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Mental Armor: Resilient Under Pressure

Nov 30, 2020

The emergence of Covid-19 has forced all of us to change the way we conduct our lives.  For nearly a year, people in every circumstance and walk of life have dealt with an invisible threat to the health of family, friends, and neighbors, as well as the distress imposed by economic uncertainties.

While there is encouraging news about COVID vaccines, daily life continues to be challenging as infections again surge.  We still need what some military sources call “mental armor” to cope and carry on, to remain resilient and adaptable.

A key component of my own mental armor is meditation, which I use to mask the “noise” of the daily news and other distractions. I use both inner-focused meditation techniques and outwardly directed practices to help me to focus and “clear the decks.”

The second component is finding a purpose beyond my own immediate concerns.  As psychiatrist and concentration camp survivor Viktor Frankl wrote in Man’s Search for Meaning “Those who have a ‘why’ to live, can bear with almost any ‘how.’”  I also adhere to ideas expressed in Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience: “It is by being fully involved with every detail of our lives, whether good or bad, that we find happiness, not by trying to look for it directly.”  For me, this means being clear about my intentions, setting goals slightly above my ability and engaging in physical activity. I see these philosophies at work when I run marathons and climb mountains to raise money for cancer research and in my commitment to financially support an Asian researcher.  Fighting cancer has profound personal meaning for me.

Finally, I find the Stoic philosophy helpful.  Epictetus (50 A.D.–135 A.D.) wrote that, “Some things are within our control and others not.”  The Greek philosopher consistently considered the capacity for choice and the limits of  “volition,” writing, “There is only one way to happiness and that is to cease worrying about things which are beyond the power of our will.”