A Life of #NoLimits
Kayla Green challenges her anxiety and transforms into a young women who gives boundless hope and courage to others.
Living Buddhism: Thank you for sharing your experience with us. Can you tell us about your life before you started practicing?
Kayla Green: I was diagnosed with depression and anxiety when I was 16 years old. I didn’t have many friends and, when my closest friend left for college, she cut off all ties with me. I felt betrayed and abandoned. To cope with my anxiety, I starved myself regularly and even attempted to take my life.
I believed the only way to protect myself from being hurt was to build walls around me that ensured no one could get to know the real me. I decided that I would be better off without friends altogether, so in college, I avoided interacting with others. After graduating, in 2014, I completed my first year as a special education teacher. I was finally independent and living on my own, but I was still miserable. Every day, I worked and went home; that was it. I had no real connections.
This must have been such a difficult time for you. How were you introduced to the SGI?
Kayla: In 2013, I attended a festival in Atlanta where the SGI had a booth. I took a flyer and looked at the website, but I was too scared to attend a meeting on my own. The following year, I attended the same festival, and I remember actively looking for “those Buddhists” again. I was tired of being isolated and fearful all the time. I was seeking something to help me change that. This time around, I spoke with the woman at the booth and learned about an upcoming introduction-to-Buddhism meeting. I mustered the courage to attend the meeting and was immediately connected to a local district. I started attending SGI activities and read as much as I could about Buddhism. I also started chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo on my own for a few minutes every day. I desperately wanted to overcome my anxiety, so I decided to receive the Gohonzon on December 7, 2014.
What piqued your interest in Buddhism?
Kayla: I had read before about Buddhist philosophy and resonated with the concept of karma and the idea that my life wasn’t predestined—that I chose the outcome. I actually considered myself Buddhist but didn’t know how to put it into practice until I found the SGI. At one of my first meetings, I knew that I had discovered what I had been searching for when we discussed the principle of “cherry, plum, peach and damson,” which teaches that just as we are, we each possess the qualities of enlightenment. Moreover, the district women’s leaders embraced me with their warmth and care, and for the first time in a long time, I felt connected to others.
How did your life change in the process?
Kayla: My interactions with my students changed. I had one student who had low communication skills, and I often got frustrated with him. Through chanting, I started to see not only his weaknesses but also his strengths as an individual. He didn’t change, I did. When I opened my eyes to his potential, our relationship transformed. In fact, to this day, he remains one of my favorite students. This experience was eye-opening for me. I realized that I was in control of how I experienced my life.
As I continued to practice, I was given the opportunity to take on leadership responsibilities within the organization. I really wanted to challenge the anxiety that prevented me from developing true friendships. My district women’s leaders encouraged me to test my limits by participating as emcee or sharing my thoughts at discussion meetings. It was instilled in me from the beginning of my practice that no effort for kosen-rufu was ever wasted and that every struggle would turn into a golden memory and serve as a reminder of my growth.
Although I wanted to support other members, I dreaded going to smaller meetings, because I knew that I would be asked to share my opinions. I often cried on my way home, afraid of what my co-leaders thought of me. Shortly after becoming a chapter leader, I remember having a panic attack after sharing my experience. Even though my internal struggle was excruciating at times, I knew that my anxiety was not the result of my leadership or the people around me, but rather a tendency that existed deep in my life. My Buddhist practice enabled me to continue fighting against my own inner darkness, the part of me that felt I didn’t deserve happiness. I chanted for courage and to be like the sun that could illuminate the lives around me.
How encouraging! What has happened since then?
Kayla: In the midst of my internal battle, to my greatest surprise, I was named Teacher of the Year at my school and was asked to take on more leadership responsibility in the SGI. My life was expanding faster than I could keep up with! I felt like the universe was screaming at me to open my eyes and acknowledge my capability.
At the start of 2017, I set big goals for myself to completely overcome my anxiety and have a harmonious family. Within the first week of the New Year, my parents separated, and my mom needed a place to live. My mother suffers from several chronic illnesses and cannot work or drive. With nowhere else to go, she moved in with me.
My relationship with my father became strained to the point that I began avoiding any contact with him. This resentment toward him made my chronic pain worse than ever. I felt so overwhelmed by my circumstances that I often had to redetermine, sometimes several times in the same day, that I was not going to give up.
What did you do?
Kayla: I had come so far; I couldn’t give into doubt now. I knew I had a mission to overcome all of these things not only for myself, my family and my students, but also so that I could share the power of this practice with others. In the midst of this, I was asked to take on more leadership responsibility. At this time, I engraved this quote from Nichiren Daishonin in my heart: “You are also a practitioner of the Lotus Sutra and your faith is like the waxing moon or the rising tide. Be deeply convinced that your illness cannot possibly persist and that your life cannot fail to be extended. Take care of yourself and do not burden your mind with grief” (“The Bow and Arrow,” The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, vol. 1, p. 656).
I was encouraged to use the SGI-USA’s campaign to gather 50,000 Lions of Justice in September 2018 as an expedient means to help me actualize my own personal dreams. I realized my constant battle with anxiety and self-doubt prevented me from taking action toward my goals. I used my health problems, family struggles and leadership responsibilities as excuses for why I couldn’t accomplish my dreams.
I realized that if Mystic Law is boundless and limitless, I needed to believe that I was boundless and limitless. I began a personal campaign that I called #nolimits, and I made up my mind in front of the Gohonzon that I was going to win.
How did making this determination change your life?
Kayla: Shortly after starting #nolimits, I learned that I would be one of the 200 participants to attend the SGI-USA Youth Training Course in Japan. I was also asked to share my experience at an exchange meeting in Kansai in front of more than 700 people. This terrified me, but based on my #nolimits campaign, I decided not to hold back. I chanted with the fierce determination that I would represent all the young women of South Zone and create a new prime point with my mentor, SGI President Ikeda. When I got onstage, I felt a profound sense of calm. The 700 people in the room disappeared and all I felt was Sensei’s compassion for my life. I felt as if he were telling me that I didn’t have to worry about anything anymore, that I could be myself—that I was good enough.
President Ikeda writes, “When one is completely dedicated to the path of mentor and disciple, he or she experiences no doubt or confusion, no uncertainty or fear” (My Dear Friends in America, third edition, p. 486). This was the first time that I truly understood those words.
What a moving experience. What has your life been like since you returned?
Kayla: Since having this realization about my life, I have not experienced any major anxiety. For the first time, I have confidence in my life and conviction in my mission.
Toward September, I am working toward victories in work, health and family.
As an educator for the deaf and hard of hearing, I believe that the mission of teachers is to develop children into capable people who contribute to society in a way that is true to themselves. I am determined to create an environment that values the whole child so that every student has hope for their future, loves learning and believes that they have the ability to achieve their dreams.
As for my family, my mother is doing well, and I no longer resent my father. I am determined to strengthen our bonds and create a harmonious family. Furthermore, I am determined that my sister and brother will attend the Lions of Justice Festival.
The fear that I used to feel has transformed into the most wonderful joy. I want my life to be an example for the young women of South Zone that someone can overcome deep suffering and become absolutely happy. This practice has taught me how to fight for my own happiness, and I will ensure that lions of South Zone will emerge and fight together for the happiness of all!