What is the secret to successfully crossing the bridge from domestic violence to thriving and finding joy? Tina Turner did it. Elizabeth Gilbert did it. They embraced the empowering teachings of Buddha to reach their full potential.
I started seeking a teacher who could explain the mystery of Buddhism ~ someone who could tell me why Buddhas are either laughing or serene ~ someone who could show me the link between peace at home and peace in the world. I was ready, but the teacher didn’t appear for a very long time.
Since I’m perpetually finding answers where I least expect them, I wasn’t surprised that my teacher appeared at a writing class. I went to the class to network with someone who did the same type of corporate consulting that I used to do.
On March 17, 2009, I was exceedingly fortunate to hear Michael Lisagor speak at a Field’s End Roundtable on Bainbridge Island, Washington. When he introduced his lovely wife Trude, I knew grace was in the room. And, I knew that they would show me how to have lasting, loving relationships.
Michael Lisagor credits his wife Trude for helping him successfully cross the bridge from childhood chaos to joyful life. For over 40 years, they’ve embraced the empowering teachings of Buddhism to reach their full potential.
They have graciously and generously shared their wisdom with me.
How Do We Do More than Just Survive?
Instinctively, I knew that I would find an abundance of healing answers in Michael’s book Romancing the Buddha: Embracing Buddhism in My Everyday Life:
. . .in some fashion most of us grew up in dysfunctional families. And, we most likely attended some dysfunctional schools and worked in one or more dysfunctional organizations. So, how do we, as individuals, do more than just survive?
– Michael Lisagor
Child Abuse to Enlightened Compassion
Michael is a survivor of an abusive childhood. He and Trude ran away from home together in 1969 on the day Trude graduated from high school:
Trude became my sweetheart but also provided me with the emotional stability I needed at that time. . .we were perfect mirrors for each other.
. . .we lacked vital communication skills. I struggled with depression and she struggled with me. . .working an eight-hour day [was] beyond my emotional grasp. . .I thought she was too judgmental and she was tired of me being so irresponsible.
Although they were reared in the Jewish faith, they began practicing Nichiren Buddhism:
We had run away from home in 1969 seeking love, peace, happiness and, in my case, freedom from responsibility. . .we realized that we couldn’t just survive on our ideals.
Most survivors of child abuse have difficulty forming lasting and loving relationships and families. The winds of adversity frequently sink their life’s ship:
My parents weren’t very watchful, and I lacked some of the basic survival skills necessary to excel in our modern society. . .ill-equipped to help me.
Yet, Trude and Michael are an amazingly inspiring couple. Michael calls Trude his “pillar,” “source of strength,” and “Most Beautiful One:”
. . .this is the woman I love more than anyone or anything in the world. This is my karmic mate ~ we’ve chanted together almost every day for twenty-seven years. . .the love I have for this woman really does know no limits.
Our Surroundings Are a Reflection of Our Life
Their marriage is an equal, unified partnership. They reared their girls to expect to be treated with dignity and respect, and both girls have “well-developed self-images.” Their faith has helped them to weather adversity:
. . .our surroundings are a reflection of our life. Through chanting and then taking action, we can manifest our enlightenment. . .when we chant, we are more in rhythm with our environment.
It’s important to romance the Buddha not just in ourselves but in those around us. . .
I was determined, as a father and husband, to try even harder to give my wife and children a supportive and warm environment so that they could display their full capabilities. . .
We need to show our children that they can make a positive impact on the world. That’s the real challenge of being a parent.
. . .they are truly loved. This, I believe, is the greatest gift a parent has to give: Never forget that you are always loved.
Michael struggles with depression, and Trude has MS. Although this would sink most marriages, Michael and Trude perceive their challenges as an opportunity to make a difference.
My minor weekly stab of pain has become a major shot of hope.
– Trude Lisagor
Four years ago, the couple brought Walk MS to Bainbridge Island. This year 350 people participated in the three-mile walk and raised a record $97,000. Bravo!
