We have all heard remarkable stories of individual resilience. I recently addressed a group where three of the other presenters shared what it took to get through significantly challenging times. They discussed multiple essentials. Some that keep showing up are: recognizing what is and is not within our control, problem solving skills, curiosity, flexibility, letting go of what does not work (even if it worked previously), support from others, keeping ourselves healthy, perspective, self-compassion, patience, appreciating opportunities for growth, and altering our perception of an event and its possible effect (“this is going to be the end of me”…as opposed to “this has the potential to tax me in ways yet unknown; but I will find a way through”). Resilience is something we can develop throughout our life; it can be transformative.
Often people define resilience as getting through a difficult, often traumatic time or event, and seeing how quickly we can bounce back. Is our goal to “bounce back?” It can be useful but, of course, when we bounce back, ”BACK” is never quite the same. For most of us, resilience looks more like picking ourselves up and dusting ourselves off in more of a plodding, slow-moving sojourn. So instead of a seeking to “bounce back” we attempt to “move forward.” Why? Because things have changed. We have changed. As we move through an experience, we become different, perhaps transformed. Some of us may move forward easily after a setback, and others of us may plod ahead as we integrate a new chapter into our personal story.
At times, the road forward may be both easy and hard to navigate depending on where we are along our journey. As with any “road ahead” there will be surprises along the way. Clearly, we encounter unexpected obstacles. We can move through or around them. If we can do neither, we find creative ways to reach our goal…or we change the goal. Also, as we move through (or toward) something, we can make an effort to notice kind and joyful encounters that give us hope.
I like to imagine my life as a tapestry. As we know, a tapestry is “a piece of thick textile fabric with pictures or designs formed by weaving colored weft threads or by embroidering on canvas. The word is often used in reference to an intricate or complex combination of things or sequence of events” (Oxford Languages Dictionary).
All of the experiences of our life are woven into that tapestry. When a great challenge or disruptive event occurs in our lives, it may create a stain on the weave or even tear a gaping hole in it. Many things determine how we respond.
In response to a great challenge, some of us may leave that part of the tapestry alone for a while – or a long time – and put our focus on some other part of the tapestry of our life. This may involve a focus on a time to heal, the development of new skills, and becoming stronger.
For others, we need to do the opposite. That part of the tapestry needs to stay prominent. Finding ways to deal healthfully with the rupture is like finding ways to rework the tapestry, mending it, changing it so that the damaged part is worked back into the whole. This happens when we work with a challenge or trauma until we can healthfully deal with it in a way that allows us to feel comfortable with it as part of who we are.
I join those who say that our tapestry becomes even more special or beautiful. Like Kintsugi, the Japanese art of repairing cracked vases, the flaws are highlighted (often with gold); the belief is that flaws are beautiful and with repair, can give us a feeling of rebirth.
Some of us wonder if a particular trauma or difficult time defines us. Whether or not we are defined by an event is ultimately up to us. Our self-definition is a process that involves our deep consideration. It is easy to let ourselves be defined by others and by events. But how we define ourselves is related to our resilience. Experiencing tragedy does not preclude us from living constructive, well-integrated, healthy, and purposeful lives. In fact, there are many who believe that it is those very experiences of loss and challenge that are the foundation of such lives. Resilience is about thoughtfully, intentionally, carefully, and compassionately moving forward as we deal with and move through the difficulties of life.
Resilience is dependent on several factors and each of us has our own unique mix: personality traits, upbringing, genetics, health, attitude, environmental factors, and social support are just a few. The reality of true resilience is to gently weave into our tapestry the experience, the loss, the sadness, the shock, the grief, the anger, the feeling of impotence and lack of control, along with the realizations, the joy, the patience, the tenderness, the connections, and the kindnesses. Then, we may find meaning in the experience which can help us find ways to use the lessons learned. These lessons can become part of our lifelong learning. We ask ourselves if we can find something meaningful amidst all of the stress and suffering. Do we see new possibilities that were not present (or obvious) before? Growth comes not from the difficulty or the traumatic event itself but from our struggle to cope and deal with its difficulty. As we begin a new year we can learn from our past challenges and integrate new ways of thinking about, and dealing with ongoing challenges as we prepare ourselves for new ones with a flexible, open frame of mind and heart.
Each of us has seen “times of trouble” where, as Paul McCartney suggests, we find a way to “Let It Be.” The inspiration for this song was a dream that Paul McCartney had about his late mother, Mary. Some of us find our inspiration to go through difficult times from those who are living or dead. Whatever is the source of our inspiration, may we keep ourselves motivated to go through challenging times with hope and compassion for ourselves and others.
In this month of December, someone, someplace, is celebrating one of the religious holidays listed below (or one that is not listed here). All religions have significant holidays and fast or feast days at other times of the year; I just chose to focus on December. As a way to connect to others, we can begin to find out what is at the spiritual core of someone’s faith and what might the celebration of that faith tradition mean to them and their people?
We can ask ourselves “Why does this matter to me? It’s not MY holiday.” Or, we can ask ourselves “What do I know about these holidays? These customs? Their history? The people for whom these holidays are important?”
And if the answer is “Nothing or “Not very much” we can take this moment in time to learn more. Right now, much of our world is hyper-focused on divisiveness, incivility, judgement, and a lack of desire to “love (or even like) our neighbor.” We can alter this by being willing to say “I do not know about these people or their traditions and would like to know more.” This awareness comes with a desire to listen, learn, and have a willingness to connect with a person or a group that is unfamiliar to you and to do so because we are all part of the human family.
We have the ability and can create opportunities to enhance connections with people who have a different faith tradition from ours. When we are curious and open to what is important to others, we are more likely to understand and appreciate who they are. Judgement is not a part of this process. We will encounter things or ideas that are strange or unusual to us. We are in this to learn. We do this because we emphasize our common humanity. We can start with curiosity and interest, a sense of wonder and see where it leads.
A Partial List of Holidays in December:
Here are some tips to think about:
Many of us are sleep-deprived. Getting a good night’s sleep is the obvious answer but the fact remains that lots of us are not doing that. For some the solution is to take a power nap during the day, and if we can do that reliably and comfortably, it’s a good idea. However, for the rest of us who may not have the time in our daily schedule nor a place to lie down and peacefully nap, there is another option. It’s called “inemuri” the Japanese term for dozing in public. It is a state of resting that is sleeping-but-not-totally sleeping.
During the day, with a few moments available, we can sit down and rest our heads on the table. Use a towel or a light covering to soften the surface. This is not a nap in the traditional sense, so we don’t need a pillow and blankets. The idea is to doze – while being present – without falling into a deep slumber. It’s about situational awareness, something we don’t have when we fall asleep.
Set an alarm to vibrate and, if headphones or ear buds are accessible, use them. Try for ten or fifteen minutes, daily, and notice over time if there is a difference in your alertness and energy.