After my sister Sun was diagnosed with ovarian cancer, she turned to faith — Catholic faith — to cope with her illness. During 4 agonizing years of battling cancer — chemotherapy, surgeries, and multiple trips to Germany for alternative treatments — she held onto her faith, reading the bible and becoming active in her church. She always kept her prayer card — a prayer by St. Francis of Assisi — next to her bed. Her faith helped her to survive for 4 years. In my own personal journey, I only seriously turned to my faith after Sun’s death, which forced me to become introspective. There is a part of me that feels enormously guilty that it took the tragedy of my sister’s death to wake me up to my faith. I confess that I am a work-in-progress, still experiencing days when I feel lost, questioning my faith. However, I know, in my heart, that the truth only exists at the core of my faith, and it is through my faith, that I will have any chance at reaching the light at the end of the tunnel.
Unfortunately, for most of us, our faith is dormant until some horrible tragedy happens in our lives (Sun and I are both members of this club). As people only visit their psychiatrists or therapists during the bad times, so is the same with our faith: we are more inclined to visit it during the bad times. Faith is not a miracle that just happens one day, but rather a process that takes place over time through inner cultivation. As Gandhi said, “faith is not something to grasp, it is a state to grow into,” so we have to nurture and practice it. Like wedding vows, we commit to our partner for better or worse, so is the same with our faith: we must commit to it in both bad and GOOD times. I stress good because those are the days when we like to abandon it.
It is important to nurture our faith during the good times because it prepares us for the bad times. Like saving our money so we can have it for those rainy days, we must cultivate our faith so we can have as much of it for those unexpected tragedies in our lives. If we start nurturing our faith during the hard times, we may not be mentally and emotionally armed to handle the situation in a constructive way. As a result, we might experience a shock to our mental and emotional system, which can have dire consequences. My husband recently told me about someone he knew, whose company went bankrupt, died of a heart attack due to the stress. While we can certainly sympathize and understand the devastation of losing a company, he was not able to overcome his stress because he was holding onto external things, i.e. his business, for his strength. If his inner core — faith — was strong, he would not likely have reached the point of stress which cost him his own life.
When your internal faith is so strong, you can lose everything — I mean everything — and you will be able to ride out any storm because your core is not shaken. When your center is anchored, you will be able to wake up the next morning knowing that there will be a better tomorrow. When someone experiences a heart attack due to stress, they are depending their happiness on something external, i.e. a business, so when it’s all gone, they can’t handle it. How about if we take that same external dependency and transfer it to an internal one, where now you are only dependent on your inner self. Do you think in this situation you will lose all faith and hope because your company went under? I think not. Inner faith makes you dependent only on yourself, so you realize that material wealth can be rebuilt and regained, so when you lose your business or anything material, while it can be devastating temporarily, it is not totally debilitating permanently. Furthermore, you know that there’s always another chance to bounce back and become stronger than before. When you are looking for external things as your safety net, then you are setting yourself up to fail because material things can easily vanish overnight. Then what happens, have a heart attack because of the stress? Inner faith is what keeps your center strong and, therefore, your life strong.
I read a story about a lady who used gambling to deal with problems in her life, and when she placed her family in hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt in which her life and that of her family’s appeared completely hopeless, she turned to her inner core. She not only credited her survival to her faith, but admitted that her relationship with her husband and her life were better than ever before due to her spirituality. She views her debt as a wonderful college education. It is only through her faith that she was able to take a dire situation and turn it around to live her happiest life. How remarkable is that?
Faith is not some ungraspable mystical force, but simply an introspective process where you find and depend all your strength on your inner self. The best way to find your faith is through meditation and prayer, which can be simple and practical. It is just an inner examination of discovering the love within yourself by tapping into something higher than yourself. Practicing meditation or prayer does not necessarily mean going to church or sitting on the yoga mat for hours chatting “ohmmms.” It can be 10 or 15 minutes of silent introspection in the morning or being mindful throughout the day, every day. Many times when I just walk down a street, I find beauty in random things and appreciate life at any moment, which I call Zen Moments (i.e. Moon’s Zen Moments). In those moments, I am aware of the magic of the Universe and how God has blessed us with such wonderful treasures to sustain us every day. Thich Nhat Hahn, one of our greatest Buddhist masters, says,” Peace is present right here and now, in ourselves and in everything we do and see. The question is whether or not we are in touch with it,” so we can choose to see and appreciate every second of our lives as blessings, which makes our center peaceful and strong. These “zen moments” could be 5, 10 or 15 seconds, where you’re mindful and aware of everything around you. It is in these Zen Moments that I feel so centered, where I can let go of everything and everyone because my inner core tells me that all will be fine no matter what happens. So faith does not have to be esoteric, but can be nurtured and practiced in a very practical way.
In your journey to discover your faith, it is common to have what they call “dark” or “dry” periods in which you feel that you are not connected with yourself or the Universe. This is a natural state that comes and goes like a passing storm, so do not worry and feel that the Universe has abandoned you. It is in such times you should keep steadfast in your faith, so don’t give up. There are many moments when I felt the darkness, but when I returned to my faith, I felt it was stronger than before.
Over years of practice, you will feel that your faith is growing more naturally and consistently to your being, so when stressful situations arise, you are able to handle them more flawlessly and seamlessly. Make your house of faith strong by practicing and nurturing it during the bad and good times, so you can handle anything in life that comes your way!
By Moon Cho, Creator of Ying & Yang Living