There’s a lot going on at the moment. People are understandably feeling troubled: “I can’t handle this, it’s overwhelming,” because we are encountering problems we don’t see any solutions for. There may even be a yearning for everything to go “back to normal”.
We can stay calmer by learning to view our difficulties in a bigger context – letting them remind us, for example, that there has never actually been a particularly good normal. We don’t want to bounce back. We want to bounce forward, like that little bear. Preferably right out of samsara and into the Pure Land.
Carrying straight on from this recent article, 8 scientific ways to be resilient.
2. Strive to be positive
The CNN article says:
Being an optimist is a key trait of those who are resilient, but this is not some rosy, “I can do anything,” type of positivity. Instead, strive to be a “realistic optimist.
As mentioned last time, we need to redefine what happiness is and understand where it comes from if we are to have any chance at staying happy. A dictionary definition of optimism is:
hopefulness and confidence about the future or the successful outcome of something.
Our optimism has to be based on something realistic, such as the understanding that we have the potential and opportunity for deep, unconditional, and lasting happiness. This successful future will arise from nowhere else but within, through developing increasingly peaceful, pure, and blissful states of mind.
When we do even a simple breathing meditation we can basically understand that what we’re talking about here is cultivating an authentic happiness that comes from inner peace. If our mind is peaceful we’re happy and, although we still have challenges, we’re free from inner disturbance. For example, I seem to have succumbed to Omicron, along with a zillion other people, and this is what I replied yesterday to a friend’s concern when I was feeling rather fatigued, nauseous, and headachy:
I know when i do it it works! Another friend is managing even to transform her dialysis:
The CNN article continues:
Realistic optimists pay close attention to negative information about the problems they face. However, unlike a pessimist, these people do not remain focused on the negative. They cut their losses and move on to what they can solve.
Although Buddhists think about suffering a lot, it is not in order to remain focused on the negative but the positive, the solution to this suffering. I think if we understand the points in the previous article about our potential and precious human life, we learn both how to be a realist and how to stay positive. With renunciation and bodhichitta, we become bona fide realistic optimists, especially if we remember that all suffering is dream-like and can therefore be solved with wisdom.
Not to mention that reality IS positive. Unbelievably and cosmically so. It is bliss and emptiness. It is not reality that is the problem, but unreality.
3. Learn from your challenges
To learn and especially to grow from our challenges, we have to see them AS challenges – not as inherently existent obstacles that are blocking our way and forcing us to suffer, or that we should simply try to bypass or ignore.
The battle cry
One dictionary definition of challenge is:
something that by its nature or character serves as a call to battle, contest, special effort, etc.
Which reminds me of a great comment someone wrote on the last article I wrote:
When life comes hard and fast and it feels like everyone I know is going through it, bodhichitta feels like a battle cry. Sometimes I can feel it inside like ashes turning into a phoenix when I slip and let my self-grasping despair and then catch that so many beings are going through the same and so much worse and THIS is why we do what we do.
Back in January, I was walking through the streets of New York, surrounded by people in masks. To me, this felt like a glitch in the Matrix, surely an alert to the fact that life is really very surreal and weird. At the beginning of the pandemic, a lot of people talked about how dream-like this all was – within that, some empathy crept in, the understanding that we were all in this big, strange dream together, so let’s look out for each other. There was a moment there, but then we sort of adapted, because that is what human beings do.
Which was a bit of a shame because, whenever we adapt to a new normal, we end up in the same place (or worse). This could have been (and was for some) a real wake up call. What is going on? Why is life not working? What are we doing wrong? Why, despite all our technological accomplishments, are things getting worse for everyone all over the world? Why do we seem to dislike each other more and more with each passing year? Surely there is more to life than this?!
We may have asked a few questions, rousing temporarily from our beginningless stupor; but pretty soon it was back to: “This is your fault! I don’t like you.” We fell back asleep.
Talking about that internal locus of control, if we don’t have it, we don’t seem to have a very developed sense of personal responsibility either. Such that when a situation arises which we don’t seem to have much control over, we tend to cast around for something or someone to blame. That’s just the natural irritated response – it is their fault, whoever “they” are, and they need to sort themselves out. Maybe they do — but if we are waiting for everyone else to change before we can change and make the most of our own life, we are probably in for an extremely long wait.
Back to normal
Alternatively, we fall into some state of denial: “This can’t really be happening!” Or, “This is not so bad, let’s just get back to normal as soon as possible!”
But there is no going back, is there? For one thing, the past is gone – there’s nothing to go back to. And things were never that normal in the first place. This is the whole point. These glitches can help us see that things have been more than a little crazy for very long time. Everyone who lives a long life has a sad story to tell, as an old Tibetan Lama once said. It could be argued that we live in decaying cages of meat and have been enduring chapter after dystopian chapter since beginningless time. Do we really want to go back to this, to “normal”?
