Why is Resiliency so Important?
I’ve always been fascinated with people who have survived hardships, even horrible experiences such as the Holocaust.
Why do some people bounce back after a setback while others seem to fall apart at the slightest inconvenience? How can others just go with the flow of life, seemingly unperturbed by the ups and downs we all experience?
There’s no escaping stress. It can shatter our lives through death or divorce, or excite us with a promotion or marriage. Anything that upsets the delicate balance of our daily lives creates stress.
I think we can all agree that Covid-19 has upset the delicate balance of our lives!
So why do some people come out of a crisis stronger while others never seem quite themselves again?
Resilience is being able to recover quickly from adversity and adapt to change. Psychiatrist Frederick Flach describes it as “the psychological and biological strengths required to successfully master change.”
Perception is everything
“Things don’t change. You change your way of looking, that’s all.”
~ Carlos Castaneda
When I was 21, I got into a major car accident. After a couple days’ stay in a hospital, I was back at my parents’ house. I felt discouraged and saw my life going nowhere quickly. In an attempt at independence, I’d moved out about six months before, to a crummy studio apartment in a converted garage.
This was the late 1970s, the era of long gas lines and even longer unemployment lines. I had a series of factory jobs, landing a job just to get laid off weeks later. As I lay on the couch, nursing my cracked ribs, I made a decision. I was going to join the Navy.
I knew plenty of people who were in the military – three brothers, cousins, friends, classmates. The idea was not farfetched. In fact, my dad, seeing I was “stuck” in my life, had come home one day a year earlier and tossed a bunch of recruiting material on my bed. The seed had been planted.
So off I went to boot camp. And it was there that I found my inner strength.
Boot camp is designed to break you down so you can be built back up. Not everyone gets through it. I remember standing before a bulletin board, reading the “plan of the day” and remarking to Roz, my newfound friend, “I’m never going to make it.”
She looked at me and said, “It’s just a game. They want to know who can play it.”
That changed everything for me. I decided right then that I was not going to be one of those recruits sent home because they couldn’t cut it. I was not going to fail because I had nothing to go back to.
Needless to say, I did make it and moved forward with my life. Later, as I encountered more challenges and changes, I was able to draw on the strength I found in boot camp.
Resilience can be cultivated
We can’t always change what’s going on around us but we can change our perception of it and how we experience a situation. But that also requires a fundamental change of our inner environment, our mental and emotional environment.
Resilience is not a trait that people are born with; it involves behaviors, thoughts, and actions that can be learned and developed by anyone.
Reframe the situation. Perhaps you saw our original shelter in place order as an opportunity to learn a new language, declutter your basement or write the Great American Novel. Not every situation lends itself to this. If you have a life-threatening illness, it may be hard to find the silver lining.
Learn to be flexible. Those who master resilience tend to be adept at accepting what comes at them with flexibility rather than rigidity. They roll with the punches and don’t fall apart if something doesn’t work out the way they want.
Know that it’s temporary. When we’re kids, we think everything is forever. We don’t understand that nothing in life is permanent, neither the good nor the bad. If we can keep that mind, then we can focus on getting through the tough time, even if it means taking it day by day, maybe even minute by minute.
Cultivate self-awareness. Self-awareness helps us learn about ourselves – what we’ll accept from others, what we’ll accept from ourselves. We need to be willing to ask ourselves tough questions and to answer them with honesty. Self-awareness also involves learning to tune into the subtle cues our bodies and minds send us. Subtle though they may be, they can tell us much.
Be willing to sit in silence. This goes with cultivating self-awareness. We can’t cultivate it while being distracted by all manner of indulgences and addictions. It isn’t easy to sit with our feelings, but it is necessary if we want to gain resiliency.
Practice acceptance. Healing takes time. When we’re in the midst of a painful situation, we just want it to be over. But stress and pain are part of the ebb and flow of life. Coming to terms with the truth of the pain instead of ignoring, repressing or denying it is key to healing. Acceptance is about experiencing the full range of emotions and learning to trust that we’ll bounce back.
Resilience and Yoga
“The way we approach asana is similar to the way we approach life. Are we aggressive? Are we halfway doing it? Are we resenting it? Are we loving it? Are we using it as an escape? It’s a mirror. The practice is neutral. The poses are neutral. What they do is show us who we are.”
~ Judith Hanson Lasater, renowned yoga teacher
There’s a connection between a regular yoga practice and developing resilience.
When we come to the mat and are frustrated about our wobbly Warrior 3, but return the next day to try again, it’s because we understand that our shakiness is just temporary.
When we sit in meditation, it’s because we’re willing to put away our distractions and be present in the moment. Learning to observe without judgment and change our perspective.
When we unroll our mats on a regular basis, practicing our wobbly Warriors and being willing to sit in silence, we are strengthening our resilience to stress and change.
Stress, trauma, change, pain – they’ll always be with us. But if we can strengthen our resilience muscle, we’ll be the better for it.
That’s the power of resiliency.