After yesterday’s post and the session last night with the sangha, I gave more thought to this issue of challenges. Not just the challenge of seeing reality as it is but also the challenge of negotiating through our own realities. It occurred to me that the fostering of resilience in the middle of our circumstances is not just the fact of surviving, coming out of the tunnel. It’s also in the will to create signs that say, “Help me. Starving. Homeless.” or “Want to go Home.”
There are tomes written about resilience and, in fact, it was the concept of the century when I was casting about for a dissertation topic. People like Norman Garmezy were discovering fascinating evidence of what allows people to bounce back from tremendous suffering. My first (and perhaps only) love was the question of what conditions facilitate the survival of immigrant children. Being one myself back in the 60’s, it seemed an impossible path to get to any place that represented safety and security. And I was not alone in this fear; the few friends I had who had also immigrated shared this anxiety. Interestingly, we each had our unique way of dealing with the process of integration. Some of us isolated ourselves in our culture of origin. If you came from a culture that was already rooted in the New Culture, that was easy. Italians, Greek, Chinese were already established communities. If you came from countries with a lower profile in the New Culture, it left only two options: assimilate or integrate. I always thought I had integrated – found the Middle Path between Asian and Canadian cultures. Apparently not.
While in NYC, I Facebooked my peeps: Where to go? Chinatown? Later I added: Dim Sum in C’town but apparently needs an expert. My daughter commented back: An expert? You’re ASIAN!
Well yes. But only to those near and dear to me. And, in my defense (with tongue firmly thrust in cheek), I was traumatized as a child and therefore have no coping skills for being Asian. I even recall the traumatic event: Ms. G. and my Grade 5 class were playing the Alphabet Game and for the letter “C” and the topic of “fruit,” I offered my favourite fruit: custard apple. No such thing, she said. Later at Expo 67 in the Burmese Pavilion, I pointed out the non-existent fruit to which she retorted (pointing to a red fruit): And that is an Apple! Well ok… I can see now that she felt a little threatened by my exposure of her limited knowledge of Asian fruits. (I submit below evidence of Custard Apples, Dear Reader.)
Seriously, that may seem trivial but in the mind of a child trying to establish some familiarity or overlap between cultures, it was confusing. So I became interested in the ways we foster resilience. From inside my own skin, I can’t see what it is I do but I know when it feels right. Certainly the Dharma is crucial in guiding my actions in the direction of survival. I noticed on this trip that I tended to fold into circumstances more easily than I recall in the past. The flight cancellation, missing the symposium, the frustrations of finding places to eat (yes, in New York… go figure), being mangled by crowds, and so on didn’t seem to derail me as much.
And yet… The deeper circumstances of living and dying in this moment managed to pierce quickly and profoundly. Is that the trade-off? I don’t yell at the airline representative because I resonate with her trying to fix something not her fault but I rage at the unfair distribution of global privilege? I think though that practice is more than just on what we lose it. It has to be. For me, practice is, in the words of Thich Nhat Hanh, about returning home: home where the heart is, home where I feel the safeness (awesome term coined by Paul Gilbert), home as that container I can reach into and find the spurt of energy necessary to push for that last mile on issues of greed, anger and ignorance, local or global. I already know how, I’ve been doing this all my life – I just sometimes forget and have to be reminded. And once reminded, I have no further excuses for my blindness.
Last Sunday was also the NYC Marathon and we had the chance to watch at the 26th mile. It was inspiring. I put together below a collage of the moments in our trip that reminded me of resilience and what creates it.