A Spark of Hope in the Darkness by Giulia Iannace (NSW)

Reflecting on the concept of many in body, one in mind I can now say that I have experienced with my life the real deep meaning behind that idea. Since I have been asked to participate in this Leader’s training day, I never felt separate or disconnected but instead included and embraced just as I am with my struggles and sometimes catastrophic ideas.

So that’s how my journey started when I was asked to share my ongoing experience. I visualised all the faces of my fellow friends and Buddhist buddies, I felt their honest intent, encouragement and hope that just sits in people with big souls and big hearts. With their incredible and strong belief in humanity and in every single person, they taught me that it is precisely when we want to really make the most out of the unique qualities in every personality that we are actually building a society of many in body, one in mind, while we are all advancing sharing the common goal of Kosen rufu.

I would like to acknowledge these members who have supported me: Paola, Sakshi, Lisa, Janet, Stefano, Russell, Bella, Ana, Will, Chris, Jim, Anna, Heather, Ares…and the list goes on for long. These people are all different, in age, sex, culture, background, languages and musical tastes, and yet they are all coming together with the same shared goal to create unity.

Thinking of them and feeling the connection with all the other members that I have never met and the connection with our mentors, I found the strength to overcome my little ego and talk to you about my journey. At first I was honestly thinking why are they asking me to share this bit of my life which is so painful and sad? I instantly found myself in my deepest fundamental darkness where there is no hope of a good outcome, no hope or trust, but just fear and suffering. I was crying in front of the Gohonzon, going over and over all my thoughts, my past months. I found myself auto-inflicting judgement with zero compassion towards this little Buddha sitting in front of her life.

Last year started for all of us with a global pandemic, and Italy was hit hard. Following the teaching of our practice and the words of our mentors, I thought I was supposed to be happy and be ready to transform every obstacle into opportunity. Instead, I started worrying and doubting everything in my life. Towards the end of September I was shocked to find out that my lovely partner has suffered from an addiction since he was a young guy, and that this has created other issues in his life which were affecting me. I felt that my life and our relationship was surrounded by lies and mistrust.

A few months later it was my 40th birthday and exactly 10 days before, my beloved nonna left this world. Nonna wasn’t just my grandmother but a mum for me (I love that in English the word for Nonna contains the name mother, as it really explains to perfection she was to me). Not being able to go home and also knowing, given the current situation, that my family in Italy could also not go to say goodbye to her was really stressing me out…I thought “oh wow what a year, great start of a shining 2021” again complaining and focusing on negativity.

My journey of seeking help then started, and I met incredible people during this time. While I was going through hell, my go-to were always members and leaders or very close friends. I was angry at the Gohonzon, angry at the practice, angry at happy people. Just probably very angry at myself but I kept chanting. I was doubtful, sad, hopeless, but kept chanting. I can see this only now, from another perspective, that even when I was doubting myself and my faith, I was anchored in it. I am 100% sure that without all of you, I wouldn’t have found the courage to share this journey I am going through.

While I continued therapy and chanting, I was slowly rebuilding trust in life and also my very broken relationship, when almost by accident, I discovered that I have a 12cm tumour inside the cavity of my femur. I honestly couldn’t breathe for few seconds probably a minute, thoughts were spinning so quickly inside my head that I couldn’t stop them, I saw myself and my life already finished and I honestly lost all my faith, all my beliefs, and all my hopes.

I called my partner, my close friends and my brother. We were all panicking but even then with no hope and no faith in the future, I was chanting. Sometimes more crying than chanting, but I was sitting in front of the Gohonzon, even in silence just standing in front of ‘my mirror’. It was at that time that I again started seeking guidance and help and I started sharing my struggles with a very small number of leaders and members. I didn’t know how to chant, how to believe, how to encourage the beautiful young women in the region, and not only that, I didn’t know how to keep going. But again now from a fresh point of view I can see myself never stopping, never giving up, even if at the time, I was thinking that I didn’t have the strength to keep going.

Until this moment I was ashamed of my life; judging myself as a big failure and even a bigger disappointment. My life seemed to be falling apart in every single aspect of it. I was afraid of judgements because I was the one so harsh on myself. I remember vividly my very first group meeting ever, after my mum pushed me to attend one for months. I just went so she would stop telling me to go. But that very first meeting was shocking for me. I came back home very scared; every single person talking in that room had issues! Health issue, work issue, love issue, family issue, literally any worldly problem was present and I remember saying to my mum that I never ever wanted to start this practice as it was a bad luck practice. Even my mum started because she had a very difficult cancer and so to me this Buddhism was just for very ill or desperate people. I was 17 at that time. Now I look at myself and see that in this very moment I embodied that entire room, but also that struggles of any kind are just a natural part of our life. President Ikeda in a lecture of a Gosho said that:

“What was the devilish function that Shakyamuni and the Daishonin battled against all their lives? It was the fundamental darkness or ignorance innate in human life. … The Key to vanquishing them is found in a heart or spirit that grows stronger day by day and month after month” Indigo September 21, p.24 

I started studying, asking questions to understand the meaning behind this. Around this time, I was fortunate to find a very good doctor who gave me good news and a lot of hope. And also a good therapist who was helping me to awaken the compassion which is so fundamental in our practice. And a willing partner that courageously wants to do his own human revolution, the spirit of my grandma, and most of all a very good community of members and friends with no judgments, but instead hugs, positivity and smiles. I can never thank you all enough.

They were all there for me no matter what, and so today I realised how the unity that Nichiren first and then Makiguchi, Toda and Ikeda and leaders are always talking about has been crucial in this continuously ongoing journey of mine. I am not exaggerating to say that it was the force that kept me going. The dialogues I had and that I am having are all based on creating unity in this very moment. Values and friendships and not division, they are all based on listening with a pure heart, not with right or wrong answers, or judgements, and suggestions are not required.

They are believing in my inner potential when I am not seeing a spark of light, they are offering me the opportunity to create peace in my own world so I can also contribute to create peace and unity in society and hopefully inspire other people to do the same. The hidden gem of an honest, pure and open dialogue with a sincere intent that drives two or more people in confronting themselves is one of the most powerful tools we all have. Fundamental darkness that we all have in life, and innate darkness that we think we can escape is part of our own journey in this world. And as the Mystic Law says: inside the problem is contained the solution.

Thanks to these friendships, I am refreshed and encouraged and I do not feel defeated, especially during this time. My determination is focused on my health: to get back on track and to defeat the mass I have inside the femur; that it will be 100% benign; and to rebuild a valuable relationship, and most of all to not be embarrassed in front of members about sharing my experience because I deeply hope they can see my heart behind the struggles, and my hope behind my fears in creating harmony and unity like in a piece of art.

Different colours create an amazing painting, everyone with a different story and journey, with no judgement we can create an amazing world. I determine to build together with the young women in my area an amazing land of peace, friendship and support.