by Laura Lynch, LCSW and Life Coach
The last few weeks have been marked by losses punctuated by my birthday. I have also been witness to how some people get through life crisis.
The people I am thinking could not have been more different from each other, but they both embodied qualities that exemplify resilience. One was a hard-working mother of ten who never stopped caring about others, her outward cheerful demeanor hiding a sturdy determination; the other an eccentric cult filmmaker who never gave up on his creative dreams. Neither of these people were conventionally successful in terms of money or career but both had a strong sense of self without a feeling of entitlement.
I am fascinated by how people carry through life, retaining their essential selves even as life buffets them. Being able to change and being flexible is an important part of resilience, and, and having core values grounded in principles that encourage qualities of what is good., such as humor, humility and purpose. This does not mean being flawless which is both impossible and boring, and awfully pointless.
Sometimes life comes at you like a hurricane, without apparent warning, although in hindsight the signs are there. Out of disaster hope can be rebound. But the daily vicissitudes of life can wear people down and discouragement creeps in like a slow-moving virus.
It is natural and so human to try to hold on to things, to want things to remain the same. But growth means being open to learning, and learning is change (actually literally – it changes your brain at the physical level, and scientists now know that our brain is capable of this change throughout our life time, thank goodness). Learning can be hard and difficult. You have to sometimes put your nose to the grindstone. Wishing things would never change or return to the old days is useless.
I often show my clients an illustration – imagine my old memories (good ones, bad ones, traumatic ones) as a stack of luggage. Do I drag this luggage around and never let go? I could, but it will weigh me down and therefore make me old and slow before my time. If my hands are busy holding on to the past I cannot have my hands free to grasp on to the future. If I am too busy in my own mind, my eyes down, thinking about what I lost, then I won’t see what is right there in front of me. The desperate need to old on, and freeze frame what you had keeps you from being open to new ideas, new insights, and healthy change.
I like the current phrase of Be the Change You Wish to See in the World. But this means you are not only causing change but open and willing to Let the World Change You. For example, if you traveled around the world, an absorb new things, I hope you would be changed in some way. This means being inspired, enlightened, and having your horizons expanded.
I worry about people who are going through a major life changing event but try desperately to hold on to what was, as if change was not happening. This should be a time for reflection and learning. It also requires a sense of urgency and honesty. If something is transformative, then let it transform you. When there is a lot of change happening, you may feel like the very earth is under you is cracking open you have a tendency to hold on for “dear life” You can be transformed without your essential nature and core values changing. Sometimes changes gets you down to the bare essentials, and without all the extra noise and elaborations you see what is truly important (you know, nothing left to lose). You let go of what is not important, and like a sculptor carving, the true lines of your life comes out.
This too me is an important part of resilience. Not perfection, but the ability to adapt and renew, becoming stronger without developing a rigid hardness that only becomes brittle with age.
Keeping a sense of youthful joy and acceptance will help through change, and as fluffy as it appears, taking things lightly will actually protect you more than sullen defensiveness. Staying connected to others, be engaged with new experiences, and the ability to enjoy daily life will help you stay the course. Avoiding the tendency to compare yourself to others, or your present to the past (bad or good) will keep things in proper perspective. Openness to change is an important part of creativity, and something that should be nourished in childhood and nurtured through life.
As these two people in different parts of my life, you can live a life of integrity and enjoyment, even with hardships, and your essential self will not waver but be revealed even as you embrace life transformations. As the seasons of life go on, may you become “seasoned” and let the threads of disappointments and joys create a beautiful tapestry that is testimony to you.