Resilience: Leading lightly into the unknown.

After surviving the Auschwitz death camp, Victor Frankl captured the heart and humanness of resilience like no other in his memoir - with just three short sentences. “Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” (Man's Search For Meaning.) 

But amid the ease and privilege that most of us in the West enjoy - that I enjoy - we so quickly forget the necessity, beauty, and simplicity of resilience. Yet the tender strength resilience builds in us would be so good for ourselves and this world. Today.  Tomorrow. Forgetting about resilience is humbling. 

Given the sharp, accelerating conflicts and changes on our planet today, we absolutely need the stabilizing force of resilience. We need an approach for action that is both peaceful and effective. We need this for our wellbeing and the wellbeing of our communities, in the face of impermanence and, because action itself may seem futile at time. If we want to be leaders, we need resilience every second of the day.* Resilience alone gives us calm and clarity. Frankl's space offers this.

So what is resilience? When we don't have it, we lose balance, become depressed, resign. We cut ourselves off. It is painful.  But resilience isn't about mental toughness or forced positivity, though. The word resilience derives from the Latin resilire, to jump or bounce back, and is linked to the word salient, which traces back to Aristotle's writings - the salient point, the beating, leaping heart of an embryo. Here is an openness, an awakening of the human spirit into the aliveness of possibilities. At the heart of this openness leans an embrace into the unknown. Birth. Results arise from resilience (the words are related), even though resilience is a process, a mindset of growing and learning in relationship. Resilience is an honoring of our interdependency, light and vulnerable, rooted in compassion for ourselves and others. Resilience allows me to begin again and again. Resilience cares and reaches out. To life. For life. Tenderly. I love the lightness of the word, like dandelion plumes drifting on a summer evening, knowing renewal. 

credit: Dawid Zawiła |

credit: Dawid Zawiła |

Research shows that we can cultivate resilience, this envelope of freedom that carries us lightly. We all have an innate capacity. We can develop skills, activate thoughts or behaviors, and build support systems that strengthen it. We can practice resilience like a natural language.  

The meditation teacher Jack Kornfield once said:  "Whatever your difficulties—a devastated heart, financial loss, feeling assaulted by the conflicts around you, or a seemingly hopeless illness—you can always remember that you are free in every moment to set the compass of your heart to your highest intentions. In fact, the two things that you are always free to do—despite your circumstances—are to be present and to be willing to love." For myself, this means that I can practice resilience by trying to find meaning beyond myself. I can ask, when I feel discouraged: "What is really true? How can I open my heart to this? And then some more? What if I stay present, one step at a time?" It helps to seek support and be with supportive people - even when I desperately want to withdraw. To remember that in my vulnerability my humanity thrives. It helps to reframe problems: "What might be other ways to look at this story? What insight is trying to break through?" 

Resilient people know that what happens in life is not who they are. Change and pain are not personal. And that gives courage. We can in fact welcome change, happily. For isn't this true? “The important thing is this: to be able at any moment to sacrifice what we are for what we could become. ~Charles DuBois. 

I fail constantly, let me be clear. I fail all the time. But I also begin and try again. I know I can learn to notice the space between stimulus and response and gradually stretch that space. Going then with the flow of life with discernment. Embracing failure with gratitude. Being open to possibilities. Daring to be vulnerable. The ability to look at all that happens with equanimity. A dose of grit. Life is beautiful. I can celebrate. What a relief.  

* In a study published by PwC in 2014, initiatives and programs that fostered a resilient and mentally healthy workplace returned $2.30 for every dollar spent — with the return coming in the form of lower health care costs, higher productivity, lower absenteeism and decreased turnover. You really do want a culture of resilience in your organization! 

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