Many things in my current slice of Vermont life are overwhelming. Underwhelming, too, as those two words are more collusive than opposing.
All the concrete biggies are in play: Finances, Health, and Security. The existential ones too: Purpose, Meaning, and Creativity.
I am anxious about being able to provide for my family, my dangerous drop in weight, and the uncertainty of the future. I worry about not doing what I was born to do, finding less attached too often to meaning, and words unwritten dying with me.
I take action of course: applying for better, more-suitable employment, like with the Vermont Humanities Council; creating work and putting it out there, like with this post; and continuing my volunteer activities, like with reading submissions for the Mud Season Review.
I take more actions than the above and try to think of what further things I can do, what other steps I can take, to create a life that is something other than “nasty, brutish and short.”
Lately, in addition to chanting, I’ve been reading and rereading Strategy of the Lotus Sutra. It is a short letter, just a page or so, Nichiren wrote to his devout follower Shijō Kingo. It is a reply to a letter Kingo had sent about being ambushed by some of his fellow samurai, encouraging him to remain strong in faith; indeed, for him to become even more resolute.
Faith is difficult for me to muster.
Ribs clearly visible in my gaunt body, I envision the formidable obstacles in any potential roads taken and doubt my abilities. Yet I am still alive to have or not have faith, time passing either way.
“Regard your survival as wondrous” seems to have two meanings. The first as in thinking wow, I survived this horrible attack. How amazing! But also, life in general is a constant struggle to survive, and us being around at any given moment is something quite extraordinary.
The “strategy” of the Lotus Sutra is faith; not just having it but understanding its relation to other things. Faith is not something to be added later, but should come first. It is the foundation upon which all other actions – strategies – are built.
I’ve been trying to chant – and take action – with such thoughts in mind.
Nichiren ends the letter with “A coward cannot have any of his prayers answered.”
I think of this line, too, as I take determined steps forward, despite being very much afraid.