I’d like to talk about resilience. See, the thing about resilience is – it feels it’s a paradox.
Let me explain.
We have it
Would you say that babies or small children are resilient? I certainly would.
The world must be a terrifying, uncontrollable place for them. Yet we are all familiar with the situation. A toddler falls down, drops their food, the dog eats it, and they bump themselves as they fall.
At first, it’s a nightmare.
But within moments, something happens. The infant or toddler bounces back from the situation with such speed and completeness that we may think to ourselves – or even say allowed – I wish I could bounce back that quickly.
Resilience, in psychological terms, is defined as the process of adapting well to traumatic events of significant adversity. An excellent article written by the APA can be found here.
I would broaden that definition – it’s equally as important to include the resilience to express and move through emotions quickly, in order to return to an equilibrium. It doesn’t have to be a particularly traumatic event.
We can start with something as simple as keeping a level head when we get a flat tire on the way to dropping the kids off at an important party. This too is resilience.
And it’s something a lot of us lose over the course of our lives.
We don’t have it
How often do drop the difficult emotions and bounce back to calmness, to mental clarity? Often when things go wrong, we stew and boil until the problem is resolved somehow – either by bitterly struggling with a perceived failure, or by going out and using our brute strength to attack and change the situation.
It’s not the same though, is it? It’s not the same as moving through an emotional state quickly, like that of a child. We lose something coming into adulthood. Our burdens become bigger; our worries become more pronounced. Things get very serious.
There is a third option that many of us use when the stakes aren’t so high. It’s an option always available to us, but often forget that we can use it: accepting the situation as it is.
This is the essence of mindfulness. You don’t have to like it. You don’t have like the fact that you’re running late, or enjoy the fact you’re getting a divorce. But it’s happening nevertheless.
What we choose
How then, do we work through this? How do we make ourselves more resilient in the face of adversity? And why is it that we have resilience for some things, but not others? What makes certain circumstances special, and others too painful to face?
See what I mean – this feels like a paradox. We have resilience, but then we also don’t. Shouldn’t we have resilience all the time?
It’s really not a paradox. And the answer to that last question is: we can.
What we want is often guided by what we value. How we react, however, is usually governed by what we feel. We may react negatively when we don’t get our way. Really, what we are saying is “something I wanted didn’t happen, and it makes me sad/angry.” Or “I wish things were this way or that.”
From this perspective, resilience is really acceptance. Once you accept the way things are, you can choose to act in a way that is more in line with what you value. You may not get to the party on time, but you don’t have to be miserable the whole way there. You can feel your feelings, accept them, do your best to get there on time, and still have fun.
It’s not. As many of us realize, this is can be a colossal achievement. It takes time, patience, commitment, and love.
A Final Thought on Resilience
I have some questions for you, dear reader.
When did we lose that child-like resilience? And how do we get it back? When did adulthood become such a burden?
Personally, I believe this space is still in each of us, somewhere. This intersection between expressing hard emotions and moving through them without judgment or shame.
It might take some work, but we can each get to a point where we are both living our own personal truth whilst also minimizing our own suffering.
We just need to patiently and compassionately look for this place inside us, and lend a helping hand to each other along the way.
Stephen is a budding counsellor, avid craft beer enthusiast, and part-time Buddhist. He enjoys hiking, connecting with nature, losing himself in deep conversation, and contributing to the Conscious Beginnings blog.