Resilience is often defined as the ability to bounce back into shape after difficult life events. But what if mindfulness could help you to consider fewer life events as difficult?
Let’s consider that something happens to you. You have a physical response to that – a rush of adrenalin, a tightening of the muscles, a thought that labels it as ‘difficult’ and something to struggle against. This is all part of what can be considered in Buddhist imagery the first arrow fired that causes you to suffer.
How do you respond to that first arrow? With a sense of outrage that you have been hit, or a refusal to accept it happened and mount a fight to reject it? This is a very natural human response that’s part of our innate survival instinct, but it can be like firing a second arrow into the same wound – our thoughts and actions make it worse rather than better.
In many circumstances the way that we respond to life means that we become caught in a whirl of emotion that prevents us from seeing things clearly, from being able to gain the insight we need in order to respond rather than react, hence missing the opportunity to transform life events into something that feels more positive. We are so busy clinging on to what we think we have lost, that we’re unable to move forwards and build something even better.
There are so many aspects of mindfulness that support this attitude towards life: being able to take a breath and allow emotions to rise and fall away without stoking them up, to look at thoughts rather than experience life from within them, acceptance – which is an active not a passive state – an appreciation of impermanence, a flexibility and creativity in thinking, the ability to flow with life, and a calm inner strength to draw on whenever you need it.
There is a wonderful old story from China that demonstrates this, retold in ‘The Art of Living’ by Thich Nhat Hanh:
Mr.Ly was a villager whose livelihood depended upon his horse. One day his horse ran away, and all his neighbours took pity on him: “How unlucky you are!” they said. “What misfortune!” However Mr.Ly was not anxious. “We’ll see,” he said, “We’ll see.”
A few days later his horse returned, bringing several wild horses back with it. Mr.Ly and his family were suddenly very wealthy. “How lucky you are!” exclaimed the other villagers. “We’ll see,” replied Mr.Ly. “We’ll see.”
Then one day his only son was training one of the new wild horses when he fell off and broke his leg. “What misfortune!” declared the neighbours again. “We’ll see,” replied Mr.Ly. “We’ll see.”
A few weeks later the Imperial Army passed through the village, to conscript all able-bodied young men into the military. They didn’t take away Mr.Ly’s son, who was still recovering from his broken leg. “How lucky you are!” exclaimed the other villagers again. “We’ll see,” replied Mr.Ly. “We’ll see.”
About Katie Sheen
Katie Sheen is a Mindfulness Teacher and Speaker based in Manchester, UK, who specialises in Mindfulness for Anxiety. She offers weekly Mindfulness for Anxiety classes on Zoom as well as regular Be Calm, Be Happy 8 weeks’ mindfulness courses in the Plum Village tradition of Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh. The next course starts on Wednesday 16th September 2020. Katie also offers 1:1 Mindfulness Support, and bespoke Mindfulness events for charities, corporates and conferences.
Her website offers you a range of free mindfulness resources, including a 1-hour Mindfulness for Anxiety course hosted on the Udemy educational platform that is now being enjoyed by people in 109 countries across the globe.
You can discover more on her website at www.soulnutrition.org