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The Courage to Deepen my Relationships

by Andreja Nolan

Andreja NolanI was born in Slovenia to two loving parents. An only child--and a daughter, to my mother's delight. She had been told by the doctors that she would not be able to have any children. So I was really a "miracle" to them. But not the miracle they had expected. I didn't want to wear dresses, my favorite color was blue, I was very strong willed ("stubborn" in those days) and I found their love and constant attention very difficult to appreciate. In fact I found it suffocating. I longed for a sibling to share my parents with, but alas that was not to be. They were all mine.

At the same time, I was growing up with a severely inflated sense of entitlement. My father was, and still is, a very kind and gentle man, generous and obliging. He would do anything for me. He was having great difficulties setting limits with me. My mother seemed at a complete loss.

I had great difficulty feeling any respect for my father. I longed for him to be firmer in his discipline and despised him for failing at it.

For many years, I was emotionally avoiding my parents--criticizing them and spending most of my time at friends' places. I was also deeply aware that my father had a very hard life and suffered a lot of back pain and rheumatoid arthritis.

I felt guilty to be treating him so badly, but I was not able to change my behavior.

By the time I was 27 and left for Australia to be with my husband David, I was at the point where I couldn't stand my father's "whining" and complaining. Our conversations seemed stuck on his prolonged complaints about his bodily problems. I could not stand to be in the same room with him. Just his presence would evoke such frustration and fury in me that I was afraid that I would hurt him (at least with my words). That continued during our regular visits back to Slovenia in the years to come.

During one such visit three years after I started to practice Buddhism, I decided to attend to this relationship through my practice because I felt there had been enough suffering between us. I sought guidance and received it: to appreciate my father just the way he is, that he is perfect the way he is, that I was the one who chose him to be my father. That was all news to me, especially the bit about appreciation, as I really had never felt that in my relationship with my father--or in general.

I went home and for the first time used my "stubbornness" to create value. I chanted wholeheartedly to be able to appreciate my father and his role in my life. I felt the surge of confidence that comes only with a strong determination.

The next day, I received a phone call from my father. That was a total surprise since it had previously always been me calling home, begrudgingly and halfheartedly, fearing a prolonged list of his health complaints.

Following the greetings I asked him, as always: "How are you today, how is your back?" His answer was, "Oh, let's not talk about my health and illnesses. It's getting boring. How are you?"

My father had never before spoken in this way. We had a "normal," two-way conversation for the first time in my life. From that moment on, I have never again, not once, felt any frustration with him; I so appreciate his love and care for me from the first moment of my life until today. And I am so happy that we were able to reach this point while he is still alive and that he can experience my compassion for him.

However, I realized it was not only in relation to my father that I had such a profound lack of appreciation.

I had come to Australia at the age of 27 after meeting my husband-to-be, David, in 1989 while he was traveling in Europe. After a very short time, we both knew that we were meant to be together and we got married.

In 2002, my friend from Slovenia, Anita, came to visit and stayed with us in Gerringong for seven weeks. At that time I had already lived in Australia for seven years and had two children, but I still felt very lonely and disconnected from people. I only had one close friend, but even that relationship was very challenging. Every day I wondered, "What's wrong with these people?"

My friend practiced Buddhism and chanted Nam-myoho-renge-kyo. When I asked Anita about her chanting, she said that according to this Buddhism everyone can achieve enlightenment in this lifetime. I thought that sounded good, since I had two children and didn't have time or money for weekend retreats.

She also made a very gentle comment to me that only a very good friend can make, that maybe I had something to do with my poor friendship record. At least I could entertain this possibility, but did not know how to change it. My "victim" position was very strong.

I started chanting together with Anita, and by the time she left I was also attending discussion meetings in Wollongong. Soon after that, I received the Gohonzon and started discussion meetings at our home in Gerringong.

I always knew that I was onto something good with this Buddhism and I was sharing it enthusiastically with many people, but not many responded by chanting or coming to meetings. I couldn't work out why. Again, I was thinking, "What's wrong with these people?"

During our discussion meetings, I would still suffer and complain a lot about lack of friends here in Gerringong, blaming the "small community" and considering moving because I was so lonely and unhappy.

It took time to recognize my arrogance and take responsibility for my loneliness and lack of friends, but I practiced consistently and, soon enough, I began to see what I needed to change in my own life to become happy.

Through my active involvement in group meetings, I have experienced care and compassion as well as wisdom and guidance. I have built up enough courage to start treating people with more respect and appreciation, regardless of "what they could do for me" or my judgment of them. To determine to start seeing people with infinite potential for Buddhahood was very freeing for me, and undoubtedly more pleasant for them. I began consciously challenging my sense of isolation.

I started to appreciate others just as they are. And that is how I want to relate to everybody that I meet--with a profound sense of appreciation for everyone's potential. What a sense of freedom that is! When I judge, I feel dragged down; when I criticize, I feel heavy. When I manage to appreciate, I feel light and truly happy.

During a recent visit to Japan, I experienced SGI President Daisaku Ikeda's magnitude of care and appreciation. I was deeply touched by his continuous expressions of care for all visiting members. I want to care for people the way he does. In that kind of life, there is no room for loneliness, no room for isolation, no room for self-pity. This life is so precious! I don't want to wait to start caring for others tomorrow or the next day. I am determined to continue challenging myself through sincere care for whoever is right in front of me.

President Ikeda states: "There is no true joy in a life lived closed up in the little shell of the self. When you take one step to reach out to people, when you meet with others and share their thoughts and sufferings, infinite compassion and wisdom well up within your heart. Your life is transformed."

I am determined to join my mentor in reaching out to our members, friends, family and fellow human beings. I don't want to hold back my expression of care anymore.

[Adapted from Indigo, SGI-Australia, June 2010]

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