Zane – Olympian basketball player

“The Olympics is still like a dream. It was amazing. You would be walking in the campus and you would see all these superstars from all over the world.” Zane is a 6’6’’ Latvian professional basketball player, and she is the last person I would have expected to find living at Amaravati Buddhist monastery in Great Gaddesden. She played for the Latvian national basketball team and represented them at the Beijing Olympics in 2008. At high school she had won a scholarship to play basketball in the US and was drafted in to the WNBA (Women’s National Basketball Association) after university. She married a professional basketball player in the States; “he was tall, he was good looking”. They were the envy of many, this perfect couple travelling the world, being paid well, driving expensive cars and following their passion. She was ticking off the list of her ten wildest dreams she thought would bring her the happiness she craved.

Zane felt her world had broken down

Zane’s early life was very different from this life as a globe trotting basketball star. She grew up in a suppressed environment in Latvia. For the first nine years of her life the country was part of the Soviet Union. Her family struggled with money and their attitude was that life wasn’t to be enjoyed, you just had to get through it. Her parents worked, but sometimes they didn’t even receive money, instead they were issued with ration tickets for food. The family grew extra vegetables in the summer and tulips in the winter, to supplement their income. Zane had a very difficult relationship with her father, who emotionally and sometimes physically, abused her, and she carries the scars of this today. Her father was very critical of her, instilling her with low self esteem and blaming her for everything, his actions included. Also being tall for her age she was bullied by her peers for her height. Growing up in this environment Zane felt her world had broken down. She had no where to go and was having suicidal thoughts. Her saviour was a teacher who had just graduated from university and wanted to coach a basketball team. She walked in to Zane’s maths class, looking for students to coach, and that was the moment that Zane’s life changed. Basketball made her feel useful for once in her life and good about herself.

Moving to the USA for her full scholarship, her basketball skills went from strength to strength and she started to earn good money, playing in the top women’s teams. But her insecurities her father had instilled in her were still there, just below the surface. She couldn’t believe she was worthy of this perfect lifestyle and every time she signed a new contract for a team, she would think to herself, “I am not this good to get this money”.

She found herself crying on the bathroom floor.

As her and her husband’s careers progressed and they started playing in different countries, Zane found out her husband was having affairs. Because of her low self esteem that had been conditioned in to her by her father, she felt the affairs were her fault. “I was always looking for the fault in me”. Her relationship with her husband was becoming like the relationship with her father, being bullied and criticised and always feeling she was the one in the wrong. “I was trying my best (in her marriage), until there was a point where I couldn’t move on”. She found herself crying on the bathroom floor, not knowing what to do. Eventually her and her husband agreed to divorce and although she knew it was the right thing to do, it was a very painful time for her. “I could feel my heart was broken”. The other hard part of her divorce was that her husband took all of their money, leaving her with 20 Euros to her name.

Zane first connected with the Buddhist principles when she heard the Abbot of Amaravati speak. She had stopped playing basketball in the summer of 2016, due to a knee injury. Having played professional basketball for 11 years, she really didn’t know what to do. Some friends were coming to the monastery for a short visit and one pulled out, so they asked Zane. She wasn’t really that interested at first, but decided to go. From the first day she loved the place. By the third day she asked one of the nuns if she could stay longer. She has now been there for over a year.

“Don’t believe everything you think”.

Zane felt the Buddhist philosophy was exactly how she wanted to live her life. It was “very close to my heart, even though I had nothing to do with Buddhism before”. For the first time in her life Zane felt like she was in the right place. She didn’t have to worry about what other people thought, a concern that had been conditioned in her since childhood. She realised she couldn’t live a happy life if she wasn’t happy within herself. And she realised she didn’t need other people’s approval to feel good about herself. Although the experience with her ex-husband was very painful, she feels it was one of her biggest lessons in life. It opened her eyes to her childhood conditioning. She needed to break the cycle of self criticism and low self esteem. Having lived for thirty years in one mindset, she knows now that “my mind is limiting me..I am learning to make peace with it”. And as one of the monks told her, “don’t believe everything you think”.

After her divorce Zane found her teenage list with her ten wildest dreams on. Although she had achieved 90% of them, even down to the specific detail of owning a BMW, what she realised is that how you appear to the outside world doesn’t make any difference if you are not happy within. Re-reading this teenage list, a year after her divorce, she still felt “in the same miserable place as before”. So now with regards to her future she doesn’t worry about what will happen. She isn’t looking to be a millionaire, which was the one dream she didn’t achieve on her list. “I just want to feel good, I want to feel peaceful, I want to feel happy. First I need to start with myself and make myself feel like that.” Only then will she be able to move on.

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