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A leap of faith

jettyLearning and growing as an individual is a do-it-yourself project… up to a point. Sooner or later, there comes a time when we need to take a risk and leap into something new and unknown, beyond our control. Sunada shares a recent experience and how it reinforced her understanding of faith.

One of the things that Westerners tend to find appealing about Buddhism is its emphasis on rationality and self-reliance. A lot of the Buddha’s teachings are very much about taking ownership of our lives. Meditation, study, and living by the ethical principles are all about objective, self-directed efforts that help us grow as individuals.

This is all accurate… up to a point.

 To me faith means I don’t need to be so much in the driver’s seat of my life. I can let go of control to something I don’t entirely understand.  

Here’s the irony. The more I practice in this self-directed way, the more I’m growing in faith. To me faith means I don’t need to be so much in the driver’s seat of my life. I can let go of control to something I don’t entirely understand. And there are forces greater than me that I can tap into to my benefit. So what’s that all about?

I’d like to share with you something that happened yesterday. I participated in a voice workshop in which I sang a solo in front of a small audience. Many of you know that musical performance anxiety is one of my biggest fears. I’m OK performing with a group, but solos are a completely different matter.

It’s something I’ve struggled with my whole life. On the one hand, music has always been my passion. I’ve been told by many people that I have a lovely voice. I’ve also been told I have a gift for communicating with an audience, and really enjoy doing so in other contexts, like speaking and teaching. But I didn’t get much encouragement as a child to pursue music – in fact got DIScouragement from some key people in my life. So that’s how my “I’m not good enough” demons came into being. Even though I know better in my head, those inner voices still taunt me, decades later.

 I can put my boat [in the river] and try to paddle against the current, or I can let go and harness its energy so it carries me where I want to go.  

For years, I did all the objectively “right” things. I’ve taken music lessons of one kind or another for my whole life. I studied music in college. I honed my technique by practicing diligently. I figured that if I felt more confident technically, I’d feel more self-assured as a performer.

That was true… up to a point.

But yesterday, I took some leaps. When the nerves started tensing my body up, I breathed more deeply, and lower into my belly. I put my trust in my body — and its ability to calm me down. I focused on the story I wanted to tell, and what emotions they brought up. I put my trust in my feelings — and their ability to connect me with my audience. When a difficult passage came up, I dropped more deeply into my present experience. I put my trust in my breath — and its primary role in supporting and gliding my voice through the tough parts. When my fear threatened to shut me down, I looked it in the face and risked being even more open. I put my trust in my authentic self, flaws and all — and how my willingness to be vulnerable makes me more engaging.

I’d known all these things in my head for years — that they were the best ways to get through an attack of nerves. But this time I really did it. I took a leap of faith.

 It’s not a blind faith. I’ve put effort into learning about the nature of the river. I now feel I understand [it] well enough to feel confident in putting my trust in [it].  

For me, my faith grew out of the deepening of my awareness. The more I learn about the nature of my body, my breath, my feelings, and the world around me, the more I see how they are not really in my control. They all have a certain energy about them, a way of moving and flowing that I can tap into, but not own. I suppose they’re like the flow of a river. I can put my boat into it and try to paddle against the current, or I can let go and harness its energy so it carries me where I want to go.

Faith is like putting my trust in that river. It’s not a blind faith at all. I’ve put effort into learning about the nature of the river – in this case my body, breath, and so on. I now feel I understand them well enough to feel confident in putting my trust in them.

I also know that they are part of forces in the world far greater than this small self that I think I am. To fight against them is futile and self-defeating. It makes so much more sense to give my trust to those larger energies, and let them carry me along. And what I’m seeing is that by doing so, they take me to places I couldn’t have gotten to on my own. That was certainly the case when I sang my solo yesterday.

 It makes so much more sense to give my trust to those larger energies, and let them carry me along… by doing so, they take me to places I couldn’t have gotten to on my own.  

I’m sure we all have situations in our lives where we’d like to do more and be more. And it’s likely we’ve taken many of the objectively “right” steps to try and get there. This is all well and good. We need to understand ourselves, our situation, and how to make our way through them. It’s a positive and constructive way to go about it.

This is all good… up to a point.

But then we come to the end of the path. We see that we have a choice. We can either stay stuck there doing what we’ve always done, or take a leap of faith into the river. And those are our only options.

So this is my understanding of where the Buddha’s path leads us. First, take responsibility for ourselves — make our own efforts to understand, to grow in awareness, sharpen our skills, and learn how the river flows. But at some point, take everything we’ve learned and put our boat in the river. Sure, it might be a rough trip. But we understand the river and ourselves well enough to ride it out. The more we do that, the more our confidence in that greater flow grows. With that faith, we’ll go much farther, and faster, than we ever could on our own.

