow to accept, and in some cases have not yet accepted, every moral paradigm-shift and type of person that the remainder of us didn’t face doctrinal barriers to our acceptance of.

I did not get any impression from them that they were sitting in the meeting placing conditions on who they would help, or that we lost them at any point in the discussion. The impression I got from everyone present was that they prioritized seeing people as human beings all with the same basic inalienable rights, instead of focusing on historical value-judgments against certain types of people for their religious, sexual, political, or cultural orientation.

Such value-judgments or moral stances have become irrelevant compared with the larger priority of the current threats to human rights--not just gay rights, reproductive rights, religious rights, and so on--which are disproportionately targeting the most disenfranchised segments of our population.

The journalists, authors, social workers, outreach program coordinators, educators, and other social-justice advocates at the meeting shared a common desire to step up their efforts to work together across religious, racial, economic, and political lines to help protect, inform, and empower people, and I look forward to sharing with you the highlights from our dialogue, and about some of the actions already being taken, in my next posts, which you can read by clicking here, here, and here.

Image: Detail from "Inner World of the Heart" by Karla Joy Huber, 2016; Prismacolor marker, Sharpie marker, gold gel pen

Monday, January 23, 2017

Our moral focus should be on empowering people to do good, not on targeting and punishing people who do bad

In my previous post, I described how easy it is to exploit commandment-based morality to support discriminatory, authoritarian agendas. I made the point that such morality hinders and distorts our humanity rather than purifies it.

In our country’s few-hundred-year history from the colonial era until now, we have seen no evidence to date of this kind of morality ever achieving its stated goals. Regardless of the choice of some people to romanticize certain eras as the “good old days,” America has never had a true golden age of society that is safe for everyone to walk down the street without fear of harassment for being different, in which we all had unhindered access to the same basic civic, health, and economic services without backlash from a dominant group who doesn’t want to share, and where we never had to be nervous about how our children might be treated at a new school.

The biggest fear of commandment-morality is moral chaos—The proliferation of the decadence, sexual permissiveness, and other forms of “sin” it preaches against. The problem with its emphasis on rooting out and punishing people for these behaviors is, all the focus is on the negative, so instead of promoting and supporting good and safe conduct, it has backfired into all kinds of perverse expressions of these problems.

By perverse expressions, I don’t mean homosexuality, sex outside of marriage, abandoning religion, or such; I mean rape, murder, active support for institutionalized racism and sexism, the promotion of war, the prioritizing of financial profit over humanity’s safety and health, and the equating of conservativism with conservation of the values and privilege of one group at the expense of every other group’s rights and values.

It makes absolutely no sense that people are more concerned about sanctions against gay people and people’s reproductive choices than about seeking to limit the activity and influence of people whose would willingly commit mass murder by preemptive warfare. It makes absolutely no sense that many Americans want to reclaim this as a Christian country while they embrace the very prejudices and exclusionary social practices that Jesus Christ preached against. It makes absolutely no sense that so many people are more concerned about their rights to own and use guns than they are about preventing the misuse of guns that led to them feeling the need to carry guns to protect themselves in the first place.

The legacy that our country’s brand of commandment-morality has established is the continual, institutionalized reinforcement of fear and prejudice, instead of love and humane adaptation to humanity’s diversity of experience. This type of commandment-morality is not about maintaining standards, the quality of our society, our art, or our relationships; it’s about maintaining privilege for people with a specific set of views at the expense of everyone else.

As I said in my previous post, the strict enforcement of commandment-morality always only benefits the minority in power, and any gains by anyone else are always in spite of it. Such people are then branded misfits, “radicals,” or “liberals” by their own religions, and their reform movements are often not even considered by their original religious leaders to be legitimate expressions of those religions.

Such reform movements always have to heavily revolutionize and reinvent their religions in order to break them out of the restrictions and exclusions of the way commandment-morality has for so long been expressed in their religious tradition, and their struggle against the original establishment never ends because they’re fighting to change the system from within it, and everything they do goes against the way that system was created (or what it has long since turned into). 

Instead of fighting to change the system into something it never was, to create allowances for things it was specifically designed to rule out, we’d do much better—and make ourselves much freer—by seeing what our other moral options are.

By this I don’t mean that we need to throw away entire religions, or completely change all of them into something that would be unrecognizable by their current leaders; I mean that we need to see how we can stop using the mainstream system of morality as a weapon against most people, and instead use it as a tool to empower all people to become truly virtuous and good for the right reasons.

