Generational Transformation by Irit Alony (NSW)
My journey in faith started eleven years ago, and since then, everything I chanted for has come true, usually in a much better way than I could imagine. But I still have to remind myself of this when I face new challenges. I have a strong tendency to succumb to despair and to give up. It’s almost as strong as my tendency to use my limited brain to strategise or to think that I can solve things myself. I tend to think that I don’t need to trouble the Gohonzon with my trivial concerns, and that I can just work it out on my own. Time and again I’ve seen that my prayer is the best place to start: to simply sit in front of the Gohonzon, articulate what I want, and make a determination. This experience is about one of my greatest challenges so far – my youngest daughter.
My little one’s start was not difficult. In fact, as the first fortune baby in the South Coast, born two years into my practice, she was the easiest baby in the world. I felt like a truly accomplished mother, because I could use everything that I had learned with my first daughter and get the desired results. My fortune baby slept well, fed well, was beautiful and developed well – with her, we had none of the trouble that we had with our firstborn. I felt incredibly grateful. I felt like I had been showered with abundant blessings: a big house, a supportive husband, an easy baby. And I felt like I should share this abundance with others, so started hosting discussion meetings in my home. I invited local mothers with children the same age as my eldest, on weekends during my baby’s nap time.
I was doing everything right, right? My reward was supposed to be blessed with an easy child, a harmonious family, a thriving group spreading the teachings of Nichiren Daishonin across the South Coast, right?
Well, when my little one became a toddler, all of this peace and harmony that I dreamed of evaporated like dew in the morning sun. The group was far from thriving, and many times I would set up meetings and no one would show up. I went through a few months of depression and was furious and enraged all the time. This made family harmony impossible. And as for my easy baby – well, she grew into an insufferable toddler, who was unbearable to have. It was impossible to please or to understand her. She picked fights with her sister (who was trying to be loving and caring), and was disobedient to us. Despite being gifted in many ways – academically, physically, and imaginatively- and despite having very comfortable circumstances, happiness was far from her reach. She often expressed how miserable and unlucky she felt. She was often creating conflict at home, I often lost my temper with her, and she often cried. She was making life at home hell for all of us. There was no peace and no harmony in sight.
Just before she turned five, I was struggling with my health, with career demands, and less support at home as my husband travelled a lot. I was so depleted, that I could not be the warm loving patient mother that I wanted to be. I was often impatient and angry. Fights were a constant in our home. Despite my constant chanting and guidance from fellow and senior members as well as advice from the excellent childcare workers, there was no notable or consistent change. Even more baffling – despite being a nightmare for us all at home, in childcare, our youngest daughter was an angel. She was well behaved and had good friendships. It was clear to me that I was doing something wrong. I kept chanting for a better way forward, and I realised that I needed professional help.
I took her to see a child psychologist. The psychologist suggested that my daughter might be on the Autism spectrum. This made no sense, because she was nothing like classic autistic children: she was able to communicate perfectly, she was having good friendships with kids her age, she was functioning well. The suggestion made no sense, the process for diagnosing her was going to be long and expensive, and the outcome was likely to be inconclusive. We were tight with money back then, so we looked for other ways. We started seeing a psychologist who specialised in children with autism spectrum disorder.
She helped. It wasn’t magic, it was slow and incremental progress, but it helped.
Mystically, around that time I was forced to undergo an incredible process of human revolution. My health deteriorated so much that I was bed-bound for weeks, and then house-bound for months. The incredible support and practical help that I received from my fellow local members and leaders in the South Coast and in the organisation at large, their persistent belief in me even when I had given up on myself – all pushed me out of my illness and back into health, into extreme gratitude for being able to walk, to get out of the house, to walk my little one to school on her first day. The illness transformed my attitude entirely. It made me realise that I had been dependent, lazy, arrogant and selfish. The months that I was house-bound forced me to reconsider how I relate to my family members. As always, the Gohonzon knew best. The illness forced me to undergo within three months a transformation which would normally take several generations and improved our family dynamics immensely.
