This is what it means to finish strong

It’s always a privilege to be asked to share my experience as a practitioner of Nichiren Buddhism. It’s a remarkable practice based on the philosophy that as humans, we have the potential to experience absolute happiness at any given time in our lives. Earlier this week on Monday, January 16th, I talked about my personal tendency to pour my efforts into actions but tapering down at the end when it matters the most. But if I’m pushing myself to sprint through the finish line at every race I run, I need to apply that to my life as well.

Good evening. I’m Riri, a user experience (UX) designer, researcher, writer, runner, SGI member and a lifelong practitioner of Nichiren Buddhism from New York City. I’m delighted to share my story of what it means to change my karma, especially the ones we tell ourselves about that we’ll eventually get to, and how I ended 2016 with a slam!

Last October, I shared an experience about using this practice to overcome my fears and building the confidence to do things that truly frightened me, such as making a big career transition into design and dealing with family tension. Grounding my daimoku (daily prayers) in conviction led to humongous breakthroughs.

One of my karmic tendencies, however, is to reach that stage of euphoric breakthroughs and then semi-abandoning the practice because, “I already did my best so now, I’ll just take it easy.” The same thing happens when I race. If I’m running a 5K (3.1 miles) I’ll steadily pace myself for three miles and then taper down my efforts in the end because I already did most of the work.

As we were nearing the end of the year, I found myself falling into that trap again. I wasn’t chanting as much, I ran less (in fact, not at all for three weeks straight) and capitalized on any excuse that decided to show up in my life. I was starting to feel the burnout from not seeing the results I wanted. I started feeling discouraged and stopped trying.

Since I designated 2016 as the year that I overcome my fears and make causes for mountainous breakthroughs, I focused on my daimoku so that I could continue to have victories all the way until the end and finish the year strong. This meant that I needed to chant fiercely with each “Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo” echoing vibrantly in my heart (but not too loudly because in NYC, our neighbors are intimately close and we don’t want to upset them).

After qualifying for the NYC marathon in October, which I will run this November, I decided to race more and ended the year completing a total of twelve races (three more than required). In addition, I completed my first design project outside of my full-time job with three incredibly talented individuals. Even though we had disagreements and faced challenges, we maintained solid team harmony.

Finally, I chanted (prayed) to attend The Tonight Show, something I have wanted to do for the longest time and couldn’t because tickets always sell out within seconds. Of all episodes I could have attended, I had the fortune of going to the one that Tony Bennett performed live, an experience I will treasure for life. I can confidently say that every single day up to December 31st was full of joyful wins.

While we are on the topic of finishing strong, all this means nothing if we don’t carry it out to 2017, right? I completed my first race of the year last Saturday on January 7th in 22-degree weather with another SGI member, Bethany (who I might mention is a beast, a lion and a queen rolled into one). We won against the dreaded cold and I shed off 30 seconds from my best distance mile pace.

I was also given the opportunity to enroll in another design program and have the $700 fee waived if I agreed to write blog posts for them, which is great because I can work on another project to build my portfolio while writing about the process. As both a designer and a writer, this victory was a huge confidence booster. Not too bad for being 16 days in!

I love this practice because we’re constantly given many opportunities in this lifetime to face our karmic tendencies and change them with daimoku. But to be real, I’m not done. There are still many tendencies that keep nagging me uncomfortably. I’m scared to face them and you might feel the same way about yours. Let’s take it one step at a time (there’s nothing wrong with that) but also be committed to challenging them. We already have the conviction within us that anything can be overcome with daimoku and this brilliant ecosystem of encouragement as support.



[The content has been slightly edited from the original experience shared for non-Buddhist audiences and clarity.]
Showing 4 comments
  • eileen

    oh this is all so amazing! i love how much you’ve done in such a short amount of time! i will look at those links once i have some time, but i will note that i love how personal and open your writing has become. it’s very encouraging to see what you’ve pushed through and overcome. so many great things have happened for you and it all come from your hard work, perseverance, and this wonderful practice you have. i’ve always admired your and chelsea’s religion, it’s a lot more self-improving compared to the catholicism i was raised in where you can go to a priest and have your sins absolved if you practice contrition. it’s a nice thought to know you can be forgiven for any offense as long as you’re remorseful, but the whole clearing of the slate doesn’t quite encourage betterment. anyway these are awesome accomplishments to have on top of your full-time job! it looks like you’re on your way to a fulfilling, more passionate career and i’m really happy for you!

    i’d love to catch up with you at some point in the city and see what else you’ve been up to, if you’re interested. i actually want to invite you to a performance i’m doing in jersey city next month. totally out of my wheelhouse & anxious AF, but i’d love for you to be there! in any case, i can’t wait to read more about your endeavors and adventures! i’m rooting for you and as always, love your writing!

    • Riri Nagao

      Hey Eileen!

      Thank you so much for your heartfelt comment. I was so flattered when you said that my writing has evolved and became more personal. That’s what I’ve been aiming for and I still experience imposter syndrome as a writer. I wonder when I’ll wake up and someone will call me out but I will continue to live believing that I’m a good writer! Hahaha!

      It’s definitely an incredible practice and I can’t wait to share more about it with you. The emphasis is really on the humanistic philosophy that serves as the foundation. As humans, we all have made causes in our life (whether it is from a past lifetime or present) that led us to where we are today and that includes causes that led us to our struggles. The beautiful thing is that we’re able to change our circumstances in this lifetime and find happiness through that process of growing.

      Looking forward to catching up with you later this month! No coffee for us in the evening because we’ll never get to sleep!

  • George Kataoka

    Thanks for sharing this, Riri! Yes, 2017 will be epic. And I can’t believe you got to go to the Tonight Show!

    • Riri Nagao

      Oh George, I can’t explain how starstruck I felt as I watched Tony Bennett perform. It was one of the most incredible experiences I’ve had in life. I’m looking forward to a great 2017 and you’re coming to cheer for me in November – no choice!

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