Heart illustration by Karla Joy Huber, 2013; Prismacolor marker and Sharpie marker

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Why does our society's sense of morality have to be based on excluding people?

“Those who are tolerant and broad-minded make people feel comfortable and at ease,” SGI President Daisaku Ikeda says. “Narrow, intolerant people who go around berating others for the slightest thing, or who make a great commotion each time some problem arises, just exhaust everyone and inspire fear” (Faith into Action: Thoughts on Selected Topics, pg. 14). These are such apropos words for our nation’s current social, political, and religious climate.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the moral ideas that motivated the political and ideological direction our country has shifted into, and which have plunged our culture and our politics into a moral and ethical setback. While some people see recent events as some sort of triumph for so-called Christian values, I can’t help but think that Jesus Christ himself would be just as disheartened as the rest of us if He was here among us watching and reacting to the news as an ordinary person would.

The main question that comes to my mind right now is, why does our sense of morality have to be based on excluding people? By any traditional American definition of “morality,” it seems that the more “moral” a person is, the more individuals--or entire types of people--that person must exclude and marginalize.

In a previous post, I described the distinctions between commandment-based morality and ahimsa morality, the latter being the moral code more typical of “Eastern” religions such as Hinduism and Buddhism. The most basic understanding of ahimsa includes the motivation to “do no harm,” or to let compassion and love of humanity be our moral motivation, instead of fear of punishment from an authoritarian father-deity.

Authoritarians have an easy time bending commandment-morality to suit their purposes. They promote an image of an authoritarian, wrathful God, with characteristics that sound conveniently just like theirs, ironically in the name of Jesus Christ who preached about God’s mercy and forgiveness, and whose death was supposed to assure salvation for his devotees from all the horrors that today’s authoritarians threaten us with if we allow gays, Muslims, women who would consider abortion, "liberals, " etc. to have a respectable place and equal rights in our society.

Since authoritarians can’t bend moral ideas based on ahimsa to their will, they preach against such morality as being too “soft” on people, and that the idea of accepting homosexuality, or practicing religions that don’t 100% agree with their religion, or enjoying anything classifiable as “decadent” that doesn’t fit in their narrow catalogue of acceptable behaviors and lifestyles is overly “permissive,” and sure to lead us on a path of moral decline and self-destruction.

Thus, it seems that the uncompromising, loveless version of commandment-morality that is being preached in many churches and by many politicians today only serves a small percentage of the population. It simply doesn’t allow for much human variety, defining morality in such narrow terms that it leaves more people out than it accepts.

When the moral code so heavily emphasizes excluding certain types of people, it’s a short and easy step to cross over into using it to justify discrimination against and deprivation of basic human rights to anyone who is considered by that system as morally objectionable. A “moral” person then has no choice but to reject and marginalize such people, because their moral system does not teach them any flexibility or adaptive skills for relating with people who express any part of the range of human experience that they are unfamiliar with.

That moral code seems to assume that we need to keep such a tight, mistrusting hold on ourselves to avoid totally dissolving into hedonism, as though we human beings aren’t capable of managing ourselves with our own skillsets and human nature to love, without having to be controlled by an authoritarian moral system.

If we really look at the results of this moral system, however, we’ll see that it hasn’t prevented the moral chaos it so fears—It actually created it.

I’ll elaborate on this in my next post.

Heart illustration by Karla Joy Huber, 2013; Prismacolor and Sharpie marker

Sunday, January 15, 2017

The 2017 relevance of the story shown in "Hidden Figures"

Last night I saw the movie Hidden Figures with my best friends Dan and Joe, a true-event-inspired movie focused on a group of women who worked behind-the-scenes at NASA in the 1960s to help assure the first manned space flight was a success, just when it otherwise seemed doomed to failure. 

Even more noteworthy than the fact this group was female is the fact they were black. While I’m sure a lot was glossed over from the real lives of the three main characters, the movie felt balanced enough in its portrayal of their biggest obstacles and how they gradually overcame them that the movie succeeded in making its point about the good that comes from prioritizing people’ humanity and their talents over value-judgements about their color. 

The timing of this movie is apropos for so many reasons, the most recent being the upcoming Women’s March in Washington, D.C., which will take place the day after the presidential inauguration. Rather than being a protest against the new president, this march is intended to revive and bring the women’s rights movement into the 21st century. 

