Have you ever had an oven with a pilot light? You would not always see the light but you knew it was there, a small flicker that could ignite a bigger flame. Sometimes our resilience seems tiny and weak. It is not in sight and we wonder if it is there at all even though we have weathered many crises over the years. In these Pandemic times, the word “resilience” is often used to describe big flames, acts of heroism, courage under great odds. Even the dictionary states that resilience is about bouncing back, moving on. It can be daunting to be in constant contact with such a limited view of our inner strength with the bar set very high.
We need a way of looking at resilience that embraces a wide range of response to grief, tragedy, trauma. There is an ancient Japanese proverb with words that can touch the soul with its hopeful message:
Fall Down Seven Times, Rise Up Eight
This simple statement has been a source of inspiration for decades as it honors the act of just getting back up again and again. Sometimes that is easy if it was a little fall with a soft landing. Other times we feel as though we fell down a deep dark ravine with no way to climb out. Grief over the death of a beloved can knock us down hard and temporarily take away our faith in any kind of return to a vital life.
Spring is here. The rose bushes that were barren now have buds again. Some buds are closed, others opening; some even in full flower. All states of blooming are part of the flow of life. The closed buds and the full fragrant blossoms are equally precious.
Our resilience is always part of us. Finding our way of getting back up takes time. Just as gardens need tending and ovens need maintenance, our resilience needs our care along with help from sources outside ourselves.
Think of that universal call for emergency assistance — SOS. Each letter can be a reminder of ways to rise up when we have fallen down. Each letter is important but it is the impact of all three together gives us the impetus to go forward.
S — Self Care
Taking care of our basic needs is the foundation for rising up a baby step at a time as routines around sleeping, eating, grooming are solidly put back into place in the midst of our grieving. You may not think of brushing your teeth or taking a shower as a triumph of resilience but when grief has hit hard, the smallest acts of self-care are victories worth applauding. Watering plants, sweeping the porch, getting dressed — all are ways to emerge out of the depths of despair. This is the time to go outside for a walk, dance to music in your living room — engage in any kind of movement to get your life juices flowing.
Taking care of yourself can be fueled by positive self-talk. Think of it as “sweet talk” as you give loving attention to little details of life that are the base of meeting your needs. When you are in the midst of deep grief, your energy is easily depleted by critical inner dialogue. The practice of self-kindness builds your emotional energy rather than pushing you down. “Sweet talk” doesn’t always come naturally. Setting an intent to be kind to yourself can start a process of small acts of nurturance. Mary Poppins had it right when she sang with gusto about the merits of a “spoonful of sugar.”
O — Others
We are always in our own separate skin but we don’t have to face the human condition alone. Support is all around us if we choose to let others into our lives. During the pandemic, when contact was limited, loving connection flourished and still does through Zoom, FaceTime, phone calls, outdoor visits and air hugs. Let yourself accept support from loved ones who are in your life now. Seek out therapy if you wish to benefit by having a caring professional in your corner as you work through trauma.
One of the best decisions you can make after the death of a beloved is to be part of a bereavement group where you will be with others who understand you and empathize with your journey. A group can be a healing connection when you need it most. Our resilience gains strength in the presence of support and encouragement. Seeing others dealing with adversity opens up possibilities that would not occur in the vacuum of exposure to only your familiar coping skills. A group is an opportunity to not only receive but also give back. Each time you listen deeply to another or offer support in some way, you increase your sense of purpose and meaning as you move from surviving to thriving.
S — Spiritual Practices
Spiritual practice is whatever elevates your essence and strengthens your sense of equanimity, calm, peace.
When you are battered by tough times you will often feel a pull to go beyond the everyday experience of your challenging life. There are many paths to higher realms. Religious practice is one where you immerse yourself into a community of church or synagogue — or anywhere that resonates with your beliefs that is a place for worship and ceremony. Spiritual affiliation does not have to be religious. A yoga studio, 12 step programs, a Buddhist center, meditation groups, an acting workshop, an art studio, singing in a chorus — there are countless ways to strengthen the tie between spiritual growth and resilience.
When faced with loss and grief, life can be overwhelming. It helps to narrow your focus by becoming rooted in the present moment. It soothes the soul to listen to music, meditate, smell the flowers, pay attention to your senses. Anything you choose that takes you to a higher realm of consciousness through present-centered practices will calm anxiety and increase your sense of self-mastery.
Turn to whatever strengthens your faith, builds hope and touches the deepest places within you. It is no surprise that many great works in the world of the Arts came from the dark night of the soul and the light of the aftermath. Satisfying spiritual practices can elevate our journey with each breath and heartbeat.
I was recently reliving some painful memories as the 4th anniversary of my husband’s death was approaching. I went outside as the sun was going down. There was a sky trail of a deep magenta afterglow. Clouds were drifting as if on a moving airway. At the same time a full moon was rising. The beauty of the sky at dusk filled me with awe as I felt at one with the mysteries of life. I was tethered to the present moment with all my senses taking in the wonder of the universe. That night I wrote about resilience, the words seeming to come through me from an outside source:
When the path cannot be found
When the light is too dim to be seen
When hope is just a four letter word
It’s time to come to your senses
Time to come home to the only vessel
That carries you to safety.
Turn inward and take a breath
Feel the air going in and out
No right way to breathe
No wrong way either
Just your way.
Look around and let your eyes
Discover a landing
A view from the inside out
A flower, a cloud, a butterfly.
Listen to the air move
Listen to the noise of silent reflection.
Is there a sound playing in your head?
Listen, hear, breathe it.
As you breathe in
The air has a scent.
Do you smell frying onions?
Or just sweetness of the air
Perfume of flowers
Even a putrid smell to awaken you to the moment.
The cat is waiting for you to stroke her fur
The dog has sat by the door for hours
Longing for your touch.
No living pet — cuddle a teddy bear, a soft scarf.
If there is a bitter taste in your mouth
Notice it as an act of courage
Wondering if your tongue remembers chocolate.
The breath is long and deep
Your heart is beating.
This moment has passed and you survived
Your heartbeat a steady drum
It always has been.
Happiness is overrated
Settle for the moment
And let it carry you home.