Learning How to Stand Up for Myself

(Photo above by Debra Williams)

Joseph Schoendorf changes his family in a way most people wouldn’t think possible.

When I was 11 years old, my mother was handcuffed and escorted from our home for threatening to kill our family with a knife. She had been diagnosed with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder four years earlier. But this was her first time in a mental hospital and also the start of our lengthy separation.

Until I turned 18, I was only allowed to see my mother under adult supervision as she was said to be dangerous. With the influence of family members, I began thinking my life would be much better without her.

The next few years were a blur. I skipped college classes to hang out with friends and used drugs to escape my reality. My father moved in with his girlfriend, and my sisters moved away from our family in New York. I was on my own.

When I was 22, my best friend told me about Buddhism and invited me to give it a try. The first time I chanted Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, I started crying, because in that moment I remembered that it had been almost four years since I had seen my mother.

I went to my local neighborhood Buddhist meeting but was afraid of what others would think if I became Buddhist. It took me three more years to begin my own practice. But when I finally decided, I started to feel like my life had meaning.

Buddhability is about breaking through my own self-imposed limitations.

I found a great job working in renewable energy but that September, I was shocked when bank representatives informed me that our family home would be sold at auction in two days. My dad hadn’t paid the mortgage in five years.

I couldn’t believe he hadn’t mentioned this, and I felt betrayed by the one person I still looked up to.

I had no money to move into a new place and didn’t know what to do. It was during this time when a friend reminded me that Buddhability is about breaking through my own self-imposed limitations.

My Buddhist teacher Daisaku Ikeda says:

Chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo earnestly, with strong determination, provides the impetus to fundamentally transform our state of life. By breaking through our limits and obstacles with chanting and courageous action, we gain access to a higher state of life

The New Human Revolution, vol. 7, p. 101

I chanted earnestly and start supporting other members in my local area. Through caring for others, I learned that I could just be me. When I would visit the members and my friends to encourage them, I realized that I wasn’t the only one with struggles. Because of my upbringing, I didn’t open up to others out of fear of being rejected. I realized that I didn’t have to act like everything was OK all the time.

Within one month of seriously pushing myself, I earned more than three times the amount of money I needed to move into a new place.

Seeing the proof of my potential with my own eyes, I was ready to rebuild and deepen my relationship with my father. For the first time, we had an open and honest dialogue. Instead of judging my father, I saw him as a human being who had made mistakes and embraced him fully.

In February 2016, I learned that my mother had bladder cancer. I still didn’t know where she was, and I chanted for hours for my mother’s happiness. Sometimes chanting in tears, thinking I may never see her again.

I have developed the courage in my own life to stand up for myself, which has been the key to transforming every aspect of my life.

Two weeks later, I got up the courage and convinced a family member to tell me where my mother was. She was living five minutes away from my new apartment.

When I went to see her, she lit up and started crying. I visited her multiple times a week, helping her as much as I could, and teaching her how to chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo. By the end of 2016, after receiving the best care, my mom was cancer free.

Today, I am living and working in Los Angeles. Despite being miles away from each other, my family and I have built humanistic and beautiful relationships, which I am determined to continue to strengthen using my faith.

More than anything, I have developed the courage in my own life to stand up for myself, which has been the key to transforming every aspect of my life.

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