Resilience: The Key to Surviving Anything
Have you ever seen bamboo shoots in a storm? I have. I remember huddling in a hut in Thailand watching a raging typhoon sweep through the mountains. The clump of bamboo outside the window was completely flattened by the raging winds. The wind was so strong that it lifted the roof right off the hut and I began to fear for my life. Then, suddenly, the winds dropped. I looked out and saw the bamboo shoots rise up again unharmed. That’s resilience. It’s the most important thing we can cultivate in these uncertain days.
The global financial melt-down is creating hardship for many people. Maybe you too have some fears about how your life and that of your loved ones is going to be in the future? And it’s not only financial problems that we can suffer from. Health problems, or we can lose a loved one. Or we can suddenly be faced with unemployment.
I myself lost a lot of money when a rogue builder decamped to a South Sea Island with the money that I had paid him to build a new house. In the end the half-built structure had to be sold at a great loss. This experience made me think about how we can overcome difficulties. What I learned was that my life started getting back on track the moment I started accepting that my life had changed for ever.
I learned that there are ways of responding to life that make it easier to regain control and find ongoing happiness. One of the ways that we can do that is to become more accepting and thus more resilient.
Resilience helps us to overcome anything
Resilience and acceptance are closely linked. It’s when we face our difficulties square on that we tap deep into resilience.
The ﬁrst response to disaster is usually denial – which is the opposite of acceptance. It took a long time for Linda D. to emerge from denial. She came to see me soon after she was released from hospital. Linda, a young mother, was in her mid-thirties and looked ﬁt and beautiful. Glossy chestnut curls framed her face. But I noticed that her smile was strained as she told her story. Some months ago, she said, she had felt a persistent ache in her belly but had put it down to indigestion. A while later she went to the doctor. He ordered a scan, then exploratory surgery.
“Imagine my shock, “she said, “when I woke after the operation and the surgeon told me that they had sewed me up again because there was nothing, absolutely nothing they could do for me. They found cancer all over my liver. My ﬁrst thought was: ‘No! Ben’s only four. I can’t leave him on his own. I just can’t be dying!'”
It took Linda some months to accept that she was going to die. In that time of denial, her emotions were in turmoil.
It was late spring when Linda came to see me one last time. She was frail and her skin was like
parchment. I settled her into a chair on the veranda. The wisteria blooms were a sea of purple. We were silent for a while. She told me that she was dying.
“How do you feel about dying?” I asked
“I feel at peace now,” she said. Then she raised her face to the sun and shut her eyes. “Everything is so precious. Now I know how precious each moment is!”
She died some weeks later. Because she was ready, she was able to let go of life gracefully. Her healing journey had led her from denial, rage and dread to a place of acceptance and peace.
The path to acceptance
A new beginning can only happen when the old form disintegrates. Look at what happens when a caterpillar becomes a butterﬂy: When the time for transformation has come, a larva wraps itself in a cocoon and becomes a chrysalis. Just imagine how that might feel! Suddenly the larva is constricted, can’t move anymore and darkness closes in. Then disintegration begins. Some cells die, others revert to an undiﬀerentiated state, some cluster together as discs that carry a genetic blueprint for new structures. If you compare a caterpillar to a butterﬂy, they seem worlds apart and yet one transforms into the other. In some sense, you could say that the caterpillar dies. From this death, a new, beautiful form arises.
Before something radically new can appear, the old form has to die.
Acceptance is the ﬁrst step of healing. It grows slowly over time. There are some simple exercises that help the process of acceptance. One of the most powerful techniques is Expressive Writing therapy as the story of
Marian’s husband died suddenly of a heart attack in the ﬁrst year of their marriage. It happened just weeks before she gave birth to her son, Josh. Years later, she said:
“I just couldn’t accept that I was now a widow with a baby. I so wanted to be part of a little family! I spent four years railing against my fate. Then I realised that I had to look to the future. After a while, I began to realise that Josh and I were now the ‘little family’. Acceptance marked the beginning of my healing process.”
This is like the bamboo shoots righting themselves after the storm has passed.
How can we practice acceptance and build resilience?
I think the most important thing is to be honest with ourselves. Sometimes it takes courage to look reality in the eye. But when we do, we can learn to overcome anything.
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