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Dreams in the Making

Encountering Buddhism, I recall the dreams that once made life worth living and realize them all.

Bright future—Christopher Robin Donaldson with his daughter, Aeris, and wife, Maggy, in Denver, November 2023. Photo by Alex Segall.

by Christopher Robin Donaldson

As much laughter and love as there was in my childhood, there was also a great deal of pain. My father left our  family when I was 6. My mother, a true punk rocker, actress and singer, raised me and my sister on her own as best as she could for as long as she could afford it, but she was unable to protect me from abuse by another family member soon after my father left. The abuse eventually ended, but left scars that only deepened with time. I brought them with me to Denver, where I moved at 10 to live with my father.

In 2009, at 19, a bad breakup brought my depression to new lows. After a blowout fight with my father ended in police intervention, I left home to stay on a friend’s couch. There, I decided I’d had enough. I bought 100 extra-strength Tylenols, swallowed them and waited.  

I wrestled with my decision, a difficult one for me, Christopher Robin, named after that great friend of the animal kingdom—of Tigger, Piglet and Winnie the Pooh. I’d cherished a dream of world peace since childhood, for all the earth’s creatures to get along. But this dream felt impossibly distant and vague. It seemed to me that the best thing I could do for the world was take myself out of it.

Somehow, I hoped, this would set off a positive chain reaction that would make the world a better place. But as I lay dying, I suddenly realized there was no logic in that. It made more sense to live doing my best to create happiness, rather than hoping my suicide would get others to do what I myself had given up on. I decided to call 911. In the emergency room, I reflected on the dreams I’d given up on. There were eight in total:
1) Write my own musical; 2) make my own film; 3) become a professional stage and film actor; 4) become a teacher; 5) meet the love of my life; 6) own a house; 7) earn a college degree; 8) start a family.

Six years later, however, I’d made no progress on any of my dreams and was self-medicating with marijuana to cope with intense anxiety and depression. I was engaged and privately hoping for marriage to bring me the happiness I hadn’t found.

It was my father who brought me to my first Buddhist meeting. Someone at work had extended the invitation. “Not really my thing,” he told me, “but sounds like something you’d be into.”

I remember walking into the Denver Culture Center, the door held open by a smiling young man in a shirt and tie, into the most diverse room of people I’d ever seen. They were talking, laughing. I thought, I want to feel as happy as they look. 

I chanted Nam-myoho-renge-kyo daily for the next 90 days and began to feel what I hadn’t in a long time: purpose and joy. I began to ask myself again, What do I want to accomplish? 

In fall 2015, I left Denver to move in with my fiancée in Chicago. I hadn’t been there three days, however, when I discovered she’d betrayed my trust. Every day that followed, my heart seesawed between two options: stay and work it out or leave and move on. Oddly, when I opened up to one of the young men’s leaders there, he encouraged me, saying: “Oh, you’re trying to change your karma! In that case, let’s do Soka Group together!”

Chanting and taking action for others helped me get out of my own head. For the first time, I centered my life on the Gohonzon, Buddhist study and SGI activities. As I did, I began to see my life clearly. I held grudges—against my fiancée, sister, mother and father. I realized these grudges stemmed from my deep-rooted disbelief in others’ capacity to change. But as I supported SGI meetings in the Soka Group, I grew and saw others develop, too. I soon let go of my grudges and the expectation—hidden from me until then—that someone else would fulfill me. This freed up an immense amount of energy, which I directed toward what I truly wanted. 

In spring 2016, I returned to Colorado, found a good-paying job and became indispensable there. I also enrolled in the Denver Center of Performing Arts where I honed my craft as an actor for the next three years. I also sponsored 10 friends in receiving the Gohonzon.

In 2019, I read the following from Ikeda Sensei: 

People’s desires are limitless. There is the basic desire to live. There is also the instinctual desire for food, the materialistic desire for possessions and the psychological desire to be noticed. … We could not live without desires. Often, desires generate the energy that enables us to move forward and improve ourselves. … The key question, therefore, is how we direct our desires. (

I still had many goals—eight in particular—that I’d yet to fulfill. As ever, I knew the most immediate path to personal breakthroughs lay in building fortune by practicing for others. I did as many Gajokai shifts as I possibly could, and from there, things began to unfold swiftly and naturally.

I met Maggy, the love of my life, in December 2019, in the first play I ever acted in. She and I then wrote and produced our own movie musical, which won an honorable mention from the New York Movie Awards. Soon after, I was cast in an independent film, which played on the big screen. On Oct. 2, World Peace Day, 2021, I married Maggy, and the following year became a teaching artist at the Denver Center for the Performing Arts. Maggy and I bought a home in August 2022. Our daughter, Aeris, was born healthy last April. This past December, I graduated from the Community College of Denver with an associate of arts degree in philosophy. 

Photo by Alex Segall

In other words, in my nine years of faith, I have made every single one of the dreams on my list come true. We have many more dreams, Maggy and I, and we’re moving toward them day by day, with morning and evening gongyo as the central rhythm of our lives. Our prayers today are determinations: to strive toward our dreams each day, to grow together with those around us, to live long enough to see our daughter grow old and to live based on a vow to make the impossible possible. 

January 19, 2024, World Tribune, p. 5

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