The difficulty with finding resilience is that we first need to deeply look and be with the uncomfortable. Ultimately, the very things that cause us to break down are actually the supports for a breakthrough. To experience a breakthrough, however, we have to be willing to hold and to befriend what may be bringing internal strife.
Many times we want to do this in a safe way. In regards to our practice, this may manifest as configuring the teachings in a way that keeps us feeling comfortable. This may be in the way we practice or in being selective about the pieces of reality we choose to sit with, accept and process. In many ways, we want the romantic version of enlightenment: a sense of freedom along with an egoic safety net.
Enlightenment is the realization that we do not need a safety net. We must let ourselves free-fall. As a sage once said, “the bad news is that you are falling. The good news is that there is no ground.” Trust, faith, and devotion can buoy and support our practice long enough to experience this truth ourselves.
What is Buddhism?
“Buddhism is a statement of our intrinsic goodness; and the possibility of discovering that intrinsic goodness. This is the simple answer, but complex questions can arise from that. Giving a simple answer is not always that simple. When I use the word ‘goodness’, I am not using it in the sense of nicey-nicey goodness, or piety, or sanctity, or holiness – ‘goodness’ here relates to complete value. This goodness is the goodness of freshly baked bread; the goodness of seeing a field of sunflowers; the goodness of birth and death; the goodness of being present. There is a basic goodness, a basic sanity with which we can connect. We have that – we simply need to allow ourselves the non-referential space to find it.”
~ Ngak’chang Rinpoche
The Five Poisons
In Buddhism the term “five poisons” points to the five major negative emotions. When looking at resilience—the ability to hold what we have an aversion to—it is a good practice to look mindfully at these disturbing emotions as they arise. In doing so—one by one, over and over again—we can work with them. We can learn to recognize them upon arising. We can learn to look deeply into their characteristics.
Each emotion also has an antidote to cultivate. One piece of the practice is to see through them; to see that they are empty upon arising. The other piece of the practices is what we drop into that space. Now that we are not following anger, for example, what can we drop in its place?
We can turn Jealousy into Rejoicing in the good fortune of others.
We can turn Aversion and Anger into Non-Violence and Compassion.
We can turn Attachment into Renunciation.
We can turn Arrogance into Humility and Appreciation.
We can turn Ignorance into Wisdom by being mindful of the suffering caused by wrong action.
Exchanging these negative aspects with positive traits takes practice. We can do a formal meditation, allowing these negative emotions to arise, taking them in, and then exchanging them for the positive. We can allow ourselves to experience in a controlled way the effect that these emotions have, both positive and negative, on our well-being. Meanwhile, we are watering the seeds of our Buddha nature.
Intention leads to thoughts, which lead to emotions, which lead to action. We can cut this chain of reaction short by looking deeply into the emotions. By changing course here, by transforming, by spiritual alchemy, we can move into a habit of resilience thereby taking life’s challenges one by one, and growing from each of them; each time, growing stronger in our faith that there is nothing substantial harming us. This is an inner freedom- it is true resilience.