I decided to take responsibility for everything, to be the best mother that I could be. The strategy of the Lotus Sutra did not fail me. I chanted with determination to make things better for all the girls in my care. I used it as a learning opportunity to develop my skills of care, nurturing, and conflict management. Things improved at home and my connection with the girls got better and more positive.
I continued with the strategy of the Lotus Sutra: I chanted and studied Sensei’s and Nichiren’s writings, connected with the local and non-local members, and as expected, I grew. This was reflected on the outside as well – I got my dream job, I had a stable and committed group membership. I did well in my work. I was thriving socially and otherwise. My actual proof was showing.
But as for my little one – things were still not good. Socially, things started to fall apart for her. Less play dates, less birthday party invites. She was still not easy at home. She would often lose her temper, cry, disengage from us. Almost every day after school she would cause a fight at home, or she would be miserable and drag all of us down with her, no matter how hard I tried. By the end of 2020 it became apparent to me that unless we got serious help, she would be on the same path as I was when I was younger – the path to loneliness, anger, and social exclusion. The worst part was that I did not know how to change that. My wisdom was insufficient.
At this stage I could see myself in her. I could see in her the worst aspects of myself, the ones that caused me and others a lot of suffering, the ones that I tamed and transformed through the practice, with the love and care of fellow SGI leaders. I wanted her to have the same kind of a transformation that I had, and I wanted it to be quicker than mine was, so that she would not have to go through twenty more years (or more) of suffering. I knew that it would have to be possible. After all, I had access to the most powerful practice in the world!
I would like to quote Nichiren Daishonin:
“…because our wisdom is inadequate, he teaches us to substitute faith for wisdom, making this single word ‘faith’ the foundation.” (WND 1 “On the Four Stages of Faith and the Five Stages of Practice” p785)
I determined to make 2021 the year of my kids: the year when I transform the terrible karma that I had brought upon my kids. I chanted with determination that this year will be the year that we resolve this, that we turn our lives into the direction of joy, happiness and friendship.
As always, when we start with prayer, the right doors open at the right time.
Many forms of help came my way: a positive parenting course, children’s fun resilience training workbooks, and an excellent paediatrician. She gave us some tools, and recommended that we undergo an autism spectrum assessment. She explained that girls often present with autism differently to boys, and that a diagnosis would help not just as a ‘yes or no’ but would also give us insight into ‘what, how and why’. This insight will become more and more important as she grows up, life’s challenges become more complex, and our influence wanes even more.
I would like to quote President Ikeda:
“Buddhism is about bringing happiness, joy and fulfilment to all. It enables us not only to become happy ourselves but to make causes for the enlightenment of our ancestors seven-plus generations back and for the happiness and prosperity of our children, grandchildren and descendants throughout future generations. This is the great benefit of Buddhism.” (Daily Encouragement – 31 May)
As I implemented what I learnt, I could see how my tendencies and my behaviour contributed to the difficulties we had at home. I also noticed similarities between my little one’s behaviours, my own, and my mother’s, and probably her mother too. I could see our family karma: women in my ancestry, who were seen as “bad”, “doing the wrong thing”, “negative”, or “broken”, must have all suffered from the same thing – autism. Just like Sensei promised, this practice allowed me to use my daughter’s diagnosis as a cause for transformation for all of us, generations back and hopefully generations forward.
One day my little one asked that we’d watch a Netflix documentary about speed-cubers: experts who solve the Rubik’s cube quickly, within seconds. The beautiful documentary shared the story of one world champion speed-cuber, a boy who is severely autistic. The documentary shows how his mother, after learning her son’s diagnosis when he was about two years old, supported him nonetheless. She realised that he was “living in his own world”, and not interested in the world outside himself, but she did not give up on him. The documentary shows how she entered his world with him, just to be with him, until he noticed her and accepted her. This documentary showed me how far a child can go, how much they can grow and manifest their potential, with their parent’s support and acceptance of who they are. I realised that I never did that for my little one, and that instead I – we – constantly tried to drag her out into our world. That mother inspired me so much that I determined to do the same, to get into the world of my little one and share it with her. This made a huge change to our family dynamics. My little one seemed a lot happier, and allowed for a much closer connection between us. She was doing better and better and we could see progress every day.
