Experience

Through the Lens of My Mission

How Kyla Donovan learned to value her life and find meaning in her struggles.

by Kyla Donovan
CHICAGO

Intense family discord in my childhood led me to doubt the value of my life. This feeling intensified during my sophomore year in college, when my sister died from substance abuse. I buried whatever feelings I had by starving myself and binge drinking. At 67 pounds, my body completely gave out, and I was hospitalized.

After my brush with death, I realized that all I wanted was to be happy, so I made the choice to live. But I didn’t know how to change my destructive tendencies, and for the next five years, I indulged in drugs and alcohol, and an unhealthy relationship.

Nearly three years ago, when the relationship ended, I entered a recovery program and started exploring various spiritual practices. It was at this time that someone told me about chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo.

At my first SGI meeting, I just wanted to be a fly on the wall, but the members kept encouraging me to get involved. Their trust in me was what made me stay and allowed me to make genuine connections. I received the Gohonzon in July 2015.

Based on my new Buddhist practice, I was gaining the wisdom and confidence to move forward. I developed new friendships, in which drugs and alcohol didn’t play a central role, and I entered graduate school for a master’s degree in social work. I prioritized my happiness by always asking myself: Is this healthy for me?

One year into my practice, I was asked to take on district leadership. My whole life, I had never been entrusted
with responsibility in anything. Even though I was facing numerous struggles at the time, SGI members believed in me, even though I didn’t believe in myself. By supporting others and chanting for their happiness, I made breakthroughs and found clarity in my own life. Leadership has been a precious gift and trained me to never limit myself in the most crucial moments.

Last May, my friend Jeremy, whom I had been trying to introduce to the practice, was killed in a car accident. The only way I could find any meaning in this loss was to reach out to his friends who were struggling to cope. One of his best friends responded to my efforts and received the Gohonzon two months later. I’m inspired to see how Buddhism can turn such a tragedy into the beginning of a hopeful path for someone else. He is already experiencing many positive changes in his life through sharing the practice with others and being active in his district.

I soon faced another challenge. I was diagnosed with Hashimoto’s disease, a condition in which my immune system attacks my thyroid. Instead of being scared, I was relieved because I could now be treated for symptoms that I had suffered with for years.

I chant resolutely every day to overcome this disease and properly manage the symptoms. As part of several support groups, I provide my personal experience and share Buddhism with others who are struggling emotionally to cope with the disease.

My struggle to survive was once the cause of intense suffering. Today, the battle to improve my health is one I deeply appreciate and plays an important role in my work as a medical case manager helping patients find appropriate care.

There was a time when I didn’t see the value of my own life, but that has changed through my Buddhist practice. Recently I was appointed a vice chapter young women’s leader and am determined to develop my leadership abilities and be of great service to other members. With every step along the way, I can see myself getting stronger and more compassionate.

Through such self-transformation, my relationship with my family has also changed. My mother seeks to help me improve my health and has asked me how to chant! She’s even attended an SGI meeting. And, after years of being in toxic relationships, I now have a wonderful boyfriend who supports my Buddhist practice.

Through the lens of my mission for kosen-rufu, I now understand that my sufferings are not meaningless. As SGI President Ikeda says: “The fact that we have been born into this world means that we each have a unique purpose to fulfill. If we didn’t, we would not have been born. Nothing in the universe is without value. Everything has meaning” (Discussions on Youth, p. 284).

Toward the 50,000 Lions of Justice Festival, I’m determined to awaken three lions and help many other youth emerge in my organization so that they, too, will never be defeated in life. I am confident that if we each awaken one lion in this effort toward Sept. 23, we can and will change society.

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