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Daily Connect: Transforming Misfortune

 

Everyone experiences unfortunate events - catching the flu, losing a wallet in a taxi, getting fired from a job, having a root canal, breaking up with a lover, spraining a wrist in yoga class, dealing with the decline of an aging parent - and each time such things occur we're surprised and shocked (shocked!).  We can't believe it, and we spend a lot of energy and time resisting it;  telling ourselves and others that it shouldn't be happening, finding another person or party to blame for it, and escaping it with drugs, alcohol, sex,  television or other forms of entertainment.   Isn't it strange that we don't expect misfortune?  How can to we transform our relationship to it if we don't even want to accept it? 
 
Adapting well to difficulties is the quality of "resilience"; an ability to cope with adversity and change without becoming overwhelmed or defeated.  Individuals without resilience feel powerless over the vicissitudes of life, and are likely to think of themselves as victims and regard their situations as impossible to overcome.  Resilient individuals cope with adversity and misfortune by using their strengths to accept difficulties, and even learn to regard such events as opportunities for learning or change.   Resilient people see a mistake as form of helpful feedback, and setbacks as challenges to be understood and overcome.  An example of resiliency is the actress Fran Drescher, who experienced a sexual assault as a young woman, and later was diagnosed with cancer.  She said "My whole life has been about changing negatives into positives," and later elaborated on her experiences to Larry King

A lot of silver linings came out of the cancer, but I wouldn't wish it on my worst enemy, and I'm not glad I had it but within the experience I was changed for the better. And the same thing was with the rape. I mean, I became a deeper, more compassionate person. I became a better actor.

The Buddha said we cannot travel to a place where change and misfortune do not exist, but we can look within ourselves and find that the cessation of suffering can be obtained by practicing meditation and mind training.  Through such work we can develop equanimity, which is a highly developed form of resilience that allows us to feel at ease in every circumstance.  Buddhists learn to work with obstacles rather than against them by becoming aware of our thoughts and perceptions and truly understanding them.  The great Zen master Charlotte Joko Beck said “A life of joy is not in seeking happiness, but in experiencing and simply being the circumstances of our life as they are.”  One of her students described this teaching like this:
 
Her contribution was to make our emotional life, our emotional reactions, tensions and feelings not obstacles to practice but the focus of practice. Pain, anger, hurt, bodily tension were all "it" – all perfect manifestations of the moment, to be experienced fully in and for themselves – not as something to be gotten through on the way to peace and calm and clarity. They are our life and zazen [meditation] is a way to experience it rather than try to escape it.
 
Knowing what we can change (our minds) and what we can't (the minds of others, circumstances beyond our control) is the key to transforming misfortune into opportunity.  So long as we struggle to change things we can't change, we are like a fool banging their head against a wall instead of simply finding a door and walking through it.  The inevitable results of our actions are frustration, anger, grief and sadness.   As Viktor Frankl (the psychoanalyst who suffered in a concentration camp for many years) said, “Everything can be taken from a person but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one's own way." 
 
 
Lani mentioned this wonderful example about choosing one's attitude in her post last week:
 
Remember the mandala the  [Tibetan] monks created in the Museum of Natural History in the late ‘80s? It took them six weeks to make it, dropping the colored sand grain by grain. I was there when two kids came by and scuffed the whole thing up.

And then?

The monks laughed.

 

Peace to Everyone Everywhere!

 

 

 

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Comments

well said

I love the word RESILIENCE.

It often compare this resiliency (that I consider a byproduct of practice) to WEEBLES. Those toys that keep standing upright no matter how many times they're knocked over.

Thank you for writing this.

Bows and metta and more,

Lawrence

 

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