Tag Archives resilience

Resilience and holding out

Inka walls, Peru, January 2020
Inka walls, near Cusco, Peru, January 2020

I heard the kettle begin to boil and as I battered my way into consciousness tried to recall where I was, somewhere south of Santiago I thought, but the letters of the name of the town were shuffling around in my mind and I couldn’t focus on the word. I heard the Mother, I knew it was the Mother, and I tried to connect the dots… I struggled, the name of the town seemed important somehow and my mum was there.

What was the Mother doing there?

Surprised, I realized that I was in my parents’ house, which is not south of Santiago in Chile, but in Yorkshire in England. I remembered it was winter. How had I forgotten? Maybe the sun was shining in my dreams. It’s not unusual for me to wake up and not immediately know which city I’m in. But now? Here? I am not just passing through; I’ve been here since May. The kettle finished its boil and I fell back asleep, dreaming now of cheese and pickle sandwiches.

This time last year it was hot

I wandered the streets of Santiago hiding in the shade during the midday heat and always carrying my flask filled with cold water. Last year was a year of two summers, the first was wondrous, the second a constant downpour. Bless England, it knows how to do wet. This year, if I’m lucky, will be a year of two winters, or perhaps I will winter it out here and move into the land of eternal spring. It’s now out of my control.

Some years ago, I read Victor Frankl’s book on surviving the holocaust, Man’s Search for Meaning, and it’s been that book which has frequently popped into my mind as lockdowns are announced, reduced, increased, reduced again. There is good news and bad news, and both hope and fear, but attaching ourselves too strongly to any date or announcement doesn’t serve us well. A new quarantine is announced but we mustn’t despair. In Man’s Search for Meaning, Frankl, who was a psychologist observed that the people who started out positively with the belief that things would be over, and they’d be freed within a matter of months, before Christmas, invariably were less likely to survive. Once Christmas had come and gone, their resilience crumbled.

We just have to hold out until…

The people who, however, had something or someone external to themselves to live for were much more resilient. I have to go back to Chile because I’ve left my coffee pot there. I have to go back to Chile because I owe a friend a hug. I have to go back to Chile because I’m owed a drink. It seems it’s easier to be resilient for a purpose beyond yourself, and when monotony takes hold, where we might not be sure of what day of the week we’re on, having that external purpose matters even more.

For success, like happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensue, and it only does so as the unintended side-effect of one’s dedication to a cause greater than oneself or as a by-product of one’s surrender to a person other than oneself. Happiness must happen, and the same holds for success: you have to let it happen by not caring about it.

Man’s Search for Meaning, Victor Frankl

You have to let it happen, but you can’t just expect it to happen

When I was in Germany in the autumn, my dear friend, the Glass-blower, suggested that each day we ought to do something for our future selves. This could be something as simple as saving a little money for a rainy day* or it could be an act of studying or learning something that would better equip us to take advantage of future opportunities. A lot of my motivation for doing yoga comes from my desire to have a physically capable body at the point in the future when I can make use of it. Maybe I’m going nowhere today, but on some tomorrow I want to go hiking in some hills and smell the nature all around me.

Today, therefore, I roll out my yoga mat and put the time in

A lot of resilience I think comes from switching the mind from thinking about the ‘done’ to thinking about the ‘doing’. What am I doing today to look after myself? What am I doing to protect myself? What am I doing to grow? It’s not a counting game. There can be no comparison with either yourself or another individual. Measurement is irrelevant because it’s all about how you think and how you perceive your situation. Are you doing what you need to be doing?

The sun may be shining in my dreams, and elsewhere it may be summer, but here it’s winter and time to get up and have breakfast. The Mother’s making porridge.


* In a country where almost every day is rainy, isn’t this a stupid idiom?

The gods have been playing their games again

Moonvalley, San Pedro de Atacama.
January 2020.

I wake up some days and stare at myself in the mirror. There’s a dull look in my eyes and I think, here we go again. I feel my thoughts being to roll into paranoia. Sometimes my hands shake from the anxiety of living. My skin is a mess; my stomach clenches tight.

This pattern of behaviour is so familiar it seems almost ridiculous.

In sports people talk about recovery time. This is how long it takes your body to go back to normal after you’ve done exercise. Resilience works on the same principle – it’s not a measure of how far you’ve fallen or how damn bad it hurt, but how quickly you can rock back up to healthy.

I wake up and stare in the mirror and I see myself all ghostlike. The energy is robbed from me. I’m lethargic but I can’t rest. The negative thoughts come. I wonder for how long I’m going to need to grieve. I wonder how much I’ve lost. I wonder how long it will be before I feel generous towards life again. And then, because this is my ingrained training, I do something about it.

