Dr. Alex Lickerman
Alex is a physician, an assistant vice president at the University of
Chicago, a practicing Buddhist, and the author of The Undefeated Mind.
If I could share 500 words of wisdom to
summarize what I've learned so far in life, these are the important
things I'd want to pass along to others...
The key to happiness
isn't material wealth, health, or even fulfilling relationships. The key
to happiness is wisdom. Wisdom is so powerful that it can even put a
halt to suffering without changing the circumstances that cause it.
Most of us deem a problem solved when it no longer confronts us, but from a Buddhist perspective a problem is solved when it no longer makes us suffer, our escaping or overcoming oppressive circumstances representing only one particular means to that end.
Certainly it may be the means we
most prefer, and in many cases what we need to do to be able to declare
true victory. But it's not the only means at our disposal. As Viktor
Frankl wrote, "When we are no longer able to change a situation--just
think of an incurable disease such as inoperable cancer--we are
challenged to change ourselves."
From a Buddhist perspective,
however, this means neither denying our problems exist nor denying they
make us suffer. Rather, it means learning to use suffering as a
springboard for creating benefit.
For when confronted by harsh
circumstances over which we have no control, we become capable of
enduring them only by finding a way to create value with them--as
Frankl, a psychiatrist, did himself while a prisoner at Auschwitz by
both attending to the suffering of his fellow prisoners and dreaming of
the day he would be able to lecture about the lessons in psychology he
learned from being imprisoned in a Nazi concentration camp.
Indeed, what Frankl's example
teaches us is that the essence of victory over suffering lies in the act
itself of refusing to be defeated. For whether our problems are
diminutive or global, mundane or existential, resolvable in the way we
want or not, winning doesn't just require we constantly attack with all
our might: it is constantly attacking with all our might.
That is, whether we can declare
genuine victory doesn't depend only on the final outcome, but also on
what we feel in all the moments leading up to it. After all, how can we
say we've won even in achieving the best possible benefit if at every
moment leading up to it we suffered at the hands of the belief that
victory would never be ours? Given that we spend much more time fighting
for victory than attaining it, what we feel during the former is even
more important than what we feel during the latter.
Studies actually show that when
most of us experience a significant loss--the death of a spouse or a
parent, for example--we suffer for a while but then typically recover
(becoming frozen in grief or outright depression following such an event
turns out to be surprisingly rare). But just knowing we're most likely
destined to recover in the end doesn't automatically mitigate the
suffering such traumas cause while we're going through them.
For this reason, possessing an
undefeated mind in which hope beats in time with every thrust of our
pulse, a constant refrain in our body and heart, isn't just necessary
for victory; it is victory. For in refusing to give up, we
refuse to give in, not just to oppressive circumstances, but to the
moment-by-moment experience of suffering itself.
Resilience, in other words,
doesn't consist only of returning to our original level of functioning
after a loss; it also consists of not experiencing its decline in the