Life is full of ups and downs, lefts and rights, twists and turns, rights and wrongs. Resilience carries us through all the illnesses, injuries, and insults encountered along the path. The dictionary definition of resilience is the “capacity to recover quickly from difficulties”. This ability can be cultivated and developed. As resilience grows, recovery time shortens, and the residual impacts of the original incident diminish, ultimately leading to resistance. Thereafter, everything just barely tickles.
Let’s take a cold for example, in general, most people take 10-14 days to recover from an upper respiratory viral illness. There are some, though, who get back on their feet, symptom free, within a few days, while others might still be coughing and tired 3 or 4 weeks out. A few people can nip it in the bud as soon as the first inkling of the illness manifest. An unfortunate few die. And then there are the ones who can emerge unscathed from a room full of snifflers and sneezers. Resilience determines recovery time, resistance is the force field protecting against physical or psychological intruders.
The qualities of resilience include structural integrity and strength, combined with elastic pliability, a certain cushioned bounciness, and a versatile adaptability. Resilience is not predetermined nor static. It’s constantly waxing and waning, usually around a baseline, set in part by one’s natural constitution, yet subject to a trend in any direction. The range of resilience is wide, extending from delicate fragility to robust hardiness. Let’s consider the many factors influencing the fluctuations and course of resilience in an individual and a community.
At the macro level, regard the resilience in the global ecosystem. Ecological resilience can be measured in the time it takes to return to a state of balance or stability following a disturbance. There are several characteristics that contribute to the resilience of our galactic home. Cyclical rhythms, daily and annual, offer the opportunity for cleansing and renewal. The atmosphere is a buffer that deflects and absorbs radiation and toxins. Biodiversity offers variety and flexibility, as does our glorious variable terrain. Evolution is adaptation, which is resilience in action. Our planet continues, so far, to bounce back from all manners of trauma including, but not limited to, forest fires, deforestation, pollution, fracking, mining, oil spills, and the extinction of species, just to mention a handful of the wounds she suffers. Even if climate change turns out to be the last affront to which humans bear witness, the earth will continue buoyantly spinning while persisting in its incessant revolution around the sun at 67,000 mph.
The resilience of a nation to internal and external forces depends largely on flexibility, integrity, and responsiveness in the political and economic structure. It can be assessed by the capacity of a system to incorporate a change and reorganize in such a way to maintain its essential identity and functionality. The main measurement being how well the residents are cared for by each other and the government. Homelessness, violence, poverty, epidemics, maternal mortality, mental instability, communal disharmony, illiteracy are all indicators of a failure in functionality of a state. The governing constitution and the economic system provide the basic structure. The integrity within those systems determines its strength. To the extent a nation respects the basic human rights of its inhabitants, actually of all people regardless of where they live, and is responsive to the needs and best interests of the people, that society will enjoy the stability and plasticity that characterize a resilient state. Maintaining friendly and responsible international relations is essential to protecting oneself from intruders, and garnering support in the event of an invasion. Ethical business practices and safe labor standards are as important as the absence of political corruption and social discrimination in cultivating the capacity to recover from the natural ebb and flow of market and political undulations. A clean environment is a national responsibility for it offers its occupants a buffer by which to recover from the bumps and bruises of daily life. It is also an essential obligatory contribution to preserving the health of the planet. Strength, flexibility, and adaptability.
In the same way a nation is responsible to its citizens and other states, a group in which members protect and nurture each other creates a supple and sane association. The structure in a community is created by its common culture. The execution of those customs offers a solid ground on which to walk together. Rituals, such as pubertal rites of passage, graduations, baby showers, weddings, funerals are an expression of communal support through all the stages of life. Even in this, rigid adherence offers no room for growth and evolution. The cushion in a community arises when people watch out for each other, take notice when a stranger is lurking about, step forward when someone needs help carrying groceries in, or bears witness while one gives birth or passes on. A home nestled in the refuge of friends is a place from which one can spring back from the trials of daily living. Communities characterized by safety, security, camaraderie, and cooperation recover together better. Schools that honor learning and teaching create respectful, participatory citizens. Police who actually protect and serve help us navigate those really rough patches we can’t manage alone. Smooth roads even out the ride. Safe, pleasant, meaningful work keeps us out of trouble. Nearby markets, open libraries, knowledgeable, kind clinicians, clean hospitals, closed sewers are all convenient, pleasurable, and facilitate recuperating from life, and death.
This brings us to our breakable yet sturdy bodies. This is the locus where most of us focus when we think about cultivating resilience. Sleep is the foundation of a resilient body and mind, followed closely by food and movement. That triad is interdependent, like a three-legged stool, that increases strength, flexibility, and agility. Relaxed, calm breathing is the spirit that keeps your throne upright. Climate appropriate clothing, hats, helmets, seat belts, and condoms, all protect the precious temple we inhabit and offer additional padding for a bounce back. That just covers the basics. There are supplements, practices, procedures, acupuncture, massage and a whole host of other interventions which can bolster resilience, but we’re just sticking to the essentials here. Daily routines create structure for cultivating strength, integrity, and endurance. The lapses in discipline encourage adaptability. Improvising fosters a responsiveness to the present moment. That’s the triad (discipline, laxity, improvisation) for the triad sleep, food, exercise) for the triad (strength, flexibility, agility).
The way we think determines our reality. When it comes to resilience, pliability in thinking is the name of the game, whereas stubbornness will take you down in a flash. Rigid things don’t rebound. Ideology and fundamentalism leave no room for growth, expansion, or adaptability to the present circumstance. Of course, structured thinking gives strength and foundation. Reading, writing, arithmetic, logic and creativity are all necessary to create an integrated mind. However, to learn to think freely step out of standardized, institutionalized mass education take your brain down unexplored paths and talk with an open heart to people who disagree with you. Read voraciously. Shut off that algorithm in your browser that feeds you articles based on what you already like. It is in those new territories and difficult conversations the viewpoint unfastens enough to become fascinated with fresh concepts and paradigms. Sticking to what you know, like, and are comfortable with is one sure way to narrow and stiffen your intellect. Atherosclerosis of the mind. Don’t do it. Get cognitively uncomfortable.
Despite all the poetry and sad songs, the heart is an unbreakable organ. The key to emotional resilience is to add ballast to your keel with every life experience. Feel your feelings as fully as possible, in the physical and present moment, while keeping a balanced awareness of the transient nature of those very true feelings. As you promote your own poise you find you can sail your ship in the stormiest of seas without capsizing. You can be laying out, riding nearly horizontal through a gust or a gale, all the while staying tethered to your equanimity. Knowing your tribe has a safety net ready for you helps your emotional resilience immensely. Loving personal friendships and intimate relationships give you the sense someone’s definitely got your back. A solid self-esteem built by your integrity and endurance, fortified with a hefty dose of self-love, keeps the wind at your back. Strength. Flexibility. Adaptability.
Spirit, the life force animating all of it, is constant, unchanging, unaffected. It requires no resilience because nothing impacts it. It is already unbreakable and perfectly pliable. Through thick and thin, when one’s own spirit is secured to the Great Spirit of which we are just one small fraction, and which we all share, then all the other factors of resilience fall easily into place. Connecting with spirit is quite simple: remain firmly rooted in the present moment. The present moment arises and falls with the breath: inspiration, expiration, in-spirit, ex-spirit. Abide in the breath, which is here and now and nowhere else, and, rocky or sleek, the path unfolds before you.