A few days ago, I provided a rather emotionally intense life update shindig. I mentioned how I was struggling to find my way out of the darkness again, even so, I was determined to do it. Well, I’m here to say that patience and holding on to faith (even when I didn’t want to) has definitely started to make an impact. So, for today’s Self-Care Sunday post, I want to chat about the importance of starting off one’s week with positive spirit! (Disclaimer: I will be talking about religious faith a little, but this post is meant for all walks of individuals, whether you’re on the religious-believing spectrum—regardless of specific faith—or not at all.)
On Sundays, I typically take my neighbour lady and close friend to church, where I’m quite familiar with the pastor and his wife (parents of a former friend). Over the last two weeks, going there and learning about the mercy and compassion at the root of Christianity has helped me to process so many of my inner demons. It has also allowed me to put aside my own pain and suffering so that I could help other people with theirs, which is how I like to deal with my depression and down-periods of life. Today was a different story because it’s a day that I had been anticipating for a while and I knew it was going to fuck me up mentally and emotionally. While I wanted to be there for my non-familial loved ones, I couldn’t. I had to prioritise my own mental well-being above theirs and there is nothing wrong with that. We can’t take care of others if we don’t take care of ourselves.
I received an e-mail yesterday afternoon from one of the main ladies at my local Buddhist Temple telling me that we were having a special Dharma Service for those who passed away in March, which will be followed by a service to celebrate the Ōhigan, or the Spring Equinox essentially. I had been experiencing horrid chest pains from my significant hoard of stress, so initially I was just going to use that as an excuse to stay in bed and be a depressed squishy plushie. But after receiving that e-mail, I knew it was a sign that laying around and feeling sorry for myself was not how I was going to start fresh. It was how I would stay in the muck and feel hopeless and helpless for as long as I allow it.
Now, I hadn’t been to temple since its closure upon the Pandemic’s initiation (March 2020). I knew that a lot of the members of our Sangha (congregation) had passed away due to elderliness or even from COVID-19. I tried to prepare myself as much as I could for getting hit with a sense of grief upon arriving. Aside from that, I was just so damn nervous because I didn’t remember how to be a Buddhist anymore, a basic one let alone a Jōdō Shinshū Buddhist. But when I got in my car and started driving there, this overwhelming sense of calm came over me.
When we are in the darkest phases of our life, it becomes incredibly effortless to continually feed into that sense of shittiness. That overwhelming emotion of being lost and unloved, uncared for and utterly doomed will grow and mutate because we will always find ways (or people) to validate it’s hunger. Examples for me include:
- I’m too fat
- I’m too disabled
- I’m too ugly and not feminine enough (doesn’t matter that I’m Nonbinary, my brain doesn’t care)
- I’m not smart or intelligent
- I’m a terrible fucking writer
- My blog is a joke
- My family feels pity for me
- I’ll never make my family proud
- I’m a burden on everyone in my life
- I’m a failure because I wasn’t able to finish Uni
- My cats would be better off with someone else
- My cats hate me
- I don’t deserve to be a Buddhist, Muslim, or even a Christian because I’m an awful human being
- My life is a perfect example of what happens when God hates someone
- If the love of my life can deceive me, gaslight me, and throw me away like rubbish, then I’m clearly a worthless mistake in this world
The list goes on and on and on. Even though I spend hours—days and months—telling myself these things, how much of it is actually true?
Not a single goddamn fucking thing.
How much are concocted mental potions to maintain the stamina of my haunting demons and self-loathing? (Or even Satan if you believe in that.)
Every single goddamn fucking thing.
As I drove to the temple, I put in my favourite Asian Chill LoFi Mix (I typically use this while I’m working or blogging), I rolled down the windows and breathed in the fresh morning air. It mostly smelled like mouth-watering hamburgers as I drove by multiple In-and-Outs. It made me hungry as hell, yet also smile at the fact that something so miniscule can make me smile and I noticed it.
