Resilience Is a Capacity Innate in the Heart as Well as the Brain

Resilience Is a Capacity Innate in the Heart as Well as the Brain

One death is a tragedy. One million deaths is a statistic. – Joseph Stalin

Perhaps you were struck, as I was, by the contrast in the recent news coverage of two tragedies at sea occurring nearly simultaneously: the drowning of 5 wealthy adventurers aboard the submersible Titan seeking to explore the remains of the Titanic in the North Atlantic, and the images of the 750 refugees crowded on the fishing trawler Adriana crossing the Mediterranean from Libya to Italy as it capsized off the coast of Greece, more than 500 now presumed dead.

Our attention could be riveted on both, hoping against hope for a miracle on the Titan, as happened in 2018 when 12 young soccer players and their coach were rescued after 18 days from the monsoon flooding of Tham Luang cave in Thailand by an international rescue effort that involved 100 divers and thousands of people from all over the world. 

Shock, grief, anger as we witnessed hundreds of unnamed, undocumented Afghani, Pakistani, and Syrian refugees fleeing death from war and hunger in their home countries only to find death when their overloaded boat sank in the deepest part of the Mediterranean while the world looked on.

The same day I was reading the editorial opinion of Arwa Mahdawi in The Guardian Weekly challenging us to care as much about each individual unnamed, unidentified man, woman, or child on the Adriana, and the 27,000 of migrants who have died …attempting to cross the Mediterranean since 2014, I saw the film The Great 14th: Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama in His Own Words. (I saw the film in the theater with a Q&A with the director, but you can stream it through PBS’s Passport.) 

In lengthy interviews, the Dalai Lama credits his being a refugee himself for the deepening of his compassion for the suffering of every human being on the planet. Part of his practice as a monk, yes, part also part of his experience as a human being. Forced in March 1959 to escape the Chinese military takeover of Tibet, he secretly walked over the Himalaya to find sanctuary offered by the Indian government in Dharamsala, and has spent years receiving thousands of Tibetan refugees who have since followed him to safety. 

The “why” of risking death and choosing to flee a homeland has deep causes in our global world today. [See the powerful poem No One Leaves Home Unless Home Is the Mouth of a Shark by Somalian refugee Warsan Shires.] I don’t have the broad background knowledge to know how the issues of war and civil war, drought and famine, political and religious persecution, climate catastrophes can be solved any tine soon. Or whether there is the moral will among world leaders to solve them in time. 

But I do draw on the deep knowing that the capacities for resilience – coping with adversity in the need for survival and, beyond that, the hope of a better life – are innate in every human heart as well as every human brain. And that we can cultivate our own capacities for compassion and care in the face of the overwhelming need of people to survive and hope to thrive. 

I hadn’t exactly planned to transition my posting of these e-newsletters from weekly subscriptions to your inbox (daily during the pandemic) to monthly archives directly on my website at a time when we need to recover our resources for resilience more urgently than ever, but maybe that time is all the time. The plan for the moment is to post on the second Thursday of every month, so the next post will be August 17, 2023, archived on my website that morning. 

As my retirement-into-Renaissance leans even further into practices that cultivate the wisdom and compassion we need to meet every disappointment, difficulty and even disaster with strength, skill, and wise choices, I leave you with the prayer the Dalai Lama says every day as part of his monastic discipline:   

May I become at all times, both now and forever

A protector of those without protection

A guide for those who have lost their way

A ship for those with oceans to cross

A bridge for those with rivers to cross

A sanctuary for those in danger

A lamp for those without light

A place of refuge for those who lack shelter

And a servant to all in need

~ Shantideva ~