The Art of Resilience - How To Remain Optimistic In the Midst of Adversity
"The only constant in life is change"- Heraclitus.
When the future feels uncertain and we are forced to question the preconditions of life as we know it, there is no better time to reflect, to take action, and to truly live in the present.
Change is inevitable, and it seems unanimous that to be happy, we must accept this.
Heraclitus of Ephesus, who is considered the Father of Western Philosophy, claimed as far back as 500 BC that "life is flux." That change is the very nature of life, not merely an aspect of life but life itself, and to resist change is to resist life. That we can only fully embrace and enjoy all the pleasurable aspects of life as long as we understand they are ephemeral and cannot last. Further, that conflict is necessary for the perpetuation of life, and without it, there would be no opportunity for change and growth. That we not only embrace change as the fundamental essence of life but celebrate it.
The Buddha teaches us to accept this essential nature of life; it is false to hold that anything can be permanent, that we must understand life is fleeting. That our reliance on permanence in a world of impermanence is the cause of human suffering. We must accept this impermanence and move toward a higher understanding of life.
According to Buddhist tradition, soon after Siddhartha Gautama, the Hindu prince's birth (l. c. 563 - c. 483 BCE), a sage prophesied he would become either a great king or a great spiritual figure. Because of this, his father, King of Kapilavastu, who needed an heir to the throne, tried to shield his son from any human suffering which might sway him towards a spiritual path. His plan naturally failed, and Siddhartha witnessed sickness, old age, and death, renouncing his throne to follow a spiritual life, eventually attaining enlightenment and becoming the Buddha.
He grew to understood people suffered because they expect the pleasurable aspects of life to be perpetual; that we hold on to loved ones, jobs, objects, and our homes as though they will last forever when, of course, this is impossible.
Advocating acceptance of what he called the Four Noble Truths—the truth of suffering, the truth of the cause of suffering, the truth of the relief of suffering, and the truth of the end of suffering— that suffering happens because of craving, and we must follow a path of detachment. These Noble Truths are the key to attain Nirvana.
The psychiatrist Carl Jung also recognised that people fear change because they are afraid of the unknown, including a fear of loss and abandonment. All agree that experience and growth come with change, and as we will all go through the stages of life with or without our consent- that life is flux, we may as well accept it.
Stoicism is a school of Hellenistic philosophy that is partly inspired by Heraclitus. It is well believed that being 'stoical' means to endure hardship without complaint, to 'grin and bear it.' However, the Stoics advise us to appreciate things now and understand that they are not forever and should not be afraid of uncertainty. Which is in parallel with Buddhism. We must learn to distinguish between things in our control and things that are not.
John Sellars, the author of the new book "Lessons in Stoicism and Philosophy," says, 'Heraclitus's theory is less about resignation and more about acceptance, and our need to accept what happens and focus only on what is within our control. It does not mean we should resign ourselves to a fatalistic view of life and all the challenges, changes, and crises life throws at us.
Sellars says we can self-isolate and social distance as an act of calm, rational caution, rather than a reaction motivated by panic, fear, or anxiety.
The Greek Stoic philosopher Epictetus said, "It's not things that trouble us, but our interpretation of things."
"This too shall pass" is a Persian adage reflecting on the temporary nature, or ephemerality, of the human condition.
Tom Hanks recently used the phrase, "This too shall pass," connected with the Coronavirus pandemic.
"In This Too Shall Pass Stories of Change, Crisis, and Hopeful Beginnings" is the name of the recent book from the psychotherapist Julia Samuel, who says that every patient she has seen has had a problematic relationship with change. Further, she says that change is the one certainty of life, and pain is the agent of change. It forces you to wake up and see the world differently, and the discomfort of it forces you to see its reality. That through the pain we learn, personally, and also universally.'
As Charles Darwin said, "It is not the strongest or the most intelligent who will survive, but those who can best manage change." New York Times Bestselling author Mandy Hale has quoted, "Change the way you look at things, and the things you look at change."
Whereas COVID-19 is certainly not a positive thing, there is one good thing in that it has started to reset our planet from an environmental perspective.
How we handle change seems the key to happiness, particularly in our current times of uncertainty.
We can't control the pandemic, but we can control our response to it. We can choose to think positively.
This article first appeared online, on Home Journal's website, on December 1, 2020.