The five inner strengths (also called character strengths or spiritual faculties) are one subset of the many lists of beneficial qualities offered out of the ancient traditions from which modern mindfulness emerges. These interconnected capacities steady the mind so that we can be resilient against life’s slings and arrows and live in closer alignment with our deepest values.
Cultivating what we might call beneficial qualities through practice is helpful not only for our personal wellbeing, but may even be crucial for our collective survival as a species. For example, a 2022 research report by the Mindfulness Initiative in the UK just recently came out that talks about how cultivating beneficial qualities (such as compassion and patience) and integrating them into policy-making may be a powerful route to addressing the climate crisis.
The potential for these strengths of character is inborn, sometimes lying dormant or barely a glimmer and easily overcome by stress and distraction. When they’re well-developed and balanced, they help us manage our response to life’s joys and challenges in ways that decrease our personal and collective suffering. You can read more about them by clicking on the links:
- Confidence: deep embodied conviction that we can meet whatever arises
- Joyful Effort: exerting steady, balanced energy with persistence
- Mindfulness: remembering to be present with experience
- Concentration: steadiness of the mind
- Wisdom: clear comprehension
Traditional teachings also delineate a number of inner and outer circumstances, including states of mind and incidental circumstances, that can make cultivating these inner strengths very difficult. Some of these circumstances may be avoidable or changeable, but some of them may be largely out of our control. Understanding this helps us take action to prevent or remove these obstacles wherever possible and to have more compassion for ourselves and others when we struggle.
- lacking interest or being indifferent
- being misled by harmful or distorted influences
- being caught up with or chronically distracted by worldly concerns
- being enslaved, imprisoned or otherwise controlled by others
- practicing out of fear or pure obligation
- experiencing barriers to learning
There’s a thread you follow. It goes among
things that change. But it doesn’t change.
People wonder about what you are pursuing.
You have to explain about the thread.
But it is hard for others to see.
While you hold it you can’t get lost.
Tragedies happen; people get hurt
or die; and you suffer and get old.
Nothing you do can stop time’s unfolding.
You don’t ever let go of the thread.
– William Stafford, The Way It Is