One particular theme in this revival is making the women’s rights movement all-inclusive, whereas it has historically focused on the needs and priorities of white women. For example, one article I read last week pointed out that immigrant women are likely to be more concerned with the threat of deportation than they are about reproductive choice, and black women who have already been working hard at difficult and often demeaning jobs for generations have different employment-related concerns than fighting for the right to “work outside the home.” 

While the events of Hidden Figures happened over half a century ago, the experiences of Katherine Jackson, Mary Johnson, and Dorothy Vaughn are an excellent example of many of the differences in priorities that still exist today, just in more subtle forms. This is especially apparent in the interactions between these three and the white women in the movie, who, despite still facing plenty of sex-based discrimination and job-choice barriers themselves, treat their black female co-workers just as badly as the white men do. 

Worse yet, some of the white women in the film, just as many white people still are today, were deluded about the true nature of their own feelings and beliefs; the best example of this is when the white supervisor tells Mrs. Vaughn after continually insulting her as a worthy candidate for supervisor because of her “colored” status, that she really has “nothing against” Mrs. Vaughn or her team of “colored computers.” Mrs. Vaughn’s bold reply clearly states that she knows the woman is not only lying to Mrs. Vaughn but to herself. 

This movie really brought home the horrible realization of how recently these disgraceful conditions existed—my parents were teenagers when people of color still had to use separate bathrooms—in a way that short, few-second video clips of Civil-Rights-Era sit-ins and arrests never have. The acting in this movie was such that I could easily emotionally connect with the characters, despite the poignant reminder that, regardless of how much sexism I still face today, as a white woman I have always been able to take for granted that I am completely immune to most of what these women—and women of color today—have been burdened with for centuries. 

While many white people argue that white people are subject to racism as well, vlogger Kat Blacque makes the point in her YouTube videos that when white people face race-based discrimination, they do not suffer any lasting social, political, or employment-related harm, because society has always been set up to take their side. When people of color experience the same treatment, it has a direct impact on their social standing, how they are treated by the legal system, and/or their employment status. 

I told Dan and Joe that I wish this movie would be shown at any preparatory events for the women’s march in Washington; it could go a lot farther toward instilling empathy in white women than being told to “check their privilege” does. This is especially true for the majority of white women who, regardless of how much personal experience they do have with institutionalized misogyny, have never looked far enough outside their own experience to really understand what that phrase means, and just how much that privilege has protected them from.

Image: Detail from "Refresh and Gladden My Spirit" by Karla Joy Huber, 2011; Prismacolor and Sharpie marker

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Inspiration for people who want different perspectives on healing and spirituality, and to decide for themselves how to apply them: The writings of Thomas Moore

I realized I haven't yet mentioned the work of my favorite author outside of Nichiren Buddhism, Thomas Moore; now feels like an apropos time to give you a brief introduction to his work. While people of many different faith traditions can find resonance with his ideas, I think his books will hold a particular appeal for the religiously-unaffiliated and those who blend elements of different religions. 

What I like about Thomas Moore's work is that it's not the typical "self-help" fare -- In his introduction to the book Soul Mates: Honoring the Mysteries of Love and Relationship, Moore states that he intends for his books to be meditation-guides instead of step-by-step instructions to follow for particular types of healing or personal growth.

Similarly, his book Dark Nights of the Soul isn't intended to be a how-to book for getting oneself out of "depression;" instead, his focus is on giving readers new perspectives for self-compassion and endurance to help them through the journey and learn from their most painful personal experiences.

I've also read The Re-Enchantment of Everyday Life and Care of the Soul, which helped me break out of some of the coldly clinical and self-limiting notions about both personal wellness and the role spirituality plays in it, before and then in conjunction with what I subsequently learned about holistic health.

Apropos of my previous post, Moore's content and style are excellently suited to the religiously-unaffiliated, or spiritual free-agents as I like to call them. I myself used to be one, before becoming Buddhist: I blended elements from several different spiritual traditions, and was less interested in community-oriented spirituality and more in my own personal journey. For some people who identify as "spiritual but not religious," their personal faith is even more free-form than that, drawing less on selected teachings from established religions and more from their own personal sense of connection with the spiritual force of the Universe.

I was pleased to see that Moore even wrote a book about this, called A Religion of One's Own. While I haven't read it yet, I'm guessing one of his intended audiences is people who don't feel the need to match their spiritual practice with a like-minded community, and for whom spirituality is more of a personal than a shared domain.