Sad panic mode
I can’t help noticing of late that bad things are speeding up in the human realm, not just with world health and war and climate change and politics, but with the overall drip drip increase in depression, anxiety, and so on, not least, it seems, amongst the young. Talking to a 30-something teacher on the plane a few weeks ago, she said that teenagers of 16 have returned to school after 2 lost years more like 14-year-olds. She says they can’t look at each other in the eyes. They find conversing hard. They are full of anxiety. They try to find refuge in their gadgets even more than they did before the lockdown.
I read in another article about something called the “sad panic mode”. This article also said:
It is It is no secret that this Pandemic has been hugely challenging for children, teenagers, and young adults. We’re seeing kids fist-fight, a lot of yelling at teachers. They don’t know how to be in a room with 25 other kids. They’re having difficulty relating to one another.
Surely, if nothing else, we have to model resilience for this next generation?
My plane companion said most kids would be way too awkward and embarrassed to have a long conversation on a plane with a stranger, as she and I were doing — they can barely hold eye contact with their friends. Coincidentally, 3 weeks later, I am seated on this plane next to a circa 15-year-old who has not looked at me once, indeed has not taken her eyes off the screen in the seatback, except when there is a public announcement when she buries her head in a large pillow. She had to glance at me just now when I was going past her to get something from the overhead locker – and it might be my imagination, but I think she looked slightly panicked as her ear phones had to be briefly unplugged. Her friendly dad has tried to engage her a couple of times, rub her back, ask her what she is watching, but it’s not happening. (… 9 hours and 50 minutes later, I swear this girl has not looked away from her screen once, except to walk to the restroom. This even when she was eating. Her now bloodshot eyes watched what seemed like every episode of Witches, The Muppets, and NYPD. At least I won’t need to watch them now. But seriously. I don’t know if all teens are like this. Are they?)
Another elementary school teacher told me of the drills they were obliged to have at her school, including, after Uvalde, one in which police officers pretended to be active shooters and reminded the underpaid teachers that they are supposed to put their body between the children and the AR15 rifles. Right. Kids are being deliberately frightened so that they know to run if it comes to it. How can traumatizing 8-year-olds turn out well for them or for our society?
Have you heard of Squid Game? In a free Vanity Fair I picked up today at the airport, director Hwang Dong-hyuk was saying that back in 2009 they told him no one would watch it. Fast forward 13 years and:
In a time of extensive privation, inequality, disease, fear, and distress in South Korea and elsewhere, the show’s dystopian premise feels alarmingly plausible.
So much so that it has become the most watched Netflix show in 90 countries.
In all this acceleration, we need to pause to wonder, “Can I control what’s going on here?” If we don’t have resilience, as mentioned, what choice do we have other than finding someone to blame for all the things going wrong and/or becoming deeply depressed and discouraged?
We need to hit reset, as often as possible, several times a day, using our understanding of compassion, wisdom, and other Dharma tools. Otherwise, sooner or later, if we just carry on in the same trajectory, samsara sucks very badly for everyone. Human life is short, and it’s quite brutal, isn’t it? So we need to transcend. I explain in this article how I’ve been watching people close to me getting very sick and/or old – there comes a point when it is our parents and then we are next in line. We have front row seats to this horror show and then we ourselves become part of it. We think, “This can’t be happening!” but it is happening, at least according to common appearance. Sooner or later, everything that we invest in falls apart.
When Buddha talked about the truth of suffering, he wasn’t trying to depress us – he was really trying to wake us up, to let us know that we can and we need to do better because our normal way of doing things, seeking happiness outside of ourselves, trying to solve our problems by changing other people, and so on, is never going to work. We need genuine happiness and a genuine freedom, which means we need to get practiced at dealing with all these traumatic situations we find ourselves in, using them as fuel for progress. As the article says:
Some people do have the capacity to handle stress better than others, but experience is important. Even though you may not have faced the exact challenge that is in front of you now, by having other challenges in your life in which you have been successful, you can use that experience in dealing with your present traumatic situation.
This important trait can be taught — to both adults and children.
You don’t want your children to have a stress-free life where they don’t face challenges. Now, that doesn’t mean you traumatize them. But you want to have them experience things that are out of their comfort zone, a little bit at a time, and be successful. They go on to do something else out of their comfort zone, and they’re successful,” he said. “And before you know it, they have a ‘psychological toolbox’ to handle problems in their life.
Even if we do actually want our children to have a stress-free life, the point is, how are we supposed to make that happen?! But with his teachings, Dharma, Buddha provided us with so many practical and powerful tools for handling all the difficulties in our lives. Every time we succeed in transforming a challenge, we are gaining familiarity with these methods, setting ourselves up to do even better next time, and modeling this resilience for the next generation. I think we owe it to them.
Out of space for now. Your comments are very welcome and will be read, thank you 🙂