My Mystic Journey From Loss to Living and Loving.
From an early age, I noticed my life seemed to be filled with great loss. My sister passed when I was two and my mother was not present.
I learned to carry on and make trouble to get her attention, and the severe physical punishments never fit the foolhardy crimes.
Most of my family had been killed in the Holocaust, and only my paternal grandparents survived.
I was in my beloved city of New York the day 9/11 happened. One friend died and another survived the attacks. Coworkers were in the towers, and a majority of my office perished as well. Nearly four months later, my best friend died in a freak accident. At the same time, a close family member passed, followed by another soon after. I was surrounded by tragedy. It felt like pure horror.
Prior to 9/11, I suffered the greatest loss of my life. My brother was constantly comparing himself to my sister and I. My sister is beyond talented as a photorealist painter. My brother, who was only 20 years old — a DJ, a student, a singer/songwriter and the best junior computer programmer I knew, told his shrink he just didn’t measure up. He felt life was futile, and decided to end his life.
Suffering and loss seemed to surround me.
I summoned psychologists who helped me maintain my life, but I was slowly turning into a numb zombie. When I wasn’t anesthetized, I took my pain out on myself, but none of it brought back my brother or my best friend.
Momentary solace came in the form of self-propelling momentum away from my Orthodox Jewish roots… I needed answers.
My parents were unsupportive of my move to Cali one year later.
I left a healthy career in financial journalism behind, and slept on the floor of an apartment in a sketch-ass Armenian neighborhood in Hollyweird.
Being an avid spiritualist, I heard about a woman through a coworker at a temp job who gave readings in her home. Her readings were personal, extensive, and she knew the names of loved ones lost. Her name is Barbara Fox, and I credit her with changing my life.
At the end of our session, she said, “It might help to say these words in Sanskrit every day.” She recited Nam Myoho Renge Kyo on a cassettes tape, bringing it old school.
I didn’t know what it meant. But I kept saying it. Praying in Hebrew to the God of my youth simply didn’t seem empowering. Within two months, I quit smoking cigarettes, weaned off of anti-depressants, unhealthy casual sex, and light self-mutilation. I asked her for another reading. She said, “Now that you have Nam Myoho Renge Kyo, you don’t need one.”
She was right.
Without my fully knowing it, she had turned me onto Buddhism. I began chanting. I felt empowered. Through the chanting, my grief melted and I began having strong epiphanies. I had a choice — I could either stay in the state of hell and grieve forever, or move forward.
I chanted for what needed to happen in my life at that time, in order to move beyond my depression, wounds from childhood, the fact that my brother was the last from our lineage — everyone else had perished in the Holocaust or died thereafter.
What I realized is this: advancing is the only way. My grandparents advanced despite losing their homes. Friends, family, jobs, money and dignity were stripped from them, but they kept going. They never gave up. They survived so that I could prevail, rejoice in their sacrifices, and build future generations to come.
My Dad’s father was his uncle. I didn’t know until I was 13 that my grandpa was actually my great-uncle who had survived Auschwitz, had lost a previous wife, child and his entire family, and immigrated to the U.S. with nothing. He lived on a farm in New Jersey.
One day, he was robbed. The police came to investigate and take his statement. He was laughing uncontrollably. The officer said, “What’s so funny about being burglarized?” My grandfather replied, “I never thought I would have things that others would want to steal!”
His anecdote fuels me. Friends often ask why I am strong despite so many hardships. It’s simple: I see myself as a constant work in progress. I was and still am determined to improve myself every waking moment and to build an unshakable resolve in my life so that no matter which way the wind blows, my tree trunk is sturdy and rooted in happiness.
Since learning about the Japanese Nichiren Buddhist practice of chanting in 2005, I strive to do my best to chant at least twice a day and study alone or with other members in my group.
My Buddhist practice has helped me realize that no matter what obstacles I face (and there are many), I can overcome them. Why? I have this tool — a coping mechanism; this beacon of light in the dark places my mind wanders, in the dark places of my environment too. I fully realize our environment is a reflection of our inner self.
When I chant, I attract positivity. I am changing the negative thoughts, obstacles, and self-doubt into something which reinforces my drive. Chanting propels my determinism that yanks me out of the blackness and into desiring more for my life and myself.
Around 2009, I began chanting to attract the right man into my life. I tried to become all of the qualities I sought in a mate first. I met him in 2010. He was brilliant, attentive, kind and pained. My heart was aflutter. We got married three years later.
But after years of counseling, personal therapy, sex therapy, Reiki and introspection, I decided to end the marriage because I was advancing and my husband was retreating into numbing his pain from his previous marriage.
He carried his baggage into our partnership, and after a while I felt like I was constantly fixing the situation, over-giving, over-worrying, overdoing, and supporting him emotionally and financially.
I sought guidance from a Women’s Division leader who said, “Be your best self. Build yourself and do all you can to be strong and chant for wisdom and clarity.” So I did. I learned, chanted, regained confidence, and became very certain of what I needed to do: end my patterns of codependency, and realize I cannot save anyone but myself.
These emotions stemmed from not being able to save my brother, so I welcomed one too many hurt men into my life in the past 10 years.
I thought if this is a marriage based on little intimacy, physical, emotional and otherwise — he’s not ready to change his inner core for himself — I can’t hang in there any longer. I am 40, and want to have a child. He put off fertility tests for years. We were best friends and business partners, but no boom-boom. I strategized and pulled and pushed to make it so.
Through my Buddhist practice, I realized I needed to move on and embrace the unknown. If he’s meant to partner with me in this lifetime, my leaving would be his wake-up call, and if not, so be it. I know my mission in life is inspiring others through my harrowed experiences. Move forward and advance in joy, everyone, despite the four sufferings of life, birth, sickness and death.
Since I began chanting, I’m more mindful, slower to anger, and less reactive. Oftentimes, I felt stuck in my station in life, immobile in my grief. I couldn’t see the light poking holes through my black state of mind. Chanting widens the holes until I can only see white, bright light streaming through the recesses of my mind. The more I chant, study, and help others, the lighter I become too.
Hard truths are tough to face, but I do it head-on.
But that’s what faith is: accomplishing things with our lives that seem intellectually impossible. To win over that part of us we all have — that evil twin inside us that never shuts up.
“True courage and adventure is found in exploring the meaning of life and discovering the reason for your existence. Even greater joy and fulfillment is found in the persistent struggle to contribute to others’ happiness.” ~ Daisaku Ikeda
Suzanne Baran is an industry-leading Content Strategy expert. During her 18-year career, she has driven digital strategy for the world’s most beloved brands such as Yahoo!, AT&T, Intel, Toyota, DirecTV, Sony, and other Fortune 500 and 100 companies. She’s been quoted in myriad publications and has written articles and blogs for Yahoo!, The Hollywood Reporter, The Big Takeover, Internet World, Six Sentences, CMS Connected, and other. An avid enthusiast, Suzanne checked skydiving off her bucket list. An amateur bodybuilder, she shares workout equipment with Arnold Schwarzenegger at the Mecca — Gold’s Gym in Venice Beach. Suzanne recently married Ethan, her soul mate, in July. They met for the first time at a cafe post-workout, where they both arrived separately from two separate Gold’s Gym locations. They competed together at the Ferrigno Legacy last year. A Navy veteran who speaks fluent Arabic, Ethan adopted Suzanne’s Goldendoodle Clovis, their furry son.