I had an intense dream last night that only ended when the bright blue notification ring on our bedroom Echo device began flashing. Which, by the way, I’ve since disabled.
In my dream, seven-year-old me with blond wavy hair, 19-year-old me with a round curly natural, and 71-year-old me with no hair at all were seated on both sides of a yellow cracked leather booth in an old-fashioned diner. I was nursing a coffee; Teen Me was smoking probably something illicit; and Little Me was nervously drinking a sugary soda. Our conversation centered on my recent insights about taking risks and why bad things happen.
I googled and read this quote on my iPhone from American political figure and activist, Eleanor Roosevelt: "You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, 'I have lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.' You must do the thing you think you cannot do."
I explained that the first several years of Most Beautiful One and my marriage were stressful for her because I was afraid to take overnight vacations and had a difficult time sleeping. Little Me said he had similar painful childhood experiences. I also struggled at work and while chanting with an inability to sit still, something that had prevented Teen Me from attending college lectures.
They were both pleased to learn that through the daily practice of chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, therapy, and determination, this inner anxiety gradually diminished. I was able to more calmly chant, travel to many other countries for work, motivate myself to do a one-man show, go on numerous family vacations, and even finally graduate college and later grad school. And, despite the impact of pandemic isolation on my inner fears, I recently flew with Most Beautiful One from Washington State to Boston to surprise our grandkids. A tremendous benefit on many levels.
I ordered an ice cream sundae for Little Me who was clearly the cause of my adult cavities. In between bites, he shared that he was so scared of what was going on around and to him, that he had spent hours rocking in a chair and had frightening evening nightmares. No wonder I grew up being so fidgety and uncomfortable going outside my comfort zone.
Reaching across the table, I grasped each of their hands and thanked them for meeting with me adding that I completely understood why they had remained hidden for so long.
With tearful eyes, Little Me anxiously wanted to know, “Why were these awful things done to us?” I replied that we weren’t the only ones on the planet to have this lament. I went on to express how sad I was for him and that I appreciated all these years he had kept me safe. Turning to Teen Me, I said I remembered how unsettling those times in the sixties were -- that I was so grateful to him for surviving, going to that first SGI discussion meeting, and continuing to prod me to take risks.
I then shared what my mentor, Daisaku Ikeda, wrote about the painful events that can prevent us from winning in life. “Why doesn’t constant trampling defeat the dandelion? The key to its strength is its long and sturdy root, which extends deep into the earth. The same principle applies to people. The true victors in life are those who, enduring repeated challenges and setbacks, have sent the roots of their being to such a depth that nothing can shake them.” – daisakuikeda.org
Sensei also said it’s when we battle hardships that we can bring forth the power of the Buddha within. I told them that his guidance had helped me understand that I can either view past traumatic occurrences, including the three ribs I fractured last month, as having chosen me or me having chosen them. I can be a victim or a victor. I assured them that at their young ages they couldn't take full control of their lives. Plus, they didn't have parents capable of protecting and nurturing them. On the other hand, I get to choose how I react to what happens to me.
Having been rudely awoken at this point, I reflected on how overcoming one problem after another has enabled me to relate to and encourage others who are facing similar travails.
Easy? Of course not! Fortunately, I now know that as long as I never give up, I will continue to triumph. Meanwhile, as the older adult, I think I’ll hug both the younger Me’s in tonight’s dream.