What does it mean to be resilient?

Resilience is commonly described as being able to withstand and bounce back from negative experiences. Resilience is not the capacity to not feel, like a teflon skinned human; unaffected. It’s not the capacity to carry on regardless in the face of adversity. It’s not endurance. It’s the capacity to experience; sometimes extreme emotional difficulties, and recover; with the emphasis on recover. To bow but not break. To stay calm even in the bow. To adapt and not hit out, or in.

For me, resilience is that our value and attitude towards our self remain intact within our experience. That we don’t internalise the negativity we have experienced and turn it towards our view of ourself. It’s to maintain a perspective whilst being in the negative experience, of knowing it is not who we are.

There is pain and there is suffering. The difference between the two is our view of the pain. To resist pain creates further pain and struggle. To accept that we are experiencing pain – even that which we have not chosen – is to acknowledge the reality of life. We need not perceive pain as a result of our failings, for this is the root of self-blame, guilt and the beginning of self-sabotage. This is where we create further pain for our self. This is the difference between being sad and feeling sad about being sad or feeling bad about our self because we feel sad. Sounds silly, huh?

Acceptance can be misconstrued as a state of passivity and powerlessness; a denial of autonomy and will. But acceptance is a state which gives us a stable position from which to draw further energy. To acknowledge what we can’t change isn’t giving up. It’s actually quite hard to accept what we would rather resist. But the sooner we stop wasting energy trying to change or fix – resist – reality, the more equipped we are to live through it and emerge intact. Living through discomfort with our heart open is resilience. Trying to deny what we feel or close it down is the beginning of shutting ourselves down.

There is what happens to us. And there is what happens next. If we can remain open to what happens next as a space of potential we are able to live from a place of active hope whilst feeling hopeless (Chris Johnstone). We can chose to draw strength from the fact we don’t know how things will play out. That the present story is not the future story. We can chose to trust in the inescapable principle of life force; Change. It may have put us somewhere we don’t want to be, but it will also at some point move us on. It arrives and it recedes. This ebb and flow is nature and who we are. Emotional constancy is an idealistic state.

I don’t personally believe that everything happens for a reason. Or that every cloud has a silver lining. I simply don’t believe in the ‘every’ part of both those statements. I do believe through living the experiences we have, both positive and negative, we learn about ourselves and change. We cannot have an experience and not grow. And that’s the point of these sayings – that we do learn from the negative. Granted, it may just be that Shit Happens. That Life’s Hard. But we learn each time that we emerge. Knowing; trusting that things will change is the branch, the reach, the thread towards recovery. Resilience requires a softness, not a hardness. The capacity to make allowances for ourselves so that we can give, as the tree does to the shaping forces of the wind, trusting the roots that will keep us from being swept way. We don’t need to be hardened to survive, we need to acquiesce. We need to put our energy into looking after ourselves where we are.

Our sense of resilience can become lowered the more we are challenged. When we go through many changes and negative experiences we may find it harder to feel our own strength. I see this in clients who say “Here I Am Again”. The follow up statement “What’s wrong with me?” is the one to catch. Just as we feel things are on the up we get a knock back. We become tired. We all get sad and get low and can be prone to question “What’s The Point” when we get here. We allow our thoughts to close in on us and us in and this is where we can lose our energy and things can start to feel futile, stagnant. This is often the time when we wish someone would look after us and if there isn’t such a person in our life we feel more sad because we feel alone. But there isn’t one person who hasn’t felt alone in their life. We are responsible for our own being and in that we are always alone.

How to create resilience so that we are able to flow over difficulties, rather than get hit in the face by adversity, relates to a state of balance. To maintain resilience we need to be aware of how we are and mirror what is depleting us with resources. And yes, when we are low and need it most, we don’t feel like looking after our self, we lose energy and motivation; physical and mental. We all meet an edge eventually; where we are challenged and under resourced. But know we’ve been here before and we can use what we did and needed last time – our wisdom – in order to remerge this time; again.

Resilience is physical, mental, emotional and spiritual. If we have low energy in one area it can affect the others. We all know how being tired makes us more sensitive. How being over-worked makes us less tolerant. These are predictable relationships and we can recognise them when we are in them. It is the emotional aspect of our life where we can drain our energy unnecessarily. Frustration, impatience and anxiety create energy drain. Which takes us back to feeling sad about being sad or feeling bad about our self because we feel sad. Silly, huh? But this is very real. Once we start to feel negative, the brain loves nothing more than looking for more negatives to complete the picture, connecting the dots, so that before we realise it we are a like a malignant spider sitting in a negative web of our own weaving, all by ourselves, pissed off with ourselves for doing so and pissed off with our life for putting us there.

It’s kind of lonely sitting as spider without using our weaving powers to connect to those who love us and understand. The spider uses its web as a resource, to create a home for itself and to capture nurture and to wait quietly within the threads of sunlit jewels of dew. We, like the spider, have a beautiful craft in living life.

We, like the spider, probably don’t recognise that others appreciate what we create.