Saturday, October 19, 2013

Kate Randolph's Experience of Absolute Victory in Life and Career

Kate Randolph

This experience is based upon several pivotal concepts, which, through my Buddhist practice, have revolutionized my life.  First, “Faith lies in continuing.” Second, “No prayer of a votary of the Lotus Sutra goes unanswered.”  And the third has to do with confidence, true, real, absolute, unshakeable confidence: how to get it, how important it is, and how destructive we can be to ourselves and others when we don’t have it. 

I began practicing Nichiren Buddhism 37 years ago. I was extremely skeptical.   Although still very young, I was already a jaded New Yorker.   I had given up on many of my dreams. I was a young girl with a lot of health issues and a profound lack of self-confidence.  At the same time, I had a strong desire to make a difference in the world.   Much to my surprise, I experienced dramatic changes in the first year of my practice.  There were undeniable conspicuous benefits.  Recurring health problems disappeared completely, I got a wonderful part-time job doing gratifying work that supported me while I pursued a professional acting career, and I had the opportunity to study in London (which had always been a dream of mine) and live rent-free with a young English woman who practiced Buddhism. 

After several years of practice I began to hit up against walls; what I might now describe as the “walls of my karma.”  I suffered deeply over a lack of self-worth.  My identity was strongly based upon, and wrapped up in, what I did for a living.  When I wasn’t acting I felt like a failure, a loser.  My lack of self-worth would emerge and paralyze me.  

At one of these junctures a chapter leader, and dear friend, said to me, with great conviction: “If you commit unwaveringly to this practice and never stop seeking, put the practice in the center of your life and make it the foundation of everything you do,  you will arrive at a point in your life when every single talent and skill you have will be fully utilized and all of your desires will be fulfilled.  You will be deeply and totally fulfilled.”

I was a trained actress who wanted to touch others’ lives through performing.  I also wanted to travel widely, and to grow spiritually. I wanted a healthy marriage to a man who was loving and supportive.  I wanted financial stability.  But most of all, I wanted to do what I love and make a living doing what I love, while having a positive impact on others.

After training and doing theatre in New York, and practicing consistently for 7 years, I moved to LA and pursued work in commercials and television.   Very soon, I was again suffering.  Gradually I came to the realization that I was pursuing someone else’s dream, not my own.  I didn’t train to sell toilet tissue or to have a guest starring role for which I was paid well to say 10 lines on an episode of LA Law.  And although the pay was more than anything I had ever earned doing theatre, I was not happy.  I was gauging my success upon someone else’s standard.  And my identity was based on that success, or lack of it.  

So I tried other things related to my field, in search of the fulfillment I was seeking. I joined theatre companies, acted in more plays for less money, became an acting teacher at a studio, started my own acting studio, founded and ran a theatre company, directed and produced plays and even a few short films.  With each new venture, because it was unknown territory for me, I would begin from a place of fear, then rely on faith, use my practice to produce a breakthrough, and experience a victory. This brought great fulfillment and satisfaction.  But I observed a pattern:  as I became more comfortable with each new role of teacher, or director, or producer, I would gradually and imperceptibly become identified with that new role.  And that is when I would again begin to suffer.  When I thought of myself as a “director” or a “producer” or an “actress,”  the degree of my happiness directly corresponded to the degree of success, or lack of it, that I was having in that arena.  And the old, painful lack of self-worth would re-emerge. 

At every crossroads I encountered however, I would ask myself: Has my practice become just one more thing that I am doing? or is it in the center of my life? and I would return to the guidance of that first chapter leader: Practice unwaveringly, put the practice in the center of your life, and never stop seeking - through guidance, studying the gosho, and reading Daisaku Ikeda’s writings - to deepen your faith and understanding of Buddhism. When that lack of confidence emerged, which it did frequently and painfully, I always moved, always chanted, always took action, sought guidance, and always took a risk. I would force myself out of my comfort zone. 

I was at just such a crossroads once again when Sensei wrote: “You must decide that pursuing the oneness of mentor and disciple is the primary quest of your life.”  Wow!  Those words shook up my life.  In all aspects of the practice, I had always been skeptical, but had always challenged myself to push through my own resistance.  Here I was again.  This “mentor/ disciple” thing made me very uncomfortable.  Frankly, I didn’t get it.  So, for many months I grappled with this one statement, one word at a time.  I challenged my doubt and disbelieve, my lack of understanding, my resistance and fear of idealizing a person. I  challenged myself to grasp what this man, this enlightened teacher, was trying to convey.  I spent many many months chanting about it one word at a time: “You” “must” “decide” that “pursuing” “the oneness” of  “mentor and disciple” is the “primary” “quest” “of your life!!!!”

Meanwhile, I was once again stuck in my professional life.  I went for guidance to a senior in faith whom I deeply trusted.  She said:  Kate, you are an artist.  You have to pursue your art, your dreams.  Pick a dream, any dream, get it out of the closet, dust it off, and go after it.  Once again, challenge your fearfulness, stop waiting for clarity or for the fear to lift or for your environment to show you the way. Take action in spite of your fear.   Look it in the face, stare it down, move through it. 

