The idea of ‘turning poison into medicine’ comes from a form of Buddhism called Nichiren Buddhism. This is a sect of Japanese Buddhism based on the teachings of its founder Nichiren in the 13th century. One of the key tenets of this approach is that our suffering is not caused by our attachment to our desires, as traditional Buddhism teaches. It purports, instead, that our suffering is caused by our belief that we lack the personal power to overcome the challenges that confront us. That ultimately, we are powerless in the face of adversity. And this can lead us to states of severe anxiety and depression where we are consumed by feelings of powerlessness, worry and despair.
Throughout our life we will experience times of challenge and difficulty. That is a given. The way to turn these times of ‘poison into medicine’ is to develop the mental strength and sense of inner powerfulness so that we can move through, and beyond, them to happier lives. Alex Lickerman, who is a practicing Nichiren Buddhist, has written a book called ‘The Undefeated Mind’ in which he gives us many tips for developing such a mind. In the book he says “Though our ability to control what happens to us in life may be limited, our ability to establish a life state strong enough to surmount the suffering life brings us is not.”
I like this idea of an ‘undefeated mind’ and have put together some of my personal suggestions on how to develop it. I have also included ideas from the book ‘The Undefeated Mind’ which you can purchase here to give a fuller view of a truly resilient mind.Here are my suggestions:
- Develop persistence: when we are going through difficult times, or even when we are having a tough day, the temptation is to just give up. We want to curl up in a ball and hide under the covers (at least I do!). In fact, these poisonous days, weeks, months, and sometimes even years, are our opportunity to be persistent and just keep going….. even when we don’t feel like it.
- Take baby steps: during a ‘bad’ time, it is critical to keep taking small steps forward. Even the simplest of actions that keep us moving when we want to stop are a crucial part of developing inner strength and powerfulness. And often, one step naturally leads to another…and another. Our built-in resistance, that we all suffer from when want to move through change in our life, will do its best to thwart us. Baby steps forward are the only answer to overcome this resistance.
- Be optimistic: when we feel optimistic, we make more effort to achieve our desires. We believe there is hope and a worthwhile end in sight. We know that we can, and will, move through any obstacles in time. A mantra I like to use in difficult times is ‘out of this, only good can come’. And that does not mean that we cover over our painful emotions with positive self-talk. We feel them. We acknowledge them. And then we move beyond them, knowing good and happiness will come.
- Be the witness: when we are challenged, it is our emotional response to the problem that invariably is the problem. Our negative thinking proliferates our reactions and sustains them. As we learn through meditation to be the witness of our thinking, and our resulting emotions, we can observe our powerlessness and label it accordingly. We notice it as ‘anger’, ‘self-pity, ‘jealousy’, ‘anxiety’ or ‘sadness’, nothing more. From this perspective, we have some distance between us and the thinker in us that is thinking and experiencing these thoughts. And that space allows us to let these responses go.
- Never give up: Alex Lickerman makes a distinction between defeat from failing versus defeat from giving up. For him, the undefeated mind never gives up and keeps seeking solutions, even if they are solutions we may not want, or like. He believes that when we do this we are able to withstand all of our personal traumas and to triumph over them. This is the measure of resilience par excellence!
- When your determinations changes, everything will move: Lickerman quotes Daisaku Ikeda, the third president of the Nichiren Buddhist lay organization Soka Gakki:“The moment you resolve to be victorious, every nerve and fibre in your being will immediately orient itself toward your success. On the other hand, if you think, ‘This is never going to work out,’ then at that instant every cell in your being will be defeated and give up the ghost. Then everything really will move in the direction of failure.” The undefeated mind has strong resolve!
- Support others on their journey: part of our individual mission in life is to use our gifts and talents for the greater good of others. As we do this, it lifts us above our personal dramas and puts us into a place of service. Lickerman points out that what we all want and need the most is encouragement. So, rather than offering advice, offer encouragement so that others feel they have the inner strength and powerfulness to move through their personal poisons to triumph.
These are just a few of my personal suggestions that have helped me get though times of challenge, inner turmoil and the desire to give up. I have also drawn from Alex Lickerman’s fascinating book to help you know that being powerful, and succeeding, in the face of adversity is possible. Most importantly, please believe that whatever you are facing in the outer world of physical reality, that within you is your unconditioned Self that can cope, that can persist and has already fully transcended all of the poisons that you face. And this Self has turned those poisons into the medicine of happiness!