You can access every gift that the spiritual path opens up. Some of these gifts are well known, others are hidden. It might never occur to you, for example, that resilience is a spiritual quality. Resilience is the same as being flexible; it is the opposite of being rigid or stuck. In Buddhism resilience is defined by a simple image: in a storm, the grass bends with the wind while the mighty tree is blown over.
Translate this image into human terms, and a whole list of opposites defines what it feels like to be resilient versus what it feels like to be rigid and stuck.
At this moment, if you have inner resilience, you will experience
- Empathy for others
- Lack of resistance
- Absence of fear
- Present-moment awareness
On the other hand, if you are rigid or stuck, you will experience
- Closed mind
- The burden of the past
- Separation from other people
- Tension, fear
These two lists present a stark contrast, which plays out in everyone’s life. Psychology long ago showed that the Buddhist axiom is right. People who display resilience have the same challenging times in their lives that happen to everyone. The difference is that they bounce back instead of being marked by a lasting wound or trauma. The more resilient you are, the better your life will turn out compared to someone who carries around the burden of the past.
But why is resilience a spiritual quality? The answer lies in the Sanskrit word Samskara. Samskara is a mark left by karma, and everyone carries around such marks (they even have a genetic equivalent in markers that our experience leaves in the epigene, the surrounding sheath of proteins around your DNA). The obstacles we face on the spiritual path are the result of the samskaras that block the way or pull us backward.
It isn’t necessary to know about the existence of samskaras. Experience tells the whole story. Everything on the list that describes stuckness is the creation of your samskaras. Although they are invisible, these marks from the past give rise to habits, stuck patterns of behavior, predispositions—in other words, all the things that turn a newborn infant into an individual ego.
If you had to fight against your samskaras, you would find yourself in a continuous loop, because the very struggle you are mounting leaves new marks and new samskaras. This is ultimately why the spiritual path isn’t a path of self-improvement. The ego that fights to get better may win some struggles, but it will still be trapped in the invisible machinery of samskara.
The way out is to go beyond the struggle. In Vedanta, the level of pure awareness that exists in everyone is untouched by samskara. Love, intelligence, compassion, creativity, bliss, and the potential for inner growth are part of your design. No one had to invent them. All that was necessary was to go beyond the ego and its struggles in the field of karma. In fact, you go beyond your ego every time you experience, even for a moment, the higher values we label as spiritual. They are actually woven into the fabric of everyday life. Without them, existence would be meaningless.
Which is the same as saying that the human design gives everyone a purpose. Once you realize this fact, the ups and downs of everyday life aren’t so important. Samskaras come and go. The more lasting ones take their time going; the shallow ones move quickly. Samskara isn’t good or bad. If you were born with great musical or mathematical talent, you can thank your samskaras. If you were born with a short temper, you won’t thank your samskaras.
What it all comes down to is this: Samskaras are record keepers. They give you your present and future reality by keeping track of your past reality. This is absolutely necessary in everyday life. Thanks to samskara, you learned how to read as a child, and you still know how to read. You didn’t have to relearn the same skill over and over.
Now that the picture is clear, we can turn to resilience. You and everyone else alive, are caught between two forces. One force pulls you back into the past, which is samskara. The other force pulls you toward unknown possibilities, which is evolution. You stand at the junction of these two forces. If your life is dominated by stuckness, you are basically a robot of the past; the machinery of samskara will be in charge.
On the other hand, if you are resilient, you consciously turn away from the pull of the past in order to embrace the infinite potential that lies within, waiting to unfold. Look again at the qualities of resilience, and you will see the choices that encourage evolution and higher consciousness. They describe an overall attitude toward life. It is the attitude of creative evolution.
It is much easier to evolve than to be stuck. This is a secret the vast majority of people don’t understand. It might seem on the surface that being stuck involves no effort—you just give in to inertia, routine, habits, and the “same old, same old” way of life. But you can see how self-defeating that is, and with self-defeat comes a host of problems, beginning with struggling at work to failed relationships. Struggling against these problems makes stuckness a constant drain of time, energy, and resources.
Resilience is the opposite: it increase your energy; it brings the unfolding of inner potential; the future becomes brighter than the past because the future is the realm of evolution. Resilience is yours to embrace, first by having a vision of what it really means. Second, you make conscious choices to reject any sign of stuckness. Third, you cultivate a simple, open state of awareness. Meditation is a great aid here, but you can also learn to center yourself and return to simple awareness as soon as you experience stress and distraction.
One step leads to the next, so we are talking about a process that unfolds according to your conscious intentions. Change is inevitable. The direction of change is up to you. Resilience is the attitude of making every change positive, life-enhancing, and evolutionary, no matter what happens to befall you in life’s ups and downs.