“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. At high school she won a scholarship to play basketball in the US and was drafted in to the WNBA (Women’s National Basketball Association). She married a professional basketball player in the States; “he was tall, he was good looking”. This perfect couple were the envy of many, travelling the world, 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; 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. Her father was very critical of her, instilling her with low self esteem and blaming her for everything. 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. Her saviour was a teacher who 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, 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”.
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”. 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”.
It was after her divorce that 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 how you appear to the outside world doesn’t make any difference if you are not happy within. Re-reading her teenage list she still felt in the same miserable place as she had before.
“Don’t believe everything you think”.
Coming to the Buddhist monastery with some friends, Zane felt for the first time in her life that she was in the right place. She 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”. She didn’t have to worry about what other people thought, a concern that had been conditioned in her since childhood. 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. As one of the monks told her, “don’t believe everything you think”.
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