A Source of Light
How Laura Mintz used her struggles to encourage others.
by Laura Mintz
I was introduced to Nichiren Buddhism in 2009, while I was experiencing a major depression triggered by trichotillomania. (The disorder is characterized by the compulsive urge to pull out one’s hair, leading to noticeable hair loss, distress and social or functional impairment.) In my case, it had only started the year before, when my dad had a stroke.
I was 17, already experiencing some depression, and this traumatic experience awakened this compulsion in me. Trichotillomania became my biggest enemy and made my life a nightmare. As I lost my hair, I was fearful of others’ judgment, had suicidal thoughts and grew extremely isolated. Though I sought help, I accepted my reality as my destiny and never really believed that I could change it. This is who I am from now on, I told myself.
My college friend, who introduced me to SGI Nichiren Buddhism, didn’t know any of this. She believed deeply in my potential and didn’t hesitate to share the practice with me. She told me how chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo enabled her to be happy and develop a better self. Somehow, I believed what she said, even though I was deeply skeptical of religion.
The same friend invited me to an SGI discussion meeting and because I couldn’t find an excuse to say no, I went. I was surprised to see how happy and welcoming everyone seemed to be. I could feel the warmth of the members but I couldn’t really see myself being that joyful. As I began to chant more consistently and attend meetings, my reality was the same, but my perspective began to shift.
In April 2010, I received the Gohonzon. Right away, I was appointed a district young women’s leader. Over the next few years, as I established more confidence in the Gohonzon, I introduced three good friends to Buddhism, and my parents came to watch me share my experience at our 2015 New Year’s Gongyo meeting. While there, they truly grasped the humanism of the Soka Gakkai, and saw firsthand how Nichiren Buddhism had shaped me into a better and happier human being. My depression had been replaced with determination and hope for the future.
This year, on New Year’s Day, I had the great joy of watching my mother become an SGI member, along with a friend whom she had told about the practice.
As I began to chant more consistently and attend meetings, my reality was the same, but my perspective began to shift.
Amid my daily battle with my compulsive disorder, other health challenges ensued. In January 2015, I fractured my arm and damaged a nerve in a bicycle accident. I felt miserable for many days, since this event jeopardized my dreams of becoming a photography-based fine artist. But as I was chanting with other members, I realized that I had to make the best out of this situation, just as I had with my trichotillomania. This was indeed the crucial moment, and one more opportunity to prove the power of my Buddhist practice. With this in mind, I attended every activity my body allowed me to and had gratitude for every single moment.
During those harsh days, I studied more than ever, especially reading A Youthful Diary by Daisaku Ikeda. This helped me connect to him as my mentor. Reading about his youthful struggles with health and how he never gave up truly inspired me to persevere in my own battles. Even though I had to drag myself to meetings at times, I was determined to fight my impulse to run from my problems. In the process, I learned not to dwell on my limitations, but rather to transform my frustration into a source of encouragement. After eight long months, I recovered fully without surgery.
One thing that helped me stay on track was my leadership responsibilities. One month after my accident, I became a chapter young women’s leader. At first, I felt I wasn’t the right choice, thinking: I can’t even drive or take care of myself. How would I be able to care for other young women? But this opportunity allowed me to use my own suffering to encourage and support other young women to challenge, with resolute faith, their own struggles.
As I supported them, I began to see myself in a new light. Although it’s been a constant battle to accept myself and embrace my imperfections, I understand that my disorder doesn’t need to define me. Rather, I can use my circumstances as fuel to speed up the process of my inner transformation.
One of my best friends—whom I had been trying to introduce to Buddhism for five years—received the Gohonzon in December 2015, inspired by my spirit to overcome my health challenges. Witnessing how she has changed her life and transformed her suffering has taught me to never ever give up on anyone. Even better, she has introduced her mom, who attends discussion meetings rain or shine. Only months into the practice, my friend was appointed a district young women’s leader. She has truly become my greatest actual proof of the power of persevering in faith.
As the new Florida Zone young women’s leader, through challenging myself first, I am determined to continue supporting my sisters in faith to become the happiest and strongest young women. I also resolve to win in my own life by continuing my artist’s journey and always aligning my personal dreams with kosen-rufu, never hesitating to share this amazing practice with every individual I encounter.
My mentor, SGI President Ikeda, writes, “No matter what our personal circumstances may be, if we ourselves become a source of light, then there will be no darkness in the world” (www.ikedaquotes.org). I am determined to respond to my mentor by being the best Laura I can be!
We all have dark things in our closets; I’ve learned to use my own struggles to encourage other young women who suffer with their own inner delusions. In the end, the most important thing I can do for my life is to chant with the conviction that I am a Buddha and teach others to do the same. Ultimately, that’s what people are going to see—the source of my light.