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Seeking Heart

Battling for hope, I revive old joys and tap new strength.

Love and passion—Eugenia Chen and her son, Erik, in Anaheim, Calif., May 2024. Photo by Yvonne Ng.

by Eugenia Chen
Anaheim, Calif. 

As my husband was wheeled into the operating room, I paced, chanting under my breath for his heart. At some point, a doctor came in and introduced herself as the one who would be leading the surgery. “I promise,” she said before leaving, “your child will have a father.” I was seven months pregnant at the time.

She found me in the waiting room the next day, bent at its unmanned check-in desk, over a sprawl of notes and paperwork—the bones of the theme park and toy design projects my husband and I had taken on together as business partners. I was determined: both he and the business would survive.

My SGI family was extremely supportive—chanting, studying and talking with me. It was just under a month I spent back and forth between home and my waiting room “office,” but that month felt like a year. We will not be in the hospital at the same time, I determined. Indeed, he was released just a couple weeks before I went into labor. In April 2014, I gave birth to a healthy boy, Erik, with my husband at my side. And so began the real battle. 

After the heart attack, something changed between my husband and me. The difference was subtle at first, but became more apparent with time. Small things triggered big arguments, and this happened more often, with growing intensity. Soon, even my chanting became a source of conflict. Seeking to minimize conflict, I stopped chanting and stopped inviting others over. That is, until one particularly heated argument brought me to the Gohonzon, for the first time in months, where I broke down in tears. After a while, I started chanting, and felt my resolve coming back to life within me. I didn’t know how to transform the situation, but I knew in my heart that this was where I could begin to make a difference. I had to—for myself and my son. 

Realizing it was time to leave my marriage, I filed for divorce. However, the divorce proceedings only spawned additional conflicts. Each hearing, each mediation was intensely emotional. Moreover, they seemed endless; all in all, they lasted four years. A year in, I had my first panic attack—so severe that I checked myself into a hospital. This continued throughout the proceedings. 

The women’s division members were a source of tremendous strength. They visited weekly to chant and study. I remember in particular reading the story of a woman whose husband drank heavily and gambled away the money she’d saved for a home. Destitute, she based everything on faith and decided to take full responsibility for transforming her situation. Incredibly, she did—her husband became a true friend, and she went on to become not only financially secure but wealthy (see The Wisdom of the Lotus Sutra, vol. 6, pp. 182–86).

I began to chant with the same resolve as the woman in this story. Instead of complaining about my situation, I put the question to the Gohonzon: Today, what can I actually do? 

I was in district leadership at the time, a time of heightened anxiety for everyone whose lives had been disrupted by the pandemic. Given that the district is a microcosm of society, it’s a given that the tensions rocking the world could be found in my district. Speaking with each person, I realized that these were not problems I could tackle with reason alone. I listed out the challenges faced by each person in my district, put it on my altar and chanted for their happiness and victory. I did the same for my son and my husband.

Every hearing I entered into, I entered with a prayer to create the best outcome for everyone, especially our son. As my heart began to open, my husband and I began to move steadily toward a resolution. And as my heart opened, so did opportunities in other areas of my life.

Working on her art at home, Anaheim, Calif., May 2024. Photo by Yvonne Ng.

Right before the pandemic hit, I’d secured a contract with a multinational entertainment conglomerate, where, during the pandemic, I was promoted to senior director of experience business developments across Asia. At first, I doubted I was up for the task. Surely, I’d be called upon to enter high stakes, high intensity negotiations with clients and competition alike. Upon consideration, however, I saw it for the opportunity that it was. Playing a central role in negotiating major destination developments, I could build bridges of friendship between East and West—a legacy for future generations. And besides, I was quite prepared for such confrontations; I could approach them as I had every conflict for the preceding seven years—with prayer.

Around the time the divorce was settled, I did my first home visit in quite some time. Chanting, I saw on the altar of this friend in faith a list just like the one I had at home—of the names of every member in our district. While the pandemic had damaged so many communities, it was clear to me that it had strengthened ours. And I noted that I’d persevered over the challenges written on that list beside my name.

When the divorce was settled in 2021, I found myself sitting with a question I’d stopped asking long ago: What fulfills me? 

Forget about passion. Forget about fulfillment. For years, I’d been in a mode of survival. But now I had some time to chant about what I wanted. 

And what came to mind was a childhood memory of myself completely absorbed in the task of sketching animals at the zoo. I’m not sure why this made me cry, but it did. I’d loved art for its own sake, once. Where had that love gone? I began making art again, inspired by what had inspired me in childhood. 

This prayer did not end with me. I began chanting about how I could give back from my renewed love of art. From this arose a prayer to work with young people.

Last year, in the fall, I was watching a TV program about the famed artist Herb Ryman, Walt Disney’s right-hand man, when the phone rang. It was the Ryman Foundation, inviting me to join their Board of Directors. If I accepted, I would help shape their summer youth programs, free for anyone admitted, and mentor the students. I said yes. 

In many ways, I’m busier today than ever. However, everything I do, I do from my heart. Leading with a seeking spirit, everything becomes part of the creative process: working with students, raising my son, co-parenting with my ex-husband, running my own business and directing international projects. With appreciation, all become opportunities to tap reservoirs of wisdom and kindred spirit from within.

June 21, 2024, World Tribune, p. 5

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