The March one-day O-Higan retreat was a reset in several ways. It was the first retreat in over two years. It addressed resilience in a Buddhist context. Resilience is the ability to recover or adjust easily to misfortune or change. To survive the last few years we needed flexibility, strength, and adaptability. At the same time many of the coping mechanisms that help us deal with stresses and challenges in pre-pandemic times have been absent.

While we might be ready to bounce back, we are hesitant because we have conflicting messages as to whether the pandemic is really over and we have not used certain social skills in a while leading to further apprehension. This is duḥkha (J. 苦- Ku). In short Duḥkha is a term from Vedic literature, meaning anything that is uneasy, uncomfortable, unpleasant, difficult, causing pain or sadness.[1] This duḥkha in particular is of the second category of three, that which is due to change. Koshin will be discussing duḥkha in more detail later this month.

In other words, we need a reset physically and socially in a way that will ease duḥkha. It is easier said than done.

Duḥkha is not something one overcomes. We can reduce its impact on us. In order to do that we must reduce the expectation that it will go away. We are grateful when we are not experiencing dissatisfactoriness, but it is never truly gone. Our expectations are based on what we think normal to be. But normal is not ever normal, that in and of itself is an illusion. Each moment to moment is a new experience, our minds try to assemble them into a sense of normalcy to better understand patterns. Then the patterns change.

Knowing the forgoing is a release from the worst effects of duḥkha. If we begin to change our expectations of what is normal, we are released from a kind of anticipation and unease. I sometimes find myself responding to disappointment that things are not the way they were before the pandemic with impatience and aggravation. As soon as I recognize the quickening of my heartbeat or a shortening of breath I step back, observe what is happening and let go of the adverse reaction.

This is much like what happens when we are in meditation. We observe a thought arising and we relinquish it, let it dissolve. Then I take a further step and feel a sense of gratitude for that particular moment as imperfect as it may have seemed a few moments ago. Resilience!

The stresses of the last few years have taken their toll. We are looking forward to a reset. There will be some things we just easily glide into and other things that are new, requiring adjustments. What ever we have before us it is a good idea to pause before reacting. Allow the immediate reaction to settle and observe your physical and mental response. Then meet the challenge with a renewed sense of acceptance, resolve, and gratitude. This is truly a Buddhist response to change.

With Love and Gassho . . . Monshin

[1]  Buswell, R.E., and D.S. Lopez Jr. (2014) The Princeton Dictionary of Buddhism. Princeton University Press.