Resilience is less about “positive thinking” and less about fearlessness; it is more about your perseverance and courage. Both challenging times and times of joy are important lessons of life. They are like mentors, placing the right circumstances at the right moments of our life. The hopes are that you will have learnt your lessons from the previous events of difficulty or joy, and now apply them to this new experience that you now face, and so on. Let us learn first from the lessons of challenging times. We will return in another piece, on lessons to be learnt from times of joy.
A crucial life-changing quality needed through any difficult situation — financial loss, loss of a job, divorce, relationship breakdown, death of someone close — is resilience. Emma Seppälä, in her very-worthy-to-read book ‘The Happiness Track’ describes resilience as:“…. The ability to quickly bounce back from the stressful situations you face every day ….”
An addition to this apt description of resilience would be one’s ability to remain centred on their purpose and persevere ahead. The power of purpose alone is a key driving force that maintains us at or close enough to, our centre, rather than lose hope and direction both of which are forces that spin us tangentially off our circle of life.
Anyone who has experienced a hurricane knows that the eye of the hurricane — its centre — is the calm around the storm. A wheel off-centred will cause one bumpy ride ahead. Being centred helps us to gracefully ride out the storms of life, and this centre is called resilience.
Resilience is underpinned by realistic thinking, not just positive thinking – and certainly not the kind of “positive thinking” that can be a mantra of affirmations, gravely detached from your very real suffering. Similarly, fearlessness, charging ahead, is rarely the answer. Without adequate self-care and working to transcend your fears — building courage — fearlessness will only lead to regret and possibly cynicism with one’s life. Hardened trees are often uprooted in storms; trees that sway in the heavy winds survive and grow stronger roots.
So, what are key states of the mind which produce real positive outcomes that bring us out of our dark and difficult circumstances – bruised but standing in the light? Here are such key qualities that every challenge helps us build. If you appropriately learn the lessons of hardship we face, these qualities, internalised as habits, will see you through your dark storms and bring you to an illuminated path you will walk further on towards a fulfilling and memorable life. None of these qualities are easy to habitualise into our lives; but with intentional effort to embrace them, we will find their secrets in us whenever the need arises.
- Accepting what is
Difficult times teach us that nothing is perfect and challenges will come, but they will also go. After each difficulty, comes ease. Through each difficulty, one grows. A good way to accept what is, is by deferring to seek to know why it was so. Acceptance does not question, but understands the event, as it is well beyond our capacity to change results.
- Living in the present
Acceptance alone is not sufficient, because it can cast one’s mind constantly into the future to replay the events that hurt you, or into a future where there is supposedly no pain. The past that has already occurred can never be undone, and replaying it in your mind will cause you despair. The future that has not yet arrived can only be of any help if you embrace the present, and worrying about it will only cause you anxiety. By being resilient, you live the present. A resilient person learns from the lessons gradually; they do not expect to know now. They are mindful of their emotions and regulate them. They move from the fight-or-flight tension of the difficulty, to the rest-and-digest period of the moment.
- Avoiding the blame-game
Blaming others whilst putting on hold your momentum to move forward only robs you of precious time, not of those who may have perpetrated a wrong upon you. Blaming yourself forces you into a self-serving victim. And both — self-blame and blaming others — keep you enslaved to the past, not allowing you to move forward towards the good that awaits.
- Acknowledging the negative feelings
One of the causes of the blame-game is not accepting the very real negative, yucky, feeling you undergo when you have to face a challenging trial. We are also hardwired, believe it or not, to reinforce negative thoughts. And feeding such thoughts by succumbing to it only leads you to not accept the reality that faces you, and worse, a slippery slope into depression and despair. But denying them will only make the negative feeling stronger. It is a bit of a paradox, but there is a way out – acknowledgement.
The remedy is acknowledging the feeling, by paying due attention to it, working through it, and seeking to understand what the emotions inform us about ourselves. Speaking to a trusted person, prayer and meditation, as well as physical exercise help build resilience against the crumbling feelings of negative emotions, by having a refreshed mind that is able to acknowledge and deal with them constructively.
- Responding with virtue to others’ foulness
The toughest of acts in the midst of hurt and trial is to respond to others virtuously. Abusive language, for example, thrown at you will not resolve a conflict by firing back a similarly weighted expletive. Calling such behaviour out and then silence and even moving on will bring far better results. Roughness and anger will never bring the pleasant results you seek that gentleness will. Make no mistake: virtue is not gullibility or weakness, but it is a strength, particularly in the midst of perceived weakness.
- Replacing Over-thinking with self-care
Over-thinking about what has transpired hardly will give a better understanding of what has been. Seeking to understand, progressively, and which includes lessons for your own self, is much needed, but very different from over-thinking. Over-thinking leads to seeking to blame a perceived enemy, seeking a perfect solution which does not exist, and asking irrelevant questions that tie you into an emotional knot.
To build resilience, find ways to relax and care for your emotional and possibly spiritual injuries. From prayer and meditation, to physical exercise and meeting with good and trusted people all provide a nurturing ground for self-care.
- Undergoing healing
A crucial part of self-care, if not undertaken, can lead to self-victimisation and even selfish attitudes. Self-care must lead to appropriate and proper healing. And part of healing is to recognise that there is really no such thing as forgetting the past, but learning from that past. In addition, forgetting would entail a disregard of any wound that one may be left with, and if left unattended can fester into serious psychological sores.
Healing is about repairing with gentle care what has broken in you. Every injury leaves a scar, and therefore forgetting what caused it is nigh impossible, because all scars can be “felt”. What is possible is to repair the injury with elegance and a beauty that, upon healing, what emerges is a more beautiful, stronger and an evolved person. It is very similar to the wondrous Japanese art of Kintsugi. Gentle and elegant healing of ourselves is very similar to repairing precious broken pottery, with gold, except that what is seen is a refined and more attractive character when we heal ourselves properly.
- Avoiding toxic people
The last thing you will need around you through a challenging time, is toxic people, who flame your inquisitiveness to search for blame, criticism and gossip of others, and even creating unreal scenarios which never actually occurred.
Negative energy will breed twice that negative energy. Incidentally, good energy will breed exponentially more good energy. A simple rule to live by is to surround yourself with good, trustworthy people who are interested in positive ideas, aspiring hopes and meaningful actions. They speak of issues to see the good in others and all things, and to solve problems, rather than speak of people to complain, criticise and cause more problems.
It is better, always, to be with good people than toxic people; and it is better still to not fear being alone than with even one toxic person.
- Concentrating on one’s own matters
Resilience does not arise by fighting others’ wrongs, but by identifying our own weaknesses and shortcomings that are often silently highlighted to us by the very incident in difficult times. Once we know our shortcomings, we can put a plan into action to remedy them, thereby becoming a better and stronger person.
- Being grateful
Nothing increases you, mysteriously, than a true sense of gratitude. Why is this so? Being grateful immediately directs your focus on what you have rather than what you may not have or have lost. Losing a spouse in death, for example, is a painful experience; being grateful for your children or even your in-laws — your now gone spouse’s parents — and focusing on their wellbeing is a liberating experience. It whispers so many silent meanings that only the practitioner of gratitude can hear.
(Continues next edition)