Building Emotional Resilience
On a personal note, right now I am suffering. Its April 15th and I have a terrible viral infection (sore throat, chest congestion, and fever). I feel weak and miserable. Perhaps all that frigid air we endured in New England this Winter also kept infectious “stuff” under control for a while. However, my probably temporary condition is nothing compared to the suffering millions of people endure every day all over this world. I am not being targeted for annihilation due to my spiritual beliefs. I am not being tortured. I am not being battered – emotionally or physically. I am not starving. Even if much of the food produced and consumed in the USA is relatively unhealthy (packaged, processed, chemicalized, GMO’d, extended shelf life for greed, etc.), if I can pay for food I can eat every single day. Oh yes, I thought the Department of Agriculture was also protecting us from eating potentially unhealthy food! To the best of my knowledge, I am not drinking contaminated water. I am not breathing toxic air like urban areas of China. I do not fear venturing out; I do not expect to be harmed or killed. I am not in a situation where outrageous greed tramples the basic standards of good health and a livable wage. Many, many others may be. Lastly, our (not mine) insatiable appetite for beef and the grains it requires may be one of the most potent contributors to world hunger. Money, money, money!!!! What is good for business may not always be good for the rest of us. Look at the new recommended Food Pyramid soon. What I am saying is that suffering is a highly relative condition physically, intra-psychically and socially. The Dalai Lama and Pope Francis, two of the world most respected spiritual leaders have much to say about human suffering and what to do about it.
In the mindfulness traditions life consists of short-term joy, a bit longer-term happiness, much neutrality and boredom, and a whole lot of suffering.
Our craving for pleasure, and our fearing and avoiding displeasure keep us in the suffering cycle. Suffering has two parts (“two arrows”); the unavoidable suffering that comes to all humans, and secondary suffering we produce on our own due to the unavoidable suffering we encounter. The Dalai Lama suggests that we should not cause secondary suffering by worry. If you can do something about suffering you expect to occur, then act on it. If you cannot do something about it, still do not worry – because you cannot do anything about it. If you become stuck in the pain of the past, or long for a return to a happier past, you are not living in the present moment. If you worry about the future, stop. You have no control over what life bring to you in the future. Plan for it but do not worry. Radical acceptance of what we cannot change, and tolerant self-compassion for our our suffering are the best we can do. Pope Francis adds that we need to carry on with great human strength and dignity. Winston Churchill is reported to have noted: when you feel like you are going through hell, you have NO CHOICE but to continue the trek.
Remember that we do benefit from small doses of suffering over time. It builds our emotional resilience. Suffering (yes even real suffering) is always produced in our minds and has causes and conditions. Fearful adjustment to change is a major cause of suffering. Pope Francis adds that we must be fully aware when we suffer; this is necessary so we can change old patterns that result in more suffering. There are ways to buffer ourselves NOT from suffering but from the mind’s emotional reactions to it. Live a virtuous life. Be kind. Act with compassion. Forgive others. Be generous – very generous. Go deeper and deeper into your own spirituality to discover your true self and allow it to blossom. We need to practice radical acceptance and re-deploying attention. Practice more gratitude and containment with what you do have. Let go of what you crave wildly.
As long as greed, hate and anger rule the world, the world will be rushing toward its own destruction. Recall that sometimes an enemy is a good teacher. We can learn how the enemy has penetrated our mind and caused resentment, even hatred. Pope Francis noted that we need love, patience, charity and to learn how to put up with each other. He suggests (as has Thich Nhat Hanh) that we plant seeds of goodness in our hearts and minds. Good luck on your personal journey.
For more information refer to Kelly-Gangi, C. (Ed.). The Dalai Lama: His Essential Wisdom. New York: Fall River Press, pp. 48-54, and Kelly-Gangi, C. (Ed.). Pope Francis: His Essential Wisdom. New York: Fall River Press, pp. 94-96.
By Anthony R. Quintiliani, PhD., LADC
Author of Mindful Happiness
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