Our ability to endure difficult times and challenging emotions is often a struggle. Job loss, illness, a break up, financial loss, or even experiencing a long, cold Michigan winter may cause us to suffer deeply. However, while pain seems inevitable in life, we may forget that our ability to endure this pain can be viewed as strength. That’s right! Endurance is strength and we each have a great reserve of it. When we think of ourselves as strong and resilient, we go from thinking that the pain will never end to knowing that it will, and we will be stronger and perhaps more compassionate for having endured it.
Titiksha is a Sanskrit word meaning calm endurance or feeling peaceful even when things may not be just as we would want at the moment. Swami Krishnananda describes titiksha as fortitude to not complain about existing conditions. He says we ‘should not make adverse remarks about current circumstances and should not feel agony about existing situations’. In other words, refrain from pushing against external conditions. It is a practical way to ride out the storm of suffering as the pendulum will swing back to midline fairly soon. We can experience these light external discomforts but suffering can feel even greater when experiencing more intense pain like a slight from a friend, going through a divorce, or by losing a loved pet. However, with any of the challenges that come our way, we can learn to choose forbearance or calm resilience to get through.
The argument for titiksha seems contrary to our human nature’s typical desire for seeking out greater ease and comfort in our lives. Each of us has worked hard in our lives to create our future into something we regard as better than the present. We are often focused on complaining about conditions outside our safe space. We feel the need to protect ourselves from unfavorable weather conditions, we may feel intolerant of others, or we can’t be without our cell phones without agitation. We remain in a state of anxiety because conditions are not ‘right’. But in truth, none of our efforts can change the constitution of our external world and we spend a lot of wasted energy fussing over things beyond our control. The lesson of titiksha is that perhaps we should use this energy to develop better present moment awareness and enjoy more peaceful living through our spiritual development.
Dr. Rick Hansen, in his book Resilience, describes the challenges that come at us, the vulnerabilities in us that those challenges highlight, and the resources that we have to deal with these challenges. The resources we have include resilience, grit and compassion. It is important to practice the building of these resources through gratitude practices, seeing the positive in situations (thus toning down the negativity bias), present moment awareness of safe feelings, and digging deep to find compassion in various situations. By developing these resources, we can each develop greater titiksha or endurance.
Each one of us has endured periods of physical or emotional pain and the mind can run away with feelings and thoughts. If we are able to apply our discipline of coming back to the breath and calming the mind, we can put one foot in front of the other and make it through periods of hardships. Yoga can be a lifeline to help us practice increasing our endurance. This can include asana (movement practice), pranayama (breath work) and meditation. Asana practice can help us to break down our physical and emotional restlessness while our pranayama can help bring in the life force of energy and oxygen , balancing our energetic and physical systems. Both of these practices can prepare us for quiet and peaceful meditation bringing calmness to our internal spaces. At times, sitting for meditation can feel like our busy minds might just crawl out of our heads but if we focus and let our thoughts pass through as we focus on our breath, riding the inhale and the exhale, we may be able to achieve titiksha and endure the disturbances.
Ultimately there is a higher meaning of titiksha, a hint at which is very beautifully given in a verse of the Bhagavad-Gita. It describes the lower level of titiksha (the bearing of opposites like heat/cold) as practice for higher level titiksha: “ What we have to endure or resist, ultimately, is not heat and cold, hunger and thirst, pleasure and pain, etc., but the impulse of desire from within, and the impulse to anger.” “ The urge toward desire and the urge to anger are the two great evil urges within us. These are our enemies if we have an enemy in this world.”
Titiksha teaches us that what we are perceiving at this moment will change. We just need to go forth and try not to resist. With the knowledge that we are all resilient creatures and we have gotten through difficult periods in the past, we can be at greater peace knowing that we will get through this too.
Titiksha affirmation: “ I will patiently endure life’s challenges today with the help of my breath and mindfulness techniques. I will practice calmness and strength in the face of adversity.”
Namaste, Joslyn Shehab, M.D., RYT-200