In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity.
– Albert Einstein
Catalysts for Change
In 1996, indestructible, independent, and invincible Trude woke up barely able to walk. She was diagnosed with MS. The fear of losing Trude caused Michael’s pain from the suicide of his mentor and friend to surface:
. . .Trude discovered me lying down almost comatose, unable to move. I had fallen into an extremely depressed state, the kind of loneliness and helplessness I had experienced as a child and teenager. I was clearly in need of help. . .
I discovered that the messages I had assimilated as a child from an angry and abusive father and a disinterested mother had greatly influenced my opinion of myself. As an adult, many of my actions continued to reflect these childhood impressions. The behaviors that protected me as a child were no longer necessary or desirable. . .to hide behind a wall of humor and sarcasm. . .
Most of my intellectual and spiritual upbringing came from books. . .reading biographies and wishing that I could just close my eyes and become someone else. . .someone in control of his life, able to really function in society.
. . .I’ve learned that every child wants a million dollars of effective parenting from their mother and father. . .Buddhism and therapy became about learning how to parent my inner self. As I romanced the Buddha in my life, I started to learn how to forgive adolescent me and rely more on enlightened me:
Add your own uniqueness to the tapestry of human life.
– Michael Lisagor
Romancing the Buddha: Supportive and Warm Environments
The Lisagors have instilled the message of love in their children. On Father’s Day, 1999, Michael presented his daughters with guidelines for life:
- Never forget that you are always loved.
- Learn to accept your joys and your sorrows.
- Face your fears ~ most of them will prevent you from expanding your life ~ don’t let your fears paralyze you ~ come to me for a hug.
- Don’t be afraid to dream big ~ work hard every day ~ be diligent. Sometimes you’ll succeed and sometimes you’ll fail.
- Communicate ~ engage in honest dialogue. No one said we have to do it all alone.
- Be nice to others ~ have compassion. Speak out against injustice. Do not tolerate abuse.
- Make your spiritual development a lifetime journey. Respect other’s uniqueness.
- Always know you have a father who loves you more than life itself.
I deeply regret not posting these guidelines on Father’s Day. I am humbled and deeply grateful that Michael opted to share his wisdom and love with the universe.
All humans have an enlightened or Buddha nature.
Nichiren Buddhism 101
Michael and Trude practice Nichiren Buddhism which is based on the Lotus Sutra and urges the chanting of the phrase Nam-myoho-renge-kyo. Michael’s spiritual and life mentor is Daisaku Ikeda, the third president of the Soka Gakkai International (SGI), a Buddhist lay organization which was founded in Japan.
Michael took much of the mystery out of Buddhism for me and simplified the philosophy in terms I can comprehend:
. . .personal and social transformation. . .begins with people taking responsibility for their own lives and gradually projecting their increased wisdom, courage and compassion into their surroundings. . .Buddhism empowers us to reach our full potential.
World peace is achieved as people fill their lives with compassion and purpose.
The chant is Nam-myoho-renge-kyo:
- Nam means fusion.
- Myoho functions as universal truth.
- Renge is Japanese for lotus flower ~ the beautiful lotus flower grows out of a muddy swamp. This is a metaphor for the beautiful lives we can create by overcoming our problems.
- Kyo allows us to put our lives in harmony with the universe.
Words spoken from the heart have the power to change a person’s life.
They can even melt the icy walls of mistrust that separate peoples and nations.
– Daisaku Ikeda
Michael Lisagor is a business consultant, author, and photographer. In addition to Romancing the Buddha, he has written The Enlightened Manager and Winning and Managing Government Business. Click here to watch a video of his one-man show. Trude Lisagor teaches sixth grade, paints, and has written Small Things: Words from My Namesake. Click here to watch her book launch party. I have used their art to illustrate this post (except for the lotus flower).
© 2010 by Anne Caroline Drake and Michael and Trude Lisagor
All rights reserved and strictly enforced.