Moore makes it clear that he writes as a "white, male, heterosexual American with a classical European education," and that his religious heritage is Catholic. If he didn't directly say this in his books, however, I would not easily be able to identify his religious affiliation because he draws inspiration and wisdom from several different religions, including Buddhism, Hinduism, Judaism, paganism, and religions that now only exist in mythology.

In his preface to Soul Mates (which isn't limited to romantic relationships), he acknowledges that "many who will read these words do not share that background." He then points out that, while he strives "to maintain some consciousness of these potential differences, ... to do so at every turn is to become so self-conscious and contorted as to lose touch with my own experience" (pg. vii). What he means by this is that he's not pretending to be objective, nor does he generalize his ideas so much that his own experiences and personal perspective become invisible.

I find that this gives him more credibility and makes it easier to trust him as a writer, because his honesty about his own biases shows that he is speaking his truth to his readers, rather than telling us what he assumes would appeal to the most people in such books.

I would highly recommend Thomas Moore's books to people I know regardless of their spiritual practice, and if that practice is humanistic or God-centered. Particularly, the emotional and spiritual assistance I gained from Dark Nights of the Soul shows up in several of my blog posts from last year--most prominently my grief and gratitude series and my holistic health and Buddhism posts about breaking ourselves out of the limitations of such diagnostic labels as "depression"--and I just simply didn't mention this book as one of my primary sources of inspiration.

I'll probably be mentioning it and Moore's other books a lot more now as I continue to dive deeper into my own karma regarding some of the subjects Moore frequently writes about.

I highlighted so many passages from Dark Nights that I could use it as a daily inspiration book. One of my favorites is this one (from page 266):

"You can let the people you trust know a little about what is happening. Just don't expect any brilliant revelations or resolutions. It is the friendship, not the help you get from friends, that is important."

Image: "The Growth of Abundance" by Karla Joy Huber, 2014; Prismacolor marker, Sharpie marker, gel pen, white gel pen

Friday, January 6, 2017

"Nones" is the new "women and minorities": Creating a catch-all category for the religiously-unaffiliated is as problematic as assigning everyone who isn't a white male to the same category

The common thinking about labels is that they help us better understand things about ourselves and each other. In many instances, however, despite the intentions behind them, labels are less likely to help foster understanding than they are to promote dismissal of certain people for causing discomfort to the majority by not fitting into pre-defined demographic categories. 

A label I’ve had a big issue with since I first heard it a few years ago is “nones.” It derives from the response some people give for their religious affiliation on census forms and other demographic questionnaires: If they don’t fit any of the listed categories, more and more people are checking the box for “none.” This is an alternative to “other,” because “other” implies a person does practice a religion that simply isn’t listed. “None” makes it clear the person has either a completely customized spiritual practice, or no spiritual practice. 

When I see the term “nones” anywhere from mainstream news and opinion articles to the Interfaith Leadership Council’s e-newsletter, I know there is not necessarily ill intent or conscious prejudice behind its usage. As someone who used to be classifiable under this label, however, and who still has many friends who are, I find “nones” to be highly problematic and inappropriate as a demographic designation for several reasons. 

For one, it lumps people who don’t represent a unified demographic at all into one category. The whole point of declaring themselves as religiously-unaffiliated is that there simply are no categories for them, period—Such people only represent themselves. Assigning them to a category anyway negates the validity of their individual spiritual needs and perspectives. 

Second, calling all religiously-unaffiliated people “nones” is as disparaging as putting everyone who is not a white male into the category of “women and minorities.” The latter is offensive because it seems to imply that only white males have distinct needs and are worthy of their own category; everyone else on earth is treated as a unit in opposition to white males. “Nones” poses the same problem: If people are not classifiable according to an established religious group recognized by the mainstream, they are assumed to all represent the same spiritual, cultural, and even political mindsets. 

Making “nones” even more problematic is counting “atheists” and “agnostics” in the same category with people who do have spiritual beliefs. Since categorizing a group of people together implies they have something core in common, putting those who define themselves as “spiritual but not religious” in the same category with those who are unsure about or who outright reject spirituality can only create confusion and make it that much harder for them to be accepted and respected as they are. 

Yet another problem of treating all these people together as a unit is the implication that their beliefs are less valid since they aren’t tied to a socially-endorsed religion. It’s like being rejected by the in-crowd: If the in-crowd doesn’t know what to make of some people, it relegates them to a catch-all fringe category that the in-crowd itself made up based on its pre-conceived notions about people who believe differently than it does. 