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About Sunada Takagi

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Sunada Takagi is on a mission to help people open their hearts and minds through mindfulness. Her work includes leading classes in Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction in the Boston area, and coaching individual clients through life transitions -- from anywhere in the world via phone and Skype. Read more at her site, Mindful Purpose Life Coaching.

Sunada also teaches and leads retreats at Boston Triratna Buddhist Community and Aryaloka Buddhist Center. Sunada was ordained into the Triratna Buddhist Order in 2004. This is where she received her name, which means "beautiful, excellent sound."

You can follow her at her Mindful Living Blog as well as on Facebook and Twitter. Read more articles by .

Comments

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Comment from samadee
Time: August 22, 2009, 9:16 pm

This is very good community because this moment haven’t any more without Buddha’s teaching

that is the only one path to understand every truth of the life So I like to wish you May you attain Nibbhana………..

with much love and compassion

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Comment from EternalJoy
Time: August 25, 2009, 1:28 pm

I feel letting go in faith can only occur when we realize ourselves beyond our identification with thought, emotions and the root cause of dillusion of being a seperate individual. Once we experience we are the one who SEEs the play of change in this world and the inner world of thoughts and emotions but we are not limited to this, we come to recognize ourselves as the space in which all thoughts, emotions occur in. They appear for some time and then disappear , just like the space in a room, objects may appear in the room and then be removed but the space in the room remains. If we knock the walls of the room down, the space in the room is one with the space outside. In truth there is no inside or outside space, the space was always one even when appearing to be seperate. This is like how the essence of what we are is the same as the essence of everything, seperation is an illusion and a superimposition of the mind. Letting go in the realization that we are ONE, not as an intellectual knowledge but as an intuitional feeling, is leaping into faith of ones undoubtable experience of oneself.

How can we reach this stage? how can we plan to reach this stage in our disillusioned state?? a longing, an intensity to dissolve into what is beyond our intellectual understanding has to take place. This will take us to insights, practising techniques, all to purify our sensitivity to our bodies and minds so we can see the true nature of what we call ourselves. Seeing what IS, what we Truly are, Knowing this, We automatically surrender and let go in the seeing of THIS!

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Comment from The Conscious Life
Time: September 1, 2009, 3:28 am

Congratulations, Sunada! I’m very happy for you. You’ve seized the opportunity to face your demons. It’s never easy to look at our demons face-to-face, but you’ve did it. The next time they surface again, you’ll be in a better position to overcome them again. Rejoice!

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Comment from Becky
Time: September 1, 2009, 11:59 am

Thank you very much for sharing this with us, I’m a visual performance artist and Mitra in the Western Buddhist Order. I have been performing to a live audience since I graduated from my textiles degree in 2003. Opening to my human vulnerability whilst communicating in my performance language is very close to my heart, so it was wonderful to hear of your experience and I shall think of it next time I perform with my nerves and all x

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Comment from Sunada
Time: September 2, 2009, 6:38 am

Thanks to you all for your supportive comments!

with metta to you,
Sunada
http://www.mindfulpurpose.com

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Comment from Michelle Mares
Time: September 23, 2009, 10:36 am

Dear Sunada,

What a timely article, as I am poised on the brink of performing my first solo recital in many years. It is encouraging to read about your experience. I completely relate to that fear which can be so utterly paralyzing. It robs one of any joy in the experience until the performace is finally over!

Like you, I am focussing on letting go to let the joy in. It is a challenge like no other. Thank you for sharing your experience and for your encouragement!

With warmest wishes,
Michelle

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Comment from Sunada
Time: September 23, 2009, 11:37 am

Michelle,
Thank you for your kind words. I’m THRILLED to hear that you’re getting back to your performing career! You have a such a gift to share with the world.

with metta,
Sunada
http://www.mindfulpurpose.com

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Comment from Patricia
Time: April 22, 2011, 4:10 pm

Thanks for this…as a professional musician…I have been stuck at the B-List…never believing I could reach the A-List performing arena…I am now 60…it is time for the leap of faith…in my case…to study with beginner’s mind with the best and not be afraid of the undervalued self’s fear of rejection…the worst that can happen is that they say no…the best has already happened in that I took the risk to leap…you go girl!

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Comment from Sunada
Time: April 22, 2011, 5:09 pm

Patricia,
You go girl yourself! If you don’t go for it now, I bet you’ll look back years from now and totally regret it. As you say, the worst that can happen is that they say no. Being a musician is such a tough road to follow. I wish you all the best as you go take your leap!

with metta,
Sunada

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