by Laura Lynch, LCSW, Life Coach
Well….trying to get back on track with writing. With an initial interruption of medical issues, then being mentally caught up in election turmoil (Are we in Kansas anymore and when did the tornado come and pick me up?) and now bookended by weeks of more medical issues (winter illness x 2 and recently weeks of acute back issues, but who’s complaining, I have just started with a nice looking young physical therapist and I am endeavoring to get back…on track. (This will be interesting for me, the last time I had physical therapy I was just a tot, needing help with learning how to walk). I have not had a problem with lack of material to write about, and in a way I have had an abundance of ideas and thoughts. Essentially, if it is writer’s block, then it is comparable to the occasional blocks we get in our home pipes. (On the other hand, that does not sound so good, does it? ) But it is time to blow out the engines as it were, or let the windows open and let some fresh air in. In the middle of the holidays I did manage to repaint my kitchen, I think it turned out nicely if I say so myself. On the other hand, not knowing when to stop probably brought me down. Which brings me to the topic of being resilient.
An ongoing interest is the idea of resilience and related ideas of being open to change. In many ways resiliency and adapting to change has been a major theme in my life, and I see it everyday in my clients, my family and friends, community and in the news. To my mind, this applies to individuals, families, communities, cultures and countries. The simplest definition of resilience is often referred to as the ability to bounce back. But underneath that simple idea lies a complicated puzzle. An article I recently read made it clear that being resilient is not only not necessarily a life that is free and easy (otherwise, why are we talking about bouncing back?) but maybe the energy consumed and the efforts attained may have costs, and these costs may even cause harm to some. Also, while we often think that this is a quick thing, for some it may be a long trek with no end in sight. But then this seems to parallel the ideas such as “liberty is not free” and with “great success comes great responsibility”. A recent quote I heard on an episode of NCIS (when young Palmer found himself on a ledge trying to help a suicidal young man) was if you find yourself “marching through hell then keep on marching”.
A post I wrote last year “Boiling It Down: The Struggle for Well Being” discussed the tendency of those who consistently experience poor mental health are either too focused on the past or not accepting of present reality, or some combination thereof. The ideas in this article certainly bears on what it means to have the quality of resiliency.
In order to begin or continue on, you may have to stop first.
I mentioned in the first paragraph not knowing when to stop. I certainly think that knowing when to stop, whether it’s a short break, a longer pause, good sleep, a nice meal, talking with friends, walking or other outdoor activity, a vacation, or taking the exit off where you have been going in your life may be an important part of resiliency. I am not basing this on hard data, but a life of observed experience of myself and others. Yes there are some super strivers who seem to reach the heights and constantly work but sooner or later you need time to decompress, reflect and reorient and replenish. You have to start where you are, and short cuts may end up being the long way around.
Stopping is a chance to recharge and refuel.
Being able to take breaks (even if petting the dogs) recharges your batteries, and in turn leads to another important aspect of resiliency. Resilient people may be determined, but I don’t think they are hard-headed or stubborn, nor too narrow-minded or short-sighted, at least not as a matter of usual demeanor or character. (But we all have our days). In recharging and replenishing you are more likely to be mindful, aware, resourceful and creative. You may even solve some problems! The beauty of being creative, especially if you do creative work in the arts (or even creative problem solving in engineering or science) is that in the very act of creating and solving you are refueling your reserves. This can happen in two ways:
In solitude. Resilient people often thrive in solitude, going deep into reflective thinking or creative work, or even in doing daily routines and chores (exercise, housework etc) that provide focus and calmness. Writing, painting and other arts take people to another place (a form of vacation or transformation), or craft and building work may also provide solace. People working in science and computer fields may also find themselves focused alone on tasks that provide this sense of satisfaction. Physical, mental and spiritual energies are regenerated. People who have this gift of solitude can also provide inspiration and grounding for other people, or even become transformational figures. Simple mindful activities of meditation activities or focused simple activities is part of this too, as taught by Lhama Dondrub, the Dali Lahma, and Thich Nhat Hanh.
In community. But resilient people may also thrive in work that is dependent on working with and on behalf of others, in more than transactional ways (if possible), in a way that provides purpose and meaning within the work itself, and not necessarily in some outward goal. Even work that may be superficially transactional (like being a real estate agent) can be given some larger purpose or meaning through your attitudes or intentions. The work may be hard, or require levels of skill, but has it own intrinsic reward. People working in the arts, such as movie making and theater use a variety of skills sets, some quite technical in nature. Work sociologists have shown that factory jobs that focus on a holistic goal instead of assembly work (such as in automobile factories) afford greater satisfaction, avoid burnout and minimize dehumanizing aspects of work. When we landed on the moon, that was very much a team effort. Team work at these levels is not about being easy, but indeed it often seems that really challenging tasks make inevitable setbacks easier to overcome. Communities that come together, in common cause, can overcome!
Questions to Consider.
Can resiliency be something you can learn? Or is it inborn? Can it developed and encouraged? There does seem to be some indication that some people, and indeed some cultures seem to have inherent resilient qualities, but it is intriguing, as a therapist, to wonder if this is something that can be brought out in people. I work with people everyday who seem to exemplify resilience, such as those struggling with the horrors of schizophrenia and poverty (from diverse races/ethnic groups/economic backgrounds). I also work with people who seem to have very little capacity for bouncing back, in fact they self sabotage (people who suffer from personality disorders, for example). Learning how to work well in solitude as well as part of a team could certainly be a part of this. Children who are able to do both (be independent, but also work well others as leaders or team members) may have a capacity for resiliency. Of course, people may naturally have more tendencies to be prefer solitude or teamwork, depending on their temperament of introversion or extraversion. (Although I admit to having a bias against some extroverts, who may not necessarily be great team members, but that is a subject for another day). But as an introvert, I can attest that I derive a great deal of satisfaction from working as part as team, as much as I enjoy my down time alone.
I will be writing further on exploring the ideas of resiliency, and also ask questions about why some people are resistant to change while others are more adaptable. I am also interested in these questions from a cultural perspective. Do traditions helps cultures to maintain their ability to get through setbacks or hardships, or do they hinder communities? How does faith influence resiliency, and does it help or hurt the ability to “bounce back”, especially when cultural change challenges long-held beliefs. How does issues of justice, caring for our children, elderly, and disabled members of society help, and ensuring education as the foundation for democracy help to ensure a resilient society? Is optimism and humor an important part of resiliency, or do you need a healthy tonic of skepticism and perhaps anger mixed in? Does having a good sense of history help, in terms of providing perspective? Does having a sense of purpose and belonging help? Can we gain resiliency by being more in nature, but also have this same vitality and stamina through vibrant urban spaces? Finally how does resiliency influence a sense of well-being and happiness, and what are the specific characteristics of resilient cultures and communities, and by extension perhaps happy cultures and communities. When communities are torn apart, do some people have to pay too high a price in service of longer term goals and benefits?
Resiliency is about recovery and healing. Nature is a testament to this, although we are now causing great harm to our home, the earth. Life itself is resilient and wants to live, if allowed to go through its’ cycles, to evolve and maintain its balance.
These questions seem particularly urgent today, when the world seems torn and adrift with violence, uncertainty, despair and crisis. So often we may not know what we have in ourselves until our backs our up against the wall, the waters are rising, or we are knocked down. So while the quality of resiliency is not necessarily the mark of the easy life, it can be part of a well lived life.