Not long after this change, we received her formal diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder, and had NDIS funding approved. We have access to professional help and have immense support from many remarkable people in our lives: the school principal, my daughter’s teacher, our family and friends, all the perfect people to support us all on our journey of karmic repair. I have no doubt now that this challenge is part of my life because I am up for it, because I can turn this poison into an incredible medicine for the benefit of myself and others.
We have no doubt that our little one will grow to be a remarkable woman. There is no more despair, only patience and determination that we must continue to advance. I am extremely grateful to her that she came to us and forced us to fundamentally transform our karma. We can now recognise that a lot of our own gifts, as well as our challenges, stem from this neurological difference between us and typical people, and we can harness these gifts to benefit humanity. I am hopeful that this experience will encourage others who may have doubts about the significance of their struggle, or the struggle of others. I know better than ever before that our battles can and will be won as long as we base them on our faith, trust the process that Nichiren and the three founding presidents have described for us, and refuse to give up. Thank you for letting me share this with you.
Editor’s Note: Indigo invited Irit’s husband, Michael Jones, and their daughters, to give their own brief impressions.
Irit’s eldest daughter: “My sister was hard to deal with from the start. My mum told me that even when she was a baby, if I went to give dad a hug, she would pull my hair. I never knew there would be a reason but this year mum tried to work it out and we were told that she has autism. One of my friends knows too and is very supportive of me. She is helping me through it. I have more respect for my sister now. I hope that my sister can learn to explain how her feelings are so that we can help her.”
Irit’s youngest daughter: “Hi, I’m the girl with Autism. It has been a hard journey in emotions, especially anger because it is a really big emotion and is hard to control. It’s also hard to realise when to stop. And I also can’t really read facial expressions and tell what they mean.
I feel better now because I have things to help me, like chewing and squishy toys to help me get rid of the emotion.”
Irit’s husband, Michael Jones: “Our daughter was born wonderful. A snuggly warm baby who was easy to settle and a lot less demanding than her older sister. Her early years progressed normally – all very ‘age-appropriate’. However, when her ‘terrible-twos’ extended into three’s and four’s, the delight changed to fatigue. One of my memories of these years, 2s, 3s and 4s, were the frequent attacks on her older sister (5s, 6s and 7s). When her older sister said something that our little one didn’t like, she would throw her body at her sister, who would become fearful and run away.
Problems continued and grew as she got older. Every game and activity had complex rules. Breaking these would result in her anger and frustration, and with her running to her room feeling unloved and not understood. Play with her was also highly imaginative. She would weave complex worlds with strong narratives and clear character roles, which I found very difficult to join her in. After a few minutes of play, we would both separate, feeling frustrated, and with her, once again, feeling misunderstood.
She would fight with her sister all the time, often manifesting fights to move attention away from her sister onto herself – perhaps thinking to herself, ‘if you don’t love me, you certainly can’t love her’. These fights and misunderstandings also flowed on to her friends at school, to the point where she no longer received invitations to play or attend parties.
However, as every day went by, I felt that she was getting incrementally better. We constantly challenged her to modify and moderate her behaviour. Little by little, she was learning how to do this. I felt that there was a way out of this and that perhaps it was all appropriate behaviour for a child, but that she was slightly behind the progress of her peers in terms of social behaviour. Ultimately, I felt that one day we would have a loving daughter who would fit right in with our family, her friends, and society in general.
Then we had the diagnosis.
At first, I was relieved because there was an explanation, and there was the potential for help. The time bomb of frustration and terror we watched grow from a baby to a tweenager will develop skills to help her fit into the world we think is ‘normal’. Ultimately, though, I realised that my little girl had an illness, a disability, and she would never be ‘normal’, she would be different. But with her development and our understanding, she would eventually live a life that is ideal for her.
I realise now it is about acceptance, our acceptance of her, her behaviours and her limitations, the acceptance of her unique personality by her friends, and her acceptance that life for her is not going to be as easy for her as it will for most other people in her life.”
Irit shared this experience during the online Study Meeting in December 2021. Please click on this link to view https://youtu.be/f5HDRMHDWB0