The only way to understand the real needs and beliefs of religiously-unaffiliated people is to dialogue with them individually, and seek to understand them in the context of their own personal spiritual experiences rather than in the context of some pre-defined category. 

Since what currently passes for mainstream media in this country doesn’t seem to have the capacity to do this, we must conduct these dialogues ourselves. 

Regardless of if we identify with a religious group or not, in the end we can all really only represent ourselves anyway. So, let’s make the best representation we can of whatever we stand for—regardless of if we are standing in a group or standing alone. 

Image: “Unstruck Sound Current” by Karla Joy Huber, 2011; Prismacolor marker and Sharpie marker 

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

A new meaning for “stepping out of our comfort zone”...

When people use the clichéd expression “step out of your comfort zone”—especially when they preface it with “you should”—they’re usually expressing that they believe we are too sheltered in some way, not worldly enough, timid, reluctant to give their hobbies or interests a try, or something else along those lines.

Regardless of their intentions, telling someone to “step out of your comfort zone” often comes across as bullying instead of as helpful; too often, then, it goes over like a lead balloon (to use another overused cliché).

When my dear friend Kelli told me two days ago to step out of my comfort zone, she had something totally different and a lot more compassionate in mind. She presented a great way of recasting the idea of “comfort zone” as the inner zone of negative emotions and thoughts that many of us get stuck in because of its familiarity.

Those of us who have struggled with low self-confidence, lack of trust, and low life-condition in general, work hard to make personal changes that gradually improve our lives and develop our capacity to enjoy them more. However, we tend to periodically sabotage our progress by returning to those old emotional and energetic haunts.

This tendency arises when we try to have a different experience in emotional territory that has historically been full of disappointment for us, such as seeking a romantic relationship, asking for a promotion at work, or reconciling with a person we’ve had a long feud with. Rather than seeing what is really happening, we subconsciously look for validation that this will turn out like all the other times. Then we seek to be comforted by our friends with predictable responses to our predictable outcome.

We do this as a defense mechanism against the unknown, and against having to do a lot of self-work to take on commitment we’re unfamiliar with if the other person actually says yes. 

I caught myself doing this while talking with Kelli over coffee after the New Year Kosen-Rufu Gongyo meeting at our SGI Center. At that gathering, a fellow Buddhist pointed out the falsehood of fear. Most of what we fear in our personal challenges is exaggerated, or simply not based on the reality of our current experience (and sometimes not even on our own experience at all). Apropos of this, Kelli said that someone somewhere even made an acronym out of the word fear: False evidence appearing real.

We get stuck in this fear when we make our challenges, rather than our highest self, our central focus. Another member told us in her personal-growth talk that she was advised to put the Gohonzon, not her problems, at the center of her prayers. It is praying with the intention to bring out our Buddha nature (highest self) that expands the capacity of our lives to see all the possibilities—not just one possibility we are praying to manifest to solve a particular problem (while at the same time still fearing that our prayer may not work).

Holistic health specialist Cindy Dillon refers to such negative thinking defaults as grooves—Like well-worn tracks on a path, that are so deep that even if we’re trying to fill them in and re-surface the path with new tracks, it’s hard not to keep getting stuck in the old ones. This doesn’t mean it’s impossible to re-surface our path, of course; it does mean we need to be mindful and recognize when we find ourselves drifting into our old ruts, and step up our efforts to redirect ourselves.

At the same time, we shouldn’t try to rationalize ourselves into feeling differently. One of the most important personal lessons I’ve learned from Cindy is that, instead of trying to talk ourselves out of our feelings, we need to accept and respect our feelings in order to move through them and come out the other side.

SGI President Daisaku Ikeda reminds us that “The purpose of faith is to become happy.” He then says “I hope all of you will take this sure path to happiness, never wandering onto byroads that lead to unhappiness. Please walk the great path of kosen-rufu with confidence and pride.”

Not only are these great ideas to help us re-focus and re-prioritize our prayers about making positive personal changes we need to make; they can also help us create a more empowering and hopeful mindset to start the new year with. Thank you, Kelli, Cindy, and Sensei.

Image: “Flower Petal Fancy-Shawl Dancer” by Karla Joy Huber, 2007; Prismacolor marker and Sharpie marker