And sometimes I feel that my life is a woven patten of me falling in and out of grief time and time again. Things nowadays aren’t so bad though. Each weave is shorter, cleaner. Now I’m more skilled at pulling the threads back up, pulling them together. I remember when the time between feeling good about myself and my life was measured in weeks or months not days.

Every time is hard, but you do get quicker at recovering from setbacks as you become more resilient. I only believe that you can become resilient by doing the hard work, by learning to actively accept and grieve what you’ve lost rather than clinging onto a fantasy of what might have been. I believe that as you learn to recognise your defences you can learn to do yourself and those around you less damage each time you fall. I believe that recognising your coping strategies and being reasonable about them is vital for preventing long term harm.

Some weeks you lose your house, your contract terminates and there’s no way you can get a new visa. Some weeks a friend gets upset because you didn’t fall in love with them and it hurts. Some weeks you say goodbye to someone you fell in love with, not knowing how many months it will be until you are in the same continent again. Some weeks your flight home is cancelled and you find yourself with the prospect of an unexpected three days of crazy, mask wearing adventure to get home, passing through three continents with a bundle of certificates and permissions to evidence the necessity and validity of each step of the journey. Some weeks are more difficult than others.

I wake up some days and I look in the mirror and smile. My hair’s a mess and my skin pink and blotchy. Yet there’s a twinkle in my eye. Look, I’m here, I think. I exist in this mess of a world, but I exist and that is a truly wondrous thing. I smile and turn away from my reflection, ready to fight whatever the gods have chosen to throw at me next.

Resilience: against cold rain, hail and the things that pull us down in life

Resilience
Not easy walking – sand-dunes on the Fisherman’s trail of the Rota Vicentina, Portugal.

It starts raining. I pull the waterproof cover across my bulging rucksack, zip up my coat and pull up my hood. I’m prepared for the shower that comes, but it hits quickly, and all I have on beneath my coat is a t-shirt.

I’m wearing a short stretchy black skirt and a pair of black tights. To me, it’s comfort clothing. Stretchy, dark, doesn’t take much room up in my bag. Not perhaps ideal for a storm.

I soldier on

What an interesting word choice. A military attitude for a holiday walk.

The hail begins, and it strikes my legs. The tights aren’t much protection. I wince, and decide since there’s nothing I can do, I will ignore it.

Protection, that’s a thought, a barrier between the weather and me. My coat is thin, but it keeps what it covers dry. The landscape is open here. Not long before there were masses of trees, but not now.

And the weather continues

Soon, I’m cold. My ankles are wet. My knickers are wet. Then my feet become wet as I wade across a puddle and misjudge a stick that I was relying on supporting me. I sink and I shiver.

Gritting my teeth, I march against the wind.

Until the sun comes out

And, deftly, urgently, I strip off the coat, pull on a cardigan, a jumper, a fleece and then my coat again. I eat a piece of chocolate saved for emergencies. I laugh at the situation, determinedly. To laugh means we’re alright, doesn’t it?

I will not whine, I will not mope, I will not complain.

Perhaps one might criticise me for walking without waterproof trousers? Or for choosing a skirt which left my ankles to become sodden, and tights which were too thin to offer any pain relief to the sharp ice? But nobody will be able to say that I was not strong enough to endure without whimpering. There will be no crying.

Unlike Snowdon

Where, perhaps ten years previously, unfit and undisciplined in my complaining, I moaned about the climb and the snow and the effort it took, and the pointlessness of it all. And then I moaned some more.

Or the Lake District, a few years after that, where, unfit and undisciplined, I let everyone know of my aching limbs and tired body. Every meter of climb that I faced was an ordeal.

But not now

I have learnt that all one needs to internalise the pain. Choose something mundane, like the force of your breath and meditate on it. Breathe in, breathe out. Say nothing. Keep your eyes on the floor. Let the legs ache, the thighs complain. Let the aches and the complaints pass away with the rain.

Nothing is permanent. Sunshine will come. There will be a small café with a toilet in which tights can be changed and dry socks can be swapped for. There will be a strong espresso, with a teaspoon of sugar, no, two espressos. And a sandwich.

Most importantly laugh. Do not cry.

This is what resilience is, isn’t it?

Or is it?

Is resilience acting as if we’d never fallen, never been hurt? Or is it more about recognising the need to eat that bar of chocolate when the time comes?

Without self-compassion does resilience exist, or is it just denial?

I’m starting to think that it’s not the ferocity of the hail that makes you stronger, nor the saturation of your socks. It doesn’t matter how strong the winds were, or how cold the rain was. It’s not about marching on stoically and keeping the ordeal contained.

The chocolate melts in my mouth.