It is inevitable that in life we will get some upsetting moments, difficulties and even tragedies to deal with. We can do all we can to keep ourselves safe and healthy, but for the events that can’t be avoided, the quality we need to develop is resilience.
What is Resilience?
The Oxford English dictionary defines resilience as:
‘The ability of a substance or object to spring back into shape; elasticity.
The capacity to recover quickly from difficulties; toughness.’
How can we develop resilience?
Before we look at how we can develop resilience, lets explore our reactions to difficult situations:
Of the 15 to 20 percent of children who encounter a significant traumatic event in their lifetimes, only a quarter of these will go on to develop a diagnosis such as posttraumatic stress disorder. This must mean that some people can cope better with very traumatic situations than others.
Could it be to do with our attitude to difficulties?
In the ancient Chinese book the I-Ching, the pictograph for crisis is made up of two terms, danger and opportunity. This is interesting and illustrates how difficulties and misfortune can actually bring us the greatest opportunity for growth.
When we come across what seems like a depressing or difficult situation, obviously we will feel upset, this is natural and it’s not good to keep strong feelings inside and pretend we’re okay when we’re not, but we need to ask ourselves ‘Is this actually as bad as it seems? Is there any good that could come from this?’ If you can see absolutely nothing but misfortune, then remind yourself that things can change and that tomorrow, a week, or a year from now, you might see the situation in a totally different way. Here is a story to illustrate this thought:
‘Once upon a time a long time ago, there lived a Russian farmer, this farmer was not well off, but at least he had one good horse. One day , however the horse ran away. The neighbours came to condole over his terrible loss, they were surprised to see that the farmer was not distraught over the loss of his horse, they couldn’t understand, but he looked at them calmly and then the farmer said to his neighbours , “What makes you think it is so terrible?” .
A month later, the horse came home, this time bringing with her two beautiful wild horses. The neighbours became excited at the farmer’s good fortune. “Such lovely strong horses, you are so lucky!” they told him. The farmer said, “What makes you think this is good fortune?” .
A few weeks later the farmer’s son was thrown from one of the wild horses and broke his leg. All the neighbours were very distressed. ” So terrible, such bad luck!” they said, but once again the farmer said, “What makes you think it is bad?”.
A war came to their country, and every able-bodied man was conscripted and sent into battle. Only the farmer’s son, because he had a broken leg, remained. The neighbours congratulated the farmer and guess what the farmer said……..”What makes you think this is good?”
This farmer managed to keep his mind calmly open to the possibility of change in any moment. He didn’t judge things to much, he waited and let the situations speak for themselves.
Therefore, if circumstances can swing dramatically from one way to another, then it is wise to find an anchor, a calmness that helps us to stay rooted during the changing times, through all the ups and downs of life.
Meditation as an anchor
Meditation helps us develop this ability to stay rooted and in the moment during times of change. By separating from distressing thoughts or pains in our body, feeling the thoughts or sensations and then looking at them from a distant perspective during meditation. For instance if you have an aching shoulder during meditation (providing it doesn’t need immediate medical attention) try to take a step back from your normal reaction to what we call ‘pain’ and see the feeling not as pain, but as an unusual feeling, see if you can describe the sensation in your mind. Is it a light dull sensation all over your shoulders, or an intermitant jabbing in particular places? Try to describe it as you feel it as if you’d never experienced or even heard of the sensation of pain and didn’t know that it was bad. This sounds strange, but give it a try and see if you can change your attitude to the pain by stepping away from your preconceived ideas about it. As you release your fear and tension over the pain, this helps the muscles to relax and consequently the pain will actually lessen.
This technique can be applied to many other difficult situations, sometimes the fear that we feel is linked to how we expect a situation, or a feeling to be and we may find that if we keep our minds open, (while obviously remaining cautious and alert for potential danger) the situation might not be as bad as we expected, or might even bring something new and unexpected which could turn out to be good.
Staying in the moment
“What day is it?”
“It’s today,” squeaked Piglet.
“My favorite day,” said Pooh.
― A.A. Milne
When there seem to be so many difficulties, so much chaos or change and it gets a bit much, I like to imagine being a mermaid or a rock at the bottom of a deep still ocean. I feel the quiet calm of the water and although I know that there are waves crashing on the surface, (the crashing waves are still there, perhaps I can even swim up to nearer to the surface and watch them). I feel calm and still, just being in the moment, I can even imagine that I am the ocean itself. Finding this still place in yourself can help to give you strength and calmness during difficult times.
“You must live in the present, launch yourself on every wave, find your eternity in each moment. Fools stand on their island of opportunities and look toward another land. There is no other land; there is no other life but this.”
― Henry David Thoreau
This has an interesting connection with my analogy of the sea, and of waves being difficulties, as Thoreau suggests ‘launch yourself on every wave.’ This seems to be expressing the idea that difficulties can give you strength and opportunities for growth. It is good to accept what is happening to us and see how we can turn every situation into something good. Even something like a life threatening disease although deeply upsetting for the person concerned and everyone connected with them, can bring a lot of love into someones life, that perhaps hadn’t been shown before. It can transform peoples lives, through their relationships and how they see their life. It may not necessarily do this, but the opportunity is always there.
Adapting to change
“It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.” ~Charles Darwin.
Learn to develop your flexibility during periods of change.
When can wrong be right?
It is common, when things go wrong, (especially if it’s not the first time that that particular thing has happened), to say “Oh I always do that wrong”, or ” I can never get that right”
You could listen to that negative voice giving an over exagerated view of what’s happened, or you could actually look at what’s happened and see it honestly, see the positive side of it. For example, ” That’s the third time that’s happened today, how frustrating! Let’s have a look at why it keeps going wrong, is there something I can learn from this?”
Do you see how the second way of looking at the same situation, is going to help something positive to come from a bad experience? It doesn’t mean that you won’t feel angry or fed up, but you can try and remind yourself that mistakes are often our best teachers. Finding that you can learn something from a difficult situation can certainly cheer you up. Sometimes being flexible and adapting can help you to discover a much better way of doing something than you would ever have thought of without having made a mistake.
Here’s a little extract from a story called Forsaken by Jana Oliver.
“The witch reached into the picnic basket and pulled out a light brown chamois bag about the size of a playing card. “Maybe this will help you. It’ll boost your self-esteem.” Now we’re getting somewhere. Riley took the bag and opened it. She looked to the bottom to find … nothing.
“Ah, it’s empty.”
“Of course,” Ayden replied. “It’s up to you to fill it. Find things that mean something to you, that represent times where you’ve overcome an obstacle, learned something important. Put those items in the bag and they’ll help you find your strength.”
“We don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are.” ~Anais Nin
Begin to change your attitude to difficulties and it could change your life!
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