This Precious Human Life
Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about resilience, the ability to get up and keep going no matter what happens. Like the Energizer Bunny. Only not really because, unlike the Bunny, we are actually affected by the world around us. We see it, smell it, taste it. And right now, it feels like this swiftly tilting planet has gone off the rails.
A while back, I listened to an enthralling interview with Sheryl Sandberg, the COO of Facebook who’s husband unexpectedly died while they were on vacation. Based on this experience, she wrote a book on how to build resilience after loss.
Towards the end of the interview, Sandberg reflects on the growth that can occur after an enormous setback. Psychologists call this post-traumatic growth, where our challenges foster radical and positive change. From the Buddhist vantage point of loving-kindness, trauma is the basis of our capacity to offer compassion to others. Viewed through a Taoist lens of yin and yang co-creating one another, we can’t have light without dark.
That said, one of Sandberg’s interests in writing the book, which she co-authored with a psychologist, is to explore whether or not we can promote pre-traumatic growth. Can we train up the capacity to be ready for the inevitable?
My experience with wisdom teachings suggests to me that we can.
I find that the Lojong teachings on the Four Thoughts are a useful foundation for my practice. Intended to turn the mind towards spiritual pursuits, I have recently begun to think of these aphorisms as resiliency training. I recite a version of the first four Lojong aphorisms at the beginning of my practice every day. I also try to contemplate them from time to time, looking for ways to make them more meaningful in my daily life.
- Appreciate the preciousness of human life. It is a profound miracle that we humans have survived on this tiny, blue orb in a vast universe that may or may not support life anywhere else.
- Our time here is limited. Death is a reality that we don’t want to claim, but if we can embrace its truth, there arises in us an urgency not to waste our life. Ask yourself self regularly: what is most important?
- Whatever we do, whether virtuous and harmful, has consequences. Prioritize benevolence.
- Suffering is inescapable. As evidenced by the turmoil in the world, we cannot steel ourselves against hardship. As Zen teacher Norman Fischer asks, “How can we not…make a serious effort to develop wisdom, compassion, and resilience?”
And then there are the little things we should do for ourself each day that can make a huge difference in how well we are able to meet life’s challenges: self-care… cultivating meaningful relationships… spending time in the majesty of nature… , trying new things… daydreaming… making things with your hands… moving the body… getting good rest… meditation… gratitude journal… volunteering…
These little things aren’t luxuries. They are necessities.
We can’t squeeze our eyes shut and manifest a better life. We have to lean into the one we have.
Hi! I’m Jennifer O’Sullivan (Sati Yoga). I write about yoga, meditation, stress management, functional anatomy, and bit of this and that about living a healthy life. I teach yoga classes and workshops in the Washington, DC area, and you can find me online at Facebook, Instagram, or www.sati.yoga. I also co-host Skillful Means Podcast, which covers spirituality and yoga.