Spiritual Muscle; How To Develop Yours
by Jenny Leigh Hodgins
People think I have a large life. My energy commands a room. But it’s not intentional. In fact, sometimes I think I have two personalities.
And, no, I'm not schizophrenic.
I developed my exterior confidence through my job as a music educator, and my role as a Buddhist facilitator. Directing, leading and teaching large groups of people performing music, and facilitating faith-based activities with diverse groups provided abundant training.
When I’ve had the opportunity to lead, there was no room for ego or attention to myself. There was a task to do. I’ve honed that skill to focus on the task at hand without regard to my personal feelings.
I appreciate this skill.
It enabled me to achieve more as a teacher, chorus conductor, faith leader and performing musician. It allowed me to see beyond myself and do more than I would have otherwise envisioned had I stopped to ponder my capability.
Battling An Attack of Self-Doubt
On the flip side, my alter-ego is debilitatingly shy and constantly fighting doubt. Through sheer life experience and in particular debt to my SGI-USA Buddhist philosophy, I’ve managed to function well—beyond my insecurity.
But it relentlessly attacked me when least expected with insomnia. Even when I thought I’d confronted my inner demons, fear and doubt insidiously assaulted my thoughts until the wee hours of morning.
I’d combat it with my intellect, of course. I spoke to myself with a voice of calmness about reality and fool-proof strategies to turn away my inner demons. I distracted myself with reading, deep breathing and imagery of relaxed, happy visions.
I chanted my Buddhist mantra while attempting to empty the barrage of negativity swirling in my brain. I got out of bed and stretched. I wrote my thoughts in my journal. I fought the battle until 3am, despite exhaustion.
Finally, I’d drift off for about three hours of rest.
In the morning, it would all seem perfectly stupid. In the light of day, my evening struggle seemed like a mirage. Except that I was depleted for two days afterwards.
Making Headway By Forging Inner Strength
This darkness beat at my inner doors all my life. I’ve dramatically lessened the effects of it. It used to cause such stomach-upset agony I couldn’t function beyond bed-rest. It caused me to develop respiratory issues. I had no stamina against this demon.
I continued consistently battling it from the inside out with my determined prayer. I forced myself through the exact experiences that caused me anxiety, repeatedly. I forged directly through anxiety until I incrementally gained strength over it.
I no longer have those anxiety attacks that shook my whole body with nausea or stomach pain. I no longer get respiratory illness or stage fright. I have no qualms about public speaking, performing, or facilitating. I've led hundreds of groups as a music educator and chorus conductor, performed in front of thousands as a vocalist/pianist, and spoken in front of countless audiences from musical to community events, from weddings to funerals and beyond.
I don’t worry about what people think of me anymore. All those battles forged my strength and grew my confidence.
As Eleanor Roosevelt said, “You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, 'I lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.'
Notably, when I’m striving to reach a personal goal, or break through to a new level of success in any aspect of my life, my doubts rear their ugliness to challenge me.
That’s how I know I’m on the right track.
A Strong Opponent Builds Your Spiritual Muscle
My Buddhist practice confirms this is a sign of my inner growth; I’m pushing myself beyond comfort and growing my capacity larger than before. There should be some fear or doubt because...I’m human. I’m tackling new and bold territory.
I’m on to these twin evils (fear and doubt). They appear so I may open the path to my future with my true essence—my inner power fueled by belief in the human heart. My heart.
There’s resistance so I may develop spiritual muscle. These most powerful opponents enable me to forge my full potential. Anything easy would not warrant a victory celebration.
I wage on—with a resolute vow to never give up until I win absolute victory over every new challenge. I know it is always a test of my faith. A chance for me to see how my determined prayer—starting from the inner realm—manifests in tangible, conspicuous external proof, based on the interconnectedness of life.
I just have to do the inner work first.
Take that, doubt and fear. Take THAT.
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