Life is tough. Of that, there is no doubt. Buddhism actually teaches that the essence of the unenlightened life IS suffering. This is the truth of it.
Nobody has it easy. Neither pauper no king, neither bacterium nor whale – all suffer to a greater or lesser extent, and all are subject to that ultimate suffering we call Death. Life feeds on life. People, it would seem, often feed on each other. Hence, rather than maintain a sugary view of life, it is best to see it (as much as this is possible) as it really is.
Granted, this is almost impossible, given that we all see the world through a massive number of belief filters. Nevertheless, by constantly challenging ourselves, we may gradually gain new insights and perceptions. Thus, it truly becomes possible to see reality ever better, and deal with it as it is, rather than as we would like it to be in that present moment.
In doing this honestly, we increase the probability that we can shape the future, with intention, into what we would like it to be. Specifically, it is essential to develop the capacity of Resiliency. Resilience is the ability to bounce back after defeats and setbacks; to not merely recover from suffering and apparent defeat, but to even thrive as a result.
As this article was being written, the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz had just been commemorated. Countless people died there, it is true. However, many people also survived from the Nazi concentration camps, and went on to live normal productive lives. Despite the unspeakable horror that they suffered, a nightmare that seemed never-ending, life DID eventually become better for them, and they embraced it with joy.
The past is the past. Yet, many of us continue to live in mental concentration camps that our physical bodies departed from long ago. If life was like driving a car, why would you keep your eyes glued firmly on the rear-view mirror? Is that a good indication of what is around the next bend? Indeed, can you even SEE the next bend? Yet that is what many, or maybe it would be more accurate to say, most people are doing with their lives. As Tony Robbins says, “The Past does not equal the Future”. If you find yourself unable to break out from the shackles of the past – bad relationship, bad job, unhappy childhood, addiction, whatever – you might do well to remember this. The Past does not equal the Future.
If it does, then that is entirely your choice. It never has to be that way. The quality of resilience is all about retaining flexibility and holding life lightly. Don’t make such a heavy deal out of everything. Don’t sweat the small stuff. The sun will still shine tomorrow. The birds will still sing. Resilience is about retaining optimism, even in the jaws of horror. It is about knowing that in every adversity lies the seeds of an equal or even greater benefit. If you maintain an attitude of gratitude to Life, the Universe and God, it is very hard to be defeated for long.
Resilience is about knowing that ultimately, God and the Universe are friendly to your plans and to your life, no matter how difficult and filled with suffering life can be. There is a greater and hidden purpose behind it all. Life is like a training ground. Consider yourself in training, and ask yourself, “What is the lesson here?” In that way, you will receive the most from each and every experience – good or bad – and will not have to continually repeat lessons that you reject and continue to bring you seemingly endless hardship.
Often people become dispirited and bitter because the same terrible things keep happening to them. What they do not realize is that those things will continue to repeat for as long as they fail to learn the lesson that is being taught. Once the lesson is learned, that particular challenge will eventually cease, and the next thing you need to learn will be presented to you. Realize that you are responsible for where you are now, and you are also capable of getting where you dream of going. It may take a lot of work, effort and sacrifice. You may even have to do a tremendous amount of work to undo the negative consequences of the past – mental, emotional, relationship, financial, or whatever else.
However, the truth is that you are capable of achieving it. If you are still caught up in a concentration camp of the mind, it is entirely of your own doing. Take a look for yourself,. The gates were opened long ago. All you have to do is to walk out. We really cannot know why things happen in a complete sense. There are mysteries that nobody can understand, and they probably should not even try. “Why did this happen to me?” is not really a helpful question. “What can I learn from it, and how can I use it to my best advantage and to the betterment of others?” IS a valid and very useful question.
No matter what your life circumstance – rich or poor, able-bodied or disabled, black or white, man or woman, smart or dumb – your level of happiness and resilience against adversity is a mental AND physical matter. It is a decision and an attitude of mind that you consciously and continually cultivate every day. It does not just “happen”. It is also a physical respect for, and nurturing of, your body; to make it strong, healthy, and fully able to support you in your desire to bounce back and thrive.
Those people who sit around bemoaning their fate, their suffering, and ask what their lives are worth, are missing the point. THEY have the power of choice, right here, right now. What they experience now arose from previous life choices (and metaphysically speaking, from previous lives too, if you want to understand how situations like disability etc. occur, that we cannot seem to possibly take responsibility for).
At any point, you can choose to take the spiral that leads higher to abundance, gratitude, health, joy and hence resilience. Alternatively, you can take the spiral that leads down to blame, confusion, hopelessness, bitterness, ingratitude and eventually annihilation. The choice is really always yours. Nobody can take it away from you. Nobody can make that choice for you either.
No. Life is not easy and suffering is ever-present. However, the good news is that you can rise above it all, through a mental decision to do so and to hold yourself to the highest standards at all times. As Victor Frankl, a respected Jewish psychiatrist who survived the Nazi death camps said, nobody can take away from you the last human freedom – your freedom and right to choose your own authentic response to any situation. That freedom remains yours, now and forever.