Why My Sense of Self-Worth Developed

(Photo above courtesy of Morgan Henson)

Morgan Henson, of Iowa, developed her confidence and self-worth by tapping into her Buddhability, and she is now helping others do the same.

The morning, in October 2017, when Navy police barged into my barracks room to arrest me for selling LSD and ecstasy marked a low point in a very bad year.

Since childhood, my low self-esteem caused intense anxiety. I wanted everyone to be my best friend. If that didn’t happen, I thought something was wrong with me.

When I joined the Navy in 2015, I found myself in a situation with new people. I held on to those childhood notions of wanting everyone to like me. Then, in 2016, I was sexually assaulted twice. My world felt broken. I distrusted everyone and couldn’t even look in the mirror because I was horrified at my self-image. Unfortunately, sexual abuse is an all-too-common experience in the military. It’s still painful to remember, but I’d much rather be open about it to encourage others going through it, so they can find the courage to get the help they need.

Drugs helped me feel better for a brief time. I also noticed how people always wanted to be around those selling drugs. What a great way to get people to like me, I thought. Selling brought the temporary happiness of people talking to me more than they ever had. But this feeling or these friendships didn’t last long.

After waiting for over a year for my trial and a demotion, I was convicted in February 2019 and sent to the brig for four months. I was scared. I thought everyone in jail was bad. But the incarcerated women I met were wonderful people who supported me. They were sincere, with dreams and aspirations. They were just people who had made mistakes, like me.

I instantly clicked with one woman in particular. As we talked, she told me that she practiced Buddhism. Then, I remembered. In boot camp in 2015, I had attended several SGI Buddhist meetings, where an SGI member would come to the base and teach us how to chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo. I felt a sense of relief and tranquility there. I felt at peace when I chanted. I attended only a few times, but I didn’t forget that experience.

In the brig, my friend’s encouragement really helped me start to transform my karma, and we held meetings twice a week to chant and study. I was even able to subscribe to the World Tribune, a weekly newspaper, and Living Buddhism, a monthly Buddhist magazine. By diving deeper into my Buddhist practice, I gained an inner freedom and confidence that I had never felt before.

By diving deeper into my Buddhist practice, I gained an inner freedom and confidence that I had never felt before.

I felt freer in prison than out of it. I was learning how to appreciate myself just as I am. I was no longer looking in the mirror in horror. I started to love myself and my body, and not rely on what others think of me as the basis for my self-worth. Of course, I still struggle sometimes with comparing where I’m at in life to others who seem to have it better. But I know this just takes me away from the goals I’m chanting for.

Immediately after my release, I contacted the local SGI Buddhist center to get connected to a local group. With their support, I officially joined SGI on February 16, 2020.

Inspired by what I’ve learned from my Buddhist practice and other Buddhability community members who’ve helped me, I want to use my past struggles to inspire others with low self-esteem. With these words from Buddhist philosopher Daisaku Ikeda, I want to become a volunteer at a women’s prison and encourage the women to get through their challenges, in the same way I was supported.

Reality is harsh. It can be cruel and ugly. Yet no matter how much we grieve over our environment and circumstances nothing will change. What is important is not to be defeated, to forge ahead bravely. If we do this, a path will open before us. 

Daisaku Ikeda

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