I had a choice this morning. To wake up yet remain in bed and continue to ruminate on every bad thing that has happened over the past year, and commiserate in self-pity, or I could say “Fuck you” to those very things that happened and that continued to try and weigh me down, which was basically myself. I fought so damn hard to do the former. Nevertheless, deep down inside of myself, underneath the ugliness of heart-break and let-downs, I knew better.
I chose to start my week with spirit, and it changed my entire perspective on what it means to be hurt and how to start my adventure of healing.
I parked my car in my favourite spot and I could feel my heart racing from an equal measure of excitement and unease. The temple grounds looked so different! So many of the trees had been cut down and there were fewer koi fish in the giant pond out front. Nonetheless, in many ways, it was the same. The same sound of the waterfall over the pond. The same violet flowers that bloom every spring blooming again in the midst of all that was lost (very symbolic for Ōhigan). Some of the same faces who I used to see weekly without fail. Granted, a lot of them were a lot older and sicker (as was I), and this indescribable feeling of coming home washed over me.
The Dharma message was about how with the arrival of Spring we are yet again reminded at the impermanence of life, but we are also reminded at the interconnectedness of life as well. Pain and death are inevitable for all living things, whether they are humans or flowers. Our pain and death doesn’t go without impacting another individual, no matter how much we try to tell ourselves otherwise. What we do with that pain and in the wake of death is what defines us as Buddhists; compassion, generosity, discipline, patience, wisdom, and meditation (or reflection) are key elements when dealing with pain and death (also known as the Six Paramitas).
I was suffering immense emotional and psychological pain, and death of various sorts. I could let it consume me and everything that I had worked for in the last eight years, or I could find compassion in my pain. I could discover generosity in helping others to not experience the same or to lessen their own ache. I needed to be patient with myself as I heal the same way that my sternum and heart surgery incision needed time to heal, which makes me laugh because I fucking suck at being patient. Because I had undergone something so life and mind-changing, I had wisdom in ways that I had never expected to have, like a great Sannin… but without the pervy element, mostly. And lastly, which is the hardest for me, is to meditate and reflect on the pain and deaths that have occurred to understand how if they didn’t occur now, they would occur later on in life because life is full of impermanence. Our joys, successes, love, and friendship will not last forever. But you know what? Neither will our sorrow and grief, heart-break and melancholy. My heart was filled with the spirit of this realisation and I held on to that feeling and message with every fucking thing I have within me, and that is how I’m going to start my week.
Spirit of compassion. Spirit of understanding. Spirit of wisdom. Spirit of accepting that nothing is a permanent fixture, and that is 1000% okay. It’s an ugly part of life, but it’s also one of the most beautiful parts. Like sunflower seeds. The seeds are ugly as heck, little almond-shaped zebras. But when it’s nurtured, it blooms into one of the brightest, biggest, and most beautiful flowers around. Short-lived, but still a fantastically refreshing and inspiring sight to see.
Today, I am here to tell you that as we go into this new week that will bring about the end of March and the arrival of April, a full-steam ride into Spring, go into it with spirit. Whether it’s your favourite quote from a book, movie, comic, video game, or religious text, or whether there is a particular place and scene, or if it’s your pet or best friend, anime or anything at all. Who or whatever it is that is a constant source of compassion and joy for you, embrace it and hold on to the feeling it gives you. When the week starts to rise up and block your path with negativity or other emotional and mental obstacles, think of that spirited feeling and say, “Fuck you, not today, mate.”
You deserve to survive through the trauma and tragedies that life tosses your way. It’s okay to feel hopeless, helpless, beaten down, and defeated. There’s a lesson and a special taste of compassion in those feelings and experiences. But you don’t deserve to let it suffocate you with lies and deceit, especially those concocted by your own bloody brain. You deserve joy, happiness, success, love, and friendship. From yourself to yourself, and you deserve to make the most of it when it comes up. It won’t always be there, but when it is around, I guarantee it’ll change your perspective on what true living really means: to live with the spirit of optimism, of hope for what’s to bloom.