Advancing With a Lion’s Ferocity
Ikeda Youth Ensemble Experience
Living Buddhism: Carlean, thank you for sharing your experience with us about participating in the 50,000 Lions of Justice Festival as an Ikeda Youth Ensemble member. How did you start practicing?
Carlean Foley: At the age of 17, I had a stroke following a car accident, which left part of my face paralyzed. Doctors were not optimistic about me regaining feeling in my face.
With encouragement from my mother, I decided to start chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo. After a couple months of chanting and medical treatment, I regained 95 percent of the feeling in my face. This was my first experience in faith.
What a profound experience to have at such a young age. How did you get involved in the SGI-USA youth performing groups?
Carlean: I started participating in the performing groups at age 11. I hated it. I was in the school band at the time, and I felt that the SGI performing groups didn’t sound as good. I was convinced that the only reason people applauded for us at meetings was because they felt sorry for us. Although I was pretty negative, I continued to engage in these activities through my mother’s encouragement. Looking back, the performing groups were what solidified my faith.
How wonderful. How were you involved in the 50K Ikeda Youth Ensemble?
Carlean: Earlier this year, I was asked if I could lead the Brass Band and Fife and Drum Corps for the Phoenix venue. To be honest, I wanted to challenge something new, since it was my last year in the young women’s division. After receiving guidance, I decided to fully take on this challenge of leading the music corps. I also decided to learn the trumpet. It was extremely difficult. Not only was I learning a new instrument, but there were many notes I couldn’t hit, and I had to memorize the music.
During the first national rehearsal weekend, I could see how much everyone was challenging themselves. Even the 11-year-olds were trying hard and battling their desire to give up.
We studied President Ikeda’s guidance together, especially, “Angels of Peace” and “Precepts for Brass Band,” written to the Fife and Drum Corps and Brass Band, respectively. We had open dialogue about our struggles and how to use faith and our efforts toward this performance to break through our challenges.
By the end of that weekend, we were all encouraging and supporting one another to persevere. On September 23, the music corps sounded amazing, and I was so happy to have been given the opportunity to support them. The greatest benefit was seeing the junior high and high school members grow in faith and develop lifelong friendships. When the performance was over, one of the future division members exclaimed: “We did it! We responded to Sensei!” I was so moved by their seriousness to respond to their mentor at such a young age.
What were you able to challenge personally as a result of fighting toward this festival?
Carlean: Everything about this festival came down to how I wanted to advance the next chapter of my life. Three months earlier, I got the courage to leave my job of nine years and start a career as a travel nurse. This was a big shift for me. Furthermore, through striving to uncover my true self in the process of fighting for 50K, I stopped denying who I was and came to a realization about my sexual orientation. Now I’m confidently taking action to find a partner with whom I can share my life.
I went into 50K thinking: How can I save the life of one other person? The person’s life that was saved was my own. In my favorite writing from Nichiren Daishonin, “Reply to Kyo’o,” he states, “The lion king is said to advance three steps, then gather himself to spring, unleashing the same power whether he traps a tiny ant or attacks a fierce animal” (The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, vol. 1, p. 412). I have always gathered myself to spring, but have never had the courage or confidence to pounce with a lion’s ferocity. The Lions of Justice campaign taught me how to take action for my own happiness.