Updated: Dec 11, 2020
A lot can cause stress, overwhelm, despair and fear. A lot can challenge our psychological endurance and that lot can bring resistance through reactivity or paralysis through immobility. The Buddhist concept of Kshanti (one of the '10 perfections of character') inspired this post. Kshanti relates to the experience of: endurance, tolerance, patience, forbearance. I understand and sum it up as enduring hardship, pain, etc., with fortitude and calm.
The sources of stress can be numerous: a provocation in an argument, financial worries, a sense of despair about the state of the world, a significant misfortune in your life etc. To deal with the heaviness of experiences, we might shield ourselves and only discharge emotions through a small crack at a time. Or we might seek immediate reactivity though anger, hatred, blame or intoxication to distract and to avoid. Kshanti reminds that there is a clear difference between pain and suffering. Pain is what can happen, what we cannot do much about, while suffering is that added stress that we bring in through the resistance to the pain. Tough different, they all are unavoidable elements of real life.
People will respond to your suffering differently, some might encourage and try to guide you through advice; others might not understand and even judge you. Whatever the case, you are the writer of your own inner narrative. That’s the inner voice that will tell you how to minimise your suffering or it can at time act as another source of pain. Sometimes, the sources of pain continue, you can surrender, give up, become fearful and discouraged. You may become agitated and unable to think clearly and all you may want to do is freeze until the storm is gone.
Endurance teaches the opposite. It is not a passive process. It is not about giving up, it is not about not feeling either. We endure in order to stay strong and committed, stay on the path, stand up for ourselves, for other beings, and for what is right. Strength means not being broken. (Domyo Burk)
“…come what may, I’ll never harm
My cheerful happiness of mind.
Depression never brings me what I want;
My virtue will be warped and marred by it.
If there is a remedy when trouble strikes,
What reason is there for despondency?
And if there is no help for it,
What use is there in being sad?” (Shantideva)
So, how to build inner endurance?
Become aware and recognise you are being challenged - explore the challenge from different angles, rotate it, study it with curiosity.
Become aware and recognise you are presented with a choice - Do you admit and accept defeat? Do you want to grow and move? Which alternative does your gut feeling want you to follow? What is in your self-interest?
“There are some whose bravery increases
At the sight of their own blood,
While some lose all their strength and faint
When it’s another’s blood they see!
This results from how the mind is set,
In steadfastness or cowardice.
And so I’ll scorn all injury,
And hardships I will disregard!
When sorrows fall upon the wise,
Their minds remain serene and undisturbed.
For in their war against defiled* emotion,
Many are the hardships, as in every battle.
Thinking scorn of every pain,
And vanquishing such foes as hatred:
These are exploits of a conquering hero…
Suffering also has its worth.
Through sorrow, pride is driven out
And pity felt for those who wander in samsara;
Evil is avoided, goodness seems delightful.”
Become aware of the possibility that your current situation can be endured without giving way to depression, resistance and hatred, but perhaps, through effort, learning and building confidence with small steps. Learning to take small steps and keeping it up can be equally as hard physically (and even harder mentally) as taking big leaps. There must be learning in this.
“The cause of happiness comes rarely,
And many are the seeds of suffering!
But if I have no pain, I’ll never long for freedom;
Therefore, 0 my mind, be steadfast!
…There’s nothing that does not grow light
Through habit and familiarity.”
Shantideva (2016) The Way of the Bodhisattva: Bodhicaryavatara, Revised Edition Shambhala Classics, Padmakara Translation Group (Translator)
Bhikkhu Th (2013) The Ten Perfections: A Study Guide, http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/study/perfections.html