There was a play that I had performed many years earlier, a one-woman show based on the life and poetry of Emily Dickinson.  I had been much too young for the role when I was originally cast in it.  I had always wanted to play that role again, when I was the right age and could bring my life experience to it.  Now was the time.   I hired a director. rented a theater, found the costumes and props, had a set built, memorized 80 pages of dialogue, and put my butt on the line once again, based upon prayer.

But now I was a new me.  Now I had been chanting to deepen my understanding of the mentor/ disciple relationship.  Now I had come to the profound realization that the source of my lack of self-worth was that I was basing my life on the transient.  As a result of this realization, I now chanted to grasp what it means to live life as a “Votary of the Lotus Sutra.”  Once again, time to apply the guidance of my chapter chief: Put the practice in the center of your life.   

So I threw myself into the Emily Dickinson endeavor with a greater sense of mission than I had ever embraced when pursuing a professional goal. I began to understand how to marry faith and daily life.  I began to understand turning “karma into mission.”  I began to identify myself first as a votary of the lotus sutra, first as a bodhisattva of the earth, who happens to be an actress, among many other things.   “I will use my unique skills to fulfill my true identity, to contribute to the happiness of others, to touch the lives of others and bring them hope.”  This wish began to emerge as my real and genuine primary desire.   

Once I had total conviction in myself, my role, as a Bodhisattva of the Earth, my way of praying changed.   My entire understanding of what prayer is, changed.  I could confidently chant as a demand, not a plea.  My prayer was no longer an “ask” but a demand, a determination, a vow ...that I would make happen....that I MUST make happen to encourage others and to prove the validity of the law, of this practice.  Also, this was a vow that the shoten zenjin, or supportive forces in my environment, MUST and would support .  After all, “no prayer of a votary of the lotus sutra goes unanswered.”

My life has not been the same since that point.   One door after another has opened up for me professionally.  The show was a huge success.  I received embarrassingly good reviews.  I won an award for Best Actress in a Dramatic Role.  I began touring to schools with the show.  I had an opportunity to train with the prestigious Los Angeles Music Center as a Teaching Artist.  Against all odds, I was the only artist of the 30 that went through the training to be hired by the Music Center's Education Division to be a Resident Theatre Artist, traveling from school to school.  It is the most deeply rewarding work that I have ever done.  And I am paid well.  I am an independent contractor so I can work as many or as few hours as I desire.  And I have the opportunity on a daily basis to powerfully and positively impact the lives of young people of all age groups. 

I am happily married to a loyal and devoted man, I have a beautiful daughter who attends Soka University on an almost full scholarship, and after years ups and downs, we are completely financially stable.   

I also had the opportunity to travel to Europe 2 years ago to be part of the International Youth Media Summit.  I have since been asked to be on the Board of Advisors, traveling to Serbia, all expenses paid, to guide young people how to use media to shape the future.  Next year’s Summit will be hosted by Soka University of America, with whom I served as liaison for the Summit to arrange a partnership based upon the mutual mission statements of both parties. Last year in Belgrade I had the opportunity to introduce three young people to this practice.  One of them just sent me a message via Facebook and signed her message: NMRK.  I will reconnect with her in 10 days and continue the dialogue. 

I truly feel that I am living the life of the Buddha of absolute freedom whenever I chant with the deep conviction that I am a votary of the lotus sutra.  The environment always arises to support me and doors open.  Here I am 37 years of practice later, many years after my first chapter chief made that promise to me, and I can now say, he was absolutely right.   Faith lies in continuing.  Every skill is being utilized, every dream is coming to fruition, and my life is one of supreme satisfaction and fulfillment.  

Finally, through my sincere and ongoing prayer, I have come to understand - and to decide - that pursuing the oneness of mentor and disciple is the primary quest of my life.  

Kate Randolph (Development & Community Outreach Director, International Youth Media Summit) is deeply committed to projects that foster and develop youth.  She served as the Managing Artistic Director for YOUR OWN SKY (YOS), a professional theatre company based in Los Angeles that grew out of her classes with young actors.  She also functioned as the Executive Producer, producing and directing the company’s shows. A small non-profit that received accolades for excellence, the company always functioned in the black.  Kate also ran her own professional acting school, The Randolph Studio for Actors, for many years in Hollywood.  Subsequently, under the YOUR OWN SKY banner, she produced herself in the Tony-award winning one-woman play, The Belle of Amherst, for which she won The Valley Theatre League Best Actress Award.  She currently tours in her acclaimed portrayal of Emily Dickinson.  As a Theatre Artist-in-Residence, she uses the Arts to enrich the lives and learning of thousands of young people each school year.  In addition, she conducts professional development workshops for classroom teachers, guiding them in ways to integrate the Arts into their curriculum. She has served on the Board of Advisors of the International Youth Media Summit for two years and has three times traveled to Serbia to support the activities of the Summit and the youth participants. She has been practicing Nichiren Buddhism for 36

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